Video on the Hippie Ward

Televising Psyche: Therapy, Play, and the Seduction of Video

by Carmine Grimaldi

The essay begins:

In 1967, the San Francisco Chronicle ran the panicked headline “HIPPIES WARN CITY—100,000 WILL INVADE HAIGHT ASHBURY THIS SUMMER.” With the specter of homelessness, disease, addiction, and moral depravity looming, the city scrambled for some response: that summer, the San Francisco Assembly Committee on Public Health held a series of hearings to determine who exactly these new residents were, and how the anticipated crisis could be stanched.

Sitting before the committee, Dr. Ernest Dernburg, the director of psychiatric services at the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic, offered his professional opinion on the moral character of the hippie. He was working on the front lines of the crisis and would have been considered far more sympathetic to the counterculture than those working in traditional hospitals. And yet the portrait he drew was damning. The new generation, he explained to the committee, was “passive, withdrawn, emotionally unresponsive, drug dependent. They suffer . . . from massive psychological poverty.” He then pointed to a potential culprit: “Keep in mind that this generation is the first to grow up in front of the television set. These children have been sitting passively before it, receiving stimulation from it, living mostly inside their heads, all during their period of development.” This sentiment was hardly new; the moral panic about television has run in tandem with the medium’s history. At the beginning of the decade, when many of Dernburg’s patients were “growing up in front of the television,” one widely read study warned that television “anesthetize[s] a person against pain and distress” and asked rhetorically, “In how many cases does television meet children’s needs in the same way as alcohol or drugs might do so?” If one wanted to assign blame for the legions of white, middle-class kids who were dropping school and acid, television was as good a candidate as any.

Langley Porter Institute, San Francisco, 1966

Following Dernburg’s rather alarmist evaluation, Dr. Harry Wilmer, then a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), spoke before the committee. Like Dernburg, he had founded a new psychiatric clinic for hippie drug users, just twenty blocks from the Haight, at the Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute. And like Dernburg, he agreed that television and mass media were largely responsible for the emergence of the counterculture. But unlike his colleague, who adhered to popular techniques of psychoanalysis and pharmacological remedies, Wilmer explained that he was developing a new approach that had only entered psychiatry in the last few years: it was a “pilot study” that sought to cure patients through the very medium that had originally harmed them—if used correctly, Wilmer explained, the television screen could be a potent medicine. In the next two years, he planned to use video feedback, made possible by videotape technology, to restructure the consciousness and sensorium of those who had fallen through the cracks of society. As he explained to the committee, “We are trying to reawaken the power to see and to interact.” This Janus-faced power of television clearly caught the imagination of the public—in what was the first of many newspaper articles about Wilmer’s project, the San Francisco Examiner’s headline read, “How TV Produces and Heals a Drug Generation.” Continue reading …

San Francisco’s “Hippie Drug Ward,” an experimental therapeutic clinic opened in 1967, sought to cure a wayward generation through an immersive multimedia environment. Examining archival records only recently made available, this paper explores the way the moving image—and in particular videotape—created a space in which style, affect, and psyche became commingled.

CARMINE GRIMALDI is a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Chicago and a fellow at Harvard’s Film Study Center. His writings have appeared in the Atlantic and Filmmaker Magazine, and his films have screened widely at festivals in the United States and abroad.

Anthology Life

Specimen Poetics: Botany, Reanimation, and the Romantic Collection

by Dahlia Porter

The essay begins:

It is now commonplace to say that the canon wars of the 1980s and early 1990s provoked changes to anthologies in the following decades. What we read in the Norton, Blackwell, or Broadview anthologies of British or American literature is not what we read thirty years ago. The change has been characterized as a movement away from aesthetic criteria—Matthew Arnold’s famous “the best which has been thought and said in the world”—to a more representative selection, one that conveys the diverse literary landscape of a defined historical period or national tradition. In the 1990s, space opened for underrepresented authors, genres, historical moments, and worldviews; John Milton and William Wordsworth now mingle with Anne Finch and Olaudah Equiano, appearing alongside anonymous popular ballads, snippets of periodical essays, excerpts from novels, and a smattering of letters and speeches—varied content that projects an overall tilt toward diversity of matter, form, and authorial identity. Ours is not, however, the diversity promoted by the literary miscellany, that popular, eclectic, omnivorous genre so omnipresent in earlier periods. Twenty-first-century anthologies seek to represent a broad and varied spectrum of literary production, but they retain a defining feature of the anthology as it was consolidated at the end of the eighteenth century: organization by author in chronological sequence. Even with the addition of thematic sections, anthologized literature as we know it today remains fundamentally historical, and each selection implicitly functions as a representative specimen, an illustrative example standing in for a larger authorial corpus or class of work.

The justification for a literary collection based on historical representativeness—the legitimating force behind modern anthologies of English, American, or Anglophone literature—emerged in Britain around 1800. It was spurred, as I will argue here, by dramatic changes in what we see as a distinct sphere of knowledge making—namely the collection, organization, naming, and representation of plants in the previous century. This claim is not as surprising as it may seem. Botanical metaphors for the poetic collection have a very long history. Rooted in the Στέφανος, or garland, of Meleagar of Gadara and the Silvae of Statius, for centuries verses have been gathered up into florilegia, anthologia, sylvae, gardens, garlands, woods, wreaths, bouquets, and anthologies, this last from the Greek ἀνθολόγιον, a gathering of flowers. In Britain, collections of vernacular poetry were ushered in with titles like England’s Parnassus; or, the choicest flowers of our modern poets (1600) and Belvedere; or, The Garden of the Muses (1600). Tropes of the bouquet, garden, and forest were regularly deployed throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to legitimate the heterogeneous content of verse and prose collections, but the field of nineteenth-century literary annuals was lush with these figures. This efflorescence of the botanical metaphor for collections was spurred by a vigorous debate about the purpose, audience, and content of poetic collections in the decades around 1800. At the turn of the nineteenth century, compilers took up botanical metaphors to argue whether a collection ought to strive for a historically representative selection or for a selection of acclaimed pieces “carelessly mingled with all the ease and wildness of natural variety.” For antiquarians like Henry Headley, George Ellis, and Robert Southey, compilation was a recovery project, a method of preserving worthy specimens of poetry from oblivion; for their contemporaries Vicesimus Knox, William Mavor, and Samuel Jackson Pratt, among many others, the ideal collection contained a great variety of the most influential, recognized, elegant work, poems of unquestioned merit that displayed the richness and vitality of the poet’s genius, an image of living nature. Carried out in the prefaces, title pages, tables of contents, and introductions to collections, this contentious debate predicted the agon of the canon wars.

Scholars of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century poetic collections have noted the abundance of botanical metaphors, even occasionally employing them to structure their own arguments about literary compilations. Most studies of poetic collections in Britain before the twentieth century, however, focus on a set of issues common to miscellanies and anthologies: the economics of the publishing market, changes in copyright law, canon formation, expanding readerships, and editorial practice. Critics have frequently used literary anthologies to take the pulse of the eighteenth-century book trade: printed anthologies and miscellanies proliferated throughout the period, and the forms they took responded (at least in part) to ongoing legal disputes over publishers’ rights to valuable literary property, increases in literacy and access, and changing technologies of print. Scholars agree that the form and function of the anthology shifted in the decades around 1800, but they disagree about exactly when it occurred, how it was manifested, and what provoked this change. I won’t claim to fully resolve this conundrum, but I will insist that we need to look outside the narrow field of poetic or even literary collecting to understand the changing cultural role of anthologies and miscellanies—and even single-author collections of verse—in the Romantic period. Beyond Barbara Benedict’s acknowledgement that “it is no coincidence that the genre of the literary collection crystallized during the long eighteenth century when collecting itself became a popular activity” as a form of self-fashioning for the emergent middle class, existing studies take little notice of nonliterary collecting practices. As I will argue, Romantic-era collections of poetry were not just metaphorically but also materially conditioned by the projects of botanical collecting, preservation, classification, description, and illustration of the previous century. Editors legitimated their selection and organization of poems in collections by trading on the aesthetic paradigms and material practices of botanical science and art. Further, the evaluative principles structuring poetic collecting in the Romantic period emerged when editors drew on, separated, or combined competing strands of Enlightenment natural history, specifically Linnaean taxonomy and Buffonian vitalism.

A pointed antagonism between taxonomic representativeness and an aesthetics of vital nature is thus central to my argument. The dominant theory of poetic collecting in late eighteenth-century Britain replicated a desire in visual and verbal art to represent the vitality of living nature, a trend spurred by transformations in botanical description and illustration. A confluence of factors changed botanical collecting and publishing in the eighteenth century, including shifts in the geographies of collecting; developments in conventions of botanical naming and systems of nomenclature; the emergence of vitalist theories in natural history; and the application of eighteenth-century aesthetic theories to scientific illustration. As a result of these shifts, living plants were collected, dried, and pressed in a hortus siccus (an herbarium or book of dried plants), becoming botanical specimens that were subsequently imbued with the semblance of life in drawings, paintings, and engravings. This process—what I call aesthetic reanimation—reveals how scientific and aesthetic paradigms merge to dismantle and remake objects of botanical knowledge in print. I trace the consolidation of reanimation as an aesthetic paradigm as it was formulated in William Hogarth’s Analysis of Beauty (1753) and applied to botanical illustration by a group of artists employed by Joseph Banks to illustrate the specimens collected on Capt. James Cook’s Endeavour voyage of 1768–71. I then detail how the reanimated plants of eighteenth-century botanical illustration enter the lexicon of Romantic poetry with Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin and progenitor of an early theory of evolution. Embracing the animating power of prosopopoeia, E. Darwin translated the aesthetic principles of botanical illustration into his two-part allegorical poem, The Botanic Garden (part 1: Economy of Vegetation, 1791; part 2: Loves of the Plants, 1789). In this heavily annotated and illustrated poem, Darwin combines taxonomy with vitalism to promote a particular brand of poetic and aesthetic vitality, one that defined the “nature” of plants collected in his poetic-botanic garden.

Romantic poets variously mobilized and resisted the conventions introduced by Darwin: the philosophical tenets of Enlightenment vitalism find outlets in individual poems ranging from William Wordsworth’s “Lines Written in Early Spring” to Percy Shelley’s Sensitive Plant to John Clare’s ballads. But more important for my argument here, Darwin’s reanimated poetic garden concomitantly changed how authors and editors thought and wrote about poetry in the aggregate. Books of pressed plants, catalogs of specimens, and anthologies of poems began to stand in for one another, their contents crisscrossing disciplinary boundaries in the process of consolidation. These conflations imbued the long-standing botanical metaphor for the poetic collection with a new urgency: as Charlotte Smith’s Conversations Introducing Poetry (1804) reveals, the content and structure of a literary collection of verse might intervene in larger debates about natural history and its representational practices. At the same time, the antipodal figures of the reanimated plant and the dead specimen provided the rhetorical ground for competing versions of literary history and evaluation in the period. The resurgence of botanical metaphors in this period signals a new division in poetic collection, a gulf between vitalist aesthetics and the collection as historical medium, a site where the present of literary culture negotiates its past and writes its future. Turning back to this formative moment in the history of literary collecting illuminates how literary history became embedded in our own anthologies of culled flowers. Continue reading …

This essay argues that the modern literary anthology—and specifically its aspiration to delimit both aesthetic merit and historical representativeness—emerged as a response to changes in eighteenth-century botanical collecting, description, and illustration. A dramatic upsurge in botanical metaphors for poetic collections around 1800 was triggered by shifts in the geographies, aims, and representational practices of botany in the previous century. Yoking Linnaean taxonomy and Buffonian vitalism to Hogarth’s line of beauty, late eighteenth-century botanical illustrations imbued plucked, pressed specimens with a new vitality. Erasmus Darwin’s Botanic Garden (1789, 1791) translated the aesthetic reanimations of visual art into a collection of poetic specimens, spurring compilations that promote a vitalist standard of literary value. By rejecting aesthetic reanimation as the figurative ground for poetic collecting, Charlotte Smith and Robert Southey forward an alternative historical model of literary merit, one grounded in the succession and continuity of representative literary types. These competing metrics for selection and valuation underwrite the anthology as we know it today.

DAHLIA PORTER has taught literature, book history, and the history of science at the University of Glasgow, University of North Texas, and Vanderbilt University. Her book Science, Form, and the Problem of Induction in British Romanticism is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press, and she is a member of the Multigraph Collective, a team of twenty-two scholars who have collaboratively written Interacting with Print: Elements of Reading in the Era of Print Saturation (University of Chicago Press, 2017).

Famously Bad Plots

Bad Plots and Objectivity in Maria Edgeworth

by Yoon Sun Lee

 

The essay begins:

Maria Edgeworth (1767–1849) is famous for her bad plots. A contemporary reviewer of her 1814 novel Patronage complains that “the story is always the worst part of Miss Edgeworth’s novel.” There she consistently proves “inferior . . . to many of those that are vastly below her in everything else.” This backhanded compliment to a novelist publicly admired by Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott may suggest some of the reasons that Edgeworth has fallen into neglect. Despite her popularity and widespread readership in her lifetime, particularly in nineteenth-century America, this Anglo-Irish writer of national tales and novels never fully entered the literary canon. If read at all, Edgeworth’s novels are studied in relation to questions of Irish identity and history, rather than as examples of the genre’s possibilities. This may indeed be attributable to a certain quality that many of her plots possess. In their broad outlines, they are unobjectionable, if not exciting. Their protagonists, whether old or young, male or female, aristocratic or working class, must learn to choose for themselves the way of life most productive of happiness. They need to overcome prejudice, indolence, misdirected sympathies, and unhealthy influences. The alleged badness of her plots, then, does not concern any unfamiliarity of outline. Nor does it derive from over-reliance on arbitrary events, chance encounters, or coincidences. Though these can certainly be found in Edgeworth’s plots, sometimes concentrated toward the end, they are arguably standard features of narrative and certainly of the novel by 1800. Rather, it seems that Edgeworth’s “carelessness” has to do with not sufficiently disguising the epistemological responsibilities placed on fictional plot by the development of experimental science. Her plots usually tell the story of how characters learn to think rationally. But this requires more than learning to distinguish between truth and lies, genuine and false stories or feelings. As one character in her novel Belinda (1801) puts it, “Our reasonings as to the conduct of life . . . must depend ultimately on facts.” For Edgeworth, then, plot becomes the means of producing legitimately objective facts within a fictive universe. In a twist in the dialectic of fictionality, plot has to produce a hierarchy of epistemological certainty within its own orderings.

While fictional characters have been insightfully analyzed by Catherine Gallagher, Deidre Lynch, and others, plot has been relatively neglected by critics. Where noticed, plot is often assumed to embody ideological forces in a fairly straightforward manner. Fredric Jameson’s recent study of realism, for example, argues that “destiny” is “vehiculated” in various plot types that the realist novel can only rework at the expense of plot itself. The tendency to see plot as a conveyance for ideology, as well as the vehicular metaphor itself, were well established by the eighteenth century. In Clara Reeve’s Progress of Romance (1785), for example, novels are commended when they “promote the cause of religion and virtue,” with plots serving as “vehicles to convey [the author’s] tenets to the minds of such readers as were not likely to receive them in any other form.” Such understandings of plot rely on a high-level view that looks at general similarities between stories rather than at particular sequences within them. They also place more weight on the ending than on any other part of the story, since the ending is where poetic justice is supposedly executed. The disbursement of rewards and punishments, deaths, marriages, and property at the novel’s end is understood to constitute the bulk of its ideological work. But it is important to notice what such treatments of plot tend to overlook: that plot concerns not only what happens to whom at the end, but with how things happen along the way—or even with how things happen to happen. Plots ask and answer questions about causality as manifested in particular sequences, and this is the aspect of narrative that seems to concern Edgeworth the most. Her plots are worth examining because they are so keenly aware of the procedures through which actions are warranted and, above all, facts elicited. Edgeworth seems intensely interested in connecting these procedures with the outside world. Instead of trying to create a self-contained world in which occurrences generally reflect the probabilities of modern everyday life, Edgeworth tries to carry into her fictive plots some of the protocols and structures that warranted factuality in modern science. In her tales for children and young adults, for example, the plots focus on concrete objects: coins, flowerpots, thimbles, seeds, paper tickets, and notes. They aim to dispel uncertainties and establish facts about these objects. Usually, these facts concern who found, gave, stole, or used them and how they did so. But establishing a fact requires that certain protocols be carefully followed. Witnesses, authorities, and experiments conducted in neutral spaces are all needed. The protocols and structures of experimental science shape Edgeworth’s plots, the strange, dense network of objects that sometimes compose them, and the ways in which they sometimes frankly defy a larger probability. Sometimes they end with an astonishing pile-up of coincidences. But such outcomes emerge logically from Edgeworth’s desire to recalibrate the relationship between plot and probability. Probability becomes subordinate to the procedural establishment of factuality. Edgeworth’s plots turn on apparently objective events that diminish the centrality of human intentions and subjective desires. They represent a crucial step in the development of fictional realism. Continue reading …

In this essay, Yoon Sun Lee shows how the early nineteenth-century novelist Maria Edgeworth develops objectivity as a dimension of plot rather than of narrative viewpoint, drawing on the protocols and structures of experimental science. In Edgeworth’s novels, plot becomes a means of producing legitimately objective facts within a fictive universe.

YOON SUN LEE is the author of Nationalism and Irony: Burke, Scott, Carlyle and Modern Minority: Asian American Literature and Everyday Life (both Oxford University Press); her articles can be found in MLQ, Studies in Romanticism, and The Cambridge Companion to the Postcolonial Novel, as well as other journals and collections. Her current book project focuses on the question of how to theorize plot in the novel.

Practices of Resistance

In her essay in our new issue, Debarati Sanyal analyzes practices of resistance as seen through film and photography set in the Calais’s “jungle” refugee encampments, which were razed last year by the French government. She discusses the interplay of humanitarian compassion and securitarian repression in the destruction of the camps, nuancing the view of borderscapes as sites of total biopolitical capture, and of refugees as “bare life.” Making a profound case for both art and resistance, “Calais’s ‘Jungle’: Refugees, Biopolitics, and the Arts of Resistance” is a compelling and visually stunning read.

Still from Qu’Ils reposent en révolte: Des figure de guerres I, by Sylvain George (2010)

DEBARATI SANYAL is Professor of French at the University of California, Berkeley. The author of The Violence of Modernity: Baudelaire, Irony, and the Politics of Form (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006) and Memory and Complicity: Migrations of Holocaust Remembrance (Fordham University Press, 2015), she is currently at work on a study of testimony, cultural form, and the refugee “crisis.”

New Issue, Representations 139

Number 139, Summer 2017 (read at UC Press)

NOW AVAILABLE

Debarati Sanyal
Yoon Sun Lee
Dahlia Porter
Carmine Grimaldi
Justin Steinberg
  • Upcoming in Representations 140–“Fallacies”: This special issue features essays by D. Vance Smith on fallacy and the origin of thought, Andrew Cole on Hegel’s “circles,” Branka Arsic on The House of Usher, Maureen McLane on “compositionism,” Alexander Nemerov on photographic evidence, Jonathan Flatley on reading for mood, Rey Chow and Markos Hadjioannou on the Hitchcockian “nudge,” Jonathan Kramnick on the fallacy of interdisciplinarity, John Durham Peters on technological determinism, and Charles Altieri on fallacy and its implications for contemporary literary theory. With an introduction by editor Elisa Tamarkin.

Summer Travel Round-Up

Traversing the history of cartography, cross-cultural encounters and discoveries, travelers fortunate and unfortunate, and voyages to the depths of the sea, these travel-related essays make good transit companions for summer journeys.

 

Ricardo Padrón, “Mapping Plus Ultra: Cartography, Space, and Hispanic Modernity,” Representations 79 (Summer 2002): 28-60.

 

Sumathi Ramaswamy, “Catastrophic Cartographies: Mapping the Lost Continent of Lemuria,” Representations 67 (Summer 1999): 92-129.

 

Christopher L. Hill, “Crossed Geographies: Endō and Fanon in Lyon,” Representations 128 (Fall 2014): 93-123.

 

Michel de Certeau, “Travel Narratives of the French to Brazil: Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries,” Representations 33 (Winter 1991): 221-26.

 

H. G. Cocks, “The Discovery of Sodom, 1851,” Representations 112 (Fall 2010): 1-26.

 

Louis Montrose, “The Work of Gender in the Discourse of Discovery,” Representations 33 (Winter 1991): 1-41.

 

Jean-Pierre Vernant, “Odysseus in Person,” trans. James Ker, Representations 67 (Summer 1999): 1-26.

 

Robert Weimann, “Fabula and Historia: The Crisis of the “Universall Consideration” in The Unfortunate Traveller,” Representations 8 (Autumn 1984): 14-29.

 

Lorna Hutson, “Fortunate Travelers: Reading for the Plot in Sixteenth-Century England,” Representations 41 (Winter 1993): 83-103.

 

Margaret Cohen, “Denotation in Alien Environments: The Underwater Je Ne Sais Quoi,” Representations 125 (Winter 2014): 103-26.

Form and Reform Conference

Representations editorial board member Ian Duncan will be presenting a keynote lecture at the upcoming Form and Reform conference on 19th-century literature, art, and history.

 

The conference will be held at UC Santa Cruz from July 27-29, 2017, and is free and open to the public. Duncan’s lecture, on the topic of “The Natural History of Form: From Aesthetic Education to Sexual Selection,” will take place at 8pm on Friday, July 28th. For more information, visit the conference website.

 

The Art of Friendship in France

The Art of Friendship in France / L’Art de l’amitié en France, 1789-1914

at Maison Francaise d’Oxford

Oxford, UK, July 19-20

Representations editor Michael Lucey and authors Sharon Marcus and Maurice Samuels with be participating in this two-day conference sponsored by Cambridge University’s The Art of Friendship in France project.

From the project’s description:

Friendship is everywhere. It is almost impossible to imagine a society or culture without it. Yet for a concept that is so immediately, intuitively meaningful to virtually all human beings, friendship has been a famously intractable scholarly problem. Unofficial, uncodified and unregulated (not to mention, very often, unspoken), friendship does not lend itself to clear theoretical definition; nor do the friendships of the past necessarily leave traces that might allow us to elaborate a model of historical friendship from evidence. It is doubtless both the challenge and the possibilities promised by these problematic aspects of friendship that have made it such a productive field of research, across a number of disciplines, in the last twenty years.

An Episode in the Histories of Realism and Emotion

Prosaic Suffering: Bourgeois Tragedy and the Aesthetics of the Ordinary

by Alex Eric Hernandez

The essay begins: 

In 1778, Samuel Johnson was asked to weigh in on the prose of a new bourgeois tragedy, The Female Gamester. Its author, Gorges Edmond Howard, was a Dublin-based lawyer and literary dabbler whose attempt at domestic drama might have been wholly forgotten were it not for the fragment of Johnsoniana he preserved in its preface. Having originally written the play in a mixture of prose and verse, Howard had been advised by “several of [his] literary acquaintance” that his “not much exalted” prose was much more suitable to the “scene . . . laid in private life, and chiefly among those of middling rank.” For many, it seems, the bourgeoisie suffered in prose. But Johnson, Howard recalls, would have none of this:

Having communicated this to Dr. Samuel Johnson, his words (as well as I remember) were, “That he could hardly consider a prose Tragedy as dramatic . . . that let it be either in the middling or in low life, it may, though in metre and spirited, be properly familiar and colloquial; that, many in the middling rank are not without erudition; that they have the feelings and sensations of nature, and every emotion in consequence thereof, as well as the great, and that even the lowest, when impassioned, raise their language.”

Johnson’s argument tweaked the older, neoclassical assumption that poetic decorum mandates a correspondence between the language and social rank of a drama’s principal figures. Here a tragedy’s verse style has less to do with the nobility of those represented—as had been the case for John Dryden in An Essay on Dramatick Poesie (1668), where heroic rhyme’s “exalt[ation] above . . . common converse” images “the minds and fortunes of noble persons . . . exactly”than with the intensity of the depicted afflictions. Tragedy needs verse not because its “elevation” allegorizes the status of its heroes, but because it corresponds to the magnitude of the drama’s subject matter, quite literally inscribing an emotional richness otherwise lost in the flatness of prose.

Johnson’s intervention plays out a mid-eighteenth-century discussion of the representation of emotion on the tragic stage, disclosing an unease with the degrading (if not also disenchanting) effects of prosaic suffering. Contemporaries in the period worried that prose was “fine and nervous,” disconcertingly “artless,” and “offensive,” while at the same time mere “trifling,” “below the dignity of Tragedy,” and even, for that reason, somehow “unnatural” in its expression. Consider, for example, that Johnson himself asserts that affliction “raises [one’s] language,” lapsing—naturally, he suggests—out of the grittiness of prose into the elegance of the poetic. A sort of poetry in the raw, suffering reaches after what’s already aesthetic and universal to misfortune, while prose trivializes and bogs down in the particular, rendering a tragedy “hardly dramatic,” untrue to the genre and affliction it purports to represent. Writing a few years later, Henry Mackenzie saw the genre’s strength as its ability to simulate those very same particulars, “the ordinary feelings and exertions of life” that nevertheless remained in tension with the tragic. In his view, suffering of this sort was if anything too true, its realism overburdening one’s perception. “Real distress, coming in a homely and unornamented state,” he concludes, “disgusts the eye.” Obscuring its art with disturbing efficacy, the outward formlessness of prosaic suffering threatened to neutralize the pleasures of the tragic.

These concerns spoke to a moment of renewed interest in bourgeois and domestic tragedy, capping a period of formal experimentation in Britain, France, and Germany that Peter Gay claims was crucial to the Enlightenment’s “emancipation of art.” Beginning around the production of George Lillo’s landmark 1731 tragedy The London Merchant, a series of important works fashioned a new aesthetic idiom calibrated to “the ordinary feelings and exertions of life” by working through varieties of verse, prose, and the visual arts. Scholars have long cited Denis Diderot’s Le Fils naturel (1757) and Discours sur la poésie dramatique (1757) as well as G. E. Lessing’s Miss Sara Sampson (1755), Hamburgische Dramaturgie (1767–69), and Emilia Galotti (1772) as key moments in the drama’s modernization. But a variety of lesser-known works such as Charles Johnson’s prose Caelia; or The Perjur’d Lover (1732), Lillo’s 1736 encore to The London Merchant, Fatal Curiosity (which contemporaries claimed produced domestic interiors to horrifying effect in the cramped Little Haymarket theater), and Trauerspiele like Clementina von Poretta (1760; by Christoph Martin Wieland) and Clarissa (Johann Heinrich Steffens’s 1765 dramatization of Samuel Richardson’s novel) played with the representational mechanics of what one might call “ordinary suffering,” inhabiting familiar spaces and embodied emotion in ways that contemporaries took to be radical departures from established tragic convention. Among the most revolutionary of these innovations was the sustained use of prose, which until then had been largely confined to the domain of comedy. Indeed, in London, the 1770s and ’80s alone saw the production and publication of a number of prose tragedies, including notable revivals of The London Merchant and Edward Moore’s The Gamester (1753), curious adaptations such as The Fatal Interview (1782; a domestic tragic sequel to Pamela), quasi-gothic meditations on domestic violence like Richard Cumberland’s The Mysterious Husband (1783), as well as drames bourgeois in the form of Diderot’s 1758 Le Père de famille (translated “by a lady” as The Family Picture in 1781) and Louis-Sébastien Mercier’s L’Indigent (1772; translated in London and Edinburgh as The Distressed Family in 1787). Despite the concerns of those like Johnson and Mackenzie, by the latter half of the century, a deft use of prose on the stage could render the theater uncannily intimate, calling forth a space where private woe played out for all to see.

In what follows, I want to explore the affective stakes of this turn to prosaic suffering. Or rather more precisely, I want to trace a line through the contested process by which suffering became prosaic in eighteenth-century bourgeois and domestic drama in order to draw some implications for the history of emotion and the dialectics of realism at midcentury. My claim is that the emergence of prosaic suffering on the period’s tragic stage helps to imagine modern forms of affliction, thereby navigating a range of confessedly “ordinary” feelings by evoking and engaging and testing them across page and stage. Unlike the “heroick suffering” of classical, pathetic, or otherwise “high” tragic forms prevalent at the earlier part of the century, prosaic suffering performed its grief with troubling immediacy and a raw intensity, in ways that were personal and familiar, absorptive rather than theatrical, and provocatively disenchanted in their implications. Prosaic suffering presents the tragic figure as an emblem of abandonment, in which (as Georg Lukács claimed of the novel) everyday life is experienced as simultaneously leaden and trivial. I anchor my discussion in a close reading of Moore’s The Gamester, a drama whose importance to the development of realism was well known in the eighteenth century, and whose use of prose at midcentury tracks this shift in suffering most clearly, though by no means exclusively (as will become clear). Adapting the novel’s “writing to the moment” for the theater, (a method almost certainly absorbed in Moore’s reading of Clarissa and correspondence with Richardson on the novel’s formal effects), prose conferred a lively presence upon the performance of suffering, in ways that denied its spectators the sort of rhetorical elevation that stood in for transcendence. In making this case, therefore, I place the practices of British bourgeois tragedy in dialogue with contemporary performance and aesthetic theory so as to reconstruct the terrain of emotion’s exploration onstage. If, as one critic has claimed, versification serves to beautify the experience of suffering, prose insists on its crude intolerability, its reality and resistance to poetic gilding. Continue reading …

This essay looks to bourgeois tragedy’s use of prose in the mid-eighteenth century as an episode in the histories of realism and emotion, arguing that the emergence of prosaic suffering on the period’s tragic stage helps to imagine modern forms of affliction. Taking Edward Moore’s 1753 drama The Gamester as emblematic of this shift, and situating the text in its performative and aesthetic contexts, I trace the “emotional practices” that navigated a range of confessedly “ordinary” feelings by evoking, engaging, and testing them across page and stage. Performing its grief with troubling immediacy and a raw intensity, in ways that were personal and familiar, absorptive rather than theatrical, and provocatively disenchanted, bourgeois tragedy thereby embodied a middling mode of existence in which the prosaic qualified not only the drama’s form but also, ultimately, its content.

ALEX ERIC HERNANDEZ is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Toronto, where he works on Restoration and eighteenth-century literature and culture. This essay is part of his book in progress titled Modernity and Affliction: The Making of British Bourgeois Tragedy.

 

Radical Staging

Representations‘ editor Mary Ann Smart and authors Laura Tunbridge and Lydia Goehr on opera in Stockholm this weekend:

30 June 2017, 9.30 AM – 01 July 2017, 4.00 PM 
Department of Culture and Aesthetics, Frescativägen 22B-26, Stockholm University
After the much-noted “performative turn” in the humanities, the diverse field of opera studies seemed destined to move into a new paradigm. Widely read studies like Tom Sutcliffe’s Believing in Opera (1997) and David Levin’s Unsettling Opera (2007) promised a more refined approach to operatic production, dramaturgy and mise-en-scène, while Carolyn Abbate, Elisabeth LeGuin and others argued for the necessity of making bodily presence and liveness the key concern of opera scholarship. Against this background, the conference “Opera and Performance” aims to map a wide array of current positions in opera studies: To what extent have the concerns and methodologies of performance studies impacted current research on opera? Have notions of performance and event replaced the traditional focus on the operatic work, or have these perspectives merged into new syntheses? What is the current state of the debate pitting liveness and presence against meaning and interpretation? What is the role of the body and its movements in scholarship that emphasizes dance, gesture and choreography as vital components of operatic performance? What status do concepts of media and mediation have in opera studies today? Furthermore, how do these methodological issues relate to recent developments in the art of opera, such as stagings that operate beyond the dichotomous clichés of Werktreue and Regietheater; experimental forms of music theatre that take place outside the grand institutions of mainstream opera; and operas intended to be experienced through digital media?