Seminar – Christine Okoth on ‘Renee Gladman and the Material Composition of Isolation’

In the final paper in our 2020/21 seminar series, Christine Okoth from the University of Warwick reads the poet and novelist Renee Gladman's body of work through the lens of linguistic isolation.
Online

In her 2016 book length essay Calamities, the poet and novelist Renee Gladman describes the process of constructing a city out of language in the following terms: ‘It was amazing to see a line move from one mode of being to another mode… as when concrete becomes paper, as when something that is rigid, performing stability, collapses into a curving body at the floor of a page’. Largely understood as an accompaniment to her quartet of novels that focuses on the fictional city-state Ravicka, Gladman’s Calamities establishes a connection between linguistic and urban architecture that hinges on the invocation of shared materiality.

Though critics like Evie Shockley have established a direct link to the fictional construction of urban space, I read Gladman’s focus on materiality as an attempt at expanding the experiential capacities of language relating, in particular, to the sense of confusion, displacement, and isolation that comes with being a stranger. In Event Factory – the first of the Ravicka novels – Gladman’s protagonist experiences Ravicka as a visitor with limited language skills and only a rudimentary understanding of the city’s geography. Throughout, the protagonist’s marginalization manifests through her unsettling encounters with words that have taken on material form: she attempts to scoop up language like water, eats pages of written texts as part of a stew, and can only refer to the creeping, dangerous silence that engulfs the city as smoke. This paper therefore reads Event Factory – and Gladman’s body of work – as an exercise in exploring the material composition of linguistic isolation.

This seminar will take place online.

All are welcome but booking is required. Please email c.whitehead@qmul.ac.uk to register your attendance.