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Ellen Glasgow’s In This Our Life: “The Betrayals of Life” in the Crumbling Aristocratic South

Abstract

Ellen Glasgow’s works have received, over time, a mixed interpretation, from sentimental and conventional, to rebellious and insightful. Her novel In This Our Life (1941) allows the reader to have a glimpse of the early twentieth-century South, changed by the industrial revolution, desperately clinging to dead codes, despairing and struggling to survive. The South is reflected through the problems of a family, its sentimentality and vulnerability, but also its cruelty, pretensions, masks and selfishness, trying to find happiness and meaning in a world of traditions and codes that seem powerless in the face of progress. The novel, apparently simple and reduced in scope, offers, in fact, a deep insight into various issues, from complicated family relationships, gender pressures, racial inequality to psychological dilemmas, frustration or utter despair. The article’s aim is to depict, through this novel, one facet of the American South, the “aristocratic” South of belles and cavaliers, an illusory representation indeed, but so deeply rooted in the world’s imagination. Ellen Glasgow is one of the best choices in this direction: an aristocratic woman but also a keen and profound writer, and, most of all, a writer who loved the South deeply, even if she exposed its flaws.

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Forgetting to Re-member: Politics of Amnesia and the Reconstruction of Memory in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Everything Is Illuminated and Memento

Abstract

This essay aims to discuss the ideological aspects of memory loss as a reconstruction of personal and collective memory with reference to several Hollywood movies, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Memento and Everything Is Illuminated. The essay explores the construction of memory within a network of power relations and the profound influence that the reproduction of memory has on the embodiment of personal identities. The unreliability of human memory has been a major issue in philosophical debates and works of art from early Greek philosophy to cyberpunk novels. Memory studies draw on a wide range of academic fields varying from neuroscience to political science, with an emphasis on prosthetic memories, identity and body politics, displaced cultural identities, and consumer culture. Often intermingled with collective narratives, memory is an ideological artifact or rather a form of language that can be institutionally manipulated or manufactured. The mass production of personal and collective memories further deprives human beings of control over their personal histories and identity constructions. In this regard, this article elaborates the formation, reinforcement, and reconstruction of memory in contemporary culture with particular references to the inclusion of hegemony, cultural politics, and identity politics in selected movies.

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How the Booker Prize Won the Prize

Abstract

This article shows that the Booker Prize for fiction, which is neither the oldest nor the richest award given for novels in English, is nevertheless widely conceded to be the pre-eminent recognition. Sometimes it is called the “most significant”; sometimes the “most famous”; ultimately these two qualities are inseparable. I canvass some of the explanations for the Booker’s position as top prize and argue that the most important reasons are Publicity, Flexibility, and Product Placement. The Booker has managed its public image skillfully; among the devices that assure its continued celebrity is the acceptance, almost the courting, of scandal. Flexibility is partly a function of the practice of naming five new judges each year, but the Booker has also been responsive to challenges, including the recognition that it paid too little attention to female authors. The decision to admit American books into the competition was a sign of flexibility, as it was a guarantee of scandal. And the Booker has followed a path of “product placement” that positions it accurately between demands for high art and for “readability,” as examination of several periods in its history demonstrate.

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Icebound Modernity: The Shipwreck as Metaphor in Dan Simmons’ The Terror

Abstract

In this article, I seek to present a “metaphorology” of the shipwreck through a literary example. As Hans Blumenberg has noted, the shipwreck has served as a metaphor for the contingency of human existence in Western culture. Building on Blumenberg’s ideas, I argue that modernity heightens contingency and destroys the possibility of a coherent, anthropocentric discourse. For Quentin Meillassoux, the modern outlook exposes the contingency and inhumanity of reality. Building on Meillassoux and Blumenberg’s work, I address ideas pertaining to contingency and the metaphor of modernity-as-shipwreck by engaging with Dan Simmons’ historical novel, The Terror (2007), based on events surrounding the failed Franklin Expedition of 1845-48. The sinister, frozen wastelands of the Arctic figure as the limit of both European humanity and rationality. In Simmons’ novel, the traumatic encounter with cultural otherness conjures up visions of an implosion of colonial ambitions, as the crew members are gradually consumed by both the harsh environment and the ancient Inuit ice demon Tuunbaq and must confront the indifferent frozen wastes of a mythological, gothic North. Simmons’ gothic North Pole constitutes an example of “extro-science fiction,” situated beyond the limits of all knowledge.

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“In the desert, we are all illegal aliens”: Border Confluences and Border Wars in Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway

Abstract

In May 2001, a traveling party of 26 Mexican citizens tried to cross the Arizonan desert in order to enter the United States illegally. Their attempt turned into a front-page news event after 14 died and 12 barely made it across the border due to Border Patrol intervention. Against the background of consistent tightening of anti-immigration laws in the United States, my essay aims to examine the manner in which Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway: A True Story (2004) reenacts the group’s journey from Mexico through the “vast trickery of sand” to the United States in a rather poetic and mythical rendition of the travel north. Written to include multiple perspectives (of the immigrants and their coyotes, the immigration authorities, Border Patrol agents, high officials on both sides of the border), Urrea’s account, I argue, stands witness to and casts light on the often invisible plight of those attempting illegal passage to the United States across the desert. It thus humanizes the otherwise dry statistics of immigration control by focusing on the everyday realities of human-smuggling operations and their economic and social consequences in the borderland region. At the same time, my paper highlights the impact of the Wellton 26 case on the (re)negotiation of identity politics and death politics at the US-Mexican border.

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Kitchen and Other Tables to Think With: The Case of To the Lighthouse, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and In the Mood for Love

Abstract

This article studies comparatively references to tables in Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse and two films, Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love. Greenaway announces from the title a concern with a cook, which the film duly elaborates by setting its action mostly in a restaurant and its kitchen; tables as the central part of the set visualise power configurations. In Wong’s film about failed love, the kitchen and/or tables as part of the décor reinforce mainstream notions of middle-class domesticity. Woolf challenges middle-class views of gender in two episodes from Part I – Mrs Ramsay’s dinner party and the dialogue between Lily Briscoe and Andrew Ramsay about the object of his father’s philosophy books – by defamiliarising respectively the dining-and kitchen tables. The latter scene, which repurposes the idea of the kitchen table as an analogon for philosophy’s construal of the nature of reality, opens up an epistemic avenue: thinking with the kitchen table. My general frame for analysis is Edmund Husserl’s concept of orientation, sustained by Bertrand Russell’s propositions about unobserved objects and unoccupied perspectives. However, I twist these conceptual tools intersectionally to unravel the social grounds of philosophical and artistic positions that obfuscate gendered contributions to knowledge, sustenance and general well-being.

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Much Ado about Black Naturalism: Don John, Blood, and Caged Birds

Abstract

William Shakespeare’s comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, and Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, “Sympathy,” peer through black naturalism’s socially deterministic lens, despite conflicts in time, geopolitics, social norms, and literary imagination. Specifically, Don John’s truculent reference about “sing[ing] in his cage” (1.3.32) inspired investigation into whether Dunbar’s famed line, “I know why the caged bird sings” (21), intentionally alludes to Shakespeare’s work. While the research is inconclusive, the references provide clarity for Don John’s character particularly. Essentially, Don John’s foolhardy evil meets society’s standards for masking social truths, just as Dunbar’s poem has been reduced to a sweet and imaginative ditty over time. Thus, this article broadly explores society’s tendency to recycle oppression under expedient pretenses. Although Don John self-proclaims inherent evil, closer scrutiny of his figurative scar – coat of arms, representing illegitimacy – reveals a socially determined position, more consistent with Dunbar’s second-rate life based on skin color and his naturalism based on whiteness. Because Mowat and Werstine suggest that Don John’s ill-intentioned behaviors are less about biology (blood) than impassioned human response to social injustice (Blood), naturalism links the unlikely pair. As such, the article uses Dunbar’s black naturalism to exemplify societal “caging” in Much Ado and “Sympathy.”

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