Gary Stonum

The Oviatt Professor of English

Gary Stonum

Why I do what I do when I do it rather than something else for some other reason at some other time or nothing never no-how

Admittedly, that last triplet doesn’t sound half bad on occasion, but most of the time I study, teach and practice the arts of reading and writing, doing so because such arts best allow me to make some sense of the world and to help others do the same.

More specifically, my work focuses on 19th and 20th century American literature, on related literatures that in various ways feed into or influence American writing, and on literary theory, especially or at least most recently, narratology. Part of the cohort of academics that first began to read American writers through lenses supplied by post-structuralist theory, I continue to stress philosophical and semiotic concerns and (hence) to wax unbecomingly snarky about demands that American literature ought to look like America or adequately represent its culture(s).

More recently and specifically, I am interested in the notions of authorship that readers and writers hold and the ways in which such notions (and the institutions in which they are embodied) confer legitimacy on certain projects at certain times and others at other times. One side of this has mainly to do with what cognitive science understands as high-level uptake, especially the features of narrative that we do/learn to/should attend to. Another side concerns modernist ideas about authorship, particularly the vogue of impersonality.

The ultimate although often distant goal of this work belongs less to literary history, interpretation or critique than to eudaemonics. Forms of authorships, for example, can be achievements most worthy of praise. And when I am happiest about my work that is what I most seek to do, understand what is genuinely worth admiring and why.

Guilford House 315