Journal - Vol. 2 (Summer, 2010) Introduction

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Reception: Texts, Readers, Audiences, History

Vol. 2 (Summer, 2010)

Table Of Contents


Philip Goldstein and James Machor, Editors

Reception: Texts, Readers, Audiences, History

This issue of Reception, which is, for the most part, based on the papers presented at the 2009 Reception Study Conference at Purdue University, provides the journal’s characteristic mix of theoretical, historical, and contemporary reception studies. In “Rhetoric, Ethics, Aesthetics, and Probability in Fiction and Nonfiction: Pride and Prejudice and The Year of Magical Thinking,” which was the keynote address at the conference, James Phelan examines the issues which the distinction between fiction and non-fiction poses for our understanding of narratives. Recent memoires have elided that distinction, but Phelan essay argues that fictional and non-fictional narratives have intrinsic features which distinguish them and which influence judgments of their quality. To illustrate these features and demonstrate their importance, Phelan shows that construction of the stories and the place of probability differ markedly in Jane Austen’s fictional Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice and Joan Didion’s memoire The Year of Magical Thinking.

In “John Milton, Englishman: ‘Of the Devil’s Party’ per the Spanish Inquisition,” Angelica Duran examines the historical reception of John Milton (1608-1674) by Anglophone and Hispanophone readers. The paper traces these two branches of his reception back to the early seventeenth-century representations of Milton as a poet in England and the British American colonies and a prose writer in Spain and its American colonies. The cultural mechanism primarily responsible for Milton’s representation in Spain as a radical prose writer , rather than a poet, was the Spanish Catholic Index Librorum. As a result, the first appearance of any of Milton’s poetry on that list was an 1844 an Italinophone translation of Paradise Lost, not an Anglophone or Hispanophone one. Moreover, Milton’s works have continued to be generally ignored by Spanish readers.

In "Devouring Uncle Tom's Cabin: Black Readers Between "Plessy vs. Ferguson" and "Brown vs. Board of Education," Barbara Hochman describes the African American readers for whom Uncle Tom's Cabin was an extremely important book in the years between the two crucial court decisions that established (and then undid) the legal grounds for segregation in the U.S. -- Plessy vs. Ferguson (1893) and Brown vs. Board of Education (1954). In this period, Uncle Tom's Cabin was an eye-opener for black readers who were hungry and thirsty for information about their family's past and slavery in general. By the 1890s Uncle Tom's Cabin had become a classic, yet among white readers the book was more widely known than read. By contrast, Stowe's novel became an increasingly important book for marginalized African Americans. Stowe's novel became a source of particular fascination for black children of the Jim Crow period as well as an index to historical and social reality for Marry Church Terrell, James Weldon Johnson and James Baldwin.

In “Gandhi vs. Mishima: The Politics of Critical Reception,” John Howard Wilson focuses on two biopics about Asians and uncovers attitudes toward Asia implicit in the criticism of them. Mishima (1985) is a superior biopic by a talented writer-director, Paul Schrader, but upon release the biopic was universally condemned. Mishima may have been protesting Americanization of his country, but critics never mentioned these possibilities. Instead, Mishima was simply dismissed as a “crackpot,” an unworthy subject for film, and the American public need not know anything more. The case of Gandhi (1982) is much more complex. Though mediocre as film, Gandhi had a much bigger budget, attracted much bigger audiences, and inspired much more commentary than Mishima did. Critics often compared Gandhi with Martin Luther King, Jr., but they were also anxious to point out that nonviolence could never work in the 1980s or, presumably, in the future. Moreover, Americans repeatedly took pains to defend the British Empire against the claims of Gandhi. In general, American media automatically dismissed Asian traditions and innovations. Americans also preferred the British Empire to Asian self-determination; any Western empire seems to be preferable to native independence.

In “Reflections on the Interplay of Race, Whiteness and Canadian Identity in a Film Studies Classroom,” Lee Easton and Kelly Hewson explain that their paper emerged from the final class of a team-taught, first-year course, an introduction to the history of narrative film. When they concluded a discussion of Marc Forster’s Monster’s Ball (2001), they were startled by the acuity with which the students critically analyzed the film’s representations of race and gender. But equally surprising and immediately disappointing was their discovery that, despite their attempts to guide the students towards a more ambiguous and possibly reparative reading of Forster’s film, the majority assessed it as monstrous and its protagonists as monsters-- with only marginally redemptive features. This disjuncture which provides the impetus for the paper, which retraces the steps that led to the disappointment and, in so doing, attempt to explore the ways in which Canadian identities are constructed in relation to American film.

Although these essays about narrative, Milton, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and recent movies may not speak to or comment on each other, their insights into reading, interpretation, or reception make them valuable contributions to this journal.

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