Lionel Trilling (1905-75) was one of Columbia's, and America's, great humanists of the 20th century. In his memory, Columbia sponsors a series of intellectual conversations, known as the Lionel Trilling Seminars in Criticism. These events bring together leading scholars and thinkers to present new ideas in a setting that allows for serious exchange.
This year's Lionel Trilling Seminar will be held on Tuesday, April 5, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Teatro Room of the Italian Academy ( Amsterdam Ave. at 117 St.).
The featured speaker will be Wai Chee Dimock, Lampson Professor at Yale, and the respondents will be Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Avalon Professor at Columbia, and Mary Louise Pratt, Silver Professor at New York University.
The topic, "Epic and Novel on Four Continents," will range from Gilgamesh and Plato to Dante, Derek Walcott and novels from Africa and the African Diaspora. Dimock develops the idea of "literature for the planet": her work is also deeply grounded in a sense of the particularity of literature as a distinct human practice that creates a distance from the other activities in which its production is enmeshed. She emphasizes especially the power of literature not only to cross barriers of space but also to create novel structures of time that transform the ways we understand history and everyday experience.
Dimock is a leading figure in scholarship on American literature. She has published a study of Herman Melville's novels (Empire for Liberty) and an interdisciplinary exploration joining law, literature and moral philosophy (Residues of Justice), which was honored by the Modern Language Association. Her current work moves between America and the transnational world of literature. Forthcoming is her book Through Other Continents: American Literature across Deep Time, and she is working on a complementary book addressing genres of world writing, From Gilgamesh to the Grateful Dead.
Pratt teaches in the departments of Spanish and Portuguese and of Comparative Literature. An internationally known scholar of Latin America and of colonial encounter, she was the President of the Modern Language Association in 2003. Her books include Toward a Speech-Act Theory of Literary Discourse and Imperial Eyes, which was honored by the Modern Language Association.
One of the world's best-known teachers and readers of literature, Spivak is Avalon Foundation Professor of Humanities at Columbia, where she also directs the Center for Comparative Literature and Society. She is a noted translator from French and Bengali. Her books range from In Other Worlds, which helped to form the idea of postcolonial studies, to Death of a Discipline, which demonstrates how social justice and literary form are intertwined.