In The Trouble with Literature (Oxford, 2020), Victoria Kahn (UC Berkeley Comparative Literature and English) argues that the literature of the English Reformation marks a turning point in Western thinking about literature and literariness. But instead of arguing that the Reformation fostered English literature, as scholars have often done, Kahn claims that literature helped undo the Reformation.
Tracing the roots of the modern understanding of literature as offering aesthetic, non-cognitive pleasure, Kahn probes the implications that such a notion has for our understanding of both poetry and belief. The book is based on the Clarendon Lectures in English Literature, which Kahn delivered at Oxford in 2017.
She is joined by Niklaus Largier (UCB German and Comparative Literature). After a brief discussion, they respond to questions from the audience.
In 1831 Virginia, Nat Turner led a slave rebellion that killed fifty-five whites; after more than two months in hiding, he was captured, convicted, and executed. The figure of Turner had an immediate and broad impact on the American South, and his rebellion remains one of the most momentous episodes in American history.
Working against the historical caricature of Turner as befuddled mystic and self-styled Baptist preacher, Christopher Tomlins (UCB Professor of Law) probes the haunting persona of this legendary American slave rebel — exploring Turner’s self-discovery, the dawning of his Christian faith, and the impossible task given to him by God. Tomlins also undertakes a critical examination of William Styron’s 1967 novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner, which restored Turner to the American consciousness in the era of civil rights, black power, and urban riots.
Christopher Tomlins is the author of many books and articles on legal history. His primary affiliation at Berkeley Law is to the Jurisprudence and Social Policy (PhD) program, in which he teaches courses on legal history and, in particular, the history and law of slavery.
In Pindar, Song, and Space (Johns Hopkins, 2019), Leslie Kurke and coauthor Richard Neer develop a new, integrated approach to classical Greece — a “lyric archaeology” that combines literary and art-historical analysis with archaeological and epigraphic materials.
The focus of their study is the poet Pindar of Thebes, best known for his odes in honor of victors at the Olympic Games and other competitions. While recent classical scholarship has tended to isolate poetry, art, and archaeology, Kurke and Neer show that these distinctions are artificial. They argue that poems, statues, bronzes, tombs, boundary stones, roadways, beacons, and buildings worked together as a suite of technologies for organizing and inhabiting space that was essentially political in nature.
LESLIE KURKE is the Gladys Rehard Wood Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of The Traffic in Praise: Pindar and the Poetics of Social Economy. Her essay “Plato, Aesop, and the Beginnings of Mimetic Prose” appeared in Representations 94.
February 5 | 6:30-9:30 p.m. | UC Berkeley Alumni House, Great Hall
What’s it like to go to the movies with a professional historian? Find out at History Homecoming 2020, which features a panel of distinguished UC Berkeley history professors discussing two recently released films (Little Women and Harriet) and one popular contemporary Netflix series (The Crown). In addition to offering short presentations, panelists will field audience questions and continue the conversation over food and drink at a post-panel reception.
How is the present-day return to Marx a different one from that of global 1968? A renewed interest in political economy is leading cultural critics and social theorists to ask fundamental questions about how capital reproduces itself both through and beyond the wage relation: how it makes and unmakes classes across modes of production, creates surplus and disposable populations that are racialized and gendered, and requires both unexploited and waste spaces, in its quest to produce value.
For humanities scholars, this attention to value-production opens the possibility of thinking beyond some of the main strands of twentieth century Marxist criticism, especially debates about modernity, ideology, and form. In the heyday of “the cultural turn,” Marxist debates tended to center on modernity rather than capitalism as a temporal and spatial concept. Meanwhile, transformations in the idea of ideology were transferred to the analysis of culture largely by way of Marx’s concept of base and superstructure: that is, an idea of capitalism as driven by an economic “base” that shaped, more or less directly, a range of cultural and ideological practices. And, of course, the quest for a formalism adequate to historical change lay at the center of earlier intra-Marxist debates about art and literature, such as the one between Bertolt Brecht and Georg Lukács in the 1930s. Each of these strands of Marxist thinking, though, left us with a legacy of antinomies between class and identity, culture and economy, and form and history. In three panels across the course of the day, fifteen scholars will gather to discuss the opportunities for a Marxist cultural criticism and aesthetic theory that moves past these oppositions.
In the enchanted world of Braj, the primary pilgrimage center in north India for worshippers of Krishna, each stone, river, and tree is considered sacred. In Climate Change and the Art of Devotion (Washington, 2019), Sugata Ray shows how this place-centered theology emerged in the wake of the Little Ice Age (ca. 1550-1850), an epoch marked by climatic catastrophes across the globe. In a major contribution to the emerging field of eco-art history, Ray compares early modern conceptions of the environment and current assumptions about nature and culture. Examining architecture, paintings, photography, and prints created in Braj alongside theological treatises and devotional poetry, he explores seepages between the natural ecosystem and cultural production.
Ray is joined by his colleague in the history of art at UCB and Representations editorial board member Whitney Davis. After a brief conversation about the book, they open the floor for discussion.
In discussing her book, Professor Jones-Rogers will engage with two UC Berkeley colleagues: Bryan Wagner*, Associate Professor in the Department of English, and Leslie Salzinger, Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies.
Bridging women’s history, the history of the South, and African American history, this book makes a bold argument about the role of white women in American slavery. Jones-Rogers draws on a variety of sources to show that slave-owning women were sophisticated economic actors who directly engaged in and benefited from the South’s slave market. Because women typically inherited more slaves than land, enslaved people were often their primary source of wealth. Not only did white women often refuse to cede ownership of their slaves to their husbands, they employed management techniques that were as effective and brutal as those used by slave-owning men. White women actively participated in the slave market, profited from it, and used it for economic and social empowerment. By examining the economically entangled lives of enslaved people and slave-owning women, Jones-Rogers presents a narrative that forces us to rethink the economics and social conventions of slaveholding America.
Three distinguished UC Berkeley scholars—Ian Duncan, Representations editorial board member and Florence Green Bixby Chair in the English Department, Mark Bevir, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for British Studies, and Akasemi Newsome, Associate Director of the Institute of European Studies—will discuss important questions about Brexit, when the United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the European Union. What’s next for Brexit? Will a deal be reached, and if not, what are the implications of another delay? How will Brexit transform political and economic life in the United Kingdom, Europe, and the world?
Ilia Zdanevich, known as Iliazd, was a Russian Futurist writer, typographer, and book designer who moved to Paris in 1921, published the first anthology of experimental visual and sound poetry in the late 1940s, and became a producer of livres d’artistes until his death in 1975. His books included collaborations with many celebrated modern artists—Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst and others—and are much sought after by bibliophiles and collectors. But does appreciation of the books depend upon information about his life? And what are the practical and critical challenges in constructing a biography? What is the relationship between archival evidence and narrative? How do we read an individual life in relation to enormous forces and events of history (Revolution, world wars)? What taboos and lines of privacy need to be respected and when? What relation does the constructed persona of a biographical subject have to their work? The recently completed, Encountering Iliazd: Memoir of a Biographical Project, addresses these and other issues and forms the case study for considering these questions more broadly.
Johanna Drucker is a writer, scholar, and artist who began making books in the 1970s. Her work is represented in major collections and archives. She has published widely on topics related to the history of the book, visual poetry, digital humanities, and graphical forms of knowledge production. Titles include: The Century of Artists’ Books (Granary, 1994), The Alphabetic Labyrinth (Thames and Hudson, 1994), SpecLab (Chicago, 2009), Graphesis (Harvard, 2014), and Downdrift (Three Rooms Press, 2018).