Lucy Alford

Lucy Alford

Contact Information

Centre for Modern Thought
School of Language & Literature
University of Aberdeen

Department of Comparative Literature
Division of Languages, Cultures and Literatures
Stanford University


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Profile: Getting Here

As an undergraduate I always found myself caught at the borders between politics and philosophy, between philosophy and poetry, between poetics and the political. As an undergraduate at Bard College and the University of Virginia, thinking about the relationships between these fields meant completing programs in multiple departments, stitching together work in Human Rights, Comparative Literature, Political and Social Thought, English and Creative Writing. In my final year at the University of Virginia, I completed an honors thesis on the politics of recognition in human rights theory and contemporary poetry, focusing on the works of Czeslaw Milosz (Poland), Seamus Heaney (Ireland), Ingrid de Kok (South Africa), and Teresa Hak Kyung Cha (South Korea), as well as a dissertation manuscript in poetry. After graduating I moved to Egypt, where I taught English and Social Studies at the middle and high school levels, then political theory and analytical writing to postgraduates and political researchers in downtown Cairo, along with a series of adult poetry writing workshops in Maadi. Living and working in Egypt offered an immersive introduction to classical and contemporary Arabic language and literatures. While there I was active in political organizations such as the Egyptian People’s Initiative (EPI), the Full Disclosure Elections Campaign and Unite Group (UG), a consortium of human rights lawyers based in downtown Cairo. I have continued the study of Arabic and am now completing a translation of the works of Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti. I came to the Centre for Modern Thought seeking an environment that would cultivate cross-disciplinarity while maintaining high standards of rigor and quality of thought.


Intendite: Poetry, Proximity, and the Ethical Response

My dissertation with the Centre is very much an extension of the concerns I struggled to articulate in my undergraduate thesis. My supervisor Chris Fynsk has helped to point me toward ways of approaching these questions differently, shaped by new readings, with greater critical sensitivity and with fewer ideological assumptions. I am asking questions about the foundations of Kantian ethics and human rights, and the problem of articulating what exactly is at stake in political abuses—and what is at stake in claims for recognition. What are the grounds for respect, or for response? What is meant by terms such as ”dignity,“ ”worth,“ the ”sacredness“ of human life or of the ”human spirit?“ Can these concepts be thought in the secular-scientific framework of traditional humanism? What language could an articulation of the human assume, and what form? What doors might poetry open in our ability to come closer to the stakes of our humanity?

Engaging Heidegger’s ”Letter on Humanism“ with contemporary Kantian approaches to the humanitarian response, I am working to develop the notions of nearness, care, proximity and attention with regard to relation. I am considering the capacity of poetry and poietic thinking to move us into closer and more attentive proximity to humanness and to the stakes of care. My thinking will engage the work of twentieth century poets such as Derek Walcott, Czeslaw Milosz, Anne Carson, Seamus Heaney, and Louise Glück. I will be reading for those aspects of these poets’ works that speak to the living-and-dying of the body, the nearness and cherishing of the small, objects of the inanimate world, fragments of homefronts, decomposition and intimacies. I will be considering poetry not only in terms of the meaning of its content but for the movement of its form as poetry, as act, as physical object, as signpost of mortal frailty and as immediate relation.


  • Violence and response.
  • Poetry and poetics.
  • Voices
  • Vigils
  • Matter
  • Small Objects
  • Soil
  • Fragments
  • Visual arts
  • Movement arts
  • Disruptions
  • Intervals
  • Proximities
  • Recognition
  • Attention and care
  • Ethical quandaries
  • The limits of reason
  • Relation and responsibility

Reading List


  • Immanuel Kant
  • Martin Heidegger
  • Luce Irigaray
  • Emanuel Levinas
  • Jonathan Glover
  • Georges Battaile
  • Axel Honneth
  • Maurice Blanchot
  • Susan Sontag
  • Hélène Cixous
  • Vivian Sobchack
  • David Levi-Strauss
  • Elaine Scarry
  • Martha Nussbaum


  • Czeslaw Milosz
  • Derek Walcott
  • Seamus Heaney
  • Charles Wright
  • Agha Shahid Ali
  • Anne Carson
  • Louise Glück
  • Lucille Clifton



  • Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY 2001-2003—Comparative Literature, Human Rights, Creative Writing
  • University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, May 2005—BA, Political and Social Thought
    —BA, English
    —BFA, Poetry Writing
  • MLitt by Research in Modern Thought, completed September 2008
  • Yarmouk University, Jordan—UVA-Yarmouk Summer Program in Arabic, 2010
  • University of Aberdeen, Center for Modern Thought—PhD in Modern Thought. Supervisor: Christopher Fynsk. 2011 (projected)
  • Stanford University—PhD in Comparative Literature. Supervisors: Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht and Roland Greene. 2014 (projected)

Honors / Awards

  • Word Writers Festival University of Aberdeen, participant, May 2007
  • Sixth Century Scholars Studentship University of Aberdeen, 2006-2010
  • Rhodes Scholarship, Endorsement Finalist, 2005
  • Waggenheim Award, Merit Scholarship: Excellence in Literary Studies
  • Golden Key International Honors Society
  • English Honors Society
  • Genesis Society Recognition, for Humanitarian Contribution and Scholastic Achievement
  • Phi Etna Sigma, Honors Society