Wilfred Owen and Beyond, call for papers

Poppies

The Oxford Centre for Life Writing, in partnership with the Western Front Association and the Wilfred Owen Association, is pleased to be hosting a conference to mark the centenary of Wilfred Owen’s death.

Owen’s life was tragically short. Any study of his life is by definition overshadowed by his death and the bitter irony of its timing, at the very end of the war. Unlike some of his lesser discussed contemporaries, such as Ivor Gurney and Isaac Rosenberg, Owen’s poetry has been appreciated and analysed by many scholars in previous decades. It remains enduringly popular, and has lost little of its capacity to move and shock its readers. It is taught across the country as part of the National Curriculum, and has become the lens through which we view what, with Owen’s help, has been dubbed the most literary war in history.

Wilfred_Owen_plate_from_Poems_(1920)

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC (18 March 1893 – 4 November 1918)

This conference is concerned with Owen’s afterlife. How has his work been received, and how has it changed our view of the war? What effect has his verse had on writers, composers and other intellectuals, and how has Owen himself been portrayed, appropriated and discussed posthumously?

We invite proposals for 20 minute papers on the theme of Wilfred Owen’s legacy. Please send a 250 word abstract and a mini-biography (50-100 words), to Dr Kate Kennedy at oclw@wolfson.ox.ac.uk (all other queries about the conference, including registration of interest in attending, should be sent to vivien@vivienwhelpton.co.uk).

You can find more information on the call for papers, programme, how to register, and venue details on the conference webpage.

The closing date for submissions is Friday 20 October 2017.

Javier Cañada

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Faith Biography

On Tuesday 23rd May we welcome Professors Heather Walton and Peter Ackers to Wolfson College to give a lunchtime seminar on faith biography. Spiritual autobiographies, such as those famously composed by Augustine, Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich, constitute the earliest forms of life writing. The genre has changed and developed to the modern era. Contemporary spiritual life writers must engage with pressing challenges such as the feminist critique of male-centred religious practice, emerging reconceptions of materiality and the relation between spirituality and embodiment. Heather discusses her response to these issues in constructing her own spiritual life writing.

Christianity and Communism have been two themes of British Labour History. Peter brings them together by focusing on the common experience of ‘religious’ conversion & loss of faith and often the shift from one faith to the other. He explores the faith and raw emotion that lies beneath the rational surface of orthodox Labour History, discussing: WT Miller, a moderate religious nonconformist; Arthur Horner, Communist leader of the National Union of Mineworkers; and Professor Hugh Clegg, an Industrial Relations academic and Cold War social democrat. OCLW’s Katherine Collins explores their work:

Katherine Collins: You are both what we might call ‘applied life-writers’ in the sense that the life-writing itself is not the end of the story for you: you’re seeking to go beyond it to gain theoretical and historical insights. So I wonder if you might think of life-writing as a research method, or a personal, spiritual or creative practice, or something else… What is life-writing to you?

Peter Ackers: I began doing Biographical research with my PhD, completed in 1993. I was a Sociologist interested in History and the big inspiration was Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, with its individual exemplars. I hadn’t thought it through then, but I think a central reason for my Biographical & Historical ‘turn’ was a sense that ‘people matter’ and a reaction against institutional and structural accounts that downplay human agency. So to begin with there was a cold social science rationale for life writing. However, I’ve also been a Diary writer and I’ve always seen myself at the soft end of the social sciences close to English and History and interested in literary style. So I’ve come to see life writing as something more than a just social science method – though I’ve begun to include personal experience in more general articles – and as a more internal personal, intellectual and spiritual form of communication; hence our seminar.

Heather Walton: My first go at life writing was an attempt to understand what had contributed to my mother’s depression which deeply affected my childhood. I found that it was a way of engaging academically, politically and personally all at the same time and it was also something very active and empowering in a context where I could do little to change circumstances. I became more deeply engaged with life writing during a ten year period of infertility. Again it was a way of becoming creative in a very ‘barren’ place. The writing  did not resolve things but allowed me to think politically and spirituality about embodiment, generatively and loss. It was challenging but also comforting. It took me a while to realise that life writing could also engage theologically with big questions by rooting these in the particularity of my own story. Then there was no going back!

KC: Christian religious practice and Communist and left-wing movements have both been identified as male-dominated, perhaps even misogynistic in philosophy and praxis. Does the writing you work with bear out this assumption? And if so, how do you deal with it in your own writing?

PA: In my Labour History writing, I’ve reacted against a ‘committed’ Socialist approach that uses the past to build support for current political positions. Though I’m still interested in History & Policy in a broader, more critical sense. And our new edited book, Ackers and Reid, Alternatives to State-Socialism in Britain: Other Worlds of Labour in the Twentieth Century (Palgrave, December 2016) concludes by exploring the relevance of a tradition of associational life and civil society for us today. However, I’m also aware of anachronism and of not judging the past by the standards of the present. I think too that, in their time, many Christians and Socialists were pioneers of equal rights. I’m highly critical of Communism, but there’s no doubt that British Communists often championed the cause of women and ethnic minorities by the standards of their time. Some Protestant Christian groups, such as Congregationalists, Quakers and Methodists, also pioneered women’s church leadership, again by the standards of their time. Finally, we shouldn’t lose class in this discussion and the working class men (mainly) I’ve written about remain important historical subjects, warts and all. I think today’s heightened awareness of gender and ethnicity is valuable in making Historians ask new questions and avoiding the old tendency to see men as the generic working classes.

HW: I think the traditions, ideologies and worldviews that shape Western culture are all male-centred and misogynistic to some extent. Working in theology and spirituality you are never really in a position to forget this or get too comfortable – which is a good thing I suppose. The way I respond is by deliberately assuming a ‘feminine’ voice in my life writing. This can appear fragmented, childlike and partial but I think it does challenge the dominant registers simply by not being logocentric or authoritative. I also think a lot of the authority of received male centred perspectives is often dissolved by humour. So if my authorial voice is ‘flimsy’ and ‘funny’ and I am talking about God then that is already doing something a bit different that shifts the old world on its axis just a little.

KC: You both seem to operate at an intersection of spiritual and political concerns. Can you elaborate on the differences you perceive between these two contexts? For example, there might be different senses of historical time, or perhaps temporal progression, in spiritual and political life-writing?

PA: I’m not so sure the difference between spiritual and political concerns is so great, particularly when you reach the most committed end of the political spectrum, like Communism – as our seminar explores. Both reach into an individual’s core identity and it’s no accident that Crossman’s 1950 edited collection on former Communist believers is title, The God that Failed. I’m a former Euro-Communist, former member of the Labour Party, former Methodist and now current agnostic Anglican Christian. At 60 I’m disillusioned with strong, all-encompassing belief systems, and an advocate of pragmatic politics, but I’m still fascinated by the search for meaning. This has been a central theme of my own life, which draws me to Biography – to access other individual’s journeys; to memoir – to reflect on my own; and to life writing in general.

HW: Never really been able to distinguish between the political and the spiritual myself. These spheres together are what fascinate me the most and actually they both call forth the passion, wonder and disciplined commitment that make living worthwhile and writing matter. We have some great examples in literature of the uniting of these perspectives (Blake obviously but also Emily Dickenson, Alice Walker – too many to mention really). In life writing I have been particularly influenced by the work of Etty Hillesum and Elizabeth Smart who seem to write from a world infused by both glory and suffering and the amazing everyday. I tend to prefer the radical and the unorthodox in politics and faith but still find ordinary religious practice deeply meaningful. I go to Church!

Photo by Austin Ban (CC0 1.0)

Pursuer or pursued? Holmes on biography

‘If we are to have any hope of making a better world, we must understand it both scientifically and imaginatively.’

On 9 May, we’re delighted to welcome Professor Richard Holmes to Wolfson College, to give the Richard Ellman Lecture.

For Holmes, biography has always been a personal adventure of exploration and pursuit, a ‘handshake across time, cultures, beliefs, disciplines and genders.’ He is the author of Footsteps, a bestselling book of essays blending travel, memoir and biographical investigations, and the acclaimed companion collection Sidetracks, a captivating mixture of biography and memoir. In his latest book, This Long Pursuit: Reflections of a Romantic Biographer, Holmes roams widely through the arts, science, poetry, and more than 200 of his own working notebooks to offer an insider’s account of a biographer’s world: travelling, experimenting, teaching, forgetting, ballooning.

Holmes’s major works of Romantic biography include: Shelley: The Pursuit,which won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1974. Two volumes on Coleridge: Early Visions, which was awarded the 1989 Whitbread Book of the Year Prize (now the Costa Book Awards); and Darker Reflections, which won the Duff Cooper Prize and the Heinemann Award. Dr. Johnson and Mr. Savage, concerning the friendship between eighteenth-century British literary figures Samuel Johnson and Richard Savage, won the James Tait Black Prize. He is the author of bestselling book The Age of Wonder How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science, shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and winner of the Royal Society Prize for Science Books and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. He has written many other books including Falling Upwards, an uplifting account of the pioneering generation of balloon aeronauts, and several drama-documentaries for BBC Radio, most recently The Frankenstein Experiment (2002), and A Cloud in a Paper Bag (2007) about 18th century balloon mania.

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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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)

 

Call For Papers: 15 May deadline for OCLW/ TORCH Conference, ‘After-Image: Life-Writing and Celebrity’

OCLW and TORCH are funding two conferences related to life-writing this year, please see below for details on the conference, ‘After-Image: Life-Writing and Celebrity’:

Call for Papers, 15 May abstract submission deadline

After-Image: Life-Writing and Celebrity
Saturday, 19 September 2015
The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) and the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing (OCLW) at Wolfson College, Oxford

With funding from the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing, the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, and the Centre for Life-Writing Research at King’s College London (CLWR)

 Confirmed Keynote Speakers:

Sarah Churchwell Andrew O’Hagan
Professor of American Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities, University of East Anglia

2015 Writer in Residence, The Eccles Centre at the British Library

Novelist

Creative Writing Fellow,

King’s College London 

In the last decade, the fields of life-writing and celebrity studies have separately gained traction as areas for provocative critical analysis, but the significant connections between them have been overlooked. In celebrity studies, stories about individual people are examined through national, cultural, economic and political contexts. The function of the person’s image is considered rather than the life from which that image was/is derived. Conversely, life-writing does not always take into account the impact of celebrity on the life, and instead portrays it as an event rather than a condition with psychological impact which could be an integral part of the narrative.

 Through a one-day conference entitled ‘After-Image: Life-Writing and Celebrity,’ we want to consider the interplay between celebrity and life-writing. The conference will explore ideas of image, persona and self-fashioning in an historical as well as a contemporary context and the role these concepts play in the writing of lives. How does the story (telling) of a historical life—of Cleopatra or Abraham Lincoln, for instance— alter when we re-read it in terms of celebrity? What is the human impact of being a celebrity— in the words of Richard Dyer, ‘part of the coinage of every day speech’? And how does this factor in when we use archival materials related to celebrities, such as diaries, letters, memoirs, interviews, press accounts, oral histories, apocryphal tales, etc.? Furthermore, what are the ethical responsibilities of life-writers when approaching such famous stories?

Possible topics for papers include but are not limited to:

  • Celebrity in the fields of literature, politics, entertainment and public life
  • Historical reevaluations of celebrity from earlier periods
  • Royal lives
  • The politics of writing celebrity lives
  • The psychology of celebrity
  • Fame, famousness, fandom, stardom, myth and/or iconicity
  • The celebrity as life-writer (i.e. celebrity memoirs, etc.)
  • Using celebrity lives in historical fiction
  • The celebrity and identity
  • Showmanship, freak shows and the circus
  • Identity, power and violence in lives of the famous
  • Images and the press
  • Writing celebrity lives from below

We also welcome papers on any issues arising from these questions and disciplines.

The conference organizers invite abstracts for individual 20-minute presentations/papers or panel proposals. Presenters should submit abstracts of 300 words by 15 May 2015 to Nanette O’Brien (nanette.obrien@wolfson.ox.ac.uk) and Oline Eaton (faith.eaton@kcl.ac.uk). Please send your abstract as a separate attachment in a PDF or Word document, and include on it your name, affiliation, and a brief bio.

Hilary Term 2015 Events

OCLW is starting 2015 with a term full of exciting events, including the Weinrebe Lectures in Life-Writing!

Please find all details below.

All events are open to all, free of charge, with no reservation required, with the exception of the Life-Writing lunch at the end of term when you will need to book ahead.

Hope to see many of you there!

Bárbara

Oxford Centre for Life-Writing: Events: Hilary Term 2015

www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/clusters/life-writing

 

The Weinrebe Lectures in Life-Writing: ‘Political History and Life-Writing’

Tuesday 27 January (Week 2), 5.30pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:

Roy Foster, Carroll Professor of Irish History at Hertford College, Oxford, will speak on ‘The Making of Saints: Politics, Biography and Hagiography in Modern Irish History.’ Professor Foster is one of Britain’s most eminent historians; he is also a world-renowned biographer and an accomplished and prolific critic, reviewer, and broadcaster. His books include Charles Stewart Parnell: The Man and His Family (1976); Lord Randolph Churchill: A Political Life (1981); Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (1988); The Irish Story:  Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland (2001), which won the 2003 Christian Gauss Award for Literary Criticism; W.B. Yeats, A Life. I:  The Apprentice Mage 1865-1914 (1997), which won the 1998 James Tait Black Prize for biography, and Volume II: The Arch-Poet, 1915-1939 (2003); and Words Alone: Yeats and his Inheritances, derived from his Clark Lectures at the University of Cambridge.

Tuesday 3 February (Week 3), 5.30pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:

Peter Hennessy, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield and Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History at Queen Mary, University of London, will give a lecture entitled ‘The Importance of Being Personal: Political History and Life’. Lord Hennessy is the country’s foremost historian of government, a regular contributor to the press, and the award-winning author of books including Never Again: Britain 1945-51 (1992); The Hidden Wiring: Unearthing the British Constitution (1995);Distilling the Frenzy: Writing the History of One’s Own Times (2012); Cabinets and the Bomb (2007); Having It So Good: Britain in the Fifties (2006); The Secret State: Whitehall and the Cold War (2002); and Establishment and Meritocracy(2014).

Tuesday 10 February (Week 4), 5.30pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:

Anne Deighton is a fellow of Wolfson College, and Professor of European International Politics in the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford. Professor Deighton will speak about her latest research project, a political biography of Ernest Bevin, who was British Foreign Secretary in the 1940s and a central figure in the creation of many of the international institutions which shape our world today. Her talk is called ‘The Value-Added of Political Life-Writing: Ernest Bevin (1881-1951)’. Professor Deighton is a renowned historian who has published important works on themes ranging from the contemporary history and political integration of Europe, European security institutions, the genesis of human rights issues, and the use, and abuse, of military force in the contemporary world.

Tuesday 17 February (Week 5), 5.30pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:

Margaret MacMillan will give a talk entitled ‘Sometimes It Matters Who is in Power.’ Professor MacMillan is a world-renowned historian and an eminent public intellectual. Her books include Women of the Raj: The Mothers, Wives, and Daughters of the British Empire in India (2007) and Peacemakers: The Paris Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to Make Peace (2009). The latter was published in North America as Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, and won the Duff Cooper Prize, the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction (the first woman to do so), the Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History, the Silver Medal for the Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Book Award, and the Governor-General’s prize for non-fiction in 2003. She is also the author of Nixon in China: The Week That Changed the World (entitled Nixon and Mao in the US) (2006), which was nominated in January 2007 for a Gelber Prize, awarded annually to the best book on international affairs published in English, and The Uses and Abuses of History (2008). Her most recent book is The War that Ended Peace: How Europe abandoned peace for the First World War (2013). Professor MacMillan comments frequently in the media on historical issues and current affairs.

 

Other Events

24 February, 5.30-7pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:

‘The Suspicions of Mrs Gaskell’: Award-winning biographer and critic Claire Harman, whose biography of Victorian novelist Charlotte Brontë is forthcoming in 2015, will speak about the composition and reception of the controversial first biography of the subject, published in 1857.

Tuesday 10 March (Week 8), 1-2pm, Haldane Room,

Life-Writing Lunch Seminar: Frances Larson. Anthropologist and writer Frances Larson will speak from her biographical work on Henry Wellcome (An Infinity of Things, 2009) a book published to critical acclaim and which was shortlisted for the MJA Awards and chosen as a Sunday Times Book of The Year and as a New Scientist Best Book of 2009. This event is free of charge and open to all: places are limited, and because we provide a sandwich lunch, you must register in advance. To register online, please follow the link on www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/clusters/life-writing/events/lwlunch