In The Passing Game: Queering Jewish American Culture (2009), Warren Hoffman analyzes the elusive complexity of Singer’s genderqueer and genderfluid characters in the five or so short stories which take up the theme of gender and sexual difference; Hoffman situates Singer’s characters between Talmudic discussions of halachic concerns around intersex persons and the gay, lesbian, and queer Jewish community Singer knew in 1970s New York. My paper supports Hoffman’s reading and suggests that Singer was also interested in exploring the habitus of Jewish community, and especially its retrospections, repentances and regrets when it makes alliances against or persecutes nonnormative persons in body, gender, or sexuality. I am interested in the crowd dynamics in play in these stories. The texts are not friendly toward the idea that queer folks should be made to take on burdens of negativity, rejection, and persecution which are uncomfortably similar to what the general Jewish population itself endured. Where an authoritarian community sees an existential threat in toleration of differences, these texts assert an existential threat to the community insofar as it fails to protect and foster its sexual minority members who, after all, are its children. These dynamics resonate in a new way at the present moment, when scapegoating various clusters of minorities functions as a normalized part of the repertoire in mainstream political discourse across the world. Singer asks challenging questions of governments and global movements, under the miniaturized model of shtetl life. He adopts an ethics of appearance, acceptance of a person’s “face-value,” as they present themselves in their own terms, without seeking to uncover a person’s sublime, hidden mysteries of body or spirit. The ambiguities and illegibility of his characters’ gender status refuse the community’s desire to “solve” gender as a problem, or to “assimilate” its differences, and offer an occasion for the community to rededicate itself to cohabitation and care.
Upcoming talk at PAMLA, Honolulu, Nov. 2017: “Trans/Drag/Nonbinary Identities and Repentant Communities in I.B. Singer’s ‘Androgynous,’ et al.” Standing Panel: Jewish Literature and Culture
Abstract: “Assemblages of Place: Vanguards, Europeans, and a Fractured Globe”
In his Page-Barbour lecture at the U of Virginia in 1933, T.S. Eliot denied (and thereby psychoanalytically affirmed) his desire while reading Indian philosophy to forget “how to think and feel as an American or a European.” Brecht begins to write about the alienation effect (Verfremdungseffekt) after seeing Mei Lanfang, the male performer of female roles, demonstrate traditional Chinese acting technique in Moscow in the spring of 1935. These kinds of encounters enrich the commercial status of modernism’s minority avant-garde writer, and make a claim to validity for modernism’s already canonical polylinguality. However, this paper thinks about how one grouping of conceptual affinities in particular, under the rubric of modernism, leads not only to an expansion of, but also to a change in, the ideation of place; scalar and definitional implications of the field’s new geographies are refreshed as European and non-European modernists inscribe the quandaries of location. I read a set of 20th c. writers interested in modernist technique (Rhys, Borges, Selvon, et al.) whose texts generate a fractured globe, not a smoothly continuous one, a world whose places do not sit well together. As against the “seamless whole” of an organismic metaphor, in Manuel DeLanda’s phrase, the modernist globe is a fluid assemblage of precarious places, emergent, vibrant, fragmentary, contingent, having relations of exteriority, destabilized by processes of decoding and deterritorialization. Their origins are less important than the mechanisms and activities which maintain them. Deleuze and Guattari posit that “Writing has a double function: to translate everything into assemblages and to dismantle the assemblages.” The global provides a rich archive of experiential assemblages of desire, but it is the modernist that specializes in operations of dismantling. Perhaps a vanguard technic appeals to artists and thinkers in Latin America, Turkey, the Caribbean, in diasporic communities and other places in the early to mid- 20th century, not because of temporal coincidence, as in accounts of polycentric modernities, but because it provides technical tools to develop the idiolect they desire, with its complicated work of de- and recoding. I suggest we may consider then whether there is a particular congruence between the aggregated practices of European and other modernisms and the chosen affinities of the global literary text.
 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, “Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature.” Trans. Dana Polan. Theory and History of Literature 30. Minneapolis: U Minnesota P, 1986, p. 47.
Panel: Repurposing the Grounds of War: Modernist Environments
- Stephanie Bernhard
- Judith Paltin
- Molly Hall
These three papers explore modernist encounters and exchanges with war-ravaged landscapes and their repurposings, memorializations, and residues during the first half of the twentieth century across the boundaries of nationalist literature and genre—from Irish drama to American and British novels and memoirs. Our panel works with and against traditional Anglo-American modernist critical approaches and cultural categories which this panel will suggest have conditioned and limited our understandings of relations between modernism and an environmental land ethic. Together, our papers begin to map out the intersection of aesthetic forms, the politics of mourning, and the materiality of the early twentieth century, which mingling productively, reseed and repurpose the grounds of war-time melancholy to cultivate distinctly modern forms of flourishing.
Stephanie Bernhard’s “Bad Recycling in the Anthropocene” examines the ecological effects of repurposed wartime technology in the US, where World War I bomb factories were turned into fertilizer factories after the war. This transformation of infrastructure, essentially a form of recycling, has shaped the global industrial agricultural landscape ever since. The nuclear bomb, which instigated the exploration of nuclear power, represents a similar turnover attempting to address the environmental side- and after-effects of war. The paper takes Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony as a primary text, arguing that Silko situates the climax of the novel at the site of the Trinity nuclear text to demonstrate how the aftereffects of global wars linger, violently, on local land.
Judith Paltin’s “Decomposing the Irish Rising” explores Sean O’Casey’s Dublin plays’ figuration of tensions in popularized nationalist history as produced in the spaces of the struggle for Irish independence. O’Casey’s plays are a fascinating marker of the critical distance between Irish modernism and Irish nationalism. In the face of memorializations of the city’s working class neighborhoods as battlegrounds, and their post-conflict repurposings as mediated sites for propagandization rather than reconciliation, Paltin argues that O’Casey reclaims habitational territories for the Irish marginalized working class under the terms of a popular land ethic which officialdom has preferred to nationalize to advance its own set of interests.
Molly Hall’s “Occupying Temporary Space in an Endless War” looks at the re-purposing of environmental aesthetics by British modernists responding to World War I. Specifically, Hall explores and aesthetics marked by anachronism and displacement in competing representations of planned green spaces: from the trenches of France to the British countryside to the urban parks of London. Hall reads in representative war authors Max Plowman and Robert Graves the wasteland of the trenches intended to be only temporary, which emerge alongside Rebecca West and Virginia Woolf’s established urban parks, gardens, and country house estates whose cultivated naturalness demarcates the homefront. Exploring this range of modernisms reveals the distinctly ecological shifts within the temporal (re)orientations of the subject—be they citizen or soldier—in the interwar period.
I am delighted to become affiliated with UBC’s Critical Studies in Sexuality. For information about the program, please see: http://grsj.arts.ubc.ca/undergraduate/critical-studies-in-sexuality/
My profile at CSIS: http://grsj.arts.ubc.ca/persons/judith-paltin/
at MSA 18, Pasadena, CA, November 2016
Images: Alfred Stieglitz
James Joyce Quarterly, issue not yet scheduled.
“With us, there is a house, a lamp, a plate of soup, a fire, wine and pipes at the back of every important work of art.” –Jean Cocteau[i]
This essay argues that particular qualities of music as a nonfigural art are crucial to the ways that experience, memory, identity, and affect are formalized for characters’ relief and psychic defense in Ulysses. Continental, British and Irish modernisms all became interested in experimenting with layered intermedialities, and, in particular, with their contributions to the complexity of possible signification. As a literary text which interprets visual arts, music and sounds, Ulysses may be a turning point in intermedial compositional practice, going beyond musical reference or mimetic transcription to reconfigure textual articulations of knowledge, sociality and emotion.
[i] Jean Cocteau, Coq et Arlequin (1918), at <https://archive.org/details/lecoqetlarlequi00coctgoog> (viewed 15 May 2015).
to be presented at the annual conference of the Joseph Conrad Society (U.K.) in June-July 2016 at U Edinburgh Napier.
Early crowd analysts assumed in the individual crowd-member a proportionate loss of rational judgment, stable emotion and self-acknowledgment of responsibility. This theoretical bias propped up a traditional understanding of crowd-membership as a relinquishment of a mythic autonomy. Conrad approached the problematic from another direction; he experimented with conceptualizing the crowd as prior to and constitutive of, the individual, as when he shows an unreliable narrator’s effort to construct Jim from outside perceptions and the residual of his social networks, or how the mass body absorbs Stevie’s death. This paper brings together recent work on mediated lives and the mass body to read a set of Conrad’s character biographies as social and collective centres of focus, and to generate some ideas about their effects.
Upcoming Talk: “Revisiting the Crowds of Joyce’s Ochlokinetics.” International James Joyce Symposium, London, June 2016
Image:The Economist, December 17, 2011
Dublin’s crowds are strangely invisible in Ulysses and difficult to decipher in the Wake. Why so? In this paper, I will discuss some crowd actions and related events during and around the occasion of the Easter Rising, and compare them with several samples of formal and representational experiments in “Wandering Rocks” and in FW, in order to derive a set of questions about visualizing complexity and unpredictability, –questions such as how to integrate interacting quantitative and semantic phenomena.
MSA 17, Boston MA, Nov. 2015
Panel : Locating Popular Modernisms: Medium, Discipline, Place
Organizer: Paul Peppis
Analyzing three particularly rich—and neglected—cases of modernist encounters and exchanges with popular forms of cultural production during the first half of the twentieth century, our panel interrogates the critical categories and cultural boundaries that have for too long conditioned and limited understandings of relations between modernism and the popular. Together, our papers chart a vital and variegated cultural field in which cultural forms and producers “high” and “low,” modern and mass mingled and mixed promiscuously and productively, generating distinctive and important artworks and cultural products at once popular and modern.