Lying appears to be ubiquitous, what Franz Kafka called "a universal principle”; yet, despite a number of recent books on the subject, it has been given comparatively little genuinely systematic attention by philosophers, social scientists, or even literary theorists. In The Habit of Lying John Vignaux Smyth examines three forms of falsification—lying, concealment, and fiction—and makes a strong critique of traditional approaches to each of them, and, above all, to the relations among them. With recourse to Rene Girard, Paul de Man, Theodor Adorno, Leo Strauss, and other theoreticians not usually considered together, Smyth arrives at some surprising conclusions about the connections between lying, mimesis, sacrifice, sadomasochism, and the sacred, among other central subjects. Arguing that the relation between lying and truthtelling has been characterized in the West by sharply sacrificial features, he begins with a critique of the philosophies of lying espoused by Kant and Sissela Bok, then concludes that the problem of truth and lies leads to the further problem of the relation between law and arbitrariness as well as to the relation between rationality and unanimity. Constructively criticizing the work of such philosophers as Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Richard Rorty, and Nelson Goodman, Smyth shows how these problems occur comparably in fiction theory and how Paul de Man’s definition of fiction as arbitrariness finds confirmation in analytic philosophy. Through the novels of Defoe, Stendhal, and Beckett—with topics ranging from Defoe’s treatment of lies, fiction, and obscenity to Beckett’s treatment of the anus and the sacred—Smyth demonstrates how these texts generalize the issues of mendacity, concealment, and sacrificial arbitrariness in Girard’s sense to almost every aspect of experience, fiction theory, and cultural life. The final section of the book, taking its cue from Shakespeare, elaborates a sacrificial view of the history of fashion and dress concealment.
The Hatred of Literature
William Marx Harvard University Press, 2018 Library of Congress PN45.M387313 2018 | Dewey Decimal 801.9
For 2,500 years literature has been condemned in the name of authority, truth, morality and society. But in making explicit what a society expects from literature, anti-literary discourse paradoxically asserts the validity of what it wishes to deny. The threat to literature’s continued existence, William Marx writes, is not hatred but indifference.
Hearing Things is a meditation on sound’s work in literature. Drawing on critical works and the commentaries of many poets and novelists who have paid close attention to the role of the ear in writing and reading, Angela Leighton offers a reconsideration of literature itself as an exercise in hearing.
An established critic and poet, Leighton explains how we listen to the printed word, while showing how writers use the expressivity of sound on the silent page. Although her focus is largely on poets—Alfred Tennyson, W. B. Yeats, Robert Frost, Walter de la Mare, Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, Jorie Graham, and Alice Oswald—Leighton’s scope includes novels, letters, and philosophical writings as well. Her argument is grounded in the specificity of the text under discussion, but one important message emerges from the whole: literature by its very nature commands listening, and listening is a form of understanding that has often been overlooked. Hearing Things offers a renewed call for the kind of criticism that, avoiding the programmatic or purely ideological, remains alert to the work of sound in every literary text.
As the size of the United States more than doubled during the first half of the nineteenth century, a powerful current of anxiety ran alongside the well-documented optimism about national expansion. Heartless Immensity tells the story of how Americans made sense of their country’s constantly fluctuating borders and its annexation of vast new territories. Anne Baker looks at a variety of sources, including letters, speeches, newspaper editorials, schoolbooks, as well as visual and literary works of art. These cultural artifacts suggest that the country’s anxiety was fueled primarily by two concerns: fears about the size of the nation as a threat to democracy, and about the incorporation of nonwhite, non-Protestant regions. These fears had a consistent and influential presence until after the Civil War, functioning as vital catalysts for the explosion of literary creativity known as the “American Renaissance,” including the work of Melville, Thoreau, and Fuller, among others.
Building on extensive archival research as well as insights from cultural geographers and theorists of nationhood, Heartless Immensity demonstrates that national expansion had a far more complicated, multifaceted impact on antebellum American culture than has previously been recognized. Baker shows that Americans developed a variety of linguistic strategies for imagining the form of the United States and its position in relation to other geopolitical entities. Comparisons
to European empires, biblical allusions, body politic metaphors, and metaphors derived from science all reflected—and often attempted to assuage—fears that the nation was becoming either monstrously large or else misshapen in ways that threatened cherished beliefs and national self-images.
Heartless Immensity argues that, in order to understand the nation’s shift from republic to empire and to understand American culture in a global context, it is first necessary to pay close attention to the processes by which the physical entity known as the United States came into being. This impressively thorough study will make a valuable contribution to the fields of American studies and literary studies.
Anne Baker is Assistant Professor of English at North Carolina State University.
Challenging the prevailing belief that Mark Twain’s position on religion hovered somewhere between skepticism and outright heresy, Lawrence Berkove and Joseph Csicsila marshal biographical details of Twain’s life alongside close readings of his work to explore the religious faith of America’s most beloved writer and humorist. They conclude not only that religion was an important factor in Twain’s life but also that the popular conception of Twain as agnostic, atheist, or apostate is simply wrong.
Heretical Fictions is the first full-length study to assess the importance of Twain’s heretical Calvinism as the foundation of his major works, bringing to light important thematic ties that connect the author’s early work to his high period and from there to his late work. Berkove and Csicsila set forth the main elements of Twain’s “countertheological” interpretation of Calvinism and analyze in detail the way it shapes five of his major books—Roughing It, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger—as well as some of his major short stories. The result is a ground-breaking and unconventional portrait of a seminal figure in American letters.
The first book-length exploration of Marianne Moore's prose focuses on her private and public critical exchanges with Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and T.S. Eliot. Drawing on previously unpublished material from the Moore Archive—correspondence, notebooks, manuscript notes, and books—Celeste Goodridge establishes Moore's central role as both poet-critic and prose stylist, providing a new perspective for considering Moore in relation to her contemporaries.
With clarity and elegance, Goodridge shows that Moore's most compelling critical judgments can best be recovered by examining the relationship between her private disclosures and her public pronouncements; her aesthetic of "hints and disguises" reveals a tension between what she felt free to voice and what she chose to veil.
In writing about these four poets, Moore made her greatest contribution to modernist criticism. With unusual perspicacity, she anticipated and defined many of the critical debates which still surround these writers' projects. Furthermore, Moore's critical exchanges indicated that her deepest alliances were with Stevens and Pound and not, as most have argued, with Williams and Eliot.
In this groundbreaking volume, Krzysztof Ziarek rethinks modern experience by bringing together philosophical critiques of modernity and avant-garde poetry. Ziarek explores, through selective readings of avant-garde poetry, the key aspects of the radical critique of experience: technology, everydayness, event, and sexual difference. To that extent, The Historicity of Experience is less a book about the avant-garde than a critique of experience through the avant-garde. Ziarek reads the avant-garde in dialogue with the work of some of the major critics of modernity (Martin Heidegger, Walter Benjamin, Jean-François Lyotard, and Luce Irigaray) to show how avant-garde experiments bear critically on the issue of modern experience and its technological organization.
The four poets Ziarek considers-Gertrude Stein, Velimir Khlebnikov, Miron Biaoszewski, and Susan Howe-demonstrate the broad reach of and variety of forms taken by the avant-garde revision of experience and aesthetics. Moreover, this quartet illustrates how the main operative concepts and strategies of the avant-garde underpinned the practices of canonical writers. A profound philosophical meditation on language, modernity, and the everyday, The Historicity of Experience offers a fundamental reconceptualization of the avant-garde in relation to experience.
The Canadian Prairie has long been represented as a timeless and unchanging location, defined by settlement and landscape. Now, a new generation of writers and historians challenge that perception and argue, instead, that it is a region with an evolving culture and history. This collection of ten essays explores a more contemporary prairie identity, and reconfigures "the prairie" as a construct that is non-linear and diverse, responding to the impact of geographical, historical, and political currents. These writers explore the connections between document and imagination, between history and culture, and between geography and time.The subjects of the essays range widely: the non-linear structure of Carol Shield's The Stone Diaries; the impact of Aberhart's Social Credit, Marshall McLuhan, and Mesopotamian myth on Robert Kroetsch's prairie postmodernism; the role of document in long prairie poems; the connection between cultural tourism and heritage; the theme of regeneration in Margaret Laurence's Manawaka writing; the influence of imagination on geography in Thomas Wharton's Icefields; and the effects on an alpine climber of pre-WWII ideological concepts of time and individualism.
Why do we so often speak of books as living, flourishing, and dying? And what is at stake when we do so? This habit of treating books as people, or personifying texts, is rampant in postwar American culture. In this bracing study, Amy Hungerford argues that such personification has become pivotal to our contemporary understanding of both literature and genocide. Personified texts, she contends, play a particularly powerful role in works where the systematic destruction of entire ethnic groups is at issue.
Hungerford examines the implications of conflating texts with people in a broad range of texts: Art Spiegelman's Maus; Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451; the poetry of Sylvia Plath; Binjamin Wilkomirski's fake Holocaust memoir Fragments; and the fiction of Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, and Don DeLillo. She considers the ethical consequences of this trend in the work of recent and contemporary theorists and literary critics as well, including Cathy Caruth, Jacqueline Rose, Jacques Derrida, and Paul de Man. What she uncovers are fundamentally flawed ideas about representation that underwrite and thus undermine powerful and commonly accepted claims about literature and identity. According to Hungerford, the personification of texts is ethically corrosive and theoretically unsound. When we exalt the literary as personal and construe genocide as less a destruction of human life than of culture, we esteem memory over learning, short-circuit debates about cultural change, lend credence to the illusion or metaphysics of presence, and limit our conception of literature and its purpose.
Ultimately, The Holocaust of Texts asks us to think more deeply about the relationship between reading, experience, and memorialization. Why, for instance, is it more important to remember acts of genocide than simply to learn about them? If literary works are truly the bearers of ontology, then what must be our conduct toward them? Considering difficult questions such as these with fresh logic, Hungerford offers us an invigorating work, one that will not only interest scholars of American and postwar literature, but students of the Holocaust and critical theory as well.
But is it original? The question, on which so much of writing stakes its claim to greatness, may be more interesting than the answer. In this provocative book, Francoise Meltzer takes a subtle and incisive look at the anxiety of origins at the heart of the literary enterprise. Using four case studies, Meltzer reveals the shaky status of originality as a founding principle of the critical establishment.
Freud, inventor of "dream work," turns a blind eye upon the dreams that were the starting point of his predecessor Descartes's famous methode, the one man's obsession with originality mirroring the other's fear of plagiarism. The Holocaust poet Paul Celan, whose sense of identity and place resided in his work, is devastated by a charge of plagiarism. Colette's husband Willy outdoes himself, and his "lazy" wife as well, with his enactment of literary seriousness. Walter Benjamin's early interpreters, notably Hannah Arendt and Theodor Adorno, insidiously undermine the originality of his project . In each of these cases, Meltzer shows how a threat to a writer's status as creator betrays the larger fraud of the originality myth itself.
Fascinating for its insights into the ways originality is both at risk and at work in Western literary culture, Hot Property will engage all those who have an interest in questions of authorship, textual soveriegnty, and the legitimacy of the critical establishment.
In the eighteenth century, as modern forms of literature began to emerge in Russia, most of the writers producing it were members of the nobility. But their literary pursuits competed with strictly enforced obligations to imperial state service. Unique to Russia was the Table of Ranks, introduced by Emperor Peter the Great in 1722. Noblesse oblige was not just a lofty principle; aristocrats were expected to serve in the military, civil service, or the court, and their status among peers depended on advancement in ranks.
Irina Reyfman illuminates the surprisingly diverse effects of the Table of Ranks on writers, their work, and literary culture in Russia. From Sumarokov and Derzhavin in the eighteenth century through Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky, and poets serving in the military in the nineteenth, state service affected the self-images of writers and the themes of their creative output. Reyfman also notes its effects on Russia’s atypical course in the professionalization and social status of literary work.
In this age of DNA computers and artificial intelligence, information is becoming disembodied even as the "bodies" that once carried it vanish into virtuality. While some marvel at these changes, envisioning consciousness downloaded into a computer or humans "beamed" Star Trek-style, others view them with horror, seeing monsters brooding in the machines. In How We Became Posthuman, N. Katherine Hayles separates hype from fact, investigating the fate of embodiment in an information age.
Hayles relates three interwoven stories: how information lost its body, that is, how it came to be conceptualized as an entity separate from the material forms that carry it; the cultural and technological construction of the cyborg; and the dismantling of the liberal humanist "subject" in cybernetic discourse, along with the emergence of the "posthuman."
Ranging widely across the history of technology, cultural studies, and literary criticism, Hayles shows what had to be erased, forgotten, and elided to conceive of information as a disembodied entity. Thus she moves from the post-World War II Macy Conferences on cybernetics to the 1952 novel Limbo by cybernetics aficionado Bernard Wolfe; from the concept of self-making to Philip K. Dick's literary explorations of hallucination and reality; and from artificial life to postmodern novels exploring the implications of seeing humans as cybernetic systems.
Although becoming posthuman can be nightmarish, Hayles shows how it can also be liberating. From the birth of cybernetics to artificial life, How We Became Posthuman provides an indispensable account of how we arrived in our virtual age, and of where we might go from here.
Hermann Broch (1886-1951) is remembered among English-speaking readers for his novels The Sleepwalkers and The Death of Virgil, and among German-speaking readers for his novels as well as his works on moral and political philosophy, his aesthetic theory, and his varied criticism. This study reveals Broch as a major historian as well, one who believes that true historical understanding requires the faculties of both poet and philosopher.
Through an analysis of the changing thought and career of the Austrian poet, librettist, and essaist Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929), Broch attempts to define and analyze the major intellectual issues of the European fin de siècle, a period that he characterizes according to the Nietzschean concepts of the breakdown of rationality and the loss of a central value system. The result is a major examination of European thought as well as a comparative study of political systems and artistic styles.
In A Hundred Himalayas, Sydney Lea has collected a group of essays written over 30 years, representing what he refers to as the persistence of preoccupations and the absence of theory---a group of speculations, each one a single Himalaya, together a great elevation achieved in small increments. His musings on his own "favored genius," Robert Frost, his own approach to literary criticism, imagination, the American nature essay, rural life, the process of writing a poem, and fitting writing into everyday life all combine to create a picture of the things that interest Lea. "If there is grandeur at all in this volume," he says, "then, it must come in small increments." All of his small increments of gentle and insightful writing combine to create a collection that is, indeed, grand.