Ted Hughes’s Birthday Letters: An Archive of Writing
Carrie Smith, 21 February 2017, CEIR Seminar Series
In the second paper of the 2017 Centre of Editorial and Intertextual Research Seminar Series, Dr Carrie Smith, a lecturer here at Cardiff University, used the manuscript drafts of Ted Hughes’ final full-length collection, Birthday Letters (1998), to suggest that the collection itself becomes a poetic archive. Drawing on her soon-to-be-completed monograph, Smith argued that from its opening poem, Birthday Letters presents us with accounts of documents that cement the collection in the texture of real life.
Smith began her paper by discussing how archives are organised. Focusing specifically on the British Library and Emory University Library (the latter holds the private library of Ted Hughes), Smith argued that these spaces are usually perceived to be ‘neutral’ in their layout. However, as Smith pointed out, the archive offers a ‘promiscuity of meanings’ because it exists on the border between excision and excess, the limited and the unlimited.  While archives attempt to reserve the past, Smith in her discussion of Birthday Letters revealed that they are inherently unstable. Human decision is involved in how a collection is organised, leading to questions of whether it should be user-friendly (as in the British Library), or if it should respect the original order of the material (as in Emory University Library)? And does either way influence our understanding of the documents? Given these variations, Smith suggested that the archive must be read as a document in itself. (more…)
Nicky Marsh (University of Southampton) will be presenting her paper, ‘Gender and Sacrifice in the Work of Thomas Pynchon’, at 5.30pm on Tuesday, 9 May 2017. The talk will take place in the Cardiff University’s John Percival Building, Room 2.48, and will be followed by a wine reception.
Abstract The characters in Thomas Pynchon’s novels, from Gravity’s Rainbow to Against the Day, are constantly trying to catch The Wizard of Oz‘s Dorothy. Yet they never do but when they come close they often realise that it is the wrong Dorothy and in this lingering confusion over who Dorothy really is, I want to suggest, Pynchon points us to the need for a new kind of history for money in early twentieth-century America. He points us not to the bimetal debates with which the original novella has become so synonymous but to the emergence of credit money and its complex relationship to notions of both gender and sacrifice. This paper follows Pynchon as he follows Dorothy and tries to suggest a language for money that can acknowledge this submerged history.(more…)
Lise Jaillant (Loughborough University) will be presenting her paper, ‘“Modernist” Publishers, Publishers of “Modernism”’, at 5.30pm on Tuesday, 4 April 2017. The talk will take place in the Cardiff University’s John Percival Building, Room 2.48, and will be followed by a wine reception.
Abstract Commercial publishers are nearly invisible in New Modernist Studies. There is no history of Random House, no history of Harcourt Brace and no history of Faber & Faber. One reason for this invisibility is that commercial firms published a wide range of texts—what we now see as ‘Modernism’ was issued alongside ‘popular’ texts. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Phoenix Library published Wyndham Lewis’s first novel Tarr but also popular novels and even a cookery book. Since difficult ‘Modernist’ texts continue to dominate our understanding of early twentieth-century literature, we tend to neglect these publishing enterprises or to study only the tiny portion of their activities that relates to ‘Modernism’.
This talk will address two points: 1) why so few modernist scholars have studied commercial publishers (unlike Victorianists, who have long been interested in book publishers and their impact on the literary text); 2) what we can do to expand the sub-field of Modernist Print Culture, building on existing work in periodical studies and strengthening our relationship with scholars of book history. In this context, ‘Modernist’ would be synonymous with ‘Early Twentieth Century’ to include all kinds of texts published at that time. The conclusion will present Lise’s digital map of publishers in New York in the 1920s, part of a chapter forthcoming with Cambridge University Press. (more…)
Matt Hayler (University of Birmingham) will be presenting his paper, ‘Digital and Ambient Literature: How Resistance Was Futile and the Future of Books Might Not Be Awful’, at 5.30pm on Tuesday, 21 March 2017. The talk will take place in the Cardiff University’s John Percival Building, Room 2.48, and will be followed by a wine reception.
Abstract What difference does digitisation make? This talk will compare the ways in which digital and printed book bodies might mean, taking their embodiment seriously and thinking through the work that it might do in entanglement with the bodies of their readers. As we develop new grammars of use for digital texts we see that they are anything but ghostly or ephemeral, instead capable of meaning in their form just as much as works in print – our resistance comes from somewhere else. These ideas will be further thought through in a discussion of the AHRC Ambient Literature project which explores the interactions of readers, digital texts, and lived places. What means, how, and in what configurations is a rich question, and my answer, at least in part, is a posthuman understanding of where sites of knowledge, and what is to be known, might be located. (more…)