Abstracts v.82 | 2021

Volume 82, Issue 1
Author Title
David Scott Wilson-Okamura Spencer's Youth

Epics modeled on the Odyssey typically include a version of Homer’s Circe episode. Edmund Spenser’s variant, the Bower of Bliss, is unusual for ending in physical violence so pronounced that many readers have taken against its putative hero, Sir Guyon. This essay reviews the role of magic in similar episodes to show the enormity of Spenser’s seemingly conservative storytelling. It also defends Spenser’s hero from charges of intemperance and immaturity. The question of intemperance stems from misunderstanding Aristotle. That of immaturity is more complicated. In the economy of justice, youth counteracts complacency. One of Guyon’s prototypes, the biblical king Josiah, is an example. Spenser pictures all his heroes as young, and growing up is part of his design for the epic as a whole. His attitude, though, is not condescending. The danger of sexual indulgence, which Guyon’s critics sometimes dismiss, is one that the epic tradition took seriously and that Spenser himself connected with the recent downfall of public figures.

James Kuzner George Herbert’s “The Flower” and the Problem of Praise

This essay dwells on George Herbert’s “The Flower” and on how its speaker can love and praise God. Writing of praise and doubt, Stanley Cavell remarks that the problem of skepticism is partly a problem of finding an object that one can praise, a search that certainly occurs in “The Flower.” While Herbert’s speaker seeks God as that object, his own memory impedes him, making him question God’s goodness and forcing him not only to abandon forms of remembering that Herbert’s sources—from psalmists to theologians—employ so as to rise to praise, but also to use form in order to forget. The essay’s conclusion compares Herbert’s poem with another strange praise poem, Paul Celan’s “Psalm.” The essay claims that if Cavell sees praise as signaling a triumph over doubt, “The Flower” shows, as only verse can, how praise and doubt accompany each other, using doubt to keep praise at a distance from both psalmic theology and skeptical philosophy.

Andrew Mattison Cowley’s Dream of a Shadow: Imitation against Experience

This essay describes Abraham Cowley’s tendency, apparent throughout his work but particularly in his collected editions of 1656 and 1668, to embrace the imitation of literary models to an extent that, as he admits, can be disconcerting for readers and interfere with the literary representation of history and his own experience. Cowley’s poetic rethinking of the legacies of Homer, Pindar, the Anacreontea, Vergil, and Claudian parallels his resistance to mimetic treatment of his life and passions. This orientation toward literary history at the expense of representation, the essay argues, is rooted in a distinctive and compelling theory of interpretation, whose significance beyond Cowley’s work is revealed by the struggles of critics from the eighteenth century to the present to make sense of the relationship between life and art in his verse. These critics unwittingly demonstrate the prescience of Cowley’s depiction of reading and interpretation as potentially alienating ruptures of the connections between poems and their subject matter.

Anthony J. Cuda Reinventing Modernism: Randall Jarrell’s Unwritten Essay on T. S. Eliot

Despite a wealth of new primary-source publications and archival discoveries, many scholars persist in the belief that midcentury poets like Randall Jarrell rejected their modernist predecessors in a quest for originality and novelty. This article demonstrates, on the contrary, Jarrell’s underestimated and enduring creative debt to T. S. Eliot by reconstructing, for the first time, a book-length essay that he planned to write about Eliot but abandoned. The article shows that Jarrell regarded Eliot’s work as the result of a psychological struggle with “obsessional neurosis,” and it reveals the logic and evidence that Jarrell planned to use to argue this claim. It concludes by showing that Jarrell himself adapted aspects of Eliot’s obsessional style in his poetry and hoped to follow them to a different end.

top Volume 82, Issue 2
Author Title
Daniel Davies Medieval Scottish Historians and the Contest for Britain

Scholars often claim that medieval writers use Britain and England interchangeably, but Britain was a contested term throughout the period. One persistent issue was how Scotland fit within Anglocentric visions of the island it shared with England and Wales. This article traces imperialist geography in English historiography via the descriptio Britanniae (description of Britain), a trope found across the Middle Ages, and the fourteenth-century Gough Map, the first sheet-map of Britain. Scottish historians rebut the claims of their Anglocentric counterparts and demonstrate their incomplete knowledge, which they zealously supplement by inventorying Scotland’s natural abundance. In particular, the article concentrates on the remarkable celebration of Scotland’s marine life in Walter Bower’s Scotichronicon (ca. 1447). Attending to the long history of these debates both reveals and counteracts the Anglocentrism of insular literary history.

Charles Altieri Resistance to Song: A Modernist View of Early Modern Lyric

In Theory of the Lyric Jonathan Culler makes powerful arguments for analogies between lyric and song, especially with regard to each medium’s commitment to producing pleasure and separating the speaking voice from individual psychology. But his case runs the risk of avoiding or oversimplifying lyric poems that resist these analogies. These poems call for interpretive acts that fully engage the work of syntax and structure in establishing distinctive modes of experience. Here Shakespeare’s sonnets demonstrate the roles syntax and structure can play, especially in cultivating complex acts of self-consciousness for which Hegel provides our best critical lens. With this focus, some important roles played by metaphysical conceits also become clear. The conceit forces acts of intense reflection. In the poetry, quintessentially in Donne’s “The Extasie,” there emerges a drama of the agents carrying out distinctive acts of self-interpretation: the fullness of love depends on hearing themselves speak and trying to imagine the objective difference that hearing is making in their behavior toward the other lover.

Nicholas Paige Histories of Fiction

One shared assumption of many recent efforts to delineate a history of fiction (or fictionality, typically understood as a mode of nonliteral reference) is that that term names a conceptual operation, be it intrinsic or culturally learned. This article argues that fiction is merely a particular type of classification, akin but not identical to the classifications performed by terms such as mimesis or verisimilitude. Thus it is nonsensical to claim that fiction qua concept does or does not exist at any given moment: fiction is foremost a way of grouping various literary practices, and it is those practices that emerge over time. The article then recasts the interest in the early novel’s fictionality shown by Catherine Gallagher and others as a problem of practices rather than of concepts. It tracks trends in subject matter and assertions of literal truth through a quantitative diachronic analysis of 230 years of French novels. While these trends cannot by their very nature show the birth of the concept of fiction—which was never born in the first place—they are the type of evidence that should be central to any future history of fiction.

Ben Etherington World Literature as a Speculative Literary Totality: Veselovsky, Auerbach, Said, and the Critical-Humanist Tradition

This essay revisits critical-humanist approaches to literary totality that have largely been sidelined during the recent revival of world literature studies. While there has been no shortage of defenses of close reading in the face of distant reading and other positivist approaches, this essay argues that it is precisely the hermeneutic attention to particular works that has allowed critical humanists to think about literary practice within the most encompassing purview. For those in this tradition, “world literature” can never be a stable object but is a speculative totality. The essay discusses three exemplary critical concepts that assume a speculative epistemology of literary totality: Alexander Veselovsky’s “historical poetics,” Erich Auerbach’s “Ansatzpunkt,” and Edward Said’s “contrapuntal reading.” Each, it is argued, is grounded in the distinctive qualities of literary experience, a claim for which Theodor Adorno’s account of speculative thinking serves as a basis.

top Volume 82, Issue 3
Author Title
Timothy Anderson There’s Something about Murray: Victorian Literary Societies and Alfred Forman’s Translation of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen

Alfred Forman’s translations of Richard Wagner’s operas are often derided for their weird diction and minute imitation of German poetic devices. Forman has seemed to represent a zealous and uncritical approach to Wagner that was typical of the early London Wagner Society. But London’s literary societies were important preprofessional gatherings for the appreciation and research of vernacular literature at a time when universities restricted who could study and what could be studied. Forman contributed to other London societies and organized for them dramatic readings of Wagner’s poetry featuring Forman’s wife, Alma Murray. In making Wagner legible and audible for these societies, Forman aligned Wagner with contemporary radical poets and promoted the Ring as a political allegory. Forman’s translations, far from cranky or cultish, show how Victorian society culture affected translation practices, renewed study of poetic alliteration, and inaugurated the political interpretation of Wagner’s works.

Sam Alexander Population Thinking and Narrative Networks: Dickens, Joyce, and The Wire

Recent approaches to literary character treat fictional population as a defining element of narrative form but continue to read novels at the level of individual characters. This essay uses the tools of narrative network analysis to bridge the gap between microlevel readings and the interpretation of the novel’s character-system as a population. Network analyses of three highly populous works—Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, James Joyce’s Ulysses, and David Simon’s HBO series The Wire—yield measures of social density and character centrality that show how Joyce adapted a Dickensian network plot that emerged amid the population explosion of nineteenth-century Britain to an Irish context marked by demographic decline. This adaptation of Dickens’s plot structure prepared it for a similar use in The Wire. Both Joyce and Simon use a large fictional network to periodically decenter their protagonists and undermine the typological assumptions of much realist fiction. The essay suggests that, rather than read these developments as evidence of a formal rupture between modernism and realism, we view Bleak House, Ulysses, and The Wire as playing a role in an understudied tradition of “population thinking” in the novel.

Michael Lackey The Autonomy of Art and the Legitimization of Biofiction: An Aesthetic Turning Point in Twentieth-Century Literature

Biofiction is literature that names its protagonist after a historical figure, and since the 1990s it has become one of the most dominant literary forms. This is surprising because many prominent scholars, critics, and writers have criticized and even condemned it. This essay hypothesizes that postmodern theories of truth and concomitant transformations in reader sensibilities partly account for the legitimization and now dominance of biofiction. The essay analyzes a 1968 literary debate among Ralph Ellison, William Styron, and Robert Penn Warren, which on the surface concerned the uses of history in literature. But because it happened just one year after the publication of Styron’s controversial novel about Nat Turner, the debate ended up focusing primarily on the nature and value of biofiction. By analyzing the discussion in relation to contemporary formulations about and theorizations of biofiction, this essay illustrates why the forum represents a turning point in literary history, resulting in the decline of a traditional type of literary symbol and the rise of a more anchored and empirical symbol—that is, the type of symbol found in biofiction.

Barbara Fuchs Literary History Writ Large; or, The Multilingual MLQ
Jed Esty The Life after Texts, the Life within Them
Katherine Bode The Difference an Editor Makes
Lauren M. E. Goodlad Marshall Brown, Editor Extraordinaire
Ronald Levao and Susan J. Wolfson An Appreciation of Marshall Brown
Jonathan Arac MLQ and Marshall Brown among Their Peers
top Volume 82, Issue 4
Author Title
Kiernan M. Murphy What Was Tragedy during the Haitian Revolution?

Contemporary actors and, later, historians and critics have long compared the Haitian Revolution to a tragic play. But the model of tragedy they invoke has changed over time. Today the best-known example comes from The Black Jacobins (1963), in which C. L. R. James narrates the events of the Revolution through the lens of a Hegelian definition of tragedy. David Scott has championed James’s “tragic mode of history” for political reasons, arguing that it is better suited to address the challenges of the postcolonial present. But a tragic mode of history can be of use for the postcolonial present only if it is firmly grounded in the world-changing events that it is supposed to illuminate. It should build on what tragedy was in the milieu of Toussaint Louverture and the slave rebels. To lay the groundwork for this critical shift, this essay traces how tragic performances and history intersected during the Revolution and shows how radicalized versions of Voltaire’s Roman-themed tragedies and Afro-Caribbean mythology and rituals played a prominent part in the fight for equality.

Colton Valentine Domesticating Decadence: Joris-Karl Huysmans, Pierre Louÿs, and Their Invisible English Translators

Decadence eludes definition, but critics tend to concur on the movement’s transgressive and uncommercial status in the British literary field. This essay questions those associations by exploring a current of archetypal decadent French novels translated by and marketed to a mainstream Anglophone audience: Joris-Karl Huysmans’s En Route (1895, trans. 1896) and La cathédrale (1898, trans. 1898) and Pierre Louÿs’s Aphrodite: Mœurs antiques (1896, trans. 1900 and 1906) and La femme et le pantin (1898, trans. 1908). By reading letters, memoirs, and prefaces alongside periodical reviews and a publisher’s archive, the essay sheds light on the novels’ invisible translators and reveals the fiscal and legal viability of “domesticated decadence.” Doing so models how translation studies and book-historical methods can revise deep-set tenets of literary history. These “poisonous” epitomes of the fin de siècle in fact circulated freely across the Channel, reaching more than the happy few.

Shaj Matthew The Multiple Simultaneous Temporalities of Global Modernity: Pamuk, Tanp?nar, Proust

This essay proposes the theory of multiple simultaneous temporalities as a constitutive feature of global modernism. It spotlights varieties of heterogeneous time—outside but alongside the homogeneous empty time of clocks and calendars—in modernist literature. These overlapping temporalities replace the linear succession of past, present, and future with a principle of nonteleology. The multiple simultaneous temporalities of these works analogize the multiple simultaneous temporalities of global modernity. Thus the temporalization of difference that separates developed nations from developing ones is refuted by the pluralization of temporality. The simultaneity of these temporalities denies, a priori, the ideology of progress. The essay makes this point through a series of interlaced epiphanies about time, across time, staging an East-West comparison that reflects the creole nature of global modernity. It does so via readings of interconnected novels by Orhan Pamuk, Ahmet Hamdi Tanp?nar, and Marcel Proust.

Liam Lanigan Toward a Realism of the World-System: John Lanchester’s Capital and the Global City

This essay explores how John Lanchester’s Capital adapts classical realism to represent the contemporary global city; it pays particular attention to how London’s position in the world-system disrupts Lukácsian totality. Because the novel attends to the complexity and extensiveness of the world-system, it depicts the city not as a representative totality but as embedded in the global circuits of capital, shaped by the influences of inward migration and global finance. In this the novel has affinities with many fictions of the global periphery, for instance portraying the city as at once socially fragmented and structurally connected. Furthermore, the novel departs from classical realism in its closure; though the 2008 financial crisis is omitted from the novel, it overshadows the entire plot, and its absence emphasizes the lack of finality in the story of this phase of capitalism itself. In demonstrating the temporal and spatial unknowability of contemporary capital, Lanchester’s novel both affirms the capacity of realism to trace deep systemic connections and reveals the fragility of its construction of a social totality, positing a realism attendant to its own perspectival limits within the world-system.

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