Visiting professor to discuss human pain and literature

April 1, 2014 8:45 AM

Hope Barnard

“On Nightingales: Voice, Pain and Literature” will be the theme for a talk by author and professor David Lawton for the Josephine Gessner Ferguson Lecture in English Literature on Thursday (April 3) at 6 p.m. in Freeman Auditorium of the Woldenberg Art Center on the Tulane University uptown campus. 

His lecture, Lawton says, will be “about why literature matters, and why we turn to it at moments of crisis in our lives.” He is professor of English and religious studies at Washington University–St. Louis. 

As to his reference to nightingales, Lawton says, “The figure of the nightingale is always associated with human voice and with human pain. So to ask ‘do nightingales mean anything?’ is to ask ‘is there any meaning to human pain?’” 

Lawton plans to approach the subject of literary nightingales from diverse readings, including Oscar Wilde and John Keats. “Voice” in literature has been one of his career fascinations, and Lawton says, “Voice is about how literature responds to the world, and speaks to its future readers … It is a trace of a living voice.” 

During the Ferguson lecture, Lawton hopes “to say a little about how that occurs in literature, and why it is important.” 

Lawton is a lifetime member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University, and a faculty associate in English language and literature at Oxford. His six books include Chaucer’s Narrators and Blasphemy, and he is founding co-editor of a new journal, New Medieval Literatures. 

Since 1989, the Ferguson lecture series of the Department of English has brought preeminent literary scholars to Tulane, including Gillian Beer, Stephen Greenblatt and Mark Samuels Lasner. It is funded by an endowment from Charles Ferguson and Barbara Ferguson Ginsberg in memory of their mother, Josephine Gessner Ferguson, a 1924 Newcomb College graduate.

The lecture is free and open to the public.

Hope Barnard received her B.A. in English and Theatre from Tulane in 2012. She is a freelance writer and actress living in New Orleans.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000