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Vol. 24 (2009) through current issue
a/b: Auto/Biography Studies is a journal of scholarship devoted to autobiography, biography, diaries, letters and relations between lifewriting and other discourse. The editors invite manuscript submissions dealing with any aspect of lifewriting. Subject matter may be drawn from any period or genre but must show clear connections to the theory and practice of lifewriting. In addition to scholarly articles we invite contributions in the form of book reviews, calls for papers, announcements of conferences and the like.
Sympathy and Privacy in the Postwar African American White-Life Novel
Abandoning the Black Hero is the first book to examine the postwar African American white-life novel—novels with white protagonists written by African Americans. These fascinating works have been understudied despite having been written by such defining figures in the tradition as Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Ann Petry, and Chester Himes, as well as lesser known but formerly best-selling authors Willard Motley and Frank Yerby.
John C. Charles argues that these fictions have been overlooked because they deviate from two critical suppositions: that black literature is always about black life and that when it represents whiteness, it must attack white supremacy. The authors are, however, quite sympathetic in the treatment of their white protagonists, which Charles contends should be read not as a failure of racial pride but instead as a strategy for claiming creative freedom, expansive moral authority, and critical agency.
In an era when “Negro writers” were expected to protest, their sympathetic treatment of white suffering grants these authors a degree of racial privacy previously unavailable to them. White writers, after all, have the privilege of racial privacy because they are never pressured to write only about white life. Charles reveals that the freedom to abandon the “Negro problem” encouraged these authors to explore a range of new genres and themes, generating a strikingly diverse body of novels that significantly revise our understanding of mid-twentieth-century black writing.
Exploring a variety of topics—including health, politics, education, art, literature, media, and film—Aboriginal Canada Revisited draws a portrait of the current political and cultural position of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. While lauding improvements made in the past decades, the contributors draw attention to the systemic problems that continue to marginalize Aboriginal people within Canadian society. From the Introduction: “[This collection helps] to highlight areas where the colonial legacy still takes its toll, to acknowledge the manifold ways of Aboriginal cultural expression, and to demonstrate where Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people are starting to find common ground.” Contributors include Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal scholars from Europe and Canada, including Marlene Atleo, University of Manitoba; Mansell Griffin, Nisga’a Village of Gitwinksihlkw, British Columbia; Robert Harding, University College of the Fraser Valley; Tricia Logan, University of Manitoba; Steffi Retzlaff, McMaster University; Siobhán Smith, University of British Columbia; Barbara Walberg, Confederation College.
Memoir, Cultural Theory, and the University Today
Franklin considers how academic memoirs have engaged with a core of defining concerns in the humanities: identity politics and the development of whiteness studies in the 1990s; the impact of postcolonial studies; feminism and concurrent anxieties about pedagogy; and disability studies and the struggle to bring together discourses on the humanities and human rights. The turn back toward humanism that Franklin finds in some academic memoirs is surreptitious or frankly nostalgic; others, however, posit a wide-ranging humanism that seeks to create space for advocacy in the academic and other institutions in which we are all unequally located. These memoirs are harbingers for the critical turn to explore interrelations among humanism, the humanities, and human rights struggles.
Fashion and the Feminine in Nineteenth-Century France
Accessories to Modernity explores the ways in which feminine fashion accessories, such as cashmere shawls, parasols, fans, and handbags, became essential instruments in the bourgeois idealization of womanhood in nineteenth-century France. Considering how these fashionable objects were portrayed in fashion journals and illustrations, as well as fiction, the book explores the histories and cultural weight of the objects themselves and offers fresh readings of works by Balzac, Flaubert, and Zola, some of the most widely read novels of the period.
As social boundaries were becoming more and more fluid in the nineteenth century, one effort to impose order over the looming confusion came, in the case of women, through fashion, and the fashion accessory thus became an ever more crucial tool through which social distinction could be created, projected, and maintained. Looking through the lens of fashion, Susan Hiner explores the interplay of imperialist expansion and domestic rituals, the assertion of privilege in the face of increasing social mobility, gendering practices and their relation to social hierarchies, and the rise of commodity culture and woman's paradoxical status as both consumer and object within it.
Through her close focus on these luxury objects, Hiner reframes the feminine fashion accessory as a key symbol of modernity that bridges the erotic and proper, the domestic and exotic, and mass production and the work of art while making a larger claim about the "accessory" status—in terms of both complicity and subordination—of bourgeois women in nineteenth-century France. Women were not simply passive bystanders but rather were themselves accessories to the work of modernity from which they were ostensibly excluded.
The Hard History of Love
Arguably one of the most important American writers working today, Wendell Berry is the author of more than fifty books, including novels and collections of poems, short stories, and essays. A prominent spokesman for agrarian values, Berry frequently defends such practices and ideas as sustainable agriculture, healthy rural communities, connection to place, the pleasures of work, and the interconnectedness of life. In The Achievement of Wendell Berry: The Hard History of Love, Fritz Oehlschlaeger provides a sweeping engagement with Berry’s entire corpus. The book introduces the reader to Berry’s general philosophy and aesthetic through careful consideration of his essays. Oehlschlaeger pays particular attention to Berry as an agrarian, citizen, and patriot, and also examines the influence of Christianity on Berry’s writings. Much of the book is devoted to lively close readings of Berry’s short stories, novels, and poetry. The Achievement of Wendell Berry is a comprehensive introduction to the philosophical and creative world of Wendell Berry, one that offers new critical insights into the writing of this celebrated Kentucky author.
On the Poetry of Mak Dizdar
The work of Mehmedalija MakDizdar (1917-71) is the cornerstone of modern Bosnian literature. During the Second World War he was a member of the anti-fascist Partisans. After the war, he became prominent in Bosnian cultural life and eventually President of the Writers' Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina. His work blends influences from Bosnian Christian culture, Islamic mysticism, and the cultural remains of medieval Bosnia, especially its stone tombstones.This book falls into two parts. The first is an essay on Dizdar's major poetry book Stone Sleeper. It argues that in his poetry Dizdar turns to spiritual regions and resources that had been suppressed during the time of communism. From the very outset, Stone Sleeper was recognized as a liberatrion from the ideological disciplines of communism, nationalism, and scientism. Few, however, were able fully to understand the traditional content of its post-traditional form. In this part, Rusmir Mahmutcehajic introduces readers to the traditional substance of Stone Sleeper, in the context of what he calls perennial philosophy.From that perspective, prophecy, being the source of perennial wisdom, is set above poetry. In some poetry, however, prophetic wisdom and poetic pronouncement exist inseparably. Stone Sleeper is an example of that mutual co-existence.In the second part, the author traces, in a discussion of Dizdar's mystically influenced poem Blue River,the perennial questions of how we are to discover or realize the human self in relation to God as Creator.
Henry James and the Ethical Aesthetic
What is the matter with the women in Henry James? In The Portrait of a Lady, The Wings of the Dove, and his short story “The Altar of the Dead,” one woman returns to a monster of a husband, another dies rather than confront the truth of her lover’s engagement, while yet another stakes her all on having a candle lit for a dead lover, only to promptly reject it. Exploring these strange choices, Sigi Jöttkandt argues that the singularity of these acts lies in their ethical nature, and that the ethical principle involved cannot be divorced from the question of aesthetics. She combines close readings of James with suggestive tours through Kantian aesthetics and set theory to uncover the aesthetic underpinning of the Lacanian ethical act, which has been largely overlooked in the current drive to discover a Cartesian origin for the subject as the subject of science.
Gender, Drama, and Nostalgia in Ancient Greece
Greek drama demands a story of origins, writes Karen Bassi in Acting Like Men. Abandoning the search for ritual and native origins of Greek drama, Bassi argues for a more secular and less formalist approach to the emergence of theater in ancient Greece. Bassi takes a broad view of Greek drama as a cultural phenomenon, and she discusses a wide variety of texts and artifacts that include epic poetry, historical narrative, philosophical treatises, visual media, and the dramatic texts themselves. In her discussion of theaterlike practices and experiences, Bassi proposes new conceptual categories for understanding Greek drama as a cultural institution, viewing theatrical performance as part of what Foucault has called a discursive formation. Bassi also provides an important new analysis of gender in Greek culture at large and in Athenian civic ideology in particular, where spectatorship at the civic theater was a distinguishing feature of citizenship, and where citizenship was denied women. Acting Like Men includes detailed discussions of message-sending as a form of scripted speech in the Iliad, of disguise and the theatrical body of Odysseus in the Odyssey, of tyranny as a theaterlike phenomenon in the narratives of Herodotus, and of Dionysus as the tyrannical and effeminate god of the theater in Euripides' Bacchae and Aristophanes' Frogs. Bassi concludes that the validity of an idealized masculine identity in Greek and Athenian culture is highly contested in the theater, where--in principle--citizens become passive spectators. Thereafter the author considers Athenian theater and Athenian democracy as mutually reinforcing mimetic regimes. Acting Like Men will interest those interested in the history of the theater, performance theory, gender and cultural studies, and feminist approaches to ancient texts. Karen Bassi is Associate Professor of Classics, University of California, Santa Cruz.
Religion and Resistance in Fiction by Women of Color
Since the 1980s, many activists and writers have turned from identity politics toward ethnic religious traditions to rediscover and reinvigorate their historic role in resistance to colonialism and oppression. In her examination of contemporary fiction by women of color—including Toni Morrison, Ana Castillo, Toni Cade Bambara, Louise Erdrich, and Leslie Marmon Silko—Channette Romero considers the way these novels newly engage with Vodun, Santería, Candomblé, and American Indian traditions. Critical of a widespread disengagement from civic participation and of the contemporary novel’s disconnection from politics, this fiction attempts to transform the novel and the practice of reading into a means of political engagement and an inspiration for social change.