Christopher GoGwilt

Parroting Art

Fordham English Professor Christopher GoGwilt in Central Park with a pair of starlings (Photo by Tom Stoelker. This photo and the accompanying story--also by Tom Stoelker-- originally appeared in Fordham News  on January 17, 2018)

Fordham English Professor Christopher GoGwilt in Central Park with a pair of starlings (Photo by Tom Stoelker. This photo and the accompanying story--also by Tom Stoelker--originally appeared in Fordham News on January 17, 2018)

A new book of essays published by Fordham University Press titled Mocking Bird Technologies: The Poetics of Parroting, Mimicry, and Other Starling Tropes, examines the role that starlings, parrots, and other mockingbirds play in literature, both as motifs and as metaphors. Fordham Professor of English Christopher GoGwilt, Ph.D., edited the book with Melanie D. Holm, Ph.D., assistant professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Are you a bird watcher?

I wouldn’t style myself a bird-watcher, but I am fascinated—actually I’m a bit obsessed—with one particular bird: the starling.

What intrigues you about them?

They’re pretty much the common birds that you see all around the city, iridescent with speckles. But they’re not natural to the Americas. In the late nineteenth century, a man called Eugene Schieffelin took it as his project to populate the United States with all the birds in Shakespeare. In the early 1890s he released two flocks of European starlings in Central Park and now you find them all across North America. Starlings, like parrots, can be trained to talk; but in the wild they imitate whatever sounds are going on in the environment and use the bits and pieces of what they hear to make up parts of their song.

Like the sounds of the city?

You may think you’re hearing the squeaking wheel of a cab, but it might well be a starling in a tree or on a lamppost.

How did the book come about? 

Professor Holm and I put together a seminar on the topic of bird mimicry for the American Comparative Literature Association. Many of the people who have essays in this volume were part of that seminar. One of the fun discoveries for me was how deep and wide the historical scope of the pairing of parrot and starling is in literature.

Besides being a trope, how else do the parrot and starling relate to literature?

The person who has written the coda for this book, Sarah Kay (professor of French literature at New York University) focuses on medieval lyric and is an expert on troubadour poets. She’s written about two sides of troubadour poetry – the parrot’s way and the nightingale’s way. The parrot evokes parody, imitation, plagiarism, while the nightingale is associated with lyric originality. Kay argues that the troubadours made use of both mimicry and originality.

The troubadour is a rather Eurocentric figure. Is mimicry universal in art?

Our pairing of parrot and starling opens the whole question of bird mimicry to an even broader comparative and global perspective, reaching back to Sanskrit and Chinese literature. The Chinese novel, Dream of the Red Chamber(one of China’s four great original novels) features a parrot and a starling (or crested mynah). As with other traditions, birds are associated with the making of poetry, but also with the quoting of poetry, the parroting of poetry. In Sanskrit traditions, going back even further historically, you have parrots and starlings often linked together, and that’s the template for the book.

If everything is parroted, where’s the art? Is anything original?

Art usually requires both original creation and copying — like the starling, stealing bits from elsewhere.

Wouldn’t modernism represent a total break from tradition?

No, modernist art just returns to the terms of ancient questions about originality— explicitly so in the canonical American and British modernists, like Pound, Eliot, and Joyce. The break may create fragments, but they are still fragments of tradition. A collage, or mocking bird, technology.

Fordham Hosts June 2017 Conrad Conference


During the opening keynote lecture of “Conradian Crosscurrents: Creativity and Critique,” organized by the Joseph Conrad Society of America, Italian philosopher Adriana Cavarero asserted that Heart of Darkness “vibrates and hangs on the reader’s doors of perception.” In the audience, scholars and students of Conrad were already finding that the conference, too, was providing them with pieces of knowledge that would hang on their minds long after its conclusion.

 Held at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus, at the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in New York, and at the Kościuszko Foundation on June 1-3, 2017, the conference sought to reassess Conrad’s position at the cross-currents of contemporary creative and critical work of all kinds. Distinguished and emerging scholars presented papers on topics such as sound studies, race, science, history, politics, and biography. Along with Cavarero, James Clifford, J. Hillis Miller, and the novelist Margaret Cezair-Thompson gave keynote addresses. Co-sponsored by Fordham's Comparative Literature program and the English department, and with funding from the Dean of Arts & Sciences Faculty and the GSAS Dean, the conference was organized by Chris GoGwilt, Professor of English and Comparative Literature.

The steering committee for the Joseph Conrad conference. 

The steering committee for the Joseph Conrad conference. 

Three recent graduates of Fordham’s English MA program – Ryan Gilligan, John Miele, and Lindsey Pelucacci – also presented papers. Speaking on Heart of Darkness, Ryan argued for Marlow’s configuration as an incomplete Buddha who emerges as a fool at several points throughout his narration. Focusing on The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus,’ John Miele discussed the white liberal voice that commands the text, and Lindsey Pelucacci addressed the logical contradictions within the narrator’s sense of truth as a racialized construction.

For more on the conference, including photographs of events and accounts of keynote lectures, please visit the website.

Thanks to Lindsey Pelucacci for writing up this story

Fordham at the MLA

After the holidays but before spring semester classes start, Fordham English faculty will be flying across the continent to join thousands of other professors of literature and language at the annual conference of the Modern Language Association. The 2015 conference will take place from January 8 through 11 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Scholars travel to present their most recent research, and to share new ideas about teaching. The MLA conference is also where our English Ph.D. students go to interview for teaching and research jobs at other institutions around the world (and we wish them great success at their interviews!). 

Fordham faculty presenting at this year's MLA conference include:  

  • Lenny Cassuto, who will be on a special session titled “Teaching, Research, Service: A Close Reading.” 

  • Cornelius Collins, who will be chairing a panel on “Doris Lessing and Canada.”  

  • Heather Dubrow, who will be moderating a panel she organized on "Song and/in/as/versus Poetry in Medieval and Early Modern Literature. Professor Dubrow will also be participating in a roundtable discussion of "The Future of the Seventeenth Century." 

  • Chris GoGwilt, who will present a paper titled "Conrad and Joyce in i-Space."  GoGwilt will also formally take over as the incoming President of the Joseph Conrad Society of America, and invites everyone who is interested to attend the business meeting and dinner at 7pm on Friday, January 9 at Ukrainian Village Restaurant, 815 Denman Street (at Robson St.). In order to attend, send US $45 check payable to JCSA (or $25 for graduate students) to Mark Larabee, English Dept., U. S. Naval Academy, 107 Maryland Ave., Annapolis, MD 21402 , or else simply request a PayPal invoice ( no later than 24 December.

  • Rebecca Sanchez, who will be chairing a panel on "Disability Epistemology" and delivering a paper on "Border Epistemologies: George Washington Gómez and the Geopolitics of Genre"


If you're attending the conference and want to attend any (or all!) of these talks, you can find details in the conference program.

GoGwilt's book wins major prize from Modernist Studies Association


The Modernist Studies Association awarded its annual prize for "the book that made the most significant contribution to modernist studies" to The Passage of Literature: Genealogies of Modernism in Conrad, Rhys, and Pramoedya, by Fordham Professor of English and Comparative Literature Christopher GoGwilt. The prize was announced in Las Vegas on Saturday, October 20th, at the MSA's annual conference.

Congratulations to Dr. GoGwilt from all of us in the English Department!