Thursday, May 31, 2012

News Bulletin

First of all, I'm delighted to be able to announce that Eric (whom, given the importance and nature of the news I should probably refer to more formally as Professor Eric Murphy Selinger), has now been promoted from Associate to Full Professor status. Congratulations, Eric! Obviously this is important for Eric on a personal level, and it's a fitting acknowledgment of his many years of research, teaching, and service to his university but perhaps we can also view it, at least in part, as an endorsement of popular romance studies.

Sarah Frantz has been pushing new boundaries in Chicago. Annabel Joseph and L. A. Witt/Lauren Gallagher report back in detail. The short version, excerpted from the second of those reports, is that she was attending
The CARAS research conference at the Adler School of Psychology.  This was a conference for therapists, social workers, psychologists, etc., to educate them to be kink-aware and kink-friendly. Sarah invited Annabel and me, as well as authors Heidi Cullinan, James Buchanan, and Edmond Manning, to speak on a panel about positive and realistic portrayals of BDSM in romantic fiction.

A provisional schedule is now available for the third PopCAANZ (Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand) conference (June 27, 28, 29 2012) and although it doesn't provide many details about the papers which will be presented, it seems there will be two sessions on romantic love. The first, on "Love and History" will feature papers by Teo, Bellanta and Elder and the second, on "Love Stories" will feature papers by Nicholls, Butler and O'Mahony. I'm not able to identify all of those speakers from their surnames, but I'm almost certain that the first is Hsu-Ming Teo, whose Desert Passions: Orientalism and Romance Novels will be published by University of Texas Press in 2012 and who is currently working on
'The popular culture of romantic love in twentieth-century Australia'.
In western culture 'love' is commonly cited as the reason for cohabitation or marriage, yet 46% of marriages are likely to end in divorce in Australia today. This project examines how the culture of romantic love has changed in Australia over the course of the twentieth century as changing patterns of work and gender relations, consumerism, and the supplanting of spiritual ideals by sexuality and the cult of the body modified representations of love in literature, film, and periodicals. The popular discourse of romantic love has transformed expectations of love, placing different demands upon what it is supposed to achieve.

If you "blog on topics related to teaching college/university-level English literature" Prof. Renee Pigeon, Dept. of English, CSU San Bernardino would like to hear from you by the fifteenth of July:
I'd like to include a link on the new resource guide described below. Queries and suggestions welcome:

Contributions solicited for a proposed web resource focused on teaching English Literature at the college/university level.

Possible contributions include but are not limited to:
  • Reviews of books, blogs and other resources
  • Personal essays
  • Sample Assignments and syllabi
  • Course design and planning
  • Incorporating technology successfully
  • Hints and advice
  • Suggestions for links
Deadline: July 15 for consideration for the initial launch of the site; on-going project, so contributions after that date will also be welcome. Please include a brief bio and contact info.

Maili/McVane has started up a new site, RomQ&A, which I thought might be of interest to TMT's readers:
Ever had that moment where you wanted to read a romance novel you remembered enjoying years ago, but couldn't recall title or author's name?
RomQA is the place where you can share your memories of that novel to see if romance readers here could identify it for you.

Someone from the team organising the Marginalised Mainstream conference recently popped across to TMT to let us know that their deadline has been extended to the 15th of June:
8–9 November 2012, Senate House, University of London

The Marginalised Mainstream seeks to discuss the growing interest in and importance of mainstream culture and the popular as ways of engaging with cultural products of the late nineteenth to early twenty-first centuries (the long twentieth century), 1880–2010. Specifically, we seek to bring together postgraduate students, early career academics and established researchers working in the fields of Literature, Cultural Studies and elsewhere in the Humanities, to explore why mainstream culture and objects of mass appeal are so frequently marginalised by the academic community.

 Chains provided by Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Intellectual Freedom and the Politics of Reading: Libraries as Sites of Conservative Activism, 1990-2010

I've just come across Loretta Mary Gaffney's thesis, Intellectual Freedom and the Politics of Reading: Libraries as Sites of Conservative Activism, 1990-2010. I thought I'd quote from it as a quick follow-up to my previous post about "mommy porn," and Smart Bitch Sarah's report from the fourteenth of May that,
as reported by Dianna Dilworth on GalleyCat: Brevard County Public Libraries in Florida have pulled their 19 copies of 50 Shades of Grey from the shelves.
HuffPo has a quote from Don Walker, a spokesman for the library, who said, "it's semi-porgnographic." The HuffPo article indicated that several other libraries in Florida had refused to purchase copies, but Brevard bought 19, then took them out of circulation, sending notices to the 200 or so people on a waiting list.
Library services director Cathy Schweinsberg told Florida Today: Nobody asked us to take it off the shelves. But we bought some copies before we realized what it was. We looked at it, because it’s been called ‘mommy porn’ and ‘soft porn.’ We don’t collect porn.”
They may not have been asked to take it off the shelves in this particular instance, but Gaffney's thesis describes the socio-political context in which many US libraries make their decisions:
During the 1990s and 2000s, conservative activists not only appropriated libraries as battlegrounds for causes like antigay activism, but also incorporated libraries and librarianship into the issue base of the pro family movement. A collection of loosely linked, well-organized grassroots campaigns around issues like opposition to abortion and gay marriage, the pro family movement was a resurgence of conservative activism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries that brought libraries into the culture wars crossfire. Pro family library challenges went beyond objections to particular materials in order to target library policies of open access, collection diversity, and patron privacy. Pro family activists also mounted an explicit critique of the American Library Association (ALA), opposing the ALA’s defenses of intellectual freedom for all ages and all types of media. These activists described their own struggle as a quest to wrest libraries away from the ALA and restore them to parental and taxpayer control.
Gaffney's thesis can be downloaded from the University of Illinois' digital environment for access to learning and scholarship (IDEALS). It focuses on young readers: "The reason their reading is monitored is, in part, because some adults believe the young are more vulnerable readers and will be irreparably harmed by 'dangerous' media without adult intervention" (5). Nonetheless, some of the metaphors invoked in debates about their reading are more widely applicable:
Catherine Sheldrick Ross’ analysis of turn-of-the-century library discourse on the “fiction question” reveals that there were two persistent metaphors used to describe reading: reading as eating, and reading as a ladder. The two metaphors helped librarians to establish their professional expertise as guiders and selectors of “healthy” reading, as well as to articulate a hierarchy or ladder of reading tastes. Sheldrick Ross’ study not only highlights a pivotal moment in the development of librarians’ emerging professional identity as reading experts, but also reveals that metaphors, far from being mere “stylistic flourishes,” are powerful ways of structuring our experience of the world as a way to “discover new meaning.” [...]

Sheldrick Ross’ study has two key insights that inform pro family models of reading. In the case of the “reading is eating” metaphor, particularly when it is combined with the ladder metaphor to establish a hierarchy of taste, it is far easier to tell a tale of passive readers than of active ones. And passive readers are more likely to need monitoring and guidance: if reading is eating, and eating can be nutritious, bad, or downright poisonous, then readers (particularly vulnerable and inexperienced ones) will need help to discern the good from the junk. It is easy to see why the “reading is eating” metaphor is so prominent in pro family discourse. The second insight from Sheldrick Ross’ study is how reading metaphors are used to dismiss and demean reading (and eating) for pleasure. Along this ladder of taste, the closer reading materials were to pleasure for its own sake, the lower they were on the ladder. A similar hierarchy structures how pro family critics understand youth reading as an overwhelmingly didactic exercise, either ignoring pleasure and aesthetics as part of the experience of reading, or viewing them with suspicion. (9-10)
It's not difficult to see how these metaphors would be applied to romances and romance readers and
In “Reading is Not Eating,” an extension of her groundbreaking research in Reading the Romance, Radway analyzes the “reading is eating” metaphor in order to reveal its role in broader social and cultural critiques of mass media. The eating metaphor not only creates a hierarchy of taste—with the “nutritious” reading at the top and the “garbage” that is bad for one at the bottom—but also structures our understanding of media consumption in such a way that the only response to “bad” reading is censorship: if readers consume or are consumed by mass media, then the only way to save them from degradation is to stop destructive forms of media from being produced in the first place. The passivity that the eating metaphor suggests makes it more likely that critics of mass culture will focus on “objectionable materials” instead of “…actually looking at specific encounters between
audiences and mass cultural products.”

Radway’s study of romance readers and her critique of the “reading is eating” metaphor have important connections to the politics of youth reading. As with female romance readers, the eating metaphor has been used to simultaneously dismiss the agency of young readers, make pleasure suspect, and cast the popular and mass media as the villain of the educational piece. (12)

The image was made available under a creative commons license by Mace Ojala (xmacex on Flickr).

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fiction, Controversy and the Sexual Double Standard

The discovery that many women read "mommy porn" seemed to shock a large number of commentators who would, presumably, have thought that the existence of "daddy porn" was entirely un-newsworthy. As Roni Loren comments,
If you haven’t been living under a rock–or even if you have–you’ve probably heard of the book 50 Shades of Grey. It’s the BDSM erotic romance that has broken out into blockbuster status. It’s been on the Today Show, 20/20, and even Dr. Oz talked about it today. It’s everywhere [....] what’s getting REALLY old is the media’s portrayal of books “like that” being “mommy” porn. [...] But here’s the thing–why is it so scandalous that moms are reading sexy books? Once we procreate, are we relegated to being washed up women with used uteri (uteruses?) who are now supposed to focus on nothing but making the perfect lasagnas and singing choruses of Sesame Street songs with our kidlets?
Carola Katharina Bauer provides what, to my mind, is an even more striking example of how it's often thought to be barely worth discussing the reasons why particular types of fiction have a sexual appeal to men, whereas the equivalent material for women provokes extensive investigation:
In the Friends episode “The One with the Sharks,” aired in October 2002, one of the sitcom’s main characters, Monica Geller, catches her husband, Chandler, masturbating - apparently, while watching a shark documentary. Convinced that her partner is secretly into “shark porn,” Monica tries to accept and even re-enact his “perverse” desires - only to discover with quite some relief that Chandler just changed the channel when she came into the room and that he originally was getting off on “some regular […] old fashioned, American, girl-on-girl action.” [...] What I find particularly interesting in this scene is the naturalization of straight men watching “lesbian” porn. (1)
So what about the equivalent material for women?
as in most cases, gender proves to be of crucial importance: Despite the fact that there actually exists a large number of pornographic and romantic texts about male homosexuality consumed and produced by American women since the 1970s, the “abnormality” of these female “cross-voyeurs” is constantly underlined in U.S. popular and academic culture. [...]

In the academic publications on female “cross-voyeurs,” the application of “double standards” with regard to male/female “cross-voyeurism” is even more obvious. As Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse note in their “Introduction” to Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Internet (2006), slash fiction - fan fiction about male homosexual relationships mainly produced and consumed by women - has stood in the center of fan fiction studies so far, despite being merely a subgenre of it. The reason for this seems to be an urge to explain “the underlying motivations” for the fascination of women with m/m romance or pornography within the academic discourse (Busse and Hellekson 17) - a trend which differs completely from the extremely under-theorized complex of men interested in “lesbians.” Similar to those tendencies, a genre of Japanese manga called Boys’ Love - also concerned with gay men and directed at females - has equally received a disproportionately large attention in U.S. research papers in reaction to its growing popularity in North America since the late 1990s in the context of the “Japanification” of U.S. culture (Levi, “North American” 147; McLelland and Yoo 3). By concentrating on possible reasons for Japanese and American women to read and write these manga, the Japanese and American papers (Kamm 45-66) once again emphasize the oddness of those female “cross-voyeurs” - suggesting a “Never-ending Story” of over-theorizing and overanalyzing them. (2-3)
There's a long tradition of concern about women's reading; I suspect that "mommy porn" and other fictions for women which have sexual content are controversial because they challenge the widely accepted view that women are less interested in sex than men are and they therefore raise anxieties or hopes about how women's behaviour might be changed by such reading.
  • Bauer, Carola Katharina. The Strange Case of Female Cross-Voyeurs?: Slash Fiction, Boys' Love Manga, and Other Works by "Faghagging" Women in the U.S. Academic Discourses. Norderstedt: GRIN, 2011.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Monica Jackson

I've been deeply saddened to learn of the death of romance author Monica Jackson. Surgery began her career in 1994, when she spent her convalescence writing her first novel, and now surgery has ended it. On the 19th of April Monica had posted that her health had "taken a funky turn" and she'd be having "surgery in a couple of weeks." Today her daughter reported that "Her surgery went wrong and she lost oxygen to her brain for like 19 minutes."

She was funny, outspoken and wasn't afraid to challenge the status quo. Here's more about Monica, in her own words:
As a teenager, I loved to read romance, but the underlying message was deleterious to my self-image-you have to fit into a certain mold to find love.  When I was young, only traditionally beautiful white women were desirable in the world of romance novels.  The fact that there are all types of black women portrayed now in a realistic and non-stereotypical fashion is a huge move forward.  So, I'm pleased to have a part in AA romance's emergence as a viable entity.  Finally major publishers have got it straight that black folks do have romance and enjoy reading about it as much as the average American. (Romance in Color)
In 1994, Kensington Publishing came out with the first black romance novel line. I’d been turned off romance before because it seemed to be a rule in the industry that black folks didn’t have romance, at least en masse. I was very excited about the new line. I had surgery and was off work (I’m an RN). I wrote MIDNIGHT BLUE with a sister having hot romance, just for that line. (LaConnie Taylor-Jones' blog)
That book, MIDNIGHT BLUE, was produced as a BET television movie of the week in 2000. Nine novels, and eight novellas and short stories later from that first book, she’s a national bestselling author (says so on the books).  (Monica's website)
It's exciting when a writer gets The Call from an editor. In many ways the call is only the beginning of an angsty rollercoaster for any novelist. But if you're a black, you have a special ride reserved just for you.

Writing romance while black means you get a sub-genre of your very own - no matter what the content of your novel. Your special niche is already measured and the boundaries are set on your readership. Your marketing will likely be different than the white author in your chapter, even where your books are shelved in some bookstores. If you decided to attend book signings and other events with your white colleagues, the difference of your reception and audience will be thrown into stark relief.

Because since you're black, you're a romance writer that the majority of romance readers will never read. Your readership is defined and limited to only black romance readers by a variety of circumstances outside your control, so your opportunities are far smaller than any white romance writer from the moment you were published, regardless of your talent and determination. (All About Romance)
Monica had both talent and determination.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Her Unexpected Loathly Lady

In For Love and Money I look at a number of "mythoi" ("traditional or recurrent narrative theme or plot structure[s]") which recur in romance novels. One of them is the tale of Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady/Dame Ragnell though, as I note, "The use of the Gawain and Ragnell mythos generally remains implicit in romances" (98).

I was agreeably surprised, therefore, when I recently found almost the whole story embedded in Deborah Hale's His Compromised Countess (2012):
as Bennett listened to his wife tell Wyn the story of Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady, he was surprised and dismayed to discover how much the ancient legend related to their situation.

In her most dramatic tone, Caroline spun the tale for their enthralled little son. 'Once she had forced him to wed her, the hideous creature told Sir Gawain she was a fair damsel who had been placed under a terrible enchantment. By marrying her, he had broken half the curse. She could be beautiful by day so that all the world would honour and envy him for possessing so fine a wife. But alone with him at night she would be monstrous ugly. Or she could be repulsive by day and beautiful by night so that he alone could admire and love her.' [...]

'Which one did Sir Gawain choose, Mama?' [...]

'I'm glad you asked. [...] It was not easy for Sir Gawain to decide. He considered how each of those choices would affect him. Then his heart was moved with pity for what the Loathly Lady had suffered. He said he would let the decision be hers. [...] No sooner had Sir Gawain spoken those words,' Caroline continued, 'than there was a flash of sparking light and the Loathly Lady transformed into the most beautiful maiden he had ever beheld. She told him that by permitting her to choose her own fate he had freed her from the spell entirely. Now she would be beautiful all the time. Wasn't that lovely?' (313-15)


Friday, May 11, 2012

Immersive Reading

Glen Thomas has argued that
the [romance] genre's defenders share the underlying assumption of the genre's harshest critics that books should do something, whether that "something" entails enabling readers to better understand the vicissitudes of Life (the Leavisite great tradition), stripping away readers' false consciousness (a Marxist defense of more radical art), or soothing readers with promises of happiness and sensual "joy" (a Marxist critique of popular culture which the genre's defenders reframe as a badge of honor). (210)
In Thomas's opinion, the debates between these defenders and critics of romance are "enervating" (210). All the same, recent studies (see, for example, OnFiction's posts about the effects of fiction), suggest that reading often does seem to do things. Rather than abandon the debate altogether, perhaps we just need to postpone it until we have the results of some more studies?

Today Suzanne Brockmann tweeted about Geoff F. Kaufman and Lisa K. Libby's "Changing Beliefs and Behavior Through Experience-Taking." They don't discuss romances or come up with any findings which would put an end to the debate outlined by Thomas, but they do observe that:
Without question, our encounters with characters in fiction present us with a diverse array of personalities, perspectives, events, outcomes, and realizations. In transporting us to another place and time, literature allows us to imagine ourselves as characters who possess personality traits that are distinct from our own (such as the intellectual prowess of Sherlock Holmes or the gregariousness and pluck of the titular heroine in Anne of Green Gables) or who engage in actions or hold ideals that we often aspire to achieve (e.g., Tom Sawyer or Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird). Moreover, works of fiction often let us experience the life journeys of people from backgrounds and identity groups quite different from our own, opening our eyes and minds to the unique struggles and triumphs of individuals we may not otherwise have the opportunity or inclination to encounter in our daily lives. For example, The Color Purple offered Caucasian readers the chance to see and experience the world through the eyes of its African American characters, and Brokeback Mountain allowed many heterosexual readers to step into the shoes—or rather, boots—of a pair of conflicted homosexual cowboys.
This immersive phenomenon of simulating the mindset and persona of a protagonist is what we refer to as experience-taking. Through experience-taking, readers lose themselves and assume the identity of the character, adopting the character’s thoughts, emotions, goals, traits, and actions and experiencing the narrative as though they were that character [...]. As powerful and transformative as experience-taking might be, however, it is by no means an inevitable occurrence when reading a narrative. To live different lives and to experience novel personas through narratives require that we go beyond positioning ourselves as mere spectators of the events and connect to characters to such an extent that we instead step into their proverbial shoes and experience the story from their perspective, in essence imagining ourselves becoming those characters while we remain immersed in the world of the narrative.
Science Daily has a summary of Kaufman and Libby's findings about the real-life effects of this type of reading.

  • Kaufman, Geoff F. and Lisa K. Libby. "Changing Beliefs and Behavior Through Experience-Taking." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 26 March 2012. Advance online publication. [Abstract]
  • Thomas, Glen. "Happy Readers or Sad Ones? Romance Fiction and the Problems of the Media Effects Model." New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction: Critical Essays. Ed. Sarah S. G. Frantz and Eric Murphy Selinger. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2012.
The image was download under a Creative Commons license from Flikr and was created by Kristian Bjornard (bjornmeansbear).

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Thoughts on The Cambridge Companion to Popular Fiction

Although romance fiction (and Janice Radway's Reading the Romance) make repeated appearances in the recently published Cambridge Companion to Popular Fiction, romances receive little sustained attention. The same could be said of many other genres, however, for the Companion is attempting to cover a great many different forms of popular fiction (in a variety of media), over a period of more than 200 years and across a range of cultures (though the focus is on fictions from the UK and US) and also discusses readers and the act of reading.

The editors, David Glover and Scott McCracken, state that "In editing this Companion, one of our main aims has been to place the growth and development of contemporary popular fiction in historical perspective" (4-5). Erin A. Smith, for example, mentions that there was an "absence of international copyright before 1891" (143) and Nicola Humble notes that
The idea of reading as ideally something communal survives for a very long time: the image of the family huddled around the hearth listening to the next episode of an exciting story was a key component in the Victorian bourgeois fantasy of the ideal home. Even the reading group proper - the organised regular meeting of non-family members to share their reading or recount their reading experiences - has a much longer history than we might assume. Historians have uncovered evidence of groups of rural women in sixteenth-century France gathering in the evenings to read Le Roman de la Rose. (87-88)
In reading the volume, some of the changes already undergone by popular fiction recall current challenges faced by the publishing industry. For example, David Glover, in his chapter on "Publishing, history, genre," briefly outlines "the dominant role played by the private subscription libraries like Mudie's or W. H. Smith's in supplying what would otherwise be relatively high-priced new novels to the largest pool of regular readers of fiction" (16). Their business model was dependent on the " 'triple-decker' or three-volume format that had become the norm among publishers at the beginning of the nineteenth century" (16). Given the current allegations that
Mr. Shanks, the CEO of Penguin, twice chastised Random House for continuing to sell ebooks under the wholesale model and criticized RH for “not helping the group.” “Mr Shanks also encouraged a large print and e-book retailer to punish the other publisher for not joining Defendants’ conspiracy.  In March 2010, Mr. Shanks sent an email message to an executive of the retailer complaining that the publisher “has chosen to stay on their current model and allow retailers to sell at whatever price they wish.”  Mr. Shanks argued that “[s]ince Penguin is looking out for [your] welfare at what appears to be great costs to us, I would hope that [you] would be equally brutal to Publishers who have thrown in with your competition with obvious disdain for your welfare…I hope you make [the publisher] hurt like Amazon is doing to [the Publisher Defendants].  Likely this is referring to Barnes and Noble. (Dear Author)
it is interesting to note that
the world of the circulating libraries was far less stable than is often supposed. When Mudie's ran into financial difficulties in 1863, a group of publishers put up the lion's share of the money that kept it afloat as a limited liability company. (23)
Glover himself draws attention to the parallels between past and present events when he writes that
The tension between the ever-cheaper formats devised for reprints and the high fixed price of the triple-decker was finally resolved by the death of the latter. [...] Faced with a drop in the number of potential subscribers, Mudie's and Smith's [...] attempted to slow the rapidly diminishing shelf-life of their books and to reduce competition from increasingly affordable reprints by pressing publishers not to bring out cheap editions of any of the titles they had sold to the libraries for at least a year - a clash that parallels the twenty-first-century conflict between cinema chains and film companies over the appropriate time-lag between the first showing of a movie and its availability on DVD. But in 1894 the triple-decker was already living on borrowed time and by 1897 it was virtually extinct, a victim of long-term changes in the structure of the fiction market. (24)
Happier parallels between past and present can be detected in the opening paragraph of Nicholas Daly's chapter on "Fiction, theatre and early cinema." We're used to seeing tie-ins between print and film versions of fiction:
It was widely averred in the nineteenth century that the novel was the century's dominant form; indeed, at the end of this period critics spoke of the 'tyranny' of the novel. But this was only a partial truth, insofar as for much of this period the novel maintained complicated symbiotic relationships with other cultural forms, particularly drama: in this respect, popular plots, characters and settings were amphibious, gliding from novel to stage, and, more rarely, from stage to novel. (33)
The "amphibious" nature of popular culture was earlier highlighted in the introduction:
Popular forms such as romance have been remarkably adaptable across cultures and across media. For example, Latin American telenovelas are melodramatic, serialised television dramas with romantic themes that relate to novelas rosas, the Spanish equivalent of anglophone formula romance. While telenovelas have a clear origin and cultural base, starting in Mexico in the 1950s, with Brazil now the biggest producer, their audience now extends beyond the Hispanic population of the Americas to Eastern Europe, Asia and parts of the Middle East and Africa. Some have even been remade for different national audiences. The Colombian, Yo soy Betty la fea, became Ugly Betty in the United States, but there are also versions in at least fifteen other languages. (9)
Glover and McCracken raise a note of caution, however, lest it be assumed that a global market be assumed to imply a homogenous global audience:
As McCracken shows with the example of crime writer Walter Mosley, popular fiction circulates between local and global markets, taking on different meanings in different places. Yet there is relatively little known about the nuances of the different receptions of popular fictions in different places and contexts. If, as Humble makes clear, research into audiences and reading communities has become an indispensable element in the study of popular fiction, there is no shortage of questions in search of answers. (9)
One of those questions is raised, but left unanswered, in Kaye Mitchell's discussion of lesbian pulp fictions. She begins by quoting Diane Hamer, who stated that
What distinguishes [Ann] Bannon stories from conventional romance (apart from the gender of her characters is the fact that here, the nature of desire, restless and insatiable, works against this compulsory closure. Instead of the perhaps more comforting endings conventional romance offers its readers, Bannon has captured accurately the contradictory experience of sexuality and desire in her recognition that sexual desire (heterosexual or lesbian) often works against the stability of monogamous coupling. [...]
[...] I will leave open the question of whether popular fictions concerned with sexuality - whether straight or gay - are always marked, in their structural and ideological inconsistencies, by 'the nature of desire, restless and insatiable', or whether it is such fictions that are responsible for producing this particular understanding of desire as, necessarily, uncontainable, uncontrollable, liable to wander. This ultimate refusal of closure/satiation of desire (including readerly desire) always leaves open the possibility of another story and, therefore, of continuing consumption; this explains, in part, popular fiction's investment in seriality. (133)
The Cambridge Companion to Popular Fiction. Ed. David Glover and Scott McCracken. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2012.

  • Introduction - David Glover and Scott McCracken
  • Publishing, history, genre - David Glover
  • Fiction, theatre and early cinema - Nicholas Daly
  • Television and serial fictions - John Caughie
  • The public sphere, popular culture and the true meaning of the zombie apocalypse - Roger Luckhurst
  • The reader of popular fiction - Nicola Humble
  • Reading time: popular fiction and the everyday - Scott McCracken
  • Gender and sexuality in popular fiction - Kaye Mitchell
  • Pulp sensations - Erin A. Smith
  • Bestselling fiction: machinery, economy, excess - Fred Botting
  • Comic books and graphic novels - Hillary Chute and Marianne Dekoven
  • Popular fiction in the digital age - Brenda R. Silver

Saturday, May 05, 2012

CFPs: Teaching Vampire Literature

Edited Collection of Essays on Teaching Vampire Literature (Abstracts due June 1, 2012).

Vampires are showing up with increasing frequency in the college classroom, and there are emerging an increasing number of courses solely devoted to the Undead. This edited volume intends to offer pedagogical tools for those who teach—and who would like to teach—vampire literature. The collection aspires to draw from a diverse range of teaching approaches, ranging from theoretical framing of vampire literature to teaching vampire literature in the writing classroom.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:

• Theoretical frameworks for teaching vampire literature
• Historical frameworks for teaching vampire literature (ex: in the Gothic tradition, in 20th- and 21st-century American literature, etc.)
• Discussions of race/ethnicity in the vampire literature classroom
• Discussions of gender in the vampire literature classroom
• Discussions of sexuality and bodies in the vampire literature classroom
• Teaching vampire literature in courses designed for high school students
• Teaching vampire literature in courses designed as Honors or capstone, or for first-year students
• Comparative or interdisciplinary approaches to teaching vampire literature
• Teaching vampire literature in the context of horror fiction
• The intersection of popular culture (ex: film, television, music) in the vampire literature class
• Vampire literature in the writing-intensive course, or as a means of teaching writing
• Approaches to teaching specific works of vampire literature (ex: essays on Twilight, Carmilla, etc.)
• Vampire literature and technology in the classroom

Please submit abstracts (350-500 words) by June 1, 2012, along with a brief biography (150-200 words), to If your abstract is selected for inclusion in the volume, final papers (4,000 to 8,000 words) will be due August 15, 2012.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

JPRS 2.2: Special Forum on Jennifer Crusie

As Eric writes, "This feature was first imagined, many years ago, as a book of critical essays, to be edited by Laura Vivanco and myself." We sent out the first call for papers in July 2006 and a subsequent one, for additional papers, in January 2008. In the end, we never did get enough essays to fill a whole volume. Perhaps it was all for the best; now these six essays (and a detailed introduction) are freely available to everyone with an internet connection.

"Nothing But Good Times Ahead" -  an introduction, by Eric Selinger
I would not be editor of this journal—in fact, the journal itself might not exist—had I not encountered Crusie’s novels and essays in the early 2000s.  They made me want to be a romance scholar, and since 2006, when I began to teach courses on popular romance, a novel and / or essay by Crusie has appeared on every one of my twenty-plus syllabi. [...]  To hear Crusie’s characters debate the nature of stories or watch them read the material world around them, from clothing to china to paintings to home decor, is to learn how to read, better and deeper, in the broadest sense of the verb.

"Jennifer Crusie's Literary Lingerie" - by Laura Vivanco
in Crusie’s fiction even the flimsiest piece of lingerie can be “heavy with meaning” (“Romancing” 86). This meaning is only partially encoded in the fabrics, styles and colours chosen: it is also dependent on the context in which a particular item is worn or discarded. In one situation, therefore, lingerie can function as an instrument of patriarchal oppression while in another it may serve as a weapon in the feminist struggle; it can be used to signal sexual interest and boost a woman’s confidence but may also reinforce her feelings of inadequacy about her body; it can cause her physical discomfort or give sensual pleasure; although it can indicate a lack of openness and truth, female intimacy is promoted as women discuss their lingerie and via such discussions give each other emotional support that complements the physical uplift of underwiring and padding. Crusie’s literary lingerie reflects the complexity of women’s relationships with their bodies, their desires, their sexual partners and their friends.

"Crusie and the Con" - by Christina A. Valeo

My consideration of the con in Crusie’s work, and my argument that the exchange between romance writer and romance reader itself resembles a con, focuses on the agency of the reader in the exchange, on her willing participation in this literary shell game. If we extend the conversation beyond the moral debate, the author’s intent, or the text’s effect, we can consider more completely the reader’s role in constructing the meaning and negotiating the impact of the text.

"Tell Me Lies: Lying, Storytelling and the Romance Novel as Feminist Fiction" - by Patricia Zakreski
In discussions concerning lying, many contemporary philosophers, psychologists, and sociologists agree that different cultures, and even individuals within the same culture, have varying ideas about what does and does not count as a lie. Opinion over the social impact of lying is also divided. Whether seen as immoral and self-serving or as a necessary social skill, lying is a difficult concept to define. Crusie, however, offers her own definition in The Cinderella Deal that highlights the transformative potential of fictions of romance. While Linc thinks that telling the faculty at Prescott that he is engaged is a lie, Daisy offers a different perspective [...]. Daisy’s idea of a lie is something that attempts to alter the facts of the past, while a story presents a vision of a desired present and future—something Linc wants rather than something he’s done. Presenting a version of reality as he would like it to be is therefore not a lie, but is instead a possible preview of coming truths, a story he created, which, though fictional, can be made real.

"Getting Laid, Getting Old, and Getting Fed: The Cultural Resistance of Jennifer Crusie's Romance Heroines" - by Kyra Kramer
One of the ways in which Crusie contests “a lot of the ‘truths’ that the different societal ideologies have foisted on” her heroines is through her depiction of their bodies. In several of her novels, her heroines find a satisfying romance in spite of the fact they transgress in some way the modern cultural conceptualisation of what is a “desirable” or “beautiful” woman, thereby contesting the cultural ideal of “feminine beauty.” Although there are several other areas in which the bodies of her heroines are consistent with culturally ascribed definition of what is normal or what is beautiful—in that they are white, middle-class heroines who are not transgendered, homosexual, disabled, or disfigured, among other variables—there is at least an attempt by Crusie to stretch the narrow definition of what kind of woman is ‘allowed’ to live happily ever after within the cultural narrative.

"The Heroine as Reader, the Reader as Heroine: Jennifer Crusie's Welcome to Temptation" - by Kate Moore and Eric Selinger
Crusie does not deny that individuals can confuse fantasy and reality, but rather suggests that confusion about boundaries between the two realms is not specific to women or to one form of fantasy, the romance, but rather arises in the vanity and egocentrism of the person experiencing the fantasy. To make her case, Crusie opens the novel by locating her heroine’s imaginative experience as a reader and writer in the larger context of accepted imaginative experience in American popular culture. She then juxtaposes her heroine’s fantasy experience against the experiences of a cast of secondary characters, both male and female, whose participation in popularly accepted forms of fantasy, those not subject to critical derision for association with women, leads them into moral error.

"Gossip, Liminality, and Erotic Display: Jennifer Crusie's Links to Eighteenth-Century Amatory Fiction" - by Kimberly Baldus
Tell Me Lies and the novels that followed in the next two years, Crazy for You and Welcome to Temptation, increasingly linger on moments where eroticism develops in the liminal space between private intimacy and public exposure. Crusie constructs scenes where her female characters explore the liberating possibilities of turning their private sexual encounters into public spectacles, offering themselves as objects of a voyeuristic gaze which readers are invited to share. [...] In the links she develops between liminality, gossip and erotic display, Crusie’s modern romance draws upon territory first developed in the genre of the novel designated as “amatory fiction” (Ballaster). These texts, appearing in the early eighteenth century in England, played a crucial role in shaping the emerging genre of the novel. [...] The notion of the liminal as a realm that inspires creativity and invites new possibilities underpins a model of authorship that playfully invites readers to participate in the communal act of making meaning from the textual details of their novels.