This series of video talks will be released at 1pm, so you can watch them in any order. The total length of the talks is just under 2 hours.
Introduction by Luke Young
Caroline Curtis - ‘An Essay-Writer must practise in the Chymical Method’: The Early Royal Society’s Adoption of the Essay Genre.
This paper will examine the use made of the emergent genre of the essay by seventeenth century members and associates of the Royal Society. Robert Boyle is often cited as the epitome of the experimentalist essay writers, who used the genre to publish their findings. However, works titled as essays were generally written to advance the Society as well as the scientific method itself. Abraham Cowley's scientific interests found expression in a short prose pamphlet published in 1661, but he turned to the essay when making the case for his personal retreat and agricultural life being the best engagement, he could have with the natural world. William Petty turned to essay writing in his later life, and his essays put a Baconian passion for quantitative precision to political use. Joseph Glanvill’s Scepsis Scientifica (1665) earned him a Society fellowship, and he continued to use the essay form to promote the activities and philosophy of the Society thereafter. Boyle can be seen as an exception to, rather than the epitome of, the use of the essay form by Royal Society members and associates, yet the essay was still a vital tool for the promotion of the new natural philosophy.
Rowena Gutsell - “To Be Ill and Writing”: Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and the Confessional Essay.
The “need to bind things together again makes pathographical literature a rich source for the literary critic.” But what if the writer of the pathography, or illness narrative, is herself a literary critic—one, no less, whose “mother’s milk has been deconstruction”, a critical orientation wary of clean-cut dualisms and tidy unities? This dissertation traces the ways in which, from the critical moment of her breast cancer diagnosis in 1991 through to her death in 2009, the monographs and essay collections, poems and art-objects of queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick reach across forms, genres, and styles, in such a way that the ‘critical’ and the ‘confessional’ begin to, in Sedgwick’s own words, “intimate[ly] adhe[re]”. This paper will suggest that these “adventures in applied deconstruction” offered Sedgwick, and continues to offer readers, spaces in which to think, write and live chronic illness in ways that side-step the conventional, fatalistic narrative arc which often structures contemporary illness narratives. As such, this paper will demonstrate some of the ways in which Sedgwick’s experiments with the essay form—with “transfigur[ing …] the energies of some received forms of writing that were important to [her]”—offered her, as a critic, as a poet, as a reader, a means to theorise (and find new ways of experiencing) optimism, pleasure and love in the face of terminal illness.
Marie Allit - ‘And Other Essays’: Illness Narratives and Creative Non-Fiction.
This paper discusses the changing forms of illness narratives, where contemporary works are moving away from traditional modes of pathography or chronological memoir, to something closer to the essay form. Thinking especially about collections of works such as Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays From a Nervous System (2017) by Sonja Huber and The Empathy Exams: Essays (2014) by Leslie Jameson, I explore the idea of the essay compilation, what relationship each piece has with one another, and what this indicates about current approaches to illness memoir and medical experiences. Does the essay form suggest a different representational relationship with the illness experience? Is the essay a means of marking the chronicity of certain conditions? Is the essay a unique domain of the body, and the self?
Professor Dame Hermione Lee - Virginia Woolf, Eccentricity, and the Essay.
Dr Merve Emre - The Impersonal Essay.
"What is the opposite of the much-maligned personal essay? This talk thinks through a taxonomy of opposites (the impersonal essay, the political essay, the collective essay) to reveal the specific aesthetic and historical stakes of the personal essay. At the heart of the personal essay, I argue, resides at once an illusion of a purely private selfhood and the fictionalized breach of that privacy through a risky act of address. As the illusion of a purely private selfhood becomes increasingly difficult to sustain, the narration of the breach must become increasingly spectacularized, resulting in the tawdriness and self-indulgence frequently attributed to personal essays today."