“The Beginning of Sound Film -The End of Literary Modernism?” and “The Rise of Populism and a Call for the New Sincerity in Contemporary Fiction” (Public lectures, 15th August)

Our Late Summer Lectures series is back in 2018, and begins by looking at how literature reflects trends and developments in wider culture and politics. In the first talk, Lara Ehrenfried will show how the advent of sound film influenced modernist writers. In the second, Arya Aryan identifies a new trend in writing as authors react against the turbulent political events of our times. Join them at Alington House, Durham on 15th August from 17.30.

The Beginning of Sound Film – The End of Literary Modernism? with Lara Ehrenfreid

Although the study of cinema and literature has been a staple concern in the field of literary and cultural studies since at least the 1970s, the coming of synchronised sound to film and early sound film’s wider cultural significance still await sustained scholarly attention. Structured into two parts, this public lecture provides an introduction to early synchronised sound film and considers the possible impact and significance of the transition from silent to sound film for British writers. Tailored to a non-specialist audience, the first part of the lecture gives an overview over the beginnings of synchronised sound in Britain and introduces one of the earliest British films with synchronised sound, Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail (1929). The lecture discusses some key features of early sound film by using Hitchcock’s Blackmail as an example. The lecture then considers excerpts from a small selection of late twenties and early thirties newspapers, film journals, and film reviews by British writers like Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene to highlight some of the public reactions and critical responses to the new medium of sound film. The second part of the lecture then thinks about some of the wider implications of the transition to sound film and explores the potential impact of sound film on Britain’s wider cultural and artistic landscape. Taking British novels of the 1930s and 1940s as an example, the lecture will consider short excerpts from texts by Evelyn Waugh, Patrick Hamilton, Jean Rhys, and Henry Green to think about the impact of sound film on a second generation of British modernist writers. The lecture asks whether the experience of sound on film may have changed or influenced the way these late modernist writers thought and wrote about sound in their texts and whether the transition to sound film may have had a role to play in the perceived end of modernist writing in the interwar years.

About Lara Ehrenfried

Lara Ehrenfried is a Leverhulme-funded PhD student at Durham University’s Centre for Visual Arts and Culture (CVAC). She holds an MA in English Literary Studies from Durham and a BA in German and English Linguistics and Literary Studies from Bielefeld University (Germany). Her research focuses on the relationship between early sound film and late modernist literature in Britain. She has special interests in British literature of the 1930s and 1940s; film sound; the relationship between sound technologies and literature; and the form and history of the novel.

The Rise of Populism and a Call for the New Sincerity in Contemporary Fiction, with Arya Aryan

“That Age of Irony ended abruptly on Nov. 9, 2016, when people in many of the irony-heavy communities . . . woke up to the sobering news of Donald J. Trump’s victory, and perhaps a new reason to ditch the culture of sarcasm and self-infantilization” (Wampole).

A significant number of writers in our contemporary era highly suggest the end of postmodernist irony and beginning of a new era. These writers feel an incumbent ethical responsibility to bring about positive change, opposing what is perceived as a prevailing apathy and cynicism in postmodern ironic life and fiction. These qualities are most prominently embodied in the lifestyle of the hipster, who is prototypical of postmodern ironic life. The writers argue that the dominant sense of ironic detachment (hence, apathy) and cynicism, which result from postmodernism, has leaked into public life and mass culture – an occurrence which has not only failed to change the world for the better, but has instead given impetus to its very decadence. In other words, the postmodern has failed to address and ameliorate the flaws of society, which have had large-scale global effects. As this paper would argue, democratic society’s failure – for instance to prevent wars such as that in Iraq and the ascent to power of Donald Trump – must arise from this postmodern “surplus of apolitical irony” (sense of detachment) and languid apathy as well as from the void created by hypocritical Political Correctness which is filled by the populists. Therefore, a call for a wake up from the ironic dream and stupor and the need for an alternative good – i.e. serious engagement and commitment within political life – are highly felt by writers and thinkers such as David Foster Wallace and Christy Wampole; hence, the emergence of a new style and sensibility as a means of coping with this dominant cynical, apathetic, and ethically detached, postmodern mode of life: The New Sincerity. This paper will explore this new sensation and alternative in the texts and fictions of David Foster Wallace, J. M. Coetzee and Hilary Mantel.

About Arya Aryan

Arya Aryan is a PhD candidate in Postmodernist, Feminist and Contemporary literature at Durham University under the supervision of Professor Patricia Waugh. His research explores theories of authorship and the function of the novel.

From snake-women to satirical pamphlets, the beginnings of sound film to the burning of Shakespeare’s globe: Late Summer Lectures brings you the latest thoughts from early-career researchers at Northern universities. The series is free and everyone is warmly welcome, from school and university students to the general public. There will be a chance to ask questions of the speakers, and to socialise afterwards over free refreshments.


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