From the earliest traces of etchings on stone tablets to the emergence of Kindles and e-readers in contemporary society, humans have invented platforms for the creation and dissemination of text. Implicit in each textual object are the figures of the reader and writer and their differing engagement with the work. But what does it mean to be a reader or a writer, and how does each role play a part in the shaping of a text?
In 1967, Roland Barthes famously proclaimed the death of the author, arguing that it was for the reader to instil meaning in a text. Barthes’ essay questioned the existing hierarchy of writer above reader, and initiated new discussion on their roles. Reader response critics such as Hans Robert Jauss have also considered the impact of an individual’s experiences on textual interpretation. What effects have such theories had on previous understandings of the reader/writer relationship? How can we conceptualise these roles in an increasingly complex literary and textual environment?
It is not only the experiences of the individual reader and writer that are interrogated. We can now ask what role the market plays in redefining these two figures. Robert Darnton’s Communication Circuit draws attention to socio-political and commercial forces that impact the creation, production and distribution of a book. How do such models complicate the dialogical relationship between reader and writer?
How do literary devices alter our perception of the reader/writer figure? Those such as frame narratives and epistolary forms place readers and writers at the centre of the text, while the found manuscript and false document conceit in fiction work to remove the presence of the author in order to foster verisimilitude. What do these metafictions say about the changing social, cultural and intellectual nature of reading and writing?
Issue 23 of FORUM engages with a range of disciplines that consider the topic of readers and writers.
Editors: Matthew Tibble and Anahit Behrooz
Review Team Winter 2016: America Archer*, Emily Bartran, Suzanne Black, Brad Copper, Mila Daskalova*, Mary Dodd, Cristina Dodson, Paulina Drégvaité, James Gilbert, Katie Goh, Charlotte Kessler*, Harry Leonard, Kate Lewis Hood*, Harriet MacMillan, Emanuela Militeuo, Bridget Moynihan, Carolina Palacios, Robyn Pritzker, Sian Roberts, Toby Sharpe*, Dylan Taylor*, Marianne Tyvand.
Article editors are marked with a star (*)
Armed conflict has ravaged Syria for over four years. The initial protest against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has escalated to a civil war that has drawn intercession from major world powers, arguably exacerbating the situation, and maintaining the issue of ideological conflict at the forefront of popular culture and media. After the recent attacks in Beirut, Paris, and Bagdad, discussion has centred particularly on Islamophobia and the increasingly perceived dichotomy between Islamic and Western political systems. After Francis Fukuyama famously declared the end of the great ideological battles, Issue 22 of FORUM looks to explore instead Jasmine Gani’s suggestion that we should be “bringing back ideas,” when analysing this new era of entrenched conflict.
We might define ideological conflict as the mental, verbal or physical manifestation of dissension between two cultures with different sets of beliefs. Such cultural hostility might be characterised by xenophobia, ‘otherness’, or racial prejudice, all of which are saturated with the violent historical precedent which helped construct them. What light can be shed on today’s hostilities by the analysis of past example?
Conflicts can be between political systems, economic systems, religions, races, and even social philosophies, however, it doesn’t always occur on a grand scale - at a state or global level. The notion of private ideology also brings with it an internal conflict between personal belief and societal hegemony, raising questions about how an individual contends with this, imaginatively or pragmatically.
Chiefly, the violence that results from ideological conflict has been analysed using a rhetoric of ‘terror’ and ‘persecution’, yet the value of terms like these is clearly limited. How do we go about differentiating between nationalistic and religious components of ideological conflict? What purpose do we have for denotations such as ‘terrorist’, which are being used increasingly to justify state-sanctioned violence? And what of the notion that juxtaposed ideologies necessarily result in conflict?
Issue 22 of FORUM engages with the debate about ideological conflict and the use of ideology as a tool of analysis.
Editors: Emma Sullivan and Matthew Tibble
Review Team Spring 2016: Anahit Behrooz*, Kenneth Chan, Adam Clay, Camille Feidt*, Alex Grafen*, Julia Haase, Niki Holzapfel, Jo Hsu, Alice Kelly, Harriet MacMillan, Vicki Madden*, Genevieve McNutt, Kanokporn Nutchananonthep, Robyn Pritzker, Sarah Rengel, Vivek Santayana*, Thanos Spiliotakaras, Sarah Stewart, Joanna Wilson, Kelvin Wong Article editors are marked with a star (*)
There has been a significant shift in the boundaries between the private and public realm in recent years. The increasing indistinction between the two spheres has multiple causes, among them the rise of identity politics and the popularity of the confessional mode. The former might be said to underwrite the latter: the feminist rallying cry, ‘the personal is the political’ providing a substantial justification for radical autobiography. The motto continues as a cornerstone of feminist consciousness, as well as other forms of identity politics (after all, the agora remains predicated upon exclusion to some degree), but the ongoing consequences for public discourse are unclear. Some suggest that the privileging of positions based upon more and more specific identities promotes a form of narcissism or victimhood which threatens collective agency and the possibilities of larger conceptions of ‘the public good’.
While identity politics and the confessional mode have contributed to the enlargement of ‘the private’, the increasing dominance of the corporate model has led to the erosion of what has traditionally been conceived of as ‘the public’, most notably in the commercialisation of the media, and the edging out of the public-interest model. Institutions such as museums, universities and schools have also become defined by the corporate paradigm, and public space is increasingly no such thing. New technologies, in particular social media, have played their part in blurring the boundaries between public and private, formal and informal.
Has there been a retreat into private and individualised experience? Have the critical languages that might abstract this individualised experience been largely abandoned in favour of the logic of spectacle? What constitutes the public sphere in the contemporary moment? If the traditional notion of the public sphere involves a ‘top down' model, what are the possibilities for the ‘bottom-up’ paradigm offered by the commons, and enabled by online networks?
Issue 21 of FORUM engages with the debate about the distinctions or indistinctions between the private and public spheres.
Editors: Sarah Bernstein and Emma Sullivan
Review Team Winter 2015: Sarah Arens, Laura Beattie, Anahit Behrooz, Kenneth Chan, Michelle Devereaux, Chloe Elder*, Camille Feidt, Alex Grafen, Niki Holzapfel, Alice Kelly*, Julia Kropf, Mengchen Lang, Delaina Lawson*, Vicki Madden, Clara Martinez, Briar McFarlane, Iain McMaster, Alba Morollón, Bridget Moynihan, Feroz Salam, Vivek Santayana*, Justine Seran, Jennifer Shearman, Colin Smith*, Thanos Spiliotakaras, Sarah Stewart, Greer Temnick, Matthew Tibble, Amy Waterson, Kelvin Wong Article editors are marked with a star (*)
In Cruel Optimism (2011), Lauren Berlant asks why we stay “attached to conventional good-life fantasies – say of enduring reciprocity in couples, families, political systems, institutions, markets and at work – when the evidence of their instability, fragility, and dear cost abounds” (2). The post-1945 social consensus in Britain, the reproduction of the American Dream, and the social democratic promises made across Europe are political expressions of the good-life fantasy after World War Two. These social contracts have long since worn out, put under pressure from various financial crises since the 1970s and radical shifts in the political landscape. Meanwhile, we have witnessed the rollback of welfare, of healthcare benefits, of pensions; we have seen the casualisation of the workforce, massive unemployment, and the attenuation of trade union power. In short, as David Harvey writes, as the post-war boom broke up in the early 1970s, Europe and the United States in particular have sustained an extended period of flux, of change, and of uncertainty. How is it, then, that the fantasy of the good life persists in the face of such contingency? Why do we still need the model of a ‘good life’?
The role of matter has often been marginalised in much of philosophical thought. Rapid scientific and technological advances in the twentieth century, however, have since heightened the awareness of our place in the world as embodied human beings. This has revealed a pressing urgency to confront the ethical and political implications of our material practices within the dynamic terrain of contemporary times. As such, recognising the importance of material factors has led to an emergence of ways in which our prevailing understandings of material reality can be transformed. These recent accounts of a new materialist philosophy call for a redefinition of matter: not an inert or passive substance as traditionally conceived, but rather that which is in possession of an inherently unpredictable force and vitality.
Rituals exist as a result of the actions of specific people or institutions; we recognise those rituals because they are engrained in our cultural customs as much as they are ordained by law. The resulting rituals not only reinforce the beliefs or values of these specific communities, but simultaneously define these group identities. The articles in our Autumn 2013, Issue 17, explore the performance and performativity of rituals, both sacred and secular, with contributions gathered from architecture, literature, social sciences and philosophy.
With the invention of the internet - that infinite cyber space - our world has both radically expanded and contracted. Opened up, as our practice of interacting with others has been drastically changed; but contracted, as this freedom has altered our experience of spatial distance forever. Older technological advances, such as the invention of air travel, initiated this movement by enabling us to traverse and therefore grasp space in new ways. But it is not just our conception of material space that has altered; the impact has also changed our experience of mental space as well. Our world, our cities, our domestic, private, and public spaces have undergone a drastic re-definition; these new spaces have forced a change in our understanding of the nature of space itself.
How do we approach these changes and the questions they raise in film, art, music, literature, theatre, and media? In what ways have our changing relations with space altered our understanding of previous spatial conceptions? What does the future hold for our sense of space in a world composed of so many different kinds of spaces, non-spaces, and gaps in space? These changes have affected not only physical and mental space, but the very idea of space itself - its boundaries, its construction, its manipulation. To speak of space in these terms suggests that it is graspable, controllable, and claimable; how does this conception of space relate to the idea that it is negation itself? What exactly are we talking of when we try to articulate "space"?
Voice stands as a defining feature of the arts; even its absence is crucial to interpreting meaning. The issue of voice is central to cultures throughout history, to different genres, styles, and periods. A voice of the people, a voice of one's own, and a writer's voice - each depicts the importance of voice to subjectivity and subject-formation, to origins and originality. Stephen M. Ross describes voice as the essence of a story, noting that "a story - its persons and places, its deeds and disappointments - may be nothing more than the voice that tells it." The same is true for a story told in any medium, through art, music, film, drama, literature: it has, in Ross's words, "no existence without voice, before or after voice, beyond or behind voice."
Voice serves a crucial role in the development of our own subjectivity and sense of identity, but can there be such a thing as an objective voice? We need to problematise the concept of voice, its possible meanings and implications. How can voices be employed and created in different mediums, and to what effect? Who is given a voice, to whom is it denied, and what are the implications of voice versus silence? And what of non-human voices? How are voices used in dialogue to explore, to express, to create, to question? How has voice been wielded to achieve such aims, and can it be? Can it be truly captured, can it be manipulated?
The issue opens with a guest article by Homay King examining the intersection between the “desire to know” and Orientalist elements of mise en scene within the genre of film noir. The discussion of cinematic representations of desire continues with articles on murder and the gaze in 1960s British film and female effigies in contemporary film Lars and the Real Girl. Turning to literature, an analysis of Angela Carter's novel The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman looks at the function of desire within identity formation; while an essay on Gerard Manley Hopkins's confessional notes presents a new take on a popular topic: forbidden longing. In moving between the personal and the universal, the forbidden and the permissible, the articles in this issue present a spectrum of approaches to and understandings of desire and its aesthetic incarnations.
As the 5th issue of FORUM, the University of Edinburgh Postgraduate Journal for Culture and the Arts demonstrates the apocalypse has proved to be a resilient cultural trope throughout human history. Dr Darryl Jones' wide-ranging guest article provides historical context for the treatment of the apocalyptic tone in literature, setting the scene for the literary discussions of the 19th century short stories of Wilkie Collins and George Eliot, the Science Fiction novels of George Turner and the more contemporary concerns of Don Delillo's work. The flexible nature of the apocalyptic theme is reflected in two papers investigating the use of apocalyptic tone in two non-literary media forms, namely the eco-concerns of the films of Rolf de Heers and the sonic experience of the apocalypse in Tom Waits' Bone Machine, while a more philosophical approach is adopted in the discussions of our ability to linguistically comprehend the "end" post-Trinity, and the radical eco-activism of the Earth First! movement