Building Up, Digging Down and Bringing it Forward

Much of my thinking for my doctoral thesis centres around the unstable concepts of tradition and gender. Yet since my writers are all so contemporary, I’ve been wondering recently about new ways to consider the purpose of my work in building, consolidating or interrupting the traditions the work presumes.

Much of the work available in Irish studies (and elsewhere else) in recent decades focuses on recovering dismissed writers. One critic puts it like this:

‘In the final quarter of the twentieth century […] the literary canon has itself been transformed, with the (formerly) non-canonical at times acquiring a greater cachet than the canonical.’

David Johnson, The Popular and the Canonical: Debating Twentieth Century Literature, 1940-2000 (London: Routledge, 2005), p. 201.

I don’t disagree with this, and no one could argue that this kind of work is not stimulating, challenging and necessary. Another work I was reading recently set out a mission statement from the outset;

‘It is the occulted comic voices of women that this work represents, bringing them back to disturb and interrupt the writing of the Irish canon’.

Theresa O’Connor, The Comic Tradition in Irish Women Writers (Gainsville: The University Press of Florida, 1996), p. 2.

Which again, is all very well and good. However, as someone who works on contemporary literature I feel my own work is set apart from this kind of study. My work isn’t about bringing them back, really, if anything it is about bringing them forward.

Perhaps that is a way of thinking about contemporary literary criticism; excavation of literary tradition is of course very important but that sticking your head in the sands of time would only ignore the new literature currently being built around us and perhaps permit it to perpetuate the problems we are only now recognizing in the past. We need to build up as well as dig down.

A Journey with Two Publications

The Canadian literary critic Marshall McLuhan once said that ‘Publication is a self-invasion of privacy’. The more common dictum is ‘Publish or Perish’ in a world where we post our thoughts and feelings on social networks, where people actually blog about their thesis, and where academic posts are highly sought after. I need only refer you to a recent PHD Comics strip for evidence of that one.

And so, I’m pleased that this month I have not one but two publications launching. That means my neck is off the block for now, right?

The first is a feature on Gwyneth Lewis and science which I adapted from parts of my MA research earlier this year. I’m pleased that it is appearing in Poetry Wales, a publication I used extensively in my MA research. Much to my bemusement, my name is on the cover too…

The second recent publication is somewhere between a book review and feature on Irish poet Eavan Boland’s prose, focusing on her recently published A Journey with Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet. I’m quite enthusiastic about Boland’s prose overall, mainly because so many of her arguments in her first essay collection, Object Lessons have become central to thinking about Irish women’s poetry. My thoughts on A Journey with Two Maps are in issue 70 of Poetry London, which I was at the launch of last night.

Happy National Poetry Day!

Term is here! And so begins the second year of my DPhil.

This is currently 0th week, so there is no undergraduate teaching going on and the freshers are settling in. For me, though, this has been my busiest week work wise for a while. A stray email (gremlins in the pipes? leaves on the line?) meant I only received confirmation of a supervision 24 hours before it was due to happen. This meant I spent that 24 hours scrabbling together bits of writing to show him, and making notes about everything I wanted to cover. It feels good to have some solid aims down so early in the term.

My supervisor has retired from college teaching, but he is keeping on his graduate students (thankfully). It does mean that his lovely college room with wall to wall books and a red sofa has been vacated, so for the first time I had my supervision in a room in the English Faculty building which is a monstrous modernist building (see below).

I also met my graduate mentees for the first time today. They are all incoming DPhil students working in modern literature. The lunch was slightly disconcerting – like being back at school and realising you are now a year older and there are younger pupils.

I have lots of other little projects getting underway this term too – including organising a symposium, a course for a summer school, university taster seminars for school students and an edited collection…

For now, Happy National Poetry Day!

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