Abstracts v.76 | 2015

Volume 76, Issue 1
Author Title
Philip Mirabelli Shakespeare and Sexual Re-formation

Reacting against a repressive turn in the libidinal system, Shakespeare’s middle-period plays, this essay argues, defend the traditional relationship code and its largely tolerant mores, question the fusion of passion and marriage that the playwright developed in earlier plays, and explore more pragmatic options. At the beginning of the seventeenth century cultural momentum turned away from an imprecise system of relationships and toward a monolithic and homogenizing institution of marriage and strict distinctions, which began to exclude homoeroticism. This sexual re-formation is critiqued in Shakespeare’s extensive middle-period treatments of sexual relationships, even dramatized by the indeterminacy of Claudio and Juliet’s union in Measure for Measure; it would be largely dismantled by the sexual re-structuring that began in the 1960s. In each transitional era there was a shift in relationship and courtship codes, a reconfiguration of the boundaries between the acceptable and the illicit, a reorientation of normative content that (re)produces ideals governing identity, and a refashioning of the means of desiring-production. Stressing structural shifts in practices and discourses of kinship formation, this approach supplements other theorizations of the sex/gender/relationship system and calls for studying the varieties of heteroeroticism, including those that accept the homoeroticism in all sexuality.

John Plotz Speculative Naturalism and the Problem of Scale: Richard Jefferies’s After London, after Darwin

Although naturalism shares some features with realism and others with modernism, it also has properties that contrast with the realist and modernist prioritization of felt individual experience as the evidentiary matrix on which their accounts of the world are based. Naturalist fiction is committed to microscopic description, below the level of experiential subjectivity, and to macroscopic abstraction. Some of the odder fictional experiments of the era are best understood with reference to the morphology of naturalism &mdash including what might be called the speculative naturalism of Jefferies, Mark Twain, and others. Richard Jefferies’s 1885 After London, an early and critically neglected work of British speculative fiction, is a useful bellwether of the widely distributed naturalist impulses among novelists responding to the era of scientific naturalism most prominently marked by the appearance of Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) and Descent of Man (1871).

Taylor Schey Empiricist Political Theory and the Modern Novel: The Social Contract and H. G. Wells

Modernity is often described as a break with Empiricist and Enlightenment theories. It is also sometimes seen as a polymath period of fragmented disciplinary engagements. Both of these attitudes inform approaches to H. G. Wells, a prolifically interdisciplinary writer. Yet Wells’s diverse works of literature and political theory make him a test-case figure for lines of intersection between modernity and the Enlightenment, a period concerned with the relations between the two genres. Traditionally, studies of Wells only go as far back as Victorianism; conversely, literary studies rarely consider Empiricist political theory in contexts later than Victorian realism. Wells’s works challenge these conventions by self-consciously reflecting on the writings of Adam Smith and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Wells questions the social contract hypothesis that individual interests contribute to broader social wellbeing and demonstrates the centrality of Empiricist political theory for the modernist novel. Through close readings of The Invisible Man and Love and Mr. Lewisham, and broader discussion of Wells’s varied oeuvre, his engagement with Empiricist values, conflicts and literary forms emerges.

Gerald L. Bruns The Impossible Experience of Words: Blanchot, Beckett, and The Materiality of Language

This essay attempts to situate Samuel Beckett’s fiction within the Parisian intellectual and literary milieu of Maurice Blanchot (1907-2003), particularly with respect to the experience of the materiality of language and the double bind of writing in which, as Blanchot wrote in 1943, “The writer finds himself in the increasingly ludicrous condition of having nothing to write, of having no means with which to write it, and of being constrained by the utter necessity of always writing it.” One way of coping with this impasse was to take recourse to the fragment in which words are not composed but juxtaposed, as in Blanchot’s L’attente, l’oubli (1962) and Beckett’s Worstward Ho (1983).

top Volume 76, Issue 2
Author Title
Kevin Pask "Moving Centers": Climate Change, Critical Method, and the Historical Novel

Humanities scholars have been giving renewed attention to capitalism’s externalizations upon our environment. The anthropocene is a speculative epochal shift proposed by geologists to mark the accumulated effect of human industry on the planet’s future. The anthropocene adds a layer of geological time to human history, challenging traditional theories of historical change. Drawing on this notion, Dipesh Chakrabarty outlines three theories of history. History 1 and 2 refer to liberalism and its postcolonial and postmodern critique, respectively. History 3, or post-anthropocene history, marks the horizon of historical consciousness. This article proposes "History 4°" to synthesize History 1-3 into a new totality in which the historical present is defined as internal to an imminent catastrophe. History 4° poses a challenge to the historical novel: somehow it must reveal the intimate causal linkages between human and nonhuman across time, while remaining within the bounds of literary realism. David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is read as a contemporary historical novel adequate to this task. The character Sonmi–451's encounter with a natural landscape ravaged by human industry encapsulates the increasing indistinction between human and nonhuman worlds. The novel's structure rejects linearity as its protagonists are linked to one another and themselves over all of human history.

Vivasvan Soni Judging, Inevitably: Aesthetic Judgment and Novelistic Form in Fielding's Joseph Andrews

Fielding’s novels are often thought to have inaugurated a tradition of sociological observation in the novel, and they are also concerned with cultivating a practice of judgment in readers. Yet there is a puzzle here. The nascent tradition of social theory that informs Fielding’s account (Hobbes, Mandeville) is dominated by a sense of inevitability, whereas judgment is about the things that can be otherwise. I argue, through a close reading of Joseph Andrews, that Fielding does not deploy uncritically the methods and assumptions of a nascent social theory. Rather, he shows that those methods and assumptions hold only under very specific conditions, namely the advent of a commercial modernity which renders judgment all but obsolete. Refusing the sentimental (Richardsonian) and aesthetic (Shaftesburian) responses to this social theory as also complicit in the elision of judgment, Fielding works to transform the emerging novel into a narrative and aesthetic form capable of restoring our capacity for judgment.

Gerard Cohen-Vrignaud Capitalism's Wishful Thinking

This essay relates the stereotype of Muslim fatalism to the ascendant ideal of economic autonomy. I detail how the magical Orientalism that saturates Balzac’s Peau de chagrin (1831), seemingly at odds with its author’s reputation for sociological realism, serves to indict the capitalist ambitions ushered in by France’s bourgeois July Monarchy. Balzac’s ironic Orientalization of Paris demystifies the Bildungsroman’s typically self-made protagonist by foregrounding how the probabilistic attribution of causal force to the human will resembles predestinarian belief in divine determination. The Eastern wish-fulfilling skin of Balzac’s title at once hyperbolizes the liberal fantasy of world-changing power and skeptically suggests that all aspirations to agency entail a leap of faith.

Mark Miller Sin and Structure in Piers Plowman: On the Medieval Split Subject

The inevitable emerges in this issue as a name for the troubled intersection of agency and structural necessity. The most prominent medieval name for that intersection is sin. Far from grounding the medieval subject in a set of theological norms that give it stable coordinates for desire and action, sin indicates the subject’s splitting by the norms that organize it. This essay reads the formal experimentations of Piers Plowman as an exploration of the medieval split subject. The poem repeatedly encounters the demands of political, ethical, economic, and spiritual life, and repeatedly problematizes all of its terms for representing the subject's responsibility to those demands. The death drive offers a way of describing the trajectory of desire beyond anything representable, which finds its most direct expression in the poem’s apocalyptic energies. But Piers Plowman treats even the apocalypse as an anticlimactic avoidance of the bind of desire. If desire drives beyond any terms in which its target can be represented, what compels Langland is finally the unrelenting character of the demands to which the subject can never be adequate.

Eleanor Courtemanche Satire and the "Inevitability Effect": The Structure of Utopian Fiction from Looking Backward to Portlandia

In the late nineteenth century, the literary genre of utopia enjoyed a boom inspired by the success of Edward Bellamy’s 1888 Looking Backward, 2000-1887. These stories, including novels by William Morris and H. G. Wells, often featured a utopian "cicerone" didactically explaining how disordered nineteenth-century societies were transformed into superior future worlds. Because this Marx-inspired utopian didacticism fell quickly out of fashion and was parodied ruthlessly by twentieth-century dystopias, it’s hard to imagine how the form could be revived. However, the TV show Portlandia, which began airing in 2011, avoids the future-oriented "inevitability effect" of the fin-de-siècle utopias by returning to an earlier moment in the utopian genre: the satire of a society located somewhere on the surface of the earth. Portlandia presents a lightly-fictionalized version of Portland, Oregon, as a happy, inclusive, and prosperous town where inhabitants are free to pursue individual visions. Its "cringe comedy" satire of the self-involved inhabitants complicates, but does not substantially undermine, its depiction of a peaceful alternative to the militarized American imagination of the 2000s.

Christian Thorne In Saecula Saeculorum: On How Stories End

Narratologists have often professed a distaste for stories that end unambiguously. The emphatic ending is thought to be simplistic and politically retrograde. It is also thought to be more common in traditional and commercial narrative forms (the folk tale, the realist novel, the feature film) and accordingly less common in modernist and experimental fiction. None of these claims will survive scrutiny. A re&ndashreading of Roland Barthes’s S/Z (1970) should reveal the many shortcuts a narratologist has to take in order to celebrate open endings as liberating and also disclose some of the ideological purposes to which this celebration has been put.

Richard Epstein Inevitability in Law and Literature: A Strained Relationship
top Volume 76, Issue 3
Author Title
Giuseppe Gazzola Return to Tiraboschi: On Italian Literary Canon Formation and National Identity

In an attempt to recover the processes and priorities that led to re-conceptions of the Italian literary canon, this essay traces the inter-relationship between Italian literary canon formation and different constructions of national identity in the literary histories of Tiraboschi and De Sanctis. It examines both the ruptures and the continuities between eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literary historiography, analyzing the political, teleological agenda of De Sanctis’s Storia della letteratura italiana (1870-1871), while simultaneously revealing the equally powerful theoretical underpinnings of Tiraboschi’s vision of the Italian canon. I argue that Tiraboschi’s own Storia della letteratura italiana (1772-1794), because of its precise geographical grounding of literary phenomena, its conceptual proximity to what is now considered cultural studies, and its attention to minority writers, represents a more compelling model for contemporary Italian literary historiography than that of De Sanctis, which was developed for and in a different nationalistic context.

Nico Slate East Indian, West Indian: Colored Cosmopolitanism, World Literature, and the Dual Autobiography of Cedric Dover and Claude McKay

In June 1951, the dual-autobiography of Claude McKay and Cedric Dover was prepared for publication under the title East Indian / West Indian. The unusual hybrid-autobiography of a Jamaican poet and a Calcutta-born Eurasian scholar aimed to provide, in Dover’s words, “a practical expression of coloured unity.” The history of East Indian / West Indian reveals Dover’s colored cosmopolitanism. Dover aimed to color world literature by connecting “colored” writers across the borders of race and nation. He crafted a transnational literary cannon, grounded in the idea of colored solidarity and explicitly opposed to racism and imperialism. Dover’s commitment to colored cosmopolitanism led him to a stale ventriloquism that was itself a form of colonization. Claiming dominion over Claude McKay’s memories of his childhood and of his native Jamaica, Dover failed to uphold not only the most rudimentary principles of scholarship, but also the best intentions of his colored cosmopolitanism. East Indian / West Indian offers a distinctive vantage point on the history of “world literature” and the challenge of reconciling two of the most significant concepts in contemporary scholarship — the subaltern and the transnational.

Peter Kalliney Modernism, African Literature, and the Cold War

Modernist concepts, especially aesthetic autonomy, were fundamental to the literature of decolonization in anglophone Africa. An archival examination of Black Orpheus, Transition, the Transcription Centre, and the African Writers of English Expression conference at Makerere in 1962 shows that many African writers were drawn to modernist principles of intellectual freedom and writerly detachment. Figures such as Rajat Neogy, Christopher Okigbo, and Wole Soyinka, all strongly associated with these emerging cultural institutions, repurposed modernist versions of aesthetic autonomy to declare their freedom from colonial bondage, from systems of racial discrimination, and even from the new postcolonial state. In the geopolitical context of the Cold War, modernist forms aesthetic detachment also gave these writers a language of ideological neutrality. The literary histories of modernism and of anglophone African literature became intertwined through avowals of Cold War neutrality from the first generation of postcolonial writers.

Heidi Yu Huang The Hong Kong Dilemma and a Constellation Solution

For three decades there have been calls for a “locally-produced” history of Hong Kong literature written by scholars born in Hong Kong or long resident there. This essay firstly gives an overview of such a “Hong Kong dilemma” and the scholarly endeavors to meet the three challenges of information selection, historical contextualization, and epistemological configuration. Then it discusses the merits and limits of the three existent analytical perspectives and proposes the paradigmatic image of the constellation to situate Hong Kong literary history more suitably in the multiple dimensions of world literary space. In conclusion the essay recommends the constellation paradigm for an effective history that strikes connections beyond binarisms like East and West, Mainland China and Hong Kong, or center and periphery.

top Volume 76, Issue 4
Author Title
Megan Heffernan Gathered by Invention: Additive Forms and Inference in Gascoigne’s Poesy

From the perspectives of both literary form and the history of the book, volumes of gathered poetry illustrate the fundamental incoherence of hand-press era texts. This essay considers the flexible web of connections within poetic miscellanies as an imaginative response to that basic disorder. Reading the organization of two editions of George Gascoigne’s work, it explores the dynamic exchanges between poems and commercial textual features and finds in those feedback loops an ambitious projection of the larger form of the book. Far from a simple or inherent unity, this paratactic structure uses poetry to span the physical juxtapositions of books made by diverse agents of the press. By forging an inferential engagement with the design of the volume, Gascoigne resisted a system of publication bent on dispersing his writing and folded non-authorial devices into the most elemental workings of poetic form.

Barbara Fuchs Suspended Judgments: Scepticism and the Pact of Fictionality in Cervantes’ Picaresque Novellas

While Cervantes’ playfulness with perspectivism and his scepticism in Don Quijote have been abundantly noted, the scepticism of the Novelas ejemplares is equally striking. This essay examines the tension between exemplarity and scepticism—the one offering models for behavior that presume belief, the other encouraging instead a productive doubt—to suggest that Cervantes offers a productive and fully engaged fictionality as an alternative to the exemplary text. Focusing on "Rinconete y Cortadillo" and the dyad of "El casamiento engañoso/El coloquio de los perros," I argue that the picaresque allows Cervantes to probe a broader readerly scepticism, extending beyond irony to epistemological questions of the truth of narratives and how they might be assessed.

Donal Harris Understanding Eliot: Mass Media and Literary Modernism in the American Century

T.S. Eliot’s extraordinary popularity in the United States during the late 1940s and 1950s rests in part on how mass-market magazines like Time and Life re–interpreted his poetry from the 1920s as transparent, realistic, and, most strikingly, American. These magazines widely circulated Eliot’s pre-war poetry, especially The Waste Land, as an allegory of the crisis in national and nationalist culture during "The American Century," a term coined by Henry Luce in 1941. The articles about and reproductions of Eliot’s work leading up to his Nobel Prize in 1948 not only figure literary modernism as part of the "vital center" of Cold War politics, but also, improbably, position postwar nationalist anxiety as a version of modernist ennui. This unlikely picture of an American Eliot exposes a momentary reinterpretation of modernism as inherently nationalist in postwar periodical culture, while it also suggests the possible critical payoff of taking failed readings seriously.

Glyn Salton-Cox Boy Meets Camera: Christopher Isherwood, Sergei Tretiakov, and the Queer Potential of the First Five–Year Plan

This article examines a particularly salient point of mutual constitution between queer and leftist literary production in the 1930s. It reads Christopher Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories (1935/9) through an important debate in the Marxist aesthetics of the period, between Sergei Tretiakov and Georg Lukács, arguing that Isherwood’s famous statement "I am a camera" should be reimagined as a declaration of radical anti–humanism with important implications for both Marxist and queer theory. In so doing it proposes that Isherwood’s literary praxis of self–instrumentalization offers a definition of the human that refuses both property ownership and heterosexual monogamy. In the light of this new reading Isherwood’s place in the leftist and queer canons must be reconstituted, as should the relationship between certain strains of Soviet Marxism and queer writing of the period. Far from being a lukewarm socialist in his youth who later became a middlebrow bourgeois figure in gay literature, Isherwood offers a queer Marxist contribution to radical literary history; reading Isherwood through Tretiakov reveals, moreover, a striking cultural-historical possibility: the queer potential of the collectivizing impulses of the First Five⏻Year Plan.

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