Nico Israel

Nico Israel is Professor of English at the CUNY Graduate Center and Hunter College and author of Outlandish: Writing between Exile and Diaspora (Stanford, 2000) and Spirals: The Whirled Image in Twentieth-Century Literature and Art (Columbia, 2015). His latest project reconsiders modernist universalisms; his piece on the history of the universal auxiliary language Esperanto, and Joyce’s depiction of it in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, appeared in Modernism/Modernity and Print Plus in early 2017. 


Serving Man: The United Nations Art Collection, Mid-century Modernisms, and the Apparition of Universality

“Respectfully submitted for your perusal—a Kanamit. Height: a little over nine feet. Weight: in the neighborhood of three hundred and fifty pounds. Origin: unknown.” So begins Rod Serling’s characteristically clipped voice-over narration near the beginning of “To Serve Man,” a 1962 episode of the cannily uncanny half-hour television series The Twilight Zone, in which one such Kanamit arrives in his spaceship in New York City and soon afterward appears before the Security Council of the United Nations. There the hyperintelligent giant, speaking perfect English (though without moving his lips) offers Earthlings freedom from war, hunger, and disease—problems that the Kanamits themselves, he says, long ago overcame.

Esperantic Modernism: Joyce, Universal Language, and Political Gesture

In the 1965 movie Incubus, a pre-Star Trek William Shatner, with characteristic avidity, plays the role of Marc, a wounded soldier who comes to the village of Nomen Tuum in search of curative water (fig. 1). While there, he is seduced by a beautiful young succubus, whose appointed task is to prevent Marc’s recuperation and instead deliver his soul to hell. What transpires is a bit too complicated, or silly, to merit recounting in detail, but suffice it to say