James Baldwin criticism from 2001 through 2010 is marked by an increased appreciation for
Baldwin’s entire oeuvre including his writing after the mid 1960s. The question of his
artistic decline remains debated, but more scholars find a greater consistency and power
in Baldwin’s later work than previous scholars had found. A group of dedicated Baldwin
scholars emerged during this period and have continued to host regular international
conferences. The application of new and diverse critical lenses—including cultural
studies, political theory, religious studies, and black queer theory—contributed to more
complex readings of Baldwin’s texts. Historical and legal approaches re-assessed Baldwin’s
relationship to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements and new material emerged on
Baldwin’s decade in Turkey. Some historical perspective gave many critics a more nuanced
approach to the old “art” vs. “politics” debate as it surfaced in Baldwin’s initial
reception, many now finding Baldwin’s “angry” work to be more “relevant” than “out of
touch” as it was thought of during his lifetime. In the first decade of the new
millennium, three books of new primary source material, a new biography, four books of
literary criticism, three edited collections of critical essays, two special issues of
journals and numerous book chapters and articles were published, marking a significant
increase not only in the quantity, but the quality of Baldwin criticism.
This review article charts the general direction of scholarship in James Baldwin
studies between the years 2015 and 2016, reflecting on important scholarly
events and publications of the period and identifying notable trends in
criticism. While these years witnessed a continuing interest in the relationship
of Baldwin’s work to other authors and art forms as well as his
transnational literary imagination, noted in previous scholarly reviews, three
newly emergent trends are notable: an increased attention to Baldwin in journals
primarily devoted to the study of literatures in English, a new wave of
multidisciplinary studies of Baldwin, and a burgeoning archival turn in Baldwin
Readers and critics alike, for the past sixty years, generally agree that Baldwin is a
major African-American writer. What they do not agree on is why. Because of his artistic
and intellectual complexity, Baldwin’s work resists easy categorization and Baldwin
scholarship, consequently, spans the critical horizon. This essay provides an overview of
the three major periods of Baldwin scholarship. 1963–73 is a period that begins with the
publication of The Fire Next Time and sees Baldwin grace the cover of Time magazine. This
period ends with Time declaring Baldwin too passé to publish an interview with him and
with critics questioning his relevance. The second period, 1974–87, finds critics
attempting to rehabilitate Baldwin’s reputation and work, especially as scholars begin to
codify the African-American literary canon in anthologies and American universities.
Finally, scholarship in the period after Baldwin’s death takes the opportunity to
challenge common assumptions and silences surrounding Baldwin’s work. Armed with the
methodologies of cultural studies and the critical insights of queer theory, critics set
the stage for the current Baldwin renaissance.
The acceleration of interest in Baldwin’s work and impact since 2010 shows no signs of
diminishing. This resurgence has much to do with Baldwin—the richness and passionate
intensity of his vision—and also something to do with the dedicated scholars who have
pursued a variety of publication platforms to generate further interest in his work. The
reach of Baldwin studies has grown outside the academy as well: Black Lives Matter
demonstrations routinely feature quotations from Baldwin; Twitter includes a “Son of
Baldwin” site; and Raoul Peck’s 2016 documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, has received
considerable critical and popular interest. The years 2010–13 were a key period in moving
past the tired old formula—that praised his early career and denigrated the works he wrote
after 1963—into the new formula—positing Baldwin as a misunderstood visionary, a
wide-reaching artist, and a social critic whose value we are only now beginning to
appreciate. I would highlight four additional prominent trends that emerged between 2010
and 2013: a consideration of Baldwin in the contexts of film, drama, and music;
understandings of Baldwin globally; Baldwin’s criticism of American institutions; and
analyses of Baldwin’s work in conversation with other authors.
James Baldwin might be imagined as reaching his greatest level of popularity within this current decade. With the growth of social media activist movements like Black Lives Matter, which captures and catalyzes off a Baldwinian rage, and the publishing of works directly evoking Baldwin, his voice appears more pronounced between the years of 2013 and 2015. Scholars in Baldwin studies, along with strangers who were turned into witnesses of his literary oeuvre, have contributed to this renewed interest in Baldwin, or at least have been able to sharpen the significance of the phenomenon. Publications and performances highlight Baldwin’s work and how it prefigured developments in critical race and queer theories, while also demonstrating Baldwin’s critique as both prophetic and “disturbingly” contemporary. Emerging largely from Baldwin’s timelessness in social and political discourse, and from the need to conjure a figure to demystify the absurd American landscape, these interventions in Baldwin studies follow distinct trends. This essay examines the 2013–15 trends from four vantages: an examination of a return, with revision, to popular work by Baldwin; identifying Baldwin’s work as a contributor to theoretical and critical methodology; Baldwin and intertextuality or intervocality; and a new frontier in Baldwin studies.
A Recombinant Pygmalion for the Twenty-First Century
As a gothic iteration of Ovid‘s Pygmalion myth, the television show ‘Dark Angel’ demonstrates how anxiety over the laboratory creation of people persists in popular culture. The paper looks through the lenses of media representation of cloning, complexity theory‘s trope of iteration, and gothic literary criticism, first to analyze Dark Angels heroine as a gothic version of Pygmalion‘s statue. It goes on to explore some of the implications of rewriting sculptor/lover Pygmalion into Dark Angels Donald Lydecker and Logan Cale, before examining the first season in its entirety. The analysis ends on a short exploration of some interactions between the show and the popular culture that produces and consumes it.
This book constructs a vocabulary for the literary study of graphic textual phenomena. It examines the typographic devices within a very particular context: that of the interpretation of prose fiction. The graphic surface of the page is a free two-dimensional space on which text appears either mechanically or consciously. As visual arrangements of printed text on the graphic surface, graphic devices can contribute to the process of reading, combining with the semantic content within the context which that text creates. The book first sets out to demonstrate both how and why the graphic surface has been neglected. It looks at the perception of the graphic surface during reading and how it may be obscured by other concerns or automatised until unnoticed. Then, the book examines some critical assumptions about the transformation of manuscript to novel and what our familiarity with the printed form of the book leads us to take for granted. It looks at theoretical approaches to the graphic surface, particularly those which see printed text as either an idealised sign-system or a representation of spoken language. The book further looks at how 'blindness' to the graphic surface, and particularly its mimetic usage, is reflected and perpetuated in literary criticism. It deals with the work of specific authors, their texts and the relevant critical background, before providing a concluding summary which touches on some of the implications of these analyses.
This book explores the role of mise-en-scene in melodrama criticism, and considers what happened to detailed criticism as major theoretical movements emerged in the 1970s. Mise-en-scene, and other ways of conceiving visual style, has been central to so many important debates that the writing examined in the book shaped the field in enduring ways. The book provides a cross-section of the British culture and its attitudes to film. It also considers a range of important contexts, from material conditions of film viewing (and therefore criticism) to the cultural and political shifts of 1956. The book further investigates the frequently asserted connection between literary criticism and the approaches developed in Movie. It identifies the range of different approaches to interpreting mise-en-scene advanced in Movie, drawing out sections on action, camera movement and placing, connections between different parts of the film, and a range of further debates. 'Tales of Sound and Fury' is an extraordinary article, and Elsaesser's appreciation of the plastic and expressive qualities of domestic melodrama and the broader melodramatic tradition is exemplary. In the early 1970s, writing on melodrama provided some of the richest expressions of mise-en-scene criticism. The book embodies a number of approaches which were to undermine the emergent interest in the interpretation of the film style. Melodrama criticism is a crucial focus for shifts in film criticism and theory, and for this history.
The interest in aesthetics in philosophy, literary and cultural studies is growing rapidly. This book contains exemplary essays by key practitioners in these fields which demonstrate the importance of this area of enquiry. New aestheticism remains a troubled term and in current parlance it already comes loaded with the baggage of the 'philistine controversy' which first emerged in an exchange that originally that took place in the New Left Review during the mid-1990s. A serious aesthetic education is necessary for resisting the advance of 'philistinism'. Contemporary aesthetic production may be decentred and belonging to the past, but that is not a reason to underestimate what great works do that nothing else can. Despite well-established feminist work in literary criticism, film theory and art history, feminist aesthetics 'is a relatively young discipline, dating from the early 1990s'. The book focuses on the critical interrogation of the historical status of mimesis in the context of a gendered and racial politics of modernity. Throughout the history of literary and art criticism the focus has fallen on the creation or reception of works and texts. The book also identifies a fragmentary Romantic residue in contemporary aesthetics. The Alexandrian aesthetic underlies the experience of the 'allegorical'. 'Cultural poetics' makes clear the expansion of 'poetics' into a domain that is no longer strictly associated with 'poetry'. The book also presents an account of a Kantian aesthetic criticism, discussing Critique of Pure Reason, Critique of Aesthetic Judgement and Critique of Judgement.
Literary Visions of Multicultural Ireland is the first full-length monograph in the market to address the impact that Celtic-Tiger immigration has exerted on the poetry, drama and fiction of contemporary Irish writers. The book opens with a lively, challenging preface by Prof. Declan Kiberd and is followed by 18 essays by leading and prestigious scholars in the field of Irish studies from both sides of the Atlantic who address, in pioneering, differing and thus enriching ways, the emerging multiethnic character of Irish literature. Key areas of discussion are: What does it mean to be ‘multicultural,’ and what are the implications of this condition for contemporary Irish writers? How has literature in Ireland responded to inward migration? Have Irish writers reflected in their work (either explicitly or implicitly) the existence of migrant communities in Ireland? If so, are elements of Irish traditional culture and community maintained or transformed? What is the social and political efficacy of these intercultural artistic visions? While these issues have received sustained academic attention in literary contexts with longer traditions of migration, they have yet to be extensively addressed in Ireland today. The collection will thus be of interest to students and academics of contemporary literature as well as the general reader willing to learn more about Ireland and Irish culture. Overall, this book will become most useful to scholars working in Irish studies, contemporary Irish literature, multiculturalism, migration, globalisation and transculturality. Writers discussed include Hugo Hamilton, Roddy Doyle, Colum McCann, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Dermot Bolger, Chris Binchy, Michael O'Loughlin, Emer Martin, and Kate O'Riordan, amongst others.