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Article

Ben Etherington

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.

Article

Joanna Stalnaker

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.

Article

Ricky Crano

A term with both vernacular and technical uses in French, dispositif can designate any purposeful arrangement, ordering, or plan in contexts ranging from military arts to machinery. Prevailing anglophone translations include “device,” “plan,” “deployment,” “setup,” and “apparatus,” but it has become standard to see the word untranslated or rendered as its closest English cognate, “dispositive.” The term comes into theoretical discourse predominantly through the work of Michel Foucault, who deploys the concept in concert with his evolving genealogical method and mid-1970s analyses of biopower and governmentality. Designating a heterogeneous network of discourses, practices, sites, and screens, Foucault’s concept of dispositif describes power not as something housed within state institutions and legal codes nor as something one can possess and wield over another, but as an everyday effect of strategic relations and resistances. Foucault’s sourcing of the term is a subject of scholarly debate, but it is likely that he took inspiration from his mentors, the philosopher of biology Georges Canguilhem and the Hegelian Jean Hyppolite. Canguilhem uses dispositif to describe the organization and operation of organisms in his neo-achinic view of life, while Hyppolite explores Hegel’s notion of the positive, or historically contingent, facets of religion. From these two influences emerges a sense in which power operates materially on and through the living in aleatory, ever-shifting, and historically specific ways that are nonetheless technical, structured, and patterned. Dispositif analysis reveals the full scope and precision of investments in social control in the modernizing (urbanizing, industrializing, colonizing) West. Another, seemingly disparate strand of dispositif analysis is found in the respective writings of philosopher Jean-François Lyotard and film theorist Jean-Louis Baudry. For Lyotard, dispositifs function like psychic traps; that is, the means of channeling, blocking, or otherwise conducting libidinal energies and drives (what one could also call affects or even dispositions). Among these dispositifs are narrative structure, painting technique, psychiatric knowledge, capitalist markets, and even language itself, each of which can work to dampen the revolutionary potential of raw impulses. Baudry, like Lyotard motivated by trending intellectual currents of psychoanalysis and Marxist cultural critique, used the dispositif concept to describe the conventional environment of film screening (collective viewing, dark room, back projection, etc.), part and parcel of the larger cinematic apparatus (appareil) and a decisive factor in shaping spectatorial subjectivity. Since the 1970s, the concept has received a number of further treatments, mainly emerging from the Foucauldian tradition. Gilles Deleuze interprets it capaciously as the improbable unifying thread stretching across Foucault’s entire oeuvre. Giorgio Agamben recalls that it also translates the Greek oikonomia, a term that binds political economy to theological views of divine management; as such, dispositif is, to Agamben, vital to our understanding of the production of subjectivity in late-capitalist societies. Over the first decades of the 21st century, the term has been valuably developed in a variety of scholarly contexts, spanning film and media studies, security studies, art history, education, urban studies, and the sociology of markets. As a heuristic for analyzing networked relations, dispositif seems especially ripe for interrogating power in the digital age, laying bare the workings of all those platforms and programs that seek to capture our time, attention, money, and thought.

Article

James Purdon

The term “identification” denotes both a social procedure (the act of recognition by which a person is acknowledged, formally or informally, to be a specific individual) and a genre of text (the marks, signs, or documents, such as signets, signatures, passports, ID cards, and birth certificates, which formally record and enable that procedure). Like many forms of literary narrative, the genres of identification are explicitly concerned with questions of the stability—or mutability—of the self. Who is this person? Do people change? If so, what, if anything, remains constant: how can we be confident that this is “the same” person? How much control do individuals have over the recording and representation of their personal characteristics? And how do those objective records relate, or fail to relate, to lived experiences of unique subjectivity? One distinction to be drawn between literary narrative and identification is the different value each has tended to give to temporality. Put simply, an identificatory technique is deemed to be the more effective the more capable it is of excluding from the process of identification those personal characteristics that might alter over time. Fingerprints and DNA, for instance, are among the most valuable identificatory tools because they remain constant from before birth until after death. Photographs, meanwhile, possess some identificatory value, but many factors can cause rapid and drastic changes in an individual’s physical appearance: this is one reason passports and similar documents include expiration dates and must be renewed. Narratives, on the other hand, are by definition temporal structures. They tell us that certain things happened or failed to happen. They frequently register and explore change and transition, and even narratives concerned with stasis and changelessness are obliged to acknowledge and account for the passage of time. In this sense, identification and narrative would seem to be at odds with one another. Identification exists to formalize the attribution of identity by rendering narrative irrelevant: the border guard who demands a valid passport will not accept an autobiography in its place. Yet several features of identification complicate this apparent antagonism. Firstly, identification documents function not only to record identities, but actively to constitute both individual identities and the broader concept of identity in a given society. They become not just records which diminish the significance of narrative, but constituent parts of the way individuals understand their place in society and by extension their own experience. Identification becomes part of the stories that individuals tell themselves, and tell about themselves. Secondly, because officially ratified forms of identification have a unique probative force, they themselves have become powerful tools in the production of stories and selves. The criminal who wishes to manufacture or steal a new identity must become adept in the deployment of official documents as a way of authenticating a fictitious claim to recognition. Finally—as countless scenes of identification trouble in fictional works suggest—the moment at which citizens are obliged to identify themselves by recourse to the data contained in identity documents frequently generates a reaction in the form of a heightened sense of individuality. The modern citizen is never more conscious of the complexity of their own story than at the moment when they hand over the misleading simplification, printed on passport or ID card, which constitutes their “identity.” Over the 20th century in particular, as modern systems of identity management became ever more technologically complex and bureaucratically stringent, literary works found new ways to describe and explain the effects of such systems on individuals and on the societies they inhabit.

Article

Twenty-first-century anglophone literatures of the Global South are increasingly contending with the waning of the postcolonial welfare state and the rising hegemony of world markets. As a result, contemporary anglophone writing, predominantly from India, Nigeria, and Mexico, offers a re-descriptive matrix for postcolonial studies. Ranging from novels about neocolonial expansion to nonfiction about rising economies of scale, both diasporic and national anglophone literatures use the narrative conceit of entrepreneurship to diagnose the sheer reach of neoliberalism. Whether casting it as a mainly US-backed economic regime, the latest iteration of first-world developmentalism, or a post-1989 fallout of world economies toward a universalized market logic, neoliberalism has had a significant impact on the narrative forms and subjects produced within contemporary anglophone literatures. In the wake of the 2008 collapse, recession economics has precipitated varied reflections on the pernicious effects of hyper-valuation and its effects on the Global South by postcolonial and diasporic novelists like Aravind Adiga, Mohsin Hamid, and Teju Cole. Global Anglophone writing, broadly conceived, insistently calls attention to the material and psychic damage inflicted by the peripheralization of postcolonial nations in the production of a profitably global market imaginary. By tracking the formal centrality of the Bildungsroman, Indian, Nigerian, and Mexican writers demonstrate how they reject the universalism of Bildung as global development and instead gravitate toward a politics of compromise, failure, and refusal. They offer a grim counternarrative to the aspirational and upwardly mobile ethos that characterizes nonfiction from economically ascendant postcolonial nations. In modes of novelistic and nonfiction writing, a variety of figures, from murderous entrepreneurs to discontented psychiatrists to cynical bloggers, complicate the landscape of global neoliberalism. If the framework of the global troublingly obfuscates questions of labor and economic justice, then these diverse subjects self-consciously mediate between marginal cosmopolitanisms and precarious work regimes to reveal the stakes of transnational capital. In doing so, Global Anglophone literatures attest to an urgent need to rethink free market economics by finding new, egalitarian solutions to the problem of uneven development.

Article

Lara Harb

The Arabic language has a rich history of literary criticism and theory, starting from the 8th century ce up to the 21st century. This literary criticism and theory engages with a poetic tradition that dates back to pre-Islamic times. The inquiry into literary quality was motivated by an interest in evaluating poetry, a general concern with eloquent speech, whether in verse or prose, and by the desire to articulate the beauty of the Quran. The transmission of Aristotle’s Poetics into Arabic also spurred interest in the poetic, particularly in Arabic philosophy. The study of eloquence crystallized into a standardized science by the 13th century ce, with branches focusing on (1) the role of syntax in literary beauty (the science of meanings); (2) simile, metaphor, and metonymy (the science of elucidation); and (3) rhetorical figures (the science of rhetorical figures). The aesthetic developed in the early criticism of the 9th and 10th centuries was concerned with articulating the merits of an idealized classical style of pre-Islamic poetry, from which the “modern” poets of the early Abbasid period diverged. This classically oriented aesthetic was dominated by a concern with the truthfulness and naturalness of poetry, typical of the style of the “ancients,” on the one hand, and the limits of unrealistic imagery and affected artificiality, which characterized the more ornate modern Abbasid style, on the other. This binary outlook shifted after the 10th century, however, to an aesthetic of wonder. A theory of aesthetic experience began to develop, therefore, which was based on the ability of poetic language to evoke wonder in the recipient. As a result, wonder-enhancing characteristics such as strangeness, the unexpected, and the rare became essential components of aesthetic judgment. Moreover, the ability of language to make meaning manifest in ways that allow for an experience of discovery and hence wonder, became the foundation of aesthetic inquiry in post-10th century Arabic literary theory.

Article

Central to the transformation of Israeli literature in the early 21st century is the emergence of new genres and forms of writing. In this essay, I try to relate these new literary developments to socio-econoic transformations.. I address the emergence of three genres: Israeli speculative fiction (in works by Ofir Touché-Gafla, Vered Tochterman, Gail Hareven, and others), detective fiction (in novels by Dror Mishani and Noa Yedlin), and diasporic novels—novels whose interpretive frame of reference tries to bypass the Zionist-Israeli world of meaning (in novels by Maya Arad and Ruby Namdar). I suggest that these genres emerge as a response to the crisis of older forms of literary representation, registered in Israeli postmodernism in the 1980s and 1990s. I argue that these older forms become unable to provide concrete figures for the social and a sense of historicity, the emerging genres begin fulfilling precisely these functions, taking the place of the older genres. In particular, I demonstrate how the three new genres unconsciously map the unevenly developed socioeconomic structure of Israel, developing spatial allegorical languages through which to consider the antagonism between older welfare-state social form and the newer neoliberal structures in Israel (contrasting both to utopian states of existence). I suggest that Israeli detective fiction is useful in capturing the commodification of older national political projects and the rise of new neoliberal social forms; that diasporic novels help develop new allegorical understanding of individual existence that bypass national allegories; and that Israeli SF both captures the antagonism between welfare state and neoliberalism, as well as unconsciously imagine non-capitalist futurity.

Article

Charlie Blake

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.

Article

Robert McRuer

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.

Article

The Arabic literary tradition is a long one, stretching back to undocumented beginnings in the Arabian Peninsula in the pre-Islamic (pre-7th century) era. The study of that heritage in Western academe began as a subset of the philological traditions of biblical and ancient Near Eastern scholarship, with their primary focus on the preparation of textual editions, compendia, dictionaries, and translations into European languages. In the specific context of studies devoted to the Arabic literary tradition, the study of the Qurʾān set the stage for the emergence of similar philological approaches to the variety of literary generic categories created within the increasingly widespread Arabic-speaking Islamic communities. The shift from the more philological approach to that of a more theoretically founded discipline of Arabic literature studies is a gradual one. Terry Eagleton notes (Literary Theory, 1983) that the discipline of literature studies—involving the interpretation of literary materials and their theorization—traces its beginnings to the early decades of the 20th century. In the case of the Arabic literary tradition, the shift can be traced to the second half of the same century, and as the result of a number of factors. In the Arabic-speaking regions themselves (in President Jamāl ʿAbd al-Nāṣir [Gamal Abdel Nasser] of Egypt’s terms, “from the [Atlantic] Ocean to the [Persian / Arabian] Gulf), changes in regimes led to the emergence of new political and social configurations, duly reflected in literary production. In the anglophone Western academic context, a consideration of the consequences of World War II led the governments of both the United States and Britain to establish commissions that led to the fostering of new approaches to the study of the regions of West Asia and North Africa and to the provision of funding for the creation of new centers and programs devoted to the modern period (however that was to be defined). Among the consequences of these new emphases was the need to offer instruction in the modern Arabic language and its dialects, thus providing students with skills that enabled them to avail themselves of opportunities to study at institutions in the Arabic-speaking world and to engage with Arab littérateurs and critics. The results of these various trends in Arabic literature studies during the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st, including the development of increasingly close affiliations with comparative literature studies, have shown themselves in a number of ways. As new centers of literary activity have emerged in different parts of the Arabic-speaking region (with the Gulf States as a primary example) and as Arab littérateurs have explored fresh genres and modes of expression (including media of a wide variety often expressed in colloquial dialect), so has literature scholarship set itself to apply new theoretical and critical approaches to the rapidly expanding publication sector. With the theorization of the discipline has come the need for a greater focus on individual genres, regions, and critical approaches and a concomitant move away from attempts to subsume “Arabic literature” under a single rubric. Such studies are not only opening up new avenues of inquiry, but are also demanding a re-examination of some of the principles and parameters governing the composition of Arabic literary history, both modern and premodern.