In her new book, The Difference Aesthetics Makes (Duke University Press, 2019), Kandice Chuh (formerly of the University of Maryland, currently a professor at the CUNY Graduate Center) asks us to hold up the ways that aesthetic practice—that is, the rendering of art—give us new formulations of the world and our places within it. To think well, in other words, is to think through the representational lexicon, pushing our imaginations to formulate new connections, new identities, and new forms of being that envisage a more just society. In this spirit, the essays published in this year’s volume of Paper Shell Review give us much to contemplate.
Nehali Patel takes us through the literary logics of Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior. We read Kingston’s text as an homage to literary history, to a community of women writers making Kingston’s own work possible. This is a herstory in a powerfully lyric sense, unspooling what being Chinese and being American can mean. And it urges us to reconsider the generic differences we assign to memoir and to fiction, showing us how the work of genre attempts to demarcate the imagined and the experiential, but cannot fully succeed.
If we attend to the cinematic qualities of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Anne Marie Hawley argues, then the novel reveals to us a deep warning about the genre, its allures, and its fundamental duplicity. In an essay that reads Fitzgerald’s writing as a generic confrontation between novel and film, we come to understand that cinematic viewing is built upon and perpetuates myriad faulty visions. The big screen, in other words, trains its viewers to see things that are not, to miss what is, and to become blind to themselves. Fitzgerald’s various allusions to sight and cinema occur to thwart correct apprehension, suggesting, ultimately, that the only reliable form of visual apprehension is through reading a text.
Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford uses clothing as a formal tool in characterization, contends Nicole Ugorji. In so doing, the author reveals to the joint imperatives that shape reading a literary text and a material textile. Clothing is functional, of course, but it is also representational, and it is this former quality that gives Gaskell a figurative language to enable readers to interpret character—and characters. An individual’s clothing can operate as short-hand for a character’s standing and social status, but Gaskell also turns our attention to clothing that signifies otherwise, as in the case of cross-dressing, and that troubles the assumption that clothing and that which it clothes exist in a mimetic relation.
Through a reading of Mary Shelley’s iconic Frankenstein, Anne Marie Hawley takes up the ethics of social psychology. What does it mean to grow up isolated? Shelley’s novel cannot seem to move out of its dystopic, monstrous milieu, and this critic turns the hopefulness of the bildungsroman back onto Victor and his creature. Among the novel’s many lessons, then, is the failure of the maturation plot, one in which the youth leave home only to be reincorporated into it. Within that failure lies Shelley’s—and the critic’s—insight that this form of narrative is not only precarious, but also ultimately flawed.
In sum, the literary critical essays published by The Paper Shell Review demand that we not only read these texts for their stories, but also for the ways in which they are constructed, and for the ways in which they instruct us in the constitutive powers of representation.
Professor of English, University of Maryland
- William Wong
- Lylah Uttamsingh
- Micah Herman
- Emily Fitzgerald
- Kristin Melvin
- Nicholas Provenzano
- Marisa Cabrera
Spring 2019 Essays
Challenging the Canon: How Maxine Hong Kingston Narrates Nonfiction with Ghosts and Talk-Story
In The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston writes a “memoir of a girlhood among ghosts” by piecing together cultural myths and personal experiences to develop her sense of self. Her novel challenges the genre of memoir, as it includes elements of fiction and often deviates from her own life. Kingston’s literary and stylistic choices are significant in that they convey her unique, intersectional position.
Cranfordian Fabrics: A Reliable Narrator Unfolding Deprivations Within the Narrative
Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel Cranford (1851–53) is set in a quiet English village withdrawn from the commerce and industrialization dominating larger cities.
Lights, Camera, Gatsby: Analyzing Cinematic Influence in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Greatest Work
While it was not until later in his career that F. Scott Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood, his 1925 magnum opus, The Great Gatsby, bears the distinct influence of the silver screen. At the time when he penned the novel, celebrity culture was rapidly emerging, and film actors and actresses ascended to American royalty. This was accompanied by an explosion in advertising which marketed every product imaginable to help viewers emulate their favorite idols.
Monstrously Alone: Foreclosed Social Development in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Growing up is a universal part of the human experience. A whole genre of literature, called the bildungsroman, follows this path from adolescence to adulthood. The term bildungsroman was not widely used until around 1870, but it was first coined in 1817 and aptly labels a long list of works stretching from the end of the eighteenth century to the early twentieth century ("Bildungsroman").