Data and Literature

Modeling Perspective and Parallax to Tell the Story of Genre Fiction
Ted Underwood
Thursday, November 8th, 2018
5:30 pm – 7:00 pm
Townsend Center, 220 Stephens Hall (Geballe Room), UC Berkeley

In this talk Ted Underwood will use science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and the Gothic to explore the advantages of an approach that asks data science to contribute to the humanities by adding perspectival flexibility, rather than sheer scale. Underwood trained predictive models of these genres using ground truth drawn from various sources and periods (19c reviewers, early 20c bibliographies, contemporary librarians), in order to explore how implicit assumptions about genre consolidate or change across time.

Ted Underwood teaches in the School of Information Sciences and the English Department at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He was trained as a Romanticist and now applies machine learning to large digital collections. His most recent book, Distant Horizons: Digital Evidence and Literary Change (University of Chicago, Spring 2019) addresses new perspectives opened up by large digital libraries. Underwood’s contributions to Representations include Theorizing Research Practices We Forgot to Theorize Twenty Years Ago and Stories of Parallel Lives and the Status Anxieties of Contemporary Historicism.

Fact Meets Fiction in Selma

Selma and the Place of Fiction in Historical Films

by Jeffrey Knapp

The essay begins:

“This isn’t right.” Almost as soon as the man resembling Martin Luther King Jr. has begun to speak, he interrupts himself in frustration. “I accept this honor,” he’d been saying, “for our lost ones, whose deaths pave our path, and for the twenty million Negro men and women motivated by dignity and a disdain for hopelessness.” What does he think isn’t right? Is it the racial oppression he has been evoking? Or is it the felt inadequacy of his words to that injustice? As the man turns away from us, we find that he has been speaking into a mirror, and that he is frustrated in the immediate context by his efforts at getting dressed . “Corrie”—it is King, we now understand, and he’s not alone; his wife Coretta is with him—“this ain’t right.” “What’s that?” she asks, entering from another room. “This necktie. It’s not right.” “It’s not a necktie,” she corrects him, “it’s an ascot.” “Yeah, but generally, the same principles should apply, shouldn’t they? It’s not right.”

This opening to Selma announces the complexity not only of the movie itself but also of the genre to which it belongs—the historical film. First, there is the tonal instability of the scene, which swerves from the tragedy of “our lost ones” to the comedy of the ascot. Then there is the rhetorical switch from King’s earnest and formal speech to the colloquialism of his “ain’t” and the domestic ease of his “Corrie.” As the film reviewer Michael Sragow comments, these transformations seem intended “to signal to audiences that we’re in for an intimate, maybe irreverent look” at King; in general, A. O. Scott argues, Selma is dedicated to “restoring” King’s “human dimensions.” But the start of Selma also briefly confuses us about the meaning of a word that one might have assumed was the last one the movie would want us to feel confused about: “right,” as in “the right to vote,” “the right to assemble, and demonstrate,” “equal rights,” “civil rights.” “I don’t like how this looks,” King says of his ascot: what’s troubling him seems to be an aesthetic, not a moral offense. Another change in emphasis apparently neutralizes that distinction. When Coretta replies that the ascot “looks distinguished and debonair to me,” King clarifies that his objection has all along had a moral dimension to it. “You know what I mean,” he says to his wife: the ascot makes it seem “like we’re living high on the hog dressed like this, while folks back home are . . .  It’s not right.” Just as King wants the language of his speech to match the weightiness of its subject, so he’s concerned that his clothes reflect his social commitments; in aesthetics as in ethics, he believes, “the same principles should apply.” Yet the disorienting shifts of focus in this first scene nevertheless emphasize the potential for principles to become misaligned. Something else “isn’t right” at the start of Selma: the man who speaks these words, the British actor David Oyelowo, is after all merely pretending to be Martin Luther King Jr., and for a moment we might think that he’s expressing nothing more than his dissatisfaction with his performance. The opening to Selma seems, in other words, to anticipate two sorts of skeptical responses to the film: first, that Selma falls short as a historical recreation, and second, that it does so because of its trivializing overinvestment in such merely aesthetic questions as how the recreation “looks.”

These are indeed the very charges that have been leveled against the film, although they have centered less on the portrayal of King than on the representation of another historical figure in the movie, Lyndon Johnson. In an editorial for the Washington Post, the former Johnson aide Joseph Califano Jr. argued that

the makers of the new movie Selma apparently just couldn’t resist taking dramatic, trumped-up license with a true story that didn’t need any embellishment to work as a big-screen historical drama. As a result, the film falsely portrays President Lyndon B. Johnson as being at odds with Martin Luther King Jr. and even using the FBI to discredit him, as only reluctantly behind the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and as opposed to the Selma march itself.

In Selma, Califano charged, aesthetics “trumped” ethics: the producers, screenwriter, and director felt “free to fill the screen with falsehoods, immune from any responsibility to the dead, just because they thought it made for a better story.” Even reviewers more sympathetic to the film have agreed with Califano about its misrepresentation of LBJ. Though praising Selma as “the best depiction of the civil rights struggle of the 1960s,” Albert R. Hunt nevertheless added that “it needlessly, and erroneously, casts Johnson as a reluctant supporter of the Voting Rights Act”; so, too, Ari Berman characterized the film’s account of Johnson as “unnecessarily one-sided.” What troubled all three critics was how “needlessly,” in their view, the makers of Selma had set their aesthetic desire for dramatic “embellishment” against a moral “obligation” to “the facts.”

Proponents of Selma have by and large declined to defend the historical accuracy of Johnson’s portrayal in the film, instead choosing to criticize the very demand for accuracy as hopelessly naive. “Did ‘Selma’ cut some corners and perhaps tilt characters to suit the needs of the story?” David Carr asked. “Why yes—just like almost every other Hollywood biopic and historical film that has been made.” Differentiating Selma from “a documentary or even a dramatized history,” Jamelle Bouie defined it as “a film based on historical accounts, and like all films of its genre, it has a loose relationship to actual history.” Consequently, Bouie added, “it’s better to look at deviations from established history or known facts” in Selma not as defects but rather “as creative choices—license in pursuit of art.” “I’m not a historian. I’m not a documentarian,” Selma’s director Ava DuVernay similarly maintained in a televised interview with Gwen Ifill: “This is art. This is a movie. This is a film.” According to the reviewer Bilge Ebiri, the only relevant terms for judging the rightness of historical films are aesthetic ones: “These movies are not documentaries, nor are they acts of journalism. . . . They’re narrative works, and just like any other narrative work, they need to be true to themselves.”

“Every year,” the film scholar Jeanine Basinger wearily complained when asked to comment on Selma, “I know someone is going to call me about distortion of history when we hit the Oscars.” But there’s a reason that the objection keeps recurring. If it’s a mistake to look for accuracy in historical films, then why do historical films bother with accuracy at all? Although DuVernay rejected the label of documentarian in her interview with Ifill, that is exactly how she began her directorial career, with the hip-hop documentary This Is the Life (2008)—and her next project after Selma was a documentary on the US criminal justice system, 13th. What’s more, historical verisimilitude mattered enough to DuVernay in making Selma that she meticulously reproduced the look and feel of the sixties in her film, chose actors who bore an uncanny physical resemblance to the figures they played, and even spliced actual documentary footage of the final march to Montgomery into Selma’s recreation of it. In the same interview where she claimed that she was no more of a historian than a documentarian, DuVernay expressed her dismay at the “jaw-dropping” ignorance of moviegoers regarding the events her film “chronicled,” and she hoped that her movie would help Selma “resonate with people in the way that it should as being just such a cornerstone of democracy.” Prominent participants in the march have indeed championed the film as historiography. “Everything” except the film’s “depiction of the interaction between King and Johnson,” Andrew Young has said, “they got 100 percent right.” But then how could historical accuracy not be an issue for a film that ends with King’s proclaiming, “His truth is marching on”? The tensions between fact and fiction in Selma are anything but incidental to the movie: they instead reflect the irreducibly hybrid nature of the historical film.

Is it possible to argue that a mix of fact and fiction is necessary to Selma and to historical films generally? Continue reading …

Every historical film must contend with the possibility that its viewers will be scandalized by its mixture of fact and fiction, but no recent historical film has faced such pressure to justify its hybrid nature as Selma has, in large part because no recent film has taken on so momentous and controversial a historical subject: the civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The renewed urgency of the issues Selma dramatizes, along with the film’s own commitment to the “moral certainty” of the civil rights movement, helps explain why Selma wavers in a self-defense that links the fictionality of its historical reenactments to the purposely theatrical element of the marches themselves. But politics are not the only problem for fiction in Selma, and to show why, this essay compares Selma to an earlier historical film, The Westerner (1940), that openly flaunts the commercial nature of its fictionality.

JEFFREY KNAPP is the Eggers Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Faculty Affiliate of Berkeley’s Film and Media Department.  He is most recently the author of Pleasing Everyone: Mass Entertainment in Renaissance London and Golden-Age Hollywood, published in 2017 by Oxford University Press.

Catherine Gallagher Wins Barzun Prize

The American Philosophical Society has announced that Professor Catherine Gallagher has been selected as the 2018 recipient of the Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History for her book, Telling It Like It Wasn’t: The Counterfactual Imagination in History and Fiction.

 

Inventing counterfactual histories is a common pastime of modern day historians, both amateur and professional. We speculate about an America ruled by Jefferson Davis, a Europe that never threw off Hitler, or a second term for JFK. These narratives are often written off as politically inspired fantasy or as pop culture fodder, but in Telling It Like It Wasn’t, Catherine Gallagher takes the history of counterfactual history seriously, pinning it down as an object of dispassionate study. She doesn’t take a moral or normative stand on the practice, but focuses her attention on how it works and to what ends—a quest that takes readers on a fascinating tour of literary and historical criticism.

The topic of counterfactual histories has long engaged Catherine Gallagher. In addition to the essays in this new book, her “When Did the Confederate States of America Free the Slaves?” was published in the special forum Counterfactual Realities in Representations 98, and “The Formalism of Military History” appeared in our 25th anniversary special issue On Form.

Catherine Gallagher is professor emerita of English at the University of California, Berkeley, and a founding member of the Representations editorial board. She is the author of many books, including The Body Economic: Life, Death, and Sensation in Political Economy and the Victorian Novel.

The Literary Contemporary

Contemporary, Inc.

by Theodore Martin

The essay begins:

It is, in one way at least, a good time to be contemporary. In the past ten or so years, the study of contemporary literature and culture has amassed an impressive sum of institutional currency, paid in the usual forms of new professional organizations, journals, conferences, book series, and—such as they are—job searches. So too has the philosophical idea of the contemporary only recently “begun to emerge into the critical daylight,” as the philosopher Peter Osborne points out, bringing with it a “recent rush of writing trying to make some minimal theoretical sense of the concept.” Yet perhaps the most unmistakable sign of the contemporary’s ascendance as a scholarly category is that it has now become a subject for the contemporary novel.

This is not so surprising. Indeed, one of the first things to notice about the range of Anglo-American writers who, through channels of legitimation ranging from classroom syllabi to academic journals to crossover magazines, have become exemplars of the quality that English professors vaguely but confidently call “contemporary”—writers like Teju Cole, Maggie Nelson, Ben Lerner, and Tom McCarthy—is that they are all intensely aware of literature’s intimate relationship to academic work. McCarthy, one of the most frequently taught and talked about English-language writers of the twenty-first century, offers an especially illuminating case study in the current entwining of contemporary literature and contemporary criticism. As both a Man Booker Prize-nominated novelist (for 2010’s C. and 2015’s Satin Island) and a published literary theorist (2006’s Tintin and the Secret of Literature), McCarthy is not only a ubiquitous topic of conversations at literature conferences; he has also become, in recent years, a speaker at those same conferences, giving keynote addresses at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture in 2012 and at the Society for Novel Studies in 2016. If McCarthy’s public career reveals the increasingly permeable boundary between writers and critics in the contemporary moment, his novels narrate the consequences of this new professional permeability. In McCarthy’s hands, the contemporary novel has become an opportunity to reflect on the academic category of the contemporary itself. Halfway through McCarthy’s most recent novel, Satin Island, the narrator, a former academic turned “corporate anthropologist” named U., travels to Frankfurt for a conference. “The theme of the conference,” we are told, “was—for once!—not The Future. It was The Contemporary.” For U., this trending topic is

even worse. It was, of course, a topic to which I’d been giving much thought: radiant now-ness, Present-Tense AnthropologyTM and so forth. But I wasn’t ready to give all that stuff, all those half-formed notions, an outing. Besides which, I’d started to harbour doubts about their viability. These doubts themselves, I told myself in the days before the conference, were what I’d air. To air the doubt about a concept before airing the concept itself was, I thought, quite intellectually adventurous; it might go down well.

To think about the contemporary, McCarthy suggests, is to think mainly in “half-formed notions.” That is because, as U. realizes, the contemporary is an essentially empty category: its uncertainty precedes its content. Imprecise and unformed, the contemporary brooks no positive definition; it can be expressed only in terms of one’s “doubts” about its “viability” or existence.

U.’s conference presentation is, to that end, all doubt and little notion. “The Contemporary,” U. tells his audience, is “a suspect term.” It is not a stable historical period so much as “a constantly mutating space,” less a fixed moment than “a moving ratio of modernity.” The constant movement and mutation of the contemporary means that it is “misguided” to make “periodic claims” about it, since such periodizing claims “can’t be empirically justified” (100). The absence of any empirical or historical grounds for talking about the contemporary means that the term is, at best, only a placeholder for future inquiry. As U. puts it in the last lines of his talk, “What we require is not contemporary anthropology but an anthropology of The Contemporary.” If U. is not entirely sure what he means by this (“Ba-boom: that was my ‘out,’” he admits cynically), neither is his audience; his talk is, we are told, “met with silence” (101).

Yet that silence may have a familiar ring to it. While U.’s lecture may fail to engage its intended fictional audience, it should still capture the attention of many members of its nonfictional audience, for whom it will evoke, with impressive precision, the recognizable language and familiarly awkward experience of the academic conference. In short, these pages of Satin Island are as much a staging of literary criticism as they are literature. As such, they are our first hint of a novel—and, as I’ll argue over the course of this essay, of a moment in the history of the novel—that strives to be not only a novel but also a commentary on the disciplinary frameworks that, in the Anglo-American academy, determine how something becomes a “contemporary” novel in the first place.

Why does Satin Island consider the contemporary such a suspect term? Continue reading … 

In this essay Martin traces the century-long history of contemporary literature as a field of study in English departments. Showing how prior debates about the scholarly status of contemporary literature coincided with both changing disciplinary methodologies and the changing political landscape of the university, he argues that prevailing anxieties about the study of the contemporary today are central to explaining the emergence of a new kind of contemporary novel.

THEODORE MARTIN is Assistant Professor of English at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of Contemporary Drift: Genre, Historicism, and the Problem of the Present (Columbia UP, 2017).

The Case of the House of Usher

Materialist Vitalism or Pathetic Fallacy: The Case of the House of Usher

by Branka Arsić

The essay begins:

Notoriously weird things occur in Edgar Allan Poe’s world, things in fact so bizarre that some readers dismiss them as mere exaggerations, whereas for others they amount to philosophical dilettantism. The list of the weird occurrences in Poe is long, but perhaps most famously: human wills are rendered so powerful that they transport the dead back to life; matter is able to transcend decay, whereas dead bodies, even when dismembered, pulsate with vitality; spirited forces—from minds to presumed supernatural agencies—are endowed with power to generate physical phenomena, such as inarticulate sounds and styled whispers, or to affect the physical by animating or stalling its motion, altering its figuration through various mergings and disseminations of particles of matter. Additionally, the natural and material is afforded immanent life, enabling it to become otherwise without any intervention by divine powers or by anything immaterial at all. Thus, stones and rocks sometimes feel and experience, plants are said to enjoy or suffer, and even planets and elements, as the end of Poe’s prose poem Eureka postulates, are found to be happy and joyous.

How, then, are we to understand such instances? A long tradition of critical reading has explained away Poe’s allegedly weird preoccupations by classifying them as gothic devices mobilized to fuse the strange with the pleasing and to appease the morbid by styling it into the fantastic, while simultaneously spellbinding the reader by means of the cultivated terror Poe depicts. But as I will be arguing, that approach—which reads Poe as a romance-goth—is weak, because it reduces to the aesthetic phenomena that are in fact often scientific, summoned by Poe from domains as different as biology, geology, astronomy, or medicine. For instance, when the claim that death is a radically slowed-down life is taken not as scientific but as a narratological device allowing the dead to revisit the living, and thus generate horror, the aesthetic is made to function as a normalizing shield protecting a dualistic ontology (which posits the divide between spiritual and material, takes matter to be inert, and establishes clear taxonomical topographies that separate beings into their proper existential niches). In that way we are assured that Poe’s anomalous worlds are not really anomalous but merely abstractly or aesthetically so. By ideating and thus anesthetizing Poe’s propositions, the “aesthetic” approach—where aestheticization refers to the content of his narratives, not to their form—weakens the challenge those propositions pose to Western ontology, making us overlook just how seriously Poe was invested in critiquing it, dedicated, as Joan Dayan has argued, to “debunk[ing] the cant of idealism.” That tradition of criticism turns into “romance” his deadly serious ontology, which, Dayan claims, is monistic (enabling the “convertibility” of spiritual into material), committed to “a radically physical world,” and so “attach[ed] to materiality” that even if there are “phantoms and rarified presences” in his stories “they are always seen through or next to the collateral flesh and blood remnants.” As I will argue here, this commitment to the physical, which Poe’s ontology understands as inherently vital, manifests as a ceaseless experiment with processes of becoming and transformation, which undoes the existential status quo of beings and persons. His propositions thus resist being aestheticized as romance, for as Dayan also argued, “‘romance’ . . . always serves the status quo” by “mythologiz[ing] an inwardness,” whereas Poe shatters the coherence of any inwardness, reducing it to the material supposedly external to it. Finally, and most straightforwardly, the anesthetization of Poe’s narratives, their domestication as aestheticized gothic allegories, must be resisted also because a lot of what he wrote enacts strange ontologies without ever rendering them gothic. (What, for instance, is specifically gothic about paranoid obsessions, perverse desires, or even feeling plants?) Continue reading …

This essay revises the inherited understanding of Ruskin’s theory of pathetic fallacy by positing that his ideas are close to theories that oppose any strict division of phenomena into persons and things. To elaborate this point, the essay investigates Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” where inanimate things are rendered animate, claiming that such instances are far from being pathetically fallacious and, also, that Poe’s ontology is in accord with that formulated by Ruskin.

Branka Arsić is Charles and Lynn Zhang Professor of American Literature at Columbia University. She is the author of Bird Relics, Grief and Vitalism in Thoreau (Harvard University Press, 2016), On Leaving: A Reading in Emerson (Harvard University Press, 2010), and a book on Melville entitled Passive Constitutions or 7½ Times Bartleby (Stanford University Press, 2007), as well as coeditor (with Kim Evans) of a collection of essays on Melville entitled Melville’s Philosophies (Bloomsbury, 2017).

Gallagher on Counterfactuals

New from Catherine Gallagher!

Telling It Like It Wasn’t: The Counterfactual Imagination in History and Fiction

The topic of counterfactual histories has engaged Catherine Gallagher for some time. In addition to the essays in this new book, her “When Did the Confederate States of America Free the Slaves?” was published in the special forum Counterfactual Realities in Representations 98, and “The Formalism of Military History” appeared in our 25th anniversary special issue On Form.

Catherine Gallagher is professor emerita of English at the University of California, Berkeley and a founding member of the Representations editorial board. She is the author of many books, including The Body Economic: Life, Death, and Sensation in Political Economy and the Victorian Novel.

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.

Michael Lucey Translation Reviewed

Michael Lucey’s translation of The End of Eddy by Édouard Louis, published earlier this month, has just been reviewed in both the New Yorker and the New York Times

An autobiographical novel about growing up gay in a working-class town in Picardy, The End of Eddy at once captures the violence and desperation of life in a French factory town and provides a sensitive portrait of boyhood and sexual awakening.

The author, Édouard Louis, is a novelist and the editor of a scholarly work on Pierre Bourdieu. He is the coauthor, with the philosopher Geoffroy de Lagasnerie, of “Manifesto for an Intellectual and Political Counteroffensive,” published in English by the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Michael Lucey, a member of the Representations editorial board, is a professor of French literature at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Never Say I: Sexuality and the First Person in Colette, Gide, and Proust and The Misfit of the Family: Balzac and the Social Forms of Sexuality and translator of Returning to Reims by Didier Eribon.

The Language of Science in George Eliot

 “George Eliot’s Science Fiction”
by Ian Duncan

479px-Eastern_equine_encephalitisIn this essay Ian Duncan tracks the strangeness of scientific language in Eliot’s fiction, showing how her recourse to comparative mythology and biology in Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda engages a conjectural history of symbolic language shared by the Victorian human and natural sciences. Troubling the formation of scientific knowledge as a progression from figural to literal usage, Eliot’s novels activate an oscillation between registers, in which linguistic events of metaphor become narrative events of organic metamorphosis.

“George Eliot’s Science Fiction” is from Representations‘ special issue Denotatively, Technically, LiterallyThe introduction to the issue by Elaine Freedgood and Cannon Schmitt is available online free of charge.