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Allegory  

Jonathan Morton

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.

Article

Alvarez de Toledo y Dubois, José  

Nicolás Kanellos

José Alvarez de Toledo y Dubois (1779–1858) was either a freedom-fighter turned traitor to the cause of Mexican independence or a spy for the Spanish empire at a time of intense competition among European powers and the early American Republic for dominance over northern New Spain and what would become Texas. In the course of his assimilation or appropriation of liberal discourse and his inciting rebellions, he became a pioneer in the use of the printing press to generate propaganda to recruit troops and financing in advance of military action. His various proclamations and pamphlets exhorted New Spain and other Spanish colonies in America to separate from the motherland and establish republics; a more lasting contribution, however, may have been his being partially responsible for the introduction of the first printing press and publication of the first newspaper in Texas during the early 19th century,

Article

Alvarez, Julia  

Kathrine Varnes

Julia Alvarez, born in New York City on 27 March 1950, lived in the Dominican Republic until 1960, when her family sought political refuge in the United States. The shock of being transplanted from a tropical paradise amidst an extended and well-respected family to Queens, New York, where she and her family—mother, father, and three sisters—were viewed as outsiders, informs much of her writing. Often her work is autobiographical, but even when not, her characters are caught between worlds: cultural, lingual, economic, national, political, and familial. Equally essential to her work is the experience of what it means to be a writer. The author of eleven books, Alvarez has proved herself a talented and flexible writer and has won many prizes and awards, including a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Josephine Miles/PEN award. She was also a finalist for the National Book Award. Alvarez lives in Vermont and the Dominican Republic, where she visits relatives and tends the shade-grown coffee farm she started with her husband, Bill Eichner, a cookbook author and ophthalmologist.

Article

American and Japanese Self-Help Literature  

Shunsuke Ozaki

“Self-help literature” was created in America, and its origin can be traced back to Benjamin Franklin. In 18th-century American society, where Puritan ethics held sway, Franklin was a rare sort of person, one who did not believe that personal ambition was a sin. Through his writings, in the form of Poor Richard’s Almanac (1732–1757) and The Way to Wealth (1757), Franklin demonstrated the know-how needed for worldly success, and he used himself as an example of the effectiveness of this knowledge. According to Franklin’s philosophy of success, anyone can achieve social success, regardless of their social position, if they only have the will to educate themselves. This was the beginning of the American dream of success, and themes appearing here for the first time became the basic themes of many self-help books that appeared later. Franklin’s writings were composed in America during the latter half of the 18th century, a period when independence from England increased opportunities for upward social mobility. Similarly, the first self-help book to appear in Japan was published at the time of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, after the end of the Edo period. At this time, the traditional feudal class system was abandoned, and it became possible to succeed in life using one’s own resourcefulness and efforts. This book Gakumon no Susume (An Encouragement of Learning, 1872–1876) was written by the well-known author and educator Yukichi Fukuzawa (1835–1901). This book holds that to create a modern state it is necessary for its people to first free themselves of apathy and laziness and become independent through practical study. The work was published in seventeen volumes, and 3.4 million copies were sold under this title. Its foundation was the declaration that “All men are created equal.” It is clear that the inspiration for this writing was the American Declaration of Independence. Of all of the Founding Fathers, Franklin’s ideas had the greatest impact on Fukuzawa, and through his self-help book, the Japanese people came into indirect contact with Franklin’s philosophy of success. Additionally, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1771–1790) was widely read throughout the Meiji period. Thus, it is apparent that Franklin’s ideas about self-help had a great impact on Japan around the end of the 19th century. However, British author Samuel Smiles’s book Self-Help (1859) had an even greater influence on Japan as it underwent modernization. This book, which was also popular in America, sold more than a million copies in the forty-year period after it was translated into Japanese in 1871 by the philosopher of the European Enlightenment Masanao Nakamura (1832–1891). Moreover, this book was used as an ethics textbook in elementary schools from 1872 until 1880, so it played a particularly large role in planting the spirit of self-improvement in the Japanese youth of the time. The influence of Confucianism was a large part of the context in which these English and American self-help books were accepted in Japan during and after the Meiji period. Confucianism came to Japan from China at the beginning of the 6th century, and by the Edo period, in the 17th century, the religious aspects of Confucianism had faded. It had become a system of education in ethics that emphasized the five virtues of “compassion to others,” “not being caught up in greed,” “being courteous,” “striving to learn,” and “being sincere.” Learning these virtues became a condition for success in life, particularly for the warrior class. We notice that these five virtues are very similar to Franklin’s thirteen virtues; hence, it is easy to understand that familiarity with Confucianism made it easier for the Japanese to accept American and English self-help books. In other words, western European ideas about self-help were not completely novel values to the Japanese; these ideas were compatible with the Confucian ethical values that the Japanese held. Therefore, they were widely accepted very quickly. Later, after the beginning of the 20th century, Japan would greedily adopt self-help ideas from America. For example, the mind-cure techniques of Christian Science were introduced to Japan during the 1910s. “Reiki,” which is a Japan-specific practice related to mind cure, was developed soon after. Yoga was also introduced to Japan around the same time through the writings of William Walker Atkinson (aka Yogi Ramacharaka). The Japanese religionist Masaharu Taniguchi (1893–1985) created his own religious group, known as Seicho no Ie (The House of Growth), in the 1930s. This group resonated with the religious movement known as New Thought, which gained popularity in the United States at the end of the 19th century, and Seicho no Ie is currently the world’s largest New Thought group, with more than seventy thousand believers in Japan. The 1950s through the 1980s saw the popularity of American self-help books fall in Japan, partly because of World War II. At the beginning of the 1990s, the bubble economy in Japan burst; the “life-long employment system” and the “seniority wage system” that had supported Japan up to that point started to collapse. Thus, hiring fell, and an American-style competitive society was introduced in Japan in the form of models such as the “ability-based wage system.” In a similar fashion, there was a demand for knowledge of how to survive in this new competitive society. This led to a sudden resurgence in the popularity of American self-help books. For this reason, it is currently difficult to find books by major American self-help authors, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Prentice Mulford, Orison Swett Marden, Wallace D. Wattles, Charles F. Haanel, Ralph Waldo Trine, Dorothea Brande, Joseph Murphy, Norman Vincent Peale, Neville Goddard, Earl Nightingale, Spencer Johnson, Robert Kiyosaki, and Tony Robbins that have not been translated into Japanese. In particular, Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) has been very popular in recent years, and there are even primary schools that use this book as class material. Moreover, because comic culture is highly developed in Japan, there are many American self-help books that have been made into comic books. Of course, Stephen Covey’s book has been made into a comic book, but there are several other authors whose books have a comic-book version in addition to the translation. Such works include Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People (1936), Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich (1937), and works by the psychologist Alfred Adler and the management consultant Peter Ferdinand Drucker. These works are widely known as self-help books. Self-help literature has taken hold as a literary genre that has maintained a firmly rooted popularity in Japan, much like it has in America. It is frequently read by middle-class, white-collar, middle-aged men. However, there has been a backlash against the incredibly numerous self-help books that have been put on the market: since 2010, in Japan, stronger criticisms of self-help books have begun to be made. According to these criticisms, the harmfulness of these books comes from the fact that all of the failures in a person’s life are attributed to the personal responsibility of the individual. For example, these critics say, these books state that people who belong to lower social classes are stuck in such positions because they have not been positive enough. However, at present, these critical voices are being drowned out by the huge waves of numerous new self-help books being published in rapid succession. There is no reason to doubt that self-help books will continue to thrive in America and Japan, as long as the tradition of the “American dream of success” is alive in America and the virtues of the “desire for self-improvement” and “hard work” are part of the Japanese national character.

Article

American Detective Fiction in the 20th Century  

Mary Hadley

It is hard to imagine a time when Britain and France did not have a police force and detectives whose job it was to solve crimes. But until the growth of criminal investigation in the form of Scotland Yard in London, and the Sûreté in Paris, there was no formal detection. The Sûreté (the French crime bureau) was created in the 1820s, followed in Britain in 1842 by a detective branch that was part of the Metropolitan Police of London. Detectives as part of the police forces in New York and other American cities came later still. Therefore, it is not surprising that the detective novel did not arise until 1841 with The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849). Since the United States lagged behind Europe in its policing, Poe set his three detective stories not in New York but in Paris, a city he admired. He based his detective, C. Auguste Dupin, on Francois-Eugene Vidocq, a criminal turned private detective, whose memoirs were published in 1832

Article

The American Essay  

Jenny Spinner

America’s earliest essayists largely imitated their European counterparts. The writers abroad they most admired—periodical essayists like Joseph Addison and Richard Steele in the 18th century and familiar essayists like Charles Lamb and Leigh Hunt in the 19th century—heavily influenced the essays they penned at home. Yet amid these imitations are glimmers of voices and experiences unique to America. Benjamin Franklin’s clear and direct prose style, combined with his down-to-earth diction, make him one of the best and most readable of the early American periodical essayists. In the first half of the 19th century, American essayists found reception for their work in the country’s many new magazines and quarterlies founded in the wake of the Revolutionary War. Among these writers, Washington Irving is often named as America’s first true essayist. Other influential essayists of this period include humor essayists like Mark Twain, who published social and political lampoons of American life. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller, leaders of the American Transcendentalist movement, were influential thinkers and prolific writers as well. Emerson’s disciple, Henry David Thoreau, is a pioneer of the nature essay, which numerous writers since have used to explore America’s vast and varied landscape. Nineteenth-century America also provided women with increased opportunities to publish essays, and many, like Fanny Fern, achieved substantial commercial successes as newspaper essayists. Gertrude Bustill Mossell, the highest paid African American newspaperwoman at the time, was one of the first African American women to write a newspaper column. Political essayists like Maria W. Miller Stewart, Frederick Douglass, Anna Julia Cooper, and W. E. B. DuBois, wrote on two of the most relevant issues of the day: slavery and women’s rights. Ann Plato became the first African American to publish a collection of essays with her 1820 book. By the turn of the 20th century, the genteel essay—marked by its yearning for a romanticized past and typically European, rather than American, in flavor—dominated the American essay scene. Agnes Repplier and Katharine Fullerton Gerould were prominent writers in the Genteel Tradition, along with Charles S. Brooks, Samuel McChord Crothers, and Donald Grant Mitchell (Ik Marvel). The 1920s and 1930s marked the heyday of the newspaper essay columnist and the decline of the genteel essay. One such columnist, H. L. Mencken, railing against the “booboise,” was one of the most influential voices of his time. The 1925 founding of The New Yorker magazine heralded a new moment for the American essay. The New Yorker provided an important outlet for the nation’s essayists, including E. B. White, whose influence on the personal essayists following in his footsteps ever since is hard to measure. Joan Didion’s work in the field of New Journalism, along with Norman Mailer, opened additional possibilities for the essay writer, adding techniques from both fiction and journalism to the essayist’s craft belt. Over two decades into the 21st century, American essayists continue to crack the form even wider, pushing against genre boundaries as well as using the essay to document the full range of American, and human, experiences.

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American Literature in Japanese Shojo Comics  

Hisayo Ogushi

In the Meiji era, the modernization of Japan was achieved through the process of the westernization of political, military, and educational systems. Accordingly, the Japanese willingly acquired and learned Western thought by translating literary resources for Japanese readers: the works of writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allan Poe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne were frequently translated and introduced at this time. Concurrently, Japanese girls belonging to the urban middle class began to form their own institutionalized culture called shojo, through which they could communicate their interests in literature or art, and/or share aspects of their ordinary school lives. Shojo culture was supported by newly founded magazines targeting schoolgirls with names like Shojo Sekai, Shojo-kai, Shojo-no-tomo, and Jogaku Zasshi. In Japanese shojo, articles on American women and translated literary pieces written by American and European authors, including Frances Hodgson Burnett, were popular. The work of female American writers like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Louisa May Alcott, and Jean Webster was also translated as juvenile literature for Japanese children. Thus, American culture and literature significantly influenced the Japanese shojo culture. Nobuko Yoshiya, a well-known Japanese author of so-called girls’ novels, stated that she followed Western female writers such as Alcott, Burnett, and George Eliot. The Japanese translations of American literature decreased considerably during World War II. After the war, this literary corpus was rediscovered and was widely translated for Japanese audiences under the supervision of the General Headquarters (GHQ) or the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP). In addition to novels for girls, comics for young female readers (shojo manga) also aroused readers’ interest and became immensely popular. Some manga writers depicted Western settings in their narratives and innumerable “American girls” whose exotic and fashionable aura fascinated Japanese girls. These made-in-Japan “American girls” primarily represented the concept of liberty, autonomy, and abundance: qualities desired by Japanese schoolgirls. At the end of the 20th century, however, the representation of America in the genre of shojo manga gradually became more realistic and less enraptured.

Article

American Nature Writing  

John Elder

Nature has, like love, been an essential topic for authors in every language and every literary form. The first thing to acknowledge about the term nature writing is that it conventionally refers to a distinctive category of nonfiction, not to the entire spectrum of literature about the natural world. The present survey is further restricted to American nature writing, though the genre has also developed in many other countries. The American lineage of nature writing has been especially influenced by the work of Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), who combined journal-based descriptions of the New England landscape and knowledgeable appreciation of science with lyrical prose, receptiveness to nature’s human and transcendent meanings, and a highly personal voice. Thoreau’s own orientation to solitude, wildness, and the music of nature has also been complemented, however, and in some cases forcefully challenged, by subsequent writers focusing on urban landscapes; environmental justice; the impact of gender, class, and race on our visions of nature; environmental justice; food and agriculture; and material culture. Many literary scholars also now prefer to consider nature writing under the multi-genre and international rubric of “environmental literature.” Nevertheless, this particular form remains a vital model for integrating imaginative literature with close observation of natural phenomena. Today’s writers continue to find, with Thoreau, that books “with earth adhering to their roots” may blossom in the human spirit, revitalizing individual lives even as they also address the urgent environmental and cultural challenges we now confront.

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American Nature Writing and Japan  

Masami Yuki

Although largely disregarded since the humanistic turn of ecocriticism at the beginning of the 21st century, nature writing has continued to play an important role in nurturing trans-Pacific, and transnational, literary environmentalism. Euro-American traditions dominate this literary genre, but it nevertheless involves cross-cultural traffic of ideas and thoughts. Its trans-Pacific presence, mostly through American influences on works in Japan, demonstrates in three ways how American nature writing has been cultivating Japanese literary soil and has in turn been nurtured by it, albeit less conspicuously. First, Henry David Thoreau’s influence on Japanese literary environmentalism, especially his philosophy of plain living and high thinking, helped engender a tradition of nature writing in Japan that began with Nozawa Hajime—often called the “Japanese Thoreau”—and has been developed by those who followed, including Ashizawa Kazuhiro and Takada Hiroshi. Second, interactions between pastoralism and a new mode of environmental awareness show that the seemingly American notion of “wild awareness” and the Japanese concept of aware have materialized as a new environmental sensitivity in Japan and in the United States, respectively, reflecting cross-cultural nurturing of environmental ideas, thoughts, and practices. Finally, there has been a subtle yet radical impact of American counterculture on Japanese nature writing, exemplified by Nashiki Kaho’s literary hybridity, based on her integration of the traditional with the radical.

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American Nuclear Literature on Hiroshima and Nagasaki  

Shoko Itoh

Literature on Hiroshima and Nagasaki cannot be limited to works on the atomic bomb or fiction referring specifically to these locations. Rather, in the nuclear age, it must include a variety of literary works that are conscious of the destiny of the earth, given the danger of nuclear pollution, and engage with the terrible fantasy of the end of the world. As John W. Treat states in his influential critical work, Writing Ground Zero: Japanese Literature and the Atomic Bomb, “The concept of hibakusha now has to extend to everyone alive today in any region of the planet” (x–xi). The range of nuclear-themed works that symbolically invoke Hiroshima or Nagasaki is enormous. Nuclear literature as a creation of survivors, or spiritual survivors, focuses on an awareness of the planetary catastrophe concerning Los Alamos, Trinity Site, the ground zeroes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and other global nuclear zones. The two nuclear sites in Japan (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) and in the United States (Los Alamos and Trinity Site) are historically connected. The authors and protagonists of nuclear literature have literal and affective transpacific and cross-cultural experiences that when considered together seek to overcome the tragic experience of the first nuclear bomb and bombing, including the Japanese acceptance of American nuclear fictions during the Cold War.

Article

American Renaissance  

David S. Reynolds

The richest period in American literary history, the American Renaissance (1830–1865) produced Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and Emily Dickinson. A distinction is traditionally made between the so-called light or optimistic authors (Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman) and the dark or gloomy ones (Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville), with Emily Dickinson, occupying a middle ground, shifting between the light and the dark. Optimistic themes included nature’s miraculous beauty, spiritual truths behind the physical world, the primacy of the poetic imagination, and the potential divinity of each individual. Pessimistic ones included haunted minds, perverse or criminal impulses, doubt, and ambiguity. Americans probed these themes with special intensity largely because of the nation’s Puritan heritage. Calvinist preachers from John Cotton through Jonathan Edwards had devoted their lives to probing ultimate questions about death, God, and human nature. When this metaphysical impulse collided with 19th-century skepticism and secularism, the result was literature that ranged from the exhilarating to the disquieting, from Emerson’s affirmations to the ambiguities of Hawthorne and Melville. The American authors were strongly influenced by foreign literature, from the ancients to the Romantics. This transnational influence mingled with the styles and idioms of an emerging popular culture that was distinctively American, divided between conventional, sentimental-domestic writings and sensational or grotesquely humorous ones. Integrating themes and images from this variegated popular culture, the major authors also projected in their works the paradoxes of a nation that promoted both individualism and union, that touted freedom but tolerated chattel slavery, that preached equality but witnessed widening class divisions and the oppression of women, blacks, and Native Americans. These oppressed groups produced a literary corpus of their own that was once neglected but that has assumed a significant place in the American canon.

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American Sophistication  

Ross Posnock

Like cosmopolitan, sophistication is a fighting word in American culture, a phrase that discomfits, raises eyebrows. It is not who we are, as President Obama used to say, for it smacks of elitism. Whereas the first word has had a stormy modern history—Stalin, for instance, used cosmopolitan as a code word for Jew—sophistication has always kept bad company, starting with its etymology. Its first six letters saddle it with sophistry, both tarred with the same brush of suspicion. Sophistry was a form of rhetoric that attracted the enmity of Socrates and Plato, with repercussions deep into the 17th century. In 1689, when John Locke said rhetoric trafficked in error and deceit, he was echoing the Greeks who tended to dismiss the art of persuasion and eloquence in general as sophistry, morally debased discourse. In the West, rhetoric, sophistry, and sophistication are arraigned as a shared locus of antinature: empty style, deceptive artifice, effeminate preening. They all testify to the deforming demands of social life, the worldliness disdained by Christian moralists, starting with Augustine, as concupiscence. This is the fall into sin from the prelapsarian transparency of Adam and Eve’s spiritual union of pure intellection with God, the perfection of reason that permits transcendence of the bodily senses. The corporeal senses and imagination dominate when man gives himself over to the world’s noise and confusion and is distracted from self-communion in company with God. Given that sophistication’s keynote is effortless ease, from the point of view of Augustinian Christianity such behavior in a basic sense violates Christian humility after the fall: with man’s loss of repose in God comes permanent uneasiness, inquiétude as Blaise Pascal and Michel de Montaigne put it, a chronic dissatisfaction and ennui that seeks relief in trivial divertissement (distraction), convictions that Montesquieu, Locke, and Tocqueville drew on for their root assumptions about how secular political institutions shape their citizens’ psyches. American Puritanism is in part an “Augustinian strain of piety,” as Perry Miller showed in his classic study, The New England Mind, hence suspicious of any distraction from worship of God. Puritans banned theaters two years after the nation was founded. Keeping vigilant watch over stirrings of New World worldliness, they permanently placed sophistication in the shadow of a double burden: Christian interdiction on top of the pre-Christian opprobrium heaped on sophistic rhetoric. Only by the mid-19th century does sophistication finally shed, though never definitively, sophistry’s fraudulence and deception and acquire positive qualities—worldly wisdom, refinement, subtlety, expertise. The year 1850 is the earliest positive use the Oxford English Dictionary lists, instanced by a sentence from Leigh Hunt’s Autobiography: “A people who . . . preserve in the very midst of their sophistication a frankness distinct from it.”

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American Surrealism  

Andrew Joron

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.

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Ammons, A. R.  

Aaron K. DiFranco

One of the most prolific poets of the late twentieth century, A. R. Ammons generated a poetic style versatile enough to handle hard, controlled lyrics as well as more expansive, contemplative meditations in his long poems. Although most often placed in an American tradition from Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Ralph Waldo Emerson through Wallace Stevens, his innovative voice perhaps best supports his proposition that he had been influenced by “everyone.” In one of his few poetic statements, A Poem Is a Walk, he indicates a debt to Samuel Coleridge's “secondary imagination,” Lao-tzu's Taoist configurations, as well as his own frequent walks, each of which served as a model for encountering the contradictions of the world's shifting details. Often associated with the poet John Ashbery for the way his reflexive verse presents the motions of mind, Ammons's attention to the details of nature encountered on his excursions also invites comparison to poets Robert Frost and Gary Snyder. Restless and circumspect, believing more in process than pattern, Ammons produced more than twenty volumes of poetry over his celebrated career.

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Anderson, Sherwood  

Nancy Bunge

After watching his family struggle financially as a boy, the adult Sherwood Anderson threw himself into making money and, unlike his father, he supported his family well. But he also wrote fiction in order to discover and face the truth. On November 28, 1912, the tension between Anderson’s life and the dispositions he uncovered through his writing became so strong that he walked out of his office and vanished for four days. He had no clear memory of where he had been, but he realized this event signaled that he needed a life that coordinated more successfully with his values. He sold his business and moved to Chicago, where he began writing the short story collection generally considered his masterpiece: Winesburg, Ohio. Anderson subsequently moved through marriages to Tennessee Mitchell and Elizabeth Prall while writing a series of novels about men struggling to establish good relationships with women: Poor White (1920), Many Marriages (1923), and Dark Laughter (1925). In 1925, Anderson retreated with Prall to the Virginia countryside, where he bought two newspapers and wrote whatever the newspapers needed, sometimes in the folksy voice of a character named Buck Fever. After that marriage ended, Anderson met and married Eleanor Copenhaver, a social activist who helped educate Anderson about the lives of working people. These experiences informed his next novel, Beyond Desire, a pessimistic work about relationships that holds out one element of hope: a socially aware woman named Louise whom the narrator suggests would make a great wife if she met a courageous man. And, indeed, Anderson’s marriage to Eleanor lasted the rest of his life. Perhaps because he had resolved his marital issues, in his last novel Anderson moved outside his own experiences; Kit Brandon focuses on a female protagonist who muses about the difficulties of marriage in modern life. Anderson realized that one’s culture inevitably shapes one, and so throughout his career his novels contain asides that worry about industrialism’s negative impact on his contemporaries’ ability to connect with one another. Toward the end of his career, Anderson produced nonfiction books that address his concerns directly. In A Story Teller’s Story (1924) and The Modern Writer (1925), he suggests that authors must resist the forces corrupting society. In Perhaps Women (1931), he argues that in cooperating with the machine, men have become impotent, so all hope of redeeming society rests with women. In No Swank (1934), when he writes of authors he admires, he praises their generosity, not their craft. And, indeed, literary achievement mattered far less to Anderson than did writing the truth in a way that could help his contemporaries imagine ways to redeem their lives.

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Angelou, Maya  

Stefanie K. Dunning

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1928. Because her brother Bailey could not say her whole name as a child, Marguerite became Maya. Angelou's life is synonymous with her work; she has published a series of five autobiographies, her most famous being I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970). In each of these five works, Angelou writes about particular and important parts of her life. Yet not only does each book elucidate periods in Angelou's own life, but these books also paint a picture of the time she is writing about within the black community. Angelou's work demonstrates that the personal is political and that the events that shape and inform an individual life are often related to large political movements and events that affect an entire community.

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Ángel Rama  

José Eduardo González

Ángel Rama (1926–1983) was a prominent Uruguayan literary critic and theorist whose most important and influential work was produced between the mid-1960s and 1983, when he was killed in an airplane accident that took the lives of several writers, artists, and performers. He will forever be associated with the group of Latin American fiction writers known as the Boom movement, whose work Rama promoted. These authors achieved sudden critical and commercial success in the 1960s and became known worldwide for their innovative and often experimental fiction. The group included Nobel Prize winners such as Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa, as well as other well-known fiction authors such as Carlos Fuentes and Julio Cortázar. Rama was influential in advancing a sociological interpretation of Latin American literary history, especially framing contemporary appreciation of regional styles, such as modernismo and the gauchoesque genre (literary works about gaucho lives and adventures), from a political perspective or by studying the forces at work in the local reception of international styles like the avant-garde movement. In American academia, Rama’s work is best known for two theories that he developed about Latin American culture: literary transculturation and the lettered city. Transculturation is an anthropological term that Rama used for describing the process of cultural negotiation between Latin American traditional worldviews and values and the cultural modernization entering that geographical region from the advanced centers of the Anglo-European world. For its part, the theory presented in The Lettered City focuses on the history of the traditionally close relationship since colonial times between intellectuals in Latin American and state power. This is also the aspect of Rama’s work that has had the greatest influence in the scholarly perception and interpretation of Latin American culture in the United States. The Lettered City has become a book taught in a wide variety of historical- and cultural-studies courses with emphasis on Latin America. It has greatly influenced our perception of colonial and 19th-century Latin American lettered culture. It has also been used to study challenges and alternatives to an urban-centered view of civilization.

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Anglo-Saxon Vernacular Literary Culture  

Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe

Literary culture in Anglo-Saxon England flourished in two languages—Anglo-Latin and Old English—although the written record of that flourishing is uneven. The literature in these languages of culture did not develop in isolation from each other: vernacular literary works often show a keen awareness of Latin texts and textual practices. Vernacular literature in Old English was precocious in its early expansion from secular and religious poetry to homiletic and documentary prose, as well as translations of the Bible, saints’ lives (in prose and in verse), histories, and philosophical works. The best known of all Old English works is Beowulf, and close behind are the short lyric poems generally, though misleadingly, known as elegies. Not always clear from even the best Modern English translations is the way that these intense poems share techniques of composition and echoes of shared formulas with other long and short poems. The saint-heroes of Elene, Juliana, and Judith share heroic values and poetic language with Beowulf and The Wanderer. This kind of appropriation—where the language of secular poetry was repurposed for religious subjects—was the miracle Bede saw in Cædmon’s Hymn. Old English literary prose developed in the late 9th century in conjunction with a program of translation from Latin associated with King Alfred. Within a relatively short time, Anglo-Saxon scholars translated into Old English Gregory’s Dialogues, Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, Augustine’s Soliloquies, the first fifty psalms, and, further, Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica and Orosius’s World History. The late 10th and early 11th centuries saw an efflorescence of Old English prose, particularly in the works of Ælfric of Eynsham and Archbishop Wulfstan of York. Spanning the 9th century to the 12th, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports and reflects on the events of its time, in verse and in prose.

Article

Animal  

Christopher Peterson

The diversity of scholarly contributions to the interdisciplinary fields of animal studies and posthumanism defies summation. As loosely assembled areas of inquiry, however, these fields contest the exceptionalist elevation of humans above animals on the basis of the latter’s alleged lack of language and reason, their exclusion from the political, their inability to experience pain or to understand death, and their absence of a moral sense of right and wrong. Posthumanism also stresses that species difference warrants an ethico-political attentiveness that eschews automatically reducing animals to figurative representations of gender, sexual, or racial difference. While theses hierarchies are no doubt sustained in part by exploiting the metaphorics of species difference, the urgency of dismantling the human/animal hierarchy has inclined animal studies and a number of cognate fields toward the literal, resulting in non-allegorical readings of texts by authors such as George Orwell, Henry David Thoreau, and Toni Morrison. This preference for literality is also shared by continental philosophers working in speculative realism and object-oriented ontology (OOO), as well as by literary critics who advance the enterprise of “surface reading,” which eschews the notion that texts contain “hidden meanings.” The nonhuman turn has emerged in conjunction with a preference for literality because posthumanism tends to stress immanence rather than transcendence. This ethos engenders a flattening effect that places humans, animals, plants, and things on same ontological level (OOO); resists interpreting literary animals in human terms (literary animal studies); and rejects the role of the critic as a hermeneutic decipherer of texts (surface reading). The “literal turn” thus poses a number of questions for literary theory. Literal meaning is definitionally uniform, but can univocal sense be maintained? In the 1960s, Jacques Derrida radicalized the Saussurian notion of the arbitrary nature of signs, arguing that the isolation of a literal or proper meaning presumes the arrival of signified that would escape the chain of signification. If proper meaning never fully is itself, however, then one can never determine what is properly literal or figurative. Metaphors are typically defined as figures of resemblance that transport the name of one thing to something else. But this definition remains fatally inadequate because “resemblance” itself is metaphoric. In addition to overlooking the equivocality of the terms “literal,” “metaphorical,” and “allegorical,” the literal turn also risks reducing interpretation to a volitional act: a practice of choosing among different available approaches over which the human governs. To what extent do readers who believe they are performing literal readings disavow textual agency: that is, the conditions that texts establish for their own reading? To apply to texts what are often too loosely called “methodologies” is always to find interpretative approaches foiled by textuality’s uncontrollable effects. Does the literal turn thus reinscribe the humanist subject insofar as it presumes the reader’s power to wrest control over the feral force of language? Does it ironically restore human mastery under the guise of surrendering it?

Article

Animal Studies and the Contemporary Novel  

Elisha Cohn

Animals have prowled literature from its beginnings in the ancient world through medieval bestiaries and out from the margins of the novel in the modern era. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, animals’ literary presence has generated increasing critical interest. Animal studies, a relatively new interdisciplinary field, calls attention to the accelerating exploitation of animals in the period of industrial modernity and questions what it is possible to know about animals’ own experiences. Foundational theoretical approaches to understanding the historical and philosophical condition of thinking about animals—John Berger’s “Why Look at Animals?” (1972), Thomas Nagel’s “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” (1974), and Jacques Derrida’s “The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)” (2002)—propose a fundamental aporia or gap between human and animal experiences, and they caution against the projection of anthropocentric categories onto animal lives. Many novels from this recent period likewise treat animals as charismatic strangers. Yet other contemporary literature sometimes reimagines human-animal relationships to insist on affinity and continuity. In such novels, animals prompt diverse and often experimental stylistic choices that put pressure on the novel’s traditional association with everyday life, the individual self, the boundaries of the nation, and empirical observation more broadly. Still, many recent novels remain essentially committed to a realist tradition. Some of these—most notably by J. M. Coetzee—depict relations of care between humans and often vulnerable or dependent animals that prompt reflection on the meaning of ethical action. In novels that purport to narrate from animals’ own perspective, writers likewise meditate on the ethics of interspecies relations as they use language innovatively in an effort to realistically evoke the sensorium of another species. Pushing the boundaries of realism, other novels reinvent the animal fable, using varying degrees of fantasy to imagine wild or domesticated animals as tropes that reflect upon human embodiment, community, and politics. Whether realist or fabulist, the novels of contemporary postcolonial and world literature particularly explore the power and limits of mapping histories of human belonging and domination onto animal figures, even as they often highlight the limitations of these comparisons. Not all of these approaches are equally invested in creating a literature that could materially impact the lives of animals in an era of diminishing biodiversity. However, uniting this varied and ever-growing array of novels is a question of how literature can represent the lives of intimately entangled bodies in a globalizing world.