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Cody Marrs and the Omnipresence of Beauty

Book cover

"Cody Marrs and Beauty as an Omnipresent Force" by Katie Cowart


Over the past few years, the entire world has faced some harsh realities. A pandemic seemingly without end. A war between Ukraine and Russia. An international social movement in Black Lives Matter. For many, these moments in time are only seen through the lens of the fear, unrest and change they ignite. 

Cody Marrs takes a different approach. Head of the English department in the Franklin College of Arts & Sciences who specializes in nineteenth-century American literature with a focus on the American Civil War, Marrs is interested in the duality of events.

He took inspiration from turmoil to write his latest book, Melville, Beauty, and American Literary Studies: An Aesthetics in All Things (Oxford University Press, 2023).

“I wanted to write something that was life-giving and different from what I have worked on in the past,” said Marrs. “There is an aspect of Melville that I'd always liked and been inspired by, but there was no book that existed that addressed it. And it's this basic, intuitive understanding that that beauty is an almost omnipresent force, something that's simply part of nature instead of something that's rarefied or hard to discern.”

Melville often wrote about the grotesque and the horror that surrounded him, but he was also keenly interested in beauty. In this book, Marrs examines how Melville engages with beauty in the middle of situations one would normally consider ugly. 

“I am interested in internal conflict. Melville is very interested in beauty, but he is also interested in terror,” said Marrs. “Pleasure and suffering are inexorably linked. Life can be painful and challenging, but that doesn’t take away from experiences of joy and beauty.”

To prepare to write his book, Marrs spent time reading the same stories Melville would have been reading when he wrote such stories as Moby-Dick, Timoleon, and Weeds and Wildings

“The first step to being a good writer is also being a voracious reader. Melville spent a lot of time reading and responding to what he read, writing in the margins of his books,” said Marrs. “Something a lot of the books had in common was that they all saw aesthetics in general and beauty in particular as something that was simply a force of nature. I was trying to understand the compositional process of his writing, and how he developed the appalling beauty in Moby Dick.”

Marrs is also the author of two highly regarded books about the Civil War: Not Even Past: The Stories We Keep Telling About the Civil War (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2020), which was featured in Time magazine and won the Montaigne Medal for the "most thought-provoking book," and Nineteenth-Century American Literature and the Long Civil War (Cambridge University Press, 2015), which was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title. Here at UGA, he teaches a wide variety of courses on American literature, culture, and aesthetics.

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