Q: Can you tell me a little about your background and how you ended up at Puget Sound?
A: I grew up in Southern California and got my bachelor’s degree at Reed College in Portland, Ore., which led to me discovering the Pacific Northwest and how amazing it is. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study, but I ended up taking an ancient Greek course and I was hooked. After that, I was in the Bay Area, then Georgia for a few years, and then I went to Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, where I where I had a joint position in classics and in women, gender, and sexuality studies. One day, my spouse and I looked at each other, and we realized we didn’t want to keep living in the mid-Atlantic. I had been wanting to move back to the Northwest for a while, and the position at Puget Sound came along at exactly the right time. I’ve been super happy to be back at a small liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest.
Q: Let’s talk about your area of study. What is it about classics that interests you?
A: I like to describe my work as exploring how Greco-Roman antiquity has long haunted our dreams of the future and the might-have-been—in other words, how speculative fiction poses urgent questions via Greco-Roman classics about changing definitions of what it means to be human. Classics is one of the few academic disciplines where you’re not constrained by a particular skillset or worldview. Within classics, you can be an archaeologist, you can study the history of language, you can be obsessed with pots, you can be interested in ancient medicine. There’s space for everybody. The purpose of a liberal arts education is to learn to live as a free person, which is what I teach in my first-year seminar. In that course, we ask what it means to be free, and classics is uniquely positioned to address this question because it has been entangled in the anxieties about that question for 2,500 years.
Q: You teach about the intersection of classical literature and science fiction and fantasy. How do those different genres overlap?
A: I think they’re very similar. We only have maybe 2% of what was written by the ancient Greeks, so you're always grappling with this question about what it means to reconstruct antiquity. It's a complicated epistemological proposition, and in many ways, science fiction and fantasy are about trying to construct or reconstruct similar conditions when they imagine the future or what might've been. In antiquity, they used the past the way we use the future to conduct the same kinds of thought experiments. Greek drama is obsessed with the epic past and reimagining a particular myth to resonate with what’s going on in fifth-century Athens. It reminds me of the “What If” comics that Marvel did in the 1980s and onward, where they explored what would happen if everybody knew that Daredevil was blind or if the Green Goblin had the infinity gauntlet. These two genres are doing the same thing, but because our way of thinking about time has changed, it’s not easy to recognize.
Q: What do you hope students take away from your classes?
A: Fundamentally, the study of classics enables you to see the world differently. For instance, when you learn ancient Greek, it rewires your brain and allows you to break free of the narrow confines of the English language to organize your thoughts in new ways. That opens up all kinds of doors. I have a former student who was a classics and computer science double major who’s doing fascinating work right now at Stanford with natural language acquisition in artificial intelligence. So, there’s an opportunity for classics to be part of these conversations about cutting-edge technologies, and that’s just one example. At the end of the day, if my students are more creative and more capable of addressing challenges that are coming than I am, then I feel like I've done my job.
Q: Tell me about your life outside of campus. How do you spend your time?
A: I have a lovely family: a spouse, a two-legged mammal, and a four-legged mammal, and so for the past six years, I’ve been keeping the two-legged mammal alive and doing so successfully. Obviously, I have a deep relationship with geek culture. I have an older brother who makes video and board games for a living and so sometimes he’ll call me and ask about some classics thing to work into a game. I also play a lot of music. The pandemic has been an excuse to build a little music studio in my house, and I’m hoping to do some recording soon.