Affect and Censorship in Publishing


Teaching Controversy (Yugin Teo and Julia Round)

Dr Julia Round is a Principal Lecturer in the Faculty of Media & Communication at Bournemouth University
Dr Yugin Teo is Lecturer in Communications & English in the Faculty of Media & Communication at Bournemouth University

This paper uses analysis of controversy and censorship as a lens to explore the conference theme of literary inequalities. It draws on material taken from the module ‘Culture and Controversy’ which is part of Bournemouth University’s unique MA in English and Literary Media. The paper surveys and compares literary controversies as diverse as the American Comics Code scandal, the Booker Prize, and the reception of texts such as Kaur Bhatti's play Behzti and Bret Easton Ellis’s novel American Psycho. It highlights significant differences between the reception and response to particular texts, themes, and events. It concludes by reflecting on how inequalities of class, medium, theme and so forth underpin and shape our notions of canonisation and acceptability, and on the pedagogical value of analysing controversy in this way.

‘Keeping the Flame Alive’: Reading, critical affinity and affect in the fiction industry (Caroline Owen Wintersgill)

Caroline Wintersgill is Senior Teaching Fellow in Publishing at University College London. She is completing a PhD on endings in contemporary fiction at the University of Winchester.

How do literary agents and editors read and how do their reading practices inform what is published and how it is published? Should we understand agents and editors as critics, literary fans, surrogate ‘ordinary’ readers, or with Bourdieu as ‘equivocal figures, through whom the logic of the economy is brought to the heart of the sub-field of production’? Why do these questions matter to our literary-critical understanding of the contemporary novel?

The paper reports on a qualitative study of publishing professionals in the field of literary fiction interrogating the processes through which they select novels, assess their place in the market and work with the author on shaping them for publication. It probes the ways in which agents and editors demarcate the ‘literary’ from other forms of fiction-writing, how they evaluate and engage with different elements of the novel, including beginnings and endings and the idea of the author’s ‘responsibility’ to the reader. The interviews reveal the strength of commitment to ‘keeping the [literary] flame alive’. They demonstrate a rich literary-professional discourse operating in a distinct register from the critical voices of ‘university English’, combining affective and intellectual responses and paying particular attention to elements such as musicality of form and the importance of ‘landing’.

The paper contests the dominance of a Bourdieusian model in which editorial taste is shaped by structural considerations, arguing for a complex, dialectical relationship between the agency of individual actors with their own tastes and enthusiasms and the structure of the literary marketplace. I argue that central to the editorial process is a tripartite conception of reading: agents and editors act as first readers, critical readers and attuned readers, each mode informing different aspects of editorial practice.

“Minor literature” in times of decolonisation (Csilla Toldy)

Dedalus Press is an Irish poetry press edited by poet Pat Boran. He published two anthologies of poetry by “new Irish” poets, Writing Home and Landing Places ten years apart. Writing Home is his 150th book, and it contains poetry by 50 international poets living in Ireland.

Stupor Mundi Press is a Scottish publisher of “eclectic” literature, ran by the playwright and novelist Jonathan Falla, who came to the UK on a Windrush boat from Jamaica with his parents. He publishes poetry, fiction, non-fiction, the latest an autobiography of Robert Le Page, a Pidgin Fancier, the father of sociolinguistic.

The discussion is lead by Hungarian writer Csilla Toldy, who lives in Northern Ireland. Her work has been published by both publishers. She writes in English, which is her third language.

Csilla Toldy and Jonathan Falla are lecturers of creative writing at the Open University.

My interest is in minor literature. I think, my work is very much in that niche, being a bi-lingual writer. I recently found an interview with Seamus Heaney talking about his Gaelic heritage. He said that he likes to think that “Irish is the vowel and English is the consonant" - which is a wonderful metaphor for any poet of “minor literature”.

The focal question of the panel would be what is minor literature in the English language and where is its place in publishing. As both panelists are editors, I would be interested to find out what aspects of editing are taken into consideration to keep the uniqueness of a bi-lingual writer’s voice both in poetry and prose.

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