Nick Hewitt, in memorium

NickHewitt

Nick Hewitt at ASFS 2016 in Adelaide

from Alistair Rolls and Greg Hainge


Greg and I started our journeys at Nottingham University as undergraduates in October 1990. They were days when the university experience was rather different, and I for one, as a first-in-family student from a working-class family was entirely out of my comfort zone. And I couldn’t have been happier. Among all the personalities who made up the French Department at Nottingham in those days (my memories are of academics with brilliant minds and teachers with “stage presence”) few lecturers could command a room better than Nick Hewitt. He was renowned for his dry and cutting wit but, above all, for his ability to fill students with awe while also – and this is a gift – getting his message through purposefully and didactically. I remember going into my final year knowing the department’s professor for his occasional lectures in team-taught literature courses and was surprised by the way that he engaged students in his courses on Céline (I read both Voyage au bout de la nuit and Mort à crédit twice that year, and I suspect that Greg would have done the same) and the popular culture of the Fourth Republic, but also his classes on journalistic French rhythm, which marked me deeply and which I have tried, with less success, to incorporate in my own language classes since. Greg went on to do a PhD on Céline, while I followed my interest in Vian, and we both had Nick as supervisor. It was in those years (1994 to 1998) that I discovered a true kindness that some people may not have suspected beneath the often confrontingly intellectual exterior. He had a reputation for not suffering fools gladly, but he suffered me… And he supported me, often quietly and behind the scenes, and guided me to a successful outcome, something for which I shall be forever grateful. The most complimentary words he ever said about my work were not said to me, but instead to my parents, on the day of my PhD graduation ceremony. They felt more out of place there than I did (and to this day I hesitate as I walk onto university campuses for the first time), and those words meant more to them than he perhaps realized. That was very much a mark of the man.

Of his academic works, I shall always remember The Golden Age of Louis-Ferdinand Céline (Bloomsbury, 1987), France and the Mass Media (Palgrave Macmillan, 1991), which he edited Brian Rigby, which I read as an undergraduate, and his article on La Nausée, “Looking for Annie” (Journal of European Studies, 1982), which was a pioneering study of the novel’s other, non-philosophical side. Lastly, having discussed its progress with him over the years, I am yet to read Montmartre: A Cultural History. I plan to read it now, but it will be with a heavy heart. I owe Nick Hewitt a great deal and I shall miss his mentorship, his wit and his unfailing support.


“Nous voici encore seuls. Tout cela est si lent, si lourd, si triste… Bientôt je serai vieux. Et ce sera enfin fini.”

How else to begin a reflection on the life of Nick Hewitt than with these opening lines of Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s second novel, Mort à credit. Given the fundamentally biological, medical vision of existence that permeates le Docteur Destouches’ literary universe, death is the only possible “vérité de ce monde” (Voyage au bout de la nuit). Given this, given the time that I have spent pondering such matters, thanks to Nick who introduced me to the works of Céline, one might think that news of his passing would be less of a shock, would seem less unreal.

More the fool me, for Bardamu continues his musing on death as follows: “La vérité de ce monde c’est la mort. Il faut choisir, mourir ou mentir. Je n’ai jamais pu me tuer moi”. Death, then, is our only truth, but it is one we attempt to dissimulate by telling stories that pretend this is not so, that there is some way to offset the crushing absurdity of a life thus defined, to laugh in the face of this very bleakest of visions and thus have the will to carry on living.

Now then is a time for telling stories, for remembering fondly how Nick lived and worked according to this kind of principle.

In his academic writing, Nick was an exemplary storyteller with a flair for readability that unfortunately didn’t always rub off on his doctoral students – don’t worry, I’m having a dig at myself, Alistair! His work The Golden Age of Louis-Ferdinand Céline remains to my mind the best critical work on Céline’s novels in the English language; it uncovered archival information never previously published that radically changed the interpretation of some key aspects of Céline’s novels, presented an incredibly rich and complex analysis of the texts that unpacked their deep and irreverent engagement with the (at the time) emergent theory of psychoanalysis, and yet managed to remain very accessible. His biography of Céline published with Blackwell went further still, being meticulous in its attention to detail and scholarly rigour while being a real page-turner.

That he managed so successfully to walk this fine line between erudition, rigour and readability is perhaps due to two things. Firstly, as Alistair notes, he had a reputation for not suffering fools gladly or, to put this slightly differently, he was not afraid to cut to the chase and call a cat a cat. This propensity for brutal honesty could be confronting to say the least: having read through what I thought was the final version of my thesis, I remember him saying to me, “it’s great, but it’s not a thesis”. Having picked myself up from the floor, our subsequent discussion about what precisely that meant remains one of the most valuable conversations I have had for thinking about my own writing and the advice that I provide to my students.

As well as talking and writing straight, though, the other key to the success of Nick’s work is the obvious love of the material that can be felt in his writing. This extends from his early work on Céline, through his mid-career work on other writers whose political positioning provides an alternative history of the inter-war years, perhaps reaching its apogee in his late career work on places in France dear to his heart. As surely befits its subject matter, Colin Jones concludes his review of Nick’s 2017 volume Montmartre: A Cultural History by noting that, “there is pleasure aplenty in this subtle and highly evocative account”. Let us then hope that we will soon have the opportunity to find more pleasure still in the pages of the book on Marseille that Nick was working on. “I’m in the final stages of sending the manuscript for the Marseille book off to the publishers, but, at the moment, it’s more or less on schedule”, he wrote to me in January. And this is wonderful news indeed, because if the stories we tell make life bearable while we are here, they also provide those who survive us, who cared for us and thus mourn us some small consolation when, finally, we can lie no more and must face the truth.

ISFAR sessions at the Australian Historical Association Conference

ISFAR is pleased to announce that it will convene a French Australian Relations stream at the Australian Historical Association’s annual conference, which will be held in Toowoomba, Queensland from 8-12 July 2019. The conference theme this year is ‘Local Communities, Global Networks’. For further details and the Call for Papers, click here.

Please direct any questions to Pauline Georgelin at isfarinc@gmail.com

Ref 2227/15 Research Associate in Digital Humanities, School of Humanities and Communication Arts

The Digital Humanities Research Group (DHRG) at Western Sydney University is one of Australia’s leading and most dynamic inter-disciplinary digital humanities research clusters.

It is currently seeking a doctorally-qualified research associates with background in eighteenth-century literary studies, book history, history or cognate disciplines to work on the Australian Research Council-funded project ‘Mapping Print, Charting Enlightenment: Reinterpreting Eighteenth-Century European Culture through Historical Bibliometrics and Digital, Spatial and Textual Analysis’.

The project builds on the path-breaking ‘French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe’ (FBTEE) database project, which is hosted at Western Sydney. It aims to reconstruct popular reading trends to revise understanding of European enlightenment and the transformational impact of print. The successful applicant will work on a sub-project lasting 18 months entitled: ‘Mapping the French Novel: An Experiment in Academic Crowd-Sourcing’. The role will include designing and leading a six-month experiment in crowd-sourcing; identification and digital curation of key sources; editing and standardisation of digital research data; taxonomic classification of books; and data entry and data analysis.

The successful applicant will participate in the project’s programme of workshops, symposia and international conferences, both in speaking and organisational roles. They will also contribute to the publication of digital and traditional research outputs. These will include both individual and team outputs.

There is a possibility of a relocation package as per the university’s relocation policy.

Position Enquiries: Professor Simon Burrows, email: s.burrows@westernsydney.edu.au

Remuneration Package: Academic Level A $79,656 to $96,237 (comprising Salary $71,865 to $86,824, plus Superannuation, and Leave Loading)

Closing Date: 30 January 2016

Ref 2228/15 Research Associate in Digital Humanities, School of Humanities and Communication Arts

The Digital Humanities Research Group (DHRG) at the Western Sydney University is one of Australia’s leading and most dynamic inter-disciplinary digital humanities research clusters.

It is currently seeking a doctorally-qualified research associate with background in eighteenth-century literary studies, book history, history or cognate disciplines to work on the Australian Research Council-funded project ‘Mapping Print, Charting Enlightenment: Reinterpreting Eighteenth-Century European Culture through Historical Bibliometrics and Digital, Spatial and Textual Analysis’.

The project builds on the path-breaking ‘French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe’ (FBTEE) database project, which is hosted at Western Sydney University. It aims to reconstruct popular reading trends to revise understanding of European enlightenment and the transformational impact of print.

The successful applicant will work on a sub-project lasting 24 months entitled: ‘The Illegal Book Trade Revisited’. The role will involve in interpreting, recording and analysing a wide range of statistical materials on the illegal book trade; editing and standardisation of digital research data; and taxonomic classification of books.

The successful applicant will participate in the project’s programme of workshops, symposia and international conferences, both in speaking and organisational roles. They will also contribute to the publication of digital and traditional research outputs. These will include both individual and team outputs.

There is a possibility of a relocation package as per the university’s relocation policy.

Position Enquiries: Professor Simon Burrows, email: s.burrows@westernsydney.edu.au

Remuneration Package: Academic Level A $79,656 to $96,237 (comprising Salary $71,865 to $86,824, plus Superannuation, and Leave Loading)

Closing Date: 30 January 2016

ASFS/AJFS Postgraduate Prize

ASFS/AJFS POSTGRADUATE PRIZE

The Australian Society for French Studies and the Australian Journal of French Studies are pleased to announce a new co-sponsored ASFS/AJFS Postgraduate Prize.

A prize of $500 will be awarded for the best article (4,000-6,000 words inc. notes) by a postgraduate student on any aspect of French Studies (except French language studies). The prize will normally be awarded annually and the winning article will be published in a ‘miscellaneous’ issue of AJFS.

Applicants must be enrolled in a research higher degree at an Australian university and be a member of ASFS. Articles may be written in English or French and must be presented according to AJFS style guidelines (see the AJFS website at http://www.liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk). They will be assessed by a joint ASFS/AJFS judging committee which may call upon relevant expertise in its deliberations.

The deadline for submissions for the inaugural prize is Friday July 31, 2015. The winner will be announced in December 2015.

Submissions and enquiries relating to the ASFS/AJFS Postgraduate Prize should be directed to ASFS’s Secretary, Dr Tess Do dot@unimelb.edu.au.

Alistair Rolls (President, ASFS)

Brian Nelson (Editor, AJFS)

Job Opening (Casual Tutor)

UTS’s School of International Studies seeks to hire a somebody to teach in their Francophone Studies division. The job entails teaching beginner, intermediate and advanced level French language and culture classes as well as supervising students via distance (email/skype) as they complete research projects (in English) during their study abroad year. Candidates must be willing and prepared to teach in a Francophone-centric program that prepares students to study abroad in France, Quebec and Switzerland. The ability to do research-informed teaching in one or more of the following areas is an asset: visual culture, performance studies, everyday culture, spatial studies. Candidates must have near-native French and English.

For further information or to apply, please contact Julie Robert; Julie.Robert@uts.edu.au or 02 9514 1287.

AFTV/FATFA Conference Program July 25-26, 2014

The AFTV/FATFA conference program has now been finalised. The conference theme is, “VIVRE LE FRANÇAIS AU 21E SIECLE: TRANSITION, INNOVATION, COLLABORATION” and runs from 25 to 26 July at the University of Melbourne. See below for the program or for more details http://www.aftv.vic.edu.au/component/content/article/35-professional-learning-2014/316-2014-aftvfatfa-conference.html 

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