Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Russia in Britain: Panel Discussion at Pushkin House, 4/11/13

Join us for a roundtable discussion with the editors of and contributors to a new collection of essays, Russia in Britain, 1880-1940: From Melodrama to Modernism (Oxford University Press, 2013).

Russia in Britain offers the first comprehensive account of the breadth and depth of the British fascination with Russian and Soviet culture, tracing its transformative effect on British intellectual life from the 1880s, the decade which saw the first sustained interest in Russian literature, to 1940, the eve of the Soviet Union’s entry into the Second World War.

By focusing on the role played by institutions, disciplines and groups—libraries, periodicals, government agencies, concert halls, publishing houses, theatres, and film societies—this collection marks an important departure from standard literary critical narratives, which have tended to highlight the role of a small number of individuals, notably Sergey Diaghilev, Constance Garnett, Fedor Komissarzhevsky, Katherine Mansfield, George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf.

Drawing on recent research and newly available archives, Russia in Britain shifts attention from individual figures to the networks within which they operated, and uncovers the variety of forces that enabled and structured the British engagement with Russian culture. The resulting narrative maps an intricate pattern of interdisciplinary relations and provides the foundational research for a new understanding of Anglo-Russian/Soviet interaction. In this, it makes a major contribution to the current debates about transnationalism, cosmopolitanism and ‘global modernisms’ that are reshaping our knowledge of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British culture.

With Rebecca Beasley, Philip Bullock and Matthew Taunton.

Further details here.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Russia in Britain

Russia in Britain 1880-1940: From Melodrama to Modernism, edited by Rebecca Beasley and Philip Bullock, is soon to be published by Oxford University Press. It contains a chapter by me called 'Russia and the British Intellectuals: the Significance of the Stalin-Wells Talk', as well as lots of other fascinating stuff.


You can find out more about the book, read the introduction, and order it for your library here

ARRN reading group, 4th October, Pushkin House

The Autumn reading group of the Anglo-Russian Research Network will see Professor Kimberley Reynolds (Newcastle University) introducing children's literature of the 1930s and 40s about the USSR. It should be a fascinating evening: further details are here.

Friday, July 19, 2013

New Statesman piece on the Stalin-Wells Talk

I have a piece on the New Statesman website about H.G. Wells's 1934 interview with Stalin in the same magazine. It's a part of the magazine's centenary celebrations. You can read the article here - it's based on some research I did for a chapter in Russia in Britain, 1880-1920: From Melodrama to Modernism, ed. by Rebecca Beasley and Philip Bullock, forthcoming from Oxford University Press this autumn. More details to follow...

Monday, June 10, 2013

Anti-Communism: Culture, Literature, Propaganda

Along with Benjamin Kohlmann I have organised a symposium about Anti-communism that will take place at the Institute of English Studies on 28th August 2013. Registration is open here, and details are below. The full programme will be made available in due course.


28 August 2013
Institute of English Studies, Senate House, University of London

Organisers: Dr Benjamin Kohlmann (Columbia University/Freiburg University) and Dr Matthew Taunton (University of East Anglia)

'[A]t no time since 1917 has anti-communism failed to occupy a major, even a central, place in the politics and policies of the capitalist world.' – Ralph Miliband & Marcel Liebman

'Perhaps the truth is that real leftism today can only be anti-Communist.' – Arthur Koestler

'Anti-anticommunism — the wish to avoid giving aid and comfort to cold warriors before 1989, and End-of-History triumphalists since — has crippled political thinking in the Labor and Social Democratic movements for decades; in some circles it still does.' – Tony Judt


Some two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, this symposium will explore the complex literary and cultural legacies of one of the twentieth century's most influential and under-theorised political philosophies. Anti-communism had a shaping influence on the development of twentieth-century Western liberalism and social democracy as well as providing intellectual justifications for McCarthyism and the jingoism of the Cold War Right. It was a key element of Nazism, but also of twentieth-century anarchism. Its relation to literary and artistic culture was equally complicated.

Rather than suggesting that there was a unified anti-communist aesthetic, the speakers at this symposium will examine the historical and formal specificity of anti-communist modes of writing, ranging from avant-garde to realist-documentary forms, and from the defiantly heterodox experiments by avant-gardists in the 1920s and 1930s to the condemnation of modernist writing as ‘proto-communist’ by American conservatives after 1945.

The symposium brings together an exciting group of scholars in order to explore a widespread public debate that took place among writers and intellectuals across the political spectrum and in a variety of media. The diversity of literary anti-communism is reflected in the range of writers considered at this symposium, from critical fellow travellers and chastened 1930s radicals to exiles, émigrés, and Cold War Conservatives. Writers to be discussed will include Emma Goldman, Wyndham Lewis, Rebecca West, George Orwell, Stephen Spender, Edward Upward, Ayn Rand, Vladimir Nabokov, Arthur Koestler, Doris Lessing, and Hannah Arendt. The speakers will illustrate the pervasiveness of anti-communist attitudes from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, taking into account critical arguments about anti-communism that were conducted in literary and political journals (including Partisan Review, Encounter, and others) and in the media, as well as the more extreme and more visible instances of anti-communist polemic and propaganda.

Confirmed speakers include: Prof. Tyrus Miller (University of California, Santa Cruz), Prof. David Ayers (Kent), Prof. Adam Piette (Sheffield), Dr. Marina MacKay (Durham), Dr. Nick Hubble (Brunel), Dr. Petra Rau (UEA), Dr. Ben Harker (Salford), Dr. Thomas Karshan (UEA), Dr. Benjamin Kohlmann (Freiburg / Columbia), Dr. Matthew Taunton (UEA), and Dr Debra Rae Cohen (University of South Carolina)

This symposium is supported by the Leverhulme Trust and the University of East Anglia.



Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Some Animals More Equal than Others

I have a piece about George Orwell's interest in smallholding in this month's issue of Smallholder



Friday, May 17, 2013

Emily Lygo on the Society for Cultural Relations with the USSR, 7 June, Pushkin House

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

2 + 2 = 5


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 reviewed by Alexia Yates at H-Net

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

Critical Quarterly, Volume 54, Issue 4



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

Reading Group on Stephen Graham, 15th February

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.