Abstracts for Volume 70 | 2009

Volume 70, Issue 1
Author Title
Michal Kobialka Theater/Performance Historiography: Politics, Ethics, and the Now

The "after theory" syndrome silently renounced historiography as radical thought and substituted a closed, retrospective framework to conceptualize the ontology of theater/performance history. In its postmodern/post-utopian universe, historicizing largely contents itself with connecting facticity and rationality under the pressure of global capitalism and U.S. domination. Realpolitik has become a euphemism for Machtpolitik. In a world whose power politics is programmatically infused with a cynical rhetoric of compassion and inevitability, one is often stuck in the terrain of practical possibility where "realism" is the only mode of operation and action in history. Yet without a critique of the idea of the vitality of the state/profession and without actively seeking an ethical life on behalf of another praxis, history is constrained to participate in the violent narrative of progress to a higher state of evolution. The task of theater historiography is therefore to perturb the notion of the vitality of the state, the institution, and the professions by attending to and nurturing the now—an ethical life based on historiographical self-examination that will always be in reality but not of it.

Anthony Kubiak The Sacred Clade and the Rhizomatic Dis-ease of History

The recent past has seen a shift away from more philosophically complex, theoretically dense approaches to literary criticism (psychoanalysis, deconstruction, phenomenology) in favor of more material or "empirical" (historiographical, historical materialist) approaches to interpretation—a shift away from the aesthetic and toward an ascetic model of reading. But this shift is in fact no shift at all, but merely the logical outcome of a historicist and materialist approach to meaning that has always been in thrall to scientific methodologies. Even structuralist and poststructural readings of texts show signs of this scientific longing for material meanings in the world, a longing that art itself, especially theater, has refused to sanction. We are living, it seems, in a postmaterial world, whose very impossibility suggests infinite possibilities of meaning.

Julie Stone Peters Drama, Primitive Ritual, Ethnographic Spectacle: Genealogies of World Performance (ca. 1890-1910)

This essay attempts to offer a thick history of the turn-of-the-century ritual idea while identifying its relationship to a nexus of formations crucial to ideas about drama and to various performance practices in the twentieth century. In the 1890s works on myth and ritual in comparative religion posed a challenge to the dominant linear and evolutionary historiography of the human, at the same time placing the global primitive at the center of the idea of culture. Advocating a utilitarian theory of art (challenging the Kantian autotelic definition), the period's numerous studies of primitive aesthetics identified drama as the primal art form. The definition of drama, in its newly primitivist guise, expanded to include dance, narration with gesture, and indeed ritual itself. The new attention to ritual coincided with larger shifts in anthropological methodology, captured in the turn to fieldwork (local, presentist, firsthand, thickly descriptive). By reading ritual in these terms, anthropologists could recognize in it a distillation of culture. Early ethnographic film, preoccupied with native dance and ceremony, similarly treated performance as a text for the reading of culture. Moreover, primitive dance and ceremony served in such films as metonymies for the living yet evanescent primitive, whose culture film was to capture before it disappeared forever. Like ethnographic film, the ethnographic exhibit (in World's Fairs and elsewhere) gave primitive performance a central place: in its competing historiographical narratives and in its overarching representation of the performance of culture. For all of these events, primitive performance stood for a set of countermodern and anti-aesthetic attitudes, signifying the modern as the premodern, the global as the local, the mediatized as the live, and the hyperreal as the real. These formations had profound ramifications for modernist aesthetics, for conceptions of world theater and performance in the twentieth-century academy, and for what became the global massculture entertainment industry.

Odai Johnson Unspeakable Histories: Terror, Spectacle, and Genocidal Memory

One of the most violent and influential inaugural mappings of migrational theater in the Western world occurred in the second century BCE, a period of aggressive Roman expansion (into Greece, the Near East, North Africa, and Spain). In one traumatic century Rome circled the Mediterranean in a campaign we would call today genocide. Rough estimates of the casualties place the numbers at 2–3 million. Under conditions that stagger the imagination, the survivors were taken to Rome as slaves, and some carried scarred bodies and scarred memories into the ludic sphere of the Roman theater that celebrated Roman conquests. For four hundred years the acting profession was constituted almost exclusively with victims of foreign wars. The same holds for the writers of the "golden age" of Roman comedy. This essay considers the genocidal memory of one survivor, the playwright Terence, brought to Rome from Carthage as a slave shortly before that city's destruction. Using as a lens a small body of artifacts called curse tablets, I consider how victims of Rome buried their rage, swallowed their history, to erase their former lives. But the erasure was never complete, and the burying of curses invites the agile reader to return to the comic texts and unsilence them, to begin to listen to the rage and memory of the preconquered. Jacques Derrida asked if there was "a history of silence," and exhuming curses and buried rage might begin to unsettle a history of laughter and violent displacement.

Joseph Roach "Unpath'd waters, undream'd shores": Herbert Blau, Performing Doubles, and the Makeup of Memory in The Winter's Tale

Performance and memory share a practice of disguise best described by the word surrogation. Surrogation occurs when more or less plausible substitutes appear in place of the dead, the fugitive, or the banished. Properly disguised, persons can even stand in as surrogates for themselves. Shakespeare's Winter's Tale and Herbert Blau's most Shakespearean essay, "The Makeup of Memory in the Winter of Our Discontent" from The Eye of Prey, elucidate the form and function of surrogation by their reliance on doubles. A venerable tactic of dramatists and producers throughout theatrical history, doubling can mean either standing in for another actor (as in the case of a stunt double) or taking more than one part in the same performance: the first conjoins (two actors on one mask); the second bifurcates (two masks on one actor). Both kinds of doubling figure in the production history of The Winter's Tale and in the makeup of memory as illuminated by Blau. They activate the process of surrogation, which can be seen working in myth and ritual at the supposed origins of theater and in the particular experience of a life devoted to the making of theater and the explication its meanings.

Patricia Ybarra Mexican Theater History and Its Discontents: Politics, Performance, and History in Mexico

This essay suggests that the erasure of such nineteenth-century works as Alfredo Chavero’s Quetzalcóatl from mainstream Mexican theater histories has diminished the importance of theater as a mode of nation-building historiography even as national textbooks and archaeological developments have come to the fore. It also claims that reimagining theater as a form of performance pedagogy is an important step for scholars in the field to take. Ultimately, this essay reveals not merely that Mexican politics are theatrical, or that the theater has served the Mexican state, but that the architects of the Mexican nation thought theatrically from the start.

Daniel H. Foster Sheet Music Iconography and Music in the History of Transatlantic Minstrelsy

This essay focuses on how aural and visual media intersected with class when, in 1843, blackface performers began to call themselves minstrels. Not merely a rebaptism, this new name marked a rebirth. Whereas blackface was originally a working-class theatrical experience passed on orally from performer to performer and from performer to audience, blackface minstrels sought to reassure the middle classes that they were emulating more sophisticated European musical traditions. What both the covers and the contents of post-1843 blackface sheet music reveal is that these minstrels tried to establish themselves as part of the growing concert tradition in the United States by showcasing their performances as more presentational and less representational. Because blackface relied increasingly on the publishing industry and the visual medium of sheet music, it also began to rely more on the eye, and because sheet music assumes a certain level of literacy and luxury, this reliance on the eye encouraged blackface's growth as a middleclass phenomenon.

top Volume 70, Issue 2
Author Title
Noel Jackson Rhyme and Reason: Erasmus Darwin's Romanticism

The poetics of Erasmus Darwin's Botanic Garden, its status as an aesthetic as opposed to a purely scientific artifact, and the formal logic of the genre its author popularized have received scant historical attention. Yet in its time Darwin's contribution to the genre of "philosophical poetry" was thought dangerously radical not solely because of its content but because of the compound logic of its form. Effecting a more perfect union of scientific reason and the poetic imagination, Darwin's philosophical poetry conjoins as poetry the aesthetic and political aims of his work in a purposeful way that, while unmistakable to the conservative critics who attacked him, has largely escaped contemporary critical notice. Today Darwin's poetry may be viewed as a touchstone for debates over the legitimacy of perfectibilist schemes of political improvement during the period of the French Revolution.

John T. Hamilton Musicon Location: Rhyme, Resonance, and Romanticism in Eichendorff's Marmorbild

Literary history's persistent attempts to locate the work of Joseph von Eichendorff within German Romanticism aim at a stabilization that contradicts the very dynamism associated with this movement. A study of Eichendorff's exemplary novella Das Marmorbild (The Marble Statue) reveals the shortcomings of any interpretive desire to fix the text, not simply because the story delights in Romantic instability but because it posits phenomena of music and their effects as forces that frustrate every effort to localize. What Eichendorff presents to the reader is itself a "marble statue"—a Bild or image that both seduces and invites, inspires and imprisons, by means of epistemological and moral ambivalences that resonate far beyond the text's localizable source.

Heather Fielding “The Project of His Consciousness": James and Narrative Technology

Henry James often criticizes mass culture for having instrumentalized the novel by conditioning readers to reduce the text to its ending. Yet he also suggests that popular visual technologies—cinema and its predecessor, the magic lantern—are uniquely able to compensate for mass culture's end-driven tendencies by taking the viewing process out of the viewer's hands. While readers can read novels as they please, visual technologies function independently of the spectator. From them, James thought, twentieth-century novelists might derive formal strategies to solve the problem of instrumentalization. James's theories of technology and modernism recast familiar debates about the relationship among the early-twentieth-century novel, mass culture, and commodification. He neither posits the novel as a work of art that is exempt from economic pressures nor embraces the commodity as a model for a new aesthetic. Instead, he critically revises mass culture, using technology to nullify the hazards of commodification.

Joyce Wexler The German Detour from Ulysses to Magic Realism

In 1929 Alfred Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz was not only compared to Ulysses but also hailed as a prime example of the postwar movement called magic realism. This junction led directly to landmark magic realist texts by Günter Grass, Gabriel García Márquez, and Salman Rushdie, who adopted Joyce's strategies because they faced the same problem he did: how to represent the unimaginable violence of their times. Joyce taught them how to bear witness to contemporary events while impugning their own testimony. In Ulysses and its successors, an ironic combination of symbolism and realism locates multiple secular meanings in specific historical events. Secular excess replaces divine plenitude. The absence of a consistent authorial voice prevents readers from determining a hierarchy of significance. Exaggerated correlations between individual lives and public events aggrandize the former and domesticate the latter. Terrible events are described comically, and everyday matters are treated as portents. The echoes of Ulysses in magic realism amplify its irony and dispel the primitivist tendency to interpret the fantasy in later texts as evidence of indigenous belief in supernatural forces.

top Volume 70, Issue 3
Author Title
Aaron Kunin Characters Lounge

This essay defines character as a device that collects every example of a kind of person. This formalist definition derives from seventeenth-century books of characteristic writings. The essay tests this definition against the antiformalist one derived from the realist novel, in which the job of a character is to individuate. The comic rather than tragic historiography of the formalist account makes it slightly preferable to the antiformalist one. The essay's archive is intended to be comprehensive and includes representative examples from poems, novels, plays, comic books, and works of criticism.

Donald Gilbert-Santamaría Maravall's Post-Hegelian Roots

Culture of the Baroque offers José Antonio Maravall's most comprehensive vision of the baroque in Spain as a historical phenomenon that encompasses virtually all aspects of seventeenth-century social and cultural life. Maravall's study reappraises the conventional view of the baroque as the privileged locus of Spanish literary and historical production by appealing to the secularized post-Hegelianism of Jacob Burckhardt and Heinrich Wölfflin. In particular, Maravall's analysis draws on two related elements in the post-Hegelian approach to early modern historiography that contemporary work tends to ignore or even contradict: a nominalist view of the baroque that rejects the transcendent claims of Hegelian historiography and an explicit embrace of subjectivism as the necessary condition of historical scholarship. Maravall's adherence to these foundational principles of post-Hegelian historiography illuminates the original stakes of early modern periodization and their radical deformation over time. In the process, his work not only facilitates a reassessment of many of the conventional claims made for the Spanish baroque but, more important, establishes a theoretical perspective from which to evaluate contemporary scholarship on the baroque as a historical and aesthetic concept.

Thomas DiPiero Voltaire's Parrot; or, How to Do Things with Birds

Beginning in the mid-seventeenth century, thinkers in various disciplines evoked birds and other animals that appeared able to talk to make points about language use and human reason and identity. Talking birds initially allowed philosophers to draw parallels between language and the Cartesian model of human beings as both body and spirit, since language consisted of material sounds as vehicles for abstract ideas. By the eighteenth century the talking bird in literature had become a metaphor for a natural language that could express the truth in any and all circumstances. In later works of both literature and natural history, talking birds—and also monkeys—symbolized the point where thinking and material substances met. However, instead of offering a synthesis of those two substances, as the human does in Cartesian philosophy, talking animals highlighted a point of contention where thought and human identity were continuously and dynamically produced.

Thomas J. Otten Hawthorne's Twisted Letters

Ekphrasis undergoes a decisive shift in Nathaniel Hawthorne and his contemporaries. Whereas Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and other seventeenth- and eighteenth-century writers (John Dryden, Alexander Pope) distinguished between verbal and visual arts through metaphors of realms and boundaries, Hawthorne twists the genres together again, as do John Keats and Robert Browning. Snakes in The Marble Faun, vines in The Blithedale Romance, and the A in The Scarlet Letter are tangled figures that at once image both the relationship between the genres and the newly powerful nature of relationships between persons. Similarly, the fullness and the insecurity of friendship are conveyed by verbal pictures that borrow a sense of plenitude from the visual arts even as they fail to achieve the direct presence of those media. An analysis of words and images in The Token, the gift book in which so many of Hawthorne's early tales first appeared, suggests that to read ekphrasis attentively in Hawthorne is to read the idiom of the interpersonal realm. Ekphrasis thus emerges not as a timeless figure to be cherished only by formalists but as a powerful tool for the historian, a moment that compresses into a single figure a culture's fictions of affiliation and estrangement.

top Volume 70, Issue 4
Author Title
Ian Duncan Romancing Scotland
Janet Sorensen Alternative Antiquarianisms of Scotland and the North

In dominant accounts, the eighteenth-century "ballad revival" brought a dead form back to life by digging up old songs and restoring their force and meaning. It also brought "the people," as producers or consumers of ballads, to a kind of national public life but relegated them to an anterior temporal space. This essay offers a more differentiated history, examining Scottish and northern song collectors who differed from these formulations and provided distinct understandings of "the people" and of class. David Herd, for instance, used Scottish Enlightenment theories of sense and cognition to reverse the polarity; he did not see the collector revivifying the dead form of the ballad so much as ballads and songs themselves galvanizing the members of a nation. Joseph Ritson, an antiquarian dedicated to the most rigorous standards of authentication, also published "garlands," collections of songs from various locales in his native northeastern England. Lacking the explanatory prefaces and footnotes that might make meaning available to broader or later audiences, Ritson's garlands targeted a decidedly ephemeral local community in the present. In the face of dominant antiquarian models locating "the people" out of time, Herd and Ritson offered alternative models through which to figure "the people," rendering them as diverse, only contingently consolidated, but full participants in the here and now.

Samuel Baker Scott's Stoic Characters: Ethics, Sentiment, and Irony in The Antiquary, Guy Mannering, and "the Author of Waverley"

It is well known that Walter Scott adapted the forms of sentimental fiction for his initial trilogy of novels on Scottish manners and that he drew on philosophical theories of sympathy when conceiving of his characters and placing them in historical relation to one another and to his readership. Scott's adaptations of sentimentalism and of theories of sympathy come into sharper focus, however, once one takes seriously his claim that Stoicism is his proper philosophy and traces his ironic treatment of the figure of the sympathetic Stoic undermined by sentiment back to its eighteenth-century antecedents in Joseph Addison and Adam Smith. Like two of his early protagonists, Guy Mannering the astrologer and Jonathan Oldbuck the antiquary, "the Author of Waverley" is himself a compromised Stoic, yet Scott's narratives demonstrate repeatedly how, while it may fail on its own terms, the ancient philosophy of apathy creates the conditions of possibility for modern romance.

Ina Ferris "On the Borders of Oblivion": Scott's Historical Novel and the Modern Time of the Remnant

This essay contends that Scott's historical novels respond to the widespread sense of displacement in postrevolutionary Europe by activating and rewriting the figure of the remnant. As remnant tales, his novels are less about the loss of the past or its relationship to the present than about a disconnection in the present itself. Belonging neither to the past nor to the present, the remnant draws attention to modernity's temporality as that of the time lag: a suspension of connection and continuity that generates a curiously insubstantial existence in the present. Rereading Scott heroes like Edgar Ravenswood and Henry Morton as remnants, the essay traces the implications of their untimeliness, arguing that the remnant's awkward lingering moves into the foreground the problem of obsolescence and releases in the fictions a meditative-speculative mood answering to the question of how modern cultures live on.

Michael Gamer Waverley and the Object of (Literary) History

This essay revisits the question of Walter Scott's innovation as a novelist, and Waverley's status as the first historical novel, by showing the degree to which such markers of reputation were fictions of Scott's own making. The essay begins by examining how Scott's manipulation of the novel's date of composition, his ostentatious rejection of contemporary genres, and his later self-review of the novel effectively cleared Waverley of contemporary competitors and bolstered its claims to newness. It then turns to Scott's other strategy, that of looking beyond contemporary generic models to those of the mid-eighteenth century. In thus arguing for Waverley as a rumination on the history of the novel "sixty years since"—as a literary-historical as well as historical novel—the essay considers Scott's debt to the most popular of these midcentury fictions, the object narrative, by reading Waverley in light of its conventions and practices.


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