Stanley Cavell and Literary Studies: Consequences of Skepticism This is a volume of papers from a conference held at Harvard University in 2010 to honor the American philosopher Stanley Cavell (b. 1926), and particularly to celebrate the publication of his autobiographical fragments, Little Did I Know (Stanford University Press, 2010). The theme of the conference, "Cavell and Literary Studies," is perhaps testimony to the fact that, apart from philosophers who were among his devoted students at Harvard (James Conant, Richard Eldridge, Richard Fleming, Timothy Gould, Stephen Mulhall, among many others), Cavell's most enthusiastic readers have been literary critics. Still, the theme may seem a bit thin. During the last thirty years literary study has become less literary than social and political in its topics and debates. A short list of current critical approaches would include, under the rubric of "Cultural Studies," gender studies, ethnic studies, queer theory, postcolonial studies, and, more recently, cybernetics. Now they are resting
A Reader's War “Thanks to literature, to the consciousness it shapes, the desires and longings it inspires…civilization is now less cruel than when storytellers began to humanize life with their fables.” This defense, made by Mario Vargas Llosa when he received the Nobel Prize in Literature two years ago, could have come from any other writer. It is, in fact, allowing for some variety of expression, a cliché. But clichés, so the cliché goes, originate in truth. Vargas Llosa reiterated the point: “Without fictions, we would be less aware of the importance of freedom for life to be livable, the hell it turns into when it is trampled underfoot by a tyrant, an ideology, or a religion.” It would be hard to find writers who disagree with Vargas Llosa’s general sense of literature’s civilizing function. There was a feeling during the years of George W. His successor couldn’t have been more different. Any President’s gravest responsibilities are defending the Constitution and keeping the country safe. Mrs.
Christopher Ricks · In theory · LRB 16 April 1981 Is there an honourable, thoughtful alternative to literary theory? Literary theory at present dishonourably pretends that there is not. So the case against literary theory begins with its overbearing insistence that there is no genuine case for anything else. The advocates of theory often declare that we are all theorists whether we realise it and acknowledge it or not. This stratagem is an easy extension of the announcement that we all have an ideology whether we realise it or not – an announcement which has had too easy a ride, since the choice of the word ‘ideology’ is itself the reflection of an ideology. The theory-missionaries who find it convenient to practise baptism with a hose are clearly running a risk, since in theory they are running another argument: that these days we urgently need more literary theorists. Geoffrey Hartman of Yale, whose advocacy of literary theory (rather, of one rampancy of it) is impassioned and learned, is not personally an arrogant man.
No More Indiana Jones Warehouses - Do Your Job Better By William Pannapacker In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones—perhaps the last heroic professor to appear in a major Hollywood film—survives a series of adventures involving spiders, snakes, treacherous colleagues, and countless Nazis who are determined to recover the ark of the covenant for their Führer. Apparently the ark has mystical powers: If you open it with the wrong intentions, it will melt your face or explode your head. Ultimately, Jones recovers the ark: He really delivers on his grant. That's what happens to the majority of undergraduate projects in the humanities. Fortunately, we are living at a moment when our students can undertake a far wider range of learning experiences than was possible when the traditional research paper was the gold standard of scholarly production. The digital humanities, or "DH," encourages scholars and students to use the Internet to present their work to a global audience. The situation was worse for undergraduate researchers.
Jay Griffiths - Forests of the mind Eros is coursing through the forest. The forest is mewing with its jaguar life. Life is spiralling into poetry. I am in the other world, I thought, at once in the actual forest and in the forests of the mind where the visible world is not denied but augmented. I had gone to the Peruvian Amazon seeking treatment from forest doctors for an episode of depression so long and so severe that I had worked out how I was going to kill myself (length-wise, in the bath). What I experienced was more than the healing of this desolate madness, it was a sense of the raw, green-eyed, lustrous sacredness of life which has never left me, and which came through a sense of identification with other creatures, the knowers of the forest. At times, I felt a hot sexuality coursing through me as if, in pelt and paw and breath, I could feel from within my body a radical love for the earth as strong as the gravitational force. This was shape-shifting. Placebo effect, a cynic may might say.
Elif Batuman reviews ‘The Programme Era’ by Mark McGurl · LRB 23 September 2010 The world of letters: does such a thing still exist? Even within the seemingly homogeneous sphere of the university English department, a schism has opened up between literary scholarship and creative writing: disciplines which differ in their points of reference (Samuel Richardson v. Jhumpa Lahiri), the graduate degrees they award (Doctor of Philosophy v. The central claims of The Programme Era are beyond dispute: the creative writing programme has exercised the single most determining influence on postwar American literary production, and any convincing interpretation of the literary works themselves has to take its role into account. I should state up front that I am not a fan of programme fiction. Like many aspiring writers in America, I enrolled in graduate school after college, but I went for a PhD rather than an MFA. McGurl appears to believe that ‘point of view’ was somehow invented by Henry James. The analogy is as brilliant as it is implausible.
Hilary Mantel · Royal Bodies · LRB 21 February 2013 Last summer at the festival in Hay-on-Wye, I was asked to name a famous person and choose a book to give them. I hate the leaden repetitiveness of these little quizzes: who would be the guests at your ideal dinner party, what book has changed your life, which fictional character do you most resemble? I had to come up with an answer, however, so I chose Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, and I chose to give her a book published in 2006, by the cultural historian Caroline Weber; it’s called Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution. It’s not that I think we’re heading for a revolution. Marie Antoinette was a woman eaten alive by her frocks. Antoinette as a royal consort was a gliding, smiling disaster, much like Diana in another time and another country. Kate seems to have been selected for her role of princess because she was irreproachable: as painfully thin as anyone could wish, without quirks, without oddities, without the risk of the emergence of character.
Alternate Versions of Being Human: 'The World of Persian Literary Humanism' Hamid Dabashi’s The World of Persian Literary Humanism is a sprawling book of history, ideas, and literary analysis that covers the span of some 1,400 years in the life of Persian literary humanism, or adab, “from Bengal to Istanbul and from central Asia to the eastern coasts of Africa, and with the contemporary map of Iran as its epicenter”. The word adab carries with it multiple meanings, and Dabashi tells us it is “one of the richest and aesthetically most provocative words in Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Turkish”. While adab relates to the flair and finesse of a graceful, artful life, it is also a term that relates to literature: “Adab is apt for literary disposition of the writing we call ‘literature,’ because it embraces life and letters, body and book, manners and matters, society and solitude, wish and will, code and character.” It is this wide-ranging study of Persian adab that makes this formidable book a challenging, fascinating, and at times, a thoroughly frustrating read.
When I Stop Believing in Fiction Like a late victorian clergyman sweating in the dark over his Doubts, I have moments when my faith in fiction falters and then comes to the edge of collapse. I find myself asking, “Am I really a believer?” When the god of fiction deserts you, everything must go. This is when I think I will go to my grave and not read Anna Karenina a fifth time, or Madame Bovary a fourth. Such apostasy creeps into the wide gap that separates the finishing of one novel and the start of the next. A recent reversion to faith started with the rereading of two short stories. A few widely spaced pleasures apart, what will I have or know at the end of yet another novel? The second was John Updike’s “Twin Beds in Rome.” As one of his former Cornell students recalled in TriQuarterly, Nabokov would utter, “ ‘Caress the details,’ rolling the r, his voice the rough caress of a cat’s tongue, ‘the divine details!’
lin Burrow reviews ‘The Complete Works of John Milton. Vol. VIII’ edited by John Hale and J. Donald Cullington, ‘Young Milton’ edited by Edward Jones and ‘The Complete Works of John Milton. Vol. III’ edited by Barbara Lewalski and Estelle Haan · LRB 7 Mar The quatercentenary of Milton’s birth was in 2008. The celebratory shenanigans – the conferences, public lectures, biographies and privy pieces of self-promotion that in our wicked age accompany all major anniversaries – are over. But one key question remains unanswered. How is it possible to like Milton? There is certainly a great deal to dislike. Miltonophiles also have to overcome his regrettable tendency to present himself to the world as a prig. Certainly he had a brutal sense of self-worth, which often comes through in his disputatious works: ‘I mean not to dispute Philosophy with this Pork, who never read any.’ For all these reasons De Doctrina Christiana is probably the worst place to begin trying to like Milton. Most of these were refreshingly unorthodox. Milton in his early life seems to have worshipped contentedly in a parish church presided over by a minister of Laudian sympathies, as many ‘conformable puritans’ did in that period.
Private Life Drama Faces on an Icon (Countenances), Pavel Filonov, 1940 Soviet writer Andrei Platonov’s Happy Moscow finds the shortcomings of socialism not in its crushing the individual spirit but in its timidly preserving it Happy Moscow by Andrei Platonov, NYRB Classics (2012)In response to the catastrophic state violence of the 20th century, a number of novels held out the ideal of retreating into private life. How do you rebel in 1984? The Soviet writer Andrei Platonov is different. Subscribe to TNI magazine for $2 and get Volume 12: Weather Reading Platonov is a reminder of alternatives to Franzenish pleas for real people, real feelings, real lives. Take the opening of his best-known work, The Foundation Pit: On the day of the thirtieth anniversary of his private life, Voshchev was made redundant from the small machine factory where he obtained the means for his own existence. So a guy got fired for slacking off? The violence of Soviet society is rarely hinted at in Happy Moscow.
The Theory Generation If you studied the liberal arts in an American college anytime after 1980, you were likely exposed to what is universally called Theory. Perhaps you still possess some recognizable talismans: that copy of The Foucault Reader, with the master’s bald head and piercing eyes emblematic of pure intellection; A Thousand Plateaus with its Escher-lite line-drawing promising the thrills of disorientation; the stark, sickly-gray spine of Adorno’s Negative Dialectics; a stack of little Semiotext(e) volumes bought over time from the now-defunct video rental place. Maybe they still carry a faint whiff of rebellion or awakening, or (at least) late-adolescent disaffection. Maybe they evoke shame (for having lost touch with them, or having never really read them); maybe they evoke disdain (for their preciousness, or their inability to solve tedious adult dilemmas); maybe they’re mute. But chances are that, of those studies, they are what remain. “What on earth have you got in that backpack?”