Events Spotlight


Please note: In lieu of publicizing events individually over email, the English Department has switched to this monthly e-newsletter format, in which we compile events (both in and outside the department) for your review. Mark your calendars now! If you are involved in organizing any lectures or events forthcoming in March 2014, please email Wendy Xin (



Thursday 2/13
5.00 pm
3335 Dwinelle Hall
UC Berkeley


Manil Suri: 'City of Devi' and IPC 377

The acclaimed novelist Manil Suri will be speaking in the Spring Lecture Series at the College of Environmental Design on February 12th at 6:30 pm, in room 112 Wurster Hall. The lecture is co-sponsored by the Arcus Endowment of the CED, the Center for South Asian Studies, South Asians in Public Policy at the Goldman School, and Trikone-Bay Area, the South Asian LGBTQ organization. 

Suri is the author of the widely read trilogy of novels, The Death of Vishnu, The Age of Shiva, and The City of Devi, all set in Mumbai, India. At once prophetic, comic and provocative, the trilogy operates at the intersection of nationalist politics, caste, religion, sexuality, gender, and urban space. In his lecture, Suri will read from the third novel in the series, The City of Devi, and discuss broader issues around LGBTQ rights, and the relationship between sexuality and urban life in contemporary India. The recent decision by the Indian Supreme Court to reinstate a colonial-era law (Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code) that criminalizes homosexual sex has added urgency to this event. Rajat Dutta and Harsha Mallajosyula, both members of Trikone – Bay Area, will respond to Suri’s presentation and discuss strategies to overturn the ruling.

Thursday 2/13
5.00 pm
3335 Dwinelle Hall
UC Berkeley

Paradoxes of Lament: Benjamin, Trauerspiel, Hamlet: A Talk by Rebecca Comay

Lament is at first glance a performative speech act like any other: it enacts the grief it speaks of and thus ineluctably does what it says. But its performativity is peculiar. Rather than demonstrating the potency of language -- its ability to produce the state of affairs it designates (I baptize you, I order you, I marry you, etc.) – the lament points rather to an impotence or undoing that erodes the sinews of both speech and action. While the possibility of malfunction is built into every speech act as the structural condition of its own success (strictly speaking, my promise counts as one only if it can be broken; my command has authority only if it can be disregarded), the lament takes failure or dissatisfaction as its founding premise. Infelicity – muteness -- is not just a contingent possibility of lament but its founding condition. The expression of loss is bound to a loss of expression that escalates with every measure to staunch it. This seems paradoxical. What creates the plangency and tenacity of lament is precisely what frustrates and disables it. Benjamin explores the twists of this paradox in his Trauerspielbuch. In Hamlet we can see some of its political-theological implications. 

Rebecca Comay teaches in the Department of Philosophy and the Center for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto, where she is also the Director of the Program in Literature and Critical Theory. She works at the intersection of philosophy, art, and psychoanalysis, and has published extensively on 19th- and 20th-century German and French philosophy, literature, and contemporary art. She is the author of Mourning Sickness: Hegel and the French Revolution (Stanford 2011), and is currently working on a project on testamentary issues in Proust (and others), as well as a project on iconoclasm and the destruction of art.

Thursday 2/13
5.00 pm
220 Stephens Hall
UC Berkeley

An Answer to the Question: "What is the Enlightenment?": A Talk by Nancy Levene

In "An Answer to the Question: 'What is Enlightenment?,'" Kant fixes his response in a way designed to resound through the ages: "Sapere Aude! Have the courage to use your own understanding!" It did so resound, in quite the way Kant predicted in making "matters of religion" the "focal point of enlightenment." The Enlightenment, always radical, has most recently made way for the Radical Enlightenment, an assessment of just how heterodox some of its key figures were on matters of religion, which is equally to underscore how moderate and conciliatory were others. The digestion of "sapere aude" continues apace. My paper visits the scene of Kant's essay, not to ask after its histories but to inquire how it is going - the project of enlightenment, the courage to use one's own understanding in matters of religion. The question "What is the Enlightenment?," in addition to asking after the meaning of that time, must also periodically ask the question, Kant's question, of what is its value. In this arena, we still have work to do to comprehend the matters of religion at the heart of the critical projects of modernity.

Nancy Levene is Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Religious Studies at Yale University. She is the author of Spinoza’s Revelation: Religion, Democracy, and Reason (Cambridge University Press, 2004), and articles on religion, modernity, and the West. Her reading of Spinoza places him in conversation with thinkers who work with a concept of God as a problem of human freedom and solidarity, and is indicative of a wider interest in the inheritance of the Enlightenment. She is currently working on a book on this inheritance and its unfinished project, entitled The Elementary Forms of Religion in Modernity, which invites a re-reading of central questions in religion and its study through the figures of Kant, Nietzsche, Durkheim, and Said.

Tuesday 2/18
5.00 pm
370 Dwinelle Hall
UC Berkeley

Do Not Tamper With the Clues: What the Goldman Sachs Group Can Tell Us About Religion: A Talk by Kathryn Lofton

This talk will consider the history, training practices, and civic presence of The Goldman Sachs Group as a case for students of religion. Common sense may suggest that there is no organization perhaps less religious than Goldman Sachs, described variously by its critics in recent years as a demon, a snake pit, and a vampire squid attacking American finance, the investing public, and the good of global humanity. Yet the labeling of any agency as such a scourge ought immediately tempt the scholar of religion, since one of the grounding assumptions of our work has been that the demarcation of the profane is intimately tied to the elucidation of the sacred. To that end, I seek to expose the connections between the history and practices of this multinational investment banking firm and accounts of religious thought and practice in the modern period. Such an argument does not seek to justify denoting Goldman Sachs as a Section 501(c)(3) organization. Rather, it seeks to ask again what we are trying to describe, and what we are trying to recommend, when we examine and diagnose the religious in an era profoundly shaped by knowledge management, finance capitalism, and corporatism.

Kathryn Lofton is Professor of Religious Studies, American Studies, History, and Divinity at Yale University. She is the author of Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon (2011), as well as many essays addressing a variety of subjects observing the conjunction of religion and culture in the post-Civil War United States. Through studies of preachers and parents, bathing soap and office cubicles, evangelicalism and liberal theology, she has developed a portrait of religion in America that emphasizes the formation of religion through new technologies, renegade manifestos, and the cornucopia of cultural practices that contribute to social identity in the modern world. She is currently working on several projects, including a study of sexuality and Protestant fundamentalism; an analysis of the culture concept of the Goldman Sachs Group; and a religious history of Bob Dylan. For her work at Yale she has won the 2010 Poorvu Family Award for Interdisciplinary Teaching, the 2013 Sarai Ribicoff Award for the Encouragement of Teaching at Yale College, and the 2013 Graduate Mentor Award in the Humanities.

Tuesday 2/18
5.00 pm
300 Wheeler Hall 
UC Berkeley

Reflections on Textual and Documentary Media in a Romantic and Post-Romantic Horizon: A Talk by Jerome McGann

Professor McGann is John Stewart Bryan Professor in the Department of English at the University of Virginia. His most recent books are The Invention Tree (2012) and Are the Humanities Inconsequent? (2009), and Memory Now, Philology in a New Key is currently in press. He is at work on a book titled Poe, Poetics, Poetry, Politics.

This lecture will focus on a pre-circulated paper. For a copy, please email Wendy Xin(

Wednesday 2/19
3.30 pm
300 Wheeler Hall
UC Berkeley

Armadale: Sensation Fiction Dreams of the Real: A Talk by Audrey Jaffe

Professor Jaffe is Professor of English at the University of Toronto. Her teaching focuses on the Victorian novel. She also teaches a variety of graduate seminars on such topics as realism; sociality and anti-sociality in the Victorian Novel; emotions/affect theory, and the construction of space and place in realist fiction. Her current research deals with the relation between realism and fantasy in Victorian realist fiction. Her books include: The Affective Life of the Average Man: The Victorian Novel and the Stock-Market Graph (2010), Scenes of Sympathy: Identity and Representation in Victorian Fiction (2000), and Vanishing Points: Dickens, Narrative, and the Subject of Omniscience (1991).

 CFS Creasy (

Friday 2/21
4.10 pm
282 Dwinelle Hall
UC Berkeley

The Devil is in Human Dignity: Goethe's Faust: A Talk by Thomas Weitin

Thomas Weitin’s reading of Goethe’s Faust provides answers to questions about the status of human dignity between norm and taboo, basic rights and principles of legitimisation. The drama demonstrates how human dignity gains its universal normative validity through the figurative power of an absolute metaphor. Faustian humanity, created under the banner of universal human dignity, is the result of a break with the Christian tradition and not merely the effect of secular reformation. Progress embraces all claims to absolute validity and in doing so makes the protection of human dignity a universal leitmotif for evaluating all actions. In this light, Weitin argues, Goethe’s Faust takes a big risk; it stages human dignity that defies representational embodiment in a dramatic figure. Unlike the dignity bestowed upon rulers or those in office (Amtswürde), universal human dignity involves granting redemption to all people, even the least dignified: The Devil is in Human Dignity.

Thomas Weitin is professor of German literature at Konstanz University; Habilitation 2008 (University of Muenster); Promotion 2002 (Humboldt- University Berlin); 2011/12 Fellow at the Center of Excellence »Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration«, Universität Konstanz; 2009/10 Senior Fellow at International Research Center for Cultural Studies, Vienna; 2005 Fedor-Lynen-Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore; 2004 Research Fellow of the Max-Planck-Society, Max Planck-Institute for European Legal History, Frankfurt/Main; 1998-2004 Doctoral and Postdoc-Fellow of the German Research Society. Book publications: Freier Grund. Die Würde des Menschen nach Goethes »Faust«. Konstanz University Press 2013; Ed. (with Burkhardt Wolf): Gewalt der Archive. Studien zur Kulturgeschichte der Wissensspeicherung. Konstanz University Press 2012; Ed.: Heinrich Jung-Stilling. Lesebuch. Bielefeld: Aisthesis, 2011; Ed.: Wahrheit und Gewalt. Der Diskurs der Folter in Europa und den USA. Bielefeld: Transcript 2010; Zeugenschaft. Das Recht der Literatur. München: Fink, 2009; Notwendige Gewalt. Die Moderne Ernst Jüngers und Heiner Müllers. Freiburg: Rombach, 2003.

Saturday 2/22
10 am to 6.15 pm
300 Wheeler Hall
UC Berkeley

Faking It: Forgery & Problems of Authenticity

Organized by The History of the Book Working Group. For more information, please visit:

This conference will explore the problems and potential of the fake from antiquity to the present. With an attentiveness especially to material texts and objects, the conference will consider how falseness and inauthenticity threaten our sense of reality while at the same time informing it.

10:00 am - 11:30 am: Panel 1: Canons, Classics, and Fakes
“‘I’m Dante’: Assuming Authorship in the Italian Middle Ages”
Albert Ascoli, Terrill Distinguished Professor of Italian Studies, UC Berkeley
“Just Your Average Van Gogh: the Ontology of Stylometric Connoisseurship”
Harmon Siegel, Independent Scholar
“The Emperor’s New Text: How A Forgery Became Part of China’s Seven Military Classics”
Peter Lorge, Assistant Professor of History and Asian Studies, Vanderbilt University

11:45 am - 12:45 pm: Keynote Address: Nick Wilding, Assistant Professor of History, Georgia State University: “Forging the Moon”

2:00 pm - 3:30 pm: Panel 2: Forging Images and Fictions
“Mouvance and (In)Authenticity in Retouched and Re-written Manuscript Versions of the XXI Epistres d’Ovide” 
Anneliese Pollock, Ph.D. Candidate in French and Italian, University of California, Santa Barbara
“‘Messieur Moore near St Paul’s’: Bibliographical Ciphers in the Eighteenth-Century Book Trade”
Andrew Bricker, Ph.D. Candidate in English, Stanford University
"The Artist as Hero: Unpacking the Mythmaking of Nineteenth Century German Painter-Adventurers”
Sarah Hermes Griesbach, M.A. Candidate in Art History, Washington University in St. Louis

3:45 pm - 5:15 pm: Panel 3: The Sacred and the Fake
“Forging the Social: Late Antique Rhetoric of Attribution, Anonymity, and Argumentation in Midrash Ha-Ne’lam (c. 1275)”
Yosef Rosen, Ph.D. Candidate in Jewish Studies, UC Berkeley
"Print, Authenticity, and the Eucharist”
Christopher Mead, Ph.D. Candidate in English, UC Berkeley
“Manmade and Miraculous: The True Copies of the Turin Shroud”
Grace Harpster, Ph.D. Student in History of Art, UC Berkeley 

 Aileen Liu (

Wednesday 2/26
6.30 pm
315 Wheeler Hall (Maude Fife Room)
UC Berkeley

Holloway Poetry Reading by Marianne Morris

Poet Marianne Morris was raised in London. She studied English Literature at Cambridge, and was the recipient of the Harper-Wood Studentship for Creative Writing from St. John’s College in 2008. She is now researching for a PhD in contemporary poetry at Dartington (University College Falmouth). She founded Bad Press in 2002. Publications include: Tutu Muse (Fly By Night Press, 2008); A New Book From Barque Press, Which They Will Probably Not Print (Barque Press, 2006); with Bad Press: Cocteau Turquoise Turning, Fetish Poems (2004); Gathered Tongue, Memento Mori (2003); Poems in Order (2002). All Mod Cons and Iran Documents are forthcoming from Acts of Language and Openned Press respectively.

Marianne will be reading with a graduate student from the Spanish and Portuguese department, Holly Jackson.  

For information on the rest of the semester's readings, visit:

Thursday 2/27
5.00 pm
3335 Dwinelle Hall 
UC Berkeley

Law and Violence: A Lecture by Christoph Menke

In his essay on the “Critique of Law”, Walter Benjamin analyzes the paradoxical entwinement that ties law to violence. This paradoxical structure forms the mythical fate of law. The talk starts with a reconstruction of this diagnosis in terms of the structure of legal subjectivity. It will then explore the question if, and how, a break with fate – or a way out of the paradox of law without reducing its necessity – is possible. The question will be how to understand the idea of an “Entsetzung” (relief?) of law.

Christoph Menke is Professor of Practical Philosophy at Goethe University, Frankfurt/Main. From 1999 to 2009 he taught at the University of Potsdam and from 1997 to 1999 at the New School for Social Research, New York. He is a member of the Editorial Boards of the magazines Constellations: An International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory,Philosophy and Social Criticism, and Polar. His publications include The Sovereignty of Art: Aesthetic Negativity after Adorno and Derrida (1998), Reflections of Equality (2006), Tragic Play: Irony and Theater from Sophocles to Becket (2009), and Force: A Fundamental Concept of Aesthetic Anthropology (2012).

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