Critical Questions

The Critical Questions lecture series has brought prominent scholars in literature, rhetoric, and film to OSU since 2009. In addition to delivering a public talk, the speakers meet with graduate students to discuss such topics as: the genesis of their work; the state of the field as they see it; and the cultural relevance of scholarship in the humanities. Past speakers have included Miles Orvell, winner of the Bode-Pearson prize for lifetime achievement in American Studies; Holly Crocker, author of Chaucer's Visions of Manhood; Cindy Weinstein, Professor of English and Executive Officer in the Humanities at Caltech; and Carl Djerassi, prize-winning chemist and internationally recognized playwright.

Critical Questions 2017-2018


Dr. Ersula Ore
Lynching: A Rhetoric of Civic Belonging
May 2 at 4:00 p.m.
Memorial Union 206

Ersula J. Ore is the Lincoln Professor of Ethics in The School of Social Transformation and Assistant Professor of African & African American Studies and Rhetoric at Arizona State University. Her work examines the suasive strategies of aggrieved communities as they operate within a post-emancipation historical context. Her manuscript Lynching: A Rhetoric of Civic Belonging explores lynching as a racialized practice of civic engagement that has, from the 1880s onward, operated as an argument against the inclusion of blacks within the nation. The study gives particular attention to the civic roots of lynching, the relationship between lynching and white constitutionalism, and contemporary manifestations of lynching discourse and logic today. Dr. Ore is a 2013 Institute for Humanities Research Fellow at ASU and a 2011 Penn State Alumni Association Dissertation Award Recipient. Her most recent publications include “‘PushBack’: A Pedagogy of Care,” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture (2017), “Whiteness as Racialized Space: Obama and the Rhetorical Constraints of Phenotypical Blackness” in Kris Ratcliffe’s Rhetorics of Whiteness: Postracial Hauntings in Popular Culture, Social Media, and Education (2017), and “They Call Me ‘Dr. Ore’,” Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society Special Issue:
Race, Rhetoric and the State


Past Critical Questions Guests

Professor Dorothy Kim
Title TBA
January 22 at 4:30 p.m.
Memorial Union 104
Dorothy Kim teaches Medieval Literature at Vassar College. She was a 2013-2014 Fellow at the University of Michigan’s Frankel Institute of Advanced Judaic Studies where she finished a monograph entitled Jewish/Christian Entanglements: Ancrene Wisse and its Material Worlds which is forthcoming from the University of Toronto press. She also has two books, Digital Whiteness and Medieval Studies and Decolonize the Middle Ages, forthcoming in 2018 with ArcPress. She has received fellowships from the SSHRC and the Ford, Fulbright, and Mellon Foundations. She is the co-project director in the NEH-funded Scholarly Editions and Translations project An Archive of Early Middle English that plans to create a 161 MSS database for medieval English manuscripts from 1100-1348 that include all items in Early Middle English. She is co-editing two collections in the Digital Humanities. The first collection, co-edited with Jesse Stommel (University of Mary Washington) on Disrupting the Digital Humanities (November 2017, punctum books), discusses marginal methodologies and critical diversities in the Digital Humanities. The second collection, co-edited with Adeline Koh on Alternative Histories of the Digital Humanities (forthcoming 2018, punctum books), examines the difficult histories of the digital humanities in relation to race, sexuality, gender, disability, fascism. She is co-editing A Cultural History of Race in the Renaissance and Early Modern Age (1350-1550) with Kimberly Coles (University of Maryland, College Park) with Bloomsbury. She is the medieval editor for the Orlando Project 2.0 and can be followed at @dorothyk98. She was named by Diverse: Issues in Higher Ed 2015 Emerging Scholar under 40. She will be teaching a class with Angel Nieves (Yale University) in 2018 on “Race, Social Justice: DH Methods and Applications” at DHSI at the University of Victoria.

Critical Discussions Session:

Romantic Studies in 2017
Moderated by Professor Evan Gottlieb 

October 20 at 4 p.m.
Memorial Union 206 (the Asian-Pacific Room)

Mai-Lin Cheng (University of Oregon)
Stephanie DeGooyer (Willamette University)
Andrew Franta (U of Utah) should be added
Paul Westover (Brigham Young University)
Jonathan Sachs (Concorida University)


Professor Evan Gottlieb

Speculative Romanticism, or Wordsworth and Shelley in the Anthropocene

September 20 at 4pm
Memorial Union 206 (Asian-Pacific Room)

If poets are “the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” as Percy Shelley famously claimed, then what do the Romantic poets have to say to us today, when many of our current political leaders are notably unwilling to take seriously the looming catastrophe of climate change? Although poets like Shelley and William Wordsworth did not have phrases like “anthropogenic global warming” at their disposal, they were writing at the beginning of the geologic era we now call the Anthropocene: the era of unprecedented human intervention in the Earth’s atmosphere, with potentially irreversible effects. Re-viewing some of their most influential writings through the lens of Speculative Realism – a set of theoretical approaches that emphasize the importance of thinking outside the subject-object duopoly – we can see the strengths as well as the limitations of their attempts to render in words what Timothy Morton calls “solidarity with nonhuman people.”


Pearl Brilmyer
The Flat, the Round, and the Lively: Animating the Inorganic with George Eliot and Gertrude Stein

This talk brings into conversation work on literary character in both the Victorian and modernist periods in England in order to narrate a shift in the history of characterization away from a concern with the dialectics of flat versus round toward that of a new, scientifically informed binary—the mechanistic versus the lively. Drawing a series of unexpected parallels between the work of George Eliot and Gertrude Stein, I track the emergence of this new characterological paradigm, a paradigm in which character inhered not the production of individuality or apparent consciousness but in the eruption of an inexplicable liveliness.

S. Pearl Brilmyer is currently an Assistant Professor in English at the University of Pennsylvania. She received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Austin and her B.A. in English and philosophy from the University of Scranton. Her work lies at the intersection of the history of philosophy, science, and literature with a focus on problems of description in the Victorian novel. Her current project, Character Density: Late Victorian Realism and the Science of Description, concerns the philosophical implications of the disarticulation of character from plot at the end of the nineteenth century. Other research interests include: theories of will and drive in 19th-century German philosophy, questions of temporality in feminist and queer theory, and materialisms old and new.

Brilmyer has recently published in PMLA and Representations, and is currently completing an experimental excerpted edition of the South African writer Olive Schreiner's 1926 novel, From Man to Man; or Perhaps Only. Her work has been supported by the Institute for Cultural Inquiry, the DAAD, and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. Photo credit: Claudia Peppel

Catherine Keyser
Changing Color in the Chocolate Factory: Roald Dahl and Race

Catherine Keyser is an associate professor of English and a Peter and Bonnie McCausland Fellow at the University of South Carolina. She received her doctorate from Harvard University in 2007. Her book, Playing Smart: New York Women Writers and Modern Magazine Culture (Rutgers University Press 2010) considers the witty personae of women writers of the 1920s like Dorothy Parker and Anita Loos. Keyser has published articles on American literature, periodical culture, and food studies. Her current book project, Artificial Color: Modern Food and Racial Fictions, argues that modern U.S. literature uses the global-industrial food system and the new technologies that come along with it to explore and often challenge racial categorization.



Leah Ceccarelli
Brown Bag Lunch on Rhetoric, Science, and Manufactured Controversies

Scholarship on the rhetoric of science applies concepts developed in the humanities to the persuasive efforts of scientists. In this brownbag, Ceccarelli introduces some rhetorical scholarship on the communication of scientists. Reviewing the take-home messages of a number of case studies, she offers advice about what scientists should and should not do when engaging the public about their research.

The Public Ethos of the Engaged Scientist: Prophet, Profligate, Politicos

In her book, On the Frontier of Science: An American Rhetoric of Exploration and Exploitation (Michigan State UP, 2013), Leah Ceccarelli asks what is selected and deflected when scientists represent themselves in public address through the mythic figure of the pioneer. In this talk, she will discuss some subsequent projects that she has been developing on how scientists are characterized in the public sphere. The first case study examines George W. Bush’s conflicting depictions of scientists in his presidential speeches. The second case study looks at the responsibility of scientists as established in the trials of L’Aquila seismologists after the Italian earthquake of 2009. The third case study reveals the civic agency imagined by scientists proposing restrictions on morally questionable or dangerous types of genomics research. In these three cases, the scientist is envisioned as occupying different roles in society, with different duties and powers. An understanding of the rhetorical possibilities available for constructing the ethos of the scientist in the contemporary public sphere can help us in the future to select those representations that are most likely to benefit society and reject those representations that are most likely to do harm.


Lily Sheehan

Lily Sheehan
Mood Work: Modernism and Methodology

Lily Sheehan’s research and teaching interests are in late-nineteenth and twentieth century American and British literatures and cultures with a focus on modernism, visual and material culture, fashion theory, critical race studies, and women and gender studies. She is completing a book project entitled Modernism à la Mode: Fashion, Form, and the Ends of Literature, which brings together texts, images, and clothing to argue that fashion defines the terms and reception of modernism’s investment in novelty as a way to produce particular ways of knowing, feeling, reading, and relating.

Sheehan co-edited Cultures of Femininity in Modern Fashion (University of New Hampshire Press 2011), an interdisciplinary collection of essays that explores how fashion shaped ideas and experiences of femininity in Europe and North America from 1850 to 1940. She also has essays published or forthcoming on topics including garments in the photography of James Van Der Zee and the fiction of Jessie Fauset, dress design by members of the Bloomsbury Group, and Fauset’s internationalism. At OSU, Sheehan is an Assistant Professor of English and a core faculty member in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program.

Elena Del Rio
Nymph()maniac: Cruel Polyphony of Nature

Elena del Río is a Professor of Film Studies at the University of Alberta. Her essays on the intersections between cinema and philosophies of the body in the areas of technology, performance, and affect have been featured in journals such as Camera Obscura, Cine-Files, Discourse, Science Fiction Studies, Studies in French Cinema, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, Film-Philosophy, The New Review of Film and Television Studies, Canadian Journal of Film Studies, SubStance, and Deleuze Studies. She has also contributed essays to volumes on the films of Atom Egoyan and Rainer W. Fassbinder, and on topics such as Asian exploitation film, cinema and cruelty, the philosophy of film, and Deleuze and cinema. She is the author of Deleuze and the Cinemas of Performance: Powers of Affection (Edinburgh, 2008) and The Grace of Destruction: A Vital Ethology of Extreme Cinemas (Bloomsbury, 2016). Her presentation will be on the subject of embodiment and affect in cinema.

Licia Fiol-Matta

Licia Fiol-Matta
A Queer Singer for the Nation: Voice, Gender, and Politics in Chavela Vargas

Licia Fiol-Matta is Professor of Latin American and Latino literary and cultural studies at the City University of New York. She is the author of A Queer Mother for the Nation: The State and Gabriela Mistral  (Minnesota)  and The Great Woman Singer: Voice, Gender, Thought in Puerto Rican Music (Duke, forthcoming 2016). Fiol-Matta is co-editor of the series New Directions in Latino American Cultures (Palgrave). Her recent publications include "Queer/Sexualities," in Martínez-San Miguel, Sifuentes-Jáuregui, and  Belausteguigoitia, eds., Critical Terms in Latin American and Caribbean Thought (Palgrave, 2015), and “A Queer Mother for the Nation Redux: Gabriela Mistral in the Twenty-First Century,” Radical History Review (Fall 2014).

Bob Spoo

Robert Spoo

Robert Spoo is Chapman Distinguished Professor of Law, and Associate Dean for Faculty Development, at The University of Tulsa College of Law. He received his J.D. from the Yale Law School and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University. After clerking for the Honorable Sonia Sotomayor, and then the U.S. Court of Appeals, he practiced law in New York and San Francisco and is currently Of Counsel with a prominent Tulsa law firm. Formerly the editor of the James Joyce Quarterly, he has published extensively on modern authors, law and literature, and copyrights and the public domain. His latest book is Without Copyrights: Piracy, Publishing, and the Public Domain, published in 2013 by Oxford University Press.


Stacey Peebles

Stacey Peebles is Assistant Professor of English and Director of Film Studies Program at Centre College. Peebles has been speaking and writing about Cormac McCarthy since 1998 and now serves as the editor of The Cormac McCarthy Journal. She is also interested in film adaptation, and the representation of war and violence. Her 2011 book published by Cornell University Press, titled Welcome to the Suck: Narrating the American Soldier’s Experience in Iraq, speaks to the conflict in literature, film, and new media. She is currently working as Guest Editor on Modern Fiction Studies Special Issue – Enduring Operations: The Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.


Pamela Caughie

Pamela Caughie is Professor of English and Associate Faculty in Women’s Studies and Gender Studies at Loyola University Chicago and Co-Director of Modernist Networks, a digital consortium. She is author of Passing and Pedagogy: The Dynamics of Responsibility (1999) and Virginia Woolf and Postmodernism: Literature in Quest and Question of Itself (1991), editor of Disciplining Modernism (2009) and Virginia Woolf in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (2002), and co-editor of Woolf Writing in the World: Selected Papers from the 24th Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf (forthcoming 2015).


Jan-Christopher Horak

Jan-Christopher Horak is the Director of the UCLA Film & Television Archive and a professor in the Critical Studies program in the film school at UCLA. HIs previous archival work includes a stint as the Director of Archives & Collections at Universal Studios, the Director of the Munich Film Museum, and the Senior Curator at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. His publications include: Making Images Move: Photgraphers and Avant-Garde Cinema (1997), Lovers of Cinema: The First American Film Avant-Garde 1919-1945 (1995) and The Dream Merchants: Making and Selling Films in Hollywood's Golden Age (1989) as well as over 250 articles and reviews in English, German, French, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Hungarian, Czech, Swedish, and Hebrew.


Kit Andrews

Kit Andrews is a Professor of English at Western Oregon University. His teaching and scholarship focus on Victorian literature, European intellectual history, West African literature, and critical theory. Professor Andrews currently is at work on a project that investigates the nineteenth-century British literary and philosophical reception of German Idealism.


Elizabeth Weiser

Elizabeth Weiser is an Associate Professor of English at Ohio State University, Newark. Her publiations include Burke, War, Words: Rhetoricizing Dramatism, Engaging Audience: Writing in an Age of New Literacies, and the forthcoming Women and Rhetoric between the Wars. Her research on global museums and national identity crosses the fields of rhetoric, literature, public memory, history, political science, and museum studies.


Carl Djerassi

Dr. Djerassi is also a well-known cultural critic and a founder of the recent “science-in-fiction” and “science-in-theatre” literary genres, which attempt to represent contemporary science, scientific ethics, and the “tribal culture” of scientists within the confines of realism rather than fantasy. His major works in these fields include five novels—Cantor’s Dilemma, The Bourbaki Gambit, Menachem’s Seed, NO, and Marx, Deceased, —and three plays—An Immaculate Misconception, Oxygen (co-authored with Roald Hoffmann), and Four Jews on Parnassus. Such works have been translated into at least 16 different languages, and his plays have debuted in cultural centers such as Vienna, Mu-nich, Berlin, Dublin, London, San Francisco and New York City. Accompanied by OSU Professor of Theatre Arts Charlotte Headrick, Dr. Djerassi will conclude his lecture with a dramatic reading from his new play Phallacy.

Sponsored by:

The School of Writing, Literature, and Film
The Horning Endowment
The Center for the Humanities
Diversity and Cultural Engagement
School of History, Philosophy, and Religion