Volume 81, Issue 4 | December 2020

Special Issue: What Is and Isn’t Changing: Critique after Postcritique

Author Title
Eleni Coundouriotis and Lauren M. E. Goodlad What Is and Isn’t Changing?
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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