The Future’s Here and it’s Digital

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I have already discussed some of the potential benefits of using Twitter as an academic platform to increase public engagement and impact. However, last night I used Twitter for an academic panel to critically discuss a novel with other PGR’s. I was invited to take part in a discussion that occurs on the last Tuesday of every month through the @BAASUSSO #bookhour event. This month the book featured was Ben Lerner’s critically acclaimed Leaving the Atocha Station (2011) and we were given several questions in advance to guide the 60 minute discussion. Three of us led the discussion and invited anyone to join in if they wanted to.

The list of questions we engaged with were as follows:

  1. In what ways is this a novel about the problems of translation?
  2. What role does intertexuality play in the novel? How do the inclusion of images in the body of the text, or the references to Ashbery, affect the reading experience?
  3.   In the panel, the narrator claims that ‘literature reflects politics more than it affects it.’ Is this a pronouncement on or a deflection of the politics of this novel?
  4. The narrator dwells on his artistic ambitions and makes passing reference (presumably deliberate) to Raymond Williams’ ‘structures of feeling.’ Does this concept inform the atmosphere of the novel?

To effectively discuss these points and to enable the discussion to be followed, we used A# for the question’s response (so Q1 had A1 in the response) and commented on the statements made that we wanted to engage with. The best thing about the process was the need to make our critical evaluation concise and comprehensible in a mere 140 characters. Before the consideration of the book began, I was concerned that this would be too limiting and therefore curtailing our ability to have an in-depth exchange. However, the 60 minutes flew past as we were able to offer insights based on the questions presented and comment on each other’s questions and statements. This seemed to create a web of ideas, shown in the screenshot below:

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This totally changed my experience of Twitter and I can’t help but think of the possibilities this has opened up to me. In particular, the utilisation of Twitter for teaching as a tool to allow the students to engage if they are less comfortable speaking as a group. It is fast paced and you have to remember to include the right hashtag and the right number (I did forget this a couple of times in my eagerness to make a point), but I can’t imagine this being an issue for the tech-savvy generation of UG’s.

I also think this could be a new way of engaging with papers at conferences and this is something I want to try to organise. Instead of the question and answer session that follows a paper, it makes sense to have people note their thoughts whilst the paper is being given, allowing the speaker to examine these comments afterwards, either to engage with there and then, or to spark a debate later in the day or after the conference. I know I would find it hugely helpful if I could access a chain of comments after giving a paper because it is very difficult to keep track of some of the interesting comments made in the Q&A; especially when the relief kicks in and the adrenaline crashes once the paper is over.

I’ll post a link to the storify of the discussion once it’s posted for anyone interested in 21st American Lit, Ben Lerner and issues of translation, sincerity, authenticity and the effect of intertextuality.

View the Storify


Female Solidarity: The Rise and Rise of the New Woman in Popular Culture

Princess Leia

Image Credit: Robert Douglas and Flickr

“I will fight, for those who can not fight for themselves”

– Wonder Woman (2017)

Having finished watching Big Little Lies (2017) a couple of weeks ago, I have been waiting to find the time to sit down and let you know what I thought about it. It was recommended to me as: “as good as True Detective Season One,” which to me was one of the best series of this decade, so I went in with high expectations. I’m still unsure whether this mini series reached the heights of True Detective (it’s pretty difficult to compete with a character like Rust Cohle in my book), but it was certainly a contender. I would market the series as True Detective meets Twin Peaks. The relaxing, slow opening sequence, the sleepy town, the mysterious death in the first few seconds. Yet, it echoes True Detective through the use of ana/prolepsis, with police interviews interrupting the main narrative to constantly remind us that this is the past – one of these people has died.

Throughout, I was convinced one of the women was the victim. I am sure many people thought the same as we have been conditioned to view woman as victims and men as saviours in the movies. How many tv series, films, books use women as the victim of a horrible crime as the central focus of the plot? All the way along there were little clues that any of the protagonists could be killed: Celeste (Nicole Kidman) by her violent husband; Jane (Shailene Woodley) during a confrontation with her attacker; or, Madeline (Reece Witherspoon) by her daughter/husband/ex-husband/bit on the side/bit on the side’s wife. I won’t spoil the surprise for those of you that have yet to see the final episode, but I was surprised by both the victim and the perpetrator.

Having started this blog entry a month ago (I know, but if you saw my deadlines and marking you would understand) I wasn’t sure where to take it. Having watched an array of new tv series over the last few weeks I can’t help but notice the prevalence of strong and surprising female leads. Don’t get me wrong, strong independent protagonists are nothing new (Ripley in Alien, Leia in Star Wars etc), but there is something about the female solidarity depicted in Big Little Lies that is a breath of fresh air amidst the current political climate. This, alongside the unexpected success of Wonder Woman in the box office this month, surely calls into question the relevance of the hyper-masculine action hero films that have dominated for decades.

Then, this morning, I watched some of the trailers for the new releases announced at E3. Did anyone else notice how many of the new games had a female protagonist as the lead? And a female protagonist that hasn’t been oversexualized through cartoon body proportions and “barely there” armour. The gaming market is worth more than the film industry and developers are finally recognising the importance and the prevalence of female gamers. The teenage boy that never sees the light of day as he spends all the hours hidden away attaining the highest rank and finding the rarest weapon before any of his virtual friends catch-up, is a thing of the past. Having spent most of my life gaming and being forced to experience the virtual world through the eyes of alpha males and monstrous females, I can’t wait to play as a host of new women in upcoming releases such as Anthem, Destiny 2 and Star Wars Battlefront 2.