Guest lecture: Alex Murray

Murray Poster

On Thursday April 20th at 6.30pm the Modern and Contemporary Colloquium (MACC) will host its second guest speaker of the Spring 2017 semester, Dr. Alex Murray. The lecture will take place in Room 106 of the NYU Department of English at 244 Greene St. It is entitled ‘Decadent Lexicography’.

Click here for a link to Dr. Alex Murray’s bio and research interests at Queen’s University, Belfast. He is currently editing two books: Decadence: A Literary History (Cambridge University Press), and with Kate Hext Decadence in the Age of Modernism (Johns Hopkins University Press).

Wine and nibbles will be provided. If you have any questions about this event please email Richard Porteous (

About the lecture:

The term ‘decadence’ is notoriously difficult to define. Within literary studies it refers to a specific set of formal developments and thematic concerns that emerged in French literature of the Second Empire, and then in British literature of the 1880s and 1920s. Yet the same word has also circulated since the seventeenth century to express anxieties that a society, people or cultures are entering into a period of irrevocable decline. Over the course of the twentieth century its dominant use has become as a banal synonym for sex, luxury and excess, used to sell perfume, chocolate, or erotic novels. Critics of decadence regularly lament the sad state of affairs, and usually reach for the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of the term. While that definition is routinely regarded as lacking the nuance to describe the flowering of the transgressive and experimental literature of the 1880s and 1890s, it is still invoked as some sort of lexicographic authority. The publication of the first two volumes of the OED (A-B, C-D, 1884-1894) were coterminous with the scandalous success of aestheticism and decadence, and Murray’s paper maps the politics of defining these and other affiliated terms in the period, arguing that the OED’s processes for defining these terms suggests a hostility to progressive art lurked behind the ‘objective’ facade of the OED’s methodology. The paper proposes that within the debates over the term ‘decadence’ in the period 1880-1920 we see its meaning shift from a moralizing critique of contemporary society to a complex synonym for the dynamic process of evolution, a meaning denied both by the OED’s definition of the word and by the historicizing practices of literary studies.

The image on the poster is an adaptation of a work by British book illustrator E.J. Sullivan (1869-1933). Thank you to Dr. Murray for the suggestion.

Guest lecture: Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson talk - Notebook Image.jpg

On Friday March 3rd at 6pm the Modern and Contemporary Colloquium (MACC) will host its first guest speaker of the Spring 2017 semester, Professor Peter Robinson. The lecture will take place in Room 106 of the NYU Department of English at 244 Greene St. It is entitled ‘Sound Sense and the Composition of Poetry’.

Professor Robinson has very kindly shared with us the first chapter from his forthcoming new book,  The Sound Sense of Poetry, which attendees are invited – though not obligated – to read in advance of the lecture. To ask for a .pdf of the chapter, or if you have any queries about the event, please email Richard Porteous (

The Sound Sense of Poetry is to be published by Cambridge University Press in the coming year. Its project is to explore the relationship between the compositional attunements of poetic composition, called here the ‘sound sense’ of a poem, and the process of reading techniques that enable this sound sense to be incorporated in reception. In the course of discussing such much-used binaries as meter and rhythm, sound and sense, reason and rhyme, and thought and feeling, this discussion reassesses the roles of writer and reader agencies, their selves and subjects, reevaluating, too, the place of promissory activity and of ‘uptake’ in speech act theory when applied to the poetic art.

In his lecture, Peter Robinson will review the sources of his new book’s convictions in his experiences of composing poetry. At the heart of the discussion will be the impulse and motivation in the evaluation and revision of draft texts, and the principles involved in deciding that a work is completed.

Click here for a link to Professor Peter Robinson’s bio and research interests at the University of Reading, England.

Guest lecture: Peter Boxall



The Modern and Contemporary Colloquium (MACC) of the Department of English at NYU is delighted to announce its second guest lecture of the Fall 2016 semester. On Wednesday November 10th at 6pm in Room 306 of 244 Greene St., Professor Peter Boxall (University of Sussex) will give a lecture entitled ‘Starveling Prose: History, tautology and biomatter in the later fiction of Don DeLillo.’ The lecture will last approximately 50 minutes, at which point attendees will be invited to participate in a seminar-style discussion of the lecture with Professor Boxall.

Click here for a link to Peter Boxall’s bio and research interests on the website of the University of Sussex, where he is the Deputy Head of the School of English and a Professor of English in the Centre for Creative and Critical Thought.

The lecture is open to all. Wine and nibbles will be provided. If you have any questions about the event please email Richard Porteous (

About the lecture:

This paper suggests that DeLillo’s later prose, from The Body Artist to Zero K, develops a singular formal mechanism for tracing the relationship between history and the embodied subject – one that derives from a forensic, minimalist attention to the work of tautology.

DeLillo has been interested in tautology from his earliest writings, an interest that is particularly manifest in the Wittgensteinian poetics of End Zone, and this interest has always turned around the possibility that tautology might give us access to a kind of latent historical force, one which cannot find expression by other means. But in his later work, the paper will suggest, the tautology, or more precisely the incomplete, assymetrical tautology, assumes an increasingly central importance. From the odd repetitive clauses crafted by Mr Tuttle in The Body Artist (a character whose very name carries an echo of the tautology), to similar enclosed and self-referring speech acts that run through Point Omega and ‘The Starveling’, these late fictions fall repeatedly into the strangely evacuated space of the tautology. In doing so, they enact a kind of exhaustion, perhaps, a kind of failure of expression that is a familiar constituent of late aesthetics. But the paper will suggest that these oddly unbalanced structures do not simply perform a vacuity or failure of reference, but contain the possibility of a new way of thinking about the pressure that history exerts on the body – a new way of thinking about the relationship between history, aesthetics, and contemporary biomatter.

Guest lecture: Michael Jennings


The Modern and Contemporary Colloquium (MACC) is delighted to announce its first guest lecture of the Fall 2016 semester. On Monday October 17th, at 6.30pm, in the Event Space of 244 Greene St., Professor Michael Jennings will give a guest lecture on the topic of ‘Walter Benjamin, Judaism, and the Paradoxes of Theology.‘ The lecture will be an excellent and provocative ending to MACC’s reading group on the correspondence of Benjamin and Scholem, but you certainly do not need not to have attended the reading group to join us for the lecture. There is no preliminary reading for the event.

The lecture is open to all. Wine and nibbles will be provided. If you have any questions about the event please email Richard Porteous (

Michael W. Jennings is the Class of 1900 Professor of Modern Languages in the Department of German at Princeton University; he holds associate positions in the Departments of Art and Archaeology and French and Italian and in the School of Architecture. Jennings focuses his teaching and research on European culture in the twentieth century. In addition to literature, he teaches on topics in cultural theory and the visual arts, with special emphasis on photography. He is the author of two books on Walter Benjamin: Dialectical Images: Walter Benjamin’s Theory of Literary Criticism (Cornell University Press, 1987) and, with Howard Eiland, Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life (Harvard University Press, 2014). He serves as the general editor of the standard English-language edition of Benjamin’s works, Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings (Harvard University Press, four volumes, 1996ff.) and the editor of a series of collections of Benjamin’s essays intended for classroom use, including The Writer of Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire (2007); with Brigid Doherty and Thomas Levin, The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility and other Writings on Media (2008); and One Way Street (2016).

For those interested: the image in the poster is a grayscale rendering of Anselm Kiefer’s ‘Urd, Verdandi, Skuld (The Norns)’, 1983. The piece was in part Kiefer’s response to reading Benjamin’s conception of history.

Benjamin-Scholem Reading Group



“The relationship between Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem is surely one of the extraordinary friendships of the twentieth century” (Robert Alter, New Republic). Yet the letters they exchanged between the years of 1932 and 1940 chronicle a difficult period in a relationship that, in Anson Rabinbach’s words, “had reached its ‘zenith’ many years before.” By the time the letters begin, a few months before Hitler’s rise to power, Scholem had already emigrated to Palestine (in 1923) and Benjamin had already opted for Marxism, leading to a number of tensions and frustrations between the two intellectuals. The correspondence, tragically interrupted by Benjamin’s suicide on the Spanish border on September 26, 1940, provides us with an extended discussion of the fate of the Jewish and German intellectual tradition on the eve of catastrophe.

The reading group will culminate in a guest lecture by Professor Michael Jennings (of Princeton University) on October 17th. The lecture will take place in the ground floor event space of NYU’s English Department at 244 Greene St.

Dates and times:

Thursday September 22nd, 6.30pm. 244 Greene St., 8th floor. (Seminar 1)

Thursday September 29th, 6.30pm. 244 Greene St., 8th floor. (Seminar 2)

Thursday October 6th, 6.30pm. 244 Greene St., 8th floor. (Seminar 3)

Thursday October 13th, 6.30pm. 244 Greene St., 8th floor. (Seminar 4)

Monday October 17th, 6.30pm. 244 Greene St., 2nd floor. (Guest lecture)

If you would like a .pdf of the reading, please email

White Invasions: Conrad, Nabokov and the Imperial Open Society

White Invasions: Conrad, Nabokov and the Imperial Open Society

Join us Wednesday at NYU for a talk by Jed Esty, department of English, University of Pennsylvania
“White Invasions: Conrad, Nabokov and the Imperial Open Society.”

Wednesday, April 16th, 5.00-7.00pm

Event Space, 244 Greene St (Rm 106)

Jed Esty is the author of Unseasonable Youth: Modernism, Colonialism, and the Fiction of Development (Oxford 2012) and A Shrinking Island: Modernism and National Culture in England (Princeton 2004).  With Joe Cleary and Colleen Lye, he is coeditor of a 2012 special issue of MLQon the topic of realism in postcolonial and ethnic US literatures; with Ania Loomba, Suvir Kaul, Antoinette Burton, and Matti Bunzl, he coedited Postcolonial Studies and Beyond (Duke 2005).  Esty has published essays in Modern Fiction Studies, Victorian Studies, Modernism/Modernity, ELH, ALH, Contemporary Literature, Narrative, Novel, and the Yale Journal of Criticism.  He is currently at work on a new project entitled Ages of Innocence:  Culture and Literature from Pax Britannica to the American Century.

co-sponsored by the
Modern and Contemporary Colloquium and Postcolonial Seminar, NYU

November 15: Rhetoric & Modernism Workshop


“Modernism & Rhetoric”: A Workshop, Featuring MDRN (Leuven)
Friday, November 15, 9:30am – 5pm
244 Greene St. – “The Event Space”

Literary history has traditionally characterized Modernism as an anti-rhetorical enterprise. Wishing to install a clear dividing line between rhetoric and literature, and to exclude rhetorical forms of expression from their literary language, prominent modernist writers allegedly moved from a sociolect to an idiolect.

The Modern & Contemporary Colloquium is excited to host a workshop that will pressure these suppositions through a series of talks from Sascha Bru & Anke Gilleir (Leuven), Matthias Somers (Leuven), John Guillory (NYU), Ken Hirschkop (U of Waterloo), and Peter Nicholls & Richard Sieburth (NYU). Please see the program below for full details.

This workshop seeks to spur collaborative, radial approaches to insistent problematics. Vocal participation will be appreciated.

MDRN (Leuven) and New York University
Contact email: Peter Nicholls,

Recommended readings:

Richard Sieburth, “The Sound of Pound”

Peter Nicholls, “Modernism and the Limits of Lyric”



Sascha Bru teaches literary theory at the University of Leuven, where he also co-directs MDRN, a large-scale research group that focuses on European modernist and avant-garde writing (see: Bru has published widely on theory, modernism and avant-garde writing. He is the author of Democracy, Law and the Modernist Avant-Gardes. Writing in the State of Exception (2009) and the forthcoming The European Avant-Gardes, 1905-1935. A Portable Guide. Books he (co-)edited include The Oxford Cultural and Critical History of Modernist Magazines, Vol III: Europe (2013), The Aesthetics of Matter: Modernism, the Avant-Garde and Material Exchange (2013), Wittgenstein Reading (2013), Regarding the Popular: Modernism, the Avant-Garde and Popular Culture (2011), and Europa! Europa? The Avant-Garde, Modernism and the Fate of a Continent (2009). Bru is also editor of the book series European Avant-Garde and Modernism Studies (Berlin: Mouton/de Gruyter) and Avant-Garde: Critical Studies (Amsterdam: Rodopi).


Anke Gilleir studied German and English at the University of Leuven and Trinity College Dublin. She was research fellow at the Humboldt University in Berlin and is currently associate professor of Modern German Literature at the University of Leuven (Belgium). She has published widely on modern German women’s literature from the Enlightenment to late modernism, on gender and subjectivity, and on literature, politics and aesthetics. Recent publications include: Women Writing Back/Writing Women Back. Transnational Persectives from the late Middle Ages to the Dawn of the Modern Era (2010, with Alicia Montoya  and Suzan van Dijk); Textmaschinenkörper. Genderorientierte Lektüren des Androiden (2006, with Eva Kormann and Angelika Schlimmer). With Barbara Hahn she has edited a volume on the work of the modernist German-Jewish author and philosopher Margarete Suman: Grenzgänge zwischen Dichtung, Philosophie und Kulturkritik. Über Margarete Susman (2012). She is currently working on a book entitled Schmerz und Lust. Weibliche Avantgarde in Deutschland (Pain and Lust. The Women Avant-Garde in Germany).

Matthias Somers holds MA degrees in English and Greek Literature and Literary Studies, and is currently a PhD student at the University of Leuven, preparing a doctoral dissertation on modernist literature and rhetorical theories and practices in the early 20th century. He is a member of the Leuven-based research group MDRN, and co-authored a chapter on Robert Musil and public speaking in the collectively written Modern Times. Literary Change (2013).


John Guillory is Silver Professor and Professor of English at New York University. His research interests are in Renaissance poetry and prose; Shakespeare; Milton; literature and science in the Renaissance; the history of rhetoric; the history of criticism; the sociology of literary study; twentieth-century literary theory. His publications include Poetic Authority: Spenser, Milton and Literary History (Columbia Univ. Press, 1983), Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1993),  What’s Left of Theory? New Work on the Politics of Theory, co-ed. with Judith Butler and Kendall Thomas (Routledge, 2000).


Ken Hirschkop is Associate Professor of English at the University of Waterloo, where he teaches on both the English Literature and Rhetoric programs.  He is the author of Mikhail Bakhtin:  An Aesthetic for Democracy (OUP, 1999), co-author of Benjamin’s Arcades:  an unGuided tour (MUP, 2005), and writes on twentieth-century cultural politics and the philosophy of language.  He is currently completing Linguistic Turns, 1890-1950:  Writing on Language as Social Theory.


In addition to his various translations from the French and German, in the field of Pound studies, Richard Sieburth has published Instigations: Ezra Pound and Remy de Gourmont, Signs into Action: Pound/Michaux, as well as editions (for New Directions) of Pound’s Walking Tour in Southern France, The Pisan Cantos, New Selected Poems and Translations, and (for The Library of America) of Pound’s Poems & Translations.   He is currently preparing an edition (for New Directions) of Pound’s Late Venice Notebooks. He teaches French and Comparative Literature at NYU.


Peter Nicholls is Henry James Professor and Professor of English at New York University. His publications include Ezra Pound: Politics, Economics and Writing (Humanities Press, 1985), Modernisms: A Literary Guide (2nd ed. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), George Oppen and the Fate of Modernism (OUP, 2007), and many articles and essays on literature and theory. He has recently co-edited The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century English Literature (CUP, 2004), On Bathos (Continuum, 2010) and Thinking Poetry (Routledge, 2013). He is currently US associate editor of Textual Practice.

Full Program

9.30 Coffee

10.00-10.45 Sascha Bru & Anke Gilleir, “Brecht  and the Verfremdung of Speech”

10.45-11.15 Q & A

11.15-11.45 Matthias Somers, “Educating Writers and Their Readers: Academic Rhetoric in the Age of Modernism”

11.45-12.15 Q & A

12.15-1.00 Lunch (First Floor)

1.00-1.30 John Guillory, “Marshall McLuhan, Rhetoric, and the Emergence of Media Studies”

1.30-2.00 Q & A

2.00-2.30 Ken Hirschkop, “Rhetoric, Magic, Myth, and the Revolution”

2.30-3.00 Q & A

3.00-4.00 Peter Nicholls & Richard Sieburth, “Ezra Pound and the Rhetoric of Address”

4.00-4.30 Q & A

4.30-6.00 Drinks Reception