Histories of the discipline of literary studies have long relied on a narrative of secularization that traces the gradual transformation of a profession that was once more religious into one that is now largely secular. Recent work in a number of different disciplines has revised and challenged the basic assumptions behind secularization narratives, in part by complicating our understanding of the processes by which the categories “religious” and “secular” are constructed and differentiated. This essay begins with an account of some of this recent work, primarily from cultural anthropology and religious studies. In light of these theories, the essay then examines how various attempts to differentiate the religious and the secular have shaped disciplinary boundaries and identities as manifested in histories of the profession. To indicate how an account of these continued acts of differentiation is central to an understanding of professional history and identity, and to literary critical practice, the essay concludes with a brief look at some recent work in literary studies that has moved away from reliance on a straightforward narrative of secularization, and has instead re-instated questions about the on-going relationship between the religious and the secular.
For all its unfashionable teleological inevitability, its brash aspirations to universality, the story of advancing secularization remains the one progress narrative to which professional literary study typically attaches its own discourses and aims. Michael Kaufmann urges literary scholars to bring critical scrutiny to bear on the ostensibly closed (if embattled) narrative of secularization in the interest of revisiting normative assumptions that have shaped and constrained the development of professional identity. Underscoring Kaufmann’s call, Fessenden looks beyond the institutional grounding of literary studies to consider broader political consequences of leaving the religion/secular binary unexamined and undisturbed. In particular, she notes the problematic deference religion receives when its relation to the secular is mapped onto a familiar liberal model of private and public domains.
Making the relationship between the religious and the secular a special object of inquiry represents less a new way of thinking about the role of religion in literary studies, as Michael W. Kaufmann contends, than a return to the status quo. This essay articulates that status quo by examining recent work on the history of the novel in English in light of Vincent Pecora’s book Secularization and Cultural Criticism. Next, it contrasts Pecora’s approach to Talal Asad’s in Formations of the Secular. Finally, the essay briefly describes some of the terrain between the religious and the secular in the novel that Asad leaves unexplored in his criticism.
Scholars often read the sentimental romance as a democratizing genre in which marginalized subjects, excluded by their gender or race, can make their feelings and voices heard in the public sphere. Lilley’s essay complicates this approach by identifying mutual aesthetic processes of inclusion and exception that enable these feelings to be collected by the sentimental community. He argues that while Mackenzie’s work promotes the public principles of sympathy and affection, it also mourns the ruin of utterly private feeling that such publicity entails. Rather than simply championing liberal ideas of freedom, charity, and public equality, the sentimental romance secretly longs for the prestige of singular and private differences that have been ruined by, and excluded from, this new political community and its concepts of universal feelings and rights. By examining how this erotics of private ruin fragments heterosexual desire and stains the body with the fateful force of race, Lilley shows how the aesthetics of sentimental romance inflects the formal structure of our modern systems of identity and belonging.
The dominant psychoanalytic theories in the humanities promote a myth of origins in which the infant is originally asocial, and motivated only by selfish hedonism, or by a desire to return to a state of syncretic merger with its environment. Developmental psychology, however, has demonstrated that infants are social agents, rather than selfish narcissists. Psychoanalytic theory of culture must therefore recognise the masculine “taboo on tenderness” which underlies its own early formulations, and which is apparent in a diverse range of cultural phenomena—from the eighteenth-century revolt against sensibility, to the commodification of sentiment, and the contemporary sexualisation of both love and touch.
My response to Gavin Miller’s excoriation of contemporary theory’s “taboo on tenderness” applauds the critique he is offering of the stultifying effects of theory on the language of literary criticism, while at the same time demurring that a “taboo on sexuality” unfortunately exists in the relational psychoanalytic movement he celebrates in this paper. Drawing on recent reevaluations of Freud’s “drive theory” in light of his own biographical conflicts around what he called the “oceanic feeling” of infantile merger, I review how the relational movement in contemporary clinical psychoanalysis came about through a charting of the mother/infant dyad largely avoided in Freud’s theories. My concern expressed in this response is that relational psychoanalysis itself has turned away from a full encounter with the drives and with sexuality in its efforts to idealize and theorize “baby love.” Noticing an ironic parallel in Miller’s own paper as he tends to idealize Ian Suttie’s view of love while perhaps avoiding the importance of sexual passion, I take up Sandor Ferenczi’s ur-text, “Confusion of Tongues Between Adults and the Child: The Language of Tenderness and of Passion” to reflect upon the place of sex and love in psychoanalysis. I finally turn to poet John Milton’s pre-lapsarian language of “Paradise Lost” to offer a modest resolution of this tension between the discourse of tenderness and desire.
This essay is an attempt to elucidate the concept of “becoming-animal” that Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari develop in a number of their writings. Basically “becoming-animal” is a movement in which a subject no longer occupies a realm of stability but rather is folded into a nomadic mode of existence in which one is always an anomaly, that is, inaccessible to any form of definition. It is a movement from body to flesh, where the one is a figure of unity and strength, while the other is in an interminable state of disarticulation or disfigurement, as in many of Francis Bacon’s paintings of faceless heads. It is not animal metamorphosis but an achievement of non-identity, which for Deleuze and Guattari is the condition of freedom (for animals as well as for the rest of us, whoever we are).
Beginning with Franz Kafka’s astonishing claim to Max Brod that the writer is the “scapegoat of mankind,” this article discusses the treatment of the biblical figure of the scapegoat in Kafka’s story “A Report to an Academy” and Coetzee’s two novels, Disgrace and Elizabeth Costello. Through a comparison of these works, I argue that the reader’s/character’s/author’s identification with the figure of the sacrificial animal constitutes a primal scene of narrative in the work of both Kafka and Coetzee.
How do narratives work in the world? How can literary criticism characterize their full life-cycles and effects? This article suggests a model of narrative interaction to account for the intricacies and power of narratives, from background and composition to ultimate impacts. It applies the model of narrative interaction to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a landmark narrative which has incorrectly been dismissed from literary criticism’s purview, and to ecocriticism, the activist critical practice which has taken Silent Spring for its own. In so doing the article shows how literary criticism can re-conceptualize and expand its own field of inquiry.
Concerned with the relationship between sound and images on the printed page, this essay analyzes two poems by William Wordsworth, connecting their cognitive operations to the changes in print technology that affected reading practices of the time. I show in Wordsworth’s lyrics a shift in the stimulus that he deploys to evoke sound. The process of code-reading afforded by computers and software reveals Wordsworth’s practice of making sounds for the eye, a practice that has been virtually invisible to close-reading and high theory, as a material substrate capable of generating lyric subjectivity.