Report
The Riddle of Devolutionary Identity
An Interdisciplinary Conference on Representations of British Identity in Literature
HRC Doctoral Conference
18th November 2006
By Zoë Brigley and Jonathan Morley
Report of Conference Content
“The Riddle of Devolutionary Literature” was an interdisciplinary conference that
brought together academics working within the fields of postcolonial studies with
regard to regions of Britain such as Scotland, Wales, Northern-Ireland or the North
and to British cultures such as black British writing and the Roma nations. The central
aim was to tackle recent debates on whether cultural, social and psychological issues
could be explored using post-colonial theory.
The first speaker, Professor Stephen Knight (University of Wales Cardiff),
opened the conference with a talk on the trajectory of the Welsh novel from 1900 to
present day. This witty and entertaining overview of how political trends have influenced
scholarship traced the evolution of the Welsh novelist from the racialist term, AngloWelsh, to the more nativist category of Cymreig (an adjective referring to the Welsh
people and culture).
Later, Professor Neil Corcoran (Liverpool University) gave a stunning close
reading of Heaney’s ‘Casualty’, considering how a ghostly figure from Yeats’ ‘The
Fisherman’ is revived in the context of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
The papers that followed by both emerging academics and more distinguished
figures dealt with a wide range of subjects including: Dr. Graeme MacDonald’s analysis
of the black presence in contemporary Scots literature; a talk on the Welsh critic, J.R.
Jones’ philosophy of Prydeindod (Britishness) from B.M. Jenkins (Trinity College Oxford);
Letizia Gramaglia’s unearthing and critique of a nineteenth century Scottish manager of
mental asylums in British Guiana; Andrew Webb’s examination of Edward Thomas’
ambivalence in relation to the concept of ‘home’; Dr. Corinne Fowler on how the
publishing industry marginalizes novels which problematize essentialist definitions of
race; and other papers on poets of the British regions such as Robert Crawford and Sean
O’Brien.
Throughout the day, parallels emerged between the often distinct categories of
‘colony’ and ‘region’, with a focus on poetic language and the conventions of the novel
rather than on abstract theorising. If success can be measured through attendance, it was
noticeable that all delegates stayed throughout the day, waiting to participate in the lively
round-table discussion late in the afternoon.
One innovation was the additional organizing of an evening poetry reading by
Medbh McGuckian and David Morley; both poets were featured in a special issue of
Avocado, a locally produced poetry magazine, given free to conference attendees.
A special issue of the eminent journal Orbis Litterarum is now planned, where
the papers can be published under the editorship of the conference organizers; this will
cement the contribution of the conference to scholarship, opening up, in the words of
the journal’s editor, a new avenue of comparative study.
Zoё Brigley and Jonathan Morley
HRC Doctoral Fellows
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The Riddle of Devolutionary Identity Report