The Routledge Companion to Humanism and Literature

deadline for submissions: 
June 15, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Michael Bryson, California State University Northridge
contact email: 

The Routledge Companion to Humanism and Literature

Edited by Michael Bryson


Reasons for Writing/Overview of Argument

In the wake of his recent book The Humanist (Re)Turn (Routledge 2019), Michael Bryson (see editor’s note at the end) is putting together an edited collection (now under contract at Routledge) re-assessing and re-asserting the value of Humanism in a posthumanist critical environment. The Routledge Companion to Humanism and Literature will include contributions from around the world while aiming at reformulated working definitions of Humanism as a response to an increasingly troubled age.

Why is this book necessary? Because something crucial is being forgotten/elided in current discussions of the flaws and exclusions of Humanism: the idea that Humanism began as (and in many ways remains) a perspective that reflects an urgent need to free ourselves from physical and intellectual tyranny. Originally, this manifested in the desire to escape both death and the domination of the gods. From that perspective, even ancient Mesopotamian works like GilgameshAtrahasis, and Job are Humanist, as they focus on human concerns, place humanity in opposition to mortality and the gods, and, in the latter case, serve as the oldest example we have of the “figure that stands up for humans against the gods” motif later made famous in the Promethean legends. Humanism, seen in this light, is a focus on specifically human problems, dilemmas, fears, aspirations, areas of knowledge and ignorance, etc. That focus often stems from a desire to transcend the limitations of a theistic, tyrannical, or otherwise limiting context that enforces the idea that human life is about accepting limits, about obedience, isolation, wanting less, accepting less, and doing/thinking/being what one is told before one finally dies. Seen through this lens, the Occitanian troubadours are asserting what might be called “Humanist” values, as is Ovid, as in a different way is a Persian poet like Ferdowsi, and/or the authors of Job and the Song of Songs, and of course, Thomas More, Shakespeare, Milton, and others into our own day, including a Syrian poet like Nizar Qabbani, a Palestinian-American spoken-word- poet like Suheir Hammad, a Chinese novelist and scholar like Qian Zhongshu, and many more.

But the definitions of Humanism at work in much recent postmodern/posthumanist theory ignore all of this—when they are not actively promoting the very attitudes that Humanism has long opposed. We have, of late, too- quickly and too-facilely abandoned the various ideas that inform what has been called Humanism in the modern era: 1) the “instrumental” tradition that places “Man” at the center of the world (insisting that humans can, through an objective knowledge of nature, shape nature to human ends—Descartes, Bacon, etc.); and 2) the “idealist” tradition (famous, for example, from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason) in which it is argued that the world exists meaningfully only insofar as it is reflected upon by and in human thinking; and also 3) the “dialectical” tradition (a kind of left-Hegelian position) in which it is maintained that the world is what it is at least partially through the influence and interaction of humans, and humans are what they are, in turn, through interaction with and influence from the world. Postmodern and posthumanist rejections of Humanism tend to conflate the first two positions, and then oppose the straw-man conflation while giving short shrift to the third position. This results in jumping to all kinds of extremes. For example, Slavov Žižek argues that human subjectivity is a lie, that the “first lesson of psycho-analysis is that this ‘richness of inner life’ is fundamentally fake.” Eileen Crist argues ominously for “contracting humanity’s scale and scope,” while Stefanie Fishel declares that “we have never been wholly human, biologically or otherwise,” and maintains that the category of the “human” is merely a repressive product of “the Enlightenment project.” Behind all of this lies the insistence of Frantz Fanon that we must “put an end to this narcissism according to which [Man] imagines himself different from other ‘animals’.” Posthumanism often seems like Antihumanism with a fresh coat of theoretical paint.

The Routledge Companion to Humanism and Literature will pursue a course correction to all of this, by reconnecting the Humanist project to the original sense of a need to escape from tyranny, seeking new (and recovering old) understandings of literature as a fundamentally Humanist art form and activity. Literature is among the most important elements in a reformulated set of definitions and understandings of Humanism, which aim to enhance empathy, not strive for domination, to include, not exclude, emphasizing connection and interdependence between humans, and between humans, other animals, and the environment. Postmodernism and posthumanism have pointed out the flaws and exclusions in previous definitions of Humanism, but The Routledge Companion to Humanism and Literature, as it seeks to define literature as a core expressive form and a core constitutive element of newly-reformulated understandings of Humanism, can serve as a necessary correction.

 List of Sections and Chapters

This collection is currently envisioned as consisting of 25-30 chapters, ranging from 8,000 to 10,000 words (including apparatus—endnotes and bibliography following CMOS 17), including contributions from scholars around the world, and divided into three overarching categories. It will open with the editor’s introduction, which will include an explication of the collection’s aims, and a summary of current scholarly trends in the field, and a raison d'etre for the collection itself. The editor will also contribute one chapter, and possibly another. Currently, three overall sections are envisioned for the book, with a series of topics to be addressed by contributors to each (essays may cover more than one subtopic, and topics/subtopics may alter with input from contributors, so the list below is provisional and very much open to change based on the interests of the contributors):


1) Humanism and Literature: Histories and Developments

  1. Humanism in the Classical World: Poetry
  2. Humanism in the Classical World: Philosophy
  3. Confucian Humanism: Confucius and the Classical Era in China
  4. Humanism in Late Antiquity
  5. Humanism in Medieval Europe
  6. Humanism in Medieval Persia: The Poetry of Nuwas, Khayyam, and Hafiz
  7. Humanism in the European Renaissance
  8. Confucian Humanism: Ogyu Sorai and the Early Modern Era in Japan
  9. Humanism in the European Enlightennment
  10. Humanism in the Romantic and Victorian Eras
  11. Humanism in 18th- and 19th-century Russian and Armenian Literature
  12. Humanism in American Literature
  13. Humanism and Marxism

2) Humanism and Literature: Debates and Contestations

a) Challenges to Humanism and the Human Subject in Philosophy and Theory

  1. Rousseau, Locke, and the Blank Slate
  2. Immanuel Kant and the Limits of Knowledge
  3. Marxism and Humanism and Antihumanism
  4. Roland Barthes and the Death of the Author
  5. Michel Foucault and the New Historicism
  6. Lacan and Post-Freudian Psychoanalysis
  7. Deleuze and Guattari and Bodies Without Organs
  8. Posthumanism and Antihumanism: From Nietzsche to Haraway to Braidotti

b) Challenges to Humanism and the Human Subject in Literature

  1. Stéphane Mallarmé and the Disappearance of the Author
  2. Andre Breton and Surrealism
  3. Philip K. Dick and the Android
  4. The Wachowskis and The Matrix
  5. Humanist and Posthumanist Perspectives in Graphic Novels and Comics

3) Humanism and Literature: New Definitions

  1. The New Humanism: “Man is the Measure of All Things”: Or, What Protagoras Really Meant
  2. The New Humanism: Shakespeare Studies and the Human Subject
  3. The New Humanism: Qian Zhongshu and the Literary Response to Maoism
  4. The New Humanism: Nizar Qabbani, Suheir Hammad, and the Poetry of Resistance
  5. The New Humanism: Alternate Perspectives from Psychoanalysis and Theory
  6. The New Humanism: Digital Humanism
  7. Conclusion: Literature, Transcendence, and the Recovery of the Human

 Due Date for Contributions

Routledge is asking for a completed manuscript by September 15, 2021, so individual contributor manuscripts should be submitted to the volume editor by no later than June 15, 2021 to allow for any and all necessary communication and revision at the pre-submission-to-the-press stage.

 Credentials of the Editor

Michael Bryson received his PhD in 2001 from Northwestern University, and he is the author of several articles on the Bible and Renaissance literature, and four books of literary criticism/scholarship to date: two books on the poetry, prose, and politics of John Milton (The Tyranny of Heaven, and The Atheist Milton), one book (Love and its Critics) on poetry and criticism from the Song of Songs into the early modern and modern eras, and most recently The Humanist (Re)Turn with Routledge.