Wednesday, 20 June 2012

"Take a couple of tranquilisers and have a look at what the kids have been reading": May reading report

In this session (held at Northumbria University) we addressed provocative questions about authorship, readership, audience, production and consumption, encouraged by Rebecca and Jon to think in new ways about the distortions and transformations of texts over time. Confronted with a graphically illustrated version of 'Goblin Market' in the glossy pages of a 1973 edition of Playboy, we discussed the surprising (or not so surprising?) meeting of Christina Rossetti and pornography. 

The discussion further turned on experiences of teaching poetry in schools, the relationship between sexual and religious imagery, and the original marketing of Goblin Market – especially the reasons for its initial adults-only and subsequent child-friendly status (something which allowed the Playboy editor to present the poem as ‘the all-time hard-core pornographic classic for tiny tots’! The provision of a sumptuous banquet of bananas, grapes and satsumas (which we somewhat guiltily feasted on) ensured that this was, of course, a fruitful meeting. 

Next we watched a clip from Jane Campion’s 2009 film Bright Star, in which Keats and Fanny recite Keats’s poem 'La Belle Dame sans Merci'. This provoked further debate about the inherent sexual meanings in poetry, and the limitations of an interpretive approach which seeks to root out innuendo or to read biographically. Further, we considered more widely the nature of representation, the cultural dissemination of literature, the popularisation of nineteenth-century culture in modern movies, and issues of historical accuracy in films. 

Further, both excerpts prompted an animated debate about the importance of context and paratext, whether we can speak about an original or authoritative text, and whether meaning inheres solely in the text. This was a particularly engaging session in that it brought together members from Durham, Northumbria and Newcastle, and poems from the Romantic and Victorian eras. The fabulous visual media presented made for an entertaining discussion, which was continued afterwards at the pub. 

-Harriet Briggs (Newcastle University)


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