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Beginnings and Endings  

Eyal Segal

Each temporal sequence (specifically, in language) has its own structure and dynamics, but the beginning and the ending may be said to be universally important or significant points within such a sequence. They constitute the boundaries, or frame, of the literary text, separating it—and the world it projects—from the world around us, thus playing an important role in determining its basic shape. Locating the textual point of beginning is often somewhat complex or problematic (typically more so than that of the ending), because, at least since the advent of the print era and the book format, the “main” text is accompanied—or surrounded—by other materials collectively known as paratexts (e.g., titles, epigraphs, various kinds of prefaces) that may be likened to a threshold through which the reader gradually passes from the “outside” to the “inside” of a text. Considered as a threshold, one of the beginning’s most important potential functions is to “draw us in,” or be seductive and help carry us over from the world we inhabit to the world the author has imagined. The beginning is also particularly important in creating a primacy effect, setting off our mind in a certain direction and thereby influencing our entire reception of the work. We may make a broad distinction between “orientational” and “abrupt” textual beginnings—the latter type confronting the reader with an ongoing action, without supplying preliminary information necessary for its understanding. Historically, such beginnings became widespread from the late 19th century, with the transition from realism to modernism. A phenomenon that is particularly intriguing in the context of narrative beginnings is that of the exposition, since by definition it always constitutes the beginning of the mimetic or actional sequence but is not necessarily located at the beginning of the textual sequence. Moreover, the point of transition between the exposition and the primary narrative action (or fictive present) may be considered as another kind of “beginning,” which plays an important role in how the narrative is perceived as a whole. Delimiting the ending as a textual unit involves a fundamental issue of a different kind than those relevant to beginnings: since the ending follows everything else in the text, it is difficult to consider it without considering through it, so to speak, the text as a whole. The understanding and appreciation of endings depend to a large extent on what has preceded them. But at the same time they tend to play an important role in retrospectively shaping it and often have a lasting impact on its evaluation. The critical study of the ending has paid a good deal of attention to closure, so much so that there is a widespread tendency to conflate the two concepts; it is important, however, to differentiate between them. Whereas ending refers to the text’s termination point, closure refers to the sense of an ending: that is, not to the textual termination point itself but rather to a certain effect, or perceptual quality, produced by the text. The common distinction between “closed” and “open” endings is quite crude in its basic form and should be regarded as a finely gradated and multidimensional continuum rather than a simple dichotomy. Broadly speaking, endings that tend toward the open end of the continuum are typical of modern literature (and heavily valorized by modern criticism), and like “abrupt” beginnings they testify to a desire not to accentuate the boundaries of the work of art.



Simona Zetterberg-Nielsen and Henrik Zetterberg-Nielsen

Fictionality is a term used in various fields within and beyond literary theory, from speech act theory through the theory of fictional worlds, to theories of “as if.” It is often equated with the genre of the novel. However, as a consequence of the rhetorical theory of fictionality developed from the early 21st century, the concept has gained ground as an autonomous communicative device, independent of its relation to any genre. Theories of fictionality have been developed (1) prior to the establishment of fiction as a genre, with Plato, Aristotle, Philip Sidney, and Pierre Daniel Huet; (2) with the establishment of fiction by Blankenburg and some of the first novelists, such as Daniel Defoe and Horace Walpole; (3) after the establishment of the novel, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Hans Vaihinger, John Searle, Kendall Walton, Dorrit Cohn, Richard Walsh, and others. From the 1990s, the debates on fictionality have centered on questions of whether fictionality is best described in terms of semantic, syntactic, or pragmatic approaches. This includes discussions about possible signposts of fictionality, encouraged by the semantic and syntactic approaches, and about how to define the concept of fictionality, as either a question of text internal features as argued by the semantic and syntactic theorists, or as a question of contextual assumptions, as held by the pragmatists. Regarding fictionality as a rhetorical resource, among many other resources in communication at large, has a number of consequences for the study of fictionality and for literary theory in general. First, it contributes the insight that literature is similar to other acts of communication. Second, overtly invented stories do not have to follow the rules of non-invented communication. Third, a rhetorical approach to fictionality makes visible the ways in which fiction interacts with and affects reality, in concrete, yet complicated ways.


Folk and Blues Methods in American Literature and Criticism  

Taylor Black

Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in the fall of 2016. News of this drew predictable reactions from fans and naysayers who, each in their own way, either praised or lamented the judgment of the Nobel Committee’s decision to honor a songwriter and performer for a prize traditionally reserved for novelists, poets, and playwrights. Despite arguments about whether or not Dylan’s work is or is not sufficiently literary, his award confirmed something that, at least for Americans, has always been true: that popular music is as important a part of American literature as anything written in between the covers of a book. The folk and blues traditions from which Dylan emerges as a musical artist are also major sources of mythopoetic cultural production operating at the heart of American culture. These are first and foremost oral traditions, offered up in the form of songs and tales (and everything in between) and passed down from person to person, across regions, and through time. A folk and blues approach to American literature is one that understands there are no originary, primary folk and blues texts. It is also one that necessarily envisions a tradition as belonging to the future rather than the past. The American folk and blues method is, in other words, one of invention and adaptation, and its embedded notion of a tradition is something that is always shifting according to practice. Instead of only searching out primary textual examples of form, a folk and blues–influenced literary critical approach is drawn to figures—like Robert Johnson, Nina Simone, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan—who are practitioners of folk and blues traditions. These performers are also experts in and vectors of folk and blues cultures. A prescriptive notion of an artistic tradition is determined based on what it was. In folk and blues, a tradition is what it does. There are also conventionally literary figures who seem to benefit from and understand the musical roots of American literature. Authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Flannery O’Connor, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, and Toni Morrison incorporate musical elements into their plays, novels, stories, and poems in such a way as to make these otherwise written forms sound American. Folk and blues idioms and aesthetics encircle these authors’ literary works and enhance their meanings. A critical approach to such artists is in search of these meanings. This involves listening and developing a feeling for folk and blues traces in song and prose. The historical echoes of the many folk and blues myths, figures, and refrains that float around the nation’s culture are resurrected, from generation to generation, in its art. In the end, a folk and blues method seeks out these originators and reproducers of folk and blues traditions, insisting on an interpretive practice that is closer to hearing than reading.



Claire Colebrook

Irony is both a figure of speech and a mode of existence or attitude toward life. Deriving from the ancient Greek term eironeia, which originally referred to lying, irony became a complex philosophical and rhetorical term in Plato’s dialogues. Plato (428/427 or 424/423–348/347 bce) depicts Socrates deploying the method of elenchus, where, rather than proposing a theory, Socrates encounters others in conversation, drawing out the contradictions and opacities of their arguments. Often these dialogues would take a secure concept and then push the questioning to a final moment of non-knowledge or aporia, exposing a gap in a discourse that his interlocutors thought was secure. Here, Socratic irony can be thought of as a particular philosophical method and as the way in which Socrates chose to pursue his life, always questioning the truth of key ethical concepts. In the Roman rhetorical tradition irony was theorized as a rhetorical device by Cicero (106–43 bce) and Quintilian (c.35–c.96 ce), and it was this sense of irony that was dominant until the 18th century. At that time, and in response to the elevation of reason in the Enlightenment, a resurgence of satire emerged: here the rigorous logic of reason was often repeated and in a parodic manner. At this time, modern irony emerged, which was subtly different from satire in that it did not simply lampoon its target, but suggested a less clear position of refined and superior distance. The German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel (1770–1831) was highly critical of what came to be known as Romantic irony, which differed from satire in that it suggested a subtle distance from everyday discourse, with no clear position of its own. This tendency for irony to be the negation of truth claims, without having any clear position of its own, became ever more intense in the 20th century with postmodern irony, where irony was no longer a rhetorical device but became a manner of existing with no clear commitment to any values or beliefs. Alongside this tradition of irony as a distanced relation to one’s speech acts, there was also a tradition of dramatic, cosmic, tragic, or fateful irony, where events might seem to act against human intentions, or where human ambition would seem to be thwarted by a universe that almost seems to be judging human existence from on high.


19th-Century Spirit Photography  

Cheryl Spinner

Spirit photography emerges out of the widespread movement of Spiritualism in the 19th century. In 1848, the Fox sisters of upstate New York claimed that the mysterious knockings emanating from the walls of their farmhouse represented the opening of a spirit telegraph that faciliated communication between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Spiritualism quickly became a techno-religious movement closely aligned with the abolitionist and suffragist movements. The movement utilized burgeoning technologies to apply a scientific rigor to phenomena beyond the five human senses. The photochemical process and the swift advancement of photography as both an art and science were particularly powerful mediums for providing evidence that spirits can manifest in the visible world. Sir John Herschel coined the term “photography” by combining the Greek words photos and graphé, literally “light writing” or “writing by light.” The term itself advances the concept that the camera produced an unmediated reproduction of the natural world, and, with the first spirit photograph emerging in 1862, believers understood that the camera was both capturing spirits of the dead and scientifically proving that the spirits were real. Nineteenth-century debates about the veracity of these images pivoted on the question of what photography was capable of capturing. Scientists knew that photography could capture invisible fluorescence, and Spiritualists argued that if the camera could capture the invisible world, then it could also capture spirits.


The Turkish Novel as Transnational  

Ayşe Özge Koçak Hemmat

The novel in the Turkish tradition has been a transnational genre, both in terms of its inception and production during the late Ottoman era, and by virtue of the novelists’ transnational experiences and the reflection of these experiences in their novels. Imperial transnationalism—intra- and inter-imperial exchanges and relations that predate the modern nation-state—is an essential lens through which to study the Ottoman novel, with its multiple sources and cross-cultural engagement and output that expand the scope of the “Ottoman novel” to the non-Turkish-speaking and non-Muslim subjects of the empire. Following the split of the former Ottoman territories into nation-states that began in the 19th century and culminated after World War I, the Republic of Turkey attempted to forge a unique Turkish identity, an effort that involved cultivating a national literary tradition distinct from that of its imperial predecessor. The Republican-era novelists nonetheless continued to reflect on their transnational and cross-cultural experiences in their work. Some of these authors wrote while residing abroad for reasons ranging from exile to diplomatic service, illustrating the complexities of the concept and the reality of nation, imagined or otherwise. As the form and the substance of the Turkish novel evolved and flourished, culminating in the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Orhan Pamuk in 2006, Turkish novelists enjoyed wider and more international audiences. Some recurrent themes in transnational Turkish novels are identity and language, belonging at home and abroad, and reconciling the past with the present. While Turkish novelists now enjoy increased mobility and the ability to reach an international audience, with more of their work being translated and published abroad, and read and studied across the globe, the scope of international scholarship on the Turkish novel is still confined to the work of a small group of authors. This highly selective reception not only limits the range of works to which international audiences are exposed, but also suppresses the genre’s entanglement in the Turkish literary tradition with the crossing of boundaries—temporal and traditional, as well as physical. A transnational approach to studying the Turkish novel thus provides insight into the genre’s origins, evolution, circulation, and reception, but it also highlights its transgressive nature in a wide network of world literary and social developments through its evolution via travel, translation, and adaptation in different regions, and its negotiations with other literary forms.