Humphrey Jennings: analytic history and the poetic cross-section

30 September 2021

Aoiffe Walsh, Royal Holloway, University of London

Filmmaker Lindsay Anderson famously described Humphrey Jennings as ‘the only real poet the British cinema has yet produced.’[1] But what could have prompted Anderson to make such a claim? I propose it was the way in which Jennings imbued the exploration and analysis of photographic factuality with a sense of emotion and imagination. As a documentary filmmaker with the Crown Film Unit, responsible for wartime propaganda films, the materials Jennings worked with were those of the objective world manipulated in such a way as to appeal to British sentimentality. Jennings was also part of a Surrealism emerging in Britain in the early 1930s that explored emotion and imagination alongside empiricist knowledge claims. Educated at Cambridge University within the lively discourses of logical positivism, pragmatism, humanism, and materialism, Jennings’ work displays a set of complex artistic impulses and influences. The way that Jennings generates imaginative and affective expression through the capture of material mundanity is a deliberate result of how he conceives of history, knowledge, poetry, and analysis. Reconciling such often disparate intellectual systems results in what Jennings described as an ‘imaginative history.’[2]

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Wassily Kandinsky and His Engagement with Experimental Psychology

30 September 2021

Anne Regina Grasselli, University of Edinburgh

The preoccupation of Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) with scientific theories of visual perception and their role in his move toward an abstract non-objective art has been a key subject of research on the artist. These have focussed for the most part on the influence of the publications of the founders of Gestalt psychology, Max Wertheimer (1880-1943), Wolfgang Köhler (1887-1967), and Kurt Koffka (1886-1941), whose theories on visual perception do bear some important similarities with those expressed by Kandinsky.[1] Kandinsky himself, however, stated forcefully in the 1928 second edition of his second major book, Punkt und Linie zu Fläche (Point and Line to Plane), that his ideas predated those of the Gestaltists.[2] Indeed, there are clues in both his writings and his art that he was influenced by the work of an earlier generation of psychologists, including Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) and Theodor Lipps (1851-1914). Connections with Lipps’ research have been noted before, but the importance of Wundt, who is regarded as the ‘father of experimental psychology’, for Kandinsky’s work has not previously been recognised.[3] Presented here is some evidence of his early contact with the theories of Wundt and Lipps and his later use of some of their diagrams as the basis of painted compositions and theories. Continue reading “Wassily Kandinsky and His Engagement with Experimental Psychology”

So late in time: David Jones’ Liturgical Geology in “Rite and Fore-Time”

30 September 2021

Catherine Enwright, Boston College

“Rite and Fore-Time”, the first section of David Jones’ long poem The Anathemata (1952), begins in the present tense. A priest, using the particular Latin formula of the Roman Catholic Mass of Jones’ day, is consecrating a host. Stripping away the specificities of rubric, the poem focuses on the strange action of the priest: ‘We already and first of all discern him making this thing other…’[1] He is engaged in consecration, the act of making a holy object, a thing set apart for God, anathema in its forgotten sense. Before the word only meant expulsion from a human community, anathema was also used to describe ‘a thing consecrated or devoted to divine use’.[2] The title’s reclamation of the word’s gentler meaning sets in motion Jones’ larger project: to consider the strange action of the Catholic priest as an event occurring at the end of a long history of man creating anathemata, things of no use except worship.

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Novel facts: astronomy and fiction’s authority in early 20th century European periodicals

30 September 2021

Adele GuytonUniversity of Leuven

On August 6 2021, the Wiener Zeitung dug into its archives and published an article from 1895 called “Die Welt in Hunderttausend Jahren” (the world in 100,000 years).[1] If it were published today, it would likely raise eyebrows, but as I hope to show in this essay, its quirks are not unusual for European periodicals at the turn of the century. Its author, Ludwig Karell, was a frequent popular science contributor to the Zeitung, yet here he summarises predictions about the future of the Earth, not from a recent astronomical or geological treatise, but from bestselling astronomy writer Camille Flammarion’s 1893 novel La fin du monde.[2] As if to emphasise the factuality of this (fictional) information and avoid the speculation inherent in the future tense, the descriptions of the future are mostly written in the past tense: for instance, the article states that in the thirtieth century, it ‘was already possible to predict the weather as exactly as we today predict a solar or lunar eclipse’.[3]

Continue reading “Novel facts: astronomy and fiction’s authority in early 20th century European periodicals”

‘In conch-shell’: A Conchology of Form and Self in the Poetry of H. D., Marianne Moore, and Amy Lowell

30 September 2021

Anya Reeve, University of Oxford

I don’t know where I should like to live unless in a nautilus shell.[1]

‘Verses were the murex’, Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) writes in her novel Palimpsest (1926).[2] The character of Raymonde – moving through a sea of imbricated, recursive prose, towards the concrete form of her poetry – is here describing the act of setting into verse.[3] To do so, she invokes the image of the murex, a marine mollusc encased in a spiny shell. This sense of versification as murex-like incipiently suggests a wider theme: the surprisingly profound valency of conchology (the study of land and marine molluscs’ shells) within the corpuses of the associated poets H.D., Marianne Moore and Amy Lowell. For all three, seashells and snails’ shells are invested with a symbolic and formal potency, particularly in their architectonic figuration as habitable spaces. ‘We speak of our houses, of our “shells”’, Moore aptly summates.[4] Shells are employed within this female and queer milieu to express the status of the poet; articulate the poet’s practice; and, at times, lend conceptual or formal shape and texture to the individual poem itself.

Continue reading “‘In conch-shell’: A Conchology of Form and Self in the Poetry of H. D., Marianne Moore, and Amy Lowell”

Sex and Suffrage in Charlotte Haldane’s Man’s World (1926)

30 September 2021

Allegra HartleyUniversity of Huddersfield

In 1926, Charlotte Haldane published Man’s World, a novel which despite its comparisons to Huxley’s Brave New World has received relatively little critical attention.[1] The narrative is set in a future society run by a male scientific elite, in which the sex of a foetus can be determined and controlled, allowing for ‘orders’ to be placed for male or female children depending on the current needs of the state. Women, as a result, have been divided into classes – ‘neuters’ and ‘mothers’. ‘Mothers’ are chosen for their physical and psychological suitability to the vocational role of producing children whereas ‘neuters’ are considered inappropriate ‘types’ for motherhood and are sterilised at a young age. As a result, gender presentation, sex characteristics, and sexuality follow a stark and rigorously policed binary.[2] This preoccupation with the categorisations of sex, sexuality, and gender reflects a cultural interest in sexology apparent at the beginning of the twentieth century. Whilst the study of human sexual behaviour has roots firmly in the nineteenth century, the topic of sex and genetics had ramifications for women’s emancipation well into the opening decades of the new century.[3]

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‘Going Deaf’ in Stella Benson’s Living Alone

30 September 2021

Rhiannon CogbillIndependent Scholar

A prefatory note to Living Alone (1919), the third novel by the early twentieth-century English writer, suffragist and campaigner Stella Benson, informs readers that it is ‘not a real book’ and indeed ‘does not deal with real people’.[1] One aspect of this unreality relates to genre: Living Alone, in which witches and wizards intrude upon the work of a charitable committee during the First World War, demonstrates what Nicola Darwood characterises as Benson’s ability to ‘cover a wide range of issues […] through a mixture of realism, fantasy and satire’.[2]

Continue reading “‘Going Deaf’ in Stella Benson’s Living Alone”

The Oceanographic Expeditions of Eileen Agar’s Marine Collage

30 September 2021

Christina Heflin, Royal Holloway, University of London

Eileen Agar’s Marine Collage (1939) is exactly what it suggests: a collage of marine images. However, beneath the surface, there is an entire story of pioneering undersea exploration. The piece is a quadriptych, and the strata of collaged layers for each quadrant have a ground piece beneath a silhouetted image with further elements atop it. The negative space’s contents in the silhouettes features images of creatures from the most profound depths of the sea. The scenes are fascinating to behold, and some of the creatures appear fierce while others are otherworldly. In addition to these aesthetic qualities, the collage source material’s historical context enriches the work, providing an expeditionary tale in each vignette. This essay aims to discuss the underlying aspects of Agar’s collage, which cover topics such as women in science, marine biological research, and taxonomic identification.

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The Newtonian Orlando: Locality, Globality, and the Forces of Knole House

30 September 2021

Zoe Kempf-Harris, University of Virginia

While Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (1928) first appears to be a global novel, the temptation to read it as local is also strong. Orlando initially seems to be predicated on expanse, as Woolf invites readers to consider the sprawling totality of centuries and miles, sending her protagonist from the Elizabethan age up to 1928 and from England’s Kent all the way to Turkey. In writing to her lover and inspiration for the novel, Vita Sackville-West, Woolf contemplates this expanse as it cumulates and culminates in singular forms: ‘All these ancestors & centuries, & silver & gold, have bred a perfect body.’[1] Fittingly, the novel Woolf goes on to write depends on its established centres—Orlando, a projection of Sackville-West, serves as one such ‘body,’ and Knole House, the Sackville-West estate, acts as a point of return for Orlando’s accrued four hundred years and thousands of miles. In a study of these central forms and the motions that exist in relation to them, the laws that govern Newtonian forces may likewise govern Orlando’s own outbound and homebound movements. By reconsidering Orlando’s global and local motions as ‘centrifugal’ and ‘centripetal’ forces respectively, I reframe the novel’s global reach as a reactive shadow force to the strong inward pull Woolf cultivates towards the ancestral estate. Orlando succeeds as a global novel only so far as it may be recognised as a local one.

Continue reading “The Newtonian Orlando: Locality, Globality, and the Forces of Knole House”

Splitting the Atom in H. D.’s ‘Winter Love’

30 September 2021

Hannah Voss, Durham University 

During the First World War, the Imagist poet H.D. suffered a series of traumatic events that she directly attributed to the stress and fear of living in London throughout the conflict. In Bid Me to Live (1960), first drafted in 1927, she recounts this period of her life, linking the fear of physical annihilation from without — signalled by air raid sirens — to the psychological annihilation that clawed from within after her late-term miscarriage. In this autobiography and her novella, Nights (1935), H.D. begins to hint that annihilation can act as a precursor to poetic creation or vision, theorising that ‘[t]he greater the gap in consciousness [. . .] the more glorious would be the opening up into clear defined space’.[1] It is unclear whether H.D. saw annihilation as a necessary precursor to poetic vision, or whether she was crafting a theory of creativity that took into account her own war trauma. Regardless, the tension between destruction and creation within the annihilatory event became central to her poetics, and took on a new urgency with the advent of atomic weapons. H.D.’s scientific understanding of the Atomic Bomb gave her new imagery to depict annihilation as ordered under the woman poet’s power for creation, establishing her own role in averting future nuclear annihilation.

Continue reading “Splitting the Atom in H. D.’s ‘Winter Love’”

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