BRAKC Postgraduate Symposium

Friday 30 November 2018
2 – 4.30pm
Birkbeck, Malet Street, G14

This roundtable event aims to bring together the wealth of postgraduate research being accomplished on the artistic representation of the familial, the social, the political, its criticism and re-conceptions. To book a free place, please email Nathalie Wourm at

Deniz Sözen (University of Westminster, Visual Arts)

Deniz Soezen: Trans Plantations (2018), Installation Shot. Photo: David Freeman
(Courtesy of the artist)

Thinking through coffee: Thinking through clay – Belonging beyond the human

Carly Robinson (Birkbeck, Arts and Humanities)

Auto-theory as becoming-narrative; queer family making and transforming bodies in Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts


Guest: Molly Flynn, Lecturer in Theatre and Performance (Birkbeck, English and Humanities)

Presentation of the forthcoming symposium “Depicting Donbas: Critical and creative responses to the current armed conflict in Ukraine”

Ross Belson (Birkbeck, Victorian Studies)

Deniz Soezen: Kahvehane Kongresspark (2016). Photo: Deniz Soezen (Courtesy of the artist)

‘The Neglected Poet’: the life and parentage of Brinsley Norton [working title]

Dalila Villella (Birkbeck, French Studies)

Rhizomatic writings: new scenarios for humanity


Deniz Sözen (University of Westminster, Visual Arts)

Thinking through coffee: Thinking through clay – Belonging beyond the human

My practice-based research sets out to explore and develop new artistic strategies that destabilize fixed notions of belonging and identity in the context of globalization and diasporic art. Searching for ways to decolonize and transcend dualistic thinking, initially my project of un-doing belonging had envisaged the exploration of binary conceptions of self/other solely in relation to ethnic and cultural difference. My artistic research exploring belonging in relation to ceramics and coffee, the materials and mediums I use in Kahvehane Kongresspark (2016) and Trans Plantations (2018), instigated a different approach. Working with coffee and ceramics led to a major shift in my thinking: through my hands-on engagement with the material, I suddenly became aware of my interconnectedness with matter. This led an unexpected and sudden change of direction in my research.

In this presentation I intend to share how the direction of my research shifted through my practice of working with coffee and ceramics and how I came to appreciate what I would call “the secret of the earth”: the knowledge about the vital force of matter and the complex web of relations in ecological assemblages. Reflecting on the agency of matter, I realized that I had to broaden the scope of my discussion with regard to belonging and expand the notion of the ‘other’ to include what Braidotti has coined as ‘earth others’ (Braidotti, 2006).

Thinking nomadically and traversing different theories, the analysis of the agency of matter is developed in relation to contemporary art practices. Following the question, how art could challenge an anthropocentric conception of belonging, Mona Hatoum’s Present Tense (1996), my own work Kahvehane Kongresspark (2016) and Trans Plantations (2018) serve as case studies to explore artistic strategies that challenge our anthropocentric approach towards belonging through the ways we relate to material culture, plants and (edible) matter.


Carly Robinson (Birkbeck, Arts and Humanities)

Auto-theory as becoming-narrative; queer family making and transforming bodies in Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts

In this paper I will be discussing Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts as text which reconfigures ideas about family, gender and relationships through the innovative use of literary form. Using a mix of personal life writing, theory and criticism together with a self-reflexive meditation on the personal and political paradigms of being in the world, The Argonauts opens up a space for re-thinking ideas on language, motherhood, family connections and bodies in flux.  Nelson’s book loosely described as auto-theory and genre-defying employs a new medium of writing which, I will argue, acts as a becoming-narrative as part of a Deleuzo-Guattarian inspired movement of change within current literary production. Using their concept of becoming-woman, I will read Nelson’s text as a narrative of transformation and affect for both author and reader which bypasses normative modes of production. Nelson navigates a journey of discovery as she explores her burgeoning relationship with artist Harry Dodge and their beginnings of family life through the process of writing and connects her personal experiences to theoretical ideas from thinkers and writers such as Donald Winnicott, Sara Ahmed, Luce Irigaray, Eve Sedgwick, Audre Lorde and Beatriz Preciado. Through her fluid like prose the reader is also brought into that becoming to bear witness and participant in forging these connections of theory to real life, engaging in their own self reflexive trajectories of affect.


Ross Belson (Birkbeck, Victorian Studies)

‘The Neglected Poet’: the life and parentage of Brinsley Norton [working title]

My paper will explore the kinship relationships of  [Thomas] Brinsley Norton (1831-77), the poet son of women’s rights reformer, Caroline Elizabeth Norton, whose letters are the focus of my PhD (UWE 2016) and post-doctoral research, which will culminate in an edition of her letters:  The paper will utilize Brinsley’s letters, poems and ‘autobiography’ (in fact by Carlo Knight), Le Memoire Postume di Lord Grantley (2005), together with Caroline’s letters and other correspondence by family and friends.

Separated from his mother when aged only four, Brinsley was placed for six years with his aunt Grace Menzies, who allegedly physically abused him on the misapprehension that he was the son of Lord Melbourne. Although it is now clear that Caroline’s husband George was Brinsley’s biological father, this did not prevent the rumour becoming key to a relationship break-down accelerated by other factors: Brinsley’s rebellious nature, the brain damage he had suffered as a boy and George’s bullying of both his children and his wife, who gained custody of her sons in 1842.

In 1853 Brinsley married the daughter of a Capriote farmer, with whom he raised a family, emerging in 1859, with the death of his elder brother, as de facto heir of both his father and wealthy uncle, Lord Grantley. By this time exiled to Italy, by his father’s orders and his own debts, which George refused to settle, Brinsley moved to Florence, where he was mentored by Robert Browning.  However, Brinsley’s inaugural collection of poems, Pinocchi (1856), was not well received and he is not known to have published subsequently, his health declining over ensuing decades. By the time of his death in 1877, aged 45, Brinsley was 4th Baron Grantley in name only, his father’s and uncle’s capital and property having by then been devolved to his son.


Dalila Villella (Birkbeck, French Studies)

Rhizomatic writings: new scenarios for humanity

The rhizome is a concept elaborated by Deleuze and Guattari in 1976 with the aim of highlighting the artificiality of the social, political and economic organisation of reality and showing the possibility of changing the world by semiotically re-interpreting and re-organising it.

Deleuze and Guattari described the rhizome as something heterogeneous, multi-directional, decentralised, with no start and no end and characterised by infinite interconnections and overlaps. Its functioning is particularly useful to both explain how capitalism – and in a broader way any kind of power – imposes itself, subordinating the entire reality to its structures, profoundly conditioning the human experience and provide humanity with the revolutionary tools to reconstruct the world.

The purpose of my paper is to analyse how the adoption of the rhizome is influencing the way 21st century French poetry is representing and conceiving the collective human experience by deconstructing all the binary oppositions at the base of the hierarchical organisation of reality imposed by capitalism.

By focusing on the works of Anne-James Chaton, Dominique Fourcade, Jean-Michel Espitallier, Jean-Marie Gleize and Éric Sadin, I will show how contemporary poetry – hitting the language, the concept time, the idea of politics and the value of the human life elaborated by capitalism – frees humanity from the normalising processes activated by this political and economic system to create standardised human beings.

In doing that, rhizomatic writings constantly transform any aspect of reality showing the revolutionary power of the becoming and opening up the way for new scenarios; they  show the possibility of different futures and different alternatives for humanity inevitably leading to rethink  people’s subjectivity, human relationships and interactions as well as the way mankind connects with the non-human.

Deleuzian Impoverishment:
New Research in Aesthetics of Community
Monday 14 November 2016, 1-3pm, room 112, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1H OPD

Deleuze Wall Lyon

This is BRAKC’s first symposium of the 2016-17 academic year. We will be welcoming academics from Turkey, France and Malta, who will present us their recent research in the aesthetics of community.

Refreshments will be served. To book a place, please contact Nathalie Wourm at

Cory Stockwell (Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey)

Deleuzian Impoverishment

Anyone interested in the theme of impoverishment in Deleuze’s work will find it in many different forms, such as subtraction, reduction, and exhaustion; and in many different places, for instance the beginning of one of Deleuze and Guattari’s most celebrated texts, A Thousand Plateaus. In the first plateau, “Rhizome,” in a discussion of multiplicity, they insist that the multiple “must be made,” and that the way to do this is via what they term the n – 1: “the only way the one belongs to the multiple: always subtracted.” It would be difficult to think the question of community from the perspective of Deleuze and Guattari’s work, in other words, without taking this subtraction into account. But does this thought, a thought of both the multiple and the fragmentary, not nonetheless, in the subtlest of manners, leave unity intact? This paper, through a reading of A Thousand Plateaus (with particular attention paid to the analysis of Pierre Clastres in this work), and drawing upon Roberto Bolaño’s 1996 novel Distant Star, argues that unity always lies in the background of Deleuze and Guattari’s thinking of multiplicity; but that, at the same time, these thinkers provide us with the very tools necessary, not so much to go beyond as to distance ourselves from this unity, by way of an act of impoverishment.

Cory Stockwell is Assistant Professor in the Program in Cultures, Civilizations, and Ideas at Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey. His work has appeared in journals such as the Oxford Literary Review, CR: The New Centennial Review, and SubStance. His current book project deals with the place of stars and other “heavenly bodies” in the work of Kafka, Lispector, and Bolaño.

Thierry Tremblay (University of Malta)

Senses of Community

 The notion of Community has been and still is at the centre of philosophical, political and social debates in the West. The word Community has different etymological roots in European languages (e.g. κοινός in Greek, Gemeinschaft  and Gesellschaft in German, společenství in Czech or yhteisö in Finnish). Roman languages and English may share the same word (stemming from the Latin Communitas), but their meanings and uses diverge: a community is not, for instance, always a communauté. This short paper will try to make sense of the different words expressing the “common” of the community.

Thierry Tremblay is Senior lecturer at the Department of French at the University of Malta. He taught literature, literary theory and philosophy at the University of Cyprus, Charles University in Prague and the Anglo-American University in Prague. He is a member of CCC (Communauté des Chercheurs sur la Communauté). He is the author of Anamnèses: Essai sur Pierre Klossowski (Hermann, 2012), Frontières du sujet: Une Esthétique du déclin (L’Harmattan, 2015) and is the editor of the special issue on Pierre Klossowski for the journal Europe (2015).

Rémi Astruc (Université de Cergy-Pontoise, France)

The Aesthetics of Community in Contemporary Thought

What is it that brings us together and allows to feel a sense of shared experience and existence with people whom we don’t even know? Why is it that the question of community remains highly important, despite an increasing majority of individuals who are less and less in contact with actual forms of living in common? Why (and how) is it that art – in the first place, narrative arts (telling tales, novels, films) but also dancing or poetry – occasionally allow us to feel that we belong to a community of beings?

Astruc argues it is because, through the arts (and beyond one’s conscious will), community not only unveils itself, but also, if we are in a position to be affected by it, ‘speaks’ itself to us and acquires a form in doing so. He will present the research he is conducting alongside an international network of researchers (the ‘CCC’) focused on the notion of community across disciplinary frameworks, including two new works published in 2016: a book-length essay entitled Nous? l’aspiration à la communauté et les arts and La Communauté revisitée/Community Redux. Both books explore the actuality of the notion of Community in contemporary thinking as it relates to the issues that define our present, ultimately seeking to understand what can still bring us together in societies where the answer to this question remains largely unclear. This roundtable presentation and discussion will provide an opportunity to share research concerns on all aspects of thinking Community—in the past, present, and future—on a multidisciplinary level. It will also provide the occasion to learn more about the “CCC” and its future activities.

Rémi Astruc is Professeur de littératures francophones et comparées at Université de Cergy-Pontoise, where he was also Director of the Department of Literature. He is an expert on representations of identity and community in literature, comedy and the grotesque, and the anthropological function of literature, and is the author of numerous books and articles on these themes.



24 April 2015

Sanity poster final-page-001

Poster by Hannah Eaton

1pm – 9pm
Birkbeck Cinema, 43 Gordon Square,
London WC1H OPD



It is just over 50 years since the publication of Sanity, Madness and the Family, R.D. Laing’s and Aaron Esterson’s groundbreaking study of “schizophrenia” in 11 young women. Birkbeck Research in Aesthetics of Kinship and Community (BRAKC) and the Birkbeck Guilt Working Group have organized a one-day symposium at Birkbeck Cinema, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD, on Friday 24 April 2015 (1pm-9pm) to discuss the lasting impact of that book.

Do people still read it? Why is it almost never referred to in psychotherapy trainings in this country? How have the ideas it introduced been either absorbed into or rejected by clinical, academic and more general discourses about the family and mental/emotional illness?

Andrew Asibong, co-director of BRAKC, will facilitate the event, and participants will include Jacqui Dillon, Robbie Duschinsky, Suman Fernando, Amber Jacobs, Oliver James, Lucy Johnstone, Chris Oakley, Lynne Segal and Anthony Stadlen.

The symposium will culminate in a screening at 7pm of Ken Loach’s 1971 film Family Life, introduced by the producer of that film, Tony Garnett.

For more information or an electronic copy of the conference poster please contact Dr Andrew Asibong (

Register on Eventbrite:


Animal-Human Kinship and Community in French Literature

Professor Michael Sheringham
Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature
All Souls, University of Oxford

Professor Andrew Billing
Macalester College, St Paul, Minnesota
“Political Anthropology and its Animal Other in Rousseau”

Professor Shirley Jordan
Queen Mary College, University of London
“Hospitality and the Animal World in Marie NDiaye”

Friday 5 July 2013
2-4 pm, room 124, 43 Gordon Square, London

Flaubert, Beckett, NDiaye: The Aesthetics, Emotions and Politics of Failure

NDiaye, Beckett, Flaubert

NDiaye, Beckett, Flaubert

A one-day symposium at Birkbeck, University of London,
Monday 7 January 2013

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880), Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) and Marie NDiaye (1967-) form a fascinating ‘family’ of nineteenth-, twentieth- and twenty-first-century novelist-playwrights writing in French. Profoundly implicated in certain key social struggles of their times, Flaubert, Beckett and NDiaye can at the same time be considered as models of radical disengagement, apparently happy to isolate themselves from the world and its horrors in the tried and tested posture of the remote and cut-off artist. Failure hovers on the horizon of every one of their works, as protagonists and texts alike slide inexorably into unmanageable states of paradox, incompletion and disintegration. This ‘failure’ is at once aesthetic (the texts themselves fail to deliver the meaning the reader needs or expects), psychic (the characters fail to perform subjectivities that can be unified by a coherent or feeling self) and political (the artist and celebrity, having evoked a social situation that demands a clear response, fails to offer one).
What is at stake in the work of Flaubert, Beckett and NDiaye, aesthetically, emotionally and politically, as it pushes the reader or spectator to the very limits of tolerable uncertainty? What are the cultural and psychosocial implications of their experiments in splitting and negativity, which seem to indulge the most cynical aspects of nihilism while at the same time grappling with the very foundations of politicized and psychic truth? And how do Flaubert, Beckett and NDiaye call out to one another across the gendered, racialized, economic, cultural and temporal spaces that separate, crack and isolate them? More details in the Conferences page.

organised by Dr Aude Campmas

Date: 29 September 2012
Start time: 11.00
End time: 12.30
Location: Keynes Library, 43 Gordon Square

Free entry; open to all
Representing the Community and the Family

Geoff Brown (Birkbeck)
‘Circles within circles: narrative structure in the films of Claire Denis’

Alexander Corcos (Birkbeck)
‘The true radicalism of Francois Ozon’


Enslavement, Transmission and Trauma
in Contemporary Fiction

by writer Jenny Mitchell
Rachel Chonka (Birkbeck)
Chantal Quiquine (Birkbeck)

Date: 19 October 2011
Time: 2 – 5pm
Location: Room B03, 43 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury
Followed by film screening: Mandingo
(Richard Fleischer, 1975)
Start time: 6pm
Location: Room 421, Malet Street, Bloomsbury

Free entry; open to all

“Can mainstream romantic fiction be used to re-examine the legacies of transatlantic enslavement, and suggest that the ‘slave-owners’ condemned their descendents to trans-generational trauma?”Jenny Mitchell


Francophone Writing of the Lebanese War

by Dr. Aude Campmas (Birkbeck), Dr. Claire Launchbury (Royal Holloway), Dr. Helen Vassallo (University of Exeter)

Date: 23 February 2011
Start Time: 2pm
Location: Clore Management Centre, room 204, Torrington Square, London WC1 7HX

Free entry; open to all

©Lino. Courtesy of the artist.


Le sang des promesses: Liens et lignages dans Incendies de Wajdi Mouawad.

(Please note that this paper will be delivered in French)

“The mother of Jeanne and Simon, Nawal, dies locked into a silence that her children do not understand. The testament she leaves them is a mission, an inquiry: they have to give out two letters, one to their father (whom they believed dead); the other to their brother (whom they never knew they had). From Canada, therefore, begins an Odyssey of the memory to Lebanon. This spatial journey mirrors a journey in time, taken to understand the dramas as yet hidden from a family, from a country; to discover the links that unite and define kinship, communities and above all the individual. Of all the links, the promise is the only one which resists war and family blood-ties: Wajdi Mouawad replaces blood with promises. Using the work of Maurice Blanchot and Hannah Arendt as a starting point, I propose to study how the promise to the other defines the identity of these characters, how this link replaces family ties, and how it is the only link that lets people forgive. The promise is a word-bond: an engagement but also a sign to decipher.”

Aude Campmas


Le futur de mon temps : Topographies of dwelling and belonging in Francophone writing of the Lebanese war

“Beirut and the experience of its destruction through the course of the Lebanese war took on a figurative resonance that challenges the contingency of time in the selection of woman’s writing under analysis in this paper. While divisive factions fundamentally undermined communities, and identities were reconfigured through political and social expediency, the desire to chronicle and to document through an imaginary that encompasses the archive (Nadia Tuéni), dwelling places (Andrée Chedid) and the everyday (Fathia Saoudi) brought together mixed consciousnesses of Lebanese topographies of memory. Negotiating a literary space within the linguistic, ethnic and religious diversity of the divided city involved reassessment of belonging, carving out a space and finding a voice while the very security of a personal dwelling place was under persistent threat. Specifically through examination of the figure of the archive in these texts and how it is situated at the intersection of temporal contingency and the continuity of representation, this paper examines the topographies of the dwelling place in accounts of war-ravaged Beirut.”

Claire Launchbury


‘Nous n’avions ni communauté ni confession’: The alienation of ‘liberation’ in Darina Al-Joundi’s Le Jour où Nina Simone a cessé de chanter

“This paper examines the 2008 text Le Jour où Nina Simone a cessé de chanter, written by Lebanese author Darina Al-Joundi. Le Jour où Nina Simone a cessé de chanter recounts Al-Joundi’s true story of growing up in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war, with a father who was a ‘laïc fervent’ and who tried to raise his daughters to be ‘free women’ in a male-dominated society torn apart by religion and conflict. However, because of this freedom that her father wanted to give her, Al-Joundi was later to experience the most fundamental kind of restriction and servitude – public revilement and imprisonment in a mental asylum.

Using contemporary theories of alienation and otherness, the paper will examine the ways in which the paternal desire to ‘liberate’ his daughters (which, in his mind, equates to raising them to be without religion and to be sexually adventurous) actually leaves them vulnerable. The paper will focus on the tension between the kinship offered by the immediate family unit, a notorious Beirut family setting itself up against all major factions during the civil war, and the lack of kinship that Darina experiences as her father is able to protect her less and less from those who object to her way of life.

The analysis will consider how, as Darina attempts to negotiate her way through war-torn Beirut in accordance with the lessons taught to her by her father, her attempts at finding or creating a community end in exclusion, abuse, and even death. Then the conclusion will propose that when her father dies, a ‘negative’ sense of community is generated by the resulting insistence that she become a submissive woman, and the apparent impossibility of existing in any ‘other’ way.”

Helen Vassallo



organised by
Dr. Silke Arnold-de Simine and Dr. Joanne Leal

30 September to 1 October 2010

Conference Programme

This conference will set out to explore relationships between gender and memory as they have been articulated in literature and film within a European context since the 18th century. Key questions to be examined will include:

Are ways of relating to the past gendered? To what extent are different roles assigned to men and women within memory discourses? Who remembers and who is (not) remembered?
Does the divide between public memory and private memory have a gender dimension? Are communicative memory and cultural memory (differently) gendered? To what extent are different memory genres/media (autobiography, novel/fiction, film) gendered? Do different memory concepts (mourning, nostalgia, memorialisation) have gendered connotations? In what ways are the relationship of men and women to memory and its discourses historically and culturally contingent? Can remembering and forgetting have gender political dimensions? To whose memories are value assigned in different cultural/historical contexts? What kinds of (gendered) memory community have been established? Who owns memory?

In order that these questions can be explored in inter- and cross-disciplinary fashion, the conference will seek to bring together scholars working on memory and gender in a variety of different fields, including English and Humanities, Modern Languages, Media and Film Studies.



Date: 21 May 2010
Time: 13.30
Location: Room G01, 43 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury.

Free entry; first come, first seated.

Andrew Asibong, Silke Arnold-de Simine, Damian Catani, Akane Kawakami, Joanne Leal, Ann Lewis.

The six-person panel (all BRAKC researchers and academics in the Department of European Cultures and Languages at Birkbeck) will discuss the strategies explored by French/francophone, German and Scandinavian texts (literary and cinematic, but also at the interface of various media), from the eighteenth century to the present day, with regard to their representation of various bonds of intimacy, kinship and community that might be described as ‘unspeakable’.

The chair will briefly outline the ethical, aesthetic, philosophical and political stakes of art’s attempt to represent relations that have been apparently excluded from discursive viability, before introducing each panel member’s distinct approach to the question: incest and pictorial illustration in Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Héloïse (1761); vampiric relationships in literature and film, from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s nineteenth-century short stories to contemporary Swedish cinema (‘Let the Right One In’, 2008); inter-generational sado-masochistic familial relations in the films of Rainer Werner ‘Fassbinder’ (1945-1982); death, living death and the writing of incest in Marguerite Yourcenar’s Anna, Soror…(1981); Claire Denis and the disavowed politics of intimacy; Maurice Dantec (born 1959), 9/11 and the pseudo-incestuous man-girl bond.



by Guest Speakers :
Carmen Fracchia, Gabriel Koureas, Kate Retford

and Guest Artists:
Hannah Eaton, Flora Whiteley
Date: 13 May 2009
Start time: 13.00
Location: The Keynes Library, 43 Gordon Square

Free entry; first come, first seated.

BRAKC officially kicks off with a round-table discussion between leading Birkbeck art historians on the stakes of painting and photographing the bonds of kinship and community. Featuring the work and presence of two cutting-edge London artists and discussing works by Isidro de Villoldo, Velázquez, Klitsa Antoniou and Gawen Hamilton.