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.

KrassPrintFig1

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: reps@berkeley.edu.
  4. Deadline: October 15

 

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.

An English Printer in China

Universal Brotherhood Revisited: Peter Perring Thoms (1790-1855), Artisan Practices, and the Genesis of a Chinacentric Sinology

by Patricia Sieber

from the essay’s introduction:

The case of Peter Perring Thoms, a printer by trade and a China scholar by inclination, invites us to revisit the postcolonial paradigms that stress the instrumental and statist motivations for nineteenth-century British engagement with China. Thoms (1790–1855) was once lauded in pro-Chartist circles as “the best Chinese scholar England has yet produced,” but his legacy has since been marginalized by the “enormous condescension of posterity.” A printer first in the employ of London firms, then a service sojourner for the British East India Company (EIC) in Macau, and eventually an independent master printer with his own workshop in the heart of London’s print trade, Thoms, in marked contrast to the occupational locations of other, better-studied EIC officials, falls under the rubric of an “artisan.” As scholars have cautioned, the notion of an “artisan” is inherently ambiguous and, on account of the wide variety of trades, organizational structures, and skill levels involved, artisans cannot be characterized by a singular “artisan ideology.” However, while some new trades exceeded the standard definition of an artisan—men working for wages who engaged in unmechanized, skilled labor in workshops—Thoms’s occupation as a printer fits squarely within the ambit of artisanhood that endured long after other trades had been consumed by industrialization. Equally important, Thoms proudly defined himself as a printer, viewing his profession not simply as a way to earn a living, but as a social identity that straddled technical skills and broad learning. Thus, as Mark Bevir has theorized, an artisan like Thoms would have been attuned to and confronted with a different set of traditions, practices, and dilemmas than those of the average EIC official, who was typically destined for the South China trade through hereditary appointments designed to augment family fortunes.250px-Page_from_PP_Thoms_Vases_of_the_Shang_Dynasty

Thoms’s pursuit of Chinese literature and printmaking can be situated within the traditions of radicalism and romanticism. Among the circles of the educated laboring classes in Britain, China began to emerge as a trope of collective theorizing, particularly in the lead-up to and aftermath of what we now, pace the British antiwar coalition, have come to call the first “Opium War” (1839–1842). Certain segments among the working orders in Britain viewed the internationalization of commerce as an economic dilemma of foreign competition in the face of increasing mechanization and a highly unstable labor market. However, in the case of Chinese workers, British concerns over job competition did not become acute until the 1870s, and then primarily in the domain of seafaring. Instead, in the 1830s and 1840s, the radically minded laboring classes in England intent on political reform incorporated the Chinese people into their articulation of the paradoxes of political representation: far from being despotic China’s democratic other, the English government and its military were viewed by these men as a coercive institution that brutalized both the English worker and the ordinary Chinese through targeted state-sanctioned violence. Thoms, though deeply enmeshed in questions of fair pay for Chinese commoners in China and issues of anti-imperialist policymaking in England, nevertheless grounded his engagement with China in a cultural frame. In contrast to the jingoistic caricatures found in popular culture or the often high-minded condescension permeating elite discourse in Britain, Thoms opted for a radically convergent view of Chinese and English cultural production that has only recently come into focus again among modern scholars of this period. Continue reading …

In this essay, Sieber argues that Peter Perring Thoms, a printer in the service of the British East India Company in Macau, fashioned a Chinacentric sinology that cannot be readily subsumed under statist and other instrumental forms of Orientalism. Instead, neither a casual “amateur” nor an institutionally sanctioned “professional,” Thoms pioneered a translation model as a “citizen-scholar” intent on establishing literary and artistic excellence as an imaginative locus to forge transnational bonds of anti-imperialist solidarities between the Chinese and the English.

PATRICIA SIEBER is an Associate Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures at the Ohio State University and the author of Theaters of Desire: Authors, Readers, and the Reproduction of Early Chinese Song-Drama, 1300–2000 (Palgrave, 2003).

Lenin’s Bodies & Buildings

A pair of essays on Soviet sovereignty and the afterlife of Lenin

File photo of the body of Vladimir Lenin in Moscow

Bodies of Lenin: The Hidden Science of Communist Sovereignty
by Alexei Yurchak

During discussions a few years ago in the Duma about the fate of Lenin’s body, which is displayed in the Lenin Mausoleum on Red Square, Vladimir Medinsky, then a Duma deputy (and now Russia’s minister of culture), suggested that it was time to take this body out of the mausoleum and bury it in the ground. “Do not fool yourselves,” he explained, “with the illusion that what is lying in the mausoleum is Lenin. What’s left there is only 10 percent of his body.” The respected political weekly Vlast’ decided to check this figure. During the autopsy in January 1924, wrote the weekly, Lenin’s brain and organs had been removed. When Lenin was embalmed, his internal liquids were replaced with embalming fluids. Since organs constitute about 17 percent of human body mass, and liquids about 60 percent, Lenin’s body had lost 77 percent of its original matter. Therefore, concluded the weekly, the Duma deputy had gotten it wrong: what is lying in the mausoleum is 23 percent of Lenin’s body, not 10 percent as Medinsky had suggested. Continue reading

YurchakFIG9In this essay, Alexei Yurchak analyzes the project of maintaining the body of V. I. Lenin in the Lenin Mausoleum in Moscow for the past ninety years. It focuses on the materiality of this particular body, the unique biological science that developed around the project, and the peculiar political role this body has performed.

ALEXEI YURCHAK is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation (Princeton, 2006) and is working on the political history of Lenin’s and other communist bodies and the science that developed around the projects of their preservation.

Snow White and  the Enchanted Palace: A Reading of Lenin’s Architectural Cult
by Jonathan Brooks Platt

PlattPrintFig9In 1965 the architect Konstantin Mel′nikov wrote a short memoir of his work on the Lenin Mausoleum, revealing a folkloric source for his 1924 design of the original sarcophagus. Mel′nikov describes his pyramidal glass construction as “a crystal with a radiant play of interior ambient light, suggesting the fairy tale of the sleeping princess.” The reference conflates two literary folk tales: Vasily Zhukovsky’s “Tale of the Sleeping Princess,” a reworking of Charles Perrault’s “Sleeping Beauty,” and Alexander Pushkin’s “Tale of the Dead Princess and the Seven Heroes,” based on the Grimm brothers’ “Snow White.” Mel′nikov likens the embalmed V. I. Lenin to Zhukovsky’s sleeping princess, but his crystal coffin more directly refers to Pushkin’s dead one. Pushkin also likens death to sleep in his tale. Before being placed in the coffin, the princess “lay so fresh, so quiet, / As if under the wing of sleep, / That she seemed only just not to breathe,” and in the end she rises from the coffin with the cry: “Oh, how long I slept!” Applied to Lenin, this image is remarkably potent. Not only does Mel′nikov suggest the dead leader might be resurrected; he feminizes him as the bride of some future hero. Who will come to smash the coffin, awaken the princess, and live happily ever after? Continue reading

Jonathan Platt’s essay offers a chronotopic reading of V. I. Lenin’s architectural cult and its relation to Soviet sovereignty in the postrevolutionary period, as reflected in the discourse and plans surrounding the Lenin Mausoleum and the Palace of Soviets in Moscow. Central contexts include Andrei Platonov’s novella The Foundation Pit and Russian versions of the “Snow White” tale.

JONATHAN BROOKS PLATT is Assistant Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pittsburgh. He works on Russian and Soviet literature and culture with special interests in the late romantic, Stalinist, and contemporary periods.

Description Across the Disciplines

Description Across the Disciplines

A conference at Columbia University organized by Stephen Best, Sharon Marcus, and Heather Love

Thursday, April 23, 2015 – Friday, April 24, 2015

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Participants in “Description Across the Disciplines” will consider the relation between description and other modes of engaging with objects of analysis, such as interpretation, evaluation, argument, and critique.

While description has proven to be contentious in literary studies and critical theory, it constitutes a central and prized aspect of scholarly practice in fields such as anthropology, musicology, and art history and has remained so despite critiques of objectivity and the “view from nowhere.”

How have practices of description—from ethnography to ekphrasis—shifted in light of changing views of the role of the observer, scholarly ethics, and epistemology? What protocols are involved in describing people, texts, images, musical scores, and material artifacts?

Questions of description have been taken up recently within several disciplines; we hope to expand these conversations by offering a comparative perspective.

The conference brings together presenters from history, anthropology, psychology, art history, and literary studies alongside curators and artists working in different genres, such as observational documentary and graphic memoir, for whom description represents a crucial aspect of their practice.

Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus are also the co-editors of the Representations special issue “The Way We Read Now,” a much-discussed collection of essays on surface reading published in Fall 2009.

 

Endō Shūsaku and Frantz Fanon

Crossed Geographies: Endō and Fanon in Lyon

By Christopher L. Hill

Textual evidence indicates that the novelist Endō Shūsaku read the anticolonialist writer Frantz Fanon in the early 1950s, incorporating Fanon’s arguments on color and colonialism into his depiction of Japanese subjects after 1945. In this essay, examination of that heretofore unnoticed encounter provides an opportunity to reconsider the paradigms by which each writer is understood today and the terms in which they imagined a world not ordered by empires, whether European, American, or Japanese.

The author writes:

“The paths writers trace in the world tell as much about the geographies scholars give them as the geographies they lived. Figures of international repute pass each other unnoticed if the conventions under which we labor don’t allow a meeting. Once acknowledged, such encounters are an opportunity. Unexpected encounters reveal greater forces at work; new questions demand answers. Through crossed paths we can see the world in a different shape, but only if we are willing. In disciplinary and conceptual terms, we shy away from the leap of scale that making sense of an encounter between, say, a novelist from Japan and an anticolonialist from Martinique requires. It is easier to blow up or clone—to ‘globalize’ a national field or to deploy a theory anew—than to struggle toward a geohistorical problematic, a transnational frame for criticism, that would not reduce the unevenness and heterogeneity of the geography of lived experience to a comforting, because familiar, model. Two discomforting journeys may suggest the way.

200px-Frantz_Fanon“In early 1943 Frantz Fanon, who later became famous for his writings on colonial psychology and the struggle against colonialism, dropped out of his lycée and took a boat from Martinique to Dominica, where he hoped to join the Free French army. He was sent home, but the following March, after Martinique rallied to Charles de Gaulle, he sailed for Morocco with some one thousand volunteers. Fanon told a teacher that when freedom was at stake, all were concerned—but only the officers and some of the noncommissioned officers onboard were white; the rest of the volunteers were black. In the training camp in Morocco, soldiers from Martinique and Guadeloupe (‘old’ French colonies) ate the same food and wore the same uniforms as white soldiers; they lived apart from recruits from Morocco, Algeria, and sub-Saharan Africa. Fanon and his friends quickly saw that the army that had been formed to fight fascism had a racial hierarchy: whites at the top, North Africans at the bottom, and black West Indians ambiguously above the African Tirailleurs sénégalais in the middle. When Fanon’s unit decamped to Algeria in July, he discovered that the locals loathed black men. By the time he was fighting in France, in autumn, he was doubting his position between European soldiers and the Tirailleurs, because the black soldiers seemed to face the worst action. In January 1945 he wrote his brother that his reasons for joining up had been wrong; in April he wrote his parents the same.

“Fanon returned to Martinique in late 1945 and finished his baccalaureate. With funds provided for veterans’ education, he sailed late the next year for Paris, where he planned to study dentistry. He left Paris abruptly a few weeks after arriving there and went on to Lyon, where he enrolled in the Faculty of Medicine at its university, specializing in psychiatry. He read widely, attended classes by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and gave some lectures of his own. In May 1951 he published ‘The Lived Experience of the Black Man’ (‘L’Expérience vécue du noir’), an essay on Antillean men’s discovery that in France they were considered to be black. He took a temporary post in Dôle while he finished his thesis, which he defended at the end of November. He spent several weeks in Martinique in February and March 1952, but, deciding against practicing there, he returned to France and took a post at the clinic in Saint-Alban run by François Tosquelles, where he developed the foundations of his social psychiatry. In February he published an essay on the psychosomatic illnesses of North African men in Lyon, ‘The North African Syndrome’ (‘Le Syndrome nord-africain’), and in June, Black Skin, White Masks (Peau noire, masques blancs). (‘The Lived Experience of the Black Man’ was its fifth chapter.) After another temporary assignment in 1953, he took a post in Blida in Algeria, where he moved in November, and began learning about the struggle against French rule; in 1955 he began his work with the anticolonial Algerian National Liberation Front. He never returned to Martinique.

b2767b0b“In June 1950, Endō Shūsaku, who later became famous for fiction about Catholicism, began a journey in a different part of the world that, like Fanon’s, took him to Lyon. The first leg was a fourth-class voyage from Yokohama to Marseille. As Endō observed in his diary, relations among the passengers were determined by wealth, race, and the hierarchies of Western colonialism. A group of African soldiers from the French colonial army shared his compartment. They were returning to Saigon after escorting war criminals to Japan. During several port calls, Endō, and other Japanese students too, were treated as war criminals by local authorities. In Manila they were assembled on deck, while Filipinos on the docks shouted ‘Murderers!’ and ‘Assholes!’ in Japanese. In Singapore they were forbidden to disembark. While passing through the Suez Canal he learned of North Korea’s invasion of the South and US President Harry Truman’s order to intervene. After arriving in Marseille, Endō spent July and August with a Catholic family in Rouen, where he encountered a Japan-hating young man whose brother had served in Indochina during the Asia-Pacific War.

“In September Endō settled in Lyon, where he enrolled at the Catholic University and the University of Lyon’s Faculty of Letters to study French Catholic writers. In the streets Endō encountered plaques marking locations where fighters in the French Resistance had fallen; he also learned about a massacre of civilians by the Resistance in the town of Fons. His experiences on ship and the traces of the Resistance in France pushed him in the following years to write several stories, two novellas, and a novel about collaboration, resistance, and war crimes in France and Japan. Twice in 1952 Endō spent time in sanatoria in the Alps for tuberculosis. He moved to Paris in the autumn of that year and was hospitalized there in December. One of the patients in his four-bed room, a veteran, berated Endō with memories of his treatment by the Japanese army in Indochina. In January 1953 he departed Marseille for Japan because of his health. In 1954 he published a semi-autobiographical story called ‘As Far as Aden’ (‘Aden made’), about a Japanese student’s time in France, where he discovered he was un jaune, a yellow man, in the eyes of French whites….

“Yet the geographies of each writer’s lived experience are not as distinct as those in which scholarship presently confines them. The circumstances that shaped their writings on color and colonialism were at once personal and part of a history that encompassed both the Caribbean and East Asia. Reading Endō’s work through Fanon’s, and Fanon’s through Endō’s, reveals a mid-twentieth-century history of race and racialization on a large (I will not say global) scale. In this history decolonization and what should be called the de-imperialization of Japan by the victors in the Asia-Pacific War are entangled with the demise of the European empires and the rise of the American. The transformations coincided with manifold changes in the social meanings of black, white, and yellow and the rights associated with them. A history and a criticism in which this kind of encounter is plausible and meaningful must dismantle the analytically separate problematics of anticolonialism and decolonization, on the one hand, and of “postwar” and the Cold War in Asia, on the other. Reconstructing the history that connects Endō and Fanon does more than historicize these two writers’ early works. It suggests too what can be gained from an intellectual history and a criticism that ignores divisions more constructed than real while acknowledging, rather than trying to reconcile, the heterogeneous and sometimes contradictory qualities of the geography that results.” Continue reading …

CHRISTOPHER L. HILL is Assistant Professor of Japanese literature at the University of Michigan. The author of National History and the World of Nations: Capital, State, and the Rhetoric of History of Japan, France, and the United States (Durham, 2008), he is currently completing a book on the transnational career of the naturalist novel and beginning a project on Japanese writers in the “Bandung moment” of the 1950s.

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”

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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.