DTP Embodiment Cluster Conference – Tweet Highlights!


It was a real pleasure to see so many of you at our first Work-in-Progress conference – thanks to everyone who came! We were really grateful for the brilliant papers given on the day, as well as to all those who came along to listen and ask such thought-provoking questions. Thanks too for all the positive feedback! We have various plans for future events, but in the meantime, here are some Tweets from the day. Do give our account (@EmbodimentDTP) a follow, too!


Work-in-Progress Conference 2019 – Abstracts

Here at the Embodiment Cluster, we’re very excited to hear the 10 brilliant papers on the schedule at our first Work-in-Progress Conference this coming Friday, 18 January.

The conference was arranged to give members of the cluster the opportunity to present new thoughts and ideas to researchers in similar fields in a friendly and discursive environment. As well as discussing each other’s papers and offering feedback when desired, we’ll also have a session thinking about the very definition of embodiment. It’s a term with so many meanings and iterations, so we can’t wait to work together on this.

Abstracts for the conference are posted below, with thanks to all of the researchers who submitted. We look forward to seeing everyone on Friday, and don’t forget to follow @EmbodimentDTP on Twitter to follow our discussions and our work!

Helena Drysdale – State of Emergency

‘The struggles of Modern Greece must command the sympathy of all thoughtful minds.’ So wrote George Bowen, author of the 1854 Murray Handbook to Greece, troubled by Greece’s struggles to cast off Ottoman imperialism and take shape as the first new independent state in post-Napoleonic Europe. The author was my great great grandfather. Bowen confronted the chaotic aftermath of the birth of Greece; retracing his travels I witnessed an economic meltdown and migrant crisis that again thrust Greece onto the world stage.

The story is told in State of Emergency, a hybrid work of life writing. My title implies states of emergency for Greece and Europe two centuries apart, but it also has personal connotations. Cancer was part of my journey. Life writing is a perturbing genre that generates anxiety about the limits between ‘life’ and ‘writing’. I ask how to narrate the self while describing somewhere making global headlines? My isolation for radioactive treatment allows me to attribute poetic and symbolic meaning to other stories of sequestration and surveillance. I describe my cancer treatment not to evoke sympathy, but to find ways of crossing temporal, physical and cultural borders.

Alex Morden Osborne – “The Proper Path of Dominican Male-Itude”: Anxiety and Masculinity in Junot Díaz’

Junot Díaz’s work is rife with hypermasculine performances that force his characters into a state of racialized double-consciousness, and, indeed, ambivalence. The body proves central to these performances, which rely on displays of strength, virility, and stereotypical machismo. Those who do not comply with these performances, are, in Judith Butler’s terms, subject to “punitive consequences.” This paper will consider the anxiety that prompts and fuels masculine performance, and how such anxiety is built into Latino male identity formations.

In order to address these issues, this paper will incorporate queer theory as well as developments in masculinity studies which posit that masculinity is constituted as and through crisis, as well as itself being in crisis. These theories will be applied to Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2009) and This Is How You Lose Her (2012) to provide a broader picture of anxious masculinity and how it interacts with contemporary gender movements such as #MeToo.

Robert Button – “When you come to church”: embodying entrance in the Russian Orthodox Old Rite

This short ‘work in progress’ paper will explore the ritual embodiment of entering the sacred space of an Eastern Orthodox Church, focussing on the practices of the Russian Orthodox ‘Old Rite’ or ‘Old Belief’.  Through the particular example of the liturgical ritual of the ‘entrance bows’ – a series of prayers, bows and prostrations made when entering and departing a church –  it will explore how in Old Rite practice entering the ‘holy place’ is embodied in ritual actions and words which do not so much signify as in fact realise and actualise, crossing and entrance as a physical-spiritual act of reorientation. Drawing on the renewed emphasis found in the study of ‘material religion’ and ‘lived religion’ on embodiment, form and materiality, this paper will consider the entrance bows as a performative ritual which effects the reality of what it symbolises, encouraging a bodily experience of entrance as a theological symbol which literally ‘takes place’, and which is pre-eminently ‘real’. This paper will contribute to current scholarship on the performative quality of religious practice, with its emphasis on ritual and embodiment, and to the further understanding of Old Believer liturgical life as an embodied ritual theology.

Henry Bartholomew – Weirding Hauntology: M. R. James’ Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

“Quis est iste qui venit?” (who is this who is coming?). This eerie, ambiguous inscription – found on the reverse of an ancient bronze whistle by the unfortunate Professor Parkins in James’s “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” – is the essential dictum of the Jamesian ghost story; the promise of a blood-curdling invasion from something otherwise than human, something outside the natural order. For the postructuralist, this inscription also captures the sense in which the ghost flickers between the “always-already” and the “to come” (l’avenir); appearing as both an uncanny return and an unstable futurity. In Jacques Derrida’s influential study, Specters of Marx (1993), the ghostly and the spectral signify a disarticulation of the metaphysics of presence. However, as numerous readers of James’s fiction have noted, from H.P. Lovecraft to China Miéville, James’s ghosts are terrifying precisely because they are all too present – groping, stalking, touching and clawing their victims. They are, almost without exception, weirdly corporeal and embodied. Taking its cue from the points of contact between spectrality and object-oriented ontology, this paper examines how the “ghosts” James summons in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904) presage a weird hauntology; one that can help to reassess how we think about (and with) the ghost and the ghostly.

Tim Kjeldsen – The Size of Things: An Argument for Essential Embodiment

The driving force behind my PhD project is a conviction that, for all its explicit rejection of Descartes’ ontological dualism of matter and spirit, contemporary analytical philosophy of mind and action remains fundamentally Cartesian in its orientation. Although, contrary to Descartes, ‘mental’ phenomena are regarded as necessarily instantiated in material brain structures, they are still treated as forming a sui generis class, individuated in terms of their intentional content and radically distinct from the bodily phenomena that are said to cause them (in the case of perception) or be caused by them (in the case of action). It treats persons as essentially ‘en-brained’ but not essentially embodied.

This paper outlines and critically assesses a recent argument for full essential embodiment by the philosopher Truls Wyller. The core argument is that a disembodied being, even an omniscient one, would lack the capacity to know the actual size of things or duration of a passage of time. It could know only relative sizes and durations. This is because to know actual sizes or durations, one has to take oneself qua body as a standard of reference.

Andrew Jones – Nations as immunological systems and the use of metaphors within immunology

An ambiguity resides in the applicability of immunological language to nations. On the one side, it might be argued that the relation is merely metaphorical. On the other side, it might be argued that there is an ontological identity between the two. For both nations and entities possessing immune systems, self-identity is integral.

Derrida describes the terrorist attacks on September 11th in immunological terms. He explains that these attacks can be seen as a form of autoimmunity. He states “[t]hose called “terrorists” are not […] “others”, absolute others whom we, as “Westerners”, can no longer understand” (Derrida, 2003, p.115). The use of immunological language enabled Derrida to explain how it would be misguided to conceive of terrorists as “other” than the western world. Not only were many of the terrorists trained in western countries, we also must not forget that the western world “invented the word, the techniques, and the “politics” of “terrorism”” (ibid.). I am interested in the conditions that make it possible to explain nations as immunological systems.

Lucienne Spencer Understanding Psychiatric Illness through a Phenomenology of Speech Expression

My thesis has developed from my research in the phenomenology of illness. The literature explores various phenomenological features of embodiment that have been compromised in illness: the freedom to act, intersubjectivity, temporal processing to name a few. I was struck by the fact that the current literature passes over the form of bodily expression that I believe to be central to embodied experience: speech expression.

Merleau-Ponty proposes a unique approach to language: ‘‘the word has a certain place in my linguistic world, and is part of my equipment’ (Merleau-Ponty, 2014:186). Merleau-Ponty makes two claims: first, through speech expression we give the word a meaningful place in the world and second, speech is a manner in which the subject can employ her body. Merleau-Ponty identifies speech as a bodily activity that shapes and structures a meaningful world around the subject. Speech expression implicitly ties the embodied subject with the world, and acts as the foundation for a coherent sense of reality.

I found the omission of speech expression in the phenomenology of illness surprising as so much of the literature discusses the difficulty of communication in illness, particularly in psychiatric illness. For this reason I will draw on Merleau-Ponty in order to investigate ‘the breakdown of speech expression’ in psychiatric illness. My thesis will conclude that a disruption of speech expression exacerbates the psychiatric patient’s phenomenological experience of being cut off from reality.

Joan Passey – Vomiting Victorian Vacationers: Motion Sickness and the Embodied Traveller in the Nineteenth-Century Imagination

This paper will provide a survey of case studies of Victorian motion sickness, with a focus on seasickness, in fictionalisations of the period, including Thomas Hardy’s A Pair of Blue Eyes and Wilkie Collins’s The Frozen Deep, within a context of contemporary theories of, and solutions to, motion sickness. I propose that attitudes towards motion sickness in this period are imbued with and shaped by anxieties surrounding the cultural and social ramifications of developing transportation technologies. I will focus specifically on the notion of the immersed and embodied traveller becoming overwhelmed by an excess of feeling induced by the travelling experience which must be subsequently purged from the body. This paper will ask how representations of motion sickness and sea sickness can inform our understanding of perceptions of the body of the traveller in the period, as well as more general perceptions of travelling and transportation in the nineteenth century.

Alex Jones – Is Truth All in the Mind?

In the 20th Century philosophy of truth has been dominated by two traditional opposing approaches: correspondence and coherence. A correspondence theory of truth says that a sentence is true if and only if it corresponds to some form of external fact. A coherence theory of truth, on the other hand, claims that a sentence is true if and only if it coheres with an already established collection of truths. A correspondence account tells us that truth is something immutable and external to ourselves, whereas a coherence account allows that all truths are dependent on our pre-existing beliefs, which could possibly be flawed constructs of the mind. In my talk I will argue for a plural approach to truth: that both these approaches are correct, but only within certain areas of inquiry. Is truth all in the mind? I answer: ‘‘sometimes.”

Chiara Amoretti – Pathologizing the Male Artist/God: Insel by Mina Loy

Mina Loy’s only published novel Insel (composed 1933-1936) has received relatively little critical attention, both due to its obscure prose and to its recent, posthumous publication (1991). The novel is a roman à clef based on Loy’s friendship and artistic mentorship of the Surrealist painter Richard Oelze. I read the novel as a deconstruction of the myth of the male artist/God through the character of Insel, Oelze’s fictional counterpart, and his corporeality. His body is described as inhabiting a strange limbo between life and death, and constituted by strange, and oddly unsettling, electric currents. By using Surrealist and Decadent language, as well as biblical references, Loy pathologizes the very concept of male art and proposes narrator Mrs Jones (a fictionalized Loy) as the bearer of a fully embodied vision of female creation.

Embodiment Cluster Work-in-Progress Conference – CfP now live!

We’re pleased to announce a call-for-papers for our first ever Work-in-Progress conference, which will be taking place on the 18th of January at the University of Bristol.

We welcome papers from SWW DTP students that engage with the theme of embodiment in any way, particularly work that is in its early stages. The format of the conference allows for formal or less formal papers, and we are able to offer feedback on the work you present if you would like! Abstracts should be sent to swwdtpembodiment@gmail.com by 7 January 2019. Although you have to be a DTP student to present, all students are welcome to attend the conference – please email us if you would like to come. Further details are available in the poster below.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions!

embodiment cfp 2019

Embodiment Cluster – Update 2018

In anticipation of the next South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership Cohort Day on 12 November, we at the Embodiment Cluster would like to say a big hello and welcome to the brilliant researchers, both new and not-quite-so-new (!), who make up our vibrant academic community.

The Embodiment Cluster is, at its core, a forum for DTP students to discuss the body and embodiment in a friendly, dynamic, and interdisciplinary environment. Previously, the Cluster has played a major part in the organisation of Fun Palaces with the TRAM (Translation, Representation, Adaptation and Mobility) Cluster, which you can read about on this blog. For the coming year, we are aiming to continue our work by:

  • Holding a Work-in-Progress (WiP) Conference for students interested in any aspect of embodiment in December 2018 – keep your eyes peeled for the forthcoming Call for Papers!
  • Organising museum visits across the South West and beyond
  • Running reading groups
  • Offering students the chance to share their research on this blog

If you’re a SWW DTP student and would like to get involved with any of this, please do follow us on Twitter (@EmbodimentDTP), join our Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/142297049459560/), or email Alex Osborne (ao16170@bristol.ac.uk) to find out more – we’d love to hear from you!


Hybrid Cultures: The full story!

Here’s the development of the ‘Hybrid Cultures’, Elen Caldecott‘s Fun Palace workshop, over the course of the day. Participants heard the story so far, and added their own ‘body’ to the map, letting the story evolve as they did so.


10am: The table was set up with black cylinders and decorations. The map had four islands, with three small communities living on them – the ribbon people, the red-and-yellow people, and the blue people. There was no contact between the different peoples at the start of the story. One island was uninhabited.


10am-11am: The communities grew, following their own traditions, until a bridge was built between two of the islands. The first person to cross the bridge was a red-and-yellow, who adopted a little of the style of the ribbon people, so that they wouldn’t be alarmed by him.


11am: One ribbon person responded enthusiastically to the new arrival, the hybrid culture around the bridge took on an effervescent quality!


11-11.30am: Meanwhile, one of the blue people had seen the red-and-yellow style, and admired it, replicating it in his own fabric.


11.30am: He was mirrored by a red-and-yellow person who admired blue style, but was forced to replicate it in her own fabric too. That was until their mutual admiration opened up a trade network around a port (represented here by the fabric samples). Economic exchange was swiftly followed by artistic exchange. Here we see a storyteller following the trade route.


11.30am: Here’s a view of the storyteller from the blue perspective – will her colour and vibrancy be a threat to the monotone blue way of life?


12pm: Having ships at sea meant one thing for the uninhabited south island – a colony of pirates invaded. They adapted the traditional styles of the communities in a way that seemed to be about intimidation and display.


1pm: A brave mariner was the go-between from the established trading port in the north and the unruly pirates in the south.


1pm: The hybrid on the bridge (remember him?) and a pirate on the south island shared an interest in yellow and green. This gave rise to a spontaneous new culture. A small festival was established to celebrate greens-and-yellows.


2pm: By the afternoon, we had a resolutely conservative group of ribbon people; hybrid and spontaneous cultures around bridges; an egalitarian trade route in the north-east and a raucous colony in the south. One person took action to protect the threatened blue culture, taking it onto the red-and-yellow island, at the junction of the two maritime routes.


2pm: The highest point on the islands was given a hermit – the beginnings of religion?


3pm: With organised trade came wealth, and with wealth came social hierarchy. Here, the red-and-yellow people are given a chief, grown rich on the trade with the blue people.


3.30pm: The conservative ribbon people, with their flourishing religious base were also given a chief. The power balance at the bridge became unstable, leading to our islands’ first war.


4pm: The war between the red-and-yellows and the ribbon people saw them both consolidate their power in their heartlands, leaving the hybrid culture around the bridge to wither.


4.30pm: the final scenes. After a flourishing of contact between the communities with hybridisation and exchange, eventually the emergence of hierarchies and different ideologies caused the limits of territories to become entrenched.

4.30pm. The aftermath. With massive thanks to the Fun Palace organisation, the South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership for their support, my fellow PhD students for their enthusiasm and planning, and Colourful Minds for help with the craft idea. And huge thanks to to all the participants for making, and for sharing their own cultural stories with me too.

Guided Meditation Workshop at the SWW DTP Brilliant Bodies Fun Palace Event

In this blog entry, Jacob Lucas, a SWW DTP funded PhD student in Philosophy and Buddhist Studies at the Universities of Exeter and Bristol, discusses his forthcoming workshop at the Brilliant Bodies Fun Palace Event.  Jacob’s guided meditation workshop titled “Imagining Death” will touch on the wider themes of his research project, which investigates the Buddhist belief in rebirth.

Imagining Death: Let’s explore the most mysterious journey you will ever take!

“For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause” (William Shakespeare).

Death is something that will happen to us all but how often do we really take the time to think about it?

More importantly, how often do we take time to think about how it will really affect us?

The idea of death might conjure up morbid images of skeletons and corpses or perhaps just sadness, grief, sickness and funerals.

But these are the ways in which we think about other people’s deaths – what about our own?

At the upcoming Fun Palace Event “Brilliant Bodies” on Saturday 1st of October, my activity will give you the opportunity to go on an inner journey.

We will be using the laboratory of our minds to explore and imagine what it might feel like to die. 

This is a Fun Palace so we won’t be dwelling too much on sickness and decay but will try and imagine death itself.

What will it be like for us when our body is no more? Will we simply disappear? What else might happen? What other possibilities might we experience?

 If you want to explore these questions join me on the 1st October and let’s imagine the greatest journey you’re ever going to take!

Please Note: This journey of guided imagination will not dwell on the physical aspect of death too much but participants may nonetheless find the subject matter disturbing. Younger children and those for whom the subject of death may give rise to intense and difficult emotions should think carefully about taking part.