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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

Toby Malone and Brett Greatley-Hirsch

Digital publishing, from early ventures in fixed media (diskette and CD-ROM) through to editions designed for the Web, tablets, and phones, radically transforms the creation, remediation, and dissemination of Shakespearean texts. Likewise, digital technologies reshape the performance of William Shakespeare’s plays through the introduction of new modes of capture and delivery, as well as the adaptation of social media, virtual reality, video gaming, and motion capture in stage and screen productions. With the aid of the computer, Shakespearean texts, places, and spaces can be “modeled” in new and sophisticated ways, including algorithmic approaches to questions of Shakespearean authorship and chronology, the virtual 3D reconstruction of now-lost playhouses, and historical geospatial mapping of Shakespeare’s London.

Article

Comedy  

Yi-hsin Hsu

So strong is the cultural desire for an independent and original theory of comedy that Aristotle is imagined to have penned, aside from his glancing treatments of comedy in the Poetics, a critical assessment of the genre, now lost. The symbolic absence of this presumed Aristotelian treatise speaks volumes for the near unattainability of such a critical endeavor. Comedy is at times conceptualized as a generative “umbrella” genre that subsumes other adjoining modes of literary figuration—satire, parody, romance, irony, joke, word play, farce, and stand-up—all while being routinely subject to cultural and theoretical conflation with humor, laughter, amusement, wit, and other physiological as well as intellectual triggers or responses to the comic. The generic contours of comedy are ever-expanding and helplessly slippery. Comedy embodies divergences and dualities. Its anthropological association with fertility rituals at its generic inception suggests privilege and respectability, but Plato’s prejudice against comedy as fit for slaves and outcasts, together with Aristotle’s identification of comedy with lowliness and ugliness, conditions the perception of the genre as relatively vulgar, inferior, and base when examined alongside its nobler counterpart, tragedy. Comedy’s capacity to channel expressions for behavioral deviation in the Feasts of Fools qualifies the genre as a social subversive, but that comedy is conducive to societal stability as a safety valve for discontentedness and insurgence proves that the genre wields the potential of a social fixative. Comedy is said to be grounded on malice and superiority, but playwrights throughout the ages have used it to advance virtue. It is in and between these seemingly irreconcilable contradictions that theoretical abstractions of this elusive genre may be attempted.

Article

John Lavagnino

Digital textuality has its roots in the most familiar digital system, the alphabet. In defining rules for what aspects of an inscription contain information, the alphabet makes exact copying of writing possible; such exact copying is the fundamental digital characteristic, without which digital machinery could not work. But copyability can have practical limitations, when more complex forms are built up out of basic digital elements: documents, in particular, often assume particular concepts and systems. Digital document systems can be based on many different theories of documents, and typically combine incompatible theories in one document; they also hide considerable amounts of information from users. Very different digital approaches to texts are found in databases, which atomize texts and render all relationships explicit; this degree of formalization is not common in the humanities, but it enables the creation of widely used research tools (such as library catalogues). The principal innovation in digital documents so far is the hypertextual link, which in connecting texts more closely together created new possibilities for expression and exploration. The creation of vast amounts of digital text led to the unexpected importance of searching, which was made more usable by exploitation of the information provided by links. Searching has overturned ancient hierarchies of importance and attention, by making forgotten texts as accessible as canonical ones.

Article

Astrid Ensslin

In a generic, medium-nonspecific sense, hypertext refers to a compositional format characterized by nodes, links, and networks that allow readers multiple choices and different pathways through textual and/or multimodal components. The largest informational hypertext network is the World Wide Web. Within literary studies, hypertext theory relates to literary in the sense of primarily narrative and poetic uses of hypertext as a composition technique and metatextual principle aided by specific technologies such as hypertext editing software and HTML (Hypertext Mark-Up Language). In its contemporary, medium-specific meaning, hypertext refers to interactive networks of digital documents and media connected by hyperlinks that give rise to multilinear readerly pathways through texts and, thus, highly versatile and personalized narrative and poetic experiences. Literary hypertext theorists have traced the beginnings of hypertext in the nonlinear proto-hypertexts of medieval scripture and early scientific texts displaying numerous glosses and footnotes, thus affording multilinear reading trajectories. While hypertext theory first emerged against the backdrop of late poststructuralist thought and early, pre-web, standalone hypertexts produced by the so-called Storyspace School from the late 1980s onward, more recent, early-21st-century waves of electronic literature and digital fiction scholarship have established the field of hypertext criticism and related areas of digital fiction and poetry research through a large corpus of systematic close analyses, as well as empirical reader-response studies, applied socio-psychological research, and educational uses. Aided by the growth in popular hypertext and game design platforms such as Twine in the second decade of the 21st century, hypertextual writing has become a mainstream form of literary game production and interaction, which has moved hypertext and its theorization from a scholarly-elitist niche to a mainstream form of creative and critical engagement.

Article

Medium  

David Trotter

The term “medium” has a long and complicated history. In its most general sense, it originally meant an intermediate agency, instrument, or substance. During the 19th century, it acquired two further common meanings, first as the raw material or mode of expression distinguishing a particular artistic practice, and then, in the sense now prevalent, as a channel of mass communication. For much of its history, literature’s primary medium (or “channel”) has been the printed book, which remains an object of theoretical as well as historical enquiry, often in a comparative context. Since around 1850, the proliferation of technical media—from telegraph and telephone through film, radio, and television to the internet and the mobile phone—has piled comparative context upon comparative context for the study of literature to take into account. From its origins in the 1920s, media theory has tended to reverse engineer an understanding of what a “medium” is and does from its description and analysis of specific material technologies in operation. Its original focus, with film, radio, and television in mind, was on the medium as technical and ideological instrument. However, as material technologies have become ever widespread, sophisticated, and diverse, so their function has begun to resemble that of an intervening agency or substance, rather than that of an instrument.

Article

Mixed-race Asian Americans have long been a part of the visual culture of Asian Americans, yet, like the wider culture, in Asian American studies the figure of the mixed-race Asian American is rarely recognized or acknowledged. This absence is notable given the field’s sustained interest in representations of Asian interracial romantic relationships in both print and visual media. The simplest explanation would be that mixed-race Asian Americans are difficult to recognize visually as Asian. This explanation locates the source of under-representation in the bodies of mixed-race Asian Americans and their failure to signal race correctly. Within that causal logic, some bodies push viewers to categorize those bodies incorrectly as monoracial or as confoundingly ambiguous. Since race is a social fiction, however, it does not simply exist in specific bodies waiting to be read. Instead, the ambiguity of mixed-race Asian representations resides in the exchange between the viewer and the viewed. The study of visual representations of mixed-race Asians intervenes in this racial narrative. While the visual apprehension of race may appear to bypass culture, the study of representations of mixed-race Asians makes apparent the ways in which the visual is constantly mediated by cultural codes. Race appears to exist on the surface of the body for the viewer to scan. On the contrary, the features that signal racial difference are socially determined, and people are trained to prioritize those features as they enter into culture. Representations of mixed-race Asians often fall outside common racial coding, slowing the process of assigning racial meaning to fetishized features. These bumps in the road open up a space for scholars to denaturalize visual racialization and to begin to unravel the cultural codes that inform readings of racial categories. Rather than looking for a solution to the problem of mixed-race Asian representations, scholars writing on mixed-race Asian Americans focus on visual representations to trouble racial categories and to question what it means to look—or not look—Asian. By tracking the shifting racialized reading of images of mixed-race figures such as Hollywood star Merle Oberon across time and genre, it becomes apparent how cultural context rather than mixed-race bodies shapes the visual apprehension of racial difference.

Article

What is Asian American popular music? How do we identify it, define it, and listen to it? What work is being done by naming a genre as such, and need it even be named? Asian Americanist scholars and music critics have grappled with these questions, articulating the political desires for Asian American representation, recognition, and inclusion, while at the same time remaining wary of how such desires reiterate liberal multiculturalist discourses of assimilation and inclusion. A growing body of interdisciplinary work in American studies, performance studies, critical race and ethnic studies, queer studies, and sound and popular music studies has addressed the historical emergence, visibility, and representation of Asian Americans in popular music. This work has become less concerned with finding out what “Asian American popular music” is and more interested in how Asian Americanist critique can be rooted in minoritarian listening practices so that one might consider the myriad ways Asian Americans—as professional and amateur performers, musicians, virtuosic singers, karaoke goers, YouTube users, listeners, critics, and fans—actively shape and negotiate the soundscapes of US popular music with its visual, sonic, and other sensorial markers of Asian racialization.

Article

Despite Latinxs being the largest growing demographic in the United States, their experiences and identities continue to be underrepresented and misrepresented in the mainstream pop cultural imaginary. However, for all the negative stereotypes and restrictive ways that the mainstream boxes in Latinxs, Latinx musicians, writers, artists, comic book creators, and performers actively metabolize all cultural phenomena to clear positive spaces of empowerment and to make new perception, thought, and feeling about Latinx identities and experiences. It is important to understand, though, that Latinxs today consume all variety of cultural phenomena. For corporate America, therefore, the Latinx demographic represents a huge buying demographic. Viewed through cynical and skeptical eyes, increased representation of Latinxs in mainstream comic books and film results from this push to capture the Latinx consumer market. Within mainstream comic books and films, Latinx subjects are rarely the protagonists. However, Latinx comic book and film creators are actively creating Latinx protagonists within richly rendered Latinx story worlds. Latinx comic book and film creators work in all the storytelling genres and modes (realism, sci-fi, romance, memoir, biography, among many others) to clear new spaces for the expression of Latinx subjectivities and experiences.

Article

Asian American detective fiction is an eclectic body of literature that encompasses works from a variety of 20th- and 21st-century Asian American authors. Prior to the emergence of these writers in the late 1990s and early 2000s, depictions of Asians and Asian Americans in the mystery genre were primarily the domain of white authors like Earl Derr Biggers and John P. Marquand. During the pre-World War II era, “Oriental detectives” like Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto enjoyed varying degrees of popularity in literature and film before gradually fading into obscurity. Meanwhile, the few U.S. writers of Asian descent working in the detective genre often refrained from portraying Asian American characters in their works, focusing instead on stories involving white protagonists. However, a sea change occurred when a wave of Asian American authors arrived on the crime fiction scene: Henry Chang, Leonard Chang, Dale Furutani, Naomi Hirahara, and Ed Lin are representative examples. Differentiating themselves from their Asian American predecessors, these writers focused their mysteries not only on detectives of Asian descent but on the specific ethnic communities in which they were born. Using the detective genre’s focus on “Whodunit” as a literary imperative, these works explore contemporary anxieties about Asian American identity in relation to issues of race, gender, sexuality, and national belonging. As a result, many Asian American writers of detective fiction have chosen to reframe Asian American identity through the use of the detective genre, a vehicle through which the racist stereotypes of the past are addressed, combatted, and symbolically defeated. Whether a genre, subgenre, or school of literature, Asian American detective fiction is a rich and ever-evolving form of literary expression that continues to both expand upon and complicate earlier discourses on race, gender, and sexuality within the realms of U.S. crime fiction and contemporary Asian American literature.