Connelly Lectures

About the Connelly Lectures

The Connelly Lectures in English are named for Peter Connelly, who was a member of the English Department at Grinnell College from 1970 until his death in 2000 and the Carter-Adams Professor of Literature at Grinnell beginning in 1989.

An active scholar throughout his teaching career, Connelly published two articles on Pope’s Iliad and others on teaching and college literacy, in addition to giving numerous papers at professional meetings. Connelly’s scholarly interest in Pope’s translation of Homer reflected a broader interest in the translator’s status as “a creator and not a transmitter of an original text,” as Connelly’s Grinnell colleague Michael Cavanagh puts it. Cavanagh continues, “this was not merely an idea that Peter had but a kind of axiom of his life. It permeated his thinking on every subject.... Peter was really a creator — a term, I might add, he would completely reject.” Another Grinnell colleague, D.A. Smith, called Connelly “emphatically a man of this world whether by that be meant the petit pays of Grinnell College or the wider worlds of state, of nation, and of letters. He knew the duties and the rewards of citizenship in each, and he received the grateful thanks and the unqualified admiration of his fellow citizens everywhere.”

Such admiration came from Connelly’s students, including the Grinnell class of 1999, which made Connelly one of its honorary members, saying, “Peter Connelly is a professor who has been as active outside the classroom as he has been inside. His vast knowledge of literature and literary theory and his intellectual integrity are impressive.... He is willing and ready to advise students on their career and life choices; he is an outstanding teacher who remains a friend to many of his students.” In accepting his honor, he said, “I think I‘ve never been in better company.”

We have so far hosted seven Connelly lecturers:

  • Diedre Lynch in fall 2004
  • Jahan Ramazani in fall 2007
  • Gene Jarrett in fall 2009
  • Patrick Cheney in fall 2011
  • Srinivas Aravamudan in fall 2013
  • Rey Chow in fall 2016
  • Rob Nixon in fall 2019

Connelly Lecturers

Rob Nixon became the seventh Connelly lecturer in fall 2019.

The following information was current at the time of Nixon’s visit to Grinnell.

Rob Nixon is a nonfiction writer and scholar. He holds the Barron Family Professorship in Environmental Humanities at Princeton University. Nixon is the author of four books, most recently Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. He writes frequently for the New York Times. His writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The Guardian, The Nation, London Review of Books, The Village Voice, Aeon, and elsewhere. Much of his work engages environmental justice struggles in the global South. He has a particular interest in understanding the roles that artists can play in effecting change at the interface with social movements.

Rey Chow became the sixth Connelly lecturer in fall 2016.

The following information was current at the time of Chow’s visit to Grinnell.

Rey Chow, Anne Firor Scott Professor of Literature at Duke University: Chow’s research comprises theoretical, interdisciplinary, and textual analyses. Since her years as a graduate student at Stanford University, she has specialized in the making of cultural forms such as literature and film (with particular attention to East Asia, Western Europe, and North America), and in the discursive encounters among modernity, sexuality, postcoloniality, and ethnicity. Her book Primitive Passions was awarded the James Russell Lowell Prize by the Modern Language Association. Before coming to Duke, she was Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities at Brown University, where she held appointments in the Departments of comparative literature, English, and modern culture and media. In her current work, Chow is concerned with the legacies of poststructuralist theory (in particular the work of Michel Foucault), the politics of language as a postcolonial phenomenon, and the shifting paradigms for knowledge and lived experience in the age of visual technologies and digital media.

Srinivas Aravamudan became the fifth Connelly lecturer in fall 2013.

Srinivas, who died in 2016, was a professor of English and dean of the humanities at Duke University. He also served as president of the CHCI (Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes).

Srinivas Aravamudan earned his doctorate from Cornell University and taught at the University of Utah and at the University of Washington. He joined the Duke English department in the fall 2000. He specialized in 18th century British and French literature and in postcolonial literature and theory. He was the author of essays in Diacritics, ELH, Social Text, Novel, Eighteenth-Century Studies, Anthropological Forum, South Atlantic Quarterly, and other venues. His study, Tropicopolitans: Colonialism and Agency, 1688-1804 (1999, Duke University Press) won the outstanding first book prize of the Modern Language Association in 2000. He also edited Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation: Writings of the British Romantic Period: Volume VI Fiction (1999, Pickering and Chatto). His book, Guru English: South Asian Religion in A Cosmopolitan Language was published by Princeton University Press in January 2006, and republished by Penguin India in 2007. A new book-length study, on the 18th-century French and British oriental tale, Enlightenment Orientalism: Resisting the Rise of the Novel, was published by the University of Chicago Press (2012); another on sovereignty and anachronism is forthcoming. His edition of William Earle’s antislavery romance, entitled Obi: or, The History of Three-Fingered Jack appeared in 2005 with Broadview Press.

His specialties included: British literature, 18th century literature, postcolonial literature, critical theory, modern to contemporary, and novels

Patrick Cheney became the fourth Connelly lecturer in fall 2011.

The following information was current at the time of Cheney’s visit to Grinnell.

Patrick Cheney is a distinguished professor of English and comparative literature at Penn State University, where he specializes in Renaissance literature. Professor Cheney has written six monographs, including Marlowe’s Republican Authorship: Lucan, Liberty, and the Sublime (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), Shakespeare’s Literary Authorship (Cambridge, 2008), Shakespeare, National Poet-Playwright (Cambridge, 2004), Marlowe’s Counterfeit Profession: Ovid, Spenser, Counter-Nationhood (University of Toronto Press, 1997) and Spenser’s Famous Flight: A Renaissance Idea of a Literary Career (University of Toronto Press, 1993). A prolific scholar, Professor Cheney has published over 60 articles, book chapters, and introductions. He has edited and co-edited editions of the poetry of Christopher Marlowe, Edmund Spenser, and William Shakespeare, as well as essay collections such as The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s Poetry, The Cambridge Companion to Christopher Marlowe, European Literary Careers: The Author from Antiquity to the Renaissance (University of Toronto Press, 2002), and Worldmaking Spenser: Explorations in the Early Modern Age (University Press of Kentucky, 2000). Professor Cheney is currently serving as the general editor of the twelve-volume Oxford History of Poetry in English. In 2011, Professor Cheney was awarded a Faculty Scholar Medal from Penn State in recognition of his extraordinary contributions to the fields of Shakespeare and authorship studies.

Public Lecture: “Heroic Intimacy: A Literary History, Homer to Milton”

Recent scholarship identifies intimacy as the heart of modern notions of identity, but does not find a gold standard set till Pamela’s wedding night in Richardson’s 1740 novel. A new line of research, however, might locate an earlier standard in a work important to the 18th-century novel, including Richardson’s: Paradise Lost. In this Christian epic, Milton offers an acute reading of the Western literary, religious, and philosophical traditions of marriage-identity in the stunningly erotic relationship between Adam and Eve. While no doubt working from the Hebraic story of the couple in Genesis, as well as Aristophanes’ comic Greek myth of the hermaphrodite in Plato’s Symposium and the tragic Roman narrative of Dido and Aeneas in Virgil’s Aeneid, Milton likely took the originary cue of Homer’s Odyssey when organizing the epic form around the idea of heroic intimacy. For in Book 23 Homer narrates a remarkable dialogue between husband and wife; Penelope uses the device of the “olive bed” to get the long-absent Odysseus to reveal his identity to her: “you have revealed such overwhelming proof-- / the secret sign of our bed, which no one’s ever seen / but you and I” (23.253-55). From the Odyssey, a literary history leading to Milton unfolds, with Augustine, Dante, Petrarch, and Chaucer playing key roles for the first modern English poets of heroic intimacy: Surrey, Spenser, Shakespeare, and Donne. Each of these (and others) leads to our first parents, where, in Milton’s caring hands, we witness the heart-rending conclusion to Paradise Lost, which the present literary history seeks merely to gloss: “They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow, / Through Eden took their solitary way” (12.648-49).

Talk for the English majors: “The Longinian Sublime: A New Classroom Model of Literary Criticism”

Today, students of English literature tend to learn a model of literary criticism that derives from Aristotle, Horace, and Sidney; this model finds its modern fruition in New Historicism and such political activism as the work of Adrienne Rich. According to this model, literature has a political function, is grounded in an engagement with history, and centers on the subject’s institutional relation to power. In English Renaissance studies, such a model usually foregrounds an ethical paradigm of patriotic nationalism leading to eternity. During the 16th century, however, a new model of literary criticism emerges, one that features the role of the author as a leader in society because he or she fictionalizes literary greatness. The premier theorist is the first-century Greek Longinus, whose On Sublimity is first printed in 1554. The sublime is Longinus’ counter-national principle that replaces goodness with greatness, equilibrium with ecstasy, and self-regulated passion with heightened emotion. For Longinus, the sublime is an emotional principle of authorship, written in the grand style, in imitation of great works, and aiming for fame. Under the spell of sublimity, the author tells a story about the making of a great literary work. By centering the story on the “interval between earth and heaven,” a sublime work produces either terror or rapture, leaving the human in the exalted condition of the gods. Instead of Orpheus civilizing nature, or Amphion building Thebes, Longinus figures the sublime in the withdrawn priestess at Delphi ravished by the god. Longinus does not say that the sublime author creates a “democracy” but simply that a democracy houses the sublime author. Thus a politics of the sublime reverses the model linking Aristotle to Rich: freedom is not the goal of literature but its fundamental precondition. Poems and plays by Shakespeare and colleagues help build a bridge from Chaucer to Milton to form an “early modern sublime,” neglected in scholarship. The key bridging figure is Spenser, whose canon betrays an entry into Longinian ekstasis. Playing a centralizing role in the advent of modern English authorship, the early modern sublime becomes a catalyst in the formation of an English canon; it also helps explain why, for post-Enlightenment writers like Kant and Coleridge, the sublime becomes “the preeminent modern aesthetic category.” More than Aristotle and company, Longinus offers an instrumental model of why students might find themselves drawn to English literature: freely, we are transported by it.

Gene Jarrett became the third Connelly lecturer in fall 2009.

The following information was current at the time of Jarrett’s visit to Grinnell.

Currently associate professor of English and acting director of African American studies at Boston University, Gene Andrew Jarrett earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Princeton University and his master’s degree and doctorate in English from Brown University. He has written and edited several books on the relationship between racial politics and cultural representation. He is the author of Deans and Truants: Race and Realism in African American Literature (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), and the editor of African American Literature beyond Race: An Alternative Reader (New York University Press, 2006) and Claude McKay’s 1937 autobiography A Long Way from Home (The Multi-Ethnic Literature of the Americas Series of Rutgers University Press, 2007). He is also the co-editor of several books: they include, with Henry Louis Gates Jr., The New Negro: Readings on Race, Representation, and African American Culture, 1892-1938 (Princeton University Press, 2007); with Thomas Lewis Morgan, The Complete Stories of Paul Laurence Dunbar (Ohio University Press, 2005; paperback 2009); and with Herbert Woodward Martin and Ronald Primeau, The Collected Novels of Paul Laurence Dunbar (Ohio University Press, 2009). He has published essays and book reviews in PMLA, American Literary History, African American Review, Nineteenth-Century Literature, NOVEL, American Literary Realism, The Blackwell Concise Companion to American Fiction, and The Cambridge Companion to Frederick Douglass, among other academic journals and scholarly books. Jarrett has just finished writing a book, tentatively entitled Representing the Race: The Politics of African American Literature from Thomas Jefferson to Barack Obama. The book explores the following questions: What is the political value of African American literature? How does one measure the historical role this literature has played in helping African Americans secure or improve their representation in the realms of government, public policy, and law? How does one measure the historical contribution of this literature’s own representations or portrayals of race to strategies of African American self-empowerment? Representing the Race lays out the texts and contexts of African American literature — or, more generally, African American intellectual culture —to address these questions. The book aims to overcome the methodological and historiographical challenges of uniting the fields of literary studies and political studies, on the one hand, while describing the political value of African American literature across two centuries, on the other. Throughout, Jarrett argues that the abilities of African American literature to transform society on multiple political levels have not been treated as carefully and critically as the topic deserves. Jarrett’s Connelly lectures are excerpts from the first and final chapters of Representing the Race. During his visit to Grinnell, he delivered the following talks:

Proofs of Genius: Thomas Jefferson, David Walker, and the Politics of Early African American Literature

In this talk, I explore the question: What was the political value of literature written by Africans and their descendants in the New World? I argue that, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the white and black intellectuals who debated this question politicized African American literature, but not merely along the presumable lines of white racism, on the one hand, and black radicalism, on the other. Rather, the intellectuals meditated in complex ways on the roles literacy and intelligence played in the political representation of African Americans. By looking at the text and context of Thomas Jefferson’s 1785 Notes on the State of Virginia, I show that this Founding Father’s dismissal of the literary ability of blacks to demonstrate “proofs of genius” implicitly argued that reason and imagination were central to the early American polity. David Walker’s 1829 Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World recognized Jefferson’s logic when other historians and writers of early America did n ot. Walker refuted better than any other black writer of his generation the cultural and political implications, as opposed to the premise, of Jefferson’s condemnation of African American writers.

Inside History: Barack Obama and the Politics of African American Literary History

In this talk, I explore the question: What is the political value of African American literature in the new millennium? I begin with Barack Obama’s 1995 memoir, Dreams from My Father, to examine how he grappled with the ongoing force of black nationalism while addressing and embodying the simultaneous philosophical shifts in race, literature, politics, and nation. Analogous to Ralph Ellison’s political revision of African American history, Obama has revised the political mythology of Malcolm X, for example, to tell more complex, nuanced, and universal stories of human change. At the same time, Obama has developed a new brand of American politics that encourages interracial reconciliation, even as it realistically tempers the phenomenal belief that we are in a “post-racial” world. As only the third African American to serve in the United States Senate since Reconstruction in the late nineteenth century, and as the first such person to become President of the United States, Obama is the most politically successful and socially significant writer to “represent the race” in the realms of both formal and informal, or governmental and cultural, politics. He has built on the accomplishments of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements of the second half of the twentieth century, yet he has also overcome some of their myths of race and politics that exist, in the words of his memoir, “outside history, without a script or plot that might insist on progression.”

Jahan Ramazani became the second Connelly lecturer in Fall 2007.

The following information was current at the time of Ramazani’s visit to Grinnell. Edgar F. Shannon Professor of Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Postcolonial Literature at the University of Virginia, winner of NEH and Guggenheim fellowships, finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, winner of the MLA¹s William Riley Parker Prize, winner of a Rhodes Scholarship, Chair of UVA¹s English department, Jahan Ramazani is a most accomplished scholar and editor. His books include the new Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry from Norton & Company, The Hybrid Muse: Postcolonial Poetry in English from the University of Chicago Press, Poetry of Mourning: The Modern Elegy from Hardy to Heaney from the University of Chicago Press, and Yeats and the Poetry of Death: Elegy, Self-Elegy, and the Sublime from Yale University Press.

Ever attentive to the pleasures of literary discourse, particularly poetry, Ramazani complicates such pleasures by engaging the problems of history and politics. His work allows us to see what is distinctive about literary study and what is inextricably bound to other disciplines. Close reading combined with astute sociological investigation yields in the case of his book on elegy, for example, a sense of the modern poet¹s very different relationship to death. Recourse to psychoanalytic theory allows us to see how the modern poet almost seems to court a kind of obdurate melancholy: a grief that, in the absence of any grand consolations, refuses to be assuaged. The result is the best sort of literary and cultural history. It understands all of the variables (genre, death, practices of consolation, formal techniques, tonal preferences, etc.) to be in flux and, thus, available for new and compelling recombinations. Ramazani gave the following lectures during his visit to Grinnell:

“Poetry, Modernity, Globalization”

Poetry has often been seen as a more local and national genre than other genres. In this talk, Jahan Ramazani argues instead for a transnational approach to the study of poetry, particularly in the 20th century. Drawing on examples from early 20th-century modernism to late 20th-century postcolonialism, he explores the impact of modernity’s globalizing forces on the writing of poetry in English.

“Nationalism, Transnationalism, and the Poetry of Mourning”

“Nationalism, Transnationalism, and the Poetry of Mourning” Mourning, memorialization, nationalism — the political uses of mourning for the nation-state are everywhere to be seen. Elegies, or poems of mourning for the dead, have been used in the service of the nation, fostering nationalist identification with the dead and the ongoing life of the country. Yet elegies have also been used to form micro-communities of grief that cross national boundaries. Focusing on examples of elegies by W. B. Yeats and W. H. Auden, Jahan Ramazani explores the competing claims of nationalism, transnationalism, and anti-nationalism in mourning and the writing of elegies.

Deidre Shauna Lynch became the first Connelly lecturer in October 2004.

Note: the following information was current when Lynch visited Grinnell.

An associate professor of English at Indiana University-Bloomington who has won multiple awards for teaching and for scholarship, Deidre Lynch won the Modern Language Association Prize for a First Book with The Economy Of Character: Novels, Market Culture, and the Business of Inner Meaning (1998). That book, which grounds the development of our modern notion of “character” in the newly commercialized social relations of 18th- and 19th-century Britain, is one product of Lynch’s ongoing effort to examine the communities of literature: the writers, readers, fans, and teachers who constitute the social worlds that form around the often solitary pursuit of reading. Claudia Johnson, who calls The Economy of Character “one of the most ambitious and important books about 18th- and early 19th-century fiction to appear in years,” writes that after Lynch’s work, “we will no longer be able to assume that the work of the novel is and has always been to represent interiority, and we will appreciate the enormous amount of cultural and nationalizing work that had to be done before British fiction could be generated in this way.” When The Economy of Character describes the search for inner meanings of characters that allowed writers and readers to distinguish themselves from other participants in a mass market, the fictions of Jane Austen often provide the touchstone moments of the analysis. Janeites: Austen’s Disciples and Devotees (2000), a collection Lynch edited, explores the reception of Austen’s novels among many kinds of audiences with various conceptions of Austen and her fictions. Patricia Meyer Spacks has called Janeites “[a] remarkably compelling and important book. The brilliance of this collection depends partly on its conception: to demonstrate that at every historical moment since the initial publication of Jane Austen’s novels there have been diverse audiences that attached diverse meanings to the texts provided. In a sense, Janeites offers a cautionary tale for critics, reminding us by dramatic exemplification of the degree to which assumptions held determine significance found, and reminding us also, on occasion, of where our assumptions come from.” Lynch’s current book project examines literary communities in another way. Tentatively titled At Home in English: A Cultural History of the Love of Literature, the project investigates, in Lynch’s words, “what it might mean to ‘love’ — rather than, for instance, to be instructed or moved by — literature.” Combining the history of aesthetics with histories of psychology, sexuality, and the family, At Home in English will “reconstruct the redefinitions of literary experience — and, crucially, of the interior spaces of the mind and home — that had to occur for the love of literature to become a normal, everyday affair.” During her visit to Grinnell, Lynch’s first lecture, delivered to the campus community on October 28 at 8 p.m. in the Forum South Lounge, was titled “At Home with the Bibliomaniacs: Literary Canons and Library Cultures in the Age of George III.” On October 30 at 11 a.m. in Main Lounge, Lynch spoke to English majors on “Saint Jane Austen.” Details of the lectures’ content follow.

At Home with the Bibliomaniacs: Literary Canons and Library Cultures in the Age of George III

This lecture engages the contradictory ways in which late 18th-century and early-19th-century Britain thought about the rare book and thought about the well-heeled gentleman who (forming and pillaging libraries, risking huge sums in the “lottery of book-speculation”) was more than happy to spend his life and his fortune hunting it down. This is the figure known in the satires of the period, as well in its true confessions and case histories, as the bibliomaniac. While literary study takes authors and works as its objects, the book-collector’s cravings are for objects that are more particular; that desire for individual copies seems to deny the fact that books thrive on reproduction. Nonetheless, bibliomania plays a neglected role in the development of the conceptions of literature and literary study that are our legacy from Georgian Britain. The bibliomaniacs’ acquisitiveness, and their possessive and perverse ways of responding to the new cultural arrangements promoting the love of literature, ca n provide us with a particularly vivid image of how literary culture, in an age that was beginning to see the canon as a source of social cohesion, managed the tensions between the ideals of a shared public heritage and the realities of private ownership. And their much publicized idiosyncrasies and eccentricities — their obsessive love, their habit of book-kissing — might help us to reframe the history of the notion of the literary heritage and see it as a chapter in the history of intimacy.

Saint Jane Austen

For more than a century, cultural commentators have been noticing, sometimes with vexation, that Jane Austen does not simply have admirers in the way other literary giants do; she also has fans, enthusiasts, even worshippers. In the history of Austen criticism it is in fact rare to find a critical study that does not begin by declaring that its aim is to rescue the novelist from that cult audience of Janeites. This lecture on Austen, on the Janeites, and on Janeite rites of reverence aims to reveal the ways in which the “cult” in that term ”cult audience" has not always been a dead metaphor. It will trace the sometimes rather curious ways in which Austen has been represented as a saint (the sharp wit of the novels notwithstanding). Thinking about Saint Jane will also help us think about the place that "canonized" women writers have been able to claim within the temple of high culture.

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