Marc Farrant on the major international conference that sparked new ways of thinking about the South African Nobel laureate
Coetzee, John 2010 (Photo by Marsha Miller)
J. M. Coetzee

How did you first encounter J. M. Coetzee, and what was it that sparked the idea for co-organising a conference on Coetzee & the Archive?

Like many Coetzee readers my first encounter was with the novel Disgrace. I was studying for a Masters at UCL and Disgrace was a core text on the year-long module covering modern English literature from the late nineteenth-century. It was immediately obvious why the novel was the on course, not least from the mixed reactions it provoked. Indeed, it was the only text we covered that year to garner opprobrium from some students in class. It’s a difficult read, the opening scenes that feature a licentious older man preying on one of his students, followed by the rape of his own daughter, test a reader’s mettle. But, it seemed to me at the time and still does, the open hostility the novel received required that one either ignore or abnegate a great deal of the responsibility the text places on the reader: the demand to respond to the ethical issues posed in the work beyond the staid and inherited conventions of moral outrage; to respond to the subtlety of a complex narrative voice that constitutes one of the best ever representations of complicity in the literary tradition, of the complicity of a liberal and educated conscience in crisis. Disgrace broaches the difficult terrain between both redemption and salvation, neither of which will fully serve since both partake of a certain violence or act of exclusion that would appear to tarnish the self-righteous anger of the oppressed as much as the villainy of the oppressor. If readers nevertheless insist that the novel is irresponsible it is therefore irresponsible, I would add, in the sense of informing us that it is perhaps never possible to be responsible enough, that responsibility is always lacking. Given its slender size the above, plus the intricate folds of literary and theological allusions, and the critique of the rationalizing project of secular modernity, makes for quite a novel! (more…)

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“Almost 13 years after his death, playwright Arthur Miller‘s archive finally has a home — at the University of Texas at Austin. […] Miller’s archive includes drafts of several of his plays, as well as short stories, screenplays, letters and journals, the university said in a news release. Some of the correspondence in the archive focuses on the House Un-American Activities Committee, which investigated Miller after the debut of The Crucible, a play about the Salem witch trials that he wrote as a critique of McCarthyism.” — LA Times

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“In one of his novels, [Robert] Walser’s protagonist adopts the motto “To be small and to stay small.” Walser, who receded from literary society in Berlin, who receded from the novel to shorter forms (stories, poems), finally writing his “microscripts” in a small room in a Swiss sanatorium. (The microscripts were first deciphered in 1972 and only recently translated into English; on one, an entire short story and a poem occupy the space of a postcard, with ample room to spare.)

Walser’s miniscule handwriting appeared at first to me as a further reduction of the miniscule hand of his admirer Walter Benjamin, whose writing I knew from reproductions of his meticulously kept notebooks. Benjamin, with his elaborate system of notebooks, his great care taken in selecting stationery and writing instruments, and who—despite writing voluminously throughout his lifetime—only published one full book (excluding his dissertation), a collection of fragments and aphorisms.

In a letter to a friend, Walser wrote that he developed his “pencil method” to get over his writer’s block. I wonder how this seemingly inscrutable handwriting helped protect him from writer’s block. Did it free him from doubt somehow? The manuscripts appear confident and without corrections. Was this because he knew they could not (or not without great difficulty) be read by another? That in this mode, his writing became a private writing?”

— John Vincler, The Daily, The Paris Review

Originally published in French as Malone meurt in 1951 and later translated into English by the author himself, Malone Dies is the second novel of Samuel Beckett’s Trilogy. The Making of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Malone Dies’/’Malone meurt’ is a comprehensive reference guide to the history of the text. Read the Bloomsbury press release over at the Samuel Beckett Society website.

On 2 November 2017, Special Collections at the University of Reading will be hosting a day on ‘Editing Modernist Letters’. Organised by the Beckett at Reading Postgraduate Group (BARP), the day will include talks by academics in the field (Joanne Winning and Nicola Wilson), and two workshops based on the correspondence of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. To find out more about the event, or to book tickets, visit the BARP website.

“… I have been through the letters and diaries. What Coetzee writes there cannot be trusted, not as a factual record – not because he was a liar but because he was a fictioneer”

— J. M. Coetzee, Summertime

An upcoming international conference is offering scholars and enthusiasts a chance to engage with J.M. Coetzee’s work in new and interesting ways. Over the course of three days, the event will include a single day CHASE funded archival training workshop, and will feature a host of leading scholars in the field. Significantly, the Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee will be appearing in person to give a reading. (more…)

Call for Papers • 4 July 2017 • MERL, University of Reading

Twentieth-Century British Periodicals: Words and Art on the Printed Page, 1900-1999

woman-and-home-periodicalCurrent scholarship on twentieth-century periodicals is moving beyond the study of the ‘little’ magazine and avant-garde publications. Many mainstream and specialist periodicals, including tabloids, broadsheets, illustrated newspapers, illustrated magazines, fashion magazines, ‘slick’ magazines, women’s magazines, art periodicals, trade and specialist periodicals, pulps, reviews, and political and campaigning magazines have yet to receive sustained critical attention.

This interdisciplinary one-day * conference, coordinated by Dr Kate Macdonald (University of Reading) and Emma West (University of Cardiff), will bring together scholars and collectors to discuss the magazines, newspapers, journals, dailies, weeklies, fortnightlies, monthlies and quarterlies of British cultural life in the pre-Internet twentieth century. The focus of the discussion will be on the producers and consumers of these ephemeral products, to attempt to map out their networks. By focusing on both words and images, this conference aims to bring the specialist collector and the art historian to the table, to share knowledge of commercial and artistic figures and movements with publishing and book historians. (more…)

Stanford University acquires an important collection of Nobel poet Joseph Brodsky’s papers
Joseph Brodsky
Joseph Brodsky

Cynthia Haven (The Book Haven) reports that the ‘Hoover Institution Library & Archives at Stanford has recently acquired Diana Myers’ collection of Brodsky’s papers, including letters, photos, drafts, manuscripts, artwork and published and unpublished poems’.

The materials are sure to be of interest to scholars of the Russian-American writer, who settled permanently in the United States after he was expelled by the Soviet Union in 1972. As Haven writes, the archival materials reveal ‘Brodsky’s enormous capacity for friendship and his long love affair with the English language’. The archive includes, among other things, correspondence between Brodsky and other writers; a number of artworks in different mediums; literary notes and drafts; and ‘a transcript of his 1964 Soviet trial for “parasitism”‘. For more information, visit The Book Haven. [Read More]

David Hering discusses how his new book led him to explore the Wallace archive

How did you discover David Foster Wallace’s work?

David Hering, David Foster Wallace: Fiction and Form (Bloomsbury, 2016)
David Hering, David Foster Wallace: Fiction and Form (Bloomsbury, 2016)

I actually read his journalism first, before knowing who he was – I read his piece in Premiere on David Lynch back in 1997 when I was in my teens, and remember thinking that it was very good and idiosyncratic, but not remembering his name. He was not really a widely-known writer in the UK at that point. It was only when I found myself re-reading it in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again years later that I joined the dots. I first came to his fiction in the mid-2000s, shortly before I started my PhD. The first thing I read was Infinite Jest – I went through a phase of devouring these huge postmodern encyclopaedic novels, and that was one of them. By that point the name had been floating round in my peripheral vision for a good while, and I wanted to know what the fuss was about.

I was immediately – immediately – struck by it. Sometimes it takes a while for a big book to bed in before you really love it – I think Bolano’s 2666 is a case in point – but I distinctly remember that by the time I got to the first line of the second chapter of Infinite Jest (‘Where was the woman who said she’d come’) I thought “I’m in this until the end”. Which is very unusual, for me at least. I think I read the last 200 pages in a day. (more…)

Cardiff University • 19-21 April 2017
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Design: Rhys Tranter

Edward Thomas is a poet of retrospect. His poetry memorialises states of mind, people, and places. It also attempts to voice what is absolutely lost and what was never significant: ‘so many things I have forgot/ That once were much to me, or that were not’, he writes. Thomas also considers obscure futures for others and for himself. His poetry anticipates indifference as much as longevity when it asks what they will ‘do when I am gone?’: ‘they will do without me as the rain/ Can do without the flowers and the grass’.

What should we do with Thomas, whose reputation and writing is more present than ever? In 2017, we will mark the centenary of his death with a major conference at Cardiff University, where an important collection of Thomas’s manuscript materials and letters are held at SCOLAR. With the preparation of a major edition of his prose and with his acknowledged centrality to new forms of nature writing, study of Thomas is now rarely confined to any single aspect of his practice. We want to celebrate Thomas and approaches to his work in the fullest possible diversity. (more…)

D. T. Max on what the Harry Ransom Archives reveal about the American writer’s oeuvre
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Don DeLillo, White Noise
The DeLillo finding aid shows which folder contains which draft of which novel, but not whether the draft is different in important ways from a previous one. It records that DeLillo’s 1972 novel “End Zone” originally bore the title “The Self-Erasing Word,” but you have to open the proper folder and look at the title page to see that it also had been called “Modes of Disaster Technology.” (The phrase appears in the book.) Similarly, the finding aid tells you that DeLillo’s original title for “White Noise” (1985) was “Panasonic,” but you have to burrow into his correspondence from 1984 to discover how upset DeLillo was when the Japanese electronics manufacturer that owns Panasonic declined his request to use the name. “ ‘Panasonic’ as a title is crucial for a number of reasons,” DeLillo wrote to his then editor, Elisabeth Sifton. He went on, “The novel is filled with the sounds of people’s voices, with sirens, loudspeakers, bullhorns, kitchen appliances, with radio and TV transmissions, with references to beams, rays, sound waves, etc. . . . Jack, listening to people talk on the telephone and musing on his own death, thinks ‘all sounds, all souls.’ (Page 369.) Again the notion of pan-sonus connected to a fear of death. There is still another instance in which Greek roots are important. Jack associates the god Pan with his fear of death.” The archive also contains two pages of other titles that DeLillo concocted—from “All Souls” and “Ultrasonic” to “White Noise”—written in jumpy capital letters. [Read More]

Lisa Munro offers the first in a series of posts aimed at people without much archival research experience who need to do some. (Source)

27 – 30 April 2016, University of Antwerp

About the Conference

Beckett and Modernism
The Second Annual Conference of the Samuel Beckett Society

Samuel Beckett. Photograph: John Haynes
Samuel Beckett. Photograph: John Haynes

The year 2016 will mark the 40th anniversary of the Journal of Beckett Studies (JOBS), founded in 1976 by James Knowlson and John Pilling. To celebrate this occasion, we are proud to announce both of them as keynote speakers at the second conference of the Samuel Beckett Society, dedicated to Beckett and Modernism. Sometimes referred to as ‘The Last Modernist’, Beckett has also been situated within the postmodern canon. After a long critical debate, the term ‘modernism’ has recently been reframed by a vibrant field of what is sometimes called the ‘new modernist studies’, and the term ‘Late Modernism’ seems to be gaining currency in Beckett studies. (more…)

A new Masters Degree programme to be launched at the UK’s University of Reading
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Samuel Beckett. Photograph: John Minihan

Starting in October 2015 on this innovative new taught MA programme you will study with world-leading Beckett experts based at the University of Reading. Here you will engage in advanced archival research techniques using the extensive holdings of the University’s world-leading Beckett Archive, applying these skills to the analysis of Beckett’s writing and directing practice. The MA will provide the opportunity to explore the complex and fascinating interdisciplinary dimensions of Beckett’s work across a variety of media including film, theatre, television and radio.

The programme’s flexible modular structure is designed to develop both specialist and broad-based knowledge within Beckett’s ‘literary’ work in the novel and poetry as well as his performance work. Both are intrinsic to the degree, but can also be pursued separately. The MA allows an opportunity to engage in practical explorations of Beckett’s performance work across media using the excellent multimedia facilities housed in the Minghella Building on the University of Reading’s main Whiteknight’s campus. (more…)

A new essay collection from Columbia University Press
Falsifying Beckett Essays on Archives, Philosophy, and Methodology in Beckett Studies, ed. Matthew Feldman (Columbia University Press)
Falsifying Beckett Essays on Archives, Philosophy, and Methodology in Beckett Studies, ed. Matthew Feldman (Columbia University Press)

The dozen essays brought together here, alongside a newly-written introduction, contextualize and exemplify the recent ’empirical turn’ in Beckett studies. Characterized, above all, by recourse to manuscript materials in constructing revisionist interpretations, this approach has helped to transform the study of Samuel Beckett over the past generation. In addition to focusing upon Beckett’s early immersion in philosophy and psychology, other chapters similarly analyze his later collaboration with the BBC through the lens of literary history. Falsifying Beckett thus offers new readings of Beckett by returning to his archive of notebooks, letters, and drafts. In reassessing key aspects of his development as one of the 20th century’s leading artists, this collection is of interest to all students of Beckett’s writing as well as ‘historicist’ scholars and critics of modernism more generally. [Read More]