Sally-shakti Willow

Doctoral researcher

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English, Linguistics and Cultural Studies | Department

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I am a doctoral researcher studying utopian poetics and experimental writing under the supervision of John Beck and Georgina Colby.  My research is part practice-based and I receive additional supervision from Kristen Kreider at Goldsmiths.  My first collection of experimental utopian poetics, The Unfinished Dream (a collaborative project with visual artist Joe Evans), was published by Sad Press in October 2016 and my poem Straif was published in the #NousSommesParis anthology from Eyewear Books in November 2016.  

Funding and Awards:

University of Westminster PhD Studentship 2015-2018

Faculty Research Funding £900 for research trip to Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive to access the Theresa Hak Kyung Cha archive, April 2017

Globally Engaged Research Scholarship - £1000 for Naropa Summer Writing Programme, Naropa University, Boulder, Colorado, Summer 2018

I have taught at the University of Westminster throughout each year of my Doctoral Research Studies.

Final Year Creative Writing Project - supervisor for Level 6 Creative Writing students final writing project (2017-2018)

Other Worlds: Fantastic Narratives - Level 6 module examining utopian and fantasy fiction (Spring semester 2017)

Introduction to Literary Studies - tutorials for Level 4 students (2015-2016)

I have been a fully qualified Teacher of English since 2005, teaching in UK secondary schools until 2014.

Utopian Poetics and Experimental Literature

My research focuses on the utopian philosophy of Ernst Bloch and aims to explore its application in understanding modern and contemporary experimental literature, with a particular focus on the work of Korean-American artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951-1982).  I am interested in exploring the ways that Cha’s work engenders or suggests an experience of non-alienation and non-oppression through its content, materiality and formal strategies.  

Taking as a theoretical foundation Ernst Bloch’s utopian philosophy, I explore the utopian poetics of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee (1982) and other text works.  Reading Bloch invites a new reading of the utopian – not as idealised and ideological destination but as the performed experience of non-alienation in progress and as the ‘anticipatory illumination’ of the ‘darkness of the immediately experienced moment’.  Through close reading and engagement with Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee and other text works, I demonstrate how her practice performs a utopian poetics for both the writer and the reader and the various ways in which this is manifested in the texts as material objects.  Beginning with an introduction to the place of the utopian in modern and contemporary critical discourse, I make the case for reading utopia as performance through the philosophy of Ernst Bloch, drawing out connections and contrasts with the aesthetic theory of Theodor Adorno. 

Having established this critical parameter, I engage closely with Cha’s text works at the levels of language, page and object.  First examining the performance of utopian poetics in Dictee’s use of metaphor and metonymy; then exploring Dictee’s material processes of enunciation – the ways that it communicates as a material object in codex form; and finally analysing Cha’s mail art work Audience Distant Relative and her performance Reveillé dans la Brume (Awakened in the Mist) (both 1977) in terms of the gestural responses they elicit from their audiences.  In each case, contemporary poetic theory and the growing field of recent Cha scholarship inform my argument. 

The thesis is interwoven with my own creative and poetic responses to the research themes in the form of poetry, collage, performance and sound-works.

Chapter Titles

Chapter 1: Utopian Poetics in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee

Chapter 2: Dictee’s Material Processes of Enunciation

Chapter 3: Utopian Poetics as Embodied Performance    

The Contemporary Small Press

I am also the research assistant for the Contemporary Small Press project co-ordinated by Leigh Wilson and Georgina Colby for the Institute of Modern and Contemporary Culture at the University of Westminster.  My responsibilities include researching and publishing articles on the Contemporary Small Press website, publishing reviews of small press titles by a pool of voluntary reviewers, maintaining public contact via the website, Twitter and Facebook accounts, publicising and promoting the range of events organised by the project, and analysing the impact of the project. 

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