Wednesday, 24 May 2017

All of a muddle.

It feels like a long time since I put fingers to keyboard for blogging purpose – it's certainly been an aeon since I managed 4 posts a day. Which is probably a good thing for all concerned. Recently the slowdown has been down to sheer pressure of work. I've fallen into marking like a drunk in quicksand. The more I flounder, the more it sucks me down. Iv'e done my online forums, and now I'm marking dissertations. After that it's the second-year Shakespeare/Renaissance essays, and after that it's the motherlode: 108,000 words of first-year drama essays. Great students, but marking really is a chore however good the work is.

There have been brighter spots. I went to two conferences the other week; one on Dissent Studies at Keele University and the other my annual Welsh Writing in English one, always held at the beautiful Neuadd Gregynog in Powys. The Keele gig was fun because it was multidisciplinary: I co-presented a paper on media coverage of the Co-operative Bank's travails, while others spoke about Jonathan Lethem's novels, legal matters, politics and a host of other perspectives. The keynote speaker was meant to be 60s agitator Tariq Ali, but he was too ill to attend. Instead we got a superb talk by cultural studies powerhouse Jeremy Gilbert.

AWWE a couple of days later was one of the best I've been at. We had to have three parallel sessions rather than two for some of the event, there were launches of good books such as Bethan Jenkins's Between England and Wales: Anglophone Welsh Writing of the 18th Century, and the wine flowed. M Wynn Thomas's keynote was a passionate account of the field's genesis and his disappointment that WWiE hasn't been afforded the intellectual respect other subject areas have garnered. None of his books get reviewed in the London literary press, for instance, reflecting a metropolitan uninterest in things Welsh. For the record, my review of his last-but-one book The Nations of Wales should appear in the open-access International Journal of Welsh Writing in English fairly soon. I don't want to give away too many spoilers but basically: it's a genuinely brilliant book. Wynn expanded on his topic with a fire that this generally gentle man rarely unleashes: he excoriated British historians and literary scholars capable only of reading English-language work, and identified a whole load of unexplored research areas for future scholars.

Other highlights included having a few beers with Jamie, whose PhD I examined a couple of weeks ago - all friends now! There were too many appealing sessions to justify sneaking off for a wander in the countryside, and I had to skip friends' talks to attend equally attractive ones. I tried to go to as many postgrad papers as possible – partly to be encouraging and partly to feed off their healthy fresh young blood. I was particularly pleased to hear people talking about the subjects of my PhD (Lewis Jones, Richard Llewellyn and Gwyn Thomas) in ways I hadn't thought about. We also had a compelling  – and visceral – keynote by Jasmine Donahaye about the existence (or not) of creative non-fiction, starting with her account of running over a cat and soon reaching her abbatoir views. Psephologist Roger Scully gave a fascinating account of changing Welsh political landscapes, though he wouldn't be drawn on whether our distinguished colleague Daniel Williams would win Neath for Plaid Cymru. The final keynote was Jon Anderson, the human geographer at the heart of the Literary Atlas Wales project, which is soon to launch. It provided some of the weekend's controversies, particularly the decision to choose only English-language texts. The other spat was Andy Webb's account of Owen Sheers' Pink Mist, which he saw as signalling its Welshness covertly and marginally: he saw the stage play as even more universalist, stripping any Welsh and anti-war material away to make it a Support Our Boys drama. Mr Sheers was following all this on Twitter and was, it's fair to say, less than impressed.

Since that weekend I've also been part of the hiring process for our very first Chair in English (white smoke has yet to emerge) which was interesting but probably not suitable material for a public forum, and done lots of the things that appear in clumps at this time of year: PhD progress reviews, external examiner work and so on. But above it all is the marking.

Wynn says farewell to Alyce von Rothkirch, who is returning to Germany and will be missed

Still, it keeps my mind off the outside world: mass murders at pop concerts and the most breathtakingly sinister and cynical election campaign I've experienced. The Tories in particular seem to be running on a Norsefire agenda of cracking down on democracy per se. Watch this space though: I'm actually running to ground secretive local Tory candidate Paul Uppal tomorrow at a very rare hustings. Your suggestions for questions are very welcome.

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