When literature takes you by surprise: or, the case against trigger warnings



File 20180808 142251 v6eder.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A makeshift memorial to Eurydice Dixon at Princes Park on June 16.
Ellen Smith/AAP

Stephanie Trigg, University of Melbourne

It was an ordinary lecture to first-year students, on “Women Writers and Modernism.” My brief was to introduce the different ways men and women responded to the social, intellectual and artistic challenges of the modernist movement.

This is a subject about the literature of the early 20th century, but it tackles some difficult social questions too. While men were facing the horrors of war, the challenges of industrialisation and the disruption of many familiar intellectual and social hierarchies, women were gaining access to education, greater participation in the democratic process, and fuller employment.

I told the students that several days ago on talkback radio, where the topic was sexual and domestic violence against women, I had heard a caller say that many men felt threatened by women’s increasing participation in the workforce. These were complicated issues, I said, but it did seem that we were still rehearsing arguments that were current over a hundred years ago, and that these patterns of anxiety were part of broader systemic patterns associated with patriarchy and capitalism.

A 1917 portrait of Hilda Doolittle.
Wikimedia Commons

But it was time to turn to my women writers. I began with Hilda Doolittle (re-named “H.D.” by Ezra Pound), and talked about the way many women writers re-wrote classical stories from a woman’s perspective. I clicked on to my next slide, part of her poem written in 1916, Eurydice.

I stopped. Silence fell around me, and I could not speak. I tried again, but could not get out a word. I had been in full rhetorical flight in front of several hundred students, but suddenly felt an awful silence spreading, as my students realised first that something was wrong, and then as they realised why I had stopped.

The elegant and unusual name Eurydice — and the awful death through sexual violence of a young woman, less than a kilometre north of our campus, less than two months ago — was resonating powerfully in the lecture theatre.

Unable to speak, I felt a moment’s panic and shame, fearing the students would think I had staged the whole thing for dramatic effect. For surely I could not be surprised by my own choice of text.

I gathered myself together, reminded the students of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice (abducted by Hades into the Underworld and released into Orpheus’ care on condition he not look back until he leads her into the sunlight), and read these lines.

So you have swept me back,
I who could have walked with the live souls
above the earth,
I who could have slept among the live flowers
at last;

so for your arrogance
and your ruthlessness
I am swept back
where dead lichens drip
dead cinders upon moss of ash;

so for your arrogance
I am broken at last,
I who had lived unconscious,
who was almost forgot;

if you had let me wait
I had grown from listlessness into peace,
if you had let me rest with the dead,
I had forgot you
and the past.

Eurydice Dixon.
AAP

The students were still and silent as I read. Hearing this voice of a dead woman from the mythical past called up the presence — I think we all felt it — of the young woman whose story we all knew. For those few moments, we held vigil for Eurydice Dixon.

This is what it feels like to be “triggered” by literature, to have a fictional incident or even a name suddenly ambush you from your train of thought, your narrative curiosity, and your readerly pleasure. Literature can take your breath away, even when the trauma it recalls is a communal one, not a personal tragedy.

And yet I only half-heartedly, and only occasionally give “trigger warnings,” advising students that they may encounter violence and trauma of various kinds in literary texts. The best argument for such warnings is not that students can then refuse to read, but that students suffering post-traumatic stress may prepare themselves for the confronting business of discussing literary texts in classes: the emotional engagement with others in a public setting.

Titian’s Orpheus and Eurydice, painted circa 1508.
Wikimedia Commons

Such warnings testify to the very real power of literary texts to challenge and confront us, often in ways we cannot anticipate.

But this incident also reveals the impossibility of such warnings. There was no way I could have known I would be taken so deeply by surprise at my own response; no way I would ever have warned students that a poem about a mythical abduction to the Underworld might trigger this awful feeling.

Literature works in mysterious and unpredictable ways. This episode reminds us of its astonishing capacity to strike emotional chords and resonances. Such moments can make us feel awful, and uncomfortable, and can disrupt our carefully managed public and professional performances of the self, but they can also generate strong emotional connections between people, across time and different cultures. Of course I can’t be sure what all the students were thinking, though an unusual number of them came up to me afterwards and thanked me for the lecture.

The ConversationMoreover, if literature produces this sting, it also produces the cure. Seeing H.D.’s beautiful poem on my screen gave me the courage to go on, and to do justice to her work. The poem gave me the words to say next. Reading that poem — finding structure and pattern in its cadences; and finding a voice in its lyrical core — produced poetic order out of emotional chaos.

Stephanie Trigg, Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor of English Literature, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Grand Buildings of Literature


The link below is to an article that takes a look at some of the grandest buildings of literature.

For more visit:
https://lithub.com/a-tour-of-the-grandest-buildings-in-literature/

Australia’s taste for translated literature is getting broader, and that’s a good thing



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Small Australian presses are publishing more contemporary works originally written in languages other than English.
Wikimedia, CC BY-NC-SA

Alice Whitmore, Monash University

Iraqi author Ahmed Saadawi’s novel has been shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize.
CC BY-NC-SA

With today’s announcement of the winner of the Man Booker International Prize shortlist, translation again finds itself in the foreground of the literary landscape. This year’s shortlist includes novels translated from a diverse array of languages including Arabic (Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi), Hungarian (László Krasznahorkai’s The World Goes On) and Korean (The White Book by Han Kang).

In 2016, the prize evolved from a biennial event, designed to honour one living author’s overall contribution to fiction on the world stage, to a yearly prize for fiction in translation. In Australia, too, literary translation is experiencing something of a moment. Shokoofeh Azar’s The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, translated from Farsi, was recently shortlisted for the Stella Prize.

While Europe remains the overwhelming source of translated fiction in Australia, European writing is no longer restricted to classics and bestsellers. Scandinavian crime thrillers are still reliable favourites, but we are also seeing a greater range of Scandinavian literary fiction in translation, alongside relatively underrepresented European languages like Polish and Hungarian.
Witold Szabłowski’s Dancing Bears (translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones) and Péter Gárdos’s Fever at Dawn (translated by Liz Szász) are outstanding recent examples of the latter.

Text is the local publisher of Flights by Polish author Olga Tokarczuk, which has been shortlisted for the 2018 Booker International Prize.
CC BY-NC-SA

There are also more works of Asian, Middle Eastern and Latin American literature emerging in translation: Un-su Kim’s forthcoming novel The Plotters, translated by Sora Kim-Russell; Nir Baram’s A Land Without Borders, translated by Jessica Cohen; and Chris Andrews’s forthcoming translation of Marcelo Cohen’s Melodrome, to name just a few.

This suggests the growing openness of Australian readerships towards the rich cultural imaginations of the most intensely othered parts of the world. Literary connections with places like these also link Australia more closely to the experiences of its growing migrant communities.

The translation turn

Two decades ago, translation scholars Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere argued that, as a result of the “coming of age” of translation studies and cultural studies, both disciplines had shifted away from their “Eurocentric beginnings” towards “a new internationalist phase”. Since then, reading cultures across the English-speaking world have taken a similar turn, embracing and engaging with translated literature as never before.

Indonesian author Intan Paramaditha’s book of short stories is published in Australia by Brow Books.
CC BY-NC-SA

In Australia, small and independent presses have been leading the charge. Brow Books, the new books imprint of Melbourne literary magazine The Lifted Brow, recently announced a co-publishing agreement with UK-based publisher Tilted Axis Press. Brow Books will be kicking off the partnership in August with the Australian publication of South Korean novelist Han Yujoo’s The Impossible Fairytale (translated by Janet Hong).

In 2018 the rights to Brow Books’ first translated title – the short fiction collection Apple and Knife, written by Indonesian-born Intan Paramaditha and translated by New Zealand scholar Stephen Epstein – were sold to Harvill Secker, an imprint of Random House UK, demonstrating that Australian translations have global appeal, too.

Other, more established independent presses have strengthened their commitment to translated literature in recent years. Text Publishing is a mainstay of literary translation in Australia, and is the local publisher of two titles on this year’s Man Booker International longlist: Wu Ming-Yi’s The Stolen Bicycle and Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights, (the latter has been shortlisted for the prize). Text also publishes acclaimed international authors like Herman Koch, Yuri Herrera and Marie Darrieussecq, and has been known to dabble in popular psychology, memoir, and other non-fiction genres in translation.

Melbourne and London-based Scribe and Sydney-based Giramondo have both made strides in publishing translated literature. With the launch of Giramondo’s new Southern Latitudes series, devoted to writers from the southern hemisphere, it is set to publish more Latin American work in translation in coming years.

Melodrome, Argentine author Marcelo Cohen’s forthcoming novel, will be published by Giramondo.
CC BY-NC-SA

What emerges from this snapshot of the literary translation scene, both here and abroad, is the crucial role played by small and independent presses. Such publishers are the lifeblood of marginal, challenging and “unprofitable” literature, whether local or international.

The fact is, Australians are reading – and publishing – literature in translation, and their tastes are broader than ever. Indeed, in the face of mounting political isolationism, translated fiction might just be the thing to save us. Translation provides a kind of window (if a temporary and sometimes foggy one) onto the experiences and imaginations of people we would never normally have the chance to observe.

The ConversationThese books give us a glimpse of lives just as real and complex and miserable and beautiful, imaginations just as vivid and dark and brilliant and playful as our own. If Australians are reading more widely, this can only be a good thing.

Alice Whitmore, Assistant lecturer, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Nobel Prize for Literature 2018 Cancelled


The links below are to articles reporting on the canceling of the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature.

For more visit:
https://bookriot.com/2018/05/04/news-the-nobel-prize-in-literature-2018-cancelled-in-the-wake-of-metoo/
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/may/04/nobel-prize-for-literature-2018-cancelled-after-sexual-assault-scandal
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/may/04/nobel-literature-prize-postponement-attempts-to-retain-some-dignity

Norway’s Digital Archive


The link below is to an article reporting on Norway’s sensible digital archive program for literature.

For more visit:
https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/12/norway-decided-to-digitize-all-the-norwegian-books/282008/

Literature has long been sounding the alarm about sexual violence in Hollywood



File 20171204 22986 1u52pg0.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
For decades, novels have implored readers to look beyond the glamour and riches.
Trey Ratcliff, CC BY-NC-SA

Billy J. Stratton, University of Denver

Recent revelations about Hollywood’s culture of sexual harassment and violence might come as a surprise to many Americans.

After all, Los Angeles – home of what some call “the American image factory” – has long carried the allure of glamour, wealth and fame. Beckoned by the iconic Hollywood sign in the Santa Monica Mountains, the city, in many regards, has become synonymous with the American dream.

People familiar with the industry might tell a more complicated story. That group includes writers who have made Los Angeles and Hollywood their subjects: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nathanael West, Evelyn Waugh, Gore Vidal, Joan Didion and Bret Easton Ellis. All have chronicled a seamier side of the California dream, a world awash with drugs, sex, violence and abuses of power.

So how did so many of us miss this? Could it have anything to do with the fact Americans who read literature recently fell to a three-decade low?

At the very least, the works of these writers show that literature can play an imperative role in our culture – that novels can give us a means of facing difficult issues that many of us may prefer to ignore, or don’t want to believe exist.

A city of vampires

In numerous novels since the 1930s, Hollywood’s underbelly has been revealed as a landscape rife with peril. And while many writers have explored the vice, corruption and disillusionment at the heart of Hollywood, few have gone deeper into the shadows than Nathanael West and Bret Easton Ellis.

West’s 1939 novel, “The Day of the Locust,” depicts the struggles of Faye Greener, an aspiring actress in pursuit of Hollywood fame and fortune – a dream laid waste by the men she meets along the way, who see her as little more than an object of their desires.

Pursued and stalked throughout the novel, Greener eventually turns to prostitution to make a living. Worse yet, to the novel’s protagonist, she’s the subject of disturbing rape fantasies. The story ends in a frenzy of violence at a Hollywood movie premiere – West’s ultimate denunciation of a culture and a city.

More than 40 years later, the characters of Bret Easton Ellis’s fiction are subjected to almost unspeakable forms of trauma and sexualized violence in “Less Than Zero” and “The Informers.”

In “Less Than Zero,” billboards emblazoned with the words “Disappear Here” loom over the landscape. They’re apparently advertisements that invite a blissful escape to some far-off resort. But for the novel’s main character, they become a menacing warning of a city that devours all who live and work there.

The novel’s main character, Clay, descends into the darkest recesses of this world – a journey to, as he puts it, “see the worst.” And indeed he does.

Although some of the horrors he witnesses occur in back alleys and basement clubs, the most shocking forms of violence – rapes, the viewing of snuff films – transpire at ritzy hotels and posh homes in Malibu, Bel Air and Beverly Hills. We are led to the realization that self-destruction, dehumanization and violence are built into the very fabric of Hollywood’s being.

Meanwhile, the young characters in “The Informers” live in a Los Angeles “swarming with vampires.” Many turn to alcohol, drugs and sex to cope with the depravity of lives that are hopelessly artificial and empty. For some, entertainment has devolved into watching videos of women being terrorized by “near-naked masked men.”

At one point, a main character, the son of a movie executive, meets a struggling actor.

“Unless you’re willing to do some pretty awful things,” the actor says, “it’s hard getting a job in this town.” The reader can almost anticipate the despairing surrender conveyed in his final words: “and I’m willing.”

Other novels, set outside of Hollywood, speak to what can be seen only as an epidemic of sexual violence: Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” Louise Erdrich’s “The Round House,” Frances Washburn’s “Elsie’s Business,” Jessica Knoll’s “Luckiest Girl Alive.”

All hold a mirror to a world that many would prefer not to face.

Literature as ‘equipment for living’

Novels cannot replace the immediacy of the testimony offered by the courageous women who, in recent months, have publicly shared their experiences with sexual violence.

Nonetheless, such works can function as a vital corroboration for the heartbreaking truths that these women have revealed. They give a voice to perspectives that are marginalized and silenced.

The critic Kenneth Burke viewed literature not just as a form of amusement or intellectual reward, but as a way of addressing social problems by teaching, as he put it, “strategies for dealing with situations.”

An implicit element of all literature, he argued, is that it gives readers opportunities to imagine how they’d respond to complicated scenarios, from “what is promising” to “what is menacing” – all from the relative safety of our homes. He observed that readers can gain what he called an “equipment for living,” a means to help navigate our daily experiences.

Recent studies reveal other benefits. One found that deep reading makes us “smarter and nicer,” while another showed that reading literary fiction (as opposed to mass market fiction) helps people develop a greater sense of empathy.

The ConversationIn a country whose people have become increasingly isolated from and suspicious of one another, it’s something we need now more than ever.

Billy J. Stratton, Professor of American Literature and Culture; Native American Studies, University of Denver

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Literature has long been sounding the alarm about sexual violence in Hollywood



File 20171204 22986 1u52pg0.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
For decades, novels have implored readers to look beyond the glamour and riches.
Trey Ratcliff, CC BY-NC-SA

Billy J. Stratton, University of Denver

Recent revelations about Hollywood’s culture of sexual harassment and violence might come as a surprise to many Americans.

After all, Los Angeles – home of what some call “the American image factory” – has long carried the allure of glamour, wealth and fame. Beckoned by the iconic Hollywood sign in the Santa Monica Mountains, the city, in many regards, has become synonymous with the American dream.

People familiar with the industry might tell a more complicated story. That group includes writers who have made Los Angeles and Hollywood their subjects: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nathanael West, Evelyn Waugh, Gore Vidal, Joan Didion and Bret Easton Ellis. All have chronicled a seamier side of the California dream, a world awash with drugs, sex, violence and abuses of power.

So how did so many of us miss this? Could it have anything to do with the fact Americans who read literature recently fell to a three-decade low?

At the very least, the works of these writers show that literature can play an imperative role in our culture – that novels can give us a means of facing difficult issues that many of us may prefer to ignore, or don’t want to believe exist.

A city of vampires

In numerous novels since the 1930s, Hollywood’s underbelly has been revealed as a landscape rife with peril. And while many writers have explored the vice, corruption and disillusionment at the heart of Hollywood, few have gone deeper into the shadows than Nathanael West and Bret Easton Ellis.

West’s 1939 novel, “The Day of the Locust,” depicts the struggles of Faye Greener, an aspiring actress in pursuit of Hollywood fame and fortune – a dream laid waste by the men she meets along the way, who see her as little more than an object of their desires.

Pursued and stalked throughout the novel, Greener eventually turns to prostitution to make a living. Worse yet, to the novel’s protagonist, she’s the subject of disturbing rape fantasies. The story ends in a frenzy of violence at a Hollywood movie premiere – West’s ultimate denunciation of a culture and a city.

More than 40 years later, the characters of Bret Easton Ellis’s fiction are subjected to almost unspeakable forms of trauma and sexualized violence in “Less Than Zero” and “The Informers.”

In “Less Than Zero,” billboards emblazoned with the words “Disappear Here” loom over the landscape. They’re apparently advertisements that invite a blissful escape to some far-off resort. But for the novel’s main character, they become a menacing warning of a city that devours all who live and work there.

The novel’s main character, Clay, descends into the darkest recesses of this world – a journey to, as he puts it, “see the worst.” And indeed he does.

Although some of the horrors he witnesses occur in back alleys and basement clubs, the most shocking forms of violence – rapes, the viewing of snuff films – transpire at ritzy hotels and posh homes in Malibu, Bel Air and Beverly Hills. We are led to the realization that self-destruction, dehumanization and violence are built into the very fabric of Hollywood’s being.

Meanwhile, the young characters in “The Informers” live in a Los Angeles “swarming with vampires.” Many turn to alcohol, drugs and sex to cope with the depravity of lives that are hopelessly artificial and empty. For some, entertainment has devolved into watching videos of women being terrorized by “near-naked masked men.”

At one point, a main character, the son of a movie executive, meets a struggling actor.

“Unless you’re willing to do some pretty awful things,” the actor says, “it’s hard getting a job in this town.” The reader can almost anticipate the despairing surrender conveyed in his final words: “and I’m willing.”

Other novels, set outside of Hollywood, speak to what can be seen only as an epidemic of sexual violence: Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” Louise Erdrich’s “The Round House,” Frances Washburn’s “Elsie’s Business,” Jessica Knoll’s “Luckiest Girl Alive.”

All hold a mirror to a world that many would prefer not to face.

Literature as ‘equipment for living’

Novels cannot replace the immediacy of the testimony offered by the courageous women who, in recent months, have publicly shared their experiences with sexual violence.

Nonetheless, such works can function as a vital corroboration for the heartbreaking truths that these women have revealed. They give a voice to perspectives that are marginalized and silenced.

The critic Kenneth Burke viewed literature not just as a form of amusement or intellectual reward, but as a way of addressing social problems by teaching, as he put it, “strategies for dealing with situations.”

An implicit element of all literature, he argued, is that it gives readers opportunities to imagine how they’d respond to complicated scenarios, from “what is promising” to “what is menacing” – all from the relative safety of our homes. He observed that readers can gain what he called an “equipment for living,” a means to help navigate our daily experiences.

Recent studies reveal other benefits. One found that deep reading makes us “smarter and nicer,” while another showed that reading literary fiction (as opposed to mass market fiction) helps people develop a greater sense of empathy.

The ConversationIn a country whose people have become increasingly isolated from and suspicious of one another, it’s something we need now more than ever.

Billy J. Stratton, Professor of American Literature and Culture; Native American Studies, University of Denver

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

British literature is richly tangled with other histories and cultures – so why is it sold as largely white and English?



File 20171013 11689 mq52gv.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Brick Lane: popularised in a novel by British writer, Monica Ali.
Shutterstock

Elleke Boehmer, University of Oxford and Erica Lombard, University of Oxford

Recent global developments have sharply polarised communities in many countries around the world. A new politics of exclusion has drawn urgent attention to the ways in which structural inequality has marginalised and silenced certain sectors of society. And yet, as a recent report shows, diversity and inclusion in fact “benefit the common good”. A more diverse group is a stronger, more creative and productive group.

In the world of literary writing, we find similar gaps and exclusions. But these are counterbalanced in some respects by new positive initiatives.

In 2015, a study revealed that literature by writers of colour had been consistently under-represented by the predominantly white British book industry. Statistics in The Bookseller show that out of thousands of books published in 2016 in the UK, fewer than 100 were by British authors of a non-white background. And out of 400 authors identified by the British public in a 2017 Royal Society of Literature survey, only 7% were black, Asian or of mixed race (compared to 13% of the population).

Colourful misrepresentation

A similar marginalisation takes place in the curricula in schools and universities, mirroring exclusions in wider society. In most English literature courses of whatever period, the writers taught are white, largely English and largely male.

A fundamental inequality arises in which, though British culture at large is diverse, syllabuses are not. Indeed, many British readers and students find little to recognise or to identify with when they read and study mainstream British literature.

But it’s not just a case of under-representation. It’s also a case of misrepresentation.

Black and Asian writers who have been published within the mainstream British system describe the pressure they have felt to conform to cultural stereotypes in their work. Their books are often packaged and presented in ways that focus on their ethnicity, regularly using cliches. At the same time, more universal aspects of their writing are overlooked. For example, the covers of novels by Asian British writers usually stick to a limited colour palette of yellows, reds, and purples, accented by “exotic” images.

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These writers bristle at the sense that they are read not as crafters of words and worlds, but as spokespeople for their communities or cultures. At its worst, this process turns these writers and their books into objects of anthropological curiosity rather than works inviting serious literary study or simply pleasurable reading. The message is that black and Asian literature is other than or outside mainstream British writing.

Against these exclusions, leading British authors such as Bernardine Evaristo and others have urged for a broader, more inclusive approach. They recognise that what and how we read shapes our sense of ourselves, our communities and the world.

Reframing the narrative

The Postcolonial Writers Make Worlds research project, based in the Oxford English Faculty and The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, set out to ask what it means to read contemporary fiction as British readers. Working with reading groups and in discussion with writers, we found that readers of all ages entered the relatively unfamiliar worlds created by BAME authors with interest.

For many, finding points of familiarity along gender, age, geographical or other lines was important for their ability to enjoy stories from communities different from their own. Identifying in this way gave some readers new perspectives on their own contexts. At the same time, unfamiliarity was not a barrier to identification. In some cases, universal human stories, like falling in love, acted as a bridge. This suggests that how literature is presented to readers, whether it is framed as other or not, can be as significant as what is represented.

Contemporary black and Asian writing from the UK is British writing. And this means that the work of writers such as Evaristo, Nadifa Mohamed and Daljit Nagra be placed on the same library shelf, reading list and section of the bookshop as work by Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes and Ali Smith – not exclusively in “world interest” or “global literature”.

Bookish.
Shutterstock

Equally, much can be gained by thinking of white British writers like Alan Hollinghurst or Hilary Mantel as having as much of a cross-cultural or even postcolonial outlook as Aminatta Forna and Kamila Shamsie.

There are positive signs. A new EdExcel/Pearson A-level teaching resource on Contemporary Black British Literature has been developed. The Why is My Curriculum White? campaign continues to make inroads in university syllabuses. And the Jhalak Prize is raising the profile of BAME writing in Britain. Against this background, the Postcolonial Writers Make Worlds website offers a multimedia hub of resources on black and Asian British writing, providing points of departure for more inclusive, wide-ranging courses. Yet there is still much to be done.

The ConversationAll literature written in English in the British Isles is densely entangled with other histories, cultures, and pathways of experience both within the country and far beyond. Its syllabuses, publishing practices, and our conversations about books must reflect this.

Elleke Boehmer, Professor of World Literature in English, University of Oxford and Erica Lombard, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.