Parting Words: Valedictory Performance in Victorian Poetry
Drawn from my dissertation project, this talk explores the relationship among leave-taking, self-presentation, and public address in Victorian poetry. From Tennyson’s “Ulysses” to A.C. Swinburne’s “Anactoria,” the era’s poems of retreat and departure, I argue, take the measure not only of poets’ disenchantment or exclusion from the public sphere, but more importantly, of their engagement with poetry’s changing status in an emergent mass culture. When critics have attended to Victorian poetry’s role in the public sphere, it has generally been through that poetry’s engagement with political or cultural discourse. My project considers instead the rhetorical possibilities that poets employed to grapple with the idea of publicness itself. In their valedictory poems, poets present speakers who imagine leave-taking as their entrance into circulation as exemplary figures and cultural icons. As scenes of performance, their speeches manage problems of distance and relation: taking leave makes public the personal and, in doing so, comments on the forms of publication—the books and pages and print—that are presumed to survive the departure of the speaker.
Justin Sider is a PhD candidate in English at Yale University and will receive his degree this December. He has recently completed his dissertation, entitled “Parting Words: Address and Exemplarity in Victorian Poetry,” which explores the relationship among poetic address, public speech, and cultural authority in Victorian poetry’s valedictions and scenes of leave-taking. He has published articles on Alfred Tennyson and John Ruskin in Victorian Poetry and Studies in English Literature respectively.
Restaging the Forty-Seven Rōnin: Performance and Print in Late Eighteenth-Century Japan
As two of the principal spheres of cultural production in early modern Japan, performance and print naturally developed a close relationship. In the case of pictorial fiction, which rose to enormous popularity in the mid- to late eighteenth century, this relationship is particularly complicated, with performance informing many aspects of such works. This talk explores this dynamic through an examination of a “comicbook” parody of the play Chūshingura, or A Treasury of Loyal Retainers (1748). Almost from its premiere, Chūshingura became the definitive version of the story of the forty-seven rōnin, a group of masterless samurai who carried out a sensational vendetta at the dawn of the eighteenth century. The play quickly became the most popular in the repertoire, and inspired numerous adaptations and parodies. As one such parody, the comicbook considered in this talk has a debt to the stage that is, on the surface, obvious. Yet it is precisely as a parody of a play that it offers valuable insights into the relationship between performance and the printed page. There are many ways one might retell a play in fiction, but the author and illustrator instead rely extensively on kabuki visuality, performance practice, and even specific performances. At the same time, the comicbook, like other works in its genre, is a richly allusive, witty, and palimpsestic text in its own right that is by no means reducible to a representation of the stage. Kabuki and other forms of performance are appropriated as organizing principles, but the end result is an altogether unique form of performance that weaves together many of the diverse strands of Japan’s eighteenth century.
William Fleming is assistant professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures and Theater Studies at Yale. His writings have appeared in journals including Sino-Japanese Studies, Asian Theatre Journal, Japan Forum, and The International Journal of Comic Art. He is currently working on a book exploring aspects of the reception of Chinese fiction in early modern Japan, and his co-authored catalogSamurai and the Culture of Japan’s Great Peace, written in conjunction with an exhibition he is jointly curating at Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History (opening early next year), is forthcoming in February, 2015.