Tagged / Hywel Dix

The Friday Prof-ile: Hywel Dix

Welcome to The Friday Prof-ile – a chance to get to know some of our recently appointed Professors and Associate Professors a little better. Every Friday, we’ll be asking a different person the same set of questions to get an insight into their life, work and what makes them tick. 

Hywel Dix sat in an armchair

Hywel Dix

This week, we’re chatting with Associate Professor in English, Hywel Dix… 

  • What are your research interests? What made you want to study these areas?  

Since an early age I have been interested in the relationship between literature, culture and political change in contemporary Britain, and this is the main focus of my work. I have published on this topic very extensively, most notably in Postmodern Fiction and the Break-Up of Britain (2010), After Raymond Williams: Cultural Materialism and the Break-Up of Britain (Second Edition, 2013) and Multicultural Narratives: Traces and Perspectives, co-edited with Mustafa Kirca (2018)My broader research interests include modern and contemporary literature, critical cultural theory, authorial careers and autofiction. My monograph about literary careers entitled The Late-Career Novelist was published by Bloomsbury in 2017 and an edited collection of essays on Autofiction in English was published by Palgrave in 2018.

  • What has been your career highlight to date?  

Being invited to give the keynote address at the annual conference of France’s Société d’Etudes Anglaises Contemporaines, Paris Diderot University, in 2013. This might have been trumped by my invitation to give the keynote at a conference on Paulo Freire and Raymond Williams Centenary: Sparks of Transformation, held by UNICAMP, Sao Paulo in Brazil in 2021 – but this could only be given online due to the pandemic, so it was a bit less glamorous.

  • What are you working on at the moment?  

I recently completed a study entitled Compatriots or Competitors? Welsh, Scottish, English and Northern Irish Writing and Brexit in Comparative Contexts for publication this yearI am currently working on a project about autofiction and cultural memory.

  • If you weren’t an academic, what would you be doing?

Before working at Bournemouth University I was a Development Officer at Wales Millennium Centre, the largest theatre and arts centre in Britain outside London, and if I were not an academic I would probably still be working in arts development in some capacity. 

  • What do you do to unwind? 

The 3 Rs: reading, writing and running. A number of BU colleagues sponsored me in the London Marathon in 2018.

  • What’s the best thing about Bournemouth? 

Before I was interviewed at the university, I had never been to Bournemouth in my life and was as guilty as anyone of holding the stereotyped view of it as a place of retirement. The university has really helped change that image and made the population here much more diverse.

  • If you could pick any superpower, what would it be and why?  

I don’t really get the super hero genre. There’s no replacement for working hard. I wouldn’t mind being able to run a bit faster though.

  • If you were stranded on a desert island, what one luxury item would you take with you? 

My collection of football memorabilia of the past 100 years or so – but it might need dust covers.

  • What advice would you give to your younger self? 

I was very serious and introverted when I was younger and would probably say: lighten up. 

Conversation article: Fiction can change the world – five books that made a difference

Dr Hywel Dix writes for The Conversation about the ways fiction novels can influence social change…

Fiction can change the world: five books that made a difference

Hywel Dix, Bournemouth University

Activist Jack Monroe recently used Terry Pratchett’s “boots theory” to explain the vicious circle for people on low incomes only being able to afford clothing that constantly wears out. Monroe has now used the Vimes index (named after a Pratchett character) of inflation to persuade the Office of National Statistics to review how it calculates the cost of living.

Raymond Williams’s classic 1977 book Marxism and Literature broke new ground arguing that fiction could influence social change. Here are five contemporary examples.

1. Bitter Fruit (Achmat Dangor, 2001)

In this novel, a bi-racial South African civil servant comes face-to-face with the white member of the state security forces who had raped his wife during apartheid. The book explores the consequences of political violence for both perpetrators and victims. There are no easy winners, pointing to the need for reconciliation – even when this feels impossible.

Reviewing the novel, South African academic Ronit Frenkel has shown that Bitter Fruit raised through fiction the questions South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission tried to answer for the whole country after apartheid. Nelson Mandela was said to be a fan and Dangor went on to head the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

2. Then We Came to the End (Joshua Ferris, 2007)

In Joseph Heller’s anti-war classic Catch-22, the pilots joke while one by one they get shot down. The combination of bleak humour with a serious message played out numerous times throughout the 20th century. Franz Kafka had already used the same logic in The Trial, where Josef K is executed for an offence he never understands. Ferris’s novel is an heir to both of these. It is set in the late 1990s among a group of advertising executives as they lose their jobs. But although it was written immediately before the financial crisis of 2007-08, it can’t help but feel like a tragicomic social critique of it.

As the characters are laid off, their dreams shrivel up and their solidarity collapses. Researcher Alison Russell describes the tension between the office workers’ desire for security being in conflict with their desire for individual achievement in Then We Came to the End. It brings to mind Pastor Niemöller’s poignant words about standing up for others, or being left with no one to defend you. It comes across as a stark warning of what happens when corporate culture is left unchecked.

The story of Martin Niemöller.

3. Elena Knows (Claudia Piñeiro, 2007)

Argentinian author Claudia Piñeiro’s fifth novel to appear in English is narrated by Elena, a 63-year-old woman with Parkinson’s disease. She measures out her day through doses of medication, between which, she knows, she will barely be able to move. And yet this is not the most interesting things about Elena Knows. Her daughter Rita has died, apparently killing herself. When no one is willing to investigate, she calls for assistance on Isabel – a woman whom she and Rita had earlier dissuaded from having an abortion.

What ensues is a subtle and skilful exploration of how far women have the right to control their own bodies. This has been of particular importance in Argentina, where Piñeiro was at the forefront of the campaign to legalise abortion as recently as 2020. Its readership was huge by South American standards – Piñeiro is the third most widely translated Argentinian writer ever – and its effect has been dramatic.

4. Girl, Woman, Other (Bernadine Evaristo, 2019)

There are so many good things about this book it’s hard to know where to begin. Some readers would have been familiar with the struggles of African-American women through the work of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. Black British women writers, rightly or wrongly, had not received as much attention. Until now.

The wide varieties of speech used by Evaristo’s women from many different backgrounds makes Girl, Woman, Other a joy to read. Along the way it debunks a number of mistakes about ancestry and race. And the way it handles the often-fraught politics of trans rights is both sensitive and accessible, cutting through to a far more mainstream audience than would normally consider this still-emerging issue.

5. Broken Ghost (Niall Griffiths, 2019)

This is Brexit fiction, or BrexLit. The rapidly changing political landscape of the past ten years has been just too tempting for authors to ignore, but Brexit novels are often tame and twee. Invariably they portray educated cosmopolitan types thrown into disarray. That is, BrexLit often reinforces the social divisions it should be the job of the writer to break down.

Griffiths does something different. His cast of characters – a “slut”, a “junkie” and a “thug” – are worlds away from the middle-class lives of most Brexit novels. When he takes readers to a hippie commune up a Welsh mountain to see what happens to them, they might end up understanding the world from somebody else’s perspective. In healing the divisions in Britain post-Brexit, the importance of this book can hardly be overstated. This is why in the desert of Brexit fiction, Broken Ghost is a novel oasis.The Conversation

Hywel Dix, Associate Professor in English, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.