This morning, the Modern Language Association of America announced that it has awarded its James Russell Lowell Prize to my LMC colleague, Aaron Santesso, for his book The Watchman in Pieces. Surveillance, Literature, and Liberal Personhood (Yale University Press, 2013). He shares the award with his co-author, Dr. David Rosen of Trinity College.
The selection committee, Bruce Thomas Boehrer (Florida State); Fred L. Gardaphe (Queens Coll., CUNY); Elisabeth Akhimoff Ladenson (Columbia), chair; Mariselle Meléndez (Illinois); and Herbert F. Tucker (Virginia) had this so say about the book: "The Watchman in Pieces is outstanding in both scope and execution -- a risk-taking historical overview of signal developments in the coevolution of the surveillant state and the self-monitoring liberal subject from the sixteenth century into the present. To the manifest timeliness of their topic David Rosen and Aaron Santesso bring the seasoning perspective of history and the subtilizing perspective of theory, including a firm resistance to the sovereignty of Foucauldian paradigms. Closely watched texts come alive in new ways; even more impressive are the juxtapositions that carry the argument forward. The authors sustain a deft expository verve that conveys an ambitious template for reading and rereading in a wide variety of genres."
For context: The James Russell Lowell Prize is among the most prestigious awards in the Humanities in North America, given to an "an outstanding literary or linguistic study." Since 1969, when Harvard's Helen Vendler was chosen as the first recipient, the prize has been awarded to studies written by some of the most celebrated names in the humanities: Sianne Ngai, Paula R. Backscheider, W.J.T. Mitchell, Jerome McGann, Fredric Jameson, Stephen Greenblatt, V.A. Kolve, Jonathan Culler, and Theodore Ziolkowski. The prize consists of a cash award and a certificate and will be presented to the winning co-authors at the MLA's annual convention in January 2015.
Aaron's winning of the Lowell Prize underscores, once again, the outstanding quality of research and scholarship in the liberal arts at the Georgia Institute of Technology. For a quick overview on the topic discussed in The Watchman in Pieces, I recommend the interview with the authors for PEN/America and their article in the "Jurisprudence" section of slate.com. I also recommend Aaron's recent essay, "Value and Literary Study," in Humanistic Perspectives in a Technological World," ed. R. Utz, V.B. Johnson, and T. Denton (Atlanta, 2014), 95-96. There, he talks about what he and his co-author learned from researching and writing The Watchman: "One thing we learned, and which we tried to convey in the book, is that people have been alternately enthusiastic and worried about new surveillance technologies for centuries, even as people who actually work in the surveillance industry continue to rely on what we might call "humanistic" skills: analytical ability, interpretation, putting things into perspective, etc."