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Nico Israel

Nico Israel’s areas of expertise include twentieth century British, Irish, U.S. and European literature; literary and critical theory; and art history and visual culture. His primary research is in modernist studies. He also works in the fields of post-colonial and globalization studies, translation studies and “World” literature.

Israel’s second book, Spirals: The Whirled Image of Twentieth-Century Literature and Art, will appear in early 2015 in Columbia University Press’s Modernist Latitudes series (edited by Paul Saint Amour and Jessica Berman). Israel reveals how spirals are at the heart of some of the most significant literature and visual art of the twentieth century. Juxtaposing the work of writers and artists including W.B. Yeats and Vladimir Tatlin, James Joyce and Marcel Duchamp, and Samuel Beckett and Robert Smithson, he argues that spirals provide a crucial frame for understanding the mutual involvement of modernity, history and geopolitics, complicating the spatio-temporal logic of literary and artistic genres and of academic disciplines. 

The book takes the spiral not only as its topic but as its method. Drawing on the writings of Walter Benjamin and Alain Badiou, Israel theorizes a way of reading spirals spirally, responding to their dual-directionality as well as their affective dimensionality. The sensations associated with spirals––flying, falling, drowning, being smothered—reflect the anxieties of limits tested or breached, and Israel charts these limits as they widen from the local to the global and recoil back. Chapters explore ’pataphysics, futurism, vorticism, Dada-surrealism, concentrism, minimalism and entropic earth art; a coda pairs novelist W.G. Sebald and contemporary artist William Kentridge.  In Spirals, Israel offers a new approach to the history of modernism and its aftermaths, one that gives modernist studies, comparative literature, and art criticism an important new spin.

Israel earned his doctoral degree from Yale University in 1995. His first book, Outlandish: Writing between Exile and Diaspora, was published by Stanford University Press in 2000. Outlandish addressed geographical displacement as a lived experience in the twentieth century, as a predicament of writing, and as a problem for theory. Engaging the cusp between modernist and post-colonial studies, the book theorized a mode of reading between exile and diaspora—two fundamentally different descriptions of displacement.

Prof. Israel has published over twenty critical essays (on Joseph Conrad, Theodor Adorno, Salman Rushdie, Wallace Stevens, W.B. Yeats, and Samuel Beckett, and on questions concerning geography, globalization and ethics) and book reviews (on high and late modernism, critical theory, and travel literature). He has also published over seventy-five pieces on visual art (catalogue essays, previews and reviews for Artforum on contemporary art exhibitions-- with special focus on art and the global market).

Prof. Israel has lectured widely–both domestically (at Harvard, Yale, Duke, Oklahoma State, Otis College of Art and Design, and DIA-Beacon), and abroad (in France, Britain, Australia, Colombia and Cuba). He has participated in more than two-dozen academic conferences, and essays of his have been translated into French, German, Polish, Spanish and Euskera (Basque).

Israel has recently completed two essays.  The first, "Beckett and the Colonial Gag," explores the work of Beckett and the philosopher Giorgio Agamben, and will be published in 2015 in Modernism, Postcolonialism and Globalism: Anglophone Literature from 1948 to the Present, eds. Richard Begam and Michael Moses (Oxford UP).   The second, “The Anxiety of Hope: Joyce, Esperantic Modernism, and the Babel of Human Rights,” concerns the relation between the constructed international auxiliary language Esperanto and the rise of international modernism and of human rights discourse. Focus is on the parodies of Esperanto in James Joyce’s novels Ulysses and Finnegans Wake

Recent undergraduate and master's seminars taught at Hunter include: “Twentieth Century British and American Fiction” (2014); “On Spirals (2013); “Modernist Poetry and Poetics” (2012), “High Modernisms” and "James Joyce" (2011), and "Beyond Human Rights?" and "Beckett and Sustainability" (2010). Since 2009, Prof Israel has also been on the faculty of the English Department of the CUNY Graduate Center. In 2011-12 he was awarded a full-year fellowship from the Andrew Mellon Foundation.  In 2014-2015 he will be on sabbatical/fellowship leave.  

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