Welcome to the Journal of Modern Literature news and information site.

Check here for updates about our latest issues, calls for papers, submission guidelines and tips, as well special online-only content. Our issues themselves are available at JSTOR and Project Muse. Check out the "Read for Free" page to enjoy some featured content.

More than four decades after its founding, the Journal of Modern Literature remains a leading scholarly journal in the field of modern and contemporary literature and is widely recognized as such. It emphasizes scholarly studies of literature in all languages, as well as related arts and cultural artifacts, from 1900 to the present. International in its scope, its contributors include scholars from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Fiji, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Nigeria, Qatar, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, and Turkey.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Call for Papers for "1922 and After: A Centenary of Modernism and World Literature"

Drawing upon anthropological, psychological, and philosophical knowledge as well as personal experiences, the high modernists wrote their now-famous classics, including The Waste Land, Ulysses, Jacob's Room, among many others, in the expanded context of a post-War generation facing the larger world via the influences upon them and the influences they and their works would create. These interrelationships among European, British, and American modernism (so-called international modernism), and the emergence of World Literature, provide the framework for the issue. 

How does 1922 speak to us today, after a century of ever-increasing globalization, regarding "literature in a globalized world," the understanding of the "comparative," Global South studies, the emergence and variation of World Literature? What does it achieve proleptically in a kind of analytic arc that takes the entire century into its consciousness and resets its existence within certain mores and modes of contemporary thinking and discourses? How does 1922 speak into our times and discourses rather than speak back? How do we re-consider history, tradition, notion of the contemporary, and literature today, a hundred years hence? 1922 has its own world-forming potentials –- the potencies to "world" radical ways of thinking and understanding within the disciplinary and epistemic complexities of 2022. Articles tracing this complex literary dialogue and genealogy via close attention to important but possibly neglected texts, expanding, re-aligning, or critiquing them, defines the broad outlines of the issue.  

Submissions should conform to MLA 8th edition style for documentation and manuscript formatting, and should include a 100-150 word abstract and 3-5 keywords. Submissions must be under 9,000 words for the entire submission package, including the abstract, notes, and works cited. No simultaneous submissions or previously published material. 

Deadline: October 15, 2020. 

Submit manuscripts as a Word or RTF attachment to special coordinator Ranjan Ghosh at weransum@yahoo.co.in.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Fossil Fuel Modernities: A Closer Look at JML 43.2

Now on the IU Press Blog: Nathaniel Otjen discusses how attending to energy concerns in H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds yields new understandings of fin de siècle anxieties about the end of western modernity.

Read the post HERE.

Otjen's essay, "Energy Anxiety and Fossil Fuel Modernity in H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds" is a special "Read for FREE" featured piece on JSTOR. 

Find it HERE

Monday, March 23, 2020

Logics of the Living: JML 43.2 is now live!

JML 43.2 (Winter 2020), on the theme Logics of the Living, is now live on JSTOR at https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/jmodelite.43.issue-2 and on Project Muse at https://muse.jhu.edu/issue/42104

Content includes:

Rached Khalifa
“The Echo-Harbouring Shell”: Of Shells and Selves in Paul Valéry and W.B. Yeats

Paola Villa
Mollusk-Writers: Spacetime Revolutions in a Literary Shell

Lauren Benjamin
Circe’s Feral Beasts: Women and Other Animals in Joyce’s Ulysses 

Peter Balbert
From Relativity to Paraphrenia in D. H. Lawrence’s “The Man Who Loved Islands”:
Speculations on Einstein, Freud, Gossamer Webs, and Seagulls

Graham Fraser
Solid Objects/Ghosts of Chairs: Virginia Woolf and the Afterlife of Things

Rachel Pomery
Ritual, Place, and Pilgrimage: A Topological Approach to David Jones’s The Anathémata

Nathaniel Otjen
Energy Anxiety and Fossil Fuel Modernity in H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds

Melanie Nicholson
Necessary and Unnecessary Monsters: Jorge Luis Borges’s Book of Imaginary Beings 

Elin Käck
“Horrible Washing Sawing”: Ecology and Anthropocentric Sublimity in Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur

Magdalena Mączyńska
Welcome to the Post-Anthropolis: Urban Space and Climate Change in Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow, Lev Rosen’s Depth, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140

Miguel Caballero
A Matter of Scale: Race and the Skyscraper

Rebecah Pulsifer
Adding Mathematics to Modernist Studies

Henry N. Gifford
Mathematical Transfinites and Modernism: Literary Infinities: Number and Narrative in Modern Fiction 

Monday, March 2, 2020

Review Roundtable: Three views of Alan Singer's Posing Sex

Today we roll out a novel feature of the JML blog: a roundtable review that brings differing perspectives to bear on assessment of a single book. The roundtable’s object is Alan Singer’s provocative Posing Sex: Toward a Perceptual Ethics for Literary and Visual Art (Bloomsbury Academic, 2018). The reviewers are Charles Altieri, Robert L. Caserio, and Daniel O’Hara. If readers find this to be a stimulating format, we’ll undertake to produce it regularly!


Charles Altieri
University of California, Berkeley

Alan Singer’s book Posing Sex: Toward a Perceptual Ethics for Literary and Visual Art is remarkably sensitive and intricate in surveying how aesthetic moments may connect to more comprehensive aspects of life by virtue of the kinds of “mindfulness” they pursue. Posing Sex treats images of explicit sexuality as demands on the imagination to take responsibility for what troubles perception. The book asks what kinds of mindfulness can offer reflections on personal experience capable of resisting the universalizing tendencies of what we inherit as “rational” principles. We are invited to realize how and why works of art in general solicit reflection on complex moments of sensuality that solicit a reasoning process capable of restoring and enriching a renewed intimacy with specific concrete situations. Sex overwhelms reflection, but it also tries to establish how mindfulness can be characterized in aesthetic experience.

Two features of this book stand out for me. The first is the range of conceptual materials Singer adapts in order to make his case. Let me cite just some of his building blocks. He takes from the Stoics a crucial identification of aesthesis with the density of perceptual feeling as it struggles for understanding. Then he supplements that point by invoking Daniel Heller-Roazen’s argument that “knowing is sensing first and that sensing is determinative for a self-revising nature” (24). Singer builds ethical concerns on perceptual ones by adapting the formulations of Heirocles, a classical Greek philosopher claiming that the discourse of sensation “constitutes the best principle for the elements of ethics” (25) because it contributes to the knowledge of first things. Singer’s fullest elaboration of the crucial link between sensation and mindfulness comes from the philosopher Alva Noe. For by Noe’s account “the ‘look’ of a perceptual object is not a relation between the thing perceived and the perceiving mind. It is rather a relation between the object and the environment in which the mind discovers itself as a perceiver, because it situates itself within an environment” (28). The mind makes those discoveries because its primary relationship to the environments is characterized by Spinoza as conative, as exploring a possible intensification of its powers as a situated being. From there Deleuze and Hegel are not far away, since despite their intense opposition, they are both fascinated by self-consciousness as the transformation of conativity into a new domain of possible powers.

Having located significant powers by means of the “proposition that every sensation of existent being is felt as a conceptualizing impulse” (13), Singer tries to align three quite different traditions enabling him to extend Noe’s view of perception as mindful to the domain where taking responsibility for how we perceive situates ourselves in a larger world. First Singer needs a way of characterizing mindfulness that stays involved in perceptions without simply abstracting them into the roles of Kantian understanding. He finds that in the concept of “conceptual blending” developed by Mark Turner and Giles Fauconnier. Such blending does not strive to resolve contradictions but dwells within them in the form of juggling mental spaces by integrating “two extraordinarily different [conceptual] inputs to create new and emergent structures, which result in new tools, new techniques, and new ways of thinking (95). Then Singer reaches out to a common sense tradition in analytic philosophy that correlates conceptual juggling, which might be utterly narcissistic, with the kinds of reason-giving for which ethical claims might be made by means of the work of processing how we sense. With some overlooking of how these figures situate themselves in distinctively philosophical debates, he finds what he needs in contemporary thinkers like Robert Brandom and John MacDowell. These figures develop models of reasoning that characterize actions rather than submit actions to the test of possible universalization by attempting “to integrate reason with animality”: the capacities that belong to reason” are “operative in our forms of responsiveness, mediated by the senses, to be features of our environment” (124).

Finally, Singer turns back to a literary context by using these philosophers to sustain one of the rare moments of criticizing other thinkers in this book. He takes on how Jacques Ranciere and Jean-Luc Nancy elaborate tensions between the sensual and the reflective orders of experience that for them justify utter suspicion of claims to the authority of reason. Singer has always been attracted to these post-postructuralist critiques of the pretensions of consciousness to mastery over event aspects of our lives. But now he thinks he can meld event with reasoning and so produce some rapprochement between immediacy and the kind of reasoning it sponsors.

The point of my introductory remarks is to elaborate how Singer deploys a unique mode of argument that we might best characterize as philosophical bricolage. The critic’s work is to find a conceptual balance between an impressive host of sources made to contour to one argument by not worrying much at all about the actual context of debate within which his authors might have characterized their work. I point this out primarily as a form of praise, since it offers a distinctive way for literary criticism to use philosophy without becoming subject to its disciplinary quarrels and the qualifications they demand. Singer’s form of theoretical bricolage is especially compelling because the demands of synthesis are also responsible for the second striking feature--the intense single-mindfulness with which he keeps repeating and modifying his central claims. Philosophy and Nabokovian obsessiveness at times vie for dominance as the text circulates through often very impressive readings of selected works by Nabokov himself, John Currin, Bronzino, Courbet, Lawrence, Kafka, and among several figures in the last chapter noteworthy encounters with Francis Bacon and Lars Von Trier.

It is high time I perform a little bricolage of my own and show how these elements come together in Singer’s theory of the powers of the sexual image. Imagine the limitations of characterizing images of sexual intensities as simply pornography. Obviously, judgments that reduce this range of images to the label “pornography” appeal to a mode of reasoning that imposes general categories. In so doing these judgments simply deny the possible fascinations and solicitations of the sensual domain. And they are blind to the complex roles sensation can play in elaborating alternative practices of reasoning based on an individual’s need to make sense of such particular experiences.

Singer would say that the judgment imposing the category of pornography is a classic instance of the residues of anthropomorphism basic to our culture. Sensations seem of little worth in themselves. Their role is to allow what seem definitive judgments made by a mind confident in its imperious role as shaping evaluations. To dismiss such imperiousness out of hand would lead to embracing the critiques of mindfulness basic to late Poststructuralism. So Singer tries instead to establish what he calls a “reverse anthropomorphism” basic to aesthetic experience and most forcefully illustrated by a very different attitude toward the sex image. In speaking of Lawrence’s concept of “cunt awareness” Singer defines reverse anthropomorphism as asking “In what way is sensation/physicality reciprocal with mindedness such that no duality is brooked and no hierarchical logic subsumes … the complexity of the problem (126). We seem “culturally fascinated with the sex images as a touchstone of self-realizing personhood that is not intelligible to itself except through the discovery of what it does not know about what it is doing” (126). The “virtue of reverse anthropomorphism animated by the sex image is precisely that it poses against absolute reason the more context-sensitive discipline of reason-giving” (199).

Think about how virtually any intense representation of the sex act initially resists the authority of the mind: with images of the sex act “participation trumps understanding” (63-65). To be moved is to find mind giving way to the immediacies of the senses. And to be moved is to wonder how much the mind can intervene in the situation—can it know what the agents are feeling? Indeed can the mind know what it is feeling since it experiences so much that appeals precisely because this is a secular version of the realm of the unknowing--now called the sublime? Yet can we be satisfied with what the senses afford? Singer argues that we want to know how people are thinking as a means of participating in these immediacies. We want to figure out better how and why we ourselves are moved by such encounters. While we see the limitation of imposing categories on events, we can turn from judgment to the giving of reasons that simply try to clarify how one can build on, and build in what one is experiencing. Such thinking may even extend to domains like the aesthetic in general, where one tries to align the mind with how the senses position us. And such thinking may have a significant moral dimension because it is our means of sharing with other people the felt distinctiveness of such situations ( e.g. 161).

 I have three basic quarrels with Singer’s argument. First I find it hard to make Singer’s transition from Spinoza’s conatus as “the existential locus of human striving toward explicability” (113), where “self-explanation is indistinguishable from self-perpetuation,” and any genuine interest in the reasons offered by others for how they engage the immediacies of startling events. That response to art is self-absorbed no one can doubt. That one uses these self-absorbed responses as somehow enterprises enhancing sociality seems wishful and willful. It is as if China could recognize that its one-child policy had created millions of narcissists and then demand reorientation toward community.

My second objection involves Singer’s use of the concept of reasoning as his bridge between the self-absorbed self-reflection and an ethical effort to exercise concern for how others might respond to what moves them beyond traditional reasons. He seems to want at once something like the transpersonal authority of classical ideas of the power of reasons and the personal expressiveness of reasoning as self-illumination. While he does discuss these different kinds of reasons (e.g. 47-50 and the brief passages from MacDowell), I cannot find any careful description of how Singer’s personal reason-giving satisfies the processes of managing evidence that our culture has come to require for any stable sense of addressing what can be a world in common. Analogously, I cannot find good arguments for why aesthetics is necessarily involved with reasoning at all. Even Kant does not attribute reasons to aesthetic experience but to the work of justifying approval, a very precise specification of a kind of reasoning that is not addressed to personal intensities but to properties of the art work. Why is talk about personal experience not just chit-chat that Singer inflates into a category with moral resonance? Why are not pointing or smiling significant modes of extending one’s aesthetic appreciation to other people?

It is not as if philosophers have not worried about kinds of reasons capable of breaking the hold of universals. Bernard Williams offers a powerful case for distinguishing the reasoning that makes for honest self-description from any kind of setting of imperatives appealing to Reason for their authority. But to accept Williams would involve surrendering the social power Singer wants to claim for even his “clarifying reasons.” For Williams the giving of reasons comes close to personal therapy. For Singer the giving of reasons tries to bridge the gulf between narcissistic reflection and identification with communal projects. He has the large task of both deploying and resisting a sharp contrast between reasons that a person deploys to clarify a subjective state and reasons that involve moral dimensions because they are somehow invitations to shared processes.

Ironically, the closest Singer comes to providing a picture of mind that can admit different kinds of mental states is when he talks about Turner and Fauconnier’s complex balancings:

Fauconnier and Turner go on to explain that “double scope” blending “gives us
the supremely valuable, perhaps species defining cognitive instrument of
anchoring other meanings in a highly compressed blend that is like these
immediately apprehensible basic human scenes, often because such scenes
are used to frame the blend. (197)

But here he does not speak of giving reasons at all. In fact this discussion seems to praise Turner and Fauconnier for repeating something very close to how I. A. Richards spoke about the functions of art—now generalized to how the mind can work. Complex balancings seem to me emblems for what cannot get into our reasoning but require training in modes of attunement that involve presences and not substitutes in the realm of ideas. In his closing page, Singer speaks of the aesthetic as “providing transitions to a plurality of formal orientations” (200). I wish the book had recognized how much distance there is between these orientations and our efforts to reason ourselves to what makes us engaged in such situations.

My third problem involves a limitation in how Singer approaches his specific examples of what happens in the posing of sex images by his variety of figures. I think there are big differences between the dynamic involved in our engaging moments of sexual intensity and the forces at work in our responses to the self-consciousness staging of those moments in works of art—a difference that may justify aligning aesthetic experience not with the event of perception but with how perception is rendered in accord with what artists compose as possible experiences (or experiences of possibility). Singer wants to make a universal case about the moral implications of how we respond to posing sex. So he keeps showing the same logic in various works of art and then claiming that this provides a model for aesthetic experience. But if we attend to how artists stage images of sexual union for various artistic purposes, we are confronted with a demand to appreciate why the individual artist produces this specific concrete composition. When one engages images of sexual union in practical contexts, it is feasible feel what Singer develops beautifully—one must account for the threat to one’s powers of understanding. But when one finds these images in works of art, it is not sufficient to treat each work as an instance in a general theory of how sexual images affect us. I think that Currin always and Updyke in the passage Singer quotes are acutely and irritatingly self-conscious about how they stage sexuality. So much artistic effort completely denaturalizes the event, so that one needs very different frameworks for appreciating how they handle staging what is at stake in their particular renderings of sexuality.

Perhaps it is not necessary to add in conclusion my hope that these comments suggest that aesthetics is always a matter of authorial staging, so no analogues from what the works represent will afford much help in theorizing what works have in common. Theorizing art may be a matter largely of developing sensitivity to what various stagings can accomplish as invitations to a mindfulness thriving on its distance from how we typically perform reasoning.


Robert L. Caserio, JML co-editor
The Pennsylvania State University

Less and less has “aesthetics” mattered to writers and artists, and to humanities departments and museums. The term’s potential reference to “beauty,” on the supposition that beauty is universally recognizable, has long discredited it, of course. But more recent attempts to recover it, in post-modernist refinements of sublimity and indeterminacy (as in Lyotard’s The Inhuman) or in Marxist-oriented elaborations that rely on an indirect relation of artworks to actuality (as in Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory, or Lukacs’s Die Eigenart des Ästhetischen [The Special Nature of the Aesthetic], or Marcuse’s The Aesthetic Dimension), have become fading influences. The change has come about in the name of “politics,” which requires of writers, artists, and audiences feelings that are far more urgent than they are “aesthetic.” The “political” claim now is that “agency” and the impact of “artists” and their consumers must be enlarged, so that “art” be not distanced from determinate social purposes, and so that “action” be made identical with activism. The change is so widely established that it amounts to a cultural revolution, although it has its forebears: in Stalinist demands for socialist realism, for example—demands for the political usefulness of the arts, which appear to be impotent or irrelevant if they have no immediate practical effect.

A leading virtue of Alan Singer’s Posing Sex is its commitment to a theorization of literary and visual art that might please even the opponents of aesthetics. Those partisans will find no shrinking from action here: “prospective agency,” “doing” and “activity” (152) are among Singer’s watchwords. That is the case, even though erotic passion, and art’s representation of it—art’s posing of it, as Singer says—is the pivot on which Posing Sex turns. We might expect eros, the pivotal phenomenon, to indicate a passional state rather than a decisively active one. But for Singer the pathos of eros, whether considered as a captivation by desire or as an inspiration for art (“the spectacle of the ecstatic body,” 155) is only one side of the matter. The other side is action-oriented.  Singer thereby echoes Hegel’s Aesthetics, which defines “pathos” as “the essential rational content which is present in man’s self and fills and penetrates his whole heart,” and which is inseparable from human “decision and action” (I, 232). Equally inseparable from the latter, Singer thinks, are sexual desire’s stirrings. So he posits that a rational aspect of pathos inheres in eroticized motions of consciousness, and that it inheres too in art’s evokings of them. In sum, Posing Sex proposes that, whether eros or art is at issue, neither mind nor action goes by the board.

Among the illustrations that Singer brilliantly adduces for his argument is the Earl of Rochester’s poem “The Imperfect Enjoyment.” The poem conjures up the poet’s premature ejaculation, effected merely by the sight of his mistress’s body. Rochester vituperates his penis for making him suffer a humiliation of his will; indeed, he rails against his uncontrollable corporeal being in general. Yet the pathos of Rochester’s erotic suffering, Singer argues, is also actively productive: pathos, rather than a surrender to what is unintelligible, stimulates Rochester’s self-consciousness, and initiates the poet’s elaboration in verse of his feelings and thoughts.

The dynamic passive-active dyad in Rochester’s case illustrates what Singer calls “mindedness” (3), which he hypothesizes is the inevitable universal fruit of sexual positings. “By mindedness I mean,” Singer explains, “that which sustains our involvement in the world without capitulating to brute natural necessity” (3). Brute necessity arguably includes the throes of erotic desire, by which mind might seem to be “decisively obliterated” (3). But to the contrary, according to Singer, in life, or in early modern instances such as Rochester’s, or in modernist writing and visual art, decisive obliteration is not mind’s fate. Such obliteration is assigned to modernist works by conventional literary and art criticism. Posing Sex strongly opposes that conventional view. One value of Singer’s literary-critical iconoclasm lies in his ability to bring into the domain of mindedness and action texts that range from Lady Chatterley’s Lover to Henry Miller’s Sexus to Lolita; and to do the same for erotically-charged visual art by Balthus or Bacon or John Currin, and for the film art of Lars Von Trier.

In recommending the value of Posing Sex, I think it is important to point out that Singer’s appeal to rationality does not mean that he mines artworks in order to wrest from them abstractly formulated “ideas.” “Mindedness” is subordinate, he says, to “my insistence on the inextricability of mind and body” (3). That insistence, he says, is not only his: he takes it to be art’s and eros’. Their witness of an inextricable relation, Singer argues, should inhibit any response that would derive abstract ideation—or abstract ideology—from them, or would subordinate or sacrifice mind to body or body to mind. The mind-body relation is a dialectical, open-ended one.

Singer sees the openness as part of a continuum that ties individual erotic or aesthetic response to interpersonal contexts, and by extension, to social ones. He connects “mindedness” with what he calls “our most urgent threshold of intelligibility”: “personhood” (3). And he proposes that “the sex image” in art (considered as a paradigm of “the aesthetic”) models personhood not as a fixed entity, but as an unresolved exploration of mysteries that baffle the mind, and of a mindedness that always seeks to think those mysteries through. Mindedness is a kind of thinking that is more than a “romancing [of] indeterminacy” (147). Elaborating on inadequate responses to art’s incitements to personhood, Singer notes that “a curious feature of the intentionally posed, aesthetically composed sex image [is that it] refuses access to the mysterious interiority it tempts us to enter: bodies are not doors mounted on logical hinges through which we might discover our personhood with a straightforward sensuous push” (196).  In other words, the best access to the allure of art or sex or personhood is by way of reasonings that are not merely logical, and emotions about them that are not merely or straightforwardly “felt.”  This indirect give-and-take suggests that any personhood is constituted by a perpetual dialogue of thoughts and feelings about its founding internal mysteries; and, likewise, that interpersonal relations, or social relations generally, are similarly constituted.

Must Singer’s theorizing of art necessarily reach for social relevance? Numerous such theories from Schiller to Dewey do just that: Singer’s reaching is impelled by a powerful tradition.  Moreover, Posing Sex is obliged to extend its range if it is to engage the opponents of “aesthetics,” given the sociopolitical measures of relevance that motivate the opposition. Here again, as with “action,” Singer offers dissenters a common ground. He agrees with them that art is publicly, politically serviceable. But one component of Posing Sex might well obstruct acceptance of his offer. Because Singer argues that personhood and social being remain dynamically unresolved, in his view neither art nor eros can ratify counter-arguments rooted in already-decided personal or group identities. That is to say, if individuals or social groups believe they possess fixedly identifiable “personhoods,” and if in the name of “politics” they look to art and eros to confirm that fixity, they will foreclose open engagement with both. They will miss arts’ and eros’s essential attractions, and they will avoid the sentient thoughtfulness they stimulate.  Posing Sex persuades me that we do not want to risk that loss and evasion, all the more so because the counter-arguments at issue underwrite the cultural revolution I began by mentioning. One of the best resistances to that great change is Singer’s persuasive disclosure of the shared character of the diverse texts and visions he gathers into an eros-inspired unity.  By virtue of being a formidable bloc of creations, the artworks traversed by Posing Sex bear witness that an inquiry into aesthetics remains a justifiable intellectual endeavor, indeed a foundational discipline, an unfailing lure for mindedness.

Works Cited
Hegel, G. W. F. Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art. Volume I. Trans. T. M. Knox. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998.


Daniel T. O’Hara, JML co-editor
Temple University

I watch those TV shows where people seek to relocate to warmer climes, often in remote places, and if they have enough money for the purchase, on their own desert islands. Clearly, this is compensatory wish-fulfillment, as Dr. Freud might advise, and I should at 71 have long ago grown out of it, but did not. On one such show recently, the would-be home/island owner, having been left by the realtor to explore on his own the small island he might purchase, turned a corner of some palm trees to discover to his surprise rows of flowers, of all sorts. The would-be home/island owner immediately shouted out: “How beautiful!” And, as immediately, began to propose different reasons for why the neat rows of flowers might be there, reasons we can all imagine for ourselves. This experience of the beautiful, and of the surprise at perceiving it and the subsequent repeated proffer of reasons for it, makes for a typical set of features, a pattern of significant response, for any post-Kantian theory of aesthetic beauty. Whether this pattern is identified as “circular” or “dialectical” is a matter of taste for the theoretician.

Similarly, in watching Deadliest Catch, a TV show about catching huge crabs during the winter months on the Bering Sea, I am shocked each season by the sublime effects of thirty and forty foot high waves, enough so that each time I see them rise up about to strike a boat, I swear I will not watch this show again. Such roiling moments fill me with terror, even though by the time any new season returns, I know all about what has basically happened, at least in a general way, so that there is, perhaps, no good rationale for my terror. Such shocking moments presented by the show, though mediated by the medium of representation and my safe distance in time, space, and knowledge, from the sheer materiality of these moments, constitute the basis of any post-Kantian theory of the sublime.

With the surprise of beauty and the shock of the sublime, we have a critical framework for what analyzing the aesthetic experience: whether it is nature or the imagination of the artist producing beauty and the sublime, such aesthetic events produce a break in our experience, at least momentarily, that inspire or provoke our creation and offering of reasons, to ourselves and to others, for what has happened, why it has happened (if we can fairly speculate so), and how we value these aesthetic moments of surprise and shock, of beauty and the sublime, in particular and general, equally alike.

Of course, what Alan Singer calls “the sex image” in his new book of aesthetic theory Posing Sex is a radical form of the sublime experience, which he treats as such several times therein, and it is a challenge to creating and offering reasons, due to the moralizing effects of social conventions in reaction to violent challenges to cultural mores. Singer presents his new theory of staging the sex image in creative productions--literary, artistic, and cinematic--to alleviate this sore spot in critical theory. As Charles Altieri notes, Singer’s “philosophical bricolage” in satisfying this need in post-Kantian aesthetic theory is admirable, and for me, breathtaking. It is the sublime in itself, to modify Pope on Longinus. And I won’t wade into the potential minefield of traditions in post-Kantian aesthetic theory and opine one way or the other on how rigorous the debates in these traditions have been treated by Singer in the production of his “theoretic bricolage,” as Altieri’s review begins to do. To do so would only duplicate that critical move in its distraction from the book itself or its potentially self-serving implication, if one has published stakes in those traditions. Instead of such side issues, I want to celebrate Singer’s ability to respond critically to Lars Von Trier’s controversial film Antichrist (2009), as an instance of Singer theory at work in its finest mode.

For reasons of space, I am focusing on what Singer has to say in response to the opening shot of the film, from its Prologue. This shot is a montage of two basic scenes. One is that of two adults performing robust, even rough, sexual coitus and related once upon a time so-called perverted acts, while the second is that of a young child moving to the window of his bedroom on this same cold crystalline night, opening the window, and stepping out and sailing into the air as to fly away twenty-five feet off the hard terrace of the same house where the parents are, as it might be said, blindly going at it. The rest of the film “flows” and jumps alike from this shocking, even traumatic, juxtaposition as the couple spiral ever downward into violence, mutilation and self-mutilation, and death, due to their, especially the woman’s, inability to create responses with the man (one rightly assumes they are husband and wife, the parents of this poor boy). Guilt is so painful it fails to provoke mindfulness but instead produces mindless, frenzied sexual activity, an even more extreme variant of the very experience that led to the original tragic contingency in the first place. Here we have a perfect case of the sexual sublime, underscored by the supplementation of the sex image by the unintentional suicide of the child, as if in the opening montage of the film we have the sublime experience and its perfect sublime critical commentary all in one, especially since later in the film an absurdly talking fox makes it clear that this cinematic world is surely sheer chaos.

Here, however, is Singer mindfully beginning to address his analysis of this difficult film:

The specific shock that Von Trier wreaks upon his audience in Antichrist has precisely to do with an interest in realizing human capacities through incapacity: the incapacity of human bodies suffering physical and emotional pain. I take the unprepared for obtrusion of the sex image in the opening scene of Von Trier’s film as a particularly strategic point of departure. The pretext is tragedy. But the mindedness that is elaborated through suffering opens upon a wider horizon. The shock with which Von Trier teases an impossible recognition for the audience involves the juxtaposition of two simultaneous scenes of action. (191)

What we see here is only the tip of what Singer can do with this film. I would urge readers to follow up, for another few pages, and see. That is, I urge them to “taste and see” for themselves, and in the reading of the entire book when they come upon these pages they will experience the surprises of informed and just critical judgments and the shocks of new aesthetic experiences.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Jack Kerouac Show: A Closer Look at JML 43.1

Now on the IU Press Blog: JML author Kathryn Winner discusses how the Beat-generation author Jack Kerouac used his celebrity status to take up and respond to emerging communication media.

Read the post HERE.

Winner's essay, "Visions of Cody and Media: Jack Kerouac as Late Modernist" is a special "Read for FREE" featured piece on JSTOR. Find it HERE.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Erratum notice: JML 43.1

In "A Bedpan of Poop: The Influence of Silent Screen Comedy on Dos Passos’s Manhattan Transfer" by Larry Durst in JML 43.1 (Fall 2019), the author inadvertently truncated two sources from the works cited.

The following works should have been included on page 18:

Trotter, David.  Cinema and Modernism. Blackwell, 2007.

Vargas Llosa, Mario. Making Waves: Essays. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2001.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Media & Print Culture: JML 43.1 is LIVE!

JML 43.1 (Fall 2019) on the topic "Media and Print Culture" is now live on JSTOR and Project Muse. Here is the issue line-up:


Larry Durst 
A Bedpan of Poop: The Influence of Silent Screen Comedy on Dos Passos’s Manhattan Transfer

Alison Fraser  
Mass Print, Clipping Bureaus, and the Pre-Digital Database: Reexamining Marianne Moore’s Collage Poetics through the Archives 

Alistair McCleery
Banned Books and Publishers’ Ploys: The Well of Loneliness as Exemplar

Robert Spoo
Judge Woolsey’s Ulysses Opinion: Early Print History and Reader Response

Ashley Maher
“Three-Dimensional” Modernism: The Language of Architecture and British Literary Periodicals

Fabio L. Vericat
Church Radio: The Sermon and the CBS Broadcast of T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral

Matthew Kilbane
Broadcasting Dialect: Sterling Brown, Norman Corwin, and Latent Remediation

Kathryn Winner
Visions of Cody and Media: Jack Kerouac as Late Modernist

Myles Oldershaw
Granta and the Advent of the Contemporary

Paul Piatkowski
Deterritorializing the Textual Site in the Digital Age: Paratextual and Narrative Democracy in Mark Z. Danielewski’s Only Revolutions

Henry N. Gifford
Negotiating Contradictions: A Review of BLAST at 100

David F. Ting
Deadly Lights