Abstracts from Recent Issues
Spring 2018, Volume 51, Number 1
“It Just Don’t Do” (What You Think It Does): The Periperformative Possibilities of Julie Harris’s Face
Abstract: The last decade has seen a shift in the kinds of LGBTQ representation available to viewers of television, film, and other time-based media, especially representations of intimacy between women. That shift has not, however, necessarily moved beyond the trope of lesbian desire as signified by a shared look. The essay takes a comparative approach to two mid-century films, The Member of the Wedding and I am a Camera, in consideration of their own invocations of the lesbian look of longing. In particular, I trace the similarities of Julie Harris’s performances across the two films in order to demonstrate the way such a look need not always bespeak a failed longing, so much as a possibility of looking elsewhere. The essay thus argues that instead of placing the burden of proof for lesbian visibility on the shoulders (and in the imaginations of) viewers, we turn our attention to Harris’s face for a lesson in undoing the metonymic invocation of queerness as a mere look. Using Eve Sedgwick’s under-explored theory of the periperformative, the essay is an attempt to offer a more hopeful orientation towards LGBTQ representation that, rather than stopping short following concerns about audience expectations or genre conventions, instead looks to generate the conditions for the continual sharing of stories which celebrate what happens when one simply turns the other way.
Love in the Visual Field: Cinephiliac Moment, Truth-Event, Movement of Thought
Jeremy De Chavez
Abstract: Cinematic attention solicited by particular moments in film has predominantly been theorized within the terms of desire. Indeed, psychoanalytically-inflected theories of spectatorship often assume that the force of visual pleasure thoroughly defines the cinematic experience, portraying spectators as ideologically vulnerable to the seductive powers of visual pleasure. But might it be possible to imagine alternative ways of looking that do not always presume an ideologically vulnerable spectator who is so easily coerced by the pleasures of looking? In addition, do ways of (cinematic) looking have to presume that such an encounter is one that is framed within the terms of (visual) pleasure? Instead of desire and pleasure is it not possible that the cinematic experience solicits love and thought? Towards a response to those questions I conceptualize a mode of amorous looking that eschews logics of desire and seductions of pleasure in favor of a response to the ethical demands of thought. Drawing on the thought of Alain Badiou and Roland Barthes, I suggest that amorous disruptions occur during certain moments in the film that solicits an amorous look, which is an invitation to think outside and beyond the ideologically regulative structures of the cinematic situation.
Hedonistic Responsibility: Pain, Pleasure, Experiment, and Empathy in Lily Hoang’s Parabola
Abstract: This essay traces two arcs through Lily Hoang’s first novel, Parabola, to argue that Parabola intervenes in representations that proffer exotic consumable identity or spectacles of sexual assault, through its formal experiments and affective displeasures, and that Parabola also reimagines modes of reading pleasure through its formal experiments and invitations to play. Intervening in a culture that consumes narratives of difference as commodities, and in a literary critical culture that separates aesthetic experimentalism from sociopolitical critique, Hoang writes an Asian American experimental novel that resists racialized consumption and mimetic coercion. Intervening in a culture where representations of rape serve as entertaining spectacles and plot engines for hypermasculinity, Hoang writes sexual assault in ways that not only center the survivor’s point of view, but allow that survivor her own complicated, even voyeuristic and invasive acts. Through aesthetic forms that prompt direct affective and intellectual interaction with the reader, Hoang draws readers into pain and hostility, not vicariously through a protagonist avatar but directly through the practice of interactive reading. Yet just as the novel’s chapter structure is parabolically balanced, so too is it affectively double, offering innovative, interactive pleasures as well.
The Poetics of African-American Un/Reality in Edward P. Jones’s The Known World
Abstract: This essay examines Edward P. Jones’ use of metaphor and metonymy in his Pulitzer-prize-winning novel The Known World to explore questions about white historiography and the social power of myth. The essay argues that the novel makes use of a dual narrative mode, a realist/postmodern poetics that forms a historically counter-discursive pattern of meaning. The essay further notes that that Jones' use of metaphor and myth eventually re-historicizes his text in a way that addresses the problematically imbricated religious traditions and racist legacies of the slave South. The novel’s narrative voice and presentation of the historical record anchor the text in a realism that is often directly juxtaposed with the mythic or unreal. Drawing on the work of Michel de Certeau, the essay also stresses the critical importance of the text’s use of metonymy and the “everyday” counter-practices and counter-visions of the African-American characters, arguing that, in the end, the novel raises questions about the fraught, social nature of truth.
Reading the Mesh of Metonymy in Bleak House
Abstract: George Gissing called the London of Charles Dickens’s Bleak House (1852-53) “a great gloomy city, webbed and meshed.” This essay borrows some of the vocabulary of cognitive linguistics and ecocriticism in order to argue that Dickens’s novel uses metonymy to reveal the depth of interconnection and interdependence in the Victorian urban world, as well as the weird, unsettling implications of this interconnection. Although often associated with conventional or pre-existent referential knowledge, in this reading of Dickens’s novel narrative metonymy is capable of generating new knowledge. The novel shows how all living and non-living beings in the urban world can never be fully understood or defined in themselves; rather, they must be understood in relation to other entities, life forms or beings. That is, metonymically.
Reviving and Revising Cuchulain: W. B. Yeats’s Struggle to Create a Postcolonial Culture Hero
Abstract: This article offers a postcolonial reading of W.B. Yeats’s Cuchulain cycle that focuses on the author’s deliberate attempts to shape Cuchulain into an Irish culture hero. These plays—On Baile’s Strand (1906), The Green Helmet (1908), At the Hawk’s Well (1917), The Only Jealousy of Emer (1919), and The Death of Cuchulain (1939)—are imaginative revisions promoting an Irish culture, but they are inconsistent in their representation. Using Ato Quayson’s theory of the culture hero, I show how Cuchulain is a stand-in for Irish national identity and a metonymical representation of Yeats’s political frustrations in the plays. I argue that, because Yeats authored his public identity in these plays in unique and complicated ways—raising questions about his role as an artist/citizen—examining Cuchulain as a culture hero and role model for the nation illuminates the various struggles that Yeats faced as a postcolonial author.
Tramping with Jack London: Poverty, Performance, and Social Critique in The Road
Abstract: This article analyzes Jack London’s autobiographical book The Road as a critical, reflexive narrative that is concerned with ideology and social performances (both in narrative and in everyday life). At the core of the book is a fundamental artistic concern with problems of poverty, personal struggle, and systemic forms of violence and injustice; but London’s approach to and representation of these things draws attention to the ideological implications and critical aspects of his generic narrative framing. How experience is communicated and the fashioning of perspective through generic convention are very much a part of London’s project. Ultimately, the article illustrates how—through the image of “tramp” life and the blending of autobiographical realism and adventure narration—The Road disrupts its generic categorization, in part, to draw attention to it. Through the movement of generic forms (foremost between adventure narration and realism), London signals the performative essence of his writing.
Mrs. Oedipa Maas: Motherhood, Originality, and Meaning in The Crying of Lot 49
Abstract: The Crying of Lot 49 overlays its obsession with delivery systems, cycles, and inheritance on its choice of protagonist, a young married woman propelled forward by a history that seems unreal into a future marked by simulacra. This lens allows for a reading of Crying wherein the search for meaning is gendered by Oedipa’s bodily potentiality and her interactions with the world around her. Beginning with her return from the Tupperware party, her sexual gamble with Metzger, the novel’s names, and its cyclic movement, Crying points to changing birth control technology and the ideological shifts this change both highlighted and circumvented. In this article, I use gender as a lens through which to examine Oedipa’s historical and social position in Crying’s Californian circuit. Furthermore, I argue that the text is driven by an anxiety over reproduction and replication. Internal and external, social factors at flux surround Oedipa with representations of meanings, institutional and structural meanings, and reproductive meanings that operate internally and externally, driving Oedipa along in her attempt to trace origins, track codes, and understand her own identity in a world of shifting reproductive choice. In this grammatical cacophony, the motifs of pregnancy and contraception, and themes, both economic and postal, highlight the way meaning refuses to mean, particularly in regard to Oedipa’s identity in The Crying of Lot 49. (210)
Fall 2017, Volume 50, Number 2
"The Waters and the Wild": W.B. Yeats, Julia De Burgos, and Romantic Wilderness
Abstract: This paper compares for the first time William Butler Yeats with Julia de Burgos, the twentieth-century national poets of Ireland and of Puerto Rico respectively, two islands that have long served as the colonial possessions of neighboring Anglocentric superpowers. I open by examining how the authors’ two earliest and most popular poems—Yeats’s “The Stolen Child” (1886) and Burgos’s “Río Grande de Loíza” (1935)—imagine untamed wilderness as a sanctuary from imperial jurisdiction, a space where young children are led away to protect them from the tears of this world. “For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand,” sing the faeries to Yeats’s stolen child, while Burgos calls the Río Grande itself “Great flood of tears. / The greatest of all our island’s tears / save those greater that come from the eyes / of my soul for my enslaved people.” Given the centrality of wilderness to these poems, this essay draws on the works of Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert and Elaine Savory, who argue that ecocriticism and postcolonialism, far from possessing competing priorities as many critics have long assumed, are instead natural allies in their shared resistance against economic exploitation. Wilderness can likewise function to preserve a protonationalist independent space, hidden away from colonial regimes. I conclude this paper by examining the resurrection motif in Yeats’s and Burgos’s midperiod poems “Easter 1916” and “23 de septiembre,”wherein these protonationalist spaces appear to return from the dead, cast off their wilderness exile, and fulfill their long-deferred revolutionary projects.
Searching for "Free Territory" in Saidiya Hartman's Lose Your Mother
Tisha M. Brooks
Abstract: This essay locates Saidiya Hartman’s travel and writing in relationship to a longer and multifaceted legacy of black travel that includes the coerced movement of black people across the Atlantic during the slave trade, the migratory travel of black diasporic peoples, and African American tourism to Africa, Ghana in particular. Moreover, this paper argues that Hartman's text challenges us to build bridges across the boundaries we often construct between these various types of movement, enabling us to see the tenuous ways in which these journeys intersect. Pushing beyond narrow definitions of travel, this essay questions singular frameworks that focus on a single type of journey, as they lead to incomplete readings of African American travel texts, like Hartman’s Lose Your Mother, that foreground a wide range of journeys—forced journeys of slavery, journeys of flight and displacement, as well as voluntary journeys of privilege. This study expands scholarship on Hartman by tending to the fluid and multiple geographies and itineraries at the center of her travel text, making visible the complexities of black people's journeys in the past and present and illustrating how those complex journeys produce varying perspectives on slavery and freedom.
Unsettled Homes: Borders and Belonging in Emma Donoghue's Astray
Moira Casey and Eva Roa White
Abstract: This article places the work of Emma Donoghue's 2012 short story collection, Astray, within the context of Donoghue's larger oeuvre of historical writing to show how Donoghue comments on the contemporary world via historical contexts. The Derridean concepts of "différance" and "hospitality," along with theory from Ryan Trimm and Susan Strehle, are applied to the analysis of three stories: "Onward," "The Long Way Home," and "The Lost Seed." These analyses reveal how Donoghue uses themes of movement, migration, and settlement to destabilize traditional notions of "home" and the traditional boundaries of domestic spaces.
“The Juvenile and Erudite: A Study of the Marginalia and Ownership History of Newberry Case Y 12.T219”
Abstract: Examining the Early Modern marginalia wrought by two hands within Newberry Case Y12.T219, also known as the Duke of Roxburghe’s copy of All the Workes of John Taylor (1630), reveals how an old man and a young child respectively engaged with the same volume as both text and object shortly after its publication. Furthermore, the identities of the two writers are deduced based on the book’s subsequent ownership by the illustrious John Ker, third Duke of Roxburghe, and indicative marginalia, demonstrating how such a text can still function as speaking, historical object. To guarantee the authenticity and exclusivity of the Roxburghe copy’s marginalia, each image or page of text has been compared to a copy of the same edition owned by Loyola University Chicago, which is in significantly better repair and contains fewer marginalia. While some adult marginalia indicate political or moral perspectives by expressing approbation with marks, thus subjecting the folio to a selective and personal reading process, the child’s marginalia rewrite, imitate, mock, and even alter Taylor’s text. These instances provide physical evidence of how two readers of a work separately constructed their own physical paratexts in order to respond to or resist the author’s original literary meanings. Interpreting ownership labels and tracing the Roxburghe copy’s record of sale from its printing until its acquisition by the Newberry Library establishes a likely ownership genealogy for Newberry Case Y12.T219, illuminating developing perspectives on book-collecting over the centuries.
States of Perception and Personal Agency in Alice Munro's Dear Life
Abstract: Alice Munro’s 2012 collection Dear Life offers a riveting meditation on states of perception throughout the life cycle in fictional and autobiographical contexts. Munro reaches beyond the typical adult processing of reality and takes readers into minds either developing or declining. Prominent in the collection are issues of being and consciousness, crucial to ontology and phenomenology respectively, as well as questions of selfhood explored in autobiographical theory. Two fictional stories stand out with regard to perception: the child's perspective in "Gravel" and the elderly woman's understanding in "In Sight of the Lake" express visions of reality at two ends of a spectrum. As Munro highlights the mind’s functioning, we understand the limits of youth, the imperfections of memory, and the impact of age. Because these and other stories in the collection evoke the life span, they anticipate the autobiographical finale, or last four stories that close Dear Life. In this dénouement, Munro blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction. Yet her intentional playfulness goes beyond the typical selectivity, exaggeration, and denial that all play a role in composing life stories. The closing sketches culminate in the privileged final piece, fittingly entitled “Dear Life.” By appropriating different versions of life events into “Dear Life,” Munro emphasizes personal agency and the creative process. Echoing the collection title, “Dear Life” takes us back to earlier stories by highlighting the types of cognitive issues raised in “Gravel” and “In Sight of the Lake.” Taken together, these three pieces, along with the author’s preamble to the finale, invite readers to discern multiple forms of insight and to ponder the deliberate ambiguity of Munro’s autobiographical project. In a collection that highlights states of perception throughout the life cycle, this elderly author asserts the primacy of her own perceptions about her life. She has the final word, whether this be truth, fiction, or somewhere in the middle. In her intense interest in character portraits and in her foray into self-portrait, Munro is fascinated by the mechanisms of the mind. We are invited to commune with her characters, consider human nature, and feel the experiences and traumas that shape us. Munro seeks to portray all of this in the young, the old, and those in between.
Language Instruction in the Expanding Borderlands: Teaching Heritage Language Learners Enrolled in L2 Classrooms
Abstract: As the population of immigrant children and young adults increases throughout the United States, many experts have advocated for the establishment of courses designed specifically for speakers of languages other than English (LOTE) to maintain their proficiency and build literacy. But for various reasons many LOTE speakers end up in secondary and university courses designed to teach their home languages to second language (L2) learners, classrooms where too often their linguistic needs are not met. This paper proposes a set of guidelines for effectively teaching heritage language learners (HLLs) enrolled in L2 classrooms. Among the recommendations are the use of differentiated instruction, the use of varied levels of input during class and the creation of a portfolio of extra materials that includes readings at the appropriate level for HLLs. Also presented are strategies for using activities that sometimes bring heritage learners together in pairs or groups and sometimes pair them with L2 learners, depending upon the academic goals and the levels of the students.
Violated Boundaries and Accomplice Spaces in Zola’s The Kill and Nana
Abstract: This article examines the function and dynamic of the domestic spaces described in two of Emile Zola's Rougon-Macquart novels as panoptic devices whose function it is to suppress not only the domestically bound female but the male as well. The misuse of physical spaces that provide the settings of La Curée and Nana highlights the loss of patriarchal control as the physical spaces fail to perform their intended functions. By reading architectural intent as an extension of the will and law of the father, the subsequent betrayals of class, family, and assumed control are arguably failures of the architecture and, by extension, failures of social practice reliant upon containment and surveillance.
Spring 2017, Volume 50, Number 1
Marilyn Chin's Revenge: Rewriting the Racial Shadow
Abstract: In this paper I discuss the trope of the racial shadow in Asian American literature, as first defined by Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong, and then demonstrate how Marilyn Chin’s Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen: A Manifesto in 41 Tales (2009) disrupts and repositions the trope via her inter-ethnic twin protagonists. Instead of an internal battle with the racial shadow, Chin’s twins battle the systematic inequities they encounter in a society that privileges young, white, educated, Christian, able-bodied men. Moonie and Mei Ling Wong fight back physically and mentally against their oppressors, while Chin demonstrates their individuality further by crafting a unique (and very humorous) narrative form. I argue that Chin uses the suggestion of a racial shadow to express the possibilities of identity. By this I mean that the palimpsest of a racial shadow underlying much of the narrative undercuts and redefines our image of the stable relationship between the “traditional” ethnic and the “modern” American. The suggestion of a racial shadow reminds readers of an Asian American literary history populated by alienated binary identities, while simultaneously showcasing the exciting possibilities that arise from interethnic encounters.
A Long Way from Prague: The Harlem Renaissance and Czechoslovakia
Abstract: The connections between Europe’s small nations and America’s minorities offer marginalized perspectives on modernist cultural development that have so far remained largely unexplored. During the period of the Harlem Renaissance, African-American intellectuals were keenly aware of global political developments, but their models of liberation were drawn less from colonized Africa than from territories such as Central and Eastern Europe that had recently been freed from imperial rule. Democratic and multicultural Czechoslovakia, in particular, provided these writers with an example of self-determination that was later obscured by the Cold War division of Europe. Locke’s comparison of Harlem as the capital of the “New Negro” with Prague as the capital of the “New Czechoslovakia,” which is frequently cited but rarely interpreted, can be traced to the journal Survey Graphic, which featured special issues on both cities. Langston Hughes features a poet from Prague in one of his most enigmatic short stories, “Luani of the Jungles,” and evokes the wartime suffering of the Czechs in his later politically engaged writing. Together with Hughes's influence on the Czech poet Ivan Blatný, these references demonstrate that the relationship of the Czechs and other small nations to the European powers, and the struggle of African-Americans within American society, had inter-ethnic parallels that were familiar to the writers of the Harlem Renaissance.
The Language of Pained Bodies: History, Translation, and Prostitution in Cristina Rivera Garza's Nadie me verá llorar (1999)
Abstract: In Nadie me verá llorar, novelist Cristina Rivera Garza rewrites fin de siècle Mexico by appropriating ruined objects from Mexican history. In doing so, Rivera Garza reimagines the assumptions novelists Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera and Federico Gamboa make about the prostitute in their fiction. Moreover, when Rivera Garza incorporates the narratives of marginalized people into her body of work—specifically the stories of the insane, the indigenous poor, and the prostitutes found in obscure and virtually forgotten medical records—she destabilizes the commonly accepted historical narratives of this period. This essay brings together prior critical conversations that have treated Rivera Garza's use of history and the figure of the prostitute separately. I further these two approaches by bringing them together, seeing Rivera Garza's emphasis on the abject of Mexico—and on the prostitute in particular—as a particularly powerful undoing of the master narratives of Mexican history. I propose that in Rivera Garza's novel, the echo of history and of translation that persists across the iterations of language, gender, and history is the voice of pained bodies. For her, texts are bodies, and she acts as a forensic surgeon who, when confronted by these textual bodies, reads them carefully, makes them speak, interrogates them about the past trapped within them, remixes them, and recontextualizes them by recycling, copying, and excavating them. For her, this textual forensics is a political act.
Perishability and Desolation: Disaster and the Racialization of Suffering in the Neoliberal Therapeutic Memoir
Abstract: This essay examines several memoirs written by Americans visiting disaster zones in Haiti and Japan after their 2010 and 2011 respective natural disasters. Depictions of both Haitian and Japanese suffering are diagnosed in accordance with American racial fantasies, wherein Haitians are ill adapted to the neoliberal order and Japanese are hyperadapted. The ways in which race is deployed in these texts challenges Walter Benn Michaels’s contention that attention to racism in the neoliberal memoir distracts us from the class inequalities wrought by neoliberalism. Race is, instead, an explanatory rubric for the neoliberal order, one that forces neoliberalism to make sense by naturalizing suffering. The retreat from geopolitical redress, in turn, allows neoliberal writers to transform these devastated spaces into fertile ground for their own aesthetic and therapeutic uses. Haiti and Japan—and the suffering in both places—are commodities to be mined for meaning and personal identity, as well as for capitalist development and away from governmental intervention.