Category Archives: Matt Williams

Another NYC C18 announcement!

I was glad to see many familiar faces at the NYU Writing Women symposium a few weeks ago. This upcoming May 9th, I’ll be hosting an event for the CUNY Graduate Center’s Eighteenth-Century Interdisciplinary Group and I hope to see you there.

Matt Williams, who recently defended his CUNY dissertation on eighteenth-century satire, will be giving a talk entitled “‘Subjects, Tales, Stories, and Characters of Invention, after the Manner of Lucian, who Copied from Varro’: Delarivier Manley, Menippean Satire, and the Rise of the Novel.”

We’ll gather at 2pm in the Eighteenth-Century Reading Room (C196.05) on the lower floor of the Mina Rees Library (365 Fifth Ave.), partake in refreshments, listen to Matt’s presentation, and enjoy plenty of discussion afterwards. Please email me at if you’d like to come, as I’ll need to give your name to the library security so they’ll be expecting you.


New York City event: Richter at Mina Rees Library

I’m reposting this from Matt Williams’s email:


The Eighteenth-Century Reading Room is pleased to announce the first
talk of its 2007-2008 Guest Speaker Series.

Dr. David Richter (CUNY Graduate Center & Queens College):

“Jewish Biblical Interpretation in the Wake of the Enlightenment:
Moses Mendelssohn, Judah Ben-Se’ev and the Rhetoric of Religion”

Friday September 28, 2007, 2:00 PM

RSVP to,, or call 212.817.7085

All Guest Speaker Series events take place in Room C196.05 in the Mina
Rees Library of the Graduate Center at 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, New

Coffee and donut holes will be served. Seating is limited for these
talks. Please RSVP as soon as possible.

Satire Panel in New York

Matt Williams sends along this announcement:

The CUNY Graduate Center Eighteenth-Century Interdisciplinary Group is pleased to announce a major satire event.

Please join us Friday, April 13th 1:00 – 4:00 for a round table discussion on satire.

Panelists will include:

Prof. Anna Battigelli, State University of New York, Plattsburgh
Prof. Jaclyn Geller, Central Connecticut University
Prof. Dustin Griffin, New York University
Prof. Dianielle Isalaco, New York University
Prof. Claude Rawson, Yale University
Prof. David Venturo, The College of New Jersey

Prof. Blanford Parker of The City University of New York Graduate Center and the College of Staten Island will moderate.

** We will not be meeting in our normal location, but rather in room 9205 (at the Graduate Center, 365 5th Avenue). **

Please note that we are also starting an hour earlier than usual (1:00). Port wine and snacks will be served.

If you are attending from off-campus, please email your full name to so that it may be left with security.

Parker’s Intro, Follow-up: The Pace and Dating of Cultural Change

Carrie, thank you for arranging this event and getting us all started. I’m looking forward to the discussion. Thank you also for your careful account of Blanford Parker’s argument. I appreciate the time you have taken to summarize the complex and wide-ranging argument of the introduction and the ease with which you seem to have done so. My only quarrel with your reading is your claim that Parker details a “slow conceptual divorce of art from the traditional Christian imagination.” In fact, I don’t think the discursive and imaginative changes described arrive gradually in Parker’s literary history at all, but rather arrive suddenly and violently. At various moments, Parker describes the shift from Baroque to Augustan aesthetics as a “rupture,” “irruption” and “interruption.”

It is not uncommon for scholars of the late 17th century to locate shifts of all kinds in this period, but Parker’s attempts to explain the changes are, as Carrie Shanafelt rightly points out, quite radical. What is perhaps unique about Parker’s account of the period is that he makes aesthetic shifts primary (as opposed to, say, philosophical shifts). According to Parker, by the end of the 17th century, not only had the conceptual framework of the scholastics been destroyed, but so too had the imaginative foundation upon which it stood. The rhetorical moves made by Hobbes, and Butler in particular, are the necessary precondition not only for the tropes and argumentative structures in Swift and the later Augustans, but also for the emergence of a secular modernity. Parker’s implicit argument seems to be that changes in philosophy and religion are predicated upon changes in imaginative associations. The later logics of science, literalism, and positivism depend upon lateral, metonymic, and spatial associations rather than upon analogy, and this shift occurs first in Butler and his contemporaries. Once the change has occurred in poetry, every aspect of culture, literary and intellectual, must come into ideological alignment (despite, of course, the persistence, as Parker quickly points out, of figures like Bunyan, Wesley and Whitefield — but their rhetoric, too, is sharpened by the need to respond to the changed imaginative landscape, post-Butler).

Because this change must necessarily occur first in the imagination and be made manifest in poetry, it might make sense to argue for the slow growth of a newly organized set of imaginative relationships and associations, their gradual deployment by writers, and a slow seepage of a new ideology into the broader culture. While we might imagine changes in poetic style to be gradual, Parker makes it clear that these changes in style and the attendant intellectual modes they imply are quite sudden. “The process whereby English culture moved from the acrobatic credulity of Browne to the cool and abject skepticism of Hume in less than eighty years was neither automatic nor inevitable‚Ķ The suddenness and severity of this moment of Augustan interruption is still of the greatest significance in our endless struggle to explain modernity” (24). Here, in addition to arguing for the speed of these changes, he also insists that their occurrence is far from inevitable. I understand this to mean that these changes seem to grow out of acts of imaginative will, deliberate interventions — both rhetorical and stylistic — on the level of representation. It is the collective effort of writers and thinkers overthrowing the tyranny of scholasticism, and challenging all at once, through a reordered set of imaginative relationships, the four traditions of Christian theology that Parker argues the Baroque world inherited.

The question remains, and I think it may (still and always) be the central question for students of the Early Modern Period (and of the Enlightenment): how radical is the break and how sudden? What is entirely new, and what remains either transformed, or perhaps fully intact, from one period to the next? Parker is careful to distinguish the changed set of imaginative relationships from what others might call “Zeitgeist.” He also challenges Foucault’s assumption that the episteme of one period is unknowable to people of another. Furthermore, he argues for a continuity of imagination — here called modernity — from the age of Butler to our own age (the age of Colbert? — Colbert seems to use similar satirical techniques of exclusion and leveling, especially in his efforts to collapse differences between liberals and conservatives). But, despite Parker’s efforts to argue that history is not marked by divides across which one generation may fail to recognize another, Parker argues for a pretty sudden and severe shift. No doubt, the Civil War is the great traumatic event allowing for such a compressed period of intellectual change. I am inclined to agree with Parker on this point, but I also try to be cautiously skeptical about such arguments (the most recent being the contemporary tendency to locate in 9/11 the spontaneous birth of an entirely new world).

In the discussion of McKeon’s book, Carrie Hintz wrote in one of her comments, “I have medieval colleagues who regularly chastise me (however gently & affectionately) for assuming that the epistomelogical/ cultural/ literary changes which congealed into modernity all emerged in the early modern period.” Indeed, I think there is always a danger of arguing too forcefully that everything or most things changed all at once, and in a few years. In a later post, Hintz referred to “habits of mind” as an explanation for such shifts in culture. It seems that Parker is suggesting a transformation in deeply rooted habits of mind in this period. He makes a compelling case for this kind of reading of history, and in locating the changes in style, rhetoric and associative figures makes their seeming suddenness hard to ignore. This, of course, raises one further question, perhaps the hardest of all to work out, and that is whether the associative structures of imaginative literature cause changes in intellectual history, or if they instead register changes already underway.