“The Ends of History,” Special Issue of Victorian Studies
In the 1980s and 1990s, literary critics and historians occupied a relatively integrated conceptual space through the rise of cultural studies and the “new historicism.” If this interdisciplinary framework was never seamless, “historicization” nonetheless represented a critical project equally palpable to history and literary criticism. The last decade or so, however, has found many critics seeking the revival of form as a key axis for literary study as against a perceived overemphasis on (or reduction to) historical context or ideological content. An early catalyst, MLQ’s 2000 special issue on the topic found Susan Wolfson attempting to “rehabilitate formalist criticism” without simply “cross-dressing it as a version of historicist criticism.” More recently, Sharon Marcus and Stephen Best’s 2010 special issue in Representations questioned the Jamesonian “political unconscious” while opposing the reading of “surfaces” to that of “symptoms,” thus inviting a rigorous rethinking of the mandate to “always historicize.” In a more polemical vein, Rita Felski’s essay “After Suspicion” and her lecture “Context Stinks!” appear to equate historicism with suspicious reading and to find both irreconcilable with the need to “respect . . . what is in plain view.” Still other critics urge “distant reading”: methods like Franco Moretti’s turn to graphs, maps, trees, and (more recently) network theory; or Heather Love’s Latour-inspired “descriptive turn.” Latour’s critiques of “suspicious” reading and “context” have exercised enormous influence across the fields of social-scientific and historical studies (for example, Tim Mitchell, Rule of Experts, and Tom Bender and Igancio Farias, eds., Urban Assemblages). This “descriptive turn” has its own advocates in the historical social sciences which may also provoke questions about what kind of historical analysis befits the formalist exploration of texts (literary and otherwise) and vice versa.
While defenders of suspicion have already come forward (for example, John Kucich, “Unfinished”), this special issue invites essays that take a somewhat different tack. Rather than positions for or against neoformalist, “surface,” and “descriptive” critical practices, the essays we seek will ask what these discussions portend for Victorianist historicism. We ask: Need the turn toward form be a turn away from history and, if so, what does it mean to pursue “Victorian” studies ahistorically or posthistorically? What is the legacy of the “new historicism” and is it incompatible with “what is in plain view”? Do historical writings embed their own hermeneutic instructions independently of critics’ distinctions between depth and surface, close and distant reading? What does history tell us about formalism and what does form tell us about history and historicism? In what new relation to each other are literary studies and history to stand in the wake of a formalist turn?
The deadline for submissions is September 15, 2012. Essays of not more than 8,000 words (including endnotes) should be prepared in MLA Style. We encourage submissions not only from literary scholars and historians, but from those in any field (including, for instance, the history of art or of science) whose work engages with relevant questions and issues. Submissions and inquiries should be sent directly to both of the issue’s guest editors by email attachment.
Lauren M. E. Goodlad, University of Illinois, firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew Sartori, New York University, email@example.com
Best, Stephen, and Sharon Marcus. “Surface Reading: An Introduction.” Representations108.1 (2009): 1-21.
Farfas, Ignacio, and Thomas Bender, eds. Urban Assemblages: How Actor-Network Theory Changes Urban Studies. New York: Routledge, 2009.
Felski, Rita. “After Suspicion.” Profession (2009): 28-35.
—. “Context Stinks!” Portland Center for Public Humanities at Portland State University. Portland, Oregon. November, 2011. Lecture.
Goswami, Manu. “Rethinking the Modular Nation Form: Toward a Sociohistorical Conception of Nationalism.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 44.4 (2002): 770-99.
Kucich, John. “The Unfinished Historicist Project: In Praise of Suspicion.” Victoriographies 1.1 (2011): 58-78.
Latour, Bruno. “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern.” Critical Inquiry 30.2 (2004): 225-48.
Love, Heather. “Close but not Deep: Literary Ethics and the Descriptive Turn.” New Literary History 41.2 (2010): 371-91.
Mitchell, Timothy. Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity. Berkley: U of California P, 2002.
Moretti, Franco. Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History. New York: Verso, 2005.
—. “Network Theory, Plot Analysis.” New Left Review 68 (2011): 80-102.
Wolfson, Susan J. “Reading for Form.” Modern Language Quarterly 61.1 (2000): 1-21.