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- Paula Curtis Explores the Nature of Power through Making
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Even as a devoted lover and teacher of both literature and history, I’m keenly aware that most of my students won’t pursue careers in these fields. That being the case, my teaching centers on pressing students to rigorously hone their research and writing skills, and the students absorb these lessons best when I stress their real-world importance. This aim, to make academic knowledge usable in the contexts of everyday life, has likewise been the driving force behind my journalistic writing and other efforts to become more of a public intellectual. We’re all aware of the pitfalls, limitations, and even delusions that can come with this role, especially when we pursue it at the expense of our scholarly work. But in a political climate rife with anti-elitism and anti-intellectualism, academics have a real civic duty to write for and learn from multiple audiences. For society’s sake and for our own, we must move across the borders between our professional and public worlds, even taking a sledgehammer to them if necessary.
My decision to enroll in two PhD programs—Comparative Literature and History—was unconventional. But that decision, along with the work I have done in both programs, was informed by the same kinds of questions, methods, and goals that inform my teaching and journalistic writing. For example, in the most recent—and most popular—course I taught for Comparative Literature, “’Welcome to the Monkey House’: How Politics Becomes a Reality Show,” my students and I explored how bringing literary thinking to the analysis of history and politics could engender better arguments, new interpretations, and more thoughtful engagement.
This is precisely the kind of work I do as a History student. Working with History professors Howie Brick and Geoff Eley, and employing all the tools I’ve developed as a literary scholar, I analyze in my dissertation the complex relations between technology and the political philosophies and cultures of the Left in Mexico. The impact of this work on my thinking is present in all my essays, but probably most especially in “The Snarxist Temptation.” Here are my most recent essays:
"It's not enough to write what you know" - Times Higher Education
"The Snarxist Temptation" - The Baffler
"Wish You Were Here: The Virtues of Banality" - Los Angeles Review of Books
"Donald Trump & Fascist Kitsch" - ROAR magazine, first presented to the Visualizing Fascism conference at U-M, June 2016.