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Article

Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in the fall of 2016. News of this drew predictable reactions from fans and naysayers who, each in their own way, either praised or lamented the judgment of the Nobel Committee’s decision to honor a songwriter and performer for a prize traditionally reserved for novelists, poets, and playwrights. Despite arguments about whether or not Dylan’s work is or is not sufficiently literary, his award confirmed something that, at least for Americans, has always been true: that popular music is as important a part of American literature as anything written in between the covers of a book. The folk and blues traditions from which Dylan emerges as a musical artist are also major sources of mythopoetic cultural production operating at the heart of American culture. These are first and foremost oral traditions, offered up in the form of songs and tales (and everything in between) and passed down from person to person, across regions, and through time. A folk and blues approach to American literature is one that understands there are no originary, primary folk and blues texts. It is also one that necessarily envisions a tradition as belonging to the future rather than the past. The American folk and blues method is, in other words, one of invention and adaptation, and its embedded notion of a tradition is something that is always shifting according to practice. Instead of only searching out primary textual examples of form, a folk and blues–influenced literary critical approach is drawn to figures—like Robert Johnson, Nina Simone, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan—who are practitioners of folk and blues traditions. These performers are also experts in and vectors of folk and blues cultures. A prescriptive notion of an artistic tradition is determined based on what it was. In folk and blues, a tradition is what it does. There are also conventionally literary figures who seem to benefit from and understand the musical roots of American literature. Authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Flannery O’Connor, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, and Toni Morrison incorporate musical elements into their plays, novels, stories, and poems in such a way as to make these otherwise written forms sound American. Folk and blues idioms and aesthetics encircle these authors’ literary works and enhance their meanings. A critical approach to such artists is in search of these meanings. This involves listening and developing a feeling for folk and blues traces in song and prose. The historical echoes of the many folk and blues myths, figures, and refrains that float around the nation’s culture are resurrected, from generation to generation, in its art. In the end, a folk and blues method seeks out these originators and reproducers of folk and blues traditions, insisting on an interpretive practice that is closer to hearing than reading.

Article

Hywel Dix

Since the term autofiction was coined by Serge Doubrovsky in the 1970s, a key scholarly debate has been whether autofiction is a genre in its own right, a subvariant of autobiography, or whether it is better approached along lines other than generic. Although researchers have approached this question in different ways, many agree that autofiction is a form of writing that responds to the specific cultural conditions of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, including the relationship between celebrity and everyday life, a variety of scandals and controversies, and forms of public confession. Because writers of autofiction often frame their work either as a form of confessional writing or as writing produced in the aftermath of a traumatic experience, they have typically taken a serial approach to life writing. In some cases, this entails splitting aspects of their lives across separate published works, while others return several times to a single experience in various written texts as part of the process of repetition and working through that marks the aftermath of trauma. Among writers from postcolonial societies, the process of representing trauma is often imbued with a testimonial function, bearing witness to the conflicts and injustices of the colonial era. Autofictional techniques can be used to allow writers to appear as minor characters in narratives that are not ostensibly about them, to activate this testimonial function. In another variation, writers narrate historical incidents that occurred before they were born but which nevertheless concern their community, ancestry, or family. Since these cannot be entirely separated from the life story of the author, to tell the story of those ancestors is also, in a meaningful sense, to narrate an aspect of one’s own history: autofiction at one remove. Renée Larrier has used the dance martial art danmyé as a suggestive metaphor for how Caribbean writers merge individual with social and historical interests in bearing witness to the legacies of the colonial period and slavery. Among various innovations, this use of dance raises the possibility of autofiction existing in media other than print—including graphic novels, fine art, documentary film, and television. By this point, a new generation of media-savvy autofiction writers has emerged capable of using interactive media to promote and extend their published work. Just as the growth of reality genres represented television reversing its own belatedness with regard to literature, so transmedia emanations of autofiction re-reverse this trend, pointing to a complex interaction between what happens in literature and what happens in other media.

Article

Disability—whether physical, mental, or sensory—is widely represented in Early Modern literature, and as such it has been attracting attention from 21st-century literary scholars, who apply the theoretical and critical tools of disability studies to Renaissance narratives and literary characters. Literary disability in its various forms can be analyzed in the light of various models of disability, including medical, social, moral, or cultural. This helps in understanding early modern representations and experiences of disability in culture and history and making sense of reactions to disability in the period: including stigma, mockery, proud identification with the disabled identity, or also a desire for it. Physical disabilities in the Renaissance encompass anything from deformity to bodily mutilation to dwarfism or monstrosity, and they are especially prone to be emphasized, explained, or scrutinized in search of their meaning. Sensory disabilities, including blindness, deafness, and mutism, prompt interpretations that connect physical impairment with the character’s inability or surprising ability to understand reality—whether in a pragmatic or spiritual sense. Intellectual and mental disabilities have many ramifications in early modern literature, some of which, such as fools and madmen, are staple types of drama. Intellectual and mental disabilities are often described in medical terms, but literary texts tend to differentiate between them, whether in technical or narrative terms. Foolishness normally turns into comedy, whereas madness is often connected with tragic characters undergoing mental breakdowns. Renaissance disability studies are also concerned with less obvious types of disability: disabilities that were disabilities in the past but not in the 21st century, concealed disabilities, and disabilities that are not actually disabilities but do foster a conversation that excludes the character who does not embody what society regarded as the ideal physical shape. Finally, instances of counterfeited disability and disability attached to concepts rather than people help understand how Renaissance culture often viewed the nonstandard body not only as something to beware of or reject but also as an image of empowerment.

Article

Law and literature both involve storytelling theory and practice. The study of law and literature takes legal and literary narrative acts to be complex, interrelated, and formative for institutional and political systems. While this interdisciplinary project at times has presumed a national frame, it also has questioned the relationship between nationalism and the global scale, highlighting links between the formation and circulation of literature, the transnational political order, and the contestations of international law. That the modern state itself is a legal form of political sovereignty that arose within an imperial international order serves to remind us that any national literature and any legal system has been shaped from the beginning through encounters across political geographies and epistemologies. Contemporary fiction—whether categorized as global, postcolonial, world, or transnational literature within a national tradition—uses narrative form in fashioning characters and storyworlds that contend, even implicitly, with the world we inhabit; one organized through legal decisions about which entities shall hold what set of rights, how movement and emplacement get practiced, who shall be excluded from which forms of legal recognition, and under what conditions shall exploitation and criminality be defined. Law and contemporary global fiction, then, raise basic questions about how we read and what reading does in the world. They also pose new questions about the relations of law, jurisprudence, and imaginative fiction to some of the most pressing challenges for humanity and the planet in the 21st century.

Article

Literary critics have long observed a relationship between the novel and the city. In the 19th century, novelists responded to rapidly expanding urbanization with new generic forms and literary techniques to comprehend the city and its inhabitants. Contemporary fiction, while indebted to the legacy of prior literary engagements with the city, is nevertheless forced to invent new formal strategies for a vastly transformed urban environment. What confronts the 21st-century novelist is the expansion of the urban across the entirety of the planet, in a process that geographers have termed “planetary urbanization.” No longer confined only to the centers of major metropolises, the urban, these theorists argue, has superseded the boundaries of city and country, as well as those between national and global space. In response, novelists from a variety of contexts are reshaping the novel, adapting its genres and forms to seek to understand planetary urbanization—its historical precedents, the kinds of social relations it engenders, and its utopian and dystopian potentials. More than just setting or backdrop to the stories these writers tell, planetary urbanization transforms the formal possibilities of contemporary fiction across genres.

Article

Ayşe Özge Koçak Hemmat

The novel in the Turkish tradition has been a transnational genre, both in terms of its inception and production during the late Ottoman era, and by virtue of the novelists’ transnational experiences and the reflection of these experiences in their novels. Imperial transnationalism—intra- and inter-imperial exchanges and relations that predate the modern nation-state—is an essential lens through which to study the Ottoman novel, with its multiple sources and cross-cultural engagement and output that expand the scope of the “Ottoman novel” to the non-Turkish-speaking and non-Muslim subjects of the empire. Following the split of the former Ottoman territories into nation-states that began in the 19th century and culminated after World War I, the Republic of Turkey attempted to forge a unique Turkish identity, an effort that involved cultivating a national literary tradition distinct from that of its imperial predecessor. The Republican-era novelists nonetheless continued to reflect on their transnational and cross-cultural experiences in their work. Some of these authors wrote while residing abroad for reasons ranging from exile to diplomatic service, illustrating the complexities of the concept and the reality of nation, imagined or otherwise. As the form and the substance of the Turkish novel evolved and flourished, culminating in the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Orhan Pamuk in 2006, Turkish novelists enjoyed wider and more international audiences. Some recurrent themes in transnational Turkish novels are identity and language, belonging at home and abroad, and reconciling the past with the present. While Turkish novelists now enjoy increased mobility and the ability to reach an international audience, with more of their work being translated and published abroad, and read and studied across the globe, the scope of international scholarship on the Turkish novel is still confined to the work of a small group of authors. This highly selective reception not only limits the range of works to which international audiences are exposed, but also suppresses the genre’s entanglement in the Turkish literary tradition with the crossing of boundaries—temporal and traditional, as well as physical. A transnational approach to studying the Turkish novel thus provides insight into the genre’s origins, evolution, circulation, and reception, but it also highlights its transgressive nature in a wide network of world literary and social developments through its evolution via travel, translation, and adaptation in different regions, and its negotiations with other literary forms.

Article

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

Dominique Lestel

Distinguishing their work from the causalist approaches of objectivist ethology, sociobiology, or cognitive ethology, a growing number of ethologists lay claim to the possibility of describing what animals do through more or less complex narratives. Narration becomes a methodological tool in its own right. Animals thus become characters as in novels. This is an epistemological choice. Our capacity to perceive the complexity of animal lives is tied to our capacity to tell ourselves stories in which animals are the heroes. These animals are not robots. They are subjects, individuals, and even persons. From this results a new and transpecific form of third-person narration. This approach still relies, however, on a set of very carefully collected field data and requires a great familiarity with observed animals. It then becomes possible to concern oneself with the individual strategies of particular animals rather than solely with behaviors that would be common to all members of a given species. The recourse to narrative as a means of understanding animal intelligence is especially pertinent as we become increasingly aware that animals themselves tell stories and that our concepts of narrative must expand beyond the human. Knowing whether animals have narrative structures is a philosophical question before it is a biological one. The desire to extend narrativity to the animal necessarily modifies what narrativity signifies. We perceive in animals a processual narrativity, a behavioral narrativity, and a fictional narrativity. The study of animals forces to rethink what a fiction is and compels one to consider its phylogensis in a rigorous manner without locating its origins in Homo sapiens.

Article

Rae Greiner

Sympathy and empathy are complex and entwined concepts with philosophical and scientific roots relating to issues in ethics, aesthetics, psychology, biology, and neuroscience. For some, the two concepts are indistinguishable, the two terms interchangeable, but each has a unique history as well as qualities that make both concepts distinct. Although each is associated with feeling, especially the capacity to feel with others or to imaginatively put oneself “in their shoes,” the concepts’ sometimes shared, sometimes divergent histories reveal more complicated origins, as well as vexed and ongoing relations to feeling and emotion and to the ethical value of emotional sharing. Though empathy regularly is considered the more advanced and egalitarian of the two, it shares with sympathy a controversial role in historical debates regarding questions of an inborn or divine moral sense, prosocial behavior and the development of human communities, the relation of sensation to unconscious mental processes, brain matter, and neurons, and animal/human difference. In literary criticism, sympathy and empathy have been key components of aesthetic movements such as sentimentalism, realism, and modernism, and of literary techniques like free indirect discourse (FID), which are thought (by some) to enhance readerly intimacy and closeness to novelistic characters and perspectives. Both concepts have also received their fair share of suspicion, as the capacity to feel, or imagine feeling, the emotions of others remains a controversial basis for ethics.

Article

The burgeoning field of animal studies has facilitated the exploration of human-animal relations across a variety of disciplines. Following the animal turn in humanities scholarship, a number of studies published in the late 20th and early 21st centuries have demonstrated that animals reflected the social, cultural, and political concerns of the early modern period in a unique manner due to a shift in the ways in which animals were viewed and valued. This shift was largely caused by the increasing commodification of animals, the discovery of new creatures through global exploration, a renewed interest in investigating and documenting all earthly beings, and an enhanced concern for animal welfare. A range of early modern texts reflect this shift in the perception of animals through engaged interaction with conceptions of the human-animal divide and interrogation of human exceptionalism. Animals also inhabit a multitude of early modern texts in a less prominent manner because, as is the case in the modern world, animals lived alongside humans and were a fundamental part of everyday life. While these texts may not at first seem to reveal much detail about the lives of animals and how they were viewed in the early modern period, the field of animal studies has provided a method of bringing nonhuman beings to the fore. When analyzing the representation of nonhuman beings in early modern texts through the lens of animal studies a thorough consideration of the context in which such texts were written and investigation of the lived experience of the animals they seek to portray is required in order to capture, what leading animal studies scholar Erica Fudge terms, a holistic history of animals.