Competition: US & Canada
Robin Feuer Miller is Edytha Macy Gross Professor of Humanities at Brandeis University where she teaches Russian and Comparative Literature. She considers herself fortunate to have studied with several outstanding teachers—first at elementary school in Vermont, and later at Berkeley High School, Swarthmore College, and Columbia University—who encouraged students to tackle difficult subjects, to formulate questions, and to write frequently. She has tried to continue their legacy in her own classroom teaching.
When Miller was writing her first book, Dostoevsky and the Idiot: Author, Narrator and Reader (1981), she was unemployed, raising young daughters, and writing during stolen moments throughout the day. A year as a Junior Fellow at Cornell’s Society for the Humanities was intellectually transformative; the serendipitous intellectual interactions that thrived there showed her how rich interdisciplinarity—when grounded within one’s own discipline—could be. Years later at Brandeis Miller initiated a seminar series that ran for four years, “The Consilience Seminars,” which sought in part to recreate that excitement of intellectual discovery in areas of inquiry far removed from one’s own. She has enjoyed working with colleagues across the span of the university. Six years spent as Dean of Arts and Sciences at Brandeis allowed her to experience and appreciate the range of innovative research that takes place at a liberal arts university. She has enjoyed team teaching two courses, “Drawing Upon Literature,” with a distinguished painter from the Fine Arts Department, and “Chekhov’s Stories on Stage,” with a colleague in Theater Arts.
Miller anchors her scholarly writing in old-fashioned close reading of texts and the exploration of questions that engage her both professionally and personally. She believes that to some degree all scholarly and critical writing carries intrinsically autobiographical elements. Her first book concerned itself with questions about the relationship between the several narrators of The Idiot and the several kinds of readers imagined by them. In later books and essays (such as The Brothers Karamazov: Worlds of the Novel, Dostoevsky’s Unfinished Journey, “What is Chekhovian about Chekhov,” and “Tolstoy’s Peaceable Kingdom”), she has considered questions about the ambiguities of authentic or sincere confession, about the varieties of spiritual conversion (and de-conversion), about guilt and responsibility.
Her Guggenheim project, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and the Small of This World, approaches Dostoevsky and Tolstoy through their representations of “the small of this world”—that is, through their depiction and understanding of animals, children, and minor characters. She plans to bring a range of contemporary cultural thinkers into conversation with Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. For these two writers, “the small of this world” loom large. Miller maintains that a sustained consideration of them will alter our understanding of the giant canvases on which Dostoevsky and Tolstoy paint.
Miller will spend part of the academic year 2013–2014 (with her husband Christopher Miller, a Guggenheim Fellow of 2004) at Oxford University as a Visiting Fellow at St. Edmond Hall.