The first chapter of Ruth Perry’s groundbreaking biography of Mary Astell, one of England’s earliest known feminists, is titled, “”The Rediscovery of a Woman’s Voice”—arguably Prof. Perry’s deepest concern. Throughout a lifetime of research and teaching, now the Ann Fetter Friedlander Professor of the Humanities at MIT, she has captured the voices of English and Scottish women authors, both celebrated (Jane Austen, Charlotte Lennox) and neglected (Mary Astell, Anna Gordon).
“One reason I came to MIT,” said Peter Donaldson, Ford International Professor of Humanities, Director of the Global Shakespeare Video and Performance Archive, and former Head of Literature, “was that merit and hard work matter here, perhaps more than at any other top university. Everyone has a chance. “
Walk by Professor Eugenie Brinkema’s office sometime when she is talking with a student, and you will hear a wild jumble of seemingly unconnected phrases: “sprocket holes,” “Irene Dunne’s eyebrows,” “Hobson’s choice,” “Lear on the heath,” “Althusser and Baudrillard,” “horror as void.” Brinkema readily discusses anything, the more bizarre and random the better.
When asked what his favorite book is, David Thorburn, longtime Literature professor at MIT, first cautions that “love/hate relationship” is a better descriptor than “favorite” for James Joyce’s massive Ulysses. With his characteristic intensity, Thorburn immediately starts to outline a passionate defense of his hatred: you can’t just read the book, it’s a lifetime’s project to work through, and its demands on readers are simply too much.
Seriousness. Breadth. Relevance. Scan Professor Kibel’s offerings at MIT’s Open Courseware, and you will be struck by the range of titles: Literature, Ethics, and Authority; Studies in Film; The Art of the Probable; Major European Novels; The End of Nature; Darwin and Design; Tragedy. Is there anything he cannot teach?
In an aikido studio, two people stand facing each other. One grabs the other’s fingers. She pauses and in that second scans the other body—tone, resistance, center of gravity. One decision at the fingers can affect wrist, arm, shoulder, then hip, knee, foot. “You always look for effortless movement,” says Mary Fuller, Professor of Literature and recently appointed Head of the Literature Section at MIT. “The fall shouldn’t feel like pain but like, oh, something happened, and now I’m on the ground.”