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.

The Shape of the Modern Week

Hebdomadal Form: Diaries, News, and the Shape of the Modern Week

by David Henkin

The essay begins:

On a September Saturday in 1846, Alabama medical student Charles Hentz scrambled to account for lost time in his diary. “As I have been negligent for another week, in keeping up my journal,” he wrote, he resolved to revisit the events of the past seven days. “I must make a kind of Hebdomary.” The following May, Hentz again referred to his “regular hebdomary,” excusing his failure to live up to the diary-keeping habits he had undertaken a year earlier with a distinctive lexical diversion and a common practical refrain. “So many things occupy me during the week, that I find it impossible to be regular in my journal.” Hentz was hardly alone among nineteenth-century American diarists in noting that weekly intervals often separated the entries in a book defined around the norm of daily regularity. The diary genre reckoned and homogenized days, but users habitually inscribed additional temporal patterns in their pages.

diaryThe particular weekly pattern that Hentz observed in his own handling of the diary impulse evokes a familiar modern temporality of retrospective accounting. It is utterly commonplace to consider the week in review, to take stock of our lives in seven-day inventories. But the power of that accounting practice reflects a larger and generally overlooked development in the history of timekeeping in the West over the past few centuries. As saints’ days, market days, informal festivity, seasonal rhythms, and other systems and strategies of calendrical differentiation declined in Western Europe, North America, and elsewhere, the regularity of the seven-day week became more conspicuous.

The historical significance of this development remains clouded by the week’s status as an anomalous institution in the history of modern time reckoning. The week is in one sense an ancient regime, often invoked by traditional cultural critics as a bulwark against the encroachments of modernity. But it is also a mechanical tracking device, indifferent to natural rhythms, that has proven especially congenial to market relations, capitalist reorganization of labor, the demands of long-distance communication, and the cultural logics of impersonal society—including the oft-cited homogeneity of time associated with the industrial era. The ostensibly homogeneous days of industrializing America, for example, conformed to a rigorously observed seven-day cycle and were marked in complex ways by their placement in that cycle. Even as the image of daily repetition enshrined itself in modern consciousness as a compelling symbol of ordinary activity and uneventful occurrence (expressed in metaphorical invocations of the quotidian and the everyday), seven-day rhythms and seven-day intervals helped organize the modern regime of the day. Modern weekly rhythms are complex historical artifacts, rooted in long histories of liturgy and labor. But they are also entrained in literary practice and encoded in texts. It is worth considering how proliferating habits of reading and writing may have helped confer weekly form upon daily order. Continue reading …

The spread and intensification of seven-day regimes remains a remarkable and understudied feature of the making of modernity. This essay explores the role of written form in that historical process in the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century, arguing that diaries and newspapers, two literary genres associated with the construction of the day as a measure of temporal significance, also registered and reinforced awareness of the week as a structuring rhythm in ordinary life.

DAVID HENKIN, Professor of History at UC Berkeley, is the author of City Reading, The Postal Age, and (with Rebecca McLennan) Becoming America.

From Death Mask to Portrait Bust

A Case of Corporate Identity: The Multiplied Face of Saint Antonino of Florence

by Urte Krass

The essay begins:

Strolling through an Italian diocesan museum or an exhibition on the art of the Italian Renaissance, a visitor will inevitably encounter many images of saints, alone or in groups, presenting themselves and their attributes to viewers inside and outside the picture within which they are framed. After a while, any reasonably observant viewer will notice that there is one face that stands out from the crowd of painted saints: that of Saint Bernardino of Siena, the Franciscan preacher and vicar general who died in 1444 and was canonized only six years later. One of the innumerable examples of this uniquely recognizable face is Antonio Colantonio’s Saint Francis Giving the Rule to His Disciples in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples (fig. 1). In the group of men on the left, the saints have been given individual faces by the careful artist. But Bernardino’s face seems markedly different; it seems to stem from our own world, whereas the individualization of the neighboring saints reminds us more of faces in the medieval sample books used in workshops. The beholder’s gaze is compelled by Bernardino’s authentic, emaciated, recognizable features, which are in stark contrast to the other saints’ obviously fictive faces.


Figure 1

Bernardino of Siena is the first saint whose face, that is, its recognizable physiognomy, is his most important attribute, and the first saint who, thus, can always be recognized even without other identifying characteristics. This is explained mainly by the fact that he was the first Christian saint whose death mask left its traces in further representations of him. Painters and sculptors would copy this mask when they wanted to represent the venerated mendicant friar. As a result, in fifteenth-century Italy, a new visual medium was invented for representing the saints: the veristic saint’s portrait bust, modeled after—or even directly from—the death mask. Continue reading …

This article focuses on the development of portrait busts of saints beginning in the early Renaissance. The category of the portrait bust, which emerged slightly before 1440, is characterized by its reference to—and at times even integration of—the death mask of the recently deceased saint. As such, these images must be seen in close relation to traditional head and bust reliquaries. The particular group of busts showing the features of the Florentine archbishop Antonino Pierozzi is here analyzed through hitherto obscure written sources, and the proliferation of Pierozzi’s bust is then related to that of other saints.

URTE KRASS works as Assistant Professor at the Institute for Art History of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich. Her research focuses on saints’ images from icon to photography, on early artistic theory in the Italian novelle of the fourteenth century, and, more recently, on the political use of images in Portugal and its overseas empire in the early modern period.


Call for Proposals

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

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


Representations’ Stephen Greenblatt on the Humanities

0_GreenblattStephen Greenblatt, Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University and a member of the founding board of Representations, will present a lecture entitled “In the Cave: The Humanities and the Human Condition.” The lecture will take place at 5:00pm on Thursday, September 3 in 315 Wheeler Hall (Maude Fife Room).

One of the oddest features of the Humanities is their almost complete lack of progress. With technology, science, and medicine, we expect and indeed demand the latest, most advanced version; with the Humanities the latest is not necessarily the best, and the aging of work–that is, distance from the immediate circumstances of our lives–simply does not matter. How is that possible? In this lecture, Greenblatt will talk about the paintings in the cave de Chauvet, from 30,000 years ago, and then turn to Gilgamesh, Genesis, and the Iliad. What do these artifacts, among the earliest that survive, have to tell us about the ways that the Humanities make us human?

Ramie Targoff presents “Untying Love’s Knots: Transforming Eros in the Sonnets of Vittoria Colonna”

Ramie Targoff, Professor of English and Director of the Mandel Center for the Humanities at Brandeis University, will present a talk at UC Berkeley entitled “Untying Love’s Knots: Transforming Eros in the Sonnets of Vittoria Colonna.“ The event will take place on Thursday, September 3 at 5:00pm in 300 Wheeler Hall.


Targoff’s article, “The Performance of Prayer: Sincerity and Theatricality in Early Modern England,” is available in Representations 60 (Fall 1997). More recently, she also published “Mortal Love: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and the Practice of Joint Burial” in Representations 120 (Fall 2012).

Novel Ethics

Reflexive Realism and Kinetic Ethics: The Case of Murakami Haruki’s 1Q84

by Christopher Weinberger


The essay begins:

In Anglo-European scholarship, theories of ethics in the novel over the last hundred years have drawn predominantly on the work of realist writers who, like Henry James (1843–1916) and Joseph Conrad (1857–1924), envelop verisimilar worlds in a literary haze, the multivalent ethos of which promises to resolve into real-life ethics under the right conceptual pressure. In Japanese scholarship, ethical criticism has similarly favored realist texts, bringing cultural studies approaches to the work of writers … who experiment with the capacity of literary language to represent the ambivalence and complexity of contemporaneous social experience. Despite methodological differences, ethical criticism in both Anglo-European and Japanese traditions of the novel has traditionally emphasized the mimetic capacity of the genre. This proclivity, in combination with the relative stagnation of studies on metafiction, has prevented recognition of an ethically driven reflexivity in the work of Murakami Haruki (1949–) and others.

Murakami has won international audiences and prizes, including the Jerusalem Prize and the Franz Kafka Prize, for novels describing how immersion in fictional worlds transforms the lives of characters. The Japanese literary community (bundan), however, has severely critiqued the ethics of his writing. Continue reading …

The recent metafictional novel 1Q84, by Japanese writer Murakami Haruki, has come under fire from literary critics for its apparent solipsism and misogyny. This essay argues that the novel makes a counterintuitive case for the continued relevance of novel ethics by pointing to the very real pressures that manifestly fictional beings—never mistaken for autonomous others and therefore never fully apprehensible as objects of empathetic identification—can place on characters and readers.

CHRISTOPHER WEINBERGER is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Comparative and World Literature at San Francisco State University. He is currently finishing a book manuscript, Triangulating an Ethos: Ethics of Self-Consciousness in Modern Japanese Prose Fiction. The manuscript examines formal experimentation, especially reflexive practices of self-critique, in Japanese prose fiction from the turn of the twentieth century in order to address critical issues in contemporary theories of novel ethics.

UC Conference Honors Thomas Laqueur

Conference in Honor of Thomas Laqueur

Helen Fawcett Distinguished Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley

Saturday-Sunday, September 5-6, 2015 | All Day
Social Science Matrix, 8th Floor, Barrows Hall, UC Berkeley

A pioneer of the new cultural history, Thomas Laqueur is a historian who has set intellectual landmarks across a number of fields; he is also a former director of UC’s Townsend Center for the Humanities and one of the founding editors of Representations. Students, friends, and colleagues will gather to celebrate Thomas Laqueur and his contributions to the University of California and his fields of study. Free and open to the public.

Representations essay awarded Donald Gray Prize


Congratulations to Cannon Schmitt, Professor of English at the University of Toronto, who has received the Donald Gray Prize for best essay published in the field of Victorian Studies. The essay, “Technical Maturity in Robert Louis Stevenson,” appeared in “Denotatively, Technically, Literally,” a special issue of Representations 125 (Winter 2014).

Technical language in novels, rare in itself, is still more rarely interpreted. Focusing on Robert Louis Stevenson’s bildungsromans, in this essay Cannon Schmitt argues that a technical maritime lexicon marks their protagonists’ accession to maturity. But that lexicon and the love for the world it attests to and demands also forces a redefinition of what it means to be mature, offering an open, adventurous, never-to-be completed Bildung that refuses the stasis of marriage or a settled profession.


“Progress of the Bell Rock Works,” engraving by William Miller, Figure ix, An Account of the Bell Rock Lighthouse by Robert Stevenson (Edinburgh and London, 1824)

The Donald Gray Prize is awarded annually by the North American Victorian Studies Association (NAVSA). The prize has previously been awarded to other Representations articles, including Sue Zemka’s “The Death of Nancy ‘Sikes’” (2010), Sarah Winter’s “Darwin’s Saussure: Biosemiotics and Race in Expression” (2009), Andrew Miller’s “Lives Unled in Victorian Fiction” (2007), and Herbert Tucker’s “Rossetti’s Goblin Marketing: Sweet to Tongue and Sound to Eye” (2003).