Sunday, September 24, 2006, 07:51 AMHave recently returned from a trip to Stratford with colleagues and students from Anglia Ruskin. The high points were The Tempest and Antony and Cleopatra – not least because both starred Patrick Stewart. His portrayal of Prospero was unusually sympathetic – and very impressive. Ariel (played by Julian Bleach) also very striking, though I couldn’t thinking they should have hired Brent Spiner in a reprise of his role in Star Trek as Commander Data, the robot with human aspirations.
As well as going to three plays (Romeo and Juliet was the also ran third) we attended useful lectures and workshops run by the excellent Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. For an alternative theatrical experience with more audience participation I recommend the Cymbeline Guesthouse on Evesham Road. Very alarming (in a good way).
Thursday, September 7, 2006, 08:18 AMIn advance of a formal call for papers, here is some information about a one day conference to be held at Anglia Ruskin University on Saturday 24th March, 2007. Provisional speakers include Michael Bywater, Tony Keen, Genevieve Liveley, Nick Lowe, Jonathan Sawday and Peter Stockwell.
Although SF is fairly widely taught on university English courses it tends to be studied in isolation, usually as part of a discrete SF module. Although this is a perfectly valid approach it can have a slightly ghettoising effect and deter the inclusion of SF in other, more general, courses, discussions and academic books.
As my last posting indicates, I think SF extends the genre of tragedy in all sorts of interesting ways, and one of the essays in the collection I'm editing, Tragedy in Transition, is on just that topic.
The conference on March 24th will focus on intersections between SF and different aspects of the canon - engagement with Shakespeare's plays for example (such as The Tempest) or with the Classical tradition. If you would like to offer a paper please contact me.
Sunday, July 30, 2006, 05:30 PMI’m currently working, with Catherine Silverstone, on an introduction to a collection of essays about tragedy. Generally we think of tragedy as a movement down, a fall or loss. But is there such a thing as “upwards tragedy”? Can rising, in other words, be tragic?
In Arthur C Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End the benevolent alien ‘overlords’ who arrive to nurture and protect earth know that humanity is about to take an evolutionary step forwards, losing their individuality but gaining transcendence. It is a source of sorrow to the overlords that they cannot follow the same path, but to the old style humans their children’s transition from human to posthuman is itself reason for grief rather than rejoicing.
Rather similarly, the narrator of Tennyson’s In Memoriam anticipates his projected elevation to Heaven with poignant regret because he and his friend Hallam will lose their individuality and thus their relationship. ‘Farewell! We lose ourselves in light.’
In another vision, this time of Hell, Dante’s Inferno, we can perhaps locate tragedy in the shift, or ‘rise’, from a Classical to a Christian paradigm. The engaging adulteress Francesca elicits sympathy from both the reader and the narrator ‘Dante’. Although we can identify her sad story as in some way tragic perhaps the real tragedy here is in knowing that we are not allowed to sympathise with her and that to do so is in a sense heretical because she has been damned by God. There is something inhuman though about such perfection. We shrink from it or, in the case of ‘Dante’, faint.
Going back to Childhood’s End it is curious that the novel’s twist reveals that the ‘overlords’ resemble devils. This fact is ascribed to a kind of reverse morphic resonance. Humanity in a sense foretold its own ‘destruction’. It is curious that the novel’s transcendence, which is really closer to Heaven than Hell, should be anticipated by the collective consciousness of humanity with such horror.