Benjamin Parris

  • Visiting Assistant Professor

Benjamin Parris works at the intersections of early modern literature, critical theory, and the histories of philosophy and science. His first book, Vital Strife: Sleep, Insomnia, and the Early Modern Ethics of Care (Cornell UP, 2022), won the John T. Shawcross Award from the Milton Society of America, and was shortlisted for the Jerome Singerman First Book Award by the Shakespeare Association of America.Vital Strife is about the close yet puzzling relationship between sleep and ethical care in early modernity. It shows how writers trained under the Renaissance humanist paradigm of attentive care in fact work to dissolve the humanist coupling of virtue and vigilance. The plays, poems, and philosophical essays at the heart of this book—by Jasper Heywood, William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, John Milton, and Margaret Cavendish—instead turn to the unconscious motions of corporeal life and the drowsy forms of sentience at the boundaries of human thought and intentionality. Vital Strife reveals how these writers draw on the ethical cosmology of ancient Stoicism and its doctrine of oikeiôsis in their associations of sleep with the first impulse of vitality and the regenerative virtues of care. Parris has also begun two new book projects. The first, Endless Goods: Early Modern Virtue and Political Economy argues that early modern literature grapples with the transition from feudalism into capitalism through figures of endlessness that respond to crises in the understanding and social distribution of ethical, spiritual, economic, and racial forms of value. The second, Early Modern Infinity and the Global Poetics of Night, reads nocturnal poetics across a range of traditions as techniques for seeing infinitely in cosmological, aesthetic, and ontic dimensions. 

His essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Shakespeare Studies, Modern Philology, SEL: Studies in English Literature, and in edited collections from Penn State, Cambridge, and Edinburgh University Presses. 

At Pitt, Parris teaches courses on Shakespeare, Milton, epic poetry and drama from the ancient and early modern worlds, and seventeenth-century literature, philosophy, and science. He previously taught at Haverford College before joining the faculty at Pitt, and was a Society Fellow at Cornell University’s Society for the Humanities. He holds a Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Johns Hopkins University, and a B.A. with Highest Honors in English and Cultural Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.