Scholarly publishing tends to move slowly, with articles and books following many years of research and writing. It is especially exciting, then, that even as the pandemic has brought new challenges for this work, Department of English and Creative Writing faculty have seen a prolific year. In this spring 2022 issue of our newsletter, we highlight three books recently published by esteemed university presses. We reached out to their authors — Professors Denisoff, Engle and Latham — for comment on what motivated them to produce these works.
Eco-politics through a decadent lens
Dennis Denisoff, McFarlin Professor of English, published his most recent monograph, Decadent Ecology in British Literature and Art, 1860-1910, this year with Cambridge University Press. While focused on the British Decadent movement of the Victorian and early-Modernist periods, this project is highly engaged with our current moment of environmental precarity, showing how contemporary attitudes to nature and the environment were shaped by this earlier era.
It is this interlacing of present with past, combined with his keen interest in environmental humanities, that drew Denisoff to the project: “In light of recent works engaging apocalyptic climate change, I’m especially interested in nineteenth-century literary renderings of the growing awareness that, far from humans being ‘stewards’ of nature and managing the environment, the biosphere is itself acting in what it senses to be its own best interests, with no discernible concern for what humans in particular think.” Denisoff’s book is capacious and innovative in its methodology, drawing on art history, queer studies, feminist theory and ecocriticism as it shows the mutually influential relationship of art and science in a tumultuous and formative period.
The classroom has been an animating force in Denisoff’s research and writing, and he credits his students with challenging him to explore new ideas and approaches in his scholarship: “Students ask the most fundamental and, so often, the most difficult questions. Their willingness to engage a new set of inquiries, to read current theoretical works in the field and to learn to cull useful insights and then work to prove the extrapolations did more to change my own research questions than anything else.”
Ideas and inspiration in early modern Europe
Lars Engle, Chapman Professor of English, delves even more deeply into the past in Shakespeare and Montaigne, which was published last December by Edinburgh University Press. This essay collection, which Engle co-edited with Patrick Gray at Durham University and William M. Hamlin at Washington State University, looks at Shakespeare alongside the French philosopher and essayist Michel de Montaigne, who was three decades older than Shakespeare, and whose publications were circulating around Europe both before and while the playwright pursued his storied career.
Engle noted that the collection emerged from a Shakespeare Association seminar he and Hamlin chaired six years ago involving participation by both the field’s most prominent and exciting up-and-coming scholars: “The book has chapters by many distinguished Shakespeareans and Montaignians and also by promising younger scholars, and features really nice paratexts: a brilliant preface by Colin Burrow, insightful afterwords by George Hoffman and Katharine Eisaman Maus, and generous blurbs from Stephen Greenblatt and Emma Smith.” Engle, who wrote the book’s introduction and a chapter titled “Montaigne’s Shakespeare: The Tempest as Test-Case,” said that his contributions to the volume “investigate why Shakespeareans want to believe that Shakespeare read Montaigne, to suggest why Shakespeare may have read the particular essays by Montaigne Shakespeareans most often sensed in Shakespeare’s works and finally to discuss whether Shakespeare is thinking actively about Montaigne in The Tempest.”
A contemporary bard’s “sprawling reach”
With the imminent opening of the Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa’s Arts District, the publication of The World of Bob Dylan in spring 2021 by Cambridge University Press is especially timely. Sean Latham, Walter Professor of English and director of the TU Institute for Bob Dylan Studies, edited this collection of 27 essays by a renowned group of rock and pop critics and music scholars.
The book offers a comprehensive exploration of Dylan — songwriter, artist, filmmaker and Nobel Laureate — considering his transformative global effect on literature, pop culture, music, and politics. Even as his editorial work on this project was intensively international, Latham’s inspiration for editing this book was local: “I was astonished when the Dylan Archive arrived here in Tulsa and fortunate to be one of the first dig into these materials and then help organize the decades of research and scholarship that will grow from this expansive collection. This book gave me an opportunity to work with people around the world to offer students, fans and scholars alike a peek into the archive and an opportunity to better understand the sprawling reach and enduring influence of Dylan’s music, art and life.”
Indeed, an especially exciting feature of this collection is its use of never before accessed materials from the Dylan Archive, which promises to continue to provide the world with new information about Dylan’s life, work and ongoing influence.