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Vivasvan Soni

Associate Professor of English

Ph.D. Duke University


Vivasvan Soni (Ph.D. Duke University, 2000) studies and teaches eighteenth-century British literature, as well as critical and literary theory. His book, Mourning Happiness: Narrative and the Politics of Modernity, was published by Cornell University Press in 2010 and was the recipient of the Modern Language Association's eighteenth annual Prize for a First Book. In it, he traces the narrative transformations in the eighteenth-century which produce a modern conception of happiness, arguing that these transformations result in the erasure of happiness as a guiding idea in politics. He discovers in classical ideas of happiness, particularly Solon's proverb "Call no man happy until he is dead," the outlines of a concept of happiness that might sustain a utopian politics. In their citation for Soni's book, the MLA prize committee noted that "Mourning Happiness powerfully transcends the usual field limitations of academic scholarship, making a compelling case for how an ancient Greek construal of happiness could reawaken the radical force of that denuded concept in our own present.… This provocative study affirms the importance of narrative form to one of our most upheld and yet least examined ideals.”

Soni's areas of interest include the rise of the novel, moral and political theory, narratology, theories of tragedy, utopian writing and theories of modernity. He is currently at work on two new projects. The first diagnoses a "crisis of judgment" in the eighteenth-century whose legacy is still with us. Read in this context, the novels of Fielding and Austen offer an exemplary pedagogy of judgment. Soni has edited a special issue of the journal ECTI (51.3) on The Crisis of Judgment. His second new project, tentatively titled, The Utopian Imagination: Fiction and the Possibilities of Action, will examine the fate of utopian writing and thinking in modernity.

Soni has also taught at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) and at Yale University where he held a Woodrow Wilson Postdoctoral Fellowship (2000-2002). He was the recipient of an American Philosophical Society Fellowship for 2010-11 and an Andrew W. Mellon/NEH Fellowship at the Newberry in 2014-15 to work on The Crisis of Judgment.


Literary Theory, 18th Century, Classical/Biblical, Romantic


 Judgment and Action Fragments toward a History
Judgment and Action Fragments toward a History (co-editor; Northwestern University Press, 2017)

Edited Collections

Essays & Articles

  • “Introduction” to a collection Judgment and Action: Fragments Towards a History, edited by Thomas Pfau and Vivasvan Soni (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2018).
  • “How to Hit Pause: Language, Transcendence and the Capacity for Judgment in Shaftesbury’s ‘Soliloquy; or, Advice to an Author’” in Judgment and Action: Fragments Towards a History, edited by Thomas Pfau and Vivasvan Soni (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2017).
  • “Playing at Judgment: Aporias of Liberal Freedom in Kant’s Third Critique.” Book chapter in Literary/Liberal Entanglements: Towards a Literary History for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Corrinne Harol and Mark Simpson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017).
  • Energeia: Our Energy Unconscious.” Solicited essay for a collection titled Fueling Culture, edited by Imre Szeman and Patricia Yaeger (New York: Fordham University Press, 2017).
  • “Judging, Inevitably: Aesthetic Judgment and Novelistic Form in Fielding’s Joseph Andrews.” Modern Language Quarterly 76.2 (June 2015): 159-80. Special issue on Inevitability, edited by Ryan Vu and Sharif Youssef. Essay was republished in Inventing Agency: Essays on the Literary and Philosophical Production of the Modern Subject, edited by Claudia Brodsky and Eloy La Brada (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2016).
  • “Judgment.” Book chapter in German Aesthetics: Fundamental Concepts from Baumgarten to Adorno, edited by J. D. Mininger and Jason Michael Peck (New York: Bloomsbury, 2016).
  • “Can Aesthetics Overcome Instrumental Reason? The Need for Judgment in Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees.” Book chapter in Mind, Body, Motion, Matter: Eighteenth-Century British and French Literary Prespectives, edited by Alison Conway and Mary Helen McMurran (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016).
  • “Believing in Ghosts, in Part: Judgment and Indecision in Hamlet.” Book chapter in a collection on Shakespeare and Judgment, edited by Kevin Curran (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016).
  • “Happiness.” Article in Encyclopedia of Political Thought, edited by Michael T. Gibbons et al. (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015).
  • “Preface: Jane Austen’s Critique of Aesthetic Judgment.” Preface to Jane Austen and the Arts: Elegance, Propriety, Harmony, edited by Natasha Duquette and Elisabeth Lenckos (Bethlehem: Lehigh University Press, 2014).
  • The Tragedies of Sentimentalism: Privatizing Happiness in the Eighteenth Century. In Individualism: The Cultural Logic of Modernity, edited by Zubin Meer (Lanham: Lexington Books, Rowman and Littlefield, 2011).
  • Committing Freedom: The Cultivation of Judgment in Rousseau's Emile and Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 51.3 (Fall 2010): 363-87.
  • Introduction: The Crisis of Judgment. The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 51.3 (Fall 2010): 261-88.
  • Modernity and the Fate of Utopian Representation in Wordsworth's “Female Vagrant.” European Romantic Review 21.3 (June 2010): 363-81. Republished as "Romanticism and Modernity," edited by Thomas Pfau and Rob Mitchell (New York: Routledge, 2011).”
  • A Classical Politics without Happiness? Hannah Arendt and the American Revolution. Cultural Critique 74 (Winter 2010): 32-47. (Special Issue on “Classical Reception and the Political,” edited by Miriam Leonard and Yopie Prins).
  • The Trial Narrative in Richardson's Pamela: Suspending the Hermeneutic of Happiness. Novel: A Forum on Fiction 41.1 (Fall 2007): 5-28.
  • Trials and Tragedies: The Literature of Unhappiness (A Model for Reading Narratives of Suffering). Comparative Literature 59.2 (Spring 2007): 119-39.
  • Communal Narcosis and Sublime Withdrawal: The Problem of Community in Kant's Critique of Judgment. Cultural Critique 64 (Fall 2006): 1-39.

Book Reviews

  • “Embodying Enlightenment Ethics: Thinking Happiness through the Novel.” Review of Brian Michael Norton’s Fiction and the Philosophy of Happiness: Ethical Inquiries in the Age of Enlightenment. See Eighteenth-Century Life 39.2 (April 2015).
  • “A New Passion for Enlightenment.” Review essay of John Bender, Ends of Enlightenment; Hina Nazar, Enlightened Sentiments: Judgment and Autonomy in the Age of Sensibility; John C. O’Neal, The Progressive Poetics of Confusion in the French Enlightenment; Wolfram Schmidgen, Exquisite Mixture: The Virtues of Impurity in Early Modern England. See Eighteenth-Century Studies 48.2 (Winter 2015).
  • Thomas Pfau’s Minding the Modern. Appeared in a symposium on the book at Syndicate Theology, 2 October 2015.
    also in print as: “On Recovering Utopia,” Syndicate: A New Forum for Theology 2.5 (2015): 100-110.
  • Karen Valihora’s Austen’s Oughts: Judgment after Locke and Shaftesbury. See Eighteenth-Century Life 36.3 (Fall 2012).
  • Adam Potkay’s Story of Joy: From the Bible to Late Romanticism. See Modern Philology 109.2 (2011).
  • Anne-Lise François’ Open Secrets: The Literature of Uncounted Experience. See Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net 56 (2009).

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