Victorianism refers to contemporary texts that cede time and space to Victorian ideologies, modes, plots, and problems. In its broadest and most contemporary definition, Victorianism describes any literary, filmic, or cultural text that signals contemporary investment in Victorian literature and culture. Such works can be loosely grouped into three categories: original plots set in the 19th century; retellings of canonical 19th-century texts; and “hybrid” texts—those that oscillate between contemporary and Victorian time frames, for instance, or those that create a new story peopled with characters from Victorian media and/or history, including narrativized stories of authors’ lives. There are persistent modes and themes across these forms, including the networking of science and technology with the human; the detective or mystery story; and the connection between the contemporary Victorian and the gothic mode. While in the 20th century the primary archive was largely white and male, the 21st century has seen the advent of a more intersectional archive and authorship. The topic is often consolidated under the term “neo-Victorian” but is also sometimes referred to as “Victoriana,” “strategic presentism,” and other designations. Specifically under the rubric of “neo-Victorian” the study is sometimes associated with postmodernism itself. Other critical interpretations hold that its organizing principle is neoliberalism and its social corollary, liberal individualism. Yet others connect the subject with cultural studies and its corollaries gender studies, queer studies, and—much more recently—postcolonial or imperial studies. Underlying all of these critical interventions is the notion that the primary affective/aesthetic register of neo-Victorian media is nostalgia and/or belatedness. Nevertheless, critical trends of the 2010s and onward theorize not the continuity but the simultaneity of the 19th and 21st centuries. This suggests exciting implications and directions in contemporary Victorianism, including responses to empire, examinations of global crises, and an expansion of the canon to include media not usually included in considerations of Victorianism.
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Molly Clark Hillard
What allegory is and how it functions varies hugely throughout its history in the European tradition. One version of allegory sees it as a rhetorical strategy by which a speaker or writer can say one thing but mean another, by means of an extended figuration. A different, theological understanding of it is that allegory consists of events, described in the Bible, which themselves represent other events or spiritual realities, so that the world in a certain sense signifies. Both understandings draw inspiration from Platonist or Neoplatonist philosophical traditions and textual practices. Whatever the justification for such an understanding of hermeneutics, taking a text to have a concealed meaning poses problems. Can such meaning be identified? Who is responsible for that meaning? Consideration of allegory necessitates consideration of texts’ readers, who are variously understood to gain pleasure and understanding through the experience of interpretation or to be faced with a cognitive conundrum according to which the meaning that allegory promises is impossible to find or even to articulate. The work of interpretation is also foregrounded in the commitment in classical, medieval, and modern approaches to allegoresis, the identification of concealed meanings in earlier texts. Such readings find, for example, philosophical truths concealed in the fables of Greek and Roman mythography. While allegorical approaches dominate European 12th-century Scholastic philosophy and literature, as the Middle Ages progress, an Aristotelian literalism overshadows a more Platonist commitment to figuration. Allegory continues in playful narrative poetry, written in the vernacular, in which allegory’s paradoxes and ironies can be enjoyed and indulged, all the while holding out the promise of hidden meanings to committed interpreters. Rejected as stilted and backward by Romantic thinkers, allegory nonetheless persists, both as reclaimed by 20th-century theorists from Walter Benjamin to Northrop Frye and more generally as a way of understanding aesthetic productions whose meaning is not immediately available. Thinking allegorically and thinking about allegory have been at the heart of literary theory and practice in the Western tradition for over two millennia, so that to think about allegory is necessarily to think about what literature means.
Surrealism, whose doctrine was originally conceived as an uncanny hybrid of Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, and Arthur Rimbaud, was not easily transplanted from its Parisian hothouse to the wide-open spaces of the United States. Surrealism’s materialist dream-logic caught on mainly among the poets and painters of New York City during World War II when war refugees André Breton and his cohort spread their influence there. After the war and the return of the French surrealists to Europe, American surrealism withered until the cultural revolution of the 1960s when it underwent a new and even more vigorous flowering, often blending with left-wing political activism. With the end of postwar economic expansion, paralleled by a more conservative turn in American culture, surrealism as a self-conscious literary movement once again receded to the margins. At the same time, the surrealist image has become broadly disseminated in contemporary American poetry as a readily available and legible trope, used whenever a moment of sublime estrangement is needed in a poem. Surrealism persists in this way as an individualized stylistic flourish, maintaining a dilute yet ubiquitous presence in American literary culture. Yet even as surrealism appears to have been assimilated into and domesticated by the larger culture, a number of more or less marginalized American poets have remained committed to the original vision of surrealism as a revolutionary worldview, as a word- and world-transforming practice. The second wave of surrealist writing in the Untied States broke and bifurcated during the 1950s and 1960s into various channels represented by the New York School, Deep Image, and the orthodox Chicago Surrealist Group. In the first quarter of the 21st century, few American poets claim a purely surrealist identity. Nonetheless, an occulted surrealist practice runs through the dominant trend in contemporary American avant-garde poetry, namely, the synthesis of Language writing and the New York School. American culture in the 21st century, characterized by a more or less complete commodification of the life-world, where desire—another key term in surrealism—has been sublated into consumerism, brings a new set of challenges to the surrealist imperative to achieve utopia by way of profane illumination.
Celebrity is the public performance, reception, and discursive interpretation of highly visible individual identities. The field of celebrity studies, which emerged from the study of cinema, has sought to theorize the celebrity phenomenon across numerous cultural sites and products, and for this reason theorists often distinguish the term “celebrity” from the more cinematically specific terms “star” and “stardom.” Theoretical accounts of celebrity have focused on the interactions of fantasy and the everyday, the negotiations of ordinariness and special status within the celebrity persona, the role of psychological drives or needs, the performance of an authenticity effect, and celebrity’s alignment with individualism in the context of commodity capitalism and neoliberal regimes of affect. Questions of celebrity agency and power have attracted special attention, as applied to specific issues of celebrity activism, as well as being more broadly considered in accounts of relations of power such as gender, race, and sexuality. In the 21st century, those analyses of gender, sexuality, and race in the production and consumption of celebrity, as well as theories of celebrity formations and practices in digital culture, have moved to the forefront of the field’s concerns.
Feminist theory in the 21st century is an enormously diverse field. Mapping its genealogy of multiple intersecting traditions offers a toolkit for 21st-century feminist literary criticism, indeed for literary criticism tout court. Feminist phenomenologists (Simone de Beauvoir, Iris Marion Young, Toril Moi, Miranda Fricker, Pamela Sue Anderson, Sara Ahmed, Alia Al-Saji) have contributed concepts and analyses of situation, lived experience, embodiment, and orientation. African American feminists (Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Hortense J. Spillers, Saidiya V. Hartman) have theorized race, intersectionality, and heterogeneity, particularly differences among women and among black women. Postcolonial feminists (Assia Djebar, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Florence Stratton, Saba Mahmood, Jasbir K. Puar) have focused on the subaltern, specificity, and agency. Queer and transgender feminists (Judith Butler, Jack Halberstam, Susan Stryker) have theorized performativity, resignification, continuous transition, and self-identification. Questions of representation have been central to all traditions of feminist theory.
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.
English is the main language of writing among Indigenous writers of Oceania for a number of reasons. The various textual appropriations and ways in which language of writing and language of the culture have been infused together to produce texts do reveal a dialogic process at work. It is impossible to avoid the linguistic features of written texts as they are constructed in Oceania. Writers in Oceania are free to choose the language of their texts without any interference. In this way, they make readers aware of the cultural truth that these writers are representing in their writings. Metonymy as a poetic device and cultural truth as a thematic in Indigenous writings capture the interests of many of the older and younger generations of Pacific writers. Metonymy is a figure of speech used in rhetoric in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept. Some of the best poetry published across Oceania by generations of Pacific writers reveals extensive use of metonymy as a device to convey cultural truth. Poetry is written from the intimate knowledge of poets, embedded in the society in which they find inspiration. Bill Ashcroft and coauthors state: “the tropes of the post-colonial text may be fruitfully read as metonymy, language variance itself in such a text is far more profoundly metonym” because nuances in language can represent a whole cultural text. Syntactic fusion is one among different strategies of appropriation in postcolonial writing such as glossing, untranslated words, interlanguage, code-switching, and vernacular transcription.
In a country where literacy rates are among the highest in the region, books are cultural objects cherished by vast sectors of the Argentine population as well as powerful symbolic, cultural, economic, and political artefacts. In particular, books on politics are an indispensable segment in the catalog of any Argentine publishing house. The vertiginous nature of politics and the historical significance of the book in Argentine society are such that the publishing sector has been—and still remains—one of the preferred spaces where symbolic and political power is disputed. Throughout the 20th century and the first two decades of the 21st century, the publishing market responded to different historical circumstances by producing headlines that sought to engage readers in different ways, helping them make life choices and understand the significance of their own time, as well as forming or reinforcing their opinions. Manufactured from the Left to the Right, books on politics expressed and shaped wills and aspirations, serving as combat weapons and means for the creation of spaces where ideas and political sentiments flourish. There are historical ties between the Argentinean publishing and political spheres, and the publishing process works as a fundamental form of mediation concerning the production and distribution of political ideas. Against the image of the book as an exclusive bridge connecting the authors with the reading public, a sociological and material viewpoint might focus on the publishing world and its protagonists: the ghost editors and agents who play an indispensable and decisive role in the processes whereby a book becomes an entitled cultural, economic, and political intervention—a great factory of ideas, discourses, and products with material and symbolic ramifications that influence public debates and agendas.
Though the two fields have rarely been put in conversation, African philosophy and African fiction share a set of foundational concerns. These include the relation of the individual to the community; the significance of culture to unseating exclusively Western universalisms; and the tension between “lived” and a priori claims to truth against a background of political and epistemological decolonization. In addition to this substantive thematic core, both fields have also been shaped by an acute and even anguished degree of self-definitional questioning. What is “African” about African philosophy, or about the African novel? And inversely, what is fundamental to philosophy or the novel as such? Orality has served in both fields as a means of gauging the relative knowledge value afforded experience, on the one hand, and ideas’ formal contestation, on the other. While strong advocates of orality as a distinguishing feature of African intellectual production have extolled its collective dimensions, critics have been wary of its potential for cultural reductiveness and essentialism. Textuality, some argue, is an epistemological orientation that exceeds the literal practice of writing, and need not be viewed as a historical development at odds with African knowledge traditions. A number of influential African philosophers have homed in on the related problem of individualism in an effort to differentiate philosophical from social-scientific claims. This makes African philosophy an ideal interlocutor for African novel studies, which has sought in its own right to reconcile the form’s historical premium on the individual with African social contexts. While countless African novels from the mid-20th century to the early 21st century represent the challenge of negotiating between collective and individual as well as oral and textual elements, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s masterwork Kintu is an exemplary study in how the subgenre of the “philosophical novel” can narrativize the interaction of different African knowledge paradigms. In its staging of an oral, embodied system of knowledge alongside a textualized, meta-epistemological one, it invites the reader’s mutual evaluation of each vis-à-vis the other.
Ecocriticism describes and confronts the socially uneven encounters and entanglements of earthly living. As a political mode of literary and cultural analysis, it aims to understand and intervene in the destruction and diminishment of living worlds. A core premise is that environmental crises have social, cultural, affective, imaginative, and material dimensions. Although ranging in its critical engagements across historical periods, cultural texts, and cultural formations, ecocriticism focuses on the aesthetic modes, social meanings, contexts, genealogies, and counterpoints of cultural practices that contribute to ecological ruination and resilience. These include myths about frontiers, progress, and human mastery over animality and nature; capitalist modes of valuing, devaluing, and radically transforming lifeworlds; and biopolitical and racialized inequalities in health, risk, development, and disposability. Ecocriticism also involves broad theoretical engagement with discursive formations and semiotic significations, including the interrogation of crisis frameworks and apocalyptic representations, considering their histories, scales, and temporalities, while also asking how any particular socioecological arrangement comes to count as a matter of concern, for whom, and in which contexts. The concept of nature is a long-standing theoretical topic in ecocriticism. While nature may seem, rather straightforwardly, to be the domain environmentalism seeks to protect, it is a concept on which hinge crucial and contested claims about ontology (the nature of something, such as assertions about human nature as an inherent, often determining set of shared qualities) and epistemology (how we know what is real, such as the scientific practices through which credible assertions can be made that the planetary climate is changing), claims whose modern authority has rested on positioning nature as a domain outside culture. While structuralist and poststructuralist theorists have destabilized the binary opposition of nature to culture, the political and epistemological imperative to engage with nature as simultaneously material and semiotic has spawned an array of theoretical developments, from Donna Haraway’s cyborg figure and other “natureculture” assemblages to new materialisms. Meanwhile, nature circulates as a commodity form and spectacle animating digital, film, and television screens as well as many other consumer products and experiences. Cultural studies approaches to ecocriticism raise questions about the relationships of visual, narrative, and sound representations to economic power, media technologies, and the material and social ecologies through which they are produced and which they form and transform.