For Professor Paul Stasi, English courses are about more than merely reading literature: they are about students’ critical engagement, about “how to think critically about the world around them, to be able break down the vast mass of information that comes their way. The ability to analyze things, to write well, to express yourself; both orally in seminars and in writing, are really crucial skills.” A Berkeley Ph.D. graduate, Professor Stasi began teaching here in Fall 2007. This year he was promoted to Associate Professor and currently serves as undergraduate director of the English department. He was thrilled to come and teach here: “I get to play! I get to be part of the team! Before that you feel like you’re just sitting on the bench.” Stasi attests that the English faculty members here are some of the most passionate teachers he has ever seen, and he acknowledges the spirit of intellectual camaraderie that enlivens the UAlbany English department: “It’s a really dynamic, engaging department. I think this shows in the classroom because the faculty are really dedicated and get excited about the ideas that they’re talking about. I think that this excitement can be conveyed to the students too.” The faculty’s passion for literature is contagious and is cultivated in the hearts of ambitious English students.
Stasi first became intrigued by literature, and modernism in particular, when he read James Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist in high school. After college he worked in a Biology department as a secretary, and said that this experience instilled the allure of academia that motivated him to get his PhD. He discovered his pedagogical ardor as a student instructor in grad school. As a Ph.D. student, he was drawn toward questions about the politics of modernism, which was where he found his niche. His areas of expertise are Anglo-American modernism and postcolonial theory. His scholarly work deals with Marxist-inflected questions about the political relationship between Modernism and its socioeconomic climate, looking at how certain aesthetic forms arise at certain historical moments.
Stasi earned tenure this year and recently published his first book entitled Modernism, Imperialism and the Historical Sense. He said that seeing his book in print for the first time was a great milestone in his life. He recalls the surreal moment which gave him a profound sense of euphoric accomplishment: “Seeing it, this thing you made, out in the world—that was the best moment.” He plans to write a new book soon, and is still ruminating on the angle that he will use to approach it.
Stasi encourages students to make the most out of their time as undergraduates: “You have to try to get satisfaction out of doing the work, regardless of worrying about exactly where it’s going to end up… Unless you definitely want to become a doctor, most majors are fine for most jobs. So pick something you like and you care about. Luxuriate in the four years you actually get to read and study things that you’re interested in. Take advantage of college and really enjoy it.” He urges students to focus upon disciplines that they’re passionate about, as opposed to choosing their majors solely based on what will make them the most money after college.
In the classroom, Professor Stasi encourages his students to keep an open-mind and appreciate the intrinsic value of all works of literature. Stasi teaches students to take an analytical approach to reading and writing in their own lives. He teaches James Joyce’s Dubliners because it forces students to close-read, and like other literature, creates an immersive experience, filled with moments of awe and discovery: “I’m trying to get people interested in these weird things called books and ideas which so much of our culture doesn’t necessarily value.” Stasi makes every effort to impress upon students that “literature is both challenging and engaging and can actually be fun. It’s not as immediately rewarding as a movie but it has its pleasures and rewards.” Professor Stasi strives to keep his teaching vital and shifts his pedagogical approach to harmonize with class dynamics “I’m always shifting how I teach based on what the students are telling me. Every class feels a bit like a puzzle that I have to figure out. It’s always about adjusting.”
Stasi tries to impart a transnational outlook amongst his students. He encourages his students to break out of their regional milieux to take on more comprehensive global perspectives. “I really try to get my students to recognize the connection between the lives we lead here in the United States or the so called ‘first world’ and how it relates to what’s happening in the so called ‘third world.’” He stresses an international examination of the world in hopes that students will leave his post-colonial classes with the ability to: “recognize uneven development, the world economic system, and the way that a lot of our privileges rely on the cheap labor we use abroad.” Stasi asserts “I’m committed to certain questions about social justice and try to think about that in how I live my life.”
One of Stasi’s favorite works to teach is Althusser’s Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses because it illustrates that no one is free from ideology. Stasi attempts to rupture the fallacious belief in exceptionalism that many students come into his class with. “Our culture teaches students that some things are ideological and other things aren’t. We tend to say that someone’s view we don’t agree with is ideological. But there are parties. There are interests. People have ideologies. They clash. You have to deal with that. You can’t pretend you can neutrally float above it. If I can teach my students that, that seems like a good thing.”