Can Literature Still Be Dangerous in the Western World?


doiw21In a world where a single tweet may have a huge impact, does literature still have a role to play in shaping our society? What gives literature its power? Everyone is welcome to join an Durham University English Society discussion as part of the PEN Day of the Imprisoned Writer commemorations, led by a panel consisting of Professor Stephen Regan, Dr Samuel Thomas, and Professor Peter McDonald. The event takes place at 19.00 on  13th November.

“The victory of Ulysses helped create a culture in which literature lacks urgency,” says Stephen Kellman. Can literature still be dangerous? To celebrate the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, the English Society is hosting a conversation on literary censorship and the socio-political space of literary production, media freedom of expression, and transition to new mediums.

As communication and media transition to new digital mediums, has literature become peripheral to the common culture? For example, a “tweet” may provoke a firestorm while a sentence in a novel goes unnoticed. Might the victory for freedom of literary expression marked by Ulysses be a pyrrhic victory in which the impact of literature that might in another time be controversial, considered radical, oppressed, is marginalised? Do readers and we as a society take freedom of expression for granted? Does literature become a mere commercial commodity once the battles for literary freedom, which so affirmed the power of words, die down? Conversely, is it opposition – oppression, violent prohibition – that empowers literature, or is that an innate quality? How does this apply in those parts of the world where literature still carries stiff sentences of imprisonment and censure? Should we, free to write and publish, “check our privilege” in asking these questions?

Confirmed panelists include Professor Stephen Regan (Durham), Dr Sam Thomas (Durham), and Professor Peter McDonald (Oxford, St Hugh’s). After introductions, there will be a 1 hour panel followed by 15 minutes for questions from the audience.

This event is organised by Durham University English Society. Everyone, including the public, is welcome to attend; entry is £2 for non-members. The discussion will start at 7pm on 13th November, in the Scarborough Lecture Theatre.

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