An innovative reading of John Gower's work and an exciting new approach to medieval vernacular texts.
"Moral Gower" he was called by friend and sometime rival Geoffrey Chaucer, and his Confessio Amantis has been viewed as an uncomplicated analysis of the universe, combining erotic narratives with ethical guidance and political commentary. Diane Watt offers the first sustained reading of John Gower's Confessio to argue that this early vernacular text offers no real solutions to the ethical problems it raises--and in fact actively encourages "perverse" readings.
Drawing on a combination of queer and feminist theory, ethical criticism, and psychoanalytic, historicist, and textual criticism, Watt focuses on the language, sex, and politics in Gower's writing. How, she asks, is Gower's Confessio related to contemporary controversies over vernacular translation and debates about language politics? How is Gower's treatment of rhetoric and language gendered and sexualized, and what bearing does this have on the ethical and political structure of the text? What is the relationship between the erotic, ethical, and political sections of Confessio Amantis? Watt demonstrates that Gower engaged in the sort of critical thinking more commonly associated with Chaucer and William Langland at the same time that she contributes to modern debates about the ethics of criticism.
Diane Watt is senior lecturer in English at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.
The Avant-Garde and the Popular in Modern China explores how an important group of Chinese performing artists invested in politics and the pursuit of the avant-garde came to terms with different ways of being “popular” in modern times. In particular, playwright and activist Tian Han (1898-1968) exemplified the instability of conventional delineations between the avant-garde, popular culture, and political propaganda. Liang Luo traces Tian’s trajectory through key moments in the evolution of twentieth-century Chinese national culture, from the Christian socialist cosmopolitanism of post–WWI Tokyo to the urban modernism of Shanghai in 1920s and 30s, then into the Chinese hinterland during the late 1930s and 40s, and finally to the Communist Beijing of the 1950s, revealing the dynamic interplay of art and politics throughout this period. Understanding Tian in his time sheds light upon a new generation of contemporary Chinese avant-gardists (Ai Wei Wei being the best known), who, half a century later, are similarly engaging national politics and popular culture.
The rewritings of the Mexican colonia discussed in this book question a present reality of marginalities and inequality, of imposed political domination, and of hybrid subjectivities. In their examination of the novels, films, poetry, and chronicles produced in and outside of Mexico since 2000, the critics included in Colonial Itineraries of Contemporary Mexico produce new interpretations, alternative readings, and different angles of analysis that extend far beyond the theories of the new historical novel of the eighties and nineties, and well beyond the limits of the novel as re-creative genre.
Through a transformative interdisciplinary lens, this book studies the ultra-contemporary chronicles of Carlos Monsiváis, the poetry of Carmen Boullosa and Luis Felipe Fabre, and the novels of Enrique Serna, Héctor de Mauleón, Mónica Lavín, and Pablo Soler Frost, among others. The book also pays close attention to a good sample of recent children’s literature that revisit Mexico’s colonia. It includes the transatlantic perspective of Spanish novelist Inma Chacón, and a detailed analysis of the strategies employed by Laura Esquivel in the creation of a best seller. Other chapters are devoted to the study of transnational film productions, a play by Flavio González Mello, and a set of novels set in the nineteenth-century colonia that problematize static notions of both personal and national identity within specific cultural palimpsests. Taken together, these incisive readings open broader conversations about Mexican coloniality as it continues well into the twenty-first century.
"I read Peter Y. Paik’s lucid, graceful, ruthless book in one single astonished sitting. I scarred it all over with arrows and exclamation points, so I can read it again as soon as possible." —Bruce Sterling
Revolutionary narratives in recent science fiction graphic novels and films compel audiences to reflect on the politics and societal ills of the day. Through character and story, science fiction brings theory to life, giving shape to the motivations behind the action as well as to the consequences they produce.
In From Utopia to Apocalypse, Peter Y. Paik shows how science fiction generates intriguing and profound insights into politics. He reveals that the fantasy of putting annihilating omnipotence to beneficial effect underlies the revolutionary projects that have defined the collective upheavals of the modern age. Paik traces how this political theology is expressed, and indeed literalized, in popular superhero fiction, examining works including Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s graphic novel Watchmen, the science fiction cinema of Jang Joon-Hwan, the manga of Hayao Miyazaki, Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, and the Matrix trilogy. Superhero fantasies are usually seen as compensations for individual feelings of weakness, victimization, and vulnerability. But Paik presents these fantasies as social constructions concerned with questions of political will and the disintegration of democracy rather than with the psychology of the personal.
What is urgently at stake, Paik argues, is a critique of the limitations and deadlocks of the political imagination. The utopias dreamed of by totalitarianism, which must be imposed through torture, oppression, and mass imprisonment, nevertheless persist in liberal political systems. With this reality looming throughout, Paik demonstrates the uneasy juxtaposition of saintliness and cynically manipulative realpolitik, of torture and the assertion of human dignity, of cruelty and benevolence.
In recent years, the rise of fundamentalism and a related turn to religion in the humanities have led to a powerful resurgence of interest in the problem of political theology. In a critique of this contemporary fascination with the theological underpinnings of modern politics, Victoria Kahn proposes a return to secularism—whose origins she locates in the art, literature, and political theory of the early modern period—and argues in defense of literature and art as a force for secular liberal culture.
Kahn draws on theorists such as Carl Schmitt, Leo Strauss, Walter Benjamin, and Hannah Arendt and their readings of Shakespeare, Hobbes, Machiavelli, and Spinoza to illustrate that the dialogue between these modern and early modern figures can help us rethink the contemporary problem of political theology. Twentieth-century critics, she shows, saw the early modern period as a break from the older form of political theology that entailed the theological legitimization of the state. Rather, the period signaled a new emphasis on a secular notion of human agency and a new preoccupation with the ways art and fiction intersected the terrain of religion.
More than twenty years after its publication in 1991, Leslie Marmon Silko’s monumental novel Almanac of the Dead continues to disconcert, move, provoke, and outrage readers. In a work that is overtly and often uncomfortably political, Silko’s overflowing cast of characters includes representatives from a range of cultures and communities who are united by common experiences of dispossession, disenfranchisement, exploitation, and poverty. Clearly, Silko’s depiction of a social uprising that draws together the indigenous People’s Army of the Americas and the American Army of the Homeless triggered—and was designed to trigger—a range of reactions among readers and critics alike.
Howling for Justice actively engages with both the literary achievements and the politics of Silko’s text. It brings together essays by international scholars reacting to the novel while keeping in mind its larger concern with issues of social justice, both local and transnational. Aiming both to refocus critical attention and open the book to a broader array of readers, this collection offers fresh perspectives on its transnational vision, on its sociocultural, historical, and political ambitions, and on its continued relevance in the twenty-first century. The essays examine and explain some of the key points that readers and critics have identified as confusing, problematic, and divisive. Together, they offer new ways to approach and appreciate the text.
The book concludes with a new, never-before-published interview in which Silko reflects on the twenty years since the novel’s publication and relates the concerns of Almanac to her current work.
From Ulysses to Finnegans Wake, James Joyce’s writings rank among the most intimidating works of literature. Unfortunately, many of the books that purport to explain Joyce are equally difficult. The Critical Lives series comes to the rescue with this concise yet deep examination of Joyce’s life and literary accomplishments, an examination that centers on Joyce’s mythical and actual Ireland as the true nucleus of his work.
Andrew Gibson argues here that the most important elements in Joyce’s novels are historically material and specific to Ireland—not, as is assumed, broadly modernist. Taking Joyce “local,” Gibson highlights the historical and political traditions within Joyce’s family and upbringing and then makes the case that Ireland must play a primary role in the study of Joyce. The fall of Charles Stewart Parnell, the collapse of political hope after the Irish nationalist upheavals, the early twentieth-century shift by Irish public activists from political to cultural concerns—all are crucial to Joyce’s literary evolution. Even the author’s move to mainland Europe, asserts Gibson, was actually the continuation of a centuries-old Irish legacy of emigration rather than an abandonment of his native land.
In the thousands, perhaps millions, of words written about Joyce, Ireland often takes a back seat to his formal experimentalism and the modernist project as a whole. Yet here Gibson challenges this conventional portrait of Joyce, demonstrating that the tightest focus—Joyce as an Irishman—yields the clearest picture.
The Chinese ideogram chi is far richer in connotation than the equivalent English verb “to eat.” Chi can also be read as “the mouth that begs for food and words.” A concept manifest in the twentieth-century Chinese political reality of revolution and massacre, chi suggests a narrative of desire that moves from lack to satiation and back again. In China such fundamental acts as eating or refusing to eat can carry enormous symbolic weight. This book examines the twentieth-century Chinese political experience as it is represented in literature through hunger, cooking, eating, and cannibalizing. At the core of Gang Yue’s argument lies the premise that the discourse surrounding the most universal of basic human acts—eating—is a culturally specific one. Yue’s discussion begins with a brief look at ancient Chinese alimentary writing and then moves on to its main concern: the exploration and textual analysis of themes of eating in modern Chinese literature from the May Fourth period through the post-Tiananmen era. The broad historical scope of this volume illustrates how widely applicable eating-related metaphors can be. For instance, Yue shows how cannibalism symbolizes old China under European colonization in the writing of Lu Xun. In Mo Yan’s 1992 novel Liquorland, however, cannibalism becomes the symbol of overindulgent consumerism. Yue considers other writers as well, such as Shen Congwen, Wang Ruowang, Lu Wenfu, Zhang Zianliang, Ah Cheng, Zheng Yi, and Liu Zhenyun. A special section devoted to women writers includes a chapter on Xiao Hong, Wang Anyi, and Li Ang, and another on the Chinese-American women writers Jade Snow Wong, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Amy Tan. Throughout, the author compares and contrasts the work of these writers with similarly themed Western literature, weaving a personal and political semiotics of eating. The Mouth That Begs will interest sinologists, literary critics, anthropologists, cultural studies scholars, and everyone curious about the semiotics of food.
Politics, Writing, Mutilation was first published in 1985. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.
Five twentieth-century French writers played, and continue to play, a pivotal role in the development of literary-philosophical thinking that has come to be known in the United States as post-structuralism. The work of Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, Raymond Roussel, Michel Leiris, and Francis Ponge in the 1930s and 1940s amounts to a prehistory of today's theoretical debates; the writings of Foucault and Derrida in particular would have been unthinkable outside the context provided by these writers. In Politics, Writing, Mutilation,Allan Stoekl emphasizes their role as precursors, but he also makes clear that they created a distinctive body of work that must be read and evaluated on its own terms.
Stoekl's critical readings of their work—selected novels, poems, and autobiographical fragments—reveal them to be battlegrounds not only of disruptive language practices, but of conflicting political drives as well. These irreconcilable tendencies can be defined as progressive political revolution, on the one hand with its emphasis on utility, conservation, and labor; and, on the other hand, a notion of dangerous and sinister production that stresses orgiastic sexuality and delirious expenditure. Caught between these forces is the intellectual of Bataille's time (and indeed of ours), locked in impotence, self-betrayal, and automutilation.
Stoekl develops his critique through dual readings of each writer's central work—the first reading deconstructive, the second a search for the political meaning excluded by a deconstructive approach. Repeating this process on a larger scale, he shows how Derrida and Foucault are indebted to their precursors even while they have betrayed them by stripping their work of political conflict and historical specificity. And he acknowledges that one of the most painful questions faced in prewar and Occupied France—that of the unthinkable guilt and duplicity of the intellectual—may not be as remote from contemporary theoretical concerns as some would have us believe.
In the late 1930s, John Steinbeck, Richard Wright, and Ernest Hemingway wrote novels that won critical acclaim and popular success: The Grapes of Wrath, Native Son, and For Whom the Bell Tolls. All three writers were involved with the Left at the time, and that commitment informed their fiction. Milton Cohen examines their motives for involvement with the Left; their novels’ political themes; and why they separated from the Left after the novels were published. These writers were deeply conflicted about their political commitments, and Cohen explores the tensions that arose between politics and art, resulting in the abandonment of a political attachment.
Rewriting Modernity: Studies in Black South African Literary History connects the black literary archive in South Africa—from the nineteenth-century writing of Tiyo Soga to Zakes Mda in the twenty-first century—to international postcolonial studies via the theory of transculturation, a position adapted from the Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz.
David Attwell provides a welcome complication of the linear black literary history—literature as a reflection of the process of political emancipation—that is so often presented. He focuses on cultural transactions in a series of key moments and argues that black writers in South Africa have used print culture to map themselves onto modernity as contemporary subjects, to negotiate, counteract, reinvent, and recast their positioning within colonialism, apartheid, and the context of democracy.
Shakespeare and Trump
Jeffrey R. Wilson Temple University Press, 2020 Library of Congress PR3017 | Dewey Decimal 822.33
Should we draw an analogy between Shakespeare’s tyrants—Richard III, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and King Lear—and Donald Trump? In Shakespeare and Trump, Jeffrey Wilson applies literary criticism to real life, examining plot, character, villainy, soliloquy, tragedy, myth, and metaphor to identify the formal features of the Trump phenomenon, and its hidden causes, structure, and meanings.
Wilsonapproaches his comparison prismatically. He first considers two high-concept (read: far-fetched) Shakespeare adaptations penned by Trump’s former chief political strategist Steve Bannon. He looks at University of Pennsylvania students protesting Trump by taking down a monument to Shakespeare. He reads Trump’s first 100 days in office against Netflix’s House of Cards. Wilson also addresses the summer 2017 Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar wherein an assassination of a Trump-ian leader caused corporations to withdraw sponsorship.
These stories reveal a surprising—and bizarre—relationship between the provincial English playwright and the billionaire President of the United States, ostensibly a medieval king living in a modern world. The comparison reveals a politics that blends villainy and comedy en route to tragedy.
Philip Metres stakes a claim for the cultural work that poems can perform—from providing refuge to embodying resistance, from recovering silenced voices to building a more just world, in communities of solitude and solidarity. Gathering a decade of his writing on poetry, he widens our sense of poetry as a way of being in the world, proposing that poems can offer a permeability to marginalized voices and a shelter from the imperial noise and despair that can silence us. The Sound of Listening ranges between expansive surveys of the poetry of 9/11, Arab American poetry, documentary poetry, landscape poetry, installation poetry, and peace poetry; personal explorations of poets such as Adrienne Rich, Khalil Gibran, Lev Rubinstein, and Arseny Tarkovsky; and intimate dialogues with Randa Jarrar, Fady Joudah, and Micah Cavaleri, that illuminate Metres’s practice of listening in his 2015 work, Sand Opera.
Throughout American history there has been an oddly close relationship between the seductive appeals of narrative fiction and those of political rhetoric and advocacy. The aim of Stories of Nation: Fictions, Politics, and the American Experience is to explore what political narratives and the cultural poetics behind them reveal about the way our personal and intimate lives are deeply connected with the public arena and the political process.
The first section of the book, “The Politics of Fictions,” contains essays focused on works of fiction consciously dramatizing the political realm. The second group of contributions, “The Fictions of Politics,” explores structures and motifs from the narrative arts in discourses of American political life, and the interactions of public institutions and policy with forms of fictional representation, from novels to popular music and TV drama.
The essays presented here broaden the conversation in American literary studies about what constitutes “the political” in literature and culture by reintroducing the dimension of institutional or representative politics. Likewise, Stories of Nation aims to repair the lines of communication between the idea that all fiction is political, and the view that political speech is a subgenre of literature all the more in need of examination in a highly polarized society.
The range of perspectives in Stories of Nation will engage students of literature, popular culture, and politics alike.
MARTIN GRIFFIN is an associate professor in the Department of English at the University of Tennessee. He is the author of Ashes of the Mind: War and Memory in Northern Literature, 1865–1900 (2009) and co-author, with Constance DeVereaux, of Narrative, Identity, and the Map of Cultural Policy: Once Upon a Time in a Globalized World (2013).
CHRISTOPHER HEBERT is an assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of Tennessee and is former senior acquisitions editor at the University of Michigan Press. He is the author of the novels Angels of Detroit (2016) and The Boiling Season (2012).
How does the language of poetry conspire with the language of power? This question is at the heart of this volume which deals with Indonesia and the Philippines in the early modern and post-1945 periods. These two nations have been shaped by the forces of nationalism, revolution, and metropolitan hegemony. Whether written in Malay, Tagalog, English, or Dutch the writings coming from them carry the contradictions of their time and place in the milieu of race and class. The contributors examine the literature and politics of Indonesia and Philippines from the point of view of contemporary thinking. Their examinations include the responses of indigenous writers to censorship and to their marginalization and cooption by colonial and neocolonial states. They investigate the rhetoric of spectacle in the Philippines of Ferdinand Marcos, the function of pasyon in Tagalog religious narrative, the writings of Pramoedya Ananta Toer in Indonesia, and the memoirs of a Javanese aristocrat. This book will be of interest to colonial historians and to students and scholars of non-Western and comparative literature.
In a dramatically original analysis, Jackie DiSalvo explores Blake’s reworking of Genesis and Paradise Lost in his prophetic poem The Four Zoas, creating a compelling new reading of both Milton and Blake. With informed argument and provocative insights, DiSalvo shows how Blake’s view of history prefigures the revaluation of our own myths of origin prompted by new political, psychological, and feminist perspectives.
In Wedded to the Land? Mary N. Layoun offers a critical commentary on the idea of nationalism in general and on specific attempts to formulate alternatives to the concept in particular. Narratives surrounding three geographically and temporally different national crises form the center of her study: Greek refugees’ displacement from Asia Minor into Greece in 1922, the 1974 right-wing Cypriot coup and subsequent Turkish invasion of Cyprus, and the Palestinian and PLO expulsion from Beirut following the Israeli invasion in 1982. Drawing on readings of literature and of official documents and decrees, songs, poetry, cinema, public monuments, journalism, and conversations with exiles, refugees, and public officials, Layoun uses each historical incident as a means of highlighting a recurring trope within constructs of nationalism. The displacement of the Greek refugees in the 1920s calls into question the very idea of home, as well as the desire for ethnic homogeneity within nations. She reads the Cypriot coup and invasion as an illustration of the gendering of nation and how the notion of the inviolable woman came to represent sovereignity. In her third example she shows how the Palestinian and PLO expulsion from Beirut highlights the ambiguity of the borders upon which many manifestations of nationalism putatively depend. These chapters are preceded and introduced by a discussion of “culturing the nation” and closed by a consideration of citizenship and silence in which Layoun discusses rights ostensibly possessed by all members of a political community. This book will be of interest to scholars engaged in cultural and critical theory, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean history, literary studies, political science, postcolonial studies, and gender studies.
Writing involves risks—the risk that one will be misunderstood, the risk of being persecuted, the risks of being made a champion for causes in which one does not believe, this risk of inadvertently supporting a reader’s prejudices, to name a few. In trying to give expression to what is true, the writer must “clear a passage within the agitated world of passions,” an undertaking that always to some extent fails: writers are never the master of their own speech. In Writing: The Political Test, France’s leading political philosopher, Claude Lefort, illuminates the process by which writers negotiate difficult path to free themselves from the ideological and contextual traps that would doom their attempts to articulate a new vision. Lefort examines writers whose works provide special insights into this problem of risk, both literary artists and political philosophers. Among them are Salman Rushdie, Sade, Tocqueville,m Machiavelli, Leo Strauss, Orwell, Kant, Robespierre, Guizot, and Pierre Clastres. In Tocqueville, for example, Lefort finds that the author’s improvisatory and open-ended expression represents the character of the democratic experience. Orwell’s work on totalitarianism shows up the totalitarian subject’s complicity in this political regime. And Rushdie is remarkable for his solid attack on relativism. With the character and fate of the political forms of modernity, democracy, and totalitarianism a central theme, Lefort concludes with some reflections on the collapse of the Soviet Union. This intriguing and accessible exploration of literature’s political aspects and political philosophy’s literary ones will be welcomed by those who have been stymied by current efforts to bridge these two fields. Taken together, the essays in this volume also stand as an intellectual autobiography of Lefort, making it an excellent introduction to his work for less experience students of political theory or philosophy.