Modernism gone wild: A year researching and teaching at King’s College London

In my final month at King’s College London, I made a literary pilgrimage to Monk’s House in Rodmell, where the modernist couple Virginia and Leonard Woolf stayed. The walk from the train station took me past the River Ouse, where Virginia ended her life in 1941, faced with mental health issues exacerbated by the impending World War. I saw the quaint little cottage, the outdoor shed where Woolf wrote some of her famous novels, and the beautiful gardens previously tended to by her husband. I then walked in her footsteps to her sister Vanessa Bell’s place, Charleston Farmhouse. Bell was a notable modernist painter, and her farmhouse hosted many other famous intellectuals from the Bloomsbury Group, including the economist John Maynard Keynes and the artists Duncan Grant and Roger Fry.

The River Ouse enroute to Monk’s House
Hiking from Monk’s House to Charleston Farmhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virginia must have been a strong walker, despite what I have read about her frail mental state. It was an eight-mile hike up and across the sprawling South Downs, past herds of curious sheep and huge twitchy cows, down a steep and rocky trail (which took some finding), and across wheat fields guarded by a historic gamekeeper’s tower. I almost didn’t make it to Charleston in time for the final tour of the day. With fifteen minutes to spare, I ran the last 600 metres, hopped a gate (or stumbled over it, really), went to the bathroom, and emerged sweating and panting into the reception area. I wondered if Woolf ever presented herself in such an undignified manner. It was all worth it for Charleston’s gorgeously quirky interiors (painted and designed largely by Bell, Grant, and Fry), which formed the backdrop to the rich history of the Bloomsbury Group as narrated by our erudite guide.

This experience was one of the many ways in which literary modernism — one of my research focuses — came alive for me during my year at King’s. London was and is one major nexus of literary modernism, particularly Bloomsbury modernism. I connected with the British Association of Modernist Studies, which hosted multiple seminars, a Postgraduate Networking Day, and their annual conference. Beyond academia, I experienced how modernism continues to be rejuvenated for a larger public, ranging from the West End play The Inheritance, to the London premiere of Vita and Virginia, to the exhibition Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy, and the Avant-garde, jointly held by the Centre Pompidou-Metz and the Barbican Centre.

Discovering rarer books at London’s British Library

Such contemporary takes on modernism made me reflect on the relevance of Euro-American modernism to Asian contexts today, and how they compare with modern literature produced in Asia. I pursued this interest with guidance from my King’s supervisor Dr. Sebastian Matzner, who worked with me intensively to refine my research focus, and who pushed me to think and write with more clarity and humility. I audited a module taught by Dr. John Connor, which resonated with my interests in modernism, realism, and the Cold War. London’s British Library offered access to rarer books and resources, which led me to Nieh Hualing’s mid-century works, including her compilation of an anthology of short stories written by modern Chinese women. I also learnt to present my research to diverse audiences, through conference presentations and reading groups, and immersed myself in the vibrant community of fellow postgraduate researchers and faculty members at King’s and beyond.

One of my most formative experiences was teaching at King’s. I was responsible for a class of 20 students for the year-one module Genres in World Literature. Teaching this module strengthened my understanding of Comparative Literature, which is a discipline that is related to, but diverges from, my training in English Literature. It made me more comfortable with the parts of my work that compare anglophone modernism with modern Chinese literature. Further, the vastly different academic environment prompted reflections on my own pedagogical practices and values. I adapted to the needs and temperament of King’s undergraduates, many of whom are wonderfully forthcoming and eloquent with their opinions on politics and social issues, but who sometimes need some nudging to get back on topic. I adjusted to grading papers on Turnitin, and exploited resources such as learningonscreen.ac.uk, which is an on-demand radio and video service with clip-making functions. I was heartened to receive two student nominations for the categories “Rising Star” and “Innovation in Teaching.”

View of Trafalgar Square from The National Gallery and its exhibition on Impressionist art

It was a challenging year. Beyond life at King’s, I learnt to wrap up in the chilly months, fixed a boiler, survived the Tube in summer, and navigated the subtleties of British manners. But I also enjoyed the exceptional produce (Summer fruits! Tomatoes! Black kale and Savoy cabbages! Italian mandarins and pancetta! Sausages!), the beautiful Victoria Park and its lake full of swans and cormorants and ducks, Bethnal Green’s stand-up comedy scene, sightings of London’s elusive urban foxes, the varied architecture, and short trips to Bath, Brighton, Denmark, France, and Switzerland. I grew to love the steady rhythms of city walking, of summer hiking, and I learnt to pace myself in both life and research. I brought these lessons back with me to the tropics. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Visiting Switzerland and the Alps
Visiting Switzerland and hiking in the Alps

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tan Teck Heng
Current PhD candidate in English Literature

 

NUS Theatre Studies Joint Book Launch

Title: NUS Theatre Studies Joint Book Launch featuring Bodies and Transformance in Taiwanese Contemporary Theater by Dr Peilin Liang, Theatre-Fiction in Britain from Henry James to Doris Lessing: Writing in the Wings by Dr Graham Wolfe, and Enacting Lecoq: Movement in Theatre, Cognition, and Life by Dr Maiya Murphy

Date: Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Time: 6:30-9:05pm

Venue: The Pod, NLB

Organizers: FASS Research Division

RSVP at Eventbrite.

Description

Three authors will share their new books dealing with the study of theatre:

  1. Bodies and Transformance in Taiwanese Contemporary Theater (Routledge, 2019) by Dr Peilin Liang, Assistant Professor, NUS English Language & Literature

In Bodies and Transformance in Taiwanese Contemporary Theater, Peilin Liang develops a theory of bodily transformation. Proposing the concept of transformance, a conscious and rigorous process of self-cultivation toward a reconceptualized body, Liang shows how theater practitioners of minoritized cultures adopt transformance as a strategy to counteract the embodied practices of ideological and economic hegemony. This book observes key Taiwanese contemporary theater practitioners at work in forging five reconceptualized bodies: the energized, the rhythmic, the ritualized, the joyous, and the (re)productive. By focusing on the development of transformance between the years of 2000–2008, a tumultuous political watershed in Taiwan’s history, the author succeeds in bridging postcolonialism and interculturalism in her conceptual framework. Ideal for scholars of Asian and Postcolonial Theater, Bodies and Transformance in Taiwanese Contemporary Theater shows how transformance, rather than performance, calibrates with far greater precision and acuity the state of the body and the culture that it seeks to create.

2. Theatre-Fiction in Britain from Henry James to Doris Lessing: Writing in the Wings (Routledge, 2019) by Dr Graham Wolfe, Associate Professor, NUS English Language & Literature

Theatre-Fiction in Britain from Henry James to Doris LessingThis volume posits and explores an intermedial genre called theatre-fiction, understood in its broadest sense as referring to novels and stories that engage in concrete and sustained ways with theatre. Though theatre has made star appearances in dozens of literary fictions, including many by modern history’s most influential authors, no full-length study has dedicated itself specifically to theatre-fiction―in fact there has not even been a recognized name for the phenomenon. Focusing on Britain, where most of the world’s theatre-novels have been produced, and commencing in the late-nineteenth century, when theatre increasingly took on major roles in novels, Theatre-Fiction in Britain argues for the benefits of considering these works in relation to each other, to a history of development, and to the theatre of their time. New modes of intermedial analysis are modelled through close studies of Henry James, Somerset Maugham, Virginia Woolf, J. B. Priestley, Ngaio Marsh, Angela Carter, and Doris Lessing, all of whom were deeply involved in the theatre-world as playwrights, directors, reviewers, and theorists. Drawing as much on theatre scholarship as on literary theory, Theatre-Fiction in Britain presents theatre-fiction as one of the past century’s most vital means of exploring, reconsidering, and bringing forth theatre’s potentials.

3. Enacting Lecoq: Movement in Theatre, Cognition, and Life (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019) by Dr Maiya Murphy, Assistant Professor, NUS English Language & Literature

This book examines the theatrical movement-based pedagogy of Jacques Lecoq (1921-1999)enacting lecoq through the lens of the cognitive scientific paradigm of enaction. The conversation between these two both uncovers more of the possible cognitive processes at work in Lecoq pedagogy and proposes how Lecoq’s own practical and philosophical approach could have something to offer the development of the enactive paradigm. Understanding Lecoq pedagogy through enaction can shed new light on the ways that movement, key to Lecoq’s own articulation of his pedagogy, might cognitively constitute the development of Lecoq’s ultimate creative figure – the actor-creator. Through an enactive lens, the actor-creator can be understood as not only a creative figure, but also the manifestation of a fundamentally new mode of cognitive selfhood. This book engages with Lecoq pedagogy’s significant practices and principles including the relationship between the instructor and student, identifications, mime, play, mask work, language, improvisation, and movement analysis.

 

Programme

6:30-7:00pm – Registration/Refreshments/Books available for purchase

7:00-7:05pm – Welcome Remarks by Chair, Dr Walter Lim, Associate Professor, NUS English Language & Literature

7:05-7:25pm – Peilin Liang Presentation on Bodies and Transformance in Taiwanese Contemporary Theater

7:25-7:45pm – Graham Wolfe Presentation on Theatre-Fiction in Britain from Henry James to Doris Lessing: Writing in the Wings

7:45-8:05pm – Maiya Murphy Presentation on Enacting Lecoq: Movement in Theatre, Cognition, and Life

8:05-8:35pm – Q and A/Discussion, Moderated by Chair

8:35-9:05pm – Book Sale with Autograph Signing

 

Author Bios

As a researcher, educator, facilitator and translator of theatre and performance, Peilin peilin liangLiang is immensely interested in storytelling through shapeshifting. She received her MA in English from the University of Auckland and her PhD from the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. Prior to her appointment at the National University of Singapore, she was a postdoctoral fellow with the Asian Studies Department at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research interests include (post)colonialism, minor transnationalism, cultural diversity and dynamics of cross-cultural exchange in relation to body training, performance pedagogy, and theatre.

 

graham wolfeGraham Wolfe is an Associate Professor in the Theatre Studies division of the English Language & Literature Department at NUS. He came to Singapore in 2012, having lived for most of his life in Canada. He has also taught at the University of Toronto, where he completed his Masters and PhD in Drama. He also holds a BA (Honours) and B.Ed from Queen’s University, Canada. At NUS, he teaches “Major Playwrights of the 20th Century”, “Theatre and Postmodernism”, and “The Theatre Experience”.

 

maiya murphy Maiya Murphy is a researcher, teacher, deviser, and performer. She began her career as an actor and dancer focused on movement-based training, creation, and performance. Her practical background informs her research on relationships between practice, theory, movement, and the cognitive sciences. She received her BA in Theater Studies from Yale University, trained in Lecoq-based pedagogy at the London International School of Performing Arts (LISPA), and received her Ph.D. in Theatre and Drama from the University of California, San Diego. She also makes theatre with her collective, Autopoetics.

 

 

A Land Imagined – Friday, 30 August 2019

A Land Imagined《幻土》 exposes a side of Singapore that is not commonly known or understood even to Singaporeans, grappling with issues of ethics and identity, and gives audiences a glimpse into the lives of migrant workers, the difficulties they face as well as their hopes and dreams. Touching on the notion of the ‘other’, the film highlights themes of heritage and society, showing migrant workers who are essential to the continual progress of our nation but yet are excluded from our society.

This noir film has won numerous awards, including being the first Singaporean film to win the Golden Leopard prize at the 71st Locarno Film Festival (Switzerland) 2018, as well as the Best Film in the Asian Feature Film Competition at the 29th Singapore International Film Festival – SGIFF 2018.

Free admission with registration:
https://tinyurl.com/emccalandimagined

 

Kent Ridge Alumni Family Day on 17 August 2019

CALLING ALL STUDENTS, STAFF AND ALUMNI!

Kent Ridge Alumni Family Day (KRAFD) on Saturday, 17 August!

Themed Fiesta On the Green, NUS’ biggest homecoming will commemorate Singapore’s Bicentennial, while welcoming home alumni, students, faculty, staff and their families back to the Kent Ridge Campus.

Come be dazzled by the star-studded line-up of celebrity alumni performers including Joanna Dong (Arts & Social Sciences ’04) who came in third in Sing! China 2017.  Other exciting activities include a showcase of autonomous and virtual technologies, hands-on stations at Student Life Fair, and networking at the Faculty booths.  The festivities will culminate in the largest outdoor movie screening on campus of the popular animated film, Smallfoot.

Date:        Saturday, 17 August 2019
Time: 5.00pm – 9.30pm
Venue: NUS University Town
Note: Please note that photography and videography will be carried out throughout the event. The NUS Office of Alumni Relations may use some or all of these images in its print publications, digital platforms and/or marketing channels.  

Book Launch – Hard at Work: Life in Singapore 

Title: Book Launch – Hard at Work: Life in Singapore 

Date: Friday, 1 November 2019

Time: 6:00-8:35 pm

Venue: The Pod, NLB

Organizers: Singapore Research Nexus

RSVP at Eventbrite.

Description

Hard at Work: Life in Singaporehard at work cover

Gerard Sasges & Ng Shi Wen (Editors)
NUS Press

For most of us, work is a basic daily fact of life. But that simple fact encompasses an incredibly wide range of experiences. Hard at Work (2019) takes readers into the day-to-day work experiences of more than fifty working people in Singapore who hold jobs that run from the ordinary to the unusual: from ice cream vendors, baristas, police officers and funeral directors to academic ghostwriters, temple flower sellers, and Thai disco girl agents.

Through first-person narratives based on detailed interviews, vividly augmented with color photographs, Hard at Work reminds us of the everyday labor that continually goes on around us, and that every job can reveal something interesting if we just look closely enough. It shows us too the ways inequalities of status and income are felt and internalized in this highly globalized society.

gerard sasges Gerard Sasges is a historian, educator, and chronicler of everyday life. He is an Associate Professor in the Department of Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore. His work explores the relationship between technology and processes of social, political, economic, and environmental change in Southeast Asia.

 

 

 

 

shi wen ngNg Shi Wen is a photographer, educator, and entrepreneur. She is the founder of Photo Rikiki and has taught at the National University of Singapore and at Singapore’s School of the Arts. Using words and light, she seeks to transcribe stories of people finding their way in a constantly changing city.

 

 

 

 

 

Programme

6:00-6:30 pm – Registration/Refreshments/Books available for purchase

6:30-6:35 pm – Welcome Remarks by Chair, Associate Professor Teo You Yenn, Provost’s Chair & Head of Sociology, NTU School of Social Sciences

6:35-7:35 pm – “Work/Life in Singapore” with Gerard Sasges, Ng Shi Wen, Choo Ruizhi, Nathene Chua, Qistina Ahmad, Samuel Devaraj, and Sutrisno Foo

7:35-8:05 pm – Q and A/Discussion, Moderated by Chair

8:05-8:35 pm – Book Sale with Autograph Signing

A story of 2 sisters and 1 commencement

Commencement signifies the start of a new journey.
FASS celebrates the achievements of 2 of our students – Thilanga Dilum Wewalaarachchi and her sister, Sakunika Vinindu Wewalaarachchi.
Thilanga Dilum was our Valedictorian at Ceremony 10, graduating with a PhD in Psychology and her sister, graduating with a Master of Social Sciences.

This July, we are thankful and relieved not only to have been able to complete our graduate studies, but even more so to have had the rare opportunity to face this phase of our lives, together, as sisters. Looking back today, decked in matching robes and having shared eight years at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) together, it is a little surprising to remember that there was once a time when the prospect of graduating together from FASS would have seemed impossible.

For one thing, we had always opted for completely different subject combinations throughout our secondary and tertiary education – while one of us turned to the study of Literature and Theatre Studies, the other chose to pursue Physics and Chemistry. For another, our parents had very much aspired for us to walk in their footsteps and complete degrees in science and engineering. Being first-generation immigrants with no established paths to follow, enrolling at FASS as undergraduate students marked a significant departure from family tradition and expectations. Now, some nine years later, we are both immensely grateful to have had the privilege to chart our own path and been given by our loved ones the opportunity to take this leap of faith.

Of the many things that we take with us from our graduate training at FASS, the growth in our development as young researchers in particular, has been transformative. NUS places a strong emphasis on producing high quality research. As graduate students, this meant that we had several opportunities over the course of our candidature to work with our supervisors on book chapters and academic manuscripts. We have also been able to attend several workshops and academic conferences where we could network with like-minded individuals and share our research with international colleagues.

FASS gives its students opportunities to embark on independent research projects that are both locally relevant and internationally recognised. We were able to pursue our diverse research passions, exploring the interplay between gender and family, and the impact of childhood bilingualism on language acquisition in Singapore. Doing research at FASS has thus afforded us the freedom to answer questions that matter to Singaporeans, and has equipped us with the tools to disseminate these findings with a global audience.

This year, closing the chapter on our student life after about a decade spent in university, we look forward to starting careers as social scientists in our respective fields. Although our time with FASS has come to an end, we will take the lessons learned during this time, both as academics and as young adults, with us as we commence on our next adventure.

Having faith in further study with NUS FASS

Mr Dean Wang hopes to contribute to a greater understanding of local religions
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By Rachel Tan
Straits Times, Postgraduate Supplement, July 7, 2019

Hagiographies of gods, Buddhist scriptures and Taoist rituals have enthralled Mr Dean Wang since young.

Growing up in a family that practises a mix of Buddhism and Taoism, his interest never wavered but deepened over the years, so much so that he is writing a PhD thesis on the worship of Taoist and Buddhist underworld gods in Singapore. These underworld gods include the Black and White Impermanence Ghosts tasked with escorting souls of the deceased to the underworld.

The thesis is part of his PhD in Chinese Studies at the National University of Singapore. Seeing a lack of research related to Chinese religion in South-east Asia, he hopes to contribute to a greater understanding of local religions.

Since receiving the Enhanced FASS Graduate Scholarship in Chinese Religions in 2015, he has been studying under the supervision of renowned Chinese religion scholar Professor Kenneth Dean, and is the first to conduct an in-depth study of the worship of underworld gods in Singapore.

He also had the opportunity to co-organise the “Second Christian- Taoist Colloquium” with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore last year.

The 31-year-old is now in his final year of studies and will be working with Prof Dean on a new documentation project on local Taoist altars. After graduation, he hopes to embark on overseas postdoctoral research if there are fellowships available. However, he also wants to keep an open mind about his future.

“Any role that allows me to share my knowledge and work on topics related to the local religious scene is good,” he says. “I know that my area of specialisation opens up quite a few opportunities besides the academia.”

He believes that postgraduate courses not only train students to be independent learners, but also help them think critically, speak with precision and act responsibly.

“The emphasis on field work and communicating effectively are soft skills that will never become outdated,” he adds.

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