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Department of English

News and Events

Publicity Announcements:
February 2004


Cultural Studies: Presentations

Assistant Professor Valerie Karno has had a paper accepted on a panel on the Intersections of Ethnicity and Class for the American Studies Association meeting in October.

Graduate Student Piotr A. Skuza has had a paper accepted for a conference on “Globalization is/in America at NorthwesternUniversity. Skuza will present his paper, "The Post-Modern Talking Music Fetish Factory: Simulated Americanization and the Victory of Kitsch" in late April.

Graduate Student Sarah White has had a paper accepted for the National Meeting of the Popular Culture /American Culture Associations meeting jointly with the Southwest Texas/Popular Culture & American Culture Associations, San Antonio, Texas, April 7-10. White will be presenting a paper entitled, "Adapting American Psycho: Humor, Gore, and the 1980s."

Assistant Professor Mathew Frankel has had a paper accepted for the International Narrative Conference at the University of Vermont in April entitled, "Narrative Privilege, Privileging Narrative: Moby-Dick, Narrativization, and Critical Race Theory." An abstract, detailing Frankel’s proposal for new ways ofthinking about Melville’s novel, follows:

Recent years have seen readers of Moby-Dick attempting to situate the novel within a variety of related critical fields dedicated to examinations of race and racial ideology. Notably, Geoffrey Sanborn’s The Sign of the Cannibal has employed postcolonial theory to dramatize Melville’s reflection on the spectrality of Otherness; Samuel Otter’s loosely Foucaultian archeology of ethnological discourse in the United States, Melville’s Anatomies, has illuminated the novel’s relation to nineteenth-century racialist phrenology; and Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark virtually inaugurated the application of critical race studies for analyses of the novel’s representational practices. Each of these works is exemplary; yet symptomatic of this exemplarity is a theoretical indifference to the novel’s longstanding narrative difficulties. This inattention to narrativization--that “central function or instance of the human mind,” according to Jameson--affects these studies fundamentally and representatively, as close consideration of the book’s sequential inconsistencies, generic incongruities, and ostensibly fluctuating narratorial identifications demonstrates how the complex historical imbrication of the novel constitutes the very topology of the narrative itself.

Accordingly, this paper addresses two problems simultaneously: the interpretive and the methodological. First, I offer an alternative reading of Moby-Dick that locates the problematics of the narrator’s initial declaration that readers call him Ishmael at the intersection of the novel’s epistemological pursuit of the whale (Cetology), asymmetrical representations of racially distinct characters (Ahab, Queequeg, others), and otherwise biographically grounded editorial decisions concerning the obscurity of narrative dates (time of composition) and indecipherable signs (“Quohog,” his mark). In effect, I propose that the novel itself argues throughout that the narrative be kept under Ishmael’s fictional jurisdiction at precisely those moments when it seems to violate the terms of his first person verifiability–a reading that submits the claims of Sanborn, Otter, and Morrison to immediate qualification. To this end, I take seriously earlier debates over the novel’s narrative form between such critics as Charles Feidelson, Leon Howard, Harrison Hayford, and Wayne Booth, recuperating them for dialogue with poststructuralist race theory, as well as specifically revitalizing Booth’s own rhetoric of narratorial access. He explains Ishmael’s ability to “break through his human limitations when the story requires” as a brand of narrative “privilege”; I review that privilege within Melville’s narrativization of (rather than engagement with) nineteenth-century U.S. racial ideology.

Insofar as Ishmael’s occasional intersubjective permeability rotates on an axis of racial identification and differentiation–a narratological principle doubling as narrative architecture as Ahab’s cabin remains transparent yet Queequeg’s forever locked and bolted–the specter of “race” evokes a point of incommensurability within the narrative consistent with Lyotard’s concept of the differend. In this sense, Queequeg is a figure of discursive disruption to which the narrativity of the novel testifies. With some irony, this differend within the narrative of story and available at the level of interpretation recurs within the narrative of the novel’s critical reception and recognizable on the plane of methodological periodization. Which is to say,as long as contemporary race criticism of Moby-Dick views previous scholarship concerned with narrative structure as a moment which has been surpassed, that moment will assume the figural force of an event signaling both the limitations of current critical practice as well as the prior state of narrativization which remains always on the horizon.


Cultural Studies: Invited Interviews

Valerie Karno was interviewed by a national lawyers’ newspaper, Lawyer's Weekly, for her work in the field of Law and Literature. An article also appeared on Karno and her work in the Providence Journal.


Creative Writing: Nominations/Awards

A collection of autobiographical fiction edited by Lynda Hall for the University of Wisconsin Press and in which Mary Cappello’s work appears is a Finalist for a Lambda Literary Award this year.


Alumni News

Michael Keith. Ph.D. was just notified that he is the recipient of the 2004 IBS (Intercollegiate Broadcasting System) Recognition Award to be presented in NYC next month. He has also been nominated for the Stanton Fellowship Award given by the International Radio and Television Society. Meanwhile, The Next Better Place was cited as a "Best Book of 2003" by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Last but not least, a scholarship of $1000 will be given to a URI student in the name of each Alumni award recipient, hence a $1000 award in Michael Keith's name!

On February 12 th, URI Alum, Norah Pollard, MA, gave a reading from her poetry collection, Leaning In, to an enthusiastic audience of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and numerous members of the Rhode Island community. Pollard is the daughter of Red Pollard, the jockey who rode Seabiscuit, and a number of her poems offer an in-depth portrait of her father, a portrait written in part against the grain of the Hollywood depiction of him. The reading was supported and made possible by funding from the Center for the Humanities on campus. The reading was organized and catered by the URI Writers Collective(Cappello, Karno and Martin), and additional special thanks go to URI undergraduatesClaytonius Gray (technical support) and Heather Thistle (book sales). The reading was followed by a lively Q and A, and a number of students in Mary Cappello’s English 205 Poetry Writing class wrote critical analyses of Pollard’s poems and of the reading.

In the course of the evening, Cappello met Sylvia Petrie whom she learned is the artist responsible for an especially beautiful painting that hangs in the Hoffmann Room. The painting is based on a poem by former URI faculty member, the poet, Paul Petrie. The chance meeting with the Petries established an impetus for identifying and preserving important pieces of the Department’s history, such as Sylvia Petrie’s painting and its provenance as a response to a poem by her husband. Sylvia Petrie, upon Cappello’s request, has made a copy of the poem available. It appears below:

Not Seeing is Believing by Paul Petrie

From across the stream, on the side of the opposite hill,
I see a woman in a blue, wool coat who is walking her dog.
Her hair is as white as snow, and her dog snow-white.
They are walking through the plum-brown, silvery branches of trees.

Step after step she moves,
leaning on each foot as the old do.
She is walking her dog and thinking.

Under the nest of her hair is another world—
are many other worlds—present, past, future—
but none of this shows.

She is walking her dog and thinking, and the dog too
is thinking—Bushes are telling damp, excited tales
of an earlier sun, of a darkness before this sun—

and the trees around them are thinking—slow, wooden thoughts
that stretch over centuries, and the earth in which the trees
root down also is pondering—deep, stone thoughts—
but none of this shows.

I see a woman in a blue, wool coat
who is walking a small, white dog
through the plum-brown, silvery trees.