The English Faculty Forum is a lecture series that showcases the work of the faculty of the VCU Department of English. This new series coordinated by Associate Professor Rivka Swenson carries on the collegial tradition – across ranks, subfields, and communities – of First Friday, the department’s previous lecture series, which was organized by Professor Bryant Mangum for many years. Acknowledging its place in recent history, English Faculty Forum, which first commenced in spring of 2017, gets its euphony of ffs from Mangum’s former First Friday series, and takes its ultimate word, forum, from his subtitle: like First Friday, the English Faculty Forum is “A Forum for Ideas on Research, Teaching, and Writing.” Meanwhile, by way of its penultimate word, faculty, the English Faculty Forum also recognizes the department’s longer continuum of scholarly public discourse that extends first to Professor Terry Oggel’s Faculty Symposium talk series, which immediately preceded First Friday. Like its forerunners, English Faculty Forum hopes to spur fresh work while building community through the exchange of ideas.
Everyone in the community – the department, the university, the community at large – is invited to attend these brown bag events.
Faculty Coordinator of the English Faculty Forum
Oscar Wilde famously said that “one should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.” That he wore works of art is well known: virtually every surviving photoportrait of Wilde from the years before his criminal conviction and imprisonment shows him immaculately dressed, coiffured, groomed, and bedecked in resplendent jewelry, often with a carnation or iris carefully placed in his lapel. But in what sense was Wilde himself a work of art? And what does it mean to transform oneself into a work of art – to treat oneself and one’s life as one might treat a painting, poem, or work of sculpture?
In this talk, I shall discuss how Wilde, a self-proclaimed “Professor of Aesthetics,” not only incorporated his aestheticism into himself — and in turn, represented himself as a creature wholly of art — but also how he embraced daily life, experience, and even nature more broadly as if they were fundamentally artistic and imaginative phenomena, the mainsprings of what Walter Pater called a “quickened, multiplied consciousness.” “Nature is no great mother who has borne us,” he once wrote: “She is our creation. It is in our brain that she quickens... Things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it, depends on the Arts that have influenced us.” For Wilde, life itself was a constantly-evolving work of art.
English Faculty Forum carries forward the department’s longstanding practice of scholarly intradepartmental exchange that extends all the way back to VCU’s earliest years. In 1969, a year after VCU was created with the merger of RPI and MCV, Ann Woodlief started a germinal departmental newsletter – called, appropriately, The English Exchange. Thus began the department’s convention of public exchanges about research, writing, and teaching.
In 1973, Richard Priebe brought the charge forward when he began an informal series under the banner of Brown Bag Lunches. The series was as long-lasting as it was active, eventually growing in scope to encompass a larger body (as the College of Humanities and Sciences Symposium) while retaining English participation until the end. Indeed, when the CHS Symposium had run its course, a themed annual version continued informally for some time.
In the late 1980s, a group of colleagues in the department added to the departmental tradition with Composition Theory symposium. Later, from 1990 to 1994, Professors Marcel Cornis-Pope and Claudius “Bill” Griffin organized a faculty discussion group entitled Theory across the Curriculum. In 1994, Professor Terry Oggel initiated (and convened for more than a decade), the Faculty Symposium, with lunchtime presentations, open-to-the-public, of faculty research and writing; and, last but not least, Professor Bryant Mangum’s similarly successful First Friday forum continued to encourage the work of dozens of English faculty while ably fostering the exchange of ideas across subfields, ranks, and communities.