Transformations and Conversions across the Arts and Sciences

Image by Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852 –1934). Cajal was a neurologist who made many beautiful pictures of neurons and other aspects of his scientific work on the brain and nervous system. This image is from the book Butterflies of the Soul.

The 2012 Arts & Humanities festival is all about metamorphoses. My own research concerns the way in which knowledge and human understanding gets transformed and converted in the process of travelling across disciplinary boundaries, as well as within disciplines themselves. I am doing a PhD which investigates the connections between the neurological revolution of the late nineteenth century, psychological medicine and self-representation within modernist literature. The transformation involved in modernism is well known and documented; inner experience became the chief vehicle of narrative rather than the external world. The neurological revolution was transformative for different but related reasons. The key figure in this revolution is perhaps John Hughlings Jackson. Jackson traced the origins of mental experience to the interaction of more primitive neurological, proto-mental operations. “Dissociation”, “repression”, “suppression” and dreamy states were credited with new importance, and the intellectual legacy of Jackson underpins much better known areas of innovation within psychology, for example Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalysis.

This involves thinking not only across disciplines within the arts and humanities but also in relation to the sciences and medicine. My work is part of a research centre at King’s called The Centre for the Humanities and Health which contains many researchers thinking about similar connections and conversions.

I also run the London Interdisciplinary Discussion Group which often meets here at King’s. This group brings together speakers across the arts, humanities, sciences and medicine to discuss a shared topic. Our most recent discussion has been about transplantation. We had four speakers – an artist, a historian, a philosopher and a doctor – and then had a discussion with the audience who were from mixed backgrounds. Such an interdisciplinary discussion inevitably involves thinking about the ways in which ideas and concepts metamorphose as they travel between various disciplines. To find out more about the discussion group and to watch a film of the most recent discussion please see our website.

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Adapting Parade’s End

One definition of a classic book is a work which inspires many metamorphoses. Romeo and Juliet, Gulliver’s Travels, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Great Gatsby don’t just wait in their original forms to be watched or read, but continually migrate from one medium to another: painting, opera, melodrama, dramatization, film, comic-strip. New technologies inspire further reincarnations. Sometimes it’s a matter of transferring a version from one medium to another – audio recordings to digital files, say. More often, the new technologies encourage new realisations: Hitchcock’s Psycho re-shot in colour; French or German films remade for American audiences; widescreen or 3D remakes of classic movies or stories.

Adaptations of literary works for the screen have become ever more prominent; not only in television scheduling, but in the teaching of literature. They are among the metamorphoses that feature most often in the working lives of academics and students in the Arts and Humanities. So they might well feature among the topics to be discussed at the Festival’s opening panel.

The adaptation that’s been preoccupying me for the last month is the BBC2 version of Parade’s End, the series of four novels about the Edwardian era and the First World War, written by the British novelist Ford Madox Ford, and dramatized by Sir Tom Stoppard.

Parade’s End (1924-28) has to be one of the most challenging books to film. It’s a classic work of Modernism: with a non-linear time-scheme that can jump around in disconcerting ways; dense experimental writing that plays with styles and techniques. Though it includes some of the most brilliant conversations in the British novel, and its characters have a strong dramatic presence, much of it is inherently un-dramatic and, you might have thought, unfilmable: long interior monologues, descriptions of what characters see and feel; and – perhaps hardest of all to convey in drama – moments when they don’t say what they feel, or do what we might expect of them. Imagine T. S.Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’, populated by Chekhovian characters, but set on the Western Front. Continue reading

Olympic Legacies – Cultural Transformations

How can the legacy of the Cultural Olympiad be documented and maintained?

A keyword of the London 2012 Olympics has been ‘legacy’ – that notion of securing a longer-term impact for the Games, which both LOCOG Chair Sebastian Coe and IOC President Jacques Rogge stressed in their speeches during the Opening Ceremony last night. (It is also the concept that has been so brilliantly lampooned by the BBC‘s Olympics mockumentary “Twenty Twelve”, in which the Head of Legacy and Head of Sustainability fight tooth and claw over the vagueness of their remits.)

Legacy is also a central issue for the Cultural Olympiad – both for the programme as a whole, designed as it was to bring culture to the masses, and for the individual artists and organizations involved. It involves both the documentation of the Olympiad itself – a way of preserving its artistic legacy – but also an attempt to continue the public engagement and idea of cultural citizenship promoted by the season of events.

For Shakespeare’s Globe the first step in securing the artistic legacy of the Globe to Globe Festival was to digitally document the season. This involved filming all the productions, which are now available online on thespace (a portal documenting many aspects of the Olympiad, and designed to transform the way people connect with culture), as well as undertaking company interviews for the Globe Archive (also available online) and capturing the festival in photographs.

A further feature of the digital documentation was the Globe to Globe blog – instantaneous responses to the shows written by a group of academics, including staff from King’s. Dr Sonia Massai, from the Department of English and the London Shakespeare Centre, wrote on the Italian production of Julius Caesar, while Professor Ann Thompson, also from English and the Shakespeare Centre, wrote on the Lithuanian version of Hamlet. As a German Studies specialist, I wrote (together with my colleague Jeannie Farr) on the Bremer Shakespeare Company‘s German-language production of Timon of Athens. These blogs in turn mark the first step towards a book project, Shakespeare Beyond English: A Global Experiment, edited by Christie Carson and Susan Bennett. You can read my blog review of Timon of Athens on the Globe’s website here.

Yet legacy means more than just the documentation of the events, and the academic discussion derived from this. The Globe to Globe season relied heavily on volunteers, as did so many elements of the Olympiad, including last night’s Opening Ceremony. ‘Globe Ambassadors’ were sought for each of the 37 languages represented in the festival, and ultimately a group of over 80 Londoners were formed who promoted the season, bringing its message to groups it might not have reached otherwise, and acting both as ambassadors for the theatre, and for their own linguistic communities and the wider London 2012 Festival. City, national and international identities were activated through participation in a cultural event like the Globe to Globe season – and now organizations like the Globe are working out how to capitalize and build on the volunteer networks, and the cultural activation of local and global communities, that have been a product of the Olympiad.

How this process might be managed, and whether the Olympiad can have a legacy beyond the first step of documenting the artistic events involved, are just some of the issues that will be discussed at the German Department’s event in the Arts and Humanities Festival 2012, on ‘Staging German Culture: The Representation of Germany in the Cultural Olympiad’.

Dr Ben Schofield, Department of German

“But Shakespeare is German!”

Where does national identity fit into a ‘World Shakespeare Festival’?

One of the most high profile strands of the Cultural Olympiad has been the World Shakespeare Festival. In planning since 2007, the festival was designed to “celebrate Shakespeare as the world’s playwright”, and has been a central feature of this summer’s London 2012 Festival. A highlight of the programme was the Globe to Globe season at Shakespeare’s Globe: a remarkable attempt to stage thirty-seven of Shakespeare’s plays in thirty-seven different languages over just six weeks. In many respects, the season can be seen as a form of cultural analogue to the sporting Games that will begin in just eight days time – celebrating the ‘Yard Olympians’ (the 117 dedicated audience members who were brave enough to stand for every show) and the ‘Olympic stamina’ of the actors and companies involved.

My interest in the Globe to Globe and World Shakespeare Festival is two-fold. On the one hand, I’m keen to examine the ways in which Shakespeare becomes the focus for cultural transfers and transformations, especially in the framework of the Olympiad, with its double prerogative of celebrating both UK and global culture. What event could better respond to this need, you might think, than a World Shakespeare Festival? On the other hand, I’m also fascinated by the ways in which the rhetoric of a ‘global Shakespeare’ potentially elides or replaces national narratives. Where does nation fit in to our image of a ‘World Shakespeare?’

Working in the German Department at King’s, my particular interest is in the relationship between Shakespeare and Germany, not least since Shakespeare is often called an honorary German (something that regularly comes as a surprise to those used to thinking of him as the ‘British Bard’). In the words of Patrick Spottiswoode, the Director of Globe Education, “there has been a strong love of Shakespeare in Germany amongst actors, scholars and writers since the late 18th century”. Given that Shakespeare arguably belongs as much to a German cultural tradition as an English one, perhaps we should begin to question whether German interpretations of Shakespeare can even be read as ‘appropriations’ of English culture, or whether Shakespeare has truly ‘gone native’ in Germany?

This is just one of the issues I consider in my podcast on the Globe to Globe Festival and the German production of Timon of Athens by the Bremer Shakespeare Company, which you can find below. Click on the player to listen, or visit the podcasts page of the King’s News Centre and iKing’s to discover more lectures and podcasts from King’s College London academics.

Dr Ben Schofield, Department of German

Hosting the World – Staging the Nation

What does the Cultural Olympiad 2012 have to say about Germany today?  

“Burn down the Globe Theatre and replace it with a bank! After all, another bank is exactly what London needs!” This image was one of the more startling moments in the recent ‘Globe to Globe’ season at Shakespeare’s Globe – a festival of worldwide Shakespeare during which 37 of his plays were performed in 37 languages over an intense six-week period. Taken from the German-language production of ‘Timon of Athens’, the moment neatly encapsulates the processes of transformation and metamorphosis that can take place when cultures, texts or practices are translated across borders. The results are almost always unexpected, unusual and electrifying – in this case, Shakespeare’s play, mediated via Germany, became a searing contemporary critique of our current financial crisis.

In the run up to the Arts and Humanities Festival 2012 on the theme of ‘Metamorphoses, Transformations and Conversions’, I’ll be writing for this blog on my current research project, which looks at the representation of Germany in the Cultural Olympiad – specifically at those transformations that take place when a national culture is performed and mediated on a world stage. The Olympiad is a fascinating prism through which to think about the transnational in new and innovative ways. It is a celebration of national culture, culminating in the city-based ‘London 2012 Festival’, yet involving international companies and artists, all the while engaging with both local and global communities. It’s a heady mix of groups, identities, crossovers and global flows, which makes the question of where ‘nation’ fits in within the framework of the Olympiad a particularly complex one.

By taking Germany as a filter through which to address this question, I hope to reveal the extent to which nationhood and internationalism are institutionalised through the mechanisms of the Olympiad, and to explore precisely what happens when culture crosses borders within such institutional mechanisms. I’ll be blogging about some of the high-profile German events within the Olympiad – from the ‘Globe to Globe’ season, to the Pina Bausch ‘World Cities’ dance theatre programme; from Rimini Protokoll’s portrait of the capital in ‘100% London’, to Tino Sehgal’s installation in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall – while also thinking more generally about some of the methodological issues that occur when we work on notions of transformation, metamorphosis, and conversion. I look forward to a productive discussion in the run up to the Arts and Humanities Festival later this year!

Dr Ben Schofield, Department of German