27 June 2012

Emalee Beddoes - conference report

Emalee Beddoes (Birmingham) reports on the panel 'Transforming Gaskell':

This panel consisted of three papers from Kent, Roehampton and Tlemcen, together creating a flowing analysis of the transformation objects and texts in Gaskell's oeuvre.

The first paper by Alison Lundie, “A Woman's Touch: Domestic Arts of Clothing and Needlework Materialising Transformations in Identity” interrogated and socially located Gaskell's rich description of “a shawl” in the first chapter of Mary Barton. Lundie described the codified understanding of shawls in Gaskell: how the skilled and artful arrangement of their shawls and the skilled use of needlecraft marked textile factory “hands” as holders of embodied cultural capital. Through this articulation of taste, knowledge and skill, textile workers re-instated their creative identity – readdressing the metonymic dismissal of individual identity and the industrialisation of the body through the euphemism “hands”. Lundie also illustrated the sexualised and ageist codes of shawl wearing that dictated the appropriate thickness of material and the depth of the point down the back according to age and size – a point which created a dialogue with the concepts of of shawls and tea in the objectification of the female body in the next paper by Dr Tara Puri, entitled “Unstable Objects: Reading Shawls, tea and calico in North and South”.

Puri's paper applied her excellent distillation of Homi Bhabha's “The World and the Home” to North and South in order to discuss how these 'unhomely moments' collapsed the exotic and the demotic through the imagined sensual tourism of these commodities, which are described as smelling like spice. The cultural appropriation of tea and calico function as markers of objectified cultural capital, highlighting the transformative powers of imperial possessions – that through these social codes are themselves transformed from emblems of the exotic into markers of class and gender.

Finally, Wassila Mouro's paper “Intertextuality in Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell” discussed the intertextual references in Gaskell - which are so regularly referenced but so rarely questioned - and submitted these to rigorous theoretical analysis. Mouro drew out examples of Gaskell's use of integration, collage and citation and brought them into wider discussions of polyphony and the impossibility of autonomous authorship. But under this analysis, Gaskell does not succumb to a Barthesian death, as both Gaskell and the protagonist, Molly Gibson, enter into a polyphonic dialogue of rich literary heritage.
The idea of hands was a recurrent theme within the panel as a symbol of classed and gendered objectification and fragmentation of the female body. Another trope that came to the fore was the idea of the “stitching together” of things and of ideas – an analogy Gaskell refers to in her correspondences. This concept of “stitching together” unified ideas within the papers about the ways in which Gaskell and her characters adopted and adapted texts and objects as a means of 'curating' (for lack of a more appropriate word) the self in nuanced and artful displays of distinction.

No comments:

Post a Comment