Faculty Snapshot: Sharon Marcus
Tell us about your work.
I work on 19th-century France and England and consider myself a literary critic and cultural historian. I've written books about apartment-house life in Paris and London (in fact and fiction), relationships between women in Victorian England (from friendships to marriage to complicated threesomes), and the 19th-century roots of modern celebrity culture. This fall I'll be teaching "Odd Women in Victorian England" and "How to Be a Critic."
What are you looking forward to right now? What are you most excited about?
I'm excited about New York City opening up again, returning to in-person teaching at Columbia, and the progress being made by the Biden-Harris administration. Having moved to Brooklyn just before the pandemic, I'm also very excited about getting to know my new community and neighborhood, which are so much more queer and diverse than the West Village, where I used to live.
Tell us about a book that you have read recently and would recommend.
I can't choose just one! This past year I have immensely enjoyed Patricia Lockwood's "No One is Talking About This," whose first part offers a brilliant account of what it feels like to be on social media; Torrey Peters's "Detransition Baby," which is to trans and queer life today what Armistead Maupin's novels were in the 70s and 80s; Isobel Wilkerson's "Caste," a magisterial comparative analysis of how societies enforce and perpetuate hierarchy; and several novels by Eva Ibbotson. She wrote books for adults and children and can't produce a bad sentence.
What’s in your Netflix queue?
I just quit Netflix, but in my Criterion queue you will find films by Oscar Micheaux, Chantal Akerman, John Cassavetes, Akira Kurosawa, Satyajit Ray, Dorothy Arzner, Agnes Varda, Bertrand Tavernier, Madeline Anderson, Kathleen Collins, Shirley Clarke, Abbas Kiarostami, Andrea Arnold, Ingmar Bergman, Yasujiro Ozu, Mati Diop, Kirsten Johnson, and Frank Borzage.
What have you been listening to lately? Can you recommend a podcast, album, or artist?
I just finished listening to an amazing eight-episode podcast called "Relative Fiction" by Nicole Georges, all about family secrets and lies. And about a month ago, I had the privilege of appearing on the podcast "Aria Code," hosted by Rhiannon Giddens, to talk about an aria from Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro." To prepare I listened to previous episodes and it's an incredible podcast—equally interesting for those who love opera and those who know very little about it.
What is a self-care practice that works for you?
Nightly baths help me to slow down and ritually mark the transition to sleep. Cooking food from scratch, even if all I'm doing is steaming some bok choy, always feels great. Connecting with friends, offering and receiving support, has been crucial for me over the last few years, and especially so during the pandemic. And walking and dancing always feed my soul and body!
What advice might you have for a potential mentee about how to succeed in academia?
Seek out advice but also practice learning to receive advice without feeling that you have to take it. If you are the under-confident type and get rattled when you compare yourself to others, learn to take other people's self-assurance with a grain of salt. Research shows that the people with the most confdence are rarely the best performers. Finally, people in the humanities don't talk enough about the nuts and bolts of research and writing—but they're happy to do so if asked, so ask!
Are you currently looking for collaborators? If so, what types of collaborations are you seeking?
My main experience with collaborative work has been as the founding editor of an online magazine of arts and ideas, PUBLIC BOOKS, We are always looking for new contributors, so check out the magazine if you don't already know it, and if you like what you see and have something to say about a recently published book (or movie or TV show or music), reach out to the appropriate section editor. I've also loved my experience doing podcasts because it's such a collaborative medium and would love to turn one of my courses into a podcast. If you're a budding or seasoned podcast producer or editor and would like to work with me on this, get in touch!
What are you looking forward to once we return to campus?
The energy of a campus buzzing with students, completely open libraries, emerging from the subway at 116th Street, running into colleagues in the elevator and hallways, and moving into the new office I never got to unpack! I'm also curious to see how we incorporate the virtual experience of this past year into in-person teaching.