Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature; participating member in the Critical Theory DE
Greek literature, Ancient Drama and its Reception, Critical Theory (psychoanalysis, queer theory, political theory, posthumanism, and new formalisms)
In my scholarship, I seek to place antiquity in dialogue with modernity, defamiliarizing and destabilizing widely accepted critical positions by exploring the emancipatory potential of textual and visual form. Aristophanes and the Cloak of Comedy: Affect, Aesthetics, and the Canon (University of Chicago Press, 2016) theorizes the nexus between canonicity and sensory—especially haptic—materiality. The edited volume The Materiality of Greek Tragedy (Bloomsbury, 2018) tests the advantages and limits of the so-called new materialisms in the interpretation of drama. On the threshold between critique and post-critique, my monograph, Archive Feelings: A Theory of Greek Tragedy (Ohio State University Press, “Classical Memories/Modern Identities,” 2020), examines how contemporary theorizations of the archive (especially Derrida’s Mal d’Archive) and the death drive (in Freud as well as Bersani, Butler, Edelman, Deleuze, Lacan, Rancière, and Žižek) can help us understand the aesthetic experience of tragedy. Through an engagement with the texts of ancient plays, art (Francis Bacon, Cy Twombly), architecture (Daniel Libeskind), and film, I locate Greek tragedy’s aesthetic allure beyond catharsis in a vertiginous sense of giddy suspension, in a spiral of life-death that resists equilibrium, stabilization, and all forms of normativity.
Watch the Townsend book chat that took place on December 9, 2020: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mEgL3GhlNw and hear this podcast on the New Books Network: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/new-books-in-literary-studies/id426178886?i=1000506165963. In fall 2021, there will be a Syndicate symposium on the book, with responses by Karen Bassi, Katie Fleming, Sean Gurd, Vered Lev Kenaan, Paul Kotman, Helen Morales, and Daniel Orrells.
I am now finishing a book on comedy and political theory, entitled Crisis / Dissent: The Resistance of Aristophanic Form (for the series Tangents of Punctum Books), which is centered around theoretically engaged readings of Birds, Frogs, Lysistrata and Women at the Thesmophoria. In another work-in-progress, The Titular Object, I explore how the “literary” negotiates the precarious dichotomies of subject and object, materiality and immateriality, through a consideration of plays (and films) named after objects (Plautus’s The Pot of Gold, Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, Ionesco’s Les chaises, Mishima’s The Magic Pillow, Hitchcock’s Rope).
I am also developing a comparative project on the notion of “lateness” in literature, taking as starting points the theorizations of Adorno, Said, and Derrida. With Sean Gurd, I am co-editing a volume on this topic, which will gather the papers of the forthcoming ACLA panel "The Before and the After: Archê and Avenir in a Time of Crisis."
With Sarah Olsen, I am editing Queer Euripides: A Re-Reading (18 Plays, 20 Readers) (under contract with Bloomsbury), and with Sarah Nooter another volume entitled Radical Formalism in Greek and Latin Poetry. With Andrew Benjamin I am also editing a volume on Niobes entitled Figures of Niobe: Antiquity Modernity Critical Theory.
With Damon Young and Debarati Sanyal, I am co-editing a special issue of Representations entitled Proximities: Reading with Judith Butler.
I am the chief editor of the journal Classical Antiquity (https://online.ucpress.edu/ca). I also serve on the editorial board of Representations.
I also write about classics, American literature, and critical theory for "La Domenica del Sole 24 Ore" (https://www.archiviodomenica.ilsole24ore.com/#browsemagazinemonth/10476/05-2020)
Archive Feelings: A Theory of Greek Tragedy (OSU Press, series "Ancient Memories, Modern Identities"), 2020
The Materialities of Greek Tragedy (Bloomsbury), co-edited with Melissa Mueller, 2018
Aristophanes and the Cloak of Comedy: Affect, Aesthetics, and the Canon (University of Chicago Press), 2016
Comedy and the Discourse of Genres (CUP), co-edited with E. Bakola and L. Prauscello, 2013
Eupolis Demoi (Florence, Le Monnier), 2007
Recent, forthcoming, and in-progress articles:
"Oedipal Congestions," in Z. Case, M. Ellis, A. Reiske, Sensing Greek Drama: Then and Now (CUP)
"Derrida, Blanchot, and the Gimmick: Writing Disaster in Euripides' Bacchae " in S. Gurd and M. Telò, The Before and the After: Archê and Avenir at a Time of Crisis (Tangents, Punctum Books)
"Tragic Cryo-Ecology, or Niobe's Glacial Aesthetics," in A. Benjamin and M. Telò, Niobes and Critical Theory (OSU Press, series "Ancient Memories, Modern Identities")
"Suppliant Women. No Labor: Refugees and Queer Adhaesion," in S. Olsen and M. Telò, Queer Euripides (Bloomsbury)
"Queer A(e)di-(m)ology: On Callimachus's Aetia Prologue," Ramus
"Batrachopolitics: Crisis, Animal An-omaly, and the Stubborness of Form," in C. Guthenke and S. Gartland, Aristophanes and the Current Political Moment (Bloomsbury)
"Literary Critical Intensities: Pathos, Affect and Greek Tragedy," in J. Connolly and N. Worman, Oxford Handbook of Ancient Literary Criticism and Theory (OUP)
"Colonial Convulsions: Akram Khan's Xen(os) and the Digital Prometheus," in Greek Tragedy and the Digital (Bloomsbury)
"Laughter, or Aristophanes' Joy in the Face of Death," in P. Swallow and E. Hall, Aristophanic Humour (Bloomsbury)
"Between Emotion and the Emetic: Francis Bacon and the Tragic Body at the Margins of the Oresteia," Literary Imagination 22, 2020
"The Politics of Dissensus in Aristophanes' Birds" in R. Rosen and H. Foley, Aristophanes and Politics: New Essays (Brill 2020)