This year, I undertook the MA in Modernities: Romanticism, Modernism and Postmodernism. Firstly, I feel that it is appropriate to mention the extent to which I thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from the year. I was fortunate enough to meet an amazing group of people and had the chance to develop my education in an advanced level of study. Along with this, I had the opportunity to document my experience through a series of blog entries. These personal accounts recorded my progression throughout the year and became my “Diary of a Modernities Student”.
Having chosen to develop my study of English, I began the year considering language and contemplating questions of authorship. It seemed that Roland Barthes notion of intertextuality was extremely interesting and thought provoking. The concept of intertextuality appeared to have implications in many literary works; therefore, I decided to put together the following blog on the issue.
“Barthes, in his 1967 essay “The Death of the Author”, defines a text as “multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash” (Image-Music-Text 146). This slur on originality seems interesting and also quite controversial. It was this definition and understanding of a text that provoked me to delve deeper and indulge in Barthes’ ideas. Firstly, to understand this lack of originality, we must understand the notion of intertextuality. Barthes’ “The death of the author” undoubtedly contributes greatly to the characterisation of intertexuality. It seems that intertextuality was initially employed by poststructuralist theorists who were major critics of the structuralist method, in particular, the idea of an objective critical position and a stable metalanguage. Throughout his essay, Barthes presents the concept of the lack of originality of words and writing. He proclaims that words are intertextual as they have meanings, ideology and culture behind them. All words have many dimensions, are drawn from different places, different perspectives and different historical and social centres. Barthes clearly maintains that within writing, “everything is to be disentangled, nothing deciphered” (Image-Music-Text 147), which seems to suggest that meanings must be unravelled. We cannot decipher a text and come to one specific meaning as there is always a great deal of interpretations available. Since a text is intertextual, it is woven together from different forms of language; therefore, we can never close off or fully trace all meanings of the text. Barthes’ concepts can clearly be applied to numerous forms of literature and, for this reason; he has played a vital role in contributing to the science of semiology.” (The Death of the Author blog)
As the MA in Modernities involves a comprehensive study of literature, it seemed fitting to begin the year with the module Literary Theory. This aspect of the course introduced us to influential theorists such as Saussure, Marx, Derrida, Nietzsche and Freud. I became quite interested in Freud’s theories of the uncanny and decided to explore this matter in a blog.
“Freud’s paper “The Uncanny”, although distinguished and highly significant, seems essentially quite problematic. In, what I would consider, one of Freud’s most interesting papers, he attempts to define and interpret the nature of what is canny and uncanny, heimlech and unheimlech. However, this is not what is most intriguing, but rather Freud’s oversights and blindness towards certain issues which unfold within the paper. I would like to draw particular attention to his examination of the German Romantic writer, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale “The Sandman”. This has undoubtedly provoked a great deal of commentary and analysis from critics as not only is the narrative itself uncanny, but Freud’s interpretation of it proves just as uncanny. In Hoffman’s “The Sandman”, the central character Nathaniel is traumatized by his childhood fears of a gruesome figure who throws sand in the eyes of children to mutilate them and rob them of their eyes. Nathaniel repeatedly falls into delirium with the emergence of figures and events related to the dreaded Sandman. Freud, in his analysis, is determined to associate Hoffmann’s entire narrative with his castration complex, which evidently results in the development of a severe prejudice in his interpretative vision.
In an effort to substantiate his Oedipus analogy, Freud claims that in psychoanalysis “fears about the eye are derived from the fear of castration” (“The Uncanny” 231). He clearly believes that there is a direct connection between the eye and the male phallus and goes on to point out that it is the fear of castration of this male organ that makes the loss of any other organ so terrifying and poignant. Freud suggests that Hoffmann relates the theme of anxiety concerning one’s eye with the Sandman’s destructive path in the way of love and also with Nathaniel’s father’s death, connections which are echoed in Freud’s Oedipus complex.” (Freud and the Uncanny blog).
In addition to this, the blog discusses oversights in relation to Freud’s close reading of the text.
As the year progressed, I began to feel immersed in the MA experience. Great writers such as Byron and Shelley entered my mind on a day to day basis and, accordingly, similarities seemed to emerge between these Romantic writers and contemporary figures. During the year, I came across a Youtube video clip of Russell Brand openly calling for revolution in our society and I decided to write a blog on the issue. A link to the Youtube clip can be found on my “Diary of a Modernities Student” page.
“Russell Brand, in a recent interview with Jeremy Paxman on BBC’s Newsnight, declares his contempt for the current political power structures and the economic disparity and disillusionment they have caused. In his latest post as guest editor of the British current affairs magazine “The New Statesman”, Brand openly calls for revolution and evokes his passion, fury and unrelenting desire for change.
While contemplating this interview, it seems we can draw a parallel with Brand and the second generation Romantic writer Byron. Both figures equally possess the status of celebrity and express deep political frustration while they yearn to bring about action and revolution. This can undoubtedly be seen in Byron’s “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Canto III”. In his poem, Byron distinctly laments the loss of the British republic and scorns the reinstatement of the monarchy. His affinity with ideas of revolution and republicanism leads him to consider historical figures such as Napoleon and to visit the battlefield at Waterloo. The notion of this battle merely amounting to the strengthening of monarchy arouses rage and torment within Byron. Everything has collapsed and deteriorated to Byron. All ambition and efforts to gain a republic were futile as any form of progression has been broken and shattered. As Byron contemplates whether the world has gained any real independence after the defeat of Napoleon, he seems to conclude that people do not quite understand the true value of victory. He clearly feels as though we struck down one dominant, tyrannical beast only to get back down on our knee’s and serve another. Byron undeniably regards Britain as much more constrained by monarchy rather than liberated and comments “Shall reviving thraldom again be / The patched-up idol of enlightened days?”(167-8). It is clearly a great torment to Byron that history may just be circular. This concept also seems discernible in Brand’s interview as he expresses his apathy in observing the election of different politicians year after year yet the essential problems and difficulties of the economy remain unchanged. It seems evident that Byron and Brand fundamentally fear a lack of progression.” (A Call for Revolution blog)
The MA in Modernities involves a comprehensive study of the Romantic period. While studying Romanticism in the course, I began to consider women in society. Although it seemed early in the course, I was beginning to consider possible thesis topics and I was quite interested in the lives of women in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. As a possible introduction to this topic, I decided to explore the relationship between women and nature.
“In her article “Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?”, Sherry B. Ortner argues that in various cultures and societies “woman is being identified with, or, if you will, seems to be a symbol of, something that every culture devalues, something that every culture defines as being at a lower order of existence than itself” (10). For Ortner, this recognition aligns women with nature as she concludes that women are closer to nature than men, who are closer to culture. The author suggests that the relationship between women and nature develops primarily due to physiological distinctions as a woman’s body is directly associated with natural reproductive functions which, in turn, places her in subdued domestic roles and removes her from the cultural sphere. (12) Traditionally, as human beings, we aspire to transcend nature and overcome natural limitations thus nature becomes inferior. Humanity, in many cases, strives to prove that we can act rather than be acted upon. Ortner seems to believe that culture, which may be linked with human consciousness, seeks to maintain control over nature, therefore “if woman is part of nature, then culture would find it ‘natural’ to subordinate, not to say oppress, her” (12). Although some may suggest that this argument, which associates women with nature, may be in the course of transformation due to eco-criticism and the realization of the importance of nature, much of Ortner’s line of reasoning does seem to apply to second generation Romantic poets such as Shelly, Byron and Keats who openly value culture over nature.” (Does Culture Triumph over Nature blog)
With these ideas in mind, we subsequently went on to study Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda. At this point, I formed a particular interest in marriage and married life during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Belinda illustrated the various types of marriages that existed during the period, such as aristocratic marriages based on social, economic and reproductive terms; and the bourgeois companionate marriage which encouraged a love-based relationship. I was quite keen to write a blog on the novel and to explore these ideas further.
“Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda, published as a second edition in 1802, undoubtedly presents an Enlightenment ideal of female identity which has both progressive and conservative potential. As a novel of female courtship, Belinda is set in a world where young girls must showcase their looks and accomplishments in the hope of securing a respectable marriage partner. Clearly, in the London marriage market, it would have been considered of paramount importance for a woman to uphold her reputation. Belinda, the young protagonist, must learn to follow her own instincts and rely on her own rationality in order to avoid the temptation of surrendering to the fashionable yet dissipated Lady Delacour and the notoriously crafty matchmaker Mrs. Stanhope. Although the novel tracks Belinda’s growth in society, it may have been quite difficult for Edgeworth to construct a novel of female development as women of the period did not possess a great deal of agency. Elements of Edgeworth’s writing can be seen, at times, as both progressive and conservative. Edgeworth seems somewhat progressive in her eagerness to promote education and its merits for women in society. She continually praises educated, rational women in the novel such as Belinda and Lady Anne. According to Elizabeth Kowaleski-Wallace in her book Their Fathers’ Daughters, Edgeworth “seeks to define female potential in terms of the capacity to transcend stereotyping that consigns them to weakness and folly” (99). However, Edgeworth’s father’s dominant and authoritative influence may often result in more conservative outlooks in her work, in particular, Lady Delacour’s body rejecting anything apart from conventional maternal instincts. Along with this, the character of Harriet Freke seems to be quite problematic as she reduces the overall rationality of women in the text. Throughout Belinda, Edgeworth undoubtedly varies from progressive to conservative perspectives in her depiction of Enlightenment female identity.” (Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda blog)
During the year, the School of English held a number of research seminars for all to attend. It was quite interesting, as a masters student, to hear the research papers of various speakers from different disciplines. On the 22nd of January 2014, Dr. Sarah Hayden presented a research seminar to the School of English in University College Cork entitled “‘No cleanly matter’: The Artist as Degenerate/The Degenerate Artist in Mina Loy’s Insel”.
“Hayden has recently discovered additional archive material on Insel, Loy’s only published prose text, and is currently writing an introduction to the novel which will expose these unpublished drafts and investigate their overall effect on the reader’s perception of the novel. Insel may be categorised as a surrealist novel, perhaps not in terms of the means of production used but certainly in terms of the novel’s subject matter. The text is often read as a memoir of the German artist Richard Oelze and Loy’s relationship with him. Readers are undoubtedly given an account of an intense friendship or love relationship that was never fully realised or consummated. Insel may also be described as an exploration of the development of the artist. The notion of the surrealist artist manifests in the character of Insel while Mrs. Jones seems to represent Loy in the text. In her research seminar, Hayden refers to traditional feminist interpretations of the text which suggest that the female character declares her independence in the end of the novel and reclaims her free, talented and creative self. However, Hayden has recently discovered additional fragmented material in the archives such as alternate endings to the novel. Although Loy chose not to publish this material in her typewritten draft, Hayden intends to expose these unseen notes and fragments and explore their overall impact on the novel.” (A Research Seminar given by Dr. Sarah Hayden blog)
The research seminars provided a vast array of topics and, although many of them were not directly related to Modernities, I was quite interested in blogging on them. In my English undergraduate course, I had always had a particular interest in Shakespeare studies. On Wednesday the 26th of March, Dr. Edel Semple gave a research seminar in University College Cork entitled “Shakespeare, Elizabeth I, and Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous”.
“Anonymous draws on the Oxfordian conspiracy which claims that Shakespeare did not, in fact, write his own works and, instead, accredits Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, as the true author of the plays. Although the words ‘outrageous’, ‘ridiculous’ and ‘downright blasphemous’ spring to mind, it seems that this hypothesis has been circulating and growing in popularity for a century or so. The Oxfordian notion, which cannot be given enough weight to be referred to as a theory, quite boldly disregards all logic and evidence on the matter. The vast quantity of documentary proof, such as official records and evidence from historians, which adequately determines Shakespeare’s authorship, seems to have, funnily enough, escaped Emmerich’s notice. Alas, Emmerich, his film crew or his flock of supporters cannot produce a shred of reasonable evidence to link de Vere to Shakespeare’s works.
In her seminar, Dr. Edel Semple deconstructs the entire premise of Anonymous and argues that the film attempts to reshape our present and future by rewriting our Tudor past. According to Semple, Emmerich endeavours to do this by appropriating two Tudor icons, Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth is portrayed as flirtatious, idiotic and pathetic woman despite her historical significance as a courageous ruler, a writer and a translator. As Semple points out in her seminar, the figure of Shakespeare is also appropriated and portrayed as a product of Western conspiracy. Emmerich presents two Shakespeare’s in Anonymous. Firstly, the Earl of Oxford is offered as a new messiah behind the conspiracy. This genius writer and child author of A Midsummer Night’s Dream supposedly offers guidance and truth. Secondly, William Shakespeare, the idiot from Stratford, is portrayed as a drunkard, a murderer and all that is wrong with the world. Viewers of the film may also find it difficult to witness the maiming of literary icons, such as Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe, who are undermined and devalued throughout the piece.
The entire premise of the Oxfordian conspiracy is based on the notion that a commoner from Stratford born to illiterate parents could never have written such astonishing works of poetry and drama. Instead, a member of the aristocracy who was forced to deny his literary dreams must be the true author, according to believers in the bizarre ploy. The film, unsurprisingly, is rife with inaccurate details and chronology issues. Emmerich does not take into account a number of the obvious glitches in the Oxfordian scheme, in particular, the fact that de Vere died in 1604 which was before ten or so of Shakespeare’s plays were even written. As Semple pointed out, Anonymous is filled with sexism, misogyny and classism.” (A Research Seminar given by Dr. Edel Semple blog)
The whole experience was undoubtedly very enjoyable and a huge success. The entire MA group finished the year with a Textualities conference. This conference gave all of the MA students a chance to showcase their work and also provided the perfect opportunity to inform those in attendance of their research topics. The conference incorporated presentations from all of the School of English MA programmes which included American Literature and Film, Irish Writing and Film, Modernities: Romanticism, Modernism, Postmodernism and Texts and Contexts: Medieval to Renaissance Literature. Writing a blog was clearly the perfect way to reflect on the day.
“As part of the MA Modernities group, I decided to present on the influence that conduct literature had on women and marriages in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. We were required to include a visual element to our presentations using the Pecha Kucha methodology. This format involves using 20 onscreen slides for 20 seconds each. Each slide automatically moves to the next after 20 seconds, therefore, the presentation concludes after 6 minutes and 40 seconds. Although this may sound quite basic and uncomplicated, anyone that presented on the day can account for the difficulties and struggles that occur in attempting to say almost anything meaningful and sensible in 20 seconds.
Prior to the conference, I volunteered to present my topic first on the day as the prospect of finishing my presentation early seemed appealing. Although I was incredibly nervous just as I stepped up to open the conference, I took a deep breath and managed to stay calm and composed throughout. I was quite happy as my presentation came to an end having kept my discourse in line with each 20 second slide. However, for future presentations, I feel that I could improve by maintaining more eye contact with audience members.
The conference was a huge success and was undoubtedly enjoyed by all in attendance. The entire MA group presented their work incredibly well and with great enthusiasm. A host of colorful, interesting and entertaining topics emerged and, along with this, the live blogging and tweeting on the day gave the conference a lively and energetic element. Taking part in the conference was a great experience and a highlight of the year. Well done to all!” (Reflection on UCC’s Textualities Conference blog)