Faculty

Acclaimed South Asian Visiting Scholar to Deliver Annual Vivekananda Lecture

Peter van der Veer

South Asian scholar Peter van der Veer uses his interdisciplinary knowledge to draw unusual comparisons and connections between the nationalism, spiritualism, and religions of India and China. He finds the comparisons of India and China to provide greater insight into the transition from the dominance of Western civilizations to Asian civilizations after World War I.

Applying his expertise on South Asian cultures, anthropology, religion, and ethnicity, Van der Veer will present the Annual Vivekananda Visiting Professor Lecture “The Modern Spirit of Asia: Comparing Indian and Chinese Spiritual Nationalism” on May 7 in Social Science Research Room 122, with a reception at 6 p.m. and the presentation at 6:30 p.m.

UChicago Press Awards Top Honor to Deborah Nelson for 'Tough Enough'

Deborah Nelson

The following was published by UChicago News on April 29, 2019.

By Jack Wang

The University of Chicago Press has awarded the Gordon J. Laing Prize to Prof. Deborah Nelson for Tough Enough, her exploration of how six women faced pain with unsentimentality—and her argument for it as an alternative response to empathy or irony.

The Laing Prize is the Press’ top honor, presented to the UChicago faculty author, editor or translator of a book published in the previous three years that brings the Press the greatest distinction. The Helen B. and Frank L. Sulzberger Professor of English and the College, Nelson received the prestigious award, given since 1963, at an April 25 campus ceremony.

In Tough Enough, she traces the work of Diane Arbus, Hannah Arendt, Joan Didion, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag and Simone Weil—writers, critics and artists whose paths didn’t always intersect, but who all looked at “painful reality with directness and clarity and without consolation or compensation.”

For Nelson, that unsentimental approach not only shaped 20th-century culture, but remains relevant today in the face of specters like climate change, gun violence and racial prejudice.

“The problem is not that we do not know what is happening, but that we cannot bear to be changed by knowledge,” she writes in her introduction to Tough Enough. “The women I discuss in the following pages all insist that we should be changed, however much we give up in the process.”

Nelson—who chairs the Department of English and specializes in the study of late 20th-century U.S. culture and politics—spoke recently about her book and the audience she hopes to reach.

Wu Hung Explains How Western Concepts Have Drastically Shaped the History of Chinese Art

Wu Hung

The following was first published in Artnet News on April 25, 2019.

Throughout the history of Western art, certain concepts have remained durable. Style. Iconography. Representation. Even when these categories are being inverted or rejected, they remain at the foundation of most discussions of European and American art. But as useful as these terms can be, they also box us in—especially when we’re talking about art from outside the Western canon. With Chinese art in particular, these categories, which have had such a sweeping influence, can prevent us from other productive ways of seeing.

“All the concepts we use to study Chinese art are derived from Western art history,” says Wu Hung, a professor at the University of Chicago and a prolific historian of Chinese art, who is currently delivering the A. W. Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery of Art. “In China, there were, of course, traditional discourses on art, even from as early as the ninth century. But they only dealt with calligraphy and painting. Sculpture and architecture were not considered art. So it was a very narrow art history.”

Throughout his talks, which are collectively titled “End as Beginning: Chinese Art and Dynastic Time,” Wu Hung is examining how Chinese art has historically been periodized, interpreted, and contextualized.

”In my talks, I deal with two kinds of materials, both of them historical,” he says. “One is the real object, the visual material. The other materials are historical writings, ritual prescriptions, mythologies.” The goal, he says, is to bring the two together to understand more fully the traditional purpose of an object, and the narrative it was originally meant to fit.

The below excerpt is adapted from Wu Hung’s first lecture, “The Emergence of Dynastic Time in Chinese Art,” which was delivered on March 31. His final three talks will be presented on April 28, May 5, and May 12.

Kenneth Warren Is One of Four UChicago Faculty Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Kenneth Warren

The following was first published in UChicago News on April 17, 2019.

By Louise Lerner and Jack Wang

Four University of Chicago faculty members have been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honorary societies. They include Profs. Francisco Bezanilla, Mercedes Pascual, Margaret Beale Spencer and Kenneth Warren.

The scholars join the 2019 class of 214 individuals, announced April 17, which includes world leaders in academia, business, government and public affairs whose impactful work informs policy and advances the public good. This year’s class also includes seven UChicago alumni along with former First Lady Michelle Obama, who previously served as an administrator at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Kenneth Warren is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor in English, and an expert on American and African American literature from the late 19th century through the middle of the 20th century. He is the author of What Was African American Literature? (2010), So Black and Blue: Ralph Ellison and the Occasion of Criticism (2003) and Black and White Strangers: Race and American Literary Realism (1993). He has co-edited other books and written for various publications, and also advised Court Theatre’s award-winning 2012 adaptation of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

A member of the UChicago faculty since 1991, Warren was a 2005 winner of the Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

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