Jayne Elizabeth Lewis 2930547

picture of Jayne Elizabeth Lewis

Professor, English
School of Humanities

Ph.D., Princeton University, 1988, English literature

Phone: (949) 824-6875
Fax: (949) 824-2916
Email: jelewis@uci.edu

University of California, Irvine
18 Joyce Court
Mail Code: 2650
Irvine, CA 92617
Research Interests
literature and religion; literature and medicine, restoration and 18th-century british literature; literature of the supernatural and gothic fiction; history and/of fiction;
Academic Distinctions
SOH Teaching Excellence Award (2016)
ACLS Fellowship
UC President's Fellowship
NEH Summer Stipend
NEH Fellowship
UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award
Appointments
UCLA (1988-2004)
UC Irvine (2004-present)
Research Abstract
In my current research project, I join a growing community of religious studies scholars and literary historians. We are committed to the premise that the unmediated encounters with reality that call themselves “mystic” are not residual epistemologies forged in medieval religious thought and experience. They are instead what we might call proleptic (and dynamic) artifacts of modernity. Encounters with such artifacts potentially revise conventional understandings of what modernity is and means. They do so at the level of the linguistic subjects—the specific persons discernible in and through sensible words—that arise through interaction with the elements of self-consciously modern lexical conventions, technologies, and practices.

My own project, MYSTIC CHARACTERS, both reconsiders and employs a unique and long-disparaged suite of philological practices that developed in the British Enlightenment. Whereas eighteenth-century philology, at least in English, has been understood as an emergent and explicitly secular conception of words and the structures they compose as historical and material—empirical and categorizable—objects, I track equally radical philologies that not only foreground philo (love and the attendant the interpenetration of subjects) as an aspect of the logos that modern philology objectified but do so within a specific spiritual genealogy oriented toward mystery. In this genealogy key elements of modern English are seen as continuous with the Greek and especially Hebrew characters and phrases of the past. If they present literally as alphabetical, such characters autonomously configured themselves into phrases (defined by Michel de Certeau as idiosyncratic "manners of speaking" that become the units of the modern "mystic fable").They were also personified in such biblical figures as Moses, David, and Paul. In all of these guises--alphabetical, phraseological, characterological--mystic characters were supposed to manifest in and through modern print and post-Reformation conventions of punctuation, citation, typography, and orthography.

MYSTIC CHARACTERS has three faces. The first looks toward several alternative philologies that scholars usually consider to have been supplanted over the eighteenth century: studies of the ancient Hebrew character (and the linguistic forms into which it was composed) that were allegedly eclipsed by Robert Lowth’s LECTURES ON THE SACRED POETRY OF THE HEBREWS (1775 Latin/ 1787 English); co-creative analysis of the phraseologies of the Lord’s Prayer, the Decalogue, the Hebrew wisdom books that treated them as what Isaac Watts called “Pieces of experimental Divinity”; and character studies of such inspired biblical figures as David and Moses.

In its second aspect, MYSTIC CHARACTERS offers several case studies centered on the life writing of several highly irregular English persons of the eighteenth century: the fossil collector John Hutchinson, the shorthand inventor John Byrom, the prolific, blind Philadelphian oracle Jane Leade, the reluctant Behemist and popular devotional writer William Law, and the psalmodist Christopher Smart. These figures, I find, developed and indeed conceived of themselves as linguistic objects—mobile icons—within an alphabetical and compositional system that followed the operations of what Hutchinson called “sacred Physicks.” Such self-conceptions modeled transpersonal identity forms and styles of life (casts of character) that can be experienced in unique ways through idiosyncratic engagement with the mediating forms of letters and through the authorial characters projected in and through them.

The last part of MYSTIC CHARACTERS engages the twentieth-century cultural icon Helen Keller’s mystical self-embodiment within the literally digital practice of letters. I approach Keller as a modern mystical character whose uniquely reflexive, optimistic, and metaphorically embodied spiritual life was simultaneously communicated and organized through letters spelled into her hands. Keller also modeled intimate forms of access to others’ specific realities through the negative space that the mystical character opens as a dimension of identity. Keller’s work and image reprise Enlightenment’s mystical characterologies within modern lexical technologies and techniques, thereby projecting the modern mystic character into postmodernity. That character can sometimes be accessed in revolutionary ways, as witness BLIND RAGE, Georgina Kleege’s defiantly imagined 2006 biography of Keller. In Kleege’s hands, Keller takes shape as a fictional character whose supersensual periphery is realized through the physical act of manipulating a computer keyboard.
Publications
RELIGION IN ENLIGHTENMENT ENGLAND (Baylor, 2016)
 
AIR'S APPEARANCE: LITERARY ATMOSPHERE IN BRITISH FICTION, 1660-1794 (Chicago, 2012)
 
MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS: ROMANCE AND NATION Routledge, 2000)
 
THE ENGLISH FABLE: AESOP AND LITERARY CULTURE, 1650-1740 (Cambridge, 1995)
 
(with Lisa Zunshine) APPROACHES TO TEACHING THE WORKS OF JOHN DRYDEN_ (MLA, 2013)
 
(with M.E. Novak) ENCHANTED GROUND: REIMAGINING JOHN DRYDEN (Toronto, 2005)
 
THE TRIAL OF MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS: A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY(Bedford, 2000)
Last updated
07/16/2018