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Last October, I began my first blog post with the qualifier “because I am who I am”, and I feel this sets the tone for the journey that followed. I came into my MA with a fair idea of where I wanted to go with my thesis already set out before me, so, rather than simply barrell blindly into research on that topic, I wanted this blog to have more of an “exploratory” agenda. I thought of this process as if embarking on a Dantean pilgrimage, stepping off in the opposite direction of my destination, with faith that I would eventually arrive back there, transformed. This circular schema of my academic journey is one I would return to throughout, first in my description of a passage from McCarthy:

As they dance their courtship crabwise in the sucking mud, each unspools his fate to an entwining

and later again in my conference presentation and thesis title, each small reference a rosary to guide my hand back towards its goal. This framework of departure and return licensed my research here to cast off into unknown waters, without fear of losing myself in the abyss.

My first step on this journey was an interrogation of punk ideology through the critical theory of the Frankfurt School. This post, “Anarchy and the Culture Industry“, established a methodology that would prove invaluable – by taking an established academic topic (critical theory) and engaging with it through something peripheral (punk), I found a way to both legitimise the outside subject and unsettle the established one. This method also functions on a personal level, by taking something familiar to me and looking at it from a foreign perspective, I push my critical thoughts in unexpected directions, yet by that same process I am also attempting to make the foreign perspective something more of my own. The result in this case was a kind of rhetorical provocation against the comfortable inertia of my own thinking:

whether you interpret the style of late 70s UK punk exemplified by the Sex Pistols as an avant-garde series of elaborate situationist pranks, or the nihilistic roar of a young working class being starved by a crumbling economy, any contention that this was a serious challenge to the capitalist establishment is undercut by the groups’ reliance on and operation within the mainstream record industry. Likewise, the record industry’s happiness to co-opt rebellion against itself and exploit punk’s theatrics for profit demonstrates capital’s readiness to wear the mask of revolution, while in truth shoring up its own authority. Just what does the “anarchy” of the Sex Pistols “Anarchy in the UK” signify? Surely it is more bauble than gunpowder plot. Punk, at least in this early form, is a carnivalesque reflection of mainstream culture that, because it can only exist with the consent of that order (using its capital to produce and promote records and tours), cannot affect structural or sustainable change against it. Each would-be revolutionary is in fact a double agent against their own will, as détournement inevitably cedes to recuperation.

However, while the post served as an effective way in to learning about critical theory for me, looking back on it now the analysis seems shallow, focusing on the surface of the quotations from Benjamin and Adorno, rather than the depth of thought each critic opens up with their theory. Appropriately, this difference between surface and structural interpretation was something I would explore I greater detail in my next entry:

while this type of evocation certainly enriches the mental imagery involved in our reading of the novel, by only looking at aesthetic similarities between the works we fail to explore what affinity there might be between both the subject matter rendered by the artists and the techniques involved in doing so.

The idea for “Plain Killing: Scenes of Slaughter in the Work of Goya and McCarthy” was one I had been contemplating for a while. Because of the preponderance of writing on McCarthy, I initially expected the research for this post to be much lighter than it turned out to be; I thought someone surely would have beat me to the punch. Instead, I again found myself tasked with putting together a comparative study which bridged the gap between two disparate bodies of criticism, with some grounding in one side of the equation (McCarthy/literature/American history), but little to none on the other (Goya/fine art/Spanish history). Despite (or perhaps because of) this steeper difficulty curve, I think I fared much better in reconciling these disparate strands of thought than in my previous attempt:

Goya’s plate 16, “They make use of them”, shows a group of slain soldiers being stripped nude by what could be either their enemies or compatriots, and this stripping away of political difference, an exposure of the workings of war on the undifferentiated individual, becomes a motif in Blood Meridian. In the section titled “A Burial”, Glanton’s gang disguise their murder of Mexican soldiers: “the bodies of the dead were stripped and their uniforms and weapons burned along with the saddles and other gear and the Americans dug a pit in the road and buried them in a common grave, the naked bodies with their wounds like the victims of surgical experimentation lying in the pit gasping sightlessly at the desert sky as the dirt was pushed over them” (194). The ”Attacked by Comanches” scene further draws this association between stripping of uniform and dismemberment of the human form, as the victorious Indians set about “stripping the clothes from the dead and seizing them up by the hair and passing their blades about the skulls of the living and the dead alike and snatching aloft the bloody wigs and hacking and chopping at the naked bodies, ripping off limbs, heads, gutting the strange white torsos and holding up great handfuls of viscera, genitals…” (56). Again, in the “Slain Argonauts” section, this neutering of stripped corpses occurs – pilgrims are found “nameless among the stones with their terrible wounds, the viscera spilled from their sides and the naked torsos bristling with arrowshafts. Some by their beards were men but yet wore strange menstrual wounds between their legs and no man’s parts for these had been cut away and hung dark and strange from out of their grinning mouths” (161). Goya parallels McCarthy’s methodology in plate 33, “What more can be done?”, depicting soldiers hacking at the genitals of a stripped corpse with a sabre, and this shared process of neutering the dead might be read as a further deindividualization of the victims of this violence: just as the stripping of uniform eliminates distinctions between sides in the conflict, and the lines between civilian and soldier, the removal of sex organs calls into question the boundaries of violence between sexes, prefiguring the extensive accounts of soldiers’ sexual violence against women in both Disasters and Blood Meridian (see plates 9, 10, 11, 13 & 19).

I feel that this success was at least in part due to the fact that, by being clearly aware of the limits of my approach from the outset, I was paradoxically also able to begin exploring areas outside of my purview:

Since we have once again fallen into the trap of evocation, rather than interpretation, we might as well conclude by adding the work of a third artist to our comparison. John Gast’s American Progress is perhaps the ultimate idealisation of 19th century America’s faith in manifest destiny. Here, as Colombia leads the way across the plains, American expansionism is given divine writ, and the settlers moving westward bring with them the illuminating light of progress to the darkened savages on the frontier. […] Rather than Gast’s idyllic Americana, what McCarthy’s passage evokes much more strongly is Goya’s The Colossus – a grim scene of war and chaos, as the people below on the plain are abandoned by the ancient giant. In concert, these three scenes reveal McCarthy’s depiction of America as a godless land consecrated in blood, and the rhetoric of progress espoused by the Judge as nothing more than the seductive call of base and brutal instinct. Gwyn A.  Williams said of Goya’s Disasters “it could be anywhere. It could be My Lai” (1) – perhaps it could be America too.

Of course, each success is the measure of another failure, as my next entry illustrates. “A Pleasant Way” was conceived from the outset as a stopgap, and this shows through in its one-dimensionality and lack of any real connection to my larger project or methodology:

Note: This month I’m juggling travel and assignments, so this blog might be looking a little neglected. To make up for it, here’s a short piece I wrote on Wilde’s prose-poem “The Doer of Good”. I’ll be back in the New Year with lots of great things lined up, so happy holidays everyone! -Cian

It’s by no means a bad piece of writing, unintentionally and ironically full of turns of phrase that seem now subtly suggestive of its alien status in the wider project of this blog:

Instead, through “the art of elegant inversion” (Inventing Ireland 35), damnation for Wilde consists of a society which can only exist through a perpetual denial of its natural selfhood, where, like the Christ of “The Doer of Good”, “the only real fool is the conventionally ‘sincere’ man who fails to see that he, too, is wearing a mask, the mask of sincerity” (Inventing Ireland 38).

Yet the slightness of this piece is only compounded by the long stretch of time before my next entry, and I feel this merits some explanation here. Around this time I started research on a piece that was to develop my critique of commodity culture through a reading of the anthropocentric narrative techniques of nature documentaries, particularly the then recently released Planet Earth II. My research tossed me deep into the world of ecocriticism, and intersected with a wide range of continental philosophers such as Nietzsche, Baudrillard, Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari, writers like John Berger, and filmmakers including Jean Painlevé, Werner Herzog, and Errol Morris. Unfortunately, my methods were too ill-defined and my means too meagre; the piece eventually collapsed under its own weight. Whatever map of motion I had set out for myself at the beginning of this enterprise had now coiled its labyrinthine corridors around me. While colliding head-on with the limits of my research method was not without educational merit, the overall effect of the experience at this time was hugely dispiriting. This, coupled with personal events, and compounded by the November 8th crescendo and ensuing fallout of America’s political circus, left me with deep doubts about my ability as a writer to say something meaningful about the world around me.

I’ve been finding it hard to write lately. Writing has never come easy to me – the things I have to say which are worth saying come slowly, and with difficulty, if at all. I’ve spent the last few weeks researching a piece on anthropocentric narratives in nature documentaries, but given the chaos unfolding in the wider world at the moment, I’ve had a hard time pushing myself to finish it. As I watch the systematic destruction of the values I hold dear from afar, a deep hush descends, blanketing all. How can I justify holding forth on literature when fascism, white-supremacism, and mob rule are in ascendancy? And yet I know as well as anyone, silence is complicity. So I must act, act now and not later. I’ve always thought I believed deeply in the power of literature, and yet, submerged in the maelstrom of the now, I can feel those foundations start to quiver. Make no mistake, we are already at war, and if we in academia (and especially those of us in the humanities) do not now learn to use the critical tools at our disposal to defend ourselves and those around us, our side is already forfeit.

As I note above, in times of crisis we are compelled to act. Yet, to do so, we must uneasily tread the line between the purposeful and performative senses of that word. Looking back on this piece now, I wonder how well I navigated that line. Did I act, or merely seem to? Is there always a discernable difference between the two? Either way, “Towards an Academic Imperative” served as a turning point for me, not back inwards, towards the beginning of our journey, as I had expected, but an inflection of our circular path, outwards once again into the unknown.

What fundamentally changed for me in writing this piece was the notion that I should account for every subject position except my own. It can be easy to be overcome by the heteroglossia of academic discourse, even to feel a giddy rush at the freedom of losing your voice within that cacophony. But here I found the need to return to the limits of my body and my experience, if only to feel the ground beneath my feet once more.

I feel like both of my next two posts show evidence of this turn. “Editor Jones” recounts my experience of the Wikipedia Editathon, which allowed me to peek beneath the heterodiegetic veneer of  Wikipedia, and concretely add something of my own to the discourse. My review of Sean Travers IAAS presentation allowed me to achieve a similar task, though this time within a specific and material academic community, rather than an anonymised virtual one.

I should note that, while not my first academic conference, the IAAS conference last year was an overwhelming experience for me, and I really felt quite out of my depth when listening to the high quality of academic research presented. This feeling was not unrelated to the wider sense of academic isolation I was experiencing at the time I mentioned above, but I think part of this was also due the conference being an interdisciplinary event, and thus not knowing much of anything about many of the papers presented. In that context, Travers’ paper was a lifeline for me – if there’s two things I happen to know much more than I should about, it’s David Lynch and video games. By returning to her paper and adding my own research to it, I was able to rid myself of some l’esprit de l’escalier that had lingered after the conference. In fact, the points I make here are really just clarifications of points I had somewhat muddledly made to Sean at the conference.

A game very close to my own heart which deals with trauma is Cardboard Computer’s Kentucky Route Zero. KRZ is an episodic, narrative-led point and click adventure game which draws heavily from Southern Gothic and Magic Realist fiction, as well as experimental theatre and film techniques. It certainly owes more than a passing debt to Twin Peaks in its realisation of abstract, surreal universes located deep in the American woodlands, and someone like FWWM‘s Carl Rodd would fit in well with KRZ’s catalogue of the disenfranchised. However, all this is just (admittedly gorgeous) set dressing for the issue at the heart of KRZ: trauma. This trauma takes a multitude of forms, but despite the abstract setting (or perhaps because of it), the problems of the characters always feel incredibly grounded in materiality. They deal with alcoholism, unemployment, debt, lack of health insurance, disruption of community, and loss of family. The player’s only way to respond to these kinds of losses is to talk to other characters and engage in social bonding. While you are presented with dialogue options, instead of allowing you to assert yourself in terms of moral superiority, all you can do is choose how to orientate yourself to the grief which imposes itself so insistently. Do you wallow in self pity? Or crack a joke? Or share a memory from your past that’s painful, in the hope that it might lighten the load of someone else. As Cara Ellison points out, KRZ is a game where the unsteady steady the unsteady. Much like Trout Creek, the Zero is no place for heroism, the problems here are ingrained too deeply, too systemic. Instead, as Ellison suggests, “it asks no questions, and gives no answers. The problems are part of the landscape of being. They are part of the experience of play. You can only go through them, you cannot run away from them. You can merely choose what you say in response”.

Again, by returning to my own personal experience, I felt able to enunciate a unique point of view, and channel the passion I have for projects like Twin Peaks and Kentucky Route Zero into a more nuanced critical position. This was fortuitous timing, as the next task on our academic calendar was the Textualities conference, and involved finally presenting our own research to a wider audience. Something I didn’t mention in my reflective post on the conference was that Sean was kind enough to attend my presentation, and during a break in the proceedings, just before I had to run off and live blog the next panel, she thanked me for writing about her research. It meant the world to me.

While I sincerely enjoyed the day of the conference, having to sit down and write about it afterwards seemed to me a needlessly laborious task. With that in mind, I’ll admit to a certain spurious exaggeration in the search for profundity I embark on in my reflection as a corrective to what I felt at the time to be the inanity of the task assigned. This resulted in a kind of self-parodic circumlocution:

For just a moment we were no longer mere windstrewn motes of the academy, but, instead, an assemblage giving voice to a sonorous heteroglossia, with a clear view of the immanence driving ourselves into becoming.

However, I must also admit that obscuring my opinions behind this mask of irony paradoxically allowed me to be more open and honest about the very real pride for and connection to my classmates I felt on that day than I might have otherwise, as well as the innocent exhilaration I felt at presenting my work to a crowd.

The cold mathematical logistics of the thing hack away at the perhaps and maybes of your nascent thoughts until all ephemerality is shorn. What’s left is a lustrous core, nude and shimmering in the fading evening light.

Perhaps my earlier comments about sincerity in Wilde’s poem were not so aberrant after all. Of course, I can’t honestly dismiss this tendency of mine toward periphrasis as a kind of put-on, and I fear some of this prolixity may have overflowed into my review of David Pattie’s seminar.

Pattie introduced what he calls the “negative immanence” of Beckett’s theatre, based on Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza, which posits one nature for all bodies and individuals, and nature as an infinite number of variations of these bodies. This concept of negative immanence is slightly opaque in its construction, so I’d like to expand on it. Generally, immanence is defined, if not strictly in opposition to, at least in relation to transcendence. If a system based on transcendence is structured by that which is outside of it, then one on based on immanence is structured by the internal relationship of parts. In Spinoza, this takes the form of monism, which denies any distinction between the divine and material worlds. We can take this concept and apply it to a moment in Beckett’s theatre such as the end of Endgame – here we would explain Clov’s inability to leave as a denial of the possibility of transcendence; his world consists purely of the social relationship he has with Hamm. He cannot leave, because there is no outside, no other which would delimit the space they inhabit. There is no there, only here.

I am, however, still very taken with the gifs I made for the post.

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My final post, and one of the pieces I’m most proud of, is my literature review.  I’m dealing with a significant number of texts for my thesis, and in writing the review I had my doubts as to my ability to coalesce all of these into something that would be understandable to not only myself, but to others too.

This is obviously quite a large range of texts, and I’m well aware that this approach runs the risk of my study becoming overwhelmed with secondary sources, rather than my own original reading of the primary texts. However, I’ve purposely attempted to keep the breadth of my study quite wide at this early stage of research, and, accordingly, the range of texts above will shrink as my study progresses and I hone in on specific aspects of the texts, and also as I begin to select certain paradigmatic or illuminating stories of O’Connor’s for discussion, while excluding others. As O’Connor herself put it, “I suppose you come to know yourself as much by what you throw away as what you keep and at times it is appalling” (195). As the range of texts narrows, I hope that the framework of the approach outlined above will remain flexible enough to accommodate my needs. In doing so, I aim to build meaningfully on the body of O’Connor scholarship that has come before me, while also developing my own critical skills.

Clearly, I shouldn’t have worried, because, if I’ve learned anything from this endeavour, it’s that the process of writing itself gives things a reality of their own. My meandering course through this few months of writing has, as promised, delivered me back to my point of origin, though not necessarily by the route I expected. Yet I’m glad for the wandering, and glad too for this moment’s rest before the next off.

Works Cited

O’Connor, Cian. “Anarchy and the Culture Industry”. Ciango, WordPress, 31/10/16. https://ciango.wordpress.com/2016/10/31/anarchy-and-the-culture-industry/

– “Plain Killing: Scenes of Slaughter in the Work of Goya and McCarthy”. Ciango, WordPress, 30/11/16. https://ciango.wordpress.com/2016/11/30/plain-killing-scenes-of-slaughter-in-the-work-of-goya-and-mccarthy/

– “A Pleasant Way: On Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Doer of Good'”. Ciango, WordPress, 23/12/16. https://ciango.wordpress.com/2016/12/23/a-pleasant-way-on-wildes-the-doer-of-good/

– “Towards an Academic Imperative”. Ciango, WordPress, 1/2/17. https://ciango.wordpress.com/2017/02/01/towards-an-academic-imperative/

– “Editor Jones: UCC Wikipedia Editathon 2017”. Ciango, WordPress, 12/2/17. https://ciango.wordpress.com/2017/02/12/editor-jones-ucc-wikipedia-editathon-2017/

– “Sean Travers: ‘Who is the villain?; Perpetrator trauma and the role of the reader in American fiction'”. Ciango, WordPress, 1/3/17. https://ciango.wordpress.com/2017/03/01/sean-travers-who-is-the-villain-perpetratortrauma-andtherole-of-the-reader-in-american-fiction/

– “Textualities 17 Live Blog: Panel 4”. Ciango, WordPress, 10/3/17. https://ciango.wordpress.com/2017/03/10/textualities-17-live-blog-panel-4/

– “Textualities ’17 Conference Reflections. Ciango, WordPress, 23/3/17. https://ciango.wordpress.com/2017/03/23/textualities-17-conference-reflections/

– “David Pattie : ‘”At me too someone is looking”; Hidden Coercion in Beckett’s Theatre’. Ciango, WordPress, 26/3/17. https://ciango.wordpress.com/2017/03/26/david-pattie-at-me-too-someone-is-looking-hidden-coercion-in-becketts-theatre/

– “Literature Review”. Ciango, WordPress, 27/3/17. https://ciango.wordpress.com/2017/03/27/literature-review/

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Literature Review

My thesis (working title “A Circle in the Text”) will examine the fiction of Flannery O’Connor through her relationship with the New Critics, with particular attention paid to how her writing can be read as both a blueprint and a critique of the New Critical formalist text. Since O’Connor’s development as a writer over the course of her career is an element in this, I will be looking at the complete range of O’Connor’s fiction, including Wise Blood (Faber and Faber, 1980), The Violent Bear It Away (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007), and Complete Stories. (Faber & Faber, 2009), as well as various other collections of her writing such as The Habit of Being (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1988), Mystery and Manners (Faber and Faber, 1972), A Prayer Journal (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2013), and Kinney’s annotated bibliography of her library, Flannery O’Connor’s Library: Resources of Being (U of Georgia P, 2008).

While the New Critics are not themselves the subject of my study, I will still need to consider a broad cross section of their work as background. This will include John Crowe Ransom’s “Criticism Inc”, Wimsatt and Beardsley’s “The Intentional Fallacy” and “The Affective Fallacy” (all in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, W. W. Norton & Company, 2010), Cleanth Brooks’ The Well Wrought Urn (Dobson, 1960), and his later retrospective of the movement in The Princeton Encyclopaedia of Poetry and Poetics (Princeton UP, 2012), the Southern Agrarian’s I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (LSU Press, 2006), and, perhaps most importantly, Brooks’ and Warren’s Understanding Fiction (Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1971). I will supplement these primary texts with critical perspectives on the movement such as de Man’s in Blindness and Insight (Routledge, 1983), Eagleton’s in Literary Theory: An Introduction (U of Minnesota P, 1996), Malvasi’s in The Unregenerate South: the Agrarian Thought of John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Donald Davidson (Louisiana State University Press, 1997), Mark Jancovich’s “The Southern New Critics” in The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism vol. 7, (Cambridge UP, 2000), and Leitch’s in American Literary Criticism Since the 1930s (Routledge, 2010).

The first task of my thesis will be to examine the extent to which O’Connor’s writing was shaped by interaction with the New Critics during her time at the Iowa Writers Workshop, and this subject has been most notably broached by Mark McGurl in The Program Era (Harvard UP, 2009), which was in turn subject to a rebuttal from Eileen Pollack in American Literary History, Vol. 19.2 (Summer, 2007). Related to this line of enquiry are texts like Andrew Levy’s The Culture and Commerce of the American Short Story (Cambridge UP, 1993), Kasia Boddy’s The American Short Story Since 1950 (Edinburgh UP, 2010) and Mann’s The Short Story Cycle (Greenwood, 1989), which I will use to further contextualise O’Connor’s work within the American short story tradition and its associated techniques.

My next step is to consider the ways in which O’Connor’s expression of her Catholicism through her writing, and especially the line of Thomist thought that her concepts of transcendence, mystery, and grace are derived from, might interact or interfere with the idea of text as a distinct ontological object that her formalist style points towards. Here, I’ll consider O’Connor’s reading of Maritain’s Art and Scholasticism (Sheed and Ward, 1930), as well as a few of the huge selection of critical texts on O’Connor’s Catholicism, such as Baumgaertner’s Flannery O’Connor: A Proper Scaring (H. Shaw Publishers, 1988), Brinkmeyer’s The Art & Vision of Flannery O’Connor (Louisiana State UP, 1989), Browning’s Flannery O’Connor (Southern Illinois UP, 1974), Cofer’s The Gospel According to Flannery O’Connor (Bloomsbury, 2014), Eggenschwiler’s The Christian Humanism of Flannery O’Connor (Wayne State UP, 1972), Giannone’s Flannery O’Connor and the Mystery of Love (Fordham UP, 1999), and Kessler’s Flannery O’Connor and the Language of Apocalypse (Princeton UP, 1986).

Having established this, I would like to then think about the ways this might open up O’Connor’s text to political, social, and historical readings. Framing this argument will be revisionist readings of the American and Southern literary canons such as those in Pease’s Revisionary Interventions into the Americanist Canon (Duke UP, 1994), Patricia Yaeger’s Dirt and Desire (U of Chicago P, 2000), Kreyling’s “Toward A New Southern Studies” (South Central Review 22, 2005) and Ford’s response (“Listening to the Ghosts: The New Southern Studies” South Central Review 22, 2005), and Ladd’s “Literary Studies: The Southern United States” (PMLA 120, 2005) and Smith’s response (“The State of United States Southern Literary Studies”, PMLA 121, 2006). While there have been many critiques of O’Connor’s construction of race, class, and gender, I would like to push for a more intersectional understanding of how these aspects of her work interact. To do so, I will attempt to bring some of the previous writing on these subjects together in new ways, as well as adding my own critical interpretation of O’Connor’s texts.

In terms of race, I will consider Crawford’s “An Africanist Impasse: Race, Return, and Revelation in the Short Fiction of Flannery O’Connor” (South Atlantic Review 68, 2003), Edmund’s “Through a Glass Darkly: Visions of Integrated Community in Flannery O’Connor’s ‘Wise Blood’” (Contemporary Literature 37, 1996), Fowler’s “Aligning the Psychological with the Theological: Doubling and Race in Flannery O’Connor’s Fiction” (Flannery O’Connor Review 13, 2015), Schroeder’s “Desegregation and the Silent Character in O’Connor’s ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge’” (Flannery O’Connor Review 10, 2012), Alice Walker’s essay on O’Connor in In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens (Women’s Press, 2001), and Williams’ “Black and White: A Study in Flannery O’Connor’s Characters” (Black American Literature Forum 10, 1976). In terms of class, the texts I’ll look at will include Martin’s “Flannery O’Connor and Fundamental Poverty” (The English Journal 60, 1971) and Tedford’s “Flannery O’Connor and the Social Classes” (The Southern Literary Journal 13.2, 1981). Finally, in terms of gender, I’ll examine several of the essays in Flannery O’Connor: New Perspectives (University of Georgia Press, 1996), as well as Hoberek’s “Liberal Antiliberalism: Mailer, O’Connor, and The Gender Politics of Middle-Class Ressentiment” (Women’s Studies Quarterly 33, 2005), and Smith’s “Flannery O’Connor’s Empowered Women” (The Southern Literary Journal 26, 1994).

I will access the above materials through a combination of use of the UCC library, my own library, online databases such as JSTOR, and UCD and Trinity College libraries in Dublin, which I will access with my ALCID card. In terms of organisational software, I’ve been using Zotero as an effective way to manage my somewhat unwieldy bibliography. This is obviously quite a large range of texts, and I’m well aware that this approach runs the risk of my study becoming overwhelmed with secondary sources, rather than my own original reading of the primary texts. However, I’ve purposely attempted to keep the breadth of my study quite wide at this early stage of research, and, accordingly, the range of texts above will shrink as my study progresses and I hone in on specific aspects of the texts, and also as I begin to select certain paradigmatic or illuminating stories of O’Connor’s for discussion, while excluding others. As O’Connor herself put it, “I suppose you come to know yourself as much by what you throw away as what you keep and at times it is appalling” (195). As the range of texts narrows, I hope that the framework of the approach outlined above will remain flexible enough to accommodate my needs. In doing so, I aim to build meaningfully on the body of O’Connor scholarship that has come before me, while also developing my own critical skills.

Works Cited

O’Connor, Flannery. The Habit of Being: Letters, ed. Sally Fitzgerald. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1988.

David Pattie : “‘At me too someone is looking’; Hidden Coercion in Beckett’s Theatre”

On 22nd March, Professor David Pattie presented a paper in UCC on systems of coercion in the work of Samuel Beckett, with a particular focus on the ethical response to this coercion. For Pattie, Godot‘s tramps experience the world they inhabit as one that’s coercive. Near the end of the play, Vladimir claims that “At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, he is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on” (84-85). Yet this implied onlooker, holding Vladimir and Estragon in place with their ghostly gaze, is never identified, and exists beyond both the text and the playing area. By appealing to this unknown, indeed, unknowable, outside force, Vladimir positions himself in the middle of a chain of coercion and control, and Pattie takes this absent onlooker as paradigmatic of systems of coercion which recur throughout Beckett’s work.

Though Beckett’s characters resist the normalisation of coercive systems, Pattie makes a distinction between how this functions in his prose and his theatrical work. In his prose, Beckett posits testimony as a way of dealing with an inimical world, emphasising the space between seeing and saying. His prose speakers are compelled to speak, and yet cannot capture their world truthfully. Instead they find themselves capturing an image of the world that disappears in the moment of capturing. This process is driven by stories that will themselves into existence; internal voices that tell these stories through the narrator, subsuming them. Pattie offers the continuation of the story in Malone Dies after Malone’s death as an example of such a moment, where Beckett’s prose storyteller is dissolved into the story, and suggests that this is a kind of internal coercion.

Pattie points to Anna McMullen’s Performing Embodiment in Beckett’s Theatre as a work that has helped shape his thought, particularly McMullen’s linking of the inscription of authority on another’s body in Catastrophe with the harrow of Kafka’s In the Penal Colony. In Kafka’s story, man and machine die together, and Pattie extends this comparison to places in Beckett’s work that show the exhaustion of both the tortured and the mechanisms of torture, and links this to Beckett’s systems of coercion by positing the process as a wearing down of both the coercer and the coerced. Pattie suggests Rockaby as one such place, where the entropy of such motions are exposed as they seem to come to an end.

Beckett on Film - Rockaby trim
Rockaby, Richard Eyre, 2002

Pattie also points to Trish McTighe’s “HAPTIC INTERFACES: The Live and the Recorded Body in Beckett’s Eh Joe on Stage and Screen” as an influence on his work. Interestingly, McTighe’s essay is also concerned with the relationship between body and machine in Beckett’s work, and, like McMullen, also suggests Kafka’s Penal Colony as text which might help us understand this. She notes that “[Walter Benjamin’s] destruction of the aura, described in deeply tactile terms, is the mark of a society intimately intertwined with technology and its products. One can perceive a similar intertwining, or a chiasm, between machine and body in Beckett’s Eh Joe” (464). In the play, “Voice is intimately allied with technology and acts as an instrument of torture and punishment. Like Kafka’s harrow in the short story In the Penal Colony, Voice attempts, through knowledge, memory and imagination, to inscribe guilt on Joe’s body. The ‘cut’ is also the act of cutting a story into the image, onto Joe’s listening face. In the televised version the camera is trained upon this confluence of technology, flesh and knowledge; the staged version sees this confluence writ large upon the screen.” (465). It is this use of voice as an interrogative instrument, one which pokes and prods the body, that interests Pattie.

Here, Pattie introduced what he calls the “negative immanence” of Beckett’s theatre, based on Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza, which posits one nature for all bodies and individuals, and nature as an infinite number of variations of these bodies. This concept of negative immanence is slightly opaque in its construction, so I’d like to expand on it. Generally, immanence is defined, if not strictly in opposition to, at least in relation to transcendence. If a system based on transcendence is structured by that which is outside of it, then one on based on immanence is structured by the internal relationship of parts. In Spinoza, this takes the form of monism, which denies any distinction between the divine and material worlds. We can take this concept and apply it to a moment in Beckett’s theatre such as the end of Endgame – here we would explain Clov’s inability to leave as a denial of the possibility of transcendence; his world consists purely of the social relationship he has with Hamm. He cannot leave, because there is no outside, no other which would delimit the space they inhabit. There is no there, only hereTherefore, all that Clov can do is to perform leaving, dressing himself up and announcing his intent: “this is what we call making an exit” (132). Yet he remains suspended on the threshold, subject to what Pattie calls “coercive space”. According to Kenneth Surin, “for Spinoza, there are two primary kinds of forces which diminish life – hatred, which is turned towards the other; and the bad conscience, which is turned inwards” (261-262), and this distinction can be easily applied to much of Beckett’s work. In this light, we can read Pattie’s negative immanence as a system of inexhaustible torture, grounded in social and psychological relations.

While both sides of the coercive equation are weakened and eventually destroyed by negative immanence, unlike Kafka’s harrow the systems themselves remain intact because, as with Didi’s unseen observer, or the unheard prompting voice in Not I, they are based on an external authority, never seen but undeniably there. Pattie takes the example the player of Act Without Words I rebounding from an invisible wall as an example of just such an authority, both present and absent. For Pattie, these coercive mechanisms can never be exhausted in Beckett’s theatre because they persist in a space beyond the stage, the scope and limits of which, we cannot begin to imagine.

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Act Without Words, Karel Reisz, 2002

As a brief amendment to Pattie’s reading of the inexhaustibility of Beckett’s coercive systems, I think that here we might also consider the Nietzschean eternal return in relation to the inherent repetition of performative art. Deleuze’s distinction is that what recurs for Nietzsche is not sameness but difference, each repetition varying from what has come before. In a fairly obvious sense, this repetition of difference can be broadly applied to theatre, where performance is repeated by different actors, in front of different audiences, in different places, and at different times, resulting in countless minor and major variations. But more specifically in Beckett’s work, performers are restricted in physical performance (Nell and Nagg’s dustbins, Winnie’s mound of earth, the urns of Play) and vocal performance (the tape recordings of Krapp, Breath, and What Where, the mechanical monotone of Voice in Eh Joe), thereby diminishing major variation and centring focus on the minor, and thus emphasising the inertia which coercive systems impose on the body of the individual.

Works Cited:

Beckett, Samuel. The Complete Dramatic Works. Faber and Faber. 2006.

McTighe, Trish. “HAPTIC INTERFACES: The Live and the Recorded Body in Beckett’s Eh Joe on Stage and Screen”. Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd’hui. Vol. 22, Samuel Beckett: Debts and Legacies (2010), pp. 463-475.

Pattie, David. “‘At me too someone is looking’; Hidden Coercion in Beckett’s Theatre”. University College Cork. 22/3/17.

Surin, Kenneth. “Spinoza, Baruch (1632-77)”. The Deleuze Dictionary ed. Adrian Parr. Columbia UP. 2005. pp. 260-262.

Textualities ’17 Conference Reflections

While it may have been a minor event in the grand scheme of things, for me at least, the 2017 Textualities conference on 10th March was an intense yet rewarding undertaking. Twenty-three speakers, all using the Petcha Kutcha presentation style meant eight hours of 2.5 words per second, with intermittent breaks for coffee, chitchat, and hyperventilating in alcoves of the North Wing corridor. The tenor of the conversations I had had with my peers in the days leading up to the conference was one approaching blind panic, but on the day everyone came together and pulled off their presentations with style and grace.

I presented on Flannery O’Connor and the New Critics, and was fairly happy with how it went. It’s an odd thing, having to put together a visual accompaniment to a presentation on literature and theory that doesn’t rely on text. Presenting on the New critics, this problem made me think of one of the academic schools they were reacting against, people like Arthur Quiller-Couch, who would simply stand in a lecture hall and evoke the great works of literature they were teaching, through a kind of performative reading. Yet how can we evoke a text without reference to it? I tried to find visuals that suggested the link between the transcendent and the material that’s so central to O’Connor’s work, and mix this with diagrams that might somehow evoke the systemisation of art at work in New Critical thought, thereby creating a sort of miniature model of my own approach to O’Connor. It didn’t hurt that O’Connor was a woman not without a certain air of mystery herself.

Somewhere between presenting my own research, liveblogging one panel and chairing another, livetweeting, having discussions with other MAs, PhD students, and lecturers about my research and theirs, I began to feel simultaneously tied to the reception and creation of something far beyond each of us as individuals. For just a moment we were no longer mere windstrewn motes of the academy, but, instead, an assemblage giving voice to a sonorous heteroglossia, with a clear view of the immanence driving ourselves into becoming.

Pound said of the vorticist, “you may think of man as that toward which perception moves. You may think of him as the toy of circumstance, as the plastic substance receiving impressions. Or you may think of him as directing a certain fluid force against circumstance, as conceiving instead of merely observing and reflecting” (97), and, in that moment, I found myself in a room full of just such magicians.

The panel I chaired was the last of the evening, and I pitied my presenters their torturous wait. One panellist suggested that Petcha Kutcha might somehow be an offshoot of the peculiar kind of ritualised public ridicule so ubiquitous in Japanese gameshows. I could see her point. The cold mathematical logistics of the thing hack away at the perhaps and maybes of your nascent thoughts until all ephemerality is shorn. What’s left is a lustrous core, nude and shimmering in the fading evening light.

Works Cited:

Pound, Erza. “Vortex. Pound.” Modernism: An Anthology ed. Lawrence Rainey. pp.97-99. Blackwell Publishing. 2005.

Presentation Image Sources:

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Textualities 17 Live Blog: Panel 4

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Erin Bergin: John B. Keane’s work and the identity of the Irish Migrant

Irish migration patterns form the basis for Erin’s research studies, especially the relationship between those who have gone away and those who’ve stayed. Her study was prompted by coming across the statue of Keane in Listowel, and the importance of him to that community.

Keane’s work explores the anxiety of those unable to leave, and Erin feels the underlying economic conditions of this anxiety are under-analysed in comparison to the gender issues in his work. He portrays children and young adults as sound compared to the corrupted older generations, who are rendered in a more satirical light.

Keane condemned immigration and viewed the government as a source of corruption in the state. Linked to this is his exploration of the fear of foreigner and fear of the returning migrant, particularly in The Field, and Many Young Men of Twenty.

Lauren McAuliffe: The New Motherly Father – Representations of Motherhood in James Joyce’s Ulyssespanel

Oxen of the Sun, set in a maternity ward, parallels the gestation of the child with the development of the English language. Joyce’s focus here is on male writers, rather than the women of the episode. Joyce may be suggesting that men are forcing themselves onto literary practices as well as birthing practices.

Bloom is, for Joyce, the mother of the text. He’s the only male character in the episode concerned with the mother’s welfare. Lauren calls attention to Melanie Klein’s Good Breast/Bad Breast Mother theory. Applying this to the episode, Bloom becomes a nurturing good breast mother for Steven, especially when compared to the sexualised, rather than typically domestic motherly portrayal of Molly Bloom and Gerty.

Haley Bonner: Finding Zora’s Janie

Haley opens by making note of the importance of Alice Walker’s “Finding Zora” essay in reviving Hurston scholarship. Hurston wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God late in life, and her experiences influenced her writing. In the novel, Janie’s blossoming sexuality is symbolised by the blossoming of flowers, leading to an interest in self and other. Haley suggests that we can read this kind of symbolism using theories such as Lacan’s mirror image stage, the feminist work of de Beauvoir, and Cixous’ theory of feminine writing.

Hurston repeatedly uses the image of woman as a mule, thereby implying man as master, and complicates this opposition by including race as a factor. This mule/master dichotomy runs throughout the novel, playing out in different ways in Janie’s three marriages. The effect of this is that Janie experiences a duality of identity, seeing herself as both self and other.

Zoe McCormack: The Double in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan

Zoe suggests that in Aronofsky’s film the double is rendered using both narrative and cinematic techniques. The concept of the doppelganger is developed by Freud and used throughout literature and cinema, such as in the work of David Fincher and David Lynch. Aronofsky notes the influence of works such as Dostoyevsky’s The Double, Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes, and Swan Lake on his exploration of doubling.

As well as their doubling, characters experience a fragmentation of personalities. Much like Brian de Palma’s Carrie, the central mother/daughter relationship dictates the personality of the main character, as well as the dichotomy between virginal innocent and sexual deviant. The characters of the film are also mirrored by those of Swan Lake, and this dictates their behaviour.

In casting, Aronofsky chose actors with similar appearances, and costume director Westcott uses her designs to further emphasise the diverging moral dualities of the characters. Adding to this is the use of mirrors in almost every scene of Black Swan, serving as a constant reminder to the audience of the presence of the double.

Sean Travers: ‘Who is the villain?; Perpetrator trauma and the role of the reader in American fiction’

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In late November last year, I had the pleasure of attending the Irish Association for American Studies Postgraduate Symposium. The breadth of topics covered by presenters was incredibly wide – everything from the roots of contemporary identity politics in the Riot Girl movement, to the ecocriticism of Peter Benchley’s Jaws, to a comparative study of the Pentagon Papers and Wikileaks – and I think this speaks volumes to the strength of American Studies scholarship in Ireland at the moment. However, one paper in particular stood out to me, and that was Sean Travers’ exploration of perpetrator trauma in contemporary American fiction, film, television, and video games. Given the inundation of questions she received after her talk, especially on the subject of video games, I clearly wasn’t the only one who found her research thought provoking. Seeing as I’m currently doing some research on trauma narratives myself, I thought now would be a good time to revisit Travers’ paper, before adding some of my own thoughts on the subject.

The crux of Travers’ argument is that postmodern developments in narrative technique have effected a change in the subject position of the reader/audience from one of passive reception to active participant, and that this shift has opened up new opportunities to explore the subject of perpetrator trauma. According to Travers, the starting point for this shift is located in Jean-François Lyotard’s assertion that postmodernity is defined by an increasingly widespread disbelief in metanarratives, which led to a change in focus for literature from singular truths to multiple truths, objective narration to subjective narration, and passive reading to active participation. The work of people such as Roman Ingarden and Wolfgang Iser on the interaction between reader and text is also related to this process, leading to the development of reader response and reception theory. Alongside these developments in narrative technique, Cathy Caruth’s work on trauma theory led to the the idea that trauma could be transmitted from writer to reader via literature through structural techniques that imitate the symptoms of PTSD such as delayed reception, flashback, and repetition. Travers pointed to the work of writers such as John Barth and Donald Barthelme as examples of postmodern texts featuring mutually exclusive narrative possibilities, and then to texts such as Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, and Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves as illustrative of the way this technique of mutual exclusivity can be adapted to represent the aporias of Caruthian trauma. Travers closed her presentation by suggesting that, because of a unique emphasis on audience participation, video games as a medium are particularly suited to this kind of trauma exploration. This is especially true of perpetrator trauma, where the systems of player choice which occurs in games such as Irrational’s BioShock, or Telltale’s The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us series can be used to force a player into confrontation with the consequences of their actions.

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House of Leaves’ textual trauma

I agree for the most part with Travers argument, and hopefully the belatedness of this review hasn’t caused me to misrepresent her findings. However, I’d like to make two minor (if not so brief) points. Firstly, as regards Twin Peaks, I think that it’s necessary to make a distinction between the depiction of trauma in the television series and the later film, Fire Walk with Me. The point of focalisation in the series is FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, which loosely frames Twin Peaks as a detective show. As such, while the show does probe into the trauma of its characters, this is always from an outside perspective with a view to mediation. While he’s ostensibly there to right the wrongs of the past and confront the metaphysical evil within, in time Cooper becomes a kind of surrogate therapist for the town, there to help its inhabitants learn to live with their guilt and shame. This is especially true of the conclusion to the Laura Palmer storyline (episode 16), where Cooper absolves Leland Palmer of his sins, and later, when challenged by Harry over his metaphysical explanation of events responds with the truly absurd line: “Harry, is it easier to believe a man would rape and kill his own daughter? Any more comforting?”. The idea of comfort is exactly what’s at question here – rather than deal with the harrowing emotional implications unleashed by these revelations, the series escapes into mythology, where all this can be safely framed within a much broader and impersonal Manichaean struggle. While I agree with Roger Luckhurst’s argument that the show depicts expressions of boundless grief so extreme that they push past melodrama, back into the realm of reality (200), the show’s tonal unevenness and unwillingness to deal seriously with the emotional consequences of its own plot make it difficult to argue strongly for it as a trauma narrative (though this negligence may itself tell us something about the difficulties of discussing trauma).

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Laura and Leland Palmer

Fire Walk with Me, however, I have no such qualms about. While the film starts out with a familiar detective story framing, this opening section only serves to parody the kind of genre hermeneutics employed by the series. Instead of Twin Peaks, where a serene exterior conceals the dark underbelly, Agent Baker is sent to Trout Creek, a nightmare reflection of the series where the rank, base, corruption of all is flagrant. This is not a town for a dashing outsider to come to and nurse back to health; whatever systemic evil there is in the world has taken root far too long ago. The healing potential offered by the investigative branch of federal government here meets an appropriately surrealist-comic end when Baker finds a clue and abruptly disappears himself, thereby offering a firm rebuttal to the notion that contrived heroism is any kind of a real balm to the traumatised individual or community.

From there on, the film engages directly with everything the series was only willing to approach through abstraction. The final days of Laura Palmer, her abuse at the hands of her father, and her tragic descent into self destruction are all dealt with in excruciating detail, and all through Laura’s own traumatised point of view. It’s this shift in focalization that redeems Twin Peaks as a trauma narrative. Because the narrative is subjective-experiential, instead of the show’s objective-investigative framing, it can engage with the kind of Caruthian expressionist techniques set out by Travers above. Similarly, this framing allows the film to deal with the perpetrator trauma of Leland in a much more serious way than the series’ rush to absolve. Though the film still reaches the same conclusion, and Leland seems to be forgiven, this is to be understood as a transcendent act of unimaginable divine grace on Laura’s part (as symbolised by the final reappearance of the angel), and can be read as such only because we are made to fully understand exactly how awful the sins she is asked to forgive are.

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FWWM’s moment of transcendence

The second point I’d like to make concerns the difference between “ordinary” trauma narratives and perpetrator narratives in video games. While critics such as Alan Gibbs may quite rightly call attention to the problems imposed by any rote binary opposition between these two types of narratives (167), for the moment I’d like to maintain this distinction because it is useful in illuminating the types of mechanics employed by games in their depiction of such genres. Travers is quite right to say that games excel at explorations of perpetrator trauma, and this is tied to a industry-wide predilection for power fantasies. When the most basic mechanic in the majority of games is to pull the trigger of a gun, and the goal of most games is to perform mass murder which has been framed in such a way so as not to bother the player too much with the consequences of their actions (famously termed “ludonarrative dissonance” by Clint Hocking), the reframing as perpetrator trauma actually requires relatively little change to the overall design. A game such as BioShock presents the player with a way to express themselves morally, and then at the denouement strips that choice away, or otherwise undermines the ethical standing and control over events you felt you had. To Travers’ above list, I’d add Modern Warfare 2‘s “no Russian” segment and Spec Ops: The Line as examples of games that pull off this trick relatively successfully.

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Curtain

However, for me, what’s far more interesting is games that attempt to explore the victimhood of trauma. While such an approach may now be bordering on cliche in literature (Gibbs singles out the work of Jonathan Safran Foer as a particularly egregious example, 148-159), especially when compared to the relative rarity of perpetrator traumas, the aforementioned tendency of games as a medium towards infliction of violence means that slow and uncomfortable meditations on the effect of that violence on the individual are far less frequent and by necessity more avant-garde in their mechanics. For instance, Porpentine’s Howling Dogs explores the emotional trauma of her hormone-replacement therapy by slowly constricting the space available for the player to explore. In a similar vein, Dreamfeel’s Curtain forces the player to repeatedly relive moments from an abusive relationship while frantically searching for an escape. A possible bridge between the experimental design of these games and the perpetrator trauma-focused games above is Richard Cowley’s I Cheated On You, a game where the player is made to repeatedly lie to their partner about their infidelity. As Aidan Wall claims, “I Cheated On You‘s story was easy to identify with as an observer, but it was in the ludic action of engaging with its mechanics that I became most aware of the cowardly processes I myself utilise to avoid and forego facing up to my guilt. It made me aware of my complicity” (148).

A game very close to my own heart which deals with trauma is Cardboard Computer’s Kentucky Route Zero. KRZ is an episodic, narrative-led point and click adventure game which draws heavily from Southern Gothic and Magic Realist fiction, as well as experimental theatre and film techniques. It certainly owes more than a passing debt to Twin Peaks in its realisation of abstract, surreal universes located deep in the American woodlands, and someone like FWWM‘s Carl Rodd would fit in well with KRZ’s catalogue of the disenfranchised. However, all this is just (admittedly gorgeous) set dressing for the issue at the heart of KRZ: trauma. This trauma takes a multitude of forms, but despite the abstract setting (or perhaps because of it), the problems of the characters always feel incredibly grounded in materiality. They deal with alcoholism, unemployment, debt, lack of health insurance, disruption of community, and loss of family. The player’s only way to respond to these kinds of losses is to talk to other characters and engage in social bonding. While you are presented with dialogue options, instead of allowing you to assert yourself in terms of moral superiority, all you can do is choose how to orientate yourself to the grief which imposes itself so insistently. Do you wallow in self pity? Or crack a joke? Or share a memory from your past that’s painful, in the hope that it might lighten the load of someone else. As Cara Ellison points out, KRZ is a game where the unsteady steady the unsteady. Much like Trout Creek, the Zero is no place for heroism, the problems here are ingrained too deeply, too systemic. Instead, as Ellison suggests, “it asks no questions, and gives no answers. The problems are part of the landscape of being. They are part of the experience of play. You can only go through them, you cannot run away from them. You can merely choose what you say in response”.

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Kentucky Route Zero

Works Cited

Cardboard Computer. Kentucky Route Zero. 2013-2016.

Crowley, Richard. I Cheated on You. 2013.

Dreamfeel. Curtain. 2014.

Ellison, Cara. “The Unsteady Steadying the Unsteady”. caraellison.co.uk. 08/11/2016.

Frost, Mark and Lynch, David, creators. Twin Peaks. Lynch/Frost Productions. 1991.

Gibbs, Alan. Contemporary American Trauma Narratives. Edinborough UP. 2014.

Hocking, Clint. “Ludonarrative Dissonance in Bioshock”. clicknothing.typepad.com. 07/10/2007.

Luckhurst, Roger. The Trauma Question. Routledge. 2008.

Porpentine. Howling Dogs. 2012.

Travers, Sean. ‘Who is the villain?: Perpetrator trauma and the role of the reader in American fiction’. University College Cork. 26/11/2016.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. David Lynch, director. CIBY Pictures. 1992.

Wall, Aidan. “Complicit and Guilty”. Critical Hits: An Indie Gaming Anthology ed. Zoe Jellicoe. pp.140-152. 2016.

Editor Jones: UCC Wikipedia Editathon 2017

Given that I’d spent last week crowing on about the need for academia to be more public-facing in its work, taking part in this week’s UCC Wikipedia editathon provided me with an opportunity to turn some of that bluster into action. The purpose of the event was to take what we had been researching as part of our Masters and use it to improve the quality of related Wikipedia pages. While this seemed a simple enough task, I wanted to take some time and think about how and why we use Wikipedia in relation to research. In pitching the assignment to us, our tutor had warned us of the difficulties of researching while working on a zero-hour contract with a college. When your ability to work is dependant on library and journal access that can be revoked on a bureaucratic whim, Wikipedia seems less like the bête noire of scholarship, and more like a sensible, open-access place to start research. And in truth, this is a much more honest depiction of our relationship to Wikipedia – while I’m not going to copy and paste text from a page into an assignment, I often use it as a way to find sources that I wouldn’t otherwise come across on JSTOR or other databases.

Seeing as good citation is something that is useful to me in my use of the site, I decided to try and give a little of that back. In researching Eugene O’Neill’s play The Emperor Jones recently, I’d noticed that the section concerning his influence on black actors was well fleshed out but almost completely lacking in references. I clearly wasn’t the first to notice this, as the section was riddled with [citation needed] marks, and seemed a prime candidate for deletion.

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Determined not to let good writing go to waste, I set about researching the topic, with a view to exposing some of those dusty books on the UCC library shelves to the public eye. This actually proved to also be a valuable research tactic, as I ended up having to read books on subjects I had thought only tangentially related to O’Neill’s work, such as the 1915 American occupation of Haiti, which greatly expanded my understanding of the social and political context he was writing in. And, while I didn’t manage to clear up all of those pesky citation tags, I did manage to improve the overall number of citations on the page by about a third.

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References section before…
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… and after

For just two hours of work (plus a few more in the library reading up on all of this), I was pleased with the improvement, and I hope the next person who comes along looking for directions to take their research will be find it useful.

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The page after editing