Volume 81, Issue 3 | September 2020

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.
Author Title
Jeffrey Todd Knight Peter Murphy, The Long Public Life of a Short Private Poem: Reading and Remembering Thomas Wyat
Paul Youngquist Manu Samriti Chander, Brown Romantics: Poetry and Nationalism in the Global Nineteenth Century
Marina MacKay Catherine Gallagher, Telling It Like It Wasn’t: The Counterfactual Imagination in History and Fiction
Paul Sheehan Matthew Levay, Violent Minds: Modernism and the Criminal
Nicholas Birns Paul Giles, Backgazing: Reverse Time in Modernist Culture
Jordan Brower Jan Baetens, Novelization: From Film to Novel

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