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Article

Alongside readings of Asian American literature that foreground the racial, gender, class, and transnational constitution of the community and the writers that produced literary work, one may consider how ill, disabled, and wounded embodiment work their way into the literature as well. Indeed, one might go as far to say that these differential modes of embodiment are constitutive of the corpus of Asian American literature itself, for illness and disability are often, though not always, the somatic expression of the kinds of racial and other forms of violence that Asian American authors take up as central themes. To explore the world of illness and disability and to pay attention to the ways that wounded embodiment figures in the literary provide a critical index of how Asian Americans have been and are valued. Moreover, to take the Asian American ill and disabled body in literature seriously as producing specific narratives themselves, rather than merely more deficient versions of those produced by their able-bodied counterparts, is to read Asian American literature as a site through which new ideas of sociality, intersubjectivity, and care might be possible, which then may trigger new political imaginations. Whether reading in Asian American literature’s most historical and canonical works traces of illness, disability, and wounded embodiment’s marks or the early-21st-century “boom” in nonfiction that attends to questions of illness and disability, death and dying, a generative, even capacious, understanding of Asian America emerges from the shadows of what was previously known and knowable as a social identity.

Article

Tanya Dalziell

Mourning and melancholia are among the primary concepts that have come to interest and structure late-20th- and early-21st-century literary theory. The terms are not new to this historical moment—Hippocrates (460–379 bce) believed that an excess of black bile caused melancholia and its symptoms of fear and sadness—but they have taken on an urgent charge as theories respond to both the world around them and shifts in theory itself. With the 20th century viewed as a historical period marked by cataclysmic events, and literary theory characterized by the collapse of the transcendental signified, attention has turned to mourning and melancholia, and questions of how to respond to and represent loss. The work of Sigmund Freud has been a touchstone in this regard. Since the publication in 1917 of his essay “Mourning and Melancholia,” theorists have been applying and critiquing the ideas Freud formulated, and examining how literature might register them. The elegy has been singled out for particular scrutiny given that this poetic form is conventionally a lament for the dead that offers solace to the survivors. Yet, focus has expanded to include other literary modes and to query both the ethics of coming to terms with loss, which is the ostensible work of mourning, and the affective and political desirability of melancholia.

Article

Patrick Colm Hogan

Most readers probably take it as self-evident that literature is inseparable from emotion. Poems memorialize love and grief; stories elaborate on the rage of battle, the shame of defeat, or the guilt of sin. Readers pass through versions of these feelings while perusing a book or watching a play. They also experience respect and awe, flip pages or inch forward in their seats due to suspense, or relax into a delighted experience of beauty at a phrase or scene. After long neglect, in recent decades, emotion—or, more generally, affect—has become a major concern in literary study, as well as philosophy, psychology, and elsewhere. It is possible to organize such work into two broad orientations, commonly called “affect theory” (alternatively, “affective poststructuralism”) and “affective science.” Writers in affect theory draw on a range of psychological, social, linguistic, and other theories, most often in the service of political analysis. The psychological principles of affect theory have tended to derive from the tradition of psychoanalysis, often through its radical revision or critique by such theorists as Jacques Lacan and Gilles Deleuze. Affect theorists have also drawn extensively, sometimes more centrally, on a range of theorists outside of psychology, principally poststructuralists, such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. In contrast, affective science has its roots in cognitive science and to a lesser extent social psychology. It comprises a set of competing theories of emotion, including dimensional versus systemic and appraisal versus perceptual-associative accounts. Dimensional accounts see emotions as specified only by general variables (such as attraction versus aversion). Systemic accounts treat emotions as the result of distinct pre-dedicated, biological systems (e.g., for disgust or fear). Appraisal accounts treat emotion as the result of a person’s assessments of how events or circumstances impact his or her achievement of important goals. Perceptual-associative accounts construe emotion as a more mechanical process that is affected by assessments only indirectly. Whatever its explanatory architecture, an affective science account is likely to include a careful analysis of emotion episodes, breaking them down into eliciting conditions, action readiness, expressive or communicative outcomes, phenomenological tone, and other components. Beyond treating different theories of emotion, an account of literary affect needs to consider the various possible locations of emotion in literature. These begin with the real people involved—authors and readers. But they extend to implied authors and implied readers as well as wholly fictional persons, such as narrators and characters. Emotion bears also on scenes and sequences—both the sequence of events as they actually occur in the story and the sequence of events as they are presented in the plot (which may, for example, reveal the outcome of events before revealing their causes). Sometimes, a given narrative level has its own characteristic emotions or affective concerns—such as suspense in the case of plot (suspense is in part a function of when story information is provided). At other times, a given level will merely affect the ways the emotions of other levels are modulated (as when some stylistic features, not funny in themselves, contribute to comic effect). By the usual scientific criteria, affective science is more logically rigorous and empirically better supported. But affect theory has its own value—particularly in challenging the ideological assumptions that often underlie social scientific research, including some of that undertaken in affective science. In short, each group has something to learn from the other.

Article

Julian Murphet

Character is a property of narrative and discursive textuality, even as it is also a moral and ethical category referring to individual and collective norms of behavior and motive. This double valence has affected the concept since Aristotle and Plato first began the unfinished, centuries-long project of literary theory. On the one hand, stemming from Aristotle, there has been a tradition of formalist conceptions of character, understanding it as a device used by writers to drive narrative momentum and effect transformations within the discourse. The domain of action, and its variously entailed reactions and consequences, was thought to belong to the agents of narrative discourse by rights, while what was generally called their “character” typically concerned the incidental qualifications and explanations of their actions in speech and thought. Once that distinction is made, however, there are smaller and smaller units into which agency can logically be subdivided, and more and more arbitrary and capricious qualities of character used to flesh out an abstract narratological principle. The histories of formalism, structuralism, and poststructuralism attest to this labor of specialization and fissiparous subdivision of the bound concepts of agent and character. On the other hand, stemming from Plato, we see a centuries-long interest in the mutually interactive relations between imaginary persons, or fictional selves, and the fashioning of public or social selves in regimes of education and discipline. The question of the role of literary characters in the formation of good citizens, or indeed delinquent ones, is one that refuses to go away, since it has proven impossible to separate fiction from reality in the complex processes of self-fashioning through which every subject must go. One last matter of interest has exerted more theoretical influence over the concept in recent years, and that is the topic of affects: the qualities and intensities of human feelings can be seen to have had a major bearing on the writing and elaboration of fictional beings, and vice versa, at least since the late 19th century.

Article

The presence of coloniality is critical for the explication, and reflection, on racialized and subalternized relations of dominance/subordination. The Spanish invasion in 1492 was the first marker and constitutive element of modernity. In 1992 Peruvian sociologist Anibal Quijano introduced the category of coloniality of power, further developed by Walter Mignolo. This epistemic change not only constituted a pattern of continual production of racialized identities and an unequal hierarchy whereby European identities and knowledge were considered superior to all others in what amounted to a caste system but also generated mechanisms of social domination that preserved this social classification into the present. Coloniality is not limited to the colonial period, which ended for most of Latin America in the first quarter of the 19th century. Despite political independence from Spain or Portugal, the pattern elaborated by Quijano continues to our day, structuring processes of racialization, subalternization, and knowledge production. This is the reason Mignolo labels it a “matrix of power.” Central American–American literature represents the nature of colonialized violence suffered by U.S. Central Americans and constitutes racialized and subalternized migrants as a form of interpellating agency deployed in the name of the excluded subjects. Novelist Mario Bencastro’s Odyssey to the North, Sandra Benítez’s Bitter Grounds, Francisco Goldman’s The Divine Husband, and the EpiCentro poets mobilize in different fashions and directions the inner contradictions of identitary and decolonial issues in reaction to colonialized perceptions of textual subjectivities—or their traces—manifested in their respective discursive practices. These phenomena cannot be understood outside of the historical flux generated by the coloniality of power.

Article

Gabriele Rippl

Ekphrasis is a Greek term whose etymological meaning is “to speak out” or “to show in full.” Debates on ekphrasis go back to classical antiquity and Homer’s lines on Hephaestos making Achilles’ shield in Book 18 of the epic The Iliad (8th century bce). Ekphrasis was considered a mode of speaking capable of bringing absent things before the listener’s inner eye by aiming at enargeia, a vivid quality of language producing evidentia (evidence) and rousing emotions through lively, precise, and detailed verbal descriptions. Over the centuries, the term underwent a considerable narrowing-down of its original meaning and eventually, during the Second Sophistic, came to designate the description of works of art. However, ancient ekphrasis, in the broader sense of detailed and lively description, had a rich afterlife throughout the Middle Ages (e.g., in Geoffrey Chaucer), the Renaissance (e.g., in Shakespeare), Neoclassicism (in Joseph Addison’s essays and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s “Laocoön”), and even into the Romantic Age (e.g., in William Wordsworth and George Gordon Byron). In its narrower sense as verbal representation/evocation of or response to a work of art or visual object, it is a ubiquitous phenomenon in 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century literature, be it poetry or narrative fiction. Many modernist, postmodernist, and post-postmodernist literary texts are replete with ekphrases, but these ekphrases very often question any mimetic or illusionist aesthetic and no longer exclusively follow the paragonal model: instead of competing with one another, ekphrastic word-image configurations are more adequately described as intermedial constellations and collaborations. As a pertinent feature of 20th- and 21st-century poetry and narrative fiction—examples are novels by Julian Barnes, Antonia Susan Byatt, Teju Cole, Siri Hustvedt, or Donna Tartt—ekphrasis has also attracted the attention of literary scholars and theoreticians of culture. Due to the many attempts to conceptualize and theorize ekphrasis, any attempt to give a simple definition will not suffice. In the 1980s and 1990s scholars such as Murray Krieger, William John Thomas Mitchell, and James Heffernan theorized ekphrasis: while Krieger saw ekphrasis as a symptom of the semiotic desire for the natural sign and Mitchell discussed ekphrasis within a paragonal framework of socio-cultural power relations, Heffernan defined ekphrasis as the verbal representation of visual representation. Included among the seminal concepts and definitions of ekphrasis in the early 21st century are approaches from phenomenology and cognitive poetics or new reception aesthetics, the digital humanities, postcolonial and transcultural studies, and the environmental humanities. By going beyond questions of representation that have dominated ekphrastic criticism for a long time, functions of ekphrasis, in particular socio-cultural and ethical functions, have gained new attention.

Article

Queer  

Octavio González and Todd Nordgren

The definitional limits of the term queer have been under conceptual, political, and ethical dispute since its reclamation from its pejorative meaning during the early AIDS crisis of the 1980s and early 1990s. Reflecting activist recuperation, queer became a means to inspire and propel a coalitional politics oriented toward nonconformity and anti-normativity among diverse sexualities and across divisions of gender. Concomitantly, queer theory arose in academia as a way to expand upon and break what some scholars saw as the restrictive disciplinary boundaries of gay and lesbian studies, which were explicitly grounded in post–Stonewall identity politics. The term’s radical potential derives in part from its grammatical fluidity, as it operates as noun, adjective, and verb—combining action, identification, and effect into a single word. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, queer of color critique drew upon a different genealogy, beyond the postmodern rupture inaugurated by Michel Foucault’s work on sexuality and “biopower,” by foregrounding black and women of color feminisms, critical race studies, and postcolonial studies in order to analyze the intersections of race, nationality, coloniality, class, sex, and gender with a Foucauldian understanding of sexuality as a privileged mode of modern power– knowledge. Queer of color critique inspired and was mirrored in investigations of the analytic boundaries of the term, often defined as a binary distinction between a minoritizing and universalizing definition of queer.

Article

American theater has long used melodramatic elements to shape the contour of racial dynamics and its representations for white mainstream audiences. Recurrent tropes of racial melodrama have appeared in such works as George Aiken’s stage adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1858) and Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon (1859), asserting a strong influence on the public perception of the ethical flaws of slavery and the ambiguity of racial identities. With its sympathetic portrayals of racial minorities as virtuous, innocent victims of social injustice, racial melodrama engaged white viewers in stories of racialized characters that aroused basic human feelings of compassion and sympathy as well as a sense of moral righteousness that encouraged and mobilized political actions, such as abolitionist movements, well beyond the theater. Modern and contemporary Asian American dramatists have adopted formal and thematic elements of melodrama and its affective strategies as a way to gain public visibility and re-articulate prevailing ethnic stereotypes formulated within a binary framework peculiar to melodrama. Melodrama’s emotional intensity and stylistic excesses effectively help to convey the historical, social, and emotional experiences of Asian Americans, including migration, displacement, and injustices such as Japanese American World War II incarceration. At the same time, Asian American dramatists’ critical revision of the melodramatic mode complicates the gendered and racialized dynamic that has defined the cultural identity of Asian Americans against white, mainstream America. The clearly melodramatic characteristics in Gladys Ling-Ai Li’s The Submission of Rose Moy (1924) seemingly reaffirm the stark division between Asian and American identities, only to reveal their ambiguities and uncertainties. While Velina Hasu Houson’s Asa Ga Kimashita (1981) and Tea (1987) render the suffering of Japanese American female characters emotionally relatable to the viewer as a universal experience, Asian female victimhood also serves as a melodramatic sign of national abjection under the violence of American racism and imperialism. Melodrama meets stage realism in Wakako Yamauchi’s The Music Lessons (1980) and in Philip Kan Gotanda’s The Wash (1985), where melodramatic pathos is facilitated through the plays’ attention to socio-political and psychological realism. Contemporary Asian American culture’s continued use of melodrama is most notable in transnational films such as The Wedding Banquet (1993) and Saving Face (2004), works that explore the potentials and limitations of melodrama as a critical aesthetic strategy.

Article

Style  

Daniel Hartley

Modern style emerged from the ruins of the premodern “separation of styles” (high, middle, and low). Whereas, previously, only the nobility could be represented in the high style and commoners in the low, modern style harbors a democratic, generic potential: in principle, anyone can write about anything in any way he or she likes. The history of modern style, as a central critical and compositional principle, is thus deeply imbricated with modern democracy and capitalist modernity. It has a unique relationship to the history of realism, which was itself premised upon the demise of the separation of styles. Many critics (e.g., Erich Auerbach, Roland Barthes, and Fredric Jameson) stress the way in which, as a concept and linguistic practice, style connects the body to a generic, Utopian potential of the everyday. Feminist critics, such as Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray, have pursued style’s relationship to the body to delineate a specifically feminine mode of writing [écriture féminine]. Marxist critics, such as Raymond Williams, have argued that style should be understood as a linguistic mode of social relationship. The corollary is that social contradictions are experienced by writers as problems of style (e.g., in Thomas Hardy: how to unite the “educated” style of the urban ruling class with the “customary” style of the rural working class into a single artistic whole). Other critics (e.g., Franco Moretti, Roberto Schwarz) have extended this logic to the scale of “world literature:” they identify stylistic discontinuity as a feature of peripheral world literature that seeks to imitate European realist forms; it is caused by a mismatch between prevailing modes of production and dominant ideologies at the core and the (semi-)periphery of the capitalist world-system. Free indirect style, which merges narrator and character into a new, third voice, has been identified as a key feature of prose fiction in the world-systemic core—the symbolic embodiment of modern, bourgeois forms of power (an “impersonal intimacy”). Finally, “late style”—a concept associated with Theodor W. Adorno and Edward W. Said—has become an influential way of characterizing works of artistic maturity written as the author approaches old age and death (though it is certainly not limited to biological maturity). It is a style in which form and subjectivity become torn from one another, the latter freeing itself only then to subtract itself (rather than “express” itself). Style thus hovers between the impersonality of the demos and the grave.

Article

Deidre Lynch

The notion that theoretical inquiry and the love of literature are at odds is a tenacious one, likewise the related account of the theorist as heartless killjoy. This article, however, challenges the notion that theory is necessarily down on love. It surveys the several strains of theory that since the turn of the 21st century have made it possible for practitioners of theory to acknowledge more readily that concept-driven intellectual work inevitably has an affective undertow. But it also looks further back, to the late 18th-century origins of the literary studies discipline, so as to understand why the love question cannot be confined to the sphere of amateurism but instead hovers persistently around what literature professors do in their classrooms: what does that persistence say about the place of ethical and affective norms in the discipline’s intellectual enterprise? And just why and how does aesthetic receptivity get defined as “love” in the first place?

Article

There is no singular manifestation of Latina/os in the white imagination. Rather, Latina/os occupy various, competing, and interdependent forms of representation. Latina/os are depicted as perpetually foreign and as the future of conservative American values. They are cast as lazy drains on society and as people who outwork Americans and take their jobs. Latinas are rendered as sexy señoritas who desire US white men and as hyper-fertile producers of “anchor babies” in the United States. And these are just a few of the ways in which US whiteness imagines Latina/os. These representations find expression in stereotypes, discursive tropes, and racial scripts—beliefs that explicitly or implicitly take narrative form. As a product of the white imagination, these depictions of Latina/os find expression in a wide array of discursive locations, from film and literature to journalism and political speech, to name a few. These manifestations of Latinas/os in the white imagination stretch across US history from the late 18th century to the 21st century. These representations have been shaped by and met the exigencies of US whites’ national and racial projects. As such, depictions of Latina/os reveal crucial aspects of US whiteness within a given historical moment and across time. While there are numerous, often contradictory elements of these depictions, they are also interdependent and work together to meet the needs of whiteness. Critically, however, Latinas/os have not been imagined by whiteness without response. Rather, throughout this history, Latinas/os have actively negotiated these dominant racial scripts—from claiming whiteness and citizenship to asserting indigenous heritage or pride in ethnic heritage—in order to meet their own needs.