Nico Israel is the author of two books: Outlandish: Writing between Exile and Diaspora (Stanford University Press, 2000) and Spirals: The Whirled Image of Twentieth-Century Literature and Art, Columbia University Press, Modernist Latitudes series, 2015). Outlandish addressed geographical displacement as a lived experience in the twentieth century, as a predicament of writing, and as a problem for theory. Engaging the cusp between modernist and post-colonial studies, the book theorized a mode of reading between exile and diaspora—two fundamentally different descriptions of displacement. In Spirals, Israel argues that spirals in literature and visual art provide a crucial frame for understanding the mutual involvement of modernity, history and geopolitics, complicating the spatio-temporal logic of literary and artistic genres and of academic disciplines. The book takes the spiral not only as its topic but as its method. Drawing on the writings of Walter Benjamin and Alain Badiou, Israel theorizes a way of reading spirals spirally, responding to their dual-directionality as well as their affective dimensionality. The sensations associated with spirals––flying, falling, drowning, being smothered—reflect the anxieties of limits tested or breached, and Israel charts these limits as they widen from the local to the global and recoil back. Chapters explore ’pataphysics, futurism, and vorticism; W.B. Yeats and Vladimir Tatlin; Marcel Duchamp and James Joyce; and Samuel Beckett and Robert Smithson; a coda pairs novelist W.G. Sebald and contemporary artist William Kentridge.
Israel earned his doctoral degree from Yale University in 1995. He has published over twenty critical essays (on Joseph Conrad, Theodor Adorno, Salman Rushdie, Wallace Stevens, and Yeats and Beckett, and on questions concerning geography, globalization and ethics) and book reviews (on high and late modernism, critical theory, and travel literature). He has also published over seventy-five pieces on visual art (catalogue essays, previews and reviews for Artforum on contemporary art exhibitions-- with special focus on art and the global market).
Prof. Israel has lectured widely–both domestically (at Harvard, Yale, Duke, Oklahoma State, Otis College of Art and Design, and DIA-Beacon), and abroad (in France, Britain, Australia, Colombia and Cuba). He has participated in more than two-dozen academic conferences, and essays of his have been translated into French, German, Polish, Spanish and Euskera (Basque).
Israel has recently completed two essays. The first, "Beckett and the Colonial Gag," explores the work of Beckett and the philosopher Giorgio Agamben, and will be published in 2016 in Modernism, Postcolonialism and Globalism: Anglophone Literature from 1948 to the Present, eds. Richard Begam and Michael Moses (Oxford UP). The second, “The Anxiety of Hope: Joyce, Esperantic Modernism, and the Babel of Universalism,” concerns the relation between the constructed international auxiliary language Esperanto and the rise of international modernism. Focus is on the parodies of Esperanto in James Joyce’s novels Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.
Prof Israel has been on the faculty of the English Department of the CUNY Graduate Center since 2009. Recent courses he has taught include “On Spirals” (2013), “Modernist Poetry and Poetics (2012), “Literature and Human Rights” (2010) and “Beckett and Sustainability” (2009). In 2012-13 he was awarded a full-year fellowship from the Andrew Mellon Foundation.