Inspiring Professors (continued)

“Reed students have changed my life in amazing ways. I’ve had the most rewarding experiences over the years.” Photo by Leah Nash / Christopher Onstott

Ann Delehanty [French 2000–] MacArthur Chair

By Romel Hernandez

The John D. MacArthur Chair was established by the MacArthur Foundation to support exceptional faculty members in diverse fields.

In a Nutshell: Prof. Delehanty grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, earned a BA in philosophy at Carleton College, and then switched to study comparative literature in graduate school at UC–Berkeley, where she specialized in 17th-century French literature. In 2000, Delehanty landed a position with Reed’s French department, where she teaches an array of courses in French language and literature. The deciding factor in her taking the job at Reed was the opportunity to teach humanities—a reflection of her diverse interests. “I came to Reed because teaching Hum 110 was the most exciting thing I could imagine,” she says, “the ability to spend a whole year in a conversation with students asking some very important and very difficult questions.”

It’s a Bird, it’s a Grad Student, it’s Wondergrrl!When she “went broke” getting her PhD at Berkeley, Delehanty took a job patrolling video game chat rooms using the moniker Wondergrrl.

The Heart has its Reasons: As a young scholar considering what direction to take her career, she found herself drawn to the 17th-century French polymath Blaise Pascal, who made a mark as a philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. “Pascal is a fascinating nexus for a lot of different disciplines and ideas,” she says.  “I’ve always been obsessed with his thinking and amazed by how much he managed to do in such a short time.” (Pascal died at 39.) Unapologetically interdisciplinary, Delehanty’s scholarship stands at the intersection of philosophy, literature, and history, reflecting her own Pascalian sensibilities.

Book it, Anno: Her 2012 book, Literary Knowing in Neoclassical France: From Poetics to Aesthetics, explored the 17th century’s epistemological shift from reason to the notion of a “literary sublime.”  The book represented, in her words, an effort to trace “the history of an idea—that literature might offer us access to transcendental and ineffable truths.” She explored this transformation through the works of several 17th-century thinkers, including, of course, Pascal, who famously wrote, “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”

The Experiment: Delehanty’s teaching and scholarship have flourished at Reed. “I value teaching tremendously, but it was also very appealing that I could pace my research here,” she says. “Reed’s focus on teaching allows me the freedom to experiment with both my teaching and my research in ways that can be cutting edge, in ways you couldn’t do at a big university.”

Literary Knowing in Neoclassical France evolved out of working with a student awarded a Ruby Grant from the college to fund faculty-student collaboration in research.  The book she is currently writing, about the concept of disillusion in the early modern novel in France and Spain, also originated as a Ruby project with one of her students. Starting with Don Quixote, the book examines how interpolated stories-within-stories were used to critique social conventions.