Rutgers professor releases new book entitled 'The History of Missed Opportunities'
Esteemed professors, faculty, students and friends gathered Wednesday evening to celebrate the launch of Professor William Galperin’s latest book, “The History of Missed Opportunities,” at the Center for Cultural Analysis.
Galperin is a professor and an associate chair in the Department of English.
“This event is my way of honoring the connection of my work and the various ways in which the institution has impacted it,” he said.
Henry Turner, a professor of English and director of the Center for Cultural Analysis, said that the center was an informative influence on Galperin's book in particular.
Galperin was the director of the center for multiple years, so they felt it was appropriate to showcase his book as an example of what high-level interdisciplinary research in humanities looks like, Turner said.
As a director of the Center for Cultural Analysis, Galperin ran a seminar several years ago on the every day and the ordinary for faculty and graduate students, he said. It was a year-long seminar in which he consolidated many of the ideas he worked on for the book about everydayness.
The argument of the book is that at some moment in the 18th-century, life became predictable and when that aspect of everyday life was no longer impinging on people there was a whole new dimensionality to life, Galperin said.
On one hand, people were ignoring and then recognizing retrospectively as having taken place, he said. People began to point ahead to the future and chart a progressive course for themselves so they were not really paying attention to what was going on moment to moment.
Writers, who are often times the canaries in the coalmine of new ideas, became particularly interested in this. They began to look back at things and see them as if for the first time, Galperin said.
“I have been teaching literature of this period for a very long time. I was always struck by the way in which romanticism seems to be dealing with histories of the possible. That is to say, things that happened that were unaccounted for that literature can bear witness to,” he said.
Galperin said that he considers his graduate courses as laboratories and that he puts his ideas out and graduate students either take them or beat them down.
Turner said that the way they do research in the humanities is not to have a laboratory but to have a seminar. The seminar is a space where the seeds of new ideas are signed, defined, tested and elaborated through dialogue and reading.
Galperin said that the classroom becomes a place where he tests out new ideas and students help him to conclusions that he might have otherwise not reached on his own.
“This has been a project that has been very much connected to Rutgers and supported by Rutgers,” he said.
Galperin said that he could never have done this without the institutional support. Between the opportunities to test his ideas out in the classroom, deliver talks at Rutgers sponsored conferences and the year-long seminar, he was interacting with some very sharp people at all levels of the University.
This is the first book party he has ever had, and since this is his fourth book, Galperin said that he figured it might be his last opportunity to have one while he was still working here.
The real and somewhat astonishing secret about academic writing or just about any writing, Galperin said, is that one never knows what they are thinking until they start writing.
Writing should be a representation of a conclusion one has already come to, but in a mysterious way it is always a process of discovery, he said. Even as a process of discovery it is also a process of refinement.
“All writing is rewriting and in the case of special authors like Austen the only way to read Austen properly is to reread,” Galperin said.
He said it is interesting that at the moment at which many of these writers were writing it the first time people were thinking about personal development as a narrative going forward or narratives of upward mobility.
The three big authors Galprin deals with are Jane Austen, William Wordsworth and Lord Byron — he has been teaching them for a very long time, Galperin said.
"I’m having this event in many ways," he said. "Not as an act of self-promotion, but to really bring people together and thank them for allowing me to pick their brains for over 30 years."