|levin and wellek prizes || aldridge prize || bernheimer prize || frenz prize|
The Harry Levin Prize Citations
Mary Franklin-Brown, Reading the World: Encyclopedic Writing in the Scholastic Age. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012)
At a time when critical debate rages over the value of popular, open-sourced databases such as Wikipedia and their impact on professional scholarship, Mary Franklin-Brown’s superb book Reading the World redirects our attention to the comparable proliferation of discourses and heterogeneity of authority during the Middle Ages. With enviable lucidity and critical aplomb, Franklin-Brown returns to multi-lingual sources from the Scholastic Age, which she frames with theories of knowledge such as Foucault's, in order to show how this far-distant moment raises problems relevant to our own, unfolding the contradictions driving encyclopedism’s impossible project of containing all knowledge in a single book—of finding that one last object to contain all other objects. Franklin-Brown reveals the pages of medieval encyclopedias as sites of multiple fissures and interfaces that permit—indeed perhaps even demand—reading out of sequence, randomly and always partially. And yet, even as Reading the World reflects on the impossibility of “reading everything . . in a single book,” Franklin-Brown's book constitutes a singular exception to the discursive practice it studies, for it deserves to be read from start to finish.
Jacob Edmond, A Common Strangeness: Contemporary Poetry, Cross-Cultural Encounter, Comparative Literature (New York: Fordham UP, 2012)
Jacob Edmond’s work places the discipline of comparative literature against a deeply cosmopolitan, yet rarely juxtaposed, series of lyrical contexts. From the stakes of high modernism to the controversies over global literature and contemporary geopolitics, his discussions are admirable in their linguistic range, erudition, and critical vision. Cultural encounter, that experience so typically poised between strangeness and commonality, becomes here a poetic event. An original, sophisticated, and remarkable book.
Shaden M. Tageldin, Disarming Words: Empire and the Seductions of Translation in Egypt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011)
Shaden Tageldin makes a forceful case for how Egyptian writers, intellectuals and activists used translation across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to express their ambivalent and intense engagements with the occupying powers of Britain and France. Focusing on how translators rendered notions of Europe and the European into the idioms of the Arabic-Islamic word, as well as how they rendered European fantasies of the oriental Other, Tageldin advances a theory of translation as seduction, involving relations of intimacy, fascination, and power. At once scholarly, elegant and astute, ranging across both well-known writings and forgotten literature, moving with ease among Arabic, English and French, Tageldin’s book offers a model for why the history of translation should be central to colonial and postcolonial studies.
Jahan Ramazani (University of Virginia) for his monograph, A Transnational Poetics. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009)
Jahan Ramazani, whose renown as a scholar of poetry is reflected in his editorship of The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry as well as in his comparative studies of the modern elegy and postcolonial poetry, has produced in A Transnational Poetics a volume breathtaking in its global scope and critical incisiveness. The spectrum of issues and poets treated in this book is nothing short of stunning. Developing the study’s primary focus on the pervasive influences of transnationalism, Ramazani explores such topics as the effects of globalization on a range of modernist and contemporary poets; the ways in which stylistic devices serve to traverse geographic boundaries; the treatment of transnationalism in the poetry of mourning; the uses of Western modernism in exploring postcolonial hybridity; the response to technology and alienation by high modernist poets, poets of the Harlem Renaissance, and postcolonial poets; poetic reactions to decolonization on the part of both the colonizers and the colonized; and impressions of England in the eyes of black poets, both British and postcolonial, through the lens of African and Caribbean cultures. Ramazani illustrates these questions through the work of some thirty poets from the United States, the Caribbean, England, Ireland, Nigeria, Uganda, Hong Kong, and India.
Ramazani’s central theme of transnationalism leads to innovative and elucidating connections that cross conventional boundaries of chronology and geography, such as the affinities between high modernism, which flourished in Europe and the U.S during the first half of the twentieth century, and postcolonial poets of the global South, who emerged after World War II in the wake of widespread decolonization. Given his enormous cross-cultural, cross-temporal breadth, it is all the more impressive that Ramazani is also adept at analyzing stylistic devices in individual poems—language, structure, imagery, voice, rhythm, allusion, and the like. Yet he grounds this analysis too in the writers’ transnational contexts. Ramazani’s observation about the work of Langston Hughes applies to his own study as well: both are informed by “an understanding of poetry as a discursive space that—by means of place-leaping lineation, cross-cultural symbols, and aesthetic hybridization—affords a remarkable freedom of movement and affiliative connection” (62-63). Whether on the global or the textual plane, Jahan Ramazani’s combination of multicultural erudition, keen insight, and critical ingenuity renders this book a masterful resource that will be consulted for decades.
Andrew Piper (McGill University), Dreaming in Books: The Making of the Bibliographic Imagination in the Romantic Age (Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 2009)
In this important and cogently written study, Piper explores what he terms the “bibliographic imagination” that characterizes the Romantic age, both in terms of the unprecedented explosion in the mass of books published in the nineteenth century across various western cultures, and in the exploration of the ways in which the international circulation of books (in many forms) began to foster a transnational sensibility of local differences. Recalling Balzac’s famous observation about reading as a new addiction (“The European imagination feeds on the sensations that it demands from literature in the same way that the Turk demands dreams of opium”), Piper’s interdisciplinary study of the “Romantic bibliocosmos” straddles different facets of this Romantic bibliomania, from the shaping of new social practices and spaces centered around the organization of books, to the rise of new book-centered professions, and—especially—to the intermediality of Romantic book culture, whereby it engaged with a variety of non-book, non-print and non-text practices. Beyond its value as a contribution to the broader history of the book, Piper’s relational study of the book aims to reassess today’s pervasive discourse of anxiety about the end of book culture in the digital age, suggesting instead that the book and the computer (along with other media) have existed and will continue to coexist side by side.
Margaret Cohen (Stanford University), The Novel and the Sea (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2010)
What is the relation between fiction and sea-faring, words and water? In The Novel and the Sea, Margaret Cohen rewrites the history of the novel by highlighting the significance of stories of maritime adventure. Canvassing a wide range of examples from different national traditions, she explores the many ways in which writers and artists have imagined and represented the sea. At the same time, the book offers a tribute to a now vanished way of life, expounding on the lost skills of maritime craft and conjuring up the unimaginable difficulties and dangers of the sailor’s world. A major contribution to both comparative literary history and literary theory, The Novel and the Sea makes a lucid, eloquent, and compelling case for the centrality of the ship and the sea to the modern literary imagination.
Ross Hamilton (Barnard College) for his monograph, Accident: A Philosophical and Literary History (Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 2007)
Ross Hamilton's Accident: A Philosophical and Literary History, is a highly erudite comparative study, treating thinkers and artists from Aristotle and Sophocles to Wittgenstein and Buster Keaton. Displaying not only great literary-historical, comparative, and philosophical breadth but also rich interpretive depth, this study demonstrates something that could be called prismatic ingenuity, illuminating multiple aspects of "accident," many of which are far from obvious. Hamilton explores the concept of accident with reference to a wide range of phenomena, including mutability, substance or essence, plot, transcendence, conversion, transubstantiation, probability, universal law, and sensibility, to mention a few. In doing so, he makes a persuasive case that in the modern era, accident replaces substance or essential being as the primary determinant of human identity and meaning.
Adam Potkay (William and Mary) for his monograph, The Story of Joy: From the Bible to Late Romanticism (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007)
Beautifully written, with verve as well as precision, Adam Potkay's The Story of Joy examines the changing meanings and fortunes of the concept of joy in history, literature, and film. Offering a substantial and scholarly treatment of a neglected topic, this book is also quirky, interesting, and a real pleasure to read. Its arguments are clear and cogent, and it makes very helpful discriminations between related affective states. The author deserves to be congratulated for an important, genuinely illuminating contribution to the study of emotion as well as to literary history.
Lois Parkinson Zamora (University of Houston) for her monograph, The Inordinate Eye: New World Baroque and Latin American Fiction (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2006)
The Harry Levin Prize is awarded by the American Comparative Literature Association for a book in literary history or criticism, published in the triennium 2004-2006. It seems fitting for this year's ACLA meeting in Mexico to recognize two books that offer new perspectives on American Studies, placing North America within a larger hemispheric and global context for comparative literature.
The 2007 Harry Levin Prize is awarded to Lois Parkinson Zamora for The Inordinate Eye: New World Baroque and Latin American Fiction, published by Chicago University Press. This book is a bold venture joining visual studies with literary studies to revise our narratives of art, history, and literature, and it is also a splendid example of the possibilities of Comparative Literature as an endeavor engaged with the materiality of its cultural and historical object of investigation. Parkinson Zamora succeeds admirably as a comparatist in visualizing the contrapuntal refractions of a historical and aesthetic reality that has been aptly called baroque. Introducing the "inordinate eye" as an alternative to the colonial and postcolonial gaze in Latin America, she emphasizes cultural legibility rather than literacy in her analysis of New World Baroque, and locates theoretical questions about "seeing" in an historical and geographical context that has long challenged the disciplinary faculties of Comparative Literature. Parkinson Zamora builds her masterful study on the methodological scaffolding that defines Comparative Literature as the field where heterogeneous elements, paradoxical realities, and heterodox visions converge.
Wai Chee Dimock (Yale University) for her monograph, Through Other Continents: American Literature Across Deep Time (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2006)
Honorable mention goes to Wai Chee Dimock's Through Other Continents: American Literature Across Deep Time, published by Princeton University Press. Rediscovering the global dimensions of American literature, this book is extraordinarily wide-ranging in its historical reach and in the radically different cultural contexts brought to bear on American texts that should never look the same again. Tackling the troubled confluence of Comparative Literature and American Studies, where an incorrigible vocation devoted to comparisons clashes with a cultural exceptionalism that historically has deemed itself incomparable, Dimock's book deftly negotiates those cross-currents, helping to open up U.S. cultural history by examining it as interlinked part of the rest of the world. Through Other Continents illustrates the potential of American Studies as an international field that is part of a larger global intellectual community.
Seth Lerer (Stanford University) Error and the Academic Self: The Scholarly Imagination, Medieval to Modern (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002)
Academics like to believe they are engaged in the pursuit of Truth. Seth Lerer's learned, brilliant and often witty book, Error and the Academic Self: The Scholarly Imagination, Medieval to Modern, decisively directs our gaze away from the history of Truth to the unexpected: that we all, in the end, might be the heirs to a history of academic error – and even worse – that we unwittingly continue to ělive in the academy by blunder. The academic and literary case histories that his Error and the Academic Self puts on display take the reader from the rhetoric of sublimity and salvation of Old English Studies, to George Eliot's Causaubon – the master of Victorian philology – all the way to a genealogy of American rhetorical philology, from John Quincy Adams and Basil Gildersleeve to Paul de Man, J. Hillis Miller and Patricia Parker. True to its title, Lerer's study moves deftly between scholarly investigation and imaginative creation, bearing in the process on philology, rhetoric, and fiction, politics and poetics, authorship and readership.
Proceeding from the claim that the academy is riddled with blunders, Lerer's passionate study nonetheless mounts a supple and surefooted argument about the force of error, errata, and errancy in the production, in print, of knowledge. It does so by returning to philology, a field once central but now marginal to literary curricula, and by bringing together a diverse but coherent array of texts from Beowulf to Middlemarch to Mimesis, from errata sheets and proofs to the thesaurus and the Oxford English Dictionary. Eminently bookish, Lerer's study is also a learned meditation on the role of error and accuracy, mistakes and corrections, the wrong and the right in the fraught and fractured interplays between the Academy and real life. In the course of making its case, Lerer's engaging book manages to meditate on the affective dimensions of scholarly life, whether dedicated to sublime philology or ardent etymologies.
For Lerer there can be no doubt that relationships among desire, discipline, pedagogy, and paternalism stand in the forefront of the profession of philology itself. Especially of note is Lerer's illuminating discussion of rhetorical philologists in nineteenth-century America, which is accompanied by a sustained reading of Eric Auerbach as European philologist in exile, who ended up sublimating his philological patrilineage into a vision of Lady Philology. In Lerer's hands, Auerbach's errancy, as he travels from Istanbul to Yale, via Penn State, becomes paradigmatic of the history of Comparative Literature in America. Fellow travelers in this history of error include René Wellek, whose story is itself really a narrative of the profession as a whole, and Paul de Man, whose work occupies a significant place in the longer history of rhetorical reading in America. Engaging till the very last, Lerer's book ends persuasively, that is, by convincing us that the long lineage of these distinguished philologists, scholars and theoreticians has helped to shape our own academic selves and – not to forget – our own occasional errors.
Julie Stone Peters (Columbia University) Theatre of the Book, 1480-1880: Print, Text and Performance in Europe (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000)
Once, there were classical theatrical texts, and performance styles had to be reimagined, as happened in the Renaissance; later, there emerged hybrid recording media that flashed text and performance simultaneously before audiences; in between, the rival media of publishing and stage performance ceaselessly borrowed from each other, bickered, competed and conspired, in a process that raised the stakes for both. Julie Stone Peters’s Theatre of the Book traces the history of visual, verbal and theatrical representation over four centuries with copious documentation, scholarly verve, and subtle interdisciplinary attention. At once a study in media theory, a philological and bibliophilic scrutiny of the transformation of plays into texts, and a genealogy of a number of leading themes in the formation of early-modern or modern sensibility, this rich book invites us to look at the “Gutenberg era” in new and non-exclusive ways.
Gil Anidjar: “Our Place in al-Andalus”: Kabbalah, Philosophy, Literature in Arab Jewish Letters (Stanford University Press). The great works of medieval Jewish “Spain” (to use the area's retrospective designation) happen between languages (Arabic, Aramaic, Hebrew), between genres, between religions, and between eras (as many of them gained a further life through their twentieth-century readers). Anidjar’s book brings to light the translated quality of this writing.
Ian Balfour’s The Rhetoric of Romantic Prophecy (Stanford University Press, 2002) brings to literary historythe skills of close reading and a keenly philosophical consciousness. This study establishes the defining role of prophetic writing within the literary period that has done so much to define our critical modernity, and, in so doing, brings that period back to a reconsideration of its essential roots.
John C. Shields, in The American Aeneas: Classical Origins of the American Self (University of Tennessee Press, 2001), juxtaposes the mythography of the American Adam to a complementary (and heretofore occluded) tradition, which he refers to under the sign of the American Aeneas. This study breaks out of the “errand into the wilderness” model of early American literature, and thus recontextualizes and amplifies the comparative study of American literature up to the present.
Leonhard Barkan, (Princeton University) Unearthing the Past: Archaeology and Aesthetics in the Making of Renaissance Culture (Yale UP,1999)
Sifting through the one hundred or so submissions for this prize to honor comparative literary scholarship and thinking with a literary- historical emphasis, the committee was impressed with the wealth and range of very fine and innovative work. At the end of the day the difficult decision came down to one distinguished book, which eked out a number of excellent studies, all of which, to our surprise, shared a turn or return to the question of aesthetics.
The prize goes to Leonard Barkan's Unearthing the Past: Archaeology and Aesthetics in the Making of Renaissance Culture, published, and splendidly illustrated, by Yale University Press. It is a work of deep learning and incisive observation. A long time in the making, Unearthing the Past clearly profited from a certain patience and "labor of the negative". Barkan interrogates the complicated aesthetic and historical issues at stake in the recovery and understanding of ancient works of art, all of which are mediated in and by literary, discursive, and institutional networks. Barkan's work is profoundly attentive to historical forces without, however, historicizing his objects of study to death. Indeed, his work does justice to the mobility of history and the impossibility of consigning works of art to a single, homogenous moment of the past. At the same time, he performs in exemplary fashion the sometimes lost art of interpretation--strengthened by his admirable command of materials in several disciplines--even as he attends to the pressures brought to bear on interpretation in and of the Renaissance.
To the mind of the committee, Barkan's work emerged as the leader of a pack of impressive works, which also engaged the question of aesthetics in historical terms, though often not to the exclusion of what is called"theory." Honourable mention goes to Ulrich Baer's Remnants of Song: Trauma and the Experience of Modernity in Charles Baudelaire and Paul Celan, Didier Maleuvre's Museum Memories: History, Technology, Art, David Ferris' Silent Urns: Romanticism, Hellenism, Modernity, all from Stanford University Press, and Richard Helgerson's Adulterous Alliances: Home, State, and History in Early Modern Drama and Painting, published by the University of California Press. Given the high quality of these works, themselves prize-worthy, it is all the more remarkable that the committee could settle with unanimity on the particular excellence of Leonard Barkan's Unearthing the Past.
Committee: Ian Balfour, Chair; Christopher Braider, and Peggy Kamuf
This occasion fills me with many pleasures and one regret. The regret, of course, is that I cannot be present to bask in approbation, to delight in intellectual fellowship, and to express my gratitude in person. As for the pleasures, first of all, the satisfaction of being selected as winner of a prize with such grand tradition behind it and in the company of so many remarkable and deserving contenders. Second, I am especially gratified that the committee recognized--both in my book and in the other splendid works named in the citation--a newly invigorated intellectual focus on the Aesthetic. But most of all, I want to express my pleasure in Comparative Literature itself.
For much of my career, my official home has been in an English Department. Yet from the very beginning I had a wandering eye--and not only toward Art History. My graduate diplomas say "English" on them but my mentors were individuals like Tom Greene, Bart Giamatti and (briefly) even Harry Levin himself. My first job was in a Literature department (at UCSD), and though I did some kicking and screaming, I came to realize later that everything about my future career was enabled by the privilege and necessity of teaching all over the map. Now, for the first time I am leaving the word "English" out of my title altogether as I become Professor of Comparative Literature at Princeton.
to your generous recognition of Unearthing the Past--which really
means your receptivity to a broadly defined cultural field, not bounded
by traditional limits of geography and disciplinarity--I hear Comp Lit
saying to me, "Welcome home."
Gauri Viswanathan, Outside the Fold: Conversion, Modernity, and Belief (Princeton University Press, 1998)
The occasion of a significant literary prize is as much a celebration of the joyous enterprise of book-creation as it is the quest for the perfect book. Indeed, we derive considerable liberation as well as solace from the fact that there are no perfect books. But in the subtle tectonic shifts observable in the field of knowledge even over intervals as brief as a year, it is possible for some projects to emerge as more representative than others, more pivotal to the enterprise of reorienting and correcting the field of knowledge to which each academic publication contributes.
It was a humbling privilege for myself and the two astute and indefatigable colleagues with whom I served, Lydia Liu of UC-Berkeley and Patricia Yaeger of the University of Michigan, to read the more than 60 books submitted by their publishers for consideration. We were treated, through our collaboration, to some of the most beautiful volumes I have yet encountered, works such as Liane Lefevre's book, Leon Battista Alberti's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, published in 1997 by MIT Press, bespeaking the highest of production values, and enormous care in editing and design. Such books reminded us of the intimate and amazingly productive partnership that academic authors are privileged to share with the editors of the academic press and their colleagues in production and marketing.
Before announcing the winning submission, the Committee would like to share two of the trends unmistakably evident from the superb sample of scholarship we were privileged to encounter: 1) Toward the synaesthesia of different registers of signification. We were not only treated to interstitial work on the interface between the visual and the textual; there were at least two submissions on the relation between literature and music, Daniel Fischlin's In Small Proportions: A Poetics of the English Ayre, 1596-1622 from Wayne State University Press and Herbert Lindenberger's Opera and History from Stanford. Janet Murray's Hamlet on the Holodeck from MIT Press offers a remarkably suggestive and inventive panorama on the status of literature in a world of virtual representation. This powerful strain of works in our sample suggests that comparativity, at the millennium, is as much between different sign-systems and artforms as between national languages and cultures. 2) Continuing studies in a post-colonial vein. This work not only treats the literature and culture of colonies and "protectorates"; it is being extended to a vast range of artifacts and conditions of the national homelands previously considered distinct or in some way quarantined from the imperialist adventure.
Time and the constraints of dinnertime oratory simply do not permit us to name every title that informed, inspired, moved, and impressed us. A small but distinguished grouping of works deserving formal special mention configured itself for us, almost of its own will: In The Surrealist Look: An Erotics of Encounter (MIT Press: Cambridge and London, 1997), Mary Ann Caws of the Graduate Center, The City University of New York illuminatingly deciphers the rebuses of surrealist art by means of a rare intimacy with the twentieth century-its aesthetic contracts, their loopholes, and the century's bizarre historical and cultural wrinkles-and with the benefit of her breathtaking scope in the histories of the visual arts and European literatures. Elizabeth K. Helsinger of the University of Chicago extended the meditation into the nature and subjective and cultural implications of nationality productively occupying so many of us by contributing her Rural Scenes and National Representation: Britain, 1815-1850, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997). The interface she orchestrates between such visual artists as Constable and Turner and writers including Tennyson, Cobbett, Clare, and Emily Brontë is exemplary of the synaesthetic translation linking the textual to the visual, musical, cinematographic, and cybernetic that occupies an increasingly prevalent place in our cutting-edge work. Daniel L. Purdy explored fashion, dress, and 18th-century sumptuary laws in The Tyranny of Elegance: Consumer Cosmopolitanism in the Era of Goethe, from the Johns Hopkins University Press. In so doing, he extrapolated, in historically meticulous fashion, the considerable aesthetic impact of consumer ideology and behavior upon artifacts often deemed impervious to commercial conditions.
Painstaking groundwork and a reserve with regard to sweeping generalizations based on complicated steps of cultural reconstruction surely also characterizes the 1999 winner of the Harry Levin Prize, Outside the Fold: Conversion, Modernity, and Belief by Gauri Viswanathan of Columbia University, a 1998 publication by Princeton University Press. In order to compose this account of the impact of religious conversion both in a 19th-century England forced to confront its own increasing multiculturalism and in its south-Asian colonies, Professor Viswanathan had to place herself in the midst of multiple, profound indeterminacies that would surely daunt all but a select few of us: between skeptical and receptive attitudes toward religious conversion; between the cultural politics of Europe and its spinoffs on the colonial front; between the reciprocal influence of the colonized and colonizers upon each other; between the close reading of key texts by 19th-century novelists, politicians, and theologians and by contemporary cultural critics, and sociohistorical extrapolation.
At every step of her tortuous route, Professor Viswanathan interpolates questions and devises linkages in sustaining one of her pivotal assertions, "conversion ranks among the most destabilizing activities in modern society, altering not only demographic patterns but also the characterization of belief as communally sanctioned assent to religious ideology" (OF, xvi). The interface that Professor Viswanathan constructs between 19th-century England's conflicting attitudes and gestures with regard to its minorities and the effects of conversion as a pivotal intellectual, sociological, and political experience in the homeland and its colonies during the same period and after is ingenious, exquisitely nuanced and complicated, and bespeaks both a literary and historical erudition and a theoretical ethos of which the Committee was in awe. The familiarity with legal, political, and theological documents that Prof. Viswanathan had to gain in order to pursue the intricate steps of her always counterbalanced argument was remarkable, even in a sample of submissions establishing high standards in its scholarship. It was during the Euro-American Enlightenment and its first practical experiments at the time covered by Prof. Viswanathan's book that emancipatory ideology received its definitive Modern articulation.
It is a delicate matter, demanding much intellectual integrity, to broach the underlying racial, theological, and other constructions that compromised this history, whether in the form of proselytizing, forced conversions, or mass migrations, for fear of seeming to take issue with the emancipatory, or in Professor Viswanathan's terms dissenting vision in itself. The theoretical intricacy, argumentative facility, literary and historical erudition, and critical sensibility necessary for such a difficult task are amply evident in every segment of Outside the Fold. The redefinition of basic terms such as belief and modernity resulting from Professor Viswanathan's subject and her treatment of it is profound and far-reaching: something that current and future students of nation, citizenship, and subjectivity in a cultural context will want to take into account. To some degree all writers of serious academic treatises are "outside the fold." Professor Viswanathan, I speak for the Committee, and I'm sure for many of us gathered here tonight, in thanking you for the profundity, strength, creativity, and attentiveness of the contribution you have made to the literatures of criticism and history.
Henry Sussman, Chair
the Wellek-Levin Prize Committee:
Paul Alpers, What is Pastoral? (University of Chicago Press, 1996)
la vostra semenza:
the nature of your origin:
In the few minutes that remind them that they are human beings rather than brutes, Levi begins to instruct his fellow prisoner in Italian. The pastoral echoes of this sunny moment in the midst of suffering link it --in "the conversational ease at noontime" (p. 5), in the warmth of the day, in the amiable nature of their dialogue, in the long walk through the countryside, even in the recitation of verse-- to Virgil's ninth Eclogue and thus to its source in Theocritus and to the pastoral tradition in general.
Such an introduction is startling, especially when one recalls that pastoral as a mode has long been characterized as frivolous or escapist, a condemnation voiced by some of its most astute commentators, for instance, William Empson in Some Versions of Pastoral (1932). Alpers intends to overturn this negative view of pastoral. In a series of closely argued readings, he demonstrates that pastoral can hardly be presumed to be an escapist mode simply about the "beautiful relation between rich and poor. "Rather, within its own conventions, pastoral has been concerned with significant issues of representation from its beginnings (p. 137).
Alpers suggests that the pastoral mode starts from the situation of exemplary herdsmen whose relation to the world dictates a certain attitude of collaboration and compensation, as well as resonates with large purported meanings. He studies pastoral through the notion of" representative anecdote," a term he borrows from Kenneth Burke. By "representative anecdote" Alpers means "a form in [the] mind that conveys[a person's] sense of the human value of literature" (p. 6) or, in another formulation, "a brief and compendious rendering of a certain situation or type of life" (p. 22).
The first half of the study focuses on large questions: What is pastoral? How can the phrase "representative anecdote" be understood as defining poetic form? Why is pastoral not a genre but a mode? What is the nature of convention, especially in the self-consciously allusive and often ironic form that is pastoral? The poets Alpers draws on to elucidate these issues --Theocritus, Virgil, Spenser, Sidney, Shakespeare, and Marvell--return in the second half of the volume, which paints the historical transformation of the mode in subsequent lyric and narrative. Although Alpers focuses on English literature in the latter part of his analysis, the study is richly comparative in its range from Greek and Latin to English, with excursuses on Italian, Spanish, and French examples. Alpers balances against each other texts that define historical difference. His readings are remarkably free of a teleological paradigm of progress or of a rigid insistence on continuities.
He does not aim to surprise, he says. And yet, simply by getting us to question evidence we had long taken for granted, his readings do surprise as they unfold structures of meaning that bring the pleasures of the text to life. Typical of his critical approach is his thesis that the poet is a "collaborator in critical analysis and definition." Long after we have set the book aside, we seem to hear the voices of the poets convened for this exchange, continuing in the distance.
Alpers addresses us almost conversationally, weighing the consequences of particular premises and presenting close readings of test cases, set side by side for us to observe the differences. His exploration of the topic reminds us of the intimate connections between criticism and instruction, showing how deceptive familiar terms can be, and convincing us that as critics we must always confront the most general issues as well as the telling selection of individual words. This magisterial book is learned and humane, traditional in its subject matter yet innovative and thought-provoking in its analyses. Few books published today are informed by such a generosity of spirit and sureness of literary and historical judgment. Alpers' is a work of splendid maturity which argues, not coincidentally, for the continuing relevance of literature itself to the way we lead our lives.
Michael Palencia-Roth, Chair, University of Illinois
Marie-Hélène Huet, Monstrous Imagination (Harvard University Press, 1993)
The word monster, Marie-Hélène Huet reminds us, was often associated with two distinct but related etymologies. One tradition held that the word derived from the Latin monstrare: to show, to display, to demonstrate. Another in turn linked the word to the verb monere: to warn, to admonish.
Bringing together philosophy and science, aesthetics and cultural history, and including readings of texts from French, German, English, and American literature, Huet's Monstrous Imagination is true to the etymological resonances of its title, for it is a work whose lucid prose elegantly showcases an impressive body of research, while its overall argument tells the monitory tale of how, from classical antiquity to the Enlightenment and well on into Romanticism, monstrous births whether they be human or artistic progeny bear witness to the fearsome power of the female imagination to erase the marks of paternity and, in an obscene parody of the Immaculate Conception, solipsistically usher abortions into the world.
"Where do monsters come from, and what do they really look like?" Huet asks at the outset of her book. From classical antiquity through the Enlightenment, from Aristotle through Malebranche, the answers provided by philosophers, theologians and scientists tend to be remarkably unanimous: monsters come from the mother, and more specifically, provide living testimony of those images at work on the desiring maternal mind or body during conception or pregnancy images whose traces can be read in imprints as banal as birthmarks (significantly called envies in French) or in such spectacular freaks of nature as the Hairy Virgin, said by such Renaissance commentators as Boaistuau, Paré, and Montaigne to have resulted from its mother's intense gaze upon an effigy of St. John dressed in animal skins which hung at the foot of her bed during conception.
Analyzing examples such as these, and drawing brilliantly on the history of the scientific debates that inform Renaissance and Enlightenment discourses on embryology, gynecology, and heredity, Huet persuasively argues that semiotically the monster represents the terror of a signifier detached from its legitimate origin, just as genealogically it poses a threat to patrimony in that it bears no visible relationship or resemblance to the father who conceived it.
But while the monster would therefore seem to display the uncanny power of the mother's vis imaginativa to distort and disrupt the act of procreation, at the same time it demonstrates the ultimate unoriginality of the female imagination, forever condemned to reproduce or merely replicate the objects of its desire by mere contagion, incapable of producing anything other than likenesses (Plato's eikastiken art), unable to master that higher generation of resemblances associated with interpretative or phantastiken creation. The ultimate scandal on monstrosity, Huet daringly suggests, may lie in not what it discloses about anomaly or difference, but rather what it says about identity that incestuous female economy in which female desire can only tautologically desire or produce like.
Having mapped out the scientific and philosophical prehistory of teratology (the term is not coined until 1830) in the first portion of her book, Huet moves on to a series of lively readings of Romantic and post-Romantic literary texts in the second portion of her study. Though perhaps best known as a dix-huitiemiste (as her bravura discussion of Diderot and monsters bears out), Huet brings a seasoned comparatist's confident range to her analysis of texts as varied as Shelley's Frankenstein, the tales of Hawthorne and Poe, Balzac's Le Chef d'oeuvre inconnu, Villiers de l'Isle Adam's L'Eve future and Gustave Meyrink's Der Golem, while also taking us on a fascinating detour through Mme. Tussaud's wax museum whose Chamber of Horrors devoted to regicides and parricides, she suggests, may be the most successful and most neglected masterpiece of the Romantic teratogenic imagination.
If the earlier history of monstrosity focused on the secret imaginings of pregnant women, Huet argues that Romanticism, even as it retains this earlier paradigm of monstrous conception, also reveals the epistemic desire to break with the mother altogether and to institute in her place a purely male parthenogenesis whose artistic products, in their sterile and hideous perfection, would be utterly self-sufficient procreations that dispense the other, replicas that abolish their originals, acts of creation that produce not filial resemblance but rather phantasmagoric repetition.
Appropriately enough, Huet concludes her book with a brief reading of Philip Kaufman's remake of Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, leaving us with the following cautionary meditation: if past histories of monstrosity all tried to answer the question "Where do resemblances come from?," how henceforth to respond to the postmodern logic of pod creatures whose contagious uniformity no longer reveals an identity, but rather harbors within itself a principle entirely alien to dialectic: a world of differences all monstrously the same.
Prize committee: Michael-André Bernstein (UC Berkeley), Svetlana Boym (Harvard), and Richard Sieburth (New York University), chair.
Mary E. Wack, Lovesickness in the Middle Ages: The Viaticum and its Commentaries (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990)
This book is a remarkable study of erotic pathology and its "discourses" from the eleventh century onwards, principally focused on the Viaticum of Constantine the African, a medical handbook derived from the Arabic of Ibn-al-Jazzar. This work had a wide diffusion in Europe, and its repository of information and insight opens out, in Wack's book, to a fundamental reexamination of the medieval understanding of and attitude to sexuality, comparable to the major studies of "courtly love," and one which all such studies will need to be complemented by. Its range of reference is wider than the Middle Ages, extending back both to classical antiquity and the Old Testament, and forward to the Renaissance, with glimpses to later times. It has a bearing on all the major literatures of Northern as well as of Southern Europe (and North Africa), though its principle texts are Latin. It is richly and aptly illustrated from a variety of manuscripts and other iconographic sources. An appendix gives the Latin text and an English translation of Constantine's Viaticum I.20, followed by several commentaries, along with admirably thorough and enlightening notes by Professor Wack. Written with a lucidity and forthrightness that at the same time avoids simplification and reductiveness, this book reveals an exemplary attentiveness to detail and organizational finesse.
Patterson, Pastoral and Ideology: Virgil to Valéry (University
of California Press, 1987)
Annabel Patterson's Pastoral to Ideology: Virgil to Valéry, the more diachronic of this year's two prize-winners, is an account of the reception of Virgilian pastoral (chiefly the Eclogues) from medieval to modern times. Virgil's parable of the "vocational anxiety" of the poet-intellectual, perilously caught between his patrons, the holders of political power, and his pastoral "subjects," those who are disenfranchised or "expropriated" by them, has been reinterpreted according to the political, personal, and cultural circumstances of each age and author. Patterson brilliantly reinforces her analyses of the Virgilian intertextualities of Petrarch, Spenser, Pope, Crabbe, Wordsworth, Gide, Valéry, and many others, from the evidence of commentaries (Servius and his successors), translations, adaptations, and particularly, illustrations, with telling examples of visual/textual emblems of historical and aesthetic change in works by Sebastian Brant, Blake, Samuel Palmer, and Maillol, among the forty reproductions included. No student of either the pastoral or of ideology in literature – the writer's strategies for revealing, while concealing, his engagement with contemporary events – can afford to overlook this lucid, learned, and eloquent book.
David Hayman's Re-Forming the Narrative: Towards a Mechanics of Modernist Fiction deals, more synchronically, with works by two dozen Modernist authors, many of whom have already been claimed for Postmodernism. Hayman sidesteps this terminological dispute as he sees many of the alleged "subversive" strategies of postmodernism as overlapping and continuous with High Modernism, especially with the "master-texts" of Joyce. Hayman seeks to establish a "period style" for late modernism through his classificatory analysis of five sets of modernist narrative strategies possessing rhetorical, stylistic, and structural implications. His categories yield rich, subtle readings and new critical conclusions about such "difficult" authors as Goytisolo, Sollers, Maurice Roche, Roussel, Gombrowicz, and Gass, in terms of their development of post-Wakean encyclopedic-epic strategies. Hayman provides us not only with stimulus, but with a challenging methodology for our own rethinking of all such texts.