Welcome to the Department of English at Rutgers University

New Faculty Profiles

Teaching is the most important, exciting, and difficult thing I do, and I think learning should be exciting and difficult as well. I try to make my classroom a place where the stakes feel high, and where no one knows exactly what might happen next. I really appreciate students' capacity to surprise me and each other, to address issues from unexpected angles, and not to believe everything I tell them simply because I'm standing in front of them with a piece of chalk in my hand.

~David Kurnick


David KurnickAt the 2005 annual conference of the North American Victorian Studies Association, I ran into a colleague from another university, who was in a state of some rapture. She had just heard, she said, an extraordinarily brilliant presentation from a graduate student about William Makepeace Thackeray's novel, Vanity Fair, and its relationship to the theater. She was a judge for the best graduate paper delivered at that year's conference, and although it was early in the proceedings, she said she thought that there could be no doubt for whom she would be voting.

David Kurnick was, indeed, that year's winner of the prestigious award. Even then, he was already making a name for himself in Victorian studies circles before we were fortunate enough to hire him at Rutgers in 2006 - to the envy, it must be said, of the other departments who made him offers the same year that we did. Kurnick took up a postdoctoral fellowship in the Columbia Society of Fellows in 2006 - 2007, and we were delighted to welcome him to the department in the fall of 2007.

A Harvard University graduate with degrees in American history and literature, Professor Kurnick obtained his PhD from Columbia University for a dissertation entitled The Vocation of Failure: Frustrated Dramatists and the Novel, which he is now revising for publication in book form. In this outstanding and original study, Kurnick explores the writing of several novelists whose careers were marked by unrealized theatrical projects: Thackeray, George Eliot, Henry James, and - reaching into the twentieth century - James Joyce. They were the authors of plays, whose projects never saw the light of day because they were censored, unperformed, or, quite simply, unperformable. Yet, although these plays might be considered by some as showing dramatic ineptitude, Professor Kurnick argues that they should not be seen as write-offs, but quite the reverse: their failure can profitably be understood as being intimately linked to novelistic innovation.

Kurnick demonstrates that the lingering presence of the theatrical in the work of these novelists allows them to voice dissatisfaction with the privacy and inwardness that was encouraged by the form of the nineteenth century novel. He contends that evidence of the theatrical permits the expression of a historical malaise in ways that fitted only awkwardly with the direction that fiction was taking at the time. For even if the narrative voices within Victorian fiction often perceive the theatrical as being distinct from the genre of the novel, this was simply not true. Nor should the novels in question be thought of as having in some sense vanquished the theatrical: they feed off it, and they reflect both their authors' desires to partake in theatrical culture, and their understanding that their readers share many of the same desires.

The concept of the reader is of continuing importance to Professor Kurnick's scholarship. His recent essay in ELH: English Literary History, entitled An Erotics of Detachment: Middlemarch and Novel-Reading as Critical Practice, points to a hypothesis about reading that he intends to explore further. This is the idea that promiscuous desire - whether within the novel, or indeed for the novel as a genre - is, in fact, a wish to achieve a social understanding that is both detached and critical. His interest in reading as a practice is also reflected in a collection of essays that he is co-editing with Rachel Ablow, of the State University of New York at Buffalo, entitled Feeling Victorian Reading, and which is currently under contract with the University of Michigan Press.

Since joining the department, Professor Kurnick has made his presence felt in many important ways. In addition to teaching courses on Promiscuity and Fidelity in the Novel, Victorian Literature and Culture, and The Social Imagination of the Nineteenth Century Novel, he has taught Queer Theories and Histories. He has been very much engaged with our co-curricular programming of speakers and events in nineteenth century studies and in gender and sexuality studies. Last year, he was a fellow at the Center for Cultural Analysis as part of the yearlong working group on New Media Literacies, Gutenberg to Google, and he served on the program committee for the Northeast Victorian Studies Association.

Professor Kurnick's many interests complement our existing strengths in Victorian and modernist literary studies, in gender and sexuality studies, and in theater and performance studies. His intellectual energy and the originality of his insights make him a wonderful addition to our already distinguished Victorian studies faculty at Rutgers English. 

David Kurnick's faculty profile » 

In my teaching, I try to give students a sense of what makes the eighteenth century exciting and relevant to our historical moment, but I also want them to see how deeply alien it was. This was a period whose technologies, belief systems, and social structures were completely unlike those that construct the modern world. Part of why I love teaching eighteenth century texts is because of that electric contact with a way of thinking that is so emphatically not our own.

~Lynn Festa


Lynn Festa

The most recent addition to the Department of English faculty is Associate Professor Lynn Festa, who arrived in January 2008 from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Previous to that appointment, Festa had taught for a number of years at Harvard University.

Professor Festa is a specialist in eighteenth century British and French literature, best known for her book, Sentimental Figures of Empire in Eighteenth-Century Britain and France. In this widely-praised study, she traces two developments central to modern life, which appear to have little to do with each other: colonialism and imperialism, and the culture of humanitarian sensibility. The relationship between them, Festa shows, is complex and profound. As the autonomy of the individual gained increasing credence during this period, people's heightened sense of self also heightened their sense of others' identities.

The more distant the others, the more available individuals became for sympathetic identification, the kind of emotional and virtual knowledge that flourishes in the absence of actual contact. But identification could also create a crisis of identity, in which the borders between self and other seemed in danger of dissolution and in need of rigorous reinforcement. This ambivalent dynamic of a culture in the throes of modernization, torn between individual and society, is the dynamic of sentimentalism, and it suffused, although in different ways, all levels of life in eighteenth century France and Britain.

With originality, force, and based on the evidence of a very diverse range of writings, Professor Festa shows that empire was, of all institutions, perhaps the most subtly and thoroughly dependent on the sentimental dynamic. In both fiction and reality, sense merged with sensibility. Identification with the suffering of distant strangers bred the pleasures of a pity that fed off the suffering it deplored. The empathetic defense of the victim could induce self-defense against the victim responsible for creating that vulnerability. Rapacious exploitation and violent conquest abroad became softened into moving spectacles detached, by their very emotional power, from the squalor of actuality. Festa's expertise in both national cultures deepens the plausibility of her readings, which are trenchant without being reductive.

Festa arrives at Rutgers University having won numerous awards, among them the James L. Clifford Prize for the best article of the year awarded by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies; fellowships from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Humanities Center; two teaching prizes at Harvard University; and numerous fellowships from Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania, where she completed her undergraduate and graduate studies in comparative literature. We are extremely pleased that Professor Festa has joined our department.  


Lynn Festa's faculty profile » 

I really enjoy being in the company of students, both undergraduates and graduates. I learn a lot about my teaching by putting myself in my students' positions and by thinking about what they understand or don't understand, or how they might view a problem. Observing the teaching of my colleagues also makes a very strong impression on me and gives me very good ideas for things I can do more effectively in my teaching.

~Henry S. Turner


Henry S. Turner

Henry S. Turner joined the Rutgers English faculty as an associate professor in the fall semester of 2008 as part of an initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to increase the department's strengths in traditional literary fields. A specialist in Renaissance drama, Professor Turner received his PhD in 2000 from the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He also earned an MA and an MPhil from Columbia, a BA from Wesleyan University, a Diplôme Supérieur d'Études Françaises from the University of Bourgogne, and another MA from the University of Sussex. Before attending Columbia, he taught for a year in the Department of English at the University of Nice. Turner came to Rutgers from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he had been teaching since 2000 and where he received the English department's Graduate Teaching Award.

Intellectually imaginative and energetic, Professor Turner is one of the few - and the finest - scholars now writing on the historical intersection of literature and science. His first book, The English Renaissance Stage: Geometry, Poetics, and the Practical Spatial Arts, 1580- 1630, was awarded honorable mention from the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts, in competition for being the best book in interdisciplinary science studies in 2007. The book innovatively links the origins of plot in Renaissance drama to mathematics, arguing that the structure of dramatic action took its shape not simply from the literary precedents of Aristotelian theory, classical and medieval drama, and Italian romances, but at least as much from scientific inscriptions of space - in the fields of geometry, surveying, cartography, engineering, and navigation. Turner's theatrical world is one deeply invested in the productive arts that propelled an increasing urbanization of early modern England. Demanding that we think outside the literary box to understand the materials within it, Professor Turner's book is an engaging tour de force, which brings theatrical and material culture into a dynamic dialogue and exposes the conceptual developments that were revolutionizing literature, science, and English life in the early modern period.

Turner is gifted not only at describing provocative interdisciplinary intersections but also at making them happen. In The Culture of Capital: Property, Cities, and Knowledge in Early Modern England, Turner gathered together essays by historians and literary critics on the complex question of capital, creating a space where literary texts and cultural institutions, poetics and politics, have equal and interrelated play. For a new series on Shakespeare Now!, he brought A Midsummer Night's Dream into the now by connecting Shakespearean visions of life and our own, structuring the book, entitled Shakespeare's Double Helix, around the architecture of DNA by positioning its two extended essays on facing pages.

In Professor Turner's classes at Rutgers, literature stands beside history, philosophy, psychoanalysis, politics, studies of technology, phenomenology, and French linguistic theory. He brings these disciplines to the level of the human, to their impact on everyday life, and he challenges both his graduate and his undergraduate students to engage seriously in the rich complexities that defy institutional and intellectual boundaries. In his hands, the work of William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Thomas Dekker, and Thomas Middleton, among others, become fascinating vehicles for exploring a broadly based social and scientific self-fashioning, both in the early modern period and our own. In his teaching and his scholarship, Professor Turner takes us on a lively intellectual adventure of the highest order. To borrow words from his Shakespeare's Double Helix, his goal is to engage with that kind of thinking, in any field, that begins by asking questions to which one does not yet know the answers and that releases itself into the unknown. We are very lucky to have him pursue that goal at Rutgers. 


Henry S. Turner's faculty profile » 

One of the advantages of teaching large undergraduate lecture courses is what I call 'the recruitment effect.' Each semester, I find that a handful of the juniors and seniors who enroll in my advanced courses were in my introductory lecture course. It's nice to see these students again, but it's also nice to have them there to introduce new students to the peculiarities of my classroom. The recruitment effect lends intimacy and continuity to a program that, because of its size, can lack the personal contact that students and faculty often receive at smaller schools. The recruitment effect: it reminds me that teaching is not just about what happens inside the classroom, but about the intellectual exchange, the sociability, and the mentoring that happens outside as well.

~Rebecca Walkowitz


Rebecca L. WalkowitzWe are very fortunate that Professor Rebecca L. Walkowitz has joined our faculty. She received her PhD in English and American literature from Harvard University in 2000, and was tenured and promoted to associate professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 2006. She has received a number of prestigious fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin, the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The recipient of several teaching awards at the University of Wisconsin, Professor Walkowitz was recognized by the university as the most distinguished faculty member to receive tenure in 2006. She has edited Immigrant Fictions: Contemporary Literature in an Age of Globalization, and co-edited, with Douglas Mao, the influential collection, Bad Modernisms. Her other publications have appeared in collections and journals such as ELH: English Literary History, Contemporary Literature, MLQ: Modern Language Quarterly, and Modern Drama.

Professor Walkowitz's book, Cosmopolitan Style: Modernism beyond the Nation, is a signal contribution to the new work on modernist cosmopolitanism and transnational modernism. There have been important recent studies on this topic, including Jed Esty's A Shrinking Island: Modernism and National Culture in England and Making the Heart of the World: Internationalism and Anglo-American Modernism, 1919-1941, the dissertation written by our own Alex Bain (PhD 2004). But the modernism that Professor Walkowitz writes about is very much her own. She is engaged in deep conversation with a wide range of contemporary theorists of cosmopolitanism, most of whom propose a reconfigured, redefined cosmopolitanism as an alternative to virulent contemporary localisms and globalisms. Walkowitz is in their camp, but she uses modernist style both to unsettle and to remake cosmopolitanism, and uses cosmopolitanism to reclaim modernism from the denigration of many contemporary politically oriented literary theorists and critics.

Building on the legacy of Oscar Wilde, Walkowitz designates a perverse cosmopolitanism, which is congruent with, but not identical to, critical cosmopolitanism. In treating cosmopolitanism not simply as a model of community but as a model of perversity, in the sense of obstinacy, indirection, immorality, and attitude, she seeks to consider the relationship between gestures of idiosyncratic contact or distance and those of sympathetic association. This critical cosmopolitanism encompasses both unlikely gestures of extra- or transnational affiliation and disturbing gestures of intranational redefinition or reconstitution.

The first half of the book, Cosmopolitan Modernism, analyzes three canonical figures of British modernism: Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf. Each of these writers developed a unique, characteristic tactic within and through modernist formal practice. For Conrad, the tactic is what Walkowitz calls naturalness. Through the paradox of the Polish Conrad, for whom English was a fifth language, she develops the idea of Conrad's naturalness as a deep challenge to notions of British racial sameness and centrality. For Joyce, the tactic, triviality, deploys the ordinary, banal, and everyday in the service of a decentering project. For Woolf, Walkowitz develops the tactic of evasion a brilliant insight which clarifies a great deal of what had heretofore seemed elusive and insufficiently motivated in Woolf 's work.

In the second half of the book, Modernist Cosmopolitanism, the argument for critical cosmopolitanism is easier to make, because the intention to produce some kind of original, inventive relation to cosmopolitanism is apparent in the authors and texts Walkowitz discusses: Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, and W. G. Sebald'sVertigo. Walkowitz argues that the late twentieth century has produced a reemergence of modernism in these three writers who, through their use of formal techniques associated with modernism, displace and destabilize fixed understandings of the local and the global in order to forge a critical cosmopolitanism.

Professor Walkowitz's new project, entitled After the National Paradigm: Translation, Comparison, and the New World Literature, considers the effects of globalization on national paradigms of literary culture and argues for the emergence of new forms of comparative writing in contemporary transnational literature. This book promises to extend the work of Cosmopolitan Style in ways that will speak directly to the contemporary interest in cultures of circulation, while remaining faithful to Professor Walkowitz's overriding interest in the forms of literary texts. 


Rebecca L. Walkowitz's faculty profile » 

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