Comparative literature scholar Haun Saussy and composer Augusta Read Thomas just joined the Humanities Division faculty, but their enthusiasm for their respective fields is contagious, inspiring — and very Chicago.

Saussy grew up in Nashville with frequent side trips to the Windy City, where his family would go “when we had an urge to have some ‘city life.’” His grandmother (Julia Fayette Norwood, PhB’28) was a student at Chicago, and he has “always felt the gravitational pull” of the University. Meanwhile, Thomas, who has lived in the city off and on for the past decade or so as the composer in residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, has already put down roots: “When I land at O’Hare, I always take this deep breath of relief — Chicago feels like home to me.”

Although their fields diverge, Saussy and Thomas have a common interest in interdisciplinary inquiry. Thomas explains, “I love music theory and history — I’m not one of these composers who only sits in a corner composing. I feel that I will be deeply inspired by my colleagues, and I consider my students my colleagues as well.” Saussy, a scholar of Chinese and European literature, is similarly enthusiastic about engaging with fellow faculty members. The offer of a University professorship influenced his decision to come to Chicago: “It makes a huge difference, because it gives me enormous freedom. I’m curious about a lot of different subjects and this is an opportunity to work with colleagues in other divisions who wouldn’t normally be on my beat.”

Both professors share a commitment to providing students with a deep understanding of their respective disciplines. When teaching the delicate art of musical composition, Thomas stresses the importance of going beyond the technical. “Creating music out of thin air, time and time again, is an incredibly difficult thing to do and it’s also very personal,” she says. “To teach at the highest level, I feel that I need to help my students in a holistic way. The process of spending a life creating sounds and shaping them in beautiful ways is something that requires deep mentorship.”

Saussy traffics in literary criticism and history, and much of his instruction focuses on close reading: “I try to make people alert to things. My slogan, that I repeat all the time until people are beginning to roll their eyes, is ‘the more you notice, the more you’re able to notice.’ After they spend ten or fourteen weeks with me, I would hope that my students improve in the kind and number of things that they’re able to recognize.” He practices what he preaches, as evidenced by his description of a future book project on the reception of the fourth-century BC Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi: “I think it will be fun; it will be a chance to do a lot of close reading and line up a lot of obscure texts to see how they illuminate each other.”

 

New Faculty

 

Diane Brentari, PhD’90, Professor in Linguistics and the College, is an expert in signed languages. She returns to Chicago from Purdue University, where she directed the American Sign Language program. She previously served on the faculty of the University of California, Davis, and she held teaching or research positions at Università di Pisa, University College London, MIT, Rutgers, and Gallaudet Universities. Her work in Italian and American Sign Language earned her a major grant from the National Science Foundation that accompanies her to campus. The project, “Grammatical Regularities in Sign Language and Homesign,” compares signers proficient in their native sign language, signers who developed their own language, and hearing individuals who use hand gestures to embellish their speech. Brentari’s research aims to shed new light on the way such language systems evolve and how they are acquired by those who use them.

Seth Brodsky is Assistant Professor in Music and the College. He received his PhD in Musicology from the Eastman School of Music and was previously on the faculty of Yale. A specialist of the postwar era (1945 – present), Brodsky examines the tensions between historical fact, memory, and imagination; his dissertation is entitled “Utopian Strain: Ambivalent Absolutes in European Music.” His awards include Yale’s Morse Junior Faculty Fellowship and ITS Innovation Grant, Eastman’s Alfred Mann Dissertation Prize, and fellowships for study in Berlin. His forthcoming book, Fail Better: Listening for Utopia in Postwar European Composition, will be published in 2012. Brodsky is also a musician who has given performances in classical guitar, viola da gamba, and piano.

Adrienne Brown, Assistant Professor in English Language and Literature and the College, holds a PhD from Princeton. In her dissertation, “Reading Between the Skylines — The Skyscraper in American Modernism,” she analyzes depictions of skyscrapers by canonical authors (Du Bois, Fitzgerald, Ellison) and in popular texts (science fiction, romance novels, manuals) to make a broader argument about America’s changing social and urban structures in the early twentieth century. She is currently coediting an essay collection, Race and Real Estate, to which she will contribute a piece entitled “‘My Hole is Warm and Full of Light’: The Sub-urban Real Estate of Invisible Man.” Her article “Constrained Frequencies: The Wire and the Limits of Listening,” recently appeared in the journal Criticism.

Yaroslav Gorbachov, Assistant Professor in Slavic Languages and Literatures and the College, joins the faculty after serving as a lecturer in the department. He holds a PhD in Linguistics from Harvard. Fluent in Russian, English, German, Polish, Czech, Ukrainian, and Lithuanian, he has structural knowledge of Bulgarian, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, and Swedish and numerous ancient languages. His dissertation, “Indo-European Origins of the Nasal Inchoative Class in Germanic, Baltic, and Slavic,” examines a strange discrepancy between present-tense verb classes in historical Indo-European languages and their cognates in more contemporary languages; it will be published in 2012.

Benjamin Laurence, Assistant Professor in Philosophy and the College, specializes in political philosophy, ethics, philosophy of action, and human rights. A lecturer at Chicago since 2009, he holds a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh. In his dissertation, “Ideal Theory as Democratic Theory,” Laurence argues that democracy is inherent to politics while contrasting utopian and realist ideals in political philosophy. His essay “An Anscombean Approach to Collective Action” was recently published in a collection on Anscombe’s Intention. Currently, he is exploring the ways some forms of liberalism conflict with the ideal of a fully just political community. He is developing several essays: “Material Resources in Ideal Theory,” “What’s Right in Isaiah Berlin’s Tragic Vision of Politics,” and “Plato on the Political Nature of the Human Being,” a collaboration with colleague Anton Ford.

Hoyt Long, Assistant Professor in East Asian Languages and Civilizations and the College, is a Japanese literature scholar who pays close attention to the historical contexts and formal qualities of texts. His PhD is from the University of Michigan and he was previously on the faculty at Bard College. His book On Uneven Ground: Producing, Consuming, and Writing Locality in Modern Japan (forthcoming in 2011) expands his dissertation on Miyazawa Kenji. Through Miyazawa — a cultural figure who was unknown as a writer during his lifetime but became famous after his death — Long examines the role of geography and locality in cultural production. His current project explores the concept of “the network” and how sociological and scientific tools for network analysis might be applicable to literary and intellectual history.

Marko Malink is Assistant Professor in Philosophy and the College. His primary research expertise is ancient philosophy with a focus on ancient logic, but he is also interested in logic, philosophy of language, and linguistics. He holds a PhD in philosophy from Humboldt University Berlin and also studied at Oxford and the University of Leipzig. The author of articles in philosophy, linguistics, and Sorbian studies, he is currently working on his book manuscript, Aspects of Aristotle’s Modal Syllogistic, which examines Aristotle’s metaphysical views on essence and predication. Malink is also interested in Frege, Quine, and the linguistic study of verbal aspect and temporal adverbs.

Miguel Martínez is Assistant Professor of Spanish Literature in Romance Languages and Literatures and the College. His interests include Iberian and colonial literature of the early modern period; epic poetry of the Renaissance; empire, war, and military culture; and cultural history, including the history of the book. His essay “Language, Nation, and Empire in Early Modern Iberia” will appear in the forthcoming Cambridge collection A Political History of Spanish. His dissertation, “Practices and Representations of Empire: War, Printing, and Social Space in Sixteenth-Century Hispanic Epics,” explores similar themes. Martínez previously taught at Williams, Queens, and Hunter Colleges and in the City University of New York; his PhD is from the CUNY Graduate Center.

Brian Muhs, Associate Professor of Egyptology in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and the College, received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and previously taught at the Papyrological Institute of Leiden University and the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Receipts, Scribes and Collectors in Early Ptolemaic Thebes (2011) and Tax Receipts, Taxpayers and Taxes in Early Ptolemaic Thebes (2005), and many articles and essays. Muhs specializes in the history of ancient Egypt, particularly social, economic, and legal institutions; language contact and interaction; and the dispersion and reconstruction of archives. He has participated in archeological expeditions to Egypt in collaboration with Berkeley, Penn, Yale, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and Leiden University.

William Nickell is Assistant Professor in Slavic Languages and Literatures and the College. He received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. An expert in Russian history and culture, particularly the work of Leo Tolstoy, he previously taught at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he was the Gary Licker Research Chair in Cowell College and Lecturer in Russian. His first book, The Death of Tolstoy: Russian on the Eve, Astapovo Station, 1910 (2010), examines the author’s final days and their significance to Russian politics in the early twentieth century. Nickell is also working on a companion to War and Peace that is under contract for 2012. A research affiliate for the Wende Museum — which focuses on Cold War artifacts and history — Nickell curated The Soviet House of Rest, which details the rise of health-focused vacation resorts in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution. He is preparing the exhibition for a national tour in 2013.

Geof Oppenheimer, Associate Professor of Practice in the Arts in Visual Arts and the College, joins the faculty after serving as Collegiate Assistant Professor and Harper-Schmidt Fellow at Chicago since 2007. He earned his Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of California, Berkeley. Oppenheimer’s primary medium is installation sculpture, frequently incorporating multimedia elements, and his work explores the intersection of art and politics, using the mechanisms of aesthetic ideology as a form of political antagonism. His pieces have appeared in more than a dozen individual and solo exhibitions nationwide. Most recently, he was part of Agitated Histories at the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore, a show that will run at SITE Santa Fe through January 2012.

Vasudha Paramasivan is Assistant Professor in South Asian Languages and Civilizations and the College. She studies early modern literary and religious cultures of North India, modern Hindi literature, and South Asian literature and culture. She previously taught in the Department of Religion at Middlebury College and holds a PhD in South and Southeast Asian studies from University of California, Berkeley. Her dissertation was entitled “Between Text and Sect: Early Nineteenth Century Shifts in the Theology of Ram.” She is a member of the American Academy of Religion and the Association of Asian Studies and speaks many languages, including Hindi/Urdu, Avadhi, Braj, Sanskrit, and Tamil. As a student, Paramasivan won Berkeley’s outstanding graduate student instructor award and teaching effectiveness awards.

Haun Saussy joins Chicago’s faculty as University Professor in Comparative Literature and the College. He previously taught at Yale — where he received his PhD and held the Bird White Housum professorship — as well as Stanford and the University of California, Los Angeles. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and president of the American Comparative Literature Association since 2009, he serves on advisory boards for several academic journals. Among other works, he is the author of The Problem of a Chinese Aesthetic (1993), and Great Walls of Discourse and Other Adventures in Cultural China (1995). Currently at work on a history of the concept of oral poetry, Saussy is planning a book on the early Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi, a Daoist figure whose writings were influential in assimilating Western ideas into Chinese culture. He is also interested in how fields such as public health, law, and neuroscience can intersect with and shed new light on humanistic disciplines.

Anat Schechtman, Assistant Professor in Philosophy and the College, holds a PhD in Philosophy from Yale; her dissertation is entitled “Grasping the Infinite: Descartes’ Meditations as an Exercise in Transcendental Philosophy.” Among many awards, she received an American Council of Learned Societies/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation fellowship for dissertation completion. While her graduate work focused primarily on Descartes and Kant, she is also interested in other early modern philosophy and the philosophy of mathematics, religion, and ethics. She earned a BA degree from Tel Aviv University in philosophy and mathematics. Her current research investigates epistemological and metaphysical relations between the finite and the infinite in the Meditations and other Cartesian texts.

Jessica Stockholder, Professor and Chair in Visual Arts and the College, is an internationally renowned conceptual artist. Stockholder is primarily interested in sculptural installation pieces that frequently involve the arrangement of everyday objects in compelling ways. Despite the three-dimensional nature of her art, she does not consider herself a sculptor or a painter, but rather a creator of pictorial scenes using space and material. Stockholder comes to Chicago from Yale, where she served as director of graduate studies in sculpture; she also holds an MFA from Yale and was recently awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters from the Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Her work has been displayed in prestigious galleries and is part of a number of permanent collections, including those of the Art Institute of Chicago and the British and Whitney Museums. The recipient of numerous grants and prizes, the Smithsonian American Art Museum recently honored her with the Lucelia Artist Award.

Augusta Read Thomas is University Professor in Music and the College. A Grammy-winning composer, she previously taught at the Eastman School of Music, Northwestern University, and Tanglewood Music Center and was composer in residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Thomas was elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2010 and named as a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2007. She works in diverse genres, creating orchestral symphonies, chamber music, pieces for vocalists with accompaniment, and choral works with or without accompaniment, as well as solo pieces for violin, cello, viola, marimba, piano, clarinet, saxophone, and flute. Her compositions have been performed by orchestras all over the world and are highly acclaimed for their thoughtfulness, modernity, and complexity.

Anubav Vasudevan, Assistant Professor in Philosophy and the College, joins the faculty after receiving a PhD in philosophy from Yale. His dissertation, “Symmetry and the Fixation of Prior Belief,” examines discernible symmetries within theories of probability, arguing that recognizing such symmetry is crucial to probabilistic inference and rational decision making. He engages with famous philosophical paradoxes — Bertrand’s Paradox and Exchange Paradox, among others — in order to demonstrate the nature of this symmetry-based reasoning. A specialist in epistemology and the philosophy of science, Vasudevan is also interested in logic, philosophy of language, and early analytic philosophy. He is the coauthor of “Deceptive Updating and Minimal Information Methods,” forthcoming in the journal Synthese.


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