In this episode of High Theory, Matt Seybold tells us about Criticism, the glue that holds the bricks of culture together. Cultural critics are a necessary component of the intellectual ecosystem, who have the power to analyze both the material conditions and the myths that make up our world.
Matt is the host of the American Vandal Podcast at the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College. In his recent podcast series, Criticism, LTD, Matt investigated the state of criticism in the academy and the public sphere. There is a nifty substack newsletter with the transcripts from Criticism, LTD, if you’re keen. Kim and Saronik were among the many podcasters, public intellectuals, and critics that Matt interviewed for the series, and we’re excited to have him back on High Theory to tell us about his investigations.
In the episode he offers a recuperative reading of Mark Twain’s acerbic take on critics in his late notebooks: “The critic’s symbol should be the tumble-bug; he deposits his egg in somebody else’s dung, otherwise he could not hatch it.” (see p. 392 of this Harper & Brothers, 1935 edition of Twain’s Collected Works, on archive.org). He references Jacques Derrida’s book, Limited Inc (Northwestern UP, 1988), which contains the *famous* essay “Signature, Event, Context” and a critical debate about Apartheid. And he also discusses Jed Esty’s Future of Decline: Anglo-American Culture at Its Limits (Stanford UP, 2022) and our episode with Jed on the Rhetoric of Decline. You can also take a listen back to Matt’s earlier episode with us on Economics.
Matt Seybold is Associate Professor of American Literature & Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, as well as Resident Scholar at the Center For Mark Twain Studies. He is the executive producer and host of the American Vandal Podcast, and founding editor of MarkTwainStudies.org. He is co-editor (with Michelle Chihara) of of the Routledge Companion to Literature & Economics (2018)and (with Gordon Hutner) a 2019 special issue of American Literary History on “Economics & Literary Studies in The New Gilded Age.” Recent articles can be found in the Mark Twain Annual, American Studies, Reception, and Los Angeles Review of Books. He tweets (or exes?) @MEASeybold.
The image for this episode was made by Saronik Bosu in 2024.
We close Pride Month of 2023 with Jamie Staples talking about queer mysticism. This includes instances in medieval Christianity where an embodied and erotic experience of life, within and between persons, became the basis for an apprehension of divinity. The conversation particularly focuses on the poem “Dark Night of the Soul” by 16th century Spanish poet St. John of the Cross and the work of 14th-15th century English mystic Margery Kempe. Jamie shares his own story to show how queer mysticism can offer resources from within Christianity to build a personal and communitarian politics against fundamentalist discrimination and hatred.
Starting this fall, Jamie Staples will be Visiting Assistant Professor of Medieval English literature at Trinity College in Hartford. His research takes seriously the productive intersection of mystical theology and poetry in the development of alternative modes of critical thinking in the late Middle Ages. He’s recently written two articles focused more specifically on the queer mysticism that he will be discussing today, one on the fifteenth-century Book of Margery Kempe, published in Romanic Review, and the other on the fourteenth-century poem Cleanness, published in Exemplaria.
Image: © 2023 Saronik Bosu
Sheila Liming talks about the party, social gatherings that occasion joy and dread and various emotions in between. The party is both a pause and an acceleration in the life-work continuum, it can deaden political motivation and engender fresh politics. We discuss the horrible parties in The Office and the wonderful parties in Small Axe, among other things.
Sheila Liming is Associate Professor at Champlain College in Burlington, VT, where she teaches classes in American literature, writing, and media. She is the author, most recently, of Hanging Out: The Radical Power of Killing Time (Melville House, 2023), and also of the books Office (Bloomsbury, 2020) and What a Library Means to a Woman (Minnesota UP, 2020). Her writing has appeared in publications like the The New York Review of Books, The Atlantic, Lapham’s Quarterly, LitHub, The Globe and Mail, and The Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere.
Image: © 2023 Saronik Bosu
Swati Moitra explains how reading can be a subversive and even revolutionary act in certain socio-historical contexts. She draws especially from her own work in the history of women’s reading practices in nineteenth and early twentieth century India, in particular the region of Bengal. She talks about the dual indices of literacy and pleasure in her work, and its affiliations to fields like book history and print cultural studies.
Swati Moitra (M.Phil., Ph.D.) is Assistant Professor at the Department of English at Gurudas College, University of Calcutta. Her areas of interest include book history and histories of readership. She is the recipient of the SHARP Research Development Grant for BIPOC Scholars 2022.
Image: © 2023 Saronik Bosu