These are the articles recently published. Original replies, which can start off a debate, are listed with their abstracts. Please note that responding articles do not have separate abstracts.
Theresa M. DiPasquale, Connotations, Vol. 27: 167-89.
How does close reading work within particular spaces and places? How does one carry out a close reading within particular historical, economic, and textual circumstances? John Donne’s Latin epitaph, engraved on a plaque above his effigy in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, poses particularly complex challenges. According to a landmark 2001 John Donne Journal article by Richard S. Peterson, the text inscribed on the current plaque—installed in the nineteenth-century—is an inaccurate facsimile of the original plaque installed in late 1632 or early 1633 and destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666. Taking into account the epitaph as it appears in the twenty-first-century cathedral and as it appears in seventeenth-century illustrations of the original plaque, this essay explicates both texts in some detail while also confronting issues of material culture raised in the work of Walter Benjamin and borne out in the author’s experience of St. Paul’s. The essay concludes with a blend of close-reading and affective response to the epitaph, to the famous marble statue that stands beneath it, and to Donne’s monument as a whole within its current architectural context.
Judith H. Anderson, Connotations, Vol. 27: 155-66.
My title results from a common advertisement of jobs by literature departments in America, which bear on the validity, or not, of the practice of close reading Donne, surely the poster boy for close reading in past decades. The close reading of literature became ideologically distinguished from cultural studies toward the end of the last century, and as this distinction gained steam, a growing perception of literature identified it, if not simply as close reading, then at least as text-centered, and culture became its putative opposite. The ideological opposition of close reading to culture is puzzling, as is the larger opposition of literature to matter, or rather, to material culture’s conceptualization of itself. Language is the basic building block of human culture, whether as philosophy, as politics, as literature, or as something else, and it clearly has material dimensions, as sound, letter, speech act, social communication, and constructor of institutions. My immediate subject is Donne, or rather the close reading of Donne, a practice that I do not equate with readings isolated from history and culture. I also do not equate the close reading of Donne (or of any other writer) simply with what some call the Old New Criticism—the dominant practice of literary criticism around the middle of the twentieth century.
Richard O' Brien, Connotations, Vol. 27: 120-54.
When I started writing plays in iambic pentameter, my self-interrogations inevitably returned to questions of politics, ethics and power. There has undeniably been a historical association between verse drama and elitism. Anthony Easthope sees iambic pentameter as the voice of ‘solid institutional continuity’ — a ‘hegemonic form’ implicitly confirming cultural norms. In Sara Ahmed’s terms, a contemporary verse play by a white, male, middle-class subject risks being solely ‘citational-relational’ to other such plays and subjects. What, then, is my own complicity in choosing these particular formal restrictions? In what ways can my chosen way of writing — structured, metred verse — engage with power without merely endorsing or replicating it?
In this paper, I will argue for how the pentameter form can allow for and facilitate a challenge to such positions. The inherent polyphony of a playscript challenges the singular: although in metrical terms, everyone is speaking the same language, the creation of a shared baseline permits individuality and resistance to stand out more starkly in variation. As such, shared-metre verse worlds have served me as an appropriate canvas to explore shifting tensions between the community and the individual, who might appear as a rebel against unquestioned institutional norms or as a threatening outsider to a self-sustaining system. I argue that by writing characters who follow or subvert metre — who are in or out of line — or who steal lines from others, I can stage conflicts over authority, control, freedom and restraint at the microcosmic level of the line.
Arthur Kinney, Connotations, Vol. 27: 106-19.
Faulkner’s decision to follow the advice of Sherwood Anderson and write about his homeland necessitated examining, recording and preserving the American South with Mississippi, where he was born and bred, as representative. The first work, Flags in the Dust, depicted his own great-grandfather’s family. Race was incidental and superficial in the scene comparing black men to mules, though inferior in temperament, and in the sketchy portrait of Elnora, barely suggestive and never interpreted. This example is extended in The Sound and the Fury where Dilsey seems to play a salvational role but, closely examined, is little more than a stereotype of the beloved mammy. Joe Christmas in Light in August is enigmatic; yet he does not ever know his true bloodline.
Faulkner’s inescapable need to get past white stereotypes is recorded in Quentin Compson’s final self-confrontation. A year later Elwood Higginbottom was the victim of the last ritual lynching in Mississippi–Faulkner did not see it on the outskirts of Oxford in the black section of Four Corners but his nephew did. Forced in his complete picture of Yoknapatawpha-Lafayette counties, Faulkner necessarily kept returning to the portrayal of blacks. It was, in the end, his direct confrontation and inclusion of the Elwood Higganbottom’s lynching that he entered not only the circumstances but the minds of black life. When returning to it in Go Down, Moses he rearranged chronology to make it more distant but not less powerful. This displays most effectively the integrity of his life-long project and prepares for the later and last writings concentrated on civil rights and social justice.
Filippo Falcone, Connotations, Vol. 27: 78-105.
The vast majority of Milton scholars today holds to Milton’s authorship of the seventeenth-century Latin treatise of divinity known as De Doctrina Christiana. This conviction has hardly been shaken since the publication of Campbell, Corns, Hale and Tweedie’s Milton and the Manuscript of De Doctrina Christiana (2007). Campbell, Corns, Hale, and Tweedie’s work can be seen as the climax of a debate on the authorship of the treatise that was first stirred by William B. Hunter’s “The Provenance of the Christian Doctrine” in 1992. The present article identifies elements of discontinuity between Milton’s undisputed corpus and De Doctrina Christiana that raise considerable doubt as to the attribution of the treatise to Milton or its place in Milton’s production and consequent bearing on Milton’s major poems. Such elements are either pointed out here for the first time or presented for the first time in an orderly fashion so as to dispute the majority view.
Daniel Avitzour, Connotations, Vol. 27: 48-77.
The ending of Hemingway’s 1927 story, “Hills Like White Elephants” was interpreted for decades in one way: the female protagonist surrenders to her partner’s wishes that she undergo abortion. Around 1980, new readings of the story’s ending story began to appear. This article proposes a system for classifying the professional readings.
In addition, two groups of ordinary readers were asked to express their opinions. One group of participants was exposed to the professionals’ interpretations and the other was not.
An explanation of these surveys’ results seems to require three subjective criteria for evaluating a reading: simplicity, plausibility and morality. Simplicity concerns the relationship between the text and the fictional world created by the reader. Plausibility has to do with the verisimilitude of the fictional world created by the reader, as judged by the reader’s extra-textual knowledge. Morality is the extent to which the reading renders the story compatible with the reader’s values.
Lena Linne, Connotations, Vol. 27: 19-47.
Alice Oswald’s Memorial (2011) is an adaptation of the Iliad that leaves out the narrative passages and the speeches made by the characters. What remains of Homer’s epic are merely two of its elements: the epic similes and the brief sketches or obituaries that Homer provides of the men fallen in battle. In giving us the Iliad without its plot, Oswald clearly imposes a limitation upon herself. However, she considers this limitation a liberation. She calls Memorial an “excavation” of the Iliad (as if Homer’s poem were buried under its plot); she also suggests that Memorial “will have its own coherence as a series of memories and similes laid side by side: an antiphonal account of man in his world.”
The new coherence suggested by Oswald relies on the recontextualisation of the similes, whose meaning is changed as they are removed from their original context, often that of a victorious soldier preparing for battle, and attached to an obituary, i.e. to a defeated victim. Homer’s similes easily adapt to such recontextualisations because of their elaborate structure; the new context means that a different aspect of this structure is emphasised. In a simile about a predator chasing its prey, for instance, the emphasis shifts from the former to the latter.
The new coherence of the similes is also informed by Oswald’s poetics, which can be inferred from her comments on Memorial but also from self-reflexive passages in the poem itself. These poetics are paratactic. Sentences or episodes are not tributary elements in a unified whole but juxtaposed in a non-hierarchical way. Likewise, similes are not subordinate to obituaries; they do not illustrate them but respond to them. The two elements are placed “side by side,” in a balanced, antiphonal manner. This means that, in Memorial, the analogies between a simile and its context are not signposted as they are in the Iliad; they are often opaque and hidden away in puns, posing a considerable challenge to the reader. Moreover, the analogies are frequently accompanied by striking contrasts. Death is counterbalanced with survival, the grim world of the battlefield with natural or domestic worlds in which life-sustaining routines prevail.
Matthias Bauer, Connotations, Vol. 27: 1-18.
From July 30 to August 3, 2017, the 14th International Connotations Symposium took place at Mülheim an der Ruhr in Germany. Its topic, “Self-Imposed Fetters: The Productivity of Formal and Thematic Restrictions,” will now become the theme of a special section in the journal. Beginning with this issue, a selection of essays based on the talks given at the conference, as well as responses and other contributions to the subject, will be published in our peer-reviewed, open-access format.
The theme is typical of the Connotations agenda in that it combines a specific theoretical or poetological concept with aspects of style and form. As distinct from a number of earlier topics, however, it focuses on the field of poetic production. In the following, I will explain what has given rise to discussing “Self-Imposed Fetters” by considering three sonnets that reflect on the restriction imposed by their own form. I will then distinguish three areas in which restrictions deliberately chosen by writers become productive, a process that will be explored in greater detail by the articles and responses to be published in this special section. As a last step, the most tentative of the three, I will consider what sort of literary production is paradoxically unleashed by the imposition of fetters and if there are any rules governing this process.
Carl Plasa, Connotations, Vol. 26: 163-203.
As its “Preface” states, David Dabydeen’s “Turner” (1994) takes its inspiration from Joseph Mallord William Turner’s Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhon Coming On (1840), more commonly known as The Slave Ship. Dabydeen’s reading of Turner’s celebrated painting (and of Ruskin’s famous commentary on it) has been widely debated by critics, but, as this essay demonstrates, “Turner” has an intertextual life that extends far beyond The Slave Ship and the Ruskinian response to it. The essay develops this argument, in the first instance, by showing how Ruskin’s influence on Dabydeen’s poem is traceable not only to his enraptured account of The Slave Ship but also other parts of the chapter, in Modern Painters, vol. 1 (1843), which that account rounds off. As the essay goes on to show, it is not just that these elements of Ruskin’s chapter have been all but overlooked by intertextual analyses of “Turner” but that two other works have been similarly neglected: Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1606) and Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987). These texts demand our attention as still more significant sources for Dabydeen’s poem and contribute much to a new understanding of its disturbing imaginative vision.
Jayne Thomas, Connotations, Vol. 26: 141-162.
This article reexamines Wordsworth’s influence in Tennyson’s 1860 dramatic monologue, “Tithonus.” Tennyson’s poem sounds with well-tracked Wordsworthian echoes and allusions, many of which allude directly to “Tintern Abbey” (1798); critics have pointed out, for instance, how “Tithonus” replicates “Tintern Abbey”’s narrative of returning, of the self reencountering itself in time. But the poem also resonates with inadvertent or unconscious “echoes” to Wordsworth, which rework the connection between memory and nature that underpins the narrative of return in “Tintern Abbey.” Using the term “echo” itself as its methodology, the article reveals how “Tithonus” contains more echoes to Wordsworth than previously recognised, echoes that enable Tennyson to revise, rather than simply to refashion, Wordsworth’s poetic trope. The article goes on to examine how the revisionary process at work in the poem is linked to the form of the monologue, which is already establishing a difference from Wordsworth in its rejection of Romantic universal subjectivity and its adoption of a fictional and performative persona; in reworking Wordsworth’s interaction between mind and nature, “Tithonus” is thus consolidating a new poetic alongside revising a somewhat anachronistic poetic trope. However, as the article will also show “Tithonus” comes to rely on the broken fragments of the same Wordsworthian narrative it has itself dismantled.