May 15, 2008
Vol. 27 No. 16

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    Humanities scholars will deliver lectures, read works

    By Josh Schonwald
    News Office

    Three humanities scholars will come to campus this month to deliver annual spring lectures presented by the Division of the Humanities. Acclaimed short story writer George Saunders, famed for his dystopian imagination of America’s future and his mordant humor, will serve as the 2008 Kestnbaum Family Writer-in-Residence; Cambridge classicist Mary Beard, known for her wickedly subversive accounts of both modern and classical life, will deliver the Sigmund H. Danziger Jr., Distinguished Lecture in the Humanities; and architectural historian Paul Jaskot, who has produced a groundbreaking study of the art and architecture of the Nazi period, will present the Jean and Harold Gossett Lecture.

    Saunders, winner of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, is a fiction and nonfiction author of short stories, essays, novellas and children’s stories. His humor and vision have led some critics to compare his work to a young Kurt Vonnegut.

    Saunders has a highly unusual background for a writer—he graduated from the Colorado School of Mines and worked as a technical writer and geophysical engineer prior to joining the faculty of Syracuse University, where he is currently a professor of creative writing.

    “Saunders’ America in the near future is a toxic wasteland overrun by vicious thugs and venal opportunists who prey on the weak and misshapen,” said Publisher Weekly of his book, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. “Saunders’ feverish imagination conjures up images as horrific as any from a Hieronymous Bosch painting: a field full of braying mules toppled over from bone marrow disease; a tourist attraction featuring pickled stillborn babies.”

    A contributor to such magazines as the New Yorker, Esquire and Harper’s and the author of numerous works, including In Persuasion Nation, Pastoralia and The Braindead Megaphone, Saunders will participate in a panel discussion and read some of his work at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 21 in Swift Hall.

    Saunders, a recipient of the National Magazine Award for fiction, also will host a three-hour workshop in fiction and another in nonfiction for students while he is in residence. Ten students will be selected, based on their writing submissions, to attend the workshops.

    Saunders’ visit is part of the Kestenbaum Family Writer in Residence program, presented by the Committee on Creative Writing. The program brings writers of national and international prominence to the University to honor distinguished writers who are teaching and who have at Chicago. It also showcases the University’s newly formed programs in creative writing and provides a workshop for writers currently working on projects. Previous writers have included Lydia Davis, Zadie Smith and Art Spiegelman.

    Beard, who is the classics editor of The Times Literary Supplement, will present “Pompeii Reconstructed?” at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, May 22, in Classics 110.

    A prolific author, Beard has authored or co-authored a wide range of books on antiquity, including Religions of Rome, Classics: A Very Short Introduction, The Invention of Jane Harrison, and The Colosseum. Beard has spanned an eclectic cross-section of classical and modern life in her work, having examined the role of laughter in Rome, the role of the classics in the 19th and 20th centuries, Greek and Roman visual culture, and Roman religion, ceremony and literature.

    Beard will lecture on her recent work on Pompeii, the ancient Roman town buried by a volcanic event in 79 A.D., which had been left remarkably intact for archaeological examination. Her exploration of Pompeii blends ancient history and the contemporary experiences of tourists wandering around the ancient town, which has long been a site of mass tourism.

    Beard, who has been called “Britain’s best-known classicist by the Guardian, is the author of the popular blog, A Don’s Life,” found at http://timesonline.typepad.com/dons_life/.

    Robert Danziger (M.D. ’80) established the lecture to honor his father, Sigmund Danziger Jr. (A.B. ’37), who had been an inveterate reader and student of the classics. The National Endowment for the Humanities also supports the lecture, which fosters an appreciation for classical literature.

    Jaskot will lecture on the topic “Nazi Politicians, German Art Historians and Antisemitic Propaganda: The Nazi Party Appropriation of Heinrich Woelfflin in the Electoral Battles of the Late Weimar Republic.” His presentation is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 29 in Classics 110.

    A professor of art and architectural history at DePaul University, Jaskot is perhaps best known for his 2000 book, The Architecture of Oppression: The SS, Forced Labor and the Nazi Monumental Building Economy.

    This book re-evaluated the architectural history of Nazi Germany and looked at the development of the forced-labor concentration camp system.

    Jaskot’s work has continued to focus on the intersection of Nazi politics with periods of German art and architectural history. He has written on the role of the SS and the postwar influence of Nazi political positions on artistic debates and has examined the influence of the Nazi past on postwar German art.

    The Gossett Lecture is named in memory of Holocaust victims Martha and Paul Feivel Korngold. The Committee on Jewish Studies sponsors the Jean and Harold Gossett Lecture, which was established in 1997. The lecture is intended to highlight artistic expression in modern Jewish culture with a particular emphasis on issues related to the Holocaust.