Monday, March 21, 2016

Geoffrey Hartman as Literary Critic

Geoffrey Hartman as Literary Critic

By Nicholas Birns
     Hartman (1929-2016) was born in Germany and came to America before the Second World War; he served as a private in the US Army in the late 1940s, by which time he was already pursuing an advanced degree at Yale, where he spent the entirety of his academic career. After Wordsworth’s Poetry, 1787-1814 (1964) Hartman became not only the late twentieth century‘s leading expositor of the poetry of Wordsworth, but the critic who put Wordsworth back on the map, rescuing him from decade of New Critical obloquy and restoring him to the place in literary culture he had possessed in the time of Matthew Arnold. Hartman, though, had a very different view of Wordsworth from Arnold, at once de-emphasizing his sense of social responsibility and seeing him as, despite his imaginative flights, bound to existence in a way that generated, paradoxically, the euphoria of failed transcendence. Hartman liked Wordsworth’s poetry, but neither idealized it nor used it to idealize experience or perception. Hartman used the metaphor of akedah (the Hebrew word for the binding of Isaac before his near-sacrifice to God by Abraham) to express this sense of perilous yet concrete epiphany. Hartman’s early work was seen by his teacher René Wellek as reflecting the influence of heidegger and sartre, but nonetheless going in its own distinct direction.
      In the 1970s, Hartman also became known as one of the principal expositors of Derrida and as part of “the Yale School.” Saving the Text (1981) was originally published as essays in The Georgia Review in the mid-1970s, when that journal was under the editorship of John T. Irwin, and were expositions of one of Derrida’s most difficult texts, Glas (1974). Unlike most guides, Hartman did not aspire to be simpler than what he was explicating. He took full advantage of Derrida’s wordplay and allusiveness. In a sense this spirit of commentary was reminiscent of medieval commentators on anterior texts such as Fulgentius.  Indeed, Hartman spent much of the later portion of his career working on a cognate tradition, the mode of Biblical exposition practiced by scholars of the Hebrew Bible called midrash.
       Hartman’s growing concern with Jewish issues was manifested in his increasing interest in issues of trauma, particularly regarding the Holocaust. The Third Pillar: Essays in Judaic Studies (2011) followed earlier books such as The Longest Shadow: In The Aftermath of the Holocaust (2002), in indicating Hartman’s dedication to this subject and to, among other aspects, the oral testimony of the atrocity’s victims---far from the nihilism and relativism often imputed to deconstruction by its opponents. It was not only Hartman’s Jewish background but also his depth of his involvement in Holocaust studies that made his strong defense of his late friend Paul de Man, written after de Man‘s pro-Nazi wartime journalism had been unearthed, so compelling. Hartman argued that de Man’s emphasis on skepticism, critique, and unreliability could be read as atoning for the ideological mistakes of his youth. In this respect, deconstruction was not a nihilistic relativism but an ethically alert practice whose honesty lay in its recognition of linguistic fissure and rupture, which made impossible the crude doctrinal affirmations of de Man’s wartime writings. Hartman’s own position on language, though, was as close to that of his lifelong friend and colleague Harold Bloom as it was to deconstruction, seeing a strong if fractured agency behind linguistic play. Not only Hartman’s critical acuteness but also his rigor of judgment, his unwillingness to bend towards ideologies he saw as less than perfect, made him an independent critical voice, which survived the historical fate of deconstruction as such.

Atkins, G. Douglas, Geoffrey Hartman: Criticism as Answerable Style. London: Routledge, 1990.
Vermeulen, Pieter, ed. Geoffrey Hartman: Romanticism After The Holocaust. New York:  Continuum, 2010.
Whitehead, Anne,  “Geoffrey Hartman: A Deviant Homage.”
The Wordsworth Circle, 37, no. 1, (Winter 2006): 30-42.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

New Paltz, April 13 Eastertide Celebration

On Wednesday, April 13, at 6 pm, an Interim Shared Eucharist celebrated by the Episcopal Church with the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church on 90 Route 32 South in New Paltz, New York. Bishop Andrew Dietsche of the Episcopal Diocese of New York will celebrate the Eucharist, and the preacher will be the Rev. Timothy Riss, superintendent of the Catskill Hudson District for the New York annual conference of the United Methodist Church. The pastors and congregations of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and the New Paltz United Methodist Church will be involved in the readings and musical offerings, along with the chaplaincies at SUNY-New Paltz and Vassar College.

Both wine and grape juice, in separate chalices, will be available at the Eucharist; there will also be gluten-free bread.

This is an opportunity for our churches to come together in Eastertide and rejoice in our growing dialogue and concord. Not only will three different denominations be represented, but also there will be diversity in musical offerings (including performances of settings by the host pastor, Tobias Anderson of Redeemer) and in the language of the readings. Yet the liturgy will be traditional, emphasizing elements common to all three churches and giving a sense of their rich and frequently shared heritage. Ecumenism offers an opportunity not just to develop links between individual churches but also to participate in a common and inclusive fellowship and witness to the glory of God.

The Episcopal Diocese of New York, the UMC New York annual conference, and the New York Episcopal Diocese Interfaith and Ecumenical Commission sponsor the event. It is the third in a series of interim shared Eucharists celebrated by Episcopalians and Methodists in the New York area since 2012; previous celebrations were at St. Paul’s Chapel and the John Street Church, both in downtown Manhattan. The Rev. Robert Walker, Assistant to the Bishop of the UMC New York Annual Conference, and Dr. Nicholas Birns, parishioner at Grace Church Broadway and member of the Interfaith Ecumenical Commission, are the co-chairs of the Episcopal-Methodist dialogue in the greater New York area,

After the Eucharist, pizza, salad and soft drinks will be served at Redeemer Lutheran; all are invited.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Jean François Vernay's Brief Take on the Australian Novel

Just heard from one of the leading global Australianists that his new book is now out: 

From Jean-François Vernay, A Brief Take on the Australian Novel offers a sweeping view of Australian writing since colonialism. Written from an outsider's perspective, this single-authored overview will appeal to readers through its playful, jargon-free and potentially contentious account of the Australian novel. Vernay offers a unique and insightful perspective on Australian literature.

Like a film narrator, he speaks directly to the reader, offering close-ups on particular works alongside panoramic views of the literary landscape. One can imagine the reader as part of an audience in a darkened cinema, absorbed in exciting action on the silver screen.

Born of an Australian mother and a French father, Jean-François Vernay grew up in New Caledonia's multicultural community which shares some of Australia's characteristics, including a convict heritage and a complex history of settlement. Using Peter Carey and Christopher Koch as a starting point, he has been researching Australian fiction for 20 years and has published widely in the field, both in French and in English. Dr Vernay is an energetic critic, editor, creative writer and cultural commentator. His fiction and nonfiction books have appeared in France, Australia and in the United States.

'Vernay's approach to the Australian novel has the intellectual playfulness associated with some of the best French critical writing ... Panorama du roman australien [A Brief Take on the Australian Novel] is bold in its conception and promises to be influential in shaping the wider world's appreciation and understanding of Australian literature.' - Simon Caterson, Age

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