The Shapes of Sense: A Conversation with Molly Nesbit and Joan Richardson

Molly Nesbit

The Shapes of Sense: A Conversation with Molly Nesbit and Joan Richardson

Join Joan Richardson (Graduate Center, English) and Molly Nesbit (Vassar College, Art) at 6:30 pm in the William P. Kelly Skylight Room as they discuss their recently published book-length studies that approach the history and potential that Pragmatism promises for thinking about literature, philosophy, and aesthetics into our present day.

In The Principles of Psychology, William James wrote, “Whilst part of what we perceive comes through our senses from the object before us, another part (and it may be the larger part) always comes out of our own mind.” Along with the work of James, Charles Sanders Peirce, John Dewey and others, Pragmatism emerged as an American philosophy in the nineteenth century that has continued to shape the patterns of American thinking.

Molly Nesbit is Professor in the Department of Art at Vassar College and a contributing editor of Artforum. Since 2002, together with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Rirkrit Tiravanija, she has curated Utopia Station, a collective and ongoing book, exhibition, seminar, website and street project ( in Poughkeepsie, Frankfurt, Venice, Munich, Porto Alegre, and, next, Buenos Aires).  She has received many awards for her work, notably from the Guggenheim Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Trust, and the Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant.  In 2008 she gave the J. Kirk T. Varnedoe Memorial lectures at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Her books include Atget’s Seven Albums (Yale University Press, 1992) and Their Common Sense (Black Dog, 2000).  The Pragmatism in the History of Art (Periscope, 2013), is the first volume of Pre-Occupations, a series collecting her essays.

Joan Richardson is Distinguished Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and American Studies at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Author of a two-volume biography of the poet Wallace Stevens, she co-edited, with Frank Kermode, Wallace Stevens: Collected Poetry and Prose (Library of America, 1997). Her essays on Stevens, on Ralph Waldo Emerson, on Jonathan Edwards have been published in the Wallace Stevens Journal, in Raritan, and elsewhere, and essays on Alfred North Whitehead, William James, and pragmatism have appeared in the journals Configurations and The Hopkins Review. Review essays have appeared in Bookforum and other journals. Her study A Natural History of Pragmatism: The Fact of Feeling from Jonathan Edwards to Gertrude Stein was published by Cambridge University Press in 2007, and was nominated for the 2011 Grawemeyer Award in Religion. Another volume for Cambridge, Pragmatism and American Experience was published in June 2014. Among other current writing engagements, she is preparing for press Images, Shadows of Divine Things, the project for which she was awarded a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship; inspired in part by Jonathan Edwards, it is a secular spiritual autobiography in hybrid, experimental form. Joan Richardson has also been the recipient of several other awards, including a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and a Senior Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Her work reflects an abiding interest in the way that philosophy, natural history, and science intersect with literature. She is particularly preoccupied with the complex relation between language and perception.

Co-sponsored by the PhD Program in Art History and Center for Humanities



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