22nd Annual American Literature Association Conference 2011

May 26-29, Boston MA.
Panel: “Dramatizing Ideas: Hybrids, Heterodoxies, and Humanisms in Greenwich Village.”
Chair: Michael Winetsky.

The Glaspell Society is pleased to present its panel as part of the Five Dramatists Societies’ series of associated panels at ALA 2011 on “Dramatizing Ideas.” Selecting for traits, cross breeding, grafting, Claire Archer, the horticultural mad scientist at the center of Glaspell’s 1921 drama The Verge, uses all of these techniques to create a new self-reproducing species of plant, calling her efforts “mad new comings together.”  In imagining Claire’s work in this play, Glaspell hit upon a metaphor for the intellectual life of Greenwich Village, where new ideas in politics, philosophy, science, spirituality, and art were bred and crossbred. Glaspell’s horticultural metaphors for ideas have been linked by recent scholars to the educational organicism of John Dewey, to the Pragmatism of William James, to the Humanism of F. C. S. Schiller, to the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud, to the ontology of Henri Bergson, as well as to the evolutionary science of Lamarck, Darwin, and Haeckel. Such metaphors must be seen as the culmination of Glaspell’s own long-standing interest in the fusion of different ways of knowing. “When art weds science,” Glaspell wrote in her first novel, The Glory of the Conquered, “the resulting library is difficult to manage.” Extending these metaphors into a more general inquiry, the Susan Glaspell Society invites papers that address Greenwich Village as a site for the transformation of ideas.

 Papers: “Loving Outside the Law: Nature as Mother in Susan Glaspell and Mary Hallock Foote,” Catherine Q. Forsa, Seton Hall University;

“Jung’s Impact on the First Greenwich Village Avant-Garde,” Dr. Jay Sherry, independent scholar;

“‘What is that?’: Epistemological Crises in Glaspell’s Trifles and The Morning is Near Us,” Taryn Norman, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

1 thought on “22nd Annual American Literature Association Conference 2011

  1. Michael Winetsky

    Drawn to stories that awaken the conscience, Susan Glaspell often recycles such story-lines into different works of fiction. Although we had convened at the ALA 2011 to discuss her interest in “hybrid ideas, heterodoxies, and humanisms,” we happened instead upon this twice told tale: a woman discovers that the man she thought was her father is not the man with whom her mother conceived. This story-line appears (1928) and again in (1939). Given the different critical approaches of our panelists, we were surprised to find this common subject.
    Catherine Q. Forsa, in her essay, “Loving Outside the Law,” spoke about. The title character’s first name, Brook, reveals more about her parentage than her family name of Evans: she was conceived in a tryst. Her mother met her lover by a brook, as Forsa points out, in a natural space, “outside the law.” When Brook’s father is killed before he can marry her mother, Brook’s grandparents forced their pregnant daughter, Naomi, into a loveless marriage with Caleb Evans. When Brook Evans discovers this, at a crucial moment of coming-of-age, she rejects her mother and sympathizes completely with her adopted father. Forsa regards the tale of Brook’s conception in line with the Victorian repression of female sexual desire, and identifies the conception and nomenclature with Julia Kristeva’s concept of the female semiotic. Forsa’s paper compares Brook Evans to Mary Hallock Foote’s 1885 short-story “A Cloud on the Mountain.” Foote, Forsa points out, also employs this semiotic to resist female sexual oppression, but, as Foote is an earlier writer, she cannot go as far as Glaspell in breaking free of it. Forsa interprets Brook’s later life, more contemporary to the novel’s authorship, as the return to her mother’s jouissance that is the particular birthright of her first name, and as a return to the pre-oedipal.
    Taryn Norman talked about. This novel’s heroine, Lydia Chippman, returns to her family home after many years abroad and she starts to investigate the secrets of her own past — particularly about why she was sent away at an early age, and why she never felt her mother’s love. It is only through this investigation that she uncovers that the father who raised her is not dead, as she thinks, but alive and residing in a mental hospital. He eventually reveals to Lydia the complex tale of his relationship with her mother, including that Lydia was the child of her mother with another man. Forsa regards the uncovering of these secrets of the past in terms of epistemology. She argues that revises the gothic convention of ghosts into the actual spectral presences of a repressed past that awaken uncertainty about the self and about the possibility of knowing. Forsa quotes Judith Butler, who writes, “in the face of such loss, we ask ourselves who am I without you?,” and she quotes Martha Carpentier, who writes that “to repress the past is to be controlled by it.” For contrast, Forsa shows how the epistemology of this novel is very different from the epistemology of Trifles, which suggests the intelligibility of the human subject — especially along gender lines.
    Jay Sherry’s presentation did not deal with fiction. However, his reassessment of Jung’s impact on the Greenwich Village avant-garde provided an excellent backdrop for the two presentations on Glaspell’s fiction — particularly his suggestion that Jung’s psychology took greater account of the mother and was less patriarchal than Freud’s. Sherry presented a detailed history Jung’s visits to the United States, his publications at the time, and the interest in Jung showed by Beatrice Hinkle, a practicing psychoanalyst and fellow member with Glaspell of the feminist club, Heterodoxy. Sherry also suggested a Jungian influence on Glaspell’s, citing both Goethe’s morphology and Jung’s archetypes.
    A lively discussion followed the three papers. SGS member, Mary Papke, in attendance, talked about how all three papers addressed the rejection of the logos.
    The Glaspell Society panel at the 22nd Annual American Literature Association showed both the diversity of current scholarship on Susan Glaspell and the unity of themes that make Glaspell an appealing author for study.

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