Faculty Works-in-Progress Series

Though COVID-19 makes it impossible to gather together in person this fall, we can gather virtually to discuss recent faculty work on literature. This discussion series is intended for any students, staff or faculty interested in the work of the department.  
 

Participants will generally be asked to read a short text beforehand; at the discussion, the faculty member whose work is featured will provide some short opening comments, and then the rest of the meeting will be devoted to discussion.

 

Previous Faculty Works Discussion:

Ranjana Khanna proffers the dual concept of Geschlecht-translation in order to reconsider, with Derrida and Laplanche, the role of sexual difference in psychoanalysis.  She argues that culturalist notions of gender assignment and the blind spots of Freudian theorizing too often produce a hypostatized and binaristic understanding of sexual difference.  Psychoanalysis tends to view sexual differentiation as the ur-difference, one that excludes, even erases other differences such as race, class, sexuality, and ethnicity.  It posits the sexed body and the sexual binary as originary, neutral terrains on which gender and other cultural norms are inscribed.  Khanna seeks to problematize this neutrality—the zone of indistinction imagined as the polymorphously perverse “sexual”—questioning the neuter status of the signifier itself.  What if, asks Khanna, the Derridian category of Geschlect, or translation in the Laplanchian sense of the unconscious—the untranslatable remainder—is understood as the strike that allows for the simultaneous becomings of gender, race, genre, lineage, etc.  We might, Khanna suggests, conceptualize such translation or gendering as a fetishizing process: fetishizing not as the screening of a missing penis but, rather, as the oscillation between knowing and not knowing.

Khanna ultimately insists on the necessary bridge between psychoanalysis and postcolonial thought, which for her leads to a new, more complex understanding of sexual difference, one always marked by other distinctions—”untranslatable remainders” like gender, race, class, lgbtq, etc.  Khanna asks us to consider that a psychoanalytic integration of Geschlect would return psychoanalysis to its internationalist roots.  This return would not result in parochialization—a grappling of peripheral localities and minorities with fetishized whiteness—but a true “worlding” of psychoanalytic thought, which would maintain gender as always also a container of other incidental, particularistic, and unknowable aspects of sexed beings.

To sign up for this discussion with Ranji Khanna, please click here


Sarah Beckwith
Tragic Implications 

"This paper was written in the wake of Stanley Cavell’s death and as a way of continuing his work. The paper concerns an early, classic essay of his entitled ‘Must We Mean What We Say?’ I go on to relate the tragic implication of the vision of language he articulates there. I show how the irreversibility, unpredictability, and boundlessness of speech, as of other action, emerges in Shakespeare’s late tragedies, especially King Lear." - Sarah Beckwith


Joseph Winters
Recovering the Irrecoverable: Blackness, Melancholy, and the Duplicities that Bind

For the first installment of the Spring 2021 English Department Faculty Works-in-Progress Series, Professor Joseph Winters will lead a Zoom session on "Recovering the Irrecoverable: Blackness, Melancholy, and the Duplicities that Bind."

"This article is for a special issue in the journal Religions called "Slave Religion: Histories and Horizons" in which we were invited to respond to recent work on the afterlife of slavery, including Stephen Best's 2018 book, None Like Us: Blackness, Belonging, Aesthetic Life. In this paper, I engage Best's recent work, focusing on his concern that black studies are increasingly an expression of melancholy historicism." - Professor Joseph Winters 

Julianne Werlin
Demographic Approaches to Early Modern Literary History

I'd like to use this lunchtime event to describe and solicit advice about a project I'm just beginning: an attempt to set the literary history of early-modern England in demographic context by creating a prosopography of writers. Prosopography, that is, collective biography, is a technique that seeks to discover and describe the characteristics of a particular group. Prosopographies can take a variety of forms, but what I'm interested in doing in this project is tracking major life events and social categories, including life expectancy, marriage and procreation, class, birthplace and place or places of residence, religion, sex, and a few others. This project is still in the data collection phase -- itself as much a qualitative as quantitative endeavor -- which I'm working on with the invaluable help of Jane Harwell. 

Because this project hasn't yet led to any articles, I'm distributing an earlier paper, "Love Poetry and Periodization," which sparked my interest in demographic analyses of literary history and led me to think there would be value in taking a prosopographic approach. In this paper, I make a case for interpreting changing erotic values in Renaissance love poetry in relation to the shift in the marriage rate in sixteenth and seventeenth century England. I hope this can be the starting point for a conversation about demography and literary history, sociological approaches to the author, the problems of literary and historical categorization and category formation, and any other fundamental questions of literary scholarship we can address in 75 minutes.



Corina Stan 
On Tact In Dark Times

Tact is often considered a luxury of social interaction: commendable, but not required, a form of close attention to the particulars of a situation and the feelings of another person. Philosopher David Heyd situates it between moral virtues, which concern themselves with fundamental human interests and rights, and social etiquette, which is cultural and underwrites the aesthetic of everyday life. One may think of Queen Victoria drinking rose water from her finger bowl, to put at ease her guest, the Afrikaner president Paul Kruger, who had committed the "mistake" first; or of a person swiftly apologizing “Pardon, Monsieur,” after inadvertently opening a bathroom door onto the privacy of a lady.

Over the past century, however, the historical moments when tact emerged as an ideal on the horizon of sociability were times when life had been cheapened through the valuation of some existences at the expense of others, when the world was split into “friends” and “enemies,” when humanity itself was threatened by war, pernicious ideologies, or violence in the bloody aftermath of revolutions. The thinkers I will briefly revisit in this talk—Roland Barthes, Theodor Adorno, Natalia Ginzburg, and Helmuth Plessner—found that their historical circumstances were so inimical to human flourishing as to make the idea of sensitivity to human individuality look like an escapist fantasy. And yet, it was precisely its remoteness, the danger of its falling into oblivion, that demanded its eloquent affirmation. Interestingly, these thinkers suggested that tact was part of an education for grown-ups, and that its natural domain was the humanities.

What exactly is tact, and what is its place in our highly polarized society? How is tact different from political correctness, or from a “woke” attitude? Can one be tactful when one is in a position or situation of inferiority? Can one be tactful all the time? What alternatives might we have?

 


Thomas Ferraro
Transgression and Redemption in American Fiction

What difference might long-time immersion in The Godfather and Blue Velvet, Fiedler and Sedgwick, Sinatra and Holiday make to an understanding of American fiction, particularly as it has unfolded in the Duke classroom?  In “Had There Been a Papist,” Prof. Ferraro returns to the most influential and persistent scene of Protestant instruction in U.S. literature, readdressing its vaunted interplay of sex, violence, and sanctity.  In so doing, he reveals an open secret that implicates almost all of America’s most revered modern novels for being in fact what they have always been: namely, martyr tales of forbidden love, transgressive and redemptive.

You can order Thomas J. Ferraro's "Transgression & Redemption in American Fiction" online at www.oup.com/academic with promo code AAFLYG6 to save 30%.