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My research

I work on modern and contemporary literature and culture, concentrating primarily on Britain, Ireland and the United States. I have written in particular on the work of James Joyce and Flann O’Brien, and on British and American writing since the 1980s.

James Joyce

    My first book, Joyce’s Critics (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004), was a contribution to the study of James Joyce and the reception of modernism through the twentieth century. The book has received the following responses:

    ‘A vibrant guide to the reception of Joyce’s work by many minds and cultures. Joe Brooker sifts the evidence with such clarity that his own study becomes a distinguished addition to the canon of Joyce criticism.’ – Declan Kiberd, author of Inventing Ireland

    ‘A very important work.’ – Michael Patrick Gillespie

    ‘He has taught me a great deal, and I don’t think there’s a Joyce critic alive who wouldn’t learn much that is valuable from this book.’ – Joseph Kelly, James Joyce Literary Supplement

    ‘It reads like a well-written novel of ideas.’ – English Literature in Transition

    I have published several chapters, articles and reviews on Joyce’s work, and given numerous papers in this field.

    • In October 2007 I gave a public lecture at the James Joyce Centre in Dublin, and in June 2010 I was a guest lecturer at the James Joyce Summer School in Trieste.
    • I was invited to give guest lectures at the James Joyce Summer Schools of Trieste and Dublin in June 2010 and July 2011 respectively.
    • I continue to teach an undergraduate course entirely dedicated to Ulysses, to teach Joyce at MA level, and to be involved in the University of London’s Charles Peake Seminar for research into Ulysses.
    • In June 2011 I co-organized a two-day international conference on Joycean Literature, along with Finn Fordham of Royal Holloway, University of London. The conference took place at Senate House, and featured 40 papers from international scholars on diverse aspects of Joyce's literary legacy. Plenary addresses were given by Professor Michael Wood (Princeton) and Professor Derek Attridge (University of York).
    • In 2012 the British Library asked me to present an event on Bloomsday (16th June) introducing James Joyce’s Ulysses to a large audience of the general public. I organized the event with Dr Finn Fordham (RHUL) and with actors to give readings from Joyce’s book.
    • I contributed the essay on 'Reception History' to the Cambridge Companion to 'Ulysses', edited by Sean Latham and published by Cambridge University Press in 2014.
    • I was the organizer of the conference 100 Dubliners, which marked 100 years since James Joyce’s first book of fiction. The event was held at the Institute of English Studies on 31st October and 1st November 2014.
    • I was part of the organizing committee for the International James Joyce Symposium, held at the Institute of English Studies in June 2016. This was the largest event on Joyce in London since 2000.

Modern Irish Writing

    Working on Joyce led me to explore other aspects of modern Irish writing and history.

    I have published essays on Samuel Beckett and on the later Irish writers Seamus Heaney and Roddy Doyle. But I became particularly concerned to follow Joyce’s legacy in the Irish comic writer Flann O’Brien. My book Flann O’Brien (Northcote House, 2005) is one of the relatively few dedicated studies of this multifarious writer. I seek to demonstrate his peculiar relevance to developing areas in Irish Studies and the new modernist studies: notably nationalism and postcolonial conditions, and the mass-market press in which Flann O’Brien unleashed so much of his wit. I have also explored these issues in a number of chapters and essays.

    I took the opportunity to assess another dimension of his work in a special issue of the Journal of Law and Society (31:1, March 2004), which I co-edited with my colleagues Patrick Hanafin and Adam Gearey from Birkbeck’s School of Law. My contribution looks closely at a number of comic texts that have rarely if ever been given critical attention, seeking to situate these in the context of postcolonial law.

    • Arising from this work, in February 2005 I was invited to give three papers (on satire, literature and theory) at Cardozo School of Law, New York City.
    • In April 2006 I was an invited speaker at the conference to mark 40 years since the expiration of Flann O’Brien, held at University College Dublin.
    • I continue to write about Flann O’Brien, with new essays in a collection from Four Courts Press, edited by Jennika Baines, and in Blackwell’s Companion to Irish Literature edited by Julia M. Wright; and an essay on Flann O'Brien and Vladimir Nabokov in Review of Contemporary Fiction (Autumn 2011).
    • 2011 was Flann O'Brien's centenary. I took part in various events marking this date. In March I gave a paper entitled 'Flann O'Brien: Centenary Reflections' at the new centre for Irish Studies at Roma Tre University, Italy. In May I organized a centenary celebration panel as part of Birkbeck's Arts Week. In July I gave a paper at the 100 Myles conference at the University of Vienna, the largest academic event ever held on this writer. Finally, along with Louis de Paor and Anthony Cronin, I was a member of the closing panel at University College Dublin's centenary conference in October.
    • I have contributed the essay ‘Ploughmen Without Land: Flann O’Brien and Patrick Kavanagh’ to the volume Flann O’Brien and Modernism, edited by Julian Murphet, Ronan McDonald and Sascha Morrell (London: Bloomsbury, 2014). I gave a version of this paper at the Higher Seminar for new research at the University of Stockholm, Sweden in September 2013. I have also written a shorter, separate piece about Flann O'Brien's essays for Kavanagh's Weekly, which was published by the Flann O'Brien journal The Parish Review (2:2, Spring 2014).
    • In September 2015 I gave the opening keynote address, 'Do Bicycles Dream of Molecular Sheep?', at the biannual International Flann O'Brien Symposium, which was held in Prague.

The 1980s and after

    Much of my teaching and writing has been in areas closer to the present day. With Roger Luckhurst I co-edited a special edition of New Formations on Remembering the 1990s (50, Autumn 2003). This interdisciplinary set of essays, with contributions from Michael Bracewell, Lynne Segal, John Tomlinson, Peter Middleton and others, was one of the first academic publications to attempt a review of the decade which had recently passed. Roger Luckhurst, Laura Salisbury and I also co-organised a conference on Narratives in Transition at the Institute of English Studies in April 2008.

    I have written numerous papers and essays on contemporary British writing, considering, among others, Alan Hollinghurst, David Peace and David Mitchell. I have contributed the chapter on Thatcherism and British Fiction to the forthcoming collection of essays on the 1980s in Continuum's Decades series, which will appear in February 2014. I also wrote an extended essay on British literary censorship since 1970 for a major new volume from Oxford University Press, edited by David Bradshaw and Rachel Potter.

    From 2012 I have been the Director of the Centre for Contemporary Literature, situated in Birkbeck's School of Arts. This has made me responsible for planning, organizing and promoting events involving writers and critics, and publicizing the work done in this field at Birkbeck (and sometimes elsewhere). Along with my colleague Caroline Edwards I maintain a thorough online archive of our events in the form of news stories, reports and blog entries. These can be found on the Centre for Contemporary Literature website, which acts as a focal point for work in this field at the college.

    On this basis, I was invited to take part in the panel 'Practising, Transmitting and Curating the Contemporary' at the international conference What is the Contemporary?, held at the University of St Andrews in September 2014.

    My book Literature of the 1980s: After the Watershed was published by Edinburgh University Press in 2010. This book, written with the support of a grant from the AHRC, considers a wide range of British writers in relation to major topics and conflicts of the 1980s, and is the first full-length study of British literature and culture in that tumultuous decade. In May 2011 I gave a research paper based on this material to staff at the Freie Universität Berlin. In August 2011 I discussed this book with Ray Ryan and Stuart Kelly on a panel at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Literature of the 1980s has received the following responses:

    ‘The real strength of the book lies in its ability to provide such an impressively thorough account of a wide range of texts alongside some impassioned and convincing close readings of so many of them. Brooker is doing much more than simply defining, checking or expanding the shifting canons of eighties literature: his literary readings and his sense of the period make both available to us anew.’ – Nicky Marsh, Textual Practice

    ‘Joseph Brooker's book manages the admirable task of introducing and even historicising a period whose legacy is just beginning to be understood. Ranging from Derrida to Duran Duran, he provides an exemplary work of literary and cultural history, while braiding politics and literature together in revealing close readings of key authors and texts. This is a brave, lucid and richly informed book, necessary reading for anyone interested in understanding a tumultuous period in the cultural history of these islands.’ – Ray Ryan, author of Writing in the Irish Republic and co-editor, The Good of the Novel

    My desire to explore this period also led me to organise a one-day symposium at Birkbeck to mark the 25th anniversary of Martin Amis’s novel Money. Held in May 2009, Money Talks featured half-hour presentations from both established and emerging scholars in the field. Fuller versions of this work, and very substantial additional essays by Finn Fordham and Nicky Marsh, were published in a special issue of Textual Practice on Money which was edited for publication in 2012.

    Reflecting on the 1980s in another key, I wrote the essay ‘“Has The World Changed Or Have I Changed?”: The Smiths and the Challenge of Thatcherism’, in the collection Why Pamper Life’s Complexities? Essays on the Smiths edited by Sean Campbell and Colin Coulter (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010). The Faber George De Stefano, reviewing this volume for the New York Journal of Books, declared this essay ‘outstanding’. The essay was also quoted extensively in Tony Fletcher’s biography A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of The Smiths (London: William Heinemann, 2012). I was subsequently (March 2013) asked to take part in a panel at SmithsFest, a weekend dedicated to the band at the ICA and organized by the broadcaster Amy Lamé.

    In 2013, in the wake of the former premier’s death, my former research student Dr Bianca Leggett edited a special issue of the online journal Alluvium dedicated to Margaret Thatcher in the 21st century. My thoughts on this topic can be found here.

    I wrote a guest editorial on genre for the first issue of the online postgraduate journal Dandelion.

    I have been a regular contributor to Birkbeck’s Arts Week and the Bloomsbury Festival, both of which (annually, in May and October respectively) offer free events for the general public. In 2010 I staged a reading and Q&A with the novelist Jonathan Coe upon the publication of his new novel The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim. In 2012 I chaired events at the Bloomsbury Festival featuring, among others, the biographer Rosemary Ashton, Professor John Sutherland, the author Lynne Truss and Faber novelist Alex Preston. At 2013’s Bloomsbury Festival I held a public conversation with the writer Iain Sinclair and the radical academic and public intellectual Professor Phil Cohen.

I have written numerous contributions to the Birkbeck English blog, which can be seen here.