Are you a member of Wolfson College? Do you have an object with a story to tell? A life story to share?

The Wolfson Life-Stories Day is back, and this year it will be accompanied by an exhibitionA Day in the Life of a College. Wolfson through its Objects.

We are seeking members of College to contribute to either or both events. Please click here for more information.

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The Self in Verse. Exploring Autobiographical Poetry

 

Poetry as a means of self-expression has fascinated writers throughout the ages and cultures. Early cases in point are ancient authors such as Catullus and Ovid, whose Latin poems Carmina and Tristia treat questions of lives faced with controversy and exile. In the Middle Ages, French and German troubadours such as Chrétien de Troyes and Walther von der Vogelweide sought to cultivate a courtly mode of self-fashioning in their songs. Likewise, ever since the Renaissance, eminent writers have penned some of their most important works in the form of autobiographical poems. Dante’s Vita Nuova, Petrarch’s Canzionere, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Goethe’s Sesenheimer Lieder, Wordsworth’s Prelude are but a few, crucial milestones of the genre. Autobiographical approaches to considering the self are located at the very centre of lyrical expression: whether in love poems, religious poetry, historiographic or epic poems, to name but a few, the poet is often intertwined with the text in an approach to telling selfhood. In the 20th and 21st centuries, autobiographical poetry has also been widely practised throughout the literatures, with Modernists and Postmodernists such as Arthur Rimbaud, Gottfried Benn, and the Turkish poet Nâzım Hikmet (“Otobiyografi”, 1961) stretching the boundaries of life-writing in verse.

Yet scholarly approaches to the art of autobiographical writing are typically focused on prose narrative forms rather than on poetry. It is often overlooked that the long history of life writing has spawned a rich corpus of self-portraits in versified, rhythmic, or otherwise deliberately bound language.

This conference, a collaboration between the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin, the Faculties of English and Medieval and Modern Languages at Oxford and the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing, brings together researchers interested in autobiographical poetry or the ‘writing of the self’ in lyric forms, raising major questions about non-narrative means of self-articulation and self-portraiture and forms of life-writing specific to poetry. Aspects addressed in the keynote papers include the use of names in poetry, the articulation of gender, poetic ‘masks’, and voicing and the ‘sound of the self’. With scholars from both English and Modern Languages drawn from four countries among the participants, our conference will provide a rare opportunity to compare current theoretical positions in different national contexts and disciplines and refine our methodologies through dialogue.

9-11 April 2017, St Hilda’s College, Oxford

Convenors: Dr Martin Kindermann, Dr Johannes Görbert, Marie Lindskov Hansen (FU Berlin), Dr Georgina Paul (St Hilda’s College, Oxford)

Photo by Álvaro Serrano (CC0 1.0)

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Life Goes On: How people in northern Rwanda make sense of psychosocial suffering from war and healing

CNR-TCRU Postgraduate Narrative Research Seminars, 2016 – 17

Organised by the Centre for Narrative Research (CNR), University of East London and the Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU), UCL Institute of Education

Yuko Otake, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Northern Rwanda experienced wars between 1990 and 2000, including the civil war 1990-1994, the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, and the war of the abacengezi 1997-2000. The region was most catastrophically affected by the war of the Abacengezi during which mass killings took place on a daily basis. For political reasons, international aid interventions as well as government support to this area have been extremely limited, whereas grassroots communities have played a significant role in psychosocial healing of the people.

This ethnographic study explores the ways in which local communities in northern Rwanda heal psychosocial suffering in the context of limited humanitarian aid. Employing a narrative approach, it unpacks experience of psychosocial suffering, elaborates the ways in which communities heal themselves, and describes the meaning of ‘healing’ in the light of local views of morality, life and death. Qualitative analysis drew on participant observation, in-depth interviews, and focus-group discussions based on ten months of ethnographic fieldwork, which built on prior life and work experience in the field over two years.

Findings first describe local conceptualizations of psychosocial sufferings. These fell on a spectrum constructed by the degree of social disconnection reported by participants and how far their thoughts and memories were oriented towards a traumatic past. A key element of suffering was the literal ‘unspeakability’ of many wounds due to politically sensitive circumstances. This related to difficulties in making sense of what participants have experienced. Narratives of healing pathways described a common theme of leaving the past behind and going forward to the future through participation in different communities. In the context of the unspeakability of many traumas, communities provided alternative ways of healing from ‘speaking’ of the trauma directly. These include: allowing members to make sense of their sufferings through religious activities, everyday-life practices, and life-event ceremonies.

The study highlights that, in this setting, healing is not conceptualized as ‘recovery’ as assumed by Western theories, but rather, as a trajectory of ‘life goes on’: that is, that time continues into the future. In these communities’ accounts of healing, the focus is not on traumatic time but on time ‘being lived’ as part of life, and a series of lives beyond generations, through sharing everyday life and significant life events. In other words, healing can take place through social connection in a wider time-scale than trauma.

Yuko Otake is a PhD student at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and recently finished writing her thesis “Life Goes On: Psychosocial sufferings from war and healing pathways in northern Rwanda”. With academic background of psychology and public health, her work focuses on healing and resilience of war-affected communities. Before starting her PhD, she was working for Japan International Cooperation Agency in Rwanda and assisted community reconstruction from the war and genocide, which provided a foundation for her PhD study. She is also an awardee of the World Bank scholarship and the emerging scholar award by the Japanese Association of Qualitative Psychology.

Tuesday 4th April 2017, 5 – 6.30pm
Library, Thomas Coram Research Unit 
27 – 28 Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AA
All welcome, particularly graduate students.

For further details please contact Corinne Squire at c.squire@uel.ac.uk or
Xin Guo, Thomas Coram Research Unit graduate partner, xin.guox02@gmail.com
Details are also on the CNR website

The Lives of Houses

Saturday, 27 May 2017, 9:30am-5.30pm
Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College, Linton Road, Oxford OX2 6UD

A one-day colloquium convened by Oliver Cox & Sandra Mayer, and hosted by OCLW in collaboration with TORCH, will bring together academics, biographers and curators to explore the ways in which the life stories of well-known individuals are preserved and presented through the architecture and material culture of their homes. Talks on musicians’, architects’ and writers’ houses will focus on the intersections of life-writing and notions of fame and celebrity through physical spaces and objects. A plenary lecture by Daisy Hay on “Writing Space in Mr and Mrs Disraeli and Dinner with Joseph Johnson” and papers by:

  • Gillian Darley (Sir John Soane)
  • Lucy Walker (Benjamin Britten’s The Red House)
  • James Grasby (Edward Elgar Birthplace)
  • Alexandra Harris (William Cowper, John Clare and Virginia Woolf)
  • Frankie Kubicki (Charles Dickens Museum)
  • Nicola Watson (Shakespeare’s New Place)

Finally, a round table featuring Head of Specialist Advice for the National Trust, Nino Strachey, biographer and broadcaster Alexandra Harris, and art historian and curator Serena Dyer, the expert panel will cast a spotlight on the strategies available to those who open and present these houses to the public today.

Booking essential! Click here to reserve your place.

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Photo by Annie Spratt (CC0 1.0)

Dirty Little Secrets Of The Caspian

A streak of black for depression, blue for nostalgic memories of home, red for love, I put above all else, yellow for the hatred of injustice, green for the life I chose to not end, white for the peace I desperately seek. Here is a portrait painted with words.

It was time. After much encouragement and practice with my beloved husband Payam, I finally picked up the phone. I drew a deep breath to steady myself and dialed the number to my girlhood best friend in Iran.

One beep, two beeps, three beeps, four beeps…

“Why is she not answering?!”

Both relieved and annoyed, I knew that calling anywhere in the Middle East usually took a few attempts before one finally got through.

I tried again.

After two beeps, she picked up. “Hello.”

I was speechless.

“Hello? Hello?” My friend Delara’s familiar cracked voice came from my iPhone speaker.

I sat on the cold floor of our studio flat in London, gazing out through the window onto the wooden fence.

Frozen, heart racing, unable to speak.

“Hello? Is anyone there?”

“Yes… Hi… It’s me… Raha.”

After twenty-three years, I was finally speaking to my childhood best friend, whom I had tried so hard to wipe from my memory.

After the initial shock and an avalanche of emotions, we were able to catch up.

She asked me how things were, and I told her that I was going to therapy, but I didn’t say what for. I told her that I was also taking a short biography writing course.

Payam helped me with the translation a few times; my Farsi had grown rusty without use. When I told her the name of the course in Farsi, she couldn’t believe it.

“Do you remember trying to convince me to write our life stories just before you left Iran? You even started yours in a notebook. I still have it.”

“What notebook?”

“The wounded birds…don’t you remember?”

I had no idea what she was referring to.

She continued, “You had written poems in the beginning of the notebook. ‘If you listen closely, you can hear the shrieks in the silence of the mountains’… Remember now?”

As soon as she said that, I remembered the notebook and the poems… and the consuming pain I was trying to exorcise out by writing.

“I don’t know why I haven’t called for twenty-three years.”

It was a lie. I knew exactly why I had not called her; I just couldn’t tell her the truth because I was afraid of the impact it would have on her.

After what felt like a long pause, she said, “I feel the same way. I think I just wanted to hold on to the good memories. For some reason that I haven’t worked out yet, I think I was afraid of what would happen if we spoke. It was just too difficult. Maybe, because when you left for Pakistan everything happened so quickly and we didn’t even say goodbye properly. I heard through the grapevine that after Pakistan you were in Australia, and now married that famous guy everyone is obsessed with and moved to London. Is that true? How did you even meet him?”

“Oh, it’s a long story.” I said.

“You know, I left our tiny old town too, left university, got married, had a baby and moved to North of Iran, near the Caspian Sea.” she said.

Every time I think about ‘The Caspian Sea,’ a breaking wave of anxiety sweeps me off my feet into panic. But this time, I gasped for air in an attempt to keep my anxiety in check.

I asked if she had moved north into her grandparents’ house, which also happened to be one of my father’s hideouts from the authorities, and where our families had spent one summer together just before I was smuggled out of Iran into Pakistan.

“Yes, for a while, but recently we moved a few houses down the road from them, not long after this beautiful boy was born,” she said in a peaceful voice, “I’m actually looking out onto our garden as I am speaking to you.”

“Wait… so does that mean you still see your grandparents and… umm… and your uncle?” I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t say his name.

“Yes, they are all here – at my grandparents’ same old house.” she said.

My heart stopped. That house was where her uncle sexually abused us both, when we were nine—twenty-three years ago.

“Can you tell from my voice that I am freezing here in London?” I asked, quickly changing the subject. I just couldn’t bring it up.

I promised to call her again. It has been one year, one month and a few days since that day.

To be continued…

By Tellurian Writes

www.tellurianwrites.com
@tellurianwrites

Photo by Rui Barros (CC0 1.0)

Maps without borders: Stories of civic science in action

This storytelling exhibition at University College London showcases powerful aerial maps created by citizens using kites, balloons, and point-and-shoot cameras. They explore how people around the world are harnessing the power of Do-It-Yourself techniques to address local environmental, social and political matters.

Sitting around a proverbial campfire, they will tell four stories of unsung heroes in the U.S. and the Middle East, who have crafted tools and gathered evidence that has reconfigured the perception of space, place, and issues that shape their lives.

For more information…

The Celebrity Interview: History, Aesthetics, Method

Writing in a late 1870s ‘confession album’, a young Oscar Wilde answered the question ‘What is your aim in life?’ with a characteristically cocky ‘Success, fame or even notoriety’. Intriguingly, the term ‘confession album’ points towards the darker, more menacing undercurrents of a format often dismissed as idle celebrity gossip, and there is a ring of eerie foresight in Wilde’s youthful bragging. Almost twenty years later, Wilde was tried for ‘gross indecency’ and found himself subjected to gruelling cross-examination, during which he gave a brilliant performance of rhetorical bravado, but during which he also passed, as he observed in De Profundis, ‘from a sort of eternity of fame to a sort of eternity of infamy’.

The most recent event in OCLW’s ‘Life-Writing and Celebrity’ series cast a spotlight on the history, aesthetics, ethics and methodology of the celebrity interview as a form uneasily positioned between the public and the private, art and commerce, individual agency and appropriation. Its complexity is rooted in its paradoxical double nature: promising intimacy, privacy and access, it is yet firmly embedded within the public sphere; successfully creating an illusion of authenticity, it is yet blatantly staged and orchestrated, a key site for self-fashioning and performance, subject to editorial conventions and the constraints of the medium – print, television, radio; live or recorded. As a metaphorical dialogue between revelation and concealment, the interview format therefore lends itself to a fruitful interrogation of the forces at play in the production and consumption of celebrity.

Drawing on her foundational research on the genre of the literary interview, Becky Roach (King’s College London) in her talk outlined some of the basic premises underlying a ‘theory of the interview’. The interview is fundamentally concerned with the transfer of specialised knowledge, but, at the same time, points towards the insufficiencies and pitfalls of mediation. Catering to our desire for imminence in an age of mass communication, it offers a platform for deception, ghosting, false portraits and variably serves as a vehicle of rambling chatter and communicative clarity. Moreover, the audience was reminded that the interview promotes two versions of subjectivity: the highly constructed personal identity of the interviewee, promising an accurate portrait of psychological depth and interiority, and the frequently de-emphasised personhood of the interviewer. Even though the interview is generally considered an autobiographical life-writing genre, its authorship is shared, raising questions of attribution and ownership. The role of the interviewer often uncomfortably hovers between self-effacing listener and highly visible co-protagonist on a spectrum that ranges from observation to dialogic participation and and can even take on the form of coercing the narrative of the interviewee.

Providing intriguing insights into the form of the ‘staged last interview’ by renowned public intellectuals and writers, Anneleen Masschelein (University of Leuven) highlighted the ethical dimensions of the celebrity interview. She began by outlining the historical and socio-cultural contexts of what German art historian Peter Geimer calls the ‘Dramaturgy of the Last’: the memorial function of the death-bed conversation and the ars moriendi tradition. Masschelein’s case study focused on the legendary last interview given by dramatist and screenwriter Dennis Potter, broadcast by Channel 4 in 1994. Seemingly unedited and unmediated, it features a chain-smoking and champagne-drinking Potter, who frequently interrupts the interview to take a sip from his flask containing liquid morphine. What uncomfortably strikes the viewer as turning death into a spectacle feeding audience voyeurism is in fact a minutely choreographed performance that serves a concrete agenda – in Potter’s case, to self-reflexively engage with his authorship status, secure his legacy and ‘go out with a fitting memorial’. The staged last interview, Masschelein suggested, is symptomatic of a new ‘death style’ that emerges in the late 20th century as a response to the biopolitics of life-style and the possibilities of staging and performing our deaths just like our lives.

The two talks on the history, aesthetics and ethics of interviewing were meant to be followed by a practical demonstration of the art and method of interviewing by Hermione Lee and Mark Lawson, two ‘celebrity interviewers’ par excellence. With train security alerts and unreliable Skype connections preventing both Mark Lawson’s physical and virtual appearances, the planned meta-interview turned into a master-class of how to deal with the unpredictability of interview situations with professionalism and aplomb. Hermione Lee thus shared with the audience her rich experience as seasoned interviewer and interviewee in her multiple roles as academic, biographer and broadcaster. She emphasised the interviewer’s need to remain flexible and readiness to abandon their tactics and agenda in order to respond to the interviewee’s moves and potential refusal to play along: “Sometimes you need to throw away your notes, you need to go with the flow.” She impressively drew attention to the power games between the interviewer and the interviewee that can make the interview situation go off kilter and the importance of silences, encouraging interviewers to resist the temptation to fill in those pauses, excruciating as they may be.

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The evening was an apt reminder of the need to pay more critical and scholarly attention to a format that can hardly be dismissed as a mere self-marketing tool or vehicle for spreading trivial celebrity gossip. Participating in different types of discourse and serving a whole range of different purposes, from market research to psychotherapy, it is impossible to ignore its ubiquity in contemporary society and its importance as a platform for articulating public and private identities.

On 6 June there will be a second chance to experience Mark Lawson, one of Britain’s leading arts journalists and broadcasters, in conversation with Hermione Lee about the pitfalls and opportunities of the celebrity interview.

Sandra Mayer is a Lecturer in English Literature and Culture at the University of Vienna and an OCLW Visiting Scholar. She is currently working on a project that explores the intersections of literary celebrity and politics in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain.

Photo by Samuel Zeller (CC0 1.0)

The Weinrebe Lecture series 2017: Writing World Lives

The annual Weinrebe Lectures in Life-Writing will take place over four weeks in the Leonard Wolfson Auditorium at Wolfson College beginning on Tuesday, 24 January 2017.

The lectures are open to all, free of charge, with no reservation required. You can listen to podcasts of previous years’ Weinrebe lectures here.

Tuesday 24 January, 5:30-7pm, LWA
Patrick French: ‘How to Write a World Life’

Patrick French is a British writer and historian, based in London and Delhi. He is the author of several books including: Younghusband: the Last Great Imperial Adventurer, about Francis Younghusband; The World Is What It Is, the authorised biography of Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipaul and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award; and India: a Portrait, a biography of 1.2 billion people.

Tuesday 31 January, 5:30-7pm, LWA
Elleke Boehmer: ‘Nelson Mandela: A World Life’

Elleke Boehmer is Professor of World Literature in English in the English Faculty, University of Oxford, and currently Director of the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH). She is a founding figure in the field of colonial and postcolonial studies, and internationally known for her research in anglophone literatures of empire and anti-empire. She is an acclaimed novelist and short story writer, most recently of The Shouting in the Dark. She is the author of the cultural history, Nelson Mandela: A Very Short IntroductionColonial and Postcolonial Literature: Migrant Metaphors, and Empire, the National, and the Postcolonial, 1890-1920 (all published by Oxford University Press).

Tuesday 7 February, 5:30-7pm, LWA
Roy Foster: ‘‘Doors into the Dark’: Seamus Heaney and his Worlds’

Roy Foster is the Carroll Professor of Irish History at Hertford College, Oxford. Professor Foster’s many books include biographies of politicians such as Charles Stewart Parnell and Lord Randolph Churchill, a large-scale history of Ireland from the 17th century, the two-volume biography of Yeats, and many essays on Irish culture and politics, including a book on the ‘Celtic Tiger’ phenomenon of the 1990s. A recent book, Words Alone: Yeats and his inheritances, presents a re-reading of Irish literary history throughout the nineteenth century. He is currently working on a history of Irish literature.

Tuesday 21 February, 5:30-7pm, LWA
Lyndal Roper: ‘Martin Luther, Difficult Hero’

Lyndal Roper is a Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, and the first woman to hold the Regius Chair in History. Her first book, The Holy Household. Women and Morals in Reformation Augsburg argued that the Reformation developed a theology of gender. Its attraction lay in its offer of the vision of a ‘holy household’ where the roles of men and women were clearly distinct. Oedipus and the Devil ranges through the literary culture of the sixteenth century to the use of psychoanalysis in studying witchcraft. Witch Craze argues that what powered the witch craze was a set of fears about fertility in the human and the natural world, and The Witch in the Western Imagination explores images of witches and witchcraft in art and literature. She is currently writing a biography of Martin Luther.

Photo by Lena Bell (CC0 1.0)

The Celebrity Interview: History, Aesthetics, Method

Please join us on Tuesday 17th January at 5:30pm, at the Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College.

The second in a new series of OCLW events focusing on the intersections of life-writing and celebrity, this discussion panel is dedicated to the genre of the celebrity interview. Scholars and practitioners will cast a spotlight on one of the dominant forms in contemporary media and celebrity culture, exploring its history, aesthetics, and methodology.

In her talk on “Interviews and the Work of Celebrity”, Rebecca Roach (King’s College London) will consider the labour involved in a format often derided as being little else but celebrity gossip, even though it has become the predominant mode of (self)promotion for authors and other public figures.

Anneleen Masschelein (University of Leuven, Belgium) examines the practice of the recorded last interview by eminent intellectuals, such as Dennis Potter, Edward Said, and Stuart Hall. Her contribution looks at this media phenomenon in the light of the ‘famous last words’ tradition and against the background of a shift in practices of dying in contemporary Western culture.

The panel will be rounded off by a ‘meta interview’: a conversation between critic and biographer Hermione Lee and arts journalist and broadcaster Mark Lawson about the art and method of the celebrity interview.

The event is free and open to all.

For more information, please contact Kate Kennedy 

Photo by Oscar Keys (CC0 1.0)

 

War Time: International Society for First World War Studies conference

 

The 9th conference of the International Society of First World War Studies took place at the University of Oxford between 9th-11th November. The conference welcomed more than 80 academics from 11 different countries, who met at the Maison Française d’Oxford. Held at the midpoint of the First World War formal centenary period, this year’s ‘War Time’ conference theme aimed to encourage scholars to re-consider and reflect upon the way time has impacted and shaped conflict itself and subsequent scholarship.

ISFWWS conferences are based on an unusual yet very productive format, which aims to inspire wide-ranging academic discussion and provide junior researchers with an opportunity to present their work in an encouraging and stimulating environment. All 18 conference papers, which had been authored by PhD students and early-career researchers, were circulated amongst the participants in advance of the event. A senior academic in the field was invited to provide a commentary for each individual paper. The papers, which covered a variety of topics, were then paired up to create the following nine panels:

  • Aerial Time
  • Endgame
  • Medical Time
  • Soundscapes of Time
  • Ideological Timelines
  • Personal Memories and Experiences
  • Materiality on the Home Front
  • Discursive Time
  • Anticipation

Following a commentary, the author of the paper had an opportunity to respond. Afterwards, the floor was opened to discussion.

The conference was framed by keynote lectures from prominent historians Professor Sir Hew Strachan (University of St Andrews), Professor John Horne (Trinity College Dublin / University of Oxford), and Professor Margaret MacMillan (University of Oxford), in which they discussed the topics of time and strategic planning, time-frames, and moving from war to peace respectively. The keynotes, which were recorded by the University of Oxford’s recording team, will be available online shortly.

The conference organisers had the privilege of welcoming a number of distinguished scholars. OCLW’s Weinrebe Research Fellow in Life-writing,  Dr. Kate Kennedy, was asked to serve as commentator for Ellen Davies’s paper, entitled “‘Mechanical Rhythms’: Music & Temporal Multiplicities in Pre-War Paris’”, on the Soundscapes of Time panel.

Furthermore, during the conference two separate prizes were announced and awarded. At the end of the first day the ‘WWI Research Competition’, open to all students and staff members of the University of Oxford who had original ideas for engaging and accessible research projects relating to the war, was awarded to Dr. Alice Kelly (Harmsworth Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute) for her podcast by The Oxford Research Centre for the Humanities (TORCH). The runner-up was JC Niala, an MSt Creative Writing student from Kellogg College for her podcast ‘African Soldiers in WWI: Forgotten in a global war’.

The Gail Braybon Prize for Best Postgraduate Paper, which the conference committee- with input from an ISFWWS representative- selected from amongst those conference papers whose authors do not already hold a doctorate, was announced during the concluding remarks. The winner was Assaf Mond of Tel Aviv University with his paper ‘‘‘It is at night-time that we notice most of the changes in our life caused by the war’: Zeppelins, Time and Space in Great War London”.

The conference proceedings were followed on 12th November by a public engagement day organised by Oxford’s Academic IT department, during which twenty conference delegates and organisers worked as part of the volunteer team helping to run a ‘Community Collection Day’ as part of the Europeana14-18 project.

Adam Luptak, Hanna Smyth, and Louis Halewood, War Time co-organisers, Globalising and Localising the Great War, University of Oxford.