Succeeding King Lear: Literature, Exposure, and the Possibility of Politics

Succeeding King Lear: Literature, Exposure, and the Possibility of Politics

Succeeding King Lear: Literature, Exposure, and the Possibility of Politics

Succeeding King Lear: Literature, Exposure, and the Possibility of Politics

Synopsis

This book investigates the question of the relations between literature and politics in democratic modernity. It makes connections between Shakespeare's tragedy, Wordsworth's poetry, and the documentary nonfiction and photography of James Agee and Walker Evans to offer new ways of thinking of the logic of literary history and the relationship between early modern, Romantic, and twentieth-century texts; and it brings literature into dialogue with contemporary philosophical re-readings of Western political thought. King Lear, Sun argues, opens up a literary succession at the heart of which is a crisis of sovereignty. Interrogating what it is to be a political subject as actor and spectator in the kingdom, the play issues an injunction to transform spectatorship in plural and nonsovereign terms. Thorough engagements with Lear, Wordsworth in the 1790s, and Agee and Evans in the 1930s assume this injunction by generating new artistic genres and modes for their times.

Excerpt

This book investigates Shakespeare’s King Lear and its originative force in modern literature, with specific attention to the early work of the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth and to James Agee and Walker Evans’s 1941 book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. What is it about King Lear that makes these—among so many other—later readers return to the play to initiate their own creative trajectories? What is it about King Lear that makes these readers interrogate emphatically through the play the question of the relationship between literature and politics in modernity?

Shakespeare occupies a place of incontestable centrality in Western modernity. His work has been studied in a variety of disciplines, including—besides literary study—philosophy, history, political theory, religion, sociology, and psychology, plumbed for the insights it affords into the predicament of being modern. The empirical Shakespeare wrote toward the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth, in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation and its transformation of the institution of the English monarchy, and in the advent of the scientific revolution that would come to define the modern age.

Beyond the company of fellow English dramatists such as Jonson and Marlowe, Shakespeare has been read alongside such European thinkers as Machiavelli, Montaigne, and Descartes. The philosopher Stanley Cavell has approached the question of Shakespeare’s modernity in the context of his affinity with Descartes in their common engagement with the problem of skepticism at the threshold of post-theological, scientific modernity. In another vein, the literary critic Harold Bloom claims for Shakespeare’s oeuvre the status of “secular Scripture,” finding the Shakespearean corpus analogous to the Bible in the intensity and magnitude of its shaping force on a wide variety of readers.

This book aims to reinterpret the relations between Shakespeare and modern literary history by examining how King Lear generates a literary genealogy, or history of successors. Further, this book seeks to explore the . . .

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