Meet a Fellow: Jessie Hock
Meet Jessie Hock, a 2021-2022 RPW Center Faculty Fellow. This year’s group is exploring the theme of “Environments.”
What does the phrase “Environments” mean to you?
When I think of “environments,” I think about the set of interlocking circumstances that makes a surrounding. This is intentionally abstract: the project I’ll be working on as an RPW faculty fellow has to do with not the natural environment—probably the most common way of thinking about “environments”—but rather theoretical constructions thereof. My research concerns the reception in twentieth century philosophy and theory of the Roman poet-philosopher, Lucretius, whose poem On the Nature of Things (ca. 50 BCE) is the oldest extant account of ancient materialist philosophy.
My research concerns how ideas travel and change over time, and how poetic form, as a vehicle of transmission, affects ideas and their transit.
This year, I’ll be working on a book chapter about Lucretius and the gendering of nature. Many ancient philosophers, including Lucretius, identified matter and nature with a feminine principle. In the case of Plato and Aristotle, this served to reify gender binaries and downgrade the importance of women, nature, and matter alike (environmental feminists today are still battling these associations). My research concerns how Lucretius’s alignment of nature and matter with the goddess Venus, who he invokes as his muse, has over the course of the reception of On the Nature of Things served to inspire new naturalist philosophical visions that dissolve gender binaries and/or foster cross-gender identifications.
What initially sparked your interest in your research?
My first book, The Erotics of Materialism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021), concerned the reception of Lucretius in early modern poetry English and French poetry. While I was researching and writing that book, I kept seeing surprising similarities between how 16th and 17th century poets understood and used Lucretius, and how 20th and 21st century theorists and continental philosophers understood and used Lucretius. This was enormously provocative and interesting, but the work on theory and philosophy didn’t fit within the parameters of the book’s argument… so it became the topic of my second book.
Understood in its broadest sense, all of my research concerns how ideas travel and change over time, and how poetic form, as a vehicle of transmission, affects ideas and their transit. I’m really excited about this new work because in it I get to range even more widely in time and genre than I did in my first book. In terms of historical periods, I move from antiquity, when Lucretius wrote, to the Renaissance and early modernity, when On the Nature of Things was rediscovered and gained enormous popularity, and the late 20th century and present day, when materialism (and Lucretius) is enjoying a resurgence of interest. In terms of genre, I’m getting to think about how Lucretian poetry—and not just materialist ideas—informs philosophical thought.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
My first job, at age fourteen, was at the local public library, where I shelved books. Given my current profession, this job may have been formative. I’m also to this day pretty fixated on making sure that the spines of my books align perfectly with the edge of my shelf, something that was required at the library.
Jessie Hock is Assistant Professor of English and French and Italian. She works on English and French early modern poetry, classical reception history, the history of philosophical materialism, and contemporary theory and continental philosophy. Her 2021 book, The Erotics of Materialism: Lucretius and Early Modern Poetics, was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, and she has articles and book chapters on Lucretius, Remy Belleau, Gilles Deleuze, John Milton, Margaret Cavendish, and Michel de Montaigne. She is also the co-translator (with Alex Dubilet) of two book by contemporary French philosopher François Laruelle.