Jonathan Elmer Research Collection

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    Poe, Plagiarism and the Prescriptive Right of the Mob
    (Indiana University Press, 1993) Elmer, Jonathan
    I begin with an unavoidable and entirely uncontroversial thesis: "William Wilson" (1839) is a psychological drama about the harassments of conscience. The thesis is uncontroversial because it seems to be the accepted interpretation of the tale; for this reason alone, one could argue, it must inevitably be taken into account! But it is unavoidable for a more immediate reason as well, namely, that we cannot enter the tale without first encountering the epigra ph Poe places at its threshold, and which imprints with typographical insistence the word "CONSCIENCE" on our reading memory: "What say of it? what say of CONSClENCE grim, /That spectre in my path?" Although the word "conscience" does not reappear in the rest of the tale , it will henceforth be almost impossible to understand the narrator's double as anything other than his conscience: the double does, in fact, turn out to be rather humorless and "grim ," and his meddlesome behavior certainly justifies his designation as "That spectre in [the narrator's] path." Before detailing all the thematic elements which support such an understanding, however, we should note that our interpretation of "William Wilson" as a story about conscience has in an important way been determined in advance. In thus affecting our access to the tale, the epigraph has, as it were, intervened from without; and in this sense the epigraph itself is a "spectre in [our ] path," one which will be as hard to evade as Wilson's double.
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    Enduring and Abiding
    (Indiana University Press, 2009) Elmer, Jonathan
    By the time I delivered the ideas in this chapter, in September 2006, in a dowdy wood-paneled "conference room" in a bowling alley in Louis­ville, Kentucky, during the annual Lebowski Fest held in the city and at those lanes, everything had been said. Mine was the final paper, and during the previous two days the film had been turned upside down and shaken, and then carefully situated with regard to fluctuations in the L.A. real estate market, the subgenre ofbowling noir, the Brunswick color palette, nihilism and fluids, Paul de Man and Rip Van Winkle. Ev­erything had been said, some things multiple times, and everyone was happy. Most people were happy. It became apparent to many of us that the film did not suffer from this critical vulturism, that the conversation could go on, potentially forever, without it being a problem that we were repeating ourselves and offering quite obviously contradictory views on many important aspects of the movie. The chatter did not exhaust the film, did not debase it or use it up, but it did not really exalt it either. The ability of the film to sustain such conversation was not due to its being a "classic," timeless or otherwise. It seemed, rather, that the film was not so much full of a complexity that needed endless "unpacking" -this despite the fact that The Big Lebowski, like all the Coen brothers' mov­ies, lavishes loving, even obsessive, attention on all its details-than it was offering itself as genially underdetermined, available for any and all projections, investments, analyses, even mimicries.
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    The Jingle Man: Trauma and the Aesthetic
    (Fissions and Fusions: Proceedings of the First Conference of the Cape American Studies Association, 1997-01) Elmer, Jonathan
    There are two features of this little story that interest me here. The first concerns the way the tag is created: Emerson has been on a "far search for meaning, "he has had to rummage around in his memory, and what he comes back with is essentially an onomatopoeia, less a meaning-memory than a sound-memory. Because Poe wrote such jingly poems, it is implied, the very memory of him comes back as itself jingly. Poe sticks in the memory as one who trades more in musical effects than insignificant poetic meaning. These musical effects are, moreover, regularly deprecated, defended against. We need only extrapolate from Emerson's phrase and think of the irritating insistence of advertising jingles to grasp something essential about how Poe's reputation has been compromised by his jingliness. Harold Bloom has this jingling insistence in mind when he writes that he can think of no other canonical American writer "at once so inevitable and so dubious"(3). His inevitability, I would say, is precisely what makes him dubious, and this is because his works do not so much "endure," as they "return." Poe's place, we might then say, is less in tradition than in memory, and what keeps coming up out of memory are effects, affects, certain rhythms, a style of musical artifice. F. O. Matthiessen's term for this ensemble of stylistic traits-again, a term of disapprobation-was "factitiousness"(xii).
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    Poe and the Avant Garde
    (Oxford University Press, 2019) Elmer, Jonathan
    Poe’s influence on both avant-garde and mass-cultural production has been puzzling for many. This is because “avant-garde” has been restricted to whatever opposes aesthetic commodification and the culture industry. Placing Poe’s work in the context of nineteenth century physiological aesthetics helps explain Poe’s profound influence on “experimental arts,” whether avant-garde or commercial. Focused on anomalies of attention and the separation of sense modalities, Poe’s texts model and incite experimentation in media other than his own. Using hearing and vision as a red thread, this chapter will advance this argument through reference to visual works by Odilon Redon, Harry Clarke, and Carlo Farneti.
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    Inclusion and Exclusion of the Indian in the Early American Archive
    (Soziale Systeme, 2002-05-01) Elmer, Jonathan
    Resurgence of interest in theories of sovereignty reflect both the availability of theoretical models capable of handling the paradoxes of inclusion and exclusion and historical sensitivity to the ways in which sovereignty develops in tandem with experiences of intercultural contact and conflict. The essay argues that one striking historical example of the interrelation of concepts of sovereignty, inclusion and exclusion, and cultural contact, lies in early American attempts to process the Native American »other.« Using a widely influential speech recorded by Thomas Jefferson, the essay proposes first a literary interpretation of the text’s power, and then suggests the way in which the theoretical argument about sovereignty delineated by Agamben (1998) can help elucidate the »anomaly« of Indian sovereignty in the American archive. A final section proposes that sovereignty, as developed in this intercultural context, promotes confusion between social and psychic systems, for which reason Luhmann’s systems theory may fruitfully be supplemented by the psychoanalytic theory of Lacan as interpreted by Zizek (1991).
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    André, Theatricality, and the Time of Revolution
    (Cambridge University Press, 2019) Elmer, Jonathan
    In her excellent study Anglophilia, Elisa Tamarkin reveals a widespread fascination in antebellum America with being“lost in the indeterminate worlds of colonial loyalties.” She describes the“uneven temporality of national experience,”in which“American independence simply feels like the vertiginous capacity to be both nationalistic and nostalgic for our antenational relations”(148). In these reveries, the colonial past is not repudiated or sloughed off, but rather virtualized as an imaginative keep-sake. Instead of a definitive new order, from which there is no turning back, the revolution installs an“uneven temporality.” Independence with-out revolution: history is what doesn’t hurt.
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    John Neal and John Dunn Hunter
    (Bucknell University Press, 2012) Elmer, Jonathan
    Late in his 1869 autobiography, Wandering Recollections of a Somewhat Busy Life, John Neal introduces a distinction that might seem important in any autobiography. Substantial truth is not the same thing as circumstantial truth, Neal asserts, and the former is clearly more important, not least because attaining the latter is well-nigh impossible. He illustrates with an odd little story. Neal’s final word choice here invites reflection on how this story emblematizes his entire autobiographical endeavor, those “wandering recollections.” While John Dunn Hunter’s role may initially appear merely incidental to Neal’s substantial point, it is not. Nearly a half-century after meeting John Dunn Hunter in London in 1823, Neal is still working through the issues Hunter’s life and story brought up for him.
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    The Exciting Conflict: The Rhetoric of Pornography and Anti-pornography
    (Cultural Critique, 1987) Elmer, Jonathan
    Pornography is, once again, something of a hot item. The legal battles recently fought in Minneapolis, Indianapolis, and elsewhere have renewed interest in the issue, even a sense of pressing urgency. A presidential commission, with Attorney General Meese's blessing, continues to sound the alarm. For a while, The Village Voice seemed to have appointed itself propagandist for the anti-censorship crusade, while such national publications as The New Republic, Harper's, and Newsweek have offered cover articles in the past few years that take a less definite stance.' Debates over pornography-and, more generally, female sexuality-are as heated as ever in feminist circles, academic and otherwise. And the public's fascination was aroused, in the summer of 1984, by the story of Vanessa Williams's fall from beauty-queen grace: with the publication of pictures of a naked Williams in the September 1984 issue of Penthouse (pictures which predated her ascension to the throne), the Miss America Pageant officials felt compelled to protect the good name of their venerable institution by stripping Williams of her title.
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    ‘Blinded Me with Science’: Motifs of Observation and Temporality in Lacan and Luhmann
    (Cultural Critique, 1995) Elmer, Jonathan
    In taking up the topic of cybernetics in 1955, a field then exerting influence on everything from telecommunications to public health management (see Heims), Jacques Lacan proposed the rubric of "conjectural sciences" for all those sciences of combination, where "[w]hat's at issue is the place, and what does or doesn't come to fill it, something then which is strictly equivalent to its own inexistence" (Seminar, Book II 299). This "science of the combination of places as such" is, to be sure, distinct from the exact sciences, which always focus on "what is found at the same place" (299). The exact sciences, in other words, deal with positivities, the conjectural sciences with probabilities. It is, indeed, to Pascal's arithmetic triangle that Lacan turns when he wishes to trace the origins of this science of combinations: "If this is how we locate cybernetics, we will easily find it ancestors, Condorcet, for instance, with his theory of votes and coalitions, of parties, as he says, and further back again Pascal, who would be its father, and its true point of origin" (296).
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    The State of the Art on the Art of the State
    (Early American Literature, 2011) Elmer, Jonathan
    Readers of this journal will recall a forum published in its pages (and the pages of the William and Mary Quarterly) in 2008, in which Eric Slauter, author of one of the three books under review here, described what he called a “trade gap” between historians and literary scholars of the Atlantic world. Slauter’s thesis was that even as literary scholarship has become more historical in its methods and goals, historians seem to have less and less interest in that work: “During the past decade, literary scholars have produced an impressive list of books and articles in the emerging field of Atlantic literary history. Atlantic historians, however, rarely acknowledge this work and have moved away from the issues of identity and expression that made literary scholarship attractive and central to Atlantic historiography ten or twenty years ago” (153). At the end of his essay, Slauter suggests measures that might be taken to lessen the gap. One interesting proposal is that literary scholars should embrace their inner theorists: historians do not come to the work of literary scholars for more history, he suggests, but for alternative perspectives and paradigms about culture, meaning, and language. A second, related suggestion is that the text/context binary be retired: “Today historians may be suspicious of what they perceive as an essentially derivative historicist enterprise in which this or that literary text is unsurprisingly shown to have emerged from an established context already familiar to historians” (173).
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    On Lingering and Being Last: Race and Sovereignty in the New World
    (Fordham University Press, 2008) Elmer, Jonathan
    What are we talking about when we talk about sovereignty? Is it about formal legitimacy or practical authority? Does it require the ability to control the flow of people or goods across a border; is it primarily a principle of international recognition; or does its essence lie in the power to regulate the lives of a state's citizens? Political theorists, historians, scholars of international relations, lawyers, anthropologists, literary critics all approach the dilemmas of sovereign power with a mixture of urgency and frustration. In this book, the author argues that the logic of sovereignty that emerged in early modern Europe and that limits our thinking today must be understood as a fundamentally racialized logic, first visible in the New World. The modern concept of sovereignty is based on a trope of personification, the conjunction of individual and collective identities. In Grotius, Hobbes, and others, a fiction of sovereign autonomy enabled states to be personified as individuals, as bodies politic, even as individual humans could be imagined as miniature states. The contradictions of this logic were fully revealed only in the New World, as writers ranging from Aphra Behn to Thomas Jefferson and Herman Melville demonstrate. The racialized sovereign figures examined in this book are always at once a person and a people. They embody the connection between the individual and the collectivity, and thereby reveal that the volatile work of sovereign personification takes place in a new world constituted both by concepts of equality, homogeneity, and symmetry and by the realities of racial domination and ideology in the era of colonial expansion.