Alexis Chema

Alexis Chema
Assistant Professor
  • Department of English
Walker 515
chema@uchicago.edu

I specialize in Romantic literature and culture, with particular interest in poetry, visual art, and the civic functions they have been engaged to serve.

The book I am writing, Fascinating Graces: Poetry and the Arts of Communication, is about changes to the public sphere over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the impacts these changes had on poetry—who wrote and read it, how it circulated, and, most of all, on how matters of language and style adapt to the perceived conditions of mass reading. What poetic theories and practices arose in an effort to reach, be understood by, and persuade an audience that was distinguished, in the words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, by its “promiscuousness”? My study proposes that, alongside the well-known responses to mass readership—Wordsworth’s aversion to “poetical diction,” Coleridge’s efforts to define his ideal readership—there runs the antithetical approach of the Bluestockings, Della Cruscans, Cockneys, Poetesses, and others who agreed that poetry, even (and especially) at its most “poetic,” possessed a special capacity to generate common ground. Although their investments in ornament have led these traditions to be dismissed as “feminine,” they forwarded one of the period’s most theoretically innovative responses to mass readership, based on the shared apprehension that the powerful mystifications of style could help them communicate and persuade effectively in the medium of print.

My other ongoing book project is a study of miscellaneousness as an aesthetic and organizing principle in popular bibliographic formats (commonplace books, almanacs, albums, annuals, periodicals). It argues that the growing prominence of the miscellany in the late eighteenth century lays the groundwork for the rise of a modern—that is, phenomenologically-oriented—genre theory. Distinguished by a resistance to classifying principles, the miscellany provided a way of thinking of genre on the whole as a shifting field of interpretation, and not a rigid taxonomic structure.

My courses are regularly cross-listed with the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality and in addition to teaching about literature, I have enjoyed designing courses that relate constructions of gender to aspects of everyday life, like childhood, food practices, walking, emotion, illness, and, of course, reading and writing.

Courses

2019-2020 Courses: Bad Readers (graduate); Poetry in the Land of Childhood; Greece & Rome: Texts, Traditions, Transformations

Undergraduate: Romantic Poetry and the World; Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley; Frankenstein’s Hideous Progeny; Experiments in Epic Poetry; Romantic Endangerment; Gender & the Circulation of Texts

Publications

“‘A Tongue in Every Star’: Anna Letitia Barbauld’s Poetics of Influence.” Essays in Romanticism 23.2 (2016)

Education

Ph.D., Yale, 2016. Teaching at Chicago since 2015.