Future Junior Faculty Fellows
Assistant Professor, English
Judging in the Company of Others: The Courtroom and the Stage after WWII
In the postwar years, theatre artists in Germany and the United States were confronted by a difficult question: how to define and legitimate a public role for theatre? On the one hand, playwrights and directors like Bertolt Brecht and Erwin Piscator were forced to confront the failure of the interwar avant-garde to stem the tide of Nazism. On the other hand, the twin specters of Fascism and Stalinism led theatre artists to reconsider their earlier ideals of collective transfiguration. At this precarious moment, playwrights and directors turned to legal proceedings as both a model for theories of staging and spectatorship and as a foil against which they defined theatre as an institution. Between 1945 and 1968, playwrights and directors in East and West Germany and the United States reenacted a broad range of historical and contemporary trials on stage, creating plays and performances based on courtroom transcripts and testimony. Whereas before the war, directors like Piscator had sought to transform their audiences into revolutionaries, they now sought to turn them into jurors.
Transcript-based trial plays proliferated at precisely the same moment as mass communication first made it possible for large audiences to listen to the trials on the radio and watch clips in newsreels and on television. Why reenact trials that people had already seen, heard, read about, or even attended? How did seeing reenactments of trials like the Nuremberg and Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials within the theatre change the ways audiences judged what they saw? To answer these questions, I combine a critical reading of Hannah Arendt’s political philosophy with extensive archival research about theatre performances between 1945 and 1968.
Assistant Professor, Modern Languages and Comparative Literature
Imprisoned in the Other: Dostoevsky and the Riddle of the Self
My book project, Dostoevsky and the Riddle of the Self, brings together philosophy, literary criticism, theology, and psychology in exploring Dostoevsky’s literary output as a prism for the convergence of multiple traditions and theories of the personality. I trace the evolution of Dostoevsky’s concept of the human being over the course of his career, confronting the apparent contradiction in his thought between, on the one hand, a rejection of the notion of an individual self and, on the other, a passionate dedication to the preservation of personal agency and interiority. As a result of this intense ambivalence regarding the status of the individual, he has been interpreted both as a Romantic defender of an indwelling essential soul and as a postmodern pioneer of outwardly constituted, relational concepts of selfhood. I argue that he synthesizes these two apparently mutually hostile perspectives through his examination of early childhood trauma and of the collapse and reconstitution of personal interiority.
Dostoevsky’s conception of the self-engaged some of the most influential thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many of whom developed their own distinct worldviews in conversation with Dostoevsky’s novels, embracing the Russian author as a religious prophet, an existential philosopher, or a decisive precursor of psychoanalysis, depending on the interpreter’s inclination. As a result, underlying the rich, interdisciplinary world of Dostoevsky studies today is a somewhat chaotic picture of where to situate Dostoevsky’s complex concept of the human being in European intellectual history. The major resurgence of literature on the self in the last few decades has, perhaps for this reason, ignored Dostoevsky’s important contribution almost entirely. In my book I explore how Dostoevsky understood the problem of the personality as central to Russia’s urgent, divisive culture war of the 19th century and, in his novelistic experimentation, attempted to rescue spiritual notions of self and soul for a new, non-religious and anti-ecclesiastical social context. In this sense, his innovative, synthetic concept of the personality holds value and relevance for contemporary scholars and thinkers of numerous philosophical and religious persuasions.
Assistant Professor, English
Modernism and the Narrative Cultures of Film
In my research, I am interested in how the character and task of literature has been redefined in response to the emergence of cinema. My book, Modernism and the Narrative Cultures of Film, details the institutional, stylistic and conceptual relays that linked literary and cinematic culture, and that fundamentally changed the nature of storytelling in the early twentieth century. As I show, the advent of the fiction film was an affront to conventional ideas of narrative form. The cinema—with its crude continuities, crowded theater, stock plots, and impersonal world of surfaces—modeled a fictional practice conspicuously devoid of either the cherished individuality or the socializing sensibility that the novel seemed designed to celebrate. And yet, the taunt of cinema’s deficiencies, where they caught the eye of modernist authors, tended to suggest fascination as well as aversion.
“Scene melts into scene; person into person,” wrote Virginia Woolf of the poverty of cinematic spectacle, naming an impatience with personal distinction that could just as easily describe her wilder fiction. “The most incongruous ideas can be arbitrarily associated, the limitations of time and space can be largely ignored,” protested Aldous Huxley on seeing Felix the Cat cartoons, only a few years before his own willfully anachronistic experiments in dystopia. The irony of these comments exemplifies the predominantly negative promise that early film held for writers: as a medium enviable not for the successes it achieved but for the lapses of taste it made obtrusive, and for the contradictions of address that it had the power to make attractive. I argue that it was modernist writers—Virginia Woolf, H.D., Henry Green, Aldous Huxley, among others—who most profoundly responded to film’s provocations and its lures, offering us valuable insight on how art changes with technology, and what it means to write “after film.”
Assistant Professor, History of Art and Architecture
Beatriz Gonzalez Strategic Localism and the Critique of Cultural Modernization in 1960s Colombia
During the 1960s and 1970s, one of the most influential Colombian artists of the twentieth century, Beatriz González, staged a critique of cultural institutions that pressured artists to produce “exportable” works promoting Latin American modernism. Her artistic engagements with provincial subject matter and materials, saturated with gender and class references, stood in stark contrast to the dominant geometric abstract, kinetic, and op art that rose to prominence as a new Latin American academicism. González’s exhibitions sparked prejudiced responses in the critical press; these reviews revealed that cultural institutions claimed to “advance culture” but instead functioned to sustain social hierarchies by reaffirming traditional Catholic gender norms, class distinctions, and patrimonial culture. González’s works serve as effective critical tools that interrogate representation itself, its construction within cultural circuits, and art’s relationship with symbolic violence. Her artistic practices prompted responses in the press that made audible many of the social prejudices that upheld both the ideals of global participation and the realities of social exclusion. My book explores this artist’s challenge to elite uses of artistic internationalism as a means to negotiate Cold War power relations and to maintain traditional social hierarchies.