Wordtrade LogoWordtrade.com


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Historical Surveys

Letter And The Spirit Of Nineteenth-Century American Literature: Justice, Politics, Theology by Thomas Loebel (McGill-Queen's University Press) moving back to the trial of Anne Hutchinson in Puritan Massachusetts and the captivity narrative of Mary Rowlandson in order to analyse theo-political signification, this study, provides a new context for examining the politically performative function of language in such texts as The Scarlet Letter, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Waiting for the Verdict. Thomas Loebel also argues, however, that a specific theo-logic manifests itself in the political rhetoric of the nation, such that the afterlife of the "New Jerusalem" resonates not just in the "Blessings of Liberty" enshrined in the Constitution but also in the shift from a religious understanding of union with Jesus to that of the Union of States as a nation. Loebe] compares unionist and confederate discourse, opening up new ways of theorizing representation as a political, theological, legal, and literary issue that has continued currency both in twentieth-century literature and in the political discourse of America's global vision, such as the "axis of evil" and the "new world order."

In The Letter and the Spirit of Nineteenth-Century American Literature Thomas Loebel demonstrates how theological discourse structures literary critiques of the premises of American justice. He retheorizes language through theology, necessitating a rethinking of signification and style as well as of the relation between ethics and justice. In so doing he offers new insight into some of the most important American texts of the nineteenth century, focusing on literature's engagement with the politics of justice. Anyone interested in American literature and culture will view the relationship between ethics and justice differently after reading this book

Excerpt: This theme of unity — as one prior to, but wholly constitutive of, ontology and sociality, and then political theory, nation-states, and governments as realizations of them — affirms the necessity of a con-federate principle, not as a prescriptive government, but as an organizational ethos representative of every individual's uniqueness. This uniqueness is not affirmed, but is enabled to come to be, by the vocative call of the face of the other to whom one is bound.

I do not wish, here, to rehearse Levinas's major works; however, I flag his thought in concert with American thought and practices because they provide another way of approaching "radical democracy" or "radical pluralism." The concern over unionist rhetoric and logic is that they ultimately devolve to a hierarchical play of power: differences sublated into a Hegelian-styled All; religious, racial, ethnic, and/or cultural assimilation; poverty and disenfranchisement in a capitalist economics that dissembles its prejudices and riggings; a democracy that subtly creates the conditions of totalitarianism. The idea of a single human being as the centralized figure against which actual differences are defined and recognized simultaneously renders those differences marginal. Hence, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe argue that any kind of radical democracy has to begin with a cognitive shift from the hegemony of a unionist, assimilatory logic. In a radical and pluralized democracy, "There is no single underlying principle fixing — and hence constituting — the whole field of differences." Rather than a binaristic structure, there is a plurality of nodal points at which subject-constructing discourses meet. Any sense of "difference" must now be conceived by way of a confederated plurality, as opposed to a conception through sub-ordination to hegemonic unity and unicity. "As every subject position is a discursive position, it partakes of the open character of every discourse; consequently, the various positions cannot be totally fixed in a closed system of differences."  There may well be momentary positions of subordination, but if they are discursively negotiated and accepted, then such subordination need not be oppressive: a relation of subordination establishes, simply, a set of differential positions between social agents, and we already know that a system of differences which constructs each social identity as positivity not only cannot be antagonistic, but would bring about the ideal conditions for the elimination of all antagonisms.

Only if it is accepted that the subject positions cannot be led back to a positive and unitary founding principle – only then can pluralism be considered radical. Pluralism is radical only to the extent that each term of this plurality of identities finds within itself the principle of its own validity, without this having to be sought in a transcendent or underlying positive ground for the hierarchy of meaning of them all and the source and guarantee of their legitimacy. And this radical pluralism is democratic to the extent that the autoconstitutivity of each one of its terms is the result of displacements of the egalitarian imaginary. Hence, the project for a radical and plural democracy, in a primary sense, is nothing other than the struggle for a maximum autonomization of spheres on the basis of the generalization of the equivalential-egalitarian logic.

What I argue, however, via Levinas, is that unionism itself must be radically conceived. Metaphysics will represent the relationship between the self and the other as not exactly hierarchical but as one of radical priority. The face of the other persecutes. One is hostage to the call of the face. "Priority" characterizes necessity, the irreducible pull. All these phrases are figures cast in the gap of language, which seeks to fashion a relation of service that is not subservient. The pull to sociality is immediate, fundamental, and necessary, and without such radical union, one is hard-pressed to theorize the coming to be of society. State-of-Nature theories, whether involving peace or war, presume sociality as an irreducible relation between one and another. They do not explain it or theorize its originary possibility. Indeed, the state of nature itself is seen as the originary possibility. Such theories only play out the effects of human social existence, presuming already its (rather unproblematic) constitution. The radical priority of union, the hostage state of one-for-the-other prior to any conception of de-sire or will, or even need as it is diversely thematized in psychology, biology, or sociology, establishes in radical anteriority the preconditions for cognition — that with the other are others, and that the human is conceived on the basis of difference prior to any cognition of similarity.

Rather than jettisoning these preconditions, unity and unionism enable recognition of humanity as a confederacy non-in-different. The desire for, the necessity of, justice is simultaneous with cognition as the birth into presence of humanity, for immediately is everyone responsible for every other as every other is faced, seen, cognized. Indeed, not wanting to be responsible, disliking the burden, affirms its irreducibility, priority, and weight as well as the necessity of justice simultaneous with it. That logic hearkens to the renovated and redeemed concept of the concurrent voice, however, in a radical and plural democracy, such a voice would not have to be created as an additive and, in some sense, antidote to a unionist, majoritarian, hegemonic structure and process. "Concurrence" here would be reinterpreted as a voice of the discursively constructed self-in-relation "with currency" – one that cannot be devalued.



The Golden Age: Poems of the Spanish Renaissance selected, introduced and translated by Edith Grossman, Bilingual edition, 10 illustrations. (W. W. Norton) Acclaimed for her best-selling translation of Cervantes' Don Quixote, Edith Grossman is most renowned for her translations of modern authors including Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa. The Spanish Renaissance—a period of glory that endured from the late fifteenth century through the seventeenth century—comes to life in its greatest poems, rendered with passionate fervor and a stylistic brilliance. Edith Grossman includes in this beautiful, collection-worthy volume facing-page Spanish, a historical introduction, and biographies of the poets: Jorge Manrique (not translated since Longfellow); Garcilaso de la Vega, a soldier and courtier who wrote love poetry; Fray Luis de Leon, a converso Jew; San Juan de la Cruz, whose poems are the finest exemplars of Christian mysticism; Luis de Góngora, the great sensualist; Lope de Vega, the great rival to Cervantes; Francisco de Quevado, the ultimate Baroque poet; and Sor Juana, the nun whose haunting poetry embodied the voice of Mexico.

From Publishers Weekly: The love sonnets, elegies, and Christian sacred verse of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spain inspire comparisons to Shakespeare's England, and remain the foundation for later Spanish verse. Yet the most important of these poets, Lope de Vega, Luis de Gongora, and St.John of the Cross, have limited reputations in the U.S. After dozens of much-praised renderings from modern Spanish and Portugese novelists, Grossman's recent version of Don Quixote placed her among the nation's most celebrated translators. With informative capsule biographies of eight poets and facing-page (English and Spanish) versions of their work, Grossman tries to bring their glories here. Her translations convey the poets' meaning, but not necessarily their music: lines like "he raised his weary voice and faintly called/ speaking his final words to roiling waves,/ but they ne'er heard his voice, his lover's plea" may fail to excite. Replicating syllable counts, but not rhyme schemes, Grossman sounds at best forceful and clear, at worst limp and affectless. Some poets (especially St. John and the brilliant seventeenth-century Mexican nun, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz) do come through, however, thanks to the emotional clarity of their lines. Billy Collins' introduction places the poets in historical context and might help attract attention. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 

Early Modern English Literature by Jason Scott-Warren (Cultural History of Literature: Polity Press) (Hardcover) When we engage with Shakespeare and his contemporaries, we engage with a culture radically unfamiliar to us at the start of the twenty-first century. The past is a foreign country, and so too are many of its texts. This readable and provocative book seeks to enhance our understanding of early modern literature by examining the contexts in which it was originally produced and consumed.

Taking us back to the courts, theatres and marketplaces of early modern England, Jason Scott-Warren shows how literary texts dovetailed with everyday experience, unlocking the distinctive social practices, economic structures and modes of behaviour that gave them meaning. He shows how some of the most beguiling writing of the period was conditioned by long-forgotten notions of knowledge, nationhood, sexuality and personal identity. Bringing an anthropologist's eye to his materials, he offers richly contextualized readings of works from within and beyond the canon, covering a span that stretches from Erasmus and More to Milton and Behn.

Resisting any notion of the period as merely transitional – a staging post on the road leading from the medieval to the modern world – Scott-Warren reveals the distinctiveness of its literary culture, and equips the reader for fresh encounters with its extraordinary textual legacy. Any undergraduate student of the period will find it an essential guide, while scholars will find its fresh approach invigorating.

Headline 3

insert content here