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T. E. Hulme Colloquium: Revisiting Hulme on the 130th Anniversary of his Birth
Saturday 14 September, Wolfson College, Oxford

Wolfson College and the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing hosted an one-day international colloquium on the influential early twentieth-century poet, philosopher, critic and political commentator T. E. Hulme (1883-1917). This event, the first of its kind, brought together some 30 scholars and students of Hulme.

Following introductory remarks by Christos Hadjiyiannis, who welcomed delegates on behalf of Wolfson College and its President, Professor Dame Hermione Lee, and OCLW and Rachel Hewitt, the opening plenary speaker, Patricia Rae (Queen’s University, Canada), presented new research on Hulme and George Orwell. Orwell knew of Hulme’s work (he reviewed Michael Robert’s 1938 biography of Hulme), and Patricia argued convincingly that Orwell’s theory of political language can be productively compared to Hulme’s writings on the uses and effects of language in such texts as ‘Cinders’ and ‘Notes on Language and Style’.

The first panel, entitled ‘Hulme: Contribution and Legacy’, was chaired by Laura Marcus (New College, Oxford). It featured leading critics in the field of literary modernism whose work crosses many disciplinary boundaries: Finn Fordham (Royal Holloway) offered a reading of Hulme’s ideas about abstraction vis-à-vis Edmund Husserl’s discussion of geometry; Alex Thomson (Edinburgh) situated Hulme’s refutation of vitalism and naturalism in ‘A Notebook’ within a broader philosophical discussion concerning the right object of philosophy; Rachel Potter (UEA) speculated how Hulme’s anti-humanism might be read in the context of international rights discourse; and, finally, Rebecca Beasley (Queen’s, Oxford), reflecting on Hulme’s importance in her own work,  asked how Anglophone literary modernism might have looked like had Hulme not lived and made a strong case for his continued relevance. A lively discussion ensued.

The second panel consisted of early-career academics working on Hulme. Oliver Tearle (Loughborough) successfully showed that, as well as an influential political thinker and philosopher, Hulme was an accomplished poet whose small poetic output needs to be brought more fully into a discussion of his overall oeuvre (Oliver argues this point eloquently in his recent book T.E. Hulme and Modernism). Turning to Hulme’s ‘reflexive’ art criticism, Bernard Vere (Sotheby’s Institute of Art) critically discussed Hulme’s ‘gestural criticism’, productively engaging with the many ambiguities in Hulme’s art journalism. Finally, Christos Hadjiyiannis (Wolfson, Oxford) read Hulme’s political anti-romanticism alongside Isaiah Berlin’s critique of romanticism and its notion of positive liberty in ‘Two Concepts of Freedom’, whilst Henry Mead presented his research on Hulme and the New Age circle, offering an enlightening reading of Hulme’s politics in terms of ‘agonistic liberalism’.

For the second plenary session, Hulme’s biographer, Robert Ferguson, and Helen Carr, author of a group biography on the Imagists, gave biographical-themed talks, discussing the pleasures and challenges involved in life-writing, including  detective work,  archival research, and interpreting an author’s work in light of their lived experiences.

The colloquium concluded with the presentation of an online exhibition on the New Age. This was presented by Cathryn Setz (King’s College, London) and curated especially for the event by Matt Huculak (Victoria, Canada/Modernist Versions Project). The exhibition is available here.

A  number of delegates met at the Ashmolean on Sunday morning. Jennifer Johnson (St John’s, Oxford) and Henry Mead gave a guided tour of the art collection in the Ashmolean from a ‘Hulmean’ perspective.

The conference was organised by Henry Mead and Christos Hadjiyiannis with help from Jennifer Johnson and Grace Holtkamp, and with the kind support of Rebecca Beasley and Laura Marcus. It was hosted by Wolfson College, Oxford and was generously supported by Wolfson College, Oxford,  the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing, St Edmund Hall, and the Oxford English Faculty. The organisers would like to express their gratitude to Matt Huculak and Cathryn Setz for their cooperation.


[Header Image: Detail from David Bomberg, In the Hold (1913-14). Oil on canvas, 198 x 256-5 cm. Tate Gallery, London.]

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