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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Renowned literary theorist addresses language, thinking at SU Humanities Center March 4

SUNY Albany's David Wills is an expert in deconstruction

Feb. 21, 2011, by Rob Enslin

David Wills
David Wills

The Syracuse University Humanities Center in The College of Arts and Sciences continues its Mini Seminar series with a presentation by renowned literary theorist David Wills. The SUNY Albany professor will discuss “From the Mercantilism of Language to the Commerce of Thinking” on Friday, March 4, from 9-11:30 a.m. in The SU Humanities Center Seminar Room (304) in the Tolley Building. The seminar is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. To reserve a space, call The SU Humanities Center at (315) 443-7192.

“David Wills is an international figure in the humanities, especially in the area of deconstruction,” says organizer Gregg Lambert, referring to the method of literary analysis that seeks to dismantle traditional modes of thought. “His research is highly original and interdisciplinary, drawing on literature, film, music, architecture and philosophy.” Lambert is both Dean’s Professor of the Humanities and founding director of The SU Humanities Center.

At SUNY Albany, Wills doubles as an English and French professor, and is known for his expertise in literary theory, film theory and comparative literature. He is the author of dozens of articles and six books, including “Dorsality: Thinking Back Through Technology and Politics” (University of Minnesota Press, 2008), which has made him a cause célèbre in academic circles. Described as an ambitious investigation of the interplay between nature and technology, “Dorsality” shows how major changes can affect humans, sometimes without their prior consent or knowledge.

“’Dorsality’ picks up where ‘Prosthesis’ leaves off,” says Lambert, referring to Wills’ 1995 breakout title, published by Stanford University Press. “Rather than considering a human being as someone who develops technology, ‘Dorsality’ builds a case for the ‘originary imbrication’ of nature and machine. This process begins with what Wills calls a ‘dorsal turn’—something that takes place behind our backs, and has ethical, political and sexual implications on the technological rewriting of identity.”

Since “Dorsality,” Wills has explored the question of conceptual invention against the background of musical improvisation, as well as the instrumentality, or technology, of the voice. Also, he has translated multiple works by Jacques Derrida, the 20th-century French philosopher who is regarded as the founder of deconstruction.

“The purpose of the Mini Seminar series is to present renowned scholars in a seminar-style format, which is usually more intensive and conversational than a traditional lecture setting,” says Lambert. “Our goal is to create a dialogue about the public possibilities of humanistic inquiry, as they pertain to interdisciplinary thinking and real-world issues.”

Wills’ seminar is organized and presented by The SU Humanities Center, in conjunction with the faculty/graduate student research cluster on “The Future of Literature and Language in the North American University,” coordinated by Professor Hope Glidden of The College’s Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics. “Literature and language are linked by content and transcultural knowledge at every level of the learning experience,” says Glidden. “David Wills speaks to this kind of interdisciplinarity.”

More information about the cluster’s spring activities is available by contacting Glidden at