30 November 2010


Please join us for the final "The Uses of Literature" seminar of this term. The English Department's own Maebh Long will be speaking about the futures of literary theory in a paper entitled "Whither deconstruction…? Wither deconstruction…?". The paper will be followed by open forum discussion and a trip to the Victoria, in the usual way.

“The future of literary criticism will be Derridean, or it will not be. And if it is... not, it will have been Derridean, since it was he who first envisioned critically the possibility of a future from which literature—and, a fortiori, literary criticism—might be absent”. Richard Klein, “The Future of Literary Criticism” PMLA 125.4 (2010).

In the brave new world in which we live futures and fates are very much under scrutiny. The tragedy/farce of the Browne Report has precipitated – exacerbated – the prevailing sense of being haunted by the future, of being under siege by an inevitable and inescapable fate. Futures are closed off within a dystopian use of the future perfect that attempts to repress the openness of what Derrida termed the “to come”. This paper looks at the “to come” of the humanities, and specifically literary theory, and works to find some openness and possibility within the withering gaze of a potentially bleak future.

Maebh Long has submitted her doctoral thesis on Jacques Derrida and irony, which she wrote under the supervision of Prof. Timothy Clark, and is currently awaiting her viva. Her work attempts to position Derrida within a lineage of thinkers working on the borders of literature and philosophy who exploit irony, a non-propositional element of language, as a cognitive resource. Long was Chief Editor of the postgraduate journal Kaleidoscope (2008-2010), was co-convenor of Inventions of the Text (2008-2009) and co-convenor the English department’s theory reading group (2007-2010). "A Step Askew: Ironic Parabasis in Blanchot" in Blanchot Romantique, ed. by John McKeane and Hannes Opelz (Bern: Peter Lang, 2010) has just been published, and "Radical Digressivity and At Swim-Two-Birds" is forthcoming in Textual Wanderings: The Theory and Practice of Narrative Digressions, ed. by Rhian Atkin (Oxford: Legenda, 2011).

2 November 2010


For the third seminar in our "The Uses of Literature" series, we're delighted to welcome Dr Andrew Crumey, award-winning novelist and lecturer in Creative Writing at Newcastle University. He originally trained as a theoretical physicist and is a former literary editor of Scotland on Sunday. His most recent novel Sputnik Caledonia (Picador) was shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize and Scottish Book of the Year Award.

What is the knowledge-content of fiction? We could consider this as an institutional question, asking what makes the creative component of a Creative Writing PhD a “contribution to knowledge”. More generally, we could seek a conceptualisation of knowledge applicable to literature or art in general.

By taking the institutional model first, we address the problem in a practical way, raising fundamental questions of creative writing pedagogy (e.g. can writing be taught?). This will motivate an approach to the more general theoretical question, raising a contrast between the (relative) stability of empirical scientific knowledge and the evident instability of artistic taste. Given that the object of taste is often considered to be “form” rather than “content”, an issue is to ask how “knowledge-content” can be distinguished from “informational content”.

The emphasis is thus on a practice-led approach: this paper will draw on the author’s practical experience as novelist and creative writing teacher, rather than on any formal theoretical apparatus, with the aim of extracting insights applicable beyond personal artistic practice.

For more information about Andrew, please visit his website here:

An interview with Andrew in The Independent:

And his page from the Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts:

23 October 2010


Join us for the second of our "The Uses of Literature" series for a talk that explores how climate change is employed to expose age old poetic concerns, and calls for a new account of the cultural significances of this massive anti-glacial effort on the part of humanity.

15 October 2010


Join us for the first in our "The Uses of Literature" series:

Against the background of the ubiquity of ‘interdisciplinarity’ and now endemic concerns about ‘the profession’, this paper seeks, first, to retrace the history of the professionalization of Literary Studies in the twentieth century, proceeding from the rise of so-called Russian Formalism in the Soviet 1920s. The broad purpose of this brief retrospective is to isolate ...certain particular ways in which institutional factors have influenced the evolution of discipline and to highlight the sense in which, for the humanities at least, the cloak of interdisciplinarity has concealed a state of ‘war’. The second part of the paper involves a return to the selected point of origin – ‘Russian Formalism’ – in order to suggest a corrective reconceptualisation of the ways in which humanities disciplines in general might be viewed. This will entail a revisionist view not only of Formalism itself, but also of the ways in which genre has been conceived in Literary Studies. In an echo of the ways in which a Bakhtinian (Barthesian) conception of the ‘war of languages’ implies a re-conceptualisation of literary genre, the objective is to examine how genre can be deployed in order to understand – and defuse – the ‘war of disciplines’.

Alastair Renfrew taught at the universities of Strathclyde and Exeter before coming to Durham as Reader and Head of Russian in 2007. He is Director of Research in the School of Modern Languages & Cultures and has recently become Editor of the journal Slavonica. His main area of research specialization is critical and literary theory, with particular emphasis on the Soviet 1920s. He has published widely on Mikhail Bakhtin and the so-called Russian Formalists, including the monograph Towards a New Material Aesthetics (Legenda, 2006) and the recent collection Critical Theory in Russia and the West (Routledge 2010). He is currently completing an introduction to Bakhtin for Routledge Critical Thinkers. He has also taught and published on Russian and Soviet Cinema, Russian and Scottish Literature and is currently developing a project on the history of political violence in Russian literature and culture.

8 October 2010


We're delighted to announce the programme of Inventions of the Text events for the upcoming term. All sessions are held at the seminar room at Hallgarth House, Hallgarth Street, Durham. We begin at 6pm, and sessions are generally followed by drinks and discussion afterwards at the Victoria.

Wednesday 20th October 2010 (note amended date)
"Discipline and Genre"
Alastair Renfrew
(School of Modern Language and Cultures, Durham University)

Wednesday 27th October 2010
"Why We Don't Write Poems About Climate Change"
Matthew Griffiths
(Department of English Studies, Durham University)

Wednesday 10th November 2010
"Knowledge in Creative Writing"
Andrew Crumey
(School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics, Newcastle University)

Wednesday 1st December 2010
"Wither Deconstruction?... Whither Deconstruction?"
Maebh Long
(Department of English Studies, Durham University)

Speakers later in the series will include Vic Sage (University of East Anglia), Richard Walsh (University of York) and James Annesley (University of Newcastle).

2 September 2010


Inventions of the Text is a fortnightly staff-student forum run by postgraduate students from the Department of English Studies at Durham University. It is an opportunity for postgraduate students and staff to present their research in the form of a 20-minute paper, and to contribute to lively discussion on key issues raised.

How to contribute
Please send an email indicating your interest, together with an abstract of 100-200 words to

"The Uses of Literature"
Our theme for this year’s series is “The Uses of Literature”. Literature and literary study is being forced to justify itself as never before. New higher education funding proposals have brought fears about the effects of socio-economic impact assessment on research in the arts and humanities. Traditional claims for literature as “the best that has been thought or said” have been replaced by a more sceptical attitude about literature’s social and cultural power – its role can now only be provisional. Literary critics and theorists are also in the firing line. The academic Left, it has been argued, is “rotten with theory”. Ever-suspicious, is has been criticised for finding its own gloomy diagnosis in every text – often at the expense of the text itself. Literature as a form of knowledge has apparently been outstripped by the natural and social sciences. What’s more, the future of the book itself is uncertain, with digital media threatening to usurp its old print counterpart.

Inventions of the Text hopes to make a challenging and timely intervention in these debates. We invite papers that reflect on the forms and functions of literature and literary study in its broadest sense. We encourage those that examine the role of literature in its social, cultural and economic contexts and also those that challenge this sense of “crisis”. Should literature have to justify itself at all? Does this emphasis on use value of literature short-change the vital and varied roles of literature in culture?

This year, Inventions of the Text invites you to engage with fundamental questions of why we do what we do.

Topics include, but are by no means limited to:

The novel in culture
Literary translation & possibilities for a global literature
The novel & the political
Realism & experimentation
Genre mixing & hybrid forms
The novel form in the digital age
New developments in narratology

Poetry, creation & value
Poetic knowledge: poetry vs. theory/philosophy
Publishing poetry: the small press & the "little magazine"
Poetry & everyday life
Poetry & the academy

Literature as literary criticism
Cognition vs. affect
Ideologies of reading
Historicism & cultural memory studies

19 January 2010

Epiphany Term Programme of Speakers

All seminars start at 6.30 and take place in the Seminar Room at Hallgarth House

Tuesday 26th January Dr. Matthew Bevis (York University) “Counting Tennyson”

Tuesday 9th February Rosie Baker (Russian Dept.) “Internal v. External: A Case of Revolutionary Justice in Lev Kuleshov's 'By the Law' (1926)”

Tuesday 23rd February Stephanie Dumke “Shelley's Relationship to Goethe through the Lens of the Theory of Colours”

Tuesday 9th March Jahnavi Misra “The Idea of Justice in Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss”

Tuesday 16th March Terence H.W. Shih “Cognitive Science: Percy Shelley’s Queen Mab”