Nathaniel Wolfson

Assistant Professor

5219 Dwinelle Hall

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Nathaniel Wolfson is Assistant Professor of Spanish and Portuguese and Affiliated Faculty of the Program in Critical Theory. He teaches modern and contemporary Brazilian literature and visual culture in a comparative mode. His teaching and research focus on literature, visual art, media and critical theory.

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.

His book Life of the Sign: Poetry, Design and the Cybernetic Imaginary in Brazil is forthcoming (2025) with the University of Texas Press. This project explores the crossings of avant-garde writing, design, and critical technological thought in Brazil in the 1940s through the 1970s. Through a framework focusing on exchanges between Brazil and West Germany, it shows how figures involved in the international movement known as concretism contended with global debates surrounding aesthetics and the digital. As Brazilian poets, artists, and designers witnessed the military regime’s efforts to control a rising field of informatics, they attempted to retool early computer coding to invent alternative and non-Western symbolic languages. Their efforts led to experiments ranging from poems composed with non-alphabetic languages to computer databases archiving popular culture.

Wolfson has published articles in journals and edited volumes on a wide range of topics. Among these, he recently published two catalogue essays for MASP (Museo de Arte Moderna de São Paulo); the first on Mário de Andrade, for the exhibition Mário de Andrade: duas vidas (2024), which explores the modernist poet's studies of Brazilian grammar through the lense of queer theory ("The Dance of Pronouns: Mário de Andrade's Queer Grammar"); the second, on Brazilian modernist painter, Alfredo Volpi, for the exhibition Volpi PopularThe latter essay asks why Volpi turned away from a “regionalist” approach to local popular culture 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 critiquing  some of the major trends of 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 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.

Nathaniel Wolfson