The Rhetoric of the Backlash

Still no real argument in my dissertation, but the prospectus is done, and now I’m trying to continue my thinking in preparation for my qualifying exam. So, right on schedule, I think I have a new direction for my argument-less dissertation. As one of my committee members pointed out, it looks like I’m partly interested in writing a reception history of sensation novels and their theatrical adaptations. In fact, adaptations are part of reception, so this could be a focus I should pursue more deeply.

I don’t have any specific ideas about this yet, but I want to record this thought, since it’s something I want to come back to. And it reminds me of the origin of my interest in this project. When I first decided to research sensation literature and adaptation, I was thinking of one of my groups of friends, who all had newly-minted master’s degrees in English, but who were all–gasp!–reading the Twilight series. I read the series, too, when I needed some brainless reading right after having finished my master’s thesis. And why do I feel the need to preface my reading of Twilight with the peer-pressure excuse (all my friends were doing it!) and the “look how smart I usually am” excuse (I have a master’s degree!)??? Because of the backlash that attends any hugely successful pop-culture phenomenon. And maybe the rhetoric of the backlash is something I should take more seriously for my project. (As it relates to sensation fiction, not to Twilight, of course.)

Here’s some of that backlash against Twilight:

But, just like with sensation fiction, there’s always a backlash against the backlash:


And since Twilight is also embroiled in issues of adaptation, I think it’s an apt enough parallel to my project. I’m not particularly interested in Twilight as a novel, a cultural object, or anything other than entertainment, really. What originally interested me about the entire phenomenon was the reactions and conversations of a group of well-educated adults who found themselves connecting with this bizarre, scoffed-at teenage fantasy. I’m interested in the jokes my friends and I told as we watched the movies (yes, in the theater), good-naturedly making fun of ourselves for watching something so…. what? Childish? Unrealistic? Feminine? I’m interested in the justifications we used, the conversations we had about the books/movies, and of course, the sensations that the movies evoked. Because, like it or not, this is a series about courtship, marriage, unregulated sex/sexual desire, the care of children, love triangles, appetite, and the grotesque body. This is the progeny of Victorian melodrama, so I think it’s as good a reason as any for starting a project on Victorian popular fiction, adaptation, and sensation. 

Stay tuned for more on…. the rhetoric of the backlash!!!


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