Engagement, Experience, and English Literature

Veronica HeneyMMUf

In considering the probable shared futures of the study of English literature we might meaningfully question with whom such sharing might occur. In particular, this panel considers how academic analyses of English literature and language might share not only their conclusions but more broadly their practices of reading, analysis, and theorisation with those outside of English Literature departments, and the practical and methodological implications of such a sharing.

Sticking with the Trouble of Self-Harm (Veronica Heney, PhD Student, University of Exeter)

In analyses of self-harm complex embodied practices are generally read by medicine, psychology, and the wider public as fundamentally ‘troubling’, despite frequently being experienced as productive. Considering this as a potential ‘misreading’ highlights the benefits of focusing on practices of interpretation, reading, and spectatorship within a study of fictional narratives of self-harm. Following calls from within Affect Studies to move away from a hermeneutics of suspicion, this paper will contend that the use of qualitative methodologies to explore how narratives of self-harm are interpreted might allow such experiences to be positioned not simply as successful or failed readings but as a tool through which meaning and narrative can be explored. Thus fictional narratives of self-harm might be brought together with and analysed through experiences of self-harm, exploring the overlaps and interrelations between narrative, embodied experience, and interpretation.

Engagement and Ecologies (Kelechi Anucha, PhD Student, University of Exeter)

As part of the Wellcome-funded Waiting Times research project at Exeter and Birkbeck, we developed story-sharing workshops with the nurses, professional carers, volunteers and service-users of a day hospice in rural, agricultural Devon. This engaged work provided an opportunity to think dynamically about the relationships between narrative and time at the end-of-life outside of a literary context. However, the writing-up process foregrounded the methodological challenges of integrating a literary critical approach into socially engaged research. This paper will elucidate the reading and critical framing practices we employed. Critical ecology studies played a surprising but important role; we were able to think with Donna Haraway and Ursula Le Guin to find forms with which we could ethically and simultaneously “hold” the research, alongside the collective and individual life experiences of group members.

The Index of Evidence (Dr Gill Partington and Prof Laura Salisbury, University of Exeter)

The ‘Index of Evidence’ recognises that we are in a historical, socio-cultural, and political moment where the question of what constitutes a ‘fact’ and how evidence might legitimately be used to address health problems has come to a point of crisis. Although access to data is increasing, data cannot be transformed into credible evidence, or into facts that are legible as such, without modes of interpretation that use affective investments, narratives, generic conventions, and particular patterns to give them a meaningful shape. Changes in the ways in which people access information sometimes enable richer understandings of the complexity of actions and relations, but sometimes they weaponise uncertainty.

The ‘Index of Evidence’ proposes a performative response to this new terrain that emerges from expertise in English Studies. It aims to unfold the new ontology of evidence through a co-produced index to an imagined but unwritten book. The online index links to pieces of writing that unpack particular corners, lines, or questions of evidence. Some entries are obvious: ‘alternative facts’; ‘evidence-based medicine’; ‘big data’; ‘qualitative’; ‘quantitative’; ‘randomised control trial’; ‘vaccination’. Others are much more unexpected and speculative: ‘genre’; ‘badgers’; ‘gold’; ‘anomaly’; ‘pattern’; ‘folklore’. The co-produced index allows readers to take an unexpected journey through the territory of evidence by flattening out traditional hierarchies of knowledge and discursive practices.

Fri 2:00 pm - 3:15 pm