Café Culture Series: London Through Different Eyes: Reading Travel Writings
London Through Different Eyes: Reading Travel Writings
On the evening of Wednesday 4th December, Café Culture presented ‘London Through Different Eyes’ to a packed dining room at the Marlborough Arms pub in Bloomsbury. If Dostoevsky wrote of London in 1862, that ‘the beer houses [were] decorated like palaces’, it seemed as if little had changed in 2013 in the convivial chandelier-hung and wood-panelled room. We were delighted with the throng (64 registrations and more on the door), and with the fact that a high proportion of attendees were not affiliated to a UK HEI.
Isabelle Moreau kicked off the event, setting up the key areas of debate in studies of travel writing, especially around questions of the gaze, of who is looking at or speaking about whom, and of failures in communication between those of distinct cultural backgrounds; Isabelle was followed by her PhD student Emma Pauncefort, who introduced us to ‘gastronationalism’, the idea that cultural stereotypes are often expressed through food-related metaphors and jokes: whilst the English are still known as ‘les rosbifs’, 18th century French accounts of the English concentrated on their terrible table manners, gluttony and belching! Next up was SSEES’s Wendy Bracewell, whose focus was on the idea of ‘double vision’ – the seeing of oneself, or one’s culture, simultaneously through one's own eyes and through the eyes of a foreign traveller, which can provoke reactions ranging from humour to outrage, but also self-knowledge, whether acknowledged or not. Last of all, the English amongst us saw ourselves through the amusing if not entirely flattering eyes of Belgrade-born, London-based writer Vesna Goldsworthy, who read her poem ‘West London Afternoon’ from The Angel of Salonika (Salt, 2011; winner of the Crashaw Prize and one of the Times Best Poetry Books for 2011).
Our Chair Roland-François Lack then invited the speakers and audience members to continue discussions over a glass of wine, after which we were brought back together for a final Q & A, in which we discussed what it meant and how it felt to be a Londoner, and the fact that most of us were in some sense looking at the city ‘through different eyes’. Throughout the evening, audience members had been leaving messages via our tablecloths, which had been decorated with jokes, comments and questions on the evening’s proceedings (see photos).
The event was organised by Debbie Martin with assistance from Georgia Panteli and Octavia Bright.
Vesna Goldsworthy’s most recent book is Inventing Ruritania (Hurst, 2013). http://www.hurstpublishers.com/book/inventing-ruritania/
- Isabelle Moreau (UCL French)
- Wendy Bracewell (UCL SSEES)
- Emma Pauncefort (UCL French)
- Vesna Goldsworthy (author of Chernobyl Strawberries)