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Article

John Lavagnino

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.

Article

Midrash  

Carol Bakhos

In modern parlance, midrash (Hebrew root drš, “to investigate, seek, search out, examine”) refers to any act of interpretation, but in its strictest and most precise sense it refers to ancient rabbinic biblical interpretation. Midrash is both the process and product of interpretation contained in vast compilations of midrashim (plural) as well as in other rabbinic works such as the Talmud. Compendia of midrashim not only preserve interpretations and teachings but also reveal a curiously postmodern, polysemic approach to scriptural exegesis. These compilations are often categorized according to three (problematic) descriptive binaries: halakhic or aggadic; tannaitic (70–200 ce) or amoraic (200–500 ce); and exegetical or homiletical. Through the midrashic process, the Jewish sages of antiquity made the Bible relevant to their contemporaries, taught moral lessons, told fanciful stories, and developed as well as maintained theological beliefs and ethical codes of behavior. The study of midrash provides a portal into the cultural world of the rabbis of late antiquity; it also serves to highlight their approach to and assumptions about scripture, and their guiding hermeneutical practices and principles. Midrashic interpretation employs a variety of exegetical techniques that are often tightly connected to the language of scripture. In addition to wordplay, the rabbis occasionally use gematria, whereby the arithmetical value of Hebrew letters is used to interpret a word or verse. Intertextuality and the atomicization of scriptural words, phrases, and verses are fundamental characteristics of the midrashic method. Although the term midrash applies specifically to rabbinic biblical interpretation, it is sometimes used more broadly as a synonym for aggadah, which includes rabbinic stories, maxims, and parables. Critical editions of midrashic compilations as well as digital advancements and translations give scholars in cognate fields the necessary tools to understand rabbinic literature and undertake comparative studies.

Article

Victorianism refers to contemporary texts that cede time and space to Victorian ideologies, modes, plots, and problems. In its broadest and most contemporary definition, Victorianism describes any literary, filmic, or cultural text that signals contemporary investment in Victorian literature and culture. Such works can be loosely grouped into three categories: original plots set in the 19th century; retellings of canonical 19th-century texts; and “hybrid” texts—those that oscillate between contemporary and Victorian time frames, for instance, or those that create a new story peopled with characters from Victorian media and/or history, including narrativized stories of authors’ lives. There are persistent modes and themes across these forms, including the networking of science and technology with the human; the detective or mystery story; and the connection between the contemporary Victorian and the gothic mode. While in the 20th century the primary archive was largely white and male, the 21st century has seen the advent of a more intersectional archive and authorship. The topic is often consolidated under the term “neo-Victorian” but is also sometimes referred to as “Victoriana,” “strategic presentism,” and other designations. Specifically under the rubric of “neo-Victorian” the study is sometimes associated with postmodernism itself. Other critical interpretations hold that its organizing principle is neoliberalism and its social corollary, liberal individualism. Yet others connect the subject with cultural studies and its corollaries gender studies, queer studies, and—much more recently—postcolonial or imperial studies. Underlying all of these critical interventions is the notion that the primary affective/aesthetic register of neo-Victorian media is nostalgia and/or belatedness. Nevertheless, critical trends of the 2010s and onward theorize not the continuity but the simultaneity of the 19th and 21st centuries. This suggests exciting implications and directions in contemporary Victorianism, including responses to empire, examinations of global crises, and an expansion of the canon to include media not usually included in considerations of Victorianism.

Article

Lorraine York

Celebrity is the public performance, reception, and discursive interpretation of highly visible individual identities. The field of celebrity studies, which emerged from the study of cinema, has sought to theorize the celebrity phenomenon across numerous cultural sites and products, and for this reason theorists often distinguish the term “celebrity” from the more cinematically specific terms “star” and “stardom.” Theoretical accounts of celebrity have focused on the interactions of fantasy and the everyday, the negotiations of ordinariness and special status within the celebrity persona, the role of psychological drives or needs, the performance of an authenticity effect, and celebrity’s alignment with individualism in the context of commodity capitalism and neoliberal regimes of affect. Questions of celebrity agency and power have attracted special attention, as applied to specific issues of celebrity activism, as well as being more broadly considered in accounts of relations of power such as gender, race, and sexuality. In the 21st century, those analyses of gender, sexuality, and race in the production and consumption of celebrity, as well as theories of celebrity formations and practices in digital culture, have moved to the forefront of the field’s concerns.

Article

Steven Winduo

English is the main language of writing among Indigenous writers of Oceania for a number of reasons. The various textual appropriations and ways in which language of writing and language of the culture have been infused together to produce texts do reveal a dialogic process at work. It is impossible to avoid the linguistic features of written texts as they are constructed in Oceania. Writers in Oceania are free to choose the language of their texts without any interference. In this way, they make readers aware of the cultural truth that these writers are representing in their writings. Metonymy as a poetic device and cultural truth as a thematic in Indigenous writings capture the interests of many of the older and younger generations of Pacific writers. Metonymy is a figure of speech used in rhetoric in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept. Some of the best poetry published across Oceania by generations of Pacific writers reveals extensive use of metonymy as a device to convey cultural truth. Poetry is written from the intimate knowledge of poets, embedded in the society in which they find inspiration. Bill Ashcroft and coauthors state: “the tropes of the post-colonial text may be fruitfully read as metonymy, language variance itself in such a text is far more profoundly metonym” because nuances in language can represent a whole cultural text. Syntactic fusion is one among different strategies of appropriation in postcolonial writing such as glossing, untranslated words, interlanguage, code-switching, and vernacular transcription.

Article

In a country where literacy rates are among the highest in the region, books are cultural objects cherished by vast sectors of the Argentine population as well as powerful symbolic, cultural, economic, and political artefacts. In particular, books on politics are an indispensable segment in the catalog of any Argentine publishing house. The vertiginous nature of politics and the historical significance of the book in Argentine society are such that the publishing sector has been—and still remains—one of the preferred spaces where symbolic and political power is disputed. Throughout the 20th century and the first two decades of the 21st century, the publishing market responded to different historical circumstances by producing headlines that sought to engage readers in different ways, helping them make life choices and understand the significance of their own time, as well as forming or reinforcing their opinions. Manufactured from the Left to the Right, books on politics expressed and shaped wills and aspirations, serving as combat weapons and means for the creation of spaces where ideas and political sentiments flourish. There are historical ties between the Argentinean publishing and political spheres, and the publishing process works as a fundamental form of mediation concerning the production and distribution of political ideas. Against the image of the book as an exclusive bridge connecting the authors with the reading public, a sociological and material viewpoint might focus on the publishing world and its protagonists: the ghost editors and agents who play an indispensable and decisive role in the processes whereby a book becomes an entitled cultural, economic, and political intervention—a great factory of ideas, discourses, and products with material and symbolic ramifications that influence public debates and agendas.

Article

Jeanne-Marie Jackson

Though the two fields have rarely been put in conversation, African philosophy and African fiction share a set of foundational concerns. These include the relation of the individual to the community; the significance of culture to unseating exclusively Western universalisms; and the tension between “lived” and a priori claims to truth against a background of political and epistemological decolonization. In addition to this substantive thematic core, both fields have also been shaped by an acute and even anguished degree of self-definitional questioning. What is “African” about African philosophy, or about the African novel? And inversely, what is fundamental to philosophy or the novel as such? Orality has served in both fields as a means of gauging the relative knowledge value afforded experience, on the one hand, and ideas’ formal contestation, on the other. While strong advocates of orality as a distinguishing feature of African intellectual production have extolled its collective dimensions, critics have been wary of its potential for cultural reductiveness and essentialism. Textuality, some argue, is an epistemological orientation that exceeds the literal practice of writing, and need not be viewed as a historical development at odds with African knowledge traditions. A number of influential African philosophers have homed in on the related problem of individualism in an effort to differentiate philosophical from social-scientific claims. This makes African philosophy an ideal interlocutor for African novel studies, which has sought in its own right to reconcile the form’s historical premium on the individual with African social contexts. While countless African novels from the mid-20th century to the early 21st century represent the challenge of negotiating between collective and individual as well as oral and textual elements, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s masterwork Kintu is an exemplary study in how the subgenre of the “philosophical novel” can narrativize the interaction of different African knowledge paradigms. In its staging of an oral, embodied system of knowledge alongside a textualized, meta-epistemological one, it invites the reader’s mutual evaluation of each vis-à-vis the other.

Article

Katherine Little

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.

Article

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.

Article

Michael H. Whitworth

Though “literature and science” has denoted many distinct cultural debates and critical practices, the historicist investigation of literary-scientific relations is of particular interest because of its ambivalence toward theorization. Some accounts have suggested that the work of Bruno Latour supplies a necessary theoretical framework. An examination of the history of critical practice demonstrates that many concepts presently attributed to or associated with Latour have been longer established in the field. Early critical work, exemplified by Marjorie Hope Nicolson, tended to focus one-sidedly on the impact of science on literature. Later work, drawing on Thomas Kuhn’s idea of paradigm shifts, and on Mary Hesse’s and Max Black’s work on metaphor and analogy in science, identified the scope for a cultural influence on science. It was further bolstered by the “strong program” in the sociology of scientific knowledge, especially the work of Barry Barnes and David Bloor. It found ways of reading scientific texts for the traces of the cultural, and literary texts for traces of science; the method is implicitly modeled on psychoanalysis. Bruno Latour’s accounts of literary inscription, black boxing, and the problem of explanation have precedents in the critical practices of critics in the field of literature and science from the 1980s onward.