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Paratexts and the Rhetorical Factor in Literature

Edited by Thomas Austenfeld UNT Press ePub

Paratexts and the Rhetorical Factor in Literature

Joachim Knape

As a rhetorician, I did not take Thomas Austenfeld’s invitation to compare Sebastian Brant's Narrenschiff (1494) and Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools (1962) for granted. When working within a strictly defined theoretical framework of rhetoric, it is not obvious that rhetorical analysis is appropriate for the fields of art and literature. If it is, then such an analysis must deal with a series of specific theoretical problems and challenges. In what follows, I will raise a few fundamental questions:

And finally, a methodological problem:

My essay is an attempt to find initial answers to these questions. In this introduction I can only briefly touch on the problems listed above; I have written more extensively elsewhere.1 First, the general question about communication. Within the construct of modern aesthetics, it is not self-evident that literature is both an art and a communicative fact. Since the beginning of the so-called Art Period in the eighteenth century and the emergence of the l’art pour l’art ideology, an idea of the autonomy of artistic work has developed. This has culminated in the contemporary idea of performance: that the meaning and purpose of an artistic work only emerges in the moment of its performance. Artistic messages are thus a phenomenon of a situatively linked emergence.2 With reference to literature, this means that poets write only for themselves and then leave us their texts as mere stimuli for our own individual games. In this way, perhaps literature that has been fully detached from its author, like every other form of art, leads to an original experience of being.

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Fools and Folly in Erasmus and Porter

Edited by Thomas Austenfeld UNT Press ePub

Fools and Folly in Erasmus and Porter

Jewel Spears Brooker

In the articulation of her literary ancestry, Katherine Anne Porter created a place of honor for Erasmus, and in her personal canon, she made room at the top for The Praise of Folly. She told her nephew that she had been formed by Erasmus "from her tenth year" (Letters 415). In 1932, she was reading him in Basel, and on June 19, 1941, she signed a contract with Doubleday to write his biography. After the publication of Ship of Fools, she reiterated her admiration, hinting that her representation of folly was inspired by his. Porter was drawn to Erasmus in large part because of his moral imagination. Both were keen observers of human nature and both considered folly to be endemic in the human condition. But they present strikingly different concepts of folly. For Erasmus, folly is foolishness, and although it is the butt of his satire, he generally finds it amusing. For Porter, on the other hand, folly is innate wickedness. When writing of ordinary human life in The Praise of Folly, he is tolerant and urbane; in contrast, in Ship of Fools, she is harsh and scornful. Unlike Porter, Erasmus actually likes his fools, and far more than she, he identifies with them in their folly.

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Ship of Fools

Edited by Thomas Austenfeld UNT Press ePub

Ship of Fools

Alexandra Subramanian

When Ship of Fools was published on April Fool’s Day, 1962, Porter knew that her honeymoon with the critics was over. "[L]et it [come]," she had told her publisher, Seymour Lawrence.1 Indeed, since its publication Ship of Fools has invited admiration but also biting criticism from friends, critics, and biographers alike. Some of the criticism, moreover, has been highly personal, highlighting Porter’s own faults, prejudices, and shortcomings, at times disregarding her complex humanity, which included a capacity for kindness that cannot be easily dismissed. Theodore Solotaroff, writing a review of Ship of Fools in Commentary in 1962, summed up the prevailing feeling against the novel. He virtually decimates it from almost every angle, claiming that the "soul of humanity is lacking."2

This paper argues against those who have judged Ship of Fools as marred by cynicism, prejudice, and the author’s darkened view of humanity. The novel will be analyzed, rather, in light of Porter’s debilitating sensitivity, deep understanding of human behavior and motives, and acute awareness of the consequences of casual or calculated cruelty, misogyny, and violence. Porter was attuned to the suffering of the vulnerable, whether afflicted by poverty, parental cruelty and neglect, or disability. To Porter’s mind, acts of unkindness, insensitivity, and a failure to take responsibility, especially regarding the weak and vulnerable, created a tragic and unnecessary cycle of violence, alienation, and despair.

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Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools

Edited by Thomas Austenfeld UNT Press ePub

Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools

Darlene Harbour Unrue

In the summer of 1962, after Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools had been published the previous April to enthusiastic reviews and for many weeks had sat comfortably on the bestseller list of the New York Times Book Review, the influential American critic Wayne Booth posed the question others had indirectly raised: Is Ship of Fools really a novel? Investigating Booth’s question and some answers proffered by Booth and other critics—and even by Porter herself—helps us classify and sub-classify Ship of Fools and by extension reach a better understanding of it. In the process we discover that Porter’s only long novel encapsulates her artistic canon and much of her life, marked in the novel not only by obvious autobiographical elements but also by private reprisals and jokes.

By implicitly asking the question "How can we tell what a work means, let alone whether it’s good or bad, if we don’t know what it is to begin with?" Booth took for granted the formalist assumptions that all of literature can be first divided into kinds and then into sub-kinds and that every work can be evaluated according to the degree to which it incorporates genre requirements. Booth answered his own question of whether Ship of Fools is really a novel by invoking F. R. Leavis’s The Great Tradition and rather tepidly concluding that Ship of Fools is "not quite Leavis’s idea. . . of what the novel ought to be" (637). Because it also ran afoul of Booth’s own narrow definition of "novel" and his bias for a tightly woven plot, Ship of Fools was not quite Booth’s idea of a novel either.

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"Mad with Virtue and Piety"

Edited by Thomas Austenfeld UNT Press ePub

"Mad with Virtue and Piety"

Robert H. Brinkmeyer, Jr.

In this paper I want to bring into dialogue William Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses and Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools. At first glance the two novels appear to have nothing to do with each other: Go Down, Moses, which appeared in 1942, focuses on the lives of an extended family in rural Mississippi over the course of more than a hundred years; and Ship of Fools, which appeared in 1962, follows the complicated interactions of various shipmates on a 1930s voyage across the Atlantic. While I am not suggesting any specific matters of influence—Porter clearly knew the work of Faulkner, but I’ve yet to find any evidence that she had read Go Down, Moses—the two novels (both of which had their origins in the late 1930s, despite their vastly different publication dates) dovetail in terms of several key concerns and themes, particularly regarding issues of idealism, responsibility to history and one’s community, and what might be called the negative collusion with evil. Especially striking are the parallels between two principal characters, Faulkner’s Ike McCaslin and Porter’s Dr. Schumann. In my discussion here, I want to focus primarily on these two figures, and particularly on the way that the noble, but finally misguided, idealism of Ike McCaslin sheds light on Dr. Schumann’s similarly admirable but ultimately flawed commitment to a principled life. Typically understood as the moral center of Ship of Fools, Dr. Schumann emerges in this reading as more complicated and less trustworthy, not the moral compass of the novel but finally another of its foolish denizens.

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