February 2010

When I was doing the periodicals list for Anne, one of the things I kept on thinking about was how I’d love to have a look at these advertising wrappers that get left out when a periodical is bound for publication. Same thing with advertising wrappers for novels serialized (not as a part of a periodical). I came across this on Google Books, the first number of Our Mutual Friend, and it includes the advertiser.

So I admit that I’ve sort of been coasting on the series of posts I wrote in January, and once again I find myself in blog arrears. As an apology, I offer a smattering of my recent reading and scattered nineteenth-century-related thoughts:

At the risk of forever branding myself as a closet hipster, I confess that I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the song “A Horse is Not a Home” on Miike Snow’s debut album (the two Is in Miike are intentional) is a rewriting of Browning’s “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.” [Ed. note: the e on the end of Childe is intentional ;)] This has been the obsession of several commutes this past week. I don’t have any particular fantastic analysis for why these two texts have become connected in my mind, except for the similar images they evoke and (arguably) a shared mood. I think maybe it has something to do with the chorus, disenchanting the same things that Browning was: “With a hole in my heart I was supposed to ride / In morning traffic / With a golden hand by your fortress side / But without magic.” Okay, these guys aren’t Browning. And they’re, um, Swedish. But I can respect a good pop song. You can decide for yourself. The song is here. The lyrics are here. “Childe Roland” is coming to the Dark Tower here.

I don’t remember exactly why I went to the NYU library last week, but I’ve ended up checking out a bunch of books, many of them pulled from the shelf in fits of semi-desperate inspiration. One of these was Andrew Miller’s The Burdens of Perfection. I realize that I’m late to the party on this one, but–wow. Good stuff. I hope that I can write a book like this someday. It was somewhat gratifying to see that Miller and I are coming from a similar view of 19th century history, a shared sense of the “epistemological disarray” of Victorian modernity and a need for thinking about receptivity to others. Miller also quotes Maurice and Newman, two figures who are virtually guaranteed to lead to an hour of fun on GoogleBooks and the entertainment of the idea of writing my second book on Victorian theology.

…which explains why I was probably the only person on the North Jersey Coast Local line yesterday kicking back with a copy of Newman’s “Christ Hidden From the World.” Here, Newman’s dwelling not on the works of Jesus as they are recorded in the gospels but on the obscurity in which Christ passed the first thirty years of his life, and it imagines Jesus in those years as being deemed unremarkable to those around him, particularly his close family and friends.  One of the recurring themes, in fact, is how difficult it is to tell the difference between someone who is merely outwardly good because of habit or calculation and someone who is truly holy, since many of the acts of holiness that exceed outward form are hidden from view. Holiness, Newman implies, must almost by definition be misunderstood by most people who are not holy — even though not everyone who is misunderstood is holy. Newman delivers a particularly strong smackdown to those who assume that they would have been numbered among the faithful in Jesus’ time:

We are very apt to wish we had been born in the days of Christ, and in this way we excuse our  misconduct, when conscience reproaches us. We say, that had we the advantage of being with Christ, we should have had stronger motives, stronger restraints against sin. I answer, that so far from our sinful habits being reformed by the presence of Christ, the chance is, that those same habits would have hindered us from recognizing Him. We should not have known He was present; and if He had told us who He was, we should not have believed him. Nay, had we seen His miracles (incredible as it may seem), even they would not have made any lasting impression on us. … I believe this literally would have been the case with most men.

Burn! There’s also a somewhat weirder passage where Newman goes into pretty specific detail about how the people physically closest to Christ would have been those who tortured and crucified him, though that’s less relevant to the above to what I’m still trying to do with “Karshish.” I’m sure, incidentally, that there’s a lot of Christian fiction out there that’s predicated on the idea that Newman presents here, of our  not being able to recognize Jesus if he was literally our next door neighbor — there was a skit that I used to perform in my evangelical youth group days that was based on this premise — but it certainly doesn’t seem like a major epistemological concern in these days when everyone has a Personal Jesus. (You had to know I was going to go there. I thought the Johnny Cash version would be particularly appropriate.)

Also did some detouring through Arnold this week, revisiting some of my old favorites: “The Buried Life” (which I sent to my lovely first-year writing students this weekend), “The Scholar-Gipsy,” and “Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse.” I’m probably going to have to get Matt into my dissertation somehow. Maybe that will be the chapter I write when it’s a book. I’m very susceptible to some of Arnold’s complaints, even when I should know better. The following lines from “The Scholar-Gipsy” made their way into my notes for Wednesday:

For early didst thou leave the world, with powers

Fresh, undiverted to the world without;

Firm to their mark, not spent on other things;

Free from the sick fatigue, the languid doubt,

Which much to have tried, in much been baffled, brings.

O life unlike ours!

Who fluctuate idly without term or scope,

Of whom each strives, nor knows for what he strives,

And each half lives a hundred different lives;

Who wait like thee, but not, like thee, in hope.

It’s at least a tempting lament when one is looking forward to days of meetings and various bureaucratic strife.

Speaking of “The Buried Life,” I haven’t yet caught the MTV show of the same name. I’m sure I will at some point — many of the cardio machines at the gym I recently joined are connected to TVs, and I’ve already seen several meta-iterations of Jersey Shore and an intensely disturbing feature called “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” So, yeah, “The Buried Life” can’t be far behind.

Finally, I’ve also been enjoying Pater this week. I’ll leave you with a quote from his 1865 essay, “Coleridge,” which was reprinted in Appreciations.

The relative spirit, by its constant dwelling on the more fugitive conditions or circumstances of things, breaking through a thousand rough and brutal classifications, and giving elasticity to inflexible principles, begets an intellectual finesse of which the ethical result is a delicate and tender justice in the criticism of human life.

In other news, I started my Christina Rossetti bibliography today in hopes of spurring myself to finish up with Browning. Am annoyed by journals that still have obnoxiously slim archives online. Essays In Criticism, I’m looking at you.

I’m in my third and last library of the day, having arrived at NYPL at 2:00, gone to Mina Rees at 5:00, and tothe Bobst basement from 8:00 to now–I’m starting this at 12:30, and I better be finishing this soon, given the above.

I wanted to write down some of my thoughts for what I think will be my opening statements. I told Talia that I wanted to say something about modernity, something about Ben Anderson, something about how that connected all three lists. She probably stifled a yawn. I reread “Can the Subaltern Speak” for the poco list, and based on GCS’s smackdown of Foucault & Deleuze, and mixed with some Arendt I’ve never read, I’m playing with this rhetorical trope, “the banality of theory.” Or–“Theory always repeats itself, first as audacity, then as banality.” So I plan to begin by rehearsing all the banalities of the modern condition, specifically the modernity post-1800, that we all know.

The modern condition was based on the idea of progress, social and individual, technological and economic. The nineteenth century was the era of secularization, of professionalization, of the silent bourgeois revolution. The Crystal Palace consecrated modernity, especially in its consecration of commerce and capitalism as war continued by other means. Communities were imagined. The novel created modern subjectivity, discipline, and imaginary solutions to real contradictions. The country moved to the city, as a result of expropriation and “primitive accumulation,” and the city nostalgically longed for the country. Victorians turned their eyes outward, seeing themselves at the apex of civilization, charged with leading the rest of the world into modernity.

How, then, can we de-banalize modernity? One starting point is an additional chapter added to the second edition of Imagined Communities. The construction of nationalism through the newspapers and novels is a modern thing, and a banality. I had originally planned by starting here, making slight elaborations. First, Bennie’s understanding of the periodical press, not surprisingly, doesn’t do justice to the complexities of the nineteenth-century periodical press. Daily newspapers were limited to a relatively small elite. Weekly newspapers and especially journals had a much, much, much wider circulation, and the debates in the public spheres took place in these periodicals which were general and miscellaneous and not requiring newspaper stamps instead of news-based, and requiring newspaper stamps. As for novels, he is onto something where he compares the development of novels providing biographical and psychological histories to the development of nationalist histories. If we consider the “Condition of England” novels as instantiating Victorian fiction, which I do, there’s more nationalism. For my poco list, I was thinking about how this nationalism relates to the colonialism/postcolonialism model, and how a world-systems/globalization model might be somewhat incommensurable with it.

This is all in the first chapter. In the appended chapter, he notes how he underread a quotation from Renan that goes something like all true French citizens must learn to forget the Albigensian Crusade and the massacre of the Huguenots. What’s curious is that true French citizens would know what Renan was talking about–so that this diagnosis of historical amnesia is in fact another construction, another imagination of a national history that’s really only possible with modernity. I like this. Historical things that are supposedly traumatic are really just banal. Condemning the “enslavement” of white kids during the Industrial Revolution, calling attention to supposedly ignored issues in need of reform constituted nationhood in its own way. We get something like this with Wide Sargasso Sea and with Clear Light of Day. Antoinette Cosway points to the forgotten Bertha Mason–but isn’t diagnosing this amnesia adding further justification of Jane Eyre as an eminently English text? Doesn’t the whole idea of post-coloniality work all to well in favour of nationalism within the neocolonialist Global North? Isn’t the reason why a novel of the Partition of South Asia, Clear Light of Day, made palatable to a Western audience because the imagined trauma of partition provides a convenient origin myth? As for the periodicals list, I’m not seeing much forgetting as remembering (the labour involved in making things was certainly not forgotten), but what I’m finding interesting is the number of times people refer to it from the perspective of the future. Even in its anticipation, it has been constituted as a world-historical event. And world-historical in this case means not just Really Important but capable of being projected into the future. One article, I remember which periodical it was from, said something like it was unfortunate that the Crystal Palace would have to be removed from Hyde Park, but in a way it was fitting to give it more the air of fixed, historically locatable event.

It’s with historicity and temporality that I’m finding out something new (to me) about modernity. Anne asked me a two weeks why I chose these four texts–Foucault’s Order of Things, Fabian’s Time and the Other, Schivelbusch’s Railway Journey, and Milo’s Trahir le Temps–as my “Temporality Theory” books. I said at the time that it was a pretty arbitrary decision, which it was, but weeks later, a better answer would start with the fact that these are all books that are particularly relevant to nineteenth-century temporality–to temporality, historically, and not ontologically understood. Rereading the “Life, Labour, Language” chapter of Foucault was loads of fun, and I was thinking why it was that Victorianists were all up in the discipline and the history of sexuality and power and knowledge, but not so much into these 3 Ls. The one thing about the Order of Things is the episteme. I guess most people give up after the first chapter. Today I found out that Catherine Gallagher does make use of this chapter–particularly its emphasis on capital L “Life.” My reading of Gallagher was pretty superficial, but I got the sense that Foucault’s historical nuance was missing. Daniel Milo has an amazing chapter on Foucault’s metaphors in D and P, (ritual, ceremony, rites, spectacle for punishment; machine, technology for discipline) and that his “anachronistic” use of metaphors is a way of introducing discontinuity into history, which is what history is all about–at least history within the modern era. So, Foucault’s use of “Life” too points at a discontinuity–at the ultimate failure of representation and taxonomization that ended the Classical Era. The intricate ballet of Velazquez’s Las Meninas, of gazes, light sources, visibilities, invisibilities, surfaces is no longer possible in the Modern Eras search for the dark, hidden depths of truth. (C. Herbert points out in Culture and Anomie, I think, that the whole privileging of depth as metaphor was a nineteenth-century innovation.) On the poco list, I’ve learned that lots of people talk about the moment in Capital when Marx tells the reader when it’s time to leave the noisy sphere of exchange and go to “the hidden abodes of production,” where capital is made. Foucault says Marx fits in the nineteenth century like a fish in water. Take the fish out, it drowns. This call for unearthing “the hidden abodes of production,” in fact, is not by any stretch of the imagination a Marxian innovation, as the practice of factory tourism and periodical articles on factory production and the Great Exhibition itself can attest. Okay, so time-in-C19-modernity involves the search for some fundamentally unrepresentable origin or force that is the condition of possibility for the historical.

Is this not just some Aristotelian return of efficient and final cause? Where it differs, on the one hand, is that in Aristotelian teleology origin and telos are representable, knowable. Not so in the nineteenth century, maybe. But there’s more. With Fabian, we’ve got another kind of discontinuity, another kind of contradiction going on. Fabian’s main idea is about the “denial of coevalness,” where with such practices as the ethnographic present, anthropologists place their subjects outside history, outside contemporaneity, when in the fact they must have been involved in intersubjective time at some time if they were participant observers. The nineteenth century, of course, is when ethnography started to take its modern discursive shape. But I think the contradiction of allochronicity could be applied on a more microcosmic scale–to issues of gender and class, for example. It would be really interesting to do a rhetorical analysis of the novels based on this–I’m thinking in particular of those chapters in David Copperfield which are written in the present tense, the marriage with Dora, for example.

I’m going to collapse Schivelbusch and Milo together because this is getting really long and it’s getting really late. I’ve talked about Milo on this blog at some point before. I’ll quote myself quoting Milo:

His argument is that the century was a relatively recent, and literally revolutionary invention, a tool created in the wake of the French Revolution. He summarizes his findings as follows:

-the century certainly exists within historical writing;

-it is of recent invention (c. 1560);

-its diffusion was more recent (Le Goff speaks of the 18th century, I will date its true launch in 1800);

-it acts as a form of classification;

-it is a form of periodization with two characteristic principals: it has a unity, and this unity is in opposition with the unities of the centuries which surround it;

-it is a very particular periodization, which rests on an arithmetic prinicipal, hence artificial, hence outside of reality: the division of history into centuries is an a priori periodization;

-nevertheless, it was an important conquest in chronology (Le Goff);

-but that it is now necessary to destroy it in order to advance knowledge of the true historical era (la véritable durée historique). (Milo 28)

The century may be an arbitrary unit, but it’s condition of possibility is modernity. And if it involves some flattening out to create a single context out of a time quite longer than most people live, that kind of corresponds with the “panoramic” mode of vision Schivelbusch says the railroad forces. Don’t look at the quickly moving, close whirr of stuff, look at the seemingly motionless distance.

Bottom line: the modern condition involves a historical temporality, but it’s a history that’s more complicated than the banalities of progress.

Okay. Time to go eat and go home.

I was reading Kate Flint’s The Woman Reader yesterday, and she mentions that people who looked for the racy, immoral fiction that working-class periodicals supposedly abounded in were usually disappointed by their propriety. I agree. But here’s a picture that’s one of the few exceptions, a woodcut illustrating “Bertha Gray, The Parish Apprentice-Girl; or, Six Illustrations of Cruelty,” serialized in six parts in Reynold’s Miscellany of 1851.