Abstract: Pauline E. Hopkins & Black Publishing

Scholars often discuss the literary field in terms of the strained relationship between its creative and commercial interests. However, for African Americans at the turn of the twentieth century, these interests were deeply intertwined. I contend that agents in the black literary world defined the field by its interdependence rather than by its autonomy. To explore this dynamic, this essay examines the publishing career of Pauline E. Hopkins whose work as an editor, composer, and author made her essential to shaping and maintaining the African American literary field between 1879 and 1916.

Reading and Awaiting the “long arc of literary change”

Like Vianna, I too am interested in the number of reading practices necessary to interpret the descriptions of the literary field the algorithms produced. I was also surprised by how frequently the authors acknowledged the limitations of their own arguments. Underwood even says that his methodology “has a significant weak spot” (93) and “turning those models into fully satisfying stories could take several more decades” (109). In my experience, it’s rare to find this kind of frankness in literary studies where the task of the essay is to produce a clear argument that appears to have few (if any) weaknesses. There seems to be a liberty in this scientific approach to literature that takes description as its primary task. Specific arguments seem to still be reliant on close readings of text. 

In acknowledging the limitations of digitization, Algee-Hewitt, et al and Underwood checked my unrealistic hopes that distant reading and digitization would provide a more inclusive or expansive vision of the literary field. As Algee-Hewitt, et al noted, “with digital technology the relationship between the three layers has changed; the corpus of a project can now easily be (almost) as large as the archive, while the archive itself is becoming—in modern times—(almost) as large as all of published literature” (2). For me, the notion of an expanding archive could be the remedy to the historical violences and silences (to borrow from Saidiya Hartman) of the archive, but as both critics observe, the archive is still a significant limitation to that kind of work. Despite the grand scale of studies like these, “libraries don’t buy books for representative samples; they want books they consider worth preserving; good books; good, according to the principles that are likely to be similar to those that lead to the formations of canons” (2). As Underwood mentions, finding “some way to measure the effects of imbalances” when “sheer underrepresentation in the data set, by itself, is an eloquent fact” remains a challenge (94,95). 

Rigmarole English: Mufti, Desani, and the Literary-Philological Field

“I write rigmarole English” (Desani, All About Hatter 37)

This sentence struck me as strange, and after reading the novel, I was surprised that Hatter’s English, not his narrative, was declared rigmarole—”incoherent; rambling; unduly elaborate, protracted, or diffuse” or “a long, involved, or tedious procedure” (Oxford English Dictionary). 

Aamir R. Mufti’s “Orientalism and the Institution of World Literatures” argues that most articulations of the global literary field neglect the “extended literary-philological moment, in which often-overlapping bodies of writing came to acquire, through a process of historicization, distinct personalities as literature along national lines” (466). According to Mufti, failing to acknowledge and understand the “relations of force and powers of assimilation” (493) that constitute the “language field” (480) creates inaccurate narratives non-Western literatures’ “emergence” (like Casanova’s The World Republic of Letters) and faulty understandings of “world literature”.  

Mufti’s description of Orientalism—“the set of processes for the reorganization of language, literature, and culture on a planetary scale” (488)—invokes Desani’s characterization of Hatter’s English. In Mufti’s words, “[t]he process of linguistic differentiation and realignment was thus a gradual and laborious one and by no means linear” (485). It’s rigamarole. If one accepts Mufti’s literary-philological field, Orientalism makes it impossible for colonized or post-colonial literatures to have any other relationship to Western languages. Rigmarole English is the only English available to Hatter. 

This raises questions we began to discuss last week: How should we read language in All About Hatter? How does an assumed alternative relationship to English necessitate this sort of declaration? In what ways does Mufti’s explanation of the language field increase the difficulty of McKay’s literary task in Banjo? Could some of McKay’s literary choices be read as attempts to juggle Orientalism and characters’ rigmarole English and French? 

The Joyce of (Re)Producing & (Re)Imagining the Field

Last class, we discussed the more complicated literary field Bennett describes in The Truth About an Author, but we didn’t explore how the text’s (re)production troubled the field. This week’s readings make it impossible to do that with Ulysses

Both Rainey and Hutton discuss the importance of Ulysses’ initial publication as a serial in the Little Review, but neither critic offers robust analysis of the publication itself. In 1914, The Little Review marketed itself as a periodical devoted to “Literature Drama Music Art”. According to playwright and novelist John Galsworthy, the publication could “enjoy that untrammelled liberty which is the life of Art” because it was “neither directly nor indirectly connected in any way with any organization, society, company, cult, or movement” (2). The publication carved a space for autonomous art in a medium devoted to public taste, not artistic interest. In 1917, the magazine changed its tagline to broadcast its investments⸺The Little Review: A Magazine of the Arts: Making No Compromise for Public Taste. Where does this kind of periodical fit within the literary fields Bourdieu and MacDonald describe? What does it mean for Joyce to publish Ulysses as a serial in this magazine? 

This text further complicates the field by charting new relationships between literary forms. In chapter nine, both “provincial papers” and Shakespeare’s plays influence literary discourse (165). Joyce also uses other literary forms to construct his text. As the library guests discuss Shakespeare’s plays, the dialogue takes the form of a script, complete with character names, musical notations, and asides. In transforming narrative into theatre, Joyce seems to comment not just on the educational practice (which Hutton discusses) but on the history and structure of the literary field. The chapter begs us to reevaluate the value of literary genres and their relative force in the literary field. How did Shakespeare’s plays transform from art that “reveal[s] to us ideas, formless spiritual essences” (152)? What is the artistic role of these lucrative literary forms? 

For fun, read Mary M. Colum’s 1922 review of Ulysses.