Creative Historiographies

PhD Seminar
Date/Time: Wednesday, 9th March, 5pm-7pm
Venue: Senate House, 1 Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU (Room 264)
Augustown-new-1.jpg

Invited Guest
 (30 minutes + discussion)
 
Dr. Kei Miller
Royal Holloway
If the abstract notion of space is only transformed into the more concrete specificity of place when we attach meaning to it, similarly the abstract notion of the past is only transformed into history by wilful acts of creation. The past, I would argue, is an abstract space that has been plundered and contested by historians as well as creative writers in their production of history. In this paper I want to emphasise this point – not that writers exploit history, but that they are implicitly involved in the production of that history.

In Historical Fiction and Fictional History (1993), Evelyn O’Callaghan points to the ways in which historiography has always used tools traditionally associated with the creative writer – characters, narrative arcs, and a plot that makes less of some events and more of others. The ways in which all written history is, to some extent, fictionalized, is a ‘problem’ well acknowledged within the discipline of history whose practitioners often put a high value on objectivity. In this presentation, with specific reference to my latest creative project, a forthcoming historical novel Augustown (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2016; Knopf 2017), I want to consider some of the more tools I have used (extreme bias and subjectivity; magic realism) that might seem traditional in the world of the novel but radical within the discipline of history; I want to ask if such tools might also contribute to and even clarify our understanding of the past and help in the production of a more accurate history.

Kei Miller is a writer and academic. He writes across a range of genres — poetry, long and short fiction, and non-fiction. In 2014 Kei won the Bocas Prize for Non-fiction for his essay collection Writing Down the Vision and then the Forward Prize for Poetry for his collection, The Cartographer Tries To Map A Way To Zion. His forthcoming novel is Augustown.

Student Presenters
 (15 minutes each + discussion)

Clair Le Couteur 
(Royal College of Art, Sculpture)
Lines of Best Fit: Fictive Museums and Creative Historiography

All museums must negotiate the relationship between words and objects, between the complexities of the world and their representation in spatial narrative. But what of fictive museums, hybrid works which transgress the boundaries between museum, fictions, art installations and hoaxes? This talk will introduce three fictive museums, Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence in Istanbul, John Affey’s never-built Transnational Whaling Museum, and David and Diana Wilson’s Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles. What is the relationship between word and object in these unstable constructions? And what can we learn about how they negotiate between the familiar narrative arc of historical time, and the multiple dimensions of speculative history? A collection of things, and its lines of best fit.

> Clair Le Couteur (*1982) is a researcher, artist and composer currently undertaking a practice-based PhD in sculpture – “Mislabelling and the Fictive Museum” – at the Royal College of Art in London. Combining writing, making, and performance, Clair’s work focuses on destabilising conceptual binaries, operating in the grey areas between fact and fiction, research and creation. Recent projects include co-editing Why Would I Lie? (2015) a publication accompanying the inaugural RCA Research Biennial, Put You Through (2015) an installation for London Pride with the Switchboard charity, an essay on gender and species in selkie folktales for Gender Forum #55, and the song-cycle Transportation Blues (2016) at the Horse Hospital gallery.

Liz Bahs (Royal Holloway, Poetry)
Glimpsing Truth, Constructing History

My poetry sequence ‘The Calling’ is a polyphonic exploration of a Hebridean myth, inspired by mermaid sightings in Scotland and elsewhere in the world as recently as this past decade. Through its multiple speakers, the poems explore themes of personal history, collective mythology and fiction, with its origins in the questioning of witness statements found in both folklore and scientific record.

The basis of my PhD research stems from a close reading of three polyphonic poetry sequences which also investigate similar themes. Here I argue that the polyphonic poetry sequence is the ideal medium for constructing a narrative of historical events, both real and probable, as the multiplicity of voices invested in the form inspires poet and readers to ask questions about how we want history to be told. Music historian James Anderson Winn suggests in his text Unsuspected Eloquence (1981), that the individual parts in polyphonic music are each considered ‘parallel versions of the same truth’, individual vocals within a bigger vocal texture. The poetry sequence is also capable of engaging polyphony to a similar effect, creating a unified whole out of disparate parts to show conflicting viewpoints and multiple versions of truth.

Liz Bahs is in the final year of a practice-based PhD at Royal Holloway, a project focusing on voice and dramatic conversation in poetry sequence. Her poetry and flash fiction investigates different angles of looking, using vocal texture and refrain. Liz’s themes range from corsets to making jam, from London buses to lost relatives, plane crashes to a cow stampede in her native Florida. Her poetry has been widely published in a variety of magazines and journals including Iota, Magma, Mslexia, The North, The Rialto and SAND (Berlin). It has placed in the Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2011, Wasafiri New Writing Prize 2013, Magma Judge’s Prize 2014, Mslexia Women’s Poetry Competition 2015 and The Fool for Poetry Chapbook Competition 2015. She is an Associate Lecturer for The Open University and she writes poetry reviews for Frogmore Press and blogs at: whenyoureadtome.blogspot.co.uk

Viv Graveson (Royal Holloway, Fiction)
It is a feature of traumatic experience that, because of the impossibility of its being processed or assimilated, it cannot be articulated. This is so at the personal level as well as for communities. Abraham and Torok’s theory of Transgenerational Haunting holds that the experience of a ghost or ‘phantom’ comes about as a result of the ‘gaps’ that are passed down from parent to child – i.e. by those events that have not been assimilated and not been spoken of, because they cannot be. By examining developments of this theory, as well as the work of theorists such as Shoshona Felman, Dori Laub, Gabriel Schwabb and others, my paper examines the tension between language and trauma and explores how, by incorporating the presence of a ghost, writers have found a way, not only to articulate the otherwise inarticulable, but to pose a challenge to ‘history’ in the process.

> Viv Graveson is a former teacher of English and Philosophy of Religion. She has MAs in Psychoanalytic Psychology from the Tavistock Institute as well as in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway.  She is currently working on a practice-based PhD in Creative Writing, also at Royal Holloway, in which her central area of interest is the role of the ghost in literature. Her research explores theories of haunting across various disciplines, including psychoanalysis, environmental geography, sociology and philosophy, as well as examining the way haunted literature can expose the buried secrets of history.

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