With his mastery of modernist technique and his depictions of characters obsessed with the past, Nobel laureate William Faulkner raised the bar for southern fiction writers. But the work of two later authors shows that the aesthetic of memory is not enough: Confederate thunder fades as they turn to an explicitly religious source of meaning.
According to John Sykes, the fiction of Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy provides occasions for divine revelation. He traces their work from its common roots in midcentury southern and Catholic intellectual life to show how the two adopted different theological emphases and rhetorical strategies—O’Connor building to climactic images, Percy striving for dialogue with the reader—as a means of uncovering the sacramental foundation of the created order.
Sykes sets O’Connor and Percy against the background of the Southern Renaissance from which they emerged, showing not only how they shared a distinctly Christian notion of art that led them to see fiction as revelatory but also how their methods of revelation took them in different directions. Yet, despite their differences in strategy and emphasis, he argues that the two are united in their conception of the artist as “God’s sharp-eyed witness,” and he connects them with the philosophers and critics, both Christian and non-Christian, who had a meaningful influence on their work.
Through sustained readings of key texts—particularly such O’Connor stories as “The Artificial Nigger” and “The Geranium” and Percy’s novels Love in the Ruins and The Second Coming—Sykes focuses on the intertwined themes of revelation, sacrament, and community. He views their work in relation to the theological difficulties that they were not able to overcome concerning community. For both writers, the question of community is further complicated by the changing nature of the South as the Lost Cause and segregation lose their holds and a new form of prosperity arises.
By disclosing how O’Connor and Percy made aesthetic choices based on their Catholicism and their belief that fiction by its very nature is revelatory, Sykes demonstrates that their work cannot be seen as merely a continuation of the historical aesthetic that dominated southern literature for so long. Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, and the Aesthetic of Revelation is theoretically sophisticated without being esoteric and is accessible to any reader with a serious interest in these writers, brimming with fresh insights about both that clarify their approaches to art and enrich our understanding of their work.
Kafka's Blues proves the startling thesis that many of Kafka's major works engage in a coherent, sustained meditation on racial transformation from white European into what Kafka refers to as the "Negro" (a term he used in English). Indeed, this book demonstrates that cultural assimilation and bodily transformation in Kafka's work are impossible without passage through a state of being "Negro." Kafka represents this passage in various ways—from reflections on New World slavery and black music to evolutionary theory, biblical allusion, and aesthetic primitivism—each grounded in a concept of writing that is linked to the perceived congenital musicality of the "Negro," and which is bound to his wider conception of aesthetic production. Mark Christian Thompson offers new close readings of canonical texts and undervalued letters and diary entries set in the context of the afterlife of New World slavery and in Czech and German popular culture.
Literary Gestures: The Aesthetic in Asian American Writing contests the dominance of materialist and cultural critiques in Asian American literary discourse by re-centering critical attention around issues of aesthetics and literary form. Collapsing the perceived divisions between the "ethnic" and the "aesthetic" in Asian American literary criticism, the eleven original essays in this volume provide theoretically sophisticated and formally sensitive readings of works in prose, poetry, and drama. These contributions bring discussions of genre, canonicity, narrative, and literary value to the fore to show how aesthetic and formal concerns play an important part in the production and consumption of these works. By calling for a more balanced mode of criticism, this collection invites students and scholars to reinvest in the literary, not as a negation of the sociopolitical, but as a complementary strategy in reading and understanding Asian American literature.
Tony C. Brown examines “the inescapable yet infinitely troubling figure of the not-quite-nothing” in Enlightenment attempts to think about the aesthetic and the savage. The various texts Brown considers—including the writings of Addison, Rousseau, Kant, and Defoe—turn to exotic figures in order to delimit the aesthetic, and to aesthetics in order to comprehend the savage.
In his intriguing exploration Brown discovers that the primitive introduces into the aesthetic and the savage an element that proves necessary yet difficult to conceive. At its most profound, Brown explains, this element engenders a loss of confidence in one’s ability to understand the human’s relation to itself and to the world. That loss of confidence—what Brown refers to as a breach in anthropological security—traces to an inability to maintain a sense of self in the face of the New World. Demonstrating the impact of the primitive on the aesthetic and the savage, he shows how the eighteenth-century writers he focuses on struggle to define the human’s place in the world. As Brown explains, these authors go back again and again to “exotic” examples from the New World—such as Indian burial mounds and Maori tattooing practice—making them so ubiquitous that they come to underwrite, even produce, philosophy and aesthetics.
From IKEA assembly guides and “hands and pans” cooking videos on social media to Mister Rogers's classic factory tours, representations of the step-by-step fabrication of objects and food are ubiquitous in popular media. In The Process Genre Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky introduces and theorizes the process genre—a heretofore unacknowledged and untheorized transmedial genre characterized by its representation of chronologically ordered steps in which some form of labor results in a finished product. Originating in the fifteenth century with machine drawings, and now including everything from cookbooks to instructional videos and art cinema, the process genre achieves its most powerful affective and ideological results in film. By visualizing technique and absorbing viewers into the actions of social actors and machines, industrial, educational, ethnographic, and other process films stake out diverse ideological positions on the meaning of labor and on a society's level of technological development. In systematically theorizing a genre familiar to anyone with access to a screen, Skvirsky opens up new possibilities for film theory.