Posted on 13/10/2013
Practice-based PHD Seminar
16th October, 5.00pm-7.00pm at
The Centre for Creative Collaboration
16 Acton Street, London WC1X 9NG
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Indexed narratives and alphabetical disorder
Mina Loy’s sketch for an alphabet (1941), Beinecke collection
‘The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible.’
- Umberto Eco’s The Infinity of Lists (Rizzoli, 2009)
‘Ages ago, Alex, Allen and Alva arrived at Antibes, and Alva allowing all, allowing anyone, against Alex's admonition, against Allen's angry assertion: another African amusement... anyhow, as all argued, an awesome African army assembled and arduously advanced against an African anthill, assiduously annihilating ant after ant, and afterward, Alex astonishingly accuses Albert as also accepting Africa's antipodal ant annexation.’
- Walter Abish’s Alphabetical Africa (New Directions, 1974)
Seed catalogues, telephone directories, war memorials’ lists of the dead: alphabetical indexes provide a simple, consultable system of collating written data. When the model of a follows b follows c is disrupted within a text by an author, it automatically signals a refutation of such artificial demarcations. I hope to discuss the ways in which various creative works, from children’s battledores to Ron Silliman’s thousand-plus-page poem, challenge traditional claims of abecedary structure and permit an expression of reality’s unruliness. In terms of my own practice, my novel’s central character works at a dictionary house; as his inability to perform with and within the codes required by his employers increases, the reassurance he found in alphabetical taxonomies and lexicographical strictures begins to fall away. Correspondingly, the novel’s architecture and content becomes disjointed and disarrayed. My talk and reading will examine my work and research into texts’ adherence to or purposeful subversion of conventional alphabetical order, and the ways in which the use of the alphabet as subject and procedure can affect narrative.
Eley Williams’ thesis focuses upon meeting points between lexicographical probity and creativity. Previous writing commendations include the Christopher Tower poetry prize and awards from the London School of Journalism, the Franco-British Council and London Fringe Festival. She has had work appear in Ambit, The White Review and Night and Day journals and her short story ‘Sketch’ appears in Annexe Press’ Introducing series. Recent projects have included a prose piece ‘Hang-Ups’ being developed for an interactive installation with ShadowStage, the country’s first contemporary shadow theatre company, and a short story set to music by composer Steven Jackson for ‘Noise of Many Waters’, the Royal Northern College of Music’s exhibitive showcase event.
Working with cultural geographies of the coast and the forest
The coast and the forest are both places in which language is put under incredible historical, symbolical, and political pressure. In this talk, I will briefly explain the reasons behind my PhD in modern British poetry having taken place in the cultural geography department at RHUL; readings of texts will demonstrate how poets have approached these two sites in analytical ways, and how the work of specialist geographers (rather than more familiar spatial theorists) can help to show how the texts assess approaches to epistemology, geographic information systems, and claims to history. Coastlines and forests have been produced by literary texts in conflicting ways, both as external to, and as a vital constitutive part of, cultural structures and their administration. Within the sphere of these two landscapes, shared modern geographies are addressed: the languages of law and land management; the operations of the technical environment; definitions of individual and collective identity; representations of history and science; the assigning of economic and vocal authority. By studying the tropes and the rhetoric of the coast and the forest in modern experimental poetry as well as the lineage of these topics in cultural geography, it is possible to trace key historical and geographical models of these spaces into the digital age of “radical” landscape poetry.
Building on the research section of this presentation, I will discuss some of the range of outcomes which have been envisaged for cross-disciplinary work beyond disciplinary critical writing, and touch on my own practice, including the exhibition which I curated in June of this year, Time, the deer, is in the wood of Hallaig. This paired marginal small press writings usually only accessible in archives with book works, wood works, specimens, and installations from forty writers, collectors, and artists, alongside materials on loan from the Kew Museum of Economic Botany, English Heritage, the London Metropolitan Archives, and the UCL Dendrochronology laboratory. I will also present my experiences as an exhibiting artist in Nature Reserves at GV Art Gallery, a group show on environmental memory and taxonomy, and finally offer thoughts on my own writing’s use of the cultural strictures of environmental language. I’ll finish with a short illustrated reading of GLOSS, my forthcoming chapbook, explaining its source material of twentieth century weatherfaxes and ‘standard glossaries’ for ice and snow in the Arctic, as well as relevant research by geographers and anthropologists in the field.
Amy Cutler has a BA and MA in English Literature from the University of Oxford and is completing her PhD in the Social and Cultural Geography department at Royal Holloway, University of London. She researches environmental history, historical geography, and modern British poetry (both small press and large press). She founded the cultural geography themed cinema PASSENGERFILMS and has twice in a row received the national award from the British Federation of Film Societies for her work film programming alongside talks on academic research. In June 2013 she curated the exhibition Time, the deer, is in the wood of Hallaig, on forests, history, social memory, and environmental memory. Her first chapbook is Nostalgia Forest (Oystercatcher Press, 2013), which Gerry Loose describes as ‘brain scans of arboreal memory (and) cones of time lapse poetry’, and Peter Larkin calls ‘diagrammatic profiles offer(ing) intimations of calamity (…) in a tonal or atonal transversal of timber’, and her second chapbook, GLOSS, is forthcoming in the new year. She has also contributed poems to Intercapillary Space, Lex-ICON, Dandelion, The Bee Bole, Philosophy Activism Nature (PAN), and collections by Renscombe Press and by Nine Arches Press. She runs Land Diagrams, an online series of cross-disciplinary ‘twinned essays’, and is currently co-editing the book Peter Riley: Critical Essays with Alex Latter for Gylphi. She has recently had a chapter on British coastlines and modern poetry published in Poetry & Geography: Space & Place in Postwar Poetry (Liverpool University Press, 2013), ed. Neal Alexander
www.timethedeer.WordPress.com - curated exhibition
www.amycutler.WordPress.com - main blog