Phillip John Usher is a scholar of Comparative and French-language literature at New York University, where he will be Chair of the Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture and interim Director of the Center for French Language and Cultures as of January 2019.
His research is increasingly situated at the crossroads of early modern studies and contemporary theory, with a particular emphasis on classical reception and the conceptual histories of cartography and ecological thought. Usher is the author, translator, or (co-)editor of seven volumes, including most recently L'aède et le géographe (2018). Most of his current work takes place in an intellectual sandbox he calls the Humanist Anthropocene. He recently published "Untranslating the Anthropocene" in Diacritics (on Project Muse). His next book is Exterranean: Ecologies of Extraction in the Humanist Anthropocene (New York: Fordham UP, March 2019).
Phillip John Usher occupies various leadership roles in the profession, including at present being Chair of the Forum on 16th Century French Literature at the Modern Language Association (MLA) (2016-2019), a member of the MLA Prize for a First Book Selection Committee (2018-), and Discipline Representative for French Literature at the RSA (2018-21). He is also the editor of a book series titled French Renaissance Texts in Translation (FRENTT) at the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (ACMRS).
Forthcoming Monograph 2019
Exterranean: Ecologies of Extraction in the Humanist Anthropocene (New York: Fordham UP, 2019).
This volume is published as part of the "Meaning Systems" series edited by Bruce Clark and Henry Sussman alongside works by scholars such as Barbara Cassin, Bernard Siegert, and Frédéric Neyrat.
Summary: Exterranean concerns the extraction of stuff from the Earth, a process in which matter goes from being sub- to exterranean. By opening up a rich archive of nonmodern texts and images from across Europe, this work offers a bracing riposte to several critical trends in ecological thought. By shifting emphasis from emission to extraction, Usher reorients our perspective away from Earthrise-like globes and shows what is gained by opening the planet to depths within. The book thus maps the material and immaterial connections between the Earth from which we extract, the human and nonhuman agents of extraction, and the extracted matter with which we live daily.
Eschewing the self-congratulatory claims of posthumanism, Usher instead elaborates a productive tension between the materially-situated homo of nonmodern humanism and the abstract and aggregated anthropos of the Anthropocene. In dialogue with Michel Serres, Bruno Latour, and other interdisciplinary work in the environmental humanities, Usher shows what premodern material can offer to contemporary theory. Examining textual and visual culture alike, Usher explores works by Ronsard, Montaigne, and Rabelais, early scientific works by Paracelsus and others, as well as objects, engravings, buildings, and the Salt Mines of Wieliczka. Both historicist and speculative in approach, Exterranean lays the groundwork for a comparative ecocriticism that reaches across and untranslates theoretical affordances between periods and languages.
“For anyone who might be suffering from Anthropocene fatigue, this is a book to jolt you from your slumbers. What happens to the globe when we shift attention from the outward projection of emissions to extraction ? The Earth we thought we knew, and were already mourning, takes on a stunning new critical light.” (Claire Colebrook, Pennsylvania State University)
“Usher’s brilliant study is a richly argued, erudite yet lyrical ode to the stuff of which the Earth is made. Exterranean engages with the record of human earthly entanglements in early modern European humanism, but always with a view to counterbalancing current distancing and idealizing views of a globe that is all surface, and no depth. By channeling the voices and agencies of Earth’s nonhuman subterranean elements in all their omnipresent intimacy, Usher thus reconnects us not merely to the history of knowledge and beliefs about the Earth and its contents, but to our own fragile planet.” (Karen Raber, University of Mississippi)
Pre-order on Amazon.com (Publ. March 5, 2019)
Other Forthcoming Books
Robert Garnier's "Tragedy of Pious Antigone" (Tempe, Arizona: ACMRS, expected 2018).
Early Modern Écologies, co-edited by Pauline Goul and Phillip John Usher (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, expected 2019). [To be published in the series Environmental Humanities in Pre-Modern Cultures, edited by Gillian Overing, Heide Estes, Philip Slavin, and Steve Mentz.]
Soon (October 2018)
A conference-festival at New York University
October 26-27, 2018
Featuring the US-première of Bruno Latour’s “Inside”
What do French and Francophone literature, film, visual art, theater, and philosophy make of our planet? How can they help us understand our world marked by environmental catastrophe? Such are the questions at the heart of this conference-festival, organized by Frédérique Aït-Touati (CRAL [EHESS, CNRS]) and Phillip John Usher (NYU).
Full program and details here at: frenchnatures.org
The Cultural Services of the French Embassy
NYU Center for French Language and Cultures
The Florence Gould Foundation
Centre de Recherches sur les Arts et le Langage (EHESS, CNRS)
Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture (NYU)
The NYU Center for the Humanities
La Maison Française NYU
Other Events 2018-19
☞ November 30-December 1, 2018: University of Rochester. Workshop around the work of Anna Rosensweig.
☞ January 3-6, 2019: MLA conference in Chicago. Panels sponsored as the current Chair of the division of 16th Century French Literature :
(I) Thursday January 3, 5:15 PM-6:30 PM, Arkansas (Sheraton Grand, Chicago), "Labors of Literature"
1. The Collection at the Margin of Historiography: Pierre de
l’Estoile’s Les Belles Figures et Drolleries de la Ligue, Rose Gardner
(Columbia U) [#6626]
2. Shaping the Truth in a Partisan World: Narrating the Death of the
Duc de Guise, Dora E. Polachek (Binghamton U, State U of New York)
3. Du Bellay’s Stuplimity, Katherine Kadue (U of Chicago) [#6628]
Presiding: Elizabeth Black (Old Dominion U)
(II) Saturday January 5, 3:30 PM-4:45 PM, Missouri (Sheraton Grand, Chicago), "Posthumanism Now"
1. Permanence, Passions, and Politics: Montaigne’s Suppleness, Hassan
Melehy (U of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) [#6635]
2. Soul, Life, and Discourse: Montaigne’s Ethics and Ontology of the
Nonhuman, Thomas Murphy (New York U) [#6637]
3. War and Humanism, Christy Pichichero (George Mason U) [#6636]
Presiding: Jan Miernowski (U of Wisconsin, Madison)
☞ March 17-19, 2019: RSA conference in Toronto. Full program details.
☞ April 2-3, 2019: Conference on "Readings in the French Renaissance: Past, Present and Future" at Durham University, UK. Details to follow.