“All The World’s A Stage”. Mollie Pigott reflects on the RSC’s production of As You Like It (Shakespeare: Perspectives Trip 2019)

“All The World’s A Stage”

Director Kimberley Sykes combines pantomime, audience interaction, puppetry and musical elements to create a fantastical, almost Brechtian approach to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s current production of As You Like It.

A photo from the RSC’s current production of As You Like It. Photo from: https://www.rsc.org.uk/as-you-like-it/production-photos

For the past eleven weeks, I’ve constantly been reminded in lectures and seminars that Shakespeare’s plays are texts that were written with the intention to be performed on a stage, not to be read in a classroom. My Shakespeare: Perspectives module’s two-day trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon proved that there’s more to the Bard’s plays than just text to be analysed. Shakespeare’s plays offer escapism, a chance to get away from reality with friends or family and I was lucky enough to escape to the Forest of Arden in the most recent production of As You Like ItContinue reading ““All The World’s A Stage”. Mollie Pigott reflects on the RSC’s production of As You Like It (Shakespeare: Perspectives Trip 2019)”

‘beyond all imagination’. holocaust memorial day and writing the incomprehensible

By Charlotte Stevenson

Current student Charlotte Stevenson reflects on the recent screening of Night and Fog for Holocaust Memorial Day and on her reading of Rena’s Promise for the module Conflicting Words, commenting on the tension between the necessity of commemoration and impossibility of writing about the unimaginable.  Continue reading “‘beyond all imagination’. holocaust memorial day and writing the incomprehensible”

Review: Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel

Review by Tilly Martin

Station ElevenSetting her story in the decaying environment of a post-apocalyptic earth, Emily St John Mandel details the journey of several characters, all somehow intertwined, who are trying to make it in this new world. One of the most interesting aspects of the novel is that, unlike the custom in books of this genre, most aspects of the story are very realistic. There are no zombies and no individuals with semi-magical powers to save the day; every character is a hero in their own way, surviving on their own.

Continue reading “Review: Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel”

Andy Owen – East of Coker “I must tell my story and I must encourage others to tell their stories”.

By Nicoletta Peddis

Andy Owen served in the Intelligence Corps of the British Army reaching the rank of Captain. He completed operational tours in Northern Ireland (2003), Iraq (2004 and 2005) and on intelligence duties in Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2007. He published his first novel, “Invective”, in 2014.

On Thursday the 23rd of January, as part of the York Literature Festival, Andy Owen presented his second novel, “East of Coker” (2016), about the personal aftermath of conflict. Interviewed by Dr. Fraser Mann, he explored the themes of his novel, which uses TS Eliot’s “The Waste Land” as a structural and thematic starting point, asking challenging questions about our responsibilities to those that have seen and experienced war. He explained how Eliot’s poem has influenced him both for its use of language and for the way he uses myth to relate contemporary events to past events, showing the cyclic nature of history. Owen uses myth in own novel for the same reasons, and also uses references to a whole range of literary texts creating an intertextual layer that makes his novel fascinating and engaging. He believes that, has TS Eliot himself said, “good writers borrow, great writers steal” and that writer, when starting a book, finds himself in stream where all that is been written before washes upon him, making intertextuality in this sense an unconscious process of awareness.

 

Andy Owen also reflected on the importance of literature and storytelling in creating empathy. Sharing stories of people suffering of PTSD because of their war experiences can help people to better understand how it feels to suffer the aftermath of conflict, increasing understanding and helping to fight the stigma that surrounds mental health issues, especially in the military environment. Regarding the importance of storytelling in dealing with trauma, Andy Owen also spoke about his collaboration with the War Writers Campaign and their work with veterans and PTSD professionals. The aim of this charity association is, through written awareness, to change the social perception about veterans’ issues and to promote mental therapy through the literary world and through creative writing. It is possible to find out more about War Writers Campaign at

http://www.warwriterscampaign.org/ and more about Shoulder to Shoulder, another association that helps veterans with mental health issues in Glasgow and with which Andy Owen collaborates, at http://timebank.org.uk/shoulder-to-shoulder .

 

Read Nicoletta’s interview with Andy Owen tomorrow on Point Zero.

York Literature Festival: James Montgomery Performance. “For books, my friend, are charming brooms”.

 

By Nicoletta Peddis

On Wednesday the 22nd of March, as a part of York Literature Festival, Dr. Adam Smith guided the audience through the life and poetry of James Montgomery delivering an engaging performance combining readings of Montgomery’s poetry with interesting insight of the biography of this complex historical character.

Trailer for Adam Smith's performance on Montgomery at Sheffield's "Festival of the Mind" in 2016.

 

Montgomery was born in Scotland, the son of missionaries of the Moravian Brethren. He was sent to be trained for the ministry at the Moravian School at Fulneck, near Leeds. At Fulneck, secular studies were banned, but James nevertheless found means of borrowing and reading a good deal of poetry and made ambitious plans to write epics of his own. Failing school, he was apprenticed to a baker in Mirfield. After further adventures, including an unsuccessful attempt to launch himself into a literary career in London, he moved to Sheffield to work at the Sheffield Register, directed by Joseph Gales. At the Register, a newspaper of radical ideas, Montgomery rediscovered his passion for literature and started to write inflamed poems in the poetry section of the publication, the “Repository of Genius”, regarding themes such as the abolition of slavery and the conditions of the working class. In 1794, Gales left England to avoid political prosecution and Montgomery took the paper in hand, changing its name to the Sheffield Iris. These were times of political repression and Montgomery was charged with sedition and treason for the publication of a poem that he never wrote and imprisoned in 1975 at York Castle prison for three months. He continued to write poems that were sent to the Iris and to which readers responded. A pamphlet of poems written during his captivity will be published in 1796 as “Prison Amusements”. After his release, Montgomery is charged again in less than a year for criticizing a magistrate for forcibly dispersing a political protest in Sheffield. After this experiences James Montgomery’s life started to change. He turned away to politics and activism and turned to business. He carried on writing poems and started to write hymns. He later was decorated with the title of Poet Laureate and became a Tory MP.

Did James Montgomery become the establishment he was fighting against? Did he turn his back to his ideals? He was definitely a complex and fascinating character and, as Dr. Adam Smith reminded us, even though his political views changed the theme of slavery always remained extremely important to him and Montgomery definitely never turned his back to literature and poetry.

The performance that Dr. Adam Smith delivered at York St John’s University as part of the York Literature Festival is part of a wider research regarding the connection between poetry and radical protest in Sheffield between 1790 and 1810. The focus on James Montgomery is one of the results of this broader research ending in “The Wagtail Poet Prison Project”. It is possible to find out more about this project at https://yorkwagtailpoets.wordpress.com and it is also possible to respond to James Montgomery’s prison poems either creatively or critically getting in touch with Dr. Adam Smith at a.smith3@yorksj.ac.uk .

A Warning from History

by Nicoletta Peddis

“If understanding is impossible, however, knowledge is imperative, because what happened could happen again. Conscience can be seduced and obscured again: even our consciences” (Primo Levi, 1986, https://newrepublic.com/article/119959/interview-primo-levi-survival-auschwitz ).

In 1955, 10 years after his liberation from Auschwitz, Primo Levi wrote a preoccupied article, pointing his finger against the “silence of the civilized world”, which regarded any mention of Nazi extermination camps as in bad taste. Levi feared that the greatest crime imaginable, still so vivid in the minds of survivors, was in danger of being forgotten by the public. He rhetorically asked: “Is this silence justified?”

refugees

On Thursday the 9th of March Laurence Rees, historian and former head of BBC history programmes, presented at Waterstones York his latest book The Holocaust, claiming that books and talks about Holocaust are “a warning from history”, echoing Levi’s fear of people forgetting about such a terrible crime. Rees interest in the Holocaust history has been ongoing for 25 years, since he realized his first documentary for BBC on the subject. The Holocaust is the combination of those 25 years of research and interviews. It is a piece of work that speaks through the voices of victims, killers and bystanders. Rees draws on interviews collected over the years for his TV programmes, often previously unpublished. The book uses documentary techniques, frequently cutting from the narrator to eyewitnesses, adding immediacy and emotion.

Through the voices of people who experienced the holocaust Rees also approaches some persistent myths on the subject. To tackle the postwar claims that victims followed their killers “like sheep” and show that there was defiance and some even obtained weapons and turned them against Germans, Rees tells the story of Marek Edelman, who fought in the Warsaw ghetto uprising. Edelman recalled: “the first few days were our victory. We were used to being the ones who ran away from the Germans. They had no expectation of Jews fighting like that.” Rees also fights the idea that the Nazi machinery of mass murder was impersonal or antiseptic, describing the sadistic violence of some killers – in some case through their accounts – the carnage in death camps overflowing with corpses, and the unspeakable suffering: when children were dragged away from their parents in the Łódź ghetto, one survivor remembered: “their screams reached the sky”.

The Holocaust it is not an original interpretation, but offers an interesting approach. Rees tells a complex story with compassion and clarity, but he also manages not to sacrifice the nuances of it. The voices of the victims are accompanied by the ones of ordinary Germans and sadistic killers who, interviewed decades after the destruction of the Third Reich, never regretted their role in the Holocaust and still believed that they had done the right thing. Erna Krantz from Bavaria recalled: “You saw the unemployed disappearing from the streets.  There was order and discipline … It was, I thought, a better time”. Wolfgang Horn, a former soldier, explained his decision of burning down a Russian village: “because the locals were too primitive for us”. One of Goebbels personal assistants, interviewed in 1992, summed up his experience of the Holocaust in one word, “paradise”, and when asked if he ever felt guilty about the slaughtering of children he cited Groaning: “the enemy is not the children. The enemy is the blood of the children that will grow up to be Jew”. The Holocaust helps to recover the memory of those children whose only guilt was to be Jews, and the memory of the other victims, survivors of what Rees described “a crime of singular horror in the history of the human race”.

It is the duty of everyone to meditate on what happened. Everybody must know, or remember, that Hitler and Mussolini, when they spoke in public, were believed, applauded, admired, adored like gods. They were “charismatic leaders”; they possessed a secret power of seduction that did not proceed from the credibility or the soundness of the things they said, but from the suggestive way in which they said them. And we must remember that their faithful followers, among them the diligent executors of inhuman orders, were not born torturers, were not (with a few exceptions) monsters: they were ordinary men. Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous; more dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.

(Primo Levi, 1986, https://newrepublic.com/article/119959/interview-primo-levi-survival-auschwitz ).

Kate Bornstein Documentary Review: What Body Should I Wear Today?

By Bethany Davies

As part of York’s LGBT History Month in February an array of events took place around the city. On the evening of 13th February, York St John hosted a free film screening of Kate Bornstein: A Queer and Pleasant Danger. On entry to Fountains Lecture Theatre, Dr Adam Stock and Dr Kimberley Campanello welcomed everyone to free refreshments. With a glass of red, a few friends and myself took our seats and waited to sit and learn about a woman called Kate Bornstein.

Image 1And, well, I came out of it with 103 questions.

My head was spinning off its axis and I couldn’t quite pin down what emotion it was that I was feeling. The friends that came to the screening with me felt the same and as we sat and discussed our thoughts, we pondered on whether it was the documentary that confused us or the wine we were slowly sipping away at.

 

On entrance to the screening we had been handed feedback questionnaires to fill in. The opening question on the sheet gave four options for gender. You could tick: 1. Male      2. Female    3. Non-Binary     4. Not Listed as Above
What does it mean to be non-binary? Can you be something that isn’t male or female? That’s two questions.

Then as the film proceeded, terms came flying at me from all directions: gender queer; gender fluid; ambisexual; asexual; demi sexual and sapiosexual. What do these mean? Which one am I? Am I supposed to know these meanings? There’s another three questions – I’ve at least another 98 more I could list.

Kate Bornstein was a woman I’d never met before. Sorry, not a woman, not a man, but someone who identifies as “a tranny”. Not transsexual or transgender, but a tranny. Kate Bornstein has reasons for this controversial decision; “there’s a big battle going on between trannies who want to call themselves tranny and there’s trannies who don’t want to call themselves a tranny. I’m a tranny who does want to call herself a tranny. I use the word tranny a lot in my memoir. I’m just saying.” I searched, and the word “tranny” is said 17 times in the documentary. It’s a term that I had previously associated with being quite offensive.

Kate Bornstein was once a young male Jew, and became a Scientologist in her twenties. Years later, she is now a “tranny” – and still Jewish. She has tattoos and piercings. She always wears a bandanna around her head. It looks pretty good. A crucifix always hangs around her neck. She’s crude. Her identity is playful. She is a performer. An avid tweeter. She has lung cancer. And she is transgender and lesbian.

Those are the things I now know. Oh, and she has a golden penis mounted in her lounge as an ornament.

This documentary showed me a lifestyle in the LGBT+ community that I believe sits at a unique position in the spectrum. Tony Ortega writes in the The Village Voice that, “Bornstein has managed to both anger and delight most camps in the LGBTQ universe.” Well, I’m not surprised. If I was to sit and boil a brew with this woman, I’m not sure how long I’d last. Without having met her, just by sitting and watching her through a screen for an hour and a half, (note: with wine), I can tell that her opinions lie always on the tip of her lips. And most of the time I bet they end up sliding off. Now, this is to be envied. Opinions are too often suppressed, leading to lack of communication and misunderstanding. However, as I sat and watched, I empathize that some people in the LGBT+ community must find her vocalization difficult to handle. She has a fire most people don’t see in the day-to-day. She is strong-minded. Bold. Like Marmite.

The documentary shows Bornstein travelling to support groups and LGBTQ gatherings, showing her equally at home discussing gender and sexuality in the context of university seminar rooms or in sex shops. You get the feeling no topic of conversation is ever off-limits, no matter what the venue. Looking into Bornstein’s world is an eye-opening experience.

Image2

My main emotion leaving this documentary was pure confusion. I couldn’t pin-point exactly how the documentary had made me feel. But, the truth is, that Kate Borstein is just a spoonful of Marmite that I’ve never tried before. Her controversial opinions and bold outright statements highlighted just how little I knew about her community and the community of many others.

If you are like me, and you haven’t had the chance to know someone in this community or learn about it through school, the head of the YSJ LGBT+ society, Shannon Clay, provided me with some links that I’ll share below. Acquaint yourself with the knowledge. As Claire Fagin once said, “Knowledge will bring you the opportunity to make a difference.”

 

Useful Sites:
LGBT History Month: http://lgbthistorymonth.org.uk/

The Equality Act of 2010 that protects LGBT in the workplace: http://www.stonewall.org.uk/help-advice/discrimination?gclid=CjwKEAiAlZDFBRCKncm67qihiHwSJABtoNIgZuJDbjiqSa0NwCTQ2rNNctUOIzGufpG3uCDjx9DcghoC1mrw_wcB

Yorkshire Mesmac: http://www.mesmac.co.uk/

YouTubers:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFqLrSHWNT4

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXwXB7a3cq9AERiWF4-dK9g

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkQJ4YUx54LB23tgOt-Tx-w

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_yBGQqg7kM