Crossing Borders

Subjectivity and Sovereignty: Tracing the Modern through Time and Space, 1850 - Present.

Conference Proceedings, 28th of May 2019

Part One

The following conference proceedings have been published in memory of our friend and colleague Ben Clark who passed away on the 7th of June 2019. Ben was a member of the conference committee for the Centre for Modern Studies Postgraduate Forum and was instrumental in bringing this event to fruition. Subjectivity and Sovereignty: Tracing the Modern through Time and Space, 1850 – Present was one of the last projects that he worked on. As part of this edition, we hope to honour Ben’s aspirations to become an academic by publishing some of his own work and photography. Ben was working towards an MA in Musicology by research; his partner, musicologist Alice Masterson, has compiled a paper comprised of his research insights. Our heartfelt thanks go to Alice for producing this fitting testament to Ben’s creative and academic spirit.

Ben Clark

Ben Clark (1991 – 2019) was a Master’s by research student in the music department at the University of York. His research explores the contributions made by Ahmed Basiony (1978 – 2011) to sound art in Egypt and the meanings of the Egyptian avant-garde more broadly.

Prior to his Master’s, Ben graduated with a first-class honours degree in music, also from the University of York, and he was a keen performer (classical guitar and viola), composer, and musicologist. During the final year of his undergraduate studies, he chaired the contemporary music group the Chimera Ensemble and appeared as soloist in the UK premiere of Hans Werner Henze’s guitar concerto Ode an eine Äolsharfe.

Outside of his studies, Ben was an experienced and talented photographer (it is his work you see on the cover of this issue), with a particular interest in the politics of photography and its power to reflect and reinforce moral and social positions. This love for both music and visual art culminated in a research interest in sound art.

Above all, Ben was kind, thoughtful, hard-working, and witty, and he is missed dearly by those who knew him.

Ben's Paper

Part Two

Today, politically engaged groups across the globe, from indigenous land activists to the #MeToo movement are carving out new critical and aesth etic spaces that are responsive to received notions of autonomy and dis cursive practice. Each seeks to realise a notion of subjecthood and to challenge the concept of sovereignty as the sole preserve of the nation-state . Instead, global political, economic, social or cultural spheres are mobilising new geographies: previously submerged identities, voices, affective experiences, art practices and aesthetic movements come to the fore. This poses new challenges to the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; what is ‘modern’ subjectivity and how is it indexed creatively and theoretically?; how do the meanings and applications of subjectivity and sovereignty vary across time and space?; how does subjectivity and sovereignty apply to the modern body?; and how do we trace and explore these genealogies in interdisciplinary terms?

The Centre for Modern Studies Subjectivity and Sovereignty: Tracing the Modern Through Time and Space 1850 - Present postgraduate symposium provided a platform to explore these challenging questions. The one-day event on the 28th of May 2019 gathered together PhD and MA students at the beginning of their academic careers and from across the White Rose Network to explore this topic from numerous disciplinary and theoretical angles. The following collection provides a sample of the paper contributions.

In Reading Ecological Subjectivity in Mark Dion’s Animal Installations, art historian Francesca Curtis draws on ecocritical and post-humanist thinkers as well as psychoanalysis to problematise the objectification and commodification of nature in museum spaces and beyond. Widespread practices of taxidermy and taxonomy reflect a model of subjectivity in which human-beings animalise and exoticise other species in acts of Freudian repression. Curtis proposes that by critically reading two of American artist Dion’s art installations as evocations of an alternate, ‘ecological subjectivity’, we can begin to cultivate an attitude of ‘genuine love and interest’ in nature free of late-capitalist impulses to profile and dominate.

Rebecca Elton, in Free Folk: Female Sexual Autonomy and Wildling Society in A Song of Ice and Fire, investigates portrayals of the ‘wildlings’ in George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels. The wildlings, located in harsh wintery territory beyond a northern wall which separates them from more hospitable lands and kingdoms, are often depicted as an uncivilised ‘other’ given to wanton rape and pillage in discussions of Martin’s hit series. Elton suggests that Martin’s own treatment of the wildlings militates against such depictions. Westerosi societies – supposedly home to more civilised social practices – actually institutionalise much rape and violence through the mechanisms of patriarchy where wildling women enjoy a greater degree of bodily autonomy and sexual freedom. The discussion of wildling Ygritte and Night’s Watch member Jon Snow’s elopement is particularly instructive as to how far notions of civilisation and savagery constitute constructs erected by a prevailing power structure.

The pictorial reframing of the Katsura Imperial palace shifts our focus to photography and its role in negotiating concepts of aesthetic modernity. Leah Hsiao’s Looking at Katsura encourages us to view the 17th century palace as an “architectural paradigm” attended by a creative discourse that preserves the Japanese and European cross-cultural currents instrumental in determining architectural modernism. In the work of Bruno Taut, Walter Gropius and Yasuhiro Ishimoto, Hsiao reads three different interpretations of Katusra that arose between 1960 and 1983. Throughout, Hsiao is attentive to the various approaches to reconciling Katsura’s traditional and modern properties, raising the question ; “which is a more accurate representation of its architectural reality?”.

Following Hsiao, Michael Hedges expertly attunes the reader to the suppressed voices of ‘Magical Realist’ narratives. In ‘The sounds of silence: marginal voices and the auditory in Carpentaria and Midnight’s Children’ Hedges offers detailed readings of the novels’ auditory dimension, allowing us to listen in to postcolonial experience. Through exploration of Rushdie’s “magical realist communication” and Wright’s use of Aboriginal spirit sounds, Hedges demonstrates that an oscillation between the “supernatural” and “rationally explained” in both works forms a productive dynamism that provides “alternative epistemologies previously excluded from the realist tradition”.

Each of these papers critically and creatively rereads rich auditory, visual and textual sources with a view to extracting and exploring alternative subjectivities and sovereignties. They are united by an ambition to demonstrate how historical and latter-day social and cultural processes shape such sources and their reception, in doing so they instigate new conversations about we might develop interpretive methodologies and analysis.. Each paper, indicative of those presented at the 2019 Centre for Modern Studies postgraduate conference, emphasises the importance of interdisciplinarity for the White Rose Network. As a result, they are a fitting testament to Ben’s contribution to the event and to his passionate commitment to principles of interdisciplinary collaboration and conversation which shaped our preparations for the event, and even more resoundingly on the day itself.

Author Title
Francesca Curtis Reading Ecological Subjectivity in Mark Dion's Animal Installations
Rebecca Elton
Leah Hsiao
Michael Hedges