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José Vergara

Assistant Professor - Russian

Modern Languages & Literatures


  2. Phone: (610) 957-6449
  3. Kohlberg 337

José Vergara completed his Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

His first book, All Future Plunges to the Past: James Joyce in Russian Literature (Cornell University Press, 2021) explores how Russian writers from the mid-1920s to the present day have read (literally and figuratively) Joyce’s fiction and how they then creatively responded to it. This study deploys close readings of several novels, while drawing on theories of intertextuality. Individually, each case study—the major works of Yury Olesha (1899-1960), Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), Andrei Bitov (1937–2018), Sasha Sokolov (b. 1943), and Mikhail Shishkin (b. 1961)—serves as an example of a different kind of intertextual relationship; together, they represent a history of how our understanding of intertextuality has shifted over the last century. The works in question are united by common themes, such as generational conflict, the influence of the past, and, most significantly, Joyce’s idea that the creative individual may rewrite history and become father to himself through lasting art. All Future Plunges to the Past therefore illuminates how Russian writers have used Joyce’s ideas as a critical lens to shape, prod, and constantly re-define their own place in literary history. To extend his analysis to the present day, José interviewed a range of writers and critics, including Aleksei Salnikov, Dmitry Bykov, Anna Glazova, Marina Stepnova, Zinovy Zinik, Ksenia Buksha, and Alexander Il’ianen, among others. The various perspectives included in the book’s conclusion reveal how the Russian Joyce is no less dynamic today.

His next manuscript-length project, which has been inspired by recent teaching experiences, addresses the latest in Russian incarceration stories. In what he is tentatively calling “Bless You, Prison, for Having Been in My Life!: Contemporary Russian Carceral Narratives,” José explores how these artists position themselves vis-à-vis their predecessors and challenge the tradition’s form, often through both word and image. This interdisciplinary study will provide a definition of the Russian Prison Text and explicate the connection between literary narrative and the modern Russian prison system in socio-political terms.

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 offered an Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program course (The Meaning of Life & the Classic Russian Novel) at Swarthmore, and, previously, he has worked with the Oakhill Prison Humanities Project and the Pushkin Summer Institute.