Torgovnick, Marianna 1949- (Marianna DeMarco Torgovnick)

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Torgovnick, Marianna 1949- (Marianna DeMarco Torgovnick)

PERSONAL:

Surname is pronounced "tore-guv-nick"; born August 31, 1949, in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of Salvatore (a clerk) and Rose (a garment worker) DeMarco; married Stuart Torgovnick (a yoga teacher), December 22, 1968; children: Kate Meredith, Elizabeth Victoria. Education: New York University, B.A., 1970; Columbia University, M.A., 1971, Ph.D., 1975.

ADDRESSES:

Office—P.O. Box 90015, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer and educator. Williams College, Williamstown, MA, assistant professor of English, 1975-81; Duke University, Durham, NC, assistant professor, 1981-85, associate professor, 1985-87, professor, 1987—, associate chair of English department, 1987-91, chair, English department, 1996-99; director of the Duke in New York Arts and Media Program. Visiting professor, Princeton University, 1993; Cohen-Porter Visiting Professor, Tel-Aviv University; also visiting professor at Emory University.

MEMBER:

International Society for the Study of Time, Modern Language Association of America, International Association University Professors of English (member of executive board, division on anthropological approaches to literature).

AWARDS, HONORS:

National Endowment for the Humanities grant, summer, 1977; Guggenheim fellow, 1981; The Visual Arts, Pictorialism, and the Novel: James, Lawrence, and Woolf designated one of twenty-five outstanding books by Choice; "On Being White, Female, and Born in Bensonhurst" chosen as one of the best American essays of 1991; American Book Award, 1994, for Crossing Ocean Parkway.

WRITINGS:

CRITICISM

Closure in the Novel, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1981.

The Visual Arts, Pictorialism, and the Novel: James, Lawrence, and Woolf, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1985.

Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1990.

(Editor and author of introduction) Eloquent Obsessions: Writing Cultural Criticism, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1994.

(Under name Marianna DeMarco Torgovnick) Crossing Ocean Parkway: Readings by an Italian-American Daughter, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1994, with new afterword, 1996.

Primitive Passions: Men, Women, and the Quest for Ecstasy, Knopf (New York, NY), 1997.

The War Complex: World War II in Our Time, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2005.

Contributor to journals and periodicals, including South Atlantic Quarterly, Partisan Review, New York Times, and Art Forum. Editor of Writing Cultural Criticism (special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly), winter, 1992.

SIDELIGHTS:

Marianna Torgovnick's Closure in the Novel is an analysis of methods and means by which novels are concluded. Peter Kemp, reviewing the book in the Times Literary Supplement, described it as "briskly sensible as well as unusually percipient." Kemp added that Torgovnick "restores your faith in present-day criticism."

Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives explores contemporary humanity's interest in primitive art, thought, and culture. In the words of a contributor to the New York Times Book Review, Gone Primitive is "a contribution to the task of finding ourselves, as a culture, by holding to the light representative figures whose often fantastical views of primitivity have shaped and been shaped by our culture: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Joseph Conrad, Roger Fry, D.H. Lawrence, Sigmund Freud, Bronislaw Malinowski, Claude Levi-Strauss, Margaret Mead and others." The reviewer also wrote in the same review that Gone Primitive is "a superb book … lucid, usually fair, laced with a certain feminist mockery and animated by some surprising sympathies." Some critics commented that Torgovnick's observations are sometimes overly judgmental and that, in the words of Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times, "what damages her often forceful arguments is her tendency to see everything in fiercely ideological terms." Nevertheless, many praise her work as timely, straightforward, and well written.

Torgovnick continued her studies on the Western fascination with primitivism in Primitive Passions: Men, Women, and the Quest for Ecstasy. Using an interdisciplinary approach, the author reveals how various men and women have reacted to immersions in so-called primitive cultures or wild surroundings. According to Walter Kendrick in the New York Times, Primitive Passions "looks at first like just one more trendy academic study mantled in comfortable self-righteousness." The critic added, however, that upon close reading the book "intends to provoke thought, not to tell you what you already know, and for that reason alone it's extraordinary." Library Journal contributor Ximena Chrisagis deemed the study "a worthy addition to academic anthropology collections that will also be appreciated both by scholars in literature and gender studies and informed lay readers."

With Crossing Ocean Parkway: Readings by an Italian-American Daughter, Torgovnick joined a growing group of intellectuals who are combining personal experience with scholarly findings in essays on a wide range of subjects. In Torgovnick's case, she reflects on her formative years in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, her subsequent entree into academia, and the continuing challenge of resolving the conflicts between blue-collar background and intellectual pursuit. Nation contributor Joanne Jacobson noted that Crossing Ocean Parkway "is, in part, the autobiography of a woman who crosses Brooklyn, from the Italian working-class neighborhood of Bensonhurst to the middle-class Jewish neighborhood on the other side of Ocean Parkway and, eventually, to the academy; from ‘Italian American daughter’ to ‘reader.’ The book is, at the same time, a kind of formal experiment, which crosses the boundaries between literary criticism, cultural criticism and autobiography, ‘between personal history and intellectual life.’"

Crossing Ocean Parkway was well received by critics and was reissued with new material a mere two years after its first publication date. According to Paula DiPerna in Women's Review of Books, a "breeze of freedom characterizes the collection." DiPerna went on to write in the same review: "The sum provides an insightful analysis of the forces that define ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ in an increasingly phobic world." Jacobson observed that Torgovnick "seeks to recover as a scholar the voice of personal witness, and of personal investment, to which autobiography remains loyal." Jacobson also wrote in the review: "That conflict between Bensonhurst past and academic present creates in the critical essays that follow a struggle that is compelling both for its emotional power—rooted in the autobiographical voice—and for its lack of resolution."

Torgovnick is also editor of Eloquent Obsessions: Writing Cultural Criticism. The book is a collection of thirteen essays that explore various issues concerning the intersection of personal and social history, from examining the cultural "we" to diagnosing class structures in Israel and showing how photography deals with AIDS. "An initial impression of Eloquent Obsessions is that of a heady randomness, a bracing variety, from accounts of personal intellectual history to more conventional critical forays, from lively autobiography to trenchant polemic," wrote James Morrison in Criticism. "It is, perhaps, only on second thought, once that impression of randomness settles into a more legibly systematic pattern, that the book's real significance begins to emerge."

In her 2005 book, The War Complex: World War II in Our Time, the author presents her case that the United States and Americans have lived under the power of a war complex since the end of World War II. According to Torgovnick, this complex represents a set of repressed ideas and impulses that stems from peoples' unresolved attitudes toward the technological advances that have enabled governments and armies to cause massive deaths and global war. "This book is a work of literary criticism rather than history, but it is worth the attention of historians nonetheless," wrote Tammi Davis Biddle in the Historian. A contributor to Tikkun called The War Complex "a masterful and timely work of ideology criticism."

In her book, Torgovnick writes that the war complex has led to gaps and hesitations in public discourse about atrocities committed during World War II and other conflicts. For example, the author points to the controversy surrounding a 1995 Smithsonian exhibition on Hiroshima that was to include photographs of the first atomic bomb victims, along with their testimonials. Discussing everything from war films and historical works to television specials and popular magazine articles, the author shows how different events from World War II became prominent in American cultural memory while others went forgotten or remain hidden in plain sight. The author also examines the emotional legacy of the Holocaust and the missing history of World War II as revealed by writers such as the late novelist W.G. Sebald, whose writings, along with others, reveal the unease felt concerning dependence on those who hold power to bring about total war.

"Because she ranges so freely over fascinating ground, picking up and inspecting shiny nuggets wherever she finds them, Torgovnick serves as a kind of quirky and compelling guide on a walking tour of popular memory," commented Tammi Davis Biddle in the Historian. Library Journal contributor Ed Goedeken noted that the author "has brilliantly captured the impact of the World War II on American sensibilities" over the ensuing decades.

Torgovnick told CA: "Tarzan and Picasso, Dr. Doolittle and Freud, Dian Fossey and Margaret Mead all shared an obsession with primitive cultures and with a more generalized image of things primitive. It's the obsession I mapped in Gone Primitive and explore more deeply in Primitive Passions. It's been a fascinating subject, full of surprises, discoveries, and adventures. And it has attracted intellectuals and general readers—even changed the way they view everyday life.

"Gone Primitive was a breakthrough work for me, establishing links to the art and museum communities, anthropology, and psychology and also to a more popular audience. I've done talks at museums and for public groups like historical societies, and several radio interviews for National Public Radio. Since writing Gone Primitive, I have begun as well to explore new modes of cultural criticism that combine autobiographical writing, journalism, travel literature, and (the strength of my earlier literary studies) close reading of important books, films, and phenomena.

"For me, literary studies have come to be more and more about culture too. And I imagine my future work to operate in the crossings of novel theory and attention to the twentieth century, and in a combination of cultural criticism and writerly impulses."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Torgovnick, Marianna DeMarco, Crossing Ocean Parkway: Readings by an Italian-American Daughter, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1996.

PERIODICALS

Antioch Review, spring, 1998, John Kennedy, review of Primitive Passions: Men, Women, and the Quest for Ecstasy, p. 238.

Art Journal, winter, 1990, review of Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives, p. 432.

Booklist, September 1, 1994, Mary Ellen Sullivan, review of Crossing Ocean Parkway: Readings by an Italian-American Daughter, p. 19; December 15, 1996, Donna Seaman, review of Primitive Passions, p. 697.

Criticism, summer, 1995, James Morrison, review of Eloquent Obsessions: Writing Cultural Criticism, p. 511.

Historian, winter, 2006, Tami Davis Biddle, review of The War Complex: World War II in Our Time, p. 849; fall, 2007, Tami Davis Biddle, review of The War Complex, p. 563.

Library Journal, April 15, 1997, Ximena Chrisagis, review of Primitive Passions, p. 88; April 15, 2005, Ed Goedeken, review of The War Complex, p. 104.

Modern Fiction Studies, summer, 1982, review of Closure in the Novel, p. 345.

Nation, November 5, 1990, Micaela Di Leonardo, review of Gone Primitive, p. 532; March 6, 1995, Joanne Jacobson, review of Crossing Ocean Parkway, p. 314.

New York Times, July 10, 1990, Michiko Kakutani, review of Gone Primitive, p. B2; May 25, 1997, Walter Kendrick, review of Primitive Passions, p. 19.

New York Times Book Review, June 24, 1990, review of Gone Primitive, p. 33; July 21, 1991, review of Gone Primitive, p. 28.

Publishers Weekly, August 8, 1994, review of Crossing Ocean Parkway, p. 412; February 10, 1997, review of Primitive Passions, p. 73.

Tikkun, July-August, 2005, review of The War Complex, p. 81.

Times Literary Supplement, November 13, 1981, Peter Kemp, review of Closure in the Novel, p. 1337.

Women's Review of Books, February, 1995, Paula DiPerna, review of Crossing Ocean Parkway, p. 1; May, 1997, Cynthia D. Schrager, review of Primitive Passions, p. 19.

World Literature Today, spring, 1982, review of Closure in the Novel, p. 410.

ONLINE

Duke University Web site,http://www.duke.edu/ (May 8, 2008), faculty profile of author.