Terror in Literature: The Middle Ages and Now (Public Lecture, 9th October)

The final event in Late Summer Lectures 2019 will feature a pair of talks by Alex Jordan and Nadia Terki, tracing terror in literature from the middle ages to now. Free and open to all, from members of the public to schools to academics.

When: 9th October, 17.30-18.30
Where: Alington House Community Association
Reserve your free ticket via Eventbrite or Facebook.

About ‘Demons, Vikings, Pagans and Terror in the Early Middle Ages’, with Alex Jordan

Demons, Vikings and pagans all inspired terror because they were a threat to the established, Christian order. Their modus operandi was quite dissimilar to that used by modern terrorist groups. Notably, they did not have a series of political demands or ideological motives for their attacks. Rather, they attacked for financial gain (or in the case of demons, imaginary prompting from the devil). Yet the fear they inspired and their patterns of attack were arguably similar. This paper will explore how medieval clergy perceived these groups in the centuries leading up to the first millennium, and how they responded.

Just like terrorists over the past few centuries, the fear that demons and pagans inspired was often out of all proportion to the damage they actually caused, or were thought to cause. Three factors probably lay behind this. First, they were perceived as the ‘other’; this element of the unknown meant that their attacks caused more fear than attacks by fellow Christians. Second, their attacks were unpredictable, or occurred at short notice. Third, these groups were difficult or impossible to engage with through usual methods, such as diplomacy, pitched battles or, for the medieval clergy, prayer. This left many with a frightening sense of both incomprehension and impotence to which the medieval church tried to respond as best it could. Clerical responses included blaming the populations attacked for being insufficiently pious, unconvincing claims that the saints were able to protect Christian populations, and finally, flight in the face of escalating Viking attacks. This paper shows that although the fear inspired was not dissimilar to fears of terrorism in the modern era, both the motives for attack, and responses to the attacks, were very different.

About ‘Political Violence: Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent and Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire‘, with Nadia Terki

After the attacks of 9/11, and due to the shocking loss in human life and material damage, it came to be known as the most terrifying terrorist attack in history. Following that date, many terrorism scholars, such as Walter Laqueur, Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon have argued for the emergence of a new and unprecedented form of terrorism. Their claims are mainly supported in relation to the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction and the intense scale at which the attacks are taking place. Yet, other scholars like Matthew Carr, Martha Crenshaw and John Gray have argued for a more consistent modus operandi of political violence. They maintain that terrorism as we know it today may have increased in level but has not changed in nature. That is, the central functioning pattern and reasoning behind it is consistent with previous forms of terrorism. John Gray specifically qualifies Anarchism (a violent movement that was mainly widespread during autocratic Russia) as the earliest precursor of contemporary terrorism. My research aims at supporting the latter argument through bringing in the literary argument.  I am putting into dialogue novels from the late nineteenth, early twentieth, late twentieth and twenty first centuries, as a way of exploring the literary representations of political violence during those periods of time. I then proceed to drawing the parallels in the aim of uncovering the consistency in the modus of operation of terrorism, be it Anarchism, during autocratic Russia, or Islamist fundamentalism in the contemporary period.  During this talk, I will specifically refer to Home Fire (2017) by Kamila Shamsie and The Secret Agent (1907) by Joseph Conrad. I will make reference to the connectedness of their literary representations of media coverage and women ‘terrorists’ in relation to terrorism.

For more information about Late Summer Lectures, including accessibility to the venue, visit our FAQs for the series. For an idea of what to expect, enjoy listening to podcasts from previous series.

Late Summer Lectures poster

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