When the ideas of nationalism and humanism fell into crisis in my youth, the idea of the literary inevitably did as well. We all know this grand récit. Literary studies—once preoccupied with the boundaries charted under the question “What is literature?”—discovered the Talmudic truth that the existence of a question does not entail the existence of an answer. New candidates arose to be the singular critical paradigm. That was true of the old criticism; it had been true of the New Criticism and its successors. Structuralism, semiotics, deconstruction, the new historicisms: each was a global theory, universally applicable, unbounded. Under the aegis of cultural studies, the old anxieties about literariness were swept brutally away. If literature is defined as the subject of literary studies, the term can be used, as I use it, as shorthand for thinking about writing, film, television, and many other forms of address, because what we’re now at pains to demarcate is not what is read but the ways in which we read it. As our focus expands to encompass the whole interpretable world, new cartographies arise.
Elazar, Daniel J. “Althusius’ Grand Design for a Federal Commonwealth.” Politica: An Abridged Translation of Politics Methodically Set Forth, and Illustrated with Sacred and Profane Examples, by Johannes Althusius, edited and translated by Frederick S. Carney, Liberty Fund, 1995, pp. xxxv–xlvi.
State-by-State Polling and Electoral Math
Infographic: “” (Note: Students can actually click and drag toss-up states to create their own possibilities.)
: a wealth of information about polling and projections
Farah, Nuruddin. Maps. Arcade Publishing, 1986.
Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?
Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.
And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.
Felski, Rita. The Limits of Critique. U of Chicago P, 2015.
Talking the talk is how members of our profession walk the walk. And in this pursuit, we could find a worse companion than our Alexandrian street stroller, Cavafy, a poet of aesthetic transport who spoke joy to power, a cosmopolitan of the provinces who knew how to resist complacency, the fearful phantasms of alterity, and imaginations that stopped short at the borderlands. Recall how “Waiting for the Barbarians” ends:
Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism. Routledge, 2004.
See, e.g., Hequembourg. Harvard’s first professor of English literature, in 1876, was Francis James Child, an expert on English and Scottish ballads.
Habermas, Jürgen. The Future of Human Nature. Polity Press, 2003.
But a kindred challenge is to recall that persuasion and conversation may have a role, too. It’s to think about how to talk across boundaries—how to make ourselves heard by those who don’t know why they should listen. To think about how to convey the value of what we do to people who start from very different compass points on the map. We need to find the both-and to supplant the reflex to grasp the either-or: we should be forever reaching across boundaries. All of which is to say: let us never shy away from exploring the many ways of being human, even when they strike us as disturbingly nearby and troublesomely at odds with our own—as the savagery around the corner or across the street.