So in the midst of our global pandemic, a friend and I have started reading Henri Lefebvre’s Metaphilosophy (1965, trans. 2016 [!]). This is my first time reading Lefebvre—a French philosopher and sociologist whose name seems to circulate at the fringes of literary studies. Many folks know about him, but his work seems largely untranslated and unstudied. (The exception being, perhaps, for literary folks who study “the ordinary” or “the everyday.”)

Thus far I’ve only made it through the introduction to MP by Stuart Elden, so I’m not really reading Lefebvre just yet (maybe later today). Even so, I thought it might be useful to record a few observations that came to me when reading Elden’s piece. Continue reading

In Memoriam A.H.H.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson


  Unwatch’d, the garden bough shall sway,
The tender blossom flutter down,
Unloved, that beech will gather brown,
This maple burn itself away;

  Unloved, the sun-flower, shining fair,
Ray round with flames her disk of seed,
And many a rose-carnation feed
With summer spice the humming air;

  Unloved, by many a sandy bar,
The brook shall babble down the plain,
At noon or when the lesser wain
Is twisting round the polar star;

  Uncared for, gird the windy grove,
And flood the haunts of hern and crake;
Or into silver arrows break
The sailing moon in creek and cove;

  Till from the garden and the wild
A fresh association blow,
And year by year the landscape grow
Familiar to the stranger’s child;

  As year by year the labourer tills
His wonted glebe, or lops the glades;
And year by year our memory fades
From all the circle of the hills.

Nature’s Questioning
Thomas Hardy


When I look forth at dawning, pool,
Field, flock, and lonely tree,
All seem to gaze at me
Like chastened children sitting silent in a school;

Their faces dulled, constrained, and worn,
As though the master’s ways
Through the long teaching days
Their first terrestrial zest had chilled and overborne.

And on them stirs, in lippings mere
(As if once clear in call,
But now scarce breathed at all)—
“We wonder, ever wonder, why we find us here!

“Has some Vast Imbecility,
Mighty to build and blend,
But impotent to tend,
Framed us in jest, and left us now to hazardry?

“Or come we of an Automaton
Unconscious of our pains? . . .
Or are we live remains
Of Godhead dying downwards, brain and eye now gone?

“Or is it that some high Plan betides,
As yet not understood,
Of Evil stormed by Good,
We the Forlorn Hope over which Achievement strides?”

Thus things around.  No answerer I . . .
Meanwhile the winds, and rains,
And Earth’s old glooms and pains
Are still the same, and gladdest Life Death neighbours nigh.

Inspired by a discussion of Night and Day with my Senior Capstone students (Fall 2019).

Night and Day (1919)
Virginia Woolf

Chapter 1: The One with Mr. Fortescue’s Sentences
Chapter 2: The One with the Decrepit Rook
Chapter 3: The One with Secret Mathematics
Chapter 4: The One with William Rodney’s Lecture
Chapter 5: The One with News of Bennett’s Theory of Truth
Chapter 6: The One with Typewriters (But No Cake) Continue reading

I started rereading Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life (2017) last week with a group of friends and colleagues. We’ll all be working through it through July and August. During our very first discussion on the book’s introduction, a friend raised an issue that struck and stuck with me: namely, that the questions Ahmed asks her readers feel exciting and arresting. After all, they are not, typically, the kind of questions we might be used to asking when teaching students about feminism as a historical / political movement or feminism as an interpretive framework (i.e., as a “literary” theory).

Questions like, “where did we find feminism, or where did feminism find us? . . . From whom did I find feminism?” (4).

These questions, my friend stated, are hard questions. Really hard.

I’ve been thinking about my friend’s comment all week. A lot. For all the times I’ve thought, taught, and discussed Living a Feminist Life over these past two years, it never struck me that these are difficult questions. Why not? Continue reading

Yesterday, South Dakota State University hosted “Day One” of The Space Between Society’s annual conference. The theme this year is “Staging the Space Between” (organized by Nicole Flynn).

The first three sessions / ten presentations covered a wide range of research areas and topics: from a popular French television drama (Un village français) to the ethnographic (covertly / subversively signifying) stagings of der Nister to “A Brief History of Invisible Ventriloquism” to Kazimir Malevich’s antedated paintings to the 1938 landmark abortion rights case Rex v. Bourne to Priestley’s Time and the Conways (1937), Marion Craig Wentworth’s War Brides (1915), Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier (1918), T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), and Willa Cather’s My Àntonia (1918).

Amazing presentations. All of them.

Excepting the final three texts listed here (by West, Eliot, and Cather), almost all of this material was new to me, and I came away not only learning a whole bunch but feeling like I needed to spend the next morning looking back over my notes in order to formulate (even if just for myself) a few questions. These questions tend to respond to patterns I drew among the presentations, so they may not be terribly pressing to the individual researchers. But I record them here as a way, at the very least, to create some kind of artifact of their collective thinking.

Questions / Comments

  1. How do appeals to accuracy / authenticity work? Are they useful frameworks for staging the hostility and/or collaboration between realism and modernism (both of which claim, in a sense, to be more accurate or more authentic than the other)?

    What are we (or others) asking or looking for when we (or they) want a story of a life (or lives) to fit these categories or criteria (i.e., accurate or authentic or [sur]real)?
  2. Related Comment / Question: Across several of these presentations, the “ruse” or “charade” intersected with (or quite literally became) a strategy of refusal or survival (or play). These strategies also entailed various degrees of risk or reward (even entertainment). Can we say, then, in response to modernists who critiqued realist drama for its purported fakery: yes, that’s sometimes the point?

    And can we say the same thing in response to those who criticize modernists for distorting reality? Where, then, does that leave us re: the opposition / dialectic between realism and modernism?
  3. Layne Parish Craig gave a compelling presentation on Wentworth’s War Brides, challenging us to see it and the discourse around its performances as a way to think more sympathetically (not the right word) about withholding sex from men as a (feminist) political tool or strategy. Indeed, in the course of her talk, withholding sex from men also fit in a larger framework of feminist political strategies:

    a. refusals to take back husbands who had fought in war (killing other husbands / sons)
    b. refusals to open drawing rooms to returning soldiers
    c. refusals to bear sons (who would potentially be drafted into future war efforts)

    I forget the context in which Craig presented us with these three strategies (only three among many), but I’m drawn to them because they present us with a sociopolitical framework seems to me more radical than a sex strike. Indeed, to refuse to take back husbands seems to entail the refusal of a form of heteronormative conviviality or a form of flourishing that is toxically complicit in the impulse to war. The refusal to open a drawing room dovetails with Woolf’s tale of killing the Angel in the House in “Professions for Women” (a cluster of domestic norms and duties, asymmetrical moral obligations and attentions, etc.). The refusal of sex (and thus reproduction) then fits into a broad activist threat to several normative futures: the future of war, of family, of public/private organization, etc., etc., etc.

    Can we say, then, that there’s something queer (in the broad sense of refusing normative forms reproduction and family life) in this radical feminist strategy? If so, how do we think about it in relation to Aimee Wilson’s work on “Queer Pregnancy” in Cather’s novel—on the particular intersection of masculinity and pregnancy (which seem to cut against the Edelmanian refusal of reproductive futures)?
  4. Neither a question or comment, but an imperative: check out Lesley Hall’s incredible resource, Literary Abortion.