Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Noted with Interest: Twilight of the Gothic (3)

Crawford draws a useful distinction, I think, between our retrospectively constructed pre-history of genres (conceived of as characteristic themes and topics and plots) and a more historically-aware account of genres as existing not just between the covers of books (as themes and topics and plots) but also, and crucially, as paratextual and epitextual phenomena:
If we take the hallmark of 'Gothic fiction' to be a preoccupation with fearsome events and / or supernatural phenomena, and the hallmark of 'romance fiction' to be a story that revolves around the development of a love relationship between two characters, then both must be thousands of years old: many examples of each could be found, for example, in the mythology of ancient Greece.  But the fact that the conceptual categories of 'Gothic fiction' and 'romance fiction' are very much newer than this, and only started to be used by readers, writers, booksellers and publishers in the 1790s and the 1920s respectively, should give us pause.  Love and fear have always been written about, but they have not always had literary genres to call their own; those emerged only at specific points in history, when the right cultural and commercial conditions were in place to call them forth (Twilight of the Gothic, 15).
I am, as always, grateful to An Goris for adding the terms "paratextual" and "epitextual" to the way I talk and think about romance.  The image by Gustave Dore, from his illustrations to Milton's Paradise Lost, a text which "can now seem rather Gothic when viewed in retrospect" (Crawford 15).

Monday, June 22, 2015

Noted with Interest: Twilight of the Gothic (2)

I hope you'll indulge me as I continue taking notes on Crawford here.  These will be useful to me in the opening lectures of my upcoming romance classes, I suspect, and I doubt I'm the only one who'll find them helpful.  I should note that most of the sentences I'm quoting here have footnotes, and if you'd like me to post the sources he cites, I can add them in.

Crawford says that the "unravelling of the medieval romance tradition" occurred in several stages.
"The first element to disappear was its reliance upon the supernatural, which Cervantes mocked in Don Quixote (1605), reflecting the increasing scepticism regarding the reality of supernatural forces which was then taking root amongst the educated elites who read and wrote romances" (13)
The second stage has to do with the extraordinary nature of the characters and events.
"Seventeenth-century romance-writers still preferred their heroes and heroines to be larger-than-life figures living in far-off times and places, perfect in love, and superhuman in war; but, by the eighteenth century, tolerance for even this level of 'romantic' heroism had started to wane" (13).
In the 18th century we begin to see the clash between "romance" and "the novel," as the new, upstart form "defined itself against the romance, establishing its cultural credibility by eschewing the less naturalistic elements of the tradition which it aspired to replace" (13).  Thus,
"Early novels such as Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Richardson's Pamela (1740) achieved lasting popularity and fame throughout Europe by recounting the loves and adventures, not of morally perfect aristocratic heroes and heroines living in a fantastical version of the past, but of flawed, ordinary people living in a recognizable, realistic present; and, in their wake, the genre of romance came increasingly to be dismissed as suitable only for the ignorant poor, who were thought too credulous to understand the difference between the pointless fantasies favoured by earlier, more superstitious centuries and the realistic, educational novels by which they had now come to be displaced" (13).
The novel also defines itself largely as a genre focused on love, says Crawford:  "to the extent that 'novel' and 'love story' became almost synonymous terms" (13) as novel after novel "told the story of one or more young people, and the various difficulties that they had to navigate on their way to (hopefully) securing a suitable marriage with the partner of their choice" (14).

In the novel, as opposed to the romance, the barriers between lovers were "social, emotional and psychological rather than physical" (14):  class difference rather than an earthquake, say, or parents rather than pirates.  "The eighteenth-century novel tradition [...] generally prioritized good sense and social responsibility over grand passion, and often went to some lengths to demonstrate that an overly 'romantic' view of the world, and of love, could lead young people -- especially young women -- very dangerously astray" (14).

Monday, June 15, 2015

Noted with Interest: Twilight of the Gothic (1)

Noted with interest, these passages from Joseph Crawford's very impressive monograph The Twilight of the Gothic? Vampire Fiction and the Rise of the Paranormal Romance (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2014; distributed in the US by U Chicago P).  Page number precedes the quotation; a slash mark (/) mid-quotation marks a page break.

Crawford's introduction differentiates his project from Pamela Regis's Natural History of the Romance Novel (2003) in some interesting ways:
8-9: I have no strict set of rules for determining which works count as paranormal romances, like those which Pamela Regis proposes for the romance as a whole in her Natural History of the Romance Novel, for the simple reason that I do not believe that such rules reflect the way in which genres actually function.  A genre, in the sense that the word is used by readers, booksellers and publishers, is not composed of a checklist of generic requirements, against which any given work of fiction can be compared in order to discover whether it belongs to that genre or not; instead, it is / defined by a constellation of associated tropes, and words of fiction participate in those genres to the extent that they partake of those tropes which define it.  Nor is this constellation fixed: it can shift and change as the genre develops, and almost always does so. 
9:  An accurate generic history must, by necessity, include such hybrid works, for the simple reason that authors, readers and publishers almost never restrict themselves to 'pure' works of a given type, and thus lines of influence often run through other channels. 
9:  [Crawford has] tried to map out, to the best of my ability, that line of literary and cultural descent which ultimately led to the modern genre of paranormal romance, rather than limiting myself to those works which fit some Platonic definition of generic form.
Crawford's first chapter is called, deliciously, "The First 800 Years." It begins with the etymology of the word "romance," then moves into some literary and cultural history:
11-12:  The rise of the heroic romance as a literary genre in twelfth-century France coincided with the appearance of the aristocratic cultural ideal of fin' amor, 'fine' or 'courtly' love, which postulated the then almost unheard-of idea that, under the right conditions, love between men and women could potentially be a morally or spiritually ennobling force.  The development of both the romance as a literary genre, and of fin' amor as a cultural practice, were encouraged by Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen of England and France: she and her eldest daughter Marie acted as patrons to important / early romance authors such as Chretien de Troyes and (probably) Marie de France, while simultaneously helping to spread the ideals of fin 'amor across the royal courts of Western Europe. The same ideals of love were reflected in the works of the romance-writers whom they patronized, and so thorough did the identification of this new code of courtship with this new form of writing eventually become that, when we wish to refer to intense and ennobling love-relationships today, we no longer speak of fin 'amor: we refer, instead, to 'romantic love.'
These romances "were not only love stories--they were also stories of war, magic and adventure," Crawford explains (12).
12:  This combination of courtly love stories with magical high adventure proved so enduringly popular that, for the next 500 years, a single genre -- 'romance' -- served simultaneously as Western Europe's preferred form of both.  Pure and perfect love was 'romantic'; but so were supernatural events, or incredible feats of arms. 'Romantic love' went alongside 'romantic heroism' and 'romantic enchantment,' linked so inseparably that, when Don Quixote decides to become a knight arrant like the heroes of his favourite romances, he concludes that not only must he be an invincible warrior who inhabits a world of magic and monsters, he must also have a beautiful and virtuous maiden with whom he is perfectly in love, on the assumption that the former must naturally imply the latter.
The "first question" for Crawford about contemporary paranormal romance is therefore not "how stories of love and the supernatural came to coexist within the same genre; rather, we should investigate how it came to pass that, after five centuries of unity, they ever came to be separated" (13).

I'll type up some notes and quotes on Crawford's account of how this separation occurred in the next of these posts.  For now, let me just say that I'm intrigued by the notion of starting my romance course with a book that somehow captures that earliest, internally-multiple version of the genre.  The one that I might try is Alexis Hall's Prosperity, which is a queer steampunk novel that includes romantic love, heroism, and enchantment, and which I've been trying to figure out how to approach in the classroom.  This might help!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

PCA Romance Area Call for Papers

All Proposals & Abstracts Must Be Submitted Through The PCA Database.
Please submit a proposal to only one area at a time. Exceptions and rules

Conference of the Popular and American Culture Association (PCA/ACA)
March 21-25, 2016 – Seattle, WA
The topic of romantic love suffuses popular culture, and in turn, the popular culture of romantic love shapes real life social practices, from dating to weddings to holiday shopping. The Romance Area invites proposals on any topic related to popular romance culture or the romance industry, now or in the past, anywhere in the world.

Please note that you do not need to have a university affiliation to present.  Our area welcomes proposals from authors, editors, publishers, reviewers, and independent scholars. If your proposal is accepted, you will need to join PCA to present; however, you do not need to present in order to attend the conference and join the discussions.  Details on conference registration are being posted and updated at the PCA conference website
Some possible topics for Romance (although we are by no means limited to these):
  • #weneeddiverseromance: romance authors, readers, and publishers of color and the politics of representation
  • Disability in romance: the “Aspy hero,” love-cures, and getting past the tropes
  • Love, Inshallah, Ishqr, etc.: love and Islam in popular culture
  • Romance Around the Pacific Rim: media trends and real-life romance practice
  • Indigeneity, Native Issues, and Popular Romance
  • Queering the Romance: authors, characters, plot twists, publishers, readers
  • Fan fic, Adaptation, and the Classics: romancing Shakespeare, Austen, and canonical pop culture
  • Tensions within the “Romance Community”: crises, kerfuffles, fault lines, debates
  • Aca-Fandom and Romance Scholarship: Opportunities and Concerns
  • Young Adult, New Adult, and Vintage Adult (fortysomething and over) Romance
  • The “Erotics of Property” Revisited: money, social class, and romance
  • Romancing the Marketplace: romantic love in advertising, marketing, and consumer culture
  • Canons to the Left of Us, Canons to the Right of Us: Iconic Texts / Authors and the Romance Canon Debate
  • HEA, HFN, TTFN: Theorizing (and Close Reading) the Romance Ending
  • Emerging Genres, Authors, and Media
  • Lauren Berlant and Romance; Sara Ahmed and Romance; Critical Love Studies and Romance: New Critical / Theoretical Approaches
  • Non-Romance Topics (Work, Community, History) in popular romance texts
  • Masculinity and / in Popular Romance
  • Questions of Consent: Romance and / vs. Rape Culture, Now and in the Past
  • Outlander, Jane the Virgin, the Poldark Reboot, Healer: Romance on (Global) Television in the 21st century
  • Teaching Romance: Where? How? What? Why? To Whom?

Special Session: The Romance of Science Fiction Fantasy or A Little Sci-Fi Fantasy in your Romance
The Areas of Science Fiction/Fantasy and Romance will be holding a special joint session which will highlight the combination of the genres of Science Fiction/Fantasy with Romance.
How has the intersection of these two popular genres opened up new possibilities in conceptualizing gender, desire, sexuality, love, courtship, or relationship structure? How has their intersection allowed us to see existing concepts of these more vividly, freshly, or critically? How have authors, filmmakers, showrunners, and fans played these genres against one another, for example by using romance to critique traditions in SF/F, or SF/F to critique the tropes of romance?
We welcome proposals on steampunk, paranormal, fan-fic/ slash, science-fiction, and fantasy romance in literature, film or television (eg. Kate Douglas, Meljean Brook, J. D. Robb, Alexis Hall’s Prosperity Universe, Game of Thrones, Outlander, Ever AfterHer, Lost Girl, etc.)
When proposing for the special session please clearly indicate this in your abstract / proposal, and contact the area chairs (SF/F) and separately to request that your paper be considered for the session.
As we do every year, the Romance area will meet in a special Open Forum to discuss upcoming conferences, work in progress, and the future of the field of Popular Romance Studies.  All are welcome to attend.
Submit a proposal or abstract (200-300 words) proposal or abstract through the PCA website, and ONLY through the PCA website, at If you wish to submit a panel for the conference, all presenters must submit individually through the website, and then notify the Area Chair of your intentions to present together. Please do not include panel colleagues on the electronic submission as this confuses the program. Instructions for submission can be found
Do not simultaneously submit the same proposal to multiple areas. Doing so will result in your proposal being disqualified and your paper being refused by the PCA/ACA. Per PCA/ACA guidelines, a person may present only one paper at the annual meeting, regardless of subject area. If you try to submit to two areas, the master program will not accept your proposals (which may result in your paper not being accepted in either area).
Submission Deadline: October 1, 2015
Please feel free to forward, cross-post, or link to this call for papers.
If you have any questions as all, please contact the area chair:
Eric Selinger
Professor of English
DePaul University

Monday, June 08, 2015

CFP: "Asking For It: Discussions of Consent and Sexual Violence"

--Eric Selinger

In light of some recent discussions of rape, rape fantasy, empathy, and romance at Dear Author and Olivia Waite's eponymous blog, I thought this CFP for a book project called Asking For It: Discussions of Consent and Sexual Violence seemed relevant and on point.  I have some hesitations about the CFP's reference to sexual violence as a "source of entertainment" in romance novels, since this seems a gross exaggeration of a complex issue in the genre's history and current practice, but perhaps that's all the more reason for romance scholars to propose contributions.  

NOTE:  Given the reviews out today (June 15, 2015) of Lilah Pace's new erotic novel Asking for It at Dear Author and at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (trigger warnings at both sites), this seems even more relevant than it did last week.

The current deadline for submissions (3-6,000 words; longer pieces will be considered) is June 26, 2015.  If that won't work for you, and you still want to submit, it's worth getting in touch to discuss a workable time frame.

Call for Papers

Asking for It: Discussions of Consent and Sexual Violence
Joshua Stein, ed.

At the start of the 21st century, there are few social justice issues as divisive and important in popular culture as that of sexual violence and consent. Sexual violence is a fixture in popular culture, both as a source of entertainment (e.g. Law & Order: SVU; romance novels; etc.) and as a major news issue (e.g. University rape accusations; sexual and domestic violence in professional sports; etc.). These instances have fueled public discourse on consent and sexual violence.

The goal of this anthology is to provide an interdisciplinary and inter-subjective look at the subject of consent, focusing on the various contexts in which consent to sexual activity is violated in our society, the victims of sexual violence, and the social structures that are barriers to seeking justice and care for those victims. In the course of this discussion, the authors explore both the human, social, and ethical dimensions of our social problems with consent and sexual violence.

A secondary goal for this book is to develop the perspectives of a younger generation of academics, and so priority will be generally (though not absolutely) given to younger contributors and/or essays that address concerns and instances in popular culture. Historical analysis that discuss instances of sexual assault before the 20th century are fine, but are best if such analyses are placed in contrast to 21st century instances and data.

This anthology roughly divides into four parts:

Mainstream Narratives of Sexual Violence Contemporary narratives around sexual violence in certain public spaces have become distressingly common: cis-gendered man or men sexually assault a cis-gendered woman, whether in a University, at a party, in a hotel, on the street. Essays in this section discuss the common themes and eccentricities around these events, ranging from media representation, social factors, the experiences and struggles of the victims, and the legal process.

The Consent of the “Others” There are an enormous number of cases of sexual violence that the public narrative doesn’t include, notably sexual violence against non-cis-female people. These instances problematize social beliefs about what sexual violence looks like, and create further social and personal barriers for victims who do not fit in the mainstream narratives. These victims, included men, trans* people, people of color, the incarcerated, etc. are often forgotten in our discussions of consent, and the goal here is to bring the discussion back to focus on them.

Theoretical Considerations The discussions around consent, and the instances of sexual violence presented in the first two sections, requires a broader consideration of two theoretical questions. First, how does our contemporary society address sexual violence, at its best and at its worst? As a matter of fact, what are the social structures that are meant to ensure justice, and how do they work? Second, how ought we to address issues around consent? What constitutes consent, and under what circumstances? How are we to evaluate violations of consent to sexual activity and ensure just treatment of perpetrators and compassionate treatment of victims?

Creating a Culture of Consent Following consideration of the theoretical issues, what we should aspire to in our culture, we close by attempting to address concrete social changes that can be made to improve our society’s ongoing issues with consent and the perpetuation of sexual violence, both as a matter of institutional reform and in order to create a culture that values a more ethically sound view of consent.

This collection is open to submissions in the form of narrative, social criticism (interdisciplinary or limited to a single discipline), or ethical argument. The goal is to provide academic-level analyses of this serious social issue and present those analyses in ways that are accessible and engaging for readers both inside and outside of academic study; regardless of the approaches to analysis, the discussions need to be able to engage readers who possess a limited familiarity with technical material and theoretical framework in the various disciplines being utilized.

We are looking for submissions between 3-6,000 words on the subject of consent and sexual violence for inclusion in this volume. Consideration will be given to longer articles, where there is a particularly compelling reason for inclusion.

Articles can focus on:
Depictions of sexual violence in popular culture and media, as well as the benefits and problems of such depictions.
Social factors that condition both acts of sexual violence and responses from victims, support systems, and the wider community.
Groups that are victimized by sexual violence who are often ignored by mainstream portrayals or discussions of the issue. (e.g. men, trans* and queer persons, people of color, indigenous people, the incarcerated, sex workers)
Resources for victims of sexual violence, and the limitations of and barriers to those resources.
Radical social criticisms (e.g. feminist, Marxist, anarchist, etc.) of society’s treatment of sexual violence and consent violation.
The relationship of sexual violence to other parts of culture. (e.g. mass incarceration, television and film, political discourse, etc.)
Prospective solutions, social programs, and community organizations to address the problems of sexual violence.

One of the goals of this volume is to bring out the voices of young advocates on the subject of sexual violence; while articles addressing pre-21st century subject matter or written from a more venerable perspective will be considered, it is recommended that such articles consider contrast with contemporary examples.

Academic analyses are welcome, but will require editing to make them stylistically accessible to a non-academic audience.

Friday, June 05, 2015

"Love Between the Covers": LA Showings and Online Promotions

--Eric Selinger

The U.S premiere of Laurie Kahn's documentary film Love Between the Covers, for which I served as a scholarly adviser, is coming up soon at the LA Film Festival. Laurie's asked me to help get the word out, and I'm happy to oblige.  

Love Between the Covers will be showing at the Regal Cinema LA LIVE 10 in downtown LA, with two showings available:
June 14th at 6:15 pm
June 16th at 5:25 pm
Tickets are on sale now at the LA Film Festival website  and they cost $15. Anyone who comes to a screening will be eligible to win a Love Between the Covers tote bag filled goodies worth $100.

In addition, Laurie is doing a special promotion to help get the word out about the film.  Evidently anyone who retweets or shares the e-card that Love Between the Covers has posted on Twitter and Facebook with information about the two screenings will be eligible for $100 USD of books from her/his favorite bookstore!  (I don't know whether this applies only to folks in the United States--I don't see why it should, but you can use Twitter and Facebook to ask.)

If you'd like to learn more about the film, you can find out much more at The audience at the Love Between the Covers international premiere at Toronto's Hot Docs International Film Festival loved the film, Laurie reports:  here's her link for the press the film has gotten.