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Re Defining London and Dublin: Literature, Music and the Visual Arts

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(Re) Defining London and Dublin: Literature, Music and the Visual Arts”

Paloma Fresno Calleja, Universitat de les Illes Balears

Molly Naylor, British poet

Alejandra Moreno Álvarez, Universidad de Oviedo

Irene Pérez Fernández, Universitat de les Illes Balears

Pilar Villar Argáiz, Universidad de Granada

Eduardo Viñuela Suárez, Universidad de Oviedo
Urban spaces are both real and imaginary and the symbolic and real spaces associated with the urban are constitutive of one another. The city represents and reproduces - through its monuments, buildings and architecture of power - the nation's regulatory norms and stereotypes (Lefebvre, 2005). The urban has traditionally been constructed in singular terms as an hegemonic, mainstream space; a place where the reality of those constructed as the “Other” – immigrants, ethnically diverse people, gay and lesbian communities, just to name but a few – had been spatially silenced. Yet, cities also invoke multiplicity and the simultaneous coexistence of different spatialities that contest and dismantle authority (McLeod, 2004; Ball, 2004).

It is our aim in this round table to address literary, musical and visual discourses of the cities of London and Dublin that capture those 'Other' manifestations and narratives that challenge traditional androcentric and occidocentric viewpoints (Jarvis, Kantor and Cloke, 2009). London has always been present in the collective imaginary as the static imperial 'centre' of colonial power and British national identity. This centre has nevertheless been continuously remapped over the second half of the 20th century, especially with the coming of immigrants from ex-colonial territories and Easter European countries. The city of Dublin, on its part, is a clear exponent of the changing face of Irish society and culture, and the new influx of immigration that Ireland is receiving.

We shall begin the round table with British poet and performer Molly Naylor. Naylor will present her latest work Whenever I Get Blown Up I Think of You in which taking the London bombings of 7/7 as the starting point, she will explore 'how we put things back together after they’ve been blown apart'. Naylor will read some of her poems where London features prominently.

Secondly, Paloma Fresno Calleja will focus on the literary representation of London in two recent novels, Small Island by Andrea Levy and White Teeth by Zadie Smith and on how the authors negotiate intercultural conflicts spatially. Whereas Levy depicts the experience of first generation of Caribbean migrants taking us back to the 1940s and 1950s, Smith recreates a very different portrait of contemporary multicultural London, as experienced by members of the second generations. Her analysis will establish a contrast between the use of private and public spaces in each novel to prove how these spaces are transformed to reflect the changing predicaments of the different generations; whereas Levy locates the action in enclosed spaces or 'small islands' (mainly the protagonist's house), and presents the city of London as a menacing and alienating place which poses a thread for her newly arrived migrant characters, Smith constructs a city which works as a metaphor of the increasingly multiethnic British society, a more fluid space which has been shaped to reflect this hybridity and to allow for new identitary configurations. In Smith's text the private environment of the family home becomes reclusive and limited and the conflicts of the younger generations are literally taken outside, to the streets of a changing city, where they can be negotiated.

As regards Ireland, and in contrast to Britain, the literary world is still overwhelmingly white, something which will undoubtedly change as large-scale immigration alters the ethnic composition of Irish society. Nevertheless, the effects of multiculturalism in the literature of the country are already palpable. The changing face of Irish society and culture, and the new influx of immigration have compelled recent Irish women artists to rethink gender intersectionally, as modulated by race and ethnicity. Simultaneously, immigrant voices in Ireland are starting to make themselves heard in the literary panorama, as the recently published poetic anthology Landing Places demonstrates (Bourke and Faragó 2010). Pilar Villar-Argáiz will focus on how interethnic encounters are recorded in women’s poetry, both by Irish and non-Irish authors. Irish poets Mary O’Donnell and Colette Bryce will be studied beside immigrant women poets from countries as far apart as Poland and South Africa, such as Kinga Elwira Cybulska and Nyaradzo Masunda. In their accommodation of diversity and their face-to-face proximity to Otherness, these poems, she will argue, constitute an ethical and moral imperative in the current Irish multi-cultural context.

Finally, Alejandra Moreno Álvarez and Eduardo Viñuela Suárez will approach the cities of London and Dublin as they are depicted in cinema and urban popular music respectively. Moreno Álvarez will examine interactions of marginalised ethnic peoples at the periphery of the global metropolis nowadays often visualized in TV and cinema to show how this ethnic enclave is not monopolised by one particular group but rather houses a mixture of immigrants, featured, in fiction, as speaking their respective languages, eating their particular foodstuff and observing their own traditions. Visual Arts helps create a space, perhaps that “Third Space”, as Homi Bhabha would put it, where an immigrant exists daily as a “real” individual. Moreno Álvarez will analyse how migrant communities are inscribed in British and Irish fiction creating and modifying spaces through the study of the works by Ian Iqbal Rashid (2004), Sarah Gavron (2007), John Alexander (2009) and John Carney (2007), directors who give voice and space to the Other while moving around London and Dublin within urban public transports.

Viñuela Suárez, will discuss how London has always been the encounter zone for urban music cultures and the place where the greatest part of youth styles and subcultures in the 60s and 70s, such as mod, punk, glam, etc, were created. Therefore, London became a referent for other countries, among them including Spain. From the brit pop of the 90s (Blur, Suede) to the hip hop or the grime of the 21st century, London has always been at the frontline in the international music scene creating and (re)articulating a space of musical experimentation.

The round table will, therefore, be an exercise of spatial archaeology so as to reveal how dynamic alternative spaces coexist inside the allegedly static national space of the cities of London and Dublin, how these two cities feature as heterogeneous spaces in the collective imaginary of the people experiencing them and how such discourses re-define these centres from within.

Dr. Paloma Fresno is Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of the Balearic Islands (Spain). She has researched and published mostly in the field of postcolonial studies. More specifically, her interests focus on issues of multiculturalism, identity politics, gender and diaspora in contemporary literatures in English.
Dr. Alejandra Moreno Álvarez is a lecturer at the University of Oviedo. She completed her doctorate in 2005 at the University of Oviedo with a Dissertation on the Literary Deconstruction of Eating Disorders and Cosmetic Surgery in the novels of Margaret Atwood and Fay Weldon. Her teaching and research is centred in English Literature and Literatures in English Language, Feminist and Postcolonial Theory, and in the subject of Body Politics in Literature and Cinema.

Molly Naylor is a poet, scriptwriter and performer. Her poems have been featured on BBC radio and she has performed at events and festivals all over the world including Latitude, Glastonbury, Palabra y Música, The Big Chill, Poet in the City, Edinburgh Fringe, Hull Truck, Norfolk and Norwich festival, Purple Ronnie’s Stand Up Poetry Club, Shunt, Soho Theatre and many more.  She has written and directed two plays performed on the London Fringe. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia and  is currently co-writing a sit-com as well as working on her first solo spoken word show – Whenever I Get Blown Up I Think Of You.

Dr. Irene Pérez Fernández is a researcher and Junior lecturer at the Universitat de les Illes Balears. She completed a European doctorate in 2009 at the University of Oviedo with a Dissertation on Contemporary Asian British and Black British Women Writers. Her research interests develop around the notions of gender, space and identity in contemporary British literature and literatures in English.
Dr. Pilar Villar-Argáiz lectures in the Department of English Philology at the University of Granada, Spain, where she obtained a European Doctorate in English Studies (Irish Literature). She has published on the representation of femininity in contemporary Irish women’s poetry, cinematic representations of Ireland, and the theoretical background and application of feminism and postcolonialism to the study of Irish literature.
Dr. Eduardo Viñuela has got his degree in Musicology at the University of Oviedo (Spain) in 2002. He has finished his Doctoral Thesis in 2008 and he has got the Doctorate Award (2009) in History of Art and Musicology at the University of Oviedo, where he is currently teaching. He was Junior Assistant in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Alicante (2008 – 2010), teaching semiotics and mass culture. He has participated in several national and international conferences on music and media, and has published the book Music video in Spain (1980-1995) (Madrid: ICCMU, 2009). He coordinates the research group on popular music at the Spanish Society of Etnomusicology (SibE) and chairs the Spanish branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM).


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Bryce, Colette. The Full Indian Rope Trick. London: Picador: 2005.

Carney, John. Once, DVD 2007

Du Noyer, Paul. In the City: A Celebration of London Music, London: Virgin Books, 2009.

Gavron, Sarah. Brick Lane, DVD 2007.

Iqbal Rashid, Ian. Touch of Pink, DVD 2004.

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Lefevbre, Henri. The Production of Space. 1974. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 2005.

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O’Donnell, Mary. The Place of Miracles. New and Selected Poems. Dublin: New Island, 2005.

. The Ark Builders. Todmorden: Arts Council, 2009.

Smith, Zadie. White Teeth. London: Penguin, 2000.

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