Professor John Farrell named Waldo W. Neikirk Professor of Literature

Professor John Farrell was installed as the Waldo W. Neikirk Professor of Literature during a luncheon ceremony on Feb. 4 in the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum.

Farrell, of Cranston, R.I., has been teaching at CMC since 1990, where he specializes in courses ranging from Love Poetry of the English Renaissance and European Modernist Fiction to The Novel Since World War II and Literary Theory from Plato to the Present. A specialist in literary theory, Farrell has authored three books: Freud’s Paranoid Quest: Psychoanalysis and Modern Suspicion (1996), Paranoia and Modernity: Cervantes to Rousseau (2006), and most recently, The Varieties of Authorial Intention: Literary Theory Beyond the Intentional Fallacy (2017). He also chairs the CMC Committee on Writing and its direction of the new Summer Book Program for First-Year Students.

Farrell’s expertise “spans an enormous array of subjects and periods of time. He’s a true Renaissance scholar,” Dean of the Faculty Peter Uvin said in his introductory remarks. “Clearly he is, in every possible way, a man who has contributed to his teaching, his research, and his service to CMC.”

After receiving a medallion from Uvin, Farrell spoke about “Literature and Utopia,” specifically how most literary works dwell on chaos, crisis, confusion, disruption, and change. Farrell recalled how he fell in love with literature because of its flawed characters, and how he would inevitably be disappointed if they found their way out of misfortune. Using Thomas More’s Utopia, Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World as examples, he framed a bigger question about society: What does it say that our imagination prefers visions of chaos to dreams of order—and that the most compelling visions of utopia turn out to be nightmares?

After his remarks, Farrell took questions from the audience and reflected on the achievement with guests—including his parents, who flew in from Providence, R.I.

“They’ve been a huge part of my success, and it’s a wonderful honor to be able to share my knowledge with my colleagues, my students, and my parents,” Farrell said. “It’s not something that happens often, for everyone to be in the same room, and I’m deeply delighted they could all be here.”

—Thomas Rozwadowski