October 29, 2009

Michael Payne, professor emeritus of English

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By Sam Alcorn

LEWISBURG, Pa. — The second edition of A Dictionary of Cultural and Critical Theory, which will be published after the new year by the distinguished British publishing house Wiley-Blackwell, is chock full of Bucknell University connections.

Michael Payne, professor emeritus of English who edited the first edition in 1996, is co-editor of the new 1,000-page tome along with Jessica Rae Barbera, a 1999 Bucknell graduate and current doctoral candidate in English at the University of Pittsburgh. 

Several other Bucknell graduates are contributors, including Tara Gilligan, Class of '94 (Ph.D. in philosophy from Johns Hopkins and director of Women's Studies at Lafayette); Christina Phillips, Class of '06 (doctoral candidate in comparative literature at Harvard); Kate Parker, Classes of '03 and '04 (master's) (doctoral candidate in English and comparative literature at Washington University, St. Louis); and Leonore Fleming, Class of '05 (doctoral candidate in the philosophy of biology at Duke.)

Payne students
Their contributions range in subject matter from feminist philosophy and fairytales to erotica and neo-Darwinism. All five took classes with Payne at Bucknell.

Of the 150 contributors writing for the new edition, more than 40 are current, former or retired members of Bucknell's faculty. And three other contributors — Stanley Cavell of Harvard University, Sir Frank Kermode of Cambridge University and Julia Kristeva of The University of Paris — are recipients of Bucknell's Award of Merit, one of the highest honors given by the University.

"The 150 contributors come from all over the world, but there is a significant concentration of Bucknell people," said Payne. "To the best of my knowledge, this is the largest publishing project currently in the works involving Bucknell faculty and alumni in the humanities and social sciences."

Published in 1996
First published in 1996 and having gone through eight printings, the new edition of A Dictionary of Cultural and Critical Theory revises and expands a volume that contains a wide range of topics in the combined fields of cultural and critical theory, Payne said.

One of the articles in the first edition that is being overhauled is the one on race and racism.

"It now looks very dated," said Payne. "Today there's a whole new way of talking about race. It's called comparative racialization. The notion being that there is no essence to any race, that if we were able to trace back our family tree far enough we'd discover comparative racialization in all of us."

Youthful ideas
Payne said one of the reasons he reached out to work with co-editor Barbera, the 1999 Bucknell graduate, is that she brought a wealth of youthful ideas to the new edition, including topics on graphic narrative, pain, and the impact of medical narrative on the treatment of patients.

The dictionary has its roots in two 1980s Bucknell English Department projects that were under way, The NEH Humanities Coherence Grant and The Mellon Program in Literary Theory and Poetry, which Payne directed with another professor, Harold Schweizer.

The English publisher Blackwell knew Payne through the publication of the 12-volume edition of lectures in literary theory, as well as several literary theory books that Payne had authored. They asked if he'd be interested in editing a dictionary that had been briefly sketched out.

Half-page description
"All they had at the time was this half-page description of the project," said Payne. "By this time, I'd done the 12-volume lecture series and these two other books and they asked me if I'd be interested in picking up this dictionary project. It looked interesting to me and I was fortunate to have a sabbatical at the right time and I said sure."

As he dug into the project, he sketched out an ideal topic list but didn't yet have in hand the writers to produce the text for those entries.

"We had topics, but no contributor list," said Payne. "So, as I started to contact people, it sort of spread out like a tree diagram and one thing would lead to another. Someone would say, 'Well, that's a good topic,' and then say, 'I have three other ideas.' It spread in that way." Meenakshi Ponnuswami, also in the Bucknell English Department, who served as associate editor of the first edition, was "tremendously helpful" in locating excellent contributors.

Three topic groupings
Topics for the first edition were segmented into three main groupings: 50 to 500 words on definitions of key terms, 1,000 words on major theoretical concepts, and 3,000 words on author and area topics. "This is where the hybrid or bifurcated title of the book comes in. It is unique in that it is both a dictionary of cultural studies and critical theory together. The idea was to give equal time to the two sides of the title."

The first edition has been translated into Spanish and Arabic and can now be found in most university and research libraries throughout the world. "Ironically, it's an important source for understanding Western modernism," said Payne. "The Arabic translators thought that for an Arab-speaking audience the book might provide a way of understanding the current state of Western thinking about culture and critical theory. And of, course, that's exactly what the book was intended to do for Western readers as well."

He said if he revisited the dictionary in another 12 years he wouldn't be surprised if it underwent yet another complete overhaul.

'Mercurial fields'
"I said in the introduction that I wrote in 1996 that culture and critical theory are two incredibly mercurial fields and that they are constantly changing. I didn't anticipate at that time that we'd be doing another edition, but I did say that it's conceivable that within a decade or so that these two fields will have morphed in completely unimaginable ways."

Contact: Division of Communications


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