Recently, while sifting through a long and detailed academic book contract, I found a list of items the publisher required me to exclude. A wonderful bullet point mandated that there be “no recipes or formulae or instructions” that “if followed accurately” would be “injurious to the user.” I have enjoyed hearing friends’ reactions to this mandate, several of whom have asked: but, seriously, what is this referring to?
In my recent undergraduate seminar on whiteness in modern American literature at a university in Seoul, most students, aware of America’s history of racial violence and repulsed by Trumpian rhetoric, initially assumed “whiteness” to be something that operates openly and visibly, a deliberate strategy to support white supremacist ends. At a distance, within a largely racially homogenous society, this marked, legible understanding of whiteness impeded students’ recognition of its precarity and evasions, its unacknowledged investments in manufacturing innocence and coherence.
“How are we not all talking about this?” a student unmuted to ask in an environmental change-themed writing course, their voice rising to add, “It’s so relevant to what’s going on.” We had just finished reviewing a 2009 profile of climate scientist James Hansen written by Elizabeth Kolbert via then-unfamiliar webinar technology adopted during the first wave of the pandemic. With
In 1990, when Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick declared the closet “the defining structure for gay oppression in this century,” she followed that claim with a reference to the legal discourses of privacy, specifically those concentrated around the 1986 case Bowers v. Hardwick, which upheld the existence of anti-sodomy laws. As she describes them, the conversations following this case zoomed in on “the image of the bedroom invaded by policemen,” implicitly affirming that queerness belongs behind closed doors, while policemen belong in the street.
H. G. Wells may be most famous in modernist studies for Virginia Woolf’s suggestion that he doesn’t belong among the “moderns.” Yet Wells was vitally engaged with the features, futures, and controversies of early twentieth-century life, as his varied oeuvre makes clear. If his science fiction has kept Wells a household name, it is in his social romances that we see him at his most perceptive as an observer of modern everyday life. Socialists and suffragettes are among the characters of Ann Veronica: A Modern Romance (1909), a novel that grapples with roles for women in a time of rapid social change. Previously out of print in the US, and with no scholarly edition available anywhere, Ann Veronica was overdue for rediscovery. Carey J. Snyder’s edition of the novel provides an incisive introduction, illuminating notes, and judiciously chosen contemporary documents that enable readers to appreciate Wells’s contributions to the debates of his age and to our own.
Rachel Sagner Buurma and Laura Heffernan’s The Teaching Archive: A New History for Literary Study “declines to take up arms in the method wars” (9). But let’s not be fooled. This pacifism is not passive. This avoidance of “our metadiscourse” conditions an act of critical sabotage which defuses weapons of mass abstraction—i.e. formalism, historicism, ideology critique, postcritique, surface reading, distance reading, and so on (9). Buurma and Heffernan’s new history neither minds the gap nor suggests liberal, incremental readjustments. Rather, they make the claim—a revolutionary one—that what we “will watch,” “follow,” “see,” and “encounter” in the pages of their study “overturns,” “demolishes,” “scrambles,” “dispels,” and “dismisses” “nearly every major account of what the history of literary studies has been” (1, 6).
I teach American literature in the public university system of Missouri, the state whose admission to the union as a slave state caused a national crisis, the state where Dred Scott was judged to have “no rights the white man is bound to respect,” the state where Michael Brown’s murder turned Black Lives Matter from a hashtag into a movement.
What resources can literature from the past offer when confronting the urgent present-moment reality of climate crisis? What function should the humanities classroom serve when the future of human life seems increasingly precarious? Anne Raine’s post, “Modernism, Eco-anxiety, and the Climate Crisis,” helped catalyze these questions for me by challenging us “to find ways to make climate change our job.” I’ve been trying to figure out how to meet this challenge in a course I’m teaching on literature and climate justice.
I had not heard of ProctorU software until October 1, 2020 when I noticed that several folks on Twitter, whom I follow for their thoughts on pedagogy, had retweeted and responded to the same upsetting TikTok video I had come across earlier that same day. The video shows a young woman, crying, explaining that she had just failed an online exam not because she had been unprepared but because her professor’s surveillance software flagged her as “talking” out loud while taking the exam.
This is about failure: my own failure to think forward, my own failure to see the future. Perhaps this piece can provide an opportunity to reflect on what can emerge from individual failures as well as our field’s reckoning with its wider failures: failure to grapple with racism and white supremacy, failure to support emerging scholars, failure to intervene meaningfully in the dismantling of the university as a site of serious thought and the generation of transformative ideas.