by George Hajjar
Lenora Hanson has recently joined the NYU English Department as an assistant professor. This semester Professor Hanson is teaching “Literature of Riots” and pursuing her research, which is related to the intersection between science and literature.
As its title suggests, Professor Hanson’s class focuses on writings about riots. Using political science, economics, the science of the body, etc. (other disciplines considered to be under the heading of “moral philosophy”), the class works to understand riots as a concept. There is a specific aesthetic of riots that persists, and is quite thought provoking: accounts of riots are fraught with flames and apocalyptic sentiment. Some questions that are considered are: why are riots associated with violence? What does violence mean? What does the specific nomenclature surrounding a mass of people do to the whole? To the individual?
Professor Hanson is interested in the 18th century philosophy of “associationism”— how humans form ideas through association. Part of her research questions how the individual that is posited by associationism leads to the instability of riots and crowds. Moreover, she has noticed that crowds in power lead to a “violence” against the hierarchy, or to property, and not to the individual. The concept of the “crowd” exposes a division between the individual and the collective. In Professor Hanson’s words, riots become the “anathema to polite civil society,” destroying property and combatting authority.
This interest in combining politics and protest with literature, for Professor Hanson, comes from the fact that “literature and science inform each other.” Ideas of life, the individual, and the collective can’t be separated from politics and science. Rioters, often, are described with machine-like imagery. Similarly, slaves are often pictured as something vegetal, belonging to the earth. These terms are organized around dehumanizing people, and are a direct result of the moral philosophy of the era.
Professor Hanson says that she has been adjusting to her new life at NYU and going on runs to explore the city beyond. As someone who loves movies, she encourages anyone who is interested in talking about film or who just wants to say hello to come to her office hours. Welcome Professor Lenora Hanson, we are happy to have you on our faculty!