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Exploring the Utopic

Day 16 of Emerging Genres:
Exploring the Utopic

I. coursekeeping
read Derrida and Eagleton for Tuesday
work on papers for Wednesday
e-mail me to schedule a writing conference (if you'd like)

II. Tenure, the Movie
(thanks to M: The article brings up some more interesting points about "the real"):
(what genre are we talking here??)
--The part of the institution will be played by Bryn Mawr College
--the producer said that he viewed...the project as “lampooning the tenure process.”
--Some experts on tenure...are dubious that the movie can be...true to the realities of academic life
--Addy N., the blogger whose recent promotion made moot the blog title What an Untenured College Professor Shouldn’t Be Doing, said via e-mail: “I guess the problem I’ll have with the movie is that it will be what Hollywood thinks the process should be like, rather than what really happens. I guess if they told the real story it wouldn’t be as entertaining, though.
--“I just find the whole world of academia to be funny...because they take themselves so seriously but are of course only human. That’s a good equation from humor.”
--The biggest the reality that for many professors, the intellectual action is in their minds, and not necessarily something that can be filmed in a way that would be “visually interesting.”
--an “honest, unfiltered” look at tenure and academic life (including reliance on the off-the-tenure-track adjunct labor force) would be great

(what genre are we talking here??)

Jessy Thinking Out Loud About Her Final Project:
Melville mobilizes humor as a tactic in displaying the impossibility of knowing....humor used to undercut notions of authority over knowledge

...very often the humor is in the tone, it's wryness. How the hell does one discuss wryness in literature?

...Does the impossiblity of grasping truth become more tragic than comedic later on?

...the field of humor studies, well, there's a lot of work to be done (and maybe I'll do some of it)

Let's do some of that together today....
starting with romance, working our way
(emergently) into the ironic...

The King and I...seemed no more heavy-handed and histrionic than the novel itself almost romanticized fairytale...all emotional scenes seem to be heavily laden with the nauseating preaching...

Even I didn't mind the excessive religion for the first few hundred pages, which is saying quite a lot.... Unfortunately, the increasing role of religion as the book goes on...makes...the novel that much more tedious to me.

Thinking today about religious fiction as a sub-genre
in the "genre" of romance: because it is a story of wish-fulfillment.

"I can't draw immense conclusions or extrapolate about genre too much...
maybe I just want a "foundational" story ..."

"romance" as defined in the OED:
  • The vernacular language (of France, vs. Latin).
  • A verse tale of the adventures of a chivalric hero.
  • A fictitious prose narrative of scene and incidents very remote from ordinary life.
  • A class of literature which consists of love stories.
  • An extravagant fiction, invention, or story; a wild or wanton exaggeration; a picturesque falsehood.
Ironic, that the language of the everyday becomes the language of the imaginative fiction....(?)

Northop Frye, "The Mythos of Summer: Romance":

  • wish-fulfilment dream
  • projected ideals of the ruling class
  • yet: genuinely 'proletarian' element: never satisfied...
    hungry...looking for new hopes and desires to feed on
  • perennially childlike quality...extraordinarily persistent nostalgia,
    seaching for some kind of imaginative golden age
  • quest-romance is search of libido or desiring self
    for deliverance from anxieties of reality
  • essential plot element is sequential, processional adventure
  • central character never develops
    (comic strips: persist for years in state of refrigerated deathlessness)
  • central form is dialectical:
    conflict between protagonist and antagonist, set in our own (cyclical) world
  • displaced myth (Biblical leviathan; Tom Sawyer; Henry James;
    haunted mother of Uncle Tom 's Cabin)
  • dialectic structure, no subtlety or complexity: every character with moral opposite
  • fools/jester: licensed to show fear; localized safety valve for realism (Topsy?)
  • six phases (birth of hero, innocence of youth; quest; encounter with experience; reflective view...)
  • ending in contemplative withdrawal of "cuddle fiction":
    tale in quotation marks, told 'round fireplace: entertained without confronting us
  • epiphany: apocalyptic and cyclical world aligned
My proposal is that it might be useful for us to
think of Uncle Tom's Cabin as a romance

(and that you can anticipate that The Scarlet Letter will also be one!)

This is an invitation to think more abstractly (and generically) about the novel,
to recognize that--although you might find the religion or emotionalism nauseating--
you might recognize a resonance in the romantic qualities of the fiction,
that it might represent, structurally, some aspects of your own psyche.


Jessy: I don't much like how Uncle Tom's Cabin ends. So many characters become subsumed into The Christian. I miss Topsy and Cassy. They interested me, and it's as if they died.

"and indeed, in two or three days, such a change has passed over Cassy, that our readers would scarcely know her...Eliza's steady, consistent pietry, regulated by the constant reading of the sacred word, made her a proper guide for the shattered and wearied mind of her mother. Cassy yielded at once, and with her whole soul, to every good influence, and became a devout and tender Christian" (Ch. 43, p. 373).

"Miss Ophelia took Topsy home to Vermont with her...the child rapidly grew in grace and in favor with the family and neighborhood. At the age of womanhood, she was, by her own request, baptized, and became a member of the Christian church in the place; and showed so much intelligence, activity and zeal, and desire to do good in the world, that she was at last recommended, and approved as a missionary to one of the stations in Africa; and we have heard that the same activity and ingenuity which, when a child, made her so multiform and restless in her developments, is now employed, in a safer and wholesomer manner, in teaching the children of her own country"
(Ch. 43, p. 377).

"They interested me, and it's as if they died."

Let's celebrate Easter, and resurrect them!

Re-write the next stage of their story
from THEIR point of view...
(or, given that "the subaltern cannot be represented,
that "there is something of non-speakingness in the very notion of the subaltern")

from YOUR point of view:

in what genre?
i.e. what genre would each of them choose?
Would you choose for them?

Dalke, Why Words Arise--and Wherefore:
Literature and Literary Theory as Forms of Exploration: 1899, Joseph Conrad published Heart of Darkness. In the late 1950's, Chinua Achebe critiqued the novel as "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness." He then created a new work of fiction, the novel Things Fall Apart, to give life and flesh to the sorts of figures Conrad had objectified in his novel. In 1979, the appearance of Buchi Emecheta's The Joys of Motherhood called attention, in turn, to the peripheral role women had played in Achebe's novel. In this sequence a story was repeatedly re-worked--first in criticism, then in fiction--in order to bring into the foreground the sorts of characters whose lives had been neglected in earlier fiction. In each case, the attempt to fill one gap unexpectedly created another one.

Something quite similar happened with Charlotte Bronte's 1847 novel Jane Eyre. Like Achebe's essay, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's 1988 discussion of "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism" made problematic the fictional use of people of color as representations of the tortured psyches of Europeans. Spivak's analysis helps explain the generation of Jean Rhys's 1966 novel Wide Sargasso Sea, in which Bertha Rochester takes center stage (in Bronte's novel, she had been confined to the attic as a madwoman, a figure of Jane Eyre's unexpressed rage).

Similarly, Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite, first printed in 1838 and reprinted with commentary by Michel Foucault in 1980, gave rise in 2002 to Jeffrey Eugenides's novel Middlesex. As Eugenides said in an interview, he found "Herculine Barbin's memoir...quite an expression of what it is like to be a hermaphrodite, from the inside....she didn't have enough self-awareness to be able to understand what was going on....she was pre-psychological in her knowledge of her self."

Write the back-story? The future? The explanation of why
Cassy and Topsy were the way they were?
How they came to be other than what Stowe represented them as being??

fictions…may be the hero’s power of action,
which may be greater than ours, less, or roughly the same.
1) If superior
in kind both to other men and to the environment of other men, the hero is a divine being, and the story about him will be a myth…
2) If superior in degree to other men and to his environment, the hero is the typical hero of romance, whose actions are marvelous but who is himself identified as a human being…Here we have moved…into legend, folk tale, marchen….
3) If superior in degree to other men but not to his natural environment, the hero is a leader…this is the high mimetic mode, of most epic and tragedy…
4) If superior neither to another member or to his environment, the hero is one of us…the lower mimetic mode, of most comedy and of realistic fiction..
5) If inferior in power or intelligence to ourselves, so that we have the sense of looking down on a scene of bondage, frustration, or absurdity, the hero belongs to the ironic mode….
(Cf. Paul's forms of story): 

Non-narrative foundational stories

mythicNarrative foundational stories

romantic Emergence stories

(high and low) mimeticAnti-stories


What sort of narrative would Cassy and Topsy
like to (re-) write for themselves?

Now (remembering Cullers' description of theory
as "
endless, unbounded,"
a "resource for constant upstagings"):

how about now re-thinking your notions of romance?
Of genre, more generally?


Northrop Frye,

Frederick Jameson,
b. 1934
Frederic Jameson, "Magical Narratives:
On the Dialectical Use of Genre Criticism"

Frye marginalised historical considerations, in the name of
a universal grammar of the human imagination
his romance is a fantasy about
transforming ordinary reality by restoring conditions of lost Eden

ideological core of the romance paradigm: categories of good and evil
per Nietzsche: "the good"=my own position as power cente
romance as genre emerging in "time of troubles," of positional thinking
ultimate condition of romance:
transitional moment in which two distinct modes of production coexist
anatagonism not yet articulated in terms of struggle of social classes,
so resolution projected as nostalgia

point: to restore sense of the concrete situation
in which such forms can be seen as protopolitical
historical reality disguised, defused

So: how now read Uncle Tom's Cabin??

And how to read your re-writings of
the stories of Cassy and Topsy?