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Since the 1960s, film theory has undergone rapid development as an academic discipline—to such an extent that students new to the subject are quickly overwhelmed by the extensive and complex research published under its rubric. “Film Theory in the United States and Europe” presents a broad overview of guides to and anthologies of film theory, followed by a longer section that presents an historical account of film theory’s development—from classical film theory of the 1930s–1950s (focused around film as an art), the modern (or contemporary) film theory of the 1960s–1970s (premised on semiotics, Marxism, feminism, and psychoanalysis), to current developments, including the New Lacanians and cognitive film theory. The second section ends with a very brief overview of film and/as philosophy. The article covers the key figures and fundamental concepts that have contributed to film theory as an autonomous discipline within the university. These concepts include ontology of film, realism/the reality effect, formalism, adaptation, signification, voyeurism, patriarchy, ideology, mainstream cinema, the avant-garde, suture, the cinematic apparatus, auteur-structuralism, the imaginary, the symbolic, the real, film and emotion, and embodied cognition.
Simon J. Bronner
Folklore in the United States, also known as “American folklore,” consists of traditional knowledge and cultural practices engaged by inhabitants of North America below Canada and above Mexico, states of Alaska and Hawaii, and the territories of American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands. Scholarly and public awareness of American folklore primarily in the contiguous United States followed corpuses of myths, folk tales, and epics in Europe during the 18th century. Although European scholars considered much of the American material, especially in ballads and songs, to be derivatives of European traditions brought by settlers, many traditional forms such as tall tales, hero legends, and indigenous native customs in North America appeared distinctive. In Euro-centered folklore theory, the United States purportedly lacked a peasant class and a shared racial and ethnic stock that fostered the production of folklore. Also affecting perceptions of American folklore was the status of the United States as a relatively young nation, compared to the ancient legacies of European, African, and Asian civilizations. Further, geographically the country’s boundaries had moved since its inception to include an assortment of landscapes and peoples.
Primary folkloristic attention in 17th-century colonial North America was the otherness of Native American groups and their various myths, songs, and rituals. A major question was whether these myths, songs, and rituals reflected a unified culture diffused from Asia or a varied indigenous tribal lore. In the 19th century, awareness turned to the persistence and adaptation of expressive songs and stories of European settlers, enslaved Africans, and Southwest Mexicans. Narratives and buildings appeared to show signs of transplantation from the Old World, although as the New Republic emerged in the 19th century, intrepid Americanists presented cultural evidence of ethnic mixing that formed New World hybrids such as folk tales, games, and barns.
Although folklore in the United States was popularly associated with localized rural practices, folklorists in the 20th century pointed out emergent American traditions that suggested urban, regional, and national identities. Notable examples of distinctive expressions in the United States included the cowboy and railroader song, urban legend, and regional food. The rise of industrialism, transportation technology, and digital communication in the United States raised concerns that commercial popular culture had displaced folklore, but folklorists found that residents maintained folklore as a significant expression of various small-group or subcultural identities. Among the contexts that fostered folkloric production are college campuses, summer camps, and slumber parties. In a society like the United States that lacks collective public rites of passage to enter adulthood, folklore in the form of narrative and ritual in these contexts functioned to guide youths to adult responsibilities. The digital culture of the Internet that became widespread in the 21st century also provided frames for folkloric communication through the conduit of the social network. Although often circulating globally, many combined visual-verbal “memes” and “creepypastas” projected national anxieties. In this period, Americans could be heard and viewed using folklore rhetorically to refer to the veracity and significance of cultural knowledge in an uncertain, rapidly changing, individualistic society. Folklore frequently referred to the expressions of this knowledge in story, song, speech, custom, and craft as meaningful for what it conveyed and enacted about tradition in a socially dispersed, mobile, and future-oriented country.
Modern hermeneutics begins with F. D. E. Schleiermacher who systematized hermeneutics, developing it from a group of disparate disciplines meant to apply to different fields of discourse to a set of procedures applicable to all. Schleiermacher also insists on a methodical practice of interpretation including grammatical interpretation, which attends to an author’s language, and psychological or technical interpretation, which attends to an author’s intentions. In moving to philosophical hermeneutics, Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer refocus away from the procedures conducive to understanding and towards the conditions under which understanding occurs: namely, in the context of our ongoing projects and purposes and the interrelations they involve. For Gadamer, these conditions lead to a rethinking of the Enlightenment’s criticism of tradition and prejudice. The context of understanding is a historically developed one. Indeed, Heidegger and Gadamer conceive of the so-called hermeneutic circle of whole and part not as a method for coming to a definitive understanding of a text, as Schleiermacher does, but rather as a reflection of our historical circumstances. We are the result of the effective histories of the very texts and discourses we seek to understand. To the extent that we are, however, we participate in their traditions and are oriented or prejudiced by the assumptions they hand down to us. The problem with a Schleiermachian reliance on interpretive method, then, is that it pretends to an objectivity that it cannot attain and thereby gives up on the possibility of acknowledging and interrogating prejudice. Schleiermacher’s focus on intentions is equally problematic. To the extent that we concentrate only or primarily on the intentions or thoughts behind an author’s or speaker’s expression, we fail to take their expressions up as possible insights or valid claims. In contrast, philosophical hermeneutics asks us to take works of literature seriously with regard to their subject matter, or Sache, and to engage dialogically in a process of clarifying an issue or subject matter for ourselves. In short, we miss much of what we can learn about a subject matter if we look to intentions over content. Likewise, we miss much of what we can learn about ourselves if we look to method and forgo dialogue.
Mary Elizabeth Leighton and Lisa Surridge
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature. Please check back later for the full article.
The word illustration comes from the Latin illustrare, meaning to light up. Before the 19th century, its primary meanings were to light up spiritually or physically; to make noble; and to explain verbally. Only in 1813, did illustration’s current meaning—a subject’s visual representation—emerge.
This new meaning reflected the importance of visual images to 19-century readers, who experienced a revolution in the book’s form. In the early 1800s, books were largely unillustrated, perhaps containing a frontispiece (often a stock decorative illustration with little connection to content). Walter Scott and Jane Austen built their careers upon unillustrated fiction. However, by the 1830s and 1840s, technological innovations—wood engraving (developed by Thomas Bewick in the 1790s) and steel engraving (developed in the 1820s)—made it possible to integrate images and letterpress with cheapness and efficiency. A new type of fiction was born, one melding text and image as partners in meaning-making: Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers (1836-1837), illustrated largely by career book illustrator Hablôt K. Browne; Oliver Twist (1837-1839), illustrated by noted caricaturist George Cruikshank; William Harrison Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard (1839-1840) and The Tower of London (1840), both illustrated by Cruikshank; and William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1847-1848), illustrated by himself. All used visual elements—wrappers, chapter initials and heads, full-page images, and tailpieces—to establish character and setting, create ironies, and predict plot, uniting pen and pencil in a single art form. In May 1842, the Illustrated London News’s first issue heralded the meteoric rise of illustration: art, it suggested, had wedded literature, migrating from natural history and science into poetry and fiction, where readers had crowned it with laurels.
By the 1860s, now recognized as the golden age of book illustration, the book arts flourished. Family periodicals such as the Cornhill Magazine, Once a Week, and Good Words highlighted the work of prominent fiction writers and artists (many of them Royal Academy members) as an essential aspect of middle-class culture. Editors paired George Eliot with Frederick Leighton (Romola, 1862-1863) and Elizabeth Gaskell with George du Maurier (Wives and Daughters, 1864-1866), both in the Cornhill; Harriet Martineau with John Everett Millais (her “historiettes,” 1862-1863) in Once a Week; and George MacDonald with Arthur Hughes (At the Back of the North Wind, 1871) in Good Words. The “high” art of grand narrative painting began to draw on book and periodical illustration: Luke Fildes’s Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward (displayed at the 1874 Royal Academy) was based on his illustration “Houseless and Hungry” (published in the Graphic, 1869), and Millais sold to private buyers watercolor versions of his illustrations of Martineau’s historiettes.
The late 19th century witnessed another revolution in illustration, with photographic reproduction available from 1881. Images again became easier and cheaper to produce, enabling George Newnes, the Strand Magazine’s editor, to promise illustration on every page. As a result, the 1890s saw a bifurcation in illustrated texts: popular periodicals such as the Strand and Pearson’s Magazine exploited the text-image relationship with innovative layouts, and integrated images wrapped around letterpress (as in H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, published in 1897 in Pearson’s, with illustrations by Warwick Goble), whereas the avant-garde Yellow Book turned away from representational illustration in favor of stand-alone artwork by such artists as Aubrey Beardsley and Walter Sickert. The legacies of Victorian illustrated fiction are apparent in the early 20th century, when cinematic adaptations of Victorian novels wowed mass audiences; when the modernist revolution challenged conventional book design; and when children’s literature saw a second golden age in which illustrations by Arthur Rackham and E. H. Shepard ensured the success of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906), The Wind in the Willows (1908), and Winnie-the-Pooh (1926).
Indigeneity is the abstract noun form of “indigenous,” defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “Born or produced naturally in a land or region”; in conventional usage, it refers primarily to “aboriginal inhabitants or natural products.” Indigeneity has a conceptually complex relationship to American literary history before 1830, insofar as, for most of the history of the field, “early American literature” has predominately referred to works written in European languages, scripts, and genres, produced by peoples of European origin and their descendants. Within this framework, until Native Americans began adopting and adapting these languages, scripts, and genres for their own use, there were no literary works that might be simultaneously characterized as “indigenous” and “early American.”
Four conceptualizations of the relationship between indigeneity and early American literature provide a basis for this history and its historiography. Three of these pertain to cultural works produced at least in part by Native Americans: these are (1) written representations of Native American spoken performances, or “oral literature”; (2) writings that register various degrees of participation in literacy practices by Native American converts to Christianity; and (3) cultural works that employ non-alphabetic indigenous sign-systems, or “indigenous literacies.” These formulations variously challenge conventional ideas about literature and related terms such as authorship and writing; in the case of the Christian Indians, they can also challenge notions of indigeneity.
A fourth conceptualization of the relationship between indigeneity and early American literature is premised on narrow definitions of these seemingly antithetical terms: it pertains to the aesthetic project of some settler-colonial authors who hoped to connect their prose and verse works to the domestic landscape, to assert their cultural independence from England, and to enact the replacement of Native American cultural traditions with their own.
In the history of modern Japanese literature, the Taishō era (1912–1926) is retrospectively identified as a period characterized by a liberal arts ideology, individualism, a democratic spirit, aestheticism, and anti-naturalism. In the latter half of the Taishō era, the liberal arts ideology was gradually replaced by socialism. After the Great Earthquake of 1923, Japanese literature was enmeshed in a triangular contest between the old-fashioned “‘I’ novel” (or psychological novel), proletarian literature, and modernist literature (especially the neo-sensualists). This structure of the literary world, in parallel with the rise of popular literature, continued into the prewar Shōwa era (1926–1945).
During the Taishō era, Walt Whitman and Edgar Allan Poe were the most influential and respected American writers. Whitman’s writing offered Taishō writers, including Takeo Arishima and poets of the popular poetry school, a model of living that was free and natural and a colloquial-style free verse. But for the modern Japanese literati from the Taishō to the prewar Shōwa era, the most influential American writer was without a doubt Edgar Allan Poe. Poe’s works served as a creative inspiration to Taishō novelists such as Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Haruo Satō, and Ryūosuke Akutagawa, many of whom shared a creative perspective that was based on a blend of anti-naturalism and aestheticism. Influenced by Poe, they attempted diverse variations on the themes of the fantastic and of doppelgängers and even experimented with detective stories. Needless to say, Poe helped to establish the detective story genre in Japan through Rampo Edogawa and others. For early Shōwa literati, Poe was a forerunner of modern critical theory.
Among Japanese readers, around 1920, American literature ceased to be read as a sub-branch of British literature and began to be read as American literature proper. From the Great Earthquake and up through the prewar Shōwa era, three distinctive periods can be discerned when American literature was energetically translated and introduced. The first period was from the end of Taishō to the start of Shōwa, when American “socialist” literature—in the broad sense of writers like Upton Sinclair—left a deep mark on Japanese proletarian literature. The second period was around 1930–1931, when contemporary modernist American novels were translated and published in various anthology forms. The third peak came around 1935–1938, when bestselling American historical romances or epics such as Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind were published and gained a large readership.
The Influence of Arthur Miller on American Theater and Culture and the Global Implications of His Plays
Susan C.W. Abbotson
Arthur Miller (1915–2005) was the author of essays, journals, short stories, a novel, and a children’s book, but is best known for his more than two dozen plays, which include the seminal American dramas Death of a Salesman and The Crucible. A staunch patriot and humanist, Miller’s work conveys a deeply moral outlook whereby all individuals have a responsibility both to themselves and to the society in which they must live. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Miller maintained his optimism that despite humanity’s unfortunate predisposition toward betrayal, people could transcend this and be better. In the creation of Death of a Salesman, along with its director Elia Kazan and designer Jo Mielziner, Miller brought a new style of play to the American stage which mixes the techniques of realism and expressionism; this has since been dubbed “subjective realism” and provoked a redefinition of what tragedy might mean to a modern audience. Influenced by the social-problem plays of the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, the experimental poetics of Clifford Odets and Tennessee Williams, and the inventive staging of Thornton Wilder, Miller created his own brand of drama that often explored macrocosmic social problems within the microcosm of a troubled family. Though he is viewed as a realist by some critics, his work rarely conforms to such limitations, and his entire oeuvre is notable for its experimentation in both form and subject matter, with only his inherent philosophical beliefs to provide connection. For Miller, people need to understand that they are products of their pasts, and that it is inevitable that “the birds come home to roost,” but through acknowledging this and actively owning any guilt attached, individuals and society can improve.
Miller was raised in a largely secular Jewish environment, and his morality has a Judaic inflection and he wrote several plays featuring Jewish characters; however, his themes address universal issues and explore the impact of the past, the role of the family, and a variety of belief systems from capitalism to socialism, along with providing lessons in responsibility and connection, and exploring the abuses and misuses of power. His works provide insight into the heart of human nature in all its horror and glory, including its capacity for love and sacrifice as well as denial and betrayal. Miller was able to see both the comedy and tragedy within the human condition. His driving concern was to make a difference, and it was through his writing that he found his means.
Although Irish writers were foundational to English-language modernism, Irish Modernism is a new field in literary studies. Embedded imperial frameworks and assumptions about Irish traditionalism have been an obstacle to recognizing Irish Modernism, despite the importance of Irish writing to the development of modernism as a whole. Informed by postcolonial and transnational theory, a reading of Irish Modernism accommodates writers who lived and wrote in and about Ireland, as well as those who were Irish by birth but who lived and worked outside of the country, such as James Joyce; who wrote in languages other than English or Irish, such as Samuel Beckett; or whose political allegiances are at odds with the rise of the separatist nation state, such as Elizabeth Bowen. Irish Modernism has its genesis in the Irish Revival (ca. 1880s–1910s), a popular movement that sought to create a distinctive Irish culture. The little magazines and literary theaters that arose out of the Revival were often aesthetically conservative in themselves; nonetheless, they became venues for literature that was radical in form. Just as early modernist writing arose out of the Revival, high modernist literature was provoked by a rejection of the Revival’s values. These reactions are exemplified in William Butler Yeats’s poetry from The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910), in which he castigates the Irish public for its religious conservatism, and in Joyce’s Dubliners (1914) and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). Late modernism, which is typified by a weakening of the tropes of high modernism to make way for a more politically engaged literature, not only includes well-known Anglophone writers but also the work of Brian Ó Nualláin/Flann O’Brien and Máirtín Ó Cadhain, whose satires were formally and politically radical.
Known primarily as the author of On the Road (1957), the novel most closely associated with the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac (1922–1969) also wrote extensively about his French-Canadian heritage. A native of the large francophone community of Lowell, Massachusetts, he faced the dilemma of writing in a foreign language, English, while one of his motives to write was to memorialize a community assimilating to U.S. society and speaking French less and less. The recent publication of his two short novels in French from the early 1950s, La nuit est ma femme (The Night Is My Woman) and Sur le chemin (Old Bull in the Bowery), provides evidence that the preoccupation with travel informing On the Road is deeply tied to his sense of cultural and linguistic exile. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Quebec to New England in the 19th and early 20th centuries practiced survivance, cultural survival, especially through maintaining fluency in French and adhering to Catholicism while living among a Protestant majority. These customs of the Quebecois diaspora had begun in Canada: following the 1763 annexation of Lower Canada to Britain at the end of the French and Indian War, francophones resisted immense pressure to assimilate, both official and unofficial. Narratives of displacement from France and subsequently Quebec persisted in folklore and literature on both sides of the border through the 20th century.
In early 1951, Kerouac drafted La nuit est ma femme, telling the story of Michel Bretagne, a French Canadian from New England who wanders around the eastern United States with a sense of homelessness. Narrating in a French that reproduces the southern New England dialect, Michel laments that neither of the languages he speaks really belongs to him. The text develops the theme of cultural and linguistic mixing and its discovery through travel. Shortly after completing La nuit est ma femme, Kerouac brought this theme to On the Road, famously composing the novel on a roll of paper in three weeks in April 1951. Contrary to legend, he did extensive rewriting before his landmark work was published: Sur le chemin, which he drafted in late 1952, offers an “on the road” story about Franco-Americans and was by his own account a key part of the rewriting process. During this time, he elaborated his theory of “spontaneous prose,” writing quickly and in an improvisational manner as a way of conveying geographic, cultural, and linguistic movement. In the wake of On the Road’s depictions of the expanses of the United States, including its geographic place in North America, Kerouac turned to Franco-American New England. His next book, Dr. Sax (1959), takes place in Lowell and features lengthy passages in French; the novel’s central concerns are his community’s relationship to a legacy of displacement and the conflict between clinging to the past and creating something new. If there is a principal thrust in Kerouac’s writing, it is to challenge American literature to recognize its transnational and translingual character.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature. Please check back later for the full article.
To consider the most influential Argentine writer of the 20th century within the South American cultural and historical framework implies going deeper in a literature that put the periphery—the margins, the minor literature—forward as a particular place of enunciation, not only by destiny but also by choice, as an imaginary place of freedom derived from the lack of cultural tradition tied to a territory.
After some years of European youth, in 1921, J. L. Borges went back to Buenos Aires, where he took part in avant-garde projects and little magazines, as well as in mass circulation publishing and journalistic endeavors. It was in this junction of Modernism and Mass Culture that, from the 1930s, he began to create his sophisticated fictions, which fully exploited the resources of a second-hand culture, made of hybrid genres, clippings, displacements, plagiarism, and mistranslations, making artistic innovations from some of the most usual practices in printed culture. In the following decade, his anti-Hispanism and his appreciation of certain forms of Argentinean orality were paradoxically combined with his militancy against nationalism. The peripheral condition he addressed in one of his most famous essays (“The Argentine Writer and Tradition”), which stands as a theoretical and critical locus that could decenter western tradition in its entirety, was an argument stated from a particular time and place against the realism and the nationalism that predominated in the vernacular literary field. His opinions on literary, cultural, or political matters (veiled, as in “The Aleph,” or more visible, as in his anti-Peronist texts “L'Illusion Comique,” “The Monster’s Feast,” and “The Mountebank”) present a minefield of controversial interventions in the Argentinean disputes of his time and account for a specifically Borgesian way—self-interested, instrumental, strategic—of taking part in the dilemmas of the history and the culture that he was part of.
J. L. Borges has raised various approaches throughout time in Argentina. Some milestones are the tributes to his figure by the Megáfono group, in 1933, and by the Sur magazine in the 1940 decade, the Contorno patricide trial in the following decade, the Borges “for the masses” in the 1970s, and the generalized rejection of his support for military dictatorships (the one that overthrew Perón in 1955, and the one that began in 1976). In 2009, the literary experiment of a young writer from one of the most famous short stories by Borges gave rise to a lawsuit for copyright fraud, which in turn, triggered intellectual debates on literary heritage in a socially significant and broader sense, reinstating the problematic—and not merely legal—character of literary property. A well nourished history tells how, in Argentina, consecutive generations of authors, critics, and readers have dealt with one of their most challenging and intense writers, wondering how to read him, how to get away from the fascination he causes, and how to make his powerful legacy their own.