Absent Voices #3: Words from the Soul: Private Letters between John Locke and Damaris Masham

Portrait of John Locke, by Sir Godfrey Kneller. Oil on canvas. 76×64 cm. Britain, 1697. Source of Entry: Collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall, 1779. Attribution: Sir Godfrey Kneller [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
It’s not often, as a Gender Studies researcher studying the history of philosophy, that I find myself wanting to hear more from one of the famous-dead-white-men that make up the bulk of the field. You might be especially surprised to hear that, after working my way through An Essay Concerning Human Understanding from start to finish, I wanted to hear more from John Locke. When my PhD project is on early modern women philosophers, women whose philosophical voices are still too often absent from the classroom, why would I want to read missing texts from one of the great canonical English philosophers, a man whose writings we possess in abundance?

It’s like this. One of the women I’m studying is Damaris Masham (1658/9-1708), a philosopher whose thought is largely known to us through her two published treatises. But they weren’t all she wrote. Masham was an extremely close friend of Locke’s – they met when she was twenty-two, twenty-three, when he was already an established philosopher of nearly fifty. They quickly struck up an exchange of letters which lasted for several years. The only reason the epistolary flow between them stopped was that he actually moved into the house Masham shared with her husband and lived there until his death. They were close enough that snide comments were made at the time about the “seraglio” at the Masham household, and speculation has been made since about the extent to which their intense friendship bordered on a romantic connection. Continue reading

Absent Voices #2: Chasing Echoes: The Perpetrator’s Voice in the History of Violence

Double-deck burning in 2011 England Riots. Attribution: By VOA Persian Interview (VOA TV) [Public domain or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
In the summer of 2011 several English cities witnessed explosions of very public violence. Rioters, for the most part young men, smashed windows, looted shops, set fires and threw stones at the ranks of armoured police who descended on them. Afterwards, most people responded in one of two ways. Right-wing politicians and commentators lined up behind David Cameron to condemn ‘mindless violence and thuggery’. On the left, the story was about inequality, unemployment and bad policing. With a few honourable exceptions, nobody asked the rioters.

People who do violent things usually have some sense of why they do them. We might not like their reasoning, but we can’t properly understand violence without it. Sticking with the riots as an example, the left-wing narrative clearly has a lot to be said for it, with interpretations backed up by solid data on urban deprivation. But it lacks the voice of the Londoner in his mid-20s who said, ‘When no one cares about you you’re gonna eventually make them care, you’re gonna cause a disturbance.’ For him rioting wasn’t an instinctive reaction to big structural forces – it was strategic, a sensible thing to do under the circumstances.

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Still Point Blog Theme #3: Diversions – Call for Submissions

From mid-April into May, our next theme at the Still Point blog will engage the topic of DIVERSIONS. We are seeking blog posts from doctoral and early career researchers –solid submissions from Masters students are also welcomed – that examine the subject of Diversions in a variety of ways. Such topics might include reflection pieces on the kinds of things that provide relief during the research process (i.e. music, hobbies, Netflix binges…), diversion as a tactic of subversion, diversion as a positive/negative experience, etc. Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis up until the next theme is announced. Entries often take the form of non-fiction, but we also accept fiction, poetry, and visual art. Continue reading

Absent Voices #1 (Feature Piece): Adversity, Spontaneity, and the Forgotten Song of the Nightingale in our Urban Experience

An Uber has been sent to your location. But has anyone actually sent it? Is it not acting rather on its own instructions? Sure, certain transport purists claim that Uber drivers do not know where they are going, that they blindly follow route guidance. Others, Uber’s faithful customers, say they don’t mind being taken down dead ends or across the odd playing field on their way home. Some, sent home by friends having disgraced themselves on a night out, are too drunk to notice. 

In any case, the Uber journey invariably begins with the U-turn. For when you press ‘Request Uber’ on your smartphone application, somewhere, minutes away—urban distance is now measured in minutes, not miles—an Uber is obliged to halt in the street, perform a U-turn, and head your way.

What is so unusual about that? The U-turning Uber is fast becoming an urban commonplace in London, rivalling the black cab cruising down an empty bus lane while you sit motionless in traffic, or the ranks of chip shops along the high street promising a final refuge for your Saturday night. Take a walk through Shoreditch this weekend and you will see streets thick with U-turning Ubers, cavorting and convulsing in the thoroughfare like ecstatic devotees.

Still, there is something rather odd about all this. Dangerous, ungainly, and impromptu, the U-turn is everything that the Uber website promises the service is not. In the moment of the U-turn, all that slickness goes out the window. How could this seamless system of ‘Tap and Ride’ ever permit such an aberration? We expect a sublime service: to be surprised by the driver—his engine almost silent—rolling up from nowhere (or rather, falling off a virtual map and appearing in the real) like on the forecourt of a posh hotel.

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New Beginnings #5: Eimear McBride and Literary Revolution at the LSE Literary Festival

Author Eimear McBride, 2016. Attribution: Larry D. Moore, via Wikimedia Commons, 2016

This year’s LSE literary festival, held around the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, takes ‘Revolutions’ as its theme, examining various forms of upheaval and regeneration in literature, politics, religion, and science. I was fortunate enough to attend ‘Revolutions in Literature’, a talk which brought together author Eimear McBride and Toby Lichtig, editor of the Times Literary Supplement.  McBride and Lichtig discussed literary revolution, considering the innovations of modernism at the turn of the 20th century alongside the methods being used in today’s contemporary fiction. Given my PhD research in contemporary Irish poetry, the event was hugely beneficial in furthering my understanding of the new beginnings currently underway in recent Irish novel writing. Continue reading

New Beginnings # 4: Politicising the Past: A Review of King’s Greek Play Prometheus Bound

prometheus-boundClassics, perhaps more than any other academic discipline, is frequently subject to accusations of being irrelevant to modern society. This is an aspect of the discipline perpetuated by traditional, reductive perspectives that criticise acts, such as translation or reception, which would challenge the canonical status of a classical text. Increasingly, however, classicists have challenged such essentialist arguments through acts of reception that note the capacity of both ancient texts and iconic ancient figures to resonate with modern ideological struggles.

I recently had the opportunity to attend Greek Play, an annual production staged by King’s Classics department that provides audiences with the unique opportunity to experience Greek drama in the original ancient language. For 2017, this was a student production of Prometheus Bound at the Greenwood Theatre. This production was, in a sense, a New Beginning for the Greek Play itself, since it was the first time the play has been performed in its history of sixty-four years. Moreover, through the figure of Prometheus, it sought to challenge assumptions about the relevance of Classical literature to provide an enlightening analogue to current issues raised by world politics. Continue reading

Celebrating Stories: The Still Point Issue II Launch Event

dsc02438Coming across the second print issue of the Still Point Journal is a bit like sitting down with a book of fairy tales. The cover reminds one of the edge of a forest, its branches beckoning the traveler to partake in stories of wonder – some dark, some delightful, and some delightfully dark. For this wanderer, the experience derived from the conveyance of stories through spoken word is one that sharpens the senses. These feelings move beyond introspection into a space of deep empathy, as we collectively share in the emotional responses of others. It is for these reasons that I think, above all else, the motivation behind the Still Point launch event is about extending the artistic process. The journal does not simply showcase creativity, but encapsulates creative engagement. Continue reading

Researcher’s Notebook: ‘My First Encounter with Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’

The writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1927-2013) has an extensive oeuvre. This includes 12 novels, one of which was the 1975 Booker Prize-winning Heat and Dust, along with 25 screenplays (22 of which are films), seven volumes of short stories, several plays, and other non-fiction writing. Her early novels, including A Householder (later also a film), Esmond in India and Get Ready for Battle are all set in India, where she spent 30 years. Her later novels, including Nine Lives: Chapters of a Possible Past and Three Continents, along with collections of short stories and publications in The New Yorker, were all written during the remainder of her life in the USA.

Her bequest to the British Library in 2013 mentions her wish to donate ‘all the papers relating to my prose writing to the British Library in London’, ‘in deep gratitude for my life (1939), the wonderful education they gave me, the English language itself, my great love of reading and trying to write, all of which sustained me throughout my life’.  The date refers to the year she came to England as a Jewish refugee from Germany. This statement was published in an obituary by Catherine Freeman on The Royal Society of Literature’s website. It also quotes Ruth saying, ‘The films are fun but […] I live in and for the books’.

Most people know about Ruth’s Academy Awards for best screenplay adaptations of E. M Forster’s A Room with a View in 1986, and Howard’s End in 1992, the nomination for Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day adaptation in 1993, and the BAFTA for Heat and Dust, adapted from her novel, in 1984. My aim was to highlight the significance of her prose works and to attempt to re-insert them into a wider scholarship. Continue reading

New Beginnings #3: Looking Backwards to Start Anew: Migration and Contemporary Cinema in Italy

fire-at-sea
‘Fuocoammare’ (Fire at Sea) by Gianfranco Rosi, 2016. Attribution: Film Poster, non-free image posted under fair dealings rationale for research purposes only, IMDb, 2016.

A memorable scene of 1917 Charlie Chaplin’s silent comedy short The Immigrant denounces the brutal mistreatment of newly arrived immigrants – many of which were Italian nationals – in New York by local public officials. Unsurprisingly, the sharp antithesis between the temporarily captive status of migrants and the caption ‘The arrival in the country of freedom’ did not please the state film censorship, which accused the comic actor of outrageously disseminating anti-Americanist sentiments. More than 80 years later, in 1998, The Immigrant was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being ‘culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant’.

Numerically speaking Italians count as one the most significant migrant communities of the twentieth century; nevertheless, the artistic portrayal of such mass phenomenon within the national borders has blossomed only recently. With the beginning of the new millennium, a fascination with past Italian migration captivated filmmakers, journalists and novelists. In Emmanuele Crialese’s 2006 drama film Nuovomondo (New World), the arrival of a poverty-stricken Sicilian family at Ellis Island on a foggy winter morning impeding the view of the Statue of Liberty is a subtle, photographically exquisite reference to Chaplin’s groundbreaking production. The parallelism between the two works is self-evident in the sequences following the disembarkation, in which the camera focuses upon the humiliating physical and psychological examinations undergone by migrants. Continue reading

New Beginnings #2: A New Project and A New Experience: The East End Women’s Museum

sylvia-pankhurst-1909-by-unknown-photographer-public-domain-via-wikimedia-commons
Sylvia Pankhurst, 1909. Instrumental figure in the East End women’s suffrage movement. Attribution: Unknown photographer, public domain via Wikimedia commons, 1909

Have you heard about the East End Women’s Museum? Perhaps you remember instead the opening of the tacky Jack the Ripper Museum in 2015, in place of the promised first Women Museum in the UK. Not only does the new museum disregard women’s lives, but it also displays gratuitous details of Jack the Ripper’s murders, including one victim’s bedroom and pictures of the bodies. However, this dreadful opening led to some good things: a collective opposition to the museum (from neighbours, East End women, feminists, and historians), as well as Sara Huws and Sarah Jackson’s wish to create the promised museum. Their idea is to offer the East End and London the museum that was originally proposed, with historical and social information about women’s lives in the East End. The project not only aims to be historical, but also links historical jobs or situations to the present, with contemporary testimonies. The form of the museum is not yet defined; it may be a physical building in the East End, or a virtual museum, such as the Women’s Museum of Ireland – or even both. Continue reading