James A. Kuzner Joukowsky Family Assistant Professor of English

James Kuzner is the Joukowsky Family Assistant Professor of English. With a specialty in early modern literature, his research tends to focus on the relationship between literature, selfhood, and political imagination. His first book, Open Subjects: English Renaissance Republicans, Modern Selfhoods, and the Virtue of Vulnerability (Edinburgh University Press, 2011), traces a strand of early modern republicanism that can be used to develop conceptions of vulnerable, "open" selfhood outlined in contemporary radical theory. He has has just completed his second book, Shakespeare as a Way of Life: Skeptical Practice and the Politics of Weakness (Fordham University Press, 2016), and is at work on a third, called "Metaphysical Freedom," a study of Donne, the metaphysical imagination, and the experience of counterintuitive liberties. He has published articles on Shakespeare, Milton, and Donne in journals such as Shakespeare Quarterly, Criticism, English Literary History, Exemplaria, and Modern Language Quarterly . Before coming to Brown, Kuzner was Assistant Professor of English at Case Western Reserve University.

Brown Affiliations

scholarly work

Shakespeare as a Way of Life: Skeptical Practice and the Politics of Weakness (Fordham University Press, forthcoming in 2016).

Hamlet and the Truth About Friendship,” forthcoming in Worldmaking and Early Modern English Literature (Fordham University Press, 2016).  

"Milton, Habermas, and the Dynamics of Debate," in The Return to Theory in Early Modern English Studies, vol. 2, ed. Paul Cefalu, Gary Kuchar, Bryan Reynolds (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

"Donne's Biathanatos and the Public Sphere's Vexing Freedom," ELH: English Literary History 81:1 (2014): 61-81.

"Metaphysical Freedom," Modern Language Quarterly 74:4 (2013): 465-492.

"The Winter's Tale: Faith in Law and the Law of Faith," in Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval & Renaissance Studies 24:3(2012): 260-281.

"'And here's thy hand': Titus Andronicus in a Time of Terror," in Shakespeare Yearbook ("Shakespeare after 9/11" special issue, ed. Julia Reinhard Lupton, 2011), 191-201.

Open Subjects: English Renaissance Republicans, Modern Selfhoods, and the Virtue of Vulnerability (Edinburgh UP, 2011 as the inaugural volume of Edinburgh Critical Studies in Renaissance Culture, ed. Lorna Hutson). Paperback edition October 2012.

"'Why Want?': Scepticism, Sovereignty, Sodomy," in ShakesQueer, ed. Madhavi Menon (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), 361-8.

"Habermas Goes to Hell: Pleasure, Public Reason, and the Republicanism of Paradise Lost," Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature and the Arts 51:1 (2009): 105-145.

"Unbuilding the City: Coriolanus and the Birth of Republican Rome," Shakespeare Quarterly 58:2 (2007): 174-199.

research overview

James Kuzner has research interests in early modern literature and culture, critical theory, cognitive theory, and the histories of selfhood, sexuality, and skepticism. He is the author of Shakespeare as a Way of Life: Skeptical Practice and the Politics of Weakness (Fordham University Press, 2016), and Open Subjects: English Renaissance Republicans, Modern Selfhoods, and the Virtue of Vulnerability (Edinburgh University Press, 2011).

research statement

My research focuses on relationships between literature, selfhood, and political imagination, with emphasis on how literary texts help us picture new forms of life.

My first book, Open Subjects: English Renaissance Republicans, Modern Selfhoods, and the Virtue of Vulnerability (Edinburgh University Press, 2011), is an exchange of ideas about the self and about the value of vulnerability— as those ideas appear in early modern republican and contemporary radical thought, and as Spenser, Shakespeare, Marvell, and Milton generate the exchange. Studies of the republican origins of the modern self have burgeoned in recent years, often with reference to these figures and almost always to locate a self that grows increasingly invulnerable; my project enters the discussion by being the first to describe a modern self that can be at once republican and radical, and to outline the polity in which it would flourish—one which might well render selves more, not less, vulnerable than they would otherwise be. 

My second book, Shakespeare as a Way of Life: Skeptical Practice and the Politics of Weakness (Fordham University Press, 2016), shows how reading Shakespeare helps us to live with epistemological weakness and even to practice this weakness, to make it a way of life. In this book I show how his works offer a means for coming to terms with basic uncertainties: about how we can be free, about whether the world is abundant, about whether we have met the demands of love and social life. I also show how this offer of Shakespeare’s implies a politics.

A third project is called "Metaphysical Freedom: Literature, Imagination, and the Idea of Liberty." Taking Donne as its pivotal figure, this project explores metaphysical poets' strange meditations on the theme of freedom. In early modernity and today, freedom often is understood through metaphors of empowered, unobstructed movement; for Donne and those who follow him, though, bondage is the primary image schema for picturing liberty. Rather than consisting in attributes readily associated with the schema of free movement—for example, self-control, capable pursuit of self-interest, and unimpeded intellectual inquiry—what I refer to as metaphysical freedom typically consists in attributes such as being drawn, overwhelmed, and transformed from without, all so as to be plunged into a strange state of rest. Rather than looking forward to the freedom famously advanced by J.S. Mill—to pursue one's own good in one's own way—this project outlines a freedom (whether in relation to law, love, or sociality more generally) that delivers the self from the restlessness and the automatism that often characterize self-direction.