A term deriving from the sound of the mechanical printing process able to provide cheap and fast reproductions of literary works, the cliché is at once both a foundation of modern culture and its constant adversary. Denoting a lack of originality, thought, or effort, clichés appear to be the very opposite of literature’s aspirations, and there is no end to the warnings for writers to avoid them at all costs. However, few theorists have spent sustained time detailing the workings of the cliché outside of criticizing their use. Indeed, the cliché seems to resist being thought about too much. At the same time, this resistance to theory can also obscure a range of issues that the cliché raises as a problem for literature. Unpacking these problems suggests that the cliché is not simply an issue of unoriginal thought, but arises from, and is perpetuated by, a number of tensions within the production and circulation of writing itself. These include tensions between artistic worth and literary ownership; between organic creation and technologies of reproduction; between localized communications and universal truth; and concerning the status of the intellectual in relation to the masses and the place of authenticity in late-modern culture.
Close reading describes a set of procedures and methods that distinguishes the scholarly apprehension of textual material from the more prosaic reading practices of everyday life. Its origins and ancestry are rooted in the exegetical traditions of sacred texts (principally from the Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, Zoroastrian, and Islamic traditions) as well as the philological strategies applied to classical works such as the Homeric epics in the Greco-Roman tradition, or the Chinese 詩經 (Shijing) or Classic of Poetry. Cognate traditions of exegesis and commentary formed around Roman law and the canon law of the Christian Church, and they also find expression in the long tradition of Chinese historical commentaries and exegeses on the Five Classics and Four Books. As these practices developed in the West, they were adapted to medieval and early modern literary texts from which the early manifestations of modern secular literary analysis came into being in European and American universities. Close reading comprises the methodologies at the center of literary scholarship as it developed in the modern academy over the past one hundred years or so, and has come to define a central set of practices that dominated scholarly work in English departments until the turn to literary and critical theory in the late 1960s. This article provides an overview of these dominant forms of close reading in the modern Western academy. The focus rests upon close reading practices and their codification in English departments, although reference is made to non-Western reading practices and philological traditions, as well as to significant nonanglophone alternatives to the common understanding of literary close reading.
Michelle P. Brown
The codex occupies an iconic role in Western culture. Usually narrowly applied to the folded book form of the age of print, it owes its origins and development to pre-print manuscript culture. As early as the 1st century ce, the Roman poet Martial was recommending that his readers buy the new codex form. But then, as now, publishers were slow to retool, and the ancient scroll technology continued until the 4th century, when the codex, initially the preserve of the underclasses (notably the early Christians, who valued it for its portability and cross-referencing suitability), achieved popularity as the focus of Christianity, a religion of the book. Wax tablets—the less formal medium of the day—continued in use for drafting of text and image and for informal purposes into the early 20th century. From the 5th century onward the use of decoration and paratextual features such as punctuation served to help navigate and articulate the text and images, illustrated the narrative, or explored the multivalent meaning of text through image. Both men and women, religious and secular, wealthy or poor, figured in the production of medieval books, as authors, makers, and users. Documentary evidence and that detected within the books themselves gives a picture of the ways in which literary works were composed, captured in writing, published, disseminated, and accessed. Each manuscript is unique, but together they provide a portal into a thousand years of thought.
Northrup Frye expressed a scholarly impatience with what seemed to him the inconsequentiality of literary study, asking if criticism might provide “a coordinating principle, a central hypothesis, which, like the theory of evolution in biology, will see the phenomena it deals with as parts of a whole" (1957). Cognitive literary theory did not actually answer to Frye’s scientism until almost fifty years later, and when it did, it moved quickly in many directions. But it did not (and still has not) coalesced into a unified theory. The vigor and excitement of the field derive from its openness to many different areas of brain science, the wide reach of its attention to so many varieties of works of imagination—their production, their reception, and their history— and its resistance to a centralizing dogma. In her introduction to the Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Literary Studies, Lisa Zunshine, scholar in the field and its best historian, describes cognitive literary critics as working “not toward consilience with science but toward a richer engagement with a variety of theoretical paradigms in literary and cultural studies" (2015). Scholars from most traditional humanities fields: philosophers (both analytical and phenomenological and philosophers of mind and of language), cultural, literary, and art historians, literary critics and linguists, for example, and social scientists as well (anthropologists, archaeologists, and ethologists), have found the various fields of brain science to offer new perspectives on some persistent questions. Studies by developmental psychologists have made major contributions. And as brain imaging has become more powerful and widely used, the hypotheses of neurophysiologists and neurobiologists have come into the picture. Evolutionary biology has made perhaps the largest contribution by providing the overriding argument in the field—namely that human potential, individual behavior, and group dynamics can be studied as emerging phenomena. This begins with bodies that have over the millennia grown into worlds in which competition and cooperation have built and continue to build cultural life.
The Cold War and Asian Canadian Writing
Christine Kim and Christopher Lee
Despite the supposed end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, its legacies remain unresolved in Asia and continue to shape Asian Canadian writing. The presence of what are now called Asian Canadians became increasingly visible in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1967, the federal government passed a new Immigration Act that abolished national quotas which had effectively excluded most immigrants from areas outside Euro-America and introduced new opportunities for students and skilled immigrants. In the late 1970s, 60,000 refugees from Southeast Asia entered Canada, the first time that Canada had admitted a significant number of non-European refugees. This period also marked the height of postwar Canadian nationalism: in 1967, Canada celebrated its Centennial and tried to project an image of liberal inclusion; this would be further consolidated in 1971 with the adoption of state-sanctioned multiculturalism. However, this specific Canadian national identity failed to address racial discrimination, including those forms directed towards Asian immigrants from the mid-19th century until past the World War II. While Canada’s Cold War politics are informed by these unresolved historical traumas, the multiple intersections between Asian Canadian experience and the Cold War remain largely illegible when read through the frame of the Canadian nation. Alongside the tradition of Asian Canadian cultural activism, Asian Canadian writers, such as Joy Kogawa, Roy Miki, Paul Yee, SKY Lee, M. G. Vassanji, and others, produced texts that sought to address the erasure of Asian historical presence while exploring and depicting the psychic as well as social costs of racial exclusion and discrimination during the 1970s and 1980s. SKY Lee’s novel Disappearing Moon Café (1991) explores how issues such as Asian–Indigenous relations, gender hierarchies, class relations, racialization, queerness, and the politics of memory are shaped under the subtext of the Cold War. Laotian Canadian writer Souvankham Thammavongsa’s second book of poetry, Found (2007), engages with the history of her parents’ migration from Laos to Canada via a refugee camp in Thailand, and in doing so, Thammavongsa challenges the Cold War representations of Southeast Asian countries. Kim Thuy’s Ru (2009) examines migration in relation to the narrator’s journey from Vietnam to a Malaysian refugee camp and then to a small town in Quebec. Madeleine Thien’s Dogs at the Perimeter (2011) raises questions about post-Cold War justice by drawing attention to Canada’s involvement in the conflicts in Cambodia and implicitly posing the question of Canada’s unacknowledged responsibilities. Thammavongsa, Thuy, and Thien’s texts can be read as post-Cold War literature as the Cold War created the conditions for these literary projects to emerge. Beyond a source of thematic or historical content, the Cold War remains embedded, if ambivalently, in the very construction of Asian Canadian literature.
So strong is the cultural desire for an independent and original theory of comedy that Aristotle is imagined to have penned, aside from his glancing treatments of comedy in the Poetics, a critical assessment of the genre, now lost. The symbolic absence of this presumed Aristotelian treatise speaks volumes for the near unattainability of such a critical endeavor. Comedy is at times conceptualized as a generative “umbrella” genre that subsumes other adjoining modes of literary figuration—satire, parody, romance, irony, joke, word play, farce, and stand-up—all while being routinely subject to cultural and theoretical conflation with humor, laughter, amusement, wit, and other physiological as well as intellectual triggers or responses to the comic. The generic contours of comedy are ever-expanding and helplessly slippery. Comedy embodies divergences and dualities. Its anthropological association with fertility rituals at its generic inception suggests privilege and respectability, but Plato’s prejudice against comedy as fit for slaves and outcasts, together with Aristotle’s identification of comedy with lowliness and ugliness, conditions the perception of the genre as relatively vulgar, inferior, and base when examined alongside its nobler counterpart, tragedy. Comedy’s capacity to channel expressions for behavioral deviation in the Feasts of Fools qualifies the genre as a social subversive, but that comedy is conducive to societal stability as a safety valve for discontentedness and insurgence proves that the genre wields the potential of a social fixative. Comedy is said to be grounded on malice and superiority, but playwrights throughout the ages have used it to advance virtue. It is in and between these seemingly irreconcilable contradictions that theoretical abstractions of this elusive genre may be attempted.
Contemporary Fiction and Modernism
Modernism stands as the signal literary upheaval of the long 20th century, and yet the tenuousness of its appeal to “make it new,” as Ezra Pound commanded, entails the period or periods that follow are likewise uncertain save in their reference to modernism. However, even here there is ambivalence: contemporary authors might be charted regarding their modernist literary forebears, yet many explicitly reject modernist methods altogether; others continue this legacy, and still more look to complexly incorporate and negotiate modernist methods. Likewise, theoretical accounts of postwar fiction mark what comes after in reference to modernism: postmodernism, post-postmodernism, and the like. Modernism’s outsize shadow stems from its association with literary experimentation, aesthetic innovations elevating its austere emphasis on form above such traditional concerns as telling stories and creating characters. Though swaths of Anglophone fiction reject these modernist impulses and return to realist narratives, contemporary fiction must also be viewed as occurring within an era in which modernism has become institutionalized in university reading lists and the practices of their creative writing programs. Fiction after modernism thus might be best viewed as encompassing competing impulses, often within the same text or author: to revert to traditional modes of storytelling and thereby reject modernism; to borrow aspects of modernist technique but develop them so form might convey not only a sense of interior experience or textuality but also situate characters and texts socially (and globally); and to return afresh to those literary experiments, investing them with new relevance. These divided relations between contemporary fiction and aesthetic modernism underscore a complex and conflicted temporality operative within the very conceptions of both modernism and the contemporary.
Copyright gives an author control over the presentation of her work. Economic rights afford control over copies, and the noneconomic rights known as moral rights afford control over changes. An author’s moral rights remain with her even after she sells her economic rights in copyright. The excessive control that copyright offers to copyright owners may be limited by cementing these authorial rights, for all authors. Some elements of copyright law allow the meaning of a work as perceived by its audience to develop and evolve. The strengthening of that support by extending rights to the public will further restrict copyright’s excesses.
Creolization is a key concept in studies of cultural change in colonial conditions. Most typically, it refers to a mode of cultural transformation undertaken by people from different cultural groups who converge in a colonial territory to which they have not previously belonged. This was especially pronounced in the slave plantation economies of the Caribbean basin, where the indigenous peoples largely were wiped out or deported during colonization and the societies that replaced them were largely developed from the intermixture of transplanted Europeans and enslaved Africans. Creolization has been theorized in many different ways by scholars in disciplines across the humanities and social sciences. Three common features can usually be discerned among the diversity of uses found for the term: (1) Creolization involves a “double adaptation” as those arriving into a colonial territory adapt to the new environment and to each other. This usually is driven by those who have no prospect of returning to their home culture and who suffer the effects of racial domination. (2) Creolization has a “nativizing” trajectory according to which the cultural practices formed through the process of mixing and adaptation become a group’s “home” culture. (3) Creolization is incessant: it never arrives finally at a stable cultural compound, but continually undergoes further inter-culturation and transformation. That a diversity of disciplines have found productive use for the concept has made for both rich interdisciplinary exchange and a complex and often contradictory array of different understandings. To navigate the terrain, it is helpful to distinguish between maximalist and particularist positions and between analytic, descriptive, and normative modes of usage. Maximalists tend to abstract from the exemplary creolizing processes found in the Caribbean basin to think about how cultural mixing operates across a world shaped by globalizing imperialism. Particularists tend to stress the uniqueness of the Caribbean (and a small number of other colonial plantation contexts) and local specificities of intermixture, cultural practice, and identification. This polarity often corresponds to modes of interpretation and analysis: particularists tend to use creolization in a descriptive capacity, and maximalists in an analytic capacity. Normative uses can go both ways, affirming either the specificity of Caribbean cultural mixing or the condition of global modernity writ large as being one of mixture and hybridity. In the literary sphere, the contest between particularist and maximalist positions was starkly evident in a heated debate over the term Créolité. This was sparked when a group of male Martinican writers placed Caribbean Creole identity at the center of a creative manifesto. Literary studies of creolization have tended to borrow heavily from creole linguistics (“creolistics”) and cultural theory. For some, literary creolization is simply the literary use of a creole language. This places emphasis almost entirely on linguistic criteria. Cultural theory, and especially the speculative work of Édouard Glissant, has given others a way of thinking inventively about creolization as a space of cross-cultural cultural emergence. A quite different approach can be extrapolated from the historical work of the poet Kamau Brathwaite on “creole society.” In it, creolization is conceived not as a single process but as a totality of concurrent and interacting processes. Understood this way, literary creolization can be studied as one form of creolization within an ensemble of creolizing processes, one that proceeds according to the technical, formal, and aesthetic demands specific to literary practice.
From its emergence and early evolution in and through the writings of Immanuel Kant, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Karl Marx, critique established its parameters very early on as both porous and dynamic. Critique has always been, in this sense, mutable, directed, and both multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary, and this very fluidity and flexibility of its processes are possibly among the central reasons for its continuous relevance even when it has been dismantled, rebuffed, and attacked for embodying traits, from gender bias to Eurocentrism to neuro-normativity, that seem to indicate the very opposite of that flexibility. Indeed, once it is examined closely as an apparatus, the mechanism of critique will invariably reveal itself as having always contained the tools for its own opposition and even the tools for its own destruction. Critique has in this way always implied both its generality as a form and autocritique as an essential part of its process. For the past two centuries this general, self-reflective, and self-dismantling quality has led to its constant reinvention and re-adaptation by a wide range of thinkers and writers and across a broad range of disciplines. In the case of literature and literary theory, its role can often best be grasped as that of a meta-discourse in which the nature and purpose of literary criticism is shadowed, reflected upon, and performed. From this perspective, from the 18th-century origins of critique in its gestation in the fields of theology and literary criticism to its formalization by Kant, the literary expression of critique has always been bound up with debates over the function of literary texts, their history, their production, their consumption, and their critical evaluation. In the early 21st century, having evolved from its beginnings through and alongside various forms of anticritique in the 20th century, critique now finds itself in an age that favors some variant or other of postcritique. It remains to be seen whether this tendency, which suggests its obsolescence and superseding, marks the end of critique as some would wish or merely its latest metamorphosis and diversification in response to the multivalent pressures of digital acceleration and ecological crisis. Whatever path or paths contemporary judgment on this question may follow, critique as the name of a series of techniques and operations guided by a desire for certain ends is likely to remain one of the most consistent ways of surveying any particular field of intellectual endeavor and the relations between adjacent or even divergent fields in terms of their commonalities and differences. As Kant and Voltaire understood so well of their own age, modernity is characterized in the first instance by its will to criticism and then by the systematic criticism of the conditions for that criticism. By the same token now in late or post- or neo-modernity, if contemporary conversations about literature and its pleasures, challenges, study, and criticism require an overview, then some version of critique or its legacy will undoubtedly still come into play.
The term daemonic—often substantivized in German as the daemonic (das Dämonische) since its use by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the early 19th century—is a literary topos associated with divine inspiration and the idea of genius, with the nexus between character and fate and, in more orthodox Christian manifestations, with moral transgression and evil. Although strictly modern literary uses of the term have become prominent only since Goethe, its origins lie in the classical idea of the δαíμων, transliterated into English as daimon or daemon, as an intermediary between the earthly and the divine. This notion can be found in pre-Socratic thinkers such as Empedocles and Heraclitus, in Plato, and in various Stoic and Neo-Platonic sources. One influential aspect of Plato’s presentation of the daemonic is found in Socrates’s daimonion: a divine sign, voice, or hint that dissuades Socrates from taking certain actions at crucial moments in his life. Another is the notion that every soul contains an element of divinity—known as its daimon—that leads it toward heavenly truth. Already in Roman thought, this idea of an external voice or sign begins to be associated with an internal genius that belongs to the individual. In Christian thinking of the European romantic period, the daemonic in general and the Socratic daimonion in particular are associated with notions such as non-rational divine inspiration (for example, in Johann Georg Hamann and Johann Gottfried Herder) and with divine providence (for example, in Joseph Priestley). At the same time, the daemonic is also often interpreted as evil or Satanic—that is: as demonic—by European authors writing in a Christian context. In Russia in particular, during a period spanning from the mid-19th century until the early 20th century, there is a rich vein of novels, including works by Gogol and Dostoevsky, that deal with this more strictly Christian sense of the demonic, especially the notion that the author/narrator may be a heretical figure who supplants the primacy of God’s creation. But the main focus of this article is the more richly ambivalent notion of the daemonic, which explicitly combines both the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian heritages of the term. This topos is most prominently mobilized by two literary exponents during the 19th century: Goethe, especially in his autobiography Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and Truth), and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in his Notebooks and in the Lectures on the History of Philosophy. Both Goethe’s and Coleridge’s treatments of the term, alongside its classical and Judeo-Christian heritages, exerted an influence upon literary theory of the 20th century, leading important theorists such as Georg Lukács, Walter Benjamin, Hans Blumenberg, Angus Fletcher, and Harold Bloom to associate the daemonic with questions concerning the novel, myth, irony, allegory, and literary influence.
Decoloniality and Identity in Central American Latina and Latino Literature
The presence of coloniality is critical for the explication, and reflection, on racialized and subalternized relations of dominance/subordination. The Spanish invasion in 1492 was the first marker and constitutive element of modernity. In 1992 Peruvian sociologist Anibal Quijano introduced the category of coloniality of power, further developed by Walter Mignolo. This epistemic change not only constituted a pattern of continual production of racialized identities and an unequal hierarchy whereby European identities and knowledge were considered superior to all others in what amounted to a caste system but also generated mechanisms of social domination that preserved this social classification into the present. Coloniality is not limited to the colonial period, which ended for most of Latin America in the first quarter of the 19th century. Despite political independence from Spain or Portugal, the pattern elaborated by Quijano continues to our day, structuring processes of racialization, subalternization, and knowledge production. This is the reason Mignolo labels it a “matrix of power.” Central American–American literature represents the nature of colonialized violence suffered by U.S. Central Americans and constitutes racialized and subalternized migrants as a form of interpellating agency deployed in the name of the excluded subjects. Novelist Mario Bencastro’s Odyssey to the North, Sandra Benítez’s Bitter Grounds, Francisco Goldman’s The Divine Husband, and the EpiCentro poets mobilize in different fashions and directions the inner contradictions of identitary and decolonial issues in reaction to colonialized perceptions of textual subjectivities—or their traces—manifested in their respective discursive practices. These phenomena cannot be understood outside of the historical flux generated by the coloniality of power.
Deixis (adjectival form deictic) is the semiotic term for particularized space and time in embodied existence. This ever-present deictic field is both ordinary and unexplainable: how is it that this space and this body exist in this moment? The elemental semiotic function of calling attention to particulars from the perspectival orientation of a bodily self in time and space foregrounds such ineluctable properties as presence, immediacy, and the vulnerability of being, and is a central topic for philosophers, linguists, anthropologists, cognitive scientists, and literary theorists. Deixis is emerging as critical to foundational theory of the humanities and cognitive science, and the deictic imaginary is of particular significance to theories of literature and art.
Description is generally associated with the novel in its modern form, a perception captured in one of the dictums from Gustave Flaubert’s Dictionary of Received Ideas: “Descriptions: There are always too many of them in novels.” But description has a much longer history and abounds in other genres, from the epic to lyric and didactic poetry to tragedy and beyond. In the 18th century, it was even considered a genre unto itself, in the newly conceived genre of descriptive poetry popularized by the Scottish poet James Thomson. Description also features prominently in genres of writing often considered nonliterary, such as encyclopedias, scientific writing, how-to manuals, and travel guides. Indeed, critical suspicion surrounding description in Western rhetorical and poetic tradition stems in part from the perception that it can too easily become a site for the incursion of the nonliterary (i.e., things rather than people, scientific or technical knowledge, abstruse vocabulary) into the literary domain. Description resists easy definition and has been characterized as one of the blind spots of Western literary discourse. In antiquity, rhetorical and poetic treatises gave scant attention to description, and neoclassical poetic doctrine was more concerned with policing description’s boundaries than defining it. It was not until the 18th century that description emerged as a theoretical problem worthy of debate and as a prominent literary practice. Since antiquity, description has been associated with visualization and the visual arts, through the rhetorical figures of enargeia and ekphrasis and the Renaissance doctrine of ut pictura poesis. Through this association, description has close ties to mimesis and has proved especially vulnerable to Platonic attacks on poetry, and on literature more broadly, as a mere copy of reality. In the 19th century, description featured prominently in the realist novel, but in the mid-20th century it was used, notably by the French New Novelists, as a means of contesting realism. Formalist and structuralist criticism sparked renewed interest in theorizing description in the 1970s and 1980s. At the beginning of the 21st century, in an age of interdisciplinarity when the boundaries between the literary and the nonliterary have become increasingly porous, description has once again emerged as a key theoretical problem for thinking across disciplines and has even been proposed as a new mode of reading that avoids the pitfalls of humanist hermeneutics.
Simon Burrows and Michael Falk
The article offers a definition, overview, and assessment of the current state of digital humanities, particularly with regard to its actual and potential contribution to literary studies. It outlines the history of humanities computing and digital humanities, its evolution as a discipline, including its institutional development and outstanding challenges it faces. It also considers some of the most cogent critiques digital humanities has faced, particularly from North American-based literary scholars, some of whom have suggested it represents a threat to centuries-old traditions of humanistic inquiry and particularly to literary scholarship based on the tradition of close reading. The article shows instead that digital humanities approaches gainfully employed offer powerful new means of illuminating both context and content of texts, to assist with both close and distant readings, offering a supplement rather than a replacement for traditional means of literary inquiry. The digital techniques it discusses include stylometry, topic modeling, literary mapping, historical bibliometrics, corpus linguistic techniques, and sequence alignment, as well as some of the contributions that they have made. Further, the article explains how many key aspirations of digital humanities scholarship, including interoperability and linked open data, have yet to be realized, and it considers some of the projects that are currently making this possible and the challenges that they face. The article concludes on a slightly cautionary note: What are the implications of the digital humanities for literary study? It is too early to tell.
Digital Posthuman Autobiography
Since the 2010s, auto/biography studies have engaged in productive explorations of its intersections with theories of posthumanism. In unsettling concepts of the human, the agential speaking subject seen as central to autobiographical acts, posthumanism challenges core concerns of auto/biography (and humanism), including identity, agency, ethics, and relationality, and traditional expectations of auto/biographical narrative as focused on a (human) life, often singular and exceptional, chronicling a narrative of progress over time—the figure and product of the liberal humanist subject that posthumanism and autobiography studies have both critiqued. In its place, the posthuman autobiographical subject holds distributed, relativized agency as a member of a network through which it is co-constituted, a network that includes humans and non-humans in unhierarchized relations. Posthuman theories of autobiography examine how such webs of relation might shift understanding of the production and reception of an autobiographer and text. In digital posthuman autobiography, the auto/biographer is working in multimodal ways, across platforms, shaping and shaped by the affordances of these sites, continually in the process of becoming through dynamic engagement and interaction with the rest of the network. The human-machinic interface of such digital texts and spaces illustrates the rethinking required to account for the relational, networked subjectivity and texts that are evolving within digital platforms and practices. The role of algorithms and datafication—the process through which experiences, knowledge, and lives are turned into data—as corporate, non-consensual co-authors of online auto/biographical texts particularly raises questions about the limits and agency of the human and the auto/biographical, with software not only coaxing, coercing, and coaching certain kinds of self-representation, but also, through the aggregating process of big data, creating its own versions of subjects for its own purposes. Data portraits, data mining, and data doubles are representations based on auto/biographical source texts, but not ones the original subject or their communities have imagined for themselves. However, the affordances and collaborations created by participation in the digital web also foster a networked agency through which individuals-in-relation can testify to and document experience in collective ways, working within and beyond the norms imagined by the corporate and machinic. The potential for posthuman testimony and the proliferation of autobiographical moments or “small data” suggest the potential of digital autobiographical practices to articulate what it means to be a human-in-relation, to be alive in a network.
Digital textuality has its roots in the most familiar digital system, the alphabet. In defining rules for what aspects of an inscription contain information, the alphabet makes exact copying of writing possible; such exact copying is the fundamental digital characteristic, without which digital machinery could not work. But copyability can have practical limitations, when more complex forms are built up out of basic digital elements: documents, in particular, often assume particular concepts and systems. Digital document systems can be based on many different theories of documents, and typically combine incompatible theories in one document; they also hide considerable amounts of information from users. Very different digital approaches to texts are found in databases, which atomize texts and render all relationships explicit; this degree of formalization is not common in the humanities, but it enables the creation of widely used research tools (such as library catalogues). The principal innovation in digital documents so far is the hypertextual link, which in connecting texts more closely together created new possibilities for expression and exploration. The creation of vast amounts of digital text led to the unexpected importance of searching, which was made more usable by exploitation of the information provided by links. Searching has overturned ancient hierarchies of importance and attention, by making forgotten texts as accessible as canonical ones.
Disability studies is an interdisciplinary mode of inquiry that flourished beginning in the late 20th century. Disability studies challenges the singularity of dominant models of disability, particularly the medical model that would reduce disability to diagnosis, loss, or lack, and that would insist on cure as the only viable approach to apprehending disability. Disability studies pluralizes ways of thinking about disability, and bodily, mental, or behavioral atypicality in general; it simultaneously questions the ways in which able-bodiedness has been made to appear natural and universal. Disability studies is an analytic that attends to how disability and ability are represented in language and in a wide range of cultural texts, and it is particularly attuned to the ways in which power relations in a culture of normalization have generally subordinated disabled people, particularly in capitalist systems that demand productive and efficient laborers. Disability studies is actively intersectional, drawing on feminist theory, critical race theory, queer theory, and other analytics to consider how gender, race, sexuality, and disability are co-constitutive, always implicated in each other. Crip theory has emerged as a particular mode of doing disability studies that draws on the pride and defiance of crip culture, art, and activism, with crip itself marking both a reclamation of a term designed to wound or demean and as a marker of the fact that bodies and minds do not fit neatly within or beneath a historical able-bodied/disabled binary. “To crip,” as a critical process, entails recognizing how certain bodily and mental experiences have been made pathological, deviant, or perverse and how such experiences have subsequently been marginalized or invisibilized. Queer of color critique, which is arguably at the absolute center of the project of queer theory, shares a great deal with crip theory, as it consistently points outward to the relations of power that constitute and reconstitute the social. Queer of color critique focuses on processes of racialization and gendering that make certain groups perverse or pathological. Although the ways in which this queer of color project overlaps significantly with disability studies and crip theory have not always been acknowledged, vibrant modes of crip of color critique have emerged in the 21st century, making explicit the connections.
For literary theory, discipline is caught tantalizingly between its meaning as a verb and as a noun. Since the work of Foucault, in particular, one is accustomed to thinking of discipline as a structure and process of power. Individual disciplines, of course, tell their own story, but their specific constellations in education offer a snapshot of priorities (social, economic, and cultural) that are symptomatic well beyond their putative subject matter. The idea of training in knowledge goes back to the ancient world, whose models still maintain an influence in the present, although this may well depend on cultural precedents within particular languages and histories. In general, disciplines emerged in modernity and are overdetermined in a number of ways, including but not limited to: transformations in thought (the Renaissance, for instance); formations of state (that can provide an institutional infrastructure); and economic imperatives (knowledge more literally as an accumulation axiom in capitalism, for instance). Disciplines remain indices in the production and maintenance of human subjects, but there are many kinds of challenges (within disciplines, interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity, etc.) that presage a rethinking of what disciplines are and can be in the present.
“Discourse” is language in use, and discourse analysis is the study of language in use. Language occurs, reflects, and is interpreted within social and ideological contexts. In turn, language constructs social realities, relationships, and power structures. Discourse analysis explores those functions, operations, and powers of discourse, in texts and other forms of communication events, investigating the ways in which discourse becomes meaningful. It focuses on how implicatures arise in relation to the contexts in which discourse functions. Discourse analysis is particularly interested in the interpersonal dimensions of discourse and in the social relationships and positions constructed through discourse. Discourse analysis has chiefly been informed by text linguistics and pragmatics, though its applications span many disciplines, from geography to psychology, and from literature to politics. This is partly because discourse is a universal and transdisciplinary phenomenon, and partly because many disciplines are asking similar research questions of the discourses and discursive constructs with which they engage. While traditional discourse analysis can be loosely divided into text-focused and speech-focused domains, many discourse phenomena occur across modes, and many discourse analytic approaches are likewise relevant across modes. Discourse is also being recognized as inherently (and in some areas increasingly) multimodal, opening up new avenues of study. Discourse analysis is essentially a critically reflexive field. It is motivated by an interest in social structures and ideologies underscoring discourses and discourse practices and also in social structures and ideologies embedded within discourse analytical stances. This criticality makes it a crucially important tool for the 21st-century era of instant global sharing of discourse, of easily digitally manipulable multimedia discourse, and of “post-truth” Western discourses of political power.