Berkeley English Faculty

Grace Lavery

Grace Lavery

Associate Professor

434 Wheeler Hall

Professional Statement

I study the history and theory of interpretation since 1800, especially with respect to sexuality and gender. My research across these fields of inquiry is linked by a concern with historical claims about aesthetic efficacy: the idea that certain aesthetic effects might simply work, and that though that efficacy might be deeply responsive to context, it is possessed of its own hypothetical logic. Such claims, whose “subjective universal” condition is definitively theorized in Kant’s Critique of Judgment and often implicit within psychoanalytic accounts of the clinical scene, are notoriously dubious in a philosophical sense, but I am more generally concerned with their causes and effects. For example, in Quaint, Exquisite, I argue that a distinctive and influential account of aesthetic universality developed in the UK partly as a reaction formation designed to protect against the disorienting effects of Japanese modernity.

My work in trans feminist studies is likewise focused on the belief that transition works; that it is truly possible to change sex. This belief may be as embarrassing to those who hold it as it is anathema to much of the scholarship on sex and gender, which tends to valorize interminability and indeterminacy, and treats binary thinking skeptically as a matter of course. But it is nonetheless both a motivating factor and a social fact for many trans women who embark upon medical and social transition, and so make a serious psychic investment in the transformative possibility of aesthetic technique. My research seeks to understand both the historical and political conditions of possibility for such investments, and their logical properties as structures of thought, without reducing either to mere ideology or amorphous affect.

My Instagram handle is @grace.lavery.pangolin. When people refer to me, they use the pronouns "she," "her," and "hers."

For details on my public scholarship and creative work, or to make inquiries about my availability for media, commissions, or public lectures, please visit 

Quaint, Exquisite: Victorian Aesthetics and the Idea of Japan
Quaint, Exquisite: Victorian Aesthetics and the Idea of Japan

From the opening of trade with Britain in the 1850s, Japan occupied a unique and contradictory place in the Victorian imagination, regarded as both a rival empire and a cradle of exquisite beauty. Quaint, Exquisite explores the enduring impact of thi....(read more)

Selected Publications and Papers Delivered


Quaint, Exquisite: Victorian Aesthetics and the Idea of Japan, (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2019).

Please Miss, (New York: Seal, 2022).

Selected Essays

––––"Egg Theory's Early Style," forthcoming in Transgender Studies Quarterly, 7.3. 

––––"Trans Realism, Psychoanalytic Practice, and the Rhetoric of Technique," forthcoming in Critical Inquiry, Summer 2020. 

––––"Fear of Commitment," in a special issue of Victorian Literature and Culture on Adorno, ed. Nathan Hensley and Molly Hillard, forthcoming.

––––"The King's Two Anuses: Trans Feminism and Free Speech," Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, Winter 2019.

––––(with Paul Saint-Amour) “Still Weak After All These Years,” response to the responses to the “Weak Theory” special issue of Modernism/modernity

––––“Grad School as Conversion Therapy,” Los Angeles Review of Books:

––––'On Being Criticized,' special issue on Weak Theory, ed. Paul Saint-Amour, modernism/modernity, 25.3, September 2018.

––––'The Mikado's Queer Realism: Law, Genre, Knowledge,' special issue on Worlding Realisms, ed. Lauren Goodlad, NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, 49.2, Fall 2016.

––––'Remote Proximities: Aesthetics, Orientalism, and the Intimate Life of Japanese Things,' English Literary History, 83.4, Winter 2016.

––––'The Victorian Counterarchive: John Ruskin, Mikimoto Ryuzo, and Affirmative Reading,' Comparative Literature Studies, 50.3, 2013.

––––'Deconstruction and Petting: Untamed Animots in Kafka and Derrida,' in Demenageries: Thinking (of) Animals After Derrida, ed. Anne Berger and Marta Segarra (Amsterdam: Rodopi Press, 2011).

––––'Emergency Repairs Are Required On All Our Dams,' the boundary 2 review:

––––'Sex Without Victorians: Kate Bush and Historicism,' V21: Victorian Studies for the 21st Century:



––––"Bad Lip Reading, Glitch and the Phenomenology of Vocal Technique," at Errant Voices conference, U of Chicago (Chicago, IL: 2021).

––––"Egg Theory's Early Style: Sedgwick with Dalí," Harvard University (Cambridge, MA: 2020), canceled due to Covid-19. 

––––"Requiem for Superboy Prime," keynote at Queer Decadence conference, UC Irvine, (Irvine, CA: 2020), canceled due to Covid-19.

––––"Whither Urkel?," at ACLA (Chicago, IL: 2020), postponed.

––––"Trans Realism, Psychoanalytic Practice, and the Rhetoric of Technique," Berkeley Psychoanalytic Society, (Berkeley, CA: 2020). 

––––Trans Realism, Psychoanalytic Practice, and the Rhetoric of Technique," U of Wisconsin, Madison (Madison, WI: 2020).

––––"Trans Realism," Princeton University (Princeton, NJ: 2019).

––––"Trans Realism," Brown University (Providence, RI: 2019).

––––"So, You Just Told Everyone You're a Girl Now. Oops," Housing Works Bookshop (New York, NY: 2019).

––––"Quaint, Exquisite: Victorian Aesthetics and the Idea of Japan," University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Milwaukee, WI: 2019).

––––“The Grammar of Attachment: Merce Cunningham,” part of Paramodernities, a curated dance production by Netta Yerushalmy, (San Francisco, CA: 2018).

––––'Some Pronouns for the Author of Middlemarch,' Dickens Universe (Santa Cruz, CA: 2017).

––––'Exquisite/Victorian: Gilbert and Sullivan, Noguchi, Tarantino,' University of Oxford, (Oxford, UK: 2016). 

––––'This Exquisite World,' 19th Century Colloquium University of California, Los Angeles, (Los Angeles, CA: 2016).

––––'Ugly Realism,' San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis, (San Francisco, CA, 2016).

––––'Japan and the Victorian Tradition,' Osaka University (Osaka, JP: 2015).

––––'Girls and the Unconscious,' San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis, Contemporary Dialogues in Psychoanalysis, (San Francisco, CA: 2015). 


Selected Conference Presentations

––––"Beyond the Pleasure Principle at 100," Modern Language Association (Seattle, WA: 2020)

––––"Stonewall at 50," Modern Language Association (Seattle, WA: 2020).

––––"My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix at 25," American Studies Association (Honolulu, HI: 2019).

––––"Trans Anti-Modernism," Modernist Studies Association (Toronto, ON: 2019).

––––'Decolonizing Victorian Studies,' Modern Language Association (Chicago, IL: 2019).

––––'Trans Realism and the Rhetoric of Technique," Modernist Studies Association (Columbus, OH: 2018).

––––'The King’s Two Anuses,' On the Subject of Ethnonationalism: The Transgressive Style and the Claim to Critique (Berkeley, CA: 2018).

––––'Brainwash Aesthetics,' Novel Theory (Ithaca, NY: 2018)

––––'Form and Escalation,' Modern Language Association (New York, NY, 2018)

––––'They All Did It,' North American Victorian Studies Association (Firenze, IT: 2017).

––––'The Old Pornography Shop,' Modern Language Association (Philadelphia, PA: 2017).

––––'Meta-Utopia: One Day We Will Have Better Ideas,' Modern Language Association (Philadelphia, PA: 2017).

––––'Countertransference (Impressions of Theophrastus Such)', North American Victorian Studies Association (Phoenix, AZ: 2016).

––––'Bojack Horseman: Escape from LA,' North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (Berkeley, CA: 2016).

––––'Madame Butterfly's Martial Art,' Modernist Studies Association (Cambridge, MA: 2015).

––––'The Legitimacy Project: George Orwell's Dirty Postcards,' American Comparative Literature Association, (Seattle, WA: 2015).

––––'The Exquisite Art of Castration: Kill Bill" (New Haven, CT: 2015).

––––'Whinging and Gushing', American Comparative Literature Association, (New York, NY: 2014).


Current Research

I am currently completing a scholarly monograph entitled PLEASURE AND EFFICACY, and writing another entitled THE TRANSSEXUAL AND THE SITCOM. 

English Department Classes