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Article

Transpacific Femininities  

Denise Cruz

Although it may not be a truth universally acknowledged, the pages of Asian American literature are nevertheless filled with complex representations of transpacific women. These constructions of Asian femininity counter the more recognizable versions of Asian women that have circulated from the late 19th century to the present: archetypes of the Asian mother as symbolic of a lost homeland, the exotic and submissive Asian butterfly, or the vilified and dangerous dragon lady. These persistent characterizations of Asian femininity are in one sense no surprise, especially given the longstanding Orientalist binary (Edward Said) that imagined the East as the West’s submissive and feminized other and the frequent connection between women and the land in nationalist fiction. As a critical framework and archival methodology, transpacific femininities reconfigures the centrality of gender, sexuality, and transpacific experience to Asian American literature. Transpacific femininities was originally conceived as a mode of analysis for a specific historical context and literary form: the Philippines in the early to mid-20th century and representations of women in prose. But it is ultimately a more capacious model that (a) recovers a long history of the importance of women to transpacific literature, (b) carefully considers how multiple empires and nations influenced the Pacific, and (c) counters the feminization of Asia by revealing how writers were actively involved in redefining the terms of national identities, communities, and transpacific relations. The plural “femininities” underscores instability and contradictions in texts and authorial strategies, for while transpacific femininities is above all a feminist way of reading, the term also recognizes that these authors and texts do not all advocate feminist practices.

Article

Indigenous Studies in the United States and Canada  

Aubrey Jean Hanson and Sam McKegney

Indigenous literary studies, as a field, is as diverse as Indigenous Peoples. Comprising study of texts by Indigenous authors, as well as literary study using Indigenous interpretive methods, Indigenous literary studies is centered on the significance of stories within Indigenous communities. Embodying continuity with traditional oral stories, expanding rapidly with growth in publishing, and traversing a wild range of generic innovation, Indigenous voices ring out powerfully across the literary landscape. Having always had a central place within Indigenous communities, where they are interwoven with the significance of people’s lives, Indigenous stories also gained more attention among non-Indigenous readers in the United States and Canada as the 20th century rolled into the 21st. As relationships between Indigenous Peoples (Native American, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit) and non-Indigenous people continue to be a social, political, and cultural focus in these two nation-states, and as Indigenous Peoples continue to work for self-determination amid colonial systems and structures, literary art plays an important role in representing Indigenous realities and inspiring continuity and change. An educational dimension also exists for Indigenous literatures, in that they offer opportunities for non-Indigenous readerships—and, indeed, for readers from within Indigenous nations—to learn about Indigenous people and perspectives. Texts are crucially tied to contexts; therefore, engaging with Indigenous literatures requires readers to pursue and step into that beauty and complexity. Indigenous literatures are also impressive in their artistry; in conveying the brilliance of Indigenous Peoples; in expressing Indigenous voices and stories; in connecting pasts, presents, and futures; and in imagining better ways to enact relationality with other people and with other-than-human relatives. Indigenous literatures span diverse nations across vast territories and materialize in every genre. While critics new to the field may find it an adjustment to step into the responsibility—for instance, to land, community, and Peoplehood—that these literatures call for, the returns are great, as engaging with Indigenous literatures opens up space for relationship, self-reflexivity, and appreciation for exceptional literary artistry. Indigenous literatures invite readers and critics to center in Indigeneity, to build good relations, to engage beyond the text, and to attend to Indigenous storyways—ways of knowing, being, and doing through story.

Article

Indigenous Sámi Literature  

Kaisa Ahvenjärvi

Sámi literature is multilingual, transnational indigenous literature from Northern Fenno-Scandia. It is published in several Sámi languages as well as in majority languages of the Sámi area, which is located in the northern parts of Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Russia. With approximately twenty thousand speakers, North Sámi is the most widely spoken and literarily used of the nine Sámi languages. Considering the limited readership, Sámi literature is exceptionally diverse and vital in the global field of indigenous literatures. The majority of Sámi authors write in their own indigenous language, whereas the majority of Maori, Aboriginal, and Native American literatures, for example, are published in English. Sámi literature has been translated into Nordic languages as well as into bigger world languages like English and Spanish. Sámi literature has its roots in the oral tradition. The first printed books written by Sámi authors were published at the beginning of the 1900s. However, it was not until the 1970s that Sámi literary institutions were established and the number of publications started to increase. Some key Sámi writers, who started their career then, are Nils-Aslak Valkeapää, Rauni Magga Lukkari, and Kirste Paltto. In the 1980s and 1990s, the novel was the dominating genre in Sámi literature, whereas in the 2000s poetry has flourished. Since the beginning of the 21st century, two-thirds of literature published in Sámi languages is children’s literature. In Sámi literature there are several common features with other indigenous literatures, both in their historical developments and contemporary characteristics. The breakthrough of indigenous literatures was connected with the global indigenous movement that arose in the 1960s and 1970s, and it was characterized by anticolonial and identity-political themes. Recurring themes in contemporary Sámi and other indigenous literatures are, for example, the questions of hybrid ethnic and linguistic identities, ecological concerns and the interdependency between humans and nature, and the relationship to previous generations and the land. The 2010s have seen a return to political orientation in Sámi art and literature, but universal topics like motherhood and sexuality are also discussed in contemporary Sámi poetry and prose.

Article

The Institutional Turn  

Jeremy Rosen

Since around the turn of the millennium, Anglo-American literary scholarship has been marked by a remarkable shift in its attention to and its attitude toward institutions. Within this shift or “institutional turn,” two interrelated movements can be detected: 1) a departure from thinking about literature as a social institution, toward a sociological approach that examines the many and varied organizations and institutions in and through which literature and its value are produced, distributed, and consumed; and 2) a tendency to revise earlier critiques of institutions, which were often indebted to the work of Michel Foucault, and which emphasized their regulating and disciplinary power, in favor of a more balanced view of institutions as enabling as well as constraining, and in some cases, an outright advocacy for their value and the need to conserve them. Both of these movements stem from scholars’ recognition of the heterogeneity of actual institutions. Rather than understanding literature as something constituted by monolithic, homogenizing forces, early 21st-century literary scholars tend to emphasize the way it is generated and sustained by a wide range of practices occurring in an equally disparate set of institutional locations. Since the early 2000s, scholars have undertaken to analyze the workings of these institutions as the more immediate context in which literary production occurs and is disseminated—a middle range of actors and organizations situated between broader social and historical currents and literary texts. The more charitable attitude toward institutions also recognizes the crucial roles institutions play in the teaching and study of literature. Scholars have thus begun defending the work of institutions, in response to early 21st-century conditions of neoliberalism, under which governments have withdrawn state support for public institutions, including institutions of higher education. A neoliberal ideology that reduces all value to market value presents a threat to institutions that are not primarily dedicated to the generation of economic profit. Thus both of the movements toward institutional study are necessarily bound up with a tradition of scholars who have produced “institutional histories” of literature departments and of the discipline of literary studies. Under neoliberal conditions, such histories have gained urgency, giving rise to a renewed call to account for the value of literary study and of educational institutions in terms that do not reduce this value to service to the economy.

Article

Digital Humanities  

Simon Burrows and Michael Falk

The article offers a definition, overview, and assessment of the current state of digital humanities, particularly with regard to its actual and potential contribution to literary studies. It outlines the history of humanities computing and digital humanities, its evolution as a discipline, including its institutional development and outstanding challenges it faces. It also considers some of the most cogent critiques digital humanities has faced, particularly from North American-based literary scholars, some of whom have suggested it represents a threat to centuries-old traditions of humanistic inquiry and particularly to literary scholarship based on the tradition of close reading. The article shows instead that digital humanities approaches gainfully employed offer powerful new means of illuminating both context and content of texts, to assist with both close and distant readings, offering a supplement rather than a replacement for traditional means of literary inquiry. The digital techniques it discusses include stylometry, topic modeling, literary mapping, historical bibliometrics, corpus linguistic techniques, and sequence alignment, as well as some of the contributions that they have made. Further, the article explains how many key aspirations of digital humanities scholarship, including interoperability and linked open data, have yet to be realized, and it considers some of the projects that are currently making this possible and the challenges that they face. The article concludes on a slightly cautionary note: What are the implications of the digital humanities for literary study? It is too early to tell.

Article

Plants and Literature  

Susan McHugh

In countless ways, plants have been in literature from the start. They literally provide surfaces and tools of inscription, as well as figuratively inspire a diverse body of writing that ranges from documenting changing social and ecological conditions to probing the limits of the human imagination. The dependence of human along with all other life on vegetal bodies assures their omnipresence in literatures across all periods and cultures, positioning them as ready reference points for metaphors, similes, and other creative devices. As comestibles, landscape features, home décor, and of course paper, plants appear in the pages of virtually every literary text. But depictions of botanical life in action often prove portentous, particularly when they remind readers that plants move in mysterious ways. At the frontiers of ancient and medieval European settlements, the plant communities of forests served as vital sources of material and imaginative sustenance. Consequently, early modern literature registers widespread deforestation of these alluring and dangerous borderlands as threats to economic and social along with ecological flourishing, a pattern repeated through the literatures of settler colonialism. Although appearing in the earliest of literatures, appreciation for the ways in which plants inscribe stories of their own lives remains a minor theme, although with accelerating climate change an increasingly urgent one. Myths and legends of hybrid plant-men, trees of life, and man-eating plants are among the many sources informing key challenges to representing plants in modern and contemporary literature, most obviously in popular genre fictions like mystery, horror, and science fiction (sf). Further enlightening these developments are studies that reveal how botanical writing emerges as a site of struggle from the early modern period, deeply entrenched in attempts to systematize and regulate species in tandem with other differences. The scientific triumph of the Linnaean “sexual system” bears a mixed legacy in feminist plant writing, complicated further by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) writers’ creative engagements with the unevenly felt consequences of professionalized plant science. Empowered by critical plant studies, an interdisciplinary formation that rises to the ethical challenges of emergent scientific affirmations of vegetal sentience, literature and literary criticism are reexamining these histories and modeling alternatives. In the early 21st century with less than a fraction of 1 percent of the remaining old growth under conservation protection worldwide, plants appear as never before in fragile and contested communal terrains, overshadowed by people and other animals, all of whose existence depends on ongoing botanical adaptation.

Article

Micropoetries  

Maria Damon

“Micropoetries” is a self-eroding category initiated in academic poetry scholarship in the 1990s to address a perceived crisis in poetry audiences, with an implicit argument that the term “poetry” needed to be widened to account for phenomena beyond the poetry found in academic and writerly, high-literary discourse. While the referents of the term may shift over time and in response to cultural and social change, and while the term itself was intended somewhat provisionally, it can still open up the possibility for discussing para-literary materials as poetry, that is, aesthetically and socially meaningful artifacts. It refers positively to half-formed, degraded, or ephemeral verbal phenomena, or writing produced by abjected persons—for example, “outsider writing,” prison or other poetry arising from incarcerated subjects, writing by children—or poetry by non-poets. The concept is indebted to multiple intellectual traditions, but primarily those of the Russian formalists, the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies, Walter Benjamin as a kind of outlier Frankfurt School philosopher, cultural ethnographers such as Mark Slobin and Lila Abu-Lughod, and poets as well as poetry scholars working at the limits of their disciplines. Phenomena such as “outsider writing,” ecopoetics, the Human Microphone (the oral relay system that characterized communication at the Occupy movement sites in 2011–2012), and Scottish insults directed at Donald Trump via Twitter are explored as examples. Pedagogical use can be made of the concept to both widen students’ opportunities for encountering “the poetic” in everyday life and to pressure them to clarify and revise what they consider poetry to be. Contemplation of the category “micropoetries” gives rise to contemplation of its complement, “macropoetries,” or phenomena that, because of their durational properties, challenge the notion of mastery through analysis, forcing the consideration that poetry and poetics reside at the breakdown seam of analysis and experience, or where “the beautiful” meets “the sublime.”

Article

Wilson, Edmund  

Melissa Knox

Edmund Wilson defined and interpreted Modernism, exploring and using theoretical material from Freud and Marx. Revolution, Americana, literature, sexuality, art, dance, and detective novels all fell under his penetrating, skeptical, and judgmental eye. He lived to write, his most recent biographer, Lewis M. Dabney, declaring that in the case of Edmund Wilson, “biography is literary history.”

Article

Archipelagoes and Oceania in Asian American and Pacific Islander Literary Studies  

Harrod J. Suarez

What is the difference between studying an archipelago and studying archipelagically? As research in literary critical studies has shown, the difference is significant and what results from each profoundly distinct and possibly at odds with each other. If one approaches the archipelago as an empirical entity—that is, as a chain of islands—there has been the tendency to regard it as smaller and more isolated than other geographic formations, which then determines its marginalization even when working with the advent of transnational and postcolonial rubrics. On the other hand, if the archipelago, following Édouard Glissant and others, is conceptualized as a mode of analysis, then studying different landscapes, histories, narratives, and cultures becomes an altogether different endeavor. Using such approaches to animate the relationship between Oceania and Asian American and Pacific Islander literary studies has been the focus of numerous critics working at the intersections of these and other fields. A controversy that received national media attention framed certain of the stakes involved in the effort to address Oceania, a moment of representational crisis that produced rich responses and galvanized efforts to deal rigorously with the field’s heterogeneity, hybridity, and multiplicity. The resulting epistemological pursuits seem to emphasize the need to study archipelagically, opening up new frameworks and problematics crucial for reimagining the place of Oceania in diverse fields.

Article

Translation and Translation as a Weapon  

Gisèle Sapiro

Translation is a social activity that fulfills other functions than mere communication: political, economic and cultural. Thus translation can be used as a political weapon to export or import texts conveying an ideological message, such as socialist realism. As evidenced by the promotion of world bestsellers, translation may in other cases serve economic interests. Literary translations also serve cultural purposes, such as the building of collective (national, social, gendered) identities, the representations of other cultures, or the subversion of the dominant norms in a literary field (as defined by Pierre Bourdieu), which can be illustrated by the reception and uses of William Faulkner’s novels in France in the 1930s (namely by Jean-Paul Sartre). The study of translation has become a research field called “Translation Studies,” which underwent a “sociological turn” at the beginning of the 21st century, and was also renewed at the same time by the rise of “world literature” studies in comparative literature. While translation studies are interested in norms of translation (as defined by Gideon Toury), which may vary across cultures, especially between domesticating and foreignizing strategies, the sociology of translation and of (world) literature asks how literary texts circulate across cultures: who are the mediators? Why do they select certain texts and not others? What obstacles stand in the way of the transfer process? How are translations used as weapons in cultural struggles? The circulation of texts in translation can be studied through a quantitative analysis of flows of translation (across languages, countries, publishing houses) and through qualitative methods: interviews with specialized intermediaries and cultural mediators (publishers, translators, state representatives, literary critics), ethnographic observation (of book fairs, literature festivals), documentary sources (critical reception), archives (of publishers), and text analysis. However, internal (text analysis) and external (sociological) approaches still wait to be fully connected.

Article

Politics and African American Literature  

Robert J. Patterson

As a result of American civic institutions excluding and marginalizing African Americans, African Americans found alternative ways to shape their political landscapes within the United States. Because elected officials wield a significant amount of power over people’s access to education, healthcare, housing, safety networks, and employment, the inability of Black people to participate fully in electoral politics has curtailed their ability to shape society. Historically, from the United States’ founding to the contemporary period, Black people’s second-class status in American society—that slavery made possible and that Jim Crow extended—required them to use their available platforms to shape political landscapes, even as they fought for mainstream political inclusion. In this context, African American literature in particular, and Black cultural production more generally, adopted an outsized role in persuading public opinion on matters important to Black political progress. A survey of African American literature from its beginning until the contemporary period captures how African Americans viewed, understood, and influenced conversations that affected and reflected their abilities to enjoy the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship. That is, African American literature does politics by offering ideas about politics and by shaping broader political debates and discussions. African American literature has thus remained an important resource for investigating how Black writers, activists, and cultural influencers used literature to express political perspectives, influence readers’ political behaviors, and alter or exert pressure on extant political discourses. African American literature’s roles as a repository for Black political thinking and shaper of Black political actions require more expansive views of politics and political behavior that trouble direct political action, for example, voting, picketing, and serving as an elected official, as the primary and most important ways to “do politics.” African American literature has functioned to exert political power to reshape the very contexts that would deny its political power.

Article

The Matter of Drafts  

Jani Scandura

The presence (or absence) of compositional precursors and leftovers raise for critics and editors methodological, epistemological, ethical, and aesthetic questions: What gets collected and preserved? What does not—for what reasons? How can these materials be interpreted? And to what ends? A draft may refer to written materials that never attain printed form as well as early manuscript compositions and fair copies, typescripts, digital text, scribbles, doodles, leftovers, or other marginalia and extraneous materials that may or may not find their way into archives. The manuscript draft came of age following the invention of printing, although unfinished or working drafts only began to be self-consciously collected with the emergence of the state archive in the late 18th century. The draft is, therefore, intimately connected to the archival, whether the archive is taken as a material site, a discursive structure, or a depository of feeling. Any interpretation of drafts must take into account the limits and limitations of matter including the bare fact of a draft’s material existence or its absence. In the 20th and 21st centuries, there have evolved a diverse network of theoretical approaches to interpreting drafts and compositional materials. Scholars of drafts may ask questions about authorship, materiality, production, technology and media, pedagogy, social norms and conventions, ownership and capital, preservation or destruction, even ethics and ontology. However, these investigations have been most pronounced within four fields: (a) media theory, histories of the book, and historical materialisms that investigate the substance, matter, and means of production of drafts as well as the technological, pedagogical, and social norms that mediate writing, and the cultural/historical specifics of these materials and media; (b) textual editing, which establishes methods that regularize (or complicate) how scholarly editions are produced and related mid-20th century New Bibliography approaches, which illuminated some of the limitations of manuscript-and-edition blind close reading, especially by the New Critics; (c) French genetic criticism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, which engages with French post-structuralism and psychoanalysis to look at writing as a dynamic and developmental process that has both conscious and unconscious components; and (d) legal scholarship and debates concerning rights to ownership and possession of manuscripts and drafts and their publication, which developed between the 17th and 21st century. These discussions, and their elaboration within national and international legislation, resulted in the invention of copyright, moral rights, and changed understanding of legal rights to privacy and property as well as a division between material and intellectual property, the use and destruction of that property, and the delineation of rights of the dead or the dead’s descendants. The draft manuscript came to be endowed with multiple bodies, both fictive and actual, for which individuals, institutions, corporations, and even nations or the world at large, were granted partial ownership or responsibility. From the late 19th century, the catastrophic legacy of modern warfare and its technologies, including censorship, as well as movements in historical preservation, cultural heritage, and ethics have affected policies regarding ownership and the conservancy of drafts. The emergence of digital and on-line textual production/dissemination/preservation in the late 20th and 21st centuries have broadly transformed the ways that drafts may be attended to and even thought. Drafts must finally be seen to have a complex and intimate relationship to the authorial body and to embodiment, materiality, subjectivity, and writing more generally. Drafts—particularly unread, missing, or destroyed drafts—lie at the border between the dead object and living text. As such, the purposeful destruction of drafts and manuscripts initiates an ontological and ethical crisis that raises questions about the relationship between writing and being, process and product, body and thing.