Branka Arsić

Director of Graduate Studies
Charles and Lynn Zhang Professor of English and Comparative Literature

Columbia University

Professor Arsić specializes in literatures of the 19th century Americas and their scientific, philosophical and religious contexts. She is the author, most recently, of Bird Relics: Grief and Vitalism in Thoreau (Harvard University Press, 2016), which discusses how Thoreau related mourning practices to biological life by articulating a complex theory of decay, and proposing a new understanding of the pathological. She has also written On Leaving: A Reading in Emerson(Harvard UP, 2010), and a book on Melville entitled Passive Constitutions or 7½ Times Bartleby (Stanford UP, 2007); and co-edited (with Cary Wolfe) a collection of essays on Emerson, entitled The Other Emerson: New Approaches, Divergent Paths (University of Minnesota Press, 2010). She is currently co-editing (with Kim Evans) a collection of essays on Melville, entitled Melville’s Philosophies(Bloomsbury, 2017). Her work has appeared in such journals as Common Knowledge, Diacritics, ELH, J19, Leviathan, New England Quarterly, Nineteenth Century Prose, Qui Parle?, Telos and Textual Practice, and discusses such authors as Mary Rowlandson, Anne Bradstreet, Jonathan Edwards, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, as well as Stanley Cavell and Gilles Deleuze. 
Arsić is currently working on two book projects. The first, Dust Archive: Melville’s Poetics of Matter focuses on images of the elemental, vegetal and animal that traverse his work as a means of investigating how he imagined the capacity of matter to move and transform. In Melville not only different forms of life, but also elements enter into strange assemblages: moss grows on animals, vegetation turns out to be made of stones, metal glitters on the feet of tortoises, dogs host humans, and lizards hiss with divine anger. Dust Archive reads such strange taxonomies against the backdrop of contemporary American science, cosmologies of the Pacific islands and a series of ethnographic narratives of African religions and customs known to Melville, to chart how their divergent accounts of matter gave rise to his stories of metamorphosis and conjuration, with complex political consequences. The second book project, tentatively entitled Being Scattered: the Happiness of Emily Dickinson’s Late Poetry, analyzes Dickinson's late writings - fragments, poems, letters - to examine what deletion, dispersion and incompletion can tell us about the lyric. Concentrating on the question of the Dickinson archive - destroyed, mutilated or heavily edited - the book will propose a theory of the archive in terms of its production of the lyric.