Adhaar Noor Desai, "Blotted Lines: Early Modern English Literature and the Poetics of Discomposition" (Cornell UP, 2023)


Almost every student that will enroll in a college Shakespeare course can expect two things. Students will have to engage with the style and themes of texts that were composed over four hundred years old. And students will have to submit a piece of original writing that is well-organized, has a fresh argument, and cites early modern sources correctly. Rarely do these two tracks of the course inform each other. Adhaar Noor Desai’s new book, Blotted Lines: Early Modern English Literature and the Poetics of Discomposition (Cornell University Press, 2023) seeks to address this disjunction. As Desai shows, the early modern archive proposed strategies and ideas about writing that students and teachers might profitably learn—and sometimes unlearn.

The innovative structure of Blotted Lines has an introduction, a coda, and five chapters that pair a topic from early modern poetics with a key writer: style (George Gascoigne), invention (Philip Sidney), revision (John Davies of Hereford), editing (Anne Southwell) and performance anxiety (William Shakespeare). After each chapter, Desai offers a brief conversational “reflection,” which offer a combination of practical teaching advice for the Shakespeare classroom and more expansive discussions about pedagogy in the twenty-first century university.

Desai is Professor of English at Bard College and is one of the co-founders of the Experimental Humanities Collaborative Network, an international project that brings together practitioners working at the intersection of technology, social justice, and creative practice. His scholarship has been published in English Literary Renaissance, Philological Quarterly, Configurations, Publicity and the Early Modern Stage, and Teaching Social Justice through Shakespeare. Blotted Lines is his first monograph.

John Yargo is Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Boston College. He earned a PhD in English literature from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, specializing in the environmental humanities and early modern culture. In 2023, his dissertation won the J. Leeds Barroll Prize, given by the Shakespeare Association of America. His peer-reviewed articles have been published or are forthcoming in the Journal for Early Modern Culture Studies, Early Theatre, Studies in Philology, and Shakespeare Studies.

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John Yargo

John Yargo is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Humanities at Boston College. He holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His specializations are early modern literature, the environmental humanities, and critical race studies. His dissertation explores early modern representations of environmental catastrophe, including William Shakespeare's The Tempest, Aphra Behn's Oroonoko, and John Milton's Paradise Lost. He has published in Early Theatre, Studies in Philology, The Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, and Shakespeare Studies.

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