Each fellow will spend a semester in residence at the center, researching a new book project while performing various fellow duties, including delivering one formal public lecture about his or her work.
Fall 2013: Open theme
An ancient trope of the visual and literary arts, Venus signifies beauty, desire and fecundity and is a predominant symbol of art itself. In the early modern Florentine context in which images of the mythic figure proliferated, the symbolism of the Venus is amplified and particularized through its associations with the Medici Dynasty. Professor Messbarger’s book project, “The Re-birth of Venus: Conquest of the Renaissance in Enlightenment Florence,” explores the displacement of this icon in the eighteenth century with a more publicly useful Venus featured at the heart of the Royal Museum of Physics and Natural History. The young Habsburg Archduke of Tuscany Peter Leopold founded the Florentine science museum in 1775 as a means to overthrow the regressive cultural authority of the Medici and launch a new era of Enlightenment. The first public museum in the modern sense of the term, it was open to all, free of charge, and summoned Tuscans from every rank to a direct encounter with the natural order of the world and their own intricately ordered nature. The most powerful magnet and featured attraction at the heart of the museum was the spectacular, life-size, demountable Anatomical Venus that epitomized a novel epistemology of the body at the intersection of art and science. Evocatively positioned in a state of passionate abandon on a silken bed, the idealized female figure uniquely demonstrated the anatomy of the torso, from the surface musculature to the remote organs of the lower abdomen, through parts that could be systematically dismantled and held in the hand. Professor Messbarger’s research will focus on the real and symbolic links and ruptures between the wax Venus and the Venuses de Medici it served to displace, and between the Royal Museum and the reorganized Uffizi in the context of Peter Leopold’s program of enlightened political and cultural reforms.
Professor Messbarger was awarded the 2012-13 James L Clifford Prize by The American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.
In theater studies, conventional histories of acting tend to focus on legendary actors and directors, attributing stylistic innovations to artistic will. Professor Walker’s book project, “Modernity & Performance,” expands and complicates this traditional narrative, broadening its lens to consider performance in relation to deeper, impersonal forces of sociocultural change. Innovations in styles of acting, she argues, represent the processes of sociocultural change in their very form, functioning as “liminal rituals” by which actors and audiences accommodate themselves to new social realities.
Professor Walker's plan for the book’s third chapter on modernist performance considers two distinct manifestations of it in relation to urban planning and contemporary social scientific discourses of “social control.” As she demonstrates, the early 20th-century phenomenon of civic pageantry — such as Percy MacKaye’s The Masque and Pageant of St. Louis (1914) — explicitly aimed to produce citizen-subjects for the modern city through a performative enactment of citizenship. Analyzing its formal conventions in relation to the seemingly nonsensical performance practices of Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism, etc., Professor Walker argues that avant-garde artists adopted a deliberate strategy of alogic in every element of performance in order to challenge and/or exploit the performative protocols of social control. In this way, the social processes embedded in performance became newly visible in the modern moment, laid bare by the self-reflexive practices of modernist artists and their critics.
Spring 2014: Affect
Professor Cuillé’s book project, “Divining Nature: French Ventures in Fiction, Imagery, and Stagecraft,” examines the impact of the natural and the occult sciences on the fine arts (specifically opera, painting, and the novel) in eighteenth-century France. Beginning with the medical interest in sensibility of the 1740s, Professor Cuillé investigates natural historians, philosophers, novelists, artists and composers who theorized a range of affective responses to the spectacle of nature and sought to induce similar responses in their listeners, viewers and readers. Whether these sentiments — including pity, terror, melancholy, enthusiasm and the mixed emotions of “happy melancholy,” “negative happiness” and the uncanny — were deemed socially beneficial or deleterious informed contemporary debates about the role of literature in the modern republic. "Divining Nature" reveals that the empirical study of nature, which inevitably led to aesthetic experimentation, resulted in an unexpected turn towards religion, spirituality or fantasy that has traditionally been considered antithetical to Enlightenment thought. Professor Cuillé intends to draft the final chapter on the rise of fantastic fiction in France, a genre that linked the material and spiritual realms and whose emergence is attributed to the scientific inquiry of the Enlightenment and the ravages of the French Revolution.
How much should I give to charity? Is it okay for me to break this promise? As a Catholic, can I vote for the pro-choice candidate? As Professor Kurth investigates in his project, when we face difficult moral decisions like these, we feel a distinctive unease — we must make a choice but we are unsure what the correct thing to do is. Yet despite the pervasiveness of this phenomenon, surprisingly little work has been done to either characterize this emotion — this moral anxiety — or explain its role in moral decision-making. Given that moral anxiety is a pervasive feature of our moral lives, it is important that we understand what it is. Moreover, given the many ways in which our emotions can inform and distort moral judgment, it is also important that we understand the role that moral anxiety plays in our moral decision-making. Professor Kurth’s book project, “Moral Anxiety: What It Is and Why It Matters,” addresses these issues. First, he develops an empirically informed account of what moral anxiety is. He then use this account to sharpen our understanding of how emotion and reason do — and should — interact in moral thought.