Centre for Health, Humanities, and Science, University of Bristol
Wednesday 6 December, 2:00 – 3:30pm (online)
Organiser: Doug Battersby (Bristol)
Stefanie Heine (Copenhagen) and Arthur Rose (Exeter) — Metabolising Marcel Proust’s Madeleine
Of all the scenes involving mémoire involuntaire in Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu, that of the madeleine is the most famous. Recalled in the closing pages of the work’s opening chapter, it is the taste of a few crumbs of madeleine in tea that will permit the whole of the narrator’s childhood to spring into being. Readings of this scene have traditionally focussed on the madeleine as a vehicle, a necessary, yet arbitrary, trigger for Marcel’s memory. In recent Food Studies criticism, the madeleine itself has received attention. In both accounts, what is often elided is the intricate process, recounted by Proust, whereby the combination of tea and crumb is tested for the as yet undecided effect it creates in his narrator. In this paper, we adopt an alternative approach, instead close reading the passage for the process of transformation that it describes. Proust’s encounter with the madeleine, we argue, lends itself to being read as metabolic: more concerned with process than either its stimulus or the memories this evokes. By recalling Proust’s experiments with the combination of tea and madeleine, we aim to attend once more to Proust’s narrative processes, rather than the memories he is so often praised for or the objects these evoke.
Derek Ryan (Kent) — The Modernist Oesophagus in James Joyce’s Ulysses
Literature’s most famous oesophagus appears as a joke. In Mark Twain’s A Double Barrelled Detective Story (1902) we read, among an innocuous description of early autumn, that ‘far in the empty sky a solitary oesophagus slept upon motionless wing’. Upon its publication, the line prompted many letters from readers baffled by the insertion of this word: what did it mean? Why was it in the sky? Was it supposed to be a kind of bird (a swallow or gull[et] perhaps)? But the alimentary canal connecting the throat to the stomach does have a more significant location in early-twentieth-century literature. In the schema James Joyce provided for Ulysses (1922), the novel’s eighth episode, ‘Lestrygonians’, is given the ‘organ’ of ‘oesophagus’ and the ‘technic’ of ‘peristalsis’. In this paper, I examine ‘Lestrygonians’ to ask what role the oesophagus plays in Joyce’s imaginative exploration of the digestive tract. While critics read the episode’s language of digestion as a signpost for its Homeric parallel, a metaphor for the modern city, a study of meat-eating virility, or a stylistic device for linguistic experimentation, they do so by assuming smooth passage into the gut (often citing, in the process, Frank Budgen’s recollection of Joyce remarking that ‘the stomach dominates’ in ‘Lestrygonians’). Focusing instead on images of mastication, obstruction, and regurgitation, I argue that the
episode’s thematic and aesthetic concerns rest on the disruption of peristaltic processes and a malfunctioning gullet – on what, in other words and in various senses, is hard to swallow.
Liz Barry (Warwick) — ‘Narrower and narrower would her bed be’: Ageing and Embodied Time in the Work of Virginia Woolf
This paper will consider the representation of ageing and time in the writing of Virginia Woolf, focusing on key scenes—a unit of time and narrative so richly conceived by Woolf—in her novels Mrs Dalloway, The Waves and The Years. It will draw out the complex and ambivalent attitude to getting older in Woolf’s writing, among her modernist contemporaries and in her historical moment. It will touch on the intersection of age and gender always already at play in her writing and her (as all of our) social experience. It will also think about the (sometimes) shapeless or sclerotic body in age as metaphor for various aspects of psychological and cognitive experience. Woolf often begins with the starting point of the skin as an expressive metonym of ageing—and as such a touchstone for desire, disgust, and value. She also depicts sleep in older age in terms of its potential link to death (symbolic and actual) and to abjection—but also to a form of renewal. Drawing on psychoanalytic, medical and philosophical frames of reference—as well as literary close reading—this paper will contribute to investigations of ageing in the contexts of both modernism and the health humanities.
Stefanie Heine is an assistant professor in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Copenhagen. She is the author of Visible Words and Chromatic Pulse. Virginia Woolf’s Writing, Impressionist Painting, Maurice Blanchot’s Image (Turia + Kand 2014) and Poetics of Breathing. Modern Literature’s Syncope (SUNY 2021), and editor of Mineral Poetics (Böhlau 2022).
Arthur Rose is a senior research fellow in the Department of English and Creative Writing at the University of Exeter. He is author of Asbestos–The Last Modernist Object (EUP 2022) and co-author, with Fred Cooper and Luna Dolezal, of COVID-19 and Shame: Political Emotions and Public Health in the UK (Bloomsbury 2023).
Derek Ryan is Senior Lecturer in Modernist Literature at the University of Kent, where his research and teaching focuses primarily on modernism, animal studies and critical theory. His most recent books are his monograph Bloomsbury, Beasts and British Modernist Literature (Cambridge UP, 2022) and edited collection The Cambridge Companion to Literature and Animals (Cambridge UP, 2023). He is currently Literature Subject Editor for the Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism and Series Editor for Edinburgh UP’s Virginia Woolf – Variations.
Liz Barry is Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Warwick. She has published widely in modernist studies and health humanities, editing issues of the Journal of Beckett Studies and (with Laura Salisbury and Ulrika Maude) the Journal of Medical Humanities on Samuel Beckett, medicine and the mind. More recently, she edited the 2020 collection Literature and Ageing, and published on older age and literature in Textual Practice, Poetics Today and a number of other journals and collections. She is writing a monograph for Bloomsbury on ageing and the experience of time in modern literature and thought.