This Friday's installment of 5 X Friday, in which we pose five questions to Department of English alumnae/i, faculty, and students, features PhD candidate Andrew Marzoni. The graduate student has his fingers in several pies here at Minnesota, but he's still looking for a sandwich (see below). He is the co-organizer of a popular new research group related to English, the Theory Reading Group. He contributes to the literary magazine of one of our BA alums. He serves as the research assistant to Somali author Nuruddin Farah, who in December completes a productive three-year residency as the CLA Winton Chair, hosted by English. And he recently published an essay, "Vengeance and Imitation in Shakespeare, Marlowe, and the Jewish Revenge Film," in the new volume Locating Shakespeare in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Kelli Marshall and Gabriele Malcolm (Cambridge Scholars, 2012). More . . . .
1. How did you get your essay in Locating Shakespeare in the Twenty-First Century? Does the essay connect to your dissertation topic?
The essay began as a project for a course on Shakespeare and Marlowe that Shirley Garner was teaching. I've been interested in the various relationships between Shakespeare and cinema ever since my undergrad days. This was right around the time that Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds came out, and I couldn't help but notice echoes of Shylock and Barabas--characters from The Merchant of Venice and The Jew of Malta, respectively, which we were reading in Shirley's class--in Tarantino's film which is, effectively, a Jewish revenge fantasy. I started to see the same things at work in a number of different films--Spielberg's Munich, The Hebrew Hammer, and a whole slew of contemporary Israeli films--so I decided to write about it. A few months later, while flipping through calls for papers online, I saw one for Locating Shakespeare, and I submitted the essay.
While the essay doesn't explicitly have much to do with my dissertation--which focuses primarily on American experimental literature and cinema from the 1950s and 1960s--it does serve as an example of an interrogation of film from the point-of-view of literature, and vice versa, which is (generally speaking) the same thing I'm attempting in my dissertation.
Writing song lyrics was sort of my gateway drug into the whole literature game. When I was about ten years old I wrote a song on the piano called "Shaking Hands with Abraham Lincoln," a rather demented blues shuffle full of innuendo that I must not have fully understood at the time. Instead of reprimanding me, my mother--who is a total free spirit--encouraged me to write more. I played in a lot of bands in high school and college, most notably a very Bowie-esque duo called The Lawrences of Arabia, which was a songwriting project for myself and my musical mentor, Nate Bergquist, who is now in a really amazing Los Angeles band called The LeBarons. Every now and then I'll hastily write and record a song in my home studio (a laptop, a couple of keyboards, and a bunch of partially broken guitars) and put it up on the Internet under the name Andypants. It's mostly a way to avoid working on my dissertation or grading papers without feeling entirely useless.
I've known Grace Littlefield, the Editor-in-Chief of Whole Beast Rag, since her undergrad days here at the U. She initially wanted [adjunct lecturer] Joe Hughes and I to have a sort of drunken Platonic dialogue (is that redundant?) about Roland Barthes, record it, and send in the transcript for publication--a plan which Joe (wisely, I'm sure) backed out of. Instead, we both wrote loosely theoretical essays which respond to each other. I also sent WBR a quasi-satirical poem about Gilles Deleuze and pizza which I had scribbled down in one of my sporadic moments of insanity.
3. You were one of the great minds who recently began the Theory Reading Group. What was the genesis of that group and why? What brought about the François Laruelle focus this semester?
The Theory Reading Group began in the fall of 2010, once again under the influence of Joe Hughes. A handful of other grad students in the English department (Robb St. Lawrence, Mike Rowe, Stephen McCulloch, Hyeryung Hwang, Wes Burdine, and Valerie Bherer, in particular) and I were responding to a collective desire to get together to discuss works of literary theory and philosophy: Latour, Marx, Foucault, Heidegger, etc. Last year, with the help of funding from Student Unions and Activities and GAPSA, we were able to Skype in a number of huge names in the world of theory (Ray Brassier, Levi Bryant, Claire Colebrook, and others) and bring a few to campus (John Protevi, Patricia Clough, Melissa Littlefield, and Kiarina Kordela). As a result, we've been able to draw a pretty decent crowd from across campus to our events and regular meetings.
Earlier this year, Joe got us in touch with Drew Burk, the director of a new local press, Univocal Publishing, which has been putting out these beautiful, artisanal editions of previously untranslated texts by continental philosophers such as Michel Serres, Gilbert Simondon, and Jean Baudrillard. It so happened that Drew was already set to translate two of Laruelle's books (Struggle and Utopia at the End Times of Philosophy, which was just released, and Photo-Fiction, A Non-Standard Aesthetics, which is coming out soon) and we bonded over a mutual interest in bringing Laruelle to Minneapolis--which he is, to read at the book launch for Photo-Fiction (on November 15, at Midway Contemporary Art), and to give a lecture at the Weisman Art Museum (on November 17).
4. For two years now, you've been the assistant of award-winning Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah during his fall semester residences in English as the CLA Winton Chair, 2010-12. Right now you're helping with a staged reading of his revised new play A Stone Thrown at the Guilty, December 7 and 8, with British director Irina Brown. Why should we attend? Also: Name three things we might not know about Farah.
Two reasons to go to the staged reading: Nuruddin's three years as Winton Chair are up after this semester. And how often is a perennial Nobel Prize nominee debuting a new play on campus for free?
Thing one: despite his years, Nuruddin has more energy--creative or otherwise--than I can ever hope to have. The day after the first public reading of A Stone Thrown at the Guilty, this past spring, Nuruddin and I sat down in his apartment and proceeded to revise the entire play (which was over a hundred pages long at that point, mind you), line by line, for nine hours. And, of course, he's still revising. Thing two: in addition to being an internationally acclaimed novelist and intellectual, Nuruddin is also a great cook--he can make a mean pot of lentils, especially. And thing three, the thing that was the most mind-blowing to me: he writes all of his novels by hand.
5. You did your BA (University of San Diego) on the left coast, your MA (NYU) on the right, and now you're on the third coast. Why Minnesota? Favorite class so far?
Well, when I was applying to PhD programs, I was living in Brooklyn, while my wonderful girlfriend, Laura, was working at the University Archives at NYU. She grew up in Minnesota, and her family still lives here, so a big part of my decision to come to Minneapolis was the fact that it was one of the few places that could pry her away from New York. It was a good decision in more ways than that one, of course: I wouldn't be the scholar that I am (or am trying to be, anyway) if it weren't for the mentorship of my advisers, Maria Damon and Shevvy Craig--the latter of whom taught the best class I've taken here, a film class titled "The Shattered Screen: Time, Spectacle, the Body."
As far as my thoughts on Minnesota, I'll spare you a Californian's take on the weather in order to bring your attention to the following dilemma: in my three years here, I have yet to find an establishment which serves a decent eggplant parmesan sandwich. Any leads as to the whereabouts of such a sandwich would be most greatly appreciated.
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