Revolution #2: Olympe de Gouges’ Fight Against Slavery

Attribution: Alexander Kucharsky, Portrait of Olympe de Gouges, late 18th century

 

 

“I rebel; therefore I exist.”

–          Albert Camus

 

 

 

 

This quote is particularly true for Olympe de Gouges. Born in 1748 in the South of France, Gouges came to live in Paris in the early 1770s. She was well assimilated in the society of the Old Regime and was friend with many men of letters. She started to write in the early 1780s, first with the play Zamore et Mirza, ou L’heureux naufrage, (Zamore and Mirza, or The Fortunate Shipwreck) the story of a slave couple, Zamore and Mirza, who become outlaws and are saved and helped by a French couple. The play has a happy ending, with the slaves being forgiven and freed by their former master. Gouges consequently became a prolific writer: she wrote fifteen plays (that we know of), a novel, a few essays and, from 1788 to 1793, around fifty political Continue reading

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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

Rethinking Digital Editions: A Movable Archive of Readings

Title page of 1596 Quarto
Title page from The Raigne of King Edward III (1596) Copyright: The British Library Board, C.21.c.50, A2r

Books – in the form of tangible, material objects that collect in vertical and horizontal arrangements on my shelves and desks – are my most conspicuous possessions. In the context of my research, which looks at the publication of sixteenth and seventeenth-century history plays, and draws on bibliographic studies and the (affectionately dubbed) ‘New Boredom,’ my attachment to the printed text is perhaps understandable.

I relish the feel, texture, dimensions and physical presence of a printed book, and the ways in which my books contain little histories of my reading experiences. Pages are downturned in the corners and covered in markings and marginalia, recording my thoughts, ideas and tangential observations, many of which I have silently ‘updated’ to improve upon the inarticulate musings of my undergraduate days. Rather than replacing my worn editions, I am still drawn by these old, faded texts bearing layers of comments and providing a context for nostalgic reminiscences, as well as the occasional insight or grimace. Continue reading

The Secret Autobiography of my PhD #4

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As a child, I hoped the Salmon of Knowledge would end up on my plate.

I dreamed that every horse I met would whisk me off to Tír na nÓg, giants might build me a causeway, and every swan was the lost child of a king. I wondered why some men on the news had no voice when they spoke, and why the angry man shouted ‘never!’ so much.

My mother read only the stories of ancient Ireland to me, though modern myths were everywhere. But they didn’t tell all the stories, either. Perhaps I might tell one more.


Sinéad Kennedy Krebs is a second year PhD student in the Department of English at King’s College London. Her research examines the cultural legacies of the Great War in Ireland. Follow her @sineadkk, or head to sageolympia.blogspot.com

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Writing in the sunshine and looking out over the Huntington gardens, I have a secret to confess. Something that I have been hiding from the books I’ve been researching for the past year, I am the person they are trying so desperately hard to discount and philosophically disarm. I am an Epicurean.

Some might wonder what exactly a research student of eighteenth-century British poetry is doing in Southern California. Yet, by some turns of a revolution and some serial book collecting by an American railroad millionaire, my research is just as at home in San Marino as it is in London.

I share my above confession with one of the Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the same in a letter of 1819. Having moved to his country, I find myself asking who couldn’t help but be one when working in a veritable research paradise? A place that has Jefferson’s reverberating political statement to serve the unalienable right of ‘the Pursuit of Happiness’ as one of its treasures on display. Here I have access to the first editions of my texts, reading the very same warnings against the dangers of Epicureanism my eighteenth-century readers would have been, in amongst a garden where a conversion to such a philosophy is all but inevitable.

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The Huntington Library, set within its vast botanical gardens, is a unique experience for any researcher, and for me has become my own Epicurean garden. If we are to believe William Temple writing on the Gardens of Epicurus, or, of gardening in the year of 1685, ‘no other sort of abode seems to contribute so much, to both the tranquillity of mind, and indolence of body’ as a garden. Continue reading

Emotions, Ideology, and a PhD

Often, I think as serious students of English literature we are tempted to deny our most personal – frequently deeply emotional, sometimes frivolous, always totally nerdy – interests in our chosen topic, both amongst friends, and in our thesis-writing. As soon as I reveal my intention to study Anglo-Saxon poetry at PhD level to a new acquaintance, the most frequent courtesy follow-up question is ‘so what made you choose that?’ I feel like I should respond with some scholarly sound-bite, something along the lines of:

‘I’m simply fascinated by the philological implications of translation’

or

‘I’m concerned with exploring the linguistic word-hoard of a poetic idiom now lost.’

But I don’t want to start throwing academic jargon (that I’m not even sure I’m using correctly) around, even if it does give me a little thrill to say words like ‘philological’ or ‘idiom’ aloud. So I usually end up laughing away the bemused looks, murmuring something about how ‘someone has to do it’, before moving the conversation on. However, I’m always afraid that one day I’ll end up spilling my secrets and spout either something incredibly geeky and boring, or worse, I’ll reveal an innermost daydream that should never be said out loud:

“Actually, I am, like, totally in love with getting lost in a world of fearless seafarers and warriors, I mean, we’ve all seen Viggo Mortensen in Lord of the Rings right? I like to think of Beowulf having his face, I mean you definitely would, wouldn’t you…?”

Probably not something you should reveal on a Tinder first date. Alternatively, I’ll get political, and start bemoaning the fact that, in general, we as a nation know so little about our medieval past and I want to explore ways of changing this: isn’t it a shame that school children are more likely to think of Daenerys Targaryen than Queen Ælfgifu if asked to imagine a medieval woman? And by crowning Chaucer as the father of ‘English poetry’ aren’t we missing out on a rich treasure-trove of poems from the centuries before him? I could bang on about how outraged I am that the very words – ‘medieval’, ‘The Dark Ages’ – that we use to talk about the time period that spans 500-1400CE either get the bad rep of being associated with baddies from ISIS to FGM advocates, or are otherwise totally misunderstood as referring exclusively to Arthurian knights, damsels in distress, magical fairy kingdoms, and elves. So too ‘Anglo-Saxon’ is often appropriated now by the likes of the English Defence League or the Republican as a way of defining ethnicity, of othering and neatly excluding anyone they don’t like either because of the colour of their skin or their religion. Of course, I’ll conclude, my thesis will be part of an effort to reclaim and redefine all of these words, helping to liberate all things medieval from the clutches of fascists.

Image by Fran Allfrey
Image by Fran Allfrey

But again, this sort of conversation probably won’t make me many friends, or will at least have me sounding like a smug armchair activist with a grandiose delusion that anyone beyond my supervisors and my parents will read my thesis. Furthermore, it’s these sorts of conversations that I long to weave into my writing, but feel pressure to do so in a measured, academic way. Phrases like ‘I love’ or ‘I am outraged by’ feel too personal, too impassioned, and could never be part of a serious argument. But it is love, and outrage, a childish sense of adventuring and time-travelling, a complete fascination with playing with language, a desire to simply get lost in poems, reflect upon beautiful art, and immerse myself in the ideas of other people, whilst trying to come up with my own opinions, that are all driving me. So, over the next three years, I’ve just got to find a way of channelling all these drives that push against each other, compete for attention, and conflict with what I understand to be ‘scholarly’, into coming up with some serious, passable, research. If I can also find a way of making my PhD sound interesting to Tinder dates, that would be a bonus.

Fran Allfrey will begin her PhD in the English Department at King’s College London in October. Her research asks questions about what cultural work Old English poetry can do, or can be made to do, now, and what exactly medievalists might get out of this new work. Follow her @francheskyia.

Out of the mind and onto the page: a critical examination of personal thought in the literary public sphere. 

Private faces in public places
Are wiser and nicer
Than public faces in private places
W.H. Auden
(1932)

I dislike the sound of the title already. Does it make me sound unappealing to the core? Have I become a Creative Writing cliché? I ask myself these questions for I live in an era of extreme self-awareness. The birth of the selfie, the Tinder pandemic, and the superficial allure of counterculture all lead me to realise that today’s society cares so much about the surface. Our stock stereotypes rely on the assumption that our physical appearance represents our internal ideal; businesswomen wear cruel heels and suits because they are sharp, serious, and driven, whereas artists wear smocks and spectacles because they are a diverse band of individuals (ahem). People use their exterior as a way of expressing their interior, but only the interior they desire everybody else to see. I used to find comfort in the idea that words could be free from this culture of shallow scrutiny, as they require a semantic understanding before they can be judged, and had hoped they would therefore survive as the most honest portrait of life. 

Unfortunately, however, I now realise even the sanctity of writing is not immune to social pressure. Continue reading

Notes from Literary Events I attended in First Term

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24.09.2014

Adrian Henri at the Liverpool Biennial

(On the train back to London).

If I had the energy to write, I’d write about Adrian Henri and the Mersey Sound.

I’d write about the sounds of Liverpool and how these sounds and the chiming of Liverpuddlian, can be lyrical, sensual and richly musical.

I’d write about how you can stand in the research centre discovering Adrian Henri for the first time and overhear two Scousers talking about their own adventures with the Liverpool Scene, and about a singular meeting with the round, black-bearded and be-spectacled Henri himself.

Yes, if I had the energy, that’s what I’d write about.

04.10.2014

Alice Oswald- Tithonus

A poetic jig.
A foot tapping.
A fly.
But shouldn’t they have driven us out to some field at dawn?

I will reflect a little more later, I promise.

15.10.2014

Ali Smith: Living Translation

It began with Ali Smith’s ‘Provocation:’ a rolling, breathy work of sound and voice and soft (irresistible) accent.

Smith speaks like a poem. She holds her breath until she reaches the end of her thought-rhythm, before introducing the next etymological haiku. What genius it takes to craft a polemic into a sound poem: a rapid fire, perfectly formed stream of provocation.

Smith says that “translators are more writer than the original writer” for this is “a double layered writing, a twin responsibility, an osmosis of the self.”

Smith says that we should be learning languages when we are so young that “language structures sink into us like butter into toast.”

Smith says “the translator sees what the writer did not write – it takes that level of close reading.”

Smith says “look and all languages display relation.”

That’s all for now, I will write more later.

29.10.2014

Caroline Bergvall- Drift

The tking of the voice, almost the sound of a typewriter or a haptic phone dialling, signals a visual layering of type – a streaming of new letters sounded into illumination.

Understanding is a process of fluctuation.

Letters shrink into illegibility but become small islands of type, shifting land-masses of notation suggesting a map; or are they the lights of the distant city which Bergvall speaks of, the hallucination on the horizon which promises respite yet is not as solid as a land-mass, but is a gathering of sound in words: as material (or immaterial) as the voice which resounds in space until it fades away.

I will write more, later.

10.11.2014

The Joy of Influence: Paul Mason and Anne Enright on Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow

This is all I wanted to note down from the event last night.

During questions at the end (this is more of a comment than a question), a Scottish man in the audience says: “I sped read the book again on the train down from Holyhead to London with some page notes I made in the 1970s. I finally think I know what the book’s about.”

Francesca Brooks is in the first year of her PhD at King’s College London, her research looks at multilingualism, translation, and aspects of orality in Old English manuscripts and the printed poetry of David Jones. Follow her @Frangipancesca

‘Omit Needless Things’

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When I was fifteen years old, I was tired of waiting around for my Dad to find the right weekend. During Spring half term, I rolled up my sleeves, tore down the pages of the NME that adorned my walls, and painted my earnestly floral bedroom chalk white. The gig tickets and photos that were plastered everywhere were carefully tucked away in scrapbooks and wood drawers, and I arranged my clothes into colour order, and band t-shirts into order of preference, with AFI first. AFI were always first. Though this was procrastination at its purest (which I’ve never really grown out of), as I inhaled the fresh air through my curtains, I knew I could handle my looming GCSEs from this place of newfound clutter-free serenity. And I did.

Ten years later, I’ve been somewhat seduced by the minimalist movement again. There’s something about all those white, peaceful, Scandinavian Instagram feeds that has really captured my imagination; those tiny squares on my phone somehow conveying that glorious sense of space. While so many of us may fall in love with the minimalist aesthetic, however, it can be a little hard to live it. Who are we, if nothing else, without our stuff?

For a PhD student, one might argue that the constant budgeting and moving from overpriced London bedroom to overpriced London bedroom prepares us for the minimalist lifestyle rather beautifully.  One doesn’t, however, tend to factor in the inextricable clutter of the Arts & Humanities researcher: books. Though my books have recently undergone a 3am colour-ordering session to fit in with my rejuvenated bedroom, they are still everywhere, and will likely remain so. I leave a paper trail wherever I go; so far, not so minimal. But minimalism isn’t merely an aesthetic; it’s an approach, and an approach us new researchers might benefit from.

In William Strunk Jr.’s classic treatise on minimalism, The Elements of Style, he offers young writers his golden rule: ‘Omit needless words’. This is not that all sentences are short and mundane, but that ‘every word tell’; we all apply this rule in our feverish editing of essays that have found themselves miles past the word count. But perhaps we might swap ‘words’ for ‘things’, and widen the realm of possibility for this principle, taking the unnecessary clutter out of our lives and away from our research. If we keep what is necessary to our work and our happiness, and omit those drains on our energy that are not, surely our research can only improve. Minimalism, to the PhD student, isn’t only a neat, tidy and white workspace; it’s learning to say no to seven conferences and three undergraduate classes. It’s identifying where your time needs to be spent, uncurling those shoulders from eight hours of solid work to have a look around you. It’s also having a good clear-out, seeing what you can sell on eBay to bump up that funding packet, because every little helps.

Minimalism is not having or doing as little as possible; it’s knowing that everything you have or do counts. So I’m striking a couple of things off of my ever-growing ‘to do’ list, paring back on my aims for the week to focus on my writing and give myself space to breathe. Time to dream and sit quietly with a hot drink fall under the category of ‘necessary’ to me; the dangerous glorification of ‘busy’ is everywhere, especially in this strange world of academia. By omitting what is needless, our work can become clearer and more purposeful, and our sense of wellbeing might even defy all the horror-stories of PhDs past.

I’m keeping my books, though. They will remain necessary in their white bookcases, bathed in natural light and the perfect Instagram filter.

Sinéad Kennedy Krebs is a first year PhD student in the Department of English at King’s College London. Her research examines the cultural legacies of the Great War in Ireland. Follow her @sineadkk, or head to sageolympia.blogspot.com

Simone

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It began among female student intellectuals

seeking to appropriate the Other.

Only a body can touch another body.

She took great pleasure in urinating in the country.

Becoming prey,

the housewife knows little

of the discovery of treasure.

She locks up the parlour to save the Pope;

does it for a definite reason.

Where are the women?

It is not enough to have a

woman’s body,

exactly symmetrical,

the domains of thought

and art

and the suicide of Lucretia.

But in fact there is no question.

I read between the lines –

you see how it is. Become Kafka,

justify our existence.

The free woman is just being born,

Will be poet!

 –

Each night I said a little farewell

and put the cap on my fountain pen.

Thus she appeared in her childish distress.

This poem is made up of lines from the writings of Simone de Beauvoir.

Sophie Peacock is a poet and designer living and working in London, she is interested in gender, sexuality and collage. Follow her @saudadesophie