Abstracts for Volume 73 | 2012

Volume 73, Issue 1
Author Title
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak Why Study the Past?

Why study the past? Because we must. The computer seems to offer us access to simultaneity. We must therefore study the past “broadly.” Primo Levi offers us an example. But the access to simultaneity is a simulacrum, for the computing (intending) subject is determined by computer programming. In earlier times theorists wrote of the determination of the intending subject. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari offer us an example. Such elite theory has not disappeared. Programming does empirically what they talked about sociologically, historically, psychologically. Yet we must study history broadly. Like all practice, it must ground itself on specific errors.

Sharon Simmons Milton’s Trifles: Lyric Disparagement in an Age of Walking Books

Achinstein explores how lyric embarrassment becomes a figure for forms of obligation newly emergent, and under emergency, in historical conditions where uncontrolled reception and political uncertainty give rise to a new reflexiveness about the medium of lyric. The essay focuses on John Milton’s repeated gestures of lyric disparagement as well as his iconography of the anthropomorphized book. Both of these rhetorical features seem to constellate around the genre of the lyric during the early modern period.

Sarah Ehlers Making It Old: The Victorian/Modern Divide in Twentieth-Century American Poetry

Focusing on the work of Harriet Monroe and Selma Walden, two Chicago writers who never fully identified with their literary milieus, this essay complicates the perceived divide between the Victorian and the modern, the old and the new. In his 1900 American Anthology, Monroe’s friend and mentor Edmund Clarence Stedman dubbed the turn of the century an “interval of twilight” for American poetry. Subsequent critics have perhaps read this narrative of decline too literally and regarded the supposed interregnum as a sign of progress toward modernism. This essay takes a different approach: understanding narratives of poetry’s twilight as strategic fictions that idealize, preserve, and recirculate the poetry of an earlier period. It views Monroe and Walden as productive symptoms of a critical tendency to incorporate narratives about Victorian poetry into narratives about modernism. Considered together, Monroe and Walden demonstrate how the Victorian had complex afterlives in twentieth-century America. Their works show how the tension between the Victorian and the modern reemerged during the twentieth century, playing out on different levels of culture.

Matthew Eatough Bowen’s Court and the Anglo-Irish World-System

Bowen’s Court has most commonly been confronted through methodological paradigms stressing its affinity to traditional Irish generic and historiographical conventions. In contrast, this essay reassesses Anglo-Ireland’s contribution to early twentieth-century literature by rereading Elizabeth Bowen’s text within the context of an international cultural and economic world-system. It argues that two historical narratives inform Bowen’s Court: a gothic chronicle of decline and a protoprofessional story of detached expertise. These narratives correspond to two visions of Anglo-Ireland’s transnational position, the first conceiving of the Protestant Ascendancy as neofeudal landlords who transform Irish labor into capitalist wealth, the second characterizing the Anglo-Irish as a cosmopolitan class of professional managers. By regarding these socioeconomic roles as affective dispositions between which her class vacillated, Bowen creates a cyclical history in which the deficiencies of gothic hysteria and detached professionalism supplement each other in a dialectical exchange. Understanding the socioeconomic circumstances underlying Bowen’s Court provides an important insight into how Bowen and fellow Anglo-Irish writers used affect to legitimate their class position after Irish independence, as well as how they were able to envision an Anglo-Irish renaissance.

top Volume 73, Issue 2
Author Title
Jerome McGann Fenimore Cooper’s Anti-Aesthetic and the Representation of Conflicted History

This essay reconsiders Cooper’s work and its historical position in two salient relations: first, the Euro-American legal representations that organized the seizure and settlement of the American land from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century; second, the canonical ways of reading fiction that emerged in the context of modernism. The first relation exposes how and why Cooper’s fiction both matures and darkens between The Pioneers (1823) and The Ways of the Hour (1850). The second shows how the strange and arresting works that marked the thirty years of Cooper’s career reveal the limits of traditional modernist aesthetic criteria.

Adam Barrows Eastward Journeys: Literary Crossings of the International Date Line

The fantasy of turning back the clock by journeying eastward across what we today call the International Date Line appears in the fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, Rudyard Kipling, and James Joyce, all of whom create characters who make, or contemplate making, such time-defying journeys. Uneasily yoking together the past and the present in the same physical space, the date line served as a flashpoint for nineteenth- and early twentieth-century debates over whether time was productively rooted in local and regional values and experiences or was universally abstract and placeless. Drawn along a part of the globe that the West regarded as distant, exotic, and racially and culturally inferior, the date line is conveniently ignored in the works of these authors, who transplant what might otherwise be universal anxieties of modernity onto an exotic locale outside the regular view or interest of empire and global commerce. This essay explores how authors have used the fantasy of the eastward journey across the date line to manage the temporal deviancy bound up with the date line’s paradoxical character by domesticating it, projecting it onto vilified spaces and populations, or reclaiming it as an intrinsic rather than extrinsic element of modernity.

Daniel Katz Ezra Pound’s Provincial Provence: Arnaut Daniel, Gavin Douglas, and the Vulgar Tongue

This essay examines Ezra Pound’s mobilizations of the figure of the troubadour poet Arnaut Daniel in the articulation of his own poetics, from The Spirit of Romance of 1910 through the 1930s. Arnaut emerges as a particularly fraught figure in Pound’s negotiations with Eliot, but also in relation to his reading of Dante’s defense of the vernacular, a question that Pound works through by way of the counterintuitive process of translation, with the goal of defending American usage against the linguistic regulatory norms of England. Through recourse to a lexicon derived from the Scottish poet Gavin Douglas in the later translations of Arnaut, Pound’s practice enters into dialogue with broader modernist questions concerning vernacular, regional, or nonstandard usage: what Robert Crawford calls the “provincial” modernist assault on England as cultural and linguistic center of the anglophone world. Pound’s concerns in this respect are read in relation to those of the Irish Samuel Beckett and above all the Scottish Hugh MacDiarmid, in their elaborations of a concept of the vernacular that they both deem “synthetic.” In all cases, translation or multilingualism becomes a central element in a regionally and socially marked vernacular capable of resisting nostalgic claims to cultural totality and the concomitant policing of authenticity.

Lauren M. E. Goodlad The Mad Men in the Attic: Seriality and Identity in the Narrative of Capitalist Globalization

This essay connects the television series Mad Men to Anthony Trollope’s Prime Minister and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. All are serialized narratives of capitalist globalization in which motifs of exile articulate the experience of breached sovereignty in a modern world. Mad Men belongs to a long line of naturalist narratives in which the outsider within (often a Jew or probable Jew) assimilates the myriad impacts of capitalist globalization and thus exemplifies the periodic resurgence of historical realism, which Georg Lukács predicted in The Historical Novel. Serial forms synchronize naturalist representation through a slow temporality that enables viewers and characters to share a deferred longing for the social transformations once symbolized by the 1960s. Mad Men’s objective situation is today’s neoliberal condition, connected to the longue durée of capitalist and imperial unfolding through the recurrence of Judaized otherness and virtualized Jewishness. Don Draper is a virtual Jew in whom the minority subject’s aberrant particularity and the majority subject’s universalist status collide, but serial forms like montage synchronize Don’s virtual condition with the experiences of the show’s “mad women.” Like Emma Bovary, Don is a “madwoman in the attic,” for whom aestheticism and adultery are the sole consolations for the experience of singing for one’s captors.

top Volume 73, Issue 3
Author Title
Susan Z. Andrade Realism, Reception, 1968, and West Africa

This essay traces the critical history of African novels; it aligns “postcolonial reading” with the rise of poststructuralism in the United States and the United Kingdom. It correctively reads for realism three novels, all published in 1968 and not usually considered mimetic: Le devoir de violence (Mali), Les soleils des indépendances (Côte d’Ivoire), and The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (Ghana). Only Devoir has been particularly important to the conversation about postcolonial literature and form, thanks to Kwame Anthony Appiah. Andrade’s first claim is that the relation of African novels to realism is not simply naïve. What happens when readers shift their attention away from the question of resistance that has so defined the field and ask instead: How does the novel produce its effects? Where does realism lie in this constellation of aesthetics and politics? Andrade’s second claim involves periodization and uneven development. The events that produced the 1968 social explosions in the global North are bound up with the earlier liberation movements of the global South. Thus the global South’s 1968, partially reflected in these novels, offers a perspective on the neoliberalism of the global North’s 1980s.

Simon Gikandi Realism, Romance, and the Problem of African Literary History

The argument of this essay is that colonized writers, always limited by their conditions of production as citizens and subjects, had no choice but to deploy inherited European forms in their own literary projects. Using the example of some foundational African novels, Gikandi contends that what might seem conceptual separations (romance/realism or realism/modernism) were complicated by the terms of the colonial cultural and literary relationship itself — by the encounter between forms codified in Europe and the incomplete colonial project. Colonized writers needed an aesthetic ideology that would affirm the lived experience of the colonized while also questioning the language of a literary canon closely associated with the culture of colonialism and with colonialist notions about progress, time, and subjectivity. The challenge of early African writers such as Thomas Mofolo and Sol Plaatje was to produce a literature with an African referent in a language that deconstructed the mimetic contract as one of the operating signatures of colonial governmentality. In their literary ideologies and formal preferences, these writers did not consider romance, realism, and modernism separate categories. Rather, these categories constituted different ways of thinking about time, place, and identity.

Toral Jatin Gajarawala The Casteized Consciousness: Literary Realism and the Politics of Particularism

A product of the last two decades, Dalit (“untouchable caste”) literature in Hindi has fashioned itself as a modern protest literature, drawing on the cultural and political traditions of other Indian languages and literatures. But Hindi Dalit literature is unique in that its fictional movement against casteism, atrocity, and historical elision has effectively embraced the ideologies of realism while developing a strident critique of modernist aesthetics. This essay deconstructs that realist turn by tracing it through the question of caste. Gajarawala reads the present embrace of an aesthetics and politics of realism via the seminal text on caste, Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable (1935), which sets a literary precedent for the representation of untouchability. In it modernist form allows for a particular reading of untouchability; through the abstractions of both Marxism and metaphor, untouchability becomes a universalized condition of subjection, and the goal is the production of political consciousness. Contemporary Hindi Dalit texts, however, deny the very category of the universal and insist on consciousness as a given; they do so by relying on the metonymic modes of the realist. Thus realism offers a putative solution to the problem of casteist assertion in the cultural sphere.

Sharae Deckard Peripheral Realism, Millennial Capitalism, and Roberto Bolaño’s 2666

In Roberto Bolaño’s posthumous magnum opus, 2666, a type of peripheral realism in which realist aesthetics are impurely intermingled with the irreal is crucial to the novel’s registration of the uneven structural relations of capitalist modernity. This essay explores three layers of the novel’s conception of reality in the Mexican borderlands: first, the Ciudad Juárez femicides as objects of representation; second, the economic conditions underlying the systemic violence perpetrated against female maquiladora workers and the rift between labor and capital; and third, the relation of art to ideology and reality and the artist’s problematic role in representing either the murders or their structural causes. Deckard argues that 2666 is a “world-system novel” that reformulates realist aesthetics to interrogate the ideological nature of art and the limits of realism while encoding the conditions of millennial capitalism in the semiperiphery.

Clair Wills Realism and the Irish Immigrant: Documentary, Fiction, and Post-War Irish Labor

Irish realism of the 1960s has often been interpreted as a continuation and rejuvenation of the tradition of Irish naturalism, particularly in its concern to undermine the perceived romanticism of revivalist myths in postindependence Ireland. While Irish realist social critique was indeed an important strand of 1960s fiction, especially in the work of John McGahern, this essay argues that it was cross-fertilized by other realist narrative modes, including British documentary writing of the 1950s and 1960s. The Irish New Wave, however, differs in important respects from its British counterpart. Irish fiction registers the ambiguous class position of the Irish in Britain, and narrative strategies common to working-class realist texts, such as the delineation of the relationship between place and community and the representation of social mobility, proved inadequate for articulating lives lived within the Irish community in Britain. Focusing on the figure of the male laborer as represented in contemporary sociological texts and in the work of Donall Mac Amhlaigh and Tom Murphy, the essay examines the development of contrasting narratives of class and community informed both by traditional Irish discourses of emigration and by newly emergent documentary realism.

Petrus Liu The Peripheral Realism of Two Chinas

Reconstructing modernist fiction from 1970s Taiwan as a critical realism, this essay proposes that the historical creation of two Chinas (the Republic of China on Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China) provided a formative stage for vibrant literary ruminations on the dissonance between women’s subjectivities and rapid economic modernization. Time and again, characters from this body of literature ask what it means to be part of a spatially and temporally fragmented world as they embody and engage capitalism’s social contradictions. Instead of signifying a coherent nation, location, or people, “China” in this peripheral realism represents the experiential schism between cultural identity and global commodification. Reading Xiao Sa’s novel Song of Dreams as a narrative about the social life of commodities in this context, Liu explores realism’s capacity for diagnosing the transformation of human sociality and connectedness under intense economic modernization.

Yoon Sun Lee Type, Totality, and the Realism of Asian American Literature

This essay examines how the concept of realism applies to minor literature by retrieving and expanding Georg Lukács’s understanding of realism as the deliberate negation of modernism. In Lukács’s view, realism distinctively expresses an aspiration to totality. Its most important device is typicality, which claims to broaden the significance of what might seem merely particular. This definition of realism illuminates two pioneering works of Asian American literature. Jade Snow Wong and Maxine Hong Kingston, despite their many differences, both engage in the realist project of overcoming reified particulars. They invent techniques to mediate and thereby to connect isolated acts, events, and persons to a total context of social life.

Sanjay Krishnan V. S. Naipaul and Historical Derangement

The consensus that the postcolonial writer must be on the side of the oppressed prevents critics from grasping the original ways in which V. S. Naipaul’s untypical writings are attuned to the historical predicament of the periphery. Naipaul’s premise is that subjects in the periphery are shaped by complex pasts that they are not well placed to comprehend. For historical reasons, peripheral societies lack the institutions and practices required for an adequate grasp of modernity’s profoundly disruptive effects. The globalizing forms of colonialism and capitalism diverted the social trajectories of the peasant formations of the precapitalist world. According to Naipaul, these deranging effects are precisely what the peripheral artist excavates. Writers born of this historical milieu must, in his view, also note how their work partakes of the order it describes. Those who explore their formation in this way may discover new ways of seeing the affiliations between subjected parts of the world. In this light, derangement also assumes a productive force: it makes available new perspectives derived from shared but diverse expressions of peripheral historicity. The fundamental significance of Naipaul’s writing lies in its inauguration of a style of peripheral reflection.

Stephen Best On Failing to Make the Past Present

A good deal of recent scholarship into the slave past proclaims that the past’s political significance resides in its continuity with our present, finding both ethical moment and critical motivation in a recovery imperative that seeks to continue, reanimate, or complete the political projects of those who were defeated by history. This ethic of recovery has at times gone by the name “melancholy historicism,” and its paragon text has been Toni Morrison’s Beloved. This essay questions whether recovery predicated on such assumptions is the only way to either have or do slave history, and it ponders the possibility that the unforthcomingness of the past may be the fount of its deepest political (if not human) significance. The essay seeks to make the case for the writing of a history of discontinuity, the model for which is again provided by Morrison, in A Mercy, which by way of its ungenial textual effects expresses the author’s apparent turn away from the affective history project she earlier so capably inspired.

top Volume 73, Issue 4
Author Title
François Jullien Rethinking Comparison (translated by Erik Anspach)

Comparison of Chinese and Western civilizations cannot proceed on the basis of influences but only of originary distinctions. Even the most general categories remain unassimilable and must be understood in terms of contrasts. An exterior, “utopic” or “atopic” perspective that takes nothing for granted mutually highlights Chinese and Western cultures. China, for instance, exhibits no disjuncture between sacred and profane, hence no canon in the Western sense. Even difference is too relative a term; cultures must be grasped in terms of separations, of how they stand apart from one another, making diversity an irreducible resource. “Being,” “truth,” and “time” are all Western categories whose aspects are presented altogether differently in Chinese. Displacement, in the sense of Michel Foucault or Gilles Deleuze, still premises a norm. So does any notion of a rooted cultural absolute. Everything is subject to understanding, via dialogue rather than intuition, and with continued alertness to the unthought within each culture.

Kevin Pask Ancients and Moderns: The Origins of Literary History

Literary history has largely ignored its own origins in the late Renaissance, and we still lack a full account of how literary history, based in the European vernacular literatures, emerged during the early modern period. Pask attempts to redress this lack by arguing, primarily through English examples, for the long-term significance of the cultural debate between Ancients and Moderns across Europe. The Moderns argued for the possibility of historical change in literary standards; the Ancients, for the putatively unchanging models of the Greek and Roman classics. Probably the most important outcome of this debate was the self-conscious historicity of the European national literatures as they consolidated new forms of cultural authority. The idea of historical change aligned the literary Moderns with a revolution in scientific discourse, including Baconian science. It also produced an account of national literature that was cosmopolitan in scope rather than narrowly chauvinistic.

Michael Modarelli The Struggle for Origins: Old English in Nineteenth-Century America

The founding of the United States brought with it many conceptions of Englishness, among them the historical connection to an Anglo-Saxon past. To explain the importance of Anglo-Saxonism in the American nineteenth century, Modarelli argues that the northern American states, mostly under the influence of German Romanticism, looked back to the northern Saxons as a mythical origin of American culture, while the southern states, spurred in part by Walter Scott’s popular reversal of the Norman-Saxon equation, followed a more cavalier mythology. As nineteenth-century historical texts employed Norman-Saxon dichotomies for nationalist purposes, various nations manipu¬lated the Anglo-Saxon myth for nation-building purposes. America was no different. Ultimately, its relation to its Anglo-Saxon past became a struggle for its own national heritage.

Tim Dolin Who Belongs Where in The Woodlanders?

In recent years ecocriticism has renovated the old orthodoxy, demol¬ished forty years ago by Raymond Williams, that Thomas Hardy was the “incomparable chronicler” of an unchanging culture and the “last representative of old rural England.” In particular, The Woodlanders has been reread as the study of a culture of belonging that is infiltrated and undermined by a culture of tourism. This essay argues that Hardy’s novel in fact obliges us to question what belonging means in Wessex, where tourism is already immanent and where the culture of habitat is a consumer fantasy to which Hardy himself contributed as a producer of rural tales for metropolitan markets. Fiction reading and the tourism it complements and engenders both have material consequences, as the novel acknowledges. Reader-tourists see themselves in Grace Melbury, in particular, and recognize in her story a struggle toward a new kind of touristic subjectivity, founded in poetic attentiveness. If they read Hardy aright, they are encouraged to follow Grace in unmaking the self-evidence of the scenic Wessex: to notice it, as she does, for the first time, in an extreme close-up that “disproportions” and denaturalizes it, refuting the sedate long shots of tourist brochures.

Shuang Shen Hong Kong Literary History and the Construction of the Local in Xi Xi’s I City

Hong Kong literary history presents a polemical case study for a con¬temporary rethinking of national literary history: Is it a local history or a global history? How should we describe the complex connections between the city’s sinophone literature and the literatures of mainland China and other sinophone locations? This essay recognizes the sig¬nificance of the Hong Kong identity discourse constructed around the 1997 “Handover,” but it argues that a historical narration of localness cannot follow a national literary model. Rather, it is important to con¬sider the interactions between history and place and to examine how knowledge is made in and transacted between specific places. Taking I City, a 1975 nationalist allegory of Hong Kong, as an example, the essay shows that the principle of modernist collage enables Xi Xi to construct a narrative of the local that retains myriad complex connections with nonlocal places. Collage can be understood as the poetics of Hong Kong literary history.


Modern Language Quarterly | Department of English, Box 354330 | University of Washington | Seattle, WA 98195-4430
mlq@u.washington.edu