CFP for WHN2016 conference

‘What Happens Now: 21st Century Writing in English’ 4th Biennial International Conference, 27-30 June 2016, University of Lincoln

Conservative Politics/Radical Poetics

The 21st century gets more and more odd. Thomas Picketty claims we are returning to 19th century economic relations between capital and the masses. In Britain we have re-entered conservative politics despite the most blatant bankruptcy of capitalism since the Thirties, but at the same time the potential break up of the United Kingdom and with the European Union would be political developments as structurally decisive as the end of empire or World War I. Much the same is true in Europe and the world where conservative and radical visions seem to hang in the balance.

In literature too there is a curious mix of stasis and innovation. Modernism retains its mesmerising influence and literary writers like Zadie Smith, Tom McCarthy and Will Self still profess allegiance to its ageing paradigm – is that radical or conservative? Hilary Mantel and Jonathan Franzen have been immensely successful with the well-made novel: does that mean they are middlebrow? In poetry the war between mainstream and (post)modernism rumbles on, shorn of much of its vitriol but not of its substance: but are Grand Old Men like Geoffrey Hill, JH Prynne or Paul Muldoon revolutionaries? – and who reads contemporary poetry anyway, even in literary studies? In theatre debates continue over the political implications of new writing v devised theatre, the dramatic v post-dramatic, and passive v active spectatorship; meanwhile West End and Broadway musicals attract twice as many theatre goers as those attending plays.

In the 2016 WHN conference we invite scholars of 21st century literature to discuss radicalism and/or conservatism in form, function and affect. We welcome work on all forms of literature including fiction, poetry, drama, theatre, life writing, and graphic novels that has been published/performed since 2000.

Please send 250-350 word abstracts for 20-minute papers with brief biographical notes (about 50 words) in word format to the conference email address: by October 31st 2015. Panel proposals also welcome.

Conference organisers: Dr Siân Adiseshiah, Dr Ruth Charnock and Dr Rupert Hildyard.

Please send 250-350 word abstracts for 20-minute papers with brief biographical notes (about 50 words) in word format to the conference email address: by October 31st 2015. Panel proposals also welcome.

Wednesday 3rd December, 4.15-5.30, MC3107

Dr Ruth Charnock, Lecturer in English, School of English and Journalism

‘By Heart’: caring about music in Dana Spiotta’s Eat the Document

The American novelist Dana Spiotta’s 2006 novel Eat the Document thinks through the radical potential of the 1970s anti-Vietnam movement via the 1990s. In the early 1990s, Jason Whittaker, son of Mary Whittaker, an activist from the movement who has changed her identity, sits in his room and listens to Beach Boys’ bootleg outtakes. Through Jason’s repetitive and intent listening, the novel explores the possibility of the outtake as an object of care, an object that demands [and, perhaps, rewards] a form of commitment from its listener that transcends that required by the released single. This paper will use the outtake in Eat the Document as a way to think about the utopian possibilities of listening, pace Ernst Bloch, whilst also exploring larger questions of care, caring and political activism in contemporary American culture.

What Happens Now 2014

In 2006 the English team were looking for a way to make our new MA programme stand out from the crowd and we decided to focus on writing from the new millennium: poetry, drama, fiction and life writing published since 2000. Our MA in 21st century literature has since survived and prospered in a very competitive marketplace. Part of the reason for that decision was our belief that there was room for a postgraduate course in English that was genuinely and fully contemporary. We also believed that there were a lot of researchers and scholars working on 21st century literature and that our department might fruitfully help to bring together that area of work in literary studies.

In pursuit of that aim we launched What Happens Now, a conference on 21st century writing in English, in July 2010, successfully convening some 70 speakers for an enjoyable four day international conference on the literature of the first decade of the new century. The conference was enlivened by the presence of Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, public intellectual and radical gadfly Will Self, avant garde performance artist Tim Crouch and a number of other contemporary writers and scholars. The conference was deemed a success, even by its exhausted organizers, and What Happens Now has now become a biennial event at Lincoln and July 2014 marks its third occasion. Around 100 scholars presented papers, including about 45 international delegates from 15 different countries with strong contingents from the USA, Spain and Germany but also scholars from Slovakia, Nigeria, Egypt and China.

At the 2014 conference, we were treated to presentations on capital, utopia, drama & science, postapocalypse, nature in the Anthropocene, digital revolutions, and Britain in the 21st century as well as many other topics. Amongst the 21st century genres considered were Neo-Victorian, the latest incarnation (or should that be apparition?) of the Gothic, Short Story cycles, young adult fiction and new forms of poetry. It is always interesting to see which writers and texts are getting the academics interested and excited: this year there seemed to be extra attention for David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life, Zadie Smith, Hilary Mantel and Mark Ravenhill as well as old favourites David Foster Wallace and Margaret Atwood. The continuing rise in the profile of the conference was signalled by the eminence of the guest speakers – Derek Attridge, Robert Eaglestone, Colette Conroy and Imogen Tyler (videos of which you can watch below!) – along with readings by the poet and writer Paul Farley and a welcome return to Lincoln by Tim Crouch and Andy Smith for a performance of What happens to the hope at the end of the evening.


Derek Attridge

Colette Conroy

Imogen Tyler

Robert Eaglestone

First seminar of Term 1 2014-15

On 8th October Dr Andrew Wallace, Senior Lecturer, School of Social and Political Science, presented a paper called: ‘Scum, sluts and skivers: struggling over value in ‘austerity’ Britain’ to an audience over 80.

Andrew discussed the ‘workshy skiver’, ‘scum’, and ‘chav’ as examples of widespread class-based devaluation in ‘Austerity’ Britain. Referencing David Graber and Bev Skeggs, he talked about the culturalisation of inequality and the personalisation of structural failure.  However, the efforts of left-inclined journalists and scholars to repudiate claims about worklessness and fecklessness and to engage in struggles over readings of human value and worth, Andrew argued, have left the central perameters of class devaluation in place.  His hope is to pursue a resistance to and rethinking of categories of valuing and abjection – perhaps through an evasive gaze – and to ask who is doing the judging and why?