Monique Rooney on Ottessa Moshfegh

Tracing Visible Falls in Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018)

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Thursday 12 March, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

In Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018), the unnamed narrator decides to hibernate in her New York City apartment for a year, inducing and extending sleep through excessive use of prescription medication. After finding traces of either semi- or unconscious activity while sleeping, the narrator arranges for conceptual artist Ping Xi to video-record her in her bedroom while she is heavily sedated. The novel’s ‘year’ begins in 2000 and ends on 9/11. Its fascination with discerning a ‘being-in-sleep’ is offset by its invocation of pre-digital media and devices, including both the narrator’s repeat viewings on her VCR of films starring Harrison Ford and Whoopi Goldberg and her interactions with analogue equipment (answering machines, video-cameras). This paper connects the narrator’s voluptuous love of 80s and 90s media with the reader’s reception of the novel in which she sleeps. I elucidate the role and significance of a range of media and devices in Moshfegh’s novel while attending to the limits of sleeper narratability. These limits are made most palpable, firstly, when the narrator experiences loss of her ‘sleep-imaginary’ in the process of viewing Ping Xi’s art exhibition featuring video images of her and, secondly, when she repeatedly watches VCR-recorded images of her friend Reva’s ‘fall’ from the World Trade Centre on 9/11. Both the fall into sleep and fall-toward-death are barely visible records of tenuous life, existing at a threshold where the authentic self momentarily emerges along with its disappearance.

Monique Rooney teaches literature, film and television in the English Program at The Australian National University. Her current research investigates ‘interbrow’—her coinage for middlebrow media produced and received during our time of digital interconnectedness.

Annelise Roberts on the poetics of nuclear testing in Australia

Atomic totem: the poetics of nuclear testing in Australia

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Thursday 5 March, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

British nuclear testing in Australia has been poorly publicly memorialised. This is in spite of the significant risks the program posed to public safety and the remarkably “dangerous” and “deceitful” behaviour of the Menzies government and its agents throughout the episode – behaviour which was condemned by a subsequent Royal Commission as evidence of a grave “cynicism” (Conclusions and Recommendations, 1985). In this seminar, I present an overview of my PhD research into the poetics of texts connected to the nuclear testing program. I read a diverse range of texts – including works of Aboriginal life writing, the memoirs of a surveyor raconteur, and naming practices for places and military operations – through the lens of ‘unsettlement’, a critical device that has been developed in recent work on Australian poetics which enables readings of marginal texts in ways that destabilise the colonial project. Focusing on the appropriation of Aboriginal imagery in the conceptualisation of the nuclear testing program, I build an argument for the existence of a cultural symptom that I call the ‘Australian desultory’: the melancholic result of the conjunction of an unconfronted violent colonial history and the existential anxieties of the nuclear future. I also outline how this research informs my creative practice and give a short reading from the creative component of my thesis, Totem: an epistolary novel.

Annelise Roberts is a PhD candidate in the School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics at the Australian National University. Her critical work, poetry and fiction has been published or is forthcoming in journals such as Rabbit, Mascara Literary Review, Cordite, and The Suburban Review.

Ash Collins on ‘Culture Play’

Culture Play: Language Learning and Self-Cultivation (Bildung)

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Thursday 27 February, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

In this paper, we explore the implications that the notions of Bildung and play hold for language learning. The opposition between learning as a form of vocational training for the workplace (Ausbildung) and learning as a process of self-cultivation (Bildung) seems to be ever more deeply entrenched in the twenty-first-century university. In language learning in particular, this distinction between two competing aims influences the way in which educators approach curriculum design and inevitably shapes the attitudes learners bring to the classroom. We contest this opposition by applying Friedrich Schiller’s understanding of aesthetic education to language learning. We argue that when learning activities are envisaged as a form of non-threatening and free-flowing play, skills-based language training becomes an experience of self-cultivation in which the language learner creatively renegotiates their own identity through an encounter with both their own values and those of the target culture.

Ash Collins is a Lecturer in the French Department at the ANU. Ash’s main research project currently consists of a comparative study of Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Derrida and Martin Heidegger revolving around the theme of deconstruction and religion. Ash has published several articles in recent years on the work of Nancy.

Manuel Clemens obtained his PhD from Yale University and until recently was Lecturer in German at the ANU.

Christina Neuwirth on ‘Quantitative evidence of gender inequality’

Quantitative evidence of gender inequality in contemporary Scottish publishing

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

The UK publishing industry has an equality problem. Much recent research has evidenced systemic gender, ethnicity and class bias (‘In Full Colour: Cultural Diversity in Publishing Today’ 2004; Squires 2017; Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics, n.d.; Ramdarshan Bold 2018; Brook, O’Brien, and Taylor 2018; Wood 2019). However, specific evidence is missing from the Scottish literary sector: while VIDA (2018) and the recent Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics report have shown biases in UK reviewing, their work’s scope does not include Scottish national newspapers; while Griffith (2015) has shown gender bias in UK and US literary awards, the dataset does not include Scottish awards; and although gender pay gap reporting in the UK showed average differences in pay between men and women “from 11.3% to 29.69%” (Flood 2018), Scottish publishers were exempt from reporting as they comprise mostly small and medium enterprises (Ramdarshan Bold 2012). This paper examines gender equality publishing output by Scottish publishers Jan-Dec 2017, reviewing in Scottish national newspapers Jan-Dec 2017, and three selected literary festivals and their programming, Jan-Dec 2017. Building on the work of Stevie Marsden (2016; 2019) on gender equality in the Saltire Society Literary Awards, this paper also examines two suites of literary awards, the James Tait Black Prizes 1919-2018, and the Saltire Society Literary Awards 1965-2018.

Christina Neuwirth is the recipient of the Arts and Humanities Research Council/Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities Creative Economy Studentship “Women of Words”, and is currently completing her PhD in Publishing Studies at University of Stirling, University of Glasgow and Scottish Book Trust. Her fiction and non-fiction writing has been published in various anthologies, journals and magazines in the UK, and her debut novella Amphiban (Speculative Books) was published in 2018. @ChristinaNwrth

Kateřina Lišková, ‘Sexual Liberation, Socialist Style’

Sexual Liberation, Socialist Style: Intimate Life and Expertise in Communist Czechoslovakia

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Thursday 7 November, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

While the usual account places sexual liberation to 1960s West, I will argue for an earlier and systemic sexual liberation that took place in the 1950s in one of the countries of the Cold War East. I will show how important aspects of sexuality were freed already during the first postwar decade in Czechoslovakia: abortion was legalized, homosexuality decriminalized, the female orgasm came into experts’ focus – and all that was underscored by an emphasis on gender equality. However, by the late stages, known as Normalization, gender discourses reversed, and women were to aspire to be caring mothers and docile wives. Good sex was to cement a lasting marriage and family.

In contrast to the usual Western accounts highlighting the importance of social movements to sexual and gender freedom, here we discover, based on the analysis of rich archival sources covering forty years of state socialism in Czechoslovakia, how experts, including sexologists, demographers, and psychologists, advised the state on population development, marriage, and the family to shape the most intimate aspects of people’s lives.

Kateřina Lišková is an Associate Professor in gender studies and sociology at Masaryk University. Her research focuses on gender, sexuality, and the social organization of intimacy, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe. Her research on gender, sexuality, and expertise under state socialism was published by Cambridge University Press and won the 2019 Barbara Heldt Prize for Best Book and received an honorable mention for the 2019 Adele E. Clarke Book Award.

Kate Flaherty on Ellen Terry’s 1914 Tour

‘Permitted to be a person’: Re-reading Ellen Terry’s 1914 Tour to the ‘Antipodes’

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Thursday 24 October, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

In 1914, at the age of 67, the most celebrated star of London stage embarked on a tour to Australia and New Zealand. Ellen Terry’s doctor and close family were against the venture, and biographers and theatre historians have dismissed it as ill-judged or indicative of her mental decline. In my paper I challenge this reading. I excavate media interviews and performance reviews to examine Terry’s responsive and intelligent interactions with her Australian and New Zealand audiences. These reveal her eager and critical interest in the experience of female suffrage – won in these nations long before it was granted in Britain. Terry’s correspondence from this period also reveals a lively sense of adventure and a vivid responsiveness to the land and flora which has been utterly elided by accounts that focus on her anxiety and illness. Along with Sarah Bernhardt’s, Terry’s is one of the most documented stage lives of all time. The cursory treatment given to her 1914 tour all of her biographers reveals a pervasive paradigm of theatre history: that the life narrative of the actress is read through narratives of her nation of origin. This sits at odds with dynamic and transitory life experience and influence of many touring actresses in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. My study of Terry is the first of six chapters in a book that investigates the moving lives of some of these moving women.

Kate Flaherty is a SeniorLecturer in English and Drama in the School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics, ANU. Kate’s research focuses on how Shakespeare’s works play on the stage of public culture. Her monograph Ours as We Play it: Australia Plays Shakespeare (UWAP, 2011) examined three plays in performance in contemporary Australia. More recent work investigates Shakespeare on the colonial stage and its public interplay with education, gender politics, imperialism, and sectarian friction.

Jyoti Nandan on Nationalism’s betrayal of women

Nationalism’s Betrayal of Women: Anita Desai’s Clear Light of Day

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Thursday 3 October, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

Nationalism, when ill-conceived, can come at the expense of values held dear among the more emancipated. The specific focus of this paper is Indian Nationalism and its impact on the women of India. The modernity pursued by the Movement emerged not from a questioning of both tradition and change, but from a compromise of a kind. Nationalist ideology split the domain of culture into the the public and the private. In the public, represented by men, it was necessary to modernise, while in the private, represented by women, Indian tradition must be kept alive and Indian identity intact. (Partha Chatterjee, 1993) The result was a freeze on women’s development. The separation of the private and the public was a way of countering colonial dominance and maintaining self-identity, but it led to an unhealthy Manichaenism – a non-dialectical opposition between the two spheres.  Unable to see that women’s freedom and the freedom of the nation are not in conflict, the leaders exhorted women to denounce assertion of equal rights and shape themselves to suit the needs of the nation. Women’s emancipation was held back, in some respects, by Gandhi, whose name is synonymous with Indian nationalism. Gandhi essentialised female sexuality by appealing to the ‘female’ virtues of chastity, self-sacrifice and suffering in women and did not seem to have questioned the cost to women themselves of an emphasis on these qualities.  Women themselves were complicit in the promotion of nationalist ideology.  As their autobiographical writings showed, they came to believe that their private aspirations must be subordinated to the concerns of the nation.  Anita Desai’s Clear Light of Day is a subtle portrayal of the impact of the strategies employed by Indian Nationalism on the women of India.  It counters the Movement’s separation of the private and the public as it is largely through the portrayal of the life of one family that it throws light on this impact. In other words, it suggests that what occurs in the public affects the private and vice versa.

Jyoti Nandan is an Honorary Associate Professor in the School of Literature, Languages, and Linguistics, Australian National University.  Her research focus in the main has been New Literatures in English.  She has given scholarly presentations and published widely in this area.  She has generally used the post-colonial feminist framework to analyse literary works.

Jono Lineen on Walking

Perfect Motion: How Walking Makes Us Wiser

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Thursday 19 September, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

Since our first ancestor rose up to place one foot in front of another, our desire to walk has produced fundamental changes in our bodies and minds.

In Perfect Motion, Jono Lineen investigates that transformation, and why walking has made us more creative, helped us to learn, constructed our perception of time, strengthened our resilience and provided a way of making sense of our life – and death.

In this presentation Lineen discusses how walking has become humankind’s most open and creative state and how everyone can utilise these qualities to become more innovative and productive. 

Jono Lineen spent almost 20 years traveling the world working as a forester, ski racer, mountain guide, humanitarian relief worker and writer. He is a curator at the National Museum of Australia whose recent research investigates the link between walking and creativity. His books include River Trilogy, Into the Heart of the Himalayas and Perfect Motion.

Anne-Mette Bech Albrechtslund on Goodreads

A balancing act: Putting up bookshelves on a social media platform

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Thursday 12 September, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

This talk concerns the interplay between social media and contemporary reading practices as seen from a qualitative, discourse-oriented perspective. The popular social book cataloguing site Goodreads is used as a starting point to examine and discuss the dynamics of a developing digital reading culture, focusing on the use of so-called ‘bookshelves’ on the site. While Goodreads has been successful in creating the kind of participatory culture which may directly influence the publishing communication circuit, it has also become increasingly clear in recent years that there are strong economic and strategic interests tied to the platform’s business model. Suspicions and worries about Goodreads’ increasing commercialization have often been aired among users, not least in the continuing discussions on the site about the purpose of bookshelves, and the policies relating to them certainly seem to be an indication of that. In this talk, I will present examples of these discussions and discuss how these can be seen part of an appropriating strategy where users claim ownership of the online space they inhabit and act as literary curators and critics in their own right.

Anne-Mette Bech Albrechtslund is a Danish researcher in the fields of media and information studies with a background in comparative literature. She is currently a Visiting Fellow at the SLLL. Her published research focuses on digital reading culture, gaming communities, internet research methods, and more.

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.