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SPACE: Seminars on Politics, Art, Culture and Entertainment

'The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude' (George Orwell).

From William Shakespeare to William Butler Yeats, from Richard Hamilton to David Hare, from Dorothea Lange to Bob Dylan, writers and artists have encouraged us to think afresh about politics. This occasional seminar series provides an opportunity for Birkbeck students to reconsider politics in a variety of creative contexts. It explores, in different formats and settings, how politics is represented in the visual, literary and performing arts and popular culture. Among the key questions to be addressed in this series is what can we learn from theatre, cinema, art, poetry, music, photography, television and other areas of art, culture and entertainment about who governs and how power is exercised in contemporary political systems. SHAPE events are open to Birkbeck students and members of Be Birkbeck.

Representing the Rising (5:30pm, 21 October 2016)

This year marks the centenary of the Easter Rising, a small-scale and short-lived insurrection in Ireland that began with the seizure of public buildings in Dublin and ended with deaths of more than 400 citizens and soldiers and the execution of sixteen rebels by the British Army. The Rising was doomed and went ahead in the full knowledge that, as a military challenge to the British authorities in Ireland, it was bound to fail. But it set Ireland on a bloody course to independence and became a legitimating myth of the Irish Free State and later of the Irish Republic.

This event begins with a seminar discussion of literary representations of the Rising before a trip to the National Theatre to see Seán O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars. This play embodies an arresting socialist critique of popular nationalism. Its premiere at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in February 1926 led to protests from the Republican women’s organization, Cumann na mBan and a riot led by the widows of several leading figures in the Rising. Taking to the stage to defend O’Casey, the poet William Butler Yeats cried ‘You have disgraced yourself again. Is this to be the recurring celebration of the arrival of Irish genius?’

The production we’re seeing at the National Theatre will almost certainly be received more respectfully. It’s painstaking in the historical realism with which it communicates O’Casey’s sideways view of events in Dublin in 1915 and 1916. But it’s possible to wonder whether it isn’t England that now stands in greater need of a warning against the excesses of populist nationalism.

Places at this event must be booked here in advance. There is a non-refundable charge of £20 for attending this event to cover the cost of theatre tickets and a limited number of spaces are available. For further details, please contact Dr Dermot Hodson (d.hodson@bbk.ac.uk) or Dr James Brown (jpc.brown@bbk.ac.uk)

Parliament on the Stage: A Discussion and Visit to the National Theatre (6pm, 9 February 2015)

This event looks at the relationship between politics and theatre. It begins with a short seminar on how Parliament and parliamentarians have been represented in British theatre from William Shakespeare to James Graham. The recurring theme of the ‘guilty politician’ in this work is explored from political science and sociological perspectives.

This is followed by a trip to the National Theatre to see Harley Granville Barker’s Waste (1907/1926). It’s a play about Henry Trebell, an idealistic independent politician who gets into bed with the Tories in order to realize his visionary educational schemes. He also gets embroiled in a sex scandal with Amy O'Connell, the wife of an Irish nationalist – oddly, a political sex scandal in which neither participant is especially interested in sex, still less romance.

It was written in 1906, and then banned by the Lord Chamberlain, ostensibly for its discussion of abortion, but in reality because of the unflattering light it shed on politicians. Barker rewrote the play in 1926, and this version finally received a public performance in 1936. The version we’ll see draws on both texts.

Besides showing us behind-the-scenes politicking, Waste is preoccupied with the roles assigned to the sexes in modern society. In several previous plays, Granville Barker had been concerned with the problems of a central female character in finding a satisfactory role in modern society. The waste referred to in the title is arguably not just the destruction of Trebell or of Amy and their unborn child, but the wasted talents of women in general.

Places at this event must be booked in advance. There is a non-refundable charge of £15 for attending this event to cover the cost of theatre tickets and a limited number of spaces are available. For further details, please contact Dr Dermot Hodson (d.hodson@bbk.ac.uk) or Dr James Brown (jpc.brown@bbk.ac.uk)

This event is organized by Birkbeck’s Seminars on Politics, the Arts, Culture and Entertainment (SPACE) series and the BISR Guilt Group.

Occupy London as Political Theatre (6pm, 24 July 2015)

This event looks at the relationship between politics and theatre. It begins with a short seminar on Occupy London, an anti-capitalist demonstration that began outside St Paul’s Cathedral in October 2011 as part of worldwide protests against the power of the world’s wealthiest one percent. The seminar situates Occupy London within scholarly debates about protest movements before examining the political theatricality of Occupy. This is followed by a trip to the Donmar Theatre to see Temple, a play by Steve Waters inspired by Occupy London. The play stars Simon Russell Beale as the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in a fictionalized account of the events surrounding Occupy London.

Places at this event must be booked in advance. There is a non-refundable charge for attending this event to cover the cost of theatre tickets and a limited number of spaces are available. For further details, please contact Dr Dermot Hodson (d.hodson@bbk.ac.uk)

The Mean Streets of Naples and Mumbai (6pm, 18 June 2015)

This one-off seminar explores the relationship between politics and literature. Despite their different locations and histories, Naples and Mumbai have remarkable similarities. Both are port cities, ‘gateways’ to their countries and regional trade networks, and both are marked by extreme wealth and poverty. Most importantly, their criminal organisations, the Neapolitan Camorra and the Mumbai D-company, exert a powerful influence on the power relations of urban space. In this seminar, Dr Maria Ridda (Birkbeck College and University of Kent) will talk about her research on how transnational criminal organisations challenge traditional reconfigurations of the city through a comparison of Mumbai and Naples in Indian and Italian fictional and non-fictional texts from 2000 to the present. By going beyond the accommodational space negotiated between the ‘oppressor’ and the ‘resister’, Dr Ridda posits an alternative to conventional ways of reading the city as an arena of contestation. Her cross-disciplinary comparison exposes hidden connections between the ‘underworld’ and conventional power structures that both disrupt and reinforce the rhetoric of global capitalism and conventional state relations. Dr Ridda’s presentation will be followed by comments from Dr Caroline Edwards and Dr Jason Edwards and the event will be chaired by Dr Dermot Hodson.

Dr Maria Ridda is Associate Lecturer at Birkbeck College, University of London, and at the University of Kent.

Dr Carolyn Edwards is Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literature at Birkbeck College.

Dr Jason Edwards is Lecturer in Politics at Birkbeck College.

Dr Dermot Hodson is Senior Lecturer in Political Economy at Birkbeck.

There is no charge for attending this event but space is limited, so please register in advance at http://bit.ly/1KhQdxS

Two evenings on politics and photography (9th and 16th September 2014)

Dermot Hodson and Carlos Reyes-Manzo

This two-part workshop explores the link between politics and photography. It considers how social documentary photographers look at the world and seek to change our understanding of it through images of struggle and solidarity. Drawing on the scholarship of photographic theorists such as Walter Benjamin, Susan Sontag and David Levi Strauss, the workshops explore the images of a number of photographers, including David Octavius Hill, Robert Adamson, John Thompson, Tina Modotti, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Dorothea Lange, Yousuf Karsh, Matt Heron, Ernest Cole, Susan Meiselas, Sebastião Salgado and Martha Rosler. The first evening looks at the origins of social documentary photography and its golden age between the 1930s and 1960s. The second examines documentary photography’s turn towards and away from postmodernism since the 1960s. A short syllabus will be provided to participants in advance of the first meeting. This event is open to Birkbeck students and Be Birkbeck members and a maximum of 25 places are available on a first come first serve basis. For details about how to register, please see here.

Dermot Hodson is Senior Lecturer in Political Economy at Birkbeck.

Carlos Reyes-Manzo is a Poet and Photographer and is currently Ben Pimlott Writer in Residence at Birkbeck.