About Matt Greenfield
Matt Greenfield is Assistant Professor of English at the City University of New York’s College of Staten Island. His publications include articles in Raritan, PMLA, Shakespeare Quarterly, English Literary Renaissance, and several anthologies as well as poems in Raritan, the Paris Review, the Southwest Review, the Western Humanities Review, and Tikkun. He coedited an anthology called Edmund Spenser: Essays on Culture and Allegory, and is one of the Shakespeare section co-editors of Blackwell’s Literature Compass online publication.
Email Address: email@example.com
Posts by Matt Greenfield
Thursday, November 23, 2006
The Hardy Boys, Siegfried Kracauer, Ornithopters
I just read a pleasingly strange essay in the latest issue of the Southwest Review: “Even the Hardy Boys Need Friends: An Epistolary Essay on Boredom.” The essay includes all of the things mentioned in my title, and also the Oakland A’s, Walter Benjamin, Georges Bataille, Oprah, Kafka, relief maps, extravagance, modernity, a squirrelfish, a spiny dogfish, and of course Sandor Ferenczi. The essay takes the form of a series of plaintive, irritable, slightly mad letters addressed to Franklin W. Dixon, the author of the Hardy Boy novels, who was probably not a single person but many different anonymous authors, most of them now dead.Continue reading "The Hardy Boys, Siegfried Kracauer, Ornithopters"
Thursday, September 07, 2006
Fictions of Intelligence
Lee Oser, the ALSC board member who got me involved in The Valve, just sent me the text of his forthcoming novel, Out of What Chaos. This book is more or less what one would expect if Walker Percy wrote about a cynical rock musician who converts to Catholicism, and then Nabokov added some of his verbal pyrotechnics, and then Buster Keaton and the Marquis de Sade and Lionel Trilling inserted a few extra passages. It is a loving and yet appalled description of the underground music scene in the Pacific Northwest. And it is a convincing representation of someone very, very smart. This is not so easy to achieve: I can’t count the number of times I have been told that a character is a genius and yet not seen the subtle workings of an actual intelligence.Continue reading "Fictions of Intelligence"
Thursday, July 06, 2006
I don’t like Broadway audiences, or so I have told myself for years: there are too many loud, aggressive tourists who keep chatting throughout the performance. Shouldn’t theater be a quasi-sacred ritual? I was expecting to be annoyed when I went to see a production of Brian Friel’s Faith Healer that starred Ralph Fiennes, Tony winner Cherry Jones, and Ian McDiarmid, who played the evil Senator Palpatine in the Star Wars prequels. It didn’t help that the Booth Theater funnels large crowds through a small hallway: just getting to one’s seat is a challenge.Continue reading "Profanum Vulgus"
Saturday, May 06, 2006
Ben Jonson and Samuel Beckett?
A few years ago Jonathan Post edited a wonderful anthology called Green Thoughts, Green Shades: Essays by Contemporary Poets on the Early Modern Lyric. It includes essays by Anthony Hecht, Peter Sacks, Alice Fulton, Heather McHugh, Linda Gregerson, Calvin Bedient, Robert Hass, William Logan, Stephen Yenser, and Eavan Boland.Continue reading "Ben Jonson and Samuel Beckett?"
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
What We Talk About When We Talk About Genre
In a course I am co-teaching at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, Louise Geddes, one of the students, posted some questions about genre theory:
I’m reading WHAT IS PASTORAL by Paul Alper, and he has an interesting discussion about the difference between mode and genre. Alpers cites Alistair Fowler, in defining genre (although Fowler prefers the term “kind") as being “marked by a complex of substantive and formal features that always include distinctive (though not usually unique) external structure” (Alper, 45), before going on to explain that the generic repertoire includes “meter, size, and style to values and attitude.” (45). Alper then talks about mode, saying that "’mode’ is thus the term that suggests the connection of “inner” and “outer” form; it conveys the familiar view that form and content entail each other and cannot, finally, be separated,” and also that a mode can include a number of different genres. He also heavily cites Angus Fletcher, who says that “mode is the literary manifestation, in a given work, not of its attitudes in a loose sense but of its assumptions about man’s nature and situation” (50).
I have several questions: Firstly, how are we defining genre in this class? At the risk of putting things into an “inner” or an “outer” category and creating oversimplication, it seems as though we’re going to be looking at a combination of the two - is this a reasonable assumption? For example, the Arcadia could be in the epic genre, but the romance (and pastoral) mode, with a healthy helping of eclogues dropped in. If “mode” balances form and content, then is genre redundant? Is this simply the argument that put genre study out of vogue for so long? If so, how is this concern being redressed? I think that this is a fascinating discussion, but I’m a little perplexed by our terminology.
My answer follows.
You ask some wonderful, challenging questions. In response, I have several overlapping and partially contradictory answers, a cowardly cop-out (the sincerest way, I have found, to honor good questions), and a few further questions of my own. I have numbered these items to give them a spurious aura of structure and rigor.
Monday, February 06, 2006
Genre : a Collection of Provocations and Koans
I don’t agree with all of the statements that follow, and they don’t all agree with each other. But I find them all “good to think with,” as the anthropologists say.
1. “It might be no bad thing . . . for literary theory as a whole to be reformulated in terms of genre, rather as mathematics was in large part reformulated, earlier this century, in terms of set theory.” Alastair Fowler, “The Future of Genre Theory,” in The Future of Literary Theory, ed. Ralph Cohen (New York: Routledge, 1989), pp. 291-303, cited at p. 296.Continue reading "Genre : a Collection of Provocations and Koans"
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Moretti and Other Genre Theorists
Scott McLemee accurately and amusingly describes the buzz surrounding Stanford professor Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary Theory: Moretti is a heretic; he wants to abolish close reading; and he asserts that we should count books rather than interpret them. Moretti claims to have developed a new, quasi-scientific approach to literary history. When I opened the package from http://www.amazon.com, I was prepared for something strange, scandalous, innovative, and unconvincing. I expected to feel threatened. I not only like interpreting books, I happen to do it for a living.
I was surprised to discover that I liked the book and found it largely persuasive. I also found the book’s methods and arguments strangely familiar. This is a book of genre theory, with a particular emphasis on how new subgenres of prose fiction emerge, develop, and disappear. Moretti suggests that paradigms and methods from evolutionary biology and the social sciences might help us to analyze the development of literary genres over time.
My largest quibble with the book is that Moretti’s approach is perhaps a bit less innovative than he claims. One would think from looking at this book that literary historians had never before counted, graphed, or mapped anything, and that all of us had focused on a small number of canonical texts. Moretti is ignoring entire subfields, like the history of the book, theater history, and the study of manuscript transmission (also known as scribal publication).Continue reading "Moretti and Other Genre Theorists"
Sunday, January 01, 2006
A Few More Disjointed Thoughts on the MLA
I, too, have a few thoughts on the MLA convention. First, this year the convention seemed curiously shrunken and lethargic to me. I would be interested in knowing whether any other MLA veterans shared this impression. I may have gotten this impression simply because I am less youthful and can no longer produce enough of the hormones one needs if one is to remain paranoid and hysterically envious for four days straight.
Second, the profession’s center of gravity finally seems to have shifted away from print and toward online publications of various species.Continue reading "A Few More Disjointed Thoughts on the MLA"
Sunday, November 27, 2005
For the last few weeks, I have been listening to Caedmon’s three-disc poetry anthology on my way to work. Getting to know the anthology has been pleasurable, humbling, and strange. The strangeness results from a trivial feature of the discs: each track begins abruptly, without any announcement of the name of the poet or the title of the poem. I identified some of the poems within a few syllables, but others were completely unfamiliar. I stumbled blindly from track to track. Was that woman with the British accent Denise Levertov? I should know her voice; I once took a workshop with her. But I remember other registers of her voice: casual, irritated, and ironic, for example (Student: “Wow, you could really spend hours just thinking about line breaks!” Levertov: “A lifetime, in fact.”). The hieratic, slow-paced, elaborate poem about an animal’s corpse sounded familiar. Was it by Richard Eberhart? And there were seven or eight poems on two different discs that sounded as if they were being read by the same person: a man with a reedy, nasal, self-satisfied voice. As I stopped and started in the traffic jams on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the air was filled with half-visible ghosts.Continue reading "Vocal Ghosts"
Friday, November 18, 2005
Who is King of the Cats?
I had a disturbing realization earlier this week. The students in my graduate Shakespeare class were asking questions about the stylistic options available to them as critics. How long should one’s footnotes be, and why? [Answer: part of the fun of a Representations essay is the mini-essays in the footnotes; I know some people who read the footnotes of a Representations article before they read the body of the text. But long footnotes do slow readers down and distract them from your argument. Some of those Representations articles with fascinating footnotes do not really make arguments; like squid, they emit a cloud of ink and then skedaddle.]Continue reading "Who is King of the Cats?"
Thursday, October 20, 2005
The Cruelty of Dickens?
I finally read Dombey and Son, and as I read I found it disappointing. The novel is populated with the usual Dickensian grotesques, the figures who have been distilled down to a single habit or physical feature: Carker’s cat-like grin, Mr. Chick’s compulsive and inappropriate singing, and Major Bagstock’s choking and gasping, the result of his gluttony. These satirical reductions can, of course, produce vivid results. Here is the apoplectic Major Bagstock getting on a train:Continue reading "The Cruelty of Dickens?"
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Teaching vs. Research?
What is the relationship between my research and my teaching of general education courses like composition? Is there any relationship? Rather than answering directly, I would like to offer a few parables. I will leave the interpretation of them up to you, dear reader.
I am talking to a colleague about how my semester is going. I find myself talking about “my work.” And I feel a twinge of uneasiness. If my research is “my work,” what should I call my teaching? Is it someone else’s work? Is teaching work done on behalf of someone else, or work done by another version of me?
In my composition class, I point out an interesting technique used by an essayist: for E. B. White, it might be disjunction and the elision of transitions; for Joan Didion, the casual mention of a horrifying event as a kind of afterthought to a sequence of trivialities; and for Loren Eisely, the mixture of abstruse scientific terminology and a more colloquial diction. I suggest to my students that they try to imitate the technique. And I realize that I myself have never tried to use it.
I am teaching in an interdisciplinary program for first-semester students. My composition course is linked to a biology course and a psychology course. When I prepare my syllabus, I re-read work by Oliver Sacks, the surgeon Richard Selzer, Elaine Scarry, Wittgenstein, and Nietzche, among others. Quotations from Sacks, Scarry, and Wittgenstein make their way into an essay I am writing on embodiment and pain in the work of Christopher Marlowe.
Monday, August 29, 2005
Wittgenstein in Hawaii: A Non-Philosopher’s Naive Questions About the Philosophical Investigations
Let me begin far away from Wittgenstein - half a planet away - with the work of Derek Bickerton, a linguist who teaches at the University of Hawaii in Manoa. My parable (or, in Kenneth Burke’s phrase, my representative anecdote) begins with a scene on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. One day in 1897 a father of Portugese extraction discovered that his small son had somehow acquired a nickel, a large sum of money. Asked to explain where the coin had come from, the child responded with the Hawaian Creole English sentence, “One kanaka make me one bad thing inside of house.” After questioning, the child revealed that a man had sexually molested him and given him the money as a bribe to keep silent. No one at the time found remarkable the child’s use of the indefinite article “one,” but many years later linguists noticed that this was the first recorded use of the new article. No previous recorded Hawaiian Creole utterance contains any indefinite article whatsoever, and for some time afterward the only recorded users of indefinite articles are small children.Continue reading "Wittgenstein in Hawaii: A Non-Philosopher’s Naive Questions About the Philosophical Investigations"
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Primitive Language Games
What follows below is a slightly modified version of a passage from an article I published in 1995:
A great deal has been written about Wittgenstein, but there are curious gaps still open. Relatively little has been written about Wittgenstein as a literary artist, and it seems to me that Wittgenstein’s affiliations to Hegel as well as to Augustine and spiritual autobiography deserve more attention. As far as I can tell, neither Hegel nor Augustine shows up in the writings of Ayer, Cavell, or Kripke on Wittgenstein.
Wittgenstein begins the Philosophical Investigations with Augustine’s account of how, as a baby, he began to acquire language. When Augustine’s elders named an object, at the same time they indicated the object “verbis naturalibus omnium gentium” [with the natural language of all peoples]--with facial expressions and movements of the body. Augustine learned to associate names with objects. This ostensive account of language acquisition, Wittgenstein proceeds to demonstrate, can account for only a subset of what we call language. He goes on to show how complex and mysterious that process of pointing out an object or a quality of an object is, and Augustine’s account of language acquisition is soon left behind. Wittgenstein, though, was one of the great prose artists of this century, and one whose favorite rhetorical strategy was one of implication. The meaning of the Investigations, in a sense, emerges in the blank spaces between paragraphs. The quotation from Augustine is particularly pregnant with hidden meaning. It is not an accident that the quotation comes from the Confessions. Like the Confessions, the Investigations look back over the life of their narrator as if he had died and become someone else, someone who understands the errors of that former way of life. Wittgenstein, who generally had little interest in publishing his work, wanted to publish his first book, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, together with the Investigations, in a single volume. Between the writing of the Tractatus and the Investigations, Wittgenstein experienced a turn away from his earlier philosophy that amounted to a conversion.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Perhaps those of us who have mixed feelings about the Norton Anthology of Criticism and Theory should offer a constructive alternative. If you could publish your own anthology of exemplary literary criticism, what would you include in it?Continue reading "The Counter-Anthology"