Since 1990, “life writing” has become a frequently used covering term for the familiar genres of biography, autobiography, memoir, diaries, letters, and many other forms of life narrative. Initially adopted as a critical intervention informed by post-structuralist, postmodernist, postcolonial, and especially feminist theory of the 1970s and 1980s, the term also refers to the study of life representation beyond the traditional literary and historical focus on verbal texts, encompassing not only other media—film, graphic narratives, online technologies, performance—but also research in other disciplines—psychology, anthropology, ethnic and Indigenous studies, political science, sociology, education, medicine, and any other field that records, observes, or evaluates lives. While many critics and theorists still place their work within the realms of autobiography or biography, and others find life writing as a discipline either too ideologically driven, or still too confining conceptually, there is no question that life representation, primarily through narrative, is an important consideration for scholars engaged in virtually any field dealing with the nature and actions of human beings, or anything that lives.
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Pastoral refers to any representation of the countryside or life in the countryside that emphasizes its beautiful and pleasurable aspects. Although the term has come to be used broadly to describe paintings, novels, and popular media, it originated and developed in the poetry of ancient Greece and Rome. Poems about shepherds and cowherds, also called bucolic, first appeared in the Idylls of Theocritus (3rd century bce), and these inspired the Roman poet Virgil to write a set of poems called the Eclogues (c. 42–37 bce). Virgil’s ten poems have been immensely influential. Indeed, pastoral’s long and relatively unbroken European history can be traced to the ongoing popularity of the Eclogues. These poems helped establish the defining elements of the mode: shepherds, who spend much of their time in song and dialogue; the topics of love, loss, and singing itself; a leisurely life; and a natural landscape of endless summer. In the Middle Ages, when Virgil’s eclogues were still read but rarely directly imitated, an explicitly Christian version of pastoral developed; this version was based in the shepherds of the Bible, both the literal shepherds who witnessed Jesus’ birth and the figurative shepherds referred to by Jesus or mentioned in the Psalms. In this biblical or ecclesiastical pastoral, authors used shepherds to discuss priestly duties and the state of the church more generally. Pastoral flourished in the Renaissance, when poets brought together Virgilian and Christian traditions, along with topical concerns about court politics and rural controversies, such as enclosure, to invent a new kind of poetry. During and after the Romantic period, pastoral lost its distinctly shepherdly focus and merged with a broader category of nature writing. As one of several possible approaches to nature, pastoral was reduced to its idealizing and nostalgic qualities, and it was often contrasted with more realistic or scientific representations. From the perspective of the longue durée, pastoral is a capacious category that includes many different attitudes toward rural people and rural life, even the realism of labor and exile. Despite this variety, pastoral is recognizable for the feelings it hopes to generate in its readers about rural life: the delight that the senses take in nature, the sadness at the loss of people and places, and the intense crushes of adolescence.
Thomas H. Ford and Joe Hughes
Rhetoric was—or is, and the uncertainty here is to the point—an unstable but hegemonic assemblage of categories, practices, doctrines, and institutions that endured from classical antiquity through to modernity. Rhetoric underwent radical transformations over this period of nearly three thousand years, entering into complex relationships with its discursive and educational others, including literature, philosophy, theology, and science. Rhetoric has variously been the pragmatic art of verbal action; the teachable (and so saleable) skill of persuasive speaking; an elite training in literary forms and genres inherited from ancient Rome and Greece; a set of protocols governing textual production and reception; the antiquarian collection of ornate and artificial modes of phraseology; a transcendent spirit of linguistic articulation and creation; and a branch of instruction in professional communication. This article presents five scenes—sometimes more tightly focused, sometimes more diffuse—drawn from the long history of rhetoric: a moment of rhetoric’s inception, in Syracuse in 466 bce; of its Christianization, in Milan, 387; of linguistic productivity, in Cambridge, 1511; of rhetorical transcendence, in Basel in 1872; and of social composition, in Minneapolis, 1968. In each of these moments, rhetoric’s conceptual, discursive, and institutional relations with literature were transfigured. They were scenes in which rhetoric was retied, so to speak, into a series of new knots with literature and philosophy. Other scenes and other itineraries would no doubt generate different stories—other knottings of rhetoric and its others.
Traditional Sanskrit literary theory has always tried to distinguish kāvya,a term often translated as poetry, but actually subsuming all creative literature including prose romance, biography, and drama, from other linguistic expressions like treatises of knowledge systems (śāstra) and narratives (ākhyāna). Though the treatises related to the topic were written in Sanskrit, they addressed Prakrit poetry also, and Sanskrit drama was always multilingual. Literary theorists of India have speculated on a variety of topics related to the nature, aims, genre, and constituent elements of literature, the equipments necessary for a poet, various levels of meaning, and the nature of aesthetic response. In their attempt to distinguish kāvya from other linguistic expressions, they have also formulated various concepts like poetic figures, stylistic features, suggestiveness, aesthetic emotion, propriety, and the like that they deem to be exclusive to poetry. Indian theorists took into account both the creative and receptive aspects of literature and the notion of the ideal reader is inherent in the discussions of poetry. Literary theory also armed itself with the insights it received from philosophical systems in dealing with the problems related to verbal cognition and aesthetic experience. The Kāvyālaṅkāra of Bhāmaha (6th century), the Kāvyādarśa of Daṇḍin (7th century), the Kāvyālaṅkārasārasamgraha of Udbhaṭa (8th century), the Kāvyālaṅkāasūtravṛtti ofVāmana (8th century),the Kāvyālaṅkāra of Rudraṭa (9th century), the Dhvanyāloka of Ānandavardhana (9th century), the Kāvyamīmāmsā of Rājaśekhara (10th century), Vakroktijīvita of Kuntaka (10th century), the Locana commentary on Dhvanyāloka and theAbhinavabhāratī commentary on Nāṭyaśāstra of Abhinavagupta (11th century), the Vyaktiviveka of Mahimabhaṭṭa (11th century), the Kāvyaprakāśa of Mammaṭa (11th century), the Sāhityadarpaṇa of Viśvanātha (14th century), the Sarasvatīkaṇṭābharaṇa and Śṛṅgāraprakāśa of Bhoja (11th century),the Citramīmāmsā of Appayya Dīkṣita (16th–17th century), and the Rasagaṅgādhara Jagannātha Paṇḍita (17th century) are some of the seminal works in Indian literary theory.
Speculation does not refer to anything like a unified school of literary criticism; nor is it one of the terms commonly employed by critics. Nonetheless, there have already been at least two important appeals to speculation in early 21st-century philosophical approaches to literature. One of them is speculative realism, including the variant of this school propounded by Quentin Meillassoux and known as speculative materialism. Another is Tom Eyers’s speculative formalism, as developed in his book of the same title. Whereas Meillassoux is concerned with the mathematizability of literary texts, Eyers is focused on moments of self-reflexive paradox.
The sublime as an aesthetic category has an extraordinarily discontinuous history in Western criticism and theory, though the phenomena it points to in art and nature are without historical limit, or virtually so. The sublime as a concept and phenomenon is harder to define than many aesthetic concepts, partly because of its content and partly because of the absence of a definition in the first great surviving text on the subject, Longinus’s On the Sublime. The sublime is inflected differently in the major theorists: in Longinus it produces ecstasy or transport in the reader or listener; in Burke its main ingredient is terror (but supplemented by infinity and obscurity); and in Kant’s bifurcated system of the mathematical and dynamic sublime, the former entails a cognitive overload, a breakdown of the imagination, and the ability to represent, whereas in the latter, the subject, after first being threatened, virtually, by powerful nature outside her or him, turns inward to discover a power of reason able to think beyond the realm of the senses. Many theorists testify to the effect of transcendence or exaltation of the self on the far side of a disturbing, disorienting experience that at least momentarily suspends or even annihilates the self. A great deal in the theoretical-critical texts turns on the force of singularly impressive examples, which may or may not exceed the designs of the theoretical axioms they are meant to exemplify. Examples of sublimity are by no means limited to nature and art but spill over into numerous domains of cultural and social life. The singular force of the individual examples, it is argued, nonetheless tends to work out similarly in certain genres conducive to the sublime (epic, tragedy) but somewhat differently from one genre to another. The heyday of the theory and critical engagement with the sublime lasts, in Western Europe and a little beyond, from the late 17th century to the early 19th century. But it does not simply go away, with sublime aesthetic production and critical reflection on the sublime present in the likes of Baudelaire, Nietzsche, and—to Adorno’s mind—in the art of modernism generally, in its critical swerve from the canons of what had counted as beauty. The sublime flourished as a topic in theory of criticism of the poststructuralist era, in figures such as Lyotard and Paul de Man but also in Fredric Jameson’s analysis of the cultural logic of late capitalism. The then current drive to critique the principle and some protocols of representation found an almost tailor-made topic in Enlightenment and Romantic theory of the sublime where, within philosophy, representation had been rendered problematic in robust fashion.
Virtual identities stand in for a user or player in a virtual environment; they are social media profiles; digital subjects—of human and nonhuman agency. Virtual identities are often imagined as something distinct from the “self” of the user of digital media but technically and existentially they determine the ways a user navigates life online. Virtual identities, then, might also be a category that captures the ways identity itself is virtual; a force of existence that determines how subjects can orient themselves in the world. The questions of what virtual identities are, how they operate, and the kinds of material expression of personhood they afford and signify has been taken up in scholarship across the last thirty years from a variety of disciplines including computer sciences, critical race studies, game studies, gender and sexuality studies, literary studies, new media studies, social sciences, science and technology studies, and visual culture studies. As an imminent figure in early 21st-century life, virtual identities might describe subjects who exist in global digital media networks but who do not necessarily profit from their participation and labor, or who are not always visible. Despite the virtuality of virtual identities, their partial and fragmentary status, they exist as a technology by which to fix identity to an embodied subject—via facial recognition, or biometric scanning, or the coaxing and collection of personal data. The study of virtual identities remains an ongoing and significant task.
T. Hugh Crawford
Actor-network theory (ANT) is a methodology developed in the 1980s by scholars working primarily in the sociology of science and technology. It is a novel approach as it attempts to redefine actors not so much as willful or intentional agents but instead as any entity—human or nonhuman—that in some way influences or perturbs the activity of a techno-social system. Most effective when examining limited systems such as ship navigation, electrical network failures, and the like, ANT resists large generalizations and categories, including the very notion of the “social” which, according to actor-network theorists, is never an explanation but instead is that which must be explained. Well into the 21st century, practitioners have both embraced and critiqued ANT, but it remains a useful form of inquiry.
Jennifer A. McMahon
Literary beauty was once understood as intertwining sensations and ideas, and thus as providing subjective and objective reasons for literary appreciation. However, as theory and philosophy developed, the inevitable claims and counterclaims led to the view that subjective experience was not a reliable guide to literary merit. Literary theory then replaced aesthetics as did philosophy’s focus on literary truth. Along with the demise of the relevance of sensations, literary form also took a back seat. This suggested to some that either literature communicated truth like any other literal form of communication or it was a mere diversion: a springboard to harmless reverie or daydreaming. Neither response satisfactorily captured what was distinctive about literature: the love readers can have for literary texts and the edification or insight claimed of works within each culture’s respective catalogue of classics. However, a concept of literary beauty has again become viable due to developments in theories of pleasure and imagination. If the defining aspect of literature is the imaginative engagement it occasions, and if this imagining is constrained by plausibility and endorsed as effective relative to our goals, ideals, and interests, then literature is not reduced to either mere fact or wish fulfillment. An account of literary beauty is available which defines literature accordingly and explains how subjective and objective reasons for appreciation intertwine to evoke pleasure and insight.
Ana Patricia Rodríguez
Throughout the mid-20th and early 21st centuries, Central American writers, in and outside of the isthmus, have written in response to political and social violence and multiple forms of racial, economic, gendered, and other oppressions, while also seeking to produce alternative social imaginaries for the region and its peoples. Spanning the civil war and post-war periods and often writing from the space of prolonged and temporary diaspora as exiles, sojourners, and migrants, in their respective works, writers such as Claribel Alegría, Gioconda Belli, and Martivón Galindo have not only represented the most critical historical moments in the region but moreover transfigured the personal and collective social woundings of Central America into new signs and representations of the isthmus, often from other sites. Read together, their texts offer a gendered literary topography of war, deterritorialization, and reterritorialization and imagine other “geographies of identities” as suggested by Smadar Lavie and Ted Swedenburg for post-conflict, diasporic societies. These writers’ work is testament to the transformative and transfigurative power of women’s writing in the Central American transisthmus.