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October 2009 Events


October 13, 2009
A.S. Byatt:  Angels and Insects (1995)
6 p.m.
Seely G. Mudd Hall (SGM) 123
To secure your spot please RSVP to: Event Code: CC1013

This provocative adaptation of A.S. Byatt’s novella, Morpho Eugenia, manages to pack in Darwin, religion, horses, butterflies, maid-servants, and incest, all the while illuminating brilliantly the world of Victorian England. With a scientist hero, a family full of secrets, and a feminist heroine with a gift for irony and biology, this film offers both an immersion in and (dare one say) a dissection of the “evolution” of the 19th century — or imagine, rather, if Charles Darwin himself had landed not in the Galapagos Island but an English country house, this is the film he would have made. Perverse and fascinating, and an excellent preparation for A.S. Byatt’s upcoming visit!

October 15, 2009
How to Win a Nobel Prize
The 2009 Awards: Who/What/Why
12– 2 p.m.
University Club
To secure your spot please RSVP to:Event Code: CC1015

What is a ribosome? How do chromosomes divide as they age? Why did a relatively unknown German woman writer born in Romania just become an unexpected international best-seller? And how exactly does your digital camera take a picture, and how does the picture travel over the internet to grandma?

If we are asking these questions, it must be October, and indeed, this year's Nobel Prizes are being announced as we speak. This is the moment when we all realize how little we know of each other's work, but how much we share in the joy of discovery across the universe. In a series of lunches, the College Commons is bringing together faculty from our own universe, USC College, to discuss the scholars, writers and public figures awarded the prizes; the years of work and imaginative striving behind them; and what makes their work so resonant. Speakers and topics will be announced before the event as prizes are awarded but whoever "wins," the conversation is sure to be prize-worthy. Be sure to join your colleagues in biology, chemistry, physics, literature and economics, and make some new discoveries yourself!

Both lunches are currently at capacity but we are negotiating for more space. To register for the waiting lists, please email and indicate if you wish to attend one or both lunches.

October 19, 2009
The Novel as Natural History:  A Lecture by A.S. Byatt
Presented by Visions & Voices and The College Commons
7 p.m.
Bovard Auditorium
To secure your spot please RSVP to:Event Code: CC1019

Dame A.S. Byatt is the author of novels of wonderful complexity, including The Whistling Woman (2002), the conclusion of her four-novel series of contemporary England, and The Children’s Book (2009) which draws her gaze backward through World War One, as well as essays and short story collections. But she is not only one of the most highly regarded novelists of our time, she is the one who has reflected most dazzlingly on the nature of time, in particular the relationship between the 19th century and our own, and between Darwin’s investigations of human evolution, and the form of the novel. In a thought-provoking lecture and reading, she returns to the fertile ground that gave us her Booker prize-winning novel Possession (1990) and the stunning pair of novellas, Angels and Insects (1992), and considers the questions of Darwin, fiction, form and time. 

The Novel as Natural History:
Early novels were formally related to the Christian and biblical story. How did the nineteenth-century scientific histories of the earth affect the form of the novel? I shall talk about Honore de Balzac and the tension between his Christian belief and his interest in humans as animals, and in research (Cuvier, Buffon, St Hilaire) into the shapes of organic life. I shall talk about George Eliot and her use of Lyell and Darwin to shape her forms. In my own work I have come to see that there was always a character who was a naturalist who was set against the old (religious) images of the human story – by the time I got to Angels and Insects the conflict was very explicitly Darwinian. At the end of ‘A Whistling Woman’ there is a conference, at a new University, about Body and Mind, in which a visionary Vice-Chancellor tries to bring together scientists and other thinkers. Main characters in Babel Tower are studying evolutionary genetics – and the history of snails.I chose snails because ‘helix’ is the latinword for snails, and the double helix withits four letters is the new universal language with which we describe all biological life. The conference is attacked by the chanting forces of unreason.

October 22, 2009
How to Win a Nobel Prize: Part II
The 2009 Awards: Who/What/Why
12 – 2 p.m.
University Club
To secure your spot please RSVP to:Event Code: CC1022

The second of the two lunches hosted by The College Commons in which USC College faculty discuss the year’s awards, including describing the crucial work, offering insights into its relevance and perhaps handicapping the other possibilities? This is your second chance to join Professors Johnson and Schor for a free-wheeling conversation.

Both lunches are currently at capacity but we are negotiating for more space. To register for the waiting lists, please email and indicate if you wish to attend one or both lunches.

October 27, 2009
Modern Darwinian Controversies: From Primate Knowledge to Human Mating Strategies
4 - 6 p.m.
Doheny Memorial Library (DML) 240
To secure your spot please RSVP to:

The 1859 publication of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin sparked enormous controversy and widespread debate in his time. While Darwin's treatise on natural selection and evolution has become accepted as the "cornerstone of modern biology", it has also generated new debates and controversies in several scientific disciplines.  In this symposium, we present an overview of Modern Darwinian Controversies in the study of the evolution of behavior. An open discussion will follow presentations from leading researchers from both Psychology and Anthropology in this area. Both students and faculty are invited to attend and participate in this cross-disciplinary discussion.

Faculty Panel Members:

David Buss (University of Texas, Austin) Controversies in Evolutionary Psychology: Sex Differences in Human Mating Strategies
Justin Wood (USC Psychology) Evolution of Knowledge Systems: Making the Leap from Primates to Humans
Craig Stanford (USC Anthropology) Challenges and Collaborations Across Disciplines

Moderators:  Laura Baker & Steve Madigan (USC Psychology)


October 28, 2009
Sexual Conflict in Humans
Psychology Department Colloquium with Dr. David Buss, Professor and Head of IDEP program, University of Texas at Austin
12 - 1 p.m.
Hedco Auditorium

October 30, 2009
The Real and the Surreal:  Political Patronage and Literary Responses in Argentina
12 – 2 p.m.
Social Science Building (SOS) B40


Professor Susan Stokes
John S. Saden Professor of Political Science
Yale University

Professor Roberto Ignacio Díaz
Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese and Comparative Literature
USC College

Professor Susan Stokes is an expert on Latin American politics and has written prolifically on democratization and the legacy of patronage and vote buying. Her most recent book is Democracy and the Culture of Skepticism: Political Trust in Argentina and Mexico (Russell Sage Foundation, 2006). Professor Stokes's discussion will center on her prize-winning article "Perverse Accountability: A Formal Model of Machine Politics with Evidence from Argentina," American Political Science Review (2005). She defines perverse accountability as a phenomenon that occurs when political "parties know, or can make good inferences about, what individual voters have done in the voting booth and reward or punish them conditional on these actions." In this article she develops a dynamic model that captures the characteristics of those voters most susceptible to political manipulation, which is one key pre-condition for designing effective democratic reforms.

Professor Roberto Ignacio Díaz teaches Latin American and comparative literature, and writes on Latin American literary and cultural history with a focus on transatlantic relations in the 19th and 20th centuries. He is presently at work on a book-length study of opera in Latin America, and has written on multilingualism in Spanish American literature and on the prose of Borges. His essay, "Borges's Baroque Barbarians," looks at Borges's "Story of the Warrior and the Captive" in the context of the baroque as a critical paradigm in the established discussion about Latin American culture, and, implicitly, as a comment on Sarmiento's formula of civilization and barbarism in the context of the discourse about the Argentine nation.

Both speakers will focus on the different methods, data, archives, and literary representations they utilized to measure or study phenomena such as political corruption, its causes, and consequences.

Lunch will be served.


Professor Michelle Clayton
Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Spanish and Portuguese, UCLA

Professor Sebastian Saiegh
Assistant Professor of Political Science, UC San Diego


Events and details subject to change. For more information, email