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Dr Michael Shallcross at the University of Birmingham

Report on a research talk hosted by the Centre for Modernist Cultures which took place on 31 January 2020 in the Department of English Literature.

On 31 January 2020, Dr Michael Shallcross gave a talk entitled “Alcoholic Epigrams, Modern Marketing, and the Value of Moderation” on the relationship between modern marketing, the drinks industry, and alcoholic epigrams.

Writers have been getting uproariously drunk, and finding witty ways to reflect on the experience, since the days of the classical symposium, but only with the advent of modern commercial marketing has this pursuit become a monetisable resource, both for the writers themselves and for a drinks industry that seeks to trade on their cultural cache.

Recruiting a wide range of bibulous wits, from Kingsley Amis, to Brendan Behan, G. K. Chesterton, Wyndham Lewis, Flann O’Brien, and George Orwell, Michael Shallcross explored the tension between amusement and instruction that consistently underpins the epigrams of literary drinkers of the modern period, while demonstrating how this aphoristic treasury has been raided and manipulated by more recent marketing strategists. In review, Michael suggested that the contemporary drinker might marshal the dialogic ethos of the alcoholic epigram as a bulwark against the anti-ethos of the alcohol commercial, in order to cultivate a subversive taste for moderation.

Michael is an independent researcher, based in York. His work explores the tensions between popular and 'high' culture that have shaped the literary landscape of Britain from the 19th century to the present day, with a particular focus on the disruptive role of parody and satire in this contest of values. 

His first book Rethinking G.K. Chesterton and Literary Modernism: Parody, Performance, and Popular Culture, was published by Routledge in 2017. He is currently working on a second book for Routledge, on the parodic Devil in British post-Enlightenment culture.