Nathaniel Wolfson

Nathaniel Wolfson is Assistant Professor of Spanish and Portuguese and Affiliated Faculty of the Program in Critical Theory. He teaches Brazilian literature and visual culture in a comparative mode: exchanges between the Lusophone world, Latin America, Europe, and the United States.  His teaching and research focus on literature, visual art, and philosophy, especially critical theory and media studies.

Wolfson teaches undergraduate courses on Brazilian culture and graduate courses on Brazil and Latin America. His teaching incorporates a wide range of materials and voices from canonical literature to popular culture.

He is currently finishing a book manuscript called Versions of the Concrete: Global Aesthetics and National Culture on Brazilian literary and artistic networks, cybernetics, and cultural politics in the second half of the twentieth-century in Brazil. Versions of the Concrete examines an expanded field of Brazilian “concretism,” a mid-twentieth century avant-garde aesthetic movement that was widely influential in poetry and the arts. It focuses on the movement’s dialogues with the field of the cybernetics, examining through archival research and textual and visual analysis conversations between prominent Brazilian poets and artists and the philosophers, semioticians, and engineers who pioneered cybernetic thinking. It establishes that concretism, known as a cosmopolitan, abstraction-loving and formalist aesthetic movement, was more aligned with Brazilian mid-century approaches to local languages and cultures than has been recognized.

Wolfson has published articles in journals and edited volumes on a wide range of topics. Most recently, he published a catalogue essay on the Brazilian modern painter, Alfredo Volpi, for the exhibition Volpi Popular at the Museo de Arte Moderna de São Paulo. The article asks why Volpi turned away from a “regionalist” approach to local popular culture, marked by figurative representations of street characters, towards abstract and denuded scenes. “Scenes without Characters” argues that Volpi wished to distance himself from politically reactionary appropriations of popular culture by São Paulo elites, yet without abandoning his engagement with his surrounding social worlds.

Wolfson also recently contributed to a special volume on cybernetics in the journal AI & Society (2022). In “After the ‘new aesthetic’: a short history of the cybernetic turn in Brazil,” he focuses on the intellectual exchange between the poet and literary critic Haroldo de Campos and German philosopher Max Bense to tell a little-known history of cybernetic theory wedded to aesthetic practice, demonstrating the role that Brazilian critics, writers, and artists played in mediating and deviating from some of the major tenets of first-order cybernetics.

Wolfson is the editor of a special issue on the “Legacies of Concrete Aesthetics” in the Journal of Lusophone Studies (2020). He has written for the contemporary art magazine Flash Art International.

For a complete list and PDFs of other publications see his Academia.com page.

Before coming to UC Berkeley, he taught at Harvard University as a post-doctoral fellow. Prior to that he studied at Princeton University, where he obtained an M.A. and Ph.D. in Spanish and Portuguese, and Brown University, where he received his A.B in Comparative Literature.