The notion that theoretical inquiry and the love of literature are at odds is a tenacious one, likewise the related account of the theorist as heartless killjoy. This article, however, challenges the notion that theory is necessarily down on love. It surveys the several strains of theory that since the turn of the 21st century have made it possible for practitioners of theory to acknowledge more readily that concept-driven intellectual work inevitably has an affective undertow. But it also looks further back, to the late 18th-century origins of the literary studies discipline, so as to understand why the love question cannot be confined to the sphere of amateurism but instead hovers persistently around what literature professors do in their classrooms: what does that persistence say about the place of ethical and affective norms in the discipline’s intellectual enterprise? And just why and how does aesthetic receptivity get defined as “love” in the first place?
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Sexually explicit images are among the oldest known representational artifacts, and yet none of these were ever understood as “pornography” until the word and concept began to emerge in Western European languages during the 19th century. At that time, it was used equally to refer to written texts and visual representations. The word has since entered into much more widespread usage, often referring to any and all sexually explicit material, more often to material that appears specifically designed “to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic feelings” (Oxford English Dictionary). Since the popularization of internet pornography in the late 20th century, the term has even come to be applied to any image considered to emphasize the pleasure and seduction of the viewer over realistic representation (as in “food porn,” “real estate porn,” etc.). Many attempts have been made to define pornography more specifically, but little consensus has been achieved. Courts of law have generally avoided defining the word “pornography,” preferring to categorize sexually explicit or arousing representations in terms of “obscenity.” Feminist scholars have disagreed on the definition of pornography to the extent that the conflict became known as the “Porn Wars” of the last several decades of the 20th century. Sexually explicit or sexually stimulating representations can elicit powerful emotional responses that vary widely, and they are inextricable from questions of social power. Thus, the very act of defining pornography is implicated in political struggles over some of the most fundamental issues of human life: gender, sexuality, social equality, and the nature and power of representations. There remains no general or stable agreement concerning what it is, what effects it may have, or even whether it exists at all.
The continental and English Reformations had a profound impact on the development of the sermon, precipitating a decisive shift from sacramental forms of worship to a Scripture-centered piety. The Henrician Reformation of the 1530s tied preaching to the politics of religion, as the monarch sought to consolidate the Royal Supremacy. The sermon continued to play a crucial role in the promulgation and defense of royal policy for one hundred fifty years, until the Toleration Act of 1689 granted freedom of worship to dissenters and nonconformists. But the pulpit was equally important as a forum in which foreign and domestic affairs could be subjected to scrutiny and criticism, in often fraught and complex attempts to fulfill the Christian mandate to speak truth to power. Preaching did not simply reflect or articulate public opinion, but actively contributed to its formation. The early modern sermon, especially when it was delivered at large and popular venues such as Paul’s Cross or Saint Paul’s Cathedral, was not merely an occasion for the formal exposition of Scripture but a major social event that attracted significant numbers of spectators and listeners. Preachers were keenly attuned to the demands of homiletic decorum: if a sermon was to reach the hearts and souls of the audience, it needed to adapt to the time, place, and circumstances of performance. Places of preaching reflected the primacy of decorum in their architectural layout: the chapels royal embodied the idea of royal supremacy by seating the monarch in an elevated royal closet, for instance. Sermons were preached in a wide range of settings: parish churches and cathedrals; chapels at the Inns of Court and the universities; outdoor pulpits and private meeting houses; and before Parliament and on the judicial circuit. And they existed in a variety of forms and media: in their original performance context, animated by voice and gesture; as manuscript notes, summaries, or illicit copies for further circulation; and in printed formats ranging from expensive folios to penny chapbooks. These different modes of transmission were in turn associated with different architectures of cognition: print culture helped preserve a sermon’s message, but at the cost of sacrificing the spiritual bond with the congregation. In a culture that saw the sermon as the primary means of communication with God, and therefore as the main path to salvation, retaining a connection with the living tradition of apostolic preaching was vital, and preachers sought to augment their printed sermons with features of orality and dialogue in order to compensate for the absence of an immediate rapport with the audience.
Stephanie Burt and Jenn Lewin
Ideas about song, and actual songs, inform literary works in ways that go back to classical and to biblical antiquity. Set apart from non-musical language, song can indicate proximity to the divine, intense emotion, or distance from the everyday. At least from the early modern period, actual songs compete with idealized songs in a body of lyric poetry where song is sometimes scheme and sometimes trope. Songs and singers in novels can do the work of plot and of character, sometimes isolating songwriter or singer, and sometimes linking them to a milieu beyond what readers are shown. Accounts of song as poetry’s inferior, as its other, or as its unreachable ideal—while historically prominent—do not consider the variety of literary uses in English that songs—historically attested and fictional; popular, vernacular, and “classical”— continue to find.
Modern style emerged from the ruins of the premodern “separation of styles” (high, middle, and low). Whereas, previously, only the nobility could be represented in the high style and commoners in the low, modern style harbors a democratic, generic potential: in principle, anyone can write about anything in any way he or she likes. The history of modern style, as a central critical and compositional principle, is thus deeply imbricated with modern democracy and capitalist modernity. It has a unique relationship to the history of realism, which was itself premised upon the demise of the separation of styles. Many critics (e.g., Erich Auerbach, Roland Barthes, and Fredric Jameson) stress the way in which, as a concept and linguistic practice, style connects the body to a generic, Utopian potential of the everyday. Feminist critics, such as Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray, have pursued style’s relationship to the body to delineate a specifically feminine mode of writing [écriture féminine]. Marxist critics, such as Raymond Williams, have argued that style should be understood as a linguistic mode of social relationship. The corollary is that social contradictions are experienced by writers as problems of style (e.g., in Thomas Hardy: how to unite the “educated” style of the urban ruling class with the “customary” style of the rural working class into a single artistic whole). Other critics (e.g., Franco Moretti, Roberto Schwarz) have extended this logic to the scale of “world literature:” they identify stylistic discontinuity as a feature of peripheral world literature that seeks to imitate European realist forms; it is caused by a mismatch between prevailing modes of production and dominant ideologies at the core and the (semi-)periphery of the capitalist world-system. Free indirect style, which merges narrator and character into a new, third voice, has been identified as a key feature of prose fiction in the world-systemic core—the symbolic embodiment of modern, bourgeois forms of power (an “impersonal intimacy”). Finally, “late style”—a concept associated with Theodor W. Adorno and Edward W. Said—has become an influential way of characterizing works of artistic maturity written as the author approaches old age and death (though it is certainly not limited to biological maturity). It is a style in which form and subjectivity become torn from one another, the latter freeing itself only then to subtract itself (rather than “express” itself). Style thus hovers between the impersonality of the demos and the grave.
Rossana De Angelis
The concept of “text” is ambiguous: it can identify at the same time a concrete reality and an abstract one. Indeed, text presents itself both as an empirical object subject to analysis and an abstract object constructed by the analysis itself. This duplicity characterizes the development of the concept in the 20th century. According to different theories of language, there are also different understandings of “text”: a restricted use as written text, an extensive use as written and spoken text, and an expanded use as any written, verbal, gestural, or visual manifestation. The concept of “text” also presupposes two other concepts: from a generative point of view, it involves a proceeding by which something becomes a text (textualization); from an interpretative point of view, it involves a proceeding by which something can be interpreted as a text (textuality). In textual linguistics, “text” is considered at the same time as an abstract object, issued from a specific theoretical approach, and a concrete object, a linguistic phenomenon starting the process of analysis. In textual linguistics, textuality presents as a global quality of text issued from the interlacing of the sentences composing it. In linguistics, the definition of textuality depends on the definition of text. For instance, M. A. K. Halliday and Ruqaiya Hasan define textuality through the concepts of “cohesion” and “coherence.” Cohesion is a necessary condition of textuality, because it enables text to be perceived as a whole, but it’s not sufficient to explain it. In fact, to be interpreted as a whole, the elements composing the text need to be coherent to each other. But according to Robert-Alain De Beaugrande and Wolfgang Ulrich Dressler, cohesion and coherence are only two of the seven principles of textuality (the other five being intentionality, acceptability, informativity, situationality, and intertextuality). Textual pragmatics deals with a more complex problem: that of the text conceived as an empirical object. Here the text is presented as a unit captured in a communication process, “a communicative unit.” Considered from a pragmatic point of view, every single unit composing a text constitutes an instruction for meaning. Since the 1970s, analyzing connections between texts and contexts, textual pragmatics, has been an important source of inspiration for textual semiotics. In semiotics, the theory of language proposed by Louis T. Hjelmslev, the concept of “text” is conceived above all as a process and a “relational hierarchy.” Furthermore, according to Hjelmslev, textuality consists in the idea of “mutual dependencies,” composing a whole which makes the text an “absolute totality” to be interpreted by readers and analyzed by linguists. Since texts are composed of a network of connections at both local and global levels, their analyses depend on the possibility to reconstruct the relation between global and local dimensions. For this reason, François Rastier suggests that in order to capture the meaning of a text, the semantic analysis must identify semantic forms at different semantic levels. So textuality comes from the articulation between the semantic and phemic forms (content and expression), and from the semantic and phemic roots from which the forms emerge. Textuality allows the reader to identify the interpretative paths through which to understand the text. This complex dynamic is at the foundation of this idea of textuality. Now that digital texts are available, researchers have developed several methods and tools to exploit such digital texts and discourse, representing at the same time different approaches to meaning. Text Mining is based on a simple principle: the identification and processing of textual contents to extract knowledge. By using digital tools, the intra-textual and inter-textual links can be visualized on the screen, as lists or tables of results, which permits the analysis of the occurrences and frequency of certain textual elements composing the digital texts. So, another idea of text is visible to the linguist: not the classical one according to the culture of printed texts, but a new one typical of the culture of digital texts, and their textuality.
Jen Hui Bon Hoa
In recent decades, world has emerged as one of the most fiercely contested concepts in literary studies. The more narrowly defined stakes of the debates over world literature concern the disciplinary mandate of comparative literature. One way of grasping the world as a problematic is in terms of a dispute over the correct unit of literary analysis. Should comparative literature scholars seek to illuminate broad historical patterns in the global circulation of influence as reflected, for example, in the morphology of literary genres or the adoption of tropes across different literary cultures? Or should they seek instead to come to grips with the singularity of the world—the unique systems of thought and meaning—presented in individual texts, using the methodology of close reading that offers a model for the ethical relation to otherness? The issue of scale is equally at play in the multiculturalist imperative to expand the literary canon beyond its traditional emphasis on European and Anglo-American traditions. While the general consensus is that undoing comparative literature’s Eurocentrism is crucial to the discipline’s continued relevance, the practical question of how to go about it has been contentious. If scholars are required to draw from a diversified literary canon, how can they attain the linguistic competence required to treat the enlarged field of inquiry with adequate hermeneutic care? The danger, according to some critics, is that world literature will normalize the study of literary texts in English translation. Another critique of such globalizing initiatives regards the value of diversity itself. Some have argued that conceiving of literary works as representatives of specific cultures or regions is itself a legacy of Orientalist Eurocentrism and that, therefore, a multiculturalist approach inadvertently entrenches the very problem it seeks to rectify. A range of political and ethical concerns are thus at stake in the endeavor to globalize comparative literature. Indeed, the concept of world literature has historically been bound up with an assessment of globalization’s liberatory potential and, increasingly, its oppressive effects. The emergence of world literature as a project or goal is often, though not always, traced back to Goethe at the beginning of the 19th century. Reflecting the Enlightenment value of universalism, Goethe’s evocation of Weltliteratur projects a world united through free literary exchange across borders and intercultural understanding. In The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels situate Goethe’s cosmopolitan vision in a materialist framework, presenting it as derivative of the economic transformations entailed in the world market. They also radicalize Goethe’s model of cosmopolitanism. Instead of an autonomous sphere of communication among the national literary traditions of the world, for them Weltliteratur stands metonymically for a future in which both the nation and private property—as manifested in the idea of national patrimony—are superseded by an internationalist commonwealth. Fleshing out the tension between Goethe’s and Marx’s visions of the globalized world, recent debates on world literature have generated productive confrontations between liberal humanistic, Marxist, deconstructive, and postcolonial perspectives on the gap between the world one inhabits and the world one wants.
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.
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.
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.