PJ Harvey's lyrical lyrics: The incantatory mode of "Let England Shake" (2011)

Schuhmaier, Sina

Document Type: Conference presentation
Year of publication: 2023
Conference title: Musiklit23, Probing the Borderland Between Popular Music and Literature
Location of the conference venue: Reims, France
Date of the conference: 09.06.2023
Related URLs:
Publication language: English
Institution: School of Humanities > Anglistik II - Anglistische Literatur- u. Kulturwissenschaft (Lusin 2015-)
Subject: 820 English literature
Abstract: PJ Harvey holds a status comparable to other canonised singer-songwriters such as Leonard Cohen or Patti Smith – critically acclaimed, more auteur than pop- or rockstar, and situated in the borderland between popular music, (visual art,) and literature. In the case of Harvey, this perception has only increased in recent years with her publication of two volumes of poetry (2015, 2022) and release of the album Let England Shake (2011). The literary resonances of the album did not go unnoticed, added by a thematic focus on Englishness and the First World Warwhich invited the comparison with British war poetry. While assessments of the literariness of Harvey’s lyrics are inevitably bound up with Western Romantic paradigms of authenticity and artistic value, a literary studies approach towards Let England Shake proves highly productive. Let England Shake abounds with intertextual and intermedial references – amongst them several samples, as well as references to folk song lyrics, to soldiers’ and civilians’ accounts of war, and to poetry. These are not merely quoted but rendered as ritualistic, lyric speech in Harvey’s incantatory mode of lyric invocation. If the lyric, according to Jonathan Culler (2015), is a form which invites reperformance through its aesthetic features, Harvey imbues the texts she invokes with ritualistic and performative potential. When read within the album’s wider concern with Englishness, this strategy confronts a static discourse of the nation with a plethora of re- awakened ghostly voices, a regenerative ambiguity which ‘lets England shake.’

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