Jenny Diski: A Celebration

A Symposium, University of Oxford, 7th April 2020 – call for papers

Keynote Speaker: Blake Morrison

Jenny Diski sadly died in 2016, and the time is right for a celebration of her work.

Diski wrote in many genres, from novels and short stories, to memoirs, travel narratives, and books on human-animal relationships and the 1960s. She was also a prolific reviewer, who contributed regularly to the London Review of Books. Diski herself, though, refused to classify her writings: ‘Something about the distinction between being a fiction and a non-fiction writer distresses me’, she declared, ‘So I think of myself as a writer. Period’. And it is as a writer, first and foremost, that Diski is appreciated by her many admirers. No reader of hers can fail to be dazzled by her style, or struck by her formal playfulness and innovation.

Yet, perhaps owing to her refusal to be confined by boundaries, Diski has tended to slip under the radar, or between the gaps, in academic discussions. This symposium seeks to bring her to the fore by recognising that it is precisely her difference from what we might expect that makes her so exciting, and by drawing together the many aspects of her work. How, for instance, does Diski extend our understanding of life writing, autofiction, and travel literature? How does she explore the individual mind and social institutions? Is it right to think of her as a Jewish writer, and how does Jewishness figure in her work? What do we make of her provocative interrogations of gender and sexuality? It is hoped that by addressing questions such as these, with a close attention to literary form, this celebration of her work will help to place Diski where she belongs: as one of the most important writers of our time. Period.

We welcome papers on topics including, but by no means restricted to:

  • Diski as a life writer: autofiction, memoir, autobiography.
  • Diski as a Jewish writer.
  • Illness narratives and the cancer diary.
  • Family relationships.
  • Feminism and women’s writing.
  • Travel and travel literature.
  • London.
  • Formal innovation.
  • Humour.
  • Sexuality and the erotic.
  • Diski as a literary critic and a film critic.
  • Journalism.
  • Diski’s significance as a public intellectual.
  • Psychoanalysis and psychiatry.
  • Human-animal relationships.
  • Diski and her times.
  • Diski’s politics.
  • Diski and postmodernism.

Please submit a short abstract (200-300 words) for a 20 minute paper to Dr Ben Grant (benjamin.grant@conted.ox.ac.uk) by 1st September 2019.

With thanks to Ian Patterson for the use of this image.

Cross posted from the Department of Continuing Education

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