Special Issue: Literary Value
|Joseph Luzzi||Literary Value|
|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?
Modern Language Quarterly | Department of English, Box 354330 |
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