CMSI Lecture: Paul Saint-Amour

CMSI Lecture: Paul Saint-Amour

Event date: Wednesday 14 November 2018, 5.30 – 7 p.m.
Location: Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Blandijnberg 2, Auditorium 4 Jaap Kruithof

“Does a Cliff Have a Face?”; given by Prof. Paul Saint-Amour (University of Pennsylvania)


Emmanuel Levinas, theorist of the face-to-face as the central ethical encounter, famously said “I don’t know if a snake has a face.” If not even a snake is possessed of ethical faciality, what about the fossil of a snake? Or the fossil of a trilobite embedded in a cliff? Yet as little as one might imagine being in a face-to-face ethical encounter with the permineralized remains of a millennia-dead member of an extinct species of Arthropod, such encounters have happened. This talk begins with two such encounters in nineteenth-century Britain, one in a painting by a minor Pre-Raphaelite named William Dyce, the other in an early Thomas Hardy novel. How, I’ll ask, might fossils not only open a portal to deep time but also prompt, in the beholder, a profound ethical disorientation in the present? And how, broadening out, might we understand the human history of seeing faces in vegetable, mineral, and elemental worlds as something other than rank anthropocentrism—as an attempt to enter into a circuit of recognition and obligation with the nonhuman, even with the inorganic?


Paul K. Saint-Amour is Walter H. and Leonore C. Annenberg Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches nineteenth- and twentieth-century British literature. He wrote The Copywrights: Intellectual Property and the Literary Imagination (2003), which won the MLA Prize for a First Book, and edited the collection Modernism and Copyright (2011). Saint-Amour co-edits, with Jessica Berman, the Modernist Latitudes series at Columbia University Press. His latest book, Tense Future: Modernism, Total War, Encyclopedic Form (2015), won the Modernist Studies Book Prize and the MLA’s Matei Calinescu Award. His teaching and scholarship are now taking up questions of conflict, temporality, and scale in the environmental humanities.

All are welcome. Admission is free, and registration is not required. For more information, please contact Stef Craps.