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To Hell and back over lunch: an introduction to Dante

LaraCarim16 May 2013

The Vision of Hell viii, iII. Gustave Doré
(UCL Library Special Collections)

Severed heads, rivers of blood and pools of faeces might not seem the most appealing topics over lunchtime, but there was standing room only at Professor John Took’s talk at the UCL Festival of the Arts on 14 May about Dante’s Divine Comedy – one of the most horrifying, yet uplifting, poems ever written in western literature.

In the words of Professor Took (UCL Italian), Dante’s Commedia (Comedy) – which charts one lost soul’s metaphorical journey to Hell, Purgatory, Heaven and back in several thousand lines of rhyming poetry – is “a work of tremendous stature, which lays hold of you by the throat and won’t let you go”.

A note for the pedants: the Divina (Divine) prefix, by which the poem is better known, was added by the Church during the Counter-Reformation in an attempt to co-opt the work – which already tells you something about the poet’s representation of the Papacy.

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Choosing to Remember/Choosing to Forget: Shaping legacies of a violent past

newseditor13 May 2013

How do victims cope with the atrocities that were committed during the Holocaust? What’s more, how do the perpetrators?

This Festival of the Arts panel session on 9 May addressed different elements of how people struggle to remember or forget their experiences of the Holocaust. It was not, as I had expected, about the psychology behind memory loss or recall following traumatic events; rather about how strategies of coping can manifest itself in various forms such as film, literature and discourse.

Holocaust Memorial Berlin
Holocaust Memorial, Berlin, courtesy of Daniel Foster on Flickr

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London and Literature

LubomiraGadjourov19 June 2012

The UCL Festival of London and Literature held on Friday 15 June was an occasion that honoured not only the literature that comes out of London, but also the city itself and the ways in which it has influenced and inspired authors for centuries.

Alan Hollinghurst PHOTO: Maria Laura Antonelli/Rex

The final event of the day saw acclaimed writers and Booker Prize winners Alan Hollinghurst and A. S. Byatt discuss the ways in which it has inspired their own writing.

Led by the very animated head of UCL English, Professor John Mullan, the authors were prompted to discuss the ways in which their personal relationship with London has changed over the years and how their feelings have evolved as they have come to know the city better.

Neither Hollinghurst nor Byatt hail from London, and so they spoke about how they came to know the city first and foremost through the descriptions found in children’s stories, detective novels and through the music that was coming from the capital during their childhood.

Charles Dickens appears to have been hugely influential for both Hollinghurst and Byatt in the shaping of their sense of London before they had a chance to forge a personal relationship with the city. Excerpts from Great Expectations and The Uncommercial Traveller were read, and it became clear that although much has changed, Dickensian London is not far from the bustling metropolis that we know today. (more…)

No Need for the Great Arab Spring Novel

newseditor3 February 2012

Abdelkader Benali and Hisham Matar discuss literature and revolutions at an event attended by Stefanie van Gemert.

With Time Magazine recently choosing ‘The Protester’ as Person of the Year 2011, it seems a relevant question to ask whether art is capable of protest, of revolting against tyranny.

On 26 January the authors Hisham Matar (In the Country of Men and Anatomy of a Disappearance) and Abdelkader Benali (Dutch Writer in Residence 2011-12 at UCL, Wedding by the Sea) discussed this topic at ‘Time Travels in Literature and Politics’: literature and its response to political suppression.

The event was timely – as chair Jo Glanville, Editor of Index on Censorship, pointed out: it was exactly a year after the uprising in Egypt. Matar and Benali are both rooted in the Arab-speaking world: Benali was born in Morocco, before moving to the Netherlands in 1979, aged four. His first novel, Wedding by the Sea (1996, English transl. 2000), discusses a theme that he would often revisit, that of the intermingling of East and West, aptly visualised by his latest title Oost=West (2011, ‘East=West’).

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