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Writer in Residence 2024: Karin van Marle

Venue: Birkbeck Central

No booking required

Professor Karin van Marle is our Writer in Residence for 2024. She will lead three seminars, which are open to all.

Please email Bernard Keenan (b.keenan @ for information on the readings. 

The details of each seminar are as follows.


Seminar 1: A jurisprudence of place. Limits, borders and boundaries

Monday, 17 June 14:00 to 17:00: Birkbeck Central, BCB 307

Suggested reading: Genovese, A (2022) Feminist Jurisography. Law, History, Writing 1-27

In the first seminar I will firstly set out the overall project which is to bring together thoughts and ideas on critical jurisprudence that I developed over the years in a scholarly monograph. In particular I want to re-visit and further explore notions of slowness, refusal (and following Honig also return), the constitution as archive, the giving up of certitude, doubt and hesitation. My approach to jurisprudence is inter-disciplinary, drawing on feminist theory, legal theory, political theory, literary theory, literature, spatial theory and philosophy. I work within various traditions, including Euro-Brit Critical Theory; US Critical Legal Studies; African philosophy and ubuntu and decolonial thought. I am interested in the work on Jurisography by scholars working in Australia and want to think about such a jurisprudence of place and time within the South African context. Debates and discourse on transformation, reconciliation and reparation are central to any responsible reflection on jurisprudence in South Africa as a society in transition, struggling to respond to its past, present and future.

A new angle that I aim to pursue, inspired by the writing of Italian novelist, Elena Ferrante, and Stephen Clingman, known for his biography of South African struggle lawyer, Bram Fischer, his work on South African novelist Nadine Gordimer and his latest work, The grammar of identity, is that of borders and boundaries. Ferrante employs the notions of smarginatura and frantumaglia in her writing, to describe the experience of her characters of boundaries dissolving. I will return also to the work of the late Drucilla Cornell and her reflections on limits, border and boundaries. Cornell famously renamed deconstruction to ‘the philosophy of the limit’ as a way to engage with Derrida’s work within the context of legal theory. Hannah Arendt’s theory on action, the public realm, totalitarianism, natality have been an important influence on my reflections. I will continue this engagement, also because of her thinking about borders and boundaries. I have found inspiration from the art works of William Kentridge, and his contemplation of modernity, colonialism, hesitation and doubt for a thinking of a jurisprudence in the aftermath of apartheid and colonialism and will further my engagement with Kentridge’s work including drawings, sculptures, films and operatic productions.

In this seminar I will focus in particular on the notion of ‘jurisography’ as developed by Ann Genovese, Shaun McVeigh and Peter Rush and how it will inform my work.

Seminar 2: Elena Ferrante’s poetics: Frantumaglia and smarginatura

Wednesday, 19 June 14:00 to 17:00: Birkbeck Central, BCB 309

Suggested reading: Morelli, M. 2021. Margins, subjectivity, and violence in Elena Ferrante’s Cronache del mal d’amore. Italian Studies. Vol 76 No 3 329-341. 

In seminar 2 I turn to Italian author Elena Ferrante, in particular the role of boundaries and borders in her work. I ask what a critical engagement with human rights can gain from the work and ideas of Elena Ferrante, in particular her engagement with violence against women and how the women in her novels experience and respond to boundaries and borders. Ferrante is an Italian author who writes about gender, space, violence and how to resist the latter in her novels. I am specifically interested in the way in which she relates gender and space in her stories and how this relation also unearths poverty and violence. Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels (2012; 2013; 2014; 2015) stand in the tradition of the Bildungsroman, tracing the friendship between two women from young girls into adulthood. However, the stories, told from a female perspective, challenge the neat order and progression of the traditional Bildingsroman. Her work has been described as world literature for the extent to which her themes soften, re-draw the boundaries of locality. Translation is central to Ferrante, not only because of the translation of her novels, originally written in Italian, to many other languages, but also because of her own references to the importance of translation in her own writing. Translation functions as a sort of transition, border crossing, between places, worlds and genres. Borders, crossing and also dissolution of borders play a central role in the lives of her characters and in her own poetics.

‘They are women who tell their story from the middle of a dizzy spell. So, they don’t suffer because of the conflict between what they would like to be and what their mothers were, they are not the painful end result of a female genealogy that moves, in chronological order, from the ancient world, from the great myths of the Mediterranean, to end up at them as a visible peak of progress. Suffering derives, instead, from the fact that crowding around them, simultaneously, in a sort of achrony, is the past of their ancestors and the future of what they seek to be, the shades, the ghosts …’ – Elena Ferrante (2016) Frantumaglia 108.

‘The frantumaglia is the storehouse of time without the orderliness of history, a story. The frantumaglia is an effect of the sense of the loss, when we’re sure that everything that seems to us stable, lasting, and anchor for our life, will soon join that landscape of debris that we seem to see.’ – Elena Ferrante (2016) Frantumaglia 100.


Seminar 3: Reading Cornell, Ferrante and Arendt

Friday 21 June 14:00 to 17:00: Birkbeck Central, BCB 308


Suggested reading: Drucilla Cornell (1992) The Philosophy of the Limit 1-12; 91-115

Firstly, I revisit Cornell’s 1992 work in which she formulates deconstruction as ‘the philosophy of the limit’. Secondly, following on my focus on Ferrante’s poetics in seminar 2, I read Cornell alongside Ferrante’s engagement with borders and boundaries. I reflect on the extent to which both authors work with the notion of deconstruction and reconstruction. Thirdly, I tentatively think about Hannah Arendt’s notion of natality alongside Cornell and Ferrante before I turn to the question of legal interpretation. I think about interpretation in terms of spatiality, and if interpretation could be seen as a space of renewal, refashioning, reconstruction, keeping in mind Cover’s warning that all interpretation takes place in a field of pain and death.

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