On the weekend of October 15, 2011 former students of Cathy Gallagher from around the country convened to pay tribute to her mentorship and scholarship. Speakers — all of whom gave short, provocative, or poignant talks — included Mark Allison, Miriam Bailin, Trisha Urmi Banerjee, Ayelet Ben-Yishai, David Brewer, Ian Burney, Julie Carr, Arianne Chernock, Tina Choi, William Cohen, Alison Conway, Oz Frankel, Laura Green, Nicoletta Gullace, Daniel Hack, Cheri Larsen Hoeckley, Peter Logan, Annie McClanahan, Catherine Mitchell, Leslie Monstavicius, Maura O’Connor, Catherine Robson, Simon Stern, Rachel Teukolsky, Irene Tucker, Vlasta Vranjes, Toni Wein, Benj Widiss, Elizabeth Young, and Susan Zieger.
The presenters’ scripts from “Somebody’s Story: Twenty-Eight Ways of Being Taught by Cathy Gallagher,” were collected together and presented to Cathy for Christmas 2011. Their full text follows.
THE INSPIRATIONAL FORMATION OF (SCHOLARS OF) ENGLISH FICTION
“On Travelling Far”
In any such austere gathering, one looks around with a sense of misgiving or anxiety, naturally comparing oneself and one’s achievements with the others in the room. Looking around, I quickly realize that I am neither the smartest, nor the best writer; I am not the most successful, nor the best published; I do not have the best job, and I am not the best looking — and I will not say – upon pain of death – which one of you I had pegged for which role. But then it occurs to me that I do have one thing going for me, one thing that distinguishes me from the rest: I am the one who travelled farthest to get here.
My travels this time – from Haifa to Berkeley – were somewhat less than felicitious. I felt ill, and the quality plane-time I had planned to spend finishing my paper was just not working out the way I had imagined. I got off the 12-hour flight (only the first leg of this trip) anxious about not having found a single focus for this paper. In line for US immigration, I kept obsessing about my various options for finishing the paper.
And then I met the border guard.
He asked me what the purpose of my trip was. I said I came for a conference. He asked whether I was giving the conference or attending it. I said I was giving a paper at the conference. “Oh,” he said, “then what is the title of your paper?”
He knew! He knew that I was a fake and a sham. That I was not a sincere conference goer but that I was using this as an excuse to see friends and socialize! That I was planning to enjoy this conference and have drinks and vegan charcuterie at “Gather”! But he also knew more. He knew that I was, in fact, a terrorist. The US government has its ways of weeding out the terrorists when they disguise themselves as academics. I had to prove to him that I was indeed a responsible and respected member of my profession.
So I started blabbering.
About how my advisor was retiring, from the University of California, at Berkeley, where I had gotten my Ph.D. I pulled out every available element of cultural capital that I could think of.
He let me go on for a while and then he stopped me, “You still have not told me the title of your paper.”
Jolted out of my stupor, I quickly made something up, and was dismissed, heaving a sigh of relief. It was only later that I realized that I had an anecdote too good to give up. The only question was how was I to use it? What would be the right analogy?
The border guard was – of course – onto something; he had accessed all my insecurities about feeling like a sham, a trespasser, an outsider. Thinking it over I came to the conclusion that I had first approached Cathy – all those years ago – in much the same way that I had approached the border guard. She was the ultimate insider; she had the key. I was the ultimate outsider – or so I felt: I was in the Comp. Lit. Department, and not in English; My training was in law, and not in literature; I am an Israeli, not a native speaker of English, neither American nor British.
I wanted her to open the door and let me in.
Cathy did let me in. She worked hard and made me work even harder so that I could become a real Victorianist. She would not let me cut corners or take shortcuts. If I wanted to be an insider, I would have to earn it.
But even more importantly and more uniquely, Cathy refused to let me give up my outsider-ness. What Cathy made me understand was that this outsiderness was not a liability, but an asset. Rather than set limitations, it opened up possibilities. Instead of being busted for my foreignness, I was welcomed.
All of us who know Cathy, who have ever heard her give a talk, studied with her, or read her work, know that although she is the quintessential literary historian, maybe because she is the quintessential literary historian, she never stays in one place; never looks twice from the same vantage point; always defamiliarizes that which we have come to take for granted; always makes crystal clear what was strange not a moment ago.
To say that I can only try and emulate this quality in my own writing is to state the obvious. It might also explain my restless and relentless moves into fields and cultures I know nothing about. But upon reflection, I’d like to think that the real impact of this quality of Cathy’s is to be found in my teaching.
My students are largely Israeli-born Jews, Palestinians, and Russian immigrants; their first language is Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, with at least a couple of others in any given class. We do not share a common language, we do not share a common culture, or history – and it’s only when I’m being very optimistic that I can imagine us sharing a future. The one thing we do share is our foreignness to English and its cultures. So, after exhorting them to keep working at their linguistic and cultural competence, after making them feel that they’ll never read enough, then I tell my students that this foreignness – as Cathy has taught me – is our greatest asset. It makes our readings uniquely valuable, it opens up a critical place, it makes us into an intellectual community – at once part of a larger community of readers of English, but always at a remove from it.
In a place where our own languages are so fraught, and the power they wield so tangible and real, it is paradoxically the realm of English literature (paradoxical because it is in so many ways the culture of Empire) that provides a safe haven, a (never-level) playing field where our ideas can be spoken and be heard, an intellectual home which is not our home.
They have to own their scholarship, I tell them; they have to be accountable to their readers and to each other. But once they can do that, they also have to own who they are, where they come from and how they approach the study of English. The trick – as we all know because we’ve been practicing it for decades – is to find that point in which we can contain the paradox, in which we can be outsider and insider of our subject matter, but also of the experiences we bring to bear on it.
I did not explain all of this to the border guard, but it does perhaps explain what it is that I have gained by being the one who travelled farthest to get here.
My mind goes back (as one’s mind does on occasions such as this) to the first time I met Cathy. This was in the days before email and before the heavy wooing of prospective grad students (or maybe not the latter, but in any event nobody wooed me), so I hadn’t had any contact with Cathy before entering the program. Some time during my first semester here, at, I think, a post- talk reception, Liz Young—who knew that I was hoping to work with Cathy—very kindly, but without warning, pulled me over to Cathy and introduced us. Unprepared and nervous, I stammered something lame along the lines of “It’s great to meet you. My interests really mimic yours.” Cathy laughed and responded kindly, “Let’s say we share interests.” In other words, I said something bumbling, with the bumbling in part the result of my anxious sense of derivativeness, and Cathy rephrased my statement to make it sound better and make me feel better.
And so the pattern was set. “The fragment of a life, however typical, is not the sample of an even web,” but some fragments are more typical than others. I’ll let this small moment stand, then, for the long history of support and encouragement and rephrasing for which I am profoundly grateful—and I’ll take my cue for the rest of my remarks from the sentence in Middlemarch preceding the one I just quoted: “Who can quit young lives after being long in company with them, and not desire to know what befell them in their after-years?” In other words, instead of talking about Cathy, I’ll talk about myself—and not so much what has befallen me but what is befalling me now—which is to say, about my work in progress. I do so in the hope that this will be of more interest to Cathy than further reminiscences; and no doubt I’ll still be talking about Cathy on some level anyway, so even is my web.
I want to focus in particular on work that is just beginning to take shape, work that is really a hunch in search of an argument; this seemed like a good idea for this occasion because Cathy has always encouraged me to take my hunches seriously, and also because the chance to bounce ideas off this group is too good to pass up.
So: I’m writing a book about the presence or uses of nineteenth-century British literature in nineteenth and early twentieth century African American literature and print culture; I’m looking at reprintings, commentaries, rewritings, and other forms of citation and recontextualization. This project started when I became interested in the seemingly sui generis text The Bondwoman’s Narrative, a fictional slave narrative that reworks Bleak House, and the project took off when I discovered that this refunctioning of a Victorian text was not as unique as it seemed, but more like one end of a continuum. I’ve written chapters on the African Americanization of Bleak House and “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” and one on W. E. B. Du Bois’s citations of Victorian literature in The Souls of Black Folk and elsewhere, which I think will be the book’s final chapter. Right now I’m working on George Eliot’s relationship to African American fiction and print culture. Thus, after writing a book that began with a chapter on Bleak House and ended with one on Daniel Deronda, I have radically reinvented myself and am now writing a book that begins with a chapter on Bleak House and includes a chapter on Daniel Deronda about halfway through.
In a further break from my past, I’ve become interested in Eliot’s long poem The Spanish Gypsy, which I managed not to read in grad school; however, I have to admit that I’m mainly interested in The Spanish Gypsy insofar as its plot resembles Daniel Deronda’s. As you’ll recall, The Spanish Gypsy tells the story of Fedalma, a young woman who learns that she is not Spanish, as she has believed her whole life, but rather a Zincala, or gypsy; she learns this from her father, the king of the gypsies, who demands that she embrace her ancestral identity and help him lead their people to a new homeland in Africa. After some soul-searching and handwringing, Fedalma accepts her newfound racial identity and vocation.
The resemblance of Fedalma’s story to that of Daniel Deronda is obvious and well known. My hunch, though, is that there’s something new and interesting to be said about Eliot’s affinity for their shared plot and this story’s place in nineteenth-century culture more generally— the story, that is, of a character who learns that he or she has been unwittingly passing as a member of one racial or ethnic group, and chooses to embrace his or her newfound identity as a member of a different group. I have difficulty thinking of another Victorian writer who used this plot even once, let alone twice (although I’d be happy to hear about more examples. Kind of happy.). By contrast, this plot figures centrally in a number of American stories and novels, virtually all of these about, and most of them by, African Americans. There aren’t very many that meet my precise criteria, maybe a dozen (and I should note that the protagonist’s ability to choose whether or not to continue passing distinguishes this plot from the more common “tragic mulatta” plot); the best known are Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s novel Iola Leroy and William Dean Howells’s novella An Imperative Duty, both from the early 1890s. I find this convergence striking and promising: how, I wonder, might we view Daniel Deronda and The Spanish Gypsy differently when they are grouped with these texts? Will this grouping help us better understand the factors contributing to this plot’s currency or appeal or implications? What distinctive features of each text or group of texts are set in relief by these similarities? One feature of the two Eliot texts that takes on new salience for me, for example, is that the identity the protagonists embrace is not simply ethnic or racial but also stigmatized. Obvious, in a way, but my hunch or hope is that we haven’t given this a full reckoning.
I’m wondering in particular if it might be productive to view this plot through the lens provided by Erving Goffman in his book Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. There Goffman describes (in a very Eliotish phrase) the different “moral careers” experienced by stigmatized individuals, careers that depend on the timing of their socialization into “the standpoint of the normal,” on the one hand, and their learning that they possess a particular stigma, on the other. The plot of unwitting passing dramatizes the moral career of the individual who, in Goffman’s terms, “has thoroughly learned about the normal and the stigmatized long before he must see himself as deficient [sic].” Attention to the role of stigma in these texts will complicate and enrich the usual critical emphasis on rootedness vs. cosmopolitanism, embedded vs. liberal identity, inheritance vs. choice. Or so I hope
One claim I can make with more confidence about these texts is that I am not so much bringing them together as bringing them back together: several of the American authors I’m looking at cite Eliot in pertinent ways, either in their own narratives of unwitting passing or in related essays. Remarkably, to my mind, three of the African American writers quote or allude to The Spanish Gypsy in particular. In play here, then, are not only similarities or commonalities but also potential dynamics of influence, inspiration, imitation, belatedness, even derivativeness.
And this, of course, is the topic with which I began my remarks. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether these things are a parable.
I wanted to talk about some of the special things that happened during my time at Berkeley while I was Cathy’s student. When I first met Cathy I was 22 years old. I had come straight to grad school from college without taking any time off. I was basically not much more than a glorified undergraduate, callow, ambitious, socially awkward, and completely ignorant about everything. It just so happened that Cathy was not teaching a graduate seminar during my two- year window of coursework, so I decided in my second year to ask her if she would do an independent study with me. I guess I must have already gotten wind of the ‘buzz’ surrounding Cathy’s students, and I wanted to find out what it was all about. It seems kind of miraculous in retrospect that Cathy agreed to do the independent study, since we had never really met before and she didn’t owe me anything. All these years later, I can finally thank her for her unwarranted kindness in offering me her time, time which now seems so precious given all of the other obligations she must have had teaching at a large school like Berkeley.
As a clueless 22 year old, though, I wasn’t aware of any of this. Cathy put together a reading list and we met once a week, where I read to her out loud a five page paper I wrote about the assigned text. About half of what we read was non-fiction prose: Carlyle’s Past and Present, Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy, and aesthetic prose by John Ruskin and Walter Pater from an old 1970s anthology called ‘Strangeness and Beauty.’ I’m laughing now at the fact that the panel I’m on today is called “the Formation of Scholars of English Fiction,” because some of you will know that I’m not much of a scholar of fiction. My first book focused on Victorian art writing and essays; I belong to one of those aggrieved minorities in Victorian studies who doesn’t actually focus on the novel in my research. And, thinking about it, I’m pretty sure that this focus is Cathy’s influence, going all the way back to that independent study course. As a 22 year old, I would never have known to ask for Carlyle, or Arnold, or Ruskin on a course syllabus; but Cathy put them there, and here I am.
I also wanted to mention some of the rituals of graduate study that Cathy helped to organize, which will probably be mentioned by others here. For me, one of the hardest things about what we do is the isolation, all the hours we spend locked in a room for hours with only books and a computer for company. But, as I learned at Berkeley, scholarship doesn’t just happen in a vacuum. Cathy offered us a scholarly community by organizing her students into a coherent and distinctive group. We had our own special identity in the English department as “Cathy’s students.” We could see ourselves as a unit because we met every month, at Cathy’s house, to workshop someone’s dissertation chapter and eat muffins. I don’t know why, but for some reason those muffins loom large in my mind as a kind of powerful symbol of us. The day when it was your turn to have a chapter workshopped was always one of the most intense days of the year, as the whole group of Cathy’s students would subject you to what was basically a mini- oral exam on your work. An idea that has stayed with me is that sometimes the most rigorous kind of scholarship will also be accompanied by excellent snacks, and that this is in fact a utopian ideal.
Keeping my remarks brief, I will conclude by mentioning another beloved institution attached to Cathy during my time, the “19th-century and beyond British Cultural Studies Working Group.” The tradition, from what I understood, is that each year one of Cathy’s students would volunteer to run this group, which took the scholarship-and-snacks model to an extreme. I myself was one of the group’s organizers for a couple of years, as were several other people in this room. So I think many of us might look back fondly on times spent in the checkout line at Andronico’s with grapes and a wedge of brie. It’s worth pointing out, though, some of the more remarkable aspects of this group: how the invited speakers were mostly chosen by graduate students; how the group combined both students and faculty in a circle in the lounge, with all invited to speak and participate; how, while we were still graduate students, many of us had the opportunity to meet and dine with some of the most eminent scholars in our field. The group’s cumbersome title allowed us to invite widely and broadly, in keeping with the kind of scholarship Cathy inspired. I haven’t kept up with the recent fortunes of this Working Group, but I’m hoping that something like it might still exist in the halls of Wheeler. And, even if it doesn’t, I know that I and others here have worked to export the model to institutions after Berkeley; so the legacy does live on, in its own way.
As an Americanist, I am an outlier among you, but I am delighted to be here today to speak about the ways that I, too, was greatly influenced by Cathy Gallagher.
My Cathy era began with English 200 in fall 1987. This course had a big impact on me in at least three ways. First, its content influenced – indeed, educated – me. I had come to Berkeley handicapped by my undergraduate education at Harvard, where I had had little exposure to contemporary literary theory. The 200 provided an instant education in theory, one that was rigorous, bracing, and (I will confess) sometimes alarming, as when the syllabus included competing articles by current Berkeley faculty. We had to sort out their – and our – intellectual positions, quickly, in a powerful trial-by-fire training that has stood me in good stead ever since.
Second, the members of the course had a big impact on my life. I remember Cathy saying on the first day of the semester, “Look around: these will be your friends and colleagues in the profession. Some of my [that is, Cathy’s] closest friends are from my 200.” That turned out to be true for me as well – Laura Green and Bill Cohen, here today, are two of my closest friends, as is a third member of that class, Simone Davis.
Third, my 200 book had an outsized influence on years of my scholarly life. We were asked to choose a primary text of nineteenth-century British literature, and to write multiple papers about it. I picked Frankenstein, rather innocently. I had never read it; I was interested in women writers; I knew, vaguely, that there was a substantial body of feminist criticism on it. Little did I know that it would become my own monster (it’s impossible to avoid such puns when you work on Frankenstein, so I’ll just indulge them here). In the course of writing the five required papers on Frankenstein, I began, like Victor Frankenstein, to become obsessed with the monster. This obsession immediately paid a fruitful dividend: Cathy invited me to work with her on an article incorporating one of my 200 papers for the inaugural issue of a literary journal based in Baroda, India. This was an unusual collaboration: Cathy combined my paper with extensive new framing material which we both then looked over, and the article was published under both our names. In my files, I found a memo from Cathy beginning “Dear Liz, this is the ‘co-authored’ article for the Indian journal.” She put “co-authored” in quotation marks, I think, to register the distance from more usual forms of collaborative authorship. But I’m happy to close that distance and to have the chance here to say that I greatly appreciated the enterprise, and especially the co-author credit, which meant a lot to me as a young scholar. I happily think of this project as a textual body that was, in best Frankenstein form – although happier in outcome – stitched together from disparate parts and revivified in print.
But the paper I wrote in English 200 that most stayed with me, coming to haunt and hound me, was one on Bride of Frankenstein, the classic 1935 film adaptation by James Whale. This was the first thing I had ever written on film, and after the 200 course, I sent it off to Feminist Studies, where, to my surprise, it was published. Time passed, and I kept thinking about this article – and when I say “time passed,” I mean a lot of time: say, fifteen years – and I wrote a book on a completely different topic, but also articles that seemed related to Frankensteinian themes; finally, I decided to pull these together as a book, with a focus on race and the Frankenstein story in America. I can mark the moment I decided to get serious about the book, because I had just gotten a golden retriever puppy, whom I thought it would be fun to name “Frankie.” Never name your pet after a book you think is almost done: Frankie the dog was eight when the book was finally published in 2008. To borrow Mary Shelley’s famous phrase, the book is my own “hideous progeny”; I am not sure if Cathy even wants its genesis traced back to her. Nonetheless, it was directly spawned by her 200 course, and by her considerable encouragement.
The final strand of influence I’d like to trace is from my years as Cathy’s research assistant, starting around 1989 and ending in August, 1993. I vividly recall this ending date as well, because it was in this month that I finished my dissertation, filed it, returned a huge load of books to the library on my bicycle, and immediately checked out another pile of books to finish research for Cathy on the footnotes for what would be published, in 1994, as Nobody’s Story. The years preceding this moment were, among other things, a monument to pre-internet research technologies. (Not quite pre-computer: I found a list of “Cathy wordstar file names” in my notes, though the floppy disks that stored the files are long gone.) They were pre-internet, pre-database; I attempted, poorly, to be a human Google.
For example, I recall sitting on the floor of the library that housed the call letter Z and sorting through piles of pamphlets and books on the eighteenth-century British publishing industry. On another occasion, I recall Cathy asking me, on a Friday, to summarize and report to her on all of Raymond Williams’s references to “culture” the following week, for a paper she was writing, and me reading, frantically, through hundreds of Williams pages – fortunately, a great pleasure – and then presenting the results, with disingenuous nonchalance, as if I had only just refreshed my previous notes.
So this is a memory of primitive technology and of hard labor, but it is also a memory of an extraordinary training in the production of scholarship, and, in particular, of a study of women writers. I had come to Berkeley from a stint working in the feminist publishing industry in Britain, and I had a particular interest in feminist criticism and in books on women writers. I also had an interest in having women professors (again, in short supply at Harvard). Then, in my first year of graduate school (1987-88), I took seven classes, with seven women faculty (something that is surely, even now, a bit unusual). I’d like to name and acknowledge them here: in addition to Cathy, they were Carolyn Porter, who became my dissertation director; Sue Schweik; Elizabeth Abel; Carolyn Dinshaw; Margie Ferguson (visiting for a year); and the late Janet Adelman and Jenny Franchot. They were all influential to my scholarly and pedagogic life. For example, my notes from Elizabeth Abel’s course on feminist literary theory are still very much with me when I teach, as are my memories of Carolyn Porter’s course on feminist approaches to American literature. Several of these women were then working on studies of women writers; for example, Sue Schweik was finishing her study of women poets and World War II, a project that influenced the book I subsequently wrote on women writers and war. But the study that I got to know the best, as research assistant, was Nobody’s Story. It provided a model to me of a theoretically sophisticated study of women writers that recovered non- canonical materials and took feminist literary criticism in new directions.
I hasten to add that that last, blurb-y phrase – “took feminist literary criticism in new directions” – is my own formulation, not Cathy’s. Nobody’s Story stands at some remove from the recovery mandates in many feminist studies of women writers: “Let it be known at the outset that … the ‘nobodies’ of my title are not ignored, silenced, erased, or anonymous women.” Nonetheless, the remarkable readings of women writers that Cathy produced contributed to the feminist project of taking women writers seriously and of analyzing gender, and certainly they influenced my own feminist scholarship. If the books on women writers that I watched in the making at Berkeley in the late 1980s were quite different from each other, as indeed were their writers from each other, then that is surely one of the benefits of having seven women faculty: it allows difference; no one person has to represent the whole of women scholars, or of feminist criticism as a field. For me, as the scholarly progeny – at least in part – of this Berkeley world, the chance to work on Nobody’s Story was invaluable. From my point of view on the book – from below the footnotes – the view was dazzling.
So too did Cathy’s English 200 leave a strong footprint on me: not only in the oversized feet of the Frankenstein monster, which it somewhat maddeningly, if productively, brought into my life, but also in the model of rigor, intelligence, and elegance that Cathy provided, as she kept us on our toes and gave us, as scholars, a place from which to stand. For this as for so much else, I welcome the chance – after, shockingly, almost a quarter-century – to say thank you.
These papers were: “Textual Variations in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” “Critical Responses to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” “Maternity and Its Discontents: Feminist Critics Read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” “Unmasking Monsters in The Bride of Frankenstein,” and a fifth one, which I seem to have lost (Author’s collection).
 Catherine Gallagher and Elizabeth Young, “Feminism and Frankenstein: A Short History of American Feminist Criticism,” Journal of Contemporary Thought 1 (1991): 97-109.
 Memo, Catherine Gallagher to Elizabeth Young, Aug. 29 [1990?], Author’s collection.
Elizabeth Young, “Here Comes the Bride: Wedding Gender and Race in Bride of Frankenstein.” Feminist Studies 17:3 (1991): 403-37.
 Elizabeth Young, Black Frankenstein: Race and the Making of an American Metaphor (New York: New York University Press, 2008).
 Catherine Gallagher, Nobody’s Story: The Vanishing Acts of Women Writers in the Marketplace, 1670-1820 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).
 Susan Schweik, A Gulf So Deeply Cut: American Women Poets and the Second World War (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991); Elizabeth Young, Disarming the Nation: Women’s Writing and the American Civil War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).
 Gallagher, Nobody’s Story, xiii.
“The Audience’s Writer is Always a Fiction”
Cathy was officially the second reader for my dissertation, but by the time I was done (and certainly in the dozen years since), she had taken on, and continues to occupy, a role far more central to my life and career than that position would usually suggest. Indeed, one of the reader’s reports for my first book took me to task for being “far too reliant on Catherine Gallagher … whose name begins to have a talismanic function.” He (I subsequently figured out who it was) insisted that “Brewer needs to cut down the citation of her by over a half.” I obliged, since I wanted to get the book published, so I could get tenure, so we could keep the house, but these lines have always made me rankle, not least because of the reader’s presumption that being “talismanic” (i.e., having some power beyond what this rather cranky guy thought strictly rational) is a bad thing. For me, that doesn’t necessarily follow, especially when it comes to names. As you’ll hear in a moment, I’ve become convinced that names are one of the principal instruments of what we could provisionally term “magic” in the modern world, so, of course, they’re “talismanic.” What else would they be?
But there’s magical thinking, and then there’s magical thinking, and it seems only fair to cop to a related charge: namely, that I’m a fetishist of Cathy’s texts (though I would hasten to add, a fetishist in the good sense that Roland Barthes invokes): I single out “quotations, formulae, turns of phrase,” and then go to town on them in a manner that my curmudgeonly reader would no doubt find completely inordinate. In the case of my first book, it was the line from the Oronooko chapter of Nobody’s Story about how “the more identical copies of a text there were, the less that text seemed to occupy any particular location”—which prompted a eureka moment in which I figured out the relation between materiality and immateriality that was the key to the entire phenomenon I was investigating.
In my current work, on the uses to which authorial names were put in the eighteenth- century Anglophone world, it’s a line from the next chapter: “indeed, ‘Bickerstaff’ came to mean ‘pseudonym,’ a name that anyone could use and all could deny.” Once again, a simple, perhaps even throw-away sentence has yielded a Cortez-staring-at-the-Pacific-like moment for me, when suddenly my mental world was rearranged and everything fell into place. The thrill of the line I just quoted comes from how it decouples a supposed authorial name from strict correspondence and reference, making Bickerstaff not only not equal to Swift or Steele, but also not necessarily equal to himself. That is, there were many Bickerstaffs in the early eighteenth century, and all that holds them together and makes them seem like different versions of the same being is the name they have in common (I’ve just discovered that Cathy has come to a similar conclusion, though not about authors, in her recent “What Would Napoleon Do?”). This line got me thinking, since I encountered it in Nobody’s Story, a book perhaps most famous for its account of the emergence of fictionality, about the ways in which authors—or rather the beings conjured up by authorial names, which are basically personified reputations—were themselves a kind of fiction. Clearly they’re not the same as the characters we meet with in novels. After all, they’re Somebodies, at least in the sense that the humans we take to be their ultimate referents have bodies (the beating of Dryden in Rose Alley is, I think we’d all agree, different than the beating of Odonnel in Roderick Random). And yet, as Cathy’s next sentence reminds us, authors were nonetheless completely available for manipulation: Manley “wrote a mock dedication to … Bickerstaff, explaining he must be a different person from Steele, for Steele was too honorable to have libeled her the way someone named Bickerstaff had in the Tatler.” So we have apparent Somebodies being treated as if they were Nobodies, as if they had no subjectivities or too too sullied flesh to get in the way.
Now it would easy enough to object at this point that Bickerstaff really is a fictional character, if not a novelistic one. But the same kind of treatment, with an equally blithe disregard for ontology, can be seen with any number of eighteenth-century authors of whose existence we are quite confident: Behn, Churchill, Dryden, D’Urfey, Fielding, Haywood, Manley, Pope, Sterne…. All of these figures (and many more), at least when they were being considered as authors (rather than as spouses or parents or rate payers), were subjected to the same kinds of manipulation and multiplication that Cathy noticed going on with Bickerstaff. That is, I’d like to suggest, these writers (for whom we have big, thick, standard biographies documenting their everyday lives) were all treated as if they were fictional, as if they could be pushed about like counters, as if they were but types or brands or preexisting positions in a field. Thinking of authors in this way allowed them to be put to use: as a shorthand for the value (or lack thereof) of a given text or reader or writer, or a set of tacit instructions as to what should be done with that text or reader or writer, or a sign of where that text or reader or writer should be located—literarily, socially, geographically. That is, what eighteenth-century literary culture ultimately valued in authors—when it was valuing them as authors—was the complex and ever- shifting assemblage of objects, emotions, and information which we call reputation, and which ultimately amounts to a kind of personhood which shouldn’t be conflated with any sort of felt humanity. Indeed, it was precisely because of this lack of felt humanity (if you prick a reputation, it does not bleed), that authorial names were able to function as they did. And what allowed these reputations to accrue in one place was, precisely, their names. The very thing that would seem to most mark a clinging to strict reference was instead what enabled the movement away from it. The name was what told readers, and writers, and other participants in the book trade that “here is an author,” “here is a being dependent on speculation and proliferation, in which he can attempt to participate, but never fully control,” “here is a kind of person even more defined by the vagaries of reputation than marriageable young women.”
So, for the purposes of this event, where does this exploration of authors as an alternate sort of fictional beings leave us? I have two closing speculations. One would simply be to observe that almost no one in the eighteenth century, so far as I’ve been able to tell, either tried to plumb or had any interest in plumbing the inner depths of the authors who were treated this way. The composite being held together by the name “Samuel Foote” was every bit as manipulable as, say, Evelina, but no one imagined that they had the kind of access to his thoughts and feelings that they had with Miss Belmont. Accordingly, authors were never objects of the kind of sympathy that Cathy has described, even though there were plenty of charitable campaigns on their behalf. Presumably this is a sign of the limitations of the “as if” thinking I was describing, an indication that Somebodies can only be fictionalized so far (though I would argue that authors, as creatures of reputation, can be taken further than most other people).
My other speculation would be about the role of geography in all this. Because her fictionality is so total, a figure like Evelina is oddly placeless: “everywhere and therefore nowhere” to use another of Cathy’s formulae. But as creatures of reputation, the distribution of which is necessarily uneven (because, among other things, it depends on access to literary gossip), authors work rather differently. Their names, if supplied as part of the originary artifact (which was rare for most literary genres in the eighteenth century), might go wherever their books went, and other places besides. But the significance of those names would not always travel along, and so the uses to which they could be put would vary dramatically from place to place. Accordingly, I’d like suggest in my last few moments, we would do well to begin to distinguish not only between different kinds of fictionality (as Cathy’s been doing), but also to consider how and when to reintroduce space and place (and time, too, for that matter) into our thinking about fictional beings. We’ve had an Atlas of the European Novel for upwards of a decade now; perhaps it’s time for an atlas of fictionality.
OUR BODIES’ STORIES
“Media Reveries: Nineteenth-Century Tobacco Papers and the Dreaming Body”
[Image from Cope’s Smoke-Room Booklets no. 8 c. 1895]
For several years, this image has enchanted me; I have come to think that it represents both an act of reading and a transaction between a human and a book for which the Victorians didn’t yet have a term, but which we might call media consumption. This broader designation accommodates the fact that we don’t know if the person is reading text, looking at pictures, or – like us – doing both together. Media consumption also captures the desultory, leisurely, quasi- masturbatory character of this activity: the smoke suggests the temporality of reverie, in which subjectivity is temporarily effaced, engaged by print or image, and remade. If this image represents media consumption, then its caption strikes us oddly: surely we care for the book rather than the pipe. What cultural work is the pipe smoke performing? I think it enacts a parody of productive labor. The smoke suggests that media consumption is a process akin to burning: like fire, the mind consumes the paper pages, producing smoke and ash; but these vanish. The twisted whorls of smoke also echo the convolved wood of the chair, suggesting not only that the time of reverie turns in on itself, but so too does the interior space of bourgeois self-reflection. The smoke thus mirrors our own acts of looking and reading: perhaps the time and space of this scene is as ephemeral as the pipe, for which we care until the moment we extinguish it, or decide to turn the page. Smoking becomes an analogy for media consumption. As such, it suggests the mediatization of reverie: if the pipe is the accessory of reverie, meditation, and fantasy, then so too is the book. I said a moment ago that this scene of smoking parodied production; this comic gesture has a more serious upshot for literary and cultural history. When print media exploded in the nineteenth century, the media consumer assumed the pose of potential media producer – for example, as Walter Benjamin suggested, through practices such as writing letters to the editor.9 In such writing, one produces oneself; but this identity is not based on original deeds or experiences – it derives from previous media consumption. That the mediatization of reverie expands to include the wider self can be seen here in the way the body replicates the book: the legs echo its boards and the hands repeat the clasps; the outsize tome replaces the torso, which it ensconces in its interior. So the image can also be read as media’s invasion of the body and self.
The story I’m telling about this image is a microcosm of the larger story I’d like to tell in my next article and, hopefully, book. The article will be about tobacco ephemera; the book will be about media addiction. Tobacco ephemera is the vast subliterary archive of smoke-room booklets, doggerel, cartoons, sketches, cards, and other writing and illustration about tobacco, which burgeoned in the second half of the century. The image comes from a series of this material, Cope’s Smoke-Room Booklets published during the 1890s. In the process of normalizing and commodifying reverie, tobacco ephemera humorously produces the mediatized self as papery, insubstantial, and even illusory. My book will trace the wider trajectory of the discourse of media encroachments on putatively direct or authentic experience, beginning with Coleridge’s complaints about circulating libraries entrancing their clients, and ending with Horkheimer and Adorno’s theorization of pseudo-individuals mass produced by the culture industry. I can sketch this trajectory quickly using two more pieces of tobacco ephemera:
[“Hymn to Saint Nicotine” from Booklet #10, “The Smoker’s Garland” (1889) and Cope’s Tobacco Plant (Christmas 1871)]
Here, we see the smoke as the materialized space of visual fantasy and poetry; and here, George Du Maurier, “Sancta Nicotina Consolatrix.” Punch, Jan. 30, 1869 in a now-rare early cartoon by the inveterate smoker George Du Maurier, we get a kind of prefigurement of The Dialectic of Enlightenment – they’re smoking, but they also seem to be hooked up to a media device.
As some of you will recall, in my early years as a graduate student I was an enthusiastic cigarette smoker, and I’m sure that when I visited Cathy’s office hours and her home for Saturday morning dissertation chapter workshops, I reeked of tobacco and other forms of immaturity. I also spent much of graduate school trying to make my own reverie and media consumption productive – inevitably by reading and imitating other arguments while desperately trying to muster originality. Cathy’s almost Zen-like composure and the brilliance of her written arguments and talks were an ideal I wanted – and am still trying – to emulate. As I have started to advise my own Ph.D. students, I realize too the great value of her exemplary technique as a mentor. Others might have confronted me directly over my foul and stupid habit, or my other, critical errors and flaws, but her style was more generous, patient, and wise. I will always be grateful to Cathy both for her actual guidance and for the inspiration of her example. Thank you, Cathy.
 Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”
William A. Cohen
Here is one way in which Cathy Gallagher has become a quasi-fictional character in the quasi-factual life I have led since departing Berkeley. It’s one of those stories I have told so frequently over the years that I can no longer quite tell how much resemblance it bears to any referential reality. But I think it may say something about the truth of Cathy, and about her pedagogy, at least, in my memory, as well as about the ongoing introjection one performs of powerfully formative mentors.
The story is probably familiar to many of us gathered here, but the version as I have told it goes like this. Cathy had so many doctoral students that it would have been a full-time job to tend to us individually, so she developed an ingenious system of organizing a dissertation group, which convened whenever a member had drafted a chapter. The meetings began with some preliminary snacks and gossip, after which we settled down to business. Then the oracle—that is, Cathy—would pronounce a single, definitive, gnomic sentence on the chapter at hand, a sentence that seemed at once coruscating and recondite, devastating in its analysis, and yet, to our understanding, somehow oblique in its approach to the concerns of the writer. Silence ensued. The writer of the day fidgeted in discomfort as the rest of the group looked away awkwardly. Finally, some brave soul would clear his or her throat and tentatively offer that, on page 14, the comma in line 3 might more properly be a semi-colon, or perhaps the footnote on page 36 could be expanded a little.
Relieved, we would gradually move into a discussion of the ideas in the chapter, its organization and relation to the dissertation as a whole, points of interpretive dispute, and so on.
Cathy sat back or moved things along or made a wry comment as the rest of us regained our footing. Eventually, after about 90 minutes of increasingly substantive and meaningful conversation, a sort of distillate would arise from the steam of the group’s collective intellect, and a couple of people would get very animated and try to articulate for the writer precisely what the heart of the problem was—and what really hard work of thinking was going to be required to make the chapter be its best self. Then Cathy would again utter that same single, definitive, but now no longer gnomic sentence with which she had started, and suddenly all was clear. The oracle had revealed itself, and we had finally come around, through the amassed brain power of a dozen reasonably smart graduate students, to understand that what she had offered at the outset was precisely what we now got. How could we not have apprehended this on her first pronouncing it? Why should it have taken so long to recognize its importance, its pertinence, and its eviscerating insight? With that the group broke up, though a couple of people lingered to comfort the writer with the promise that there really was a dissertation in there somewhere.
I am willing to entertain the idea that, however much I cling to the truth of this story, it is a fictive concoction born of my own projected idealization of Cathy and her pedagogy. The psychic investments of students in their teachers admittedly have, as one of their effects, the transformation of a particular Somebody into a fictive Nobody—that is, into a type of character that serves their own narratives of oedipal or professional development. Yet in looking back on Cathy’s published writing, I find uncanny repetitions of her pedagogic performance in our dissertation group, which confirms my sense that this is one of the sources of her apotheosis in the inner lives of her former students. Saying the important thing in advance, at the start, and then unveiling the very same thing at the climax as an epiphany that, it turns out, you already knew, but didn’t know you knew: this is also the drama of Cathy’s writing. On picking up an article or book chapter of hers, one is seduced by the writing voice, the invitation to consider a problem in literary history, interpretation, theory, or methodology, and something goes by quickly whose impact is not quite immediately registered. But the wonder as well as the generosity of her work is to allow readers to feel that they knew all along what they only later discover they had needed her to find out.
If the form of Cathy’s scholarship and teaching enacts such revelation as a kind of Nachträglichkeit, moreover, I have an idea that it is also the recurrent theme of her work. The encounter with another—often, an other who is, ontologically, profoundly different from oneself, by virtue of being fictive, inscrutable, or dead—produces forms of knowledge as well as forms of desire. Perhaps most overtly in her discussion of the bioeconomics of Our Mutual Friend, Cathy suggests that there is an inherent attraction in the phenomenon of consciousness returning to a seemingly dead body, animating it with value and restoring its human identity. Once that fictive body resumes life, becoming an evidently whole person existing again in the world, it ironically ceases to hold much interest for observers. This spirit of reanimation, of value and interest that is apparent only through a backward glance, this too is the argument—both in exposition and performance—of her more recent work on fictionality and on the necessity for readers of immersion in the world, not quite of the dead, but of the unliving—which is to say, the fictive. As her moving essay “George Eliot: Immanent Victorian” proposes, those figures’ desire for us, for our reality, makes them in turn the objects of our interest.
Cathy has shown us over and again how characters and readers come into knowledge of themselves not only through processes of intellectual revelation, but through affective, aesthetic, ethical, and somatic means as well. It is a movement through time: forwards and backwards, between what you were and what you will have been, or between your half-understanding and your potential for knowledge. It is also a movement across the plain that separates animation from the inanimate, blurring the distinction between fiction and the referential, phenomenal world we mostly inhabit outside of novels. A little like Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz, you actually have to discover what you have known all along; and a little like Dorothea, in Middlemarch, you have to inhabit the nonbeing of death and of fiction in order to come to life. Experiences of knowing and of being are what an attention to fictiveness affords us. And so it is in a gesture of some reverence that I propose that Cathy is not merely Somebody for all of us, but also an enabling and enchanting Nobody, whom each one of us, in our own way, bears forth. It is perhaps our job as teachers to make ourselves fictive—if not inanimate—in the lives of our students, in order to serve their necessarily idealizing fantasies. Like Dorothea, aching to be real, one might say of Cathy that “the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive.”
It has been twenty-five years since Cathy and Tom Laqueur’s collection, The Making of the Modern Body appeared as a special issue of Reproductions in 1986. A generation of scholars has come and gone in that time and much ink has been spilled, many dissertations written and many books published, including significant ones by people on this panel.
So, how is The Body doing? No more a bawling infant nor even awkward adolescent, it has grown up, but what kind of changes are there in the adult version of The Body? In other words, how does it differ now from its early years? There are two sides to this question: the first is a quantitative issue about the level of interest in the topic, as reflected in new scholarship. The other is a qualitative issue: what does that new work look like? In the time given, I will be sketchy on that last, but there is one significant difference I want to mention.
To answer the first question, I took a look at dissertation figures. Body itself is too multivalent a term to produce usable results in a search of literature dissertations: it leads to works focused on entire bodies of poetry, for example, as well as a perplexing series of references to automobile bodies in literature dissertations. Instead, I looked at dissertations in literature that include medicine in their keywords, using this as a way to identify projects with an emphasis on the materiality of the body and produce a usable index of overall interest.
Looking at the changes across time, a remarkable story emerges about stories of the body. In the decade of the 1960s, there were only three dissertations on literature and medicine. This tripled in the 1970s, with four in 1971-75 and six between 1976 and 1980. This is still too few dissertations to establish a trend, but one of those 1966 dissertations, in book form, may have encouraged a few young scholars to look at the connection. George Rousseau’s 1966 dissertation, “Doctors and Medicine in the Novels of Tobias Smollett” began Rousseau’s career as one of the most significant voices in the field. In an essay for Iris in 1981, he reviewed the state of scholarship at that point on literature and medicine. He notes that the field has not “claimed significant numbers of students,” and he criticizes the anemic quality of what little work did exist: the “few students who have studied the interrelation of literature and medicine have either been unable to communicate their enthusiasm to readers or have failed to view the interrelation as . . . profound” (406-7). He later explains what he means by “profundity,” identifying it as reciprocity between the two fields, so that there is a mutuality of influence taking place rather than a unidirectional model in which concepts originate in medicine and are then reflected in literature, as was the case with the work he complains about. Instead of profundity, the unidirectional approach tends to produce conclusions that take the form of elaborate annotations: what disease does Marianne Dashwood really suffer when reduced to her feverish condition, in Sense and Sensibility? does Jo the street sweeper in Bleak House succumb to tuberculosis or not? Such an approach does not produce a viable research specialization, as Rousseau notes: “Without some reciprocity from literature to medicine as well as from medicine to literature–there is neither a field nor its state to survey” (424).
Given the tiny number of dissertations on literature and medicine in the 1960s and 1970s, Rousseau looks a good deal like Matthew Arnold here, prophesying that his future is to “die in the wilderness.” But unlike Arnold, Rousseau did live to enter the promised land, and much sooner than he expected. The change was already underway as he wrote his desultory state- of-the-field article. Between 1981 and 1985 alone, thirty-one dissertations were published on literature and medicine, with another thirty-one in the next five years. These sixty-three dissertations in the 1980s represent a six-fold increase over the previous decade, clearly enough to establish a new trend. What happened? I would like to attribute this to Cathy and Tom’s anthology, but it comes late in the decade. However, that work did reflect the solution to Rousseau’s dilemma, which lay in the development of new theoretical tools that made interdisciplinary scholarship possible in ways that the earlier methodologies of English and the history of medicine precluded. Poststructuralism increased interdisciplinary work generally in the 1980s, and literature and medicine was one of several boats lifted in the rising tide.
Nonetheless, the 1980s with its sixty-three dissertations was just a warm-up act to what followed, with ninety-four dissertations in the next five years alone and one-hundred-thirteen in the following. The 1990s saw 207 dissertations in all, more than triple the number of the 1980s, making it the third decade in a row that saw an exponential growth in new work in the field. Between 2001 and 2010, there were 203 additional dissertations, sustaining the level of interest reached in the 1990s. This new pattern–a steady state rather than a steady increase–suggests that work on the body’s stories has matured by now, reaching a point of saturation with the currently available theoretical tools.
Seen as a bildungsroman, the story of the story of the body describes somebody living a meager impoverished existence before finding a minimal means of support, including positive future prospects. Hard work pays off handsomely after a little while, and somebody finds themselves driving about town, finally, in a coach and four. It is not possible to say how long this good fortune will last, but–assuming that dissertations today mean books tomorrow–we can confidently say that The Body is not yet ready for retirement, even if Cathy is.
What, then, does somebody look like in adulthood? I recently surveyed ten recent books on Victorian literature and medicine. Of them, only two lacked Rousseau’s desideratum of profundity. The remainder all conceptualized some kind of interaction between the two discourses, as he insisted was essential to the field. But of these, only half had any significant engagement with medical writing as such. The others relied mainly on secondary sources, placing medical texts in a decidedly subsidiary role. Kirstie Blair’s book, Victorian Poetry and the Culture of the Heart ̧ was a significant exception.
So there is room for improvement. Since that survey, several particularly important books have appeared: Nicholas Dames’s Physiology of the Body, Linda Austin’s book on nostalgia, and Bill Cohen’s book on the senses. There is excellent work being done today in the field, and I think there is particular promise for new work on the body that draws specifically on Bill Bell’s “Thing Theory,” as a way to emphasize the body’s materiality by viewing it as an object that comes to life not of its own accord but in the perception of another. There is work to be done, and, to me, that promises a vigorous old age for The Body, one that I we can all look forward to with pleasure because of Cathy’s and Tom’s pioneering work in the field.
Austin, Linda M. Nostalgia in Transition, 1780-1917. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007.
Blair, Kirstie. Victorian Poetry and the Culture of the Heart. New York, NY: Oxford UP, 2006.
Cohen, William A. Embodied: Victorian Literature and the Senses. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.
Dames, Nicholas. “‘The Withering of the Individual': Psychology in the Victorian Novel.” In A Concise Companion to the Victorian Novel, edited by Francis O’Gorman. 91-112. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.
Gallagher, Catherine, and Thomas Walter Laqueur, eds. The Making of the Modern Body: Sexuality and Society in the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.
Logan, Peter Melville. “Literature and Medicine: Twenty-Five Years Later.” Literature Compass 5, no. 5 (2008): 964-80. Rousseau, G. S. “Literature and Medicine: The State of the Field.” Iris 72, no. 3 (1981): 406-24.
“The Queen’s Two Bodies”
I came to Berkeley in the late 70s through a door briefly held open for women returning to school after living other kinds of lives. I had, by that time, led several kinds of lives, one of the privileges of being young in the 1960s, but none of those lives prepared me for English studies at Berkeley. Let’s just say that a classmate labeled me a “fatuous humanist” early on, and it took some time before I knew what she was talking about, and even longer before I could concede that she was right. It was, however, driven home to me that I had some serious catching up to do when I watched Carolyn Porter in her course on Marxist theory write “1789” on the blackboard and announce defiantly: “I don’t care what you say, something happened then and it had consequences!”
I eventually managed to tack my sails to the prevailing winds which, as the late 70s became the early 80s, could get very gusty indeed. I got roughed up intellectually which I sorely needed, and while I was figuring out why the object of inquiry kept vanishing under scrutiny I found refuge, the scoundrel’s sort, in a kind of flat-footed common sense, an appeal to experience that I’m afraid I still haven’t fully discarded as a first line of defense. I think now, I was not so much a fatuous humanist,–that would have required more awareness of the stakes involved than I had at that time—as I was an enthusiast in a moment when suspicion was the ruling premise of scholarly inquiry. It was difficult to be taken with a work of literature at the same time that you felt yourself to be taken in by it.
Though I had finished my coursework by the time Cathy joined the Berkeley faculty, It was my good fortune to audit Cathy’s and Tom Laqueur’s seminar on the making of the modern body— Here, too, of course, the body was a site of discursive processes that were more often than not malign in social practice. Still, the body was present and more than accounted for, and history was back, too. It was possible to get “1789” back on the blackboard though not to chronicle what happened so much as to analyze what could be thought in its wake. My dissertation, then book, The Sickroom in Victorian Fiction, arose from my observation in class one day that convalescence seemed to be the most desirable state in nineteenth-century literature—a throwaway line in the old formalism, a future in the academy in the new dispensation.
The seminar began with excerpts from Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies, that classic work of the 50s that demarcated the natural body of the king from its symbolic counterpart as the repository of a non-contingent power transferrable over time. You will recognize then the force of my title, for Cathy was and is to me the ideal of the female intellectual, and a particular woman in the world who could respond to my question about having a baby and writing a dissertation at the same time by saying, “introduce solid food early.”
Cathy’s dual nature, ideal and embodied, seems entirely in keep with her career-long inquiry into the relations between fact and value, between person and persona, between the actual and the fictional; relations which are never, in her criticism, locked into an unbridgeable impasse or a self-cancelling opposition, but rather engaged in a kind of conceptual pas de deux, rich with implication, and responsive in unexpected ways with our own desire as readers for significance as well as signification. It is not surprising that Cathy returns again and again to the work of George Eliot, another stirring exemplar of the Queen’s Two Bodies. My favorite moment in all Cathy’s writings comes in the British Academy lecture, “George Eliot, Immanent Victorian” (an alternative title for my talk was “Cathy Gallagher, Immanent Victorianist”) subsequently published in Representations. In an argument with many dazzling twists and turns, she says of Dorothea Brooke’s erotically charged recognition that she loves Will, that Dorothea, as “’type,’ ideality, fictional construct,” comes to signify “the word itself wanting to take on flesh,” and that we want it for her, and therefore come to value it in ourselves.
Eliot’s realism, in other words, is neither a snare nor a delusion—she makes us feel that her characters, aroused to consciousness of their own amorous bodies and summoned into being by the longing of the reader, yearn to be real. The argument saves a place for the capacity of art to move us toward not away from the embodied self, or as Cathy put it, toward the need not only to mean but to be, and it does so not by appealing to the universal promptings of the human heart but through a painstaking intellectual demonstration of how one might achieve this end through the particular properties of fictional reference.
My current and, I begin to fear, interminable project owes a good deal to Cathy, though not in terms of my capacity for anything like her intellectual rigor and erudition. The social history of British author societies that I am embarked on arose from my desire to return to my own enthusiasms before “author” appeared in scare quotes and to interview people whose attachment to a writer is akin to and often identical to their attachment to their own past.
I hope to populate the current academic studies of heritage, literary tourism, and author-love with an individualized view of the men and women behind those abstract signifiers before their reattachment to notions of the reinvention of the nation or the malefactions of the heritage industry. Who organized these groups, sustained them with such immense investments of time and energy, and motivated them for more than a century to preserve literary materials, serve as custodians of municipal history and culture, and venture into modes of textual analysis before, as the late, lamented Philip Collins put it in TLS, the smart guys got into the act?
I’m a professional academic now, no longer the naïve enthusiast I once was or at least experienced myself to be, and my interest in the general reader, especially the institutions that such readers have developed and sustained, is shaped by the difference between what they do and what I do. And what I think and hope I’m doing is shaped by what Catherine Gallagher has exemplified throughout her career. Not surprisingly she puts it best in the Introduction to The Body Economic. Speaking of her examination of the theories and controversies of nineteenth- century political economists, she writes: “It has led me to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that their theories were motivated by the same drive that animates most of us as professional intellectuals: a genuine desire to understand the phenomena they observed.”
The benefit of the doubt—a genuine desire to understand the phenomena we observe. If we have exposed objectivity once and for all, if we are fully apprised of the extent to which we are determined by the discursive formations of our own historical period and by our current disciplinary protocols, indeed, if we do well to reveal the dynamics of processes which have the power to harm and to marginalize, we also have available to us a genuine desire to understand the phenomena we observe. Like the desire to be real, the desire to understand just might be our enduring raison d’etre and our saving grace.
But what of the Queen’s other body? Five years ago I dropped in during Cathy’s office hours unannounced during a visit to Berkeley. I was feeling rather depleted by the common experiences of middle-age–the last child about to leave the house, a bout of ill-health, a certain dip in my professional energies. This time Cathy recommended yoga. “Yoga changed my life,” she said. Since the solid food tip had worked so well, I decided to give yoga a try. I can now do some not-so-shabby poses, though not the headstand with which Cathy has delighted her grandchildren; and sometimes, in the sweaty sublimities of that ancient practice where immanence and transcendence meet, “There are moments when the flesh is as numinous / as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.” Nameste.
*The quoted lines are from “Meditation at Lagunitas” by Robert Hass.
Trisha Urmi Banerjee
“With Cathy Behind Me”
Between professors and graduate students, the relationship is an asymmetrical one. Between professors and 18-year-old undergraduate students, the kind I was when Cathy taught me, it is even more asymmetrical. Professors have read more than you, written more than you, and they see more than you. They know themselves, of course, but having once been a student like you, they know you too. They’ve seen more of the past and they can see more of the future. They are, in other words, like the novelists who govern their characters – knowing, seeing, and speaking everything. Even if they do not speak all the words of the class, as in a lecture course – or a novel without any dialogue – they always have at least the last word. This is true of even the most democratic seminar.
But like in Girard’s theory of the classic novel, where the protagonist becomes capable of reading the novel he is in, a good professor will help students rectify some of the asymmetry by the end of the semester. She will render the student a bit more wise, a bit more knowledgeable, and, in the rare case, capable of teaching it themselves.
This last rare case was impossible between Cathy and me, of course, since the asymmetry in wisdom, knowledge, and talent was even more severe than usual.
The severity of our asymmetry is reminiscent of the kind in a famous literary example of a student-teacher relationship. The relationship I’m thinking of has nothing else in common with Cathy’s and mine, and indeed, even the severity of asymmetry I’m summoning for comparison lies not in the relative wisdom but in the relative power between the parties involved. I mean the relationship between Mr. Creakle and David in David Copperfield, a novel I first read in Cathy’s Dickens seminar.
I can’t conceive of a teacher more different from Cathy than Mr. Creakle, who exerts an authority and dominion over David that is total. So violent is the supremacy of his power that he gives it a physical representation – displaces it directly onto David’s body. But he does this not with a predictable type of corporal punishment that would cause David physical pain. Rather, he exploits the very shape of David’s body – the asymmetry suggested by that shape – to effect a psychological agony so haunting that David begins to forget who he is. Mr. Creakle does the opposite of teach, in other words; he unteaches.
Before we contemplate that terrible “corporal” punishment a bit more, we’ll remember that David is sent to Mr. Creakle’s school because, in a fit of justified fury, he bites his cruel step-father Mr. Murdstone. This is the crime that “justifies” Mr. Creakle in making David wear a sign that reads: “Take care of him. He bites.” What makes this punishment so uniquely cruel is the fact that Mr. Creakle makes David wear the sign, famously and bizarrely, on his back. Since David did not write and cannot see the sign – since he cannot see, is the only person who cannot see, his back – he is made to experience asymmetry as embodiment. He is made to feel as imprisoned in the student-teacher power dynamic as he is imprisoned in his own body. “What I suffered from that placard,” he says, “nobody can imagine. It was no relief to turn around and find nobody, for wherever my back was, there I imagined somebody always to be.” Of course, we can all imagine David’s suffering, since we all have a back. But he feels alone because no one has the relationship to his back that he does.
The placard reads “take care of him, he bites” using “take care” in one of its nineteenth- century senses of “beware.” But it also ironically reminds us what Mr. Creakle should be doing: that is, taking care of David in the most basic sense – in the sense of nurturing him and teaching him, protecting his back rather than exposing it, making him less vulnerable rather than more so. It reminds us that teachers are always, in some sense, behind the backs of their students – deciding and knowing their assignments and their grades before the students do, rewarding and punishing them at will, controlling what they know and how they see. Students can only go behind the backs of their teachers when they break the rules of the pedagogical game – when they dare to cheat.
The rules of this game are not so different from the rules of the fictional game, which as I said features a very similar asymmetry. So it is that at this moment, David’s body embodies his relative asymmetry not only to Mr. Creakle, but also to the author of the novel in which he is stuck: his body embodies his character-hood. Speaking from a location David can neither see nor read, speaking about David in a voice that is not David’s, the placard assumes all the authority of the author himself. Only the worst teacher, and perhaps the most cruel novelist, would have a student or character experience the vulnerability of their positions through their own bodies, from inside themselves. No wonder that David says, “I positively began to have a dread of myself, as a kind of wild boy who did bite.” It’s neither the sign’s existence nor its content that makes David begin to lose his mind. It is the sign’s location on his back. For it’s this location that gives the sign the authority both of Mr. Creakle and of Dickens himself. And wouldn’t you begin to believe a placard that spoke about you with the authority both of a powerful teacher and your own author?
Unlike David, who because of his teacher comes to dread himself as a kind of wild boy who bites, I come to Cathy when I begin to doubt and dread for myself. I do this because I’ve found no strategy more effective than putting myself in Cathy’s periphery so that she might see me and my back – so that she might put her brilliance on my back like a sign, as it were – and so that I might then try to see myself the way she does. Because in Cathy’s actual or written presence, I see myself not as a kind of wild boy who bites but as a kind of worthy girl with promise. She seems to see me as capable, so I feel capable. And since feeling capable inevitably amounts to the same as being so, this is the most powerful way in which Cathy has taught me – has taken care of me. She’s strengthened my backbone so that my ignorance might inspire not dread but adventure – so that my ignorance might invoke curiosity rather than vulnerability. She has shaped my self-relationship in a way only Cathy could do. In so doing, she’s effectively authored much of my life, making it a much better story so far.
I first encountered Catherine Gallagher while an MPhil student at Oxford. It was one of those splendid weeks in the Michaelmas Term course on the Victorian novel when we were charged with reading six novels—one of them Middlemarch—and a lengthy docket of criticism. Fortunately, I had read the novels before, and so could spend the balance of my time studying the critical selections. One of the essays we were assigned was “George Eliot: Immanent Victorian”.
Literature provides us with an inexhaustible fund of narrative-altering encounters with documents: the Puritan Malvolio chances upon a letter he believes to be from his mistress and makes a spectacle of himself in cross-gartered yellow stockings; the illiterate Krook holds a stack of letters that in Guppy’s hands will help to resolve the mystery at the heart of Bleak House; Dorothea reads Casaubon’s codicil and is transformed. To place my reading of “Immanent Victorian” among these examples may suggest to you that I suffer from delusions of literary grandeur. However, I can say without exaggeration that discovering this essay inflected the trajectory of my academic career, sending me on to Berkeley expressly to work with its author. And that is at least as good as Krook’s spontaneous combustion.
What is it about “Immanent Victorian” that compelled my interest and directed my academic future, long before I had critical “work” to be influenced by its proposals? Without doubt, it was the voice of the author—a voice rich with perspicuity and intelligence, to be sure, but also with humanity. It was a voice I had only too infrequently encountered during those early years of my engagement with literary criticism. What drew me to study the nineteenth- century British novel was not a theoretical impulse, nor was it an interest in literary history or gender relations or the novel form per se; it was something rather more ineffable. I had fallen in love with Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë and Charles Dickens during the stormy years of my preadolescence, most likely because my outsize sense of persecution by my peers found irresistible the narrative of the unjustly maligned or ignored youth who through the strength of his or her inherent intellectual and moral worth wins both love and position. Because of my own deep attachment to these novels, I perhaps naively assumed that most people who elected to write about them would at a minimum like their subject. When I began reading criticism more extensively, I was surprised how often I felt that the author of the piece and I could not possibly have read the same book; could it be that Pride and Prejudice ends tragically because Elizabeth Bennet fails to become a physician or lawyer or banker and has to settle for the relatively poor bargain of marrying one of the richest, handsomest, and most worthy men in England? Could it be that the British novel is a sloppy, immature version of a form perfected on the Continent (you know, all those French novels I kept trying to love, but instead found chilly and unyielding)?
It’s not that I was looking for only appreciative readings of the novel; I was looking for a critical voice that was theoretically rigorous and generous to its material at the same time—a voice that would cause even those outside of the select club of literature specialists to nod their heads in both wonder and assent. I found that voice in “Immanent Victorian”, a remarkable piece that analyzes Middlemarch brilliantly, yet does not murder to dissect. To refresh our memories, “Immanent Victorian” examines how negotiations between the species and the type produce fictional characters in Middlemarch. In her first two “character studies” [if you’ll forgive me that!] of Mr. Brooke and Mary Garth, Gallagher shows how Eliot’s endeavors to present these characters as types of a general sort of person (rather than as references to extradiegetic persons, in the manner of a roman á clef) ineluctably lead to a particularity that unfits them as types. As Gallagher more elegantly puts it, “it is in the nature of examples . . . to exceed that which they are supposed to exemplify” (65). In Middlemarch, this excess is charted in “a process of increasing embodiment” (65); falling away from type and into fictional particularity means taking on flesh. The desire that constitutes the propulsive force of Middlemarch’s narrative is ultimately “the desire to be real” (66).
Nowhere is this more clearly rendered than in Dorothea’s history, which as Gallagher describes it, is not only a veering away from the heroic type of St. Theresa of Avilla, but a veering away from the types of failed latter-day Theresas described in the book’s “Prelude”. In her final, quite literal incarnation, Dorothea feels “new organs” stir within her—new organs that carry a desire for Will Ladislaw, unrealized until she reads Casaubon’s fatal codicil. According to Gallagher, in this pivotal moment Dorothea “experiences not just a reorganization of her consciousness but its annexation of a desiring body” (71). Dorothea, like so many other heroes and heroines of the nineteenth-century participates in a “massive redirection of longing away from disembodied transcendence and toward embodied immanence” (72). This assessment of Dorothea Brooke took my breath away when I first read it; it was both acute and deeply humane.
Later, while writing my dissertation, Gallagher’s conclusion that for many nineteenth- century realists “[t]o enliven is not so much to inspirit as to embody” (73) became an essential part of my work. In my own examination of education and desire in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British novel, I describe how the reader’s desire to realize fictional personae intersects with reforming relations between the sexes. For example, Mary Wollstonecraft realizes and redresses Rousseau in Maria: Or, The Wrongs of Woman through Maria’s attempts to make St. Preux breathe in the person of Darnford. The attempt is a failure, but it is not because the reader’s impulse to realize the fictional is mistaken. Rather, the model of eros and mentorship extended by Rousseau, though alluring, is insufficient to Maria’s and Wollstonecraft’s needs. Like Gallagher, I too believe that the impulse to make real lies at the heart of nineteenth-century realism and contemporary reading practices.
A less intentional, though by no means unremarkable aspect of my work is my interest in how readers seek to forge real-life pedagogical relationships with mentors met only in prose. In my dissertation, I traced this phenomenon among readers of Rousseau, as well as readers of Charlotte Bronte and Eliot. Seldom did this quest yield a productive pedagogical relationship. Fortunately, for a young woman in England who chanced to read an essay by Cathy Gallagher, the converse was true. I had the good fortune to meet and work with Cathy Gallagher, so if I were ever asked, as Joe Gargery was by Pip, to define the word “master-mind”, I could point to an extradiegetic, very real person and say, “her”.
Those who merely dabble in the School of Gallagher – those triflers, the rumor of whose existence we must take on faith, their existence never having met the standard of ocular proof – doubtless know that in 1994, Cathy Gallagher sparked a revolution in thinking about the novel. Where theorists of realism had long instructed us to notice the marks of the genre’s realness – its attention to concrete particulars, its journalistic commitment to representing the events of the day, its administration of the line separating the domestic and public realms – suddenly, we were invited to contemplate the possibility that what might matter about realism was its fictionality. So, we learned, not only did the creation of not-quite-real stand-ins for actual people allow newly professionalized authors to navigate with relative safety the otherwise treacherous waters of political scandal, but the outfitting of such allegorical characters with the elaborate fictional accessories that confirmed the terms of their partisan dastardliness enabled these same authors to make a living from representations they would not quite own.
But if Cathy’s pressure on the fictionality of realism shifted fundamentally and permanently the terrain within which the novel’s history is discerned, her attention to another of the defining terms of that “lengthy fictional prose narrative” that is the novel, while equally provocative, has remained a more recondite course of study. In her essay “Formalism and Time,” published in MLQ in 2000, Cathy announced her plan to turn her attention to the question of the novel’s lengthiness, until then, she rightly asserted, “the most thoroughly neglected word in the definition.” Before I had even read more than a page into the essay, I found myself entranced by the project, since it seemed to me to exemplify, in an instant, the essential quality of the Cathy-brilliance. It seemed to exemplify, that is, her capacity to turn elements of the literary others see as too self-evident to be bothered with into the stuff of the most telling analysis, a formalism made strange by history. And more: her declared commitment to developing a “concept of length” spoke to her remarkable capacity not only to make her scholarship matter to her teaching, but to make her teaching thicken and enrich her scholarship. Who among us who has struggled to fit a sufficient number of triple-deckers into our term’s syllabus to tell a little-bit complex story about the period (or, for that matter, who has fielded office-hour complaints about their Victorian survey’s reading load) can maintain the absurdity that the length of Victorian novels is not one of their essential qualities?
As I read on, I came upon Cathy’s characterization of the narratologists’ approach to narrative. While we might assume that narratologists’ interest in the formal structures by which narratives unfold might of necessity commit them to theorizing lengthiness, Cathy reminds us that narratologists’ “fondness of graphs and charts is notorious…Formalist analyses seem bent on showing that, although a novel represents a temporal sequence by means of temporal sequence, it nevertheless has, or should have, a form that can be made apprehensible all at once, in a picture or a fractal.” The analytical projects with putatively the greatest investment in making sense of the dynamics of narratives’ extension do so, paradoxically, Cathy tells us, by translating those temporal movements into instantaneously legible spatial patterns. Because we Berkeley denizens of the School of Gallagher have benefited both from our encounters with the more abstruse works of the Gallagher oeuvre as well as by the pedagogical proddings, both painful and exhilarating, of the Master herself, I found myself recollecting that long ago afternoon, somewhere around the Spring of ’92, when I received word that Cathy had finished reading my first-ever chapter of my first-ever dissertation, and that she was ready to meet me in her office to discuss it. Since we are in the business of scene-setting here today, it should be noted, for the sake of accuracy, if not realism’s now-irrelevant realness, that this first-ever chapter, on Henry James’s What Maisie Knew and the history of Anglo-American contract law, was a mess. It also should be pointed out that while I had some vague misgivings about the aforementioned messiness of the chapter, I had managed mainly to repress them, convincing myself, as I settled myself on the floor of the venerable Adelman-Gallagher second-floor receiving parlor to wait my turn in the office-hour line, that my work on Maisie and contract contained the key to at least 64 percent, if not all, mythologies.
Here’s how our meeting went:
Cathy opened her door and invited me to sit down. She had read my chapter, she told me. I nodded. Had I ever read the Borges story about the chess player? she asked. I averred that I had not. Borges tells the story of a chess player, she explained, who held the moves of an entire game of chess in his head at once. Because all moves are equally present to him, he cannot begin, and because he cannot begin, he cannot play chess at all, much less win at the game. That, Cathy concluded, was what reading my chapter was like, to encounter an argument in which every element was equally pressing and present, a vast horizontal array of observations to be encountered here and there, rather than an analysis begun, developed, concluded.
If I mention that what I did next, on stumbling out of Cathy’s office, was to buy, in quick succession, a coffee frozen yogurt from Yogurt Park, a pair of red shoes and a new softball glove, this would only be in part to suggest the therapeutically salutary pleasures of a few well- timed purchases. It would also serve to dilate the moment in which everything changed, to turn it into an epiphany-plus-shopping, irreducible to the sort of instantaneous apprehension characteristic of narratological grids or paralyzed Borgesian chess players. Certainly, what this means is that at some point not too far after, I sat down at my desk and revised and then revised again, discovering the observations that presupposed other observations, and the implications that followed, and turned a collection of randomly assembled ideas into an argument, and an argument into a chapter. But more fundamentally, this moment was the one in which I discovered that what I was committed to figuring out in my work was how the fact that people act and think and know through time matters for how they act and think and know. That messy chapter on What Maisie Knew and contract law eventually became an examination of the ways in which contracts, and the liberalism for which contracts are at once mechanism and metonym, both presume and despair of subjects’ capacity to know, and act in ways they intend, in the future, and the particular role of the realist novel in managing those tensions. More recently, in my forthcoming book Racial Sight, I have argued that modern race, the concept organized around skin color, comes into being at the end of the 18th century in order to make the likeness of humans legible in an instant. So it may well be true that I learned everything I know and will ever know that afternoon in Cathy’s office, but if so, it is equally true that I’m still in the process, now and forward, of discovering what precisely that is. What luck and what privilege to know that Cathy will continue to be there with me, teaching me always.
PRACTICING NEW HISTORICISM UNTIL WE COULD DO IT
“The Accidental New Historicist”
In his essay on the rise and progress of the arts and sciences, David Hume writes: “Nothing requires greater nicety in our enquiries concerning human affairs, than to distinguish exactly what is owing to chance, and what proceeds from causes;…. If I were to assign any general rule to help us in applying this distinction, it would be the following, What depends upon a few persons is, in a great measure, to be ascribed to chance, or secret and unknown causes: What arises from a great number, may often be accounted for by determinate and known causes” (111-12, emphasis in text). In looking back over the progress of my academic life, I can safely say that all of its significant features can be traced to chance and the influence of a few persons—or rather, more precisely, to one person: Cathy Gallagher. As for New Historicism, I never set out to practice it; indeed, it seems more apt to say, in my case, that new historicism came to practice me.
I arrived in Berkeley in the fall of 1989 ready to study postcolonial literature with Abdul JanMohamed. Having not read very widely in Victorian literature, I had never heard of Catherine Gallagher. I had been warned, however, about the evils of new historicism by Yale- trained DeManians in Toronto and had been alerted to possible corrupting influences. I knew not to take a class with Stephen Greenblatt. I didn’t feel in any imminent danger, since my chosen field took me in other theoretical directions, and I cheerfully signed up for courses with Philippe Lacoue Labarthe and Jean Luc Nancy in the French department in order to shore up my identity as a deconstructionist. Interested in women’s writing across historical periods, I also signed up for a course titled “British Women Authors Before Jane Austen” in the spring of 1990, a course Cathy was teaching while she worked on Nobody’s Story. Two years later, I was taking exams in Restoration and eighteenth-century literature.
I took those exams without having any sense of the field’s relation to historicisms, old or new. All I cared about was Cathy’s willingness to supervise a thesis organized around my interests in gender and sexuality, the novel, and visual art practice and theory. Cathy seemed a little nervous in the days leading up to the exams, and now I know why: my blithe obliviousness could have landed us both in hot water. But I was only worried that I had the right outfit for the day. I had picked my first suit carefully, asking myself, “Would Cathy wear this colour?” If my examiners had their doubts, they kept them to themselves. The report politely described my dissertation project as “unusual”, but I hardly registered my branding as an interloper. Instead, I proceeded to assemble a dissertation committee consisting of my favourite professors–Cathy, Steven Knapp, and James Turner—and asked Martin Jay to serve as the external reader. If I could have squeezed one of the French philosophers onto the committee, I would have.
That Cathy never stepped in to ask “What the hell are you doing?,” I consider one of the greatest gifts of my career. I have concluded, from the example she set, that most graduate students do best when they find their own way into their projects and methodologies, however random the paths they take may seem. The wide range of responses that each of my chapters generated meant that I was constantly having to navigate between different interests and perspectives. Each reader provided me with reading suggestions drawn from a variety of critical and theoretical sources. I gradually left behind the theoretical assumptions I had started with and developed a practice closer to what I now know we call new historicism.
In their Introduction to Practicing New Historicism, Gallagher and Greenblatt observe: “No progress can be made on methodological problems without total immersion in practice, and that immersion is not for us fundamentally collaborative: it is doggedly private, individual, obsessive, lonely” (18). Perhaps any new historicist project that isn’t slavishly imitative is a product of chance and contingency. But like all academics who want to believe in their uniqueness, I cling to the idea that mine was especially accidental. My interests took me into the field of visual culture, setting my project apart from the more linguistically focused interdisciplinarity of other new historicists. The project’s theoretical aspect had a slightly foreign quality—that old Canadian deconstructive tendency lingered on. The project’s historical grip was a little loose. After I was hired at Western, I heard that the eighteenth-century scholars on the appointments committee had found my project weird and weren’t quite sure I was the real deal when it came to their field. But the committee as a whole was attracted to what was beginning to look like a method: a mix of theoretical engagement and an obsession with textual detail, an interest in yoking disparate texts in order to cast new light on interpretive cruxes.
So I can’t say I spent my time as a graduate student practicing new historicism until I could do it, because I had no idea what I was doing, really, when I wrote my dissertation. I can’t say I followed in Cathy’s footsteps. But I can say with confidence that I walked in her shoes. Appropriately, as a new historicist, I’m talking about her real shoes: the stylish and practical tall leather boots Cathy lent me to wear to my fly-back interview in snowy Canada. The baby bump I was sporting that day was another Cathy-inspired touch of the real. I had asked Cathy, sometime in the summer before my fifth year, about how well babies and dissertations went together. She could have said, “Are you out of your mind?” Or, “Please focus on getting your first chapter to me by September 1.” Instead, she replied, “Easy. You just put the baby in a bouncy chair and keep writing.” Which is what I did. Three days after my daughter was born I sent in a conference paper abstract and then got busy packing boxes for the move to Canada.
Baby, dissertation, packing up house: it’s all just a day in the life of an academic if you talk to the person with the right methodology. When I look back, I feel incredulous at what five years in Berkeley wrought. But now I know that it’s not always about will or intention, when it comes to how you practice. Sometimes, you just get lucky and hit the right notes. And if you’re
really lucky, Cathy Gallagher is standing behind you when you do, clapping time.
Gallagher, Catherine and Stephen Greenblatt. Practicing New Historicism. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2000.
Hume, David. “The Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences.” Essays Moral, Political, and Literary. Ed. Eugene F. Miller. Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1985. 111-127.
How to choose what to talk about? I’ve been tempted to take as my text a Cathy-aphorism, one of her pithy sayings that wove themselves into the fabric of my being during the Wheeler years. “If it doesn’t work, cut it out” – how many times, I wonder, have I passed along that essential piece of wisdom to graduate students wrestling with an unruly chapter? “Top of your head; bottom of theirs” – how often do I use these words to rein in my racing pulse on those awful occasions when I walk underprepared into the undergraduate classroom? But although these Blakean proverbs (by Blakean, I mean William, of course, not Vermeule), although these axioms of advising are dear to my heart, I want to talk this afternoon not about one of Cathy’s spoken utterances, but one of her published sentences, a sentence with which I have been wrestling for the last ten years or so, a sentence that appears at the very top, or at least the very beginning, of The Industrial Reformation of English Fiction, a sentence which has lodged itself deep down in the conceptual structure of my second book.
So here’s the sentence. It appears in the seventh paragraph of Cathy’s Introduction, in a short discussion of the book’s final chapter: “As literary critics, we have inherited Arnold’s assumptions; our own discourse is rooted in categories partly designed to emancipate us from early Victorian social criticism.” My book concerns itself not with Condition of England texts from the beginning of the Victorian era, but with a pedagogical practice that consolidated itself in the 1860s on two sides of the Atlantic – the book is called “Heart Beats: Everyday Life and the Memorized Poem,” and it first attempts to explain how and why compulsory poetry recitation came to hold such a central and long-lasting place in British and American elementary curricular programs in the nineteenth century, and then proceeds to set the reception histories of three widely-assigned poems against this background to explore what the effects and experiences of memorizing and reciting a literary work might be. So how does Cathy’s sentence connect to this topic?
Cathy is referring to the relationship between Matthew Arnold’s theory of an independent realm of literature and culture, and the constitution of our discipline, literary studies as practised in the university, the highest level of what came to be a comprehensively graded series of educational institutions. Matthew Arnold is a figure who looms large in my book – if it has a hero, then he is it — but I am primarily dealing with the least celebrated of the various Matthews, the Arnold who was immersed in endless bureaucratic labours on behalf of the improvement and extension of the lowest echelon of educational provision, the public elementary school. This Arnold’s importance to the story I tell is indisputable: he served as an assistant commissioner on the Newcastle Commission of 1858 which first suggested that memorization of poetry be added to the program of studies for pupil teachers in the Revised Code of 1861-2, and he is present in one way or another at every other moment of recitation’s rise to curricular dominance in state-funded education. Touring the country from 1852 to 1886 as a member of her Majesty’s Schools Inspectorate, the exceptionally industrious Arnold knew perhaps as much as anyone in Britain about the actual practice of classroom recitation; the frequent references to the exercise within his annual reports provide the most thorough (and certainly the most shrewdly-written) considerations we have of both its ideal effects and its quotidian shortcomings.
But although my Arnold is Arnold in his lowly day job, not Arnold the lofty cultural critic, Cathy’s sentence has continually reminded me that I can never discount the pressure that the latter Arnold’s legacy exerts upon the shape of my thinking and the modes of my approach, especially when it comes to the analysis of the literary objects in my study, the short and apparently simple poems that children memorized at school. Why, I have asked myself again and again, why is it so hard for literary critics, voluble individuals though we usually are, to find anything at all to say when confronted by many of these verses? (Had we more time, I’d make my point concrete by subjecting you to arguably the most memorized poem of all in the culture of British and American pedagogical recitation, Richard Monckton Milnes’ ditty “A fair little girl sat under a tree.” Believe me, you’d struggle for words.)
Thanks to Cathy’s sentence, I came to see that I needed to explore this conundrum by thinking long and hard about the complex line of descent that runs from Arnoldian theory down to the present day. I’ve had to think about its shifts and swings, its relocations of the ideal world of art from above the workaday world, to away from involvement with social concerns, to a place in opposition to the mainstream of existence, and so forth; I’ve also had to consider the contributory effects of the protocols that the academy adopted as its preferred techniques at different moments in its development – to think about the ways in which the tools that were picked up, most notably during the eventually triumphant reign of Practical and New Criticism, have themselves been shaped over the years by the objects they were used to examine. Moreover (to borrow Cathy’s favourite conjunctive adverb), I came to understand that I needed to think about the history of the university’s modes of literary study in relation to that of the school’s – to try to understand how the simultaneous but particular developments of these two forms were profoundly influenced by their ecological proximity. Thanks to Cathy’s sentence, I’ve looked at that moment in the 1860s when the pressure of a rapidly expanding literate population split “English literature” into distinct institutional formations, and I’ve realized why it is today so difficult for the descendants of one branch of the family to grasp what poetic language might once have meant to its long lost distant cousins. Matthew Arnold’s daily life in the 1860s could encompass both the halting recitation of a thirteen-year-old pupil teacher and the most elevated of poetic critiques; for us the activities belong in completely different worlds and seem to have nothing to say to each other.
To put it in the simplest terms – I came to see that I was writing a book from within the academy and its traditions about a non-academic relationship with poetry and some non- academic poems, and it was Cathy’s sentence that opened my eyes. Only by learning more about our Arnoldian inheritance, as she calls it, only by investigating more deeply the interplay between the beginning of our discipline and its subsequent modulations did I gain any kind of perspective upon the most mystified technique in our methodological toolboxes, which is to say, close reading – as Cathy likes to say, how close is close reading? Is this close? Is this close enough? I now see that expecting a schoolroom standard to furnish experiences akin to those offered by the classics of the New Critical canon constitutes a form of short-sightedness; works from one historical tradition cannot be adequately read according to criteria developed within a different, and indeed an opposed, historical tradition. Yet re-focussing our vision so that we can look apparent simplicity in the face is no simple matter. Alas, it is impossible to see the object as in itself as it really is, but, thanks to Cathy, I know that when I read a poem, I must also perceive the relationship between my ways of looking and the complex series of refractory lenses placed over the years between academic observers and the literary work. For that, and for so much more, thank you Cathy.
“Nobody’s Story: Lessons for a Historian”
When I came to Berkeley to study British intellectual and cultural history in 1997, I found myself in a liminal space, somewhere between history and literature. In my history seminars that first year, I was one of the few graduate students eager to read, and incorporate fiction into my work. In my literature seminars, on the other hand, I was the “historian” in the room, calling out dates and explaining revolutions so as put the texts that we were reading in their proper “context.” Admittedly, I derived some pleasure from occupying this position – it set me apart, gave me something to do in the seminar room – but I was also frustrated by the lack of integration.
What a relief, then (drumroll please) to meet Cathy (and, I should add here, Tom Laqueur as well, who would ultimately become my advisor in the history department). Cathy provided me with the “new historicist” framework that would enable me to explore history and literature simultaneously and together, in ways that made eminent sense (and, I should also note, history and literature of both the Georgian and Victorian periods – periods that had previously been bracketed in my academic study).
Mentoring and discussion (both in the classroom and during office hours) were critical parts of this pedagogical process. But I think it was encounters with Cathy’s writing, and especially with Nobody’s Story: The Vanishing Acts of Women Writers in the Marketplace (California, 1994), that made – and continues to make – the greatest impression, perhaps not altogether surprising, given that this is a book largely about debt.
This text has played a formative role in my academic career, shaping the choices I made in my dissertation-turned-book, published as Men and the Making of Modern British Feminism by Stanford in 2010, and now in my second project, an exploration of the politics of queenship in Victorian Britain. So for the purposes of our gathering here today, and in the name of not devoting all of my brief time to enumerating, in David’s words, “another way we like Cathy,” I’m going to focus on three particular reasons why my dog-eared copy of Nobody’s Story, purchased at Moe’s almost 15 years ago (I still have the bookmark to show for it [hold it up]), has shaped my intellectual trajectory, and continues to serve as a touchstone in my thinking and writing.
As most of you no doubt know, Nobody’s Story narrates the strategies adopted by pioneering British women writers – Aphra Behn, Delarivier Manley, Charlotte Lennox, Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth – in their transitions to writing in a commercial marketplace. Despite its title, this book is emphatically not about women’s marginality or anonymity. Rather, it is about these women’s resourceful, playful and sometimes even ingenious experimentations with authorial identity, or as Cathy puts it in her Introduction, the means by which particular female writers “embraced and feminized” their “remunerative” work.
So, how and why has this text played such a decisive role in determining my trajectories and interests? First, and most fundamentally, Nobody’s Story has provided me with a model of new historicism, that is, of the truly seamless wedding and weaving of literature and history (a kind of weaving that I can only dream of emulating in my own work). Cathy’s interconnected literary case studies are far more than close textual analyses; they are also deeply historical inquiries into the mutually constitutive formation of the categories of “woman,” “author” and “marketplace.” In mapping women’s initial forays into publishing, Nobody’s Story also succeeds in dissecting Tory politics during the Restoration period, explaining the intricacies of abolitionism, and tracing the subtle transformations taking place within the 18th-century legal system. Given my disciplinary sensibilities and commitments, I truly appreciate this.
Second, and certainly not to be overlooked, Nobody’s Story continues to serve as a touchstone because of its content. For my last project, on men’s “championing” of women’s rights in Enlightenment Britain, it was Cathy’s discussion of women’s entrepreneurialism in the early literary marketplace that inspired me to examine the dynamics of feminist (or perhaps I should say proto-feminist) publishing in late-eighteenth-century London and other provincial centers. I ended up devoting one of my core chapters to this subject. While my own conclusions differed somewhat from those presented in Nobody’s Story – I drew more attention to the continuing significance of mentoring and personal relationships in literary publishing – the discussion owed much to Cathy’s treatment. In my current research, on the politics of queenship in Victorian Britain (and more specifically, on the role played by women’s “right to rule” in 19th- century “rights of women” argumentation), Nobody’s Story continues to serve as a generative source. This time, though, it is the text’s provocative claims about the relationship between female subjectivity and sovereignty, a subject Cathy took on especially in her treatment of Behn (building on her earlier essay, “Embracing the Absolute”), which has propelled me to examine monarchy’s role in 19th-century debates about women’s rights, capabilities and functions.
Finally, I must add that Nobody’s Story has offered me a useful conceptual framework. That is to say, Cathy’s very decision to focus on “nobodies” – even if not the kind of “nobodies” that we might initially construe them to be – has influenced the subjects that I have taken on, and my own attentiveness to “nothingness” in a gendered context, whether viewed as a rhetorical strategy, subject position, or disciplinary emphasis (or absence). Indeed, I think this helps explain why my first book was on the literal “nobodies” of the early women’s movement, that is, those men who tended to position themselves as interlocutors for, or ambassadors representing others’ wills and desires, and who were, for a range of reasons, subsequently written out of histories of feminism. And it also helps explain why my current research is on ruling queens, those women who were at once both so central to the “ideological and cultural signifying system” and yet so diffuse in their representations that they were for a long time largely ignored by historians and literary scholars, a trend that is now thankfully changing.
So, to conclude, I’ll fittingly borrow the language of the literary marketplace. Cathy, I owe much to you for your mentorship, criticism, and assistance in launching my own path into academia and publishing. It is largely to your credit that I ask the kinds of questions that I do, pursue the subjects that I choose, and invest in building collegial and collaborative rapports with my own undergraduate and graduate students. I am truly indebted.
“Cathy and Society: Cultural Marxism and the Genealogy of New Historicism”
On my flight out here, I kept thinking: “I am going to be among all of these brilliant students of Cathy’s. How am I going to distinguish my presentation? What can I do that will be unique?” And that’s when it hit me. “I know,” I thought, “I’ll begin with an anecdote!”
When I was studying for orals, I made a lot of lists. And one of them was a concise bibliography of the foundational, “baseline” critical works for literary scholars of the Victorian period. As far as such lists go, it was pretty good, too: it had Levine, and Said, and Gallagher, and the other usual suspects. Feeling very much like I was consulting the oracle, I showed it to Cathy. She took it, furrowed her brow, and said, “I like it; it’s a good list.” Then she frowned, ever-so-slightly, and said, “I would think something by Edward Thompson should be here.” And that was the seed of my paper today.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “The New Historicism” was born on the auspicious day that Stephen Greenblatt “turned” from the cultural Marxism of Raymond Williams to the discourse analysis of Michel Foucault. Whether this is an accurate account of Greenblatt’s theoretical evolution or not, it is manifestly inadequate description of Cathy’s. I want to suggest that Cathy’s New Historicism may be characterized not as a “turn” to Foucault, but a return to cultural Marxism, particularly to its most literary exponent, Raymond Williams. This “return” is not a singular event, moreover, but an iterative one: a returning.
And now, I would like to put a case to you. Put the case that Cathy’s first book, the Industrial Reformation of English Fiction (1985), is a volume-length rewriting of the chapter on the industrial novel in Raymond Williams’s Culture and Society—one that, moreover, draws upon Georg Lukacs’s “antinomies of bourgeois thought” for its tripartite structure (Industrial xiv).
Put the case that Cathy’s most recent book, The Body Economic (2006), constitutes a second rewriting of Culture of Society that finds its own center of gravity in Williams’s chapter “The Romantic Artist.”
Put the case that between the appearance of these field-shaking works, Cathy published two important essays on cultural Marxism: “Marxism and the New Historicism” (1989) and “Raymond Williams and Cultural Studies” (1992).
Put the case that when Cathy set out to illustrate the methodological virtues of “body history” (Practicing 124) in 2000, she did so not by interrogating Foucault on the pommes frites, but E. P. Thompson on the moral economy of bread.
Put the case that Cathy is rumored to have had a longstanding relationship—extending, my sources tell me, to cohabitation—with the eminent historian of Western Marxism, Martin Jay.
Put the case that a right-wing blogger swears that he saw Cathy in a café in Havana. She was wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt, reading Das Kapital, and singing the “Internationale” under her breath—in French.
Now one might object at this point that Cathy is no passive inheritor of the cultural Marxist paradigm. In fact, one could argue that cultural Marxism has not had a more dogged (albeit scrupulously fair) critic. Though it is much else, I believe that Cathy’s oeuvre is perhaps the most searching imminent critique of cultural Marxism that we have; a critique that is all the more valuable for remaining (by and large) “in solution,” as Williams would have said.
This critique gathered steam as it went. For all of its intellectual self-assurance and theoretical independence, The Industrial Reformation of English Fiction still manifests, at least rhetorically, a deference to Williams. “[. . .] although I have included a great deal of minor fiction in this study,” Cathy writes in that work’s first footnote, “I have used Raymond Williams’s list of the most important [industrial] novels” (269).
That deferential tone is nowhere to be found in the two important essays that Cathy published at the end of the decade. Her 1989 “Marxism and the New Historicism” ends with a stern admonition: “New Historicism confronts Marxism now partly as an amplified record of Marxism’s own edgiest, uneasiest voices. [. . .] To dismiss such challenges as the mere echoes of a reactionary defeatism would be a serious mistake” (47). The 1992 “Raymond Williams and Cultural Studies” claims that Williams contributed to “a new mystique of culture” (81), a shortcoming that is evident in his off-handed comments on food and money.
Permit me to skip ahead to a more recent chapter in the story. The Body Economic finishes the job The Industrial Reformation had begun twenty-one years earlier: the rewriting— indeed reimagining—of Culture and Society. Cathy undoes Williams’s binary division of humane artists and cold-hearted political economists by laying bare “the unacknowledged shared premises, the larger discursive agreements that made the terms of the controversies intelligible to both sides” (Body 7). Instead of resting content with this critical accomplishment, Cathy enacts a complete transvaluation of the culture and society paradigm. Williams’s “Romantic Artists,” stand revealed as uninformed and self-absorbed naïfs, while the Gradgrinding political economists emerge as the more probing and humane thinkers. “Almost everything Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, or Charles Dickens accused [the political economists] of had been anticipated in their internal controversies,” Cathy writes, “and that fact will help explain why the literary critiques kept reproducing the contradictions that the political economists had (more rigorously and self-consciously) encountered” (Body 36). Had Marx been around to witness this long, patient, and thoroughgoing undercutting of cultural Marxism, he certainly would have cried, “Well grubbed, old mole!” (Brumaire 121). Then Engels, ever the gentleman, would have assured Cathy that she was not, in fact, old, and, despite the excitable comments of his comrade, bears no resemblance to a rodent.
So where does this leave those of us who think of ourselves as the distant progeny of Marx as well as the loyal sons and daughters of Cathy? We should certainly find solace in the fact that, from its very advent in the work of Lukacs, Western Marxism has been a critique of Marxist dogmatism and orthodoxy. Thompson’s and Williams’s cultural Marxism continued and even heightened this dynamic—as Cathy herself has frequently reminded us. Finally, we should take comfort in the persistence of Marxian concerns and even idioms in Cathy’s work, such as The Body Economic’s invocations of “lived experience” (9, 15), with its unmistakable echo of Williams. In short, there is nothing to lament, and everything to celebrate, in this new critical paradigm our mentor has bequeathed to us. I propose that we call it—Cathy and Society.
Gallagher, Catherine. The Body Economic: Life, Death, and Sensation in Political Economy and the Victorian Novel. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2006.
———. The Industrial Reformation of English Fiction: Social Discourse and Narrative Form, 1832-1867. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1985.
———. “Marxism and the New Historicism.” The New Historicism. Ed. H. Aram Veeser. New York: Routledge, 1989. 37-48.
———. “Raymond Williams and Cultural Studies.” Social Text 30 (1992): 79-89. Gallagher, Catherine and Stephen Greenblatt. Practicing New Historicism. Chicago:
Chicago UP, 2000. Marx, Karl. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. New York: International Publishers, 2004.
“Practicing New Historicism Until We Got It; or, Reading with Cathy Gallagher”
Samuel Rogers’ long travel poem Italy, Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Casa Guidi Windows and Germaine de Stael’s novel Corinne or Italy have little in common with industrial novels, such as Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, or with George Eliot’s novels Daniel Deronda and Middlemarch (although Italian cities figure rather significantly for Eliot’s plots in these stories) or with Anthony Trollope’s wonderful satire The Way We Live Now. All of this imaginative literature, however, grapples at some level with consuming and producing actual objects for sale, investment, or speculation; produced as an artifact of history and geography, an idealized version of a unified nation state that betrayed much more about the English than about Italians; produced as an indictment of late Victorian society enthralled with sensationalizing: the worry about passing off a man with ambiguous class, status, and religious origins as an English gentleman; speculating in stocks and share and with young women through the marriage plot; banks being described and introduced, much like gambling casinos, only to fail, clever and timely devices of plot and character formation, so familiar to nineteenth century readers.
That I knew Lord Byron and Elizabeth Barrett Browning contributed as much to the making of an Italian nation as did Cavour, Napoleon III and Mazzini, I learned from reading with Cathy Gallagher. The customs, opinions, gendered and sexualized representations of Italy, ideas about traditions, the formation of national biases themselves could be found in this Romantic poetry and in literary travel accounts which borrowed heavily from early Romantic texts. This kind of interpretive framework for understanding and deconstructing culture was of course a hallmark and practice of the new cultural history. When Tom Laqueur encouraged me to ask Cathy Gallagher to do independent readings with me, he knew that reading with her would make me a better social and cultural historian, perhaps this is in part how a historian came to practice a version, her own rather eccentric version at times, of new historicism.
Cathy and I read from a wide variety of travel accounts and literary texts about Italy from
the Romantics and Victorians, some of which made their way into the opening chapter of the
book based originally on my dissertation. She made me pay attention to words, figurative
language, to metaphors and representations in ways I hadn’t done before with as much curiosity
and analysis; she also asked discerning and difficult questions about this material and in the
process, helped me to think in more imaginative ways about these literary writings as historical
evidence. That gold sat idle in so many Italian churches annoyed British travelers to the Italian
peninsula to no end. She insisted, early on, that I pay attention to this commentary on political
economy. She encouraged me to devise a convincing argument that would help to explain how
and why so many contemporary Italians were absent from Romantic travel writings and poetry.
What purposes did depopulating texts with contemporary Italians serve for these English writers
and the readers fashioning an Italian nation out of their own imaginations and in their own self-
image? This was one of the central ideas and arguments I introduced in the early chapters of the
book. When the early Victorians populated their accounts, these Italians came from the
Renaissance; it took some time before British writers and readers actually saw the contemporary
Italian men and women, in their midst, who would help to unify the Italian state by the late
1860s. It wasn’t so much that fiction and imagination mattered more than facts, the facts were
themselves both events and representations. Boundaries defied at times the statesmen and
diplomats who drew political borders because at a deep cultural level, drawing and maintaining
that border and boundary was an intimate and central part of romantic storytelling about the
Risorgimento. The language by which the English and Italians described the nation also
underscored the aesthetic and political complexities at work in building that nineteenth nation.
What I liked about the new historicism as a historian and what gave me a certain audacity to include so many literary sources into my work centered on its concern ‘with finding the creative power that shapes literary works outside the narrow boundaries in which it had hitherto been located, as well as within those boundaries.’ (12, introduction, Practicing New Historicism) And because I was tired of what I would describe as the proselytizing tendencies in my field, or among nineteenth century historians of Britain and the Empire to do history in a certain way (from E.P. Thompson to the new imperial historians), I was drawn to the possibilities that the new historicism opened up for me because of the lack of a given set of objects to its practice.(16)
Perhaps this explains the intellectual, emotional, and aesthetic leaps I have taken in many ways since publishing my first book. My current research project on risk, speculation, and the global reach of the London Stock Exchange has been preoccupied with both modern imaginaries and with words, the history of the idea of speculation as risk found in legal, financial, and fictional writings about the definitions and interpretations of a cluster of words often used interchangeably to represent that history: namely, gambling, investing, and speculating. Related to the cultural history of speculation was the role of emotions in investing, speculating and gambling, and their effects on the body and the central nervous system in particular. Medical men, financial writers, and novelists commented extensively about emotional risks posed by gambling long before the psychology of gambling, or gambling addictions were understood. Yet at the same time, Victorians had a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the psychology of making money. In some ways these ideas were related as well to theories of evolution. Emotions and psychology were linked to a man’s character time and again as a way to identify what kinds of men were and were not fit for risk-taking ventures. Men needed to be not only of unimpeachable character and reputation and rational in business outlook, to be brokers, they also could not betray their emotions. While the financial advice literature (and until only very recently, contemporary scholarship) say very little about women, middle class and elite women actively participated in stock exchange business. The persistence of certain kinds of metaphors and tropes to describe and often undermine women’s intimate relationships to finance capitalism and stock exchange activities suggests a fascinating paradox worth exploring: The extent to which finance capitalism created so many aspects of British culture and its political economy including a belief in its alleged naturalness. Women’s financial inquisitiveness and sheer delight at the goings on in the City were no more or less ‘natural’ than financial capitalism itself. While literary scholars have influenced the ways I’ve thought about this study, (from Mary Poovey11 to Nancy Henry12), Cathy Gallagher’s “theorization of economic behavior in terms of the emotional and sensual feelings that are both causes and consequences of economic exertions,” as she explains it in the introduction to her book, The Body Economic, has helped more than anyone else’s work has to understand the paradoxes at the heart of Locke’s epistemology as well as the pleasure and pain principles in the writings of political economists who helped to shape both the practices and theories of finance capitalism in the nineteenth century. (See her introduction, especially). When she turned my attention to account for English travel writers’ annoyance regarding the gold laying idle in those Neapolitan churches, little did I (or she) know how curious I would become about the reciprocal relationship between political economy and literary writings or between gold digging and the gold standard and the geographies of risk that animated finance capitalism’s expansion in the nineteenth century as well as its empire building and inspired many a plot of the nineteenth century novel so geared in our reading and writing to representing the world as it was in the long nineteenth century were/are those novels. Reading with Cathy Gallagher has also influenced a more personal set of essays I’m in the middle of composing about the body’s relationships to intimacy, desire, and grief; characters in nineteenth century novels; and the metaphorical arc of time’s passage in coming to terms with loss. She has (unbeknownst to herself) helped me ‘to push the edges’ and ‘nudge the bounds.’ Her work has inspired me, in Annie Dillard’s words, ‘to let literature shape me as a writer, so that the writer can perhaps shape literature.’ (The Writing Life).
 The Romance of Italy and the English Political Imagination (St. Martin’s/Macmillan, 1998).
 Genres of the Credit Economy: Mediating Value in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Britain (Chicago, 2008) and ed. The Financial History of Nineteenth Century Britain (Oxford, 2003).
 George Eliot and the British Empire (Cambridge, 2002) and with Cannon Schmitt, ed. Victorian Investments: New Perspectives on Finance and Culture (Indiana, 2009).
“‘Do Sweat the Small Stuff’: Cathy Gallagher’s Lessons on Reading the Detail”
My experience with Cathy may be unique in that I don’t really know her. My observations occur from a distance and her interventions in my work took the form of ink on the margins. Her lessons on how to read History as though it were Literature nevertheless had a profound impact on my scholarship, teaching me, above all things, to “sweat the small stuff.”
I remember Cathy most vividly from a team-taught course on “The Making of the Modern Body” that she offered with Tom Laqueur during my first year at Berkeley. [1986?] The course was taught in Dwinelle Hall and I remember walking there with my friend Sylvia Schafer, only to discover a scene more like the Pump Room at Bath than the traditional seminar table of von Ranke. The room was packed, we did not see a soul that we knew, we could barely make our way through the crowd, and all the seats were already taken. The literature people dominated the scene – beautiful people with dyed black hair, artfully torn clothing, double lattes and ragged copies of Foucault. Two sensible young men did NOT arrive to relieve our distress, offer us seats, or bring us glasses of refreshment. Instead Tom arose with all the ruthless confidence of a Master of Ceremonies —or a bouncer at Studio 54—and announced that we’d have to apply to be in the course, we could take 20 minutes to sell ourselves on a 3×5 notecard, and then he and Cathy would pick the students they liked best.
The principals in this drama were, of course, Tom and Cathy, enthroned in desks at the edge of the room. Having never seen Cathy before, I was struck by the contrast. They were not a matching set: Cathy was slim and elegant; Tom was short and robust; Cathy wore black fishnet stockings and exquisite Victorian demi-boots; Tom wore a bicycle helmet. Physically they reminded me of Betty and Barney Rubble—or perhaps the Duchess of Devonshire and Charles James Fox—yet intellectually they were perfectly synchronized, volleying back and forth with fierce intellectual energy, as well as much playful banter. The course was a rich interdisciplinary collaboration and the syllabus itself tantalizing. The reading for each week included an alluring mix of documents: parliamentary reports, coroners’ inquests, novels, newspaper stories, memoirs, and medical treatises all organized into far from obvious historical topics. For a new student accustomed to intellectual history courses where the weekly discussion topics were things like “Romanticism” or “The Enlightenment,” it was a jolt to see that the reading for week 2 would be on “the female orgasm” or that week 9 would cover Onanism and the Crimean War. Indeed Tom and Cathy gave new meaning to “thinking outside the box.”
What I took away from the course was a total reconceptualization of what it meant to be a historian. Tom and Cathy blasted away the traditional parameters of historical and literary enquiry, giving each of us the intellectual makeover that transformed us from historians and critics to New Historicists. Tom showed us that no document was too trivial, too silly, or too pornographic to be profoundly and often unexpectedly revealing about the cultural episteme from which it emerged. And Cathy taught us to read anything – from a Parliamentary enquiry to a match book cover – as though it were a work of literature. Indeed, while ostensibly about “the body,” the real focus of the course was reading – reading omnivorously and without a hierarchy of sources. And as they pushed us to write, they insisted that we investigate new points of incision and new entry ways into historical subjects.
My first book, The Blood of Our Sons, is about the most staid and dreary of all historical subjects, women’s suffrage. Or at least, so it seemed. Investigated from the perspective of cultural history, it was about much more: about War and citizenship, about cowardly men and brave women, and about the way the sexual underpinnings of the vote were undercut by theatrical gestures of female heroism, as well as by the blare of derision leveled at men who refused to serve. As novels, songs, poetry, recruiting posters, and gestures (such as white feathers) became my sources, the ordinary perspective for looking at women’s suffrage began to change.
Government documents and Parliamentary debates echoed uncannily the tart words on the lips of flappers or the multi-colored posters pasted to the base of Nelson’s column. The book looked at the way the Great War created a cultural climate where ideas that had been difficult to accept before were possible to accept now. And it explored a series of “moral anachronisms” that would change the visceral meaning of certain gestures, sayings, and beliefs, long after the fact.
My current work examines the changing moral climate that turned the Great War into a parable about the evils of carnage and senseless slaughter—a message redoubled in the 1970s during Vietnam and rendered all the more sacrosanct once the next, far more destructive World War, was canonized as “the Good War.” In all my work, the call to read historical documents as though they were literature and to accept the significance of any source, no matter how trivial it might seem, turned me into a historicist who recognizes that no grand interpretations are possible without sweating the small stuff. For this, I thank Cathy, Tom, and all the other New Historicists who I encountered at Berkeley.
COUNTERFACTUALS: WHAT WOULD I HAVE BEEN HAD CATHY NOT TAUGHT ME?
Tina Y. Choi
When I reflect on What I Would Have Been Had Cathy Not Taught Me, numerous possibilities float into view. I was ABD in Molecular Biology when I came to the decision that the offerings in Wheeler Hall were more to my taste and temperament. So I arrived in the English Department with few literary texts under my belt and even fewer critical tools with which to approach them. When I first met Cathy, I had just started my coursework and was enrolled in Tom Laqueur and Thomas Metcalf’s history seminar on 18th- and 19th-century consumer culture. My first semester was a crash course in learning how to be a literary critic and a cultural historian. When I decided to write a paper on the early Victorian trade in obscene literature for that seminar, I was, unsurprisingly, having trouble finding information about those literary objects – pornographic ephemera – I was interested in. Tom sent me over to talk to Cathy, who came up with one of those nearly instantaneous insights that would soon become a regular feature of my graduate career: She suggested that I look at crime reports in the newspapers, and I spent the next months doing just that.
That meeting taught me a few things: First, that what I had done or where I had done it mattered less to Cathy than what I was capable of doing. And it taught me to look in unexpected places for the narratives that might tell us something about the period’s culture, its preoccupations, and imaginative experiences. In those first few years in English, I made my way, dutifully, through the Penguin Classics, but Cathy taught me that other kinds of things could be literary texts, too – even the scientific world I had worked so hard to escape. The dissertation I wrote under Cathy’s supervision asked how an awareness of chance and risk, especially epidemiological risk, reshaped popular representations of urban experience during the Victorian period. For today’s talk, I turn to another kind of unorthodox text, the Victorian board game, which is one small focal point for my next project; this research builds on my earlier interest in the relationship between the statistical and the literary, and draws inspiration and support from Cathy’s work on fictionality and the counterfactual.
As critics have observed, board games provided entertainment while also reinforcing middle-class Victorian ideals: progress, education, and achievement. Players literally traversed the space of the board from start to finish while learning moral, geographical, or historical lessons. Such play not only tested children’s knowledge but also encouraged them to develop a respect for order and a spirit of sustained application and competition. Two early examples of such games are The Mirror of Truth (1811) and The Mansion of Bliss, A New Game For the Amusement of Youth (1810; 1822).
These so-called “race games” represent progress along a single path, along which virtues allow one to advance, and vices (like intemperance or ingratitude) cause one to retreat, and with a single goal at its centre – the Temple of Happiness or mansion of bliss.
Historians have noted that these simple morality games declined in popularity by mid- century,15 and newer games sometimes borrowed their designs – the single, spiraling track, a goal at the centre – while also replacing a narrative of moral development with progress of a geographical or historical kind. Thus, for example, Wallis’s Locomotive Game of Railroad Adventures (1838) makes use of a similar board design but represents travel, not from a state of moral ambiguity into goodness, but from the rural provinces into the smoky centre of London. Moreover, where even the games with moral themes had depended, ironically, on elements of chance – since it was ultimately a spin of the wheel rather than a player’s moral constitution that determined whether he or she landed on an unfortunate square labeled “idleness” or “cruelty”— these later games made the role of chance in play explicit; in the Railroad game, for instance, players’ progress might be slowed by a variety of accidents, such as derailments or floods.
But by the 1840s and 1850s, games offering different models of progress and correspondingly different spatial arrangements appeared. For instance, in the 1845 The Journey, or Crossroads to Conqueror’s Castle
The Victoria and Albert Museum gives a broader date range for this: 1837-46, but in an and the 1848 Cottage of Content, players’ spins determine the direction of travel, and multiple possibilities exist for reaching the winning goal; in Crossroads, there are three roads leading to the Castle, and dozens of combinations of routes available at the centre of the game itself. While these games still reaffirm distinctly Victorian normative values, as they propel players towards a single end usually defined by imperial success or domestic happiness, they also encourage players to contemplate a world in which multiple trajectories might exist in simultaneity, in which any one moment might contain numerous possibilities in suspension.
In addition to mirroring a Dickensian world of accident, of coincidence, chance events, and crossed paths, then, the spatial complexity of the mid-century game board seems to encourage the kind of counterfactual thinking – a hypothetical imagining of alternatives – that Cathy’s most recent work has investigated. My larger project is interested in the ways in which a range of Victorian texts, including games, maps, insurance policies, and novels, both represent and cultivate subjectivities capable of imagining such narrative alternatives.
In closing, I’d like to offer as well my own, updated version of the 1845 Journey board game, which illustrates the many crossroads, indirect paths, imagined alternatives (and some dead- ends!) filling the years leading to the PhD.
But I’d suggest that I’ve found even the world beyond the dissertation a bit like this game board as well: Over the years, I’ve often read, cited, and met other scholars at conferences – only to discover afterwards that this person or that person was once, like me, one of Cathy’s students. As far as I might go from Berkeley, it’s in this very embodied way that I’ve come to appreciate just how far-reaching her influence has been, and to recognize that all roads do indeed lead back to Cathy’s office.
 Megan A. Norcia, “Puzzling Empire: Early Puzzles and Dissected Maps as Imperial Heuristics,” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 37 (2009): 1-32; Ira Bruce Nadel, “The Mansion of Bliss, or the Place of Play in Victorian Life and Literature,” Children’s Literature 10 (1982): 18-36.
 All figures appear by permission of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
 Caroline Goodfellow, A Collector’s Guide to Games and Puzzles (Seacaucus, NJ: Chartwell Books, 1991).
 1845 advertisement in the Times, it is described as a “New Game.”
 Catherine Gallagher, “What Would Napoleon Do? Historical, Fictional, and Counterfactual Characters,” New Literary History 42 (2011): 315-336.
I’ve always considered myself an orphan in academia. Neither of my parents completed college. I’m not sure my dad ever went; I think my mom spent at least a semester or a year there, as the inscription on her copy of Leaves of Grass testifies. My baby sister graduated pre-med from the University of Michigan, then attended Wayne State Medical School. The year she got her M.D., I began undergraduate study as a single, self-supporting woman of thirty-one. Within three years, I had landed at Berkeley in Cathy Gallagher’s English 200, knowing nothing and no one.
If I had never met Catherine Gallagher, I would have discovered her ideas through her books. We share so many interests, in women authors of the long 19th century, in the condition of authorship, in the nexus between industrial and literary production, that I am sure I would have encountered her that way. And, indeed, her ideas about what I should read as I worked on my dissertation, and her discussion of those works with me, enabled me to see connections among widely disparate phenomena, such as nationalist competition between the salt markets of Scotland and England, authorial identity, and popular Gothic fiction about vampires.
But if I had never been taught by Catherine Gallagher, I might still harbor the delusion that graduate school teaches only ideas and ways of expressing them better, that education occurs only in the classroom. Instead, I now see that graduate school never ends; rather, it dedicates and consecrates. Catherine Gallagher gave me a lesson in living holistically, in being one’s self as fully and completely as possible.
Indeed, her very first lesson was that nothing exists in a vacuum. Tracing the arc of her interests, it becomes apparent fairly soon that core sympathies have driven the expanding scope of her intellectual inquiries. Thoughts about processes and processes of thought share equal stage in a dazzling display of what she herself called a “High degree of formal self-consciousness” (Industrial 67). I emphasize the formality she invokes because it shows that not even intellectual procedures exist in a vacuum: one can no sooner detach the formal elements of literature from its substance than know the dancer from the dance. Insisting on the “bodiliness” of literature, if you will, she led us to consider the bodies in and behind literature.
Such an approach to literature is a liberating form of holism. It rescued me from the cage of formalism and released me into a world where nothing was trifling or trivial. Hence, we learned to love anecdotes. At the same time, she showed us that anecdotes tear the fabric of time, creating as they destroy. Negative capability blossomed into the New Historicism, the “history of possibilities,” embracing “the collective” and the anomalous, the eccentric and the common, the timely and the timeless. In watching Cathy “work,” then, we witnessed her create the very history she subsequently taught as philosophy and practice.
To contribute such lessons for future generations may be beyond my power. Nevertheless, it inspired me to recover my own “history of possibilities,” to embrace who I had been as part of who I would become. We fool ourselves, dreaming we live aught but counterfactual lives.
This inspiration has affected not only my research and writing, but also my teaching. By example, she taught me that nothing is to be gained by treating each student as a clone or an automaton. She took the time to become acquainted with each of us, in too-brief personal encounters that flicker still in the memory. And if we continue to recognize lessons that have lain dormant in us since those early days, as I did intensely during those recent, ever-to-be glorious October days, we see that our students might share the same experience. When I address students now, I try to speak to all the layers of their lives, hoping to plant seeds for future insights, as Cathy planted seeds in me: the gift of questions.
It wasn’t until asked to reflect that I began to understand what Cathy has taught me, or perhaps what I have chosen to learn from her. In essence she taught us as much about our selves as she did about the selves of living and fictional Others, because she read us just as well. How could I ever have imagined I was an orphan?
A first counterfactual: What if the author of these remarks had, in an effort at originality, not begun them with a reference to George Eliot? And what if, in this suppositious case, she had still sought to borrow words for a beginning, to ease her way into the slightly daunting first-person, and the even more daunting vocative, of the occasion? She might have turned for inspiration to the opening line that actually (so much for the counterfactual) came to mind when she first received this invitation: “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.” For many of us, it seems—at least in reminiscence—Berkeley was our Manderley. We arrived haunted by our insufficiency, but dangerously ignorant of the depth of our own ignorance. The process of remaking was slow and sometimes even gothic; it required facing down fear as well as embracing ambition.
But the counterfactual is difficult to sustain. If I can easily cast myself as du Maurier’s I heroine, it is harder to envision Cathy as Maxim de Winter, and quite impossible to give her the role of Mrs. Danvers. Indeed, we could see Rebecca as an allegory of the failings of an education lacking in mentorship of the kind celebrated in these panels—as though the protagonist had been set to write a dissertation without a director or interlocutors. And so the analogy, in succeeding, fails, and I am returned to my original, unoriginal, beginning.
In my mind, Cathy Gallagher, who writes so brilliantly about the construction of realist fiction, is inextricable from George Eliot, who so brilliantly constructed it. So when I began to think about these remarks, my immediate impulse was to call upon Eliot for an anchoring quotation. As an aide-memoire, I turned to Alexander Main’s Wise, Witty, and Tender Sayings, in Prose and Verse, Selected from the Works of George Eliot. Assembled in the 1870s, with Eliot’s permission, by an earnest fanboy, the Sayings testifies to Main’s belief that “George Eliot . . . has for ever sanctified the Novel by making it the vehicle of the grandest and most uncompromising moral truth.”
For Main, Eliot was not only a great author but also a great teacher, not only a public sage but also a personal inspiration. The Sayings, which honors Eliot’s “uncompromising moral truth” by chopping it into “wise, witty and tender” chunks, is an odd project—but it was motivated by sincere, and often insightful, purposes of celebration not so different from those that have brought us all here.
But even with Main’s help I encountered difficulties. While many of Eliot’s apothegms are relevant to the general topic of this panel—the relationship between what we are and what we might have become—her representation of this relationship is not hopeful. “Our deeds determine us, as much as we determine our deeds . . . . There is a terrible coercion in our deeds” (Adam Bede); “Our deeds are like children that are born to us; they live and act apart from our own will” (Romola) ; and—my longtime favorite for those moments of doubt that enhance every academic career—“It always remains true that if we had been greater, circumstance would have been less strong against us” (Middlemarch).
This last thought is emphatically not the mental bouquet that any of us needs to leave here with, but its conditional construction does have the useful effect of recalling me to the title of this panel: “Counterfactuals.” The word connects, for me, with a recent intellectual interest—not one I took directly from Cathy Gallagher, but one descended from questions she raises. That interest is in the way conventions associated with fictional realism function in genres—alternative history, speculative fiction—that might seem at first glance to be alien territory.
These alien genres have slowly been infiltrating my teaching, and therefore my research: in a recent seminar on neo-Victorian literature, Eliot’s Scenes of Clerical Life did duty as our realist benchmark, against which we read Sarah Waters’s reworking of the Victorian sensation novel, Fingersmith, Neal Stephensons’ steampunk masterpiece The Diamond Age, and the novel that both revisit: The Old Curiosity Shop.
The graduate students saw more continuities than distinctions; the mises-en-abîmes, the paradoxes, the fraught negotiations between fact and value of nineteenth-century realism, whose vivid evocation in Cathy’s work has so inspired me, have a less exclusive glamor for contemporary student readers, who are not startled by eruptions of the uncanny or the melodramatic on the territory of the real. They remind me not to overestimate those distinctions; after all, even Eliot’s realism remains haunted by Gothic visions of alternative histories, such as that of the seduced and soon-to-be-abandoned Lydia Glasher appearing to Gwendolen Harleth, as if a “ghastly vision had come to her in a dream and said, ‘I am a woman’s life.’”
Whatever her other differences, I don’t imagine that the life of the counterfactual Laura Green that this panel asks me to imagine would have been as bitter as that of Lydia Glasher, the alternative Gwendolen Harleth.
Of course, that counterfactual Laura Green would also not be standing here today attempting to conceive her own alternative existence. She might instead— well, the possibilities are literally infinite, and they lead me to a question about the panel’s title: Is the “counterfactual” (what did not happen, but might have) the same as “the fictional” (what did not happen, but is represented as if it had)? Are fact and fiction—the story of the Laura Green who was taught by Cathy Gallagher, and the stories of the many Laura Greens who were not—mutually exclusive? Is only, or either, one of them the protagonist of the story of my life?
These are questions of course that are “coiled at the heart” of both George Eliot’s and Cathy Gallagher’s inquiries. So I want to address them, in conclusion, by returning to my mental confusion between the two. I was startled to realize, when I came to think about it, that among the things that I did not study with Cathy Gallagher are the novels of George Eliot.
The first chapter of my dissertation, written under Cathy’s supervision, was about Middlemarch; other chapters discussed in the dissertation group were on Eliot novels—I remember William Cohen’s on The Mill on the Floss, and Irene Tucker’s on Daniel Deronda. And the essay that I would most like to have written myself, in some alternate universe, is Cathy’s “George Eliot, Immanent Victorian.”
But the novel I chose for the 200—the only class I took with Cathy—was George Gissing’s The Odd Women, to which I have not returned. I read Middlemarch with Elaine Scarry, and Deronda with Steve Goldsmith and Jenny Franchot. The amount of time that it could be said that Cathy Gallagher, George Eliot, and I have spent together is in fact rather small.
In fact rather small—but in value, to my own narrative of intellectual becoming, very large. There are, as these panels have demonstrated, many Cathy Gallaghers—although not, by any means, an infinite number, and none of them represent “inferior potential alternates.” If the scene of instruction featuring myself, Cathy, and George Eliot is largely a fiction, it is not precisely counterfactual, because it has become part of the fact of my career. It has been an enabling fiction for its protagonist—the Laura Green for whom realism, the novel, and feminist intellectual history have been so important. To put it another way, the actual Laura Green who was taught by Cathy Gallagher is no more or less fictionally composed than the counterfactual Laura Green who was not taught by Cathy Gallagher—and we are both very happy to be here to recognize her today.
I’m here today mostly because Cathy was a superlative reader on my dissertation committee, but also because one summer she took pity on me. That is, she hired me as a research assistant which, though she probably didn’t know this at the time, saved me from my seventh consecutive summer teaching the most insufferably entitled European high school students you can possibly imagine, at a Berkeley-sponsored pre-college summer camp. For this reprieve alone I would fly across the country to sing her praises.
Anyway, as I began the project, I thought I was doing something that might not only provide me with a much needed paycheck but might also be useful to Cathy’s work. The primary task she had assigned to me was to go through the amazing uchronia.com site, possibly the best existing database of speculative or counterfactual writing, and create some data on which historical events were most likely to capture the allohistorical imagination. I spent weeks going through the database and creating an amazing series of graphs, pie charts, and lists. And what, you may ask, was my mind-blowing conclusion? It was, not surprisingly, precisely the conclusion that anyone spending just five minutes on uchronia would see instantly, and that anyone with any knowledge of the genre—most decisively including Cathy—knew already: that the US Civil War and WW2 were far and away the most re-imagined events, and that the genre took off decisively around the 1960s and had grown exponentially ever since.
Of course, Cathy not only already knew what I spent the summer documenting, she was even one step ahead: she had an argument as to why. Cathy was interested in what she described as the “paradoxical relation” that counterfactual fictions had to the wars that were most typically their subject: namely, that there were far more counterfactuals about wars we won than about those we lost—lots of novels imagine the Nazis winning WW2, but scarcely any re-imagine Vietnam. Cathy’s claim was that these novels were symptomatic of the realization that given the nuclear fears and domestic conflict that were the outcome of the Cold War, it was hard to feel like we’d actually won much of anything. “Counterfactual narratives in which we refight just wars and lose,” she said in a talk, “were ways of coping with that difficulty.” Novels like Philip K. Dick’s 1968 The Man in the High Castle, she observed, remind us that, “despite the unconditional surrender of our enemies, justice and peace still elude us.”
This is a powerful, persuasive, and important argument, and it was the starting point for my own work on contemporary counterfactuals. In my work, I was after an explanation of a slightly more contemporary counter-phenomenon, namely the fact that after 9/11, and in the midst of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a whole host of counterfactuals (journalistic, academic, and fictional) emerged to imagine that Gore, rather than Bush, presided over the post- 9/11 security environment and chose diplomacy over war in Afghanistan; or that the occupation in Iraq was a success; or that the anti-war movement succeeded in forestalling military engagement. From scholarly articles to editorials, a whole slew of essays did not imagine a bad end to a good war but instead a good end to two bad wars. In some cases, they actually just allohistoricized the bad wars out of existence by imagining that their cause, 9/11, didn’t happen: what is the 9/11 Commission Report, after all, but a documentation of all the points at which the events of 9/11 could have gone otherwise? On the more imaginative end of the spectrum, the first major 9/11 novel, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, concludes with a series of photographic images in which a body falling from the World Trade Center flies up rather than plunging down, an image that condenses precisely the strikingly wishful affect of these more recent ventures into the historical otherwise.
I want to share with you my favorite example of this genre, from Ken Kalfus’s post 9/11 novel A Disorder Peculiar to the Country. The novel is wonderful and dark and hilarious, depicting a couple divorcing in the aftermath of 9/11. But the most interesting part to me comes in the novel’s conclusion, which offers a rather remarkable shift in tone and content. Up to this point, the novel has straightforwardly referenced the political twists and turns that took place during the run-up to the occupation of Iraq. But then, in the final pages, we are given the following description of events in the world, which I find so compelling that I will quote it in full:
“Saddam’s location was given up by his Tikrit cousins and he was run down by a unit of the Free Iraq Forces in an orchard on the outskirts of the city. A scaffolding was constructed in the orchard, where hundred of men, women, and children sang patriotic pre-Saddam songs and at one point ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.” In these electrifying hours the Free Iraqis convened a revolutionary court in the orchard. A young bearded anti-Saddam fighter soberly read the verdicts; his speech electrified billions. [Later that week] American investigators uncovered a vast cache of nuclear weapons, some of them already loaded on medium range missiles. The Iranians rushed into the streets to cheer the news from Syria. Some of the women threw off their chadors. The handsome Wharton-trained freedom fighter who had captured Saddam took leadership of a provisional Iraqi government that won broad support from Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. At Wharton he had dated Jewish girls. The coalition troops left Iraq, seen off by cheering flag-waving Iraqis who lined the thoroughfares to the Baghdad airport. The Israelis and the PLO reached a territorial settlement and agreed to share sovereignty in Jerusalem. And then, just as summer was about to begin, Osama bin Laden was found huddled on a filthy rug in a cave located in the lawless, mountainous tribal lands on the Iraqi-Afghan border.”
In short, Kalfus imagines an Iraq War that we win, an Iraq War whose effects justify their causes. And yet Kalfus simultaneously undermines the very possibility of victory and justice in Iraq by constructing his imagined history solely around almost verbatim repetitions of the kinds of claims and predictions that were made by the Bush administration to justify the war. Kalfus’, I am suggesting, is a kind of self-deconstructing counterfactual, since he implies that there is in fact no point at which we can go back and compare two possible outcomes for the Iraq War, no nexus point at which the available historical possibilities were just war and unjust war. Instead, he replays the very falsehoods that sustained the fantasy of a just war based on trumped-up evidence. The point of his counterfactual is thus not to create the fantasy of a different future but rather to reveal, with tragic precision, the poverty of existing reality.
Although Kalfus’s allohistory of Iraq does exactly the opposite of the post-Cold War counterfactuals that concerned Cathy, it nonetheless reveals the same melancholic relationship to history, the same feeling that “victory” in twentieth- and twenty-first-century war is not a zero- sum game. As Cathy describes it, counterfactualism is a way to assert the tragic character of history itself—the counterfactual, we might say, outsmarts even the cunning of historical reason. And yet while melancholic as to the possibility of that “elusive justice” which Cathy invokes, it is perhaps also utopian, in Ernst Bloch’s sense of the term: providing, as Bloch puts it, “the standard to measure the reality of the present precisely as departure from the present we desire.” It seems the clearest counterfactual of all to say that without Cathy’s work, we would have neither a language for describing nor a structure for understanding a historical form committed both to contingency and determinism, human agency and divine intervention, historical mourning and utopian wish fulfillment. It is only in the light of Cathy’s work that we can see not only a formalism rendered strange by history, as yesterday’s phrase would have it, but also a history rendered strange by its dalliance with imaginative form.
“Departing to Arrive: On the occasion of Cathy Gallagher’s retirement”
Before I met Cathy Gallagher, I had a habit of reading deeply and willfully out of historical context. The joys and pleasures of exercising my personal interpretive powers and discovering myself everywhere I looked had taken hold during a particularly gratifying spate as an undergraduate English major at a school known for the greatness of its books. Close reading, nose against the page reading, exfoliating sentences from paragraphs, words from sentences, letters from words reading: I burned holes in my books with the intensity of my gaze. The more ravaged by my proto-erudite, self-inscribed and self-describing marginalia, the more compelling a literary text, I felt sure.
Oh, and I should mention, I hated history – a sentiment that I can trace to the strange conflagration of stoplights, coaching shorts and representative government embodied by Mr. Wilson, the 10th grade driver’s ed instructor/boys’ football coach/history teacher, somewhere in the depths of Missouri sometime in the depths of the 1980s.
It was with these earnest and somewhat concerning proclivities that I embarked on my westward migration to graduate school. It was at Berkeley that I had the immense good fortune to fall under the influence of Cathy Gallagher. It was with Cathy that I learned to divorce history from parallel parking and high school contact sports – and to reflect on how deeply historical the acts of reading and writing are and must be. It was also, with Cathy, that I came to understand my own implication in the reading and writing of my age – and to glimpse the role I would play within, yet without, the academy in challenging received practices, in testing known categories and in rendering visible the latent economic drivers of the marketplace of ideas. In other words, it was Cathy’s rigorous and compelling intellectual example that inspired me, ultimately, to leave academia.
I entered graduate school at Berkeley the year Cathy published Nobody’s Story. New Historicism in general was a revelation to me – a way to meld the deep pleasure I took in close reading with a contextual and intellectual framework that enabled me to move beyond the necessary limitations of my interpretive community of one. But this book in particular was special. I was inclined to wrestle with the problem of literary intentionality. Nobody’s Story exploded that space with its brilliant engagement with the strategic and metaphorically elusive moves of female authors seeking, variously, to secure their place within the literary marketplace(s) of the long 18th century. Under Cathy’s tutelage, the category of the “author” became for me deeply nuanced, always haunted by the specter of the market and its economic exigencies.
My own work, in its small way, plumbed these depths in the late nineteenth/ early twentieth centuries, focusing on writers for whom authorship and professionalization had become a fundamental preoccupation. From the introduction to my dissertation, “Professions of Exclusivity: Authorship and the Anxiety of Expertise, 1880-1940”: “It is a critical commonplace to speak of the “professional author” as a naturalized category, as if a general consensus exists among literary theorists about what makes the professional author’s work professional. This dissertation departs from this critical tendency by radically defamiliarizing what seems most natural about the profession of authorship: its expert relationship to writing. Amidst the clamor for regulation that defined the professionalizing zeitgeist of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century England, authors failed to heed the cry to particularize, standardize, and credentialize the knowledge and practice of their field. They were, in short, ill prepared to secure what social theorist Magali Sarfatti Larson has described as a profession’s ‘cognitive exclusiveness’” (1).
Here I quote Victorian critic E.S. Dallas’s remark that “authorship is…not a profession by itself, but a mode of cultivating any and every profession.” My central concern: “Literary authors were … in the unenviable position of attempting to define the parameters of a literary expertise while the specter of ubiquity lurked at the scene of professional writing.” This threat of ubiquity, I argued, hovered at the awkward junctures of creativity and mechanization, amateurism and expertise, fictional representation and discursivity. It lurked in the metaphors of the civil servant, the writer’s manual and the patent medicine quack. It imbued the writings of, among others, Anthony Trollope, Henry James, and H.G. Wells.
The culmination of my dissertation in 2004 marked my parting of ways with an academic career. Well steeped in sociological literature about professionalization, I found myself bridling at the limited offerings for those so long and so fiercely qualified among my cohort. I grumbled about the profound disjunction within academia between robust supply and dwindling demand. And I worried about the future of a profession that relegated so many of its neophytes to the purgatorial status of adjunct professor, what seemed to me to be a profoundly disempowered nobody-ness from which there was no certain escape.
But I wasn’t done thinking about the author either. In fact, paradoxically, my departure from the academic track has proven immensely fortuitous insofar as I now find myself grappling, as the Director of Publishing at the California Digital Library, with the very real and very compelling concerns of academic professionalization and expertise that haunt the UC system and academia at large in the age of digital scholarship. I had previously considered theoretically how the writing practices of late Victorian professionals challenged the very category of the professional writer. I now deal practically with the complexities of scholarly authorial legitimacy within the digital publishing marketplace. Back to Cathy on the dematerialization/rematerialization of authorship in Nobody’s Story: “The texts in this study, simply because they are texts, frequently canvass the ways materiality ceases to matter but is nevertheless indispensible… The textual ‘signifier,’ the sound or graphic form conventionally attached to a particular idea to create a word, cannot be naively regarded as matter. Rather, it is what spoils the distinction between things and ideas, the material and the ideational” (xxiii- xxiv). Yes! And yet, print books are matter and, for some purposes, still seemingly indispensible. What happens when the very materiality of the mode of distribution of the text disappears? That’s the realm within which I now dwell. Here are the kinds of questions I must attend to within my new profession:
1. What qualifies as an authoritative mechanism for the distribution of scholarly research? Print book? Open Access digital publication? Blog? Wiki? Tweet? How does the answer to this question vary by discipline? Are tenure and promotion publication expectations in line with current scholarly practice? With the economics of the academic publishing market?
2. In the absence of the materiality of the text, how can we guarantee the integrity of and perpetual access to the scholarly record? What does “perpetual” even mean in a digital information environment? Does the mode of distribution affect the half-life of ideas?
3. What constitutes legitimate peer review? Who can and should validate new forms of scholarship, including cross-disciplinary and technologically innovative genres within the digital humanities? Might crowd-sourcing represent an emergent methodology for the assessment of the soundness of ideas within the scholarly profession? Wherein lies sufficient expertise to assess these emergent practices?
4. What are the best strategies for protecting the author’s intellectual property rights while still reaching out to new communities of readers – such as developing nations with limited access to research library resources, potential collaborators in remote disciplines, and the general public (or, as we like to refer to them in California, the taxpayers)?
5. How are the humanities to survive in an academic world increasingly beholden to STEM research money? At a time of administrative austerity, whose scholarly communication needs must be attended to? Whose subscriptions must be renewed? Whose research must be supported?
It turns out that the twenty-first-century scholar-as-author is, to my mind, just as compelling a case as the fin-de-siecle literary figure. So thank you, Cathy. Your intellectual guidance ultimately planted me right in the middle of my own story. As for your story, I have no doubt it will continue to inspire. And if you get the urge at any point to digitize your story, call me. I suspect we’ll have much to discuss.
As the twenty-eighth of twenty-eight speakers, I worried that I would be hard-pressed to find any topics to speak on that hadn’t already been addressed by others. I succeeded in arriving at some, but only by dint of a pretty personal focus to these remarks—which I hope will nevertheless resonate with others’ experience. I might best have pursued an individual take on Cathy by discussing my work, which is neither Victorianist nor Historicist of any kind (I teach twentieth- & twenty-first-century American literature at Princeton), but in fact it’s mostly not in my writing that I feel Cathy’s influence. I did, however, take a truly stunning seminar in novel theory with Cathy in the spring of my first year at Berkeley, and then worked as her research assistant late in my time here. It is to these experiences that I’ll appeal in attempting to say what I would have been had Cathy not taught me.
The short answer, as suggested by the lack of methodological overlap between our work and by much of what we’ve already heard this weekend about Cathy’s demeanor more generally, is that I would have been more or less who I am now, but with a bit less polish, resolve, confidence or style (none of which I possess in great quantity, so this is serious stuff). Another way to put this is that I’d be the same person, minus some portion of, and some clarity regarding, the aspiration to exceed the best I’ve been able to accomplish so far.
I’ll illustrate through three examples: First, one of the tasks I undertook as Cathy’s RA was the creation of the index for Practicing New Historicism, the book (as you all know) co- written with Stephen Greenblatt. Or, more precisely, the book made up of chapters drafted alternately by one scholar or the other, preceded by a jointly authored introduction. The latter itself begins with the statement, “This book is probably more in need of an introduction than most,” and continues: “two authors, two chapters on anecdotes, two on Eucharistic doctrine in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and two on nineteenth-century materialism. Or, to put it somewhat differently, two chapters on anecdotes, and four on bread, potatoes, and the dead.” The first paragraph concludes: “The underlying coherence of all this may not be self- evident” (1). The introduction indeed goes on to offer a powerful account of the cohesion to be found in what follows, and myriad echoes and resonances (as you also all know) do in fact ping through the chapters thereafter, providing some of the book’s greatest pleasures. But, these facts notwithstanding, Cathy sat me down the first afternoon on which we met to discuss the project, smiled reassuringly and then said something like “This book will stand or fall on the strength of its index.”
This was not, in fact, at all reassuring. (It was also patently untrue.) But it did turn out to be the overture to Cathy’s elaboration of what she expected the index to do, by extension expected any index to do—a topic to which I don’t believe I had given but so much thought before that point. Here, it turned out, was where the book’s coherence was actually going to be conveyed most succinctly; here was where a potential reader could turn to appreciate, at a glance, its intellectual stakes both piecemeal and in the aggregate; here was where a certain intellectual synthesis would be most readily achieved. Then—before I could turn tail upon hearing these demands, and with her characteristic clarity and thoroughness—Cathy went on to provide me with the fundamental wherewithal for that synthesis, walking me through many of the key terms for those stakes. I learned, in this moment, a great deal about working with students and subordinates, both, which I would boil down to: the crystalline articulation of absurdly high expectations, wedded to the conscientious provision of just enough aid to make it possible for the worker to succeed subsequently on his or her own. And I learned about indexing, too.
I guess I’ve drawn on the first part of this lesson throughout my time teaching, with greater skill as the years have gone by and I’ve recognized more fully just what I am looking for from my students. But the latter part came back with astonishing clarity last spring, when the indexer subcontracted by the press for my first book submitted the most abominable (and, I would have thought, embarrassing) document I could imagine—the product not of anything like a thoughtful reading or even marginally sustained reflection on the book, but rather, it appeared, of a nominal intelligence careening through it at highest speed and circling suggestive nominative formulations. I suspect it was the work of a computer program with minimal human supervision. I was highly conscious, in the exchange of emails that followed, of the degree to which my conversations with Cathy more than a decade earlier had remained with me, and were informing every point I made to the publisher, each attempt to arrive at a formulation as inarguable as hers for what the index needed to do. And, while no one (including me) expected it, we (Cathy and I) won—on both intellectual and financial terms.
The second story I’ll share also has to do with communicating expectations clearly and generously, and with communicating, as well, the pith of recondite, convoluted, or otherwise complex intellectual matter most efficiently and elegantly . . . such that I’ve come to think over the course of writing these remarks that these two qualities are at the core of Cathy’s pedagogy. The first day of our seminar, as I remember it, Cathy began the class by walking silently to the chalkboard and, in an unfaltering and impeccable script, setting out at some length a multi-point agenda for our discussion juxtaposing three discrete and disparate theorizations of the rise of the novel. The beauty of the script and the beauty of the content and the beauty of watching both roll out so steadily before us seemed all one. She asked for additions from us, and in the weeks that followed gradually turned the entire process over to us, simply recording our suggestions rather than preceding them with any of her own. I’ve tried this trick repeatedly in the seminars I’ve taught since—or rather I should say that I’ve attempted this approach, because it’s clearly not a trick. Indeed, while Cathy suggested last night that she was “so lazy” that she made us teach one another, it’s clear that in fact what we see here is judicious, but considerable, effort. In my seminars, we end up with a blackboard covered by maddeningly partial formulations underscored and connected by an ever-expanding variety of squiggles and arrows—a kind of single-screen equivalent of that initial bad index, it occurs to me. I’ll grant that I’m working with enthusiastic undergrads rather than diligent graduate students, but I suspect that the salient difference lies elsewhere, and that it demands change that begins with me rather than with my students. Which is to say that it begins with Cathy’s model, which I am still struggling to emulate.
Finally, a very brief statement not about articulation, but about silence. The other really big task I undertook for Cathy was doing all the work on the ground the year that the School of Criticism and Theory held its conference here. As many of you know from experience, as David and Catherine in particular know quite well at this moment, putting a conference together is an endless run of small details (and often large snafus), and thoroughly exhausting. (Thank you, Catherine and David!!) When it was almost over, Cathy took me aside and I have the impression that she said some very nice things to me about the achievement. But I don’t really know, because in a thoroughly misguided attempt to mirror Gallagherian graciousness back to her, I kept demurring to say how splendid and easy it had been to work for her, talking over whatever it was she said to me. So the last lesson Cathy taught me, which I learned a few minutes too late that day but have tried to hold onto since, was when to shut up. At base it is, perhaps, a translation of the other two: if you discharge your responsibilities properly, there’s a point at which they come to a close, at which others take up the effort and the talking, and you can enjoy the fruits—which lesson has been amply underscored over the last day and half.
Images from “Somebody’s Story”: Twenty-Eight Ways of Being Taught by Cathy Gallagher