Anahid Nersessian on Being a Specialist and a Generalist

The Critic and Her Publics is a live interview series that asks the best and most prominent critics working today to perform criticism on the spot, on an object they’ve never seen before. It’s a glimpse into brilliant minds at work, performing their thinking, taking risks, and making spontaneous judgments, which are sometimes right and sometimes wrong.

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From the episode:

Merve Emre: I’m so delighted to have Anahid Nersessian as my guest today, not least of all because she’s a good friend. Anahid is a professor of English at UCLA and I’ve been reading her work for a long, long time. I think of her very much as a companion in a shared critical endeavor, a fellow traveler in the effort to figure out how you can take your expertise as a scholar and use it to make certain kinds of literature—particularly difficult or older forms of literature—attractive to people who aren’t in the academy. It’s been wonderful for me to see the way she takes the same skills and sensibilites she’s developed to write about John Keats or William Wordsworth and applies them to contemporary poets like Dionne Brand and Maggie Milner.

I also think of her, and I’ve grown to believe that this is one of the greatest compliments, as someone who you can hear speaking in her writing. There’s a real continuity between having a conversation with Anahid, gossiping with her, and reading her essays in the NYRB, the London Review of Books, the New Left Review, or in her books like Utopia Limited, The Calamity Form, and Keats’s Odes: A Lover’s Discourse, which is an absolutely gorgeous blend of memoir and criticism.

For a full transcript and details of the piece Anahid responded to, head over to the New York Review of Books.


Anahid Nersessian is a literary critic and Professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her first book, Utopia, Limited: Romanticism and Adjustment, was published by Harvard University Press in 2015, and her second, The Calamity Form: On Poetry and Social Life, by the University of Chicago Press in 2020. Her latest, Keats’s Odes: A Lover’s Discourse was released in 2022. She is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books, and her writing has also appeared in The Paris Review, New Left Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and n+1. She co-founded and co-edits the Thinking Literature series at the University of Chicago Press.


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