A Companion to Literary Theory (Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture) [3 ed.] 1118958675, 9781118958674

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A Companion to Literary Theory (Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture) [3 ed.]
 1118958675, 9781118958674

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A Companion to Literary Theory

Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture This series offers comprehensive, newly written surveys of key periods and movements and certain major authors, in English literary culture and history. Extensive volumes provide new perspectives and positions on contexts and on canonical and post‐canonical texts, orientating the beginning student in new fields of study and providing the experienced undergraduate and new graduate with current and new directions, as pioneered and developed by leading scholars in the field. Published recently A New Companion to the Gothic A Companion to the American Novel A Companion to Literature, Film, and Adaptation A Companion to George Eliot  A Companion to Creative Writing A Companion to British Literature, 4 volumes  A Companion to American Gothic A Companion to Translation Studies  A New Companion to Victorian Literature and Culture A Companion to Modernist Poetry  A Companion to J. R. R. Tolkien A Companion to the English Novel  A Companion to the Harlem Renaissance A Companion to Modern Chinese Literature A New Companion to Digital Humanities  A Companion to Virginia Woolf A New Companion to Milton A Companion to the Brontës  A Feminist Companion to Shakespeare, Second Edition A New Companion to Renaissance Drama  A Companion to Literary Theory

Edited by David Punter Edited by Alfred Bendixen Edited by Deborah Cartmell Edited by Amanda Anderson and Harry E. Shaw Edited by Graeme Harper Edited by Robert DeMaria, Jr., Heesok Chang, and Samantha Zacher Edited by Charles L. Crow Edited by Sandra Bermann and Catherine Porter Edited by Herbert F. Tucker Edited by David E. Chinitz and Gail McDonald Edited by Stuart D. Lee Edited by Stephen Arata, Madigan Haley, J. Paul Hunter, and Jennifer Wicke Edited by Cherene Sherrard‐Johnson Edited by Yingjin Zhang Edited by Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, and John Unsworth Edited by Jessica Berman Edited by Thomas Corns Edited by Diane Long Hoeveler and Deborah Denenholz Morse Edited by Dympna Callaghan Edited by Arthur F. Kinney and Thomas Hopper Edited by David H. Richter

For more information on the Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture series, please visit www.wiley.com







This edition first published 2018 © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, except as permitted by law. Advice on how to obtain permission to reuse material from this title is available at http://www.wiley.com/go/permissions. The right of David H. Richter to be identified as the author of the editorial material in this work has been asserted in accordance with law. Registered Office John Wiley & Sons Ltd, The Atrium, Southern Gate, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 8SQ, UK Editorial Office 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ, UK For details of our global editorial offices, customer services, and more information about Wiley products visit us at www.wiley.com. Wiley also publishes its books in a variety of electronic formats and by print‐on‐demand. Some content that appears in standard print versions of this book may not be available in other formats. Limit of Liability/Disclaimer of Warranty While the publisher and authors have used their best efforts in preparing this work, they make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this work and specifically disclaim all warranties, including without limitation any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. No warranty may be created or extended by sales representatives, written sales materials or promotional statements for this work. The fact that an organization, website, or product is referred to in this work as a citation and/or potential source of further information does not mean that the publisher and authors endorse the information or services the organization, website, or product may provide or recommendations it may make. This work is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering professional services. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation. You should consult with a specialist where appropriate. Further, readers should be aware that websites listed in this work may have changed or disappeared between when this work was written and when it is read. Neither the publisher nor authors shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. Library of Congress Cataloging‐in‐Publication Data Names: Richter, David H., 1945– editor. Title: A Companion to literary theory / edited by David H. Richter. Description: First edition. | Hoboken : Wiley, 2018. | Series: Blackwell companions to   literature and culture | Includes bibliographical references and index. | Identifiers: LCCN 2017026962 (print) | LCCN 2017038425 (ebook) | ISBN 9781118958735 (pdf) |   ISBN 9781118958759 (epub) | ISBN 9781118958674 (hardback) Subjects: LCSH: Literature, Modern–History and criticism–Theory, etc. | Literature–Philosophy. |   Criticism. | BISAC: LITERARY CRITICISM / General. Classification: LCC PN81 (ebook) | LCC PN81 .R55 2018 (print) | DDC 801/.95 23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017026962 Cover image: Epitavi/Gettyimages Cover design: Wiley Set in 10.5/12.5pt Garamond by SPi Global, Pondicherry, India 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


Notes on Contributors Acknowledgements

viii xv

Introduction1 David H. Richter Part I  Literary Form: Narrative and Poetry 1 British and American New Criticism

9 11

William E. Cain 2 Chicago Formalism David H. Richter


3 Russian Formalism David Gorman


4 Structuralism and Semiotics Marina Grishakova


5 Stylistics Michael Toolan


6 Contemporary Narrative Theory James Phelan


Part II  The Task of Reading


7 The Intention Debates Peter J. Rabinowitz


8 Deconstruction Christopher Norris


vi Contents   9 Reader‐Response Theory David S. Miall


10 Empathy Studies Suzanne Keen


11 Contemporary Proposals about Reading in the Digital Age Rachel Sagner Buurma and Matthew K. Gold


Part III  Literary Locations and Cultural Studies


12 The Location of Literature John Guillory


13 The Verbal and the Visual James A. W. Heffernan


14 Foucault and Poststructuralism Alan D. Schrift


15 Cultural Studies Paul Smith


Part IV  The Politics of Literature


16 Nothing If Not Determined: Marxian Criticism in History Robert Kaufman


17 The Frankfurt School and Its Successors Jeffrey T. Nealon


18 Althusser: Structuralist or Anti‐Structuralist? Warren Montag


19 New Historicism and Cultural Materialism Neema Parvini


20 Emmanuel Levinas and Giorgio Agamben: Ethics, Aesthetics, Poetics, Politics Thomas Carl Wall


21 Postcolonial Theory Siraj Ahmed


22 Globalization Studies Diana Brydon


Part V  Identities


23 Race/Literature/Theory James Braxton Peterson


24 Ethnic Studies: Reading Otherwise Ron Scapp


Contents vii 25 Anglophone Feminisms Robyn Warhol


26 Gender Theory: Femininities and Masculinities Margaret Galvan


27 Queer Theory Steven F. Kruger


28 Disability Studies Christopher Krentz


29 Trauma Studies Michelle Balaev


Part VI  Bodies and Their Minds


30 Freudian Psychoanalytic Criticism Daniel T. O’Hara


31 Lacanian Psychoanalytic Criticism Karen Coats


32 Archetypal Criticism: Jung and Frye Glen Robert Gill


33 Cognitive Literary Criticism G. Gabrielle Starr


Part VII  Scientific Inflections


34 Evolutionary Literary Theory Joseph Carroll


35 Ecocriticism: The Expanding Universe Harold Fromm


36 Cybernetics and Posthumanism Thomas Foster



Notes on Contributors

Siraj Ahmed is Associate Professor in the PhD program in English at the CUNY Graduate Center and in English and Comparative Literature at Lehman College. He is author of Archaeology of Babel: The Colonial Foundation of the Humanities (2018) and The Stillbirth of Capital: Enlightenment Writing and Colonial India (2012), as well as essays in Critical Inquiry, Representations, Cultural Critique, Postcolonial Studies, and The Postcolonial Enlightenment: Eighteenth‐Century Colonialism and Postcolonial Theory (2009). Michelle Balaev is Visiting Assistant Professor at Flinders University. Her research and teaching address topics in twentieth‐century American literature, psychology and literature, ecocriticism, and imperialism. Her publications have appeared in peer‐reviewed journals such as PMLA, American Literature, ISLE, Mosaic, Studies in the Humanities, and Composition Studies. Her books include The Nature of Trauma in American Novels (2012) and Contemporary Approaches to Literary Trauma Theory (2014). Diana Brydon, FRSC, Canada Research Chair in Globalization and Cultural Studies and Distinguished Professor in the Department of English, Film, and Theatre at the University of Manitoba, is currently investigating transnational literacies, new postcolonialisms, and decolonizing imaginaries in global contexts. She has published on postcolonial cultural and literary studies and how communities are adjusting to globalizing processes. In addition to books on authors Timothy Findley and Christina Stead, she has published the co‐authored Decolonising Fictions (1993) and edited Postcolonialism: Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies (2000). Co‐edited books include Shakespeare in Canada: A World Elsewhere? (2002), Renegotiating Community: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Global Contexts (2008) and Crosstalk: Canadian and Global Imaginaries in Dialogue. (2012). Current projects include a co‐edited special journal issue of Canada and Beyond on “Canada, Brazil, and Beyond,” developed out of the SSHRC‐funded “Brazil/Canada Knowledge Exchange” and a co‐edited book, Concurrences: Archives and Voices in Postcolonial Places for Brill.

Notes on Contributors


Rachel Sagner Buurma is Associate Professor of English Literature at Swarthmore College, where she works on the novel, book history, Victorian literature, twentieth‐ century Anglo‐American literary criticism, and literary informatics. In‐progress projects relate to the research practices of nineteenth‐century novelists, the history of close reading, and the relation between the novel and social media. With Laura Heffernan, she is writing a new disciplinary history of English literary studies titled “The Teaching Archive.” William E. Cain is Mary Jewett Gaiser Professor of English at Wellesley College. Among his publications is a monograph on American literary and cultural criticism, 1900–45, in The Cambridge History of American Literature, vol. 5 (2003). He is a co‐editor of the Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism (2nd edn., 2010), and, with Sylvan Barnet, he has co‐authored a wide variety of books on literature and composition. His recent publications include essays on Ralph Ellison, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, William Shakespeare, Edith Wharton, and Willa Cather. Joseph Carroll is Curators’ Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. His books include The Cultural Theory of Matthew Arnold (1983), Wallace Stevens’ Supreme Fiction: A New Romanticism (1988), Evolution and Literary Theory (1994), Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature (2004), Reading Human Nature (2011) and (co‐authored) Graphing Jane Austen: The Evolutionary Basis of Literary Meaning (2012). He produced an edition of On the Origin of Species. His co‐edited volumes include Evolution, Literature, and Film (2010), and Darwin’s Bridge (2016). He edits the journal Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture. Karen Coats is Professor of English at Illinois State University. Her research relates ­multiple theoretical perspectives to children’s and young adult literature. She is author of Looking Glasses and Neverlands: Lacan, Desire, and Subjectivity in Children’s Literature (2004), and co‐editor of The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders (2008); Handbook of Research on Children’s and Young Adult Literature (2010); and Mothers in Children’s and Young Adult Literature: From the Eighteenth Century to Postfeminism (2016). Thomas Foster is Professor of English at the University of Washington and the author of Souls of Cyberfolk: Posthumanism as Vernacular Theory (2005), as well as numerous articles on science fiction, cyberpunk, and technoculture studies. His current research focuses on race, ethnicity, and technicity, and the status of utopian thought in contemporary culture. Harold Fromm has a PhD from the University of Wisconsin‐Madison, has taught in half a dozen university English departments, published in journals both literary and scholarly, produced many essays and reviews, and four books, the most well‐known being The Ecocriticism Reader (1996, co‐edited with Cheryll Glotfelty), a pioneering collection of ­representative specimens of environmental writing. In recent years he has written on ­science subjects, particularly Darwinian, evolutionary, and philosophic, as well as music. Margaret Galvan is an Assistant Professor of visual rhetoric in the Department of English at the University of Florida. She received her PhD in English with a film studies certificate


Notes on Contributors

from The Graduate Center, CUNY, in 2016. She is currently at work on a book, In Visible Archives of the 1980s, under contract with the University of Minnesota Press, which traces a genealogy of queer theory in 1980s feminism through representations of sexuality in visual culture. Glen Robert Gill is Associate Professor of Humanities at Montclair State University. He is the author of Northrop Frye and the Phenomenology of Myth (2006) and the editor of Northrop Frye on Twentieth‐Century Literature for The Collected Works of Northrop Frye (2010). He has also published essays on Northrop Frye, C. G. Jung, T. S. Eliot, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, and J. R. R. Tolkien. He is currently editing the forthcoming Cultural History of Myth in the Modern Age (Bloomsbury, 2019). Matthew K. Gold is Associate Professor of English and Digital Humanities at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), where he serves as Advisor to the Provost for Digital Initiatives, Director of the CUNY Academic Commons, and Director of the GC Digital Scholarship Lab. He edited Debates in the Digital Humanities (2012) and recently co‐edited, with Lauren F. Klein, Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016. He is Vice President/President‐Elect of the Association for Computers and the Humanities. David Gorman is Associate Professor of English at Northern Illinois University. He has published in various formats on the history and theory of literary study, including essays, reviews, bibliographies, translations, and entries in reference works. His work has appeared in Poetics Today, Modern Literature Quarterly, Narrative, and Style (of which he was the editor). His bibliography of Russian Formalism in English appeared in Style 26 (1992), with a supplement in Style 29 (1995). Marina Grishakova is Professor of Literary Theory at the University of Tartu (Estonia). She is the author of The Models of Space, Time and Vision in V. Nabokov’s Fiction: Narrative Strategies and Cultural Frames (2006), co‐editor of Intermediality and Storytelling (with M.‐L. Ryan, 2010) and Theoretical Schools and Circles in the Twentieth‐Century Humanities (with S. Salupere, 2015), contributor to international volumes, such as Strange Voices in Narrative Fiction (2011), Literature, History and Cognition (2014) and many others. John Guillory is Julius Silver Professor of English at New York University. He is the author of Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation (1993) and other articles on the history of literary study and on Renaissance literature. He is currently at work on a book entitled “Close Reading: From Technique to Technology in Anglo‐American Criticism.” James A. W. Heffernan, Professor of English Emeritus at Dartmouth College, has published widely on the relations between literature and visual art. His books include The Re‐Creation of Landscape: A Study of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Constable, and Turner (1985), Museum of Words: The Poetics of Ekphrasis from Homer to Ashbery (1993), Cultivating Picturacy: Visual Art and Verbal Interventions (2006), and Hospitality and Treachery in Western Literature (2104). He is also founding editor of Review 19.

Notes on Contributors


Robert Kaufman is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley; he also teaches in, and is former co‐director of, the university’s interdisciplinary Program in Critical Theory. His research and teaching emphasize twentieth‐ to twenty‐first‐century American poetry in dialogue with Latin American, German, French, and British poetry; romantic and nineteenth‐century poetry and poetics; philosophical aesthetics, literary theory, and history of criticism (especially since Kant and romanticism); and Frankfurt School Critical Theory and the arts. Suzanne Keen writes about narrative empathy. In addition to articles addressing the topic, her books include Empathy and the Novel (2007), Thomas Hardy’s Brains (2014), and Narrative Form: Revised and Expanded 2nd edition (2015). She is co‐editor of Contemporary Women’s Writing, and has guest edited special issues of Poetics Today and Style. She serves as Thomas H. Broadus Professor of English and Dean of the College at Washington and Lee University. Christopher Krentz is Associate Professor of English and of American Sign Language at the University of Virginia. He is the author of A Mighty Change: An Anthology of Deaf American Writing 1816–1864 (2000), Writing Deafness: The Hearing Line in Nineteenth‐ Century American Literature (2007), and articles on disability in literature and culture. Steven F. Kruger is Professor of English and Medieval Studies at Queens College and The Graduate Center, CUNY. His books include Dreaming in the Middle Ages (1992), AIDS Narratives: Gender and Sexuality, Fiction and Science (1996), Approaching the Millennium: Essays on Angels in America (1997, co‐edited with Deborah R. Geis), Queering the Middle Ages (2001, co‐edited with Glenn Burger), and The Spectral Jew: Conversion and Embodiment in Medieval Europe (2006). David S. Miall is Emeritus Professor of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta. He is interested in British Romantic literature, especially the psychological insights of Wordsworth and Coleridge. He also works across the boundaries of literature and psychology, studying processes of mind and feeling that help us understand what makes literary reading distinctively literary. He is the author of Literary Reading: Empirical and Theoretical Studies (New York: Peter Lang Publishing Inc. 2006); online publications are available at http://www.ualberta.ca/~dmiall. Warren Montag is the Brown Family Professor of European Literature at Occidental College, Los Angeles. His most recent works include Althusser and his Contemporaries: Philosophy’s Perpetual War (2013) and (with Mike Hill) The Other Adam Smith (2014). Jeffrey T. Nealon is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English and Philosophy at Penn State University. His most recent books are Foucault Beyond Foucault: Power and Its Intensifications since 1984 (2008), Post‐Postmodernism; Or, The Cultural Logic of Just‐in‐Time Capitalism (2012), and Plant Theory: Biopower and Vegetable Life (2016). Christopher Norris is Distinguished Research Professor in Philosophy at Cardiff University in Wales. He has published more than forty books on topics in philosophy,


Notes on Contributors

literary theory, musicology and the history of ideas, including most recently Badiou’s Being and Event, Philosophy Outside‐In, and Deconstruction After All. A book of poems, The Cardinal’s Dog, came out in 2013 and two further collections of verse—For the Tempus‐ Fugitives (2017) and The Winnowing Fan (2017). Daniel T. O’Hara, Professor of English and Humanities at Temple University, is the author of nine books, including Virginia Woolf and the Modern Sublime (2015). He is also the editor or co‐editor of six other books, including with Donald E. Pease and Michelle Martin, A William V. Spanos Reader: Humanistic Criticism and the Secular Imperative (2015). Currently, he is completing a book manuscript “The Revival of Roland Barthes: Literature Reborn.” Neema Parvini is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Surrey. He is the author of five books: Shakespeare’s History Plays: Rethinking Historicism (2012); Shakespeare and Contemporary Theory: New Historicism and Cultural Materialism (2012); Shakespeare and Cognition: Thinking Fast and Slow through Character (2015); Shakespeare and New Historicism Theory (2017); and Shakespeare’s Moral Compass: Ethical Thinking in His Plays (forthcoming 2018). James Braxton Peterson is the Director of Africana Studies and Associate Professor of English at Lehigh University. He is the author of several books, The Hip Hop Underground and African American Culture (2014), Prison Industrial Complex for Beginners (2016), and Hip Hop Headphones: A Scholar’s Critical Playlist (2016). Peterson hosts “The Remix” on Philadelphia’s NPR affiliate, WHYY. “The Remix” is a podcast that engages issues at the intersection of race, politics, and popular culture. James Phelan, Distinguished University Professor of English at Ohio State University, is the editor of Narrative and co‐editor of the Ohio State University Press series on the Theory and Interpretation of Narrative. He has devoted much of his own scholarship to developing a rhetorical theory of narrative, and he has presented his most recent results in Reading the American Novel, 1920–2010 (2014) and Somebody Telling Somebody Else: A Rhetorical Poetics of Narrative (2017). Peter J. Rabinowitz, Professor of Comparative Literature at Hamilton College, divides his time between narrative theory and music criticism. His works include Before Reading, Authorizing Readers (with Michael W. Smith), and Narrative Theory (with David Herman, James Phelan, Brian Richardson, and Robyn Warhol). He is program annotator for Symphoria and Contributing Editor of Fanfare. David H. Richter is Professor of English at Queens College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York, where he has taught eighteenth‐century studies and literary theory since 1970. Richter’s publications include Fable’s End (on closure in didactic novels) and The Progress of Romance (on the problematic of literary history), along with influential theory textbooks The Critical Tradition and Falling into Theory. His most recent book is Reading the Eighteenth‐Century Novel (2017). Richter also publishes on movies, crime fiction, and biblical narrative, and is planning a monograph on the re‐presentation of paintings in narrative cinema.

Notes on Contributors


Ron Scapp is the founding director of the Graduate Program of Urban and Multicultural Education at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in the Bronx where he is professor of humanities and teacher education. He is the immediate past‐President of the National Association for Ethnic Studies (2011–15), and is the editor of the journal Ethnic Studies Review. He is also a member of the International Committee for Kappa Delta Pi. He has been a long‐time fellow at the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He has written and edited numerous books and articles on a variety of topics—from popular culture to education, from social and political philosophy to art criticism. He was a visiting scholar at Teachers College, Columbia University (2014–15). His most recent book is Reclaiming Education: Moving Beyond the Culture of Reform (2016). Alan D. Schrift is F. Wendell Miller Professor of Philosophy at Grinnell College (USA). In addition to over eighty published articles or book chapters on Nietzsche and French and German twentieth‐century philosophy, he is the author of Twentieth‐Century French Philosophy (2006), Nietzsche’s French Legacy (1995), and Nietzsche and the Question of Interpretation: Between Hermeneutics and Deconstruction (1990). He has also edited seventeen books, including the eight‐volume History of Continental Philosophy (2010), The Logic of the Gift (1997), and most recently Transcendence and the Concrete: Selected Writings of Jean Wahl (2016). He continues as General Editor of The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, the Stanford University Press translation of Nietzsche’s Kritische Studienausgabe. Paul Smith teaches in the Cultural Studies PhD program at George Mason University, and is President of the Cultural Studies Association (2016–18). He is the author of Discerning the Subject (1988), Millennial Dreams: Culture and Capital in the North (1997), and Primitive America: The Ideology of Capitalist Democracy (2007). Smith has also edited Men in Feminism (1987, with Alice Jardine), Boys: Masculinities in Contemporary Culture (1996), and The Renewal of Cultural Studies (2011). He is currently working on a book about deglobalization. G. Gabrielle Starr is Professor of English and President of Pomona College. She is author of two books, Lyric Generations (2004) and Feeling Beauty (2013). Her most recent work has focused on aesthetics, integrating humanist forms of critique with experimentation in behavioral and cognitive neuroscience. She has been the recipient of a New Directions Fellowship from the Mellon Foundation and was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 2015. Michael Toolan is Professor of English Language in the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics in the University of Birmingham, UK. Since 2002 he has been editor of the Journal of Literary Semantics, and for 2016–18 is chair of the Poetics and Linguistics Association. He has published many books and articles on literary stylistics, narrative, and linguistics, and narratives, including The Stylistics of Fiction (1988), Total Speech: An Integrational Linguistic Approach to Language (1996), Language in Literature (1998), and Narrative: A Critical Linguistic Introduction (2nd edn, 2001). His most recent book is Making Sense with Narrative Text: Situation, Repetition, and Picturing in the Reading of Short Stories (2016).


Notes on Contributors

Thomas Carl Wall is currently Chair of the English Department at Taipei Tech in Taiwan where he teaches a variety of literature, history, and cinema courses. He has published on Levinas, Blanchot, and Agamben in his Radical Passivity (1999), has contributed a chapter to the volume Politics, Metaphysics, and Death (2005), a chapter to Terrence Malick: Film and Philosophy, and has published essays on Deleuze’s film books, Harmony Korine’s film Gummo, and other topics. He is currently working on the question of language in Heidegger and Agamben. Robyn Warhol is Arts and Humanities Distinguished Professor of English at the Ohio State University, where she is Chair of the Department of English and a core faculty member of Project Narrative. She is the creator of victorianserialnovels.org, “Reading Like a Victorian,” a website enabling readers to experience installments of serialized Victorian novels synchronically. Her most recent publications include Narrative Theory Unbound: Queer and Feminist Interventions, co‐edited by Susan S. Lanser (Honorable Mention for the Perkins Prize in Narrative, 2015) and Love Among the Archives: Writing the Lives of George Scharf, Victorian Bachelor, co‐authored with Helena Michie (NAVSA Best Book of the Year, 2015). She is also co‐author of Narrative Theory: Core Concepts and Critical Debates (2012) and co‐editor of Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Narrative Theories (2017).


First and foremost, I would like to thank all the contributors to this volume, who provided the erudition and wisdom contained in the individual chapters, and who endured with thoughtful patience my editorial queries and suggestions. It has been a pleasure to work with you, and, notwithstanding the name on its spine, this book is really yours. Too many scholars and friends suggested possible contributors to mention them all, but I do need to single out for thanks Mario DiGangi of the CUNY Graduate Center and James Phelan of Ohio State University, who suggested excellent pinch‐hitters for chapters whose authors dropped out of the project at the very last minute. It was Deirdre Ilkson of Wiley‐Blackwell who got me interested in doing the Companion, and my prospectus was drafted and re‐drafted with the help of Emma Bennett. Three anonymous reviewers provided comments and suggestions that improved immensely this volume’s organization and scope. Bridget Jennings carried the work forward, and, for the final stages of editing and production, I have been working under the watchful eye of Rebecca Harkin, and her assistant, Emily Corkhill, who have been constantly helpful and supportive. I would also like to thank Doreen Kruger, the copy editor for Blackwell, who not only picked up hundreds of dropped stitches but respected the very different writing styles of three dozen contributors. The attractive object you are holding was created by Manish Luthra and Aneetta Antony, in charge of production for Wiley‐Blackwell. Most of the chapter editing was done during a fellowship leave granted by my department at Queens College, City University of New York. The index was done on my very own Dell Optiplex, and you don’t want to know. Finally, I would like to dedicate this book to my wife Golde, who was always there for me, not only my better half but my more social self.

Introduction David H. Richter

During the 1960s, when I was doing my degrees in English, literary theory was primarily studied as a set of historical topics, in which scholars investigated Aristotle’s notion of mimesis, or Corneille’s doctrine of the Three Unities, or the source of Edmund Burke’s theory of the sublime. My own interest in theory as an ongoing as well as a historic concern, in quirky thinkers like Northrop Frye, Kenneth Burke, and Walter Benjamin, seemed a harmless oddity to my colleagues in the English Department at Queens College, who warned that I was wasting my time with theory because there was absolutely no future in it. By then, of course, the revolution was well underway that would end by making literary theory the roiling pivot point of my profession. The turbulence and clash of ideas had begun decades before on the Continent, but those of us in the provinces, who read French and German haltingly and Russian not at all, did not experience the explosion of theory until the mid‐1970s, when Russian formalism, structuralism and semiotics, deconstruction, Lacanian psychoanalysis, Althusserian Marxism, and reception theory rode successive waves into our awareness. A profession that had been preoccupied with close and closer readings of canonical texts was now lit up with a rush of ideas, a dozen disparate systems with enormous philosophical reach and scope. Many of those systems were capable also of informing and channeling the social imperatives of women and minorities seeking an ideological manifestation of their desire for greater freedom and power. And even teachers like me, without any social imperative of our own, could become enthralled by the magnificent conversation going on about them. This was a revolution that was reshaping our sense of intellectual history, forcing us to broaden our horizons and to read deeply, as well as broadly. Anglo‐American feminist thought, like that of Elaine Showalter and Sandra Gilbert, needed to be read against the backdrop of Germaine de Staël, Virginia Woolf, and Simone de Beauvoir, forebears who served either as antagonists or as sources of inspiration. To read Derrida we needed to A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


David H. Richter

understand not only the structuralist theories against which he had reacted but philosophers like Plato, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, most of whom were comparative strangers to traditional literary criticism courses. Meanwhile, the New Criticism, which for the most part had generated our close readings, could be seen as a single strand within an international formalism that also included disparate theorists like Victor Shklovsky and R. S. Crane. Intellectual revolutions too have their Thermidors, and by 1990, it became clear that the Era of Grand Theory was coming to an end. Theory had moved into a period of ­consolidation, when it was being explored not for its own sake but to make possible a new sort of encounter with a text or a group of related texts. Critical practices that had emerged since the beginning of the revolution, such as gender studies (including queer studies), New Historicism, and, broadest of all, cultural studies, began to dominate the graduate and undergraduate approaches to literature. People began to engage in loose talk about the arrival of a post‐theoretical age, and Terry Eagleton, who had cashed in on the critical revolution with Literary Theory: An Introduction (1983), published in 2003 a book titled After Theory. But theory had by no means disappeared. The new critical discourses that had generated our encounter with texts were so thoroughly imbued with theory that they were essentially incomprehensible in isolation from their theoretical origins. When you read new historical essays on Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt, you couldn’t really understand them ­properly without unpacking them, and you couldn’t do that without reading the theorists who had influenced him  –  philosophers of history like Hayden White and Michel Foucault and cultural anthropologists like Clifford Geertz. And to do things properly you would also have to read the theorists who had most influenced them: not only Clifford Geertz on the semiotics of culture, but also Max Weber and Emile Durkheim and Claude Lévi‐Strauss; not only Hayden White on the tropics of history, but also Jacques Derrida and Ludwig Wittgenstein; not only Michel Foucault on the genealogies of power/knowledge, but also Martin Heidegger and the later Nietzsche. The underlying sources for gender studies and cultural studies would be even more diverse. The process of consolidating and simplifying the elaborate and difficult Grand Theories into workable critical practices involved creating a pidgin, in much the same way people manage to communicate across language barriers by forming a lingua franca for trade and barter during interludes between hostilities. This critical pidgin was encouraged by the way universities in the United States avoided the creation of “schools” of like‐minded thinkers such as those we find on the Continent, and instead filled slots so as to create the greatest possible diversity. The tendency to isolate individuals using a particular theoretical vocabulary from one another had the consequence that, while they could speak their chosen critical language in all its purity at conferences, they had to use some other sort of discourse to talk with their colleagues. The result was a carnival of jostling jargons, in which purity of rhetoric took second place to the pragmatics of discourse. The discourse of one important postcolonial theorist, Gayatri Spivak, was an intricately modulated combination of deconstruction, Marxism, and feminism. And a gender theorist like Judith Butler could derive her notions about sex and society from Foucault, though her rhetorical moves were taken from Derrida and J. L. Austin, and never mind that these thinkers might otherwise be strange bedfellows.

Introduction 3 From the 1990s up to the present day, these syncretic trends have continued to proliferate, as the study of literature has become just one area in a widening arena of textual criticism. The critical tools that we had developed for studying literature are being applied to other artistic and cultural productions like film and television, radio plays and comic books, painting and photography—and of course the influence flowed in both directions. The analytic approaches to narrative originally used to study novels and short stories have found application to memoirs and biographies, to medical case histories, and to the narratives judges create in writing legal decisions. Historical movements in architecture and home furnishing, such as the eighteenth‐century vogue in England and France for chinoiserie— once considered capricious episodes of fashion—are now seen as part of a larger cultural plenum shared with other fine and useful arts, determined by changes in trading relationships and other economic and social trends. Cultural studies has, in effect, turned back upon itself in ecocriticism, which attempts to understand how Culture comes to define its opposite, Nature, and to explore the changing relationship between civilization and the wild. Science studies, legal studies, business studies: newly developed fields like these attempt to interrogate the paradigms of knowledge taught to and accepted by p­ rofessionals in these areas. Most eclectic of all, perhaps, is the field of globalization studies, which uses every resource of the social sciences and humanities to analyze how the international forces of military power, finance, and consumer culture have shaped a planet that had begun to become one world when the European voyages of discovery began over five hundred years ago. The result of all this syncretism has been that, although i­ nstitutional structures within academe have remained more or less stable—most professors still teach and most students still earn degrees within departments—my own research projects and those of most of my doctoral students, colleagues, and friends have become ever more interdisciplinary. One other clear change since the turn of the century has been the slow disappearance of the traditional literary canon as a basis for the humanities curriculum. The persistent attacks on the traditional canon as a gentlemen’s club for dead white European males provoked culture wars that began in the 1980s, but those wars are long over now. Ongoing research on the history of literary evaluation revealed that, apart from the general agreement on the significance of Homer and the Bible, the canon of the vernacular literatures had always been in flux. Since it was a presentist illusion that there actually existed a permanent list of what Matthew Arnold had called “the best that has been known and thought in the world,” the job of the humanities would need to be redefined. What we have actually been doing, if we are honest about it, is teaching the most interesting ways of reading the texts that have the greatest cultural importance today. The emphasis on the contemporary and the postmodern did not mean eliminating all the old favorites—indeed, Shakespeare and Jane Austen probably have as many followers as they ever had, and many more than they ever had in their lifetimes. But the culture of the university had approved so many new writers, and so many new areas of study, that it became clear that undergraduate and graduate students could never study any more than a small selection of them, and it would be irrational to feel guilty about what got left out. Nevertheless, living as they do in a postmodern culture that insistently recycles the cultural icons of the past, our students needed to read Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe not merely for its historical importance in the development of the European novel, but in order to understand John Coetzee’s Foe and Michel Tournier’s Vendredi, or Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre in order to understand Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea.


David H. Richter

With contemporary cultural value taking clear precedence over other versions of merit, the curriculum began to give greater attention to ethnic literatures, particularly by writers of African American, Asian, and Latino/Hispanic descent, and the contemporary ­anglophone literature of Africa, South Asia, and the Caribbean, where so much of the most innovative poetry and fiction since the 1980s has been written. With this shift, postcolonial theory has become a major growth area. Originating in the politics of nation‐states carved out of former European empires, postcolonial theory can equally be applied to American literature: because even without an overseas empire the United States was formed by a process of internal colonization, absorbing into itself territories inhabited by indigenous populations. The theory behind contemporary and historical ethnic studies has tended to borrow and adapt from postcolonial theory and its sources. And, of course, such a program cannot be limited to the contemporary: it can be read back onto the past. It can be applied even to biblical texts, where Israelites appear first as enslaved immigrants, then as the conquering hegemons of Canaan, and finally as a conquered people at risk of cultural absorption by the Eastern empires of Babylon and Persia. Having spoken of this period as an era of consolidation in the realm of theory, I would have to add, by way of correction, that this has also been an age of proliferation, during which theory has divided in order to multiply. Queer studies, which emerged in the early 1990s, with the work of Michel Foucault and Eve Sedgwick, was stimulated by the rise of feminist women’s studies but also in partial opposition to it, and is now most usually referred to as LGBTQ (lesbian‐gay‐bisexual‐transgender‐queer). This acronym recognizes the fact that sexual attraction and behavior have many variations, historically and at ­present, and that the chromosomes one is born with do not determine one’s preferred partner, one’s sexual behavior, or even one’s gender. Further — not to leave out the men, gender studies has come to include historical and sociological studies of maleness and masculinity. Similar proliferation has developed in the areas of race and ethnicity. Africana studies, which can trace its history back to the late nineteenth century, and which was given a strong theoretical basis by Houston Baker and Henry Louis Gates, among many others, in the 1980s, has given rise both to a general area of theory, usually called Critical Race Theory, and to numberless specific “studies” programs to analyze the literature and culture of other racial and ethnic groups that have been marginalized in various Western societies. And just as feminism ultimately spawned “masculinity studies,” the ethnic and racial minority studies programs have generated “Whiteness Studies” in a spirit of critique, analyzing the defensive response of a powerful majority group that already sees itself under the threat of becoming, at some future moment, a marginalized minority. These forms of identity politics have extended to the disabled, a set of disparate groups we will all join some day, if we are lucky, and to the traumatized, whose experience is less of having a specific identity than of losing its stability. Identity, in sum, has become a ­multidimensional vector space—of race, gender identity, sexuality, nationality, ethnicity, religion, and dis/ability—through which our imaginary individualities are determined. “Intersectionality” was the term Kimberlé Crenshaw coined in 1989 when she argued that certain combinations of vectors were more deeply discriminated against than others—as when Barbara Smith complained in “Toward a Black Feminist Criticism” (1977) that as a woman, a lesbian, and an African American, she had been triply marginalized. Ultimately,

Introduction 5 a coherent intersectionality theory will need to be developed to make better sense of our multiply determined selves. If “intersectionality” is one overarching concept that helps us explain some recent developments in literary studies, another is “consilience.” Coined originally by the Victorian polymath William Whewell, “consilience” was used by biologist E. O. Wilson as the title of his 1998 book, which speculated that the sciences and the humanities would ultimately converge in their explanations of social and cultural phenomena. Whether or not such a genuine convergence fully occurs, several quite recent developments in literary theory are clearly inflected by the hard sciences of biology, physics, and chemistry and not merely by sociology, politics, and economics. Evolutionary literary criticism explores the hypothesis that creating and consuming literature is not simply a delightful pastime but part of the reason the old world apes that became Homo sapiens succeeded and became dominant as a species. Telling stories was how our hominid ancestors communicated and bonded with each other as cooperative hunting and gathering societies living in competitive tribal groups, where the forces of both natural selection and sexual selection favored those who did it well and wiped out those who failed. It is clear that we are still telling stories, and evolutionary literary theorists would argue that narratives continue to have the same function: they enhance our abilities to survive by guiding the decisions we make about the work we do for a living, the friends we trust, and the prospective mates we select. Pride and Prejudice is a masterpiece of wit and irony, but it is also a primer on the danger to nubile women of succumbing to the attractions of superficially attractive young men, and of the rewards of seeking a mate whose solid worth may be obscured by defensive shyness—and this may be one reason so many subsequent romance novels have taken the bare bones of its plot as their model. If evolutionary theory appears oriented toward the distant past, posthumanist literary theory is oriented toward the future, as our minds merge with the machine‐minds that we have learned to create to assist our own. The cyborg—abbreviation for cybernetic organism—appeared originally in science fiction, but the merger has already occurred; we are already posthuman. We find ourselves helplessly dependent on the tablets and smartphones we carry about with us, but at the same time we are practically omniscient, with vast libraries of information available with a few clicks on a keyboard or taps on a touch screen. Household robots remain a theme of science fiction, but many of us own an invisible digital servant: asked nicely, the disembodied Siri or Alexa will dial our friends, call us a taxi, turn on the lights or other appliances in our home, give us our precise global position in relation to the street grid, or tell us about the coming weather. Virtual reality technology allows us to “be” places we are not, with a 360° view of our surroundings in stereophonic sound. Posthumanist theory investigates the psychology and the politics of our immersion in the collective world of the internet, and its consequences for the social structures of our world. Meanwhile, cognitive psychology seeks a new center within, exploring the functions and activities of the human brain and mind. It probably got its start when Noam Chomsky conjectured that natural languages are too similar in their deep structures to be the random product of culture, and are learned too quickly to be entirely the behaviorist result of the verbal stimuli children receive. Chomsky argued that human children are born with a “Language Acquisition Device” hard‐wired into their brains. While this theory is still


David H. Richter

contested, the controversy sparked widespread investigations into the relationship of mind and brain, by which it became clear that, whether the tracks are hard‐wired from birth or laid down by experience, the brain processes language in very specific sites. Neurologists examining patients with aphasias caused by brain lesions had long ago discovered that we store people’s names in a different site from common nouns, and that certain lesions ­prevented people from understanding metaphor and others metonymy. Through advances in neural science, cognitive theory has enabled us, without creating brain lesions in healthy subjects, to correlate specific thought processes with activity in specific areas of the brain by mapping which sites demand greater blood flow or demonstrate greater electrical ­conductivity. Since we store short‐term memories in different places from long‐term ­memories, it is suspected that the vivid dreams we experience while unconscious may be, contrary to what Freud thought, an artifact of the process of sorting and then “dumping” the data of the previous day. Philology could reveal the poem and its patterns, and rhetoric could give us some inkling of how audiences reacted, but until recently the key aesthetic moment of reader response was a mystery, a “black box” whose workings were hidden to us. Experimental cognitive psychology, however, has begun to shine light on both mind and brain, explaining how literary tropes (such as metaphor) are involved in all cognition, how empathy with fictional characters occurs, and how literary texts both engage and occasionally test the limits of cognitive functioning. Digital humanities, finally, describes a wildly diverse group of projects that depend on the digital representation of texts and other data, and their distribution through the ­internet. Students of literature routinely consume the product of text digitization when they access both primary texts and criticism published in learned journals via the internet links provided by their university libraries. Digital images of rare or unique books make it possible for us to examine the manuscript of Beowulf while sitting at our desk; to view and read the printed versions of Shakespeare quartos; to compare the individually water‐colored copies of William Blake’s poems and prophetic books; and to view the poems and paintings on which Dante Gabriel Rossetti was simultaneously working. Going beyond mere access, digital analysis of linguistic features has been used to test the ascription of texts published anonymously or under pseudonyms, like the Spectator essays and the Letters of Junius; scholars have also concluded that the first of the three narrative digressions in Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews was probably written by his sister Sarah. A project at the University of Nebraska analyzes Jane Austen’s use of free indirect discourse, with an eye towards specifying the linguistic features that mark its presence. The availability of large corpora of texts from earlier centuries has theoretical implications that have been explored by scholars like Franco Moretti, who has advocated a “distant reading” to discover features and trends in a literature that by the eighteenth century had become far too massive for any single scholar to read more than a small fraction. Other critics like Sharon Marcus and Stephen Best have argued for a “surface reading” of texts to recover obvious features that have been temporarily obscured by psychoanalytical or Marxian searches for deeper meanings or latent content. All these manifestations of theory have taken us far beyond the search for close and closer readings that obsessed literary ­criticism in the 1950s. The Blackwell Companion to Literary Theory has gathered together three dozen original essays, all by noted scholars in their fields, designed to introduce the general reader to the

Introduction 7 latest ideas about the literary and cultural theory of the last half century, focusing on the ideas that are still alive today. We have grouped the chapters for the reader’s convenience into seven sections, but many of the chapters speak to more than a single aspect of theory. The chapter on Digital Humanities, for example, has been placed with the other essays on “The Task of Reading,” but it might equally have been situated with “Scientific Inflections.” Scholars who were writing about theoretical movements whose heyday lay primarily in the past, like the chapters on the New Critics and the Chicago Formalists, were asked to ­discuss what was dead and what was still living about their group of theorists. Those who were writing about fields that were new or emergent were asked to trace the pre‐history as well as the current flowering of their area. Our aim was to allot proper space to all the areas of theory most relevant today, arranged by topic rather than chronology, in order to ­highlight the relationships between the earlier and the most recent theoretical projects.

Part I

Literary Form: Narrative and Poetry


British and American New Criticism William E. Cain

For much of the twentieth century, the New Criticism was the dominant method of textual interpretation. Most critics and teachers of literature in college and universities, both in Great Britain and the United States, were committed to “close reading”—the intensive study of the words on the page, the careful examination of the poem in itself, which was the theory and practice that the New Criticism described and promoted. The New Critics were different in important respects from one another, but, as one of their leaders, Cleanth Brooks, observed: “The one common element that I can discern among those loosely grouped together as New Critics was the special concern they exhibited for the rhetorical structure of the literary text” (Brooks 1984: 42). Few today would claim to be or would aspire to become a New Critic. The movement expired, it is generally agreed, decades ago. Yet when it arose and established itself, the New Criticism was viewed not only as significantly “new” but also as superior to ­everything that had preceded it. In the mid‐1950s, Hyatt H. Waggoner identified the New Criticism as “the best criticism we have or are likely to have for a long time. Certainly, it is the chief reason why it is perfectly correct to characterize our age as, whatever its other failings, a brilliant age for criticism.” In Waggoner’s judgment, “the greatest contribution” that the New Criticism had made was “its creation and demonstration of a way of talking about literature at once objective and literary … There are no extrinsic or irrelevant standards applied, there is no subjectivism, and there is no mystique. We can look at what is being pointed at and agree or disagree with the interpretation” (Waggoner 1957: 224). The poet‐critic William Logan has referred to this text‐focused era of the New Criticism from the 1920s to the 1960s as “the golden age of modern literary criticism” (Logan 2008: 255). We can connect the rise and institutionalization of the New Criticism and its emphasis on the close reading of literary texts to a series of major works of literary criticism:

A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


William E. Cain

T. S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (1920); Selected Essays, 1917–1932 (1932) I. A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism (1924); Practical Criticism: A Study of Literary Judgment (1929) William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930) Kenneth Burke, Counter‐Statement (1931); The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action (1941) Ezra Pound, How to Read (1931); Make It New: Essays (1934) F. R. Leavis, Revaluation: Tradition and Development in English Poetry (1936) R. P. Blackmur, The Double Agent: Essays in Craft and Elucidation (1935) Yvor Winters, Primitivism and Decadence: A Study of American Experimental Poetry (1937) John Crowe Ransom, The World’s Body (1938); The New Criticism (1941) Cleanth Brooks, Modern Poetry and the Tradition (1939); The Well Wrought Urn (1947) Allen Tate, Reason in Madness: Critical Essays (1941) Except for Leavis and Brooks, all of these critics were poets. Their literary criticism was crucially linked to their creative writing—to their own poetry (Burke and Tate also wrote fiction) and its relationship to the poetry produced by their contemporaries. “The greatest age of poetry criticism,” the first two‐thirds of the twentieth century, was also “one of the great ages of poetry in English” (G. Davis 2008: xxiii). Ransom’s book gave the movement its name, but the term was not a new one. Joel E. Spingarn, a professor of comparative literature at Columbia, had called for a “New Criticism” in a lecture he delivered in 1910 on the “aesthetic judgment” of literature; and Edwin Berry Burgum edited an anthology of literary critical essays with this title in 1930. Nor was “close reading” a phrase that the New Critics invented. We can find it early in the century in essays, for example, by the literary historians J. L. Lowes (1911: 208) and Ruth Wallerstein (1927: 496). As for the New Critics themselves, sometimes they used this phrase, as when I. A. Richards remarks, “all respectable poetry invites close reading” (Richards 1929: 203), and when R. P. Blackmur refers to the “close reading” of Henry James (Blackmur 1948: 317). But these are exceptions: rarely do the New Critics speak of “close reading” as the interpretive activity they perform. The phrase became more common among their followers, especially those committed to defining the skills that students in literature courses should be taught. Related terms include: explication, explanation, ­analysis, exegesis, interpretation, elucidation, exposition, and clarification (Gudas 1993). Each of these terms was intended to convey a preoccupation with the details of a poem’s language, its structure and texture, its tone, its formal organization. As Blackmur said, literary critics should seek a “sense of intimacy by inner contact” with the literary work itself (1935: 285). We therefore should connect the New Critics with close reading as a procedure but realize that the term is not one that many (or even any) of them embraced. Only some of them (e.g., Brooks) produced close readings of specific texts. Eliot and Pound; Richards, Ransom, and Tate: they insisted on rigorous attention to literary language but rarely did they undertake close reading (see Hyman 1948: 272). This helps us to understand why the term New Criticism is both accurate and unhelpful as a designation. It is “exasperatingly inexact” (Poirier 1992: 184), and it blurs significant distinctions between, say, a

British and American New Criticism


poet/critic/novelist such as Allen Tate and a British literary academic such as F. R. Leavis, an advocate for close reading and a practical critic who engaged in it. As Robert Penn Warren noted—he was a poet, critic, biographer, novelist, short‐story writer, and historian: “Let’s name some of them—Richards, Eliot, Tate, Blackmur, Brooks, Leavis (I guess). How in God’s name can you get that gang into the same bed? There is no bed big enough and no blanket would stay tucked” (qtd. Wellek 1986: 214). Still, these very different figures do hold in common the belief that the critic should be vigilantly attentive to the poem—and it was always poetry, concentrated in its language and limited in length, that the New Critics emphasized. Criticism, says Eliot, “is the elucidation of works of art and the correction of taste,” and “the chief tools of the critic are “comparison and analysis” (Eliot 1923: 24, 32–3). He stated too that what made his literary essays “coherent” as a group was their concern with “the problem of the integrity of poetry, with the repeated assertion that when we are considering poetry we must ­consider it primarily as poetry and not another thing” (Eliot 1928: viii). Ezra Pound proclaimed: “The proper METHOD for studying poetry and good letters is the method of contemporary biologists, that is careful first‐hand examination of the matter, and continual COMPARISON of one ‘slide’ or specimen with another” (Pound 1934: 17). Influenced by Eliot and Pound, Leavis asserted: “In dealing with individual poets the rule of the critic is, or should (I think) be, to work as much as possible in terms of particular analysis—analysis of poems or passages, and to say nothing that cannot be related immediately to judgments about producible texts” (Leavis 1936: 2–3). Allen Tate states the point this way: “The question in the end comes down to this: What as literary critics are we to judge? As literary critics we must first of all decide in what respect the literary work has a specific objectivity … From my point of view the formal qualities of a poem are the focus of the specifically critical judgment because they partake of an objectivity that the subject matter, abstracted from the form, wholly lacks” (Tate 1940: 110). To understand why this commitment to the text, to the writer’s words, was perceived to be “new,” we need to remember what literary criticism was like in the first decades of the twentieth century, especially in colleges and universities. It is not an exaggeration to say that there was little to no literary criticism. On the graduate level and to a large extent on the undergraduate level, the emphasis was on “facts” about literature, an emphasis that drew its inspiration from the lessons and models that philology and positivist scholarship furnished. Philological, textual, and other kinds of scholarship, anchored in ancient and medieval languages, gave English studies, it was believed, the prestige of a hard science, with a compelling discipline and a comparable sense of progress. When on the occasions that literature as literature was discussed, teachers spoke in vague, rapturous terms. The “criticism” on display was impressionistic and appreciative, highly generalized, often ­nostalgic, even sentimental. At Harvard, for example, the 275 students who enrolled every year in the eminent scholar G. L. Kittredge’s undergraduate course on Shakespeare sat in a lecture hall and ­listened to his commentaries on etymologies and meanings of words, allusions, and references. It is said that he spent fifteen minutes on the “seacoast of Bohemia” in The Winter’s Tale. There was next to nothing in this course on Shakespeare’s “poetry, themes, and dramatic values” (Bush 1981: 598). The literary theorist René Wellek recalled that when he began as an instructor at Princeton in the 1920s, “no course in American literature,


William E. Cain

none in modern literature, and none in criticism was offered.” It was nearly impossible to find a teacher who had “any interest in aesthetics or even ideas.” Here, as at other colleges and universities, someone who wanted to study literature had to work “in an environment hostile to any and all criticism” (Wellek 1978: 614). It would be misleading, though, to suggest that English departments consisted entirely of complacent professors who were content with their fact‐gathering labors and pious ­pronouncements about great authors. A number of important scholars were dismayed by the approach to, and ethos of, graduate and undergraduate study in literature. They ­maintained that it was time to reorient the discipline, and proposals for reform started to issue from their ranks. In the mid‐1920s, for instance, the Renaissance literature scholar Albert Feuillerat, a professor at Yale, stated: There is no end of dissecting the literary works, submitting them to the lens of our ­microscopes, making statistics, cataloguing, indexing, tabulating, drawing diagrams, curves, angles (all the figures used in geometry), adding facts, still more facts, weighing data, ­accumulating an enormous mass of materialien. And so exciting has been this sort of labor that we have practically forgotten that the reason why literary works are written is that they may be enjoyed by all those who read them, critics included. In fact, we no longer suppose that they can be enjoyed, or, at least, we refrain from enjoying them.

“We write cards, we sort them, we argue, we demonstrate about, above, and around books,” Feuillerat concluded, “but the books have ceased to have interest in themselves” (1925: 314). The New Critical reformation of English studies and the development of a new conception of literary criticism were “revolutionary,” as Ransom said (1947: 436). Indeed, “the influence of the New Critics,” noted a scholar in 1962, “has been strong and widespread enough to mark their cause as perhaps the most extraordinarily successful of all consciously waged literary revolutions” (Foster 1962: 221–2). But, again, this change was not really so revolutionary after all. The New Critics’ achievement was to seize upon the terms already present in the widespread discourse of complaint about the teaching of literature and ­brilliantly and repeatedly stress that the focus should therefore be on the poem as poem, the words on the page, the structure and texture of the work itself. In this context, an essential reference point is Ransom’s essay, “Criticism, Inc.,” included in his collection The World’s Body. This essay is Ransom’s attempt to define “the proper business of criticism”—what it is not and what it should be (Ransom 1938: 327). “It is really atrocious policy,” he says, “for a department to abdicate its own self‐respecting identity. The department of English is charged with the understanding and the communication of literature, an art, yet it has usually forgotten to inquire into the peculiar constitution and structure of its product” (1938: 335). Ransom lists a number of false or misleading types of current criticism (e.g., Marxism), but he focuses on the teaching of literature in colleges and universities by literary historians and scholars who gather backgrounds, sources, and influences rather than scrutinize poems. Historical study, he contends, has come to rule at the expense of a truly “critical” approach, preventing students from acquiring the skills needed for them to understand the “technical effects” of literary works. As a result, they cannot respond directly, deliberately, to a literary text.

British and American New Criticism


Ransom urges teachers and students to concentrate on “technical studies of poetry.” By this, he means studies of imagery, metaphor, and meter—the stylistic devices through which the poet differentiates the language of his or her text from that of prose. Ransom calls for a revitalized department of English that will make literary history, scholarship, and linguistics secondary to criticism. In his view, criticism must be rescued from book reviewers and amateurs who focus on feelings, not the artistic object itself, and who reduce texts to paraphrases with a moral message. A crusader for disciplinary coherence and integrity, Ransom called for the professionalization of literary criticism, a trend that intensified in the later decades of the century as higher education in the humanities expanded and the numbers of professors of English rapidly grew. The best practical guide to, and illustration of, “close reading” came a decade later, in Brooks’s The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry, which includes analyses of poems by Donne, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, and others. For Brooks, who in the mid‐ 1920s had been one of Ransom’s students at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, “the readings represent an honest attempt to work close to specific texts … the closest possible examination of what the poem says as a poem … The question of form, of rhetorical structure, simply has to be faced somewhere. It is the primary problem of the critic. Even if it is postponed it cannot ultimately be evaded. If there is such a thing as poetry, we are compelled to deal with it” (Brooks 1947: v, vii, xi, 202). Brooks, too, emphasized that the meaning of a poem is not equivalent to its prose content. This, he said, is the “heresy of paraphrase” (1947: 176–96). Other New Critics also decried this “heresy” and, furthermore, made arguments against both the author and the reader as relevant to interpretation. Here, the key ­documents are “The Intentional Fallacy” (1946) and “The Affective Fallacy” (1949), ­co‐authored by William K. Wimsatt Jr. and Monroe C. Beardsley. In the first, they contend that even when we possess information about the author’s intention, we cannot use it to judge a literary work; the work is a public utterance, not a private one that depends for its meaning on the intention or design of its author (see also Wellek 1941). In the ­second, they aver that the meaning of a literary work is not equivalent to its effect, its emotional impact on the reader. Literary analysis must center on the text itself: the critic’s task is to examine its linguistic structure and its aesthetic unity as an autonomous object (see Richards 1925: 78). As Brooks concisely put it: the New Critics placed their “emphasis on the literary work as distinguished from an emphasis on the writer or the reader” (1984: 47). There are, however, interpretive risks to setting to the side the writer and the reader. As E. D. Hirsch cogently explained in Validity in Interpretation (1967) and The Aims of Interpretation (1976), when we eliminate the author’s intention, we have little to no way to determine which interpretation of a poem is correct. The words on the page, says Hirsch, can sustain interpretations that conflict with one another, and this is why for him the only principled means through which to resolve such disagreements is by recourse to the meaning that the author originally intended. Another theorist, Stanley Fish, in “Literature and the Reader” (1970) and related essays, challenged the New Critical devaluation of the reader. It is the reader who makes meaning, not the text, he maintained. Criticism hence should be concerned with “the analysis of the developing responses of the reader in relation to the words as they succeed one another in time” (1980: 42).


William E. Cain

The New Critics were dedicated to doing one important thing at the expense of (that is, in opposition to) other things. In addition to the writer and the reader, they excluded biography, history, other fields and disciplines, and political, social, and cultural issues, crises, and controversies. What mattered, what was crucial for an authentically literary criticism, was the close reading of the text, the verbal icon, the literary artifact. We might ask why the close reading of a poem mandated so many exclusions. For literary criticism to achieve an identity, was it necessary to leave out so much? Could not the close reading of a literary text illuminate its connections to biography and history? Why not see close reading as a pathway, rather than as a closed field? In some ways, these questions about the New Criticism, pointing to its narrowness, its pattern of exclusions, its boundaries, are misleading. Most of the New Critics had a wide range of inter‐disciplinary and cultural interests and political concerns, and they were very interested in the humanities, in liberal arts education, and the value of literature for society and culture. During the 1930s, Ransom was the central spokesperson for the Agrarian movement; he wrote the introduction and a chapter for the Agrarian manifesto, I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition, by Twelve Southerners (1930), a spirited attack on science and industrialization and a defense of Southern tradition and an agricultural economy. Tate and Warren contributed chapters to it as well. The Agrarian cause never won widespread support among Southerners, and by the late 1930s, Ransom was directing his attention to literary criticism. In 1937, he left Vanderbilt for a position at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, and this move from south to north coincided with his campaign to conceptualize and develop a new form of literary criticism, giving it precision and clarity as an academic discipline. Ransom now was committed to the reform of literary criticism and literary studies and did not believe that social, political, and historical concerns were relevant to these urgent disciplinary and departmental tasks. They would get in the way, they would interfere with good strategy and definition—for articulating the nature of the work that literary critics and teachers should perform. It is striking to read the letters from the late 1930s that Ransom wrote to colleagues and friends as he prepared to leave for Kenyon and then as he reoriented his literary identity in the department there and through the journal he edited, The Kenyon Review. To Edwin Mims, June 8, 1937, he noted that he had ceased writing about regionalism and agrarianism: “I have about contributed all I have to those movements, and I have of late gone almost entirely into pure literary work.” “It seems to me,” he wrote to Allen Tate, November 4, 1937, “that our cue would be to stick to literature entirely … In the severe field of letters there is vocation enough for us: in criticism, in poetry, in fiction.” Again to Tate, January 1, 1938: “I’ve just come back from the Modern Language Association at Chicago. The Professors are in an awful dither, trying to reform themselves, and there’s a big stroke possible for a small group that knows what it wants in giving them ideas and definitions and showing the way.” The president of Kenyon had in mind a journal that would examine philosophy, public affairs, and a range of other topics (Stewart 1965: 188–9). But, as Ransom said forcefully to Tate, May 28, 1938, “We will get out 100‐page issues and devote the pages exclusively to literature and the arts” (Ransom 1985: 223, 233, 236, 243). From the late 1930s to the early 1950s, Ransom and Brooks reiterated this central point. Ransom: “In strictness, the business of the literary critic is exclusively with an esthetic criticism” (1941, “Criticism”: 102); Brooks: “The critic’s concern is finally with

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the poem as a poem” (1950: 18); Brooks: “The formalist critic is concerned primarily with the work itself” (Brooks 1951a: 74). All the while, however, there was much strident opposition to the New Critics—a “frightful uproar” against their arguments and claims (Embry 2004: 102). From the beginning, the New Criticism was attacked, denounced, derided. It remedied a serious problem that many had identified—the lack of attention to literature as literature—but it also triggered a new round of objections and complaints. As early as 1942, Alfred Kazin blasted Ransom and other “new critics” as “a race of conscientious fanatics, working in fragmentary elucidations, stifling in their narrow zeal” (Kazin 1942: 406). He singled out the New Critical close reader R. P. Blackmur as the proponent of “a criticism that displayed so devouring an intensity of mind, so voracious a passion for the critical process in itself, that it became monstrous … a criticism so driven to technical insights that it virtually conceived the literary mind as a sensibility machine—taste, conscience, and mind working as gears, levers, and wheels” (Kazin 1942: 440). Also in 1942, Lionel Trilling criticized the New Critics for their failure “to take critical account of the historicity of a work”: “It is only if we are aware of the reality of the past as past that we can feel it as alive and present. If, for example, we try to make Shakespeare literally contemporaneous, we make him monstrous. He is contemporaneous only if we know how much a man of his own age he was; he is relevant to us only if we see his distance from us” (Trilling 1942: 186). The steady emergence of the New Criticism thus occurred alongside impassioned indictments of it. Operating within a different conception of formalism influenced by Aristotle, the scholar R. S. Crane found in the New Criticism a “tendency toward a monistic reduction of critical concepts,” one that to him was so disquieting that it prompted “doubts about the general state of critical learning” (Crane 1952: 84). David Daiches weighed in: the New Criticism “leads to a drastic oversimplification of what in fact a work of literary art is, what kind of pleasure it gives, and why it is valuable. It is the invention of ardent but inelastic minds and, too often, of minds that are really happier talking about literature than reading and enjoying it” (Daiches 1950: 71–2). Another ­formidable scholar and literary historian, Douglas Bush, with sarcastic bite, commended the New Criticism for having supplied a “large number of literary students” with “an advanced course in remedial reading.” He rebuked the New Critics for their “contempt for scholarship” and for an “approach to poetry” that was “narrow and dogmatic and also erratic”; in their analyses of texts, they “give the impression that they are looking, not at human beings, but at specimens mounted on slides” (Bush 1949: 13, 20). Pound had deployed this “specimen” image approvingly, but for Bush it dramatized the New Critics’ grotesque misconception of the nature and purpose of literary criticism. The New Critics were discontented too. In the journals they edited, they published critiques by other scholars and critics of New Critical theory and practice. They also found fault with the views and close reading practices that they themselves had established in literary criticism and in the teaching of literature. Ransom said in 1947 that the New Criticism had supplied “a kind of literary criticism more intensive than a language has ever known,” but he added, “a revulsion is setting in against it.” He made this statement in a review of his former student Brooks’s The Well Wrought Urn, about which he expressed serious reservations: “The new critics, careless of the theoretical constitution of poetry,


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have contrived to create a sense of its disorder. But at last this has become embarrassing. We have grown familiar with many exciting turns of poetic language, but we begin to wonder if we are able to define a poem” (1947: 436). New Critical “stock” was low, said Ransom the following year, having taken a “dip in the market”; he noted that it was time for a revaluation (Ransom 1948: 682). Brooks also called for a “general stock‐taking,” for the New Criticism “has come to fruition, or has arrived at a turning point, or, as some writers now hint, has now exhausted its energies” (Brooks 1949: “Foreword,” xv–xvi). A strong ally, Austin Warren, stated as a “commonplace” that the New Critical movement “had come to an end, or at any event to a moment of consolidation and pedagogic simplification as well as a moment for assessment” (Austin 1951: 239). In The Well Wrought Urn, Brooks had highlighted ambiguity, double meaning, irony, and paradox in the language of poetry, and it is tempting to follow this cue and say that the state of literary criticism by the mid‐1950s was itself a paradoxical one. On the one hand, the New Criticism had triumphed. “Literary analysis,” commented John Holloway, “close reading, ‘taking a poem to pieces’, talk about imagery, ambiguities, associations, poetic texture—this is the new critical establishment” (Holloway 1956: 204). In a survey of critical approaches, Wilbur Scott stated that “without question,” the New Criticism was “the most influential critical method of our time … the method one almost automatically thinks of when speaking of contemporary criticism” (Scott 1962: 179). On the other hand, John Henry Raleigh said that “the era of the New Criticism, everyone agrees, is over” (Raleigh 1959: 21). Somehow, New Criticism was timely and out of date, firmly entrenched and obsolete. It had made criticism better than it had ever been before, and simultaneously, it had deformed, even ruined, criticism, and needed to be replaced. Both those who were trained in the New Criticism and those who from the outset were hostile to it took note of the New Criticism’s flaws and bad consequences. Reporting on the state of literary criticism in the early 1950s, Randall Jarrell—a close friend of Ransom, Tate, and Warren—declared that while some contemporary critical writing was first rate, “a great deal of this criticism might just as well have been written by a syndicate of encyclopedias for an audience of International Business Machines. It is not only bad or mediocre, it is dull; it is, often, an astonishingly graceless, joyless, humorless, long‐winded, niggling, blinkered, methodical, self‐important, cliché‐ridden prestige‐obsessed, almost‐autonomous criticism” (Jarrell 1953: 65, 66). The New York intellectual Irving Howe reached a similar verdict. Literary criticism was an “appalling” spectacle, marked by a crazy over‐emphasis on criticism as an activity, an “astonishing indifference to the ideas that occupy the serious modern mind” (e.g., Freud, Marx, Nietzsche, Frazer, Dewey), an obsessive interest in the opinions of critics about other critics, and a narrow‐minded desire among graduate students to become the disciple of some leading critical figure. The result, in Howe’s estimation, was that “in the literary world” there is a “bureaucratization of opinion and taste,” with literature serving as “raw material which critics work up into schemes of structure and symbol” (1954: 43). Business and bureaucracy: to many, Ransom’s vision of “Criticism, Inc.” had been ­fulfilled in a nightmarish form.

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In the mid‐1950s, the New Critics’ godfather, T. S. Eliot, offered this appraisal of a book of New Critical/close reading essays: The method is to take a well‐known poem … without reference to the author or to his other work, analyze it stanza by stanza and line by line, and extract, squeeze, tease, press every drop of meaning out of it that one can. It might be called the lemon‐squeezer school of criticism … For nearly all the poems in the volume were poems that I had known and loved for many years; and after reading the analyses, I found I was slow to recover my previous feeling about the poems. It was as if someone had taken a machine to pieces and left me with the task of reassembling the parts. (1956: 537, 539)

Despite all of the criticisms to which it was subjected, from outside and inside the movement, the New Criticism nevertheless prospered because it worked terrifically well in the classroom. In Practical Criticism, I. A. Richards had examined the responses of Cambridge University students in the 1920s to poems that he distributed to them without authors’ names or dates. He found that even well‐educated and competent readers of poetry could not understand the texts before them. “The most disturbing and impressive fact brought out by this experiment is that a large proportion of average‐to‐good (and in some cases, certainly, devoted) readers of poetry frequently and repeatedly fail to understand it, both as a statement and as an expression. They fail to make out its prose sense, its plain, overt meaning, as a set of ordinary, intelligible, English sentences, taken quite apart from any further poetic significance. And equally, they misapprehend its feeling, its tone, and its intention. They would travesty it in a paraphrase” (Richards 1929: 12). Brooks and Warren read Richards’s book with great interest, and it shaped their work as young instructors at Louisiana State University in the 1930s. Assigned to teach introductory courses, they encountered, as had Richards, “a practical problem”: their students did not know how to interpret literary works, poems in particular. Brooks recalled that “some had not been taught how to do so at all; many had been thoroughly mistaught. Some actually approached Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ in the same spirit and with the same expectations with which they approached an editorial in the local county newspaper or an advertisement in the current Sears, Roebuck catalogue” (Brooks 1979: 593). For spring semester 1935, Warren prepared a thirty‐page handout on metrics and imagery, and then, for the following year’s courses, aided by Brooks and J. T. Purser (a student assistant), he included coverage of fiction, drama, and prose. Louisiana State University printed the full text with the title An Approach to Literature, and soon it was picked up by a commercial publisher. Brooks and Warren turned next to the task of putting together a comprehensive introduction to the study of poetry, a two‐in‐one textbook of instruction in close reading and anthology of poems. They intended to title it Reading Poetry, but at the publisher’s insistence they agreed to a change: the term understanding was felt to make a stronger claim than reading. Brooks and Warren omitted nearly all biographical and historical contexts in order to concentrate the attention of the teacher and students on the words on the page and the specific skills needed to respond to and analyze them. In their “Letter to the Teacher,” they affirmed: “The poem in itself, if literature is to be studied as literature, remains finally the object for study” (1938: xi).


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Other textbooks followed: Understanding Fiction (1943), Understanding Drama (with Robert Heilman, 1945), and Modern Rhetoric (1949). Understanding Poetry was the most successful; by 1950, some 250 college and university teachers were using it in courses. For many of them and their students, Brooks and Warren’s account of reading poetry, enriched by forty detailed close readings, was a revelation: “No one brought up on Brooks and Warren can ever forget the excitement of following the editors through their close analyses of individual poems, or the even greater excitement of using their models as a basis for new readings” (Litz 1979: 56). Understanding Fiction won a wide readership too. Among college and university teachers, few works of the twentieth century were as significant and influential as these poetry and fiction textbooks: “they revolutionized the teaching of literature in thousands of classrooms for 25 years” (McSween 1998: 175). As the scholar M. H. Abrams has said, “what the New Criticism dominated was the pedagogy of courses designed to introduce undergraduates to the reading of poems, plays, and novels” (1997: 109). The literary theorist Paul de Man taught in the 1950s in a New Critical‐style course at Harvard—an “experiment in critical reading”—that was led and organized by Reuben A. Brower, whose mentors included I. A. Richards and F. R. Leavis. Students “were not to say anything that was not derived from the text they were considering,” de Man recalled: “They were not to make any statements that they could not support by a specific use of language that actually occurred in the text. They were asked, in other words, to begin by reading texts closely as texts and not to move at once into the general context of human experience or history” (de Man 1982: 23). Brower’s colleague Perry Miller mockingly referred to the course as “Remedial Reading,” and others said that its title should have been “How to Talk About Literature Without Actually Knowing Anything” (Pritchard 1985: 243). But this training in close reading (Brower preferred “slow reading”) was transformative for many students. It is said of Brower and other gifted New Critical teachers that “under their spell, the classroom became something like a Quaker meeting, not so much a place of compulsory recitation as of open invitation for students to contribute toward the goal of building, collectively, new insights into the work under discussion” (Delbanco 1999: 36). Did New Critical close reading change the classroom study of literature for the better? It did (as in Brower’s course), and it did not. New Critical explication sensitized students to uses of language in texts, and, in the process, it made their essay‐writing more careful and rigorous. But the New Criticism’s exclusions limited the ability of students to connect their literary studies to other fields of inquiry and to perceive the relationship of literature to the contexts of “human experience” and “history.” Not everyone was a New Critical purist, and surely some teachers of close reading were more adept than others and sought to move beyond the text at hand. The success or failure of close reading ultimately depended on the teacher, and still does: he or she makes the intensive study of a poem inspiring and profound, or tedious and claustrophobic. Does, then, the New Criticism matter now? Courses in literary theory and criticism often devote a week or two to it, but just as often they do not. A teacher has only so much space on the syllabus, and there are structuralism, post‐structuralism, deconstruction, new historicism, feminism, queer theory, race and ethnicity, eco‐criticism, disability studies, and much more. There are pockets of interest too in “distant reading” (e.g., Moretti 2013),

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a form of interpretation that relies on massive amounts of data gathered through computer studies and quantitative research; and in “surface reading,” the study not of what is deep, concealed, or hidden in a text but, rather, of “what is evident, perceptible, apprehensible” on a text’s surface (Best and Marcus 2009: 9). In the midst of all of this, the New Criticism does not seem urgent or special. Empson, Leavis, Brooks: what claim do they have on our attention? To younger scholars and to students, these names may feel as antiquated and dusty as Dryden and Johnson. The truth, however, hidden in plain sight, is that the New Criticism is no longer s­ pecial, distinct, or attention‐seizing as an approach because long ago it became equivalent to literary criticism at its most fundamental, the set of interpretive reading and writing skills that everything else is built upon. The New Criticism is criticism, the work that teachers and students perform in classrooms and that students seek to exemplify in analytical essays in their literature courses. Close reading is at the forefront of the mission statement of every department of English and is central to foreign language and literature departments as well. It is impossible to imagine what literary study would look like—what its practitioners would say that they do—without this core commitment to close reading. In an essay published in 1962, Cleanth Brooks reiterated that the literary critic and teacher should consider “the structure of the poem as poem. And with this kind of examination the so‐called ‘new criticism’ is concerned. I should be happy to drop the adjective ‘new’ and simply say: with this kind of judgment, literary criticism is concerned” (1962: 103). By the middle of the century, the New Criticism had “absorbed” its adversaries, making it “almost impossible to identify the individual species New Critic as something distinct from the general run of competent literary academics” (Foster 1962: 13–14). As René Wellek observed, “much of what the New Criticism taught is valid and will be valid as long as people think about the nature and function of literature and poetry” (1978: 611). “In ceasing to be New,” concluded Louis D. Rubin Jr., “it has not thereby become Old Criticism. Instead, it has become simply criticism” (1991: 204). Today there is no New Criticism. No one is a New Critic because everyone is.

References Abrams, M. H. 1997. “The Transformation of English Studies, 1930–1995.” Daedalus 126 (1) (Winter): 105–32. Best, Stephen, and Sharon Marcus. 2009. “Surface Reading: An Introduction.” Representations 108 (1) (Fall 2009): 1–21. Blackmur, R. P. 1935. “A Critic’s Job of Work.” In The Double Agent: Essays in Craft and Elucidation, 269–302. New York: Arrow Editions. Blackmur, R. P. 1948. “Judgment, Form, Sensibility.” Kenyon Review 10 (2) (Spring): 313–17. Brooks, Cleanth. 1947. The Well Wrought Urn. London: Dennis Dobson; reprinted 1949.

Brooks, Cleanth. 1949. “Foreword.” In Critiques and Essays in Criticism, 1920–1948, ed. Robert Wooster Stallman, xv–xxii. New York: Ronald Press. Brooks, Cleanth. 1951a. “My Credo: The Formalist Critic.” Kenyon Review 13 (1) (Winter): 72–81. Brooks, Cleanth. 1951b. “The Quick and the Dead: A Comment on Humanistic Study.” In The Humanities: An Appraisal, ed. Julien Harris, 1–21. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Brooks, Cleanth. 1962 (rpt. 1968). “Literary Criticism: Poet, Poem, and Reader.” In


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Perspectives in Contemporary Criticism, ed. Sheldon Norman Grebstein. New York: Harper & Row. Brooks, Cleanth. 1979. “The New Criticism.” Sewanee Review 87 (4) (Fall): 592–607. Brooks, Cleanth. 1984. “In Search of the New Criticism.” American Scholar 53 (1) (Winter): 41–53. Brooks, Cleanth, and Robert Penn Warren. 1938. Understanding Poetry: An Anthology for College  Students. New York: Henry Holt and Company; rpt. 1950. Burgum, Edwin Berry (ed.). 1930. The New Criticism: An Anthology of Modern Aesthetics and Literary Criticism. New York: Prentice‐Hall. Bush, Douglas. 1949. “The New Criticism: Some Old‐Fashioned Queries.” PMLA 64 (1) (March), part 2, Supplement: 13–21. Bush, Douglas. 1981. “Memories of Harvard’s English Department, 1920–1960.” Sewanee Review 89 (4) (Fall): 595–603. Crane, R. S. 1952. “The Critical Monism of Cleanth Brooks.” In Critics and Criticism: Ancient and Modern, ed. R. S. Crane, 83–107. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Daiches, David. 1950. “The New Criticism: Some Qualifications.” English Journal 39 (2) (February): 64–72. Davis, Garrick (ed.). 2008. Praising It New: The Best of the New Criticism. Athens: Swallow Press/ Ohio University Press. Delbanco, Andrew. 1999. “The Decline and Fall of Literature.” New York Review of Books (November 4). De Man, Paul. 1982. “The Return to Philology.” The Resistance to Theory, 21–6. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (rpt. 1986). Eliot, T. S. 1923. “The Function of Criticism.” Selected Essays, 23–34. London: Faber; reprinted 1972. Eliot, T. S. 1928. “Preface.” The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism, vii–x. London: Methuen; reprinted 1972. Eliot, T. S. 1956. “The Frontiers of Criticism.” Sewanee Review 64 (4) (October–November): 525–43.

Embry, Charles R. (ed.). 2004. Robert B. Heilman and Eric Voegelin: A Friendship in Letters, 1944– 1984. Columbia: University of Missouri Press. Feuillerat, Albert. 1925. “Scholarship and Literary Criticism.” Yale Review 14 (January): 309–24. Fish, Stanley. 1980. Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Foster, Richard. 1962. The New Romantics: A Reappraisal of the New Criticism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Gudas, Fabian. 1993. “Explication.” In The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, ed. Alex Preminger and T. V. F. Brogan, 395–6. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Hirsch, E. D., Jr. 1967. Validity in Interpretation. New Haven: Yale University Press. Hirsch, E. D., Jr. 1976. The Aims of Interpretation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976. Holloway, John. 1956. “The New ‘Establishment’ in Criticism.” In The Charted Mirror: Literary and Critical Essays, 204–26. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul; reprinted 1962. Howe, Irving. 1954. “This Age of Conformity.” Selected Writings, 1950–1990. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 26–49. Hyman, Stanley Edgar. 1948; rev. 1955. The Armed Vision: A Study in the Methods of Modern Literary Criticism. New York: Vintage. Jarrell, Randall. 1953. “The Age of Criticism.” In Poetry and the Age. New York: Vintage Books. Kazin, Alfred. 1942. On Native Grounds: An Interpretation of Modern American Prose Literature. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich; reprinted 1970. Leavis, F. R. 1936. Revaluation: Tradition and Development in English Poetry. London: Chatto & Windus. Litz, A. Walton. 1979. “Literary Criticism.” In Harvard Guide to Contemporary American Writing, ed. Daniel Hoffman, 51–83. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Logan, William. 2008. “Forward into the Past: Reading the New Critics.” Virginia Quarterly Review 84 (2): 252–9.

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Lowes, J. L. 1911. “‘L’Allegro’ and ‘The Passionate Shepherd’.” Modern Language Review 6 (2) (April): 206–9. McSween, Harold B. 1998. “Cleanth Brooks: Courtly Enigma.” Virginia Quarterly Review 74(1) (Winter): 172–9. Moretti, Franco. 2013. Distant Reading. London: Verso. Poirier, Richard. 1992. Poetry and Pragmatism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Pound, Ezra. 1934. ABC of Reading. New York: New Directions, 1960. Pritchard, William H. 1985. “Teaching: Reuben A. Brower.” American Scholar 54 (2) (1985): 239–47. Raleigh, John Henry. 1959. “The New Criticism as a Historical Phenomenon.” Comparative Literature 11 (1) (Winter): 21–8. Ransom, John Crowe. 1934. “The Esthetic of Regionalism.” In Literary Opinion in America, ed. Morton Dauwen Zabel. 106–21. New York: Harper and Brothers; rpt. 1937, Ransom, John Crowe. 1938. “Criticism, Inc.” In The World’s Body. New York: Scribner’s, 327–50. Ransom, John Crowe. 1941. “Criticism as Pure Speculation.” In The Intent of the Critic, ed. Donald A Stauffer, 91–124. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Ransom, John Crowe. 1941. The New Criticism. Norfolk: New Directions. Ransom, John Crowe. 1947. “The Formal Analysis.” Kenyon Review 9 (3) (Summer): 436–456. Ransom, John Crowe. 1948. “The New Criticism.” Kenyon Review 10 (4) (Autumn): 682–688. Ransom, John Crowe (ed.) 1951. The Kenyon Critics: Studies in Modern Literature from The Kenyon Review, vii–x. Cleveland: World Publishing Company. Ransom, John Crowe. 1985. Selected Letters. Thomas Daniel Young and George Core, eds. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. Richards, I. A. 1925. Principles of Literary Criticism. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World; reprinted 1961. Richards, I. A. 1929. Practical Criticism: A Study in Literary Judgment. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World; reprinted 1956.


Rubin, Louis D., Jr. 1991. “Tory Formalists, New York Intellectuals, and the New Historical Science of Criticism.” In The Mockingbird in the Gum Tree: A Literary Gallimaufry, 193–204. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. Scott, Wilbur (ed.). 1962. Five Approaches of Literary Criticism: An Arrangement of Contemporary Critical Essays. New York: Collier Books; reprinted 1979. Spingarn, Joel. 1910. The New Criticism. New York: Columbia University Press. Stewart, John L. 1965. The Burden of Time: The Fugitives and Agrarians. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Tate, Allen. 1940. “Miss Emily and the Bibliographer.” In Reason in Madness: Critical Essays, 100–16. New York: G. P. Putnam; reprinted 1941. Trilling, Lionel. 1942. “The Sense of the Past.” In The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society, 181–97. New York: New York Review Books; reprinted 1950, 2008. Waggoner, Hyatt H. 1959. “The Current Revolt Against the New Criticism.” Criticism 1 (3) (Summer): 211–25. Wallerstein, Ruth. 1927. “Personal Experience in Rossetti’s ‘House of Life’.” PMLA 42(2) (June): 492–504. Warren, Austin. 1951. “The Achievement of Some Recent Critics.” Poetry 77 (4) (January): 239–43, 245. Wellek, René. 1942. “The Mode of Existence of the Literary Work of Art.” Southern Review 7 (Spring): 735–54. Wellek, René. 1978. “The New Criticism: Pro and Contra. Critical Inquiry 4 (4) (Summer): 611–24. Wellek, René. 1986. A History of Modern Criticism: 1750–1950. vol. 6. New Haven: Yale University Press. Wimsatt, W. K., Jr. and Monroe Beardsley, 1946. “The Intentional Fallacy.” Reprinted in W. K. Wimsatt, 1954, The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry. London: Methuen, 3–18. Wimsatt, W. K., Jr. 1949. “The Affective Fallacy.” Reprinted in The Verbal Icon: 21–39. Wimsatt, W. K., Jr. 1954. The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry. London: Methuen; rpt. 1970.


Chicago Formalism David H. Richter

Chicago Formalism, also known as Neo‐Aristotelianism, originated in response to the ­revolutionary reorganization of the undergraduate curriculum at the University of Chicago instituted by Robert Maynard Hutchins in the 1930s. Students who came to the college after their second year of high school were taught the liberal arts and sciences through interdisciplinary courses stressing close reading of primary sources. A capstone course, developed by philosopher Richard P. McKeon, was designed to help students integrate the disparate texts in terms of their discursive practices, their choices of methods and first principles. Ronald S. Crane, the chair of the English department, had been a distinguished traditional scholar of eighteenth‐century literature, but under the direct influence of McKeon in informal faculty seminars, Crane came out, in “History versus Criticism,” against teaching undergraduates literature through its historical origins and in favor of a new approach using textual explication and aesthetics (Crane 1967: II 3–24). Over the next decade Crane recruited a group of humanists who assisted him in developing a critical theory; this group included Elder Olson, Norman Maclean, Bernard Weinberg, and W. R. Keast. Their manifesto appeared in a massive 1952 collection of essays edited by Crane, Critics and Criticism: Ancient and Modern. Critics and Criticism presented Chicago Formalism as an alternative to the formalist theories of the New Critics, including Cleanth Brooks, William K. Wimsatt, Robert Penn Warren, and Robert B. Heilman.1 An acrimonious debate erupted in the pages of scholarly journals and little magazines, intemperate on both sides, and when the dust had settled, the New Critics were left in possession of the field, primarily because their critical methods, propagated by successful textbooks like Brooks and Warren’s Understanding Poetry and Understanding Fiction, had revolutionized undergraduate training in literature across America. The textual explications of the Chicago Formalists were primarily confined to scholarly books and learned journals, and in fact the Neo‐Aristotelian method of analyzing A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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literature was a multidimensional affair that did not lend itself easily to popularization.2 On the other hand, the success of the New Criticism resulted in a dilution of its originating philosophical ideas: It became synonymous with the practice of close reading. Chicago Formalism had a second and subsequent generations who revised and extended its reach into what is now called Rhetorical Narrative Theory, one of the two most important branches of contemporary narratology. This chapter begins by presenting the theoretical and metatheoretical ideas of Crane and the first generation of Chicago Formalists, and ­discusses the relation of these ideas to the second generation of Wayne Booth, Ralph Rader, and Sheldon Sacks, and the rhetorical narratologists of the third and later generations.

Aristotle and the Synolon The Chicago Formalists were also called the neo‐Aristotelians, but Aristotle’s concept of mimesis (imitation) in the Poetics is not as central to them as it was to the humanists of the Renaissance. Crane discusses at some length Aristotle’s implication in the opening section of the Poetics that not all art is mimetic (Crane 1953: 47–49). The central Aristotelian method came from the Metaphysics and some of the scientific texts that discuss the concept of the synolon, or a “concrete whole” of formed matter, found in nature or manufactured by art, and the ways such synola may be analyzed, via their formal, material, efficient, and final causes. This “concrete whole” was shaped so as to be coherent, comprehensible and meaningful in itself. Though our sense of the whole takes shape through our experience of the parts (starting with language), we revise our sense of the parts through our growing sense of the whole to which they contribute. Linguistic tropes—symbols or metaphors—lose their significance once abstracted from the whole. And while the effects of some literary works may require temporary or permanent ambiguities, many potential ambiguities within a text are cleared up by the hermeneutic process. Crane viewed Aristotle primarily as the founder of a positivistic and differential method (as opposed to Plato’s idealistic and synthesizing method). The method was positivistic, in the sense that Aristotle sought scientific knowledge of things in their real‐life contingency, rather than a dialectical approach to an ideal world; and it was differential in that Aristotle saw various synola as existing for a variety of purposes, judged by no ground higher than their capacity to fulfill their final cause. The Poetics was an exemplary instance of this general methodology, applying this mode of analysis to the tragic drama and epic Aristotle knew. Poetic works of art are complex contraptions in which plot, character, and thought (the formal cause) give shape to language (the material cause) using various techniques of representation or devices of disclosure (the efficient cause) to create an object with the power to affect us in various ways (the final cause). In tragedy the final cause, the dynamis, is the catharsis of pity and fear, and Aristotle judges the tragedies with which he was familiar by how well their various elements are designed—the ultimate criterion being their capacity to effect the tragic dynamis. The Chicago Formalists viewed the proper application of Aristotle as the extension of this method to texts belonging to other genres with different powers and with other means designed to serve those ends. In critical practice, their genres were based on the final cause, with the formal cause a close second, and with language—all‐important to the New Critics—unofficially relegated to a relatively subordinate role.


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Constructional Genre The concept of genre was central to the Chicago Formalists, because their way of analyzing texts was not grounded in a universal ideal of literary excellence. Texts were good if they did what they were designed to do.3 In attempting to understand that design the Formalists would locate it within a system of existing genres, or in the case of a text that was sui ­generis, to place it in relation to genres that were already understood. Thus Crane’s analysis of Macbeth in The Languages of Criticism proceeds by noting that the power of that tragedy is not that of classical tragedies (those praised by Aristotle in Poetics 13) involving the downfall of a good man, like Oedipus or Hamlet; nor that of another serious dramatic genre popular in the Renaissance, involving the downfall of a villain, like The Jew of Malta. Macbeth was a masterwork of a new kind, in which we are made to desire the destruction of the protagonist, not only for the sake of those whom he has injured, but as an end to his own torments: [Macbeth] is one who commits monstrous deeds without becoming wholly a monster, since his knowledge of the right … is never altogether obscured … The catharsis is effected not merely by the man’s deserved overthrow but by his discovery, before it is too late, of what he had not known before he began to act. If we are normal human beings we must abhor his crimes; yet we cannot completely abhor but must rather pity the man himself and … wish for such an outcome as will be best … not merely for Scotland but for him. (Crane 1953: 171–172)

Crane preferred to demonstrate the power of his theory on masterpieces like Macbeth and Tom Jones, in which a complex plot and a great variety of characters have been effectively marshalled to the service of a single end. He did not write extensively on mixed forms like The Vicar of Wakefield or Moby Dick, or partial failures like Fielding’s Amelia, where extraformal intentions were realized at the expense of the effect. The second generation of Formalists, especially Wayne Booth and Ralph Rader, would explore more thoroughly how form could be reconciled with the multifarious intentions of authors and with the institutional shapes culture bequeaths to literature.

The Hypothetico‐Deductive Method For the Chicago Formalists genres were heuristic categories, byproducts of analysis rather than reified concepts with independent significance. To characterize a text as belonging to a genre was to make a hypothesis about its nature, a hypothesis that entailed logical ­consequences reaching beyond the data used in forming the hypothesis. The hypothesis can be tested against that data and either confirmed or refuted by it. One could test Crane’s theory of Macbeth, for example, by asking how it accounts for the presence of certain minor characters, or the unusually heavy use of the soliloquy as a device of disclosure. And the hypothesis must be tested against alternatives to see whether there is a better explanation of the text. At every point the hypothesis is a conjecture that may be refuted by a better one. The virtue of an open system of genres is that alternative hypotheses are immediately

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available. Crane considered this method intrinsically superior to that of the Robertsonian medievalists, for example, who posited that every medieval text was a displaced version of patristic allegory (Crane 1967, II: 25–44). And his attack on the “bankruptcy” of Cleanth Brooks’s “monism” was essentially of the same kind: Brooks knew in advance of analyzing a particular poem that, if it was any good, it would contain paradox and irony aplenty. Hypotheses that can never fail cannot explain very much either. Crane claimed that his own hypotheses were formed using the inductive method of the natural sciences. But in this he went too far: his genres were generated by the articulation of a sizable, but nonetheless limited and foreknown, number of structural predicates. Many of these Crane outlined in “The Concept of Plot and the Plot of Tom Jones”: for example, the protagonist may be either better, worse, or of the same moral quality as ourselves, and this moral nature may be either static or capable of moving from one to another of these levels; the protagonist’s fate may be either fortunate or unfortunate, in greater or less degree, in the short run or the long run; the protagonist may be responsible for this fate, or it may be the result of chance, fate, fortune, providence, or historical necessity; the plot as a whole may turn on a change in the protagonist’s circumstances, moral character or way of thinking; the text as a whole may be an imitation of human action (mimetic) or of an argument (didactic); and so on. The intercalation of these predicates would generate dozens of distinct genres, but the hypotheses derived from these structural distinctions are ­deductive, not inductive. Crane perhaps wished to describe Chicago Formalism as an inductive method because that was how he thought the hard sciences worked. Karl Popper had argued, however, that the inductive method of science was an illusion, and that the true logic of discovery in the natural sciences involved hypothetical conjectures whose origin was immaterial, so long as these conjectures lent themselves to testing—confirmation and refutation—and so long as the researcher always held his hypotheses open to further revision (Popper 1934, 1962). So Crane’s methodology was in fact closer to real scientific method than he knew: the hypotheses generated by Crane’s genres make predictions that can be falsified or confirmed by data within the text itself, or by features of its creation and reception.

Textual Autonomy The first generation of Chicago Formalists joined the New Critics in arguing for the autonomy of the literary text, which was seen as interpretable independent of authorial intention, audience affect, and other extrinsic factors. They did not erect a series of fallacies and heresies to defend the various flanks of textual autonomy, but like the New Critics they tended to exclude these aspects.4 “What is held constant” Crane wrote in the Introduction to Critics and Criticism, “is the whole complex of accidental causes of variation in poetry that depend on the talents, characters, educations, and intentions of individual authors, the opinions and tastes of the audiences they address, the state of the language in their time, and all the other external factors which affect their choice of materials and conventions in particular works. The provisional exclusion of these is necessary if the analysis is to be concentrated upon the internal causes which account for the peculiar construction and effect of any poem qua artistic whole.”


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Crane presents the exclusion of the extrinsic as a tactical gesture rather than a statement about the nature of literature, but it had consequences. With the author excluded, the lyric “I” had to be viewed as an externalized speaker, the principal character in a tiny agon that could be analyzed as though it were a narrative or a drama. This externalized speaker is seen as either “moved in a certain way by his situation,” or “acting in a certain manner in relation to it,” or as “deliberating morally in a certain frame of mind.” Lyric poems thus have something analogous to plots of thought, action or character, respectively. Sometimes, as in Elder Olson’s explication of Dylan Thomas’s “I See the Boys of Summer” as a dialogue between three agents, this stance penetrates many of the poem’s obscurities (Olson 1952: 90–92), but in other cases, as Ralph Rader was to show, the creation of artificial distance between the lyric poet and the speaker of the poem introduces obscurities of its own.

Instrumental Pluralism The most enduring stance of the first Chicago Formalists was their metatheoretical commitment to instrumental pluralism, deriving either from Richard McKeon’s philosophical semantics or from the pragmatism of McKeon’s mentor, John Dewey (Fletcher and Benveniste 2010). Spelled out most forcefully in The Languages of Criticism and the Structure of Poetry, instrumental pluralism begins with the premise that criticism is not a field that slowly advances based upon a common set of factual and methodological assumptions—what Thomas Kuhn was later to call a scientific paradigm. Criticism is instead “a collection of distinct and more or less incommensurable ‘frameworks’ or ­‘languages’” differing widely in “matters of assumed principle, definition and method” (Crane 1953: 13). Each of these “languages” has its own intrinsic powers and limitations, it has areas of insight—questions it can ask and answer—while remaining blind to other equally significant issues. But it is hard to maintain a pluralistic stance while defending one’s own ideas in ­scholarly controversy. For every page Crane wrote recommending pluralism, he wrote two denouncing rival schools of criticism. Even in his polemics, though, Crane was generally much better at reading his rivals’ work, and appreciating their virtues as well as their defects, than they were at reading him (see Ransom 1952 and Wimsatt 1953). And Crane could also be refreshingly candid about the inherent limitations of Chicago Formalism, as when he wrote: It is a method not at all suited, as is criticism in the grand line of Longinus, Coleridge, and Matthew Arnold, to the definition and appreciation of those general qualities of writing— mirroring the souls of writers—for the sake of which most of us read or at any rate return to what we have read. It is a method that necessarily abstracts from history … It is a method, above all, that completely fails, because of its essentially differentiating character, to give us insights into the larger moral and political values of literature or into any of the other organic relations with human nature and human experience in which literature is involved. (Crane 1953: 192)

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The Second Generation: Booth, Rader, Sacks The Chicago Formalists of the second and subsequent generations were equally committed to pluralism,5 but in their critical stances, they reacted against the limitations of Crane’s formalism by viewing the literary text as the product of the author’s creative intentions and the interactions of those intentions with the reader. The result was a less pure but more humanized formalism that returned “the larger moral and political values of literature,” by applying biography, history, and ethics to the formal analysis of literature. For example, Sheldon Sacks’s book on Fielding took as its premise the notion that the novelist’s didactic intention “to recommend goodness and innocence” was incorporated into the structure of Tom Jones, not as a separable “theme” or abstractable “vision,” but rather through its embodiment in an emplotted structure of norms by which we are led to evaluate characters and actions. And the generic structures which Sacks posits as the broadest ­principles of form in fiction—satires like Gulliver’s Travels, apologues like Rasselas, and represented actions like Tom Jones—are differentiated as mutually exclusive models available to writers of fiction for implanting their beliefs within a narrative, models that also guide the intuitive perceptions of readers construing the text. Thus for Sacks, a novelist’s beliefs were not of merely biographical concern: they became an integral part of the fiction (Sacks 1964). In “Novelists as Storytellers” Sacks opened his system of genres to include represented actions in which the interest is focused less on watching characters moving towards a foreseeable fate than on our experience of their consciousness in an already realized fate. The essay uses Jane Austen’s Persuasion as the primary text, but Sacks showed that such “lyric” novels have particular relevance to the masterpieces of high modernism (Sacks 1976). Wayne Booth, like his mentor R. S. Crane, wrote The Rhetoric of Fiction partly to refute the ideas of New Critics who valorized realistic stories told through a “natural,” objective narrative technique that avoided authorial commentary and other overt signals of the ­creator behind the tale. Booth had started out from Crane’s premise that literary texts were autonomous synola, but eventually came to see that “a more interesting new view of the craft of fiction” could be generated by a rhetorical conception of art that sees authors as “making readers” rather than “making a concrete form” (Booth 1968). Once “making readers” became the issue, it was clear that the “natural” techniques of modernism were no less artificial, no less rhetorical, than the direct address to the reader practiced by Fielding and Sterne. Each of the author’s technical decisions would, in a particular way, shape the reader’s evaluation of the characters and the action, making some effects easy and others impossible. The conclusions that arise from Booth’s theory are less simple than those implicit in New Criticism. They suggest that a reader’s empathy with the characters in a narrative depends not only on the characters’ values and beliefs but on the distance from the reader at which the narrative technique places them—so that vicious characters can become sympathetic if readers are granted access to their consciousness and distanced from that of their victims. The impact of The Rhetoric of Fiction was immense, not only in the development of classical narrative theory—born out of Booth’s book and out of Gérard Genette’s Narrative Discourse—but also in altering the canon of fiction. The popularity of eighteenth‐century novelists such as Defoe, Fielding, and Sterne, long muted by the disapproval of the New Critics, recovered in part owing to Booth’s debunking of modernist premises. In addition,


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Booth’s terminology—such as “implied author” for the formal location of authorial values within a text, or “unreliable narrator” for a narrator (either personified or not within the text) whose values (intellectual, aesthetic, or ethical) depart from those of the implied author—has become the standard vocabulary in fiction courses. In the distinguished career that followed The Rhetoric of Fiction, Booth worked explicitly on some of the issues about which his first book had been ambiguous or ambivalent: irony, ethics and pluralism. A Rhetoric of Irony (1974) began with an analysis of how irony works, and continued to the analysis of various types of ironic discourse (overt and covert, stable and unstable), and the difficulties and uncertainties involved in the reader’s response. Critical Understanding: The Powers and Limits of Pluralism (1979) reconsidered Crane’s instrumental pluralism as one possibility among many—Booth also discussed the rival pluralistic modes of Kenneth Burke and M. H. Abrams; and asked whether “understanding” of the text is all we seek, or whether the then‐ascendant ideological modes of literary analysis might bring us closer to other values (like vitality and justice) that we value equally with understanding. And in The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction (1992), Booth returned to the issue raised in the controversial last chapter of The Rhetoric of Fiction, to ask what the ethical impact of literature is on us, how we are formed by the values of the stories we tell, retell, and study. The third key figure in the second generation was Ralph Rader, a Chicago Formalist who never worked at Chicago. A traditional scholar trained in literary history and biography at Indiana University, Rader shared an office with Sheldon Sacks at the University of California at Berkeley in the early 1960s, and their conversations led not only to collaboration (on a freshman rhetoric textbook) but to a conversion of sorts. Going farther than Sacks, though, Rader felt that isolating the form of the text on principle from “extrinsic” factors—such as the author’s life and opinions, the literary scene, the general culture, and our experience as readers—impoverished rather than clarified the meaning and significance of literary form. These extrinsic factors exercise a pressure on form, Rader argued, so that literary texts “can accommodate (at an affective price) the many extraformal intentions which the creative freedom of writers may bring to it” (Rader 1979). In some of his most provocative and productive essays he took on R. S. Crane directly. In “Tom Jones: The Form in History,” Rader argued that Crane’s analysis of Fielding’s plot was flawed because it ignored the eighteenth‐century culture Crane knew quite well. Where Crane had seen mere chance behind the improbable events that bring about Tom’s escape from the gallows and his happy reunion with Sophia, Rader argued that the novel asks us to view them as divine Providence governing human life, a feature of the Latitudinarian Anglican beliefs to which Fielding subscribed. Similarly, Rader faulted Crane for dodging the universally felt identity of Thomas Gray with the speaker of “Elegy in a Country Churchyard.” Later, Rader generalized this issue by exploring the different ways in which the poet could be immanently present—or absent—within the first‐person lyric. At one end of the continuum are dramatic monologues, like Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” where the poet creates fully dramatic characters in action rather than self‐projections. At the other end are expressive lyrics like Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” where not only must we call the speaker “Wordsworth,” we have the illusion that we are overhearing the poet grope toward the significance of his experience as he speaks. In between are dramatic lyrics like Gray’s “Elegy” and Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale.” Here too we identify the poet with the speaker represented in a natural setting, but the speaker recounts experience in the present

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tense that we understand as belonging to the poet’s past. A fourth intermediate genre Rader called mask lyrics, like Tennyson’s “Ulysses” or Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” where the speaker is a fictive person projected from the poet, and where “both the figures and the settings of the poem are registered by the reader not as literal but as symbolizing, while standing in disjuncture from, some private felt meaning of the poet” (Rader 1976: 149). Rader’s most important contribution to Chicago Formalism has been his contribution to a formal history of the novel. His foundational essay “Defoe, Richardson, Joyce, and the Concept of Form in Fiction” (1973) presents the “general action model” of the novel, from Pamela to Tess of the D’Urbervilles, as an “objective fantasy” in which the author pits our expectations of what will happen to the protagonist against our desires for them so as to give the greatest pleasure in the resolution. Rader then discusses two forms that lie outside the “general action model.” One form, which precedes Richardson’s Pamela chronologically, is the “pseudofactual” novel, typified by Defoe’s Moll Flanders, in which Moll appears to be the author of a life filled with strange happenings she did not invent, to which we respond imaginatively as we do to true stories. The other form, typified in masterpieces of high modernism like Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, is the “simular novel”: in these texts the authors project images of their real past lives using the artistic conventions of narrative fiction. Characteristically, Rader points to the unresolved critical arguments over authorial irony in both Moll Flanders and Portrait as the most revealing clue that neither text fits the “general action model.” For me an even more seminal essay of Rader’s was “From Richardson to Austen,” which analyzes the effect upon a sequence of fictional narratives of what he calls “Johnson’s Rule”: the critical principle in Rambler No. 4, accepted by most eighteenth‐century novelists, that fiction, as far as possible, should display exemplary characters. Rader begins by demonstrating the ways in which Richardson’s three novels, all “consistently, even obtrusively subordinated to the demands of Johnson’s rule,” develop three distinct structures of suspense, serious, tragic, and comic in character. And he then proceeds to show how the affective inadequacies of his last novel, Sir Charles Grandison, led to the emergence, in Frances Burney’s Evelina and in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice, of new and progressively more effective solutions to the problem of writing moving morally serious comedies under the constraint of Johnson’s rule. Rader’s essays on the Victorian novel involve similar lines of development and evolution. What Rader called “emergent form” in literary history embodies a quintessentially Aristotelian principle of organic growth, such as we see in Poetics 4. Booth, Rader, and Sacks were only the most important scholars of the Second Generation; others included Norman Friedman, Homer Goldberg, Marshall Gregory, Richard Levin, Mary Doyle Springer, and Austin Wright.

The Third and Subsequent Generations Beginning in the 1970s, students and followers of Sacks, Booth, and Rader have continued to extend the reach of what had been Chicago Formalism. What is now called rhetorical narrative theory is one of the two major branches of postclassical narratology.6 Limitations


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of space forbid a lengthy survey,7 but this chapter would be incomplete without some discussion of the work of Peter Rabinowitz and James Phelan. Rabinowitz deals with the literary text as a formal object but focuses on the tacit knowledge the reader must possess to re‐create its form. In “Truth in Fiction: A Reexamination of Audiences” (1977), Rabinowitz distinguishes between the “narrative audience” and the “authorial audience” as personifications of two aspects of reading that we all perform. As part of the “narrative audience,” we follow the events of the narrative as if they were really happening; at the same time, as members of the “authorial audience,” we read knowing that the text is just a story created by an author with some sort of effect in mind. The emotional power of a text depends on the success of the pretense that the events it portrays are real. Our sense of the shape of the narrative, our ability to predict what is going to happen, and our need to sympathize with some characters more than with others depends on our communion with the values and plans of the creating author. Ideally, that is. Actual readers may find it impossible to believe in the reality of a given narrative or may fail to heed signals about the plot and norms of a story, either because of the author’s lack of artistry or because of conflict with their own values and preconceptions. For Rabinowitz both the “narrative audience” and the “authorial audience” are virtual beings, a product of the text and of the rules for reading texts, rules we often absorb before we are old enough to read on our own. The first part of Rabinowitz’s Before Reading (1987) analyzes some of the rules for reading texts of the contemporary interpretive community: “rules of notice,” that assign priority to certain kinds of details; “rules of signification” that help us interpret the meaning, symbolic and literal, of what we read; “rules of configuration” that give us the sense of completeness, closure and genre; and “rules of coherence” that allow us to harmonize textual gaps or disjunctures. The second part is an inquiry into how these rules of reading create social texts as productions of the ideology of the current age. Phelan has been working, since the late 1970s, on something like a complete poetics of narrative revising and in some ways progressively complicating Booth’s classical rhetorical narrative theory. His poetics is designed to cover both fictional and factual narratives, any occasion in which someone tells someone else a story for some purpose. Narratives are multileveled: they are designed to have affective, ethical, and aesthetic effects, and the emphases among these levels may vary. Instead of centering on the author as the sole source of meaning, Phelan instead posits a “feedback loop” among authorial agency, textual phenomena, and reader response. That is, authors create textual phenomena to affect readers, who can then use their responses—cautiously, since we sometimes misread—to infer authorial intentions. These textual phenomena can include the creation of one or more narrators, the characters and other agents who interact within the progression that constitutes the story, and the narratees, who may be characterized in ways that make it easy or hard for actual readers to identify with them. Phelan’s revision of the Chicago Formalist approach to narrative is primarily contained in six of his books, each of which focuses on one or two aspects of the feedback loop. Worlds from Words (1981) focused on language and contrasted his approach with other language‐centered critics. Reading People, Reading Plots focused on characters and the plot‐progressions they inhabit. Narrative as Rhetoric introduces and develops the idea of the feedback loop. Living to Tell about It focuses on character narration and its impact on the ethics of narrative—including factual narratives like autobiography and memoir. Experiencing Fiction is about narrativity—the ways in which stories develop

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our desires to learn what happens next; it also discusses two “hybrid” genres, lyric n­ arratives and portrait narratives, in which narrativity is intentionally attenuated. And his Somebody Telling Somebody Else (2017) focuses on two different ways the dialogue between characters operates within a narrative: as an element of the discourse, that is, as a device of disclosure, one of the ways in which the story is revealed by the author to the reader, and as an element of the story itself, where speech becomes in itself a form of action. In a 1985 article, Michael Sprinker posed the question, “What Is Living and What Is Dead in Chicago Criticism?” What is very much alive today is the work of Phelan and Rabinowitz and the other rhetorical narratologists—discussed in greater detail in Chapter  6—who have continued to advance through their students and followers a ­pluralistic critical theory of narrative centered on literary form.8

Notes 1 See also Chapter 1, “British and American New Criticism.” 2 Neither the first nor the second generations of Chicago Formalists attempted to duplicate the success of the Brooks and Warren textbooks. But early in my own career I attempted to write a fiction textbook that I hoped would spread to classrooms other than my own the methods I had learned from my teachers at Chicago, particularly Wayne Booth and Sheldon Sacks. In the process I discovered for myself the resistance of publishers to basing a college textbook on a genuinely complex theory with lots of “moving parts.” In my Borzoi Book of Short Fiction (1982) what began as a “hands on” introduction to the rhetoric and poetics of fiction was reduced, at my editor’s insistence, to a few pages of general “Questions for the Analysis of Short Fiction.” Two decades later a publisher asked me to do a new book incorporating a handbook for reading fiction, and I produced several drafts. But my editor moved to another firm, her successor wanted everything dumbed down, and in the end the book never came out. James Phelan is currently working on a textbook of his own embodying his own improvements on rhetorical narrative theory, which promises to be very successful. 3 The film critic Roger Ebert, who was a ­doctoral candidate in English at the University of

Chicago 1965–1967, applied this view to movie genres, arguing that any really excellent horror film was as deserving of four stars as an equally excellent social comedy or psychological drama. 4 In “Hamlet and the Hermeneutics of Drama,” Elder Olson argues that “problems [of interpretation] in no wise involve the dramatist’s intention, for that is generally something that must be inferred from the work, and so the argument would be circular … We can discuss what a drama means without reference to what the dramatist may have meant, just as we can discuss what a given sentence in fact means apart from what someone meant to mean by it” (Olson 1964: 228). 5 For example, Sheldon Sacks, as the founding editor of Critical Inquiry, invited literary and cultural analyses from the full range of approaches, and in the same spirit of pluralism, James Phelan established Narrative as a journal of debate about the nature of narrative. My own commitment to pluralism is evident in, among others, the editorial material in my textbook, The Critical Tradition (1989). 6 The other branch, structural narratology, descends from Gérard Genette’s Figures of Literary Discourse. 7 In addition to myself, the third generation also includes Janet Aikins, Walter Anderson, James Battersby, Michael Boardman, Brian Corman,


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Walter Davis, Marshall Gregory, Dorothy Hale, Elizabeth Langland, Harry Shaw, Mary Doyle Springer, and Robert Wess. 8 Fourth and fifth generation rhetorical narrative theorists, now located around the world

include Shang Biwu, Matt Bolton, Katra Byram, Alison Case, Sarah Copland, Stefan Iversen, Gary Johnson, Kelly Marsh, Paul McCormick, Katherine Nash, Henrik Skov Nielsen, and Dan Shen.

References Booth, Wayne. 1961. The Rhetoric of Fiction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Booth, Wayne. 1967. A Rhetoric of Irony. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Booth, Wayne. 1979. Critical Understanding: The Powers and Limits of Pluralism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Booth, Wayne. 1992. The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction. Berkeley: University of California Press. Crane, R. S. et  al. 1952. Critics and Criticism: Ancient and Modern. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Crane, R. S. 1953. The Languages of Criticism and the Structure of Poetry. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Crane, R. S. 1967. The Idea of the Humanities and Other Essays Historical and Critical. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Fletcher, Angus and Michael Benveniste. 2010. “Defending Pluralism: The Chicago School and the Case of Tom Jones.” New Literary History 41 (3): 653–67. Genette, Gérard. 1980. Narrative Discourse: An Essay on Method, translated by Jane Lewin. New York: Cornell University Press. Grishakova, Marina and Silvi Salupere. 2015. Theoretical Schools and Circles in Twentieth Century Humanities: Literary Theory, History, Philosophy. New York: Routledge. Olson, Elder. 1954. The Poetry of Dylan Thomas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Olson, Elder. 1964. “Hamlet and the Hermeneutics of Drama.” Modern Philology 61: 225–37. Phelan, James. 1981. Worlds from Words: A Theory of Language in Fiction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Phelan, James. 1989. Reading People, Reading Plots: Character, Progression, and the Interpretation of Narrative. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Phelan, James. 1996. Narrative as Rhetoric: Technique, Audiences, Ethics, Ideology. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Phelan, James. 2005. Living to Tell About It: A Rhetoric and Ethics of Character Narration. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Phelan, James. 2007. Experiencing Fiction: Judgments, Progressions, and the Rhetorical Theory of Narrative. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Popper, Karl. 1934. Logik der Forschung: Zur Erkenntnistheories der Naturwissenschaft. Wien: Springer. Translated in 1954 as The Logic of Scientific Discovery. New York: Basic Books. Popper, Karl. 1962. Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge. New York: Basic Books. Rabinowitz, Peter. 1977. “Truth in Fiction: A Reexamination of Audiences.” Critical Inquiry 4 (i): 121–41. Rabinowitz, Peter. 1987. Before Reading: Narrative Conventions and the Politics of Interpretation. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Rader, Ralph. 1973. “Defoe, Richardson, Joyce, and the Concept of Form in the Novel.” In Autobiography, Biography and the Novel, ed. William Matthews and Ralph Rader. Los Angeles: Clark Library. Rader, Ralph. 1976. “The Dramatic Monologue and Related Lyric Forms.” Critical Inquiry 3 (1): 131–51. Rader, Ralph. 1979. “The Literary Theoretical Contribution of Sheldon Sacks.” Critical Inquiry 6 (2): 183–92.

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Rader, Ralph. 1984. “From Richardson to Austen: ‘Johnson’s Rule’ and the Development of the Eighteenth‐Century Novel of Moral Action.” In Johnson and His Age, ed. James Engell. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Rader, Ralph. 1999. “Tom Jones: The Form in History.” In Form and Ideology in Eighteenth‐ Century Literature, ed. David Richter. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press. Rader, Ralph. 2011. Fact, Fiction and Form: Essays of Ralph Rader, ed. James Phelan and David Richter. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Ransom, John Crowe. 1952. “Humanism at Chicago.” Kenyon Review 14 (4): 647–59. Richter, David. 1974. Fable’s End: Completeness and Closure in Rhetorical Fiction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Richter, David. 1989. The Critical Tradition. Boston: Bedford Books. Richter, David. 1996. The Progress of Romance: Literary Historiography and the Gothic Novel. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Sacks, Sheldon. 1964. Fiction and the Shape of Belief. Berkeley: University of California Press. Sacks, Sheldon. 1976. “Novelists as Storytellers.” Modern Philology 73 (4): S97–S109. Sprinker, Michael. 1985. “What Is Living and What Is Dead in Chicago Criticism?” Boundary2 13 (2–3): 189–212. Wimsatt, W. K. 1953. “The Chicago Critics.” Comparative Literature 5 (1): 50–74.


Russian Formalism David Gorman

In the literary humanities, there is currently a received account of Russian Formalism, which will be abandoned here. Its essence is this: Formalism begat Structuralism, which in turn begat Post‐structuralism. When Structuralism had its brief heyday in Anglo‐ American literary studies, during the 1970s, familiarity with Russian Formalism seemed like the required preliminary to immersion in Structuralism—though only the preliminary. Structuralism (a contemporary movement of thought with French sources) was what critics of the time were doing; Formalism (a bygone Russian movement) was a precursor. Subsequently, when Structuralism gave way to the many varieties of Post‐structuralism as the primary focus in literary theory, Formalism gave way to Structuralism as the main topic of the introductory lecture in a theory survey, or of the first chapter in books of the Theory for Dummies type. If this is where we stand, it seems best to start over with Russian Formalism. The assumption in what follows is that this kind of theory matters to literary study in its own right, and not as a preface to some other theory. The case proposed here is that the Formalists developed ideas about verbal art and the methods of studying it that still offer resources and challenge students of literature. Two points to keep in mind about this article are, first, that it refers to Formalism as a “school” or “group” for convenience of exposition, not factual accuracy—even the name, “Formalism,” fails to apply—and second, that it offers a theoretical reconstruction of Russian Formalism, not a historical ­reconstruction. Only a brief word about the historical situation is provided.

A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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Context The Russian Formalist school, such it was, emerged between 1914 and 1916, and was ­suppressed after 1929. It was not identified as a school or named until 1923, when Leon Trotsky and others formulated their objections to the practices of various critics in collective terms. As such, Russian Formalism remains literally an unfinished project, leaving behind a historical and a conceptual task. The historical task, which can only be touched upon here, must begin with clearing away some mythology. The frequent evocation in commentaries of the Moscow Linguistic Circle and the Society for the Study of Poetic Language (OPOIAZ), as if they constituted an organized group, has to be replaced by a patient re‐imagining of the networks and affiliations that developed, without planning and always under the pressure of very limiting circumstances, among young scholars in Petersburg and Moscow interested in literary phenomena in relatively distinct ways. Studying these people in this context requires attention to institutional membership and collective publications, relations of patronage and alliance, and patterns of citation. Some of the relations involved were purely personal; there were also substantial tensions and conflicts. Although there was no official membership list in the supposed school, it seems plausible to distinguish three types of participants in the network. At the core were Viktor Shklovsky, Boris Eikhenbaum, Yuri Tynianov, Osip Brik, and Boris Tomashevsky, with Roman Jakobson (who left Russia in 1920) and Vladimir Propp (a folklorist with almost no personal or institutional connection to the others) standing further out. Only work by these core participants is cited in this article. Peripheral figures (sometimes referred to as “fellow travelers”) included Viktor Zhirmunsky and Viktor Vinogradov. Among others who produced work that arguably contributed to Formalism or showed its influence were Sergei Bernstein, Petr Bogartyrev, Olga Freidenberg, Lydia Ginzburg, Yevgeny Polivanov, Aleksandr Reformatsky, Aleksandr Skaftymov, Nikolai Trubetskoy, Grigory Vinokur, Lev Yakubinsky, and Boris Yarkho. A full account of Formalism would involve a consideration of each of these figures (and others no doubt), and of their interconnections. This would probably involve considerable revisions in our ideas about the postulated network. This article takes Anatoly Liberman’s remark as its slogan: “What unites the Formalists as a group can probably be stated in three pages; all the rest consists of special investigations by very different people” (Liberman 1990: xxxi). Here we turn to the second job facing anyone who contemplates the unfinished project of Russian Formalism: reconstructing the concepts these scholars developed and picking up their research from the point where, under duress, they abruptly broke off. Until this work is carried through, literary theorists have no basis for deciding the significance of Russian Formalism. The focus of this article is on some of the broadly shared topics that help to define the group: principles of literary study, lyric poetry, narrative fiction, and literary history. The earliest work by Shklovsky, Jakobson, and others was produced in the milieu of Futurist poetry and avant‐garde art generally, which had an impact on Formalism that is noted recurrently in what follows, but not separately discussed. Other shared topics had to be omitted: style, oratory, folklore, and film. Also unaddressed is the complex topic of the relation of the Formalist School to the contemporaneous Petersburg group now called the Bakhtin Circle.


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Principles Official or unofficial schools or styles of criticism arise wherever literature becomes a ­subject of academic study, as a kind of natural byproduct. The main reason why the Formalist group continues to be discussed in the current era (among hundreds or thousands of others long forgotten) has to do with their commitment to theory. Much Formalist writing consists of programmatic statements of broad ideas about literature and its study, as well as debates on methodology, and critiques of previous theory and practice. Predecessors are faulted much less for the results of their studies than for holding the wrong principles. Even “applied” critical and historical work by the Formalists is typically intended to illustrate a program—or at least to explore the consequences of adopting certain ideas or methods. Contemporary critics would probably qualify this by saying that the Formalists’ conception of theory was much narrower than is currently presumed in the literary humanities: they described their area of interest as “theory of literature.” But because their notion was relatively circumscribed, it may be possible to state some of their main principles which, if we find them interesting, we can then criticize.

Antireductionism If there is a conceptual starting‐point for Formalism, it can be stated thus: literature is autonomous. The Formalists began as a group of young scholars who rejected the prevailing manners in which they found literature treated. Journalistic or belletristic critics recognized the phenomenon of literature but discussed it in subjective, impressionistic ways that could not contribute any lasting knowledge about it. Meanwhile, academic specialists generally treated literature as epiphenomenal: for them literary facts were reducible without remainder to some other range of facts—psychological, social, philosophical, and so on—that explained them.1 Of particular concern to the Formalists was the temptation to translate literary ­particularities into vague aesthetic terms—a temptation common in both academic and journalistic discourse on literature. Although they approached literature as a form of art, these critics held that the purpose of literary study was to pay attention to features specific to verbal art, undistracted by general aesthetic principles, which were a different concern entirely. To assert that verbal art is autonomous is not to hold that it constitutes an isolated sphere. This was exactly the charge brought by Trotsky and others in the initial reaction against Formalism (Erlich 1981: ch. 6). But the Marxists have been followed by a very long line of theorists who are unable for one reason or another to accept the strong antireductionist principle from which Formalist criticism begins. If we grant the idea that literature is something about which we can have knowledge (which is not ultimately knowledge about something else), of course the question that follows is what the relations are between the domain of verbal art and the rest of the universe. Here the Formalists can be criticized, in the easy hindsight of historical perspective, for brash overstatements. Eventually, however, many of them did turn to consider how literary facts related to the nonliterary.2 It would have been interesting to see what they would have made of this, had their work had not been cut short. At any rate, the validity and specificity of a literary domain remains very much a current issue in the humanities.

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Poetics There are many ways to pursue a program of studying literature as literature rather than as something else. The New Critics, with whom the Russian Formalists are routinely compared, began from the same antireductionist principle, but diverged widely in how they pursued it. New Critical method focuses on one work at a time, starting from observations on its verbal texture, eventually drawing interpretive conclusions. So influential has this model of “close reading” or “practical criticism” been in the Anglo‐American academy that scholars trained in this style have difficulty even grasping that there could be any alternative. Consider Shklovsky’s essay of 1921 on Tristram Shandy, a survey of Laurence Sterne’s use of narrative devices and his style, anti‐mimetic in effect, of highlighting rather than concealing them. Various critics have complained that this seems a totally inadequate “reading” of the novel, about which there is so much more to say. Granted—but all that concerns Shklovsky here is how Tristram Shandy is composed.3 Methodologically he follows linguists and folklorists in trying to identify the shared features of a corpus of utterances or compositions. Neither the unique qualities nor the larger significance of these items come into this kind of study. As applied to literature, this amounts to a renewal of the project of general poetics (in contrast to the restricted sense of the study of verse practice; generalized poetics is what the Formalists meant by “theory of literature”).4 The Formalists share with the poetics of Aristotle a conception of literature as a distinct craft, but drop its prescriptive orientation. Like modern linguists, they aim only to describe.

Function It would have saved much confusion later on if these critics had been called the Russian Functionalists, since an emphasis on function gives the school its distinctive orientation. In the agenda‐setting studies collected in Theory of Prose (1929 [1925]), Shklovsky focuses on compositional design: identifying various linguistic devices and literary techniques in the work and describing how they contribute to it. This kind of operationalism is hardly unique: in a close‐reading model, for instance, you can also select a textual feature and ask, “what does this do?” But New Critics pose this question on a case‐by‐case basis. What interests Formalists is the range of functions a device might serve in a corpus of works. The paradigm here is Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale (1928), where he demonstrates that the same narrative function—for example, helping the hero—can be fulfilled by entirely different figures, be it a wise old man, a fairy godmother, or friendly mice. The composition is made, not of forms, but functions—or, better, devices serving functions. Nothing shows better the dynamic aspect of Formalists’ thought than the evolution of their functionalism. One thing they quickly realized is that not every compositional element works on the same level: thus the introduction of the notion of the “dominant,” the function that organizes all the others. They were slower to realize the implications of the fact that functions must correlate within a system, but later Formalist work is much concerned with which literary system best pertains to functional analysis—that of the work, or of the oeuvre, or perhaps of the conjuncture or milieu overall (see “Literary History”).


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Distractions The principles stated aim to make overall sense of Formalist writings and to bring out what is still important about them. In other words, broad theses of this kind are ­approximations that will not be equally manifest in all Formalist writings. The other side of making sense of Formalism is avoiding misinterpretations, and this is where it would be useful to add remarks about common misunderstandings.

Form Reading in Formalist writings, one soon notices a relative lack of interest in form—that is, in the ornamental and stylistic matters traditionally identified as formal. It comes as a surprise that the Formalists were not formalists only if we forget that it was opponents of this school who gave it the name. Not only did the label stick, however, but students continue to be distracted by its connotations. The term “formalism” applies to an aesthetic outlook, and anyone who criticizes the idea that aesthetics can provide the basis for a program of literary study—as the (so‐called) Formalists did—will naturally reject the name. So when we come across someone like Shklovsky or Tynianov discussing thematic, generic, or contextual matters, it would be absurd to find that inconsistent; at best it would be to forget the historical irony of referring to these critics as Russian “Formalists.” That said, it is not absurd to be puzzled by their critique of the form/content distinction, particularly in light of the distinction they draw between form and material. Isn’t this just replacing the term “content” with “material”? It is not, because a different contrast is proposed. A literary work’s compositional features are what make it literary; but a work cannot entirely consist of these features.5 It draws semantic elements, so to speak, from the larger world. In a literary composition, this material takes on form. To put it somewhat crudely, “form” in the new distinction subsumes form along with what was traditionally called content—because images and themes are as much compositional elements as ­stylistic and structural features.

Science From time to time in Formalist writings, reference is made to “science” (nauka). The context typically relates to the need to establish a science of literary study, formulating “laws” of literary evolution, and so forth. Such references have provided an easy excuse for dismissing Formalism as intellectually unsophisticated. But this response is completely misconceived. For contemporary practitioners of the literary humanities, “science” is a red‐flag term—a trigger word—conjuring up associations of positivism, universal quantification, and instrumental reason. To interpret the usage of the Formalists in this sense is to commit an anachronism. Their invocations of science do not connote natural science but, as in other European languages (cf. scienza in Italian, Wissenschaft in German), something much more general. They are expressing themselves in the same way that Ferdinand de Saussure did, for example, in proposing that linguistics become a discipline, part of a larger “science of signs”: what he found missing in linguistic study was a conception of it as a teachable body of knowledge. Likewise the Formalists saw literary study as falling short of being an

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academic discipline. In public discourse, what passed for literary discussion consisted mainly of gossip about writers and personal impressions of journalists, while within the academy specifically literary phenomena were not addressed in suitable terms, but always with reference to other frameworks, aesthetic, psychological, sociological, and so forth. With some exceptions, then, it will save contemporary students of Formalist work much distraction if they read “science” in Formalist writings as meaning “discipline.”

Poetry While their interest in literature was comprehensive, most Formalists were primarily concerned with poetry. This is a problem for those who study them in translation, ­obviously. Of the limited selection of their writings available in English, most pertain to narrative and literary history; of work on verse, with some exceptions, what tends to be translated are selections that generalize.6 However interesting these broad comments on poetry are, they mislead students as to the orientation of the group, which was toward specifics. Although this chapter is written under the same handicap, it may be possible to give some indications about how the Formalists approached the lyric, both generally and specifically. Given their opposition to impressionistic criticism, Formalist work on poetry always treats it as a craft—that is, as a practice that can not only be learned, but learned about. Within their program for the theory of literature as a general poetics, the Formalists aimed to renew the study of poetry—poetics in the narrow sense—by drawing on modern linguistics. The hypothesis was that poetics in this sense would be a linguistics of poetry; and Jakobson illustrates this method in “The Newest Russian Poetry” (1921), in which he treats the language of Velimir Khlebnikov’s poetry as a dialect, the workings of which can be described. Since much of the craft of poetry lies in versification, the Formalists took a special interest in verse composition. On the one hand, they produced significant work on meter. Unsurprisingly, they were dissatisfied with traditional approaches to metrics, which they tried to set on a new basis, borrowing freely from linguistics. Tomashevsky and others criticized reliance on the notion of metrical “feet,” and aimed to develop a line‐based metrics. They also pioneered the use of statistical methods in the analysis of meter. On the other hand, the involvement of many in the group with avant‐garde writing inoculated the Formalists against treating poetry as a fixed practice. They postulated that the essence of verse is rhythm, of which meter is one aspect, one particular set of techniques among others that a writer can utilize to develop a distinctive verse rhythm. Beyond that, however, the Formalist approach to poetry as a linguistics of verse involved, first, recognizing all the verbal elements on which a poet could draw and, second, analyzing how these elements were integrated in poetic composition. Of course, the lexical and stylistic choices made by poets are the perennial stuff of literary analysis; it was Brik who first suggested that their syntactic choices should also be considered—not just the kinds of words poets use, but the kinds of sentences they write. This idea, set out in “Rhythm and Syntax” (Brik 1927), that there is a grammar of poetry and poetry of grammar, guided a long series of Jakobson’s later studies.7 Tynianov’s The Problem of Verse Language (1924b) synthesizes early Formalist conclusions about lyric poetry. Content and form, previously treated as separate domains of analysis, must be subsumed under the general notion of construction, understood as the way in which


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various linguistic elements become integrated into a poetic composition. The notion of the dominant serves as a way to organize these factors into a describable hierarchy of functions within poems, while the notion of orientation or set (ustankova) is introduced to provide a starting point for functional analysis: in poetry, for instance, the set is toward the sound, which controls how the sense is employed—the reverse in prose. It was the history of poetry rather than some abstract theory of it that was Tynianov’s primary objective, and in later work he is much taken up with developments in Russian poetry, in which the literary milieu of each period was treated as a kind of system in evolution, within and against which writers defined themselves by using such practices as parody and what we now call hybridization.8 A related direction in Formalist work led toward a general stylistics, in which even prose works can be analyzed according to how they use language. Eikhenbaum’s essay on “The Overcoat” (1919) focuses closely on Gogol’s stylistic play, continued in his writings on skaz narration (that is, narration reflecting an oral style); and the writings of the Bakhtin school on dialogism and heteroglossia can be seen as an extension of this line of work. No doubt influenced by Eikhenbaum’s treatment of the topic in his survey, commentators have strongly emphasized the conflicts, ambiguities, and outright confusions in Formalist discussions of the relation of poetry to prose. These provide a vivid example of the provisional quality of the school’s work. It is historically, but perhaps not theoretically, misleading to treat as a discovery the gradual realization that poetry is not some universally definable kind of language, but that in any given context there may be linguistic usages that serve a recognizably poetic function. This description brings out some distinctive commitments of Russian Formalism: what matters for literary analysis is not form but function; treating literature as a compositional craft constitutes a first step toward literary history; and the project of a linguistics of poetry can become part of a general poetics, within which lyric will be one topic.

“Prose” Although decidedly a lesser concern for the Formalists than poetry or literary history, they did produce landmark work on fictional narrative, or, as they inclined to call it, “prose.”9 They took folkloristics as a model in their thinking about narrative in a way parallel to their use of linguistics in the study of poetry (Doležel 1990: ch. 6). It is no accident that the most important Formalist publication on narrative was Propp’s Morphology; but the idea that stories can be studied comparatively, in groups, underlies Formalist work on narrative. In his 1925 essay on O. Henry, for example, Eikhenbaum treats the stories as a corpus, the compositional rules of which can be established by induction; and one of Shklovsky’s perennial aims was to create a typology of narrative techniques, in the use of devices such as parallelism, delay, linking, and so on.10 Formalist work on “prose” ­contributed directly to the formation of the contemporary subdiscipline of narratology, and the Formalist influence remains evident in the sense the Structuralist pioneers in the field share of what pertains to narrative analysis (in particular, structural techniques) as well as what does not (for instance, the traditional category of character). The most important legacy is a deepened sense of narrative composition as a matter of elements with interacting function—in other words, of “how X is made.” Textbooks routinely declare that a milestone in the development of narratology was the distinction drawn by the Formalists between fabula and syuzhet. Textbooks define fabula as

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the sequence of occurrences that implicitly constitute the story and syuzhet as the way the story is explicitly presented in narrative (sequentially or not). There is some confusion here. These terms are intended as applications to the narrative domain of the general contrast between form, as whatever belongs functionally to a literary work, and material, as whatever in the world at large the work draws upon. On this understanding, the syuzhet is the narrative (story included) and the fabula the stuff out of which it was composed. In effect, the textbook definition actually distinguishes two levels of syuzhet: that of the story, already composed not only by the identification of the occurrences, but their organization into a series (or even, in some textbooks, a causally related series), and that of the narrative. In fact later accounts usually identify yet a third layer of syuzhet, pertaining to the textual or discourse aspect of the narrative, a central focus of narratology but not generally a Formalist concern. There is nothing inherently wrong with narratologists distinguishing as many layers of syuzhet as they can find useful; indeed, this has been a very productive idea. But it represents an extension of Formalism, not an application. The confusion, which begins with the Formalists themselves (Todorov 1971), lies in treating the fabula/syuzhet contrast as an analytical tool. Much more potentially useable is the Formalist distinction, so far under-utilized in narratology, between device and motivation.11 Actually, there are two distinctions here. Literary works are composed of techniques or devices, which can either be concealed (or “motivated,” as the Formalists said) or revealed (“laid bare”). Take the narrative example of a coincidental meeting. In the Western tradition, narrative plausibility correlates with the degree of motivation supplied for the devices (Genette 1968): in a realistic story, the coincidental quality of the meeting will be disguised much as possible. But realism, like all other literary effects, is a result of compositional technique (Jakobson 1921b). Other effects may be gained from highlighting the implausibility of the coincidence instead—comic, parodic, artistic, and so on (many examples of which can be found discussed by Shklovsky and others). What we are really talking about here is the role in narrative of literary convention, a notion which, likely as a result of their emergence in an avant‐garde literary context, the Formalists generally downplayed, but towards which the whole tendency of their thought gravitates.

Literary History In “Rhythm and Syntax,” Brik observes that critics of poetry cannot afford to neglect the claims of sound in favor of sense, or the reverse, because poetry involves both. Of course this is a platitude that could be stated by a critic of any type. But when Brik goes on to say that among poets themselves the emphasis has always fluctuated between sound and sense, and that this fact constitutes a basic topic for historians of poetry, then we hear the distinctively Formalist note. In his survey of 1928, Tomashevsky describes the group as a “new school of literary history,” and we should take this self‐description seriously. The historical approach of the Formalists is predicated on their commitment to general poetics.12 If literature were just a series of authors, or books, or great authors and great books, there could be no history of that, beyond the life‐and‐works summaries dear to journalistic criticism, the indiscriminate masses of contextual information accumulated by academic criticism, or the timeless conversations among lofty souls projected by philosophical criticism. If, however, you conceive of literature in terms of techniques, genres, and styles, then you have topics that can be studied in a historically specific way.


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The functionalism of the Formalists also contributes to their historical outlook. If literature consisted of themes (“content”) set into forms by writers, literary history could only be source study. But if you think of literature as a network of motifs and devices to be identified through the functions they serve in compositions then, as Victor Erlich puts it (1981: 268), the historical question is no longer where from, but what for? Fundamental to the Formalist conception of literary history is conflict. The (gendered) slogan coined by Shklovsky and repeated across the movement, that literary tradition does not pass from father to son, but uncle to nephew, only intimates the kind of storm and stress that the Formalists associated with literary change, and that many of them witnessed first‐ hand as youthful partisans of Futurism and similar movements.13 As scholars attempting to put these slogans to use in the study of previous episodes in literary history, they tended to present literary phenomena as elements in a struggle. In Young Tolstoy (1922), for example, Eikhenbaum describes Tolstoy as someone who categorically rejected the literary practices of his own time and place, looking for themes and techniques in eighteenth‐century works by non‐Russian authors like Sterne and Rousseau. Eikhenbaum emphasizes conflict even more strongly in Lermontov (1924), explaining many of the peculiar features of this author’s works as compromises between or adaptations to contending forces in the literary milieu. Overall, the Formalists were much more comfortable dealing with novelty than tradition, although these are the two faces of literary history, indissociable from each other. Had they been able to continue their work, they would presumably have adjusted to give consideration to both. The unfinished project of Russian Formalism left behind other promising lines of historical research, of which only two can be mentioned here briefly. One gives a central role to the device of parody in the transition from one set of literary norms to another (Tynianov 1927b). In hindsight, replacing parody with the broader notion of pastiche might prove useful. Another suggestive line of approach to literary history begins by recognizing the importance of the milieu (that is, the whole literary culture) in the study of particular figures. This may prove a helpful category under which to think about marginal figures and trends as potentials for historical change.

Defamiliarization Many accounts of Formalism hold that their key notion was defamilarization (ostranenie). However, the popularity of the term in modern anthologies and reference works says more about the need for a convenient buzzword or sound‐bite by which to identify the school than anything about either the historical facts or theoretical interest of Formalism. Shklovsky introduced the notion in an early article, “Art as Device” (1917), which he reprinted as the lead essay in his Theory of Prose, where he explained ostranenie14 as an artistic technique aimed at the renewal of perception. The thought goes like this. Our perceptions are prone to become dulled by habit: if you perceive something often enough, it will no longer make a dent in your consciousness. The task of art is to compensate for this shortcoming, by refreshing our ability to experience things, and ultimately to help us rediscover the world. Art serves as a kind of spiritual cataract removal. Considered as a way to define Russian Formalism, however, this idea is a non‐starter. To begin with, the idea lacks novelty (for a survey of some precursors, see Ginzburg 2001). Shelley states it clearly in the Defense of Poetry; but we cannot call it an exclusively Romantic idea. Variations on the theme occur elsewhere, and there have been a number of studies

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c­omparing Shklovsky’s defamiliarization to Bertolt Brecht’s idea of an “alienation effect” (Verfremdungseffekt; see Robinson 2008). However interesting this influence or ­convergence may be from the viewpoint of intellectual history, it presents a problem for anyone wanting to define Formalism in this way, precisely because it fails to distinguish the school. A more immediately literary problem is that the technique that Shklovsky describes for producing the effect of defamiliarization—not calling something by a common name, for instance, or avoiding conventional descriptions of it—remains one device among others. Some authors make abundant use of estrangement effects, notably Shklovsky’s favorite Tolstoy (see also Eikhenbaum 1922), but others none at all. What Shklovsky was p­ resumably aiming for in his essay was to emphasize the centrality of the device or ­technique (priem) for literary study; if he had followed through, “Art as Device” would indeed serve the purpose of a programmatic statement, since the notion of compositional technique is as basic to Russian Formalism as anything is. In the essay he wrote, however, Shklovsky goes off (very characteristically) on tangents, including a long discussion of erotic euphemisms in folk literature— not an insignificant topic, but not a good example of verbal art renewing perception. But the overwhelming objection to taking the estrangement theory as somehow definitive or explanatory of Formalism is that it is an aesthetic doctrine: Shklovsky is laying down what art ought to do. As previously explained, this is just one of the things that the Formalists insistently rejected. Aesthetic speculation remains something different from the careful specification of the forms and functions of the elements of verbal art that the Formalists took to be the distinctive task of poetics. Shklovsky’s essay is an interim statement; with a few exceptions, neither he nor other Formalists later tried to characterize what they were doing in terms of ostranenie. Where the doctrine does have an afterlife in Formalist work lies in the concept of deautomization. The idea was in effect reconfigured to identify an intra‐literary factor: what disruptions of convention serve to make more perceptible is not phenomena generally, but precisely of literary “facts” (Tynianov 1924a). In short, defamiliarization became deformation, which cannot be distinguished from transformation: herein lies a highly promising way to characterize intertextual relations, and the role of convention (and the breaking of convention) in literature. Understood as a philosophy of art, Russian Formalism amounts to a historical curiosity; taken as a project for the general description of literature, however it holds promise for the future of literary study.

Notes 1 The irreducibility of the literary domain is the starting point for both of the surveys of the school produced within it (Eikhenbaum 1927; Tomashevsky 1928). 2 These later proposals range from the concrete connections noted by Eikhenbaum in “Literary Environment” (1929, in Matejka and Pomorska 2002: 56–65) to the completely programmatic formulas outlined in Tynianov and Jakobson’s “Problems” (1928).

3 In 1919 Eikhenbaum published “How Gogol’s ‘Overcoat’ is Made,” and later Shklovsky published “How Don Quixote is Made” (1929: 72–100). Most Formalist studies on individual works could be called “How X is Made.” 4 General poetics has a long tradition, going back to Aristotle: a history would be very valuable. For now, see Todorov (1973) and Doležel (1990). The Formalists did much to rehabilitate this notion, or reinvent it.


David Gorman

5 Unless we call a set of meaningless sound effects a poem, an idea the Formalists abandoned after a brief flirtation: see Shklovsky’s “Resurrection of the Word” (1914). 6 This is also true of the secondary literature in English, where there is no equivalent for poetry of full treatment of Formalist work on narrative and history provided by Jurij Striedter (1989). The best available is chapter 12 of Erlich (1981), and Steiner (1984: 172–241). 7 Most of these appear in Jakobson (1981); a selection from across his career is Jakobson (1987). 8 Examples of this work in English are Tynianov’s “Ode as Oratorical Genre” (1927) as well as Eikhenbaum’s Lermontov (1924). 9 In his “Theory of the Formal Method” (1927), for instance, Eikhenbaum refers to fiction as “prose,” and Shklovsky’s Theory of Prose (1929) consists of studies in fiction.

10 Shklovsky 1923 (Literature and Cinema) is a  very useful supplement to Theory of Prose  regarding plot types—a subject on  which he continued to work (see Shklovsky 1981). 11 Shklovsky drew the distinction, and applies  it in a number of places, but char­ acteristically failed to provide a summary definition; this was left to Tomashevsky ­ (1925). 12 Their precursor here is Alexander Veselovsky, one of the few recognized by the Formalists (Kliger and Maslov 2016). 13 Particularly vivid witnesses to this are Shklovsky (1923, Knight’s Move) and Jakobson (1992). 14 Ostranenie has variously been rendered in English as “estrangement,” “enstrangement,” and even, to bring out its neologistic quality, “bestrangement.”

References Bann, Stephen and John E. Bowlt. 1973. Russian Formalism. New York: Harper & Row. Brik, Osip. 1927. “Contributions to the Study of Verse Language,” excerpt trans. C. H. Severns from “Rhythm and Syntax.” In Matejka and Pomorska. 2002. Readings in Russian Poetics, 117–25. Doležel, Lubomír. 1990. Occidental Poetics: Tradition and Progress. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Eikhenbaum, Boris. 1919. “How Gogol’s ‘Overcoat’ is Made,” trans. Robert A. Maguire. Gogol from the Twentieth Century: Eleven Essays, 269–91. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974. Eikhenbaum, Boris. 1922. The Young Tolstoy, trans. Gary Kern. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Ardis, 1972. Eikhenbaum, Boris. 1924. Lermontov. A Study in Historical‐Literary Evaluation, trans. Ray Parrott and Harry Weber. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Ardis, 1981. Eikhenbaum, Boris. 1925. “O. Henry and the Theory of the Short Story.” trans. I. R. Titunik,

in Matejka and Pomorska, 2002, Readings in Russian Poetics, 227–70. Eikhenbaum, Boris. 1927. “The Theory of the Formal Method.” trans. I. R. Titunik in Matejka and Pomorska, 2002, Readings in Russian Poetics, 3–37. Erlich, Victor. 1981 [1955]. Russian Formalism: History/Doctrine. 3rd edn. New Haven: Yale University Press. Genette, Gérard. 1968. “Vraisemblance and Motivation,” trans. David Gorman. Narrative 9 (1) (2001): 239–58. Ginzburg, Carlo. 2001. “Making It Strange: The Prehistory of a Literary Device.” In Wooden Eyes: Nine Reflections on Distance. trans Martin Ryle and Kate Soper, 1–23, 181–7. New York: Columbia University Press. Jakobson, Roman. 1921a. “The Newest Russian Poetry.” Excerpts trans. E. J. Brown. Jakobson, 1992, My Futurist Years, 173–208. Jakobson, Roman. 1921b. “On Realism in Art.” Trans. Karol Magassy. Matejka and Pomorska

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2002, Readings in Russian Poetics, 38–46; also Jakobson, 1987, Language in Literature, ed. Krystyna Pomorska and Stephen Rudy, 19–29. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Jakobson, Roman. 1981. Selected Writings, vol. 3: Poetry of Grammar and Grammar of Poetry, ed. Stephen Rudy. The Hague: Mouton. Jakobson, Roman. 1987. Language in Literature, ed. Krystyna Pomorska and Stephen Rudy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Jakobson, Roman. 1992. My Futurist Years, ed. Bengt Jangfeldt and Stephen Rudy, trans. Stephen Rudy. New York: Marsilio, 1997. Kliger, Ilya and Boris Maslov. 2016. Persistent Forms: Explorations in Historical Poetics. New York: Fordham University Press. Lemon, Lee T. and Marion J. Reis. 1965. Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Liberman, Anatoly. 1990. “Introduction.” N. S. Trubetskoy, Writings on Literature, ed. and trans. Anatoly Liberman, xi–xlvi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Matejka, Ladislav and Krystyna Pomorska. 2002 [1971]. Readings in Russian Poetics, Formalist and Structuralist Views. Champaign, IL: Dalkey Archive Press. Propp, Vladimir. 1928 [1958]. Morphology of the Folktale, trans. Laurence Scott, revised by Louis A. Wagner. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968. Robinson, Douglas. 2008. Estrangement and the Somatics of Literature: Tolstoy, Shklovsky, Brecht. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Shklovsky, Victor. 1914. “The Resurrection of the Word,” trans. Richard Sherwood. Stephen Bann and John E. Bowlt. 1973, Russian Formalism, 41–7. New York: Harper & Row. Shklovsky, Viktor. 1917. “Art as Device.” Reprinted in Shklovsky 1929, Theory of Prose, 1–14. Shklovsky, Victor. 1921. “The Novel as Parody: Sterne’s Tristram Shandy.” Reprinted in Shklovsky 1929, Theory of Prose, 147–70. Shklovsky, Victor. 1923a. Literature and Cinematography, trans. Irina Masinovsky. Champaign, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1985.


Shklovsky, Victor. 1923b. Knight’s Move, trans. Richard Sheldon. Champaign, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 2005. Shklovsky, Victor. 1929 (enlarged edition). Theory of Prose, trans. Benjamin Sher. Champaign, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1990. Shklovsky, Victor. 1981. The Energy of Delusion: A Book on Plot, trans. Shushan Avagyan. Champaign, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 2007. Steiner, Peter. 1984. Russian Formalism: A Metapoetics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Streidter, Jurij. 1989. Literary Structure, Evolution, and Value: Russian Formalism and Czech Structuralism Reconsidered. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Todorov, Tzvetan. 1971. “Some Approaches to Russian Formalism,” trans. Bruce Merry. Reprinted in Bann and Bowlt. 1973. Russian Formalism, 6–19. Todorov, Tzvetan. 1973. Introduction to Poetics, trans. Richard Howard. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1981. Tomashevsky, Boris. 1925. “Thematics.” In Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis. 1965. Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays, 62–95. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Tomashevsky, Boris. 1928. “The New School of Literary History in Russia,” trans. Gina Fisch. PMLA 119(1): 124–32. Tynianov, Yuri. 1924a. “The Literary Fact.” trans. Ann Shukman. In Modern Genre Theory, ed. David Duff, 29–49. Harlow, UK: Longman, 2001. Tynianov, Yuri. 1924b. The Problem of Verse Language, trans. Michael Sosa and Brent Harvey. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Ardis, 1981. Tynianov, Yuri. 1927a. “The Ode as an Oratorical Genre,” trans. Ann Shukman. New Literary History 38 (2003): 565–96. Tynianov, Yuri. 1927b. “On Literary Evolution,” trans. C. A. Luplow. In Matejka and Pomorska, 2002, Readings in Russian Poetics, 66–78. Tynianov, Jurij and Roman Jakobson. 1928. “Problems in the Study of Literature and Language.” In Matejka and Pomorska, 2002, Readings in Russian Poetics. 79–81.


Structuralism and Semiotics Marina Grishakova

The Keplerian Turn In the early 1950s, the Parisian intellectual scene was jolted by the Sartre–Camus ­controversy and rupture. In his impassioned response to The Rebel (1951), Sartre blamed Camus for what he felt to be the renunciation of historical responsibility and commitment. In the background of the public feud between two prominent intellectuals, Roland Barthes’s covert polemics with Sartre were less noticeable, though no less significant. Although Barthes claimed himself to be a Marxist and Sartrean in the postwar years, his Writing Degree Zero (1953; early portions had appeared in Camus’s Combat from 1947 through 1950) disputed the Sartrean conception of socially responsible literature. Camus’s The Rebel, Sartre’s What is Literature? (1947) and Barthes’s Writing Degree Zero are three key texts that suggest three basic ways of defining literature’s role and position in society. Highlighting a writer’s individual responsibility, Camus sees literature as a kind of a ­negative, rebelling Other with regards to society. Sartre, on the other hand, considers ­literature a form of direct social engagement and language its tool. For Barthes, literature’s social engagement is indirect and mediated by language, style, and “writing.” Both the author and the reader are enclosed in a horizon of language, that is, a set of inadvertently adopted linguistic norms and habits. “Style” stems from the raw, bodily material of the author’s memory and past. As with language, however, it is pre‐given rather than chosen. In contrast, writing, which may be defined as a system of signs distinctive for literature as a specific institution, offers the writer a choice to position his work within history and social space. Writing Degree Zero is a proto‐structuralist work informed by the awareness of the mediating, both confining and constitutive, nature of language. While retaining systemic features of language, literature develops its own distinctive system of signs. Whereas later critiques of structuralism’s inability to engage with historical and social A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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contexts (e.g. Jameson 1975) echo Sartrean arguments, Barthes’s works testify to the fact that structuralism lacks neither social sensibility nor a sense of historical change, because language, literature, and other symbolic systems were viewed by structuralists as social facts ratified by a kind of tacit social consensus. What remains problematic and disputed, however, is the very concept of structure. The structuralist conception of language derives from Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics (1916). In this foundational text compiled from lecture notes and posthumously published by his disciples, Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure formulated a concise argument about the systemic nature of language, as a self‐regulating system that forges its own “reality” instead of being a transparent window on reality, and the relational identity of its elements. For Saussure, language is a rule‐based system of elements and their relationships whose functioning is similar to chess, where the relational value but not the material substance of chess pieces matters. Saussure distinguished between language (langue) as a system of rules and norms and speech (parole) as all instances of its use in practice. The linguistic turn, informed by the Kantian tradition in philosophy, was part of a broader movement—exchange and spread of structuralist ideas across the natural and social sciences and the study of cultural practices. The structural‐systemic way of thinking in terms of systemic wholes and their transformations rather than isolated facts or aggregations proved productive in many fields. However, in his 1968 book Structuralism, Jean Piaget had already referred to the potential openness and extensibility of closed formal systems that spread in contemporary science—as a counterweight to the Saussurean static structuralism. For instance, Gödel’s incompleteness theorems demonstrate that the limits of mathematical formalization are “moveable” or “vicarious”: “there are, in addition to formalized levels of knowledge, distinct “semi‐formal” or “semi‐intuitive” levels” not formalizable within the given system (Piaget 1970: 35). Human sciences develop on the assumption of incomplete, changing knowledge that depends “on interplay of anticipation and feedback” (1970: 16)—this kind of open‐ended dynamics introduces the factor of time into systemic‐structural descriptions. Whereas in linguistics and literary studies where the influence of Saussure and Formalism was initially most strong, the spread of synchronic formal models describing the state of a system at a moment in time rather than in development was typical of early structuralism, there has also been rising awareness of insufficiency of isolated synchronic descriptions and the rise of alternative models, such as “history (diachrony) of systems” and “system‐systemic approach,” involving multiple levels of structuration and the dynamics between the system and its environment (context). However, it was precisely the Saussurean conception of ­synchrony that revealed the inherent complexity of seemingly simple organizations, each systemic element (sign) appearing at the intersection of multiple syntagmatic and ­paradigmatic series. An element of language (sign) is deemed to be in syntagmatic relation to other, complementary elements with which it can combine in a sequence, such as sentence, ­narrative, cinematic shot, pictorial composition, or a menu, in the case of “culinary ­language.” The paradigmatic relation contrasts the sign to a set of similar signs for which it can substitute in various contexts, such as different forms of a single verb, synonyms of a single word, or choices of the same menu slot, for instance “desserts.” The idea of tracing a history of literature’s systemic development is at the focus of Roman Jakobson and Yuri Tynianov’s 1928 essay, “Problems in the Study of Literature and


Marina Grishakova

Language,” a text documenting a transition from Russian Formalism to Structuralism, but also a landmark of the dynamic‐structuralist approach. It aimed at a revision of the Saussurean framework, overcoming the opposition between synchrony and diachrony by assessing the interplay of system and history, and by acknowledging the complexity of every synchronic state, both in terms of temporality—the system’s future and past states being inherent in the present—and in terms of what Tynianov and Jakobson called the systemic dominant (each state of the system encompassing an interplay of various asynchronous “series” such as literature, arts, social and private life, politics, etc.). The interest in diachronic states of the system, which are less determinate and less available for formalization, is also prominent in Jakobson’s linguistic works, starting from the late 1920s (Holenstein 1976: 31f.). These and similar ideas of systemic dynamics and development have been adopted in various ­projects from the 1960s through the 1980s, for instance Jacques Dubois’s conception of “literary institution” (Dubois 1978), Siegfried Schmidt’s system‐systemic approach (Schmidt 1982), Itamar Even‐Zohar’s polysystem theory (Even‐ Zohar 1990), and, ultimately, applications of dynamic systems frameworks in literary and cultural studies (Lotman 2009; Hayles 1999, among others). Semiotics appears as a natural extension of systemic approaches demonstrating that no artefact, medium, or system stands alone. Historians of structuralism (Dosse 1991; Sturrock 1986: Petitot 1985: Holenstein 1976: Piaget 1968, to name just a few) pointed out certain proto‐structuralist ideas in philosophy, psychology, and other fields. Phenomenology proved to be important in its double role as both an adversary and an ally. Husserl’s phenomenological method of reduction or “bracketing” historical reality for the sake of rigorous description of structures of consciousness, through which objects constitute themselves, dovetails with the structuralist interest in pre‐subjective subconscious structures of language and social reality. Jakobson was inspired by ideas from Husserl’s Logical Investigations (Holenstein 1976: 2–3, 19). Works by Polish phenomenologist and aesthetician Roman Ingarden, and German linguist and psychologist Karl Bühler, both of whom were much indebted to Husserl, also impacted the development of literary structuralism. Further, Merleau‐Ponty’s revision of the Husserlian project by connecting phenomenology with empirical science and Saussurean linguistics and his interest in proffered structures of signification in perception served as important impulses for structuralist developments in France. Although, according to Dosse, Foucault “dealt a final blow to the phenomenological project” by shifting the focus of structuralist thinking onto the history of social practices and institutions (Dosse 1998 I: 41), linguistics, psychology, and other fields retained the phenomenological impulse. For instance, Greimassian structural semantics is rooted in perception and greatly indebted to Merleau‐Ponty’s phenomenology: it demonstrates that the structures of perception contribute to the articulation of meanings in language (Greimas 1966). Other important predecessors of structuralism were psychologists like Husserl’s teacher Franz Brentano, structural psychologists like Edward Titchener, and Gestalt psychologists like Kurt Koffka and Wolfgang Köhler who advocated the primacy of perceptual structures and dynamics of organized wholes over separate sensations or their associations. From Goethe’s proto‐structuralism to C. H. Waddington (1968–1972) and Brian Goodwin (1996), structuralist biology offers explanatory alternatives and amendments to neo‐Darwinism. Whereas the latter “obscures the intelligibility of morphological

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p­ henomena,” “reduces them to a by‐product of evolutionary chance” (Petitot 2004: 31), and subordinates the significance of the living organism’s internal organization to the external pressures of natural selection and environmental adaptation, structuralist biology stresses the importance of self‐regulation and developmental choices. Such post-Darwinian evolutionary models, which complement or challenge the predominance of neo‐Darwinism in contemporary biology, introduce the concept of teleology that restricts the impact of both deterministic causality and randomness: the environment triggers changes, but the character of these changes depends also on organism’s self‐regulation and structural stability. Similarly, structuralism in the humanities also calls attention to regularities and laws of form, to its materiality and morphology, to the fact that its emergence and evolution are not reducible to external factors. Owing to the spread of structural‐systemic thinking, the traditional forms of historical, genetic‐causal explanations were replaced with teleological and functional models. From the structuralist perspective, a work of literary art is not conceivable solely in terms of author’s biography, societal pressures, or influences and sources. Jakobson ridiculed traditional literary history by comparing it with the police who, upon arriving at the crime scene, arrest everyone they happened to find there, including chance passers‐by (Erlich 1980: 71). Instead, Jakobson argued, literature’s genesis and functioning are mediated by its own systemic connections and formative principles, and the work’s position in relation to the whole sociocultural field. As Jakobson put it in his defense of formalist‐structuralist ideas: “Neither Tynjanov nor Mukařovský nor Šklovskij nor I—none of us has ever proclaimed the self‐sufficiency of art. What we have been trying to show is that art is an integral part of the social structure, a component that interacts with all the others and is itself mutable since both the domain of art and its relationship to the other constituents of the social structure are in constant dialectical flux.”1 Piaget claimed that while, “the logician’s formal structures are fabricated ad hoc” but that “what structuralism is after is to discover ‘natural structures’” (Piaget 1968: 30). Nevertheless, there remains a degree of uncertainty as to how the structures are obtained, whether they are “given” (from the ontological, realist perspective) or “posited” (from the epistemological, nominalist viewpoint, see Petitot 1985: 23–4). In other words, are they inherent in phenomena, or the objects of study? Or are they constructed in researcher’s mind? Obviously, structures are not detachable from substance, they are higher (supervenient) orders of organization that can be inferred from material forms, as in pairs such as langue and parole (Saussure), code and message (Jakobson), phoneme and allophone (Jakobson, Trubetskoy), where the first term refers to the virtual, the second to the actual tangible entity. While approaching artefacts and cultural practices, the observer meets a material resistance of the form whose meaning he is able to access only by capturing its organizing principles and functions rather than ascribing a pre‐given meaning to it. The form does not convey ready, pre‐given ideas; it constitutes a new meaningful object. As Ducrot observes in his chapter in the manifesto collection Qu’est‐ce que le structuralisme?, if “structure” is understood as a form of organization, the study of linguistic structures is as old as the study of language itself. The novelty of structuralism consists in extending the idea of formal organization to film, literature, mythology, and other cultural practices (Ducrot 1968: 16) with their different forms of structuration. In this new capacity, the concepts of “language” and “structure” may have a reductive and homogenizing effect (if they are reduced to a direct analogy with the natural language system) or an emancipating effect


Marina Grishakova

(if properly understood as a distinct system of expression and meaning‐making). While highlighting the specifics of those different “languages,” the formalist‐structuralist methods, as compared with previous biographical, or naive‐psychological approaches, introduced a more technical and analytical vocabulary contingent on the description of specific material practices in literary and cultural studies and, consequently fostering emancipation and maturation of these disciplinary fields. There remains a degree of uncertainty and doubt, however, as to how and whether the concept of structure is applicable to these fields. This has led to some critics being reluctant to see structuralism in literature and arts as a method at all, let alone a rigorous method (Boudon 1968: 227–9). In some structuralist works, structural descriptions are generated in accordance with the rules of formal or natural logic adopted by linguistics and semiotics, by applying the operational rules to the inventory of basic formal units. For instance, Barthes adopted from Hjelmslev the notions of “metalanguage” and “connotation”, as secondary‐ order levels of signification or meaning‐making, to describe various semiotic systems (such as modern mythology, advertising, and fashion, in Barthes 1957 and 1967), as secondary systems built on top of the primary system of natural language and endowing it with new cultural and ideological meanings.2 In The Fashion System (1967), Barthes explores syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations of different items of clothing and their functions in the system of fashion. Slavic structuralism(s) and functionalism(s)—Czech, Polish, Tartu‐ Moscow—worked with structural and stratification models of language where lower‐level units ­(phonemes, morphemes, lexemes) fuse into higher‐level units. In literary works, which include, besides linguistic, a number of supra‐ and extralinguistic levels, lower‐level units (even meaningless in natural language) may link directly to higher levels. They become meaningful by bringing units of higher levels (often unrelated in natural language) into relations of equivalence or contrast.3 The greater the number of formal restraints and semantic connections that each textual unit enters the richer the work’s semantic (meaning‐generating) potential (Lotman 1977).4 From this perspective, the poetic language is not a “deviant” version of everyday language, as Shklovsky maintained, but an intensification of language’s natural creativity (Jakobson 1985: 92). Slavic scholars developed projects of generative poetics inspired by Chomsky’s generative grammar and computational linguistics (e.g. Revzin 1966). Structuralist narratology (works by Algirdas Julien Greimas, Gérard Genette, Seymour Chatman, Gerald Prince) is also rooted in linguistic and rhetorical frameworks. Conversely, “structures” may also refer to underlying categories and conceptual distinctions that articulate basic perceptions, cognitions, emotions, and other anthropological constants. For instance, myth, as it is described by Claude Lévi‐Strauss in Mythologiques, reflects subconscious activities of the mind projected onto the sphere of social life5 and performs a problem‐solving function: it polarizes certain phenomena and objects salient in the life of a culture and suggests a resolution of those polarities (for instance, “hunting” as a mediating link between the polarity of “warfare” and “agriculture,” or “carrion‐eating animals” between “herbivores” and “predators”). The Greimassian actantial model (developed in Greimas 1966) embraces six basic communicative positions (roles), which include Subject/Object, Helper/Opponent, Sender/Receiver, and their interaction on the axes of knowledge, power, and desire. The model applies to both the structure of a sentence and to a sequence of action, or plot. The basic narrative schemes, as described by Todorov (1977), Bremond (1973), and Eco (1979), manifest a dynamics of movement from the state

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of disequilibrium caused by some kind of transgression, violation or lack, through a series of reparatory actions and choices that may lead either to failure or success, to a further ­disequilibrium or a new equilibrium. These basic plot schemes reverberate with the anthropological conception of social drama in Victor Turner’s work (1967, 1969), where drama is regarded as a social reparatory mechanism triggering the development from breach and crisis to resolution or integration of change in social life. These are structures that constitute or mediate human realities of perception, cognition, verbal, and nonverbal behavior, be it a boxing match, eating or love‐making, naively taken for granted as natural by the actors. In the denaturalization of seemingly spontaneous practices, revealing the underpinnings of these practices, lies a significant critical potential of structuralism.6 The “structure” may also refer to formative principles, conventions, or salient systemic features of specific texts or groups of texts, for example, in Todorov’s works on structure and typology of the plot in detective or fantastic fiction. Likewise, five “codes” (proairetic, hermeneutic, semic, symbolic, and referential) isolated by Barthes in his interpretation of Balzac’s story “Sarrasine” could hardly be identified with an abstracted meta‐system or metalanguage, such as the Saussurean langue or Jakobson’s “code” (Barthes 1970; see also Culler 1975: 236–9). Instead, they are co‐extensive with specific narrative and textual functions and strategies. The list of codes is extendable to other literary works but has been created as ad hoc tools for a specific interpretative task: as a list, it is open‐ended and only weakly systematic. However, Barthes’s subtle analysis of Balzac’s realistic story succeeded in ­showing what had been theorized also by Jakobson and other structuralists—that not only experimental or avant‐garde but also realist works and the concept of “realism” itself are constructions, despite their illusionary “natural” mimetic transparency. Similarly, ­structuralist‐semiotic studies in visual arts subvert seemingly natural connections between the photographic image and its referent. In sum, various trends, schools, and authors whom handbooks and textbooks bring together under the umbrella term “structuralism” have different ideas of structure and different views on the role of systemic thinking in the humanities. From this perspective, “structuralism” does not refer to a single framework or theory. Rather, there are various “structuralisms” and various conceptions of structure. Nevertheless, it would hardly be possible to ignore or deny an epistemological shift associated with structuralist‐systemic thinking that prompted the modernization of the humanities in the twentieth century. While distinguishing between two views on science—Baconian and Keplerian—Emmon Bach identifies structuralism with the latter (Bach 1965). The Baconian approach is inductive: it moves through observation and experiment to limited generalization based on empirical data. The Keplerian approach, extremely successful in mathematics and natural science, involves a creative leap to a general hypothesis that is judged by its explanatory power and fruitfulness. The fruitfulness of a rigid conception of structure and the traffic of linguistic models to other, “soft” sciences has been disputed. Nevertheless, structuralism sharpened the analytical tools and enriched the toolkits of the humanities. Theorizing in literary and art studies assumed a form of rational inquiry, “putting forth claims that can be learned and taught […] and subject to standard rules of reasoning and argumentation” (Margolin 2009: 41). Structuralist vocabularies are revisited and structuralist hypotheses tested by the new frameworks of cognitive science, neuroscience, cultural and evolutionary biology, and empirical aesthetics.


Marina Grishakova

Structuralism(s) Although these “structuralisms” emerge as separate and often unconnected trends of what may seem a single movement, certain conceptual overlappings and adaptations contribute to historical continuity. The first decades of the twentieth century (1910–1940s) w ­ itnessed a development of structural and descriptive linguistics, formalist poetics and the “new criticism” of different varieties on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as the spread of formalisms in art studies (such as those of Alois Riegl, Heinrich Wölfflin, and Henri Focillon), all forming the bedrock of structuralism. While the natural development of Russian Formalism was thwarted by the ideological pressures and increasingly sinister political situation in the Soviet Union, the formalist tradition managed to live on. There were scholars who bridged the formalist and structuralist developments in various contexts, Jakobson probably being the most prominent and active among them. Besides initiating and mediating different structuralist circles and trends, Jakobson is famous for his remarkable productivity in a wide range of fields including comparative, historical and structural linguistics, neurolinguistics, verse studies, folklore studies, literary theory, aesthetics, and semiotics. Petr Bogatyrev, who is well known for his applications of structural‐semiotic methods in anthropology and ethnographic studies,7 and Nikolai Trubetskoy, a founder of phonology as a separate discipline, mediated between Russian Formalism and the Prague functionalist‐structuralist tradition. Following in Saussure’s footsteps, Trubetskoy ­distinguished between the study of actual speech sounds (phonetics) and the study of underlying systems of phonic differential features (phonology) linked with the differences of meaning in various languages. Founded in 1926, the Prague linguistic circle published eight volumes of its multilingual works in Travaux du Cercle linguistique de Prague (1929–1939). The impact of structural linguistics was definitive in the Prague circle’s early years. However, extensions of what began as research on natural creativity inherent in language to literary and art studies developed into sovereign research fields. Literary scholars Jan Mukařovsky and Felix Vodička actively entered the scene in the 1930s and 1940s, respectively. Mukařovsky developed principles of structural poetics and semiotics of art by introducing the dynamic factor of aesthetic value (maintained by the work itself and by the audience) set against a background of historically relative norms and conventions. The interplay between aesthetic form (structure), value judgment and norm defines the permutation of such structures and norms, and brings poetics closer to the history and sociology of literature and arts. Mukařovsky’s discussion of the polyfunctionality of a work of art is in tune with Bogatyrev’s observations on folkloric and ethnographic objects that perform multiple functions with a dominant function changing over time and across different contexts (Galan 1985: 55): one might consider in this connection the magical, religious, and aesthetic functions of the Christmas tree, or of statuettes of exotic deities that, detached from the original religious context, retain only an aesthetic function. Drawing on Ingarden’s conception of “concretization” and Mukařovsky’s ideas of the structural evolution of literature and art, Vodička worked on reception theory and related it to the study of aesthetic and social norms that define and delimit value judgments. The younger generation of the Prague school faced a difficult choice between emigration (chosen by Lubomir Doležel who continued his career in Toronto University) and working in isolation under growing ideological and political pressure after the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Miroslav

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Červenka, one of Mukařovsky’s students, endured his teacher’s 1951 recantation under political pressure, and survived to see the rehabilitation of the formalist‐structuralist movement in the 1990s. In Poland, Manfred Kridl was a leading figure of modern literary theory in the ­pre‐World War II period. He developed his formalist‐structuralist “integral method” and assembled a group of young scholars in Vilnius University. Kridl’s student Renata Mayenowa became a prominent figure in postwar Polish structuralism and semiotics, an advocate of logical and mathematical methods. Together with Stefan Žolkiewski, Mayenowa’s role was prominent in the international semiotic movement (Kola and Ulicka 2015). Early formalist and structuralist traditions developed in the Tartu‐Moscow school (TMS) of semiotics starting from the early 1960s. The emergence of the School became possible owing to the rapprochement of Moscow and Tartu groups, Yuri Lotman’s ­organizational effort, and the unfavorable conditions in Moscow where structural ­linguistics and poetics, information theory, and exact methods still remained under considerable ideological pressure despite the political thaw of the 1960s. The TMS community ­ ­organized summer schools and published the periodical Sign Systems Studies in Tartu. TMS scholars worked on Indo‐European languages and mythologies, Buddhist philosophy, ­religious rituals and arts, semiotics of culture, poetics and semiotics of literature, verse theory, narratology, urban semiotics, and neurosemiotics. While guided by the formalist and early structuralist impulse but transcending the restrictive linguistic analogy, Lotman explored in The Structure of the Artistic Text (1977) the semiotic “multilinguality” of artistic texts, the ability of a work of art to generate new semiotic languages, and the capacity of an individual case, initially perceived as a deviation, to become a cultural value and norm.8 Lotman developed his original framework of the “semiotics of everyday behavior” and researched infiltrations between literature and byt (literary or aesthetic mores, the literary everyday). Both Yuri Lotman and Boris Uspensky delved into the issues of semiotics and poetics of narrative (plot, character, point of view). In his Poetics of Composition (1970), Uspensky addresses the double—verbal and visual, diegetic and mimetic—nature of a literary work, and draws on both verbal and pictorial semiotics to elucidate the dynamics of point of view. Eleazar Meletinsky and Valdimir Toporov’s studies in neo‐mythological poetics traced historical and context‐specific transformations of mythological plots and explored their role as interpretative tools or “metalanguages” of culture. The TMS 1973 manifesto Theses on the Semiotic Study of Cultures, co‐authored by Lotman, Uspensky, Ivanov, Toporov, and Pyatigorsky, was immediately published in English (see Theses 1973) and later translated into French and Italian, among other languages. Fortunately, the “iron curtain” was not entirely impenetrable. Works by Russian Formalists became available in English and French in the 1960s, the Prague school works in poetics and aesthetics in the 1950s, and Tartu‐Moscow school works in the early 1970s. The ideas of Slavic structuralisms and semiotics were actively adopted—polemically or positively—by the Tel‐Aviv school of poetics and semiotics, by the Konstanz group Poetics and Hermeneutics and other research groups and circles. Jakobson, who had been teaching at the New School in New York during the 1940s, introduced formalist and structuralist work to the fellow émigré Lévi‐Strauss. They attended one another’s lectures, and “it was Jakobson who, in 1943, advised Lévi‐Strauss to begin writing his thesis that would become The Elementary Structures of Kinship” (Dosse


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1998: I, 12), a study inspired by the success of phonology, structural linguistics, and ­semiology. In France, structuralism appeared within a broad context of existentialist, phenomenological, Marxist, psychoanalytical, feminist theories and philosophies. It ­ quickly metamorphosed, however, and formed hybrid combinations with these theories and philosophies, served as a revolutionary and revisionary tool, was critiqued by its opponents as highbrow academic mandarinism but to its adherents was a sign of cutting‐edge thinking. In its application to literature, structuralism was part of the “new critical” (la nouvelle ­critique) movement in Europe, aimed at contesting traditional, positivist, and naive‐psychological paradigms. The polemics between traditional Sorbonne scholar Raymond Picard and Roland Barthes over the latter’s revolutionary treatise on Racine, which Barthes summarized in Critique et verité (1966), was the watershed.9 In the debate between the old Sorbonne and “la nouvelle critique,” it soon became clear that the literary work, ceasing to be a sacred object, appears to be a constructed object (Dion 1993: 14). A question arose, then, on how to approach this complex object. The line of division runs between those structuralists who used a value‐neutral metalanguage, distanced from the language of a research object, and those who preferred a more “engaged” language, balancing between the “scientific” and non‐academic criticism. The former group includes Claude Brémond, Tzvetan Todorov, A. J. Greimas, Gérard Genette, Umberto Eco, Christian Metz, and their disciples and other followers. The latter group includes Julia Kristeva, Michel Foucault, and other intellectuals whose works paved the way to the poststructuralist movement. Barthes eventually detached himself from structuralism in the late 1960s. But both groups would have agreed with certain key statements of the Barthes rejoinder to Picard’s La nouvelle critique ou nouvelle imposture (1965), particularly the idea that the ­traditional criticism is biased by silent presumptions of “good taste,” “clarity,” and “common sense” and presents the critic’s own preferences and historical prejudices as an “objective method”; otherwise it demonstrates an unreflexive attitude as regards its own approaches and procedures. Earlier, in the 1964 collection Essais critiques, and in ­accordance with Jakobson, Barthes found traditional criticism lacking interpretative procedures and operating by analogy, that is, looking for historical, biographical, psychological analogues outside the work itself. Both groups would have agreed that the use of contemporary theories in the study of old texts is justified. However, they would have, obviously, disagreed on which theories and frameworks are particularly efficient. The first group worked with theories and metalanguages built on linguistic, logic, rhetoric‐theoretical, semiotic, or mathematical foundations. Rhetorical models were perceived by many structuralist scholars as a means of renewing and updating structuralism. For example, General Rhetoric (1970) and The Rhetoric of Poetry (1977) by the Belgian Groupe μ combined classical rhetoric with structural‐semiotic conceptions of language (particularly those by Jakobson and Hjelmslev) but also introduced a pragmatic perspective to show how linguistic and extralinguistic factors work together to produce rhetorical effects on the reader in various types of communication. Similarly, Genette protested against a reduction of rhetoric to tropology, the study of traditional figures and, in his 1970 essay “Rhetoric Restrained,” called for a revision of rhetoric as a semiotics of all discourse, the project he aimed at in his magisterial Figures (I–III:, 1966–70, IV–V, 1999–2000). In Kristeva, late Barthes and other Tel Quel authors, structuralist discourse and critical method were married with psychoanalysis, Marxism, feminism, and other ideological

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d­ iscourses, and translated into the practice of writing. While engaging with psychoanalysis and non‐orthodox, broadly understood Marxism, Kristeva actively propagated Bakhtin’s aesthetic and philosophy, and adapted Bakhtinian concepts of heteroglossia, hybridity, and dialogism to the study of transformative power of discourse that alters the system and logic of language. Later, the Bakhtinian concepts were re‐appropriated by Homi Bhabha and other postcolonial critics. Kristeva aimed at the revision and reformulation of the semiotic project in terms of subject: for her, the transformative and subversive power of discourse extended to both social structures and subject (Kristeva 1969). The pairing of theorizing and the practice of writing is prominent also in Tel Quel’s collective work Théorie d’ensemble (Group Theory 1968), which marks the turn of the review towards the ideologically engaged textual practices and deconstruction (ffrench 2015).

Acknowledgements Research for this chapter was supported by the Estonian Research Council (Grant PUT192) and by the European Union Regional Development Fund (CEES).

Notes 1 In “What is Poetry?” in Jakobson (1981: 749). 2 On Barthes’s confusingly interchangeable use of “metalanguage” and “connotation” see Eco and Pezzini (1982). 3 For example, the various phonic effects (alliteration, assonance) that establish relations of poetic synonymy or antonymy between the words which are not synonymous or antonymous in natural language. 4 We also find a definition of the poetic work as “a functional structure” whose “individual ­elements can be only comprehended in their relation to the whole” in the “Theses” of the Prague linguistic circle presented to the First Congress of Slavistics in Prague in 1929 (cited in Galan 1985: 21) and Mukařovsky’s definition of structure in a 1932 essay on standard and poetic language: “The structure is dynamic, containing both the tendencies of convergence and divergence, and is an artistic phenomenon which cannot be taken apart since each of its elements gains value only in a ­relationship to the whole” (Galan 1985: 30).

5 “I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men’s minds without their being aware of the fact” (Lévi‐Strauss 1983: 12). 6 According to Barthes, a model reveals something that would otherwise remain invisible or unintelligible in the modeling object (“Structuralist Activity”, Barthes 1972). 7 Bogatyrev’s groundbreaking works of the 1930s on the semiotics of costume and folk theatre were approvingly noted by Hjelmslev. After the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia Bogatyrev had to return to Russia and, in a miraculous way, survived Stalinist repressions, despite the arrest and confinement of his son in a Soviet labor camp and his own difficult career and dismissal. He lived long enough to participate in a semiotic meeting of the Tartu‐ Moscow School in the 1970. His works were published in Tartu Sign Systems Studies. 8 See also in this connection Bogatyrev and Mukařovsky’s triangulation between norm, value and function).


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9 In fact, 1966 (for Dosse an “annum mirabile”) is remarkable in the history of French structuralism due to the publication of Semantique Structurale by Greimas, Problèmes de linguistique générale (vol. I) by Benveniste, the manifesto eighth issue of Communications featuring contributions by Barthes, Bremond, Eco, Genette, Greimas, and Todorov, and the establishment of the International Association of Semiotics. The eighth issue of Communications brought together structuralists of an analytical‐

scientific variety, with Barthes as an intermediary figure between the “scientific” and critical, non‐academic (Tel‐Quellian) camps. A satellite circle, which included Jean Cohen (Structure du langage poétique, 1966), François Rastier (Idéologie et théorie des signes, 1972), Michel Arrivé (Les Langages de Jarry, essai de sémiotique littéraire, 1972) and Dominique Maingueneau (Initiation aux méthodes de l’analyse du discours, 1976), assembled around the kernel group.

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Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts, 144–72. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Eco, Umberto and Isabella Pezzini. 1982. “La Sémiologie des Mythologies.” Communications 36(1): 19–42. Erlich, Victor. 1980. Russian Formalism. Slavic Reprintings. The Hague: Mouton Publishers. Even‐Zohar, Itamar. 1990. Polysystem Studies. Special Issue of Poetics Today 11 (1). ffrench, Patrick. 2015. “Tel Quel: Theory and Practice.” In Theoretical Schools and Circles in the Twentieth‐Century Humanities, ed. Marina Grishakova and Silvi Salupere, 99–114. London and New York: Routledge. Galan, František William. 1985. Historic Structures: The Prague School Project, 1928–1946. Austin: University of Texas Press. Genette, Gérard. 1970. “La Rhetorique restreinte” (“Rhetoric Restrained”). In Figures of Literary Discourse, 103–26. New York: Columbia University Press; reprinted 1982. Genette, Gérard. 1976–2002. Figures. 5 vols. Paris: Editions du Seuil. Goodwin, Brian. 1996. Form and Transformation: Generative and Relational Principles in Biology, Cambridge University Press. Greimas, Algirdas Julien. 1966. Sémantique ­structurale: recherche de méthode. Paris: Larousse. Grishakova, Marina and Silvi Salupere (eds.) 2015. Theoretical Schools and Circles in the

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Twentieth‐Century Humanities. London and New York: Routledge. Groupe mu. 1970. Rhétorique générale. Paris: Larousse. Groupe mu. 1977. Rhetorique de la poesie. Brussels: Editions complexe. Hayles, Katherine. 1999. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. Holenstein, Elmar. 1976. Roman Jakobson’s Approach to Language: Phenomenological Structuralism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Ivanov, Vyacheslav, Yuri Lotman, Alexander Pyatigorsky, Vladimir Toporov, and Boris Uspensky. 1973. “Theses on the Semiotic Study of Cultures.” In J. van Eng (ed.), Structure of Texts and Semiotics of Culture, 1–28. The Hague‐Paris: Mouton. Jakobson, Roman. 1981. Selected Writings, vol. 3. The Hague: Mouton. Jakobson, Roman. 1985. Selected Writings, vol. 7. Contributions to Comparative Mythology. Studies in Linguistics and Philology, 1972–1982, ed. S. Rudy. The Hague: Mouton. Jakobson, R[oman], and Yu[ri] Tynianov. 1928. “Problems in the Study of Literature and Language,” trans. H. Eagle. Poetics Today 2 (1a) (1980): 29–31. Jameson, Fredric. 1975. The Prison‐House of Language: A Critical Account of Structuralism and Russian Formalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Kola, Adam F. and Danuta Ulicka. 2015. “From Circles to the School (and Back Again): The Case of Polish Structuralism.” In Theoretical Schools and Circles in the Twentieth‐Century Humanities, ed. Marina Grishakova and Silvi Salupere, 63–83. London and New York: Routledge. Kristeva, Julia. 1969. Séméiotike: recherches pour une sémanalyse. Paris: Seuil. Lévi‐Strauss, Claude. 1970. The Raw and the Cooked. Mythologiques, vol. I. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Lotman, Juri. 1977. The Structure of the Artistic Text, trans. Gail Lenhoff and Ronald Vroon. (Michigan Slavic Contributions 7). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. Lotman, Juri. 2009. Culture and Explosion, trans. Wilma Clark, ed. Marina Grishakova. Berlin‐ New York: De Gruyter. Margolin, Uri. 2009. “Avatars of Research Tradition: From Slavic Structuralism to Anglo‐ American Poetics and Aesthetics.” In Structuralism(s) Today: Paris, Prague, Tartu, ed. Veronica Ambros. New York/Ottawa/Toronto: Legas, 39–48. Petitot, Jean. 1985. Morphogenesis of Meaning, trans. Franson Manjali. “European Semiotics”, vol. 3. Bern, Berlin, and Bruxelles: Peter Lang. 2004. Piaget, Jean. 1968. Structuralism, trans. and ed. Chaninah Maschler. New York: Basic Books, 1970. Picard, Raymond. 1965. La nouvelle critique ou nouvelle imposture (New Criticism or New Fraud). Paris: Pauvert. Revzin, Isaac. 1966. Models of Language, trans. N. F. C. Owen and A. S. C. Ross. London: Methuen. Schmidt, Siegfried J. 1982. Foundation for the Empirical Study of Literature: The Components of a Basic Theory, trans. Robert de Beaugrande. Hamburg: Buske. Sturrock, John. 1986. Structuralism. Malden/ Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Tel quel. 1968. Théorie d’ensemble. Paris: Seuil. Todorov, Tzvetan. 1977. “The Grammar of Narrative.” In T. Todorov, The Poetics of Prose, trans. Richard Howard. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Turner, Victor. 1967. The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Turner, Victor. 1969. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti‐structure. Chicago: Aldine Publishing. Tynianov, Yuri. 1977. “Problemy izuchenia literatury i jazyka.” In Y. Tynianov, Poetika. Istoria literatury. Kino. Moskva: Nauka, 282–83. Waddington, C. H. 1968–1972. Towards a Theoretical Biology. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.


Stylistics Michael Toolan

What is Stylistics? Stylistics is the linguistic analysis of texts, literary or otherwise, which is also concerned with those texts as author–reader communications. Thus it assumes that the descriptive and explanatory systems of linguistics enhance the understanding of how texts work, but also wishes to address how and what texts mean for real, historically embedded readers. The origins of Western stylistics lie in the poetics and rhetorical studies of the ancient Greeks (see Burke 2014, for a brief discussion), but it has reinvented itself many times over to suit changing times. Within the English literary tradition, for example, the Renaissance period saw the emergence of handbooks of elegant and “cultured” style. Then in the Augustan and Classical period, writers like Pope, Dryden, and Johnson continually commented on the writing of the time in ways that were covertly stylistic, expressing censure or approval of writers’ grammar and usage on the assumption that alternative choices of grammar and phrasing would be demonstrably better (or worse). Beyond promoting their subjective opinions on matters of effective writing, they sought arguments and evidence to support their judgements, as stylisticians do. In the twentieth century, Wales (2011) ­suggests, stylistics displaced older studies of elocutio in rhetorical studies to some extent but never entirely. Charles Bally—Saussure’s contemporary and one of the editors of his posthumously published Cours de linguistique generale—wrote an influential study of French stylistics (but his focus of attention was emphatically not the literary‐aesthetic dimension of texts). Quite separately, Russian formalists (and, later, Bakhtin) made important ­contributions to literary theory and criticism of a broadly stylistic kind, and influenced scholars of poetics such as Shklovsky, Mukařovsky, and Jakobson. Other early twentieth‐ century stylisticians of note include Karl Vossler and Leo Spitzer, both interested in how the stylistic traits of a text might be revealing of the personality or psychology of the A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Stylistics 61 author. It was Spitzer in 1948 who proposed the analytical circle or cycle—echoing others who have also talked of the hermeneutic circle of interpretation—in which a “literary” observation in the course of reading draws the analyst to examine the language of the text more closely, and this particularizing of the analysis or description of the text will usually lead to an adjusted formulation of what the essence of the literary observation or response was. So an interpretive‐analytic cycle or dialectic proceeds. There has been a steady growth of interest in literary linguistics since the 1960s, and there are now many hyphenated sub‐types of stylistics: cognitive stylistics or poetics, ­corpus stylistics, pragmatic stylistics, (critical) discourse stylistics, ecolinguistic stylistics, and several more, including multimodal stylistics (Norgaard 2014). More unites these than separates them; from different angles, all of them study the language of literature, so linguistic categories and methods take pride of place in their approaches. But they are often the categories of a significantly contextualised linguistics, one that recognises that form, meaning, value, and interpretation are open to change with the reader, despite the degree of convergence or similarity of reported views among diverse readers’ readings of a single text. This convergence makes the idea of a shared language and textual analysis possible.

Why so Much Focus on Language? Since literary texts are such exceptionally considered and designed uses of linguistic forms, structures and effects, stylisticians believe they are justified in attending to them very closely in accounting for what those texts mean, to readers. At the heart of these texts’ power, they contend, is an exceptionally sophisticated deployment of linguistic resources, still only incompletely understood. Analyses frequently refer to this as a matter of choice, and sometimes find it useful to compare what is written with what might have been written but would have been less original, creative, moving, or beautiful. Additionally, even enthusiastic readers, such as committed members of reading groups or students taking literature degrees, may struggle to find a way of talking about these texts that is comprehensible to others and advances their own insight into the writing. For these reasons—to advance our understanding of literary linguistic ­phenomena primarily, and to share this understanding with readers of literature (a very large constituency, potentially)—stylisticians select texts or extracts as examples, test cases, and forms of linguistic challenge. They do so, focusing on a text’s craft and whatever seems original in its design, very much as musicologists and art critics develop systematic analyses of symphonies and paintings. And like the work of musicologists and critic‐researchers generally, stylisticians’ labors have no logical endpoint: in future decades, new audiences or readers living in a different world will respond differently to Shakespeare (or to the poetry Sinéad Morrissey writes next year) than today’s readers; and the intellectual traditions, theories and practices available to contribute to or interpret those responses will also be changed. Stylisticians readily acknowledge that the meanings readers derive from a literary text are not sourced in that single text alone, despite the comparatively determinate


Michael Toolan

boundedness or clear “edges” of most literary texts. We have a comparatively strong sense of what is within Keats’s “Ode to Autumn” and what is not, but this does not license fully autonomous interpretation: also involved are intertextuality and the reader’s recognition of alluded‐to texts and events, and their familiarity with different genres and conventions, and with literary history more generally. A reader’s familiarity (or otherwise) with all these will affect their response to, and interpretation of, literary texts; as will their own “position”: their age, gender, sexuality, bodily affordances, education, work, affluence, and so on, to levels of particularity usually overlooked, such as whether they have perfect pitch, or are tone deaf, or color blind. Stylistics “acknowledges that utterances (literary or otherwise) are produced in a time, a place, and in a cultural and cognitive context” (Simpson 2004: 3); and received in equally particular contexts. These varied contexts interact with the text, so a grammar of literary texts always needs to be integrated with consideration of the former. But this grammar of the language of literary texts is what stylisticians aim to contribute to, prioritizing text (or the triad of author‐ text‐reader) over other variable contexts of reception.

Who is Stylistics For? Whom does stylistics “help”? Most would agree that its target audience is rarely composed of writers themselves. The chief audience comprises students of literature (whether “professional” in the sense that they are taking a degree for credit, or “amateur” in the sense that they read for pleasure, or intellectual stimulation, or therapy and self‐ knowledge, or all three). It doesn’t seem to matter much whether the students are native speakers of the language in which the literature is written, or are coming to the texts as second‐ or foreign‐language learners of the language of composition. Readers from both these constituencies have expressed appreciation of the ways stylistic analysis has helped to focus their reactions to a text and, despite the burden of the technicality deployed, helped them to better understand what a text is doing. Students of literature find stylistics is clear and orderly in whatever it says about a text, supporting modest claims with arguments based on evidence about the language in use. Stylistics has been performing that service for many decades; a few of the earliest and still useful studies include Leech (1969), Nowottny (1962), and Cluysenaar (1976); numerous publications since then have continued this work. As Lambrou and Stockwell (2007: 4) note, over and above the detailed grammatical descriptions based on explicit criteria afforded by stylistics, doing stylistics (or thinking about texts stylistically) can produce “startling, pleasurable and perspective‐changing moments in reading.” It can also prompt startling adjustments to the way you conceptualize reading more generally, and writing, and language. As for whether readers need stylistics, then, the answer must be that some may find it useful and some may not, just as some music‐lovers may find musicologists helpful while others will not. But even if all lay music‐lovers found musicology of no use to them, this would be no compelling argument for abandoning such studies. Cultures need to understand their own practices, and not just do them, and as the most language‐focused of reflexive ­discourses on literature, the emergence of stylistics was an inevitable corollary of the emergence of artistic writing.

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Stylistics as Grammar Stylistic explanation of the relations between textual form and literary function is a ­specialist grammatical commentary. Accordingly, a theory of literary stylistics is at core a theory of grammar, where “grammar” is intended in a broad sense, to include synoptic description of the prominent licensed patterns of phrasal and clausal structuring or sequencing of words in the language, but also incorporating an account of genre‐ and ­register‐sensitive norms and patterns. The bases of the more interpretive categories that any particular stylistic study invokes are at least implicitly sourced in an encompassing grammar of texts. At least from the time of Thorne (1965, 1970), Ohmann (1964), Chatman (1971), and Fowler (1986), stylistics has had a clear core objective: that of uncovering and bringing to attention the most significant linguistic patterns in a text (or disruptions of norms or patterns) that give the text its style, to which readers in turn respond. Stylistics is therefore a form of raising to the reader’s (or analyst’s) fuller awareness those underlying or integrated textual phenomena that are instrumental in its projected meanings and effects. Much the same position is to be found in Ronald Carter’s short article on Hemingway’s story “Cat in the Rain” (Carter 1982), an exemplary demonstration of the stylistic approach, and frequently used in teaching for that reason. Much as Thorne did, Carter argues that our intuitions about the opening paragraphs of the story are guided or conditioned by linguistic patterns, and proceeds to describe the most noticeable of these patterns or trends. The cycle of interpretation and verification proceeds, arriving at a precise statement of what it is in the text’s patterns (its form) that causes or at least encourages the impressions first noted; these are then incorporated into an evaluation and interpretation that others might agree with. These form‐interpretation relations will rarely be expressible as absolute free‐standing rules, but a generalizable descriptive grammar of literary texts remains the long‐term goal of stylistics. Attempts may be made to confirm the plausibility of the form‐interpretation conjunctive statements via controlled testing of reader‐ subjects; but even when it is not, the stylistician’s very act of presenting or publishing their analysis puts it in a public domain where every reader/listener can assay its claims.

Selectivity Comprehensive stylistic analysis of any text is impossible, although Jakobson’s triumphalism about the power of linguistics once implied otherwise. Selectivity and sampling are always involved, and are as much driven by the simple realities of finite resources of time and energy as by any more robust theoretical principle. Thus, on the one hand, every stylistic description and commentary has to make decisions about what to talk about and what not to address, like every other form of textual criticism. But on the other hand, some further linguistic observation can always be found, and found to be worth making, with regard to a particular literary text, just as analytical explanation of major paintings or classical music continues without end. What is the particular basis of stylistic selective attention? It is something (claimed to be) distinctive in the linguistic form of the text, something that is argued to be


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striking and “foregrounded” against an encompassing texture—the rest of the literary text—which may contain other kinds of complexity and effectiveness, but not the specific effect sourced in the specific form selected here for detailed discussion. It assumes that reader‐attention will be oriented to textual patterns, including noticeably repeated forms or noticeable “gaps” or absences. These are the basis of effects of foregrounding, a key term in stylistics; often it is expected that there will be a special appropriateness or “fit” between foregrounded forms and textual meanings, to the point where “iconicity” can be claimed.

Foregrounding, Patterning, and Iconic Aptness What constitutes a linguistic pattern? Here stylisticians are not as far removed from intuition and subjectivity as they might like to be. Any kind of recurrence (of rhyme, or grammatical construction, or multi‐word phrase, or semantic scheme or trope, and so on), or any kind of absence where some degree of recurrence would be normal, can constitute a noticeable sameness, and therefore a pattern. The occurrence of determiners like a and the once or twice per sentence would in themselves be an unremarkable “pattern”; but what of a long text without a single the in it? These days, with widespread availability of genre‐ specific digital corpora of English, the stylistician is able to state with more confidence whether certain kinds of pattern (e.g. certain lexical phrases) are rare or have been oft repeated in a large sample of recent English. But earlier stylisticians (and some still today) relied on their own sense of what was “most striking.” This was the essence of Thorne’s answer too, in his 1970 article, on the shifting style (from conveyed angry restlessness to calm) in a passage from Raymond Chandler: Thorne was “struck” by the frequency of a recurrent “restless” I VP‐ed and (I) VP‐ed sentential pattern (e.g., “I looked at the dust on my finger and wiped that off”), and relied on reader assent to his identification as a prominent one that defined the local style. The conventional metaphor of “strikingness” is often used in this phase of the stylistic analysis; it is more abstractly formulated as a process of “foregrounding.” or “prominence,” or “markedness,” but they amount to the same move in the argument, which is subjective at source, even if the analysts can persuade their readers of the reasonableness of their identification of what is striking or foregrounded. Strangeness, or defamiliarization, has long been a touchstone of formalist criticism. Slightly more detached or abstract are formulations in terms of what is statistically or situationally prominent (a speech in which every other word is like), or disproportionate in frequency (a paragraph in which every verb is in the progressive), or situationally non‐congruent (an insurance policy which uses slang). Jeffries and McIntyre (2010: 5) proceed similarly in their first brief demonstration of stylistic method. They notice, as strange, collocationally unexpected and foregrounded, the word forget, in these lines from a James Fenton poem: “How comforting it is, once or twice a year,// To get together and forget the old times.” Getting together to forget the past is norm‐breaking both linguistically and as a description of reasonable behavior, since we usually get together to remember the old times, and say so too; the foregrounded ­collocation therefore prompts many implicatures as to what the speaker might be obliquely suggesting.

Stylistics 65 If the subjectivity of foregrounding selections has been a weakness in stylistic studies, it is one that cognitive poetics (Stockwell 2002) may help address. The kinds of phenomena that cognitive poetics centrally draws on in its explanations include ideas about figure and ground, prototypicality, deixis or perspective, script and schema, metaphor, text worlds and mental spaces. Many of these phenomena reflect forms of selective and discriminating attention, our making sense of the world and its signs. They address the fact that whatever object or scene we contemplate, there are always a great many more differences we could attend to than is useful or appropriate in the circumstances. Any signifying complex, including a literary text, may make prominent (or foreground) some features rather than others, to direct the recipient’s attention. As a result, the reader must always calculate what kind of attention to which distinguishable phenomena is merited (or relevant). Cognitive poetics undertakes to explain some of the fundamental principles underlying this calculation. Many of them are universal rather than being specific to particular languages or ­cultures; indeed, they work in oral cultures as well as literate ones. And so they underpin the sense‐making faculties of human beings in their embodied existence. These principles may in time put stylisticians’ decisions regarding the striking patterns and foregrounding in a text on a much firmer footing. The kind of linguistic evidence analysts choose to focus on is varied, and the precise relation between the evidence and the claimed effect occasions debate. Among those that have been extensively examined in texts are modality, transitivity, cohesion (anaphora), deixis, options in the representation of characters’ speech, thought and writing (Leech and Short 2007), options in sentence construction (hypotaxis vs. parataxis, clause‐embedding preferences, clefting, thematic fronting of clause elements), the prominence of specific conceptual metaphors (Semino 2008), strategic use of marked semantic prosodies (Louw and Mikhailovic 2016), text world theory (Gavins 2007), recurrent lexical clusters in ­characterization (Mahlberg 2013), and exploitations of Gricean cooperativeness norms or relevance‐theoretical principles (Chapman and Clark 2014). In all these analyses the question arises as to whether the linguistic feature is the cause of the meaning‐effect, or simply a correlation with it. Although a correlation claim is weaker, and can even reduce to mere coincidence, in stronger cases it can denote a necessary but not sufficient condition. And the line between cause and mere correlation is arguably less clear in linguistic matters than in other more stable fields of inquiry. Many stylisticians would wish to assert more than that a given identified pattern “helps create” a particular effect or meaning; nor have many agreed with Attridge’s suggestion that they are not doing anything fundamentally different from literary analysts after all (see Attridge 1996: 44–5, who characterizes Jakobson’s “empirical” studies as ultimately aiming, like the critic, to persuade the reader). Distinct from both a causal relation and a correlative one is an iconic one, and the idea of the iconicity of aspects of the poetic text is one that has attracted many stylisticians. Ordinarily, language is regarded as symbolic, an arbitrary matching of forms or signifiers with meanings. No particular attention is paid to the form qua form. But when the language is felt to be partly iconic, the signs seem partly to embody or perform the ideas and entities expressed, and the addressee is less impelled to “look past” the form, to some “form‐transcending” meaning. The iconic form that stays our attention may concern the text’s implied sounds, or graphology, or grammar, or semantics, or some combination of these. Some instances still have an instructive function, as when Pope in his Essay on


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Criticism criticizes the poet who ends their song with a needless Alexandrine (exceptional, 12‐syllable line), “That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.” Others are more complex, a more cerebral but still textually experienced complexity, such as is found in the linguistic form of Wallace Stevens’s “The Snow Man,” where we are repeatedly led astray not least by the counter‐intuitive use of behold: “One must have a mind of winter ….// And have been cold a long time// To behold the junipers shagged with ice,// The spruces rough in the distant glitter// Of the January sun; and not to think // Of any misery in the sound of the wind,// In the sound of a few leaves.” Only someone thoroughly mentally frozen would encounter the icebound junipers and spruces without feeling an enfolding misery, the speaker says, among other things using behold in a strange way that is at odds with our usual expectation that something beheld will be uplifting (such as the Lamb of God, or a rainbow in the sky). Stevens implies there are two types of people here. There are those who think and feel the “misery,” and those who are too cold and wintry even to do that: cold comfort! The speaker uses the same word behold in a reversing or defying of our complacent expectations a second time at the close of the poem, inviting us to empathize with “the listener, who listens in the snow,// And, nothing ­himself, beholds// Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.” Iconic text invites the reader/addressee to focus on the text for its own sake, to gloss— approximately—one of Jakobson’s ideas in his famous article of 1960 (Toolan 2010, 2011). As invoked by stylisticians, iconicity is the re‐asserting of some degree of “natural” or experiential connection between the form and meaning of signs (Toolan 2015). Stylisticians say there is iconicity, or that the language is iconic, where they can see and demonstrate a degree of calculated “fit” between the sounds or written shapes used, or the sequences of words used, or the grammar of a whole line or sentence—in short, the form—and the meaning we believe the poet or writer wanted at that point to convey (i.e., wanted the reader to experience). Analogy or resemblance is invoked: the linguistic form is said to reflect, match, enact, perform, or mime the meaning. Jeffries (2010) suggests that iconic text has an “experiential” effect: the effect of the iconic properties of the language of a poem is that the reader experiences the meaning rather than simply understanding it.

Stylistic Practice and the Return of the Reader While stylistics, no more than linguistics, can lay claims to absolute truths about something as contextually determined as literary communication, it would be perverse to conclude that its descriptive categories and principles were arbitrary and meaningless beyond the descriptive system in which they arise. The categories come with a rich history and, although used in accounts of the texture of texts, are themselves metonyms of ­complex accounts of the workings of language. That is why Stanley Fish’s famous critique of stylistics (1980 [1973]), still worth reading, in the long run did not prompt the abandonment of literary linguistics but instead assisted stylisticians to think through their assumptions, and take care as to what they could and could not claim without disabling circularity of argument. But at the time of its original publication it caused turmoil in stylistic circles: among its targets was an article by Halliday (1971) which for many stylisticians has remained inspirational. Fish complained that the stylistic analyses of the 1960s leapt from

Stylistics 67 description of forms to attribution of value (i.e. meaning) that were arbitrary and, contrary to conventional stylistic wisdom, unfalsifiable: While the distinctions one can make with the grammar are minute and infinite, they are also meaningless, for they refer to nothing except the categories of the system that produced them, categories which are themselves unrelated to anything outside their circle except by an ­arbitrary act of assertion. (Fish 1973: 100)

Writing in the early 1970s, Fish was obliquely challenging Chomskyan generative ­linguistics which—hard though it is for us to understand at this distance—appeared in some influential circles to be on the point of “cracking” the linguistic code, and laying bare the very cognitive DNA of all languages. Nearly fifty years later, even with the rise of cognitive linguistics and its selective applications to literary poetics, there is little evidence of literary studies being superseded by such activity. A stylistician of today would not understand Fish’s reference to “the grammar,” as if there were a universally accepted description of a unified language. Nor would they understand the contention that grammatical distinctions (tense, aspect, number, cases, word‐classes, types of phrase and sentence/clause, etc.) are “meaningless,” referring only to categories produced within “the system,” any more than a language teacher or language learner would. Contrary to Fish’s declaration, in the grammatical distinctions used by stylisticians and other linguists the everyday world of embodied human interaction is a permanent foundation—interaction that is integrated with the help of Gricean cooperativeness norms and politeness considerations (giving “positive face” and minimizing “negative face” impositions where possible). A bi‐directional words‐to‐world engagement is always proceeding. The grammatical distinctions of interest to stylisticians are those that language‐users themselves deploy meaningfully; and they are legion, and diverse. Reflecting this, stylisticians have tended to be quite eclectic in their incorporation of different but compatible linguistic descriptions into their analyses. Jeffries and McIntyre (2010: 4), for example, report that stylisticians draw on both context‐free formal descriptions and the contextualized linguistic descriptions found in such distinct traditions as pragmatics, sociolinguistics, cognitive linguistics, and corpus linguistics, and are often willing to explore whether these can be used in combination. In this they are reflecting new trends within non‐literary linguistic studies where, for example, extensive corpus evidence is mined with a view to testing and strengthening a cognitive linguistic hypothesis. Another developing sub‐field focuses on situated readers’ responses to literary texts, in more controlled and broadly experimental conditions or in quite natural and everyday situations (e.g., the discourse of an established book club or reading group, and their free‐ flowing comments on a text). Here the stylistician’s own judgments of the text may be suppressed in favor of those of informants—but, if the study is to remain stylistic, there will still be an effort to trace readers’ reactions to linguistic patterns and cues in the text. By virtue of attempting an analysis, stylistics can often be regarded as “taking a poem to pieces”; this is done not to “destroy” the poem, but to pay the closest attention to the compositional steps that the poet may have implicitly taken in the original creative synthesis. So while there is respect for the author, there is no appetite for leaving their work


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unexamined. Notwithstanding their “literariness,” comparative originality, and creativity, literary texts are in broad terms just as amenable to analysis and explanation as any other texts. Relatedly, the subscriber to the New Yorker who turns the page on a long article about Trump vs Clinton to read a new poem by Jorie Graham does not suddenly switch off one reading “device” and switch on another—they remain the same person, in the same café, with the same language‐processing resources. One of the most even‐handed commentators, a stylistics practitioner for forty years and more, was the late Geoffrey Leech. In his Language in Literature (2008), he suggests that stylistics may be thought of as an inter‐discipline, forging an alliance or bond between linguistic description of text and literary interpretation. Critical to this alliance and powerfully guiding of stylistic practice, he suggests, is the idea of foregrounding, discussed earlier. In the final chapter, Leech is eloquent about “the negative effects of dichotomies” (2008: 180), and argues that a joint accommodation of formalism (oriented to the linguistic properties of the text) and functionalism (extending beyond the forms to their contextually and intertextually conditioned effects and meanings) is not only possible but beneficial. He describes his own position as formalist functionalism. He is critical of the rampant contextualism of such analytical traditions as Critical Discourse Analysis (where he sees a danger of extreme determinism, tracing all meanings and effects back to veiled power and ideology shaping the text from outside, as if the specificities of the text were of little relevance), and sees in the “cognitive turn” a welcome renewed attention to the psychological processing we can ascribe to a text’s author and readers (although he also expresses concern about another kind of potential neglect of the text, if all the focus is on “unobservable cognitive structures” (Leech 2008: 183).

Falsifiability and Standards of Proof In the 1970s and 1980s stylistics used to emphasize the falsifiability of its claims, in a Popperian scientific tradition: not simply that its claims were vaguely “testable”, but that they could possibly be proven wrong. In that tradition, only descriptions that could be shown to be wrong are of scientific merit, until such disproof occurs. But since stylistics typically involves a hermeneutic spiral of grammatical description and textual interpretation, it will also involve commentary that is not open to falsification. In practice, falsifiability is more alluded to than attempted by stylisticians, who would rather advance constructive contributions to the illumination of a text, and of readers’ readings of that text. More recent contributors, whether endorsing cognitive stylistics, corpus stylistics, or some other hybrid theory and method, simply argue that their way of proceeding is methodical, and as systematic as the limits of language’s systematicity allows. Analyses are often too limited, a selective sampling that is forced to leave many confounding variables in place, for a controlled falsification to be possible. In these circumstances, claims cannot reach the standard of scientific proof or even that of the criminal law (of “being sure”, beyond a reasonable doubt). The phrasing of the civil law standard of proof is usually more relevant, with regard to the claims about the effects of form on meaning: the stylistician hopes to have shown that, on the balance of probabilities, those linguistic characteristics have, in the given context, created these readerly meanings.

Stylistics 69 As Stockwell comments in the course of a stylistic exploration of the linguistic basis of a poem’s “ambience,” the stylistician’s task is “to explore this feature and offer an account of it in systematic and principled terms, and in a way that does not simply appeal to shared implicit intuitions” (Stockwell 2014: 373). A systematic description and explanation, where every move in the analysis is inspectable, is the essence of stylistics. It is then for others to decide whether the stylistician’s account of ambience (or whatever other textual characteristic is being addressed) is more effective, economical, perspicuous, and generalizable than other approaches. Whatever the topic or feature of interest may be, stylisticians seek to pinpoint the linguistic conditions necessary for its textual instantiation, sometimes referring to aspects of the linguistic form in a text as constituting “cues” or “triggers” for specific literary effects (or meanings for the reader). At the same time such analysts are wary of being naively instrumentalist, or ignoring the way change of context can change meaning and value, or of misrepresenting what is really a many:many relation (many formal factors integrated to achieve a multifaceted literary effect) as if it were a simple form:meaning relation. Stylisticians undertake to be precise, analytical, and verifiable about the grammar that underlies and creates the literariness effects which, in turn, induce readers to reach for such complex evaluative terms as shambling, strident, alienated, terse, ­passionate, and placid. But they are not dismissive of these powerfully synthesizing evaluative terms—their existence makes stylistics possible, and wide agreement that a particular passage is strident or shambling helps allay anxieties about conflictingly various textual interpretation. They have an important place in literary reading, but one that stylistics endeavors to keep distinct from that of analysis.

Disciplinary Maturity Is stylistics a science, with a method; or is it so compelled to adjust to changes in language and literature relative to time, place, and other contextual factors that thinking of it as science would be as mistaken as conceiving of jurisprudence or musicology as science? Are literature and language such humanistic and creative cultural practices that a scientific approach is only of limited application? Different views are taken on these questions, although it is hard to see in the nature of language and in literary production the kind of progress that is so evident in fields like medicine or physics. If stylistics is not strictly a science, then rather less in the way of definitive explanation should be expected from its methods. Arguably, even in its use of recognized categories and stepwise argumentation it is not itself strictly a “method,” but a practice or activity, a way of describing and explaining the linguistics of texts and their meanings for readers (Toolan 1990: 28 and passim). Doing stylistics may be better understood as primarily participating in an ongoing discourse that reflects on the multiple functions of language in our cultures and seeks to revise and renew our shared understanding of language forms and functions (cf. Simpson 2004, who emphasizes the “reflexive capacity” of stylistics to shed light on the language system it derives from). A similar point is made in Jeffries and McIntyre’s (2010) overview. For them, stylistics is needed to provide an angle on language study which places the text (literary or otherwise) at the centre of its concern (2010: 4). Here stylistics is intended to redefine linguistics in a more text‐oriented direction. As the inter‐ discipline of stylistics has evolved, it has perhaps inevitably developed this Janus‐faced character, being both a commentary on the text and a commentary on the language.


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When Does “Attention to Detail” Go too Far? Where should the stylistician’s attention to textual “choices” end—at what fineness of granularity? Is there a point at which the tiniest details of word‐choice and phrasing cease to be of real significance, and are not perceptible as details at all? The makers of variorum editions of texts resist this skepticism, and are unmoved by psycholinguistic evidence that “most readers” will remain unaware of small textual changes. To give one example of stylistically significant detail in the work of Alice Munro, consider the story called “Passion”, first published in The New Yorker magazine in March 2004, and then included in her collection Runaway (Knopf), which appeared later the same year. Before its publication in The New Yorker, the story will have gone through multiple drafts, with comments and critique from her agent, and then from her editor at the magazine, so that the version published there was unquestionably a carefully prepared one. It turned out not to be the final version, however. In the book‐published version, more than two hundred changes can be found, made by Munro to the story published just a few months earlier in The New Yorker. The final change occurs at the close of the story and concerns the dollar value of a cheque given to the story’s heroine, Grace, by a family who want to minimize their shame and want her to “go away.” The sentence, clearly focalized from Grace’s point of view, is changed from “It was a cheque for a thousand dollars” to “It was a cheque for one thousand dollars.” What’s the difference? A thousand is one thousand, and one dozen is a dozen. But Munro is subtly exploiting a linguistic difference where grammar overlaps with pragmatics, that is, with meaning in context. Saying “a thousand” of anything simply reports a quantity, but does not focus on the completeness or the precise amount of the quantity. Viewed in written form or spoken aloud, “a cheque for one thousand dollars” cannot be read or said without paying some extra attention to the “one,” beyond what you would pay to the indefinite article, “a.” The use of “one thousand” implies that the cheque is for a whole thousand dollars, or as much as a thousand dollars; without some other emphasis, a thousand does not. The altered choice better captures the point of view of the impecunious young woman (whom the story focalizer, now forty years older, remembers herself once to have been): at that earlier time, for that young woman, a thousand dollars was ONE ­thousand dollars, a life‐changing amount of money. This a/one change of article is one more confirmation of Munro’s stylistic perfectionism, symptomatic of the linguistic meticulousness of literary writing, and the best reason for affording them a thorough linguistic analysis.

References Attridge, Derek. 1996. “Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics in Retrospect.” In N. Fabb, D. Attridge, A. Durant and C. MacCabe (eds), The Linguistics of Writing, 15–32. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Burke, Michael. 2014. “Stylistics: From Classical Rhetoric to Cognitive Neuroscience.” In M.

Burke (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Stylistics, 1–7. London: Routledge. Carter, Ronald. 1982. “Style and Interpretation in Hemingway’s ‘Cat in the Rain.’” In R. Carter (ed.), Language and Literature: An Introductory Reader in Stylistics, 65–82. London: Allen & Unwin.

Stylistics 71 Chapman, Siobhan and Billy Clark (eds.). 2014. Pragmatic Literary Stylistics. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Chatman, Seymour (ed.). 1971. Literary Style: A Symposium. London and New York: Oxford University Press. Cluysenaar, Anne. 1976. Introduction to Literary Stylistics. London: Batsford. Fish, Stanley. 1980 (1973). Is There a Text in This Class? Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Fowler, Roger. 1986. Linguistic Criticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gavins, J. 2007. Text World Theory: An Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Halliday, M. A. K. 1971. “Linguistic Function and Literary Style: An Enquiry into the Language of William Golding’s The Inheritors.” In Chatman (ed.), 1971, Literary Style, 330–68. Jeffries, Lesley. 2010. “‘The Unprofessionals’: Syntactic Iconicity and Reader Interpretation in Contemporary Poems.” In D. McIntyre and B. Busse (eds.), Language and Style, 95–115. London: Palgrave. Jeffries, Lesley and Dan McIntyre. 2010. Stylistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Leech, Geoffrey. 1969. A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry. London: Longman. Leech, Geoffrey. 2008. Language in Literature: Style and Foregrounding. London: Longman. Leech, G. N. and M. H. Short. 2007. Style in Fiction. 2nd edn. London: Longman. Louw, Bill and Marija Milojkovic. 2016. Corpus Stylistics as Contextual Prosodic Theory and Subtext. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Mahlberg, Michaela. 2013. Corpus Stylistics and Dickens’s Fiction. New York: Routledge. Nørgaard, Nina. 2014. “Multimodality and Stylistics.” In M. Burke (ed.), 2014. “Stylistics,” 471–84.

Nowottny, Winifred. 1962. The Language Poets Use. London: Athlone Press. Ohmann, Richard. 1964. “Generative Grammars and the Concept of Literary Style.” WORD, 20 (3): 423–39. Semino, Elena. 2008. Metaphor in Discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Simpson, P. 2004. Stylistics: A Resource Book for Students. London: Routledge. Stockwell, Peter. 2002. Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction. London: Routledge. Stockwell, Peter and Sarah Whiteley. 2014. “Atmosphere and Tone.” The Cambridge Handbook of Stylistics, 360–74. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Stockwell, Peter and Marina Lambrou (eds.). 2007. Contemporary Stylistics. London: Continuum. Thorne, James Peter. 1965. “Stylistics and Generative Grammars.” Journal of Linguistics 1 (1): 49–59. Thorne, James Peter. 1970. “Generative Grammar and Stylistic Analysis.” In J. Lyons (ed.). New Horizons in Linguistics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 185–97. Reprinted in D. Freeman (ed.), Essays in Modern Stylistics. London: Methuen and Company, 1981, 42–52. Toolan, Michael. 1990. The Stylistics of Fiction: a Literary‐Linguistic Approach. London: Routledge. Toolan, Michael. 2010. “What Do Poets Show and Tell Linguists?” Acta Linguistica Hafniensia 42 (1): 189–204. Toolan, Michael. 2011. “Literary Creativity in Poems: Marvellously Repetitive.” In Rodney Jones (ed.), Discourse and Creativity, 27–57. London: Longman Pearson. Toolan, M. 2015. “Poetry and Poetics.” In R. Jones (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Language and Creativity, 231–47. London: Routledge. Wales, Katie. 2011. A Dictionary of Stylistics. London: Pearson Longman.


Contemporary Narrative Theory James Phelan

Contemporary narrative theory is a robust and diverse enterprise, one characterized by multiple theoretical approaches (cognitive, rhetorical, feminist, anti‐mimetic, postcolonial, and more) to an ever‐expanding set of objects of study. Originally oriented toward literary print narrative, especially the novel, contemporary narrative theory now pays much greater attention to nonfictional narrative of all kinds, to narrative in poetry, and to narrative in media other than print: in film, television, comics, and in digital environments, including social media. In addition, contemporary narrative theory examines narrative across disciplines, with special attention to medicine, business, and law. Rather than offer what would inevitably be only a cursory look at all these developments, and aware that this volume is concerned with “literary theory,” I have chosen to give more detailed attention to five significant developments that are important for the study of literary narrative, and to construct this as a companion piece to my chapter, “Narrative Theory, 1966–2006: A Narrative,” in the 2006 edition of The Nature of Narrative.1 Although I remain aware that the two studies together still fall short of a comprehensive survey of the field, I hope they provide a good basecamp from which the interested explorer can launch additional investigations.2 The first two developments discussed here are related to “instabilities.” I noted at the end of “Narrative Theory, 1966–2006”: (1) “narrative theory and the tradition of nonmimetic narrative,” and (2) “narrative theory, the borders between fiction and nonfiction, and cross‐border traffic” (2006: 334–5). The other three developments are related to the three approaches I feature in that account: (3) from the cognitive approach, work on mind‐ reading or Theory of Mind; (4) from the feminist approach, work on the concept of intersectionality; and (5) from the rhetorical approach, work on the narrative communication model. To illustrate practical consequences of this work, I turn, as in 2006, to analyses of Ian McEwan’s Atonement. A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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Unnatural Narratology; or Narrative Theory and the Tradition of Non‐mimetic Narrative Brian Richardson’s Unnatural Voices (2006) is a seminal text for those interested in what he refers to as anti‐mimetic or unnatural narrative (the term “unnatural” plays off Monika Fludernik’s proposals for a “natural” narratology [1996]). Richardson has remained a major contributor to this work, as evident in his collaborations with others (detailed in the Works Cited), and his 2015 book, Unnatural Narrative: Theory, History, and Practice). Other ­important voices include Jan Alber—who has also written a book entitled Unnatural Narrative (2016)—Henrik Skov Nielsen, and Stefan Iversen. The key contention underlying the approach is that mainstream narrative theory has been built on mimetic narratives (that is, those that are constrained by what is actual or possible in the extratextual world) and therefore has a mimetic bias that limits its explanatory power. For example, Richardson argues that the rhetorical definition of narrative as “someone telling someone else that something significant has happened within a recognizable storyworld” reflects this bias (Phelan 2006: 22). To account properly for unnatural narratives, Richardson contends, the definition would need to acknowledge that each of its elements has been problematized by practices in the anti‐mimetic tradition. Not every narrator or narratee is a “someone”— some are nonhuman, some are collective. Some occasions are mimetically impossible, as the technique of first‐person present tense narration indicates. And so on. One of the pleasures of engaging with the work of the unnatural narratologists is learning about the long tradition of anti‐mimetic narratives and the varieties of unnaturalness they exhibit. Unnatural narratologists also contend that there is often more unnaturalness in the mimetic tradition than narrative theorists have noticed.3 Indeed, when one reads mimetic fiction through the lens of unnatural narratology, one’s perceptions of anti‐mimetic ­elements become more acute, as the following discussion of Atonement suggests. It is possible to read McEwan’s novel, for all its meta‐fictional hi‐jinks, as ultimately committed to mimesis. Looking at the major elements of narrative, we see that the characters are well‐drawn possible people; that the settings—an upper‐class estate in mid‐1930s England, the French countryside during the British retreat from Dunkirk; and multiple sites in London—are all either plausible imitations (the country estate) or historical realities (Clapham Common); and that the events not only all conform to the constraints governing human behavior in the actual world but are also caught up in the grim realities of the Second World War. Looking at the narrative discourse, we do see something far less straightforward, as McEwan delays the disclosure that Parts I, II, and III are a novel existing within the storyworld, written by its protagonist, Briony Tallis, and thus that he has constructed a novel within a novel. That is, Briony’s Atonement is contained within McEwan’s Atonement, which continues on for the final section called “London, 1999.” But though this novel‐within‐a‐novel structure adds the meta‐fictional dimension, it does not make Atonement anti‐mimetic. Indeed, one could argue that this structure is, in part, mimetically motivated by Briony’s ambition to be a novelist. Furthermore, although McEwan’s novel contains information that contradicts information in Briony’s novel (most notably, its disclosure that Briony never met with her sister Cecilia and Robbie Turner in 1940), mimetically oriented readers can easily keep the novel “natural” by emphasizing the distinction between what happens in Briony’s novel and what happens in McEwan’s.


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Looking at Atonement through the lens of unnatural narratology, however, we are likely to experience considerable difficulty in preserving the mimetic. Consider the consequences of McEwan’s delayed disclosure that Parts I, II, and III are Briony’s novel. This disclosure means that McEwan engages in an act of what Richardson has identified as “denarration” (Richardson 2001). McEwan tells his audience that certain events happened and then he subsequently tells his audience that these events did not happen. Preserving the mimetic by invoking the ontological difference between Briony’s novel and McEwan’s novel comes at the price of ignoring the experiential quality of the denarration. McEwan makes his readers go from believing in Briony’s meeting with Cecilia and Robbie to no longer believing. McEwan’s delayed disclosure also adds another layer to the novel’s narration. Before that disclosure, Parts I, II, and III have all the marks of a modernist novel deploying an overarching non‐character narrator exercising the epistemological privileges of variable focalization. In Part I, that narrator focalizes through Briony, Cecilia, Robbie, and even Briony and Cecilia’s mother Emily. Part II is a tour de force of internal focalization as it traces Robbie’s consciousness through his participation in the retreat from Dunkirk. Part III returns us to Briony’s focalization. Once McEwan uses “London, 1999” to definitively reveal that Briony is the author of Parts I, II, and III, he also signals that we should attribute the handling of the narration in those parts to Briony. But McEwan’s revelation also means that the non‐character narration of Briony’s Atonement is simultaneously character narration within his Atonement. Consequently, Briony’s decision to offer internal focalization from the perspectives of characters other than herself functions simultaneously as conventional and authoritative within her novel and as unnatural within McEwan’s—indeed, the tour de force of Part II is one long violation of the mimetic code governing Briony’s character narration, since she could not know what Robbie was thinking during the retreat. Unnatural narratology has amply demonstrated the value of attending to the anti‐ mimetic tradition and of re‐reading allegedly mimetic fictions through its lens. In addition, it has not only added concepts such as “denarration” to narratology’s analytical repertoire but it has also done valuable work on “unnatural” techniques such as second‐ person narration and “we” narration. Nevertheless, the extent to which it is a genuinely new theoretical paradigm remains an open question. As Peter J. Rabinowitz and I note in Narrative Theory (Herman et al. 2012), unnatural narratology takes as its project developing a theory of X (where X is anti‐mimetic narrative) rather than developing a theory rooted in a view of narrative as Y (e.g., a rhetorical action, or a site for the exploration of intersections of identity). Perhaps constructing a theory primarily on the basis of paying attention to previously neglected kinds of narrative is more likely to result in extensions and revisions to existing narrative theory than in a new paradigm for the field. Settling this issue is one important task for the unnatural narratologists.

Fictionality; or the Borders between Fiction and Non‐fiction, and Cross‐border Traffic The most significant complication of this instability has come from studies of fictionality, with Richard Walsh’s Rhetoric of Fictionality (2007) functioning as an especially important statement. Walsh’s key move is to separate fictionality from generic fictions such as the novel, the short story, and the fiction film:

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Not that fictionality should be equated simply with “fiction,” as a category or genre of narrative: it is a communicative strategy, and as such it is apparent on some scale within many nonfictional narratives, in forms ranging from something like an ironic aside, through various forms of conjecture or imaginative supplementation, to full‐blown counterfactual narrative examples. (Walsh 2007: 7)

This separation leads Walsh to regard fictionality as a rhetorical resource (“a communicative strategy”) whose uses are best explained by relevance theory rather than by ontological distinctions between “truth” and “non‐truth” that end up making fictionality derivative of, or in other ways inferior to, non‐fictionality. Shifting to relevance theory allows Walsh to contend that fictionality is a way not of escaping from the actual world but of engaging with it in a distinct way. As he puts it, “[f]ictionality is a rhetorical resource integral to the direct and serious use of language within a real‐world communicative framework” (2007: 15–16). Although Walsh offers a clear view of what he means by fictionality, he does not offer a straightforward definition of it. In “Ten Theses about Fictionality” (Nielsen et al. 2015a), Walsh, Henrik Skov Nielsen, and I define it in relation to non‐fictionality and highlight its use of invention. Where non‐fictionality is a mode in which a speaker’s discourse is constrained by their effort to reflect actual states, fictionality is a mode in which a speaker invents non‐actual states. Nielsen and Simona Gjerlevsen Zetterberg (forthcoming) propose a more succinct definition: fictionality is intentionally signaled invention in communication. “Intentionally” reflects the rhetorical orientation toward a speaker’s purpose; “signaled” distinguishes fictionality from lying, which implicitly or explicitly claims to refer to actual states, thus deceptively hiding from the audience its departure from those states; “invention” indicates the discourse’s concern with non‐actual states; and “in communication” specifies the broad domain in which fictionality occurs. This conception of fictionality has several important consequences. (1) It calls attention to the pervasiveness of fictionality throughout discourse: we pepper our conversations with it—think of all the times we say “I wish that” or “what if that?”—and it is a key tool in multiple disciplines—via thought experiments, simulations, hypotheses, and so on. (2) It allows us to recognize that fictionality is not primarily an escape from the actual world but rather an indirect way of engaging with it. The most common reason we shift from ­non‐fictive to fictive discourse is to get a better purchase on aspects of the actual. (3) It re‐situates generic fictions such as the novel and the fiction film as one kind of fictionality rather than as either fictionality tout court or the epitome of fictionality. (4) It both ­highlights the utility of the fiction/non‐fiction distinction and provides a fresh approach to “cross‐border traffic.” It opens the door to attention to the deployment of fictionality within global ­non‐fiction and of non‐fictionality within global fiction. Looking at Briony’s focalization of Robbie’s consciousness in Part II through this lens, we can transcend the choice of viewing it as mimetic (of Briony’s character and her desires) or unnatural (a case of Briony’s knowing more than she can plausibly know). Instead, we can understand it as (a) Briony’s opting for invention in order to capture key aspects of Robbie’s experience and (b) McEwan’s implicit endorsement of that move because it is an example of what he—and any fiction writer— does, that is, use invention as a way to engage with the actual. In addition, this approach to fictionality sheds light on some of McEwan’s meta‐fictional moves. When McEwan includes Cyril Connolly’s letter rejecting Briony’s “Two Figures by


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a Fountain,” McEwan complicates the relation between Briony’s novel and his novel. Within her novel, the episode is a significant complication, one that further spurs her interest in doing something more direct to atone for her misdeed. Within McEwan’s novel, it is a crucial contribution to the story of Briony’s development as a writer, a story that continues until the very end of “London, 1999” with its reflections on Briony’s novelistic choices. In addition, the meta‐fictional move can be understood as McEwan’s thought experiment: given the aesthetics of late modernism in general and those of Horizon magazine and Cyril Connolly in particular, what would be the most plausible response to a short narrative built on variable focalization in which no judgment of the focalizing characters can be detected? McEwan’s invention conveys his actual view of Connolly’s aesthetic judgment. Most significantly, McEwan is concerned with cross‐border traffic in the central ethical‐aesthetic issue foregrounded by the delayed disclosure of the novel‐within‐a‐novel structure. Is Briony justified in departing from what actually happened to Robbie and Cecilia in her novel, given that its purpose is to atone for her misidentification of Robbie as Lola’s assailant? Briony defends her turn to invention this way: “I like to think that it isn’t weakness or evasion, but a final act of kindness, a stand against oblivion and despair, to let my lovers live and to unite them at the end” (McEwan 2001: 351). Briony sees herself atoning through her fictionalizing by giving Robbie and Cecilia the kind of happiness that her transgression prevented them from having. In Experiencing Fiction I argue that McEwan guides his audience to regard Briony’s choice as ethically and aesthetically flawed by linking her invention to the juvenile ethics and aesthetics underlying the play she wrote at age 13, “The Trials of Arabella.” Revisiting the issue through the lens of fictionality reinforces this view: Briony’s move comes across as “weakness” and “evasion” precisely because, within the world of her narrative, there is no return to the actual. Briony’s fictionalizing is not a way to engage with the actual but an effort to deny it. As a collaborator with Walsh and Nielsen, I obviously find this approach to fictionality very promising, but many narrative theorists are more skeptical. Paul Dawson, for example, has countered “Ten Theses about Fictionality” with “Ten Theses against Fictionality.” Some find that, in a world that recognizes such matters as the complexity of the psyche and the importance of perspective, the distinction between fictionality and non‐fictionality is far more difficult to sustain than champions of the turn acknowledge. What I regard as an act of invention, you regard as a subjective perception of the actual. Others worry about an impulse to claim too much territory: should all figures of speech be considered instances of fictionality? If so, then how much does this view of fictionality leave to non‐fictionality? Still others contend that the claims for the explanatory power of fictionality are overblown, and that some of those claims are just old wine in new bottles. These challenges provide an agenda for further work on fictionality.

Theory of Mind or Mind‐Reading Lisa Zunshine’s Why We Read Fiction has not only made a major contribution to cognitive narratology but its influence has also extended beyond that subfield of narrative theory.4 Zunshine’s argument is two‐fold. First, she explicates her key cognitive concepts—Theory

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of Mind (ToM) and meta‐representation or source‐tracking—and demonstrates their relevance to everyday life and to the reading of fiction. Second, she builds on these demonstrations to address the “why” in her title. ToM, Zunshine explains, refers to humans’ “ability to explain people’s behavior in terms of their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and desires” (Zunshine 2006: 6). In reading fiction, we watch characters engaged in reading each ­other’s minds and simultaneously read those minds ourselves, making further inferences about the implied author’s mental activities. Zunshine notes that in both everyday activities and in fiction mind‐reading often goes awry, but that outcome only makes the phenomenon more fascinating: accurate reading makes life much less difficult, yet it is easy—and, thus common—to read inaccurately. Zunshine also shows how fiction often challenges our mind‐reading abilities by pushing them to their limits. Zunshine notes, for example, that our minds can typically process up to four levels of embedded intentionality but have trouble with more than four. We can manage this sentence: “I know that Zunshine knows that Steven Pinker thinks that ­modernist novelists think erroneously about their representations of consciousness.” But we have trouble with this one: “I know that Zunshine knows that Steven Pinker thinks that modernist novelists erroneously assume that readers think that they can keep track of more than four levels of embedded intentionality.” “Meta‐representation” is the cognitive ability to keep track of the source of information and to judge its quality in relation to one’s knowledge of the source. As you read the previous paragraph, for example, you were not just taking away the information that “Zunshine shows human minds can readily handle four levels of embedded intentionality” but also adding the tag “Phelan says” to that information. In addressing the “why” of her title, Zunshine contends that because mind‐reading is so important and yet can so easily go awry, we find value in activities that sharpen our skills. We read fiction precisely because it has the potential to fully engage and challenge our mind‐reading capacity. “Theory of Mind is a cluster of cognitive adaptations that allows us to navigate our social world and also structures that world. Intensely social species that we are, we thus read fiction because it engages, in a variety of particularly focused ways, our Theory of Mind” (Zunshine 2006: 162). In subsequent work, Zunshine has thickened her description of the cognitive operations involved in reading literary fiction, but the core of her argument remains the same: literary fiction provides the human mind with valuable exercise in handling socio‐cognitive complexity, exercise that makes us better equipped to handle the challenges of everyday life.5 Atonement can be productively understood as a novel that exercises our mind‐reading skills in the service of a narrative exploring the powers and especially the limitations of mind‐reading. As a novel about the problem of other minds, Atonement explores that problem in multiple ways. First, Cecilia and Robbie misread each other’s mental states— and indeed their own—until Robbie makes the Freudian slip of giving her his profane note: “In my dreams I kiss your cunt, your sweet wet cunt. In my thoughts I make love to you all day long” (McEwan 2001: 80). And then suddenly they are able to connect both mentally and physically: they become what Alan Palmer has labeled a social mind.6 Second, Briony’s misidentification of Robbie as Lola’s assailant stems from her attribution to him of a permanent mental state based on her having read his profane expression of desire for Cecilia. Because Briony concludes that Robbie is a “maniac” (2001: 112), she


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confidently fills in the gap in her perceptions when she finds Lola in the dark. She perceives only “a figure, a person … backing away from her and beginning to fade into the darker background of the trees” (2001: 154). But her inference about Robbie’s mind leads her to misidentify him. Third, the delayed disclosure adds another layer to the mind‐ reading because it requires McEwan’s audience to reconfigure the source‐tracking. What we thought was only McEwan’s novel is actually Briony’s novel contained within McEwan’s novel. Thus, what we thought came directly from McEwan (or his narrator) we have to reinterpret as from Briony. Thus, every act of mind‐reading in Parts I, II, and III has another layer. What I have identified as the central ethical/aesthetic question is also an issue of mind‐ reading, this one focused on McEwan’s mind: Does McEwan think that when Briony decides to alter the historical fates of Robbie and Cecilia in her novel she weakens her novel and paradoxically strengthens his? Or does McEwan think that Briony’s decision strengthens both her novel and his? Finally, does McEwan think how we answer these questions is less important than our engaging the acts of mind‐reading that such questions (including this one) entail? Whatever McEwan’s answer to this last question, Zunshine would, I believe, answer it in the affirmative. Not surprisingly, not all theorists are satisfied with Zunshine’s argument for why we read fiction, since it puts more emphasis on the exercise of ToM than on, say, the ethics and thematics of fiction. But, thanks to Zunshine, ToM is now an entrenched concept in ­contemporary narrative theory.

Feminist and Queer Narrative Theories, Intersectionality, and Critique Arguably the most valuable contribution to feminist narratology in the last decade is among the most recent: Narrative Theory Unbound: Queer and Feminist Interventions (2015), co‐edited by the pioneering feminist narratologists of the 1980s, Robyn Warhol and Susan S. Lanser. The collection is valuable for multiple reasons.7 It brings together twenty‐two essays by scholars at different stages of their careers with different relationships to feminist and queer theory working on a wide range of issues: empathy, religion, lifewriting, temporality, emplotment, and more. In this way, the collection serves as a reminder that the plural term—“feminist and queer narrative theories”—is more accurate than the singular. At the same time, the collection presents a vision, implicit throughout, and explicit in Warhol and Lanser’s “Introduction” and in Lanser’s individual contribution, “Toward (a Queerer and) More (Feminist) Narratology,” of a multifaceted and multidirectional relationship among feminist theory, queer theory, narrative theory, narrative as a form, and individual narratives. Furthermore, the collection identifies the concept central to that vision: intersectionality. Citing its origin in the work of legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, Lanser explains the concept this way: “intersectionality argues that multiple aspects of identity—gender, race, ethnicity, class, nationality, global position, age, sexuality, ability, religion, language, historical moment—converge and interact to create actual or perceived social positions, meanings, experiences, and representations in a world patterned by ­structural inequalities” (Warhol and Lanser 2015: 27).

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The collection also shows that attending to intersectionality will have different effects from one inquiry to another, depending on which aspects of identity are put in conversation with which elements of narrative. In addition to Lanser’s illuminating discussion in her essay, the volume includes three other essays that foreground intersectionality: Susan Stanford Friedman’s “Religion, Intersectionality, and Queer/Feminist Narrative Theory: The Bildungsromane of Ahdaf Soueif, Leila Abouelela, and Randa Jarrar”; Suzanne Keen’s “Intersectional Narratology in the Study of Narrative Empathy”; and Sue J. Kim’s “Empathy and 1970s Novels by Third World Women.” Keen’s essay is especially ­noteworthy because it shows how her attention to intersectionality links her excellent work on narrative empathy, work that she has previously described as a contribution to rhetorical narratology, with the project of feminist narrative theory. The work is rhetorical because it focuses on the construction, the communication, and the effects of empathy. When, however, Keen foregrounds intersectionality, she emphasizes that the effects are contingent on the intersectional identities of actual readers. In her essay, Lanser argues that feminist theories highlight the ways in which a rigorously intersectional approach to form soon becomes indistinguishable from an approach to content. Assessing the politics of McEwan’s representation of himself as author and Briony as author illustrates Lanser’s point. At the time he finished Atonement Ian McEwan was a 53‐year‐old, white, middle‐class (perhaps upper middle‐class), British, able‐bodied, secular, heterosexual male, living in London just before the historical events we now refer to as 9/11. At the time she finished her “Atonement,” Briony Tallis was a 77‐year‐old, white, middle‐class (perhaps upper middle‐class) British, secular female in the early stages of vascular dementia, living in London two years before 9/11. In the course of the novel, McEwan also represents her as a young, naive, upper‐class girl with grandiose ideas about her abilities and her importance, and later as a less naive, less privileged young woman attempting to come to terms with the terrible mistake her naiveté and grandiosity led her to make. Furthermore, as I have argued, one of the salient features of the relationship between the authors is that McEwan finds fault with Briony the writer’s decisions to write a counterfactual account of the final fates of Robbie, Cecilia, and her younger self. Attending to intersectionality in “a world patterned by structural inequalities,” we may be tempted to begin and end by criticizing the way that this relationship reinforces that patterning: the more culturally powerful McEwan sets up for critique the less culturally powerful Briony. Indeed, it is not a fair contest: a middle‐aged white male at the height of his artistic powers has far more authority than an aging woman losing her cognitive powers. And of course he gets to construct the whole relationship. But to end there is to end too soon. Lanser cautions that, in turning to intersectionality, scholars should not “impose crude categories onto complex characters, or to forge simplistic explanations for narrative events” (Warhol and Lanser 2015: 29)—and I would add “should not be satisfied with simplistic accounts of the relations between authors and their characters.” So let us look a little more closely. The first place I look—McEwan’s delayed disclosure of the novel‐within‐a‐novel structure—leads me to modify this initial assessment. In order to bring about the multiple effects of that delayed disclosure, McEwan needs to make readers of Parts I, II, and III feel that they is reading an Ian McEwan novel—not the composition of a lesser novelist. Not


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only is every sentence of the novel both Briony’s and McEwan’s, but McEwan also seeks to make the aesthetic quality of Briony’s sentences in Parts I, II, and III measure up to the aesthetic standards he sets for himself. In this way, the quality of McEwan’s novel depends to a large degree on the quality of Briony’s novel; therefore, in the novel’s very texture, he seeks to make Briony’s performance, if not ultimately equal to his, something that both he and his audience can admire. The second place I look—the broader challenge McEwan faces in constructing Briony’s character—adds another layer to the assessment. As the two lists of identity markers indicate, McEwan and Briony share more aspects of identity than they don’t. For all the shared aspects (race, nationality, sexuality, ability), McEwan can draw on his own experiences. For the sites of difference—gender, age, historical location, and, during Briony’s childhood, class—McEwan can draw on his education, his research, and his imagination. Gender would seem to require the greatest exercise of imagination. Indeed, representing Briony—from the inside—as a 13‐year‐old, an 18‐year‐old, and a 77‐year‐ old and making plausible her evolution over those sixty‐four years requires a remarkable act of what Suzanne Keen would call “authorial empathy” (Keen 2007: 134). Furthermore, this empathetic act extends to his ability to inhabit Briony’s weaknesses as ethical actor and as novelist. Because I find the novel to be so powerful—and because so many others have a similar experience—my ­concern over the way the novel reinforces the pattern of structural inequalities exists alongside my admiration for McEwan’s extraordinary empathy for Briony. Attending to intersectionality also leads me to note that its primary concern is with identity markers of culturally mainstream subjects. Readers of Atonement interested in ­representations of racial and ethnic minorities, disabled characters, LGBTQ identities, and other culturally disempowered subjects will not find their interests rewarded. I hasten to add that this description of McEwan’s subject matter is in no way an indictment of either him or the novel. Instead it is the basis for another observation: as rich as Atonement is, our literary landscape will be far richer if it is built on a principle of diversity, one that finds a place for Atonement amidst a variety of other narratives that explore different kinds of intersectional identities. Finally, I take another step away from the details of Atonement and acknowledge that my understanding and assessment of its intersectionality is inevitably influenced by the interaction of my own multiple aspects of identity—just as your response to my commentary will inevitably be influenced by yours. This acknowledgment does not mean that such assessments are only matters of opinion about which there is nothing further to be said. It means instead that such assessments are themselves openings for further explorations of the various causes, personal and political, of our agreements and disagreements.

Rhetorical Theory and the Narrative Communication Model In my recent work (Phelan 2017), I argue that it is high time narrative theorists revised the standard communication model, and I link that argument to the limitations of the story‐discourse distinction as a grounding principle of narrative theory.8

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The standard model was first proposed by Seymour Chatman in his aptly titled Story and Discourse (1978). Chatman’s diagram of his model treats narrative communication as a one‐track linear transmission from one agent of the discourse to another (the brackets ­separate the agents Chatman locates inside the narrative text from those outside): Actual Author→[Implied Author→Narrator→Narratee→Implied Reader]→Actual Reader

Conspicuous by their absence from the model are characters. They are not present because they are part of story and this model is designed to track discourse. They are implicitly there because the model assumes that their dialogue is part of what narrators report to narratees. But subordinating characters to narrators often misrepresents their functions, as we can see when we try to analyze the communication in the opening passage of the Benjy section of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. Indeed, the effort will expose other limitations of the standard model. Luster came away from the flower tree and we went along the fence and they stopped and we stopped and I looked through the fence while Luster was hunting in the grass. “Here, caddie.” He hit. They went away across the pasture. I held to the fence and watched them going away. “Listen at you now.” Luster said. “Aint you something, thirty three years old, going on that way. After I done went all the way to town to buy you that cake. Hush up that moaning.” (Faulkner 1929: 3)

Among other things, Faulkner communicates here that the trigger for Benjy’s moaning is the word “caddie” (even if first‐time readers may not recognize the trigger). Chatman’s one‐track model would explain that communication by noting that the golfer’s and Luster’s lines of dialogue are embedded within Benjy’s narration and that this embedding allows Benjy to unknowingly transmit the information about the cause of his moaning. This account, however, radically understates the role of the dialogue, and it obscures our view of Faulkner’s remarkable construction of an interactive effect between Benjy’s narration and the dialogue. Here’s a better account: Faulkner employs three tracks of communication, and he sets up a synergy among those tracks to disclose the trigger for Benjy’s moaning. In addition to the author‐narrator‐audience track identified by Chatman, Faulkner uses two author‐ character‐character‐audience tracks that are functionally independent of that first track, since Benjy does not alter or comment on the dialogue. Faulkner deploys the author‐ golfer‐caddie‐audience track to introduce the key word, and he deploys the Luster‐Benjy‐ audience track to communicate that Benjy moans. The synergy among these two communications and Benjy’s naive reporting prompts the audience’s inference about the trigger. In sum, Faulkner’s communication depends on characters, multiple tracks, and synergy—all of which are absent from Chatman’s model. Furthermore, doing better justice to this one passage opens our eyes to still other tracks of communication between authors and audiences and to the possibility of synergies among all these tracks. Two of the most prominent additional tracks are author‐structural sequence‐audience (in any narrative with distinct segments such as The Sound and the Fury and Atonement) and author‐occasion of telling‐audience (as in any dramatic monologue).


James Phelan

The larger points are these: we cannot simply revise Chatman’s model by finding a place for characters and their dialogue within it but should discard its linear, one‐way approach altogether. Instead, we should focus on the two constants in the communication (the author, or, if you prefer, as I do, the implied author, and the actual audience) and the multiple potential resources—narration, dialogue, occasion, narratees, paratexts, structure, and so on—that mediate the rhetorical exchange. With Atonement, the consequences of this view become clear in two main ways. It highlights the importance of the implied author‐structural sequence‐audience track, especially McEwan’s silent juxtaposition of Briony’s novel with “London, 1999.” And it does greater justice to the role of dialogue (the implied author‐character‐character‐audience track) and to synergies between dialogue and narration (the author‐narrator‐audience track) than Chatman’s one‐track model is able to do. So powerful is the communication via structural sequence that it is easy to overlook the absence of any explicit statement about the novel‐within‐a‐novel structure—or, indeed, any explicit statement that Parts I, II, and III are written by Briony. Instead, the communication arises out of a synergy among signals at the end of Part III (especially the initials “BT”), signals across Parts I and Part III, the ontological break between the first three parts and “London, 1999,” and specific comments that Briony makes in her diary entry. McEwan uses the interplay between Parts I and III both to confirm the communication about the novel‐within‐a‐novel structure and to add another dimension to it, one that also gives more persuasive force to Briony’s comments about her fifty‐nine year effort to write the book. In particular McEwan uses Cyril Connolly’s letter to Briony about “Two Figures by a Fountain” subtly to indicate that Briony’s first draft in 1940 has been revised into the book we are reading. To take just one of many examples, Connolly writes, “There are some good images—I liked ‘the long grass stalked by the leonine yellow of high summer,’” (McEwan 2001: 294) and that image has appeared in Part I (2001: 36). But why should McEwan delay his disclosure and why should it be implicit and subtle, rather than be upfront and explicit? Because in a novel about the problem of other minds, guiding one’s audience through so many reconfigurations, including ones about the relationships among the consciousness of the protagonist‐author and the actual author is a way to have the audience actively grapple with the ethical issues of transgression, atonement, and the role of narrative in both. Like the other approaches, rhetorical theory remains a work‐in‐progress, because there is so much more to explore about the interactions of authors and readers through the deployment of the diverse resources of narrative. Indeed, narrative itself remains such a rich, diverse, and evolving phenomenon that it will continue to challenge narrative ­theorists for the foreseeable future.

Notes 1 Another version of this chapter has appeared in Frontiers of Narrative Study 4 (1) (2017): 1–23. 2 One route to a more comprehensive view, albeit one coming from multiple voices is through

the very valuable Living Handbook of Narratology at http://www.lhn.uni‐hamburg.de/. 3 Nielsen’s essay in A Poetics of Unnatural Narrative (Alber et al. 2013) goes further, as he

Contemporary Narrative Theory

develops the intriguing argument that sometimes the same narrative can be productively understood as either mimetic or unnatural. 4 Other major contributions to work in the cognitive tradition include Herman, Hogan, and Palmer. For a major collection see The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Literary Studies, edited by Zunshine (2015). 5 Zunshine has also made an important revisionary move by acknowledging, after encountering the work of Ralph Savarese, a bias toward “neurotypicality” in Why We Read Fiction, and the way it relied on assumptions about those with autism being afflicted with “mind‐blindness.” See Savarese and Zunshine (2014). 6 Palmer (2011) offers a rich analysis of Atonement in his contribution to The Emergence of Mind, though it does not focus on McEwan’s use of social minds (not a major feature of the novel) but on the consequences for our understanding


of consciousness representation of the novel‐ within‐a‐novel structure. Palmer (2010) does offer an intriguing social minds analysis of McEwan’s Enduring Love in Social Minds in the Novel, which first appeared in Style (“Attributions”) accompanied by my response (“Cognitive Narratology”). 7 Not all of the contributors to Narrative Theory Unbound would identify their major research area as narrative theory, which I take as a sign of the pervasiveness of feminist theory in narrative studies over the last decade. For two important first books by feminist narratologists (who also forge links with rhetorical theory), see Nash (2014) and Marsh (2016). 8 For some recent first books that pursue other lines of rhetorical theory, see Byram (2015), Johnson (2012), Marsh (2016), and Shen (2013). (Shen’s book is her first in English; she has published widely in Chinese.)

References Alber, Jan. 2016. Unnatural Narrative: Impossible Worlds in Fiction and Drama. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Alber, Jan, Henrik Skov Nielsen and Brian Richardson (eds.). 2013. Poetics of Unnatural Narrative. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Alber, Jan et  al. 2010. “Unnatural Narratives, Unnatural Narratology: Beyond Mimetic Models.” Narrative 18 (2): 113–36. Byram, Katra. 2015. Ethics and the Dynamic Observer Narrator: Reckoning with Past and Present in German Literature. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Chatman, Seymour. 1978. Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Dawson, Paul. 2015. “Ten Theses against Fictionality.” Narrative 23 (1): 74–100.

Faulkner, William. 1990 [1929]. The Sound and the Fury. New York: Vintage International. Fludernik, Monika. 1996. Towards a ‘Natural’ Narratology. New York: Routledge. Gjerlevsen, Simona Zetterberg and Henrik Skov Nielsen. “Distinguishing Fictionality.” In Fictionality and Factuality: Blurred Borders in Narrations of Identity, ed. Marianne Wolff Lundholt, Cindie Aaen Maagaard, and Daniel Schäbler. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter (forthcoming). Herman, David (ed.). 2011. The Emergence of Mind: Representations of Consciousness in Narrative Discourse in English. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Herman, David. 2013. Storytelling and the Sciences of Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Herman, David, James Phelan, Peter Rabinowitz, Brian Richardson, and Robyn Warhol. 2012.


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Narrative Theory: Core Concepts and Critical Debates. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Hogan, Patrick. 2003. Cognitive Science, Literature, and the Arts: A Guide for Humanists. New York: Routledge. Hühn, Peter et al. (eds.). 2016. The Living Handbook of Narratology. Hamburg: Hamburg University. http://www.lhn.uni‐hamburg.de/. Johnson, Gary. 2012. The Vitality of Allegory: Figural Narrative in Modern and Contemporary Fiction. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Keen, Suzanne. 2007. Empathy and the Novel. New York: Oxford University Press. Marsh, Kelly. 2016. The Submerged Plot and the Mother’s Pleasure from Jane Austen to Arundhati Roy. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. McEwan, Ian. 2001. Atonement. New York: Doubleday. Nash, Katherine Saunders. 2014. Feminist Narrative Ethics: Tacit Persuasion in Narrative Form. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Nielsen, Henrik et  al. 2015a. “Ten Theses about Fictionality.” Narrative 23 (1): 61–73. Nielsen, Henrik Skov et al. 2015b. “Fictionality as Rhetoric: A Response to Paul Dawson.” Narrative 23: 101–11. Nielsen, Henrik and Simona Zetterberg Gjerlevsen. “Distinguishing Fictionality.” In Cindie Maagard et al. (eds.), Fictionality and Factuality: Blurred Borders in Narrations of Identity. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter (forthcoming). Palmer, Alan. 2009. “Attributions of Madness in Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love.” Style 43 (3): 291–308. Palmer, Alan. 2010. Social Minds in the Novel. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Palmer, Alan. 2011. “1945—: Ontologies of Consciousness.” In The Emergence of Mind, ed, David Herman, 273–98. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Phelan, James. 2006. “Narrative Theory, 1996– 2006: A Narrative.” In The Nature of Narrative, 2nd edn., ed. Robert Scholes, James Phelan, and Robert Kellogg, 283–336. New York: Oxford University Press.

Phelan, James. 2007. Experiencing Fiction. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Phelan, James. 2009. “Cognitive Narratology, Rhetorical Narratology, and Interpretive Disagreement: A Response to Alan Palmer’s Analysis of Enduring Love.” Style 43 (3): 309–21. Phelan, James. 2012. “Conversational and Authorial Disclosure in the Dialogue Novel: The Case of The Friends of Eddie Coyle.” In Narrative, Interrupted: The Plotless, the Disturbing and the Trivial in Literature, ed. Markku Lehtimäki, Laura Karttunen, and Maria Mäkelä, 3–23. Boston: Walter de Gruyter. Phelan, James. 2017. Somebody Telling Somebody Else: A Rhetorical Poetics of Narrative. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Richardson, Brian. 2001. “Denarration in Fiction: Erasing the Story in Beckett and Others.” Narrative 9 (2): 168–75. Richardson, Brian. 2006. Unnatural Voices. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Richardson, Brian. 2015. Unnatural Narrative: Theory, History, and Practice. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Savarese, Ralph James and Lisa Zunshine. 2014. “The Critic as Neurocosmopolite; Or, What Cognitive Approaches to Literature Can Learn from Disability Studies: Lisa Zunshine in Conversation with Ralph James Savarese.” Narrative 22 (1): 17–44. Shen, Dan. 2013. Style and Rhetoric of Short Narrative Fiction: Covert Progressions behind Overt Plots. New York: Routledge. Walsh, Richard. 2007. The Rhetoric of Fictionality. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Warhol, Robyn and Susan S. Lanser (eds.). 2015. Narrative Theory Unbound: Queer and Feminist Interventions. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Zunshine, Lisa. 2006. Why We Read Fiction. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Zunshine, Lisa (ed.). 2015. The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Literary Studies. New York: Oxford University Press.

Part II

The Task of Reading


The Intention Debates Peter J. Rabinowitz

For a writing to be a writing it must continue to “act” and to be readable even when what is called the author of the writing no longer answers for what he has written, for what he seems to have signed, be it because of a temporary absence, because he is dead or, more generally, because he has not employed his absolutely actual and present intention or attention, the plenitude of his desire to say what he means, in order to sustain what seems to be written “in his name.” (Jacques Derrida) There is no such thing as intentionless language. (Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels)

How Long Has This Been Going On?: History In 2006, Decca released a recording of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (00743102) “as the composer intended it to be heard”—even though it was substantially cut. I open this chapter on “The Intention Debates” with that off‐beat example for two reasons: first, to remind us that the issue of authorial intention (or at least creator’s intention) covers a wide range of artistic productions other than literature; second, to raise some questions about precisely what intention means. But to begin, what exactly are the intention debates? The place of authorial intention has been under discussion at least since … well, at least since Socrates’ claim that poets don’t know what they are talking about. But nowadays, when people talk about the intention debates, they are usually referring to a series of skirmishes that began when W. K. Wimsatt, Jr. and Monroe Beardsley threw down the gauntlet by trashing authorial intention in their much cited “The Intentional Fallacy” (1946)—which, along with some follow‐ups, served as a fundamental pillar of New Criticism. And the argument took on steam when E. D. Hirsch replied in defense of authors in “Objective Interpretation” (1960) and, more expansively and more influentially, in Validity in Interpretation (1967). A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


Peter J. Rabinowitz

Of course, that was more than half a century ago, and we’re often told that the issue has long since been resolved. Many theorists point out that since Roland Barthes’s announcement of the “Death of the Author” took hold in the 1970s, speaking about the author’s intention—in fact, the author period—has been out of bounds in any serious literary discussion. As Márta Horváth puts it, “In today’s literary theory there is a consensus regarding the concept of authorial intention, namely, that it is obsolete and useless for the interpretation of literary texts and has relevance only in such discourses as legal discourse or literary history” (Horváth 2015:39). And there’s even a question about intention’s role in legal discourse (see, for instance, Fish 1978, Stecker 2003). That would seem to make the debate about intention of purely historical interest— except that, at the same time, many theorists point out that at least since the rise of the second generation Chicago school and its third‐generation offspring, rhetorical narrative theory (see Chapter  2, “Chicago Formalism”), the author must be invited to join any serious literary discussion. Wayne C. Booth defined successful reading as occurring when The author creates … an image of himself and another image of his reader; he makes his reader, as he makes his second self, and the most successful reading is one in which the created selves, author and reader, can find complete agreement. (Booth 1961: 138)

Or, as James Phelan puts it more recently: The default ethics of the telling in literary narrative since modernism … is based on ­reciprocity and trust: … the audience assumes that attending carefully to the author will result in a worthwhile reading experience. (Phelan 2017)

There’s also a strong preference for intentional reading among cognitive scientists of many different schools: “Within cognitive science … it is generally agreed that it makes good sense to characterize linguistic communication in terms of drawing specific inferences about speaker or author intentional meaning [sic]” (Pfaff and Gibbs 1997: 47). In other words, you may find consensus—but there’s more than one consensus. We’re still debating the author—although many people on all sides think the debate is long since over.

Someone to Watch over Me: Grounding Interpretations So what’s at stake here—and why is the issue still contested? Let’s begin with what many consider a founding text in the current versions of the debate, “The Intentional Fallacy.” This influential article is grounded in the principle of what’s often called “semantic autonomy” and a consequent reliance on “the text itself.” As Wimsatt and Beardsley put it: “The poem is … detached from the author at birth and goes about the world beyond his power to intend about it or control it” (Wimsatt and Beardsley 1954: 5)—or as Beardsley elaborated in 1968, “texts acquire determinate meaning through the interactions of their words without the intervention of an authorial will” (Beardsley 1968: 172). Behind the bravado, skeptical readers may sense a tremor of anxiety, which comes up often in New Critical writing of the 1940s, that literary theory isn’t sufficiently “scientific.”

The Intention Debates


“What is said about the poem is subject to the same scrutiny as any statement in linguistics or in the general science of psychology” (Wimsatt and Beardsley1954: 5). Still, ­whatever the motivation, the underlying principle is hard to miss—texts have determinate meanings grounded in the words on the page. There was, of course, pushback against Wimsatt and Beardsley’s position—indirectly, although not minimally, from Booth’s The Rhetoric of Fiction—but the dominance of New Criticism in the 1940s and 1950s often made it seem, at least for American critics and students, that submitting to the lure of authorial intention was a major theoretical sin.1 Eventually, some of the most spirited and direct opposition to the position espoused in “The Intentional Fallacy” came from E. D. Hirsch’s Validity in Interpretation. Hirsch starts from almost the opposite position. Meaning cannot come from words, independent of their origin, he says; on the contrary, Meaning is an affair of consciousness not of words … A word sequence means nothing in particular until somebody either means something by it or understands something from it. There is no magic land of meanings outside human consciousness. (Hirsch 1967: 4)

He goes on to espouse what’s known as the “identity thesis,” defining “verbal meaning as whatever someone has willed to convey by a particular sequence of linguistic signs and which can be conveyed (shared) by means of those linguistic signs” (1967: 31). Although absolute certainty is never possible, interpretations can be more or less valid—as long as there are grounds for adjudicating among them. And, for Hirsch, authorial intention is the fundamental determinant. Curiously, Wimsatt/Beardsley and Hirsch are motivated by the same interpretive desire: both arguments are aimed at containing meaning by cutting off the possibility of infinite play. Both, in other words, want to avoid relativism by showing that texts have determinate meaning. They just seek their grounding in different places. As we shall see, their anxiety about subjectivity is not ill‐founded.

You Like Potato, I Like Potahto: Two Sides of the Issue Easy journalistic practice, which encourages writers to represent “both sides” (say, those who believe in science and those who do not), leads to easy binaries; in much the same way, these two perspectives on intention are often conveniently set out as “the” two primary positions. But position on what, exactly? Actually, while there is general agreement that they posit two opposing answers, it’s not clear just what question or questions they might be the answers to. It’s easy to say that there have been intention debates; it’s more difficult to determine just what has been debated. There are a variety of reasons for this difficulty. First there’s what we might call the multiplication of choice phenomenon. When the World’s Encyclopedia of Recorded Music was published, at about the same time as the first version of “The Intentional Fallacy,” someone who wanted to buy a recording of the Gershwin Piano Concerto could choose from among three readily available recordings; any music critic (or devotee) could easily be familiar with them all. Today, the options are nearly twenty times as great, even if you limit yourself to recordings on physical media, and it’s


Peter J. Rabinowitz

the rare critic who’s familiar with them all. The same kind of explosion has occurred in academic publishing. In the 1940s and 1950s, the majority of literary scholars read a fairly circumscribed set of journals and thus had a moderately homogeneous field of discourse. Since then, the number of entries in the PMLA International Bibliography has exploded— by about the same proportion as the number of recordings. What does this have to do with the intention debates? When Hirsch faced off against the anti‐intentionalists, a fairly large percentage of the profession shared a critical background, even if they didn’t agree on principles. It was possible, in other words, to have a clear and focused debate. Nowadays, there are an incalculable number of sub‐specialties that barely speak to one another, sub‐specialties that have very different critical repertoires, very different initial assumptions, very different premises, very different aims. If you look at the discussion of intention among scholars of Shakespeare,2 it will not seem like the same discussion you’d find among post‐classical narratologists or among cognitive narrative theorists or among deconstructionists or among the philosophers who contribute to The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. It’s no surprise that practitioners with different interests begin with different default settings—no surprise, for instance, that certain ­distinctions that come up among philosophers (for instance, the difference between extreme actual intentionalism, modest actual intentionalism, and hypothetical intentionalism; for clarification, see Carroll 2000) don’t have much sway among cognitive critics working with Theory of Mind. To complicate matters further, intention has sometimes served as a supporting actor in debates with other stakes. In 1982, for instance, Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels shook the world—or at least, one corner of the world—with “Against Theory.” It was a vigorously anti‐anti‐intentionalist argument based, in part, on the principle that without authorial intention, there is no language, period. But that essay was aimed less at clarifying the nature of interpretation than at dealing with larger questions of ontology, epistemology, belief, and knowledge. Then, too, in the heat of debate, the literary critics’ and theorists’ increasingly widening range of interests is sometimes pushed into the background. As far back as Validity, Hirsch reminded us that Any normative concept in interpretation implies a choice that is required not by the nature of written texts but rather by the goal that the interpreter sets himself. It is a weakness in many descriptions of the interpretive process that this act of choice is disregarded and the process described as though the object of interpretation were somehow determined by the ontological status of texts themselves. (Hirsch 1967: 24)

Robert Stecker repeatedly takes a similar stand: “People interpret artworks with different aims” and “interpretations need to be evaluated relative to aims” (Stecker 2003: 52). Many other critics pay lip‐service to this position, too, although often in loaded terms. Cleanth Brooks, for instance, recognizes the intentions of authors, and notes that “there is no reason … why [the critic] should not turn away into biography and psychology.” Such turning away, however, “should not be confused with an account of the work” (Brooks 1951: 74, emphasis added). In other words, stray from the true path if you wish (or dare). But such backhanded recognition of the variety of inquiry is often ignored, as theorists launch

The Intention Debates


d­ iscussions of intention without specifying the precise area of inquiry their comments apply to—even though, increasingly, different critics inhabit different worlds armed with different aims and different assumptions. Under the circumstances, theorists often seem to be talking at cross‐purposes. With so many mini‐conversations going on at once, it’s impossible to trace “the” history of the intention debates. I, therefore, want to pose a very general question: What is the bearing of intention on readers’ dealings with texts? (That very question, of course, betrays my commitment to rhetoric by privileging readers; a different analysis would stem from a different starting point.) And I want to do so by taking each of the italicized terms—what is the bearing of intention on readers’ dealings with texts—in turn, to illuminate six different axes along which theorists range, suggesting that underneath the overall question lie at least six different (although interlocking) questions that foster critical dispute. I’m going to take most of them up in the order in which they emerge in the question, but for obvious reasons I start with intention itself.

I Mean to Say: Intention To start out, what exactly do we mean by intention? This question is so vexed that many critics, like Knapp and Michaels, simply sidestep the difficulties of defining it. But for those on all sides who try to think about what lies behind the term, there are pressing questions. David Schalkwyk categorically insists that “virtually no one any longer holds that intention is a series of mental events that cause, precede, or accompany writing or speaking” (Schalkwyk 2010: 314); but in fact many theorists—especially cognitive narratologists working with Theory of Mind—hold precisely that position. Even among intentionalists willing to consider intentions as at least partly mental events, however, there’s considerable debate: what mental events are relevant to our reading? Do motives (say, the desire for financial gain) count among relevant intentions? Is intention the same as “aim” or “purpose”—or is it closer to “cause”—or closer to “plan”? Cary M. Mazer, for instance, distinguishes between intentions with regard to “content,” which are “indecipherable, unknowable, or irrelevant” and intentions with regard to “theatrical materials” or craft, which a performance‐centered scholar might reasonably acknowledge (Mazer 2007: 102). There’s a similar distinction between “categorial intentions, which are intentions about what category an artwork belongs to, and semantic intentions, which are intentions about work‐meaning” (Trivedi 2015: 702–3). Thinking along a different axis, should intentionalists consider only conscious intentions—or are unconscious intentions significant as well? And if we are talking about unconscious intentions, are we limited to the kinds of unconscious mental events celebrated by Freudians—or are there other relevant unconscious intentions as well, for instance what we might call “unconsidered” intentions. To riff on an example by Hirsch (and taken up by others in his wake) that originally centered on the Beethoven Third Symphony (Hirsch 1967: 48): Suppose I say, “The Gershwin is my favorite piano concerto.” I may well intend to mean, among other things, that I prefer it to the Bortkiewicz First—but, when I utter the sentence, the Bortkiewicz may well not be in my consciousness at all. Even for strong intentionalists, the intended meaning may well be a field with very fuzzy boundaries.


Peter J. Rabinowitz

We might also want to distinguish private intentions from public intentions— most importantly, the kinds of intentions that can be gleaned from the text at hand, or from the text at hand filtered through our knowledge of the circumstances of its composition. Booth’s famous (but widely contested) notion of the “implied author” is a fairly text‐centered way of talking about intention without falling into examination of an author’s mental events. The notion of “authorial audience” (Rabinowitz 1977: 1897)—the specific, historically and culturally located readers for whom an author designed his or her text—is an attempt to bring public conventions into play as we talk about intention. Many philosophers mirror this distinction by differentiating actual from hypothetical intentions (e.g., Carroll 2000). Then, too, we have things that a creator puts up with, like the cuts in that authentic Porgy and Bess, “as the composer intended it to be heard,” with which I began: cuts that include, surprisingly, “The Buzzard Song,” probably Porgy’s most gripping moment. Musicologist Charles Hamm, closely involved in the project, claimed that “Gershwin was fully involved in all decisions to make cuts in the music of Porgy and Bess up to the time of the New York opening” (Hamm 1987: 507)—but fully involved is not necessarily the same as “glad about.” Then, too, there’s the conflict of intention—authors often change their minds, not only about the meanings of their texts, but also about their structures. What intentions get priority?

The Half of It Dearie Blues: Is/Ought When we ask, “What is the bearing of intention?,” two questions flicker behind the word “is.” We might be asking an empirical question about how actual readers in fact read. Or we might be asking a question about how readers ought to read. And if the question is an “ought,” is that ought an ethical imperative (based, for instance, on our obligation to the effort the author has put into crafting the work) or an aesthetic imperative (based on a sense of what produces the best or most interesting or richest reading) or a “philosophical” imperative (based on the old‐fashioned but not necessarily outmoded belief that at least some authors are wiser than we are, and that there is some value to attending to their ­epistemological and ethical insights about the world)? “The Intentional Fallacy” seems premised on the possibility that some people do (or might try to) read with intention in mind—it’s hence an “ought” argument, or more accurately an “ought‐not” argument, framed in severely prescriptive language. “The proper task of the literary interpreter is to interpret textual meaning,” Beardsley insists—textual meaning being the semantic meaning shorn of intent (1967: 178; emphasis added). Michael Smith and I, in Authorizing Readers, turn prescriptive, too, but in the opposite direction, claiming that readers have an obligation to join the authorial audience—that is, to try to read as if we were the readers that the author was writing for (although that’s only a first step). Pfaff and Gibbs (1997), using experimental evidence, conclude that, at least when reading satire, readers do attempt to figure out the author’s intention. Juhl takes a double position here: we both should and do read for intention (Juhl 1980: 12). Knapp and Michaels’s “Against Theory”—by equating meaning and intention—more or less makes the whole question of “is” and “ought” disappear:

The Intention Debates


Some theorists have claimed that valid interpretations can only be obtained through an appeal to authorial intentions. This assumption is shared by theorists who, denying the possibility of recovering authorial intentions, also deny the possibility of valid interpretations. But once it is seen that the meaning of a text is simply identical to the author’s intended meaning, the project of grounding meaning in intention becomes incoherent. Since the project itself is incoherent, it can neither succeed nor fail; hence both theoretical attitudes toward intention are irrelevant. (Knapp and Michaels 1982: 724)

For some who argue that readers do (or generally do, or often do) seek out intention, the explanation for readers’ choices seems to be sociological—it’s just what we see people doing in the cultural setting where we observe them. For others (in particular, theorists interested in Theory of Mind), the search for authorial intent is an evolutionarily developed psychological phenomenon—it’s what we are wired to do (Horváth 2015; Zunshine 2006). But of course, even the staunchest intentionalists recognize that people don’t always find the author’s intention. Sometimes that’s because it’s difficult to determine the author’s intention: indeed, that difficulty motivates many to give up the attempt to ground interpretation in intention for practical as opposed to theoretical reasons. Sometimes it’s because of “the real possibility that authors or artists may fail to realize or embody in their artworks their intentions about work‐meaning” (Trivedi 2015: 700). Sometimes it’s because interpretations that yield something other than the author’s intended meaning are so much more attractive, richer, or more useful for one reason or another that they distract even intentionalists.

Take a Lesson from Me: Bearing When we ask, “What is the bearing of intention?,” what kind of bearing, what kind of relevance, are we talking about? As we’ve seen, the question is sometimes framed as a binary, defined by the extreme outliers. Beardsley insists that intention has no significant bearing at all. Meaning is fully determined by language, “without the intervention of an authorial will” (Beardsley 1968: 172). Saam Trivedi, although working in a different arena, argues similarly that actual intentions are “surplus” or “otiose” (2000). Knapp and Michaels, at the other extreme, insist that meaning is fully determined by—nay, identical to—intention. But even intentionalists need not stand at the extreme; it’s possible to believe that intention shapes or directs our response to a work without fully determining it. Our knowledge that Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty was written specifically to encourage better treatment of horses may well guide readers (especially now that animal rights is such a big issue) without necessarily defining their interpretation of the novel. Many contemporary performances of baroque and classical music are informed by the principles of period ­practice, even if they are applied in moderation. These questions are especially important to editors, who often believe that their understanding of a text is better than the author’s—and texts are sometimes published under more or less vigorous authorial protest. The issue is perhaps even clearer in film, as we see from the proliferation of “director’s cuts.” For intentionalist readers, too, an author may be just one force among many: we might well prefer to “interpret” the shorter version of


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A Clockwork Orange on the grounds that it makes a superior text, in other words believing that the American editors were right to reject the final chapter, where all the ethical dilemmas of the novel are solved when Alex simply matures out of his violence—and that Burgess was wrong to include it in later American editions. All this assumes that intention is a means toward some other end in the reading process—but it’s also possible to view the determination of intention as an end in itself, as some critics working on Theory of Mind suggest; see, for instance, Rabinowitz and Bancroft (2014), where literature is defined, in part, as “an invitation, specifically an invitation, designed for us, to read the mind of the author” (2014: 12).

You Are You: Readers When we ask “What is the bearing of intention on readers’ dealings with texts,” who are the readers? We’ve already touched on this issue, but it benefits from further excavation. For the most part, New Criticism postulated a kind of “ideal” reader—or, perhaps more accurately, an ideal reading toward which attentive readers would gravitate. At least in terms of American high‐school education, the most successful attack on New Criticism came from reader‐oriented criticism—more particularly, the kind of subjective reader‐oriented criticism that was championed, say, by David Bleich. Interestingly, the subjectivists were no less anti‐intentionalist than the New Critics were—but their anti‐intentionalism took a radically different form. Where the New Critics looked to the “text itself,” cut off from the author, to ground interpretation, subjectivists looked to the individual actual reader. “Reading is a wholly subjective process and the nature of what is perceived is determined by the rules of the personality of the perceiver” proclaimed David Bleich, a gauntlet‐toss as clear as “The Intentional Fallacy” was (Bleich 1975: 3). The extreme subjectivists don’t deny that one can read for intention—but for them, intention has no special authority as a grounding for interpretation. And, at least according to Norman Holland, reading for intention doesn’t happen very often: “Typically, the dynamics in any given reader’s mind will not coincide with the author’s processes” (Holland 1975: 13). But not everyone sees the turn to actual readers as a turn against intention: as we’ve seen, Pfaff and Gibbs (1997), at least in the limited context of reading satirical texts, use actual readers to defend the centrality of intention. As for idealized or abstract readers: not everyone sees them as the New Critics do. At its most extreme, New Criticism suggests a kind of ahistorical reader, who reads all poems, regardless of their origins, from the same vantage point. Some rhetorical narrative theorists, in contrast, talk about reading from the perspective of the authorial audience. One can consider, alternatively, larger groups of abstracted readers who are neither ahistorical nor text‐specific: “nineteenth‐century women readers” for instance. It’s worth remembering, too, that abstract readers can be more or less grounded in real reading practices. The ideal readers of the New Critics were often simply a surrogate for the critic; other idealized readers are extrapolated from the activities of real readers—in classroom settings (Rabinowitz and Bancroft 2014, for instance), through personal interviews (e.g., Radway 1984), through historical research. Actual readers differ along many axes, too, and their relationships to intention might well vary, as their purpose for reading does. A stage director planning a production of The

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Suppliants in the context of contemporary refugee crises, even one guided by respect for Aeschylus’ intentions, might reasonably seek for (and find) a different kind of “meaning” from that found by a classical philologist interested in using Aeschylus’ aesthetic decisions as an entryway into Greek cultural norms.

Could You Use Me?: Dealings The differences between different actual readers reading for different purposes blurs into the next question: when we ask “What is the bearing of intention on readers’ dealings with texts,” what kind of “dealings” are we talking about? I chose this vague and flagrantly unacademic word precisely to underline that we do, in fact, do many different kinds of things with texts—and that the choice of more specific words (like “interpretation”) often skews the discussion before it begins. Certainly, “The Intentional Fallacy” centers on interpretation, more specifically on exegesis. But is it really that easy? There are, to begin with, many different views of meaning: different critics use different terms (textual meaning, utterance meaning, speaker’s meaning, linguistic meaning, work meaning, locutionary meaning, verbal meaning, and semantic meaning, among others); and while many of them overlap, the precise mapping of the territory is not clear. Then, too, there are the d­ istinctions offered by Speech Act Theorists, starting with J. L. Austin (1975). Austin distinguished three different acts involved in any utterance, which is, significantly, always embedded in specific circumstances: the locutionary (an act of meaning, saying something with a more or less definite sense and reference); the illocutionary (an act of force, doing something with the locutionary meaning, such as warning or promising); and the perlocutionary (an act of producing a certain effect). Austin’s primary contribution is his focus on the illocutionary—which in turn is closely tied to intention. You can convince someone without intending to but you can’t warn without meaning to do so.3 More important, there are many other kinds of things one can do with texts besides (or beyond) extracting their “meanings” in any of these senses. Collaborating with an author in the “exhilarating sport” of “providing mature moral judgment” (Booth 1961: 307) is a very different kind of activity from exegesis. So is any kind of reading that centers more on the temporal experience of reading (see the notion of “progression” in Phelan 2007). Likewise, exploring a text to uncover the gender presuppositions of a particular cultural moment is a far cry from textual interpretation; so is reading a text to provide some kind of support under difficult circumstances (Radway 1984); so is reading a text to exercise your Theory of Mind skills (Zunshine 2006). Hirsch takes on this issue by distinguishing “meaning,” the author’s intended meaning, from “significance,” the “relationship between that meaning” and something else, such as the reader’s personal interests (1967: 8). Michael Smith and I (Rabinowitz and Smith 1998) argue something similar: we encourage students to resist texts when they feel called to do so—although we believe that they can only resist a text meaningfully if they have already grasped its intended meaning. Then, too, critics interested in the historical insights of literary texts may well find authorial intention important—at least in part because it can help us anchor a text in its cultural moment. Mazer ties intention to history in a different way, believing that it is impossible to determine Shakespeare’s intended meanings. He nonetheless celebrates the


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fact that many actors need to believe they can recover the intended meaning; although they can’t, this false belief can teach us a great deal “about the tacit assumptions of the theater of their day” (2010: 409). Then, of course, textual editing is fundamentally different from exegesis—and would seem to depend heavily on authorial intent. It’s here that the complexity of intention—even when we have some documentary evidence about what that intention was—often emerges most clearly, as authors revise their texts, argue with editors and publishers, accept compromises.

By Strauss: Texts When we ask “What is the bearing of intention on readers’ dealings with texts?” what kind of “texts” are we talking about? Jacques Derrida’s claims about the divorce of the author from writing deals with language in the broadest sense—as does “Against Theory.” “The Intentional Fallacy” centers on lyric poems—whereas Somebody Telling Somebody Else centers on narrative fiction. Jerrold Levinson brings Rembrandt into his defense of intentionalism (Levinson 2007: 6–7). Is it reasonable to assume, a priori, that Greek epics, Shostakovich’s cantatas, contemporary romances, In Search of Lost Time, Horatio Alger’s novels, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, Andy Warhol’s paintings, The Turn of the Screw, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Johann Strauss’s waltzes, and Emily Dickinson’s poems all have the same connection to their authors’ intentions? And what about plays, operas, and especially films and television shows, where the involvement of creative teams means that creative intentions are ­inevitably multiple, too? Certainly, most would agree that these cases are not identical. Even many anti‐intentionalists would probably agree with Levinson that things like “allusion, quotation, parody, satire, adaptation, variation, repudiation, homage … are inexplicable on an acontextual view of artworks” (Levinson 2007: 9)—or as Saam Trivedi puts it, “I grant the importance of the historical artist’s actual, semantic intentions (which pertain to work‐meaning) to be ironic or satirize or allude when it comes to irony, satire, and allusion” (Trivedi 2015: 710). Similarly, as Kemp puts it, “There is no such thing as unintentional pastiche” (2012: 93; see also Juhl 1980: 58ff. and 62ff.). Irony and unreliable narration—which Booth famously defined in terms of a distinction between narrator and implied author—would similarly seem to depend on some notion of authorial intention to operate.4 There are more nuanced distinctions between different kinds of texts as well. A particularly good example is Susan Lanser’s distinction between attached texts (“which rely on the equation of the work’s presumptive author with the text’s primary ‘I’”), detached texts (which carry “no such assumptions”), and equivocal texts (which “rely for their meaning on a complex and ambiguous relationship between the ‘I’ of the author and any textual voice”) (Lanser 2005: 208–210). Besides the formal differences in kinds of texts and the media they appear in, there are also differences in the communities that discuss them—communities that may become especially committed to particular questions and that may pressure newcomers to continue to speak about them in more or less circumscribed ways. Shostakovich’s intentions—his actual, not his hypothetical intentions—have dominated discourse about his music since

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the 1980s; to enter this conversation as an anti‐intentionalist (as opposed to someone arguing over what his intentions were) is not easy. Beyond the question of what type of text we’re interested in and the community that studies it, there’s also the question of precisely what constitutes the text. Wimsatt and Beardsley, along with New Critics more generally (and, for that matter, the Common Core) often fall back on the term “the text itself,” acting on the belief that what is inside the text and what is “extratextual” can be more or less readily separated. But is a literary work simply a “linguistic fact” reducible to the words on the pages? For many theorists, the ­context is essential to our reading—and in all but the most literal sense, information from “outside” the letters on the page is so much a part of the act of reading that trying to ­decipher the text without that information is futile. As Kendall Walton puts it, If a work’s aesthetic properties are those that are to be found in it when it is perceived c­ orrectly, and the correct way to perceive it is determined partly by historical facts about the artist’s intention and/or his society, no examination of the work itself, however thorough, will by itself reveal those properties. (Walton 1970: 363–4)

For Corinne Bancroft and me, in fact, the claim that “inside and outside the text are not so easy to distinguish” stands as one of the four basic postulates that should ground literary education (Rabinowitz and Bancroft 2014: 18).

On and On and On: Conclusion Essays like this often end with some gesture indicating that the conversation is ongoing, and this one won’t break with convention. The question, though, is whether the conversation is moving in a clear direction or whether, as the Gershwins’ “On and On and On” has it, we’re merely spinning our wheels as we move “hither and thither and yon.” It’s certainly not the case that we’ve come any closer to answers about the issues raised by “The Intentional Fallacy.” Indeed, those days—when everyone seemed to be in the same card game and the stakes were clear—seem further and further away. But as the conversations have become more fractured and more complex, they have also become more interesting— and for those who celebrate the dizzying exploration that comes with the proliferation of illuminating questions rather than the sense of progress that comes with increasingly certain answers, that is progress of another sort. One thing is certain: as questions of intention increasingly weave through our political and social, as well as our aesthetic, lives5—as, for instance, issues of hate speech and consent become increasingly prevalent—the debates will not be going away soon.

Acknowledgments Thanks to Adam Evertz and Emma Reynolds for their research assistance and for their trenchant commentary; thanks as well to James Phelan, Nancy Rabinowitz, and David Richter for their careful reading and productive suggestions.


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Notes 1 The religious overtones here are not accidental: New Criticism was often marked by Christian vocabulary. In 1950–1951, Kenyon Review published a series of articles under the umbrella, “My Credo.” Cleanth Brooks, who popularized the idea of “the heresy of paraphrase,” upped the ante in the series by referring to his principles as articles of faith. 2 See the special issue of Style 33 (4) (Fall 2010). 3 For a fuller discussion of Speech Act Theory and intention, see Rabinowitz (1995). 4 Curiously, even strong anti‐intentionalists sometimes hold irony as an exception to their strictures. That move risks undermining anti‐intentionalism entirely, since most important literary texts are, in the broad

sense “ironic,” in that they “mean” something other than what they “literally” appear to mean on the surface. 5 Indeed, on the day that I began writing the first draft of this chapter, I received an email from the Clinton campaign concerning Donald Trump’s famous remark about “the Second Amendment people” dealing with Clinton: “It doesn’t matter what he claims he intended—it matters what he said.” On the very same day, an article on 538.com by Clare Malone attacking an anonymous site that claims to unskew polls argued: “As English majors know, it’s best not to get too bogged down by the ­authorship question—work must stand on its own at a certain point.”

References Austin, J. L. 1975. How to Do Things with Words, 2nd edn., ed. J. O. Urmson and Marina Sbisa. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Barthes, Roland. 1967. “The Death of the Author.” Trans. Richard Howard. Aspen 5 + 6: n.p. Beardsley, Monroe C. 1968. “Textual Meaning and Authorial Meaning.” Genre 1 (2): 169–81. Bleich, David. 1975. Readings and Feelings: An Introduction to Subjective Criticism. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English. Booth, Wayne C. 1961. The Rhetoric of Fiction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Brooks, Cleanth. 1951. “My Credo.” Kenyon Review 13 (1): 72–81. Carroll, Noël. 2000. “Interpretation and Intention: The Debate between Hypothetical and Actual Intentionalism.” Metaphilosophy 31 (1/2): 75–95. Fish, Stanley. 1978. “Normal Circumstances, Literal Language, Direct Speech Acts, the Ordinary, the Everyday, the Obvious, What

Goes without Saying, and Other Special Cases.” Critical Inquiry 4 (4): 625–44. Hamm, Charles. 1987. “The Theatre Guild Production of ‘Porgy and Bess.’” Journal of the American Musicological Society 40 (3): 495–532. Hirsch, E. D., Jr. 1960. “Objective Interpretation.” PMLA 75 (4): 463–79. Hirsch, E. D., Jr. 1967. Validity in Interpretation. New Haven: Yale University Press. Holland, Norman N. 1975. 5 Readers Reading. New Haven: Yale University Press. Horváth, Márta. 2015. “Authorial Intention and Global Coherence in Fictional Text Comprehension: A Cognitive Approach.” Semiotica 203: 39–51. Juhl, P. D. 1980. Interpretation: An Essay in the Philosophy of Literary Criticism. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Kemp, Simon. 2012. “Pastiche, Structuralism, and Authorial Intention,” Journal of Romance Studies 12 (2): 93–105.

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Knapp, Steven and Walter Benn Michaels. 1982. “Against Theory.” Critical Inquiry, 8 (4): 723–42. Lanser, Susan. 2005. “The ‘I’ of the Beholder: Equivocal Attachments and the Limits of Structuralist Narratology.” In A Companion to Narrative Theory, ed. James Phelan and Peter J. Rabinowitz, 206–19. Malden: Blackwell. Levinson, Jerrold. 2007. “Aesthetic Contextualism.” Postgraduate Journal of Aesthetics 4 (3): 1–12. Mazer, Cary M. 2007. “The Intentional‐Fallacy Fallacy.” In Staging Shakespeare: Essays in Honor of Alan C. Dessen, ed. Ed. Lena Cowan Orlin and Miranda Johnson‐Haddad, 99–113. Newark: University of Delaware Press. Mazer, Cary M. 2010. “Intentionality, the Theater Artist, and the Performance Historian.” Style 33 (4): 404–11. Pfaff, Kerry L. and Raymond W. Gibbs, Jr. 1997. “Authorial Intentions in Understanding Satirical Texts.” Poetics 25: 45–70. Phelan, James. 2007. Experiencing Fiction: Judgments, Progressions, and the Rhetorical Theory of Narrative. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Phelan, James. 2017. Somebody Telling Somebody Else: A Rhetorical Poetics of Narrative. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Rabinowitz, Peter J. 1977. “Truth in Fiction: A Reexamination of Audiences.” Critical Inquiry 4 (i): 121–41. Rabinowitz, Peter J. 1987. Before Reading: Narrative Conventions and the Politics of Interpretation. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.


Rabinowitz, Peter J. 1995. “Speech Act Theory and Literary Studies.” In Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, Volume 8, ed. Raman Selden, 347–74. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Rabinowitz, Peter J. and Michael W. Smith. 1998. Authorizing Readers: Resistance and Respect in the Teaching of Literature. New York: Teachers College Press/NCTE. Rabinowitz, Peter J. and Corinne Bancroft. 2014. “Euclid at the Core: Recentering Literary Education.” Style 48 (1): 1–35. Rader, Ralph. 1974. “Fact, Theory, and Literary Explanation.” Critical Inquiry 1 (2): 245–72. Radway, Janice A. 1984. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Schalkwyk, David. 2010. “Giving Intention Its Due?” Style 33 (4): 311–27. Stecker, Robert. 2003. Interpretation and Construction. Malden: Blackwell. Trivedi, Saam. 2015. “Surplus, Authorial Intentions, and Hypothetical Intentionalism.” College Literature 42 (2): 699–724. Walton, Kendall L. 1970. “Categories of Art.” The Philosophical Review 79 (3): 334–67. Wimsatt, W. K. Jr. and Monroe C. Beardsley. 1954. “The Intentional Fallacy.” In The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry by W. K. Wimsatt. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press. [Earlier version: 1946. The Sewanee Review 54 (3): 468–88.] Zunshine, Lisa. 2006. Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.


Deconstruction Christopher Norris

I “Deconstruction” has migrated from philosophy and literary theory into popular culture and journalistic discourse, so at the risk of appearing a purist, it is worthwhile to recall how the term was used by its major proponent, Jacques Derrida (1930–2004). Derrida’s writings encompassed an extraordinary range of topics which he treated with an underlying continuity of approach for all the dazzlingly inventive and unexpected turns in his numerous books and essays. Getting clear about his usage will help us distinguish between “philosophical” and “literary” variants of deconstruction, a distinction we need to think through with the utmost care and precision. We should heed Derrida’s warnings against the “vulgar” deconstructionist idea that, “as Derrida has shown,” philosophy is just a kind of literature, concepts a species of (erased or sublimated) metaphor, reason a variety of rhetoric, or other such notions presaged by Nietzsche in his genealogies of Western philosophical thought from Plato to Kant, Hegel, and Schopenhauer (see Nietzsche 1954; Norris 1987). To be sure, there are passages of Derrida that press a long way in that direction, as for instance in the early part of his essay “White Mythology: Metaphor in the Texts of Philosophy” (Derrida 1982a: 207–2). However, he then goes on to demonstrate that oppositions such as concept/metaphor, reason/rhetoric, or philosophy/literature cannot be analyzed or critically assessed—let alone deconstructed—except by way of a disciplined approach that avails itself of the conceptual resources provided by philosophers from the ancient Greeks to the present. Nor should we assume that, if literary (poetic or fictional) texts are to be treated “philosophically,” then this must be either by extracting certain, for example, ethical themes for discussion, or by focusing on topics—like authorial intention, aesthetic value, or the ontological status of the literary text—remote from the activity of close reading or textual exegesis. A Derridean deconstructive reading, as distinct from a A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Deconstruction 101 good many readings that have passed as instances of deconstruction, is one that relentlessly quizzes and complicates but never simply rejects or denies the pertinence of categories like “philosophy” and “literature” (Derrida 1981a, 1992). To let them go as ideological baggage left over from the epoch of “Western metaphysics”—a sweeping designation used by early Derrida with no such wholesale dismissal in mind—is to give up those very critical resources that deconstruction brings to bear through its unique combination of textual close reading with acuity of logical‐conceptual grasp. Certainly nothing could be further from the truth than the sloppy and ill‐read characterization of Derrida, prevalent among analytic philosophers, that casts him as a latter‐day sophist out to score points off any thinking that aspires to logical consistency and truth (Derrida 1988; Searle 1977). Such terms recall Plato’s Republic and his attack on the poets—like the sophists—as peddlers of a false though superficially beguiling way with words (Plato 2007). Plato’s allusion to what he already sees as an “ancient quarrel” between poetry and philosophy will give some idea of how far back the issue goes. It also helps to explain why the philosophy/literature pair takes its essentially contested place within the system of binary oppositions that Derrida reveals as underlying—but also subverting—the certitudes of Western “logocentric” thought. They include, most saliently, nature and culture, male and female, presence and absence, identity and difference, origin and supplement, proper and improper, self and other, and (Derrida’s theme in some of his later, more overtly politicized essays) “legitimate” and “rogue” states (Derrida 2005). In earlier works such as Of Grammatology (1976), Writing and Difference (1978), Dissemination (1981), and Margins of Philosophy (1982) his approach is for the most part closely exegetical. That is, it engages with an enormous range of texts from Plato and Aristotle to Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Husserl, Saussure, Freud, Lévi‐Strauss, and Lévinas—not to mention poets and novelists like Mallarmé, Celan, Joyce and Sollers—in a way that is both attentive to linguistic detail and keenly responsive to conceptual strain. These aporias (from the Greek “impasse” thus “logical cul‐de‐sac”) he takes as intrinsic to the whole way of thinking that privileges one term in each binary with superior status (Derrida 1976). This may have to do with its being “natural” (as opposed to unnatural or perverse), “proper” (as opposed to deviant or aberrant), “male” (classically as opposed to “female” but also to other gender‐descriptors implicitly marked as abnormal, hence in need of further specification) (Derrida 1979). Or again—here reverting to the philosophy/ literature dyad—it may involve “concept” (with the values of rationality, logic, clarity, and truth) and “metaphor” (regarded, even by its friends, as involving a swerve from the norm of literal straightforward discourse) (Derrida 1982b). Derrida’s procedure is to show that these binaries are in fact highly unstable and that what at first appears as the primary term in each case must instead be understood as in some way (logically or conceptually) dependent upon its poor relation. And in the third and final moment of a deconstructive reading, there emerges an interminable oscillation between the two orders of priority, since the dependence‐relation runs both ways and prevents the rigorous reader from essaying any more than a provisional assignment of values. There is no space here for a detailed account of how this three‐stage approach works out in the various readings that make up the early, “classical” period of Derrida’s work. It is, I think, reasonably described, despite his explicit reservations, as constituting something like a “method” or a set of broadly specifiable stages. His doubts in this regard are perhaps


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best explained by the fact that, although those readings bear a strong family resemblance, they are each highly distinctive and could scarcely have been predicted in advance of first acquaintance even by readers familiar with much of his previous work. Using one of Derrida’s own etymological ventures, I would call him, as surely few would deny, an “inventive” reader of texts (Currie 2013; Derrida 2007). The Latin term “inventio” meant either “invention” or “discovery,” an ambiguity that nicely hits off what occurs when readers engage with texts in an active (i.e., a creative‐critical) as opposed to a passive or routine way. Thus to the student of classical rhetoric, “invention” means both the process of discovering certain strikingly apt cultural‐linguistic resources and—not incompatibly— the act of creatively deploying those resources in a novel way. Much of Derrida’s writing transpires in precisely that space of invention where a reading minutely attentive to details—often supposedly “marginal” details of the text in hand—goes along with an, at times, quite uncanny power of discovering/creating new possibilities of sense. This is no doubt one reason for his insistence that deconstruction is categorically not to be thought of as a method, a theory, a technique, a procedure, or a set of reading protocols specifiable in advance to be applied, mutatis always mutandis, across a range of texts (Derrida 1985). It is something that Derrida’s work has not escaped at the hands of his many commentators and exegetes, although his own writing always managed—through that quite extraordinary quality of inventiveness in its twofold sense—to keep perpetually more than a few jumps ahead of them. On the other hand, Derrida was quick to register principled objections when he thought other exegetes were pushing too far in the opposite direction, that is to say, raising the non‐existence of any deconstructive “method” to a high point of critical doctrine, or claiming that textuality goes “all the way down” and hence a priori disqualifies anything that philosophically minded readers might have to say about it. Indeed, one major difference between Derridean deconstruction and the broader, more ­distinctly “literary” movement loosely described as post‐structuralism is that the latter prescriptively rejects such claims and asserts—as in the later writings of Roland Barthes— the impossibility of any discourse that could (or should seek to) achieve such a “meta‐ linguistic” standpoint (Barthes 1975, 1977). Derrida puts the counter‐argument in essays such as “White Mythology,” where having shown the value‐laden nature of binaries such as concept/metaphor, literal/figural, or philosophy/literature he goes on to argue that merely inverting the order of priority is only the first stage in any deconstructive reading that merits the name (Derrida 1982b). Thus in his essay “The Supplement of Copula,” Derrida argues against ethno‐linguists of a strong cultural‐relativist persuasion who maintain that truth‐claims of every kind are constructed by the logico‐semantic resources available in various natural languages (Derrida 1982c; Benveniste 1971). His response is that Benveniste could not present that case without taking for granted, as trans‐linguistically and trans‐culturally valid, many invariant structures that must be regarded as necessarily operative in any language capable of functioning in a conceptual‐communicative fashion. This goes especially for the copulative or predicative function—the word “is” as it figures in sentences of the form “A is B”—which Benveniste asserts to be absent from certain languages but which is, according to Derrida, a condition of possibility for language in general. Thus Derrida demurs when Benveniste moves from the defensible position that languages differ in all sorts of ways—mostly with

Deconstruction 103 regard to the range of nouns or adjectives available according to localized need—to the indefensible position that holds such variability to extend beyond the realm of semantics or pragmatics to that of logico‐syntactic structure. For if it did so (and here Derrida agrees with analytic philosophers including Donald Davidson), we should be at a loss to understand how successful translation could ever take place or even how we could make sense of utterances within our own native language community (Davidson 1984). More generally, it is the presupposition at work whenever Derrida takes a text to be stating, arguing, maintaining, expressing, or conjecturing some proposition, and then draws out the implicit counter‐logic (of “supplementarity,” “différance” “parergonality”) by which its overt intentional purport is complicated to the point of logical undecidability. Such readings would manifestly lack all demonstrative force were it not that the points of conflict—or aporias—are arrived at through a process of close textual exegesis and rigorously logical reasoning. Derrida’s work from his earliest to his latest periods offers many examples of this process, all of them distinctly individual. It would include Plato’s aporetic logic of the pharmakon (or writing as simultaneously poison and/or cure) in the Phaedrus (Derrida 1981b); the “logic of supplementarity” in Rousseau’s discussions of language, music, and civil society, along with his own deeply ambivalent attitude toward writing as a way of life (Derrida 1976); Kant’s parergon—or metaphor of framing—as the deconstructive marker of recurrent self‐contradictory arguments or logical tensions in the Critique of Judgment and elsewhere (Derrida 1987); J. L. Austin’s provision of examples, instances and analogies that implicitly subvert his own express account of the requirements for the authentic or sincere speech‐act (Derrida 1977; Austin 1963); Karl Marx’s hesitation between a confident ­statement of what would constitute a communist political order if actually achieved and his implied proviso that such a vision must retain a certain tentative or promissory (i.e., performative) character (Derrida 1994); the idea of hospitality as subject to a perpetual oscillation of values between that notion in its absolute and unconditional (and hence impracticable) form and the various real‐world restrictions to which it is always subject (2000); and the self‐implicating logic of “rogue states” as described by American policy wonks who fail to perceive how their own country’s actions on the world stage meet all the criteria for membership in that category (2005). Finally, there is Derrida’s late meditation, in The Beast and the Sovereign, on the failed pseudo‐logic of self‐exemption by which human animals have sought to place themselves outside and above every species of non‐human animal (2009). With each of these new departures in his thinking Derrida has spawned a new sub‐ discipline or area of study in the remarkably diverse field of literary criticism. What is notably consistent despite and across this bewildering range of topics is the fact that, in each case, there emerges a certain deviant or non‐bivalent logic that creates a kind of running fracture through the text or discourse in question, yet which cannot be exposed unless the analyst adheres to the axioms of logic in its classical bivalent mode. For, as Derrida pointedly but no doubt mischievously chides the analytic philosopher John Searle, issues in philosophy are not—like preferences in ice‐cream—fit subjects for treatment according to an approximative “logic” that, as in judgments of subjective taste, makes allowance for differences of degree between truth‐values (Derrida 1988; Searle 1977).


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II My discussion so far has emphasized the philosophical aspects of Derrida’s work because only by this route can we adequately grasp its significance for literary criticism and theory. Deconstruction in Derrida’s hands, and as practiced by others who have responded most keenly to his example, is a mode of philosophically informed exegetical commentary that brings philosophy and literature into a closer, more intimate but also more deeply interrogative relationship than had been the case since Plato issued his joint condemnation of poetry and rhetoric as mendacious sister‐arts. Indeed, one way of characterizing that relationship is to say that Derrida—along with his colleague Paul de Man—is engaged in giving rhetoric back its good name as a discipline of critical thought. Thus it doesn’t, as in the pejorative sense of the term, offer lessons in how to use language to persuasive effect without regard for reason or truth but, on the contrary, examines how texts may—if read deconstructively—put up resistance to rhetorical strategies that seek to bypass such critical reckoning (de Man 1979, 1983, 1986, 1996). Derrida and de Man both read with an eye to those moments of contradiction, paradox, or aporia that may be passed over by other, more orthodox commentators. The latter, understandably enough, take a face‐value approach to overt expressions of authorial intent. For Derrida and de Man, conversely, some hitherto neglected “marginal” detail is found to create insuperable problems for customary modes of interpretation. Thus they both offer deconstructive readings of Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Husserl, and others which show the existing consensus to rest on what amounts to a systematic blindness—or pattern of recurrent cognitive resistance—to whatever might disrupt its conservative habits of response. In early de Man this takes the form of a repeated demonstration that readers have most to gain in terms of critical insight if they focus on just those symptomatic moments of blindness in philosophers, theorists, or interpreters that enable a corresponding or compensatory moment of insight on their own part. It is where critics are most heavily (hence uncritically) invested in some ruling ideology that they tend to ignore features of the text that might otherwise not escape their notice (de Man 1983). Such doctrinal adherences may have to do with literary concepts (or metaphors) such as those of organic form in the US New Criticism against the evidence of verbal detail that disrupts or contests such naive organicist ideas (de Man 1996). Or, again, it may concern the phenomenological approach adopted by thinkers such as Poulet, Starobinski, and the Geneva School during the 1960s and 1970s (Lawall 1968; Miller 1966). This stakes its claim on the possibility of the critic’s entering so intimately into the author’s thoughts and feelings through empathetic inwardness that the poetry or fiction becomes linguistically translucent, the text itself falling away to reveal a perfect meeting of minds. However, de Man maintains, this is a consummation that can never be achieved no matter how devoutly wished since texts are too complex, many‐levelled, and often refractory to admit of any such unimpeded union between author and critic. Just as the New Critics disqualified their own organicist doctrine by focusing so intently on the poem itself—the sacrosanct “words on the page”—thus revealing discrepant textual details that just wouldn’t fit that program, so the critics of consciousness were forced up against linguistic structures that got in the way of their idealized mind‐meld (see de Man 1983; also Miller 1987).

Deconstruction 105 Hence the title of de Man’s landmark first collection of essays, Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism (1971; revised and expanded 1983). Later on his writing became increasingly austere as he determined to expunge from his own texts an existential pathos which betrayed the residual influence of Sartre’s humanistic reading of Heidegger. De Man’s chief topic during this period was “aesthetic ideology” in its various guises, mostly resulting from a failure by Romanticists to perceive the dangers, political as well as intellectual, in the usual understanding of privileged Romantic tropes such as metaphor and symbol (de Man 1984, 1996). Naively read, these tropes lay claim to a transcendent vision or insight that would collapse at a stroke the ontological gulf between subject and object, mind and world, or (in Kantian terms) the phenomenal realm of sensory‐perceptual experience and the noumenal realm of pure reason. Such was the task laid upon them by English and German poet‐philosophers, with Coleridge as the chief exponent of metaphor and symbol as figures of thought able to deliver the wished‐for state of hypostatic union. Looking closely at the texts in question, De Man demonstrates that language simply will not offer an achieved example of the transcendent state envisaged (de Man 1984, 1996). Metaphor and symbol are complex tropes whose internal workings—the mechanics behind their semblance of unitary form— undermine the already shaky foundations of orthodox Romantic scholarship, so heavily invested in what had been promised on their behalf by over‐credulous interpreters (as for instance Abrams 1971, 1973). De Man’s favored way of showing this is by means of a rhetorical analysis that, like Derrida’s earlier practice, deploys all the instruments of “literary” close‐reading (as developed by its modern pioneers from I. A. Richards and William Empson to the American New Criticism) of certain philosophical and literary works in subtle, ingenious and often wire‐drawn textual exegesis (see Norris 1988). His approach—baldly put—is to d­ econstruct instances of (seeming) metaphor until they prove to incorporate chains of s­uppressed or occluded metonymic linkage, and to deconstruct instances of (supposed) symbol until they prove to rest upon other, less elevated tropes (de Man 1979, 1996). Allegory is the trope de Man finds most frequently at work, since to read allegorically is to follow the temporal unfolding of a discourse—whether narrative, argument, commentary, or exposition— wherein the various characters, events, or other elements of a progression have to be taken in precisely that sequence if the whole thing is to make any sense. This is why the Romantic poet‐critics and their present‐day apostles have habitually valued symbol far above allegory, just as they have valued metaphor far above metonymy. Symbol, even more than metaphor, holds out the enticing notion of what Coleridge called the “translucence of the Eternal through and in the Temporal,” the quasi‐divine power of creative imagination to lift us momentarily out of time while also annulling the distance between mind and world inflicted by our quotidian habits of thought (Coleridge 1816: 29). This aesthetic ideology might seem innocuous enough, but de Man argues that it can come to exert large claims “on the shape and limits of our freedoms” (de Man 1984: 264). It does so by promising that language can indeed attain such a state, that metaphor and symbol can magically collapse all those vexing antinomies—subject/object, mind/world, and culture/nature—bequeathed to modern thought in the wake of Kant. And we should add “sense” as verbal signification versus “sense” as perceptual experience. De Man doesn’t for a moment underestimate the appeal of that promise, the near‐irresistible power it has


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exerted on generations of critics and readers. The theme of an ultimate union between thought and feeling, or intellect and the emotions, brought together through the healing agency of language in its highest (poetic) forms, pervades the discourse of criticism since Coleridge. It is as much present when an avowed classicist like T. S. Eliot praises the poetry of Shakespeare and Donne for exhibiting a “unified sensibility” with “intellect at the tips of the senses” as it is when orthodox Romanticists exalt the reconciling powers of metaphor and symbol (Abrams 1971; Eliot 1964). De Man argues that very different belief‐systems or critical ideologies, ranging historically from Kantian idealism (among thinkers such as Fichte, Schiller, and Herder) to post‐1950 schools of literary criticism and theory, have all bought into the same tenacious but ultimately corrigible confusion between language on the one hand and on the other whatever extra‐linguistic reality is afforded us by phenomenal perception(de Man 1986, 1996). What gives de Man’s minatory rumblings their force is his claim—at least partially borne out (in my view) by his numerous writings on the topic—that aesthetic ideology, thus defined, has often functioned as the source, motivation, or leading premise for a notion of certain natural languages as “natural” in a value‐laden sense. It can readily be made to connote the intrinsic superiority of certain languages—most often, in this context, German—on account of its special capacity for transcending the limits of narrowly rational thought and achieving, as Coleridge writes in “The Aeolian Harp,” a plenary sense of “the one life, within us and abroad.” Such ideas take their most overt and heavily politicized “national‐aestheticist” form in a thinker like Heidegger, whose writings are therefore a main focus for de Man as for Derrida (see especially Derrida 1989; de Man 1983a). On Heidegger’s account the modern German language stands in a uniquely privileged relation to ancient Greek and hence ­provides the fittest starting point for journeying back through the history of Western metaphysics to the pre‐Socratic sources of a truth unknown to philosophers from Plato to Husserl (Heidegger 1975). Should we wish to catch the echo of this truth beneath the muffling conceptual accretions, then, so the later Heidegger counsels, we must harken to what the poets have to say, particularly German poets from Hölderlin to Rilke and Celan. This, according to de Man, is merely the most explicit version of an ideology that naively conflates the linguistic with the phenomenal and the phenomenal in turn with the real, the concrete, or the material (de Man 1986). Harold Bloom once called de Man a “boa‐deconstructor,” pointing perhaps to the intellectual fierceness of de Man’s essays, a near‐obsessional fixity of purpose which set them apart from the free‐wheeling style of other, more stylistically and hermeneutically ­adventurous exponents of deconstruction. They also contrast with Derrida’s writing where the dominant approach, despite its logically precise character, is far more “appreciative” in the literal sense that it brings out subtleties that enhance our readerly admiration of the text concerned. In de Man any appreciative remarks tend to be reserved for the earliest (most often the “original”) text in any given temporal series: for Rousseau rather than his commentators, for Kant rather than post‐Kantians like Fichte, for Nietzsche rather than his present‐day epigones, for Hölderlin rather than Heidegger’s readings of Hölderlin, and so forth (de Man 1979, 1983, 1996). Indeed, despite their mutual regard, de Man early on takes issue with Derrida precisely over his supposed failure to give Rousseau due credit for having pre‐empted everything that his interpreters, Derrida included, have said about his

Deconstruction 107 texts (de Man 1983b). In fact, Derrida explicitly credits Rousseau in just that way. It is a central precept of deconstruction (unlike post‐structuralism and other more “radical” movements in literary criticism) that authorial intention is an “indispensable guardrail” for interpreters, even if it has only ever “protected” and never “opened” a reading (Derrida 1976). That deconstructive reading “opens” when the reader perceives unresolved issues in a text—moments of paradox, contradiction, uncertainty, logical tension, indecision, or aporia—requiring a break with those standard responses that lead to deeply familiar, hence reassuring aesthetic pleasures: organic form, unified sensibility, sensuous enactment, metaphoric vitality, visionary power, or symbolic transcendence achieved through mind communing with nature. De Man is quite clear: to read deconstructively is to read obstinately, even perversely against the grain of responses that have become so deeply habitual and reliably rewarding that they constitute something like interpretative second nature. This goes along with his austerely Kantian view of the “ethics of reading” as a battle to hold out against the siren calls of reader‐satisfaction that bewitch our critical intelligence. The alternative—an ethics of reading based on the Aristotelian idea of eudaimonia, or self‐ fulfillment through the exercise of our distinctively human powers—strikes him as unworthy of the name of ethics, since it refuses the duty to find one’s desires or expectations regularly thwarted by recalcitrant textual details or by intransigent moral conscience. Thus the Kantian moral law with its anti‐eudaimonic maxims and imperatives is here transmuted into a textualist injunction that would have us submit ourselves to the rigors of deconstruction in this sternly ascetic mode.

III De Man’s work proved not just highly influential but almost contagious in its power to affect other critics—among them his Yale colleague J. Hillis Miller—with a kindred ­suspicion of the pleasures attendant upon reading poetry and fiction. This was especially striking in Miller’s case since his previous writings had evinced no such self‐denying ordinance. He had moved, broadly speaking, from an early phase of phenomenological studies influenced by the Geneva School and focusing on states of consciousness in various nineteenth-century poets and novelists, to a post‐1970 middle period when Derrida’s works persuaded him that literary texts were complex and rhetorically self‐reflexive to a degree beyond capture by any such approach (Miller 1966, 1987). Unlike de Man, Miller at first greeted this Derridean revelation with a good deal of exuberant etymological ­wordplay and a marked emphasis on its promise to open up new and hermeneutically adventurous ways of reading (Miller 1987). However, in a second very striking shift of tack, Miller seems to have fallen at least temporarily under de Man’s anhedonic spell by turning his mind to an “ethics of reading” that consisted in an absolute fidelity to the letter of the text. That is, such readings start out from the idea that with any text that manifests a certain degree of rhetorical complexity it will be bad faith to go along with the kinds of satisfaction that derive from standard modes of interpretative practice. Miller pushes de Man’s doctrine pretty hard, to the point where—despite their both having subjected Kant’s aesthetic and ethical doctrines to the


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rigors of deconstructive critique—it begins to look distinctly Kantian. This ascetic imperative is presented by both of them as a matter of implacable necessity once the reader has grasped the jointly interpretative, ethical, and (not least) political issues at stake (see also Harpham 1987). One may think that, in de Man’s case, this rigorist insistence at times has more to do with aspects of his formative intellectual and life‐historical experiences—including his now infamous war‐time writings which espoused a decidedly German‐nationalist ideology with its roots in Romantic (i.e., post‐Kantian) poetics and aesthetics—than with anything arguably “in” the text itself (Norris 1988). Although he makes the highest virtue of a scrupulously close rhetorical reading and excoriates others for falling short of that standard, it has nonetheless been shown by some commentators that de Man is not above looking for ways to slant the outcome in favor of his own predisposed deconstructive bias (Corngold 1982). More generally, it is a main point of contrast between the two thinkers—despite their later close friendship and professions of mutual respect—that Derrida’s c­ ommentaries are always, in a certain sense, appreciative while de Man’s tend always toward a negative, cautionary, or drastically counter‐intuitive and hence (for the typecast naïve reader) ­disconcerting conclusion. De Man’s essays seem relentlessly devoted to closing off certain self‐evidently “right” as well as attractive (he would say seductive) readings, whereas the effect of Derrida’s writing is to open up new and singular perspectives on texts very often worn smooth by the consensus of mainstream critical opinion. Thus when Derrida discovers hitherto unnoticed problems, complications or aporias the effect is not at all to diminish the standing—the value or interest—of the text in question. Rather it is to show (what de Man conspicuously fails to credit in taking him to task à propos Rousseau) that it invites and sustains deconstructive treatment just in virtue of those logico‐semantic complexities that cannot be resolved on straightforwardly intentionalist or canonical terms. Nor indeed—a point made more explicitly by de Man—can they be cashed out in the aesthetically valorizing fashion of the American New Criticism where tropes or attributes such as irony, paradox, ambiguity, or semantic tension are taken to constitute both the hallmark of poetry in general and an index of especial literary‐aesthetic worth as regards certain highly valued poems (de Man 1983c). Hence Derrida’s consistent stress on the strictly aporetic—as opposed, say, to “paradoxical”—character of the various complications or unresolved conflicts encountered in the course of a deconstructive reading. On the one hand it signifies a refusal of any too hasty recourse to aesthetic criteria that would call a halt to further questioning at the borders of that privileged entity, the “verbal icon” or “well‐wrought urn” of orthodox New‐Critical doctrine (Brooks 1956; Wimsatt 1954). On the other, it makes the point yet again that there is simply no escaping from “philosophy” into “literature,” that is, no “turning the page” on philosophically informed ways of thought in order to embrace a Rortian conception of metaphor, narrative, and “literary” language as somehow going “all the way down” (see especially Rorty 1982). Or rather, one can take that rhetorical line but one’s discourse will then either lapse into incoherence or undermine its own claim by exhibiting at least some measure of conceptual grasp and critical acumen. When Derrida speaks of “philosophy” in this context he is not referring to the discipline that goes under that name in university departments. What he has in mind, rather, is the non‐negotiable requirement that a deconstructive reading not relax those standards of

Deconstruction 109 textual fidelity, conceptual rigor, and logically cogent thought which may, as that reading proceeds, come up against conflicts that could not have been exposed by any other means even if they cannot be resolved except by envisaging alternatives beyond their unaided grasp (Norris 2012). This applies to every aspect of Derrida’s thinking and interpretative practice, from his earliest extended writings on Plato, Rousseau, and Husserl to his later short texts on topics such as forgiveness, hospitality, the gift, autoimmunity, and the political rhetoric of “rogue states.” In each case it is a matter of determining the scope of a certain concept, classically construed, and going on to show, through closely reasoned analysis, how it undergoes a continual oscillation between a restricted sense of common usage and an unrestricted (or absolute) sense where hospitality would carry no limiting conditions, forgiveness be unqualified, gifts be of infinite generosity without any recompense sought, and so forth. Nor is this due to some failure of conceptual grasp on the part of those who use such terms without having thought their assumptions through with sufficient care. Rather it has to do with the way that certain categories, among them “philosophy” and “literature,” inevitably overrun any boundary set for their proper application while nonetheless requiring us, so far as we can, to use them in a responsible way. One widely canvassed quasi‐solution to issues of definition like this is provided by the later Wittgenstein with his notion of “family resemblance” between items that may have no essences or distinctive traits in common (Wittgenstein 1952). On this view it is fruitless to strive to identify just what it is about philosophy that sets it apart from literature, or what it is about poetry that sets it apart from prose, or about fiction apart from historical or documentary writing, or any literary genre apart from any other. Instead, we should accept that such debates merely reflect the grip on our minds of a bad old Platonist habit of thought that prevents us from seeing that resemblances—the sense that things somehow belong together without falling under a determinate unifying concept—are enough for all practical purposes. At which point we either give up philosophy altogether, as Wittgenstein frequently urged his students, or redefine it as reminding its would‐be practitioners of the various follies to which more ambitious types had been led in pursuit of their chimerical ideas. This “post‐philosophical” outlook with its major sources in Wittgenstein, Rortian neo‐pragmatism, and various strains of postmodernist thinking is remote from Derrida’s work. If deconstruction has one major claim above others to have redefined the terms of literary theory for our time then it is precisely in its having shown the possibility—and, what’s more, the achievability in practice—of a philosophical criticism wherein both disciplines have moved decisively beyond the “ancient quarrel” that Plato discerned between poetry and philosophy. The work of Geoffrey Hartman, another Yale critic much influenced by Derrida, provides a useful point of reference here. Hartman started out in the early 1960s as a literary scholar trained up in the ways of the “old” New Criticism (see Cain “British and American New Criticism,” Chapter  1 this volume) but increasingly restive under its doctrinal ­constraints and looking to move “beyond formalism” to explore more hermeneutically adventurous regions of speculative thought (Hartman 1971). This went along with a plea that criticism should cast off the self‐denying ordinance—again, one central to New Critical doctrine—that required the maintenance of a strict boundary between, on the one hand, the expressive dimension of poetic utterance and, on the other, the discourse of criticism where self‐expression had absolutely no place and where the ruling ethos was that of


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a studiously impersonal style. Hartman’s liberation campaign accordingly took two forms, both of which affronted the rearguard defenders of New Critical orthodoxy (Wimsatt 1977). On the one hand he reproached their formalist precepts for setting up the poem as a “verbal icon” or a self‐enclosed, autotelic construct presumptively sealed off from any contact with the kinds of speculative interest that might lead criticism into dangerous regions where intellect was apt to over‐reach itself. On the other he claimed a degree of expressive freedom which went far beyond the bounds of formalist propriety and allowed for a criticism that would could—in principle—come out on a level with the poets for ­stylistic brilliance, metaphorical inventiveness, or narrative power (Hartman 1975). These commitments found ample validation when Derrida arrived as a visiting professor at Yale and acquired a following amongst US literary critics and theorists that soon— through one of the many curious ironies that marked the Anglophone reception of his work—far surpassed any interest in it amongst philosophers. What it offered most strikingly from Hartman’s point of view was the prospect of freeing literary criticism to draw on resources across the whole range of styles, vocabularies, disciplines, and genres. Yet, as Hartman somewhat disarmingly acknowledged, the role of philosophy in all this was not—or not chiefly—to provide an added measure of conceptual precision, reflective depth, analytical focus, or explanatory power. Rather it was meant to enliven the discourse of criticism by opening it up to speculative interests and stylistic departures from the academic norm (Hartman 1982). All the better, in cultural‐political terms, that this liberating impulse made common cause with ideas imported from continental Europe and especially, given Derrida’s rapid rise to fame, from the most advanced quarters of French academe. Indeed Hartman is quite explicit in claiming a common ancestry here, with deconstruction cast in a quasi‐salvific role that more than incidentally recalls the impact of French revolutionary ideas on Thomas Paine who in turn played a major role in promoting the cause of American independence. Its advent marked a decisive break with the New Criticism’s combination of conservatism in politics, classicism in literature, orthodoxy in religion, and—stylistically speaking—a decorous observance of certain distinctions, including those between criticism and poetry on the one hand and criticism and philosophy on the other. Thus, in Hartman’s words, deconstruction would put an end to the “Arnoldian concordat” that had pretty much ruled the discourse of English criticism from Matthew Arnold to T. S. Eliot and beyond. At the same time it would encourage the critic to widen criticism’s field of reference, and to defy those who treated any mention of Hegel, Nietzsche or Heidegger as intellectually pretentious and professionally out‐of‐place. Still one might want to question Hartman’s notion of what counts as a “deconstructive” reading. Hartman readily admits that his is a very “snippety” version of Derrida, one that has to leave out whole swathes of his work (Hartman 1982; Derrida 1988). And so, for all his good intentions, the net effect of this Rorty-Hartman “literary” take on Derrida’s work has been to further alienate the analytic community from anything associated with it and to persuade some literary critics that they don’t really need to engage with all the philosophical stuff. Philosophy, at least as practiced in the Anglophone academic community, doesn’t cope well with those of its practitioners who lay claim to study not only as significant thinkers but also as writers of striking creativity and resource. Purists may lament value‐laden binaries such as thought and writing, philosophy and literature, or indeed creativity and (what Derrida is often keen to stress) deconstruction as engaged in the discovery, not the

Deconstruction 111 creative devising, of hitherto unperceived textual complications. Still it is worth hanging onto those distinctions in order to pinpoint the error of those who either, like Searle, fail to grasp the philosophical import of Derrida’s work and attack it for that reason or, like Rorty, value it precisely for sinking its differences with poetry or literary criticism (Searle 1977; Rorty 1982). There have been a good many philosophers who wrote well and a few whose writings may be said to have achieved canonical status as “literary” texts. What is strictly unique about Derrida’s corpus is the way that it describes, demonstrates, performs, enacts, reflects upon, and at the same time theorizes the history of vexed yet intimate relations between philosophy and literature. What typically marks the resistance to it is often a flat refusal to conceive that deconstruction might be more than a jumped‐up “literary” ruse for dispensing with elementary standards of philosophical debate. Just as wrong, on the other hand, is a “post‐philosophical” zeal to dismiss philosophy altogether as a product of the logocentric will‐to‐power combined with an unwitting blindness to its own textual constitution. I use quotation marks around terms like “philosophy” and “literature,” not in some attack of ultra-nominalist nerves but in consequence of following Derrida’s lead and thinking through the relationship between those categories. Derrida’s genius (I use the word without apology) was to write of such matters in an “answerable style”: a style answerable not only to literature—Geoffrey Hartman’s idea in offering that usefully suggestive phrase—but also to the interests of philosophical clarity, rigor, and truth (Hartman 1981).

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Currie, Mark. 2013. The Invention of Deconstruction. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Davidson, Donald. 1984. “The Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme.” In Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation, 183–98. Oxford: Clarendon Press. De Man, Paul. 1979. Allegories of Reading: figural language in Rousseau, Rilke, Nietzsche, and Proust. New Haven: Yale University Press. De Man, Paul. 1983. Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism, 2nd edn. London: Methuen. De Man, Paul. 1983a. “Heidegger”s Exegeses of Hölderlin.” In de Man. 1983, Blindness and Insight, 146–66. De Man, Paul. 1983b. “The Rhetoric of Blindness: Jacques Derrida’s Reading of Rousseau.” In de Man. 1983, Blindness and Insight, 102–41. De Man, Paul. 1983c. “Form and Intent in the American New Criticism.” In de Man 1983, Blindness and Insight, 20–35. De Man, Paul. 1984. The Rhetoric of Romanticism. New York: Columba University Press.


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De Man, Paul. 1986. The Resistance to Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. De Man, Paul. 1996. Aesthetic Ideology, ed. Andrzej Warminski. Minneapolis: University of. Minnesota Press. Derrida, Jacques. 1976. Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Derrida, Jacques. 1977. “Signature Event Context”. Glyph 1. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 172–97. Derrida, Jacques. 1978. Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass. London: Routledge. Derrida, Jacques. 1979. Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles, trans. Barbara Harlow. University of Chicago Press. Derrida, Jacques. 1981a. Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson. London: Athlone Press. Derrida, Jacques. 1981b. “Plato”s Pharmacy.” In Derrida. 1981a, Dissemination, 61–172. Derrida, Jacques. 1982a. Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Derrida, Jacques. 1982b. “White Mythology: Metaphor in the Text of Philosophy”. In Derrida 1982a, Margins of Philosophy, 207–71. Derrida, Jacques. 1982c. “The Supplement of Copula: Philosophy before Linguistics”. In Derrida. 1982a, Margins of Philosophy, 175–205. Derrida, Jacques. 1985. “Letter to a Japanese Friend.” In Derrida and Difference, ed. D. Wood and R. Bernasconi. Warwick, CT: Parousia Press, 1–5. Derrida, Jacques. 1987. “The Parergon”. In The Truth in Painting, trans. Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod, 15–147. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Derrida, Jacques. 1988. Limited Inc., ed. Gerald Graff. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. Derrida, Jacques. 1989. Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question, trans. Geoff Bennington and Rachel Bowlby. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Derrida, Jacques. 1992. Acts of Literature, ed. Derek Attridge. London: Routledge.

Derrida, Jacques. 1994. Spectres of Marx: the State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, trans Peggy Kamuf. London: Routledge. Derrida, Jacques. 2000. Of Hospitality, trans. Rachel Bowlby. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Derrida, Jacques. 2005. Rogues: Two Essays on Reason, trans. Pascale‐Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Stanford University Press. Derrida, Jacques. 2007. Psyche: Inventions of the Other, vol. I, ed. Peggy Kamuf and Elizabeth G. Rottenberg. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Derrida, Jacques. 2009. The Beast and the Sovereign, ed. Geoff Bennington. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Eliot, T. S. 1964. “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” In Selected Essays, 3–11. London: Faber & Faber. Harpham, Geoffrey Galt. 1987. The Ascetic Imperative in Culture and Criticism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Hartman, Geoffrey. 1971. Beyond Formalism: Literary Essays 1958–70. New Haven: Yale University Press. Hartman, Geoffrey. 1975. The Fate of Reading and Other Essays. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Hartman, Geoffrey. 1980. Criticism in the Wilderness: the Study of Literature Today. New Haven: Yale University Press. Hartman, Geoffrey. 1982. Saving the Text: Literature/Derrida/Philosophy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Heidegger, Martin. 1975. Language, Poetry, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter. New York: Harper & Row. Lawall, Sarah. 1968. Critics of Consciousness: The Existential Structures of Literature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Miller, J. Hillis. 1966. “The Geneva School”. The Critical Quarterly 8 (4): 302–21. Miller, J. Hillis. 1987. The Linguistic Moment: from Wordsworth to Stevens. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Deconstruction 113 Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1998. “On Truth and Falsehood in an Ultra‐Moral Sense.” In The Portable Nietzsche, ed. Walter Kaufmann, 46–7. New York: Viking. Norris, Christopher. 1987. Derrida. London: Fontana. Norris, Christopher. 1988. Paul de Man and the Critique of Aesthetic Ideology. New York: Routledge. Norris, Christopher. 2012. Derrida, Badiou and the Formal Imperative. London: Bloomsbury. Plato. 1997. The Republic, trans. H. D. P. Lee. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Rorty, Richard. 1982. “Philosophy as a Kind of Writing.” In Consequences of Pragmatism, 89–109. Brighton: Harvester. Searle, John R. 1977. “Reiterating the Differences.” Glyph 1. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins. 198–208. Wimsatt, W. K. 1954. The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. Wimsatt, W. K. 1977. Day of the Leopards: Essays in Defence of Poems. New Haven: Yale University Press. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1952. Philosophical Investigations, trans. and ed. G. E. M. Anscombe. Oxford: Blackwell.


Reader‐Response Theory David S. Miall

Introduction The history and theory of reading usually takes its beginnings with a standard narrative comprising several well‐known figures: Rosenblatt, the Russian Formalists (Shklovsky, etc.), and the Prague Circle (Mukařovský); and it includes such figures as I. A. Richards, Holland, Fish, Jauss, Iser, and Eco, who (except for Richards) may now be regarded as so many examples of postmodern theory; and a number of later scholars who were responsible for creating and developing an empirical tradition, including Schmidt, Graesser, Oatley, van Peer, Tsur, and Dixon and Bortolussi; the work of these scholars is associated in particular with the organization of the International Association for Empirical Studies of Literature (IGEL; founded in 1987 by Siegfried Schmidt) and their biennial conference. In addition, while the empirical tradition is not yet characterized by a single approach, it is notable for the adoption by some scholars of such methods as stylistics, corpus linguistics, narratology, phenomenology, cognitive psychology, neuropsychology, and evolutionary psychology. But theories of reading are not an exclusively modern preoccupation, as Robert C. Holub (1984) puts it in Reception Theory: “precursors are not difficult to find” (1984: 13). We should consider earlier thinkers who offered comments on reading without these forming a substantial basis for a theory of response: for example Aristotle in Poetics, Horace’s The Art of Poetry, Longinus’ On the Sublime, or Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria (1983). In Poetics Aristotle is primarily interested in establishing a theory of the formal aspects of literature, drama in particular – his focus is on the play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, which forms his main example for developing a theory of tragedy. In this endeavor Aristotle makes one observation that has given rise to extensive comment: his mention of catharsis, and its effect on the emotions of the audience (or reader). His account, which “may be considered A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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the earliest illustration of a theory in which audience response plays a major role” (Holub 1984: 13), forms a fundamental part of his definition of tragedy. It is told in a few words: tragedy is “a representation of an action that is serious, complete, and of some magnitude; in language that is pleasurably embellished, the different forms of embellishment occurring in separate parts; presented in the form of action, not narration; by means of pity and fear bringing about the catharsis of such emotions” (Aristotle 2004: 64). It is clear that the reader’s emotions are at issue here. By pleasurable embellishment of the language, Aristotle explains that the text uses verse in one place, song in another. But it is his mention of catharsis that has caused the most debate. What can it mean to bring about catharsis? And are pity and fear obligatory agents in this process, or can other emotions serve? Many commentators have proposed that the purging of pity and fear is intended, that is, a medical model is being proposed in which, while watching a tragedy, these emotions are eliminated from the system. Other commentators argue that the emotions are not being purged but purified; that is, emotions aroused during the play are being felt in more appropriate ways; for example, an emotion of inadequacy is replaced by an emotion of pride (at a successful performance of dance, for example). Both models have shortcomings. What other emotions may be implicated? To pity and fear, it should be noticed, Aristotle later adds “anger and the like” (2004: 82). What scope does catharsis have? A local effect within a literary text, or a powerful set of emotions determining response to a text as a whole? While we cannot envisage a satisfactory solution here, a shift of perspective to the emotions and their relationships may be helpful. Near the end of Oedipus, for example, we find that one emotion (hubris) is qualified by another (fear), which is in turn replaced by a third (pity). This may suggest the importance of emotions to catharsis: it is often demonstrated in these and other ways for the literary reader, showing that the architecture of a work rests to some degree on the reader’s emotions (as contrasted, for instance, to other models that are primarily cognitive; e.g., text world theory; situation models, etc.). This model, moreover, is not a static one, as Aristotle makes clear in assigning the principal place to the plot: “anyone merely hearing about the incidents will shudder with fear and pity” (Aristotle 2004: 74). While catharsis provides one perspective on the role attributed to emotions in literary response, Aristotle mentions a second: “language that is pleasurably embellished” through the use of “rhythm and melody” (2004: 64). Such a claim may seem paradoxical given that this passage is describing response to tragedy, yet what he has in mind is perhaps the reader’s admiration for the poetic skill evident in creating an effective tragedy, “the tragic pleasure that is associated with pity and fear” (2004: 74). The tragic poet calls upon the powers of language that Aristotle goes on to describe under the heading of “Diction and Style” (2004: 87). Here one of the key powers of the poet is that of defamiliarization: achieving diction that is both clear and unusual is afforded by the use of expanded, abbreviated, and altered forms of words; the unfamiliarity due to this deviation from normal usages will raise the diction above the commonplace, while the retention of some parts of the normal forms will make for clarity (2004: 87). Other terms commonly used to signal these effects are “foregrounding”, and “dehabituation.” The first describes a feature of poetic language: certain stylistic devices that stand out for the reader and that may slow down reading and make it more challenging. Other devices include meter, rhythm, alliteration, assonance, and oxymoron. For Aristotle,


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among many other devices as a poet, “far the most important thing to master is the use of metaphor. This is the one thing that cannot be learnt from anyone else” (2004: 88). The term “dehabituation” is also appropriate since this calls attention to the psychological dimension of the poetic artefact in ways that Aristotle specifies in some detail. A number of theorists mention experiences of dehabituation. For instance, in his Biographia Literaria (1817) Coleridge remembers how his imagination was fired on first reading Wordsworth’s early poems: that it was “the prime merit of genius and its most unequivocal manifestation, so to represent familiar objects as to awaken in the minds of others a kindred feeling concerning them and that freshness of sensation which is the constant accompaniment of mental, no less than bodily, convalescence” (Coleridge 1983: 81). Coleridge here indicates a medical model, where powerful emotions are brought into balance through a “freshness of sensation” so that we come to experience them fully, as though they had never been felt before with such lucidity and clarity. Longinus’ treatise on the sublime is another important and influential account which has several interesting implications for the reader. The sublime “entrances” its hearers; it “transports us with wonders”; “A well‐timed stroke of sublimity scatters everything before it like a thunderbolt” (Longinus 2004: 114). A sublime passage survives numerous hearings “if it can stand up to repeated examination,” and if it is universal in its appeal, if it “pleases all men at all times” (2004: 120). Among other properties of the sublime is its power to elicit imagery in the reader, that is, when it enables its hearer to imagine that they see something, they “bring it before the eyes of your audience” (2004: 133). Thus in rhetoric, Longinus notes, powerful imagery helps the argument below the surface to succeed: “when it is combined with factual arguments it not only persuades the hearer, but actually masters him” (2004: 135). These comments by Longinus show that the sublime moment exercises a physical presence over the hearer, a disturbance of the body provoking the emotions – all the more effectively for the emotions being hidden, their purpose structured in a state of absorption. Other terms for this experience include being rapt, immersed, captivated, preoccupied: these, among other words, demonstrate the power that may be exercised over the self of the reader by reading. Note that it is commonly the case that emotion is accompanied by imagery, likewise that imagery fosters emotion. This observation suggests how the literary experience may gain pre‐eminence, with emotion capturing the active, expressive self. My account of Aristotle’s catharsis, Coleridge on dehabituation, Longinus on the sublime, are intended to point to some of the key terms that illuminate the nature of reading, from Aristotle to the present, and to show that these occur in the theoretical discourse on literary reading more generally. A more detailed account would include Spenser, Pope, Wordsworth, Arnold, Ingarden, and a number of other writers with influence in our own time. That influence, however, tends to be identified with the specific name, principles, and theoretical positions of the writer under review. As a result the same names bearing the same roster of achievements tends to constitute the theory of reading, a history that begins early in the twentieth century with the Russian Formalists, then devolves on to the notable figures (in the Western tradition) of Jonathan Culler, Norman Holland, Stanley Fish, and Wolfgang Iser (Freund 1987). In this chapter my intention is to omit another review of the key personae in this history, and to elaborate instead a recent and less‐well known history, drawing on the achievements of the empirical tradition in which the notable figures may (at most) be mentioned.

Reader-Response Theory


Stylistic Mastery Aristotle’s account of style contrasts unfamiliar words (deliberately adopted) with normal diction (2004: 87), a distinction that has been regarded as a difference between foregrounded and backgrounded words (van Peer 1986). A parallel pair of terms noted by Mukařovský is automatization and deautomatization. His account continues: “By foregrounding … we mean the use of the devices of the language in such a way that this use itself attracts attention and is perceived as uncommon, as deprived of automatization, as deautomatized, such as a live poetic metaphor” (Mukařovský 1964: 10). The term foregrounding (aktualisace) is given by Mukařovský’s first English translator (Garvin 1964). As a dimension of the literary experience it has two significant psychological implications. First, in Mukařovský’s account, “the more an act is automatized, the less it is consciously executed; the more it is foregrounded, the more completely conscious does it become” (Mukařovský 1964: 19). In literature foregrounding thus turns attention to the linguistic means, away from the aim of communication; its objective is “to place in the foregrounding the act of expression, the act of speech itself” (1964: 19), that is, the texture of the words themselves and their resonant properties. In this context the aim of the reader is to grasp the implications of the literary style, whether this features phonetic, grammatical, or semantic components, and with their help consider the purpose and implications of the text in question. This is not to overlook whatever communicative purposes the poetic text possesses, as Mukařovský emphasises (1977: 6); but to note that the communicative aim unfolds in the background and may be subsidiary. The second psychological feature, pointed out by Shklovsky, is to note that the effect of foregrounded features is to “emphasize the emotional effect of an expression” (Shklovsky 1965: 9); a similar point of view is adopted also by Mukařovský: when foregrounding is used, “words and groups of words evoke a greater richness of images and feelings than if they were to occur in a communicative utterance” (Mukařovský 1977: 73). A comment by Coleridge reflects on the power of poetry for the self: “Poetry [is] a rationalized dream dealing to manifold Forms our own Feelings, that never perhaps were attached by us consciously to our own personal Selves” (Coleridge 1962 II: 2086). These comments suggest a link between the foregrounded terms of poetry to the powers of literature for the reader: a point of departure for a theory of literary reading. The comments above allow for the augmentation of literature in feeling, for the enrichment of language in poetry, and for the involvement of the self. But for the moment we turn to examples of empirical studies that have assessed the theoretical claims of critics such as Shklovsky. The account that follows is not, it should be mentioned, a set of instructions for conducting empirical studies, but an informal review of the constructs devised for several of these studies. We begin with a study of foregrounding and related issues. From the beginning of life the human sensory system of the infant has been sensitive to shifts and changes in the ambient sound – since the first year of life before the acquisition of language – and has related this systematically to the sounds emitted by other humans or itself, for example, when experiencing affection from a caregiver, or the dissatisfaction associated with hunger, or the complex rhythmical patterns that surround us with music. These many sounds are not superseded by the development of language. Indeed, it seems probable that the infant experience when allied to language only develops in complexity:


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situations that are welded to sounds that repeat each day gain in significance and enable many aspects of the aural environment to be anticipated. Hence the daily round acquires a reassuring predictability, a degree of comfort in which food, other humans and their behaviour, and the sounds they emit, with other regular occurrences, enable the growing child to begin to derive the larger patterns that surround it and that repeat one day to the next. Having established these patterns it becomes likely that any departures from them will be noticed, and their implications for good or bad will take up a lodging in the infant system either as warnings, or as an array of interesting or pleasant surprises. Some c­ hildren’s literature is based on the play with language taken to an extreme, as the writing of Dr. Seuss demonstrates here (from his birthday verse): Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you‐er than you!

The earliest pre‐reading experience of the child, as we suggested (Miall and Dissanayake 2003), is an important component of the mother–child interaction, commonly known as “babytalk” or “motherese.” It occurs during the first year; and it can be argued that it is the child’s first encounter with a literary or aesthetic experience, an experience that will develop through childhood if the appropriate materials are provided (in print or orally). In time, this will evolve into the challenge of mature literary experience, enjoyed by readers in their teens or 20s and beyond. It provides the basis for the virtually automatic response to the stylistic features of literature – the phonetic, grammatical, and semantic properties already mentioned. Recognition of this phenomenon led us to carry out the first of several empirical studies on literary reading that will now be described.

Miall and Kuiken (1994): An Empirical Perspective As noted, a number of literary theorists going back to Aristotle have emphasized the ­stylistic properties of literary texts, the power of metaphor in particular, seeing our notice of them while reading as spontaneous, recognizing their special powers as foregrounding. Running in parallel are several identifiable psychological phenomena that we might consider as characterizing the literariness of the literary text; that is, a foregrounded feature such as the consonance in the phrase: “damp and cool trickle” (which attracts attention to itself); this correlates with a psychological feature richly presented, such as the sensory properties of a woodland stream. This phrase enriches the narrative context in which it occurs, endowing it with additional properties with the aid of an empirical study. Foregrounded features form an array of properties as mentioned earlier. Our examination of them can be regarded as hypotheses: if a systematic response is made to the foregrounded features by a large number of readers this may be regarded as independent evidence for the autonomous power of the stylistic effects occurring in a narrative or in a lyric poem. For the purpose of an empirical study, a short story was chosen, short enough to enable it to be read within the time allowed for a laboratory session. As this was a study in stylistics the foregrounded features of the text were identified in advance by the experimenters through a thorough analysis of the text, which contains 1387 words and 84 segments

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(a  segment was defined as one sentence, except where a particularly long sentence was ­occasionally divided into two or three segments). Our first task was to collate the times taken by readers to read each segment. Our aim was to assess Shklovsky’s claim that in aesthetic response the process of perception is prolonged, that it works to “increase the difficulty and length of perception” (1965: 12). If this was correct, then a segment containing many foregrounded features would take longer to read than a segment of the same length containing few or none. It can readily be seen that this approach is also based on the contrast between background and foreground. Sixty students were recruited for the study, volunteers from senior English classes at the University of Alberta. They read the short story on screen, pressing the space bar regularly to reveal the next segment. Without readers being aware of it, the computer recorded the time taken to read each segment in milliseconds, after adjusting times to segment length and converting to times per syllable. We were also interested in the judgments that readers make while reading, thus we asked readers to read through the story again by segment, but this time they recorded a judgment of each segment by using a rating scale (from 1 to 5), typing in a number on the keyboard to record their judgment of a given segment. Small groups of readers provided us with ratings on one of several different judgments: strikingness, feeling, discussion value, importance, and imagery (readers’ judgments constituted the dependent variables). For example, readers were asked to report to what extent each “segment arouses feeling in you as a reader, from no feeling to strong feeling.” The ratings of the other judgments were elicited through similar questions. The sets of ratings were then adjusted by calculating the mean for each segment. An index for foregrounding overall per segment was created by computing the mean of the three separate indexes. An index for foregrounding overall per segment was created by computing the mean of the three separate indexes. The data were examined for patterns of relationship, as predicted in particular by the discussions of ­foregrounding and related issues. A number of relationships were found. It should be borne in mind that several groups of independent data were created: considering only the data analyzed by segment, there was the foregrounding index and three subsidiary indexes that recorded phonetic, grammatic, and semantic foregrounding. In addition we had the record of reading times per segment, and the judgments of readers on several rating scales that reflected their response by segment. These created a rich and complex model of response to the story segments as a whole. At this point our task was to examine the data for responses that might reflect aspects of such a model; to ask, in a word, whether the stylistic analysis of the story predicted in part readers’ understanding of it. Are reader’s perceptions lengthened, as Shklovsky proposed, when encountering foregrounded features? Do the reading times of our participants reflect the longer time required to capture the richness and detail of the story segment being read at that moment? If this were shown to be the case, it would be an interesting finding, arguing for the inherent power of the literary text to shape the reader’s experience (a view that was strongly rejected by Stanley Fish, 1980). Several salient findings point to such a conclusion: we find that a simple correlation (Pearson’s) between reading times and phonetic foregrounding was positive, r = 0.377. This result, however, is partly accounted for by factors measured at the same time, such as the other foregrounding components; thus a more appropriate m ­ easure is a partial correlation that eliminates these influences; this shows the partial correlation to be, r = 0.301. This second result appears to be less powerful, but there is in fact no ­important difference between them. In another result the correlation of grammatical foregrounding


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and segment reading times was shown to be insignificant. The partial ­correlation for semantic foregrounding and reading times, however, was r = 0.304. The relationship of the rating judgments to foregrounding was analyzed, after conversion to the mean for each rating group: among the judgments examined, strikingness and feeling were significant: partial correlation of the foregrounding index with strikingness was r = 0.297; with feeling it was r = 0.278. Again, this comparison did not represent a significant difference, but the findings in themselves are significant, and showed that for these readers (registering their judgments systematically) a pervasive structure was evoked by the story. The results shown here go some way to support the claims made for the autonomous power of literary texts – in the case of this work, at least, a modernist short story written earlier in the twentieth century; we later found similar results with several other stories from this period. We can see the text as inviting two ways of reading, a conventionalist and an experiential way. According to Stanley Fish (1980), and several other notable critics, however, we necessarily read within a conventionalist framework. We found that the text contains numerous stylistic features, but that the empirical means employed showed that most readers were unaware of their influence, such as the reading times per segment. Our study has shown that a majority of readers are governed by the same clusters of features in the narrative (for example, the correlation of reading times with the foregrounding index). Fish tells us that a structure of features, designed to determine readings of this kind, operates wherever readers form a part of an interpretative community. This is said to impose on the reader a set of assumptions and conventions in order to make a work of this kind comprehensible. Is this view tenable?

Neural Shakespeare: The Function Shift In the previous section (“Miall and Kuiken (1994)”) we considered the capturing of stylistic features overall in a text. It is also possible to examine a text for the presence and effect of a single feature, which may help provide another demonstration of the power of formal features over the experience of literary reading. In the empirical study to be cited next, confirmation of the power and uniqueness of a formal effect is provided, not by statistical means, as shown by the correlations between text feature and the data of reading; now this feature is investigated through the evidence of a pattern of brain waves (ERPs  –  event‐related potentials) elicited during reading, which occur distinctively in response to the feature in question but not in response to several similar features. The feature in our example is the “functional shift,” the change of an expression from one word class to another. It is demonstrated in this line from Shakespeare’s Othello: “to lip a wanton in a secure couch” (Othello, IV, I, 71), where the noun lip changes function to act as a verb, and “wanton” changes from adjective to noun (Thierry et al. 2008). Shakespeare’s works contain many examples of function shift, providing the resources for an experimental study of readers’ responses. Different versions of the verbal forms were created by the experimenters, designed to show their distinctiveness through ­different patterns of brain waves when exposed to participants. Experimental sentences were constructed according to four different categories, each consisting of a set of 40 sentences:

Reader-Response Theory


1 sentences containing an original function shift extracted from the verse of Shakespeare’s plays, with minor changes to modernize the wording and provide a consistent placing for the shifted target word at or near the end of the sentence; 2 a grammatically correct sentence but containing a literal equivalent instead of the function shift; 3 a grammatically correct sentence but with an incongruent target word; 4 a sentence in which both grammatical and semantic words are incongruent. During the testing phase while participants read the sentences in random order, they were asked to judge whether each sentence was acceptable. As they did so, their brain waves were monitored by electrodes and event‐related potentials (ERPs) were recorded. These electrical responses take several typical forms, usually measured in milliseconds (ms), that identify states of the brain in the early stages of a response. Typical responses include the N100 (a negative wave peaking at around one hundred milliseconds in response to a ­negative stimulus), the N400 (a negative wave caused by a semantic incongruity), or P600 (a positive wave caused by a syntactic violation). Among the results reported, as shown by ERPs, a response to syntactic violation occurred at 320 ms after word onset—that is, after the critical word was presented. This signals a problem to be processed as early as possible: that is, it alerts us with the opening moments of the N400 response, which typically works to resolve incongruity. Notably the behavioral response, indicating whether a sentence is acceptable, is slower for sentences that are semantically incorrect – a result that anticipates the shifts in reading time that occur at the encounter with foregrounding. Response to semantic incongruence appeared between 350 and 550 ms; a larger negative wave occurred when a word was semantically unexpected (regardless of its syntactic status). After this faded a second wave of response to syntactic violation occurred at 550–700 ms; reaction times for syntactic violations were longer than for syntactically correct sentences, demonstrating that the functional shift presented a greater challenge to participants’ comprehension. Semantic incongruence elicited a negative wave of 350–500 ms, an outcome with “all the characteristics of the classical N400, a wave traditionally seen as an index of semantic integration difficulty or semantic re‐evaluation.” A high syntactic violation that is also marked by an intact semantic wave, that is, a high P600 but no N400, indicates the Shakespearean function shift – what Davis (2007) calls the P600 surge. The function shift generated the most errors and took the longest among reaction times: it can thus be regarded as a precursor of literary processing. It is an experience that “creates surprise without altering meaning” (2007: 929). The studies of reading cited so far help to demonstrate the systematic nature of literary response, in contrast to the “whimsical lawlessness of guessing” that E. D. Hirsch (1967: 204) characterized as one major component of the act of reading. Another critic, Jonathan Culler, rejects any socio‐psychological or experimental approach that “would take too seriously the actual and doubtless idiosyncratic performance of individual readers” (Culler 1975: 258). As Bortolussi and Dixon mention, in the light of such comments, many literary critics feared “that the empirical study of real readers would degenerate into sheer interpretive randomness” (Bortolussi and Dixon 2003: 23). These remarks are representative of a prejudice against the empirical among a number of literary theorists. Such


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­observations lead us to wonder why literary scholars would expect such a range of disagreements in the first place when interpreting literary works.

Martindale and Dailey (1995): Disagreement Reviewed For another perspective I provide two further overviews of empirical studies of reading: an article by Martindale and Dailey (1995) that offers a critical account of Practical Criticism (1929) by I. A. Richards; and Dixon and Bortolussi (2003) on their development of an empirical measure, which they named depth of appreciation. Current opinion among literary theorists (Martindale and Dailey 1995) is that literary texts are unstable and that readers will thus disagree over their meaning. The article they produce rejects this likelihood. It does so by dismissing the claims of an influential early empirical study by I. A. Richards in Practical Criticism (1929), a study in which Richards had left the field of literary scholarship believing that the student readers he studied “were poor at discriminating between poems, badly in need of the guidance of the experienced literary critic” (Miall 2006: 91). The Richards study can thus be understood as a polemic for the better teaching of literature. That it left empirical studies under a cloud, and laid the basis for the approach of New Criticism, is unfortunate. Richards’s book is based on the responses of his students at Cambridge to 13 short poems in the form of essays. These responses formed the materials of the study; the poems were presented without identifying the authors. Richards devised a set of ten categories by which he analyzed the responses to the poems: these include perspectives such as the stock response, poetic form, sentimentality, and doctrine in poetry. In this respect, he says, “this book is the record of a piece of field‐work in comparative ideology” (Richards 1929: 6). What he finds most notable is a great diversity of responses to each poem, suggesting that his students demonstrate a serious lack of judgment, an inability to discriminate; they cannot tell the bad poem from the good (1929: 299–301). In a study of Martindale and Dailey (1995), judgments of the qualities of paintings and music, as measured by rating scales, showed a high level of intersubjective agreement. This led Martindale to ask why literary interpretation would be any different. He conducted a reanalysis and partial replication of Richards’s report. This showed the percentages of students who were said to be favorable, non‐committal, or unfavorable towards each poem. Richards supposed that these percentages were evidence of disagreement. But in a statistical reanalysis of the data of the Cambridge readers a highly significant level of agreement was shown on ten of the 13 poems, and moderately favorable on those remaining. Thus Martindale and Dailey conclude, “Richards seems to have seriously misinterpreted his data at least so far as favorability judgments are concerned” (Martindale and Dailey 1995: 303). As literary critics are well aware, “further empirical studies were probably not done since the case was considered closed” (1995: 303). He and Dailey then carried out two further studies with the Richards poems. In the first of these studies, 32 participants were recruited from students in introductory psychology; they rated each of the 13 poems on forty 7‐point scales. All the ratings except one showed a high level of agreement. In a second study, in order to replicate Richards more closely, 11 psychology students were asked to read three of the poems and write a short essay (five

Reader-Response Theory


minutes was allowed for reading each poem, 15 minutes for writing each essay). The essay contents were then scored for Heise’s (1965) norms for evaluation, activity, and potency, which are thought to measure the main dimensions of connotative meaning. Again, agreement was found on all three poems. Thus, they conclude, “people agree in their interpretations of literature to about the same extent regardless of whether they express these interpretations via rating scales or essays” (Heise 1965: 306–7). The problem here for literary scholarship and its history is that the higher level interpretations of interest are far distant from these naive students’ responses; agreement, say Martindale and Dailey, such as Richards’s readers showed, “is not on a level that literary critics care about” (Martindale and Dailey 1995: 307). The assumption that the interpretive judgments of non‐professional readers are unreliable, even whimsical, has undermined the history of literary reading, with the exception of a few readers or critics. In contrast the following scholars have made notably positive contributions: Jonathan Rose (the historian); David Bleich; Lousie Rosenblatt; Michel de Certeau; Ralph W. Rader; and the Konstanz group led by Hans Robert Jauss and Wolfgang Iser. Some implications of literary reading were reflected in the studies analyzed earlier for their insights into questions of reading. Among issues for further consideration empirical studies have shown that literary texts are to an important degree stable entities: aside from the pyrotechnics of postmodern criticism, there are several issues arising from such stability; that readers will tend to agree on their interpretations of a given text; that the formal aspects of the text provide a pervasive structure for its interpretation; and that the insights of the ordinary or “common” reader show a degree of continuity with professional readings.

Bortolussi and Dixon (2003): Literariness An approach to literariness has been an important component of the studies considered so far, and this is an important part of the last study I describe by Bortolussi and Dixon (2003). For quantifying the literariness of reading the depth of appreciation measure was devised: this helps capture changes in evaluation of a text on a set of measures taken after both first and second readings. In the first study, two texts, “Emma Zunz” (2116 words) by Borges (1983), and a pulp fiction (2752 words) Death Was Her Dowry (Dixon et  al. 1993: 18), were read twice by unskilled readers (45 psychology students). On the basis of three ratings questions (out of 15) completed after each reading (Is this good literature? Did you enjoy it? Would you recommend it to a friend?), a marked upward shift in appreciation was found for “Emma Zunz,” but only a minor shift for Death Was Her Dowry. This result shows that untrained readers (as represented by introductory psychology students) were sensitive to literary effects and able to discriminate the differing degrees of literariness in the two texts. Borges was eligible for a literariness upgrade, as it were, but Death Was Her Dowry was not. In a second study, an interpretation of “Emma Zunz” was proposed based on the theme of unreliable communication in the story. A version of the story was made in which all the passages connoting problems in communication were regularized, being made unproblematic in relation to the communication issue. The same empirical test (ratings judgments)


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showed that experienced readers (in the unskilled population) showed little upward shift with the regularized version (but a shift in the original version), while inexperienced readers showed no shift with either version of the story. An adaptation of Death Was Her Dowry including passages showing communicative unreliability had little or no effect in producing an upward shift at second reading. This argues that the text feature in itself will have no effect if the overall text is sub‐literary. However, the depth of appreciation measure seems an interesting tool for signifying literariness. Appreciation is, after all, usually a fundamental constituent of the literary experience. The models of literary reading presented here have involved concepts and methods that are probably quite unfamiliar to most readers. They are models, however, that could begin to refresh a discipline that is widely seen as having outlived its time and exhausted its intellectual resources, and which is currently in some dispute about its aims. It would, among other benefits, require a practical familiarity with scientific theory and method, or at least that part of it appropriate for humanistic inquiries (Gottschall 2008). This would shift attention away from the obscurity of topics that currently preoccupy the time of the professoriate, and redirect it in the service of the majority of the population who find pleasure in reading. As de Beaugrande (1985) observed: “The activities of ordinary readers have not received the attention or respect they merit in view of their social and humanistic importance: the bulk of literature contacts ordinary readers” (1985: 19). This contact comprises an inclusive commitment to several related topics that will illuminate the nature of reading (there may be others). I enumerated these as follows (Miall 2006): studying the ordinary reader; the dehabituating power of literary reading, inviting us to consider the unfamiliar or novel; literariness, arising from the encounter of the reader with an eligible text; the role of feeling, an aspect of the psychology of reading yet to be seriously studied; and experiencing rather than interpreting as the primary focus of literary exploration. These are among the proposals for reconstructing the field of literary studies as I sketched them in a book on literary reading (Miall 2006: 2–3), and introduced them in undergraduate and graduate courses on literary reading. May the models presented in this chapter fire the imagination of present and future scholars.

References Aristotle. 2004. Poetics, in Classical Literary Criticism, trans. Penelope Murray and T. S. Dorsch. London: Penguin. Borges, Jorge Luis. 1983. “Emma Zunz.” Labyrinths, 132–7. New York: Modern Library. Bortolussi, Marisa, and Peter Dixon. 2003. Psychonarratology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. 1962. Notebooks, vol. II, ed. Kathleen Coburn. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. 1983. Biographia Literaria, ed. James Engell and Walter Jackson Bate. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Culler, Jonathan. 1975. Structuralist Poetics. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Davis, Philip. 2007. “The Shakespeared Brain.” The Reader 23: 39–43. De Beaugrande, Robert. 1985. “Poetry and the Ordinary Reader: A Study of Immediate Responses.” Empirical Studies of the Arts 3: 1–21.

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Dixon, Peter, et al. 1993. “Literary Processing and Interpretation: Towards Empirical Foundations.” Poetics 22: 5–33. Fish, Stanley. 1980. Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Freund, Elizabeth. 1987. The Return of the Reader: Reader‐Response Criticism. London: Methuen. Garvin, Paul L. (ed.). 1964. A Prague School Reader on Esthetics, Literary Structure, and Style. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press. Gottschall, Jonathan. 2008. Literature, Science, and a New Humanities. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Heise, D. R. 1965. “Semantic Differential Profiles for 1000 Most Frequent Words in English.” Psychological Monographs 79: 1–31. Hirsch E. D. 1967. Validity in Interpretation. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. Holub, Robert C. 1984. Reception Theory: A Critical Introduction. London: Methuen. Longinus. 2004. On the Sublime, in Classical Literary Criticism, trans. Penelope Murray and T. S. Dorsch. London: Penguin. Martindale, Colin and Audrey Dailey. 1995. “I. A. Richards Revisited: Do People Agree in Their Interpretations of Literature?” Poetics 23: 299–314. Miall, David S. and Ellen Dissanayake. 2003. “The Poetics of Babytalk.” Human Nature 14: 337–64.


Miall, David S. and Don Kuiken. 1994. “Foregrounding, Defamiliarization, and Affect: Response to Literary Stories.” Poetics 22: 389–407. Mukařovský, Jan. 1964. A Prague School Reader on Esthetics, Literary Structure, and Style, trans. Paul L. Garvin. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press. Mukařovský, Jan. 1977. The Word and Verbal Art, ed. and trans. J. Burbank and P. Steiner. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. Richards, I. A. 1929. Practical Criticism: A Study of Literary Judgment. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Seuss, Dr. [Theodor Seuss Geisel]. 1987. Happy Birthday To You! New York: Random House. Shklovsky, Viktor. 1965. “Art as Technique.” In L. T. Lemon and M. J. Reis, trans., Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. Sophocles. 1947. Oedipus Rex, in Theban Plays, trans. E. F. Watling. Harmondsworth: Middlesex: Penguin. Thierry, Guillaume, et  al. 2008. “Event‐Related Potential Characterisation of the Shakespearean Functional Shift in Narrative Sentence Structure.” NeuroImage 40: 923–31.


Empathy Studies Suzanne Keen

Current scholarship and debates Understanding empathy as an aspect of readers’ responses to literature, authors’ creative imagining, and the textual cues that invite or repel experiences of emotional fusion with literary texts has become a lively area of literary theorizing and empirical research. Drawing on existent research in three distinct areas of psychology—cognitive, developmental, and social psychology—(see Eisenberg 2005; Hoffman 2000: Davis 1994; Eisenberg and Strayer 1987), on philosophical work in the areas of ethics or moral philosophy (see Coplan and Goldie 2011; Slote 2007; Nussbaum 2001), and stimulated by the discovery of mirror neurons and the proposal that human beings possess a shared manifold for intersubjectivity with others (Decety and Ickes 2011; Gallese 2003), literary empathy studies has been an interdisciplinary endeavor from the outset. With roots in the German psychological ­aesthetics of the turn of the twentieth century, in which context the term Einfühlung first emerged, studies of empathy have been carried out since then by psychologists, philosophers, art and literary critics, and in recent decades by neuroscientists (sometimes working in collaboration with humanists). That richness of approach brings with it immediate challenges, starting with the terminology used to label a wide variety of empathic ­phenomena, many of which correlate with experiences literary theorists associate with techniques, genres, and historical periods of literature. In a literary context, novelist Vernon Lee (1913) and poetry critic Richard Harter Fogle (1949) adapted Einfühlung to the description of aesthetic acts and responses, but in subsequent decades literary empathy has been more squarely associated with character identification (Breger and Breithaupt 2010), regarded as a version of the role‐taking or perspective‐taking imagination. Psychologist C. Daniel Batson’s 2011 article “These Things Called Empathy: Eight Related but Distinct Phenomena” usefully elaborates and describes the qualities of A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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c­ omponents of empathy, including what others have studied under the labels of cognitive empathy (and empathic accuracy), motor mimicry, emotional contagion, Einfühlung, Theory of Mind (ToM), perspective‐taking, role‐taking, putting oneself in the shoes of another, personal distress, and the older term sympathy. A limitation of Batson’s list lies in his omission of fantasy empathy, involving empathic responsiveness to imaginary beings, including literary creations. My own definition of narrative empathy can be regarded as a variety of fantasy empathy. In the online Living Handbook of Narratology, I offer this definition: Narrative empathy is the sharing of feeling and perspective‐taking induced by reading, ­viewing, hearing, or imagining narratives of another’s situation and condition. Narrative empathy plays a role in the aesthetics of production when authors experience it (Taylor et al. 2002–2003: 361, 376–7), in mental simulation during reading, in the aesthetics of reception when readers experience it, and in the narrative poetics of texts when formal strategies invite it. Narrative empathy overarches narratological categories, involving actants, narrative situation, matters of pace and duration, and storyworld features such as settings. The d­ iversity of the narratological concepts involved (addressed in more detail below) suggests that ­narrative empathy should not simply be equated with character identification nor exclusively verified by readers’ reports of identification. (Character identification may invite narrative empathy; alternatively, spontaneous empathy with a fictional character may precede identification; Keen 2007: 169.) Empathetic effects of narrative have been theorized by literary critics, philosophers, and psychologists, and they have been evaluated by means of experiments in discourse processing, empirical approaches to narrative impact, and through introspection. (Keen 2013)

Empathy‐evoking literary texts call upon readers’ emotional responsiveness to textual creations or representations, and these readers’ sensations of matching feelings possess an authenticity that may arise from the human neural capacity for shared intersubjectivity (among real people). Writers hoping to evoke empathy reach out to different audiences through bounded, ambassadorial, and broadcast strategic empathy (Keen 2008). They employ (and cognitive narratologists investigate) a wide variety of techniques to invite readers’ empathy. Yet real‐life empathy is subject to diminishment or even elimination from interfering biases: here‐and‐now biases (the tendency to favor those near us in time and place over those far away); and similarity or familiarity biases (enabling humans to connect more readily to those like ourselves or already known to us, and less well with those outside our groups or experiences). Whether the real‐life empathy that human beings feel for living others works the same way and with the same limitations and benefits in literary empathy is a fundamental debate in empathy studies, including those carried out by scientists. Indeed, some of the most provocative and widely publicized findings about the impact of literary reading on the empathic abilities of readers have resulted from psychological research by cognitive scientists, as for example, David Kidd and Emanuele Castano’s studies showing that ToM improves as a result of reading literary (but not popular) fiction (Kidd and Castano 2013). Humanists are not invariably convinced by the reasoning implicit in scientific studies, however, and empathy itself has its critics (Stein 1989). For example, as philosopher Jesse Prinz suggests, empathy roused for one individual or group


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sometimes leads to unjust responses, regarded from a utilitarian point of view, or may be employed in a two‐step process, where empathy for an in‐group then paves the way for antipathy or even murderous dehumanization of an out‐group (Prinz 2011). Among literary critics, postcolonial literary theorists in particular critique assumptions of biologically based universal human emotions that erase differences (Keen 2015). Bearing on this question are several other areas of controversy. They include: the philosophical debates about the status of fictional emotions (known as the paradox of fictional emotions in philosophy); the attribution of enhanced effectiveness to artful, literary fiction; the contention that narrative empathy leads to altruism, pro‐social actions, and good world citizenship; the argument that all forms of empathy (including literary empathy) are inefficacious when false empathy, failed empathy, and personal distress intervene; and the implications of gender and other aspects of readers’ intersectional identities for reception of strategic narrative empathizing on the part of authors. Cross‐disciplinary stress points in empathy studies, whose interdisciplinarity involves empirical research in scientific disciplines or collaboration between and among humanists, social scientists, and natural scientists, underlie many if not all of these debates.

Narrative of the Topic Before the neuroscience of mirror neurons emerged, late twentieth‐century psychology had already recognized that human beings can and do “feel with” fictional characters in a way that resembles human empathy with real others. Batson’s omission of fantasy empathy from his taxonomy of empathic phenomena should be regarded as an oversight, not an indication of a lack of interest on the part of psychologists in narrative empathy. Indeed, some developmental and social‐psychological theories of empathy (e.g., Hoffman 2000) show the influence of ideas about the novel as a school for the sentiments and morality of readers. One subscale of social psychologist Mark Davis’s widely adopted Interpersonal Reactivity Responsiveness test (IRI) measures subjects’ fantasy empathy, which “taps respondents’ tendencies to transpose themselves imaginatively into the feelings and actions of fictitious characters in books, movies, and plays” (Davis 1980). Keith Oatley, a cognitive psychologist and novelist, led the way in the study of emotions involved in literary response, including character identification (Oatley 1994), and developed a robust ­psychology of fiction (Oatley 2001). Ed S. Tan of Amsterdam, Frank Hakemulder of Utrecht, and their collaborators have been studying aspects of affect induced by film, fiction, and other media for decades. Some of this research aims at understanding how literature in a variety of media draws on human emotions to induce affects (Tan 1995), while other studies (e.g., Koopman and Hakemulder 2015) investigate the effects of empathic reading or viewing experiences on a subject’s subsequent emotional state, reflectiveness, and behavior. Media psychologists Melanie Green, Jeffrey Strange, David Brock, and their collaborators have studied the immersive reading referred to by the term “transportation,” a phenomenon that often involves experiences of empathy. David S. Miall, working in collaboration with Don Kuiken, a social and cultural psychologist, developed a sophisticated research program studying the neuro‐aesthetics of literary reading, including empathy and emotional engagement, in a discourse processing context.

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One outcome of the efforts mentioned here, the writing of introductory guides to empirical methodologies for humanists by Sonia Zyngier, Marisa Bortolussi, Willie Van Peer, Peter Dixon, and Jemeljan Hakemulder, proves useful to empathy scholars in literary studies. A second outcome is the expansion of interdisciplinary journals in which to read about empathy from a variety of angles, as in the special section on Empathy in Emotion Review 4 (1) (2012). Research about literary empathy can be found in journals such as Scientific Study of Literature (a publication of the society, International Society for the Empirical Study of Literature and Media [IGEL]), Empirical Studies of the Arts (a publication of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics [IAEA]), and Emotion Review (published in association with the International Society of Research on Emotion), as well as in literary journals with an interest in cognitive poetics, such as The Journal of Literary Theory (JLT), Narrative, Poetics, and Poetics Today. However, the incorporation and analysis of data from empirical studies sometimes meets with resistance from humanists, especially in response to credulous, ­exaggerated, or inaccurate reporting of neuroscience research on empathy by non‐neuroscientists. To address that concern, literary scholars should take secondhand reports in the popular press with a grain of salt, and should make every effort to read the original papers, to examine their methodology, including the constitution of the pool of research subjects, and to pay attention to the size of the effects measured. Though papers with iconic brain images in them may exert undue influence (McCabe and Castel 2008), and neuroscientific explanations may sway some readers through “seductive allure” (Weisberg et  al. 2008), these effects are surely counteracted by humanists’ judgment that ­neuroscience is inevitably reductive and essentializing. That dismissive position may prevent serious discussion of the results of exemplary collaborations whose findings deserve attention. Ideally, critical evaluation of neuroscientific investigations of literary reading would flow in both directions, as it does in the work of Natalie Phillips (2015). Some of the backlash against what is sometimes characterized as a misguided interdisciplinarity arises when speculative theorizing of evolutionary biologists and psychologists gets applied to literary studies, as if genres, styles, and literary techniques were subject to natural selection. Literary scholars should engage with these theories with the skepticism and close reading skills that are the hallmarks of literary critical training: Marko Juvan’s 2014 critique of literary Darwinism is exemplary in this regard. However, some of the negative response to empirical study of empathy as it bears on literary studies comes from humanists’ characterization of psychologists, biologists, neuroscientists, and cognitive scientists as engaging in universalizing descriptions of human nature that virtually all anthropologists, historians, and literary critics trained in the scrutiny of difference would reject out of hand. Perhaps the most compelling version of this critique comes from Ralph Savarese, whose call for a “neurocosmopolitanism” warns against regarding neuro‐typical experience as a default version of human experience (Savarese 2013). Savarese’s cautions were instigated by the medical diagnostic manuals that include empathy deficit as a characteristic of autism and/or Asperger’s Syndrome. Savarese suggests (and recent research supports) that an excess of empathy (verging on personal distress) rather than a lack of empathy may in fact be discovered to be the experience of autistic subjects, if one takes the trouble to ask them.


Suzanne Keen

While it is certainly true that the psychological sciences emphasize empirical evidence to understand how the brain and body participate in human (and animal) behavior, these disciplines also recognize that subjects’ responses distribute across ranges, revealing more and fewer typical possibilities. So while excellent work has been done to develop an understanding of the underlying physical mechanisms and neural substrate of empathy, neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, and psychologists expect variation in both physiological empathic responses (as measured by heart rate and palm sweat as well as by suggestive brain images of blood flow in key brain areas) as well as in the conscious experience of research subjects (as elicited by querying them or observing them in an experimental setting). Since an individual person’s experience of empathy (real or literary) requires both human cognition and affect, the burgeoning knowledge about how thinking and feeling interact in our responses to real and imagined others should be pertinent to theorizing about empathy. It certainly does not follow that all differences among people, differences that stem from our highly variant intersectional identities and experiences, should be erased just because psychological, neuroscientific, and cognitive studies inform the discussion. An awareness of findings about empathy emerging from empirical disciplines enriches current theorizing about literary empathy. The career of literary empathy reaches back at least to the eighteenth century, when many of the phenomena described by Batson were theorized by Adam Smith and David Hume under the term “sympathy” (Keen 2007). In keeping with later parsing of the distinctive phenomena of empathy out of sympathy (Wispé 1987), I differentiate narrative empathy from sympathy by defining the former as a version of the same feeling: When Dorothea Brooke feels trapped and frustrated by her marriage to Casaubon, I feel trapped and frustrated—empathy—but my feeling of pity for her deluded and impotent husband is sympathy, because I don’t share the beliefs and feelings of Casaubon. Both Smith and Hume, whose descriptions of sympathy include illustrations that we would identify as either affective or cognitive forms of empathy such as motor mimicry, emotional contagion, role‐taking, and perspective taking, were read with care by literary authors. The English poetry, drama, and fiction of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries reveal an interest on the part of those authors in evoking shared feelings, whether in the sensationalist invitations of gothic, offering thrills and chills, or in the more sober education of the sympathetic imagination that George Eliot theorized and implemented in her novels. The novel of sentiment, a genre that enjoyed popularity during a period of social change, has been understood as a school for the emotions (Richter 1996: 74–8). In Empathy and the Novel, I show that the argument between moral sentimentalists and their critics about the efficacy of literary empathy as a spur to morality (or a waste of the feelings on non‐existent beings and a moral dead‐end) has been restaged many times since the eighteenth century. Some of the points in that debate still inform research in empathy studies today. However, before tackling what experiencing narrative empathy might result in for those who feel it, a more fundamental philosophical debate about the status of fictional emotions should be considered. Philosophers debate the emotions evoked by reading, viewing, or hearing fictional narrative under the phrase “the paradox of fictional emotions” (Yanal 1999: 8), in a fashion that is directly relevant to empathy studies. The debate centers on whether it is possible to feel genuine emotion in response to a fictitious character or event (Dadlez 1997; Hjort and

Empathy Studies


Laver 1997). Even when (and possibly because) readers are aware of the fictionality of a text, they feel for and with characters and get involved in the narrated events (in part responding to the core affects of narrativity, curiosity, surprise, and suspense). Why do readers who know that a work is fictional experience emotions that they regard as real? Three propositions by philosopher Robert Yanal summarize the “paradox set”: 1 Some people (we’ll call them emoters) on occasion experience emotions towards characters or situations they take to be fictions. 2 Any person experiences an emotion only if he believes that the object of his emotion both exists and exhibits at least some of the emotion inducing properties specific to that emotion. 3 No emoter who takes the object of his emotion to be fiction believes that the object of the emotion exists and exhibits any emotion inducing properties. (Yanal 1999: 11) Yanal explains the paradox, writing, “We thus have yet cannot have emotions toward fiction” (1999: 12). Since narrative empathy depends upon the sensation of shared feeling or emotional fusion, somehow the fictions that evoke it transcend, albeit temporarily, the barriers of non‐existence and illogic. Need “non‐existence” pose a problem, though? Samuel Johnson observed in 1765 that “imitations produce pain or pleasure, not because they are mistaken for realities, but because they bring realities to mind” (Johnson 1968: 78). Writing about the emotional impact of drama, Johnson suggested, the reflection that strikes the heart is not, that the evils before us are real evils, but that they are evils to which we ourselves may be exposed. If there be any fallacy, it is not that we fancy the players, but that we fancy ourselves unhappy for a moment … The delight of tragedy proceeds from our consciousness of fiction; if we thought murders and treasons real, they would please no more. (1968: 78)

Theorists of fictional emotions offer alternatives to Colin Radford’s “irrationality” charge (1975, 1977), in the form of “make‐believe” theory, “counterpart” theory, and “thought” theory. Kendall Walton (1978, 1990) argues that readers and viewers are not irrational: they are playing a game of make‐believe. But the feelings fiction evokes are for Walton only quasi‐emotions, not the real emotions referred to in Yanal’s first proposition, but make‐believe feelings elicited in a game involving pretend play. Counterpart theory offers a different work‐around of the irrationality charge. It acknowledges the existence of possible worlds, but requires that people exist in only one world. Their responses to fictional persons in secondary worlds are understood as caused by making analogies to the situations of actual people. The fictional beings, by this argument, cause the reader or viewer to think about real beings that share their real world (Lewis 1986). Cognitive theories of empathy, especially those emphasizing perspective‐taking and role‐taking imagining, can be seen as compatible with the restrictions of counterpart theory. The quick, seemingly involuntary emotional experiences of narrative empathy that occur during reading or viewing literary texts are more difficult to explain by make‐believe or counterpart theories, however. Philosophical “thought” theorists argue that thoughts without belief in the actuality of fictional beings can still evoke emotional responses from


Suzanne Keen

readers (Smith 1995; Carroll 1990; Lamarque 1981, 1994), accounting for Yanal’s second proposition and supporting his third contention, that “No emoter who takes the object of his emotion to be fiction believes that the object of the emotion exists and exhibits any emotion inducing properties” (Yanal 1999: 11). This avoidance of the irrationality charge doesn’t interfere with the reader or viewer’s feelings, which may after all be involuntary. Psychologists Richard J. Gerrig (1993) and David N. Rapp (2004) provide in their research on the mechanisms of narrative impact support for “thought” theory. They confute “make‐believe” theory, tackling it at its source in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria (1817). In contrast to Coleridge’s view that readers must willingly suspend disbelief to procure poetic faith in fictions, “these shadows of imagination” (Coleridge 1983: 6), Gerrig and Rapp argue that readers must effortfully and actively work to disbelieve the reality of fictive narratives. Our default state is gullible, not skeptical: readers ordinarily receive narrative information as continuous with information gleaned from real experience. We have to exert ourselves consciously to think of fictional narratives as fictional, e­ specially while we are experiencing them (Gerrig 1993). The metaleptic gestures of metafiction, breaking the frame and reminding readers of a text’s fictionality, plays with this habit of readers. Media psychologist Ed S. Tan (1995) has shown that movie viewers may e­ xperience the same emotional responses as witnesses, regardless of fictionality, in research that backs up “thought” theory. The status of fictional emotions debate intersects in empathy studies with controversies about ToM, a branch of cognitive science that is informed by philosophies of mind (Marraffa 2011). With regards to empathy, philosophers, cognitive scientists, and psychologists still debate whether “theory‐theory” or simulation theory provides the most persuasive account of how humans share and understand the mental states and emotions of others through mindreading. Theory‐theory holds that human subjects develop, as children, “theories” about how and why others behave the way they do. They apply these folk‐psychological beliefs, which they have developed through observation as they mature cognitively, to their interpretations of others’ behavior (Gopnik 2003). Theory‐theory can accommodate some innate responses, but it emphasizes the formation, testing, and revision of theories as part of a cognitive process, including theories of others’ minds (ToM). Simulation theory suggests that human beings simulate, through mental modeling, others’ experiences in order to arrive at an understanding of their thoughts and feelings (Goldman 2006). This process can happen rapidly (as in reading facial expressions) and without conscious exertion. The validity of simulation theory has received a boost from the discovery of mirror neurons, which in turn suggests the existence of a physiological mechanism for a shared manifold for intersubjectivity (Gallese 2003). Simulation theory places empathic behavior, Einfühlung, at the center of its processes (leading either to role‐taking or perspective‐taking). Though each of these schools of thought—simulation theory and theory‐theory—represents groups of theories, some of whose adherents vehemently denounce interpretations from the other side, common sense suggests that an individual subject’s empathy may be partly driven by automatic mental simulations and supported by folk theories or ideas derived by observation about how others behave. Indeed, as philosopher of science Massimo Marraffa points out, “a consensus seems to be emerging that mindreading involves both” theory‐theory and ­simulation theory (Marraffa 2011).

Empathy Studies


When it comes to literary empathy, the dispositions of both authors and readers have a bearing on the way the other minds of represented persons are constructed and received. Aspects of authors’ and readers’ intersectional identities, especially gender, have been hypothesized to play a significant role in co‐creating experiences of narrative empathy. Psychologist Marjorie Taylor suggests a relationship between high‐empathizing and successful fiction writing, in a study of the illusion of independent agency, the sense authors have that their fictional creations have taken on lives of their own (Taylor 2002/2003). Other studies have emphasized the empathic abilities and social advantages that fiction readers have over consumers of non‐fiction (Mar, Oatley, et al. 2006). It seems clear that possessing the trait of empathizing predisposes people to enjoy fiction, and in the much smaller subset of people who become authors, to create characters and fictional worlds that invite immersive reading experiences. However, these studies of empathy and fiction reading also contribute to the theory that novel reading helps not only to exercise readers’ empathy but to cultivate it and develop what Martha Nussbaum describes as “good world citizenship” (Nussbaum 1997: 90) or what Stephen Pinker regards as a nicer, more p­ eaceable (or at least less murderous) human species (Pinker 2011). I respond at length to the moral sentimentalist hypothesis that novel reading develops readers’ sympathetic imagination in Empathy and the Novel (2007), questioning the degree to which the empathy‐altruism hypothesis also pertains to readers’ subsequent behavior after experiences of narrative empathy. Many readers experience fictional emotions intensely, remembering them for years in some cases, and seeking out their repetition through more reading and viewing. Narrative empathy certainly fuels a fictional‐consumption habit. My reading of the developmental psychology of personality convinces me that fiction‐reading alone is unlikely permanently to shift a reader’s disposition at the level of the big five personality traits, but it is certainly demonstrable that experiences of narrative empathy can change attitudes about outgroups, reduce bias, and translate into real‐world sympathy for others outside of books. The link between narrative empathy and altruism (prosocial action) is still more tenuous, though psychologist Dan R. Johnson has demonstrated increases in both empathy and prosocial helping behavior as a result of immersive reading primed by mental visualizing exercises (Johnson 2012). Altruism is in itself a controversial subject in evolutionary biology, psychology, and philosophy, and whether or not it is reliably inspired by empathic feelings induced by literary works is only the first problem. Narrative empathy, like its real‐world counterpart, has been criticized for evoking mistaken, false empathy (that misgauges the feelings of the other) or for inefficacious, failed empathy (that simply stalls out), sometimes as a result of the overly intense, aversive response known in the psychological literature as personal distress. When narrative empathy does stimulate emotion fusion, no moral guarantees exist. Literary works can set about to arouse empathy for morally suspect subjects, such as white supremacists, and if action arises from such emotion, it can be antisocial or even an instance of what has been described as pathological altruism (Oakley, Knafo, Madhavan, and Wilson 2012). The mechanisms employed in literary texts to evoke the emotional fusion and even physiological responses characteristic of narrative empathy can be bent to amoral or vicious ends as readily as to the laudable projects of civic virtue. In my opinion understanding how narrative empathy works outside a value‐laden expectation that it ought to be morally improving leads to a better understanding of both empathy and narrative techniques.


Suzanne Keen

Narratives evoking empathy may be non‐fictional or fictional. Readers, listeners, and viewers have the capacity to immerse themselves in (lose themselves in, or feel transported into) both fictional worlds, where they experience emotions more appropriate to the situations or circumstances imaginary denizens of those worlds than to themselves, and non‐fictional accounts, where at least hypothetically for factual narratives of the present day, they might cross‐check their empathic accuracy with real people or ­ ­corroborating sources.

Suggestions for Further Research Empathy, sympathy, and affects related to the experience of literature have been theorized for over a century. For example, narrativity’s core affects, inhering in the temporal asymmetries of story and discourse, have been identified as curiosity, surprise, and suspense (Sternberg 1978). Metrical verse has been related to breathing and walking, with attributed physiological effects on heart rate and blood pressure (Richards 1926). Immersion reading has been linked not only to the phenomenon of feeling “lost in a book” (Nell 1988), but also to both positive and negative effects on the morality of readers. Immersed readers have more commonly been understood as indulging in deleterious escapism, but recently narrative immersion or transportation has been positively associated with improved empathy and prosocial behavior (Johnson 2012). From the opposite direction, working against empathy, Bertolt Brecht famously advocated that dramatic art should seek not an empathic response as a result of illusionary theater, but should instead seek an impact of estrangement (Verfremsdungeffekt), sometimes rendered as alienation effect (Brecht 1964). Within the theories concerning each major mode of literature, including emergent transmedial or hybrid forms such as graphic narratives or hypertext fictions, one finds assumptions about the cognitive demands and affective impacts on readers. As I have suggested, the empirical study of these contentions (or assumptions) is still in its very early stages. Illuminating work has been accomplished in fine‐grained neuroscientific or psychonarratological studies of the impact of particular narrative techniques, such as free indirect discourse, on aspects of narrative impact (e.g., Fletcher and Monterosso 2016). The most difficult sorts of study to carry out are large ones, with thousands of participants, and long ones, measuring effects over time. The benefit of large studies, for example involving thousands of college‐aged students as they enter and leave university, would be the ability to verify the lofty ambitions often expressed in the student learning outcomes associated with literary studies or diversity requirements. These wished‐for ­outcomes often include improved perspective taking and increased empathy. As it is, ­educators often undertake large‐scale shifts in curricular recommendations speculatively. The benefit of longitudinal studies would be to understand better how reading habits inform life choices, and even health outcomes, over the lifespan. If literary experiences of empathy do contribute to the development of civic virtues, longitudinal studies that remove confounding elements of education, experience, and identity would go a long way towards convincing the skeptical, among whom I number.

Empathy Studies


References Batson, C. Daniel. 2011. “These Things Called Empathy: Eight Related but Distinct Phenomena.” In The Social Neuroscience of Empathy, ed. Jean Decety and William Ickes, 3–16. Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press. Bernaerts, Lars, Dirk de Geest, Luc Herman, and Bart Vervaeck (eds.). 2013. Stories and Minds: Cognitive Approaches to Literary Narrative. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Bortolussi, Marisa and Peter Dixon. 2003. Psychonarratology; Foundations for the Empirical Study of Literary Response. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. Brecht, Bertolt. 1964. “Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting.” In Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, ed. John Willett. 91–9. New York: Hill & Wang. Breger, Claudia and Fritz Breithaupt (eds.). 2010. Empathie und Erzählung. Freiburg: Rombach Verlag. Carroll, Noel. 1990. The Philosophy of Horror: or, Paradoxes of the Heart. New York: Routledge. Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. 1983 [1817]. Biographia Literaria. In The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, vol. 7, part 2, ed. James Engell and Walter Jackson Bate. London and Princeton: Routledge & Kegan Paul/Princeton University Press. Coplan, Amy and Peter Goldie (eds.). 2011. Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Dadlez, Eva M. 1997. What’s Hecuba to Him?: Fictional Events and Actual Emotions. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. Davis, Mark. 1980. “A Multidimensional Approach to Individual Differences in Empathy.” JSAS Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology 10: 85. Davis, Mark. 1994. Empathy: A Social Psychological Approach. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Decety, Jean and William Ickes.(eds.). 2011. The Social Neuroscience of Empathy. Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press. Eisenberg, Nancy. 2005. “The Development of Empathy‐Related Responding.” In Moral Motivation Through the Life Span, ed. Gustavo Carlo and Carolyn Pope Edwards, 73–117. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press. Eisenberg, Nancy and Janet Strayer (eds.). 1987. Empathy and its Development, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Fogle, Richard Harter. 1949. The Imagery of Keats and Shelley: A Comparative Study. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Fletcher, Angus and John Monterosso. 2016. “The Science of Free Indirect Discourse: An Alternative Cognitive Effect.” Narrative 24 (1): 82–103. Fong, Katrina and Raymond A. Mar. 2012. “Exposure to Narrative Fiction versus Expository Nonfiction: Diverging Social and Cognitive Outcomes.” In De stralende lezer; wetenschappelijk onderzoek naar de invloed van het lezen. [The radiant reader; scientific research concerning the influence of reading], ed. Frank Hakemulder, 55–68. Delft, NL: Eburon Academic. Gallese, Vittorio. 2003. “The Roots of Empathy: The Shared Manifold Hypothesis and the Neural Basis of Intersubjectivity.” Psychopathology 36 (4): 171–80. Gefen, Alexandre and Bernard Vouilloux (eds.). 2013. Empathie et esthétique. Paris: Éditions Hermann. Gerrig, Richard J. 1993. Experiencing Narrative Worlds: On the Psychological Activities of Reading. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. Goldman, Alvin I. 2006. Simulating Minds. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gopnik, Alison. 2003. “The Theory as an Alternative to the Innateness Hypothesis.” In Chomsky and His Critics, ed. Louise M. Antony and Norbert Hornstein, 238–54. Malden, MA: Blackwell.


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Green, Melanie C., Jeffrey J. Strange, and Timothy C. Brock (eds.). 2002. Narrative Impact: Social and Cognitive Foundations. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Greiner, Rae. 2011. “Thinking of Me Thinking of You: Sympathy Versus Empathy in the Realist Novel.” Victorian Studies, 53 (3): 417–26. Hammond, Meghan Marie and Sue J. Kim. 2014. Rethinking Empathy through Literature. New York and London: Routledge. Hein, Grit and Tania Singer. 2010. “Neuroscience Meets Social Psychology: An Integrative Approach to Human Empathy and Prosocial Behavior.” In Prosocial Motives, Emotions, and Behavior: The Better Angels of Our Nature, ed. Mario Mikulincer and Philip R. Shaver, 109–25. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Hjort, Mette, and Sue Laver (eds.). 1997. Emotion and the Arts. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Hoffman, Martin. 2000. Empathy and Moral Development: Implications for Caring and Justice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hogan, Patrick Colm. 2011. Affective Narratology: The Emotional Structure of Stories. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Hogan, Patrick Colm. 2011. What Literature Teaches Us about Emotion. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. Ickes, William. 2011. “Empathic Accuracy: Its Links to Clinical, Cognitive, Developmental, Social, and Physiological Psychology.” In The Social Neuroscience of Empathy, ed. Jean Decety and William Ickes, 57–70. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Johnson, Dan R. 2012. “Transportation into a Story Increases Empathy, Prosocial Behavior, and Perceptual Bias Toward Fearful Expressions.” Personality and Individual Differences 52: 150–5. Johnson, Samuel. 1968. “Preface to Shakespeare.” In The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, vol. 7, ed. Arthur Sherbo, 59–113. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Juvan, Marko. 2014. “Taking Darwin Metaphorically and Literally: Genres and Sciences in a Survival Struggle.” Neohelicon 41: 303–15.

Keen, Suzanne. 2007. Empathy and the Novel. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Keen, Suzanne. 2008. “Strategic Empathizing: Techniques of Bounded, Ambassadorial, and Broadcast Narrative Empathy.” Deutsche Vierteljahrs Schrift 82 (3): 477–93. Keen, Suzanne. 2013. “Narrative Empathy.” In The Living Handbook of Narratology, ed. Peter Hühn,et  al. Hamburg: Hamburg University. http://www.lhn.uni‐hamburg.de/article/ narrative‐empathy (accessed: 30 Aug 2016). Keen, Suzanne. 2015. “Human Rights Discourse and Universals of Cognition and Emotion: Postcolonial Fiction.” In The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Literary Studies, ed. Lisa Zunshine. Oxford University Press: 347–65. Kidd, David and Emanuele Castano. 2013. “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind.” Science 342 (6156): 377–80. Koopman, Emy and Frank Hakemulder. 2015. “Effects of Literature on Empathy and­ Self‐ Reflection—A Theoretical‐Empirical Framework.” Journal of Literary Theory 9 (1): 79–111. Kuiken, Don and M. B. Oliver. 2013. “Aesthetic Engagement During Moments of Suffering.” Scientific Study of Literature 3 (2): 294–321. Kuijpers, Moniek M., Frank Hakemulder, Ed S. Tan, and Miruna M. Doicaru. 2014. “Exploring Absorbing Reading Experiences: Developing and Validating a Self‐report Scale to Measure Story World Absorption.” Scientific Study of Literature 4 (1): 89–122. doi: 10.1075/ ssol.4.1.05kui. Lamarque, Peter. 1981. “How Can We Fear and Pity Fictions?” British Journal of Aesthetics 21: 291–304. Lamarque, Peter. 1994. Truth, Fiction, and Literature: A Philosophical Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Lee, Vernon. 1913. The Beautiful. An Introduction to Psychological Aesthetics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Lewis, David. 1986. On the Plurality of Worlds. Oxford: Blackwell.

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Mar, Raymond A., Keith Oatley, et  al. 2006. “Bookworms Versus Nerds: Exposure to Fiction Versus Non‐fiction, Divergent Associations with Social Ability, and the Simulation of Fictional Social Worlds.” Journal of Research in Personality 40: 694–712. Mar, Raymond A., Keith Oatley, et  al. 2009. “Exploring the Link between Reading Fiction and Empathy: Ruling out Individual Differences and Examining Outcomes.” Communications 34: 407–28. Marraffa, Massimo. 2011. “Theory of Mind.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by James Fieser and Bradley Dowden. http://www.iep.utm.edu/ theomind/ (accessed 5 September 2016). McCabe, D. P. and A. D. Castel. 2008. “Seeing is Believing: The Effect of Brain Images on Judgments of Scientific Reasoning.” Cognition 107 (1): 343–52. Miall, David S. 2009. “Neuroaesthetics of Literary Reading.” In Neuroaesthetics, ed. Martin Skov and Oshin Vartanian, 233–47. Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing. Nell, Victor. 1988. Lost in a Book: The Psychology of Reading for Pleasure. New Haven: Yale University Press. Nussbaum, Martha. 1997. Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Nussbaum, Martha. 2001. Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Oakley, Barbara, Ariel Knafo, Guruprasad Madhavan, and David Sloan Wilson (eds.). 2012. Pathological Altruism. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Oatley, Keith. 1994. “A Taxonomy of the Emotions of Literary Response and a Theory of Identification in Fictional Narrative.” Poetics 23: 53–74. Oatley, Keith. 2001. Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction. Malden, MA: Wiley‐ Blackwell. Phillips, Natalie. 2015. “Literary Neuroscience and History of Mind: An fMRI Study of


Attention and Jane Austen.” In The Oxford Handbook for Cognitive Approaches to Literature, ed. Lisa Zunshine. 55–81. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Pinker, Steven. 2011. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. New York: Viking. Prinz, Jesse. 2011. “Against Empathy.” The Southern Journal of Philosophy 49 (1): 214–33. Radford, Colin. 1975. “How Can We Be Moved by the Fate of Anna Karenina?” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplemental volume 49: 67–80. Radford, Colin. 1977. “Tears and Fiction.” Philosophy 52: 208–13. Richards, I. A. 1926. Science and Poetry. London: K. Paul, Trench, and Trubner. Richter, David. 1996. The Progress of Romance: Literary Historiography and the Gothic Novel. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Robinson, Jenefer. 2005. Deeper Than Reason: Emotion and Its Role in Literature, Music, and Art. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Savarese, Ralph. 2013. “From Neurodiversity to Neurocosmopolitanism: Beyond Mere Acceptance and Inclusion.” In Ethics and Neurodiversity, ed. C. D. Herrera and Alexandra Perry. 191–205. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Slote, Michael. 2007. The Ethics of Care and Empathy. London and New York: Routledge. Smith, Adam. 1759. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. The Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith, vol. 1, 1976, ed. D. D. Raphael and A. L. Macfie. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Smith, Murray. 1995. “Film Spectatorship and the Institution of Fiction.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 53: 113–27. Special Section: Empathy. 2012. Emotion Review 4 (1): 3–97. Stein, Edith. 1989. On the Problem of Empathy. The Collected Works of Edith Stein, vol. 3, trans. Watraut Stein. Washington, DC: ICS Publications.


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Sternberg, Meir. 1978. Expositional Modes and Temporal Ordering in Fiction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Tan, Ed S. 1995. “Film‐induced Affect as a Witness Emotion.” Poetics 23: 7–32. Taylor, Marjorie, Sara D. Hodges, and Adèle Kohànyi. 2002/2003. “The Illusion of Independent Agency: Do Adult Fiction Writers Experience their Characters as Having Minds of their Own?” Imagination, Cognition, and Personality 22 (4): 361–80. Van Peer, Willie, Jemeljan Hakemulder, and Sonia Zyngier. 2007. Muses and Measures: Empirical Research Methods for the Humanities. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Weisberg, Deena, Frank C. Keil, Joshua Goodstein, Elizabeth Rawson, and Jeremy R. Gray. 2008.

“The Seductive Allure of Neuroscience Explanations.” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 20: 470–7. Wispé, Lauren. 1987. “History of the Concept of Empathy.” In Empathy and its Development, ed. Nancy Eisenberg and Janet Strayer. 17–37. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Yanal, Robert J. 1999. The Paradoxes of Emotion and Fiction. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. Zunshine, Lisa (ed.). 2015. The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Literary Studies. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Zyngier, Sonia, Marisa Bortolussi, Anna Chesnokova and Jan Auracher (eds.). 2008. Directions in Empirical Literary Studies. Amsterdam and Philadephia: John Benjamins.


Contemporary Proposals about Reading in the Digital Age Rachel Sagner Buurma and Matthew K. Gold

Recent ideas about reading in literary criticism have centered around a fundamental question: what are the limits and affordances of human reading? Not all of these re‐visitings of reading name technology as a central figure, yet they are all to varying degrees shaped by recent cultural attention to the emerging possibilities of machine reading and the reading of digitized and born‐digital texts. The image of a reading computer, familiar from science fiction, raises the broader possibility that computers might replace humans—a possibility that has led both to a new interest in what is most human, embodied, affective, and ­irreplicable about reading as well as to the pursuit of new insights into what critics v­ ariously call algorithmic, machine, or computer reading. The resurgence of literary‐critical interest in reading takes two main paths. Inspired by machines, some critics dream of new reading practices that would leave behind human error and enable interpretation at new scales. This desire for what is imagined to be a ­post‐ideological reading practice, grounded in a renewed formalism and executed by ­computers, appears not only in the claims of some critics that computational text analysis will replace “anecdotal” criticism with objective evidence, but also in the idea, held by some “post‐critical” interpreters, that the critic’s ideology can be left aside to allow us to see the manifest or “surface” meanings of the text. But on the other side of this preoccupation with reading, we glimpse not a yearning for objectivity or a vaulting above the scale of human vision, but rather a hope that new technologies, methods, or histories of reading will help us escape the restrictive narrowness and predictable patterns that disciplines and accustomed social formations have impressed upon the literary‐critical imagination. Despite occupying very different scholarly spaces, critics practicing “deformative reading” and critics who re‐emphasize a fuller range of attitudes, affects, and purposes of literary reading past and present both orbit around this commitment to reading practices that emphasize human idiosyncrasy and situatedness. A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


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Both paths are drawn together as literary‐critical interventions that call themselves, or have come to be called, new practices of “reading” rather than new practices of ­“interpretation”; the list of such methods includes “just reading,” “surface reading,” “machine reading,” “algorithmic reading,” and “distant reading,” along with many returns to the very familiar “close reading.”1 We might see this trend as part of a de‐escalation of the stakes of literary study, a suggestion that critics should dial back their ambitions from the grand heights of interpretation to the simpler task of understanding the primary, denotative, or surface meaning of a text. Alternatively, we might interpret this focus on literary interpretation as “reading” as a bid for a broader kind of reach or relevance for literary study: if “interpretation” emphasizes expertise and affiliates literary study with a twentieth‐century professional ethos, “reading” expresses commonality with the ranks of the literate.2 In emphasizing “reading” over “interpretation,” then, literary critics of various stripes may be seeking a new form of public intellectualism. This trend has also been enabled by, and is visible in, the increasing number of professional literary critics who are writing for wider‐audience online publications as well as for scholarly journals. In his Mimesis: the Representation of Reality in Western Literature (1946; first English translation 1953), Erich Auerbach noted that novels seemed to be undergoing a shift from the grand scales of interpretation and agreement on worldviews (or ideologies or beliefs) characteristic of the Victorian novel to a new focus on small details seen from multiple different perspectives in the modernist novel. For Auerbach, the upheavals of World War I had revealed a fundamental lack of consensus on human beliefs, or even on what it meant to be human; World War II only reinforced the necessity of the “simplification and reduction” that would be necessary if humankind was to recover a common language and shared ground. Similar impulses may be at play in the turn from “interpretation”—ideological, complex, professional, requiring significant shared values—to “reading”—recuperative, surface‐focused, human‐centered—that we trace in recent criticism.

Distant Reading and Computational Text Analysis At first glance, the basic question posed by computational text analysis—what can one do with a million books?—seems remote from concerns about reading in any conventional sense. What might have been a hypothetical scenario in the past, however, has become a pressing problem in practice as literary scholars have grappled with the sheer number of books now made available in digital form through Google Books, the Hathi Trust Digital Library, and other corpora. The long‐standing practice of close reading seems impossible to apply to thousands or millions of texts; instead, attempts to understand literature “at scale” require facility with a set of skills not often to be found in the literary scholar’s toolkit: a working knowledge of statistics; an understanding of algorithmic methods; a nuanced view of digital textuality; and a commitment to computational modeling and experimentation. Though the obsolescence of close reading has been overstated—very few scholars practice computational or “distant reading” without combining it with some form of close reading—large‐scale text mining has called into question some of the basic approaches to reading and interpretation that have been grounded historically in the ­materiality of the printed book and in the limitations of the human mind and body.

Contemporary Proposals about Reading in the Digital Age


Franco Moretti, the leading proponent of “distant reading,” has staked out a new formalism based within a Marxist perspective that begins with an attempt to keep the entirety of the literary marketplace in view. Moretti frames his practice of computational text analysis as a way of redressing absences in the canon. Unlike earlier movements in literary studies from the 1970s through the 2000s such as feminist literary criticism and postcolonial theory, which sought to expand the canon to make space for absent and repressed voices, Moretti argues that computational approaches allow us to escape questions of canonicity entirely by including all of literary history in our datasets (Moretti 2000: 208). Using methods borrowed largely from the fields of computational linguistics and computer science, some of which dissolve what we think of as discrete texts into “bags of words” that can be searched via algorithm to find topics and concepts that are common across them, this kind of reading seeks patterns in the data to establish evidence‐based arguments.3 According to its advocates, such work, while clearly in an early and experimental phase, can help us discern, often for the first time, shifting concerns across great numbers of texts that span multiple periods. Computational analysis, in this view, can help us understand when a given topic became more frequently discussed; when and how a specific concept shifted in meaning; and how the plots or “shapes” of narratives have changed over time. For example, scholars such as Andrew Goldstone and Ted Underwood (2014) have explored past issues of scholarly journals to produce more nuanced accounts of the history of literary studies. Peter de Bolla (2013) has used co‐location analysis—the process of examining which words appear most often around other words—to track the evolution of the concept of “human rights” during the eighteenth century. And Matthew Jockers (2015) has attempted to limn the “shape” of basic story plots using his text analysis package “Syuzhet” (“Revealing Sentiment”). Some practitioners of distant reading have embraced a model of hypothesis generation and experimental testing that has sometimes been critiqued as scientific positivism. In the chapter “Evidence” in his 2013 book Macroanalysis, for instance, Jockers discusses the scientific method and argues that “literary studies should strive for a similar goal” (Jockers 2013: 6). Suggesting that “massive digital corpora offer us unprecedented access to the literary record and invite, even demand, a new type of evidence gathering and meaning making” (2013: 8), Jockers argues that “what is needed now is the literary equivalent of open‐pit mining or hydraulicking.” Computational methods, he believes, have the potential to access “the deeper strata from which these nuggets were born, to unearth, for the first time, what these corpora really contain” (2013: 9–10). Such rhetoric risks aligning literary studies too closely with the tech‐addled fantasies of Silicon Valley in which increasing automation leads teleologically towards a better world. While the possibility of being able to analyze large swathes of literary production that have hitherto been lost to history is enticing, the computational models used in such work present multiple concerns. As Jeff Binder has noted, for instance, the popular practice of “topic modeling” tends to smooth out inconsistencies, privilege standardized language, and ignore subtle shifts in language‐related norms over time—such as the historically contingent notion that words should have stable meanings (“Alien Reading”). To some extent, this kind of “smoothing” of a dataset is a necessary aspect of computational analysis, but it suggests that literary scholars performing computational analyses of digital texts will need to be extremely attentive not just to the computational constraints of their statistical


Rachel Sagner Buurma and Matthew K. Gold

models, but also to the epistemological implications of those models.4 The labor such work requires forms another kind of constraint; despite the availability of millions of digitized books, the time, energy, and expertise required to convert existing corpora into the form a particular researcher needs to study a particular set of research questions is significant, and has the effect of skewing work in computational text analysis towards scholars with access to significant financial and institutional resources. One danger of computational text analysis and a general reliance on data as evidence in literary interpretation is that the underlying assumptions not just of the algorithms, but of the data itself, may be ignored. Most practitioners of such methods are aware of the limits, assumptions and constraints of their data, and many explicitly share their data and explain their models as part of their publications—it could be argued, indeed, that scholars performing computational text analysis hold themselves to a higher degree of argumentative transparency than is present in most literary criticism. And yet, the idea that data is in some way neutral or that it exists outside of interpretation persists; as Franco Moretti wrote in his influential Graphs, Maps, Trees, “quantitative research provides a type of data which is ideally independent of interpretations, I said earlier, and that is of course also its limit: it provides data, not interpretation” (9). As numerous scholars have argued, data is always historically situated and fully implicated in social and cultural milieu, especially (though by no means exclusively) around issues of race, class, and gender (see Gitelman 2013; Earhart 2012). If in some ways computational text analysis represents a return to formalism, these concerns remind us that the modality of the digital does not somehow automatically remove data from historical, social, and culturally situated practices, assumptions, and values. As computational text analysis practices mature—and the work by Goldstone and Underwood (2014), among others, is notable in this regard for its acknowledgement of the constructed nature of data and the situatedness of literary text analysis— this tension will likely continue to be explored with increasing nuance.

Post‐Critical Reading If distant reading contributes to the field by opening up questions of the scale of evidence, “post‐critical” reading practices suggest other ways that we might change our thinking about the nature of evidence. One major proposition about the way literary critics “read” today is that we have become professionally required to over‐read or misinterpret. Our accustomed literary‐critical prejudices and protocols, this story goes, lead us to read too deeply or too suspiciously, too pridefully and overweeningly; above all, it seems, our reading practices are too human. The protocols of literary reading have come to blind us to what the text before us really has to say to us. For some recent observers, those protocols are the habits of New Historicism, or of cultural materialism, or of Marxism, or of “ideology critique” generally; Foucault, Jameson, and other 1970s and 1980s adaptations of Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche bear much of the blame, recalling Susan Sontag’s earlier argument in “Against Interpretation” (1964). In the words of Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus (2009), these theories set the stage for a dominant phase of literary criticism that took the meaning of literature “to be hidden, repressed, deep, and in need of detection and disclosure by an interpreter” (2009: 1).5

Contemporary Proposals about Reading in the Digital Age


For some critics who agree with this characterization of the recent past of literary study, the answer is to move forward towards a “post‐critical” reading practice. Some of these critics, like Jane Gallop (2007), seek a return to a time before a hermeneutics of suspicion came to seem dominant, looking backwards to the 1950s when close reading supposedly reigned; still others look even further back to excavate pre‐professional models of reading from the nineteenth‐century past (Buurma and Heffernan 2013). A search for alternative reading practices as a counter to this worry about overly deep, suspicious, or symptomatic literary interpretation has emerged as one thread of the discussion of reading‐as‐interpretation in recent years. What unifies them—more than the rag‐bag of methods they claim to displace—is a sense, sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit, that full‐blown “interpretation” opens us up to human error, and that “reading” is therefore a better model for what we should do to literary texts. In their 2009 “Surface Reading: An Introduction,” which opened a special issue in the journal Representations on “The Way We Read Now,” Marcus and Best note the rising critical interest in “modes of reading that attend to the surfaces of texts rather than plumb their depths” (Marcus and Best 2009: 1–2).6 Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s work on “reparative reading” represents some of the earliest and most exciting thinking in this strain. Writing in the late 1990s in an essay expressively titled “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is About You,” Sedgwick suggests that the practice of a “hermeneutics of suspicion” in recent decades, while in many ways a “very productive” critical habit, has calcified into a critical orthodoxy. A default suspicious interpretive lens, she argues, can unintentionally limit critics’ abilities to see the particular, and therefore to “unpack the local, contingent relations between any given piece of knowledge and its narratological/epistemological entailments for the seeker, knower, or teller” (Sedgwick 2003: 124). For Sedgwick, suspicious or paranoid reading becomes a problem when it is routinized or required; in such circumstances, it becomes a less sensitive instrument for discerning the operations of the literary or cultural text. For Sedgwick too, it is crucial that the hermeneutics of suspicion is suited to some context but not others; “the force of any interpretive project of unveiling hidden violence would seem to depend on a cultural context in which … violence would be depreciated and hence hidden in the first place” (Sedgwick 2003: 140). Sedgwick thus doesn’t deny that diffused modern power might be operating beneath the surface of a text or cultural practice, structuring its surface; instead, she notes that an emphasis on the totalizing operations of power might strengthen forces we wish to dissipate or distract from the more pressing project of addressing the imbalances or injustices they produce. Sedgwick notably moves away not just from an interpretive method that reveals what is hidden, but from a metaphorics of visuality and visibility towards a collection of metaphors pitched toward other senses. Other critics followed, defining literary criticism’s interpretation problem variously, and offering various solutions. In The Limits of Critique (2015), Rita Felski, like Best and Marcus, identifies an over‐emphasis on critique—for her, identical to “the hermeneutics of suspicion”—as the problem with literary criticism. Unlike Best and Marcus, however, she advocates for a turn to a wider range of affective responses to literature and an open realignment of literary critics with everyday readers. D. A. Miller—whose earlier work The Novel and the Police, like Sedgwick’s own Epistemology of the Closet, might be seen as itself as


Rachel Sagner Buurma and Matthew K. Gold

­textbook “hermeneutics of suspicion”—put forward an argument about returning to a newly “minoritized” close reading in Jane Austen, or The Secret of Style (2003). And Heather Love’s work on practices of description in the humanities and social sciences in the second half of the twentieth century takes a different tack, shifting the weight of how we tell the story of literary study to emphasize past practices that sometimes have seemed preparatory or not central (Love 2013). Like the computational critics mentioned above, with whom they might not immediately seem to have a great deal in common, these critics variously aim to restore a sense of objectivity, immediacy, or even‐handedness stripped, they suggest, from literary interpretation by the forms of ideology, argument, and evidence favored by the New Historicists and cultural materialists of the 1980s and 1990s.

Histories of Everyday Reading At the same time as algorithmic and post‐critical scholars have recast literary interpretation as reading, the everyday practices of both lay and professional readers have taken on new interest. Literary critics have turned to the methods of bibliography, history, and sociology, in addition to literary‐critical and literary‐historical methods to ask how readers in the past and present have theorized and practiced reading. Bibliography and book ­history’s familiar disciplinary focus on the material forms of books considered as objects has expanded to include accounts of the network of social relationships involved in the production, circulation, reading, and remixing of texts (McKenzie 1999). And a new attention to the bodily, affective, subjective experiences of individual readers has ­accompanied this expansion (Gettelman 2011; Ablow 2010). Literary critics and historians have analyzed both fictional and non‐fictional representations of readers and reading, investigated what people do with books aside from reading them (Price 2012), and have explored the history of reading beyond the codex, from early modern ephemera to the Kindle screen, Twitter feed, and Word document (Kirschenbaum 2016). Recent work in public journalism to digital sociology has speculated on and analyzed statistics about the impact that e‐books and e‐readers have had on readers, while media theorists and historians are beginning to study the inter‐digitation of print publication with digital forms of production, marketing, circulation, and consumption. And a new attention to how we pay attention to texts connects scholarship on distracted reading in the age of new media (Raley 2015; Jacobs 2011) to the discontinuous reading of early modern worshippers (Stallybrass 2002) and the graphical reading practices of eighteenth‐century consumers of fiction (Barchas 2003). The history of everyday reading, though it has developed as a very historical and materialist field, drew equally from high theory in its early days. During the later 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s structuralist and post‐structuralist approaches inspired new ideas about readers and reading; in S/Z (1975) and The Pleasure of the Text (1975), Roland Barthes theorized the reader along with Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everday Life (1980; English translation 1984), while critics like Wolfgang Iser (1974) and Stanley Fish (1980) developed reader‐ response theories. In most of these writings, the reader was an ideal figure, imaginary being, or textual construct. During the same years, historians and literary scholars harnessed these theories to existing bibliographic work on printer networks, circulation statistics, and the material production of books to begin to develop evidence‐based,

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t­ heoretically sophisticated studies of how readers interacted with books as individuals and in groups.7 The results included Janice Radway’s groundbreaking sociological study of women romance readers, Reading the Romance (1984); Donald McKenzie’s Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts (1999), Roger Chartier’s The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe Between the 14th and 18th Centuries (1994), Anthony Grafton’s (1997) and Heather Jackson’s (2001) work on marginalia, Jonathan Rose’s The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (2001), and Peter Stallybrass’s (2002) work on the materiality of reading, and Elizabeth McHenry’s Forgotten Readers: Recovering the Lost History of African American Literary Societies (2002). The writing of two historians—Robert Darnton’s “First Steps Towards a History of Reading” (1986) and Jonathan Rose’s “Arriving at a History of Reading” (2004)—marks the growth and flowering of the history of reading as an interdisciplinary field composed of work in history, bibliography, sociology, and literary criticism. Other recent, more purely quantitative work seeks to use reviews from GoodReads and Amazon to gauge reader response, while projects like The Reading Experience Database compiles records of reading derived from journals, diaries, published and unpublished letters, and other print and manuscript materials between 1450 and 1945.8 Students of reading have also turned back to investigate the history of the discipline of literary study, tracking continuities and discontinuities between past readers and our present literary critical practices. While some of the “post‐critical” scholarship discussed here seeks alliances outside the profession of literary criticism, other recent work has turned to the history of professional reading to learn more about the role of reading in the academic profession; Ann Blair (2010) has much to say about the history of technologies, note‐taking, and memory aids used by professional readers, while Deidre Lynch (2015) investigates the way the imperative to “love” literature became lodged at the heart of professional literary work. Lynch’s book also takes up another crucial (and sometimes sidelined) question about the goals of reading, pinpointing the historical moment when past literature transitioned from being read primarily by rhetors looking for models to draw on as they wrote new work to being studied by antiquarians eager to amass knowledge of a (national) literary history for its own sake. In recent decades critics have become interested in how past writers and readers have represented readers and reading, particularly in the nineteenth century, when rising literacy rates made reading a truly widespread activity. Kate Flint (1993) examines the gendering of reading in nineteenth‐century texts; Patrick Brantlinger (1998) looks at how novels internalized and represented the cultural threat they were sometimes thought to constitute; Matt Rubery (2009) interprets Victorian heroines’ reading of newspapers; and Garrett Stewart (2006) examines the pictorial representation of people in the act of reading from Quentin Metsys to Pablo Picasso in The Look of Reading: Book, Painting, Text. Others, including Lisa Zunshine, Brian Richardson, and Blakey Vermeule, have sought to analyze the history and present of the cognitive dimensions of reading.

Deformative Reading Computational text analysis is often premised upon scientific principles of experimentation that analyze large‐scale textual corpora to uncover previously unknown, invisible, or under‐remarked‐upon patterns in texts across broad swaths of time. Known colloquially


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and collectively through the terms “distant reading,” “macroanalysis,” “culturonomics,” and “cultural analytics,” this approach is predicated on an empirical search for patterns within a corpus of texts. This approach tends to assume or assert that a computational model of a corpus of texts can act as a good‐enough representation of those texts. Other forms of computational text analysis, however, have a rich history and are premised upon very different assumptions. “Deformation,” or “deformative reading,” for example, is a playful method that aims to deliberately transform the texts it engages. Deformative readers explore textual corpora not to unearth facts and patterns but rather to deliberately mangle those very facts and patterns, to interfere consciously with the computational artifact and to replace the imperatives of distant reading—hypothesis and experiment—with a new set of priorities that include alteration, randomness, and play. This form of research aims to align computational research with humanistic principles by laying bare the social, political, historical, computational, and literary constructs that underlie digital texts. And sometimes, it simply aims to highlight the profound oddities of digital textuality. This work, which has been carried on for decades by scholars such as Jerome McGann, Johanna Drucker, Bethany Nowviskie, Stephen Ramsay, and Mark Sample, has been given many names—McGann terms it “deformative criticism,” Johanna Drucker and Bethany Nowviskie call it “speculative computing,” and Steve Ramsay calls it “algorithmic criticism.” Though there are minor differences between all of these conceptions, they represent, as a whole, a form of computational reading (or mis‐reading) that reject positivistic methods and embrace the humanistic values of ambiguity and play. Early deformative reading practices developed alongside—and in fact were sometimes deliberately indistinguishable from—emerging forms of electronic literature in the 1990s and 2000s. In “Deformance and Interpretation,” their 1999 piece published in New Literary History, Lisa Samuels and Jerome McGann outline their concept of “deformative criticism,” a hermeneutic approach to digital textuality that seeks to analyze poetry by “expos[ing] the poem’s possibilities of meaning” through techniques such as reading the text backward and otherwise altering and rearranging the sequencing of its words. “Deformative” moves such as these, Samuels and McGann argue, “reinvestigate the terms in which critical commentary will be undertaken” (1999: 116). Many critics working in this vein argue that deformance is in keeping with the principles of conventional interpretation, in that all interpretation reformulates the sources under discussion in the act of interpreting them. As Stephen Ramsay has put it, “any reading of a text that is not a recapitulation of that text relies on a heuristic of radical transformation,” in which the critic has “paraphrased, elaborated, selected, truncated, and transduced” the source text (2011: 16). Johanna Drucker extends this line of thinking about textual transformation in her work, writing that through “speculative computing” a text can be understood “not as a discrete and static entity, but as a coded provocation for reading.” Drucker notes that computational analysis, especially that of a deformative kind, contains “echoes of deconstruction … but shifted into problems of modeling and representing such activities within an electronic space” (Drucker 2011: 20). Drucker situates her work within the traditions of the Situationist International, Oulipo, and “pataphysics” (2011: 25); she argues that speculative computing can create imaginary solutions and generative possibilities for meaning,

Contemporary Proposals about Reading in the Digital Age


rejecting along the way “the positivist underpinnings of the Anglo‐analytic mode of epistemological inquiry” (2011: 27). While deformance tends to emphasize its break with traditional literary criticism, others interested in text transformation emphasized continuities with earlier, non‐ computational literary‐critical methods. Stephen Ramsay (2011), in his work on “algorithmic criticism,” shares Drucker’s opposition to the rationalized, positivistic ­ assumptions of the scientific method, embracing instead randomness and play. Ramsay argues that “the narrowing constraints of computational logic—the irreducible tendency of the computer toward enumeration, measurement, and verification—is fully c­ ompatible” with a criticism that seeks to “employ conjecture … in order that the matter might become richer, deeper, and ever more complicated” (2011: 16). Because the algorithmic critic ­navigates the productive constraints of code to create the “deformative machine” from which she draws insights, the “hermeneutics of ‘what is’ becomes mingled with the ­hermeneutics of ‘how to’” (Ramsay 2011: 63). Deformative reading may represent an important path forward for scholars who are intrigued by the promise of algorithmic tools but who wish to avoid engaging positivist models of knowledge generation. The use of such tools for deformative analysis helps escape some of the problems that humanities scholars have identified with digital tools—namely, that they involve absorption of “a host of protocols for information visualization, data mining, geospatial representation, and other research instruments … from disciplines whose epistemological foundations and fundamental values are at odds with, or even hostile to, the humanities” (Drucker 2012: 85–6). As Drucker argues, the “very assumptions on which” such tools have been designed suggest that “objects of knowledge can be understood as self‐identical, self‐evident, ahistorical, and autonomous (Drucker 2013). Deformative readings, by contrast, openly and explicitly acknowledge the socially constructed nature of information and embrace a spirit of play with digital artifacts.

The Contested Futures of Scholarly Reading Since the 1990s, the study of reading has become a site where contests over the nature of scholarship and the role of the literary scholar play out in productive ways. Some practitioners of computational corpus analysis (or “distant reading”) claim that quantification is bringing a new rigor and focus on “evidence” to literary critical work. In other areas, literary scholars are exploring rich realms of readerly practice by revising, extending, and incorporating the taxonomic methods of fields such as book history, bibliography, and the sociology of reading. Meanwhile, the process of exploring theories of reading has helped scholars refigure their own role in the larger culture. When literary scholars today assert that they build and create as well as critique, and lay claim to their role in textual production as well as reception, they draw on new arguments about the function of the reader more generally. All of these efforts have centered around a fundamental question raised by the advent of new technologies: what are the limits, affordances, and utopian possibilities of human reading?


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Notes 1 On reading as a metaphor or substitute for literary interpretation, see Leah Price (2004) and Audrey Jaffe (2016). 2 This expression of affiliation with wider reading publics also manifests in a trend towards academic literary critics writing about literature for a wider audience in online publications like The Los Angeles Review of Books and Public Books, a kind of writing that has come to be highly valued by some segments of the profession (if not by some university promotion and tenure committees). 3 See Jeffrey Binder (2016) for an in‐depth description of how topic modeling works. 4 As Binder notes, “a model that exactly accounts for every nuance of a dataset tends to be too complex to be useful—to take an image from Jorge Luis Borges, it is like a map that is as large as the territory it represents” (2016: 208). 5 As Audrey Jaffe and others point out, however, the Best and Marcus position sets aside one Victorian mode of reading—the dynamic of secrecy and revelation—for another, the claim

to strip away interested, biased interpretation to reveal an unsullied “reading” of a surface. 6 The special issue evolved out of a conference titled The Way We Read Now: Symptomatic Reading and Its Aftermath, which took place May 1–2 at Columbia and NYU. The conference sought to grapple with responses to what it framed as the legacy of Jamesonian symptomatic reading, and included a keynote by Fredric Jameson himself. 7 It is important to note that studies of reading, often combining quantitative methods with qualitative work in archives, have a longer history; Q. D. Leavis’s Fiction And The Reading Public (1932) and Richard Altick’s The English Common Reader: A Social History of the Mass Reading Public, 1800–1900 (1957) are two landmark examples. 8 One example of work incorporating data from contemporary reviews is Stefan Dimitrov, Faiyaz Zamal, Andrew Piper, and Derek Ruths’s “Goodreads vs Amazon: The Effect Of Decoupling Book Reviewing And Book Selling.” See the Reading Experience Database at http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/RED/.

References Ablow, Rachel (ed.). 2010. The Feeling of Reading: Affective Experience and Victorian Literature. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Auerbach, Erich. 1957. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard Trask. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Barchas, Janine. 2003. Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth‐Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Barthes, Roland. 1975. S/Z, trans. Richard Miller. London: Jonathan Cape. Barthes, Roland. 1975. The Pleasure of the Text, trans. Richard Millar. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Best, Stephen and Sharon Marcus. 2009. “The Way We Read Now.” Representations 108: 1–21. Binder, Jeffrey M. 2016. “Alien Reading, Text Mining, Language Standardization, and the Humanities.” In Gold and Klein, Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016, 201–17. Blair, Ann. 2010. Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Brantlinger, Patrick. 1998. The Reading Lesson: The Threat of Mass Literacy in Nineteenth‐Century British Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

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Buurma, Rachel Sagner and Laura Heffernan. 2013. “Interpretation. 1980 and 1880.” Victorian Studies 55 (4): 615–28. Chartier, Roger. 1994. The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe Between the 14th and 18th Centuries, trans. Lydia Cochrane. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Crane, Gregory. 2006. “What Do You Do with a Million Books?” D‐Lib Magazine 12 (3). Web. March 2006. Darnton, Robert. 2004. “First Steps Towards a History of Reading.” Historically Speaking 5 (2): 36–9. De Bolla, Peter. 2013. The Architecture of Concepts: The Historical Formation of Human Rights. New York: Fordham University Press. de Certeau, Michel. 1984. The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall. Berkeley: University of California Press. Dimitrov, Stefan et  al. 2015. “Goodreads vs Amazon: The Effect Of Decoupling Book Reviewing And Book Selling.” http://piperlab. mcgill.ca/pdfs/Goodreads_ICWSM_2015.pdf. Drucker, Johanna. 2011. “Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 5 (1). http://www.digitalhumanities. org/dhq/vol/5/1/000091/000091.html Drucker, Johanna. 2012. “Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship.” In Gold, Debates in the Digital Humanities, 85–95. Drucker, Johanna. 2009. SpecLab: Digital Aesthetics and Projects in Speculative Computing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Drucker, Johanna and Bethany Nowviskie. 2004. “Speculative Computing: Aesthetic Provocations in Humanities Computing.” In A Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell. Earhart, Amy. 2012. “Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon.” In Gold, Debates in the Digital Humanities, 309–18. Felsky, Rita. 2015. The Limits of Critique. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Fish, Stanley. 1980. Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Flint, Kate. 1993. The Woman Reader 1837–1914. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. Gallop, Jane. 2007. “The Historicization of Literary Studies and the Fate of Close Reading.” Profession: 181–6. Gettelman, Debra. 2011. “‘Those Who Idle Over Novels’: Victorian Critics and Post‐Romantic Readers.” In A Return to the Common Reader: Print Culture and the Novel 1850–1900, ed. Adelene Buckland and Beth Palmer, 55–68. Burlington: Ashgate. Gitelman, Lisa. 2013. “Raw Data” is an Oxymoron. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Gold, Matthew K. 2012. Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Gold, Matthew K. and Lauren E. Klein. (eds.). 2016. Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Goldstone, Andrew, and Ted Underwood. 2014. “The Quiet Transformations of Literary Studies: What Thirteen Thousand Scholars Could Tell Us.” New Literary History 45 (3): 359–384. Grafton, Anthony. 1997. “Is the History of Reading a Marginal Enterprise? Guillaume Budé and His Books.” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 91 (2): 139–57. Iser, Wolfgang. 1974. The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Jacobs, Alan. 2011. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Jackson, Heather. 2001. Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books. New Haven: Yale University Press. Jackson, H[eather]. J. 2005. Romantic Readers: The Evidence of Marginalia. New Haven: Yale University Press.


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Jaffe, Audrey. 2016. The Victorian Novel Dreams of the Real: Conventions and Ideology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Jockers, Matthew L. 2013. Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Jockers, Matthew L. 2015. “Revealing Sentiment and Plot Arcs with the Syuzhet Package.” matthewjockers.net. Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. 2016. Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Love, Heather. 2013. “Close Reading and Thin Description.” Public Culture 25: 401–34. Lynch, Deidre. 2015. Loving Literature: A Cultural History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. McHenry, Elizabeth. 2002. Forgotten Readers: Recovering the Lost History of African American Literary Societies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. McKenzie, Donald. 1999. Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Miller, D. A. 2003. Jane Austen, or the Secret of Style. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Moretti, Franco. 2000. “The Slaughterhouse of Literature.” Modern Language Quarterly 61 (1): 207–28. Moretti, Franco and Alberto Piazza. 2007. Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History. London: Verso. Price, Leah. 2004. “Reading: the State of the Discipline.” Book History 7: 303–20. Price, Leah. 2012. How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Radway, Janice. 1984. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press. Raley, Rita. 2015. “Distracted Reading.” Syllabus for English 146: Distracted Reading (UC Santa Barbara, Spring). https://engl146dr.wordpress. com/about/ (accessed 2/26/2016).

Ramsay, Stephen. 2011. Reading Machines: Towards an Algorithmic Criticism. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Richardson, Alan. 2010. The Neural Sublime: Cognitive Theories and Romantic Texts. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Rose, Jonathan. 2001. The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. Rose, Jonathan. 2004. “Arriving at a History of Reading.” Historically Speaking 5 (3): 36–9. Rubery, Mark. 2009. The Novelty of Newspapers: Victorian Fiction after the Invention of the News. New York: Oxford University Press. Sample, Mark. 2012. “Notes Towards A Deformed Humanities.” Blog. Samplereality. http://www. s a m p l e r e a l i t y. c o m / 2 0 1 2 / 0 5 / 0 2 / notes‐towards‐a‐deformed‐humanities/. Samuels, Lisa and Jerome J. McGann. 1999. “Deformance and Interpretation.” New Literary History 30 (1): 25–56. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. 2003. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham: Duke University Press. Stallybrass, Peter. 2002. “Books and Scrolls: Navigating the Bible.” In Books and Readers in Early Modern England: Material Studies, ed. Jennifer Andersen and Elizabeth Sauer. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Stewart, Garrett. 2006. The Look of Reading: Book, Painting, Text. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. “The Way We Live Now” conference website. Accessed via Internet Archive Wayback Machine copy 2/26/2017. https://web.archive. org/web/20080512153947/http://www.crals. org/symptomatic/ Vermeule, Blakey. 2009. Why Do We Care About Literary Characters? Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Zunshine, Lisa. 2006. Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.

Part III

Literary Locations and Cultural Studies


The Location of Literature John Guillory

The Serial Delimitation of Literature In his illuminating account of the period before the introduction of the Ph.D. into the American university, Don Cameron Allen remarks on the puzzling absence of “literature” as a nominal subject of study: “Rhetoric and Oratory were taught everywhere, but literature, even classical literature, seems not to have been an important subject” (Allen 1968: 3). Works by such exemplary vernacular authors as Shakespeare and Milton entered the curriculum mainly by way of the course on “rhetoric and belles lettres,” which disappeared by the end of nineteenth century. Thereafter literature found shelter in the newly formed modern language departments, but as a collateral subject, subordinated to the study of language. This history has been recounted many times, and it always confirms how d­ ifficult it has been to posit a definition of literature adequate for the institution of a discipline. But Allen’s observation reminds us that the problem of literature’s definition is also the problem of its location. Wherever else it was to be found, literature played only a minor role in the disciplinary system of the nineteenth century. The fact that literature occupied an uncertain position in the university before the ­twentieth century belies its ever more important role in the sphere of print culture, ­comprehending a much larger and more diverse world of writing and reading than the one occupied by the professors. In that domain, the concept of literature passed through phases of what I call delimitation, a progressive accumulation and disaccumulation of meanings, the effect of which was steadily to magnify literature’s social importance. This sequence of delimitations charts a great excursus of literature, from its widespread dissemination in the sphere of a massified print culture to its assimilation in the twentieth century to the ­universities with the institution of “literary criticism” as a discipline. From the vantage of

A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


John Guillory

the terminal phase of that discipline’s formation, we can summarize the progressive ­delimitation of literature as the following sequence of historically determined predicates. In pre‐modern usage, literature is equated with all forms of writing (according to its etymology, litterae), and with the possession of learning or letters, a notion ubiquitous in European culture, and circulating as antecedent to the later conception of “literacy,” but indicating a higher level of educational achievement than merely the ability to read and write.1 In the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries literature was increasingly ­identified with vernacular writing and thus implicitly opposed to writing in Greek or Latin, which only became “Greek literature” or “Latin literature” after the fact of v­ ernacular delimitation, and largely as a result of ancient literature’s translation into modern ­languages. In the eighteenth century, literature was associated with the development of new generic forms—the periodical essay, the familiar letter, the novel—and with growing ­awareness of the transformative social effects of print media in both the controversial public sphere and the private sphere of consumption. During the same period, literature was assimilated into the vernacular educational system as a repository of grammatical and stylistic norms, and deployed from the curricular base of the “rhetoric and belles lettres” course in a campaign (conducted simultaneously in print media) to establish a standard of taste in reading and writing and a standard English dialect for speaking, the latter enabling and eliciting corollary politico‐ethnic projections of a “national literature” back onto the field of writing.2 By the later nineteenth century, literature was restricted to the imaginative genres of poetry, novels, and plays, thus permanently retiring from usage the precedent generalized sense of “poetry,” a term that formerly included fictional genres in both verse and prose, but after the Renaissance could no longer be extended to include non‐verse writing. Discursive space was thereby cleared for new conceptualizations of scientific and informational genres of writing as “non‐literary,” ultimately relegating essayistic genres to a zone of uncertain overlap ­between imaginative and informational or “non‐fictional” prose.3 In the twentieth century, literature was restricted further as a result of increasingly sharp distinctions between the epistemic claims of scientific, informational, or literary genres of writing, claims which in turn lay the conceptual groundwork for the linguistic delimitation of literature as literary language, or the expression of literariness, instances of which might even, paradoxically, be identified in “non‐literary” specimens of writing.4 By the mid‐twentieth century, ­literature is sequestered from the poetic or narrative productions of mass or popular literacy, which were demoted thereafter to the status of sub‐literary or “genre” writing, thus excluding the very possibility of “bad literature,” at the same time elevating the rarefied works of High Modernism to exemplary status as literature. The serial delimitation of literature is correlated to its systemically eccentric location, its absence from the disciplinary structure of the most prestigious institutions, such as Oxford and Cambridge, its presence for the most part in marginal niches of the curriculum of other institutions, in lower level institutions, in non‐conformist schools, or in provincial or colonial colleges and universities. Indeed, the systemic eccentricity of vernacular literature to the central or most official sites of the educational system is an enabling condition for its peculiar semantic plasticity, its susceptibility to redefinition or delimitation. Literature lacked fixed definition until very late in its career, after it had become the exclusive object of the discipline we know as literary criticism.

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The multiple phases of delimitation argue against identifying any one moment or event in which literature came to mean what it does to us today, in which, as is often said, literature was “invented.”5 It is better to understand the category of literature as the result of a historical process rather than an event or moment. The appeal of narratives that posit a singular origin is not difficult to see: historical determinations are reduced in such narratives to a bracing contingency and local specificity. Trevor Ross, for example, writes, not atypically, that “On 22 February 1774 literature in its modern sense began” (Ross 1998: 297). The dramatically precise date refers to the legislative revocation of perpetual copyright by the House of Lords, which resulted in the vastly wider availability of English literary works than ever before. But Ross’s scrupulous reconstruction of canon formation over several centuries calls into question his rhetorical assertion of an inaugural moment and testifies rather to a process. Is the literature that “began” in 1774 the same literature that circulates in 1874? Other scholars have argued that literature began earlier or later, or elsewhere, even very far elsewhere, in Scotland or India. But the argument for a colonial origin makes no better a case for the originating moment. A notion such as the “Scottish invention of English literature,” advanced by Robert Crawford (1998), locates a singular time and place of origin onto the colonized globe. To be sure, there is a rich historical irony in the discovery that English literature was invented by those who were not English. But our enjoyment of this irony must yield to the humbler recognition that the English are themselves very hard to locate, that many of them inhabit various elsewheres, diverse cultural suburbs. Was it not the case, for example, that their metropolis itself was an elsewhere from the perspective of the educational center, that the first study of English literature by the English themselves at University College London was a response to its exclusion from Oxford and Cambridge?6 London was eccentric too. If Scotland, Wales, and Ireland are eccentric to England, as also India and Africa, the Caribbean and the American colonies, these spatial peripheries have to be systemically related to the eccentricity of education for women, of adult education or “extension” programs, of the schools for Dissenters excluded from Anglican schools and from Oxford and Cambridge—all of the sites of eccentricity where vernacular literary study first found a home. The relegation of literature to the lower levels of the school system and to its marginal institutions—socially, geographically, politically, religiously—is so manifestly a systemic feature of the educational system before the twentieth century as to defeat any attempt to explain this eccentricity by taking any one of its sites as representative of all. Indeed, the process of literature’s delimitation is pan‐European. To the French we owe the concept of belles lettres and the notion of criticism (by way of Charles Rollin and René Rapin). Germany gave us aesthetics, and arguably, the delimitation of literature as “imaginative” writing. Can literature have so many places and times of origin? It may be less exciting to think of literature as a concept “in process,” with diverse locations and moments, but the multiplicity of sites compels us to attend to the systemic features of literature.

The Location of Literature Today Literature is for us today essentially what it came to mean during the interwar period. If literary critics are now restless with that delimited object, it will be difficult to redefine that object for the very reason that the delimitation of literature was a condition for the


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constitution of literary criticism as a discipline. That university discipline entered late but not entirely post festum into the process of delimitation. Literary criticism inherited a concept of literature both freighted with significations accumulated over its long history but also considerably lightened by the divestment of its oldest, most general sense. The works of Newton and Blackstone, it need hardly be said, are by definition no longer “literature” for us, as they were for their contemporaries—unless we undertake to read such texts for aspects of “literariness,” a strategic construction that immediately betrays the sedimentation of the literature concept. The object called literature is perceived at the endpoint of a process, embedded in a disciplinary matrix. Yet the possibility of literature as object of a discipline was still uncertain as late as 1894, when William Morton Payne collected a number of statements by chairs of English departments for a special issue of The Dial magazine entitled English in American Universities. The testimony of the chairs confirms the fact of literature’s eccentricity to the existing disciplinary structure, provoking Payne to comment, “The question may be raised whether it would not be well to set an official seal upon the separation of literature from its allied subjects by making of it a separate department of university work, just as some of our more progressive institutions have erected sociology into a distinct department, thus definitely marking it off from the allied departments of political and economic science” (Payne 1895: 28). Departments of English, Payne concedes, were still likely to study literature as “material for minute philological and historical analysis” rather than for itself, however that essence might be defined (1895: 19).7 Few departments offered something recognizably like the English major of our day, organized as a sequence of literature courses. Composition and philological study were larger parts of the curriculum, and philology, of course, still claimed the major position in graduate study. The principle relegating literature to the handmaiden of philology was memorably (though perhaps belatedly) asserted by Kemp Malone: “Literature is indeed not in any proper sense a science (or branch of learning). It is rather the material with which the science of philology deals, much as the vegetable kingdom is the material with which the science of botany deals, and at bottom it is as absurd to speak of a professor of literature as it would be to speak of a professor of vegetables” (Malone 1927: 28). The problem of disciplining literature was already well understood by Payne in 1894: “It is doubtless much easier to treat literature by the method of science than by the method of aesthetics; but does not literature, thus treated, cease to assert its peculiar and indispensable function?” (1894: 26). This “aesthetic function” was supposed to be the province of belles lettres, the very field of study that was displaced at the century’s end by versions of philology and correlated literary history alarmingly bound to the mere fact. The question of judgment or taste that energized the founders of belles lettres was banished, as departments of modern languages veered toward a thorough‐going positivism. The triumph of this tendency was expressed widely and prosaically in the assertion of scholars that there can be no examination in taste, an opinion that curtly discloses the non‐negotiable condition of disciplinarity—that it ­produce a testable knowledge.8 The successful establishment of scientific disciplines in the university of the later nineteenth century throws into relief the resistance of literature to disciplinarization, which I understand as an expression of its systemic eccentricity to the official curriculum, both the classical curriculum of the earlier nineteenth century and the scientific disciplines

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of the later. However, if literature suffered a kind of internal exile in the new language departments dominated by philology, where it lingered on as the subject of the increasingly moribund pedagogy of belles lettres, it would be easy to demonstrate that its social importance outside the university was at this moment no less than immense. In this wider world, literature circulated as the major form of mass entertainment, as a means of self‐ improvement and self‐information, and as a vehicle for the expression of opinion, for public debate on all subjects political and social. Print publication was virtually the only medium of the public sphere, apart from speech itself. The social importance of vernacular publication, situated in a vast and busy world of reading and writing, a world in which print media demanded a response almost as intense and preoccupying as that demanded by the presence of real persons—this world of immediate mediation was seldom acknowledged in the official curriculum of the nineteenth‐century university, which remained anchored for much of the century in the study of Greek and Latin, and which, when it did yield finally to the social forces opposed to the classical curriculum, yielded more easily to science than to vernacular literature.

The Literary System and its Trivium I propose to name this eccentric and largely extracurricular world of reading and writing the literary system; in this system, literature performed multiple communicative functions. At base, it was a manifold of systemic relations constituting the institutions and practices of reading, writing, and speaking. The literary system emerged in the eighteenth century, became dominant in the nineteenth, and began to wane in the twentieth. The system was founded on much more than the mere possibility of vernacular literacy; its enabling condition was the massification of literacy, the extension of reading practices to large numbers of the populace (see Vincent 2000). I posit three major abstractions—an extracurricular trivium—constituting literary culture as a system of vernacular reading, writing, and speaking practices. These abstractions are grammar, literature, and criticism. Grammar: the prescriptive principles of pronunciation, diction, syntax, spelling, and usage comprising the linguistic norm of Standard English.9 The normative function of grammar, which was early expressed by the concept of “correctness,” was rapidly enlarged by the nineteenth century to include numerous and complex canons of “usage” quite remote from the “accidence” of early modernity. These canons could be elaborated into super‐subtle refinements designed to bring language into an imagined conformity with the rationality of Latin, but in truth relying on quite arbitrary determinations of syntax and orthography. Grammar was supported in the lower schools by an extensive vernacular pedagogy, and in the print media by a proliferation of guides to every aspect of pronunciation, diction, syntax, spelling, and usage. The prominence in nineteenth‐century periodical venues of self‐styled “grammarians” continually excited linguistic anxiety in the populace, often correlated with other anxieties about upward mobility, gender inequality, or ethnic assimilation (Cmiel 1990: 123ff: Barron 1982). The command of correct speech thus constituted the first and most important form of cultural capital circulating in modern society.10 As a prescriptive practice, grammar must be distinguished from the descriptive science of the nineteenth‐century philologists, who often dismissed the grammarians for


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lacking a scientific understanding of language. Grammar belongs to the literary system, then, not to the sciences of language in the university. In the contention between grammar and philology, two versions of modernization clashed, and remained permanently unreconciled. Literature: in the second through the seventh delimited senses of vernacular publication, the chief source of mass entertainment in the nineteenth century, an instrument for self‐improvement and self‐instruction, and the curricular basis for the teaching of Standard English in the lower schools. Because literature, especially in the delimited sense of poetic and narrative forms, was disseminated on a mass scale through print media, these narrative forms could also become the screen for myth‐like projections of a “national culture.” The development of the nation‐state as a cultural formation was always intimately related to the development of a literary culture, and a national literature. If the linguistic substratum of Standard English was a condition for recognizing a canon of national literature, it also permitted the vernacular canon to assume supplemental ideological functions as the carrier of traditions and values, often projected as expressions of Englishness or Americanness. At the same time, the concept of literature came to possess a density and complexity that persisted through its later delimitations as the super‐generic category comprehending the “imaginative” forms of poetry, novel, and drama. It may seem to us now that literature in this later sense belongs to the literary system as its most central (because canonical) ­feature; but literature so delimited always circulated in a crowded universe of periodical writing—reviews, journals, magazines, newspapers—which must be understood as the ambient medium of what we now call, in the delimited sense, literature. Works of literature were mediated by the vast apparatus of reviewing that supported and sustained the literary system beyond the school. The functionality of this system began to falter in the earlier twentieth century, when journalism and literature began to diverge, and reviewers and “creative” writers ceased to be the same persons. Criticism: the discourse of judgment or taste supporting the practice of reviewing and sustaining the literary system as a multifunctional medium. The purpose of criticism at its inception in the seventeenth century was to discriminate between good and bad writing, between the “beauties” and “faults” in works. The critic appeared as a new kind of expert— the organic intellectual of a new literate population much larger than the scholars of Latin and Greek—but an expert very close to vernacular readers, only removed from that group far enough to develop the normative principles of its reading practice. This ancien regime of the critic lasted a surprisingly long time, all the while driving the delimitation of literature in concert with the poets, playwrights, novelists, and essayists themselves—from whom, during this period, the critics were seldom wholly distinct. Finally, in the twentieth century, the function of the critic was subtly but consequentially altered. The purpose of criticism was now, first, to discriminate literature in its delimited sense from mere generic or entertainment writing; and having excluded the literary from the non‐literary, second, to make further discriminations among works of “serious” literature. In between these two points lies the “Age of Criticism,” as Kant dubbed it, and which I name here more narrowly by the concept of the literary system (Kant 1781: 100). If criticism in its twentieth‐century incarnation aimed to restrict the name of literature to those imaginative works of a quality high enough to constitute an elite literary culture (whole genres such as detective fiction or science fiction would henceforth be excluded as

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mere “genre” work, in contradistinction to the super-genre of literature), the paradoxical effect of this final delimitation was to demote criticism itself in relation to the super‐genre of literature (Williams 1976: 186). For belles lettres, critical prose belonged equally with poetry to the field of literature, and was even in some ways more exemplary for the early phases of the literary system, and more useful in conveying its norms of grammar and style. We can recall here the key function of Addison’s Spectator essays in the belletristic pedagogy of Hugh Blair and his successors. Criticism between Dryden and Eliot still belonged in some necessary way to the category of literature, as it was usually the work of littérateurs or “men of letters,” but thereafter criticism would stand over against literature in a new relation. The status of criticism as literature was exchanged for the power to determine which texts belonged to the category of literature. Literature ceased once and for all to refer to writing, and its delimitations were locked into place. This fixing of the category of ­literature culminated in the redefinition of criticism itself as a professional discourse, and the institutionalization of literary criticism as an academic discipline. The determination of the category of literature from within the university marks the waning of the literary system, and the rise of new systemic relations of reading and writing determined increasingly by a new media system taking over many functions of the old literary system. This does not mean, as so many believe, that the media are displacing literature; rather, the media system is assuming many functions of the antecedent literary system.11

The Literary System and the University In retrospect, we can see that the relation between the literary system and the university in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was characterized above all by the exteriority of literature to the university, or the fact that the university curriculum overlapped so little with the activity of the literary system. This condition paradoxically encouraged the rapid development of the system, because that system responded not immediately to the aims of the school, which were by definition conservative, but rather to the market, to readers as consumers.12 Nonetheless, we cannot describe literature as exterior in the sense of being wholly absent from the university; as we know, some space was cleared for literature in the belles lettres course. The popularity of this course testified to the demand for vernacular writing even within the university. But the internal exile of belles lettres at the time of the institution of modern language departments in the 1870s suggests that what I am calling the eccentricity of literary culture must indeed be understood as a systemic effect. In the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the demand for literature was confirmed by the emergence of numerous extracurricular student literary societies. Students who toiled grudgingly at their Greek and Latin exercises enthusiastically patronized these societies, which were dedicated primarily to vernacular reading. In one of the few studies of these reading and debating clubs, historian of education James McLachlan observes that they were highly structured organizations, in effect, colleges within colleges. They enrolled students, conducted classes, and granted diplomas; but they were not part of the official university: “The surprising—and, at the moment, inexplicable—thing about the relation of the faculty to the student societies … is that it was almost nonexistent” (McLachlan 1974: 485).13 The existence of these shadow colleges, based on what


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McLachlan calls an “extracurriculum,” is compelling evidence for the social importance of the literary system, as well as for its systemically eccentric location. The course in rhetoric and belles lettres was perhaps a weaker echo of this system than historians of our discipline believe. The more robust student societies were closer to the thing itself, to the literary system speaking in its native tongue. Although McLachlan’s notion of an “extracurriculum” confirms the exteriority of the literary system to the institutions of official culture, the relation he identifies might just as easily be seen in reverse, as the exteriority of official culture to the cultural center; this relation seems more obviously to obtain by the end of the nineteenth century, when the universities were forced to abandon the classical curriculum. In the meantime, the reading societies were part of a network of communalized reading practices complementing the private reading that, in concert with the reviews, sustained the literary system in its atomized mass. These reading societies evolved later versions, such as the Shakespeare and Browning societies (Veysey 1979: 75–7), and they exist still in our time, as with the “Janeites” (Lynch 2000). The demand for vernacular writing was the gust front of an irresistible social storm. From the perspective of the university, the force of vernacularization seemed to rise up from below and from the margin; but it was destined to constitute a new center. Even the inertia of the old university was powerless to stand against this force. The Greek and Latin classics, like a great store of gold, too heavy to move, could not compete with the currency of periodical writing, or the rapid circulation of books in English. And yet “classical literature” remained the canonical standard, ensuring the value of vernacular paper. The model of canonicity was simply transferred to the literary system in the later phases of dissemination. By this strategy, works of vernacular literature could be consecrated as “classics” too; the veneration due to age was bestowed upon them, despite their relative youth in relation to antiquity. Further, the vernacular classics were dedicated not just to modeling the standard dialect. On the contrary, the literary system in its later phases instituted a kind of re‐Latinization of the vernacular, the systematic alienation of speakers from their native language as vernacular education was re‐dedicated to the end of social distinction. Standard English was complicated by an accumulation of rules for “usage” more numerous and petty than ever bedeviled the students of Latin and Greek. The literary system held out to those seeking to rise a form of literacy unimpeded by the necessity of learning a dead language, but at the cost of having to acquire a newly Latinized vernacular grammar.14 These systemic relations were policed by what Kenneth Cmiel calls the “verbal critics,” the grammarians of the literary system who were also often the judges of literature. The question of what remains of that system today is of great importance to scholars, who have no choice but to study literature in the ever‐pressing environment of its successor, the system of the media. Grammar, literature, and criticism are changing again, in response to the evolution of the media system; but the point is that these components are changing together. The literary system coexists with the media system, but its principal components cannot be isolated from the effects of these newly constituted systemic relations. The effects of interaction between the literary and media systems are easy enough to see in the decay of longstanding grammatical norms, despite the enforcement mechanisms of the school. Some of these norms were doubtless unnecessary, and served only in the end to inhibit reading and writing. But others, more crucial to effective communication, are

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scarcely immune to deterioration. These effects occasion dismay among literary scholars, and among all those who value what the literary system, including grammar, made ­possible. Yet it may be that the force of the new media system on grammar will prove as irresistible as the force of vernacularization itself. The fortunes of the other two ­components of the literary system—literature and criticism—are much harder to predict. It is not ­possible to determine yet, for example, what the transition from reading on the page to reading on the screen will mean for literary composition; or what that transition will mean for criticism. We only know that literature and criticism have begun to change again, which is much the same as saying that they are moving. The question of where they will be found in the future is too soon to answer.

Notes 1 The concept of literacy was coined in the New England Journal of Education of 1885, according to Illich and Sanders (1989: 85). 2 Raymond Williams (1976: 185) dates the concept of “national literature” to 1767 with the publication of Herder’s Uber die neuere deutsche Litteratur, followed shortly thereafter by similar treatises in the other European languages. 3 This delimitation was anticipated in a f­ ootnote of Thomas de Quincey’s “Essay on Pope” (1848): “What are called The Blue Books,—by which title are understood the folio Reports issued every session of Parliament by committees of the two Houses, and stitched into blue covers,—though often sneered at by the ignorant as so much waste paper, will be ­ acknowledged gratefully by those who have used them diligently as the main wellheads of all accurate information as to the Great Britain of this day. As an immense depository of faithful (and not superannuated) statistics, they are indispensable to the honest student. But no man would therefore class the Blue Books as literature” (1848: 54). In this essay, de ­ Quincey makes his famous distinction ­between the “Literature of Knowledge” and the “Literature of Power”, the former exemplified in the essay by Newton, the latter by Milton: “The very highest work [Newton’s Principia] that has ever existed in the Literature

of Knowledge is but a provisional work: a book upon trial and sufferance” (1848: 57). 4 Another turn of the screw thus liberates literature from the literary work itself, and returns it to language, as the ground of a literary effect not restricted to literary genres. I. A. Richards in the Anglo‐American tradition and Roman Jakobson in the continental tradition institute nearly simultaneous new conceptions of literary language—for Richards the distinction between “emotive” and “referential” language; for Jakobson, the notion of the poetic as language oriented to the “message.” 5 The motif of the “invention of literature” is common in recent scholarship (see Court 2001; Crawford 1998; Ross 1998; Miller 1997; Court 1992; Bromwich 1989; Viswanathan 1989). 6 Even when Oxford introduced an English examination in 1873, it was only for a Pass. Honors were still reserved for the classics. In much recent work Adam Smith and Hugh Blair have displaced the Reverend Thomas Dale, first Professor of English Language and Literature at University College London, for the honor of being the first professors of English literature; but the famously dreary Dale might just as well have been teaching in the colonies so far as Oxford and Cambridge were concerned. For the story of Dale, see Palmer (1965: 15–28).


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 7 Professor F. A. March of Lafayette College remarks that “English should be studied like Greek” (Payne 1895: 75). Professor David B. Frankenburger of the University of Wisconsin reports, that in his department, “the method of instruction is scientific” (Payne 1895: 139). Professor Melvin B. Anderson of Stanford writes that the purpose of literary study is “to impart a scientific knowledge of the English language and of literary history” (Payne 1895: 50). There are a few dissenters. Professor Albert H. Tolman, for example, of the University of Chicago avers that “Literary masterpieces should be studied chiefly, it seems to me, for their beauty” (Payne 1895: 89). Bliss Perry of Williams and Hiram Corson of Cornell were also noted for their emphasis on appreciation rather than scientific philology. In this context, see Applebee (1974: 28).  8 For a discussion of the importance of the examination system in this context, see Potter (1937). Margaret Mathieson notes the prevalent view in the later nineteenth century that English was less a “subject” and more a “way of life,” not a promising basis for discipline formation (Mathieson 1975: 12). For a study of the examination system in the nineteenth century, see Shuman (2000).   9 For a discussion of the different conceptions of grammar, see Leith (1983: 86–111). See also Leonard (1962), Crowley (1989), Wright (2000), and Bex and Watts (1999). 10 See Bourdieu (1991). For the long history behind the idea of Standard English, beginning with the standardization of Chancery English, see Fisher (1996). 11 My argument converges here on that of Kittler (1990). 12 On the emergence of the market for literature, see Brewer (1997). Lawrence Veysey remarks on the indifference of the Modern Language Association in its early years to what I call

literary system, its dedication to the “internal academic goals” of university departments (Veysey 1979: 74–6). The divergence between the market and the school complicates the process of canon formation in modernity, which passes first through the literary marketplace before it yields ultimately to the school, a “last judgment” not in the sense that the curriculum is unchanging, but that its construction is always last in the sequence of judgments comprising the process of literary transmission. 13 Rudolph (1977: 95ff.) notes the disparity between the level of student interest in belles lettres and its modest curricular position. See also Hatfield (1926). McLachlan observes that students’ reading habits in the societies were very inclusive—they included works in Greek, Latin, and modern foreign languages, in addition to English (McLachlan 1974: 478–9). McLachlan’s case study is the College of New Jersey (later known as Princeton), where even belles lettres “amounted to little more than basic English grammar” (1974: 468). Much the same was true in many other institutions: “What was true of Yale seems to have been true of almost every other American college from, very roughly, the last third of the 18th century through the middle of the 19th. The student literary societies engrossed more of the interests and activities of the students than any other aspect of college life” (1974: 472). 14 A typical expression of the motives of the literary system is offered by the Reverend H. G. Robinson, “On the Use of English Classical Literature in the Work of Education,” in the October 1860 issue of Macmillan’s Magazine (quoted in Palmer 1965: 45): “It is, however, in connection with is called ‘middle‐class education’ that the claims of English literature may be most effectively urged. In that literature, properly handled, we have a most valuable agency for the moral and intellectual culture of the professional classes.”

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References Allen, Don Cameron. 1968. The Ph.D. in English and American Literature: A Report to the Profession and the Public. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. Applebee, Arthur N. 1974. Tradition and Reform in the Teaching of English: A History. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. Barron, Dennis. 1982. Grammar and Good Taste: Reforming the American Language. New Haven: Yale University Press. Bex, Tony and Richard J. Watts. 1999. Standard English: The Widening Debate. London: Routledge. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1991. “The Production and Reproduction of Legitimate Language.” In Language and Symbolic Power, ed. John B. Thompson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Brewer, John. 1997. The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. Bromwich, David. 1989, “The Invention of Literature.” In A Choice of Inheritance Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Crawford, Robert. (ed.). 1998. The Scottish Invention of English Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Cmiel, Kenneth. 1990. Democratic Eloquence: The Fight over Popular Speech in Nineteenth‐Century America. Berkeley: University of California Press. Court, Franklin. 1992. Institutionalizing English Literature: the Culture and Politics of Literary Study, 1750–1900. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Court, Franklin. 2001. The Scottish Connection: The Rise of English Literary Study in Early America. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. Crowley, Tony. 1989. Standard English and the Politics of Language. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. De Quincey, Thomas. 1848. “The Poetry of Pope.” North British Review. Reprinted in volume 11 of The Collected Writings of Thomas de Quincey, ed.

Thomas Masson. 12 vols. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1897. Fisher, John H. 1996. The Emergence of Standard English. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky. Hatfield, Wilbur W. 1926. “General and Specialized Literary Clubs,” English Journal 15: 450–6. Illich, Ivan and Barry Sanders. 1989. ABC: The Alphabetization of the Popular Mind. New York: Vintage Books. Jakobson, Roman. 1987. “Linguistics and Poetics.” In Selected Writings, vol. 3. London: Harvard University Press. Kant, Immanuel. 1781. Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Kittler, Friedrich. 1990. Discourse Networks 1800/1900, trans. Michael Metteer and Chris Cullens. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Leith, Dick. 1983. A Social History of English. New York: Routledge. Leonard, Sterling Andrus. 1962. The Doctrine of Correctness in English Usage. New York: Russell & Russell. Lynch, Deidre. 2000. The Janeites: Austen’s Disciples and Devotees (Princeton: Princeton University Press. Malone, Kemp. 1927. “Historical Sketch of the English Department of the Johns Hopkins University.” The Johns Hopkins Alumni Magazine 15 (January, 1927): 127. Mathieson, Margaret. 1975. The Preachers of Culture: A Study of English and its Teachers. Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield. McLachlan, James. 1974. “The Choice of Hercules: American Student Societies in the Early 19th Century.” In Lawrence Stone (ed.), The University in Society, vol. 2. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 449–94. Miller, Thomas P. 1997. The Formation of College English: Rhetoric and Belles Lettres in the British Cultural Provinces. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.


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Palmer, D. J. 1965. The Rise of English Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Payne, William Morton (ed.). 1895. English in American Universities. Boston: D. C. Heath. Potter, Stephen. 1937. The Muse in Chains: A Study in Education. London: Jonathan Cape. Richards, I. A. 1924. “The Two Uses of Language.” Principles of Literary Criticism. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Ross, Trevor. 1998. The Making of the English Canon from the Middle Ages to the Late Eighteenth Century. Montreal: McGill‐Queens University Press. Rudolph, Frederick. 1977. Curriculum: A History of the American Course of Study since 1636. San Francisco: Jossey‐Bass. Shuman, Cathy. 2000. Pedagogical Economies:The Examination and the Victorian Literary Man. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Veysey, Lawrence. 1979. “The Plural Organized World of the Humanities.” In The Organization of Knowledge in Modern America 1860–1920. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Vincent, David. 2000. The Rise of Mass Literacy: Reading and Writing in Modern Europe. Cambridge: Polity Press. Viswanathan, Gauri. 1989. Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India. New York: Columbia University Press. Williams, Raymond. 1976. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. Wright, Laura (ed.). 2000. The Development of Standard English 1300–1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


The Verbal and the Visual James A. W. Heffernan

In the Western world at least, the long history of theorizing about the relations among ­language, literature, and visual art is almost as old as written language itself. Some time before the middle of the fifth century bce, the Greek lyric poet known as Simonides of Ceos (c.556–468 bce) reportedly stated that “Painting is mute poetry, poetry a speaking ­picture.” (quoted in Plutarch 1954, 4: 346f). In his admirably compact history of interart theory up though the Renaissance, Leonard Barkan takes Simonides’ dictum as his point of departure, but in observing that it “seems to be even‐handed” (Barkan 2013: 30), he curiously fails to note that its chiastic symmetry masks a radical asymmetry: while poetry equals picture plus speech, painting equals poetry minus speech. Nevertheless, the logocentrism thus lodged in what is perhaps the oldest known formula for interart relations is the key to Barkan’s argument about the history of those relations up to and through the Renaissance. When, for instance, Horace compares poetry to painting (ut pictura poesis, “as in a painting, so a poem”), he takes for granted the meaning of pictura “so as to prove something about” poetry.1 From Aristotle to Sidney, Barkan contends, logocentric theorists use “the point that x is true of pictures” to argue that x is also true of poems, but x “refers to a set of properties that ­word‐makers have imposed on pictures” (Barkan 2013: 30).

The Problematic Legacy of Lessing In the history of post‐Renaissance theorizing about the arts, logocentrism likewise stamps the most influential of all treatises on the relation between poetry and painting: G. E. Lessing’s Laocoön, first published in 1766. Taking arms against the claim that poetry and the visual arts are fundamentally similar, and especially against the notion that poetry is a kind of painting, Lessing argued that visual art—sculpture as well as painting—fundamentally A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


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differs from poetry: while poetry is essentially temporal, representing a succession of actions, visual art is essentially spatial, representing fixed forms juxtaposed in space. “Succession of time,” Lessing writes, “is the province of the poet just as space is that of the painter. It is an intrusion of the painter into the domain of the poet, which good taste can never sanction, when the painter combines in one and the same picture two points necessarily separate in time” (Lessing 1766: 98). By means of overtly territorial terms such as “domain,” Lessing’s decree severely restricts the stories that visual art can tell. Visual art can tell a story, he writes, but only by depicting its “most pregnant” (prägnantesten) or “most suggestive” moment: the moment that best recalls what precedes it and best anticipates what follows it (1766: 34). Representing, for instance, the Virgilian story of how Laocoön was killed, the famous ancient sculpture of the Trojan prophet and his sons shows them fatally gripped by the pair of giant serpents who have just slithered up out of the sea and will shortly leave the three men dead. Nevertheless, Lessing insists that no one work of visual art can combine “two points ­necessarily separate in time” without violating “good taste.” Does Michelangelo really affront “good taste” on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, where he depicts in a single fresco both the original sin of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from paradise?2 Even if ­paintings like these could be somehow categorized as aberrational departures from the mainstream tradition of one‐point perspective and uni‐temporal art, we may well ask ourselves if any such essentialist theory of the arts can survive in an age when all arts have been digitized, when all texts and pictures are ultimately reducible to pixels or dots—the stem cells of all printed words and reproducible images, most of which and soon all of which, no doubt, can be readily called up on our computer screens.3 If Lessing’s laws can hardly accommodate Michelangelo’s depiction of the Temptation and Fall, what would he say about works of digital art such as Ori Gersht’s Pomegranate (2006)? When examined for more than a few seconds, this would‐be still life of a pomegranate, a cabbage, and a pumpkin turns out to be a high‐definition film of the pomegranate struck by a bullet and then exploding its seeds in slow motion.4 Yet if Lessing’s theory seems to oversimplify the ways in which art and literature represent space and time, even in his own time (let alone ours), we may be underestimating the complexity of his text. Consider for instance the conflict between his claims for the limitless freedom of poetry and his firmly stated rule about what poetry cannot do. On the one hand, Lessing follows Du Bos and Mendelssohn—the latter a crucially important precursor—in distinguishing between the so‐called “natural” symbols of visual art and the arbitrary signs of language, which give the poet much more freedom than the painter (Lessing 1766: 40). On the other hand, Lessing comes very near to decreeing that poetry cannot give us more than one verbal picture at a time. In Virgil’s description of the serpents encoiling the stomach (medium) and neck (collo) of Laocoön, he says, “we must see first only the serpents and then Laocoön; we must not attempt to picture to ourselves how both would look together” (1766: 43). How can we reconcile these severe restrictions on the writer and reader of poetry with the limitless freedom that Lessing claims for language, not to mention the intensity with which Virgil’s description binds the serpents to the body of Laocoon, m ­ aking it impossible for us not to see both together? The problem with Lessing’s argument in chapter 6 resurfaces in chapters 16 and 17, where Lessing puts both of the arts on a short leash: painting can imitate actions, but only

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through bodies; poetry can depict bodies, but only through actions (1766: 78). After thus giving perfectly symmetrical tasks to painting and poetry, he binds them both to a ­principle of physical, material analogy that effectively denies to poetry the freedom he elsewhere claims for the arbitrary signs of its language. “Signs that follow one another,” he says, “can express only objects whose wholes or parts are consecutive,” and “poetry in its ­progressive imitations can use only one single property of a body” (1766 78–9). How then can Lessing explain or justify Virgil’s reference to two parts of Laocoön’s body—his stomach (medium) and his neck (collo)—in a single line of the Aeneid (2: 218)? In chapter 17, however, Lessing takes up a more fundamental objection to his argument when he finally tackles the glaring contradiction between his claims for the freedom of arbitrary signs in language and his severe restrictions on the language of poetry. With the aid of his explanatory letter to Friedrich Nicolai (written in 1769, three years after Laocoön first appeared), we can see how he tries to resolve this contradiction. While language consists of “arbitrary” signs, as he says in Laocoön (1766: 88), painting should use only “natural signs” (quoted in Krieger 48). But unlike prose, poetry “must try to raise its arbitrary signs to natural signs: only that way does it differentiate itself from prose and become poetry” (quoted in Krieger 1992: 49). Just as painting aims to create the illusion that we are seeing one or more objects actually deployed in space, poetry should create the illusion that we are actually watching one event follow another in time. For Lessing, then, poetry should take as its model the illusionism of visual art. Is this the very same theorist who set out to liberate poetry from the shackles of pictorialism? So far from reiterating a reductive formula, he seems to have had a lively debate with himself—and thus left us with provocative questions as much as with straightforward answers.

Reading Signs Two hundred and fifty years after Lessing’s Laocoön, with centuries of theorizing behind us and digital technology all around us, we might be inclined to say that Lessing has long since had his day—especially since his concept of the “natural sign” has been all but demolished by contemporary semiotics, the theory of signs. Yet paradoxically, Lessing’s own discussion of signs anticipates semiotics, which aims to bridge the divide that Lessing sought to establish between poetry and painting, language and visual art. Taking the elements of visual art as signs, semiotically minded theorists of art argue that pictures can be decoded and thus read just as if they were texts. The semiotic approach to visual art remains truly provocative. Though all pictures worthy of close scrutiny demand some sort of interpretation, we instinctively tend to dissociate the viewing of pictures—or even the study of them—from reading, which typically means the perusal of verbal texts. Consider this simple linguistic fact: while literacy is a virtually universal criterion of cultural advancement for individuals and nations alike, the English language has no generally accepted word for the ability to understand pictures, which is commonly thought to be—so to speak—written into the eye at birth, a product of instinct rather than education. However technical, sophisticated, and deliberate may be the art of rousing this ability, the means by which a picture does so have been naturalized by master tropes such as the window, which literally as well as figuratively frames the rules


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of perspective formulated in the Renaissance. By translating the three dimensions of visual experience into two, Renaissance masters such as Alberti prompt us to take the translation for the original, to read depth into a flat surface without any consciousness of doing so, and hence to embrace the illusion that we are looking through an open window: that we are seeing rather than reading. We feel anew our bondage to this illusion every time it is broken by verbal or visual means. Do we ever wholly cease to feel cognitive dissonance when a painting that prompts or even compels us to “see” a pipe is labelled “This is not a pipe”? Or when the sharp, pointed fragments of a window pane that has been painted to represent a rural sunset are shown fallen to the floor in a painting wittily entitled Evening Falls?5 Paradoxically, ­paintings such as these confirm the power of illusion in the very act of playfully undermining it. We cannot even discuss such paintings without referring to at least some of their elements as if they were real objects, as I did just now in mentioning “fragments of a window pane.” The notion that pictures are automatically readable—instantly recognizable by “natural” resemblance to what they represent—is what chiefly underwrites the long history of ­theorizing about the difference between images and words, which signify by means of arbitrary convention. Surprisingly enough, the theorist best known for his landmark essay on the difference between words and images actually treated both of them as signs. But in defining poetry as essentially temporal and painting as essentially spatial, Lessing makes both depend on a natural correspondence that aims to circumvent or elide the process of decoding and hence reading signs, to make them windows through which we sensuously, intuitively “see” the natural world of time and space. Though the problematic concept of the “natural sign” seems to bridge the divide ­between nature and convention in Lessing’s theory of visual art, the rise of semiotics has merely driven them farther apart. Forty years ago, in explaining C. S. Peirce’s typology of signs (icon, index, symbol), Jonathan Culler wrote that “the icon involves actual resemblance between signifiant and signifié: a portrait signifies the person of whom it is a portrait not by arbitrary convention only but by resemblance,” which he goes on to call “natural resemblance.” Yet “[i]n the sign proper as Saussure understood it,” Culler adds, “the relationship between signifier and signified is arbitrary and conventional” (Culler 1975: 16). Natural signs, therefore, can take their place within the realm of semiotics only if they have been denaturalized. For semiotically minded theorists, all visual art is a compendium of denaturalized signs. In Vision and Painting (1983), which appeared just eight years after Culler’s Structuralist Poetics, Norman Bryson took arms against what he called the “doctrine of Perceptualism” espoused by E. H. Gombrich. According to Gombrich, whose theory of art and its history was largely based on the psychology of illusion, painting is a record of perception: re‐creating for the viewer what the artist has seen, it generates from a two‐ dimensional canvas the illusion of three‐dimensional space (Gombrich 1969). Contesting this doctrine even as applied to figural painting (it hardly fits abstract art), Bryson defined painting as “an art of signs, rather than percepts.” Amplifying Ferdinand de Saussure’s conception of meaning as the product of binary oppositions among signs in a self‐enclosed system, Bryson argued that painting “is an art in constant touch with signifying forces outside” it. Signs, therefore, must be decoded in light of the world that surrounds the

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production of them, which includes the viewer as someone not timelessly “given” but historically constructed—diachronic rather than synchronic. The viewer thus becomes “an interpreter” (Bryson 1983: xii–xiv). The concept of the viewer as interpreter trails a long history of its own. It dates at least as far back as the third century of the Christian era, when a Greek rhetorician named Philostratus described a series of paintings “for the young, that by this means they may learn to interpret paintings.” Fourteen centuries later, Nicolas Poussin advised a viewer of his Fall of the Manna in the Wilderness (1638–1639) to read the painting as well as the biblical story it represents in order to see how everything in it fits the subject. “Lisez l’histoire et le tableau,” he wrote, “afin de connaitre si chaque chose est appropriée au sujet.”(quoted in Lee 1967: 30). What Poussin meant by reading a painting closely resembles what Philostratus did, which was to convert each painting into a narrative, or deliver the narrative implied by the moment of action it represents.6 But as Bryson presents it, the semiotic approach to painting moves well beyond narrative. It construes each element of a painting as a historically determinate sign of the culture that generated it, and the painting itself as a site of “interaction between political, economic, and signifying practices” (Bryson 1983: xiii). Three years after Bryson’s Vision and Painting appeared, W. J. T. Mitchell published Iconology, the first of a series of books that have long since established him as the premier theorist of interart relations in our time. Like Bryson, Mitchell regards pictures as pictorial signs, and with the aid of Nelson Goodman, he strongly contests Gombrich’s claim that images signify objects by means of “natural” resemblance rather than convention, as words do (Gombrich 1981). “The history of culture,” Mitchell writes, “is in part the story of a protracted struggle for dominance between pictorial and linguistic signs, each claiming for itself certain proprietary rights to a ‘nature’ to which only it has access” (Mitchell 1986: 43). Central to Mitchell’s ongoing case against this proprietary claim is the conviction that words and images deeply inform each other. Just as pictures can hardly be seen or “read” except in terms of language, language is so thoroughly steeped in the imagery of metaphor that we can hardly say where “image” ends and “word” begins. This is not to deny all differences between words and pictures, for as Mitchell has noted, “you can hang a picture, but you can’t hang an image.” An image, he writes, “is what can be copied from the painting in another medium, in a photograph or a slide projection or a digital file” (Mitchell 2015: 16). Nevertheless, semiotic theory has not yet wholly vanquished perceptualism, nor altogether solved what might be called the enigma of recognition. In identifying what pictures and even photographs represent, we may well be reading them through the framework of cultural conventions, as semioticians argue. But how can cultural conventions explain our capacity to recognize pictures made by people to whose culture we have no other access—such as the Paleolithic cave paintings in Lascaux, France, which depict what are widely recognized as a bison, horses, stags, and a bull? Recognition, in short, has yet to be banished from the experience of art, has yet to be subsumed by any theory that would simply equate the viewing of a picture with the decoding of signs. What Mitchell himself wrote in 1994 remains true to this day: in an age of “all‐pervasive image‐making, we still do not know exactly what pictures are, what their relation to language is, how they operate on observers and on the world, and what is to be done with or about them” (Mitchell 1994: 13; emphasis mine). The point I have italicized, I believe, is the key one. No linguistically


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based theory of signs can exhaust the meanings generated by visual art, no label can predetermine or predict all that we can discover in the patient scrutiny of a painting, and some of its most poignant features may be impossible to name. For the purposes of literary theory, however, the most important questions to be raised about the relation between the visual and the verbal revolve around the words we use to describe or interpret works of visual art in a kind of writing known as ekphrasis, which demands special attention.

Ekphrasis: Writing about Art Broadly speaking, visual art can respond to language in three ways: a work of art can ­illustrate a work of literature, as Poussin does with an Old Testament story in Fall of the Manna in the Wilderness; a work of art can incorporate language, as William Blake famously does in the composite art of his illuminated poems; and in our own time, works of art sometimes depict language alone, as in the black‐and‐white stenciled words of Christopher Wool’s Apocalypse Now (1988):7 SELL THE HOUSE S ELL THEC AR SELL THEK IDS

To these three ways in which visual art may converse with language, ekphrasis adds a fourth: writing about art. Unlike illustration, composite art, and word pictures, ekphrasis is wholly verbal, written to be read. It does not even require the existence of an actual ­picture, for the picture represented by ekphrasis may be wholly imaginary or otherwise inaccessible to the reader, as in the Icones of Philostratus. As already noted, this ancient Greek rhetorician (born about 190 ce) unpacked the stories told by a number of paintings which have long been lost—if they ever existed at all. Spawned by the ancient Greek teaching of rhetoric, the word ekphrasis has a complicated history. In the first century of our era, Ailios Theon of Alexandria defined it as logos periegematikos, literally “leading around speech”: language that vividly describes or exhibits anything visible (Webb 1992: 35). By the fifth century, however, ekphrasis had come to denote the description of visual art, and in current usage it is normally used to mean “the rhetorical description of a work of art,” as the Oxford Classical Dictionary defines it, or “the poetic description of a pictorial or sculptural work of art,” as Leo Spitzer defined in 1955 (Spitzer 1962: 72). More recently, Murray Krieger has treated ekphrasis chiefly as “word‐ painting,” the verbal counterpart of visual art. As “the sought for equivalent in words of any visual image, in or out of art,” he writes, it “include[s] every attempt, within an art of words, to work toward the illusion that it is performing a task we usually associate with an art of natural signs.” Ekphrasis thus gratifies our lust for natural signs—for the immediate

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presence of the object signified—by defying the “arbitrary character and … temporality” of language. It offers us a verbal icon, “the verbal equivalent of an art object sensed in space” (Krieger 1992: 9–10). Yet if works of art “are structures in space–time” rather than either spatial or temporal, as W. J. T. Mitchell argues (Mitchell 1986: 103), ekphrasis must allow for both elements in the works it represents. For this reason I have defined it as the verbal representation of visual representation (J. Heffernan 1993: 3). This definition makes room for descriptions of paintings and sculptures that represent anything at all, whether someone or something in motion or a still object like Magritte’s famous pipe. As a literary genre, ekphrasis ranges from ancient rhetorical exercises in description through art criticism to poetry and fiction. Furthermore, since digital technology and cinema have animated visual art itself, the verbal representation of visual representation has become more fluid than ever before. While traditional ekphrasis generates a narrative from a work of art that is still in both senses, silent and motionless, cinematic ekphrasis exploits the metamorphic power of film to conjure a dream world that rivals and contests the order of realistic fiction (J. Heffernan 2016). In all of these cases, the verbal version of a work of visual art remakes the original. The rhetoric of art criticism aspires to make the work of art “confess itself” in language that is always that of the critic (J. Heffernan 2006: 39–68); ekphrastic poetry turns the work of art into a story that expresses the mind of the speaker; and ekphrastic fiction turns the work of art—whether still or moving—into a story that mirrors the mind of a character. Ekphrasis, then, is a kind of writing that turns pictures into storytelling words. Thus defined, ekphrastic writing invites comparison with art criticism, and specifically with its rhetoric. This move may seem a detour from the high road of literature—especially if art criticism entails art history, the compilation of facts about painters and paintings and schools of painting and the sequence of pictorial styles. But the line between literature and art criticism starts to blur as soon as we consider the kinship between Homer’s description of the shield sculpted for Achilles in the eighteenth book of the Iliad—the founding instance of ekphrasis in Western literature—and the Eikones of Philostratus, the father of art criticism. Typically, Philostratus interprets a painting by turning it into a narrative: not the story of its making, as in Homer’s account of Achilles’ shield, but the story suggested by its shapes, which are identified with the figures they represent. Though he never explains just how the episodes of a story are depicted or arranged in a painting, he aims to make the work “confess itself”—in Leo Steinberg’s phrase (Steinberg 1972: 6)—through the inferred speech of its characters. He sometimes tells us what painted figures are saying to each other and what sounds they signify, such as shouting and piping. As Leonard Barkan has recently observed, the Eikones “do everything that pictures cannot do by themselves … They exploit picture to create words. All the nonpictorial experiences that the ekphrases elicit from paintings are linguistic” (Barkan 2013: 22–4). Like art itself, of course, art criticism has undergone major changes since the time of Philostratus. Until photographic reproductions became widely available in the twentieth century, art criticism had to reproduce paintings in words, as Denis Diderot regularly did in the later eighteenth century for subscribers to his Salons, where he describes the paintings regularly exhibited at the Louvre and often generates elaborate stories from them. But now, we might say, art criticism no longer needs description, and storytelling is surely irrelevant to much of modern art—especially abstract art.


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What sort of story, after all, can be told about an art that seems to turn its back on r­epresentation, on reference to any object or figure that we might recognize from our ­experience of the world outside the painting, and that might thus give us something to talk about? Modern art has been charged with declaring war on language itself. Yet if modern art ever aimed to silence the viewer, it has conspicuously failed. Its very renunciation of what we commonly take to be subject‐matter intensifies our need to talk about it. So far from silencing the critic, then, abstract art provokes and demands at least as much commentary as any of its precursors. In writing, for instance, about Shade (1959), an “abstracted nightscape” by Jasper Johns, Leo Steinberg reactivates most of the rhetorical strategies that have permeated art criticism from Philostratus onward. His commentary is driven by a series of narratives: the Homeric story of how Johns made the painting, the quotidian tale of a day ending (the shade “has been pulled down as if for the night”), the quasi‐apocalyptic story of darkness immutable (“and obviously for the last time”), and finally the art‐historical narrative of what Johns does with Alberti’s master trope: the open window of Renaissance art, with its sunlit three‐dimensional vistas, becomes the impenetrably occluded window of modern or postmodern art, with its resolutely flattened opacity (Steinberg 1972: 309). Unapologetically literary, with allusions to Milton and Joyce, Steinberg’s response to Johns’s painting clearly shows how much we can learn about the art of ekphrasis by studying it in what might be called its purest form—as art criticism. Art criticism works so close to the border of ekphrastic poetry that it sometimes crosses that border. In one of the most remarkable ekphrastic poems of the twentieth century, John Ashbery’s “Self‐Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” Ashbery quotes not only from Giorgio Vasari’s sixteenth‐century Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects but also from Sydney Freedberg’s Parmigianino (1950)—a modern scholarly monograph. Though Ashbery— who has written a great deal of art criticism himself— surely knows the difference ­between that and poetry, he also demonstrates how much the first can feed the second. (J. Heffernan 1993: 169–89). Nevertheless, ekphrastic poetry differs from art criticism (almost but not quite equivalent to ekphrastic prose) in some important ways. Typically, I have argued, the art critic delivers from a painting or sculpture some kind of story about what it represents. At the same time, art criticism draws our attention to the medium of representation—oil, watercolor, stone, wood—and the technique of the artist, who is himself (or herself) a major part of the story told by the critic. In other words, art criticism typically operates on three major components: the work of art, the thing it represents, and the artist who represents it. In some cases, of course, one or more of these three components is suppressed. Philostratus makes no reference to any of the painters who produced the works he describes, and in explaining the painting of Narcissus, he nearly elides the difference between the work and what it represents. Ekphrastic poetry may likewise blur this difference, as when John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” addresses the sculpted figures on the urn as if they could think and feel and pant and move (Keats 1982: 282–3). On the other hand, in repeatedly reminding them that they are fixed and frozen, the poem highlights their difference from the ­figures they represent, thus reckoning with both the work and the world it signifies. At

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the same time, Keats elides any reference to the sculptor who stands behind the urn. In spite of all the art historical questions he raises about the figures on the urn—“what men or gods are these?”—he never asks the first question typically posed by art history: who made it? This is largely because the work of sculpture described in the poem is imaginary or “notional,” as John Hollander calls it, made up in words by the poet ­himself (Hollander 1988).8 While many other ekphrastic poems likewise ignore the artist, this is hardly a defining feature of ekphrastic poetry, which—as in Ashbery’s “Self‐Portrait”—may have plenty to say about the creator of the work it contemplates. What truly differentiates an ekphrastic poem from a piece of art criticism is that the poem demands to be read as a work of art in its own right. So while art criticism treats the painter, the painting, and the object represented, the critic of ekphrastic poetry must also reckon with two other elements: the poet and the poem. Here too some elements may be suppressed. In his ode on the urn, Keats says nothing explicit about himself; just as he elides the sculptor, he seems to edit out the poet. But in the final stanza the poet creeps in as one of the observers of the urn, which teases “us out of thought,” thus making explicit his presence as one who is both struggling to grasp what the urn represents and shaping his own work of art in the process. Besides taking the form of poetry, ekphrasis can also be found in works of prose fiction (Karastathi 2015), and ekphrastic fiction can represent not only painting, still photography, and sculpture but also film. In Manuel Puig’s novel Kiss of the Spider Woman, one prisoner describes to another a series of films that are mostly imaginary or “notional” but often composed of elements drawn from actual films. Cinematic ekphrasis, which I have discussed at length elsewhere (J. Heffernan 2014), radically challenges the notion that ekphrasis deals only with pictures that are still in every sense, silent and motionless. In Puig’s novel, the stories told about films strongly suggest that cinematic ekphrasis exploits the inherently dreamlike character of film, its metamorphic fluidity. This metamorphic character of film evokes a particular kind of embedded narrative to be found in literature well before the advent of cinema: the story of a dream, which can all too easily become a nightmare. If the history of the relations between the verbal and the visual—word and image, literature and visual art—could be summed up in a single word, that word might be dialectical. Though a great deal of early theorizing about the arts highlights their sisterhood or similitude, a strong suggestion of rivalry and contention emerges well before the eighteenth century, when Lessing codified their differences. Yet in plainly stating that words and images are both signs, Lessing laid the groundwork for a theoretical dialogue or conversation between them that has vigorously persisted into our own time. In practice as well as theory, the relation between the visual and verbal arts has become almost symbiotic. On one hand, theoreticians such as Mitchell have persuasively shown how much language depends on imagery; on the other hand, the kinetic energy of digitized art has broken the line between verbal narrative and pictorial stasis, and pictures made entirely of words have erased the line between words and images. Confronted with all of the ways in which the visual and verbal converse in works of literature and art, theory can accommodate them only by listening as carefully as possible to their conversation.


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Notes 1 On theories of painting that align it with poetry and literature more generally, see Lee (1967) and Hagstrum (1958). 2 See‐Fall. jpg. For detailed analysis of how the two ­chronologically distinct events are embraced by the spatial symmetry of the painting as a whole, see J. Heffernan (2006: 35–6). 3 A recent book argues that the internet itself “is a massive and collaborative work of realist art” (V. Heffernan 2016: 8). 4 See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ci2AA_ 5Yg7E. 5 Rene Magritte, Ceci n’est pas une pipe / This is not a Pipe (1929). (http://collections.lacma.org/ node/239578); Le Soir qui Tombe / Evening Falls

(1964) (http://biblioklept.org/2015/04/19/ evening‐falls‐rene‐magritte/. 6 In Laocoon, Lessing called this moment the “most suggestive” (pragnantesten, most pregnant with meaning) because it is the moment “from which the preceding and succeeding actions are most easily comprehensible” (Lessing 1984: 78). 7 See http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/paintings/ christopher‐wool‐apocalypse‐now‐5739095‐ details.aspx. 8 On the other hand, even imaginary works of art that are described in ekphrastic poems can sometimes be credited to named artists. In Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” for instance, the opening lines identify the fictive painting of the duchess as the product of “Frà Pandolph’s hands.”

References Alberti, Leon Battista. 1996. On Painting, trans. John R. Spencer, rev. ed. New Haven: Yale University Press. Barkan, Leonard. 2013. Mute Poetry, Speaking Pictures. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Bryson, Norman. 1983. Vision and Painting: The Logic of the Gaze. New Haven: Yale University Press. Culler, Jonathan. 1975. Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics, and the Study of Literature. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Gombrich, E. H. 1969. Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Gombrich, E. H. 1981. “Image and Code: Scope and Limits of Conventionalism in Pictorial Representation.” In Image and Code, ed. Wendy Steiner. Michigan Studies in the Humanities, No. 2. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Hagstrum, Jean. 1958. The Sister Arts: The Tradition of Literary Pictorialism From Dryden to Gray. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Heffernan, James A. W. 1993. Museum of Words: The Poetics of Ekphrasis from Homer to Ashbery. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Heffernan, James A. W. 2006. Cultivating Picturacy. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press. Heffernan, James A. W. 2016. “Notes Toward a Theory of Cinematic Ekphrasis.” In Imaginary Films in Literature, ed. Stefano Ercolino, Massimo Fusilio, Mirko Lino, and Luca Zenobi. Leiden: Brill Rodopi. Heffernan, Virginia. 2016. Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art. New York: Simon & Schuster. Hollander, John. 1988. “The Poetics of Ekphrasis.” Word & Image 4: 209–19. Karastathi, Sylvia. 2015. “Ekphrasis and the Novel/Narrative Fiction.” In Handbook of Intermediality: Literature‐Image‐Sound‐Music, ed. Gabriele Rippi, 92–112. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. Keats, John. 1982. Complete Poems, ed. Jack Stillinger. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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Krieger, Murray. 1992. Ekphrasis: The Illusion of the Natural Sign. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Lee, Rensselaer. 1967. Ut Pictura Poesis: The Humanist Theory of Painting. New York: Norton. Lessing, G. E. 1984. Laocoön: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry, trans. Edward Allen McCormick. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Mitchell, W. J. T. 1986. Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Mitchell, W. J. T. 1994. Picture Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Mitchell, W. J. T. 2015. Image Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Philostratus. 1931. Imagines (Eikones), trans. Arthur Fairbanks. Loeb Classical Library. London: Heineman, 1931.


Plutarch. 1954. Moralia, trans. Frank Cole Babbitt. Loeb Classical Library. 4 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 4: 346f. Puig, Manuel. 1991. Kiss of the Spider Woman, trans. Thomas Colchie. New York: Vintage Books/ Random House. Spitzer, Leo. 1962 [1955]. “The ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn,’ or Content vs. MetaGrammar.” In Essays on English and American Literature, ed. Anna Hatcher, 67–97. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Steinberg, Leo. 1972. Other Criteria. London: Oxford University Press. Webb, R. H. 1992. The Transmission of the Eikones of Philostratus and the Development of Ekphrasis from Antiquity to the Renaissance. Dissertation ­submitted to the Department of Classics, King’s College. London.


Foucault and Poststructuralism Alan D. Schrift

Foucault and Poststructuralism Following his discussion of Nietzsche’s account of knowledge in a lecture at McGill University in April 1971, Michel Foucault (1926–84) remarked that such an analysis makes it possible: • to speak of sign and interpretation, of their inseparability, without reference to a phenomenology; • to speak of signs without reference to any “structuralism”; • to speak of interpretation without reference to an original subject; • to connect up analyses of systems of signs with the analysis of forms of violence and domination; • to think knowledge as an historical process before any problematic of the truth, and more fundamentally than in the subject‐object relation. (Foucault 2013: 213–14) This comment all but acknowledges that the analysis of Nietzsche’s account of knowledge made it possible for Foucault to become Foucault, as it outlines the basic themes that ­dominated Foucault’s work in the 1960s into the 1970s. More generally, however, it was through Nietzsche that those thinkers in France whose work initiated the movement called poststructuralism first distinguished themselves from the structuralists who ­preceded them. Poststructuralism emerged in France in the 1960s, setting into motion a philosophical revolution that would change the course of French philosophy for the remainder of the twentieth century: in 1966, Michel Foucault published The Order of Things; that same year, in October, Jacques Derrida (1930–2004) presented “Structure, Sign, and Play in the A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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Discourse of the Human Sciences” at the critically important conference on “Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man” at Johns Hopkins University, and the following year saw the publication of Of Grammatology, Writing and Difference, and Speech and Phenomena; and the two theses for his Doctorat d’État by Gilles Deleuze (1925–95)—Difference and Repetition and Spinoza and the Problem of Expression—were published in 1968, while his groundbreaking book on Nietzsche—Nietzsche and Philosophy—first appeared in 1962. What these works present is a distinctly philosophical response to the challenge posed to philosophical thinking by the emergence of structuralism as the dominant intellectual paradigm in the late 1950s. And central to this renewed interest in philosophy is the emergence of interest in Nietzsche’s work among philosophers in France. In fact, returning to these foundational events in the emergence of poststructuralist French philosophy, Nietzsche’s singular philosophical importance for this emergence becomes apparent when one recalls that Foucault plays off Nietzsche against Kant in The Order of Things, Derrida plays off Nietzsche against Lévi‐Strauss in “Structure, Sign, and Play,” and Deleuze plays off Nietzsche against Hegel in Nietzsche and Philosophy and several other works. Like their structuralist predecessors, the poststructuralists drew heavily upon the ideas of Marx and Freud; but unlike the structuralists, they drew at least as much from Nietzsche, the third so‐called “master of suspicion.” Nietzsche’s critique of truth, his emphasis on interpretation and differential relations of power, and his attention to questions of style in philosophical discourse became central motifs within the work of the poststructuralists as they turned their attention away from the human sciences and toward a philosophical‐ critical analysis of relations of power, discourse, and the construction of the subject (Foucault); desire and language (Deleuze); questions of aesthetic and political judgment (Lyotard); writing and textuality (Derrida); and questions of sexual difference and gender construction (Irigaray, Kristeva, Cixous). In what follows, I discuss several of the themes that appear in much of the theoretical work referred to as poststructuralist, highlighting how these themes distinguish poststructuralist thinkers from their structuralist predecessors. But a few prior comments are in order. First, it must be acknowledged that “poststructuralism” is not a term used in France. It is rather the name bestowed in the English‐speaking philosophical and literary communities on the ideas of several French philosophers whose work is seen as a response to the privileging of the human sciences that characterized structuralism. Second, under the name “poststructuralism” are brought together a number of theorists and theoretical positions that, in France, are often positioned quite far apart. Third, in many anglophone contexts, the labels “poststructuralist,” “deconstructionist,” and “postmodernist” are often used interchangeably to group together Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, and Jean‐François Lyotard (1924–98), while in the French context, only Derrida would be associated with deconstruction, and only Lyotard with postmodernism. Fourth and finally, although their work would certainly fall under the domain of “poststructuralism,” insofar as they are treated in detail elsewhere in this volume, Derrida and French feminist theorists Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, and Hélène Cixous are only mentioned in passing. While their American reception in particular has tended to overlook the important differences between these thinkers grouped together under the banner of poststructuralism, there are nevertheless certain themes and trends that emerge in various ways in the work of many of the French philosophers and theorists who follow structuralism. In some cases,


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these should be seen as correctives to the excesses of structuralism, in others as various ways in which thinkers coming into prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s were to give expression to the Nietzschean‐Freudian‐Marxian spirit of the times, and in still other cases as a way of retrieving themes from some of the French traditions that had fallen out of favor during the scientistic orientation of the 1950s and early 1960s (the return of certain ethical, spiritual, and religious themes, along with some positions associated with ­ ­phenomenology and existentialism). What should not be underestimated, however, is the way in which those thinkers associated with poststructuralism reaffirmed the value of philosophical thinking. Where the structuralist theorists had turned away from philosophy (the anthropologist Claude Lévi‐Strauss (1908–2009) being perhaps the best example), theorists following structuralism readily identify themselves as philosophers.1 But unlike most philosophical thinkers in France who preceded the rise of structuralism and the hegemony of social scientific discourse in the late 1950s and early 1960s, French philosophers after structuralism engage in philosophical reflection and analysis while taking account of the institutional forces that inform philosophical thinking itself. Situating these philosophical thinkers after structuralism, four themes in particular must be highlighted: 1) the return to thinking historically; 2) the return of thinking about the subject; 3) the emphasis on difference; and 4) the return to thinking philosophically about ethics.

The Return to Thinking Historically Poststructuralism can be viewed as a corrective to the overemphasis on synchrony that one finds in structuralist writing. There is no single reason behind this, nor a single form in which French philosophy after structuralism seeks to think time, temporality, or history. But where the structuralists sought to understand the extra‐temporal functioning of systems (whether social, psychic, economic, or literary), thinkers like Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida, or Lyotard attend to the historical unfolding of the phenomena they choose to examine. In part, the attention to time, temporality, and history can be viewed as a consequence of the intellectual resources to which these thinkers appeal, resources that were not necessarily central to the work of their structuralist predecessors. Foucault, for example, draws upon the study of the history of science and scientific change in the work of Georges Canguilhem (1904–95) and Gaston Bachelard (1884–1962), while Deleuze returns to Henri Bergson’s theories of time and durée (duration). For many of these thinkers, the move in Heidegger’s thought from the thinking of Being (Sein) to the thinking of Ereignis—the event of appropriation— can be seen to inspire, whether directly or indirectly, their respective attempts to develop a philosophy of the event, just as the attention to Nietzsche in the late 1960s and 1970s, and in particular to his notion of the eternal recurrence, led many to rethink traditional notions of temporality and history. To begin with the most obvious example, we find Foucault’s entire philosophical oeuvre deeply inflected with an attention to history. The guiding thesis of his early work was that there exists, at any given time, an order of things that makes the social functioning of the time possible. This order operates within the fundamental codes of a culture: those governing its language, its schemes of perception, its techniques, exchanges, values, and so on. Unlike Kant’s transcendental project, for Foucault this order is a historical a priori: neither

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transcendental nor universal, this order is a historically specific constellation that exists prior to experience. But it is at the same time prior to reason insofar as the standards of rationality at work at any particular historical moment are themselves determined on its basis. This order also establishes the basis on which knowledge and theory become possible, as Foucault argued in The Order of Things and, based on this order, certain ideas can be thought, certain perceptions, values, and distinctions become possible. For many, this idea of a historical a priori is simply a contradiction in terms. For Foucault, however, experience is thoroughly historicized: one’s experience is “constructed” from the a priori— one might even say “structural”—rules that govern experience and social practices at a particular point in history. At other times, there were other a priori rules that governed social practices, and people’s experiences were, as a consequence, constructed differently. So, to take an example from Foucault’s first major work, The History of Madness (1961), what Foucault charts is how the a priori rules governing the discourse and treatment of the mad as individuals manifesting conditions requiring confinement in separate dwellings along with other social deviants (criminals, paupers, etc.) changed from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries to the point where the “mad” came to be experienced under a ­different historical a priori order as “sick,” as suffering from a disease (“mental illness”) that required treatment rather than internment. This historical a priori is ultimately what ­determines what, in the English title of one of Foucault’s most famous works, he called the “order of things,” by which Foucault’s French title —Les mots et les choses—meant the relation between words (conceptual understandings) and things (reality as experienced). While Foucault eventually gave up this language, he never renounced the importance of grounding thought historically, a fact that he obviously wanted brought to the fore insofar as he requested that his Chair at the Collège de France, the Chair associated since its creation in 1932 with the history of philosophy, be renamed the “Chair in the History of Systems of Thought” when he assumed it in 1970. In a 1983 interview, Foucault responds to a question concerning the structure of his “genealogy project,” by focusing on its ­historical dimension: Three domains of genealogy are possible. First, a historical ontology of ourselves in relation to truth through which we constitute ourselves as subjects of knowledge; second, a historical ontology of ourselves in relation to a field of power through which we constitute ourselves as subjects acting on others; third, a historical ontology in relation to ethics through which we constitute ourselves as moral agents. (Foucault 2003a: 110)

Foucault goes on to add that while all three domains “were present, albeit in a somewhat confused fashion, in Madness and Civilization,” in later works, particular domains were emphasized: “The truth axis was studied in The Birth of the Clinic and The Order of Things. The power axis was studied in Discipline and Punish, and the ethical axis in The History of Sexuality” (Foucault 2003a: 110). In the end, the goal of Foucault’s genealogical project is to unite these three analytic dimensions (truth, power, ethics) in an attempt to produce a “critical ontology of ourselves … conceived as an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them” (Foucault 2003b: 56, my emphasis).


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Foucault’s attention to time and history is not exceptional, however, for it characterizes much of the important work done by the major figures in French philosophy after ­structuralism. For example, Pierre Bourdieu, in his early work critical of objectivist accounts of gift exchange, also focused his account of gifts on the theme of time, ­specifically the time‐lag between gift and counter‐gift that stands as the condition for the possibility of the gift.2 Because objectivist accounts like that of Lévi‐Strauss failed to understand the societally motivated individual and collective misrecognition (méconnaissance) of the rules governing the exchange of gifts, they were led to focus their analyses almost entirely on the relation of reciprocal equivalence ­between gift and counter‐gift. For Bourdieu, this ­objectivist, economistic focus on reciprocity collapses the time‐lag between gift and counter‐gift, and turns the gift exchange into a straightforward return to the giver of what she is owed from the gift’s original recipient. As such, the objectivist account is unable to distinguish gift exchange from either “swapping, which … telescopes gift and counter‐gift into the same instant,” or “lending, in which the return of the loan is explicitly guaranteed by a juridical act and is thus already accomplished at the very moment of the drawing up of a contract capable of ensuring that the acts it prescribes are predictable and calculable” (Bourdieu 1977: 5). For Gilles Deleuze, on the other hand, time is a constant theme, running through his reflections on Bergsonian duration, Nietzsche’s eternal return, and his theory of cinema (the second volume of which is The Time‐Image [1985]). In fact, one could argue that in his two major texts, Difference and Repetition (1968) and The Logic of Sense (1969), Deleuze offers us a new way to think about time in order to think the logic of events. One could here cite as well Jean‐François Lyotard’s postmodernism and the thinking of the event of the post, as well as his reflections on the arrive‐t‐il?—the is‐it‐happening?— of the différend. What these examples make clear is that poststructuralism is marked by a renewed concern with thinking historically.

The Return of Thinking About the Subject Where the rhetoric of the “death of the subject” was characteristic of the structuralists, this was never really the case with most of the philosophers labeled poststructuralist. To be sure, thinkers like Foucault or Deleuze were never comfortable with the subject‐centered thinking of the existentialists or phenomenologists. But they were equally uncomfortable with the straightforwardly anti‐humanist rhetoric of structuralist thinkers like Althusser or Lévi‐Strauss. Even Foucault, who can arguably be associated with the rhetoric of the “death of the subject” in his works of the early 1960s, can at the same time be shown to have been thinking about the question of the construction of the modern subject throughout his oeuvre. That is to say, a distinction can and should be drawn between the “end of man” and the “death of the subject.” It may well be the case that Foucault’s early work, most notably The Order of Things, engages in thinking the end of man, as we can see, for example, in the closing pages of The Order of Things when he draws this conclusion concerning Nietzsche: Rather than the death of God— or, rather, in the wake of that death and in profound correlation with it—what Nietzsche’s thought heralds is the end of his murderer; it is the explosion of man’s face in laughter, and the return of masks; it is the scattering of the profound stream

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of time by which he felt himself carried along and whose pressure he suspected in the very being of things; it is the identity of the Return of the Same with the absolute dispersion of man. (Foucault 1970: 385)

But it is a mistake to equate the referent of “man” in these early contexts with what Foucault means by “subject.” There is no question that the subject named “man” in philosophical discourse, from Descartes’s Archimedean cogito to Kant’s autonomous rational moral agent, is a concept toward which Foucault has little sympathy. But even in the 1960s, in the essay “What Is an Author?” which is often seen as an anti‐humanist work, Foucault’s desire to deflate the subject as epistemically and discursively privileged is not conjoined with an attempt to eliminate the subject entirely. Instead, he seeks to analyze the subject as a variable and complex function of discourse and power, which means not to ask, as an ­existentialist might, “How can a free subject penetrate the substance of things and give it meaning?” but “How, under what conditions and in what forms can something like a ­subject appear in the order of discourse? What place can it occupy in each type of discourse, what functions can it assume, and by obeying what rules?” (Foucault 2003d: 390). What this means, and what has been misunderstood by many of Foucault’s critics, is that his so‐called “anti‐humanism” was not a rejection of the human per se; it was instead an assault on the philosophically modern idea that sought to remove man from the natural world and place him in a position of epistemic, metaphysical, and moral privilege that earlier thought had set aside for God, which is why Foucault ends The Order of Things by associating the “death of God” with the “end of man,” as the citation above suggests. Thinking about where the subject comes from, and how it functions, is perhaps the unifying feature of Foucault’s thought, underlying the transitions between his archeological, genealogical, and ethical periods. Foucault himself seemed to realize this by the end of his career, as his attention turned specifically to sexuality and the construction of the ethical subject, when he noted that the question of assujettissement or subjectivation—the transformation of human beings into subjects of knowledge, subjects of power, and subjects to themselves—had been “the general theme of [his] research” (Foucault 2003e: 127). This is reflected as well in the titles Foucault gave to two of his late courses at the Collège de France: “Subjectivity and Truth” (1980–81) and “The Hermeneutics of the Subject” (1981–82). As we saw in the remark concerning his genealogy project, Foucault conceives genealogy as a historical ontology of how human beings constitute themselves as subjects of knowledge, as subjects acting on other subjects, and as ethical subjects. His work is less an anti‐humanism than an attempt to think humanism and the subject after the end of (modern) man. Far from being a thinker of the “death of the subject,” Foucault simply refuses to accept the subject as a given, as the foundation for ethical or rational thinking. The subject is, instead, something that has been historically created and Foucault’s work, in its entirety, is engaged in analyzing the various ways that human beings are transformed into subjects, whether subjects of knowledge, of power, of sexuality, or of ethics (Foucault 2003e: 126–7).

The Emphasis on Difference One of the essential themes of Saussurean linguistics was that “in language there are only differences without positive terms.” By this, Saussure meant that language functions as a system of interdependent units in which the value of each constituent unit results solely


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from the simultaneous presence of other units and the ways each unit differs from the others. While the structuralists all took note of this theme, the emphasis on difference became truly dominant in the 1960s. The attention to difference—rather than a focus on identity or the Same—is particularly central to the philosophical projects of Jean‐François Lyotard and Gilles Deleuze. For Deleuze, difference has been a constant focus of his thinking. His Nietzsche and Philosophy appeals to the concept of difference to show how Nietzsche departs from the Hegelian ­tradition, to explicate Nietzsche’s will to power, and to interpret Nietzsche’s thought of the eternal recurrence. In place of Hegel’s “speculative element of negation, opposition or contradiction, Nietzsche substitutes the practical element of difference, the object of affirmation and enjoyment.” Where the dialectic is engaged in the “labor of the negative,” according to Deleuze, Nietzsche offers a theory of forces in which active force does not negate or deny the other but “affirms its own difference and enjoys this difference” (Deleuze 1983: 9). Nietzsche’s notion of will to power is, for Deleuze, a theory of forces in which forces are distinguished in terms of both their qualitative and quantitative differences. In fact, what Nietzsche names with the “will to power” is “the genealogical element of force, both differential and genetic. The will to power is the element from which derive both the quantitative difference of related forces and the quality that devolves into each force in this relation” (Deleuze 1983: 50; italics in the original). And, given the importance that difference plays in Deleuze’s reading, it is not at all surprising to find him concluding that what returns eternally is not the same or the identical; rather, what returns is the repetition of difference: “It is not the ‘same’ or the ‘one’ which comes back in the eternal return but return is itself the one which ought to belong to diversity and to that which differs” (Deleuze 1983: 46). Deleuze develops these themes further in Difference and Repetition (1968) as he attempts to think the concept of difference itself. Deleuze sees this work reflecting the “generalized anti‐Hegelianism” of the time in which “difference and repetition have taken the place of the identical and the negative, of identity and contradiction” (Deleuze 1994: xix). Hegel is not the only culprit, however; rather, he is simply the culmination of a metaphysical tradition that associates difference with opposition and the negative, while privileging identity and the Same as primary. Treating difference as derivative begins with Plato, who Deleuze claims first introduced the concept of difference not in terms of the difference ­between the Form and its physical copies but in terms of the tertiary relation between the copy and its simulacra. Indeed, it is in this sense that difference comes only in third place, behind identity and resemblance, and can be understood only in terms of the comparative play of two similitudes: the exemplary similitude of an identical original and the imitative similitude of a more or less accurate copy.... More profoundly, however, the true Platonic distinction lies elsewhere: it is of another nature, not between the original and the image but between two kinds of images, of which copies are the first kind, the other being simulacra. (Deleuze 1994: 127)

From Plato to Hegel, the metaphysical tradition sees the different in opposition to and derivative upon the one, while Deleuze sets out to develop an ontology of difference in which “it is not difference which presupposes opposition, but opposition which presupposes difference” and treats it as the negation of identity (Deleuze 1994: 51). Deleuze’s project in this work is nothing short of reversing the tradition that privileges identity by

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showing identity to be an optical effect produced “by the more profound game of difference and repetition.” While “the primacy of identity, however conceived, defines the world of representation,” his goal, on the other hand, is to “think difference in itself independently of the forms of representation which reduce it to the Same, and the relation of different to different independently of those forms which make them pass through the negative” (Deleuze 1994: xix). For Lyotard, whose work is more closely tied to postmodernism than the other ­poststructuralists, what characterizes the postmodern, as he puts it in the introduction to The Postmodern Condition, is an “incredulity toward metanarratives” (Lyotard 1984: xxiv). Rather than naming a specific epoch, the postmodern names, instead, an antifoundationalist attitude that exceeds the legitimating orthodoxy of the moment. Postmodernity, then, does not follow modernity but resides constantly at the heart of the modern, challenging those totalizing and comprehensive master narratives (like the Enlightenment narrative of the emancipation of the rational subject or the Marxist narrative of the emancipation of the working class) that serve to legitimate its practices. In place of these grand meta‐ and master narratives, Lyotard suggests we look instead to less ambitious, “little narratives” that refrain from totalizing claims in favor of recognizing the specificity and singularity of events. To refuse to sanction the move to a metanarrative in the ethical, political, aesthetic, and metaphysical domains commits one to a philosophy of difference in that it accepts that oppositions will not be resolved in some higher unity and concludes that multiple and discordant voices are not only inevitable but desirable. Reflecting on difference operates at the core of both Lyotard’s pagan project and what he considered his most important work, The Différend (1983), which is itself an attempt to account for radical and incommensurable differences in discourse, ethics, and politics. For the pagan, what is forbidden is the acceptance of a totalizing or dominating master narrative; no single language game can present itself as the game, the only game. Paganism, for Lyotard, is not the absence of prescriptives; rather, a prescriptive utterance cannot be derived from a description. Prescriptives are ungrounded, they are “left hanging” in the sense that they cannot be derived logically or necessarily from what is the case, from ontology (as Plato thought when he presumed that if one knew the good, one would do the good). The pagan prescriptive, then, is to maximize multiplicity, to multiply narratives and to play different language games. To be pagan is to accept that one must play several games, be inventive and imaginative in the playing of these different games, and challenge any attempt to prohibit the playing of different games (Lyotard and Thébaud 1985: 59–61). Where paganism advocated the multiplication of differences, in The Différend Lyotard sought to think the insurmountably different, that is, those incommensurable differences that simply do not admit of any shared standard to which one could appeal in making judgments concerning what is different. The différend is thus defined as “a case of conflict, between (at least) two parties, that cannot be equitably resolved for lack of a rule of judgment applicable to both arguments” (Lyotard 1988: ix). For Lyotard, once one has given up on master narratives, one must also give up on a master narrative of justice or the good to which all parties will agree. While such a master narrative is presupposed for a democratic politics based on consensus and agreement, the political question for Lyotard is ultimately the question of how to make decisions in the case of a différend in which, by definition, no consensus is possible. The choice, it would seem, is either violence or a new kind of political


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thinking that can accommodate différends in a shared social space where norms work to minimize evil rather than maximize good, and where evil is itself defined in terms of the continued interdiction of different possibilities.

The Return to Thinking Philosophically about Ethics One sees in poststructuralism, in marked contrast to the philosophizing that preceded it in France, a return of philosophical thinking about ethics. While philosophizing about politics never waned in France, with the exceptions of Emmanuel Levinas (1906–95) and Vladimir Jankélévitch (1903–85), ethical issues were largely absent from French p­ hilosophy in the years dominated first by existentialism3 and then by structuralism. As structuralism began to lose its hegemonic position, however, one finds ethics re‐emerging in poststructuralist philosophy in a number of ways. It is important to note, however, that this turn toward ethics is predicated on a sharp distinction poststructuralism draws between an ethics and a morality. A recurrent theme throughout Deleuze’s works is the desire to remain within the plane of immanence and refuse any move to a transcendent or theological plane. On several occasions, he addresses this point by noting a distinction between ethics and morality. In a 1986 interview, Deleuze put the distinction this way: Morality presents us with a set of constraining rules of a special sort, ones that judge actions and intentions by considering them in relation to transcendent values (this is good, that’s evil …); ethics is a set of optional rules that assess what we do, what we say, in relation to the ways of existing involved. (Deleuze, 1995: 100, translation modified)

Deleuze highlights this distinction in his readings of Nietzsche and Spinoza. Nietzsche and Philosophy opens by addressing the difference between “Good and Evil” and “Good and Bad”—the topic of the First Essay of Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality. For Nietzsche, the distinction between “Good and Bad” remains grounded in the natural, while the “Good and Evil” distinction is grounded in the divine: where the originators of determinations of “Good and Bad” had sufficient confidence in their own natural instincts to establish these normative categories on their own, the originators of judgments of “Good and Evil” lacked this confidence and they sought a transcendent justification for their judgments in the will of God. Deleuze reframes Nietzsche’s distinction between the natural and the divine by distinguishing between the immanent, ethical difference ­between noble and base that grounds evaluative judgments on one’s “way of being or style of life,” and the transcendent moral opposition between good and evil that grounds evaluative judgment on an absolute and otherworldly ideal (Deleuze 1983: 121–22). Deleuze returns to this point later in the text, distinguishing “good and bad” from “good and evil” again in terms of the distinction between the ethical and the moral: “This is how good and evil are born: ethical determination, that of good and bad, gives way to moral judgment. The good of ethics becomes the evil of morality, the bad has become the good of morality” (Deleuze, 1983: 122). This is also a central feature in Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza, especially in his second, shorter book Spinoza: Practical Philosophy (1970). There Deleuze discusses the scandal of “Spinoza the immoralist” in terms of Spinoza’s rejection of transcendent values, ­particularly

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of “evil,” in favor of “good and bad,” and he again marks a sharp distinction between ethics in general and morality. Spinoza, he tells us, shows us how ethics, which “is a typology of immanent modes of existence, replaces Morality, which always refers existence to transcendent values” (Deleuze 1988: 23). In contrast to the fictitious moral ideas of good and evil, Spinoza claims we should consider good and bad naturalistically as concepts with an objective meaning: good is what agrees with our nature (and thereby increases our vitality, our power to act) and bad is what disagrees with our nature (and thus diminishes our vitality and power to act). Spinoza’s theory of the affects thus turns us away from seeking a transcendent moral standard for judging what is good or evil, and returns us to the immanent question concerning modes of existence and what we are capable of doing. This is why, for Spinoza, psychology leads to ethics, as both give rise to the same vital question: has our power to act in the world been increased or decreased? This is also why, in the final chapter, Deleuze suggests that Spinoza tells us that what ultimately mattered was not the metaphysics or epistemology, but the ethics and the politics, specifically, the intervention into the political so as to increase the amount of joy and decrease the sadness. Like Nietzsche and Spinoza, Deleuze is a thinker of practices. And his practical goal, also like Nietzsche’s and Spinoza’s, is to increase the joyful passions—those that increase our power to act—and decrease the sad passions that diminish our power to act. Perhaps this why Foucault, in his preface to the English translation of Anti‐Oedipus, remarked somewhat provocatively: “I would say that Anti‐Oedipus (may its authors forgive me) is a book of ethics, the first book of ethics to be written in France in quite a long time” (Deleuze and Guattari 1977: xiii). Foucault’s own work, in his final years, also makes a distinctive turn toward the ethical and away from the focus on power that dominated Discipline and Punish and the first volume of The History of Sexuality. Now, Foucault frames his interest in sex in terms of “the kind of relationship you ought to have with yourself, rapport à soi, which [he calls] ethics, and which determines how the individual is supposed to constitute himself as a moral subject of his own actions” (Foucault, 2003a: 111). In The History of Sexuality, volumes 2 and 3 (1984) and several important interviews that he gave in 1983–84, Foucault describes this relationship to self that constituted ethics in terms of four major aspects: the “ethical substance,” “the mode of subjectivation [mode d’assujettissement],” “the forms of ethical work one performs on oneself,” and “the telos of the ethical subject.” By “ethical substance,” Foucault refers to that part of the individual which he or she constitutes as the prime material of his or her moral conduct. For the Greeks, according to Foucault, this was the acts linked to pleasure and desire, while for Christianity, it was the flesh. Modes of s­ ubjectivation are the ways in which “the individual establishes his relation to the rule and recognized himself as obliged to put it into practice,” the ways, in other words, “in which people are invited or incited to recognize their moral obligations.” The forms of ethical work are the ways in which “we change ourselves in order to become ethical subjects,” the self‐forming activities and ascetic practices through which we transform ourselves into moral agents who comply with ethical rules. And the telos of the ethical subject is not just the immediate end to which our actions are directed, but “the kind of being to which we aspire when we behave” morally (Foucault 1985: 26–28; 2003a: 111–12). These four aspects of ethics are part of the care of the self which Foucault comes to understand ultimately as a practice of freedom: “Freedom is the ontological condition of ethics.... what is ethics, if not the practice of freedom, the conscious [réfléchie] practice of freedom” (Foucault 2003c: 28).


Alan D. Schrift

The impact of the philosophical revolution that began in France in the 1960s can be seen throughout the humanities and social sciences, and few developments in the past half‐century in aesthetics, literary studies, film studies, gender and queer theory as well as social theory cannot be traced back, directly or indirectly, to the work of poststructuralist thinkers. Moreover, this impact has not yet run its course: with the publication of Foucault’s lectures at the Collège de France now complete, and the transcription and publication of Deleuze’s and Derrida’s seminars just beginning, there is still much important poststructuralist work that has yet to reach a wide audience. As such, one can imagine poststructuralism’s influence on the humanities and social sciences extending well into the future.

Notes 1 Foucault is, of course, something of an exception here, as he frequently refused to identify himself as a philosopher. So is Pierre Bourdieu (1930– 2002), whose work is ­associated with “poststructuralism” but whose disciplinary positioning as a sociologist is often explicitly anti‐philosophical.

2 It should be noted that Derrida, in Given Time (1991), also focuses his analysis of the gift on time, arguing that what the gift gives, ­ultimately, is time. 3 Simone de Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity (1947) being a notable exception.

References Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. Richard Nice. New York: Cambridge University Press. Deleuze, Gilles. 1983. Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson. New York: Columbia University Press. Deleuze, Gilles. 1988. Spinoza, Practical Philosophy, trans. Robert Hurley. San Francisco: City Lights Books. Deleuze, Gilles. 1994. Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton. New York: Columbia University Press. Deleuze, Gilles. 1995. Negotiations, 1972–1990, trans. Martin Joughin. New York: Columbia University Press. Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. 1977. Anti‐ Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. New York: Viking Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1970. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage Books. Foucault, Michel. 1985. The Use of Pleasure, trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Random House. Foucault, Michel. 2003a. “On the Genealogy of Ethics.” In The Essential Foucault: Selections from Essential Works of Michel Foucault, 1954–1984, ed. Paul Rabinow and Nikolas Rose. 102–25. New York: New Press. Foucault, Michel. 2003b. “What is Enlightenment?” In The Essential Foucault. 43–57. Foucault, Michel. 2003c. “The Ethics of Concern for the Self as a Practice of Freedom.” In The Essential Foucault. 25–42. Foucault, Michel. 2003d. “What is an Author?” In The Essential Foucault. 377–91. Foucault, Michel. 2003e. “The Subject and Power.” In The Essential Foucault. 126–44.

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Foucault, Michel. 2013. Lectures on the Will to Know, ed. Daniel Defert, trans. Graham Burchell. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Lyotard, Jean‐François. 1984. The Postmodern Condition. A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Lyotard, Jean‐François and Jean‐Loup Thébaud. 1985. Just Gaming, trans. Wlad Godzich. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Lyotard, Jean‐François. 1988. The Différend: Phrases in Dispute, trans. Georges Van Den Abbeele. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


Schrift, Alan D. 1995. Nietzsche’s French Legacy: A Genealogy of Poststructuralism. New York: Routledge. Schrift, Alan D. 2006. Twentieth-Century French Philosophy: Key Themes and Thinkers. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Schrift, Alan D. 2010. “French Nietzscheanism.” In Poststructuralism and Critical Theory’s Second Generation, Volume 6 of The History of Continental Philosophy, ed. Alan D. Schrift. 19–46. London: Acumen Press/Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Cultural Studies Paul Smith

It is sometimes hard to believe that cultural studies has been around for over fifty ­years—since before personal computing and the Internet, since before the collapse of the Soviet Union and the onset of globalization, neoliberalism, and all kinds of austerity ­programs, since before gay marriage, since before the wearing down of public education in both the United Kingdom and the United States, since before many of its current practitioners were born. The field is actually old when measured by the momentous cultural changes that it has witnessed. One telling measure of this might be the sheer distance between today’s ubiquitous availability of pornography of all kinds and in all kinds of places, and the prosecution of Penguin Books in the British High Court in 1960 for obscenity. The publisher, Allen Lane, and Penguin Books were put on trial for publishing D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a book about which the prosecuting counsel famously asked whether one would want one’s wife or one’s servant to read it. That rhetorical remark (and the mere fact that such a book could be prosecuted for obscenity) is a symptom of the moment in the cultural history of the United Kingdom that gave direct impetus to the first institutionalization of cultural studies. It will be recalled that the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) was founded within the precincts of Birmingham University, just four years after the Lady Chatterley trial, by Richard Hoggart, star witness for Penguin’s defense, and that the bulk of his funding came from Penguin, £2,400 a year in gratitude for his testimony. The birth of British cultural studies endowed it with a set of genetic deficits that it has never managed, or perhaps been willing, to try to surmount. Indeed, changing circumstances (changing circumstances to which cultural studies always claimed to be able to adjust) have tended to underline the fundamental weaknesses in the epistemology of British cultural studies, such that we are now looking at a compromised and enfeebled project. Ironically, many of the characteristics that I want to identify as essential ­weaknesses A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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proved quite congenial and helpful to the importation of cultural studies into the United States starting in the 1980s. But the course of US cultural studies, I suggest, has been such that it is now in a much better position to confront the circumstances and conditions of contemporary culture than its British predecessor. To demonstrate what I mean, I will renarrate the story of British cultural studies, a story that has admittedly been told many times, not least by its own protagonists such as Stuart Hall. But I have taken a cue from the fact that this story gets told so many times and in so many ways, and I’ve concluded that it’s in the earliest iterations of British cultural studies that its essence is to be found. This moment when one old sociocultural form (the British obscenity laws) furnishes the means for the establishment of a new field (cultural studies itself) is remarkable in all kinds of interesting ways—including, as Ted Striphas has suggested (2000), because it marks the beginning of what turns out to be the chronic symbiotic relationship that cultural studies seems to have had with the book publishing industry. But it is perhaps especially significant because it exemplifies important elements of Britain’s classed culture, the very culture that it was the avowed mission of CCCS to monitor and alter. In the post‐World War II context, where the nature, role, and behavior of the British working classes were changing, Hoggart’s personal aim—his whole social and cultural mission, really—was to reconsider and recast the connections between particular class interests and specific cultural objects. For him, both Lane’s publishing aims and the aims of the CCCS were about democratizing culture and popular access to culture. Thus, for Hoggart, the logic behind institutionalizing cultural studies, both in the academy and in book publishing, lay in the potential for democratizing knowledge and learning. But there was always a hint of a contradiction in Hoggart’s posture. His own most celebrated book, The Uses of Literacy (1957), is in many ways a deeply conservative one. While it certainly has an open and realistic view of the kinds of texts on which working classes exercised their literacy, and a well‐founded suspicion of the industrial massification of popular culture, there is always a sense lurking in the background that literacy should really be used for moral and intellectual betterment, as well as for the production of authentic communal identity. Hoggart often sounds as if he is guided by his own particular sense of the moral authenticity of organic class culture, a sense that is in its turn very British, tracing its heritage back to Matthew Arnold and on forward to F. R. Leavis. That kind of benevolent, pro‐working‐class project was always going to be impeachable somewhere along the line—as patronizing, condescending, or both. Hoggart and CCCS did indeed end up effectively installing the working class and the popular as reified objects of study rather than as organic components of a democratizing movement. But more worryingly, this iteration of cultural studies turned out to be a project that never escaped a familiar and chronic middle‐England, middle‐class superciliousness about the working class and its values. The bourgeois culture that had relied heavily on Arnold and Leavis for the articulation of the logic of its values was never likely to comprehend or ultimately even empathize with the changing tastes of a class whose economic identity was shifting and whose cultural identity was being remade by the media and consumer culture around it in the decades following World War II. Some of the pitfalls of this posture towards the working class and popular culture are to be glimpsed in a book that characterizes early British cultural studies, even though it is not often noticed: Stuart Hall and Paddy Whannel’s The Popular Arts (1964). In what is essentially a school


Paul Smith

textbook, Hall and Whannel (who, as Colin MacCabe points out, dominated “the whole institutional framework in which cultural studies developed in the 60s and early 70s” [1992: 29]) try to take seriously cultural forms such as film and television, and they do so through the lens of a decidedly left‐Leavisite position on mass culture, similar to Hoggart’s, that insists on the validity of the cultural texts they study, while at the same time betraying a faith in not just the democratizing function of cultural objects, but their humanizing function as well. Their analysis of the depiction of sex on screen seems especially quaint at this juncture: theirs is an almost prudish approach, calling for the need for a positive depiction of sex and love, and evoking the working‐class morality of a D. H. Lawrence. In the early days of cultural studies, Hoggart, Hall, and Whannel thus confront what is by now an essentially outdated question about the place of “low” culture, and they tendentiously champion such “low” culture in the name of democratizing what has been an entrenched class‐based culture. In some ways, the most surprising thing about this strand of cultural studies is how little it seemed to know about the similar kinds of work in other contexts; notably absent is the work of the Frankfurt School with its stress on both the industrial and the ideological aspects of mass culture. If Hall and Whannel define “the popular arts” as work that derives from specific class experience, and is produced by people who have been privy to such experience, the Frankfurt School’s understanding of mass culture is far less based in individual experience or agency and recognizes instead the implication of mass culture in the totality of social relations. The early cultural studies approach is in many ways much more crude and simplistic, to the point that it is perhaps rather dignified when MacCabe calls the CCCS project “an ethnography of the working class” (McCabe 1992: 29). To be sure, however, early cultural studies did attempt to turn working‐class experience into an object of study, and if there is an ethnographic project it is a rather piecemeal one that nonetheless leads later to some of the Centre’s most notable works, such as the collectively written Resistance Through Rituals in 1976 and Paul Willis’s Learning to Labour (1977). Cultural studies as a field begins with a dissatisfaction with, and suspicion of the existing disciplines, and especially the disciplines of English and sociology. As Fredric Jameson notes, “whatever it [cultural studies] may be, it came into the world as the result of dissatisfaction with other disciplines, not merely their contents but also their very limits as such” (Jameson 1993: 18). It is all the more surprising, then, that in regard to the whole question of mass culture and the low/high divide, British scholars knew little about the fields and disciplines they were dissatisfied with, except for what they saw immediately around them: in English, a Leavisite tradition of close reading and promotion of canonical value; in sociology, a discipline still trying to find its way away from its complicity with literary and philosophical study. Critical theory of the sort represented by the Frankfurt School was not in their purview. Indeed, the absence of any apparent knowledge of, or any mention of the Frankfurt School in early British cultural studies has still not been rectified in any substantial way. This is an oversight that many have noted and bemoaned, not least Douglas Kellner, who calls the absence of an overt relationship between cultural studies and critical theory “the missed articulation.” Kellner notes the many similarities between the projects: Like the Frankfurt School, British cultural studies observed the integration of the working class and its decline of revolutionary consciousness, and studied the conditions of this catastrophe for the Marxian project of revolution. Like the Frankfurt School, British cultural

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studies concluded that mass culture was playing an important role in integrating the working class into existing capitalist societies and that a new consumer and media culture was forming a new mode of capitalist hegemony. Both traditions focused on the intersections of culture and ideology and saw ideology ­critique as central to a critical cultural studies. Both saw culture as a mode of ideological reproduction and hegemony, in which cultural forms help to shape the modes of thought and behavior that induce individuals to adapt to the social conditions of capitalist societies. (Kellner 2002: 35)

I have great sympathy with Kellner’s view here. I would, however, draw out a few aspects of the two “schools” which would render their articulation somewhat less of a perfect marriage than he would suggest. First, the attention of the Frankfurt School to the longue durée of capitalist development, and indeed to history itself, is not even remotely shared by cultural studies—and this, indeed, is one of the general weaknesses of cultural studies as it rushes to privilege purely conjunctural analyses with almost no regard for structural or organic analysis, nor anything that approaches historical analysis at all. Second, the way that the method of Frankfurt School thinkers continually aspires to dialectical expression is a matter of supreme indifference to cultural studies, and this perhaps underscores the general discomfort that cultural studies exhibits and has chronically exhibited towards “theory” in general and any theory that smells too strongly of the Marxist tradition in particular. These two weaknesses in early cultural studies seem to me to have everything to do with the particular context of the genesis of cultural studies, in a way that is often overlooked. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the British left was undergoing a quite extensive set of changes. Stuart Hall suggests that these changes, leading to the formation of what he calls the “first new left,” were initially provoked by the Soviet quelling of dissent behind the Iron Curtain, particularly with the suppression of Hungary in 1956. The relationships between Western European left parties and the Soviet Union had already been quite fungible and problematic, but the invasion caused widespread disenchantment among, and stern condemnation from, the European left and caused such splits in most of the Western European communist parties that it became common for some parts of the left to repudiate the Soviet Union, communism, and Marxist thought all in one blow. That was certainly the case for a large portion of the British left, and for Hall and many of his colleagues. As Hall himself opines, Marxist models were far too mechanical and reductive … On the wider political front, I was strongly critical of everything I knew about Stalinism, either as a political system or as a form of politics. I opposed it as a model for a democratic socialism and could not fathom the ­reluctance of the few Communists I met to acknowledge the truth of what was by then common knowledge about its disastrous consequences for Soviet society and Eastern Europe. (Hall 2010: 179)

This kind of position was not unusual and it was no doubt also subtended by recognition of other contemporaneous issues. For the British and French left, for instance, the Suez Crisis was particularly important; as was the more general perception that in the postwar years the working class, as the putative agent of radical opposition and revolution, was


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being weaned away from that role by postwar welfarism and lured by the increasingly consumer‐oriented cultures of the capitalist nations. Hall’s retrospective look is, all the same, symptomatic for the way it consigns the problems of that moment to the dustbin of history. There is, it seems, no argument to be had about “the truth.” The temptation here, of course, and a danger that really hasn’t been much heeded within cultural studies over the last fifty years, is to uncritically take on the mantle of the New Left’s anti‐communism as if it were the state of scientific truth about the Soviet Union, communism, and Marxism generally. However, my claim is that the repudiation of Sovietism and the quasi‐permanent suspicion of Marxism itself become important facets of cultural studies that will mark it throughout its British history, right up to the present. Colin Sparkes (1996) offers a rather unarguable mapping of how this suspicion manifested itself, and in regard to Stuart Hall himself points out “there is little in his other writings of the [early] period to suggest anything other than that, at this early stage in his career, Hall identified Marxism as an obsolete and reductivist system of thought” (Sparkes 1996: 78). Certainly, it would be a simple enough matter to follow throughout the history of British cultural studies the antipathy to Marxism that Hall’s work largely validates. What is perhaps a little more provocative is to suggest that Hall, his colleagues, and many subsequent followers have in fact suffered from an even more fundamental antipathy—an antipathy to theory itself. This is what I want to suggest by way of this retrospective of the early history of cultural studies. It has been a cultural cliché for a long while, of course, that the British intellectual hates theory and favors good old Johnsonian empiricism instead; and in the context of British cultural studies the most spectacular proof of that pudding is obviously E. P. Thompson, often credited as one of the forefathers of cultural studies, writing on Louis Althusser’s “theoreticism” in The Poverty of Theory, in which Althusser’s philosophy of history is brought firmly to the bar. Setting the tone for decades of cultural studies followers, Thompson is enraged not only by Althusser’s theoretical habits, but equally by his belief in the structural (or organic) logic of historical process. In that latter sense, Thompson’s diatribe is consistent with the founding logic of cultural studies: he is unwilling to countenance an objective logic of history, but engages in a form of conjunctural analysis to which cultural studies has committed itself. The move in cultural studies generally towards a conjunctural analysis that transcends Marxism and holds theory at arm’s length whenever possible is normally made under the auspices of a claim about the demands of oppositional politics, where the need to move away from all and any theories of social structures and to focus instead on the analysis of specific conjunctural articulations is promoted and celebrated. The political in that perspective is always to be seen opportunistically, and is understood and treated as a function of very specific conjunctural circumstances, loosed from any logic of articulation beyond the moment, and loosed, too, from any dialectical dependency on historical or structural logic. None of this is to say, of course, that early cultural studies never engaged in theoretical work. Quite the contrary: it made a definite effort to do so in what Hall calls “a very un‐ British way.” But it is certainly true to say that it struggled to cope with what was becoming an overpowering influx of theory in the first decades of the project. Hall is clear about this difficulty in an astonishing paragraph in his essay, “Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legacies,” which begins:

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I want to suggest a different metaphor for theoretical work: the metaphor of struggle, of wrestling with the angels. The only theory worth having is that which you have to fight off, not that which you speak with profound fluency. I mean to say something later about the astonishing theoretical fluency of cultural studies now. But my own experience of theory—and Marxism is certainly a case in point—is of wrestling with the angels—a metaphor you can take as literally as you like. (Hall 1996: 265)

This essay, as intellectually unguarded a piece as Hall ever published, continues in this vein, stressing the essential difficulty of working with theory. More recently, David Morley, looking back at his time at the CCCS, uses exactly the vocabulary of struggle to describe the Centre’s dealings with theory (Morley 2013: 839). Indeed, there remains a history of the Centre still to be written that would track its successive difficulties with, and misrecognitions of various theoretical frames. It is perhaps not especially surprising that theory should be made so marginal, since a central ideology of the Birmingham School was that theory ought not to be produced, but only used, in a kind of bricolage, as and when necessary. This approach was initially celebrated by the U.S. importers of cultural studies, for whom the eclectic, tool‐box approach suited perfectly their needs; as we see, the legacy of anti‐theory even within what constitutes theory has had repercussions on the shape and form of contemporary examples of cultural studies. One significant and even exemplary theoretical casualty of this approach is the work of Antonio Gramsci—a name that unhappily has come to be almost synonymous with cultural studies itself. The examination of Gramsci’s work that Stuart Hall led in the 1980s drew mostly on Gramsci’s notions of hegemonic negotiation and produced a brand of Gramscianism that was designed to suit the analysis of a particular conjuncture— namely that of an emergent Thatcherism and a British left that seemed increasingly committed to a position of fighting retreat. But this did serious injustice to Gramsci’s thought. For Gramsci, conjunctural analysis could only ever be a provisional and even ephemeral strategy, and should always be seen in a dialectical relationship to what he calls “organic” movements and structures. It’s important, Gramsci says, to distinguish organic movements (relatively permanent) from movements which may be “conjunctural” (and which appear as occasional, immediate, almost accidental). Conjunctural phenomena too depend on organic movements to be sure, but they do not have any far‐reaching historical significance … Organic phenomena on the other hand give rise to socio‐historical criticism, whose subject is wider social groupings. (Gramsci 2000: 201)

As Aksikas and Andrews have pointed out (2014: 20–1), Gramsci deplores exactly the tendency that becomes a constitutive habit for cultural studies: a “common error in ­historic‐political analysis,” Gramsci says, is the “inability to find the correct relation ­between what is organic and what is conjunctural. This leads to presenting causes as ­immediately operative which in fact only operate indirectly, or to asserting that the immediate causes are the only effective ones. In the first case there is an excess of ­‘economism’… in the second, an excess of ‘ideologism’” (Gramsci 2000: 201). The revisionist version of Gramsci’s theoretical work that cultural studies has been peddling for so long is born out of the genetic weaknesses of the field and yet is commandeered into service as exactly a central theoretical guarantee within it. Aside from the cost to


Paul Smith

Gramsci’s reputation, the use of his work in cultural studies as a theoretical guarantee for a merely conjunctural politics very obviously pays the price of excess “ideologism” while paying little attention to (indeed, simply repudiating) any “economism.” This preference for the conjunctural is, of course, justified by the need for theory and analysis to be flexible and nimble in order to adjust to immediate conditions and concerns. In the process of importing cultural studies into the United States, this flexibility and eclecticism were major selling points. There certainly has been no shortage on either side of the Atlantic of cheerleading statements that render those characteristics as essential to cultural studies. But this determined posture, to always be ready to adjust to immediate conditions, can easily topple over into superficiality, where the conditions and determinations of the ­conjuncture are no longer properly considered. Indeed, when those conditions have been produced by and for the interests of the dominant classes, then accepting them as a given in the name of reality is tantamount to ceding the field to the enemy. For instance, early cultural studies did understand the way that postwar compromises (including welfare state provisions) had defanged the working class and produced a decline of revolutionary consciousness and class solidarity. But the tendency then was to treat those conditions as done and irrecoverable. New agents, new assumptions, new questions, and new solutions had to be sought in the name of realism or of tackling the world as it is now. The problem here is not so much with the political will embodied in such a position, but more with the abandonment of any sense of a dialectical historical logic; or to put it in another way, the fetishization of the conjuncture and of the logic of contingency to the detriment of a more rigorously structural and historical analysis. It might seem that I am flogging a dead horse to be rehearsing once again this history of British cultural studies, particularly since on one level cultural studies is fully aware of all the characteristics I am describing; Stuart Hall in particular has done much to describe and explain them (see, for instance, Hall 1980 and 1996). However, in the name of a purely conjunctural politics, most cultural studies practitioners choose to see these characteristics as strengths, whereas I am calling them weaknesses. So while it might seem a shade tedious to be rehashing these arguments, and while many of the points I have been making are hardly original, I am trying to lay out a set of characteristics that makes the case that cultural studies in its British cast has many intellectual and political problems, most of which were there from the beginning as what we might call genetic deficiencies and which have largely remained as permanent features. The field bears the marks of its own genesis and has significantly failed to erase some of them and drastically failed to exploit some of the others. At the moment when cultural studies was imported into the United States, around the late 1980s, its constitutional characteristics were already quite fixed and apparent. The field had grown out of the kind of matrix I’ve been describing, producing its most significant works in the years immediately prior to its U.S. reception—the work done on youth and subcultures, like Resistance Through Rituals (Hall and Jefferson 1976); lots of collective work on crime and the media in the 1970s, which led to the quintessential cultural studies opus, Policing the Crisis (Hall et al. 1978); and still more collective work on media and ideology, such as Culture/Media/Language (Hall et al. 1980). The constitutive characteristics of this run of works can be readily enumerated: a rather vague and ­sometimes even condescending and class‐inflected pro‐popular, pro‐democratizing urge; a ­disaffection

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with existing disciplines, and both their procedures and their ambit; an emphasis on cultural texts, media, and consumption as components of dominant ideologies; a chronically anti‐Soviet (or anti‐communist) politics that readily carried over and/or evolved into a general suspicion of Marxism; a general distaste for theory and theoretical production; and an abhorrence of any attempt to codify a methodology for the field. All these characteristics together seem to me to have been subsequently responsible for what I have referred to elsewhere as the thematizing of cultural studies;1 that is, the production of a field of knowledge whose relation to methodology is so loose that coherence can be lent to it only by way of some topical or thematic ordering. In the case of post‐1980s cultural studies in Britain, the prevalent themes were perhaps race and ethnicity (although as the field entered the twenty‐first century, the emphasis shifted to the cultural and creative industries). This topical approach stemmed from what Hall (1980: 63) called the “culturalist” strand of cultural studies. This strand, which Hall himself dubs “humanist” in its orientation, developed almost unchecked and indeed became dominant in cultural studies and both facilitated and enabled the thematizing development. The problem here is not the fact of concentrating on this theme or that topic, on race and ethnicity or on some other theme; rather it is the abnegation involved in thematizing a whole field of inquiry. Once the field has defined its methodology as opportunistic, eclectic, and not only deliberately uncodified but perhaps essentially uncodifiable, then it cannot be methodology that guides the field, but only its object. That is, as an intellectual and practical project, cultural studies can only justify itself in terms of the topics that it approaches. It becomes willy‐nilly a thematically organized area of study where the choice of the specific topic or theme comes to be more important than the choice of method or procedure. Of course, many of the characteristics I’ve focused upon so far, along with this thematizing of cultural studies, actually proved quite congenial to the U.S. academic market in the 1980s and quite helpful for the importation of a cultural studies brand into the United States. “It is one of the ironies of history, one of Hegel’s ruses of reason,” says Colin MacCabe, “that at the moment in the early 80s when the project of the Birmingham Centre expired in the face of working class support for Thatcher, it was reborn in the United States” (1992: 25). MacCabe’s implication here is certainly not that British cultural studies suddenly rediscovered a working‐class constituency in the United States! It is the case, however, that cultural studies arrived in the United States at a moment that afforded it a generally sympathetic academic hearing, as it joined a whole raft of intellectual trends across the Atlantic to the United States, most of them traveling under the flag of “theory.” It is a little ironic that cultural studies was included under that heading, given its general antipathy to theory, but it was perhaps the tendency in cultural studies to refuse to privilege any particular theory that allowed it to travel unchallenged. In his account of this moment of importation MacCabe’s suggestion about how and why cultural studies could be imported so readily into the United States is very similar to what I want to point out here. Cultural studies appeared to be appropriate grist for what was fast becoming an American academic mill obsessed with “theory” of all kinds. The importing of “theory” was done largely by way of U.S. literary departments (English, modern languages, and comparative literature), but many other disciplines also experienced a theoretical influx and a “cultural turn” driven by that theory (anthropology,


Paul Smith

sociology, history, and others). The British cultural studies that traveled with that theory encountered very different soil to that which it had known in Britain. First of all, the British wariness of theory itself was totally absent from this wave of enthusiastic importation. In addition, the particular sociocultural contexts from which British cultural studies grew differed greatly from the U.S. context. The experience of class, for instance, was not replicated, nor indeed was the history of race and ethnicity the same for the two countries. Perhaps the only shared conditioning was a certain anti‐Marxism, or at least a suspicion of Marxism. Though it could be argued that Marxism was in fact much less of a bugbear to the U.S. academy than it appeared to be for British cultural studies (having found its way in to American academic discourse in many guises and forms), nonetheless a suspicious and skeptical view of Marx and Marxism has chronically characterized U.S. intellectual life. The appearance of British cultural studies in the American academy actually begins as an open assault on Marxism, as we can see by taking a particular snapshot of how cultural studies was imported. The most significant events in the importation were the publication of two mammoth anthologies, both products of conferences at the University of Illinois, Urbana‐Champaign, in 1983 and 1990 respectively and both edited by Lawrence Grossberg and Cary Nelson (joined by Paula Treichler for the second), who were to become prominent figures in the initial formation of the cultural studies landscape in the United States. The gist of the first of these anthologies, Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (Grossberg and Nelson 1988), is given in the title, but it comes as no surprise that the burden of both the conference and anthology is to depict a Marxism in definitional and indeed existential difficulty, inadequate for the task of confronting contemporary realities: “the problem for Marxism is … on the one hand to deterritorialize its own discourse in response to changing historical realities; and on the other hand to reterritorialize itself in order to constitute that very response” (Grossberg and Nelson 1988: 11). This challenge to Marxism apparently appears via the need provoked by the cultural realm, the need to address immediate realities, and to jettison outmoded ways of thinking. On cue, the collection proceeds to sketch out the failure of Marxist theory to meet the challenge it supposedly faced. If this first conference anthology does the job of clearing the ground, it is left to the second anthology to displace Marxism from prominence and replace it with a smorgasbord of “theory” and theoretical speculation on culture. This second volume properly announces the achieved arrival of cultural studies into the United States, and its ambit and cast of characters went a long way to defining the field itself and what it stood for. The version of cultural studies heralded by this second anthology seems to be entirely happy with all the characteristics of British cultural studies that I have been pointing to and the editors’ introduction dutifully repeats all the shibboleths, as do many of the individual contributions. But especially congenial to both the editors and many of their contributors is the uncodified methodological posture of cultural studies, a characteristic that quickly becomes an article of faith for American cultural studies: “Cultural studies has no guarantees about what questions are important to ask within given contexts or how to answer them; hence no methodology can be privileged or even temporarily employed with total security and confidence, yet none can be eliminated out of hand” (Grossberg, Nelson, and Treichler 1992: 2). The future of American cultural studies as a field is thus absolved from elementary intellectual tasks and obligations in one fell swoop.

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If we think of this moment in Urbana‐Champaign as the moment when cultural studies actually arrives into the United States, it’s clear that its crystallization forms around one of the principal elements of what I have been calling the genetic deficiencies of British cultural studies—namely, its agnostic posture towards theory. That version of cultural studies has found plenty of cheerleaders and mouthpieces over the years since 1990 in the United States, many of them leaning almost hagiographically on the word of Stuart Hall. But the context of American cultural life, and indeed of the intellectual climate in the United States, was and is fundamentally different from the British matrix. In my view there are two essential critiques with which cultural studies was faced after its entry into the United States which both underscore those differences and allow American cultural studies to become more fungible and less intellectually simplistic. First, the wave of theoretical importation of which cultural studies was a part actually enabled a questioning of cultural studies that, in my view, the British branch still has not heard, even today. That questioning was essentially about the role of critique and the positions from which an intellectual and political project could be launched. This kind of critique is exemplified for me by Adam Katz’s book, Postmodernism and the Politics of Culture (2000), where cultural studies is put to the sword for the way that its logic of inquiry is limited to a mimicry of its object. Katz argues that cultural studies eschews the possibility of producing a politically accurate critique of contemporary culture because as a practice it is modeled on its object (in this case, postmodern culture, in Katz’s language) and because it agrees in advance to share the values and logics of its object. Katz’s argument, conducted through a series of brilliant assaults on the logics of a whole array of cultural studies texts, readily aligns with what I suggested earlier about conjunctural analysis and the tendency of such analysis to accept as a given the conditions of the conjuncture. The result is that cultural studies cannot in the end subject its object, however opportunistically it is chosen, to a structural critique and is therefore doomed to be an ideological variant of its own object. Second, once it was imported into the United States, cultural studies had immediately to grapple with the question of institutionalization. For a very long time, just as American cultural studies kept on constituting itself by prolonging the very question “what is cultural studies?”, the field was nevertheless becoming institutionalized—evidenced by a whole array of academic programs at both graduate and (importantly) undergraduate levels; by the establishment of a professional organization, the Cultural Studies Association; and by the continued symbiosis with the book publishing trade. The very fact of U.S. institutionalization seemed to infuriate the disciples of the British branch and was ­condemned by Hall himself a number of times. The grounds for that kind of disapproval are related to the antipathy of British cultural studies to theoretical or methodological “codification,” which an American cultural studies has tended on the whole to retain, even as U.S. cultural studies degree programs and national organizations have proliferated. Embedded in this anxiety about institutionalization, I would suggest, is a kind of ­malfunction of the cultural studies imaginary. If, the argument goes, cultural studies is institutionalized, it will lose its flexibility, its eclecticism, its free‐form engagement with the conjuncture. But of course, the other side of institutionalization is empowerment and scholarly legitimation. The anti‐institutional posture of British cultural studies is nothing more than a kind of anarchic narcissism that, if successful, condemns cultural studies to


Paul Smith

the status of ephemerality and opportunism. In any case, by now the question of institutionalization has been settled by default: there are now all manner of cultural studies ­programs all over the world. Even some of the major figures in the field have now come around to suggesting that the fact of institutionalization and disciplinarity is both a given and a boon. Graeme Turner, for example, having once avowed his attachment to the ­free‐form and anti‐disciplinary version of cultural studies, now says that that position’s “flimsiness is revealed … and the affectation is not without significant, and I would argue deleterious, consequences” (Turner 2012: 8). These two critiques are not the only signs that American cultural studies has ­transcended its British ancestry and is now in a position to be the more viable enterprise of the two. British cultural studies has been turned, first, into a casualty of the British government’s cultural and educational policies when the iconic Birmingham program was forced to close down; and subsequently, it has also been transformed into something like an instrument of those same policies, as the field has been retooled as an attractor for overseas student tuition fees and blackmailed into providing quasi‐vocational training for the cultural and creative industries. At the time of writing, it certainly seems that the American context holds the greater promise as the site for the emergence of a renewed version of cultural studies, one not bathed in the old‐fashioned homilies of the British “New Left” of the 1950s and, ironically enough, one more attuned to the realities of today’s sociocultural context! Even if the scenarios in which American cultural studies finds itself right now are not entirely auspicious (the price of austerity is being deeply felt pretty much everywhere in the American academy right now), that fact should be taken as a call to arms rather than as a sign of defeat. Indeed, in this moment of neoliberal austerity and neoconservative ignorance, I frequently have cause to recall the appeal that I and three colleagues made even before cultural studies had been fully imported into the United States, at a time of another seemingly intractable political situation—the Reagan years. Our article, “The Need for Cultural Studies” (Giroux et al. 1984), thought to see in cultural studies a way of recognizing and clarifying the material struggles within universities and colleges over the stakes of knowledge and knowledge production. Facing what was then the still incipient or inchoate regime of neoliberalism, we saw cultural studies as the proper vehicle for resistance to the enclosure of the university as a site for the reproduction of capital, as well as the entrepreneurial logic of research and education that we find so thoroughly entrenched in higher education today. While those kinds of struggles have arguably become harder in the ensuing years, the university remains a crucial site of struggle; indeed, its importance increases all the time. What I have called before the “phantom limb” of cultural studies (Ross and Smith 2011: 246)—its desire to be politically activist—must surely be made more substantial. There are signs that American cultural studies is beginning to define its political stakes better than it has before, and certainly beyond the identity politics with which it was associated in the past. Some of those stakes are necessarily in the university, but cultural studies is now also quite closely allied and aligned with many oppositional social movements, from Occupy to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement. And there are signs, as Marcus Breen has pointed out (2015), that cultural studies may be becoming the preferred institutional and intellectual home of the increasingly large and important teaching precariat in the United States, and more and more as a

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venue for scholars whose interdisciplinary effort is not necessarily in the van of identity politics or hobbled by the standard disciplines. My general claim here, that cultural studies in its U.S. variation is now in a position to do things that the genetic deficiencies of British cultural studies actually inhibited from the start, will not please everybody. Stuart Hall frequently expressed his disapproval of what cultural studies had become in the United States and even some of his last work continues with that complaint (see Hall 2013). And that tradition is carried on when David Morley suggests that the kinds of arguments I have put forward before and am now making here “point towards [what] would be the death, rather than any kind of renewal of what I think cultural studies ought to be” (Morley 2013: 839).2 But for the reasons I have sketched out here, the trajectory of cultural studies in the specific context of the United States allows it to move beyond the weaknesses of British cultural studies and it should not be afraid to expel the somewhat stuffy air of its British forebears. Morley’s comment, and Hall’s complaints, are to be found in a special issue of the journal Cultural Studies which offers a series of interviews from 2011 with people who attended the CCCS in Birmingham or were closely associated with it—from Hall himself and well‐ known figures such as Paul Gilroy and John Clarke, to other less well‐known but important contributors. There are, of course, many different views expressed among these interviewees as they look back at the Centre, but the image of cultural studies that emerges is not far from the one I have been painting in this argument. The incessant carping about the dangers of “theory,” in particular, is well represented. Amidst this tiresome repetition, however, is also a salutary reminder of the Centre’s commitment to, and cultivation of ­collaborative writing and research. Almost everyone who is interviewed stresses how much of the work done at the Centre was done collectively. This is one characteristic quality of British cultural studies that has not fared very well in the intervening years, and it is ­certainly something that did not survive its importation to the United States, where scholarship is most frequently an individualized endeavor. This is perhaps one aspect of the Centre’s work that it would be good to revive in the American context, as part of an effort to set a new agenda that extends and surpasses British work.3 But a much more important part of mapping out such a new agenda would be a comprehensive reconsideration of the commitment to purely conjunctural analysis that cultural studies has chronically made. It seems to me that such a reconsideration would also entail adopting a much less sniffy, much less censorious attitude towards “theory.” The conjunctural approach that cultural studies has tethered itself to has to be seen for what it is: anti‐theoretical (maybe even anti‐intellectual) and, as I have suggested, also anti‐Marxist in motivation. One can perhaps see how to move beyond this intellectual impoverishment by trying to make up for the lost or missed articulation with the Frankfurt School. There is no room here to elaborate much on this, but it is worth noting that the agenda that Max Horkheimer set out for the Frankfurt School at its very start, back in 1930, not only expresses the best aspirations of cultural studies but has both a sharpness of focus and a breadth of vision that cultural studies should share. The task for a critical project, he says, takes up “the question of the connection between the economic life of society, the psychological development of its individuals and the changes within specific areas of culture to which belong not only the intellectual legacy of the sciences, art and religion, but also law, customs, fashion, public opinion, sports, entertainments, lifestyles, and so on” (Horkheimer 1989: 33).


Paul Smith

There are ways in which contemporary cultural studies might want to thicken that agenda, add to it, or adjust its terms here and there; but most importantly Horkheimer is proposing that it is a necessary project to investigate the fundamental connection between political economy and all the epiphenomena of sociocultural life. Far from a simple conjunctural analysis, this would necessarily be a dialectical analysis—one that recognizes the necessary conditioning of any conjunctural element by structural and historical forces. One of the first places to begin the articulation of this missed connection is through the kind of work I’ve done here, which explores the historical forces which have given us the forms and modes of cultural studies we currently have today. A different account of cultural studies than the one I have offered here would be needed to track this dialectical encounter of structure and history across the various other national contexts within which it has taken root over the past thirty years. To attend to the movement from British to U.S. academies is not to ignore the way cultural studies in Canada, or Australia, for example, has generated distinct foci and modes of critical practice, refracted through the particularities of their political economies, colonial histories, racial and ethnic differences, and so on. Rather, the narrative I’ve offered of the transition of cultural studies from the United Kingdom to the United States constitutes an account of the dominant trajectory of the field and a trajectory that, by virtue of the hegemonic power of the Anglo‐American ­university system, continues to shape development in academic systems far afield.

Notes 1 This paragraph draws on and quotes from a longer argument about Hall’s work that I develop (Smith 2001) around an essay of his (Hall 1992). 2 In the course of this interview, Morley discusses the past and future of cultural studies, and his views present many of the characteristics of British cultural studies that I have been calling weaknesses. He shows himself especially dubious about “theory.” Interestingly, he discusses the anthology I edited, The Renewal of Cultural Studies (2011), rubbishing its call for

more methodological (theoretical) coherence in cultural studies. He does not appear to notice, however, that the anthology argues primarily for the use of the Marxist tradition; no doubt symptomatically, he neglects to mention Marx at all. 3 One of the few collaborative efforts I know of in American cultural studies was a project run by graduate students in the Cultural Studies PhD program at George Mason University, where I work. Their project on the Hummer vehicle was published as a book of essays (Cardenas and Gorman 2007).

References Aksikas, Jafaar, and Sean Johnson Andrews. 2014. “Neoliberalism, Law and Culture: A Cultural Studies Intervention After ‘The Juridical Turn’.” Cultural Studies 28 (5–6): 1–39.

Breen, Marcus. 2015. “What Can a Cultural Studies Conference Say?” Annual Convention of the Cultural Studies Association, UC Riverside, May 21–23.

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Cardenas, Elaine, and Ellen Gorman (eds). 2007. The Hummer: Myths and Consumer Culture. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. Giroux, Henry, David Shumway, Paul Smith, and James Sosnoski. 1984. “The Need for Cultural Studies: Resisting Intellectuals and Oppositional Public Spheres.” Dalhousie Review 64 (2) (Summer): 472–86. Gramsci, Antonio. 2000. The Antonio Gramsci Reader: Selected Writings 1916–1935, ed. David Forgacs. New York: New York University Press. Grossberg, Lawrence, and Cary Nelson (eds). 1988. Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Grossberg, Lawrence, Cary Nelson, and Paula Treichler. 1992. Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge. Hall, Stuart. 1980. “Cultural Studies: Two Paradigms.” Media, Culture and Society 2 (1): 57–72. Hall, Stuart. 1992. “Race, Culture, and Communications: Looking Backward and Forward at Cultural Studies.” Rethinking Marxism 5 (1): 10–21. Hall, Stuart. 1996. “Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legacies.” In Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, ed. David Morley and Kuan‐Hsing Cheng. London: Routledge. Hall, Stuart. 2010. “Life and Times of the First New Left.” New Left Review 61: 177–96. Hall, Stuart. 2013. “Stuart Hall Interview—2 June 2011.” Cultural Studies 27 (5): 757–77. Hall, Stuart and Paddy Whannel. 1964. The Popular Arts. London: Hutchinson Educational. Hall, Stuart and Tony Jefferson (eds). 1976. Resistance Through Rituals. London: Hutchinson. Hall, Stuart, et  al. 1978. Policing the Crisis: “Mugging,” the State and Law and Order. London: Macmillan. Hall, Stuart, et  al. 1980. Culture/Media/Language. London: Hutchinson. Hoggart, Richard. 1957. The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working Class Life. Harmondsworth: Penguin.


Horkheimer, Max. 1989 [1930]. “The State of Contemporary Social Philosophy.” Critical Theory and Society, ed. Stephen Bronner and Douglas Kellner. New York: Routledge. Jameson, Fredric. 1993. “On ‘Cultural Studies’.” Social Text 34: 17–52. Katz, Adam. 2000. Postmodernism and the Politics of Culture. Boulder, CO: Westview. Kellner, Douglas. 2002. “The Frankfurt School and British Cultural Studies: The Missed Articulation.” In Rethinking the Frankfurt School: Alternative Legacies of Cultural Critique, ed. Jeffrey T. Nealon and Caren Irr. New York: SUNY Press. MacCabe, Colin. 1992. “Cultural Studies and English.” Critical Quarterly 34 (3): 25–34. Morley, David. 2013. “David Morley Interview—3 June 2011.” Cultural Studies 27 (5): 833–45. Ross, Andrew and Paul Smith. 2011. “Cultural Studies: A Conversation.” The Renewal of Cultural Studies, ed. Paul Smith, 245–58. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Smith, Paul. 2001. “Looking Backwards and Forwards at Cultural Studies.” In A Companion to Cultural Studies, ed. Toby Miller, 331–40. Oxford: Blackwell. Smith, Paul (ed.). 2011. The Renewal of Cultural Studies. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Sparkes, Colin. 1996. “Stuart Hall, Cultural Studies and Marxism.” In Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, ed. David Morley and Kuan‐Hsing Cheng. London: Routledge. Striphas, Ted. 2000. “Banality, Book Publishing, and the Everyday Life of Cultural Studies.” Culture Machine 2. Thompson, E. P. 1978. The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays. London: Merlin. Turner, Graeme. 2012. What’s Become of Cultural Studies? London: Sage. Willis, Paul. 1977. Learning to Labour. New York: Columbia University Press.

Part IV

The Politics of Literature


Nothing If Not Determined: Marxian Criticism in History Robert Kaufman

In 1976 Fredric Jameson published an ear‐opening essay whose apparently modest title, “Criticism in History,” turned out to speak volumes about Marxian engagements with ­literature. What the title—what the essay as a whole—helped re‐articulate as an again urgent issue had in truth always been a charged question for Marxian literary and critical theory, though the question’s problematic character had too often been muted or magically transformed into the certainties propounded by various orthodoxies, dialectical or otherwise. Jameson’s essay in effect asked how a philosophy, methodology, and sociopolitical orientation known for stressing the historically determining character of the mode of economic production—meaning, in modernity, capitalism in its various stages of development—might best approach matters of subjective, creative human agency and imagination like…well, like artistic‐aesthetic activity. Recognized after his path breaking books Marxism and Form (1971) and The Prison House of Language (1972) as an important new figure in Marxian literary criticism and cultural analysis, and soon to be regarded internationally as one of the most influential of living Marxian thinkers about literature and film (and their relations to aesthetics, critical theory, and the sociopolitical), Jameson had publicly presented a version of “Criticism in History” on an auspicious occasion, the Modern Language Association’s first Forum on “Marxist Perspectives in Literary Scholarship and Teaching.” The Forum took place in 1972, at the onset of the 1972–74 moment that Jameson would later pinpoint, ironically enough, as the 1960s’ political curtain‐call. This terminus, for Jameson as for many other Left observers, was precipitated by profound transformations in the global structure of an international capitalism which had proved itself adept at outflanking, absorbing, or brutally suppressing insurgent socialist, anti‐imperialist, and allied oppositional advances of the 1960s and early 1970s (Jameson 1984: 205). As it happened, the complete, final text of “Criticism in History” subsequently appeared in the signal collection Weapons of Criticism: A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


Robert Kaufman

Marxism in America and the Literary Tradition (1976). Published by the iconic Ramparts Press,1 Weapons of Criticism—its very title resurrecting one of Marx’s great, tensile aphorisms about the initially fragile yet potentially powerful character of critical thought2— arrived at an hour that seemed to call not only for historical and sociopolitical reassessments, but for taking stock of emergent literary and cultural states of affairs. The need for historical reassessment that appeared to prompt the contributors to Weapons of Criticism no doubt included the waning of the 1960s’ levels of mass activism; the end of the war in Vietnam; and the progress of anti‐imperialist movements in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, even as global capital aimed cannily to integrate them and allied “countercultural” protest orientations into its own image. It was likewise motivated by a domestic U.S. politics that found progressives still unsure about how to respond to Nixon’s successful 1968 “Southern Strategy,” and wondering as well about the degree and direction of fallout from the Watergate affair. These and related questions were met with an empowered sense that the U.S. might now be entering the second decade of a post‐McCarthyite era that would allow for a renewal of Marxian discourse in the public and academic spheres. It would be worthwhile telling a lengthier story about Weapons of Criticism, whose contributors thoughtfully canvassed important aspects of Marxian political commitment and literary analysis. They queried how and why powerful works from various national literatures generated insights crucial to Marxian critique, which, in the mid‐ 1970s in North America, was not generally thought an academically acceptable, much less a fashionable, mode of criticism. And they imagined how to coordinate traditional Marxism’s historical‐materialist emphases on class and modes of production with work on imperialism, feminism, and the liberation movements of peoples of color. But what made “Criticism in History” stand out within a fine cohort of essays was the acuity with which Jameson captured art’s unique ability to illuminate situation—our historically given socioeconomic, political, and cultural conditions—in a manner making those conditions take shape, come alive, capable of being intellectually and affectively grasped (Jameson 1976: 119). Jameson deftly, though briskly, limned some of the modes in which imaginative literature affords access to areas of historical experience and meaning that would otherwise go missing. But his essay’s real concern was literary criticism’s role in enunciating, conceptually, just how literary form indeed makes available, embodies, and keeps alive—in the as‐if experience presented through fiction, mimetic illusion, gesture, and so forth—the “bones and marrow” of ongoing sociohistorical content or significance (Jameson 1976: 136). All this in many respects restated canonical literary‐critical and philosophical notions, since Aristotle at least, concerning what the artwork’s aesthetic form—with all its subjective entailments— can contribute to genuine knowledge. Restated too was a familiar idea about the task of criticism: that it involves—in addition to work with the traditional themes, materials, and procedures of poetics and aesthetics—the attempt to engage, understand, and describe the relations between the subjective knowledge gleaned from artistic form and the knowledge derived from more “objective” sources. (As might be expected, for Marxism, that more objective knowledge was based in the facts, dynamics, and tensions of socioeconomic, political, and cultural history.) The overlap with long‐ standing critical approaches was of a piece with Jameson’s insistence throughout his career that Marx himself and the richest Marxian criticism tended to value, build upon, and

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extend, rather than reject, insightful non‐Marxian (certainly including “bourgeois”) modes of literary and aesthetic criticism. In fact, the very category of situation that Jameson’s essay raised to the second power— from its importance for understanding literature’s historical dynamics, to its foundationality for understanding criticism and critical theory themselves—came from an initially non‐Marxian source once so taken for granted that Jameson could invoke and adapt without ever bothering to explicitly cite it. That source was Jean‐Paul Sartre’s enormously influential Being and Nothingness (1943), a phenomenological meditation that became one of the touchstone texts of post‐World‐War‐II existentialism. Preserving and intensifying Sartre’s phenomenological view that human beings are generally confronted with historical, sociopolitical, economic, and cultural conditions that they themselves had very little say in choosing, Jameson implicitly affirms the early Sartre’s phenomenological (and the later Sartre’s more Marxian‐inflected) view that human beings also have the capacity to be in excess of their given situations. So what could be problematic, not to say controversial, about such a view? Significantly, the phenomenological tradition that underwrites Sartre’s existentialist as well as his later Marxian thought—and that perforce informs the Sartrean and heterodox strains in Jameson’s work—has roots in idealist philosophy and in what many of idealism’s critics take to be its most egregiously anti‐materialist, even “escapist” sector: aesthetics. With the advent of “really existing” socialist regimes (first in the Soviet Union, and later, in Soviet‐established or supported governments in Eastern and Central Europe, in China, and often in formerly colonized or “Third World” countries), orthodox Marxist doctrine generally held that Marxism was a resolutely “materialist” (i.e., anti‐idealist), philosophy and practice. Most of these “official” Marxisms and even many heterodox variants programmatically described philosophical idealism as inherently “bourgeois.” Focusing on Marx and Engels’s insistence that the foundations of social life were economic (“infrastructural”) in character, and that aesthetic, cultural, and political (“superstructural”) phenomena merely “reflected” the material base of economic power and class relations, many influential Marxist critics and philosophers aimed to show that all aspects of art and its reception were determined by their relation to the economic base. From this perspective, “Marxian aesthetics” was an oxymoronically named field of inquiry. Perhaps first in the ranks of influential twentieth‐century proponents of this view was the Russian Marxist philosopher, political theorist, and literary critic Georgi Plekhanov. Plekhanov became known for his self‐denominated “Marxist materialism,” which he thought inseparable from staunch anti‐idealism. Despite his own decisive break with Lenin and the Bolshevik faction within Russian Marxism, Plekhanov’s philosophical and literary‐critical views came to be adopted in the Soviet Union, and then in the socialist world more broadly, as if they accurately presented the views of Marx and Engels. In Catherine Flynn’s apt characterization of the Plekhanov view—later also identified with Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s powerful commissar of culture, Andrei Zhdanov—art and culture were in practice “reduce[d] to a mere reflex of … economic context” and interpretively handled via an allegedly objectivist “scientific encyclopedism” that yielded “a didactic, positivist, and even fatalistic vision of culture in lockstep with the forces of ­production” (Flynn 2013: 122).


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Elsewhere I’ve tried at length to show how skewed these standard views of Marx and Engels actually are, and that Marx and Engels’s stance is far more accurately characterized as a sustained critique of the ideological opposition between “idealism” and “materialism.” In fact, what Marx and Engels contributed to was the notion of determination, not so much by “matter” as by an ensemble of historical forces, with the mode of economic production—feudalism, capitalism, and so on—generally playing a major or predominant role in shaping social conditions. They argued as well that the heightened emphasis on “the economic base” stemmed largely from an urgently felt need to correct their own liberal and Left contemporaries’ tendencies to discount the mode of production’s importance, in an especially explosive moment within capitalism’s international development. And indeed, Marx and Engels deemed not only ideas and philosophical thought more broadly, but art and aesthetic experience in particular, to be crucial for our own ability to grasp and then to respond to sociopolitical and historical reality (Kaufman 2000; 2018). Much twentieth‐ and twenty‐first‐century Marxian and Marx‐influenced literary criticism of consequence—Left criticism that has genuinely helped illuminate aspects of literary and cultural works, and the social histories that shape and are in part shaped by them—has contributed to this dialectical or stereoscopic viewpoint. The most perspicacious Marxian criticism underlines its commitment to the fundamental importance of capitalism for the meanings and values of modern artworks and aesthetic experience; at the same time, it contends that literary, aesthetic, and cultural works and experience are not one‐sidedly determined by, and thus do not merely passively reflect, socioeconomic and political dispensations. Rather, literary and other artworks help to construct those dispensations, and the works themselves frequently reveal aspects of social and political reality that would otherwise remain inchoate. For all the real differences among them, this perspective is in significant part shared by influential critics whose work partakes of Marxian ideas and methodologies, from Georg Lukács to Erich Auerbach, Ernst Bloch, and the Frankfurt School critics Walter Benjamin, Theodor W. Adorno, Leo Löwenthal, and Herbert Marcuse; C. L. R. James, Annette Rubinstein, Sidney Finkelstein, Raymond Williams, and William Empson; and more recently, critics like Gayatri Spivak and Catherine Gallagher—to list only a few of those whose criticism demonstrates literature’s ability to make visible or audible crucial aspects of sociopolitical and historical reality that sociology, political science, economics, or historiography themselves might not reach. Focusing on three canonical figures from the modernist and early postmodernist period—Lukács, Benjamin, and Adorno—C. D. Blanton reminds us that such Marxian criticism sought to elaborate the ways that meaningful artworks salutarily crystallize modernity’s tendencies toward “reification.” (Reification is the dynamic by which particular processes and experiences of daily life—and history—are abstracted into an ideological regime of ruling concepts that seem to define reality, yet appear removed from time and change.) In making such problems available to our literary or aesthetic experience, the art makes palpable, in a manner at once intellectual and affective, these dynamics of reification, abstraction, hyper‐conceptualization, and standardization. This process of coming to awareness of reification is decisive. It confirms that artworks can make us critically aware of our capacities to reach intellectually and affectively beyond the authorized concepts of a reified capitalist modernity (Blanton 2016: 802–3, 816–17).

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Countless journal and anthology essays have for decades sketched the ways various modes of criticism have both developed and critiqued aspects of the Marxian legacy from the perspectives of altered notions of cultural and economic history, and from standpoints of race, gender, and colonial or postcolonial analysis. Rather than rehearse once more these important lines of critical development, it might be more useful here to hone in on what in Marx’s own work has been seen as “deterministic.” This involves looking closely at how Marx emphasizes capitalism’s fundamental importance for modern social relations and human experience, yet also at his championing of a human capacity in our aesthetic experience of works of art and culture that underwrites an ability to comprehend, critique, and transform capitalism. In that latter, crucial sense, capitalism is neither intellectually nor socio‐politically determining of what we can make of our inherited conditions. The key textual moment we’ll consider is Marx’s anatomizing of the commodity in his most mature work on the subject, Das Kapital. Das Kapital develops concepts of critique and construction that seek to maintain urgent contact with the social history and contemporary reality of labor and its transmutation into the concept and practice of exchange or commodity value. But Das Kapital also wishes to avoid subsuming all critical thought— including art and literature—under exchange‐commodity value. Unlike later orthodox versions of Marxism (perhaps especially those having affinities with Leninism, and what Adorno and others within Marxism came to criticize as “productionism”), Marx does not define the commodity or exchange‐value as being based solely on labor or labor‐time. The crux lies in Das Kapital’s historical critique of exchange value and commodity form, located above all in its chapter‐section “The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof.” Significantly, Das Kapital initially makes the Enlightenment (and thus presumably “bourgeois”) economist David Ricardo the virtual hero of its story, affirming the immensely progressive character of Ricardo’s demonstration that what defines the commodity is not its use value but its production for and as exchange value. This is based not on its particularity and inextricable relation to specific use, but on a universalized conceptual abstraction of labor time, with value derived vis‐à‐vis an abstraction of the labor‐time necessary for each product produced over against all other products produced within the market. Marx then steps past Ricardo, and past what had already begun to identify itself as Left‐Ricardian, labor‐theory‐of‐value socialism. Marx notes that the commodity’s value does not derive only from the abstraction of labor time that is the concept and practice of exchange‐value. The commodity’s value also—crucially—stems from capital’s own historical, and by now socially contestable, judgment that this conceptual abstraction of labor time must or should be, as if by natural or scientific necessity, the determining basis for valuation. Marx opposes this allegedly justified determinism to a reflective, genuinely democratic judgment-process capable of regarding the conceptual abstraction of labor time as a significant, but not necessarily the ruling or determining, basis for valuation. Thus valuation processes would be free to consider and assess labor time, without being determined by it. A truly democratic, social process of reflective judgment would be free to transcend—to not be determined by—the concept and practice of labor time/exchange‐ value. And this would hold whether the issue involved capitalists’ nefarious erasures of actual labor‐time from their calculations of workers’ wages; or, on the other hand, examples of labor and labor‐time being hailed by a laborite Left as the truly creative, truly determined value that will come into its own once “emancipated” (Marx 1965 [1867]: 81–6).


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Marx shows that this ability to transcend the conceptual abstraction of labor time as ultimate determinant of value would break open—initially, via aesthetic judgment!— exactly what aesthetic judgment by definition (since Kant at least) offers the form or semblance but not the substance of: an already‐extant, determined, determining concept. In this breaking open, stretching past, or sidestepping of extant, substantive‐objective conceptual determination, aesthetic quasi‐conceptuality lets subjects feel/experience their play with the semblance of conceptual form, and with already‐existing conceptual materials, as if this play already were the making of a newly substantive‐determinative‐objective conceptuality, though a conceptuality somehow freely chosen rather than determinatively, coercively compelled by logic or by existing social power. Aesthetic judgment thus begins to enact, in form that is our play in and with semblance itself, the experience and process of forming, making, or constructing something not conceptually predetermined. Marx’s historical critique of Ricardo stresses ultimately that it had been, has been, and continues decisively to be capital’s decision—not labor’s—to make the conceptual abstraction of labor‐time the given basis, limit, or horizon of socioeconomic value. In doing so, capital ideologically proclaims the concept of exchange value (along with exchange value’s embodiment in commodity form, and its enactment in mechanical reproduction) to be a matter of natural or scientific, determinate judgment. Contesting such pronouncements, Marx reiterates, in a quite Kantian schema, the need to break open this seemingly already conceptualized question of value when he insists that socioeconomic valuation be subject to ongoing, democratized judgment (that it be subject not to predetermined but to “reflective,” that is, “aesthetic,” judgment). From The Poverty of Philosophy (1847) through Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875) and beyond, Marx will remain adamant that labor socialism’s goal of simply expropriating, nationalizing, or “socializing” exchange value and commodity production is woefully inadequate to labor’s own most pressing sociocultural, let alone socioeconomic, needs, starting quite formally with labor’s need to make, and then to realize, valuations arrived at through radically democratic reflective judgments, rather than judgments conceptually predetermined and imposed from above. Yet the bitterest historical irony of Das Kapital’s section on “The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof” is that its most urgent, worried‐over message has been precisely the one most often ignored by its intended target: the committed Left. As I have suggested, the chapter’s analysis of commodity fetishism critiques not only bourgeois political economy, but likewise—especially in the last third or so of the chapter—nascent socialist and communist attempts to correct intellectually and politically those bourgeois claims that “use” is still a significant component of commodity value. Marx devastatingly suggests that the most dangerous version or level of the fetishization of the commodity— by seeing comparative labor‐time as the entire basis of socioeconomic value—arises from the Left’s own well‐intentioned championing of an “emancipated” labor that could finally claim to represent its own true value. For while comparative labor‐time may in some cases be the desired (by a democratic majority of society) measure of value, it nonetheless, even when “owned” by the working class, is still not itself entirely the real source of value. Valuation ultimately, Marx stresses throughout the chapter, involves a “total product,” a “social product” synonymous not only with labor and what labor makes but also with all other activities that constitute an economy. These include the entire range of implemented judgments about what socioeconomic valuation is and ought to be, about the “character” we

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“stamp” objects with in a manner akin to our implementation of value judgments via our “social” product of “language” (Marx 1965 [1867]: 83, 79). Left theory and practice should, Marx argues, historicize rather than celebrate labor as the basis for the concept of exchange value, by grasping how labor‐time came to be, in and for capitalist development, an emancipatory standard. It emancipated productive capacity by making possible the rationalization of the calculations concerning production just as, not coincidentally, technological capacities for advancing production were likewise increasing exponentially. Hence the final pages of Das Kapital’s commodity‐fetishism chapter teach that leftist attempts by to trumpet “labor” as “its own true value,” although better in practice and opposite in intent to capital’s fables about use‐value, are downright misguided. Instead of what will later become with Brecht and Sartre a socialist vocabulary of revamped “use,” Marx in effect demands that the Left confront the fact that what is needed is the painstaking but transformative construction of the concepts and practices that would constitute a critical‐reflective, democratic, judgment value. These judgments and valuations would be, in the favorite word of the chapter’s final pages, “free.” Free of what? Not, in some utopian, magical manner, free of any and all constraint, and surely not freed from their status as form; but quite simply, freed from the regressive fantasy of being able to return to the bygone era of use‐value judgment. Free too from the concept and practice that heretofore had constrained most socioeconomic valuation: labor and comparative labor‐time judgment (i.e., exchange‐value judgment, commodity‐value judgment). The most perilous commodity fetishization, Marx already worries in this celebrated chapter of Das Kapital, will be practiced by the Left, precisely in its well‐intentioned championing of a labor that will of course continue to produce tremendous wealth, but which need not be the determining standard for the innumerable ways a democratic majority or its representatives might judge how such wealth should be valued. Humming just beneath this analysis is something about exchange value, commodity form, and conceptualization that might otherwise go unheard. Economic modernity until his moment, Marx argues, has largely involved the emancipation of exchange value, which has made central the socioeconomic triumph of economically rationalist, determinate conceptualization itself. For the first time in history, Marx emphasizes, it is not an unpredictable (because particular and subjective) individual use, nor an unpredictable (because powerful and arbitrary) feudal or authoritarian diktat or set of directives that determines socioeconomic value, but rather a single predetermined conceptual operation: the abstraction of labor time (predictable in its operational formula if not in the yield of its case‐by‐case data). That historical conceptualization of the way capitalism dynamically, objectively, made valuation into first an objectivist concept and then a mechanical calculation clearly proved to hold enormously generative possibilities for socioeconomic productive capacity. But flowing from the new mode of production’s tendency, in an era of emancipatory and egalitarian discourse, greatly to expand the social character of production and the amount of goods produced while simultaneously intensifying disparities in the distribution of wealth and resources, there flows too an increasing disappearance (related to if not wholly caused by the disappearance of use as a determinant of value) of particularity. This theme, already developed by Marx and Engels, famously becomes in Benjamin and then Adorno’s writings “the crisis of experience” (see Jay 2005). Furthermore, because of what historically becomes


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the close if not synonymous relationship between conceptual abstraction and capitalist‐era, exchange‐value abstraction, and because language is deemed the medium for significantly communicable conceptuality, there is already in Marx and Engels the noteworthy intensification of a high romantic theme (one that is rooted deeper still in classical poetics and aesthetics): literature—above all, in its most intensely linguistic expression, lyric poetry— bears a special, radical relationship to conceptuality as such and, in modernity, to determinate conceptuality’s overarching socioeconomic identity as exchange‐value, as the commodity, and as mechanical reproduction. Walter Benjamin will thus grasp that the French postromantic, proto‐modernist poet Charles Baudelaire, taking up the commodity and exchange value, perforce takes as his poetry’s form and subject matter modernity’s problematic apotheosis of determinate conceptuality. And on the other hand, Benjamin grasps that Baudelaire’s tortured ­ ­explorations of infernal, experience‐denying modern determinism register an abiding reality: the non‐experience of human beings for whom judgment is an already conceptualized, predetermined affair external to them, one which cannot accept any version of their particularity, their subjectivity, that would imply the importance of their capacity for reflective judgment and critical agency. Adorno famously urges Benjamin to extend the analysis to consider whether, starting if not concluding with formal artistic‐aesthetic dynamics, Baudelaire’s wager—about making a significant modern lyric poetry just when the experiential preconditions for significant lyric appear to have gone missing—might itself become a critique of socioeconomic modernity’s concept of concepts, the super‐ concept of exchange value. What Adorno’s and Benjamin’s celebrated exchanges will ask— and this is true with variations in other varieties of heterodox Marxian criticism, all the way through Left deconstruction and feminism—is something like the following: Wouldn’t such artistic‐aesthetic activity, of at least the form that begins, as form, to enact critique, likewise constitute, enable, or begin to enact a sensed recognition of renewed ­possibilities for particular, conceptually undetermined, experience and judgment? Art or semblance, the underlying argument goes, is critical precisely in its formal character of aesthetic illusion, as opposed to unknowing aestheticist delusion. In marking itself as illusion (as the form rather than substance of conceptuality), in advertising its illusion‐character (Scheincharakter) to its audience, art signals the interaction and interdependence of, but also the difference between, itself and the world. In contrast, aestheticist delusion tends toward the collapse of the different identities, at times under the pressure of well‐intended assumptions of responsibility for sociopolitical or ethical engagement, for changing the world, and aestheticist delusion can thus contribute unwittingly toward an inability to distinguish between artwork and world. Critical aesthetic illusion pivots on a formal dynamic or dialectic of charged distance (to paraphrase Benjamin on Baudelaire): the artist’s, artwork’s, and audience’s intense engagement and correspondence with (amid an awareness of difference from) the empirical, sociohistorical and political, Real. The audience that participates in semblance on the one hand provisionally treats the semblance, the artwork, or our aesthetic experience of it, as if it were real or had the dignity of the real. Or, what amounts to the same thing, the audience judges it as such and feels it can cognitively make such a judgment, that it can experience or know the feeling of this judging agency (via a “concept” that in fact doesn’t really yet exist, and isn’t really yet nameable, outside of aesthetic illusion‐space). On the other hand and virtually at the

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same moment, the audience also knows—indeed, dynamic, constructivist semblance demands that the audience know—that this still is only an as‐if, a fiction, an aesthetic illusion‐generated experience, because, despite the real subjective feelings of agency engendered, nothing, or at least nothing much, has yet been done to the empirical world. In other words, semblance‐character’s formal, proto‐critical dynamic constructs the true fiction whereby one feels the capacity for cognizing (via the aesthetically constructed form or semblance of a new concept) and then, for acting on and changing the world. At the same time, in its anti‐aestheticist role, aesthetic semblance‐character negatively reminds the subject that however he or she might feel otherwise, this capacity has yet to be practically, ­concretely applied and realized. In the traditions of poetics and aesthetics that Marx and Engels, and then later Marxian oriented critics (not least, the Frankfurt School) inherit, all consequential literature does this, but lyric poetry does so with special intensity. Lyric’s special role here derives not from its being better, nobler, or more right on than other kinds of literature, art, or cultural works, but simply from the otherwise almost unremarkable fact that, as a formal matter, lyric maintains a specially intensified relationship to the medium for communicable ­conceptuality: language. Each art has its own unique character; lyric’s is to take language, the presumably bottom‐line medium of objectivity (in the Frankfurters’ and others’ philosophical‐theoretical vocabulary for the attempt to cognize reality, of conceptuality) and, first, to subjectivize it, affectively to stretch conceptuality’s bounds in order to make something that seems formally like a concept but which does something that ordinary objective concepts generally do not do: sing. For lyric song to reach and give pleasure to a significant audience, it must first construct its own form of objectivity or coherence, though the logic is that of art—including lyric art’s relationship to musicality—rather than strictly mathematical or conceptual logic. Each of the arts has its own mode of semblance. In lyric, semblance primarily involves making speech acts appear, feel, as if their very logic has compelled them somehow to burst—naturally, justifiably, as it were—into song. Within the moment of aesthetic experience, such song suddenly seems necessary though it had not yet felt predetermined; precisely in this bursting (in a manner inseparable from pleasure) of the formal contours of extant conceptuality, the sense of songfulness allows for a renewed sense of capacity or agency vis‐à‐vis materials that can eventually be grasped as reconceived or newly conceived sociopolitical, historical, and/or ethical content within the newly stretched conceptual form or formal capacity. The basically shared aspects of Benjamin and Adorno’s account of the age of art’s technological reproducibility (“mechanical reproduction”) is actually already in Das Kapital, where mechanical/technological reproducibility is characterized not by the aesthetic aura (or semblance character, illusion character, appearance character [Scheincharakter]) that operates through charged distance, suspension, or negation. Rather it operates by the commodity form’s version of aura or semblance, wherein a privileged concept—the super‐concept of exchange value—pretends (by means of what Benjamin initially thinks of as phony aura [Benjamin 1999: 517]) that it isn’t an already determined and determining concept. Commodity aura hence pretends that what it presents or contains is a free particular open to the meaning of the subject’s interactions with it (rather than being predetermined in value and meaning through subsumption under the master‐concept of exchange‐value). Commodity aura is thus the photo‐negative of aesthetic aura’s (and, especially relevant to


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conceptuality because of its linguistic character, lyric aura’s) genuinely distanced‐yet‐ charged (because generally openly acknowledged) semblance‐character. This specially charged distance of recognized or admitted aesthetic semblance is to be grasped as a critical (though only formal) negation, a provisional negation or suspension emerging from the process in which aesthetic thought‐experience phenomenally takes the form of conceptual thought—though it takes only the form, and is therefore only the semblance, of a determinant, substantive‐objective concept. The commodity, on the other hand, attempts positively to sell or serve up its aura luminously, to package it as an allegedly genuine, free immediacy, and the commodity does not wish to admit that its seeming freedom from conceptual determination is illusory. That is, commodity form does not present aura, illusion, in or as aesthetic experience, as Benjaminian‐Baudelairean‐Brechtian charged distance. Commodity‐form does not really proffer its aura through the aesthetic or the literary as‐if, where semblance is simultaneously engaged as if it were reality, while also being marked consciously as mere aesthetic semblance, inherently distant from reality. Rather, the commodity presents aura through aestheticization (where the audience is meant to lose sight of the status or character of illusion, and thus to have the illusion meld in identity and immediacy with reality), and the commodity does this in lockstep with aestheticization’s march towards its own logical endpoint: the collapse into pure immediacy of the as‐if’s constitutive tension of charged distance, so that semblance or illusion is no longer critically, simultaneously enjoyed and also recognized as illusion but instead now produces the delusion of literal, immediate, particularized presence that supposedly never was illusion, or that has somehow left illusion, semblance, mimesis and judgment‐play behind. This collapse, of charged aesthetic illusion into delusion, leads to the concomitant collapse of the experiential preconditions for reflective judgment and critical agency. And that’s also why Das Kapital takes care to present—as will Adorno and much of the Frankfurt School—its critical judgment as still being only formal, and as necessarily and importantly so. That is, it is not really yet the “social act” that Jameson (1976: 136), following Sartre in feeling an understandable pressure to make the “critical” already produce activism or change, at times hopes to ­generalize criticism itself into being. But for Marx, criticism—like literature itself— sparks an animating sense of capacity, of critical agency. Literature and the other arts do this through a generative, self‐critical semblance‐ experience of illusion affording us an empowering sensing of our capacity to conceptualize, and even to make change, and then— in the negative reminder that this is as yet only semblance—spurs us, without any guarantees about it, to act in the world itself. Criticism, turning in the post‐aesthetic moment to reason and critique (rather than remaining in the semblance‐experience that had been proper to the experience of the artwork), likewise works to let us know what we might still think and do. The rest—which would be post‐literary and post‐critical—would be action. “The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof” instructively condenses and keeps reiterating, especially in its final few pages, these concerns about the ultimate and most dangerous stage of commodity fetishization—of the misrecognition of the commodity’s source‐value as labor, rather than labor and a taken‐for‐granted but actually alterable judgment that only labor should be treated as source‐value (rather than labor and other activities including judgment itself as always comprising the actual constituents of valuation). Marx presents and critiques Left fetishization of labor, and hence of the commodity, as

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misrecognitions of an inherently determining value in labor. Marx likewise implies his own critique—at least for the modernity now confronting him, as opposed to earlier stages of the era of industrial capitalism—of use, production, and action as being inherently valuable in a progressive or revolutionary direction. The formal, reflective critical judgment generated by art or literature is thus crucial to what value action can have. In scathingly comedic tones, this combined worry about what will later be termed “productionism” and “actionism” informs Marx’s re‐writing, throughout the chapter, of Robinson Crusoe. “Let us now picture to ourselves, by way of change, a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common, in which the labour‐power of all the different individuals is consciously applied as the combined labour‐ power of the community. All the characteristics of Robinson’s labour are here repeated, but with this difference, that they are social, instead of individual.” Marx goes on to stress that the valuation involved can be based on actual, observed and measured labor time, but that that would itself become part of a reflective decision to do so, made directly or indirectly by a democratic majority, which he terms “apportionment in accordance with a definite social plan.” Less comedically, the worry returns in Marx’s observation—coupled again with his recourse to own lexicon to suggest ways to socialize the process of reflective judgment—that “The life‐process of society … does not strip off its mystical veil until it is treated as production by freely associated people, and is consciously regulated by them in accordance with a regulated plan” (Marx 1965 [1867]: 76, 82, 84, italics added). As throughout Marx’s writings, the paradigm in this chapter of Das Kapital for thought seeking truth, while doing so without having been determined beforehand by an extant concept, is literary/aesthetic thought. The chapter consequently ends—as Marx so often ends—with Marx assuming the voice of his hero of heroes, that most modern and German of authors, William Shakespeare. In case we’ve until now missed the point, Marx’s ends the chapter by again underscoring that emancipation of socioeconomic value begins with aesthetic—that is, reflective—judgment being made into the modality for socioeconomic valuation itself. Aesthetic judgment aims for a potential validity or non‐coercive universality that does not depend on an already‐existing, determinative concept. The Shakespeare‐text that Marx hilariously, yet also dead‐seriously reanimates on this question of seemingly “natural” (already determined) versus under‐construction modes of valuation is one whose very title signals freedom from the notion that previously existing conceptual/valuation regimes possess an already‐determined substance that ought to be determining or binding on future generations seeking to transform their own social life. Everything has been determined, or so we’ve been socially, ideologically, conceptually led to believe. In fact, those capable of critically reflecting can then themselves—trying to build on such achieved understanding in order to act individually and collectively— become capable of re‐determining everything that had seemed already to have been fixed, set, determined, titled without their say. The Shakespeare text with which Marx ends Das Kapital’s discussion of the commodity—the Shakespeare text that, in good literary and aesthetic fashion, Marx’s reading makes into his own creative act, and our reading of which can become the basis for our own sense of creative and reflective‐judgment capacity, carrying with it all the potentially transformative consequences that can come from engagement with something “merely formal,” merely literary, a mere nothing—is, of course, Much Ado About Nothing.


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Notes 1 The press whose standard‐bearing Ramparts magazine had from 1962 to 1975 featured some of the New Left’s most important critical reporting on the U.S. war in Indochina, and on domestic struggles for civil and human rights and economic justice. 2 The aphorism—which Weapons of Criticism presented in full as the book’s epigraph—

reads in English translation, “The weapon of criticism obviously cannot replace the criticism of weapons. Material force must be overthrown by material force. But theory also becomes a material force once it has gripped the masses” (Karl Marx, ‘Toward the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law: Introduction’).

References Benjamin, Walter. 1999 [1931]. “Little History of Photography.” Selected Writings, trans. Rodney Livingstone et  al., ed. Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith. Vol. 2, 507– 30. Cambridge: Belknap–Harvard University Press. Translation of “Kleine Geschichte der Photographie.” Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften 2: 368–85. Benjamin, Walter. 1936. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Benjamin, Illuminations, 217–51. Translation of “Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit.” Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften 1: 471–508. Benjamin, Walter. 1938. “The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire.” Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, trans. Harry Zohn. London: New Left, 1973. 9–106. Translation of “Das Paris des Second Empire bei Baudelaire.” Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften 1: 511–604. Benjamin, Walter. 1940a. “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire.” Benjamin, Illuminations 155–200. Translation of “Über einige Motive bei Baudelaire.” Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften 1: 605–53. Benjamin, Walter. 1940b. “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” Benjamin, Illuminations 253–64. Translation of “Über den Begriff der

Geschichte.” Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften 1: 691–704. Benjamin, Walter. 1969. Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. and introd. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken. Benjamin, Walter. 1972–99. Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhäuser. 7 vols. and 3 supp. vols. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Blanton, C. D. 2016. “Modernism and Reification: Lukács, Benjamin, Adorno.” In The Cambridge History of Modernism, ed. Vincent Sherry, 802–19. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. Flynn, Catherine. 2013. “Marxist Modernisms: From Jameson to Benjamin.” In A Handbook of Modernist Studies, ed. Jean‐Michel Rabaté, 123– 38. Chichester: Wiley‐Blackwell. Jameson, Fredric. 1976. “Criticism in History.” In Weapons of Criticism: Marxism in America and the Literary Tradition, ed. Norman Rudich. Palo Alto: Ramparts; reprinted in Fredric Jameson, 1988. The Ideologies of Theory, vol. 1, Situations of Theory, foreword by Neil Larsen, 119–36. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Jameson, Fredric. 1984. “Periodizing the 60s”; reprinted in The Ideologies of Theory vol. 2, The Syntax of Theory, 178–208. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.

Nothing If Not Determined

Jay, Martin. 2005. Songs of Experience: Modern American and European Variations on a Universal Theme. Berkeley: University of California Press. Kaufman, Robert. 2000. “Red Kant, or the Persistence of the Third Critique in Adorno and Jameson,” Critical Inquiry 26: 682–724. Kaufman, Robert. 2018. Negative Romanticism: Adornian Aesthetics in Keats, Shelley, and Modern Poetry. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Marx, Karl. 1955 [1847]. The Poverty of Philosophy. New York: Progress.


Marx, Karl. 1852. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Whitefish: Kessinger, 2004. Marx, Karl. 1965 [1867]. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. New York: International. Marx, Karl. 1970 [1890–91]. Critique of the Gotha Programme. 1890–91. Marx/Engels Selected Works. Vol. 3, 13–30. Moscow: Progress. Ricardo, David. 1971 [1817]. On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, ed. R. M. Hartwell. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.


The Frankfurt School and Its Successors Jeffrey T. Nealon

When considering literary theory’s emergence and development in the English‐speaking academy, there were three main ways the Frankfurt School was initially received and lives on within its various successor discourses. First, it emerged decisively in the world of literary theory through Jurgen Habermas’s skepticism towards various postmodernisms or poststructuralisms (as the abandonment of Enlightenment rationality), and lives on through ongoing defenses of political liberalism and its commitments to the regulative ideals of universal justice and recognition. Second, it lives on within cultural studies and related strands of media studies—discourses which to this day remain caught between Theodor Adorno’s pessimism and Walter Benjamin’s hope concerning the culture industries and the freeing or constraining role of technology in art and everyday life. Finally, the Frankfurt School has successors in the ongoing traditions of cultural Marxism and its diagnoses of capitalism, working out the tensions between economic production and cultural production in the present, and assessing the fate of aesthetic experience in a commodified world. In beginning to assess the Frankfurt School’s place within the rise of literary theory ­during the 1970s and 1980s, Michel Foucault’s comments will stand as a kind of provocative introduction, or at least give us a kind of through‐line for thinking about the ways in which consideration of the Frankfurt School came late to the academic theory world of structuralism and post‐structuralism. “Perhaps if l had read those [Frankfurt School] works earlier on,” Foucault laments in 1978, “I would have saved useful time, surely: I wouldn’t have needed to write some things and I would have avoided certain errors … Instead, their influence on me remains retrospective” (Foucault 1991: 119–20). I quote Foucault here to suggest, by analogy, that in the emergent world of literary theory in the 1970s and 1980s in the United States, the Frankfurt School was not really a major presence, even though Marxism was a vital player on the scene (Brenkman 1989; Ohmann 1987), and there certainly were scholars in literature departments (especially German departments) all along A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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writing books and teaching seminars about major Frankfurt School thinkers like Adorno, Benjamin, and Habermas (for a history, see Hohendahl 1991), as well the group that coalesced around the journals New German Critique and Telos. University of California historian Martin Jay’s 1973 The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923–1950, decisively put the Frankfurt School on the map of twentieth‐century intellectual historians, and the legacy of the Frankfurt School at the New School for Social Research in New York (where many expatriate German thinkers were welcomed during the Nazi years in Germany) kept the tradition current in the discipline of philosophy in the United States. Likewise, Leo Lowenthal’s work kept the Frankfurt School’s mode of analysis vibrant in the discipline of sociology, and Herbert Marcuse and Erich Fromm were important and influential public intellectuals in the United States, giving voice and encouragement to the hopes of the new social movements in the 1960s. However, while Marcuse’s and Fromm’s differing brands of utopian libidinal politics had a great deal of influence in the streets, readings from their works were not prominently featured in the academic seminar room. Considered specifically in terms of literary theory, perhaps the Frankfurt School had limited impact in the early years because of the dispersed nature of the different thinkers’ intellectual itineraries (there were as many disagreements as agreements within the first generation of the School), but perhaps even more because the objects and topics of Frankfurt School analyses tended to range so widely across myriad forms of cultural production, such as film, popular music, propaganda, and mass psychology (Adorno even wrote a book about newspaper astrology columns). Thereby the Frankfurt School offers no easily distillable set of protocols or methods geared toward producing interpretations of literary texts, in contrast to the teachable hermeneutic methods associated with new criticism, American deconstruction, feminist criticism, psychoanalysis, or new historicism. Literary theory in its early days was largely concerned with teaching students various methods of explication de texte, but the Frankfurt School thinkers offer precious little in the way of an interpretive template to be laid over texts. It’s easy enough to imagine a “deconstructive” or “feminist” reading of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter; it’s much harder to say what a “Frankfurt School” reading of the text would look like. But in the postmodernism debates of the early 1980s, Jurgen Habermas—the leader of the Frankfurt School’s second generation—defended modernism and modernity, autonomous subjectivity and Enlightenment rationality itself, against poststructuralists like Derrida and Foucault who championed interpretive undecidability and the deconstruction of the stable, centered subject. Modernity was not, Habermas argued, merely or primarily a failed Eurocentric project of exclusivist, male, white, bureaucratic rationality (and thereby a discourse to be abandoned or overcome by a more open‐ended or democratizing postmodernism). Rather, modernity constituted what Habermas famously dubbed “an incomplete project” of universal recognition and communicative rationality. It was modernity’s conversational grounding, and modernism’s rational belief in the “unforced force of the better argument,” that could continue to show the way forward toward emancipation, or at least stave off what Habermas (among others) saw as the irrationality and anarchist danger of poststructuralism (mostly of the French and American varieties), which finally sees Enlightenment rationality as bound up at all points not with normative consensus, reciprocal recognition and mutual agreement among autonomous


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subjects, but with the irrational, naked exercise of power within a world of anarchic and irreducible dissensus (Habermas 1986). As Foucault sums up the position to which Habermas objects, “I believe one’s point of reference should not be to the great model of language and signs, but that of war and battle. The history which bears and determines us has the form of a war rather than that of a language: relations of power, not relations of meaning” (Foucault 1984a: 56). It may be then that the Frankfurt School first decisively enters the fray of North American literary theory through Habermas’s 1986 Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, a book designed to eviscerate what Habermas saw as the “young conservatives” of the ­postmodern theory movement, most notably Derrida and Foucault. Habermas’s line of argumentation against the “irrationalist” discourses of poststructuralism often comes down to their hidden grounding in two suspicious and indeed disqualifying argumentative maneuvers. One is “cryptonormativity,” which is the charge that any wholesale ­critique of normative rationality secretly depends on a prior normative claim about the inherent good of transgressing norms. The other is what Habermas calls “performative contradiction”: when poststructuralists say that meaning and consensus are impossible, how or why is it that anyone with linguistic competence can perfectly well understand that claim? As Habermas argues concerning the postmodern critics of normative rationality, If they were to be consistent, their own investigation of the other of reason would have to occupy a position utterly heterogeneous to reason—but what does consistency count for in a place that is a priori inaccessible to rational discourse? … This methodological enmity toward reason may have something to do with the type of historical innocence with which studies of this kind today move in the no‐man’s‐land between argumentation, narration, and fiction. (Habermas 1986: 302)

That last is a stinging charge, especially if you’re trying to appeal to literary theorists. Habermas went on to suggest that much of what Derrida does is merely to mistake the rigorous, rationalist practice of philosophy for the imaginative, undecidable fancies of ­literature, and Habermas thereby sacrificed the potential interest of many literary theorists at the altar of normative reason. All in all, Habermas’s Philosophical Discourse of Modernity constitutes an old‐fashioned scolding of poststructuralism—an extended stern lecture that makes Adorno’s infamously acid dismissals of jazz or Hollywood movies look sunny by comparison; though we should note there were more nuanced contemporary versions of the debate between the Frankfurt School and its competitors in the 1980s—the account offered for example in Andreas Huyssen’s 1986 After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism. From this point in the mid‐1980s to the present, Habermas’s work has had little influence on literary theory. Nor do literary theorists have much interest in Habermas’s student Axel Honneth, who has staked most of his theoretical energy on putting the Hegelian drama of political and social “recognition” front and center in his rethinking of social theory (see Honneth 2014). Thinkers like Nancy Fraser and Seyla Benhabib, though critical of Frankfurt School members Habermas and Honneth on some fronts (especially around the question of gender in the public sphere), have nevertheless taken these insights into some new territory in the disciplines of philosophy (see Fraser’s dispute with Honneth over Recognition or Redistribution? for example) and political theory (Benhabib’s Situating the

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Self). However, neither Fraser nor Benhabib has a primary interest in literature or literary theory per se. Probably the most prominent neo‐Habermasian today in a literature department today is Amanda Anderson, and she has largely taken up and modified Habermas’s work on intersubjectivity—the argumentative contours of agreement and disagreement—in the realm of theory itself (for example in her 2005 book The Way We Argue Now: A Study in the Cultures of Theory), as well as examining the place of literature in the public sphere of the Victorian era. Indeed, it is within the theoretical discourses of feminism where the relations among the concerns of second‐generation Frankfurt School thinkers and literary and cultural theory have been most intensely worked out. Most succinctly, Fraser and Benhabib have posed some of these Frankfurt School questions to poststructuralist theory in dialogue with Judith Butler and Drucilla Cornell, among other feminist poststructuralists (see Benhabib et al. 1994). For example, Benhabib argues (against Butler’s work) that the deconstruction of the subject is dangerous for feminism, because purposive socio‐political agency ­disappears alongside the upending of the purposive agent. She repeats Habermas’s primary concern in Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, that there must be a position “outside” the reach of power in order to mount a rational critique of the wrongs found in society. In Situating the Self (1992), for example, Benhabib writes, alongside the disappearance of the centered, rationally‐choosing subject disappear of course concepts of intentionality, accountability, self‐reflexivity, and autonomy … If this view of the self is adopted, is there any possibility of transforming those expressions which constitute us? … The strong version of the Death of the Subject thesis is not compatible with the goals of feminism … If we are no more than the sum total of the gendered expressions we ­perform, is there ever any chance to stop the performance for a while, to pull the curtain down, and only let it rise if one can have a say in the production of the play itself? (Benhabib 1992: 214–15)

Butler (1993) counters by wondering in turn about the socio‐political costs of such a centered, autonomous notion of normative subjectivity: “it seems important … to question whether a political insistence on coherent identities can ever be the basis on which a crossing over into political alliance with other subordinated groups can take place, especially when such a conception of alliance fails to understand that the very subject‐positions in question are themselves a kind of ‘crossing,’ are themselves the lived scene of a coalition’s difficulty” (Butler 1993: 115). While the discursive climate in the feminist debate between the Frankfurt School and poststructuralism was considerably more engaged and respectful than between Habermas and postmodern theorists, at the end of the day substantial (and many would say productive) frictions have remained between the legacy of the Frankfurt School and postmodern or poststructuralist feminist theory. Ironically, however, Habermas’s treatise Philosophical Discourse of Modernity brought renewed attention to the work of the first generation of the Frankfurt School, and especially to Adorno. In Habermas’s pantheon of “postmodernist” (and postmodernist avant le lettre) targets, he includes all the usual suspects (Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Bataille, in addition to Foucault and Derrida); however, he also devotes one lecture to a surprising “postmodernist” target: Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment (2007). Habermas is careful to mark his intervention as one meant to save Adorno and Horkheimer from a kind of poststructuralist sainthood, a fate worse than death: “under the sign of a


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Nietzsche revitalized by poststructuralism, moods and attitudes are spreading that are confusingly like those of Horkheimer and Adorno. I would like to forestall this confusion” (Habermas 1986: 106). However, in his attempt to distance Adorno and Horkheimer’s first generation Frankfurt School work from these more dangerous poststructuralist “moods and attitudes,” Habermas ends up making Adorno and Horkheimer’s work, not to mention “Benjamin’s now ironic hope of the hopeless” (1986: 106), into full‐blown poststructuralist precursors. And thereby the first generation figures from the Frankfurt School ironically became important players in poststructuralist literary theory discourse going forward, included as they are in the pantheon of important “irrationalist” thinkers about whom Habermas is concerned. Alongside the others, Adorno and Horkheimer are chided for their lack of respect for the gains of Enlightenment rationality. As Habermas writes about Adorno and Horkheimer’s work, “what is unexplained throughout is their certain lack of concern in dealing with the (to put it in the form of a slogan) achievements of Occidental rationalism. How can these two men of the Enlightenment … be so unappreciative of the rational content of cultural modernity that all they perceive everywhere is a binding of reason and domination, of power and validity?” (Habermas 1986: 121). Habermas’s own work since the 1980s has veered decisively away from engagement with the continental philosophy canon that underlies literary theory in America, and instead his primary attentions have gone in the direction of analytic and pragmatic Anglo‐American philosophy, engaging more with the work of political philosopher John Rawls than with Foucault or Derrida. While substantial sympathy for his project remains within literature departments, much of it has shied away from commentary on Habermas, or applications of his insights into literary texts, and gone into various defenses or reconsiderations of liberalism (in for example John McGowan 1991) or a kind of return to the ethics of subjectivity and argumentation (in Amanda Anderson 2005), though of course there has remained all along a robust engagement with all legacies of the Frankfurt School in German departments, as well as in the disciplines of philosophy, sociology, and political theory. The second generation of the Frankfurt School, then, lives on in literary theory less through application of their philosophical frameworks to literature, but in subject‐ centered defenses of Habermas’s or Honneth’s central themes of universal communication, recognition and defending the progressive traditions of Enlightenment liberalism. One might argue that there’s even a fourth generation of the Frankfurt School being born in Rainer Forst’s work, extending Habermas’s and Honneth’s arguments concerning the Enlightenment themes of universal justice, tolerance, and justification (see Forst 2013 Justification and Critique: Towards a Critical Theory of Politics, dedicated to Habermas). While somewhat outside the realm of literary theory proper, I should also mention that Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s work on the commodification and instrumental takeover of nature has had an impact on recent work in environmental studies (Cook 2014) and in the realm of postcolonial theory (Allen 2016).

The Frankfurt School and Cultural Studies While Herbert Marcuse’s books Eros and Civilization and One‐Dimensional Man had great influences on the youth movements of the 1950s and 1960s, the academic study of popular culture didn’t really get off the ground in the North American academy until the 1980s,

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though it had been a thriving enterprise in England since the founding of the Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University in 1964. The Frankfurt School has had a particularly fraught relation to the myriad discourses and methodologies of contemporary theory that travel under the name “cultural studies” in England and America through the 1990s and into the twenty‐first century. However, in the end, the interdisciplinary field of cultural studies today is probably where the Frankfurt School finds its largest number of “successors,” people who continue to talk about founding Frankfurt School topics like the power of technology, media, and monopoly capitalism within the expanding culture industries. In February 1939, Adorno posed a question, in response to a draft of Benjamin’s essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Mechanical Reproducibility,” that is still being answered today: “What will become of human beings and their capacity for aesthetic perception when they are fully exposed to the conditions of monopoly capitalism?” (Adorno and Benjamin 1999: 305). Insofar as this remains a crucial question in media, technology, and cultural studies (a question certainly intensified by the massive technological leaps in the portability and ubiquity of sonic and visual media since the early 1990s), the Frankfurt School finds one of its most crucial successors in contemporary cultural and media studies; and by and large these fields will find their inspiration not primarily in the second generation of the Frankfurt School, but in the first. On many accounts, however, English‐language cultural studies gets off the ground precisely by rejecting the Frankfurt School and its high‐culture style of critical ­analysis. The litany of charges levelled against the School is almost too familiar to bear repeating: Frankfurt School theorists put forth a totalizing view of culture as somehow controlled by capitalist masters; they are far too sober, serious, and dire in their condemnations of everyday life and its pleasures; and, the most serious and universal charge, Frankfurt School theorists are painted as cultural elitists who evidence little faith in the agency of the common people, and show no interest whatsoever in uncovering the hidden subversive codes seemingly buried in the rituals and products of popular culture. Adorno’s work on jazz is routinely cited in this context as proof positive of the Frankfurt School’s mandarin elitism. While a certain reading of Benjamin (emphasizing his work on snowglobes, book collecting, hashish, or wandering the arcades) offers a counter to Adorno’s pessimism about everyday life and capitalism, both Adorno and Benjamin consistently use terminology that paints everyday people as a kind of malleable “mass.” However when Lawrence Grossberg, the dean of cultural studies scholars of popular music, laments that “at the level of theory … I do not think that writing about popular music has significantly changed (to say nothing of ‘progressed’) in forty years” (2002: 29), he at least partially references the way that cultural studies in the English‐speaking world was shaped by the founding documents and arguments of the Frankfurt School, and even more specifically the debate between Adornian pessimism concerning popular culture, and Benjamin’s more utopian hopes for producing subversion within the new, commodified forms of mass aesthetic experience. Decades later, the themes of this 1930s debate between Adorno and Benjamin continues unabated, in endless articles wondering, for example, whether the internet is a place of surveillance and capitalist apologetics, or a brave new world of communal possibilities.


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Though perhaps one could venture that Benjamin’s optimism, rather than Adorno’s p­ essimism, has been the primary heritage of the work of the Frankfurt School, or at least was in the so‐called New Times Cultural Studies since the 1990s. And this Benjaminian cultural optimism continues to be front and center in much contemporary work produced in digital media and technology studies, rather than what looks like Adorno’s mandarin commitments to high culture. Simon During’s massively influential anthology The Cultural Studies Reader (1993) stands as a representative example of Adorno’s traditional role within cultural studies. In During’s collection, Adorno’s Frankfurt School pessimism concerning the products of popular culture remains important to Cultural Studies p­ rimarily as a kind of negative or naive moment, as that which has to be overcome for cultural studies to legitimize itself at all. An excerpt from Adorno and Horkheimer’s “Culture Industry” essay opens the collection, but During’s headnote carefully frames the essay for the collection’s student audience: “Adorno and Horkheimer neglect what was to become central to cultural studies: the ways in which the culture industry, while in the service of organized capital, also provides the opportunities for all kinds of individual and collective creativity and decoding” (During 1993: 30). Adorno’s dire determinism concerning “mass deception” has to be overcome, During argues, if cultural studies is to take up and valorize the central role of the subject and the subversive agency—the “creativity and decoding”— that is performed every day in the face of capital. On this reading, Adorno is dismissed for remaining territorialized on economic questions about unification or mass production, rather than exploring diversification or subversive consumption. From its inception in England to its present configurations in North America and Australia, much (but certainly not all) English‐language cultural studies has maintained a skeptical distance from the Adornian wing of the Frankfurt School, locating its g­ enealogies and critical concepts elsewhere in modern Europe. From its engagement with theorists like Antonio Gramsci and Louis Althusser through Foucault and Michel de Certeau, cultural studies has predominantly focused its intellectual and political energies on unleashing subjective resistance and “agency,” the subversive multiple potentialities of the individual in his or her everyday life. In this context Benjamin’s odd melancholy brand of hope in the face of technological and economic colonization has been of use, particularly to media theorists. But if cultural studies in the future is to remain fixated on the insurgent agency of the consuming subject and the secretly transgressive qualities of cultural commodities, then the Frankfurt School will just as likely remain a merely negative or archaic moment in the ongoing study of the present. In recent years, however, cultural studies has been undergoing something of a crisis, as the “transgression” model has come increasingly under fire, with several critics pointing out the snug fit between notions of transgression in cultural studies and the contemporary right‐wing ideology of consumer choice and niche marketing. Given this potentially unhappy state of affairs (where cultural theory finds itself aligned with the powers that it ostensibly wants to transgress or resist), scholars have been turning away from celebrations of subjective transgression, and back toward trying to understand how subjects are produced by the channeling of desire on a “mass” scale. For many, this has entailed a rethinking of the Frankfurt School—both rethinking Adorno’s supposed pessimism, and thinking more about the melancholy that underlies Benjaminian hope. Read in a certain way, the Frankfurt School shows you how the culture industry doesn’t primarily produce products

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at all; rather, it produces subjects. Adorno and Horkheimer’s “Culture Industry” essay in Dialectic of Enlightenment, for example, argues that modern capitalist society is a kind of Fordist factory, but the assembly line finally yields only one product: consumers. And more specifically, this brand of cultural capitalism produces consumers who ideologically understand (or misunderstand) their own consumption practices as transgressive or authentic. “Something is provided for everyone,” they intone, “so that no one can escape” (Horkheimer and Adorno 2007: 97). Historically, it is just such an emphasis on Fordist subject production—a very hard version of “interpellation”—that has caused many contemporary theorists to hesitate before Frankfurt School analyses. If “everyone, however powerful, is an object”—as Adorno writes in Minima Moralia (1974: 37)—then there would seem to be very little room for the individual or collective subject to resist reduction to inert passivity. Cultural construction, in the world of the Frankfurt School, can all too often seem like cultural determination. But recent and continuing work on interpellation and subjection has opened up new ways to conceptualize thorough‐going cultural construction as other than ham‐fisted cultural determination, and has thereby sent many thinkers back to the Frankfurt School with a fresh set of conceptual apparatuses and questions. Of course, one could easily argue that the School was there all along, informing contemporary work on subjectivity and interpellation; and perhaps only now can it be re‐examined and affirmed as a crucial component in the toolkit for studying contemporary life. There seems at least one other obvious historical reason for re‐emerging interest in the Frankfurt School. The “transgression” thesis in cultural studies was based on a parallel historical thesis about diversification in the culture industry’s modes of production. As the argument goes, the Frankfurt School theorized in a much more hierarchal world of cultural products; their theses may have some relevance to the middle of the twentieth century, but at the dawning of the twenty‐first, their analyses seem clumsily based on an outdated, paranoid and totalizing model of corporate control. During highlights this supposedly antiquated quality of Frankfurt School analysis, specifically referring to Adorno and Horkheimer’s work on the culture industry: “when this essay was written,” he argues, “the cultural industry was less variegated then it was to become, during the 1960s in particular. Hollywood, for instance, was still ‘vertically integrated’ so that the five major studios owned the production, distribution, and exhibition arms of the film business between them; television was still in its infancy; the LP and the single were unknown; the cultural market had not broken into various demographics sectors—of which, in the 1950s, the youth segment was to become the most energetic” (During 1993: 29–30). Ironically, During’s charge that the Frankfurt School’s moment is over (and his rather rosy version of diversification in the culture industry) seems itself rather dated today: since about 2004, there has been an unprecedented consolidation within the multinational “infotainment” industry. The rise of Facebook and the dominance of Google have further intensified this consolidation in the new “attention economy,” which depends on glances and clicks to collect for internet advertisers. Mass media is, it seems, no longer just a convenient catch‐phrase. Indeed, Frankfurt School attitudes toward cultural levelling (the dreaded “totalization” for which the Frankfurt School is commonly reproached) seem again to make very good sense in the twenty‐first century—in the Disneyfied world where the corporate orthodoxy


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is local diversification and individualized niche marketing, while the corporate reality is global consolidation. The Frankfurt School’s theses on totalization and massification seem to have a new (or, perhaps, an enduring) relevance in the present economic climate of global corporatization—where not only individual cultures and indigenous practices, but public spheres on a global scale seem in danger of collapsing into a kind of corporate monoculture. Indeed, as studies of the contemporary moment turn to concern themselves more with economic questions about production and multinational circulation, and less with subjective questions about transgression and recognition, the Frankfurt School is re‐emerging as a key site of historical and theoretical tools. Ironically, contemporary theorists find themselves turning back toward the Frankfurt School precisely for the reasons it was once scorned: for notions of interpellated subjectivities whose desires are less liberated and multiplied than they are produced and channeled by a far‐reaching, very‐nearly totalizing global culture industry. And with the rise of the internet and other technological advances, and the birth of a whole subfield called the digital humanities, Benjamin again becomes a touchstone figure in thinking and rethinking the continually changing relations between artistic production and technological innovations. Simply put, Benjamin’s argument his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Mechanical Reproducibility” is that differing technological regimes produce artistic “aura” in different ways, and we have to pay attention to changing social and economic conditions if we want to understand the changing functions of art in the present. Benjamin for example shows how the technology of film doesn’t simply eradicate the aura that an audience experienced in the live theatre, but that film machines its aura differently—by cuts, close‐ups, pans, slowing down or speeding up narrative time, and so on. In short, Benjamin remains crucial to Media Studies because he demonstrates that the development of new media technologies spells not the death of artistic aura, but aura’s reinvention, uniquely each time, within differing media, social and technological environments (see Paul North’s 2011 work on Benjamin in The Problem of Distraction). In the present configuration of literary theory, it is perhaps Fredric Jameson’s work (especially since 1991’s mammoth Postmodernism; or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism) that is the most obvious successor to Frankfurt School insights concerning social critique of capitalism and culture as an industry. Jameson inherits the dialectical mantle of Adorno and Benjamin by running a middle course through their founding disagreements concerning popular culture. Jameson splits the difference between Adorno’s condemnation and Benjamin’s utopianism by hanging onto both. Insisting that his discourse on postmodernism and late capitalism is largely a diagnostic discourse—explaining how the relations among capitalism, cultural production, and everyday life has shifted in recent years—Jameson neither celebrates nor laments those changes. Rather he tries to follow out their emergence and consequences within the frame of an intensifying global capitalism, just as the Frankfurt School did in its day, by diagnosing the changes wrought in cultural production by both capitalism and fascism. While he is not located in a literature department, David Harvey’s sociological work (like his 2007 Brief History of Neoliberalism) has likewise proven to be an influential successor to Frankfurt School analyses in the humanities.

The Frankfurt School and Its Successors


Conclusion It may seem odd that it was Adorno and Benjamin, rather than their successors in the Frankfurt School, who have proven most relevant to the world of literary theory. But this turn back to the first generation mirrors what Foucault calls, in “What is an Author?” (1984b), the place occupied by “founders of discursivity”—figures like Marx or Freud whose author‐function extends not merely to a series of authored books, but to an entire discourse. Technology, the reach of the culture industry, and the increasing saturation of capitalism within the practices of everyday life: these are the Frankfurt School’s signature questions, and we’re still dealing with them in the era of Facebook, MP3 downloads, and the ubiquitous screens of computer and smartphone technology. The Frankfurt School helps us to frame what is maybe the most crucial question for literary theory today: What will happen to aesthetic perception, indeed what will happen to literature or reading itself, in a world inundated with an over‐abundance of screens and sounds that do not elicit the kind of “reading” that we associate with literature? As I’ve stressed throughout, the Frankfurt School thinkers (and most of their successors) were never solely or primarily interested in the problem of textual hermeneutics, as literary theory has been throughout most of its history. But as literary theory finds itself looking today for tools to deploy in a post‐reading world (in the wake of recent critical or theoretical provocations like distant reading, surface reading, or post‐critical reading), the Frankfurt School’s aggressive engagement with the whole of cultural production can ­perhaps provide ways forward for literary theory in the twenty‐first century. Attention to the future of social criticism will entail attention to its past, and to the foundational work of the Frankfurt School, who on the topic of the present and the future were of course often simply channeling Marx himself: “Even if we have no business with the construction of the future or with organizing it for all time, there can still be no doubt about the task confronting us at present: the ruthless criticism of the existing order, ruthless in that it will shrink neither from its own discoveries, nor from conflict with the powers that be” (Marx 1843).

References Adorno, Theodor. 1951. Minima Moralia: Reflections On a Damaged Life, trans. E. F. N. Jephcott. London: Verso, 1974. Adorno, Theodor and Walter Benjamin. 1999. The Complete Correspondence, 1928–1940, ed. Henri Lonitz. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. Allen, Amy. 2016. The End of Progress: Decolonizing the Normative Foundations of Critical Theory. New York: Columbia University Press. Anderson, Amanda. 2005. The Way We Argue Now: A Study in the Cultures of Theory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Benhabib, Seyla. 1992. Situating the Self: Gender, Community and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics. New York: Routledge. Benhabib et  al. 1994. Feminist Contentions. New York: Routledge. Benjamin, Walter. 2003. “The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproducibility (version 3).” In Selected Writings, Volume 4 (1938–40), trans. Edmund Jephcott and others, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, 251–83. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Brenkman, John. 1989. Culture and Domination. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.


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Butler, Judith. 1993. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”. New York: Routledge. Cook, Debra. 2014. Adorno on Nature. New York: Routledge. During, Simon. 1993. The Cultural Studies Reader. New York: Routledge. Foucault, Michel. 1991. Remarks on Marx, trans. R. James Goldstein and James Cascaito. New York: Semiotext(e). Foucault, Michel. 1984a. “Truth and Power.” In The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow, 51–75. New York: Pantheon Books. Foucault, Michel. 1984b. “What is an Author?” In The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow, 101–20. New York: Pantheon Books. Forst, Rainer. 2013. Justification and Critique: Towards a Critical Theory of Politics. London: Polity Press. Fraser, Nancy and Axel Honneth. 2004. Recognition or Redistribution? A Philosophical Exchange. London: Verso Books. Grossberg, Lawrence. 2002. “Reflections of a Disappointed Popular Music Scholar.” In Rock Over the Edge, ed. Roger Beebe, Denise Fulbrook, and Ben Saunders, 25–59. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Habermas, Jurgen. 1986. The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, trans Frederick G. Lawrence. Cambridge: MIT Press. Harvey, David. 2007. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Hohendahl, Peter Uwe. 1991. Reappraisals: Shifting Alignments in Postwar Critical Theory. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Honneth, Axel. 2014. The I in We: Studies in the Theory of Recognition. London: Polity Books. Horkheimer, Max and Theodor Adorno. 2007. Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. Edmund Jephcott. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Huyssen, Andreas. 1986. After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Jameson, Fredric. 1991. Postmodernism; or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Jay, Martin. 1973. The Dialectial Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923–1950. Berkeley: University of California Press. Marcuse, Herbert. 1961. Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud. New York: Vintage Books. Marcuse, Herbert. 1968. One‐Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. Boston: Beacon Press. Marx, Karl. 1843. “Letter to Arnold Ruge.” https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/ works/1843/letters/43_09–alt.htm (accessed August 15, 2016). McGowan, John. 1991. Postmodernism and Its Critics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. North, Paul. 2011. The Problem of Distraction. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Ohmann, Richard. 1987. Politics of Letters. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.


Althusser: Structuralist or Anti‐Structuralist? Warren Montag

For much of his professional life and for some years after his death, Althusser was known as the inventor of structural Marxism, a doctrine derived from the application of the structuralist methods used in linguistics, anthropology, and literary studies to Marxist texts (Benton 1984). While this reading of Althusser appears increasingly untenable, it would be a mistake simply to dismiss it as an error that, having been revealed, can simply be forgotten. The fact that it was possible even before the posthumous publication of works that incontestably revealed an unstructuralist, if not anti‐structuralist, Althusser, to ­contest this view and to do so citing the same texts that were summoned as evidence of his structuralism, does not allow us to ignore this reading as if Althusser bore no responsibility (in the causal sense) for it. He himself argued that in the case of philosophers, “it is not their intentions that count. What count are the real effects of their philosophies” (Althusser 1976: 60). If we take seriously his admonition to understand a philosophy by its effects rather than by the declared intentions of the philosopher, we are forced to acknowledge that categorizing Althusser as a structural Marxist, even if it has served to obscure and divert attention from the other, perhaps more original and more subversive, tendencies at work, particularly in For Marx and Reading Capital (both published in 1965), must in some way be grounded in what he has written. To take this position does not imply an acceptance of the widely held notion that structuralism is a superseded, even failed, mode of thought that, despite its transdisciplinary and variable forms, can simply be consigned to the distant past. To understand it, let alone to understand Althusser’s ­relation to it, “structuralism” must be treated as something more than an epithet. We might begin by examining the evidence used to charge Althusser with structuralism. Perhaps the most convincing, at least in the 1960s and 1970s, was his explicit criticism of what he called historicism, the idea that history becomes intelligible only when it is conceived as a succession of distinct periods, each of which contains in embryonic form A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


Warren Montag

that which will succeed it. Althusser’s identification of teleology (the idea that history is a movement towards an end already implicit in its origin) as a problem meant that emphasizing process over system, or diachrony over synchrony, as Marxists tended to do in their critiques of structuralism, was not only insufficient, but represented a mere inversion of structuralist notions that left their basic concepts intact and uncriticized. For many of his critics, he had quite simply taken the side of the synchronic against the diachronic (Resch 1992: 92). Furthermore, Althusser articulated a critique of humanism (or theoretical humanism, as he called it)—the idea that humanity is the subject, that is, agent and author, of history and that human individuals, each of whom is an expression of the nature of humanity as such, are similarly endowed with a freedom and creativity “of which only the consciousness is lacking.” His anti‐humanism was widely regarded as a derivative of the linguistic model that served as a foundation for much structuralist thought. According to this model, even the most creative of creative acts, speaking (and perhaps writing), was less an action than an (unconscious) act of submission on the part of the speaker to a great number of complex rules of which he necessarily remained unaware, as if his ignorance of the rules were the condition of his obedience to them. In this sense, the system of language already contained within itself every possible utterance, if not every possible concatenation of utterances into discourse, and human individuals were little more than the means by which the possible became the actual. To apply the linguistic model to society, as Althusser had been charged with doing by arguing that ideology was a system that governed individuals without their knowing it, was to deprive human beings of their essential freedom to think and to act, and thus to declare their subjection to the immutable order of a system or set of systems they could not easily change. In the realm of art and literature, systems and structures replaced the category of author as the originator and creator or, perhaps more accurately, reduced his role to that of a subjected being who acts only at the behest of rules and ­commands whose reign he cannot escape. Against the notion that individuals see the better but do the worse because they possess a generalized false consciousness in which things appear as active agents (fetishism) and persons as mere things (reification), Althusser insisted that “ideology is indeed a system of representations, but in the majority of cases these representations have nothing to do with ‘consciousness’: they are usually images and occasionally concepts, but it is above all as structures that they impose on the vast majority of men, not via their ‘consciousness’. They are perceived‐accepted‐suffered cultural objects and they act functionally on men via a process that escapes them (Althusser 1969: 233). Ideology is thus an unconscious “system of representations” whose constraints perhaps emerge from human practice but do not originate in an intention, collective or otherwise. Althusser’s structuralism appeared as a Marxist variant of functionalism, the idea of a social order whose component parts existed for the purpose of its reproduction. The publication of his essay, “Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses,” in 1970, and thus at the moment that both the validity of structuralist approaches and the political effects of structuralism as a movement were in question, seemed to confirm this view. The essay, from which nearly every reference to social revolt and transformation had been either been removed entirely or relegated to a brief postscript, seemed to suggest that oppositional movements only appeared oppositional, an appearance that existed precisely to insure that individuals would live their subjection as freedom.

Althusser: Structuralist or Anti-Structuralist


So powerful and entrenched was this interpretation of Althusser’s work as a whole, that only a new Althusser based on posthumously published works dating from the mid‐ 1960s to the mid‐1980s, revealed the extent to which, from the very beginning of his enterprise, he maintained a critical distance from structuralism that only grew with time. These works made unavoidably visible the strata in For Marx and Reading Capital that contained thoroughgoing critiques of structuralism.The power of these critiques consisted in the fact that they were constructed on bases different from, and opposed to, the humanism and historicism once seen as the only possible position from which structuralism could be criticized, but which had been systematically overlooked by readers. In particular, “The Underground Current of the Materialism of the Encounter,” a text assembled from a manuscript that consisted of fragments and repeated passages by François Matheron a few years after Althusser’s death in 1990, offered a dramatic glimpse into the “underground current” of Althusser’s own thought. Drawing from Epicurus and Lucretius, Althusser proposed a materialism governed by the image of atoms raining through the void that only occasionally swerved into a collision with other atoms to become an “accrochage” or pile‐up of interlocked atoms. From such conjunctions, a world might be born, but a world whose necessity is only retroactive, as “the becoming necessary of the encounter of contingencies” (Althusser 2006: 191). From this point of view, capitalism, far from existing in embryo in feudalism and thus necessarily born, “might never have happened.” Only the encounter and subsequent “taking hold” of a number of “elements” (themselves products of an accumulation) established that system or structure known as capitalism: “an accumulation of money (by the ‘owners of money’), an accumulation of the technical means of production (tools, machines, an experience of production on the part of the workers), an accumulation of the raw materials of production (nature), and an accumulation of producers (proletarians divested of all means of production). The elements do not exist in history so that a mode of production may exist, they exist in history in a ‘floating’ state prior to their ‘accumulation’ and ‘combination’, each being the product of its own history, and none being the teleological product of the others or their history” (Althusser 2006: 198). For Althusser, the aleatory or chance encounter precedes and brings into being the tendential laws that govern it. Twenty years earlier, Althusser with different references (Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Mao) had offered a strikingly similar argument about revolution, specifically the Russian revolution, characterizing it as an “immense accumulation” of “entangled” contradictions. If these contradictions form a provisional unity, even a system, it is a unity of non‐ unifiable elements that can coexist for a time without any reduction of their foreignness and incompatibility which, on the contrary, might be increased. Between them, from the fragile relations that temporarily allow them to conjoin, the system they form does not resemble a system as understood by linguistics or anthropology. In fact, what Althusser described in 1962 as a “unité de rupture” or ruptural unity, a unity in division, would reappear twenty years later in the description of the taking hold of the atoms or elements that conjoin in their encounter to form a singular thing as being haunted by a radical instability, a kind of permanent susceptibility to unpredictable, but total, transformation (Althusser 1969: 99). We are as far from the normalized world of a synchrony that g­ overns diachronic change as we are from a historicism of a succession of synchronic systems ­submitted to the goals of history.


Warren Montag

The extent to which Althusser’s formulations represented a conscious attempt to demarcate his theoretical project as fully as possible from structuralism is most clearly demonstrated in another posthumous publication written sometime towards the end of 1966. The brevity of “On Lévi Strauss” serves to underscore its programmatic character: in the guise of a critique of Lévi Strauss, it outlines the essential terms of Althusser’s critique of structuralism (Althusser 2003: 19–32). Here he argues that structuralism is a formalism according to which history may be understood as a formal combinatory, containing within itself every possible combination of a set of pre‐given elements. From such a perspective, knowledge consists of establishing the possibility of a specific combination within a system rather than explaining why one specific possibility rather than another becomes real and actual at a given time. This model, very close in fact to Noam Chomsky’s theory of generative grammar, appeared to Althusser grounded in theological notions whose presence went unrecognized and unaccounted for. At the same time, and perhaps as a partial answer to the problems associated with the formal combinatory, structuralism applied to social and historical phenomena commonly took the form of functionalism. If the combinatory left no place for a subject, understood as the agent or origin of action, it was perhaps because a given society itself behaved as if it were the original “rational actor,” identifying what is necessary or merely beneficial to its existence and calculating the most efficient means to satisfy its wants. In this way, the entire ideological superstructure could be understood as the means by which the economic base which assures the continued existence of a society produces the laws, religion, and culture best suited to its own reproduction: the end is the initiating cause. Interestingly, Althusser’s critique of functionalism did prevent him from regressing to a notion of the effectivity of final causes in his emphasis on reproduction as an explanatory principle in his highly influential “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” which appeared in 1970. In fact, it was Althusser’s emphasis on what we might call the inescapability of ideology, that is, its trans‐historical or omni‐historical character, that led him to investigate the conditions of possibility of its disruption, not by means of the great struggles and crises that punctuate the histories of every society, but by the often subtle and unseen acts of resistance, intentional and unintentional, the interruptions of the everyday rituals according to which bodies move in the service of production. Similarly, words and letters that, although necessary to communication, sometimes swerve like atoms raining through the void, miss their destination and disappear into oblivion or, on the contrary, are delivered to the wrong addressee. Just as corporeal resistance makes visible the ways bodies are governed, so the disruption of the circulation of meanings leaves a hole in the density of the weave of ­innumerable discursive threads, revealing the rituals and liturgies that determine what we write and say, as well as where, when, and how we do so. For Althusser, works of art and literature took shape around these holes, marking them as “areas of concern,” while at the same time preventing them from closing up and disappearing into the seamless space of ideology. His metaphors in this connection are striking: ideology, whether in the form of religion, law, or philosophy, is everywhere marked by cracks, holes, gaps, fissures, and faults which together testify to the great upheavals of the past and portend catastrophes to come whose arrival is both announced and made possible by innumerable small m ­ ovements and changes in pressure.

Althusser: Structuralist or Anti-Structuralist


Althusser’s terminology allows us to see the way that ideology (the set of dominant ideas and the practices that work to ensure their dominance), systematically confronted with the resistances that no system can eliminate but in fact constantly—that is, systematically— generates, fails to close upon itself in a fulfillment of the conditions necessary to the reproduction of a given social order. The tear in its fabric opens a space through which all that combines to form a world of subjection can be seen and understood differently. The idea of the literary text as a totality whose every part contributes to the meaning of the whole would simply represent a suturing of the necessary gap, an attempt to conceal the fissures that disrupt the continuity of the text, as well as that of the ideological discourses of which it is woven and the rituals and apparatuses that confer upon the work of literature or art not merely a form but the location and means by which it is read and analyzed. The curtain that hides the machinery that produces the audience’s suspension of disbelief has been torn. In this way, it is not surprising that perhaps the most ambitious of Althusser’s statements on literature, was his early essay on theater, “The ‘Piccolo Teatro’: Bertolazzi and Brecht. Notes on a Materialist Theater,” first published in 1963 and two years later included as the central text of For Marx, the third of five essays. It was composed prior even to his extended reflections on ideology which, indeed, plays little role in Althusser’s attempt to grasp how the play works and what it does, particularly the decentering and destabilizing effects that Althusser felt, but could not find the words and concepts to capture. Condemned as a rather uninteresting melodrama, with neither a richness of dialogue nor significant action, El nost Milan, according to Althusser, “is a play remarkable for its internal dissociation. The reader will have noted that its three acts have the same structure, and almost the same content: the coexistence of a long, slowly‐passing, empty time and a lightning‐short, full time; the coexistence of a space populated by a crowd of characters whose mutual relations are accidental or episodic—and a short space, gripped in mortal combat” (Althusser 1969: 134). The spectator is subjected to two spaces, two temporalities whose difference, if not opposition, the progress of the play does nothing to overcome or resolve. If anything, it places the opposition between the two temporalities more clearly in relief, deepening the absence of any relation between the melodramatic time of a mere chronicle in which persons and things come and go, but in which nothing happens, on the one hand, and, on the other, what Althusser calls “a dialectical time,” visible only at the edges of the stage or at the ends of acts, that arrives “after everyone has departed. How is the ‘delay’ of this dialectic to be understood? Is it delayed in the way consciousness is for Marx and Hegel? But can a dialectic be delayed? Only on condition that it is another name for consciousness” (Althusser 1969: 138). Neither character nor dialogue sustains the play which, by virtue of the forces and movements of which it is composed, decenters both consciousness and speech and compels its audience to confront the real by a discovery of what within them is radically other. In a moment of illumination, Althusser describes El nost Milan as a movement whose subversive force surpasses even what Brecht envisioned for a materialist theater, a movement that decenters consciousness and displaces it to the margins of the play, overflowing the stage, enveloping the audience, breaching the walls of the theater, and finally pursuing in the spectator “the advent of its silent discourse,” the discourse to which Althusser’s own essay gives voice.


Warren Montag

Most of Althusser’s reflections on art and literature, however, were concentrated in the period 1965–68, and were thus closely connected to the collective project organized around his seminar at the École Normale Supérieure in 1964–65 that produced Reading Capital. One of the participants, Pierre Macherey, working in close conjunction with Althusser, produced several essays which were incorporated into a book (A Theory of Literary Production) which appeared in Althusser’s “Théorie” collection with the prominent left‐ wing publisher, Maspèro in 1966. While both Althusser and Macherey worked within the same “problematic” or framework and shared a fairly large set of assumptions and reference points, their texts retained a singular character. As Althusser would write in 1966, the “Althusser effect” and the “Macherey effect,” however allied and even coordinated they were, remained distinct (Althusser 2003: 17). Althusser, in constant dialogue with Macherey and others, such as Etienne Balibar, produced two important texts on art and literature in this period: the “Letter to André Daspre” that appeared in Nouvelle Critique, a journal affiliated with the French Communist Party and “Cremonini: Painter of the Abstract,” an essay that still has not received the attention it deserves. But none of Althusser’s writings has so affected the way we read literature than his 1965 introduction to Reading Capital, “From Capital to Marx’s Philosophy.” It was here, without ever mentioning a single literary work, but only the Bible and Marx’s Capital, that Althusser distinguished between different conceptions of reading and writing, introducing for the first time, the concept of “symptomatic reading” (Althusser 1970: 28). The phrase evokes Freud as it was no doubt intended to do, but perhaps only the more cautiously to introduce a figure at least as present to Althusser’s thought but whose philosophy had remained largely unintelligible to those who attempted to read him: Spinoza. In 1966, La Nouvelle Critique published a dossier entitled “Deux lettres sur la connaissance de l’art.” The first letter, written by André Daspre, a literary scholar who taught at a lycée in Toulon, was addressed to Louis Althusser. Based on the conception of ideology Althusser had proposed in “Marxism and Humanism,” Daspre wonders whether art or what he calls la connaissance artistique (artistic knowledge) has any place in a conceptual realm divided between science and ideology and thus whether Althusser denies art any other status than that of illusion or error, that is, mere ideology. Even if the entire debate seems hopelessly dated, the question that led to an encounter between the two men was, through their intervention, reformulated in a way that has lost nothing of its urgency or interest: what is it that art gives us beyond the pleasure proper to it, a pleasure determined by its formal properties, whether coherence and closure or unresolved contradiction and incompleteness? While Althusser is drawing on Brecht’s theory and practice of theater that, as he remarked in his piece on Il Piccolo Teatro, is devoted to a destabilizing and a decentering of the spectatorial consciousness and therefore to the “lived experience” of the audience, he here broadens the discussion to art in general. Similarly, his focus is not simply what the “experience” of a given literary text or painting makes us feel (uncomfortable, perplexed, unsatisfied), but on the kind of knowledge, if, that is, knowledge is the correct term, it brings to us. Art, he tells us, is reducible neither to ideology nor to knowledge. He also hastens to add that in speaking of art, he refers only to “authentic art, not works of an average or mediocre level,” although without specifying how we would distinguish between authentic and mediocre art, and thus leaving open the possibility that “average” art, most works of

Althusser: Structuralist or Anti-Structuralist


art, may not rise to a “level” beyond ideology (Althusser 1971: 222). Even an authentic work of art, however, cannot “give us a knowledge in the strict sense, it therefore does not replace knowledge (in the modern sense: scientific knowledge), but what it gives us does nevertheless maintain a certain specific relationship with knowledge” (1971: 222). What it gives us is different from but not opposed to knowledge: according to the English translation, what is specific to works of art is that they “make us see,” “make us perceive,” or “make us feel,” “something which alludes to reality” (1971: 222). The translator signals a difficulty in this passage by including the French in brackets. What is the difficulty? Althusser uses the expression “donner à voir,” which is often understood to mean “to reveal” or “to show” without suggesting that the spectator is compelled or made to see what is shown. The literal meaning of the phrase, that art “gives us” something “to see,” “to perceive,” and so on, suggests, on the contrary, that art gives us, makes available to us, something we didn’t know was there to be given: the ideology or ideologies that pass for nature, for “the way things are,” that which we treat as a “given” until, by giving it to us, art strips away the givenness of the given, marking it as something to be known. The movement of the literary work, its movement towards an end, even the end of postponing the end and deferring it beyond the work’s own boundaries leaves it littered with the byproducts of its effort to cohere; the labor of ordering necessarily ­produces disorder. If literature is a mirror not of reality but of the set of givens that passes for reality, it is as Pierre Macherey suggests, in an essay cited here by Althusser, a broken mirror that distorts, fragments and disfigures what it reflects (Macherey 1978: 119–35). The things it grasps are both the same and different from what the reader expects, ­creating an uncanny effect that Althusser calls internal distantiation, according to which the familiar becomes strange. But perhaps more than anything directly concerned with art, it was Althusser’s discussion of reading, that is, of what we do when we read and of what assumptions govern our understanding of the act of reading, in his introduction to Reading Capital that most profoundly affected the study of literature, art and culture. He begins with the sweeping declaration “that our age threatens one day to appear in the history of human culture as marked by the most dramatic and difficult trial of all, the discovery of and training in the meaning of the ‘simplest’ acts of existence: seeing, listening, speaking, reading—the acts which relate men to their works, and to those works thrown in their faces, their ‘absences of works’.” Of these simple acts, reading stands out as having been particularly neglected, protected by its obviousness, its protocol apparently concretized in the Holy Scriptures whose very resistance to interpretation gave rise to a new conception of reading, perhaps most comprehensively articulated in Augustine’s Of Christian Doctrine. This is what Althusser calls the religious myth of reading, according to which “the voice (the Logos) speaking in the sequences of a discourse; of the Truth that inhabits its Scripture—and of the ear that hears or the eye that reads this discourse, in order to discover in it (if they are pure) the speech of the Truth which inhabits each of its Words in person” (Althusser 1970: 17). Here, the letter is devalued as mere surface that offers an apparent meaning that both contains and conceals the spiritual truth inside. In opposition, Althusser invokes Spinoza, “the first man ever to have posed the problem of reading, and in consequence, of writing” (Althusser 1970: 16). The problem of reading Scripture according to Spinoza was not a surfeit of meaning that exceeded the signifying


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capacity of language, any language, but precisely the opposite. If Scripture proved resistant to interpretation it was because its meaning was indissociable from the letter, from the Hebrew words and grammatical forms of which it was composed, and therefore from the gaps and lacunae that translations attempted to cover up and the discrepancies and contradictions that, once the text was understood to be pure surface without a deeper layer, a subtext or hidden text, could not be resolved. This is what constituted the materiality of the text: its irreducibility to a meaning beyond or outside of itself. To overlook or deny the absences, gaps, and discrepancies in Scripture and even more to attempt to alter them whether through interpretation or translation was nothing less than “sacrilege” and the conversion of the text of the Holy Scriptures into a “pretext” for the introduction of doctrines foreign to the text itself. Thus, what is claimed to be the hidden truth beneath or beyond writing and therefore the very notion of a textual interior or depth is an invention added and therefore external to the text whose function is to deny the conflictuality and heterogeneity that characterizes its material existence. In this way, the opposition of interior and exterior may be understood as the alternation of the visible and invisible that takes place on the surface of the work, what the work itself sees and does not see of what it displays, what it shows but overlooks. The work is defined by the relation between the visible and the invisible on its surface, that is, between what it shows and sees and what it shows but does not see, acknowledge or account for. In a similar way, it is defined by the relation between what it says and what it cannot say, between what it is compelled to say and what it is prevented from saying by the prohibition or prohibitions proper to it. The resulting silences, gaps, and absences are thus not signs of mysteries or meanings present but hidden, precisely because the text is without the “depth” or interior which might offer a place of refuge for a profundity that cannot endure the exposure of the text’s surface. They are symptoms, indicators of a conflict of which they are the effect, rather than a mere sign or the manifestation. The Greek term, σύμπτωμα, ­signifies a chance occurrence, the arrival or happening of things together (as indicated in the prefix “sym” or “syn”), rather than the temporal or spatial distance of a sign. It is a term used by Aristotle, but which interestingly never appears in the New Testament. If we take the case of the Bible read by Spinoza, the lacunae that traverse the surface of the text are not errors, the fault of an inattentive scribe, but symptoms/effects of the contradictions that accumulate with the statements of which it is composed, contradictions that only a deliberate forgetting and denial of the surface of the text can obscure. It is at this point, where the notion of structure might appear to have been rendered meaningless, that Althusser’s singular definition becomes intelligible: a “structure immanent in its effects,” that is, borrowing from Spinoza’s notion of “immanent cause,” a structure that has no existence outside of its effects and which might just as well be called an “absent cause” in that it is never present outside of, or prior to, its effects (Althusser 1970: 188–9). This allows us to see that the “disorder” of any text is both determinate and specific to it; it is the singular essence that makes it what it is and no other. As such it can and must be explained. Structure as redefined by Althusser and Macherey is no longer the hidden order that allows us to overcome and resolve the contradictions and inconsistencies that lying at the surface are merely superficial: “structure governs the work ­precisely insofar as it is diverse, scattered and irregular: to see structure is to see ­irregularity” (Macherey 1978: 151).

Althusser: Structuralist or Anti-Structuralist


Althusser undoubtedly opened the way to a new practice of reading that allows us to grasp literary and philosophical texts according to the contradictions and conflicts proper to them, displacing the fantasies of textual order, coherence, and harmony that prevent us from grasping texts as pure surface without depth, whose antagonisms remain necessarily active and unresolved. But to practice this reading it is not enough to change our ideas; as he repeatedly argued, above all after 1968, ideology has a material existence and ideas are “an ‘internal’ verbal discourse” consubstantial with material practices in turn “governed by material rituals which are themselves governed by the material ideological apparatus” (Althusser 1971: 169). From this perspective, ideas, including ideas about reading the texts that contain ideas, cannot be changed at will or by the power of truth. They are held in place by relations of force, immanent in the rituals and liturgies that prescribe the words we can and cannot say and thus the ideas we can and cannot think. Practice precedes theory: only by shifting the balance of forces and diminishing the power of the means of coercion and discipline are we enabled to think differently and, with Althusser as our guide, find our way to the entrance of a new world.

References Althusser, Louis. 1969. For Marx, trans. Ben Brewster. London: Verso. Althusser, Louis. 1971. Lenin and Philosophy, trans. Ben Brewster. New York: Monthly Review Press. Althusser, Louis. 1976. Essays in Self‐Criticism, trans. Grahame Lock. London: New Left Books. Althusser, Louis. 2003. The Humanist Controversy and Other Writings (1966–1967), trans. G. M. Goshgarian. London: Verso. Althusser, Louis. 2006. The Philosophy of the Encounter: Later Writings (1978–1987), trans. G. M. Goshgarian. London: Verso.

Althusser, Louis and Balibar, Etienne. 1970. Reading Capital, trans. Ben Brewster. London: Verso. Benton, Ted, 1984. The Rise and Fall of Structural Marxism: Althusser and his Influence. London: St. Martin’s Press. Macherey, Pierre. 1978. A Theory of Literary Production, trans. Geoffrey Wall. London: Routledge. Resch, Robert Paul. 1992. Althusser and the Renewal of Marxist Social Theory. Berkeley: University of California Press.


New Historicism and Cultural Materialism Neema Parvini

Broadly speaking, new historicism and cultural materialism mark a shift in the discipline of English literature from a period in which the primary focus of criticism was the literary text to one in which the primary focus has been historical context. Although there had always been literary history, especially in studies of William Shakespeare’s works and literature from the early modern period, new historicists and cultural materialists distinguished themselves by bringing a diverse range of influences from anthropology, Marxism, theory of history, and continental philosophy to bear on their work to consider contextual ­questions from fresh new perspectives. New historicism is chiefly an American (and specifically beginning at Berkeley) development in the study of early modern literature, which came to prominence in the early 1980s following the publication of Stephen Greenblatt’s Renaissance Self‐Fashioning (1980). Cultural materialism, meanwhile, also initially focused on the early modern period, is chiefly a British development which came to prominence with the publication of Jonathan Dollimore’s Radical Tragedy (1984) and the collection of essays that Dollimore edited with Alan Sinfield, Political Shakespeare (1985). Because the two approaches emerged in the same area of the discipline, at roughly the same time—and in constant dialogue, often taking the opposite sides of debates—new historicism and cultural materialism have frequently been compared and contrasted (see Dollimore 1990; Felperin 1990), considered side by side (see Parvini 2012b: Brannigan 1998), or viewed as two sides of the same coin (see Hawthorn 1996; Bradshaw 1993; Vickers 1993; Levin 1990; Pechter 1987). In developing an understanding of either of them, it is important not to be bound by the artificial terms of this dichotomy, and to maintain a keen sense of their distinct geneses. Therefore, I will consider new historicism and cultural materialism in separate sections.

A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

New Historicism and Cultural Materialism


New Historicism New historicism has been a hugely influential approach to literature, especially in studies of William Shakespeare’s works and literature of the early modern period. It began in ­earnest in 1980 and quickly supplanted New Criticism as the new orthodoxy in early modern studies. Despite many attacks from feminists, cultural materialists, and traditional scholars, it dominated the study of early modern literature in the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, it has given way to a different, more materialist, form of historicism that some call “new new historicism,” or the “new materialism.” There have also been variants of “new historicism” in other periods of the discipline, most notably a distinct brand in the Romantic period (Liu 1989; McGann 1988, 1983; Levinson 1986), but its stronghold has always remained in the Renaissance. At its core, new historicism insists—contra ­formalism—that literature must be understood in its historical context. This is because it views literary texts as cultural products that are rooted in their time and place, not works of individual genius that transcend them. New historicist essays are thus often notable for making seemingly unlikely linkages between various different cultural products and literary texts. Its “newness” is at once an echo of the New Criticism it replaced, and a ­recognition of an “old” historicism, often (though by no means exclusively) exemplified by E. M. W. Tillyard (1942), against which it defines itself. In its earliest iteration, new historicism was primarily a method of power analysis strongly influenced by the anthropological studies of Clifford Geertz (1973), modes of torture and punishment described by Michel Foucault (1977), and methods of ideological control outlined by Louis Althusser (1971). This can be seen most visibly in new historicist work of the early 1980s such as Jonathan Goldberg’s James I and the Politics of Literature (1983), or Leonard Tennenhouse’s Power on Display (1986). These works came to view the Tudor and early Stuart states as being almost insurmountable absolutist monarchies in which the scope of individual agency or political subversion appeared remote. This version of new historicism is frequently, and erroneously, taken to represent its entire enterprise. In his famous essay, “Invisible Bullets,” Stephen Greenblatt (1988) argued that power often produces its own subversive elements in order to contain it—and so what appears to be subversion is actually the final victory of containment. This became known as the hard version of the containment thesis, and it was attacked and critiqued by many commentators (Bradshaw 1993; Vickers 1993; Lehan 1990; Levin 1990; Felperin 1990; Boose 1987; Cohen 1987; Pechter 1987) as leaving too little room for the possibility of real change or agency. This was the major departure point of the cultural materialists (Dollimore 1990), who sought a more dynamic model of culture that afforded greater opportunities for dissidence. Later new historicist studies such as Louis Montrose’s The Purpose of Playing (1996) sought to complicate the hard version of the containment thesis to facilitate a more flexible, heterogeneous and dynamic view of culture. The three most influential theoretical works on new historicism have undoubtedly been Clifford Geertz’s The Interpretation of Cultures (1973), Hayden White’s Metahistory (1973), and Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish (1977). New historicism can therefore be seen as a fusion of literary criticism, historical anthropology (following Geertz), postmodern historiography (following White), and power‐discourse analysis (following Foucault).


Neema Parvini

These are all complex works; in the interests of space, I distil the key ideas as they pertain to new historicist theory and practice into a set of bullet points: • Thick description: Clifford Geertz’s method of attempting to understand a different culture, as much as possible, from its own point of view. His example is an alien encountering a cheeky schoolboy who is winking. In order for the alien to understand the wink as a signal that the boy might be about to get up to some mischief, rather than as simply the contraction of some muscle and skin tissue, the alien must study the boy’s culture from the “inside out.” We can see how new historicists used a similar approach to literary texts from the past. • Local knowledge: Clifford Geertz’s method of viewing cultures exclusively in the ­context of their time and place. For example, “local knowledge” of a Christopher Marlowe play would be located in London, in the late 1580s and early 1590s, and specifically in the theatre scene. • The poetics of history: Hayden White’s recognition that history is constructed by ­historians, and is therefore a form of storytelling with narrative conventions, and not a “true” or “objective” account of past events. In this way, history is textual and can be read as one might read a poem (hence a “poetics” of history). This idea became ­important for new historicists, such as Stephen Greenblatt and Louis Montrose, who came to describe their work as “cultural poetics.” • Power‐knowledge: Michel Foucault’s idea that there is no knowledge without power and no power without knowledge. Since discourse consists in knowledge, there can therefore be no discourse without power. In this way, individuals are constantly caught in a matrix of power relations. For some new historicists, especially Jonathan Goldberg and Leonard Tennenhouse—building on the insight made by Stephen Orgel (1975)— this idea underpinned the claim that plays by writers such as Shakespeare and Ben Jonson were little more than instruments of state power. The discourse of the ­playwright (the play) is ascribed entirely to the monarch under whose gaze the play is performed, and of which both players and audience are acutely aware. Generally speaking, then, new historicism is a form of anti‐humanism, because it tends to view individuals—à la both Geertz and Foucault—as entirely products of their time and place with few if any useful natural instincts that are not culturally induced. New historicism is also a form of anti‐positivism, because, following White, the certainty of ever establishing “true” or “objective” knowledge is always frustrated, and the traditional view of scholarship as impartially marshalling evidence towards this end exposed as a self‐ deluding myth. Using tools borrowed from Geertz, White, and Foucault, new historicists came to ­specialise in writing essays in a peculiar form. They would very often begin with an eccentric historical anecdote that reveals some fundamental aspect of early modern culture. The new historicist essay is marked by its unexpected turns and by the apparently arbitrary linkages made between anecdotes, cultural artifacts, and literary texts. The most famous new historicist essay, Greenblatt’s “Invisible Bullets,” demonstrates all of these features, as do a pair of exemplary essays by Louis Montrose (1980 and 1983). The logic of the ­anecdote rests on its status as synecdoche—a part of culture standing in for the whole

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culture—which itself rests on the assumption that culture coheres in this way as would a poem or literary text. Culture may be heterogeneous, but in the final analysis each of its disparate parts tells us something about its essential makeup. This also accounts for the fact that the connections made by new historicists are often seemingly arbitrary rather than logical—a tendency for which they were criticized by numerous commentators (Parvini 2012b; Kastan 1999; Lehan 1990; Cohen 1987). Other commentators (Papadopoulou 2013; Laden 2004; Hidalgo 2001; MacDonald 1994) have praised new historicists, especially Stephen Greenblatt, for this seemingly playful aspect of his critical practice which renders him à la White as much a storyteller as a critic. The anecdote also crucially gives scope to tell stories outside the purview of traditional history, to recover marginalized or lost voices, to produce “counter histories” (Gallagher and Greenblatt 2000), which is a term borrowed from Fernand Braudel who insisted on focusing his history not on the ­ruling classes but rather on the structures of everyday life (1981). We might thus consider the following five‐point definition of new historicism’s basic theoretical assumptions: 1 That there is no “human essence” and that every expressive act is embedded in a network of material practices in a particular time and place. 2 That culture has the structural properties of a text and can therefore be analysed in the same way as a text. 3 That literary texts are inextricably bound to this cultural text through a network of other texts and discourses, all of which are open to the same form of analysis. 4 That power will always seek to contain dissidence and that this drive for containment must be overcome if genuine subversion is to be achieved. 5 That it is possible to produce “counter‐histories,” that is, histories that explore what is only glimpsed or ignored in dominant historical accounts, through an engagement with the “real” lived experiences of people, as documented by anecdotes. (Parvini 2012b: 113) As the 1980s wore on, in the USA, new historicism became the new orthodoxy in the discipline, especially in the study of early modern literature and Shakespeare’s plays. Studies such as Stephen Mullaney’s The Place of the Stage (1988) and Leah Marcus’s Puzzling Shakespeare (1988) demonstrated the movement at its most daring and cutting edge, transforming plays by considering them in new and unusual topical and geographical contexts. Vocal feminist resistance to the movement (Greene 1991; Neely 1988; Boose 1987) gave way to the feminist appropriation and absorption of new historicist assumptions and approaches (Howard and Rackin 1997; Erikson 1991). As I have mentioned, new historicism was attacked many times almost from the moment of its inception. Space does not permit me to delve into all of these criticisms, but I touch on two of the most salient. First, feminists such as Lynda Boose argued that new historicism was too focused on males in power, and in insisting so readily on the absoluteness of that power, effectively shut down the scope for female agency (Boose 1987). Carol Thomas Neely put the problem very plainly: New historicism’s insistence on the textuality of history and the intertextuality of literature and other texts has brought into the discourse a wide range of fascinating period texts,


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b­ rilliantly explicated. But these texts, more often than not, are much like or even identical with those favoured by old historical critics. They are male, upper class, hierarchical, ­prescriptive, virtually literary (Neely 1988: 8).

Second, older, more traditional scholars, complained vehemently about their maverick scholarly practices. The problems of these more traditional scholars were many, and I have summarized their chief complaints against new historicism as follows: 1 New historicism is not “new” but in fact guilty of many of the same tendencies as the old historicism. Despite some obvious differences with E. M. W Tillyard and his generation, they nonetheless construct an “imaginary and monolithic audience” (Bradshaw 1993: 80) and in so doing rely on the “same basic assumptions” as old historicists (Levin 2003: 188). 2 In homogenizing Elizabethan culture in this way, compounded by its Foucauldian obsession with power, it systematically denies individuals as well as literary texts agency. “The flow is markedly one way, from culture to literary text, and the effect … is to privilege the cultural text as the stable and determining point of reference.” (Vickers 1993: 267–71; Pechter 1987: 34–5). This is, in other words, the problem of the hard containment thesis. 3 It has a “disregard for the integrity of the literary text” (Vickers 1993: 267). Its ­practitioners “do not infer their interpretation from the dramatic facts and then relate it to the history of the period but proceed in the reverse order. They begin with their interpretation of this history, which is based on very high‐level generalizations that are treated as unproblematic and unmediated, and descend from it to their historical i­nterpretation of the play, which fits the play into this history, and from there to the dramatic facts, where are mediated (i.e., transformed) by these prior operations” (Levin 2003: 182). 4 It produces “bad” history because it is guilty of the “bending of evidence, background and foreground, to suit one‐sided interpretations” (Vickers 1993: 267). 5 It is anachronistic because it is guilty of “the foisting of modern cultural and political attitudes onto Renaissance texts” (Levin 2003: 82–103; see also Parvini 2017: 101–16). Although critics such as Edward Pechter, Richard Levin, Brian Vickers, and Graham Bradshaw were voicing opinions that were seen to be unfashionable at the time, in the period since they were writing, many of these critiques of new historicism have endured and, indeed, resurfaced under a slightly different guise. In the 1990s, the fierce attacks and fervent theoretical debates that had defined new historicism’s first decade gave way to wide‐scale adoption and reprinting in various anthologies (Ryan 1996; Veeser 1994, 1989; Wilson and Dutton 1992, Greenblatt 1988b), as well as the professional elevation of its foremost practitioners. Over time, the “newness” of new historicist innovations fell somewhat out of sight, and the mantra to “always historicize” became something of an institutional dogma. After new historicism was entrenched as the new orthodoxy its shortcomings as historical scholarship were frequently highlighted and a later generation of literary historians sought to restore some of the scholarly norms that its often maverick studies eschewed. For example, in After Theory (1999), David Scott Kastan sought to turn from theory towards history, and replace new historicism with a much more conventional historical criticism rooted in details and

New Historicism and Cultural Materialism


hard evidence. Its call for “a greater delight in particularity” (Kastan 1999: 13) was realized almost immediately by Patricia Fumerton’s collection Renaissance Culture and the Everyday (1999), which announced itself as the “new new historicism” (although the term “new materialism” is now much more commonly used). Much influenced by Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life (1984), the critics in this collection view as problematic the singular anecdote as synecdoche and replace it with “multifarious supporting details” (Fumerton 1999: 4). Here, the White‐inspired textualism of the older new historicism, along with its Foucauldian focus on ideology and power, is replaced with the material and physical. Work carried out in this vein was refined and perfected later in studies such as Natasha Korda’s Shakespeare’s Domestic Economies (2002) and Jonathan Gill Harris’s Sick Economies (2003). Some commentaries, for example, Douglas Bruster’s Shakespeare and the Question of Culture (2003), have been skeptical of these developments viewing its relentless focus on the material object as a fetishist form of “tchotchke criticism” (Bruster 2003: 203), a critique later echoed by others (Parvini 2017: 117–30; Parvini 2014; Garber 2008). A more forceful critique of the materialist turn in recent historicist studies can be found in David Hawkes’s “Against Materialism in Literary Theory” (2011), in which he accuses scholars working in this vein of a near‐automatic complicity with capitalism. Others such as Hugh Grady and Terence Hawkes (2007) and Evelyn Gajowksi (2010), fearful of the antiquarian and apolitical bent of much of this “new new historicist” work have argued for a new “presentism,” that is a wholescale rejection of the historicist project.

Cultural Materialism During the twentieth century, there had been in Britain a stronger tradition of critical thought from the radical left, especially thinkers who wrote for the New Left Review such as Raymond Williams, E. P. Thompson, and Terry Eagleton, than in the USA. Cultural materialism arose from this broader intellectual milieu, building on and in some cases challenging the ideas of the older generation of Marxists. Accordingly, cultural materialism has always taken on a much more political and confrontational tone and character than new historicism. If new historicism concerns itself with better understanding the past for the sake of academic interest, cultural materialism concerns itself with better understanding the political present as mediated through the past for the sake of changing that present. Where new historicists tended to see containment and the triumph of power, cultural materialists saw ideological contradictions and therein the scope for dissidence and subversion. The work of Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield is firmly rooted in Marxist theory; their three most prominent influences are Antonio Gramsci, Raymond Williams, and Louis Althusser. I distil the key ideas as follows: • Hegemony: Gramsci’s notion that in any given culture there is a dominant group which has power, but it is kept in check by subordinate groups. This relationship takes the form of a “perpetual struggle” for hegemony (Gramsci 1973: 181–2). • Dominant, residual, and emergent cultures: Williams’s idea that at any given moment, within a given culture, there may be many different cultures. These cultures may be complicit with hegemony (“dominant”), part of an older, outmoded order but still


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affecting events in the present (“residual”), or working towards establishing a new dominant group (“emergent”). In Williams’s view, English society under capitalism would contain bourgeois culture that would be “dominant” because the bourgeoisie has hegemony, working‐class culture that would be “emergent” because it aspires to power, and the culture of the landed aristocracy that would be “residual,” because it is the remnant of a bygone era, essentially an anachronism, but crucially it is still “active in the cultural process … as an effective element of the present” (Williams 1977: 124). • Ideological interpellation: Althusser’s idea that individuals work “by themselves” in ideology under the illusion that they are furthering their own interests whereas, in fact, they are working in the interests of the state. The key insight is that this happens not only to the proletariat but in fact to all people at all levels of society. Even the ruling classes are the subjects of, and are subject to, ideology (Althusser 1971). • Ideology has a material existence: Althusser’s famous statement that ideology is a representation of the imagined relations between individuals and their real ­conditions. (1971). Like new historicism, then, cultural materialism draws on anti‐humanist theories that view human beings almost exclusively as the structural products of power. However, by using Gramsci and Williams as a basis, their view of culture is more fluid and heterogeneous than that found in new historicism even in its most advanced form (“cultural poetics”). This is because the dominant group never has a fully secure grip on power, and can never be fully sure of its hegemony over subordinate groups. Even if, à la Althusser, ideology works covertly and invisibly to reproduce labor power in its subjects, there is so much scope for fissures, cracks, and contradictions between the various competing ideologies of subcultures that the state is almost always subject to internal subversion. The most fully realized version of this argument appears in Sinfield’s Faultlines (1992). Cultural materialists spend a lot of their time, energy, and focus on repudiating older (essentialist, liberal) humanist readings of Shakespeare’s plays. For example Dollimore (1984) seeks to overturn long‐standing arguments that King Lear is a play about “universal pain” (Knight 1930: 199) by showing that it is actually inextricably bound up with questions of property rights. In his ground‐zero introduction to Alternative Shakespeares, John Drakakis unleashes a tour‐de‐force attack on generations of previous scholars and critics including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, A. C. Bradley, Ernest Jones, J. I. M. Stewart, Kenneth Muir, John Bayley, Frank Kermode, M. C. Bradbrook, E. E. Stoll, Alfred Harbage, S. L. Bethell, E. M. W. Tillyard, Wilbur Sanders, Helen Gardner, G. Wilson Knight, and L. C. Knights. He takes time to expose how each of these writers gave us a conservative, idealistic and romanticized view of Shakespeare (1985). Graham Holderness (1992), meanwhile, specifically critiques Tillyard not only for mistaking official Tudor state ideology for everyday belief, but also, along with J. Dover Wilson, and other scholars from the 1940s, for using Shakespeare to further a patriotic, nationalist agenda during the war effort. This contextual and political demystification of old scholarship and criticism, showing it up for what it was, is a classic cultural materialist move. For cultural materialists, these are not trivial academic affairs, but live issues that have stakes and consequences in the real world. For example, a conservative vision of Shakespeare—such as that advanced by Tillyard or Dover Wilson—reproduced through

New Historicism and Cultural Materialism


the state apparatuses of education, namely in schools and universities around the world, works insidiously to universalize, normalize, and naturalize that which is ideologically partial. In other words we cannot pretend as those earlier generations of critics did that Shakespeare’s sectional interests represent everybody’s interests. Shakespeare was white, male, middle class, patronized by royalty, and from a nation with colonial ambitions. Perhaps even more importantly, he was later, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, read by members of an elite (white, male) ruling class of a nation that had largely fulfilled its colonial ambitions. His reputation developed to become the national bard embedded into school curricula, not only across Great Britain, but also across its empire. The very teaching of Shakespeare, therefore, became yet another tool of ideology reproducing itself at the level of individuals. The dominant mode of essentialist humanist criticism that Drakakis had attacked, in general, served to silence the marginalized interests of subordinate groups: women, the working classes, homosexuals, people of various other races and from other nations. Indeed, cultural materialism in many ways encouraged students to “to read with their genitals, argue with their background, or theorize with their skin colour” (Wilson 1995: 21). A three‐point definition of cultural materialist assumptions is therefore as follows: 1 That social dissidence is not only possible but inevitable as a result of the competing discourses that foster contradictions in any dominant ideology. 2 That the present is in need of radical change and the process of change can be advanced in the sphere of education by searching for moments of contradiction and dissidence in the culture of the past. 3 That genuine dissidence comes from “dissident subcultures” and hence the search for dissidence itself must first come from a “dissident subculture,” an attack on hegemony from the margins of discourse where the hegemonic ideology has the weakest hold over its subjects. (Parvini 2012b: 137) Because of its political commitment to marginalized groups and subcultures, cultural materialism can be seen as the branching‐off point for a number of related developments: studies that focus on sexual dissidence which utilize queer theory, materialist feminism, postcolonialism, and race studies. Many studies from the 1990s carried out under those various different headings were broadly conducted in a cultural materialist framework. As with new historicism, cultural materialism was subject to critique and attack, although commentators, such as Pechter, Levin, Vickers, or Bradshaw, had a habit of lumping them together with new historicists as part of the same theoretical and methodological coin. The salient complaints from these critics and others, are listed below, which comes out of my own critique of cultural materialism as an approach to literature: 1 Cultural materialism draws on a diverse range of thinkers such as Althusser, Foucault, Gramsci, and Williams, but appears to ignore their obvious differences. 2 Cultural materialists implicitly reproduce the orthodox Marxist habit of claiming their writing to be “the truth.” 3 They incongruously mix this pseudo‐scientific aspect of Marxism with self‐consciously “subjective” feminism.


Neema Parvini

4 Cultural materialism’s avowedly radical political position can distort both its treatment of history and its readings of Shakespeare’s plays. 5 It also leads cultural materialists to tar their various opponents with the same “liberal humanist” brush, which allows them to avoid engaging with any objection to their approach that is raised. 6 Cultural materialism lays claim to a marginal position without sufficiently demonstrating how it remains marginal in the twenty‐first century. (Parvini 2012a: 74) For the most part, debates over the key ideas at stake in cultural materialism have rather slipped away. Either key cultural materialist tenets are so assimilated as to be taken for granted, or else scholars and critics feel that we have “moved on” from the moment of high theory when such debates were de rigueur. That is to say, some Shakespeareans would now much prefer to talk about hats, clocks, food, coins, items of furniture, the contents of cupboards, and so on, than to work out the finer points of the differences between Gramsci, Althusser and Williams. More on this in a moment. Perhaps because of its more confrontational character, though still very successful, cultural materialism was not quite as all‐conquering in the UK during the 1990s as new historicism was in the USA. There are three possible reasons for this: first, because as mentioned in the introduction, cultural materialism was all too often seen simply as the British variant of new historicism. Second, because it was somewhat cannibalized or overshadowed by its own children: politically motivated studies into sexual dissidence, gender, postcolonialism, or race, which were cultural materialist in all but name, came to be classed under the new heading rather than under “cultural materialism.” And, finally, because some prominent universities in the UK, especially Oxbridge, always remained somewhat hostile to theory and maintained their own traditional archival practices—which, I would note, make rather better bedfellows with the new materialism than they ever did with cultural materialism. As a result, cultural materialism has arguably suffered a similar fate to new historicism: silently assimilated into the “new materialism,” which—as we’ve seen— shares few if any of its commitments to Marxist theory or political change. Dollimore himself has complained about the general shift from “big questions” to “little questions” in work carried out under the banner of new materialism (Dollimore 2012; see also Parvini 2014). In many ways, the real inheritors of the cultural materialist political project have been the presentists, such as Terence Hawkes, Hugh Grady, or Evelyn Gajowski, who remain committed to using scholarship and education to bring about social change. The discipline of English literature—especially early modern and Shakespeare studies— is still coming to terms with the legacies of both new historicism and cultural materialism: what did they teach us, which theoretical assumptions and practices should we inherit, which should we question? In some crucial respects, these are the most important questions for the future direction of English studies, especially as new materialism—which can at times appear either hostile to questions of theory or else unreflective about its prevailing practices—becomes ever more dominant. Both new historicism and cultural materialism were marked, in their initial instances, by boldness and originality: a willingness to take on and challenge current orthodoxies. If we are ever to move beyond the “tchotchke ­criticism” that Bruster, Hawkes, and others have complained about, it will take a new ­generation of scholars and critics to do the same.

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References Althusser, Louis. 1971. “Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatus.” In Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster, 85–136. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2001. Boose, Lynda. 1987. “The Family in Shakespeare Studies; or—Studies in the Family of Shakespeareans; or—The Politics of Politics.” Renaissance Quarterly 4 (4) (Winter): 707–42. Bradshaw, Graham. 1993. Misrepresentations: Shakespeare and the Materialists. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Brannigan, John. 1998. New Historicism and Cultural Materialism. New York and London: Palgrave Macmillan. Braudel, Fernand. 1981. Civilization and Capitalism, Vol 1: The Structures of Everyday Life, trans. Siân Reynolds. New York and London: William Collins Sons & Co. Bruster, Douglas. 2003. Shakespeare and the Question of Culture: Early Modern Literature and the Cultural Turn. New York and London: Palgrave Macmillan. Cohen, Walter. 1987. “Political Criticism of Shakespeare”. In Shakespeare Reproduced: The Text in History and Ideology, ed. Jean E. Howard and Marion F. O’Connor, 18–36. New York and London: Routledge. De Certeau, Michel. 1984. The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendell. Berkley, CA: University of California Press. Dollimore, Jonathan, 1984. Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf. Dollimore, Jonathan. 1990. “Critical Developments: Cultural Materialism, Feminism and Gender Critique, and New Historicism.” In Shakespeare: A Bibliographical Guide, ed. Stanley Wells, 405–28. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Dollimore, Jonathan. 2012. “Foreword”. In Ewan Fernie, The Demonic: Literature and Experience, i–xxiii. New York, NY and London: Routledge.

Drakakis, John. 1985. “Introduction.” Alternative Shakespeares, 2nd edn, 1–25. New York and London: Routledge, 2002. Erickson, Peter. 1991. Rewriting Shakespeare, Rewriting Ourselves. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Felperin, Howard. 1990. “‘Cultural Poetics’ verses ‘Cultural Materialism’: The Two New Historicisms in Renaissance Studies.” In The Uses of the Canon: Elizabethan Literature and Contemporary Theory, 142–69. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Foucault, Michel. 1977. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan. New York and London: Penguin. Fumerton, Patricia (ed.). 1999. Renaissance Culture and the Everyday. Philadelphia, PA: University of Philadelphia Press. Gajowski, Evelyn. 2010. “Beyond Historicism: Presentism, Subjectivity, Politics.” Literature Compass 7 (8): 674–91. Gallagher, Catherine and Stephen Greenblatt. 2000. Practicing New Historicism. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Garber, Majorie. 2008. “Shakespeare’s Laundry List.” In Profiling Shakespeare, 195–213. New York and London: Routledge. Geertz, Clifford. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books. Goldberg, Jonathan. 1983. James I and the Politics of Literature: Jonson, Shakespeare, Donne, and their Contemporaries. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Grady, Hugh and Terence Hawkes (eds.). 2007. Presentist Shakespeares. New York and London: Routledge. Gramsci, Antonio. 1973. Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. London: Lawrence & Wishart. Greenblatt, Stephen. 1980. Renaissance Self‐ Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2005.


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Greenblatt, Stephen. 1988a. “Invisible Bullets.” In Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England, 21–65. Oxford: Clarendon. Greenblatt, Stephen (ed.). 1988b. Representing the English Renaissance. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Greene, Gayle. 1991. “The Myth of Neutrality, Again.” In Shakespeare Left and Right, ed. Ivo Kamps, 23–9. New York and London: Routledge. Harris, Jonathan Gil. 2003. Sick Economies: Drama, Mercantilism, and Disease in Shakespeare’s England. University of Pennsylvania Press. Hawkes, David. 2011. “Against Materialism in Literary Theory.” In The Return of Theory in Early Modern English Studies: Tarrying with the Subjective, ed. Paul Cefalu and Bryan Reynolds, 237–57. New York and London: Palgrave Macmillan. Hidalgo, Pilar.2001. Paradigms Found: Feminist, Gay and New Historicist Readings of Shakespeare. Amsterdam: Rodopi. Holderness, Graham. 1992. Shakespeare Recycled: The Making of Historical Drama. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Press. Howard, Jean E. and Phyllis Rackin.1997. Engendering a Nation: A Feminist Account of Shakespeare’s English Histories. New York and London: Routledge. Kastan, David Scott. 1999. Shakespeare After Theory. New York and London: Routledge. Knight, Wilson G. 2001 [1930]. The Wheel of Fire: Interpretations of Shakespearean Tragedy. New York and London: Routledge. Korda, Natasha. 2002. Shakespeare’s Domestic Economies: Gender and Property in Early Modern England. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Laden, Sonja. 2004. “Recuperating the Archive: Anecdotal Evidence and Questions of ‘Historical Realism.’” Poetics Today 25 (1) (Spring): 1–24. Lehan, Richard. 1990. “The Theoretical Limits of New Historicism.” New Literary History 21 (3) (Spring): 533–53.

Levin, Richard. 1990.“Unthinkable Thoughts in the New Historicizing of English Renaissance Drama.” New Literary History 21 (3) (Spring): 433–47. Levin, Richard. 2003. Looking for an Argument: Critical Encounters with the New Approaches to the Criticism of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. Levinson, Marjorie. 1986. Wordsworth’s Great Period Poems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Liu, Alan. 1989. “The Power of Formalism: The New Historicism.” English Literary History 56 (4) (Winter): 721–77. MacDonald, Susan Peck. 1994. Professional Academic Writing in the Humanities and Sciences. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. Marcus, Leah S. 1988. Puzzling Shakespeare: Local Reading and Its Discontents. Berkeley: University of California Press. McGann, Jerome. 1983. The Romantic Ideology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. McGann, Jerome, 1988. The Beauty of Inflections: Literary Investigations in Historical Method and Theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Montrose, Louis. 1980. “‘Eliza, Queen of Shepheardes,’ and the Pastoral of Power.” English Literary Renaissance 10 (Spring): 153–82. Montrose, Louis. 1983. “‘Shaping Fantasies’: Figurations of Gender and Culture”. Representations 2 (Spring): 61–94. Montrose, Louis. 1996. The Purpose of Playing: Shakespeare and the Cultural Politics of the Elizabethan Theater. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Mullaney, Steven. 1988. The Place of the Stage: License, Play, and Power in Renaissance England. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2003. Neely, Carol Thomas. 1988. “Constructing the Subject: Feminist Practice and the New Renaissance Discourses.” English Literary Renaissance (December): 5–18. Orgel, Stephen. 1975. The Illusion of Power: Political Theater in the English Renaissance. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

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Papadopoulou, Theodora. 2013. “Circulating Through ‘Languages and Tales’: Stephen Greenblatt’s Cardenio.” In Reinventing the Renaissance, ed. Sarah Annes Brown et  al., 77–91. New York and London: Palgrave Macmillan. Parvini, Neema. 2012a. Shakespeare’s History Plays: Rethinking Historicism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Parvini, Neema. 2012b. Shakespeare and Contemporary Theory: New Historicism and Cultural Materialism. New York and London: Bloomsbury. Parvini, Neema. 2014. “The Scholars and the Critics: Shakespeare Studies and Theory in the 2010s.” Shakespeare 10 (2): 212–23. Parvini, Neema. 2017. Shakespeare and New Historicist Theory. New York and London: Bloomsbury Arden. Pechter, Edward. 1987. “The New Historicism and Its Discontents: Politicizing Renaissance Drama.” PMLA 102 (3) (May): 292–303. Pieters, Jürgen. 2001. Moments of Negotiation: The New Historicism of Stephen Greenblatt. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. Ryan, Kieran (ed.). 1996. New Historicism and Cultural Materialism: A Reader. London: Arnold.


Sinfield, Alan. 1992. Faultlines: Cultural Materialism and the Politics of Dissident Reading. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Tennenhouse, Leonard. 2010. Power on Display: The Politics of Shakespeare’s Genres. 1986; New York and London: Routledge. Tillyard, E. M. W. 1942. The Elizabethan World Picture. London: Vintage. Veeser, Harold Aram (ed.). 1989. The New Historicism. New York and London: Routledge. Veeser, Harold Aram (ed.). 1994. The New Historicism Reader. New York and London: Routledge. Vickers, Brian. 1993. “New Historicism: Disaffected Subjects.” In Appropriating Shakespeare: Contemporary Critical Quarrels, 214–71. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. White, Hayden. 1973. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth‐Century Europe. Baltimore, MD and London: Johns Hopkins University Press. Wilson, Scott. 1995. Cultural Materialism: Theory and Practice. Oxford: Blackwell. Williams, Raymond. 1977. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Wilson, Richard, and Richard Dutton (eds.). 1992. New Historicism and Renaissance Drama. New York and London: Longman.


Emmanuel Levinas and Giorgio Agamben: Ethics, Aesthetics, Poetics, Politics Thomas Carl Wall

Encountering Heidegger In the spring of 1929 Martin Heidegger and Ernst Cassirer met at Davos, Switzerland for a discussion/debate. Cassirer, widely known and respected, represented Neo‐Kantism and was a student of Hermann Cohen. Heidegger was becoming known largely through his students such as Hannah Arendt who spoke of “the rumor of the hidden king” (Arendt 1971). He had recently published Being and Time (1927), which represented a path for ­philosophy that would attempt, in a most original and daring way, to think the phenomenological method together with existence so as to establish that existence is not a brutum factum but is called to a way of being: ontology as fundamental and structural (being‐in‐ the‐world or being‐toward‐death). The Davos meeting was well attended by many who would become influential in twentieth‐century thought (Gordon 2010). What became evident in the course of this meeting was that Heidegger was not there to discuss or debate. He was there to destroy Cassirer’s reputation and a way of philosophizing—call it Neo‐Kantism or Age of Critique—and to continue nourishing his own stature and way of philosophizing as nearly cult‐like. Among those attending was the young Emmanuel Levinas, a Lithuanian Jew, who had been in search of the guidance of Heidegger’s teacher, Edmund Husserl, but who stumbled upon and was swept up into the Heidegger phenomenon, so much so that he staged a rather sophomoric parody of Cassirer’s person at a student gathering after the day’s events. He came to regret this stunt, as well as his initial enthrallment with Heideggerianism, and late in life sought out Cassirer’s widow, Toni, to personally apologize only to discover she had died some years prior to his contrition (Gordon 2010: 104, 326–7). He would nonetheless declare that a young student attending the Davos confrontation (but one is tempted to say “ambush”) “could have the impression that he was witness to the creation and the A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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end of the world” (Gordon 2010: 2). Within just a few years Levinas would begin his serpentine and inspired attempts to elude, evade, and escape the saturation of the human by Being through a series of short works largely inspired by careful interpretations of intuition and intentionality from Husserl, René Descartes’ cogito, and sharing literary scholar Maurice Blanchot’s critical work concerning the Neuter and the il y a (“there is”), just as he shared the concept of Trace with Jacques Derrida. This would culminate with his first major contribution to philosophy: Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority (1969), to be followed by his second great work: Otherwise than Being, or Beyond Essence (1974). These and others of his works do not merely integrate ethics into philosophy in the wake of Heidegger (who wrote no ethics), but attempt to instantiate ethics as “first philosophy” in that the rapport with the Other (Autrui) is “older” than and “otherwise” than Being. At around the same time that Levinas published his first major works, the poet René Char, inspired by Heidegger’s writings on poetry, invited the aging but still active philosopher to his home in the Vaucluse in 1966, 1968, and 1969 to lead a series of intimate seminars with a handful of selected students. One of those selected was a young Italian, Giorgio Agamben, for whom the experience proved as decisive as it had for Levinas, for he would abandon his study of law and instead take up philosophy as a vocation, one that he himself would eventually understand as the unexpected discovery of “constellations” (Durantaye 2009: 1–3). Any reader new to Agamben’s work could not do better than Durantaye’s Critical Introduction, together with Catherine Mills’s concisely organized The Philosophy of Agamben (2008). In private correspondence with me, Agamben indeed describes his way of thinking as a “constellation” and as making visible “conceptual nets.” The nets or constellations Agamben discovers are simply too numerous to list, but they include: homo sacer, vocation, potentiality, ideas, community, Shekinah, infancy, command, state of exception, the camp (and no longer the city) as nomos and so on. While Agamben may have been inspired by the Heidegger seminars, his manner of philosophizing could hardly be more distinct. Heidegger spent his career plowing through one major canonical philosopher after another (with the exception of Spinoza—not surprisingly with what we know of his anti‐Semitism) in order to “recover” the History of (the forgetting of) Being and the “destining” of Da‐sein. In sharp contrast, de la Durantaye aptly likens Agamben’s collected works to the renown idiosyncratic library of Aby Warburg (where Agamben was a fellow in 1974–75) from which none other than Ernst Cassirer declared one must either “flee” or in which one will “remain imprisoned for years” (Cassirer 2009: xviii). Unkind critics have said more than once that Agamben in effect “cherry picks” what he needs from this or that text to the extent of distorting meanings, and distorting historical significance. Pierre Mesnard, in a 2004 essay, is thoroughly critical of Agamben’s method which in effect, transforms political philosophy into a poetics of concepts instead of the more traditional social, political, and historical contextualizing. In his defense, what Agamben captures in his constellar nets are paradigms which are then applicable to, and explicable of, the present states of politics. The inspiration is Michel Foucault’s genealogies as “histories of the present.” What may irritate many a scholar of this or that major figure, period, or subject matter is that Agamben selects, finds a potential in, and then puts to a new use what he finds because in addition to examining a concept’s meaning he looks at its use—what political strategies it becomes part of, either overtly or covertly—from period to period. Indeed, his most recent work (2016, The Use of Bodies) concerns use itself as a political factor.


Thomas Carl Wall

I have elected to introduce Emmanuel Levinas and Giorgio Agamben via Martin Heidegger because for each the personal encounter with him was life‐changing and because each has greater connection to Heidegger than to each other. In brief, Levinas wished to tear philosophy away from an allegiance to Being by way of an always anterior ethical rapport. Agamben seems intent on completing and then finally freeing Da‐sein to live beyond any particular destiny (to be “whatever” in his language). Levinas died in 1995 just as Agamben was beginning a professional scholarly career in publications. Although Agamben writes of ethics he distances himself from Levinas since his is closer to ethos or habitus—way of or manner of living—than to Levinas’s obligation, responsibility, gravity, hostage, and substitution. Although Levinas writes of art and literature fairly frequently he maintained an uneasy, suspicious, but not entirely allergic, relation to the arts, while Agamben was a professor of aesthetics and writes at length of Dante, Virgil, Melville, Kafka, and innumerable others. I do not pursue a triadic comparison although such would in fact produce three distinct philosophical callings of extraordinary significance and influence. Innumerable works are devoted to Heidegger and Levinas. Agamben, still our contemporary, has already inspired several graceful, nuanced studies—and in the cases of William Watkin’s The Literary Agamben: Adventures in Logopoesis (2010) and Agamben and Indifference: A Critical Overview (2013) and Aaron Hillyer’s (2013) critical studies which introduce new concepts alongside explication. Kevin Attell’s Giorgio Agamben: Beyond the Threshold of Deconstruction (2014) fleshes out with extraordinary skill the long postponed engagement with Jacques Derrida’s unquestionably influential thinking (an engagement that Derrida kept at bay despite astute provocations here and there in Agamben’s works). These works and others (such as Whyte 2013: Snoek 2012: Dickinson 2011) are of such quality and breadth that it seems likely Agamben’s influence in literary study, as well as philosophy, theology, and political thought, will continue to blossom.

Levinas and Literature The importance of art, aesthetics, and poetry for Levinas consists in the contrast to the gravity of ethical initiative and responsibility. Exodus and Plato’s Republic are the classical indices of aesthetic seduction and ethical petrifaction. But there is no straightforward ­doctrinal prohibition. The mere fact that Levinas himself is willing to contemplate the contrast of poetry to ethics is itself evidence of an ethical rapport. Indeed, Levinas cites literary works numerous times throughout his career to illuminate his concepts. In reading a passage from Soviet novelist Vasily Grossman concerning prisoners marching single file and staring raptly at the nape of the neck of the prisoner in front, Levinas reads this as an example of what he means by “face” (visage) in the “face‐to‐face” encounter from his formulations in Totality and Infinity (1969). “Face” is not a person’s countenance but rather the trace of the possibility of relation to the Other prior to any special signification; that is, the “face‐to‐face” is an inversion of the recognition of another person in particular. References to Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Moliere, Homer, Blanchot, Rimbaud, Celan, and many others abound to illuminate Levinas’s often confounding and hyperbolically expressed ideas.1 The Vasily Grossman passage mentioned above comes up in an important and seldom discussed interview with Françoise Armengaud (Levinas 1989) concerning

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sculptor Sacha Sosno, who literally “obliterates” or erases characteristics such as a face as personality, as countenance, as recognizable personage, and who likewise obliterates some of the potentially pernicious possibilities of art in general, which I discuss in this chapter, but he does not obliterate “face.” By way of the technique of obliteration, Sosno, in the eyes of Levinas, redeems art in relation to the always prior and irreducible ethical exigency. To put it another way, in Sosno’s works his art obliterates their very significance as “beautiful” and artistic in order to reveal another possibility. (Paul Celan, whom Levinas esteemed, does something quite similar with language in his later works such as Atemwende (Breathturn), in which signification is pre‐empted, or upstaged, by means of catastrophic syntax.) Armengaud asks: “Isn’t there a difference between obliterated faces and obliterated torsos?” To which Levinas replies: “There are different ways of being a face. Without mouth, eyes or nose, an arm or a hand by Rodin is already a face.” Earlier in the same interview Armengaud asks point blank: “Do you think that an ethical dimension can be found in obliteration?” “In the art of obliteration, yes. This would be an art which exposes the ease and lighthearted casualness of the beautiful and recalls the attrition of being,” Levinas replies. This detour is to advise any reader attempting to grasp Levinas’s mature work in ethics to pay special attention to his remarks on art, aesthetics, and literature since the very ­contrast is a thread, however tenuous (this is what I attempted in my Radical Passivity 1999). I would not go as far as Henry McDonald in his 2008 “Aesthetics as First Ethics,” but that essay is well worth study because of its fascinating and careful attention to biblical language in relation to Levinas’s understanding of (modern) literary language and the attempt of S. Y. Agnon (1888–1970) to create a distinctly Hebrew literature at a time when East European Jewry was being destroyed. By far the most quoted, discussed, and evaluated writing from Levinas on aesthetics is his 1948 “Reality and Its Shadow,” which Robbins declares “rather violent” (1999: 39). The essay was written prior to Levinas’s more thorough engagement with ethics and the ethical rapport—the rapport, always anterior, that makes any particular ethical position possible—that will mark his originality from Totality and Infinity on. But the seeds of the later extended books are already here. He is at this time writing of fatigue, restlessness, insomnia, the instant, and escape but also of the Other (Autrui) not as alter‐ego but as asymmetrically other, as a non‐spatial exteriority/proximity (the “neighbor” he frequently says), and as betrayed by what he says is the hypocrisy of a morality of reciprocity and intersubjectivity (because these pre‐suppose a “totality”). His Existence and Existents had just been published but was ignored.2 The work of this time is a continuation of the thinking in his 1935 “On Escape”—an attempt, as mentioned, to wrest himself from Heidegger’s spell. One possible escape is offered by art, aesthetics, drama, painting, sculpture, literature, and poetry: themselves “spells” from which we must wrest ourselves, hence the essay and its “violent” character. The essay is worth point‐by‐point analysis since the contrasts to his ethics are stark. Indeed, this essay, with its ­understanding of art as irresponsible, taken together with his essay “The Trace of the Other” (1963) are an excellent introduction to Levinas’s thought in general. The themes discussed here recur up through the interview with Armengaud, and the general orientation remains as touchstones for scholars interested in relations between Levinas and the poets (such as Hill 2005).


Thomas Carl Wall

The artist initially compares to the metaphysician since both go beyond common perception. Where ordinary language ceases, art and metaphysics speak—of the ineffable, the absolute. The artist, like the metaphysician (and here, as always, Levinas is thinking of the Platonic philosopher) disengages from the world and apprehends essences where previously there were merely brute existents. However, does the artist disengage and move toward the beyond, the eternal, the realm of Platonic ideas, toward truth and knowledge? As it turns out, no. The artwork—whether statue, painting, drama, or poem—arrests the movement of transcendence, and since for Levinas the movement of ethical responsibility is a form of transcendence, art is the arrest of ethics. The artist substitutes an image for a concept, and this determines everything, for Levinas. We exist and enact the world by conceiving of and grasping objects; art neutralizes that real relationship. Anything can become an image; the whole of the world can become an image, and an image marks us as fundamentally passive. I cannot grasp an image. It is the same passivity we witness in music, magic, and poetry as was taught by the influential ethnologist and philosopher Lucien Lévy‐Bruhl (1857–1939): a primitive (pre‐ Judaic and pre‐Greek) experience. Rather than being disinterested or enslaved, we are rapt and attentive without the slightest inclination toward utility because what can I do with this tune, drama, or poem except be enthralled? Instead of initiative there is what Levinas terms “musical” sensation. All art, classical or modern, drives objects out of the world by the sheer conversion of beings to images. Even in a painting, the paint is imaginary: I do not see/experience the material pigment; I see/experience the image—even if it is non‐ representational. If I closely study the brushwork, I see/experience the material, not the image per se. The language of a poem or a story, Blanchot says, is imaginary language; a language no one speaks. In the interview with Armengaud, Levinas says that art redeems matter from the brutality of its sheer being‐there and renders it musical. The categories proper to aesthetics are in contrast to any other categories—scientific or ethical or Heideggerian—since in art I am part of the aesthetic spectacle and not “here” “being‐in‐ the‐world.” When I am moved by a tragedy or comedy it is not through compassion but because I forget that I am not Hecuba at Troy, not at the mercy of an obsessed ship’s captain, not about to be eaten by the creature just out of frame. William Flesch, in his book Comeuppance (2009), brilliantly employs a Levinasian template (although Levinas’s name does not appear) to account via Darwinian evolution for the prevalence of narrative in human culture. He speaks of an attentiveness (or, as I prefer, enthrallment) that precedes identification, thought, or initiative. Further, like Levinas, he challenges the idea that the image is primarily a representation of some reality from which we learn, via identification, how we might react in this or that situation or register our compassionate feelings about this or that character thus exercising our ethical muscles. But in the 1948 essay Levinas makes the simple observation that images do not represent or refer to objects or individuals. The image is not a window on reality. Images resemble an object, a person, or a situation and are fundamentally distinct from symbols, signs, or words. This obviously entails that the object or person or situation in its or his or her reality already resembles an image. Reality is dual, Levinas says. The world and everyone and everything in it are already caricatures. Animal fables, Levinas insists, are so effective and affective because men are seen as the animals and not just through them. When a model sits for a portrait or an actor enacts take after take of a scene for a film, each is already

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becoming, via resemblance (not representation), the imaginary beings that will end up on the canvas or on the screen. The work of being, the existing of the existent, is always ­doubled up in a semblance of existing. Captured in the artwork, this semblance of existing is, alas, mortified and rendered plastic. The artwork is irreducibly pagan—tragic—in that it introduces into time, fatality, or a parody of fatality: the caricature of lifeless life. The artwork cannot go beyond itself. Eternally, Mona Lisa is about to smile. Hamlet will ask that same question again and again. Art is idolatry. In it, the living, real relation with the Other—time itself—is ­petrified. Philosophical criticism (although Levinas does not define it) is essential because it reintegrates the idols into the world via interpretation and via concepts, the “muscles of the mind” (Levinas 1986a).

Agamben’s Archaeology of Commandment The necessity of, and urgency for, interpretation and philosophical criticism is certainly not lost on Giorgio Agamben. Exemplary for this I refer first to a 45‐minute talk he made at the European Graduate School in 2011 on the “Archaeology of Commandment.”3 As has become so characteristic for Agamben’s readers ever since the initiation of his multi‐ volume Homo Sacer project (1995–2016), he begins with etymology and discovers that the Greek word for beginning, αρχη, also means command. The ancient Greek αρχω means both “to begin” and “to command.” The related word “archon” refers to the chief, the leader, the ultimate authority. The talk ends in secular Western Modernity and with a reference to one of Agamben’s most frequently cited works of literature—Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener.” In between will be a constellar network of references including the Bible, Christianity, Heidegger, Kant, Aristotle, and modern advertising, among others. Agamben begins by noting that the Bible, of course, begins with a beginning, a commandment, and God. God creates the heavens and the earth by way of commandments. This too of necessity is the beginning of language; language can only begin with commandment so that John 1:1 could be translated as: “In the commandment was the word” (or, we might say, “In the commandment was language”). Were this to be understood there would be, Agamben asserts, more clarity in theology and politics because the beginning is that which commands the history, the purpose and practices, of which it is the origin because the beginning does not merely start something and then vanish; it continues to rule. In the Bible God does not vanish but continues to be the ruler. Heidegger is then invoked speaking of how the αρχη indeed begins but never passes away and this coincidence defines Heidegger’s understanding of the History of Being as a “sending” which is concealed in each historical epoch. Post‐Heidegger, Agamben cites Reiner Schürmann’s attempt to conceive of a beginning uncontaminated by commandment: an origin which commands nothing, is free of history, is a pure coming to presence—in brief, the principle of anarchy. This attempt is then contrasted to Derrida’s deconstructive attempt to neutralize the origin by means of the Trace (borrowed from Levinas) while a form of commandment is preserved resolving itself in a principle of democracy, namely commandments without commander. This is then followed, again so characteristic of Agamben, by a


Thomas Carl Wall

linguistic analysis beginning with Aristotle who promotes the apophantic—the discourse that may be true or false, the discourse that is about something real.4 This is certainly the discourse of philosophy (and then of science) and so other types of discourse, the prayer for example, are to be neglected by the philosopher and better left to poetics and rhetoric. Philosophy thus excludes a considerable number of other uses of discourse: oath, curse, exclamation, and commandment. This will have political and cultural significance that has barely been studied. Commandment was left to be attached to the question of will, which only preserves the obscurity, because what is will? What is the imperative (the command)? It is an “ought” and not a (true or false) “is.” Agamben then surmises, based on twentieth‐ century linguistics, that the roots of all verbs are imperatives. This prompts Agamben to propose that in Western thought there are two related but distinguishable ontologies: the ontology of assertion, expressed in the indicative mood, and the ontology of commandment, expressed in the imperative. Here, Agamben’s reader is in familiar territory as the philosopher frequently finds dual ontologies or metaphysics such as his most well‐known distinction between ζοη (the fact of having been born, common to gods, humans, animals) and βιος (a way of life, a manner of being). The Greeks did not have a single word for life, and this difference, when politicized, yields “bare life,” homo sacer, a figure from Roman law of a person who may be killed without there being any crime or any sacrifice. In this talk the two ontologies result in a divided culture: science and philosophy on the one hand and poetry, religion, and magic on the other. Agamben says that Western culture is a machine for the production of bipolar ontologies. Indeed, this splitting recurs in the discussion of life, as above, man and animal, poetry and prose, potentiality and actuality, signifier and signified, semiotic and semantic, language and experience. This last division is the subject of masterpieces of analyses in his volume Potentialities (1999), primarily setting Aristotle with and apart from Heidegger, and his analyses there are the next step in his archeology. He asserts that in contemporary culture the ontology of commandment is slowly replacing the ontology of assertion. Not an ontology of commandment in its strong form but in the form of advertising, suggestion, advice, so that obedience takes the form of democratic cooperation. The next star in this already complex constellation is Nietzsche and the concept of will which is related to potentiality, to possibility, to the verb “can.” Turning back to the Christian era, Agamben looks at the doctrine of an omnipotent God and how this led to very concerning problems: an omnipotent God could lie, could become incarnate as a woman, as an insect. A solution was found when the theologians conceived of a potential power which requires will. To will is to command power in such a way as to preserve potentiality; it is a power that requires will, which in turn checks power via command. The endpoint of Agamben’s lecture is Melville’s Bartleby: in preferring not to, Bartleby nonetheless can but will neither obey nor refuse to obey the command of the man of Law. Similarly, when Agamben examines Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” parable from The Trial, he departs from Derrida who reads the parable as a self‐referential text that suspends sense: an event that succeeds in not happening. For Agamben something really has happened in seeming not to happen: Law is rendered inoperative and is finally closed.5 Anke Snoek in Agamben’s Joyful Kafka (2012: 34–8) places the parable in the larger context of the novel and adopts an Agambenian reading. Likewise, in her Catastrophe and Redemption, Jessica Whyte (2013) adopts an Agambenian point of view with regard to his readings of Kafka.

Levinas and Agamben


Above all, Kevin Attell (2015) Giorgio Agamben: Beyond the Threshold of Deconstruction incisively contrasts Agamben’s readings of Kafka to deconstructive readings. We may be astonished by the breathtaking swiftness with which Agamben passes from thinker to thinker, concept to concept, era to era, from the first words of the Bible and Aristotle to our era today and in so doing fundamentally rearranges our apprehension of Western culture beginning only with an investigation of “commandment.” But it is only an introduction to his current investigations and he is doubtless aware much is still to be fleshed out. At the same time it is a skeletally instructive X‐ray into how he works to ­create his “constellations,” an effulgent foliage growing out of a tiny seed. It is as if he were on a mission to rearrange all the names of history (and all the concepts) into a bipolarity that will always yield a potential danger and a potential threshold beyond. This ever‐ expanding “method” of investigation began in his early works on poetics, which is perhaps more central to his career as a whole than his better known and more controversial political philosophy. Or at least that is the central claim of William Watkin in his two ground‐ breaking books on Agamben. Coming back to Levinas, it is in the volume Proper Names (1996) that Levinas puts to the test the theoretical apparatus of “Reality and Its Shadow,” the “violent” 1948 essay examined in this chapter. In this volume (originally published in English in 1975), he engages with Proust, Agnon, Jabès, Wahl, Celan, Delhomme, Laporte, together with three essays on and a conversation about his friend of thirty years, Maurice Blanchot. In “The Trace of the Other” (Levinas 1986b) there are important remarks about Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. He has also written an essay on Michel Leiris: “The Transcendence of Words.” What Levinas is looking for in any art form that he can recommend is a break‐up of the “primitive” experience in which we lose ourselves in a sort of pre‐theoretical participation that for Levinas is the essence of the aesthetic experience. Jill Robbins reports that Levinas saw in this pre‐theoretical participation a transcendence of the closed psychological ego (Robbins 1999: 89–90), but this is not the ethical transcendence Levinas is ultimately interested in. In this essay and in Proper Names, he is dealing with literature, poetry, and in the case of Leiris, autobiography (Biffures, which is a complex and suggestive word, but can mean “erasures” or “crossings out”), he will be attentive primarily to language. For Levinas, Leiris’s erasures break open and exhaust thought making possible a contact with the “perceptible matter of words” (Hand 1989: 149). Not language, but words. Curiously, Agamben says something similar in his piece “The Idea of Matter” from The Idea of Prose (Agamben 1995: 37) in which the person who touches on his own matter has reached the limits of language and then finds the words to say but is no longer imprisoned in representation. This liberation is defined by Levinas in the Leiris essay as a “prayer,” a “putting oneself forward,” (Levinas 2012: 149), which is ethical. Levinas’s esteem of Celan, who famously said that he could “see no basic difference between a handshake and a poem,” is even greater, describing his as a “[l]anguage of proximity for proximity’s sake, older than that of ‘the truth of being’—which it probably carries and sustains—the first of the languages, response preceding question, responsibility for the neighbor, by its for the other, the whole marvel of giving” (Levinas 1996: 41). Indeed, words like hands shaking and so a face‐to‐face prior to any signification. Jill Robbins stresses Levinas’s focus on Celan’s 1960 speech accepting the Georg Büchner prize because it is “constantly interrupting itself” and “interrupts the ludic order of the beautiful, of the play of concepts and of the play of the world” and thus interrupts the “aesthetic state of mind


Thomas Carl Wall

[…] hence to interrupt the self‐sufficiency and the irresponsibility of aesthetic experience” (Robbins 1999: 144–6). Erasures and interruptions are echoed in the Sacha Sosno conversation in regard to his “obliterations.” Blanchot’s importance to Levinas is inestimable for many reasons considering their wartime experiences and friendship of over thirty years, and because Blanchot’s poetics represents “an invitation to leave the Heideggerian world” (Levinas 1996: 135). However, Gerald Bruns, in The Cambridge Companion to Levinas, thinks he draws too broad a distinction “and misses the strangeness of Heidegger’s aesthetics” (Bruns 2002: 223). Be that as it may, Levinas finds in Blanchot an accomplice who, like himself, wishes to free himself from the Heidegger‐event. The il y a (there is) is the attempt to consider existence without a world hence not ontologically structured. Blanchot does not create an art that, as in Heidegger, opens the World but rather one that shrouds the World in ceaseless Night and exposes the subject to exile. But it is an exile in which intimacy, rather than being‐in‐language, is inevitable, if it does not rise to the ethical. In any case, Blanchot is perhaps the most significant writer‐artist for whom art, poetry, literature turn back from the classical discovery, and possibility, of transcendence and turns away from an ontological function, thus revealing or intimating another possibility. In Leiris, as in Celan, and as in Blanchot, language becomes words that face us. In contrast, for Agamben, in his 1995 discussion of the films of Guy Debord, and in his 1996 volume The End of the Poem, poetry is verse in the sense of its Latin root “change of direction”: reverse, inverse, obverse, traverse, and so on. Verse is a strategy that goes beyond the linguistic bipolarity of semiotic‐semantic and becomes paradigmatic of the possibility of a History that is not a chronology but is messianic. This would be a History that is redeemed, restored to the reality of possibility rather than the monotony of accomplished and yet‐to‐be accomplished facts that characterize TV news. Discussing Debord, Agamben defines cinema as montage, which is made possible by repetition and stoppage (technically, “enjambement”). In Debord, and also very forcefully in the Jean‐Luc Godard of Histoire(s), this montage is accentuated in such a way as to restore “what was” to its possibility. This creates a “zone of undecideability” because montage, like verse, shows a power to interrupt the monotony of History as ceaseless narrative. Just as montage rescues the image from its subordination to the plot, verse rescues the word from narrative and exposes the indecision between signifier and signified. For Agamben, poetry‐as‐verse is a strategy that allows language to reveal itself rather than remain that which always reveals everything except itself. A most elaborate, enthusiastic, and creative discussion of Agamben’s poetics is chapter 5 of William Watkin’s The Literary Agamben (2010) where, in a complex theoretical maneuver, he explicates how poetry‐as‐verse creates the space of thought. Watkin coins the term logopoesis to characterize Agamben’s agenda. For Watkin, Agamben’s poetics is primarily a precondition for liberation, liberating us to re‐think History, politics and bio‐politics. Arne De Boever takes a similar route in his essay “Politics and Poetics of Divine Violence: On a Figure in Giorgio Agamben and Walter Benjamin,” in the collection The Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law, Literature, Life (Clemens et al. 2008). These two thinkers, as by now many others, answer to what for Philippe Mesnard and others is a weakness or misdirection in Agamben’s political philosophy. For many of Agamben’s readers his work is indeed ­primarily a poetics—the condition for the possibility of a redeemed politics and history.

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Notes 1 The best book length study of Levinas and literature (including lucid examinations of the literary in general: figure, metaphor, rhetoric, literary language, etc.) remains Jill Robbins’s 1999 Altered Reading: Levinas and Literature. 2 Jacques Derrida found it by chance in a used book store alerting him to the existence of a truly forceful and challenging voice that would have to be reckoned with as he later would with his “Violence and Metaphysics” (1967).

3 Accessible on YouTube at https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=T4MjMj4S4B8. 4 The “apophantic” describes factual statements like “all penguins are obese” (which may be either true or false, but which could be verified or falsified by observation), as opposed to statements like “all penguins are birds” which is true by definition. 5 Marc Froment‐Maurice in an essay titled “A Sense of Loss: Whatever It May Be” (2002) takes up an instructive Derridean defense on this and other issues.

References Agamben, Giorgio. 1993a. The Coming Community, trans. Michael Hardt. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press; 1990. Agamben, Giorgio. 1993b. Infancy and History, trans. Liz Heron. London: Verso. Agamben, Giorgio. 1995a. “Difference and Repetition: On Guy Debord’s Films,” trans. Brian Holmes. Geneva: Lecture delivered at the Centre Saint‐Gervais. Agamben, Giorgio. 1995b. The Idea of Prose, trans. Michael Sullivan and Sam Whitsitt. Albany: SUNY Press. Agamben, Giorgio. 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller‐Roazen. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Agamben, Giorgio. 1999a. The End of the Poem: Studies in Poetics, trans. Daniel Heller‐Roazen, Stanford: Stanford University Press, Stanford. Agamben, Giorgio. 1999b. Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy, trans. and ed. Daniel Heller‐ Roazen. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Agamben, Giorgio. 2016. The Use of Bodies, trans. Adam Kotsko. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Arendt, Hannah. 1971. “Heidegger at Eighty.” (Transcript of speech given on Heidegger’s 80th

birthday in 1969.] Trans. Albert Hofstadter. New York Review of Books, 21 October. Attell, Kevin. 2015. Giorgio Agamben: Beyond the Threshold of Deconstruction. New York: Fordham University Press. Bruns, Gerald. 2002. “The Concepts of Art and Poetry in Emmanuel Levinas’s Writings.” In The Cambridge Companion to Levinas, ed. Simon Critchley and Robert Bernasconi, 206–33. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Clemens, Justin, Nicholas Heron, and Alex Murray. 2008. The Work of Giorgio Agamben: Law, Literature Life. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Critchley, Simon and Robert Bernasconi (eds.). 2002. The Cambridge Companion to Levinas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Derrida, Jacques. 1978. “Violence and Metaphysics”. In Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Dickinson, Colby. 2011. Agamben and Theology. London: T&T Clark International. Durantaye, Leland de la. 2009. Giorgio Agamben: A Critical Introduction. Stanford: Stanford University Press.


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Flesh, William. 2007. Comeuppance: Costly Signaling, Altruistic Punishment, and Other Biological Components of Fiction. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Froment‐Meurice, Marc. 2002. “A Sense of Loss: Whatever It May Be.” Paragraph 25 (2): 68–91. Gordon, Peter E. 2010. Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Heidegger, Martin. 1962. Being and Time, trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Hill, Leslie. 2005. “Distrust of Poetry” Modern Language Notes 20 (5): 986–1008. Hillyer, Aaron. 2013. The Disappearance of Literature: Blanchot, Agamben, and the Writers of the No. New York: Bloomsbury. Levinas, Emmanuel. 1969. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. Levinas, Emmanuel. 1973. The Theory of Intuition in Husserl’s Phenomenology, trans. Andrée Orianne. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. Levinas, Emmanuel. 1978a. Existence and Existents, trans. Alphonso Lingis. The Hague and Boston: Martinus Nijhoff. Levinas, Emmanuel. 1978b. Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, trans. Alphonso Lingis. Dordrecht and Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers. Levinas, Emmanuel. 1986a. “Reality and Its Shadow,” trans. Alphonso Linginis. In The Levinas Reader, ed Seán Hand. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Levinas, Emmanuel. 1986b. “The Trace of the Other”, trans. Alphonso Lingis. In Deconstruction In Context, ed. Mark C. Taylor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Levinas, Emmanuel. 1987. Collected Philosophical Papers of Emmanuel Levinas. Phaenomenologica

100, trans. Alphonso Lingis. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. Levinas, Emmanuel. 1989. “On Obliteration,” trans. Richard A. Cohen. Australia: Art & Text 33. Levinas, Emmanuel. 1996. Proper Names, trans. Michael B. Smith. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Levinas, Emmanuel. 2003. On Escape, trans. Bettina G. Bergo. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Levinas, Emmanuel. 2012. “The Transcendence of Words: On Michel Leiris’s ‘Erasures.’” Filosoficky Casopis 60 (4): 505–10. McDonald, Henry. 2008. “Aesthetics as First Ethics: Levinas and the Alterity of Ethical Discourse.” Diacritics 38 (4): 15–41. Mesnard, Philippe. 2004. “The Political Philosophy of Giorgio Agamben: A Critical Evaluation.” Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 5 (1): 139–57. Mills, Catherine. 2008. The Philosophy of Agamben. Ithaca: McGill‐Queens University Press. Robbins, Jill. 1999. Altered Reading: Levinas and Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Snoek, Anke. 2012. Agamben’s Joyful Kafka: Finding Freedom Beyond Subordination. New York: Bloomsbury. Wall, Thomas Carl. 1999. Radical Passivity: Levinas, Blanchot, and Agamben. Albany: SUNY Press. Whyte, Jessica. 2013. Catastrophe and Redemption: The Political Thought of Giorgio Agamben. Albany: SUNY Press. Watkin, William. 2010. The Literary Agamben: Adventures in Logopoesis. New York: Continuum. Watkin, William. 2013. Agamben and Indifference: A Critical Overview. London: Rowman & Littlefield.


Postcolonial Theory Siraj Ahmed

The Problem of Postcolonial Theory To appreciate the distinctiveness of postcolonial theory, we need first to understand its complex relationship to the anticolonial movements from which it sprang. Leading ­postcolonial scholars have argued that a colonial concept of freedom still imprisons the field. We could call this concept “sovereign freedom,” thus naming its three interrelated levels: freedom in this sense depends on rational sovereignty over the self, national sovereignty over politics, and human sovereignty over the earth. In David Scott’s Conscripts of Modernity (2005), the prototypical postcolonial hero, Toussaint l’Ouverture, embodies precisely this freedom and, by extension, the mindset decolonization never overcomes. Freedom as Toussaint understood it derived from the French Revolution, in whose wake his own revolutionary career followed (Scott 2005: 129–30, 162–4, 168, 191–2, 202–5). But French revolutionary freedom depended, in turn, on the wealth produced by plantation colonies such as Haiti. Hence, in Conscripts of Modernity, the plantation economy’s forms of reason, discipline, and global interdependence constitute the hidden conditions of “freedom”—conditions to which Toussaint remained committed even as he fought the French. Such conditions, masquerading as freedom from the eighteenth‐century revolutions onward ensure that every anticolonial struggle turns tragic before long—as Toussaint’s personal and Haiti’s national history poignantly testify. The “tragedy of colonial Enlightenment” is that while the colonized’s modernity—their very capacity to struggle for freedom as it has been defined since the eighteenth century—depends on their tacit acceptance of particular epistemic, political, and economic configurations, these conditions always reintroduce colonial (or neocolonial) relationships in the end.

A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


Siraj Ahmed

Dipesh Chakrabarty’s essays on the challenge climate change poses to postcolonial studies likewise take the eighteenth‐century revolutions as their starting point. During this period, humanity’s historical agency suddenly metamorphosed into a geological force, a power not merely to master nature but to transform the earth for millennia. What emerged in the late eighteenth century exploded during decolonization: these two moments mark, respectively, the beginning and planetary sweep of fossil‐fuel use (Chakrabarty 2009: 207–9; 2012: 1–4; 2014: 15). In Chakrabarty’s account, it is the Western origins and the global spread of “freedom” that precipitate the era we now call the Anthropocene. If this revolutionary discourse leads to tragedy in Scott’s narrative, its trajectory produces, just as inexorably and even more intolerably, ecological and civilizational collapse in Chakrabarty’s. Our concepts of freedom—whether liberal, Marxist, or postcolonial—all presuppose human sovereignty over the earth and hence legitimize the destruction of the environment on which human survival itself depends. For Scott and Chakrabarty, it is not postcolonial states alone but the postcolonial humanities as well that are imprisoned by the dream of sovereign freedom. Scott has commented, for example, that in their “vigorous defense” of the colonized’s “acts of resistance,” the humanities have provided this dream “disciplinary authority” (Scott 2005: 118). The very idea of “subaltern modernities” creates “a normative expectation of resistance” (Scott 2005: 117, 105). In a similarly sweeping dismissal of academic knowledge, Chakrabarty has noted that his “readings in theories of globalization, Marxist analysis of capital, subaltern studies, and postcolonial criticism”—all concerned to reconcile “historical diversity with human freedom”—could not make sense of the “planetary conjuncture within which humanity finds itself today” (Chakrabarty 2009: 199, 207–8). In Scott’s view, postcolonial studies must think critically about the modern conditions of revolution rather than merely advocate more of the same: “the relevant questions are those posed in terms of the new conditions [of] resistance”; “what is at stake [is] how colonial power transformed the ground on [which] resistance was possible in the first place” (Scott 2005: 106, 119). Until it undertakes this kind of critique, postcolonial studies will itself remain, no less than Toussaint, a “conscript of modernity,” unwittingly captive to its own colonial mindset. In Chakrabarty’s view, postcolonial studies must instead begin to think the “human” no longer as the historical agent that, by definition, struggles toward freedom but rather as a geological force that, in the very process of acquiring its freedoms, destroys their terrestrial basis. This is a vision of the human, Chakrabarty insists, that “the critique of the subject [n]ever contemplated”: “In no discussion of freedom [since] the Enlightenment was there ever any awareness of the geological agency that human beings were acquiring at the same time as [their] freedom” (Chakrabarty 2012: 9; 2009: 208). Such a rethinking would, ­presumably, be the first step toward a future in which Enlightenment and Hegelian ­definitions of the human would no longer obtain—a future in which the human would no longer be the “figure of sovereignty” (Chakrabarty 2012: 4). Chakrabarty’s challenge to us, perhaps even more demanding than Scott’s, is to imagine a critical method that exceeds the limits of “human” consciousness itself. In either case, such thinking would no longer be bound to sovereign freedom. Scott and Chakrabarty’s critiques of postcolonial studies tacitly align it with anticolonial revolutions. I would argue, in diametric opposition, that the critique of sovereign

Postcolonial Theory


freedom Chakrabarty and Scott pose anew has in fact been the discipline’s distinguishing feature from its very origins. From this perspective, Scott and Chakrabarty’s critiques tell us less about postcolonial studies’ limits than about the difficulty even its most eminent scholars have keeping its history in mind. Or we could say, more generously, that the importance of Conscripts of Modernity and Chakrabarty’s climate essays for postcolonial theory lies in how their critiques of the European revolutionary tradition bring to the surface the field’s own deepest undercurrent. We could follow this current from the early twentieth century through decolonization to the present, from the founding figures of postcolonial studies, such as Antonio Gramsci and Frantz Fanon, to its most influential literary theorists, such as Edward Said and Gayatri Spivak today. For each of these intellectuals, both revolutionary praxis and critical method count as authentically anticolonial only if they introduce an epistemic rupture into the history of revolution. This rupture empties the very words “revolution,” “freedom,” and “human” of the meaning liberalism and Marxism had given them, in order to open them, finally, to the diverse possibilities these traditions had excluded. It is the effort to move from the former to the latter that constitutes postcolonial studies as a distinct theoretical approach.

The Anti‐Colonial Roots of Postcolonial Thought Mid‐twentieth‐century French philosophy, which would inform francophone anticolonial writing, valorized the modern struggle for freedom in terms inherited from Hegel (Kojève 1980; Young 1990: 3). But in response, Jean‐Paul Sartre emphasized the colonial and racial limits of such freedom: it can unfold “universally,” he insisted, only by subjecting every other form of life to its own authority. “Nothing is more consistent, among us”— Sartre’s 1961 preface to The Wretched of the Earth declares—”than racist humanism”: “Europeans have [made] themselves human [by] creating slaves and monsters” (Sartre 1961: 155). As “Colonialism Is a System” (Sartre 1956) explains, history had become “inert” in Europe, “caught” as it was within “the trap of colonialism” (1956: 45). The potential for “praxis” lay, therefore, only in those who resisted the colonial system in ways not given by that system: “others are making themselves human beings through their opposition to [our concept of freedom]”; “we [are] enemies of the human race” (1956: 51). Anticolonial revolution thus drove history forward, in Sartre’s account, precisely by calling the systemic “conditions” or “ground” of historical agency into question, as Scott has demanded. And if Sartre’s commitment to anticolonial revolution reiterated the Hegelian emphasis on humanity’s historical struggle for freedom, opening him to charges of Eurocentrism, Sartre wanted, nonetheless, to explode this tradition’s very concept of the “human.” “[F]or us,” Sartre commented, this human “means ‘accomplice’” (1956: 51). The human that would eventually emerge from Sartre’s dreamt‐of decolonization remained radically open, even its sovereignty over the earth, presumably, up for debate. Sartre’s premise that the European revolutionary tradition could survive now—albeit in forms yet to be determined—only if it joined Third World movements typified a generation of anticolonial intellectuals, from Aimé Césaire and Fanon to Che Guevara and Mao Zedong, among many others (Gikandi 2004: 101–2; Young 2001: xvii). Hence, on the one


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hand, Césaire’s 1950 Discourse on Colonialism privileges the “human” and its historical agency, identifying the destiny of both with a revolutionary “proletariat” (Césaire 2000: 44, 46, 52, 56, 69–70, 78). But, on the other, the very style of the Discourse subverts such privilege, partaking of Césaire’s larger poetic project “to carve out a new direction altogether”: to search, far from the proletariat as it had been conventionally conceived, in the imagination, the subconscious, even madness, and, above all, non‐European histories for what has been excluded from the revolutionary tradition and might therefore point “a different way forward” (Kelley 2000: 28). The effort that shapes Sartre and Césaire’s work to think freedom in an anticolonial form was equally constitutive of Fanon’s. In his case, though, the idea of liberation and the history of decolonization were not aligned with but strictly opposed to each other. He was fully aware that, no less than European liberal and Marxist parties, anticolonial elites considered peasants—who constituted most of the colonized—dead weight. Nationalist parties “looked down” on them; labor unions had “lost all contact” with them (Fanon 1963: 121). Both institutions considered them nothing more than “brute force” to be mobilized in the interests of the urban professional, commercial, and working classes. Fanon insisted, against all such prejudices, that if decolonization was to be national in more than name only, if it was truly to become a “struggle for national liberation,” it must take seriously those whose political competence colonial rule and anticolonial nationalism alike denied (1963: 108). Hence, the revolution Fanon described was not the official process led by urban political parties and trade unions. It was instead the guerrilla war undertaken by geographically dispersed peasants. Unlike the former process, this war occurred on many fronts, none of them “strategically privileged,” involving many local engagements, none of them ­“decisive” (Fanon 1963: 141). Such decentered struggles were, Fanon emphasized, an ­altogether different kind of revolution, “a new form of political activity” no way ­resembling “the old” (1963: 147). Their aim was less to replace the colonial state with different political institutions than to keep the colonized perpetually engaged in its own emancipation. Their newness lay precisely here: guerrilla movements rejected decolonization’s reformist tendencies, resisted neocolonial concepts of sovereignty, and advanced broader visions of who should undertake direct political action. In Fanon’s account, the guerrilla war gains speed when some leftist intellectuals, recognizing nationalism’s complicity with colonialism, abandon this alliance at their peril. They seek refuge first in the city’s outskirts, then the countryside and mountains. Their flight from the capital brings them into contact with, initially, the lumpenproletariat, subsequently, peasants and guerrillas. In the process, they create alliances of a kind largely absent from the Western revolutionary tradition, helping each group understand how arduous the path from colonization to liberation is, how many traps have been set along the way, how false the colonizer’s promise of freedom almost always turns out to be. Their primary concern becomes, in other words, to ensure that “native consciousness” does not “remain rudimentary” or get “bogged down” but instead passes from “indiscriminate nationalism to social and economic awareness” (Fanon 1963: 138–44). Such awareness is attuned, above all, to the different ways the colonial system re‐emerges even after its apparent overthrow, to the conditions that define “freedom” at the moment of decolonization. For Fanon, it is the slow growth of this awareness—not revolution or freedom ­conventionally understood—that liberates the colonized (or brings them as close to

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liberation as anyone can hope to be) since it discloses the systems in which their political agency is enmeshed. My point is that advocating resistance and critiquing the conditions of resistance are not, contra Scott, inherently opposed or even separate activities. For Fanon, they were, in fact, one and the same: guerrilla warfare was distinct from bourgeois and proletariat revolution precisely because of its critical stance toward modern concepts of agency. Fanon manifestly did not call for resistance at the expense of critiquing what counted as resistance at that time: in his view, the colonized could not have one without the other. Resistance was, above all, a means toward critical consciousness and vice versa: the “new facts” natives must now know “exist only in action”; without “knowledge of the practice of action, there’s nothing but a fancy‐dress parade” (Fanon 1963: 147). Or, as Che would subsequently observe in regard guerrilla struggle, “[t]he road is long and, in part, unknown”; “[w]e recognize our limitations” but “forge ourselves in daily action” (Guevara 2003: 227). In the relationship of the intellectual to peasants and guerrillas, the liberation of consciousness does not occur, therefore, in only one direction. Those intellectuals who “hear the true voice of the country” escape “the old political structure” and its preconceptions about revolution and nation (Fanon 1963: 126–8). They recognize the peasantry as “the only spontaneously revolutionary force,” the lumpenproletariat as a “new phenomenon” that “disintegrat[es]” the nationalist parties (1963: 123, 130). In short, though Scott and Chakrabarty have consigned Fanon to a revolutionary tradition no longer relevant today, Fanon himself insisted on the need for a radical break with that tradition. His work occupies the same side of the divide as Scott and Chakrabarty’s critiques, though the latter overlook the connection. The intellectual’s unprecedented relationship to peasants and guerrillas is equally central to rethinking revolution not only in Che’s essays “The Essence of Guerrilla Struggle” (1960) and “Socialism and Man in Cuba” (1965) but also Mao’s “Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art” (1942) (Mao 2001: 2–38). It would also become the model, more surprisingly, of the scholar’s orientation toward the text for literary theorists such as Said and Spivak. Sartre, Césaire, and Fanon’s work constitutes one of postcolonial theory’s two primary anticolonial bases; Gramsci’s writing constitutes the other. Yet, though Gramsci founds a different lineage for postcolonial theory, he also explores—even more fully than the francophone line—the argument just considered: namely, intellectuals must break with the history of revolution in order to align themselves with those it has excluded. Fanon’s paradigmatic revolutionary class was no longer the proletariat but instead dislocated peasants living illicitly on the margins of Third World cities, whom he called lumpenproletariat. Gramsci’s revolutionary paradigm centered on Southern Italian peasants similarly “removed from all lines of social mobility,” whom he called “subaltern.”1 Gramsci, like Fanon, thus explored a social terrain Marxism had left uncharted (except, dismissively, in the “Agrarian Question”): oppressed groups whose interests could not be assimilated to the working classes and hence who appeared reactionary from a Marxist perspective. Even more than Fanon, Gramsci emphasized the racial character of Marxist prejudices in this regard: he noted that from the perspective of the North’s leftist parties and labor unions, Southern peasants appear “biologically inferior beings” (Gramsci 2005: 33). The influence of Gramsci’s term “Southernism” on Said’s term “Orientalism” is pronounced here. In either case, an academic discourse about racial (and geographic) inferiority clears the way for colonial domination. To break free from their own colonial mindsets,


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i­ ntellectuals will need, Gramsci and Said argued, to become aware of how deeply embedded this discourse is within their thought. Like Fanon again, Gramsci understood that, Marxist claims for its revolutionary character notwithstanding, the proletariat was in fact produced by the colonial system and could disentangle its interests from this system only with great difficulty. Emerging from “the complex of State life,” the proletariat was “subjected, unconsciously, to the influences of the educational system, of newspapers, of bourgeois tradition” (Gramsci 2005: 32). Proletariat‐led revolutions thus only further silenced subalterns, leaving them in still colonial situations. Hence, in Gramsci’s Southern Question, as in Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, the revolution that liberates the colonized tout court cannot take its direction from any European tradition. In fact, the Northern proletariat can radicalize itself, according to Gramsci, only by following Southern subalterns (2005: 31–2, 43). Gramsci’s most cited concept is “hegemony,” the process by which ruling classes mold art, media, and educational institutions, thus eliciting the governed’s tacit consent. To give hegemony a revolutionary form, intellectuals must ensure it articulates subaltern understanding, not only influencing but also influenced by those not properly integrated into the nation. Society’s most highly educated order must, in other words, take seriously those who lack formal education, expanding their own idea of revolutionary agency to every social practice “in contradiction to or simply different from the morality of the ­governing strata” (Gramsci 1985: 190). As this quotation illustrates, Gramsci did not share Scott’s presupposition that all ­revolutionaries are necessarily conscripts of modernity. Fanon likewise refused to force anticolonial revolution into any pre‐existing mold. The problem with the nationalist parties, according to him, was that “[t]hey do not go out to find the mass of the people”; “they only [follow] an a priori schedule” (Fanon 1963: 113). The subaltern and lumpen possess revolutionary potential precisely because they are outside the revolutionary ­ ­tradition: their insurrections consequently import into this tradition forms of agency that previously appeared unproductive, if not altogether unintelligible. The “a priori schedule” of communist revolutions was working‐class ownership of the factories, that of liberal revolutions, per Hannah Arendt, the founding of political institutions in which freedom would flourish (Arendt 1990: 30–5). Gramsci and Fanon recognized these opposed a priori goals as different kinds of neocolonialism. They were fully aware, in other words, that revolution conventionally conceived had tragic consequences for the colonized. Pace Scott, a tragic sense of decolonization pervades their work. Making the colonized fully conscious of that tragedy is, to a great extent, revolution’s goal (and the intellectual’s role) in both The Southern Question and The Wretched of the Earth.2 This pedagogic project underlies postcolonial theory. It also gestures toward a different humanities, one that identifies the “human” no longer with the spirit of freedom but rather with a much more profound awareness of its limits.

From Poststructuralism to Postcolonial Theory The structuralist generation, Claude Lévi‐Strauss’s The Savage Mind (1962) in particular, critiqued Sartre’s concepts of history and the human (Lévi‐Strauss 1966: 248–62; see also Young 1990: 39–45). According to Lévi‐Strauss, these concepts, whose provenance was

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narrowly European, made Sartre’s thought Eurocentric despite its best intentions. Here, history is, necessarily, a dialectical process, the human the singular capacity to take hold of the historical dialectic, revolt against the dominant system, and realize subjective freedom. If one accepts these definitions, it follows that those who do not act in this way are not “human.” Perhaps it is Lévi‐Strauss’s critique of the revolutionary subject in Sartre— silently passed from structuralism to poststructuralism and beyond—that led Scott and Chakrabarty to collapse revolution per se into the Western revolutionary tradition alone. In any case, though, Lévi‐Strauss’s aim was nothing less than to displace the human ­subject from its privileged position (Lévi‐Strauss 1966: 247; Gikandi 2004: 108–10). In its place, Lévi‐Strauss emphasized the power of linguistic structures that constituted the subject in ways it could not make conscious, much less choose. One could argue that the tectonic shift in emphasis that Lévi‐Strauss’s work precipitated from the conscious human subject to subconscious, extra‐human structures fundamentally misread theorists such as Fanon. As I have tried to demonstrate, the subject here never has complete control over itself: the very effort to liberate itself entangles it even more deeply in the ideological and material structures colonial rule left behind. In fact, like Scott’s and Chakrabarty’s ­critiques of postcolonial studies, Lévi‐Strauss’s critique of anticolonial humanism might be most valuable for articulating explicitly and making visible what remains inchoate and partially concealed in theorists like Fanon: that is, the struggle for subjective freedom always takes place inside imperceptible limits. The critique of Lévi‐Strauss that won the argument was much more penetrating than this. Jacques Derrida’s “Structure, Sign and Play in the Language of the Human Sciences” (1966) and De la grammatologie (1967) identified “logocentrism” even in the work of structuralists such as Lévi‐Strauss (Derrida 1976: 3, 11–2, 102 and Derrida 1978: 278–93). If this desire for a truth modeled on God’s Word had shaped Western philosophy from Plato forward, it re‐emerged in Lévi‐Strauss’s work, according to Derrida, in the form of structuralist method itself. Even as it revealed historical consciousness to be programmed by subconscious linguistic structures, Lévi‐Strauss’s method was itself contaminated in the same way, the product of metaphysical presuppositions in denial about their own discursivity. The “science of writing” structuralism unleashed proved, in Derrida’s hands, to be its own undoing (Derrida 1978: 4). Derrida replaced this science with “deconstruction” (see Chapter 8, “Deconstruction”), which locates behind every discourse not truth or knowledge but différance (Derrida 1982: 1–27). This neologism names the forgotten process by which a particular discourse differentiated itself from others to become the dominant one, a truth above language. Those other discursive worlds nonetheless survive as traces within the ruling discourse’s genealogy. Deconstruction attends to these traces, thus revealing the antithetical languages “truth” depends on but denies. During his “ethical turn,” Derrida reconceived the ultimate point of such deconstructive reading: no longer articulating différance it became instead responding to the experience of the other (Derrida 2002: 230–98; Spivak 1999: 426–8). This reconceptualization identified the semantic possibilities disavowed by a given discourse with forms of consciousness existing outside the governing episteme (or system of knowledge) at that time. Derrida’s ethical turn bears the influence of Emmanuel Levinas (see Chapter 20, “Levinas and Agamben”), who declared the origin of philosophical thought to be not ontology or metaphysics but rather ethics. In other words, human subjectivity originates not in the


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pursuit of knowledge but instead in a response to “the call of the Other” (Levinas 1994; 1998). Once we acknowledge that this response founds subjectivity, we can turn our ­ultimate goal from “autonomous freedom” to “heteronomous responsibility,” the ­obligation to respect and indeed protect others’ difference (Young 1990: 12–16). “The human” ceases to be the capacity to realize a supposedly intrinsic spirit of freedom by mastering nature and negating all those who stand in its path. It becomes instead the capacity and willingness to surrender its agency to the other, thus exposing itself to a future it cannot control. Levinas’s redefinition of the human attempted, in its own way, to place the Hegelian ­tradition on its feet again. Though Gramsci and Fanon are both frequently assimilated to that tradition (as Scott’s and Chakrabarty’s critiques illustrate), the intellectual’s ­relationship to the colonized in their work prefigures, if again inchoately, the ideas of responsibility and futurity evident in Levinas and Derrida. Derrida’s critique of structuralism is relevant here because Spivak and Said had studied and absorbed it long before they wrote anything that could pass as postcolonial theory. Though Spivak published her English translation of Derrida’s De la grammatologie in 1976, she had begun work on it—and the monograph‐length essay that introduces it—almost as soon as the French original appeared. Seven years before Orientalism (1978), Said wrote an essay on structuralism/poststructuralism for TriQuarterly—eventually the penultimate chapter of Beginnings: Intention and Method (1975)—discussing Derrida’s intervention at some length (Said 1971). The problem with Orientalism is precisely its ontological—not ethical—approach: the Orientalist seeks knowledge of the other to master it, decidedly not to protect its epistemic difference. In fact, Orientalism’s explicit premise is that only Europeans are capable of knowledge in the strict sense. From Lord Cromer and Arthur Balfour at the twentieth century’s turn to Henry Kissinger and Bernard Lewis nearly one hundred years later, the discourse of Orientalism consistently claimed for Western civilization a singular capacity to think dialectically, distinguishing subject from object, “rising above immediacy, beyond self, into the foreign and distant” (Said 1979: 32–3, 37–8, 315, 319). In diametric opposition, Asians consider the world “completely internal to the observer,” cutting themselves off from empirical reality (1979: 46–7). Their resistance to dialectical thought keeps them “fundamentally, even ontologically stable,” potentially objects, but never subjects, of knowledge (1979: 32). Orientalism thus declares an epistemological as well as ontological difference between the European and the non‐European. Indeed, the former is the very source of the latter: Europeans and Orientals are different types of being precisely because they have different ways of knowing. Orientalism avoids this false dichotomy by refusing to make any claims about the East; it does not consider its method adequate to any history or rationality outside its own. If Orientalism proclaims that—like the dancer Kuchuk Hanem who Flaubert met in Egypt and evoked in his novellas—Asia cannot speak for itself but must be spoken for, at the heart of Orientalism is, in diametric opposition, an absolute refusal to speak for the other (Said 1979: 2, 6). Said’s study begins and ends with the same caveat: it “has very little to contribute” to the fact that Eastern cultures’ “brute reality” is “greater than anything that could be said about them in the West”—“except to acknowledge [this fact] tacitly” (1979: 5, 322, 325). This tacit acknowledgement parallels Gramsci’s alliance with the subaltern and Levinas’s response to the Other: in each case, the intellectual enters into a relationship

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with something foreign to him, about which he will absolutely refuse ever to produce authoritative knowledge. In each case, the point of the relationship is, in fact, to question the grounds of knowledge itself. Said’s work is, ultimately, an archeology of knowledge, its solution to the problem of Orientalism clearly influenced by French poststructuralism, though more by Michel Foucault than by Derrida, as his TriQuarterly essay shows. As Said’s Culture and Imperialism subsequently explained, the false dichotomy underlying Orientalism engendered comparative literature as well: “the genuinely profound scholarship of the people [who] practiced Weltliteratur implied the extraordinary privilege of an observer located in the West who could actually survey the world’s literary output with a kind of sovereign detachment” (Said 1993: 48). A shared premise of Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism is that such European surveys of non‐European societies migrated back to the colonies, where they ironically defined, and deformed, anticolonial nationalism (Said 1979: 25). As Said observed, “nativist” discourses presumed, from an elite position, to speak for the colonized as such (Said 1993: 276). These discourses shaped the struggle for “national independence,” that is, freedom as the European revolutionary tradition had always conceived it (1993: 216). This struggle, Said emphasized, depended on “mass mobilization” in the interests of the urban elites. It thus continued imperialism under another name (1993: 267). Against this tragic trajectory, Culture and Imperialism insists, to an even greater extent than Orientalism, on the intellectual’s proper relationship to the colonized. The aim of this relationship was not freedom in the conventional sense but rather what Said called “liberation” (1993: 51). He considered Fanon the thinker par excellence of ‘the immense cultural shift’ that must occur if a revolution is to move from ‘the terrain of national independence to the theoretical domain of liberation’ (1993: 268). This move involves not mass mobilization but “mass participation,” not conventional war but guerrilla struggle, as Said’s invocation of the FLN‐led Battle of Algiers demonstrates. In contrast to national independence, liberation remains a “theoretical domain” because it was neither mapped out nor amenable to mapping, not a “goal” so much as a “process” (1993: 273). The shift from one to the other required intellectuals to think not just historically but also, crucially for Said, geographically. Here, he considered The Southern Question exemplary. Gramsci supplemented idealist and Marxist universal histories with southern Italy’s colonized geography—the axis of time with that of space. His “spatial consciousness” disclosed what historical models had obscured: metropolitan culture’s world‐historical role is to legitimize colonial domination (Said 1993: 51). To oppose this culture, “proletarian hegemony” must therefore comprise not just metropolitan perspectives but peripheral ones as well (Gramsci 2005: 31). Only the latter can lead the intellectual from the prison of “nationalist consciousness” to the boundless world of “social consciousness,” from the false promise of freedom to the unending process of liberation (Said 1988: x). Like Sartre and his generation, Said clung fiercely to humanism and was condemned for it by those claiming more politically radical or theoretically sophisticated positions.3 Yet just as—and precisely because—the idea of revolution in Sartre, Césaire, and Fanon is discontinuous with the revolutionary tradition before them, the humanism to which they and Said were attached forces us to rethink this term as well. Said claimed that when Orientalism created the Oriental, it “obliterate[d] him as a human.” But Said did not insist, in response, on the Oriental’s humanity, much less presuppose any definite concept thereof. His


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“humanistic” concerns mandated instead that he make visible “the rise, development, and consolidation of Orientalism,” the “worldly” process that rendered non‐Europeans inhuman (Said 1979: 27). In the posthumously published Humanism and Democratic Criticism (2004), Said reconceived the victims of that process: “our age and our country [are] not just what has been settled and permanently resides here [but] the undocumented turbulence of unsettled and unhoused exiles, immigrants, itinerant or captive populations for whom [no] adequate expression yet exists” (Said 2004: 81). These categories—”unhoused exiles,” “immigrants,” “captive populations”—evoke the diverse histories of the Palestinians after 1948, and link these histories to various surplus populations proliferating today: namely, r­ efugees and the stateless, undocumented labor, and the incarcerated. But if the category of the human has changed in the historical transition from colonialism/neocolonialism to g­ lobalization/neoliberalism, the essential labor of the humanist has not: “Humanism must excavate the silences[,] the places of exclusion and invisibility, the kind of testimony that doesn’t make it onto the [media] reports but which more and more is about whether an overexploited environment, sustainable small economies and small nations, and marginalized peoples outside as well as inside the maw of the metropolitan center can survive” globalization (2004: 81–2). Said valorized humanism because he identified it with the struggle for human emancipation. But his premise was that, to make such emancipation truly universal, humanists must focus on those whom the category of the human—or, in the case of Orientalism, the tradition of humanism—itself denigrates. Far from presupposing that the human is, by definition, the sovereign bearer of rights or the one who exercises sovereignty over the earth, Said’s humanist makes visible the historical consequences of all such limited definitions. Pace Chakrabarty, this postcolonial scholar emphasized the environment’s fragility as one such consequence. Though Spivak has never been accused of humanism, she has in recent years explicitly aligned herself with it. “The Stakes of World Literature” (2009) claims that Gramsci’s approach to the subaltern and hence Spivak’s own extend the humanist tradition: “study humanism, said Gramsci, in somewhat the same spirit as some of us say [literary studies] train the ethical reflex. [T]o think of responsibility as a freedom, you need that very humanistic education which teaches rebellion against it” (Spivak 2012: 461).4 “Humanist education” in general trains the “ethical reflex” in precisely the same way literary study in particular does: it opens one to forms of consciousness fundamentally different from one’s own. Such openness eventually requires one to “rebel” against one’s training itself: the otherness of some text—indeed, perhaps every text—will exceed what one has been taught. In provoking this rebellion, humanism suggests the imaginative “freedom” it makes possible leads not to individual autonomy but rather to heteronomous “responsibility” (Spivak 2004: 533). Such responsibility is the source of the resemblance, invoked by both Gramsci and Spivak, between the humanist’s approach to the text and the intellectual’s affiliation with the subaltern. In either case, one must—in Spivak’s idiomatic description of deconstruction—“take a step back” from one’s axioms about humanity and agency. The subaltern is, by definition, “removed from all lines of social mobility”: it cannot, in other words, easily utilize the economic and political institutions that emerged during the European

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Enlightenment—think of the difficulty an illiterate Third World peasant, for example, might face in this regard. This difficulty is the precise sense in which, according to Spivak’s most famous formulation, “the subaltern cannot speak”: it lacks “agency” in the sense of “institutionally validated action” (Spivak 2012: 431–2). To appreciate the alternative forms—the “unrecognizable resistance”—subaltern groups can and do ­actually exercise, we would need first to deconstruct our very concept of agency (2012: 434). As we make visible the différance that constituted this concept, we would also trace other forms of action erased along the way. In Spivak’s view, taking a step back toward all those subaltern forms would alone realize the humanist and revolutionary traditions’ deepest ideals (2012: 462–5). Yet this step back would, at the same time, begin to liberate critical thought from those traditions. As Spivak’s “Scattered Speculations on the Subaltern and Popular” (2005) suggest, Gramsci’s fascination with the former stemmed from his desire to free himself from both his classical education and his Marxist training (Spivak 2005: 435). The latter is trapped, according to Spivak, within an industrial mindset. The semantic constellation “society”/“social”/“socialize” (Gesellschaft/gesellschaftlich/vergesellschaften) presupposes an association of people based on quantified labor (2005: 462). This constellation gave rise to the ideas of justice—founded on the possibility of equivalence—that inform Marxism as well as liberalism. In contrast, the category of the subaltern, whose origins Spivak traces to The Southern Question, contains principles of social organization and justice not commensurable with any others. It provided an “amendment” to the logic of capital, enabling Gramsci to grasp what the Marxist thinkers who preceded him never could, the revolutionary possibilities particular to spaces of uneven development (Spivak 2005: 431). Spivak has emphasized that the subaltern refers not to particular groups or identities but rather to “long‐delegitimized epistemes” (2005: 432). Recall my claim that postcolonial studies emerges from an epistemic rupture within the revolutionary tradition. I can now add: this rupture is, more precisely, a refusal of the conditions imposed on human agency. In this refusal, the work not just of Gramsci and Spivak but also of the Subaltern Studies collective anticipates Conscripts of Modernity by many decades. In its work, postcolonial theory is, explicitly, a critical response to revolutionary discourse. From the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789, 1793, 1795) forward, this discourse has placed sovereignty in the “nation.” Hence, anticolonial movements became credible, as Spivak’s “Breast‐Giver” (1997) recounts, only when they “acceded to sentiments of nationhood” (1997: 79). Anticolonial nationalists needed, therefore, actively to suppress “innumerable examples of subaltern resistance” (1997: 80). Doing so effectively replaced imperialism with neocolonialism. Multilateral institutions now use the discourse of human rights to re‐impose international control on Third World states whose policies are deemed—always from above—contrary to “the national interest.” In diametric opposition, Spivak’s “Righting Wrongs” argues that “responsibility” to the subaltern would slowly transform—in principle “from below”—the meaning of “rights,” “human,” “citizen,” and “nation” (Spivak 2004: 525–8, 531, 533, 541, 563). Such responsibility could make these terms finally acknowledge subaltern forms of democracy (2004: 548, 557). But Spivak scarcely distinguishes between the capacity to hear subaltern speech and the skills necessary to read literary texts. As “Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography”


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argues, the former presupposes sensitivity to “sign systems” (Spivak 1988: 4). Conversely, to grasp the singularity of any literary text—its figurative or non‐referential dimension— one must hear the subaltern speech surviving within it. In Spivak’s view, literature contains forms of language and agency that “amend” what is considered correct speech and action. As Death of a Discipline makes clear, “World Literature” must contain those forms that supplement what human rights discourse considers correct (Spivak 2012, 460–4; 2005: 14). Spivak’s deconstructive approach to this discourse crystallizes the interlinked theories discussed here and reveals their relevance today. If Marxism responded to capitalism dialectically, wanting to replace it with a single and even more universal system, anti‐globalization movements now respond to capitalism deconstructively, wanting instead to articulate the disparate demands of those who build the global economy but are neither seen nor heard there. If they remain so, who will crawl, Spivak asks, “into the place of ‘the human’ of ‘humanism’ at the end of the day, even in the name of diversity?” (Spivak 2005: 23). Scott and Chakrabarty’s shared premise is that postcolonial thought’s horizon remains the “autonomous rights‐bearing” subject, the legacy of the late eighteenth‐century revolutions (Charkrabarty 2012: 4). This chapter has argued, against any such premise, that postcolonial theory has long since moved beyond that horizon. Its point of departure was, in fact, a critique of the conditions colonialism had imposed on freedom and a willingness to put “the human” radically into question. Both this critique and this question were occasioned by the effort of anticolonial intellectuals to align themselves with those who were in no position to exercise human rights, who did not necessarily aspire to their acquisition, and whose humanity consequently could not be reduced to their ownership.5 This alignment was meant to liberate anticolonial movements from the prison of European freedom. Perhaps it possesses the power still today to release the humanities from their own elitism and help them finally see themselves as spaces less of (academic) freedom than of “exclusion and invisibility.” In any case, though, the genealogy of postcolonial theory recounted here—from Gramsci and Fanon through Said and Spivak to Chakrabarty and Scott—can be read as a necessarily endless effort to rethink the revolutionary principle of freedom from the perspective of those to whom it was never designed to extend.

Notes 1 This definition of the subaltern comes from Spivak (2004: 531 and 2012: 430, 439). 2 One could argue that Gramsci devoted ­practically all of The Prison Notebooks—with its histories of state formation and civil society, studies of workers and peasants, analyses of cultural media and popular culture, and typologies of intellectuals—to elaborating a ­ consciousness of revolution’s limits as well as its possibilities (see Anderson 2016: 71).

3 See, for example, Ahmad (1994: 159–220). 4 Spivak quotes Gramsci’s claim (1971: 10) that “the new intellectual” must acquire a “humanist conception of history, without which one remains ‘specialist’.” 5 Spivak explains (2004: 534): “Living in the rhythm of the eco‐biome does not lead to exploration and conquest of nature.”

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References Ahmad, Aijaz. 1994. In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures. London: Verso. Anderson, Perry. 2016. “The Heirs of Gramsci,” New Left Review 100 (July–August 2016): 71–97. Arendt, Hannah. 1990. On Revolution. New York: Penguin. Césaire, Aimé. 2000. Discourse on Colonialism. New York: Monthly Review Press. Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 2009. “The Climate of History: Four Theses.” Critical Inquiry 35 (Winter 2009): 197–222. Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 2012. “Postcolonial Studies and the Challenge of Climate Change.” New Literary History 43 (1) (Winter 2012): 1–18. Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 2014. “Climate and Capital: On Conjoined Histories.” Critical Inquiry 41 (Autumn 2014): 1–23. Derrida, Jacques. 1976. Of Grammatology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Derrida, Jacques. 1978. Writing and Difference. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Derrida, Jacques. 1982. Margins of Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Derrida, Jacques. 2002. Acts of Religion. London: Routledge. Fanon, Frantz. 1963. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press. Gikandi, Simon. 2004. “Poststructuralism and Postcolonial Discourse.” In Neil Lazarus (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Postcolonial Literary Studies, 97–119. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. New York: International Publishers. Gramsci, Antonio. 1985. Selections from the Cultural Writings. London: Lawrence & Wishart. Gramsci, Antonio. 2005. The Southern Question. Toronto: Guernica. Guevara, Ernesto. 2003. Che Guevara Reader. Melbourne: Ocean Press.

Guha, Ranajit and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (eds.). 1988. Selected Subaltern Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Kelley, Robin D. G. 2000. “A Poetics of Anticolonialism.” In Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism, 7–28. New York: Monthly Review Press. Kojève, Alexander. 1980. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Levinas, Emmanuel. 1994. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. Levinas, Emmanuel. 1998. Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. Lévi‐Strauss, Claude. 1966. The Savage Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Mao Tse‐Tung. 2001. Literature and Art. Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific. Said, Edward. 1971. “Abecedarium Culturae: Structuralism, Absence, Writing,” TriQuarterly 20 (Winter): 33–71. Said, Edward. 1975. Beginnings: Intention and Method. New York: Basic Books. Said, Edward. 1979. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books. Said, Edward. 1988. “Foreword.” In Guha and Spivak (eds.). Selected Subaltern Studies, v–x. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Said, Edward. 1993. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books. Said, Edward. 2004. Humanism and Democratic Criticism. New York: Columbia University Press. Sartre, Jean Paul. 2001. Colonialism and Neocolonialism. London: Routledge. Scott, David. 2005. Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment, Durham: Duke University Press. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1988. “Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography.” In


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Guha and Spivak (eds.), Selected Subaltern Studies, 3–32. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1997. “‘Breast‐ Giver’: For Author, Reader, Teacher, Subaltern, Historian …” In Mahasweta Devi, Breast Stories, 76–137. Calcutta: Seagull Books. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1999. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 2004. “Righting Wrongs.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 103 (2/3) (Spring/Summer 2004): 523–81.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 2005. Death of a Discipline. New York: Columbia University Press. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 2012. An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Young, Robert. 1990. White Mythologies: Writing History and the West. London: Routledge. Young, Robert. 2001. “Preface.” In Sartre. Colonialism and Neocolonialism, vii–xxiv. London: Routledge.


Globalization Studies Diana Brydon

Introduction: What Is Globalization? Globalization describes an economically driven imaginary associated with modernity, capitalism, and Eurocentric forms of imperialism and colonialism. It conceptualizes the world as a single, interconnected unit open to an ever‐expanding drive of capitalist progress and the various processes, economic, cultural, and social, that enable and are enabled by it. These processes are defined as tightly interlinked transworld practices and experiences, which operate at multi‐scaled levels. How it looks depends on the location of the observer within the system: it has analysts, champions, and detractors across the disciplines. Globalization has a history, but there is disagreement about whether or not contemporary globalization represents the emergence of something truly unprecedented. In the last two decades of the twentieth century, people began to argue that this confluence of interactions more tightly linking economic, technical, and environmental changes represented something genuinely new, which they called globalization, itself a newly coined word to describe a new imaginary. At the same time, while defining it as “modernity at large” (Appadurai 1996), “the second modernity” (Beck 2000), or “the modern/colonial world system” (Mignolo 2000: 33), these theorists acknowledged its roots in earlier formations. For many theorists, globalization, as a growing sense of the oneness of the world, that is, as a perceived condition, has been concurrently enabled by the threat of global nuclear annihilation, the information technology revolution, the first views of earth as a planet when seen by astronauts from outer space, and the transworld penetration of capitalism as a global system after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent end of the Cold War. These events were accompanied by the end of capital controls and a subsequent movement toward global financial markets enabled by the emergent ideology of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is “characterized by a move to open markets, low state intervention, A Companion to Literary Theory, First Edition. Edited by David H. Richter. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


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free movement of capital and goods and privatization of previously nationalized industries.” It provides “the macroeconomic template employed by major global financial institutions” such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization (Mooney and Evans 2007: 176–7). These changes were institutionalized as “the Washington consensus,” which Ulrich Beck describes as “the trinity of deregulation, liberalization and privatization” (2005: 261). While not identical with globalization, neoliberalism is seen as one of its ideologies. By the late twentieth century, then, when the word “globalization” first entered popular discourse, globalization had emerged as a new master discourse for pulling together the various contradictory pressures of the times. Adopted first by the business press, and then by social and cultural studies, it entered literary studies in the early 2000s. To live in a globalized world, globalization theorists argue, is simultaneously to find oneself both more vulnerable (to pandemics, climate change, terrorist attacks, and the many other impacts of decisions made elsewhere) as well as more informed, with more opportunities to learn about life beyond one’s immediate locality. For those considered the global elite, globalization offers more choices and greater mobility; for those less fortunate, globalization offers more precarity. But for both groups, it enables the possibility of ­imagining a world beyond one’s inherited locality. Originally considered a homogenizing process, globalization is now recognized as profoundly uneven and heterogeneous in its effects. Earlier theorists feared that globalization threatened the autonomy and sovereignty of nation‐states. Those fears continue, especially in relation to proposed new trade deals and their investor state dispute settlement agreements (ISDS) that privilege the interests of corporations. It is also recognized that globalization may entrench as well as challenge insular nationalisms. Therefore, Brexit, the 2016 vote of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, may be seen as part of the larger globalization dynamic as well as a retreat from some of its implications. The academic study of globalization has been in uneasy dialogue with media and popular accounts since the idea of globalization first began to replace previously hegemonic ­explanatory terms for contemporary conditions such as modernity, development, and ­postmodernism in the last two decades of the twentieth century. Norman Fairclough ­identifies five main agents and agencies who voice views on globalization: academic ­analysts, governmental agencies, non‐governmental agencies, the media, and people in everyday life (Fairclough 2006: 5). While each is important, I simplify here for the purpose of distinguishing the theoretical and analytic focus of academic accounts from the others. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that, unlike some other branches of theory, globalization is an imaginary with a life outside academia. Characterizations of globalization among these different sectors cross‐influence each other. Defining globalization is also tricky, because as Jan Aart Scholte explains, “Globalization is simultaneously an effect and a cause,” something that both requires explanation and presents itself as one (Scholte 2005: 4). For many of the early advocates of using this term to describe contemporary societal and economic changes, globalization was irreversible, a confluence of forces that led people such as Anthony Giddens to describe it as “a runaway world.” In this view, globalization is used both to describe a contemporary condition defined by changes in how the world is experienced and to describe the processes that have created these supposedly new conditions. Globalization functions as a descriptive and an

Globalization Studies


explanatory discourse, but it is also often used to make ideological arguments, either celebrating or contesting the rise of a new global trade regime and its supposedly borderless world or seeing in it an opportunity for creating a more just global system. As a new paradigm for conceptualizing world affairs, globalization prompts many questions. Does it really exist? If it does exist, does it describe something new or is it a new name for something old? How is it different from internationalization, cosmopolitanism, or neoliberalism? Whose interests does it serve? Who are its agents? When did it begin? Is it something to be welcomed or resisted? Can it be resisted? Is it possible to imagine a post‐ globalization future? Implied by these questions is a debate about its key features and the value of transforming traditional disciplinary habits to address the challenges to status quo thinking that globalization studies can, but does not always, pose. Depending on how those questions are answered, a further set of questions emerge about the impact of globalization on every dimension of human life and the disciplines designed to understand them. Timothy Brennan notes that “debates over globalization are discursive. That is, they are debates over theory: over which explanatory mechanism makes the most sense given a body of (mostly implicit) ethical and political objectives” (Brennan 2008: 40). Brennan maps five key positions structuring the field. First, globalization finds its key significance as a political promise moving us beyond the disputes of the past into a global arena of engagement. Second, it is primarily a development of trade and finance. Third, it is structurally American, with “the United States as a mini‐model of the future world” (2008: 41). Fourth, it “is the form imperialism takes in the late twentieth century” (2008: 42; citing Samir Amin). Finally, globalization does not exist but is rather “a projection that passes itself off as a description” (Brennan 2008: 42). Each position is controversial and each has its advocates. Brennan’s taxonomy addresses some of the earlier binaries of globalization studies in an indirect fashion. His final point summarizes the position of the globalization skeptics. For these critics, humanity has always sought to globalize in a series of uneven waves characterized by expansion and retraction, movements outward and inward, in motions much like the tides of the sea. His fourth point indicates one position taken by anti‐globalization theorists, those who believe that globalization exists and that it is a bad development. Both opponents and advocates of globalization may agree that it is fundamentally driven by American interests and they often share a belief that it is essentially a matter of trade and finance operating within the global sphere. Where they differ is in how they view the consequences of such processes. For some, globalization ensures prosperity for all, as a rising tide lifts all boats. For others, the human costs are unacceptable. Too many are left permanently stranded. And for yet another group, despite the many associated problems, globalization offers openings for creating a better world. In an attempt to capture globalization’s cross‐cutting complexity, Giddens defines globalization as “a complex set of processes … [that] operate in a contradictory or oppositional fashion” (Giddens 2000: 30–1). Beck writes that globalization “denotes the processes through which sovereign national states are criss‐crossed and undermined by transnational actors with varying prospects of power, orientations, identities and networks” (Beck 2000: 11; italics in original). Scholte claims that “globalization is best understood as a reconfiguration of social geography marked by the growth of transplanetary and supraterritorial connections between people” (Scholte 2005: 8). John Tomlinson summarizes globalization


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as “complex connectivity,” by which he refers to “the rapidly developing and ever‐densening network of interconnections and interdependences that characterize modern social life” (Tomlinson 1999: 2). Each definition stresses the complexity of the concept and the challenge it poses to the conventional disciplinary divisions of responsibility. Globalization, it is claimed, makes it difficult to separate study of the economy from study of culture, society, or politics. This situation carries implications for scholarship and policy, suggesting the necessity of more interdisciplinary research. When globalization debates intensified at the turn of the last century, they were often posed in terms of crude binaries opposing globalization to anti‐globalization, with the so‐ called 1999 “Battle of Seattle” World Trade Organization demonstrations as their key symbol. After the attacks on the New York Trade Centre twin towers on September 11, 2001, the economic collapse of 2008, and the rise of new economic players on the global scene, the equation of globalization with the ideology of neoliberalism gained ground. Gayatri Spivak endorses this view when she writes: “Globalization is achieved by the imposition of the same system of exchange everywhere (Spivak 2012: 484). For others, who put less stress on what Spivak calls “the financialization of the globe” (Spivak 2003: 85) and more on the idea of increasing transworld mobility, globalization has a longer, more complex history, which may offer openings for countering the more negative effects of its impacts. While for some, globalization reaffirms business as usual, for others, it offers an opportunity for intervention to achieve progressive social change and justice for all. These hopes are expressed in the motto of the World Social Forum, which affirms that “another world is possible” and in the variety of theoretical innovations afforded by eco‐critical, new materialist, and post‐human theories, whose perspectives are reflected within the various new words, such as “anthropocene” and “chthulucene” (Haraway 2015), now on offer for describing a globalized reality beyond that encompassed by globalization, which for all its expansiveness remains focused on human society.1 The anthropocentrism of modernity and globalization discourse is now being directly challenged by thinkers who fear for the survival of “life on earth” (Haraway 2015: 159).

A New Role for the Imagination in Social Life More detailed attention to some of the key debates structuring globalization should help clarify what is at stake in understanding the field. Key cultural theorists, such as Appadurai, Beck, Spivak, and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing agree that globalization challenges the imagination. Innovation is required to meet that challenge. In a 1990 article, Appadurai argued: “The world we live in today is characterized by a new role for the imagination in social life.” Elaborating, he continues: “The image, the imagined, the imaginary – these are all terms which direct us to something critical and new in global cultural processes: the ­imagination as a social practice” (Rpt. in Brydon 2000: 1804–5; italics in original). His book, Modernity at Large (1996), develops his theory of how globalizing flows enable new imaginaries to develop within a variety of interconnected spheres he describes through the suffix -scape, as ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, financescapes, and ideoscapes, each of which better captures the mobility of these evolving imaginaries than do such bounded nouns as diaspora or the economy (Appadurai 1996: 33).

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From these big picture overviews, he has turned to collaborative community ­engagements advancing “grassroots globalization” (Appadurai 2000) as an alternative to globalization from above, recognizing the potential for theorizing among ordinary people in specific localities, and therefore arguing that we need understandings of research to change to ­recognize “the right to research” (Appadurai 2006). That right extends not just to the non‐academic community but also to include communities in all parts of the world, whose knowledge production has been insufficiently recognized by the Western‐dominated establishment. His work has inspired the book of interviews with leading globalization theorists, Globalizing the Research Imagination (Kenway and Fahey 2009). Working collaboratively with communities in Mumbai, he is demonstrating how such cooperative arrangements may change the ways globalizing impacts can be addressed and redirected. Uniting theory and practice, he shows how research needs to be decolonized, re‐theorized, and extended to incorporate a broader range of the world’s population. While “knowledge of globalization” within the universities of the global North has advanced, he asserts that “the globalization of knowledge” requires further attention. Ulrich Beck, a sociologist writing from a European‐based perspective, agrees that globalization, through the very problems it creates, provides openings for more equitable global relations. Searching for solutions, he argues for a remodeled cosmopolitan vision. Since the late 1990s, Beck has written extensively on cosmopolitanism and still sees promise, even in globalization’s darkest impacts, for developing a cosmopolitan ethic. Yet early on, he detected globalization’s challenge to the imagination in how perceptions of risk were evolving within what he progressively conceptualized in Risk Society (1992), World Risk Society (1999), and World at Risk (2009). Beck recognizes that life has always been risky but during the “first modernity,” which he locates within the rise of industrial society and its faith in progress, he sees a belief that risks could be anticipated, insured against, and managed. That belief began to be questioned as the world transitioned into a phase he calls “the second modernity,” the period of globalization. What has changed with the second modernity, he argues, is not so much risk itself but the perception of risk. The nuclear disaster at Chernobyl alerted many to the ways in which events can have impacts that cross national borders and cannot be managed within nation‐states alone. Such ­circumstances caused Beck to argue that the “methodological nationalism” of current disciplinary structures must be revised to develop a “methodological cosmopolitanism” more appropriate to understanding and negotiating globalization (Beck 2005: 43–50). He ­distinguishes his preferred method of “methodological cosmopolitanism” from what he calls the “methodological pluralism” of postmodern theorists such as Manuel Castells, who focuses on networks, Zygmunt Bauman, who writes of global flows, and Arjun Appadurai, who writes of global ’scapes (Beck 2005: 47–8). He believes these theorists over‐stress the dissolution of boundaries under globalization whereas his approach addresses the situated politics in which they are redrawn and renegotiated in relation to the complexities of specific issues. Beck’s early work on risk presciently preceded the rise of global terrorism after 9/11. Contemporary fears of terrorism and the actions taken in efforts to allay them, are in his view attributable to the new role of the imagination in social life that arises with globalizing processes. A heightened sense of fear of the unknown and imagined risks need not be realistic to trigger decisions causing major changes in governance and daily life. Imagined


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scenarios can have material effects. Such unanticipated results of globalizing processes require a cosmopolitan vision to address them. Gayatri Spivak, as a feminist literary theorist and a comparatist who seeks to put ­deconstruction to work, has also written extensively about the need to decolonize the imagination, unlearn “our privilege as our loss” (Spivak 1990: 9) and “learn to learn from below” (Spivak 2012: 439). She claims that “we live in a time and place that has privatized the imagination and pitted it against the political” (Spivak 2003: 35–6). She reclaims the imagination for “re‐constellating the responsibility‐thinking of precapitalist societies into the abstractions of the democratic structures of civil society” (Spivak 2012: 348). A planetary perspective, she argues, could be used “to control globalization interruptively, to locate the imperative in the indefinite radical alterity of the other space of a planet to deflect the rational imperative of capitalist globalization: to displace dialogics into this set of contradictions” (2012: 348). Global exchange needs to be reconceptualized away from locating agency, power, and knowledge within the global North alone. Instead, she suggests: “Imagine yourself—and them—as both receivers and givers—not in a Master/Slave dialectic, but in a dialogic of accountability … It is in this framework, thinking the world, not just the nation‐state, that I say to all of us: let us imagine anew imperatives that ­structure all of us, as giver and taker, female and male, planetary human beings” (2012: 350). Asserting that this reciprocity built into planetarity is “perhaps best imagined from the precapitalist cultures of the planet” (Spivak 2003: 101), she argues the need to “try persistently to reverse and displace globalization into planetarity” (2003: 97). As part of that task, she suggests that literary studies and area studies need to work together, interrupting and supplementing each other, to create forms of “transnational literacy” (2003: 81) that can resist a liberal multiculturalism that merely recruits “native informants” into the ­promotion of globalizing interests. While Appadurai’s globalization is characterized by ’scapes, Beck’s by risks, and Spivak’s by the need to practice vigilance against complicity, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing stresses the friction through which cultures are “continually co‐produced” (Tsing 2005: 4). Countering earlier descriptions of global mobility as flow, Tsing argues that friction both enables and disrupts the operations of global power. Through friction, she argues, “Abstract claims about the globe can be studied as they operate in the world. We might thus ask about ­universals not as truths or lies but as sticky engagements” (2005: 6). Asking “where would one locate the global in order to study it? (2005: 3), she focuses on local encounters and “develops a portfolio of methods to study the productive friction of global connections” within them (2005: 3). She counters earlier views that globalization is inevitable and global knowledge is monolithic, to focus instead on “how universals are used” (2005: 9), especially within zones of “awkward connection” (2005: 11), such as those of translation and collaboration. Her “ethnography of global connection” addresses the movements and frictions of three universals—prosperity, knowledge, and freedom—as they are co‐produced within the rainforests of Indonesia during the 1980s and 1990s. In puzzling over how to “do an ethnography of global connection,” Tsing focuses on “zones of awkward engagement, where words mean something different across a divide even as people agree to speak. These zones of cultural friction are transient; they arise out of encounter and interactions. They reappear in new places with changing events” (2005: xi). This strategy represents her way of countering the concept of globalization, which she

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see as encouraging “dreams of a world in which everything has become part of one single imperial system” (2005: xiii). Rejecting “a distancing imperial gaze,” which would see Indonesia as “only a scrap of data,” she creates a theory of global encounter in which Indonesian global encounters may inform “that shared space in which Indonesian and non‐Indonesians jointly experience fears, tensions, and uncertainties” (2005: 3). This is a reciprocally produced space in which contingency matters and the imagination flourishes. Her work is characterized by a proliferation of challenging questions and her attentiveness to the complexities of scale. Friction (2005) demonstrates how globalization theory can renew both understanding of globalization and the aesthetic potential of scholarship for conveying complex understandings in accessible form. Tsing’s later, collaborative book edited with Carol Gluck, Words in Motion (2009), focuses on how “words and worlds are made at different scales” and how they move across space and time, again with the aim of exploring “how scholars might study global connections without prematurely homogenizing the globe” (Tsing 2009: 11). Conceived as an experiment in bringing “regional, national, and cultural specificity into stories of global connection,” the essays use key words to show “struggles over which scales will matter” (2009: 12). Appadurai, Beck, Spivak, and Tsing each stress the challenges globalization poses to the scholarly imagination and each poses the question: “how does one study the global?” (Tsing 2005: 1). In a globalizing world, each recognizes the need “to build heterogeneous audiences” (2005: 211) yet in their work, each charts an individual path. This section has described the ways in which some major theorists within different disciplines have responded to globalization’s challenge in relation to theorization of the imagination, locality and situatedness, borders, risk, mobility, scale, and the space‐time imaginaries afforded by theorizations of world, globe, and planet.

Globalization and Literary Studies Postcolonial, feminist, and cultural studies engaged with globalization earlier than literary studies. A flurry of special journal issues addressing globalization and literary studies appeared at the beginning of the twenty‐first century.2 The critical anthology Globalization and the Humanities (Li 2004), reframes the humanities as viewed through the lens of globalization, organizing the volume around the question: “If the humanities comes into being at a point when Europe dominates the world system, how does it reconstitute the world of knowledge after the political decolonization of Asia and Africa and the apparent neocolonization of the globe by late capital?” (2004: 3). Another anthology of collected essays, The Post‐colonial and the Global (Krishnaswamy and Hawley 2008) continues this theme, including sections on “Disciplinarity and its Discontents,” “Planetarity and the Postcolonial,” and “Imperiality and the Global.” A third anthology, Comparative Literature in an Age of Globalization (Saussy 2006), addresses “‘world literature’ and “the politics of empire.” In the first book specifically addressing Globalization and Literary Studies (2009), Suman Gupta presents a balanced argument addressing complex components of his topic. He begins by considering the narrative performance and cross‐disciplinary travels of globalization as a term. His explanation addresses the civil society movements and protests against


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globalization and its enablement of global cities and ideas of cosmopolis before turning in his fourth chapter to the literary entanglements with thematizations of globalization, culture, and identity. Identifying postcolonial and postmodern theories of identity and culture as the theoretical spaces of convergence with globalization, he takes care to distinguish them. Finally, he registers globalization’s impact within the academic institutional spaces of English studies, comparative literature, and translation studies, and the shifting pressures on authors and literary industries associated with the globalization of literature. This thoughtful study stresses the changing material conditions of production, circulation, and reception of literature within contemporary globalization contexts. It may be contrasted with the more uneven and actively polemical approach taken by Paul Jay in Global Matters: The Transnational Turn in Literary Studies (2010). Jay writes that “transnational literary and cultural studies, whether they present themselves as postcolonial or global, have to begin with a recognition that cultures have always travelled and changed, that the effects of globalization, dramatic as they are, only represent in an accelerated form something that has always taken place: the inexorable change that occurs through intercultural contact, as uneven as the forms it takes may be” (2010: 50). At the largest scale of analysis, such a generalization holds true. It seems to support Tsing’s belief that humanities scholars express faith in the mobilizing power of universals whereas social scientists “look for unevenness and specificity” within them (Tsing 2005: 4). Jay’s universal is global mobility. Yet the globalization argument is not simply about an accelerated mobility but about a confluence of interactions. Jay selects one driver of the globalizing processes that together create an entangled global condition and m ­ istakes it for the whole thing. When Jay turns to address the specifics of critical border studies, he recognizes the important insights of theorists such as Walter D. Mignolo in The Darker Side of Western Modernity and the question of subaltern knowledges within local/global relations. He finds such work provides “useful models for efforts to simultaneously locate and globalize literary and cultural studies while at the same time paying careful attention to local histories marked by the interaction of particular populations and cultural forms” (Jay 2010: 59). Jay’s wording in this passage downplays Mignolo’s stress on the violence of global power relations as perceived from within the subalternized history of the Americas. In Tsing’s terms, by scaling up a specific history to the level of a universal, Jay erases the force of Mignolo’s critique of the ways in which Western universals operate through discourse to erase perspectives derived from non‐Western histories and other places. Many of the challenges Jay issues to globalization theory address popular misconceptions rather than the theory itself. He argues: “We cannot neatly separate economic from cultural commodities” and concludes that “the centre‐periphery model for the study of globalization (one that sees power, commodities, and influence flowing from urban centers in the West to a peripheral developing world) needs to be complicated. In fact, globalization is characterized by complex back and forth flows of people and cultural forms” (Jay 2010: 3). By presenting the imperialist model of one‐way cultural transfer as the only model, and ignoring alternatives that demonstrate how the centers produce the underdevelopment of their peripheries, through conquest, theft, and disadvantageous trade relations, Jay mischaracterizes this model to inflate his views.

Globalization Studies


Jay presents the transnational as a counter to nation‐based analysis, yet it is a model that still privileges the nation. Jay concludes that his individual readings of contemporary texts that embody the transnational turn “do not provide simple answers to complex questions about identity, culture, and belonging but rather they productively trouble the way we think about those questions. In so doing, they present a model for the critical work we do, for the very act of reading and understanding them” (Jay 2010: 200). By rejecting globalization to embrace instead a model that enables literary criticism to continue its focus on these nation‐based questions of belonging, as reinvigorated by attention to a “transnational turn,” Jay enables the discipline to continue its conventional nation‐based close reading practices without engaging the theoretical and methodological questions raised by globalization theorists such as Appadurai, Beck, Spivak, Tsing, or Ngũgĩ. One of the many innovations of globalization theory is its attention to interactions at many scales, from urban, rural, local, sub‐ and supra‐regional, national, international, and global, as they play out around the world. The transworld orientations of the globalization perspective intersect with the transnational along a single zone of encounter. Taking that single zone for analysis is a valuable endeavor but it does not challenge the insights of privileging globalized theory. The first collection addressing Literature and Globalization (Connell and Marsh 2011) takes a more balanced approach. Designed for teaching purposes, it includes three sections comprising, first, key essays from globalization studies; second, such distinctively literary concerns as “world literature” (Franco Moretti), “the future of English” (Paul Jay), “the claims of postcoloniality” (Simon Gikandi), “cosmopolitanism” (Jacques Derrida), “literature, diversity, and totality” (Masao Miyoshi), and “the politics of linguicide” (Emily Apter); and, finally, “literary readings” of a number of key issues associated with globalization: environmentalism, money and markets, technology and cyber‐cultures, migration and labor, worldliness and cosmopolitanisms. This arrangement reflects the dominant ways in which globalization has entered literary studies. Each prompts renewed theoretical engagement, a reconsideration of both the methodologies and the stakes involved. Globalization studies has also given renewed visibility to Immanuel Wallerstein’s world systems theory and critiques of capitalism, colonialism, and neoliberalism, especially those developed within postcolonial and cultural studies, while complicating the analyses they afford. Immanuel Wallerstein and the Problem of the World: System, Scale, Culture (Palumbo‐Liu et al. 2011) is a model for the innovative ways in which literary scholars can engage with the thinking of a major political economist whose work seldom addresses cultural matters directly but carries important implications for students of literature, history, and culture who wish to understand the implications for scholarship brought about by globalization and to think about the world as an integrated, uneven system for which the keywords of system, scale, and culture take on new significance. In many ways, this book set an agenda for interdisciplinary humanities scholarship that is still being worked out. Kenyan intellectual Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, well‐known in postcolonial circles for his 1972 memo “On the Abolition of the English Department,” combines global and dialectical to coin “globalectics,” an argument for building a mutually affecting dialogue across global differences (Ngũgĩ 2013). For Ngũgĩ, globalectics displaces dialogics, reorganizing literary space and grounding it in the lives and creativity of poor people. This displacement enables a shift toward more equitable, non‐hierarchical, and horizontal


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exchange within the politics of knowing. As Spivak and Appadurai had previously suggested, he engages Western theory and literature on newly negotiated grounds of reciprocal equality. In essence, his model functions as a form of globalization from below, rethinking the utopian potential of claiming epistemic space for forms of knowledge previously ignored or denigrated by mainstream theory. Many literary theorists addressing globalization share Jay’s insistence that the process has a long history going back to the first aspiring world empires (as theorized, for example, by Abu‐Lughod 1989) or at least as old as the first circumnavigation of the globe (Gunn 2001). Yet, despite a continuing skepticism about the usefulness of the globalization framework for describing contemporary changes, literary studies has embraced the idea of the global as justifying research into earlier centuries (Nussbaum 2003), expanded time‐frames of “deep time” (Dimock 2006), reorienting nation‐based American studies (Dimock and Buell 2007), and expanding the reach of modernist studies backwards in time and outwards across the globe (Friedman 2015; Wollaeger and Eatough 2012). These trends show that through globalization, the Anglocentrism of English literary studies is both reinforced (by the rise of global English) and challenged (by a renewed appreciation for the world’s many languages and literatures). Postcolonial theory first alerted English teachers to their complicit role within the British Empire and the contradictory functions, regulative and emancipatory, that an education in English literary studies could perform (Viswanathan 1989), but the global rise of English is rendering its role in linguicide (the killing of other languages) and epistemicide (the killing of other ways of knowing) more visible, a visibility made more prominent by the resurgence of global indigenous movements and the passing of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Eurocentrism of comparative literature is being rethought, and the field reconceptualized through arguments for and against a revival of world literature and through renewed attention to the contact zones of translation studies (Cassin et al. 2014; Apter 2006; Liu 1999). Such globalizing pressures are requiring the mounting of a more robust and carefully theorized defense of the autonomy, practices (such as reading, writing, curricular ­organization, and language‐learning), and value of literature and literary studies and of the humanities more generally in a world that seems to be reorganizing its priorities away from elite cultural practices such as literature toward forms of cultural expression that appear more readily accessible to wider groups of people. The politics associated with globalization, for or against, may partly explain why many literary critics prefer alternative terms for describing the contemporary turn to the global, such as cosmopolitanism, ­transnationalism, or planetarity. Spivak’s invocation of planetarity is one intervention among many within what is being theorized as “the planetary turn” (Elias and Moraru 2015). Emily Apter (2013) coins “planetary dysphoria” to describe “the geo‐psychoanalytic state of the world at its most depressed and unruhig, awaiting the triumphant revenge of acid, oil and dust. These ­elements demonstrate a certain agency; they are sentient materials even if they are not fully licensed subjectivized subjects” (2013: 341). Other invocations of the planet come from eco‐critical thinking (Heise 2008); ethics (Palumbo‐Liu 2012; Hutchings 2007); re‐engagements with Heideggerian models of world (Cheah 2016); expanding and

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p­roliferating global modernisms (Friedman 2015); and revised models for reading ­planetarity, extending its reach through time and space (Dimock 2003). Many of these theorists turn to Heidegger, Levinas, Jean‐Luc Nancy, and Derrida to nuance their models, noting that Nancy and Derrida offer mondialisation as an alternative to globalization. Thus while globe, world, and planet are often conflated, there are important distinctions ­between how these are employed and the meanings they convey. Radhakrishan (2003) argues that “it matters from whose perspective the world is being realized as One. It also matters in what or whose currency the world is being ‘worlded’ and within the symbolics of whose language the pros and cons of globalization are being discussed” (2003: 103). This is an important insight that both troubles and informs much current thinking about these processes. For Rob Wilson worlding “implies a more fully culture‐drenched and being‐haunted process of ‘de‐distancing’ the ever‐globalizing world of techno‐domination and its badly managed nuclearized standing reserve” (Wilson 2007: 211–12). Similarly, Pheng Cheah (2016) echoes Jay in insisting that a globalized economy does not generate a globalized culture and global literature in any simple determinist fashion. In contrast to the use of market exchange as a model for conceptualizing global literary relations, he turns instead to theories that stress the transformative power of literature’s interactions with its readers. He observes: “The two common threads that run through phenomenological and deconstructive accounts of the world are first, the understanding of modernity and its contemporary manifestation, globalization, as world‐ impoverishing and world‐alienating because of their instrumental and calculative reduction of existence, and second, the special connection between world‐making and world‐opening and structures that we can call ‘literary’” (Cheah 2016: 96). Such a view conforms to Spivak’s defences of the literary imagination and Tsing’s skepticism about privileging globalized scales. Like Cheah, Tanoukhi (2008) and Tsing (2005, 2012) suggest that scale does not function in the same way across different domains of endeavor. For Tsing, not everything can be upscaled according to business models of efficiency. Partly as a result of the shift in consciousness enabled by the turn to globalization, theorists have been encouraged to think big, across time/space configurations and their archives, into the employment of “big data” and the new modes of reading it enables, or through engagements with “deep time” perspectives (Dimock 2006). At the same time, literary theorists retain the faith, expressed by Spivak, in the power of literature to “be our teacher as well as our object of investigation” (Spivak 2003: 23). Globalizing processes and the theories that compete to make sense of them continue to require attention to the situated positioning of individual theorists within these debates.

Acknowledgements The research for this chapter was conducted, in part, with support from the Canada Research Chairs Program. I wish to thank my research assistants: Chigbo (Arthur) Anyaduba, Dave Shaw, Hannah Skrynsky, and Melanie Dennis Unrau, as well as postdocs Dr. Libe Garcia Zarranz and Dr. Jessica Jacobson‐Konefall and the members of the critical posthumanities reading group.


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Notes 1 Haraway argues that the planetary effects of anthropogenic processes require new names. In arguing for her preferred term, chthulucene, she claims: “We need a name for the dynamic ongoing sym‐cthonic forces and powers of which people are a part, within which ongoingness is at stake” (Haraway 2015: 160). The issues she names are clearly derived in part

from globalization discourse: “scale, rate/speed, synchronicity, and complexity” (2015: 159). 2 See Comparative Literature 53 (4) (2001); Modern Fiction Studies 48 (1) (2002); PMLA 116 (1) (2001); Public Culture 13 (1) (2001); symploke 9 (1–2) (2001); South Atlantic Quarterly 100 (3) (2001). Others have followed as the century has progressed.

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