I am a literary critic and cultural historian of early modern Europe, a teacher, writer and explorer of the boundaries between languages, media, cultures, disciplines, and geographies of various kinds. I grew up in India, traveling all over the subcontinent, and have studied in the United States and Europe (France, Switzerland, Italy): these formative journeys have made me an avid traveler, always curious to see and learn new things, meet new people, and find new ways of speaking and thinking about the world.
I am currently an assistant professor of Comparative Literature and an affiliate of the Program in Renaissance Studies at Yale University, where I teach courses on the European Renaissance, early modern literature and intellectual history (particularly sixteenth and seventeenth century poetry and philosophy), cartography and literature, and the history of the self. In addition to literary and intellectual historical questions, I am interested in early modern maps (particularly world mapping), the history of science and technology, early modern empires, and the rich visual archive of illustrated books in the period. Though I work primarily with the English, French, and Italian literary traditions, my interests extend to Portuguese, Spanish, and Neo-Latin Materials. I am also learning Persian and hope to expand my scholarship to consider European relations with the Indo-Islamic empires of the period. This new trajectory will, I hope, bring me full circle as I am able to bring my knowledge of some South Asian languages (Hindi, Tamil) as a heritage speaker into my work as a scholar.
My research is distinguished by an interdisciplinary approach to “big ideas” in humanistic studies: I have written on the idea of “world” and “the human,” on fundamentalism, on cosmology, on sectarian and national identity, on cosmopolitanism, on skepticism, on the cultural reception of the new science, and on the notions of modernity and early modernity; my current project unpacks histories of self, subjectivity, emotion, affect and thought. Though drawing primarily on literary texts as my sources, my work seeks to place these texts in dialogue with other materials and media, including maps, globes and atlases, scientific instruments, visual culture (painting, engraving), philosophic and scientific treatises, book history and philology, political theory and historical documents. My goal has been less to historicize the literary than to show how the particular figurative power of literature, which I locate in the epistemological force of poiesis (human making, shaping), permeates other forms of cultural discourse—and in fact, is harnessed programmatically in seemingly non-literary contexts. Thus, a key theme in across all my work is the significance of literary figuration and its close connection to philosophical thought. My research takes seriously the task of crossing boundaries—disciplinary, cultural and theoretical—while remaining committed to the long traditions of intellectual and literary history which stretch from the Renaissance, my field of specialization, to our contemporary scholarly engagements.
My first book, The Worldmakers: Global Imagining in Early Modern Europe (University of Chicago Press, 2015) provides a cultural and intellectual history of “the world,” showing how it emerged as a cultural keyword in early modernity. Beginning with a fascination for how the geographic and historic boundaries of the early modern world were challenged and redefined, my approach to worldmaking is rooted in Europe’s relations with an expanding world. As thinkers and writers in all fields came to terms with unprecedented novelties and knowledges, European culture underwent a profound change, not unlike the rapid, sweeping changes we see around us today. My work tries to capture how the early modern world struggled with an unprecedented explosion of global networks, connections, ideas and opportunities—much like our own struggle to evaluate the possibilities and dangers of globalization. These parallels, and the intellectual dilemmas they reflect, animate my intellectual interests, from my first book and various essays on related subjects to my recent intellectual pivot towards Europe’s connections with the Middle East and South Asia. With a recently awarded Mellon New Directions Fellowship (2016), I hope to expand this work and pursue research on cross-cultural contacts and comparative studies of Europe and the Indo-Islamic world. As a preliminary step, I am currently co-organizing a series of workshops on Early Modern Techne that aim to initiate cross-cultural dialogues on material culture across the arts and sciences.
My interest in globalism is a part of deeper interest in the philosophical problem of universals and particulars, which underlies my current project, Lyric Thinking: Poetry, Selfhood, Modernity. Tracing an interlinked history of poetry and moral philosophy from the explosion of lyric in the early modern period, when it arguably began to coalesce into a discrete genre, into present debates over lyric theory, the book identifies “lyric thinking” as a key philosophical and literary mode of shaping an idea of the self. Beginning with the centrality of Petrarch’s lyric sequence, the Rerum vulgarium fragmenta, to the Western canon of lyric poetry, I interrogate the seemingly inextricable connection between lyric and emotional self-expression to uncover the cognitive force of lyric abstraction in a range of early modern poets (Ariosto, Tasso, Spenser, Scève and Donne). Along the way, the book looks both backwards to the classics (the Neoteric poets, Horace, Ovid) and forward to the Romantics (Goethe, Chateaubriand, Wordsworth) and modernists (Mallarmé, Eliot, Celan, Walcott, Glissant). The project draws inspiration from recent work on lyric phenomenology and reconstructs the history of poetry’s claim to being a unique form of thinking and knowing the world.
My essays have been published or are forthcoming in various journals and collections including NLH, MLN, Spenser Studies, The Spenser Review, Forum Italicum and Anglistik. Together with Melissa Sanchez, I am also the co-editor of a special issue of Spenser Studies on “Spenser and The Human” which explores the poet’s complex relationship to the category of "the human," by drawing on current discussions of humanism, posthumanism, and animal studies.