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Deixis  

Mary Galbraith

Deixis (adjectival form deictic) is the semiotic term for particularized space and time in embodied existence. This ever-present deictic field is both ordinary and unexplainable: how is it that this space and this body exist in this moment? The elemental semiotic function of calling attention to particulars from the perspectival orientation of a bodily self in time and space foregrounds such ineluctable properties as presence, immediacy, and the vulnerability of being, and is a central topic for philosophers, linguists, anthropologists, cognitive scientists, and literary theorists. Deixis is emerging as critical to foundational theory of the humanities and cognitive science, and the deictic imaginary is of particular significance to theories of literature and art.

Article

Allusions to ancient Greece and Rome are pervasive in Victorian culture, in literary texts and material artifacts, on the popular stage, and in political discourse. Authors such as Matthew Arnold, Thackeray, Tennyson, Clough, Pater, Wilde, and Swinburne studied Latin and Greek for years at school or university and exploited their classical learning for creative purposes. The sheer familiarity of classical culture, based on years of studying Homer and Virgil at school, made it possible for intellectuals to draw parallels between contemporary political reforms and the democratic context of Greek tragedy, or to insist, like Arnold, that Periclean Athens should be a model for 19th-century Britain. At a time when the predominance of Latin and Greek in formal education was beginning to be questioned, there was increasing demand for translations and adaptations of classical literature, history, and myth, so that a wider readership could share in the richness of the classical inheritance. Outsiders were particularly eager to learn Greek or read Greek texts in translation, and authors such as Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and George Eliot achieved a remarkable degree of proficiency with little assistance. Greek epic and tragedy were appropriated by the authors of dramatic monologues, novels, and theatrical burlesques to engage with contemporary concerns about marriage and divorce, the role of women, and the apparent impossibility of heroism in the modern world. Toward the end of the period, classical literature was increasingly scrutinized from new perspectives: approaches based on anthropology, archaeology, and sociology presented familiar texts in new ways and opened up possibilities for redefining aspects of gender and sexuality in the contemporary world.

Article

Susan McHugh

In countless ways, plants have been in literature from the start. They literally provide surfaces and tools of inscription, as well as figuratively inspire a diverse body of writing that ranges from documenting changing social and ecological conditions to probing the limits of the human imagination. The dependence of human along with all other life on vegetal bodies assures their omnipresence in literatures across all periods and cultures, positioning them as ready reference points for metaphors, similes, and other creative devices. As comestibles, landscape features, home décor, and of course paper, plants appear in the pages of virtually every literary text. But depictions of botanical life in action often prove portentous, particularly when they remind readers that plants move in mysterious ways. At the frontiers of ancient and medieval European settlements, the plant communities of forests served as vital sources of material and imaginative sustenance. Consequently, early modern literature registers widespread deforestation of these alluring and dangerous borderlands as threats to economic and social along with ecological flourishing, a pattern repeated through the literatures of settler colonialism. Although appearing in the earliest of literatures, appreciation for the ways in which plants inscribe stories of their own lives remains a minor theme, although with accelerating climate change an increasingly urgent one. Myths and legends of hybrid plant-men, trees of life, and man-eating plants are among the many sources informing key challenges to representing plants in modern and contemporary literature, most obviously in popular genre fictions like mystery, horror, and science fiction (sf). Further enlightening these developments are studies that reveal how botanical writing emerges as a site of struggle from the early modern period, deeply entrenched in attempts to systematize and regulate species in tandem with other differences. The scientific triumph of the Linnaean “sexual system” bears a mixed legacy in feminist plant writing, complicated further by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) writers’ creative engagements with the unevenly felt consequences of professionalized plant science. Empowered by critical plant studies, an interdisciplinary formation that rises to the ethical challenges of emergent scientific affirmations of vegetal sentience, literature and literary criticism are reexamining these histories and modeling alternatives. In the early 21st century with less than a fraction of 1 percent of the remaining old growth under conservation protection worldwide, plants appear as never before in fragile and contested communal terrains, overshadowed by people and other animals, all of whose existence depends on ongoing botanical adaptation.

Article

In the particular and peculiar case of the Booker Prize, regarded as the most prestigious literary award in the United Kingdom (as measured by economic value to the author and publisher, and total audience for the awards announcement), the cultural and economic valences of literary prizes collide with the imperial history of Britain, and its after-empire relationships to its former colonies. From its beginnings, the Booker prize has never been simply a British prize for writers in the United Kingdom. The Booker’s reach into the Commonwealth of Nations, a loose cultural and economic alliance of the United Kingdom and former British colonies, challenges the very constitution of the category of post-imperial British literature. With a history of winners from India, South Africa, New Zealand, and Nigeria, among many other former British colonies, the Booker presents itself as a value arbitrating mechanism for a majority of the English-speaking world. Indeed, the Booker has maintained a reputation for bringing writers from postcolonial nations to the attention of a British audience increasingly hungry for a global, cosmopolitan literature, especially one easily available via the lingua franca of English. Whether and how the prize winners avoid the twin colonial pitfalls of ownership by and debt to an English patron is the subject of a great deal of criticism on the Booker, and to understand the prize as a gatekeeper and tastemaker for the loose, baggy canon of British or even global Anglophone literature, there must be a reckoning with the history of the prize, its multiplication into several prizes under one umbrella category, and the form and substance of the novels that have taken the prize since 1969.

Article

In the interwar and Second World War periods, women writers took the lead in the Australian literary scene in an unprecedented way, producing a number of significant novels, plays, and works of nonfiction that interrogated issues of colonialism, nationalism, gender relations, and Australia’s place in the world. Many of these works had period settings or were engaged in some way with Australia’s settler colonial past. While the historical writings of Australian women writers vary greatly in terms of literary style, genre, cultural value, political affiliation, and the degree to which they either contest or reify ideas of national progress, these works represent a substantial contribution to the reimagining of the nation’s past in the period from the late 1920s to the mid-1940s. Furthermore, many of the fictional works of these women writers traveled beyond national borders due to the new mobilities of publication and distribution available to Australian writers at the time. Two major case studies reveal the ways in which Australian women writers contributed to the writing of Australian history in both national and international contexts in the interwar and Second World War years: M. Barnard Eldershaw, the pseudonym for the literary collaboration between Marjorie Barnard (1897–1987) and Flora Eldershaw (1897–1956), and Eleanor Dark (1901–1985).

Article

Deconstruction and poststructuralism have profoundly shaped popular and academic thought, while also drawing both popular and academic resistance, and doing so (strangely) consistently over decades. In particular, deconstruction and poststructuralism (and their synecdoche—the capital-T “Theory”) are viewed as sources of existential peril to English studies, where their impact has been indelibly tied to a canon expansion that takes seriously—and particularly—the contributions of women, people of color, queer people, and others. Detractors often reduce poststructuralism to its -ism—making of it a stagnant force of destabilizing chaos or a hopelessly unproductive and apolitical form of theoretical play. Dogmatic enthusiasts often become similarly reductive. Thinkers like Barbara Johnson and fiction writers like Percival Everett exemplify and advocate for a brand of deconstructive self-critique in which we: avoid allowing our enthusiasm or opinions to harden into any -ism (even when the enthusiasm is for, say, undecidability); embrace (in fact, seek) opportunities of confrontation with ignorance in our own thought; and recognize the potential value of upheaval in our real-world practices. Such self-critique is far from an existential peril to central values of English studies; it is, in fact, something not unlike the “critical thinking” valued and marketed by the Humanities.

Article

Angus Nicholls

The term daemonic—often substantivized in German as the daemonic (das Dämonische) since its use by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the early 19th century—is a literary topos associated with divine inspiration and the idea of genius, with the nexus between character and fate and, in more orthodox Christian manifestations, with moral transgression and evil. Although strictly modern literary uses of the term have become prominent only since Goethe, its origins lie in the classical idea of the δαíμων, transliterated into English as daimon or daemon, as an intermediary between the earthly and the divine. This notion can be found in pre-Socratic thinkers such as Empedocles and Heraclitus, in Plato, and in various Stoic and Neo-Platonic sources. One influential aspect of Plato’s presentation of the daemonic is found in Socrates’s daimonion: a divine sign, voice, or hint that dissuades Socrates from taking certain actions at crucial moments in his life. Another is the notion that every soul contains an element of divinity—known as its daimon—that leads it toward heavenly truth. Already in Roman thought, this idea of an external voice or sign begins to be associated with an internal genius that belongs to the individual. In Christian thinking of the European romantic period, the daemonic in general and the Socratic daimonion in particular are associated with notions such as non-rational divine inspiration (for example, in Johann Georg Hamann and Johann Gottfried Herder) and with divine providence (for example, in Joseph Priestley). At the same time, the daemonic is also often interpreted as evil or Satanic—that is: as demonic—by European authors writing in a Christian context. In Russia in particular, during a period spanning from the mid-19th century until the early 20th century, there is a rich vein of novels, including works by Gogol and Dostoevsky, that deal with this more strictly Christian sense of the demonic, especially the notion that the author/narrator may be a heretical figure who supplants the primacy of God’s creation. But the main focus of this article is the more richly ambivalent notion of the daemonic, which explicitly combines both the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian heritages of the term. This topos is most prominently mobilized by two literary exponents during the 19th century: Goethe, especially in his autobiography Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and Truth), and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in his Notebooks and in the Lectures on the History of Philosophy. Both Goethe’s and Coleridge’s treatments of the term, alongside its classical and Judeo-Christian heritages, exerted an influence upon literary theory of the 20th century, leading important theorists such as Georg Lukács, Walter Benjamin, Hans Blumenberg, Angus Fletcher, and Harold Bloom to associate the daemonic with questions concerning the novel, myth, irony, allegory, and literary influence.

Article

Irony  

Claire Colebrook

Irony is both a figure of speech and a mode of existence or attitude toward life. Deriving from the ancient Greek term eironeia, which originally referred to lying, irony became a complex philosophical and rhetorical term in Plato’s dialogues. Plato (428/427 or 424/423–348/347 bce) depicts Socrates deploying the method of elenchus, where, rather than proposing a theory, Socrates encounters others in conversation, drawing out the contradictions and opacities of their arguments. Often these dialogues would take a secure concept and then push the questioning to a final moment of non-knowledge or aporia, exposing a gap in a discourse that his interlocutors thought was secure. Here, Socratic irony can be thought of as a particular philosophical method and as the way in which Socrates chose to pursue his life, always questioning the truth of key ethical concepts. In the Roman rhetorical tradition irony was theorized as a rhetorical device by Cicero (106–43 bce) and Quintilian (c.35–c.96 ce), and it was this sense of irony that was dominant until the 18th century. At that time, and in response to the elevation of reason in the Enlightenment, a resurgence of satire emerged: here the rigorous logic of reason was often repeated and in a parodic manner. At this time, modern irony emerged, which was subtly different from satire in that it did not simply lampoon its target, but suggested a less clear position of refined and superior distance. The German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel (1770–1831) was highly critical of what came to be known as Romantic irony, which differed from satire in that it suggested a subtle distance from everyday discourse, with no clear position of its own. This tendency for irony to be the negation of truth claims, without having any clear position of its own, became ever more intense in the 20th century with postmodern irony, where irony was no longer a rhetorical device but became a manner of existing with no clear commitment to any values or beliefs. Alongside this tradition of irony as a distanced relation to one’s speech acts, there was also a tradition of dramatic, cosmic, tragic, or fateful irony, where events might seem to act against human intentions, or where human ambition would seem to be thwarted by a universe that almost seems to be judging human existence from on high.

Article

Romance  

Cyrus Mulready

“Romance” is a term that has been variously applied to long-form verse narratives, episodic prose narratives, drama, stories from late Greek antiquity, and a popular subgenre of contemporary mass market fiction. In the 18th and 19th centuries it vied with “novel” as the standard term for the genre (before the latter won out to become part of our common vocabulary). Romance has also become a standard division of Shakespeare’s works, a dramatic genre that, beginning in the 19th century, stood alongside comedy, tragedy, and history as one of the cornerstones of the canon. Indeed, readers and scholars use “romance” so promiscuously as to suggest the near impossibility of drawing its definition with any clarity or meaning. Is the word merely an empty signifier for an incoherent concept? A vague label that is “generic” in the most unhelpful sense? Perhaps, contrarily, “romance” has power as a label because of its variability and range. On a practical level, understanding the pliant ways that readers, publishers, and writers have used this term provides insight to one of the richest (and perhaps oldest) veins of storytelling. Romance also gives us a view of how those same traditions ultimately derive from more ancient and esoteric forms. As it relates to a theory of genre, too, romance has been indispensable. Two of the most important treatments of genre theory, by Northrop Frye and Fredric Jameson, center on romance as a literary and historical practice. To study romance is therefore to study the shapes and traditions of genre itself; to theorize romance is to provide a history and conceptual framework for how genres have worked and continue to work within storytelling practices.

Article

It is generally accepted that 19th-century realist novelists sought to create heroes and heroines who were at once representative and exceptional: representative because they incarnate something instantly recognizable across space and time, exceptional because they must command narrative interest. The heroes of the provincial 19th-century novel struggle to navigate these competing impulses. Their creators inherited a literary tradition that tended to extol larger-than-life figures who, through military exploits or adventures on the border of empire, inspired admiration or worship. However, consonant with the realist novel’s rejection of both epic and Romantic heroes, the authors of provincial novels depict a world of fragmentation, a world that can no longer accommodate heroic ambition. Their provincial settings comprise an arena in which greatness cannot be realized: the province is too far removed from the world historical stage, it seems, too full of petty rivalries, to enable the hero to flourish. The provincial novelists George Eliot and Fyodor Dostoevsky can be read as case studies of writers who embody this tension. While the thrust of most criticism on both writers is to recast the dearth of heroic activity as a virtue (with the meanness of world historical opportunity being amply assuaged by opportunities for small acts of prosaic, diffusive kindness), Dostoevsky and Eliot treat with regret the inability of their protagonists to realize their heroic aspirations. In so doing, far from throwing their lot in with the limitations of the novel as a genre (i.e., its anti-epic parameters), they maintain a desire to transcend the limits of the novel genre’s mundane presentness. By rescuing their characters from the provincial environments in which they have been unable to realize their heroic feats and by destining them for future action elsewhere, the “here-now” chronotope of the provincial novel is rejected in favor of a “there-then” chronotope which, by definition, cannot be explicated in the form of the novel (and as such, their novels must end with the exile of their protagonists). Although readings of their novels that emphasize the importance of prosaic goodness remain persuasive, they do not altogether invalidate these writers’ desire for heroic activity.