Shelley’s Lucretianism

Growing Old Together: Lucretian Materialism in Shelley’s “Poetry of Life”

by Amanda Jo Goldstein

Goldstein’s essay, published in Representations 128, explores Percy Shelley’s The Triumph of Life as a strategic revival of Lucretian poetic science: a materialism fit to connect the epochal, romantic interest in biological life to the period’s pressing new sense of its own historicity. Shelley mobilizes Lucretian natural simulacra to show how personal bodies produce and integrate passages of historical time, exercising a poetics of transience that resists the triumphalism characteristic of both historiography and vitalist biology in the post-Waterloo period. Representing aging faces as mutable registers of the “living storm” of a post-Napoleonic interval, The Triumph depicts the face-giving trope of prosopopoeia as the unintended work of multitudes—demonstrating a nineteenth-century possibility of thinking biological, historical, and rhetorical materialisms together.


The Triumph of Life was made famous,” says Goldstein, “in late twentieth-century criticism, for the way its ‘disfigured’ faces allegorized the verbal and material violence inherent in figuration as a function of reparative reading. In this article, however, I attempt to show how The Triumph’s last lines pointedly cease to construe figuration as a principally verbal or cognitive process at all. The neglected ‘new Vision’ (434) with which Shelley’s poem breaks off instead urges readers to review the scene of life that The Triumph of Life has been showing all along, but this time under changed philosophical and poetic premises about the relation between life, matter, and trope. For Shelley summons a very old poetic science to achieve his ‘new Vision,’ pointedly depositing the poem’s speakers and its readers in the midst of a closely adapted scene from Lucretius’s classical materialist epic, De rerum natura (c. 55 BCE). This ancient atomist scene construes the sensation of ‘Vision’ itself as a mode of figuration and a feature of material transience.” Read more …

AMANDA GOLDSTEIN is Assistant Professor of English at Cornell University. She is the author of essays on Herder’s poetic empiricism, Goethean morphology, and William Blake and the present-day revival of Lamarckian evolutionary theory.


The Mask of “Judaism”

“Judaism” as Political Concept: Toward a Critique of Political Theology

by David Nirenberg

The author begins:

“Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies bears an enigmatic subtitle: A Study in Medieval Political Theology. Enigmatic because although ‘political theology’ may be an allusion to Carl Schmitt’s 1922 book by that name, the meaning of the allusion remains elusive: Kantorowicz provided no commentary. My title, too, is meant to resonate with one of Schmitt’s, in this case his Concept of the Political. I will not be cryptic about my claim, which is that key European conceptions of the political—including Carl Schmitt’s—emerged through thinking about Judaism. Here I don’t mean Judaism as a historical or lived religion, but Judaism as a figure of Christian thought, a figure produced by the efforts of generations of thinkers to make sense of the world, a figure projected into that world and constitutive of it.

“’Political theology,’ I will suggest, is a conception of the political that emerged through Christian projections of Jewish enemies. Like so many other concepts, its meanings are multiple and unstable across time, but I will use the phrase only in a very general sense common to Schmitt and Kantorowicz, as well as to many other thinkers: that of a grounding of human political action in a commandment of obedience to the sovereign authority of God. I hope to convince the reader, first, that the representation of Jewish enmity has been historically important to the theorization of Christian political theology; and second, that this importance is not primarily the product of some essential aspect of lived (not to say ‘real’) Judaism, but was rather produced by the key terms and practices of Christian thought.” Continue reading …

Nirenberg In this article David Nirenberg traces a long history in Christian political thought of linking politics, statecraft, and worldly authority to the broader category of carnal literalism, typed as “Jewish” by the Pauline tradition. This tradition produced a tendency to discuss political error in terms of Judaism, with the difference between mortal and eternal, private and public, tyrant and legitimate monarch, mapped onto the difference between Jew and Christian. As a result of this history, transcendence as a political ideal has often figured (and perhaps still figures?) its enemies as Jewish.

DAVID NIRENBERG is Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Professor of Medieval History and Social Thought at the University of Chicago, Dean of the Division of the Social Sciences, and Founding Director of the university’s Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society. His books have focused on how Jewish, Christian, and Islamic societies have interacted with and thought about each other. These include Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages (1996); Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition (2013); Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism Medieval and Modern (2014); and the forthcoming Aesthetic Theology and Its Enemies: Judaism in Christian Painting, Poetry, and Politics (Spring 2015).

Three Responses to “Ulysses by Numbers”

Eric Bulson’s “Ulysses by Numbers” (Representations 127) asks the literal question, “Why is James Joyce’s Ulysses as long as it is?” Here we have three responses to his question, his methods, and his conclusions:

JAMES F. ENGLISH | The Resistance to Counting, Recounting

Eric Bulson takes it as given that “quantitative readings of literature . . . get a bad rap.”   Indeed, the presumed hostility of literary scholars toward quantitative analysis provides the necessary friction for his essay, lending argumentative force and methodological point to what might otherwise seem a rather narrowly focused piece. And it is to highlight the wider stakes involved in Bulson’s contrarian decision to count rather than simply read the words of Ulysses that the editors have invited this accompanying cluster of responses and reflections.

I’m in no position to challenge the view of literary studies as a bastion of numerophobia. I wrote a few years ago that a “negative relation to numbers” is “foundational” to literary studies, which occupies a structural position in the university as the quintessential non-counting discipline. But what strikes me now is that neither Bulson nor I, nor anyone else hoping to expand the space for quantitative analysis in literary research, has presented any quantitative evidence to support this picture of literary scholars as the determined enemies of counting. Wouldn’t “quantitative data… actually help us” in this respect, too, enabling us to take the measure of our presumed hyper-commitment to the qualitative, to calculate its degree and scale relative to other disciplines and to other moments in our own history? (Continue reading … )

DAVID KURNICK | Numberiness

“We can indeed count” words, Eric Bulson observes, and concludes that therefore “the counting must go on” (4).  The reasons to move from the first remark to the second will not be self-evident to everyone.  But “Ulysses by Numbers” gives an unprecedentedly intimate sense of Joyce’s compositional practice, offering not just a fascinating picture of how Ulysses grew but also an account of why it grew in the increments it did.  Perhaps the most surprising discovery here for Joyce scholars is the fact that, as Bulson puts it, “even after serialization stopped, Joyce was still writing by the numbers” (26): even released from the 6,000-word increments suggested by Pound for the novel’s serial installments, Joyce kept creating at scales of 6,000.  It turns out that “Circe,” which seems to obey no rules save the volcanic logics of the unconscious and Joyce’s own ambition, is dutifully designed to fit into eight installments of The Little Review.  Figure 9, where you can see this finding visualized, offers a startling picture of genius in compromise with the materiality of publication.

Bulson thus indisputably helps us get a sharper sense of how “the serial logic of length” (6) conditioned this particular masterwork.  Accordingly, my questions about his essay are less about the findings themselves than his account of them, and they concern the charisma that the rhetoric of number itself exerts in the essay.  Surely Bulson’s most provocative claim is that his method will help us get at Ulysses’ “numerical unconscious” (4).  The formulation suggests an opaque but determining structure whose revelation will be decisive for our sense of the meaning of the whole.  And Bulson does tend to connect number with causality in just this way.  “More words on the page but fewer seconds passing in the plot: that is a discovery Joyce made while writing Ulysses” (19).  This can’t really be said to be a discovery, though, since Joyce could have learned that discursive time affects diegetic time from (to pick a name not quite at random) Homer, who interrupts a classic action-movie moment—an arrow whizzing by Menelaos—with a startling simile about Athena deflecting it “the way a mother / would keep a fly from settling on a child / when he is happily asleep”[1]: the words take longer to read (or to hear recited) than an arrow to miss its mark, and even longer if you pause to think about them.  And “more words” is only one way texts slow down story-time: arcane or boring or made-up words can achieve a similar end with relative verbal economy, as can disorienting shifts in point of view, or a lot of jokes, or odd images.  Every attempted reader of Finnegans Wake knows that the number of words on the page has relatively little to do with how long it takes to read that page and how much time it seems is passing in the “plot” as you do so (if I had to quantify, I’d say that word count in the Wake isn’t even the half of it). (Continue reading … )

HOYT LONG and RICHARD JEAN SO | “A Hail of Information”: Ulysses, Topic Modeled

What can a quantitative analysis of style tell us about James Joyce’s Ulysses? Quite a lot, according to Eric Bulson. In his “Ulysses by Numbers,” Bulson uses some of the simplest forms of “stylometrics”—word counts and measures of lexical diversity—to provide new insights into some fundamental questions: why do the novel’s episodes get longer? What’s the relationship between an episode’s length and its plot? Bulson productively correlates the concrete evidence given by word counts with questions of composition and the material constraints of serialization. While the straightforward empiricism of his argument is a strength, it left us to wonder what it misses by treating words as homogenous numerical units abstracted from their semantic contexts. But not because we believe numbers and counting are unsuited to an interpretation of the novel. One of Bulson’s great insights is that counting is hardly alien to the project of reading Ulysses, an insight encapsulated in an epigraph from Hugh Kenner (“‘Words’ are blocks delimited by spaces. So we can count them.”). For us, the question is how to push this counting further. Can we count the words in ways that do not elide their contextual signifying power? Kenner too was interested not just in the number of words on the page, but the likelihood of certain words appearing with others, in what he called “space-time block[s] of words.”[1]

As quantitative approaches to text analysis have evolved, they have similarly shifted from counting words to counting collocations of words, and even collocations of collocations. One popular innovation along these lines is probabilistic topic modeling, which we propose here as a method for exposing what Kenner calls Ulysses’s larger “verbal systems.”[2] What we discover in the process is in part obvious—that topic modeling as a method of counting is also constrained by its assumptions about words as numerical units and their relation to each other. Ulysses troubles these assumptions, which amount to a highly particular theory of information. Precisely because it does so, however, topic modeling the novel also reveals something of how the novel functions as its own form of literary information. If word counts help us understand Joyce as a “mechanical counter,” topic models help us understand him as a careful “arranger” of latent verbal structures.[3] (Continue reading … )

Chronicle of Higher Ed on “Surface Reading”

“The New Modesty in Literary Criticism”


Jeffrey J. Williams’s recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, in identifying a shift toward a new, more empirical, method of literary study, focuses significantly on “surface reading,” the subject of an influential special issue of Representations: “The Way We Read Now” (Fall 2009), edited by Sharon Marcus and Stephen Best.

According to Williams, “a good deal of contemporary criticism has performed ‘symptomatic reading,’ a term that conveys looking for the hidden meaning of a text, using, for example, Marxian, Freudian, or deconstructive interpretation…. Surface reading instead focuses on ‘what is evident, perceptible, apprehensible in texts,’ as Best and Marcus put it. Thus the critic is no longer like a detective who doesn’t trust the suspect but more the social scientist who describes the manifest statements of a text.”

Indeed, as Marcus and Best point out in their introduction to “The Way We Read Now,” “The essays [included in the issue] remind us that as much as our objects of study may conceal the structures that give rise to them, they also wear them on their sleeves.”

Find “The Way We Read Now” online, or read pieces by other authors working in this vein (such as Margaret Cohen, Elaine Freedgood, Cannon Schmitt, Eric Bulson, and others) in more recent numbers of Representations, especially the special issue “Denotatively, Technically, Literally” (Winter 2014), edited by Freedgood and Schmitt.

The Forest in the Tree

The Selbst Gewählter Plan: The Schildbach Wood Library in Eighteenth-Century Hessen-Kassel

by Alice Goff

Representations 128

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“In the last decades of the eighteenth century, Carl Schildbach, an unremarkable man living in Kassel, created a remarkable object: a library consisting of 546 intricate wooden boxes of various sizes styled as books and approximating folio, octavo, and duodecimo formats. Nearly every volume was made of a different species of tree, with 120 genera and 441 species represented. The trees were gathered from the forests and estates of the landgrave, where the uneducated Schildbach lived and was employed as the caretaker of the menagerie. In 1788 Schildbach printed a pamphlet announcing his ‘Holz-Bibliothek nach selbst gewähltem Plan’ or ‘Wood Library According to Self-Determined Plan,’ which had, ‘through inexhaustible skill, practical research, and repeated revision been bought to the state of completion in which it may be found presently.’” Continue reading …

Goff’s essay looks at how Schildbach’s wood library addressed the gap between the materials of nature and the materials of nature’s explanation, which troubled efforts to know and manage the forest in this period.

ALICE GOFF is a graduate student in the history department at the University of California, Berkeley, where her research focuses on the relationships between ideas and objects in the history of museums. She is working on a dissertation about the physical interactions between people and artworks in the first public art museums in German cities from 1779–1830.

Anime and Cosmic Subjectivity

A Blue Cat on the Galactic Railroad: Anime and Cosmic Subjectivity

by Paul Roquet

Representations 128

“Looking up at the stars,” begins Roquet, “does not demand much in the way of movement: the muscles in the back of the neck contract, the head lifts. But in this simple turn from the interpersonal realm of the Earth’s surface to the expansive spread of the night sky, subjectivity undergoes a quietly radical transformation. Social identity falls away as the human body gazes into the light and darkness of its own distant past. To turn to the stars is to locate the material substrate of the self within the vast expanse of the cosmos.RoquetOnlineFig1

“In the 1985 adaptation of Miyazawa Kenji’s classic Japanese children’s tale Night on the Galactic Railroad by anime studio Group TAC, this turn to look up at the Milky Way comes to serve as an alternate horizon of self-discovery for a young boy who feels ostracized at school and has difficulty making friends. The film experiments with the emergent anime aesthetics of limited animation, sound, and character design, reworking these styles for a larger cultural turn away from social identities toward what I will call cosmic subjectivity, a form of self-understanding drawn not through social frames, but by reflecting the self against the backdrop of the larger galaxy.”

In the 1980s, Japanese animation shifted its focus away from the social self and toward cosmic subjectivity, the framing of intensely personal emotions within the larger impersonal expanse of the universe. Roquet’s essay examines Night on the Galactic Railroad as a signal moment in this shift, as it emphasizes the interpenetration of the microcosmic and macrocosmic through a range of experiments with “limited” animation, sound design, and character design that would in turn influence the imaginary worlds of later anime.

PAUL ROQUET is an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in the Humanities at Stanford University. He is currently finishing a book on ambient media, therapy culture, and the aesthetics of atmosphere in neoliberal Japan.

Sarah Winter presents “ ‘Have-his-carcase’: Habeas Writs, (Human) Rights, and Pickwick”

WinterSarah Winter, Professor of English and Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Connecticut, will present an upcoming talk at UC Berkeley entitled “’Have-his-carcase’: Habeas Writs, (Human) Rights, and Pickwick.”

The event will take place on Monday, December 8 at 5pm in 306 Wheeler Hall. The talk will focus on a pre-circulated paper (to obtain a copy, contact Wendy Xin at The event is sponsored by the Nineteenth Century British Cultural Studies Townsend Center Working Group and the Florence Green Bixby Chair in English.

Sarah Winter’s essay, “Darwin’s Saussure: Biosemiotics and Race in Expressions,” winner of the North American Victorian Studies Association’s Donald Gray Prize for the best article in Victorian studies from 2009, is available in Representations 107 (Summer 2009).

New Issue, Representations 128

REP128_Cover.inddRepresentations 128

DAVID NIRENBERG   ”Judaism” as Political Concept: Toward a Critique of Political Theology

ALICE GOFF   The Selbst Gewählter Plan: The Schildbach Wood Library in Eighteenth-Century Hessen-Kassel

AMANDA JO GOLDSTEIN   Growing Old Together: Lucretian Materialism in Shelley’s “Poetry of Life”

CHRISTOPHER L. HILL   Crossed Geographies: Endō and Fanon in Lyon

PAUL ROQUET   A Blue Cat on the Galactic Railroad: Anime and Cosmic Subjectivity

Distant Reading and the Blurry Edges of Genre

Ted Underwood, contributor to Representations‘ recent special forum Search, continues his engagement with digital questions on his own blog, The Stone and the Shell, with Maria_Mitchell

Distant Reading and the Blurry Edges of Genre. 

Having just spent two years attempting to subdivide an entire digital library by genre, Underwood encountered some interesting problems. “In particular, the problem of ‘dividing a library by genre,’” he says, “has made me realize that literary studies is constituted by exclusions that are a bit larger and more arbitrary than I used to think.”

Underwood’s contribution to the Representations Search forum, Theorizing Research Practices We Forgot to Theorize Twenty Years Ago, asks what it means to say that search plays an “evidentiary role in scholarship”:

“Quantitative methods have been central to the humanities since scholars began relying on full-text search to map archives. But the intellectual implications of search technology are rendered opaque by humanists’ habit of considering algorithms as arbitrary tools. To reflect more philosophically, and creatively, on the hermeneutic options available to us, humanists may need to converse with disciplines that understand algorithms as principled epistemological theories. We need computer science, in other words, not as a source of tools but as a theoretical interlocutor.”

Full text of this article can be found at JSTOR.

Hinterwaldner Essay Wins Schachterle Prize

Inge Hinterwaldner’s Parallel Lines as Tools for Making Turbulence Visible (Representations 124) has won the 2104 Schachterle Essay Prize from the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSA).

“Building on actor-network theory and the history of photographic and cinematic technologies, Inge Hinterwaldner’s article is an elegant, smart, and meaningful contribution to scholarship in science and technology studies that examines the use of experimental visualization to model turbulence in air and water around 1900. The essay discusses how two physicists–Etienne-Jules Marey and Friedrich Ahlborn–contrived to make visible, to measure, and to record these phenomena.” –from the SLSA prize announcement

The Schachterle Prize is awarded annually by the SLSA in recognition of the best new essay on literature and science written in English by a nontenured scholar.

Inge Hinterwaldner’s research interests include computer-based art and architecture, image theory, model theory, and temporality in the visual arts. Her first book is entitled Das systemische Bild (The systemic image; Munich, 2010).