Monique Rooney, ‘Only Mediate’

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Only Mediate: The Mere Interest of Interbrow in Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret (2011) and Howards End (2017)

Thursday 11 October, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

‘Only connect’ functions both as the epigraph to E. M. Forster’s Howards End (1910) and as the central character Margaret Schlegel’s exhortation to her husband, capitalist entrepreneur Henry Wilcox. With her exasperated ‘only connect’, Margaret means for Henry to recognise that his refusal of hospitality and condemnation of the actions of others involve blindness to his own culpability in the tragic events that have unfolded. Signalling potential hospitality in any given situation, ‘only connect’ is here a means to an altruistic end. This paper repurposes ‘only connect’ as ‘only mediate’ in order to think about bourgeois conduct underpinning middlebrow narrative, interpersonal mediation and the role of intermedia in Kenneth Lonergan’s film and television work. The television miniseries Howards End (2017, screenwriter Lonergan, director Hettie McDonald) and the film Margaret (2011, director and screenwriter Lonergan) are coming-of-age narratives in which tragic storylines pivot on the actions of young, middle-class women who insert themselves into the lives of other people. This female, bourgeois mediation can, moreover, be understood in terms of the capitalist-media environment in which both Howards End and Margaret were produced.

My coinage ‘interbrow’—crossing ‘middlebrow’ with ‘intermedia’—points to my interest in the role and significance of contemporary media in the context of bourgeois concern, with further reference to what Sianne Ngai calls ‘mere interest’. ‘Mere interest’ is a weaker or cooler version of the curious that, for Ngai, corresponds to the circulation of the artwork within a bourgeois public sphere and among late capitalist networks of production, distribution, commodification and consumption. In this context, ‘mere interest’ gestures to our aesthetic proclivities, judgements and actions as they hyperconnect, enmeshed within distributive networks. This paper considers the transformative possibilities and limits of ‘mere interest’ as a will to ‘only mediate’, investigating the interbrow of Lonergan’s productions and their portrayal of a feminine drive toward resolution for selves and others.

Monique Rooney is a senior lecturer in the English Program, School of Literature, Languages and Literature ANU. Her book Living Screens: Melodrama and Plasticity in Contemporary Film and Television (2015) explores the far-reaching legacy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s ur-melodrama Pygmalion as a form that is essentially about mediation and metamorphosis. She has published on the role and significance of intermedia in Angelaki and New Review of Film and Television Studies and her essay on melodrama is forthcoming in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia.

Gemma King on Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival

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Denis Villeneuve’s multilingual cinema: Decentring space, time and language in Arrival

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

With dialogue in Arabic, English, Finnish, French, Hungarian, Japanese, Mandarin, Norwegian, Russian, Somali, Spanish and even extraterrestrial languages, Québécois filmmaker Denis Villeneuve’s cinema revolves around language. From 2010’s trilingual Incendies to 2017’s heptalingual Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve’s films increasingly feature protagonists who not only speak multiple languages, but use multilingualism to exert social power. In these films, lingua francas like English and French remain essential, but it is the ability to manipulate peripheral and even marginalised languages that is key to unlocking oppressive structures and shifting power dynamics within them.

This talk analyses Denis Villeneuve’s multilingual, transnational cinema, in which characters not only understand multiple languages, but deploy them strategically. Drawing on Bill Marshall’s vision of cinema and nation in Quebec National Cinema as a ‘very mobile spiral’ (2000: 3), it charts the progressive decentring at play in Villeneuve’s 2016 quadrilingual film, Arrival.

Gemma King is a Lecturer in French at the ANU. Her research explores language, power and cultural representation in contemporary French, Francophone and transnational cinemas. Her first book Decentring France: Multilingualism and Power in Contemporary French Cinema was published with Manchester University Press in 2017, and her work has also appeared in Contemporary French Civilization, French Cultural Studies, The Australian Journal of French Studies, The Conversation and Francosphères. She is currently working on the book Jacques Audiard for the Manchester French Film Directors series.

Ally Wolfe, Broken Bodies, Remade Wholes

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Broken Bodies, Remade Wholes:
Unwind as Frankenstein Retold and Reversed

Thursday 6 September, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

New technologies create new opportunities for anxiety, and using human body parts to create life is a special kind of horrifying fictional procedure. At first glance, Unwind by Neal Shusterman and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein approach this concept in inverted ways. In Frankenstein, a ‘monster’ is built out of the parts of corpses, and rises against his horrified creator, while Unwind centres on a society that justifies breaking down its own children for their organs, and using these parts to sustain itself, until the children rise against it. Unwind is centred on the precept that that which is broken down still lives, in a divided state, controllable by the larger body to which it’s donated. The children broken down for parts are perceived and understood by the authorities of this fictional universe as criminals waiting to happen, excess bodies and liabilities. Frankenstein’s monster horrified Dr Frankenstein due to his perceived imperfection and lack of accuracy to his father’s vision of the perfect creation. Unwind is inspired to take its children apart due to that same disgust. Fear of what one has created and its difference from oneself pervades the horrors and potential horrors of both works.

In my paper I argue that Unwind mirrors Frankenstein in how it centres on an adult fear of the children it has created, placed specifically in a time and place where they have the technology and the lack of empathy to tell themselves that it is better not to ‘waste’ what they have made. Unwind and Frankenstein both delve into old fears and new technology, embodying and perpetuating a cycle of technology prompting anxiety prompting technology, until all fear what they have wrought.

Ally Wolfe is a PhD student in English Literature at ANU. Her work focuses on Young Adult fiction, dystopia, and technologies.

Chris Bishop, The Dark Gaze of Galla Placidia

 

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The Dark Gaze of Galla Placidia

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

 

The Roman empress Galla Placidia haunts the Cantos of Ezra Pound:

And there was grass on the floor of the temple,

Or where the floor of it might have been;

            Gold fades in the gloom,

            Under the blue-black roof, Placidia’s,

Of the exarchate; and we sit here

By the arena, les gradins… (Canto XXI)

The numerous drafts of Canto XXI demonstrate the significance of the empress and her centrality (in the mind of the poet) to a meeting in Verona, at a café near the Roman arena, where Pound met T.S. Eliot in the summer of 1922. That year, Pound was in Verona with both his wife, Dorothy, and his lover, Bride Scratton, and the latter had a strong recollection of Eliot placing a manuscript of The Waste Landon the table before Pound.  Pound had just finished his revisions of that poem and found himself both in awe of Eliot’s genius, and dismayed by what he saw as his own inability to achieve the same level of brilliance.  Eliot, on leave from his position at Lloyds Bank, was becoming increasingly critical of Pound’s Bel Esprit venture, and feared that the public-funding promised by it would see him lose his job.  And so, they met, Pound and Eliot (and, apparently, Galla Placidia) in a café beside the Veronese arena.

This paper will explore some of the complex receptions of Galla Placidia during the early 20th century, focusing primarily on the poetry of Pound, but also contextualising that reception within the memories of Aleksandr Blok and Carl Gustav Jung, both of whom also fell in love with the long-dead empress.

Dr Chris Bishop he teaches Latin, Ancient Greek and History in the Centre for Classical Studies (ANU). This paper will appear in East is East? Orientalism and the Western Reception of Ancient Women in Power. His publications include Text and Transmission in Medieval Europe (2007), Medievalist Comics and the American Century (2016), and numerous articles on modern receptions of Classical and Medieval literature.

Katherine Cox, ‘Age of the Supersoldier’

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Age of the Supersoldier: Subversive Cyborgs in

Iron Man and Avengers: Age of Ultron

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

In 2013, the U.S. military began development of an ‘Iron Man’ suit – a powered, armored exoskeleton – heralding the possibility of technologically enhanced supersoldiers in the not-too-distant future. Despite the political and ethical dangers that supersoldiers pose, this paper proposes that the supersoldier – like Donna Haraway’s cyborg – also contains the potential to disrupt the hegemonic institutions of capitalism and nationalistic militarism that give it life. Marvel’s Iron Man is a direct beneficiary of the American military-industrial complex, and certainly the character functions as an evolving metaphor for American optimism regarding the role of technology in national security. In both comic and film incarnations, however, Iron Man continually rejects military control of his technology, and re-negotiates the relationship between technology and violence. As a cyborg, his integration with technology is ambivalent and painful as often as it is empowering. I will examine the Frankensteinian themes in the Iron Man mythos, especially in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) which can be read as a Frankenstein retelling. Iron Man’s desperate attempt to create a non-human protector for the Earth results instead in a hostile artificial intelligence, Ultron, who carries through on the threat delivered by Frankenstein’s Monster, builds himself a body, and turns against humanity. Crucially, however, Iron Man does this in a desperate attempt to make himself redundant, suggesting a deep discomfort with the concept of the supersoldier. In this paper I will suggest that although the supersoldiers of Iron Man are deeply rooted in privileged ideologies of wealth and war, like Haraway’s cyborg, they are “exceedingly unfaithful to their origins”.

Katherine Cox is a PhD candidate in Literature in SLLL. Her research interests include science fiction and fantasy, apocalyptic fiction, critical theory, film and game studies, and popular culture. Her doctoral project investigates the affective influence of national security in Marvel’s Iron Man (2008) and sequels.

Julianne Lamond & Melinda Harvey

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Book Reviewing in the Australian Literary FIeld

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

Most of the writing about books that is published in Australia takes place outside the academy: more than 3,000 book reviews are published each year in Australian newspapers and magazines. These reviews constitute a sector of the online literary sphere that retains strong links to legacy print media, as well as to other consecrating mechanisms in the field such as literary prizes and university syllabuses. Book reviews are an important and understudied sector of the literary field. They are also, as we know from the Stella and Vida counts of the past decade, strongly gendered. This paper discusses the key findings thus far of a collaborative research project on gender in Australian book reviewing—a project that aims to understand the relationship between gender, academic criticism and more public forms of writing about literature over the past 30 years in Australia.

Julieanne Lamond lectures in English at ANU and is editor of the journal Australian Literary Studies.

Melinda Harvey is Lecturer in Literary Studies at Monash University, is series editor of Monash University Press’ Contemporary Australian Writers series, and is a current judge of the Miles Franklin Literary Award.

Deirdre Byrne on Black Panther

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Give the Black Girl the Remote: Decolonising and Depatriarchalising

Technology in Black Panther

Thursday 2 August, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLL

In Ryan Coogler’s 2018 film, Black Panther, the small African kingdom of Wakanda is situated on a huge vein of vibranium, the strongest and most versatile (fictional) material in the universe. Vibranium is the source of the Wakandans’ technological enhancements, including a force-field around their high-tech capital city that makes it appear from the outside that the kingdom is impoverished and technologically primitive. Marvel’s and Coogler’s acts of giving vibranium to the Wakandans represents a powerful act of decolonising technology, which – in colonial logic – is the sole preserve of white male scientists. The most advanced technology is now in the hands of Wakanda, where the technological genius is not the hypermasculine T’challa, but his sister Shuri, disparaged by traditionalists in Wakanda as “a child”. Despite her irreverent and iconoclastic approach to tradition, sixteen-year-old Shuri is, according to the film’s producer Nate Moore, “the smartest person in the world, smarter than Tony Stark [Iron Man]”. The film’s portrayal of Shuri – a black girl nerd who is manifestly her brother’s equal in the arts of war and technology – points to how far popular media has come in decolonising and depatriarchalising control of resources in the twenty-first century.

Deirdre Byrne is Professor of English Studies and Head of the Institute for Gender Studies at the University of South Africa. She is editor in chief of scrutiny2: issues in english studies in southern africa and Gender Questions. She is one of the co-editors of Fluid Love, Fluid Gender (forthcoming from Brill) as well as a co-author of Foundations in English Literary Studies (Oxford University Press). in 2019).