Monique Rooney on CATS as Elemental Melodrama

Join us for the next CuSPP Seminar (taking place via zoom)

Thursday 9 December, 4.30 – 6pm (see CuSPP email or contact for zoom link).

Elemental Limits: Cats (2019), Melodrama and the Heaviside Layer

From its inaugural performance at the New London Theatre (1981), Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats has been a blockbuster success recognised for its role in sparking a new era of musical-theatre. Described as an ‘immense affective encompasser’ (Siropoulos), Cats became more than a performance as it offered both a (globalised) theatrical experience and an immersive environment. The original London theatre was redesigned to facilitate increased audience participation—its conventional proscenium replaced with a quasi-in-the-round and centrally-revolving stage and part of its roof opened to the sky and, by implication, beyond to ‘the Heaviside layer’. The latter term refers to the layer of ionised gas occurring 90 to 150 km above the ground, with the lyrical use of the phrase in Cats suggesting heaven. Beyond London, specifically designed theatres with ‘catwalks’ extending from stage to balcony sprang up across the globe. With its revolving stage and aperture, Cats’s earth-sky theatre design mirrors the plot that Lloyd Webber derived from both his source text—T. S Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939)—and references to the Heaviside Layer that he had found among Eliot’s unpublished papers. Eliot had removed from the 1939 published collection an alternative ending wherein the Book’s poet ascends with cats ‘Up up up past the Russell Hotel, / Up up up to the Heaviside Layer’. Reintroducing the deleted Heaviside layer, Lloyd Webber narratively repurposed it as the longed-for destination of the musical’s Jellicle cats, who dream of both ascension and rebirth.

In the context of the significance of the Heaviside layer to both Eliot’s Book and the stage adaptation, this paper focuses on the first cinematic adaptation of Cats (2019), exploring the ways in which the inclusion of the Heaviside layer affords both an atmospheric theme and a theatrical-design element to its screen melodrama of lyrical, theatrical and earth-bound promises and limits. I conclude the paper by considering the widespread, popular-critical panning of the 2019 film, asking whether present-day, seemingly limitless networked environments obstruct appreciation of Cats’s elucidation of ‘heaven’ and earth, birth and death.

Monique Rooney teaches US literature, film and new media in the English Program at ANU. She is the author of Living Screens: Melodrama and Plasticity in Contemporary Film and Television (2015) and, with Gillian Russell and Stefan Solomon, she is editing a collected volume on the topic of ‘elemental melodrama.’ A longer version of ‘Elemental Limits: Cats (2019), Melodrama and the Heaviside Layer’ will be published in the edited collection.

Zach Karpinellison is a PhD candidate in both the School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics (SLLL) and the Interdisciplinary Cross-Cultural Research (ICCR) program. For his PhD dissertation, Zach is researching the Australian film ‘version’.

Kate Warren, Visual Arts and Australian Popular Media

Join us for the next CuSPP Seminar (taking place via zoom)

Thursday 25 November, 4.30 – 6pm (see CuSPP email or contact for zoom link).

Visual Culture and Australian Popular Media

This presentation explores histories of how the visual arts and art history have been covered in the Australian popular media. Focusing on popular magazines of the mid-twentieth century (such as Pix, The Australian Women’s Weekly, Australasian Post) it analyses under-considered examples of how these magazines presented art history to broad Australian audiences, as well as how these magazines facilitated and revealed diverse audience engagement with the arts. Through these case studies the presentation will argue for the benefits of using intermedial methodologies of popular art historiography, in order to trace and analyse histories of cultural value and popular arts engagement in Australia.

Kate Warren is a Lecturer of Art History and Curatorship at the Australian National University. Her research expertise is in modern and contemporary Australian and international art, with a focus on film, photography, video and media art. She has previously worked as a curator, arts writer and editor, including as Assistant Curator at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image from 2007 to 2011.

Alice Grundy is researching a PhD on Australian editing and publishing history. She has been an editor in trade publishing for more than a dozen years and has taught professional editing at UTS.

Ros Smith on Early Modern Women and the Poetry of Complaint

Join us for the next CuSPP Seminar (taking place via zoom)

Thursday 26 August, 4.30 – 6pm (see CuSPP email or contact for zoom link).

Early modern women and the poetry of complaint: an introduction

This paper considers how early modern women poets engaged with the mode of complaint, exploring the findings from a three-year collaborative project that has uncovered over 500 complaint poems by early modern women writers, translators, compilers and transcribers. Discussion will consider how women’s poetic complaints might be read across multiple textual, material, and performance contexts; how these poems make us reassess questions of form, agency and gender in the period; and what this research tells us about the mode of complaint more broadly.

Rosalind Smith is the newly appointed Chair of English at the Australian National University. She specialises in early modern women’s writing, particularly the intersection of gender, politics, history and form, and her books include Sonnets and the English Woman Writer, 1560-1621: The Politics of Absence (2005), Material Cultures of Early Modern Women’s Writing (with Trisha Pender) and Early Modern Women’s Complaint: Gender, Form and Politics (with Sarah Ross). Her current projects include an Australian Research Council future fellowship on Marginalia and the Early Modern Woman Writer, a Linkage grant with State Library Victoria on the recent Emmerson bequest of over 5000 early modern books and manuscripts, and her role as general editor of the Palgrave Encyclopedia of Early Modern Women’s Writing, with over 500 entries totalling 1.5 million words.

Katherine Bode on ‘How (Computational) Literary Studies Matters’

Join us for this week’s CuSPP Seminar (taking place via zoom)

Thursday 29 July, 4.30 – 6pm (see CuSPP email or contact for zoom link).

How (computational) literary studies matters 

Are computational engagements with literature the same as, or different from, established ones? For many in both the mainstream discipline and its emerging computational component, the answer to this question seems obvious: computational literary studies (CLS) is clearly distinct from established forms of the discipline, even if the conclusions from this point can differ considerably. Polemically, CLS replaces (or threatens to replace) literary studies; strategically, it supplements or complements (or has the potential to supplement or complement) established practices; alternatively, it has nothing to do with the existing discipline, whether that means it should be excluded from literary studies and left to wither and die, or – a view increasingly common amongst CLS scholars – that it should escape disciplinary confines in order to flourish. 

In this work-in-progress presentation I propose, in contrast to this oppositional perspective, that established and computational approaches create literary knowledge in fundamentally the same way, even as they have – both internally and comparatively – many significant and important differences. I make this argument by demonstrating the relevance, initially for established enactments of literary studies, and then for dominant enactments of CLS, of a central tenet of science and technology studies (STS): that knowledge practices are inseparable from the subjects and objects that supposedly employ and are subject to them. Based on this entanglement of epistemology and ontology, I suggest that the discipline be defined in normative terms rather than with respect to institutional or medial distinctions. 

Katherine Bode is Professor of Literary and Textual Studies and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow in the School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics at the Australian National University. Her most recent book is A World of Fiction: Digital Collections and the Future of Literary History (2018).

Image credit: On Kawara, from the artist’s collection One Million Years, 1999.

Kate Mitchell, The [Other] Art of Fiction: Portraits in Neo-Victorian Literature

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Thursday 24 June, 4.30 – 6pm, AD Hope Conference Room, First Floor, AD Hope Bldg

The painted portrait features in a number of Victorian novels, often invested with the power to divulge a hidden truth about its subject. Portraits also recur in neo-Victorian fiction, though here they may conceal as much as they reveal: in A.S. Byatt’s Possession, which romanticises the written text, the portrait of Christabel LaMotte can only reveal her close relationship to Maud once this information has already come to light through other, textual means. Whereas Byatt’s text describes ‘fictional’ portraits, a number of other neo-Victorian novels construct their narratives around actual pieces of art, imagining the lives of the painters, those of their subjects, or both.

This paper investigates the practice of ekphrastically incorporating historical works of art into neo-Victorian literature, focusing on Deborah Davis’s evocation of John Singer Sargent’s (in)famous portrait Madame X in her literary nonfiction Strapless (2003). When it appeared at the Paris Salon of 1884, the portrait of a Parisian socialite, Virginie Gautreau, showed one strap of her dress falling from her shoulder, causing a scandal that ruined Gautreau’s reputation. Sargent later painted the strap back on, and this is how the portrait appears today. I examine Davis’s imaginative recovery of the earlier image, and what it suggests to us about the power of art to reconstruct the past. How is art conceptualised as historical trace? Strapless makes the image of a woman offered for public consumption, and the story of how this consumes her life, speak to twenty-first century celebrity culture and its prurient fascination with publicly circulated images and the private lives behind them. Since it also exploits and extrapolates upon the portrait of Madame X and the associated scandal, it also speaks to contemporary fascination with, and uses of, Victorian celebrity in fiction today.

Image: fragment of Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), John Singer Sargent, 1884. Source: wikimedia

Kate Mitchell is an Associate Professor in Literary Studies at the Australian National University. Her research is focused on neo-Victorian fiction and the neo-historical novel, and on nineteenth- and twentieth-century literary and cultural history. She is author of History and Cultural Memory in Neo-Victorian Fiction: Victorian Afterimages (Palgrave Macmillan,) and, with Dr Nicola Parsons (University of Sydney), co-editor of Reading Historical Fiction: The Revenant and Remembered Past (Palgrave Macmillan). Her articles on historical fiction have appeared in Neo-Victorian Studies, Victoriographies and a number of edited collections and journals. She serves on the Arts and Humanities Editorial Board of ANU EPress.

What Happens to Women’s Voices During a Pandemic?

Join us for this week’s CuSPP Seminar (taking place via zoom)

Thursday 27 May, 4.30 – 6pm (see CuSPP email or contact for zoom link).

‘What Happens to Women’s Voices During a Pandemic? Studying the Impact of COVID-19 on Women Writers in Australia’

Presented by Rebecca Clode, Alice Grundy, Melinda Harvey and Julieanne Lamond

This paper presents the preliminary results from our ANU Gender Institute-funded research into the effects of COVID-19 on the ability of women writers in Australia to have their work published and read. In a context in which feminist literary activism has made measurable improvements to the attention women writers receive in Australia, we ask: what happens to these gains when a global pandemic hits? We know the social effects of COVID-19 are disproportionately impacting women in terms of employment, the home and education. Some are calling its economic effects a ‘pink recession’. What about the literary sphere? With feminist non-profit organisation The Stella Prize, we are collecting data to quantify the gendered impact of the pandemic across three interrelated groups of writers: creative writers (including playwrights); cultural critics/journalists, and literary studies academics. In this paper, we present the results of our data collection and interviews for 2019 to 2020, and pose questions about how to ensure that the literary culture that emerges from the pandemic is one in which women’s voices are heard and valued. 

Rebecca Clode is an experienced theatre director and dramaturg and is the Ethel Tory Lecturer in Drama at Australian National University.

Alice Grundy is a book editor and PhD candidate at Australian National University. Her thesis looks at editorial intervention in the work of contemporary Australian women writers.

Melinda Harvey has published widely as a book critic for over a decade and is a judge of the Miles Franklin Literary Award. She is Lecturer in Literary Studies at Monash University.

Julieanne Lamond is a Senior Lecturer in Literary Studies at Australian National University. She is a judge of the Patrick White Award and editor of the journal Australian Literary Studies. 

Kate Flaherty on the ‘Scottish Gypsy Woman’ on stage

Join us for this week’s CuSPP Seminar (taking place in-person)

Thursday 29 April, 4.30 – 6pm, AD Hope Conference Room, First Floor, AD Hope Bldg.

Elsewhere Within: Reading Charlotte Cushman as a Gypsy

This paper investigates the relationship between two female figures who loomed large in the nineteenth-century popular imagination. The first is Meg Merrilies the Gypsy from Walter Scott’s second Waverly novel: Guy Mannering; or The Astrologer (1815). The second is Charlotte Cushman—the American actress who by performing as Meg in Daniel Terry’s adaptation of Scott’s novel throughout her professional life, amplified the character’s significance and consolidated her own international renown. Lauded for her mesmerising power and her dedication to her art, Cushman’s life was one of striking contradictions. She was an international entrepreneur, viewed her vocation as continuous with her Unitarian faith, and cohabited with other women in what her letters reveal were erotically charged relationships. When she died in 1876, she was one of one of the most celebrated women in the English speaking world and possessed of a fortune. The moral example of her life was celebrated in obituaries, biographies and even sermons. But how did her public accommodate her radical unconventionality? This paper uses reception of Cushman’s performances to demonstrate how the Romantic trope of the Scottish gypsy woman offered audiences a way to recognise, categorise, and admire Cushman as an outsider within. This is furthermore contextualised by the broader imperial discourse in which Scotland figures as a literary elsewhere within. 

Kate Flaherty is a Senior Lecturer in English and Drama at the Australian National University. Her research is focused on the relationship between performed drama and public culture. Her book, Ours as we play it: Australia plays Shakespeare (UWAP, 2011), examines contemporary Australian performance. Other publications analyse theatrical rivalry, the agency of the touring actress, civic disorder, sectarian tension, military commemoration, and education, through their associations with Shakespeare. Among the venues in which her scholarship has featured are NTQ, Shakespeare, Shakespeare Survey, Contemporary Theatre Review, and Australian Studies along with volumes published by CUP, Routledge, Palgrave, and Rodopi. Recent and current project titles are ‘Reading Riot through Shakespeare,’ and Moving Women: The Touring Actress and the Politics of Modernity. Kate is Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Association, and winner of multiple teaching awards including the ANU Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Education (2019).

Fabricio Tocco on Spectres and Secrets in the Paraguayan Woods

Join us for this week’s CuSPP Seminar (taking place via zoom)

Thursday 25 March, 4.30 – 6pm (see CuSPP email or contact for zoom link).

Spectres and Secrets in the Paraguayan Woods: Hugo Giménez’s Matar a un muerto (2019)

This paper deals with the representation of genocide and forced disappearance in Hugo Giménez’s first feature film Matar a un muerto (Killing the dead, [2019]), set in 1978, during the Paraguayan and the Argentine dictatorships. Building on arguments made about the role of dictatorial violence in language in both Jacques Derrida’s Spectres of Marx and A Taste for the Secret and American translator and scholar Marguerite Feitlowitz’s essay A Lexicon of Terror, I offer a reading of the film, which I see as an unconventional example of a genre that is currently reaching its peak in Latin America: the political thriller. I especially focus on how the film spatializes spectres and secrets in the Paraguayan woods to portray instances of state-sponsored forced disappearance in Paraguay and Argentina. Following Judith Butler’s concepts of ‘precariousness’ and ‘precarity,’ I provide a theorization of what I call ‘precarious secrets,’ as a distinctive feature of Latin American political thrillers. Finally, I conclude by asking about the political implications of the cultural representation of secrecy and specters for Latin America today. 

Dr. Fabricio Tocco holds a PhD in Hispanic Studies from the University of British Columbia, Canada. His research deals with the intersections of literature and history, especially the way popular genres inform and are informed by literary and political theory in Latin American cultural studies. His first monograph, a revised version of his dissertation, A Poetics of Failure: Individualism and the State in Latin American Detective Fiction, will be published next year by Lexington Books. He has recently joined the ANU in January as a Lecturer in Spanish and as the Portuguese Convenor.

Neil Ramsey (UNSW, Canberra) on War, Wealth, and the Navy in the Early Nineteenth-Century Novel

Join us for the first CuSPP Seminar of 2021

Thursday 25 February, 4.30 pm, AD Hope Conference Room, First Floor, AD Hope Bldg.

Dr Neil Ramsey (UNSW, Canberra), From Mode of Production to Hegemonic Regime: War, Wealth, and the Navy in the Early Nineteenth-Century Novel

In this paper I propose a critique of the commercial view of literary history by drawing attention to elements of militarism in the formation of the early nineteenth century novel. The prevalence of the navy in literature of this period has been noted by numerous critics, most notably with reference to Jane Austen’s Persuasion (1818). This paper seeks to better theorize this naval dimension by turning to the world-systems thought of Giovanni Arrighi and reformulations of his work via the neo-marxist approach of Jacques Bidet. Questions of finance have loomed large in recent literary analysis, much of which has drawn on Arrighi’s understanding of the historical power and vicissitudes of global finance. I draw attention to a second dimension of Arrighi’s thought, which has been almost wholly ignored by literary critics – that he locates financial power alongside territorial power as an essential conjunction in the historical formation and evolution of capitalism. To elucidate this conjunction I follow Jacques Bidet’s neo-marxist adaptations of Arrighi’s thought to conceptualise how financial and territorial power act as two distinct yet intersecting logics of power, consisting of modes of production and modes of government, that have historically shaped a series of shifting hegemonic regimes within capitalism. Sketching a reading of these ideas in relation to Persuasion, I argue that the literary fascination with the navy in this period reveals how the novel attempts to express and manage the contradictions that historically formed between these competing logics of power of financial markets and biopolitical organisation. I argue that to read the novel in relation to Bidet’s concept of hegemonic regimes helps us to extend and redefine the commercial orientation of Marxist analysis reliant simply on reading in relation to modes of production.

Dr Neil Ramsey is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature at UNSW Canberra. He works on the literary and culture responses to warfare during the eighteenth century and Romantic eras, focusing on the representations of personal experience and the development of a modern culture of war. His first book, The Military Memoir and Romantic Literary Culture, 1780-1835, was published by Ashgate in 2011. His most recent, a collection co-edited with Gillian Russell, Tracing War in British Enlightenment and Romantic Culture, was published by Palgrave in 2015. He is currently completing a monograph on military writing of the Romantic era, the research for which was funded by an Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship. He is convenor of the Conflict and Society Research Group in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Image: Georg Cruikshank, Midshipman Blockhead, The Progress of a Midshipman exemplified in the career of Master Blockhead in seven plates & frontispiece, 1835