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    One Day in the City: In conversation with Kazuo Ishiguro

    By Sophie E Pleterski, on 4 July 2014

    An unmissable event – UCL’s One Day in the City and Harper’s Bazaar came together to host John Mullan, head of UCL English Language & Literature and former Man Booker judge, in conversation with Kazuo Ishiguro in the packed Darwin Lecture Theatre.

    kazuoishiguro1

    Writer Kazuo Ishiguro

    The Booker Prize winning author was on form. In a day devoted to London in fiction, Ishiguro, or Ish, as he was called by John, announced “I came to explain why I don’t set my novels in London… I’m a bit anti-London.” Excellent start.

    The conversation ranged extensively from settings in fiction to Ishiguro’s literary method, writers in London and the peccancy of political naivety in an author.

    Ish established from the start the distinction between a novel’s setting and its world: “every novel should have a strong sense of its own world, whether it be severe, bizarre, dark or noire-ish… and the psychological and physical laws that operate in that world.”

    The setting, meanwhile, has more to do with the public preconception of a place such as London, Paris in the 20s or New York in the 80s. He cautioned against the use of a setting without acknowledging its reverberations – what kind of noise it creates – adding wryly that “a writer who uses a setting like Nazi Germany without taking into account the Nazis is at best naïve.”

    Ishiguro’s antagonistic relationship with settings began with his early novels A Pale View of the Hills (1982) and An Artist of the Floating World (1986). Westerners, knowing little about Japan, tended to take his novels too literally within the context of their Japanese setting. They assumed that he was trying to teach the reader about the Japanese mindset of the time.

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    Is it something I said? Scurrilous or taboo language

    By Jack H C Dean, on 25 June 2014

    The penultimate event of UCL’s One Day in the City saw John Sutherland (Lord Northcliffe Professor Emeritus of Modern English Literature at UCL) chair a debate on scurrilous or taboo language with Will Self, Tim Clare and Melanie Abrahams, who stood in for the absent Sunday Times writer, India Knight.

    one day in the city

    Sutherland began by introducing Will Self as “a novelist and presenter”, to which Self replied: “Presenter? What the fuck are you talking about?”

    Sutherland continued, suggesting that we are “rediscovering linguistic taboo” and that Freud had written that all language begins with it: “It is uncanny and unclean”.

    He explained that during his lifetime – Sutherland was born in 1938 – the diachronic alteration of language had been dramatic, but that it was also vital to look at language synchronically. Diachronic change being linguistic alteration over time and synchronic, meaning the study of language at one point in history.

    The end of the 1930s, for example, saw the publication of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Niggers a title that was synchronically acceptable. By the 1970s, this had changed to And then there were none…, which alluded to a nursery rhyme in the novel. This was a notable diachronic change.

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    Language machines – An Evening with Abdelkader Benali

    By Guest Blogger, on 7 February 2014

    pencil-iconWritten by Stefanie van Gemert, PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at UCL

    abdelkader_benali_2In the life and work of the Dutch writer Abdelkader Benali (1975) themes of travelling, migration and movement are closely connected. Benali has lived in Beirut, Rotterdam and Rome, and uses these and many other places as backdrops of his literary imaginings.  During the Travelling and Translation event at UCL’s new Centre for Low Countries Studies, the author explains how traveling can set off ‘language machines’.

    An accomplished long-distance runner, Benali is always on the move. Before he came to London, he ran the Marrakech half marathon in an hour and a half. Morocco also provided the scenery for his debut novel Wedding by the Sea (in Dutch: Bruiloft aan Zee (1997)), which launched him into the Dutch literary scene at the age of 21. In the novel Benali created alluring images of migrants returning to, what he calls, ‘their authentic place’.

    Having moved from Morocco to the Netherlands himself at 4 years old, he argues that the impact of migration sharpened his sense of early memories. Whilst learning Dutch at his new school, he intuitively understood that grammar positioned him in a complex society: ‘I am; you are; he is… I soon realised that language is always about social relationships.’

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    Conan Doyle’s ‘caveman in a lounge suit’

    By Ben Stevens, on 19 December 2013

    With Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation set to return to our screens in a New Year’s Day episode of Sherlock, it was refreshing to attend a symposium on 9 December dedicated to his much less well-known character, Professor George Edward Challenger.

    Most readers, if they have heard of him at all, will know Professor Challenger from his first appearance in the novel, The Lost World (1912).

    Arthur Conan-Doyle

    Narrated by journalist Edward Malone, the novel sees the irascible professor lead an expedition to a South American plateau to prove the existence of dinosaurs there, accompanied by Malone, fellow scientist Professor Summerlee and Lord John Roxton, a hunter and adventurer.

    Challenger’s adventures continued in two further novels, The Poison Belt (1913), The Land of Mist (1926) and two later short stories, When the World Screamed (1928) and The  Disintegration Machine (1929).

    The symposium, ‘Challenger unbound’ – ably convened by UCL PhD student Tom Ue (UCL English) – explored all five works and brought together scholars from across the UK and North America including UCL’s John Sutherland, Lord Northcliffe Professor Emeritus of Modern English Literature.

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