Take 5: David Scott Kastan

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Take 5 offers a brief introduction to Yale faculty members in a Q&A format. The featured faculty member selects 5 out of 10 questions to answer. Any opinions shared are not necessarily those of YaleNews.

David Scott Kastan, the George M. Bodman Professor of English, is a teacher of Renaissance literature and a Shakespeare scholar, with a particular interest in “material culture” — the history of texts and their transmission. He is one of the general editors of the Arden Shakespeare and the series editor of the new Barnes and Noble Shakespeare, and has edited Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus.”

What scholarly/research project are you working on now?

I have just finished a book on Shakespeare and religion, called “A Will to Believe”; am in the middle of a book I am writing with the English painter Stephen Farthing, called “Living Color: A Cultural History”; and am beginning a book about books as objects, technologies, commodities, and fetishes.

What important lesson(s) have you learned from your students?

That it is not only okay not to know something, but also that a secure “not knowing” is often both much more fun than a defensive knowing and turns out, unsurprisingly, to be the only way to push the boundaries of what is known. “I don’t understand that” is the best thing that can be said, and often my reply is “hmmm; neither do I. Let’s figure it out.” This whole answer, by the way, is my response to the increasing “MOOC-ification” of the academy.

What world problem would you fix, if you could?

If I were a better person I suppose I would say world poverty or global warming, but the problem I wish I could fix is the joylessness of so much of modern life. We need a richer sense of play and less instrumentality, not least in the way we go about our education. (And maybe this also my answer to MOOC-ification.)

What person, living or dead, would you like to spend a day with?

Michelangelo Merisi, the painter we call Caravaggio. He disappeared in 1610. He was a brilliant artist, unwilling to accept any orthodoxies, either aesthetic or social. He painted the world as he found it and yet still beautifully. He is, I think, the first “modern” painter, both in style and temperament. A day with him, however, would be all I could take: I couldn’t keep up with his drinking. He couldn’t either.

What is your favorite spot on campus?

I love Beinecke Plaza (which I think is formally called something else), especially in the winter when the Noguchi sculptures in the sunken courtyard get topped with snow. 

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