A serendipitous connection made Rachel Cusk’s visit to the Oxford English Faculty possible – but she could not have been more of a fitting first visitor in what the Faculty hopes will be a lasting development in its events programme. We hope we will be able to look forward to more events which diffuse periodised thinking into wider conversation with today’s literary culture.
If humans had fans like old computers, the room would have been a-whirr throughout the morning. Rachel’s candour and eloquence – and sometimes astounding capacity for truth-telling – sent everyone spiralling into almost palpable coils of thought. The whole graduate cohort performed admirably in engaging with a thinker and writer whose commitment to her art and whose vigorous abstract thinking make her a challenging and rewarding seminar leader in equal measure.
Some of the major topics of conversation included: the organisation of academic literary studies and of creative writing courses in the UK; the putative need to recalibrate literary art towards questions about ‘the way it is to be’; correlative fears of narcissism and loss of self in writing memoir and autofiction; form, particularly as it is grasped intuitively in society; writing as technology, and the centrality of this notion to Rachel’s praxis; the dubious value of reading/serious reading; the experience of writing memoir/autofiction as a woman, particularly as this is refracted through the pressures and expectations of family life.
Rachel’s visit was a memorable date in the English Faculty calendar. I know we will all go on thinking about some of the questions she raised for some time to come.
Isaac Zamet is an MSt student on the Early Modern course. He is interested in all kinds of life writing, as well as contemporary poetry, film and TV. He co-edits the new quarterly magazine The Burner and writes an Instagram ‘column’ about phone notes.