Event Retrospective: Return to the Political: Literary Aesthetics and the Influence of Political Thought

This was my second year attending the University of Oxford English Graduate conference. The theme this year was ‘Return to the Political’, and the variety of papers running across 4 parallel panel sessions addressed everything from pamphlets and performance to propaganda and poetry.

My paper was on the ‘Ireland’ panel, and I presented on the politics of dedications in Northern Irish poetry. This is work that I completed for half of a chapter, but I found it so fascinating I’m considering making it into a full chapter. Also on my panel was Rosie Lavan who spoke on Heaney, making reference to the feminist critiques of North, new (queer?) perspectives on the bog woman, and the representation of women of the Troubles in the tabloids. Francis Hutton-Williams spoke on the relationship between the poet Thomas McGreevy and Paul Valéry in inter-war Paris, arguing for a re-politicising of Irish poetry in the time when it was better known for its neutrality.

I also attended panels which featured papers on Saul Bellow, Isadora Duncan, The Crimson Petal and the White, Shakespearean actresses and the suffrage movement and voice in Black Atlantic writing. From a contemporary writing perspective, I enjoyed a paper from Leeds MA student Georgina O’Toole which read Angela Carter with Eavan Boland to produce an ecofeminist reading of the notion of landscape. It was refreshing to hear a paper which considered a poet and a fiction writer together.

One of the keynotes was a panel discussion on ‘What is a Classic?’ with Baroness Helena Kennedy QC (former Orange Prize judge and on the Booker Trust), Dr Ankhi Mukherjee (author of What is a Classic?: Postcolonial Rewriting, Repetition, and Invention of the Canon) and Judith Luna (editor of the Oxford World Classics series). It was a fascinating discussion which brought together the market forces of book selling and prize judging with the academic considerations of reading lists and broader canonical issues. Booker Prize winning author Ben Okri gave the second keynote, and he discussed aspects of tyranny and politics in art, drawing on Nietzsche.

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