Category Archives: Japan

August activities and Zobel project summer shutdown

Last week I attended an international Summer School at the University of Oxford on Ecoliteracy.

Ecoliteracy is a broad term which refers to a range of different practices and theories focusing on how we interact with the natural world. In our current, rapidly urbanizing western societies, it is increasingly clear that an urgent rethinking of our relationship with nature is required.

I’ve blogged before about the importance of the environment in Zobel’s works, and my experiments at using the branch of literary theory called ecocriticism to address this neglected aspect of his work. I’ve also mentioned my new role at the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) and you can read more about this here..

BiFoR and UoB logos and treeFrom his literature to his interest in Ikebana, the environment and the place of the human being within wider systems is something that urgently needs to be explored and reassessed in Zobel’s work.

The Oxford course was fantastic – the attendees hailed from many different continents and we were encouraged by our excellent teacher Jane Corbett to draw as much on our own experiences as on the theories about the environment that were on our reading list. My colleagues shared their own expertise in fields as diverse as health and safety, waste management, psychiatry, biology, retirement living and teacher training, which made for a rich and stimulating week.

It provided very fertile conditions (excuse the pun) to explore the environment in Zobel and I enjoyed setting my thoughts down on paper for my end-of-course assignment.

As a continuing professional development activity, it was refreshing to once again be the student (I’m not sure that ever stops)!


I also had the pleasure of seeing some Martinican colleagues who were visiting the UK. I took them on a whistle-stop tour of Oxford, and in amongst visiting colleges, they brought me up to date on progress with the Joseph Zobel centenary in Martinique. They were also excited to hear about what the Guardian termed my “Indiana Jones moment” 🙂

Now, it’s back to my desk! I’ll be focusing on drafting my book chapters for the rest of August, and then having a period of annual leave, so I’ll return to the blog in late September – à bientôt!

This Academic Life – June

The end of June is traditionally what we often refer to as “conference season”. I have just returned from speaking on Joseph Zobel at the annual Society for French Studies conference, which was held this year in Wales at the University of Cardiff.

Academic papers are usually about 20 minutes long, with time for questions afterwards from the audience. My conference panel was responding to the theme of “Translating Cultures”, one of the “themes” the conference announced in its call for paper submissions back in 2014 (yup, you need to submit months in advance, so it takes some organizing). My paper was called “Translating Rhythms, Translating Zobel” and I examined the short story ‘Laghia de la mort’ which is about a combat dance, considering it in the light of recent scholarship around Caribbean music and dance, notably by scholar Martin Munro, and also drawing on earlier critics such as the Martinican musicologist Jacqueline Rosemain.

Then I rushed back to Birmingham for the Society of Caribbean Studies annual conference at the cultural centre The Drum. In a happy coincidence, I met a colleague there from Japan, Professor Yoshiko Shibata, who explained to me that she shows the film Rue Cases-Negres to her anthropology students at Kobe University. I’ve blogged before about this project’s (sometimes unexpected) connections with Japan – here’s another one, which reminds us of the value of Zobel as a global ambassador for Martinique.

3 months in… and some thoughts on Japan

I’ve been blogging about Zobel and my activities for three months now. It’s really encouraging to see that the site has had hits from all over the world!

I’ve received great feedback from Zobel’s daughter, Jenny, and the Martinican author Patrick Chamoiseau. I’d like to encourage any other readers to please leave a comment, and help me develop this blog into a helpful tool for others out there with an interest in Martinican literature.

In an unexpected twist, the blog has received over 50 visits from Japan! After I spoke at a Round Table at the Toulouse La Novela public festival, a retired Physics professor in the audience, Jean Léotin, contacted me about a conference he was organising in Martinique.

The prestigious 5th International Symposium on Terahertz Nanoscience took place 1-5 December 2014 in Martinique:

Prof. Léotin felt my work could help his conference delegates to understand the history and culture of the island they were visiting, and kindly added a link to my blog to the conference homepage.

Delegates came from all over the world, with many from Japan (previous Symposia had been held in Japan).

It’s a development I could never have envisaged, but perhaps it’s particularly fitting, as from the late 1960s, Joseph Zobel developed a very strong interest in Japan and Japanese culture (as related in a newspaper article).

As a young student, he had dreamed of studying Art and Architecture, but was refused a colonial scholarship to study a subject which the authorities deemed ‘unsuitable’ for a young man of his social origin, an episode recounted in the semi-autobiographical novel La Fête à Paris, 1953. Remarkably, in his later life, it was the discovery of Japanese art which finally enabled Zobel to pursue this interest. He became trained in the floral art of Ikebana and the art of Shiatsu massage, in addition to studying Japanese garden design.

My project will develop a more thorough exploration of Japanese influences in Zobel’s later work, demonstrating that he is a more exciting, complex, transnational author than critics have previously allowed.