Experimental Criticism / Beyond the Page / William Martin

Illustration by Fran_kie

This cluster on “experimental criticism” grew out of a graduate seminar on this topic that took place at Harvard in the fall of 2021. All the essay contributions to the cluster bear some relation to the course, whether as revisions to participants’ final projects or as pursuits of experimental practices explored and initiated there. To register the collaborative pedagogic origins of this project, in lieu of a typical introduction, we have provided an annotated syllabus, with snapshots of participants’ reflections on the semester’s readings and discussions footnoted at the bottom of the page. You are invited to click on any of the numbered footnotes scattered throughout the syllabus to jump to a specific annotation. In addition to offering a window into our individual responses to the course readings, we hope that the annotations provide you with a collective context for the essays to follow.

Within the cluster, you will find experimentation that takes many forms: Yoojung Chun’s choose-your-own-adventure rumination on the constancy of parental grief, as depicted by the intersections between the art video game “That Dragon, Cancer” and the 14-century Middle English poem Pearl; Marie Ungar’s investigation of the category of “cringe,” what it might look like if Susan Sontag and Erving Goffman joined forces; Elinor Hitt’s encounter with the “kinesthetic empathy” inspired by the choreography of Blondell Cummings; William Martin’s essay/fiction hybrid, describing a senior named Dexter’s spectral encounter with the wisdom of Charles Waddell Chesnutt in his university’s archive; Harry Hall’s poignant parody of academese, presented in the form of a futuristic academic lecture on the film Call Me By Your Name, in a 2052 edited volume; Sam Bozoukov’s paratactic account of learning to listen to literature—and to life’s unpredictable lessons—through Milton. Accompanying our cluster as a special feature is a questionnaire that was sent to several of the leading author-critics on our syllabus, requesting their thoughts on the status of disciplinary experiment today. The responses we received, from Charles Bernstein, Samuel R Delany, Wai Chee Dimock, Eric Hayot, Emily Ogden, and Paul Saint-Amour, are a trove of useful references, reflections, examples, and qualifications.

—Beth Blum

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Professor Ryder

Beyond the Page: A Verbal Recording of History

Charles Chesnutt’s short story, “The Wife of His Youth,” questions the benefits of assimilation through his protagonist, Mr. Ryder, who confronts his slave past. Mr. Ryder exemplifies meritocracy as he rises from a measly messenger for a railroad company to the head of the “Blue Vein Society.” The Blue Veins espouse respectability politics valuing character, culture, and complexion (implicitly). As Mr. Ryder prepares for a ball that will provide him with the occasion to propose to the widowed Mrs. Molly Dixon, he encounters a woman embodying the plantation past. She informs him of her desperate search for her husband that she helped escape from bondage long before the war. The woman’s devotion and commitment to her husband alters Mr. Ryder’s outlook on assimilation as he uses the ball to reveal his slave origin and his identity as the husband the woman sought after. Indeed, Chesnutt uses literary allusions and dialect to underscore the importance of preserving one’s cultural history, which elevates acknowledgement above absorption….

Dexter swiped a stream of sweat from his brow, carefully avoiding the frame of his glasses, as he hurried through the lobby of his university’s library holding a torn sheet of paper. The inconspicuous sheet carried inexplicable words. They seemed to speak to his immediate circumstances. Even more, they criticized them. The college senior was in the process of completing his final research paper for his post-Civil War American literature course. He dedicated the last hour of his morning to compiling general facts on Charles Waddell Chesnutt. The author was born in Cleveland Ohio in 1858. He grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina. His work, “The Goophered Grapevine,” was the first short story by an African American published in the Atlantic Monthly. Of course, these were facts Dexter was already acquainted with since his instructor, Professor Ryder, assigned both The Conjure Woman and “The Wife of His Youth” earlier in the semester. He anticipated an ordinary paper writing experience. Low stakes, medium effort, and high procrastination. The crinkled piece of paper between his fingers changed everything.

The silent library amplified the echo of his rapid footsteps. He took offense to the paper’s central claim about the importance of preserving cultural history and its elevation of acknowledging one’s own culture over absorbing another person’s culture. It baffled him that this writer, Julius, preferred a culture that rewarded its members with disadvantage and destitution. The senior recounted his first cursory reading of Chesnutt’s short story. At that time, assimilation seemed like the perfect push to remove Mr. Ryder from such a sordid past. Dexter’s thoughts were unchanged, which intensified his disagreement with the essay’s stance. He was an advocate of absorption. He desired the material benefits that accompanied the cultures that weren’t his own. These material benefits drove his desire to escape the small southern university he was slated to graduate from in a few weeks. The school stymied—not stimulated—his intellectual development.

Despite this inconvenience, Dexter managed to thrive at the school. He frequently underperformed as a high school student, which limited his college options. The small university accepted him outright and even awarded him a serviceable scholarship contingent upon his entry into a “Promising Pupil Program” (PPP), which cultivated a sense of community among the lowest performing students. These students stayed in the same dormitory, attended a mandatory monthly dinner with the program directors, and were given priority access to talks and workshops occurring on campus. This support system helped sharpen his intellectual focus and constructed a network of alumni and companies that flooded him with opportunities. Particularly, he enjoyed attending events hosted by other prestigious institutions around the country. His disdain for the southern university deepened as he temporarily enjoyed the privileges that other students enjoyed permanently. Four years of dissatisfaction culminated in Dexter’s acceptance into a master’s program at a renowned university located in the northeast. He gleefully checked off the days on his calendar in anticipation of his new academic journey.

His journey was in jeopardy, however. He figured that Julius must have been enrolled in the same literature course, since Professor Ryder’s name appeared on the essay. Yet, the brittle paper, on the verge of disintegration after decades in the library’s deepest recesses, was seconds away from crumbling into dust and slipping between his fingers. He gasped at this realization as he approached the stacks. They stretched to the ceiling containing shelves bursting with books.

His momentum halted as soon as his peripheral vision captured a flickering light from within a single aisle of books. The first floor was dimly lit aside from the few shut windows near the entrance that rained natural light over the sensor gates and circulation desk. Artificial light drizzled over the study carrels on the opposite end of the floor. Darkness jacketed the stacks. Motion sensor lights were supposed to illuminate them, aiding students as they tunneled deeper into the aisles, but the sensors seldom functioned as intended. In fact, rumors circulated that the lights turned on randomly throughout the day. Perhaps capturing the movement of spirits rather than students.

Such superstitions further supported Dexter’s case for fleeing the southern university. He doubted that a student body afflicted with lunacy and a sixth sense could sufficiently collaborate with him on future research endeavors. Charlatans made poor colleagues. The senior recognized his search for the rest of Julius’ essay as more than a wild ghost chase. For some reason, the student declined to submit his final paper. This caused Dexter to slide his finger under his chin. He contemplated that the student might have horribly failed the assignment. If so, then he needed to return to the aisle where he began his authorial research. The remaining sections were most likely lodged inside of neighboring books. If Professor Ryder was the same instructor, Dexter was completing the same assignment, and his topic was the same as Julius’, then he was susceptible to the same disastrous outcome. A poor final grade would terminate his provisional acceptance to the master’s program. It would terminate any aspiration for academic ascension.

The echoing thud of a lone book smacking the ground terminated the silence. A motion sensor light brightened the middle section of an aisle several rows ahead of Dexter. He encountered no librarians or student workers upon entry into the library. Hardly giving the occurrence any mind, he figured that the staff was handling an emergency elsewhere. As for other students, they tended to fill the library after the sun had set. Noon was a period of low occupancy. Briskly approaching the row, the senior sought to identify the cause of the fallen book.

Before he reached the aisle, however, a student stepped out wiping dust off her hands.

“Anne Penny?” said Dexter.

“Dex! Good thing I’m not alone in here,” she said, brushing a braid away from her         eye, “You know this library is haunted right?”

Dexter merely shook his head in response to his friend’s superstitious nature. Like himself, Anne Penny was a senior at the university. She gained fame throughout the student body for her private tutoring business. Students on the verge of failing crucial courses sought her out in desperation. Anne Penny was known to never work for free. She also didn’t work for cash. Instead, she bartered her services for an eclectic assortment of items in return. Once she helped a Floridian student pass a chemistry exam in exchange for several oranges from her state. There was also a case where she helped two international students from India in exchange for a pashmina shawl crafted from a particular weaver. Somehow, she always knew the most unique possession she could obtain from an individual.

“There’s nothing haunting this library,” started Dexter, “Students and administrators have conveniently invented this tale to avoid addressing the real infrastructural issues that are plaguing this campus.”

“Both those things could be true, you know?”

Unlikely. And why are you on-campus anyway?” asked Dexter as the light from the aisle flickered off, “I thought you lived thirty minutes away? You took the bus over here just to visit the library?”

“I’m helping a sophomore from Haiti with a research paper on The Conjure Woman,” said Anne Penny, “I’ve heard about a restaurant that supposedly sells the best plantains on the island!”

“If you weren’t so adamant about staying close to home, then you could probably travel there and try it in person. In fact, you wouldn’t have to keep tutoring people anymore.”

“Not everyone is in a hurry to leave the place they call home. Lots of people travel the world, but I prefer having the world travel to me.”

“You must also prefer understaffed libraries and faulty lighting systems. As soon as I begin my master’s program in the northeast, these problems will no longer be mine,” said Dexter as his face glowed with satisfaction, “Speaking of The Conjure Woman, I’m also writing a paper about Chesnutt. My work was interrupted by the discovery of a section   from another student’s essay within one of the library books I checked out. He appears to have been completing the same assignment from this same course.”

Anne Penny’s eyes flashed at the news, “Was the paper on the short story, ‘The Wife of His Youth?’”

Dexter groaned, “Don’t tell me you found the missing section.”

“Maybe I could help you solve this puzzle, Dex?” said Anne Penny, lifting a finger in the air, “In exchange for something of similar value.”

Dexter sighed, “I don’t really have a choice. I need to know why this paper was scrapped. If it received a poor final grade, then that might help me avoid the mistakes that Julius made. What do you want?”

“I’ve heard wonderful things about maple syrup from the northeast.”

The detection of irony raised one of Dexter’s eyebrows, “I thought you disagreed with my decision to attend a master’s program in the northeast. Yet, you wish to indulge in what the region has to offer?”

“I’m against your never-ending diminishing of our university. If it wasn’t for the PPP, then you might have never made it this far. Regardless of this school’s deficiencies, you should still acknowledge the contribution it made to your current success,” retorted Anne Penny, “Now do we have a deal or not?”

“Acknowledge? I guess you do have Julius’ paper because you sound just like him. I only want every memory of this place to vanish!” said Dexter, “And yes, I’ll get you the maple syrup.”

Anne Penny slowly unfolded the paper and presented it to her curious friend.

… Literary allusions illustrate the downsides of assimilation. From the onset, Chesnutt describes Mr. Ryder as a character with a passion for poetry (2). Specifically, he enjoys English poets. This passion surfaces in his plumbing of a volume of Lord Alfred Tennyson poetry for quotations he plans to recite with the goal of impressing his guests. Chesnutt highlights the comical nature of Mr. Ryder’s attempt, however. First, the volume opens at “A Dream of Fair Women.” Understanding the word “fair” as referring to complexion rather than etiquette, Mr. Ryder’s quest for a quotation becomes laughable as he seeks to compliment African American women with praise aimed at “fair” or white women. The word “dream” also contributes to this comedic scene as it hints at Mr. Ryder’s disconnect from reality. The Blue Veins “dream” of becoming white through absorption, but their real world efforts to inculcate sensibilities that will guide them to this absorption paradoxically index how distant they stand from whiteness. Admittedly, Mr. Ryder realizes the limitations of Tennyson to speak to his experience as he deems that admiration for “sweet pale Margaret” inadequately captures Mrs. Dixon’s “ruddy complexion” (40). Thus, Mr. Ryder descends further into the past as he turns to a Medieval literature that predates Victorian era poetry. He reads the following description of Queen Guinevere: “She seem’d a part of joyous Spring: / A gown of grass-green silk she wore, / Buckled with golden clasps before; / A light-green tuft of plumes she bore / Closed in a golden ring” (4). This image conflates the beauty of a woman with the beauty of nature. Yet, this poetical embrace of women and nature awakens a different relationship for him as an individual with a slave past. Nature aligns with the agricultural labor of the plantation. Immediately after Mr. Ryder reads this description, the woman, Liza Jane, appears. Notice Chesnutt’s description of her: “She wore a blue calico gown of ancient cut, a little red shawl fastened around her shoulders with an old-fashioned brass brooch, and a large bonnet profusely ornamented with faded red and yellow artificial flowers. And she was very black, so black that her toothless gums, revealed when she opened her mouth to speak, were not red, but blue. She looked like a bit of the old plantation life…” (4-5). Liza Jane, a black woman, models the same “joyous Spring” description of a white queen from Medieval literature. Even more, Liza Jane displays the manners of a monarchial figure (5). This moment further demonstrates the inability of Mr. Ryder’s English literary tradition to accurately and effectively reflect his experiences. The inadequacy of this literary assimilation develops into Mr. Ryder’s recognition of how social assimilation subjects him to the same inadequacy.

Chesnutt’s protagonist soon realizes that the use of an English poetry tradition stems from its repurposing to suit his unique black experience rather than a regurgitation of the tradition. The first moment of repurposing happens unconsciously as it occurs when Mr. Ryder records Liza Jane’s address on the fly-leaf of a volume of Tennyson (7). Here, Mr. Ryder inscribes Liza Jane into Tennyson’s textual body of work. The fly-leaf positions itself at the front or back of a book. Her address at the front of the book signals the absence of Liza Jane or a black past in Tennyson’s work. Located in neither the table of contents nor the index, the address advises readers that some histories must be found outside of books. Her address addresses an absence. Her address at the back of the book signals a search for the black past that continues even when the book ends. A second moment of repurposing occurs at the ball, after Mr. Ryder deceptively shares his history with the crowd using conditional “supposes” (9). He states that he told his “friend” the following quotation: “This above all: to thine own self be true, /And it must follow, as the night the day, / Thou canst not then be false to any man” (9). Here, Mr. Ryder evokes the Shakespearian play, Hamlet. Instead of absorbing Shakespeare, Mr. Ryder displays an engagement with the text as he relates its questions of duty, lineage, and being to his own relationship with the past and Liza Jane. English literature no longer hides him from his history but helps him understand his history. Hence, Chesnutt uses literary allusions to emphasize the drawbacks of submerging oneself into a history that shuns one’s own cultural experiences. Dialect functions to lead Mr. Ryder to acknowledgment. Consider the structure of the short story. Chesnutt divides it into three parts….

“Shoot! There’s another section,” said Dexter.

“Why does Mr. Ryder remind me of someone?” asked Anne Penny.

“‘Professor Ryder’ is also the name of this course’s instructor.”

“That’s not who I was thinking of,” said Anne Penny, handing the torn sheet of paper to Dexter, “The emphasis on cultural experience reminds me of what this writer… Sarnowski describes as the birthright of heritage and community,”12 said Anne Penny.

“Sure, but I don’t buy his reading of the English literary tradition supposedly ‘failing’ the character,” said Dexter with a shrug, “It’s not realistic for a tradition to include aspects of everyone’s culture.”

“I don’t think that’s what the writer is arguing for,” countered Anne Penny, “He’s more interested in how Mr. Ryder uses the tradition more so than the tradition itself. It’s about this character transitioning beyond the surface realism of Tennyson’s work and beginning to imagine it as a springboard for the development of a poetics that speak to his own cultural history and identity.”

Dexter’s grip on his argument loosened slightly. The critique of Mr. Ryder’s original use of the English literary tradition troubled him. Was he susceptible to the same error regarding his master’s program? Once again, Julius’ argument seemed to criticize him directly. Pressing his finger against his temple, he wondered how he’d use the resources at his new school. Would he repurpose them for his specific cultural needs or reshape himself to blend into a new socio-cultural milieu?

“I believe Catherine Keyser presents a similar argument,” continued Anne Penny, “She also penned an essay about this story.”3Keyser, Catherine. ““The Wave of a Magician’s Wand”: Romance, Storytelling, and the Myth of History in “The Wife of His Youth”.” American Literary Realism, vol. 44, no. 3, 2012, pp. 209–29,

“I need to visit the archives,” said Dexter, lining the jagged ends of the two papers together, “I need to know how this paper ends. What was Julius’ conclusion?”

Anne Penny leaned her head to the side causing her braids to cascade over her shoulder,            “Whether you find the remaining sections or not, you’re still going to pass the course, Dex. You’re a smart guy. I wouldn’t let this worry you so much.”

“You know I don’t believe in superstition, but it’s like this essay is speaking to me.        Especially those points about the inadequacies of assimilation.”

“There’s this book of scholarship,” started Anne Penny, “Just came out. It’s called Assimilation An Alternative History. On page fifteen, Catherine Ramirez5 explains this idea known as the ‘paradox of assimilation.’ It’s when people are accepted into social groups, but their status is subordinate or abject.”

“Like how in Chesnutt’s story, Mr. Ryder has these tremendous volumes of Medieval    and Victorian literature, but he still feels excluded.”

“Yup. Poor guy has the knowledge, but still can’t get into the school. Or he gets into the school, but feels outside of it at the same time. If you know what I mean. On the same page, she calls the process of assimilating this subordinate other as ‘differential inclusion.’ Assimilation as a mechanism is designed to never completely absorb the other into the dominant group.”

“I suppose Mr. Ryder discovers this through his social, cultural, and historical absence in the English literary tradition. Maybe Julius was providing more insight than I… acknowledged.”

Anne Penny smiled, “So, why do you need to go into the archives?”

Dexter smoothed out the wrinkles of the two papers while holding the ends together. The united ends formed faded numbers and letters. Essay sections were connected on the front of the paper. A call number was constructed on the backside. The senior grinned in response to his friend’s sudden outburst.

“Guess where this leads?”

The lower level of the library lacked adequate lighting or heating, while also appearing cavernous. The archive was arranged in the center of the basement level. Sparkling glass cases sealed away historic letters and documents. Not a trace of dirt soiled the space around the collection. A large majority of the essays, letters, and texts were authored by Charles Chesnutt. His portraits were placed around the archive—almost as if he watched over it.

Dexter swiftly scanned each of the documents seeking a corresponding call number, while Anne Penny examined the faded papers with folds along their edges. She found the decent condition of the documents impressive. Dexter ignored the archival material.

“This university has one of the best Chesnutt archives in the country,” said Anne Penny, marveling at the papers of the African American luminary, “There’s so much history here, I wonder why they bury it all in the basement?”

“We came here looking for a call number, remember?” asked Dexter, “Besides, this place is a wasteland. Everything down here is dead.”

A sudden draft tingled the hairs on his neck. He turned in the direction of its source and blinked at the image before him. Through the sliding glass door to his left, an older man lounged in the outdoor reading room. A vine ran over the wire netting the stranger sat beneath. This created a line of shade that bifurcated him.

“I guess this library isn’t so empty after all,” said Dexter.

He waited for Anne Penny to respond, but only a prolonged silence answered him. When he shifted his gaze away from the man, he realized that his friend was no longer by his side. A different figure accompanied him. Strangely, Dexter never heard footsteps or the swoosh of a sliding door. It was as if the man floated to his side.

“I’ve always been fond of libraries,” said the man, “Yes, you can find some great literature on their shelves, but moreover, you can encounter some interesting people between their walls. You stated that everything down here was ‘dead’ correct?”

Although the man spoke to Dexter, he kept his eyes on the archival material. They seemed to transport his mind to an earlier age. His hands were tucked comfortably into his pockets. He carried a seasoned sense of sophistication in his manner. His hair was straight and snowy, he was neatly dressed, and his words were heavy with the weight of time.

“Yeah. Outside of class, when is anyone discussing Chesnutt?” answered Dexter, raising both sheets of paper to the man’s field of vision, “Listen, have you seen any book with this call number? I’m slated to attend a northern university that is significantly more superior than this one, but I’m having some reservations. Finding the rest of the paper would give me some clarity.”

“I’m not surprised. This university offers its students unique educational experiences that might be absent or underwhelming at this vaunted institution you’ll be attending,” said the man, keeping his eyes on the archive, “You question the modern discussion of Chesnutt but the underlying themes of his short story, which the essay in your hand analyzes, has particular importance to you.”

“Wait, you know about Julius’ essay?”

A hoarse chuckle filled the room. Although it came from the man, it sounded as if a different person had produced it. Slowly, the tone of the laugh shifted until it matched the stranger’s tone. He removed a tissue from his pocket, folded it into a triangle, and delicately dried the edges of his eyes.

“You remind me of myself during my mid-life.”

Dexter searched the man’s face for answers, but there was an ephemerality to his countenance. As translucent as falling snow, the man’s face seemed to melt into mist. Instead, the senior glanced at the archive. He allowed his eyes to absorb the full breadth of the collection. There were papers dated long before his birth and even the birth of his parents. They were addressed to people he read about. The archive enabled a correspondence between past and present.67

“I believe you were searching for final section of the essay,” said the man, sliding a piece of paper to the senior, “Perhaps past and present are no different than Julius’ essay. They’re pieces that we must make whole.”

…The first part introduces the reader to Mr. Ryder. The second part includes the interaction between Liza Jane and Mr. Ryder. Lastly, the third part occurs at the ball. Narrative voice exhibits an indeterminate nature in this text. An educated narrator begins the story with standard English and a sizeable vocabulary. In part two, however, Liza Jane’s account shifts away from this traditional narrative style and moves towards dialect. Misspelled words, haphazard apostrophes, and awkward grammatical constructions characterize this section of the narrative. The plantation dialect that Chesnutt draws on operates as a form of poetry that juxtaposes the work of Tennyson. While Mr. Ryder finds some of Tennyson’s poems unfit for his toast, the oral poetry of Liza Jane affects him sentimentally. Even more, the orature influences Mr. Ryder to relay Liza Jane’s story in dialect as well to the audience at the ball: “He then related, simply but effectively, the story told by his visitor of the afternoon. He gave it in the same soft dialect, which came readily to his lips, while the company listened attentively and sympathetically” (8). Notice how Chesnutt writes that the dialect “came readily and soft to his lips,” and compare that to Mr. Ryder’s reading of English poetry, “He could repeat whole pages of the great English poets; and if his pronunciation was sometimes faulty…” (2). Orature proves more effective for Mr. Ryder as opposed to written poetry. Recall the description of Liza Jane’s gums as “blue.” The color blue resonates strongly in this text as it describes the visibility of veins from light skin, but in the case of Liza Jane, blue describes a person’s life story and history. Blue operates as emotion rather than physical description. Thus, the blueness of her gums speaks to the power of orature to make the past visible. The visibility of the past relates to its officiality. Mr. Ryder questions the validity of Liza Jane’s marriage because it occurred before the war (6). This indicates a privileging of written contracts to concretize unions, but it devalues the integrity of verbal contracts. Liza Jane rallies behind the integrity of the verbal as she staunchly assures Mr. Ryder that her husband would remain faithful to their vows. Notably, Liza Jane’s husband experiences the violation of a contract when his white guardian attempts to sell him despite his free status. This disregard of a contractual obligation results in Liza Jane’s efforts to help her husband escape. Ultimately, dialect leads to acknowledgement as Mr. Ryder appeals to the crowd asking if his “friend” should acknowledge the woman. The crowd emphatically responds that “he should have acknowledged her” (10). The crowd’s consent speaks to their acknowledgement of a traumatic slave past. In this moment, the Blue Veins turn to acknowledgement rather than absorption. Earlier in the novel, Mr. Ryder claims that self-preservation serves as the “first law of nature” (3). This self-preservation refers to a people’s past not their posterity. Orature preserves a past too painful for the page. Chesnutt’s short story informs readers that people will never outrun their past. Whether through breeding the black away, fleeing to the north, or submerging into literary traditions that omit their cultural experiences, the past will always persist. Therefore, people must acknowledge it. The path to the future goes through the past not away from it.

Works Cited

Chesnutt, Charles. The Wife of His Youth. Gregg Press, 1967.

Dexter re-read the final six sentences multiple times. Although he read about the transition of Mr. Ryder from absorption to acknowledgement, he was certain that the essay was describing him. He questioned if his journey north steered through the past or away from it? The senior stepped away from the archive. His mind lingered on the sheer number of coincidences that brought him to Julius’ essay, Chesnutt’s archive, and the strange man before him.

“You said that I reminded you of yourself during your mid-life,” said Dexter, “Are you the same Mr. Ryder from the story? Are you Julius? Are you Charles Chesnutt?”

Dexter never received an answer. The man had vanished. Each of the essay’s three pieces slid out of the senior’s hands. Whispers tickled his ears. His body froze. The word “acknowledgement” in different tones and spoken at different speeds skated figure eights inside his cochlea. His eyeballs felt like they were filled with snow as he struggled to locate the source of the whispers. Then, as fast as they came, they ceased. Loud and full applause shook the library basement.

The senior stepped over the fallen sheets of paper. He clasped his hands over his ears, but still heard the clamorous cheers. His teeth rattled as he trudged to the sliding glass door. The applause made his skin ripple like waves. It grew stronger the closer he got to the door. His palm fixed itself on the cold glass, sliding it to the left, his shoes touched the soft green grass.

The applause ended. He squinted at the overbearing sunlight while searching for the source of such exuberant cheering. There was no one outside. Sunlight caressed his face and a familiar hand landed on his shoulder. Dexter returned to the archive.

It looked livelier than before.

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This is part of the cluster Experimental Criticism. Read the other posts here.

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  1. “Yet the birthright is not merely some ephemeral ideal: it is the promise of practical gain in the future rather than the present. The text’s appeal is that holding fast to the ideal of community and inclusion will create more advantageous circumstances for all: everyone does better when everyone does better” (Sarnowski 339-340).
  2. Sarnowski, Joe. “’Self-preservation’: identity, idealism, and pragmatism in Charles W. Chesnutt’s ‘The Wife of His Youth’.” Papers on Language & Literature, 54(4), 315 I.
  3. “Through this shift, Chesnutt indicates that literary realism offers only one account of the modern world and the values that guide it (class stability, individual worth, family expansion, nationalism, etc.). He reminds his readers that this account should exist in dialogue with others and that the acknowledgment of the real does not require the abandonment of the ideal” (Keyser 211).
  4. Ramírez, Catherine Sue. Assimilation: An Alternative History. University of California Press, 2020.
  5. “But in McKay’s holding onto the photograph, there is something like a queer practice of the archive: an approach to the material preservation of the past that deliberately aims to retain what is elusive, what is hard to pin down, what can’t quite be explained or filed away according to the usual categories” (Edwards 970).
  6. Edwards, Brent Hayes. “The Taste of the Archive.” Callaloo, vol. 35, no. 4, 2012, pp. 944–72,