Edmundson, Mark 1952-

views updated

EDMUNDSON, Mark 1952-

PERSONAL: Born 1952. Education: Bennington College, B.A., 1974; Yale University, M.A., 1981; Yale University, Ph.D., 1985.

ADDRESSES: Offıce—University of Virginia, Department of English, 219 Bryan Hall, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4121.

CAREER: University of Virginia, Charlottesville, professor of romantic poetry and literary theory, 1984—.

AWARDS, HONORS: Keats-Shelley Association Award, 1987; Commonwealth Center for Literary and Cultural Change fellow, 1992-93.


Toward Reading Freud: Self-Creation in Milton, Wordsworth, Emerson, and Sigmund Freud, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1990.

(Editor) Wild Orchids and Trotsky: Messages fromAmerican Universities, Penguin (New York, NY), 1993.

Literature against Philosophy, Plato to Derrida: ADefense of Poetry, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1995.

Nightmare on Main Street: Angels, Sadomasochism, and the Culture of the Gothic, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1997.

Teacher: The One Who Made a Difference, Random House (New York, NY), 2002.

Contributing editor to Harper's, Raritan, and Civilization.

SIDELIGHTS: Mark Edmundson, professor of literary theory and romantic poetry at the University of Virginia, has made a distinguished career in the academic world. He has garnered a reputation as a cultural critic and a memoirist, attracting an audience outside strictly academic circles.

In Toward Reading Freud: Self-Creation in Milton, Wordsworth, Emerson, and Sigmund Freud, Edmundson examines the basic paradox at the center of the noted psychoanalyst's work: that while Freud discovered the rules of human behavior, he could only make this discovery by breaking them. To illuminate this paradox, Edmundson makes a sharp distinction between the scientific side and the literary side of Freud. The author cites numerous passages from literary works by Wordsworth, Emerson, and Milton that suggest parallels with Freud's own writings. Though critics admired Edmundson's research and attention to craft, they expressed disappointment that he did not consider more literature from the German Romantic tradition, which is a part of Freud's cultural heritage. Nevertheless, critics found much to praise in the book. Thomas R. Frosch in Studies in Romanticism raised some questions about the book's analyses but concluded that "I can recommend this book for its readings and for its working out of ideas that are engaging and worthy of some consideration even if I can't always share them." Hailing Toward Reading Freud as an ambitious work, Comparative Literature Studies contributor John Neubauer found its thesis challenging and "fascinating."

Contributing to an ongoing conversation about the value of the humanities in U.S. culture, Edmundson collects thirteen relevant essays and interviews from a group of academics as Wild Orchids and Trotsky: Messages from American Universities. Some scholars, such as Richard Rorty and Frank Letricchia, take a populist perspective and decry any attempts to reserve the humanities for the elite. Susan Fraiman and Nancy K. Miller voice the feminist view by questioning the legitimacy of a culture that does not acknowledge gender. Scholar Judith Frank champions the university as a place where dissent can and should take place. Critics praised the book as an open discussion of timely issues.

Edmundson exercises his role as cultural critic in the book Nightmare on Main Street: Angels, Sadomasochism, and the Culture of the Gothic. He defines the Gothic as "the art of haunting, the art of possession" and to this end examines dark images commonly found in the media, popular literature, and news reporting. Edmundson argues that mass attraction to the Gothic in the 1990s and beyond demonstrates the preoccupation with fear and suffering that has been a recurrent theme throughout American history. He is equally interested in the prevalence of the counterbalancing interest in what he refers to as "pop transcendence": the ability to instantly and painlessly transform oneself at will. He points to the popularity of angels and to an assortment of trends within the New Age community as evidence of this opposition to the Gothic. Edmundson's solution to these preoccupations is to be found in the transformative ability of art. In the New York Times Book Review Geoffrey O'Brien questioned this conclusion, pointing out that the equation between artworks and historical events is not fully persuasive. O'Brien went on to note that "Edmundson's definition of Gothic lumps together all shades of melodrama, political paranoia, conspiracy theory, neurotic obsession, narcissistic irony, apocalyptic religion and sheer tabloid crassness," making the book's focus overly vague. Washington Post Book World contributor Paul Di Filippo, on the other hand, admired Edmundson's lively prose and "intellectual charm," and particularly appreciated the author's "heterogenous range of supporting examples, from Oprah to Hitchcock, from Wordsworth to Robert Bly, from Wes Craven to Keats."

Teacher: The One Who Made a Difference is Edmundson's memoir of the year during high school when he encountered a teacher who had a lifelong effect on him. The author was a student in a public high school in a working-class suburb of Boston, and, by his own admission, was just getting by until he took a philosophy class from Frank Lear that literally changed his life. Lear was unintimidated by students who constantly challenged and threatened him; he pushed them to think hard. Edmundson's account of that year, according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, "deftly captures the spirit of the times" and "can't help taking readers back to their own ordinary origins and cause them to reflect upon those teachable moments that made a difference in their own lives." A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that the book presents an "exquisite pictures of the stark social dynamics" of Edmundson's working-class community and concluded that Teacher is "a small treasure."



American Literary History, spring-summer, 2000, Susan Hegeman, review of Nightmare on Main Street: Angels, Sadomasochism, and the Culture of the Gothic, pp. 298-317.

Comparative Literature Studies, 1995, John Neubauer, review of Toward Reading Freud: Self-Creation in Milton, Wordsworth, Emerson, and Sigmund Freud, pp. 103-107.

Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1992, review of WildOrchids and Trotsky: Messages from American Universities, p. 1478; May 1, 2002, review of Teacher: The One Who Made a Difference, p. 634.

MultiCultural Review, September, 1993, Dennis Show-alter, review of Wild Orchids and Trotsky, pp. 84-85.

New York Times Book Review, October 26, 1997, Geoffrey O'Brien, review of Nightmare on Main Street, p. 37.

Publishers Weekly, May 20, 2002, review of Teacher:The One Who Made a Difference, p. 54.

Sewanee Review, April, 1994, Steven Helming, review of Toward Reading Freud, pp. 291-309.

Studies in Romanticism, summer, 1994, Thomas Frosch, review of Toward Reading Freud, pp. 317-327.

Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1991, review of Toward Reading Freud, p. 82.

Washington Book World, October 26, 1997, Paul Di Filippo, review of Nightmare on Main Street, p. 27.


University of Virginia English Department Web site,http://www.engl.virginia.edu/ (August 29, 2002).*