The Origins of Modern Prose

Mercury’s Words: The End of Rhetoric and the Beginning of Prose

by John Guillory

The essay begins:

The origin of modern prose style was the subject of much scholarly debate in the first half of the twentieth century, but interest in the subject waned thereafter. Today, few scholars other than Restoration specialists or historians of rhetoric are likely to recall the terms of the debate between Morris W. Croll and Richard Foster Jones or their successors. And yet prose style has once again become an important locus of work in literary study, most conspicuously in the new field of digital analysis, which has returned scholarship to some very old concerns of literary history. After decades in which literary study has been dominated by contextual hermeneutics, it seems possible once again to think about literary change in formal terms, as Franco Moretti has notably argued: “For me, formal analysis is the great accomplishment of literary study, and is therefore also what any new approach—quantitative, digital, evolutionary, whatever—must prove itself against.” I would endorse this provocation, and indeed I want to raise the stakes of formal analysis in this essay by taking a step back from the computational project and from the favored object of Moretti’s project—the novel—and look instead at prose itself as the perennial subject of discourse about style. The aim of my argument is to recover a crucial episode in the historical conceptualization of style and thus to restore the emergence of modern prose to its key position in our understanding of English literary history.

The unresolved inquiry begun by Croll and Jones set out from the manifest difference of modern prose from its Renaissance and medieval antecedents. As a subset of language change, the development of prose style has its own set of complex determinations. All prose, let us stipulate, is the sum of stylistic features determined by a familiar set of conceptual operators: form, genre, author, period, literary fashion, and perhaps others as yet unspecified. But prose as such is a purely conceptual entity; it functions as a kind of raw material for composition, seemingly undetermined with regard to content and yet constrained by conventions of grammar and usage. The components of style further limit prose, however difficult these elements are to specify. Croll argued that the emergence of modern English prose style in the later seventeenth century was a result of the anti-Ciceronian movement, which was correlated with a reorientation of the genre system that privileged the forms of essay and treatise over the form of oratory. Jones, by contrast, traced modern prose to a series of polemics emanating from the Royal Society on behalf of the “plain style,” which he saw as directly influencing composition in prose. Although both Croll and Jones grasped aspects of the transformation of prose, their causal hypotheses failed to demonstrate a definitive mechanism of change that would explain the syntax and diction we recognize as modern. I remain agnostic about causal arguments and propose here a different kind of historical hypothesis: New developments in the discourse of prose style betray the recognition of prose avant la lettre as a medium. This recognition was more precisely a misrecognition, in the sense that the “plain style” was understood as a new kind of prose rather than an intuition about the nature of prose itself. Nevertheless, this misrecognition had the perhaps unintended effect of dislodging prose from its immemorial subordination to the system of rhetoric and severing its link to the preeminent genre of oratory. Prose changed when this regulatory regime was lifted, though not necessarily in ways prescribed by the advocates of anti-Ciceronianism or the plain style. Further, composition in prose continued for some time to be described in rhetorical terms, because no other technical lexicon was yet available. The importance of this lexical overhang is a part of the story I mean to tell, and has consequences that extend into the present.

In this story, oratory is more important than narrative. The fact that we never encounter any prose that is not generically or formally marked means that prose is always somewhere behind its manifestations, of which narrative is only one. For this reason, I do not offer here a “prosaics” based on the instance of narrative, which has been the premise of most efforts to construct a theory of prose, from Viktor Shklovsky onwards. Prose was understood in antiquity rather as the complement of verse, which long predated it as a kind of marked speech. If poetry has an obvious signal in the aural form of meter, prose has been strangely harder to define, often yielding to Monsieur Jourdain’s naive apprehension: prose is any speech or writing that is not verse. Yet prose first appeared in ancient Greece in the rarified form of an art—rhetoric—complementary to the art of poetry. The first rhetoricians called the object of their art “persuasive speech.” This speech was obviously different from poetry, but such was the oddity of it that the Greeks could only name it “bare” or “naked” speech (logos gymnos), to indicate the absence of meter. Although the sophists elaborated this bare speech into complex syntactic schemes and figurative modes of expression, it somehow still remained nominally bare speech. The Romans struggled with the same paradox in what they called prosa oratio, “straightforward speech.” Prosa, which gives us our vernacular word prose, is a contraction of pro + vertere, to turn straight forward; prose means speaking “right on,” to quote Shakespeare’s Marc Antony (who, as it happens, is speaking neither forthrightly nor in prose). Eventually the umbilicus to oratory was severed, and prose came to be associated in a special way with the kind of writing that is visually distinct from verse, or written to the margin of the page. But it is not easy to say exactly when this break with oratory was accomplished. Writing in early modernity continued to exhibit what Walter Ong calls an “oral residue” for as long as oratory occupied the highest place in the hierarchy of prose genres.

Scholars have identified several beginnings of prose even after its inception with Greek rhetoric, for example, the one advanced by Jeffrey Kittay and Wlad Godzich in their study, The Emergence of Prose, which locates an origin of prose in the transition to French vernacular writing of the later middle ages. Kittay and Godzich see in this prose an irreversible movement away from the deictic situation of the French jongleurs, who recited (or sang) their vernacular verses, thus rooting their compositions in a single time and place of performance. French narrative prose, by contrast, whether chronicle or fiction, displaced this deixis to a purely “textual space” (116), in which Kittay and Godzich see the appearance of a new “signifying practice” that is highly versatile and pulls together any number of discourses in its web—in short, “the birth of modern prose” (195). That this moment of transition, which is linked to the privileged instance of narrative, fully comprehends the possibilities of prose in modernity seems unlikely to me, although where one stands on this question depends on how one defines modernity. In any correlation of prose with modernity, these two terms will define each other. Still, we can safely say that each emergence of prose enables what follows, and this is the explanatory framework I adopt in this essay. The emergence of prose in the seventeenth century is possibly the last of a series beginning in Greek antiquity—that is, if we are not now on the cusp of a new digital prose. Continue reading …

This essay offers a new interpretation of a longstanding and unresolved controversy concerning the origins of modern prose style. Setting aside causal explanations proposed for the marked changes in prose style during the later seventeenth century, I argue that what emerges in urgent polemics for the “plain style” is a recognition of prose itself as a medium of composition. This intuition about the nature of prose had the unintended effect of liberating prose from its immemorial subordination to the system of rhetoric and opening up new possibilities for its exploitation as a means of communication.

JOHN GUILLORY is Professor of English at New York University. His current work includes a book on the figure of philosophy in Renaissance writing and a study of close reading as “cultural technique.”

Vision and the Firefly

Does a Glowworm See? Sigmund Exner’s Study of the Compound Eye

by Christoph Hoffmann

The essay begins:

In 1891, the Viennese physiologist Sigmund Exner published the first comprehensive study of complex, multifaceted eyes. Today, his book The Physiology of the Compound Eyes of Insects and Crustaceans is a classic in its field. Scholars still refer to Exner’s findings, even if “it took the scientific community 80 years to catch up with his state of knowledge.” The most popular outcome of Exner’s studies was a picture proudly printed opposite the title page. According to the caption, the figure shows “the erect retinal image in the eye of the firefly (Lampyris spldl.).” The original photograph was made with the help of Josef Maria Eder, author of the Handbuch der Photographie and renowned director of the Viennese Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt (Academy of graphic arts). Eder placed the eye—fully stripped of all tissue behind the lens structure—under a microphotographic apparatus, focused on the plane almost directly behind the inner endings of the ommatidia, and then recorded the image that would have formed at this point on the removed retinal layer. The resulting photograph shows the window of the laboratory room; the letter R, slightly distorted, mounted on one of its panes; and finally, beyond the pane, the “Schottenfeld Church and church tower, approximately several hundred paces distant” from the laboratory. This, at least, is what a human observer notices when studying the picture. Far more questionable is what the glowworm might see. Even if the photograph exactly reproduces the image “which the eye of the glowworm beholds,” as Eder claimed, it is not at all clear whether the resulting impression is comparable to the one perceived by a human being, and, even less clear, whether we can suppose that seeing always takes place in the same way.

From today’s perspective, Exner’s monograph indeed marks a moment in which the then still uncontested equating of the visual process with the perception of images took shape as a widely valid but nevertheless limited understanding of vision. The phrase “from today’s perspective” deserves special emphasis because Exner himself never drew this conclusion in his writings. My suggestion is motivated, rather, by a tension between Exner’s focus in research on the mechanisms of image formation and his ideas about the purpose of the compound eye in animal life. This tension is most noticeable in the photograph of the retinal image of the glowworm (the folk name for the “firefly”). The impression captured is in some respects misleading because the depiction of objects, according to Exner, plays only a minor role in seeing with a compound eye. Instead, for him, the main purpose of such an eye was to detect perceptible changes in the environment.

In the following pages I argue that the unspoken conflict marking Exner’s discussion of the compound eye may be considered a window into the way Western scientific thought has constructed a framework for vision since at least the beginning of the seventeenth century. In part 1 I focus on the fact that Exner, with the photograph of the retinal image, visually cited a crucial experiment. For scholars in physiological optics, the retinal image did not constitute one phenomenon among others, but represented the very moment when seeing began: the formation of a picture of the outside world in the back of the eye. Originally based on observations made with the single-chambered-lens eye, image formation also guided scholars who, since the end of the seventeenth century, had begun to explore the capacities of the compound eye. As part 2 shows, the very different structure of such an eye only underscored the notion that the formation of the retinal image must take place slightly differently. Exner’s studies followed this line of research; for the two basic types of compound eyes, he successfully documented how the complex lens apparatus is able to form a retinal image of the outside world. Nevertheless, as already noted, Exner also subverted this line of research by emphasizing that such an eye must be particularly apt for perceiving changes in the environment. In part 3, I frame the resulting inconsistency, to quote Ludwik Fleck, as due to the “tenacity of systems of opinion.” I argue that the concept of vision based on the perception of images was so dominant that Exner overlooked the potential consequences of his own ideas. Continue reading …

What does seeing mean with respect to different living beings? Is seeing with a compound eye similar to seeing with a single-lens eye? In what way is vision conceptually coupled with the formation of a retinal image? These and other questions arise from consideration of a famous photograph of the retinal image formed by the eye of a glowworm in Sigmund Exner’s authoritative treatise on compound eyes of 1892.

CHRISTOPH HOFFMANN is Professor of Science Studies at the University of Lucerne. His current research focuses on experiments in animal communication and data work in the sciences.


Photography, Pathology, and Colonial Peoples in Hawai’i

Promiscuous Signification: Leprosy Suspects in a Photographic Archive of Skin

by Adria L. Imada

The essay begins …

In 1903, a photograph of a Hawaiian leprosy patient appeared in the lead article of the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Leprosy in the Hawaiian Islands.” The author, a Philadelphia physician named Judson Daland, identified the male subject only by his clinical symptoms: “Leprosy, showing the characteristic plantar ulceration and changes in the fingers.” The image, along with those of seven other patients from Hawai‘i, dominated the text and drew the viewer’s eye to the open sores on his feet and fingers. Offering intimate optic encounters with the somatic alterities of leprous bodies, this photograph and its companions merged the horrors of leprosy with specific Hawaiian pathological cases. Daland linked racial difference to this disease, confidently declaring that Hawaiians were subject to a “peculiar susceptibility” to leprosy, while whites were not.

A decade later, another American physician repurposed the very same clinical image of this leprosy patient for a different purpose. This time, the photograph was used to promote a putatively successful surgical cure for leprosy. The caption in the 1913 New York Medical Journal read: “Illustrating surgical treatment of hand and foot,” although no surgery had been performed on this patient. The appearances of this clinical photograph ten years apart suggest how photographs of leprosy patients performed much cultural work. Western scientists relied on images of raced bodies with radically altered skin and body parts to draw attention to their clinical and public health narratives. At the same time, these images firmly attached this dreaded disease to people and bodies from the Pacific.

But what was the specific origin and history of this photograph? How did it come to travel from Hawai‘i to American medical journals and generate such flexible meanings? Why was it taken and whom did it represent? These answers can be partially found by tracing this photograph back to its original entry in the Hawai‘i Board of Health (BOH) archive in 1902. The patient was a nineteen-year-old Hawaiian man named John Kapuahi, also known as Keoni Kapuahi. He was one of at least eight thousand leprosy suspects apprehended in Hawai‘i under its leprosy segregation law between 1866 and 1969. Kapuahi’s file was created when he entered the leprosy detention hospital, known also as the Kalihi receiving station in the port city of Honolulu, on February 3, 1902. A few weeks later, his photograph was taken there. Determined to have leprosy, John Kapuahi was sent to the remote northern peninsula of the island of Molokai that had been set aside as a leprosy settlement. He died there at the age of twenty-six in 1910.

Kapuahi’s photograph resides among approximately 1,400 other images of people suspected of having leprosy in what is now the Hawai‘i State Archives. The images are organized not by name, but as serial cases: one number per individual suspect, a clinical dossier created by date of examination. Kapuahi’s photograph represents the medical and juridical process of examining, diagnosing, and archiving leprosy suspects on the borders of the US insular empire. Hawai‘i became an incorporated territory of the United States in 1900, following the US-backed overthrow of its sovereign and subsequent illegal annexation. Carrying out a strict leprosy isolation and segregation policy that criminalized leprosy beginning in 1866, white Western physicians posted at all island districts reported suspicious cases of leprosy to the Board of Health. Ordinary people were also required to self-report symptoms and surrender themselves to medical authorities. The vast majority of the men, women, and children exiled to the Molokai settlement were Native Hawaiian, with a smaller number of immigrants from Portugal, Japan, China, Korea, and the Philippines.

Today scientists understand leprosy to be communicable through slow-growing bacteria in respiratory droplets. Now known as Hansen’s disease, leprosy is not highly infectious and contracting it requires long-term exposure to untreated patients. It became curable in the mid-twentieth century with antibiotics, but in the nineteenth century no cure existed and there were few effective treatments. The disease can cause nerve damage in the hands, feet, skin, and eyes with disfiguring effects. Although leprosy had been endemic in parts of Western Europe and reappeared in England in the 1840s, it caused great panic in the West during the high age of empire as an “imperial danger” allegedly spread by racialized populations from colonies. By the late nineteenth century, Western scientists concurred that leprosy was caused by a bacterial infection, but they did not know its etiology or transmission. Was it a hereditary condition, or was it communicable through food, soil, or skin contact? Lacking clear answers and cures, physicians who gathered in Berlin at the first international leprosy conference in 1897 could only recommend the isolation of patients to halt its spread.

During this period, Hawai‘i became famous worldwide for its numerous leprosy cases and compulsory medical segregation law; the Molokai leprosy settlement incarcerated far more patients than did settler colonies in South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. The Hawaiian archipelago in the North Pacific Ocean enabled scientists and public health officials to investigate leprosy as it developed and was experienced among different racial groups. Native Hawaiians were especially vulnerable to the disease, but recent immigrant laborers from Portugal, Japan, and China, as well as white settlers of all economic classes, were among confirmed sufferers.

Not only did Hawai‘i isolate and exile thousands of these patients, but its health bureau had also begun to photograph and archive individual cases beginning in the 1870s. This imaging became more systematic by the 1890s. More than any other colonial or tropical location, Hawai‘i produced spectacular images of leprosy patients that were collected, archived, and selectively published for transnational observers in political and medical venues. Yet despite this broad circulation, we know remarkably little about the production and institutional contexts of this visual archive and even less of its meanings. Continue reading …

This essay assesses clinical photographs of leprosy patients created by the Hawai‘i Board of Health in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, or what may be the most extensive visual cataloging of indigenous, Asian, and immigrant bodies in America’s Pacific empire. Building on theoretical and methodological approaches to archives as a process rather than a source, I follow the trail of these clinical images through time and space, from their emergence within a photographic practice of medical management and segregation in Hawai‘i to their prolific circulation in transnational political and medical arenas. Offering spectacular evidence of the racialized and sexualized pathology of colonial peoples, these photographs were tightly regulated but increasingly viewed as clinical erotica after the United States incorporated Hawai‘i as a territory in 1900. The essay further suggests the “affective excess” that can disrupt the photograph’s medical surveillance, as social intimacies and care between Hawaiian patients bloom within the frame.

ADRIA L. IMADA is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of California, Irvine, and author of the award-winning Aloha America: Hula Circuits Through the U.S. Empire (Duke University Press, 2012). She is currently writing a book about the visual culture of leprosy and kinship.


Sonic Meaning and Language Politics

Real-to-Reel: Social Indexicality, Sonic Materiality, and Literary Media Theory in Eduardo Costa’s Tape Works


by Tom McEnaney

The essay begins:

In 1968, Vogue magazine featured an unusual new accessory. Ear (1966), a 24-karat gold anatomical replica that entirely covered model Marisa Berenson’s own ear, was one of a number of fitted extensions—there was also a finger, a toe, and strands of gold hair—that Argentine-born artist Eduardo Costa included in his Fashion Fiction 1. Photographed by Richard Avedon on one of Vogue’s most famous models, Costa’s jewelry—part sculpture, part ornamental prosthetic—attempted to parody the fashion industry even as it was absorbed into its pages. Playful and seductive, Ear wavered on the boundary—quickly eroding in 1968—between high-end fashion and vanguard art. At its most critical, Ear and other Fashion Fictions by Costa literalized the familiar reification of commodity culture: turning human body parts into objects, the works winked at fashion’s claim to be an extension of yourself. In repurposing the language of fashion, they also made sense in the Vogue of the late 1960s alongside the work of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, and other artists. For, like these contemporaries in pop art or works from the Latin American neo-baroque, Costa’s ornaments reveled in the surface rather than condemning the superficial. This fascination with surfaces found an ideal corollary in Avedon’s photography, which celebrated the foreground. With Ear, Avedon’s portrait of Berenson became an almost mythic testament to the “statuesque” model, whose image recalls both a passing victim of Midas’s touch and a Galatea on the verge of breaking into the auditory world

If Ear stopped there, however, we could stack Costa’s Fashion Fictions alongside Oldenburg’s everyday objects or Warhol’s Brillo Boxes—all three artists shared work at the Fashion Show Poetry Event held at the Center for Inter-American Relations in New York in January of 1969. But Ear distinguishes itself from pop art standards not so much for its send-up of commodity culture, as through its emphasis on the auditory image. This sculpture, or ornament, or prosthetic shows what it doesn’t tell: sound is everywhere implicit but nowhere physically present in the work. Asking its viewers to look at listening, Ear transforms the apparently ephemeral world of sound into a physical object.

This objectification of sound, whose effect on the wearer, it’s worth remembering, would be to mute or dull audition, ties in to the revolution in materializing sound in the 1960s. Like our own moment’s explosion of new technologies and formats for producing and consuming sound, postwar innovations in audio engineering, largely linked to the emergence of newly popular recording materials such as magnetic tape, renewed older concerns about fidelity and the realism of reproduced sound. Yet, notably different from most current criticism of digital sound’s apparent loss of fidelity, the 1960s technologies helped produce the cult of high fidelity, renewing nineteenth-century discourses of sonic fidelity and the belief that sound reproduction could become indistinguishable from the recorded source.

As I will explain in greater detail in what follows, Costa’s work at this time went beyond sculpture and concept to draw from new sound recording technologies’ ability to register and (re)produce sonic phenomena, and to bind these transformations to language and literature. In terms familiar to media studies, just as photography or film’s chemical imprint of the sun’s rays onto photographic negatives indexed physical traces of light, high fidelity seemed to expand what Friedrich Kittler would celebrate as the gramophone’s ability to inscribe the material “real” of sonic vibrations onto cylinders or shellac discs. Yet, while Kittler declared that electrical sound recording tolled the death knell of literature, Costa’s tape recording work in the late 1960s fuses the material index of media studies with what linguistic anthropologist Michael Silverstein calls the “non-referential social indexicality” available in language. Such social indexicality exists, for example, in the sonic attributes of a voice that can index a speaker’s age, nationality, sex, and so on. Against what has often been understood as the impasse between literature and media in the wake of Kittler, Costa brings together these two sides of the index to create a literary media theory and practice based in sound recording. Continue reading …

This article develops a linguistic media theory that brings together Peircean materialist indexicality from Barthes, Bazin, Doane, Krauss, and others with linguistic anthropologist Michael Silverstein’s nonreferential (social) indexicality. Following Argentine sound artist Eduardo Costa’s practice with tape recording, the article challenges critical theory to account for the sonic meaning at play in pragmatic (nonsemantic) communication related to gender, race, and diasporic community. More than a mere supplement or limit, material sonic media expand aesthetic representation, and media archaeology opens new possibilities to intervene in language politics.

thumbnail_Tom-McEnaney+Faculty+PhotoTOM McENANEY is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Cornell University. He is the author of several articles and the forthcoming book Acoustic Properties: Radio, Narrative, and the New Neighborhood of the Americas (Flashpoints Series, Northwestern University Press, 2017).

The Language of Evangelism

Transducing a Sermon, Inducing Conversion:

Billy Graham, Billy Kim, and the 1973 Crusade in Seoul 

by Nicholas Harkness



The essay begins …

In the spring of 1973, the American evangelist Billy Graham traveled to Seoul, South Korea, for one of his famous crusades. The evangelical campaign took place on Yoido, an island along the Han River. Although this island would emerge over the next decades as a dense urban center of government, finance, and broadcasting, in 1973 it still was largely an empty plot of sandy earth. General Pak Chung-hee, the autocratic ruler of South Korea from 1961 until his assassination in 1979, gave permission for organizers to hold their crusade on an asphalt expanse on Yoido that was used for official state events and military demonstrations. Prior to that, the area had been used as an airstrip by the US military and, earlier, by the Japanese colonial government. On May 30, the first day of the event, more than 300,000 people attended. Each day, the crusade grew in attendance. On June 3, the fifth and final day, Graham preached to a crowd estimated to exceed one million (fig. 1). It was the largest crowd ever amassed for a Billy Graham event.

Next to Billy Graham at the pulpit, and backed by a choir of 6,000 singers, was Billy Jang Hwan Kim, the South Korean minister of Suwŏn Baptist Church, who reproduced Graham’s sermon verbally and peri-verbally—utterance by utterance, tone by tone, gesture by gesture—for the Korean-speaking audience. Kim explained in his autobiography that he watched film footage of Billy Graham’s preaching so that he could “practice the accents, gestures, and intonations of Billy Graham” in order to “become a Korean-speaking Billy Graham” for those five days. In documentary footage of the event, Kim explained that while his own style at the pulpit was different from Graham’s, for those five days he did not want to “divert,” “change,” or make Graham’s message “any different” from what or how Graham preached. Kim described the interactional effect of interpreting for Billy Graham as two voices becoming one voice. He explained this accomplishment in supernatural terms: “Well, once I got in with him, I didn’t even know what I was doing. And I think I was completely influenced by the force that, uh, you know, we call the Holy Spirit.”

Christian leaders in South Korea praised Kim’s performance. Pastor Kim Kyong Nae, secretary general of the crusade, described Kim’s interpretation as capturing Graham’s “spiritual flow” (yŏngchŏk in hŭrŭm) and characterized the interaction of the two preachers as one of “harmony.” Pastor Pang Chi Il, a member of the organizing committee for the crusade, claimed that Kim had not translated Graham’s sermon (pŏnyŏk) at all. Rather, according to Pastor Pang, Kim seemed to have given his own sermon, which, Pang claimed, is why it had made such a deep impression (kammyŏng) on the audience. There was similar praise from US Christians who witnessed Kim’s performance. According to Billy Graham’s official biographer, “Billy Kim actually enhanced Billy Graham. In gesture, tone, force of expression, the two men became as one in a way almost uncanny. A missionary fluent in Korean who knew Graham personally thought that Kim’s voice even sounded like Graham’s. Some TV viewers, tuning in unawares, supposed Kim the preacher and Billy Graham the interpreter for the American forces.” Henry Holley, Billy Graham’s Crusade Director for Asia, put it simply: “The two of them functioned as one.” At a press conference during his trip to Seoul, Graham himself thanked the thousands in Korea who had been “working and praying and preparing” for the success of the crusade and then added: “And I would be absolutely nothing were it not for my good voice, Billy Kim.”

I have two aims for this paper. First, I want to reveal in detail the semiotic processes of synchronization and calibration by which Billy Kim’s sequential interpretation of Billy Graham’s sermon into Korean for a Korean-speaking audience had the semiotic effect of fusing two voices into one. These processes complicate the question of “who” was speaking at any given moment, and they suggest that we must investigate higher-order cultural frameworks that make these processes semiotically legitimate for participants. Second, I attempt to demonstrate how this semiotic fusion of voices drew upon and intensified the very ideological principles of evangelism that brought these two men to the pulpit and justified their speech in Seoul in 1973. As I explain in detail in what follows, this analysis hinges on our methodological expansion from the narrow translation of denotational text to a broader semiotic “transduction” of indexicality through which denotational text emerges interactionally. Although I cannot adequately represent the virtuosity of the performance, my analysis focuses on the dynamic pragmatics of this historic event documented in a film recording that captures the increasingly dense layering of temporal and spatial deixis across codes, the compounding of vocalizations and figurative voicings across speakers, and the way these semiotic dimensions of preaching linked theological principles of radical universality to personal experiences of radical individuation. Continue reading …

This paper is an analysis of the final sermon of Billy Graham’s 1973 Crusade in Seoul, South Korea, when he preached to a crowd estimated to exceed one million people. Next to Graham at the pulpit was Billy Jang Hwan Kim, a preacher who, in his capacity as interpreter, translated Graham’s sermon verbally and peri-verbally—utterance by utterance, tone by tone, gesture by gesture—for the Korean-speaking audience. I examine the dynamic pragmatics (for example, chronotopic formulations, deictic calibrations, voicing and register effects, and indexical dimensions of entextualization) by which a sermonic copy across linguistic codes became an evangelical conduit between Cold War polities. In so doing, I demonstrate how the scope of intertextual analysis can be expanded productively from the narrow translation of denotation across codes to the broader indexical processes of semiotic “transduction” across domains of cultural semiosis.

NICHOLAS HARKNESS is John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University.

After the Parade

A little green from our archives …


Beckett’s Tattered Syntax

The Indigent Sublime: Specters of Irish Hunger

Bad Art, Quirky Modernism
Aoife Monks (with an appearance by Michael Flatley)

Ulysses by Numbers
Eric Bulson

Exhumation and Ethnic Conflict: From St. Erkenwald to Spenser in Ireland

The “Minor Writer” and Literary Value

The Metapragmatics of the “Minor Writer”: Zoë Wicomb, Literary Value, and the Windham-Campbell Prize Festival

by Aaron Bartels-Swindells

The essay begins:

UnknownIn the festival program for the 2013 Windham-Campbell Prize for Literature, Zoë Wicomb, a South African writer primarily known for her work during the postapartheid era, construed her success as “impossible. For a minor writer like myself, this is a validation I would never have dreamt of.” The prizes, given by Yale University, are among the most lucrative individual cultural awards in the world, worth $150,000 each, and the honor was well publicized: in addition to generating global media coverage, Yale hosted a four-day festival that included a prize ceremony and reading. Wicomb’s self-identification as a “minor writer” seems slightly paradoxical in light of such publicity and remuneration. What, then, does “minor writer” signify? How is that significance shaped by broader frameworks that change throughout time and space?

My approach to these questions understands signification as the effect and effectiveness of social action. My adoption of language-in-use methodologies is inspired by Wicomb’s pragmatist analyses of contemporary South African literature and culture, which demonstrate an acute sense of how utterances interact with contexts fashioned through social action. In one such essay, “Shame and Identity: The Case of the Coloured in South Africa,” Wicomb examines how contemporary discursive formulations are produced by and engender “coloured” shame. She uses the past and present of coloured shame to consider the fate of South Africa’s “youthful postcoloniality,” analyzing “ethnographic self-fashioning” and “discursive construction by others” in relation to “the narrative of liberation and its dissemination in the world media that constructed oppression in particular ways.” This formulation provides the impetus to consider how narratives about oppression emanate and are taken up in ways that effect localized articulations of identity. Wicomb’s paper encourages us to examine the significance of the “minor writer”—and its poetic resonances with “minority”—in relation to her claim that “the newly democratized South Africa remains dependent on the old economic, social, and also epistemological structures of apartheid, and thus it is axiomatic that different groups created by the old system do not participate equally in the category of postcoloniality.” We should also think about how the term “minor writer” functions in relation to Wicomb’s literary works, following her discussion of the deleterious influence that these epistemological structures and narratives about oppression have on metropolitan reading strategies that stress cultural hybridity.

Unknown-1Wicomb’s second novel, David’s Story, from which she read at the Windham-Campbell Prize (henceforth WCP) festival, stages many of her concerns about shame, cultural hybridity, the effacement of history, and the past and present status of women in the struggle for justice in postcolonial society. The novel, according to critic Dorothy Driver, is “self-consciously positioned as a postmodernist text” and “dramatize[s] the literary, political, philosophical and ethical issues at stake in any attempt at retrieval of history and voice.” Set in 1991, after the release of Nelson Mandela, and told by a nameless amanuensis, the narrative weaves a number of related plots that imply connections between past and present around that of David Dirkse, a former guerilla of the African National Congress (ANC), who, after the unbanning of the movement, researches the history of his coloured roots. The segment that Wicomb chose to read does not mention David and is drawn from the second narrative of David’s Story, which is about a “minor Griqua chief.” How does this excerpt from the narrative function in relation to Wicomb’s self-description as a “minor writer”?

This article considers postapartheid narratives of liberation and the activity of parsing a text in relation to the creation and circulation of literary and social value. Thus, while I focalize my discussion through the term “minor writer,” my aim is to understand how the expression functions in relation to the schemata of value to which its usage points. The article proceeds in two parts. The first examines how two distinct usages of “minor writer” index different schemata of social knowledge. From Wicomb’s use of the phrase in an interview from 2002 about writing and nation, I explicate how “minor writer” articulates a self-reflective orientation to the intersection of literary and social value in South Africa. I then contrast this usage with the section on Wicomb from the WCP program, which effects a transformation of social value by yoking representations of Wicomb’s literary persona and voice to a particular kind of chronotopic formulation of South Africa. My reading of this artifact demonstrates how microdescriptions of Wicomb and her work evoke macroconstructions of South African society, a process that occludes Wicomb’s self-positioning in the earlier interview. The second part asks how discourses from the WCP festival concerning value circulate beyond it, and whether they affect how we read texts that move between schemata of value. At stake throughout is how the power to consecrate literary value is metapragmatically constituted and contested in relation to the term “minor writer.” Continue reading …

How does the significance of Zoë Wicomb’s description of herself as a “minor writer” in the 2013 Windham-Campbell Prize festival program contrast with her other uses of the term? Arguing that the term’s usage at different times and places indexes distinct schemata of value, I examine the program as an artifact that sediments a certain formulation of Wicomb’s literary persona and provides affordances for parsing her literary works.

AARON BARTELS-SWINDELLS is a PhD candidate in the Department of English at the University of Pennsylvania.

Bergamo’s Poetry

The Blacksmith’s Feet:

Embodied Entextualization in Northern Italian Vernacular Poetry

by Jillian R. Cavanaugh

The essay begins:

How does one know if poetry is good? While there are many ways to answer this question, and as many arguments arising in response to each answer, here I take a linguistic anthropological approach to discuss the production and evaluation of good poetry and good poets—specifically vernacular poetry and poets—as social and cultural processes. I want to undertake, in other words, a cultural poetics or ethnopoetics, explicating a culturally specific structure of evaluation that depends on local understandings, practices, and values. Such projects have a long history in anthropology, at least since Franz Boas’s Introduction to the Handbook of American Indian Languages, which included an investigation of poetry as part of anthropological inquiry, and Edward Sapir’s writing on the anthropological importance of portraying a group’s aesthetics, or their “feel” for the rightness or wrongness of fit of form to function. To consider poetry as a social practice is to consider the local aesthetics within which such poetry comes into being, is evaluated, and circulates. As such, it necessarily means to consider the social positioning of genres as well as social groups, since any local aesthetic practices and standards are built upon connections across genres, environments, texts, speaking contexts, types of speakers and listeners, and modes of evaluation particular to a group.

This analysis focuses on the particular connections that are grounded in bodies, the bodies that appear in poetry and the bodies that produce poetry, as well as how these two categories may or may not align. Briefly, bodies enter into and engage with texts—they write, perform, evaluate, and listen to them—in culturally specific ways that are the intertwined processes of embodied entextualization. How bodies and texts are connected is embedded within local aesthetic systems, such that evaluations of good and bad poetry will at least in part be based on which bodies produce and encounter texts, how bodies are portrayed in texts, and how these two categories may or may not align with each other as well as with culturally specific aesthetic standards about bodies. Continue reading …

Piero-ScuriVernacular poetry is generally evaluated according to culturally specific aesthetic standards, what anthropologists call ethnopoetics. This article offers embodied entexualization—the culturally specific ways bodies are incorporated into as well as produce texts—as a means for analyzing how ethnopoetic systems reflect social and political histories and contexts. The poetry of the northern Italian town of Bergamo, and specifically a poem by a locally celebrated poet, Piero Frér, provides an illustrative case.

JILLIAN R. CAVANAUGH is Leonard and Claire Tow Research Professor at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is a linguistic anthropologist whose research centers on language, food, value, and the construction of meaning.

Celebrate International Women’s Day

With some rabble-rousing from our archives:

233The End of Educated Democracy
Wendy Brown



faculty-thompson-168x210The Evidence of Things Not Photographed: Slavery and Historical Memory in the British West Indies
Krista Thompson


grigsbyNegative-Positive Truths
Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby


img_0218_2Shadowed by Images: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and the Art of Surveillance
Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli


AnneHeadShot2Skins, Tattoos, and Susceptibility
Anne Anlin Cheng

Book Chat with D. A. Miller

Join a discussion with Berkeley professor D. A. Miller about his recent book Hidden Hitchcock 

Wednesday, Mar 8, 2017 | 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall, UC Berkeley

Presented by the Townsend Center for the Humanities

No filmmaker has more successfully courted mass-audience understanding than Alfred Hitchcock, and none has been studied more intensively by scholars. In Hidden Hitchcock, D. A. Miller discovers what has remained unseen in Hitchcock’s movies, a secret style that imbues his films with a radical duplicity.

Focusing on three films—Strangers on a Train, Rope, and The Wrong Man—Miller shows how Hitchcock anticipates, even demands, what he terms a “Too-Close Viewer.” Dwelling within us all and vigilant even when everything appears to be in good order, this “Too-Close Viewer” attempts to see more than the director points out.

author photo in colorD. A. Miller is Professor of the Graduate School and the English Department at the University of California, Berkeley. His recent books include 8 ½ and Jane Austen, or the Secret of Style. In 2013, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Miller has published on Hitchcock twice in Representations: “Hitchcock’s Understyle: A Too-Close View of Rope“ (121, Winter 2013) and “Anal Rope“ (31, Fall 1990).