Cancel the Classics? How to Read the Great Books in the 21st Century, from Twain to Hemingway and beyond…
Tuesday, December 13, 2022, 6:30-8:30 PM Eastern US Time
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Some canonical works of literature have shaped who we are, but their values and language clash with contemporary sensibilities. What can we do about books that use terms which are now unacceptable, represent mindsets or depict people in ways that we condemn today, short of canceling them? Major texts by E.A. Poe, Charlotte Brontë, Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, Willa Cather, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf and others fall in this category. In the seminar we examine strategies used by critics such as Toni Morrison, Chinua Achebe and others not to make apologies or cancel these books but instead double the fascination and power contained in these works.
Ulrich Baer received his B.A. from Harvard and his Ph.D. from Yale in Comparative Literature and has been awarded Guggenheim, DAAD, Getty, and Humboldt Fellowships. He is University Professor in Comparative and German Literature and Photography and Imaging at New York University and has published, among other books, Hannah Arendt: Between the Disciplines (with Amir Eshel), What Snowflakes Get Right: Free Speech, Truth and Equality on Campus; Remnants of Song: The Experience of Modernity in Charles Baudelaire and Paul Celan; Spectral Evidence: The Photography of Trauma; The Rilke Alphabet;110 Stories: New York Writes After September 11 (editor); Beggar’s Chicken: Stories from Shanghai; We Are But a Moment;The Claims of Literature: A Shoshana Felman Reader (co-editor), several books in German, and, as translator and editor, The Dark Interval: Rilke’s Letters on Loss, Grief and Transformation and Rainer Maria Rilke: Letters on Life. He has also published widely on photography, poetry and culture in museum catalogs, academic journals and leading newspapers. His podcast, Think About It, is devoted to in-depth conversations on powerful ideas and transformative books. He is also editorial director at Warbler Press, where he has published new editions of classic works and original titles. His latest book is Fictions of America: The Book of Firsts (with Smaran Dayal). He lives in New York City.
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