Scholarship

Faculty Workshop on Doris Lessing

On Wednesday, April 10th, Fordham faculty members gathered for a workshop on the Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing (1919-2013). Professor Chris GoGwilt convened the group, and he and Professor Anne Fernald moderated the conversation.

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After short papers by Profs. Seda Arikan and Cornelius Collins, the group discussed Lessing's evolving ethical commitments over her long career.

Among other issues, the group discussed Lessing's shift from an ethics of virtue in the 1950s (as seen in the Children of Violence novel cycle) toward an ethics of self-care by the 1980s (as seen in the novel The Good Terrorist); her short story "An Old Woman and Her Cat," her wider interest in cats and the nonhuman, and how that might connect to a contemporary ethics that extends beyond the human; how Lessing's dedication to Sufism compares with Iris Murdoch's Platonism; and Lessing's often unrecognized irony, humor, and gift for satirical mimicry.

Seda Arıkan teaches at Firat University in Turkey at the Department of Western Languages and Literatures. She is at Fordham as a visiting scholar and currently working on her book about ethics in Doris Lessing's novels. 

Cornelius Collins teaches literature and writing here in the Fordham English department, and he is the outgoing president of the Doris Lessing Society and will soon take the helm as co-editor-in-chief of Doris Lessing Studies

Anne Fernald is Professor of English & Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Beginning in Fall 2019, she will be co-editor-in-chief of the journal Modernism/modernity.

Professor McEleney Wins MLA Prize

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Congratulations to Professor Corey McEleney, whose book Futile Pleasures: Early Modern Literature and the Limits of Utility received Honorable Mention for the 2018 MLA Prize for a First Book.

The MLA committee’s citation for Professor McEleney’s book reads:

“Futile Pleasures: Early Modern Literature and the Limits of Utility argues that the tensions inherent in Renaissance concepts of poetic value characterize the current crisis in the humanities and, indeed, have also shaped the terms in which that crisis can be addressed. Whereas the queer, the effete, the useless, and the idle have long been associated with pleasure, the robust, the masculine, the useful, and the active have been associated with literary utility and social and political relevance, and Corey McEleney shows that it is to this second side of the equation that defenses of literature invariably tend. Futile Pleasures is a subtle and eloquent investigation into the early modern roots of discussions about the most pressing academic debate of our time—the relevance of literary studies.”

For more about Professor McEleney’s marvelous book, click here: https://www.fordhampress.com/9780823272662/futile-pleasures/

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Reid-Mullarkey Research and Teaching Forum--October 24th

You are invited to the next Reid-Mullarky Reseach and Teaching Forum—Writing and Teaching in the Age of the Unspeakable. Wednesday, October 24th from 2:30pm-6:30pm at Rose Hill’s Duane Library, Room 351 and videoconference to LL309. Please plan to attend. Tea will be served. For more info see below.

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Shachar Pinsker Speaks on Urban Cafes and Modern Jewish Culture

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Shachar Pinsker (U. Michigan) presented a talk on the role of urban cafes in the development of modern Jewish culture on Thurs. April 19 at 6 pm in rm. 2-01A of the Law School.

Shachar also offered a workshop on Thursday, 2:30-4 pm in Lowenstein 906, on the collaborative work he is doing with his Michigan colleagues on diasporic Jewish cultures. Here's a paragraph describing it:

Histories of modern Jewish cultures face the challenge of how to fathom complex issues of place and space. Because Jews never conformed to the national concept of the unity of people, language and territory, modern Jewish culture developed within constantly shifting borders of empires and nation-states. Jews are a transnational people with multiple diasporas, and this project proposes to map the migration of multilingual literary and visual networks of cultures across the long 20th century. Using innovative digital tools and databases, we plan to visualize the tension between  transnational and diasporic, but also grounded in a particular place; belonging to both global and local cultures. We hope to take macro and micro views of this network of people, analyzing both the diasporic and individual levels, as well as a multimedia view, such as visual and textual analogs. Digital humanities tools will allow us to map a non-linear, multimodal narrative.

Pinsker's visit was co-sponsored by the programs in Jewish Studies and Comparative Literature. 

English Faculty Receive Fellowships

Congratulations to English Department faculty members who have been awarded Fordham Faculty Fellowships! 

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.