‘Et in Arcadia ego’ – Reflections on Visiting Castle Howard

By Charlotte Stevenson

Each year, to accompany reading Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, third year students studying our Twentieth-Century Writing module visit the Brideshead of the screen, Castle Howard. Here Charlotte Stevenson reflects on her thoughts of the 2018 trip and her experience of reading Waugh’s novel.

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exciting news for the class of 2017

Liesl King has been organising an extra special event for the graduating class of 2017. As a farewell and celebration of a new chapter, we would like to invite you and your family members to drop in and say hello to your tutors over a glass of fizz or a cup of tea on the afternoon of your upcoming Graduation, 16th November, in De Grey foyer from 2:00pm-4:00pm.

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the base-line: imaginary worlds students go to see blade runner 2049

By Adam Cummings

On Tuesday the 5th of October the Literature and Media programmes organised a group free trip to see Blade Runner 2049 as part of the module 2EN440: Imaginary Worlds.  The crowd, as you arrived within the York City Screen cinema, was definitely recognisable. If someone was to say, “Imagine a group of Science Fiction Literature students grouped together, waiting to see perhaps the most anticipated science fiction sequel to be released in thirty years”, I guarantee that you would at least be able to spot some key similarities among these people.

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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 ).

Reviewing Arrival: Space Squids and Paradoxes

By Zoe Buckton

@Zoay23

After managing to swipe the last tickets to see ‘Arrival’ with the Imaginary Worlds module, I was stoked to see some sci-fi that wasn’t a reboot (and for free, too!). Having only seen 30-second trailers for the film, I’d assumed it would follow your average ‘defeat the evil aliens!’ storyline. So I was pleasantly surprised to find out that ‘Arrival’ focused on communication and language, rather than big guns and all-out war.

The film opens with a voiceover by the protagonist, Dr Louise Bank’s (Amy Adams), in which she considers where her daughter’s story really begins. Usually I’m a bit adverse to voiceovers. But by the end of Arrival, it is clear that these are the glue that holds the cyclical narrative together. Louise’s stream of consciousness is the key to understanding a complex narrative, revolving around bootstrap paradoxes and communication barriers.

Louise’s character is certainly well developed. She is such a talented linguist that she is asked by the military to visit a spacecraft, or ‘shell’, within two days of its sudden appearance. Two days, it’s worth noting, in which she continues to attend university to give lectures to empty classrooms. Of course, she’d be damned if giant squids from space disrupted her teaching schedule.

 

It is a shame that Louise is the only female main character – in fact, one of the only female characters present. This causes the film to fail the Bechdel test, a flaw that is also shared by director Villeneuve’s 2015 film, Sicario. Indeed, one of the funniest moments in the film comes when Louise interrupts a trigger-happy soldier with the quip, ‘why do I have to talk to him?’

Ian Donnelly, on the other hand, proves that slapping some glasses on Jeremy Renner is enough to constitute a scientist. Whilst his friendship (and inevitable romantic arc) with Louise is great fun to watch, watching a physicist refuse to do any actual physics is rather concerning. Especially when his primary response to intense gravitational distortion is a mere stumble, without a sign of fascination.

The film shares many elements with the psychological horror ‘The Babadook’, increasingly dependent on dreams, sleep deprivation and hallucination to create a sense of unreliability. These elements are ultimately manifestations of Louise’s mindset adapting to the Heptapod language. A language which is complex, palindromic and resembles tea-rings so much it’s a shame the humans couldn’t introduce them to coasters.

The scenes of communication between the Heptapods, affectionately nicknamed Abbot and Costello, are arguably the best moments of the film. ‘Arrival’ spends majority of its run-time attempting to establish discussion with aliens behind misted glass, pushing back military action all the while. This feels particularly prevalent in our society, which is reluctant to embrace discussion with minorities and refugees, fogging up these issues with misleading media representations and fear of the unknown.

It is hard to deny that the film is gorgeous. Louise’s house is like the Cullen’s, all glass and view. The soundtrack, finely composed by Jóhann Jóhannsson, mixes dread and child-like wonder through acapella acoustics and daunting basslines. The twelve spaceships hovering above the Earth’s surface resemble Airwick’s attempts to make air fresheners in keeping with minimalist decor. Or, if you prefer, very large eggs. There is barely any Michael Bay style explosion flaunting. Yet, where scenes depict changes in gravitational force, and the Heptapods themselves, the film shows a subtle ability to create intriguing visuals with little displays of incongruity.

‘Arrival’ was an intriguing film. I’ve avoided spoiling the ending in this review, because I really believe it’s worth watching for yourself. Although the film did leave me with a lot more questions than answers (which you can see here [spoilers]), perhaps this is the point. After all, isn’t it better to leave the cinema with big, existential questions than none at all?

Tiny Sandwiches & Productivity

By Bethany Davies

@Bethanyjoy18

I have a task for you. Look back to a moment, or perhaps sit and look sad in the one you’re in, where you have felt stress over a deadline. Reflect on that feeling (or sit and feel sad with it) where you have more work to do than time to do it in. It’s a common predicament. A lot of us find ourselves in it most days. And yet, that irritating presence of worry still looms over us like the grizzly clouds of York in November.

Now, be sure not to get offended; don’t take it personally. But, you see, if you’re not a writer, this post really isn’t for you. Because these deadlines aren’t any old deadlines. They’re not the filing of the end of year paperwork; the re-stacking of Tesco’s shelves before 5pm; or the need to feed the cat, dog and hamster before a night out with friends. These are the kind of deadlines that demand creativity in a temporarily hollow mind that only sees one thing; a blank page. It’s a killer.

So, what’s the cure?

The first crucial step is to turn Netflix off. Completely off. Remove Facebook from your bookmarks bar and rid the room of people who only want to distract you and make sure you never ever (ever) succeed in life. Lock your phone in a bullet proof safe. Shut the door. Lock the windows. Glue your elbows to the table. With extra strong PVA.

There’s no doubt that you’ll have heard all of this before. So, let me tell you the secret ingredient. Motivation. You don’t need to want to do the work but you need to be motivated. This could be inspired by an anticipation of future greatness or simply the promise of a bowl of coco pops when the work is done.

Tiny Sandwiches

Since we are all writers, unless some of you cheeky few stuck around, we are supposedly holding creative minds that function on inspiration. So, find out what inspires you. Take your creative flare and light it up in the city of York. You live in the city of history and architecture where minds were inspired to create beautiful pieces of art.  Take a laptop or notepad and use the surroundings for inspiration. Climb out of bed and sit in one of York’s quirky independent coffee shops and read your set text for the week. Head off to Betty’s and sit amongst an array of tiny sandwiches and teapots classed as ‘cute’. Whatever works. Try it. Become motivated. And watch as that thick grey cloud looming over you is replaced by a carried sense of accomplishment and productivity.

Review: Margaret Atwood at York Theatre Royal, 11 October

By Fiona Stewart

MA in Contemporary Literature student

I was delighted to see Margaret Atwood in conversation with Dr Liesl King at the York Theatre Royal. When asked about preparation for her novel Hag-Seed (2016), Atwood spoke about her research on Shakespeare and The Tempest, and how she enjoyed watching DVDs of the performance, in particular, Julie Taymore’s film with Helen Mirren as Prospera. Hag-Seed is an inventive re-telling of The Tempest which revisits the theme of revenge. The Prospero figure is the character Felix Phillips who is usurped by his cunning assistant, Tony. Whilst contemplating his revenge, Felix decides to teach drama in a local prison where he directs the inmates through Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Richard III and Macbeth. Felix later decides to stage The Tempest which will draw Tony to meet his match.

King and Atwood

Atwood spoke about the high value she places on the teaching of literature and drama in prisons, and from her research she was inspired by inmates’ enthusiasm for acting. One inmate, on release from prison, had been so enthralled by the experience of acting that he trained to teach Shakespeare in prisons. When asked about the many genres in which she writes, Atwood said that while she was at college in Canada, nobody said that you could not write in a particular way, and as a result, she has enjoyed a long career of writing novels, plays, poetry and critical essays.

 

A member of the audience asked why Canada has so many great women authors and Atwood responded by highlighting acclaimed author Gwethalyn Graham, who wrote Earth and High Heaven (1944), while also acknowledging renowned Canadian male authors. She additionally discussed the importance of indigenous figures as role models for women across Canadian culture.

 

Finally, Atwood spoke about our planet and acknowledged British nature writers, in particular, Richard Mabey. She emphasised that 40-60% of the oxygen we breathe comes from the oceans which are now heavily polluted by industrial practices across the globe. A reduction in oxygen will impair all forms of life on earth. I thank Atwood for her contribution to the environmental debate and her relentless hard work in alerting people to our endangered earth.

I-shmael a good deal, shipmates!

YSJ students can catch a bargain for the two weeks, with tickets for the Theatre Mill production of Moby Dick currently playing at Guildhall for just £10. All you need to do is sail along to the venue with your student card in hand, and quote the words SHIP’S RUNNER on the door.

You’ll have a whale of a time: just try not to blubber during the sad bits 🙂

A Question of Conscience: York Big City Read 2016 Lecture

By Nicoletta Peddis

@MissNicolettaP

 

Dr Alexandra Medcalfe, “Archives and Memory: Conscientious Objection in York during World War One”. York Explore Library, 18 October 2016

This year’s York Big City Read is Pat Barker’s best seller Regeneration. 2016 is an important year in terms of the centenary of the First World War and Regeneration has been chosen as a book that explores the impact of war on ordinary people’s lives.

On Tuesday 18 October, Dr. Alexandra Medcalfe from the Borthwick Institute gave a fascinating lecture at York Explore Library. Dr Alexandra Medcalfe specializes in history of York during the 19th century with a focus on history of mental health. On Tuesday, her lecture used a variety of yellowed archival sources to guide the audience through a discussion of conscientious objection during WWI.

The documents examined showed how in York, a military city with a strong religious identity and a politically active community, a wide debate on conscientious objection was raised as soon as war was declared against Germany. Many of the documents examined related to the figure of Arnold Rowntree, who as a Quaker and Liberal MP for the city championed the cause of the city’s conscientious objectors, young men who refused to take up arms. Dr Medcalfe also introduced newspapers articles and letters to newspapers to demonstrate how the issue of conscientious objection aroused strong and contrasting feelings across the city. One newspaper article from the Yorkshire Herald refers to a Quaker meeting as a hotbed of ‘shirkers and slackers’.

Conscientious objectorsPicture: a CO rally during WWI

 

 

The criticism on newspaper also targeted Mr Rowntree accusing him of not representing his constituency and of being anti-patriotic. As with many other objectors, Arnold Rowntree simply believed that fighting was wrong. He suggested ideas that could provide opportunities for unarmed service because although they did not want to fight, many were willing to do something to show their support. So the Government set up the Non-Combatant Corps to accommodate those whose consciences forbade them from bearing arms, and Arnold was instrumental in forming the Friends Ambulance Unit, a volunteer group to ferry casualties from the front line.

 

FA Unit Western FrontPicture: a Friends Ambulance Unit in action on the Western Front.

The lecture was interesting, and especially lively in discussing contemporary feelings about conscientious objection. For the young men who objected during World War One the experience was difficult and traumatic and, while today conscientious objection is often viewed with more understanding and sympathy, public opinion remains divided. Recruitment techniques and nationalist narratives like those adopted in 1914 are still at use today.

York Big City Read events will take place during all October and November and a full list of upcoming events can be found here: https://www.exploreyork.org.uk/introducing-the-big-city-read-programme/. For anyone who is interested in finding out more about conscientious objection in York, on 5 December Clements Hall History Group will host a workshop exploring the impact of WWI conscription at Priory Street Centre in York. More information is available on their website: www.clementshallhistorygroup.wordpress.com.

Black History Month 2016: York/New York Exhibition Launch Night.

by Amy McCarthy

@behindthecritic

Live jazz music fills the air and guests are chattering, armed with a glass of wine. York St. John University has transformed its Arts Foyer into a guided history of 1930s Harlem, New York.

Last year a group of second year English Literature students on the ‘Literature at Work’ module created resources based on the Harlem Renaissance and now their work is on display for staff, students, and members of the public to see. The exhibition includes film, models, photography, and slide shows. To promote Black History Month, the students have the opportunity to talk about their work and express their enthusiasm for the cultural movement.

Although the students created their works of art separately, together the pieces complement each other to display the rich culture of Harlem. One of the works on display is a York/New York trail, where famous Harlem Renaissance landmarks are matched up to locations in York. The brochure is displayed on one of the walls and is accompanied by a short film in which the creators follow the trail they made around York.

Below the York/New York trail is a 3D model of key landmarks from the Harlem Renaissance. Accompanying each building on the miniature version of Harlem is a plaque listing the pop cultural references relating to the locations used.

IMG_20161005_163853

Visitors also cannot help but admire the beautiful collages occupying some of the boards at the exhibition. These wonderfully creative pieces combine vintage styling with a contemporary artistic edge to inform the audience about key areas of culture. One golden frame discusses music of the Harlem Renaissance while a few smaller frames look at the works of the great literary mind Langston Hughes.

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At the exhibition launch, the crowded room was testament to how student work is valued. The launch night was a huge success, bringing members of the university and the public together. Attendees left feeling better educated about the Harlem Renaissance, and hopefully inspired to pick up some literature from the era.

 

The ‘York/New York’ Exhibition will be displayed in the Arts Foyer at York St. John University until the end of October.