This book looks at how historical linguists accommodate the written records used for evidence. The limitations of the written record restrict our view of the past and the conclusions that we can draw about its language. However, the same limitations force us to be aware of the particularities of language. This collection blends the philological with the linguistic, combining questions of the particular with generalizations about language change.
Reading America: Citizenship, Democracy, and Cold War Literature
(University of Massachusetts Press, 2016)
During the Cold War, the editor of Time magazine declared, “A good citizen is a good reader.” As postwar euphoria faded, a wide variety of Americans turned to reading to understand their place in the changing world. Yet, what did it mean to be a good reader? And how did reading make you a good citizen?
In Reading America, Kristin L. Matthews puts into conversation a range of political, educational, popular, and touchstone literary texts to demonstrate how Americans from across the political spectrum—including “great works” proponents, New Critics, civil rights leaders, postmodern theorists, neoconservatives, and multiculturalists—celebrated particular texts and advocated particular interpretive methods as they worked to make their vision of “America” a reality. She situates the fiction of J. D. Salinger, Ralph Ellison, Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, and Maxine Hong Kingston within these debates, illustrating how Cold War literature was not just an object of but also a vested participant in postwar efforts to define good reading and citizenship.
Review by Ed Cutler presented at Faculty Book Lunch
Kristin L. Matthews’ new book takes a cultural commonplace–the importance of reading and reading well in a democratic society—and recasts it as a discourse whose deeper sociology is fraught with contradiction. Cultural discourses are nothing if not durable and alarmist. And the United States’ purported literacy crisis has persisted, unexamined, across the American Century. Matthews asks what is at stake when the Department of Agriculture hosts a conference on the national reading crisis in 1951? What when dozens of other such initiatives follow? Do good readers really make better citizens, or might “reading well” serve to acculturate an acquiesce toward established authority, to a greatness already distilled in the Great Books and, by extension, the triumphalist self-image of American liberalism itself? What happens when writers and readers shake off the passive inwardness of middlebrow reading and turn the tables on the question of what is to be read and why? Matthews’ book sheds a revealing light on these questions, demonstrating how the emergence of the New Left, campus activism, even the birth of metafiction can be read as blowback from the quietist, narcotizing, Book-of-the-Month-Club agendas for American readers. Deeply researched, persuasive, and wholly original, Reading America is a vital new contribution toward our understanding of a tumultuous era that in turn helps us better perceive our own.
(Palgrave Macmillan; 1st ed. 2016 edition)
This collection of essays explores how readers on both sides of the Atlantic shaped the contours of “English literature” in the 1800s, expressing love for books and their authors through a wide variety of media and social practices. While love as such is difficult to quantify or recover, the records of such affection survive not just in print, but also (for example) in monuments, in art, in architecture, and in the ephemera of material culture. Thus, the authors aim to expand the normal range of literary reception studies.
Review by Frank Christianson presented at Faculty Book Lunch
The author of Necromanticism, explores a related form of philia in the co-edited essay collection Transatlantic Literature and Author Love in the Nineteenth-Century. Examining a formative chapter in the history of Anglophone culture—when Englishness was imagined and materialized beyond Britain’s shores—editors Paul Westover and Ann Wierda Rowland have set themselves the formidable task of turning “love” into a term of art in literary studies. Moving chronologically, beginning in the 1830s, the chapters in this volume consider how the collective act of reading literature in English came to define English Literature as a cultural inheritance. These accounts of author love paradoxically challenge author-centric approaches to periodization. They detail “procreative afterlives” in what amount to “extended histories” of books and their writers as they manifested in the US and Britain over generations within an increasingly varied media landscape. In their careful selection and lucid framing of the essays, Westover and Rowland make the case for a more expansive literary study that documents the “constructive role of reception” in forming social networks of readerships. With essays on Sarah Hale, Wordsworth, Cooper, and Tennyson, among others, this collection may be one of the best explanations to date of how the English literary canon was shaped by a transatlantic context. More importantly, it speaks effectively to more fundamental questions of why we read, and study, and cherish literature in the first place, and how certain kinds of love inspire us to affiliate with each other across space and time and make a culture of the stories we share.
What if historical fiction were understood as a disfiguring of calculus? Or poems enacting the formation and breakdown of community as expositions of irrational numbers? What if, in other words, literary texts possessed a kind of mathematical unconscious?
The persistence of the rhetoric of “two cultures,” one scientific, the other humanities-based, obscures the porous border and productive relationship that has long existed between literature and mathematics. In eighteenth-century Scottish universities, geometry in particular was considered one of the humanities; anchored in philosophy, it inculcated what we call critical thinking. But challenges to classical geometry within the realm of mathematics obligated Scottish geometers to become more creative in their defense of the traditional discipline; and when literary writers and philosophers incorporated these mathematical problems into their own work, the results were not only ingenious but in some cases pioneering.
Literature After Euclid tells the story of the creative adaptation of geometry in Scotland during and after the long eighteenth century. It argues that diverse attempts in literature and philosophy to explain or even emulate the geometric achievements of Isaac Newton and others resulted in innovations that modify our understanding of descriptive and bardic poetry, the aesthetics of the picturesque, and the historical novel. Matthew Wickman’s analyses of these innovations in the work of Walter Scott, Robert Burns, James Thomson, David Hume, Thomas Reid, and other literati change how we perceive the Scottish Enlightenment and the later, modernist ethos that purportedly relegated the “classical” Enlightenment to the dustbin of history. Indeed, the Scottish Enlightenment’s geometric imagination changes how we see literary history itself.