Fall 2007, Volume 40, Number 2
Simulation, Popular Culture, and the Postmodern Long Poem: The Case of Kenneth Koch’s Seasons on Earth
Koch’s poem reveals a preoccupation with narrative surface, with form, that corresponds to a concern with surface in the content of the poem, particularly in the way popular culture in postmodernity foregrounds simulation.
“All of us are Ahabs”: Moby-Dick in Contemporary Public Discourse
Popular culture releases texts from their authors and their historical moments of production and thereby makes them available for diverse readings in unexpected contexts. And with Moby-Dick at least, public discourse proves to be both unexpectedly astute in its treatment of certain facets of the text and revealingly blind to others.
“The Same, Identical Woman”: Sylvia Plath in the Media
Sylvia Plath as such does not exist: it is through invention and fabrications that she comes alive; she is perpetually mouthing a self that she no longer resembles and the (per)versions of her own image. But how do we prey on images of the poet and how do they prey on us?
Prince Hamlet, Please Meet Mr. Philip Marlowe: English Renaissance Revenge Drama and the Contemporary Mystery Novel
Chikako D. Kumamoto
Throughout their investigations, false signs, conflicting testimonies, red herrings, as well as contending antagonists, abound and momentarily complicate, and even foil, their efforts. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exemplify the corrupt state’s police spies (another formulaic staple) and show the antagonists’ impulse toward extracting, though ineptly, Hamlet’s own “mystery” in order to incriminate him. Similarly, Marlowe must contend with, and outsmart, the equally corrupt desire of the police to know.
The Lost Work of Longfellow’s Hiawatha
Longfellow’s authorship (taking his texts and their reception together) focuses a number of high and low culture polarities. Here is a Harvard professor, a scholar of modern languages, translator of Dante, Michelangelo, and Goethe—certainly one moving in and conceiving of himself as creating “high” culture. Yet, as the subject of so much popular media, Longfellow’s work has come to appear in many ways “kids’ stuff”—most familiar (speaking for myself) from reruns of Warner Bros. cartoons in which a pudgy Hiawatha floats serenely downriver or Paul Revere rides madly through a black night.
Health Professionals, Truth, and Testimony: Witnessing in Human Rights-Themed Entertainment
Vivian Nun Halloran
Taken together, health practitioners’ powers of observation and narration make them ideal characters to serve as moral arbiters in fictive narratives about human rights violations; rarely is their professional integrity as witnesses of disease, abuse, or torture called into question by their employers. In these narratives, health professional protagonists serve as interpreters of the human body, mediating between the uninformed viewing audience and the knowledgeable, but guilty, perpetrators of abuse, pollution, or poisoning.
Fair-y Tale: The Wizard’s Souvenir
The pages of Oz provide a dense visual embroidery utterly untypical of that era’s fiction for children or of fair volumes. Not only are there many, many more illustrations than was customary in either genre; not only is there an unprecedented profusion of color; not only do the illustrations look larger than life, like poster art; but the preference of author and illustrator was to break the rectilinear borders, and the conventions of symmetry, that usually governed most children’s writing, circa 1900, and most Columbian Exposition souvenir albums as well.
Mark Twain and the Spiritual Crisis of His Age. By Harold K. Bush Jr. (Charles D. Martin)
The centerpiece of Bush’s argument, and its finest achievement, is an extensive consideration of Twain’s relationship with Joseph Twichell, his de facto pastor at the Asylum Hill Church (he never officially joined) and possibly his dearest and closest friend outside of his wife. Too little has been made of this relationship, perhaps, Bush contends, because the spiritual fellowship between the men contradicts the popular view of Twain as a hard-bitten cynic.
Dialect and Dichotomy: Literary Representations of African American Speech. By Lisa Cohen Minnick. (Babacar M’Baye)
Bringing together literary and linguistic studies, Lisa Cohen Minnick reviews pivotal American writings that reflect the various usage of dialect as satire and as a means of resisting oppression and stereotypes.
American Theorists of the Novel: Henry James, Lionel Trilling, Wayne C. Booth. By Peter Rawlings.(Colin Irvine)
The focus on moral themes, combined as it is with Rawlings’s ability to contextualize the critics, to illuminate the dynamic relationships among them, and to reclaim and recuperate their ideas from subsequent critics, underscores the complexity of these thinkers and their impressive and persistent relevance.
Blue Studios: Poetry and its Cultural Work. By Rachel Blau DuPlessis. (Glenn J. Freeman)
As she has in much of her innovative critical work over the years, DuPlessis interrogates the idea of texts as multiple, polyvocal entities, examining both their production and their reception.
Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel. By Lisa Zunshine.(Amy Watkin)
Tom is the mind’s capacity for figuring other people out, based on their words and tone as well as their overall body language or non-verbal cues. . . . Even while we are aware that characters are fictional, we use our “mind-reading” capabilities while reading literature in order to lend explanation to nuance of gesture, movement, and intonation.
A Reader’s Guides to the Novels of Louise Erdrich. By Peter G. Beidler and Gay Barton. (Lori Muntz)
Although the implications of Ojibwe words, phrases, and sentences are often available from their context, Beidler and Barton persuasively argue that meaning can be enriched by reviewing the glossary, while they invite readers to support the learning of indigenous languages.