MERL, University of Reading · 28-29 October 2015

Beckett and Europe
28th – 29th October 2015 – MERL, University of Reading
Abstract Deadline: 22nd June 2015
Keynote Speaker: Dr David Tucker (Chester University)

Samuel Beckett
Samuel Beckett

The Beckett at Reading Postgraduate group is pleased to announce a new postgraduate and Early Careers two-day conference with the theme of Beckett and Europe. We will be hosting two on-site archival workshops on manuscripts and performance during the conference. There will also be a public lecture on Happy Days by Professor James Knowlson. This will be followed by the Beckett International Foundation Seminar on the 30th of October.

We invite postgraduates and Early Career Researchers to submit abstracts under the general theme of ‘Beckett and Europe’. The aim of the conference is to engage postgraduates and ECRs in research exchange with an interdisciplinary and cross-media focus. Born in Ireland in 1906, Beckett wrote in English, French and German and directed his own theatrical work in London, Berlin and Paris. The span and influence of Beckett’s work in 20th Century Europe is essential to many questions that inform Beckett scholarship: How do we frame Beckett nationally/internationally and has this changed? What influence did Beckett have on European artists, writers and thinkers? How has Beckett’s work entered the European tradition? (more…)

I have always been fascinated by the daily rituals and routines that govern people’s everyday lives. Daily Routines has compiled a wide and varied selection of such rituals, taken from interviews and biographies of some of the world’s most distinguished writers and thinkers. It makes for fascinating reading – even if browsing the daily routines of others leaves little time for our own.

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A new title from Cork University Press:

Flann O’Brien: Contesting Legacies (Cork University Press)
Flann O’Brien: Contesting Legacies (Cork University Press)
Employing a wide range of critical perspectives and new comparative contexts, Flann O’Brien: Contesting Legacies breaks new ground in O’Brien scholarship by testing a number of popular commonplaces about this Irish (post-) Modernist author. Challenging the narrative that Flann O’Brien wrote two good novels and then retired to the inferior medium of journalism (as Myles na gCopaleen), the collection engages with overlooked shorter, theatrical, and non-fiction works and columns (‘John Duffy’s Brother’, ‘The Martyr’s Crown’, ‘Two in One’) alongside At Swim-Two-Birds, The Third Policeman, and An Béal Bocht. The depth and consistency of O’Nolan’s comic inspiration that emerges from this scholarly engagement with his broader body of work underlines both the imperative and opportunity of reassessing O’Brien’s literary legacy. (more…)

Why read a ‘difficult’ book?
Emily Temple (Flavorwire) has compiled a list of ’50 Incredibly Tough Books for Extreme Readers’. Their toughness varies from the sheer bulk of the volume (eg. Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Stein’s The Making of Americans), to their stylistic virtuosity (Finnegans Wake, anyone?). But despite their daunting reputations, there can be something special about reading a ‘difficult’ book.

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Mason Currey (Slate), author of the excellent Daily Rituals, shares details of artists’ lives

6d531-early-morning-window-sunlightA friend of Frank Lloyd Wright’s once observed that for as long as she had known him, the architect seemed to spend the day doing everything but actually working on his building designs. He held meetings, took phone calls, answered letters, supervised students—but was rarely seen at the drafting table. The friend wanted to know: When did Wright conceive the ideas and make the sketches for his buildings? “Between 4 and 7 o’clock in the morning,” Wright told her. “I go to sleep promptly when I go to bed. Then I wake up around 4 and can’t sleep. But my mind’s clear, so I get up and work for three or four hours. Then I go to bed for another nap.” Wright was hardly unusual in this habit. In researching Daily Rituals, I came across story after story of creative artists who did their most important work—and sometimes their only work—just as the sun was rising. (Of the 161 figures in the book, about a third got up at 7 a.m. or earlier.) If I were going to extrapolate one lesson from the book, it would be this: Get up early and go straight to work, making a cup of coffee if you like but not doing much else before sitting down, and take advantage of that time before the myriad demands of daily life have a chance to take hold. (more…)

With quietism like yours one could fill a hundred years with happiness. Whether one showed you an execution or a little finger, you would extract an equally edifying thought from both of them, and would still be content. That’s the way to get on in life.

— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot

The New Yorker weighs in on the Norwegian author’s mass appeal

knausgaard-mystruggle-volume1-deathinthefamilyOnce you have begun reading the books in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-volume autobiographical novel, “My Struggle,” it is difficult to stop talking about them. In the author’s native Norway, where around one in nine people have purchased copies, some employers have had to impose Knausgaard-free days in the workplace. In the U.S., where the third volume of the book was released last week, fiction writers like Rivka Galchen, Sheila Heti, and Ben Lerner have reviewed his books rapturously, and Zadie Smith has likened them to crack. On this week’s Out Loud, Sasha Weiss, the literary editor of newyorker.com, discusses Knausgaard’s work with the magazine’s deputy fiction editor, Cressida Leyshon, and archives editor, Joshua Rothman, who reviewed volume three for Page-Turner. (A short story adapted from the book was published in the magazine in February.) (more…)

Olivia Laing (The Guardian) offers a brief history
Jane Bowles
Jane Bowles

If you write a book about alcohol and male writers, as I did, the one question you’ll be asked more than any other is: what about the women? Are there any alcoholic female writers? And are their stories the same, or different? The answer to the first question is easy. Yes, of course there are, among them such brilliant, restless figures as Jean Rhys, Jean Stafford, Marguerite Duras, Patricia Highsmith, Elizabeth Bishop, Jane Bowles, Anne Sexton, Carson McCullers, Dorothy Parker and Shirley Jackson. Alcoholism is more prevalent in men than women (in 2013, the NHS calculated that 9% of men and 4% of women were alcohol-dependent). Still, there is no shortage of female drinkers; no lack of falling-down afternoons and binges that stretch sweatily into days. Female writers haven’t been immune to the lure of the bottle, nor to getting into the kinds of trouble – the fights and arrests, the humiliating escapades, the slow poisoning of friendships and familial relations – that have dogged their male colleagues. Jean Rhys was briefly in Holloway prison for assault; Elizabeth Bishop more than once drank eau de cologne, having exhausted the possibilities of the liquor cabinet. But are their reasons for drinking different? And how about society’s responses, particularly in the lubricated, tipsy 20th century; the golden age, if one can call it that, of alcohol and the writer? [Read More]

Personally I’ve never met any intellectuals. I’ve met people who write novels, others who treat the sick; people who work in economics and others who compose electronic music. I’ve met people who teach, people who paint, and people of whom I have never really understood what they do. But intellectuals? Never.

— Michel Foucault, Ethics

A collection of essays edited by Julian Murphet, Rónán McDonald, and Sascha Morrell (from Bloomsbury):
Flann O'Brien & Modernism (Bloomsbury)
Flann O’Brien & Modernism (Bloomsbury)

Flann O’Brien & Modernism brings a much-needed refreshment to the state of scholarship on this increasingly recognised but still widely misunderstood ‘second generation’ modernist. Rather than construe him as a postmodernist, it correctly locates O’Brien’s work as the product of a late modernist sensibility and cultural context. Similarly, while there should be no doubt of his Irishness, and his profound debts to Irish language, history and culture, this collection seeks to understand O’Brien’s nationally sensitive achievement as the work of an internationalist whose preoccupations reflect global modernist trends.

The distinct themes and concerns tracked in Flann O’Brien & Modernism include characterization in branching narrative forms; the ethics and paradoxes of naming; parody and homage; lies and deception; theatricality; sexuality; technology and transport; and the inevitable matter of drink and intoxication.

Taken together, these specific topics construct a mosaic image of O’Brien as an exemplary modernist auteur, abreast of all the most salient philosophical and technical concerns affecting literary production in the period immediately before and after World War Two. [Read More]

The Decisive Years

From Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years (translated by Shelley Frisch):

Asceticism was a magic word for Kafka, an intricate complex of images, cultural paradigms, idiosyncrasies, fears, and psychological techniques that he incorporated into his thought that feelings and gradually made a focal point of his identity. He was entirely justified in asserting that he had ‘a fabulous innate capacity for asceticism’. It is remarkable how tenaciously he clung to the rule of self-abjuration once his period of dawdling came to an end. The way he steadfastly denied himself warmth, meat, drugs, and medicine clearly refutes his alleged weakness of will. He reduced his good intake, toughened his body, and simplified his habits. […]

Asceticism is not austerity for its own sake; it is a process of self-regulation and self-formation based on the utopian notion of attaining complete control over one’s body, self, and life. All Kafka’s interests, habits, and penchants were modified accordingly. A diet of nuts and fruits, a flawless method of chewing, devotion to calisthenics, and long walks. He cultivated and shaped his body. He gained awareness of his body as well. He felt a growing aversion to and even loathing for everything that threatened to undermine his new sense of autonomy, especially doctors who treated his body as though they were plumbers, and medicines that had unanticipated side effects. He contended that it was degrading to battle insomnia with valerian: his insomnia was not caused by a lack of valerian.
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Walter Benjamin
Walter Benjamin
Ian Penman (City Journal) writes on the tragic life and enduring influence of the German literary critic

Nearly 75 years ago, at the outset of World War Two, stranded between official borderlines, right on the edge of things, the German Jewish philosopher and critic Walter Benjamin slipped out of life. His passing barely registered beyond a small circle of friends and fellow travelers—habitués, like himself, of severe literary journals, fringe politics, esoteric philosophies. Like that of Benjamin’s own literary heroes, Franz Kafka and Marcel Proust, his posthumous career was to prove far more lively. These days, anyone tilling the stony fields of literary or political theory would soon find himself persona non grata if he didn’t pay due obeisance to Benjamin—at least, the version of him now favored: the presiding angel over all that is left-leaning, interdisciplinary, and media-studious. (more…)

Alison Flood (The Guardian) reports that the Canadian author’s new work will not be read for 100 years

Depending on perspective, it is an author’s dream – or nightmare: Margaret Atwood will never know what readers think of the piece of fiction she is currently working on, because the unpublished, unread manuscript from the Man Booker prize-winning novelist will be locked away for the next 100 years. (more…)

Victor Erofeyev (The New York Times) writes on literature, life and ideology

I get a physiological pleasure from reading Tolstoy, and the more I read him, the greater the pleasure. His words generate smells, sounds, vibrations of feelings and moods. They are broader than any philosophical doctrine, and more significant even than the author himself, whom his words mercilessly exploit. In all literature, perhaps, there never was so “idea-less” a writer who released into the world writing that fills us with admiration of its power, and fear of its candor. (more…)

54277-walser1

Benjamin Kunkel (New Yorker) on the life and work of the Swiss writer

In “Jakob von Gunten,” the 1909 novel by the German-speaking Swiss writer Robert Walser, the hero adopts the motto “To be small and to stay small.” The words apply just as well to Walser himself, whose life and work played out as a relentless diminuendo. The up-and-coming young novelist of the period before the First World War, capable of producing three novels in as many years, turned to shorter forms, and saw his audience and his income dwindle gradually through the war years and the nineteen-twenties. Once a fixture of smart Berlin society, Walser exchanged the world of salons for a series of tiny furnished rooms and, finally, in 1929, a mental institution. Even his handwriting diminished; he was able to squeeze a last novel—a short one, but still—onto just twenty-four sides of octavo-size paper. For years, some scholars believed that the script in which Walser composed this novel, “The Robber,” and many other later works was an uncrackable private code, and not until 1972, fifteen years after his death, did transcriptions from the so-called Bleistiftgebiet, or “pencil area,” begin to appear. The publication, starting in the eighties, of six volumes of painstakingly transcribed texts brought to light some of Walser’s most beautiful and haunting writing, and reinforced his posthumous reputation in German. The incredible shrinking writer is a major twentieth-century prose artist who, for all that the modern world seems to have passed him by, fulfills the modern criterion: he sounds like nobody else.
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