‘David Jones: Christian Modernist?’ – St Anne’s College and Regent’s Park College, Oxford, 10-13 September 2014

 ‘My “method” is merely to arse around with such words as are available to me until the passage in question takes on something of the shape I think it requires & evokes the image I want. I find, or I think I find, the process almost identical to what one tries to do in paintin’ or drawin’” [Letter from David Jones to Desmond Chute, 29 December 1952].


After many years as a marginal figure at the edges of modernism, this conference offered scholars and enthusiasts the opportunity to ‘shape’ a new image of the Anglo-Welsh poet and painter, David Jones, for the coming generation. As the comment from the letter indicates, Jones thought of himself as a multimedia artist; he employed the same ‘method’ – the scare quotation marks suggesting a scepticism as to whether his approach could be construed as a methodology – in the poetic arts as in the visual arts. The conference itself reflected Jones’s status as a multichannel and interdisciplinary artist and included: an exhibition of visual works by Jones and other artists, curated by Noel White; a screening of the documentary ‘David Jones: Between the Wars: The Years of Achievement’ by Derek Shiel and Adam Alive; an introduction to the upcoming adaption of In Parenthesis by the Welsh National Opera; and a communal viewing of little-seen archival footage of David Jones and the Welsh Nationalist and poet, Saunders Lewis, unearthed by Exeter PhD student, Jasmine Evans.


While the richness and the depth of the insights into Jones’s work throughout the conference is impossible to capture in a single post, four key themes arose across the keynotes and panels. First, the relationship between Jones’s visual art and poetry was a major interest. Anna Johnson, for instance, used examples from Jones’s poetic practice to elucidate the imagery of his great watercolour, ‘Aphrodite in Aulis’.   Keynotes by both Dr Anne Pryce-Owen and Dr Alison Milbank offered reflections on Jones’s ‘Flora in Calix Light'; the former outlining her personal struggles with the implications of the visual imagery and the latter offering Jones’s painting as an example of the theological technique of defamiliarization that, Dr Milbank argued, is a helpful way of considering Jones’s oeuvre as a contribution to theological discussion.


Secondly, theological considerations were at the forefront of a number of talks. In addition to Dr Milbank’s talk, Professor Paul Fiddes, in his key note, offered Jones’s Maritain-inspired notion of sacrament as an opportunity for redefining the relationship between modernism and the post-modern. As a supplement to Professor Fiddes’s theoretical perspective and selection of Maritain as a source of theological insight in and for Jones, panel talks by Jamie Callison and Freddie Everett offered historically-informed considerations of the way in which another of Jones’s chief theological influences – Maurice de la Taille – influenced his sacramental thought and the ramifications of this for repositioning Jones in relation to cultural modernism.


Thirdly, Jones’s specifically literary achievements were also well-represented. The conference opened with a lecture from a practising poet, Micheal O’Siadhail, who drew attention to the, not untroubled, relationship between Jones as a poet and his readers. Various panel sessions responded to this with talks by Dr Matthew Sperling and Professor Steve Matthews reviewing the role of David Jones’s late work in the context of British small poetry presses and the influence that the Agenda editions of his work had upon avant-garde poetry in Britain. One particularly keen reader of David Jones, in this context, was the poet Geoffrey Hill; a writer whose work testifies to the vitality of Jones’s legacy and the nature of the Hill-Jones relationship was considered by Dr Paul Robichaud and Dr Johnathan Wooding in the final panel of the conference. Earlier in proceedings, Dr Hester Jones had offered a fascinating insight into an alternative trajectory for Jones’s poetry, citing the influence of readings of The Anathemata on a tradition of British spiritual or religious verse taken up in the work of Elizabeth Jennings and Peter Levi, among others.


These approaches look forward to Jones’s ongoing influence on British poetry but the fourth and final key theme of the conference placed Jones firmly within the historical and literary­critical context of the first half of the twentieth century. Professor Tom Dilworth – whose forthcoming biography of Jones is keenly anticipated by all scholars of this remarkable creative artist – illuminated the elusive figure of the early David Jones through reference to the topics of discussions he enjoyed with a close circle of friends in 1930s; a number of these insights were illuminative for not only Jones scholarship but also the work of the ‘Modernism and Christianity’ project more widely. While Professor Tom Dilworth offered much needed historical context, Dr Erik Tonning set out a re-conceptualization of David Jones as a cultural modernist that both drew on and enriched existing critical paradigms.


These four key themes: the relationship between visual and poetic art, the intersections between religion and literature with particular reference to the sacramental, the poetic traditions inspired by Jones’s work, and the place of his contribution within existing historical and critical paradigms provide important areas for future exploration within David Jones studies. It is hoped that a volume of critical essays based on the work shared at this conference will provide a firm point of reference for future Jones scholars.




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ART IN BATTLE: Conference in Bergen, 14-16 August 2014

We are pleased to announce this conference, which is a collaboration between the “Modernism and Christianity” project and KODE (the Bergen Art Museum), in preparation for an exhibition of Nazi-era art due to open in KODE, March-August 2015. The conference is open to the general public. Please contact KODE ( to purchase tickets (lunch and refreshments included). Follow the link below for the full programme:



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Conference: “David Jones: Christian modernist?” Oxford, 10-13 September 2014

This conference, which is a collaboration between the Modernism and Christianity project and the Centre for Christianity and Culture at Regent’s Park College, Oxford, is now open for registration. Please see the “Events” list on this website, or go to our home page and follow the link from there to the full CFP and registration form.

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Erik Tonning: Modernism and Christianity monograph

Research Director Erik Tonning has published his monograph on the project topic, called (what else!) Modernism and Christianity.

Book description from the publishers’ website:
Modernism and Christianity is about the formative and continuing impact of Christianity upon the cultural movement known as Modernism. It defends the view that any theoretical, historical, or critical discussion of Modernism that neglects or minimises that impact is inevitably flawed. The whole field of Modernism Studies should thus be re-thought in accordance with the insight that the role of Christianity is intrinsic to any coherent account of Modernism. The book establishes ‘Modernism and Christianity’ as a distinct field of study, and undertakes case studies of six authors in their historical context: James Joyce, David Jones, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, W. H. Auden, and Samuel Beckett.


Sample chapter download:

Back-cover blurbs:

“This is that rare thing: a truly revisionary critical study of Modernism. For the past half century, the role of Christianity in Anglo-Modernist literature has been played down as irrelevant in a secular age. But the presence of Christian imagery, iconography, and dogma in shaping Modernist texts cannot be ignored. In provocative and persuasive chapters on Joyce and David Jones, on Eliot, Pound and Auden, and finally on Beckett, Erik Tonning shows the way to a more nuanced, more just understanding of the Modernist ethos.”
– Marjorie Perloff, Professor Emerita of English at Stanford University, USA

“The author brilliantly sustains a provocative thesis, that the whole field of studies in Modernism needs to be re-thought from the perspective of the impact of Christianity on this movement. With a rare ease and expert range of reference, Dr Tonning combines a sensitivity to the theological tradition with original research into the modernist writers he selects. This exciting and erudite study will be similarly transformative for both literary criticism and historical theology of the twentieth century.”

– Paul Fiddes, Professor of Systematic Theology, University of Oxford, UK

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Erik Tonning: Article on Samuel Beckett and Christian Iconography

Erik Tonning has published an article called ‘The Christ disbelieved by Beckett: Christian iconography in Samuel Beckett’s work’, in the fine collected volume The Crossings of Art in Ireland (eds. C. Armstrong, B. Boyce and R. Moi). Here is a link:

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Matthew Feldman: Ezra Pound’s Fascist Propaganda, 1935-45

Congratulations to Matthew Feldman on his groundbreaking monograph on Ezra Pound’s propaganda activities seeking to evangelise on behalf of the ‘political religion’ of fascism. Feldman’s research draws on an unprecedented range of untapped archival materials. Here is the link:

Publishers’ book description:
Often dismissed as simply ‘bad’ or ‘mad’, the nature of Ezra Pound’s fascist propaganda has been much discussed, but far less well understood to date. In consequence, the extent of Pound’s activism has been wildly underestimated; there are, for example, thousands of pro-Axis radio items during WWII. These manuscripts, extending to extensive propaganda strategies and a dozen pseudonymous names, collectively reveal a modernist author far more engaged with the Axis war effort than has been previously acknowledged. Feldman’s ‘new historicist’ approach argues that Pound was a committed, influential and significant Anglophone propagandist for Mosley’s BUF, Mussolini’s Italy and finally, Hitler’s Germany. Through close analysis of historical context and an approach to Pound’s fascist activism through the lens of ‘political religions’ theory, Ezra Pound’ Fascist Propaganda, 1935-1945 challenges conventional wisdom on this canonical modernist by finding Pound to be a leading propagator of the ‘fascist faith’.

Pre-publication praise:

“With great clarity and erudition, Matthew Feldman changes how Pound must henceforth be read. On the basis of thousands of previously unused sources, not only does the extent of Pound’s fascist commitment become unequivocally clear but the proximity of his political views to his poetry becomes equally undeniable. This is a major work of new historicist literary scholarship which deserves a wide readership across the humanities.”
– Dan Stone, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK

“For the first time we learn from Matthew Feldman’s lively study how Pound supported himself during the war years. Far from an eccentric voice, Pound was a major English-language propagandist for the regime. Using hitherto untapped MI5 and FBI files, Feldman shows that Pound’s radio speeches ran into thousands of items, from speeches to squibs. We have taken Pound’s remark that the propaganda he produced was his own as meaning he did not follow any Fascist ‘party line.’ We could imagine that Pound’s fascism was as heterodox as his economics. In fact Pound’s propaganda responded directly and consciously to Fascist politics in Italy, following closely imperatives he discussed with members of the government. This book changes forever how we read Pound by bringing thousands of new documents into Pound’s total body of work.”
– Professor Alec Marsh, Muhlenberg College, USA

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Matthew Feldman: Article on Soviet Political Religion

Here is a link to an article by Matthew Feldman that originated as a talk in the “Modernism and Christianity” seminar series:

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Jonas Kurlberg: Article on “The Moot”

Jonas Kurlberg, who is a PhD-student in the “Modernism and Christianity” project, has published an article entitled ‘Resisting Totalitarianism: The Moot and a New Christendom’ in Religion Compass, vol. 7, issue 12, 2013. Kurlberg’s article offers an overview of the existing secondary literature as well as a considerable range of untapped archival materials on this influential Christian think-tank. He argues persuasively that The Moot was no totalitarian project, but rather an attempt by a group of ecumenically-minded intellectual Christians to grapple with the tensions of modernity and the challenge of contemporary ‘political religions’ that set themselves up as rivals to a future reaffirmation of Christian culture. Here is a link:

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LIVES2: Symposium on saints’ lives and their reception in Tarquinia, Italy, 28 November-1 December 2014

This symposium was organised by Professor Roy Tommy Eriksen at the University of Agder, Norway. Dr Erik Tonning was kindly invited, and presented a paper entitled ‘”The Friendship of this World is Fornication Against Thee”: Samuel Beckett reading St Augustine’.

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Samuel Beckett and the BBC. One-day symposium, 13 September 2013.

This one-day symposium organised by Matthew Feldman and Erik Tonning and kindly hosted by Regent’s Park College, Oxford, examined the cache of archival materials on Beckett at the BBC Written Archives in Caversham. Papers were pre-circulated in draft form, and the intention is to publish a volume of essays on this little-explored topic. The day featured contributions from Matthew Feldman, Erik Tonning, David Addyman, Peter Fifield, Dirk Van Hulle, Pim Verhulst, Paul Stewart, Steven Matthews, Melissa Chia, Catherine Laws and Elsa Baroghel.

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