‘Identity in Conflict’: ASMCF/SSFH Postgraduate Study Day Report

The first panel of postgraduate papers of the 2018 Postgraduate Study Day comprised three papers examining approaches to identity by literary figures across three centuries. Presented in chronological order, the first paper was given by Jessica Kasje (Yale) who re-examined George Sand’s relationship to women’s rights movements.

Drawing in particular on Sand’s letter ‘Aux Membres du Comité central’ of 1848 in which she explained her position on women’s suffrage, and her Lettres à Marcie of 1837 where Sand is critical of nineteenth-century feminist movements whilst also bemoaning the gender roles society ascribes to women, Kasje argued that Sand can be read as a pragmatic feminist, one who had acutely perceived the political realities of her age.

Perhaps not a feminist by today’s standards, Sand can thereby be considered as a writer thoroughly supportive of female emancipation but gradually, not demanding too much too soon, particularly given the lessons of the various revolutions France had recently experienced.

Moving into the twentieth century, Fabienne Cheung (Manchester) then explored the complex linguistic identity of Oulipian poet Marcel Bénabou, fruitfully reading his Jacob, Menahem, et Mimoun: Une épopée familiale (1995) in dialogue with Jacques Derrida’s Le Monolinguisme de l’autre (1996).

What emerged from this reading was a complex engagement on Bénabou’s part with the various facets of his identity as a Moroccan Francophone Jew, using literature to think through the multiple forms of otherness such an identity implies: social, cultural, and linguistic.

Finally, the panel moved into the twenty-first century, as Hannie Lawlor (Oxford) discussed Christine Angot’s 2015 novel Un Amour impossible. As with many of Angot’s text, the subject of this novel is the rape of the female protagonist by her father, a means of exposing the psychological trauma of such an experience and its ramifications for familial relations, which were the focus of Lawlor’s paper.

Lawlor especially emphasised the novel’s exploration of mother-daughter relations, tracing conflict to the very form of the text which offers two differing perspectives of the same trauma, and arguing that Angot seeks to create a space that whilst haunted by conflict nonetheless facilitates coexistence.

These seemingly diverse papers gave rise to a rich and informative discussion on the timeless problem of language’s inadequacy to fully articulate deep-seated emotional struggles, and provocative reflections on the recourse to art as a means of thinking through conflict in its various forms.

James Illingworth, Queen’s University Belfast

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