Perspectives from the Humanities and Social Sciences

Contemporary Literature’s Transglossic Rhythms: Multimodal Writing as Mobility

Keynote Lecture by Sara Upstone

Contemporary literature is preoccupied with movement, both as the literal condition of late capitalism, and as a recurring metaphor for a traversal of formal positions and categories of identity that is seen to define contemporary culture. Whereas postmodernity emphasised such movement as associated with motifs of flux and disturbance, recent theorisations have drawn attention to correlative creations of contingent meaning within this ever-changing landscape.

In this presentation, I examine how such conceptual shifts – defined by terms such as metamodernism and postpostmodernism – might be more usefully considered through a more distinct spatial metaphor, namely the idea of the transglossic, a term defined by myself in collaboration with Kristian Shaw as a speaking across conterminously inhabited categories of identification. Tracing this literal and figurative movement, I return to the work of Henri Lefebvre whose Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life outlines a movement through space which cannot easily be constructed through the singularity of an individual form. ‘No camera, no image or series of images can show these rhythms,’ writes Lefebvre; ‘it requires equally attentive eyes and ears, a head and a memory and a heart’.

Using Lefebvre’s words as a starting point, the second half of this lecture examines how multimodal writing as a transglossic form embodies the notion of Lefebrve’s corporeal rhythms. Taking two short works by the contemporary writer Hari Kunzru, the art writing Memory Palace and the e-book Twice Upon a Time, I explore how a process of rhythmanalysis reveals spatio-temporal disjunctions of fantasy and reality offering the consumer new insights into the experience of the contemporary, creating rhythms which – like Lefebvre’s – can no longer be identified via one material or corporeal experience but rather, instead, create a powerful expression of intercultural empathy.

Sara Upstone is Professor of Contemporary Literature and Co-Director of Postgraduate Research, Kingston School of Art. She has published four monographs: Spatial Politics in the Postcolonial Novel (2009), and British Asian Fiction: Twenty-First-Century Voices (2010), Rethinking Race and Identity in Contemporary British Fiction (2016) as well as a student reader on Literary Theory. In addition, she acted as co-editor of three collections, among them Researching and Representing Mobilities: Transdisciplinary Encounters (2014), a volume co-edited with Lesley Murray. The contributions in Researching and Representing Mobilities explore mobile representations in government policy, literature, visual arts, music, and research. The book examines the methodological potential of these representations and the ways in which representations co-produce mobilities. Her own chapter in the volume offers a stimulating lens on mobilities within postcolonial fiction. Her current work, which she will present in the keynote to this conference, focuses on the relationship between contemporary multimodal writing, rhythmanalysis and constructions of otherness.