Comparing the Contemporary – Student Discussion Group Spring Term 2018

Comparing the Contemporary – Student Discussion Group

Spring Term 2018

Wonderful universes lie unexplored at the very doorstep of our libraries, stories and people and histories often given for granted and never fully investigated. Voices from beyond the Channel and beyond the Ocean and beyond the West that have remained unheard. Voices that the sessions of ‘Comparing the Contemporary’ wish to discuss through a series of meetings aimed at travelling the literary world, bringing together the experience of the diverse Birkbeck student body.

You’re invited; come join an informal student discussion group that will widen your horizons and provide fresh perspectives on key issues of contemporary criticism and theory. This discussion group is organised by postgraduate students based in Birkbeck’ Department of English and Humanities, and is open to enrolled students within the English & Humanities Department and beyond with an interest in expanding the scope of their studies to consider non-Anglophone literature and theory. We are MA students but welcome students at all levels, from BA to PhD.

What can comparative analysis say about the literary renditions of World War I across national boundaries? Can we bring postmodern critical concepts such as Baudrillard’s ‘simulacrum’ to bear on The Invention of Morel, an Argentine SF novel published in 1940? These are the sort of topics and texts that this group will seek to explore. The focus is placed on 20th and 21st century primary texts, and critical sources that enable a comparative perspective rather than being limited to one national or linguistic literary tradition. We aim to bring together a group of like-minded Birkbeck students, and the current organisers are MA students. We are not teachers, and we do not purport to be experts in the texts or topics discussed–the goal is that through joint analysis and debate, all the group’s participants can gain a richer understanding of the texts and appreciate the usefulness of comparative analysis to locate literary texts in a global context.

Get in touch with Valentina Salvatierra (MA Contemporary Literature & Culture, in order to sign up for our emails and get access to the shared folder where meeting schedule and texts will be uploaded.

No knowledge of languages other than English is required to participate, as we will be working with texts in translation–although you are welcome to read the original if you know the language.

Meeting structure

We will meet every 2 weeks throughout the Spring term. Each meeting will have a designated chair in charge of starting and guiding the group discussion. The chair will contextualise the text, provide a short extract or clip (if relevant), and a brief critical discussion of the text(s). This should take between 10-20 minutes, and the rest of the session will be dedicated to seminar-style discussion around the topic and text(s). The first two sessions’ topics and texts will be:

Friday 2nd February, 18:00 – 19:00

Room: MAL 630 (Malet Street Building)

The Carnival of War

Primary texts:

  1. Erich Maria Remarque (1929) All Quiet on the Western Front (chapter 11)       Full text:
  2. Dalton Trumbo (1939) Johnny Got His Gun (introduction, chapter 20)

Full text:

  1. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1909)“The Futurist Manifesto”

Full text:

Secondary texts:

  • Kissinger, Henry, Diplomacy, (Simon and Schuster 2011).
  • Lenin, Vladimir, “War and Revolution”, (1917).

Full text:

  • Dauterich, Ed. “”Johnny Got His Gun” and Working Class Students: Using Rhetorical Analysis to Intellectualize Pacifism.” Peace Research, 42 (2010 1/2) pp. 127-41.

Friday 16 February, 18:00 – 19:00

Room: MAL 629 (Malet Street Building)

Speculative fictions: North and South

  • Baudrillard, Jean, and Arthur B. Evans, ‘Two Essays (“Simulacra and Science Fiction” and “Ballard’s Crash”)’, Science Fiction Studies, 18 (1991) <>
  • Bioy Casares, Adolfo, The Invention of Morel (1940) [extracts to be supplied]
  • Heinlein, Robert, ‘—And He Built a Crooked House—’, Astounding Science Fiction, February 1941, pp. 68–83 <>

If you wish to moderate or get involved in the organisation of the group, we would love to hear from you. Please get in touch with the organisers Carmela Morgillo ( or Valentina Salvatierra ( to discuss the details. We also welcome suggestions for texts or topics for discussion, and the schedule is flexible and open to modification depending on participants’ interests.

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CFP Glasgow International Fantasy Conversations – Submissions Deadline 31 January 2018

Glasgow International Fantasy Conversations 

Escaping Escapism in Fantasy and the Fantastic

26th – 27th April 2018

What is the role of fantasy and the fantastic? Why—and perhaps more crucially, how—does the genre matter? Fantasy theorists frequently define the genre in opposition to what is possible and real: Kathryn Hume, for instance, sums it up in Fantasy and Mimesis as “departures from consensus reality”. Critics often scrutinize this departure as a negative, and disparage representations of the fantastic either due to their failure to depict real world issues or their presumed attempts at “escapism.” This perceived link between fantasy and escapism is so strong that dictionaries like the Oxford English Dictionary define escapism as “engaging in fantasy”.

Despite this association, a growing body of evidence asserts both that escapism can be healthy and that the fantastic can influence how its consumers perceive real world issues even when their representations are deemed problematic. For example, though readers and scholars have criticized the portrayal of minority groups in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, studies suggest that people who read the series are more accepting of stigmatised groups and more likely to vote for political candidates whose policies support these groups. And while some critics view the creation of fictional Secondary Worlds as a troubling detachment from reality, creativity scholars have drawn links between creating imaginary worlds as a child and high achievement in artistic and scientific fields later in life. Escapism is perhaps not as escapist as it was previously perceived to be, and even when it is, it can have a positive impact. The “escapism accusation” is being flipped on its head, with texts as disparate as Diana Wynne Jones’s Fire and Hemlock and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Normal Again” presenting the rejection of the fantastic in favour of “reality” as the dangerous escapist behaviour. The traditional dynamic between escapism and the fantastic is constantly being changed and renegotiated.

This two-day symposium seeks to examine and honour the relationship between escapism and the fantastic. We welcome proposals for papers on this theme from researchers and practitioners working in the field of fantasy and the fantastic across all media, whether within the academy or beyond it. We are particularly interested in submissions from postgraduate and early career researchers.

We will offer workshops in creative writing for those interested in exploring the creative process.

We ask for 300-word abstracts for 20-minute papers, as well as creative presentations that go beyond the traditional academic paper.

Suggested topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

– Intersections and interplays between fantasy and reality.

– Metatextual responses to escapism in fantastic texts and media.

– Theoretical and/or critical discussions of escapism in relation to fantasy and the fantastic, broadly defined.

– Relationships between Secondary Worlds and the Primary World; relationships between world and characters.

– Reading, writing, and engaging with fantasy as a political act; the depiction of real world issues, or lack thereof, in fantastical settings and contexts.

– Representations of the fantastic in media associated with escapism, such as live-action role-playing, board games, tabletop role-playing games, television, etc.

Please submit a 300-word abstract and a 100-word biography in separate editable documents (not PDF) to by Wednesday, the 31st of January 2018.

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CFP: ‘Testing toleration in Britain’s imperial and post-imperial world’ – Submissions Deadline 12 February 2018

Call for Papers

‘Testing toleration in Britain’s imperial and post-imperial world’

A Doctoral and ECR conference at Birkbeck, University of London

Friday 15th June, 2018

The question of the nature and limits of toleration is now as pressing as it has ever been.  We live in turbulent times with increasingly polarised – and perhaps intolerant – public debate as perceived differences between people become a site of controversy and values become oppositional.  In modern Britain, for example, promotion of the supposed British value of toleration is challenged by increased evidence of Islamophobia. The problems of defining and testing toleration are not new. They have both roots and precedence in a world of empires. How did questions of toleration emerge in Britain’s empire and how were they dealt with? What is their legacy in Britain’s imperial and post-imperial world?

This inter-disciplinary doctoral and ECR conference at Birkbeck, University of London on Friday 15th June 2018 aims to explore the concept and limits of toleration in imperial and post-colonial attitudes and interactions between the people, religions and cultures of the nations which once constituted the British empire.

The conference will be particularly, but not exclusively, focused on the encounter between the people, cultures and religions of Britain and the Indian sub-continent and Africa in situ and in migrant communities in Britain from c. 1750 to the present day.

Wider themes include: assimilation, tolerance, relativism, universalism, empire, integration, religion, secularism, multiculturalism, pluralism, liberalism.

Papers are invited on any topic related to the indicative themes and questions explored in the conference:

What did it mean to be tolerant in the context of empire?

  • Who was being tolerant and what was being tolerated?
  • Did this change over time? How and why?
  • What was intolerable and to whom?

Have concepts of toleration that developed during the Empire affected the concept of national identity in the post-empire era?

  • Who was being tolerant and what was being tolerated?
  • What are the limits of toleration in the post-Empire world?
  • Does the practice of “tolerance” in society signify inequality?

The concept of toleration

  • What does it mean to be tolerant?
  • What is the relationship between power and toleration?
  • What is the relationship between toleration and assimilation, integration, pluralism and multiculturalism?

 We welcome proposals from all relevant academic disciplines, which may include History, Religious Studies, Anthropology, Psychology and Psychosocial Studies, Philosophy, Politics, Literature Studies, History of Art.

If you would like to present a paper, please submit an abstract (max 300 words) along with a short paragraph (max 200 words) which outlines your institution, the academic discipline in which you are researching and your main doctoral/research project to the conference convenors, Sue Blunn and Helen Carr (to whom any queries can also be sent) at:

Deadline for proposals: Monday 12th  February 2018

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Latin American Archives and Collections in the British Library, Senate House Library and the Northwest: Initial Expression of Interest – March 14th 2018

PiLAS, the British Library and the University of London Senate House Library are pleased to announce a free interactive workshop on the Latin American archives and collections. In addition, we can also cover key Latin American research resources in the northwest of England.

The workshop will be held in Manchester on March 14th 2018 from 14.00 to 17.00 at the People’s History Museum (Left Bank, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3ER; and will provide the opportunity for postgraduate researchers to discuss with archivists and curators how to get the most out of archives. There will be an opportunity to visit the museum and its archive in the morning..

Registration for the event will be through Eventbrite, and will open at the end of January. Meanwhile, in order to tailor the workshop to attendees’ needs, we now invite you to express your interest in joining us and to let us know the aspects you would most like us to cover using the Google form: by 6pm on February 9th 2018 at the latest.

In order to encourage postgraduate researchers from across the UK to join us, a small number of bursaries will be available to help contribute towards travel costs. Priority will be given to those who cannot claim travel bursaries from other sources. You will be able to apply for a travel bursary when registering to attend.


The British Library (

The Latin American collection at the British Library is the largest in the UK and spans the 16th century to the present day, and covers Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. Researchers will find sources on European conquest and colonialism, the Catholic Church in the Americas, slavery and abolition, independence movements, and contemporary economy, politics and society, and government official publications and statistics from Latin America, and recent academic publications in the humanities from the region. Highlights include:

  • significant resources on contemporary economy, politics and society of interest to social scientists;
  • e-resource collections that include official statistical databases, Hispanic American Periodical Index, Handbook of Latin American Studies and Latin American digitised newspapers 1805-1922;
  • manuscripts on European Conquest, colonialism, indigenous languages, slavery and independence struggles;
  • the early printing of Latin America: religious materials, natural history and 19th- and 20th-century literature, travelogues and political writings;
  • the maps includes some of the earliest representations, maps of colonial expansion, border conflicts, trade routes, and maps and statistical texts related to Latin America from the 18th and early 19th century;
  • photographs and illustrations, predominantly of 19th-century archaeological sites;
  • a sound archive with interviews, music and natural history recordings.


The Senate House Library ( Laurence Byrne  – – for more details)

The Latin American and Caribbean Studies Collection cover most aspects of Latin America and the Caribbean, with an emphasis on material in the humanities and related social sciences: history, politics, economics, anthropology, sociology, gender studies, combined with literature, film and documentaries from or on Latin American and the Caribbean.

Geographically, the collection covers all the territories of Central and South America as well as the islands of the Caribbean (including the English-, Dutch- and French-speaking communities), the islands of the South Atlantic (the Falklands/Malvinas and South Georgia), the Galapagos Islands and the Antarctic territories administered by Chile and Argentina.

Of particular note is the Political Archives Collection, ninety boxes of pamphlets, posters, reports, miscellaneous journals and some ephemera, produced by political parties, pressure groups, NGOs, trade unions and governments, predominantly in Spanish and Portuguese, with some English language material. Every country in the region is represented, but there is a particularly rich collection of Chilean material.


*****Please let us know using the Google form any other archives you would like to cover, such as the People’s History Museum’s Chile Solidarity Campaign (1973-1991) or the Atlantic slavery archives and collections in Liverpool.*****

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Royal Photographic Society Lecture – George Szirtes: 23 January 2018 6pm

Historical Group  of the Royal Photographic Society lecture at the Royal Philatelic Society, 23 January 2018, 6pm


Unfortunately, Mr. Robert Gurbo – who was going to speak on Andre Kertész: The Real Biography – is indisposed, and is not able to deliver the inaugural Colin Ford lecture until later in the year.  However,  we are happy to announce that his place is being taken by Mr George Szirtes

Mr. Szirtes, as well as being a lover of Hungarian photography, is a distinguished writer, translator and poet. His poems include verses about André Kertész, and these and others of his poems will be read by the actors Stephen Thorne and Timothy West.  Mr. Szirtes contributed a chapter to the catalogue for the 2011 exhibition Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the Twentieth Century, curated by Colin Ford at London’s Royal Academy of Arts

George Szirtes is an Honorary Fellow of Goldsmith’s College, of the Hungarian Academy of Arts and Letters, and of the Royal Society of Literature. As a journalist, he contributes to BBC radio and television, The Times, The Guardian and The Independent, and has won numerous awards and honours for his academic work and translations.


Colin Ford will introduce George Szirtes, to whom we are extremely grateful for agreeing to speak to us at such very short notice.

NOTE: As this event is not as originally advertised, it is not being seen as the inaugural ‘Colin Ford lecture’ but as a prelude to the series.

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Derek Jarman Lab – Essay Film Course 20 – 23 January 2018

Essay Film Course

An intensive 4-day course in all aspects of audiovisual production related to essayistic and research-led filmmaking. Students work in small groups and learn how to use widely available DSLR cameras and popular editing software to create professional looking and intellectually engaging videos. At the end of the course they complete a short training film. This gives them an opportunity to put their new skills to use immediately and experiment with the form of the essay film in a stimulating environment and with the support of the Lab’s team. Key elements of the course are: introduction to film theory, session on making an impact with research, tips on production management, hands-on skills in lighting set-ups, recording sound, and using cameras (Canon and Panasonic DSLRs, Blackmagic Cinema Camera), a supervised location shoot, editing theory and editing on Final Cut X.

Our courses are designed to cater for a variety of levels of experience and to consider the different ways in which moving images can be used. An integral part of the training is discussing students’ research interests and how to make the best use of film in an academic context. We explore the conventions of documentary filmmaking but also talk about its alternatives, such as the essay film. The focus of this course is on films which combine an artistic form with an argumentative structure. We also engage with the concepts of visual methods of disseminating and conducting research in the humanities and social sciences.

The sessions take place in our offices:

The Derek Jarman Lab
36 Gordon Square
London WC1H 0PD

The training begins at 10am on each day of the 4-day course, and we aim to finish around 6pm.

The cost of the course for Birkbeck students and staff is £300.

If you are interested in enrolling, please send an email to

More information about the lab can be found here:

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Murray Seminars: Spring Term 2018

MURRAY SEMINARS – Spring Term 2018

These advanced research seminars are open to all, and attract interested members of the public, staff and students from other London colleges and beyond.  They are an opportunity to hear and contribute to cutting-edge research, often at the very early stages of work in progress.

All this term’s seminars take place in the History of Art Department at Birkbeck (43, Gordon Sq., London WC1H 0PD) in Room 114 (The Keynes Library) at 5pm.  Talks finish by 5.50pm (allowing those with other commitments to leave) and are then followed by discussion and refreshments. This term’s seminars are:

17 January: Carol Richardson

Britons and Anglo-Saxons in Sixteenth-Century Rome: the 1580s fresco cycle at the English College

William Allen referred to Bede’s Ecclesiastical History as a seminarian’s reader because it proved that Christianity in Britain derived directly from the Catholic church in Rome from its very origins. This was an important argument in the context of Tudor persecution of Catholics because of the Protestant assertion that British Christianity had taken root long before the missions of Augustine of Canterbury introduced the corrupted Roman version of Christianity. This paper will consider the earliest part of the fresco cycle in the English College, which survives as printed images, in light of this deliberate historiographical choice.

13 February: Emanuele Lugli

Chasing Absence: The Body of Christ and the Measures to Enter in Touch with it

This talk focuses on the singular devotion for the ‘mensura Christi,’ or the act of praying with objects that reproduced the height of Christ. It explores the reasons for its phenomenal success, from its diffusion in the twelfth century up to its ban in the seventeenth, and the motives for its marginalization in historical accounts today. The talk asks questions about what turns an orthodox veneration into a mere superstition, an inversion that is all the more puzzling given that the ‘mensura Christi’ relies on measuring, one of the methods to fight credulity. The lecture thus reconsiders the relationships of measuring practices, visual belief, and religious orders, thus contributing to discussions on representations, faith, and material studies.

14 March: Luca Palozzi

‘And the great lion walks through his innocent grove’. A cross-disciplinary study of lion paw prints in Giovanni Pisano’s Pisa pulpit

Giovanni Pisano carved animal tracks on the base of one of two lions bearing columns in his pulpit for Pisa Cathedral (1302-1310). Overlooked for more than seven centuries, these are the first naturalistic paw prints carved in marble in post-Classical Western art. This paper presents the initial results of a joint art historical and anatomical study of the Pisa paw prints conducted by Dr Luca Palozzi and Dr Gurå Bergkvist. In so doing, it tackles the much-debated issue of Medieval ‘naturalism’ (and its means) from an unusual perspective. A cross-disciplinary approach, that is, may help us find new answers to long-standing questions.

We hope to see you there.

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BIMI/Vasari Digital Animation Series: Joey Holder and Candida Powell-Williams – Friday 2 February 2018 6.30pm

Vasari Digital Animation Series: Joey Holder and Candida Powell-Williams
Friday 2 February 6:30 – 9:00
In collaboration with the Vasari Research Centre for Art and Technology

Artists Joey Holder and Candida Powell-Williams both use animation to explore the relationship between digital and biological forms. Holder’s work considers the structures and hierarchies of the technological and natural worlds, and how these systems are constantly abstracted. Powell-Williams’ practice merges sculptural installations, performance and GIFs, using them to address the construction of identity through objects and memory.
Following screenings of work by both artists, Holder and Powell-Williams will discuss hybrids, molluscs, fantasy and the interplay between the digital and the corporeal in their work.

Joey Holder is a London based artist who received her BA from Kingston University (2001) and her MFA from Goldsmiths (2010). Her artistic practice and research spans video and multimedia installations both online and offline. Her work raises philosophical questions of our universe and things yet unknown, regarding the future of science, medicine, biology and human-machine interactions. Working with scientific and technical experts she makes immersive, multi-media installations that explore the limits of the human and how we experience non-human, natural and technological forms. Mixing elements of biology, nanotechnology and natural history against computer programme interfaces, screen savers and measuring devices, she suggests the impermanence and inter-changeability of these apparently contrasting and oppositional worlds: ‘everything is a mutant and a hybrid’. Connecting forms which have emerged through our human taste, culture and industrial processes she investigates complex systems that dissolve notions of the ‘natural’ and the ‘artificial’. GM products, virtual biology and aquatic creatures are incorporated into an extended web; challenging our perception of evolution, adaptation and change. By contrasting so-called ‘organic’ and ‘man-made’ substances and surfaces through a series of abstractions, she creates a world of manifold layers, none more unified or natural than the next. These hybridities may suggest a particular function or natural form but remain elusive through their odd displacement.


solo/duo exhibitions include ‘SELACHIMORPHA’, Photographers Gallery, London (2017), ‘Ophiux’, Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge (2016), ‘TETRAGRAMMATON’, LD50, London (duo w/ John Russell) (2016), ‘Lament of Ur’, Karst, Plymouth (duo w/ Viktor Timofeev) (2015);

‘BioStat.’, Project Native Informant, London (2015) and ‘HYDROZOAN’, The Royal Standard, Liverpool (2014). Recent group exhibitions include ‘HYDROZOAN’ at the 7th Moscow International Biennale Of Contemporary Art, Russia (2017), ‘WALLPAPERS’ at New Forms

Festival, Canada (2017), ‘Designing Desire’ at FACT, Liverpool, UK (2017), ‘Alien Matter’, Transmediale, Berlin (2017), The Noise of Being, Sonic Acts, Amsterdam (2017), ‘Winter is Coming’, Georg Kargl, Vienna (2016), ‘The Uncanny Valley’, Wysing Arts Centre,

Cambridge (2015); BODY HOLES, New Scenario, online exhibition at the 9th Berlin Biennale, Berlin, Germany (2016), ‘Sunscreen’, online and at Venice Biennale (2015); ‘A Plague of Diagrams’, ICA, London, UK (2015), ‘#WEC- Whole Earth Catalyst’, The Composing

Rooms, Berlin, Germany (2015); ‘h y p e r s a l o n’, Art Basel Miami, USA (2014); ‘Vestige: The Future is Here’, Design Museum, London (2013) and ‘Multinatural Histories’, Harvard Museum of Natural History, Massachusetts, USA (2013).

Candida Powell-Williams lives and works in London. She graduated from the RCA, London in 2011. Selected exhibitions include: ‘Boredom and its Acid Touch’, Frieze Live (2017); ‘Tongue Town’, Museum of Modern Art, São Paulo; ‘Cache’, Art Night, London (2017); and ‘Coade’s Elixir’, Hayward Gallery, London (2014). In 2013 Powell-Williams was awarded the Sainsbury Scholarship at BSR, Rome. She is currently artist in residence the Warburg Institute London.

Elizabeth Johnson is an Associate Research Fellow in the Vasari Centre for Art and Technology, Birkbeck

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