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Speaking the Unspeakable
<p class="red">A traditional yet fresh approach to grasping the power of Morrison's writing
With essays by Yvonne Atkinson, Marc C. Conner, Susan Corey, Maria DiBattista, Barbara Johnson, Cheryl Lester, Katherine Stern, and Michael Wood
Nobel laureate Toni Morrison's novels have almost exclusively been examined as sagas illuminating history, race, culture, and gender politics. This gathering of eight essays by top scholars probes Morrison's novels and her growing body of nonfiction and critical work for the complex and potent aesthetic elements that have made her a major American novelist of the twentieth century.
Through traditional aesthetic concepts such as the sublime, the beautiful, and the grotesque, through issues of form, narrative, and language, and through questions of affect and reader response, the nine essays in this volume bring into relief the dynamic and often overlooked range within Morrison's writing. Employing aesthetic ideas that range from the ancient Greeks to contemporary research in the black English oral tradition, The Aesthetics of Toni Morrison shows the potency of these ideas for interpreting Morrison's writing. This is a force Morrison herself has often suggested in her claims that Greek tragedy bears a striking similarity to "Afro-American communal structures."
At the same time each essay attends to the ways in which Morrison also challenges traditional aesthetic concepts, establishing the African American and female voices that are essential to her sensibility. The result is a series of readings that simultaneously expands our understanding of Morrison's work and also provokes new thinking about an aesthetic tradition that is nearly 2,500 years old.
These essays offer a rich complement to the dominant approaches in Morrison scholarship by revealing aspects of her work that purely ideological approaches have obscured or about which they have remained oddly silent. Each essay focuses particularly on the relations between the aesthetic and the ethical in Morrison's writing and between the artistic production and its role in the world at large. These relations show the rich political implications that aesthetic analysis engenders.
By treating both Morrison's fiction and her nonfiction, the essays reveal a mind and imagination that have long been intimately engaged with the questions and traditions of the aesthetic domain. The result is a provocative and original contribution to Morrison scholarship, and to scholarship in American letters generally.
Marc C. Conner is an assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University. He has published articles in Studies in American Fiction and Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction.
Transnational Theater, Literature, and Film in Contemporary Germany
The contemporary moment has been described in terms of both a “narrative” and a “performative turn,” but the overlap between these two has largely escaped attention. This curious gap is explained by the ways in which scholars across the humanities have defined narrative and performance as opposite forces, emphasizing their respective affiliations with time vs. space and identity constitution vs. its undoing. Although the opposition has been acknowledged as false by many in this simple form, its shifting instantiations continue to shape the ways we make sense of the arts as well as society. Instead, An Aesthetics of Narrative Performance: Transnational Theater, Literature, and Film in Contemporary Germany by Claudia Breger maps the complexities of imaginative worldmaking in contemporary culture through an aesthetics of narrative performance: an ensemble of techniques exploring the interplay of rupture and recontextualization in the process of configuration. Interlacing diverging definitions of both narrative and performance, the study outlines two clusters of such techniques—scenic narration and narrative “presencing” in performance vs. forms of narrative theatricalization—and analyzes the cultural work they do in individual works in three different media: literature, film, and theater. These readings focus on the rich configurations of contemporary worldmaking “at location Germany.” In the discussed representations of German unification, contemporary cultures of migration, and the transnational War on Terror, the aesthetics of narrative performance finds its identity as a multifaceted imaginative response to the post/modern crisis of narrative authority.
Explaining Nature in Ancient Greece and Rome
Classical authors used both prose and poetry to explore and explain the natural world. In Aetna and the Moon, Liba Taub examines the variety of ways in which ancient Greeks and Romans conveyed scientific information. Oregon State University Press is proud to present this inaugural volume in the Horning Visiting Scholars Series.
In ancient Greece and Rome, most of the technical literature on scientific, mathematical, technological, and medical subjects was written in prose, as it is today. However, Greek and Roman poets produced a significant number of widely read poems that dealt with scientific topics. Why would an author choose poetry to explain the natural world? This question is complicated by claims made, since antiquity, that the growth of rational explanation involved the abandonment of poetry and the rejection of myth in favor of science.
Taub uses two texts to explore how scientific ideas were disseminated in the ancient world. The anonymous author of the Latin Aetna poem explained the science behind the volcano Etna with poetry. The Greek author Plutarch juxtaposed scientific and mythic explanations in his dialogue On the Face on the Moon.
Both texts provide a lens through which Taub considers the nature of scientific communication in ancient Greece and Rome. General readers will appreciate Taub’s thoughtful discussion concerning the choices available to ancient authors to convey their ideas about science—as important today as it was in antiquity—while Taub’s careful research and lively writing will engage classicists as well as historians of science.
The Politics of Sacramental Marriage in Late Medieval English Literature
Affections of the Mind argues that a politicized negotiation of issues of authority in the institution of marriage can be found in late medieval England, where an emergent middle class of society used a sacramental model of marriage to exploit contradictions within medieval theology and social hierarchy. Emma Lipton traces the unprecedented popularity of marriage as a literary topic and the tensions between different models of marriage in the literature of the later fourteenth and fifteenth centuries by analyzing such texts as Chaucer's Franklin's Tale, The Book of Margery Kempe, and the N-Town plays. Affections of the Mind focuses on marriage as a fluid and contested category rather than one with a fixed meaning, and argues that the late medieval literature of sacramental marriage subverted aristocratic and clerical traditions of love and marriage in order to promote the values of the lay middle strata of society. This book will be of value to a broad range of scholars in medieval studies.
The Victorian Novel and the Stock-Market Graph
What do the Victorian novel and the stock-market graph have in common? In The Affective Life of the Average Man: The Victorian Novel and the Stock-Market Graph, ,, Audrey Jaffe explores the influence on modern subjectivity of an economic and emotional discourse constructed by both the Victorian novel and the stock market. The book shows how the novel and the market define character as fundamentally vicarious, and how the graphs, tickers, and pulses that represent the stock market function for us, as the novel did for the Victorians, as both representation and source of collective expectations and emotions. A rereading of key Victorian texts, this volume is also a rereading of the relation between Victorian and contemporary culture, describing the way contemporary accounts of such phenomena as frauds, bubbles, and the economics of happiness reproduce Victorian narratives and assumptions about character. Jaffe draws on the work of nineteenth- and twentieth-century economic and political theorists, popular discourse about the stock market, and novelistic representations of emotion and identity to offer new readings of George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Anthony Trollope’s The Prime Minister, and Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield and Little Dorrit. Charting a new understanding of the relation between money, emotions, and identity, The Affective Life of the Average Man makes a significant contribution to Victorian studies, economic criticism, and the study of the history and representation of emotion.
The Emotional Structure of Stories
Stories engage our emotions. We’ve known this at least since the days of Plato and Aristotle. What this book helps us to understand now is how our own emotions fundamentally organize and orient stories. In light of recent cognitive research and wide reading in different narrative traditions, Patrick Colm Hogan argues that the structure of stories is a systematic product of human emotion systems. Examining the ways in which incidents, events, episodes, plots, and genres are a function of emotional processes, he demonstrates that emotion systems are absolutely crucial for understanding stories. Hogan also makes a case for the potentially integral role that stories play in the development of our emotional lives. He provides an in-depth account of the function of emotion within story—in widespread genres with romantic, heroic, and sacrificial structures, and more limited genres treating parent/child separation, sexual pursuit, criminality, and revenge—as these appear in a variety of cross-cultural traditions. In the course of the book Hogan develops interpretations of works ranging from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina to African oral epics, from Sanskrit comedy to Shakespearean tragedy. Integrating the latest research in affective science with narratology, this book provides a powerful explanatory account of narrative organization.
Africa in Narratives illuminates or proves, against the backdrop of attitudes toward nations deemed ëethnicí or ëminoritiesí, that literature in Africa can live up to the challenge of aesthetic imagination to form an active, refreshing part of world cultural discourse. African countries have evolved imaginatively beyond their present ephemeral stages of social and political turmoil not to talk of intellectual imitations of western thought, nation literatures should be subject to the imperative of a continental cooperation.
A Study of the Sociocultural Dynamics of Faith
This study of atheist African American writers poses a substantive challenge to those who see atheism in despairing and nihilistic terms. Lackey argues that while most white atheists mourn the loss of faith, many black atheists--believing the "God-concept" spawns racism and oppression--consider the death of God a cause for personal and political hope.
Focusing on a little-discussed aspect of African American literature, this full-length analysis of African American atheists' treatment of God fills a huge gap in studies that consistently ignore their contributions. Examining how a belief in God and His "chosen people" necessitates a politics of superiority and inferiority, Lackey implicitly considers the degree to which religious faith is responsible for justifying oppression, even acts of physical and psychological violence.
In their secular vision of social and political justice, black atheists argue that only when the culture adopts and internalizes a truly atheist politics--one based on pluralism, tolerance, and freedom--will radical democracy be achieved. Of primary interest to scholars of African American studies, this volume also will appeal to religious scholars, philosophers, anthropologists, freethinkers, and religious and secular humanists.
Vol. 43 (2009) through current issue
African American Review is a scholarly aggregation of insightful essays on African American literature, theatre, film, the visual arts, and culture; interviews; poetry; fiction; and book reviews. The Review has featured renowned writers and cultural critics including Trudier Harris, Arnold Rampersad, Hortense Spillers, Amiri Baraka, Cyrus Cassells, Rita Dove, Charles Johnson, Toni Morrison, and Ishmael Reed. The official publication of the Modern Language Association's Divison on Black American Literature and Culture, African American Review fosters a vigorous conversation on African American literature and culture among writers and scholars in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.
From Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance
In identifying Jim Crow with the coming of modernity, Smethurst focuses on how artists reacted to the system’s racial territorialization, especially in urban areas, with migration narratives, poetry about the black experience, and black performance of popular culture forms such as ragtime and vaudeville. He shows how black writers such as Fenton Johnson and William Stanley Braithwaite circulated some of the earliest and strongest ideas about an American “bohemia.” Smethurst also upsets the customary assessment of the later Harlem Renaissance as the first and primary site of a nationally significant black arts movement by examining the influence of these earlier writers and artists on the black and white modernists who followed. In so doing, Smethurst brings forward a host of understudied figures while recontextualizing the work of canonical authors such as Charles Chesnutt, Pauline Hopkins, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and James Weldon Johnson. As such, Smethurst positions his work as part of the current growing intellectual conversation about the nature of African American literature and culture between Reconstruction and the Harlem Renaissance. Far from being a “nadir” period, Smethurst argues, this period saw black artists creating cultural forms from which issued some of the most significant literary works of the twentieth century.