W.E.B. Du Bois Lectures: Heike Schäfer
The past few years have seen a boom in literary erasures. Whether well-established or little known, mainstream or experimental, an increasing number of US American authors have begun to compose
The past few years have seen a boom in literary erasures. Whether well-established or little known, mainstream or experimental, an increasing number of US American authors have begun to compose their work by effacing the texts of other writers. They have crossed out, cut out, or painted over parts of newspaper articles, government documents, poems, or novels to forge new literary works out of the remaining words and blanks or blacked out spaces. Historically, this appropriative play with what is present on and what is absent from the page is rooted in twentieth-century conceptual art, avant-garde poetics, and the censorship of information, or redaction. Currently, literary erasures frequently articulate dissent. They address forms of discourse and social subjugation that literally have obliterated human livesand cultures. In her recent book of poetry, Wade in the Water (2017), former US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith erases the Declaration of Independence, for instance,to reveal the chasm between the nation’s democratic ideal and its history of slavery. My presentation will explore this popular and innovative literary form from a comparative media perspective. I will argue that the material and visual elements of the erasures—such as paper, typography, or page layout—are integral to their representational strategies and to the cultural interventions they perform. My analysis suggests that a greater concern with the specific materialities and media in which we encounter literary works can significantly expand our understanding of literature and its cultural role.
Heike Schaefer is Professor of North American Literature and Culture at the University of Education Karlsruhe, Germany. She is the author of American Literature and Immediacy: Literary Innovation and the Emergence of Photography, Film, and Television (Cambridge University Press, 2019) and Mary Austin’s Regionalism (University of Virginia Press, 2004). She has edited several books and special issues, including The Printed Book in Contemporary American Culture: Medium, Object, Metaphor (with Alexander Starre; Palgrave, 2019), Literary Knowledge Production and the Life Sciences (with Karin Hoepker; LWU, 2017), and Network Theory and American Studies (with Regina Schober and Ulfried Reichardt; Amerikastudien/American Studies, 2015). Her current research project, “The Senses of Literature,” examines the media and materialities of contemporary American literature.
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