Abstracts v.81 | 2020

Volume 81, Issue 1
Author Title
Danila Sokolov Mary Wroth, Ovid, and the Metamorphosis of Petrarch

The language of arboreal metamorphosis in Mary Wroth’s pastoral song “The Spring now come at last” from Pamphilia to Amphilanthus (1621) may invoke the myth of Apollo and Daphne. However, the Ovidian narrative so central to Petrarchan poetics celebrates the male poet through erasure of the female voice. This essay instead explores parallels between Wroth’s poem and the metamorphosis of the Heliades, who turn into poplars while mourning their brother Phaeton, from Book 2 of the Metamorphoses. Their transformation is predicated on an act of female speech, however precarious and evanescent. This alternative Ovidian scenario offers a model of lyric that capitalizes on the brief resonance that the female voice acquires at the point of vanishing. By deploying it in her song Wroth not only rewrites Petrarch through Ovid in order to articulate a gendered lyric voice, but shows herself a poet attuned to the crucial developments in English lyric of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in particular the complex relationship between the Petrarchan and the Ovidian legacies.

Jeffrey Wilson Why Shakespeare? Irony and Liberalism in Canonization

Why Shakespeare? It sounds like a question that would have been asked and answered numerous times in Shakespeare studies since the turn to reputation by scholars such as Gary Taylor, Michael Dobson, and Marjorie Garber. When they consider Shakespeare's rise and lasting popularity in modern culture, however, scholars usually end up telling us how Shakespeare came to assume his position at the front of the canon, but not really why. They tend not to answer the difficult question of what about Shakespeare's art led to his selection above all other writers, what about modernity led it to select Shakespeare above all others, and what the special relationship between Shakespeare and modernity is. This essay contends Shakespeare’s elevation in the early nineteenth century was the result of a confluence between his strategy as an author and the political commitments of his canonizers. Specifically, Shakespeare’s ironic mode made his drama uniquely appealing to the political liberals at the forefront of English culture in the early nineteenth century. Shakespeare’s irony is presented with some close readings of Shakespearean texts (such as Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet) alongside their sources. The Romantic reading of Shakespeare’s irony from Hazlitt and Keats comes in the context of their political liberalism. In each their own way, both Shakespeare and his canonizers were anti-authoritarian: the literary version of anti-authoritarianism in Shakespeare’s drama (the irony granting audiences freedom of interpretation) was a perfect match for those who subscribed to the political version of anti-authoritarianism (namely liberalism) advocated by the likes of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill. If so, it becomes possible to speak of bardolatry as an allegorical intertext for liberal politics.

Michael Skansgaard The Virtuosity of Langston Hughes: Persona, Rhetoric, and Iconography in The Weary Blues

Previous historical studies of The Weary Blues have focused on the racial symbolism of Langston Hughes’s technique, which (as the consensus goes) authenticates the voice of the persona through its deliberate simplicity. This orthodox view is wrong-headed from the outset. I use a new system of rhetorically-driven scansion to identify elaborate rhetorical symmetries and polyrhythms shape the cognition of Hughes’s persona and the recognition of Hughes’s readers in ways that prose language cannot. Hughes employs rhetoric and iconography as alternative modes of historical narration. This recuperation of Hughes’s persona intervenes into an ongoing dispute in the field of historical poetics about the value of formalism and cognitivism. I aim to show that the concept of thinking in verse is perhaps most valuable where it has been least applied: in reclaiming the value of traditionally marginalized literatures such as those of the African-American vernacular tradition.

top Volume 81, Issue 2
Author Title
Yosefa Raz Robert Lowth’s Bible: Between Seraphic Choirs and Prophetic Weakness

Between 1741 and 1750 Robert Lowth, Oxford’s fifth chair of poetry, presented a series of groundbreaking lectures that reimagined the Hebrew Bible as literature, emphasizing its artful formal qualities. Today he is best known for rediscovering the parallelism of ancient Hebrew poetry, which he imagined as originating in the responsive singing of the seraphim. At a time when the divine authority of the Bible was waning, the reclassification of large swaths of prophecy as poetry helped Lowth extol the human figure of the prophet as a literary genius. Lowth idealized the prophetic-poetic text as “strong”: artful, controlled, ordered, and balanced. He responded to an anxiety about the place of the Bible and biblical prophecy in eighteenth-century English society by disavowing or minimizing the irregularities, stutters, and fissures in prophecy. But by introducing prophecy into poetry, Lowth—with much ambivalence—also ushered more passion, enthusiasm, and subjectivity into neoclassical English poetry. Despite his attempts to minimize the formal and theological weaknesses he found in the prophetic text, his scholarly project also transmitted them into English literature, allowing Romantic poets like William Blake to draw on biblical prophetic weaknesses in constructing their own complex prophetic positions.

Timothy Heimlich Romantic Wales and the Imperial Picturesque

This essay argues that the aesthetic category named the picturesque was first systematized in a Welsh colonial context and that picturesque looking always reflects, to some degree, its initially imperialist function. While the picturesque rapidly acceded to a preeminent place in British travel and landscape writing, its rise was contested by Welsh and working-class writers like the antiquarian poet Richard Llwyd (1752–1835). By conspicuously failing to impose picturesque features on a carefully historicized landscape, Llwyd’s poem Beaumaris Bay (1800) lays bare the picturesque’s antihistorical drive to eradicate local difference. Renewed critical attention to early attempts to establish an antipicturesque aesthetic may uncover important precursors to present-day postcolonial and transnational theory, precursors that can enrich the ongoing global turn in literary history.

Spencer Lee-Lenfield Translating Style: Flaubert’s Influence on English Narrative Prose

General accounts of Gustave Flaubert’s influence on English-language writers have tended to assume that the publication of his fiction was enough to change the style of English prose. However, close examination of Flaubert’s reception in the second half of the nineteenth century shows that the novels and stories alone did not bring about a widespread shift in English prose style. Before such a transformation could happen, his theoretical statements about style in the correspondence needed to be shared with and interpreted for a new audience. Flaubert’s fiction did exert a qualified influence on the relatively few English-language writers who read and responded to it, including Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Henry James. However, not until the 1883 publication of his correspondence with George Sand, as well as significant critical mediation and translation (most notably by Guy de Maupassant, Walter Pater, and Eleanor Marx-Aveling), did his influence on English writers reach its full extent.

Kevin Brazil Lateness and Lessness

The work of Don DeLillo and Philip Roth has been characterized as a turn to writing novels about lateness in a style that for both authors tends toward “less and less.” Their work manifests a relationship between lateness and style that departs both from canonical accounts of late style and from Theodor W. Adorno’s and Edward Said’s theories of late style as ironic anachronism. By conveying in prose style the relative decline and the contingent reduction that for Roth and DeLillo define lateness as a temporality, their novels find in lessness a motivated style for lateness. Furthermore, by reproducing in style the features of a particular historical temporality, their work suggests a method for reading the historicity of temporality through literary style.

top Volume 81, Issue 3
Author Title
Paul H. Fry The New Metacriticisms and the Fate of Interpretation

Advanced schools of literary research today concur in their disapproval of unscaffolded interpretations of texts that “overhear” the presumed self-communing voices of authors in their solitude. Choosing from among the many antihermeneutic arguments, this essay responds in the main to the “historical poetics” of Virginia Jackson’s Dickinson’s Misery, with its reconsideration of the lyric poem and its place in the canon and reading practices of modern criticism. Neither direct interpretation of a text that lacks focus on its modes of circulation and transmission nor indeed any sort of interpretation at all has been a constant in the history of criticism. Interpretation has coincided only with periods in which literature as “secular scripture” was considered at once culturally important and difficult to understand—and not even always then, as modernist texts aimed to constitute their own interpretations. If poetry is understood as statement embedded in language, and if it is still both important and difficult, perhaps we can reserve a place for interpretations that are not wholly dependent on the mediatic circumstances of which Jackson and others have taught us to be more fully aware.

Virginia Jackson Historical Poetics and the Dream of Interpretation: A Response to Paul Fry

As a response to Paul Fry’s essay “The New Metacriticisms and the Fate of Interpretation,” this essay asks a few questions: (1) Isn’t “metacriticism” what the twentieth century meant by literary criticism? (2) Why is modern literary criticism so defensive when it comes to lyric poetry? (3) What happens when the historical situation of a lyric literalizes apostrophic address? The answer to the first of these questions is yes. The answer to the second question depends on the critic, but this essay points out that defenses of lyric began in the early nineteenth century, so modern lyric theory continues a long tradition. The white male supremacist foundation of those defenses informs definitions of lyric poetry as utterance overheard, as solitary self-address. Fry is right that historical poetics attempts to rock that two-hundred-year-old foundation. The answer to the third question is that many poets have also rocked that foundation over those two centuries. The essay ends by interpreting an apostrophic ode written and published by George Moses Horton in 1828. Horton’s enslavement in North Carolina literalized the figurative situation of address that has come to define lyric reading.

Loren Cressler Asinine Heroism and the Mediation of Empire in Chaucer, Marlowe, and Shakespeare

What are the consequences of reading Shakespeare’s allusions to classical heroes through vernacular adaptations rather than through classical texts? This essay reframes the debate about which classical sources Shakespeare consulted, arguing that he encountered Aeneas and Theseus primarily through vernacular authors. Vernacular literature’s depictions of the mythic founders of Rome and Athens foreground classical heroes’ treachery and duplicity and minimize their roles as progenitors of empire and culture. Shakespeare’s quotation strategies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream follow Marlowe and Nashe’s model in Dido, Queen of Carthage by looking to Chaucer as the poetic authority for classical myth. Like Chaucer, both playwrights foreground the destruction left in empire’s wake. A Midsummer Night’s Dream imagines a retelling of Dido’s story that privileges her authority over an interloping male hero. In the asinine Bottom, Shakespeare offers an antidote to the exploitative model of heroism embodied in Theseus and Aeneas through a mock-heroic retelling of Aeneas’s most renowned crime.

Elliott Turley The Tragicomic Philosophy of Waiting for Godot

Samuel Beckett’s interest in tragicomedy has been clear since he attached the subtitle A Tragicomedy in Two Acts to the English translation of Waiting for Godot. This article articulates what exactly Beckettian tragicomedy does. Godot, Beckett’s foremost tragicomedy, stages the interplay of his wide-ranging literary and philosophical influences. Drawing on figures such as Arthur Schopenhauer, Jean Racine, Henri Bergson, Arnold Geulincx, and Fritz Mauthner, the play bends toward tragedy but undercuts any sense of finality with its slow unrolling. More than a metaphysical statement, this temporal model of tragicomedy offers a Beckettian ethics insistent on both the resigned compassion of tragedy and comedy’s power to critique. In outlining Godot’s tragicomic philosophy, the essay charts Beckett’s deployment of the various figures who inspire his play but also shows how this tragicomic paradigm functions in the theater—and how it inspires future dramatists.

top Volume 81, Issue 4
Author Title
Patrick M. Bray “Dried Fruits”: Flaubert, Marx, and the Literary-Historical Event

This essay looks at Gustave Flaubert’s L’éducation sentimentale as a “literaryhistorical event,” that is, an event that becomes legible only by a literary text. Flaubert’s novel attempted to turn the ambiguous political events of 1848 and the coup d’état of Napoleon III into a literary manifesto and a history of his generation. One of the novel’s early titles was “Dried Fruits,” which conveys a sense of preserved youth or even lost potential that can be exploited later. Flaubert’s novel explores what changes over time and what inevitably repeats in apparently singular historical events. Similarly, Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte famously uses literary and theatrical tropes to explain the same events as Flaubert as they unfolded. Both Flaubert and Marx show us that literary form (irony, farce, attention to linguistic repetition) participates in the politicization of, and the resistance to, historical events.

Eleni Coundouriotis History of the In-Between: World Literature and the Contemporary African Novel

The African novel has had an uneasy relationship with world literature, but a way to locate the historical novel in world literature lies in the emphatic turn of African fiction to the historical novel. Positing a temporality of a decolonization not yet achieved, the contemporary African novel returns to the particulars of national histories to explain change that has remained unacknowledged or misrepresented for political reasons. It grapples with the writing of history as a conscious process of what Edward W. Said describes as “textualization”: a narration that stresses voice and style in order to convey the particularity of historical circumstance, not as reportage but as lived experience. The world making of world literature comes into play as historical becoming revealed in the retrospective account conscious of the conditions of its own telling.

Warwick Research Collective Collectivity and Crisis in the Long Twentieth Century

In this essay the Warwick Research Collective (WReC) addresses the question of “what is and isn’t changing” in literary studies by reflecting on the material conditions that structure its disciplinary workscape. The essay notes that the pressures of a specifically academic form of capitalism, responding to and flourishing in a period of institutional crisis, tend to replicate top-down, marketized models of academic entrepreneurship in the ways we read. Departing from more widely favored models of “collaboration” and “interdisciplinarity” as solutions to this problem, the essay reflects instead on the history and potential of the collective as a form of self-organized, nonhierarchical knowledge production. It argues that the interlinked crises of how to read in world-literary terms, and on what scale, unavoidably index more general crises of the humanities and of academic labor when considered against the backdrop of an unstable neoliberal hegemony, particularly that of the mass automatization and shedding of labor. The essay concludes by considering political and literary examples of collaborative authorship before addressing the question of WReC’s own process, a form of joint working-through that the collective regards as fundamental to any emancipatory politics.

Lauren M. E. Goodlad A Study in Distant Reading: Genre and the Longue Durée in the Age of AI

This essay explores “distant reading,” first, as a project of studying genre at supratextual scales of analysis (from early conceptions to computationalist successors) and, second, through the prescient late Victorian literary persona with which the latter practices intersect. A Study in Scarlet, the novella that introduced Sherlock Holmes, offers the first meditation on distant reading. A split double plot that anticipates generic fissures within crime fiction broadly conceived, A Study in Scarlet creates a data-centric detective intelligence in dialogue with late Victorian statistical innovations that remain central to machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) today. Doyle’s generically split novella shows that the charismatic detective who dominates its first part is the merely partial virtuoso of a limited form. As such, A Study in Scarlet invites us to contemplate and clarify the humanistic stakes of machine “reading” during what some AI commentators conceive as a fourth industrial revolution.

Tim Dean Genre Blindness in the New Descriptivism

This essay considers the “descriptive turn” in literary studies from the vantage point of poetics, arguing that the history of Western poetry, from the Greeks to the present, offers through the category of epideixis a theory and practice of description that illuminates some of the methodological impasses of contemporary literary studies. Epideixis, a basic mode of pointing or linguistic ostension, confers value, often by way of praise or blame, without trying to persuade its audience with the practical immediacy of political or forensic rhetoric. Drawing on the ordinary language philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Stanley Cavell, the essay suggests that praise constitutes a philosophically rigorous alternative to critique. This argument is exemplified via the work of Mark Doty, a contemporary poet of description-as-praise.

Sangeeta Ray Postcolonially Speaking?
Kenneth W. Warren The Persistence of Genre

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