The University Record, March 25, 1998

Humanities, arts fellows named


By Lee Katterman
Office of the Vice President for Research

The Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR), LS&A, and the Vice Provost for the Arts have announced the recipients of the Michigan Humanities Award and Michigan Arts Award for 1998-99. Now in their fourth year, these award programs constitute a major commitment to enrich the cultural life of the humanities and creative arts at the University.

The awards are given annually to tenured, full-time faculty engaged in major scholarly and creative projects in the humanities and creative arts. They provide each recipient's department or program with funds to employ a visiting teacher-scholar, enabling the recipient to be released from teaching responsibilities for one academic term.

Joanne Leonard, professor of art and of women's studies, has received the Michigan Arts Award for a project titled "Deaf and Blind: Family Stories in Photographs, Words and Collage."

Leonard will use her award to support the completion of a series of photo-collage works engaged with family histories. She describes herself as a "visual artist born into a tradition of thinking about those who cannot see or hear." For this project, she will draw on material from her own extended family concerning both deaf and blind family members, tapping family archives that include written material, musical compositions and tape recordings. Collages of sounds (multiple voices, music and cacophony) will take form in this work through the uses of computer collage/animation/film programs. The photo-collage methods Leonard has evolved in the past use layers, montage, writing and over-writing of text on both sides of transparent or translucent materials. In this project, she will continue to explore visual collage methods to present stories openly, as well as those that are hidden, damaged or obscured in the telling (or repressing). In her reworking of families' stories, deafness and blindness are actual conditions in the lives that her work will describe, and metaphors for the "not seeing and not hearing" she wants to suggest occur in all lives, stories and histories.

Recipients of the Michigan Humanities Award and their projects are:

  • Susan Alcock, associate professor of classical studies and assistant research scientist, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, "Making Memory: Monuments, Landscapes and the Greek Past."

    Alcock's project will extend and complete work she is doing on archaeology and memory. "My interest in this topic arose from a kind of mild exasperation: for people whose discipline essentially revolves around studying the past, and perceptions of that past, archaeologists have been strangely hesitant to think about the role of memory in human society," Alcock says. Work in history, anthropology and sociology has argued persuasively for the power of memory in defining the identities and determining the actions of groups within society. Alcock is writing a book that will argue that archaeology can make unique contributions to the study of social memory, especially in pre-modern societies. She notes that archaeology investigates physical framework--tracing the history of monuments built, venerated altered or destroyed over time, and studying human landscapes, patterns of settlement and ritual activity that transmitted information and memories. In the book, she will explore several case studies in the Greek world of the eastern Mediterranean, with the general aim of alerting archaeologists to the unrealized power of data already possessed.

  • Timothy Bahti, professor of Germanic languages and literature and of comparative literature, "Structures of Paradox: Parable and Paradox in Three Modern German-Jewish Writers."

    Bahti will study the structures of paradox in selected works of three masters of modern German-Jewish literature: Franz Kafka, Walter Benjamin and Paul Celan. He will draw on the intellectual and religious traditions that employ paradox in a specific and honorable way, as seen in the uses of parable in Judeo-Christian cultural traditions. "The restatement of parable, via parable, into paradox is the constitutive feature of modern German-Jewish literary discourse," says Bahti, which he will examine and document, and which he intends to establish as a distinct cultural contribution through his selective study of the three authors and their texts, leading to a monograph on the subject.

  • Geoffrey Eley, professor of history, "Construction of the National Past in British and German Cinema, 1960 to the Present."

    Eley has been studying how arguments and assumptions about British and German history function in each others national historiographies. He plans to extend this work into questions of cultural representation with this award. "I am exploring the field of meanings between contemporary history, visions of the political future, and images of the national past by studying German and British national cinemas," he explains. This work departs form his previous training, so some of his effort will be spent "re-tooling" by becoming familiar with the discipline of film studies, the sociology of film spectatorship, the emergent historiography of national cinemas, the literature on mass communications, and the emergence of a specific language of "mass culture." Eley's ambition is to bring together the approaches of film studies and of history, in the process "making film scholars more sensitive to the 'discipline of historical context,' and showing historians the necessity of close readings if the medium of film is to be properly integrated into the historian's permissible archive."

  • Andrea Henderson, associate professor of English, "The Economic and Political Roots of Romantic-Era Masochism."

    The presence of a masochistic strain in Romantic writing has long been recognized, but the historical causes of the phenomenon have never been examined. Henderson notes that it has generally been assumed that the Romantics were simply more daring than their predecessors in their representations of emotional life. But Henderson contends that masochism has a history, and as it was represented in Romantic art is peculiar to the culture of Romanticism. In work for a book she has started, Henderson shows how masochistic logic can be found in the "speculative, idealizing desire" promoted by Romantic consumerism. "Developments in retailing encouraged a conception of the commodity as aloof and autonomous, possessed of an unlimited potential to gratify," Henderson says. "This vision of objects in the marketplace encouraged the Romantic consumer to practice a form of desire that was marked by suspense and idealization." In her book, she will offer "representative moments in the history of Romantic masochism." This will include conceptions of social life in the novels of Frances Burney; the picturesque aesthetics of playwright Joanna Baille; and analyses of works by William Hazlitt, Mary Tighe and John Keats.

  • John Knott, professor of English, Imagining Wilderness.

    Knott is working on a book with the working title Imagining Wilderness, consisting of a series of essays on writers who illustrate major stages in the representation of wilderness in America. The essays will feature the work of John James Audubon, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, and several contemporary women writers, with emphasis on the poetry of Mary Oliver. He will consider the evolution of ways of imagining wilderness in America, from the Puritans' sense of "wild woods and wild men" they were destined to domesticate and Christianize, through the development of the romantic ideal of the American wilderness in the 19th century and its persistence in various forms in the 20th century. Among other things, Knott will examine the tension between nature and culture, the ways in which these categories blur, and the tension between the impulse to solitude and a need to find traces of human presence to give meaning to wilderness.

  • Shuen-Fu Lin, professor and chair of Asian languages and literature, "The Piping of Heaven: A Literary Study of the Inner Chapters of the Chuang Tzu."

    For more than two millennia, the ancient text Chuang Tzu has had a profound and far-reaching influence on the philosophy, literature, religion, art and aesthetics in Chinese civilization. While a recognized literary monument and principal text in the philosophy of Taoism, no systematic, rigorous and comprehensive study of the Chuang Tzu as a great work of literature has ever been published. Lin will undertake such a study of the Inner Chapters (the first seven of 33 chapters), the earliest and core portions of the Chuang Tzu. This study will examine the problems of authorship and textual integrity; the historical, literary and cultural contexts in which Chuang Tzu wrote; the mistrust of the adequacy of language found in Taoist thinking; the use of the fable to handle philosophic issues; and the "intricate unity" of the many rambling and seemingly disconnected stories and discursive passages in the work.

  • Lawrence Sklar, professor of philosophy, "Philosophical Critique Within Foundation Physics."

    It is often claimed that we ought not view our current most satisfactory fundamental physical theories as offering us a straight-forward description of reality. Some have claimed that the postulation of unobservables cannot be warranted by the empirical evidence. Others have noted that the theories apply not to real systems but only to idealized models of them. Still others have pointed out that even our best theories will probably be rejected by future science. Sklar sees a rich vein of philosophical problems that arise when the issues of ontological elimination, idealization and transience are explored as contextually dependent components within ongoing scientific theory construction itself, rather than global philosophical issues that can be understood in a way that is oblivious to and independent of the specifics of the scientific theories in question.

  • Martha Vicinus, the Eliza M. Mosher Distinguished University Professor of English, professor of women's studies and of history and chair, Department of English, "Understanding Dress Codes: Women Who Dressed as Men, 1760-1940."

    Vicinus is examining the history of modern female transvestism for a book on this subject. Her study focuses on European women in history and literature who have chosen to wear men's clothing on stage, as soldiers, at masquerades, on the street and as permanent identity. She is analyzing the varied meanings of cross-dressing, in which transvestism sometimes is a means to an end (finding work), sometimes an end in itself (the breeches role), or sometimes a carnivalesque moment (seasonal masquerades). Vicinus points out that by highlighting the disjunction between the body and what is worn, the transvestite draws attention to the rigidities of male and female sex roles, as well as the cultural meaning of dress. In her book, she will focus each chapter on a specific type of transvestite, such as "passing" female soldiers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Bohemian circles of George Sand and male impersonation on stage.