The Novel and Media from the Eighteenth Century to the Present

The Play of Fictions and Succession of Styles in Ulysses


How should readers understand what many critics have observed: as the novel goes forward the style of Joyce’s successive chapters of Ulysses is transformed?  
"If there is a logic to the metamorphosis of Ulysses, it lies in the gradual expansion of what I choose to call the fiction-engendering process."
Citation: The James Joyce Quarterly, 1977, Vol. 15, pp. 18-35, Fall

Clarissa and Critique

In the wake of a new enthusiasm for poststructuralist critique (Nietzsche and Derrida), I found it anticipated in the libertine critique of Richardson’s remarkable hero, Robert Lovelace. My close reading of the longest novel in English, Clarissa, involved me in debates I had not anticipated.

Proposal and Habitation: the Temporality and Authority of Interpretation in and about a Scene of Richardson’s Clarissa


What happens if one reads an event in the plot of a novel as radically contingent? It has the effect of denaturalizing the mimetic project of the novel.
"This essay proposes to interpret interpretation in the light of proposal to interpret proposals as a type of interpretation. Why this conjunction? In Richardson’s Clarissa, the crisis in the action, and the critical crux for the interpreters of the action, focuses on one issue—will Clarissa and Lovelace marry, and should they? –and one scene—the proposal scene where this might have come about. "
Citation:Boundary 2, Vol. 8, Winter, pp. 169-200.

Reading Clarissa: The Struggles of Interpretation


This book was developed out of my dissertation and in the wake of the early enthusiasm for French poststructuralist thought, especially Barthes and Derrida. Its focus—a close reading of one very long novel and the reception wars that Richardson’s novel incited—seems dated, but in a charming way. It implicitly affirms the value of the aesthetic protocols that make a single text a bounded object and a ‘world’ unto itself. The autonomy that this aestheticism attempts to justify is on display first in my admiration for Clariss's construction of a book to control her legacy after death, as well as in my account of Lovelace’s flight from selfhood and identity.
"Lovelace is always taking us to the limits of analysis, always getting us to question our own need to explain. ...In Clarissa only Lovelace can detach himself from his experience through his use of the jest and the game. His writing is a succession of fugitive and provisional gestures which detach him from his experience as much as they articulate it—they detach while they articulate. "
Citation:New Haven: Yale University Press.

Reading Rape: Marxist-Feminist Figurations of the Literal


In the early 1980s there was a sustained critique of deconstructive, language-centered figural reading of literature led by feminists and Marxists, like Terry Castle and Terry Eagleton, who had appropriated poststructuralist theory but rejected the way it put in question access to the referent.
"In socialism, in feminism, in Zionism, in the struggles against racism and imperialism, the unjust suffering of workers, women, Jews, blacks, and their world peoples, is moved to center state where it becomes the crucial historical drama, and the very epitome of the real."
Citation:Diacritics, 14:4, pp. 12-32

Redeeming Interpretation (on Castle’s reading of Clarissa)


In an influential critical monograph on Clarissa, Terry Castle fashions the heroine Clarissa into a modern feminist heroine for the way she is interrupted and silenced by a discourse that is ultimately patriarchal. For those who have read the longest novel in English, Clarissa’s tide of epistolary correspondence gives vivid and all too ample expression to Clarrisa's words and sentiments! How can all this writing be interpreted as being 'silenced?' For, Castle Clarissa becomes a moral example for the way she resists the violence of interpretation so evident by the way the language of others distort and hurt her; even Clarissa's own willful interpretations inevitably betray the humanity of others. My essay argues the impossibility of this interpretation of interpretation.
"Since language and interpretation are the very medium of social exchange, Castle’s pervasive critique of interpretation has the ironic effect of abolishing the space where any human exchange can happen. Clarissa’s only humane choice is to die."
Citation:Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, 26:1, pp. 73-94

The Rise of the Novel

A series of new books on the Rise of the Novel—by Lenny Davis, Michael McKeon, Paul Hunter, Nancy Armstrong and John Bender—each taking a distinct approach to the question that Ian Watt had raised in The Rise of the Novel (1956)—led me to take up that subject. Put most simply, how is it that the novel moved from disreputable and unliterary to become, in the 19th and 20th century, the most influential genre of literature?

Realist Literary History: McKeon’s New Origins of the Novel &
Taking Dialectic with a Grain of Salt: A Reply to McKeon


In 1989 Michael McKeon published an account of the origins of the English novel that used a dialectical method to grasp the history of the novel. In this essay I argue that McKeon’s effort to synthesize the long history of the early novel around the exchange between “the question of truth” and the “question of virtue” exposed the limitations of the realism and “novelism” of own literary history.

"McKeon’s history offers two examples of the surprising ‘destinerrance’ in the history of the novel: the emergence of realism out of claims to historicity and the emergence of a materialist literal narrative out of religious allegory. They suggest, against the grain of McKeon’s dialectical organization of his literary history, that the movement from the early modern ‘origins’ of the novel to the novel is not guaranteed by a dialectical process or model of development. McKeon’s history suggests an idea its genealogical impulse discourages: that the crest of the modern novel may be crossed with the double bar of the bastard." (1989)

"It is one of the hallmarks of literary study to be concerned with the way form and meaning, the how and what of the thing said, become entangled. My review essay of McKeon’s book, by paying attention to the narrative form and aesthetic premises of McKeon’s book, by insisting upon the realism of his narrative, develops a literary knowledge about his practice of history. In this way literary history can become as ‘literary’ as it is historical." (1990)
Citations: Diacritics, 19:1, pp. 62-81. & Diacritics, 20:1, pp. 104-107.

Social Power and the Eighteenth-Century Novel: Foucault and Transparent Literary History


In their books, Nancy Armstrong (in Desire and Domestic Fiction) and John Bender (in Imagining the Penitentiary) argue that, by inciting readers’ pleasure in narrative, the novel becomes productively complicit with power in producing the modern subject and its most characteristic social forms—the domestic household and the penitentiary.
"I will argue that the issue of the novel’s social power opens onto matters which cannot be reduced or subordinated, in any simple way, to the issue of power—the novel’s claim to represent ideal configurations of the social good, the novel’s erotic potential for realizing fantasy and pleasure, and finally, the novel’s claim to aesthetic separateness and value."
Citation:Eighteenth Century Fiction, 3:3, April, pp. 185-203.

The Elevation of the Novel in England: Hegemony and Literary History


This essay uses the theory of hegemony of Ernesto Laclau to understand the way the new moral fiction of Richardson incorporates and overwrites the popular novels of amorous intrigue written before Samuel Richardson by Aphra Behn, Delarivier Manley and Eliza Haywood. This essay is a first draft of the ideas developed in the monograph, Licensing Entertainment.
"The antagonism of the reformed novel to the popular novel is legible whenever Richardson and Fielding polemicize on behalf of their ‘new species of writing’: on the title page, in prefaces, and chapter headings; in private and public letters, advertisements, and critical essays."
Citation:ELH, 59, pp. 577-596.

Licensing Entertainment: The Elevation of Novel Reading in Britain (1684-1750)


Influenced by the canon wars of the 1980s—explored for example by John Guillory—this book attempts to do a genealogy of the rise of the (English) novel. My strategy for displacing an earlier literary history was to inscribe literary history into a cultural history of entertainment. The book reads canonical early English novelists (Defoe, Richardson, Fielding) in relation to earlier novelists that they incorporated and overwrote (Behn, Manley, Haywood). At the center of the novel’s reading of both Richardson and Fielding is my account of the “Pamela media event.”
"But what exactly is a media event? First, such an event is not precipitated by some prior historical event (such as a battle, a trial, or a coronation), which then becomes grist for representations in the media. Instead, it begins with a media production—in this case, the publication of Pamela. Second, the atavistic interest in the media event, as demonstrated by purchase and enthusiastic critical response, feeds upon itself, producing a sense that this media event has become an ambient, pervasive phenomenon which properly compels the attention and opinions of those with a modicum of ‘curiosity.’ Finally, this media event triggers repetitions and simulations, and becomes the focus of critical commentary and interpretation."
Citation:Berkeley: University of California Press.

The Novel and Difference

Traditionally, novels are given coherence by reading them with the frame of the literary history of a single nation. But what happens when novels circulate between nations and cultures, appears as the object of attention in paintings, are cast as an achievement of gendered authorship, or become an instrument for grasping the complexity of the social?

Cultural Institutions of the Novel, edited with Deidre Lynch

Introduction: The Transport of the Novel


Within the frame of various narrative traditions, it had long seemed possible to mark the stages by which the novel moved from a minor to a major genre of literature. But the movement of novels across borders—something that began as early as the existence of novels—raises valuable challenges to nation-bound literature histories of the novel.
"The global dissemination of novel reading and novel writing has, however, made ‘the’ novel a discursive site where the relations among nations are brokered. By bringing the question of genre back into the foreground of novel studies, by attending to transnational institutions of the novel, this collection finds new ways to analyze the productive powers that novels exercise in culture."
Citation:Durham: Duke University Press.

Staging Readers Reading


This essay extends the insights of my history of reading developed in Licensing Entertainment to the varied representations of reading (and especially novel reading) found in the painting of the long 18th century.
"These four paintings describe, celebrate, and promote the proper practice of reading as a way to enlighten readers by educating them. Of course, like all representations of reading or spectatorship, these images do not really tell us what is going on when one reads. But notice the implicit corollary of the enlightenment program of reading as mimicry: by making the reader a passive receptacle for the book’s meaning, this theory of reading makes the reading of the wrong kind of writing especially dangerous. By interpreting reading as automatic and uncritical, the enlightenment theory of reading produced as its logical corollary the anxiety triggered by the popularity of novels among the young."
Citation:Eighteenth Century Fiction, pp. 391-416.

Will the Subject of Literary History Please Stand Up! (Talk)


This talk comes from a panel organized by John Richetti to explore the plurality of the new forms of literary history written in the wake of the advanced theory (feminist, Marxist, deconstruction) and the canon wars they begat. Theory seemed to assert the impossibility of a general literary history.
"By 'subject' I mean two things: first, and most neutrally, I mean subject as 'topic'--the topos, the object, the thing about which literary history offers its account; but secondly, because the most compelling literary histories have often developed a narrative, I also mean the 'subject' in the more anthropomorphic sense of the central character, the lead, the hero or heroine whose story literary history tells."
Citiation: eScholarship / University of California.

The ‘Woman Writer’ and feminist literary history; or, how the success of feminist literary history
has compromised the conceptual coherence of its lead character, the ‘woman writer’


This essay was written out of a tension between the early wish to isolate a separate and undervalued tradition of women writing and the nuanced discoveries of feminist literary history.
"Paradoxically, if we cleave too rigorously to a category of ‘women writer,’ as, for example, a respectable female author seeking recognition as a writer of literature, then that very idea becomes an obstacle to reading early novels of amorous intrigue by women, and doing a cultural history of the novel which will include them."
Citation:JEMCS: Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies. 4:1, Spring/Summer, 187-196.

Henry Fielding


This brief essay understands Fielding’s intricately plotted comic novels and his pamphlet on crime as texts that help conceptualize society as a complex mutually dependent totality.
"Out of Fielding’s practice of literature and law there emerges the concept of society as a complex, interdependent totality. Such an idea is implicit in one of his practical solutions to the sheer scale and anonymity of London: the formation of a 'Universal Register Office', where those needing services, and those providing services, could register and find each other. It opened for business Feb 19, 1750, a year after the publication of Tom Jones."
Citation:eScholarship / University of California.

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