Thursday, May 22, 2008

Professor Gil Harris Wins NEH Fellowship

Jonathan Gil Harris, a popular professor of the early modern period, has been awarded a one year NEH fellowship to work at the Folger Shakespeare Library. From the Folger website, a description of his project:

Professor Jonathan Gil Harris, Professor of English, George Washington University
“Shakespeare and Literary Theory”

“Shakespeare and Literary Theory” will consider the four-centuries-long relation between Shakespeare and theories of literary production and critical analysis. I plan to draw on two archives that uniquely exist alongside one another at the Folger: early modern materials by, on, and about Shakespeare; and theories of literature and criticism from 1800 to the present. “Shakespeare and Literary Theory” will not seek to apply theory to Shakespeare. Rather, it will tease out the ways in which modern theory has always been “Shakespearean” and Shakespeare’s writing had always been “theoretical.” The symbiotic relation between Shakespeare and theory is readily apparent in a wide spectrum of modern critical methods. But it is apparent also in early modern texts that comment on Shakespeare to advance “theoretical” understandings of genre (Meres), literary taste (the Parnassus plays), national poetry (Jonson), prosopopeia (Milton), dramatic character (Margaret Cavendish), and material properties (Rymer). By narrating this symbiotic history, “Shakespeare and Literary Theory” will argue for a comprehensive demystification of “theory.” The term derives from the Greek theorein, which signifies “looking at,” “contemplation,” “speculation,” “viewing.” All these definitions characterize the ways in which we apprehend Shakespeare. When we engage Shakespeare, therefore, we enter into theory. Theory need no longer be seen as some exotic and vaguely totalitarian land that treats its rare visitors with disdain. Rather, it is a land we already inhabit, not least when we think about and view Shakespeare.

We wish Professor Harris the best during his year of leave. Our students will miss him in the classroom, but the book he is writing will be an exceptional one.

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