27 June 2012

Camilla Cassidy - conference report

Camilla Cassidy (Oxford) reports on the panel 'Tracing Narrative and Representation':

This panel included papers from Alex Price (York) on ‘”This old lady’s ruffled bed”: Beds and Bedtime Behaviours in Little Red Riding Hood’, Stephen Kenyon (Glyndwr) on ‘What to do with a severed head? The quest for a voice within The Orpheus Project’ and Philip Holden (Singapore) on ‘Portraits of the Artist: Maugham, Sexuality, Representation’. Though their subjects were strikingly varied, each of these papers spoke insightfully to the idea that objects can transform the ways in which we understand narrative. Each suggested alternative ways of creating narrative, whether by reinterpreting a familiar fairy tale around a suggestive central image, generating new works of art from the impetus of a classical myth, or condensing and complicating aspects of biographical representation through a series of still images. 

Alex Price discussed various manifestations of the Little Red Riding Hood story in text and image. He drew on versions including those by Charles Perrault, Anne Sexton and Gwen Strauss alongside illustrations from diverse editions of the tale and images from advertising. The pictures that accompanied this talk ranged from sinister representations of the wolf with a bulging belly to a Heinz Salad Cream advert showing the archetypally masculine predator dressed in frills and lace. The subversion and complication of the wolf’s traditionally masculine image raised interesting questions within this paper. Alex Price persuasively argued that the bed is at the epicentre of these various re-readings and re-writings of the Little Red Riding Hood story. This paper discussed the ways in which the image of the bed has shifted over time and according to the priorities of successive authors. This paper persuasively argued that the bed represents a central image in the tale’s “symbolic vocabulary” as well as being “the axle around which the plot turns”. 

Stephen Kenyon discussed his involvement with ‘The Orpheus Project’, a collaborative project which incorporates the work of visual artists, poets and musicians in the interpretation of the Orpheus myth. Within this context, his paper explained the suggestive interactions between reworkings of classical myth and the original text or tale. He suggested that multimedia retelling of a well-known myth can create a narrative “rhizome” which presents a multifaceted and branching reimagining of an originally linear tale. We heard spoken word interpretations by Lyndon Davies and were shown images by Penny Hallas. Kenyon drew attention to the diversity of possible interpretations within the single source narrative. Davies, for instance, focused on the tale of Orpheus’s journey while Hallas principally used the image of the severed head. Kenyon also presented an image created collaboratively at an earlier event (‘Border/Lines’) which took Blanchot’s ‘The Gaze of Orpheus’ as its key text. The original image was created by Hallas and subsequently altered by other participants to create a palimpsestic series of interpretations around the idea of the Orpheus myth. Kenyon discussed the site specific elements of this project based in Wales, alongside the technological opportunities which might make this work accessible to a wider audience. He touched on the possibilities suggested by augmented reality technologies and pointed to the ‘enhanced edition’ of The Waste Land app as a notable precedent for the innovative digitalisation of literary texts which branch beyond the confines of linear narrative. 

Philip Holden’s paper explored the biographical significance of W. Somerset Maugham’s late sittings for artists and photographers including Carl Van Vechten, George Platt Lynes and Bernard Perlin. These images were considered in the context of Maugham’s resistance to more formal biographies which, Holden explained, is usually attributed to the author’s desire to keep his sexuality private. These images, which ranged from formal compositions to more intimate, explicit or apparently impromptu shots, reveal the tension between a desire for publicity and the perceived need to keep certain aspects of his life a secret. These images explore the clash between celebrity and the suppression of a ‘hidden life’. They suggest an opportunity for an alternative form of biography which “complicate[s] simple oppositions between secrecy and revelation, surface and depth”.

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