Last Year’s Letter from the Exec Committee for Late-18c English Literature (Anderson, Goodman, Lynch, Macpherson, Warner) about the Proposed Reorganization

Hi folks,

Since the program committee is meeting  soon, I would suggest, yet again, that if you feel a stake in the proposed reorganization, please visit the draft proposal site to register your response ASAP. The relevant paragraphs concerning 18c studies are paragraphs 82 and 83.

There is also an online petition getting circulated by Rivka Swenson, Danielle Spratt, Deidre Lynch, and Jonathan Kramnick, which would be helpful for you to sign. Please take a look, and if you agree, sign and share with your colleagues.

Here is the very thorough response that last year’s Late Eighteenth-Century Division made to the proposal to reorganize the 18c group and reduce its conference panels.  The writers of this letter are making it available to the Long 18th and its readers, so that the 18th century scholarly community can see the efforts they have made to work with the MLA in its ongoing development.  It is clear, however, that this letter was not taken into consideration when MLA moved forward with the proposal. Take a look:

Response to Marianne Hirsch & Margaret Ferguson - rev final 4-20 copy_Page_1

Response to Marianne Hirsch & Margaret Ferguson - rev final 4-20 copy_Page_2

Response to Marianne Hirsch & Margaret Ferguson - rev final 4-20 copy_Page_3

Response to Marianne Hirsch & Margaret Ferguson - rev final 4-20 copy_Page_4

Thanks,

David Mazella

18th century folks: please add your comments to the MLA draft proposal before September 18th

Rivka Swenson and I are trying to alert everyone working in 18th-century studies to an important discussion taking place at the MLA right now.  This is a proposed restructuring of the existing discussion groups and divisions that would drastically reduce the number of guaranteed panels for our field, and merge existing “Restoration,” “Early Eighteenth Century,”and “Late Eighteenth Century” fields into a single “Long Eighteenth Century” field.  The effect of this proposal would be to reduce guaranteed panels at the annual conference from 8 to 2, and to demand that panels be constituted from submissions from all three sub-fields.

Here, to begin with, is Pres. Marianne Hirsch’s explanation of the “document map” concerning a proposed reorganization of the MLA’s committee structure:

There are further, general remarks found at this link, but no rationale for the specific collapsing of existing 18th-century sub-fields or reduction of panels.  There is no narrative explanation for the newly constituted or merged groups or what these new names might mean.

The MLA Commons site is confusing, but please persevere until you reach this site, which contains the “document map” for the proposed changes.  On the left there are the new “groups”; you will find the new collapsed groups under the heading of “English,” with “Restoration,” “Early Eighteenth Century” and “Late Eighteenth Century” now listed as part of “The Long Eighteenth Century.”

The relevant paragraphs to comment upon are 82 and 83, which can be accessed by clicking on the panel names on the left, or by scrolling down on the numbered paragraphs on the right.

Please let the MLA Working Group, and Prof. Hirsch, hear what you think about this proposal and its specific impact on eighteenth-century studies. How would it affect you and your work?  How would it affect the work or job prospects of your graduate students?  Does this proposal reflect an up-to-date understanding of the research going on in your field?  Would it affect your willingness to attend or contribute to MLA?  And so forth.

I would also suggest that all discussion for the moment go to the MLA, so that it can be seen by the MLA leadership.  It would be helpful for all these comments to be on the MLA site by the 18th of September, in time for the Program Committee to consider the feedback.  I will observe that the total comments on the two 18th century panels have reached about 44, and that these overwhelmingly negative comments vastly outnumber the comments on the other portions. So good luck, and I hope to see your thoughts on the MLA site.

Thanks,

DM

NYC EVENT: BEFORE GLOBALIZATION?

September 20, 2013: 4:00 PM at the Elebash Recital Hall, CUNY GRADUATE CENTER
365 FIFTH AVENUE
NEW YORK, NY

Before Globalization?

This event brings together prominent scholars of colonialism, race, and religion to discuss whether or not it is possible to speak of globalization in the pre-modern era. We anticipate a lively debate that will cross period boundaries and that will address how the expansion of travel, trade, imperialism, and cultural exchange between 1600-1800 contributed to the process of globalization. Panelists: Leela Gandhi, University of Chicago; Suvir Kaul, University of Pennsylvania; Ania Loomba, University of Pennsylvania; and Feisal Mohamed, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Moderated by Kim Hall, Barnard College.

before-globalization_-flyer-final1

BEFORE GLOBALIZATION_ FLYER FINAL

VIA the ASECS newsletter: Julie Hayes’ President’s Column, May 2013

[Julie Hayes asked me if she could re-post her May 2013 President's Column  on the blog, and I agreed. Take a look, and hit "Reply" if you want to add to our ongoing discussion on the uses of literature and the humanities--DM]

“Why college?”

Julie Candler Hayes
@J_C_Hayes

My spring column is somewhat delayed this year (as was spring itself, in our region). The good feelings and intellectual recharge born of the April ASECS meeting in Cleveland quickly disappeared in the late-season avalanche of institutional demands. I continue to work through my stack of books on the state of American higher education. Having looked last time at Clayton Christensen’s less-than-edifying vision of disruption fueled by underpaid adjunct faculty and government-subsidized student loans to for-profits, I’m turning to two defenses of the humanities and liberal arts, Mark William Roche’s Why Choose the Liberal Arts? (2010) and Andrew Delbanco’s College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be (2012). I wanted very much to like both of these books, and there is much to enjoy in them: both are well-written, thoughtful meditations on the value of a liberal education. And yet…

I heard Mark Roche speak nearly fifteen years ago at a summer chairs’ seminars run by the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages. At the time, he’d recently finished a stint as chair of the German Department at Ohio State and had moved to Notre Dame as Dean of Arts and Letters. He spoke on ways that department chairs could promote their departments and the ideas came so quickly that I couldn’t write fast enough to get them all in my notes.[1] I picked up his 2010 book hoping for an equally intense blast of arguments for the humanities and strategies for changing the anti-intellectual bent of so much recent debate. This is a more philosophical book, however, an extended answer to the question asked by so many parents: “What can my child do with a major in…?” For Roche, the answer is three-fold. The liberal arts have intrinsic value, inspiring learning for its own sake; they cultivate the “intellectual virtues … requisite for success beyond the academy”; and they lead to the development of a sense of vocation, which he defines as “participation in a higher reality, a commitment to the transcendent.” Because the points are simple ones, the book defies simple paraphrase. It’s worth reading both for the subtlety of the ideas and for the moving evocations of personal experience, especially in the classroom. And I could not have agreed more on the reasons for serving as dean: “One can only assume such a role and persevere in it because one identifies with the goal of fostering learning, scholarship, and formation, and one recognizes the potential to impact the world more deeply in a position of leadership, even if at some level the impact is less embodied and more abstract than when working with many students and writing or researching full-time” (150).

I sighed, therefore, when I encountered an all-too familiar suggestion that college education too often fails in its mission by faculty who substitute “low ambitions” for great ideas and teach only “mediocre books that derive from faculty research interests or ideological perspectives” (32). Roche points to Stanley Fish’s May 2003 Chronicle essay, “Aim Low.” It’s unfortunate, because while Roche and Fish might never be able to speak the same language of morality and higher calling, they certainly both champion rigorous thought and eschew platitudes—Fish’s chief target in his essay.

I experienced a similar momentary disappointment in Andrew Delbanco’s book. Delbanco’s sense of what college is “for” is as high-minded as Roche’s, but as the title suggests his approach is historical and polemical. Delbanco underscores the fault-lines in self-congratulatory narratives about expanding educational access, arguing that colleges and universities “have lately been reinforcing more than ameliorating the disparity of wealth and opportunity in American society” (122) and drawing analogies between the decline of students’ educational experience and that of faculty careers: “the gap is widening between the majority and the select few” (142). His final chapter, “What is to be done?” is maddeningly brief, offering glimpses of a few “high-tech” and “low tech” solutions, before focusing, oddly, on the need for “teachers who care about teaching.” Given his own analysis of the social, political, and economic challenges facing higher education, why turn to the evils of professionalization and the purported disconnect between teaching and research?[2]

Both Roche and Delbanco are literary scholars. Presumably, we all came of age during the same period, riding the wave of the theoretical turn in literary studies in the 1970s. Their experiences were perhaps different from mine. I remain unconvinced that attentiveness to form, to the rusing strategies of language, to the imbrication of discourses within one another, is somehow alien to intellectual ambition, to educating for democracy. Au contraire, collègues!


[1] Fortunately, the talk was published: Mark W. Roche, “Strategies for Enhancing the Visibility and Role of Foreign Language Departments,” ADFL Bulletin Vol. 30, No. 2 (Winter 1999), 10–18.

[2] For an infinitely cruder version of this argument, see a recent opinion piece by Chris Buczinsky and Robert Frodeman in Inside Higher Ed: http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2013/04/30/essay-how-keep-humanities-vibrant-rejecting-elite-universities-models.

Congreve’s “Love for Love” staged reading

For Congreve fans in the DC area, there will be a staged reading of Love for Love on Monday evening.  Sorry for the short notice but I only recently found out about it.  I have attended these before and they are excellent.

 

 

Gikandi’s Ch 6: “The Ontology of Play”

Chapter 6 continues much of the work Gikandi begins in chapter 5, as he traces how “the possibility of being black in the new world . . . was transformed into a narrative of identity”(195). In so doing, what Gikandi offers in these chapters very much feels like a prehistory of Du Bois’s Souls of Black Folk (1903), which serves as a sort of telos for much of the archives Gikandi explores in these chapters. Such a characterization of Gikandi’s work might sound like a criticism, but I don’t mean it as such. Let me explain.

In chapter 5, Gikandi defines what he terms a “mangled semantics,” or “the confusion of the performative and the truth-value of slave cultural activities and utterances” (203). [Side note: To add fodder to Evan Gottlieb’s excellent questions on this chapter , I think it is worth observing that Gikandi cites Austin, not Derrida or Butler on speech act theory and the performative]. In chapter 6, Gikandi defines some of the barriers faced in the expression of this mangled semantic: “how to recognize the impossibility of belonging to a place yet claim one’s presence in it; of how to strive and years for emplacement yet live in a world in which rights and ideals were constantly thwarted” (235). This sounds like a Harlem Renaissance dilemma, and it is no wonder, for it seems to me that what Gikandi is doing in these chapter is tracing the genealogy of a black aesthetic, an aesthetic that we might think, as we listen to scholars of contemporary and twentieth-century African American literature and culture (I’m thinking most recently of Kevin Young’s The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness (2012)), has its roots in the eighteenth century, but until now, we have not had a single book to point to that covers much of that archive. As others have noted, Gikandi’s work here as a curator of a collection of such evidence indebts us to him. And what does he say about the collection he has assembled in chapter 6?

For one, he foregrounds the problem of memory at the heart of black expression. In slave culture, “memory,” Gikandi tells us, “was best doing its work when it was affective, magical, and ritualistic” (246). Thus, some memories were best publicly or collectively enshrined in dances, and others, such as the houses built in the “African style,” were private. This latter form was ultimately unproductive “because publicness was one of the essential conditions of being a modern subject,” and therefore was abandoned (253). Rituals and performances took precedent over private affect, Gikandi claims. I wonder though, could we possible reframe this as the problem of the archive, of institutionalized memory, rather than of a choice? Again, I ask this question in the spirit of Evan Gottlieb’s second question about the “the ambivalence of the archive” in this chapter. I am also reminded of Gikandi’s eloquent question in chapter 2, “Was the slave a human subject of a disposable body? Was her progress in time and space a journey toward the enhancement of the self or a movement toward its dissolution?” (67). We might push a bit further here and consider what the relationship between “dissolution” and archives of feelings, of affect might look like.

The highlight of chapter 6 for me was Gikandi’s discussion of property, and the central role of the provision grounds, which he reads as “a measure of control over time and space and hence part of the process of moral reorientation” (240). In this section, Gikandi allows us to rethink examples from later in the century of slaves’ claims to property, problematizing our assumptions that formerly enslaved persons had no positive experiences of ownership, either personally or in their communities. Gikandi opens the possibility of recasting slaves’ relationship to property as a form of “temporal leverage.” How might that sensitivity to the temporal help us to think of slaves purchasing their freedom, or of Belinda’s claim to her Isaac Royall’s Massachusetts estate, or of Equiano maintaining his literary property for his Interesting Narrative for the rest of his life?

I appreciated Melissa Mowry’s observation about the productive questioning that Gikandi models, and in that spirit, I would love to hear what others thoughts about his use of the term “public sphere” in chapters 5 and 6. In chapter 6, Gikandi tells us that what he is doing is tracing “how slaves presented themselves in the public sphere” (202), a public sphere that he later identifies as “altered” (206). In these chapters, he traces “the role [scenes of happiness] played as a means of recoding social life for a people excluded from multiple domains of freedom and the aesthetic life that came with it” (202). From this, we might deduce that he is thinking of the “public sphere” as a space of both freedom and expression. Are we to assume that the black “public sphere” also has a political dimension to it for Gikandi? Whose “public sphere” is he referring to?  Given this term’s vexed history in the last few decades of eighteenth-century studies, I am puzzled by Gikandi’s unexamined use of it in chapters 5 and 6. We get a cursory explanation of the term in relation to taste in the first chapter (20), but I would like to hear more on how the term means in relation to slave culture.

Molly O’Hagan Hardy is the Digital Humanities Curator at the American Antiquarian Society.

Remarks on “The Ontology of Play: Mimicry and the Counterculture of Taste,” Chapter 6 of Slavery and the Culture of Taste by Simon Gikandi

With apologies, in order to keep on schedule, what follows is very much a series of working notes rather than a fully formed “reading” of the chapter. The rest of you have set the bar very high, which I greatly appreciate – but will not try to emulate (mimic?) here!

This chapter engages with a selection of slave culture-related phenomena that Gikandi looks to in order to find evidence of what he calls “a counter-aesthetic” (239): one that would provide black slaves with a “modern identity” (238) different from the abject identity forced upon them by the regime of slavery.The examples Gikandi considers in this chapter are varied and fascinating. In Section One alone, he puts forward for consideration:

  • An Akan-style African drum, recovered in Virginia (233-34)
  • Frederick Douglass’ memories of hearing slave chants (236-37)
  • The one acre of “provision-ground” granted to every five Jamaican slaves for their personal use (239-243)
  • The slave work practice known as the “task system” that developed in South Carolina (243-245)

Section Two, similarly, focuses on examples of seemingly African-inspired architecture in the structures and dwellings built by slaves (and on at least one occasional, a free black) in the American South (247-53). Sections Three, Four, and Five focuses on paintings, sketches, and records of African-style slave songs, dances, rituals, and festivals (253-279).

Gikandi helpfully sums up his argument in a paragraph worth quoting in full at the top of 280: “My argument in this chapter is that whether they were produced in defiance or imitation of the culture of taste, the works art imagined and implemented by slaves, from buildings to dances to festivals, enabled the enslaved to redefine their relation to time and space, to reconstitute their own bodies and social relationships outside the shadow of their masters, and thus to display bodies that were not mere chattel.”

I note that, necessarily, many of these assertions need to be made in a subjunctive mood: On the African echoes in the architecture of Melrose Plantation in colonial Louisiana, for example, Gikandi mostly relies on evocative questions to situate his reading: “Why, then, would a wealthy woman, the owner of more than eighteenth thousand acres of land and hundreds of slaves . . . want to construct a house that would recall the ontology of African architecture? . . . Did she, then, want a building that stood out in its environment in memoriam to an imagined Africa? Or was the African House intended to be the depository of an unknown and thus frightening ghost?” (251).

To help him make his case(s), Gikandi invokes a host of theorists in the chapter: Benjamin on “the allegory of ruins” (234); Glissant on “a forced poetics . . . [of] Creole cultures” (234-35); de Certeau’s concept of “a tactic” as a method for enacting resistance on territory that is not one’s own (241-24); Taylor’s assertion that “being a person” involves “holding values” (247); Heidegger on habitation (251); Certeau, Harvey, and Soja on “the functional symbolism of the spatial” (252); Gadamer on “the sensuousness of the symbol” (252); Foucault and Debord on the distinction between surveillance and spectacle (263); Fanon on “the lived experience of blackness” (269); Bakhtin on “the festival . . . [as] an extraterritorial space of identity” (269); Gluckman on “rituals of rebellion” (270); E.P. Thompson on consensus and crowds (277-78).

But it may be worth noting the conspicuous absence of two other well-known thinkers: Jacques Derrida is not cited at all, and Friedrich Schiller (whose letters on the aesthetic education of man would seem central to Gikandi’s argument here) is mentioned only once, in passing and disparagingly, back on 122. It might seem uncharitable to fault a book that is so packed with marvelous scholarly sources and examples for what it leaves out: but the near-total absence of these two dead white (if one thinks of Derrida as French and not Jewish-Algerian) male thinkers in particular seems worth remarking on:

  • I wonder especially about the absence of Derrida, with whose deconstructive methods the word “play” – featured prominently in the chapter’s title – was so indelibly associated, from his seminal lecture “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” onward. Is his notion of “play” as semiotic undecidability not attractive to Gikandi because it cuts against the grain of Gikandi’s desire to locate clear sources of resistance and counter-discourse in slave culture phenomena?
  • Derrida was also a great theorizer of the ambivalence of the archive – but my sense is that, especially in this last chapter, Gikandi is eager to forego ambivalence (I note in passing that no citation of Homi Bhabha’s work is to be found anywhere here) in favor of sturdier assertions regarding the meaning and value of “free” slave practices
  • I also wonder about the absence of Schiller from this chapter, since his notion of “play” as the highest form of human activity seems so central to Gikandi’s project of unearthing a hitherto occluded sense of aesthetic dignity in slave lands and rituals. Does Gikandi disavow this origin because of the apolitical nature of Schiller’s aesthetic, or because it is a product of high, white European culture?

I also couldn’t help thinking that Peter Sloterdijk’s notion of anthropotechnics – the way that humans make and remake themselves through repetitive practices (see his recently translated You Must Change Your Life) — would seem to be a useful concept for everything being argued here. But of course Sloterdijk’s whole point (here and in his amazing Spheres trilogy, of which only the first volume has appeared in English) is that all humans have always been engaged in shaping and molding their environments to their needs, and vice versa: and the universality of his claims might threaten as much as support the distinctiveness Gikandi wishes to argue characterizes slave culture, in the moral as well as aesthetic domains.

Finally, I want to add that nothing that I’ve noted here should be taken as a totalizing or final critique of Gikandi’s book, which I very much admire, and from which I feel certain I will continue to learn in the coming months and years: it is the work of a mature scholar and critic at the top of his game, so to speak, and to my mind probably the most compelling and provocative piece of literary historical criticism I’ve read since Ian Baucom’s Specters of the Atlantic.

Evan Gottlieb is an Associate Professor of English at Oregon State University. His most recent books are Walter Scott and Contemporary Theory (Bloomsbury, 2013) and Representing Place in British Literature and Culture, 1660-1830: From Local to Global, co-edited with Juliet Shields  (Ashgate, 2013).