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Regional Identity and Cheshire Writing, 1195-1656
Against All England examines a diverse set of poems, plays, and chronicles produced in Cheshire and its vicinity from the 1190s to the 1650s that collectively argue for the localization of British literary history. These works, including very early monastic writing emanating from St. Werburgh’s Abbey, the Chester Whitsun plays, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, seventeenth-century ceremonials, and various Stanley romances, share in the creation and revision of England’s cultural tradition, demonstrating a vested interest in the intersection of landscape, language, and politics. Barrett’s book grounds itself in Cestrian evidence in order to offer scholars a new, dynamic model of cultural topography, one that acknowledges the complex interlacing of regional and national identities within the longue durée extending from the post-Conquest period to the Restoration. Covering nearly five centuries of literary production within a single geographical location, the book challenges still dominant chronologies of literary history that emphasize cultural rupture and view the “Renaissance” as a sharp break from England’s medieval past.
Albert Memmi and the Production of Theory
The work of Tunisian Jewish intellectual Albert Memmi, like that of many francophone Maghrebian writers, is often read as thinly veiled autobiography. Questioning the prevailing body of criticism, which continues this interpretation of most fiction produced by francophone North African writers, Lia Nicole Brozgal shows how such interpretations of Memmi’s texts obscure their not inconsiderable theoretical possibilities.
Calling attention to the ambiguous status of autobiographical discursive and textual elements in Memmi’s work, Brozgal shifts the focus from the author to theoretical questions. Against Autobiography places Memmi’s writing and thought in dialogue with several major critical shifts in the late twentieth-century literary and cultural landscape. These shifts include the crisis of the authorial subject; the interrogation of the form of the novel; the resistance to the hegemony of vision; and the critique of colonialism. Showing how Memmi’s novels and essays produce theories that resonate both within and beyond their original contexts, Brozgal argues for allowing works of francophone Maghrebi literature to be read as complex literary objects, that is, not simply as ethnographic curios but as generating elements of literary theory on their own terms.
Literary Experience in the Era of Emancipations
This book argues that we can no longer envision a political system that might practically displace democracy or, more accurately, global democratic state capitalism. Democracy has become fundamental: It extends deeper and deeper into everyday life; it grounds and limits our political thought and values. That is the sense in which we do indeed live at history's end. But this end is not a happy one, because the system that we now have does not satisfy tests that we can legitimately put to it. In this situation, it is important to come to new terms with the fact that literature, at least until about 1945, was predominantly hostile to political democracy. Literature's deep-seated conservative, counterdemocratic tendencies, along with its capacity to make important distinctions among political, cultural, and experiential democracies and its capacity to uncover hidden, nonpolitical democracies in everyday life, is now a resource not just for cultural conservatives but for all those who take a critical attitude toward the current political, cultural, and economic structures. Literature, and certain novelists in particular, helps us not so much to imagine social possibilities beyond democracy as to understand how life might be lived both in and outside democratic state capitalism. Drawing on political theory, intellectual history, and the techniques of close reading, Against Democracy offers new accounts of the ethos of refusing democracy, of literary criticism's contribution to that ethos, and of the history of conservatism, as well as innovative interpretations of a range of writers, including Tocqueville, Disraeli, George Eliot, E. M. Forster, and Saul Bellow.
Antebellum American Writers and the Movement to Abolish Capital Punishment
In Against the Gallows, Paul Christian Jones explores the intriguing cooperation of America’s writers—including major figures such as Walt Whitman, John Greenleaf Whittier, E. D. E. N. Southworth, and Herman Melville—with reformers, politicians, clergymen, and periodical editors who attempted to end the practice of capital punishment in the United States during the 1840s and 1850s. In an age of passionate reform efforts, the antigallows movement enjoyed broad popularity, waging its campaign in legislatures, pulpits, newspapers, and literary journals.
In The Age of Milton and the Scientific Revolution, Angelica Duran reveals the way in which Milton’s works interacted with the revolutionary work of his contemporaries in science to participate in the dynamic “advancement of learning” of the time period. Bringing together primary materials by early modern scientists, including Robert Boyle, William Gilbert, William Harvey, Isaac Newton, John Ray, and John Wilkins as well as educational reformers such as Samuel Hartlib and Henry Oldenburg, The Age of Milton and the Scientific Revolution positions Milton’s literature as a coequal partner with the new cosmological theories, mathematical developments, telescopes, and scientific tracts that so thoroughly affected every aspect of recorded life in seventeenth century England. Duran shows, for example, how new developments in ornithology worked to shape the Lady’s power in the young Milton’s celebratory A Mask, how mathematics informed the sexual relationship of Adam and Eve in his mature epic Paradise Lost, and how developments in optics transformed the blinded hero of the blind author’s moving tragedy Samson Agonistes. While this study is indebted to the work of historians of science—from C. P. Snow and Thomas Kuhn to Stephen Shapin and Stephen Jay Gould—it is not a history of science per se, but rather a cultural study that appreciates poetry as a unique lens through which early modern England’s large-scale developments in education and science are clarified and reflected. What emerges is an intimate sense of how the enormous changes of the English Scientific Revolution affected individual lives and found their ways into Milton’s enduring poetry and prose.
Centennial Essays on the Works of James Agee
Drawn mainly from the centennial anniversary symposium on James Agee held at the University of Tennessee in the fall of 2009, the essays of Agee at 100 are as diverse in topic and purpose as is Agee’s work itself. Often devalued during his life by those who thought his breadth a hindrance to greatness, Agee’s achievements as a poet, novelist, journalist, essayist, critic, documentarian, and screenwriter are now more fully recognized. With its use of previously unknown and recently recovered materials as well as established works, this groundbreaking new collection is a timely contribution to the resurgence of interest in Agee’s significance. The essays in this collection range from the scholarly to the personal, and all offer insight into Agee’s writing, his cultural influence, and ultimately Agee himself. Dwight Garner opens with his reflective essay on “Why Agee Matters.” Several essays present almost entirely new material on Agee. Paul Ashdown writes on Agee’s book reviews, which, unlike Agee’s film criticism, have received scant attention. With evidence from two largely unstudied manuscripts, Jeffrey Couchman sets the record straight on Agee’s contribution to the screenplay for The African Queen and delves as well into his television “miniseries” screenplay Mr. Lincoln. John Wranovics treats Agee’s lesser-known films--the documentaries In the Street and The Quiet One and the Filipino epic Genghis Khan. Jeffrey J. Folks wrestles with Agee’s “culture of repudiation” while James A. Crank investigates his perplexing treatment of race in his prose. Jesse Graves and Andrew Crooke provide new analyses of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and Michael A. Lofaro and Philip Stogdon both discuss Lofaro’s recently restored text of A Death in the Family. David Madden closes the collection with his short story “Seeing Agee in Lincoln,” an imagined letter from Agee to his longtime confidante Father Flye.
Nayantara Sahgal’s Gandhian Fiction
The Agent in the Margin: Nayantara Sahgal’s Gandhian Fiction is a comprehensive study of the literary works of Nayantara Sahgal, daughter of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit—the first woman president of the United Nations General Assembly—and niece of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. Clara A.B. Joseph introduces Mahatma Gandhi’s political and philosophical to literary analysis and utilizes non-structuralist aspects of Louis Althusser’s theories of ideology to trace how characters marginalized by gender, class, race, and language in Sahgal’s work assume agency, challenging poststructuralist theories of cultural and ideological determinism. She considers how gender complicates autobiography and how the roles of daughter, virgin, wife, widow, and alien serve (often ironically) to highlight human dignity.
Print Culture Studies after Elizabeth L. Eisenstein
Inspiring debate since the early days of its publication, Elizabeth L. Eisenstein's The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe (1979) has exercised its own force as an agent of change in the world of scholarship. Its path-breaking agenda has played a central role in shaping the study of print culture and "book history"—fields of inquiry that rank among the most exciting and vital areas of scholarly endeavor in recent years. Joining together leading voices in the field of print scholarship, this collection of twenty essays affirms the catalytic properties of Eisenstein's study as a stimulus to further inquiry across geographic, temporal, and disciplinary boundaries. From early modern marginalia to the use of architectural title pages in Renaissance books, from the press in Spanish colonial America to print in the Islamic world, from the role of the printed word in nation-building to changing histories of reading in the electronic age, this book addresses the legacy of Eisenstein's work in print culture studies today as it suggests future directions for the field. In addition to a conversation with Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, the book includes contributions by Peng Hwa Ang, Margaret Aston, Tony Ballantyne, Vivek Bhandari, Ann Blair, Barbara A. Brannon, Roger Chartier, Kai-wing Chow, James A. Dewar, Robert A. Gross, David Scott Kastan, Harold Love, Paula McDowell, Jane McRae, Jean-Dominique Mellot, Antonio Rodr’guez-Buckingham, Geoffrey Roper, William H. Sherman, Peter Stallybrass, H. Arthur Williamson, and Calhoun Winton.
Reading the Contemporary American Novel
A frequent complaint against contemporary American fiction is that too often it puts off readers in ways they find difficult to fathom. Books such as Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho, Katherine Dunn's Geek Love, and Don DeLillo's Underworld seem determined to upset, disgust, or annoy their readers-or to disorient them by shunning traditional plot patterns and character development. Kathryn Hume calls such works "aggressive fiction." Why would authors risk alienating their readers-and why should readers persevere? Looking beyond the theory-based justifications that critics often provide for such fiction, Hume offers a commonsense guide for the average reader who wants to better understand and appreciate books that might otherwise seem difficult to enjoy.
In her reliable and sympathetic guide, Hume considers roughly forty works of recent American fiction, including books by William Burroughs, Kathy Acker, Chuck Palahniuk, and Cormac McCarthy. Hume gathers "attacks" on the reader into categories based on narrative structure and content. Writers of some aggressive fictions may wish to frustrate easy interpretation or criticism. Others may try to induce certain responses in readers. Extreme content deployed as a tactic for distancing and alienating can actually produce a contradictory effect: for readers who learn to relax and go with the flow, the result may well be exhilaration rather than revulsion.
Acknowledging the Holocaust
How can a fictional text adequately or meaningfully represent the events of the Holocaust? Drawing on philosopher Stanley Cavell's ideas about "acknowledgment" as a respectful attentiveness to the world, Emily Miller Budick develops a penetrating philosophical analysis of major works by internationally prominent Israeli writer Aharon Appelfeld. Through sensitive discussions of the novels Badenheim 1939, The Iron Tracks, The Age of Wonders, and Tzili, and the autobiographical work The Story of My Life, Budick reveals the compelling art with which Appelfeld renders the sights, sensations, and experiences of European Jewish life preceding, during, and after the Second World War. She argues that it is through acknowledging the incompleteness of our knowledge and understanding of the catastrophe that Appelfeld's fiction produces not only its stunning aesthetic power but its affirmation and faith in both the human and the divine. This beautifully written book provides a moving introduction to the work of an important and powerful writer and an enlightening meditation on how fictional texts deepen our understanding of historical events.
Jewish Literature and Culture -- Alvin H. Rosenfeld, editor