Katie Cox on ‘Superpowered Security’

Superpowered Security: Cruel Optimism in Marvel’s Iron Man Films (Exit Presentation)

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Thursday 29 August, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

Over the course of the War on Terror, it has become commonplace to note that the United States and allies now exist in a permanent state of emergency, such that once-exceptional security measures are now the norm. Katie draws on the work of Lauren Berlant to argue that national security has become an object of cruel optimism: a fantasy that sustains the nation, like the promise of ‘the good life’, but which proves either impossible to achieve or “too possible, and toxic”. Viewing security as a cruelly optimistic attachment allows us to untangle the ways in which constant escalation of security measures wears people down, even while it provides the nation with the “conditions of possibility” that guarantee its endurance.  

Katie examines Marvel’s Iron Man films, using the relationship between Tony Stark and the Iron Man suit to think through the cruel optimism in the logic of security discourse. As superpowered representations of United States national security practices, the Iron Man films demonstrate an affective entanglement between national security and optimistic fantasies of technological progress, prosperity, and freedom. Nevertheless, Iron Man’s relationship with his technology is nothing if not cruel; his dependence on the Iron Man suit fosters a sense of insecurity, such that he begins to create the threats he seeks to prevent. I argue that the Iron Man films neither fully critique or endorse United States national security policy post-9/11, but instead reflect a public struggle to reconcile the optimistic promises linked to national security in the political imagination with the lived reality of crisis as an everyday norm. 

Katie Cox is a PhD student in Literature at the Australian National University, specialising in speculative fiction, popular film, and critical theory. Her research has been featured on local and international radio, and in 2018 she won the People’s Choice Award for the ANU 3 Minute Thesis Grand Final. 

Thomas Nulley-Valdés on ‘universalist trajectories’ and the Global South

Semi-universal trajectories from the Global South: A comparative Casanovian study of Vicente Huidobro and José Donoso

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Thursday 22 August, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

The Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro (1893-1948) and the Chilean novelist José Donoso (1925-1996) both demonstrated universal ambitions for their literary oeuvre: the former through his avant-garde creacionismo poetry, and the latter through formal novelistic experimentation during the Latin American literary Boom of the 1960s. A Casanovian micro/macro-level methodology rearticulates their respective literary trajectories within the literature-world by considering not solely their creative texts but also extra-literary material (manifestoes, letters, chronicles) and contexts, all mutually informing perspectives which illustrate this halfway universalisation. This critical perspective sheds light on their eventual unaccomplished desires of transcendence of the national paradigm, rejection of extra-literary political commitment, and pure dedication to literary poetics, through their eventual return and settlement within a national tradition and engagement with these very same issues. As such, Casanova’s theory is valuable for understanding these complex literary paths but is problematized theoretically in turn through an analysis of this failed universal trajectory of authors from the Global South.

Thomas Nulley-Valdés is a lecturer in the Spanish Programme at the ANU. His main research interests include: the macro and micro-level analysis of texts, authors, and contexts; contemporary short story anthologies; and World Literature theories and methodologies. For his doctoral research he has conducted over 25 interviews with contemporary Latin American authors and editors and has published some of these interviews.

Gabrielle Carey on ‘Katherine Mansfield’s Cousin’

Elizabeth von Arnim was born Mary Beauchamp in Kirribilli in 1866. At 24 became a Prussian countess  and moved to Pomerania where she ‘somewhat mutinously’ bore five children while secretly writing under a pen name. Always able to recognise literary talent, von Arnim employed E.M. Forster and Hugo Walpole as tutors for her daughters. On being widowed, she began an affair with H.G. Wells which was followed by a marriage to Bertrand Russell’s brother and then a 12-year romantic liaison with a man 30 years her junior. So how did she find time to write 21 best-selling comic novels, one memoir and a sell-out play?

Gabrielle Carey is writer of non-fiction interested in resurrecting forgotten Australian writers. Her most recent book, Falling Out of Love with Ivan Southall,  was about the hugely popular and internationally awarded children’s writer of the 1960s and 70s. In 2014 her book about Randolph Stow, Moving Among Strangers, won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Non-FIction. In 2019 she was the H.C. Coombs Creative Arts Fellow. She is currently a Visiting Fellow with the School of History and trying to finish a biography of Elizabeth von Arnim.

Beate Langenbruch, A Walk through the Garden

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Thursday 8 August, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

Vegetal enclosure inviting to meditation, idyllic framework for political reflection or locus amoenus for lover’s rendez-vous in Old French poetry and romance: the garden reveals its high and flexible potential in Medieval literature. Do we remember that the epic Song of Roland (ca. 1100) settles the first of its dramatic scenes in two orchards? As a green theatre, the mighty trees of in Beroul’s Tristan and Isold witness an interesting double play, becoming both a lookout and a trap for the lovers’ enemies. Other novels, such as Chretien of Troyes’ Erec and Enide or Cligès consolidate the lacy features of branches by constructing hidden playgrounds for either chivalry combat or secret lovers. Of course, the first garden exposed on a French stage is Eden, since the first religious play in this language is the Jeu d’Adam, that already knows how useful special effects are…

Our walk through these medieval gardens will discuss the close interaction of Nature and Human culture, and investigate on the patterns that the diverse genres of Old French literature will display when setting up the green scenery.

Beate Langenbruch is a German researcher, Associate Professor at ENS de Lyon in France, and member of the CIHAM research group (UMR 5648) on history, archeology and literature in the Middle Ages. As a specialist for French medieval texts, she investigates in particular on Old French Epics. Other fields of interest and research are réécriture of medieval texts, their literary genre, medieval gender studies, translation studies and cultural transfers.

Tania Evans on monstrous masculinity on TV

Fucking with Fangs: Monstrous queer male mothers, affect, and online fan reception

Thursday 1 August, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

Toxic masculinity is recognised by psychologists and academics as a gender role that is dangerous for men as well as women, one which leads men to experience high rates of suicide, violence, and substance abuse. At the same time, popular culture is recognised as a site where identity, including gender identity, can be shaped, re-thought, and re-considered. This seminar will investigate how queer depictions of monstrous masculinity in popular television maintain and disrupt audiences’ understanding of toxic masculinity with a focus on the family and reproduction. Popular films, television, and novels, especially those that deal with monstrosity, offer an exemplary site for challenging toxic masculinity and reach millions of men across the globe. Filmic and literary monsters present a complex commentary on normative masculinity that can also be used to bridge the critical divide between affect theory, masculinity studies, queer theory, and digital literary and reception studies. I will demonstrates how certain mass cultural texts invite audiences to reject their attachment to toxic masculinity, and how these textual strategies might be mobilised to change broader gender roles that harm men, women, and non-binary people.

Tania Evans is an associate lecturer in cultural studies at the ANU. Her doctoral project explored masculinity, violence, and fantasy in George R. R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire and its television adaptation, Game of Thrones, and a research manuscript based on this work is currently under external review with Edinburgh University Press. She has also written essays on gender in popular culture, in Gothic Studies, Fantastika, Masculinities, and Aeternum: The Journal of Contemporary Gothic Studies.

Textual Critique Through the Artist’s Eye: John Austen’s ‘Hamlet’

Through the Artist’s Eye: John Austen’s Hamlet explores the way in which the visual art can subtly reflect unique and partially transgressive interpretations of characters’ implied interiority in Shakespeare. It takes taking John Austen’s highly aesthetic, art nouveau illustrated edition of Hamlet, dating to 1922, as a case study, paying close attention to symbol, gesture, expression and overall artistic composition as they reflect Austen’s close reading of the play as text. Ahead of his time, the artist anticipates late twentieth-century critical and performative interpretations of, in particular, Hamlet and Ophelia. Thus, this thesis sets out to demonstrate Austen’s artistic ingenuity and foresight, and to highlight the critical value of interpreting artistic renderings of Shakespeare’s characters as a form of literary critique. The republication in 2010 of Austen’s Hamlet signals a renewed appreciation for illustrated editions of Shakespeare, making this project a timely contribution to the field of research pertaining to Shakespearean visual art. Prior to 2010, Austen’s contribution to the visual artistic world of Hamlet had gone unnoticed for much of the twentieth-century, most likely because his copies had been, before this time, extremely limited in number. Provocative and imaginative, his illustrations present an unprecedented dark prince, a complicated and independent Ophelia, a diabolical Ghost, and host of disturbing, deeply symbolic, supernatural, feminine entities. Women are no longer relegated to the background in his Hamlet,as in so many onstage, visual artistic and filmic adaptations of the twentieth-century; instead, they are granted a position centre-stage, with the Greek goddess Nemesis (‘Vengeance’) as their fierce, relentless representative.

Luisa Moore is a PhD student in the School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics. Her research focuses on twentieth-century visual artistic representations of Shakespeare, and how these images shed light on an artist’s reading of the text and the implied interiority of Shakespeare’s characters. Her written thesis takes John Austen’s highly imaginative, art nouveau illustrated Hamlet (1922) as a case study.

Ally Wolfe, Happily Never Later

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Happily Never After

Thursday 14 March, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL


Young Adult (YA) fiction is having a dystopian moment: exploring a future that faces destruction. Dystopian literature explores a time when hard choices must be made, and YA dystopian literature does this with teenagers at the fore, preoccupied with solving the problems of their harsh societies, but with limited options. By reading YA dystopian fiction through a Queer Theory lens we gain an understanding of the futures we expect young adults to believe in. Queer Theory allows us to examine Young Adult protagonists who disrupt the future as it is ‘meant’ to play out.

This paper will discuss works in which children are compelled to fight other children and adults in order to achieve the goals of adults, and will explore two different understandings of the future. The Hunger Games trilogy (2008-2010) by Suzanne Collins has Katniss fulfil the cycle of reproduction in her epilogue, foreshadowing a better future in which our protagonist has had children. On the other hand, Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn Chronicles (1987-2015) does not so closely follow this pattern of reward and continuation of the future through procreation. By considering child protagonists in dystopian societies, we trouble the idea of the innocent child and bring the legal strangeness of this category to trial. This paper will look at the endings of these works, and see how they bring about a recursive, unending future.

Ally Wolfe is a PhD candidate in SLLL and has taught in Gender Studies at ANU. She completed a Bachelor of Arts (Dean’s Scholar) in English Literature and History, as well as a BA (Honours) in English Literature at the University of Wollongong. Her research examines young adult fiction, gendered and generic norms, and dystopian fiction. 

Tina Dixson (TPR), What does it mean to be a queer refugee woman?

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What does it mean to be a queer refugee woman? Collective self-discovery of lived experiences through trauma and agency

Thursday 7 March, 12pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

(Please note change of usual seminar time from 1pm to 12 midday)

Queer refugees occupy a marginal space within refugee narratives. They appear to be more tolerable for the hosting country as their queerness signifies modernity, yet they are excluded from the refugee community itself symbolising the clash of cultures. There is no space of belonging in the queer community either due to potential racism. Additionally, narratives are mostly male-centric.

My research is focused on the lived experiences of queer refugee women. Taking the point of departure in my personal story and moving to stories of other women, I view them through the lens of trauma theory and concepts of agency. Placing particular focus on the life after, I question whether the discovery and embrace of the multiplicity of new refugee identity still remains ongoing for them and whether in a new (presumably) safe home, queer refugee women may be still coming to terms with oppression, discrimination or violence.

Tina Dixson is a PhD candidate in SLLL. Tina has a strong record of engaging with the UN human rights treaties such as CEDAW and the UN programmes such as UNHCR through participating in the development of the Global Compact on Refugees. Tina is also a co-founder of the Queer Sisterhood Project, a peer-run support and advocacy group for queer refugee women in Australia.

Professor Jacky Bratton on Jane Scott, The Lost Amazon of the Strand

Jane Scott, The Lost Amazon of the Strand

Thursday 14th February, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

202 years ago in February 1817 Jane Scott’s gothic melodrama Camilla the Amazon was staged, at her own theatre in London’s Strand, the Sans Pareil – a house that four years later became the Adelphi, and is still in business. In the same year her contemporary, the other Jane –  Jane Austen –  published her comically gothic work, Northanger Abbey. Why does the world not know that Jane Scott came first? Austen was a quiet, middle-class spinster living in Hampshire, unknown in her own lifetime; Scott was a successful London entrepreneur, an actress and a theatre manager as well as a prolific writer. Her theatre is a foundation stone of the modern West End.

I launched this paradox in an article called “Genius comes in all disguises” twenty years ago. Little happened. Then the cause of the actress/manager was taken up by Gilli Bush-Bailey, and together we have written and talked and taught students about her ironic melodramas, her groundbreaking contemporary comedies, the manic edge of her burlesques, and the way in which her works anticipate and have been waiting for post-modern understanding of the pre-Victorian. In 2017 Scott’s comedy Whackham and Windham received its first professional outing for 200 years. Maybe her time has come.

This lecture will present a whistle-stop tour of Jane’s life and work, her extraordinary energy and creativity and the many new things she brought to writing for the popular stage.

Jacky Bratton is Professor Emerita of the University of London and an Honorary Fellow of Royal Holloway, University of London. Her most recent books are The Making of the West End Stage, New Readings in Theatre History and The Victorian Clown, all published by Cambridge University Press. She is still tying up the ends of a career-long preoccupation with the cultural worlds of the nineteenth century, especially those below the radar of ‘the legitimate’, and the high cultural waterline that has succeeded that old definition of what is respectable. Her subjects have mostly been women and children, and often not respectable at all.