Friday, May 17, 2013
Our next Anglo-Russian Research Network reading group on 7th June is introduced by Dr Emily Lygo (Exeter) and we'll be discussing the Society for Cultural Relations with the USSR. Details are here.
Friday, May 3, 2013
I'll be giving a paper at the London Modernism Seminar on Saturday 11th May, 11am-1pm, Room G35, Senate House. Ben Hickman (Kent) is also giving a paper about communism and literature. Here's a little summary of what I'm planning to say - do come along!:
2+2=5: (Anti-)Communism and Arithmetic in Orwell, Koestler and Others
Why did British writers, when they wrote about the Soviet Union, often deploy the imagery of numbers, arithmetic and mathematics? This paper scrutinises a number of such instances, including Orwell’s famous use of the equation “2+2=5” in Nineteen Eighty-Four and Koestler’s fascination with Euclid’s proof of the infinitude of prime numbers in The Invisible Writing. These are put into relation with a number of instances in less celebrated works where questions of number or of mathematical reasoning are politicised by being applied to the Soviet Union.
The paper proposes to situate these literary representations in relation to three key debates that intersected in interesting ways. Firstly, a debate about utilitarianism’s attempt to quantify social goods and the romantic rejection of that attempt; secondly, a debate about the philosophical foundations of mathematics (which involved Peano, Russell, Wittgenstein and Heidegger); and finally, a debate about the relation between mathematics and dialectical materialism, which involved key British and Soviet scientists and mathematicians and reflected on the position of science under Communism.
Taking my cue from recent calls (by Alain Badiou, Steven Connor and others) for a rapprochement between the humanities and mathematics, I will argue that this was a period in which numbers and arithmetic were profoundly politicised—and frequently anathemised—in literature.
Monday, March 4, 2013
Fictions of the City has picked up a positive review by Alexia Yates, published at h-net. She gives a good account of its contents and is kind enough to call it 'an example of a lucid and exceptionally jargon-free contribution to literary studies'. You can read the full review here.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
I have edited the new issue of Critical Quarterly which is available to online now. The issue contains new work by Daniel Tiffany (on poetic kitsch), Francis Gooding (on rap) and Emily Gregor (on the AHRC and the Big Society) among other fine things. Subscribers can read the articles here.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Just a quick note about the next Anglo-Russian Research Network reading group, to be held on 15th February at Pushkin House. We are delighted to have Prof. Michael Hughes introducing texts by the British Travel writer Stephen Graham. Details are online here. Please contact me if you wish to attend and I'll send the reading materials.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
The Anglo-Russian Research Network (ARRN), which I organise with Rebecca Beasley, is hosting another reading group at Pushkin House on 28th November. The topic this time is George Bernard Shaw and the Soviet Union, and the group will be led by Dr Olga Sobolev and Dr Angus Wrenn (both of the LSE), authors of The Only Hope of the World: George Bernard Shaw and Russia (Peter Lang, 2012). Please visit the ARRN blog for more details, or email me if you wish to attend.
I'm pleased to be delivering a paper in the research seminar at my new home in the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at UEA on 1st November. I'm going to be talking about the idea of the future in literature and the effects of the Bolshevik Revolution on this idea. Writers to be discussed include H.G. Wells, Koestler, W.H. Auden and Dorothy Richardson.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
I'm going to be giving a paper at the Feminism: Activism: Modernism conference at University College Cork on 14th-15th September - it looks set to be a very interesting conference. My paper is called 'Feminism, Modernism and the Russian Revolution: Dorothy Richardson and Rebecca West'.
Here's a summary of what I'm planning to talk about:
Here's a summary of what I'm planning to talk about:
Reflecting on her visit to the Soviet Union in 1933, Ella Winter wrote that ‘for the first time in the history of the world, a country is abolishing all discrimination on the ground of sex between women and men.’ Like Winter, many British feminists saw revolutionary Russia – where the laws governing marriage, divorce and abortion had been radically relaxed – as a guiding light in women’s struggle for emancipation and equality. Suffragettes including Sylvia Pankhurst and Joan Beauchamp played prominent roles in the CPGB and other pro-Soviet organisations.
With this context in mind, this paper focuses on two feminist writers who were conflicted about the Russian Revolution (Dorothy Richardson) or passionately anticommunist (Rebecca West), situating their work within a debate about the relationship between feminism and Bolshevism. Both developed distinctively modernist, literary responses to communism that mark them apart from activists such as Winter, Beauchamp and Pankhurst.
In Richardson’s Revolving Lights (1923), the protagonist Miriam encounters a group of Russian revolutionaries and recoils from their ‘scornful revolutionary eyes’. The Russians ‘lived for an idea’, where Miriam feels happier with her ‘hoard of contradictory ideas’. Richardson’s style – with its prioritisation of sensory immediacy over narrative or conceptual framing – developed in tandem with her political preference for an English socialism that seemed less ideologically monolithic than the Russian version.
West’s anticommunism was more strident, and she isolated herself from feminists and socialists by immediately condemning the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, then offering friendship and support to the anarchist and anti-Bolshevik activist Emma Goldman during her visit to Britain in 1924. West’s later fiction and journalism involved a complex but deeply felt anticommunism that again had an aesthetic dimension.
This paper asks what drew feminists to bolshevism and what led them to reject it. It also explores how the work of these two innovative writers was shaped by the complex relationship between feminism, modernism and anticommunism.
Hope to see you there!