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Dr. Birger Vanwesenbeeck
Dr. Birger Vanwesenbeeck

Dr. Birger Vanwesenbeeck

  • May 4, 2020
  • Roger Coda

Department of English Professor Birger Vanwesenbeeck has been tapped to present the 2020 Robert W. Kasling Memorial Lecture, an honor that recognizes a faculty member for outstanding achievement in scholarship or artistic performance.

Dr. Vanwesenbeeck’s Kasling lecture, “African American Writing as World Literature,” will be delivered during the fall semester in Rosch Recital Hall.

“Ever since the publication of Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel ‘Invisible Man’, invisibility has served as the dominant trope for thinking about racial identity within African American literary studies. Metaphors such as the Veil (Du Bois), the ‘ghost in the machine’ (Morrison), or, more recently, the ‘lost body’ (Coates) all powerfully draw attention to America’s strategic blindness to its racial others,” Vanwesenbeeck said.

Yet they also obscure a key fact of black identity, namely that of the considerable linguistic toll that accompanied the forced migration of the Middle Passage, Vanwesenbeeck added. “How does one bear witness to the dozens of African tongues lost in the experience of slavery? What does it mean to make heard (rather than seen) what by definition eludes our contemporary ears and tongues?”

In his Kasling lecture, Vanwesenbeeck will show how this question haunts a variety of black, often multilingual, writers, from W.E.B. Du Bois and James Baldwin to Colson Whitehead.                                               

The relationship between literature, language and loss is central to Vanwesenbeeck’s scholarship. Vanwesenbeeck is the coeditor of two books, “Stefan Zweig and World Literature,” published in 2015, and “William Gaddis: ‘The Last of Something,’” 2008. His scholarship has appeared or is forthcoming in various peer-reviewed journals including Pynchon Notes, Mosaic, Postmodern Culture and Twentieth-Century Literature. Vanwesenbeeck is also a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Review of Books

Vanwesenbeeck, who began teaching at Fredonia in 2007, is the first member of the Department of English faculty to receive the William T. and Charlotte N. Hagan Young Scholar/Artist Award as well as to be named a Kasling lecturer.

Previous awards received by Vanwesenbeeck include a Fulbright scholarship, a summer stipend from the National Endowment Humanities and a travel grant from the Northeast Modern Language Association.

Now in its 43rd year, the Kasling Memorial Lecture is named after Robert W. Kasling, professor of Geography at Fredonia from 1946 to 1966. Lectures focus on explaining the methods, purposes and results of an area of scholarship.