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2011

the stelliferous

The Stelliferous Fold: Toward a Virtual Law of Literature’s Self-Formation

Rodolphe Gasche
Fordham University Press, 2011

This book seeks to develop a novel approach to literature beyond the conventional divide between realism/formalism and history/aestheticism. It accomplishes this not only through a radical reassessment of the specificity of literature in distinction from one of its others—namely, philosophy—but above all by taking critical issue with the venerable concept of the “text” and its association with the artisanal techniques of weaving and interlacing. This conception of the text as an artisanal fabric is, the author holds, the unreflected presupposition of both realist, or historicist, and reflective, or “deconstructive,” criticism.

Gasché argues that “the scenes of production” within literary works, created by their authors yet independent of those authors’ intentions, stage a work’s own production in virtual fashion and thus accomplish for those works a certain ideal ontological status that allows for both historical endurance and creative interpretation.

In Gasché’s construction of these scenes, in which literary works render visible within their own fabric the invisible conditions of their autonomous existence, certain images prevail: the fold, the star, the veil. By showing that these literary images are not simply the opposites of concepts, he not only puts into question the common opposition between literature and philosophy but shows that literary works perform a way of “argumentation” that, in spite of all its difference from philosophical conceptuality, is on a par with it.

The argument progresses through close readings of literary works by Lautréamont, Nerval, de l’Isle Adam, Huysman, Flaubert, Artaud, Blanchot, Defoe, and Melville.

the american dreams

The American Dreams of John B. Prentis, Slave Trader

Kari J. Winter
University of Georgia Press, 2011

As a young man, John B. Prentis (1788–1848) expressed outrage over slavery, but by the end of his life he had transported thousands of enslaved persons from the upper to the lower South. Kari J. Winter’s life-and-times portrayal of a slave trader illuminates the clash between two American dreams: one of wealth, the other of equality.

Prentis was born into a prominent Virginia family. His grandfather, William Prentis, emigrated from London to Williamsburg in 1715 as an indentured servant and rose to become the major shareholder in colonial Virginia’s most successful store. William’s son Joseph became a Revolutionary judge and legislator who served alongside Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and James Madison. Joseph Jr. followed his father’s legal career, whereas John was drawn to commerce. To finance his early business ventures, he began trading in slaves. In time he grew besotted with the high-stakes trade, appeasing his conscience with the populist platitudes of Jacksonian democracy, which aggressively promoted white male democracy in conjunction with white male supremacy.

Prentis’s life illuminates the intertwined politics of labor, race, class, and gender in the young American nation. Participating in a revolution in the ethics of labor that upheld Benjamin Franklin as its icon, he rejected the gentility of his upbringing to embrace solidarity with “mechanicks,” white working-class men. His capacity for admirable thoughts and actions complicates images drawn by elite slaveholders, who projected the worst aspects of slavery onto traders while imagining themselves as benign patriarchs. This is an absorbing story of a man who betrayed his innate sense of justice to pursue wealth through the most vicious forms of human exploitation.

the huron

The Huron-Wendat Feast of the Dead
Indian-European Encounters in Early North America

Erik R. Seeman
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011

“Two thousand Wendat (Huron) Indians stood on the edge of an enormous burial pit… they held in their arms the bones of roughly seven hundred deceased friends and family members. The Wendats had lovingly scraped and cleaned the bones of the corpses that had decomposed on the scaffolds. They awaited only the signal from the master of the ritual to place the bones in the pit. This was the great Feast of the Dead.”

Witnesses to these Wendat burial rituals were European colonists, French Jesuit missionaries in particular. Rather than being horrified by these unfamiliar native practices, Europeans recognized the parallels between them and their own understanding of death and human remains. Both groups believed that deceased souls traveled to the afterlife; both believed that elaborate mortuary rituals ensured the safe transit of the soul to the supernatural realm; and both believed in the power of human bones.

Appreciating each other’s funerary practices allowed the Wendats and French colonists to find common ground where there seemingly would be none. Erik R. Seeman analyzes these encounters, using the Feast of the Dead as a metaphor for broader Indian-European relations in North America. His compelling narrative gives undergraduate students of early America and the Atlantic World a revealing glimpse into this fascinating — and surprising — meeting of cultures.

the new woman international

The New Woman International
Representations in Photography and Film from the 1870s through the 1960s

Editors Elizabeth Otto and Venessa Rocco
University of Michigan Press, 2011

Images of flappers, garçonnes, Modern Girls, neue Frauen, and trampky—all embodiments of the dashing New Woman—symbolized an expanded public role for women from the suffragist era through the dawn of 1960s feminism. Chronicling nearly a century of global challenges to gender norms, The New Woman International: Representations in Photography and Film from the 1870s through the 1960s is the first book to examine modern femininity’s ongoing relationship with the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’ most influential new media: photography and film. This volume examines the ways in which novel ideas about women’s roles in society and politics were disseminated through these technological media, and it probes the significance of radical changes in female fashion, appearance, and sexual identity. Additionally, these original essays explore the manner in which New Women artists used photography and film to respond creatively to gendered stereotypes and to reconceive of ways of being a woman in a rapidly modernizing world.

The New Woman International brings together different generations of scholars and curators who are experts in gender, photography, literature, mass media, and film to analyze the New Woman from her inception in the later nineteenth century through her full development in the interwar period, and the expansion of her forms in subsequent decades. Arranged both chronologically and thematically, these essays show how controversial female ideals figured in discourses including those on gender norms, race, technology, sexuality, female agency, science, media representation, modernism, commercial culture, internationalism, colonialism, and transnational modernity. In exploring these topics through images that range from montages to newspapers’ halftone prints to film stills, this book investigates the terms of gendered representation as a process in which women were as much agents as allegories. Inaugurating a new chapter in the scholarship of representation and New Womanhood and spanning North America, Western and Eastern Europe, Asia, and the colonial contexts of Africa and the Pacific, this volume reveals the ways in which a feminine ideal circled the globe to be translated into numerous visual languages.

Upcoming Events

  1. Scholars@Hallwalls-2017-1

    September 15 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
  2. Buffalo Humanities Festival: Environments | Spotlight Speaker : Bill McKibben

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