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Succeeding King Lear

Literature, Exposure, and the Possibility of Politics

Emily Sun

Publication Year: 2010

This book investigates Shakespeare's King Lear and its originative power in modern literature with specific attention to the early work of English Romantic poet William Wordsworth and to the American writer James Agee and photographer Walker Evans's 1941 collaboration, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. It examines how these later readers return to the play to interrogate emphatically the question of the relations between literature and politics in modernity and to initiate in this way their own creative trajectories. King Lear opens up a literary genealogy or history of successors, at the heart and origin of which, the author claims, is a crisis of sovereignty. The tragedy famously begins with the title character's decision to give up his throne and divide the kingdom prior to his demise. In bringing to light the assumptions behind this logic, and in dramatizing its disastrous consequences, the play performs an implicit analysis and critique of sovereignty as the guiding principle of political life and gestures, beyond sovereignty, towards the possibility of a new aesthetic and political future.The question of the relations between literature and politics does not only open up immanently or internally within King Lear, this book argues, but is also that which occasions a literary history of readers who return to the play as to an originary locus for dealing with a problem. Among such successors are Wordsworth in the 1790s after the French Revolution and Agee and Evans during the Depression in the 1930s, whose engagements with Lear, this book argues, were crucial to their development of new artistic means towards creating a democratic literature. In bringing British Romanticism and American modernism into contact with their literary political origins in Shakespeare, this book offers an original way of thinking literary history and a new approach to the question of the relations between literature and politics in modernity. In its interdisciplinary and cross-period scope, it will appeal to students and scholars of Shakespeare, Romanticism, modernism, literary theory, as well as literature and photography.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Contents

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pp. vii-

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

I thank my teachers Shoshana Felman and Paul Fry for their warm and generous support throughout my graduate work, when I wrote my dissertation on Keats and Flaubert, and for their encouragement in the writing of this present book...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-8

This book investigates Shakespeare’s King Lear and its originative force in modern literature, with specific attention to the early work of the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth and to James Agee and Walker Evans’s 1941 book...

I. Shakespeare

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pp. 9-77

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1. Sovereignty, Exposure, Theater: A Reading of King Lear

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pp. 11-77

What are the political stakes of reading or watching a play? How might a literary work, specifically a work of theater, shed light on our human existence as essentially plural political beings? I propose to examine in this chapter how Shakespeare’s...

II. Wordsworth

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pp. 79-124

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2. Wordsworth on the Heath: Tragedy, Autobiography, and the Revolutionary Spectator

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pp. 81-107

What does Shakespearean tragedy have to do with Wordsworth’s origination of a new and revolutionary way of writing poetry in the wake of the French Revolution? In what way might Wordsworth’s poetic project be read in terms of an effort to succeed...

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3. Poetry against Indifference: Responding to ‘‘The Discharged Soldier’’

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pp. 108-124

A group of so-called encounter poems have become over the last twenty to thirty years the focal points of critical debates over the political implications of Wordsworth’s poetry. These poems have in common the narrator’s encounter with...

III. Agee and Evans

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4. From the Division of Labor to the Discovery of the Common: James Agee and Walker Evans’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

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pp. 127-164

What kind of a work is Let Us Now Praise Famous Men? The question continues to baffle interpreters almost seventy years after the 1941 publication of this unpredictable, idiosyncratic, and extravagant work that fits so uneasily under its prevailing...

Notes

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pp. 165-176

Index

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pp. 177-180


E-ISBN-13: 9780823249145
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823232802
Print-ISBN-10: 0823232808

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Politics in literature.
  • Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616 -- Influence.
  • Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. King Lear.
  • Sovereignty in literature.
  • Politics and literature.
  • Wordsworth, William, 1770-1850 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Agee, James, 1909-1955 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Evans, Walker, 1903-1975 -- Criticism and interpretation.
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