Professor of English and Williams-Mystic Faculty Fellow
I majored in English in the mid-‘90s at Wesleyan, where I arrived wanting to study novels and old plays and left wanting to be a critical theorist, though I imagine the same could be said of a great many liberal arts students in 1995. (The year I graduated, Wesleyan’s Spring Fling T-shirt reproduced the jack-o-lantern cover of the old Dialectic of Enlightenment paperback.) After college, I moved to Berlin for a year, to translate Günter Grass and read Walter Benjamin, and then to Duke, for a PhD under Fredric Jameson. At Williams, I teach courses in critical theory, while maintaining a sideline in English literature of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: early novels, satire, revenge tragedies, and, above all, Milton. I wrote my first book, The Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment as a companion volume and counterweight to Adorno and Horkheimer’s D. of E. , and out of sense that scholars had generally misunderstood the classic skeptical writers – the writers, that is, who thought they could talk people out of being philosophers or seeking enlightenment, or indeed, out of knowing things. The book’s aims are twofold: to show how various literary genres can be mobilized to block knowledge (rather than disseminate it) and to reconstruct just what skeptics think they are accomplishing when they ask us to relinquish knowledge. These days, I am finishing a book—Four Hundred Years (And It’s the Same Philosophy)—on critical theory’s undiscussed imperialism, the support, often quite plain, that putatively emancipatory thinkers offer to European and US expansion. I’ve also been trying to figure out whether it’s possible to tell stories about the whole world. Can there be novels or movies that don’t in the usual sense have settings, or that have only multiple and widely dispersed ones? Which are our most geographically expansive novels and films? And how do narrative forms change when they span hemispheres rather than cities or countries? But before I write out answers to those questions, I need to finish a short book about what nearly everyone gets wrong about Marxism, as well as standalone essays on Kendrick Lamar; recent film adaptations of Stephen King novels; and Tristram Shandy on the margins of empire.
Ph.D. Duke University, Literature (2001)
Areas of Expertise
Critical theory; eighteenth-century philosophy and German idealism; the epic; the history of the novel, especially the historical and postcolonial novel; horror & the Gothic; and rock & roll.
Some of his recent writing can be found at http://people.williams.edu/cthorne/.