Beyond Speech: Silence and the Unspeakable across Cultures

The international conference Beyond Speech: Silence and the Unspeakable across Cultures took place in the SALC Graduate School on 8th May 2015, thanks to generous funding from artsmethods@manchester, the Alliance Française, and the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst. Organised by Mary Farrelly (Spanish), Eleanor K. Jones (Portuguese), and Joe Twist (German), the conference brought together speakers from a broad range of institutions, backgrounds, and disciplines to explore the ways in which silence, the ineffable, and the unspeakable are represented, interpreted, and subverted across different cultures and cultural media. The papers presented covered a diverse range of fields including literature, music, film, art history, and drama, and several papers were of specific interest to scholars working in Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies.
Keynote speaker Dr Tom Whittaker (University of Liverpool) kicked off the day with ‘Listening to Silence in Contemporary Spanish Cinema.’ The talk explored Spain’s recent ‘cine de silencio’ with special attention to the films Las olas (2011) and La mujer sin piano (2009). While making use of these examples from the world of Spanish cinema, Whittaker’s rich and engaging talk also tapped into themes and ideas that spoke to a wide range of disciplines and cultures, creating a common ground for the papers and discussions that followed.
Dr Ignacio Aguiló chaired one of the first panels of the day, ‘Beyond Words in the Hispanic World,’ which specifically explored the limits of language and silence in Spain and Latin America. Dr Óscar Salgado Suárez (Birkbeck College, London) opened the panel with a discussion of Julián Ríos’s Larva (1983) and how this monumental novel works asliberature, a literature that plays with the limits of language to free itself from rigid narrative strategies. Dr Ricki O’Rawe (Queen’s University Belfast) followed with an illuminating paper on Borges and the potential of poetry. Ricki’s paper was followed by Emily Baker’s (University of Cambridge) ‘“Shaking Hands Can Be Like Disarming a Bomb”: Division by Language, Reconciliation through Touch in The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez.’ The final speaker, Manus O’Dwyer (University of Santiago de Compostela) returned to poetry with his study ‘José Ángel Valente and the Limits of Silence.’
Representing lusophone studies were Anneliese Hatton (University of Nottingham) and David Bailey (University of Cambridge), who shared the panel ‘Unspeakable Subalternities,’ chaired by Professor Hilary Owen. Anneliese’s paper, ‘Overcoming the Insuperable: Strategies of Representing the Subaltern,’ drew on her doctoral research on Portugal’s ‘semiperipherality’ to explore the limitations and pitfalls of the notion of ‘subalternity’ as category of identity. Her study set the scene well for David’s paper, ‘Uttering the Unutterable: The (D)enunciation of Deviant Sexuality in the Naturalist Novels of the Portuguese Fin de Siècle,’ which made use of Foucauldian theory to examine Portuguese literary pathologisations of homosexuality.
The final two panels of the day, ‘Articulating Atrocity’ and ‘Beyond Page, Beyond Stage,’ featured three Hispanic-centred papers. Imogen Bloomfield’s (University of Hull) paper, ‘Ils ne sont pas: Spanish Civil War Photographs of Child Mortality,’ added to the conference’s interdisciplinary nature through its focus on the medium of posters. By bringing the images into dialogue with Marianne Hirsch’s writing on family photography, Bloomfield was able to theorise the affective response generated by these emotive images of child casualties and analyse how they function as propaganda. Manchester’s own Dr Esther Gómez-Sierra headed up the second of these final panels with her paper ‘Lope de Vega and Money: The Unspeakable Truth,’ which explored the relationship between love and money in Lope de Vega’s La dama boba. Her study was followed by Lucy Bollington’s (University of Cambridge) ‘Writing without Writing: The Aesthetic Philosophy of Mario Bellatin,’ an examination of the eponymous author’s use of narrative to generate silence.
The interdisciplinary nature and friendly atmosphere at the conference was productive for both attendees and organisers, providing a rigorous yet informal arena for the sharing and discussion of ideas. The organisers would like to extend particular thanks to Dr. Jérôme Brillaud, head of the SALC Graduate School, for his support of the event, as well as our sponsors, chairs, speakers, and other attendees.
For more information on the programme, and photographs of the day, visit

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