Archive for February, 2010

For months I’ve been trying to get my hands on even paperback copies of certain books by William Le Queux and it turns out he is quite as hopelessly out-of-print as I suspected. Hurrah for the British Library!* I ordered and was brought a pretty selection of very ancient volumes and set quietly to work.

*You can, should you want, get one of those horrible facsimile paperbacks but they are generally unreadable and a waste of the paper they were printed on.

A Secret Service follows the trials and tribulations of Anton Prehznez, a wealthy Russian Jew, who is doing his military service when he learns his father has been sent to Siberia and his mother and sister are destitute. He is forced to finish his service and two years later races to find his family. He traces them to a small village. He arrives shortly after his mother has died of starvation, but just in time to witness his sister being flogged for insubordinance to an officer of the law (re: he tried to rape her and she stabbed him) and speaking ill of the Tzarist regime. Anton flings himself between the executioner’s final blow and his sister, and is sent to prison.

He is sentenced to hard labour in Siberia but manages to escape by running off in the night and jumping down a well. The guards concede that if he is dead he is better off than alive to see out his sentence, and leave. Anton manages to disguise himself well enough to reach the Pacific coast and is stowed on a steamer to Canada. From Canada, he goes to England, and in London he meets up with the Nihilists, a group of Russian revolutionaries who, though peaceful, seek the freedom* of their people by any means necessary.

*Both economic and freedom of movement; the latter is reflected in Anton’s escape across the world from Siberia, the terrible climate of which and vast expanse makes it essentially a prison without walls.

Although he does adhere to the somewhat floral language of his day, Le Queux is quick to establish that this story is based in reality; much of the initial prose focusses on reporting the suffering of the Russian people, the oppression of the Russian government and the clandestinity and brutality of the Secret Police, all very real at this time, displaying Le Queux’s journalist background.

Anton arrives in London declaring:

The majority of Londoners are unaware that the headquarters of the most powerful secret organisation in the world exists in their midst. (56)

Later spy novelists will take this notion and transform it into the secrecy surrounding the British Secret Service, though here Le Queux is in fact referring to the Executive Council of the Russian Revolutionists, which

holds daily council and matures the plots which from time to time startle Europe. (56)

(I love this idea of a startled Europe; I have an image of the cocked eyebrow of Europe as a plot matures suddenly under Europe’s nose. Such impropriety, Europe would think, but never say aloud.)

There are countless events and situations that arise that will become familiar within the genre. Anton’s personal evolution from a casual participant to an ardent member of the inner circle; the chases through disguises and across landscapes; the constant presence of the opposition; the danger even the slightest exposure would bring. Anton shadows his opponent even as he is shadowed.

Yet the act of spying here is regarded with severity. Spying against the people is frequently described as ‘detestible’, ‘vile’ and ‘disgusting’. It is a violation of the rights of the people, and for Anton spying, the fear of being spied upon, is precisely what needs to be stamped out for Russian citizens to be free. What he is really opposed to is the idea that the spies of the Russian Secret Police have been bought by the state to turn against their neighbours. Russia was staggering under the weight of widespread poverty and economic decay; survival required resorting to activities that, in normal times, would be unthinkable:

At such a level of morality, the prospect of a ‘paying job’ is sufficient to inspire the agents of the Russian ‘state police’ with a spirit of boundless enterprise. (79)

It’s important to note the distinction between these spies that are spied to work against the people, and Anton’s organisation that works against the state.

Unfortunately, while A Secret Service has elements of what will shape the genre, it is itself rather unsuccessful. It seems to me that halfway through Le Queux began to forget his characters’ backgrounds and motivations from one chapter to the next. Anton begins the story as a Russian Jew, but only the reader seems to remember that fact. His comrades, or at least their names, get muddled by Le Queux; their activities as a result seem largely forced and unnecessary. Anton, though he supposedly marries at the 2/3 mark, goes on to have a succession of love affairs, while his sister’s fiancé turns up three chapters after declaring his love for her with another woman. By the end of the novel, Le Queux attempts to regain his footing and brings the story back to Anton’s roots, but it’s far too late.

A Secret Service was hilarious, unfathomable and unlikely, but rarely at the right intervals.

Memorable quotes:

Wrong a man, deny him all redress, exile him if he complains, gag him if he cries out, strike him in the face if he struggles, and at last he will stab and throw bombs […] Our Government manufacturers murderers. (143)

Words are an index to one’s convictions. (180-1)


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Luminary is a postgraduate journal that was recently set up at Lancaster University by a group of postgraduates, mostly working in the English Literature and Creative Writing department. This call for papers is for their second edition.

We hope this is a broad and stimulating theme, and encourages diverse and distinctive interpretations.

Possible papers might include work on:

  • Medicine and textuality
  • Representations of the body, or bodies
  • Representations of gender or sexuality
  • Writing, reading and bodily functions
  • Disfigurement, mutilation or sadomasochism
  • Horror and monstrous bodies
  • The textual subject
  • The text as subject
  • Typography and the materiality of text
  • History and textuality
  • The textuality of politics
  • Politics and representation
  • Intersections between pictorial and textual representation
  • The graphic novel
  • Metafiction and experimentation
  • Ageing/Childhood

Please note that this list is by no means exhaustive, proscriptive or prohibitive.

We are chiefly seeking quality academic articles, but are also very interested in including interviews, book and event reviews, creative writing, original photography and artwork. Whilst it would be ideal for interviews and reviews to relate to the theme of the issue, this is not a requirement.

As of yet we do not publish paper copies of the journal. All work will be published online.

Submission deadline: 1 April, 2010, 4,000–7,000 words

For details of submission and reviewing policy, or of correct submission format go to their website.

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‘Bonds and Borders: Identity, Imagination, Transformation’ will be the 8th annual conference of the Graduate School of the Arts and Humanities of the
University of Glasgow, and will take place 4th June 2010.

It is extremely dangerous to talk about limits or borders. It is vital, instead, that we remain completely open, that we are always involved, and that we aim to contribute personally in social events.

~ Dario Fo

‘Bonds and Borders’ is a one-day international postgraduate symposium aiming to explore the challenges and opportunities created by migration and mobility across national, cultural and geographical boundaries.  More specifically, we hope to consider some of the following questions:  do geographical borders protect, or do they become prison walls? How do these borders include, how do they separate? How does migration affect the individual? Are regional or transnational identities binding or liberating? Have new art forms or historical/critical methodologies emerged from 21st-century mobility? How is the individual defined by bonds and borders? How do concepts of security and global crisis affect freedom of expression at the personal and collective level?

We welcome short papers from any discipline that contribute to the dialogue about geographical, cultural and ideological ‘Bonds and Borders.’  Presentations may be based on an interdisciplinary or transnational approach, literary or visual representations, political or historical interpretation, or any other relevant approaches. We also invite creative contributions such as from the visual arts or creative writing. We intend to publish papers from this conference.

Subjects may include, but are not limited to:

  • Cultural identities/Self and Other
  • The stranger/immigrant/refugee in literature, art and the media
  • Citizenship/Migration
  • Equality/Diversity
  • Interfaith Dialogue
  • Construction of ‘West’/’East’ dualities
  • Nationhood/Nationalism/Patriotism
  • Globalization/Regionalization
  • Shadow societies
  • Language barriers
  • Translation

Presentations should not exceed 20 minutes.

Submission deadline: 15 March 2010, 250-word abstract, including three to five keywords indicating what the subject is.

The abstract details should include: your name, email address, contact telephone number, institutional affiliation and year of study, the title of your research project and should note of any technical requirements for presentation.

Submissions should be sent to this email.

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Transgression and Its Limits will be taking place 29-30th May 2010 at the University of Stirling, with Professor Fred Botting as Plenary Speaker and a Q&A session with Iain Banks.

To discover the complete horizon of a society’s symbolic values, it is also necessary to map out its transgressions, its deviants

~ Marcel Denne.

Rule-breaking has always been a central aspect of literary and cultural development. The works of Marquis de Sade, William Burroughs and Kathy Acker help define the canon of transgressive fiction, while Bakhtin, Bataille and Foucault have become its philosophers and apologists. From the law-breaking obscenity of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover to the immoralilty of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, transgressive art has offended the old order for the sake of a new.

The commodification of extreme horror in recent movies and the faux-antagonism of Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk both reveal the paradox of a transgression which has now established its own conventions. Is transgression more than the tradition of subverting tradition? Have the conditions of post-modernity exhausted our ability to be shocked?

The aim of this conference is to provide an interdisciplinary forum to consider transgressive tactics in literature, film, critical theory and other cultural productions. To what extent has transgression helped shape sexual, cultural and artistic landscapes of its own period? We invite abstracts for 20-minute
papers focusing on transgressive, taboo-breaking and politically resistant acts in literature and the arts.

Possible topics may include (but are not limited to):

  • Violence
  • Profanity
  • The Sacred
  • Sexuality and the body
  • Obscenity and pornography
  • Aberrance, Fetish, Perversion
  • The New Horror: ‘torture porn’
  • Avant-garde cinema, Cinema of Transgression
  • The Carnivalesque
  • Gender roles
  • Censorship – cultural reactions to transgressive texts
  • Violence against the text – formal/textual transgression
  • Postmodernism’s transgression of the high/low cultural divide

Submission deadline: 19 March 2010, 300-word abstract, plus 50-word biography.

Check out their website for more details.

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If you’re in London, the 21st Century Theory Reading Group is having their inaugural meeting next Thursday, 11 February 2010, in room GSB2, 2 Gower Street between 1 and 3 pm.

The focus will be on  Catherine Belsey’s article ‘The Death of the Reader’ (Textual Practice, 23: 2, April 2009, pp. 201-214), asking the following questions:

– Is the reader dead?
– “Critical biography is not an aid to reading but a substitute for it” (p. 212). Is this true?
– Are the “Death of the Author” and the “Death of the Reader” mutually exclusive?
– “Literature can be dangerous” (p. 203). Is reading a political act?

I think this has the potential to be a really interesting group, if their mission statement is anything to go by:

The very lack of perspective is itself revealed to be a kind of perspective. Moreover, it is precisely this kind of paradoxical understanding of the world – a simultaneous ‘dissolving’ and ‘making clear’ of reality – that critical theory, in dialogue with literature, can to help weave into a figurative language for our time.

Though we are confronted by this time of paradox daily, it’s never a bad thing to be reminded of it.

Being a post-grad, it’s very easy to being dissociated from current trends in academia and almost impossible not to begin to feel disconnected from both other students and other ways of thinking. This group seems to have an  understanding of this firmly at the centre of its practice. If I can manage it I’ll definitely be attending.

21st Century Theory Reading Group

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