Keynote Speakers

Timothy Bewes:

“Recent Experiments in American Fiction”

Just when the political stakes of truth and falsity in the United States seem to be higher than ever, many American writers are exploring a conceptual space located “on the very edge of fiction,” as one author puts it. Are such strategies still readable in ideological terms; or are they better understood as a loss of the critical standpoint from which ideological reading might take place? This talk will address the need for a critical practice capable of responding to the formal and ideological challenges of contemporary American fiction.

Timothy Bewes is Professor of English at Brown University, and an Associate Editor of Novel: A Forum on Fiction. His books include Cynicism and Postmodernity (1997), Reification, or The Anxiety of Late Capitalism (2002), and The Event of Postcolonial Shame (2011). He has recently published essays on W. G. Sebald (in Contemporary Literature, 2014), Jacques Rancière (in a special issue of Novel, 2014), and Deleuze’s work on cinema (in Postmodern Culture, 2016).
Steven Connor:

“The Word on the Street: Public Reading and Reading in Public”

In what has become one of the primal scenes of the history of reading, St Augustine recounts in his Confessions how he came upon Bishop Ambrose of Milan reading silently and in private: ‘his eyes were led by the pages, and his heart sought the meaning, but his voice and tongue were still’. There are in fact very good reasons to doubt the lesson that is often drawn from this, that, up until the 4th century, it would be more usual for reading to take place publically and out loud than silently and in private. Yet, despite its historical associations with the privy, there is also reason to doubt that reading is rarely in fact a wholly private action. This talk will consider the ways in which forms of public reading and private reading in public have interacted, through recitation, collective choral utterance, and the exposure to proclamations, advertisements, placards, instructions and public announcements of all kinds. Recently, public reading, mingled with other modes of display and solicitation, has become part of what is being called ‘attention theft’. Literary writing, at least from the eighteenth century onwards, and especially in the work of Dickens, Woolf and Joyce, has been particularly attentive to the workings of the word on the street and the ways in which is is threaded into acts of private reading. This talk will consider the many forms of this mutual constitution.

Steven Connor is Grace 2 Professor of English in the University of Cambridge and fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge. He is a writer, critic and broadcaster, who has published books on Dickens, Beckett, Joyce and postmodernism, as well as on topics such as ventriloquism, skin, flies, and air. His most recent books are Beyond Words: Sobbing, Humming and Other Vocalizations (2014), Beckett, Modernism and the Material Imagination (2014) and Living by Numbers: In Defence of Quantity (2016). His Dream Machines is forthcoming from Open Humanities Press and he is writing a book about the madness of knowledge. His website includes lectures, broadcasts, unpublished work and work in progress.

Janet Sayers

“Reading Art Objects: Freud, Stokes and Bion”

Reading art objects was Adrian Stokes’s forte. More than many other writers he was concerned with works of art as physical objects which we read as both one with, and other than us.

‘He has carried his eyes about and made them work … His concern has led him to objective facts and he has compared them, correlated them, setting shape against shape,’ Ezra Pound said admiringly of Stokes’s first major book, The Quattro Cento (1932). Today Meg Harris Williams praises the way that in reading Stokes we discover his emotional experience of reading art.

Yet reading Stokes can also be a problem, especially when it is clogged with psychoanalytic theory. In this talk I will illustrate criticism of Stokes to this effect. I will then draw on examples from his writing – many brought together in Wollheim’s book, The Image in Form (1972), and in Williams’s book, An Adrian Stokes Reader (2014) — to convey the way that reading Stokes evokes something of his reading art objects created during the early Italian Renaissance or by modern artists of his time.

Faced with recent rejection of the hermeneutics of suspicion in favour of attending more to the data of our senses, I illustrate these two different approaches by contrasting the approach to reading art objects developed by Freud, Stokes, and Bion.

Janet Sayers is emeritus professor of psychoanalytic psychology at the University of Kent in Canterbury where she teaches psychoanalysis and works as a clinical psychologist for the NHS. Her books include Biological Politics, Mothering Psychoanalysis, Kleinians, and, most recently, Art, Psychoanalysis, and Adrian Stokes.