Joseph Lavery

Assistant Professor
C35 Hearst Field Annex
Monday, 3 - 5

Professional Statement

My recently completed book, "The Sword and the Chrysanthemum: Victorian Theories of Japanese Aesthetics," explores the impact of the rise of Japan on a range of Victorian cultural projects. It argues that Japan provided Victorians with a manifest example of an ontologically different way of experiencing modern life: a different way of conceptualizing beauty, a different way of relating to power, and a different way of experiencing erotic intimacy. These differences resolved - albeit in unstable and fractious ways - an often overlooked dimension of European aesthetic theory: the melancholia entailed by appealing to universal assent to one's aesthetic judgment, even as one knows that such assent is both empirically improbable and logically impossible. That condition, which in the Kantian tradition is known as "the subjective universal character of the judgment of taste," crystallized into the peculiarly Japanese (though, actually, ubiquitous) aesthetic category of the "exquisite," whose pulsions my book detects and explores in the work of Oscar Wilde, D. G. Rossetti, Yone Noguchi, Gilbert and Sullivan, Sadakichi Hartmann, Onoto Watanna, and many others. Finally, the book argues, the aesthetic exceptionalization of Japan - a nineteenth century project co-authored by Western Orientalists and Japanese ambassadors of culture - has endured through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries; that the exquisite dimension of Orientalist aesthetics has imposed itself as an horizon for aestheticism throughout the period of globalization. Accordingly, my book offers new approaches to the complex relation to modernity found in a range of post-Victorian cultural texts, from the electropop of the Future Bible Heroes to the cinema of Quentin Tarantino.  


While completing my first book, I have begun work on another book project on an aspect of Victorian literature, where "Victorian" signifies both an historically specific site of inquiry and a mobile set of styles, forms, and genres that have persisted into the present day. "The Realist Principle: Eliot, Freud, and the Rhetoric of Technique" concerns the implications of British realism (chiefly its articulation in the work of George Eliot) for the question of psychoanalytic technique - that is, for the question of how an analyst should go about persuading a patient to relinquish fantasy and to accept reality. Treating Eliotic realism as a truth-claim-making body of knowledge dealing with questions of healing, repairing, and socializing the (putatively) neurotic reader, I have been tracing connections, on the one hand, between Eliot's generic experimentation and Freud's late papers on technique; and, on the other, exploring the implantation of realist rhetoric into later narratives of addiction, despair, and recovery.  


I have also been collaborating with Joseph Litvak (Tufts) on a project concerning the theory and history of sex comedy. The archives of sexuality and comedy overlap to an enormous extent - in picareque narrative, in pornographic parody, in bedroom farce, etc. One would hardly notice the fact, however, if one surveyed the past couple of decades' work in sexuality studies, which has been marked by a general insistence on the vitality and necessity of negative affects (such as depression, to take one influential example) in the periphery of sex. The discomfort queer theory seems to have with comedy replicates, I think, a discomfort that originates in psychoanalytic theory: with Freud himself, in 1905, writing Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious and the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality at the same time, but keeping the manuscripts on separate desks. "Sex/Comedy" explores, in collaboration with a number of other scholars, the contamination of sex by laughter (and vice versa), both before and after the sexological and psychoanalytic attempts to legitimate sex as a serious subject for study.


Selected Publications and Papers Delivered

Works in Progress

'The Sword and the Chrysanthemum: Victorian Theories of Japanese Aesthetics,' monograph.



––––'Essay in Criticism,' special issue on 'Weak Theory,' ed. Paul Saint-Amour, modernism/modernity, forthcoming.

––––'The Mikado's Queer Realism: Law, Genre, Knowledge,' special issue on 'Worlding Realisms,' ed. Lauren Goodlad, Novel, 49.2, Fall 2016.

––––'Remote Proximities: Aesthetics, Orientalism, and the Intimate Life of Japanese Things,' ELH, 83.4, Winter 2016.

––––'The Victorian Counterarchive: John Ruskin, Mikimoto Ryuzo, and Affirmative Reading,' Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 50, No. 3., 2013.

––––'Deconstruction and Petting: Untamed Animots in Kafka and Derrida,' in Demenageries: Thinking (of) Animals After Derrida, ed. Anne Berger and Marta Segarra (Amsterdam: Rodopi Press, 2011).


––––'Emergency Repairs Are Required On All Our Dams,' the boundary 2 review:

––––'Sex Without Victorians: Kate Bush and Historicism,' V21: Victorian Studies for the 21st Century:

–––– 'Minimal Criticism,' ACLA State of the Discipline Report 2015: 


––––'Ernest Fenollosa: Out of Time, Out of Place,' review of The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry: A Critical Edition, ed. Haun Saussy, Jonathan Stalling and Lucas Klein in Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 34. (2011).

––––'Review of Andrew Goldstone, Fictions of Autonomy," Studies in the Novel, Vol. 46, No. 2, (2014).

Reference Work

––––"Japonisme," Blackwell's Encyclopedia of Victorian Literature (2015).

––––'Sadakichi Hartmann' and 'Yone Noguchi,' Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism (2016).


Selected Presentations

––––'Some Pronouns for the Author of Middlemarch,' Dickens Universe (Santa Cruz, CA: 2017)

––––'They All Did It: Jurisprudence on the Orient Express,' North American Victorian Studies Association (Firenze, IT: 2017).

––––'The Old Pornography Shop,' Modern Language Association (Philadelphia, PA: 2017).

––––'Meta-Utopia: One Day We Will Have Better Ideas,' Modern Language Association (Philadelphia, PA: 2017).

––––'Countertransference (Impressions of Theophrastus Such)', North American Victorian Studies Association (Phoenix, AZ: 2016).

––––'No Cuts: Hollywood, Orientalism, and the Exquisite Art of the Samurai Sword,' North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (Berkeley, CA: 2016).

––––'Exquisite/Victorian: Gilbert and Sullivan, Noguchi, Tarantino,' Faculty of English, University of Oxford, (Oxford, UK: 2016). 

––––'You're A Very Sexy Baby!,' Department of Music, University of California, Berkeley, (Berkeley, CA: 2016). 

––––'This Exquisite World,' 19th Century Colloquium University of California, Los Angeles, (Los Angeles, CA: 2016).

––––'Ugly Realism,' San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis, Scientific Meeting, (San Francisco, CA, 2016).

––––'Realism and Countertransference,' Modern Language Association, (Austin, TX: 2016).

––––'Madame Butterfly's Martial Art,' Modernist Studies Association (Cambridge, MA: 2015).

––––'The Pre-Raphaelite Haiku,' North American Victorian Studies Association, (Honolulu, HI: 2015).

––––'Japan and the Victorian Tradition,' Osaka University (Osaka, JP: 2015)

––––'The Legitimacy Project: George Orwell's Dirty Postcards,' American Comparative Literature Association, (Seattle, WA: 2015).

––––'The Exquisite Art of Castration: Kill Bill" (New Haven, CT: 2015).

––––'Girls and the Realist Unconscious,' San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis, Contemporary Dialogues in Psychoanalysis, (San Francisco, CA: 2015).  

––––'Whinging and Gushing', American Comparative Literature Association, (New York, NY: 2014).

––––'The Aesthetic Turn,' in a roundtable discussion entitled "Ideas of the Decade," ACL(x), (State College, PA: 2013).

––––'Pretty, Weak, and Light,' in a roundtable discussion entitled “Weak Theory,” Modernist Studies Association, (Brighton, UK: 2013).

––––'Slippery Skimpole: An Antisocial Question About Bleak House,' American Comparative Literature Association, (Toronto, ON: 2013).

––––'Wealth and Life: Biopolitics of the Mikimoto Ruskin Library,' Northeast Victorian Studies Association, (New York, NY: 2012).

––––'Thatcherite Atavism: Agatha Christie and the Falklands War,' ACL(x) panel “The 1980s”, American Comparative Literature Association, (Providence, RI: 2012).

––––'The Haiku as Convalescence,' Intersections of African/Asian-American Studies, (Philadelphia, PA: 2011).

––––'Brevity and Abbreviation: The Case of Sadakichi Hartmann,' Modernist Studies Association, (Buffalo, NY: 2011).

––––'Max Nordau and the Gay Science of Cultural Criticism,' American Comparative Literature Association, (Vancouver, BC: 2011).

Recent English Courses Taught

Spring, 2017
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
80K/1 Children's Literature Special Topics
Spring, 2016
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
122/1 The Victorian Period British 19th-Century
165/3 Special Topics: Oscar Wilde and the Nineteenth Century British 19th-Century
Special Topics

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