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.
A Roundtable Conversation at the
2014 American Studies Convention
Aliyyah I. Abdur-Rahman
John E. Drabinski
Six key Baldwin scholars converged at the 2014 American Studies Association to consider
the question of privacy, informed by their own book-length projects in process. Key topics
included Baldwin’s sexuality and the (open) secret, historical lack of access to privacy
in African-American experience, obligations for public representation in African-American
literary history, Baldwin’s attempts to construct home spaces, public access to Baldwin’s
private documents, and ethical matters for scholars in creating and preserving Baldwin’s
legacy, including his final home in St. Paul-de-Vence.
Scholars of eighteenth-century literature have long seen the development of the
Gothic as a break from neoclassical aesthetics, but this article posits a more
complex engagement with classical imitation at the origins of the genre. In
Horace Walpole’s formative Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto,
his Gothic drama The Mysterious Mother, and in the curiosities
in his villa, classical elements are detached from their contexts and placed in
startling and strange juxtapositions. His tendency towards the fragmentation of
ancient culture, frequently expressed through the imagery of dismemberment,
suggests an aesthetic not of imitation, but of collection. Moreover, rather than
abandoning or ignoring the classical, Walpole reconfigures literary history to
demonstrate elements of monstrosity and hybridity already present in Greek and
This study brings emergent methodologies of literary geography to bear upon the unique contents—or more to the point, the moving, artful, frequently audacious contents—of a codex known as London, British Library MS Harley 2253. The Harley manuscript was produced in provincial Herefordshire, in England’s Welsh Marches, by a scribe whose literary generation was wiped out in the Black Death of 1348–1351. It contains a diverse set of writings: love-lyrics and devotional texts, political songs and fabliaux, saints’ lives, courtesy literature, bible narratives, travelogues, and more. These works alternate between languages (Middle English, Anglo-Norman, and Latin), but have been placed in mutually illuminating conversation. Following an Introduction that explores how this fragmentary miscellany keeps being sutured into ‘whole’-ness by commentary upon it, individual chapters examine different genres, topics, and social groupings. Readers from literary history, medieval studies, cultural geography, gender studies, Jewish studies, book history, and more, will profit from the encounter. Harley 2253 is famous as medieval books go, thanks to its celebrated roster of lyrics, fabliaux, and political songs, and owing to the scarcity of material extant from this ‘in-between’ period in insular literary history. England’s post-Conquest/pre-plague era remains dimly known. Despite such potential, there has never been a monograph published on Harley 2253. Harley Manuscript Geographies orients readers to this compelling material by describing the phenomenon of the medieval miscellany in textual and codicological terms. But another task it performs is to lay out grounds for approaching this compilation via the interpretive lens that cultural geography provides.
This collection explores how concepts of intellectual or learning disability evolved from a range of influences, gradually developing from earlier and decidedly distinct concepts, including ‘idiocy’ and ‘folly’, which were themselves generated by very specific social and intellectual environments. With essays extending across legal, educational, literary, religious, philosophical, and psychiatric histories, this collection maintains a rigorous distinction between historical and contemporary concepts in demonstrating how intellectual disability and related notions were products of the prevailing social, cultural, and intellectual environments in which they took form, and themselves performed important functions within these environments. Focusing on British and European material from the middle ages to the late nineteenth century, this collection asks ‘How and why did these concepts form?’ ‘How did they connect with one another?’ and ‘What historical circumstances contributed to building these connections?’ While the emphasis is on conceptual history or a history of ideas, these essays also address the consequences of these defining forces for the people who found themselves enclosed by the shifting definitional field.
Bestsellers and masterpieces: the changing medieval canon addresses the strange fact that, in both European and Middle Eastern medieval studies, those texts that we now study and teach as the most canonical representations of their era were in fact not popular or even widely read in their day. On the other hand, those texts that were popular, as evidenced by the extant manuscript record, are taught and studied with far less frequency. The most dramatic demonstration of this disparity can be found in the surprising number of medieval texts now regarded as ‘masterpieces’ that have survived in but a single copy, an unicum manuscript. On the European side this list includes Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Book of Margery Kempe, the Oxford Song of Roland, Hildebrandslied and El Poema de mio Cid. On the Arabo-Mediterranean side examples include Ibn Hazm’s Ṭawq al-ḥamāma (The Neck-Ring of the Dove), Usāma ibn Munqidh’s Kitāb al-I‘tibār (Memoirs of Usama ibn Munqidh) and ‘Abd Allāh Ibn Buluggīn’s Kitab al-Tibyan (Autobiography of Ibn Buluggin), works that enjoy a canonical status in the study of Arabic literature comparable to that of the European examples cited above in the West. Bestsellers and masterpieces provides cross-cultural insight into both the literary tastes of the medieval period and the literary and political forces behind the creation of the ‘modern canon’ of medieval literature.
This book argues that disenchantment is not only a response to wartime experience, but a condition of modernity with a language that finds extreme expression in First World War literature. The objects of disenchantment are often the very same as the enchantments of scientific progress: bureaucracy, homogenisation and capitalism. Older beliefs such as religion, courage and honour are kept in view, and endure longer than often is realised. Social critics, theorists and commentators of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries provide a rich and previously unexplored context for wartime and post-war literature. The rise of the disenchanted narrative to its predominance in the War Books Boom of 1928 – 1930 is charted from the turn of the century in texts, archival material, sales and review data. Rarely-studied popular and middlebrow novels are analysed alongside well-known highbrow texts: D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, H. G. Wells and Rebecca West rub shoulders with forgotten figures such as Gilbert Frankau and Ernest Raymond. These sometimes jarring juxtapositions show the strained relationship between enchantment and disenchantment in the war and the post-war decade.
Critical Theory and Dystopia tracks dystopia as a genre of fiction which occupies the spaces of literature and of politics simultaneously. Using Theodor Adorno’s critique of the situation of writing in the twentieth century, this volume uses the notion of a ‘negative commitment’ to situate the potential and the limits of dystopia. Examining classic dystopias by Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, McManus follows the mutation of the genre in dystopias by Margaret Atwood, J.G. Ballard and William Gibson in the 1980s. A sample of twenty-first-century dystopias are then read for their efforts to break with the politics of the present, and their inability to realise those breaks. Tracing lines of continuity and of discontinuity within the genre, McManus ends by exploring the dystopias of Michel Houellebecq, Lionel Shriver and Gary Shteyngart.
What happens when Chaucer turns up where we don’t expect him to be? Transporting Chaucer draws on the work of the British sculptor Antony Gormley alongside more traditional literary scholarship to show that Chaucer’s play with textual history and chronological time prefigures how his poetry becomes incorporate with later (and earlier) texts. The shuttling of bodies, names, and sounds in and amongst works that Chaucer did write anticipates Chaucerian presences in later (and earlier) works that he did not. Chaucer’s characters, including ‘himself’ refuse to stay put in one place and time. This book bypasses the chronological borders of literary succession to read The Canterbury Tales and Chaucer’s Dream Vision poetry in present company with Chaucerian ‘apocrypha’, and works by Shakespeare, Davenant and Dryden. Conventional models of source and analogue study are re-energised to reveal unexpected (and sometimes unsettling) literary cohabitations and re-placements. Transporting Chaucer presents innovative readings of relationships between medieval texts and early modern drama, and between literary texts and material culture. Associations between medieval architecture, pilgrim practice, manuscript illustration, and the soundscapes of dramatic performance reposition how we read Chaucer’s oeuvre and what gets made of it. Written for scholars and students (undergraduate and graduate) who work in medieval English literary studies and early modern drama, Transporting Chaucer offers a new approach to how we encounter texts through time.
Reading labour and writing women’s literary history
Coda: reading labour and writing
[O]ur efforts in writing eighteenth-century women’s literaryhistory are
now hampered less by a lack of awareness of the problem [of the
professionalization of literature] than by our resistance to rethinking
women writers’ and readers’ positions toward, and implication in this
defining moment in women’s literaryhistory, wherein they were
purportedly being relegated to the footnotes and margins of