John Burt Foster

John Burt Foster

John Burt Foster

University Professor

world literature, modern fiction, comparative literature

John Foster teaches at all levels in the department, from sophomore surveys and courses in the undergraduate major to graduate seminars on world literature and modern fiction.  His scholarship includes books on Nietzsche and modern fiction, on the Russian-American novelist and autobiographer Vladimir Nabokov, and on Tolstoy and world literature, which was named an “outstanding academic book” by Choice in 2014and has been translated  into Chinese. With Wayne Froman in the Philosophy department, he has also co-edited two books on cultural issues for the International Association for Philosophy and Literature.

His articles and reviews have appeared in Belgium, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, and Korea as well as the United States and Canada. He has also given papers at conferences in China, Japan, Mexico, and the Netherlands. He was the review editor and then editor of The Comparatist, an annual journal for comparative literary study. He then relaunched and edited Recherche litteraire/Literary Research, a bilingual journal in the same field that circulates worldwide. He recently finished a six-year term as secretary-general for the International Comparative Literature Association.

Honors include research fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Mellon Foundation, and the German Academic Exchange Service. Along with four colleagues in English, he was also awarded a curriculum grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop the department's offerings in world literature. Born in Chicago, he lived as an infant in China before growing up in Illinois and Minnesota; he has also lived for extended periods in Germany, France, and Rome, Italy. Before coming to George Mason, he taught at Stanford, and he has held visiting positions at New York University and at Harvard.

Current Research

Since my Tolstoy book, I have published essays and reviews on Tolstoy, on world literature, and on Nabokov.  I have just finished an essay on creativity for a volume with contributions from both neuroscientists and scholars in the humanities. In addition to pursuing research in world fiction since 1950, I'm also interested in the autobiographical writings of Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka. 

Selected Publications

Heirs to Dionysus: A Nietzschean Current in Literary Modernism. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1981.

Nabokov's Art Memory and European Modernism. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993.

(ed., with Wayne J. Froman) Thresholds of Western Culture: Identity, Postcoloniality, Transnationalism. London: Continuum, 2003.

(ed., with Wayne J. Froman) Dramas of Culture: Theory, History, Performance. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008.

Transnational Tolstoy: Between the West and the World. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.

"Magical Realism, Compensatory Vision, and Felt History: Classical Realism Transformed in The White Hotel." Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community. Ed. Lois Zamora and Wendy Faris. Durham: Duke UP, 1995. 267-83.

"Zarathustrian Millennialism Before the Millennium: From Bely to Yeats to Malraux." Why Nietzsche Still? Reflections on Drama, Culture, Politics. Ed. Alan Schrift. Berkeley: U of California P, 2000. 99-117.

"'Show Me the Zulu Tolstoy': A Russian Classic Between 'First' and 'Third' Worlds." Slavic and East European Journal 45.2 (2001): 260-74.

"Cultural Encounters in Global Contexts: World Literature as a One-Semester General Education Course." Teaching World Literature. Ed. David Damrosch. New York: Modern Language Association, 2009. 155-64.

"Three 'Comparative' Autobiographies: Cultural Multiplicity in Mary McCarthy, Wole Soyinka, Edward Said." Beyond Binarism: Identities in Process. Essays in Comparative Literature. Ed. Eduardo F. Coutinho. Rio de Janeiro: Areoplano, 2009. 24-33.

"Memory in the Literary Memoir," The Memory Process: Neuroscientific and Humanistic Perspectives, eds. Suzanne Nalbantian, Paul Matthews, and James L. McClelland.  Cambridge: MIT Press, 2010. 297-313.

"Soyinka [Euripides, Nietzsche] Thomas Mann: Intertextual Dialogues across the Twentieth Century," Theatres in the Round: Multi-ethnic, Indigenous, and Intertextual Dialogues in Drama, ed. Dorothy Figueira and Marc Maufort, Bruxelles: Peter Lang, 2011. 211-27

"Forum on Promoting the Study of Modern Literature Worldwide: The MLA and its Conventions," ed. and introd. John Burt Foster, Jr. Comparative Literature Studies 50.2 (Spring 2013): 191-243.

“Love Across Borders in Hadji Murad: Variations on a Cross-Cultural Motif in Tolstoy,  Stendhal, and D.H. Lawrence,” Partial Answers 12.2 (2014): 311-29.

Courses Taught

ENGH 202: World Literature since 1950

ENGH 309: Modern Autobiography

ENGH 360: Continental Fiction, 1770-1880 (Goethe to Tolstoy)

ENGH 361: Continental Fiction, 1880-1950 (Chekhov to Camus)

ENGH 362: Global Voices (World Fiction since 1950)

ENGH 366: The Idea of a World Literature

ENGH 665: World Fiction since 1950




B.A., Harvard College, 1967 (Russian and English).

Ph.D. Yale University, 1974 (Comparative Literature).