Like cosmopolitan, sophistication is a fighting word in American culture, a phrase that discomfits, raises eyebrows. It is not who we are, as President Obama used to say, for it smacks of elitism. Whereas the first word has had a stormy modern history—Stalin, for instance, used cosmopolitan as a code word for Jew—sophistication has always kept bad company, starting with its etymology. Its first six letters saddle it with sophistry, both tarred with the same brush of suspicion. Sophistry was a form of rhetoric that attracted the enmity of Socrates and Plato, with repercussions deep into the 17th century. In 1689, when John Locke said rhetoric trafficked in error and deceit, he was echoing the Greeks who tended to dismiss the art of persuasion and eloquence in general as sophistry, morally debased discourse. In the West, rhetoric, sophistry, and sophistication are arraigned as a shared locus of antinature: empty style, deceptive artifice, effeminate preening. They all testify to the deforming demands of social life, the worldliness disdained by Christian moralists, starting with Augustine, as concupiscence. This is the fall into sin from the prelapsarian transparency of Adam and Eve’s spiritual union of pure intellection with God, the perfection of reason that permits transcendence of the bodily senses. The corporeal senses and imagination dominate when man gives himself over to the world’s noise and confusion and is distracted from self-communion in company with God. Given that sophistication’s keynote is effortless ease, from the point of view of Augustinian Christianity such behavior in a basic sense violates Christian humility after the fall: with man’s loss of repose in God comes permanent uneasiness, inquiétude as Blaise Pascal and Michel de Montaigne put it, a chronic dissatisfaction and ennui that seeks relief in trivial divertissement (distraction), convictions that Montesquieu, Locke, and Tocqueville drew on for their root assumptions about how secular political institutions shape their citizens’ psyches. American Puritanism is in part an “Augustinian strain of piety,” as Perry Miller showed in his classic study, The New England Mind, hence suspicious of any distraction from worship of God. Puritans banned theaters two years after the nation was founded. Keeping vigilant watch over stirrings of New World worldliness, they permanently placed sophistication in the shadow of a double burden: Christian interdiction on top of the pre-Christian opprobrium heaped on sophistic rhetoric. Only by the mid-19th century does sophistication finally shed, though never definitively, sophistry’s fraudulence and deception and acquire positive qualities—worldly wisdom, refinement, subtlety, expertise. The year 1850 is the earliest positive use the Oxford English Dictionary lists, instanced by a sentence from Leigh Hunt’s Autobiography: “A people who . . . preserve in the very midst of their sophistication a frankness distinct from it.”
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.
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.
Natural language generation (NLG) refers to the process in which computers produce output in readable human languages (e.g., English, French). Despite sounding as though they are contained within the realm of science fiction, computer-generated texts actually abound; business performance reports are generated by NLG systems, as are tweets and even works of longform prose. Yet many are altogether unaware of the increasing prevalence of computer-generated texts. Moreover, there has been limited scholarly consideration of the social and literary implications of NLG from a humanities perspective, despite NLG systems being in development for more than half a century. This article serves as one such consideration. Human-written and computer-generated texts represent markedly different approaches to text production that necessitate distinct approaches to textual interpretation. Characterized by production processes and labor economies that at times seem inconsistent with those of print culture, computer-generated texts bring conventional understandings of the author-reader relationship into question. But who—or what—is the author of the computer-generated text? This article begins with an introduction to NLG as it has been applied to the production of public-facing textual output. NLG’s unique potential for textual personalization is observed. The article then moves toward a consideration of authorship as the concept may be applied to computer-generated texts, citing historical and current legal discussions, as well as various interdisciplinary analyses of authorial attribution. This article suggests a semantic shift from considering NLG systems as tools to considering them as social agents in themselves: not to obsolesce human writers, but to recognize the particular contributions of NLG systems to the current socio-literary landscape. As this article shows, texts are regarded as fundamentally human artifacts. A computer-generated text is no less a human artifact than a human-written text, but its unconventional manifestation of humanity prompts calculated contemplation of what authorship means in an increasingly digital age.
Literacy is a measure of being literate, of the ability to read and write. The central activity of the humanities—its shared discipline—literacy has become one of its most powerful and diffuse metaphors, becoming a broadly applied metaphor representing a fluency, a competency, or a skill in manipulating information. The word “literacy” is of recent coinage, being little more than a century old. Reading and writing, or effectively using letters (the word at the root of literacy), are ancient skills, but the word “literacy” likely springs from and reflects the emergence of mass public education at the end of the 19th and the turn of the 20th century. In this sense, then “literacy” measures personal and demographic development. Literacy is mimetic. It is synesthetic—in some languages, it means hearing sounds (the phonemes) in what is seen (the letters); in others, it means linking a symbol to the thing symbolized. Although a recent word, “literacy” depends upon the emergence of symbolic sign systems in ancient times. Written symbolic systems, by contrast, are relatively recent developments in human history. But they bear a more complicated relationship to the spoken language, being in part a representation of it (and thus a recording of its contents) while also offering a representation of the world, the referent: that is, literacy involves an awareness of the representation of the world. Reading and writing are tied to millennia of changes in technologies of representation. As a term denoting fluidity with letters, literacy has a history and a geography that follow the development and movement of a phonetic alphabetic and subsequent systems of writing. If the alphabet encodes a shift from orality to literacy, HTML encodes a shift from verbal literacy to a kind of numerical literacy not yet theorized.
Posthumous publication is part of a long-standing literary tradition that crosses centuries and continents, giving works of art ranging from The Canterbury Tales to The Diary of Anne Frank, from Northanger Abbey to 2666. Preparing for print work that was incomplete and unpublished at the time of the author’s death, posthumous editing is a type of public and goal-oriented grieving that seeks to establish or preserve the legacy of a writer no longer able to establish it for herself. Surrounding the work of posthumous editing are questions of authorial intent, editorial and publisher imperative, and reader response, each shaping the degree to which a posthumously published edition of a text is considered valuable. The visibility of the work of such editing spans from conspicuously absent to noticeably transformative, suggesting a wide range of possibilities for imagining the editorial role in producing the posthumous text. Examples drawn from 20th- and 21st-century US literature reveal the nature of editorial relationships to the deceased as well as the subsequent relationships of readers to the posthumously published text.
Anthologies, in the broadest sense of collections of independent texts, have always played an important role in preserving and spreading the written word, and collections of short forms, such as proverbs, wise sayings, and epigraphs, have a long history. The literary anthology, however, is of comparatively recent provenance, having come to prominence only during the long 18th century, when the modern concept of “literature” itself emerged. Since that time, it has been a fundamental part of literary culture: not only have literary texts been published in anthologies, but also the genre of the anthology has done much to shape their form and content, and to influence the ways in which they are read and taught, particularly as literary criticism has developed in tandem with the rise of the anthology. The anthology has also stimulated innovation in many periods and places by providing a model for writers of different genres of literature to emulate, and it has been argued that the form of the novel is much indebted to the anthology. This is connected to its close association with the figure of the reader. Furthermore, anthologies have helped to define what literature is, and been crucial to the canonization of texts, authors, and genres, and the consolidation of literary traditions. It is therefore not surprising that they were at the heart of the theoretical and pedagogical debates within literary studies known as the canon wars, which raged during the 1980s and 1990s. In this role, they contributed much to discussions concerning the theories and politics of identity, and to such approaches as feminism and race studies. The connection between the anthology and literary theory extends beyond this, however: theory itself has been subject to widespread anthologization, which has affected its practice and reception; the form of theoretical writing can in certain respects be understood as anthological; and the anthology is an important object of theoretical attention. For instance, given the potential which the digital age holds to transform how texts are disseminated and consumed, and the importance of finding ways to classify and navigate the digital archive, anthology studies is likely to figure largely in the Digital Humanities.
Blanca López de Mariscal
The first printing workshops established in New Spain had been entrusted with a particular goal: they were designed to serve as support for the enormous work of indoctrination carried out by the mendicant orders—the so-called evangelization of the indigenous population. The Spanish Crown had assigned the first missionaries with the task of edifying the souls of those inhabitants in its new domains, both the Indians and the Spaniards, as well as creoles and mestizos who formed part of this new society. Therefore, the complex process of evangelization of the Indians became an overwhelming endeavor for the mendicant orders, requiring the support of the printing press. New works intended for the evangelization of the Indians began to appear, but Indians would not be the readers of such works; instead, their authors provided the missionaries with tools for the process of evangelization. These texts, often bilingual, facilitated communication with the inhabitants of the New World, particularly works on Christian doctrine, confessional manuals, sermons, and grammars (artes de la lengua). Accordingly, these genres were locally produced throughout the 16th century, and designed as instruments for the massive evangelization of the Indians. When considering the history of the Americas in the 16th and 17th centuries it is crucial to consider the arrival of the first books, the coming of the printing press as an instrument to facilitate evangelization of the New World, reading practices amongst Spaniards and mestizos, the formation of the first libraries, and the establishment of booksellers in the viceroyalties of New Spain and Peru.
Matthew J. K. Hill
Print culture refers to the production, distribution, and reception of printed material. It includes the concepts of authorship, readership, and impact and entails the intersection of technological, political, religious, legal, social, educational, and economic practices, all of which can vary from one cultural context to another. Prior to their arrival in the Americas, Spain and Portugal had their own print culture and, following the conquest, they introduced it into their colonies, first through the importation of books from Europe and later following the establishment of the printing press in Mexico in 1539. Throughout the colonial period, the importation of books from abroad was a constant and lucrative practice. However, print culture was not uniform. As in Europe, print culture in Latin America was largely an urban phenomenon, with restricted readership due to high rates of illiteracy, which stemmed from factors of class, gender, race, and income, among others. Furthermore, the press itself spread slowly and unevenly, according to the circumstances of each region. One thing, however, that these territories had in common was widespread censorship. Reading, writing, and printing were subject to oversight by the Inquisition, whose responsibility was to police the reading habits of the populace and to ensure that no texts were printed that could disrupt the political and religious well-being of the colonies, as they defined it. In spite of Inquisitorial restrictions, print culture flourished and the number and kind of materials available increased dramatically until the early 19th century, when most of the territories under the Iberian monarchies became independent, a phenomenon due in part to the circulation of Enlightenment thought in the region. Following the era of revolutions, newly established republics attempted to implement freedom of the press. While the Inquisition no longer existed, censorship continued to be practiced to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the circumstances and who was in power. This also applies to Cuba and Puerto Rico. Immediately prior to Latin American independence, the United States became a sovereign nation. Commercial and cultural exchanges, including print materials, between the United States and Latin America increased, and many Latin Americans were traveling to and residing in the United States for extended periods. However, it was also in this period that the United States began a campaign of expansionism that did not cease until 1898 and resulted in the acquisition of half of Mexico’s national territory and of Spain’s remaining American colonies, Cuba and Puerto Rico. In addition to the land itself, the United States also “acquired” the people who had been Spanish and Mexican citizens in California, the Southwest, and Puerto Rico. With this change in sovereignty came a change in language, customs, and demographics, which provoked a cultural crisis among these new Latina/o citizens. To defend themselves against the racial persecution from Anglo-Americans and to reverse the impending annihilation of their culture and language, they turned to the press. The press allowed Latinas/os a degree of cultural autonomy, even as their position was slowly eroded by legal and demographic challenges as the 19th century progressed.
Frederick Luis Aldama
Despite Latinxs being the largest growing demographic in the United States, their experiences and identities continue to be underrepresented and misrepresented in the mainstream pop cultural imaginary. However, for all the negative stereotypes and restrictive ways that the mainstream boxes in Latinxs, Latinx musicians, writers, artists, comic book creators, and performers actively metabolize all cultural phenomena to clear positive spaces of empowerment and to make new perception, thought, and feeling about Latinx identities and experiences. It is important to understand, though, that Latinxs today consume all variety of cultural phenomena. For corporate America, therefore, the Latinx demographic represents a huge buying demographic. Viewed through cynical and skeptical eyes, increased representation of Latinxs in mainstream comic books and film results from this push to capture the Latinx consumer market. Within mainstream comic books and films, Latinx subjects are rarely the protagonists. However, Latinx comic book and film creators are actively creating Latinx protagonists within richly rendered Latinx story worlds. Latinx comic book and film creators work in all the storytelling genres and modes (realism, sci-fi, romance, memoir, biography, among many others) to clear new spaces for the expression of Latinx subjectivities and experiences.