CFP: [Cultural-Historical] CFP

full name / name of organization: 
David Ashford
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Urban Underground: Literary London Special Issue

In March 1967 International Times, London’s premier ‘underground’
publication was subject to a police raid following a complaint to the
Department of Public Prosecution. In protest against this ‘piece of
classic intimidation’, poet Harry Fainlight roused various staff members
and supporters into staging an impromptu happening, ‘The Death of IT’.
Spilling out from UFO, a nightclub operated by the newspaper,
several ‘pallbearers’ carried a coffin containing Fainlight down
Tottenham Court Road and onto Charing Cross. They were following a route
which would noisily weave through Trafalgar Square and Whitehall
eventually arriving at the Cenotaph to meet an assembled group of
photographers and journalists. In addition to the press this colourful,
traffic disrupting group also attracted the attention of the police.
According to author, musician and one time IT editor, Mick Farren, a
confrontation was avoided by the happening participants escaping into a
tube station, thereby getting off the ‘all too historic streets and
causing the plods a good deal of jurisdictional confusion’. Farren
‘…the underground decanted into the Underground and rode around with
coffin and noise spreading alarm…At first we rode at random, but with a
pigeon-like hippie homing instinct we ended up circling the Circle Line
until we arrived at Notting Hill Gate where we re-emerged into the
surface world and began to wend our way north up Portobello Road, to the
obvious displeasure of the market traders who had just set up for
Saturday, the big business day.’

Farren shows the tube offering a space conducive to the carnivalesque
aims of the happening. The retreat is not so much an admission of defeat,
a loss of the attacking impetus as it is a movement into
psychogeographical ‘play’. The circling and the eventual wormhole-like re-
emergence represent an effective negotiation of various surface-based
restrictions through a non-standard experience of London’s transport
system. The gravitation described suggests that there is perhaps more
than mere ‘semantic coincidence’ linking the word ‘underground’ as a
spatial concept to its role as a cultural signifier.

It was this intersection and its multiple permutations which formed the
focus of Urban Underworld, an international conference held at the
University of Cambridge in September 2006. Responding to the general
subject rubric of ‘London’s social, spatial and cultural undergrounds
from 1825 to the present day’, 18 speakers presented on a variety of
topics including; Jack the Ripper, Quatermass, Iain Sinclair, Mark Auge,
Creep, Alexander Trocchi, Henry Meyhew, narratives of descent, criminal
slang, The Wombles and others. It was hoped that conference would
highlight the unexpected points of overlap between literary, cultural and
historical perspectives of the underground. For this reason a
performative element was also incorporated into the event, which
concluded with a special happening featuring Michael Horovitz, Ian
Patterson, Free Jazz quartet Barkingside and films by Rod Mengham and
Marc Atkins.

In this special edition of the online journal Literary London we hope to
include pieces that expand on papers presented at the conference, but in
addition to functioning as a ‘proceedings’, this collection is intended
to incorporate the latest work in the field by those unable to attend,
and to preserve the multimedia nature of the event, including film and
music from the happening, while encouraging contributors to consider
submitting their essays in innovative format such as video or picture
essays that take full advantage of the extraordinary potential of the
medium of the online journal.

If you wish to participate in this project please email an abstract or
the material itself to David Ashford ( or James
Riley ( by 1 August 2008.

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Received on Sun Jun 08 2008 - 07:22:01 EDT