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Last modified: Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Literary critic W.J.T. Mitchell to speak at next Patten Foundation lecture

March 9, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. --- W.J.T. Mitchell, the Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of English and the Department of Art History of the University of Chicago, will present two Patten Foundation lectures this spring at Indiana University.

Mitchell will speak on "Images and Others -- Migration, Law and the Image: Beyond the Veil of Ignorance" on March 30 (Tuesday), and on "Images and Others -- Idolatry: Nietzsche, Blake, Poussin" on April 1 (Thursday). Both lectures will take place in Rawles Hall, room 100 at 7:30 p.m.

W. T. J. Mitchell

Domenico Aronica

W. T. J. Mitchell

Print-Quality Photo

One of the leading figures in the interdisciplinary field known as "visual culture," Mitchell studies the interplay of vision and language in art, literature and media, addressing both general problems in the theory of representation and specific issues in cultural politics and political culture.

In his first lecture, "Images and Others -- Migration, Law and the Image: Beyond the Veil of Ignorance," Mitchell will discuss the convergence of three disciplines: the law, with its entire edifice of judicial practice and political philosophy; migration, as the movement and settlement of living things, especially (but not exclusively) human beings, across the boundaries between distinct habitats; and iconology, the theory of images across the media, including verbal and visual images, metaphors and figures of speech as well as visual representations.

In Mitchell's second lecture, "Images and Others -- Idolatry: Nietzsche, Blake, Poussin," he will examine the diagnosis of the return of idolatry and its evil twin, iconoclasm, in contemporary global political culture, and especially in the contemporary tendency to conceive of war in religious, Manichean terms, as a struggle between good and evil. Working through the transvaluations of the idolatry/iconoclasm complex in the philosophy of Nietzsche (Twilight of the Idols and Thus Spake Zarathustra) and the paintings of William Blake, the lecture will stage a re-reading of Nicholas Poussin's classic scenes of idolatry in "The Adoration of the Golden Calf" (London: National Gallery) and "The Plague at Ashdod" (Paris, The Louvre).

Mitchell teaches in both the English and the art history departments at the University of Chicago and edits Critical Inquiry, a quarterly interdisciplinary journal devoted to critical theory in the arts and human sciences. He works particularly on the history and theories of media, visual art, and literature from the 18th century to the present, exploring the relations of visual and verbal representations in the culture and iconology. Through his own research and Critical Inquiry, he has published special issues on public art, psychoanalysis, pluralism, feminism, the sociology of literature, canons, race and identity, narrative, the politics of interpretation, postcolonial theory, and many other topics.

For further information on Mitchell, see

Patten Lecture Series History

The William T. Patten Foundation has provided generous funds to bring to IU Bloomington people of extraordinary national and international distinction since 1937 -- making it the oldest lecture series at Indiana University. More than 180 world-renowned scholars have lectured at Indiana University under its auspices. Noted specialists in their fields, speakers have been chosen for their ability to convey the significance of their work to a general audience. Chosen by a campus-wide faculty committee, Patten lecturers have represented over 50 academic departments and programs. Past lecturers have included Oscar Arias, Jorge Luis Borges, Noam Chomsky, Natalie Zemon Davis, Umberto Eco, Julian S. Huxley, Evelyn Fox Keller, Toni Morrison, Amos Oz, Helmuth Rilling, Edward Said, Amartya Sen, Wole Soyinka, Ren Thom, Lester Thurow, Strobe Talbott, and Martha Nussbaum.

William T. Patten received his A.B. degree in 1893 in history from IU. After graduation he settled in Indianapolis, where he made a career in real estate and politics, including serving as county auditor. He remained appreciative of the educational opportunities that IU had afforded him, and toward the end of his life, in 1931, he made a gift to the university in the form of liberty bonds and Indiana municipal and county bonds. The gift was to be held as an endowment bearing his name, and the income used for bringing to the campus eminent leaders in their fields for residence and lectures to enrich the intellectual life of the campus.

For a more complete history on William T. Patten and further details on the upcoming lecture series, visit

Inquiries about the Patten Foundation and the Patten Lecture Series should be sent to