'Dispute Incarnate’: Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock, the Demjanjuk Trial and Eyewitness Testimony
Though I belong to the Faculty's Modern & Contemporary Period Group - and, indeed, currently convene it - I think and write about 'big' literary history, and have published on authors from Homer to George Gascoigne (c. 1535-1577) to Katie Kitamura.
To date, my main area of publication has been war representation, which I'm drawn to because it tests authorial skills and resources to their utmost (for that reason 'the writer's best subject', according to Ernest Hemingway) and so is revelatory about the relationship between literary form and its intellectual and cultural contexts. Throughout my work, my aim has been to reorient the prevailing axis of interest so that the question becomes, not so much how war literature relates to war, but how war literature relates to literature. Authoring War: The Literary Representation of War from the Iliad to Iraq identifies a number of challenges inherent in the representation of armed conflict - credibility, scale, space, time, language and logic - and uncovers commonalities in the ways in which authors across the ages have responded to them: the ethos tropes, synecdoche, pastoral, narrative superpositions, the impossibility tropes and laughter. The Cambridge Companion to War Writing also combines theoretical thinking about war representation with a transhistorical perspective. It offers essays on how war is and has been conceptualized, the inadequacy of words in the face of armed conflict, the landscapes of warfare and the construction of the war correspondent, plus expert overviews of war writing from Classical and Biblical examples to 21st-century texts. My latest book, Veteran Poetics: British Literature in the Age of Mass Warfare, 1790-2015 (forthcoming from Cambridge University Press in 2018) reads a single figure - the war veteran - in the literary-philosophical contexts of the age of modern, mass, industrialized warfare, illustrating how veterans have been deployed by authors from William Wordsworth to J. K. Rowling to explore questions relating to being, knowing and communicating. What can be recovered from the past? Do people stay the same over time? Are there right times of life at which to do certain things? Is there value in experience? How can wisdom be shared?
To encourage scholarly collaboration and collegiality in the field of war representation, in 2010 I co-founded the War and Representation Network (WAR-Net), with Professor Gill Plain of the University of St. Andrews. WAR-Net is now a network of scholars across Britain, Europe, North America, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Australasia, with some 450 members. With Gill, I am also co-General Editor of the monograph series Edinburgh Critical Studies in War & Culture. We welcome book proposals from scholars at all stages of their careers.
In 2017-18, I am co-convening, with Dr. Niall Munro of Oxford Brookes University, a seminar series funded by the Mellon Foundation called Post-War: Commemoration, Reconstruction, Reconciliation. This Series will bring together academics, figures from the public sector and creative practitioners, including the architect Daniel Libeskind, the novelists Aminatta Forna and Rachel Seiffert, the poets Dunya Mikhail and Jenny Lewis and the composers Jonathan Dove and Errollynn Wallen, continuing the interdisciplinary approach of Memory, Mourning, Landscape.
In the more focused time-frame of Modern and Contemporary Literature, I have published on topics from moments of insight in Henry James and Dorothy Richardson to Virginia Woolf’s brackets to tiredness (as opposed to exhaustion) in the post-war novel (forthcoming). I am the editor of The Modernist Party (2013), which includes my own essay on why J. Alfred Prufrock is so afraid of going to a tea-party, and co-editor of Tove Jansson Rediscovered (2007). I am also the editor of Flower/Power: British Literature in Transition, 1960-1980, which will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2018 and includes an essay by me on light effects in Philip Larkin's poetry. I review contemporary fiction regularly for The Times Literary Supplement.
The last chapter of my book on veterans - about ex-combatants who, against expectations, refuse or are unable to tell stories about the wars they have been in - has inspired me to move my research in a new direction: literature and silence. In Spring 2017, I held a Knowledge Exchange Fellowship with the Oxford Quaker Meeting at 43 St. Giles, beginning to learn about silence, spirituality and poetry. My plans are to edit an anthology of poetry relating to silence and to work on a book, provisionally entitled Literature’s Silences, which will explore silence, the silent and the silenced in literature from the medieval period to the present, reflecting in the process on its own gaps, omissions and white spaces.
I am interested in supervising dissertations on war writing, modernism and, particularly, literature and silence.
- Prelims Papers 1B, 3 & 4
- FHS Papers 5, 6 & 7
- MSt and DPhil supervision in 19th- and 20th-century literature, particularly war writing, modernism and literature and silence.
I read English Language and Literature as an undergraduate at Somerville College, Oxford, and took an MPhil in Renaissance Literature at St. John's College, Cambridge. I then qualified as a barrister and worked for the Government Legal Service for seven years, with stints at the European Commission in Brussels, the Conseil d'Etat in Paris and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, before returning to Somerville for an MSt, this time in modern literature, and a DPhil. I was then a Junior Research Fellow at Balliol College, Oxford, a Lecturer and Senior Lecturer at the University of Glasgow, and a Senior Lecturer and Reader at Birkbeck, University of London. In 2014, I became a Tutorial Fellow of Harris Manchester College. I'm also a published poet and an Associate of the Royal College of Music in piano performance.