Tag Archives: literary criticism

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Stone: An Inhuman Ecology: A review and brief interview

The current issue of SubStance: A Review of Theory and Literary Criticism includes a review by Paul Harris of Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s book Stone: An Inhuman Ecology (University of Minnesota Press, 2015), which can be viewed on Project MUSE or Highwire. Subsequent to the review’s publication, Harris asked Cohen about his interest in stone and how he came to write Stone.

PAUL HARRIS At the end of your introduction, you cite the “Big Rock,” a glacial erratic on a hill in your neighborhood growing up, as a sort of original inspiration in your lifelong explorations in lithophilia, literary and otherwise.  Can you flesh out a bit more how you came to have a strong affective resonance with stone?  Are there other specific stones or sites that stand out in retrospect as exerting a particularly powerful influence on you?

JEFFREY COHEN I grew up just outside of Boston, not far from Lexington and Concord … and this geographic situation really matters since when I was a small child the USA was celebrating its national bicentennial. The colonial musketeering, parades and flags and tricorns and redcoats were just too much for me. I became obsessed with deeper pasts. I’m sure that’s why I was eventually drawn to medieval studies. But I was also fascinated by the temporality of stone, how erratics like the Big Rock bore witness to a narrative of swamps and dinosaurs indifferent to the small human histories that bubble and pop around them. The Big Rock (what a poetic name!) was close to home and yet a constant invitation to the faraway. What I did not reveal in the book is that I tricked other children in the neighborhood into believing that if you sat on that rock at the right time of day you would be transported into another dimension and likely not find your way back. Well, maybe there is some truth to that.

I should also note that Stone is a book that keeps beginning: I tell a variety of stories for how I started the project in it, of various landscapes and encounters that triggered the project. Although they contradict each other somewhat, all of them are true, in the same way that stone is process more than object.

PAUL HARRIS I like how the physical and narrative powers ascribed to The Big Rock make it become a portal—one might call it a “fantastic” stone….  Your answer broaches a question that often surfaces in relation to deep time or Big History: is a turn to this temporality informed or accompanied by a desire to escape history?  Or at least the politics of the present?

I enjoyed the recursive style and narrative form of Stone very much, and wondered about how such an intricately interwoven book came together, over the “long duration” you reference in the acknowledgements. When did you start working on the text, and what was your method?

JEFFREY COHEN Rather than a fantastic stone I’d call the Big Rock an adventurous one: full of futurity (advent, avenir) through its durability, its intimacy with a long past, its relentless suggestion of possibility. I’m not sure that what such adventurous objects offer is escape from the present exactly: more an unexpected widening of ambit than a flight from particular circumstance. Sitting on the Big Rock was always an essential component of the stories I told: that is, the narratives were always grounded in a time and a place, even if in lithic companionship they attempted to imagine larger prospects.

Stone took a lifetime to compose, since I have always been attracted to the substance. Or maybe the book took about six years to write, with the last three given over almost completely to its composition. It took me a long time to find the form the book wanted, so I discarded tens of thousands of words I’d composed and restructured the volume repeatedly. Once I understood though that the form of the book might perform its argument (because stone is always about recursivity within difference, circuits that open wider at each cycle and yet do come back in time) – and once I realized that I could not pretend that the scholarly and the personal are two disjunct realms — then Stone began to cohere. I was a little too obsessive with the project. Toward the end I injured my shoulder from poor posture at my laptop, a battle scar I still bear. Stone hurts! But I will never tire of its contemplation.

Paul A. Harris is co-editor of SubStance and professor of English at Loyola Marymount University. He served as president of the International Society for the Study of Time from 2004-2013 and edited the recent SubStance issue David Mitchell in the Labyrinth of Time.  His current project is The Petriverse of Pierre Jardin.

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen is professor of English and director of the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute at the George Washington University. His recent work includes the edited collections Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory Beyond Green (Minnesota, 2013) and, with Lowell Duckert, Elemental Ecocriticism. Recently he co-wrote a short book called Earth (forthcoming from Bloomsbury in early 2017) with planetary geologist Lindy Elkins-Tanton.

New Books for August 2016

 

We are pleased to announce two new books arriving in late August.

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HOW RUSSIA LEARNED TO WRITE
Literature and the Imperial Table of Ranks
Irina Reyfman

Irina Reyfman

Irina Reyfman

“Compelling, clever, and persuasive. Examining many Russian writers’ self-fashioning as members of the nobility and their careers in public service, Reyfman admirably shows that the understanding of rank should inflect all our arguments and histories of the writing profession in Russia.”

—Luba Golburt, University of California, Berkeley

“Indispensable reading for all who study Russian literature of the Imperial period. Reyfman adds nuance and necessary reevaluation to our understanding of how literary careers and literary biography evolved in Russia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”
—Andrew Kahn, University of Oxford

Publications of the Wisconsin Center for Pushkin Studies     David M. Bethea, Series Editor

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August 30, 2016

PACKY JIM
Folklore and Worldview on the Irish Border
Ray Cashman

“A brilliant testament to the ethnographer’s art, the deeply rooted wisdom of an ‘ordinary’ person, and the complex ways in which folklore figures in everyday life along the Irish border.”
—James P. Leary, author of Folksongs of Another America

“Octogenarian bachelor Packy Jim McGrath of Lettercran, County Donegal, emerges here as both typical and singular, a barometer of continuity and change. McGrath’s resilience, dignity, and strong sense of self manifest clearly in his stories, which locate him both in the technological consumerist future and in the primordial self-sufficient past. Ray Cashman’s sharp and sympathetic observation delivers a classic ethnography that stakes a major claim for folkloristic studies as cutting-edge humanities research.”
—Lillis Ó Laoire, author of On a Rock in the Middle of the Ocean: Songs and Singers in Tory Island

Ray Cashman

Ray Cashman

Packy Jim McGrath

Ovid Repeats Himself

Variation within repetition is common in Latin epics, but Ovid is the undisputed champion of its usage.

Fulkerson-Stover-Repeat-Performances-cLaurel Fulkerson and Tim Stover conversed recently about how the genre of Latin epic poetry lends itself to repetition. They explore a distinct form of repetition in Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the new UWP book they’ve edited. Repeat Performances: Ovidian Repetition and the Metamorphoses is published in the longstanding University of Wisconsin Press series Wisconsin Studies in Classics.

Laurel  Let’s start at the beginning: we had an idea for a conference on Ovid. The Classics Department at Florida State University, thanks to a generous bequest from the George and Marion Langford family, is able to host one or two conferences a year. Tim is a scholar of Latin epic, and I’m an Ovidian, so we thought it made good sense to focus on the Metamorphoses. One of the things we both had been thinking about was the ways Ovid seems to be doing a slightly different thing in his epic, in terms of how he structures episodes. That’s an immediately obvious feature of the poem, but we wanted to pay more attention to it, and we hit upon repetition. Many of the stories in the Metamorphoses are so similar, and there are innumerable cross-references back and forth between episodes.

Tim  Repetition is certainly a feature of later epic as well, so we wondered if there was a kind of repetition that was particularly Ovidian. We wanted some of our contributors to identify and elucidate the Ovidianism of post-Augustan epic’s repetitious gestures. A systematic study of Ovid’s influence on Flavian epic and beyond is a critical desideratum for our field. One of the exciting things about this book is that several of its papers demonstrate how deeply Ovid influenced later writers of epic, while also pointing to new avenues for research on the reception of Ovidian repetition specifically. Perhaps the most salient example of the latter is the use by Neil Bernstein of Tesserae, a web-based interface for exploring intertextual parallels in Latin literature. It’s a strength of this volume that it brings together more traditional approaches to Ovidian repetition and newer cutting-edge technology on intertextuality.

Laurel  And, of course, epic itself is a repetitive genre. We say in the introduction that we think it’s more repetitive than many other genres. All of literature is necessarily repetitive, but the body of epic material becomes codified so early on; the whole Homeric cycle is predicated upon the notion that everyone already sort of knows these stories.

Tim  Precisely. The point of the cycle seems to be in telling the same stories in a different way, so that what is deemed  “innovative” in any new version is not the basic plot of a given story, but rather what kinds of material will differentiate it from its predecessors at a microcosmic or atomic level. This practice is foundational for later poetry, but is most pronounced in epic and tragedy, two genres that over time cross-fertilize each other in complex ways. That’s another angle explored in our book. Variation within repetition is a key factor of all of Latin epic, but Ovid is the undisputed champion of its usage, as the contributors to this volume reveal. Ovid’s example then sets repetition on a new and exciting path, which is discernible in the specifically Ovidian nature of the repetitiveness of post-Ovidian epic.

Laurel  Or so we think; you’ll have to read the book to make up your own mind.

Fulkerson at WadhamLaurel Fulkerson is a professor of classics and an associate dean at Florida State University. She is the author of The Ovidian Heroine as Author and No Regrets: Remorse in Classical Antiquity.

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATim Stover is an associate professor of classics at Florida State University and the author of Epic and Empire in Vespasianic Rome.

Contributors to the book are Antony Augoustakis, Neil W. Bernstein, Barbara Weiden Boyd, Andrew Feldherr, Peter Heslin, Stephen Hinds, Sharon L. James, Alison Keith, Peter E. Knox, and Darcy Krasne.

Why silence is key to understanding the past

In postdictatorship Argentina, insight into what remains unspoken

We spoke with Nancy J. Gates-Madsen about how the role of silence in postdictatorship Argentina is essential to understanding the crimes of the past. Gates-Madsen is an associate professor of Spanish at Luther College. She is the cotranslator of Violet Island and Other Poems by Reina María Rodríguez, and author of Trauma, Taboo, and Truth-Telling: Listening to Silences in Postdictatorship Argentina, recently published by the University of Wisconsin Press.

How did you become interested in the topic of silences and taboos in postdictatorship Argentina?

I was reading a lot of novels and plays written after the return to democracy, and I kept noticing the prominent role of silence: characters who would or could not speak, unspecified yet sinister horrors, and a fragmented or indirect language that called attention to the difficulty of expressing crimes against humanity. While existing scholarship alluded to the importance of silence, few critics had attempted to unpack its meaning. At the same time, the rhetoric of human rights was often couched in terms of speech versus silence: one must break oppressive silences in order to voice the crimes of the past. Yet it seemed to me that the myriad silences in cultural production were more than simply negative states to be broken. The strong silence of fictional torture victims who refuse to offer information to their captors, for example, belies any interpretation of silence as unequivocally negative. The more I began to explore fictional and testimonial narrative with an ear to silences and taboos, the more I realized that understanding the interplay between silence and speech (in particular, paying attention to which stories are not being told) was critical to understanding the complex postdictatorship period itself. I also discovered that taboos do not pertain solely to the realm of the military and its apologists; the rhetoric of human rights organizations also perpetuates certain taboos regarding the portrayal of victims and perpetrators.

It sounds like a sensitive topic to study.

It certainly is. This came out particularly in the review period of the manuscript. One chapter in the book analyzes stories of babies born in captivity and appropriated by families sympathetic to the military regime.

Many of these individuals have grown to adulthood with no knowledge of their biological origins or the crime committed against them during their infancy. The chapter explores which aspects of the complicated questions of identity that surround these youngest victims of the dictatorship come to the fore and which remain taboo. Of all the chapters, this one generated the most commentary from UW Press’s peer reviewers, due to its discussion of the rhetoric employed by the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a prominent human rights organization that has been searching for these missing children for decades. Given the delicate nature of identity restitution, the readers’ responses did not surprise me, but it was a constant reminder of the way in which as a researcher I needed to be sensitive to the admirable work of human rights organizations yet unafraid to signal the limits that seem to govern the tales of the postdictatorship. In many representations of the trauma of torture or appropriation, unpalatable truths regarding victims and perpetrators remain consigned to the shadows, but a more complete picture of the legacies of the dictatorship only emerges when one examines both the stories that are being told and also those that remain taboo.

Listening to silences offers unexpected insight regarding postdictatorship Argentina, for even stories that struggle against forgetting may conceal as much as they reveal.

Any final thoughts?

Listening to silences offers unexpected insight regarding postdictatorship Argentina, for even stories that struggle against forgetting may conceal as much as they reveal. The overt silences of the military (such as the refusal to account for the fate of missing victims) are complemented by more covert silences in tales of victims of human rights violations (such as questions of complicity or betrayal in the torture chamber). Although the insights gained by exploring silences may prove troubling, identifying and unpacking the lingering taboos can help articulate the depth and breadth of the painful legacies of the dictatorship.

Trauma, Taboo, and Truth-Telling: Listening to Silences in Postdictatorship Argentina is published in the University of Wisconsin Press book series Critical Human Rights, edited by Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus. Find all of the books published in the series to date here.

 

New Books For July 2016

We are pleased to announce three books debuting in July.

 

Gregory-American-Surveillance-cJuly 29

American Surveillance
Intelligence, Privacy, and the Fourth Amendment

Anthony Gregory

From George Washington’s spies to the NSA

“A cogent synthesis of the history of American surveillance and of its conflict with the right to privacy enshrined in the federal Constitution. Thoroughly researched and eloquent,American Surveillance traces government surveillance from colonial times to beyond 9/11.”
—William J. Cuddihy, author of The Fourth Amendment


July 29

Anna Karenina and Others
Tolstoy’s Labyrinth of Plots

Liza Knapp

Reveals why the whole of Anna Karenina is greater than the sum of its plots

“Knapp’s keen eye for prodding out books that play off one another illuminates not only the multiplot novel in its various guises, but the adultery novel as Tolstoy reinvented it, where sexual transgression is forced to serve the quest for God and faith. A mind-expanding book.”
—Caryl Emerson, Princeton University

July 29

Repeat Performances
Ovidian Repetition and the Metamorphoses

Laurel Fulkerson and Tim Stover

Wisconsin Studies in Classics

The uses and effects of repetition, imitation, and appropriation in Latin epic poetry

“Tackles one of the most challenging and rewarding problems in Ovidiana: the question of the author’s penchant for repetition. A marvelous array of contributions retain a reader’s interest and are infused with the same spirit of wit and charm that characterizes Ovid’s own verse.”
—Lee Fratantuono, author of Madness Transformed: A Reading of Ovid’s Metamorphoses

New Books For June 2016

We are pleased to announce these four books debuting in June.

Women Lovers

June 21

Women Lovers, or The Third Woman

Natalie Clifford Barney
Edited and Translated by Chelsea Ray
Introduction by Melanie C. Hawthorne

Three sensual women in dangerous liaisons.

“A first-ever translation that shines new light on Natalie Barney, the invincible ‘Amazon,’ sexual rebel, and arch-seducer of women who in the 1920s aspired to make Paris ‘the Sapphic Centre of the Western World.’ Chelsea Ray shows us another side to her: vulnerable, jealous, and volatile in love.”
—Diana Souhami, author of Natalie and Romaine: The Love Life of Natalie Barney and Romaine Brooks

 

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June 28

Trauma, Taboo, and Truth-Telling
Listening to Silences in Postdictatorship Argentina

Nancy J. Gates-Madsen

Critical Human Rights

In the aftermath of state terror, silence carries its own deep meanings.

“Opens our ears to silences and their meanings. Gates-Madsen persuasively shows how the unsaid shapes memories of the traumatic past. An outstanding contribution to the study of human rights memory.”
—Rebecca J. Atencio, author of Memory’s Turn: Reckoning Dictatorship in Brazil

 

Hoeveler-John-Bascom-and-the-Origins-of-the-Wisconsin-Idea-cJune 30

John Bascom and the Origins of the Wisconsin Idea

J. David Hoeveler

An intellectual history of the public service mission of universities.

“Comprehensive and insightful. Hoeveler shows that John Bascom played a pivotal role in the foundation of the American public university as a radically new institution of higher learning, dedicated to producing better citizens and serving as a resource for government of the commonwealth.”
—John D. Buenker, author of The Progressive Era, 1893–1914

 

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Hamka’s Great Story
A Master Writer’s Vision of Islam for Modern Indonesia

James R. Rush

New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies

Fully modern, fully Muslim, fully Indonesian.

“Few Muslim intellectuals and activists loom larger in modern Indonesian history than Hamka. In this richly detailed and elegantly written book, James Rush has provided a moving, definitive account of this complex man. This is a major contribution to our understanding of Indonesia and Indonesian Islam.”
—Robert W. Hefner, Boston University