Ian Balfour’s book captures major comparative literature prize

The largest and one of the oldest American learned societies in the humanities, The Modern Language Association (MLA) of America, awarded York English Professor Ian Balfour (right) its 11th annual Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Comparative Literary Studies for his book, The Rhetoric of Romantic Prophecy, (Stanford University Press, 2002).

The Scaglione prize is awarded annually for an outstanding scholarly work that is written by a member of the association and that involves at least two literatures.

In November 2003, Balfour’s The Rhetoric of Romantic Prophecy garnered the Jean-Pierre Barricelli Prize from the International Conference on Romanticism (see the Aug. 20 issue of YFile) and in April 2003, was awarded Honorable Mention for the Harry Levin Prize from the American Comparative Literature Association (see the April 16 issue of YFile).

The Scaglione prize, which consists of $2,000 US and a certificate, was presented in late December during the association’s annual convention, held recently in San Diego. The members of the selection committee were Emilie Bergmann (University of California, Berkeley); Frederick Garber (State University of New York, Binghamton); and Gauri Viswanathan (Columbia University).

“I felt rather flabbergasted to get this prize, despite some of the positive attention the book has received so far,” said Balfour. “Some of my colleagues in the field think this is the major book prize in comparative literature, so it’s very surprising and gratifying to have received this honour.”

The committee’s citation for Balfour’s book reads:

The Rhetoric of Romantic Prophecy reorients our understanding of prophecy as based in the present rather than directed to the future. Balfour grounds prophecy as a historicist activity, reading it in and through a complex temporality that faces, simultaneously, past, present and future. With insight and clarity, the book teaches a great deal about how to read history, for instance, by drawing attention to the citation of the past as a function of prophecy.

“The most highly political writing, Balfour suggests following Walter Benjamin, abandons all attempts to effect anything in the world. On the contrary, the task of politics, as of history, is to prophesy the present, not necessarily the future. Balfour’s breakthrough argument ends by examining a politics of prophecy, at once summary and model of prophetic engagement.”

About Ian Balfour

Ian Balfour teaches English and social and political thought at York. He has been a fellow at Cornell’s Society for the Humanities; a visiting professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the State University of New York, Buffalo, and Stanford University, Stanford, California, and a Margaret Bundy Scott Professor at Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Balfour is the author of a number of books and essays on romanticism, literary theory, and popular culture. With acclaimed filmmaker Atom Egoyan, he is co-editing “Subtitles: On the Foreignness of Film”. In February 2003 at York, Balfour led a discussion following the showing of Egoyan’s film, The Sweet Hereafter, an event at which Egoyan was present and answered questions. Other books by Balfour underway are a volume of South Atlantic Quarterly, “And Justice for All? The Claims of Human Rights”, with Eduardo Cadava; and “The Paul de Man Reader”, with Lindsay Waters.

Currently, Balfour is completing a book with the tentative title, “The Language of the Sublime”.

About the Scaglione prize

The Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Comparative Literary Studies was presented for the first time in 1993. Aldo Scaglione established the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Endowment Fund in 1987 to honour the memory of his wife, Jeanne Daman Scaglione. A Roman Catholic, Jeanne Daman taught in a Jewish kindergarten in Brussels, Belgium. When deportation of Jews began in 1942, she helped find hiding places for 2,000 children. She also helped rescue many Jewish men by obtaining false papers for them. Her life and contributions to humanity are commemorated in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.

Aldo Scaglione, a member of the MLA since 1957, is Erich Maria Remarque Professor of Literature at New York University.

About the MLA

The MLA, established in 1883 and now the largest and one of the oldest American learned societies in the humanities, promotes the advancement of literary and linguistic studies. The 30,000 members of the association come from the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa. PMLA, the association’s journal, has published distinguished scholarly articles for over one hundred years.

Approximately 9,500 members of the MLA and its allied and affiliate organizations attend the association’s annual convention each December. The MLA is a constituent of the American Council of Learned Societies and the International Federation for Modern Languages and Literatures.