American Hybrid Poetics explores the ways in which hybrid poetics—a playful mixing of disparate formal and aesthetic strategies—have been the driving force in the work of a historically and culturally diverse group of women poets who are part of a robust tradition in contesting the dominant cultural order. Amy Moorman Robbins examines the ways in which five poets—Gertrude Stein, Laura Mullen, Alice Notley, Harryette Mullen, and Claudia Rankine—use hybridity as an implicitly political strategy to interrupt mainstream American language, literary genres, and visual culture, and expose the ways in which mass culture in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has had a powerfully standardizing impact on the collective American imagination. By forcing encounters between incompatible traditions—consumer culture with the avant-garde, low culture forms with experimental poetics, prose poetry with linguistic subversiveness—these poets bring together radically competing ideologies and highlight their implications for lived experience. Robbins argues that it is precisely because these poets have mixed forms that their work has gone largely unnoticed by leading members and critics in experimental poetry circles.
Leo Tolstoy’s and Vladimir Nabokov’s radically opposed aesthetic worldviews emanate from a shared intuition—that approaching a text skeptically is easy, but trusting it is hard
Two figures central to the Russian literary tradition—Tolstoy, the moralist, and Nabokov, the aesthete—seem to have sharply conflicting ideas about the purpose of literature. Tatyana Gershkovich undermines this familiar opposition by identifying a shared fear at the root of their seemingly antithetical aesthetics: that one’s experience of the world might be entirely one’s own, private and impossible to share through art.
Art in Doubt: Tolstoy, Nabokov, and the Problem of Other Minds reconceives the pair’s celebrated fiction and contentious theorizing as coherent, lifelong efforts to reckon with the problem of other people’s minds. Gershkovich demonstrates how the authors’ shared yearning for an impossibly intimate knowledge of others formed and deformed their fiction and brought them through parallel logic to their rival late styles: Tolstoy’s rustic simplicity and Nabokov’s baroque complexity. Unlike those authors for whom the skeptical predicament ends in absurdity or despair, Tolstoy and Nabokov both hold out hope that skepticism can be overcome, not by force of will but with the right kind of text, one designed to withstand our impulse to doubt it. Through close readings of key canonical works—Anna Karenina, The Kreutzer Sonata, Hadji Murat, The Gift, Pale Fire—this book brings the twin titans of Russian fiction to bear on contemporary debates about how we read now, and how we ought to.
In Black Aliveness, or A Poetics of Being, Kevin Quashie imagines a Black world in which one encounters Black being as it is rather than only as it exists in the shadow of anti-Black violence. As such, he makes a case for Black aliveness even in the face of the persistence of death in Black life and Black study. Centrally, Quashie theorizes aliveness through the aesthetics of poetry, reading poetic inhabitance in Black feminist literary texts by Lucille Clifton, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Toni Morrison, and Evie Shockley, among others, showing how their philosophical and creative thinking constitutes worldmaking. This worldmaking conceptualizes Blackness as capacious, relational beyond the normative terms of recognition—Blackness as a condition of oneness. Reading for poetic aliveness, then, becomes a means of exploring Black being rather than nonbeing and animates the ethical question “how to be.” In this way, Quashie offers a Black feminist philosophy of being, which is nothing less than a philosophy of the becoming of the Black world.
Eternalized Fragments explores the implications of treating literature as art—examining the evolving nature of aesthetic inquiry in literary studies, with an eye to how twentieth- and twenty-first-century world fiction challenges our understandings of form, pleasure, ethics, and other critical concepts traditionally associated with the study of aesthetics.
Since postmodern and contemporary fiction tend to be dominated by disjunctures, paradoxes, and incongruities, this book offers an account of how and why readers choose to engage regardless, articulating the cognitive rewards such difficulties offer. By putting narrative and philosophical approaches in conversation with evolutionary psychology and contemporary neuroscience, W. Michelle Wang examines the value of attending to aesthetic experiences when we read literature and effectively demonstrates that despite the aesthetic’s stumble in time, our ongoing love affair with fiction is grounded in our cognitive engagements with the text’s aesthetic dimensions.
Drawing on a diverse range of works by Gabriel García Márquez, Kazuo Ishiguro, Arundhati Roy,Cormac McCarthy, Jeanette Winterson, Jennifer Egan, Italo Calvino, Flann O’Brien, and Alasdair Gray, Eternalized Fragments lucidly renders the aesthetic energies at work in the novels’ rich potentialities of play, the sublime’s invitation to affective renegotiations, and beauty’s polysemy in shaping readerly capacities for nuance.
In Immersive Words, Michelle Jarenski demonstrates that the contemporary challenge that visual images and virtual environments in cinema and photography, on the web, and in video games pose to reading and writing are not uniquely contemporary developments but equally exercised the imaginations, anxieties, and works of nineteenth-century authors.
The middle of the nineteenth century witnessed the emergence of numerous visual technologies and techniques: the daguerreotype, immersive exhibition spaces such as cycloramas and panoramas, mechanized tourism, and large-scale exhibitions and spectacles such as the World’s Fair. In closely argued chapters devoted to these four visual forms, Jarenski demonstrates that the popularity of these novelties catalyzed a shift by authors of the period beyond narratives that merely described images to ones that invoked aesthetic experiences.
Jarenski describes how Herman Melville adapts the aesthetic of the daguerreotype through his use of dramatic point-of-view and unexpected shifts that disorient readers. Frederick Douglass is shown to appropriate a panoramic aesthetic that severs spatial and temporal narratives from standard expectations. Jarenski traces how Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun found success as a travel guide to Rome, though intended as a work of serious fiction. Finally, Sarah Orne Jewett is shown to simulate the interactivity of the World Columbian Exposition to promote racialized and gendered forms of aesthetic communication. These techniques and strategies drawn from visual forms blur the just-so boundary critics and theorists have traditionally drawn between text and image.
In the mid-nineteenth century, the national identity of the United States remained fluid and hinged upon matters of gender, sexuality, and, crucially, race. Authors both reflected that evolving identity and contributed to its ongoing evolution. In demonstrating how the aesthetic and visual technologies of the nineteenth century changed the fundamental aesthetics of American literature, the importance of Immersive Words goes far beyond literary criticism.
A history of fragmentary—or interrupted—writing in avant-garde poetry and prose by a renowned literary critic.
In Interruptions: The Fragmentary Aesthetic in Modern Literature, Gerald L. Bruns explores the effects of parataxis, or fragmentary writing as a device in modern literature. Bruns focuses on texts that refuse to follow the traditional logic of sequential narrative. He explores numerous examples of self-interrupting composition, starting with Friedrich Schlegel's inaugural theory and practice of the fragment as an assertion of the autonomy of words, and their freedom from rule-governed hierarchies.
Bruns opens the book with a short history of the fragment as a distinctive feature of literary modernism in works from Gertrude Stein to Paul Celan to present-day authors. The study progresses to the later work of Maurice Blanchot and Samuel Beckett, and argues, controversially, that Blanchot's writings on the fragment during the 1950s and early 1960s helped to inspire Beckett’s turn toward paratactic prose.
The study also extends to works of poetry, examining the radically paratactic arrangements of two contemporary British poets, J. H. Prynne and John Wilkinson, focusing chiefly on their most recent, and arguably most abstruse, works. Bruns also offers a close study of the poetry and poetics of Charles Bernstein.
Interruptions concludes with two chapters about James Joyce. First, Bruns tackles the language of Finnegans Wake, namely the break-up of words themselves, its reassembly into puns, neologisms, nonsense, and even random strings of letters. Second, Bruns highlights the experience of mirrors in Joyce’s fiction, particularly in Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses, where mirrored reflections invariably serve as interruptions, discontinuities, or metaphorical displacements and proliferations of self-identity.
What would it mean to make a work of art the focal point of one’s life practice? Poetry as a Way of Life goes back to the origins of aesthetics as a philosophical discipline in the early eighteenth century in order to uncover an understanding of the work of art as an exercise of the self. Engaging in close readings of works by both canonical and less well-known eighteenth-century German poets such as Friedrich Holderlin, Novalis, Friedrich von Hagedorn, and Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim, Gabriel Trop illustrates the ways in which these authors tap into the potential of poetic form to redefine the limits of human perception and generate alternative ways of being in the world.
The cultural battle known as the Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns served as a sly cover for more deeply opposed views about the value of literature and the arts. One of the most public controversies of early modern Europe, the Quarrel has most often been depicted as pitting antiquarian conservatives against the insurgent critics of established authority. The Shock of the Ancient turns the canonical vision of those events on its head by demonstrating how the defenders of Greek literature—rather than clinging to an outmoded tradition—celebrated the radically different practices of the ancient world.
At a time when the constraints of decorum and the politics of French absolutism quashed the expression of cultural differences, the ancient world presented a disturbing face of otherness. Larry F. Norman explores how the authoritative status of ancient Greek texts allowed them to justify literary depictions of the scandalous. The Shock of the Ancient surveys the diverse array of aesthetic models presented in these ancient works and considers how they both helped to undermine the rigid codes of neoclassicism and paved the way for the innovative philosophies of the Enlightenment. Broadly appealing to students of European literature, art history, and philosophy, this book is an important contribution to early modern literary and cultural debates.
The civil service examination essay known as shiwen (modern or contemporary prose) or bagu wen (eight-legged essay) for its complex structure was the most widely read and written literary genre in early modern China (1450–1850). As the primary mode of expression in which educated individuals were schooled, shiwen epitomized the literary enterprise even beyond the walls of the examination compound. But shiwen suffered condemnation in the shift in discourse on literary writing that followed the fall of the Ming dynasty, and were thoroughly rejected in the May Fourth iconoclasm of the early twentieth century.
Challenging conventional disregard for the genre, Alexander Des Forges reads the examination essay from a literary perspective, showing how shiwen redefined prose aesthetics and transformed the work of writing. A new approach to subjectivity took shape: the question “who is speaking?” resonated through the essays’ involuted prose style, foregrounding issues of agency and control. At the same time, the anonymity of the bureaucratic evaluation process highlighted originality as a literary value. Finally, an emphasis on questions of form marked the aesthetic as a key arena for contestation of authority as candidates, examiners, and critics joined to form a dominant social class of literary producers.
The nineteenth century saw a marked rise both in the sheer numbers of women active in visual art professions and in the discursive concern for the woman artist in fiction, the periodical press, art history, and politics. The Woman Painter in Victorian Literature argues that Victorian women writers used the controversial figure of the woman painter to intervene in the discourse of aesthetics. These writers were able to assert their own status as artistic producers through the representation of female visual artists.
Women painters posed a threat to the traditional heterosexual erotic art scenarios—a male artist and a male viewer admiring a woman or feminized art object. Antonia Losano traces an actual movement in history in which women writers struggled to rewrite the relations of gender and art to make a space for female artistic production. She examines as well the disruption female artists caused in the socioeconomic sphere. Losano offers close readings of a wide array of Victorian writers, particularly those works classified as noncanonical—by Anne Thackeray Ritchie, Margaret Oliphant, Anne Brontë, and Mrs. Humphrey Ward—and a new look at better-known novels such as Jane Eyre and Daniel Deronda, focusing on the pivotal social and aesthetic meanings of female artistic production in these texts. Each of the novels considered here is viewed as a contained, coherent, and complex aesthetic treatise that coalesces around the figure of the female painter.