Abstracts v.78 | 2017

Volume 78, Issue 1
Author Title
Seo Hee Im Between Habbakuk and Locke: Pain, Debt, and Economic Subjectivation in Paradise Lost

Readers of Paradise Lost have argued that the epic registers England’s nascent imperialism negatively through its associations of trade with Satan. This essay rethinks Paradise Lost’s relation to empire by tracing its involvement in the making of an early modern subjectivity that is constitutively informed by an awareness of debt, debit, and credit. That profane mode of thought later finds more enthusiastic expression in the early English novels of Daniel Defoe and others, but it begins to take shape in Milton, who derives it from none other than religious sources such as scripture, atonement theology, and nostalgia for purgatory. Despite its voiced misgivings about British commercialism, Paradise Lost thus participates in England’s historical growth from peripheral island to sprawling world empire.

Maryam Wasif Khan The Oriental Tale and the Transformation of North-Indian Prose Fiction

The eighteenth-century English Oriental tale has in recent scholarship been read as both productive and dissident. But the legacies of this literary genre in the Indian colony and its role in the formation of a world literature remain mostly unstudied. The formation of colonial institutions such as Fort William College, Calcutta (1800), inaugurated the standardization of the fluid North Indian language complex into the religiously demarcated vernaculars Urdu and Hindi. The imperially patronized production of the Oriental tale as both a literary and a pedagogical form, exemplified by Mir Amman’s B??h-o Bah?r (The Garden and the Spring, 1804), among other works, began the process of the large-scale and nearly irreversible reorganization of North Indian literary traditions. The rise of a colonial nexus of educational institutions for natives codified the Fort William works as canonical, while narratives such as the d?st?n that operated at a distance from the colonial ambit became, at best, peripheral to a modern Urdu literature.

Alexander Pettit Comedy and Metacomedy: Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms and Its Antecedents

During an eleven-year period that began in 1913 with the composition of his first play, Eugene O’Neill repeatedly experimented with New Comic forms. His seven “metacomedies” from this period—most focally Bread and Butter, “Anna Christie,” and Desire under the Elms—render grotesque the inseparably erotic, familial, and financial tendencies of comic plot. In Desire under the Elms, for example, lovers are brought together but placed under arrest. The metacomedies record O’Neill’s reaction against the coalescent endings common to two modes of drama that he knew well: the melodrama of his father’s generation and the melodramatic-cum-realistic Broadway fare of his own youth. Textual history has impeded their categorical recognition: in 1924, when Desire under the Elms was first published and performed, 39 percent of O’Neill’s oeuvre (seventeen of forty-four plays), but just 19 percent of his staged work (five of twenty-six plays) and 16 percent of his published work (four of twenty-five), was comic or metacomic. It is no wonder, then, that the metacomic O’Neill has remained invisible, at cost to our understanding of his early dramatic practice. The other plays principally at issue are A Wife for a Life, The Movie Man, The Personal Equation, and The Straw.

Katherine Bode The Concurrence of “Close” and “Distant” Reading; Or, Towards a New Object for Data-Rich Literary History

The approaches to data-rich literary history that dominate academic and public debate—Franco Moretti’s “distant reading” and Matthew Jockers’s “macroanalysis”—model literary systems in limited, abstract, and often ahistorical ways. This problem arises from neglect of the activities and insights of textual scholarship and is inherited from, rather than opposed to, the New Criticism and its core method of “close reading.” Literary history requires not new or integrated methods but a new scholarly object capable of managing the documentary record’s complexity, especially as manifested in emerging digital knowledge infrastructure. Building on significant, though uneven and unacknowledged, departures from Moretti’s and Jockers’s work in data-rich literary history, this essay describes such an object, modeled on the foundational technology of textual scholarship: the scholarly edition.

top Volume 78, Issue 2
Author Title
Robert D. Hume Axiologies: Past and Present Concepts of Literary Value

Verdicts concerning a work’s worth, “good,” “bad,” or “great,” vary wildly at any point and change radically over time. Much depends on what didactic or aesthetic rules are imposed and what modes of reading hold sway. Many critics see the purpose of literature as didactic; others subscribe to the principle of art for art’s sake. We need to know whether we are debating a text or disputing the evaluative criteria applicable to it. We need to ask how certain we are of what the author meant to accomplish. Henry Fielding and David Hume remind us that a range of judgments is unavoidable: people differ, and so do aesthetic and moral preferences. So if subjectivity is inescapable, we should accept chaotic diversity in a spirit of courteous toleration.

Catherine Nicholson Old Spelling and the Forging of Spenser's Readers

Unlike the works of contemporaries like William Shakespeare and John Donne, Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1590 and 1596) is almost invariably reproduced by modern editors with its peculiar sixteenth-century spellings intact, on the grounds that orthographic modernization would violate the poem’s deliberately archaic style and obscure its densely encoded verbal wit. Drawing on the resources of traditional bibliography, intellectual history, and digital database analysis, this essay proposes that the “old spelling” Faerie Queene is as much an artifact of the mid-eighteenth century as it is of the late sixteenth—and that its relation to Spenser’s intentions is less clear than the role it has played in securing norms of scholarly rigor, historical accuracy, and textual precision. Despite what most modern editions imply, attending to “Spenser’s spelling” tells us less about the poet and his poem than it does about the history of our own disciplinary formation.

Jonah Siegel War and the Domestic Interior: Pater, Curtius, and Praz in the House of Life

This essay is a study of two interrelated phenomena, the influence of Walter Pater on two notable postwar European critics, Ernst Robert Curtius and Mario Praz, and the place of war on the imagination of cultural continuity and rupture in the work of the later authors. The surprising presence of Pater in texts shaped by brutal military conflict not only demonstrates the power of models of cultural transmission he developed at a point when his reputation was at a far lower ebb in the English-speaking world than it was on a war-ravaged continent, but also opens up the possibility of recognizing elements that are still galvanizing and disturbing in his work.

Jordan Brower "Written with the Movies in Mind": Twentieth-Century American Literature and Transmedial Possibility

In the early 1910s the extension of copyright protection to moving-picture adaptations of literary works resulted in the emergence of film rights, altering the economic and institutional constitution of the American literary field. In letters, industry documents, and journalistic articles, authors and studios alike reflected on the importance of preparing fiction for adaptation. The capacity of authors to imagine the afterlives of their prose works at the moment of composition may be called the “transmedial possibility” of fiction. Transmedial possibility, the theoretical complement to Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s concept of remediation, inflected the form of several works of the 1920s, including F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby.

top Volume 78, Issue 3
Author Title
Lee Morrissey Milton, Modernity, and the Periodization of Politics

Periodized “modernity” unnecessarily polarizes Milton’s reception. His experience of modernity in the seventeenth century confounds the Enlightenment distinctions usually made about modernity. The periodized idea of modernity that continues to shape the study of Milton is dated, even antiquated, because it is treated as a period. It seems as if a generation has learned to read Restoration poetry through Dryden, and from Dryden to assume that poetry published during the Restoration must be poetry about the Restoration. Milton does not read his sources the way that periodizing scholarship has been reading his poetry. Readers can approach Milton’s works as he approached his earlier sources: to see what they might offer our understanding of events in our contexts, that is, anachronistically. Reading anachronistically is, after all, one of the principal advantages and pleasures of fiction, of literary study, and of metaphor. The alternative to what has been called “the poverty of context” is the richness and variety of poetic contexts, understood diachronically.

James Nohrnberg Milton and the Divisions of History

Milton’s thinking and oeuvre divide historical time and place the poet and his subjects on the verges of periodizing metamorphoses: different eras of epistemology, religious dispensations, archaeologies of knowledge, kinds of global consciousness, rival explanations of natural phenomena, and opposed physical and/or ethical sympathies. The copresence of polarized historical periods in Milton’s work remains a distinguishing feature; examples from preceding and succeeding periods make the case for recognizing in Milton a pivotal moment in English literary history and the history of ideas. In major fictions and narrations Milton’s poetry apperceives, thematizes, and embodies—prehensively, as it were—a unique occasion of historical change, as if from BC to AD: from John Dee to Robert Boyle, or from occult correspondences and secret world-connecting sympathies, to mechanical operations, controlled and repeatable experiments, and measurement-based, post-Baconian science. Milton’s Eve sins as the world’s first experimentalist and in effect breaks the World-Soul’s cosmic heart: even as Spenser’s Agape had previously re-created it allegorically, Neoplatonically, and metaphysically, and as philosophies of social consensus and psychologies of empathetic affect recollected it sentimentally and benevolently. Post-Miltonically, Satan has earned sympathy or pity: upon Sin’s attaching our world with a great chain of necessitarian and material causality.

Andrew Hui The Soundscape of the Dying Pagan Gods in Milton's Nativity Ode

Milton’s Nativity Ode is both noisy and quiet. It stages the collision of the classical and Christian traditions by retrieving the cessation-of-oracles topos, a myth transmitted from Plutarch, Eusebius, and Prudentius to Rabelais, Tasso, and Spenser. Milton’s innovation is to enfold the multiple voices of antiquity and the singular voice of the newborn Christ into a narrative about the poet’s own development. In the silencing of the pagan oracles, celebration and lamentation converge. By purging the old gods’ wailing, the poem prepares for the silent purity of the newborn babe and the inauguration of the young author’s voice.

Marissa Greenberg Milton Much Revolving

Revolution as an act of turning is a crucial yet overlooked feature of Milton’s conception of historical periods. This essay, by examining Milton’s imagery of revolution, seeks to challenge conventional associations of Milton and periodization with teleological culmination and inaugural disruption. In Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained the phrase much revolving becomes iconic of revolution as period-defining movement. Milton’s characters pivot, roll, twist, contort, resist, and return. In doing so, they show, and not simply describe, the lived experience of periodizing change. The poet dismisses understandings of historical periods as closed cycles or linear progressions that are defined by renowned individuals and monumental events. Milton reveals periods to be open-ended and helical and makes immediately sensible the quotidian events, no less apocalyptic for their familiarity, that generate history.

John D. Staines The Age of Shakespeare versus the Age of Milton: Reopening the Noisy Theaters

This essay explores the political implications of the periodization divides created by the closing of the public theaters in 1642 at the start of the English Civil War and their reopening in 1660 at the restoration of Charles II. The meaning of the theater, and the meanings attributed to the cultural icons of Shakespeare and Milton, played important parts in the cultural battle between royalists and republicans, and those debates continue to shape literary studies in the twenty-first-century university despite recent reevaluations of the literature of the Civil War and the Revolution. Shakespeare is walled off from Milton, drama separated from poetry, prose, and epic. These divides distort the readings of the period’s literature and, at a time of resource scarcity, threaten to limit which writers and texts are researched and taught. The essay concludes with a reading of Paradise Lost that puts drama, dialogue, and conversation at the center. In the dramatic Milton, meaning is found in dialogue and conversation, growing out of the noise of debate and conflict.

David Quint Milton, Waller, and the Fate of Eden

Milton shapes his depiction of Eden in Paradise Lost as a response to Edmund Waller’s On St. James’s Park, a celebrated poem of the Restoration. Waller’s description of the royal park, newly improved by Charles II—a a new Eden, a sacred, oracular grove next to the temple-like Westminster Abbey and the capitol-like Whitehall—is revisited in Milton’s epic. God expels Adam and Eve from Eden and subsequently washes away the garden during the Flood to prevent it from turning into a temple-and-grove along the lines of Pandaemonium or a capital seat like Charles’s London, in either case a habitation of devils. Milton’s point-by-point response to the antimodel of Waller’s poem reveals specific topicality and political engagement in the motifs of Paradise Lost: in this sense, Milton is a poet of the restoration he opposes.

top Volume 78, Issue 4
Author Title
Gerard Passannante On Catastrophic Materialism

Looking at a variety of cases from the early modern period—from debates around astrology to the essays of Michel de Montaigne to the poetry and prose of John Donne and the philosophical fictions of Margaret Cavendish—this essay explores the encounter with materialist thought as an experience of catastrophe. Against the explicit aims of materialist philosophers like Epicurus to encourage peace of mind, early modern authors discovered in materialism a style of thought that felt at once enticing and alarming, even disastrous. “Catastrophic materialism” helps us understand how a much-maligned philosophy captured the imagination, as well as the critical function it served.

Simon Park Diogo Bernardes’s Brandura

Readers of Diogo Bernardes’s (ca. 1530–ca. 1595) poetry have long praised the brandura (gentleness) of his work. But what brandura meant and how favorably it was viewed depended on context. Brandura was associated with the middle style, with mastery of elocutio, and, by extension, with poetry’s ability to move those who listened to or read it. Therefore it could at one moment provoke moral anxiety and at another signal the height of poetic accomplishment. In quarrels over the relative merits of the European vernaculars, apologists for the Portuguese language invested in Bernardes’s reputation as brando (gentle), as he was said to demonstrate the brandura of their mother tongue. Yet later in the seventeenth century his fortunes sank. Though he is little esteemed today, his association with the multiple meanings of brando and brandura implicated him in important political, moral, and aesthetic disputes throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By paying renewed attention to style and affect in the context of cultural history, this essay aims to revive interest in Bernardes’s work.

Laura R. Fisher Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Novel Aesthetics

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novels and short stories are notably didactic, but they are not merely socioeconomic treatises in disguise. Her unabashedly mundane and pedantic literary style embodies a self-consciously modern aesthetics of didacticism that pervaded US literature in its years of transition between realism, naturalism, and modernism and that characterized the subgenre of sociological fiction. Gilman’s 1910 novel What Diantha Did models the social rigor that sociological novelists considered essential to the art of fiction. What Diantha Did tracks the creation of a system of kitchenless homes in California and the subsequent emancipation of women from forced domesticity. Gilman’s prose reflects on, and even formally replicates, the drudgery and repetition she associates with household labor. Gilman proposes an analogy between novels and kitchens as genres of modern social life: both must be collectivized and liberated from the archaic, the personal, and the masculine.

Melanie Micir The Impossible Miss Woolf: Kate Atkinson and the Feminist Modernist Historical Novel

Reading Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life (2013) in the context of theories of the historical novel (Georg Lukács, Fredric Jameson) and counterfactual fiction (Catherine Gallagher, Andrew Miller, Paul Saint-Amour) sheds light on an overlooked genealogy of the feminist modernist historical novel. Atkinson’s novels are often cited as examples of postmodern metafiction, but in fact her work is more directly indebted to modernist experiments in counterfactual historical writing by figures like Virginia Woolf. Moreover, this inheritance, inasmuch as it informs Atkinson’s focus on the untold lives of ordinary women, is not only modernist but feminist.

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