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Durham University

Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

The Minimalist Literary Aesthetic and Current Forms of Communication in the English Language

31st August 2016, 17:30 to 18:30, Alington House, James Gilbert (University of Edinburgh)

Part of our Late Summer Lectures series, showcasing cutting edge research from new scholars. Free and open to all, especially members of the public. Join the conversation on Twitter via #LateSummerLectures.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, there has been a significant authorial interest in English literature in minimalism, both in poetry and in prose. Emerging in the poetry of Ezra Pound and the prose of Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway, the minimalist literary aesthetic has carved a unique vein through the twentieth and twenty-first century canons.

This minimalist aesthetic can arguably be seen as a narration of repression, in which narrators and characters express themselves by chronicling seemingly banal physical action and description in order to keep at bay an awareness of a deeper existential anguish that they are unwilling to address, as it would require a re-evaluation of value systems and convenient sources of self-preservation.

This is not a medium that exists solely within the realm of literature however; as early as the invention of the telegraph (a use of language that in Hemingway’s time was often referred to as ‘cablese’), we have sought to economize our use of words and language in expressing instruction, intention and even emotion.
Arguably the most utilized forms of communication in the digital age; text messages, e-mails and tweets all hinge upon a similar economy of words in order to convey a message. What effect has this had on both English literature and our day-to-day utilization of the English language?

If a rapid adoption of minimalism is occurring in both oral and written communication in the English language, it is crucial to consider how this will affect the future of human speech and writing. To consider minimalist language as simply calm and declarative is to undermine the urgency which it implies by its very succinctness. Could we not in fact view its usage as an expression of uncertainty and anxiety? If we can, we must reevaluate its collective employment in communication as belying a period of significant trauma and duress. It may well be the case that we are living in an age of disorientation and disenfranchisement similar in some ways to that experienced by those at the start of the twentieth century during which this minimalist aesthetic emerged.

It will be the purpose of this lecture to explore how we define this current moment and both the literary and communicative minimalism it has cultivated, and how we can understand this further through consideration of historical influence in both of these realms.

Contact latesummerlectures@gmail.com for more information about this event.

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