Breaking News! Yurchak Wins Russia’s Prosvetitel Prize

Congratulations to Representations editorial board member Alexei Yurchak, whose Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation («Это было навсегда, пока не кончилось») has been awarded Russia’s prestigious 2015 Prosvetitel Prize. The English version of the book was published in 2006 and shortly thereafter won the Wayne Vucinic Book Award for best book of the year from the American Society for Eastern European, Eurasian, and Slavic Studies. The expanded version, rewritten by Yurchak in Russian and published last year, was one of four books nominated for the Prosvetitel Prize in the humanities.


Yurchak accepts the Prosvetitel Prize in Moscow.

Yurchak’s much talked about “Bodies of Lenin: The Hidden Science of Communist Sovereignty” appeared earlier this year in Representations 129.

Alexei Yurchak’s “Everything Was Forever …” Nominated for Russia’s Prosvetitel Prize

Jurchak_coverCongratulations to Representations editorial board member Alexei Yurchak, whose Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation («Это было навсегда, пока не кончилось») has been short-listed for Russia’s prestigious 2015 Prosvetitel Prize. Published in Russian last year, the book was first published in English in 2006, and shortly thereafter won the Wayne Vucinic Book Award for best book of the year from the American Society for Eastern European, Eurasian, and Slavic Studies.

Yurchak’s much talked about “Bodies of Lenin: The Hidden Science of Communist Sovereignty” appeared earlier this year in Representations 129.

Representations’ Michael Lucey in conversation with Rita Felski

Michael Lucey, Professor of French and Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley and member of the Representations editorial board, will participate in a conversation with Rita Felski, William R. Kenan Professor of English at the University of Virginia and editor of New Literary History, on “Attachment Theory,” following Felski’s lecture on the topic.



The event will take place on Thursday, November 19 at 5:30 p.m., in the Maude Fife Room (315 Wheeler Hall) at UC Berkeley.


Felski will also participate in a colloquium the following day on her recent book, The Limits of Critique, which engages in ongoing debates about modes of reading in which Representations has been central (see Representations 108, “The Way We Read Now” [Fall 2009]). The colloquium will take place in 300 Wheeler Hall on Friday, November 20 from 12-2 p.m.

Quirk Historicism: A Special Forum, Representations 132

In the wake of New Historicism, eight music scholars reflect on the recent tendency to use objets trouvés and historical micronarratives for interpretation. The editors of the forum, Nicholas Mathew and Mary Ann Smart, introduce the thread of the quirk historicist phenomenon and contemplate its implications.


This introduction begins (free download):


Jean Pierre Louis Laurent Houël: ‘‘Les eléphants représentes dans l’instant de premières caresses qu’ils se sont faites après qu’on leur a fait entendre de la musique,” in Histoire Naturelle des deux Elephants, male et femelle, du Muséum de Paris (Paris, 1803).

Despite a suffix that suggests kinship with taxonomic enterprises such as zoology or the earliest phases of anthropology, musicology may rank as one of the most permissive of humanistic fields. In journals and at conferences, philological research and source studies rub shoulders with work on the philosophy of music, close readings, reception history, and microhistory. Yet, as in literary studies, one central question has troubled the field for at least a quarter-century: that of the status of the “texts” (musical works, as notated or performed) whose interpretation and explanation traditionally anchored much musicological writing. As both the canon of works that merited this type of attention and the analytical tools used to explicate them were destabilized, scholarly energies turned toward narrating historical accounts of musical environments. In the wake of this suspicion of close reading, many musicologists became collectors of curiosities, assembling and scrutinizing disparate objects, events, and documents in order to understand how past communities of listeners and practitioners used music, why they created and cared about the kinds of music they did.

Before this collecting impulse took hold, history often meant “context.” Musical works could be enriched, but at the same time shown to be functional and contingent, by accounts that placed them in ready-made historical frames supplied by the locations in which art was produced or by big-picture histories—the French Revolution, the Third Reich, the Napoleonic Wars. And like most such cross-disciplinary borrowings, the imported concepts were sometimes flattened out, as if they had passed through the brain’s “abstract thought” region, as imagined in the Pixar movie Inside Out. As the kinds of history practiced by music historians have become more fine-grained and more material, there is a temptation to look down on earlier approaches as schematic or simplistic; but it is worth remembering that those contextual dyads (“music and . . . ”) were welcome and necessary excuses to talk about music—even instrumental music, symphonies and the like—in relation to categories such as gender, race, and nation, whose admission into musicological thought was long overdue.

Once musicologists began to take notice of New Historicism, any such tidy or schematic versions of history quickly fell by the wayside. New Historicism’s trademark deployment of the anecdote upended the apparent clarity and coherence of context and blurred the distinction between texts and contexts, dispersing both into more complex discursive constellations. The kinds of historical material potentially available to the music scholar thus became nearly endless, the relevance of any particular detail depending mainly on the ingenuity and persuasive gifts of the writer. Such a précis could, with a few adjustments, apply to almost any humanistic discipline in the 1990s and 2000s. But in musicology, the objets trouvés and historical micronarratives that once obediently fell into contextual patterns or acted as isolated anecdotes have staged a kind of mutiny, multiplying in the service of a narrative logic that overwhelms and even supplants any larger critical goals. It is this tendency that we are calling quirk historicism. Continue reading … (free download)


On Being Moved/Against Objectivity

Musicology in the Garden

Pygmalion and the Music of Mere Interest

Bad Art, Quirky Modernism


Quirk Shame

NICHOLAS MATHEW is Associate Professor of Music at the University of California,  Berkeley. He is the author of Political Beethoven (Cambridge, 2013) and co-editor, with Benjamin Walton, of the collection The Invention of Beethoven and Rossini.

MARY ANN SMART also teaches in the Music Department of UC Berkeley. She is the author of Mimomania: Music and Gesture in Nineteenth-Century Opera and editor of Siren Songs: Representations of Gender and Sexuality in Opera. Her new book, Waiting for Verdi, will be published by the University of California Press in 2016.

New Issue, Representations 132

Number 132, Fall 2015 (Read on Highwire)

Absolutely Modern:
Dylan, Rimbaud, and Visionary Song

Brecht for Children: Shaping the Ideal GDR Citizen
Through Opera Education



SPECIAL FORUM: Quirk Historicism
Edited by Nicholas Mathew and Mary Ann Smart

Elephants in the Music Room: The Future of Quirk Historicism

On Being Moved/Against Objectivity

Musicology in the Garden

Pygmalion and the Music of Mere Interest

Bad Art, Quirky Modernism


Quirk Shame



RANDOLPH STARN   Touching the Intangible:
Toward an Alternative Genealogy of Intellectual Property

Nietzsche on Education

How the Philologist Became a Physician of Modernity: Nietzsche’s Lectures on German Education

by Paul Reitter and Chad Wellmon

The essay begins:

In January of 1869, Friedrich Nietzsche was offered a peach of a job—a professorship in classical philology at the University of Basel. Nietzsche was just twenty-four and far from completing his dissertation, but the university’s standards for employment were looser than those of its German counterparts. Nietzsche was delighted, so much so that upon learning the good news, he broke into song: he spent the rest of the day singing melodies from Tannhäuser, his favorite opera. The position, to be sure, had what some scholars might have considered a drawback. On top of teaching eight hours a week at the University, Nietzsche would be required to give an additional six hours of instruction at a local Gymnasium But this wouldn’t be a problem, Nietzsche had told his Doktorvater, Friedrich Ritschl, one of Germany’s most renowned classicists. Ritschl passed that message on to the hiring committee, along with his imprimatur, and the appointment was made.

nietzsche-musicWhen Nietzsche set off for Basel, then, Ritschl likely felt confident that he had helped launch another brilliant academic career. Yet only a year later, Nietzsche had begun to move away from the kind of work—studies of Diogenes Laërtius, contributions to an Aeschylus lexicon, analyses of Roman and Greek meter—that had so enthused his mentor, prompting him to tout Nietzsche as the most precocious student he had ever seen. Nietzsche had also begun to show signs of deep disillusionment. Indeed, he pledged to a friend that he would “publicly expose” the whole Prussian system of education.

Nietzsche soon made good on his promise through a series of lectures titled On the Future of Our Educational Institutions, which were held at Basel’s city museum between January and March of 1872. In these presentations, Nietzsche took aim at all of Germany’s chief institutions of postprimary learning: the Realschule, the Gymnasium, and the university. He also attacked individual academic specializations, including his own field. Philology, he maintained, was both a key symptom and a cause of a larger process of cultural decline. Nietzsche’s Basel lectures are notable for a number of reasons, including the new urgency and depth gained by Nietzsche’s early reckoning with his discipline and the German educational system as a whole. When situated within the conditions and debates to which they respond, the lectures reveal how Nietzsche the philologist became the physician of modernity and its ills. Continue reading …

This article makes the case that the lecture series On the Future of Our Educational Institutions, which Friedrich Nietzsche held in 1872 and scholars have long neglected, marks a crucial point in the development of the philosopher’s outlook. In doing so, the article shows that Nietzsche’s lectures resonate in suggestive ways with twenty-first-century debates about higher education.

PAUL REITTER is the director of the Humanities Institute at Ohio State University, where he also teaches in the German Department. His most recent book is Bambi’s Jewish Roots and Other Essays on German-Jewish Culture (Bloomsbury, 2015).

CHAD WELLMON is an associate Professor of German at the University of Virginia and author, most recently, of Organizing Enlightenment: Information Overload and the Invention of the Modern Research University (Johns Hopkins, 2015). His  “Touching Books: Diderot, Novalis, and the Encyclopedia of the Future” appeared in Representations 114 (Spring 2011).

James Davies presents “Romantic Anatomies of Performance”

Davies_book_Oct_chatJames Q. Davies, Associate Professor of Music Scholarship at UC Berkeley, will present a talk at UC Berkeley entitled “Romantic Anatomies of Performance.” Part of the Berkeley Book Chats series sponsored by the Townsend Center for the Humanities, the event will take place on Wednesday, October 14, from noon to 1pm in the Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall.

Davies’s essay, “On Being Moved/Against Objectivity,” is forthcoming in Representations 132. Part of a special forum on “Quirk Historicism,” the essay identifies the ‘‘soft modernist’’ provenance of recent scholarship through an account of musical rocks named and mythologized in the nineteenth century.


Still Time to Apply for Representations-Townsend Center Event Grant

Deadline fast approaching: October 15, 5:00 pm.

Representations-Townsend Center Collaborative Grant Competition

Starting in the 2015–2016 academic year, Representations will be collaborating with the Townsend Center for the Humanities to present an annual event—a lecture, colloquium, or symposium—to be held on the UC Berkeley campus.

The event will bring together a small number of people from UC Berkeley and beyond, around a focused theme. It is the hope of the sponsors that the events will lead to a special section in, or a special issue of, Representations and/or result in a volume in the Townsend Center’s Berkeley Forum in the Humanities book series.

Up to $5,000 is offered per proposal. Accepted proposals for Spring 2016 will be announced by November 20.

Call for Proposals

Who may apply: All UCB faculty
What to submit: A detailed proposal of up to 750 words, including names of proposed participants and a rough budget
How to submit: Proposals may be sent via email to Representations:
Deadline: October 15

The Problematic Future of Higher Education

rsEUva6TiKzV6x129r9ybVVwx8aFfHapHBRwdSFCQUMKWV9ISAvYxv0wB-emHlIzQqV7fogqDbtzIsr9Pca6YOwWndfWk7Yy7R5xov-8UlH4zJvHTCRu8i8ngfZdJPzvBbyp9biYnJ9U9A=s0-d-e1-ftThe Center for Public Scholarship at The New School for Social Research presents The Problematic Future of Higher Education, a discussion on the ways in which higher education is changing with the demand for outcome-based education, the shift to MOOCs, and the challenging financial landscape students and universities face. The panel discussants include David Bromwich (Sterling Professor of English, Yale University), Andrew Delbanco (Alexander Hamilton Professor of American Studies, Columbia University), Richard Kahlenberg (Senior Fellow, Century Foundation), and Marina Warner (Professor of English and Creative Writing, Birkbeck, University of London). The discussion will be moderated by Kenneth Prewitt (Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs, School of International and Public Affair, Columbia University).


The free event will take place on October 13, from 6:15–8:15 pm, at The New School, 55 West 13th Street, New York, NY, in the Theresa Lang Community and Student Center, 2nd Floor.


A related discussion can be found in the Representations special issue, “The Humanities and the Crisis of The Public University” (116, Fall 2011).



Rebel Animals: John Gower’s Visio Anglie

Gower and the Peasants’ Revolt

by Ian Cornelius


The essay begins:

In June of 1381 the English government briefly lost control of significant portions of the realm. Sometimes called the Peasants’ Revolt, this concatenation of local insurrections was the largest rebellion of unenfranchised people in medieval England. It began as a tax rebellion: the first violent incident was against a royal commission investigating tax evasion in Essex and seeking to raise missing sums. In the following days, coalitions of peasants, laborers, and artisans in towns and villages across southeastern England organized themselves into a new authority directly opposed to the authority of the landlords and royal government. Properties belonging to the king’s hated councilors were destroyed; legal documents were seized from landlords and county officers, carried to town squares, and publicly burned; prisons were broken open and prisoners released. Many of the insurgents’ victims were directly involved in tax collection; others were well known as prominent officials of the county government. As news of the insurrection spread to neighboring counties, so too did insurrection itself. Meanwhile, detachments from Kent and Essex converged on London, where they hoped to present their grievances to the young king. When Richard retreated into the Tower and declined to hear the accusations against his councilors, the rebels struck out on their own. On June 14, at Tower Hill, the king’s chancellor and his treasurer were summarily executed as traitors to the realm. The murder of these two men belonged to the same series as the first events of the rising: the chancellor had presented the government’s enormous subsidy request at the Northampton Parliament the previous November; the treasurer had presided over collection of the tax. However, motives and grievances had now generalized well beyond matters of taxation. The demands that the rebels made to the bunkered king in London included regularization of terms of land tenure throughout the realm, removal of protective restrictions on the sale of agricultural produce, removal of the statutory prohibitions against free negotiation of wages, and abolition of serfdom.

The insurrection was broken almost as quickly as it arose, though with greater loss of life. Soon afterwards, the London poet John Gower wrote a new poem. A lawyer and rentier, Gower was distinguished from the principal targets of the rebels’ violence by his physical remove from the peasants whose surplus he extracted, and by his apparent abstention from government service. In 1381, Gower may already have been living in the Augustine priory of St. Mary Overie, situated at the southern end of London Bridge, over which the Kentish rebels crossed into the city on June 13. Gower’s poem on these events is named Visio Anglie in recent scholarship. It joins the Anonimalle Chronicle, the Westminster Chronicle, and the chronicle histories of Thomas Walsingham, Henry Knighton, and Jean Froissart as the most substantial literary treatments of the largest popular rebellion in premodern England. Visio Anglie is distinguished from these chronicles, however, by Gower’s unbridled fictive imagination, beside which the inventions of Walsingham and Froissart appear tame. In a different way, the fictive imagination of this poem distinguishes it from Gower’s own previous compositions. The poem on the rising is a vertiginous dream vision in Latin elegiac couplets. At the beginning, the Gower persona imagines he has taken a stroll into the fields to collect flowers on a pleasant summer day. He reaches the green space of aristocratic pleasure, only to find that “diverse hostile types of ordinary people were loitering in the fields in innumerable bands” (Diuersas plebis sortes vulgaris iniquas / Innumeris turmis ire per arua vagas). The dreamer is dazzled by fear and contempt. God’s curse falls upon the ordinary people and transforms them into animals. A second divine intervention causes each of the animals to abandon its own nature and take on the most homicidal qualities of wild, mythical, and scriptural beasts. They viciously presume to the status of noble animals, that is, of animals cultivated by nobility. They become fire-breathing, God-denying, property-thieving monsters. The rebel-animal-monsters unite under the leadership of a garrulous jay (the rebel leader Wat Tyler in Gower’s roman à clef) and storm the walls of Troy (that is, London). The great city is betrayed; chaos and devastation ensue. The defeated aristocrats entrust themselves to a ship representing the Tower of London. It floats out to sea, now pursued by the rebellion in the form of an ocean gale. Against that final incarnation of rebellion all defenses are futile, excepting only prayer.

194xpkry7xofhjpg As even this brief sketch demonstrates, Visio Anglie delivers an intoxicating blend of topicality and fictionality. Modern understanding of the poem has been advanced by a distinguished series of studies bearing on three interrelated compositional features. First, Gower’s depiction of rebels as deranged beasts has received astute commentary, clarifying the ideological work performed in that representational choice. The poet lingers over the braying, mooing, grunting, barking, howling, and screeching of the assembled rebel-animals (Visio, 799–830); he renders their political intentions utterly incoherent. A second node of scholarship, subtly qualifying the first, has attended to Gower’s borrowings from earlier Latin poetry. Gower routinely derived metrical phrases and whole lines from earlier poetry, especially Ovid. The poem is a dense texture of borrowed and repurposed language. Once scorned as “school-boy plagiarism,” these procedures are now understood to activate alternate and expanded contexts for the poem’s reported action. The metamorphosis of persons into beasts remains a judgment about the character of the rebels; but attendant allusions to Ovid’s Metamorphoses (inter alia) displace the whole represented action into a literary domain. The storehouse of Latin poetry accordingly attains an unlikely importance: it figures in Gower’s poem as the mental equipment necessary for a proper understanding of contemporary events. The result is that the insurgents are again denied any possibility of self-understanding: for them, meaning is simply foreclosed. More significantly, Gower’s citational procedures would seem to place limiting conditions on even the most qualified readers. The meaning of the rising will emerge only through and within an exercise in literary interpretation. Any such exercise would presumably need to account for the poem’s violent transgressions of literary decorum as well, and this brings us to the third major line of inquiry in recent scholarship. Thomme, Symme, Bette, and Iakke do not belong in a Latin poem in classical measures; their appearance in this one (Visio, 783–92) expresses, at the level of prosody, the offense committed by English laborers who forced their way into the homes and into the thoughts of their social superiors in June of 1381. The poem’s mash-up of earlier Latin poetry; its surrealistic shifts in character, setting, and generic mode; its extravagant mélange of Christian and pagan allusion; and even the first-person speaker’s bathetic indignity may all be read along similar lines: rarefied literary language resorts to self-harm at the limits of representation. Continue reading …

This essay examines the moral and political thought of John Gower’s poem on the English Rising of 1381, situating it within three contrastive fields: Gower’s moral project, his Virgilian intertext, and the practices of moral community employed by the rebels of 1381.

IAN CORNELIUS is Assistant Professor of English at Yale University. His work is focused on the literature and culture of late medieval England.