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REPRESENTING THE VICTORIANS: ISSUES IN RESEARCH AND PEDAGOGY INTRODUCTION ISOBEL M. FINDLAY University of Saskatchewan No mere mirror reflecting nature, representation is a signifying practice that is "already intervention" (Arac 70). Stuart Hall explains representation in the context of the "two-way process" whereby the press "'represents' the opinions of the people to the state" and helps "form 'public opinion' — in the simplest sense, byformulating it___ The process of representation forms groups into social subjects, publics, social forces. ... An 'interest group' is often inert and fragmented until, through the process of representation, it becomes the collective subject of a particular position, opinion or policy" (qtd. in Swindells 32). Representation is then neither innocent nor inconsequential in its unpredictable outcomes; it is a site of conflicting authorities where the traces of various underrepresented others (women, working classes, religious, ethnic, and other minorities) are readable within dominant representational practices. Whereas George Orwell, for example, with his naive notions of realism reads the poor as "a hole" in the literary record (415), recent commentators like Bruce Robbins read cultural representations against the grain to bring out their social determinations and the power of the marginalized or otherwise disfigured. For Robbins, Antonio Gramsci's notion of hegemony is especially useful because it resists the idea of some "absolute domination" and offers instead one that is "a continually fluctuating, continually renegotiated give-andtake , a dialogue that is unequal, but not quite monologue" (19). Under the aegis of "Representing the Victorians: Issues In Research and Pedagogy," we reflect on such matters as the politics of reading and writing, issues of canon and reception, the framing of questions and claims, and the interests served by various grand narratives or petits récits that inflect and are inflected by our research and pedagogy. What works or historical events do we feature, how do we describe their relations, and how do we read them? Do we foreground or efface Victorian Review 23.2 (Winter 1997) 228Victorian Review models of representation? For whom are our stories consoling or challenging? And how do current funding priorities and connections to governments, commercial interests or corporate donors impact on our research and teaching? These are but some of the contexts (then and now) that might shape our representations of the Victorians. As Hayden White argues, "the presumed concreteness and accessibility of historical milieux, these contexts of the texts that literary scholars study, are themselves products of the fictive capability of the historians who have studied these contexts" (89). Likewise, John Brenkman is clear that an "appeal to 'the text itself is always a necessary but never a sufficient grounds for justifying an interpretation" (32). History and culture are not, then, fixed points to be 'scientifically' recuperated but sites of contested meanings. Recent work on the history of the book further complicates the picture by demonstrating the multiple determinations that make the reader as they make the author and the book. The contradictions of the material conditions of production in such views operate not as the disfigurement of art or as the compromise of integrity but as signs of art's implication in society making culture making society. Current debates about a crisis of narrative, marked by feminist and post-colonial resistance to master narratives and a widespread postmodern suspicion of the possibilities of connection and community, would seem to defeat in advance our efforts to make sense of the past. Jean-François Lyotard, for example, defines postmodern as "incredulity toward metanarratives" (xxiv) — something frequently connected to an atomization of the social bond, though not by Lyotard who scorns such thinking as "hauntfing] by the paradisiac representation of a lost 'organic' society" (15). What Lyotard suggests is that narration is "the quintessential form of customary knowledge" (19). From Lyotard's point of view, "Lamenting the 'loss of meaning' in postmodernity boils down to mourning the fact that knowledge is no longer principally narrative" (26). While Lyotard feels that there is no more "recourse to the grand narratives ... the little narrative [petit récit] remains the quintessential form of imaginative invention, most particularly in science" (60). Nor is Lyotard the first to tell a story of shifts from unitary structures to multiple fragments. Walter...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 227-231
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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