M. NourbeSe Philip – Unspeakable Acts: The Tongues of M. NourbeSe Philip


Event Date: 22 – 24 June 2017
Birkbeck, University of London
Birkbeck Main Building
Torrington Square
London WC1E 7HX

The Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities in collaboration with British Comparative Literature Association, Birkbeck Gender and Sexuality (BiGS), the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research, and Mapping Maternal Subjectivities, Identities and Ethics (MaMSIE) presents:

Feminist Emergency – International Conference

M. NourbeSe PhilipUnspeakable Acts: The Tongues of M. NourbeSe Philip

M. NourbeSe Philip, poet, thinker, activist, was born in Tobago, and now lives in Canada. She studied political science and became a lawyer but left the law for a life in poetry and social and philosophical thought. She is renowned for her experiments with language and her combative reconfigurations of received ideas and histories, as she pursues a vision of greater justice. Her publications include poetry, fiction, drama, essays, and two volumes of book-length poems. With her magnificent revolutionary work, She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks (1989), she confronts burning issues of our time, bending syntax and vocabulary to shift consciousness in an improvisatory form that pays homage to jazz (it was awarded the Casa de Las Americas prize). In Discourse on the Logic of Language (1989) she introduces the now celebrated play on words, central to thinking about gender and race:
… and English is
my mother tongue
is
my father tongue
is a foreign lan lan lang
language
l/anguish
anguish…
2
The long narrative poem Zong! (2008) is a dazzling experimental chorale-like work, which Philip has performed in a collective sound piece; it takes up the case of the 18th century slave ship of that name: slaves were drowned after the captain threw them overboard and later tried to collect insurance. In talking about her own work Philip has said, “fiction is about telling lies, but you must be scathingly honest in telling those lies. Poetry is about truth- telling, but you need the lie – the artifice of the form to tell those truths.” In times of danger, when hatred and hypocrisy fill the public and the private space, writers like NourbeSe Philip are light-bearers. In conversation with Marina Warner, she will be reading from her work and discussing her ideas about the interactions of literature and philosophies of emancipation.
Chair: Marina Warner (Birkbeck, University of London)

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