Victoria Kahn

Professor and Katharine Bixby Hotchkis Chair in English

I have been teaching at Berkeley since 1997. Before coming to Berkeley, I taught at Princeton University (1985-96) and UC, Irvine (1996-97). For the English department, I teach courses on Milton, seventeenth-century English literature, and the history of literary theory. For Comparative Literature, I teach courses on the continental Renaissance and literary theory, including The History and Theory of Mimesis,  Idols and Ideology, and Tragedy and Trauerspiel. I have a longstanding interest in the history of philosophy and in political theory, and have published widely on Machiavelli and Hobbes. A recent book is The Future of Illusion: Political Theology and Early Modern Texts (Chicago, 2014),  which explores the role of early modern texts in the construction of modernity. This work focuses on how twentieth-century thinkers such as Strauss, Schmitt, Cassirer, Kantorowicz, Benjamin, Freud, and Arendt have read and interpreted the work of Machiavelli, Hobbes, Shakespeare, and Spinoza. An edited collection of essays, entitled Politics and the Passions, 1500-1850, appeared from Princeton University Press in 2006. My latest book, The Trouble with Literature (Oxford, 2020), is based on the Clarendon Lectures in English Literature, which I gave at Oxford in the fall of 2017.

Current Research: 

In recent years my work has been on seventeenth-century English literature (especially Milton), the literature of the European Renaissance, and early modern political theory. My book Wayward Contracts: The Crisis of Political Obligation in England, 1640-1674 (Princeton, 2004) explores the emergence of contract theory in the literature and political thought of mid seventeenth-century England. It argues that contract theory should be seen as part of the linguistic turn of early modern thought, when government was imagined in terms of the poetic power to bring new artifacts into existence. Contract theory should thus be seen not simply as the forerunner of liberalism but as anticipating the eighteenth-century discipline of aesthetics. Other recent work includes an essay on the reception of Machiavelli for The Cambridge Companion to Machiavelli, an essay on Job as a subtext for Milton's Paradise Regained, published in ELH, an essay on Petrarch's Secretum for The Cambridge Compansion to Petrarch, and The Future of Illusion: Political Theory and Early Modern Texts (Chicago, 2014). My most recent book is The Trouble with Literature (Oxford, 2020).


Victoria Kahn
Monograph, 2020

Selected Publications

The Trouble with Literature, Oxford, 2020

The Future of Illusion: Political Theology and Early Modern Texts, Chicago 2014

Wayward Contracts: The Crisis of Political Obligation in England, 1640-1674, Princeton, 2004.

Machiavellian Rhetoric from the Counter-Reformation to Milton, Princeton, 1994

Rhetoric, Prudence, and Skepticism, Cornell, 1985

Machiavelli and the Discourse of Literature, ed. with Albert Ascoli, Cornell, 1993

Rhetoric and Law in Early Modern Europe, ed. with Lorna Huston, Yale, 2001

"Art, Judaism, and the Critique of Fascism in the work of Ernst Cassirer," Representations 148 (2019): 114-35

“Machiavelli’s Afterlife and Reputation,” in The Cambridge Companion to Machiavelli, ed. John Najemy (Cambridge University Press, 2010), 239-55

“Job’s Complaint in Paradise Regained,” in ELH (English Literary History) 76 (2009): 625-60

"Hamlet or Hecuba: Carl Schmitt's Decision," Representations 83 (2003): 67-96

"The Passions and the Interests in Early Modern Europe: The Case of Il Pastor Fido," in Reading the Early Modern Passions, ed. Gail Kern Paster, Katharine Rowe, and Mary Floyd-Wilson, U of Pennsylvania Press, 2003

"Reinventing Romance, or the Surprising Effects of Sympathy," in Renaissance Quarterly 55 (2002):625-61

"Early Modern Rights Talk," in Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities 13 (2001): 391-411

"Hobbes, Romance, and the Contract of Mimesis," in Political Theory 29 (2001): 4-29

"'The Duty to Love': Passion and Obligation in Early Modern Political Theory," Representations 68 (1999): 26-49