Assistant Director, Center for Philosophy, Arts & Literature
Kevin Spencer is a PhD Candidate in the English Department. He is writing a dissertation about moral agency and the persistence of realism in the late Modernist novel. Modernism has come to be understood as a literary movement that prizes aesthetic autonomy, the idea that art works justify themselves and need not represent reality or improve readers' character. Kevin challenges this orthodoxy by looking at how novelists from the 1930s to the 1960s depicted moral agency in their novels. Richard Wright, Patricia Highsmith, Erskine Caldwell, Graham Greene, and others either influenced or were influenced by French existentialism, which combined narrative and philosophical reflection to explore what it means to act and be responsible for one's decisions. Literary histories typically cast modernism as the rejection of both existentialism and realist aesthetics, but Kevin's dissertation shows that these novelists adapt the realist novel form to the ethical concerns of the modernist era.
A native Canadian, Kevin received his BA (honors) and MA in English at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta. He then received a second MA in Theory and Criticism from Western University in London, Ontario. Before coming to Duke in 2015, he taught English in South Korea for nearly seven years. He lives in Raleigh with his wife and daughter.