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Orality  

John D. Niles

The human capacity for oral communication is superbly well developed. While other animals produce meaningful sounds, most linguists agree that only human beings are possessed of true language, with its complex grammar. Moreover, only humans have the ability to tell stories, with their contrary-to-fact capabilities. This fact has momentous implications for the complexity of the oral communications that humans can produce, not just in conversation but also in a wide array of artistic genres. It is likewise true that only human beings enjoy the benefits of literacy; that is, only humans have developed technologies that enable the sounds of speech to be made visible and construed through one or another type of graphemic representation. Although orality is as innate to the human condition as is breathing or walking, competence in literacy requires training, and it has traditionally been the accomplishment of an educated elite. Correspondingly, the transmutation of oral art forms into writing—that is, the production of what can be called “oral literature”—is a relatively rare and special phenomenon compared with the ease with which people cultivate those art forms themselves. All the same, a large amount of the world’s recorded literature appears to be closely related to oral art forms, deriving directly from them in some instances. Literature of this kind is an oral/literary hybrid. It can fittingly be called “literature of the third domain,” for while it differs in character from literature produced in writing by well-educated people, the fact that it exists in writing distinguishes it from oral communication, even though it may closely resemble oral art forms in its stylized patterning. Understanding the nature of that hybridity requires an engagement not just with the dynamics of oral tradition but also with the processes by which written records of oral art forms are produced. In former days, this was through the cooperative efforts of speakers, scribes, and editors. Since the early 20th century, innovative technologies have opened up new possibilities of representation, not just through print but also through video and audio recordings that preserve a facsimile of the voice. Nevertheless, problems relating to the representation of oral art forms via other media are endemic to the category of oral literature and practically define it as such.

Article

Alison Shonkwiler

Realism is a historical phenomenon that is not of the past. Its recurrent rises and falls only attest to its persistence as a measure of representational authority. Even as literary history has produced different moments of “realism wars,” over the politics of realist versus antirealist aesthetics, the demand to represent an often strange and changing reality—however contested a term that may be—guarantees realism’s ongoing critical future. Undoubtedly, realism has held a privileged position in the history of Western literary representation. Its fortunes are closely linked to the development of capitalist modernity, the rise of the novel, the emergence of the bourgeoisie, and the expansion of middle-class readerships with the literacy and leisure to read—and with an interest in reading about themselves as subjects. While many genealogies of realism are closely tied to the history of the rise of the novel—with Don Quixote as a point of departure—it is from its later, 19th-century forms that critical assumptions have emerged about its capacities and limitations. The 19th-century novel—whether its European or slightly later American version—is taken as the apex of the form and is tied to the rise of industrial capitalism, burgeoning ideas of social class, and expansion of empire. Although many of the realist writers of the 19th century were self-reflexive about the form, and often articulated theories of realism as distinct from romance and sentimental fiction, it was not until the mid-20th century, following the canonization of modernism in English departments, that a full-fledged critical analysis of realism as a form or mode would take shape. Our fullest articulations of realism therefore owe a great deal to its negative comparison to later forms—or, conversely, to the effort to resuscitate realism’s reputation against perceived critical oversimplifications. In consequence, there is no single definition of realism—nor even agreement on whether it is a mode, form, or genre—but an extraordinarily heterogenous set of ways of approaching it as a problem of representation. Standard early genealogies of realism are to be found in historical accounts such as Ian Watt’s The Rise of the Novel and György Lukács’ Theory of the Novel and The Historical Novel, with a guide to important critiques and modifications to be found in Michael McKeon’s Theory of the Novel. This article does not retrace those critical histories. Nor does it presume to address the full range of realisms in the modern arts, including painting, photography, film, and video and digital arts. It focuses on the changing status of realism in the literary landscape, uses the fault lines of contemporary critical debates about realism to refer back to some of the recurrent terms of realism/antirealism debates, and concludes with a consideration of the “return” to realism in the 21st century.

Article

Artists of Asian descent made substantial contributions to the artistic culture of the United States, incorporating practices that were different from the European-based traditions—like painting with water-soluble pigments rather than oil paint, choosing Asian subjects, and signing their works in the Asian fashion. Coming across the Pacific Ocean, some immigrants settled in Hawaii where Isami Doi, born of Japanese parents, became an influential artist. Doi typifies characteristics that are found in many Asian American artists in that he excelled at several media: printmaking, painting, and jewelry design. And he traveled extensively, spending time in Paris and over a decade in New York. The West Coast of the United States became a center for people coming across the Pacific, and major cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles developed Asian communities with active artistic cultures. Chinese immigrants were drawn to the San Francisco area because of the economic boom around the gold rush and the building of the railroads, but they also inspired prejudice, and harsh immigration laws were enacted in 1888. This halted immigration from China and bolstered it from Japan, until another law in 1924 restricted that as well. Yun Gee, of Chinese descent, in San Francisco made aggressively modern, brightly colored, and geometrically abstracted portraits before moving to Paris and then New York where his style became more expressionistic. The Asian communities in Seattle and Los Angeles included artists who worked in photography as well as painting, and some moved further east across the United States to pursue their careers in the Midwest or, more commonly, New York, the artistic center of the country. In the 1920s and 1930s, Yasuo Kuniyoshi became well known in the New York art world for his sensitively handled, sometimes humorous, sometimes erotic paintings and prints. Nevertheless, he and his peers who were born in Asia were forbidden by law from becoming citizens, something he desired, as his entire artistic career was in the United States. The sculptor Isamu Noguchi came to prominence after being nurtured by some of the Japanese American artists in Kuniyoshi’s circle, particularly Itaro Ishigaki. Noguchi is best known for the organically shaped carved stone sculptures he made after World War II, but he was also famous as a designer of modernist furniture and lamps using Japanese materials. Both he and Kuniyoshi suffered after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, while on the West Coast Japanese Americans were herded into detention camps, often losing their jobs and their homes in the process. Chiura Obata, for example, was removed from his prestigious teaching position at the University of California at Berkeley and put in a camp where he taught art. There he switched from making luminous landscapes of Yosemite to painting camp scenes of confinement and regimentation—once he was allowed to paint at all. The postwar years were a period of recovery, and new generations of Asian American artists emerged, exploring abstract styles and creating new incarnations of the multicultural art that was pioneered in the works of their Asian American predecessors.

Article

Print culture refers to the production, distribution, and reception of printed material. It includes the concepts of authorship, readership, and impact and entails the intersection of technological, political, religious, legal, social, educational, and economic practices, all of which can vary from one cultural context to another. Prior to their arrival in the Americas, Spain and Portugal had their own print culture and, following the conquest, they introduced it into their colonies, first through the importation of books from Europe and later following the establishment of the printing press in Mexico in 1539. Throughout the colonial period, the importation of books from abroad was a constant and lucrative practice. However, print culture was not uniform. As in Europe, print culture in Latin America was largely an urban phenomenon, with restricted readership due to high rates of illiteracy, which stemmed from factors of class, gender, race, and income, among others. Furthermore, the press itself spread slowly and unevenly, according to the circumstances of each region. One thing, however, that these territories had in common was widespread censorship. Reading, writing, and printing were subject to oversight by the Inquisition, whose responsibility was to police the reading habits of the populace and to ensure that no texts were printed that could disrupt the political and religious well-being of the colonies, as they defined it. In spite of Inquisitorial restrictions, print culture flourished and the number and kind of materials available increased dramatically until the early 19th century, when most of the territories under the Iberian monarchies became independent, a phenomenon due in part to the circulation of Enlightenment thought in the region. Following the era of revolutions, newly established republics attempted to implement freedom of the press. While the Inquisition no longer existed, censorship continued to be practiced to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the circumstances and who was in power. This also applies to Cuba and Puerto Rico. Immediately prior to Latin American independence, the United States became a sovereign nation. Commercial and cultural exchanges, including print materials, between the United States and Latin America increased, and many Latin Americans were traveling to and residing in the United States for extended periods. However, it was also in this period that the United States began a campaign of expansionism that did not cease until 1898 and resulted in the acquisition of half of Mexico’s national territory and of Spain’s remaining American colonies, Cuba and Puerto Rico. In addition to the land itself, the United States also “acquired” the people who had been Spanish and Mexican citizens in California, the Southwest, and Puerto Rico. With this change in sovereignty came a change in language, customs, and demographics, which provoked a cultural crisis among these new Latina/o citizens. To defend themselves against the racial persecution from Anglo-Americans and to reverse the impending annihilation of their culture and language, they turned to the press. The press allowed Latinas/os a degree of cultural autonomy, even as their position was slowly eroded by legal and demographic challenges as the 19th century progressed.

Article

The novels The Squatter and the Don (1885) and Who Would Have Thought It? (1872), written by María Amparo Ruiz de Burton (1832–1895), are the first novels written in English from the pen and perspective of a Mexican American woman. The author, born in Mexican Baja California, came to Northern California after the 1846–1848 Mexican American War, marrying US Army Captain Henry S. Burton. An extraordinarily talented woman, Ruiz de Burton addresses crucial issues of ethnicity, power, gender, class, and race in dialogue with a number of contemporary 19th-century discourses—political, juridical, economic, commercial, and literary—all to voice the bitter resentment of the Californios faced with despoliation and the onslaught of Anglo-American domination in the aftermath of annexation to the United States. Hers is a strong, distinctive—and notably—female voice with a critical Mexican American perspective; her novels have served to shift the benchmarks of US literature and 19th-century literary scholarship, moving it further away from an Anglo-centered, East Coast, and mostly male-centered canon. Her writings have been productive sites against which to reread both canonical and newly emerged texts. By addressing US government policies, and in that regard, racial, ethnic, and class formations, as well as foregrounding gender issues, Ruiz de Burton’s works have problematized and enriched the US literary and cultural landscape. Her rediscovered novels were republished (in 1992 and 1995, respectively) by Sánchez and Pita and have become key elements in better understanding US 19th-century literary history.

Article

Chinese opera in America has several intertwined histories that have developed from the mid-19th century onward to inform performances and representations of Asian Americans on the opera stage. These histories include Chinese opera theater in North America from 1852 to 1940, Chinese opera performance in the ubiquitous Chinese villages at various World Fairs in the United States from 1890 to 1915, the famous US tour of Peking opera singer Mei Lanfang from New York to Chicago and San Francisco in 1930, a constellation of imagined “Chinese” opera and yellowface plays from 1880 to 1930, and the more recent history of contemporary opera created by Asian Americans commissioned by major opera houses. Some of these varied histories are closely intertwined, not all are well understood, and some have been simply forgotten. Since the mid-19th century, Chinese opera theater has become part of US urban history and has left a significant imprint on the collective cultural and historical memory of Chinese America. Outside of Chinese American communities arose well-known instances of imagined “Chinese” opera, yellowface works that employ the “Chinese opera trope” as a source of inspiration, or Western-style theatrical works based on Chinese themes or plotlines. These histories are interrelated, and have also significantly shaped the reception and understanding of contemporary operas created by Asian American composers and writers. While these operatic works of the late 20th and early 21st centuries are significantly different from those of earlier moments in history, their production and interpretation cannot escape this influence.

Article

Asian American literature was born from two mixed race Eurasian sisters, Edith Maude Eaton and Winnifred Eaton, who wrote in the early 20th century under the pen names Sui Sin Far and Onoto Watanna, respectively. Edith spent her career chronicling, in fiction and non-fiction, the lives of Chinese in North America, and recounted her own multiracial experiences in the autobiographical “Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian,” while Winnifred is best known for her popular fiction about the exotica of Japan, novels and stories that include several mixed race protagonists. More than thirty years later, Kathleen Tamagawa penned a mixed race memoir, Holy Prayers in a Horse’s Ear, describing the difficulties of living as a biracial Japanese-white woman trying to assimilate into the white mainstream of US society. The number of mixed race Asian American authors rose in the mid- to late 20th century due to an increase in mixed race marriages and Asian immigration. The turn of the 21st century saw prominent multiracial Asian American authors writing about Asian American lives, mixed race Asian American authors choosing not to write about multiracial Asian American characters, and monoracial Asian American writers who populate their fiction with multiracial Asian American characters. Among these authors, Ruth Ozeki stands out as someone who has consistently focused her attention on multiracial Asian American characters, illustrating the richness of their mixed race experiences even as her fictional storyworlds shine a light on the environmental issues in a globalized world.

Article

New Orleans has long been a city vital to the American imagination, known for its deep colonial and cultural history while, at the same time, evolving into the post-Katrina “city that care forgot.” Shaped by Spanish, French, and British imperialisms and situated at the edge of the American South, the Gulf Coast, and the Caribbean, New Orleans is a geography distinguished by transnational crosscurrents and intense meteorological activity; an economically and politically strategic port town, it is a below-sea-level city continuously vulnerable to environmental disaster. Typically neglected in dominant mappings of the city, however, are the area’s Pacific ties that have also helped to make New Orleans. Ever since the mid-19th century, various Asian and Asian American groups have populated southern Louisiana as immigrants, workers, traders, and refugees. After the Civil War, thousands of Chinese and Filipinos arrived in the region as a supposed replacement for slave labor. In the mid-20th century, the US government dispersed numerous Japanese Americans to the area after internment, while since the late 20th century, New Orleans has been home to one of the densest populations of Vietnam War refugees in the country. These migrations spurred the creation of ethnic enclaves and cultural practices that have directly and tangentially defined New Orleans, providing significant labor pools and offering illustrative narratives of post-disaster rebuilding. Given the region’s rich Pacific history and daily environmental vulnerability, engaging New Orleanian culture compels an Asian Americanist ecocritical approach, or one that engages the relationship among space, matter, culture, and critique, and attends to regional details as well as Pacific contexts. Some of the more prominent portrayals of Asian Louisiana, such as those by Lafcadio Hearn and Robert Olen Butler, have tended to exoticize their subject. By contrast, examining works by Bao Phi, An-My Lê, and Anna Kazumi Stahl reveals alternative ecologies of Louisiana that contribute to a stronger understanding of racial relations in the region, further specifies the Gulf Coast’s transnational dynamics, and foregrounds the value of Asian American studies for ecocriticism (and vice versa). These artists’ portrayals of disaster-oriented landscapes show how attention to overlooked Asian American ecologies reveals the fundamental spatial, economic, and environmental precariousness of our times for marginalized communities.

Article

Simona Zetterberg Gjerlevsen and Henrik Skov Nielsen

Fictionality is a term used in various fields within and beyond literary theory, from speech act theory through the theory of fictional worlds, to theories of “as if.” It is often equated with the genre of the novel. However, as a consequence of the rhetorical theory of fictionality developed from the early 21st century, the concept has gained ground as an autonomous communicative device, independent of its relation to any genre. Theories of fictionality have been developed (1) prior to the establishment of fiction as a genre, with Plato, Aristotle, Philip Sidney, and Pierre Daniel Huet; (2) with the establishment of fiction by Blankenburg and some of the first novelists, such as Daniel Defoe and Horace Walpole; (3) after the establishment of the novel, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Hans Vaihinger, John Searle, Kendall Walton, Dorrit Cohn, Richard Walsh, and others. From the 1990s, the debates on fictionality have centered on questions of whether fictionality is best described in terms of semantic, syntactic, or pragmatic approaches. This includes discussions about possible signposts of fictionality, encouraged by the semantic and syntactic approaches, and about how to define the concept of fictionality, as either a question of text internal features as argued by the semantic and syntactic theorists, or as a question of contextual assumptions, as held by the pragmatists. Regarding fictionality as a rhetorical resource, among many other resources in communication at large, has a number of consequences for the study of fictionality and for literary theory in general. First, it contributes the insight that literature is similar to other acts of communication. Second, overtly invented stories do not have to follow the rules of non-invented communication. Third, a rhetorical approach to fictionality makes visible the ways in which fiction interacts with and affects reality, in concrete, yet complicated ways.

Article

The US–Mexico War produced a wide range of literature in the United States that exposed the provisional and contingent qualities of US nationalism, even while it also asserted the anti-Mexican racism and xenophobia that continues to shape cultural and political discourse in the early 21st century. Much of the popular literature produced in mass-market novelette form, for example, deployed a range of Mexican enemies that ran through a sequence from noble, chivalrous opponents, to fiendish enemies and terrorist bandits. This instability in how writers saw Mexico and Mexicans suggests that the war could paradoxically generate critical self-reflections that countered essentialist notions of manifest destiny. The eventual projection of the bandit figure as the prototypical Mexican villain reinforced Anglo-American national self-definitions of moral, cultural, and racial superiority as a response to the destabilizing energies resulting from the invasion of a neighboring American republic. For Mexican American writers, the war, although a major feature of Mexican American literature, nonetheless became an environment in which to explore conditions of non-national, liminal border identities, which became strikingly relevant as the 20th century turned into the 21st. In Mexico, the agonized response to the nation’s failure to stop the “Yankee” invader led instead to a confrontation with its own lack of a unifying national identity and forced writers and political intellectuals to ask hard questions about Mexico’s destiny.