Too many books!

Project Management and Advanced Research

I’m afraid by the time I post this blog all meaning will be wrung out of it by the unfortunate incident of my own proximity. It is much like reading the same word too often:

Reading

Reading

Reading

Reading

Reading

Reading

Reading

Reading

It’s all nonsense by the end.

While in this scenario the answer might be a measured dose of distance, a different kind of distance is also being prescribed (at least as reading material) to literature students, material that might either endanger or contribute greatly to meaning-making. Touted as the counterpart to close reading, distant reading has emerged.

Distant reading continues to intrigue me while also making me incredibly hostile. I first learnt about it at Cardiff University’s Digital Cultures Network’s Digital Cultures Reading group (CUDCNDCRG or Mikey’s Reading Group for short) where the discussion focused on the extreme nature of Franco Moretti’s Distant Reading that saw…

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Open Access Fake News

Project Management and Advanced Research

20170205_085426563_ios This photo is implying the very opposite of open access.

I’m back, and thinking about the problems of the online world, especially in terms of possible projects. While my aforementioned goal of heroism is perhaps a little out of reach, and even acknowledging such a goal might be shooting myself in the bank account in regards to any of my future journal submissions with these publishers (Is that how it works?), small gains in the reception of smaller, self-maintained, open-access journals might be paving the way for new types of efficient knowledge sharing and impact. Efficient, but I don’t know about economically viable.

My initial foray into project-picking has highlighted this new kind of journal-ism as a possible project area. The way we approach free information online is changing. Wikipedia is no longer wholly dubious. Even the most unassuming blog post can be scrutinised with critical eyes. But how can…

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‘[T]his beautiful city’: ‘Narrative and Nation’’s Field Trip to Bath

Recounting our expedition to Bath.

CRECS//

Blog post by Jannat Ahmed (@PemberleyParade). Photo credits to Caitlin Coxon (@CoxonCaitlin), Jo Daniel (@JFDMID), Anthony Mandal (@CardiffBookHistory) and Sophie Coulombeau (@SMCoulombeau). We are very grateful to the School of English, Communication and Philosophy’s Teaching Enhancement Fund for meeting the costs of this trip and ensuring an accessible learning experience for all students on the module.

This year, the MA Narrative and Nation cohort, led by Dr Sophie Coulombeau and Professor Anthony Mandal, had the wonderful opportunity and pleasure to go on a field trip to Bath. Our psychogeographic exploration of the town sought to consolidate the project of the module: to understand the relationship between narrative and nationhood. But, as it happens, we managed to achieve much more!

After passing multiple heritage plaques within minutes of arriving, our exploration proper began at South Parade, on the River Avon, where we were treated to a reading by Sophie of Frances…

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Chick Lit and Cosy Crime: The Problem of Genre in Eighteenth-Century and Contemporary Fiction

After my earlier exploration of historical romance fiction (see my previous post at https://crecs.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/the-men-of-regency-romance/ ), I decided to venture into the history of more broader genres, namely crime and romantic fiction, to determine their importance in twenty-first century culture.

CRECS//

This blog post is from Jannat Ahmed (@PemberleyParade), a Masters student in English Literature at Cardiff University. Her research interests include the authorship and readership of the eighteenth-century novel, the popular novel of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, fanfiction culture, and postcolonial and feminist theory. She hopes to pursue a doctorate investigating the relationship between the girl reader, the woman writer and the male critic in British literature.

The journalist Caitlin Moran believes that culture precedes politics in motivating change in society, and I agree. Yet it seems to me that the importance of ‘low’ culture, particularly in terms of genre fiction, is often overlooked. Despite its prevalence, critics and reviewers sometimes engage in an unfortunately token relationship with genres such as romance and crime fiction. Rightfully so, perhaps, one might say, when much of these fictions are reproduced, predictable texts that follow a traditional plot-line. However, much as critics…

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Are Tweets a New Form of Poetry?

In a bid to make an inordinate amount of time on Twitter well spent, I wrote this piece for the Cardiff University Digital Cultures Network blog (@ http://cardiffdigitalnetwork.org) about the function of tweets and social media posts in a new digital literary culture.

Digital Cultures Network

In this fascinating post, Jannat Ahmed, an MA student in English Literature at Cardiff University, asks us to think about a new kind of poetry… 

In our digital age, are tweets a new form of poetry? This is a question I have asked myself after seeing how people engage with specific types of posts on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook. While tweets themselves have their own restrictions (their 140 characters, interestingly, can remind us of the restrictive 14 lines in a sonnet, for example), it is not the straightforward 140 character restriction of a tweet that I correspond with an idea of poetry, but another kind of post prevalent on social platforms that offers poetic engagement: Having gathered force for several years as MSN Messenger statuses, the phenomena of inspirational quotes and narrative posts has found its way onto all kinds of social media channels. From stories about real people on the…

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Book Review: ‘Les Liaisons dangereuses’ by Pierre-Ambroise-François Choderlos de Laclos, translated by Douglas Parmée

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This book was a recommendation from years ago. Now having finally read it, I find I was thrown into an intense exploration of social manipulation. First published in 1782, the novel is written in the epistolary style, but unlike Samuel Richardson’s Pamela that focuses on the letters of one protagonist, the number of protagonists and antagonists are doubled or even quadrupled in Les Liaisons. I am still feeling the aftershocks of reading this novel which is surprising because I was not expecting much in the way of ‘realism’ or ‘believability’. However, I was intrigued by the volume of characters and how they may all be relevant. I will also note my reading of the novel was made far easier by its translation in 1995.

Fortunately, the volume of characters is not superfluous, and after the first eyebrow-raise (I was not sure whether the Marquise de Merteuil was actually the Madame de Merteuil, but she was addressed under both names), I was struck more by the actions of antagonists rather than the protagonists. Reading the novel was a study of cause and effect, and more than anything else: dramatic irony. Of course, there are parts I find unbelievable, such as the feelings of Madame de Tourvel, but Madame de Tourvel, Cécile Volanges and everyone but the antagonists play the role of balls in a game of pinball. It is the interaction between the antagonists that escalates the drama. The Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont are instead both flippers flinging whomever they wish into the air and bruising their victims on pins along the way.

There is much I would like to discuss about the novel, particularly the use of other novels within its letters. At one point Clarissa, another novel by Samuel Richardson, is sought out as guidance for one character (p. 239) in order, I imagine, to prevent succumbing to pressure. At the same time, the Victome, who is exercising this pressure, also discusses the same novel, writing that ‘It wouldn’t be difficult to slip into her house […] and turn her into another Clarissa’ (p. 245) and just before this, explains how he is formulating his plans by ‘vainly going over every known way, in novels’ to take advantage of the woman he is chasing. The protagonist seeks guidance and warning in novels, but the antagonist seeks formulation in the very same. In showing this duality, Choderlos de Laclos gives novels a dual purpose.

Much like we might see the crime novels and crime shows of today as a way of unintentionally teaching a criminal how better to avoid the law, the ‘romance’ or rather novels of sensibility or Gothic novels in the 18th century show the way in which one might succeed in using people. Moreover, there is a moment where the Marquise likens her own management of multiple affairs as a crossover of the roles of writer and actor. These two roles are flagged as subversive. (What do English Literature students appreciate better than the subversive?). It is up to the weight of the ending of the novel to determine whether these roles are reconciled. *Spoiler alert* The writer puts the antagonists in their place. *End of spoiler*

I am aware this review has become rather dense, so I am cutting it short to get down to the real question: Would I recommend this book? If you feel inclined to reach into history and find humanity at its worst—that is, self-centred, selfish, self-serving and self-satisfied at the cost of other people’s peace of mind—then I recommend this book. I recommend it as an unusual self-reflexive analysis of novels, fiction and people, as both a guidance and as a realisation of its subversive application. This novel does more than examine dangerous liaisons between humans. Ultimately, the novel critiques the dangerous relationship between exploitative humans and their limited knowledge.

Les Liaisons dangereuses by Pierre-Ambroise-François Choderlos de Laclos, translated by Douglas Parmée, published by Oxford University Press. £7.99 at Waterstones

Book Review: ‘Eligible’ by Curtis Sittenfield

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*Disclaimer: This is my first written book review.*

I was presented this novel with a warning: there has been better fanfiction. I was also told that The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (a vlog series on YouTube) did a much better job of modernising Austen’s novel. But while comparisons are inevitable, I thought that Eligible, like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, sought for inclusivity, but perhaps Sittenfield’s variety was too broad and awkward with its approach to issues of race, gender and sexuality, with motherhood and womanhood being at the forefront of the Bennet’s familial disputes.

But of course, these two interpretations of Pride and Prejudice are very different when seen from an age perspective. In Sittenfield’s Eligible, Liz Bennet is 38 with a secure job at a magazine she enjoys writing for; in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Lizzie is 24, doing postgraduate studies and seeking a job. Their lives are firmly at different points. In this sense, I was glad to see how Sittenfield’s social critique was broad on issues about identity and choice. However, the inclusion of these issues were heavy-handed.

Although Sittenfield might have wanted to be sensitive to the aforementioned issues of race, gender and identity, and generally used the framework of Pride and Prejudice for her take on the novel, the Bennet family seemed rather obtuse in reflecting them. While a degree of obtuseness suits the Bennet parents in one respect, I did not feel it interpreted Austen’s project of irony in a robust manner. For Austen to suggest that men are to be chased when they have money (because they are, as single men, in want of a wife) is at some distance from Mrs Bennet’s prejudice towards black people in Eligible. Austen’s approach to the universal truth was in humour, but Sittenfield’s parallel prejudice is rather vexing.

To me, it felt like Sittenfield’s critiques were shoehorned into the novel, as well as her plot. There were several moments that  really took me out of the story, such as the scene where Lydia ‘elopes’ and Liz’s subsequent return home is entirely unnecessary. This was definitely the most disappointing aspect of the novel. There are significant moments where I could not ignore the author’s struggle to address all issues at once at the expense of cohesion and even enjoyment.

I will say Eligible is a pretty easy read but if you are expecting something as engaging as The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Lost in Austen (ITV Mini-Series, 2008) or First Impressions (Novel, 2014) by Charlie Lovett, you may not be wholly satisfied. I would not recommend. I would prefer to spend my money on a better book.