The Garden

Regina Martínez Ponciano

On a late Saturday evening, she was about to tip over the edge. It had only been a few hours since we had agreed to meet at The Storey for we were both in want of a cozy nook, albeit for very different reasons. But neither the smell of the old wood nor the view on Lancaster castle from behind the Georgian sash windows could make us quite forget the drumming of the city, nor the voices in our heads. She asked me if I wanted to go see the gardens.

I followed her blindly through several corridors until suddenly warm sunlight lit our faces. We came into a little garden -an organic antechamber, really-where a winding path lined with yellow daffodils guided us towards an iron-wrought gate set against a massive brick wall. The door stood ajar, and as we passed the threshold our concrete sensibilities were tickled by a landscape so lush and wild that it seemed a world apart from the Victorian building we had just left behind. Although several paths unraveled before us, most were so overgrown that we instead waded straight across the field towards the bench in the farthest corner. It was only then and there that she could share her most intimate concerns.

After a short while, much too short, perhaps, a friendly and wrinkly face appeared from thin air to let us know that the garden would soon be closing. “Not to keep people like you out”, she added quickly, “but to keep others from coming in.”

Her muddy overalls followed us back to the wrought-iron gate. The door clanked shut, and when I turned back the gatekeeper had disappeared. As we went back towards the labyrinth, I noticed how precisely the daffodils had been planted.

Sat again in my lifeless chair, I looked into the darkness on my laptop’s screen wondering why such a wonderful place would only be made accessible for six hours a day (five, in winter), and exactly who was expected to disturb its quiet.

A smile curled my lips as the exact details of the walled garden already began to blur in my mind, but not without leaving inspiration in their wake. For weeks I had been trying to write a piece about “The Selfish Giant”, a fairy tale written by Oscar Wilde, one of the most notorious metropolitans of the fin de siècle. For weeks I hadn’t been able to help my training as a philologist to look through seminal (and some of my favorite) textual representations of gardens. I had drawn arrows between the descriptions of the ‘blue gardens’ where Jay Gatsby held his very public and very opulent parties, and those of the ‘lovely garden’ which Wilde’s giant did not want to share with the local children. My notebook had filled itself with quasi-legible scribbles on garden-based tropes across Indo-European mythologies, OED definitions that conceptualized the garden as enclosed pieces of ground kept for recreation and cultivation, and pictures of the walled gardens of Queen Victoria’s summer home on the Isle of Wight. I had drawn exclamation marks next to one of the original illustrations of the story, seeing a resemblance between the boy and the giant, and the balcony scene in the Capulet’s garden. I had racked my brain asking whether the kiss between the boy and the giant in one of the garden’s trees was the reversal of the Judas kiss that takes place in Gethsemane, or whether the boy was the metaphor for the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.

I had done everything except thinking about my own multiple experiences in those ambivalent spaces we call gardens. Or indeed considering how Wilde’s personal experiences with these queer parcels of nature could have been.

How have gardens affected me, a young twenty-first century woman, in a way which could resonate with Wilde’s understanding more than a century earlier?

Thinking back to my first childhood memory, which took place in a faraway garden, I realize how life imitates art indeed far more than art imitates life. All tangible details have long been lost to me, and. I would never be able to tell you exactly what this exotic paradise looked like, smelled like, felt like. But I would also never be able to convey the womblike sensation which enveloped me as I lay in that hammock, listening to how my grandfather’s voice blended with the sounds which I have only heard there, in Guatemala.

More than twenty years have since passed since the metal bird took us away from that sanctuary, but no stroll in Royal botanic gardens, manicured jardins à la française, or glossy “House & Garden” magazines have come close to the glory of slowly rocking back and forth in my grandfather’s garden.

That same hammock later hung at the very end of my parents’ long backyard in Spain, a much less Acadian but more middle-class extension of our family home. The vibrant fluidity of my abuelito’s gift now stood in stark opposition with the rectangular, cement blocks that my father had placed to mark our territory. So did the sprinkler system and the potted plants, the heavy toolbox and the plastic bottles of insecticide, and the whirling CDs my mother had strategically placed to scare feathered guests away.

To my parents, the garden was a place of diligent work and, therefore, a source of pride. To me, the garden was still a place of comfort, a place of pleasure, and a place to be shared. Every summer my father and I would argue over whether we should put up a frame pool: it would ruin the grass, he said, I wanted to enjoy the weather, I answered. Every year I would win the argument, as I knew I would, and every year we would both end up enjoying the cool water -my father after a long day of working in the garden, myself and my friends throughout the day.

As I grew older, so did the garden. The cherry tree from which I hung that hammock every Spring died during the first Winter after my grandfather’s own passing. As we uprooted the tree, I wonder whether it had sensed something, for my mother and I had dug a symbolic grave for Salvador Ponciano close-by.

In that garden I experienced not only my mother’s grief, but also a very distinct form of anguish only a few years ago when she saw me sunbathing on our lawn. “Remember what happened to Susanna,” she urged me, as she touched her gold-plated medal of the Virgen de Guadalupe and her eyes darted to our neighbors’ windows.

Her anguish confirmed my own growing discomfort as I had only recently exchanged children’s books for the news, and romcoms for American police procedurals. Gardens and parks were no longer adventurous and romantic, but also where young women not unlike me would be raped, killed, and/or buried. The public gardens I had enjoyed as a little girl became the places to avoid when I walked home alone at night as a young adult.

Gardens have become liminal spaces whose meaning becomes inconsistent as I grow more conscious of my gendered reality. They are not only the places where I feel vulnerable to unwanted gazes, which either scare or shame me into adopting what is seen as more ‘appropriate’ behaviors. They are also the places I am expected to desire, as my social standing still relies on the size and state of my garden. And although I had learned from my mother that not even cement blocks could protect me from unwanted infractions of my privacy, or that parks would attract the most perverted of men, I am still expected to encourage my own children to play in them. Is it because we want to give them a taste of paradise? Or is it because we refuse to believe that paradise cannot be regained?

Thinking back and through these experiences, and fixing my eyes again on my laptop screen, I wonder why it is that I had never approached Wilde and his text more reflexively, subjectively. Once I had defined his works as “pastiche”, meaning that they juxtaposed or inverted tropes from a variety of Western discourses – which made sense because Wilde was a prolific scholar of Ancient philosophy and, at times, a fervently religious man. However, these past reflections have made me wonder whether Wilde also had alternating moments of relief and torment. How does his work refract his childhood memories in the gardens of his family’s summer houses in rural Ireland, his views on gender as a queer man strolling in public parks, or his anxieties as a father whose sons played in the backyard of 34 Tite Street – only separated by a low brick wall from one of the poorest and most criminal streets in London?

(To be continued)

Scrap Value

scrapyardA couple of years ago, driving home on the M6, my old car started to attract attention from other drivers. I saw a couple of flashes in my rear-view mirror, and then a car drew alongside and the passenger pointed to the back of the car, mouthing the word ‘exhaust’. I pulled on to the hard shoulder, got out carefully, and had a look. The exhaust pipe was dragging along the floor.

In truth, I’d known the exhaust was blown from the start of my journey back from work, but I thought, I’d hoped, that I’d be able to nurse it home. I hadn’t realised the whole system was about to drag sparks down the motorway. So that was it. The driver’s door had begun to jam shut, it had been round the clock a couple of times, so it was time to buy another. So I took it to the scrap yard.

This is something with which my Dad would have been perfectly at home. He (like his father before him) had spent much of his working life as a van and lorry driver, and did so in a time when you could get the bonnet of a car or van up and tinker with it mechanically yourself, rather than having to plug in a computer to run diagnostics on the engine management system. Overalls, oily hands, road dirt and soot from the exhaust were part of that time and world, part of my Dad’s masculinity as I was growing up. I was never that interested in tinkering with machines, and didn’t learn to drive until my late 30s. So I came to adult masculinity outside of that world, outside of those codes. Going to the breaker’s yard was to enter a world-outside-the-world, almost like a portal fantasy. This was no Narnia, mind.

I remember going into the portakabin where the business was transacted. It wasn’t really an office, more a kind of shack, a post-apocalyptic hut where the tinkers and toilers and finders came to talk and receive their orders. A nice woman, keenly aware of my wide-eyed discomfort and that I’d never visited, let alone done business in such a place, saw me through the SORN forms. In this man’s world, the economic transaction would have to wait until the ‘Boss’ came back in a couple of minutes. I went outside to wait, by the car.

Scrap is of course the re-working of unwanted, no-longer utile material into something of monetary value.  A few years ago, if you wanted to scrap a car, you’d have to pay to do so; now, with the prices for materials rising (along with the market for second-hand parts for older cars), the scrap merchant would pay you for the vehicle. But I had no idea how much my old car was ‘worth’.

The Boss, unmistakably the fief of this zone of half-stripped automobiles, came striding along in a few minutes. Yes, he said, they’d take it. How much was I looking for? I named a pretty low figure. He hesitated for a moment, then nodded, and stuck out his hand. After shaking on the deal, he pulled out a roll of tenners (yes, really) and counted off the amount. Cheers. I walked out of the yard back to the main road, where my wife and daughter would pick me up.

I stood there in a great wash of relief. I’d done it, got away with it. He hadn’t laughed at the amount I suggested, hadn’t sneered at my obvious and entire lack of knowledge about the process. Perhaps I’d got a fair price, perhaps he’d done me up like a kipper. But I didn’t care. The interview was finished, the transaction complete.

I’d escaped from a space in which the codes of masculinity were entirely separate from the ones I had learned, in school and work; the codes of masculine behaviour, physical bearing and speech that I had internalised to be able to operate successfully in the university system were alien to the scrap yard. In being the first of my family to go to university, I’d translated myself out of one kind of subjectivity and into another, and here was the physical embodiment of the working-class masculinity that my Dad and Grandfather would have recognised and been comfortable with, but which I now found deeply discomfiting.

This world-behind-the-world was also half-in, half-out of the economic world I knew: it interfaced with it to process the documentation to scrap a car, but the financial transaction was done with a roll of tenners, no receipt, nothing. Clearly this was the semi-official edge of the black economy, a circulation which avoided the eye of the Exchequer and in which money travelled from hand to hand, pocket to pocket, without the government taking a tithe.

In a time and place in which corporate avoidance of taxation runs into the billions of pounds, I don’t really know how to think or feel about this. Is it the same thing? Are corporate layers working to find loopholes in tax law equivalent to the passing of a few quid hand-to-hand over a scrapped car? I don’t think so, but I’m not sure I’m on firm ground. Or rather, perhaps, it exposes my own ethical grey areas if I excoriate one, but don’t mind the other.

My friend and colleague Bruce and I went to Manchester last week to see Sleaford Mods live. It was a bracing gig: they were tight, angry, urgent, even though the venue was medium-sized and the crowd lost a bit energy in a mid-set lull. (Williamson noticed.) There’s a film coming out about them, Invisible Britain, which I hope to catch some time soon. In a sense the scrap yard is part of that Invisible Britain, the world-behind-the-world, which bands like Sleaford Mods make visible.

For me, the scrap yard was about recognition, of the bits of the performance of masculinity – to do with class, in particular – that I consciously left behind, to fit in to societal and institutional expectations. It’s not a metaphor for me ‘scrapping’ bits of myself or the traditional working-class masculinity of London and Essex that I’m no longer part of. It’s not even that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Rather, it’s a moment that stays with me because I was not at home, I was not comfortable there. Perhaps more importantly, I was not comfortable with myself. In that estranging moment, I can recognise the dislocations of very different ‘man’s worlds’, and my shifting place in them.

Bad Language: listening to Sleaford Mods

There’s been a lot of exposure for the band Sleaford Mods recently: interviews in The Guardian and The Quietus. Jason Williamson, the vocalist for the duo, a forty something former benefits advisor, has become the emblem for representations of white working-class male suhomepage_large.3efd9a11bjectivity and experience in contemporary Britian, something that he himself finds uncomfortable. Mark Fisher, author of Capitalist Realism, has it right when he says, in a review of the Sleaford Mods last album Divide and Exit (2014), that it’s the particular local flavour of Williamson’s voice that is key to their project:

lacking any urban glamour, lilting lyricism or rustic romanticism, the East Midlands accent is one of the most unloved in England. It is so rarely herd in popular media that it isn’t recognised enough even to be disdained.

The sound of the Sleaford Mods is deliberately unvarnished, like Williamson’s voice itself. Repetitive beats and guttural punk basslines, forged by Andrew Fearn, form a spare backdrop to Williamson’s vocals, which are at the extreme end of a ranting, rapping, shouting punk ‘singing’. The sometimes ungainly beats occasionally have the feel of The Streets’ Original Pirate Material (2002); Williamson’s delivery is part-rap, part-Mark E. Smith disjunction, part-Tourettic spew of rage against the lives of impoverished austerity Britain. The lyrics are funny, aggressive, a montage of everyday phrases and banter and pub talk, and swearing on a truly heroic scale. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it’s truly bracing, a shot of black, brackish bile.

Fisher reads the Sleaford Mods, and Williamson’s performance in particular, in terms of an abjection theorised by Julia Kristeva in Powers of Horror (1982), whereupon the subject is constructed through the expulsion of tabooed and repugnant matter, excrement, waste fluids, filth. Fisher writes that ‘piss and shit course through Williamson’s rhymes, as if all the – psychic and physical – effluent abjected by Cameron’s England can no longer be contained’. This persuasive thesis seems to implicitly draw upon that of Imogen Tyler in Revolting Subjects (2013): that the formation and representation of class in contemporary Britain is articulated by discourses of abjection, from Vicky Pollard to Benefits Street. For Fisher, Williamson articulates a ‘seething disaffection incubated on the dole or in dead-end jobs’, one that has yet to find a political agency or project to turn it from anger and exasperation to the possibility of change.

What really hooks me about their music is Williamson’s voice, that East Midlands accent. Because it reminds me of the one I’ve lost, or rather worked hard to polish off the edges: South Essex, Estuary English, ex-London overspill. Essex speech is probably more visible than the East Midlands accent, but also probably more subject to derision because of its visibility (hearability), particularly through a show like TOWIE. Essex, or more particularly that bit of Essex from Thurrock, along the Thames, and up the coast to Clacton, has been fertile territory for UKIP, who play upon the very kind of white working-class disaffection articulated by Williamson (who, it must be said, does not hold back from blasting flag-of-St.George-toting white racists, just as much as he does Cameron and the Tories). Williamson’s rants remind me of my own alienation from my Essex roots, the part of my personal history I tend not to promote: born in Billericay (which, through Ian Dury, I sometimes confess to), and grew up until the age of 8 or so in Basildon, the ‘New Town Utopia‘. My paternal grandparents, Nan and Jim, lived in Pitsea, between Basildon and Benfleet, on a council estate which no longer exists – now there is no Curzon Walk, erased like some of my own past, like the glottal stops I’ve tried to excise from my speech.

When I walk around the campus of Lancaster University, bits of it remind me strongly of the spaces of my childhood – paved plazas, spindly trees planted in straight lines, landscaped grassy hillocks, covered walkways, ring roads, concrete underpasses. The architecture of the New Towns and of the new universities of the 1960s have a lot in common, of course, and encode similar utopian or socially progressive ideas: clean habitation for a new civic society, or the promise of mass education and social mobility. For the university as for the new towns, these dreams now seem a long way in the past, spaces privatised or given over to the configurations of the student-as-consumer. With a colleague at Lancaster, Bruce Bennett, I’m currently pursuing a critical/ creative research project to do with the space of the contemporary university campus, but in some ways it has a particularly personal resonance. Uncannily, it brings forth ghostly memories of a half-suppressed childhood.

The kind of masculinity inhabited and performed by Williamson (who clearly draws upon his experiences in presenting various ‘characters’ and discourses, as here in ‘Jobseeker‘), one whose class inflections are complex and difficult, whose regional English location renders it marginal and unheard yet articulate and in a kind of revolt against current ideological formations, means that it requires a nuanced and perhaps different set of analytical strategies than the dominant sociological model derived from Connell, that of the hegemonic and subordinate. The aggressive, even violent masculinity encoded in Williamson’s lyrics is also a wounded one, a marginalised one, one whose attitude to life does not encompass ‘aspiration’ or dreams of mobility or a ‘better life’ but simply surviving, dealing with the ‘liveable shit’ (one of the Sleaford Mods’ song titles). Part of the Border Masculinities project is to think through new strategies and directions in thinking masculinity, in transnational but also local contexts. For me, as someone who lives and works hundreds of miles away from where he grew up, mobility and migration, class and alienation, language and subjectivity are ongoing terms of reference for trying to understand where I’ve come from and where we are.

Brian Baker

Border Masculinities: Cross-disciplinary Dialogues and New Directions

img051The organisers of the 2014 Border Masculinities symposium, Dr Amit Thakkar and Dr Brian Baker (Lancaster), along with keynote speaker Prof Chris Harris (Liverpool), published a call for papers earlier this year with the intention of producing a world-leading collection of articles intended to foster dialogues between a range of disciplines engaged in the analysis of cultural representations of gender.

Proposals were sent in and the editors took some time scrutinising the very high-quality submissions, before making decisions about who to invite to contribute the the volume. We are now in the process of drawing up a definitive list of contributors.

The Border Masculinities project has been, from the start, an inter-disciplinary project and its focus is trans-cultural. The contributors to the volume will be drawn from and international group of scholars who are pursuing exciting new research into formations of masculinity. We will publish further news and updates about the book project and any further events over the coming months.

Abstracts etc.

Speakers’ Abstracts


Keynote: Crossing Patriarchal Borders: Researching Men, Masculinities and Women’s Rights in Mexico

Chris Harris, University of Liverpool

Drawing on a variety of illustrative and indicative Mexican texts and issues, and departing from some initial thoughts on the ‘Remember Them’ exhibition on femicide in Ciudad Juárez (Liverpool, 2013), this paper provides a reflection upon the problematics and possible future directions of language-based research into discursive constructions of masculinities while at the same time inviting genuine intellectual engagement with what bell hooks describes as the ‘social disease’ of patriarchy. In this way the intention is to call for deliberate and multiple crossings of patriarchal borders by academics and to offer for discussion and debate a broad position paper at the start of the ‘Border Masculinities’ conference that will be of relevance for researchers working in Masculinities Studies beyond its interfaces with Hispanism and Latinamericanism. The paper reconsiders and disagrees with Connell’s proposition that our object of knowledge is and should be gender relations; it reconsiders some of the main methodological and theoretical challenges involved in examining and writing about cultural representations of men and masculinities, including the role of deconstruction and the idea of posthegemony. The paper also attempts to identify a number of gender-related issues that require urgent attention from researchers such as rape culture and cybercultural feminist activism by men; and, finally, it proposes a possible way forward for the generation of collaborative and feminist-inspired knowledge exchange and impact projects.




Measuring the Distance: Wales, exile and masculinity in Raymond Williams’ Border Country Brian Baker, Lancaster University

This paper will analyse Raymond Williams’ novel Border Country (1960) in terms of motifs of exile and migration from Wales. The novel narrates the stories of Harry Price, a railway signalman who comes to the village of Glynmawr on the Welsh border in the early 1920s, and his son Matthew, who leaves the village to attend university and becomes a lecturer at the University of London. While bearing clear autobiographical elements, the novel is in part a meditation upon dislocation and loss through migration and mobility. Through the lens of masculinity and generational change, the paper will investigate the physical/ topographical space of ‘border country’ and its symbolic or poetic meanings as a space of change or potentiality.


‘This Used to be America’: Walking and Post-Apocalyptic Masculinities Andy Tate, Lancaster University

Concepts of American masculinity in the era of global capital are frequently defined by ideas of mobility and speed. In short, the most popular narratives of freedom in the US are associated with the open road and burning gas in a fast car. This paper will explore a number of fictions that imagine a post-catastrophe American landscape, a world in which devastation is signified in part by the scarcity of motorised transport. Who do we find on the road to nowhere? In such visions of a ruined future, walking, currently regarded with a degree of suspicion in a post-urban culture designed for carloads of consumers, becomes the default mode of movement. The paper will draw on Henry David Thoreau and Rebecca Solnit’s political exploration of the pleasures and pains of the ambulatory and compare walkers in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) and Jim Crace’s The Pesthouse (2007).


“‘So very oriental’: masculinity and the travelling body in Elizabeth Gaskell’s CranfordCharlotte Mathieson, University of Warwick

This paper explores the intersections between masculinity and nationhood forged through the body of the travelling subject in Victorian literature. Focusing on Peter Jenkyns’s journey to India in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford (1851-53), I look at how the body of the travelling subject provides a distinct site for thinking through the construct of, and challenges to, the British subject as he moves through spaces of Empire. Returning from his travels “tanned and retanned by the sun”, Peter Jenkyns is representative of a recurrent literary trope in which male travellers to the British Empire become sunburnt, tanned and bronzed by their journeying. Far from being an implicit, commonplace feature of travel, I suggest that the suntanned body is indicative of a deeper exploration of the borders of race, class and gender, and works to produce an alternative, malleable model of British masculinity as an effective force in the Victorian novel.




Donkeys and Dictators: Political Masculinity in Cheik Aliou Ndao’s Mbaam dictateur (1997) Charlotte Baker, Lancaster University 

Senegalese writer Cheik Aliou Ndao wrote his novel Mbaam Aakimuu in Wolof before publishing it in French with the title Mbaam Dictateur in 1997. The title refers to the dictator protagonist Wor, whose tyrannical rule over an unnamed African nation has led his people to turn to an occult practitioner to rid themselves of him. He transforms the dictator into a donkey, ‘Mbaam ngonk, l’âne énorme’ (Mbaam Ngonk, the enormous donkey) who, although mute, has lost none of his intellectual capacity or human emotion. My paper examines the representation of political masculinity in Ndao’s novel, and specifically that of the postcolonial African dictator. I explore the shifting masculinity of the dictator Wor as a means by which to examine where Ndao considers the responsibility for dictatorship lies in the African postcolony. I consider how, in changing Wor into a voiceless donkey, Ndao reveals the constructed nature of the hyper-masculinity of dictatorship and, in turn, raises questions about the role of the writer in the face of postcolonial regimes.


Between tradition and modernity in post-Revolutionary Mexico: José Vasconcelos, narcissism and the desire for recognition Mark Millington, University of Nottingham

José Vasconcelos (1882-1959), a Mexican politician and public intellectual, wrote his autobiography in the 1930s when in exile after being denied victory in the rigged presidential election of 1929. The autobiography was in part an attempt to maintain his public presence in Mexico and to underline his cultural and political values in opposition to the outlook of the current government. Underlying his opposition was a disagreement about Mexican identity and his commitment to the Hispanic tradition, in stark contrast to the modernising policies adopted in the wake of the Revolution of 1910-1917. Mexico was at a turning-point and he forthrightly rejected the attempt to reshape the country economically and culturally on the model of the United States. To underpin his recognisability and foster approval, Vasconcelos had recourse to an intense ego narrative. He constructed a portrait of his public persona by drawing on the nineteenth-century, Latin American model of the intellectual statesman and of his private persona by implicitly drawing on the Hispanic tradition of the fiercely independent and sexually adventurous ‘macho’. In short, Vasconcelos deployed significant features of Hispanic masculinity with striking elements of aggressively defensive narcissism in his attempt to sustain his position in Mexican public opinion.


Indigenous Masculinities and Contested Territorial Boundaries: Representing the Mapuche Autonomist Movement in Contemporary Chile Jo Crow, University of Bristol 

This paper focuses on one particular spatial border – the Bio Bio River in southern Chile – and the violent conflict over lands beyond that border, lands that used to be indigenous Mapuche territory. It analyses the representation of indigenous masculinities in this context, most notably the figure of the contemporary Mapuche warrior. It asks what happens to that warrior figure outside the frontier zone? What happens to him in Santiago, Chile’s capital city, which is more than 700km from historic Mapuche territory? It also asks what role women play in the contemporary Mapuche struggle for self-determination.




Last Man Standing: Crossing the Borders of Male Power Struggle in Gustavo Sainz’s Obsesivos días circulares (1969) Victoria Carpenter, University of Derby

This paper presents a comparative analysis of the power struggle between the male narrator and secondary characters in Gustavo Sainz’s novel Obsesivos días circulares (1969). I propose to examine in more detail the process of text control and the associated power struggle between males in the text by applying the theories of hegemonic masculinity and posthegemony to the analysis of the interaction between the male narrator and male personages. I will study the process of text appropriation by the narrator and the subordinate as a metaphorical power border crossing, and determine whether the process is unilateral or whether the power struggle over text ownership occurs regardless of the subordination process.


Border Masculinities and Central American Guerrillas: Reflections on the Possibility of an Anti-Patriarchal Response Cornelia Grabner (Lancaster University, via Skype from Mexico)

This paper presents an analysis of books by Francisco Goldman and Jennifer Harbury, which deal with ‘cataclysmic moments’ of recent Guatemalan history. The analysis explores gender relations in these books with reference to three themes: storytelling, communication and affective relationships. Conceptually I draw on the notions of decolonial love, the coloniality of gender, and the world gender order as categories of analysis. I take Chela Sandoval’s methodology of the oppressed as a guideline for my analysis, and look at the ways in which different types of storytelling perpetuate or question the coloniality of gender, at the consequences of intercultural misunderstandings produced by different readings of the coloniality of gender and the world gender order, and at the significance of a critical and liberatory practice of gender roles for decolonial love. The practice of decolonial love is an alternative to what Tzvetan Todorov has called ‘the dreadful concatenation’. This practice of love and knowledge of the Other is a result of cultural encounters during the conquest of the Americas. It conceptualizes as ‘love’ a feeling which sidesteps equality, an exercise in destruction and possession.


Saturday Night Fever in Chile: The Recycling of John Travolta in Pablo Larrain’s Tony Manero Amit Thakkar, Lancaster University

Pablo Larraín’s film Tony Manero is the first film in an ‘unintentional trilogy’ by the emerging young Chilean director Pablo Larraín. In this film, set in Chile 1978, the protagonist is a violent amateur dancer who seeks to imitate the character of Tony Manero (John Travolta) in Saturday Night Fever (John Badham, 1977). The terms metaphor and allegory have been loosely applied to describe the film’s rhetorical strategy, not least by the director himself. This paper seeks to demonstrate that its principle technique is allegory, based on a repetitive narrative of violence and a related culture of importation and on the symbolic aura of John Travolta’s original Tony Manero. It also seeks to explore the relevance to Tony Manero, and to Larraín, of Idelber Avelar’s ideas concerning allegory and mourning.


Speakers and Participants

Brian Baker is currently a Lecturer in English at Lancaster University, UK. He has published books and articles on masculinities, science fiction and science fiction cinema, Iain Sinclair, Literature and Science and in a critical/ creative mode. Masculinities in Fiction and Film was published by Continuum in 2006 and a ‘sequel’, Contemporary Masculinities in Fiction, Film and Television will be published by Bloomsbury Academic in January 2015. The Reader’s Guide to Essential Criticism: Science Fiction will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in late 2014, and he is now working on Fuzzy Revolutions: Science Fiction in the 1960s for Liverpool UP.

Charlotte Baker is Lecturer in French at Lancaster University. A specialist in contemporary African literature written in French and English, Charlotte is interested in questions of power and marginality, disability and the body. She is the author of Enduring Negativity: Albinism in the Novels of Didier Destremau, Patrick Grainville and Williams Sassine (Peter Lang, 2011) and editor of Expressions of the Body: Representations in African Text and Image (Peter Lang, 2009). She is currently working on a monograph examining the critical engagement of post-independence West African writers with dictatorship and collaborating on a research project on multilingualism in the Francophone world.

Victoria Carpenter, PhD (Hull), is a Reader in Latin American studies at the University of Derby, UK. She specialises in XX-century Mexican literature, and her interests lie in the interrogation of the concepts of power and control from hegemonic and posthegemonic perspectives. Her publications include edited volumes A World Torn Apart (2007), (Re)Collecting the Past (2010), A World in Words, A Life in Texts (2011), a special section ‘Tlatelolco 1968 in Contemporary Mexican Literature’ (Bulletin of Latin American Research, 24:4), and a number of academic journal articles on modern Mexican and Argentinean literature and culture. Victoria Carpenter is the founder of Latin American Literary Studies Association (LALSA).

Joanna Crow is Senior Lecturer in Latin American Studies at the University of Bristol. Her first monograph The Mapuche in Modern Chile: A Cultural History was published in 2013 by University Press of Florida. She has recently started a new research project on intellectual networks in Latin America, with a focus on Chilean-Peruvian intellectual encounters and exchanges.

Chris Harris is Senior Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at the University of Liverpool, an Assistant Editor of the Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, and currently Head of the Department of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies (CLAS: 2012- ). Before moving to Liverpool, he was the founding Lecturer in Spanish at the Universities of Ulster (Magee College) and Lancaster. He specialises in post-Revolutionary Mexican literature and politics and has published widely in this area with a monograph on Agustín Yáñez and articles on several authors including Mastretta, Castellanos, Azuela, Rulfo, Poniatowska, and González de Alba. He has also published on Borges. He has a particular interest in the afterlives of Mexico 1968 and has recently delivered a paper on ‘Rius, Los agachados and memorialisation of 1968’ at the ‘Specular Ghosts’ conference in London (September 2014) which was focused on trauma and memory in Mexican visual culture. He is also involved in ongoing collaborative research on discursive constructions of Latin American Masculinities with Dr Amit Thakkar (Lancaster). Their most recent publication is a special issue of the Journal of Iberian and Latin American Research (2014). The issue explores the theme of men, power and liberation in Latin American cultures and it contains Chris’s article on the idea of feminist masculinity in Mastretta’s Arráncame la vida.

Cornelia Grabner researches on poetry and the public, and on poetry and activist politics. She focuses on the Poetics of Resistance and contemporary committed writing. Her research is comparative on Western Europe and the Americas. She is currently working on a monograph on committed writing and alternative globalisation. Further lines of research include poetic interventions into urban space; the intersections of culture and politics in mega-cities in the Americas; and politically committed performance poetry collectives. She holds a specialist interest in Mexican committed writing from the 1970s to the present, and in creative articulations of contemporary Mexican social movements.

Donna-Marie Kerslake grew up on the border between Washington State USA and British Columbia, Canada. She has lived in the UK for many years now as an adult. She received her BA last year, from the Open University, and is just starting the second year of an MA in Creative Writing here Lancaster with the distance learning programme. Her project is a novel, set in 1860s San Francisco, about a teenage boy who is forced to work in the sex trade. He falls for an older boy, promising him riches and a home, but this boy then leads him astray. One harrowing twist of fate leads to another then finally, he experiences a more stable home life. Leaving it all to rescue a good friend, he is betrayed by the older boy he once loved. Masculinity is a major theme in the novel, particularly roles of dominance and submission in male same-sex relationships. She is now reading papers relevant to gender roles, sexuality, child sex work in the 19th and early 20th century, and researching male sex work today.

Charlotte Mathieson is a Research Fellow at the University of Warwick’s Institute of Advanced Study. She researches nineteenth-century literature, with an interest in the intersections of gender, space and mobility in novels by authors including Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell. She has recently published Gender and Space in Rural Britain, 1840-1920 (ed. with Gemma Goodman; Pickering and Chatto, 2014) and “‘A brown sunburnt gentleman’: Masculinity and the Travelling Body in Dickens’s Bleak House” (Nineteenth-Century Contexts, September 2014). More about her research can be found at

Maritza Carrasco-Marchessi is Teaching Associate in the Spanish School of Languages and Social Sciences Aston University. She has recently been awarded her doctorate in Hispanic Studies by University of Birmingham for Masculinities and nation: reading the compañero as national allegory in Antonio Skármeta´s narrative. Her principal areas of specialism focus on the gender issues, popular culture, and theories of the liminal, and the relationship between all three concepts in the fiction of Chilean postboom writers. She works particularly on narratives of masculinity published during the seventies, the Pinochet dictatorship, and throughout the transition to democracy in the late nineties and early 21st century. She has published three articles derived from her M.Phil. thesis, amongst them “Tangeando al macho, haciendo el chachachá: dos ilustraciones del simbolismo del tango y el chachachá en la literatura latinoamericana contemporánea”. (Salamanca, 2003). She is currently working towards the publication of her doctoral thesis.

Mark Millington is Professor of Latin American Studies at the University of Nottingham.  His research interests focus on twentieth-century Spanish American literature and intellectual history.  He has published books on Onetti, transculturation and the representation of masculinity in Latin American literature, and articles and chapters on Carpentier, Monterroso, Piñera, Fuentes, Peri Rossi, Güiraldes, Borges, García Márquez, Luis Zapata, Vasconcelos and Fernando Ortiz among others.  Relevant publication: Hombres in/visibles: La representación de la masculinidad en la literatura latinoamericana, 1920-1980 (Bogotá: FCE, 2007).

Jana Naujoks has been working for International Alert’s Peacebuilding Issues programme for 7 years, initially in the coordination of the Initiative for Peacebuilding and the Foro Andino para la transformacion de conflictos socioambientales, which was active in Peru, Colombia and Ecuador. She is currently working on the Rethinking Gender in Peacebuilding project, including case studies on Uganda (published) and Nepal (forthcoming) as well as a short animation. Current research interests include gender and migration; the reintegration of ex-combatants; and the gender dimensions of natural resource management conflicts particularly around the extractive industries.

Andrew Tate is Senior Lecturer in the Department of English & Creative Writing at Lancaster. He is the author of Douglas Coupland (M.U.P, 2007), Contemporary Fiction and Christianity (Continuum, 2008) and, co-authored with Arthur Bradley, The New Atheist Novel (Continuum, 2010). His most recent co-edited volume is Literature and the Bible: A Reader (2013). He is currently working on a monograph on twenty-first-century apocalyptic literature.

Amit Thakkar is Senior Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at Lancaster University. He completed his thesis on Mexican fiction at the University of Liverpool. His book, The Fiction of Juan Rulfo: Irony, Revolution and Postcolonialism, was published in 2012 by Tamesis (Boydell and Brewer). He has published widely on the topic of masculinities in film and literature as well as co-editing, with Chris Harris (University of Liverpool), a special issue in the Bulletin of Hispanic Studies,: ‘Representations of Men and Masculinities in Latin American Cultures’. Another special issue, again co-edited with Chris Harris, is currently in press with the Journal of Iberian and Latin American Studies: ‘Men, Power and Liberation: Readings of Masculinities in Spanish American Literatures’. His research interests include masculinities and violence, non-violence, trauma studies, football and car crashes in Hispanic film and literature.


Border Masculinities: Programme

soldier wallIn a joint project between the Departments of European Languages and Cultures and English and Creative Writing, a two-day symposium will be held on Friday 19th and Saturday 20th September 2014.

Border Masculinities will bring together scholars from a wide range of specialisms to discuss spatial and conceptual borders with regard to the representation of masculinities. Papers will be delivered that consider masculinities in Britain, as well as in North and Latin America, and how the condition of the border can open up analyses and discussions of forms of masculinity in literature, film and other cultural representations. Current debates about masculinities will be challenged with innovative  analyses that re-consider the ways men and masculinities have been conceptualised across a number of different disciplines.

This is a free event but we would appreciate it if you could fill in the following registration form for catering purposes:

Border Masculinities registration form

For further information, please contact: Dr Amit Thakkar and Dr Brian Baker: or


Symposium venue (for Registration, Keynote and all other talks):

Bowland Room North Seminar Room 20

Friday 19th September

17.30   Registration and Coffee

17.50   Welcome and Introductions

18.00 Keynote Lecture

Chris Harris (University of Liverpool)

Crossing Patriarchal Borders: Men and Women’s Rights in Mexico

19.30   Dinner

Saturday 20th September

8-9.00 Breakfast in Refuel@County (Café 2010) for people staying over

9.00 Saturday Attendees Registration

9.15 Panel 1: British and North American Spaces

Discussant: Alice Ferrebe (Liverpool JMU)
Charlotte Mathieson (University of Warwick): ‘So very oriental’: British masculinity and the travelling body in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford
Brian Baker (Lancaster University): Measuring the Distance: Wales, exile and masculinity in Raymond Williams’ Border Country
Andy Tate (Lancaster University): ‘This Used to Be America’: Post-Apocalyptic Masculinities

10.45 Coffee

11.00 Panel 2: Masculinities in Political Spaces

Discussant: Amit Thakkar (Lancaster University)
Charlotte Baker (Lancaster University): Donkeys and Dictators: Political Masculinity in Cheik Aliou Ndao’s Mbaam dictateur (1997)
Mark Millington (University of Nottingham): Between Tradition and Modernity in post-Revolutionary Mexico: José Vasconcelos, Narcissism and the Desire for Recognition.
Jo Crow (University of Bristol): Indigenous Masculinities and Contested Territorial Boundaries: Representing the Mapuche Autonomist Movement in Contemporary Chile


13.30 Panel 3: Latin American Spaces

Discussant: Brian Baker (Lancaster University)
Victoria Carpenter (University of Derby): Last Man Standing: Crossing the Borders of Male Power Struggle in Gustavo Sainz’s Obsessive Circular Days (1969)
Cornelia Grabner (Lancaster University, via Skype from Mexico): Border Masculinities and Central American Guerrillas: Reflections on the Possibility of an Anti-Patriarchal Response
Amit Thakkar (Lancaster University): Saturday Night Fever in Chile: The Recycling of John Travolta in Pablo Larrain’s Tony Manero

 15.00 Coffee

15.15   Round Table led by Chris Harris (University of Liverpool)

16.00   Close