Poetics Today

Poetics Today 21.2, Summer 2000

Contents

Articles

    Leerssen, Joseph Th. (Joseph Theodoor), 1955-
  • The Rhetoric of National Character: A Programmatic Survey
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    Subject Headings:
    • National characteristics.
    Abstract:
      This article studies the notion of “national character” as it is formulated in literature and as it influences literary praxis. Starting from the insights of image studies or “imagology” (a comparatist specialism developed over the last five decades, mainly in France and Germany), national thought, as one of the most pervasive and enduring cultural ideologies, should be critically and systematically studied in its literary manifestation. In order to propose an agenda for such a study, I survey the existing constructivist and structuralist literary practice, drawing two general conclusions: (1) It is possible to make an analytical distinction, based on cogent textual observation, between the discursive registers of factual reporting and stereotyping. That distinction revolves not only around the commonplace nature and intertextual dissemination of certain characterizations but also around the individual text’s strategies of characterization: the quasi-psychological (“character”-based) motivation that a given text may adduce for cultural patterns, and the way a text constructs salient features concerning a given nation as “typical” or “characteristic.” (2) “Deep structures” in national stereotyping, involving the construction of binaries around oppositional pairs such as North/South, strong/weak, and central/peripheral, should be addressed diachronically and historically. The end result of such (historically variable but unfalsifiable) stereotypical oppositions is that most imputed national characteristics will exhibit a binary nature, capable of attributing strongly contradictory characteristics to any given national group (“is a nation of contrasts”). I propose that national stereotyping be studied at a more fundamental level as a pattern of Janus-faced “imagemes,” stereotypical schemata characterized by their inherent temperamental ambivalence and capable of being triggered into different actual manifestations.

      On the basis of these insights, it must be possible to move from textual analysis and intertextual inventory to a pragmatic/rhetorical study of national characterization and national stereotyping, taking into account a text’s audience function. This ambition (i.e., to address the dynamics of national stereotyping as a historical, audience-oriented praxis rather than as a textual feature) raises a challenge of its own, largely revolving around the hermeneutic and/or historical distance between a text’s provenance and its audience; but some possible ways to address that challenge are also indicated.

    Kreiswirth, Martin.
  • Merely Telling Stories? Narrative and Knowledge in the Human Sciences
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    Subject Headings:
    • Narration (Rhetoric)
    • Social sciences.
    • Knowledge, Theory of.
    Abstract:
      This essay is part of a long-term cross-disciplinary research project, entitled “Narrative between the Disciplines,” which looks at the way narrative is used within and between different disciplinary formations. Its goal is to say something about narrative itself as a form of redescription, a mode of knowledge, and how the claims made for it by the various disciplines say something about their own operations, limitations, and presuppositions. By examining the diverse ways narrative is inflected in different institutional settings, we might also discover something about our concern for narrative now and our notions of disciplinarity and the compartmentalization of knowledge. Elsewhere, I have already sketched out some of the basic questions regarding the recent explosion of interest in narrative and in theorizing about narrative across the disciplines: Why narrative? And why narrative now? Why have we decided to trust the tale? This essay develops some of the questions that my earlier work left open; more specifically, it deals with the inherent “bivalency” of narrative—its dependency on the temporalities both of the telling and of the told—and charts the history of the recent “narrativist turn.” It attempts to present a genealogy of the different ways in which disciplines in the human sciences have formulated and employed narrative and narrative theory, particularly in those fields that make truth claims: history or political science, for example. Why have political scientists now decided to “trust the tale”? Is their sense of narrative the same as say, literary theorists’? And what might these things say about their own discipline and the relations between it and other disciplines in the human sciences?
    Jackson, Tony E., 1951-
  • Questioning Interdisciplinarity: Cognitive Science, Evolutionary Psychology, and Literary Criticism
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    Subject Headings:
    • Criticism.
    • Cognitive science.
    • Genetic psychology.
    Abstract:
      Cognitive science and evolutionary psychology show great potential as explanatory paradigms for a wide array of cultural products and activities, including literature. In some scholars’ minds these two fields are emerging as the cornerstones of a major “new interdisciplinarity” that may well displace the relativistic interpretive paradigms that have dominated the humanities for the last few decades. Through a review of a number of recently published works, I assess the situation of these two fields in relation to the specific, currently reigning approaches to literary study as well as in relation to more general issues of academic literary interpretation. What do we have so far, and what can we possibly expect these essentially empirical-scientific disciplines to add to literary criticism? If cognitive science and evolutionary psychology are to become important in a truly interdisciplinary sense, then what kinds of claims will they need to make? Most important, how will the problematic but unavoidable distinction between nature and nurture be dealt with? Though the kinds of explanations offered in both fields can obviously enough be relevant to defining what literature is in relation to the human organism, how will the same kinds of explanations be involved in the actual interpretation of specific literary texts? For only an approach that provides new interpretive possibilities of actual texts can succeed on any broad level. After considering examples of current interdisciplinary work that, regardless of their other strengths, do not turn out to be significantly new and different from previous paradigms, I consider an example that, to my mind, most strongly illustrates in a general way what the new interdisciplinarity will have to look like if it is going to succeed.
    McCallum, E. L. (Ellen Lee), 1966-
  • Mapping the Real in Cyberfiction
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    Subject Headings:
    • Science fiction -- History and criticism.
    • Space and time in literature.
    • Narration (Rhetoric)
    Abstract:
      Cyberfiction offers a tantalizing view of what a completely networked world might be like; yet even with distance transcended by computers and phone links, the real world persists as an important component of these narratives. Examining the representation of real spaces in cyberpunk fiction not only reveals the narratives’ reliance on events in “real” space but also shows how their assumptions about organizing space and distributing power are more colonialist than futurist. In conjunction with this geography, these narratives also employ the genre most closely associated with colonialism—namely, adventure. The reliance on first-world/third-world divisions leads us to question why these seemingly innovative narratives would rely on “old” geographies and “old” genres in their re-vision of a new, postdistance world. The innovations of Pat Cadigan’s Mindplayers offer sharp contrast to the standard texts of cyberfiction, particularly classics by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson. The difference shows that only by questioning narrative structure, interrogating the conventions of genre, and mapping a geography of real space that is closer to home can cyberpunk narratives stop reinscribing technological change in terms of the exotic and begin to explore the repercussions of technology on the scale of the familiar. This change in narrative and geographical imagination must happen in order to achieve the aim that all these fictions seek: that is, to challenge our understanding of what this new technological power will enable.
    Eskin, Michael.
  • Bakhtin on Poetry
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    Subject Headings:
    • Bakhtin, M. M. (Mikhail Mikhailovich), 1895-1975 -- Views on poetry.
    • Poetry.
    Abstract:
      Bakhtin’s endorsement of literary prose—especially Dostoevsky’s—on the grounds of its polyphony and his concomitant critique of poetry on the grounds of its allegedly monologic character have become commonplace in Bakhtin criticism. In this article, I reexamine this view of the respective significance of poetry and prose in Bakhtin’s oeuvre. In particular, I argue that far from being relegated to the realm of discursive and, by extension, sociopolitical monologicity, poetry may plausibly be construed as the dialogically and sociopolitically exemplary mode of discourse in Bakhtin’s writings.
    Gomel, Elana.
  • From Dr. Moreau to Dr. Mengele: The Biological Sublime
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    Subject Headings:
    • Shepard, Lucius. Mengele.
    • Wells, H. G. (Herbert George), 1866-1946. Island of Doctor Moreau.
    • Sublime, The -- Political aspects.
    Abstract:
      This article discusses the cultural genealogy of the image of Dr. Death: the godlike surgeon with power over life and death, who uses this power to torture and mutilate. First appearing in H. G. Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), this image has become firmly associated with Nazi medicine, as demonstrated by Lucius Shepard’s short story “Mengele” (1989). This association accurately reflects the ideological trajectory, which involves the transformation of social Darwinism and eugenics, reflected in Wells’s novel, into the “bio-ideologies” of fascism and National Socialism. The essay argues that Dr. Death is a variant of the fascist New Man, a new modality of corporeal subjectivity, produced through the utilization of the sublime experience of violence for ideological ends. Rooted in the aftershocks of the Darwinian revolution, the new perception of nature as cruel and rapacious fueled a desire to “naturalize” society by rejecting traditional morality. In parallel, there arose a dream of new subjectivity of the scientific Übermensch, whose imitation of the cruelty of nature would elevate him above ordinary humanity. Science became a source of a sublime experience based on violence and pain that promised to transform the torturer-physician into a New Man without bodily weakness and psychological self-division. The essay combines a theoretical argument on the connection between sublimity and pain with a historical overview of the rise of bio-ideologies. It ends with an analysis of The Island of Doctor Moreau, pointing out parallels between the novel and contemporary representations of Mengele.
    Petrey, Sandy.
  • Whose Acts? Which Communities? A Reply to David Gorman
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    Subject Headings:
    • Gorman, David. Use and abuse of speech-act theory in criticism.
    • Austin, J. L. (John Langshaw), 1911-1960. How to do things with words.
    • Literature -- Philosophy.

Reviews

    Neff, David Sprague, 1951-
  • Paradoxes vs. Contradictions
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    Subject Headings:
    • Messent, Peter B., ed. Criminal proceedings: the contemporary American crime novel.
    • Detective and mystery stories, American -- History and criticism.
    Graver, Bruce Edward.
  • Alison Hickey's Impure Conceits: A Review
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    Subject Headings:
    • Hickey, Alison, 1963- Impure conceits: rhetoric and ideology in Wordsworth's Excursion.
    • Wordsworth, William, 1770-1850. Excursion.
    Kaempfer, Jean.
    Pessah, Denise, tr.
  • Pacificism and Literature
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    Subject Headings:
    • Rasson, Luc. Ecrire contre la guerre: littérature et pacifismes, 1916-1938.
    • World War, 1914-1918 -- Literature and the war.
    Segal, Eyal.
  • Poetic History between Reference and Materiality
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    Subject Headings:
    • Bradford, Richard, 1957- Linguistic history of English poetry.
    • English poetry -- History and criticism -- Theory, etc.

New Books at a Glance

    Traverso, Véronique.
    Pessah, Denise, tr.
  • Stéréotypes et clichés: Langue, discours, société (review)
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    Subject Headings:
    • Amossy, Ruth. Stéréotypes et clichés: langue, discours, société.
    • Herschberg-Pierrot, Anne.
    • Stereotype (Psychology) in literature.
    Maingueneau, Dominique.
    Pessah, Denise, tr.
  • Le style dans la langue: Une reconception de la stylistique (review)
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    Subject Headings:
    • Adam, Jean-Michel. Style dans la langue: une reconception de la stylistique.
    • French language -- Style.
    Smith, Kevin Charles, 1964-
  • Balzac: Une poétique du roman (review)
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    Subject Headings:
    • Vachon, Stéphane, ed. Balzac: une poétique du roman.
    • Balzac, Honoré de, 1799-1850 -- Criticism and interpretation -- Congresses.
    Nov, Idit.
  • Poetic Rhythm--Structure and Performance, An Empirical Study in Cognitive Poetics (review)
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    Subject Headings:
    • Tsur, Reuven. Poetic rhythm--structure and performance, an empirical study in cognitive poetics.
    • Versification.
    Wang, Haiying.
  • Mighty Opposites: From Dichotomies to Differences in the Comparative Study of China (review)
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    Subject Headings:
    • Zhang, Longxi. Mighty opposites: from dichotomies to differences in the comparative study of China.
    • China -- Civilization -- Western influences.



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