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Studying Samuel Beckett

by YPU Admin on May 11, 2020, Comments. Tags: English, english literature, Humanities, literature, samuel beckett, and sexuality


My name is Eleanor and I am a third year PhD student at the University of Manchester. My research looks at queer sexuality in Samuel Beckett’s work during the 1960s. You might know Samuel Beckett as the playwright who wrote Waiting for Godot, but did you know he was also a novelist, poet, screenwriter, director for both television and film and a short prose writer? My work focuses on the 1960s in particular because Beckett’s work during this period begins to change into something much more minimal (the scenery is often a plain white space, bodies nondescript and their actions often simply breathing and sweating) and, simultaneously, much more gender-fluid.

Here I am giving a paper at the 4th Annual Beckett Society conference in Mexico City.

In Depth

At school, my favourite subjects were English Literature, Religious Studies and Art & Design. I never got on very well with Mathematics or any of the sciences, although now, surprisingly, I find that I am using theories from these disciplines in my work as well! My undergraduate degree was in English Literature at the University of Sussex, and I did a Master's in Comparative Literature at Queen Mary’s, University of London, which allowed me to study a broader range of literature in other languages and in translation—as well as translation theory—and to make more comparisons between subjects, such as comparing literature with music, art and performance.[1] This has helped a great deal with my current studies, as Beckett wrote in both English and French, and did a lot of self-translation, as well as working in aural and visual mediums.

My current research brings queer theory to an area of Beckett Studies to which it is absolutely crucial, while simultaneously allowing this research to reflect back upon the current state of Sexuality Studies.[2] The theoretical work that my thesis has opened up is different from what I had imagined when I started my PhD, but in an exciting way! The journey you take when you study literature can be unpredictable and messy and that’s what I love about it. Often, you will find that literary criticism has been subject to compulsory heterosexuality. This term was coined by groundbreaking feminist scholar Adrienne Rich to explain how society expects, assumes and reinforces heterosexuality as dominant. At its most basic, my work seeks to undo this.

I also work as a Teaching Assistant, which has been an extremely rewarding role and has taught me a great deal. When I graduate, I would like to continue to teach at university level. I work as a Widening Participation Fellow, I am a tutor on the MAP programme, I undertake Research Assistant work, and I am the administrator of the Beckett Society. On top of this, I also have a part-time job as a customer service assistant at an art supplies company. When you do a PhD part-time, you have to keep a very strict calendar, and be very aware of your limits.

Samuel Beckett

Going Further…

The reason that I fell in love with studying literature was theory. Theory is a broad category, which encompasses all sorts of ideas, from feminism and Marxism to deconstruction and psychoanalysis. Some people don’t see theory as very valuable because it doesn’t have a material output, like a science subject might. However, studying literature is important because it examines the bedrock of our lives: not just language itself, but narrative and how it is constructed. In studying literature, you are also able to examine the narratives of productivity that are fed to us by society and find better ways of ascribing value and importance.

A rainbow printed onto the road in the Castro District, San Francisco, ready for Pride celebrations.

[1] Translation theory asks at how best to translate a text – can one translate for both sense and feel? How to make up for the importance of sound and rhythm? How to make up for small but significant differences in meaning and account for cultural context? It has been suggested, for example, that the translation of poetry is impossible.

[2] Queer theory is a broad category of theorizing that foregrounds sexuality and gender, reading texts through a lens that is often denied us in critical theory. Eve Sedgwick, one of the most famous queer theorists, suggests ‘it's about how you can't understand relations between men and women unless you understand the relationship between people of the same gender, including the possibility of a sexual relationship between them.' This is why it is so crucial that queer theory be brought to Beckett Studies, as this has so far been neglected in scholarship.


Krazy comics - modernist masterpiece?

by YPU Admin on February 15, 2019, Comments. Tags: American Studies, comics, English, Humanities, and modernism


Hey, I’m Stevie, a first year PhD student in English and American Studies at the University of Manchester, and I study comics! More specifically, I study George Herriman’s Krazy Kat (1913-1944), an American comic strip that loosely follows the daily lives of Krazy Kat, Ignatz Mouse (with whom Krazy is in love) and Offissa Pupp (who is in love with Krazy!) as they unfold against the fantastical desertscape of ‘Coconino County’. Krazy wasn’t very popular among most readers, but it drew praise from artists, writers, and intellectuals, including the poet e. e. cummings, the critic Gilbert Seldes, and, purportedly, Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein, among others! As a result, a number of scholars have linked Krazy to the field of modernism, an early twentieth century art movement that sought to respond to the rapidly-changing modern world. My work focuses on deeply contextualising the strip’s production, content, distribution, and reception to ask where, in the vast field of American modernist production and culture, it is most usefully historicised.

In Depth…

Deciding what to study at university was tricky because I was torn between English literature, sociology, and creative writing. Ultimately, I chose the BA American Literature with Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, which gave me quite a lot of freedom with choosing modules and meant I could combine interdisciplinary American Studies classes with writing workshops. It also gave me the opportunity to spend a year at Occidental College in Los Angeles, where I encountered my first Krazy strip through a brilliant class on comics and graphic literature. In final year, I wrote my dissertation on Krazy and took a fantastic body culture studies module - both left me knowing I wanted to study further, but I spent a few years working to save money and to decide exactly what course I wanted to do – more American studies, something more focused, something to do with my work in education? In September 2017, I joined the MA Gender, Sexuality and Culture at the University of Manchester, a course that indulged my interest in gender and body studies from a philosophical/conceptual perspective, but also let me choose a range of modules from postcolonial literature to transnational radical subcultures. Knowing I wasn’t through with Krazy Kat, I also took a class on modernist studies to help me prepare a PhD proposal, and used my MA dissertation on frontier manhood in ‘Buffalo Bill’s Wild West’ to hone skills and touch on areas of knowledge that I’ll use going forwards: using digital archives and special collections, and learning more about transatlantic entertainment and the cultural meanings of the American West. For me, the most enjoyable thing about the PhD is having the time and freedom to follow my curiosity, which has taken me through digital archives of 1920s Vanity Fair magazines, over 100-year-old maps of Arizona, and into poetry, short stories, art, and comics I’ve never encountered before. There is a huge amount of fascinating work going on in both comics studies and modernist studies that is seeking to draw attention to the myriad things we can learn about history through popular culture; I hope that my work can play a small part in bringing these exciting fields into conversation with one another. In the meantime, what an honour to read and write about Krazy for work!

Going Further…

In Print

Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics is an educational and entertaining introduction to the history and grammar of comics...written as a comic!

If you want to know more about George Herriman, Krazy Kat, or the American newspaper comic industry in the early c20, check out Michael Tisserand’s brilliant biography Krazy: A Life in Black and White.


Comics Grid and ImageTexT are online, open-access journals of comics studies.

The Modernist Review is the British Association for Modernist Studies’ (BAMS, for short!) postgraduate blog, featuring wide-ranging articles written in an accessible way.

The John Rylands Library has a Special Collections blog where you can read more about the research the collections are being used for. I’ve linked below to the main blog, and to a post I wrote about using their ‘Buffalo Bill Scrapbook’ for my MA dissertation.


The road to a post-apocalyptic degree!

by YPU ADmin on February 15, 2018, Comments. Tags: American Literature, English, Humanities, and PhD


My name’s Christina and I’m studying for a PhD in English and American literature at the University of Manchester. Although I’m an English student, I didn’t arrive here through studying the subject as an undergraduate. Whilst studying for A-Levels, I signed up for a creative writing course at a Leeds FE college – which only confirmed I had no talent for creative writing. I’m still very glad I took the class because I met another student who spoke about the Cultural Studies degree she was enrolled on at Leeds University.

Cultural Studies taught me the importance of analysing popular culture and that television, popular music and cinema, as well as literature, are valid subjects for sustained academic enquiry. It was at university that I first began to enjoy academic work. I went on to complete an MA in Cultural and Critical Theory in the same department. By 2015, my research interests took me to contemporary American literature and I began a PhD on the post-apocalypse (or ‘the end of the world’ through war and other horrors) in contemporary American fiction. Fiction about ‘end-times’ interests me because it confirms our worst nightmares. Representations of post-apocalyptic survival tell us about our hopes for the future – an idea which is particularly important following contemporary upheavals in American politics and the beginning of the ‘Trump era’.


In my thesis, currently titled, ‘The Post-Apocalypse in Contemporary North American after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis’, I look at how the post-apocalypse – as an imagined world existing after a destructive catastrophe or event – has become a popular literary landscape for mainstream American authors. The post-apocalypse categorises a growing number of novels, including Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), Colson Whitehead’s Zone One (2011) and Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven (2014). I argue that, through this post-apocalyptic trend which includes zombie films like Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002) as well as literary novels, authors are grappling with changing ideas of ‘risk’ and ‘danger’, especially after the twenty-first-century events like September 11th 2001 and the financial crisis. Contemporary scholars are speculating on how these events, and similar crises, are changing our perceptions of ‘risk’ and danger after the millennium. Companies and governments are allocating and spending increased budgets on security. Defence is increasingly about the web and cyber-security as it is about national defence and borders. The prospect of terror attacks permeates the modern life of British and American cities. A famous sociologist called Ulrich Beck argues that risk is becoming an increasingly prominent feature of everyday life – so much so that, in the twenty-first-century, he claims that we are living in a ‘risk society’, where risk is near-permanent feature of most of public, whether at school or at work, and private life.

My thesis argues that the post-apocalyptic trend in contemporary fiction represents a literary and cultural effort to envisage a future whether the continual prospect of risk has been suddenly – and without warning – cut off by disaster. Uniquely, in the twenty-first-century, the post-apocalypse becomes a disaster-filled and yet still risk-free landscape. According to scholars like Beck, risk is a threat which is managed by our complex democracies, technology and media. After the apocalypse, these institutions have been removed or obliterated. Survivors which are the focus of novels like The Road are reduced to scavenging, and yet they live in a world in which the almost mundane sense of constant risk is replaced by immediate danger. I argue that these post-apocalyptic novels are crucial for interrogating public perceptions of risk in the twenty-first-century, and unease with the risk-management culture which has followed 9/11. The contemporary post-apocalyptic genre, therefore, is more than an outlet for releasing the effects of global climate change and other contemporary fears. The post-apocalypse places responsibility for safety and security back in the hands of survivors, and ultimately registers public anxieties about how the abstract prospect of ‘risk’ is changing how people live and act in the twenty-first-century.

Going Further

’31 Essential Science Fiction Terms and Where They Came From’, iO9,

A debate about the popularity of contemporary post-apocalyptic novels between two literature scholars in the literary magazine Public Books:  Ursula Heise, ‘What’s the Matter with Dystopia?’ & Andrew Hoberek, ‘The Post-Apocalyptic Present’,

‘Will 2017 be 1984?’, Alluvium Journal, . Caroline Edwards and Ben Worthy revisit George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) in light of political events of 2017.

‘Zombie Preparedness: Graphic Novel’. Zombie graphic novel released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention educating readers about ‘emergency preparedness’

Science-fiction authors Ursula Le Guin and Margaret Atwood discuss the category of ‘speculative fiction’