Contemporary Critical Performances of the Authorial Role

How have new media technologies and the enhanced reproduction of visual and aural performances that they facilitate affected the contemporary practice of authorship? Our interactive research event is conceived as a performance and exercise in critical self-reflection in its own right. The academic papers examine literary authors’ critical engagement with ideas of authority in both the text and its hyperlinked context. They will be delivered alongside conversation papers with creative practitioners. A workshop that further explores the position of authors and critics in society will stimulate further thought on how creative critical self-reflection might also inform scholarly practice. A ‘how-to’ session that considers co-authorship concludes the event with a practical look at models of interdisciplinary collaboration in academic publishing.


Contemporary Critical Performances of the Authorial Role, 27-28 November 2014

Venue: Lancaster University, County South: Private Dining Room

Thursday 27 November 2014

12.00-13.00 Registration and buffet lunch

13.00-13.15 Rebecca Braun: Welcome and Introduction

13.15-14.15 Timothy Brennan: A Confusion of Categories: Literary Authority in an Age of the General Author

14.15-15.00 Diana Holmes: Performing the Middlebrow – Women Writers and Literary Stardom in Contemporary France

15.00-15.45 Refreshments and small group discussions

15.45-16.45 Cornelia Gräbner and Alejandro Reyes: Crossing Paths at the Crossroads: Authorship, Critique, and Commonalities

16.45-17.30 Gary Hall: Authors in a Post-Crash World

17.30-18.30 Discussion

19.30 Conference dinner in the Private Dining Room

Friday 28 November 2014

Venue: Lancaster University, County South: Private Dining Room

9.30-12.30  Workshop with Timothy Brennan: Is there a Peripheral Aesthetics?


In this workshop, we will explore the idea of an aesthetic of the periphery – that is, an attitude or set of criteria that writing within former (or still existing) colonies shares, despite its many stylistic, personal, and thematic differences.  One way of imagining such an aesthetic is to ask whether there is a connection between the expansion of the literary field to the global periphery (“world literature”) and the demotion of the status of the author as person. This also involves questioning our own practice as literary scholars. For the role of the author has been demoted in Western academic analysis in a number of ways: surface reading, object-oriented criticism, and also precisely by the tendency in world literature theories towards distance reading. If by “aesthetics” we in part mean the principle of allowable perception (what is and is not perceived as beautiful, intellectually compelling, reasonable, “interesting”) we should ask what, in the current configuration, can authors not say in order to be heard, and how do we, as critics, set about hearing it?  We live under the impression that capital can contain, and co-opt, everything. But is it true?  What are the unsayables; where, and how, might they get said otherwise; who listens, and how?

Preparatory Reading (expected):
Eduard Douwes Dekker, better known by his pen name Multatuli, was a Dutch writer famous for his satirical novel, Max Havelaar, which denounced the abuses of colonialism in the Dutch East Indies. We’ll be reading Max Havelaar alongside Timothy Brennan’s ‘The case against irony’ in preparation for the workshop.

12.30-14.00 Lunch

14:00-16:00 Academic Co-Authorship in Literary Studies – A New Model for Interdisciplinary Collaboration?

Participants are invited to reflect on the kinds of outputs that a truly interdisciplinary project might hope to produce, explore possible models for this current workshop series on literary celebrity, and hear from advisory members of ‘Authors and the World’ about their own experiences in academic co-authorship.

16:30 Coffee and close


Speakers and Abstracts


 Timothy Brennan is Samuel Russell Chair of the Humanities at the University of Minnesota, and a professor in the departments of Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature, English, and American Studies.  He writes on problems of colonialism and imperial culture, the role of intellectuals, cultural theory, the Marxist and phenomenological traditions, the avant-gardes, translation theory, and popular music.   His essays have appeared in a variety of publications including The Nation, Critical Inquiry, New Left Review, Transition, The Christian Science Monitor, The Times Literary Supplement, and the London Review of Books.  His books include Secular Devotion: Afro-Latin Music and Imperial Jazz (Verso, 2008), Empire in Other Colors (Revolver, 2007), Wars of Position: The Cultural Politics of Left and Right (Columbia, 2006), At Home in the World: Cosmopolitanism Now (Harvard, 1997), and, mostly recently, Borrowed Light: Vico, Hegel and the Colonies (Stanford, 2014).  Volume II of that work, Borrowed Light: The Interwar Moment and Imperial Form, is forthcoming (Stanford UP, 2015) and


‘A Confusion of Categories: Literary Authority in an Age of the General Author’

Any concept of world author today is forced from the start to consider the digital devaluation of authorship.   Blogging, for instance, is not perceived by many of its creators as sounding off but as a project comparable (in their own minds) to Diderot’s encyclopedia, as ambitious and often heavily footnoted analyses of figures from Marx to François Laruelle, or as original attempts of world philosophy and world religion.  Authorship has become general.  Everyone is an author – not just a writer, in other words, but one with a legitimate expectation of an audience and a circulation of their own authorial value. If standards of evaluation were debated (and debatable) in the past, criteria and distinctions seem here to be absurd, or at least overwhelmed.  Put another way, if the project of philosophical dissidents in the early nineteenth century was to “make the world philosophical,” it could not then have imagined the kind of impediments raised when the entire world – everyone with an internet connection – was already a philosopher, or thought they were. The facility of authorship, like information overload itself, appears democratic, but is that so?  How can criticism persuade in an environment of the pure relativity of opinion?  This dilemma has its complementary opposite in a second major feature of world authorship today.  Just as famous athletes and film stars at times become politicians on that basis, so authors of novels and plays, by virtue of being authors alone, are often taken to be oracles on major political or social issues: Richard Powers pronouncing on the Holocaust (because he wrote a novel about a black Jewish jazz musician); David Mamet in a Harpers cover story on the future of the internet.  What is this gullibility, or misplaced authority, granted authors in our culture? What do authors actually know? This confusion of categories has had profound effects on educational funding, grants awards, and the structure of faculty hires.   It raises in a fiercely contemporary way the older debate over the writer and the critic.  In two quite different ways, then, the role of criticism is displaced by evolving forms of world authorship, and a conventional notion of authorial uniqueness (genius) somehow accompanies a tyrannical market “democracy” of the loudest voice.


Di for photoDiana Holmes is Professor of French at the University of Leeds and one of the founding members of the Leeds-based Popular Cultures Research Network. Her work on French women’s writing from the late nineteenth century to the present (most recent monograph Romance and Readership in Twentieth-Century France: Love Stories, 2006) ranges across the hierarchy of culture from ‘high’ to ‘low’ brow, with a particular interest in what women choose to read.  Her recent work has focused particularly on popular fictions, with articles on bestsellers, a Special Issue of  French Cultural Studies: Story-Telling in Contemporary French Fiction: le ‘prêt-à-penser’ and Reading Pleasure (with David Platten, 2010), and two co-edited books: Imagining the Popular: highbrow, lowbrow and middlebrow in contemporary French culture, with David Looseley(Manchester University Press 2013), and Finding the Plot –Storytelling in popular fictions, with David Platten, Loic Artiaga, Jacques Migozzi (Cambridge Scholars’ Press, 2013).   She is one of the editors of the international on-line journal of popular cultures Belphégor, and is writing a book on the French middlebrow to be published by Liverpool University Press. She also works on film and co-edits the Manchester University Press series French Film Directors, which is close to publishing its 40th volume.

Performing the Middlebrow – Women Writers and Literary Stardom in Contemporary France

France, in this respect more like its European neighbours than the UK, maintains a strong allegiance to high culture as a central element of national identity. This is particularly true of the literary field: both mainstream media and academic criticism prize difficulty, resistant readings, experimentalism and play with genre, and tend to patronise or denigrate commercial success, along with the more familiar literary conventions that generally  determine this. Yet the French reading public are no different from their counterparts elsewhere in enjoying story, suspense, empathetic characterisation, romance and all the other features of the page-turning novel. In this paper I want to look at the way three best-selling women novelists negotiate their public performances within this conflicted context. Nancy Huston, Amélie Nothomb and Anna Gavalda each occupy a slightly different rung on the literary hierarchy, but all belong to what I define as the contemporary middlebrow: they are well-known faces in the mainstream media, their novels are widely read by a ‘non-professional’ readership, yet they tackle serious themes with self-aware literary skill. Through a consideration of the fictional worlds they create, and of their public performance of authorship, I will explore these writers’ appeal for a predominantly female reading public in a culture still committed to what we might term ‘high modernism’ and still arguable gendered masculine.


CG academia edu pictureCornelia Gräbner was born in Germany. She has lived in the U.S., the U.K., and The Netherlands. She has spent much time in Mexico, and spends even more time in transit. She holds an M.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Bonn and a PhD in Cultural Analysis from the University of Amsterdam. She is Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at Lancaster University and has published and researched on politicized performance poetry, the poetics of resistance, and imaginaries of alternative globalisation in contemporary committed writing.





Alejandro Reyes was born in Mexico City. He’s a writer, journalist, and translator. He’s lived in the U.S., Brazil, and France. He holds an M.A. in Latin American Studies and a PhD in Latin American Literature from the University of California at Berkeley. He’s the author of Vidas de rua (Street lives), Cuentos mexicanos (Mexican Story), Sueños en tránsito: crónicas de migración (Dreams in Transition: Chronicles of Migration), Vozes dos porões (Voices from the Basements: Essay about Marginal Literature in Brazil). His novel La reina del Cine Roma was awarded the Lipp Prize (México) and was among the finalists for the Premio Leya (Portugal). It has been published in Portugal, Brazil, Mexico, and France. He currently lives in Chiapas, Mexico.



Crossing Paths at the Crossroads: Authorship, Critique, and Commonalities

Cornelia Gräbner, Alejandro Reyes

In this half-hour conversation we explore the crossroads between creative writing and critique with reference to Alejandro Reyes’ novel La reina del cine Roma (The Queen of Cinema Rome), set among street children in San Salvador Bahía in Brazil; and with reference to critique in the context of committed methodologies like the poetics of resistance, Chela Sandoval’s methodology of the oppressed.

The theme of ‘crossing paths’ and ‘crossroads’ makes reference to two manifestos: the ‘Manifestação da Literatura Divergente ou Manifesto Encruzilhador de Caminhos’ (Manifesto of Divergent Literature or Manifesto of Crossing Paths) from Latin America, and The Coming Insurrection from Europe. ‘Crossing Paths at the Crossroads’ points towards the ethical dimensions of writing about ‘those from below’ and of committed critique, and will include a discussion of the legitimacy of writer and critic.

The conversation starts from a previously identified shared truth (we’re at the crossroads), and then progresses to build critical, creative, and political commonalities around it (the crossing of our paths). Always with regards to the novel and with regards to different forms of critique, it focuses on the following themes: ‘environment/world’ and ‘truth’ (as theorized by The Invisible Committee), ‘opacity/opaqueness’ and tricksterism,  and on porous and relational autonomy.


gary-2Gary Hall is Professor of Media and Performing Arts, Director of the Centre for Disruptive Media at Coventry University, UK, and Visiting Professor at the Hybrid Publishing Lab – Leuphana Inkubator, Leuphana University, Germany. He is author of Culture in Bits (Continuum, 2002), Digitize This Book!: The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now (Minnesota UP, 2008, and Pirate Philosophy (submitted), co-author of Open Education: A Study in Disruption (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), and co-editor of New Cultural Studies: Adventures in Theory (Edinburgh UP, 2006) and Experimenting (Fordham UP, 2007). He has over thirty peer-reviewed publications in edited books and academic journals including American Literature, Angelaki, Cultural Studies, New Formations, The Oxford Literary Review and Radical Philosophy.  In 1999, with Dave Boothroyd, he co-founded the open access journal Culture Machine, a pioneer of OA in the humanities. In 2006, with Sigi Jottkandt and David Ottina, he established Open Humanities Press (OHP), the first open access publisher dedicated to critical and cultural theory.

More details are available on his website


Authors in a Post-Crash World

Bernard Stiegler insists in Technics and Time that Western philosophy has forgotten that its origins lie with technics, that it has “repressed technics as an object of thought”. However, many literary and critical theorists – including Stiegler himself, ironically enough – have forgotten and repressed the media technologies by which their own work is not only produced, published and distributed, but also commodified and privatised by for-profit companies operating as part of the cultural industries.

Such repression is often noticeable when research is made available via those transnational corporations associated with disruptive digital media technologies, including social and mobile media, e-books, search engines and the cloud: Apple, Amazon, Google etc.  Nowhere is forgetfulness more evident, however, than in the way academic authorship continues to be dominated by the print-on-paper codex book and journal article, together with many of the core humanities concepts that have been inherited with them. The latter include the individualized author, the proprietorial subject, intellectual property and copyright. But they also include the signature, the proper noun or name, originality, immutability or “fixity”, the canon, the discipline, even the human.

I thus want to raise a question that is also an exhortation: how, as academic authors can we perform differently with regard to our own work, business, roles and practices – to the point where we actually begin to confront, think through and take on some of the implications of the challenge that is offered by literary and critical theory to concepts such as the author, the subject, copyright and the human, for the ways in which we create, circulate and share our writing and research? In short, if some are calling for a post-crash economics (, a radical rethinking of the field that would challenge its own foundational assumptions in the light of the most recent crisis of capitalism, do we need a post-crash critical theory too – a theory that does just call on us to think otherwise but also exhorts us to change radically our own academic and authorial practices.





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