Virtual conference program

9:00 Reading together

Teresa Ramoni
Where the Crawdads Go: Charting Community, Genre, and Prestige in Reese’s Book Club

Helen Ganiy
The Oprah Effect on Morrison’s Fiction

Vianna Iorio
what the young people are reading these days

Lucina Schwartz
Persephone Books Markets Smart Pleasure

10:05 Coffee break

10:10 Cultures of branding

Alicia Rosenthal
Why Do People Hate the Gothic in the 19th Century?

Mitchell Edwards
The Mississippi Runs Through Stockholm: William Faulkner’s Resurgent Reputation

Carly Lewis
Leonard Smithers, Scandal, and Rebranding Decadence after the Wilde Trials

Emily Anderson
Purging the Nation: Laxative Ads in the Illustrated London News

11:15 Coffee break

11:20 Authorial personae

Henry Carges
Don’t Meet the Author: Reclusive Literary Popularity

Jorden Sanders
“Both Sides of the Dark Picture”: Pauline Hopkins, the Black Press, and the Pressures of Black Literary Production

Alice Martin
Performing the Authoress: Rhetorical Flirtation in Literary Interviews, 1899–1930

12:10 Costume ball

Several trips across the great divide later…

Having neglected my own blogging for a couple of weeks, I am going to catch up with one big blog-o-lump.

Big and little magazines in the divided field

First, modernist little magazines. Egoist, Blast, and Little Review, in their limited circulations and often esoteric content, seem to exemplify modernism’s self-conscious choice of a specialist audience. Here if anywhere is the “subfield of restricted production.” One of the main efforts of the so-called “new modernist studies” was to complicate this view of modernism as a specialist pursuit: one argument after another challenged Huyssen’s “great divide” formulation by showing how classic modernism was fascinated by or linked to the broader currents of its time. Though periodical studies was not the main current of “new modernist studies,” the kinds of inquiry exemplified by Morrisson or the Modernist Journals Project are related to this tendency. Magazines are by their nature more heteregeneous, and perhaps also more porous, than the big books of monumental authors.

The chapter we read by Morrisson is distinctive, however, in that its attack on the “great divide” is mounted by linking high modernism not to a generalized Zeitgiest or a broad mass culture but to feminist print culture and publishing practice. The feminist “counterpublic sphere,” tied as it was to a mass political movement, had a different social base and a wider social reach than artistic experimentation.1 Thus Morrisson’s argument, more complex than most overcomings of the great divide, suggests that a title like The Egoist relates to consumer culture, advertising, etc. through the mediation of the feminist movement—very particularly, via Dora Marsden’s individual trajectory.

Nonetheless, the divide refuses to be closed. The fact that The Egoist modeled some of what it did on Votes for Women, or that Blast’s visual rhetoric unmistakably resembles (or pastiches) that of advertising and political placards, does not actually mean these magazines are just mass-cultural artifacts like any other. Their drive to distinction and their restricted audiences are social facts. They are not pure vehicles of pure art, but they solicit (and depend upon) an audience that knows how to discriminate between what they do and what their cultural rivals do. When Bourdieu wrote (I put it on the handout) that “there is no way out of the game of culture,” he did not, of course, mean that no distinctions exist in the cultural field. These distinctions are made through different types of relations to the marketplace, not through being in the market or (impossibly) getting outside of it.

Next, larger-circulation magazines. Actually, I find publications like the Illustrated London News, the Strand, or even the London Mercury more challenging for the theory of the divided field than the little magazines. They all take literature quite seriously, even the ILN, where books occupy only a back page, and sometimes emit apparently sincere signals of their desire for cultural distinction. Where are the signs of profiteering or the dominance of economic over symbolic capital? They do exist, but they come in disguised and ambivalent forms: in class we talked about the treatment of authors as celebrities in the Strand. Notice also the difference between the language of criticism and debate one finds in Little Review or Egoist (and the language of manifesto in Blast) and the language of appreciation or depreciation in the book review pages of the ILN (say). As for the Mercury, it is a high-brow publication, just one that lies on the wrong side of literary history. Its general atmosphere is comparable to that of the official artistic academies and other institutions of consecration Bourdieu discusses. But the difference between Mercury and the Criterion is the difference between two competitors in the restricted subfield, which nonetheless is also a difference between a less restricted and a more restricted (and more “advanced”) periodical.

Bags of words

How these divides are related to the divergences in the status of books discussed in Algee-Hewitt et al.’s “Canon/Archive” or Underwood’s Distant Horizons seems to me to invite more reflection than we had time for. Just to make once more the point I made before Ted joined our seminar session, the “archive” and the “un-reviewed” are not equivalent to “mass culture” or the subfield of large-scale production. In both “Canon/Archive” and Distant Horizons, most of the books that have lower literary status also have low sales. Only the books in the “bestseller” category, which crystallizes in the 1890s, really exemplify the “mass cultural”—and not all of those, either, since, as we know from James English, bestsellers and prizewinners overlap substantially right through the midcentury. (The Sheik is untypical, an extreme example of the “absolute bestseller.”) Neither the Lit Lab study nor Underwood’s seeks to differentiate the neglected books which were trying to be popular from those which were trying for literary status. What does “trying” mean, anyway? How would you tell? (I think you could…)

What is most impressive and most frustrating about these two computational literary inquiries—and pretty much all others too—is their focus on the features of text as the variables of interest. Though Underwood is very cautious about saying that textual differences do not cause differences in status (as we saw, the Lit Lab pamphlet is bolder), in terms of the statistical modeling, the textual features are the “independent” or explanatory variables and the differences in status are the “dependent” ones. It is pretty strange that knowing only how often a bunch of words occur in a book of Victorian poems is enough to let the computer guess whether that book got reviewed in literary periodicals. It’s even wackier that knowing something about the frequency-pattern of word pairs (“bigrams”) let the Lit Lab researchers make good guesses about whether Victorian novels would be in the Chadwyck-Healy Literature Online collection.

There are two levels of strangeness about this. First is the correlation–detectable only by computation—between “bags of words” and humanly-recognizable qualities of diction, style, and theme. Strange as this appears, literary critics have long assumed that meaning is transmitted at many levels of language, and linguists have known for a long time that word frequencies reflect differences in individual style and in “register” or genre. But it is no less strange to learn that “prestige” durably correlates to these word-frequency features. This is a fact to be explained, but it would be an error to suppose it means that there is a sorting process where literary judges (e.g. reviewers) consider all the books that are published and choose the ones with certain kinds of language for consecration (e.g. being reviewed).

Given everything we know about how books are made and circulate, this is unlikely. In talking with us, Ted gestured at Bourdieu’s theory of the habitus (“durable, transposable dispositions”) as a framework for an explanation. He implied, I think, that the ability to be reviewed (because of connections to publishers and choice of subject matter or genre) is correlated with the kinds of qualities (educational trajectory, social location, etc.) that make one write review-able books.2 It is interesting to think about how this hypothesis could be put to the test.

By the way, Ted is particularly exemplary in his commitment to laying bare all the details of his methods. It’s not all spelled out in the text of Distant Horizons, but he created a reproduction repository with code, data, and instructions that would, with enough patience, let you recreate all the figures from the book. I draw your attention to the tables of “metadata” (i.e. title and publication information) of the poetry and fiction volumes considered in the analysis, which can be browsed online and make for instructive reading.

Equally instructive are the outputs of the statistical models, the coefficients assigned by the model to each word. These numbers tell you whether making a given word more frequent will make the model more or less likely to predict it belongs to the reviewed set: thus the lowest-status words in the model are “command,” “maidens,” “’ll”; the highest ones are “seasons,” “sign,” “hers”—but browsing the full 2600 features will help you contemplate the true weirdness of this kind of modeling.3

In fact there’s even more there than all that, since his notes include further discussions of some of the methods beyond what’s in the book. From the material for chapter 3, I call your attention to the “notebook” on the method for estimating sales using “empirical Bayes,” not so much for the numerical details as for a general sense of how one makes usable data and draws inferences from it.

Bon Dieu!

Now, as for The Sheik. First of all, the whole 1921 silent film is on the Internet Archive.4 Leavis tells us quite a bit about the coupling between fiction and film (films of the novel, novels of the film, film magazines, etc.), and, bracketing off her scorn for the phenomenon, we can reflect on the novel’s position in a changing interwar media ecology. I am tempted to say that The Sheik anticipates what Henry Jenkins calls “transmedia storytelling,” that is, a fiction that “unfolds across multiple media platforms, with each new text making a distinctive and valuable contribution to the whole.”5 There’s no reason to suppose E.M. Hull anticipated the Valentino vehicle, but the circulation of her novel takes place in a cultural world defined by the possibility of such vehicles—and of the positive feedback effects that send filmgoers in search of the novel (with its more transgressive thrills, censored out of the film) and novel readers out to the film (with its visual impact). In this light, the novel’s exploitation of the chapter gap for the sexiest parts reveals something important about novel-reading as an erotic technology.

We talked a bit about The Sheik as a proto-romance novel. It has been identified as such for a long time, including by pioneering romance novelists like Barbara Cartland. (The last time I taught this course, a student gave me an abridged edition of the novel from Cartland’s Library of Love.) Nonetheless, it is anachronistic to speak in 1919 of the “romance novel” in the sense of a specific channel of book production for love stories aimed at women. The term “romance” still had its older meanings of “adventure” or “fanciful story.” The London firm of Mills & Boon, which is now totally identified with the romance (and a subsidiary of Harlequin Ltd), specialized in this category only in the 1930s. Specialized production in mystery novels also emerges in the 1930s, and “genre fiction” as a system only comes into view with the boom in paperbacks after the Second World War.

The Sheik does anticipate some later iterations of the love-story genre which were central to establishing North American romance-novel publishing: the “sweet savage romance” which boomed in the 1970s (according to Radway). Our discussion focused, rightly, on the ambivalent representation of sexual violence. I want to draw attention to two other features of the novel’s handling of sex and gender. One is that, in the happy ending, Diana and Ahmed do not get married. They just go back to sleeping together in the desert. This was, though certainly not unprecedented, still transgressive—it was, and indeed it remains, typical for novels of love to punish unmarried cohabitation or “rectify” it with marriage.

By contrast, the whitewashing origin story for Ahmed does appear to rectify his alien racial status. Yet not only does this story simply displace racial mixture back into the distant past (his Spanish mother’s “Moorish” antecedents); it also breaks down the apparent distinction between the civilized white world and the barbaric Arab desert by comparing the wife-beating Lord Glencaryll to the dignified Sheik Ahmed père. In a parallel moment earlier in the text, Diana notices a resemblance between Ahmed and her brother Aubrey: “She had seen Aubrey do similarly hundreds of times. Occidental or Oriental, men seemed very alike” (106). The exotic thrill of primitive masculinity turns out to be another version of the masculine domination any woman could find at home. But to say this is hardly to say that the book mounts a critique of patriarchy, only that the ubiquity of patriarchy supplies one of the fundamental premises on which the novel builds its fantasies of escape-by-subjection.

However, the sociology of reading enjoins us not to stop at textual interpretation. We should ask seriously what people who use the book actually use it for. Q.D. Leavis thinks she knows (“compensation for life” [57]), but her sense of cultural embattlement—and her commitment to the high-modernist project—prevents her from actually going and finding out. As I tried to hint in class, literary studies has still not really faced this challenge. The dominant mode of our discipline remains expert “reading,” backed by the conviction that the significance of any literary work is largely due to what expert interpretation can reveal in its text. Because we have our own ways of doing things with books, we lack a disciplinary framework for studying what people who aren’t us do with them.

I also tried to hint that Leavis’s dilemma, which pushed her into the ludicrous idea of organizing an “armed and conscious minority” of cultural critics, remains our own. There is a great divide, for scholars: the divide between our ways of handling culture and the other ways that people practice. For us it is unavoidably freighted with moral significance (we believe we do it right; we try to get students to do it too). Once again I return to Bourdieu’s maxim: “there is no way out of the game of culture.” It is not so simple as adopting a new, more righteous attitude about reading. But we can try to find a way to understand the whole space of possibilities.

And onwards

But there is also a real historical difference between Leavis and us. Fiction and the Reading Public registers, with some shock, the ubiquity of pleasure reading. Everyone reads novels, it seems to Leavis (McAleer gives us the best available statistics, which are not quite so high: 55% at peak [74]), and this changes the nature of the problem into how to get the “reading public” to read right. But not everyone reads novels anymore. This is the fundamental point in the review essay by Wendy Griswold et al. which I have assigned for our next meeting. Though the rich industrialized world has near-universal literacy, and nearly everyone believes reading more would be good for you, only a minority now reads regularly for entertainment; the era of the reading public has passed, and we have return to an age of what Griswold calls the “reading class.” What difference this makes for literary scholars’ attitude to low-status or unliterary texts—and to the literary as such—is one of the issues I hope we will take up next time. But whereas Leavis was worrying over a majority practice, we have only to do with a minority pursuit.

As for our other readings for next time, I hope you’ll continue to try to use your sociological and historical imaginations in making sense of the texts by I.A. Richards and F.R. Leavis. Both have very interesting biographies: from the DNB entry on Leavis I entice you with this detail: “On one occasion he was in trouble with the police and university authorities because he wanted Joyce’s banned novel Ulysses to be available for study.” On Richards, come for the anecdote about his missed vocation as a mountain guide, but whoops! he ended up an English professor (#humanitiescareers). If time had permitted, I would have supplemented the excerpts from Richards’s Principles of Literary Criticism with excerpts from his later, (in)famous book Practical Criticism (London: Kegan Paul, 1930). Glance at the first pages of his discussion of his undergraduates’ responses to the poems he gave them (without authors or titles or any other context).

You can also find many issues of F.R. Leavis’s journal Scrutiny on (which is great for scans of all kinds of old periodicals, so long as you can ignore the antivaxx stuff and other lunacy on the site). Say what you will about the contents of Scrutiny; you can’t beat the title.

Edit, Dec. 1: if time permits, please look at Browning’s “Pan and Luna” (1880)—never fear, only thirteen stanzas of ottava rima—which will shed some light on the interesting diagram in Richards’s Principles (116).

  1. It also strikes me that feminism’s relation to advertising and consumption is quite unlike that of most political movements. Middle-class women were and are perhaps the most important of all groups of consumers.↩︎

  2. It strikes me that this is not far off from Q. D. Leavis’s idea that the popular authors can speak for their readers because they are so similar to them: “Novelists of class D, who both share their readers’ tastes and exploit them (even if unconsciously)” (59).↩︎

  3. Because of the gnarly non-linear formula for the estimated probability (the one I gave in class; cf. Wikipedia’s likewise gnarly page on logistic regression), it’s kind of tricky to interpret the coefficients or to compare coefficients for two different predictors. A coefficient that is twice as big does not mean the word is twice as important. Furthermore, because many words’ frequencies are highly correlated with one another, the interpretation of any single word’s coefficient can be deceptive (because it’s not clear what it means to change just one word’s frequency ceteris paribus). On top of all that Underwood’s use of “regularization” creates further difficulties of interpretation; it turns out that the ability of the model to guess whether a text is reviewed or not does not mean that the particular model coefficients are the best or “truest” choices.↩︎

  4. With inexplicable Brahms soundtrack. I have no idea what the musical accompaniments might have been in early screenings.↩︎

  5. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006), 96–97, ACLS Humanities EBooks. Jenkins has in mind narratively continuous enterprises like Star Wars or The Matrix or the Marvel Cinematic Universe, rather than sequences of adaptations and imitations like the Sheikverse, but I think the categories meld into one another.↩︎


As it’s a paper-writing week, I will curtail my usual wrap-up post (especially since I’m posting late). In any case I felt we made good headway in thinking self-reflexively about the seductions of scandal. To analyze the hierarchical structures shaping prize outcomes, it is not enough to denounce them from a position of supposed pure disinterested judgment. Holding back from this is harder than it seems. It is good to remind yourself that the Nobel prize in literature, for all its many limitations, consecrates a body of literature that is more multilingual and more aesthetically varied than any other widely-known literary honor, and certainly far more cosmopolitan than anything recognized within the most consequential US institutions, whose resolute monolingualism and mononationalism is only reinforced by the most widespread concepts of diversity. The relative autonomy of the Nobel process is real though limited, as a choice like Gurnah (or even Dylan) suggests: part of the prize’s genuine value is in its difference from the selections of something like the Norton Anthology of World Literature, though the Norton is another mode of consecration for which scandalized dismissal cannot substitute for analysis.

A footnote. I mentioned Kant. In my first semester in grad school a professor once started a comment in seminar by saying, “Of course you recall the moment in Kant’s analytic of the Sublime when…” It seems possible to me now that he was joking, but I still twitch a little thinking about it. The “antinomy of taste” I mentioned goes like this:

The first commonplace of taste is contained in the proposition by means of which everyone who lacks taste thinks to defend himself against criticism: Everyone has his own taste. That amounts to saying that the determining ground of this judgment is merely subjective (gratification or pain), and the judgment has no right to the necessary assent of others…

One proposition is missing, which is not, to be sure, a proverb in general circulation, but which nevertheless everyone has some sense of: It is possible to argue about taste (but not to dispute). But this proposition implies the opposite of the first proposition above. For wherever it is supposed to be possible to argue, there must be hope of coming to mutual agreement; hence one must be able to count on grounds for the judgment that do not have merely private validity and thus are not merely subjective, which is nevertheless completely opposed to the fundamental principle Everyone has his own taste.1

That was fun.

Reading little magazines: guidance and a translation

Though I know you have limited time this week, I hope you will take seriously my injunction to skim in the Little Review, the Egoist, and Blast. You can’t exactly read a periodical like a book. It is a collective work, produced over time, responding to very different pressures, constraints, and opportunities than those faced by books. A periodical assumes a different body of generic know-how than a book. It channels authors and editors differently, and it refracts marketplaces differently too. And it unfolds over time in a different way than the book. Pay attention to the evidence of these differences, and of course also to the evidence of what is specific to each of these individual magazines.

The syllabus promises a Google Translate translation of the manifesto “Dada soulève tout” in the Little Review for January–March 1921. Here it is:

{The Signatories of this manifesto live in France, America, Spain, Germany, Italy; Switzerland, Belgium, etc., malt have no nationality) DADA raises EVERYTHING DADA knows everything DADA spits everything. BUT ……. DADA HAVE EVER SPOKEN TO YOU: of the italy of the accordions of the trousers of women of the homeland of the flume sardines of the art (you are exaggerating dear friend) of the softness of d ‘Annunzlo what a horror of the heroism of the mustaches of lust to sleep with verlaine of the ideal (he is kind) from Massachusetts of the past smells of genius salads. Genius. of the genius of the 8 hour day and the violets of Parma NEVER NEVER NEVER yes DADA does not speak. DADA has no fixed ideas. DADA does not catch flies THE MINISTRY is OVERTURNED, by whom? BY DADA The futurist is dead. Enough to? From DADA a young girl commits suicide. because of what? of dada one calls the spirits. who is the inventor? dada we walk on your toes. it’s dada if you have serious ideas about life, if you make artistic discoveries and if all of a sudden your head starts to crackle with laughter, if you find all your ideas useless and ridiculous, know that C’ EST DADA QUI COMMENCE A VOUS PARLER cubism builds a cathedral in artistic paté de foie What is DADA doing? Expressionism poisons artistic sardines What is DADA doing? simultaneism is still in its first artistic communion What is DADA doing? futurism wants to climb into a lyricism + artistic lift What is DADA doing? unanlnism embraces allism and fishes with artistic line What is DADA doing? neoclassicism discovers the benefits of artistic art What is DADA doing? paroxysm is the trust of all artistic cheeses What does DADA do? the ultra recommends the mixture of these 7 artistic things What does DADA do? the Créaclonlsme the Vortlclsme the Imaglsme also offer some artistic recipes What does DADA do? What does DADA do? 50 francs reward for those who find a way to explain to us DADA dada all goes through a new net. dada is the bitterness which opens its laughter on all that has been consecrated forgotten in our language in our brain in our habits. he says to you: this is Humanity and the beautiful foolishness which made her happy until this advanced age DADA HAS ALWAYS EXISTED THE HOLY VIRGIN ALREADY WAS DADAIST DADA IS NEVER RIGHT citizens, comrades, ladies and gentlemen, beware. you fakes i dada imitators want to present dada to you in an artistic form that it never had citizens. we present to you today in a pornographic form, a vulgar and baroque spirit which is not the pure idiocy demanded by Dada but dogmatism and pretentious imbecility! Paris January 12, 1921 for any information contact “au sans pareil” 37, avenue Kléber. Phone. passy 25-22 e. varese, tr. tzara, ph. soupault, soubeyian, j, rigaut, g. ribemonl-dessaignes, m. ray. f. picabia, d. peret, c. pansaers, r. huelsenbeck, j. evola, mr. ernst, p. eluard, suz. duchamp, m. duchamp, crotti, g. cantarelli, marg .. sideboard, gab. buffet, a. breton, baargelu, arp, w. vs. arensberg, l. aragon.

The critique of artificial intelligence is left as an exercise for the reader.

  1. Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, ed. Paul Guyer, trans. Paul Guyer and Eric Matthews (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 214, §56.↩︎

Maybe, delinquents, that’s Truth!

The reading assignment for our session on the Nobel prize is in the post below.

Our discussion opened up many further directions to go with Hatterr. I will just underline the theme of fraud in the novel, which recalls Bennett. It seems to me quite typical of figures who are in some way peripheral to treat cultural status as a performance rather than a mark of essence. Central figures are much likelier to believe in the triumph of inner worth (though sometimes peripheral arrivals embrace this belief too, as a tribute to the system that allows them to arrive). Both Desani and Bennett approach the suggestion that prestige is only a sham—yet neither really implies this. In Hatterr the residual possibility always remains that alongside all the fake gurus and ascetics, a real one could be found. (This uneasy balancing act between make-believe and unqualified belief is often described as typical of religion in a secular or pluralist age; Aravamudan takes up the issue at length. In Desani the issue generalizes from religion to other fields of culture.)

Orsini and Mufti give you tools for thinking about the question of languages other than English in relation to literature in English in India. More generally, they should make you reflect on the idea of “literature in English” and “literatures in English” (the thing Rutgers gives PhD’s in). I wanted to spend more time on this issue in relation to Hatterr but we were led on to other questions. Here are some basic points to keep in mind.

Any language is fraught within internal division: English is really a family of more or less mutually intelligible varieties associated with various geographic areas, social groups, forms of status, and occasions of use in speech and writing. The same holds true for any language, though English’s global spread makes it an extreme case in some ways. And no language is hermetically sealed off from contact with others; what varies are the conditions of contact (recall Beecroft). The imperial history of English has produced particularly fraught conditions.

Only within the ideological form Mufti calls “nation-thinking” (466) does a close correspondence among language, literature, culture, nation, and state appear as the norm; this form of thinking was, he says, a product of the colonial encounter between Europeans and non-European literature cultures. Where problems with the nation-state-language correspondence appear—which is to say, everywhere—a contest for hegemony arises, in which, most typically, different aspirant bourgeoisies compete for the resources of the state on the basis of claims to represent the “people” who “belong there”; such claims often involve the invention (putatively, the discovery) of literary and cultural traditions of which the aspirants make themselves the representatives.1

One trajectory for English in India is as the language of an Indian national literature, associated with urban upper-middle-class education (cf. Samosapedia s.v. “English Medium”), marked by distinctive concerns, accents, and genres, and uniquely suited, unlike the bhāṣās (India’s other, more regionalized languages: Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu…) to representing and justifying a new nation. Desani can be, and is, enrolled in the newly forming category “Indian writing in English.” His novel even looks, from a distance, like a tour of the incipient Indian nation from North to South and back again, and it testifies to the enriching possibilities of interchange between English and the most widespread “vernacular,” Hindustani. (Hindustani and not Hindi or Urdu: Mufti is very illuminating on this distinction.) The parodic figure of Banerrji and the abject misadventures of Hatterr among Indians as well as among sahibs hardly paint a flattering picture, but this may hardly matter if one can appreciate the achievement and, in appreciating it, feel appreciated by it.

We discussed the other trajectory—the one enabled by international modernism—in class. Here English is a preeminent medium for experiments in language and literary form hailed in the metropolitan centers: Desani turns his vexed relationship to English into a kind of stylistic advantage, so long as he can indeed be recognized as a linguistic master and not merely the clumsy non-native speaker he parodies in his preface, “All About…”. Other Indian writers in English in Desani’s period differentiate clearly between a narrator who operates in Standard and their more linguistically variable characters; this what R.K. Narayan and Mulk Raj Anand do in their English novels. But Desani takes a different risk. The risk is that he will be only a style, only “Hatterrese.” We looked at some of the early versions of this. But we shouldn’t rush to congratulate ourselves on having overcome those bad old tendencies. Orsini identifies something similar in the present day when she warns that “In the florid, sensuous, inclusive, multicultural world of the post-Rushdie, postcolonial novel, the West can settle down to contemplate, not India, but its latest reinterpretation of itself” (88). Orsini, a comparatist who works on multilingualism as well as a scholar of Hindi, is not voicing total pessimism about cross-cultural transmission and circulation. She wants to keep the cross-linguistic in the cross-cultural. She is urging us to consider the institutional conditions of the globalization of English as a literary language, and to consider the linguistic and cultural possibilities that are obscured when “literatures in English” are assumed to comprehensively represent multililingual societies in which English occupies a particular (high-status, urban, cosmopolitan) position.

  1. This is a rough paraphrase of the argument of Ernest Gellner’s Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983). The key point, as in Mufti, is that the nation is a distinctly modern form: “Nationalism is not the awakening of an old, latent, dormant force, though that is how it does indeed present itself. It is in reality the consequence of a new form of social organization, based on deeply internalized, education-dependent high cultures, each protected by its own state” (48).↩︎

Some Nobel Prize materials to consider

For our consideration of the Nobel prize, please read the excerpts from James English’s Economy of Prestige on Canvas and Amitav Ghosh’s autobiographical essay “The March of the Novel through History.” Please also read Gisèle Sapiro’s 2016 essay “The Metamorphosis of Modes of Consecration in the Literary Field.” Then consider the primary source materials and data linked below, from the very rich Nobel Prize website. Please browse this site ad libitum. Keep notes on two or three points of interest to raise in seminar, when we will spend some time looking together. To give us some points of reference in common, see:


I have combined some of the terms to produce more interpretable visualizations (code here; on 10/25/21 I updated these plots), though it is worth underlining that “non-fiction” is a recent term that would not have been available in this context (in any language) for most of the century. It presupposes a fiction-centric conception of literature which is quite different from the one operating in the earliest decades—or even as late as mid-century: Bertrand Russell? Winston freakin Churchill?

Early years

Interwar period: modernists and populists

Postwar: new norms?


It is tempting to suggest you proceed systematically up through the present, but this is too much. In summary, I note that the epoch of “global” ambition for the Prize really begins in the late 1960s and includes a series of geographic “firsts,” especially after 1980: Yasunari Kawabata, Wole Soyinka, Naguib Mahfouz, Octavio Paz, Derek Walcott. The tendency to award figures with global liberal political credentials—alongside a few avowed leftists like Gordimer and Pinter—also grows more marked in the post-Cold War era. It remains a tendency and not a rule.

Some recent prizes


The Swedish Academy nearly imploded over a sex and corruption scandal in 2018, which caused a number of members to resign or withdraw. I think this recent reputational crisis (not the first in the literature prize’s history, but probably the most severe) is of some sociological interest, but I think taking it up at length, with only journalistic accounts as evidence, will distract us from other questions closer to the focus of the course. Still, you’ll come across mentions of it.

Missing the boat

My heading for our McKay session was “Mistranslation.” Edwards draws our attention to the way that Francophone black internationalists were inspired by what we might call a mistranslated version of Banjo—not only because the French version literally diverged from the English but because those readers needed to quite selective in their reading of the novel in order to find it an inspiring statement of racial vitalty. At least, this is the implication of Edwards’ claim that Banjo is “is paradoxically also a radical critique of black internationalism” (210). It didn’t look that way to Léopold Sédar Senghor or the editors of the journal Légitime défense. When we looked at English-language reviews and publicity for Banjo, we also found ourselves dwelling on the reductions of the novel and its author, which seemed to us to leave out an extraordinary amount of what is palpably available in the text. But I am quite skeptical about the reliability of our judgments of what is “really” in the novel. Our own interpretations, no less than earlier readers’, are shaped by our circumstances and our training. That doesn’t mean our readings might not be more valid as literary interpretations, but it does mean that the things we see “in” the text may not go very far to explaining the historical trajectory of the novel.1

In a sociological perspective, the inquiry would turn from the seeming errors of past readers to asking what shapes those mistranslations and misreadings (if that is what they are), what ends they serve, what resources they use and what resources they seek to appropriate.2 And that might tell us a bit more about why Banjo is the way it is: not pure naturalistic reportage though it seems like it is at points, not a novel of pan-Africanist ideas though it seems like it might be… not a “jazz” novel either. Rather than saying that the text is uncategorizable, we might see that the unavoidable force of categorization provokes McKay’s resistance in advance. At the same time the novel predicts its own misappropriation in its representations of audience—most obviously the patronizing whites who are interested in Ray, but also the scenes of clogged print circulation at the Café Africain, the perpetual disruptions to Banjo’s orchestra, and the distrust of Ray as “book fella” (326) who is ultimately on the beach to collect material. And the novel also predicts McKay’s own subsequent trajectory: though it is not identical to Ray’s, he does become more and more removed from any international cultural circuit.3

Speaking of categories, is The Practice of Diaspora a sociology of literature? It’s not a label the book uses, but Edwards is concerned with the relationship between the social formation of black diaspora and black diasporic literary expression. Edwards’s key intervention is to show that diasporic texts, and diaspora as a formation, are not expressions of shared roots by a scattered yet integrated “community.” Both the social formation and its expressive products are instead characterized by décalage or mismatch; they might even be said to be produced through mismatch. This can be compared with Benedict Anderson’s much-cited idea of the nation as an “imagined community” held together by a print culture which allows very different people to imagine themselves as members of a group having shared experience in time. But Edwards, and McKay in Banjo are less concerned with print culture as a “glue” than with its ungluing potential.

Around the world with G.V. Desani

All About H. Hatterr is a fairly challenging novel. There’s no Hatterr Annotated for me to tell you to ignore: readers just have to muddle through layers of reference and linguistic mixture without annotation. As I always do, I’ll suggest that this dimension of reading is what you should reflect on: and in particular how Desani’s refraction of modernist difficulty might work differently from the other versions we have encountered so far.

As for Desani himself: “Arriving in London in 1926, Desani spoke only Sindhi and some Swahili,” says his short DNB entry. In one sense he’s an Indian Ocean writer, which is very on-trend just now, though these statements of origins are meaningless in isolation, as Desani’s novel will teach you. On—so far as I can tell, an anonymous and impressively extensive fansite—you can find quite a bit more in the way of Desani lore and media. The section on memorials points you to comments on Desani from a whole range of leading Indian writers in English. I find there a document I missed when I was working on Desani, a 2000 Tehelka interview with Khushwant Singh relaying the following anecdote:

Sometime in the mid 70s, a charming man in a zari kurta stood up at a small gathering of book lovers…and declared that there were “only two people in the English world who had been able to write a novel. The first one,” said he, “is James Joyce with his Ulysses. And the second one, if I may [say] so, is your humble self.” This was G V Desani.

“Faithfully,” he signs the preface to Hatterr

  1. This is the point of my article on Desani—there, now you don’t have to read it.↩︎

  2. Paul Gilroy speaks in a not unrelated context of the study of “agno-politics,” the political production of patterned ignorance.↩︎

  3. Astonishingly all of McKay’s 1937 memoir A Long Way from Home is accessible on HathiTrust.↩︎

Recognition, Resistance

Our discussion of Casanova, I think, turned on tensions between facts and values. First of all, World Republic of Letters both claims to describe the actual present and past of world literature and implies fairly strong normative judgments about that state of affairs. The judgments themselves, as we saw, are somewhat complex. On the one hand Casanova is clear that world literature is fundamentally unequal in its distribution of recognition and that there is no acceptable justification for this inequality, which is closely tied to, though not identical with, economic and political inequality. The literary world is governed by “violence” (115). On the other hand, Casanova clearly values “autonomous” literatures and autonomous writers above their heteronomous others, even though this valuation reproduces the judgment of Paris. Beckett and Joyce are “great literary revolutionaries” (110); Joyce’s move to Paris rendered him “free to carry out an enterprise of unprecedented daring and novelty” (95), an enterprise which bore fruit when he was recognized by Parisian literary critics (and subsequently by the rest of the world republic). To start with, we have to say that there is no inconsistency here, and not only because Casanova was writing in Paris. Her most celebratory language is reserved for those writers who achieve recognition in spite of the unfair world, often at great personal cost. Casanova’s attempts to secure her own autonomy from the complacencies of the world republic of letters by redescribing the “revolutionaries” as protagonists of a social struggle against unfair obstacles. (This wasn’t just a theoretical program: for a long time she conducted a literary interview series on French public radio, which is a little as if Terry Gross were a post-Marxist literary theorist.)

But if the system is consistent, we can also recognize that it is not in harmony with U.S. literary-critical values. It is easy to feel that Casanova’s attack on “internal” criticism and formalist interpretation is not aimed at us. But it is not so easy to accept her denial of the political meaning of postcolonial literatures or her insistence on the dominance of the national principle in world literature. The two are linked: for Casanova, the political is infallibly national, and both are situated at the heteronomous, dominated pole of world literary pace. What matters is that the validity of these claims not be decided purely on the basis of how we would like things to be. These are at least partly matters of fact, and for Casanova it’s simply a factual error to, for example, set up Joyce as an early figure of postcolonial resistance when his choices and his reception were shaped by world-literary institutions. Or again, it is a matter of fact how large a role national affiliations play in the fate of world-literary writers, whatever transnational or subnational affiliations they might have. As we will see when we look at literary prizes the week after next, the national frame retains enormous power. The same is true in literary studies, where the national categories of the discipline have proven extremely durable, in spite of numberless calls for transnationalism and global consciousness.

On the other hand, Casanova’s generalizations seems to me factually better-documented and more compelling when they describe the dominant pole of the world literary system than when they describe the peripheries. For Casanova, national equals political equals heteronomous equals realist: this series of equivalences is useful as a provocation, and it might describe how the periphery seems to consecrating authorities in the center at a certain late-modernist moment, from 1950 to 2000 maybe; here and elsewhere, World Republic is more like a sociology of knowledge than a sociology of institutions. But the claim is not comprehensive. I introduced Tagore to our discussion not only to “include” a non-Anglophone voice from the colonial periphery but to suggest that aesthetic position-takings on the periphery might be shaped by other forces. Writing in Bengali, Tagore puts himself in relation to English, to be sure, but also Sanskrit, the classical language (he cites the Upanishads and theorizes using terms of classical Indian philosophy and aesthetics). But Bengali is not the primary language of Indian nationalism, which is dominated instead by English and, increasingly, by Hindi. It is instead a language of exceptional cultural standing due to the Bengal Renaissance, of which Tagore is himself a standard-bearer. That is why Tagore felt that he had “sovereignty” in his own world of letters (as he says in the letter to Rothenstein I put on the handout from class). Though Tagore definitely does feel the pull of the forces described by Casanova—he did go to London, he was translated, he did win the Nobel Prize after translating his own work into English—he appears to me to be neither dominant nor dominated, neither autonomous nor national, but in a triangulated position which inflects his universalism differently.

On the other other hand, in the memorable words of a paper by the Duke cultural sociologist Kieran Healy, “Fuck Nuance”: sometimes a more reductive and abstract formulation is more revealing of underlying social and cultural dynamics than the multiplication of detailed examples and exceptions. Consider whether McKay, who appears radically unlike the figures we have so far discussed, has to be situated as an exception to the theories we have explored. (Du Bois: “To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.”)

Lives of Claude McKay

For authors not covered by the DNB, the first place to search for summary biographical accounts is the damnable Literature Resource Center, which gives chaotic access to large piles of reference works written for libraries. A search there surfaces a biographical article on McKay by Wayne F. Cooper for African American Writers, 2nd ed. (New York: Scribner, 2001), which has good details on McKay’s early movements and affinities. A more recent, briefer article from Gale Literature: Contemporary Authors includes a few paragraphs on McKay’s unpublished Amiable with Big Teeth, rediscovered by a grad student in 2009.

McKay’s poetry collection Harlem Shadows (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1922) was a founding book for the Harlem Renaissance, though this was one stage on a longer itinerary. It is worth your time to read his “Author’s Word” there and to browse among the poems. Find McKay in the radical magazine The Liberator (1918–24) on

500 bibliographic references a year and a library carrel of one’s own

Some footnotes to our Woolf discussion:

When we talked about the Hogarth Press, I mentioned a distinction between producing the book as material object and producing its value (or symbolic capital). The sociologist John B. Thompson distinguishes between the supply chain and the value chain in Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Polity, 2012), 15–16. For Thompson the value chain runs from “content creation” through to final sale; each step in book production—acquisition by a publisher, editing, design, typesetting, marketing, distribution, selling, publicizing—“adds value,” both economically and symbolically. The metaphor of the chain is less apt for the production of value than for the production of the commodity object, since there are many feedbacks in the process. Publishers (and, after 1900 or so, literary agents) actively cultivate certain kinds of books and certain writers; the final value of a book depends on forms of judgment and publicity that lie outside the publisher’s control.

Tuchman and Fortin’s other publication from Edging Women Out was in the American Sociological Review: “Fame and Misfortune: Edging Women Out of the Great Literary Tradition,” ASR 90, no. 1 (July 1984): 72–96, JSTOR. The first footnote there gives the lie to my in-class claim that the data collection was just down to the two authors: they thank six people for helping collect the data from the DNB and the British Museum Catalogue for their study of literary fame. However, the book preface’s note on the Macmillan archive records is of interest:

Visiting London during the summers of 1978 and 1982, I [Tuchman] spent a total of four months copying records at the British Library (handcopying was cheaper than ordering microfilm)…. Michèle Barrett kindly supervised a British student who copied more records while I returned to New York to teach. (Edging Women Out, xvii–xviii).

These days one could use a cell phone to photograph the records…if permitted. But it is worth considering the sheer amount of woman-hours needed to construct the data for an argument like Tuchman and Fortin’s.

In the excerpt from Tuchman and Fortin you read, they say that their work belongs to the “production of culture perspective” (11n15). This remains an important school of sociological research on culture. A 2004 overview by Peterson and Anand describes this school as focused on “how the symbolic elements of culture are shaped by the systems within which they are created, distributed, evaluated, taught, and preserved.”1 Work on the production of culture has been particularly concerned with the commercial cultural industries, paradigmatically the music industry, paying fine-grained attention to the organizational and economic structure of those industries.2

How to write

We didn’t spend much time on “The Mark on the Wall.” If our seminar had continued into a fourth hour, I would have invited you to consider the passage I put on the handout from Woolf’s “Modern Fiction” in relation to the (slightly earlier) story:

Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions—trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from of old; the moment of importance came not here but there; so that, if a writer were a free man and not a slave, if he could write what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon his own feeling and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the accepted style, and perhaps not a single button sewn on as the Bond Street tailors would have it. Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.

In relation to the discussion we did have, what is striking about this famous statement is that, somewhat like the section of Room on Mary Carmichael, it simultaneously affirms artistic autonomy (“if a writer were a free man”) and prescribes to the writer what “he” ought to write about. This antinomy is very widespread in modernism and anywhere else the ideal of autonomy is important. It can be resolved by saying, with Bourdieu, that the socially significant kind of artistic autonomy is not the autonomy of the individual writer to do whatever seems best to them, but the autonomy of the literary field to prescribe norms that no other authorities prescribe. All very well when you’re doing the prescribing, perhaps not so thrilling when you’re the one being invited to freely submit. Woolf’s feminist position creates a challenge to authority which only exacerbates the contradiction.

As you’ll see, Casanova’s account of the “world republic of letters” is much concerned with the very same dilemma. This book’s wide-ranging survey again demands attention both in terms of its arguments and in terms of its methods. Consider where the emphasis falls (not here but there); consider how a large-scale model gets built. You should know that “world republic of letters” is certainly meant sarcastically, and that république is a far more sanctified term than English republic.

  1. Richard A. Peterson and N. Anand, “The Production of Culture Perspective,” Annual Review of Sociology 30 (2004): 331–34, doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.30.012703.110557.↩︎

  2. I particularly admire Jennifer C. Lena’s Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012). The Toronto sociologist Clayton Childress is a rare contemporary example of someone working on literature in this vein: see his Under the Cover: The Creation, Production, and Reception of a Novel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017).↩︎

Work in all you know

“You are the only contributor to Dana who asks for pieces of silver”

JES wondered whether our Ulysses materials gave us enough to explore the literary field the novel enters into. She pointed us to its initial serial publication in the Little Review, a magazine to which, as I said in class, we will return eventually. Suffice to say for the moment that Joyce’s appearances there are the mark of a process of translation across fields. Joyce had been formed in a field organized in terms of the opposition between London and Dublin—the one represented in some detail in Ulysses. But his expatriation eventually leads Joyce to find allies, rivals, and enemies in a different subfield of restricted production, whose distinctive feature was its dispersion across three key cities, New York, Paris, and London. One of the marks of this translation process was that Joyce’s admirers understood, reviewed, and publicized his work as a signal response to “modern” life at large, a response made possible by his physical distance from Ireland and his ideological opposition to cultural nationalism. Joyce represents the latter, somewhat unfairly, either as blockheaded provincialism (mostly in the “Cyclops” episode, which we didn’t read; but you can also see it in the casual anti-Semitism about Bloom that ordinary Dubliners evince in “Scylla” and “Wandering Rocks”) or as a kind of colonial mimicry ready for exploitation by condescending Englishmen like Haines, who talks Irish to the uncomprehending milk lady in “Telemachus” and spends the “Scylla” episode out shopping for a copy of Douglas Hyde’s important book of translations of Gaelic poems, The Long Songs of Connacht.1

So where is the literary field? Instead of presenting an Irish field to us from an objective distance, Joyce presents it through a compelling fiction of distance (or “fiction of autonomy” as some might say) which makes it seems as though artistic “exile” is the only option for a serious writer coming of age in such a milieu. In spite of the caution the Hamlet discussion ought to give us about equating characters and authors, this is the clear implication of the social isolation into which he places both protagonists, Stephen the failed artist and Bloom the day-dreamer (“there’s a touch of the artist about old Bloom,” 10.582). At another level, it is also the implication to be drawn from the autonomization of form in the novel, its progressively more flagrant independence from realistic representation. These position-takings situate Joyce at the cosmopolitan, advanced pole of an international English-language literary field. In the coming weeks our readings will suggest some of the theoretical framework needed to analyze this formation.

This argument, I should say, runs somewhat counter to the prevailing consensus, which reads Joyce as an anticolonial writer. This consensus has only really taken hold in the past twenty years; it rescued Joyce from the critical disrepute into which international modernism fell in the course of the 1980s and 1990s by placing Joyce back into the turbulent Irish historical context and linking his work to the newly prestigious framework of postcolonial studies. Most typically, scholars rewrote the earlier claim for Joyce’s exemplary modernity in new terms. On the class handout, I put a passage from an important landmark, Declan Kiberd’s Inventing Ireland:

What had happened in Ireland was what would happen across the world in the later nineteenth and early twentieth century: traditional patterns of living had been gravely disrupted, but without the material compensations which elsewhere helped to make such losses tolerable. The people were suffering from that most modern of ailments: a homeless mind…. Against that backdrop, both the 1916 Rising and Ulysses can be interpreted in rather similar ways: as attempts to achieve, in the areas of politics and literature, the blessing of modernity and the liquidation of its costs.2

In this analysis, Ulysses remains an exemplarily modern text, but now its modernity is the violent modernity of imperialism and decolonization. I feel the pull of this reading, and I have learned an enormous amount from revisionist Irish-studies approaches to Joyce. What is worth reflecting on is the very wide conceptual gap between a reading like this and an account like Rainey’s that situates Joyce (with at least biographical accuracy) in the Paris-New York world of patronage, cafés, and limited editions.

It’s hard

In class discussion, several of you mentioned the significance of citation and reference in the novel, but we didn’t get to follow up more extensively. I drew your attention to the use to which Bloom puts an old copy of Titbits in “Calypso”; this might be compared to the extensive and somewhat less irreverent handling of Hamlet in “Scylla and Charybdis,” or, at another level, to the appeal to the Odyssey as a framework for the novel. Joyce displays the full sum of his hard-won cultural capital, and the book’s subsequent consecration—and high price!—represents among other things the successful conversion of this capital. The cultural capital of Ulysses encompasses both a very demanding practice of citation and allusion to texts across major European languages and a clear distinction between the handling of “high-cultural” material, which might be fodder for monkish humor but is basically a repository of significant meaning, and a much more irreverent attitude to the stuff of mass or popular culture (pantomime, advertisement, cheap fiction).

One simplistic reading is to say that Joyce’s allusive difficulty excludes everyone except the elect who have acquired comparable amounts of cultural capital, and the novel trades on this exclusiveness. This claim assumes that if you don’t “get it” from the first, you are excluded, but the whole reception history of the novel tends to suggest just the opposite. Ulysses and the field in which it appeared produced readers who enjoyed the experience of mystery, as well as many who wanted to work towards comprehension—in other words, those who valued the difficulty for various reasons. A more telling critique thus aims at what is entailed in valuing the work demanded by Joyce’s allusiveness. According to Leo Bersani, what is entailed is a belief that mastering culture will save you. Another of my neglected handout passages comes from his essay “Against Ulysses”:

Joyce miraculously reconciles uncompromising mimesis with a solipsistic structure. Western culture is saved, indeed glorified, through literary metempsychosis: it “dies” in the Joycean parody and pastiche, but, once removed from historical time, it is resurrected as a timeless design. Far from contesting the authority of culture, Ulysses reinvents and reanimates our relation to Western culture in terms of an exegetical devotion, that is, as the exegesis of Ulysses itself.3

My sociological remark is that what Bersani finds objectionable is not so much Ulysses as a text but Ulysses as an institution of “exegetical devotion” practiced in the academy. Only a literary critic would believe that Ulysses, the text, is the full explanation for Ulysses, the institution. It is almost the obverse of Rainey’s suggestion that the great scandal of Ulysses, the pricey object, was that it wasn’t a reading of Ulysses, the text. Nonetheless we can observe that there is a harmonious alignment between modernist difficulty and institutions of academic exegesis which needs explanation. We’ll try to get at this issue later in the semester.

Joyce to Woolf, or, From Hamnet to Judith

These questions about the uses of cultural capital and their role in social exclusion are central to Woolf’s Room of One’s Own—and to the analysis carried out by Tuchman and Fortin in Edging Women Out. It might almost be too easy to compare these two arguments, so I urge you to try to reconstruct the very different predicaments of these writers. Hopefully the other materials by and about Woolf will help in her case. I will point you again to the DNB, though I have reservations about the interpretive aspects of this long entry by the psychobiographer Lyndall Gordon. For digitized materials, the Modernist Archives Publishing Project has a variety of Hogarth Press items.

Tuchman is an eminent feminist sociologist, emerita at UConn, who has written about many topics including the news media and the corporate university. When she and her assistant Nina Fortin were working on Edging Women Out, there weren’t (and aren’t) that many sociologists writing about literary-historical topics, though it was an exciting moment for the sociology of culture more broadly. Edging Women Out occupies an interesting interdisciplinary space, as its rhetoric will quickly show you; but you might also consider the fact that one chapter appeared in a 1980 issue of the feminist journal Signs, at a time when the journal was more hospitable to quantitative social science.

  1. What is unfair is that the revivalist milieu—and Irish nationalism proper—was more contentious, more demographically diverse, and more cosmopolitan than Joyce suggests. Here’s Eglinton’s co-editor, Fred Ryan, in the June 1904 Dana: “Nationalism to the majority of people in Ireland means merely the hoisting of the Green Flag in place of the Union Jack over a society resting on a basis of competitive capitalism differing in no vital or essential particular from any other such society or from our own condition now.” “‘Young Ireland’ and Liberal Ideas,” Dana 1, no. 2 (June 1904): 64, Modernist Journals Project. The other book of that moment cited in “Scylla” is A. E.’s collection New Songs (Dublin: O’Donoghue, 1904), HathiTrust, which includes Padraic Colum’s “A Portrait” and “A Drover” (cf. 9.303–5).↩︎

  2. Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 329–30. The pioneering full-length study of Ulysses in this vein is Enda Duffy, The Subaltern “Ulysses” (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994).↩︎

  3. Leo Bersani, “Against Ulysses,” Raritan 8, no. 2 (Fall 1988): 22–23. The essay is reprinted in The Culture of Redemption (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), chap. 7.↩︎

Crossing the threshold into the Georgian Age (j/k)

We spent a lot of time talking about McDonald’s appropriation of Bourdieu. I wanted to note a few aspects of his method that differentiate him from Bourdieu.

McDonald makes much of the archives of the authors he writes about. His book is a product of the British Library. Bourdieu mostly is at one remove from the archive (even Flaubert’s notebooks are cited from published transcriptions). McDonald shows you how you might bring sociology to the archive—but also teaches a lesson about the kind of archive that helps the research. Bennett’s career is obviously exceptionally well-documented in his papers, and the richness of information there on the business of writing is of particular use to the analysis McDonald persues.

This interest in business is also, I think, part and parcel of McDonald’s more charitable understanding of literary commerce than Bourdieu’s. Bourdieu scorns the field of large-scale production, including journalism, serial fiction, and the most profitable forms of theatre. At moments Bourdieu sounds like the highest of high modernists (in some ways he really is, but that’s another story for another time), and this distorts the effort to make an objective study of the field. McDonald, though not a pop-culture booster (he says that we should “reclaim” Bennett’s serials “not as enthusiasts of ‘popular culture’…but as readers concerned to recover the dialectical energies of the major novels” [117]), is willing to give sensitive and nuanced attention to profiteering literary activity, not only in Bennett’s case but also in the case of the more straightforwardly commercial Conan Doyle. I never did get to ask you how you felt about making money from literature, but it’s well worth trying to get some self-critical distance from whatever your instinctive feelings on this subject are. People who end up doing literary scholarship usually have been acculturated into belief in the special vocation of writing or of art, but this acculturation somehow coexists with an equally widespread admiration for cultural hustlers and go-getters (especially when they are underdogs). Bourdieu argues convincingly that neither position can found an objective analysis of culture.

Another difference in McDonald’s British Literary Culture: it is an author study, even more than Rules of Art, and it’s also rather strictly concerned with fiction. There’s a chapter on Conrad, a chapter on Bennett, and a chapter on Conan Doyle. Despite Bourdieu’s expansive account of Flaubert, his analysis ranges more widely, taking up many more individuals and ranging across fiction, poetry, and drama. At the same time, this breadth is synchronic, with history represented only by the juxtaposition of the “stages of the field.” McDonald’s focus on individuals allows him to trace developments over life courses—and his fiction-centrism may make the purist-profiteer contrast as sharp as possible. However—and in this he really does look more like a literary scholar than a sociologist—McDonald leaves implicit the method by which any other literary actor could be “placed” in the field in comparison with the three exemplary cases he examines in detail.

Still, notice that McDonald has room for some quite distinct kinds of evidence. The pages on John Lane constitute an analysis of the publisher’s position in the field, not just his relations with Bennett; other publishers get similarly detailed treatment. When periodicals come up, they are generally situated in terms of their typical stances and participants. And there is even reception history, in the compact but pointed remarks on the different periodicals’ responses to Truth about an Author. All of these pieces add up to a fuller sense of the actors in the field than the apparent author-centrism of the approach suggests.

Reading Joyce, Joyce’s predicaments

I really think it’s worth the effort to read Ulysses without annotations, but you’re probably going to go looking things up anyway. The standard reference, apotropaically mentioned on the syllabus, is Don Gifford’s “Ulysses” Annotated. But this is only available in print, and if any text ever needed a digital annotated edition, it must be this one. John Hunt’s Joyce Project gives you an online text of the novel with links to fairly extensive notes (typically derived from Gifford and other glossators). I find the interpretive remarks in the notes distracting. The site may be more usable in the mobile version. The site can show you the pagination in the 1986 Gabler edition of the novel I assigned to you, which is handy for going back and forth between print and digital. However you decide to navigate these options—reflect on the social significance of annotation and more importantly of the capacity of Joyce’s novel to be annotated.

The novel opens with Stephen Dedalus as protagonist. Stephen, as Joyce’s few fans knew, was the hero of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), an artistic Bildungsroman that traces Stephen from early childhood to university-student rebellion. Early readers largely assumed that, as the title implied, the earlier novel was autobiographical. This assumption was mistaken in some ways, but it meant that for them, the first chapters of Ulysses picked up the story of Joyce’s authorial stand-in a little after where he had left off. The first three chapters of Ulysses are centered on Stephen. Consider what happens when this narrative set-up is disrupted by the introduction of Leopold Bloom in “Calypso.”

“To grasp history and biography”: Take your choice of the DNB entry on Joyce or the Dictionary of Irish Biography entry to get some landmarks in the life. As for history, which one? For Woolf, remember, Joyce was a “Georgian”; you’ll only need to read about five pages of Ulysses to see why George V, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India, might not furnish the best label for Joyce’s historical context. Putting Hutton and Rainey together will help indicate the scope of this problem. But if you are eager for more Facts, the Rutgers library provides online access to the Cambridge History of Ireland; see especially Roy Foster’s chapter on the Revival, but then consider where and when the relevant history stops. Why only Ireland after all? Joyce left for good, as the biographies tell you, in 1904, the year the novel is set. Is that the terminus ad quem for a historical context too? Perhaps for our seminar the years around 1919, when “Wandering Rocks” first appeared in the Little Review, matter most? (Hutton recently published an entire monograph, Serial Encounters: “Ulysses” and the “Little Review” [OUP, 2019]). Is 1922, when the book is first published, enough? But then Ulysses has been accumulating editions, annotations, and interpretations ever since. The history of what you are reading extends, of course, right up to the present. That might give you some more food for thought on the question of textual predicaments and textual interpretations we discussed last time.

Bourdieu: more questions of method

We hesitated over how to describe Bourdieu’s own methods in Rules. Though sociology is characteristically concerned with the present, sociology has its own tradition of historical inquiry, going back right to the founding figures, especially Weber and Marx. The sociology-history overlap is particularly significant in France in the 1960s and 1970s when the school of the Annales (emphasizing social history and the history of the longue durée) is of major importance. In a way my choice of excerpt gives a somewhat distorted picture of Bourdieu’s array of methods, since as Rules proceeds into the present it also makes use of data from interviews, and his most influential book, Distinction, is primarily an analysis of survey data.1 The first part of Rules is as close to an ethnography of nineteenth-century French literature as the available sources permit. It is worth reflecting on the differences and similarities between this approach and more familiar forms of literary history and criticism.

An apparent similarity: Rules develops an extended reading of a single novel. To what extent is Bourdieu a historicist literary critic? I own a theory reader in which Bourdieu in fact appears, alongside American New Historicists, under “historicism.” But historicism has typically operated by bringing literary texts and particularized non-literary contexts together in order to show that the literary text is deeply involved with the context. Bourdieu’s field is distinct from context as ordinarily conceived. In the first place, the literary field is literary: the context for interpreting Flaubert consists largely of the activities of other writers, and the stakes of Flaubert’s choices (or any other writers’) are, in the first instance, his position with respect to field.

The analysis of Zola shows the difference clearly: Zola’s political intervention in the Dreyfus Affair is analyzed in terms of Zola’s stance in the literary field, rather than, as literary criticism might do, locating Zola’s “politics” in his novels. And we noted in seminar the passage in which Bourdieu rejects “direct determination by economic and political conditions” in the emergence of art for art’s sake in the Second Empire; instead, “it is from the very particular position that they occupy in the literary microcosm that writers such as Flaubert, Baudelaire, Renan, Leconte de Lisle or Goncourt become aware of a political conjuncture which, grasped through the categories of perception inherent in their dispositions, allows and encourages their inclination to independence” (60). Put more generally, the field is the medium through which all kinds of social forces are felt, and, conversely, it is also the medium through which literary activity exerts its force on society—in the first instance, on that part of society which is literary activity.

This proposition cuts two ways. On the one hand, it is supposed to help us guard against the most reductionist approach, which might say that, for example, defending art for art’s sake is just an expression of class privilege. Flaubert’s class position gave him the resources he needed, and the dispositions that suited him, to effectively champion art for art’s sake, but his intervention reconfigures the literary field. In his earlier work, Distinction, Bourdieu shows the close association between class positions and certain kinds of aesthetic attitudes in cultural consumption. In particular, the “disinterested” appreciation of cultural objects is, he found, most typical of “the dominated fraction of the dominant class.” Many of his readers took him to be saying that there was no difference between aesthetic distance and snobbery. This was always a misreading, but you can see why it might make Bourdieu eager to underline what is not merely the expression or reflection of class in his account of writers like Flaubert.

On the other hand, Bourdieu’s theory also sets some limits on the degree to which “politics” can be extracted from texts. Consider: is Sentimental Education, a novel about an era of failed revolution, a progressive or a reactionary text according to Bourdieu? Answer: the question is wrong. The relation between literature and power is the relation between two fields, for Bourdieu; it is this relation that shapes Sentimental Education and is reshaped by it. The novel’s studied indifference (realized at the level of Flaubert’s distinctive style) to political developments is a necessary condition for its capacity to intervene in the literary field.

To be blunt about it, I think Bourdieu offers a way to study what writing does in the actual world that is far superior to the fantasies most of literary studies traffics in. It might have seemed to you that Bourdieu’s preface attacks a kind of literary criticism—appreciative, philosophico-aesthetic, anti-historicist—that is way out of date on our shores. But in another way our own disciplinary climate remains extremely favorable to the “exclusively literary” reading of literature (xvi), through the general agreement that the most subtle and consequential moral, political, and philosophical meanings can be teased out through acts of textual interpretation focused on literary texts. Such interpretations, whatever their power to convince other professional literary interpreters, almost never provide any evidence of the relations between the literary field and any other social field and thus remain at the level of wishful thinking about the powers of the literary.

The second and third parts of Rules, which I did not assign—though I hope you will get to them eventually—mounts a sustained attack on the assumptions that undergird literary criticism, in the name of proposing the “science of the work of art” as a superior way to understand literature and the arts. Paradoxically, the same developments which Bourdieu described in heroic terms in the parts we read lie behind the intellectual failures of later decades. For in establishing a relatively autonomous literary field and defining the position of the “pure” artist as a social type, those developments made possible the routine “misrecognition” (Rules, 172) of literary texts as meaningful and valuable in themselves. The institutions and practices that establish meaning and value fade into the background and become habitually unspoken, taken for granted—at least by those who operate most successfully within them. Bourdieu’s insight is that this background assumption can be shared by people who take sharply different views of what literature is and does. What we call “close reading” can be understood as an exercise of misrecognition in Bourdieu’s sense, unless it can provide an account of the field or fields in which the text is produced and received. And doing so, says Bourdieu, will “break the spell” (32). In return for suspending the belief in the singular power of the work of art, however, you might recover a much fuller sense of what is necessary for any work—which is really to say, any field—to cast a spell in the first place.

One of the big challenges for anyone persuaded by these arguments is to figure out how to lay hands on the kind of information needed to “objectify” a literary field. Or even if you don’t do the full Bourdieu, a sociology of literature has to concern itself with actual people in actual societies. Biography is an important starting point for getting a handle on those. For British literature, we benefit from the extraordinary Dictionary of National Biography (first edition edited by Virginia Woolf’s father, Leslie Stephen). For work on any writer with a DNB entry, it is always worth consulting. Naturally one has to read it critically, bearing in mind the limitations of biography as a frame for interpretation. The DNB does not forswear literary judgment when it treats literary writers, and many of those judgments reflect very particular (often highbrow, sometimes shockingly retrograde) assumptions. The entry on Arnold Bennett is concise and quite informative, however, read alongside The Truth about an Author.

One of Bennett’s very first literary publications, mentioned in Truth, is instructive to contemplate in its original publication context: this is the story “A Letter Home,” Yellow Book 6 (July 1895): 93–102. The Yellow Book, published by the avant-garde firm of John Lane, is a byword for aestheticism and decadence. This periodical has been digitized and elaborately edited as part of the Yellow Nineties 2.0 project; cf. the editors’ introduction to vol. 6. Bennett’s identification with this position in the field was, as your other readings reveal to you, short-lived.

At the level of sociological method, then, our readings in and around Bennett pose the question of trajectory through the field. How do authors move from one possible position to another? What enables or disables mobility, and what effects does mobility have, on career, on reception?

But Bennett’s mobility also has another significance. In some ways, his versatility makes him comparable to Bourdieu’s Flaubert; McDonald makes Bennett an exemplary “player” in the field. But whereas Flaubert is one of the great novelists, and thus entirely plausible as a “founder” of a new social configuration of literature, Bennett rapidly became a minor figure. He is no “nomothete,” and very few later scholars have seen him as a hero. What kind of analysis of the “author’s point of view” is possible with a non-heroic model? As you’ll see, such a model is entirely appropriate to Bennett’s own extremely antiheroic sensibility.

  1. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984).↩︎

The introduction, an epilogue

Though our introductory session was abbreviated, I want to add a few notes to our discussion before we move on, and then I want to try to provide a little guidance to reading the Bourdieu. We’ll come back next time to some of the material on my introductory handout that I skipped over.

“Adam’s Curse”

In positioning the poet against what “the martyrs call the world,” this poem belongs to a long Romantic tradition. But, as we said, Yeats’s version is emphatic about representing poetry as a kind of work. (What “bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen” have in common is that they too do immaterial work, but, presumably, the ugly kind.) The poem embraces the uselessness of literary work, though with some irony about the poet’s own desire to put poetry to lower-case-r romantic use. The proud affirmation of poetic autonomy is hedged around by qualifications: the poet, despite his aristocratic disdain for “the world,” is embedded in social relationships, including a relationship to an audience. These relationships are in fact the precondition for his writing (“and talked of poetry”).

One reason I like this poem as a good starting point for talking about the sociology of literature is that it talks about the social position of the literary writer. Furthermore, it teaches the lesson, crucial for the early twentieth century, that even writers who are most committed to disentangling themselves from “the world” may be aware that they require all kinds of social and institutional support. This kind of interpretation is one of the keynotes of Bourdieu’s account of Flaubert and other French modernists, as you’ll see.

Yet interpreting what Yeats “says” (via the poem) on this subject is only interesting in relation to other evidence about the social forces shaping this literary activity. “Adam’s Curse” begs us to widen the frame. Our next step was to pay attention to the materiality of the book and the social relationships that producing such a book actually requires. Again, it is no accident that the 1903 In the Seven Woods is particularly forthright about the material circumstances of its making. W.B. and Elizabeth Yeats, and Evelyn Gleeson, are insisting on the difference between their book-making and commodity book-making. Their handicraft presupposes, for its meaning, the dominance of a very different kind of book industry. On the handout I put a passage about Elizabeth Yeats from the Dictionary of Irish Biography which mentions that the Dun Emer Press typically ran at a loss. This is anti-commercial book-making (“idle trade”).

This anti-commercialism is also fueled by a nationalist opposition to English colonial cultural dominance (for that matter it was very typical of Irish nationalism to stigmatize the English as concerned exclusively with profit). In 1903 there is a definite meaning to making a book with Irish paper, on a press in Dublin, under the sign of a heroine of Irish folklore (Dun Emer was named for Emer, Cúchulainn’s wife). The subtitle of In the Seven Woods is Being Poems Chiefly of the Irish Heroic Age. “Adam’s Curse” is self-evidently not one of those, but this subtitle proclaims Yeats’s allegiance to the Celtic Revival, one of the most significant cultural dimensions of the Irish nationalist movement. (We’ll meet the Revival again when we turn to Joyce.) At the same time, the twilit, cosmically weary ending of “Adam’s Curse,” with its shrug of the shoulders about “beautiful old books,” hardly reads as a call to arms for revolutionaries. Now we have arrived at a more obviously sociological question, that of the way political and cultural movements interact. If we were continuing on, the single case of Yeats would need to be set in comparison with that of other contemporary writers in order to understand the opportunities and limitations produced by that interaction. The proper framing of such comparisons is, in one sense, the largest subject of Bourdieu’s Rules of Art.

Leading into Bourdieu

In my efforts to be entertaining about the niche quality of the sociology of literature, I overstated its marginality a bit. We’ll come back to the way this interdisciplinary venture lives on and even flourishes even though few people invoke it by name. But let me try to motivate your reading of Bourdieu in particular by underlining that this sociologist is one of the most influential writers on culture across all the disciplines that study it. Bourdieu’s book Distinction is one of the most cited works in the sociology of culture. And Bourdieu has been very influential in a whole range of literary scholarship across historical periods. Bourdieu is roughly contemporary with some of the big names of post-structuralist “French Theory,” like Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. But, in my view, his reach and significance exceeds even those philosophers’, partly because he is an apostate from philosophy. Trained as a philosopher, which put him on a trajectory for the pinnacle of the French academic system, Bourdieu abandoned philosophy for social science, which was and remains a decidedly lower-status discipline. One thing you’ll notice right away about Rules of Art is that it proposes sociological and historical analysis as an alternative, and superior, approach to questions that have traditionally been the province of philosophical reflection (for literary studies as much as for philosophical aesthetics). The question for us will be, how would this alter our own approach? What new objects and methods will come into view? What former aims might we set aside? Will the moon seem hollow and our hearts turn weary?

A few introductory words on some of Bourdieu’s specialized terminology. The key terms field, space, and position can, I think, be figured out from the reading (but follow carefully the ways the spatial metaphors work). Two other important concepts are brought in from Bourdieu’s earlier work without much explanation.

Capital: For Bourdieu, economic capital is a special case of something more general. He uses “capital” to refer to other types of scarce resources that can be accumulated, used for advantage, and exchanged for other resources:

Capital is accumulated labor (in its materialized from or its ‘incorporated,’ embodied form) whch, when appropriated on a private, i.e., exclusive, basis by agents or groups of agents, enables them to appropriate social energy in the from of reified or living labor.1

Borudieu’s insight is that people can accumulate not only money and property in their various forms but also, for example, honor and prestige (symbolic capital), advantageous social connections (social capital), and education and specialized knowledge (cultural capital).

Habitus: Bourdieu’s signature notion of habitus appears in Rules without a great deal of explanation. Here is a definition, which may or may not be clarifying:

The conditionings associated with a particular class of conditions of existence produce habitus, systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is, as principles which generate and organize practices and representations that can be objectively adapted to their outcomes without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary in order to attain them. Objectively “regulated” and “regular” without being in any way the product of obedience to rules, they can be collectively orchestrated without being the product of the organizing action of a conductor.2

Put more simply, habitus describes the kinds of things your body and mind habitually do because of the kind of person you have been made to be. Bourdieu posits that these behavioral dispositions are systematically related to people’s social situations because they are inculcated by those situations (they are “structured structures”) and because they shape patterns of behavior (they are “structuring structures”). Think about the physical assertiveness taught to boys and the deference rewarded in girls. Think about the ways people of different classes approach encounters with authority figures like teachers or police. Think about all the ways people organize the world into categories like “beautiful, ugly,” “tasty, disgusting,” “practical, idle.” Much influenced by the generative revolution in linguistics, Bourdieu thinks of social behavior as having the same qualities of infinite creativity and rule-bound regularity as the grammar of speech.

Lastly, science. It would almost be better to translate this very charged word as “social science,” keeping in mind that history is a social science on odd-numbered days of the month. Whereas a “science of literature” is a laughable idea in the Anglo-American context, la science in French, like die Wissenschaft in German, has a wider range than “science” in English, and can plausibly be extended to all forms of disciplined knowledge developed through empirical inquiry. Much of what we call “humanities” is called sciences humaines in French, even if les lettres can be opposed to les sciences. So it’s possible to aspire to une science de l’œuvre d’art without wanting to make the study of literature put on a lab coat. Bourdieu is in fact an acerbic critic of scientism even though he thinks the only route to understanding literature is scientific.

  1. Bourdieu, Pierre. “The Forms of Capital” (1983) in Education: Culture, Economy, and Society, ed. A. H. Halsey et al. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 46.↩︎

  2. The Logic of Practice, trans. Richard Nice (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990), 53.↩︎