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Born and raised in Hong Kong, Ben Tam received his B.A. at The University of Hong Hong and an M.A. at Georgetown University before coming to Cornell. His dissertation, Modernism in Love, identifies a radical transformation in the delineation of love in the first half of the twentieth century. Concentrating on the work of D. H. Lawrence, Mina Loy, Elizabeth Bowen and Graham Greene, it argues that romantic love arises in these authors’ work not in the conventional pattern that constitutes the “love plot” (from encounter and seduction to crisis and reconciliation), but when the pattern is defied by certain insistent words or figures that preserve the event of love as a shock of not knowing. Rather than assimilate love to the rhetoric of self-discovery that the closure of a love plot usually implies, the texts I study ask what it means when the experience of love, as an encounter with the limits of self-understanding, shatters the coherence of the text as a quest for personal and historical meaning. Writing against the critical tendency to dismiss love as a conservative ideology, Modernism in Love exposes how love surprisingly provokes a variety of epistemological crises, destabilizing the concepts of individuality, responsibility and redemption that emerged around the two world wars.
Ben's next book project will continue this line of research, bringing literature, film and visual art together to ask 1) how the semiotics of love is evolving in the age of artificial intelligence, and 2) how classical rhetorical tropes such as prosopopoeia might unleash uncanny forces of intimacy—the giving of a face, for example, to a cyborg or digital data—that put authenticity, generosity, or other pastoralizing notions of love-as-fusion into question.
Ben was one of the four recipients of the Deanne Gebell Gitner ’66 and Family Annual Prize for Distinguished Teaching in College of Arts and Sciences (2015-2016). His other teaching and research awards include the Dean’s Scholarship from the Graduate School (2015-present), Provost Diversity Fellowship from the Graduate School (2012-2013), as well as a Future Faculty Grant from the Council of Graduate Schools. He has been invited to serve as the student respondent of the English Department’s inaugural Collation Lecture Series, as well as a guest speaker for first-time instructors. In addition to Department of English, Ben has taught for Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (a seminar on sexuality in the age of artificial intelligence) as well as German Studies (a seminar on German Romanticism).
- Twentieth Century
- Literary Theory (esp. deconstruction)
- Artificial Intelligence
- Queer theory