Literature

Marvell Marvelled: Katie Kadue on Andrew Marvell’s 400th Birthday

March 31, 2021
By
Marvell Marvelled: Katie Kadue on Andrew Marvell’s 400th Birthday

The poet Andrew Marvell was born on this day in 1621 near Hull, England. Marvell’s poetry has inspired readings by some of our finest literary critics, from T. S. Eliot and Cleanth Brooks to Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Christopher Ricks, and Leah S. Marcus. Indeed, it was 300 years ago today that Eliot published his now-classic essay “Andrew Marvell” in the Times Literary Supplement. For Marvell’s quadricentenary, we asked our author Katie Kadue for a brief essay on the poet, touching on the themes of her forthcoming Domestic Georgic: Labors of Preservation from Rabelais to Milton. Kadue illuminates what Marvell’s poetry still preserves for us, and the best literary criticism, too.  Andrew Marvell’s poetry is best known for images of time’s hurtling, inexorable movement toward a spectacular end: the winged chariot hurrying near, warning us of death’s encroachment, in “To His Coy Mistress,” or, less hurtlingly, the annihilation of all that’s made in “The Garden.” Marvell wrote his poems and was active in politics during the English Civil War and its aftermath, when the nation was captivated by providential time; his “Horatian Ode” to Oliver Cromwell is emphatic that the time to act is “now.” But Marvell also took his sweet time . . .

Read more »

Celebrate Wayne Booth’s 100th with an Excerpt from “The Rhetoric of Fiction”

February 22, 2021
By

On the occasion of what would have been the 100th birthday of distinguished critic Wayne C. Booth (1921–2005), we invited Press author and University of Chicago professor James Chandler to offer a tribute to Booth to accompany an excerpt from Booth’s The Rhetoric of Fiction, which transformed the criticism of fiction. Wayne Booth’s was a career famously dedicated to “intellectual community,” a value that organized his energies and marked virtually everything he achieved. His commitment to this value was a matter of constant vigilance on his part, even in relatively casual circumstances. When he attended lectures, he would often position himself in such a way as to be able to watch both to the speaker and the effect the speaker was having—or not having—on an audience. When a member of an audience asked a question whose point was lost on a speaker, Wayne would instinctively jump in to clear things up. It drove him mad to see people talking past one another. In the classroom, the creation of intellectual community was, arguably, the true object of Wayne’s teaching. He had a rare genius for turning a given assortment of students into a group of productive discussants. This, too, was born in part of his diligence. He obsessed . . .

Read more »

Six Questions with Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb, author of “Epidemic Empire”

January 28, 2021
By

Terrorism has often been described as a cancer, an infection, an epidemic, a plague. In her new book, Epidemic Empire, Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb tracks this persistent trope of terrorism as a “social contagion,” from its roots in anti-rebellion colonial rhetoric through to the global war on terror. Raza Kolb’s demonstrates that the metaphor surfaces again and again at moments of crisis—including the current COVID-19 crisis. We asked the author a few questions about her book. Epidemic Empire has turned out to be quite prescient. We began preparing the book for publication in early 2020, just before we entered COVID-19 lockdown. How have the events of this past year sharpened your understanding of the themes in the book? Thank you for asking this question—it’s been on my mind constantly over the last ten months. Also, suddenly, on everyone else’s mind! In the early days of my research, I was getting a lot of pushback on my work’s relationship to what’s casually called “social construct” theory, an effect of deconstruction, which argues that certain seemingly stable ontological categories like gender or race are in fact products of the social. Judith Butler’s monumental Gender Trouble is a good example here, and it’s also . . .

Read more »

Six Questions with Rachel Hope Cleves, author of “Unspeakable”

December 8, 2020
By

What do we do with the life of a person who was celebrated in their own time, but whose actions, violating what are now seen as firm moral and legal boundaries, appall us today? The life of once-renowned twentieth-century author Norman Douglas raises this question in a particularly stark form. In her new book, Unspeakable: A Life beyond Sexual Morality, Rachel Hope Cleves takes a clear-eyed look at Douglas’s life, what it can tell us how societal standards change with time, and what we can learn from a better understanding of those shifts. We asked her a few questions about the book. Norman Douglas is far less famous now than he was in his lifetime. How did you first learn about him? Believe it or not, this very serious book began with a little light vacation reading. In 2013-2014 I spent a sabbatical year in Paris with my family and we bought discount airline tickets to Naples for the kids’ spring break. A friend recommended that we visit Capri while we were there. I didn’t know anything about the island, so in my typical nerdy fashion I looked for books to read and discovered that there was a 1917 bestseller . . .

Read more »

Read an Excerpt from “The Teaching Archive”

December 3, 2020
By

As students and teachers look ahead to another semester of remote instruction, many are also thinking back fondly to gathering in classrooms for lively collaborations and discussions. With The Teaching Archive, Rachel Sagner Buurma and Laura Heffernan turn their attention to the classroom, reminding us that the classroom has long been a site of innovation and that the contributions of students themselves are far more intertwined in the history of literary studies than we might imagine. With their innovative new book, Buurma and Heffernan open up “the teaching archive”—the syllabuses, course descriptions, lecture notes, and class assignments—of notable critics and scholars, showing how students helped write foundational works of literary criticism and how English classes at community colleges and HBCUs pioneered the reading methods and expanded canons that came only belatedly to the Ivy League. The Teaching Archive rewrites what we know about the discipline and will be an invaluable resource as we enter a new decade of instruction and scholarship. Read on for an excerpt from the introduction of The Teaching Archive: A New History for Literary Study by Rachel Saagner Buurma and Laura Heffernan or click here to read the introduction in full. A New Syllabus In this . . .

Read more »

“Poetry Month Will Come a Little Late This Year”: Charles Bernstein on That April Ritual

April 13, 2020
By

Nearly two decades ago, poet Charles Bernstein offered a contrarian and spirited take on the April ritual of poetry month, “Against National Poetry Month as Such.” Curious whether he still shares the same opinion, we reached out to Bernstein for his current perspective, which we’re excited to share here as “Poetry Month Will Come a Little Late This Year.” Poetry’s freedom, which to say poetry’s essential contribution to American culture, is grounded in its aversion of conformity and in its resistance to the restrictions of market-driven popularity. Indeed, contemporary American poetry thrives through its small scale and radical differences of form. There is no one sort of American poetry and certainly no right sort—this is what makes aesthetic invention so necessary. Free verse is not a type of non-metrical poetry but an imperative to liberate verse from the constraints of obligatory convention and regulation. In that sense, free verse is an aspiration and its stuttering breathlessness is a mark of its impossibility. I want not just a politics of identity but an aesthetics of identity. While some may choose the straight path of self-righteousness, do not give up hope that they will return to the crooked roads that have no . . .

Read more »

Anahid Nersessian on Wordsworth: An Excerpt from “The Calamity Form”

April 7, 2020
By

Today, on William Wordsworth’s 250th birthday, the poet will come in for his share of adoration. We offer a dissent from a critic who is nevertheless a passionate reader of Romantic poetry. In this excerpt from her forthcoming book The Calamity Form: On Poetry and Social Life, Anahid Nersessian asks why Wordsworth’s poetry leaves her cold. It’s not his politics or his narcissism, she writes, or anything else she cares to critique, but an “estrangement that cuts both ways. Why should Wordsworth fail me, and I him?” Read on, and look for The Calamity Form in June. Let me put it bluntly: I don’t like Wordsworth. I almost said I don’t care for him, but that’s not quite true. A day spent writing about Wordsworth is a good day; when he comes into the classroom with me, things inevitably go well. And yet the eye I cast on his section of my bookshelf is doubtful, disgruntled. Never could I imagine reading Wordsworth for pleasure, though it is with pleasure that I recall someone’s startled love for that cataract in the seventy-seventh line of “Tintern Abbey.” It is with pleasure, too, that I’ve been taught about Wordsworth by professors and colleagues, by lectures and book . . .

Read more »

Five Questions with D. Vance Smith, author of “The Arts of Dying”

March 23, 2020
By
Five Questions with D. Vance Smith, author of “The Arts of Dying”

How do we talk about one of life’s most persistently hard to describe events: death? Poets, musicians, playwrights, philosophers, theologians, and artists have tried to describe death for centuries, but this question still puzzles us today. With his new book, The Arts of Dying: Literature and Finitude in Medieval England, D. Vance Smith goes back to consider the ways that medieval people thought and wrote about death. We talked with Vance about the book, how people in the Middle Ages thought about dying, the problems of language when it comes to death, and how ideas about death and dying are presented now. He also touches on the particular relevance of these questions today as we face the tragedy of the coronavirus pandemic. How do you come to this subject? Was there a particular piece of literature that sparked your interest? I wrote a book a while ago (The Book of the Incipit) about the many ways medieval people thought about beginnings and shaped them in literature, and I started thinking about endings and what Foucault called the “analytic of finitude” then. Dying is the ultimate ending, and I found the intellectual and emotional challenge of writing about it important, but . . .

Read more »

By Way of Beginning: Read an Excerpt from “Dark Lens” by Françoise Meltzer

November 25, 2019
By

The year 2020 will mark seventy-five years since the Second World War came to an end. In her new book, Dark Lens: Imaging Germany, 1945, Françoise Meltzer draws on her childhood memories of post-war Germany to consider how we construct our memories of war. Analyzing a collection of photographs taken by her mother, Jeanne Dumilieu, Meltzer confronts the ruins, wreckage, and ghosts that the war left behind. My mother, who was French, had been in the Resistance in Paris during the war. I never learned this from her (I found out from her friends, and by accident, in my late twenties); nor did she speak much about the occupation of Paris. The only thing she talked about was how hungry she and the Parisian population were throughout the war. When I asked her why she had never told me that she was in the Resistance, she retorted with some contained anger, “Today, everybody was in the Resistance. I have nothing to say about it.” But it must be said that this was a particularly tight-lipped genera­tion: my father never spoke of having been in the London Blitzkrieg, nor my uncle of surviving Buchenwald, nor my aunt of having hid­den my . . .

Read more »

It’s Time to Finally Write that Novel

November 1, 2019
By

November is National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo), a time when writers of all stripes set out on the audacious task of bringing to completion a novel of 50,000 words. Of course, we know that one of the best ways to become a good writer is to be a good reader, taking in the work of others to feed our own writing appetite and offer inspiration in the writing process. As we head into November and the month’s celebration of the novel, we’ve put together a list of some of our favorite fiction for you to enjoy. And, for tips and tricks to guide you on your own novel-writing adventure, be sure to check out Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, a go-to sourcebook for fiction writers. Bealport: A Novel of a Town by Jeffrey Lewis. From Haus Publishing. In the shadow of a failing shoe factory, Bealport, Main is one of the forgotten towns of America. Jeffrey Lewis takes us inside the town, deploying a large cast of characters and revealing the intertwining threads of industry, livelihood, self-respect, and community. Bealport has been called “a hugely satisfying read” by the Evening Standard, “a moving and humane . . .

Read more »

Search for books and authors