Blog Portfolio

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

– “Plain Killing: Scenes of Slaughter in the Work of Goya and McCarthy”. Ciango, WordPress, 30/11/16.

– “A Pleasant Way: On Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Doer of Good'”. Ciango, WordPress, 23/12/16.

– “Towards an Academic Imperative”. Ciango, WordPress, 1/2/17.

– “Editor Jones: UCC Wikipedia Editathon 2017”. Ciango, WordPress, 12/2/17.

– “Sean Travers: ‘Who is the villain?; Perpetrator trauma and the role of the reader in American fiction'”. Ciango, WordPress, 1/3/17.

– “Textualities 17 Live Blog: Panel 4”. Ciango, WordPress, 10/3/17.

– “Textualities ’17 Conference Reflections. Ciango, WordPress, 23/3/17.

– “David Pattie : ‘”At me too someone is looking”; Hidden Coercion in Beckett’s Theatre’. Ciango, WordPress, 26/3/17.

– “Literature Review”. Ciango, WordPress, 27/3/17.


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.

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:

Textualities 17 Live Blog: Panel 4


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.

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.


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.

References section before…
… 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.

The page after editing