March 31, 2006

Prof Joins Cornellians to Search for Inner Voice

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Prof. Denise Riley, English and American studies, University of East Anglia, will serve as senior fellow for Cornell’s Society for the Humanities for one semester during the 2007-2008 year.

As senior fellow, Riley will interact with scholars not only from Cornell, but also from other universities. She will encourage the work of younger scholars, teach graduate school seminars and also work on her own research. She will do all this under the Society’s theme of “Reason and Improvisation.”

“I believe I was invited for the ‘improvisation’ bit,” Riley said. “I plan to take part [in the theme] by encouraging scholars to break out of the rigid bounds of academics and think creatively.”

“The humanities have long drawn a distinction between a human capacity for reason and a capacity for creative thought and expression,” the Society stated. “[Now is] a timely and urgent moment … to reconsider, to deconstruct or to affirm the relationship of reason and improvisation … In the end, the theme of ‘Reason and Improvisation’ hopes to overwhelm the sense of impasse where reason and science cannot speak to improvisation and creative labors, and vice versa.”

In her lecture yesterday, “The Inner Voice,” Riley discussed the implications of practical rhetoric and the act of coming up with an adequate description for one’s own social being. She analyzed how people use language, which is “by nature impersonal and exterior,” to “describe themselves as personal beings.”

“Writing is inner speech rendered graphic,” Riley said. She also remarked that students are often unfairly pressured to find their inner voice.

“If anything is in need of finding its inner voice, it’s the poem, not the poet,” she said. These ideas stem from Riley’s previous work on the effects of language and the history of feminism and are directly related to her recent book, Impersonal Passion: Language as Affect. The Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program sponsored the lecture.

Riley currently lives in London and teaches graduate courses in poetics and philosophy, modernism, European philosophy and creative writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. Riley said she is “constantly looking for important connections” between the various disciplines. In addition to being a scholar of literature, Riley is a prominent feminist writer.

“Women’s studies programs are a much more common thing in the United States than in Britain,” Riley said. “As a result of the way funding is allocated for British universities, the programs are virtually extinct in [there]. I am striving to keep those forms of insight, criticism and inquiry alive.”

Riley said that she was not sure which semester she would be teaching at Cornell.

Riley has published several other scholarly works, including War in the Nursery: Theories of Child and Mother, “Am I That Name?”: Feminism and the Category of Women in History and The Words of Selves: Identification, Solidarity, Irony. She edited Poets on Writing: Britain 1970-1991 and has published several poetry collections in addition to a number of essays.

Archived article by Ali Miller
Sun Contributor