Faculty Spotlight: Brian McGrath

Faculty Spotlight: Brian McGrath

Dr. McGrath is an associate professor of British Literature and British Theory at Clemson. His research interests include Romanticism, Poetry and Poetics, and Aesthetic and Literary Theory. He received his undergraduate degree in English from Northwestern University, his masters in English from the University of Maine at Orono, and his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Emory University. We sat down with Dr. McGrath to ask him a few questions and get to know him and his work better!


Is there a piece of literature that has greatly impacted your life?

There are two pieces that come to mind. The first is William Wordsworth’s poem The Prelude and the second is John Cage’s Silence, a collection of essays.

Wordsworth begins The Prelude not knowing what to do with his life or what to even write about it. He turns this confusion into the subject of the poem, making it one of the most famous poems ever.

One of John Cage’s teachers told him that he did not have an ear for music, even though he was in school to become a composer. He then decides to create his own type of musical composition. In one piece, Cage takes a map of the stars, places it behind a transparent piece of staff paper, and places musical notes where the stars are to create a piece of music. One of his most famous pieces is entitled 4’33. This piece is a completely silent piece, placing an emphasis on the importance of silence, and highlighting the importance of daily sounds made by humans.

I chose these pieces because they are both written as ways of contending with not being good at something, or not knowing what to do.

Is there a project that you have been working on recently?

I have been working on a book about the afterlives of certain romantic tropes as carried forward into our contemporary moment. One chapter is entitled “I Wondered Lonely as An iCloud,” playing off of Wordsworth’s “I wondered lonely as a cloud.” This chapter thinks about the romantic metaphor of the cloud, relating to the contemporary form of Apple’s iCloud and cloud computing. Another chapter discusses the election of the dead. This happened in 2018 in Nevada. This chapter discusses the poetic trope “prosopopoeia.” This refers to giving a voice to something dead or inanimate. A lot of poems in the 18th century give objects the chance to speak, which is a common trope in poetry. When dead people are elected to office, a voice is given to the dead, similar to voices being given to inanimate objects in poetry.

What made you want to become an English professor?

When I finished college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I moved to Maine because I wanted to write poems with lobsters. Then, I moved to New York and joined an Indie rock band before deciding that what I really wanted to do was teach!



Written By: Caroline Cavendish


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