Department of English

David Sherman

David ShermanAssociate Professor of English
Co-Director, Brandeis Educational Justice Initiative
(education in the criminal justice system)
Co-Founder of The Elegy Project, a public poetry initiative. The Elegy Project distributes poems in public places to make grief less lonely and our shared world more interesting.
Director of Graduate Studies
PhD, New York University

pronouns: he / him / his
Meet Professor Sherman through OpenBook: An English Department Podcast.

Research Interests

Global modernism, elegy and the politics of commemoration, public sphere theory, comedy, literature in the criminal justice system, literature and philosophy

Selected PublicationsIn a Strange Room: Modernism's Corpses and Mortal Obligation book cover

  • "Elegiac Subjunctive, or, Secular Variations on Posthumous Personhood." Journal of World Literature, forthcoming.
  • "Modernism, Secular Hope, and the Posthumous Trace." The Edinburgh Companion to Modernism, Myth and Religion, ed. Suzanne Hobson and Andrew Radford. Edinburgh University Press, 2023.
  • "The poetic elegies that can help us make space for our pandemic grief." The Washington Post (January 3, 2022).
  • "Chaplin Boxing." Modernism / modernity, response to special issue on Weak Theory (February 2019).
  • "In a Strange Room: Modernism's Corpses and Mortal Obligation." Oxford University Press, 2014.

  • "Woolf's Secular Imaginary." Modernism/modernity, 23.4 (November 2016).

  • "Stransom's Secular Altar, or, James's Pragmatics of Dying." The Henry James Review, 37.3 (fall 2016).

  • "The Being that Thinks in Us: Woolf and the Aesthetics of Self-Alarm." Le Tour Critique 2 (2013).
  • "Is Narrative Fundamental? Beckett's Levinasian Question in Malone Dies." Journal of Modern Literature, 32.4 (summer 2009).

  • "Elegy under the Knife: Geoffrey Hill and the Ethics of Sacrifice." Twentieth Century Literature, 54.2 (summer 2008.)

  • "A Plot Unraveling into Ethics: Woolf, Levinas, and 'Time Passes.'" Woolf Studies Annual, 13 (2007).

  • "Burial Plots, Inoperative Community, and Faulkner's As I lay Dying." Theory@Buffalo 11 Aesthetics and Finitude (2007).

  • Poems and creative non-fiction in The Iowa Review, The Minnesota Review, The Dalhousie Review, and The Threepenny Review.

Current Projects

The Machine Stops: Modernism, Human Fungibility, and the Critique of Secular Hope. This book investigates cultural responses to the fungibility of persons in modern political and economic systems. I argue that modernism imagined the secular as a new set of cultural strategies for preserving the social power of human traces against efficient disposal. These writers and artists ask: how can we imagine a person’s symbolic, figurative survival in a secular world within a materialist and humanist frame? Where can we now direct our posthumous hope? Rather than loss of faith or rational disenchantment, the secular emerges in this study as a normative project: an ethical commitment to human traces, in their fragility, against the economic abstraction and political replaceability of persons.  Modernism participates in secularization as a creative resistance to extreme fungibility, a pragmatics of posthumous survival in modernized societies.


Inventing Farewell. This book is a creative non-fiction exploration of the jagged edge of contemporary mortuary practices, where imagination confronts tradition. As cultural criticism of emerging deathways, this project recognizes a generation of artists, community organizers, and writers who are creating new communities of mourning. These are practitioners of alternative mortality, playing on serious ground. Their cultural experiments offer the dead new forms of cultural presence and make grief less lonely. This cross-genre, formally experimental book brings together historical research, lyrical expression, and cultural criticism. Composed of short meditations and juxtaposed vignettes, Inventing Farewell renders a process of cultural transition. Every modern generation must re-invent its relations to the dead. This unfinished, astonishing cultural work is at the intersection of art, politics, therapy, ritual, and design. 

Selected Courses Taught

  • Inventing Farewell: A Practicum on Elegy (ENG 148a)

  • Storytelling Performance (ENG 60a)

  • Novels on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (ENG 26a)

  • Gender and Comedy in the U.S.: Counterpublics, World-Making, and the Politics of Pleasure (WGS 610)

  • Joyce's Ulysses (ENG 126b)

  • Romantic Comedy / Matrimonial Tragedy (ENG 180b)

  • Magical Realism and Modern Myth (COML 117a)