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Faces of the Pack: Daniel Adler, doctoral student in the College of Liberal Arts

Exploring time, history and futurity through narrative complexity

Daniel sitting in an outdoor cafe, typing on his personal laptop.

Faces of the Pack: Daniel Adler, doctoral student in the College of Liberal Arts

Exploring time, history and futurity through narrative complexity

Daniel sitting in an outdoor cafe, typing on his personal laptop.

Why study literature? How does it help us make meaning? How does it change across time? Big questions like these have kept Daniel Adler curious about novels since he was in college. Beyond the usual answers about the human condition, these questions take on added urgency today. As budget and program cuts to English departments and the liberal arts in general occur around the country, Adler insists that only literature holds a space for language and imagination to mix.

In Adler’s latest publication, he describes how this idea pertains to time and history in the 2018 Northern Irish novel "Milkman" by Anna Burns. In recounting a harassment that was never physical, which went unrecognized by her community in the 1970s during the time of the Troubles, the narrator, known only as “middle sister,” describes a new concept that undoes readers’ expectations.

Formal difficulties, such as an unnamed narrator, long sentences and ironic tone, point to the social function of naming as a kind of violence, which middle sister’s vivid descriptions complicate. Such paradoxes, Adler insists, are how literature is so powerful. Stories describe concepts we can’t quite articulate in day-to-day life and create a space of suspension and liminality for the reader to evaluate through self-examination. If science and math create maps for our culture, literature offers instructions for how to read them.

Teaching in core writing and core humanities in the College of Liberal Arts is another way Adler has worked to translate these ideas. He sometimes has students who profess their lack of interest in reading and writing and in ancient texts in particular.

"My favorite part of teaching is getting those students who were resistant to taking a required class like Core Hummanities 201 excited about reading and writing,” Adler said. “If I can show them how humans valued in a remote era, they can understand how much we have in common with characters such as Gilgamesh and Beowulf. They see that humans from long ago weren't stupid and had to grapple with the same questions they will. These texts prepare students for how to handle life beyond the classroom."

Since moving to Reno to start his Ph.D. at the Ƶ, Adler has further explored how these ideas work in classes on posthumanism, genre fiction and responses to the great modernist novel "Ulysses." Novels that treat exile, diaspora and expatriation are also part of his interests, as his own family came to the United States in the twentieth century from Ireland, the Netherlands and Russia.

Texts that open borders and create spaces for diverse voices to emerge beyond hegemonic culture also tend to have a meta-fictive narrator, who points beyond themselves and their texts to the world. In wrestling with material strictures and balancing formal experimentation, such texts imagine new ways of living.

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