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Three Book Reviews: Virtual Intimacies: Media, Affect and Queer Sociality, Queer Nostalgia in Cinema and Pop Culture and De-stereotyping Indian Body and Desire

Virtual Intimacies: Media, Affect and Queer Sociality

Shaka McGlotten

SUNY Press, 2013

Queer Nostalgia in Cinema and Pop Culture

Gilad Padva

Palgrave Macmillan, 2014

De-stereotyping Indian Body and Desire

Edited by Kaustav Chakraborty

Cambridge Scholars Press, 2013

 

Reviewed by

Rohit K Dasgupta, Doctoral Candidate and Associate Lecturer, University of the Arts London

 

It is not everyday one comes across a fascinating book like Virtual Intimacies. Shaka McGlotten has put together a very interesting ethnographic account of queer men’s negotiation with the digital world. A study of affect within cultural studies has seen a growth in recent years with several works of scholarship exploring this area. Virtual Intimacies is an important intervention not only in the field of digital media and communication but also more largely within contemporary queer studies. The relationship between digital culture and the queer identity has been commented upon by many including Sharif Mowlabocus’ Gaydar Culture and Christopher Pullen’s edited volume LGBT Identity and Online New Media. It would not be wrong to say McGlotten’s work extends some of the boundaries of these previous works. McGlotten places himself at the centre of this enquiry, as he navigates the digitally mediated queer sites which entangle the lives of queer people both online and offline. His own position as a gay man of colour informs the way he navigates and understands the politics of and possibilities of intimacy on the cyberspace. This auto ethnography gives this book a much more stronger and personal feel. He argues that that fluidity of the cyberspace and the intimate possibilities that it (supposedly) affords have been punctured by corporeality (3). Particularities such as race and class have an obvious impact on the possibilities that this space can provide. Queer spaces as he further argues were spaces where normal rules of social intercourse were suspended, whilst none of these were ‘truly liberatory’ (4), they are testament to the expansiveness that characterises queer sexual practices…Access Full Text of the Review


The Woman with the Still Camera: Photographs in Virginia Woolf’s Fiction

Shinjini Chattopadhyay, Jadavpur University, India

Abstract

The advent of photography and the emergence of Modernism in literature are imbued with an essence of breaking away from the past. Photography shares with the Modernist aesthetic a similar mode of appropriating reality. As the photographs capture within the frames a particular moment in the flow of time and establish a distinct ethic of perception, Modernist literature also fixes the focus on certain crucial moments in the life of an individual (for example a day in the life of Leopold Bloom or Mrs. Dalloway) and presents a holistic view of reality in its essential fragments. The incorporation of photographs within the Modernist aesthetic marks the emergence of a new mode of dialogue between fiction and reality. The paper attempts to investigate this mode of dialogue by investigating the interaction among reality, photographs and literature in the works of one of the proponents of Modernism, Virginia Woolf.

The very earliest years of Modernism saw the emergence of a particular technological innovation, photography. Even in its infancy, with the Calotype and the Daguerreotype, photography showed potential for forever transforming the way of perceiving reality. It amazed people how photographs were able to capture every minute detail of a scene and for the first time it was felt that the whole world could be captured within frames. The invention of photography marks a distinct disjunction from the time when photography was not invented:

“The very existence of a modern period, broken away from the time before, is to some extent the creation of photography, which has made all time since the 1840s simultaneously available in a way that makes the years before seem that much more remote.” (North 3)

The same spirit of rupture, which is present in the history of the advent of photography, can also be recognized in the attitude that Modernist literature had assumed towards its immediate predecessors by advocating the implementation of highly conscious artifice, revolutionary usage of linguistic forms and other radical literary techniques. Having identified this similarity Modernist writers were soon interested in this new form of technology and photography gained a turbulent admission in the world of art amidst positive and negative reactions. Charles Baudelaire condemned photography for its unimaginative realist mode (North 14). Ezra Pound seems to share Baudelaire’s disdain for photography and voices his contempt for cinema as well. But his experiments with the vortoscope affirm that despite his attempts he was not able to keep photography entirely out of his artistic endeavours (North 27). On the other hand, distinct photographic qualities became apparent in the writings of James Joyce and Gertrude Stein. Joyce, inspired by the thriving cinematic climate of Trieste, opened the first movie-house in Dublin, the ‘Cinematograph Volta’, in 1909. In 1926 Virginia Woolf “wrote the first British essay on avant-garde cinema.”…Access Full Text of the Article


Psyche and Hester, or Apotheosis and Epitome: Natural Grace, la Sagésse Naturale

Anthony Splendora, Independent Scholar, Pennsylvania, USA

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Human interpretation fails, for a turbulent life-situation has arisen that refuses to fit any of the traditional meanings assigned to it. It is a moment of collapse. We sink into a final depth — Apuleius calls it “a kind of voluntary death.” . . . This is the archetype of meaning, just as the anima is the archetype of life itself.

Carl Jung, Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious (1934), p. 66

. . . if it is true that man is capable of everything horrible, it is also true that the horrible always engenders counterforces and that in most epochs of atrocious occurrences the great vital forces of the human soul reveal themselves: love and sacrifice, heroism in the service of conviction, and the ceaseless search for possibilities of a purer existence.

Erich Auerbach, Mimesis (1946), p. 59

Somewhere, if not in the New England of his time, Hawthorne unearthed the image of a goddess supreme in beauty and power.

Mark Van Doren, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1949), p. 154

Overview: Striking Isomorphism

A literary creation of profound cultural significance, the courageous and attractive, healthily libidinous young woman of whom I write is rhetorical to a time and artistic milieu earlier than her author’s and much earlier than ours. Projected novelistically in a tale of waywardness, epic but sublimated love, suffering, exemplary penance, fortitude and triumph, she appears at the end of one epoch and the beginning of another. She is referred to internally as a “destined prophetess” – externally as the “emergent divinity” of that latter, dawning era, and her forbidden love affair with a divine, fair-haired boy of the conservative, male-dominated religious establishment, her engagement in quite specific disobedience to its strictures, has echoes of other famously fallen, transitional women of incalculable cultural-historical sentence. Punishment for the complications arising from her transgression, a hieros gamos, is forthcoming, as it is to those other notorious females, but her godly, complicit lover suffers a grievous wound as well. Imbued by Nature, however, with the earthy, miraculous virtues and resilience of organically natural grace, she endures her initiatory ordeal and eventually prevails. Moreover, her recognition as harbinger of the forthcoming awareness, and her adherence to its mandate, elevate her to fulfillment of her own prophecy: hers is an ascension that heralds the decline and final collapse of the consecrated establishment that sanctioned her. In being doubly mythologized – for ideologically-defined immorality before her ascension and in universal sanctification after, her experience also carries allegorical implications specific to the troubled time of her authorial creation. In addition, her secretive liaison with divinity results in the production of a famous and aptly-named child, a projective symbol of life and fulfillment transcending that superannuating ideology.

Canonical Values vs. the Law of Large Numbers: The Canadian Literary Canon in the Age of Big Data

Carolina Ferrer, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), Canada

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 Abstract

In this article, I propose an alternative technique to the traditional method of constitution of the literary canon. Instead of basing the determination of the canon on different values, I scrutinize the Modern Language Association International Bibliography database in order to determine the most cited authors and literary works. Specifically, I study Canadian literature. Thus, through the process of data mining, I obtain a sample of over 25,000 references that allows us to observe the chronological evolution and the linguistic distribution of the critical bibliography about Canadian literature. This quantitative technique yields a corpus of 151 titles and 295 writers that are cited more than 10 times in the database. Consequently, this bibliography is not the result of subjective selection criteria, but is based on the law of large numbers. Furthermore, this study shows that the quantitative analysis of bibliographic databases is an effective way to bring new light to the field of literary studies.

Confused Reality: The War Masks in Japanese Author, Hikaru Okuizumi’s The Stones Cry Out and Argentine Author, Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Garden of Forking Paths”

Rachel McCoppin, University of Minnesota Crookston

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Carl Jung connects the idea that the mask is the persona one presents to the world; “the persona acts…to conceal the true nature of the individual.  It is a social role or mask which acts as a mediator between the inner world and the social world, and which constitutes the compromise between the individual and society” (Hudson 54).  The concept of the mask as persona is common in literature, and global modernity is no exception.  Oftentimes characters are so enveloped within false or unreliable personas that they fool and confuse the reader.  The masks they wear serves as a front to society and the characters they interact with, but sometimes characters are so effectively masked that they become unclear of their own realities, and become unreliable narrators. 

The Importance of Being Postmodern: Oscar Wilde and the Untimely

Jonathan Kemp, Birkbeck College, University of London
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“It is to criticism that the future belongs”

– Oscar Wilde[1]

 “In protesting the independence of criticism,

Wilde sounds like an ancestral …Roland Barthes”

– Richard Ellmann[2]

 “Postmodern is not to be taken in the periodizing sense”

– Jean-François Lyotard[3]

 The above three quotations delineate the typography of a particular trajectory within literary theory which covers more or less the entire span of the twentieth century.  Wilde’s prediction in 1891 seems to find its answer in Lyotard’s claim less than a hundred years later that postmodernism must not in any way be understood as a temporal marker, but rather as an aesthetic attitude or position.  For, if we are ‘in’ the postmodern we are in it precisely because we always already inhabit the possibility of its recognition, presentation or expression.  As such, texts or artworks that predate the critical emergence of the term can nevertheless be understood to be postmodern – and usefully so.  For it gives us permission to name, once again, though differently, perhaps, a particular phenomenon, or a particular convergence of phenomena; one we most typically name the avant garde.  In this essay I would like to use the above three quotations as markers for the trajectory of my argument.  In this sense, I will be using Wilde and Lyotard as both meetings points and end points for an arc that loops around to create a circuit, or a band, upon which – or within which – we might usefully place the concept of the postmodern/avant garde in ways which will shed light upon the notion of the untimely.  I would suggest that the postmodern and the untimely are, in short, other ways of naming and apprehending the avant garde as that which emerges without consensus, but which contains within it the criteria for its own assessment.  As Ellmann comments, Wilde seems, in his formulation of a new kind of art-criticism, to express something that Roland Barthes would develop sixty odd years later[4]: the self-sufficiency of criticism as an end in itself, or as a new form of aesthetic expression.  In this sense, Wilde’s work will be understood as posthumous, or untimely.[5]  That is, avant garde.

Towards a Postmodern Poetics: Reading Elizabeth Bishop’s Reccy of Realities

Amit Bhattacharya, University of Gour Banga

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Abstract

In this paper, I have tried to analyze a few poems by Elizabeth Bishop to show how she takes up or takes in shifting identities and subject-positions in a clear dialogue with cultural norms and expectations. I have also sought to chart her poetic trajectory from alienation to alterity to show how she started by refusing to accept the ‘otherness’ about her and her various poetic personae based on such determinants as gender, sexuality, class or age, and ultimately accepted those self-same counts of ‘otherness’ in a never-ending melee with the ‘so-called’ metareality of conundrum and contingency that is provisionally called ‘life’.

Book Review: In the Heart of the Beat the Poetry of Rap by Alexs Pate

The Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Pub Date: Jan 2010

Hardcover, 176 pages

Price: $24.95

ISBN: 0-8108-6008-2

ISBN-13: 978-0-8108-6008-7

Series:  African American Cultural Theory and Heritage

Review by

Pragna Paramita Mondal, Victoria College, Kolkata

Alexs Pate’s In the Heart of the Beat begins with an anecdote from his childhood days in North Philadelphia. Johnny, a boy in the neighborhood who survived a car accident, was subsequently involved in a conscious process of reorientation of speech as a means to counter his disability. What the ‘Professor’ (Johnny) and rappers share in common, however, is their sense of exigency in speech and their need to articulate and prioritize their distinct worldviews from a position of marginality and oppression. In fact, orality has been one of the defining features in Black cultural history, one that has sustained African American sanity and self-expression. In this book Pate, therefore, makes an attempt at disengaging the poetry of rap from the claims of music and hip hop beats and validates the ‘speech’ of rap by subverting the conventional notions that determine its popular consumption.

What is Performance Studies?

Richard Schechner, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University

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Because performance studies is so broad-ranging and open to new possibilities, no one can actually grasp its totality or press all its vastness and variety into a single writing book. My points of departure are my own teaching, research, artistic practice, and life experiences.

Performances are actions. As a discipline, performance studies takes actions very seriously in four ways. First, behavior is the “object of study” of performance studies. Although performance studies scholars use the “archive” extensively – what’s in books, photographs, the archaeological record, historical remains, etc. – their dedicated focus is on the “repertory,” namely, what people do in the activity of their doing it. Second, artistic practice is a big part of the performance studies project. A number of performance studies scholars are also practicing artists working in the avant-garde, in community-based performance, and elsewhere; others have mastered a variety of non-Western and Western traditional forms. The relationship between studying performance and doing performance is integral. Third, fieldwork as “participant observation” is a much-prized method adapted from anthropology and put to new uses. In anthropological fieldwork, participant observation is a way of learning about cultures other than that of the field-worker. In anthropology, for the most part, the “home culture” is Western, the “other” non-Western. But in performance studies, the “other” may be a part of one’s own culture (non-Western or Western), or even an aspect of one’s own behavior. That positions the performance studies fieldworker at a Brechtian distance, allowing for criticism, irony, and personal commentary as well as sympathetic participation. In this active way, one performs fieldwork. Taking a critical distance from the objects of study and self invites revision, the recognition that social circumstances– including knowledge itself – are not fixed, but subject to the “rehearsal process” of testing and revising. Fourth, it follows that performance studies is actively involved in social practices and advocacies. Many who practice performance studies do not aspire to ideological neutrality. In fact, a basic theoretical claim is that no approach or position is “neutral”. There is no such thing as unbiased. The challenge is to become as aware as possible of one’s own stances in relation to the positions of others – and then take steps to maintain or change positions.

Singing Specters: Phenomenology in the Performance of Music

Dan W. Lawrence, Michigan Technological University

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 Abstract

In this article, I write along with key 20th century thinkers—Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Jacques Derrida—to understand how a phenomenological examination of the performance of music can contribute to a meaningful exploration of the roles of consciousness and presence in the process of rhetorical invention. I begin by looking at Plato’s Phaedrus and assess the notion of “fit” as it relates to rhetoric and performance as well as the mythical trope of the cicadas. I will then explore how Plato’s rendering of madness in this piece might help us understand Derrida’s almost paradoxical construction of the voice in Voice and Phenomenon. From here, I move to analyze the figure of the ghost as presented by Derrida and relate this to the non-presence of presence while asking: how might this notion better help us understand how rhetorical decisions are made by performing artists? The argument I put forth is that there is a subtle difference between the aleatoric moments of invention that occur in the process of solitary composition and those that occur on the stage. My conclusion points toward further research that would analyze these elements in recorded music and digital recording technologies which further problematizes the notion of non-presence: what would it really mean to have a ghost in the machine? Do we perform a séance each time we press “play”?

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