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Trauma and Memory Studies  

Karyn Ball

A focus on trauma’s institutional trajectory in literary and cultural theory serves to narrow the transnational and multidirectional scope of memory studies. While Sigmund Freud’s attempt in Beyond the Pleasure Principle to define trauma in order to account for World War I veterans’ symptoms might serve as a provisional departure point, the psychological afflictions that haunted American soldiers returning from the Vietnam War reinforced the explanatory value of what came to be called “posttraumatic stress disorder,” which the American Psychiatric Association added to the DSM-III (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) in 1980. Multiple dramatic films released in the 1980s about Vietnam conveyed images of the American soldier’s two-fold traumatization by the violence he not only witnessed but also perpetrated along with the ambivalent treatment he received upon his return to a protest-riven nation waking up to the demoralizing realization that US military prowess was neither absolute nor inherently just. Proliferating research and writing about trauma in the late 1980s reflected this juncture as well as the transformative impact of the new social movements whose consciousness-raising efforts inspired a generation of academics to revise secondary and post-secondary literary canons. The publication in 1992 of both Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery as well as Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub’s Testimony: Crises of Witnessing; In Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History, along with Cathy Caruth’s editorial compilation entitled Trauma: Explorations in Memory (1995) and collected essays in Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History (1996), crystallized a moment when trauma was manifestly coming into vogue as an object of inquiry. This trend was reinforced by simultaneous developments in Holocaust studies that included critical acclaim for Claude Lanzmann’s ten-hour documentary Shoah (released in 1985), the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC in 1993, and, that same year, the international success of Stephen Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. Other key events that propelled the popularity of trauma studies in the 1990s included the fall of the Berlin wall, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and South African apartheid governments, and Toni Morrison receiving the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature for Beloved. The latter additionally bolstered specialization in African American studies as a platform for investigating representations of slavery and its violent afterlives. While some critics fault the 1990s confluence of Holocaust and trauma studies for its Eurocentrism, the research pursued by feminist, multiculturalist, and postcolonial scholars in the same period laid the foundation for increasingly diverse lines of inquiry. Postcolonial criticism in particular has inspired scholarship about the intergenerational aftereffects of civil war, partition, forced migration, and genocide as well as the damage that accrues as settler states continue to marginalize and constrain the indigenous groups they displaced. More recent trauma research has also moved beyond a focus on finite events to examine the compounding strain of the everyday denigrations and aggressions faced by subordinated groups in tandem with long-term persecution and systemically induced precarity. Ultimately, then, the scale of trauma and memory studies has become not only global but also planetary in response to intensifying public anxiety about extinction events and climate change.

Article

The Turkish Novel as Transnational  

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

Literary and Economic Value  

Joshua Clover and Christopher Nealon

“Value” is a concept structured by confusing relations between its social-ethical and its economic meanings (“I agree with your values”; “the sweater is a great value at that price”). The two meanings cannot be kept separate, but the negotiation of their relation has vexed theories of artistic and literary value since at least the rise of the discourse of aesthetics in the 18th century. Early attempts to separate aesthetic value from its economic counterpart involved analogies between what were understood to be different cognitive faculties (reason and emotion, say), and relations among competing claims to political standing (between the bourgeoisie and the sovereign, most of all). Liberal American conversations about literary and economic value after World War II worried over part-whole relations in terms of debates about the value of individual literary works in what seemed to be an ever-expanding multicultural canon. Postwar literary theories of economic and aesthetic value in a more Marxist vein turned to various narratives of the “subsumption” of social life by economic values: sometimes imagining that subsumption as a fatal error on the part of capitalism, since sociability is too unruly finally to organize according to economic principles, or as a terrible victory for a capitalism that had now transformed into something qualitatively different and more sinister, like a “bio-power.” But even these Marxist literary theories tended to ignore contemporary work in history, historical sociology, and critical theory that identified changes in the relation between what had once seemed to be at least notionally separate aesthetic and economic “spheres” not with subsumption per se, but with a crisis in capital’s ways of producing profitable surplus value, and exchangeable use values. Seen from the vantage of this scholarship, it becomes clear that not only do most discourses on the specific value of the aesthetic tend to lean too heavily on spatialized domain models of art and economics (which conceive of them as occupying, in reality or potential, different regions), but also this persistently demanded separation of art and economics rests in turn on a false distinction between politics and economics. Rethinking the specificity of art and literature without thinking of it as a separate sphere, or as necessarily resistant to capital, is a research project for the coming decades.

Article

Vietnamese Canadian Refugee Aesthetics  

Vinh Nguyen

Vietnamese Canadian refugee aesthetics are the diverse expressions of how hundreds of thousands of refugees and their descendants experienced the Vietnam War and its aftermath. They are shaped on the one hand by a history of war in, and forced migration from, Vietnam and on the other by resettlement in multicultural Canada. Significantly, Vietnamese Canadian refugee aesthetics are produced within a distinct context of Canadian “forgetting of complicity” in the Vietnam War. A major shaping force of this aesthetics is the idea that Canada was an innocent bystander or facilitator of peace during the war years, instead of a complicit participant providing arms and supporting a Western bloc victory. This allows, then, for a discourse of Canadian humanitarianism to emerge as Canada resettled refugees in the war’s wake. Vietnamese Canadian refugee aesthetics are produced and received in relation to the enduring narrative of Canadian benevolence. In this way, they celebrate the nation-state and its peoples through gratitude for the gift of refuge. More importantly, however, they illuminate life during and in the wake of war; the personal, political, and historical reasons for migration; the struggles and triumphs of resettlement; and the complexities of diasporic existence. Refugee aesthetics are driven by memory and the desire to commemorate, communicate, and make sense of difficult pasts and the embodied present. They often take the form of literary works such as memoirs, novels, and poetry, but they are also found in community politics and activism, such as commemoration events and protests, and other popular media like public service videos. Produced by refugees as well as the state, these aesthetic “texts” index themes and problematics such as the formation of voice; the interplay between memory, history, and identity; the role of autobiography; and the modes of representing war, violence, and refuge-seeking.

Article

The View from Another Shore: An Island-Specific Approach to Literary Criticism  

Seri Luangphinith

Scholarship surrounding literature from Hawai‘i has often been beset by battles over representation. In particular, controversies over how outsiders depict Hawaiian life and culture have been raised with texts such as James Michener’s 1959 bestseller Hawaii, and arguments about local and settler literary authority emerged as part of academic literary criticism back in the 1990s. Current scholarship on literature from Hawai‘i emphasizes ethnic and racial conflict, and in so doing tends to obscure other kinds of significant differences—between urban and rural, academic and non-academic, large- and small-scale production—that exist in literary practices in Hawai‘i. In contrast, there is a plentiful, heterogenous, and multifaceted body of writing that has been and continues to be produced on the Island of Hawai‘i (the Big Island). These literary practices include publishing houses that promote literature in multiple languages including English and Native Hawaiian, groups that actively seek to preserve Big Island culture and history (such as the memory of plantation life), and collaborative community and student efforts. Newer forms of expression such as bilingual manga, documentary film, musical theater, and Native Hawaiian and English rap music have added to long-standing traditions of storytelling, theater and performance, and life writing. Detailing these many voices and different kinds of writing and working directly with writers allows for a much more nuanced understanding of what “literature from Hawai‘i” encompasses and how it should be read. This interpretive model reconnects a large present-day and historical body of work to a specific place (as opposed to a vague notion of the islands) and to the Big Island communities who serve as the primary audiences and critical readers of this work.

Article

Vindicating Dominican latinidad through Pedro Henríquez Ureña’s First New York Stay  

Sharina Maillo-Pozo

Pedro Henríquez Ureña is arguably the most influential Dominican thinker of the 20th century and one of the most esteemed Latin American and Caribbean intellectuals. He spent almost ten years in the United States where he engaged in literary and intellectual activities and has been deemed by many critics as one of the precursors of the Caribbean intellectual diaspora. Yet, since his legacy predates the consolidation of Latina/o studies in the late 1960s, his vast body of work has been regarded as valuable contribution exclusive to the Latin American and Caribbean intellectual archive rather than as testimony of the long-standing presence of Latina/o writings in the United States. The seminal works of scholars such as Alfredo Roggiano, Silvio Torres-Saillant, Victoria Nuñez, and Danny Méndez have shifted the dialogues on Pedro Henríquez Ureña’s trajectory considering his life in the United States and his experience in the New York metropolis. Situating him in a “Latino continuum,” to borrow Carmen Lamas’s term, within United States latinidad, engages with early 21st century scholarship on Latina/o studies that challenge the limitations of nationalist US literary and intellectual history and regionalist Latin American studies. The case of Pedro Henríquez Ureña sheds light on the important contributions of Spanish-speaking Caribbean-Latina/o writings in the early 20th century and highlights the intellectual activity of Dominicans, an ethnic group within the Latina/o umbrella that has remained obliterated in general discussions on latinidad. Thus, Pedro Henríquez Ureña’s trajectory in the United States, and most specifically New York, underscores the cultural dynamism of Latinas/os in early-20th-century New York with a special focus on pre-diasporic Dominican latinidad.

Article

Virtual Identities  

Zara Dinnen

Virtual identities stand in for a user or player in a virtual environment; they are social media profiles; digital subjects—of human and nonhuman agency. Virtual identities are often imagined as something distinct from the “self” of the user of digital media but technically and existentially they determine the ways a user navigates life online. Virtual identities, then, might also be a category that captures the ways identity itself is virtual; a force of existence that determines how subjects can orient themselves in the world. The questions of what virtual identities are, how they operate, and the kinds of material expression of personhood they afford and signify has been taken up in scholarship across the last thirty years from a variety of disciplines including computer sciences, critical race studies, game studies, gender and sexuality studies, literary studies, new media studies, social sciences, science and technology studies, and visual culture studies. As an imminent figure in early 21st-century life, virtual identities might describe subjects who exist in global digital media networks but who do not necessarily profit from their participation and labor, or who are not always visible. Despite the virtuality of virtual identities, their partial and fragmentary status, they exist as a technology by which to fix identity to an embodied subject—via facial recognition, or biometric scanning, or the coaxing and collection of personal data. The study of virtual identities remains an ongoing and significant task.

Article

Figures of/for Voice  

David Nowell Smith

The concept of “voice” has long been highly ambiguous, with the physiological-phonetic process of sound production entangled in a far more extensive cultural and metaphysical imaginary of voice. Neither purely sound nor purely signification, voice can name either a sonorous excess over signification or the point at which sounds start to signify. Neither purely of the body nor ever extricated from its body, it can figure multiple kinds of meaningful embodiment, the breakdown of meaning in brute materiality, or even a strangely disembodied emanation. Voice can be both intentional and involuntary, both singular and plural, both presence and absence, both the possession of a subject and something that possesses subjects or is uncontainable by the subject. Voices may signify immediacy and be experienced as immediate, and yet they are continually mediated—by text, by technology, by art. In literature, the status of voice is particularly fraught. Not only do literary works deploy this imaginary of voice, but voice is crucial to literature’s medium. If this is most evident in the case of works composed or transmitted orally, it also holds for written works that, while destined for silent reading, nevertheless construct a virtual soundworld destined for its reader’s inner ear, to be subvocalized rather than read aloud. Literary works have been crucial in the development and deployment of the cultural-metaphysical imaginary of voice, precisely because “voice” poses such a diverse set of questions and problems for literature. These problems change focus and force with the development of technologies of inscription and prosthesis, from printing to sound recording to automated speech.

Article

Walter Benjamin and Jewish Radical Culture  

Michael Löwy

Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) was situated among a constellation of early-20th-century radical Jewish thinkers delving into questions of German culture and philosophy in Mitteleuropa. Within this Jewish Central European radical culture, a complex network of links, of “elective affinities,” as Johann Wolfgang Goethe called them, brought together romanticism, Jewish messianism, anti-bourgeois cultural rebellion, and revolutionary (socialist and anarchist) utopias. This messianism is not the one of Jewish orthodoxy but a new, highly political version, seen through the lens of German romanticism. Benjamin should thus be viewed as a religious atheist with anarchist leanings, who only discovers Marxism in the mid-1920s, following the lectures of Georg Lukacs’s that were published as History and Class Consciousness in 1923. He became the first Marxist to break radically with the ideology of progress. Benjamin’s thinking has a distinct critical quality that sets his apart from the dominant and official forms of historical materialism and gives him a formidable political and intellectual superiority as a Marxist critic. This philosophical peculiarity comes from his ability to incorporate into the body of Marxist revolutionary theory insights from Jewish messianism and from the German Romantic critique of modern civilization.

Article

World  

Jen Hui Bon Hoa

In recent decades, world has emerged as one of the most fiercely contested concepts in literary studies. The more narrowly defined stakes of the debates over world literature concern the disciplinary mandate of comparative literature. One way of grasping the world as a problematic is in terms of a dispute over the correct unit of literary analysis. Should comparative literature scholars seek to illuminate broad historical patterns in the global circulation of influence as reflected, for example, in the morphology of literary genres or the adoption of tropes across different literary cultures? Or should they seek instead to come to grips with the singularity of the world—the unique systems of thought and meaning—presented in individual texts, using the methodology of close reading that offers a model for the ethical relation to otherness? The issue of scale is equally at play in the multiculturalist imperative to expand the literary canon beyond its traditional emphasis on European and Anglo-American traditions. While the general consensus is that undoing comparative literature’s Eurocentrism is crucial to the discipline’s continued relevance, the practical question of how to go about it has been contentious. If scholars are required to draw from a diversified literary canon, how can they attain the linguistic competence required to treat the enlarged field of inquiry with adequate hermeneutic care? The danger, according to some critics, is that world literature will normalize the study of literary texts in English translation. Another critique of such globalizing initiatives regards the value of diversity itself. Some have argued that conceiving of literary works as representatives of specific cultures or regions is itself a legacy of Orientalist Eurocentrism and that, therefore, a multiculturalist approach inadvertently entrenches the very problem it seeks to rectify. A range of political and ethical concerns are thus at stake in the endeavor to globalize comparative literature. Indeed, the concept of world literature has historically been bound up with an assessment of globalization’s liberatory potential and, increasingly, its oppressive effects. The emergence of world literature as a project or goal is often, though not always, traced back to Goethe at the beginning of the 19th century. Reflecting the Enlightenment value of universalism, Goethe’s evocation of Weltliteratur projects a world united through free literary exchange across borders and intercultural understanding. In The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels situate Goethe’s cosmopolitan vision in a materialist framework, presenting it as derivative of the economic transformations entailed in the world market. They also radicalize Goethe’s model of cosmopolitanism. Instead of an autonomous sphere of communication among the national literary traditions of the world, for them Weltliteratur stands metonymically for a future in which both the nation and private property—as manifested in the idea of national patrimony—are superseded by an internationalist commonwealth. Fleshing out the tension between Goethe’s and Marx’s visions of the globalized world, recent debates on world literature have generated productive confrontations between liberal humanistic, Marxist, deconstructive, and postcolonial perspectives on the gap between the world one inhabits and the world one wants.