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  1. Welcome to the Madison Journal of Literary Criticism
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  3. Contemporary Literary Critics | NA NA | Palgrave Macmillan
  4. The Best Literary Criticism of 2015

Slate also fixed a spotlight on good criticism when it stated, for the record, that the new critic at the Times is doing a damn fine job. All of which raises the question: who else is kicking ass at literary criticism right now? The answer is terribly subjective. But here, in no particular order, are my picks. The king of literary criticism sits on his throne at the New Yorker and issues detailed, precise readings in support of his decree that realism is the sine qua non of literature.

An expert in Classics, he demonstrates how ancient Greece and Rome texts are surprisingly alive and flourishing today. Best review of the movie ever. Hirsch observes how the editing and cropping of such images can have attenuating effects. Some reproductions of the photograph are centered solely on the boy and isolate him from his surroundings, hiding the Nazi soldiers that can be seen in the original image.

By focusing on the boy these cropped images divorce the victim from his historical context. He is transformed into a symbol, an abstract representation of victimhood. The specificity of the historical moment is eclipsed by the universal; the Jewish boy becomes an innocent everyman in the face of nameless evil.

The technique of cropping is not unique to the reproduction of visual images. Some of the most celebrated historical novels of the last couple of decades in Spain use similar methods in their portrayal of the victims of the civil war. We can see these methods at work in some of the novels of the so-called historical memory boom. Novels associated with this movement are advertised as recovering the memory of Republican victims of the war. In such cases readers are not encouraged to approach history with an inquisitive frame of mind; there is little concern with expanding their knowledge or stimulating their interest in unknown events.

The past simply constitutes a showcase of cruelty, a distant world with little apparent connection to our own. Any ambiguity is lost: we rarely find complex characters struggling to make sense of a chaotic world turned upside down and forced to decide their path at a crossroad of clashing ideologies and incompatible world views.

Instead there are just the goodies versus the baddies, the former imploring our sympathy and the latter our revulsion. In this prizewinning novel that reached an even wider popular audience through its film adaptation, the civil war is reduced to a backdrop against which a series of tearjerking tragedies unfold.

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Welcome to the Madison Journal of Literary Criticism

The political, social, and economic factors at stake in the conflict are drowned out in a collection of heartrending fictional vignettes. In Los girasoles ciegos the war is fought off-stage; readers witness its devastating effects on a number of innocent individuals. The war is a vector of tragedy, an otherworldly and anonymous force whose price is paid by the weak and suffering. In its sentimental treatment of the conflict Los girasoles ciegos depoliticizes the victims. The military actors are removed from our line of sight, and a war waged between two sides is recast as an orgy of violence unleashed on helpless innocents.


Hirsch warns that sentimentality serves as a defense mechanism allowing readers to attenuate their reception of difficult themes related to historical violence and to absolve themselves of the responsibility to reflect on what motivates the perpetrators of atrocities It is gratifying to assume that evil is perpetrated by monsters instead of human beings who are similar to us.

A novel that reinforces our innate tendency to underestimate the evil of which we are all capable is a flawed ethical guide. She argues that this type of image, which abounds in Holocaust visual art, entices spectators to feel far too identified with those who are suffering. For Hirsch, images of children facilitate our capacity for self-projection; such images encourage the comforting sensation of understanding a historical experience that is, in reality, incomprehensible:.

Images of children readily lend themselves to universalization. Less individualized, less marked by the particularities of identity, children invite multiple projections and identifications. Their photographic images, especially when cropped and decontextualized, elicit an affiliative as well as a protective spectatorial look marked by these investments, a look that promotes forgetting, even denial.

Their works embodied a trend that reinforced the socially sanctioned interpretation of the civil war at that time as the tragic result of collective madness The interpretation of the war as an eruption of fratricidal lunacy, although still in vogue in some sections of society, disregards the socioeconomic factors at the origin of the conflict. Such a perspective encourages us to view the war as something incomprehensible, like an unforeseeable natural catastrophe, an act of God in which those who lost most were the faultless children who were forced to live with its consequences.

When our attention is drawn to children as an entire demographic constituent that suffered, regardless of individual circumstances, there is a tendency to overlook the more meaningful social injustices unleashed by the Spanish Civil War, whose epithets of victors and defeated endured for decades. The consequent infantilization of victims demotes the historical context, consigning it to the background, and encourages a mode of reading in which the higher cognitive functions of analysis and reason are relegated in favor of affective appraisals and emotional responses.

The infantilization of victims tends to be accompanied, furthermore, by the depersonalization of perpetrators. Historical novels on the Spanish Civil War more often than not neglect the psychology of the perpetrators of reprehensible acts; the characterization of evildoers often gravitates toward caricature. More akin to symbols than fully formed protagonists, perpetrator-characters rarely have a psychological depth that might allow readers to reflect on their motives. The lack of nuance in the portrayal of those responsible for violence and injustice reinforces a simplistic paradigm of good versus evil.

The attachment to stereotypes absolves readers of the need to undertake a more psychologically and ethically complex process of identification, which, according to Hirsch, could help us to understand better human beings who committed abominable acts Hirsch believes a critical gaze that resists the facile impulse to identify with victims is a more ethical approach to consuming art concerned with historical atrocities. The sentimental treatment of the Spanish Civil War in many contemporary works has fostered a critical discourse that regards identification as the ultimate purpose of reading these works.

Empathy is undoubtedly an important activity in the reception of stories about historical violence, but sometimes the intensity of empathic processes impedes the preservation of a critical stance that can help to contextualize historical experiences. The emotions aroused by our identification with victim-characters do not necessarily help us to understand historical events or even the experience of victimhood itself.

In the act of reading, this psychological predisposition might correspond to the Aristotelian phenomenon of catharsis. We witness the tragedy of another and feel liberated from our own anxiety. The act of contemplating pain is part of a reading experience that as a whole produces satisfaction. We enjoy reading works that depict the misery of others; if this were not so, we would not read them.

We recreate the events of the narrative in our imagination as if we were living them. We fantasize about how we would react and feel about any given occurrence.

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In fact, we are explicitly urged to transfer our own being to the center of the narrative when a historical novel is described as a memory novel. Autobiographical memories are personal and untransferable. We cannot remember what happened to another person, and if we did not experience a given event, it is not, strictly speaking, memory but rather history.

Introduction to Marxist Literary Theory

But when we picture ourselves in the center of a work of art we might begin to suppose that we comprehend what the victims felt. Seeing as we have recreated the experience in our imagination, we might say we have seen it for ourselves, even that we have, to a certain extent, lived it. A presumption of this kind would obviously be fallacious.

The aesthetic recreation of the past produces the illusion of empirical knowledge, the fantasy of appropriation.

Contemporary Literary Critics | NA NA | Palgrave Macmillan

Literary criticism has the obligation to question certain reading tendencies. The dissection of a historical novel by critical analysis focuses our attention on the role of the artist who acts as an intermediary in our reception of historical events. As a counterpoint to the rhetoric of art, criticism should wrest us from the illusion of intimacy with victims, capitalizing on its independence of the aesthetic discourse and critiquing how the artist shapes our perception of the past.

It is rare for critics to question the use of artistic devices designed to comfort readers with a Manichean dichotomy of good Republicans versus evil Nationalists. Sentimentality perhaps sells more than the ambiguous and disquieting text that forces us to reflect on our complacent and self-satisfied attitude toward the past.

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A dystopian image of history allows us to congratulate ourselves on the present and safely place our trust in the future. However, critics have the responsibility to explore how and why the past is used and abused. In conclusion, Hirsch shows how criticism can be used to give the consumers of postmemorial art the uncomfortable sensation that the questions set in motion by disturbing historical events are not yet resolved. This historical sensitivity, modeled by critics and put into practice by readers and spectators, counteracts self-interested uses of the past. As a necessary balance against the satisfaction inherent in aesthetic consumption, this sense of unsettlement is a fundamental part of the social activism that Hirsch sees as the ultimate aim of postmemory.

We have seen how some critics use the concept of postmemory to legitimize the artistic elaboration of the past as an activity motivated by trauma. This interpretation of the historical novel of the Spanish Civil War grants a privileged status to art as a curative practice that enacts belated justice for victims and emotional closure for contemporary society.

By inculcating readers with the satisfaction of participating in a supposedly therapeutic act, an understanding of postmemory as the transmission of trauma encourages complacency, a sense of superiority with regard to the past, an impression of leaving it settled and overcoming its lessons. But a historical novel, although it may cloak itself in the paraphernalia of trauma, is not necessarily a helpful medium for approaching the past nor does reading it necessarily make you a better citizen or improve your psychological health.

If we focus on the secondary interpretation of postmemory as something that is generated in society we can see that Hirsch in reality does not advocate a reverential attitude toward such works of art. She models a critical responsibility to question how history is used and thereby encourages readers and spectators to adopt an inquisitive attitude that is not placated by simplistic historical interpretations.

The research for this article was funded by a Study Abroad Studentship awarded by the Leverhulme Trust. Another early proponent of postmemory in the field of Spanish literary studies is Elina Liikanen. Postmemorial readings of contemporary Spanish literature now abound. I, Madrid, Alianza, The second change, which is more germane to my argument here, relates to the definition of the term itself.

The Best Literary Criticism of 2015

Drawing on theoretical works in visual studies by Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes, Hirsch argues that the ambiguous relationship of Holocaust photography to both life and death makes the medium a potent symbol for the desire to mourn Holocaust victims and the simultaneous failure of the process of mourning. Postmemory is analogous to the desired and yet frustrated connection with the past encapsulated by photography. Coplan, P. Goldie eds.

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Turkey has been, since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's authoritarian drift, at the heart of the key issues affecting, both the national and international marketplace. They highlight the role played by different social actors such as the State, the local notables, etc. Mathieu Ducournau, jeune femme, x cm, It is clear that this scholar has in mind a rather more generalized idea of trauma as something that affects not just Manuel and Nadia but rather the entirety of the society they inhabit: The effort presented in this novel [ El jinete polaco ] by the two protagonists can be seen as emblematic of the long journey that post-Franco Spanish society has undertaken.

Postmemory between Trauma and Social Activism. Mathieu Ducournau, Oiseau 3 , x cm, By generating this experiential knowledge through works of art, postmemory enables the memory of the experience to live on: Postmemorial work [ For Hirsch, images of children facilitate our capacity for self-projection; such images encourage the comforting sensation of understanding a historical experience that is, in reality, incomprehensible: Images of children readily lend themselves to universalization.

Notes Unfold notes and references Retour vers la note de texte 1 The research for this article was funded by a Study Abroad Studentship awarded by the Leverhulme Trust.