I think, therefore I FIND
I THINK, THEREFORE I FIND
the extraordinary in the ordinary
Prof. Lutz is the Thruston B. Morton Professor of English in UofL’s College of Arts & Sciences. A modern woman, she immerses herself in 19-century literature and objects to decipher the meaning imbued into material possessions. Her scholarship focuses on material culture; the history of attitudes toward death and mourning; the history of sexuality, pornography and erotica; and gender and gay studies.
Her most recent book, The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects, was published in 2015. Hundreds of artifacts and manuscripts associated with the Brontë family—hair jewelry, desk boxes, walking sticks, needlework, letters and more—sit in archives in the United States and Europe. The accumulation of these “relics” grew out of a reverence for the Brontës as sacralized figures, a “faith” found in other authors of the period, especially Keats, Shelley, and Dickens.
In this Q&A, we find out that scrapbooking is not a new phenomenon solely the province of Joann Fabrics, and that books are much more than words on a page.
Years at UofL: I started in August 2015, so not even a year!
What is the focus of your current research?
I'm researching a new book project about nineteenth-century albums, especially friendship albums, scrapbooks, and commonplace books, before photography took over album culture. I use albums as conceptual frames within which to ponder volumes – especially published books – as works of art on and of paper.
While reading was the primary use of books in nineteenth-century Britain, other ways of creating meaning involved tactile interactions. As objects went into albums, so were books supplemented by tipped-in ferns, hair, stamps, valentines, letters, and more. Writers constructed album-like assemblages with manuscripts, and composition – in its material components – was paper art, a craft using glue, pins, thread. Through the work of Mary Shelley, the Brontës, George Eliot, and Elizabeth Gaskell, this book will explore how haptic texts, thickened with time and adaptation, gained singularity.
Do you have any personal possessions that are especially meaningful to you, or that you think would convey meaning about you after your death?
My library is a collection of objects that will hold my personality, once I am gone. The many books I have gathered together, read, and sometimes written in say more about who I am than anything, I think.
What was the most memorable class you took as an undergrad? Why?
An honors class on deconstruction and cultural resistance was deeply important to me, in large part because the professor was serious about taking theories about social justice out of the classroom and into the world.
What is the biggest achievement in your career thus far?
Publishing my fourth book, The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects, which happened about six months ago!
Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you’re committed to in your work and life? Who are they and how did they influence you?
My professor Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick influenced me in countless ways. She taught me to understand that gender, sexuality, and identity more generally are completely socially constructed, which means that they can be shifted and played with in whatever way an individual might desire.
What was the last book you read? Why did you pick it up?
I'm reading Naomi Schor's Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine for its ideas about how detail – in art, writing, life – has historically been connected to women.