CFP Elegy: New Approaches – Deadline for Abstracts: 3 August 2018

Elegy: New Approaches

Department of English Studies and the Centre for Poetry and Poetics

Durham University, September 14, 2018

Extended Deadline for Abstracts: 3 August 2018

Keynote Speaker: Professor Stephen Regan

Elegy, as Jahan Ramanzani observes, is the ‘mimesis of mourning’. It is the poetic form and distillation of our common response to loss, meeting the need for consolation and renewal in the face of death. It fulfils several cathartic requirements: the expression of grief, anger, and disbelief; the idealisation of what is lost; and the preservation of its memory. Elegy’s catalyst can emerge as the death of a loved one or exemplary figure (often a fellow poet, as in Alfred Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam’), the loss of love itself, or the loss of values that have receded from the cultural consciousness.

Traditionally considered as a mode of consolation and reassurance, in modernity these tendencies have sometimes been questioned and rejected. How can the elegy function effectively, for example, in the era of police brutality and Black Lives Matter, or in the aftermath of the recent mass shootings at US high schools? Conversely, can elegy as a genre of response open up new ways of thinking about socio-political issues – can the homoerotics of certain Roman love elegies, for instance, help us explore the grief reaction to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s? For this conference, we seek papers that investigate new approaches to the elegy in its many forms, be it the elegies of the Civil Rights Movement, responses to political violence (such as the hauntingly beautiful poems of Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley), elegies of Diaspora, or the prominent elegies in the English tradition. We also welcome papers that consider the elegiac response as something that exceeds the poetic lyric: a diary entry of Woolf’s, for example, deliberates whether ‘elegy’ should supplant ‘novel’ when describing works such as To the Lighthouse, and traditions of ritual mourning such as keening can be approached as intersections of social and literary conventions. Our aim is to foreground these ‘texts’ as elegiac in their own right and to showcase recent research in this area.

This conference is envisioned as a forum for reflection on the current state of research on elegy and on potentially fruitful directions for future exploration. The organisers are especially keen to elicit proposals pertaining to new and emergent areas of interest, and/or which take an interdisciplinary approach to the subject. We also welcome proposals relating to elegies outside of the Anglophone tradition, although for the purpose of this conference all presentations must be delivered in English.

We invite proposals for 20 minute papers on the theme of elegy and the elegiac, broadly considered. Please send a 250 word abstract and a mini-biography (50-100 words) to Dr Laura McKenzie at by 3 August 2018. For further details visit the conference website at


Contact Info: 

Dr Laura McKenzie

Department of English Studies

Durham University


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Thinking Through Writing – ‘thinking and writing in the arts’

Thinking Through Writing

Jennifer Moriarty, MPhil Candidate in the Department of English and Humanities, reports on a recent workshop that brought together researchers to discuss the relationship between thinking and writing in the arts.


In the early days of my PhD, my supervisor told me that ‘writing is how we work out what we think about things’. I nodded — hopefully sagely — and wrote it in my notebook, not really grasping the significance of the statement. Then I went away and promptly struggled to write my first chapter. A constant stream of academic memes reminding me that I ‘should be writing’ seemed merely to underline that, unless writing was ceaseless, it was never enough. But, I began to think about how writing, if it truly was a means of understanding my own creative input, should be deployed alongside the reading of inputs produced by others. Did ‘writing’ mean writing or was the word used as shorthand for a more nebulous combination of reading/writing/thinking? Seeking greater insight into this balancing act, I attended several ‘academic writing’ workshops in which speakers largely addressed questions of how to unblock the mind that already knows what it thinks or how to use the predefined structure of the scientific PhD document to galvanize writing. While I did learn some practical tips about structuring sentences and paragraphs, my questions about the writing process as a way to generate ideas went unanswered. None of these sessions got at the heart of how to use writing to synthesize existing research and original ideas within the context of the arts-based thesis. Using the training-needs-analysis document as a catalyst to articulate my questions, I was delighted when Luisa Calè, the Assistant Dean for the School of Arts, identified that guidance on the use writing to generate thinking was lacking in the training provision and that deeper scrutiny of the writing process would be of interest to students across the School.

On 2 July, researchers came together in a day-long ‘Thinking Through Writing’ workshop that offered a mixture of advice from experienced writers and practical hands-on writing sessions. What we learned — spoiler alert— is that the process of writing is difficult and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. But feedback from attendees said that hearing about others’ methods and finding solidarity among peers facing the same struggles offered fresh perspectives and rejuvenating energy. The message reiterated throughout the day was that writing and thinking are inspired as much by reading as they are seemingly non-academic activities like exercising, baking, or listening to music.

Panel 1 — Thinking through writing: approaches to composition

An initial panel presented the reflections of three writers on their process of writing from different fields.

Mark Blacklock, drawing on his experience as a journalist, novelist, and academic writer, encouraged attendees to think of critical writing as a process of responding to something, for example, a primary source or a historical idea. Among the steps he outlined for generating ideas were:

  • The ‘first mark’—get over the blank page as quickly as possible by breaking ground with handwritten notes in notebooks or margins or books. Once digitised, these notes can be searched, often throwing up serendipitous connections.
  • Keywords— brainstorm keywords in response to the primary source then really zoom in on the words and concepts.
  • Sentences— use sentences to add meaning and order to your ideas. Mark mentioned Don DeLillo ‘s practice of writing only one sentence per page in order to leave space to unpack each one thoroughly.
  • Sections— compile granular-level sentences into sections and then rearrange these to see which content is redundant or to identify any gaps
  • Editing— allow some time to pass before editing your own work, but also consider editing others’ work as a means of gaining insight into alternative writing styles.
  • Publishing— commit to publication (journal articles or conference papers) to impose often helpful deadlines on your writing. Mark recommended blogs as a lower-stakes place to practise writing. Blog posts must be good enough to put out before the public, but they don’t need to be up to academic standard.

Sam Dolbear, speaking from his experience of writing his PhD, discussed several tactics that he employed to find ideas in his own writing. Sam suggested rearranging sentences either electronically or by printing out and cutting them apart to speak new connections. Importantly, Sam emphasized that the writing process is difficult and can involve as much failure as productivity. Introducing an idea that would be reiterated throughout the day, Sam noted that distraction often serves as a productive force, enabling the mind to process ideas. Activities away from the desk, such as walking, cycling, or going to the cinema can often trigger reflective modes of thinking, but no one approach would suit everyone.

Emily Baker took up this idea, drawing a parallel between the processes of writing and musical composition. While Mozart wrote by thinking through his entire work before drafting and made infrequent adjustments to his core ideas afterwards, Beethoven’s approach was to consider each note as it was influenced by those preceding it and to make endless improvements even after publication. Emily recommended a hybrid approach of planning and chance tailored to suit each individual writer’s temperament. She noted that some people react productively to self- or supervisor-imposed deadlines and benefit from outside accountability, but others are more likely to rebel and won’t find motivation in these pressures. Emily also recommended the Forest app as a tool to help resist the temptation to be distracted by social media or other websites while writing.

Music proved a rich metaphor and topic of discussion. Bach’s method of ‘counterpoint’—where one melody responds and interacts with another within the same piece— was suggested as a helpful way to think about dialogic forms of writing. Others noted that pieces of music listened to repeatedly while writing can become associated with arguments or chapters, providing a useful trigger for returning to an earlier train of thought. Max Richter’s Sleep (2015) and the website Noisili were mentioned as examples of neuroscience being used to inform compositions designed to aid concentration, productivity, and/or relaxation.


In the first of two writing sessions, the group participated in a ‘Pomodoro’. Named after the tomato timer, Pomodoro refers to a time-management technique that recommends using 25-minute intervals of concentrated effort to break tasks into smaller chunks, followed by 5-minutes of break. When sitting down to write, many people find themselves distracted by their surroundings or daunted by what they want to achieve. Others sit for hours without taking a rest.  By setting a writing goal for the time period and knowing that there is a built-in time afterwards in which distraction is permitted, writers applying the Pomodoro technique say that it helps to increase focus and productivity.

Panel 2 — Writing Feelings

In the afternoon, the group discussed the feelings that writing engenders. Many people expressed a combination of frustration/anxiety intermixed with feeling of elation/accomplishment. Others expressed guilt at not writing but also about writing, that arts research wasn’t considered to be ‘real’ work.

Julia Bell encouraged attendees to use the productive energy of anxiety to foster creative bursts of active writing. She attributed this anxiety to the paradox of writing within an environment structured by beats of the clock— scheduled events in our lives, like deadlines— while at the same time reflecting on timeless or historic matters.  Using Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Shapes of Writing’ metaphor, Julia drew a comparison between writers and characters in a novel, both subject to time-bound existence but also affected by thoughts and motivations that sit outside of time. She also suggested that students’ anxiety can spring from concerns that their readers are more knowledgeable than they are, but she encouraged them to take confidence from their work at the coalface and their familiarity with the latest research in their field. While it’s important to be prepared to face an external examiner, that person’s expertise may have been built 10 or 20 years earlier.

Julia pointed out that academic work is embracing elements of creative writing, including a willingness to incorporate the writer’s own experience as evidence and writing in the first person.

‘Shut Up and Write’

In the afternoon, the group completed a one-hour ‘Shut Up and Write’ session. Despite its aggressive name, the longer silent writing session was greeted with enthusiasm by participants. Many enjoyed the feeling of solidarity of writing within a group, knowing that others were also working toward similar goals, and the feeling of accountability group writing fostered, given the social pressure to prevent them from being distracted. Several participants reported being more productive in the day’s short writing sessions than they had in days or weeks!

If you’re interested in group writing, Birkbeck offers a number of opportunities. The Birkbeck Graduate Research School often runs shut up and write days, and Sophie Jones runs a twice-weekly writing group during term times, which is open to researchers at all stages. Please contact Sophie for more details or to be added to the group’s email list.

The Uses of Procrastination

In the final session of the day, historian Emma Lundin, from the podcast Tomorrow Never Knows (with Charlotte Lydia Riley), took up the idea that procrastination can be productive. She reiterated the importance of knowing yourself and, whenever possible, identifying times of day and environments that make thesis writing easier. Often, however, commitments to family or work can impose restrictions on when and where writing takes place. Emma cited Toni Morrison and Nick Laird who discuss how to fit writing around other commitments and also encouraged writers to see time away from writing as ‘thinking time’. Activities like baking cookies or watching movies may feel like procrastination but can offer the mind a chance to consider any problems obliquely or subconsciously. Emma also recommended the use of other writing outlets— blogs, a podcast— to create lower-pressure opportunities to practise writing and to rejuvenate the writer. Twitter, ordinarily considered a distraction from writing, can be used productively as a place for collecting and recording ideas, as well as a forum for conversation with the wider community.

Scrivener offers a digital solution for writers who tend to want to edit what they have already written instead of continuing to write, because earlier work can be ‘hidden’, and writers are encouraged instead to compose chunks of text in any order for later compilation or rearrangement.

So, it seems that maybe we shouldn’t always be writing. To give space for thinking, research can and ought to encompass opportunities at and away from the desk for making connections between ideas and readings. The process of writing can encompass ‘positive procrastination’ as an opportunity for creative and problem-solving parts of our mind to process information. Writing in shorter but more focused sessions, perhaps even with other people, may also increase productivity and help to maintain motivation throughout the thesis.


De Lillo, Don, ‘The Art of Fiction’, Paris Review, 128 (Fall 1993),

Dunleavy, Patrick, Authoring a PhD: How to Plan, Draft, Write and Finish a Doctoral Thesis or Dissertation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003)

Explorations of Style, A Blog about Academic Writing:

Hertzmann, Eric, ‘Mozart’s Creative Process’, The Musical Quarterly, 43:2 (1957), 187-200

Kindermann, William, Beethoven’s Compositional Process (University of Nebraska Press, 1991)

Laird, Nick, ‘My lists say things like 1. buy milk. 2. call Dad. 3. finish novel’, Guardian, 27 June 2017

Morrison, Toni, ‘The Art of Fiction’, Paris Review, 128 (Fall 1993)   

Sword, Helen, Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write (Harvard University Press, 2017)

Wolff, Christoph, ‘Composed, Just not yet Written: on Mozart’s Creative Process’, Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 52: 4 (1999), 28-31

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Reading Group: Psychoanalysis and Visual Culture in Historical Perspective 9th July 2018

Reading Group: Psychoanalysis and Visual Culture in Historical Perspective

Monday 9th July, 6.30-8pm

Room G01, 43 Gordon Square

This series of reading groups looks at key texts in the history of psychoanalysis, exploring their connections to visual culture. Readings are intended for anyone interested in delving into this literature with a like minded group of non-experts from disciplines across art history, film and media studies etc.

For the second session on Monday 9th July, 6.30pm in room G01, 43 Gordon Square, we’re returning to some classics by Freud:

1) Freud & Josef Breuer, ‘On the Psychical Mechanism of Hysterical Phenomena: Preliminary Communication’, in Studies on Hysteria (1893)

2) Freud, ‘A Dream is the Fulfilment of a Wish’, in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900)

3) Freud, ‘Fragment of an analysis of a case: Dora’ (1905)

Note – this is a fairly long text, so you might want to just read some of the beginning and end parts of it.

4) Freud, ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ (1917)

Readings available to download via google drive:

If you’re only able to read two or three of the texts, please do still come along. We’re also inviting people to bring a few images that they’re working on – to help spark our visual thinking and draw out any potential connections, applications, tangents etc.

Assuming there’s an appetite to continue the readings, we’ll pick the texts and date for the next session following on from this second one. Please bring suggestions for readings if you have them!

To RSVP and for more information contact:

Alistair Cartwright (Birkbeck, History of Art) —

Christy Slobogin (Birkbeck, History of Art) —

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Volunteer Opportunity: London Science Fiction Conference 14/15 September 2018

The London Science Fiction Research Community (LSFRC), run by fellow research students Aren Roukema and Rhodri Davies, is in need of people (or self-identifing AIs) to assist with its 2018 conference, “Sublime Cognition: Science Fiction and Metaphysics”.

Interested parties would be able to help in a number of different areas, including setup, welcome and registration, refreshments, technical assistance and chairing of panels (if suitable research experience). This opportunity would be particularly valuable for students looking to gain conference organisation experience and make new contacts in science fiction studies and related fields. Free admission will be provided.

“Sublime Cognition” will take place 14–15 September at Gordon Square. The conference will feature keynotes from Roger Luckhurst (Birkbeck) and Helen de Cruz (Oxford Brookes), as well as a roundtable with SF authors Justina Robson, Jeff Noon, and Fiona Moore, and panel presentations from more than 30 speakers.

Please contact Aren Roukema or Rhodri Davies at”

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