Words on the Move 3 – Oh Lord! Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

Event Date:16 November 2018

The Keynes Library
Birkbeck University of London
43 Gordon Square
London WC1H 0PD

The Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities presents:

Words on the Move 3

Oh Lord! Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

SPEAKERS: David Herd (University of Kent), Fran Lock (Birkbeck), Steve Willey (Birkbeck), Daniela Cascella (Sheffield Hallam University), Luke Williams (Birkbeck), Marina Warner (Birkbeck).

Digital systems of communication hold out a promise of cross-border, cross-cultural and genre-blurring freedom of expression, but are intertwined with techniques of surveillance and information-gathering that are more intrusive than ever before. The new media give space to individual voices from parts of the world which can be isolated or remote – geographically, historically, and socially – and they are the principal channels by which displaced people access knowledge, visibility/audibility, and can make a claim on public awareness. At the same time, however, the same knowledge systems expose speakers/writers and their communities to scrutiny. Edouard Glissant has explored the idea of ‘opacity’ in language as a powerful shelter from exploitation and oppression, and in his book, Thou Shalt Not Speak My Language, the bilingual Moroccan scholar Abdelfattah Kilito has discussed the position of strength afforded in colonial condition when the masters do not know the language.

This workshop will explore the potential and consequences of expanded digital communications for expression today, in relation to the rise of English as a global mono-language. It is third in the series of workshops, Words on the Move, which take place at Birkbeck alongside the project Stories in Transit in Palermo, Sicily. Thousands and thousands of people today have been unhomed by war, famine, and other circumstances, and we are exploring what words in motion can do to forge relations to self and community, and how they may offer some degree of shelter.

Welcome and Introduction by Professor Marina Warner, Dr Steve Willey and Dr Luke Williams (all Birkbeck):


Professor David Herd (Kent) – Making Space for the Human
Professor Herd’s paper will address the intersection between Arendt, Olson and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the urgent interdisciplinary effort, in other words, to arrive at a language from which nobody might fall out. This paper proposes that words help forge relations between self and community and therefore offer some degree of shelter.


Fran Lock (Birkbeck) – Halting sites: Memory, Mourning and Archives
Traveller communities, whose settlements are, by their very nature, transitory, leave no corresponding trace or wound on the physical landscape. If we think of public space as a container for cultural heritage, then Traveller communities, their histories, and their memories, remain uninscribed, and are edited out of the mapping of that heritage. This invisibility has its analogue in archival space where Traveller existence is hedged by legislation at every turn, while remaining, in the most profound sense, “missing” from official narratives of Northern Irish history.
Fran Lock’s paper will explore digital space as a site and occasion for resisting the official archive’s postcolonial instrumentality, as a potential “halting site” where the apparent anonymity of digital space works against the compulsory visibility demanded from us inside of the institutions and systems that administer our existence. Might the internet afford us a freedom of movement that has no parallel in the material world; a model of co-existence in which Traveller communities are not forced to enter into an embattled spatial negotiation with the sedentary world? And in this pause, might digital space offer a site for ethical grieving, or does the loosing of our archives from their spatial bonds, homogenising their fragmented testimonies into smoothly scrolling data, blunt the archive’s capacity for moral witness and risk re-inscribing Traveller invisibility?


Daniela Cascella (Sheffield Hallam) – Chimeras, Stains, and Nosegays
This presentation will ask how it is possible to begin and fabulate in the absence of shared, or clear cultural references. Using listening/mishearing and transmission/interference as devices, Cascella will generate meaning and question notions of origin and purity. She will present her ideas through an informal talk, a reading (one short essay and one experimental piece) and the playing of audio recordings from digital archives which she has used in recent writing.


Roundtable – Literature on the Web: Self-exposure, Self-concealment?
with: Julia Bell, Steve Willey, Luke Williams, Daniela Cascella, Fran Lock and the audience
Chair: Marina Warner

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