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VOLUME 6 | ISSUE 2 | 2021

Janine Hauthal, Mathias Meert, Ann Peeters, Andrea Penso and Hannah Van Hove, "Introduction"

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Karen Eckersley, "Crossing over: Encountering Materialist Entanglements in Elizabeth Bishop's Surrealist Poems 'The Monument' and 'The Weed'"

In Elizabeth Bishop’s surrealist poetry we witness how matter "is the vast stuff of the world and ourselves" as Stacy Alaimo posits.  This article argues that Bishop’s early writing speaks to the agentic vibrancy of all matter in the manner that she forges shifting, malleable topographies which exhibit a slippage between human and non-human forces.  In this way her poetry conjures intra-active contact zones between human and non-human phenomena, creating "in-between" spaces which speak to a new materialist approach.  I suggest that Bishop’s surrealist configurations in her poetry point to the contingent tableau that characterises the common materiality of all life, thereby holding anthropocentric perspectives to account.

This materialist reading of Bishop’s poetry is underpinned by Jane Bennett’s so-called "Thing-Power" and Stacy Alaimo’s "trans-corporeal" thinking.  Specifically, I argue that Bennett’s "Thing-Power" provides an affirmative lens through which to analyse Bishop’s poem "The Monument," where Cartesian presumptions about seemingly inanimate objects’ inertia are unravelled to give voice to "the efficacy of objects in excess of human meanings.’" I investigate how the human speaker’s entanglement with the monument is manifest in their shared material ontologies which intra-act and metamorphose via their encounters.  In this way Bishop enacts a phenomenal cross-over which breaches Humanism’s boundaries to assert what physicist Karen Barad would call "a dynamic and shifting entanglement of relations.’" Bishop’s opening line asking "Now can you see the monument?" is in itself an invitation to begin to perceive this statue differently; to cross-over from presumptions about its inert ontology towards recognising how its materiality implicates the human spectator.  The manner in which Bishop points to its mobility, both in its capacity to affect human imagination as well as via its physical intra-actions, speaks to the "curious ability of the inanimate to animate."

Such cross-overs, which rupture boundaries via their lively entanglements, are similarly exhibited in Bishop’s most surrealist of poems "The Weed.’" In this example, I continue to explore the theme of entanglement but with a focus upon the inter-connections between human and nature.  I posit that the poem is an anticipatory vision of what Alaimo describes as a "trans-corporeality" where the human is "inter-meshed with the more-than-human-world" demonstrating how humans are in fact, "inseparable from the environment."  The movement across ontologies that I investigate in "The Monument" is similarly examined in "The Weed" as it speaks to a trans-corporal mode that reveals the inter-changes and interconnections between all ontologies.  Bishop’s oneiric poem, which describes how a human body becomes entwined with a weed, speaks to a communion of human and nature in a manner which is indicative of the porosity of all bodily boundaries.  In this agentive space Bishop forges a liminality that closes the gap between human and non-human phenomena where the slippage between the weed and a human speaker eludes the epistemological boundaries that Humanism contrives.  In Bishop’s poetic space, the natural world is as agentive as the human speaker, entangling them in on-going intra-actions that speak to lively topographies where, as Bennett posits, all phenomena are "aquiver with virtual force."

Keywords: entanglement, intra-actions, surrealism, new materialism, trans-corporeality.

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Sarah Lawson Welsh, "Jay Bernard's Surge: Archival Interventions in Black British Poetry"

Many of the poems in Jay Bernard’s Surge (2019) were inspired by Bernard’s 2017 residency at the George Padmore Institute, London, an experience that allowed them to access the Institute’s unique archives on black British history. This article considers both the politics and aesthetics of Surge as a collection which addresses the social and material in/exclusions experienced by black Britons within some specific historical and socio-cultural contexts, including the 1981 New Cross and 2017 Grenfell fires in London. Drawing on theoretical insights such as Derrida’s concepts of "hauntology" and "archive fever," this article argues that the notion of the archive is central to both the aesthetic and political project of Surge. The varied formal and aesthetic experimentation of many of the poems allow Bernard to ask some challenging questions of British society and its relation to its history, as well as the complex tension between public histories and personal accounts. Bernard harnesses the power of poetry to queer or unsettle other kinds of discourse (including orthodox historical narrative) by imaginatively re-embodying hitherto disembodied voices, enabling them to speak in the interstices between private memory and public history in some unique (and strikingly affecting) ways.

Keywords: memory, history, the archive, hauntology, queer.

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Jade Thomas, "From Freakshow to Sitcom: Metatheatrical (Dis)Continuities in Contemporary African American Plays"

This article explores how the representation of Black bodies in experimental African American theater has changed in the last decade by comparing Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Fairview (2018) to Suzan-Lori Parks’s Venus (1995). Firstly, it identifies how both plays incorporate Joanne Tompkins’ three categories of postcolonial metatheater, i.e., counter-discourse, allegory and mimicry, by means of established metatheatrical strategies such as the play within the play or direct audience address. Secondly, it examines how the plays evoke the structures of other popular (media) genres by drawing on Irina O. Rajewsky’s concept of intermedial reference. As a working hypothesis, the article posits that both plays use postcolonial metatheater but with a different dramaturgical effect to implicate the audience in the dynamics of the white gaze and to interrogate the lasting impact of popular (media) genres in framing Black bodies.

Keywords: African American theater, intermediality, Jackie Sibblies Drury, postcolonial metatheater, Suzan-Lori Parks

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Irina Stanova, Ann Peeters, “The Visual Representation of Power Relationships in the Film Adaptations of William Somerset Maugham's The Painted Veil

Focusing on William Somerset Maugham’s novel The Painted Veil (1925) and its three adaptations (1934, 1957, 2006), the article explores the visual aspects of power balance in a marital relationship. The analysis of the films’ mise-en-scène and blocking provides insights into the protagonists’ complex power struggle, and a graphical representation of a central scene offers a visual way of highlighting the fluctuation of the characters’ positions of power. The article argues that personal confrontation as shown in the film adaptations is representative to a certain extent of gender roles pertaining to the period in which both the original novel and the film adaptations were produced. It also demonstrates how restructuring of power dynamics occurs in the supposedly stable family hierarchy.

Keywords: film adaptation, power dynamics, gender roles, William Somerset Maugham, visual analysis

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Tímea Mészáros, “Literary Spaces and the Aesthetics of Deprivation: Isolation and Textual Artefacts in Dear Esther (2012)”

This study explores the intermedial qualities in the storytelling techniques literary walking simulators exhibit. The various ways in which literariness appears in video games will be elucidated by revisiting existing theories and further clarifying the notion of literary-ludic hybrids. By analysing Dear Esther (The Chinese Room, 2012), it will be argued that literary devices, themes, and symbolism define the meaning construction of the subgenre. To this end, the themes of isolation and absence as well as the game’s use of ellipses will be examined along with the aesthetic element of textual artefacts as a substitute for character interaction.

Keywords: literary video games, walking simulators, spatial storytelling, player experience, metamediality

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Alexandra Saemmer, “'What's on Your Mind?' - A Literary Dialogue with the Machine-Computer”

All software tools are based on models of human action, desire, perception and cognition; they anticipate the user’s expectations, engage them in a dialogue based more or less on transparent presumptions. Architext” is what the French researchers Yves Jeanneret and Emmanuel Souchier called the highly structured writing interface of tools and platforms. Recently, the formatting process of the text has taken a new turn which I refer to as “computext.” While architext imposes a form on media content, computext anticipates its very production, and sometimes even writes instead of the author, as if the machine is able to read their mind.

Software tools are not neutral intermediaries. They embody the viewpoints of their owners and engineers. The relationship between the “voices” inside the produced text can be disturbing, if not dissonant. From the infancy of net art to today’s writings on social networks, these tensions have been reflected by writers who attempt to deconstruct it.

In this article, I will locate the poetics of digital literature in the dialogical process that occurs between the human and the machine, rather than in the result produced. I will explore this hypothesis through a techno-semiotic analysis of literary works created by other authors and by myself.

Keywords: architext, computext, text generators, autocompletion, digital poetics

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Camille Intson, “Intimacy betweenspace/s: Towards a Transmedial Practice of Digital Intimacy”

This paper discusses and retrospectively analyzes a performance research practice of digital intimacy, which emerged in the creation of the experimental online work betweenspace, having premiered at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama's annual Brink Festival in June 2020. With roots in the entangled disciplines of performance, electronic literature, multimedia, and installation, betweenspace is billed as an interactive map of a North London flat. This project pursues an intimacy that is not solely human-to-human, but also human-to-object, in order to answer the supplementary question of: when we are digitally intimate, what precisely are we becoming intimate with? This paper will suggest that a digital intimacy involves all objects and technologies between the persons involved in dyadic communicative exchange, and that a rejection of rigid boundaries between technology and the self, the human and the non-human, as well as the digital and the physical allows for increased intimate interactivity between humans, objects, and technologies. Through an analysis of first-hand participant accounts of the work, this paper will explore the successes and shortcomings of the practice, situating its findings within larger theoretical discussions of the nature, and possibilities, of a practice of digital intimacy.

Keywords: practice-as-research, digital intimacy, electronic literature, multimedia, pandemic performance

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Elisabeth Bekers and VUB Students, “On Chiselling, Pruning and Trimming: Chika Unigwe in Conversation about Better Never Than Late.” Transcribed by Emre Ok.

Chika Unigwe is a writer of fiction, poetry and educational books and regularly contributes to newspapers in different continents. Her most recent work is a collection of short stories entitled Better Never Than Late (2019), the work on which this conversation focuses. This interview originally took place during a webinar in the context of the “Postcolonial Literature in English” Master course taught by Prof. dr. Elisabeth Bekers at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in the autumn of 2020. Students in the “Master Taal- en Letterkunde” and the international “Multilingual Master in Linguistics and Literary Studies” introduced the author to the guests in the audience (which included colleagues and students from VUB and beyond) and prepared and asked the questions. Participants were invited to ask questions or share their observations regarding passages in the text that spoke to them in particular. Emre Ok subsequently transcribed the interview, which was later edited by Elisabeth Bekers.

Key words: Chika Unigwe, Better Never Than Late, Belgium, Nigerian diaspora, migration

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