Abstracts for Volume 74 | 2013

Volume 74, Issue 1
Author Title
Cynthia Nazarian Du Bellay’s Petrarchan Politics: Violence and Imitation in the Olive and Deffence

This essay examines images of violence in the first French sonnet sequence, Joachim Du Bellay’s Olive, alongside his protonationalist manifesto, the Deffence et illustration de la langue françoyse. Through the omnipresent imagery of violence that links these texts, Nazarian explores the wider political stakes of imitation in Du Bellay’s works. The Olive showcases French poetic and cultural superiority through bloody images of mutilation and consumption of Italian sources, reshaping Petrarchism into an attack on Italy as beloved. The sonnets and manifesto jointly target the Holy Roman Empire of Charles V through shared metaphors of imperial conquest, looting, and war.

Michael B. Prince “Religio Laici” v. Religio Laici: Dryden, Blount, and the Origin of English Deism

This essay reopens the case of two identically titled works that appeared within twelve months of each other, a preface and poem by John Dryden (1682) and a philosophical treatise published by Charles Blount (1683). It argues that the latter was written before the former and not by Blount but by the founder of modern deism, Lord Herbert of Cherbury. It further argues that both Blount and Dryden were probably aware of Herbert’s English manuscript of Religio Laici before 1682. Dryden wrote his Religio Laici in a hurry to preempt the deists’ Religio Laici; Blount then used Dryden’s poem to avoid censorship, masking the first English manifesto of deism as an adulatory letter to Dryden. This argument solves several long-standing problems in the interpretation of Dryden’s poem and in the historiography of early English deism.

Beth Blum Ulysses as Self-Help Manual?: James Joyce’s Strategic Populism

This essay uses “self-help” guides to James Joyce as an occasion to illuminate the buried history of modernism’s engagement with popular morality. It suggests that the birth of Joyce’s aesthetic — and, by extension, of modernism more broadly — is attributable to early twentieth-century debates over literature’s social use, debates that had far-reaching political and national implications. As a corollary, the essay undermines idealized portraits of “oracular” Joyce by showing Ulysses to be firmly a product of the contentions of its day. Far from a source of alienation, didacticism offers a means of reclaiming literature for popular readers.

Bruce Ronda Re-thinking Transcendentalism: Perry Miller, Truman Nelson, and Thoreau’s “Lost Journal”

Perry Miller’s 1958 edition of Henry David Thoreau’s “lost journal” for 1840 – 41, with its long and condescending introduction, prompted the leftist novelist Truman Nelson to engage in a bitter correspondence with Van Wyck Brooks and others, critiquing Miller’s approach to Thoreau and transcendentalism and offering a reading that emerged from Nelson’s Marxist outlook. This essay explores Miller’s penchant for existentialist readings of historical-literary figures and movements, which clashed with Nelson’s materialist interpretation of antebellum culture. Although these two approaches seem incommensurate, a more holistic view of transcendentalism results from acknowledging both: Miller’s preference for accounts of individual struggle, self-doubt, and ambiguity and Nelson’s insistence on the transcendentalists’ embrace of movements for social change.

top Volume 74, Issue 2
Author Title
David Damrosch World Literature in a Postliterary Age

This essay considers the shifting valences of “world” and “literature” in the American academic context of the past half century. The first part of the essay, which takes up the debates during the 1950s and 1960s on the teaching of world literature in translation, looks particularly at the institutional differences between the Ivy League programs in comparative literature and the world literature programs that were growing rapidly at large midwestern state universities. Damrosch argues that we are now better able to mediate between the demands of elite and mass education and between work in original languages and in translation. In the second part Damrosch proposes that the fundamental tension today has shifted to the question of the place of literary studies in a multimedia age, and he explores how we can make affirmative use of the common translation of classic texts across not only languages but media.

Rebecca L. Walkowitz Close Reading in an Age of Global Writing

Walkowitz argues in this essay that we need to understand more flexibly both the production and the circulation of world literature, inasmuch as some literary works begin comparatively and collaboratively, in multiple language editions and in several geographies at once or nearly at once, and artworks address the world in different ways and in different temporalities. This essay approaches these concerns by turning to the born-translated oeuvre of the collaborative web artists known as Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries. Young-hae Chang and Marc Voge’s works are born-translated, first, because they appear simultaneously in multiple languages and, second, because they engage formally, thematically, and typographically with the theory and practice of translation. Chang and Voge help us think about the relationship between modernism and world literature. They show that the reading methods we bring to born-translated writing are symbiotic with dominant accounts of modernism, and they give us the opportunity to develop new methods and new approaches to literary history.

Azade Seyhan World Literatures Reimagined: Sara Suleri’s Meatless Days and A.H. Tanpinar’s Five Cities

This essay investigates what differentiates the idea and practice of world literature(s) from those of national literatures, exile literature, and transnational or cosmopolitan literature. It identifies provincialism, Europolitanism, and the separation of literature and history as the primary factors that resist the prospects of world literature and short-circuit the interconnected synapses of life and the social imaginary. By examining Sara Suleri’s Meatless Days and A. H. Tanp?nar’s Five Cities, Seyhan considers how a critical understanding of texts born at geographic peripheries or peripheral literary sites, yet outside provincial borders, endorses a vital engagement with world literature(s). A renewed reading of such works highlights their appointment with history and their reflection on the specificities of cultural variables that invest them with universal appeal.

Caroline Levine The Great Unwritten: World Literature and the Effacement of Orality

Many scholars have embraced world literature as a project to understand literature’s role in a large-scale story of global inequality. Yet critics have paid remarkably little attention to one of the most unevenly distributed of the world’s resources: literacy itself. For most of human history, the written word has been the province of a privileged minority. This essay argues that current discussions of world literature have taken their shape from three print-based institutions — the mass literacy movements of the late nineteenth century, the publishing industry, and the university — all of which have valued writing at the expense of meaningful attention to oral works. Levine explores the serious political implications of effacing orality and proposes specific ways to incorporate orature into the institutions of world literature.

B. Venkat Mani Borrowing Privileges: Libraries and the Institutionalization of World Literature

This essay addresses a major gap in the recent scholarship on world literature: the neglect of libraries and print cultural institutions to determine world-literary circulation and reception. Mani makes a case for the dual role of libraries as instrumental to and as instruments of access to world literature. Locating world literature at the intersection of libraries, print-cultural studies, and translation histories, the essay opens up new significations for our understanding of world literature as a comparative project. Instead of reinforcing ownership and expertise by fixating on the original language of creation and scholarly expertise, the essay proposes a perspective on world literature that is based on borrowing privileges: through translation, reading, and collections in private and public libraries. Mani ends by discussing Hermann Hesse’s essay Eine Bibliothek der Weltliteratur (A Library of World Literature, 1929). Direct and indirect censorship, the cultural politics of intimidation, and the ethnicization of German national literature make Hesse’s essay, and its afterlife, an exemplary means of evaluating world literature through the politics of (in)accessibility.

Peter Höyng “The Gospel of World Harmony” or Beethoven’s Transformation of Schiller’s An die Freude to World Music Literature

In Beethoven’s last symphony one encounters a prototype in which music serves as a powerful catalyst for literature. It is his music that transported Schiller’s poem “An die Freude” (“Ode to Joy”) beyond its temporal, linguistic, and geographic origin. If one dubs this phenomenon “world music literature,” it implies that three domains are essential for it: first, creating a literary text; second, setting the text to music; and third, having access to both and enabling the composition to circulate within large networks and groups around the globe. Within this context Schiller’s text and Beethoven’s musical setting of it are unique in that text and music thematize and joyfully celebrate the very notion of access as the liberating act of a unifying group identity. Höyng describes a performance of the choral work as documented in Kinshasa Symphony (2011), reading it as a prime example of access to and circulation of Beethoven’s monumental music, then outlines how Beethoven’s access to literature serves as a paradigm of gaining access within a network of friends and discovering the liberating force of literature.

Paulo de Medeiros Blindness, Invisibility, and the Negative Inheritance of World Literature

World literature can be seen as one of Friedrich Nietzsche’s “good things,” a great idealization of the capacities of the human spirit and at the same time a fierce contest for power and dominance. In this contest the question of minor literature invariably surfaces in relation to issues of canonicity and to world literature in general. References to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s work on Franz Kafka inevitably misread its revolutionary potential and become reductive. In the different European literatures, issues stemming from the aftermath of colonialism reveal the bankruptcy of the category of minor literature when one thinks about world literature. Several examples from lusophone writers and others point to the need to rethink the national categorization of literature. Instead of seeing some literatures as minor, Medeiros proposes seeing them as “eccentric,” questioning the division between center and periphery.

Djelal Kadir World Literature: The Allophone, the Differential, and the Common

This essay explores three aspects of the phenomenon of world literature in its resurgence in critical discourse: (1) world literature as allophone, or as heteroglossic alterity emanating from discrete geographic points with particular and would-be exclusive traditions; (2) world literature as differential idiom, an integral part of a heterogeneous corpus in contestation; and (3) world literature as unitary and universal concept projected globally from particular sites of discourse. Each aspect has had a degree of epochal primacy in literary history. All three aspects seem to coincide in an agonal three-dimensionality, with each projecting its own discursive tangent into a global agora with some mutual apprehension, but with an even greater lack of mutual comprehensibility in the concatenation.

top Volume 74, Issue 3
Author Title
Anahid Nersessian Two Gardens: An Experiment in Calamity Form

Recent calls to understand eighteenth-and nineteenth-century poetry as a response to deteriorating environmental conditions insist on a problematic continuity between our own time and the time of Romanticism. This essay explores the aesthetic and ethical possibilities of nescience, or unknowing, as a way to confront uncertain futures. Drawing on the work of William 0owper and Derek Jarman, it considers the discursive relationship between AIDS activism in the 1980s and the nature poetry of the Romantic period and finds in that relationship a philosophical bond between past and present states of being in the dark. This nescient or ignorant epistemology has resonances with Roland Barthes’s writings on Zen as well as with Derek Parfit’s rejection of personal identity and, by extension, of self-interest as a catalyst for moral action.

Robert D. Hume “London” in Comedy from Michaelmas Term to The Beggar’s Opera

Some 250 English comedies are set in London between circa 1600 and 1737. Three clichés about them remain current. First, “Jacobean city comedy” performs serious sociopolitical work. Second, the social level of the protagonists rises in the “comedy of wit” or “comedy of manners.” Third, “low” and “satirical” comedy gradually gives way to “sentimental” and even “exemplary” comedy. None of these claims is more than very partly true. Throughout this span of time we find topical (City Politiques) and topographical (Covent Garden) comedy, social satire (The Provok’d Wife), ideological argumentation (The Country Gentleman), and ambivalent or ironic presentation of conflicted or unstable values (The Man of Mode). London can be fun (The Shoemaker’s Holiday), glamorous (The Lady of Pleasure), wicked (Friendship in Fashion), low (The Roaring Girl), ugly (The Wives Excuse), or allegorical (Albion and Albanius). The degree of realism varies drastically. The plays exhibit far greater diversity of attitude and are much more difficult to interpret with confidence than most critics have been willing to admit. We do well, therefore, to take them on a case-by-case basis, acknowledging that some are ambiguous, internally contradictory, or just plain opaque.

Nicholas Halmi Romanticism, the Temporalization of History, and the Historicization of Form

Since the beginning of its academic study around 1870, Romanticism has been defined simultaneously as a historical period (chronologically restricted) and as a stylistic type (chronologically open). This paradox, consisting in the difficulty of reconciling historical temporality with the systematization of knowledge, can be traced back to the “temporalization” of history in the second half of the eighteenth century, when transhistorical aesthetic classification was destabilized and literary history developed as a distinct critical practice. But the troubled historical consciousness manifested in aesthetic theory of the time — nostalgia for an irrecoverable past — also expressed itself artistically in forms at once engaged with and detached from history, notably stylistic simulacra of the past and, in poetry, failed or ironized revivals of the classical gods.

Merrill Turner The Chekhovian Point of View in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse

Although Virginia Woolf’s critical writings pay special tribute to Anton Chekhov’s stories and plays, his role as preceptor in relation to her own fiction has not been fully explored. Not only does the manuscript of To the Lighthouse display clear affinities with Chekhov’s sensibility (as apprehended in Woolf’s 1925 Common Reader essay, “The Russian Point of View”), but this congruence was intensified during extensive final revisions, begun in typescript just after Woolf had viewed a production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters in late October 1925. Woolf’s purposeful assimilation of Chekhov’s inconclusive, disjunctive manner in her meticulously composed, autobiographically candid novel bespeaks an unapologetic openness to authorial influence, made all the more provocative by the adoption of a foreign model whose merit was then still little recognized in English literary circles.

top Volume 74, Issue 4
Author Title
J. L. Simmons Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Familial Blessings: Historical Abruptions

Epigraphs from William Roper’s “Life of Sir Thomas More” represent rituals of familial blessing in transition from the feudal to the early modern. They exemplify Shakespeare’s complex employment of the ritual in Hamlet and throughout his plays from the farcical to the serene. The “double blessing” that Polonius gives Laertes shows this ritual, as do those of earlier sons Launce and Launcelot in The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Merchant of Venice; All’s Well That Ends Well renders it confusingly in feudal transition into a new age. King Lear offers it in the peaceful reconciliation of father and daughter, as, tragically, does the final action between Gertrude and Hamlet when she wipes his forehead, fulfilling his promise that “when you are desirous to be blessed, / I’ll blessing beg of you.” The blessing of marriage between Hamlet and Ophelia exposes another abruption between the historical conception of political marriage argued by Polonius and Laertes and marriages of mutuality aborted by the adulterous and murderous one of Gertrude and Claudius. Hamlet is structured on the Danish history of Old Hamlet/Old Fortinbras abrupted by that of Young Hamlet/Young Fortinbras—with Hamlet blessed neither to leave home nor to marry.

James Kuzner Metaphysical Freedom

This essay explores metaphysical poetry’s strange meditations on freedom. As Alain Badiou suggests and Hannah Arendt famously claims, this poetry demonstrates that freedom is best understood not as sovereignty but as natality, liberation from life’s automatic routines and a partaking, in a sense, of a second birth. Subjects of metaphysical freedom are drawn, overwhelmed, and transformed from without, all to enter a strange condition of rest to which they contribute virtually nothing and that is paradoxically so intense as to be hardly recognizable as human. John Donne, George Herbert, and Henry Vaughan engage concepts of liberty predictably, given their contexts and ours, but also in ways that are unpredictable and occasionally even startling.

David L. Sedley A Mathematical Key to La Princesse de Clèves

This article interprets Madame de Lafayette’s La Princesse de Clèves as a response to Blaise Pascal’s arithmetic triangle. Pascal used the numbers of the triangle to determine how to divide fairly the stakes of an interrupted game of chance. He called his method “the geometry of chance,” and he touted it as an expansion of “the empire of reason” into formerly ungovernable territory. However, Pascal never applied the arithmetic triangle to games with more than two players, and the love triangle among the central characters in Lafayette’s novel implicitly ridicules this constraint. The frame around the present argument extends its significance beyond La Princesse de Clèves to the modern literary mechanisms whose origins critics have identified with it.

Jasper Bernes John Ashbery’s Free Indirect Labor

The early poems of John Ashbery must be read, in part, as a meditation on the plight of labor, particularly white-collar labor, in the postwar United States. Beginning with “The Instruction Manual” (1956) and its exploration of the ambiguous class position of white-collar workers, the essay tracks themes and formalizations of both labor and management as they continue in Ashbery’s highly experimental second book, The Tennis Court Oath (1962). In this book the standpoint of the earlier poem gives way to an explosion of shifting voices as Ashbery’s distinctive use of free indirect discourse and other techniques of point of view registers the contemporary breakdown in labor relations and the crisis for established modes of management. In Ashbery’s mature style of the 1970s, this chaotic play of voices yields to a comparatively measured technology of point of view, which resembles the new modes of management that followed the crises of the 1960s and 1970s.


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