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Dialogues

We at Early Modern Literary Studies are pleased to announce a new feature, Dialogues.  Its purpose is to foster and foreground scholarly interaction, taking advantage of the internet's potential for timely interchange.  In the feature, three or four scholars will be invited to address a critical issue of broad interest to scholars of early modern English literature.  These papers will be posted in the journal, and the discussion will be opened to the general readership (the writers of the position papers will be encouraged to continue their participation). Comments from readers will be moderated and posted in a manner similar to that of The Chronicle of Higher Education’s "Colloquy" feature; that is, the interaction will be asynchronous so that readers can respond to ideas at their convenience and responses are welcomed that range from one or two sentences to short essays.  Each Dialogue will be closed to further discussion when, in the editors' estimation, it has run its useful course.  At this time, the authors of the position papers and selected writers of significant contributions will be invited to develop their pieces into full articles, which will then be published in the refereed section of the journal as a special issue.

We seek to develop here a forum for sustained, high-level, and responsive inquiry.  We look forward to presenting, in February 1999, our first Dialogue, on the construction of histories of the early modern subject, with papers from Douglas Bruster, Jonathan Hart, and Linda Woodbridge.  The full topic follows:

 

At least since Burckhardt's discussion of "The Development of the Individual" in The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860), the early modern subject has been the hero or villain of a number of historical and critical discourses. In the last two decades many scholars have used recent theoretical models - Marxist, feminist, psychoanalytical, the anthropological model of new historicism - to limn the contours of early modern subjectivity and to embed that subjectivity in larger developmental narratives. Other scholars - Debora Shuger, Katharine Eisaman Maus, and Jonathan Sawday come to mind - have argued that our understanding of early modern selfhood can be enriched by examining it in the terms and models of self-understanding available to early modern individuals and that such analyses problematize the linear narratives of transition from medieval to early modern selfhood which tend to be the result of the application of newer theoretical paradigms.

This issue raises a number of interesting questions. What exactly is the object these discourses intend to study? Is it the sets of discursive positions available to concrete individuals in differing socio-economic positions? Or is it the modes of attempted synthesis of contradictory positions or rebellion against oppressive ones? Would someone who believes in the existence of a soul or a universal human nature accept all or part of this kind of analysis? How then should modern scholars deal with the limits placed on their inquiries by the relativity of their own hermeneutic assumptions? Do recent theoretical paradigms "discover" an early modern subject (would an Elizabethan or Jacobean have recognized herself or himself as "early modern"?) or merely construct one from the scattered shards of their own reflections? If reconstruction of early modern subjectivity is possible, how can literary texts be used in such a reconstruction? In what ways is the reconstructed early modern subject a site of discursive struggle within the academy? What claims are being made about/on/on the behalf of this subject and why?

 

We hope that you will join us in discussing these issues.  We will be posting full participation guidelines at the same time that we post the initial papers referred to above.

 


1999-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).
(PD 18 January 1999)