Writing, Speaking, Acting, Smiling, . . .

We had a great time with new students at our Welcome events last week.

As ever, we explained that classroom work often begins with examples or questions and we encouraged students to look for their own questions and examples to discuss.

One thing we looked at was Lydia Davis’s short story Example of the Continuing Past Tense in a Hotel Room which, in its entirety, reads ‘Your housekeeper has been Shelly’. At first, we presented it without telling the students what it was or where it came from and then we revealed that this was a complete short story and who wrote it. This led to a wide range of questions about writing, authors, interpretation and value, among other things.

Here is an interesting piece on Lydia Davis which discusses some of her writing practices:

Long Story Short — Lydia Davis’s radical fiction — New Yorker

At today’s open day, we looked at a different example: Eimear McBride’s novel A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing. I have been doing some work on this recently and have been referring to it to illustrate the connectedness of a wide range of questions and approaches within English.

Here is Eimear McBride talking about how she came to write the novel:

Eimear McBride — How I Wrote A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing — Guardian

There are some fascinating ideas here about how she found her way to the book, including the role that her experience in drama school played:

‘What I did know, as a result of three years’ drama school, was how to make people.’

On a different topic, here is some excellent linguistic analysis from Ye Tian, analysing disfluency, smiling and laughter in the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump:

Ye Tian on disfluency and smiling in the first debate between Clinton and Trump


Ye showed great stamina in going through this and analysing it so carefully. Again, it raises lots of interesting questions, including about how ‘disfluencies’ work and are interpreted, about the nature and functions of smiles and laughter, and about degrees of self-awareness in communicative interaction

Finally, here’s a piece by me for The Definite Article which summarises a research paper by Adrian Pilkington and suggests ways of applying ideas from pragmatics in exploring literary and other texts:

Billy Clark on implicature and poetic effects

We’re looking forward to discussing these and other questions and examples in class.



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