Monday, December 24, 2012

Teaching the History of the Book with Harlequins

In a recent article in Public Services Quarterly, Lois G. Hendrickson reviews a week she spent "immersed in a course entitled 'Teaching the History of the Book' (370) at Rare Book School. This is a course which investigates "different ways of thinking about, designing, and conducting a course on the history of the book. It is a course, not on the history of books and printing, but on the teaching of that subject" (RBS). The reason it came to my attention was that the students'
initiation into the complex processes of book analysis [began] by examining Harlequin romance novels. As it turns out, romance novels provide a perfect entrée into book history by enabling the class to develop a common vocabulary and acquire the tools to interpret the parts of the whole. We set out to answer the question of how these books, the Harlequins, make their meaning. This is the question we attempt to answer over and over during the week with increasing intensity and depth. Our instructor, Mr. Suarez, leads us in unpacking the social codes and elements of the novels, including the author persona, bindings, paper, price, and typeface. He models approaches to these books, be it reading, reception, or technology, and pairs them with fascinating and relevant stories. Lest you think the Harlequins beneath contemplation, we learned that they are 60% of the book and e-book trade, which led to a fascinating discussion on packaging, the pace of publication, and distribution channels.
I wish Michael F. Suarez would write up some of this and submit it to the Journal of Popular Romance Studies.

Hendrickson, Lois G. "Seeing into Books: Lessons from Rare Book School." Public Services Quarterly 8.4 (2012): 369-372.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

CFP: The Erotic

8th Global Conference

Thursday 19th September – Saturday 21st September 2013
Mansfield College, Oxford, United Kingdom

Mapping the field of the erotic is a complex and frustrating endeavour; as something which permeates lived experience, interpersonal relationships, intellectual reflection, aesthetic tastes and sensibilities, the erotic is clearly multi-layered and requires a plethora of approaches, insights and perspectives if we are to better to understand, appreciate and define it.

This inter- and trans- disciplinary project seeks to explore critical issues in relation to eroticism and the erotic through its history, its emergence in human development, both individual and phylogenetic, as well as its expression in national and cultural histories across the world, including issues of transgression and censorship. The project will also explore erotic imagination and its representation in art, art history, literature, film and music. These explorations inevitably touch on the relationship between sexualities, gender and bodies, along with questions concerning the perverse, fetishism and fantasy, pornography and obscenity.

300 word abstracts should be submitted by Friday 22nd March 2013.

More details here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Female Werewolves

Over at my personal blog I've been running a series about the study of popular culture. In the first post I suggested that while
We may have detailed maps of the "known knowns," [...] beyond them lie the "known unknowns," those areas of popular culture about which we know we know little. And then, beyond them, are the "unknown unknowns." Before we accept reports that "something hasn't happened" before, we might want to try to do more research, to verify whether one of those "unknown unknowns" is the knowledge that it has, in fact, happened before.
In the second, I responded to Erin S. Young's "Flexible Heroines, Flexible Narratives: The Werewolf Romances of Kelley Armstrong and Carrie Vaughn" (2011). My feeling was that some of the history of romantic fiction was an "unknown unknown" to Young.

Today Dr Hannah Priest is posting about the traditions concerning female werewolves. The details are interesting in themselves, but Hannah also draws
attention to a common issue with studies of contemporary paranormal fictions: which precedents should be cited. In the case of werewolves (and, perhaps even more, vampires), the temptation is to hold up twentieth-century cinematic monsters as the tradition and to read twenty-first-century romance iterations as a subversion. Sadly, more often than not, it is also twentieth-century cinematic male monsters that are held up as the norm, denying a long and complex history of presenting female monsters. If we follow this approach, we will undoubtedly read paranormal romance’s creatures of the night as subversive and paradigm-altering. However, this is a misleading simplification that ignores millennia of literature and story-telling.
I'd encourage you to read Hannah's summary of "millennia of literature and story-telling" about female werewolves.
The image dates from 1951 or 1952 and was "Originally published by Irving Klaw, republished in Bizarre Comix Volume 9." I found it at Wikimedia Commons where it is deemed to be "in the public domain because it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1963 and although there may or may not have been a copyright notice, the copyright was not renewed."

Saturday, December 15, 2012

CFP: Gender & Love

3rd Global Conference: Gender & Love 
Sunday 15th September – Tuesday 17th September 2013
Mansfield College, Oxford, United Kingdom

The study of gender is an interdisciplinary field intertwined with feminism, queer studies, sexuality studies, postcolonial studies, and cultural studies (to name just some relevant fields).

This project calls for the consideration of gender in relation to various kinds of love (with regard, for example, to self, spirit, religion, family, friendship, ethics, nation, globalisation, environment, and so on). How do the interactions of gender and love promote particular performances of gender; conceptions of individual and collective identity; formations of community; notions of the human; understandings of good and evil? These are just some of the questions that occupy this project.

This conference welcomes research papers which seek to understand the interaction and interconnection between the concepts of love and gender; and whether, when, how and in what ways the two concepts conceive and construct each other.
One strand of the conference, on which "Papers, presentations, workshops and pre-formed panels are invited," will focus on
Representations of Gender and Love
* Aesthetics and Intelligibility
* Gendered Narrations of Love
* Media, Gender and Love

The Steering Group particularly welcomes the submission of pre-formed panel proposals. Papers will also be considered on any related theme.
The deadline by which 300-word abstracts should be submitted is Friday 22nd March 2013. More details here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Weighing up Chick Lit vs. Romance

Laura Vivanco

I don't have the necessary expertise to comment on the methodology used in
Kaminski, Melissa J. and Robert G. Magee. "Does This Book Make Me Look Fat?: The Effect of Protagonist Body Weight and Body Esteem on Female Readers' Body Esteem." Body Image (2012).
However, since some of you do, and since it makes a change from the more common concerns about romance having a negative effect on women's relationships, I thought I'd post about it. The authors describe chick lit as "a new genre of romance novels" which "differs from traditional romance novels in its focus on women’s struggles with their weight, dating, and stressful careers." They later add that "Compared with chick lit, traditional romance novels might be less obsessed with women’s body size."

Here's the abstract:
Effects of visual representations of the thin ideal in the media have been widely explored, but textual representations of the thin ideal in novels have received scant attention. The chick literature genre has been criticized for depicting characters who worry about their body weight and who have poor body esteem. Excerpts from two chick lit novels were used to examine the effect of a protagonist’s body weight and body esteem on college women’s (N = 159) perceptions of their sexual attractiveness and weight concern. Two narratives were used to minimize the possibility that idiosyncratic characteristics of one excerpt might influence the study’s results. Underweight (vs. healthy weight) protagonists predicted readers’ lower perceived sexual attractiveness. Protagonists with low body esteem (vs. control) predicted readers’ increased weight concern. Scholars and health officials should be concerned about the effect chick lit novels might have on women’s body image.
The image is one I've cropped slightly, having found the original at Wikimedia Commons. It shows a scene in Berlin in 1947 and came from the German Federal Archive as part of a cooperation project.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Talking Sense About Fifty $hade$ of Grey

According to John Lennard, my editor at Humanities Ebooks,
E. L. James has had an enormous amount of free publicity from journalists who don't have the slightest understanding or concern about what she's done to fandom, to feminism, and to the efforts of the BDSM community to gain recognition and end legal persecution. But that story is there in the fannish archives, and I've set it out, briefly and readably [in Talking Sense About Fifty $hade$ of Grey or, Fanfic, Feminism, and BDSM.]
John writes fanfic, so he has more than a little first-hand experience of a type of fiction whose earliest examples, he suggests, may be deemed to include the fifteenth-century Robert Henryson's continuation of Chaucer’s Troylus and Criseyde and the unauthorised continuation of Don Quixote which was published before Cervantes's own. In addition to a brief history of fanfiction, he also provides short outlines of feminist debates about pornography, and the history of BDSM because, though there
are of course many other things media coverage has ignored or misrepresented, [...] those three aspects – fanfiction in a digital world, the feminist dilemma, and BDSM – are at the heart of the Fifty Shades phenomenon. So it is those three things that I look at in turn to offer some ways of talking sense about E. L. James and her publishing phenomenon. Each part starts with some background and history, to explain the issues that affect Fifty Shades, but comes back to the trilogy in the end.
Given that I know relatively little about these three topics I'm not particularly well placed to evaluate this assessment of Fifty Shades but it seems to me that John succeeds in laying out the reasons why there is
a clear case that James has exploited the work and language of the BDSM community as she has exploited that of the fanfic community, and traduced BDSM as a political cause as she has traduced feminism. It is all very debatable, of course, and depends on what you know and how you see ; but then again, three strikes and you’re out.
I received my copy free from John who kindly sent it in a format I could read. He's self-published it via Amazon, and it's currently available for free for members of Amazon Prime, and otherwise at $3.28 $2.99 at and £2.05 at . For those wondering about the length, in the pdf version I received, the main argument comprised 73 out of 92 pages (the rest are a few introductory pages and plentiful end notes).

Sunday, December 09, 2012

CFPs: Wisdom and Virgins

A Wise Virgin
Love of Wisdom Vs. Wisdom of Love

3rd Comparative Literature Graduate Conference SUNY-BUFFALO, 2013
Insofar as philosophia concerns the “love of wisdom,” the possibilities and limits of wisdom and love call into question the possibility of philosophy. As love and wisdom are consciously and unconsciously unified in the philosophers’ pursuits of wisdom, could the wisdom of love have been supplemented, mixed or misled by the love of wisdom? Does it make philosophy as the result of philosophia problematic?

Fundamentally, this questions how philosophical wisdom negotiates the principles of rationality, sexuality, personality, relationality, pleasure, life stage, and the personal life process as a whole or temporality. Especially, feminist concerns, for example, women as agents instead of sexually desired love objects, have remodeled the above principles and problematized the philosophical relationship with truth built upon individuals and even philosophy’s claim to truth as a genre. Thus, this conference will reexamine how different loves, for example, agápe, éros, philía, and storgē are combined, supplemented, and, in some cases, oppressed, ignored, unarticulated, and even rejected. Furthermore, we’d like to ask how the relationship between love and wisdom is interpreted, (de)constructed, or played differently in western and non-western cultural traditions, for example, yin-yang as a sexualized characteristic of ancient Chinese wisdom.

Could wisdom become the object of love? Could we really pursue the understanding of love? Do wisdom and love share the same myth? Or, do they have to supplement each other? Then, how does truth go with them? By thinking about the relationship between the love of wisdom and the wisdom of love, our conference is hoping to explore a way to revive the relationship between philosophy and life in our contemporary context. 
More details here.
Submission deadline: 1 February 2013.

Virgin Envy: Contemporary Approaches to the Study of Virginity

Eds. Jonathan A. Allan, Cristina Santos, and Adriana Spahr

Contemporary culture has seen a renewed interest in virgins, from Bella Swan and Edward Cullen to Anastasia Steele to Steve Carrell’s infamous 40-old-virgin to the rise of Purity Clubs. How do we understand these discussions and representations of virginity? Do these texts “re-invent” virginity? Or, do these texts merely repeat “standard” treatments of virginity?

This edited volume aims to work through the poetics and politics of virginity in narrative, poetry, cinema, and popular culture. This volume treats virginity as an area of theoretical, intellectual, and cultural concern in modern texts. The goal is to position virginity as an interdisciplinary matter that must be studied from the widest possible range of perspectives. The editors believe that any study of virginity demands and interdisciplinary and/or intercultural perspective precisely because it is inculcated by so many discourses: religious, cultural, psychological, sociological, anthropology, ethnographic, philosophical, etc. The volume will ideally include essays from the humanities and social sciences, but the editors would welcome papers from outside of the humanities and social sciences.

We welcome papers that recognize the complexity and diversity of virginity. We are especially interested in papers that move beyond normative definitions and understandings of virginity:

·      Purity Clubs, Abstinence, and the Silver Ring Thing

·      Celebrity Culture and Virginity

·      Queer Virginities (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, etc.)

·      Male virginities

·      Defining virginity lost (and found)

·      Hymenoplasty, re-virginization, vaginal rejuvenization, medical interventions

·      Cross-cultural analyses of virginity

·      Psychoanalytic, Psychological, Sociological, Philosophical Approaches and the study of Virginity

·      Virginity in Literature, Film, and Popular Culture

·      Virginity and Identity, Identifying as Virgin, Epistemology of the Virgin’s Closet

·      The commodification of virginity, virginity auctions, virginity pornography

·      Virginity and confession, religious contexts, psychotherapeutic contexts

·      Virginity and Romance

Please send abstracts (500 words, including proposed bibliography) and a brief CV  (1-2 pages) by March 1, 2013 to,,

Completed article-length papers (5,000 words, MLA Style) will be due by August 1, 2013. All papers will undergo a peer-review process before final acceptance and publication. 

The image depicts the Fifth Wise Virgin, by Martin Schongauer (c. 1430-1491). I found it at the Web Gallery of Art where it is stated that "Images and documents downloaded from this database can only be used for educational and personal purposes." This is an educational, non-profit purpose.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Sheiking Up Academia

Amy Burge has been
amongst the first to bring together critical work on Middle English romance and modern popular romance. I focus in particular on romances which figure relationships between ‘east’ and ‘west’; Middle English romances with relationships between Saracens and Christians (in particular Bevis of Hampton, Floris and Blancheflur and The King of Tars) and a number of Mills & Boon ‘Modern Romance’ novels featuring sheikh heroes.
What Amy didn't mention when she posted here about the recent publication of her "Do knights still rescue damsels in distress?: Reimagining the medieval in Mills & Boon historical romance," is that she has now received official confirmation that she has been awarded a doctorate and will be graduating in January from the University of York.

I'm sure Christine de Pizan would have been very pleased to welcome you to the City of Ladies.

Congratulations, Amy!

The image of Christine de Pizan came from Wikimedia Commons.