I have been at AUP for more than ten years now. One of my research interests is in adolescence: I am very interested in the way that remaining within growth, rather than achieving maturity, links writers and bodies to political and social possibilities (particularly to those opening, emergent possibilities within economic and political crisis). The years I have spent here at AUP feel like an extended adolescence (although a quick glance in the mirror rather destroys that fantasy); I still don’t know – don’t want to know – what shape I have as a thinker, but my thought feels vitally connected to the world as a place which is open (geographically, culturally, linguistically, and politically). This also means that my mood shifts rapidly and unpredictably from sulky silence to exuberance. My colleagues are very tolerant.
I taught for five years in the Department of English at the University of Cambridge before coming here; some of my friends and research contacts are still there, others are scattered around the world. I don’t envy any of them – the students I get to teach and work with here are lively, various, complex, and often very clever. Many of the students I have taught have remained friends – I hope this blog will help me remain in contact with more of them.
I used to work mostly on modernism, that global explosion of literary imagination and experiment at the beginning of the twentieth century. I wrote a book about modernism a few years ago called Before Modernism Was, which looks at relations between short-lived cultural excitements and the emergent possibilities in literary experiment. I am excited by experiment more than I am by success, as it seems to me to perform a brave engagement with the reality of the world, whereas success is likely to produce things which settle into a field or collection of commodities. Sometimes it seems strange to study and make literature in 2011, when reading and writing books and poems appears to be a profoundly eccentric act. But the actual act of reading or writing still shadows forth ideals which are valuable (a creative interaction with language, that medium which is in danger of being a prison-house for our subjectivities, a work on the self which is at the same time a movement towards sharing), and produces extraordinary objects through which we can consider human lives and human meanings as singular – each absolutely unique – but also part of our common property. I’ve started to publish some poems, which you can see here, for example.
I’m still interested in modernism, but this time in relation to very contemporary writing indeed. I’m hunting for good new fiction all the time – I’ve been writing about James Kelman, J.M. Coetzee, Francois Bon – and trying to work out how to gather the singular but shared energies of contemporary fiction in order to make them talk back to louder and duller voices (particularly the dominant noise made by contemporary economic and political agents). Shelley once suggested that poets were the ‘unacknowledged legislators of the world’; they might appear to be powerless, they operate without anyone noticing them. But it seems to me that literature is one place where we can register how humans are actually making the reality of the world – in their imaginations and aspirations and in the intimate logic of their actions and their struggles with the matter of meaning.
Writing can get stuck in the wrong places, locked into ghettos and ivory towers and institutions that generalize what ‘literature’ might mean, and shape what it might be worth. I have become interested in translation as one good way of getting writing to move around without uprooting it, to multiply its possible productivities. I have been involved with our new MA program in Cultural Translation, which I think of as an attempt to get the energies of literary aspiration to operate within places that are usually dominated by other, clunkier, discourses, and I have written a translation of a novel by Francois Bon.
I wouldn’t have done these things if I had not come to AUP – my colleagues and our students made them possible, for better or for worse! My official AUP webpage (with publications etc.) is here.