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Saturday, February 2, 2013


If fields have narratives, then that clarifies what roles scholars can play in carving out their individual niche:

You can apply that narrative to a small corner of the field.

You can become the expert on one single, canonical figure, and explain how he or she fits into the main narrative. If the figure is already interpreted in those terms, you can keep on doing it some more.

If you see a major gap in the explanation or articulation of the narrative, you can fill that in. Finding some major phenomenon that doesn't seem to fit, but really does.

If you can convince the entire field that there is a better master-narrative, then that could be rather ambitious. For example, if someone came along and said that film as a genre was not about Lacanian psychoanalysis. (An old example, maybe, since film studies has gone beyond that I hope.)

What I've tried to do in my work is to take poetry, a genre usually seen in mostly formalist terms, and explain how poetry and poetics fits in with some larger narratives developed by cultural studies and intellectual history. (Ironically, since I am really a Perloffian formalist.) I don't just apply standard cultural studies analysis to a different genre, but I come from within that tradition of poetics and I try to see what that tradition contributes to the main narrative. I not only study modernist poetics, but I am that. Modernist poetics has a very interesting role in the debate over "modernity," not surprisingly. Not surprisingly, but few have exploited this insight. My friend Chris Soufas has gone further than most. I wouldn't (I don't) do it like he does, so that leaves me some room to make a contribution of my own.

My friend here at Kansas Joe Harrington wrote a very interesting article with the title "Why American Poetry is not American Literature." In other words, why doesn't poetry (except for Whitman) fit within the narrative framework of American studies. That's more or less what I ask myself, when I talk to people in peninsular studies for whom poetry barely registers as important at all. They often pay me the backhanded compliment that I am the only poetry critics they would bother reading. Thanks, but...

You have to have a mature perspective before you start thinking about your field in this way. When you start out it's more like, find a project to work on that interests you within the dominant practices of the field.


Does narrative fiction fit in better with most standard narratives of various fields of literature? Yes, in the sense that it's narrative structure makes it easier to read as historical allegory. Narrative fiction is read historically in two ways: literally and allegorically. For example, we had a diss. here on narratives of narcotraffic, where the interpretation was quite literal. The narratives were about what they seemed to be about.

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