Nina Maria Gorrissen Fellow - Class of Fall 2012
Ernst Bernbaum Professor of Literature, Harvard University
Daniel Albright is Ernst Bernbaum Professor of Literature at Harvard University. His research interests include theories and strategies of comparative arts, Shakespeare and music, and Modernism in science, philosophy, and the arts. Albright also teaches courses on opera, drama, Victorian and Modernist poetry and fiction, and the relation of physics to literature. He is particularly interested in the ways in which artistic media—poetry, music, and painting—interact with one another. In 2000 his book Untwisting the Serpent: Music, Literature, and the Visual Arts (University of Chicago Press, 2000) won the Susanne M. Glasscock Humanities Book Prize for Interdisciplinary Scholarship. Albright’s other books include Music Speaks: On Opera, Dance, and Song (University of Rochester Press, 2009); Modernism and Music: An Anthology of Sources (University of Chicago Press, 2004); Quantum Poetics: Yeats, Pound, Eliot, and the Science of Modernism (Cambridge UP, 1997), and Stravinsky: The Music-Box and the Nightingale (Gordon and Breach, 1989).
American Academy Project
Comparative Arts in Theory and Practice
At the American Academy in Berlin, Albright will work on what he believes to be the central question in the study of comparative arts, namely: Are there many different arts, or is there one art that variously takes the form of a poem, a painting, a musical composition, or a building? The study of comparative arts has existed since the age of Aristotle’s Poetics, if not earlier, but the basis for making it into a formal discipline didn’t come into being until Lessing’s Laokoon (1766), in which Lessing concluded, after comparing the almost-expressionless Roman statue of the strangled Laocoon with Virgil’s description of Laocoon raising a horrible clamor to the stars, that the arts of temporal sequence, such as literature, had different protocols from the arts of spatial juxtaposition, such as sculpture and painting. Ever since Lessing, voices have been heard, either agreeing with this sort of separation of artistic media (for example, Theodor Adorno and Clement Greenberg), or refuting it (for example, Kandinsky). Albright will propose an Aufhebung for this dichotomy, by looking at each medium’s account of its own genesis.
The nineteenth-century notion of poésie pure -- or poetry without any prosaic elements -- led to a general attempt to "purify" art. Daniel Albright, the Ernst Bernbaum Professor of Literature at Harvard University, and a Nina Maria Gorrissen Fellow at the Academy this fall, believes that the belief that art is independent of any material medium (pigment, stone, word, musical pitch) tends to lead to an extreme purism in which the blank page, the white canvas, and silence become interchangeable limit-cases. »