Material Text Research Forum seminar *ONLINE*

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Date(s) - 19/05/2021
16.00 - 18.00

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Welcome to the second Material Text Seminar of the Material Text Research Forum at the University of Turku!

The Material Text Research Forum (MTRF) is an initiative focusing on bringing together researchers from different backgrounds to explore ‘material text’ in live and online meetings. We hope that the seminars and lectures organised by this Forum will provide new angles for all participants’ research.

Our second seminar is held via Zoom on 19 May 2021, 16.00–18.00 Finnish summer time (1–3 pm UTC). The Zoom link will be sent to participants before the seminar.

Sign up for the seminar here:

Sign-ups close on 16 May 2021.

This time, we will have a single longer presentation of 45 minutes, followed by a 45-minute time slot for open discussion on the intersection of humour and graphic elements.


16.15 pm            Opening words

16.20 pm             Wendy Scase (University of Birmingham):

Graphic Play: Where Materiality and Text Meet?

17.05 pm            Open discussion on the topic

17.50 pm            Closing words

Graphic Play: Where Materiality and Text Meet?

Abstract and points of discussion:

Wordplay is familiar to us all. It occurs in spoken and written language and operates on a spectrum of use ranging from baby babble to everyday linguistic creativity to canonical literary texts. Linguists propose that wordplay is central to language acquisition and literary critics have seen it as central to literariness. The concept of graphic play is currently much narrower. Graphic play is often seen as a feature of typography – where letter-forms and the layout of text on the printed page are used wittily or creatively — and as a phenomenon democratised by electronic media. So, currently, graphic play is seen as a phenomenon where materiality and text meet (graphic play engages the material level of the text’s transmission not just the text alone) but it is mainly recognised as a feature of modern printed or electronic media. I would like to invite consideration of the definition of graphic play and its applications. *How might we define graphic play to make it an enabling concept for research on the intersections of materiality and text in all periods and kinds of literate media? My own contribution to the forum will offer some possibilities illustrated with varieties of graphic play in medieval and early modern English manuscripts.

*Examples of questions that I’d hope we could discuss:

Can we think of decorated manuscript initials as playful (for example, initials involving grotesque figures or human faces) or is playfulness an anachronistic idea?

Is the transmission of text and introduction of variants ever playful?

Is cryptography ever open to consideration as playful?

How about micro-texts such as graffiti and ‘pen-trials’ – is there sometimes an element of play involved?”

Wendy Scase is Emeritus Geoffrey Shepherd Professor of Medieval English Literature at the University of Birmingham.

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