Collaborations, Networks, Failures, Weak Ties

“What are some collaborations if not the marriage of minds,” is one introductory provocation with which Jill Ehnenn confronts the reader of her Women’s Literary Collaboration, Queerness, and Late-Victorian Culture.[1] In 2008, when Ehnenn’s book was published, collaboration had already been the topic of a small host of books, articles, and collections; and scholarship has since found ever-newer and more sophisticated ways of describing the emancipatory potential of collaboration as well as the challenges that arise for col

Crediting Ghosts: W. B. Yeats and George Yeats Collaborate with the Dead

“How on earth, we wonder, could a man of Yeats’s gifts take such nonsense seriously?” exclaimed W. H. Auden. “How could Yeats . . . take up something so essentially lower-middle class—or should I say Southern Californian?”[1] Auden’s incredulous geography was more accurate than he knew. Perhaps the peak of Yeats’s lifelong interest in what Auden dismissively called the “mumbo jumbo of magic” (“mediums, spells, the Mysterious Orient—how embarrassing”) were the “sleeps,” joint experiments by W. B.

Radically Distributed Collaboration: The Russian Modernist Enterprise “Contemporary Art”

In a lecture entitled “Fairytale about Three Sisters: Painting, Architecture, Sculpture,” influential fin-de-siècle Russian architect and devotee of the art nouveau style Fyodor Shekhtel proposed that, “architecture, painting, and sculpture ought to go hand in hand in friendly collaborative work; this friendship, of course, encompasses equally artists working in furniture, bronze, ceramics, painting on glass and all the other branches of applied art.[1] By anthropomorphizing artistic genres as friendly collaborators and eq

New York Blues: John Gavanti, No Wave, and the Limits of Collaboration

The collaboratively produced 1980 no wave opera John Gavanti is loosely based on Mozart’s 1787 Don Giovanni, itself a telling of the Don Juan legend that was adapted by the Italian librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. The two works are quite different. Whereas Mozart’s original is magisterial, punctuated by moments of comedy and the macabre, the modern update is cacophonous and irreverent.

Musicalization as Speculative Collaboration in Modernist Narrative

For years, I have asked students in my modern and contemporary literature survey to compare the passages in E. M. Forster’s Howards End (1910) and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty (2005) (the latter a clear homage to the former) in which the narrator and characters perform parallel exegeses of a classical masterpiece. In Chapter 5 of Howards End the main characters attend a live performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No.

Unstable Modernism in the Barron Studio

Mid-century modernism in music largely flowed in two streams. One was the austere, hermetic music of composers such as Milton Babbitt, Pierre Boulez, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Their “serialist” music was built from refined, logical, even mathematical systems, but listeners often experience it as the opposite: haphazard, frustrating, incomprehensible.[1] Akin to the flat, polished surfaces of mid-century architecture, such music offers few graspable sonic hooks by way of melody, harmony, or rhythmic pulse.

Failed Collaboration: Langston Hughes, Zora Hurston, and the Possibilities of Cocreation

One of the best-known feuds in American literature is the attempted collaboration between Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes. In 1930, they decided to cowrite a play based on Hurston’s field work in African American southern folk culture and her unpublished story “The Bone of Contention.” However, The Mule-Bone never met page or stage in their lifetimes and it ended their friendship. Or, to use Hughes’s now famous hand-written manuscript notation, “the authors fell out.” Henry Louis Gates Jr.

“Scissors and Paste”: Joyce’s Weak Ties with the Press-Cutting Bureau

Strong and Weak Ties: The Joyce Circle and the Press-Cutting Bureau

In a letter to Harriet Shaw Weaver dated December 18, 1937, James Joyce’s secretary Paul Léon described how Finnegans Wake (1939) in its final phase required multiple accomplices to reach completion:

“Indians MUST Organize”: Reimagining Indigenous Modernity through the Writings of the National Council of American Indians

On February 5, 1927, a delegate of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, Reverend Samuel G. Davis (Haida), wrote to the founding President of the National Council of American Indians, Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, seeking solidarity. Writing on Alaska Native Brotherhood official letterhead, Davis tells about his family and then thanks Bonnin for her ongoing work on behalf of American Indian peoples. He writes, “I am very Proud of you for your work,” and expresses his commitment to “do the same thing here in Alaska.”

In Search of Multivocality: Periodical Studies and a Humanities Lab in Practice

As a field Periodical Studies is particularly well-suited to encourage innovative and interdisciplinary methodologies not only among experts but also among young scholars encountering the discipline for the first time. Periodicals are diverse, multi-authored visual and textual objects that when taught effectively can improve students’ close reading and distant reading skills, demand their equal attention toward art and advertisement, and teach them how to imagine the audience of a different historical time and place. They also invite digital humanities work that can enrich students’ critical methods and put their traditional modes of analysis in dialogue with other skills. At a broader theoretical level, the careful study of a periodical’s lifespan encourages students to recognize multivocality within a complex, evolving, and highly collaborative medium.