Thomas Wisniewski

Thomas Wisniewski | Harvard University
Thomas Wisniewski | Harvard University

Global Humanities Junior Fellow at Freie Universitaet Berlin

July 2016 - January 2017

The Rhythm of Prose

The purpose of Thomas Wisniewski's research is to reintegrate the study of prose rhythm, a neglected field, into literary criticism and to raise the study of rhythm and language, a category of thinking that has largely disappeared from literary studies, to a new level of understanding. Except for a brief period in the early twentieth century, when the field received considerable attention, the study of prose rhythm has been largely ignored by the academy and often glossed over in literary studies. It is neither coincidental nor circumstantial that the time during which the bulk of scholarship was published on prose rhythm corresponds with the rise of High Modernism; in no other period of European literature do writers explore the limits and extremes of  rhythm as do the modernists. In analyzing the work of master modernist prose stylists, including Borges, Nabokov, Svevo, Joyce, Beckett and Blixen, Thomas Wisniewski's study aims to address fundamental questions in literary studies: What is prose and what is poetry? What is the rhythm of a language? How do prose metrics change from language to language? How does the study of rhythm influence the study of literature? How may reading aloud shape our understanding of a text—its rhythms and its acoustics? Of special interest to his work is not the prosaic, but the prose poetical: prose that avails itself of the rhetorical effects of poetry; prose that aims to escape from voicelessness; prose that strives to recover a lost, and even create a secondary, orality; prose that aspires, as in the modernist novel, towards music.

Thomas Patrick Wisniewski, a former Jacob K. Javits Fellow, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Comparative Literature at Harvard University, where he was appointed Lecturer on Theater, Dance & Media and Departmental Teaching Fellow. His research centers on the comparative arts, rhythm, and modernism in European and North and Latin American literature. He has published essays, reviews, and translations in Biography, World Literature Today, Gradiva, In Other Words, Italica, Italian Culture, Pusteblume, and Music & Literature and has taught writing and literature at Harvard University, Boston University, Dartmouth College, and Tufts University, where he was a Visiting Lecturer in 2015. A professional saxophonist and tango dancer, he holds an M.A. in Italian Literature from Middlebury College and a B.M.A. in Saxophone Performance from the University of Michigan.