Louisa Kirk, Fantasy and Event in Nella Larsen’s Passing

Join us for this week’s CuSPP seminar:

Fantasy and Event in Nella Larsen’s Passing

Thursday 30 May, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

UPDATE: Unfortunately due to illness, this week’s TLS will not be running. Our TLS series will start back in Semester 2.

Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929), a noteworthy text of the Harlem Renaissance, portrays the strong and strange connection between Clare and Irene, two women who racially ‘pass’ between black and white in 1920’s New York. The novel is often treated as a mysterious text, examined through the lens of race or read for latent lesbianism. While the complex and illusive nature of the passing encourages multiple interpretations, few scholars, if any, closely read Irene’s and Clare’s connection as friendship. Accounting for the force of race and the sexual ambiguity of Clare’s and Irene’s connection and reading their bond as friendship facilitates an examination of the text from another direction, offering insight into a particular kind of female friendship; one in which identification appears to lead toward a repulsive and desired merging. Drawing on the work of Sianne Ngai on female envy and Judith Butler on identification, this paper argues that Passing presents a friendship in which likeness threatens to turn into consuming sameness, as the basis of the friendship shifts from identification to emulation, fantasy to event. Passing, therefore, depicts a female friendship which negotiates blurred boundaries: race and sexuality, the self and other, want and fear.

Louisa Kirk is undertaking her PhD in English Literature at the Australian National University, examining female friendship in North American texts of the 20th and 21st century. In 2017 Louisa won the Leslie Holdsworth Allen Memorial Prize for the best Honours thesis in English at the ANU. Louisa received a 2019 Stella Prize/ANU Gender Institute internship in Melbourne, Australia.

Kate Oakes, Till the Cows Come Home: A Scene from the Novel Westhill

Join us for this week’s CuSPP seminar:

Till the Cows Come Home: A Scene from the Novel Westhill

Thursday 23 May, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

In Animal Studies discourse, farms are places of marginalization and cruelty. Agricultural practices involve the killing of astonishing numbers of animals, and demonstrate, quite graphically, what Dinesh Wadiwel calls the “continuing warlike domination” of the nonhuman animal (285).

Simultaneously though, farms, and particularly ethically focused farms, are unique sites of human-animal interaction, where interspecies bonds are purposefully or incidentally cultivated. Agricultural communities are well placed to recognize what Derrida termed “unsubstitutable singularity” (9).

In his seminal essay “Why Look at Animals?” John Berger captures the inherent contradictions of farming when he writes that historically animals were “subjected and worshipped, bred and sacrificed” (7). Farms are places of human-animal familiarity, and human-animal brutality. How then are these conflicting ideas to be reconciled to form an ethically minded and rounded understanding of agriculture? More specifically, how can fictional literature play a role in examining the nuance, ambiguity and contradiction of these spaces? The creative component of my PhD thesis grapples with this thematically, and one scene particularly aims to explore the nexus of conflicting ideas and feelings. In this scene the protagonist Charlotte tells of her attempt to aid a farming family when a sudden flood causes two of their dairy cows to become stuck in the marshy banks of the River Denum.

Kate Oakes is a PhD student in the School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics, working on a Creative Writing thesis. She is writing a Bildungsroman novel set in rural southern England, and her research deals primarily with Animal Studies scholarship, and the novels of Victorian author Thomas Hardy.

Book Launch: Christie Margrave, Writing the Landscape: Exposing Nature in French Women’s Fiction 1789–1815

Please join us on Tuesday June 4 at 4pm to celebrate the launch of our new colleague Christie Margrave’s book, Writing the Landscape: Exposing Nature in French Women’s Fiction 1789–1815, which has just been published with Legenda. The launch will take place from 4-5pm in the AD Hope Conference Room (room 128 at the end of the hall) and will be hosted by the French Research Cluster, the School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics and the Humanities Research Centre. Please spread the word; all are welcome and drinks and nibbles will be provided.

In the meantime, learn more about Christie’s book here:


Women novelists were among the most popular authors of the First Republic and First Empire, yet they are frequently overlooked in favour of their canonical male counterparts. Their penchant for sentimental novels has led some later critics to take their writing at face value as apolitical and domestic, at odds with France’s violent convulsions. Furthermore, their carefully crafted presentation of natural settings has, thus far, been dismissed completely. Yet, as Christie Margrave shows, the natural landscape was far from being a casually chosen backdrop for writers such as Cottin, Genlis, Krüdener, Souza and Staël. Rather, the ‘escape into nature’ given to their female protagonists was a means to expose and confront the everyday reality and emotional suffering faced by women in the Revolutionary decade and Napoleonic Empire. By highlighting self-expression, and by celebrating the figure of the melancholic wanderer, the social misfit, or the visionary, in the setting of an often tempestuous Nature, they also exerted substantial influence on the literary Romanticism which was soon to capture the European imagination.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Monique Rooney, Mediating Sovereignty: The Crown as ‘Interbrow’

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Mediating Sovereignty: The Crown as ‘Interbrow’

Thursday 16 May, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

This paper reads The Crown as an example of narrative ‘interbrow’—my coinage for middlebrow stories produced in the time of the internet. The Crown depicts British royalty as susceptible to middlebrow culture pervading late-twentieth century life, with its enmeshment of mass media networks. In its first two seasons at least, The Crown’s portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II positions her as a figure whose performance of detachment, and upholding of ideals of monarchical impartiality, are in tension with the commoditising effects of mass media. Billed as a ‘Netflix Original’, although written by respected playwright Peter Morgan, the series formally enacts and thematically explores the limitations and possibilities of the sovereign subject’s autonomous judgement from within a culture conditioned by deeply mediatised desires and consumer-based drives. This paper looks at the series’ entanglement of middlebrow perspectives with twentieth- and twenty-first century media, revealing not only the way in which royalty fail to escape culture-industrial intermediation but also drawing attention to The Crown’s representation of tenuous yet tenacious bonds between women. It does so by focusing on two episodes that read together juxtapose the publication of a ‘nude’ photograph of Princess Margaret with her sister Elizabeth’s embodiment of the crown.

Monique Rooney is a Senior Lecturer in the English Program, School of Literatures, Languages and Linguistics at The Australian National University. She is the author of Living Screens: Melodrama and Plasticity in Contemporary Film and Television (2015) and the co-editor, with Guy Davidson, of Queer Objects (Routledge, 2019). Her essays on contemporary intermedia have recently been published in Angelaki and New Review of Film and Television Studies. Her current project investigates the role of ‘interbrow’ in a range of contemporary media.

Will Peyton, Liu Cixin’s Diqiu Wangshi Trilogy

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Liu Cixin’s Diqiu Wangshi Trilogy

Thursday 9 May, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

This thesis examines Liu Cixin’s Diqiu Wangshi (The Remembrance of Earth’s Past), a Chinese science fiction trilogy whose translation is unprecedentedly popular in the Western world. In his interviews and critical writings, Liu Cixin often explains that he is predominantly influenced by modern and contemporary Anglophone authors, including George Orwell, Arthur C. Clarke, Aldous Huxley and Ray Bradbury, among others. By considering Liu’s trilogy in view of such influences, this thesis breaks down the aesthetic and thematic components of Diqiu Wangshi, these being scientism, humanism, technologism, historicism and utopianism. It also considers the influence of the Chinese author Wang Meng’s youth fiction Qingchun Wansui and how its idealism helps to shape the aesthetic and moral character of Liu’s work. The purpose of this analysis is to account for the originality of Diqiu Wangshi, arguing that its ingenuity is found in its conscious engagement with translated fiction rather than in the literature of Chinese science fiction. The dissertation more generally aims at exploring how contemporary Chinese writers of the post-Mao period are clearly more influenced by western translated fiction and universal thematic concerns than current critical approaches seem to suggest.

Will Peyton is a PhD candidate in SLLL. He has published in The International History Review, The China Story and Science Fiction Studies.

Can You Ever Truly Separate Art From The Artist?

7 – 9:30pm, 9 May, Manning Clarke Hall.

The ANU Learning Communities present this free event in collaboration with ANU Advancement (ANU Alumni).

Against the backdrop of the rise of the #metoo movement, the conviction of paedophiles and the pushback against misogynists throughout history, how do we react and process art connected to an artist who was a terrible person?

Come along next Thursday to watch CuSPP Researcher Monique Rooney argue in this fantastic event.

Admission is free however seating is limited, so registration is essential.

Visit the event page here for more details and ticketing information:


Manuel Clemens, How (Not) to Become Tolerant: Affects and Habitus in Lessing’s Nathan the Wise

Join us for this week’s CuSPP Seminar:

How (Not) to Become Tolerant: Affects and Habitus in Lessing’s Nathan the Wise

Thursday 2 May, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

The coincidences and phantasms that open Lessing’s Nathan the Wise reappear throughout the entire drama and even bring about its happy ending. While the usual interpretation of the plot maintains that the illusions held by the protagonists of the play—such as their superstitions, unrestrained affects and prejudices—are overcome via a learning process and transformed into tolerance, I maintain a different view. In my presentation I will argue, first, that these illusions are gently enlightened, rather than overcome, and, second, that this process only ostensibly leads to tolerance. As a consequence, my analysis focuses on the negotiation between tolerance and intolerance, and finally arrives at the conclusion that the maid Daja actually represents tolerance better than the protagonists, because she is the only one from whom tolerant endurance is demanded.

In my interpretation, the play represents how not to become tolerant because of the gap between the privileged notion of tolerance exemplified by the main characters, such as Nathan’s daughter Recha and the Templar who rescues her, and the disadvantage experienced by the maid Daja, whose affective life is rendered illegitimate by the development of the play. The affective life of the main protagonists follows Bourdieu’s model of a privileged habitus and Daja, a maid and supporting character, is excluded from it. My reading of Nathan the Wise reverses the conventional understanding of tolerance as something that always refers to the main characters. Instead of focusing upon how they exemplify tolerance, I focus on the process through which their tolerance is constituted (and its difficulty), which enables me to argue that it is easier for them to become ‘tolerant’ than it is for Daja.

Manuel Clemens has taught in the German program in SLLL since August 2018. He has previously taught at Rutgers University, Leuphana University. Germany, and University Iberoamericana and the University of Michoacán, Mexico. His work focuses on the vexed relationship between aesthetics, education and politics in the constitution of liberal society.

Katharina Bonzel, Criminal Justice: Televisual Policing in the Age of Disillusionment

Join us for this week’s CuSPP seminar:

Criminal Justice: Televisual Policing in the Age of Disillusionment

Thursday 4 April, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

This paper argues that the popular television series The Blacklist (2013-present) marks a turn in “terror TV” (Tasker) towards criminals being the better police as trust in traditional law enforcement evaporates post 9/11. While traditional crime and procedural dramas such as NCIS still exist, terror TV such as The Blacklist represents a shift in the stability of the genre and reflects a deep sense of global precarity.

While the first decade of the new millennium saw a surge of superhero movie franchises celebrating American exceptionalism and heroic individualism, the second decade is beginning to show cracks in this facade of the classic American hero. Faced with terror abroad and at home, and transnational crime/terror organisations more advanced and better organised than any governmental agency, law enforcement agencies are deemed inadequate, hindered, even crippled, by moral, ethical and legal requirements.

The Blacklist renders the traditional forces of the law close to impotent, and displays a distinctly post-9/11 loss of trust in, and growing frustration with, traditional institutions of law enforcement and government.

Katharina Bonzel is a lecturer in screen studies in SLLL. She is the coeditor of Representations of Sports Coaches in Film: Looking to Win and her monograph National Pastimes: Cinema, Sports, and Nation will be released with the University of Nebraska Press in fall 2019.

Paul Magee, Writing is Speaking

Join us for this week’s CuSPP seminar:

Writing is Speaking

Thursday 28 March, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

Why is it that when we read a passage of dense theoretical prose, say in Frederic Jameson, or encounter a “garden path” sentence (e.g. The old man the boat), or just generally want more clarity from the text in front of us, that we slow down and sound the words out? The direct answer is that ‘intonation contours and sentence rhythms provide patterns which group words into phrases and highlight new and important information’ (Slowiaczek and Clifton 1980, p. 581). Sounding the words out is a way of performatively guessing at that missing grammatical coding, the sonic one. I am interested in what such a reparative act presupposes about the nature of writing. Does it not imply that the writer conceived those words—however un-colloquial their register (Biber and Conrad 2010)—as speech in the first place? Are distinctions between orality and the literary really that firm, once we hone in on what happens in “inner speech” (Vološinov/Bakhtin 1971; Vygotsky 1961), in the moments of a clause’s initial generation? Further: what relation does poetry-writing bear to that founding indistinction between the spoken and written?

Paul Magee is author of Stone Postcard (John Leonard Press 2014), Cube Root of Book (John Leonard Press 2006) and the prose ethnography From Here to Tierra del Fuego (University of Illinois Press, 2000). He is Associate Professor of Poetry at the University of Canberra.

Genèse: Gemma King at the French Film Festival

Genèse: Gemma King at the French Film Festival

This Thursday March 21, CuSPP member Dr Gemma King will give a Q&A following the screening of Philippe Lesage’s French-Canadian film Genèse, at Palace Electric Cinemas for the French Film Festival. The evening includes live music, wine and cheese and is organised by the High Commission of Canada. Book your tickets here and join us for a conversation about French-language film: https://www.affrenchfilmfestival.org/highlights/canberra.


Gemma King at French Film Festival Genesis Poster