Abstracts for Volume 72 | 2011

Volume 72, Issue 1
Author Title
David Gorman The Future of Literary Study: An Experiment in Guesswork

The fundamental structure of literary study has stayed remarkably constant during the last seventy-five years: professional teaching and research have revolved around "criticism," or the exegesis of individual works, and every other aspect of literary study has been treated as contributory to "reading." There is almost no precedent for this pattern of activity in anything now recognized as the history of criticism. If these claims are at all correct, then studying literature differently would likely mean a redistribution of status among the subdisciplines, with such traditional fields as poetics, erudition (roughly, literary scholarship), and even evaluation pursued alongside criticism, as ends in themselves.

Ashley Marshall Henry Fielding and the “Scriblerians”

Most modern scholars have taken for granted that Henry Fielding admired and sought to emulate the great "Scriblerian" satirists we consider the titans of their age. That Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, and John Gay exerted a major influence on his development is a critical commonplace. The principal piece of evidence is Fielding's use of the "Scriblerus Secundus" pseudonym for six early plays (1730–32); scholars have also touted his admiration for Pope and Swift and attempted to find parallels between his work and theirs (and Gay's). An impartial assessment, however, does not substantiate the claims for a close connection. The miscontextualization of Fielding illustrates a common methodological problem: presuming a context that is only one among many possibilities. We need to see Fielding as he was—a brilliant, experimental Grub Street writer who evolved independently of his Scriblerian predecessors.

Stephen Knadler Back to “Oriental” Africa: Islamicism and Becoming African in the Early Black Atlantic

Although revisionary work in African American literary history has stretched the borders of the Black Atlantic to include a hemispheric America or a Black Pacific, these transnational paradigms ignore the connection of the Black Atlantic's migrations, cultural exchanges, and cross-racial encounters with an Islamic diaspora. By restoring West Africa as a contact zone within overlapping nineteenth-century Black Atlantic and Islamic diasporic histories, this essay traces a complex, ambivalent "islamicism" (or specific Islamic orientalism) within early pan-African or "back-to-Africa" discourse. In key works shaping nineteenth-century political and psychological identifications with Africa, Black Atlantic writers erased the multistoried hybridity of a mixed Muslim, Arab, and "native" West Africa. To imagine a pan-African solidarity figured around nation building on a primitive frontier, early Black Atlantic writers disavowed an Islamic economic, cultural, and political presence. Islam represented an abjected third term that would overturn the foundational binary logic of Anglo-American exceptionalism. Arab Muslim resistance in Algiers, however, complicated this prevailing islamicist denial as Black Atlantic writers also saw in leaders such as Abdelkader early representatives of postcolonial resistance.

Christopher L. Hill Nana in the World: Novel, Gender, and Transnational Form

In the decades following the publication of Emile Zola's novel Nana (1880), "Nana figures" resembling Zola's heroine appeared in fiction around the world. The history of the Nana figure contradicts current models for the study of world literature, based on the diffusion of forms unchanged by their movement. The protagonists of the Japanese writer Kosugi Tengai's New Year's Finery and the American Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie (both 1900) show Zola's character reduced to a cluster of minimal qualities: performance, mobility, and contagion. Paradoxically, flattening the Nana figure makes her more dynamic, able to address social questions absent from Nana. The history of the Nana figure suggests that a focus on transformation through movement offers new approaches to the history of naturalism, and by extension realism, on a world scale.

top Volume 72, Issue 2
Author Title
Eric Hayot On Literary Worlds

Is it possible to come up with a better theory of the world than the ones governing contemporary debates on world literature and world-systems, to invent one more closely connected to the literary itself? This essay rethinks the relationship between "world" and literature, not to produce a mediating relay between world literature and world-systems but to see if a third analysis, focusing on the ontology of composed works, can bring "world" differently into the picture. The essay also investigates whether such a theory makes any difference to our understanding of world literature or to the history of worldedness as an aesthetic and cultural phenomenon: as a symptom and as a compass for the history, in other words, of totality as a function of the human imagination. Along the way, the essay develops five variables with which to analyze literary worlds, taken to refer to the represented totality of the work's diegetic space.

Joshua Scodel Finding Freedom in Hamlet

Hamlet and its protagonist place liberty at their center of vision by exploring its diverse senses. Freedom in Hamlet is of different kinds, always limited and hard to obtain or keep. The play's other characters serve as clarifying foils to Hamlet himself, who as the closely watched son of the murdered king is limited in his freedom to maneuver and whose quest for freedom is both fueled and stymied by the Ghost's command that he kill his uncle. Hamlet dramatizes the felt connections between external constraints on freedom of action and internal states that inhibit or foster such freedom. To assert some degree of social and political freedom depends on attaining freedom from thoughts and feelings that block free action. Hamlet probes the early modern semantic range of free and its cognates, which could denote sociopolitical status, on the one hand, and aspects of moral character and behavior, on the other. Influenced but not bound by Stoic and Christian conceptions of freedom, Hamlet can act most freely, and ultimately kill Claudius, after achieving a sense of inner moral freedom based on trust in a "divinity" that oversees the world.

Raphael Ingelbien and Benedicte Seynhaeve The Critique of Hamletism in The Wild Irish Girl and Corinne

This essay explores the intertextual use of Hamlet in Sydney Owenson's Wild Irish Girl and Germaine de Staël's Corinne to shed new light on these writers' interventions in European Romantic politics. Both Owenson and Staël associated their male protagonists with the figure of Hamlet at a time when Shakespeare's Danish prince was being reinvented as an embodiment of Romantic weltschmerz and as a symbol for the powerless, isolated intellectual. Instead of contributing to the Romantic cult of a melancholy Hamlet, Owenson and Staël confront their protagonists with the influence of empowered Ophelias who illustrate a less solipsistic version of melancholy. Thus both authors criticize the inertia that gripped their male counterparts directly after the French Revolution. Staël's novel ultimately follows a tragic pattern, while Owenson's gestures toward the possibility of a comic ending. But beyond the different levels of optimism implied by those endings, Owenson and Staël deliver a similar message to the Romantic intellectual, a message that most Romantics ignored in their persistent cultivation of Hamletic attitudes.

Charles Altieri Reading Bradley After Reading Laforgue: How Eliot Transformed Symbolist Poetics into a Paradigmatic Modernism

This essay asks how T. S. Eliot's dissertation work on F. H. Bradley influenced changes in his poetry: negatively from the self-consciousness attitudinizing of Laforguian analysis and positively to what a Bradleyan sense of "degrees of reality" might be said to sponsor. Bradley assumed the power he did in Eliot's thinking because he addressed many of the concerns Eliot had begun to develop from symbolist poetics, particularly its critiques of empiricism and its engagement in the infinite ironies involving the status of subjectivity. Bradley also transformed these concerns by constructing the isolated subject so that its associations with the social order become manifest. Because Eliot could show through Bradley that the world of relations is the actual substance that one lives for, he could derive concepts of humility and faith that had no place in his earlier poetics. The essay's test case is a reading of how The Waste Land fleshes out the potential in emphasizing the power of relations over the power of foundational thinking.

top Volume 72, Issue 3
Author Title
Bruce Robbins Is Literature a Secular Concept? Three Earthquakes

The critique of theodicy might form part of the rationale for a renewed version of literary study. This hypothesis, suggested by James Wood's New York Times oped on the 2010 Haiti earthquake, leads to an interrogation of the status of literature: Is it a secular concept, as Richard Rorty has proposed? Or if (as it seems) literature is not distinguished as such from nonsecular discourse, then does the study of literature fit Rorty's argument about the need for a nonfoundational, nonauthoritative discourse in a secular democracy? This essay pursues these questions through the work of several theorists, including Elaine Scarry, Martha C. Nussbaum, and John Guillory, and through two more earthquakes, each seeming to delegitimize theodicy and replace it with secular understanding, but inconclusively: the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, which Adam Smith used (in displaced form) in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, and the earthquake in Zadie Smith's White Teeth, which Wood finds unfortunately representative of "hysterical realism."

Jeffrey T. Schnapp The Chatter of People and Things

The essay explores how literary practices of listing, cataloging, and inventorying are altered by the shift from classical, premodern, and early modern regimes of data scarcity (within which every piece of information is considered valuable a priori) to modern regimes of data surplus (within which information has no a priori value). Three examples are analyzed in depth: the heroscopía from book 6 of Virgil's Aeneid, in which Roman history is portrayed as a triumphal procession; Astolfo's voyage to the moon in canto 34 of Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando furioso, with its inventory of everything that has been lost and forgotten on the earth's surface; and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's 1914 words-in-freedom epic, Zang Tumb Tumb, in which commercial inventories are used as overlays to explode (rather than preserve) memories.

Valerie Forman Early Modern "Neoliberalisms": England and the English Caribbean

By viewing economic, political, and literary developments through the anachronistic lens of neoliberalism, this essay calls attention to largely overlooked interrelations between the market and seventeenth-century arguments for political freedom. The essay tracks the trope of the neo-Roman political slave to tyranny as it collides with the institution of African slavery in early modern political debates over property and in pamphlets protesting injustices in the trades in sugar, slaves, and indentured servants. Using narrative digressions to stage a struggle for primacy between background and foreground and between text and New World context, Aphra Behn's Oroonoko: A Royal Slave exploits these tensions between the economic and political domains to reveal the market not only as an ethical framework for political freedom but also as a tyrant ruling over those it dispossesses. Taken together, the essay's texts tell a story about economic and political entanglements that intensify even as the economic realm attempts to establish itself as an independent domain. This story develops alongside another: if freedom was initially conceived out of a relationship between subject and ruler, by the end of the seventeenth century the possibilities for political freedom depended on a set of global relations that included not only the citizen and the government but also its colonies and the markets they produce.

Richard T. Gray Imaginary Value and the Value of the Imaginary: J. G. Schlosser, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and the Convergence of Aesthetics and Economics in German Romanticism

Economics and aesthetics emerged in the mid-eighteenth century as scientific enterprises concerned fundamentally with questions of value. But whereas economics sought to jettison imaginary and subjective investments from its theory of value and to insist on principles of quantification (culminating in Karl Marx's famous critique of commodity fetishism), aesthetics founded its theory of value on the cornerstone of subjective and imaginative value attribution. This essay examines two German Romantic thinkers, the economist Johann Georg Schlosser and the writer E. T. A. Hoffmann, who turn to aesthetic idealism and a theory of productive imagination to heal this rift between economics and aesthetics. Both Schlosser's economic theories and Hoffmann's literary practice (as exemplified by his short story "Des Vetters Eckfenster" ["My Cousin's Corner Window"]) represent the view that economic and aesthetic values emerge at the intersection between the material attributes of the (economic or aesthetic) object and the imaginative fantasies projected onto it by prospective consumers.

Roberto M. Dainotto With Plato in Italy: The Value of Literary Fiction in Napoleonic Italy

It is often assumed that a special function of imaginative and fictional writing and a special aesthetic value as a distinctive feature of literary prose are the fruits of what has been called the "invention of literature" between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: the transformation of writing, that is, from rhetoric or belles lettres to art. However, while much has been written and said about the French, German, and Scottish Enlightenments, little is known about the Italian one. Engaged in a reevaluation of this lesser-known, peripheral Enlightenment, this essay discusses Vincenzo Cuoco's novel Plato in Italy in the local context of the transformation of the publishing industry in Italy and in the European context of Bonapartism. Fiction acquires here a special kind of value: that of reimagining a radical democracy betrayed by Napoleonic restoration.

Angela Sorby Who Wrote “Rock Me to Sleep”? Elizabeth Akers Allen and the Profession of Poetry

Nineteenth-century reading practices (which involved the copying, memorizing, and unauthorized circulation of verses) blurred the line between readers and writers, vexing the very idea that a poem could have an owner. In 1867 a notorious attribution scandal pitted the established writer Elizabeth Akers Allen against an unhinged upstart, Alexander M. W. Ball, who claimed to have written her poem "Rock Me to Sleep." A close examination of their dispute raises broad questions about the value of poetry, both in the rapidly professionalizing world of later nineteenth-century America and, implicitly, in the more recent milieu of the Internet. Are some poets professionals, even if poetry does not pay? Who owns the poem, the writer or the reader? Does the writer own every version of the poem, or only the original? What, if anything, distinguishes professionals from amateurs, writers from readers, and originals from copies?

top Volume 72, Issue 4
Author Title
Ellen R. Welch Performing a New France, Making Colonial History in Marc Lescarbot’s Théâtre de Neptune (1606)

This essay examines the role of performance practices in the making of colonial history through an analysis of the first French-language theater piece staged in the New World, Marc Lescarbot's Théâtre de Neptune (1606). The form of performance in this work offers a radically different way of crafting and engaging with history, simultaneously “restoring” the past via reenactment in the present and implying the possibility of future reiterations. Lescarbot's script presents a useful case study of performance's challenges to more traditional configurations of literary and cultural history.

Geoffrey Turnovsky Authorial Modesty and Its Readers: Mondanité and Modernity in Seventeenth-Century France

Modesty and other “antiauthorial” conventions (anonymity, self-effacing prefaces, refusal to profit) tend to be viewed as retrograde concessions to the outdated norms of an antiquated cultural field, which a more modern, assertive, and critical authorial figure will learn to abandon. Yet in the context of the seventeenth century, such gestures were associated with modernity rather than the opposite. This essay reinterprets the significance of authorial modesty by analyzing this disconnect, which calls attention less to the changing strategies of writers than to the evolving expectations and desires of readers to whom the gestures were addressed. It argues that if the aristocratic airs adopted by writers situate them squarely in the Old Regime, the readerly practices to which they appealed (and which they in turn shaped)—individualized and moralized as well as commercialized—might, by contrast, allow us more easily to associate the self-consciously modern yet modest customs of seventeenth-century authorship with our own modernity.

Allison Schachter Modernist Indexicality: The Language of Gender, Race, and Domesticity in Hebrew and Yiddish Modernism

By focusing on what Michael Silverstein calls nonreferential indexicality—those “features of speech independent of any referential speech event” that point to the “sociological relations of personae in the speech situation” and “accomplish socially constituted ends”—this essay challenges received understandings of the linguistic purchase of modernist innovation. The author examines Hebrew and Yiddish modernist literary texts by Devorah Baron and Dovid Bergelson that employ nonreferential indexicality in order to chart the ruptures in two textual communities, in two particular historical and literary moments when gender norms, alongside racial and ethnic identities, underwent abrupt and vexed change. In these stories, scenes of domestic drama are transformed into modernist narratives of social and cultural transformation. The article contends that a pragmatic linguistic approach to literary texts illuminates how minor language modernist writing contains a self-awareness that not only addresses a cosmopolitan audience but also preserves the contingent and shifting parameters of local linguistic communities.


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