Fresh Faculty- Christopher Grobe
Issue   |   Wed, 02/22/2012 - 02:49

English Professor Christopher Grobe grew up in Chicago. He received his Bachelors of Science, Masters of Arts, Master of Philosophy and Ph.D. from Yale Univ.

What brought you to Amherst?

Well, a job offer … Amherst is a unique place, in many ways, but probably what I found most interesting about it is the combination of a kind of deadly seriousness about research on the part of the professors, mixed with a totally exuberant enthusiasm about teaching. And in fact a commitment to experimentation in teaching, experimentation with new topics, with new methodologies and even with new class formats, so that intrigued me.

How did you choose English?

That’s a tough question for me, because my specialty is one that sits at the edges of the English department. Since I specialize in drama, that puts me between the English and theater departments. But I also specialize in something somewhat broader called performance studies, or performance theory, which can really take anything as its object. The book I’m currently writing is about everything from poetry readings to reality television, and everything in between. It’s one of those weird ways in which I consider myself as much a practitioner of a methodology, and of a kind of scholarly lens on the world, as I am about the subject matter you might call English literature. And English literature is one of the things to which that lens can be usefully applied. So, for instance, I taught last semester, and will again next semester, this course called The Poetics of Performance, which is about what happens when you see poetry not only as a written text but also as a prompt to performance, or something that comes out of a performance tradition. So yeah, I don’t have a neat answer to that question, and if I ended up getting my doctorate in English and ended up applying to a lot of jobs in English, it’s mostly because the English department is a place where this kind of catholicity of interest can really happen. And that’s especially the case, I think, at Amherst, where folks in the English department are very generous in defining what the proper fields of their interests are.

What classes are you teaching this semester?

Well, I’m teaching a 200-level class called Reading Small Drama, which is a kind of play-reading boot camp. And then I’m teaching a 400-level class called The Play of Ideas, which is basically about how you can have a play that is as much structured and driven forward by argument and thought process as it is by a plot. This is something that many people have counted a kind of innovation of “modern” drama. People like Ibsen and Shaw and Chekov would write plays that seem to be mainly about the ideas that are in the plays, or that are developed by the plays. But this class takes a broad look across performance history to come up with other examples. For instance, tomorrow we’ll be discussing the philosophical dialogues of Plato as a possible precedent for the tradition.

You studied at Yale?

Yeah, in fact for undergraduate and graduate work, I was at Yale.

How do you go from such a large place as Yale to such a small place as Amherst?

I’m still figuring that out. So it is true that at Yale things are broken down into these residential college units, which can feel as socially tightly-knit as Amherst does. But I’m constantly surprised by just how cohesive a community Amherst College is. And I’m still learning just how easy it is to get to know the place, not in any systematic way, but by bumping into people and meeting friends of friends, and suddenly you feel like you know the whole place. That’s what I’m waiting for, is that big moment.

Do you have a favorite play?

That’s hard. I have a favorite play that I’ve seen recently. Within the last couple of years, probably my favorite play has been “Go Back to Where you Are” by David Greenspan. If you kind of sublimated a Virginia Woolf novel into a play somehow, it would look and feel something like this. It was stylistically totally unprecedented.

What do you do in your spare time?

Well, one doesn’t have much spare time during the first year of teaching. When weather permits, I love biking around here, and I love hiking. I particularly like the White Mountains, where you can get to the top and just see, rolling out into the distance, endless waves of more mountains. I really like spending time on the West Coast, where I’ve done a bunch of hiking and camping during the summer. I’m a connoisseur of cocktails, a mixologist, if you will. That’s something I do in my spare time. Other professors have learned to plan with caution when they come visit my place — plan with caution for the next morning.

Do you have a favorite cocktail?

When I’m just alone at home, I’ll drink anything with green chartreuse in it.