Books & Journals

With Bruce Holsinger (eds). In Brief. Special Issue of New Literary History 50.3 (2019).

This issue of New Literary History offers short reflections on a suggestive sampling of short forms. It is a menu, a catalogue, a lexicon, a palette, a beginning. Like the small genres to which this issue is dedicated, it is incomplete, its table of contents potentially infinite; indeed we hope to expand its offerings in the form of an edited collection with as many as one or two hundred contributions.

A distinguishing feature of this special issue is the intimacy between its subject and its mode of presentation. Our contributors do not mimic encyclopedia entries or information-packed Cambridge Handbook of X-type contributions; they explore the creative and critical capacities of their own brevity in presenting their chosen forms to an audience of scholars and fellow writers. Speculative, experimental, provocative, a few of them irreverent, these essays resonate with the concise and pithy spirit of the objects they scrutinize, celebrate, and reimagine.

With Eric Weiskott (eds). The Shapes of Early English Poetry: Style, Form, History. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2019.

This volume contributes to the study of early English poetics. In these essays, several related approaches and fields of study radiate outward from poetics, including stylistics, literary history, word studies, gender studies, metrics, and textual criticism. By combining and redirecting these traditional scholarly methods, as well as exploring newer ones such as object-oriented ontology and sound studies, these essays demonstrate how poetry responds to its intellectual, literary, and material contexts.

The contributors propose to connect the small (syllables, words, and phrases) to the large (histories, emotions, faiths, secrets). In doing so, they attempt to work magic on the texts they consider: turning an ordinary word into something strange and new, or demonstrating texture, difference, and horizontality where previous eyes had perceived only smoothness, sameness, and verticality.

The Experience of Education in Anglo-Saxon Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Anglo-Saxons valued education yet understood how precarious it could be, alternately bolstered and undermined by fear, desire, and memory. They praised their teachers in official writing, but composed and translated scenes of instruction that revealed the emotional and cognitive complexity of learning. Irina Dumitrescu explores how early medieval writers used fictional representations of education to explore the relationship between teacher and student. These texts hint at the challenges of teaching and learning: curiosity, pride, forgetfulness, inattention, and despair. Still, these difficulties are understood to be part of the dynamic process of pedagogy, not simply a sign of its failure. The book demonstrates the enduring concern of Anglo-Saxon authors with learning throughout Old English and Latin poems, hagiographies, histories, and schoolbooks.

“Through its patient and generous attention to the literature of early medieval England, The Experience of Education in Anglo-Saxon England allows the emotional world of literate Anglo-Saxons to live again in its complexity and richness, and demonstrates how much can be evoked even from seemingly resistant works like grammars and translations. Elegant and stylish as well as learned, it is a lovely exemplar of genuinely humanistic scholarship.” – Emily Thornbury, Anglia

“Dumitrescu has produced a hugely enjoyable, informative, and thought-provoking monograph, which will be of interest to all scholars of early medieval literature.” – Susan Irvine, Speculum

“… modern education owes much to a period that fused antique conceptions of education with Christian ascetic practices, generating a complex amalgam of educational techniques and understandings that would, with modification, furnish the materials from which modern educational establishments and relationships were built. Irina Dumitrescu’s study furthers our understanding of this inheritance by exploring the logic of an alien but nonetheless related educational order. As it does so, it draws attention to what has become the disavowed underbelly of modern educational practice, studying the role of suffering and discomfort in Anglo-Saxon scenes of instruction.” – Ansgar Allen, British Journal of Educational Studies

“Irina Dumitrescu has written a learned, eloquent, and seminal book that exposes widespread pedagogical metaphors in pre-Conquest writings.” – Scott Gwara, English Studies

“Dumitrescu’s readings are meticulous and thought-provoking.” – Hana Videen, The Times Literary Supplement

“This is a book that should be read and digested by all Anglo-Saxonists. It is a model of clarity and well-structured argumentation. It is deeply informed by the author’s wide reading and skill in critical interpretation, and forms a highly significant contribution to the field.” – Greg Waite, Parergon

Rumba Under Fire: The Arts of Survival from West Point to Delhi. Brooklyn: Punctum Books, 2016.

A professor of poetry uses a deck of playing cards to measure the time until her lover returns from Afghanistan. Congolese soldiers find their loneliness reflected in the lyrics of rumba songs. Survivors of the siege of Sarajevo discuss which book they would have never burned for fuel. A Romanian political prisoner writes her memoir in her head, a book no one will ever read. These are the arts of survival in times of crisis.

Rumba Under Fire proposes we think differently about what it means for the arts and liberal arts to be “in crisis.” In prose and poetry, the contributors to Rumba Under Fire explore what it means to do art in hard times. How do people teach, create, study, and rehearse in situations of political crisis? Can art and intellectual work really function as resistance to power? What relationship do scholars, journalists, or even memoirists have to the crises they describe and explain? How do works created in crisis, especially at the extremes of human endurance, fit into our theories of knowledge and creativity?

The contributors are literary scholars, anthropologists, and poets, covering a broad geographic range — from Turkey to the United States, from Bosnia to the Congo. 

“the book makes a cohesive argument not just about how engagement with the humanities can help temper or explain various political or humanitarian crisis, but that there will always be multiple, equally vital ways — from poetry to scholarship, and more — to process ideas in and of themselves, and that these multiple approaches can be tools for survival in harsh times” – Jenny Drai, Anomaly

“While no one wishes for hard times, they do come. This book reminds its readers that frequently these times are out of one’s individual control. No amount of care in how we live can protect us from war or an oppressive regime. But even if our books burn and our music is away, even if our prayers must come from memory, all is not yet lost. There is still hope, even under fire.” – Cara Strickland, The Cresset

“The humanities evolve to survive regardless of the circumstances, but this book makes a good case for the value in preserving and promoting them at all costs.” – Bitch Magazine

“Rumba Under Fire was published before the US entered its present circumstances, but it feels like a tool of the resistance. Add it to your belt” – Heather Seggel, The Progressive Populist

“Amid laments about the crisis of the humanities, it’s good to read about the power of humanities in times of crisis.” – Glasgow Review of Books