All entries for July 2009

July 13, 2009

"Between the Covers" @ The Women's Library

Writing about web page http://www.londonmet.ac.uk/thewomenslibrary/whats-on/exhibitions/betweenthecovers.cfm

"Between the Covers: Women's Magazines and their Readers" is the current exhibition at The Women's Library, which I finally got to visit this weekend. The exhibition brought together a fascinating collection of magazines, following their development from the late 17th century (the first magazine was dated back to the 1690s and the earliest exhibit on display was from the 1770s) up to the present day. The content of magazines had unsurprisingly remained somewhat consistent throughout the years, with an emphasis on beauty and fashion in particular, but shifts in how different themes were addressed reflected the changing conceptions of "femininity"; different readerships were also, of course, an issue with a split in the market occurring from the early 20th century. The relationship between magazines and the different waves of women's liberation movements was interesting, as magazines played an important role right from the earliest formations of feminism in the 19th century, and more recently in second-wave feminism. Supplementing the many visual resources were recordings of interviews with women that had been highly instrumental in the development of magazines in the latter part of the twentieth century, such as Sue O'Sullivan, editor of feminist magazine Spare Rib.

It was particularly interesting to visit this exhibition with my mother who could not only remember the magazines that had been influential for women of her era - from the first magazines aimed at teenage girls in the late '60s, through to those for career women of the '80s - but could also recall the magazines that my Grandma read in the 1950s: it was surprising just how dated and old-fashioned these now looked, with their knitting patterns and articles on the Royal Family as the "celebrity" culture of the day!

I'm not a reader of any women's magazines, far preferring the content of online feminist magazines/blogs like The F-Word, and it would've been interesting if the exhibition had considered how the internet has changed (if indeed it has) the demands on publication of women's magazines- there are a number of feminist publications in print such as Subtextbut these often struggle to maintain a wide readership (in stark contrast to the vast and ever-growing amount of cheap tat like Heat etc. that seem increasingly pervasive on the magazine racks) but the internet has enabled feminist content to reach a wider population than it's even been able to achieve through print distribution.

The exhibition continues to run until the end of August, and it's definitely worth a visit- I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for future events at The Women's Library as it seems they have a wonderful collection of resources to be discovered.


July 10, 2009

Literary London 2009: 9th–10th July @ Queen Mary, University of London

Writing about web page http://www.literarylondon.org/cfp.html

This was the first time that I'd attended the Literary London Conference, an annual event that is now in its 8th year of running; I was attracted by the theme of this year's conference, "Urban Geographies", and although I could only make it to first of the two days it proved to be an interesting and intellectually productive day.

Professor Miles Ogborn, a cultural geographer, commenced proceedings with a plenary address on "Re-mapping Literary London", which was by far the highlight of the day. Ogborn spoke about the relationship between geography and literary studies, discussing how the disciplines have interacted thus far and identifying the ways in which future developments are beginning to take shape. Speaking from the perspective of a cultural geographer, Ogborn provided some illuminating insights into how geography views the literary interest in its discipline, beginning by stating that cultural geography has some fundamental problems with literary studies. These focused around issues of representation- the forms of representation that literary studies privileges, and the issue of representation itself. To the cultural geographer, the very forms that literary studies works with seem entirely antithetical to the work of geographers. Ogborn then discussed the recent developments in geography with regards to representation, engaging with the non-representational theory posited by Nigel Thrift, which is situated within a broader inter-disciplinary shift towards a focus on practice: a perspective that challenges the view of world as text in favour of other forms of being, multiplicity. Ogborn posited the question, is this bad news for literary geography, referring to a 2005 essay in New Formations which addressed some of these issues. He discussed the approaches that have recently developed, identifying a disjuncture between two directions that have emerged- one focusing on ideas of the text as cultural production, issues of authorship of space and text, formal aesthetics; and another that thinks about the materiality of space and text, the relationship between the two as enactive, embodied, performative. The latter notion of practice was posited as the direction that literary geography can most successfully engage with as it continues to develop in coming years.

I attended three panels throughout the rest of the day. The panel on Kipling and Doyle was, obviously, focused on a slightly later period than that which I work on, so it was interesting to hear about how issues of urban representation developed in the later year of the nineteenth century: I was particularly interested in Mary Conde's paper on Kipling in which she spoke of London as a transition-space in Kipling's work, identifying images of doorways as central to this. I presented in the first of two panels on the Nineteenth-Century novel, discussing the urban encounter in Charlotte Bronte's Villette through a focus on movement, positing walking as a mode through which to theorise subject-space relationships (abstract can be found here). It was an interesting panel, with papers by Nicola Minott-Ahl on dystopian spaces in Vanity Fair, and David Stewart on J.G. Lockhart's writing on Edinburgh. After this, a second panel on the Nineteenth-Century novel included papers by Richard Dennis, who spoke on Gissing's The Unclassed, and Matthew Ingelby who discussed representations of building plots and urban sprawl from 1850-1900. In Richard Dennis' paper I was particularly interested in his discussion of the differences between two editions of Gissing's text: Dennis mapped out the journeys around London undertaken by characters in the different editions, which revealed crucial differences to where and how characters moved around the city- the later edition showed an opening-up of the space of the city. Matthew Ingleby's paper provided an indicative example of how "real" and "textual" spaces can be read in parallel, and I particularly enjoyed his close analysis of passages that revealed parallel methods of textual/spatial construction at work in the city.

The only disappointment of the day was that I had to leave before Rachel Lichtenstein's plenary on "Excavating Memory"; I've not yet read On Brick Lane or any of her other work, but having read about this when I was preparing for the conference I'm looking forward to getting myself a copy for some interesting summer reading.


July 2009

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