Comedy/Comity: Resources for Civility
Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, 2017–18
His first book, Representation and Revelation: Victorian Realism from Carlyle to Yeats (U Missouri P, 1986), explores the theory and practice of representation in seven Victorian writers. His Postmodernism and its Critics (Cornell UP, 1991) considers the philosophical antecedents to contemporary theory; offers an account of the work of Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, Rorty, Said, and Jameson; and presents an alternative political vision (based in a theory of democracy) to that found in postmodern thought. Hannah Arendt: An Introduction (U Minnesota P, 1998) and Hannah Arendt and the Meaning of Politics (U Minnesota, 1997), edited with Craig Calhoun, continue exploring the resources of democratic theory through an engagement with Arendt’s work on the public sphere, judgment, and storytelling.
McGowan is one of the editors of the massive (2500 pages) Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (2001; 2nd. Edition 2010; 3rd. edition, 2017). His Democracy’s Children: Intellectuals and the Rise of Cultural Politics (Cornell UP, 2002) collects essays on the shifting roles of the intellectual and of the university in our time. In response to the shifts in American politics over the past thirty years, American Liberalism: An Interpretation for Our Time (UNC Press, 2007) tries to articulate a liberal vision drawn from James Madison and John Dewey that can animate a contemporary American politics.
With Italian colleague Bruno Dallago (of the University of Trento), McGowan has edited two books derived from conferences on the European crisis of 2008-2012. Pragmatist Politics: Making the Case for Liberal Democracy mines the pragmatist tradition in American philosophy (especially William James, John Dewey, and Kenneth Burke) to articulate a vision of liberal democracy that can serve contemporary needs. That book ends with a consideration of the ways that comedy provides models for just societies, and is the basis for McGowan’s two-pronged current project: an exploration of the virtues—love, forgiveness, humility, negotiation—necessary to social peace and an examination of the sources and meaning of violence.
McGowan is a founding and active member of UNC’s Program in Cultural Studies, was the first Director of the Graduate School’s Royster Society of Fellows, and served for eight years as the Director of UNC’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities. He blogs at his personal website Public Intelligence.
- NHC Podcast: “From Comedy to Comity: How Comic Literature Can Guide Us Toward a More Civil Society,” January 24, 2018.
- The third edition of the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism will be published in spring 2018. McGowan is one of the six editors of this 2500+ page compendium of literary theory from Aristotle’s Poetics to Donna Haraway, Rob Nixon, and other contemporaries.
- McGowan, John. “Action as Meaningful Behavior.” In Judgment and Action, edited by Thomas Pfau. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2018.
- McGowan, John. Pragmatist Politics: Making the Case for Liberal Democracy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.
- McGowan, John. American Liberalism: An Interpretation for Our Time. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.
- McGowan, John. Democracy’s Children: Intellectuals and the Rise of Cultural Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002.