Associate Professor Tom Martin Receives Award for Article on Edmund Spenser and Jacques Lacan
Dr. Tom Martin, associate professor in FAU’s English department, has been awarded the Beverly Rogers Literary Essay Award for his co-written article, “’All for Love, and Nothing for Reward’: Psyche from Spenser to Lacan, and the Loss of Critical Values.” The article stems from a larger work that he co-authored with Duke Pesta, entitled The Renaissance and the Postmodern (Routledge Press, 2016).
The Beverly Rogers Literary Award is the highest award given by the esteemed Ben Jonson Journal, a peer-reviewed twice-a-year review dedicated to works featuring Ben Jonson and his surrounding culture. The journal awards one Beverly Rogers Award per publication, and the recipient is honored with the sum of $1,000.
Martin describes his aim for the article as a way to re-visit “the rich dialogue with past authors” without distractions of the present. By invoking more modern Lacanian perspectives, Martin argues, readers can miss the point that Spenser himself makes, “that self-preferment and self-validation have their own pitfalls, not the least of which is blinding ourselves to too much of the world.”
A major aim for their overall project, Martin notes, is to urge readers to view works of the past in their cultural and historical moments, in order to reveal what’s overlooked when readers “try to see the past again as a window and less as a mirror.” When asked what inspired his work on this topic, Martin recalls: “We quote George Santayana in the piece, ‘A nation without memory is a nation of madmen.’ The inspiration was to recall one small, yet important, piece of that memory.”
Ms. Stephanie Flint, research assistant for the PhD in Comparative Studies, interviewed Dr. Martin about the article:
How would you describe your essay’s argument?
When readers are overly enthusiastic about their own time, they tend to miss or minimize the value of the past. As a result, they lose the rich dialogue with past authors they might have had otherwise. A popular psychological reading of Renaissance poet Edmund Spenser today falls into this trap. The irony is that the closer we look at this writer, the more we see he offers a subtler and more capacious model of human behavior than the one applied to him. Spenser dramatizes for all such readers that self-preferment and self-validation have their own pitfalls, not the least of which is blinding ourselves to too much of the world.
What inspired this essay?
I was fascinated by the ways that words like psychology have one meaning in our time and an entirely different meaning in the Renaissance. If there is a cultural equivalent to narcissism, then feeling enamored of our own ideas that we cease to hear past ideas might be it. We quote George Santayana in the piece, “A nation without memory is a nation of madmen.” The inspiration was to recall one small, yet important, piece of that memory.
What drove you and Duke Pesta to coauthor this work?
Teaching the literature of Shakespeare and his contemporaries for a number of years, my coauthor and I noticed that when these authors are pressed into the service of contemporary political issues, we lose what they are saying to us. George Bernard Shaw remarked, “The more ignorant men are, the more convinced are they that their little parish and their little chapel is an apex to which civilization and philosophy has painfully struggled up.” Because our time is hardly the end of history, we still have an awful lot to learn from other times, other cultures, and other sensibilities. The burden of this book is to try to see the past again as a window and less as a mirror.
Can you explain a bit about your research methodology and approach for this work?
The approach in this essay is the same approach my coauthor and I take across our book The Renaissance and the Postmodern. The book is a study in what we call comparative critical values. Too many professional critics today happily disregard the author or overlook the text—in what they call “the death of the author” or “the tyranny of the signifier.” They believe that criticism is superior to poetry, that the critic can take the place of the poet. We argue that both modes of thought should be preserved and that they ultimately support and enhance each other. We create a dialogue between past and present that, we trust, leads to a better understanding of both.
How does this essay fit in with your work as a whole? Do you plan on using this in future work?
I have a couple of works on the drawing board. One that relates to this book has to do with the question of misreading. Understanding is a hopeless muddle if it lacks rigorous means of separating what is true from what is false. Culturally, however, we are becoming more uneasy with this act of discriminating between true and false ideas. Perhaps we, wrongly, assume that to do so would be to discriminate against people. This business of reading and seeing aright is essential to the progress of knowledge and is a key to what we do in the university. Related to that, the Renaissance of Bacon, da Vinci, and Shakespeare gave us the method of science, perspective in art, and dramatic point of view. In the literature of Shakespeare especially, these concerns come to a head, as narrative perspectives shift and clash, and those unable to overcome their limitations in point of view most often arrive at a tragic end. Shakespeare creates a literature that reads its various audiences, including its misreaders, and offers instructive lessons for us today.