John V. Smyth, Ph.D.


Stratford Hall Room 303

B.A., M.A. 1976 Cambridge University
Ph.D. 1982 University of Pennsylvania

On the PSU faculty since 1998

John Vignaux Smyth grew up in Scotland, got a B.A. and M.A. from Clare College, Cambridge University in England, and subsequently studied at Yale and the University of Pennsylvania, from which he received a Ph.D. in 1982, with a dissertation supervised by Barbara Herrnstein Smith. The dissertation was nominated by the University of Pennsylvania as the best national dissertation in the humanities between 1982 and 1984. His first book, A Question of Eros: Irony in Sterne, Kierkegaard, and Barthes (1986) was the first in a Florida State University Press series on Kierkegaard, and was nominated for the James Russell Lowell, the René Wellek, and the Harry Levin prizes. His second book, titled The Habit of Lying : Sacrificial Studies in Literature, Philosophy, and Fashion Theory, and solicited for Duke University Press by Stanley Fish (Duke UP, 2002), was also nominated for the James Russell Lowell prize. He was a main speaker (with Brian Rotman, Arkadi Plotnitsky, and Andrew Pickering) at a Duke University conference titled Mathematics and Post-Classical Theory in 1993, and co-speaker at a symposium on Music at King’s College, Cambridge (with Slavoj Zizek) in 1995.   

Having in the twenty-first century written and published on Kafka, John Maynard Keynes, Italo Svevo, Diderot, Isak Dinesen, Adorno, Slavoj Zizek, Jean-Pierre Dupuy, and others – including an essay on “Originality in the Enlightenment and Beyond” (Routledge, 2008), on “Economics and Liquidity in Keynes and Svevo” (WHR, 2011), and in Apocalyptic Discourse in Contemporary Culture (Routledge, 2014) - Smyth has more recently been lead researcher at the Portland Center for Public Humanities in an international collaboration funded by the Mellon Foundation between intellectuals in Hong Kong, Tel Aviv, Tucson, and Utrecht titled Religion, Secularism, and Political Belonging. He authored an index entry titled Science (to be found online at, presented at Utrecht University in Holland in December 2015, and is currently at work on a collaborative book, with the Canadian Reginald Mcginnis, titled Mock Ritual in the Modern Era: From Enlightenment Critique of Religion to Charlie Hebdo. Along with Dr. Michael Clark of PCPH, he invited Slavoj Zizek and Jean-Pierre Dupuy to speak in filmed dialogue at PSU on Halloween 2014 in front of 800 people (spooky!!), and again the next morning in a more intimate interview. Recent work includes an essay, solicited by Parallax (Leeds, UK) for a collection on lying and deception, titled “Deception, Concealment, Discretion : Forms of the Modern Sacred and Profane” (2015), and a review of Alain Badiou’s Plato’s Republic.

Smyth taught for 13 years in the Literature and Languages Division at Bennington College in Vermont, was Head of English at Northeast Louisiana University from 1995-8, and Chair of English at PSU from 1998-2003.