Abstracts for Volume 71 | 2010

Volume 71, Issue 1
Author Title
Wang Ning World Literature and the Dynamic Function of Translation

Although the term world literature encompasses texts composed in multiple languages, translation makes possible a body of literature from many linguistic and cultural backgrounds that circulates in international critical discourse and is broadly recognized as world literature. Thus the category of world literature presupposes authors and translators driven to contribute to the canon of world literature. Walter Benjamin observes that translation endows a literary work with "continued life" or "afterlife," without which many works of global significance remain "dead" or marginalized. Inspired by Benjamin's view of translation and by David Damrosch's emphasis on world literature as a distinctive type of literary production, this essay examines the issues that influence the potential of literary works to win acclaim in translation as world literature. Chinese literature provides a useful case study, since Chinese translators have been more focused historically on translating works into Chinese than on exporting Chinese literature into other languages and thus increasing its chances at an "afterlife."

Amy S. Wyngaard Defining Obscenity, Inventing Pornography: The Limits of Censorship in Rétif de la Bretonne

Most critical accounts of the history of pornography note that the term is traceable to Nicolas-Edme Rétif de la Bretonne's Pornographe, which they dismiss in the same breath because of its nonpornographic status. Although Rétif wrote only one pornographic novel, L'Anti-Justine (1798), his contributions to the genre merit further analysis. This essay argues that Rétif played an important role in circumscribing the moral and legal limits of sexual representation in the eighteenth century and beyond. He did so not by producing blatantly obscene texts but by working to push the boundaries of decency and propriety while inviting censors and the public to hone their understanding of these concepts. In producing increasingly daring versions of Le paysan perverti (1775), Rétif repeatedly forced authorities to redraw the line between the passable and the prohibited. In this way he helped shape the category of the illicit at its borders, contributing more to the development of pornography than simply its name.

Tamara S. Wagner "Very Saleable Articles, Indeed": Margaret Oliphant's Repackaging of Sensational Finance

Examining the impact of mid-Victorian sensationalism on the shaping of the nineteenth-century novel, this essay calls renewed attention to the intricacies of genre formation. Taking as its point of departure the notorious "sensational sixties," it tracks the increasingly self-reflexive adaptations of the sensation genre's most popular paradigms in the following decades. Oliphant's At His Gates (1872) capitalized on the quickly established alignment between finance and sensation not so much to condemn commercial pressures as to turn them to good effect as the shapers of new literary motifs. Featuring a moderately successful painter who produces his one truly outstanding piece, ironically, when driven to despair by a financial swindle, At His Gates was not merely Oliphant's most fully realized fictional engagement with sensational narratives of Victorian economic crises. Reflecting its author's own dilemma in the struggles of a speculating painter, the novel addressed and exploited key intertextual exchanges at the Victorian book market.

Andrew Parker The Poetry of the Future; or, Periodizing the Nineteenth Century

The question of poetry's future was asked with surprising frequency across various Western literary languages during the nineteenth century. In Walt Whitman's little-known essay "The Poetry of the Future" (1881), in Arthur Rimbaud's celebrated "Voyant" letter to Paul Demeny (1871), and in a famous passage near the beginning of Karl Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1851–52), a future poetry was greeted as an original poetry. In each of these instances, however, breaking with the past entailed imitating it, which suggests that poetry's future looks much like its past, the way forward indistinguishable from the way back.

top Volume 71, Issue 2
Author Title
Marc Bizer From Lyric to Epic and Back: Joachim Du Bellay's Epic Regrets

It had been the dream of the sixteenth-century Pléiade poets to glorify their country and literature by composing a "long French poem," a term that designated a genre resembling epic but that also included romance. In the 1550s, not only Pierre de Ronsard, who had received an official commission to write the Franciade, but also Joachim Du Bellay were exploring epic as a change from love poetry. Having formally renounced Petrarchist lyric, Du Bellay drew on his experience in the French diplomatic service in Rome to compose his most famous sonnet collection, the Regrets. Although a servant of the monarchy, Du Bellay contests monarchical authority and Ronsardian poetics through a particular reading of Homer: his self-portrayal contrasts with prudent Odysseus, whom Du Bellay's teachers had proposed as a model to the French king and whom the poet claimed ironically to surpass in a pointless epic adventure. At the same time, Du Bellay taunts Ronsard for being a poet in favor with the French court and thus one whose own aventure was an official success. Du Bellay's agon with Ronsard carves out, in effect, areas of empire-undermining and empire-glorifying epic epic.

Jaime Hanneken Going Mundial: What It Really Means to Desire Paris

This essay analyzes Mundial Magazine, a little-known Parisian periodical edited by Rubén Darío, in the context of current debates over the large-scale narrative of literary modernity that Pascale Casanova puts forth in The World Republic of Letters. These debates tend to be framed as a choice between symbolic economy (Casanova's "universal" literary capital) and political economy (the focus of many Latin Americanist scholars on hegemonic constructions of modernity). Yet the unique circumstances of Mundial—published in Paris by Spanish America's most famous poet, composed almost exclusively of contributions from Hispanic authors and artists, and exported to its readers—suggest a Spanish American literary landscape built on an allegorical appropriation of Paris. By physically and discursively situating Paris as the nodal point for literature and art made in and destined for the Hispanic world, Mundial harnessed its prestige as a cultural capital and as a modern publishing center to promote a global, pan-Hispanic culture. Understanding the aesthetic, technological, and commercial transactions undertaken by periodicals like Mundial can lead to a more nuanced account of the uses of the universal in modern Spanish American letters.

Theodore Martin The Privilege of Contemporary Life: Periodization in the Bret Easton Ellis Decades

Is there a literary genre uniquely suited to grasping the history of the present? This essay proposes the "decade novel" and explores how the genre is elaborated in the work of Bret Easton Ellis. As a form of compressed history, the decade is the preeminently "stereotypical" or degraded version of periodization; perhaps for this reason, it is also the perfect narrative mode for the present's historical self-consciousness. Ellis's novels American Psycho and Glamorama expose the contradictory link between the ephemeral details of consumer life and the essence of a single, self-contained decade. They thus demonstrate the incompatibility between the immediate experience of the present and the retrospective gaze of periodization. They also suggest a way to resolve it. The formal continuity between American Psycho and Glamorama, which shows them to be variations of the same allegory of late capitalism, provides an alternative to the false closure of the decade. Read together, the two novels describe not a presentist eternity but a sense of the present as an ideologically continuous moment in the longue durée of capitalist modernity.

Liran Razinsky Not the Witness We Wished For: Testimony in Jonathan Littell's Kindly Ones

This essay examines Jonathan Littell's novel The Kindly Ones (Les bienveillantes) as a project of bearing witness. It turns a critical eye on the role played by the poetics of excess and transgression, on the novel's historical aspects (dates, events, and other details), and on the interplay among them; it inquires as well into the literary construction of testimonial authority.

top Volume 71, Issue 3
Author Title
David Quint “Things Invisible to Mortal Sight”: Light, Vision, and the Unity of Book 3 of Paradise Lost

Milton tightly structures book 3 of Paradise Lost around analogies and distinctions between divine and solar light, the invisible heaven beheld by the poet’s blind faith in the book’s first half and the visible universe and sun visited by Satan in its second, vision down and up the ladder of Creation. The vision of “things invisible to mortal sight” that the poet asks for in the opening invocation is analogized, in the divine council that the book depicts, to the Son’s faith in his triumph over death. False analogy leads the fools of the Limbo of Vanity to understand God in terms of his and their own works; equally vain philosophers falsely separate the sun from God as an independent power source. Milton criticizes both the Neoplatonic solar mysticism and the godless materialism that could be associated with the new heliocentric model of the cosmos. He stakes out a middle ground for poetry to occupy vis-à-vis the New Science, a poetry skeptical of its own inherited fictions based on the old cosmology, a poetry whose own formal patterns and unity intimate order against a more sweeping empirical doubt.

J. Andrew Hubbell “It Was an Ancient Mariner”: Sir Ernest Shackleton Rewrites the Romantic Quest

While other critics have examined how Antarctic literature of the heroic age of exploration reflected masculine ideals and an imperialist agenda, this essay argues that Shackleton consciously structured South, his memoir of the Endurance’s voyage, around Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” as well as other literary texts, to transform the failure of his quest for a transantarctic crossing into a glorious triumph. Shackleton’s allusions and structural borrowings substitute the truth of literature for the reality of the polar experience. While this substitution is typical of “voyage of discovery” literature and other subgenres of the adventure story that inform South, Shackleton is distinctly more skillful at manipulating the genre’s tactical potential to construct a fantasy of subjectivity based on the internal quest romance, thereby altering the definition of heroics that nourishes the ideologies sustaining the late British imperial adventure. The essay, which places this rhetorical analysis of South in the context of Britain’s decline as an imperial power after World War I, argues that the tradition of internal quest romance operates in the cultural imaginary as a counternarrative to the experience of failure.

Marius Hentea The Silence of the Last Poet: Matthew Arnold, T. S. Eliot, and the Value of the Classic

This essay explores the conceptions of the classic, and of literary value more generally, in T. S. Eliot's "What Is a Classic?" and Matthew Arnold's "Study of Poetry." Eliot's address heavily depends on Arnold's study, but there are significant points of difference, especially when it comes to the question of Homer and Virgil. Fundamentally, though, both Arnold and Eliot reach toward a transcendental, even religious, view of the classic. The essay concludes by developing the implications of Eliot's "last poet" and the silencing qualities of the classic hinted at in his address. These qualities have not been sufficiently understood, but taking them seriously shows why the current defense of the classic is dubious.

Kathleen Verduin Imprinting Mortality: Updike Reading Books

Self-consciousness was eminently John Updike's hallmark theme, the matrix of his sustained confrontation with mortality and the condition of his alliance with Christianity. As with most literate persons, Updike's self-consciousness was stimulated by reading. His extensive oeuvre and recurrent confessional impulse permit reconstruction of much of his reading experience, recording not simply his internalization of formative texts but also his attraction to books as auratic objects for consumption. For students of book history, Updike's "story of reading" yields a quarry of information, intersecting continually the larger narrative of twentieth-century print culture: his self-defining agon with mortality may in fact be traced to a concomitant chronicle of American publishing history. Building on the story "Pigeon Feathers" as exemplum, this essay traces the progress of Updike's engagement with books from childhood to early adulthood, focusing on his well-known interest in Søren Kierkegaard and Karl Barth and contextualizing that interest by reference to such contemporary publishing ventures as Anchor Books and the Harper Torchbooks.

top Volume 71, Issue 4
Author Title
Daniel Javitch Reconsidering the Last Part of Orlando Furioso: Romance to the Bitter End

This essay challenges the view that the last part of Orlando furioso takes an "epic" turn and abandons many of the "romance" features that characterize its first half. The essay does so by considering (1) the anachronism of projecting onto the Furioso a desire on Ariosto's part to upgrade the romance with which he began to an epic poem, given that the differences between romance and epic that modern critics claim are at work in Orlando furioso did not come to the fore as issues in Italian poetics until about fifty years after the poem's first composition; and (2) the persistence of romanzo matter and structure in the poem's last nine cantos. Modern interpreters who maintain that the Furioso becomes more epic in its last segment cite as evidence the more frequent imitation of the Aeneid, but in fact Ariosto modifies the Virgilian matter he grafts into his narrative to fit the language and ethos of chivalric romance.

Christina Lupton The Theory of Paper: Skepticism, Common Sense, Poststructuralism

This article explores two sets of convergences: one between skeptical and commonsense philosophies in the eighteenth century, and the other between poststructuralist and eighteenth-century philosophies. It argues that all of these forms of reasoning share an interest in the paper on which they are printed. Although they use the case in point of paper quite differently, James Beattie, David Hume, Paul de Man, and Jacques Derrida all end up in terrain on which paper shows the connection of high theory to the common sense of material cultural studies. They all demonstrate, in other words, how paper and the ink it holds offer evidence of an irrefutable reality even as their example introduces an inevitable slipperiness to the field of example.

John Funchion When Dorothy Became History: L. Frank Baum’s Enduring Fantasy of Cosmopolitan Nostalgia

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), L. Frank Baum imagines Dorothy's nostalgia for Kansas as a desire that compels her to develop a cosmopolitan ethics only as a means of returning home. But this psychic fantasy of cosmopolitan nostalgia inevitably compromises her engagement with strangers, transforming her ethics into an illiberal form of internationalist expansionism. By entwining these incompatible phenomena, Baum creates a lasting metaphor for U.S. foreign policy: Dorothy as the reluctant traveler who selflessly intervenes in the affairs of strangers with the intention of returning home instead of remaining abroad.

Regina Janes Revisiting García Márquez among the Bananas

An exercise in rereading, "Revisiting García Márquez among the Bananas" takes up the case of bananas in One Hundred Years of Solitude to explore the representation, subversion, and prolepsis of literature of memory, literature of witness. A historical episode represented by the novel as erased, is recovered by the novel for history, and produces effects in the world beyond the novel. Yet such recovery fails to affect the world beyond the novel. In the articulation of that contradiction, intertwining fiction and history, invention and reality, the novel proposes an enduring and essential myth for our time: that recovering violence from oblivion is useful to the present.


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