In this episode of High Theory, Pardis Dabashi tells us about plot. A plot consists of a change with stakes that establish norms. This seemingly simple structure shapes novels, films, politics, and our world, from easy seductions of comfort to difficult promises of liberation.

In the episode, Pardis references Thomas Edison’s 1903 film, Electrocuting an Elephant, which is super sad, and kind of terrifying, but an economical explanation of plot. She also discusses Max Ophüls’s 1953 film, The Earrings of Madame de… as an example of a film with a potentially liberatory plot. We recommend you watch the latter, not the former. Other texts referenced in this episode include Mary Anne Doane’s The Emergence of Cinematic Time (Harvard, 2002) and Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism (Duke, 2011) and Female Complaint (Duke, 2008).

The occasion for our conversation was Pardis’s new book, Losing the Plot: Film and Feeling in the Modern Novel (U Chicago Press, 2023). If you’d like to get yourself a copy there’s a 30% discount on the University of Chicago Press website with the promo code UCPNEW. It’s a book about film and literary modernism, including the work of Nella Larsen, Djuna Barnes, and William Faulkner. The cover is really beautiful, and it’s definitely worth a read if you’re interested in either of the genres it addresses.

Pardis Dabashi is an Assistant Professor of Literatures in English and Film Studies at Bryn Mawr College, where she is also Affiliated Faculty in the Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and North African Studies Program (MECANA). She has published everywhere, and is friends with everyone! She teaches courses in twentieth-century literature, film studies, Middle East studies, and theory. She was also one of the first guests on High Theory! You can listen to her 2020 episode on The Autonomous Work of Art if you’re feeling a flashback.

The image for this episode is a publicity still from George Cukor’s 1936 MGM film Camille, showing Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor in a tense embrace. Digital image from Wikimedia Commons.

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Anna Kornbluh talks about presentism, the anachronistic historical practice of studying the past with contemporary frames of understanding. While some orthodoxies might consider it to be tantamount to historical heresy, presentism can be a powerful tool in building histories of anti-establishment struggles, such as women’s and workers’ rights movements. The conversation also focuses on the work of the V21 Collective, a research collective that Anna organizes, which applies presentist methods to Victorianist scholarship.

Anna Kornbluh is Professor of English and Director of Graduate Studies at University of Illinois, Chicago. Her research and teaching focus on the novel, film, and critical theory, especially marxism, psychoanalysis, structuralism, and formalism. She is the author of The Order of Forms: Realism, Formalism, and Social Space (University of Chicago 2019),  Marxist Film Theory and Fight Club (Bloomsbury “Film Theory in Practice” series, 2019), and Realizing Capital: Financial and Psychic Economies in Victorian Form (Fordham UP 2014).  Her current research concerns impersonality, objectivity, mediation, and abstraction as residual faculties of the literary in privatized urgent times.  She is the founding facilitator of two scholarly cooperatives: V21 Collective and InterCcECT.

Image: © 2022 Saronik Bosu

Music used in promotional material: ‘Past has not Passed’ by James Blackshaw

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World Literature

Roanne Kantor tells us about World Literature, in the ideas and practices of readers, writers, and scholars. Spatial metaphors like libraries, closets, and airport bookshops, help her imagine the “world” in world literature.

In the episode Roanne references work by many scholars in the field, including David Damrosch’s What is World Literature (Princeton UP, 2003); Debjani Ganguly’s This Thing Called the World (Duke UP, 2016), and Gloria Fisk’s Orhan Pamuk and the Good of World Literature (Columbia UP, 2018). In the longer version of our conversation, we talked about how little magazines from the 1970s New York literary scene, like Ed Sanders’ Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts, circulated in South Asia, inspiring avant-garde magazines like Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s damn you/a magazine of the arts.

Roanne is an assistant professor of English and Comparative Literature at Stanford University. She has a brand new book, South Asian Writers, Latin American Literature, and the Rise of Global English, (Cambridge UP, 2022). If you want to learn more about the world of world lit, check it out.

This week’s image of an airport bookshop at the Incheon International Airport in South Korea, was photographed by Adli Wahid and made publicly available on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons License.

Music used in promotional material: ‘Six More Weeks’ by Evening Fires

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Sohini Sarah Pillai talks about epics, long narrative poems about heroic events – whether all such poems can be called epics, and how they continue to generate cultural and political material. The conversation covers epic poems ranging from the Iliad to Jack Mitchell’s The Odyssey of Star Wars.

Sohini Pillai is Assistant Professor of Religion at Kalamazoo College where she teaches courses on religious traditions in South Asia. She is a comparatist of South Asian religious literature and her area of specialization is the Mahabharata and Ramayana narrative traditions with a particular focus on retellings created in Hindi and Tamil. She is also the co-editor with Nell Shapiro Hawley of Many Mahabharatas (State University of New York Press, 2021).

Image by Saronik Bosu (This image is a work of fan art that adapts characters from the Star Wars franchise owned by Lucasfilm ltd.)

Music used in promotional material: ‘Yoliyoli’ by 33nano

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Noreen Masud talks about the unnamed feelings and ambiguous modes of relationship occasioned by flat landscapes, and the act of looking at them, in twentieth century fiction, especially the novels of D.H. Lawrence, Willa Cather, and Gertrude Stein.

Noreen Masud is a Lecturer at the University of Bristol, UK, currently working on flat landscapes in twentieth century literature. Her first academic book, Hard Language: Stevie Smith and the Aphorism, is out with OUP in 2022, and her first trade book, A Flat Place, will be released by Hamish Hamilton in the UK and Melville House Press in the US in 2023.

Image: © 2022 Saronik Bosu

Music used in promotional material: ‘In Your Hollow’ by Allysen Callery

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Claus Elholm Andersen talks about autofictionalization, a mode of narration that characterizes autotfiction, where the narrative consciousness or voice is placed with the experiencing character and not the narrator. Of particular interest here are texts produced after the financial crisis of 2008 which exemplify this mode, most importantly Karl Ove Knausgård’s series My Struggle (2009-2011).

Claus Elholm Andersen is the Paul and Renate Madsen Assistant Professor of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In his research, he is interested in the novel and in questions of fiction and fictionality: What it is, how it works, and what it implies. He is currently finishing up a book project on Karl Ove Knausgård and autofiction, titled The Very Edge of Fiction: Karl Ove Knausgård and the Autofictional Novel, in which he argues that Knausgård consciously engages with, and undermines, a long critical history of equating novels with fiction. He recently co-edited a special issue of Scandinavian Studies, with Dean Krouk, on Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle and edited the first scholarly anthology on Knausgård, published in Scandinavia in 2017. His latest publications are an article on Danish novelist Helle Helle in Edda in 2019 and an article on Henrik Pontoppidan’s novel Lucky-Per in Scandinavian Studies.

Image: © 2021 Saronik Bosu

Music used in promotional material: ‘North’ by Sergey Cheremisinov

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Cognitive Cultural Studies

Torsa Ghosal talks about Cognitive Cultural Studies, a field that entails methodologies that situate the human mind in historical and cultural contexts, sometimes working against models of the mind proceeding from the Cognitive Sciences. This includes inquiries into how narratives mediate knowledge about cognition, the subject of her new book Out of Mind: Mode, Mediation, and Cognition in Twenty-First Century Narrative, from The Ohio State University Press.

Torsa Ghosal is an assistant professor of English and creative writing at the California State University, Sacramento. Her experimental novella, Open Couplets, was published by Yoda Press, India. Her shorter works of fiction as well as essays on literature and culture appear in magazines like Literary Hub, Michigan Quarterly Review Online, Necessary Fiction, Catapult, and elsewhere. She co-hosts the Narrative for Social Justice podcast. You can find more details about her work at her website and follow her on Twitter @TorsaG.

Image: © 2021 Saronik Bosu

Music used in promotional material: ‘Waves’ by Michael Korbin

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Kim speaks with Julie Beth Napolin about Resonance.

Julie Beth’s book The Fact of Resonance: Modernist Acoustics and Narrative Form (Fordham UP, 2020) explores resonance and sound in modern literature. In the episode she references Jean-Luc Nancy’s book Listening (Fordham UP, 2007), Inayat Khan’s The Mysticism of Sound and Music (Shambala Publications, 1996), the music of Toru Takemitsu, and Damo Suzuki´s “sound carriers.” In our longer conversation she talked about Naomi Waltham-Smith’s new book, Shattering Biopolitics: Militant Listening and the Sound of Life (Fordham UP, 2021)

Julie Beth is an Associate Professor of Digital Humanities at The New School. She also makes music under the name Meridians. You can listen on Sound Cloud!

This week’s image is a simulation of interference between two sound waves in two-dimensions made by Ibrahim S. Souki, used under a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike License, from Wikimedia Commons.

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