On Digressions and Detours

My research and writing time, always too hard to come by, have taken me in various directions, but Tinsel is patiently waiting for me to do more than update the CV and instead to begin using it again as a record of my work, plans, inquiries. So here I am.

A piece long in the pipeline, “Gender Identity and Promiscuous Identification: Reading (in) Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier,” has recently been published in The Journal of Modern Literature 40.3 (in the company of a “Woolf cluster!” Oh lucky day!). The paper has been described in this way:

Jenny Baldry, the narrator of Rebecca West’s First World War novel _The Return of the Soldier_, has traditionally been discussed as a detached observer or unreliable raconteur of the narrative’s wartime love triangle. But she may be productively understood not only as one who tells the story, but as one who reads and interprets it. Positioned as reader, Jenny breaches appropriate boundaries between herself and the “characters” or primary participants in the events, exhibiting a radical empathy that Susan David Bernstein calls “promiscuous identification.” In doing so, she destabilizes not only her family and class loyalties but her very self. Jenny absorbs and appropriates others’ passions, and, even more strikingly, unsettles her gender identity through zealous identification with her male cousin Chris, even attempting to psychically access the masculine battlefield. Jenny’s desire, class allegiance, and gender identity, all complicated by her reading practice, challenge the novel’s stated moral and its seemingly inevitable conclusion.*

Additionally, the book From Page to Place: American Literary Tourism and the Afterlives of Authors (U Mass P, 2017, eds. Hilary Iris Lowe and Jennifer Harris) has recently come out and includes my chapter, “‘Afoot with my Vision’: Whitmania and Tourism in the Digital Age,” a piece that is meaningful to me in many ways, but not least because it grew out of a fantastic teaching experience, funded by the NEH as the multi-university project Looking for Whitman. The chapter is described in this way:

This essay draws upon my experience as a teacher of a digitally-inflected seminar on the American poet Walt Whitman in examining how our practices and experiences as literary tourists are affected by the promises of accessibility and immediacy on the internet. The essay raises questions about what “seeing things” really means, questions that are entwined for me with Whitman’s own exhortations: “You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, [. . .] nor feed on the spectres of books,” he tells us, “You shall not look through my eyes either.” What is the difference between our eyes and the lens of the digitizing scanner or photographer? How do we “remember” something we see in person when the digital images of it that are available are all of higher quality but framed by someone else? When we tour online, are we taking things at second or third-hand? Or, instead, are we fooling ourselves that we are really, truly seeing through an author’s eyes and not just our own when we stand in the author’s prior physical spaces?**

My slow work on the poetess/periodicals and my somewhat-too-immersive work on literature of the Great War (and all things GW) have also inspired conference papers on H.D. and Charlotte Mew, at the unspeakably awesome conference H.D. and Feminist Poetics in Bethlehem PA, and on Mary Borden (new but relatively intense person of interest, sure to reappear) in a seminar on the First World War at MSA in 2015.


The poetess is again a little bit on hold as I am currently working on another article, the premise of which has been knocking around in my brain for awhile, which focuses on H.D’s use of tropes and language of telegraphy and Morse code across several works.  An earlier paper at SAMLA began this process, including some exploration of the artist-inventory Samuel Morse himself (an interesting but unpleasant fellow tbh) and starting to sketch out some ideas I have about the figure of the “active receiver” in H.D.’s aesthetic theory. So I’ve been reading a LOT about telegraphic history etc. and trying to grasp why a modernist writer, in an era literally defined by the rapid pace of its technological inventions, repeatedly turns on multiple occasions to a not-obsolete-but-decidely-19th-century-and-problematically-connected-to-news-of-tragedy-in-WWI technology.  Gentle reader, to be continued….

… .. –. -. .. -. –. / — ..-. ..-.


* mns obsessions here noted: fluid gender identity; promiscuous identification and emotional contagion aka Why I Have a Long List of Books I Can Barely Think About Let Alone Teach Because They Make Me Too Emotional or Crazy; the Great War; madwomen; things the beautiful Rebecca West wears on her head especially beaded headdresses and sooomething on the cover of Time that could be an alien face  or a coded yonic symbol.



the beaded headdress








** mns obsessions here noted: the aged WW and his eyes; literary tourism and graveyards; my Whitmaniacs of 2009-10; the haversack; the Civil War in Virginia; the word “hirsute” but not hirsutism.


On Tentativeness and Permanence

Fingers above keys. Well, two fingers, the middle ones. . .in my high school back in the day, only those NOT going to college were taught to type.  Somehow I missed the part where going to college was going to get me a secretary.  Though I am reasonably fast and accurate all things considered, this fact seems worth mentioning as I begin a blog that will, in part, reflect on changing technologies and their relationship to reading, research, writing.

Hesitance to commit words to a medium that carries those words to others is something I have been thinking about (struggling with) this week.  This blog is rooted in my sabbatical project for Spring 2014 (thank you, UMW).  The project has a rather brave abstract:

This project focuses on four of my primary areas of research and teaching: poetry, women’s writing, literary Modernism, and digital humanities.  It centers on the digital archive of periodicals called the Modernist Journals Project.  I anticipate producing a scholarly article on the presence of “the poetesses” in these journals; maintaining a professional blog on my reading/research; designing a new course for the English major called Modernism in the Magazines; and contributing pedagogical materials to the MJP site.

More specifically, my proposal said:

I understand the last major element of my proposal as a hybrid of process and product.   My past and proposed work in the MJP archive grows directly out of my vibrant interest in digital humanities.  I do find, however, that the work in literary studies on digital scholarship and teaching lags well behind that in, say, history.  The research I do in the MJP archive will obviously make use of the primary resources available only through digitalization, but I propose to use meaningful technologies also in disseminating that research.  Specifically, I plan to use an active, specialized blog to record, cultivate, and share my ongoing pedagogical and professional work in the archive.  The “Looking for Whitman” project vaulted me from being a blog facilitator to a literary blogger, but with a voice largely distributed across my teaching blogs on UMWBlogs, so it is a job (identity?) that I hope to refine more intentionally in the next few years.

My reading thus far has focused on the field of periodical studies, especially in the Modernist period.  Some of the lead writers and editors of the little magazines churned out thousands of words of copy a week–reviews, manifestos, retorts, editorials, poems, stories.  Without the benefit of hyperlinks, periodicals engaged in elaborate cross-reference and dialogue. Was it less anxiety-producing to write for those modernist periodical writers, producing  language and ideas at such a tremendous rate that, even when undistracted by tweets, kiks, messages, alerts, vines, snapchats, it must have been nearly impossible to refine them, to feel secure about and committed to them?  (Okay, at least for everyone but Ezra, the Evil Godfather of Modernism.)

By nature the periodical challenges the sense of permanence that characterizes our widespread understanding of literature; it’s not just the bunk about timeless universality, but also the physicality of books. (Remember them?  That thing made of paper that the e-book is supposed to make extinct?  As one who festishes my books and also owns an e-reader, I frequently find that I download the books I don’t care if I “have forever”–see what I mean?)  Periodicals are to be read and recycled, replaced in quick succession by the next issue.  They are in waiting rooms, newsstands, mail boxes, art classes where they get cut up for collages.  Even literary periodicals like Poetry, begun by the bad ass Harriet Monroe, are focused on the contents of one issue and maybe give a tease about what to expect in the next issue.  The periodical is also a forward-looking genre, then, pitching itself through weeks or months, trying to keep its subscribers hooked for the next round.

crossroads of past and futureEven those with the funds to produce on thick paper or with stronger covers couldn’t have imagined that, a century later, the issues would be digitized cover to cover and made available to millions of potential readers– and furthermore, that the genre defined by impermanence and expectancy would be thereby transformed into an artifact, impervious to rot, ripe for study.  Permanent.

Like the little magazine, a blog follows a logic of periodicity and therefore of replacement.  People subscribe to blogs in anticipation of what is still to come.  Although blogs have archives, it is timeliness rather than timelessness that characterizes the genre.  And yet one never knows how the copy produced, how the language and ideas thus published and disseminated, will travel and live.  But the journey begins.

montblanc fountain pen