Liminal London: Real and Unreal Spaces of the 20th Century Metropolis

Friday 21 February 2020, 9.30am – 6pm

Keynes Library, Birkbeck School of Arts, 43 Gordon Sq, London WC1H 0PD

A one-day symposium exploring real and unreal spaces of London in the twentieth century. Followed by a drinks reception, music and poetry.

Tickets fully booked – if you would like to join the waitlist, please email

Keynote speaker: Dr Joseph Brooker

Convenors: Jo Cottrell and Alistair Cartwright

In his book The Weird and the Eerie, Mark Fisher discusses a short story from 1911 by HG Wells, ‘The Door in the Wall’. The door of the title is a passage, a threshold between two worlds: between the ‘low class streets’ of a certain part of West Kensington, and a place of strange beatitude and languor, a garden of sorts, where objects and beings are clothed in an atmosphere of ‘translucent unreality’. It is this sense of unreality that haunts the main character of the story and which leads Fisher to propose that ‘the Real does not feel real’.

This one-day symposium examines the existence of heterotopic sites and other spaces straddling the real and the unreal throughout London in the twentieth century. Papers will examine spaces that exist between the public and the private, and the heteroclite communities that have gathered there, considering how such spaces have fostered modes of cosmopolitan life, and helped overcome – or alternatively reinforced – inequalities of race, class, gender and sexuality.



With papers by:

Mara Arts (Birkbeck, Film and Screen Media) — Popular newspapers and films as creators of liminal space in interwar London

Jo Cottrell (Birkbeck, History of Art) Cabaret as panacea. Vorticist women and the Cabaret Theatre Club

Prof. Mark Crinson (Birkbeck, ASSC Director) — How to live in Britain: Accommodating Indian Students in Post-War London

Will Jennings (Artist and Writer) — on the Liminal space of the Thames foreshore

Dr. Sam Johnson-Schlee (London South Bank University, Lecturer in Human Geography) — Revenge Fantasy of the River Thames!

Robert Murray (Independent Author & Editor of the Lewisletter) — Vortex: Notting Hill – The Dynamic of Reconstruction in Wyndham Lewis’s Rotting Hill

Chris Roberts (Author of Cross River Traffic: A History of London’s Bridges) — The B223 and the kaleidoscope of possibility: the idealistic squats of Railton Road in the 1970s

Bettina Siegele (University of Innsbruck, Faculty of Architecture) — JG Ballard and the Pineal Eye


Our keynote speaker Dr Joseph Brooker is Reader in Modern Literature at Birkbeck, University of London. He is the author of Joyce’s Critics (2004), Flann O’Brien (2005), Literature of the 1980s (2010) and Jonathan Lethem and the Galaxy of Writing (2020), and has acted as guest editor for special issues of Journal of Law & Society, New Formations, Textual Practice and Critical Quarterly.



For enquiries and wait-list please email

This symposium is generously supported by the London Art History Society (LAHS) and the Architecture Space and Society Centre (ASSC), Birkbeck.