José Vergara completed his Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
His current primary research project explores the ways in which five major Russian authors—Yury Olesha, Vladimir Nabokov, Andrei Bitov, Sasha Sokolov, and Mikhail Shishkin—responded to James Joyce. While keeping in mind these writers’ diverse biographical, historical, and cultural contexts, he uses Joyce as a comparative prism to understand better the ways they address critical issues in their novels, namely the influence of the past, generational conflict, and the possibility of inscribing oneself into history through art. This study likewise reveals that while these authors responded to Joyce in their own particular ways and, therefore, their work reflects changes in cultural values throughout the long twentieth century, a Russian Joycean tradition complete with representative features (images, themes, devices) can nevertheless be discerned. In addition to this subject, José has also published on the Russian absurdist Daniil Kharms and the Czech surrealist Ivan Blatný.
This interaction between text and context also informs José’s teaching methods. In his literature and culture classes, students are asked to consider both the peculiarities of the texts at hand, as well as the various relevant circumstances that played a role in their creation. In this way, he endeavors to provide three main concepts: 1. knowledge of the texts along with relevant background developed through a combination of close reading, reflection, and discussion; 2. an understanding of various means of literary analysis; and 3. the awareness that each person can craft an interpretation and is not dependent on him for one “true” answer to any given question.
In language courses, he emphasizes a communicative approach along with grammatical mastery. He wishes for students to develop the skills necessary for long-term success, personalized language use, and independent learning. Role-play activities and authentic materials (texts, film clips, music, etc.), among other tools, feature prominently in his language classes of all levels.
José is also very committed to outreach and the public humanities. To that end, he has worked with the Oakhill Prison Humanities Project and the Pushkin Summer Institute to help bring Russian studies to historically underrepresented populations. He hopes to continue this line of work in the future.