Past Event

New Books in the Arts and Sciences: Celebrating Recent Work by Nicholas Dames

November 29, 2023
6:15 PM - 8:00 PM
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The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University

The Chapter: A Segmented History from Antiquity to the Twenty-First Century
by Nicholas Dames

Why do books have chapters? With this seemingly simple question, Nicholas Dames embarks on a literary journey spanning two millennia, revealing how an ancient editorial technique became a universally recognized component of narrative art and a means to register the sensation of time.

Dames begins with the textual compilations of the Roman world, where chapters evolved as a tool to organize information. He goes on to discuss the earliest divisional systems of the Gospels and the segmentation of medieval romances, describing how the chapter took on new purpose when applied to narrative texts and how narrative segmentation gave rise to a host of aesthetic techniques. Dames shares engaging and in-depth readings of influential figures, from Sterne, Goethe, Tolstoy, and Dickens to George Eliot, Machado de Assis, B. S. Johnson, Agnès Varda, Uwe Johnson, Jennifer Egan, and László Krasznahorkai. He illuminates the sometimes tacit, sometimes dramatic ways in which the chapter became a kind of reckoning with time and a quiet but persistent feature of modernity.

Ranging from ancient tablets and scrolls to contemporary fiction and film, The Chapter provides a compelling, elegantly written history of a familiar compositional mode that readers often take for granted and offers a new theory of how this versatile means of dividing narrative sculpts our experience of time.

About the Author

Nicholas Dames is the Theodore Kahan Professor of Humanities at Columbia University and an editor-in-chief of Public Books. He is the author of The Physiology of the Novel: Reading, Neural Science, and the Form of Victorian Fiction (Oxford University Press) and Amnesiac Selves: Nostalgia, Forgetting, and British Fiction, 1810–1870 (Oxford University Press). His scholarly articles have appeared in RepresentationsNovelNineteenth-Century LiteratureNarrative, and Victorian Studies, as well as several edited volumes. Dames is a specialist in the novel, with particular attention to the novel of the nineteenth century in Britain and on the European continent. His interests include novel theory, the history of reading, and the aesthetics of prose fiction from the seventeenth century to the present.

About the Speakers

Denise Cruz writes and teaches about gender and sexuality in national and transnational cultures in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She uses spatial and geographic frameworks (from the transpacific, to the regional, to the Global South) to examine previously unstudied archives (from the first works of English literature by Filipina and Filipino authors, to private papers that document connections between the Midwest and U. S. empire, to fashion shows in Manila).

Merve Emre is the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing and Criticism at Wesleyan University and the Director of the Shapiro Center for Creative Writing and Criticism. She is the author of Paraliterary: The Making of Bad Readers in Postwar America (University of Chicago Press), The Ferrante Letters (Columbia University Press), and The Personality Brokers (Doubleday). She is the editor of Once and Future Feminist (MIT University Press), The Annotated Mrs. Dalloway (Liveright), and The Norton Modern Library Mrs. Dalloway (Norton). She is finishing a book titled "Post-Discipline: Two Futures for Literary Study" (under contract with the University of Chicago Press) and writing a book called "Love and Other Useless Pursuits" (under contract with Doubleday US / Harper Collins UK).

Joseph Howley is an Associate Professor of Classics at Columbia University. He has published on the Noctes Atticae of Aulus Gellius and its intersections with Roman intellectual and reading cultures, including Roman study abroad and juristic writing. His current book project, Slavery and the Roman Book, is a history of the Roman book seen through the lens of the enslaved labor on which it depended: for the composition of literature, the reading of books, and the production of new copies.

Dennis Tenen is an Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. His research happens at the intersection of people, texts, and technology. He is the author of Plain Text: The Poetics of Computation (Stanford University Press) and a co-founder of Columbia's Group for Experimental Methods in the Humanities. His work also appears in the pages of Amodern, boundary 2, Computational CultureModernism/modernityNew Literary HistoryPublic Books, and LA Review of Books on topics that range from book piracy to algorithmic composition, unintelligent design, and history of data visualization.