Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Metaprofessional Milk and Cookies!

Using Theory Presents
Metaprofessional Milk and Cookies II
Monday, May 11 at 12:30 p.m. in LC 319
Milk, cookies, and despair provided
Reading packets in LC 108

We will be using two texts as spurs to our discussion of all things related to the profession:
Marc Bousquet, "The Waste Product of Graduate Education," from ch. 1 of How the University Works (downloadable here) (New York: NYU Press, 2008), 21-29.
John Guillory, "The System of Graduate Education," PMLA 115, no. 5 (October 2000): 1154-63 (downloadable here, from JSTOR).

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Flynn/Benjamin, 4/23: Packets Available!

Catherine Flynn
Walter Benjamin
The Arcades Project
"Paris, Capital of the 19th Century" (1935)
"Paris, Capital of the 19th Century" (1939)

Thursday, April 23
12:30 p.m. in LC 319*

Reading packets in LC 108
Saltines and ginger ale provided

Catherine Flynn G7 (Comp Lit) will lead our discussion of Benjamin's two "Exposés" to his Arcades Project next Thursday.
*The meeting will take place in LC 319, not 213 as previously announced here.
And look out for announcements of our final event of the year, Metaprofessional Milk and Cookies II.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Setina/Manovich/Armstrong, 4/8: Meeting Minutes

On April 8, 2009, we met to discuss theoretical work on visual media by Lev Manovich and Carol Armstrong. Emily Setina G6 led our discussion of Manovich's "From the Externalization of the Psyche to the Implantation of Technology" and The Language of New Media and Armstrong's Scenes in a Library: Reading the Photograph in the Book, 1843-1875. Many thanks to Emily for running the session, and to all who came for joining the discussion! Minutes follow after the jump; further comments welcome.

Participants: If AG has erred in his note-taking, please contact him and he will emend!

Present: Emily Setina, Anne DeWitt, Julia Fawcett, Colin Gillis, Andrew Goldstone, Gabriele Hayden, Susannah Hollister, Jessica Pressman.

Emily Setina: Introduction.

Oppositions in Manovich: internal, private, mental, individual, unique, unobservable, interior versus external, standard, media, public, reproducible and mass-reproduced, communicable.

Main issues in Manovich excerpts: interactivity; role of new media in increasing externalization and objectification of mental life; standardization.

Main issues in Armstrong/James: authorship, artifact; James on the photographic versus novelistic imagination.

ES wants to show Armstrong using James. The linking theme among the readings is the relationship between imagination and media.

Manovich has a dystopian view and a flamboyant style. He creates his own mythology of the doomsday of technological "standardization." His idea of new media as a language (handout: from the introduction to The Language of New Media): "it was important for me to use the word language to signal the different focus of this work: the emergent conventions, recurrent design patterns, and key forms of new media. I considered using the words aesthetics and poetics instead of language, eventually deciding against them."

The two Manovich excerpts were similar, but ES is interested in the way in which the book frames the "Externalization of the Psyche" thesis with the discussion of digital media and interactivity. Manovich relates modernism to interactivity. He criticizes the idea that interactivity must be physical--related, in his view, to the trend of "externalization."

For Manovich, the languages of new media become our languages for describing the mind: technology determines our models of psychology, and in particular we assume an isomorphism between mental representations and the manipulation of visual media.

ES diverges from Manovich on standardization: for Manovich, the externalization of the psyche causes the "private and individual [to be] translated into the public and become regulated" (60). For ES, it's not just about regulation. Literature is a good place to see this. And anyway, isn't all language about making the private public? But in Manovich, technology seems to come nearer and nearer to representing the mind, "objectifying" private states.

ES criticizes the absence of authorship in Manovich, his tendency to talk about the mind as a storage device. Authorship is meanwhile a central issue in Armstrong. Armstrong's book focuses on the discrete artifact, insisting on the irregularity and physicality of the books she discusses. For James in the Golden Bowl preface, the photograph does not standardize but personalize.

James' "shop of the mind" is not "taken from" anywhere but he still wants Coburn to get a picture of it.

Jessica Pressman asked ES how she uses Manovich in her own work. ES' dissertation introduction is about how modernist writers have used technology to write about mental process. Manovich discusses media models of mind.

Anne DeWitt asked ES how she uses Armstrong. ES pointed out Armstrong's heavy use of Barthes in Scenes. Camera Lucida is still a dominant text in photography studies, even though everyone knows it's problematic as a theoretical framework. For example, its most widely influential term, punctum, is its most slippery--according to Barthes, the punctum escapes language, is what you can't talk about. Armstrong argues that Barthes recovers a nineteenth-century relation to the photograph, before the mass-produce image. Cf. Armstrong: "The punctum, the raw datum of those early articles, now exists in a medium, in the studium of the mechanical reproduction. From the present reperusing perspective of our own mass media moment, it might look as if it always already had been" (432).

JP is interested in Armstrong's discussion of the halftone process. She is reminded of Marshall McLuhan on the newspaper and the text-image.

ES emphasizes Armstrong's focus on the language of photograph--its relationship to writing.

Julia Fawcett asked about authorship and the unconscious: Gertrude Stein's automatic writing; Julia Margaret Cameron's deliberate imperfections in her photographs. Is authorship the intentional stamp of an author, or something else?

ES relates this question to debates about the status of photography as art. Are choices about framing, etc. subjective expression? Michael North's essay "Authorship and Autography" [JSTOR] relates the Barthes of Camera Lucida to the Barthes of "The Death of the Author."

ES has worked on Proust and the unconscious through his metaphors of the mind as darkroom, where images develop. The structure of the Recherche is, with its repeating, developing scenes, itself influenced by this metaphor.

JP commented on Manovich's description of the desire to externalize the mind as "modernist."

Andrew Goldstone wondered whether this involved a kind of "techno-determinism," in which technological changes somehow cause shifts in thinking.

Colin Gillis pointed out that one needn't be determinist about it, if the technology is serving as a helpful metaphor. ES, concurring, is interested in Proust's own interest in photography.

Gabriele Hayden remarks that these technological metaphors can be applied as models after the fact.

JF and AD expressed skepticism about a certain media-studies trend towards asserting that the Internet (etc.) changes the way we think.

ES remarks on this as a persistent issue in film studies, particularly in the work of David Bordwell and Jonathan Crary. Crary's Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century takes up the argument that our senses are changed by technological change. ES is skeptical of this argument.

JP comments that Manovich's role in media studies is to be the straw man, making outrageous claims and sweeping gestures. She adds that more recent media studies--including Crary's most recent work--have tended to argue not that technology changes the mind itself but that it changes the way we use it.

AG suggests that you probably still need to be a strong determinist about the relationship between technology and cultural development if you want to use technological change to explain apparently unrelated changes in artistic form. CG argues, alternatively, that you could see technology and ways of seeing (etc) as evolving together. But AG thinks this begs the question, since you'd still need to know what drives the joint evolution.

JP thinks AG is being too linear. (AG protests.) She remarks on the tendency of causal or genealogical approaches to make nothing seem new. Everything comes out of something earlier: film from photography, etc.

GH still wants to know: what's new about new media?

ES points out Manovich's debunking of many ideas about the definition of new media. She contrasts the work of William J. Mitchell in The Reconfigured Eye, who argues that the digital is totally new.

For JP, new media studies shouldn't have to make a stark choice between "new media is new" and "new media is old."

CG doesn't understand Manovich's nostalgia for an untouched interior self. JP wonders whether this is how LM feels. Susannah Hollister criticizes Manovich's naive internal/external distinctions. GH points out that the "externalization of the psyche" is much older: as in Aristotle's image of memory as a storehouse.

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Monday, April 6, 2009

Emily Setina, 4/6: Packets available!


Lev Manovich

The Language of New Media (excerpts)
"From the Externalization of the Psyche to the Implantation of Technology"

Carol Armstrong

Scenes in a Library

Wednesday, April 8
12:30 p.m.--LC 208

Reading packets in department lounge
Ginger ale and saltines provided

Click here for the full blog entry.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Special Guest Lecture!

We announce with great pleasure our very first Using Theory Special Guest Lecture, to take place next Monday afternoon:

Brent Hayes Edwards

Professor of English and Comparative Literature
Columbia University
Author of The Practice of Diaspora
Co-Editor of Social Text

Mary Lou Williams

Monday, March 30
4 p.m. in LC 317

Click here for the full blog entry.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Nicholson/Puttenham, 2/25: Packets available

Catherine Nicholson
Uses Old Theory:
George Puttenham's
Art of English Poesy

Wednesday, February 25, 2009
12:30 p.m.--LC 208
Reading packets in LC 108
Ginger ale and saltines provided

The packet is a modernized critical edition of Puttenham's text. Scans of the original 1589 edition are available on EEBO through this link [must be on Yale network]. We are reading Book 1, chapters 1-6, 9-10, 30-31; Book 2, chapters 1-3, 6, 12; Book 3, chapters 1-4, 7, 9-10, 17, 21, 23.

Our tentative schedule for the rest of the semester:
March 30: Special Distinguished Guest Lecture
April 8: Emily Setina
April 21: Catherine Flynn
TBA: Metaprofessional Milk and Cookies II

After the jump: some spurs to discussion. Comments always welcome.

AG's response

I'm very grateful to Cathy Nicholson for giving us a chance to discuss Puttenham. Within a theoretical context, reading The Art of English Poesy reminds us of the long history of literary theory (i.e., theory goes back before 1960's France). It also forces us to historicize the theory we use, and then to ask what use is to be made of historicized theory, whether for the study of the literature of the same period or of another.

Our excerpt is also largely, though not solely, occupied with rhetoric and figurative speech. Thus reading Puttenham raises questions about the place of rhetoric in our, or any, literary-theoretical enterprise. This is the issue I'm now going to say a little bit more about, as a provocation to discussion. I don't know whether Cathy or the group will want to take it up on Wednesday; obviously, in abstracting Puttenham in this way, I'll be scanting his Early Modern particularity and all the interest that holds for thinking about that period, about the consolidation of English vernacular literature and its relations to other contemporary and ancient literatures, etc. But I think the strange relation of rhetoric to contemporary theory is a key issue that everyone has to think about.

The philosophers Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson have been saying for two decades that rhetoric is not a genuine subject matter. Arguing from their view of linguistic pragmatics (called Relevance Theory, which is shaped by analytic philosophy and research in cognitive science), they suggest that the the concepts of "trope" and "figure" are not natural kinds. From a cognitive perspective, some of the devices traditionally grouped together as figures of speech do not belong together at all; and, furthermore, most or all of the classical figures should be regarded as differing only in degree from other loose ways of speaking found in all kinds of ordinary language. (There's more to it than that, but the basic point is that the figures shouldn't be studied in isolation from many other kinds of language use.)

One powerful statement of their view is their 1990 essay "Rhetoric and Relevance," which begins with the claim that in the 2500-year history of rhetoric, "the same substance was inculcated by eighty generations of teachers to eighty generations of pupils": the field combined "institutional success with intellectual barrenness." This same substance is, according to Sperber and Wilson, the view that rhetorical figures serve to ornament an essentially unchanged literal meaning. Puttenham belongs in this line, gladly transmitting the classical view that rhetorical figures add to the persuasiveness and attractiveness of language without really changing its meaning. Against the classical understanding of figurative language Sperber and Wilson pose "the Romantics" (they mean everyone from Coleridge to Empson and beyond), who argued that the connotative richness of figures meant they were unparaphrasable--and also untheorizable.

For SW, rhetoric is still where the Romantics left it, in a shambles. Rhetorical terms are now used as loosely as everything else: "This academization of Romanticism allowed--more paradox--the resurgence of classical rhetoric...And so we find, in modern literary studies, a Romantic use of rhetorical terms: they are not endowed with a 'proper meaning' anymore, but they suggest subtle distinctions and evoke scholarly sophistication and historical depth." Thinking about the appeal of Puttenham's list of figures, from antonomasia to synecdoche, this hit home. I've definitely thrown around rhetorical terms in a pretty impressionistic way, even as I congratulated myself on the rigor of my "close reading."

As a cure, SW advise jettisoning the illusory "field" of rhetoric and instead setting out on an empirical program of research in cognitive psychology and linguistic pragmatics. They have continued to defend this view, for example in their recent summary of Relevance Theory for an Oxford handbook of the philosophy of language. One of their targets, more obvious in 1990 than today, is the would-be rhetoricism of structuralism and deconstruction. They hit on the same phenomenon that John Guillory so scathingly exposes in Cultural Capital: the way Yale School deconstruction deployed rhetorical terms to signify methodological "rigor" while in fact using those terms to designate thematic associations rather than the consistent linguistic or "structural" patterns they claimed to be identifying. Though there is certainly an element of caricature in SW's history of rhetoric, I am quite persuaded by what they have to say, and I think that the slow, still-incomplete eclipse of deconstruction has not ended literary studies' infatuation with the ad hoc, impressionistic use of rhetorical terms.

I read Puttenham and think: We really haven't made any progress in this field since his work. Why not? The only thing holding us back now, I suggest, is a disciplinary siege mentality, which refuses to forfeit the creaky proprietary terminology of tropes to a confrontation with the best contemporary work coming from philosophy and the social sciences on how people use language.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Alryyes/Lukács, 12/2: Meeting minutes

On Tuesday, December 2, we met to discuss excerpts from Georg Lukács' Theory of the Novel and The Historical Novel. Many thanks to Professor Ala Alryyes for leading our discussion, and to Glyn Salton-Cox for taking minutes! Participants should e-mail AG or CG if something has been lost in the passage from live voice to HTML. And all are welcome to comment. Follow the link to the full post for the minutes.

Our spring schedule will be forthcoming shortly--check back for updates.

Leader: Ala Alryyes
Present: Misha Avrekh, Katerina Clark, Sam Cross, Colin Gillis, Andrew Goldstone, Heather Klemann, Sebastian Lecourt, Jessica Pressman, Glyn Salton-Cox, Rania El Shabassy, Johsua Sorley.

Ala Alryyes, introduction: Interested in seeing how Scott's Waverley bares the devices of literary theory, rather than the other way around. In Theory, Lukács judges Scott's novels as inwardly empty and lacking in ideas. In Historical Novel Lukács celebrates Scott for inventing a novel form in which history can be represented.

Major points of comparison, Theory vs. Historical Novel: Time vs. History; Epic hero vs. Peripheral characters; Romanticism favored vs. Romanticism denigrated.

In Theory, GL follows late-19th century German Hellenism on Greek culture: "The Greeks knew no riddles"; their world integrated art and civilization. Our richer, more complex world, by contrast, lacks this capacity for totalization. GL has an essentially formalist concept of totality: nothing points outside it. In epic, GL sees no separation between adventure and accomplishment; all experience is meaningful. In the novel, the quest is for a lost totality, given the divorce between interiority and the adventure in the external world. "The novel is the epic of a world abandoned by God." GL's typology of the novel: two kinds, those of abstract idealism and Romantic disillusionment. In the former, the hero's soul is narrower than the world from which it is isolated; in the latter, the hero's soul is too large for the world. Don Quixote is the only satisfactory abstract-idealist novel in GL's view, by virtue of its parody; his examples of the Romantically disillusioned novel include Oblomov and Sentimental Education.

In Historical Novel, the figure of the hero is now a middling sort, anxious, passive; he recedes in favor of the historical forces which, in the view of the later Lukács, drive history.

Heather Klemann: Can you elaborate on the time/history distinction?

Josh Sorley: Time is internal, history external.

AA: Time is associated with hope and memory, with the hope for the integration of inner life and outer events.

Andrew Goldstone: in Theory's novel of disillusionment, in fact everything is integrated by the flux of time---even though GL characterizes it as fragmented by the break between the hero's consciousness and the world.

AA: As in Proust.

AA: In Theory GL reduces all novels to Bildungsromane. That is why Scott's historical romance is condemned: not enough interiority.

HK: I'm struck by the idea of Waverley baring theory's devices rather than vice versa. Can we do the same thing with Don Quixote? Is it really a novel of abstract idealism? Isn't Sancho Panza already commenting on this idea?

AA: GL has the habit of making typologies into which only one novel fits; everything else resembles a vulgarization. Is there anything about peripheral characters in Theory?

AG: In these sessions we always try to raise the So-What question. Can we seriously contemplate using or applying Lukács' ideas, given the huge distortions that support his generalizations and the dubious status of his orthodox-Marxist theory of history?

AA: GL is useful because he offers ways of linking different scales of reading. In literary criticism we face the problem of losing ourselves in the particular. Other fields have an easier time linking up their specialized studies with large questions of general interest. GL gives a way into such larger questions. And, in fact, the reading of Waverley is still good.

I would also see History and Class Consciousness as a link between Theory and Historical Novel: there, he says: "The fragmentation of the object of production is a fragmentation of time." Thus the historical-materialist view leads back to the ideas about time and fragmentation in Theory (!).

HK: GL is important for the study of the eighteenth-century novel.

Glyn Salton-Cox: Even the so-called "Stalinist" GL of the 30s is important today. Despite, or indeed because of, the dogmatic nature of GL's defense of realism, these readings are important as a corrective to the hegemony of modernism in the study of twentieth-century literature which is prevalent in the academy today.

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