Dr Jay Prosser

Dr Jay Prosser

Reader in Humanities

+44(0) 113 343 4776

Summary: Cultural translations. Jewish diasporic routes, particularly Baghdadi. Life Writing (memoir, autobiography, biography). Photography, particularly in relation to suffering. The body and gender.

Research Interests

As a self-titled 'Reader in Humanities,' I guess I aspire to be something of a polymath.  My research interests are (probably compulsively) eclectic and expansive.   What drives me is a nexus of the self and the real best summed up by this challenge: How do I live? My grounds for exploring the question have become less personal but all the more urgent. 

My first book, Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transsexuality (Columbia University Press, 1998), looked at transsexual autobiographies and showed how the figure of transgender was pivotal to the queer theory emerging at the time. Not only the first presentation of transsexuality's 'body narratives,' Second Skins also returned to canonical texts. This led to Palatable Poison: Critical Perspectives on The Well of Loneliness (Columbia University Press, 2002), a coedition, with Laura Doan, in which essays classic and new debated the kind of narrative Radclyffe Hall's novel is. My work on body narratives has taken me in American literature to John Updike's textured writing and the matter of race. I have contemporary interests and have edited American Fiction of the 1990s (Routledge, 2008), whose essays treat American writing of the last decade in light of New American Studies.

My interest in visuality, which began with transsexual representation, has drawn me particularly to photography: the still visual most often thought of as a slice of the real. My book on photography, Light in the Dark Room: Photography and Loss (Minnesota University Press, 2004), settled on moments when photography has allowed realisation into loss. I've written on photographers who interweave the autobiographical, including Nan Goldin and Gillian Wearing. Most recently, as part of a collective of which I was leader but above all student, I've considered photography's implication in atrocity: relief or repetition?  This  British Academy-sponsored international collaboration -- between photographers, news editors, museum curators, artists, academics and NGOs -- has resulted in the co-edited collection Picturing Atrocity: Photography in Crisis (Reaktion Books, 2012), published in support of the work of Amnesty International; talks webcast @ http://www.photographyandatrocity.leeds.ac.uk/.  How I look at suffering is informed by my Buddhist interests, which are both my practice and academic.

I've travelled with my interests in autobiography also. My big writing project at the moment is completing a family memoir involving the Baghdadi Jewish and Chinese diasporas. This I'm doing in crucial collaboration with my mother. Relatedly I'm also running as PI an AHRC research network on Ottoman Cosmopolitanism, an extensive collaboration between academics, artists, musicians, gastronomists and writers which seeks to intervene in contemporary tensions by looking at transcultural exchanges in the former Ottoman Empire.  Increasingly I seek out collaborative research as one way we can use our work to break down the walls of self and real -- which, so my Buddhist teachers show me, are the cause of our suffering. 

Recent Activities

Impact work with the Dialogue Society to promote transcultural exchange in Leeds communities (2014).

Talks on family memoir and cultural translation at Poetry Cafe Soho with Exiled Writers (2013) and at conferences at Columbia University (2010), the City University of New York (2009), and the University of Hawai'i (2008).

Work on photography and atrocity presented at the London College of Communication (2012), Monash University in Prato (2010), St. Antony's College, Oxford (2009), University College Dublin (2009).   Collaboration with Amnesty International (2004-2012)

Keynote, 'Digital Transgender Lives,' Transgender and Intersex in the Arts, Science and Society: An International InterDisciplinary Conference. Deutsches HygieneMuseum Dresden, Germany (2012); visit sponsored by the British Council and Dreilinden.

Recent online Talks

'Daniel Barenboim:  Transcultural Dialogue through Music.'  Talk given in absentia, Workshop 2, Dialogue Theories, Dialogue Society, London, 27 June 2014

'Mahallah Memories:  An Ottoman Jewish family in the British Empire.’  Ottoman Memories: Transculturalism and Empires in Comparison,’ Birkbeck Cinema, School of Arts, Birkbeck, University of London.  1 November 2013

'Digital Trans.'  Keynote address, Writing Trans Genres: Emergent Literatures and Cultures.  University of Winnipeg, 22-24 May 2014 

Latest Research Awards

Higher Education Innovation Fund, Transcultural exchanges in the community arising from research on Ottoman Cosmopolitanism, 2014. 

AHRC Network Grant, Ottoman Pasts, Present Cities: Cosmopolitanism and transcultural memories, January 2013-July 2014

AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award (2011-14), with the Imperial War Museum, for PhD 'Breaking the Silence of a Forgotten army:  Prisoner-of-War Memoirs from the Sumatra Railway, May 1944-August 1945';

Leverhulme Visiting Professorship (2008) for Professor Krishna Sen, University of Calcutta, 'Transnationalism and Literature.'

Publications since 2008

Editor, American Fiction of the 1990s: Reflections of History and Culture, 250 pp, London: Routledge, 2008

Principal editor, with Geoffrey Batchen, Mick Gidley and Nancy K. Miller, editors, Picturing Atrocity:  Reading Photographs in Crisis, 200pp, London: Reaktion Books, 2012

Jay Prosser, 'Metaphors Kill: "Against Interpretation" and the Illness Narratives,' Barbara  A. Ching and Jennifer A. Wagner-Lawlor, The Scandal of Susan Sontag , 188-202, New York, Columbia University Press, 2009.

Jay Prosser, 'The Baghdadi Jew and His Chinese Mistress,' reprint from Magyar Lettre Internationale, Zsofia Ban and Turai Hedvig, eds., Exponalt Emlek (Family Photogaphs), 49-58, Magyar Tagozata: Budapest, 2008.  Reprinted in (English language version) Zsofia Ban and Turai Hedvig, eds., Exposed Memories:  Family pictures in private and collective memory, International Association of Art Critics, 2010

Jay Prosser, 'Life Writing and Intimate Publics: A Conversation with Lauren Berlant,' Biography 34.1, 2011, 180-187.

Jay Prosser, 'Singing with the Taxi Driver:  From Bollywood to Babylon,' in Rites of Return: Poetics and Politics,' eds. Marianne Hirsch and Nancy K. Miller, New York, Columbia University Press, 2011.

Jay Prosser, 'Installing Atrocity: The Body of the Photograph in Susan Meiselas's "Reframing History," Afterimage: The Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism, 39.1-2, 2011.



Telling Lives:  Reading and Writing Family Memoir


So Where Do You Come From?  Selves, Families, Stories

Postgraduate Supervision interests

I am particularly interested to receive enquiries from potential research students in memory, memoir and autobiography studies; Jewish and other diaspora narratives; transcultural encounters, particularly in relation the Middle East; photography; human rights discourse; transgender and gender studies

I have supervised PhD theses on subjects such as Don DeLillo, Harlem Renaissance literature, post-war American autobiography, graphic novels, and war testimony.