Dr Dennis Duncan, Darwin



Biographical Information

I am the Munby Fellow in Bibliography at the UL. Prior to this I was a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Bodleian Centre for the Study of the Book in Oxford, and a Junior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford. Before that, from 2012 to 2014, I was a lecturer in the English Department at Birkbeck, University of London, and director of the MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature there. My PhD, completed at Birkbeck in 2012, was on the Oulipo – the French avant-garde collective, best known for Georges Perec's La Disparition, a novel that avoids using the letter e. Prior to that, I did my undergraduate degree and masters – both in English – at Manchester University. I also have an MSc in Computing Science.


Research Interests

My research is focused on two main areas: translation and the history of the book. In the case of the former, I am interested in the crosscurrents between Anglophone and French experimental writing in the mid twentieth century, and the role that translation played in mediating this. My work in this area has appeared in James Joyce Quarterly, and in the forthcoming collection Modernism and Non-Translation, edited by Jason Harding and John Nash (Oxford University Press). My first monograph, The Secret of Lightness: The Oulipo and Modern Thought, looks at the ways that certain modes of thought – structuralism, psychoanalysis, philosophy of language, Surrealism – are taken up in the early work of the Parisian literary workshop, the Oulipo. The book draws heavily on the group’s archives at the BnF in Paris, and aims to move research on the Oulipo in a more closely historicised, archival direction. The manuscript is currently with readers for OUP, while parts of it have appeared in the TLS and in Comparative Literature. At the same time, I am interested in the way that these kinds of Modernist modes of writing have been taken up by writers of the twenty-first century, and my collection Tom McCarthy: Critical Essays was published last autumn. I also practise translation, primarily of modernist or mid-century French writers: Alfred Jarry, Boris Vian, Julien Torma. My translation of Michel Foucault’s essay ‘Seven Remarks on the Seventh Angel’ will be published in PMLA this autumn, while in 2015 I produced an English edition of the four-issue Surrealist little magazine, Le Grand Jeu, for Atlas Press.

With regard to book history, my current research project concerns the history of the book index, from the early thirteenth century to the present. It frames contemporary anxieties about reading in the digital era in the context of a resistance to extract-reading which has accompanied the index from its earliest days, and which can be found, for example, in Alexander Pope’s jibe that ‘index-learning turns no student pale’. For this project, I have held fellowships at the Bodleian and the Folger Shakespeare Library and worked closely with the Society of Indexers. The work will lead to a second monograph, Table of Discontents: A History of the English Book Index, as well as a collection based on the proceedings of a conference held in Oxford in 2017. Along with indexes, I'm interested in paratexts more broadly. I produced the Paratext Podcast – a series looking at individual paratexts and their histories – and am editing, along with Adam Smyth, a collection entitled Book Parts, due from OUP in 2018.

Areas of Graduate Supervision

I have supervised graduate work on a variety of authors from the modernist period – T. S. Eliot, Yeats, Woolf – as well as later figures such as Larkin, B. S. Johnson, and Nabokov. I would be particularly interested to hear from potential graduate students wishing ot work on modernism and print culture, or indeed any aspect of book history or literary translation.

Selected Publications

Recent and forthcoming publications include:

  • Book Parts, ed. Dennis Duncan and Adam Smyth (forthcoming from Oxford University Press, 2018)
  • ‘Indexing’, in Ann Blair, Paul Duguid, Anja Goening, and Anthony Grafton (eds), A Companion to the History of Information (forthcoming from Princeton University Press, 2018)
  • ‘The Protean Ptyx: Nonsense, Non-Translation and Word Magic in Mallarmé’s “Sonnet en -yx”’, in John Nash and Jason Harding (eds), Modernism and Non-Translation (forthcoming from Oxford University Press, 2018)
  • ‘Criticism in Translation: Michel Foucault’s “Seven Remarks on the Seventh Angel”’, PMLA 132.5 (2017)
  • ‘Review of Modern Print Artefacts’, Modernism/Modernity, 24.3 (2017): 657-60
  • ‘Oulipo’ and ‘Pataphysics’, in Vassiliki Kolocotroni and Olga Taxidou (eds), The Edinburgh Dictionary of Modernism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017)
  • Tom McCarthy: Critical Essays (Canterbury: Gylphi, 2016)
  • ‘Hoggs that Sh-te Soap, p. 66’, Times Literary Supplement, 15 January 2016, pp. 14-15
  • ‘“Joyce, un pornographe”: Ulysses, Portrait and the Sally Mara Novels of Raymond Queneau’, James Joyce Quarterly, 52.2 (2015): 115-32
  • Theory of the Great Game: Writings from Le Grand Jeu (London: Atlas, 2015)
  • ‘As If We Were Reading a Good Novel: Fiction and the Index from Richardson to Ballard’, The Indexer, 32.1 (2014): 2-11
  • ‘Calvino, Llull, Lucretius: Two Models of Literary Combinatorics’, Comparative Literature, 64.1 (2012): 93-109