Literary Criticism & Theory

Poetry and Poetics

ddbou_44_3Poetry and Poetics,” the most recent special issue of boundary 2 (44:3), emerges from a series of conferences with special emphasis on the topic of “The Social Life of Poetic Language.” This issue stresses that academic theorizing misrepresents the function and nature of poetry. It explores a range of diverse methods and topics instead to redirect contemporary theories and criticisms of poetry and poetics. 

Topics in this special issue include lengthy engagements with translation, the poetic in the social world, the new formal imperatives of poetry, and the relation between human and animal over the threshold of word and body. The contributors—Charles Bernstein, Colin Dayan, Stathis Gourgouris, and Dawn Lundy Martin—consider the issues of contemporary poetry from the long perspective of active poetics, a post-Romantic notion with origins in the long 18th century.  They show the need for a critical historical practice that understands and promotes the transformative action of poetics.

Dig into the issue now with “Too Philosophical for a Poet”: A Conversation with Charles Bernstein” by Andrew David King, made freely available.

Pedagogy: Critical Practices for a Changing World

ddal_89_2_coverWhy we teach what we teach is just as important as why we study what we study but is seldom discussed as a field-defining issue. American Literature’s most recent special issue, “Pedagogy: Critical Practices for a Changing World,” edited by Carol Batker, Eden Osucha, and Augusta Rohrbach, integrates discipline-specific knowledge more fully into a critical discussion of pedagogy. By leveraging the location of pedagogy as developing out of specific scholarly concerns, articles within this issue illustrate the intersection of theory and pedagogical practice while highlighting the diverse disciplinary, institutional, and political contributions of American literature to higher education and community-based teaching and learning.

In turning their attention to pedagogy, the editors of this special issue ask both how scholarly engagement with American literature has produced a distinct set of pedagogical practices and how pedagogical practices raise new questions about the relevance and role of American literature. Rather than focusing on a particular teaching strategy or text, these essays approach the topic from larger philosophical and disciplinary perspectives.

Read the special editors’ introduction to the issue, made freely available now through August 26, 2017.

Bad Object

dddif_28_1_cover.jpgThe most recent issue of differences, “Bad Object,” returns to the work of the journal’s founding co-editor Naomi Schor, a leading scholar in feminist and critical theory. This issue takes as its starting point Schor’s book Bad Objects: Essays Popular and Unpopular (1995), in which she discussed her attraction to the “bad objects” the academy had overlooked or ignored: universalism, essentialism, and feminism. Underpinning these bad objects was her mourning of the literary, a sense that her work—and feminist theory more generally—had departed from the textual readings in which they were grounded.  

Schor’s question at the time was “Will a new feminist literary criticism arise that will take literariness seriously while maintaining its vital ideological edge?” The contributors to this issue take that literariness—the “bad object”— and her question seriously.

From the editor’s note:

“This is not a thematic issue; we did not ask contributors to address the question of language, or the new formalism, or debates about reading, nor to engage literary texts—though all those things were welcome. Our wager was that the essays, collected as a “Bad Object,” would be at once an invigorating and unsettling reading experience and would thus “speak for themselves.”

Read an essay from the issue, made freely available, and revisit Schor’s original book.

Stuart Hall’s First Encounter with London

In this excerpt from Stuart Hall’s new memoir, Familiar Stranger: A Life between Two Islands, he describes his trip with his mother, Jessie, from Jamaica to the United Kingdom. Hall had earned a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University and the two traveled there together in 1951. Enjoy the excerpt and then buy the book for 30% off with coupon E17FAMST.

978-0-8223-6387-3_pr w strokeIt is uncannily disconcerting to look back at my younger self, arriving in the port of Avonmouth in 1951, ready for a new life but absolutely unsure how it would happen, or what it would look like if it did. I was indeed elsewhere! I can say, however, that the colonial experience prepared me for England. Far from being an untroubled, innocent opportunity for me to step out into something new, this was an encounter which was mightily overdetermined.

My arrival preceded by some three months the general election in October in which the Conservatives ousted Labour and Winston Churchill regained the office of Prime Minister. After a short while I headed for Oxford University, into the very cultural heartland of England.

But this was an encounter which has not yet come to an end. It continues. It was, as Donald Hinds termed it a long while ago, ‘a journey to an illusion’ – or rather, a journey to the shattering of illusions, inaugurating a process of protracted disenchantment. I didn’t really know what I would find or what I would do with ‘it’ if I found ‘it’. I knew I didn’t want to be ‘it’, whatever that was. But I did want to encounter in the flesh, as it were, this phantasm of ‘other worlds’, swollen with – as it happened – false promise. What I really knew about Britain turned out to be a bewildering farrago of reality and fantasy. However, such illusions as I may have taken with me were unrealized because, fortunately, they were unrealizable. The episode was painful as well as exciting. It changed me irrevocably, almost none of it in ways I had remotely anticipated.

The whole experience was eerily familiar and disconcertingly strange at the same time. One can attribute this to the sense of déjà‑vu which assails colonial travellers on first encountering face-to-face the imperial metropole, which they actually know only in its translated form through a colonial haze, but which has always functioned as their ‘constitutive outside’: constituting them, or us, by its absence, because it is what they – we – are not. This is a manner of being defined from the beyond!

On the boat train to London, I kept feeling I’d seen this place somewhere before, as in a screen memory. It provoked a deep psychic recognition, an illusory after-effect. Had I been here before? Yes and no. I hadn’t anticipated what the English countryside would look like but, once I saw it whizzing past the train windows, I knew that this was how it should look: those proper, well-fed, black-and-white cows munching away contentedly in their neatly divided, hedgerowed fields surrounded by enormous, spreading sycamore trees. Everything I had read had prepared me for that. I knew, after all, the novels of Thomas Hardy. On the other hand, nothing had prepared me for the stark contrast between the sombre brick-and-cement hues and the well-disciplined dark, monotone character of London streets and the chaotic bustle of Kingston street life, with people shoving past one another on the crowded pavements, the handcarts and ice barrows with their rows of syrup bottles, the raucous hubbub and teeming vitality, provincial as it was.

London, when we got there, felt unwelcoming and forbidding. I guess my memories must have been infiltrated by what happened later, for what immediately comes to mind is the heavy, leaden autumn sky, the light permanently stuck halfway to dusk, the constant fine drizzle (where was the proper rain, the tropical downpour?), the blank windows of the square black cabs, the anonymity of the faces in the red double-decker buses, the yellow headlights glistening off the wet tarmac along the Bayswater Road. A dark, shuttered, anonymous city; high blocks of mansion flats,
turning up their noses at the life of the streets below. Everyone was buttoned up in dark suits, overcoats and hats, many carrying the proverbial umbrellas, scurrying with downcast eyes through the gathering gloom to unknown destinations. This was post-war austerity London, with its bombed-out sites, rubble and gaping spaces like missing teeth. A faint mist permanently shrouded Hyde Park, where ladies in jodhpurs and hard riding hats cantered their horses in the early mornings; the lights blazed in the Oxford Street department stores by three in the afternoon. There must have been bright and sunny days, for it was only the end of summer. But I don’t remember them.

(more…)

Slavoj Žižek: In Defense of a Lost Cause

sbriglia - author photoHappy birthday to renowned philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek! Today’s guest blog post comes from Russell Sbriglia, editor of the new collection Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Literature but Were Afraid to Ask Žižek.

Today marks the 68th birthday of Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek. In my recent collection for Duke University Press, Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Literature but Were Afraid to Ask Žižek, I make the case for Žižek’s relevance for literary studies—a relevance long overshadowed by the work done on Žižek in other fields such as film, media, and cultural studies. On this particular occasion, however, I’d like to make the case for Žižek’s continued relevance as a political thinker. Žižek has come under heavy fire of late for a number of his public positions, most notably those regarding the Syrian refugee crisis and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. For those well-versed in and sympathetic to Žižek’s work, there is little that is controversial, let alone “conservative,” about these stances. Yet there now seems to be an entire cottage industry devoted to misreading and misinterpreting Žižek.

978-0-8223-6318-7Consider, for instance, his claim that, were he a U.S. citizen, he would have voted for Donald Trump rather than Hillary Clinton in last year’s election. His point was not to “endorse Trump,” as one article headline ridiculously proclaimed (Žižek has said time and again that Trump is an absolutely vulgar and disgusting figure who represents the decline of public decency), but rather to emphasize that a vote for Clinton would be a vote for the neoliberal status quo. The curious thing is that many of those who excoriated Žižek for taking such a position are the very same people who have long laughed at Francis Fukuyama’s thesis regarding the “end of history.” Fukuyama, in his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man, (in)famously argued that with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Soviet communism, political history had effectively come to an end. From here on out, history would consist of the gradual yet inevitable democratization of the world under the regime of global capitalism. Laugh at Fukuyama though they will, the reaction by many on the left to Žižek’s hypothetical vote for Trump as a means of accelerating the contradictions of late capitalism suggests an implicit confirmation of the Fukuyaman thesis. For a vast majority of liberals, democratic capitalism still remains, as Marcel Gauchet has said of liberal democracy, “l’horizon indépassable,” an impassable horizon. Hence Žižek’s frequent reiteration of Fredric Jameson’s famous line that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”

Even after Clinton’s Electoral College loss—a loss due in part to the fact that Trump was able to capitalize on the DNC’s sacrifice of Bernie Sanders, filling the vacuum left by Sanders’s democratic socialism with a faux populist nationalism—a number of Democrats seem bent on maintaining the neoliberal status quo. Take, for example, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s comments from a CNN Town Hall in late January. Citing a recent Harvard University poll which showed that a majority of people between the ages of 18 and 29 no longer support the capitalist system, an NYU student asked Pelosi whether she could envision the Democratic Party “mov[ing] farther left to a more populist message” that would make for “a more stark contrast to right-wing economics.” Pelosi’s immediate response was as follows: “Well, I thank you for your question. But I have to say, we’re capitalist. That’s just the way it is.” This is precisely the type of “inertia” that Žižek saw in Clinton, who in attempting to appeal to both Wall Street and Occupy Wall Street ended up running on a platform that was as anodyne as it was amorphous. On this issue in particular, if Žižek is a lost cause, then so are we.

The good news amidst the many horrors of the past two months is that we are now beginning to see signs that perhaps Žižek was correct about Trump mobilizing the left. Though Žižek often quips that the left never likes to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, the numerous women’s marches that were held around the globe the day after Trump took office, the protests at airports across the U.S. following the Trump Administration’s initial Muslim ban, and the fiery Republican town halls at which constituents are voicing (and venting) their concerns over a possible repeal of Obamacare all suggest that a political awakening may very well be underway on the left. If this proves to truly be the case, if the left does indeed have the courage to “resume” history, then we’re going to need Žižek more than ever.

Want more Žižek? Read the introduction to Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Literature but Were Afraid to Ask Žižek, edited by Russell Sbriglia, or save 30% on the paperback using coupon code E17ZIZEK.

Open Access at Duke University Press: Blog Series Highlights

open-access-efforts-at-duke-university-pressOver the past week we have shared a series of four blog posts covering open access at Duke University Press. Topics in the series included Project Euclid, Knowledge Unlatched, Environmental Humanities, and The Carlyle Letters Online.

Leslie Eager, Director of Publishing Services for Project Euclid, shared information about the platform and the ways it supports open access in the mathematics and statistics world.

Steve Cohn, Director of Duke University Press, offered information about how we’ve participated with Knowledge Unlatched in the past and why we’ll continue in the future.

Brent Kinser, coordinating editor for The Carlyle Letters Online, shared his thoughts on the project and discussed his vision for its future.

We highlighted some of the exciting new content from the open-access journal Environmental Humanities, edited by Thom van Dooren and Elizabeth DeLoughrey, and the relationship between the journal and its five leading research university partners.

To learn more about these open-access initiatives at Duke University Press, read our previous blog posts.

Open Access: The Carlyle Letters Online

We have created a series of five blog posts covering Open Access at Duke University Press. Today’s post features The Carlyle Letters Online, a digital archive based on the Duke-Edinburgh edition of The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle.

car_logo_k_web

The Carlyle Letters Online (CLO) provides free access to the letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle, an outstanding resource in Victorian literature, philosophy, and culture. During their marriage and throughout the middle of the nineteenth century, the couple wrote over 10,000 letters to a circle of well-respected contemporaries, such as Charles Dickens, John Stuart Mill, George Eliot, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Gaskell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. After a multiyear development process, the letters debuted digitally in 2006 and have remained open access, averaging nearly 20,000 unique views a month since its move to a new platform.

Features of the platform
In July 2016 the CLO migrated to a new platform hosted by the University of South Carolina Center for Digital Humanities (USC-CDH). This platform included new features such as an updated look, a tweaked letter viewer, and the ability to enlarge certain images and words for easier engagement with the content.  Users also have immediate access to the raw XML code of each letter on this new platform. These features provide readers, especially those involved with the digital humanities, with a more streamlined reading experience. The new platform employs both whole-word searching (which searches exact phrases) and fuzzy searching (which finds matches when users misspell words or enter only partial words). Using these two search options, users can filter letters by volume, date, recipient, and subject.
capture1

The Future of the CLO

The move to USC-CDH’s platform has created the opportunity to display manuscript images, a feature that will soon be available on the site through a new manuscript image viewer as opposed to PDF attachments. The Rare Books Library at Columbia University is also digitizing the Carlyle family photograph albums, which will soon be hosted alongside the letters on the new platform.

Meanwhile, the completion of the print edition of the Carlyle Project looms on the horizon, and with it the digitation of the letters. But while the last volume of the letters is projected to be added to the CLO in 2021, the CLO project will not end there. Coordinating editor Brent Kinser hopes to see the CLO evolve to meet the needs of its users and of changing technology, paving the way for other digital databases on Victorian life to thrive, such as the Victorian Lives and Letters Consortium.

“In the post-truth age of fake news, anyone interested in the pursuit of truth and knowledge and wisdom needs to double their efforts to envision, build, and maintain sites that offer new ways of exploring the past and the present, which Carlyle dubbed ‘the conflux of two eternities,’ both of which help to shape the future,” Kinser says. “Truth may be out of fashion, but if it goes forever, we are, all of us, lost. But as Carlyle once said, ‘The World is the Place of Hope.’ Let us be of good hope. Efforts such as the CLO have an important part to play. The results need to be made available to as many people in as many places as possible. That means open access.”

Stay up to date with the Carlyles on Twitter by following @carlyleletters.

New Books in February

Can you believe it’s already February? Our Spring 2017 season is in full swing. Check out these new books dropping this month:

misinterpellated-subject-coverIn The Misinterpellated SubjectJames R. Martel complicates Louis Althusser’s theory of interpellation, using historical and literary analyses ranging from the Haitian Revolution to Ta-Nehisi Coates to examine the political and revolutionary potential inherent in the instances when people heed the state’s call that was not meant for them.

Fans of literature and iconic literary theorist Slavoj Žižek shouldzizek-cover enjoy Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Literature but Were Afraid to Ask ŽižekThis volume demonstrates the importance of Slavoj Žižek’s work to literary criticism and theory by showing how his practice of reading theory and literature can be used in numerous theoretical frameworks and applied to literature across historical periods, nationalities, and genres, creating new interpretations of familiar works.

dying-in-full-detail-coverIn analyses of digital death footage—from victims of police brutality to those who jump from the Golden Gate Bridge—Jennifer Malkowski’s Dying in Full Detail considers the immense changes digital technologies have introduced in the ability to record and display actual deaths—one of documentary’s most taboo and politically volatile subjects.

Mark Rifkin’s Beyond Settler Time disrupts settler temporalbeyond-settler-time-cover frameworks. Rifkin explores how Indigenous experiences with time and the dominance of settler colonial conceptions of temporality have affected Native peoplehood and sovereignty, thereby rethinking the very terms by which history is created and organized around time by.

magic-of-concepts-coverIn The Magic of ConceptsRebecca E. Karl interrogates the concept and practice of “the economic” as it was understood in China in the 1930s and the 1980s and 90s, showing how the use of Eurocentric philosophies, narratives, and conceptions of the economic that exist outside lived experiences fail to capture modern China’s complex history.

Kaushik Sunder Rajan, in his latest book Pharmocracyworks atpharmocracy-cover the confluence of politics and racial capitalism. He traces the structure and operation of what he calls pharmocracy—a concept explaining the global hegemony of the multinational pharmaceutical industry. He outlines pharmocracy’s logic in two case studies from contemporary India to demonstrate the stakes of its intersection with health, politics, democracy, and global capital.

Want to make sure you don’t miss a new book? Sign up for Subject Matters, our  e-mail newsletter.

2017 Modern Language Association Highlights and Wrap-Up

We had a great time selling books and journals, meeting authors, and congratulating award-winners at the 2017 annual meeting of the Modern Language Association (MLA) in Philadelphia last week. Thank you to all who stopped by our exhibit booth to browse and buy. In case you couldn’t attend, here are some conference highlights!

The convention kicked off with the Council of Editors of Learned Journals (CELJ) awards on Thursday. Congratulations again to David Scott, editor of Small Axe, for his 2016 Distinguished Editor Award! Read more about David Scott, the award, and Small Axe here.

nadiaellis

Nadia Ellis, author of Territories of the Soul: Queered Belonging in the Black Diaspora

Several Duke authors were also honored with awards this year. Nadia Ellis won the William Sanders Scarborough Prize Honorable Mention for her book, Territories of the Soul: Queered Belonging in the Black Diaspora.

From the GL/Q Caucus of the MLA, Petrus Liu won the Alan Bray Memorial Book Prize Honorable Mention for his book, Queer Marxism in Two Chinas.

Jose David Saldivar, co-editor of Junot Diaz and the Decolonial Imagination and author of Trans-Americanity, was awarded the American Literature Society’s Hubbell Medal for Lifetime Achievement in American Literary Studies.

Jasbir K. Puar, author of the Social Text #124 article “Bodies with New Organs: Becoming Trans, Becoming Disabled,” won the GL/Q Caucus’s Crompton-Noll Prize for Best LGBTQ Studies Article. Read the article, made freely available.

A Friday reception celebrated the minnesota review and Mediations.0106171938a

We were also happy to see some of our authors and journal editors stop by our booth. Here are a few photos:

Couldn’t make it to the convention? Are there still books you want to buy but couldn’t fit in your suitcase? Don’t worry—you can still stock up on books and journals at dukeupress.edu using our conference discount. Just use coupon code MLA17 at checkout through the end of February!

David Scott wins CELJ Distinguished Editor Award for 2016

0105171630Congratulations to David Scott, editor of Small Axe, for his 2016 Council of Editors of Learned Journals (CELJ) Distinguished Editor Award. The awards were announced on Thursday, January 5, 2017, during the 2017 Modern Language Association annual meeting held in Philadelphia.

The Distinguished Editor Award is given to an editor who has had a major influence on the field of scholarship in which they publish. Small Axe focuses on publishing critical work that examines the ideas that guided the formation of Caribbean modernities. It mainly includes scholarly articles, opinion essays, and interviews, but it also includes literary works of fiction and poetry, visual arts, and reviews.

ddsmx_20_2_50The journal, now in its 20th volume, just published its 50th issue, “What is Journal Work?” which features a preface by David Scott on the journal and the ethos of journal work. From the preface:

When, in the company of a few fellow travelers, I initiated Small Axe in Kingston in 1996–97, many people said to me, confidentially and with my interest in view, that it would be at best a short-lived enterprise. It was grand, yes, ambitious even, but it wouldn’t last. That was always the thing—it wouldn’t last. Nothing like it did. The Caribbean is awash, they knowingly said, with well-intentioned initiatives that run aground sooner than later. In fact, nothing is more characteristic of Caribbean intellectual life than this penchant for starting new ventures that never have any chance whatsoever of reproducing themselves. And so on . . . Now, honestly,I never took these prophecies of doom to be expressions of ill will, of what Jamaicans lyrically call badmindedness—though of course they might well have been. After all, the truth is that I too was wondering, not because of a wavering or uncertain commitment on my part, need‐less to say, but as a matter, if you like, of thinking the future in the present. Beginnings are one thing, hard enough, to be sure. But what would “lasting” mean? What would be the point at which Small Axe could be said to have “lasted”? These were, in part, abstract questions(in any case, I brushed them aside) because although I was always self-conscious of seeking something larger in the Small Axe initiative (remember, New World Quarterly and Savacou were the models I had before me, and they styled themselves as expressions of “movements”), I was at that early point literally feeling my way from one issue of the journal to the next. And from the haphazard and chaotic inside of each of these issues, encountering and resolving their specific challenges, it was impossible to discern what they would add up to—whether the shape of something more than the sum of all the issues put together would emerge from within what we were anyway carrying on with.

David Scott has edited Small Axe since its inception in 1997. To learn more about the journal and to read a sample issue, visit smallaxe.dukejournals.org.