By Adam Kirkbride
On the 28th of February, the English Literature department here at York St John held a showcase exhibiting the research done by our lecturers. The event comprised of four short presentations given by various members of the department and was thoroughly enjoyable. Here is a brief rundown of the research areas that our staff are working on.
— YSJ English Literature Society (@YSJEnglishLitSc) February 28, 2019
Dr Fraser Mann discussed Music, Memory, and Memoir, an edited collection he has been working on with colleagues, Dr Helen Pleasance and Dr Robert Edgar which will be published later this year. This project discusses and theorises the retelling of recent music history. Fraser explained how he and his colleagues are approaching this project as both academics and fans of music, combining scholarly analysis with fan-lead discussion. Fraser discussed the use of creative-critical methodology, which recognises and embraces the cultural baggage one brings to research, using subjectivity to consider the cultural discourse that surrounds texts such as the ones that the collection examines. Fraser also gave a world-exclusive reading of the collection’s introduction, which discusses the interdisciplinary nature of the research, the role of music and musical memoir in modern society, and the consideration of how the narrative of memory is shaped through music.
— Nicoletta Peddis (@MissNicolettaP) February 28, 2019
Saffron Vickers Walkling talked about her soon to be published article discussing a recent appropriation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, focusing on the director’s portrayal of Ophelia. The production, entitled The Al-Hamlet Summit, was performed at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2002. The production, based on real events, maps the politics of the middle-east onto Shakespeare’s famous play, which notably presents Ophelia as a suicide bomber. Saffron explained how her paper explores how Shakespeare is often used to make audiences of drama consider social issues from unfamiliar perspectives, complicating the relationship between stage and audience. Her research examines the idea of popular consciousness, and media portrayal of political violence. “Shakespeare perhaps doesn’t belong to us” Saffron reminded us all, as all writers can “use, abuse, appropriate, and re-appropriate Shakespeare for their own needs, to start discussing the world that we live in today”.
— Shakespeare @YSJ (@ShakespeareYSJ) March 1, 2019
Dr Anne-Marie Evans presented her research on Tennessee Williams that has taken her outside of her usual comfort zone. Anne-Marie is currently working on a chapter for an edited collection, entitled The Weird and The Southern Imaginary. Her chapter discusses the way Williams problematises and critiques the romanticising of America’s past in the deep south. As a disclaimer, Anne-Marie absolutely loves Williams’ work. Anne-Marie discussed the way Williams writes his southern setting as a place where the past entraps characters, who wish to escape it. Her research focuses on the way the past haunts Williams’ plays, and looks at his portrayal of layered history in architecture and space in the south. Re-reading Williams in the light of the Weird, an emerging, hard to define literary genre, is fascinating. Anne-Marie discussed the Weird’s concern with hauntings, and William’s plays are haunted by the problematic history of slavery and decay which surround and torment the characters; repressing and romanticising the past always fails, and Williams’ plays reflect how the past cannot be repressed or romanticised.
— Nicoletta Peddis (@MissNicolettaP) February 28, 2019
Dr Adam Smith and Dr Jo Waugh’ project, Satire: Deaths, Births, Legacies comes from a shared interest in satire. The project began with an international conference on the place of society in our modern-day society of Brexit, Twitter, Trump, and fake news. The conference brought up a whole host of questions about satire that Adam and Jo felt needed to be answered: Is satire truly dead? What actually constitutes satire? Who benefits most from satire? This project aims to at least speculate if not answer these questions, and York St John seems to be the perfect place to explore satire as it reaffirms our course motto that words matter. We often assume that satire must be humorous in its critique of society, but that isn’t always the case.
What a brilliant evening! Music (of our youth!) & memory with @FraserYSJ, then @DrAMEvans weirded out (in a good way) by Tennessee Williams, then @waugh_JS & @elementaladam in their satirical two-hander. Proud to present on Al-Hamlet Summit in this @YSJLit company #WordsMatterYSJ https://t.co/RVuXATXgtR
— Saffron Vickers Walkling (@WorldShax) February 28, 2019
Equally, satire isn’t just being critical for the sake of being critical, as being satirised has its benefits just as everything else does. Social media plays an incredibly complicated role in satire, and it is hard to tell what is and is not satire in the context of social media. Even when we are sure that something is satirical, it can be hard to work out what is being satirised, why it is being satirised, how it is satirised, and who it is being satirised by. They are still searching to pin down exactly what does and does not constitute satire, but if satire is a key form of critique then we should be analysing it. Currently, Adam and Jo deliver their research on satire in a monthly podcast where they discuss satire with other academics. They are also holding a talk about satire on the 25th of March at the York Explore Library and are working on an edited collection of essays about satire.
What a fantastic Research Showcase with my @YSJLit colleagues & a fantastic turnout from our students tonight! Wonderful to learn more about current research projects & come together as a community. Big thanks to @FraserYSJ @waugh_JS @elementaladam & @WorldShax. #WordsMatterYSJ
— Anne-Marie Evans (@DrAMEvans) February 28, 2019
Dr Sarah Lawson Welsh was unfortunately unable to attend the showcase, but I caught up with her to ask her about her research. Since last year, Sarah has been making progress with her research into food culture in the Caribbean. Last summer she was in Barbados, interviewing women in their kitchens about Caribbean food and culture (a research project that sounds truly amazing). She has also edited a special issue of the Journal of Postcolonial Writing which focused on postcolonial culinary culture, which was a product of talks held here at YSJ in 2017 and 2018. Moreover, Sarah was asked to write an article responding to the Jamie Oliver jerk rice controversy. The article appeared in The Conversation and other media outlets in late August 2018, having an astounding 16,000 reads to date. Sarah’s latest monograph, Food, Text and Culture in the Anglophone Caribbean, is out in July 2019, and she will be delivering an option on food and literature for the Research Now 1 module next year.
Not only was this an evening of fascinating and inspiring academic discussion, but it was an event filled with laughter, jokes, and (of course) wine and snacks. The research showcase was enjoyed by all, and will no doubt stay fixed in my mind as a key moment of pride in my university for many years to come.