Willa Cather’s Queer Economy

Whenever she found that monied interests were shaping aesthetic taste in American culture, Willa Cather decried the deleterious effects their contrary values had on what she called genuine art. In interviews, essays, stories, and novels written throughout the opening decades of the twentieth century, Cather’s critique of consumerism, in particular, took on what John N. Swift calls a “protest against a pervasive materialist commodity culture” and led her to create characters that Guy J. Reynolds claims “embody Cather’s suspicion of the corrosive impact of acquisitiveness, allied to her wariness about how economic modernism [was] producing an increasingly consumerist society.”

Simone Weil and the Text as Organ of Perception

Literature is a protean phenomenon. Nobody seems quite sure how to classify it. Is it an object, immutable and self-contained? Or is it an event that happens when a self makes contact with a line of letters on a page? Nowadays, critics regard the text primarily as a resource. “There’s a lot of useful knowledge here,” we say, and our job is to show how this knowledge can help us in real life. Recently, I have come upon a fourth option. What if the text were an organ of perception, an extension of the body that structures our muddled, all-too-narrow picture of reality?

Black Spring

Excursions into irreconcilable and therefore alluring dimensions of innovative Black writing, filmmaking, and analysis.

Modernist Literary Studies and the Aesthetics of American Indian Literatures

American Indian literary studies and mainstream modernist studies haunt each other. But for the most part, neither dares to face its ghost in the mirror. This essay sets out to provoke more thinking about the relation between American Indian literary studies and modernist studies and to invite critics to reconsider both fields in light of their parallel languages and polemics. As modernist studies begins to face the indigeneity it has neglected or trampled over, critics risk overlooking how theories of modernism are already embedded in the theories and criticism of American Indian literatures. In that context, modernist studies risks recovering an indigeneity that reproduces the modernism we already know.

Between Justice and Cruelty: The Ambivalence of the Aesthetic

One of the remarkable—yet often overlooked—features of aesthetic experience is its capacity to enact both promises and threats. Neither enlisting itself unequivocally in social utopias, nor allowing itself to be jettisoned in favor of a morally, politically, or epistemically more salutary alternative, the aesthetic domain is a field of pleasure and pain, of ignorance and knowledge, of brutality and life-sustaining agency. Its alliance with invidious forces and histories notwithstanding, the aesthetic enables us to confront tensions in the realms of epistemology,

Edge of Irony: Modernism in the Shadow of the Habsburg Empire by Marjorie Perloff

Our understandings of aesthetic periods along national and generic lines are often highly contingent. Anglophones may know a good deal about seventeenth-century Dutch painting, but almost nothing about eighteenth-century Dutch poetry. Italian opera looms large in the received history of nineteenth-century

Beauty, Again

As postmodernism recedes into the distance let’s recall two brash signs of its cultural hegemony. First, in Richard Linklater’s 1991 film, Slacker, a shot of a table in an espresso bar reveals a lightly worn copy of The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. Published in 1983 and edited by Hal Foster, The Anti-Aesthetic featured essays by figures who will come to stand as some of postmodernism’s most central, including Habermas, Krauss, Jameson, Baudrillard, and Said. Second, from 1999, in the Wachowskis’ The Matrix, in which we spy Neo with a book that’s been hollowed out to hide hard cash and electronic files. 

Aesthetic Turns

“Aesthetic Turns” makes connections between modernist visual art (including film, dance, theater, etc.) and contemporary theoretical and political concerns.