Abstract of paper to be published this summer, in The South Central Review.
Following the confirmation of Einstein’s theory of relativity in 1919, the mainstream and avant-garde press erupted with news about the theory, offering
commentary that ranged from clear-sighted explanations to cartoons and jokes. Though critics have recognized the impact of the theory on modernist literature, few have attended to the mediating factor of these mainstream public narratives and their engagement by modernist writers. Among the most creative responses to relativity theory during this period is Louis Untermeyer’s understudied collection of parodic poetry, Rhyme and Relativity: An Anthology of Poetry Apostrophising the Theories of Einstein. Published in 1921, the same year as Einstein’s widely covered trip to the United States, it appeared in Vanity Fair and the little magazine, Broom. Written in the style of well-known poets, such as Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell, each of the work’s eighteen poems takes some aspect of relativity theory as its subject. This paper offers a close reading of “Einstein Among the Coffee-Cups,” which is a parody of (mainly) T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” This paper reveals how Untermeyer’s sophisticated and versatile use of relativity theory, popular culture, and modern poetic form shaped both the content and structure of Rhyme and Relativity, resulting in a humorous, but serious, response to modernist poets and popular culture.
Image from Jalopnik.com, “Meet Camilla”
“Einstein and an Alien: Faulkner’s Tools for Building a Better Chicken House”
Abstract for workshop/paper I will give at the 2015 Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, in Oxford, MS.
Einstein and aliens: In the early 1920s, these subjects had no place in a southern literary landscape usually populated by plantations and antebellum nostalgia. That’s probably why a couple of William Faulkner’s friends, Julius Weis Friend and Albert Goldstein, editors of the New Orleans-based little magazine, the Double Dealer, published a short story entitled “The Rider through Relativity.” Written by Herman George Scheffauer, it appeared in that magazine’s March 1921, issue. With an alien as one of the protagonists and clear references to Einstein’s relativity theory, this story suited the editors’ aims for their publication, which in the influential cultural critic H. L. Mencken’s words, “doesn’t give a damn for the old gods.” And as U.S. newspaper and magazine editors often reminded their readers at the time, Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity challenged the old god Newton, his laws of motion, and claims about the nature of gravity, time and space.
“The Rider through Relativity” is a part of the lively and imaginative discourse about Einstein and relativity theory that appeared in the mainstream and avant-garde press beginning in late 1919, following confirmation of the theory by British astronomers. Scheffauer’s short story uses the alien and literature’s more traditional activity of suicide to demonstrate relativity theory’s claim that linear time is a powerful illusion by imagining a reality where that illusion has been dispelled and, therefore, nothing can ever be lost to the past.
This paper argues that Scheffauer’s story, the national conversation about Einstein, the theory’s notions about time that appeared in the American press, and the theory’s basic concept about the nature of time, all play an important, if subtle, role in Faulkner’s faceted approach to time in The Sound and the Fury. This paper focuses on Quentin’s section (the second section of the novel) to explore Faulkner’s consideration of how the experience of linear time may be especially oppressive during periods of loss. In doing so, he implicitly considers the challenges and possibilities relativity theory posed to the human perception of time and the meaning of personal loss.
What’s notable about this list is that for the first time in many years, most of these books were read for pleasure. This means I didn’t have to take notes on what I read. Also, late last year, I discovered how easy it was to check out ebooks from the library and put them on my iPad. The Nashville Public Library and New York City Public Library have kept me well-stocked. Also listed here are books I didn’t like and didn’t finish. Thank goodness for GoodReads, because it makes it easy to keep a list of books I’ve read and plan to read. In a somewhat chronological order:
1. Deborah Harkness, A Discovery of Witches
2. Terry Pratchett, The Long Earth
3. Brenda Wineapple, Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877
4. Deborah Harkness, Shadow of Night
5. Max Barry, Lexicon
6. Max Barry, Jennifer Government (unfinished)
7. Hugh Howey, Half Way Home
8. Lawrence Wright, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
9. Orson Scott Card, The Lost Gate (Mither Mages #1) (audiobook)
10. Donovan Hohn, Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them (stopped reading)
11. Orson Scott Card, The Gate Thief (Mither Mages, #2) (audiobook)
12. John Shelton Reed, Dixie Bohemia: A French Quarter Circle in the 1920s (one chapter; took notes)
13. Katherine Hayles, How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis
14. Sue Monk Kidd, The Invention of Wings
15. Lev Grossman, Codex
16. Vicki Croke, Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II
17. Simon Winchester, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary
18. Cathy Marie Buchanan, The Painted Girls (must finish!)
Not a lot of books, actually. With the onset of a renewed research project, I have read no new books in the past two months. If it wasn’t for the New Yorker, I would be adrift.