Category Archives: Literature

Be Careful What You Write About

This week, we celebrate the publication of Half! Author Sharon Harrigan shares how life can imitate art.

One of the joys of publishing a novel—unlike my first book, a memoir—is that I can tell anyone who sees herself in one of my characters: It’s not you! I made the whole thing up. What a relief to hide under the cover of fiction. But the truth is, like many novelists, I drew inspiration from my life to write Half. The intimacy between the identical twin sisters is based on the close bond I had with my brother, a year and a half older than me. And the girls’ larger-than-life, part hero/part monster father has a passing resemblance to my own.

Orange book cover with twin faces partially shown.

Here’s the surprising thing: recently my life seems to draw inspiration from my book, not the other way around. I can’t tell whether this turn of events is delightfully magical or just plain creepy. Maybe both.

In my novel, two siblings are so close they speak in one voice, until they can’t. They discover a secret that breaks their collective voice in half.

At the end of 2019, the advance readers’ copies had just gone out. My brother was visiting for Christmas, and we were walking my dog to the playground when he said, “I have something to tell you.” His voice hushed, even though no one but my cockapoo was anywhere near enough to overhear us. My brother is a professor, used to giving lectures and speeches, and usually words flow easily from him. But on that night, they came slowly. One. At. A. Time. He told me about a terrible event he hadn’t shared with anyone. I could hear, in his hesitation, how much it hurt.

I felt his pain. People use that phrase all the time, but they don’t usually mean a physical sensation. I do. Stress gives some people headaches; in others, it causes tight shoulders or a churning stomach. For me, stress stabs me in the throat. I developed a flu that resulted in a damaged nerve, paralyzing one of my two vocal cords. I posted the diagnosis on Facebook. “So funny,” my friends said. “You wrote a book about a voice breaking in half and then it happened to you!”

“I know,” I responded. “Be careful what you write about.”

Half ends in 2030, when climate change has resulted in a world that didn’t seem possible in the Before Times. It snows endlessly for months, the sky a white out.

In real life 2020, we muse wistfully about the pre-pandemic universe, a place we know will never exist in quite the same way again. It might as well be blizzarding for months, because we act as if we’re snowed in, barely ever leaving our houses.

In my fictional near future, “a fault line from Portland to Seattle caused the biggest earthquake in recent history. Sea levels rose and coastal houses, once worth millions, couldn’t be sold for scraps.” Will something like this happen in ten years? No one knows what the future will hold.

At least I don’t know. But my book—in its own magical or creepy or artfully mysterious way—just might.

author in black shirt with green background

Sharon Harrigan teaches at WriterHouse, a nonprofit literary center in Charlottesville, Virginia. She is the author of Playing with Dynamite: A Memoir. Her work has appeared in the New York Times (Modern Love), NarrativeVirginia Quarterly Review, and elsewhere.

Reimagining Ecosystems through Science Fiction

Science fiction readers may be familiar with the giant sandworms of Frank Herbert’s Dune, or the pequeninos, small pig-like aliens from Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. These species and their surrounding ecosystems puzzle the human explorers that encounter them. In the article “Islands in the Aether Ocean: Speculative Ecosystems in Science Fiction” from Contemporary Literature, Elizabeth Callaway examines these two novels and their strange species, arguing that the authors propose a different way of relating to biodiversity. In this interview, Callaway explains how science fiction can help us question the conceptual frameworks that define our understanding of biodiversity on Earth.


How did you end up looking at science fiction through the lens of biodiversity?

Actually, the interest in biodiversity came first! I’m writing a book about representations of biodiversity, and a version of the article we’re discussing now appears as a chapter. When I was initially thinking about assembling a group of texts that tackle the challenge of representing species in their multitudes, science fiction seemed like a particularly fertile place to start. Within the genre are novels that describe entire planets of living variety. While other types of books mention hundreds of species (memoirs of competitive birders or the nonfiction of E. O. Wilson, for example) SF is really excellent at portraying entire planets of surprising and lively creatures. In addition, these planets can sometime feature what I call “speculative ecosystems,” or sets of interactions among living creatures that do not function the way Earth’s ecosystems do. They’re built on different, imaginative systems, and because they’re so unusual they model alternative stances toward biodiversity.

When it comes to depicting biodiversity, what makes these two novels different from other works of science fiction?

Their “speculative ecosystems” are a key part of what sets them apart. Unlike many worlds that are simple Earth analogues where the environment doesn’t make much of a difference to the story, and unlike novels which feature a planet seeded with Earth organisms (like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy), these are not systems that are analogous to Earth ecosystems or based on Earth species. They’re totally alien (if imagined) worlds. There are other examples that I would include as speculative ecosystems. The most well-known might be James Cameron’s Avatar. That world features ecosystems that work in ways that are very different from those on Earth. Animals can connect to each other with exposed nerve-type organs, there is a central tree that connects the entire planet in a type of neural net, and there’s abundant terrestrial bioluminescence. That said, Dune and Speaker for the Dead, unlike Avatar, do not make the speculative ecosystem into an object of worship or offer any old-school environmental readings having to do with rootedness, sense of place, or living on the land. Rather they explore the speculative variety of organisms on their planet in new ways.

You say that, while we are used to thinking about science fiction as a genre that shows us possible futures for our own planet, science fiction also works “by imagining things that could never be.” How can the “counterfactual” nature of science fiction help us to think about our own environmental challenges?

On one hand it seems like the science fiction texts that imagine Earth futures might be more useful for thinking through current environmental challenges. You think of stories that include biodiversity decline like Phillip K. Dick’s Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep or Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, and it’s clear how they’re interested in what animals mean to individual people and also to different human societies. They explore how these meanings might change as species decline. What is particularly interesting to me about science fiction that doesn’t imagine future Earths of declined species, however, is that they experiment with alternative ways to relate to biodiversity. In particular, I think it’s useful that Dune and Speaker for the Dead present a puzzled stance toward biodiversity where one is continually surprised by the way diverse nonhuman organisms interact with each other. I think the mechanics of science fiction itself—the way it explains how the fictional world works by casually throwing out hints rather than presenting sections of exposition—are fantastic for modeling a puzzled engagement that holds space open for recognizing the agency of nonhumans. In science fiction we’re always ready for that clue that changes what we had assumed to be true about the world, and this is especially true for the impossibly strange ecosystems of counterfactual worlds. If we’re curious about how the world works while aware that we can be surprised, then I think that can cultivate an attitude that more easily recognizes the liveliness of the material world including (but not limited to) nonhuman living creatures.

What are you reading right now? (For fun or for serious.)

Emily Dickinson has become my home quarantine inspiration. Whenever my socially-distanced world feels tiny and diminished, she makes me realize that my back yard is only as small as my mind. (Dickinson and I share the good fortune of having a yard.) After reading a few of her poems I see the details of the world as strange and new. In one of her more famous quotations she describes poetry as writing which makes her “feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off.” This is such a fabulously weird way of defining poetry, and it is how her poems make me feel except it is also as if my entire word has had a lid removed, and there’s more room to experience everything. I’m also reading How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu, which is beautiful, lonely, and a playful mashup of science fiction and narrative theory.

If you had to pick a favorite species from Arrakis or Lusitania, what would it be?

Given our current pandemic, I am more and more fascinated by the descolada virus that “unglues” DNA and wreaks havoc on the human community of Lusitania in Speaker for the Dead. While I wouldn’t want to characterize the descolada as my “favorite,” it has captured my attention anew. This is the virus that sculpted life on Lusitania, initially creating the plant/animal paired species while driving the vast majority of life extinct. Its world-remaking capabilities certainly feel especially real right now as my own world is being remade in different but comparable ways. Also, the way the descolada simplifies the planet (to put it mildly) is more and more striking to me. I now look at my article’s visualization of the stark ecosystem of Lusitania and imagine a similarly simple social network made of my interactions during social distancing. The story of a virus reshaping a world certainly feels increasingly relevant.


Elizabeth Callaway is an assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of Utah and affiliated faculty with the Environmental Humanities Graduate Program. She researches and teaches at the intersections of contemporary literature, environmental humanities, and digital humanities. Some of her most recent publications focus on climate change in Zadie Smith’s NW, diversity and inclusion in definitions digital humanities, and the speculative ecosystems of science fiction. Her current book project, titled Eden’s Endemics: Narratives of Biodiversity on Earth and Beyond, is forthcoming at the University of Virginia Press.

Poetry and Crisis

As the COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly reshaped political, economic, and personal realities worldwide, it’s easy to wonder how art will look back on this time. In honor of poetry month, we gathered articles from Contemporary Literature journal that discuss how poetry has grappled with past—and ongoing—national and international crises. From the AIDS epidemic, to 9/11, to environmental racism, to the global refugee crisis, these articles examine poetry that addresses the challenge of representing unimaginable circumstances and lost lives. The articles listed here are freely available until 5/31/20.

“Toward an Antiracist Ecopoetics: Waste and Wasting in the Poetry of Claudia Rankine” by Angela Hume, vol. 57.1 (2018)

I read CITIZEN as the latest installment of Rankine’s twenty-year meditation on the “wasting body”—a figure that, in Rankine’s poetry, accounts for how certain bodies are attenuated or made sick under capitalism and the state, while simultaneously being regarded as surplus by these same structures. While the book is not ostensibly a work of ecological poetry or environmental criticism, one of CITIZEN’s most pointed critiques—a critique Rankine makes in her earlier books, too—concerns the difficulty of relating to or identifying with one’s environment when one has been othered by the dominant white society and, consequently, forced to live with greater amounts of environmental risk.

Angela Hume

“Myung Mi Kim’s Vegetal Imaginary and the Poetics of Dispossession” by Melissa Parrish, vol. 59.1 (2018)

As war, regime change, wageless labor, and environmental degradation persist on a global scale, they magnify the vulnerability of the hundreds of millions of people who have long been displaced by capital accumulation…. In this essay, I contend that a poetics oriented toward social dispossession must wrestle with the perpetual violence waged on the representability of people themselves. In this way, lost histories―in their making and survival―are made visible in the act of bearing witness to dispossession across multiple generations and locales. Korean American poet Myung Mi Kim takes up this practice by turning to subjects without subjecthood, whose presence attends to granular scales of life hidden in plain sight.

Melissa Parrish

“‘Not Needed, Except as Meaning’: Belatedness in Post–9/11 American Poetry” by Ann Keniston, vol. 52.4 (2011)

[S]everal poems depict [the 9/11 attacks] in ways that draw attention to this problem of representing the “real.” But these poems do so indirectly; they consider the relation between the literal and the figurative through chronological instability, distance, indirection, and estrangement. These are features that trauma theory, following psychoanalysis, has associated with “belatedness,” a version of Freudian Nachträglichkeit, often translated as “deferred action” and described in terms of disruptions in the process of remembering traumatic events. Belatedness is often manifested for trauma victims in repetition, flashbacks, prolepsis, and other forms of temporal instability, and post–9/11 poems sometimes reveal these features…. Belatedness is here not a symptom, as in psychoanalysis, but rather a poetic strategy.

Ann Keniston

“Avant-Garde Interrupted: A New Narrative after AIDS” by Kaplan Page Harris, vol. 52.4 (2011)

[Kevin Killian’s 2001 book of poems] ARGENTO SERIES might be a good contender as a contemporary version of Ezra Pound’s Gaudier-Brzeska. Like Pound mourning the Vorticist sculptor lost in the trenches of World War I, Killian pays homage to the coterie figures who welcomed and influenced his early writing. Among them are Sam D’Allesandro (d. 1988), Dlugos (d. 1990), Leland Hickman (d. 1991), Steve Abbott (d. 1992), David Wojnarowicz (d. 1992), and Joe Brainard (d. 1994). ARGENTO SERIES gives the impression that these writers were an avant-garde, or something like one, and raises for us the cogent question of what happens when an avant-garde does not develop according to the usual pattern of oppositionality followed by institutional assimilation…. For Killian’s avant-garde, however, one whose genealogy combines the two traditions of gay liberation and modernist experimentation, the neutralizing process happened because of AIDS rather than enticements like literary prizes, endowed chairs, commercial publishing contracts, or M.F.A. reading circuits.

Kaplan Page Harris

National Poetry Month: Poetry for the Present

April is National Poetry Month—and we could all use a little extra poetry lately. Five University of Wisconsin Press poets share a poem from their recently published collections.


Ganbatte by Sarah Kortemeier

Cover image for Ganbatte

Kortemeier: Most of my work means something different to me now than it did when I wrote it; this poem definitely does. Hold on. We need each other, all our collective strength, all our love.





春 [haru] Japanese. Spring.

The sun hides under
the days. Lift them away, like wet planks
from a storm-wrecked house.
One removed, two—a breath,
a cry, a light
strikes a smudged, thin face—
and there is the spring, broken, starving,
still alive. Hoist her out.


If the house by Molly Spencer

Cover image for If the House

Spencer: In these days of sheltering, I’ve been thinking a lot about Linda Gregg’s poem, “We Manage Most When We Manage Small.” It strikes me today—years after writing it—that “Love at These Coordinates” is about managing small in a particular place and in a time of bewilderment, much as we all are now. It’s about focusing on what’s concrete and at hand, and it’s about keeping at it, hanging in there, trying again in hope—with no guarantee of results, and despite the impermanence of everything.


Love at These Coordinates

Put the window here. No

put it here. Where
the leaves are about to burn
and blow away. Keep sweeping

over the bare place
where
you thought you left

your body—breezeway
strike plate
tread of the stair.

Here is the sill
where at the end of

every winter I have tried
to force the paperwhites
to bloom.


Fruit by Bruce Snider

Snider: In this time of social distancing, it’s easy for us to feel disconnected from one another. I wrote “The Average Human” thinking about the imperceptible ways we’re always connected, even across place and time.





The Average Human

breath contains approximately 1044 molecules, which, once exhaled,
in time spread evenly through the atmosphere


                so today I took
in the last breaths of James
Baldwin Marie Curie Genghis
Kahn my great great grandmother’s
breath entering me beside the breath
of a Viking slave boy immolated
on the flames of his master’s
burning corpse. I inhaled
African queens Chinese
emperors the homeless
man with the bright blue
coat down the street. If oxygen
is the third most plentiful
element in the universe, moving
through us like Virgil through
the underworld, how long
have I tasted the girl
drowned among cattails near
the murky shore? In ancient Egypt
a priestess packed a corpse with
salt but not before a breath
escaped that two thousand years
later entered me or at least
atoms of it, a molecule. Plato
theorized atoms in 400 BC
and this morning outside
Athens I took in his last breath,
my lungs damp crypts
where Charon’s oars dipped
into the black waters of the River
Styx, not knowing who would
pay the ferryman and
with what coin on what tongue.


No Day at the Beach by John Brehm

Brehm: I chose this poem because it speaks to the sense of shared vulnerability, as individuals and as a species, that we’re all feeling right now.





Field of Vision

Our survival cost us our happiness,
always scanning for lions
stalking us on the open

savannahs—is that
a panther or just wind
in the tall grass moving?

The carefree became
a big cat’s satisfied sleep.
The rest of us are here,

five million years of fear
hard-wiring our brains
to be on guard, to look

for trouble, for the one
thing wrong with this picture,
whatever the picture might be.

Now we do it out of habit,
even when there’s no reason,
when we’re perfectly safe,

walking out each morning,
naked, under the baobab trees,
into the lion’s field of vision.


Queen in Blue by Ambalila Hemsell

Hemsell: Almost every poem in my collection is in some way about the deeply intertwined nature of death and birth, violence and creation. This poem imagines the return to a vital and animalistic existence amidst the breakdown of capitalistic society. The poem posits that there is joy to be found somewhere in the alchemy of gratitude, love, and survival.



joy

joy spreads like blood on the sheets, love, and we are black
blooded thieves, turnip takers in our lucky rabbit skins.

whiskey makes the good heart powerful and we thump thump
our drums until sunup. chant ourselves hoarse through the smoking

wet cedar. the system of currency and want has lost its sway. I have now
only the natural sorts of hunger. with that in mind, let us feast.

with that in mind, let us cleave the river from the bank with the cosmic axe.
feed the deer from our pockets, the oatmeal we ourselves were raised on

and will raise our children on again. with that in mind, ravage me.
have you seen the quiet way in fog the dawn barely breaks? it is treason

for the day to enter with so little ceremony. I want fireworks. I want
the slaughter of lambs for our holy days, but each day is holier than the last.

as we plummet from our high banyan seat the short switch beats the rug,
the golden beets are slow to come and you, love, accept my hurricane

to your stout trunk, accept the natural uprooting. the bevel meeting of me to you,
god, speak on the smoothing of stone by water, and the fitting of stone to stone.

we are meek walkers on the once lush globe. now, among the perishing, we count
our blessings and shed our shoes.


Luso-Brazilian Review Is Now Free to Read on Project MUSE

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, volumes 41–56 (2004–present) of Luso-Brazilian Review are now freely available until May 31, 2020, on Project MUSE. In opening content, the journal joins a wider initiative led by Project MUSE to provide free access to many books and journals, in order to support scholars as they transition to remote teaching and learning. You can find a complete list of free resources on MUSE here.


Luso-Brazilian Review

Luso-Brazilian Review publishes interdisciplinary scholarship on Portuguese, Brazilian, and Lusophone African cultures, with special emphasis on scholarly works in literature, history, and the social sciences. Each issue of the Luso-Brazilian Review includes articles and book reviews, which may be written in either English or Portuguese.

Four Writers and a Funeral

On Toni Morrison’s birthday, we share a guest post from Cassandra Jackson. She is an author of The Toni Morrison Book Club along with Juda Bennett, Winnifred Brown-Glaude, and Piper Kendrix Williams. Uncle Bobbie’s will host the authors for a reading and signing tonight (2/18) at 7pm.

On June 25, 2018, I sent a group text to Piper, Winnie, and Juda: “My father needs to die. He is suffering and it is so terrible. If you pray, please ask for this part to end.”

I knew that my message had no business in a pop-up notification on a phone, that it would snatch my friends away from dinners, books, and children. Winnie would have to sit down, Juda would stand up, and Piper would cry. But it never occurred to me that I should not tell them what was happening in my world even though I was in Alabama and they were scattered along the line that divides Pennsylvania from New Jersey.

I had arrived in the South with my husband and children to visit my parents for a week. Over the course of those days, my father, who had lived with bone cancer for years, went from playing with his grandchildren to writhing in pain in his hospice bed. If I was to survive his transition from life to death, I needed the three of them to see me do it, to say it back to me, to let me know that the surreal was now real.

We call ourselves the Toni Morrison Book Club, but I am never sure if that name belies too much or too little of what we are. For those who have never been in a book club, the name just means people who talk about books. Those who have participated in a book club probably wonder at the deadly seriousness of one that focuses on a single author, and one of the most acclaimed and sophisticated at that. But our book club is probably not so different from theirs. We talk about human experience, gliding seamlessly between fictional characters and our lives.

As ordinary as it might sound, a book club where friends talk about books and themselves was a radical departure from the thing we had spent years learning to do. Three of us are scholars of literature and a fourth is a sociologist. We have been trained to cultivate scholarly distance and the veneer of objectivity. We say “the ways in which” rather than “how,” “meanings” rather than “the message,” and one of us (I won’t say who, but his name rhymes with Buddha) occasionally sprinkles a bit of French into everyday conversation. When our students judge characters, we remind them that characters are “constructions,” and we redirect them to think about what the character means rather than who the character is. If they tell us what the author meant to say, we tell them that the author (whether living or not) is dead because we do not have access to authors’ thoughts and even when we do, intentions are not art. In these ways, we do away with writers as people and thus kill off ourselves too.

When Juda knocked on my office door rambling and gesticulating about a book that would abandon all that, I thought, sure, why not. I have long been done with writing books of literary criticism that no one but a handful of specialists would read. But when he said the book would be about Toni Morrison, I said, “Have you lost your mind? Boy, if you don’t get away from my door—” But for him, Ms. Morrison’s work would make the perfect jumping-off point. Who more ideal for a book in which writers think about the relationship between literature and their own lives than the woman who, upon finding out that she had won the Nobel Prize for literature, told a committee member, “If you’re going to keep giving prizes to women—and I hope you do—you’re going to have to give us more warning. Men can rent tuxedos. I have to get shoes. I have to get a dress.” But after years of watching scholars argue over the meaning of Ms. Morrison’s work like she was the last cocktail at the Modern Language Association open bar, I had made a quiet pact with myself: Better to die of thirst than sit at that hot mess of a bar. I made Morrison my not-so-secret side-chick who I taught and loved on in class but refused to write about publicly.

In the end, Juda tricked me into it. You’ll have to read the book to find out how, but suffice it to say that he is one sneaky BFF, and I am forever grateful for his conniving.

We met, and talked, and wrote about Toni Morrison’s novels, ourselves, and the world. In one conversation over cupcakes and tears, we moved from Song of Solomon to the death of Philando Castile, a black motorist murdered by police, to Winnie’s son, who she had to warn to be careful, even though no amount of careful ever seems to be enough. Our fear and anger settled over Juda’s table like a thick fog until Juda spoke in a shaky voice, adding himself and Alton Sterling, also murdered by police, to the mix.

This is how our secret lives emerged—things that you think you can never talk about—your brother who hates black people, the gay boy you tried to turn, the white boys you hid from your mother, the tourist visa your family used to immigrate permanently to this country. We decided to center the book on this concept of secrets, the things that we had learned to say with each other’s help. And somewhere in the process, though I am not quite sure of the precise moment, we became something else—not simply friends or colleagues but something overlapping and converged—at once multiple and singular.

I cannot say precisely when we became the Toni Morrison Book Club. But for me, the signs of this merger coalesce around moments of shared grief. In 2017, I was cleaning my attic when my husband called to say that my brother—who was, as far as anyone knew, healthy—had died of a heart attack that morning. I made the necessary calls to my family, still unable to fully process his death. Then I texted TMBC to let them know that I couldn’t meet: “My brother died this morning. I have to go to Alabama. Not sure when I will be back.” They all wrote back immediately, their messages sounding like words one would direct to someone who has been shot. That’s when I realized that the words “Your brother died” had made me feel like I’d been shot—they had penetrated my body, cutting and burning before my mind could understand or accept what happened. I stared at my phone and to my surprise, I was no longer alone in the attic.

We never set out to be this to each other. It felt, instead, like we were just doing what Ms. Morrison would have wanted us to do, telling our own stories as if language was the only thing that could save us. So when we got word in the summer of 2019 that Ms. Morrison had read part of our manuscript and wanted to see more, we were thrilled and scared. Would she see the gift that she had given us? Would she understand that this book was our thank you? Or, would we be remembered as the four nitwits who needed to write a whole-ass book just to tick off the great Toni Morrison?

We would never find out what she thought of The Toni Morrison Book Club. On the morning of August 6, 2019, I sent the following text to TMBC: “Toni Morrison died last night.”

Cassandra Jackson is a professor of English at The College of New Jersey and the author of Violence, Visual Studies, and the Black Male Body and Barriers between Us: Interracial Sex in Nineteenth-Century American Fiction.

Articles We Love: A Valentine’s Reading List

For all our fellow nerdy types out there, this Valentine’s Day, we’re highlighting scholarship from our journals on the literature and economics of love. The selection includes a study on falling divorce rates, an analysis of the courtly love lyrics of medieval Spain and Germany, an article on queer erotics and political action in poetry, and more. All articles listed here are freely available until the end of the month.

Motifs of Love in the Courtly Love Lyric of Moslem Spain and Hohenstaufen Germany by Charles M. Barrack, Monatshefte 105.2 (2013)

“My intention is to demonstrate the striking—even contradictory—attitude of the supplicant minstrel in both traditions to the object of his affection, viz., a noble but distant lady. Let us term this the ‘Platonic-Erotic Dilemma’: Is the beloved a distant, sublime, edifying force or a mere mortal capable of physical love?”

Why Have Divorce Rates Fallen? The Role of Women’s Age at Marriage by Dana Rotz, Journal of Human Resources 51.4 (2016)

“American divorce rates rose from the 1950s to the 1970s peaked around 1980, and have fallen ever since. The mean age at marriage also substantially increased after 1970. I explore the extent to which the rise in age at marriage can explain the decrease in divorce rates for cohorts marrying after 1980.”

Life, War, and Love: The Queer Anarchism of Robert Duncan’s Poetic Action during the Vietnam War by Eric Keenaghan, Contemporary Literature vol. 49.4 (2008)

“The queerness I associate with Duncan’s poetic anarchism, then, is related to the emphasis he places on how eroticism facilitates subjects’ resistance to the liberalist attitudes promoted by the biopolitical state. Whereas many gay and lesbian thinkers and activists promoted sex and eroticism as a means of resisting the state, Duncan was preoccupied with how language is an erotic vehicle mediating embodied experience and promoting transformative passions.”

Lucky in Life, Unlucky in Love? The Effect of Random Income Shocks on Marriage and Divorce by Scott Hankins and Mark Hoekstra, Journal of Human Resources 46.2 (2011)

“There are several reasons why positive income shocks could affect marital decisions. For married couples, more generous cash transfers may have a stabilization effect and relax financial constraints and arguments that lead to divorce. . . . On the other hand, increased resources may enable unhappy couples to incur the costs associated with divorce.”

Cosmopolitan Love: The One and the World in Hari Kunzru’s Transmission by Ashley T. Shelden, Contemporary Literature 53.2 (2012)

“Most critics will agree that the adjective cosmopolitan describes not just a way of organizing the world or a type of subject position but also a stance that pertains, in particular, to the ethical relation to the other. Few critics, however, in their explorations of the ethics of cosmopolitanism, inquire into what one might call the fundamental analytical category of ethics: love.”

Kathleen Fraser and the Transmutation of Love by Jeanne Heuving, Contemporary Literature 51.3 (2010)

“Fraser changes from writing through a poetic speaker as lover addressing her beloved to a transpersonal love writing, or a libidinized ‘field poetics’ (Translating 176). In the course of her career, Fraser comes to write an erotically charged prosody through a “projective” poetics that rejects individuated poetic speakers and cathects directly with her poems’ others and languages—engaging material aspects of language and of the page itself.”

Toni Morrison and Contemporary Literature

This month marks the publication of The Toni Morrison Book Club, a book honoring Morrison’s legacy and role as a central figure in American writing. Since her work has also been a frequent topic in our journal Contemporary Literature, we’ve assembled a reading list of articles on her fiction, including an excellent 1983 interview with Morrison.


Contemporary Literature

An An Interview with Toni Morrison, conducted by Nellie McKay, vol. 24.4 (1983)

“Locating Paradise in the Post–Civil Rights Era: Toni Morrison and Critical Race Theory” by Richard L. Schur, vol. 45.2 (2004). Read the full article, freely available until the end of February.

“Blackness and Art in Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby” by Linda Krumholz, vol. 29.2 (2008). Read the full article, freely available until the end of February.

“Self, society, and myth in Toni Morrison’s fiction” by Cynthia A. Davis, vol. 23.3 (1982)

“The Bonds of Love and the Boundaries of Self in Toni Morrison’s Beloved” by Barbara Schapiro, vol. 32.2 (1991)

“‘Rememory’: Primal Scenes and Constructions in Toni Morrison’s Novels” by Ashraf H. A. Rushdy, vol. 31.3 (1990)

“Form Matters: Toni Morrison’s Sula and the Ethics of Narrative” by Axel Nissen, vol. 40.2 (1999)

“Pain and the Unmaking of Self in Toni Morrison’s Beloved” by Kristin Boudreau, vol. 36.3 (1995)

“The House a Ghost Built: Nommo, Allegory, and the Ethics of Reading in Toni Morrison’s Beloved” by William R. Handley, vol. 36.4 (1995)

“‘Apple Pie’ Ideology and the Politics of Appetite in the Novels of Toni Morrison” by Emma Parker, vol. 39.4 (1998)

“Descent in the ‘House of Chloe’: Race, Rape, and Identity in Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby” by John N. Duvall, vol. 38.2 (1997)

“Impossible Voices: Ethnic Postmodern Narration in Toni Morrison’s Jazz and Karen Tei Yamashita’s Through the Arc of the Rain Forest” by Caroline Rod, vol. 41.4 (2000)

“Paradise Lost and Found: Dualism and Edenic Myth in Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby” by Lauren Lepow, vol. 28.3 (1987)

“The Novelist as Conservator: Stories and Comprehension in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon” by Theodore O. Mason, Jr., vol. 29.4 (1988)


CALL FOR PAPERS AND INTERVIEWS: Contemporary Literature seeks scholarly essays on post-World War II literature written in English which offer scope, supply a new dimension to conventional approaches, or transform customary ways of reading writers. Additionally, CL welcomes interviews that focus on an author’s writing, pursue and elaborate a line of questioning and response, and provide insight into central aspects of the writer’s significance. Past interviews have featured writers such as Dorothy AllisonRae ArmantroutEdwidge DanticatRachael KushnerBen LernerViet Thanh NguyenAfaa Michael Weaver, and Charles Yu.

See the journal’s submission guidelines for more information. Questions may be directed to the editorial office at CL@english.wisc.edu.

Celebrating the Legacy of Monatshefte Editor Hans Adler

In August 2019 we approached colleagues and Weggefährten of Hans Adler and informed them of Hans’s retirement as Editor and Co-Editor of Monatshefte after nearly two decades of service. Along with good wishes for his retirement sent by Rüdiger Campe, Ritchie Robertson, Gerhard Sauder, and Ulrich Gaier, we received and collected these statements that celebrate Hans and speak to his work not only as an editor, but also his contributions to German Studies more generally.

With all good wishes,

Hannah V. Eldridge and Sonja E. Klocke, Editors, Monatshefte


From Rolf Goebel:

I have had the great pleasure of working with Hans Adler as editor of Monatshefte on several occasions, most recently in connection with publishing an article on Hölderlins Erinnerungsmusik (Hölderlin’s Music of Memory) in the journal. Under Adler’s experienced leadership, Monatshefte, one of the most respected and oldest, perhaps the oldest, venue for German studies in the U.S., has continued to offer a wide range of essays exploring themes in literary criticism, cultural studies, and media theory, exploring classical as well as lesser known or unjustly neglected writers while engaging in important debates on new methodologies. I really cannot think of anyone who did a more thorough copy editing job, responded more quickly to questions, was more patient with my tendency to submit yet another round of minor corrections, and, perhaps most importantly, succeeded in speeding up the peer review process to a degree that other journals would be wise to emulate. During the revise-and-resubmit phase, he knew how to use his admirable gift of academic diplomacy in adjudicating any disagreements between the reviewers’ suggestions and my own defenses. Hans Adler will be dearly missed after stepping down as editor, but I am sure he’ll enjoy the extra time for continuing to pursue his scholarly activities and whatever else he plans to do now! 

Dr. Rolf Goebel, Distinguished Professor of German, The University of Alabama in Huntsville


From John Ferguson:

I’ve had the privilege of working on every issue of Monatshefte with Hans since the fall of 2013. Always the professional, Hans always has time for a quick quip. I think the most valuable thing I learned from him is the value of scholarship and education. When he told me about being a young child in post-WWII Germany, it was made clear to me that he was eternally grateful for the opportunities given to him in his life—and that you can never take that for granted. I am positive you will continue to do great things, Hans, even in your “retirement.”

John Ferguson, University of Wisconsin Press, Journals Production Manager


From Sabine Gross:

The eighteen years of overlap between Hans Adler’s time as Monatshefte General Editor and my service as Book Review Editor were a period of enjoyable collaboration and of continued conversation about Monatshefte. As Hans took on the role of General Editor, he started thinking about new initiatives. He inaugurated the popular series “Neu gelesen – wieder gelesen” that Monatshefte featured for a number of years; he intensified outreach to guest editors who contributed exciting Monatshefte Special Issues; and he was happy to work with me when I began the practice of soliciting “review articles” for Monatshefte, a combination of book review/essay/Forschungsbericht that crossed the boundary between my responsibilities and his. But perhaps most importantly, he was firm in his stance that Monatshefte should represent the broadest range of scholarship in German, with no allegiance to specific subdisciplines, schools of thinking, or intellectual profiles. It is not least this breadth and the absence of dogma that has contributed to the continued success of Monatshefte. Thank you, Hans, for almost two decades of dedicated editorial leadership!

Dr. Sabine Gross, Professor of German at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Monatshefte Book Review Editor 


From Mike Lützeler:

9. August 2019, Langnau im Emmental – ein Gruß von Mike Lützeler

Lieber Hans,

Gerade bin ich, mit Sulzer zu sprechen, auf einer Berg-Reise durch einige Oerter der Schweiz, sitze hier im Sonnenschein mit dem Ferien-Blick auf das zerklüftete Emmental. Am Horizont strahlen die verschneiten Gipfel von Eiger, Mönch und Jungfrau, weit weg und doch wie zum Greifen nahe. Das Wetter ist völlig aufgeklärt und so leuchten mir Deine Auslassungen über Horizont und Idylle, Synästhesie und Aisthesis, Anschauung und Synonymie, Utopie und Imagination, Moral und Eudaimonie noch unmittelbarer ein als beim ersten Lesen im Verlauf der Jahre. 

Sonja Klocke schrieb mir, dass Du die Edition der “Monatshefte” nach siebzehn Jahren jungen Kolleginnen anvertraust. So sind Dankesworte fällig. Wenn Du nichts anderes in Deinem Leben geleistet hättest, als die “Monatshefte” herauszugeben, würdest Du mehr als genug für unsere Profession getan haben. Du hast die Zeitschrift nicht lediglich fortgeführt, sondern auf eine höhere wissenschaftliche Ebene gebracht. Die nun 120 Jahre alten “Monatshefte” (die inzwischen längst zur “Vierteljahrsschrift” mutiert sind) gehören zu den allerbesten Periodika des Fachs. Du hast die Niveausteigerung ohne allen Lärm, ohne grässliche Reklame zustandegebracht, einfach durch das Bestehen auf hohen Maßstäben der Edition einer Fachzeitschrift. Verdienstvollerweise hast Du die regelmäßigen Information zur Profession beibehalten (über die einzelnen German Departments, die Dissertationen, die Beförderungen, Todesfälle etc.). Und das Schöne ist auch, dass Du sicher sein kannst, dass Deine beiden Nachfolgerinnen ihre Sache ausgezeichnet machen werden. 

Aber die Arbeit als ‘editor in chief’ war nur ein Teil Deines Beitrags zum Fach. Wir alle wissen, was wir Dir als Experten in Sachen Aufklärungsliteratur zu verdanken haben, denn wer heute über Ästhetiken und Kulturtheorien von Herder, Baumgarten, Kant, Schiller und Sulzer forscht, wird dankbar zu Deinen vorbildlichen Arbeiten greifen. Das gilt besonders für die Herderologen, denen Dein ‘Companion’ und die Studie zur “Prägnanz des Dunklen” eine willkommene Untersuchung mit neuen und anschließbaren Einsichten bedeutete. Und nun die große Sulzer-Edition, für die Du den Humboldt-Forschungspreis erhalten hast, und die Du gemeinsam mit der Kollegin Décultot herausgibst.

Wir lernten uns im unruhigen akademischen Jahr 1967/68 an der FU Berlin kennen. Damals leitete ich  (begleitend zur Emrich-Vorlesung über den modernen Roman) ein Broch/Joyce-Tutorium, in dem wir “Die Schlafwandler” und den “Ulysses” diskutierten. Du hast vor einigen Jahren einen Band mit dem Titel “Protest und Verweigerung” zusammengestellt. Der erinnerte mich (nur vom Titel her) an den Emrich-Band “Protest und Verheißung”, den wir damals (Mitte der 1960er Jahre) lasen. Ich verbrachte das folgende akademische Jahr 1968/69 als Fulbright-Stipendiat an der Indiana University. Das war eine Universität nach meinem Geschmack. Ich stellte mir die anderen US-Hochschulen von vergleichbarer Qualität  ähnlich vor, was sie ja waren, denn überall gab es eine gute Beziehung zwischen Lehrenden und Lernenden, und man brauchte nicht Assistent eines Ordinarius  zu werden, sondern konnte gleich nach der Dissertation seine Professorenlaufbahn beginnen. 

Wir hatten uns aus den Augen verloren, aber dann wurdest Du lange nach der Dissertation von 1980 (“Soziale Romane im Vormärz”), jedoch bald nach der Habilitation über Herder an der Universität Bochum Kollege am German Department der University of Wisconsin, die seit Bestehen des Fachs in Amerika eine Art Leuchtturmfunktion hat. Schon 1968/69 merkte ich schnell, wie wichtig die Deutschabteilungen im Mittelwesten waren: Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois – lauter Staatsuniversitäten mit exzellenten German Departments, die auch international bekannt waren und einen Austausch mit deutschen Kollegen und Kolleginnen pflegten. Unvergesslich der erste Wisconsin Workshop (“Die sogenannten Zwanziger Jahre”), den Jost Hermand und Reinhold Grimm im Herbst 1969 veranstalteten. Ich besuchte ihn und lernte dort auch Egon Schwarz kennen. Gerade bei den Wisconsin Workshops hast Du in den letzten Jahrzehnten aktiv mitarbeiten können und – gemeinsam mit Deinen Kolleginnen und Kollegen – Veranstaltungen mit internationaler Ausstrahlung zusammengestellt. Man darf das inspirierende Zusammenspiel von regelmäßigem Workshop und kontinuierlich erscheinender Zeitschrift nicht unterschätzen. Auch habe ich mich gefreut, dass wir acht Jahre lang im Vorstand der American Friends of Marbach kooperieren konnten.

Da wir nun beide Mitte siebzig sind, wünsch ich Dir noch viel produktive Zeit. Jetzt bleibt mehr Freiheit für Arbeiten auf Deinen Spezialgebieten. So solltest Du dafür sorgen, dass die Herausgeber anderer Zeitschriften mehr zu tun bekommen. Vor allem aber Gesundheit und Wohlergehen wünscht Dir Dein Mike.

Dr. Paul Michael Lützeler, Rosa May Distinguished University Professor in the Humanities at Washington University, St. Louis, and Editor in Chief of the yearbook Gegenwartsliteratur


From Carsten Zelle, a document from the outset of Hans’s career:

Hans Adlers erstes Proseminar am Germanistischen Institut der Ruhr-Universität Bochum, das er als wissenschaftlicher Assistent (m.d.V.b. = mit der Vertretung beauftragt) im Kommentierten Vorlesungsverzeichnis im WS 1979/80 ankündigt:

Für Hans,

mit herzlichem Gruß aus Bochum.

Carsten Zelle (ehemaliger Herausgeber der Zeitschrift Das achtzehnte Jahrhundert)

19-09-19

Prof. Dr. Carsten Zelle, Ruhr-Universität Bochum


From John A. McCarthy:

Twenty years as editor of the Monatshefte is a very long time. Most academics find the task so demanding that six years proves, on average, to be the limit. During that extended period Hans Adler and the journal have become nigh synonymous. His tenure as editor was marked by a keen eye for excellence, a desire for consistency, and an eager thoroughness. What is even more astounding is the fact that editing the Monatshefte was but one of several oversight projects pursued simultaneously. The number of volumes he edited in those years is quite astonishing.

What I recall in particular was a project on “Measuring the World” for a special issue of the journal. He asked me to review the hundred-page typescript, catching me at an unusually busy time when I had said “yes” to too many solicitations for evaluation and was struggling to meet my own publishing deadlines. It really was not a felicitous moment for me. Yet, Hans had developed a powerfully persuasive, mellifluous style that is well designed to encourage potential reviewers to say “yes” when leaning toward “no.” I told him that, even if I were somehow able to fit the review into my schedule, I could not guarantee meeting his (and the Press’s) deadline, which was a mere 3–4 weeks away. A quick review revealed the eclectic contributions to be quite interesting with a common thread running through them. I explained further that I am in the habit of reviewing manuscripts meticulously, looking to see how each chapter of a monograph or each essay in a collection contributes to the sense of a cogent whole. If I only had four weeks, the best I could do is to give the manuscript a cursory review, too little to reveal potential problems. Hans confirmed that he wished to ensure the excellence of each contribution. That was more important. He subsequently persuaded the University of Wisconsin Press to extend the submission deadline by a couple of weeks, and I took on the task. The revised essays did, in fact, appear in September 2016 (108.3). Hans Adler’s management of the review process in this particular instance is surely representative of all his editorial actions on behalf of the Monatshefte.

To be sure, I was predisposed to assist him with the review of the special issue of the journal because of my prior experience of him (and of his work). Our paths first crossed in 1983. Our memories of the encounter diverge a bit, but the essence remains unchanged. He remembers our meeting in Minneapolis/St. Paul during his first trip to the USA, while I recall meeting him at the MLA conference in New York City. He gave me a copy of his Soziale Romane im Vormärz. Literatursemiotische Studie (1980), which I read immediately. It convinced me that Hans Adler is someone with whom I should remain in contact. Thus, our first meeting was a propitious start to a long association during which we ran parallel courses, interconnecting at various points. We share many intellectual interests in common, e.g., regarding the Enlightenment, science and literature, philosophy and literature, aesthetics, and individual writers (Leibniz, Baumgarten, Kant, Herder). His joining the German and Comparative Literature faculty at Wisconsin was one of the smartest moves Wisconsin has made for their already vigorous programs. His career trajectory since then (1990/91) has been stellar, marked, as noted, by his dedication to maintaining and enhancing the role of the Monatshefte as a primary venue for German Studies. He will be missed.

Dr. John A. McCarthy, Professor Emeritus of German and Comparative Literature and Professor of European Studies, Vanderbilt University


Monatshefte Vol 111.3 Cover

Volume 111 #4 of Monatshefte, the final issue with Hans Adler as a coeditor, is now available. Browse the table of contents here.

About Monatshefte: Monatshefte has appeared continuously since 1899 and has been published at the University of Wisconsin–Madison since 1927. A quarterly journal devoted to German literature and culture, Monatshefte offers articles on topics from all periods of German literature and book reviews of current scholarship in German studies. Monatshefte also publishes extensive topic-focused review articles intermittently. The winter issue of each volume contains “Personalia,” a comprehensive listing of German studies faculty and departments in the United States and Canada, as well as a list of all PhD theses that have been defended in the preceding year.

Most Read Articles of 2019

As 2019 wraps up, we take a look back at the most read journal articles published this year. The following list presents the most popular article from each of our journals. Many are freely available to read until the end of January.

African Economic History: “The Politics of African Freehold Land Ownership in Early Colonial Zimbabwe, 1890–1930” by Joseph Mujere and Admire Mseba

Arctic Anthropology: “Farming in the Extreme—Animal Management in Late Medieval and Early Modern Northern Finland” by Maria Lahtinen and Anna-Kaisa Salmi

Contemporary Literature: “Don DeLillo, Madison Avenue, and the Aesthetics of Postwar Fiction” by Aaron Derosa

Ecological Restoration: “Five Decades of Wetland Soil Development of a Constructed Tidal Salt Marsh, North Carolina, USA” by Aaron Noll, Courtney Mobilian, and Christopher Craft

Ghana Studies: “Descendant Epistemology” by Ebony Coletu

Journal of Human Resources: “Teacher Effects on Complex Cognitive Skills and Social-Emotional Competencies” by Matthew A. Kraft

Land Economics: “Adaptation, Sea Level Rise, and Property Prices in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed” by Patrick Walsh, Charles Griffiths, Dennis Guignet, and Heather Klemick

Landscape Journal: “Core Knowledge Domains of Landscape Architecture” by William N. Langley, Robert C. Corry, and Robert D. Brown

Luso-Brazilian Review: “Os lugares do morto: O que faz Eça na literatura portuguesa contemporânea?” by Pedro Marques

Monatshefte: “Recent German Ecocriticism in Interdisciplinary Context” by Helga G. Braunbeck

Native Plants Journal: “Successfully Storing Milkweed Taproots for Habitat Restoration” by Melissa L. Topping, R. Kasten Dumroese, and Jeremiah R. Pinto