Latest Entries »

I’m pleased to announce that Reading as Democracy in Crisis: Interpretation, Theory, History is now available for purchase on Rowman & Littlefield’s website:
The chapters in this book demonstrate how the variety of reading strategies represented by the figures and movements discussed within its pages were motivated in part by different historical circumstances, many of which involved periods of crises in democracy. These circumstances range from Plato’s Thirty Tyrants to the French Revolution to the two World Wars and the Holocaust, from the Civil Rights movement to LBGTQ rights to the Arab Spring in Egypt to social media. It covers figures and movements such as Plato and Derrida; Hegel; Marx; Wittgenstein; Warren; Rosenblatt; Adorno, Foucault, Derrida, and Frow; Butler; and Object-Oriented Ontology alongside Digital Humanities. Chapters include:

1 Democracy as Context for Theory: Plato and Derrida as Readers of Socrates, by James Rovira
2 Historian, Forgive Us: Study of the Past as Hegel’s Methodology of Faith, by Aglaia Maretta Venters
3 Karl Marx: The End of the Enlightenment, by Eric Hood
4 Ludwig Wittgenstein: Toward a Dialectical Pragmatism, by Steve Wexler
5 Robert Penn Warren: Poetry, Racism, and the Burden of History, by Cassandra Falke
6 Louise Rosenblatt: The Reader, Democracy, and the Ethics of Reading, by Meredith N. Sinclair
7 Aesthetic Theory: From Adorno to Cultural History, by Philip Goldstein
8 Judith Butler: A Livable Life, by Darcie Rives-East
9 Networking the Great Outdoors: Object-Oriented Ontology and the Digital Humanities, by Roger Whitson
The following 30% discount code is valid until April 30, 2020: LEX30AUTH19. It should work on the publisher’s website linked above.
This book presents straightforward explanations of each figure’s or movement’s central ideas alongside an original thesis about each figure or movement, so it can also be useful for introducing students to different theoretical approaches to texts.
It’s been a long road. The initial CFP was sent out in 2011. I’m very pleased to finally be able to make this announcement, and many thanks to the contributors who stuck with this project for so long.
Cover photo by Rebekah Rovira.

Going into Production

interp-theory-hist-2I’m pleased to announce that Reading as Democracy in Crisis: Interpretation, Theory, History is now going into production (Lexington Books, 2019). I’m hoping for an April 2019 release date, but the publisher will confirm that soon. The featured image to the left, by photographer Rebekah Rovira, is my proposed cover image pending publisher approval. Chapters include:

— by James Rovira
1. Democracy as Context for Theory: Plato and Derrida as Readers of Socrates
— by James Rovira
2. Historian, Forgive Us: Study of the Past as Hegel’s Methodology of Faith
— by Aglaia Maretta Venters
3. Karl Marx: The End of the Enlightenment
— by Eric Hood
4. Ludwig Wittgenstein: Toward a Dialectical Pragmatism
— by Steve Wexler
5. Robert Penn Warren: Poetry, Racism, and the Burden of History
— by Cassandra Falke
6. Louise Rosenblatt: The Reader, Democracy, and the Ethics of Reading
— by Meredith N. Sinclair
7. Aesthetic Theory: From Adorno to Cultural History
— by Philip Goldstein
8. Judith Butler: A Livable Life
— by Darcie Rives-East
9. Networking the Great Outdoors: Object-Oriented Ontology and the Digital Humanities
— by Roger Whitson

Submission Guidelines Updated

Yes, amazingly, Interpretation: Theory: History is still a live project. It is currently under contract, and I am still open to essays. Please see the most updated list of contributors under the Submissions Guidelines link above.

New Page Added

I’ve added the page “Sample Abstract” (see above) to provide an example of the type of work that we’re seeking for this volume. All contributions to this volume should be about 6,000 words in length (including notes and bibliography) and perform four tasks:

1. Summarize the central ideas of its major figure.
2. Locate this figure within any two of the following contexts: intellectual history, political history, cultural milieu, social history, and/or personal history. We expect the typical submission to combine an intellectual history with at least one of the others.
3. Explain the importance of its major figure to the practice of textual interpretation or to the rise of literary theory.
4. Argue a thesis about the ways in which the author’s work dialectically engages his/her historical context.

We are initially marketing this volume as a companion volume for literary theory courses, so we also request that contributors write in a manner that is as clear and accessible for upper division undergraduate and graduate students as possible.

Thank you,


This blog has now been enabled for iPad and Mobile app use. If you’re viewing this site on your iPad or mobile device, scroll to the bottom of the screen for a link to iPad or mobile views of the site. Cover art for the iPad and Facebook versions of the site has been generously provided by Cynthia Morefield at Scratching the Surface Studios.

The following email:


Dear Colleagues:

The editors of Interpretation: Theory: History continue to welcome abstracts and CVs well into January of 2012.  For this volume, are seeking 6000 word essays focused upon figures important to the rise and development of literary theory and to the history of textual interpretation that present each figure within his or her social, political, cultural, and intellectual contexts. The full CFP is available here:

And a list of figures for whom we have already received abstracts is available here:

Further information is available on the blog.

This volume is focused on figures from Marx and Freud to the present, but we are also interested in major figures from Plato to the nineteenth century. Feel free to email any questions or comments directly to


was circulated yesterday to the following listservs:
  • 18th Century Interdisciplinary Discussion (
  • Christianity and Literature Discussion (
  • Discussion of Frankfurt School Critical Theory (
  • John Milton Discussion List (
  • North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (
  • If you’re a member of any literature, theory, social science, human science, or cultural studies listserve and wish to support this project, please copy and paste the email above to an email to your list if such posts are allowed.

    Many thanks again to those who have helped us recruit contributors and who are working with us on this volume.


    To date, we have abstracts and CVs for the following figures:

    Adorno, Theodor
    Butler, Judith
    Derrida, Jacques
    Emerson, Ralph Waldo
    Foucault, Michel
    Freud, Sigmund
    Greenblatt, Stephen
    Jameson, Frederic
    Kristeva, Julia
    Lacan, Jacques
    Marion, Jean-Luc
    Marx, Karl
    Object-Oriented Ontology
    Rorty, Richard
    Shohat, Ella
    Wittgenstein, Ludwig
    Zizek, Slavoj

    We have been promised abstracts/CVs for the following figures:

    Benjamin, Walter
    Bhabha, Homi
    Dryden, John
    DuBois, W.E.B.
    Frye, Northrop or Eve Sedgwick
    Hogarth, William
    Spinoza, Baruch de
    Spivak, Gayatri

    Although the Call for Papers for Interpretation: Theory: History lists a deadline of December 31st, we will continue to accept submissions well past the deadline.  At present, the real deadline will be either with a signed contract or with the first full draft of the manuscript sent to the publisher.  I won’t know until I have secured a publisher and examined their terms.  When I have secured a publisher and have a fixed deadline for submissions I will post an update here. Until then, if you have an idea for an essay on any major figure or movement not already covered please email it to

    Updates on lists of figures covered will be posted daily or as needed.

    Thank you,


    I conceived of Interpretation: Theory: History while writing my monograph, Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety. The idea for that book started with the first Matrix film, when after a couple of viewings I noticed that The Matrix was yet another permutation of Mary Shelley‘s Frankenstein in a long line of permutations: R.U.R., Metropolis, I, Robot A.I., Bicentennial Man, Stealth.  The list could go on.  Once I noticed the pattern, my first question was why?  Why has the Frankenstein story persisted so tenaciously from Shelley’s day to the present?  The western creative imagination consistently expects disaster, apocalypse, and rebellion should we ever create a life form that is fully self-directed — intelligent, creatively reasoning, learning, and independent, something that thinks as we can think.

    I called this expectation Creation Anxiety and soon realized that William Blake was Shelley’s predecessor, explicitly embodying this anxiety in his mythological works of the 1790s, especially in The [First] Book of Urizen and The Four Zoas.  I originally intended to write chapters on Blake, Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley (Promethus Unbound), and William Wordsworth (because he is the most free of Creation Anxiety of any of the English Romantics), but soon Blake took over the project.

    Blake, however, does not yield his own theoretical lens.  Blake conceptualizes his philosophy and theology in aesthetic terms: his God is a Poetic Genius and his only ontology is a phenomenology.  I lacked a theorization of anxiety but didn’t want to draw on any theorization that fit.  I sought a theorization of anxiety proceeding from a figure responding to a historical and cultural milieu similar to Blake’s.  Søren Kierkegaard‘s The Concept of Anxiety fit my needs, theorizing anxiety from a cultural, political, and intellectual history that he shared with Blake.  I identify tensions between monarchy and democracy, science and religion, and nature and artifice as motivating both Blake’s creation myths and Kierkegaard’s concept of anxiety, while I identify similarly motivated modifications of the Socratic tradition as part of their shared intellectual history.

    So in practice, my book attempted to simultaneously theorize history and historicize theory.  But I felt that I had few precedents though I had a few fellow travelers, and I felt that I wasn’t in control of the process.  The nature of Blake criticism doesn’t help, which until recently has been intensely divided between theoretical/conceptual approaches and historical approaches, perhaps even more so than in the case of many other authors.  Schorer vs. Damon or Yeats, or Erdman vs. Frye seem to represent irreconciliable approaches to Blake.  What I wanted to discover was a way to consciously theorize history while historicizing theory, to discover principles guiding a Hegelian synthesis of these two processes.

    Added to these considerations has been my experience teaching upper division literary theory classes over the last several years.  I have always been drawn to both literature and philosophy, and as you see my work combines both (along with history), but I chose literature as my field over philosophy because I believe that the concrete and particular is more real than the abstract and conceptual.  However, when I teach theory, the difficulty of the material along with the seduction of learning advanced concepts often effaces the literature that theory is meant to illuminate.  Furthermore, students tend to invest so much time and effort mastering the difficult texts presented in my theory classes — I teach from primary texts even in upper division undergraduate classes — that they never evaluate them critically.  I have also been bothered by the tendency of theoretical approaches to reduce literature to a series of conceptual templates yielding pre-determined results, erasing the particularity and individuality of the most sophisticated literary works, even in published scholarship.

    I believe that a cure for many of these ills is to historicize theory.  I do not seek to trivialize theory by reducing it to its historical contexts, but to recognize that its development was motivated by human beings acting in response to very specific cultural and historical pressures.  Sometimes these pressures are self-evidently represented in the work itself, as is the case with Gayle Rubin’s work.  But more often it is much less so.  I seek by historicizing theory to rehumanize literature: from T.S. Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent” to Barthes’s death of the author to Derrida’s deconstruction of the metaphysics of presence literature has been dehumanized and departicularized in a great holocaust of authors.  We have not been killing authors’ bodies but their authorial identities, and our understanding of literature suffers as a result.

    I am not advocating here for a return to authorial intent as a guiding principle for textual interpretation.  Historicizing theory leaves theory intact, which therefore continues to function independently of any literature not written with theory in mind.    However, I have for the present abandoned the hope for a Hegelian synthesis in favor of Blakean contraries: theory and history remain discrete, independent, autonomous, and in dialog, so that with these contraries there can be progression.  I look forward to what more I can learn from contributions to this volume.

    New Page Added

    I’ve added a “links” page (see above) that includes links to editors’ information and some links of general interest to literary theory.  Contributors may want to follow the link to Peter Herman’s Historicizing Theory to obtain a copy for their college or university library, especially those covering figures also covered in Herman’s anthology.

    Contributor pages and links will be added when a contributor list has been fixed.

    %d bloggers like this: