Volume 79, Issue 1 | March 2018

Author Title
Kevin Pask In the Literature Lab  
The most striking development in literary scholarship since the millenium is the increasing exploration of scientific models for literary research. This reflects an anxiety about the authority of humanistic research that has historical roots, some of them well described in the work of the social anthropologist Ernest Gellner. The "two cultures" debate of the early 1960s, centrally animated by C.P. Snow and F.R. Leavis, made the anxiety of the literary professoriat a matter of public debate that still inflects literary scholarship and theory. The rhetorical amplification of scientism, privileging scientific methodologies or partnership with scientific methodologies, in recent literary-critical scholarship is one result. The older formation of "humanities computing," for example, has reemerged as the digital humanities, with claims to the status of interpretive methodology, particularly in the work of Franco Moretti. Such claims, however, are sometimes the repackaging of older methodologies.
Michelle M. Dowd The Veritable Véritable Saint Genest: Tragedy and Martyr Play in Jean Rotrou  
Students of seventeenth-century French drama offer oddly truncated readings of Jean Rotrou’s Véritable Saint Genest. Fascinated by the play within a play in which the eponymous saint is converted to a Christian martyr’s faith by performing a Christian martyr’s role, scholars focus on acts 2 through 4, where the play in question is rehearsed and staged. However, overlooking the frame in acts 1 and 5, where the subject of the interior play is chosen and the problematic consequences of the actor’s conversion are laid out, obscures Rotrou’s true theme, which is neither of those conventionally ascribed to him: the staging of the martyr drama’s soteriological lesson or, in more secular wise, a baroque celebration of theater’s demiurgical powers of illusion. Rotrou reflects instead on the motives behind period reluctance to stage tragedies that draw on recent events, in particular the religious civil wars of the preceding century. Albeit in the discreetly displaced form of a martyr story set in imperial Rome, the play enacts the violent disorders associated with religion itself and so, by extension, the virtues of the new secular order that theater embodies.
Taylor Schey Skeptical Ignorance: Hume, Shelley, and the Mystery of “Mont Blanc"  
Literary history commonly holds that the Enlightenment inaugurated an epistemological crisis to which the British Romantic poets sought to respond. The skeptical separation of subject and object is considered a central problem for Romanticism, which is thought to rest on a desire to regain access to things in themselves—or, in a more recent idiom, to what Quentin Meillassoux calls “the great outdoors” and Jane Bennett calls “the out-side.” This story does not stand up to scrutiny. A reexamination of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poetry and philosophy reveals that he was positively invested in a poetic praxis of skeptical ignorance derived from David Hume and that this praxis allowed him to vacate the question of the way things really are. Eschewing the masculinist quest to penetrate the secrets of the natural world, this skeptical praxis offers a quiet solution to the mind-nature problem by dissolving its existence as a problem. It also overhauls our understanding of “Mont Blanc” and illuminates a Romantic tradition founded on a poetics of epistemic sufficiency.
Florian Gargaillo “Past Echoes of Cruelty and Nonsense” in Stevie Smith  
In a review of T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, Stevie Smith lamented that “so many writers of these times, which need courage and the power of criticism, and coolness, should find their chief delight in terrifying themselves and their readers with past echoes of cruelty and nonsense.” Paradoxically, those twin nouns—“cruelty and nonsense”—have often been used to describe her own poetry. This essay examines Smith’s allusions to Eliot, Algernon Swinburne, and John Keats and demonstrates that such “past echoes” helped her weigh the risk of dwelling on cruelty to the point of morbidity against that of finding too much pleasure in the cruel and absurd. More broadly, Smith’s allusiveness presents a significant alternative to Harold Bloom’s anxiety of influence. Her attitude toward her predecessors is not agonistic but playful, elusive, and polyvalent. She writes through the poetry of the past to work out problems of ethics and aesthetics that were of great importance to her.
Author Title
Jesse Molesworth Clifford Siskin, System: The Shaping of Modern Knowledge
Louisa Mackenzie Ayesha Ramachandran, The Worldmakers: Global Imagining in Early Modern Europe
Hassan Melehy Andrew Hui, The Poetics of Ruins in Renaissance Literature
Ian Duncan Andrew Scheil, Babylon under Western Eyes: A Study of Allusion and Myth
Eric Keenaghan Jeanne Heuving, The Transmutation of Love and Avant-Garde Poetics

Modern Language Quarterly | Department of English, Box 354330 | University of Washington | Seattle, WA 98195-4430