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William Styron's best writing resonates with an emotional honesty that strives for a greater, universal truth. In his fiction Styron has relied on memories of his Virginia childhood and early adult life in New York City and Europe as starting points for broader novels. With his nonfiction, he has been more engaged in the political and social events of his time. Regardless of the form, his writing has always attracted attention—and often controversy.
Thinking about surface and its historiography in the early 21st century is a way of thinking about ways of seeing in the world, and how people define themselves in relation to the things around them. From literary texts to the decorative arts, from graphic narratives to digital stories, and from film to the textile arts, the ways of reading those texts frequently raise questions about interactions with surfaces. Theories of surface have been engaged in many ways since their invocation by French theorists in the final decades of the twentieth century. They have a steady but by no means identical presence in the field of visual studies, history of architecture, and film studies; they have found an application in discussions of race and identity; they have enjoyed an early 21st century turn in the spotlight under the auspices of a broadly defined call for a “surface reading.” This critical move defines surface as worthy of scrutiny in its own right, rather than as something that needs to be “seen through,” and makes its most profound claims less by reactivating attention to reading surfaces, which arguably has been done all along, but by a shifting away from a model of interpretation that makes claims for authoritative symptomatic readings by an all-knowing interpreter.
May Swenson was born on 28 May 1913 in Logan, Utah, to Dan and Margaret (Helberg) Swenson. She attended Utah State Agricultural College, not far from her home; her father was an assistant in the college's Woodwork Department. The eldest of a large Mormon family, she became skeptical of her faith while in college.
Charles Robert Baker
The novels of Booth Tarkington were read by millions of Americans around the turn of the twentieth century, though today his name is known mostly to historians of American literature and to those of the oldest generation whose youthful reading included Tarkington's delightful series of the boyhood adventures of Penrod. His best-known adult novel, The Magnificent Ambersons (1918), has found readers through the decades as well.
Edward Halsey Foster
Allen Tate—born John Orley Allen Tate on 19 November 1899 in Winchester, a rural town in Kentucky—was descended from old southern stock. A defender of the agrarian South against the urban, industrialized North, he was best known as a poet and a novelist, but he was also a distinguished editor, teacher, and critic, whose contributions to the New Criticism helped to make it the dominant American critical discourse at midcentury. Tate's father was a businessman whose turbulent character was matched by his extravagant financial speculations. Tate's mother, in contrast, was a Virginia aristocrat, the descendent of genteel patrician families. The parents were very different temperamentally, and during Tate's childhood they separated. Tate's mother took charge of her shy, intellectually inclined son, even moving with him to college and keeping house there for him.
Arnold E. Sabatelli
James Tate is arguably one of the most influential poets of his generation. In 1967 he won the coveted Yale Younger Poets Award, one of the youngest writers ever to receive that honor. (He was a graduate student at the Iowa Writers Workshop at the time.) His book The Lost Pilot, published the same year, set the tone for the body of his poetry. Surreal, funny, irreverent, and at times almost wholly inaccessible, Tate's poetry has not strayed far from the approach and tone of his earliest work.
Adam Scott Miller
During his lifetime of eighty-seven years, Edward Taylor, a Puritan minister and poet, wrote more than forty thousand lines of verse. Much of Taylor's poetry is devotional and was composed during the course of frequent meditative exercises. As a result, he chose to keep his work private but left his manuscripts to his grandson, who eventually deposited them in the Yale University library. They remained there until their discovery in 1937. Subsequent critical attention has declared Taylor's verse to be colonial America's best poetry.
Because he was born in Tennessee and much of his work is set there, Peter Taylor is unquestionably a southern writer. But his fiction differs from that of the other significant writers of the southern literary renaissance of the 1920s through the 1960s in its focus on urban and suburban settings of the Upper South rather than on the rural life of the Deep South. Taylor was younger than William Faulkner, the great master of southern and, indeed, of American fiction, and younger than the members of the South's two preeminent literary groups, the Fugitive poets and the Agrarians. As a result, the shadows of the Civil War and Reconstruction fall less boldly upon his work than on the work of those older writers, who had one foot in the nineteenth century and one in the twentieth. Taylor's sympathetic concern with the circumstances of blacks and women place him firmly in the twentieth century. (His other large theme of class shows up in almost every period and school of American literature.)
Tekhne, or techne, is derived from the Greek term technê, meaning art, craft, technique, or skill, and plays an important role in Ancient Greek philosophy (in, for instance, Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle) where it is most often opposed to epistêmê, meaning knowledge. The legacy of the various Greek philosophical negotiations with, and distinctions between, technê and epistêmê leave a lasting mark on European thought and knowledge from the medieval period through to the early modern period and into modern philosophy from Emmanuel Kant onwards up to and including 20th-century phenomenology (Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger) and its subsequent legacy, particularly in French philosophy.
So, for instance, in Plato’s Protagoras, the myth of Epimetheus and Prometheus describes the latter’s theft of the technê of fire as a result of the former’s forgetfulness with regard to the bestowal of attributes to human beings. Here technê emerges as skill or technique but also as a more general founding moment of humankind’s technical and technological capacities. In The Republic Plato opposes the knowledge of reality and truth (of ideal forms) to the representational status of dramatic poetry (as a technê poietike or productive technique) and by extension to arts and literature in general. In this context the latter have a degraded status in relation to knowledge or truth, and this sets the stage for attempts that will be made by later philosophy to distance itself from aesthetic form or literary discourse.
In Aristotle technê emerges within the distinction between art as productive technique and theoretical knowledge on the one hand (theoria) and action on the other (praxis). Aristotle’s distinctions have an influential afterlife in the medieval period and into the early modern, in particular in Emmanuel Kant’s definition of art as a skill or capacity for the production of things. The legacy of this long negotiation of Greek technê as art, productive technique, technical skill, or technology finds its way into 20th-century German phenomenology; in Edmund Husserl’s account of the rise of the scientific worldview and instrumental rationality in The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology (1938) and in Martin Heidegger’s discourse on technological modernity, art, and the philosophical-poetic saying of being as it is developed from the 1930s onwards.
The legacy of German phenomenological thinking relating to tekhne, understood as a fundamental dimension of both artistic and technological production, has a particularly strong afterlife in post–World War II French structuralism, poststructuralism, and contemporary philosophy. The influence of Husserl’s understanding of technicity can be traced directly in various ways into the work of, for instance, Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida. Similarly, both Husserlian and Heideggerian discourse on tekhne find their way in the thinking of technology, ecotechnicity, and technics of contemporary philosophers such as Jean-Luc Nancy. Nancy’s discourse on the technicity of art yields an affirmation of the irreducible plurality of aesthetic techniques and, in particular, a reorientation of possible ways of understanding the place of literature in the age of digital information technology.
Time is not a strictly literary category, yet literature is unthinkable without time. The events of a story unfold over time. The narration of that story imposes a separate order of time (chronological, discontinuous, in medias res). The reading of that narrative may take its own sweet time. Then there is the fact that literature itself exists in time. Transmitted across generations, literary texts cannot help but remind us of how times have changed. In doing so, they also show us how prior historical moments were indelibly shaped by their own specific philosophies and technologies of timekeeping—from the forms of sacred time that informed medieval writing; to the clash between national time and natural history that preoccupied the Romantics; to the technological standardization of time that shaped 19th-century literature; to the theories of psychological time that emerged in tandem with modernism; to the fragmented and foreshortened digital times that underlie postmodern fiction. Time, in short, shapes literature several times over: from reading experience to narrative form to cultural context. In this way, literature can be read as a peculiarly sensitive timepiece of its own, both reflecting and responding to the complex and varied history of shared time.
Over the course of the 20th century, literary time has become an increasingly prominent issue for literary critics. Time was first installed at the heart of literary criticism by way of narrative theory and narratology, which sought to explain narrative’s irreducibly temporal structure. Soon, though, formalist and phenomenological approaches to time would give way to more historically and politically attuned methods, which have emphasized modern time’s enmeshment in imperialism, industrial capitalism, and globalization. In today’s critical landscape, time is a crucial and contested topic in a wide range of subfields, offering us indispensable insights into the history and ideology of modernity; the temporal politics of nationalism, colonialism, and racial oppression; the alternate timescales of environmental crisis and geological change; and the transformations of life and work that structure postmodern and postindustrial society.
The year 1922 has been known as the annus mirabilis (“miracle year”) of Anglo-American literary modernism, chiefly because of the near-simultaneous publication of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” James Joyce’s Ulysses, and Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room. The distinctive historical character of 1922 remains an ongoing concern: the year was at once a time of traumatic memory of World War I and a moment of renewed ambition for the radical experiments of modernism. During the war, Eliot, Joyce, and Woolf had enjoyed an unusual opportunity to revise and extend their aesthetic ambitions. Each of their works registers the more defiant provocation of postwar literature, but each confronts the powerful resistance of cultural and political authorities who saw the efforts, especially of Eliot and Joyce, as both meaningless and dangerous. The postwar period also saw the rapid expansion of new technologies (especially in transport and telecommunications) and a consumer society keen to enjoy the availability of freshly circulating material goods. D. H. Lawrence described the end of war as both a relief and a menace. This double valence captures the contrast between searing memories of battlefield death and anticipation of pleasure and plenitude in the Jazz Age. The central figures in this entry are at once newly confident in the adversarial mission of modernism and fully aware of the social complacency and cultural conservatism arrayed against them. The immediate felt disturbance of these works came through their formal challenge, in particular through the intersecting uses of many-voiced and multi-perspectival montage, an assemblage of fragmentary views, and a diversity of speaking tones. This conspicuous technique appears in closely related terms within the early films of Dziga Vertov and the postwar philosophy of logical atoms developed by Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein. But the formal inventiveness exhibited during the year is no more prominent than the social concern. Especially as in 21st century, historical studies of the period have recovered the depth of interest in questions of race, empire, sexual debility, and social failure.
It is generally agreed that the post–World War II period produced the most significant American drama and theater. This included Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie (1945), A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955); Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949) and The Crucible (1953); and Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh (1946) and Long Day’s Journey into Night (written 1941, produced 1956). It was also the time when American theatrical production, characterized by a hybrid blend of realistic and modernist techniques known as “the American style,” was most influential. This period of extraordinary accomplishment would not have occurred without the particular theatrical developments that preceded it. American theater had gotten off to a slow start during the 18th and early 19th centuries, partly because of an anti-theatrical prejudice in the puritan roots of the Northeast, where most US cities were located, and the copyright situation, which made it much more profitable for theatrical managers to pirate English plays than to produce new American ones. During the mid-19th century, some native melodramas achieved popular success, but none entered the permanent repertoire except as curiosities.
Toward the end of the 19th century, the realism of Henrik Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw began to have an impact, and by the 1920s, realism was the dominant dramatic and theatrical idiom of the American stage. At the same time, the impact of modernist techniques such as expressionism was being felt, and Eugene O’Neill and Susan Glaspell were writing avant-garde modernist plays such as O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones (1920) and The Hairy Ape (1922) and Glaspell’s The Verge (1921), which paved the way for O’Neill’s great experiments of the 1920s and 1930s, such as Strange Interlude (1928) and Mourning Becomes Electra (1931). For playwrights like Williams and Miller, it was a natural development to create a drama that united both of these strains, anchoring their plays in a realistic idiom but suffusing them with expressionist techniques that made it possible to dramatize a character’s consciousness on stage in juxtaposition with the external reality they must negotiate.
The final decades of the 20th century may be characterized not so much by individual playwrights as by dramatic and theatrical developments. Escaping the intense commercial pressure of Broadway, the off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway theaters fostered the development of feminist and other experimental drama as well as the careers of playwrights such as Sam Shepard, Adrienne Kennedy, Maria Irene Fornés, and Lynn Nottage. Edward Albee, August Wilson, Ntozake Shange, and David Mamet came from alternative or regional theaters to achieve popular success on Broadway as well as critical acclaim. At the turn of the 21st century, American drama and theater reflected the heightened awareness of gender identity and ethnicity in the 1990s and the broadly eclectic aesthetics that would be evident in the next decades, a drama that is epitomized in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America (1992), which combines realistic characters, sociopolitical commentary, humor, and sentiment with fantasy, myth, and epic.
Since around the turn of the millennium, Anglo-American literary scholarship has been marked by a remarkable shift in its attention to and its attitude toward institutions. Within this shift or “institutional turn,” two interrelated movements can be detected: 1) a departure from thinking about literature as a social institution, toward a sociological approach that examines the many and varied organizations and institutions in and through which literature and its value are produced, distributed, and consumed; and 2) a tendency to revise earlier critiques of institutions, which were often indebted to the work of Michel Foucault, and which emphasized their regulating and disciplinary power, in favor of a more balanced view of institutions as enabling as well as constraining, and in some cases, an outright advocacy for their value and the need to conserve them. Both of these movements stem from scholars’ recognition of the heterogeneity of actual institutions. Rather than understanding literature as something constituted by monolithic, homogenizing forces, early 21st-century literary scholars tend to emphasize the way it is generated and sustained by a wide range of practices occurring in an equally disparate set of institutional locations. Since the early 2000s, scholars have undertaken to analyze the workings of these institutions as the more immediate context in which literary production occurs and is disseminated—a middle range of actors and organizations situated between broader social and historical currents and literary texts. The more charitable attitude toward institutions also recognizes the crucial roles institutions play in the teaching and study of literature. Scholars have thus begun defending the work of institutions, in response to early 21st-century conditions of neoliberalism, under which governments have withdrawn state support for public institutions, including institutions of higher education. A neoliberal ideology that reduces all value to market value presents a threat to institutions that are not primarily dedicated to the generation of economic profit. Thus both of the movements toward institutional study are necessarily bound up with a tradition of scholars who have produced “institutional histories” of literature departments and of the discipline of literary studies. Under neoliberal conditions, such histories have gained urgency, giving rise to a renewed call to account for the value of literary study and of educational institutions in terms that do not reduce this value to service to the economy.
Ever since the Greek philosophers and fabulists pondered the question “What is man?,” inquiries into the concept of the subject have troubled humanists, eventuating in fierce debates and weighty tomes. In the wake of the Descartes’s cogito and Enlightenment thought, proposals for an ontology of the idealist subject’s rationality, autonomy, and individualism generated tenacious questions regarding the condition of pre-consciousness, the operation of feelings and intuitions, the subject-object relation, and the origin of moral and ethical principles. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Marx, and theorists he and Engels influenced, pursued the materialist bases of the subject, through analyses of economic determinism, self-alienation, and false consciousness. Through another lineage, Freud and theorists of psychic structures pursued explanations of the incoherence of a split subject, its multipartite psychodynamics, and its relationship to signifying systems. By the latter 20th century, theorizations of becoming a gendered woman by Beauvoir, of disciplining power and ideological interpellation by Foucault and Althusser, and of structuralist dynamics of the symbolic realm expounded by Lacan, energized a succession of poststructuralist, postmodern, feminist, queer, and new materialist theorists to advance one critique after another of the inherited concept of the liberal subject as individualist, disembodied (Western) Man. In doing so, they elaborated conditions through which subjects are gendered and racialized and offered explanatory frameworks for understanding subjectivity as an effect of positionality within larger formations of patriarchy, slavery, conquest, colonialism, and global neoliberalism. By the early decades of the 21st century, posthumanist theorists dislodged the subject as the center of agentic action and distributed its processual unfolding across trans-species companionship, trans-corporeality, algorithmic networks, and conjunctions of forcefields. Persistently, theorists of the subject referred to an entangled set of related but distinct terms, such as the human, person, self, ego, interiority, and personal identity. And across diverse humanities disciplines, they struggled to define and refine constitutive features of subject formation, most prominently relationality, agency, identity, and embodiment.
Arnaldo M. Cruz-Malavé
Initially censored, shunned, or ignored by the literary establishment, both in the United States and Puerto Rico, New York Puerto Rican author Piri Thomas’s 1967 autobiographical coming-of-age story, Down These Mean Streets, gained great visibility as a sociological document when it was first published, garnering much media attention and recognition for Thomas as a spokesman for the New York Puerto Rican community, a role that he embraced as part of his social activism. But Thomas’s work, which includes the sequel to Down These Mean Streets—Savior, Savior, Hold My Hand; a prison memoir, Seven Long Times; a book of short stories, Stories from El Barrio; and performance and poetry, would not acquire canonical literary status as founding a new U.S. Puerto Rican or Nuyorican literature until the 1980s when critics in American universities began to introduce Nuyorican literature as part of a curricular revision of the U.S. literary canon that sought to include minority literatures in American college courses. In the 1990s, Thomas’s status as a founding figure of Nuyorican literature and identity would give way to a more complex view of him as an author, as queer and feminist scholars of color began to examine the relationship of race and national and ethnic identity and belonging to questions of gender and sexuality in his writing. Thomas would then emerge as a more ambiguous, intercultural, and intersectional author, indeed as emblematic of the in-between or abject zone that the hierarchical binaries of dominant discourses of race, national, and ethnic belonging often situated Latino/as in, invisibilizing them. If in the late 1960s and early 1970s Thomas’s work became representative of the communities and subcultures whose voices were elided in American society, in the 1990s young U.S. Latino/a writers would adopt his work as emblematic of a resistant Afro-Latino otherness that could be deployed against an increasingly homogenizing version of Latinidad or Latino/a identity as a racially and ethnically unified commodity in the plural neoliberal American literary and cultural market. Since the 2000s, readings of Thomas’s work have continued to address the topic of otherness in his work, interrogating its normalization and focusing on the psychoanalytic and political issues of racial melancholia, introjection, and the status of lack in subject formation in his writing. Another trend has set about situating Thomas’s writing at the intersection between colonial and diasporic metropolitan racial formations, connecting it with Puerto Rico’s racialized literary canon, Caribbean “intra-colonial” diasporic relations, and Filipino American literature and culture. Yet another line of research has focused on the author’s narrative and performative choices rather than on his abject condition. And his performance in poetry has begun to get some well-deserved critical attention. All in all, the challenge of Thomas criticism remains the ability of scholars to establish a dialogue between the aporias and impasses that his writing is situated in (that is, questions of racial abjection and coloniality) and his skill and imagination as a writer and performer, between what he characterizes, on the one hand, as the “bullets” and, on the other, as the “butterflies” that constitute and propel his writing.
Thomas S. Hart
The facts of Henry David Thoreau's short life are simple enough. He was born David Henry Thoreau in Concord, Massachusetts, on 12 July 1817. He grew up in Concord and graduated at age twenty from Harvard, after what was by most accounts a fairly ordinary academic career. He briefly tried teaching, and then worked sporadically in the family pencil-making business and as a surveyor, while devoting most of his time to writing, which he considered his true career, despite its having brought him only modest success. He died of tuberculosis at age forty-four on 6 May 1862 in his family's home in Concord.
James Grover Thurber (1894–1961), essayist, artist, short-story writer, and playwright, is generally considered the greatest American humorist of the twentieth century. Thurber was born in Columbus, Ohio, on 8 December 1894, to Charles and Mary Agnes Fisher Thurber. His mother was a high-strung, theatrical woman who had penchant for practical jokes. His father, a mild-mannered political clerk, was often out of work, and the family frequently depended on handouts from Mrs. Thurber's wealthy parents. Despite financial hardship, Thurber's early boyhood was a happy one, although it was not without challenges. When he was six, Thurber was accidentally shot in the eye with an arrow by his older brother, William. Because his injured eye was not removed promptly, his other eye became inflamed, eventually leading to total blindness when he was at the peak of his career. His injury isolated him from his peers and caused him to withdraw into a fantasy world.
Jacob C. Brown
This article explores evolving representations of the Dominican colloquialism and concept tíguere in academic scholarship and Dominican national and diasporic culture. Phonetically, the word tíguere is a “Dominicanized” pronunciation—with one extra syllable added in the middle—of tigre, the Spanish word for tiger. Instead of purporting an exhaustive analysis of every utterance of tíguere in the vast archives of Dominican culture (a Quixotic affair for a single encyclopedia entry), this article observes how scholarship in the last forty years has approached the “tíguere” as a Dominican cultural expression. While academic books and articles on Dominican culture vary insofar as their discussions of the origins of the term and to whom it applies (whether they be men or women; “straight” or queer; black, white, or mixed), they also show continuity in reinforcing the basic characteristics of tigueraje (wit, grit, and resourcefulness; cunning, confidence, and showmanship; stoicism, style, and fierce determination) as expressions of dominicanidad, or Dominican-ness. This article does not pretend to be an exhaustive study but rather shows some of the ways in which authors and academics have spotted and studied tígueres in the milieu of Dominican cultural production. While the growing fields of contemporary Dominican scholarship, media, and literature have gradually deconstructed and adapted the tíguere within critical, queer, gender-inclusive, racially conscious, and transatlantic methodologies, in doing so it has also played a role in reinscribing the tíguere’s place in Dominican culture, both at home on the island and across oceans.
From Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Poetics onward, tragedy has loomed large in the genealogy of literary theory. But this prominence is in many regards paradoxical. The original object of that theory, the Attic tragedies performed at the Dionysian festivals in 5th- century
Francisco J. Galarte
The field of Latina/o/x studies has long been interested in various forms of gender and sexual deviance and diversity as a site of inquiry. Yet, there are many gaps in the literature of the field when it comes to the study of trans subjectivities, politics, and cultural formations. Foundational theoretical works such as Sandy Stone’s “A Posttransexual Manifesto” (1991) and Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands (1987) share a theoretical approach to understanding autoethnographic texts that propose to write minoritarian subjects into discourse. The result of the two works is the emergence of the “new mestiza” and the “posttranssexual,” two figures that come to shape the fields of transgender, Chicana/o/x, and Latinx studies, respectively. There are myriad ways in which the fields of transgender studies and Latinx studies overlap and depart from each other. Most often, transgender studies is characterized as not grappling directly with race, colonialism, and imperialism, while Latina/o/x studies can at times be read as treating transgender subjects as objects, or sites of inquiry. Therefore, there is much to be gleaned from exploring how the two fields might come into contact with each other, as each becomes increasingly institutionalized.