Shame and Contemporary Literature

Jennifer Cooke JMCRm

This panel responds to a major new scholarly work, Kaye Mitchell’s Writing Shame: Contemporary Literature, Gender and Negative Affects (EUP, 2020). Shame has attracted the interest of theorists but, as Mitchell’s introduction establishes, few literary studies have resulted. Writing Shame rectify this. Through readings of recent texts— literary and popular, fictional and autofictional, realist and experimental—the book maps out a contemporary, Western, shame culture, unpicks the complex triangulation of shame, gender and writing, and intervenes forcefully in feminist and queer debates. The book argues that shame cannot be overcome or abandoned, and that femininity and shame are utterly, necessarily imbricated. Foregrounding matters of sexuality, and touching on questions of race, masculinity and childhood, Writing Shame offers sharply political readings of neglected genres (lesbian pulp fiction), highly topical texts (like Kraus’s I Love Dick and Knausgaard’s My Struggle), and established authors (such as Mary Gaitskill, A.M. Homes, Rupert Thomson) on whom relatively little scholarship exists.

Writing Shame is a wide-ranging, ambitious study and the engagements with it offered by the panellists are evidence of its importance to the fields of contemporary literature and theory, feminism, and gender studies. Papers will be 15 minutes long, leaving 15 minutes for discussion.

Dr Alexandra Kingston-Reese is Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literature, University of York and author of Contemporary Novelists and the Aesthetics of Twenty-First Century American Life (U of Iowa P, 2020). She is reviews editor of ASAP/Journal. She has published and forthcoming articles on the contemporary arts and affect, and is working on a book on difficult affects involved in care, repair, and absorption in contemporary literature, art, and visual culture. Engaging with Mitchell’s second and third chapters on the work of Chris Kraus and Karl Ove Knausgaard, she will consider the formal affordances of contemporary autofiction, confession, and shame.

Dr Georgia Walker Churchman is Lecturer in the Humanities at the University of East Anglia.
She completed her PhD on representations of madness in contemporary writing in 2016 and has published on madness and nationalism in the work of Alasdair Gray. Recently, she has worked on the relationship between affect theory, psychoanalysis, and the medical humanities. Drawing on Mary Gaitskill’s The Mare (2015) and Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women (2019), her paper, ‘What Do We Do With Shame?’ will focus on Mitchell’s central claim that shame is a condition of dishonour so ‘integral…to the [feminine] processes of subjectivation’ that it is impossible to simply overcome, asking what do we do with it, and how is it done?

Oliver Haslam is a Doctoral College-funded third-year PhD student at Loughborough University. He researches the persistence of minimalism within American literature from the twentieth to the twenty-first century. This exploration is intertwined with theorisations of affect, shame, and the everyday in relation to Joan Didion, Raymond Carver, Paul Auster and others. Mitchell’s analysis of shame in relation to failed masculinities (and the troubling heroization that often occurs through such a foregrounding of shame) is integral to an understanding of the complexities and unavoidable paradoxes of this affect within literary form. Haslam’s paper is titled ‘Failed Masculinities: Erasure and Exposure in Formations of Shame’.

Panel proposer and chair
Dr Jennifer Cooke is Senior Lecturer in English at Loughborough University and author of Contemporary Feminist Life-writing: The New Audacity (CUP, 2020) and Legacies of Plague in Literature, Theory, and Film (Palgrave, 2009) She is editor of New Feminist Studies: Twenty-first-century Critical Interventions (CUP, 2020) and Scenes of Intimacy: Reading, Writing and Theorizing Contemporary Literature (Bloomsbury Academic, 2013).

Fri 11:00 am - 12:15 pm