Caroline Levine

Nov 9, 2023

The Activist Humanist

Form and Method in the Climate Crisis

Princeton University Press 2023

W. H. Auden once said, “Poetry makes nothing happen.” Auden’s quote has been used for so many purposes, it might be worth remembering what he meant. Auden’s line is importantly from a poem memorializing W.B. Yeats, a politician and a poet. Auden meant that despite Yeats’s poetry, “Ireland [still] has her madness and her weather still.” Yeats’s poetry didn’t stop suffering. But Auden acknowledges that poetry is a “way of happening” that survives and persists. Today’s guest, Caroline Levine, has written a brilliant new book The Activist Humanist: Form and Method in the Climate Crisis (Princeton UP, 2023). As I read the book, I began asking myself in the manner of Auden: “Does literary criticism make nothing happen? What kind of something might attention to social forms within aesthetic criticism make happen?”

I am excited to talk to Caroline Levine is David and Kathleen Ryan Professor of Humanities at Cornell University. Previously, she was Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the author of Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (2015), which won the winner of the James Russell Lowell Prize from the Modern Language Association, as well as The Serious Pleasures of Suspense: Victorian Realism and Narrative Doubt (2003) and Provoking Democracy: Why We Need the Arts (2007).

John Yargo is Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Humanities at Boston College. He earned a PhD in English literature from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, specializing in the environmental humanities and early modern culture. In 2023, his dissertation won the J. Leeds Barroll Prize, given by the Shakespeare Association of America. His peer-reviewed articles have been published or are forthcoming in the Journal for Early Modern Culture Studies, Early Theatre, Studies in Philology, and Shakespeare Studies.

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John Yargo

John Yargo is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Humanities at Boston College. He holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His specializations are early modern literature, the environmental humanities, and critical race studies. His dissertation explores early modern representations of environmental catastrophe, including William Shakespeare's The Tempest, Aphra Behn's Oroonoko, and John Milton's Paradise Lost. He has published in Early Theatre, Studies in Philology, The Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, and Shakespeare Studies.

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