Elisa Tamarkin

Associate Professor Fellow
Elisa Tamarkin Image

Elisa Tamarkin’s book project, “Apropos of Nothing: Histories of Relevance and Irrelevance,” offers a history of the ideas of “relevant” and “irrelevant” knowledge after 1800. Proceeding from the premise, as new in the nineteenth century as the concept of “news” itself, that certain ways of knowing and thinking come to be defined by their “relevance,” Tamarkin traces the concept of relevance in the fields of logic, philosophy, aesthetics, semantics, and the natural sciences. She shows how our claims for relevance signal a belief not just in the significance of our work but also in its adaptability within systems of knowledge that demand constant novelty and shifting sites of interest. With readings of Hegel, Bentham, Mill, Tocqueville, Emerson, Thoreau, William James, Dewey, and others, Tamarkin examines how theories of relevance come to inform debates about the meaning of art and the purpose of criticism.