Tuesday, October 31, 2006

MH writes to us about her upcoming course on "Classicism and the Enlightenment"

[MH had trouble posting this, so I'm posting on her behalf--DM]

I'm interested in the thread from Wednesday, October 25, 2006, on "What is Enlightenment (in 10 minutes or less)?" I've tried simply not doing the "historical lecture," like KW suggested in the first comment, until I figured out that most of the students in my classes didn't even know what the "Restoration" part of the course title referred to, let alone the "Revolution of 1688," etc. Then, I realized, that if I didn't teach them those historical contexts, no one would.

Like you, I've learned that storytelling, schematizing, and drawing distinctions both generates insights for students and is one of their favorite aspects of the course. For some reason, it's easier for me to define Romanticism or even the position of women in the eighteenth century than it is to get across the complex concept of Enlightenment. Yet now I find myself in the position of developing a course on "Classicism and the Enlightenment" in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries for the Humanities major at [Riverbend State], which has forced me to come to terms with my approach to "Enlightenment." Like many of us, I developed meta-contexts for Enlightenment mainly in graduate school. But how do you incorporate theoretical/cultural studies issues (and non-eighteenth-century writers like Kant, Marx, the Frankfurt School, Habermas, Foucault, Bourdieu) into an undergraduate course that focuses in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? The time period constraints necessitate teaching the "primary texts" of the Enlightenment. This, too, will have its challenges, as teaching philosophical texts always do. And there is a separate Humanities course on Romanticism, so "the sublime," the French Revolution, and enlightenment seem out of bounds, or at best, a marginal focus.

So far, I know three literary texts that I plan to teach: Paradise Lost, Faustus, and Frankenstein. I'm tempted to include a reader, but I don't know of any specific "Enlightenment" ones, other than the excellent "Race and the Enlightenment."

Any ideas?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Job-letters and the job season this year?

Since I spent the weekend getting out my last few letters, I'm assuming that some of you are also in the process of writing job letters, or are getting ready for the first wave of mail-outs, to coincide with the Nov. 1 deadlines.

Do those writing, or those having letters written, have any advice or experiences they'd be willing to share with the rest of us? Any good guides for those negotiating the job market? Please consider sharing whatever you think would help those on the market this year.

If for some reason you're concerned about preserving your anonymity, feel free to email your titbit to me at dmazella@uh.edu and I'll be happy post on your behalf, with identities concealed.

Better yet, just use any pseudonym you wish in the "name" section in the Comments (how about "Doranthus"? or better yet, "Laboranda"?) along with a valid email address, and you'll be fine.

In any case, good luck to everyone going on the market, or contemplating the market, this year.

Best wishes,


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Proposal for a new course: 1771: A Year in the Life of the British Empire

Since pedagogy is one of our ongoing topics here, I thought people might be interested in the course I just proposed to teach in '07-'08, an advanced senior-level undergrad seminar (enrollment 20) based on my current book project, a literary history of the year 1771, as this was reflected in anglophone writings produced in 5 or 6 major cities of the British empire.

I am pitching the course at the undergrad rather than the grad level because I want to whittle down the very large number of potential readings to a manageable size; I'm hoping that this will help me clarify my own thoughts about the book.

I've also decided that theory per se will be less important than historical contextualization, largely because the majority of my students will not be headed for grad school, and I want to encourage independent research in their contextualization projects, rather than leading them through a host of difficult theoretical texts. I'm also experimenting this time round with biographies, to see what contextual information undergrads can pick up from a few exemplary lives. There are additional pedagogical and institutional dimensions to this course, which revolve around the library and my department's requirements, but I won't go into that right now.

I've left off the Additional Readings section, because I'm still unsure what I want to put in there: Bailyn and Michael Warner, certainly, but some straight political and intellectual history, along with a limited amount of literary criticism. I'd be grateful if others had suggestions about additional secondary or even primary readings.

One final issue I'd like to discuss with others at some point is the future of the author- or genre-oriented course. I feel that much of my research nowadays is really organized around very different problems than "the novel in the 18c" or "Laurence Sterne's contribution to the 18c novel," worthy topics that I was trained to discuss as a graduate student, but which seem less urgent to me now. As a result of this split between my research and teaching, I wanted a course where, for example, the category of "region" was at least as important as "genre," and helped to organize both kinds of scholarly activities. My assumption is that new, or at least different paradigms of knowledge demand different paradigms of teaching, though I find that this is rarely the case, even in elite institutions. We just substitute one form of survey for another, etc. etc.

So, for better or worse, this course represents my attempt to start thinking differently by teaching differently.

Best wishes,



1771: A Year in the Life of the British Empire

Course Description: This course is an outgrowth of ongoing research for my current book project, 1771: A Geography of Feeling, which analyzes the diverse genres of Anglophone writing produced during a single year in the British empire. For example, 1771 saw the publication of Smollett’s and Mackenzie’s Humphry Clinker and the Man of Feeling, Johnson’s Thoughts on the Late Transactions Respecting the Falkland Islands, Percy’s Hermit of Warkworth, the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, Benezet’s Historical Account of Guinea, and Wheatley’s Elegiac Poem on the Death of Whitefield. My book attempts to answer two questions: first, how might we meaningfully relate these disparate authors, works, and genres to one another; and second, how might we use these relations to understand a distinct historical moment that we label, a little arbitrarily, “1771”?

To translate the book’s ongoing research agenda into a framework suitable for undergraduates, I have designed the course around a series of locations that will ground our semester’s discussions of particular authors and works published in and around the year 1771: these sites will include London, Edinburgh, Philadelphia, and Jamaica. These four locations will orient our readings in the year 1771 both geographically and historically. Moreover, students will supplement this year’s literary texts and contexts with readings in biographical and autobiographical texts involving such exemplary figures as John Wilkes, Benjamin Franklin, or Olaudah Equiano. Anchoring the class discussion around a particular city and a few closely-examined life stories should enable undergraduates to gain a more detailed and complex understanding of a cultural moment as it was experienced at different sites in the British empire. Nonetheless, I also expect students to go beyond their assigned readings by learning about this era from non-literary sources such as contemporary political pamphlets or newspapers, and by doing their own independent research into the historical background and secondary criticism.

Requirements: Students will be required to write brief 2 response-essays about the course-readings, to become responsible for the cultural and historical contexts of one of the cities covered, which they will develop and present in small research groups, and to develop a final research project (ordinarily, a 12-15 pp. research essay) in consultation with the instructor.

Course Readings and Approximate Schedule:

1. London (4 wks).
Arthur Cash, John Wilkes: The Scandalous Father of Civil Liberty.
Samuel Johnson, The False Alarm and Transactions respecting the Falkland Islands
James Boswell, Boswell for the Defense
Tobias Smollett, Humphry Clinker
Phillis Wheatley, sels. (from Basker, below)

2. Edinburgh (4 wks).
James Buchan, Crowded with Genius: Edinburgh’s Moment of the Mind
Henry Mackenzie, The Man of Feeling
Encyclopedia Britannica and Millar, Origin of Ranks in Society, sels.
Robert Fergusson and James Macpherson, sels.

3. Jamaica (4 wks).
Trevor Burnard, Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and his Slaves in the Anglo-Jamaican World
Richard Cumberland, The West Indian
Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative
Vincent Carretta, Equiano, The African: Biography of a Self-Made Man
James Basker, ed., Amazing Grace: An Anthology of Poems about Slavery, sels.

4. Philadelphia (2 wks).
Anthony Benezet, Some Historical Account of Guinea, with an Account of the Rise and Progress of the Slave Trade
Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography
Gordon S. Wood, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, sels.

5. Coda: 1776
Thomas Paine, Common Sense
Bernard Bailyn, “1776: A Year of Challenge—A World Transformed.”

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Open Thread: Pope's reading?

In honor of the Philadelphia symposium, I thought I'd open up a new thread on Pope, since it seems that we have at least a few people who are interested in eighteenth-century poetry and Pope. Since Pope is one of those authors that I read but rarely teach, I thought it would be better to canvass people than to go on in my usual way.

So here's my question: I've always been struck by the historical range of the poetry that Pope imitated, and by the equally broad range of contemporary writing he apparently championed (say, Samuel Johnson and Robinson Crusoe). Any thoughts about Pope as a reader of others' poetry? As a critic? As, god forbid, an editor of Shakespeare? And any thoughts about how these varied habits of reading informed what has always seemed to me to be one of the most unified and distinctive styles in 18c poetry?



Why I'd rather be in Philadelphia: Forum on Alexander Pope, Nov. 17th

I have no idea whether we have Philadelphia-area Long Eighteenth-folk, but I thought that I'd pass this along, anyway, if only because I saw that Laura Rosenthal will be speaking there. It looks pretty swanky.

The University of Pennsylvania Eighteenth Century Reading Group and Department of English invite you to a one-day symposium:

Reading Alexander Pope:

From "fatal Sheers" to "unwilling ears"

Friday, November 17, 2006
10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Humanities Forum
University of Pennsylvania
3619 Locust Walk


"The Rape of the Lock" (10 a.m. – 1 p.m.)
Toni Bowers, University of Pennsylvania
Laura Rosenthal, University of Maryland, College Park
Chi-ming Yang, University of Pennsylvania

"Espistle to Arbuthnot" (2 p.m. – 5 p.m.)
Jack Lynch, Rutgers-Newark, State University of New Jersey
Paula McDowell, Visiting Professor, New York University
John Richetti, University of Pennsylvania
Stuart Sherman, Fordham University

A reception in the Rosenwald Gallery on the 6th Floor of Van Pelt Library will follow the second panel. "Gulliver's Reading," an exhibition of the library of Jonathan Swift, will be on display in the Gallery.

For additional information and registration, please visit our symposium website: http://www.english.upenn.edu/Conferences/Pope2006/

Satirist, moral philosopher, Horatian imitator, translator of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, and self-styled student of the passions, Alexander Pope (1688-1744) established himself as a major British poet by the time he was thirty years old. He is remembered for his epigrammatic wit, his mastery of the couplet form, and his claim to be the first professional poet in Britain —- that is, the first to support himself entirely from the sale of his poetry.

Each panel will discuss Pope's work and career from various viewpoints, not just from the perspective of the eighteenth century as an historical literary field but also within broader critical contexts such as aesthetics, poetics, imperialism, gender, and print culture. The invited speakers will begin by offering brief introductory comments that raise a central question or observation for the other panel members and the audience. A workshop-style discussion will follow. The organization of the day's panels —- early Pope and late Pope —- will enable the group to trace the trajectory of an eighteenth-century poet's career in a manner that invites comparison and juxtaposition.

Sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania's Department of English,
Graduate Student Associations Council, and Eighteenth Century Reading Group.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

What is Enlightenment (in 10 minutes or less)?

There are times when we all have to take a deep breath and explain to our students what "Enlightenment" means. Or "Romanticism." Or, "sensibility." Or, we might have to answer a question like, "What was the position of women in the eighteenth century?" These are the moments when we dig deep into our teaching experience, our accumulated reading, our long-term memory, and even the paltry insights we scatter across every course, and try to impart something bigger, wider, and deeper than, "here is a novel. Let's read it!"

The historical background lecture, I've noticed, is the terror of every graduate student imagining herself as The Expert in front of a restive class. I know I hated doing them, because I felt that I was travestying something I'd spent years trying to figure out on my own. Let them go read a bunch of sermons! Or try to understand Hegel! Or read the remotest, dryest stretches of Dryden's prose! Let's see how well they do, huh?

And my suspicion is that the lectures I gave back then were, to put it mildly, pretty crappy, though of course no one complained, probably because they had no idea what I was talking about. For the inexperienced teacher, opacity is bliss.

When I got to an actual job which demanded that I answer such questions pretty regularly, I took a more pragmatic attitude, and learned that a large part of teaching is the strategic reduction of complexity, simplifying things by storytelling, by schematizing, and by drawing distinctions, all designed to produce certain insights among students. And this is one of the invaluable things that teaching experience gives the teacher with the luxury (and the burden) of returning to the same materials again and again: the ability to zero in on the strategic simplifications that have generated insights among their students over time.

Now, one thing I noticed in Allen's interesting thread on Enlightenment universalism was the fact that many of the respondents were working off of the large-scale paradigms they generated for their own classes. I know that I was. And I'm wondering if we could talk a little about how we develop such meta-contexts, to use an awkward term, for teaching and research, and discuss how these meta-contexts relate to our own and others' scholarship, as these continue to develop over time.

After all, I think we've all had the experience of sittting in the class of a "great lecturer" and realizing that we are listening to insights developed decades earlier, and polished through mere repetition.

So, the intellectual and historical background lecture. How did you develop yours, and how do you continue to develop it in successive courses?


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Parker is on board

Good news! I heard back from Blanford Parker about possible discussion of The Triumph of Augustan Poetics: English Literary Culture from Butler to Johnson. He writes:

I am moved that anyone might be interested in discussing my book. I would be glad to respond to the discussion in the ways you suggested once I get up to speed on blog and blogging. I always like a chance to clarify my (sometimes unintentionally cryptic) meaning and I have been altering my views slightly on satire and other matters.

I've asked Prof. Parker to give us some possible dates when he'll be available, and I'd like input from you on this as well. When might be a good time to do this? The Triumph is, mercifully, about 250 pages, and quite a good read. I'll be very interested to see how his views have changed between the initial publication in 1998 and the paperback release this summer.

Who wants to play this round?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Plunkett & Macleane (1999): They rob from the rich . . . and just keep it.

Rebecca: [after her father has asked why she is dancing with Macleane] He doesn't make my flesh crawl.
Macleane: *Thank* you.

Aha, here it is, in all its glory, with all the IMDB info for you Long Eighteenth folk to feast upon:


The summaries make it sound a lot cheesier than I remembered it. Had no memory at all of Liv Tyler, or her bad accent, or Alan Cummings as a bisexual aristocrat called "Lord Rochester," unaccountably stranded in mid-18th century London. (Maybe he was a ghost! Risen up from the dead!)

What I do remember is the excellence of the soundtrack, which was by Craig Armstrong, and the fact that the aesthetic of Trainspotting was somehow imported into it wholesale, probably by bringing in Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle as the leads, after they were first noticed in Trainspotting.

Directed by Jake Scott, son of Ridley I believe, and whose previous experience was mostly music videos. But I thought the script and acting were matched pretty well with the visuals, which really were spectacular.

OK, any other takers for their favorite 18th century costume drama, crappy or otherwise?



Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Enlightenment and Universal Law

I just told my class a few weeks ago that the European Enlightenment was characterized by, among many other things, a healthy skepticism for dogmatism, a rejection of blind authority to traditional sources of power and knowledge, an openness to different ideas and opinions from the New World and beyond, and a driving curiosity to explore selfhood and subjectivity (seen best in the 18c novel, via Locke).

But just the other day we were reading Alexander Pope's "Essay on Man," and I heard myself telling the same students that the poem is a representative Enlightenment text for its assertive appeals to Universal Truth and an unchanging "Nature" (human and otherwise) that parallels Newton's "laws" of gravity and physics and the subsequent confidence in the culture at large that God's ways could finally be explained as a function of Reason.

So which is it? Is Pope's poem an Enlightenment text for its foundation in Unchanging Universal Truth, or is it a kind of anti-Enlightenment text for its completely trusting capitulation to an (albeit Reasonable) God and its refusal to acknowledge that different people might have different angles on Truth?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Marie Antoinette (the film)?

Well, it's Friday night, and I thought maybe we all needed to think very seriously about whether we'll ever watch Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette, either in a theater (nope, not this year) or possibly with a rental (perhaps, if we can manage to stay up that late).

It all depends on whether splashy, glossy Hollywoody historical costume dramas set in our period really appeal to you as a know-it-all eighteenth century specialist.

On the one hand, maybe a movie like this means that what we study is really, really popular! It does have Spiderman's girlfriend in it, after all. But maybe this kind of casting is the only way a mass audience could be induced to watch a movie like this.

Here's the question: do you still get chills thinking about the time Madonna did "Vogue" at the Video Music Awards with a Versailles-theme, complete with male dancers in matching wigs and hot pants?

I enjoyed the Madonna version of Marie Antoinette, actually, but I'm not sure that Sofia Coppola has really thought this through, any more than Madonna did when she strapped on that wig and bustle.

This doesn't give me much confidence either:

While some critics have compared Marie Antoinette with modern-day female icons ranging from Paris Hilton to Diana, Princess of Wales, Coppola denies any connection. "I'm not even going to comment on Paris," she says. "As for Princess Diana, I wasn't really thinking of her when I was making the film but in hindsight I can see a connection between her and Marie Antoinette; this young girl put into this royal family without a lot of freedom. I can definitely see similarities in that royal life but I wasn't thinking specifically of her."


But what do I know? Has anyone seen it? Or intends to see it? Maybe it's fabulous, and I'm just too tired to watch a lavish historical costume drama starring Spiderman's girlfriend.

Best wishes, and happy weekend,


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Unteachable Books?

Yesterday's exchanges with Laura about the Female Quixote made me think about the reasons for the FQ's current popularity as a teaching-text, compared with the other novels of Lennox, which have a much lower profile. There are sometimes good reasons for these kinds of disciminations, but sometimes not: I sometimes wonder why, besides length, Burney's Evelina seems to be taught more often at the undergrad level than a novel like Cecilia, which for my money is a more interesting and mature work. And I doubt that Tristram Shandy is taught much at all in undergrad classes nowadays, for a variety of reasons.

But I don't think Laura would mind (would you Laura?) if I resumed a discussion we had a few ASECS ago about Smollett's Peregrine Pickle. I remember telling Laura about how fascinating the Cadwallader Crabtree episodes were, but how hopeless it would be in any novel course. It's a peculiarly unattractive, lengthy, episodic, violent and unstructured novel, even by Smollett's low standards, though it does have its funny bits. And, indeed, I have happily written about Peregrine, without any expectation that I could use it in a course I could envision teaching.

So, let's hear about your unteachable books. Do you have books that you'd study but never teach? Did you ever discover that one of your lifetime faves was a surprisingly hard sell to your stonefaced students?



Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Returning to the Female Quixote

I just taught the Female Quixote again, after our Richardsonian marathon, and I've learned just how teachable a novel it is, especially in the context of my Haywood to Austen domestic novel course. I had initially taught her very differently, as a kind of weak female echo of both Richardson and Fielding, and found myself wondering, along with the rest of the class, why I'd assigned her.

It was when I started thinking more specifically about the sub-genres constituting the novel, and seeing her as an important literary model for Austen, that the FQ became more interesting to me. When read alongside Burney, Radcliffe, Wollstonecraft, and a big chunk of Austen, including the juvenilia, the novel made much better sense to me as a part of literary history. And, really, there is a lightness to the comedy in her writing that I sometimes wish I could find in Burney or Smollett.

In the course of rereading and prepping the novel, though, I noticed two things I hadn't really reflected on before.

The first was just how displaced this Gibraltar-born daughter of a Scots army officer had been in her earliest years: while still a child, she had followed her father to Fort New York, and ended up in London unprovided for, landing in a disagreeable marriage to another Scot, one Alexander Lennox. But the novels that reflected her American experience do not seem to have garnered anywhere near the attention of the FQ. All the exoticism of this novel resides in the fanciful stories that fill poor Arabella's head.

The second thing I noted was how different this book's take on sensibility was from Burney's heroines, largely because Lennox satirizes and idealizes the sentimental female at the same time. The effect actually resembles Sterne's toying with the sentimental in the Sentimental Journey, since we are left unsure how to credit the suffering that undoubtedly does take place in both books.

Initially, Lennox plays Arabella's mourning purely for laughs, as when she imitates her Romance heroines' all-too-eloquent speeches, which makes her matter-of-fact Uncle Charles think she is in a "delirium."

But then Charles and his son, Glanville, go in to see her lying negligently on the bed, and this is what they find:

Her deep Mourning, and the black Gawse, which covered Part of her fair Face, was so advantageous to her Shape and Complexion, that Sir Charles, who had not seen her since she grew up, was struck with an extreme Surprize at her Beauty, while his Son was gazing on her so passionately, that he never thought of introducing his Father to her, who contemplated her with as much Admiration as his Son, though with less Passion (60).

What struck me this time round was how Clarissa-like this scene was, though in ways that Richardson never would have acknowledged: the heroine's physical presence was enough to stupefy every man who gazes upon her, but the sexuality of the two men's fascination with the sentimental, suffering heroine is clearly acknowledged by the omniscient narrator. What permits Lennox to do this is the novel's Quixotic premise, in which the heroine never really understands what those around her are reacting to.

So can others think of similarly comic yet eroticized sensibility in other writings of the Long Eighteenth? What are your favorites?



Monday, October 16, 2006

Romanticism: A Period or a Sensibility?

As I finish my dissertation, I've been forced to think more about the way that I categorize the novels upon which I work. They are the radical novels of the 1790s to me--I haven't been particularly anxious to group them in terms of a larger period or movement. However, I've been told twice recently that the novels I'm working on are (no ifs, ands, or buts, it seems) Romantic novels simply because they fall within a certain time frame that I am told is now widely considered the "Romantic period."

I haven't done tons of reading on Romanticism yet--a bit here and there, but no real depth--but this strikes me as strange on the one hand and really unhelpful on the other. I've always understood Romanticism as a set of characteristics of literary works. My primary objection to calling "my" novels Romantic novels is that it classifies them with novels that are so different that it makes the label practically worthless. What does grouping Mary Hays' Memoirs of Emma Courtney and Sir Walter Scott's Waverley together under the rubric of "the Romantic novel" tell you about what a Romantic novel is? What does it tell you about either of the novels? What does Romantic mean in this sense?

Obviously we do this kind of broad grouping all the time--what does it mean to call novels such as Samuel Richardson's Pamela and Matthew Lewis' The Monk eighteenth-century novels?--but such grouping under the term "Romantic" seems to me different. Does anyone else have thoughts about the "periodization" of Romanticism? Is this so widely accepted now that no one thinks twice about it?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Housekeeping #2

For those keeping score, here are the recent traffic statistics. Obviously, the collaborative reading generated a great deal of traffic. Click on the graphic to enlarge it.

The reading included posts by five of our contributors and responses by Professor McKeon. I have added links to these posts, in chronological order, in the sidebar for easy access. Everyone should feel free to continue contributing comments to these posts, which will remain "live" due to the sidebar links.

If anyone has any ideas for future group readings or for further development of the blog, please don't hesitate to email.

The Difference that Geography Makes

Greetings, all. I'm blogging today from Shady Side, MD, visiting my folks this weekend. And no, the grading's not done. That's what the airplane ride is for, isn't it?

Our recent exchanges about historical change and method have really brought home to me two assumptions that I'd like to explore a bit further:

1) that the contingent events that occur in our daily experience will turn up in our interpretation and teaching of the long eighteenth. The best recent example is the new salience of secrecy and scandal in the wake of the page scandals in D.C. Carrie Hintz talked about this dynamic in regards to all the Lewinskiana dating back to the Clinton era, but I think we can argue that this is a more general working assumption that turns up in a lot of our teaching, and now in scholarly blogs like this one. In other words, the historicity of the historian affects her perceptions of the past in substantial though contingent ways. Am I correct when I say that we take this for granted?

2) that we take the geographical difference between "center" and "periphery" as seriously in the present as we do in the past. The Edinburgh reader of the Man of Feeling has a different sense of it as a cultural and historical event than the London reader, because the book's publication inserts itself into distinct histories. As one of my colleagues phrases it, London and Edinburgh exist in distinct geopolitical, and therefore geohistorical, locations, to say nothing of further-flung publics of metropolitan literary culture. Again, is it fair to say that we share this assumption?

Some time ago, I did a little teaching presentation at ASECS called "When did the Enlightenment Reach Texas? (please give dates)," and, of course, I was only partly joking about the question.

One of my first lessons in geohistorical location was the experience of teaching texts like Crusoe to students with stoutly maintained religious identities (mostly evangelical Protestant, but some Catholic). In my first semester in Houston, I was shocked to receive questions on topics like calvinism and predestination, which had been treated as fairly recondite matters by my East coast grad program. This means that even as we treat the Long Eighteenth as a body of material that we are attempting to "reproduce" mimetically from one generation to the next, that nonetheless this process of reproduction will play out quite differently in different places.

If the assumptions I've just outlined are correct, that means that the Long Eighteenth as it is known in Shady Side, MD (only a short drive from the pleasant little eighteenth-century houses and streets of Annapolis), will be different than the Long Eighteenth as it is talked and written about in Philadelphia, New York, or Santa Barbara, not to mention London, Manchester, and Dublin. It's a dizzying prospect, and I'm not sure where it ends.

So how does your location (in every sense of the word) affect your sense of what you study and teach?



Thursday, October 12, 2006

Announcements for those in the New York area

Next Friday, October 20th at 2pm, Prof. David Kazanjian of the University of Pennsylvania will be giving a talk entitled "'When they come here they feal so free': Liberia and the Equivocal Freedom of Return" at the City University of New York Graduate Center. This event will be held in the Eighteenth-Century Reading Room, where I work, which is C196.05 on the lower level of the Mina Rees Library. To reserve a seat (and refreshments!), please email me at carrieshanafelt@gmail.com.

For those teaching in the CUNY system, please encourage your undergraduate and masters students to enter the Eighteenth-Century Reading Room Essay Competition. Three prizes are awarded in amounts of $500, $300, and $200. We encourage students of all disciplines to enter. The full entry requirements are here.

Lastly, I'd like to bring your attention to the presence of my name on this year's MLA ballot. I am #109, running for a New York State regional delegate position, and I humbly request the favor of your vote. The information about all candidates is at the MLA website here, but you must be logged in to view it.

Please contact me if you're curious about any of these matters.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Mamas, don't let your kids grow up to be authors

I'm still grading, but while I work, why don't you all take a look at the Gawker.com "Unsolicited" column, which is written by an anonymous editor who has some entertainingly bitchy advice for all you wannabe authors out there who don't treat yer editors right:


I read this, and in a fit of insecurity immediately forwarded it to my editor. Apparently it reminded her of someone else, so I felt relieved. At least she replies to my emails.



Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Teaching the Long Eighteenth: Undergrad Research?

Like the guy in the joke who wakes up to find his underwear lined with $100 bills, I woke up this morning and realized that I had some student papers to attend to. I just got a batch of grad response essays on Richardson, Haywood, or Davys, and I've had a batch of annotated Swift bibliographies that are demanding immediate attention. It seems that all this happened while I was, uh, reading Michael McKeon's posts and responding to them. So now it's time to hunker down and do some grading.

But just in case others would like to procastinate with me, and want to help me postpone my date with the grading-pile just a little longer, I'd like to see how others' classes are going, and I'm particularly interested in what kinds of expectations we bring to undergrad research in our sophomore, junior, and senior courses. What kinds of research can we demand of students still struggling to master their writing, or their research skills, or the standard texts in our period? What distinguishes a really good student project from a mediocre one? How do you encourage your worthy but dull students to develop more interesting projects?



Research Fellowships at the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

[x-posted from Kevin Berland C18-L]

The Lewis Walpole Library will reopen its doors to readers in summer
2007 after eighteen months of extensive building renovation. The new
spaces will include a splendid reading room, state-of-the-art collection
storage, and new staff and conservation workspace. The Library’s
fellowship programs will resume then as well, and applications are
invited for the 2007-2008 year (July through June).

The Library, a department of the Yale University Library located in
Farmington, Connecticut, forty miles from New Haven, has significant
holdings of eighteenth-century prints, drawings, manuscripts, books, and
paintings. Fellows in residence also have access to additional
materials at Yale, including those at the Beinecke Rare Book and
Manuscript Library and the Yale Center for British Art.

The Library offers visiting fellowships, normally for four weeks, as
well as travel grants of lesser duration, to scholars engaged in
post-doctoral or equivalent research and to doctoral candidates at the
dissertation stage. In a typical year the Library awards up to a dozen
fellowships and travel grants.

The visiting fellowships, which include the cost of travel to and from
Farmington, provide a stipend of $1,800 per month in addition to
accommodation in an eighteenth-century house on site. The travel
grants, which vary in duration and amount, also include accommodation.
Additional information about the library, its collections, facilities,
and programs, may be found at http://www.library.yale.edu/walpole/.

To apply for a fellowship or travel grant, candidates should send a
curriculum vitae, including educational background, professional
experience and publications, and a brief outline of the research
proposal (not to exceed three pages) to: The Librarian, The Lewis
Walpole Library, 154 Main Street, Farmington, CT 06032, USA. FAX (860)
677-6369. Two confidential letters of recommendation are also required
by the application deadline, which is January 12, 2007. Awards will be
announced in March.

Additional information may be obtained by email: walpole@yale.edu.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Michael McKeon says Goodbye to the Long Eighteenth

[Here's Michael's final statement--DM]

Now that the "collective reading" of The Secret History of Domesticity is over I'd like to thank both participants and silent readers for their interest--of the former, especially Dave, Carrie S., and Laura, who've given me a great deal to ponder. It's a unique experience, at least for me--a running "review" that's really more like a virtual workshop held on the occasion of a recently published book.

I hope the discussion has generated interest in the book that will outlive the occasion. And I'd welcome and respond to (michael.mckeon@rutgers.edu) any thoughts that didn't get aired in the past few days. I'm new to blogging (and had some technical difficulties here, as Dave in his patience can testify), and I see what a remarkable difference it can make in helping subcultures like our own to cohere. Thanks again to everyone involved. Now go out and buy the paperback!


18th-century Store Discovered Near Fort Edward, N.Y.

Carrie's post yesterday about the historical significance of Lewis & Clark was still rattling around in my head when I saw the following headline:


FORT EDWARD, N.Y. - This history-rich Hudson River community has yielded a museum's worth of 18th-century military artifacts over the decades, from musket balls to human skeletons. But a colonial soldier's daily lot wasn't all fighting and bloodshed. They had their share of down time, and that's where the sutler came in, offering for sale two of the few diversions from frontier duty: alcohol and tobacco.

A five-year-long archaeological project has unearthed the 250-year-old site of a merchant's establishment that sold wine, rum, tobacco and other goods to the thousands of soldiers who passed through this region during the French and Indian War, when Fort Edward was the largest British military post in North America.


This little news item might offer a few angles on the problem Carrie raises, regarding the general ignorance and/or incuriosity of the public about our period.

Lewis & Clark, as far as I can tell from Plotz's dismissals, only became interesting because of their availability as narrative: they could easily fit into paradigms of exploration and conquest that were getting increasingly popular in the early '60s (remember the Daniel Boone show from those days?), even if they weren't really responsible for any particular event or significance beyond the fact of their travels. Plotz wants to demystify them as Great Men, and wants to demystify their travels as an event of national importance.

What this news item describes, however, is a much more typical kind of historical investigation nowadays: a site is discovered, but the names of those who smoked tobacco and drank in the little store/tavern attached to Fort Edwards will never be known, and no Great Man of my acquaintance ever traveled through there. And yet knowing something of the trade routes, the commodities bought and sold there (where did they come from, I wonder?), the military maneuvers, would give us a great deal of information about this region. But this kind of investigation will not give us a narrative as memorable as "The Lewis and Clark Expedition," until some canny historian provides it.

Academic historians have until very recently taken a very anti-narrative turn, leaving earlier forms of historical story-telling to people like Ambrose, who takes a well-deserved shot in Plotz's piece. But perhaps it is possible for historians (and literary scholars) to return to the story-telling function, without all the mythologizing, in the manner of Ginzburg or Natalie Zemon Davis, or perhaps even Simon Schama's recent books. Then we might all know as much about the soldiers of Fort Edwards as we do about Lewis and Clark.


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Michael McKeon Gets the Last Word, Tomorrow!

Michael has just informed me that he will be able to offer us his closing comments tomorrow. That will mark the end of our first Collective Reading, which I think has worked out very well. We eagerly anticipate his final remarks.

In the meantime, we'll entertain whatever new topics that our contributors offer up.

Thanks, and best wishes,

Dave Mazella

McKeon on the Difference between Post-Structuralist and Marxist Attitudes towards the Hermeneutic Circle

[Once again, half of Michael's posted comments in our exchange were consumed by cyber-gremlins today, so I have reunited them and put them up here for easier reading--DM]


Although I can see there may be some basic disagreements between us about historical method, I'll first try to be clearer about what my method aims to do.

By the distinction between seeing the past in its own terms and seeing it in terms other than its own I mean something simpler--more methodological or structural and less epistemologically-"truth" oriented--than you take me to mean. For me the distinction doesn't entail opposing determinate contents--the initial categories are epistemologically-speaking arbitrary--but is rather the engine that sets in motion the process of understanding by which the discovery of determinate contents will be achieved. That motion is dialectical in the sense that the nature of the "internal" and "external" viewpoints it works with is defined by an interaction, like that between particular facts or bits of evidence and a general hypothesis, whereby the two enter into a back-and-forth process of reciprocal revision until a point is reached at which what seems a satisfactory correspondence between the two has been found--i.e., at which the hypothesis seems adequately responsive to the data and the data seem adequately contained by the hypothesis.

This isn't to "idealize" the act of historical understanding but to acknowledge its possibility, and to suggest a "realistic" way of going about it. By the criteria of the "satisfactory" and the "adequate" I mean the sorts of probabilistic standards that govern empirical analysis, although the "rules of evidence" that apply in this sort of study are more like those that operate in a court of law than like those involved in scientific method. The problem I have with poststructuralism in this regard is that the absoluteness of its epistemological skepticism, at least on paper, makes this kind of judgment impossible. If the choice is between either the accessibility or the inaccessibility of the past, the choice becomes a dichotomous opposition between absolutes for neither of which methodological decisions about the adequacy of evidence to a particular hypothesis have any interest. This is the choice between the positivism of "a privileged access to the past" and "some fixed point of historical truth" on the one hand and the relativism or aestheticism of "valuable insights" on the other. If the value of insights is assessed rhetorically, i.e., by the degree to which they speak to or satisfy the needs or expectations of a contemporary audience, there's no way of judging between the value of insights that, relatively speaking, are equally attuned to their respective publics. (Nor, to return to the defense of a "master narrative," is there any middle ground where the epistemological value of taking into account a little evidence or a lot, or of doing it "well" or "badly," might be assessed.)

If these were really the principles on which literary critics and historians operated, their investment in either activity would seem inexplicable. I include criticism here because I think reading a text is liable to the same sorts of epistemological caveats as is "reading" the past. Adducing a text's "own" terms is no less problematic than adducing those of the past, yet the ambition to do this probabilistically--"privileged" not a priori but by virtue of the way one construes the meaning(s) of a text on the evidentiary basis of the language in which it's written--is one we're happy to shoulder, as teachers and writers, on a daily basis.

As I understand it, the difference between poststructuralist and Marxist method, at least on the theoretical level, can be expressed as the difference between two distinct attitudes toward the hermeneutic circle. To analyze the nature of the parts on the basis of our knowledge of the whole presupposes a knowledge of the parts as that which gives the whole its wholeness; to begin at the level of the parts presupposes a knowledge of the whole on the basis of which their partial nature is predicated. For poststructuralist theory, this is a contradiction that precludes knowledge. For Marxist theory it's a contradiction--between parts and whole, between own terms and other terms, between interpretation and explanation--that inaugurates the process of coming to knowledge.

Michael McKeon

Why Lewis and Clark Matter

I don't mean to interrupt the wonderful conversation here about British print culture and McKeon, but I did want to respond to this Slate article condemning the current interest in Lewis and Clark.

David Plotz is absolutely right to say that Lewis and Clark's travels are mythologized, wrongly, as a narrative of the great American expansion project. Anyone who has read the journals has felt the deep sense of dread and unmitigated failure. (As my friend Brooks Hefner is fond of saying, "All early American narratives are about unmitigated failure.") But why is that a reason to turn away from them?

As Jim Chevallier mentioned in his first post here, there is an exhilarating pleasure to be had in examining the early modern, that of "tugging at Santa Claus' beard to see if it is real." I fear that while conservative mythologies of the Founding Fathers and expansion narratives seek to canonize these narratives for the purpose of erasing the failures of the birth of the Republic, the response of those who resist the mythologies is to forget them altogether.

As a scholar, I've been increasingly drawn to Lewis and Clark, Franklin, and Jefferson, because to read them is to find those mythologies erased before your eyes. Tugging at the beard of the early Republic reveals a very human and conflicted face. As much as Jefferson is celebrated as a historical figure, reading Notes on the State of Virginia uncovers the conflicts between his devotion to American freedom and his racism, between his desire for expansion and his deeply troubled view of the Indian nations.

Shouldn't the United States be looking at these narratives for what they are? Is it not important for us to know our history of failure and internal ideological conflict? I am shocked by how few Americans, conservatives and liberals alike, have actually read the words of the people they idolize or attack in the name of current political argument. Is it that we are afraid to find that those who constructed our nation were, like all human beings, great and terrible at once, and that this is our legacy?

The Long Eighteenth says Good-bye to the Secret History

As you'll see, I'm letting Michael McKeon have the final word (see above).

Nonetheless, I'd like to personally thank everyone involved with this first Collective Reading: Carrie Shanafelt, who made this blog possible with her time and energy, and who kicked off discussion with the first post; Tita Chico, Carrie Hintz, and Laura Rosenthal, and most of all Michael McKeon, who submitted himself and his book to a grueling, week-long process of cyber-questioning, despite technical glitches and truncated posts. I do hope that all of you continue to check in with us from time to time. The Long Eighteenth will always welcome your suggestions and contributions. Please stay in touch.

Some of my students have told me they were following our exchanges, and I'm hoping that those who listened in on the discussion will soon start posting their own comments, observations, and queries on everything "Long Eighteenth." As you can see from last week's discussion, we do not bite (even while debating method).

Please let us know your ideas for the next collective reading, either in terms of books or other kinds of events. If you or your friends want to propose some new type of event, maybe a forum on a particular topic, or something entirely new, please post it to the list or contact me offlist at dmazella@uh.edu. We're also eager to hear any suggestions you might have about improving the format of our Collective Readings.

Michael Warner once remarked that a modern "public" is by definition an address to strangers, an address to a group of people that cannot be known in advance. A public is "more than a list of one's friends," but is instead a group of strangers who come together into a "public" by virtue of their participation (74). I have been very happy to find the names of some old friends on this blog; but I am also pleased to find here some scholars whose work I look forward to learning about in the future. Thanks to all of you for helping us come together around this book.

Best wishes,

David Mazella

A Tale of Two Michaels: McKeon and Warner on the Virtuality of the Public

Since this is the final day of discussion, I wanted to make sure we responded to at least one of Michael's questions, so I decided to focus on the Secret History's relation to another book that I've been thinking about quite a bit over the past year: Michael Warner's Public and Counterpublic (Zone, 2002). As I was reading Michael's book, I found myself thinking a lot about Warner's, and, sure enough, I saw Warner's book acknowledged at some key points of discussion.

As Carrie Shanafelt pointed out on the first day of discussion, "the special thing about the conceptualization of public discourse in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is that, suddenly, it becomes one of the main explicit concerns of writers and other public figures." After quoting McKeon's reference to Charles Taylor and the "social imaginary" on p. 107, she gives an excellent description of how this social imaginary coalesced:

As any of us working in the long eighteenth century are aware, almost every author of the period has passages explicitly describing, defending, and even performatively constructing a particular relationship between the public and the private selves of the author, or even between the private and public selves of the reader. The text itself self-consciously serves as a mediator between those selves, both creating a public community for discourse through the publicity of publication and offering a subject for private contemplation.

Carrie has noted the important organizing effect of texts in these virtual spaces of community and solitude, an organizing effect that McKeon has characteristically aligned with two other effects of modernity: the emergent division of knowledge that likewise organizes generals and particulars, as well as the modern marketplace, which "conceives value to be a general and homogeneous category available through the equalization of particular and distinct commodities" (106).

Though Warner is not making a historical argument in the manner of McKeon, McKeon's point about the role of the marketplace as a model for the new, virtual social and communicative relations of modernity adds an important, causal piece of the Big Picture (as Laura would call it) that Warner discusses chiefly in contemporary contexts. McKeon goes on to relate these features of epistemological "disembedding" to the characteristic features of modernity:

These basic features of features of the modern social imaginary--virtuality, self-constitution, reflexivity, --are germane to the fundamental quality of modern socioeconomic and cultural relations, the fact that they are relatively disembodied, mediated rather than face to face, disembedded from the substratum of physical presence and practice. Although in differing ways, modern social relations--the social contract, market exchange, public opinion--are normatively impersonal relations between "strangers" that who have no actual experience of one another (107).

For this statement, McKeon cites a number of sources, including Warner's book, which includes this interesting passage:

The expansive force of these [modern] cultural forms [nation or public or market] cannot be understood apart from the way they make stranger relationality normative, reshaping the most intimate dimensions of subjectivity around co-membership, with indefinite persons in a context of routine action. The development of forms that mediate the intimate theater of stranger relationality must surely be one of the most significant dimensions of modern history, though the story of this transformation in the meaning of strangers has been told only in fragments. It is hard to imagine such abstract modes of being as rights-bearing personhood, species being, and sexuality, for example, without forms that give concrete shape to the interactivity of those who have no idea with whom they interact (76).

What we owe to McKeon, and what I am grateful to Laura for pointing out as well, is the recognition of how much these modern cultural forms of epistemological "disembedding" and virtual, "disembodied" interactions owe to the emergence of the modern marketplace, as an engine of historical change, as an epistemological model, but also as a model of social relations. And one of the key places where we see this virtuality elaborated is in the distinction between actual and concrete particularity, and the emergent doctrines of realism and the aesthetic (109).


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Dave's response to McKeon

Michael and I probably agree more than we disagree about these issues of interpretation, but I'll outline some of the areas of agreement, indicate the main points where we diverge, then get out of the way of discussion.

I should say straight off that the previous post is a very full and useful guide to Michael's thoughts about historical method, which help a great deal to illuminate the decisions he made in structuring the book and approaching his topic.

Now here are the areas of agreement:

1. I am fine with treating interpretation and explanation as a doublet, both of whose terms represent phases in a process equally necessary for the proper understanding of the past.

2. I also appreciate your concern for beginning with the intentions of historical actors, then fully exploring the social contexts of their actions within those socio-historical settings. Frankly, I don't know any other way to proceed with historical inquiries.

3. I also understand your caution about reading subsequent historical events (i.e., the "failure of Enlightenment") backward into the actions and consciousness of those historical actors who had no clue about how those historical events were going to work out.

4. Your whole paragraph on modernity and its failures is really admirable, and explains why we need to remind ourselves and our students what modernity looked like before it was tried out.

Now, here are the disagreements:

5. Having said that, because I hold what you call the poststructuralist belief in the epistemological inaccessibility of the past, I do believe that historicists and presentists both reconstruct the past more or less adequately (or persuasively) in the present; no one can claim a privileged access to the past, no matter what terms they use, or how well they use them.

6. My biggest problem with the notion of "seeing the past in its own terms" is not simply with the question of "whose past [meaning which people in the past should be described]," but also the problem of "whose terms," meaning whose scholarly interpretations should be preferred, and why.

As you noted, this problem does indeed beg a number of questions: should "the past" be understood in only one set of terms, which we could recognize to be the past's own terms? How would we which of all the different ways to describe the past are not just true statements, but the past's own terms? Whose authority decides? In a few instances, we might have direct evidence from contemporary accounts, but otherwise we are relying upon traditions of interpretations/explanations that have accompanied these texts into the present, and then using that tradition as a corrective to our own obsessions and desires concerning these topics.

In other words, I suppose I am stressing the fact that historicist interpretation is not just an individual, synchronic act, but a collective process repeated over and over again on a diachronic axis, rather like your brilliant account of Johnson's "quantitative" analysis of Shakespeare.

This is one reason why I am less worried about anachronism, since I believe that successive historians are not advancing away from, or towards, some fixed point of historical truth, but are instead attempting to generate valuable insights into their materials that will speak to contemporary (scholarly) audiences. I do take it for granted that the nature of these insights will change over time.

If we think about the historical accumulation of interpretations of the past, we would see really staggering variations in critics and epochs' views of the past's "own terms" over time. These wildly divergent views tend to get institutionalized and naturalized, however, into a rather tidy and academic version of the "past in its own terms" that may in fact have little to do with what people in the past may have actually, concretely believed. The views of most 18c readers of an 18c author are certainly "partial" in comparison with what we as scholars take years to internalize.

My Swift students are still shocked to hear that a critic as good as Samuel Johnson could doubt the attribution of a Tale of a Tub, or that the rumors of Swift's secret marriages or insanity had such a dramatic effect on even the most considered views of him in the 18th and 19th century. These were matters of debate and controversy in the past: whose view, then, counts as that of the past's? Thackeray's Swift? Orrery's? Sheridan's? Ehrenphreis's? Do we really believe that these writers use the same set of terms to understand a figure as complex as Swift?

So I appreciate all the cautions that you have given us about projecting our present-day concerns too freely upon the past, but I in turn would caution against over-idealizing the act of historical understanding. Instead, I would call attention to the scrappiness and persistent controversy of actual historical writing in the period under question.

Is it possible that a pragmatic or "rhetorical" orientation toward the past is closer to the actual views of the past held by history-writers between Camden and Gibbon, rather than the more elevated views held by Meinecke or Dilthey? If so, what should this disparity tell us?

Best wishes,


McKeon Responds to Dave and Laura on Presentism (from Comments)

[Since this response ran through three consecutive Comment posts, I thought it would be easier to read, follow, and respond to if I pasted it into a single new post. Laura, if you'd like, perhaps you could respond here? And, please, if others are interested, join us--DM]

Dave and Laura,

I agree entirely that "interpretation" and "explanation" form a dialectical doublet, in their interrelation defining what historical method should aim to achieve. I emphasize the former only because I feel as though "our" attentiveness to the self-conceptions of the past in recent years has been overbalanced by methods and perspectives that derive from modern experience. By this I meant something very imprecise, and the term "presentist" is probably misleading except in so far as it, too, means simply "what postdates the portion of the past that's under study." I think "explanation" is crucial to historical study, but perhaps only once (a schematic temporalization) "interpretation" has defined a sense of the past's self-understanding on the basis of which the claim to "explain" by *other* means can become intelligible.

So in these terms, the presentism I sought to rebalance in Secret History is the tendency to read the period in which modernity first seems to emerge (which I take at least to include the 18th century) from the viewpoint of the failures of modernity, paradigmatically, capitalism, the bourgeoisie, class conflict, liberalism, the public sphere, separate spheres, "The Enlightenment." To study these things from the viewpoint of "the past" is, as I've already quoted, "to view the past not only as the prelude to our present but also as a response to its own past" (xxvii), a formulation that suggests that the distinction between interp. and explan. can also name the difference between attending to the intentional *motives* with which past activities, etc. were undertaken and elaborating a theoretical or *causal* understanding whose possibility depends on taking a certain distance from the aims of the past culture in question. In 1690 capitalism meant not commodity fetishism, alienated labor, and the extraction of surplus labor but freedom from hierarchical political and economic control. The bourgeoisie was not a self-conscious class whose ideology sought to universalize its own interests. Indeed, whether it even existed is a definitional rather than an empirical question--hence my objection (74) to the translation of Habermas's burgerlich as bourgeois rather than civil. What people *experienced* in 1690 was not class conflict but a conflict between status-based assumptions about the coextension of birth and worth and emergent class-based assumptions that worth was a function of labor discipline within one's calling, or simply one's industrious accomplishments and the upward mobility that attended them.

Except for a few thoughtful "Tory feminists," "liberalism" wasn't an ideology of human rights and negative freedom that nonetheless silently drew the line at women and indigent men but a revolutionary alternative to the tacit belief in monarchal legitimacy. Similarly, the public sphere wasn't a hypocritical claim to inclusiveness and equality but a revolutionary intuition that the determination of public affairs should be the work of others besides the king and his ministers. Separate spheres was not simply the modern, more ruthlessly efficient instantiation of patriarchal inequality but one result of reconceiving gender relations no longer as a matter of better vs. worse but instead as a matter of equality in difference. And the Enlightenment was not the dogmatic adherence to rational and instrumental "objectivity" but a dialectical effort to make sense of the difference between the object and the subject, science and the humanities that had been bequeathed by the quarrel of the ancients and the moderns. This is not to fashion an apology for modernity but to fill in its other side (as it seems these days necessary to do) so as to come closer to an understanding of the past as, like the present, historical process.This sort of presentism can't be laid at the door of any single recent critical movement: the post-structuralist demystification of "history," utopian Marxist contempt for the achievements of modernization, new historicist efforts to "do" history outside the protocols of empiricism--i.e., without abandoning the poststructuralist belief that "history" is epistemologically inaccessible--all these have contributed to the haze of "negative hermeneutics" (Ricoeur) of our times. To recur to one of your points, Dave, although I see what you mean about the comparable vulnerability of "presentism" and "historicism" to partiality, I'd rather reorient these terms, partly on the precedent of previous usage. I take presentism itself to be a mode of "historicism" in the now very general sense of historicism as entailing any commitment to historical understanding. But as I see it, "historicism" came into usage to name what I've been calling "interpretation," the aim to study the past in its own terms, as opposed to the aim to elaborate general laws of historical formation and development that can "explain" history in a more trans-historical fashion, i.e., the attempt to apply the model of scientific "natural laws" to sociohistorical experience.(I associate this meaning of historicism with, e.g., Troeltsch and Dilthey; but ironically Popper and others later adopted the term to describe and discredit what I'm calling "explanation".)

And I agree that to conceive interpretation as the study of the past in its own terms begs the question of what, or even more *whose*, past we're talking about. Thinking of inter./explan. as methodologically a dialectical doublet, however, suggests that this is the necessary next step in interpretation: dividing interpretation--a whole vis a vis its opposition to explanation--into its own parts once that preceding division has been accomplished. This can be both diachronic and synchronic: the former in so far as "the past" we seek to understand is a chronology that needs diachronic subdivision if we're to sort out different viewpoints and perspectives; certainly the latter once we recognize that any diachronic period is defined apart from others according to a synchronic perception of what makes it, as a unit, different from surrounding periods. I.e., synchronic study isn't the opposite of diachronic study, it presupposes it as the means by which any slice of diachrony becomes susceptible, by bracketing adjacent chronologies, to synchronic understanding. In this respect I don't think cultural studies devotes itself to synchronic rather than diachronic study; it brackets the problem of diachrony--and thereby takes a position on diachrony--by conceiving a period (or a decade or a day) as susceptible to its "own" analysis. And I think we owe synchronic study not to any recent thinking but to the Scottish Enlightenment historians and then, soon after, to the full elaboration of Marx, for whom the synchronic relationship between infrastructure and superstructure became as indispensable to "historical" study as is the relationship between one event or period and others. (The attribution of the discovery of synchrony to cultural studies might even be seen as an example of "presentism," like the case of looking to Said [as Dave points out]for the origins of what Selden already practiced.) And I think that when people castigate "master narratives" they're not thinking of diachronic totalizations alone. The strong meaning of "teleology" as positing "at the outset a result purported to emerge only as the result of inquiry" (xxv) doesn't require a linear narrative in which to operate. After all, Marx's synchronic relation of ideology/material base has been accused (although I think wrongly)of teleology, as well as of "abstraction" and "reduction." On the other hand, the ambition to hunt out teleology has led some to conflate teleology with linear succession or temporality, which seems to me a mistake. (If this were true, then chronological readings would be ipso facto "evolutionary" readings, whereas in fact they also can be, and can be criticized as, "devolutionary.")For a discussion of interp./explan. that very interestingly argues the subtlety with which that distinction can be made when applied to micro-questions of whether individual actions are the result of "internal" motive or "external" cause see Alasdair MacIntyre, "The Idea of a Social Science," in Against the Self-Images of the Age (Notre Dame, 1984), 211-29.

Michael McKeon

What does it Mean to Understand the Past in its Own Terms?

I was really struck by this passage of Michael's about his critical and historical method, because it articulated an area where Michael and I probably disagree in theory, though perhaps not so much in practice:

But to characterize my method I think I need to have recourse to readings in historiography and historical method, especially the distinction between interpretation and explanation--to simplify, the difference between understanding the past in its own terms and understanding it in terms not available to it.

Now, Michael immediately qualifies this distinction between the "presentist" and what I'd call the historicist positions, by saying that we need to pursue both. Nonetheless, he does stake out a position that "presentist" studies have dominated theory and criticism for quite some time, and seems to suggest that such a historicism could act as a corrective to presentism. And this seems a worthy point: any critical method, pursued without sufficient awareness of its limits, can generate mechanical and unpersuasive results. This seems as true of "presentism" as it does of the most scrupulous historicism.

But if Michael's dialectical method has any validity (which I think it does), the position of the careful "historicist" is going to be as conditioned by the present as the most rampant presentist, who is nonetheless going to be determined by his own historical situatedness. In other words, both sides will have constructed their notions of past AND present in a present that impinges upon them in various ways, and in response to their perceptions to the past. In other words, I don't see any automatic advantage on either side, though both are obliged to be as scrupulous as possible in their reconstructions of both past and present.

Let me give a few examples from our own discussion: Carrie Hintz made some interesting points about secrecy in our recent political past, with her references to the Lewinsky scandal. And even as our little discussion has unfolded, a very lurid sex scandal (phone sex! on the floor of the House! whoops, not true!) has overtaken political argument in this country. Even as we discuss scandals like the warming-pan baby, the notion of "scandal" takes on a new saliency in both the present and in our reconstructions of the past, because of events none of us foresaw a few weeks ago (I hope). I'd argue that both historical interpretation and explanation use metaphors for us to render the past intelligible, and that these metaphors are as likely to come from present-day scandals as they are from past ones, for example.

In your own explanation of the traditional/modern divide, Michael, you had recourse to Chinua Achebe and his presentation of perceptions of tradition in a non-Western context. These are obviously things that chronologically and conceptually were unavailable to John Selden, though Selden had an admirable interest in "Oriental" languages and cultures. But talking about Selden's interest in such things indeed seemed charming and "antiquarian" until critics began to think more critically about the West's discursive constructions of "non-Western" or "traditional" cultures in pre-20th century writers. Though sustained critical interest in such topics was only generated, say, after Said, I don't think it's fair to claim that pursuing those questions is purely presentist, since these parts of Selden's scholarship have been known about for some time, though they were known as part of his philological work on biblical languages. But is calling it "biblical" any less mediated or presentist than calling it "orientalist"? As you acknowledge, we need both kinds of approaches, and use them both together, all the time.

There are other issues here, as well, like the dangers of hypostasizing "the past" so that only a particular set of terms can be defined as "its own." The virtue of the dialectical method, I think, is to put us on guard against believing that any particular set of terms could be considered self-sufficient or adequate for such explanations. Does the resident of Edinburgh in 1704 inhabit the "same" present or past as the resident of London in the same year? Does the illiterate laborer digging up Roman ruins for the local clergyman's researches share his sense of antiquity? Etc. etc.

So I appreciate your notion that we must be careful about introducing anachronisms into our analyses, but I believe that a historicist may be in as much danger of doing so as a presentist.



Friday, October 06, 2006

Michael McKeon Responds, part II (Questions for us)

[this is the second part of the email that Michael sent me--DM]


In order to take full advantage of this remarkable opportunity to talk to others at some length about my work, I'd like now to list a number of topics that haven't yet received attention in this discussion. Some of these are arguments, others are ideas or formulations; some are obvious, at least in outline, some I've learned from others, some I've developed myself; but all I've found peculiarly illuminating in the thinking that went into writing this book. I'd be most grateful for any reflections readers might have on these things, either pro or contra, either their interest and utility in themselves or the way I've employed them in Secret History.

1.) The effort to coordinate thinking about the division of knowledge at the most general and the most particular of levels with thinking about the division of labor in a similar fashion (see, most explicitly, 324-27).

2.) The distinction between positive and negative freedom, especially as I've conceived it in tandem with the difference between the traditional and the modern.

3.) My attempt to juxtapose literary and graphic means of treating form and structure in the representation of spatial relations. Although my ample use of illustrations in Secret History is of course broadly relevant to this topic, it becomes most explicit in my discussion of genre painting in chapter 8, 423-35.

4.) My characterization of what's new about "the public" in the modern world as the virtuality of an imagined social totality whose indefinite inclusiveness is able to admit all of those private, actual individuals who pre-exist and determine the nature of that whole. I speak most directly about this conceptualization at 106-9 and 324, where it's exemplified not only by the public sphere, the market, and representative democracy but also by the realm of aesthetic experience.

5.) The theory that the transition from traditional to modern notions of "personality' is marked by a shift in the location of "the natural" from the social to the sexual register: see 274-77.

Thanks in advance. And for those readers who haven't purchased a copy of Secret History, the paperback edition is scheduled to be available by the end of October at about half the price of the hardbound.

Michael McKeon

[Since Michael has been so generous in his responses to our queries, I'd like to keep the McKeon collective reading going for at least another day or so. Feel free to use the comments or to do your own posts to respond.--DM]

Michael McKeon Responds, part I

[Michael McKeon has asked me to post these comments on his behalf--DM]

In the last couple of days I've been using the comments buttons to enter into discussion on specific issues. Today I'd like to post a few responses to recent comments, as well as raise some more general issues about Secret History that may deserve more discussion.


Laura has added to her earlier remarks on the liability of the claim that civic humanism dominates sociopolitical thought around the turn of the 18th century and generates liberal discourse and capitalist ideology as a response to it. As she points out, this claim discourages recognition of the degree and depth of various efforts to confront the effects of emergent capitalist practices that occur well before civic humanism is supposed to have seized the reins of debate in the last two decades of the 17th century. I agree: the diverse range of negative speculation on emergent capitalism is thereby reduced to the ideology of a single posture, that of civic humanism, whose meaning and implications we're supposed already to know. As for positive speculation about capitalist practices, let alone capitalist ideology, the civic-humanism-as-dominant thesis would deny its very existence until the ch critique has generated a positive defense of it. This thesis isn't supported by the evidence (see pp. 24-33; those interested in a fuller critique of the ch thesis on both substantive and methodological grounds may want to read my essay "Civic Humanism and the Logic of Historical Interpretation," which will appear in a collection of essays on JGA Pocock edited by DeAnn DeLuna). Moreover the ch thesis imperialistically lays claim to defining the perspective of anyone who uses ideas or words ("corruption," "luxury," apprehension regarding the virtuality of credit, etc.) that the proponents of that thesis identify as the intellectual property of ch.


So the ch thesis is in my view a good example of what's wrong with master narratives (another topic Laura addresses): that is, not with form itself but the form when practiced badly. Master narratives are simply large versions of what all of us necessarily do whenever we generalize broadly about the meaning of the particular phenomena we're treating. The real question in all such cases is: how persuasive is the fit between particular instances and overarching generalization? How open is the generalization to particular instances that would seem on the face of it to contradict it? How supple is the generalization in adjusting to the presence of particulars that clearly *do* challenge it? Some master narratives--I think Margaret Doody's True Story is a good example--posit a vast thesis that never is subjected to this sort of questioning; "the novel" is simply asserted to have existed in classical antiquity and to be accessible to us over time as the history of the influence of (what conventional usage calls) "the Greek romance." Both Dave--"pulling things together"--and Laura--the "accumulation of evidence"--speak of the virtues of a master narrative that throws its net very wide so as to be able to generalize about a very broad range of evidence; and this is what I've tried to do in Secret History. But the most important feature of a master narrative that does its job is its capacity to put particulars and generals in dialectical relation and ongoing reciprocity. My greatest ambition in Secret History was to construct an argument of great breadth but, at the most abstract level, also of relative simplicity, one whose broad plausibility might be confirmed by reference to the different kinds of evidence it mobilizes at several levels of particularity. The virtue of simplicity is not that it sums up everything with full adequacy to all it refers to, but that it provides a heuristic key by which to discover similarities between phenomena that at levels of increasing particularity are quite different from each other. This is what I hoped to do with formulaic lines of thought that run throughout the book, like distinction-separation-conflation, tacit-explicit, division-dialectical recapitulation, the devolution of absolutism, from domestication to domesticity. In the Introduction (xx) I approach this generalizing aim from another direction, one that specifies the variety of spheres of human experience that may be brought together under the generalization that "the division of one term into two ... has played an important part in substantiating the notion that the modern relation of the public and the private has entailed a splitting of a former tacit whole into oppositional and self-sufficient parts." The singular categories by which I then exemplify this generalization are estate, status, gender, honor, propriety, religion, subjecthood, knowledge, romance, and individual. In one of my comments the other day I used one of these categories--the splitting of "knowledge" into "external sense impressions" and "internal creative imagination"--as a kind of shorthand, a way of using the emergence of empirical epistemology and scientific method in particular to summarize the entire historical transformation that's the subject of Secret History. But this is to make epistemology the favored means by which to summarize all other bodies of thought and practice, a risky and potentially biased move if made unconditionally since one might say that it's precisely the epistemologization of knowledge--its disembedding from social practice--that defines the modern viewpoint. So again, the point is not to reduce each of these developments to the status of all others, but to offer a way of toggling back and forth between the sheer multiplicity of experience in a given historical context and the generalizations by which we may find order in diversity.


One reason I'm hard put to compare my method with that of other literary historians like Gallagher and William Warner, as Dave has asked me to do, is that my aim in this book is to generalize about historical change by using literary history as only one example among several that profit from being understood in terms of the public-private relationship. That's why I remark that the movement I describe from secret history to domestic novel is meant to offer not a genetic account of the origins of the latter form so much as a "peculiarly persuasive, because structurally eloquent, example of the historical trajectory ... from relations of distinction to relations of separation" (xxi-xxiii). Of course the argument I make in this book grows out of a career of reading both literature and literary criticism focused on the 18th century. But to characterize my method I think I need to have recourse to readings in historiography and historical method, especially the distinction between interpretation and explanation--to simplify, the difference between understanding the past in its own terms and understanding it in terms not available to it. I think historical method needs to pursue both of these approaches. But it seems to me that the major tendency of theory and criticism in the past several decades (often enough with positive results) has been toward a presentist strategy by which the past has been made intelligible according to modern standards of understanding. Over the years I've been more troubled than informed by the results of this tendency, and so in many respects I've aimed here "to view the past not only as a prelude to our present but also as a response to its own past" (xxvii).

Gender, Civic Humanism, Method

Dave posed a question about my brief comment on gender and civic humanism, and this post is a follow-up. It was originally part of the response to Tita’s post, but has gotten off topic so I am following up here.

One problem that I see, in response to Dave’s question, with the over-emphasis on civic humanism has been not only the burial of Lockean theories of natural rights and the Prostestant/secularizing pre-history of modernity, as Michael McKeon points out in one of his comments (as part of the ongoing response to Tita Chico’s original post), but also more of a recognition of the extent to which 18th-century writers were engaging and confronting emerging capitalist relations as such, working through their implications in more complex ways than just embracing or rejecting. Thus various expressions of distress about the marketplace get categorized as civic humanist resistances to emergent economic practices at the expense of thinking of them as head-on confrontations with historical change and its implications. In the context of civic humanism, Addison and Steele become more interesting than Mandeville or the Societies for the Reformation of Manners. Now admittedly the former are more elegant stylists than the latter and the influence of the rhetoric of civic humanism should not be underestimated. But for those interested, I would point to an important book by E.J. Hundert called The Enlightenment’s Fable (Cambridge 1994), which places Mandeville at the center rather than at the periphery. Mandeville, Hundert argues, "introduced into the heart of European social understanding a series of arguments designed to sustain the radically unsettling conclusion that the moral identities of his contemporaries had been permanently altered by a previously unacknowledged historical transformation." (14) Much Mandeville scholarship, I believe, demonstrates how important Mandeville became to a range of 18th-century thinkers, even (maybe especially) in unacknowledged ways.

Of course, this has to do with gender as well. In the dominance/persistence-of-civic- humanism model, representations of women come to have significance in two ways: (1) hysterical female figures embody fears of commercialization in implicit contrast to stable male figures attached to real property and (2) women serve as civilizing agents against the backdrop of commercialism’s brutality. Well, I read last weekend in The New York Times that hysteria is back. Even so, it is perhaps surprising in some ways that the classic feminist critique of hysteria has not been brought to bear on formulation (1). Certainly and without a doubt we find 18th-century female figures that really do read like hysterical versions of Fortuna. An overextension of this argument, however, runs the risk of obscuring women’s historical contribution to the emergent economy and their particular, vexed relationship to it and the way many 18th-century representations actually confront this. The same perhaps goes for (2), which is convincing in certain ways but also runs the risk of obscuring the way a certain level of material comfort is the precondition for becoming a “civilizing” influence. We might look at this in the context of Ruth Perry’s Novel Relations, which suggests the extent to which women bore the brunt of the brutality of commercialization in Britain. (Not to mention the brutality endured by “women of empire,” to borrow Felicity Nussbaum’s formulation in Torrid Zones.)

The other point I wanted to make responds in part to Carrie Hintz’s post about when modernity happens and Carrie Shanafelt’s post about method. Perhaps the most important contribution of Secret History, and probably the most potentially controversial one as well, is the big picture. Like others, I am looking forward to spending more time thinking about this book (maybe teaching parts of it), but for now I wanted to offer a few preliminary impressions of structure and method. It seems to me that it is made up of much synthesis and many local readings (Dave has mentioned a couple), any one of which could be engaged with, contested, etc. But then there is a kind of accumulation that suggests, for example, structural similarities between Marriage à la Mode and The Rape of the Lock (the juxtaposition of high and low as part of the process of domestication) that add up to a larger point about “modernity” characterized by disembedding, a point nevertheless consistently complicated by a sense of uneven development. Carrie H mentioned medievalist colleagues who will contest certain representations of traditional culture, and we might also find others who will challenge traditionalism itself as a characterization of the period. But you probably also have Victorianist colleagues who will characterize the 18th century as a traditional culture and argue for their own period as the one in which modernity happens. Then there is perhaps the radical alternative of Margaret Doody’s True Story of the Novel, which is not directly an argument about modernity but one piece associated with it, suggesting that there really isn’t much new in terms of narrative in the 18th century at all. On the one hand, I find these explosions of master narratives compelling, especially given that exceptions at any moment can be found. Master narratives can themselves become misleading, flattening, formulaic, and oppressive. On the other hand, what do we give up when we reject them?


Thursday, October 05, 2006

McKeon Collective Reading Extended

Hello folks,

Since we've got a few stray posts still on their way, and discussion just picking up this evening, we'll keep things going through tomorrow, and beyond, if questions and answers continue.

I also know that we have quite a few lurkers who have been visiting this discussion, and were perhaps a bit nervous about participating. Unlurk yourselves, and ask a question or two. We'd love to hear some more responses to our discussion here.

Best wishes,


Tacit/Explicit Knowledge and the Traditional Society

McKeon's book is so replete with intriguing examples, and striking readings of visual and written culture that I wish we had a bit more time to absorb and work with the text...but I take comfort in the fact that many of us will continue to discuss the book long after the formal proceedings have ended...here's to this discussion and to Michael McKeon's generosity in joining us as we read his book. Thank you to David Mazella for organizing it, and to Carrie Shanafelt as well.

I would like to hear more & talk more about the concept of "embeddedness" and the transition from "tacit" to "explicit" knowledge. Especially after reading David Mazella's post about McKeon's concept of modernity and the division of knowledge, I was curious to hear if any specialists on premodern cultures have read the book in manuscript or commented on the published text. Are traditional cultures and knowledges really so lacking in "self-conscious and explicit awareness"? Is it possible for any person who possesses language and the capacity for any self-reflection--or dissent or confusion-- to be "embedded" in the tacit practices of a culture? I ask this, I suppose, because I have medieval colleagues who regularly chastise me (however gently & affectionately) for assuming that the epistomelogical/ cultural/ literary changes which congealed into modernity all emerged in the early modern period. I am not offering this as a critique or comment--I'm just curious.

I loved David Mazella's idea of genres that come into focus and fade away--and the many examples in McKeon's book of authors who draw on traditional and archaic modes for their own purposes and reinvent them (Burney's work with the family romance; Matt Bramble's pastoralism and so on). When I was reading McKeon's rich and nuanced section on Behn I was thinking of more contemporary instances of the secret history form, even into the twentieth century...like _Primary Colors_ by Anonymous--and the conflation/ separation dynamic at work in the Clinton-Lewinsky affair...(the ways in which Clinton's public and private roles were separated out, and then conflated, and then separated out again: private marital matters and--unfortunately--his "privates." Some enterprising person might write something comparing Restoration secret histories and the material produced in those giddy and prurient and politically/privately conflated Clinton years...

McKeon, Day 3: Some Final Thoughts, and a Few Questions

Part 3 of McKeon's book traces the genealogical role of the "secret history" as it fed into the better-known development of the domestic novel during this period. In many respects, this portion resembles the kind of argument and organization found in McKeon's Origins of the English Novel, since we find here a series of readings, some brief, some extended, of individual novels, though these are framed within a story about the emptying-out of the secret history as a genre, and the implications of this emptying-out for the emergent category of domesticity, as well as the private/public differential that helped create it.

By the time we reach writers such as Manley or Haywood, the old function of the secret history as a vehicle for conveying the sexual, dynastic secrets of the powerful had been swamped by other kinds of pleasures,and other forms of particularity (here his account bears comparison with Gallagher's in Nobody's Story). This refunctioning of the secret history genre, which begins with Behn's Love Letters, brings the close analysis of interest and intrigue so typical of Restoration political discourse into alliance with its analysis of love and sexual attraction, so often found in the romance-influenced fiction of this period. When we think of the motives and impulses that drive Behn's characters forward, for example, we find that love has just become war by other means. Though this kind of analysis has its precedents in critics like Miner, for example, McKeon's sensitivity to the peculiar political and erotic power of secrets, and the fascination they hold, make this a very persuasive reading.

To expand on something I mentioned in the comments, I thought the Behn reading was the highlight of this portion, because it captured the complexity of the correspondences between this era's politics and her presentation of its erotics, especially in relation to point of view, narrative structure, and characterization. McKeon's private/public differential helps us recognize what is most fascinating in her presentation of female characters: their often opaque motives, and their freely admitted pursuit of self-interest. But, as McKeon points out, this libidinal, politicized version of inwardness and privacy (always threatened, however, with the catastrophic effects of public scandal) leaves little room for concerns like domestic economy, the household, child-rearing, or any of the projects of social "reproduction" and maintenance that get identified with the domestic novel.

On the most general level, what I most appreciated about this book was its ability to pull together and memorably organize texts and events from really disparate parts of English culture, like the Warming-Pan Baby and the Beau Wilson affair, Behn's Love Letters along with its sodomitical imitators, plus Pope's Windsor Forest and Haywood's Fantomina, all through its very broadly construed dynamic of the public/private differential. I think that we as specialists walk around with a sense that we could, if we wished, articulate how these vastly different things floating around in a particular year, all sort together. But McKeon has really done the work showing how certain key categories and distinctions can effective organize the chaos of cultural history in this manner.

Rather than take the usual reviewer's tack of dumping the book's faults into the second-to-last paragraph, I thought, since we (hopefully) still have McKeon here, that I'd close with some questions that I was left with after finishing the book. I'm hoping that McKeon will take up at least one of these in his response today.

1. As Carrie Shanafelt suggested in her initial post, the Secret History, which seems to extend and broaden the dialectical method found in the Origin of the Novel, seems rather reserved about entering into contemporary methodological debates. Indeed, with the exception of its extended treatment of Habermas, and its very brief discussion of Marx in the Introduction, there is little discussion of method on offer here, apart from the very ample documentation in the footnotes.

I was wondering, then, how this book could be related to works closer to feminist literary history or cultural studies, like Gallagher's Nobody's Story or Warner's Licensing Entertainment. More generally, I was wondering how McKeon or our readers might locate this study in terms of discipline, as something produced within the field of literary or historical studies, or as a synthesis of work done across a number of fields.

And these two questions I drew up specifically for McKeon, if he wished to address them:

2. The book has an interesting "architectural mix" of synchronic and diachronic discussion, chapter by chapter, and part by part. If I could imagine it as a city block, I'd picture it as pretty varied, with skyscrapers, midsize buildings, and little storefront shops sharing the space. Could you talk a little about how you arrived at the organization of the book?

3. As someone who has worked and taught in 18c studies for awhile, I felt pretty comfortable with the range of texts used, and the mix of canonical and non-canonical authors discussed. But I was curious about how you as an author conceived of the audience for this book while you were writing it: educated lay readers? 18c specialists? undergraduates? graduate students?

Best wishes,