Monday, November 19, 2012

Chiji Akọma

Chiji Akọma, PhD (Binghamton University—SUNY)
Associate Professor
My field is contemporary Anglophone African and African Diaspora literatures, including African oral performance studies. I’m particularly interested in Caribbean folklore and literary traditions, African oral literature, drama, fiction, postcolonial studies; and lately, I have been looking at black British literature, with its complicated yet dynamic delineation of blackness. But in my most recent research efforts, I have been drawn into the task of recovering Igbo language fiction, especially as this body of literature from south eastern Nigeria appears to have been drowned out by the resounding success of such writers as Chinua Achebe, Elechi Amadi, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who are Igbo authors, addressing the Igbo experience, but writing in the English language. In light of this imbalance, I am working on a book on Igbo popular theatre based on a television series set in the colonial era. The work attempts to find new uses for postcolonial theory even as it privileges the exploration of Igbo folk aesthetics in drama.

My first book, Folklore in New World Black Fiction, examined the fiction of two Americans, Toni Morrison and Jean Toomer, and two Guyanese, Wilson Harris and Roy Heath, for the myriad of ways they call attention to the intersections between orality and literacy, especially in relation to African oral performance aesthetics. The book organizes the major works by these writers around a grammar of meaning that I locate within an African Diaspora sensibility. I like the dynamism of oral performance, and I’m especially grateful for the fact that Africa and parts of the Caribbean still have artists who continue to maintain and expand the creative and intellectual capacities of African oral traditions, despite the seeming dominance of the written tradition. As the Vice President of the International Society for the Oral Literatures of Africa (ISOLA), I’m privileged to have the front view of the exciting research going on in the field. I am also co-editing with Nduka Otiono a collection of essays on the subject entitled, Beyond Text: Issues in African Oral Literature and Diaspora Studies. The volume is in honor of the work of Isidore Okpewho, one of the influential scholars of African oral traditions.

I have a passing interest in African cinema, but the more I observe the wildly popular Nigerian movie industry, commonly called Nollywood, the more I more I rub my gray beard in contemplation and say, Hmmm…

Michael Berthold

My current research focuses on nineteenth-century literary representations of Johnny Appleseed, the iconic alter-ego of real-life nurseryman John Chapman. The cultural exaltation of Johnny Appleseed stands as a sustained exercise in American hagiography that since the nineteenth-century has transfigured Chapman the man (in the words of various commentators) into a “patron saint of the American orchards” and “one of America’ half-dozen favorite folk heroes.” But the legend has been mainly inscribed in children’s literature and sweetened and attenuated in the process. 

My intention is to recover the irreducible strangeness of Johnny Appleseed and argue for the adult importance of the figure by examining his earliest appearances in American literature. In an essay I published earlier this year in The Journal of American Culture I examined Appleseed’s literary debut in James M’Gaw’s little-known 1858 novel Philip Seymour. I am currently working on an article about Denton J. Snider’s extensive revision of the narrative. Snider, one of the St. Louis Hegelians, recasts Appleseed as both a neo-Hegelian World Spirit and orphic poet—a “new-World fate-compeller” in Snyder’s words. I think Snider’s Appleseed might be the most ambitious (and possibly bizarre) rendering of the figure that American literature has witnessed.

Alice Dailey

My primary field of study is early modern literature, with a secondary field in literature of the Middle Ages. My research coheres around a broad set of questions about how stories of violence are told and retold. I’m interested in the literary structures that organize and rehearse acts of violence, especially structures that rely on the audience’s recognition of an old death in a new form. In particular, my work looks at sixteenth- and seventeenth-century reiterations of historical, literary, and religious scenes of violence that are inherited from earlier models, be they biblical, patristic, medieval, or relatively contemporary. My work considers the forms reiteration takes in the context of discrete historical moments of literary production, considering how both sedimented and emerging literary structures exert constitutive pressure over historical events.

These interests have led to two main projects focused on rather disparate literary materials. The first is a forthcoming book, The English Martyr from Reformation to Revolution, which studies the development of English martyrological literature from the late Middle Ages to the execution of King Charles I in 1649. This book considers how the martyrological form—traditionally defined by strict paradigm repetition—attempts to reconcile the broad range of individuals, beliefs, and persecutions seeking legitimation through martyrdom during the tumultuous period of the English Reformation. My current research project focuses on Shakespeare’s English chronicle plays. This work brings together theories of performance, memory, trauma, and somatics to think about the representation of dead, dismembered, and remembered historical bodies on the early modern stage. These two projects likewise summarize my principal teaching areas: hagiography and martyrology, religious polemics of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, medieval Passion drama, Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and Shakespeare in performance.

Joseph Drury

I teach courses on eighteenth-century and Romantic British literature. I have a particular interest in the history and theory of the novel, the history of science and technology and its intersections with literary culture, material culture and "thing theory," and the history of sexuality. I am working on a book, titled The Machine in the Novel: Science, Technology and the Form of Eighteenth-Century British Fiction, which explores how novelists responded to the new prominence of machines in eighteenth-century British culture, and shows in particular how the distinct narrative dynamics of the period’s fiction were shaped by the effort to turn the novel itself into an Enlightenment machine.

Travis Foster

I write and teach about American literature up to roughly 1900. My current work focuses on how popular literary conventions influence social life. I’m particularly interested in those moments when widespread aesthetic forms challenge normative modes of social, familial, and national belonging. Hence the project I’m completing, Democratic Affections: Literary Convention and the Politics of Friendship in Civil War America, identifies a body of widely circulating yet critically neglected texts that depart from dominant postbellum historiography by fermenting dissent and division rather than national reunion and racialized fraternity. Because the project’s archive—campus novels, regionalist sketches, gospel sermons, and over one-hundred Civil War elegies—resists dominant close reading methods, I’m also interested in critical practices more attentive to the conventional, including distant reading, uncritical reading, genre criticism, and performance studies.

My next project—tentatively titled The Queer Lives of Plants: Sex, Botany, Literature—takes up another popular (and popularizing) nineteenth-century discourse, botany. In my research so far, I’m finding that writers from Erasmus Darwin to Henry David Thoreau to H.D. used botany for two overlapping purposes: first, to represent gendered and sexual deviance among humans and, second, to construe ecology as a set of affectively rich exchanges between humans and other carbon-based life. My overarching aim here will be to trace a 150-year genealogy of queer ecological thought that de-naturalizes “nature” and conceptualizes intimacy beyond the interpersonal to what we might broadly call the inter-material.



Heather Hicks

I teach and do research in the areas of post-1945 fiction, postmodern theory, feminist fiction and theory, science fiction, and contemporary film. My book, The Culture of Soft Work: Labor, Gender, and Race in Postmodern American Narrative, explores a range of texts, from comic strips, management textbooks, Broadway musicals, and Hollywood films, to postmodern fiction by Kurt Vonnegut, Joanna Russ, Marge Piercy, and others, in order to map the cultural responses to the emergence of what I call “soft work”—labor practices driven by a set of post-World War Two management techniques, including human relations, self-actualization, and corporate culture, which conceived of workers primarily as emotional beings.

I’m currently working on a project that explores recent apocalyptic fiction written by major literary figures, including Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy, Jeanette Winterson, David Mitchell, Colson Whitehead and others. On the broadest, formal level, I’m interested in what happens when the novel, the quintessential literary expression of modernity, mingles with the much older apocalyptic tradition, which, since the Enlightenment, has become the story of the fall of modernity. In the context of work written in the last decade or so, these issues are further complicated by the rejuvenation of a perceived civilizational conflict between the forces of modernity and anti-modernity effected by the events of September 11th, 2001. Other questions I’m currently mulling over in relation to this project have to do with the vexed status of historicism in this body of recent fiction, which seems deeply invested in more cyclical and mythic modes of temporality; the significance of the sublime as a category in these narratives’ visions of cataclysm; the popularity of apocalyptic narratives among young adult readers; and what all of this might or might not have to do with a number of other social, economic, and historical paradigms, including globalization, neoliberalism, and the end of the cold war.

Brooke Hunter

Hunter undertakes the typical peregrina (pilgrim) activity of washing clothing at the end of a day of walking while on the 500 mile traditional medieval pilgrimage to Compostela de Santiago this summer.
I teach and write about medieval literature, especially the vernacular literature of the fourteenth century and the movement of philosophical and scholarly works into the vernacular. Nearly all of my scholarship is somehow connected to the work of Geoffrey Chaucer. My research looks at the multiple avenues through which intellectual texts were received and digested: in vernacular translations of scholarly works (e.g. Chaucer’s Boece or Treatise on the Astrolabe), Latin commentaries, teaching texts, medieval writings that ventriloquize the voices of auctores (e.g. Pseudo-Boethius or Pseudo-Aquinas), and the spoof texts and in-jokes of humorous university writing. I am working on a project about the reception of Boethian and Pseudo-Boethian works as school texts, vernacular translations, and spoofs—right now I’m writing about the unlikely topic of Boethian humor! Psychoanalytic theory informs much of my thinking, especially the ways in which misrecognition and affective responses to scholarly work from the Middle Ages reflect on contemporary university research and education.

Courses:
Chaucer; Medieval Romance; Literature of Heaven and Hell; The Fabulous Middle Ages; British Tradition, I.

Publication:
“Remenants of Things Past: Memory and the Knight’ s TaleExemplaria 23.2 (2011)

Education:
Ph.D. from University of Texas at Austin in 2010.

Kamran Javadizadeh

My teaching and research focus on modern American poetry, though my interests often lead me out from that center—both horizontally (into twentieth-century American literature and culture) and vertically (into the long history of poetry and poetics). My current book project, Bedlam & Parnassus: The Institutional Life of Modern American Poetry, begins by observing the historical coincidence that, from where they sat in 1950, both Ezra Pound and Elizabeth Bishop could observe the dome of the United States Capitol. What makes that coincidence fascinating is the stark difference in their circumstances. Bishop was serving a one-year term as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (the position we now call Poet Laureate); the view from her corner office was meant to signal her proximity to power. Pound, on the other hand, was an inmate in St. Elizabeths Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He would be confined there for thirteen years in order to avoid being prosecuted on treason charges for his wartime radio broadcasts, and he could just barely make out the dome of the Capitol, three miles away, through the hemlocks outside the window in his cell. What would it mean to think of these two poets—together—as a composite figure for the American poet at mid-century? I begin with that question—and wind up answering others, too, along the way: What did Robert Lowell see when he looked in the mirror? How did Weldon Kees disappear? And why does Sylvia Plath’s voice sound so odd?

In my next project, I plan to think about the surprising resonance between the lyric poem and epistolary writing over a period which spans the distance, roughly, between the introduction of airmail (and modernism’s global imagination) at the beginning of the twentieth-century, and of email, Facebook, and Twitter (and our culture’s anxiety about the loss of solitude) a century later.

My work has appeared so far in The Yale Review and Arizona Quarterly.

Joseph Lennon

Joseph Lennon, Director, Irish Studies Program
Associate Professor, Department of English
I specialize in Irish Studies, but my research also generally follows the influence of colonialism and its effects in Ireland, Britain, and India. I have written primarily on the Irish Literary Revival, including authors such as W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, August Gregory, James Stephens, and James and Margaret Cousins. But as with the range of my first book, Irish Orientalism: A Literary and Intellectual History (2004, 2008), my research interests stretch back to medieval origin legends and up to modern and contemporary Irish writing.

My work on Irish Orientalism has led me to investigate the origins of the ideas and practices of cross-colonial hunger striking in Ireland, Britain, and India. My current book project focuses on the first modern hunger strike by the Scottish artist Marion Wallace-Dunlop in London's Holloway Prison in 1909. After discovering her diaries and letters in a London attic, the book project was born; it closely reads texts of the day—plays, novels, newspapers, histories—situating her own writing, paintings, and protests within the intellectual moment of 1909. I am especially interested in how these texts, like the protests of the time, articulate matrices of power. This work, as well as my work on hunger representations in Ireland and India, examines how the cultural production of desire, hunger, and gender impinge on modern consumer culture.

I also write poems and have an interest in contemporary poetry and drama, particularly that of Ireland.

Crystal Lucky

I teach 19th and 20th century African American literature, including fugitive slave narratives, contemporary novels of slavery, works of the Harlem Renaissance, the African American short story and the works of Toni Morrison and August Wilson.

While my teaching range is somewhat broad, my research interests are focused on the narrative and cultural productions of black women preachers. My current book project, On the Threshing Floor: African American Women’s Piety in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century, seeks to trace the image of the pious black woman, whom I define as dedicated to enacting and promoting the tenets of Protestant Christianity, as both an historical and a cultural figure from her appearance in autobiographical and expository writing and visual images of the nineteenth century through her reinvention in American literary and popular cultural forms of the early- to mid- twentieth century. The study posits that fictionalized representations of black women’s piety often contradict the documented histories of black pious women as respected members of their civic and religious communities and as important contributors to the progression of the black church during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. From the 1830s to the 1890s, the black pious woman was most often identified as an itinerant preacher, public speaker and leader of her enslaved brothers and sisters in the narrative productions of a black women’s intellectual tradition. As the century progressed and transitioned into the next, however, popular representations of black women’s piety replaced the women’s own narrative depictions of themselves within an American cultural imagination. The pious black woman of the 1890’s through the 1950’s reemerged in hyper-sexualized, emotional, irrational, and blindly devoted iterations in fiction, film and visual images. Such representations belied the women’s earlier descriptions of themselves as clear-thinking, intelligent, faithful, and adhering to socially conservative middle-class deportment. Ultimately, I wish to draw conclusions about how black women's piety has functioned in American culture and how it has gained considerable capital in contemporary society.

Jean Lutes

I specialize in American women writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Inspired in part by my first career as a newspaper reporter, I have always been fascinated by the dynamic exchange between journalistic practices and literary work. My first book, Front-Page Girls: Women Journalists in American Literature and Culture, argued that the gritty, male-dominated vision of newspaper work associated with the rise of literary realism in the United States obscures a vibrant alternative tradition of women’s reporting. That tradition featured not objectivity and detachment, but rather material embodiment and emotional engagement.

I am now working on a book about mass print culture, emotionality, and women’s narratives in early twentieth-century America, when dramatic changes in the literary marketplace and in women’s social roles helped to make the question of how women really felt seem especially pressing. At the same time, the terrain of feeling was itself being redefined by the immensely powerful engine of mass print culture. The psychic interiority upon which sentimental narratives relied was, in effect, turned inside out by the explosion of cheap newsprint, which allowed newspapers to circulate intimate details in a form that was accessible to far more readers than even the most widely read novel. The first part of the book examines three influential modes of mass-market journalism that were associated with intense emotion: syndicated advice columns, lynching reports, and sensational murder-trial coverage. The second part of the book examines how novelists responded to the new centrality of emotional style.

As co-director of the Gender and Women’s Studies program at Villanova, I seek to honor and nurture the interdisciplinary work of feminist scholarship, which has shaped my own research interests in profound ways. I regularly review manuscript submissions for scholarly journals, and I have served on the editorial boards of Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature and Legacy: Journal of American Women Writers. Recently I have taught graduate courses on queer theory, emotion and mass culture in American literature, and modernist style in the American novel.

Hugh Ormsby-Lennon

Shopping at the Piazza Santo Spirito
food market in Florence, Italy.
Irish-blooded, Bloomsbury-born, King’s-and-Penn-educated, I bring a gallimaufry of angles and epistemologies to research, writing, and pedagogy. To teachers at the City of London School I owe a proficiency in close reading and practical criticism. As a Cambridge undergraduate, I witnessed one of the originary Anglo-American (re)births of la nouvelle critique. 

Ever since, this fascinating misbegotten Gallic creed has informed, and malformed, my own conceits and conceptions. A brace of books (Fools of Fiction, Hey Presto!), a gaggle of essays, and sundry scribbles on themes so diverse, but not discrete, as Jonathan Swift, William Trevor, metaphor and madness, Prague structuralism, Rosicrucian linguistics, secret societies and esoteric codes, early modern medicine and quackery, Quaker shibboleths and apocalypticism, seventeenth-century cargo cults, eighteenth-century pornography, popular culture and parlary, freak shows and monster-theory, medicine shows, transatlantic studies, colonial Philadelphia, London’s psychogeography, Gnosticism, universal languages, Russian Futurism, the ethnography of communication, Alan Moore, Doctor Who (two Villanova MAs dedicated their excellent book The Greatest Show in the Galaxy [2007] to me as “Time Lord Emeritus”), the starts and ends of new religions, film history and theory (once upon a time in Philadelphia, I made a movie Basic Training) have left none of my classrooms untouched. I still sweat, with savage indignation, over Jonathan Swift (fresh essays are currently moving from back- to front-burners) and I shall have more to say, world and time amenable, about eighteenth-century literature and Anglo-Irish authors. On a third book--provisionally entitled Mankind’s Epitome: Jonathan Swift and Benjamin Franklin--I continue to moil.