HUMANITIES RESARCH CENTER

Teaching Release Faculty Fellows

Natasha Bowdoin | Associate Professor, Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts
Nature as Stage
Nature as Stage pursues the idea of painting as a possible site for action, intervention, and activism. Interested in the ways in which artists, writers, zoologists, botanists, puppeteers and performers have shaped our collective understanding of the natural world, this project will manifest as a series of large-scale, outdoor, painterly "sets," envisioned as invitations for collaboration. These sets, akin to early 19th century stage design, will encourage artistic interventions with collaborations from the puppet, music and performance worlds. Research for this work will focus on artists and ecofeminist environments including those of Niki i Saint Phalle and Monster Chetwynd, anarchist puppet troupe manifestos, surrealist ballets and avant-garde theater. Nature as Stage creates a space to re-examine and cultivate a different relationship to the natural world at a critical juncture as we face and seek to redress catastrophic climate change and environmental destruction on an epic scale. In this new nature, permeability and instabiity of form are championed, creating a sense of deep environmental holism, embracing the notion to take of oneself is to take care of the world, and vice versa.

Leo Costello | Associate Professor, Department of of Art History
Early Turner: The Artist Seen and Unseen in London 1795-1815
Early Turner will be the first book to subject this period of the artist's work to serious interpretative scrutiny as a stand-along category. It considers several overlapping ideas and themes in close, in-depth analyses of works of art, and a period as a whole, that has been overlooked. Some of these themes include: Turner's movement through the spaces of the city; the dichotomy between visibility and concealment in both his works and biography; the importance of close looking and surveillance in both political and artistic discourses; and changes in reception, both during the artist's lifetime and since, including late twentieth- and early twentieth-century art historians. This is Dr. Costello's second book on Turner, following J.M.W. Turner and the Subject of History (2012).

Sarah Ellenzweig | Associate Professor, Department of English
Verse, Rhyme, and the Novel in the Eighteenth Century
How have poets understood the difference between poetry and prose? My project argues that this question reached a king of breaking point in the eighteenth century, the period that witnessed both rhyme's apotheosis in the heroic couplet (paired lines of rhyming iambic pentameter), and the rise of fictional prose identified with the novel. My research looks at how these two developments are related. My hunch is that the rigidity of the heroic couplet is a symptom of English literary culture's longstanding anxiety about the status of vernacular verse and its difference from prose, an anxiety that was only exacerbated by the publication of Milton's notoriously unrhymed Paradise Lost in 1667. As the most obtrusive instance of rhymed verse, the heroic couplet screams its status as poetry to the world, yet it does so, I suggest with a kind of shrillness that belies its purported confidence. Critics have pointed to the proliferation of mock-heroic couplet forms in the period, and to the couplet's affinity for satire, irony, and novelization. But these discussions emphasize couplet content. My interest in Verse, Rhyme and the Novel in the Eighteenth Century is to suggest that couplet's affinity for satire is inextricalbe from the fact that it rhymes in the particularly insistent way that it does. Paradoxically, eighteenth-century couplet rhyme leads us back to the threat first posed by blank verse, that is, to the blurred distinction between poetry and prose, and untimately, I suggest, to the emergent world of the novel, that inferior narrative genre of comic compromise.

Sophie Esch | Associate Professor, Department of Modern and Classical Literatures and Cultures
Creatures in Conflict. Writing War Beyond the Human in Africa and Latin America
The project explores the interrelation of animals, humanity, and war in peripheral world literatures from the Global South, in particular non-Anglophone literature from Africa and Latin America. Drawing on a range of prose fiction from countries with recent armed conflicts, namely Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Mozambique, Angola, and both Congos, this book shows how authors develop complex visions of war by incorporating a host of nonhuman actors into the narrative. Animals, in particular, become crucial interlocutors for exploring various ecological, political, and affective dimensions of war. An invasive hippopotamus population in Colombia provokes a collective reckoning with trauma and vulnerability, whereas a beetle in the Lacandon jungle illustrates the possibilities and limits of liberation struggles. Contrary to the anthropocentrism of many war stories, these texts underscore the effect of war on nonhuman entities and vice versa. Bringing together environmental humanities, comparative literature, postcolonial and peace and conflict studies, Creatures in Conflict traces a political-literary ecology of war in the Global South that makes it possible to see the complex and peculiar relationships between human and nonhuman entities during war and its aftermath.

Charles Siewert | Robert & Kathryn Hayes Chair in Humanities, Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy
Subjectivity and Understanding
Siewert's project is to complete a book he has been working on for about ten years entitled, Subjectivity and Understanding, under contract with Oxford University Press. The book starts with a defense of the legitimacy and importance of a critically reflective ("introspective") self-knowledge in the face of a skepticism that's fairly common in both philosophy and psychology. It then draws on this kind of reflection in arguing for a view about what consciousness (or subjective experience) is, how that is involved in visual perception, conceptual thought, and affect, and how it makes possible warranted judgment both about itself and about one's surroundings. Finally, he proposes an account of how having experience of the sort described renders human beings deserving of moral concern and respect, and makes it rational to think we each have irreplaceable value as individuals.