British Borders

Annual Conference of the German Association for the Study of British Cultures

19–21 November 2020
Online Conference

Cover Photo: Andrew Curtis · CC-BY-SA 2.0 · geograph.org.uk/p/5845583


We are looking forward to welcoming you at the conference. Due to the ongoing pandemic, BritCult 2020 will be an online conference, with some necessary changes of the usual conference format: We will host Zoom panels for the speakers. Each panel will include two papers, each about 20 mins, and time for discussion. The panels will be live-streamed for the conference audience, who are invited to share their questions and comments via chat function. After their papers, the speakers will engage with audience questions and comments fed into the discussion by the panel chairs.

You will find the links to the keynotes and to each panel here. Please register for the conference if you want to receive the password you need for accessing the live streams.

We hope that our format will create a space in which speakers and audience members can take part in lively academic discussions about the social, cultural, historical and ideological constructions of British borders. Instead of a conference dinner, there will be an evening of online socialising on Friday.

If you have any questions about the online format of our conference, please contact us at frenk@mx.uni-saarland.de and/or lena.steveker@uni.lu.


Call for Papers

British borders, as all borders in general, are both processes and (provisional) end states. As the emerging field of border studies keeps emphasizing, borders are highly complex cultural constructs that have come into being as consequences of specific histories, and they are maintained, supervised, modified or even abolished through intricate cultural discourses and at times violent performative practices. At this conference, we seek to analyse and to discuss all kinds of British borders past and present, from the macro-level of borders between countries in the ages of imperialism and anglobalization to the micro-level of borders drawn between towns, pieces of land or public and private spaces.


Conference Programme

All schedules use Central European Time (CET, GMT+1).

Thursday, 19 NovSession
3:30–4 pmConference opening and welcome addresses
4–5 pmPanel 1: Borders across Time and Space
(1) Lena Mattheis (Duisburg-Essen):
Local-local Border Transgressions
(2) Lukas Lammers (Berlin):
Schizophrenic Borders. Recent Reverberations of Britain’s ‘Finest Hour’
Chair: Jana Gohrisch (Hannover)
5–5:15 pmBreak
5:15–6:15 pmKeynote by Maurice Fitzpatrick: The Irish Border: from Bastion to Backstop
6:15–6:45 pmDiscussion with John Lynam (Consul General of Ireland in Frankfurt) and Maurice Fitzpatrick
Friday, 20 NovSession
10-11:30 amPanel 2: Borders and Identities
(3) Andrew Wells (Leipzig):
The Anglo-Scottish Border and the Making of British Identity, 1660-1760
(4) Julia Boll (Hamburg):
Desiring Walls: Fantasies of Containment and Reimagined British Past
(5) Kirsten Sandrock (Leipzig): British Borders Beyond Britain: BBC’s This Sceptred Isle and Empire
Chair: Christian Krug (Erlangen)
11:30 am-12 noonBreak
12 noon-1 pmPanel 3: Negotiating Borders
(6) Ina Habermann (Basel): Writing Gibraltar: M.G. Sanchez’ Autobiographical Explorations of Borderland
(7) Christoph Singer (Paderborn): Remembering the Radcliffe-Line: British Borders and Transcultural Memories
Chair: Doris Feldmann (Erlangen)
1-2:30 pmLunch break
2:30-3:30 pmPanel 4: Borders / Surveillance / Migration
(8) Jonathan Foster (Stockholm): ‘Organised Clairvoyance’: Surveillance and Borderlessness in H. G. Wells’s A Modern Utopia
(9) Ariane De Waal (Halle-Wittenberg): Slippery Sea Borders: The UK’s War on Invasive Marine Species
Chair: Heike Mißler (Saarbrücken)
3:30-3:45 pmBreak
3:45-4 pmAstrid Fellner (Saarbrücken): Introduction of UniGR-Center for Border Studies
4-5 pmPanel 5: (Transgressing) Borders in Popular Culture
(10) Tina Helbig (Saarbrücken): ‘Strength Through Purity’? Alan Moore’s Great Britain of Patrolling and Transgressing Borders
(11) Jonatan Jalle Steller (Leipzig): ‘Come South of the Border with Me’: Fetishised Boundaries in Britain’s Music Charts
Chair: Lena Schneider (Trier)
5-5:30 pmBreak
5:30-7 pmAnnual general meeting of BritCult
7:30 pmOnline socialising
Saturday, 21 NovSession
9:30-10:30 amPanel 6: Border Performances
(12) Anja Hartl (Konstanz): Performing the Border in British Politics and Drama
(13) Sarah Heinz (Wien): Whose House is this? Everyday Bordering and the Intersection of Home and Nation in British Property TV Shows.
Chair: Kirsten Sandrock (Leipzig)
10:30-10:45 amBreak
10:45-11:45 amPanel 7: Posthuman Borders
(14) Susanne Gruß (Frankfurt am Main): Monstrous Growths? Mushrooms, Fungi, Spores and the Borders of the (Post)Human in Contemporary British Culture
(15) Heike Mißler (Saarbrücken): Man or Machine: Social Borders and Posthumanism in Ian McEwan’s Machines Like Me
Chair: Gerold Sedlmayr (Dortmund)
11:45 am-12 noonBreak
12-12:45 noonConference wrap up

Abstracts

Keynote by Maurice Fitzpatrick: The Irish Border: from Bastion to Backstop

This lecture traces the division between Ireland, North and South, from the early modern period (when the north-eastern part of the island was ‘planted’ by Great Britain) through to the formal establishment of a border in Ireland after the Anglo-Irish Treaty between the UK and Ireland in 1921. It problematises the referent ‘border’ in Ireland through analyses of the border’s shifting political underpinnings and functionalities. The lecture also explores the partnerships and conflicts between the three key stakeholders of the Irish border—successive Irish governments, Northern Irish governments/ assemblies and UK governments—and identifies attitudes that sustained its creation, its repudiation by Irish nationalists who identify with an all-Ireland nation as well as aspirations for its elimination in military campaigns waged by the Irish Republican Army. The Irish border has emerged, post-Brexit, at the centre of negotiations between the EU and the UK, and thus it has assumed an expanded geopolitical significance since the Brexit referendum in 2016. The new realities that prevail, and will prevail after January 2021 when Brexit is implemented, form part of this presentation in its attempt to problematise the adaptation of the open border agreed in Ireland through the Good Friday Agreement (1998) to the profound cultural, political and constitutional alterations engendered by Brexit. 

Further reading:

Back to Programme

(1) Lena Mattheis (Duisburg-Essen): Local-local Border Transgressions

Contemporary Anglophone novels are increasingly characterised by the way in which they narrativise translocal and global settings. Novels such as Xiaolu Guo’s I Am China (2014), Helen Oyeyemi’s The Opposite House (2007), Irenosen Okojie’s Butterfly Fish (2015) or Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire (2017) are translocal in the sense that they are set in two or more distant local spaces, which – by means of a variety of narrative techniques – are closely layered and intertwined: a London house, for example, is bound to actions taking place on a particular road in Lagos. What I would like to focus on in this talk, however, is the translocal connection created between two distinct local spaces within the same nation or, at times, the same city: when 1970s London is layered with present London in Butterfly Fish or when the Scottish island Iona blends into the coast of Dover in I Am China. Zadie Smith, of course, also frequently places the distinct local-local boundaries and connections within London at the heart of her novels.

Local-local border transgressions then occur when the narratives point to how extremely different and distant local spaces can be, despite their physical proximity. This reflects not only a more and more translocal world but also calls for a discussion of how some kinds of borders are constructed or reinforced while other borders become more porous or selectively permeable. Within the frame of translocality — a concept I borrow from the field of human geography, drawing more specifically on Ayona Datta’s and Katherine Brickell’s work on the subject — a focus on the local-local connections and boundaries that we encounter especially in metropolitan spaces will guide me in this paper and, hopefully, provide some insight as to how boundaries are drawn and crossed on a variety of scales and both within and outside of nations, cities and societal groups.

Further reading:

Back to Programme

(2) Lukas Lammers (Berlin): Schizophrenic Borders. Recent Reverberations of Britain’s ‘Finest Hour’

There is an important paradox at the core of British memories of the Second World War: on  the one hand, Britain secured support from colonial troops by emphasising the need to stand  together as an empire against the threat of Nazi rule. At the same time, Churchill and others  were keen to circulate the image of Britain “standing alone.” The latter perspective allowed  Britons to imagine themselves as part of a small, but for that same reason also wondrously  brave island nation defending its national borders and the world against a barbaric enemy.  When the Leave Campaign appealed to voters with the slogan “Let’s take back control” it could  also tap into this reservoir of resentment and nostalgia. The slogan’s temporal reference  (“back”) is cunningly unspecific. One important point of reference, it will be argued, is Britain’s  role in World War II. As Fintan O’Toole (2018) has shown,1 Brexit could be cast as a resistance  movement against a German-led superstate (the EU) intent on enslaving Great Britain,  controlling its borders, and erasing British identity. This narrative has been extremely powerful  because it harks back to Britain’s “finest hour”, as Churchill called it in anticipation. However,  this myth of an ethnically homogenous nation at war has also been contested by anglophone  historical fiction in particular. Considering the participation of colonial troops in this decisive  victory, memories that serve as a cornerstone to a sense of national uniqueness, greatness,  and splendid isolation turn out to be highly volatile. The paper aims to illuminate the  ambivalent role of World War II in the British imagination with a focus on current debates as  well as films (such as Dunkirk and Darkest Hour) and novels (such as Small Island and Black  Mamba Boy).

Further reading:

Back to Programme

(3) Andrew Wells (Leipzig): The Anglo-Scottish Border and the Making of British Identity, 1660-1760

This paper will explore the role played by the border between Scotland and England in the establishment of a British identity in the years after the Act of Union in 1707. Taking its lead from the influential account of the creation of a ‘British’ identity offered by Linda Colley in her Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837 (1992), this paper will examine the reinforcement of the border by both the English and Scots in the years following the Restoration in 1660 and the need to reverse this process in the first decade of the eighteenth century. Overcoming the border was a long and politically, culturally, and emotionally fraught process that was only achieved finally with the eradication of the Jacobite Stuart threat after 1746.

The paper will take as its focus the city of Glasgow, one of the urban centres that profited most markedly from the economic benefits produced by the union, but also a city that featured strong anti-union sentiment both in the leadup to the 1707 treaty, and in the decades following. By exploring the rhetoric and behaviour of rioters in the city in 1706 and 1725, I will examine how fragile and uncertain ‘Britishness’ was in the early eighteenth century. I will then investigate the uses and mobilisation of British identity that appeared in Glaswegian newspapers and journals in the 1750s, in order to chart how ‘Britishness’ became a steadily more essential component of the self-image of well-to-do Scots by mid-century. In Glasgow’s case, this had much to do with the prosperity that came with being a part of Britain’s maritime empire. Indeed, as her seaborne commerce grew and the importance of overland transport diminished, so too shrank the cultural importance of the land border between England and Scotland.

Further reading:

Back to Programme

(4) Julia Boll (Hamburg): Desiring Walls: Fantasies of Containment and Reimagined British Past

In Sarah Moss’s Ghost Wall (2018), an archaeology class pitches camp near Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, where they are joined by a local family in the experimental re-enactment of iron-age Britain. The father, obsessed with the Celts and the idea of a homogenous past signifying an “original Britishness”, yearns for a claim to ancestry situated much earlier even than the often-invoked British Empire: in a time when, he imagines, the last “pure British” supposedly drove out the Roman invaders. Set in the 1990s and thus decades before the 2016 Brexit referendum, Moss’s short novel explores nostalgic nationalism, fantasies of nativism and racial supremacy, and the wish for containment and boundaries in a contemporary world perceived as having lost its cultural core.

Following Wendy Brown’s suggestion to read the desire to erect border walls against “foreign invaders” as the symptom of a hysterical obsession with “the Alien” representing ‘the pollution of violated borders and the demasculinization of permeable national and individual subjecthood’ (2010: 125), this talk focuses on how borders and narratives of borders are constructed as ritual spectacles aimed at securing deeply gendered fantasies of innocence and regulation.This talk will also unravel the thematic connections and the differences in approach between Moss’s critical probing of the reimagining of ancient borders and old ways of life for the present, and the nostalgic urge to “return to the land”, the yearning for a wistful version of bygone Britishness perceptible in recent British nature and travel writings as exemplified by Robert MacFarlane (The Wild Places, 2007; The Old Ways, 2012; Landmarks, 2015; and Underland, 2019), and also observable in naturalist and Euroskeptic writer Paul Kingsnorth’s rallying cry Real England (2008) and in his 2013 novel The Wake, which is set during the Norman invasion of 1066.

Back to Programme

(5) Kirsten Sandrock (Leipzig): British Borders Beyond Britain: BBC’s This Sceptred Isle and Empire

In his article “Debordering and Rebordering in the United Kingdom,” Cathal McCall forges a connection between sea-bound imagery in literature and culture and British border politics that prioritize Great Britain, rather than the whole of the UK. One trope McCall singles out, but does not further analyse, is Shakespeare’s quotation from Richard II (c. 1595), in which John of Gaunt praises England, rather ironically, as “this sceptred isle” (2.1.40). This paper examines the links between the island image and British border identities by focusing on the BBC Radio 4 documentary This Sceptred Isle (1999-2006), written by Christopher Lee. I am particularly interested in the series’ representation of the British Empire and how the island metaphor may have “added to heroic, romantic and nationalist accounts of British history” (McCall 222) by depicting Great Britain as a naturally fortified space. Drawing on Yuri Lotman’s argument that every culture develops its own specific set of symbolic spaces, which are primarily expressed in its literature and culture, the paper asks in how far sea-bound images can be read as culture-specific codes for British border identities, including those that link island images to empire-building.

Further reading:

Back to Programme

(6) Ina Habermann (Basel): Writing Gibraltar: M.G. Sanchez’ Autobiographical Explorations of Borderland

This paper will be concerned with M.G. Sanchez’ autobiographical writings, Past: A Memoir (2016), Bombay Journal (2018) and Border Control (2019). In his memoirs, Sanchez explores how growing up in Gibraltar during the time of the border closure has shaped his mind and personality in ways characteristic of the territory. In particular, his experiences have made him border conscious, and sensitive to residual colonial attitudes. Tapping into the theoretical framework of border studies, I will discuss how border consciousness pervades Sanchez’ life and work. Outlining a spectrum that comprises practical aspects of border negotiation as well as the perception and performance of the self, I will argue that Sanchez displays a spatial hypersensitivity which translates in his work into a topopoetics of space, enabling a synaesthetic evocation of place whose visceral appeal also makes it political. Through representations of Gibraltar that are both vividly intimate and critical, Sanchez becomes a reluctant cultural ambassador of his homeland, a voice to be listened to.

Further reading:

Back to Programme

(7) Christoph Singer (Paderborn): Remembering the Radcliffe-Line: British Borders and Transcultural Memories

In 1947 the British colonizer’s left South Asia partitioned by a border separating India and Pakistan.  This border was named after its creator, the English barrister Cyril Radcliffe, who only months before  independence was tasked with drawing the infamous line. Today the Radcliffe-line is not only a geo political reality, but also a highly contested heritage, a border that reflects South Asia’s past, present and  potential future. 70 years after independence Radcliffe returned as a historical cypher intended to make  sense of the enduring violence along and beyond this border. 

As such the border and its English creator have turned into sites of trans-cultural memory which  I will approach with Astrid Erll as “based on the insight that memory fundamentally means movement:  traffic between individual and collective levels of remembering, circulation among social, medial, and  semantic dimensions.” (2011, 15) Combining Border- and Memory Studies I will discuss the transcultural memories of Cyril Radcliffe, the Radcliffe-line and the impact of these border-memories as presented in Howard Brenton’s play Drawing the Line (2013) and a short-film by Indian director  Ram Madhvani called This Bloody Line (2017).

Back to Programme

(8) Jonathan Foster (Stockholm): ‘Organised Clairvoyance’: Surveillance and Borderlessness in H. G. Wells’s A Modern Utopia

This paper examines H. G. Wells’s A Modern Utopia (1905) as a literary expression of an  “age of experimentation” (Fahrmeir, Faron and Weil 2003) in European migration control. At  the fin-de-siècle, in the midst of a spectacular increase in international mobility, European  nation-states had yet to establish rigorous methods of border control. Borderlessness was thus  both a utopian ideal and a rather mundane actuality. However, in 1905—the year H. G.  Wells’s A Modern Utopia was published—Britain passed the Aliens Act, thus breaking with  its century-long notoriously liberal policy of border control. A Modern Utopia may be read as  an intervention in this political climate of mounting attention to the matter of patrolling Britain’s borders.  Crucially, at a time when Britain and other nation-states were on the cusp of bringing about  more rigorous border control, Wells responded by stressing the ‘rich socio-political  consequences of enabling freedom of movement’ (Li 2008, 122). However, Wells’s endorsement of free mobility was not premised on traditional laissez faire grounds—Wells  finds utopian potential not only in improved communications and generalised itinerancy, but also in the very technologies of surveillance and identification that were being introduced in  order to strengthen border control, envisioning how these technologies might help keep  borders open. Thus, Wells’s ideas about mobility control in A Modern Utopia—which have  previously received little attention in scholarship perhaps because they have hitherto seemed  altogether too far-fetched, or, indeed, utopian—arguably anticipate the recent rise of supra national institutions of migration control, such as the European Union’s Schengen Cooperation.

Back to Programme

(9) Ariane De Waal (Halle-Wittenberg): Slippery Sea Borders: The UK’s War on Invasive Marine Species

Populist discourses on British borders reached vitriolic heights with Nigel Farage’s unveiling  of the infamous “Breaking Point” poster. UKIP’s (mis-)use of a photograph of migrants  crossing the border between Croatia and Slovenia in 2015 evidently aimed at arousing  anxieties over British borders by representing “non-white migrants as a hostile or invading  force” (Reid 2019). Whereas Farage has been fiercely criticised for his recurrence to Nazi-style  propaganda, the ways in which fears of an imminent ‘invasion’ of British territories spilled  over into and were in turn fuelled by a parallel discourse on invasive marine species has not  yet come to critical attention.  

Shortly before the photograph that featured on the “Breaking Point” poster was taken, the  UK government published The Great Britain Invasive Non-Native Species Strategy (2015), a  policy paper outlining the environmental, economic, and health risks posed by so-called  invasive alien species. I argue that public debates on invasive animal species, and particularly  marine species such as fish, have functioned as an effective surrogate discourse where the categories of ‘native’ versus ‘non-native’ inhabitants could be negotiated within socially  acceptable parameters. Incidentally, at the height of the European migration crisis in the  summer of 2016, UK newspapers ran the following headline: “Invasive lionfish have reached  the Mediterranean” (Aspinall 2016). Since then, news outlets across the political spectrum  have continuously warned British citizens against “invasions of growing numbers of foreign  sea creatures” (McKie 2017) or, more recently, toxic death worms that have “crept into  European waters” and are “slowly conquering the UK” (Hamill 2019). The use of a belligerent  and quasi-xenophobic idiom in discussions of invasive marine species signals that this is a  discursive field where concerns over the permeability of British borders can be articulated rather freely. 

The proposed paper interrogates policy, media, as well as scholarly discourses on invasive  marine species with the aim of demonstrating how they demarcate otherwise invisible sea  borders and feed into an overall ideological fortification of British borders.

Further reading:

Back to Programme

(10) Tina Helbig (Saarbrücken): ‘Strength Through Purity’? Alan Moore’s Great Britain of Patrolling and Transgressing Borders

In his work, comic book writer Alan Moore notoriously challenges and transgresses a  multitude of social and cultural borders: in Swamp Thing, the eponymous character, a  humanoid plant creature, dismantles the border between human and nature, Promethea questions heteronormativity, Watchmen famously redefines the superhero genre by relying  heavily on intertextuality and by subverting the image of the flawless hero, to name but a view  examples from Moore’s extensive work.  Two of his comic book series which are set in an explicit British context, in one case in an  alternative universe and in the other case in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian future, namely The  League of Extraordinarily Gentlemen (1999 – 2019) and V for Vendetta (1982-1989), not only  transgress all the sociocultural borders mentioned above, but also deal with territorial and  political borders: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comments on British imperialism  and international and domestic terrorism, while V for Vendetta explores the consequences of  a country practicing isolationism. Written during Margaret Thatcher’s run as Prime Minister,  V for Vendetta has gained new relevance in the context of the current Brexit discussion by  showing that the dream of a strong nation state might turn out to have been a nightmare from  its very start. In both comics, hope and humanness can only be achieved when borders are  transgressed: it is the supposed enemies and outsiders, the ‘freaks’ and ‘monsters’, who  repeatedly not only save the world, but even England. 

Further reading:

Back to Programme

(11) Jonatan Jalle Steller (Leipzig): ‘Come South of the Border with Me’: Fetishised Boundaries in Britain’s Music Charts

In one of UK artist Ed Sheeran’s top 10 songs released in 2019, a border metaphor is used in reference to sexual attraction: “Jump in that water, be free,” Sheeran sings, “come south of the border with me.” His lines are addressed to two female artists, Camila Cabello and Cardi B, who likewise evoke images such as water, exploration, migration, and freedom in their re spective lyrics. While sexuality is a common theme in popular music, Sheeran’s song raises the question of how the source domain border discourse is compatible with the target domain sexuality, and whether the song also attempts to elicit meaning in the source domain. Instead of solely discussing the above example, this paper is set to provide a blended (i.e. a combined distant and close) reading of border discourses in the British music charts over the last five years. Using a custom-built lyrics corpus, I will identify songs alluding to borders and evaluate them for their topics as well as their literal and metaphorical meaning. My preliminary set of examples suggests a working hypothesis: borders appear to be com monly conceptualised to delineate a Self from a fetishised Other that elicits both fear and de sire. Using fetish as a concept allows us to explain the Self’s yearning for both establishing and crossing boundaries in the two domains border discourse and sexuality. The songs’ lyrics make sense only for a globalised audience aware of border issues across the US, the UK, and continental Europe: while songs such as “Borders” by M.I.A. specifically (and overtly) criti cise the renewed hostility against migrants in the UK, the above example assumes knowl edge of the US border enforcement agency ICE to comprehend its veiled criticism.

Back to Programme

(12) Anja Hartl (Konstanz): Performing the Border in British Politics and Drama

British borders and the question of the nation-state have taken centre stage ever since the vote on Brexit in 2016, which can be described as “partly a border referendum.” While the phenomenon of the border may, particularly on a geopolitical level, evoke clear distinctions, fixed binaries and authority, (post-)Brexit developments have exposed the essentially constructed and therefore provisional, changing and indeed liminal nature of the border zone, as (actual and figurative) borders have been radically unsettled, modified, resisted and multiplied. Not only political, but also cultural practices can be attributed a fundamental role in these ongoing processes of (re-)negotiating the border. While scholarship on ‘BrexLit’ has so far mostly focused on the potential of prose fiction in these contexts, this paper will foreground the essentially performative dimension of the border and critically examine how theories of performance and performativity may enhance our understanding of shifting borders, past and present. For this purpose, I will investigate the functions of the theatre as a border-crossing practice between text and performance, stage and audience, theatre and reality, as well as different forms and media. To illustrate this, I will draw on the work of Scottish playwright David Greig, whose plays, among which The Yes/No Plays (written on Twitter since 2013) and Adventures with the Painted People (2020), are preoccupied with the border as a thematic and formal concern. As such, Greig’s works exemplify how the performative, ephemeral, live and communal dimension of the theatre may contribute to mapping, interrogating and re-imagining British borders in the context of ever-transforming (inter-)national relations within the United Kingdom and beyond.

Further reading:

Back to Programme

(13) Sarah Heinz (Wien): Whose House is this? Everyday Bordering and the Intersection of Home and Nation in British Property TV Shows

Research on political discourses of control has drawn attention to the ways in which borders have been restructured by strategies of securitisation. These strategies can extend the borders of the nation to any place where the interests of the homeland are affected. In consequence, the British border might begin at a Czech airport where your visa is already checked by a British official or extend into a British hospital where your migration status will be checked to make sure that you can legally claim public health services. Yuval-Davis, Wemyss and Cassidy call this type of state control “everyday bordering” (2018: 228).

With this new sense of borders as flexible, multiple and ‘tentacled’ into everyday life, notions of home can equally be reassessed. Like the nation-state, home can be reviewed as coming into being through strategies of control and everyday bordering instead of being a pre-existent space in need of defence. This is so interesting because a rhetoric of home has often been evoked to justify security measures to a national public. In my paper, I will look at acts of everyday bordering and technologies of control in the intersection of the home and the nation-state. Here, I will use British television shows concerned with property and real estate such as BBC’s Escape to the Country or Channel 4’s Location, Location, Location to show how the domopolitical aspiration to “govern the state like a home” (Walters 2004: 237) turns into multiple, tiny acts of governing the home like a state. The result is a sense of home as a tiny model of an ideal, securitised homeland dominated by notions of the patriarchal, white, middle-class family while, at the same time, training the individual citizen in conforming to and agreeing with acts of state control and border management.

Back to Programme

(14) Susanne Gruß (Frankfurt am Main): Monstrous Growths? Mushrooms, Fungi, Spores and the Borders of the (Post)Human in Contemporary British Culture

Melanie is an intelligent, creative, and empathetic girl; she also feeds on humans. Teacher and psychologist Helen Justineau forms an emotional bond with Melanie, but might be the last of her (our) kind if the posthuman ‘hungries’ succeed in eradicating humankind as we know it. Shel, a primatologist, monitors a troop of bonobos who seem to be dying – or evolving into something else. Her husband John has lost his memory after an attack by an unknown assailant and tries to recover his identity (that is, his humanity) under the surveillance of an increasingly ominous doctor who might not be human. Colm McCarthy’s 2016 post-apocalyptic zombie film The Girls with All the Gifts (based on M. R. Carey’s 2014 novel of the same name) and Martin MacInnes’s dystopian novel Gathering Evidence (2020) share more than the pervasive exploration of the porous borders between the human, the inhuman, and the posthuman. The ‘hungries’ in McCarthy’s film have been infected by an aggressive fungus; the change in bonobo behaviour is probably caused by environmental breakdown, which privileges the growth of mushrooms and fungi over other organisms; and John’s home is invaded by a quickly spreading fungal growth that seems to infiltrate his mind. My paper ties in with the recent interest in mycology in Anna Tsing Lowenhaupts anthropological The Mushroom at the End of the World (2017) and biologist Merlin Sheldrake’s forthcoming Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures (2020). I propose an exploration of the use of mushrooms, fungi, and spores in British contemporary culture as a metaphor for the radical otherness of the posthuman as well as of the fragility of the border delimiting the human and the posthuman. In both texts under scrutiny, fungi and their reproduction via spores as well as the uncanniness of the largely invisible fungal organisms throw into stark relief that the evolution of the posthuman is neither visible nor controllable.

Further reading:

Back to Programme

(15) Heike Mißler (Saarbrücken): Man or Machine: Social Borders and Posthumanism in Ian McEwan’s Machines Like Me

Ian McEwan’s “anti-Frankenstein novel” Machines Like Me (McEwan in an interview with Helen Lewis for The New Statesman, 17/04/2019) is set in an alternative version of the 1980s in which Alan Turing is alive and has helped to develop the technology needed to create humanoid AIs “with plausible intelligence and looks, believable motions and shifts of expression” (McEwan 2). At the heart of the novel are two moral dilemmas which provoke ever-shifting alliances between the two human protagonists and their AI: The first one deals with the boundaries between human and non-human life and hence evokes classic debates in posthuman theory. The second one considers the relationship between men and women and addresses the notions of consent and of justice. As these two dilemmas intersect, the othering of the machine is reflected in the othering of the female protagonist.The novel’s representation of AI is deeply ambiguous: While the ending suggests that humans are incapable of living with superintelligent beings because they are morally superior to us (hence the “anti-Frankenstein” tag), the relationship between the male AI and the female protagonist shows that it’s not just humans who are inherently flawed. Ultimately, the posthumanist project in Machines Like Me fails because the border between man and machine is shown to be less significant still than that between (artificial) man and woman.

Further reading:

Back to Programme

Contact

Organisers

Prof Dr Joachim Frenk
Email: frenk@mx.uni-saarland.de
Website: Saarland University

Prof Dr Lena Steveker
Email: lena.steveker@uni.lu
Website: Luxemburg University

Postal address

Universität des Saarlandes
Philosophische Fakultät
Fachrichtung Anglistik, Amerikanistik und Anglophone Kulturen
British Literary and Cultural Studies
Campus A5 3
66123 Saarbrücken

Should you experience any technical issues concerning this conference, please contact the following email address:

tech.britcult2020@gmail.com