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Lyric logic: English professor receives prestigious Notre Dame fellowship

Johanna Winant, an assistant professor in the West Virginia University Department of English, has accepted a distinguished fellowship at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Notre Dame to work on her book project.

“Fellowships like these are really important for young scholars’ careers because they give us time to write projects and do our work to help grow our careers,” Winant said.

Johanna Winant
Johanna Winant

Winant will spend the spring 2019 semester at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study to work on her book, “Lyric Logic: American Modernism and the Problem of Induction,” which will argue that modern American poetry transforms the problem of induction, or the difficulty of predicting future experiences based on past ones, into an ambitious poetic strategy that challenges philosophy’s account of how best to make sense of the world.

"What many may not realize is just how competitive fellowships like these have become," said Brian Ballentine, chair of the Department of English. "The fellowship is a testament to the quality of Professor Winant's scholarship, and we are thrilled that she will be representing WVU and the Department of English at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study in the spring."  

A scholar of modernism, there are two questions Winant will attempt to answer in her research. First, she seeks to learn what modernism strives to achieve.

“Modernism was always described as the backlash to the rigorous structures of Victorianism, which came right before it,” Winant said. “I’ve always found that to be dissatisfying because it’s like pretending that this art is a teenager that is lashing out at its parents, and I think that is not taking it seriously enough. Instead of thinking about what it’s reacting against, I wanted to focus on what it’s reaching for.”

Another aspect she will explore is how philosophy connects to poetry and how poetry can solve the problem of expectations, which focuses on the way writers talk about the world rather than what they know about the world. Winant argues that modernism takes on the problem in the form of how it is written.

“This way of thinking doesn’t give us the thing that makes literature literary, and that is the way it is written and not just what it says,” Winant said. “So, putting those two things together, I started to think about how modernist literature in its form has a relationship with knowledge.”

Winant received the Department of English’s teaching award this year for the amount attention and detail she gives to teaching her students.

“For me, the way that I teach and the question I ask in my research really share a heart,” Winant said. “It’s about how we can take ideas seriously, and I go into the classroom thinking about how I can understand what my students are saying and that also really drives my research.”