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Prizewinning African American Novels, 1977-1993
After World War II and well beyond the Black Arts Movement, African American novelists struggled with white literary expectations imposed upon them. Aesthetics as varied as New Criticism and Deconstruction fueled these struggles, and black writers—facing these struggles— experienced an ethical crisis. Analyzing prizewinning, creative fellowship, and artistic style, this book considers what factors ended that crisis. The Ethics of Swagger explores how novelists who won major prizes between 1977 and 1993 helped move authors of black fiction through insecurity toward autonomy. Identifying these prizewinners—David Bradley, Ernest Gaines, Charles Johnson, Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, Alice Walker, and John Edgar Wideman—as a literary class, this book focuses on how they achieved imaginative freedom, recovered black literary traditions, and advanced the academic study of African American writing. The post–Civil Rights era produced the most accomplished group of novelists in black literary history. As these authors worked in an integrating society, they subjected white narrative techniques to the golden mean of black cultural mores. This exposure compelled the mainstream to acknowledge fresh talent and prodded American society to honor its democratic convictions. Shaping national dialogues about merit, award-winning novelists from 1977 to 1993, the Black Archivists, used swagger to alter the options for black art and citizenship.
Hannah Arendt and Edward W. Said in Counterpoint
Exiles in the City: Hannah Arendt and Edward W. Said in Counterpoint, by William V. Spanos, explores the affiliative relationship between Arendt’s and Said’s thought, not simply their mutual emphasis on the importance of the exilic consciousness in an age characterized by the decline of the nation-state and the rise of globalization, but also on the oppositional politics that a displaced consciousness enables. The pairing of these two extraordinary intellectuals is unusual and controversial because of their ethnic identities. In radically secularizing their comportment towards being, their exilic condition enabled them to undertake inaugural critiques of the culture of the nation-state system of Western modernity. As variations on the theme of exile, the five chapters of this book constitute reflections on what is foundational and abiding in both Arendt’s and Said’s work. They not only document the heretofore unnoticed affiliation between the two thinkers. They also shed light on Arendt’s and Said’s proleptic activist explorations of the urgent “question of Palestine,” especially on the fraught present situation, which bears increasing witness to the irony that the Israeli nation-state’s “solution” has, from the beginning, systematically repeated the degradations the Jewish people suffered at the hands of German nationalism.
Ralph W. Rader, along with Sheldon Sacks and Wayne Booth, was one of the three leading figures of the second generation of neo-Aristotelian critics. During his long career in the English Department at the University of California, Berkeley, Rader published scores of essays. Fact, Fiction, and Form: Selected Essays, edited by James Phelan and David H. Richter, collects the most important of these essays, all of them written between the late 1960s and the late 1990s. These critical inquiries, which engage with a remarkable range of literary texts—Moll Flanders, Pamela, Tristram Shandy, “Tintern Abbey,” “My Last Duchess,” Barchester Towers, Lord Jim, Ulysses, and more—are a rich resource for anyone interested in criticism’s ongoing conversations about the following major issues: the concept of form, the genres of the lyric and the novel, the literary dimensions of literary history, the distinction between fiction and nonfiction, the evaluation of literary quality, and the testing of theories and of interpretations. Moreover, the essays collectively develop a distinctive, coherent, and compelling vision of literary form, purpose, and value. Rader’s vision is distinctive and coherent because it is based not on an underlying theory of language, power, history, or culture but rather on the idea that form is the means by which humans respond to fundamental aspects and conditions of their existence in the world. His vision is compelling because it includes a rigorous set of standards for adequate interpretation against which he invites his audience to measure his own readings.
Fair Copy, byRebecca Hazelton, is a meditation on the difficulties of distinguishing the real from the false, the copy from the original. It is in part an exploration of the disparity between our conception of love as either true or false and the messy reality that it can sometimes be both. If “true” love is not to be found, is an approximation a “fair” substitute? These poems repeatedly question the veracity of memory—sometimes toying with the seductiveness of nostalgia while at other times pleading for the real story. Here, the fairy tale and the everyday nervously coexist, the bride is an uneasy molecule, and happiness comes in the form of a pill. Composed of acrostics from lines by Emily Dickinson, the collection retains a direct and recurrent tie to Dickinson’s work, even while Hazelton deftly branches off into new sonic, rhythmic, and conceptual territories.
What does it mean to “know” what a work of fiction tells us? In Vergil’s Aeneid, the promise and uncertainty of fama convey this challenge. Expansive and flexible, the Latin word fama can mean “fame,” long-lasting “tradition,” and useful “news,” but also ephemeral “rumor” and disruptive “scandal.” Fama is personified as a horrifying winged goddess who reports the truth while keeping an equally tight grip on what’s distorted or made up. Fama reflects the ways talk—or epic song—may merge past and present, human and divine, things remembered and things imagined. Most importantly, fama marks the epic’s power to bring its story world into our own. The cognitive dynamics of metaphor share in this power, blending the Aeneid’s poetic authority with the imagined force of the gods. Characters and readers are encouraged—even impelled—to seek divine order amidst unsettling words and visions by linking new experiences with existing knowledge. Transformative moments of recognition set the perceptual stage both for the gods’ commands and for the epic’s persuasive efficacy, for pietas (remembrance of ritual and social obligations) and furor (madness). Antonia Syson’s sensitive close readings offer fresh insights into questions of fictive knowledge and collective memory in the Aeneid. These perspectives invite readers to reconsider some of the epistemological premises underlying inquiry into ancient cultures. Drawing comparisons with the nineteenth-century English novel, Syson highlights continuities between two narrative genres whose cultural contributions and rhetorical claims have often seemed sharply opposed.
Eighteenth-Century British Actresses and Strategies for Image Making
This volume takes a new approach to the study of late eighteenth-century British actresses by examining the significance of leading actresses’ autobiographical memoirs, portraits, and theatrical roles together as significant strategies for shaping their careers. In an era when acting was considered a suspicious profession for women, eighteenth-century actresses were “celebrities” in a society obsessed with fashion, gossip, and intrigue. Fashioning Celebrity: Eighteenth-Century British Actresses and Strategies for Image Making, by Laura Engel, considers the lives and careers of four actresses: Sarah Siddons, Mary Robinson, Mary Wells, and Fanny Kemble. Using conventions of the era’s portraiture, fashion, literature, and the theater in order to create their personas on and off stage, these actresses provided a series of techniques for fashioning celebrity that still survive today. By emphasizing the importance of reading narratives through visual and theatrical frameworks and visual and theatrical representations through narrative models, Engel demonstrates the ways in which actresses’ identities were imagined through a variety of discourses that worked dialectically to construct their complex self-representations.
The Trope of Clothing in High- and Late-Medieval England
Medieval European culture was obsessed with clothing. In Fashioning Change: The Trope of Clothing in High-and Late-Medieval England, Andrea Denny-Brown explores the central impact of clothing in medieval ideas about impermanence and the ethical stakes of human transience. Studies of dress frequently contend with a prevailing cultural belief that bodily adornment speaks to interests that are frivolous, superficial, and cursory. Taking up the vexed topic of clothing’s inherent changeability, Denny-Brown uncovers an important new genealogy of clothing as a representational device, one imbued with a surprising philosophical pedigree and a long history of analytical weightiness. Considering writers as diverse as Boethius, Alain de Lille, William Durand, Chaucer, and Lydgate, among others, Denny-Brown tracks the development of a literary and cultural trope that begins in the sixth century and finds its highest expression in the vernacular poetry of fifteenth-century England. Among the topics covered are Boethian discourses on the care of the self, the changing garments of Lady Fortune, novelty in ecclesiastical fashions, the sartorial legacy of Chaucer’s Griselda, and the emergence of the English gallant. These literary treatments of vestimentary variation—which develop an aesthetics of change itself—enhance our understanding of clothing as a phenomenological and philosophical category in medieval Europe and illustrate the centrality of the Middle Ages to theories of aesthetics, of materiality, and of cultural change.
Black Masculinity in U.S. History and Literature, 1820-1945
Fathers, Preachers, Rebels, Men: Black Masculinity in U.S. History and Literature, 1820–1945,edited by Timothy R. Buckner and Peter Caster, brings together scholars of history and literature focused on the lives and writing of black men during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the United States. The interdisciplinary study demonstrates the masculine character of cultural practices developed from slavery through segregation. Black masculinity embodies a set of contradictions, including an often mistaken threat of violence, the belief in its legitimacy, and the rhetorical union of truth and fiction surrounding slavery, segregation, resistance, and self-determination. The attention to history and literature is necessary because so many historical depictions of black men are rooted in fiction. The essays of this collection balance historical and literary accounts, and they join new descriptions of familiar figures such as Charles W. Chesnutt and W. E. B. Du Bois with the less familiar but critically important William Johnson and Nat Love. The 2008 election of Barack Obama is a tremendously significant event in the vexed matter of race in the United States. However, the racial subtext of recent radical political movements and the 2009 arrest of scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., demonstrate that the perceived threat posed by black masculinity to the nation’s unity and vitality remains an alarming one in the cultural imagination.
Biography of a Literary Rivalry
In the first book of its kind, Joseph Fruscione examines the contentious relationship of two titans of American modernism—William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway. At times, each voiced a shared literary and professional respect; at other times, each thought himself the superior craftsman and spoke of the other disparagingly. Their rivalry was rich, nuanced, and vexed, embodying various attitudes—one-upmanship, respect, criticism, and praise. Their intertextual contest—what we might call their modernist dialectic—was manifested textually through their fiction, nonfiction, letters, Nobel Prize addresses, and spoken remarks. Their intertextual relationship was highly significant for both authors: it was unusual for the reclusive Faulkner to engage so directly and so often with a contemporary, and for the hypercompetitive Hemingway to admit respect for—and possible inferiority to—a rival writer. Their joint awareness spawned an influential, allusive, and sparring intertext in which each had a psychocompetitive hold on the other. Faulkner and Hemingway: Biography of a Literary Rivalry—part analytical study, part literary biography—illustrates how their artistic paths and performed masculinities clashed frequently, as the authors measured themselves against each other and engendered a mutual psychological influence. Although previous scholarship has noted particular flare-ups and textual similarities, most of it has tended to be more implicit in outlining the broader narrative of Faulkner and Hemingway as longtime rivals. Building on such scholarship, Faulkner and Hemingway offers a more overt study of how these authors’ published and archival work traces a sequence of psychological influence, cross-textual reference, and gender performance over some three decades.
Witnessing, Literature, and Community in the Late Middle Ages
Throughout the Middle Ages, witnessing was a crucial way religious and legal “truths” were understood and produced. Religious and secular officials alike harnessed the power of testimony to assert doctrinal, political, or legal responsibilities. Swearing an oath, testifying in court, and signing a deposition were common ways to shape and discipline both devotional and legal communities. In Fictions of Evidence: Witnessing, Literature, and Community in the Late Middle Ages, Jamie K. Taylor traces depictions of witnessing in a wide range of late medieval texts and shows how witnessing practices formed and reformed, policed and challenged medieval communities. Through close study of texts like the Man of Law’s Tale and Piers Plowman alongside sermon exempla, common law statutes, and pastoral treatises, Fictions of Evidence argues that vernacular literature was a vital site of criticism and dissent. It shows that devotional and legal witnessing practices offered medieval writers a distinct vocabulary they could use to expose how the ethical and legal obligations to one’s community were constructed. And since vernacular writers often challenged the ways ecclesiastical or secular authorities asserted community bonds, they found they could use those same witnessing practices and language to imagine extra-legal or extra-ecclesiastical communities that followed different ethical codes.