Current Jeffrey Henderson Senior Research Fellows
Professor of History of Art and Architecture
Green Worlds in Renaissance Venice
My project considers the production in Renaissance Venice of green worlds, by which I mean the representational spaces of imaginary and actual pastoral landscapes. I aim to understand how the ecological concerns and geographic identity of Venice as an island and the imagining of Venice as an actual pastoral place in visual culture shaped the Venetian pastoral as a lived mode concerned with primitive origins, the utopian identity of the city, and the predatory and sensual energies of inhabited nature. By employing an approach derived from anthropology, geography, and poetics, I will investigate the role and historical development of landscape in sixteenth-century Venetian visual culture, the presumed dominance of human over landscape, and the relationship between landscape and gender, space and language. Although specifically focused on paintings, drawings, sculpture, and gardens, the project also considers poetry, maps, island atlases, travel writing, urban projects, and diaries.
Associate Professor, English
The Creative Rivalry Between Charles Dickens and Harriet Beecher Stowe
In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe replaced Charles Dickens as the bestselling author in the English-speaking world with her blockbuster novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. My project studies the relationship between the authors over time and through their work, arguing that their novels exhibit a profound mutual engagement. Competing, imitating, appropriating and reshaping each other’s techniques, Dickens and Stowe developed a unique hybrid genre structure that moves fluidly from sentiment to satire, realism to allegory, biting irony to low comedy, marshaling the resources of fiction to focus readers’ attention on the individual’s relation to systems of power such as American slave law and the British poor laws, Chancery and debtors courts. Surprisingly, the relationship between the two writers has received almost no critical attention, especially from Dickens scholars. Building on recent transatlantic Anglo-American literary studies and grounded in careful delineation of cultural, legal and literary context, my project aims to contribute new readings of novels by each author as well as new understandings of the circulation and reception of the politically-engaged novel in English in the mid-19th century.
Laura Korobkin was a Fellow during the 2012-2013 year, but was overseas. She will be joining the Fellows Seminar in 2013/2014.
Associate Professor of English
Textual Excess and Information Management in Nineteenth-Century Literature
Focusing on mass print culture and quantitative methods in nineteenth-century America and Britain, my project traces the historical roots of the relationship between literature and emerging forms of information management. The nineteenth century saw a dramatic rise in the authority of quantification—from the spread of numeracy and statistical science, to advances in probabilistic thinking and information theory. The nineteenth century also witnessed an unprecedented acceleration in the quantity and availability of print, stirring fantasies and fears of textual excess and putting particular pressures on literature. How does one read, write, and make aesthetic discriminations in a world overfull of books? What practices, technologies, and methods can bring order to textual superabundance? Or to use terms from our own homologous moment, what happens to literature and literary study during an information revolution?
Nineteenth-century authors and critics found such questions animating. From Coleridge and Emerson, to Dickens and Hawthorne, to Melville and Hardy, to sentimental and African American writers, the figures examined in this project self-consciously participated in the mediacy of their times. They creatively experimented with new ways of ordering textual excess and literary knowledge, while at the same time insisting that the aesthetic and interpretive claims of literature remain beyond the purview of compression, classification, standardization, aggregation, bureaucracy, quantification, and other forms of information management. Negotiations between literature and information are fundamental to the nineteenth century and help establish the conditions
Associate Professor of Classical Studies
The Others of the Self: Practices and Contexts of Selfhood in Ancient Rome
Did a new concept of selfhood, with a distinct individuality and personality like its modern counterpart, emerge in the first few centuries of the Roman empire? Writers of the period, across Epictetus’ philosophical teachings, Seneca’s letters, as well as literary works, offer innovative language and notions suggesting that we, humans, have the potential for developing a coherent self just as we can fall for its opposite, the ambivalent, passion-ruled rejection of reason. My project approaches the emergence of this language and notion of selfhood from a social and cultural historical perspective, and considers the “others” of this self: the contexts in which it was supposed to be presented. First I turn to the world of imperial ideals, and examine selfhood from the perspective of the broad imperial system of political, euergetistic, and religious leadership. Secondly, I analyze the realm of friends and spouses, revealing ideas of exchange and mutuality whether in philosophical letters, rhetorical guides to self-presentation and rules on dealing with one’s emotions.
Professor of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature
Rilke’s “New” Poems
Rainer Maria Rilke’s New Poems (1907–1908), influenced by the example of the sculptor Rodin, raise Rilke’s celebrated verbal craftsmanship to a high power of formal virtuosity. They have often been called “made things,” object-like poems known for intensely evoking objects of attention themselves (people, things, events). But I believe that on close inspection this collection is radical, even cubistic, in its perspectivism, dismantling the identity of its objects in the apparent act of presenting them. I am writing the first study in English of these poems in an attempt to show this, and say why it should be so.
Although Rilke is not always seen as a poet engaged with his times, history informs this gesture of “insubstantialization” in several ways. The early twentieth century was the end of an era in the European economic and social order, and the New Poems reflect not just the age’s trappings but the felt sensation of their slipping away. Variations on the motif of transitoriness, as much as fin-de-siècle scenery, enact the poems’ engagement with their cultural moment. In other poems, the elegiac appears in a fascination with material traces of the past that haunt the present. Empiricist psychology was also in the air, according with the fin de siècle disposition by analyzing experience as a flux of impressions, seeing the properties of objects as inseparable from the mind that perceives them and the mind as nothing but the continuous river of these perceptions. More, as each object is evoked in terms of things it is not, and as each ostensibly “isolating” poem incessantly calls to mind many others in the volume, the elegiac impulse becomes the occasion for a quasi-phenomenological investigation of the inseparability of the figure and ground of being, or of presence and absence. This phenomenology echoes the historical themes but goes far beyond it. The effect is potent – the celebrated feeling that these poems capture the quiddity of their objects is right – because it is a fact of our experience that things, like people, are often most strongly felt to be themselves when they are departing from what they recently were, or when they are irrevocably gone. Rilke’s own art in the New Poems is sometimes said to be an art of “das Seiende,” or Being. But what this poet most loves about the world is the way it is always turning up empty of itself, in reflections, in absences, in places where something just now was (but is no longer).