Cornell University Press

How to Do Things with Dead People: Q&A with Alice Dailey

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How to Do Things with Dead People: History, Technology, and Temporality from Shakespeare to Warhol studies human contrivances for representing and relating to the dead. Alice Dailey takes as her principal objects of inquiry Shakespeare’s English history plays, describing them as reproductive mechanisms by which living replicas of dead historical figures are regenerated in the present and re-killed. In this Q&A, we learn more about Alice’s takeaways from writing this book.

1. What is your favorite anecdote from your research for this book? 

One of the early flashes of inspiration I had at the beginning of this project occurred at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. While looking at one of Warhol’s paintings of the electric chair, I was struck by how closely the chair resembled a throne. “That’s how the stage looks at the opening of 1 Henry VI,” I thought. Although it took several years to figure out how to work productively with that inspiration, since that day at the Guggenheim the homology between the throne and electric chair has been, for me, one of the gravitational centers of the book.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book that you know now?

This project has been informed by extensive reading in fields not my own: art history, photographic theory, film studies, histories of medical imaging, and queer and crip theory, to name but a few. I wish I had had all this reading at the beginning of the project, though I expect that would not make me feel significantly more satisfied now at the end. I am perpetually frustrated by the limitations of time and mental space allotted to us mortals. There will always be more that I want to read, see, and think about.

3. How do you wish you could change your field?

It is my hope that my unconventional scholarly work will prove enabling, in whatever small way, for a younger, more diverse generation of scholars. I want younger scholars to feel authorized to pursue a broad range of research questions—questions that are not determined by the hegemony of any one critical method but by the sheer expansive potential of their intellectual curiosity. I want literary studies to have the generosity and space to welcome people who think differently, who represent unusual perspectives, and who come from a range of personal and intellectual backgrounds that are celebrated through methodological openness.

Alice Dailey is Professor of English at Villanova University. She is the author of The English Martyr from Reformation to Revolution. You can find her on Twitter at @AliceADailey.

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