Category Archives: Romanticism

Rock & Romanticism & Nick Cave & Palgrave

James Rovira’s just-published book, Rock and Romanticism: Postpunk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), includes my chapter “‘Little crimeworn histories’: Nick Cave and the roots-raves-rehab story of rock stardom.” (That chapter’s a full treatment of an inkling I first shared here nearly a decade ago.)

Rovira’s book is also accompanied by its own iTunes playlist that I was happy to help build and curate (and, in the process, encounter some great music I’d not previously known about); and the editor’s also got a whole blog post with listening samples and other links related to topics covered in the book.

For my part, I’ll just leave here a link to the video for the song that my chapter takes its title from: the exhilaratingly evil, deliriously demonic “Deanna”:

 

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#TheMediumIsTheMonster: forthcoming April 2018

when the designer of your book’s cover (detail shown here) knocks it out of the park on the first try.
#TheMediumIsTheMonster: forthcoming April 2018 from @au_press.

New MA course in literary studies: Gothic Transformations

My new Literary Studies course for Athabasca U’s MA program is now open for enrollment.

Illustration from 1897 edition of Marsh's The Beetle. (Public domain image via British Library.)

Illustration from 1897 edition of Marsh’s The Beetle. (Public domain image via British Library.)

The 19th-Century Novel: Gothic Transformations assigns readings in major English novels like Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1818), Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1860), and Richard Marsh’s The Beetle (1897) and explores how British fiction in the nineteenth century both was influenced by and also adapted Gothic themes and elements, like supernatural horror and psychological suspense.

Gothic fictions and those that adapt the Gothic represent important cultural mediations of the social, political, and economic issues and transformations that characterize Britain during the rise of industrial capital and the global expansion of England’s empire: the transformation of literary production (e.g. serialization, copyright change, circulating library distribution); the advent of public education, industrialization and class conflict; imperial expansion; feminism (e.g. the “New Woman” discourse); and developments in science and technology (e.g. new recording media).

Erratum for “The Cento, Romanticism, and Copyright”

Professor Michael Gamer (U Pennsylvania) has alerted me to an error in my recent article “The Cento, Romanticism, and Copyright” (ESC 38.2 [2012]). My claim that “the statutory copyright term was doubled” in 1808 (74) is taken from William St Clair’s The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (2004). Dr. Gamer points out that “the bill introduced in 1808 was read twice in Parliament but then – or so I’ve long thought – never passed,” and has referred me to

a synthetic summarizing essay by Ronan Deazley … “Commentary on Copyright Act 1814,” Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900). Deazley starts the narrative of the aborted 1808 and successful 1814 Copyright acts with Basil Montague, who in 1804 found in the Cambridge University Library only a 5% deposit rate for books published in 1803. He concluded that booksellers had effectively ceased depositing new books after a 1798 legal case, Beckford v. Hood, had raised questions about whether the deposit requirement could be enforced. This raised a bit of a fire storm that led to the 1808 bill, but questions arose during debate and it was tabled.

I am grateful to Dr. Gamer for contacting me about the error.

Works Cited
Gamer, Michael. E-mails to author. 28 Jun. 2013.

New article on copyright and literary production in the Romantic period

William Hazlitt (1778-1830), prose centonist

William Hazlitt (1778-1830), prose centonist

My article in the new issue of English Studies in Canada brings some historical perspective to the copyfight, and suggests some precedents for fair dealing in the work of Romantic writers usually identified as exemplars of originality: William Hazlitt and William Wordsworth. The article focuses on the curious case of the cento – a genre of poetry made from quoted lines of other poems – and its various uses in literary production during the Romantic period. This was a very interesting period for copyright: neither before nor since has the term of copyright protection been as brief, and arguably as accommodating (to users and writers), as it was from 1774 to 1842. The article belongs to a special section in this issue of ESC on Romantic and Regency authorship, featuring some exciting new work on the period’s print culture – and its implications for cultural production and copyright today.

“The Cento, Romanticism, and Copyright.” English Studies in Canada 38.2 (2012): 71-101. [Published June 2013]
Published journal version (for readers with university library access)
Open Access version (for readers without university library access)

Abstract: This article excavates the obscure literary genre of the cento – a genre of poetry defined by its wholly derivative composition from quotations of other works – and its supplementary relation to Romantic literature and the period’s transformations of copyright regulation. The cento’s Romantic reworkings position this genre as a precedent for later appropriation art, especially digital culture’s sampling and remix practices. Specific uses of the cento form by the essayist William Hazlitt and the poet William Wordsworth suggest precedents in the period’s culture of literary production for fair dealing, the “user’s right” to the limited appropriation of copyrighted works that has more recently become ensconced in copyright law. By investigating the place of the cento in Romantic literary production, this study argues for the importance of fair dealing to both creative and critical forms of writing, and contributes historical context to the present-day “copyfight.”

The Open Access version of “The Cento, Romanticism, and Copyright” is made available with the author’s grateful acknowledgement of English Studies in Canada for the original publication of the article.

Review of #frankensteinapp for iOS

The British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies’ Media Reviews site has published my review of Dave Morris’ Frankenstein, an interactive fiction app for iOS. It’s an arch adaptation of prior adaptations, and a teachable text. (I particularly like the subtle nod to Blade Runner, but identifying it here would be a bit of a spoiler.)

Format-shifting and fidelity: on reading and adaptation

Recent work on adaptation studies (the study of novels turned into movies, and so on) suggests that the ideas the field was founded on – like how “faithful” a movie is to its source – have been superseded, left behind as passé or outmoded. That’s the state of the field according to Linda Hutcheon’s 2006 book A Theory of Adaptation, for instance.

So reading Jamie Lee Wallace’s blog post about how “audio books are not cheating” – to gether with its comments – is a useful reminder that ideas about fidelity to source texts and authenticity in original versions are alive and well in everyday language and popular culture. Wallace is responding to criticisms that reading audio rather than print editions of books is a kind of “cheating.” She makes solid, practical arguments: that the text is the same; that audiobooks make reading possible for otherwise busy schedules; and, most interestingly, that the speaking voice adds presence (what Walter Benjamin calls “aura”) and, sometimes, additional interpretive layers.

My main criticism of the post was going to be that she doesn’t name those who think audiobooks are cheating: who are the “bibliophile purists” she’s responding to?

Then I started reading the comments. The overwhelming majority agree with the blogger (not surprising, since the blog medium itself would filter out a lot of print purists). But the dissenting comments are revealing. (I admit I’m taking some of these out of context.)

“I don’t listen to books — I read them.”
“I’m still just purist enough to be annoyed by eBooks. I still think nothing beats the feeling of actually holding the book and turning the pages.”
“I am totally one of those people who wouldn’t be caught dead with a kindle or any fandangled technology device that’s trying to replace books.”
“I felt dirty for listening to it. I was cheating myself of the experience of cradling a book in my hands and being curled up on the couch with it, but it freed my hands up to do other things..granted there was a few sound effects added into the story, which helped enhance the experience but I don’t think I can really say I’ve “read” that book because I didn’t physically hold it in my hands.”
“I still insist that books are meant to be read. However, I do not consider audio-books or kindle versions to be cheating, with one condition: That the book is intact. That is all summaries, short versions and most obviously movie adaptations are cheating. Mostly because they give everything in bite size, easily digested pieces. The point about a book is to let your imagination go wild and enjoy the imagery the author so carefully created.”

As you can see, the discussion ends up encompassing not just audiobooks but e-books as formats seen to compete with print as more people shift to them. But the shift isn’t one-way, just as adaptation isn’t one-way. (Hutcheon discusses how novels changed over the 20th century to adopt more “cinematic” techniques.) In this light, the last quoted comment’s point about abridgments is well taken – I read unabridged audio editions – but to call a film adaptation “cheating” is to misconstrue what films do (unless you’re talking about films that cheat estates out of their royalties), and yet it’s a widely held opinion. I myself confess to having felt vaguely like I was taking a shortcut by reading Ulysses (unabridged) as an audiobook; but that feeling was easily trumped by a rewarding feeling of accomplishment: I’ve read Ulysses!

Ulysses, by James Joyce

What this blog post suggests for adaptation studies is that it needs to engage critically with the popular romance of fidelity: the fetishes of authenticity and aura that we have inherited from Romantic tradition and that clearly continue to inform popular receptions and understandings of popular culture. (There’s also, among this post’s comments, a recurring sense that new media simply replace old – as I discussed last week.)

But by the same token, “purists” need to ask themselves what purity they are defending, and what that defence serves. Discourses of purity, for instance, are historically bound up in pernicious practices and institutions of race and nation. And defences of purity are one of the main ideological weapons still deployed by multinational media conglomerates to sell the public on increasingly restrictive, censorious, and invasive copyright regulation. In addition, media today are so diverse and multi-directional in their mutual appropriations and cross-pollinations that more pertinent and productive questions beg to be asked than whether audio editions are more real or more readable than paper, or whether Clueless is “faithful” to Austen.

Take Canadian poet Christian Bok’s Xenotext Experiment, for instance: a poem transcribed into a bacterium’s genome, for it to replicate and mutate – literally re-writing Bok’s poem – ad infinitum. What might readers attached to print make of this writing? How does one read the “original” text of a bacterial genome?