Description and the Modernist Novel

STRANGE LIKENESS:
DESCRIPTION AND THE MODERNIST NOVEL

a new study from Dora Zhang


The modern novel, so the story goes, thinks poorly of mere description—what Virginia Woolf called “that ugly, that clumsy, that incongruous tool.” As a result, critics have largely neglected description as a feature of novelistic innovation during the twentieth century. Dora Zhang argues that descriptive practices were in fact a crucial site of attention and experimentation for a number of early modernist writers, centrally Woolf, Henry James, and Marcel Proust.

Description is the novelistic technique charged with establishing a common world, but in the early twentieth century, there was little agreement about how a common world could be known and represented. Zhang argues that the protagonists in her study responded by shifting description away from visualizing objects to revealing relations—social, formal, and experiential—between disparate phenomena. In addition to shedding new light on some of the best-known works of modernism, Zhang opens up new ways of thinking about description more broadly. She moves us beyond the classic binary of narrate-or-describe and reinvigorates our thinking about the novel. Strange Likeness will enliven conversations around narrative theory, affect theory, philosophy and literature, and reading practices in the academy.

DORA ZHANG is Associate Professor of English at UC Berkeley. Her essay “A Lens for an Eye: Proust and Photography” was published in Representations 118.

Literature and the Arts in Times of Crisis

A Berkeley Conversation held on April 29, 2020, and available now online

Literature and the Arts in Times of Crisis

Literature and the arts have always had a prominent place in defining who we are as human beings and in making life worth living. This is all the more apparent in times of crisis, such as the one we have been living in. Join prominent Berkeley faculty members from Music, Art History, and English as they share their insights into what makes literature and the arts so critically important to us now. The panelists:

Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby, UC Berkeley’s Goldman Distinguished Professor in the Arts and Humanities, specializes in 18th- through early 20th-century French and American art and visual and material culture, particularly in relation to the politics of race and colonialism. Grigsby writes on painting, sculpture, photography and engineering as well as the relationships among reproductive media and new technologies from the 18th to the early 20th centuries. Her essay on Antoine-Jean Gros’s painting Bonaparte Visiting the Plague-Stricken of Jaffa, which she discusses in this conversation, was published in Representations 51.

Mark Danner is a writer and reporter who for three decades has written on politics and foreign affairs, focusing on war and conflict. He has covered, among many other stories, wars and political conflict in Central America, Haiti, the Balkans, Iraq and the Middle East, and, most recently, the story of torture during the War on Terror. Danner holds the Class of 1961 Endowed Chair in Journalism and English at UC Berkeley and was for many years James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and the Humanities at Bard College.

Nicholas Mathew, a professor in UC Berkeley’s Department of Music, has focused on music and politics in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: the place of music in political institutions, the role of music in public life, and the ways in which music produces social attachments and collective identity – as well as issues of political appropriation, subversion, musical trashiness, and political kitsch. Mathew is a member of the Representations editorial board. With Mary Ann Smart, he co-edited the special forum Quirk Historicism (Representations 132), for which the two wrote Elephants in the Music Room: The Future of Quirk Historicism.

Moderator Anthony J. Cascardi is the Dean of Arts and Humanities at UC Berkeley.

The discussion is part of a live, online video series, Berkeley Conversations: COVID-19, featuring Berkeley scholars from a range of disciplines.

Peculiar Attunements

Peculiar Attunements: How Affect Theory Turned Musical 

by Roger Mathew Grant

In his second book, Roger Mathew Grant offers a new way of thinking through affect historically and dialectically, placing contemporary affect theory in relation to an overlooked historical precursor—European music theory of the eighteenth century. Struggling to explain how music could move its listeners without imitation (as a painting might), theorists of that period developed a “materialist theory of vibrational attunement.” Carolyn Abbate describes Peculiar Attunements as a “tour-de-force” that provides “a formidable and extraordinarily clear-headed critique of affect theory, while at the same time identifying and then demystifying its strange affinities with eighteenth-century theories about music’s power.”

Grant’s work on affect theory’s antecedents in eighteenth-century music theory appears in Representations 144, in the article “Music Lessons on Affect and Its Objects.”

Roger Mathew Grant is Associate Professor of Music at Wesleyan University and the author of Beating Time and Measuring Music in the Early Modern Era (Oxford, 2014), which won the 2016 Society for Music Theory Emerging Scholar Award.

Evangelical Gothic

Evangelical Gothic: The English Novel and the Religious War on Virtue from Wesley to Dracula

by Christopher Herbert

James Eli Adams calls Christopher Herberts new book “powerfully original,” offering “a foundational and provocative revisionary account of one of the central narratives of modern British cultural history: the ‘moral revolution’ associated with the rise of evangelicalism in the eighteenth century.” This contribution from a major literary critic incorporates a revised excerpt from Herbert’s 2002 Representations article “Vampire Religion.