Tamar Jeffers McDonald discusses one of the most beloved romantic comedies ever made

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Tamar Jeffers McDonald, When Harry Met Sally… (Bloomsbury, 2015).

Why led you to write about When Harry Met Sally…?

It was a film I’d liked but not studied, but the BFI asked me to write the Classic on it to tie in to the LOVE season it had in 2015. I really came to appreciate the film once I sat down to analyse it.

How would you describe When Harry Met Sally… to someone who has never seen it?

Hmm! I would say that, narratively, this is a comedy about a woman and a man who meet at various times in their lives, and eventually get to the right point to be friends. For a while their individual neuroses balance each other out but then their increasing intimacy starts to cause more problems… From the point of view of form, I’d say it was one of the most cleverly and elegantly structured films I’ve seen. (more…)

Delighted to see that my review of Cynthia Haven’s Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard is included among the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Year in Review: The Best Books of 2018.

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I am both delighted and honoured to announce that RhysTranter.com has been selected by the British Library’s UK Web Archive “as an important part of Wales’ documentary heritage”. The site has become part of the repository’s permanent collection, where it will “remain available to researchers in the future”. The UK Web Archive is a partnership between the British Library, the National Library of Wales, and the National Library of Scotland.

Find out more about the UK Web Archive.

A call to revisit and reclaim one of the 20th century’s most important thinkers
Cynthia L. Haven, Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard (2018)
Cynthia L. Haven, Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard (2018)

Cynthia L. Haven’s Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard is the first full-length biography of the acclaimed French thinker. Girard’s “mimetic theory” saw imitation at the heart of individual desire and motivation, accounting for the competition and violence that galvanize cultures and societies. “Girard claimed that mimetic desire is not only the way we love, it’s the reason we fight. Two hands that reach towards the same object will ultimately clench into fists.”

Often a controversial figure, Girard trespassed into many different fields — he was, by turns, a literary critic, an anthropologist, a sociologist, a psychologist, a theologian and much else besides. Haven’s biography is the first book to contextualize Girard’s work within its proper historical, cultural and philosophical context. The book presumes no prior knowledge, and includes several useful primers of the texts that established his reputation: Deceit, Desire, and the Novel (1961), Violence and the Sacred (1972), Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978), and his study of Shakespeare, A Theater of Envy (1991). But it is the author’s closeness to the man once described as “the new Darwin of the human sciences” that brings this fascinating biography to life.

Haven was a friend of Girard’s until his death in 2015, and met with family members, friends and colleagues closest to him to prepare for the book. She recalls a calm and patient man who was generous with his time. “I came to his work through his kindness, generosity, and his personal friendship, not the other way around.”

He lived with his wife, Martha, on the Stanford University campus, and followed a strict working routine: “Certainly his schedule would have made him at home in one of the more austere orders of monks. His working hours were systematic and adamantly maintained.” He began his day at his desk at roughly 3:30 in the morning, broke for a walk and relaxation sometime around noon, and spent his afternoons either continuing what he had begun that day or meeting his responsibilities to students.

One of the abiding questions that drives the book is how a man who appeared to lead such a quiet and ordered life was animated by some of the most troubling themes in human history.

Adopting the lively and accessible style of an investigative reporter, Haven looks to Girard’s formative experiences for an answer. The reader is along for the ride as she drives a rented Citroën through southern France, or pores over archival images and family photographs. Her research is rich in important and surprising details, and there are entertaining tidbits of juicy academic gossip along the way.

This extract is from my review of Cynthia L. Haven’s Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard, published in the San Francisco Chronicle, 1 July 2018.

Reflecting on the decision to pursue my vocation in art, service, and simple living

One year ago today I made a decision to change my life. A cardiology appointment prompted me to think more carefully about my lifestyle choices, and I became motivated to start living according to values of simplicity, humility, and compassion. (more…)

Reflecting on the decision to pursue my vocation in art, service, and simple living

Six months ago today, I decided to change my life. I wanted to find a sense of peace and happiness in myself, and to live by my conviction that to enact social, cultural, and political change, it is essential that I change myself. I started following a healthy and balanced diet, stopped drinking alcohol, and began exercising regularly; I began to pursue my vocation as a writer; and I committed myself to getting more involved in my local community. Since that decision, I have attained a healthy bodyweight (having shed fifty-three pounds), am volunteering with local organisations, and write for my own enjoyment. I accept that meaningful change requires ongoing action and sacrifice, and I continue to be humbled by an awareness of my weaknesses and limitations. I am grateful for the understanding of my family and friends, and for their continued enthusiasm and support. I feel that I have found my peace, and I am happier than I have ever been.

Michelle Boulous Walker on the difficulty of practicing philosophy in modern institutions, and an alternative approach that might encourage a more careful and attentive relation with the world
Michelle Boulous Walker - Slow Philosophy
Michelle Boulous Walker, Slow Philosophy: Reading Against the Institution (Bloomsbury, 2016)

Could you tell me a little bit about yourself, and what inspired you to write Slow Philosophy?

I’m a philosopher who works in the European tradition. I have a background in political theory and an ongoing commitment to feminist politics. I’ve been teaching for some years now, and this has provided me with the opportunity to re-read key texts with my students.

For example, I’ve read Plato’s Symposium and Phaedrus countless times with both undergraduate and graduate students. The joy of re-reading is what first alerted me to the power of slow reading because for me slow philosophy is partly about the quality of attention that comes through repeated engagements with a work or text. Each time I’d return to Plato’s dialogues I’d uncover new possibilities – new meanings that were possible partly because of the new frames I was bringing to his work. (more…)

Welsh playwright and script-writer discusses his motivations as an artist, and the debut performance of his new play, Quiet Hands

How did you become a writer? 

I have always loved making up stories and voices for as long as I can remember. But my desire to write for theatre came from acting and directing in University while I was supposed to be studying Psychology—and then through acting in fringe profit-share productions in London and Bristol. My first full-length play Dead Man’s Fall was written with a friend of mine, Peter Jones. We had a lot of fun writing anarchic stage comedies together, which we initially produced ourselves. This led to a radio series for Radio Wales and works like Dead Man’s Fall and The Ghost of Morgan Morris, which were well received. From there, I went on to work independently with a host of theatre companies, and with the BBC on stage and radio plays, TV drama concepts and now film. (more…)

On pursuing a vocation in art, writing, and simple living

The reasons for my decision

Back in June, I attended a cardiology appointment that had a profound impact on me. My meeting with the cardiologist was routine and I did not receive any alarming news, but I became aware of the fragility of my own body in a new way. As an infant I was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition, and my life had been saved by the UK’s National Health Service and the surgeons at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. I have always felt grateful for the life-saving help that I received, and could talk superficially about my condition with friends and loved ones, but now I see that I was also prone to a form of denial. Throughout my adolescence and early adulthood I placed my heart condition to one side as I tried to establish an identity for myself. My routine appointments continued from year to year, but in my conscious mind and my behaviour I aimed to suppress what they represented with denial and distraction. This year marks the first time that I am fully and consciously aware that I have a congenital heart condition. And while there is no reason why I cannot live a full and happy life, I am now awake to the fact that I nearly didn’t survive infancy. (more…)

John Corbett on a new pocket-sized field guide to free and spontaneous music
John Corbett, A Listener's Guide to Free Improvisation (University of Chicago Press, 2016)
John Corbett, A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation (University of Chicago Press, 2016)

What led you to write A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation?

I’ve been involved with improvised music from several different standpoints over the last 35 years, as a listener, as a critic, as a teacher, as a presenter, and as a producer.  In the process of moving around in the music’s netherworlds, I noticed that many potential listeners were curious about it but just had no way to enter, no accessible points of reference.  It’s sometimes seen as “difficult” or “complex,” and it can be both, but approaching free music is very different from listening to music composed using mathematical algorithms or with elaborate preconceived harmonic inventions.  To listen to it you basically need to be attentive.  That’s it.  But that’s also not easy.  Having some historical framework can help, and the more experience you have as a listener the better.  But it’s really open to new listeners, and I wanted to find a way, in as down to earth a way as possible, to suggest that openness.  To invite new listeners from other walks of music and to give a few tips on listening, things that might help get over the initial hump.    (more…)

Jeffrey R. Di Leo on a new essay collection that explores the legacy of critical theory since the deaths of some of its leading figures

How did you come to put together Dead Theory?

Jeffrey R. Di Leo (ed.), Dead Theory: Derrida, Death, and the Afterlife of Theory (Bloomsbury, 2016)
Jeffrey R. Di Leo (ed.), Dead Theory: Derrida, Death, and the Afterlife of Theory (Bloomsbury, 2016)

I was writing a review of Vincent Leitch’s Living with Theory (2008) several years ago and could not help thinking that the opposite might also be the case, namely, that we are “dying with theory.”  At the time, it was nothing more than a passing thought, but one that stuck in my head.  A few years later, when I was reading about “critical climate change” and the proposal that the time scale and size of climate change calls for an entirely new critical language the thought came back.

It was a volume edited by Tom Cohen on the topic of critical climate change published by Open Humanities Press (Telemorphosis: Theory in the Area of Climate Change, Vol. 1, 2012).  I wrote an essay for symplokē on the subject entitled “Can Theory Save the Planet” (2013).  The subject of whether the work of philosophers like Derrida, who were now deceased, could have any bearing on current discussions in critical climate change intrigued me.  As I started to discuss this issue with some of my colleagues as well as the topic of “dying with theory,” the idea of a collection of essays on dead theory began to take shape. (more…)

A selection of recent images taken in and around Cardiff
Beam, 2017. Photograph: Rhys Tranter.
Beam, 2017. Photograph: Rhys Tranter.
Workspace, 2017. Photograph: Rhys Tranter.
Workspace, 2017. Photograph: Rhys Tranter.
Gull, 2017. Photograph: Rhys Tranter.
Gull, 2017. Photograph: Rhys Tranter.
Construction, 2017. Photograph: Rhys Tranter.
Construction, 2017. Photograph: Rhys Tranter.
Coffee Shop, 2017. Photograph: Rhys Tranter.
Coffee Shop, 2017. Photograph: Rhys Tranter.
Bridge, 2017. Photograph: Rhys Tranter.
Bridge, 2017. Photograph: Rhys Tranter.
Country House, 2017. Photograph: Rhys Tranter.
Country House, 2017. Photograph: Rhys Tranter.

Angela Moorjani on co-editing a new collection which recounts Samuel Beckett’s meetings with scholars, translators, and theatre practitioners
Beckett in Conversation, "yet again" / Recontres avec Beckett, "encore" • Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd 'Hui, 28:1 (2016)
Beckett in Conversation, “yet again” / Recontres avec Beckett, “encore” • Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd ‘Hui, 28:1 (2016)

To begin, could you say a little bit about Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui?

SBT/A is a refereed academic journal that publishes essays in English and French on Samuel Beckett’s oeuvre.

When first launched in 1992 by the late Marius Buning and the present coeditor in chief Sjef Houppermans, it took the form of a bilingual annual review publishing selections from international meetings or solicited essays on special topics, but also featuring a section of submitted articles. By 2016, the year SBT/A morphed into a semiannual journal under a different academic publisher (Brill), twenty-seven handsome hardcover volumes had appeared under the Rodopi imprint. My association with SBT/A goes back twenty years with an essay in the “Crossroads and Borderlines” volume of 1997, further intensifying with my coediting the volume based on the “Beckett in Berlin 2000” symposium, after which I was invited to join the editorial board. I served as coeditor in chief from 2008 to 2016. (more…)

Séan Richardson on a free new broadcast that sheds light on the cultural legacy of modernism

modernistpodcast-logo.jpgWhat is the Modernist Podcast?

The Modernist Podcast is a platform for ‘green’ academics to share their research with the wider community. We aim to bring critical discussion beyond the bindings of the journal and out from within the walls of the conference, into the airwaves and across digital media. We believe that this is a great way for researchers to have their voices heard early into their career, as well as disseminate their work to a broader audience, making scholarship more accessible to a diverse array of listeners. The podcast itself comes out monthly, and researchers are linked together by theme: from Queer Modernism to Modernism and Form, James Joyce to Modernism and Race. (more…)

Anthony Uhlmann on co-editing a new essay collection exploring Coetzee’s recent novel, The Childhood of Jesus
Jennifer Rutherford and Anthony Uhlmann (eds.), J.M. Coetzee's The Childhood of Jesus (Bloomsbury, 2017)
Jennifer Rutherford and Anthony Uhlmann (eds.), J.M. Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus (Bloomsbury, 2017)

How did you first encounter J.M. Coetzee’s writing?

In 2002 I was working on the preparation for a major conference on Samuel Beckett that was to take place in Sydney in 2003 and I was looking for keynotes. There was a major public lecture at the Sydney Town Hall which is a reasonably grand space. We invited a number of people including Herbert Blau and Luce Irigaray (via videolink). Someone suggested I ask J. M. Coetzee who was on the board of one of the research groups related to Samuel Beckett. I then went and read a few of his novels, including Disgrace, Waiting for the Barbarians, and The Master of Petersburg and was blown away by the quality of the works. I told him when I finally met him that he had renewed my faith in contemporary fiction. He agreed to act as a keynote and read the ‘At The Gate’ Lesson from Elizabeth Costello which had not yet been published when he read it January 2003. He spoke briefly of having mostly gained an understanding of rhythm, and the structure of sentences, from reading and studying Beckett. After that I read all of his novels and have been working towards writing about him. (more…)