Academic Articles

Instead of abstracts, you will find the first paragraph for each article.

garland cover“Art and Toil in Hamlin Garland’s ‘Up the Coulee’ The Explicator (Winter 2014): 337:341.

In Hamlin Garland’s short story “Up the Coulee,” from his collection Main Travelled Roads (1891), the reunion of two brothers turns into a strained and troubled process of reconciliation. Their conflict unfolds within the frame of two similar episodes in which the brothers stand “face to face.” In the first, Howard has just returned from a ten-year absence, and his younger brother Grant declines shaking hands, claiming he is too dirty. Thirty-five pages later, at the story’s end, Grant finally shakes his brother’s hand. Yet this is a very unsettling reconciliation because the initial conditions of their conflict seem to remain intact. Nothing is solved. Grant, convinced that he is broken and ruined beyond redemption, will still continue to plod on in drudgery on the farm. Howard, thwarted in his attempt to purchase his family a better life, will return to the artificial glitter of the city. As a Realist writer, Garland idealizes neither the city nor the country, but rather he allows each to hold a mirror to the other, in order to reveal the deleterious effects of a larger capitalist system that contains them both. On one hand, the farmer reads the economic forces with clear eyes, but he loses his sensuous capacity for aesthetic appreciation. On the other hand, wealth affords the urbanite the time and leisure for art, but he remains ideologically blind to economic realities.

 

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“The Demands of Time in Harold Frederic’s The Market-Place” Arizona Quarterly (Winter 2010): 53-70.

IN THE 1960S, A GROUP OF CRITICS, INCLUDING Edmund Wilson, Thomas O’Donnell, Hoyt Franchere, Austin Briggs, Jr., and Stanton Garner, sought to rectify the lack of criticism on Harold Frederic. However, forty years later, this previous revival appears to have had limited results. Only Frederic’s 1896 novel, The Damnation of Theron Ware, still draws almost all the critical attention, despite the initial popularity of his final and posthumous work, The Market-Place. In this witty, fast paced, fin de siècle novel, Frederic depicts a clash of social orders. As capitalism advances and the market-place gains dominance, the cultural remains of English aristocracy survive in pockets, at once resistant, moribund, and often absurd. The transition to modernity is not a smooth, linear evolution, but rather, as Fredric Jameson argues, an overlay of different realities, not a simple displacement of one mode of production by another, but a patchy subordination in which older vestiges still remain (95). One way Harold Frederic represents this transition is through competing notions of time; for example, the leisure class, with its conspicuous consumption, idles in gardens and, as it attempts to adapt to the new world, founders under the vigorous demands of clock- time that drive the market-place. Moreover, the uneven process of modernization shapes the characters’ consciousness, particularly that of Joel Stormont Thorpe. “Does it take deep intuition to comprehend,” asks Karl Marx, “that man’s ideas, views, and conceptions, in a word, man’s consciousness, change with every change in the conditions of his material existence, in his social relations, and in his social life?” (228-29). A lively response can be found in Frederic’s novel, in his creation of protean identities whose confused values – despite the English setting – reflect the tensions inherent in American mythology….

 

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“The Dislocation of Agency in Don DeLillo’s Libra.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction (Winter 2008): 171-184.

The horror could not be more graphic, the event more palpable and real: On 22 November 1963, a bullet exploded through the head of President John F. Kennedy. Although Don DeLillo depicts the assassination in his novel Libra, he ultimately reveals the impossibility of arriving at historical certainty, despite evidence ranging from numerous witnesses and the Zapruder film to the bullets and the corpse. In his essay “American Blood,” DeLillo says from that moment “the sense of coherent reality most of us share” has become “unraveled” (22), because what appears starkly evident soon turns ambiguous under inspection. The business of doing history in the postmodern era, of arriving at objective truth, has been undercut by the death of metanarratives (Cowart 109). Although DeLillo offers his novel as a consolation for the confusions of history, as a bit of fictive order to the chaos, he further problematizes any explanation of the events, even his own, by destabilizing a simple understanding of agency and accountability. Even as a provisional answer, a “petit récit” or little narrative (Cowart 110), Libra displaces agency from the individual characters onto outside forces, dispersing it beyond the characters themselves and thus keeping certainty elusive in the end….

 

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“Continuity and Complexity in Milan Kundera’s Immortality.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction. (Summer 2009): 350-364.

The novel’s spirit is the spirit of complexity. . . . The novel’s spirit is the spirit of continuity. (Kundera, The Art of the Novel 18)

With regard to “teasing out the political and ideological critiques” in Milan Kundera’s works, Stephen Ross characterizes most critics as “surprisingly tentative,” suggesting that they are afraid of “incurring Kundera’s disdain by producing reductive ideological readings” (331-32). If Kundera intimidates critics enough to discourage certain kinds of interpretations, then perhaps this explains not only the dearth but also the contradictory nature of criticism on Kundera’s novel Immortality. Some early reviewers lament that it is a sexist novel that merely mimics his previous endeavors, such as The Unbearable Lightness of Being, with the exception of their originality and political consequences (Wolcott; Leonard); in Immortality, Kundera ignores Czechoslovakia to set this “deracinated novel” arbitrarily in Paris (Leonard 261). Another reviewer, however, declares that “Immortality is Kundera’s most ambitious novel to date, and . . . even eclipses the achievement of The Unbearable Lightness of Being” (Woolf). One argues that Kundera’s Agnès “never emerges as a believable or interesting character” (Yardley 255); another insists, “Agnès is noble, sensitive, and alluring” (Annan 259). In addition to these reviewers’ lack of consensus, John O’Brien’s postscript on Immortality in his 1992 article “Milan Kundera: Meaning, Play, and the Role of the Author” explicitly establishes his argument in opposition to that of Nina Pelikan Straus. Straus argues that Kundera resists anti-humanist readings by inscribing himself within his own text, thus challenging deconstructionists to erase him and his authorial intentions by granting all interpretations the same priority and denying external referents, such as his “culture’s history and identity” (75-76). Meanwhile, O’Brien counters that Kundera’s use of the intrusive author enables postmodern play and “promotes nothing but [the text’s] own indeterminacy” (125). Straus’s and O’Brien’s contradictory stances-both partly right and partly wrong-are examples of readers embracing or reacting against the exportation of French poststructuralism into America, perhaps lacking the vantage point that would allow them to see how Kundera, particularly in Immortality, positions himself within postmodernism but also outside of it. He simultaneously practices and mocks postmodernism, a stance that not only produces much of the novel’s humor and exuberance but also allows him to rescue postmodernism from what he perceives as its political and ideological defects and ingeniously revel in its aesthetic forms….

 

explicator “The ‘Split’ in ‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers.'” The Explicator (Fall 2008): 63-66

Adrienne Rich’s early poetry was received with a mixture of praise and condescension by male critics. Randall Jarrell called Rich “a sort of princess in a fairy tale” and “this young thing” (127-29), while Donald Hall advised her to write with “fewer adjectives” and to avoid “familiar knowledge” (214). Even though Rich confessed that her early poems “were, at best, facile and ungrounded imitations of other poets-[. . .] exercises in style” (Foreword xix), contemporary critics are less dismissive and argue that 1950s criticism lacked appropriate theories. A more recent approach looks for a spilt perspective: the distanced, comprehending poet’s voice and the voice that is defined by relationships to men (Rich, “When We Dead Awaken” 171). Critics call this the “dual voice” (Slowik 148), or the “dominant” and “muted” stories (Langdell 15; Keyes 15; Werner 29); Rich herself calls it the “split” (Rich, “When We Dead Awaken” 171) or the “undervoice” (Rich, What is Found There 233). Yet they do not always locate the split in the same place.