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Professor Emeritus Haskell Block dies at age 80

By : Ingrid Husisian

Haskell Block, professor emeritus of comparative literature, died Thurs day, November 6, at age 80. He is survived by his children, Randall, Laurie and Linda.

Born and raised in Chicago, Block earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago in 1944, a master of arts from Harvard University in 1947 and a doctorate from the University of Paris in 1949. He began teaching at Harpur College in 1975, serving as chair of comparative literature from 1981 to 1982. Following his retirement in 1987, he continued teaching part-time until 1991.

Before joining the faculty of Harpur College in 1975, Block taught at Harvard, Queens College, the University of Wisconsin and Brooklyn College. Throughout his career, he taught at several universities as a visiting professor including the University of Dusseldorf, Germany in 1972, the University of Szeged, Hungary in 1979 and the University of Antwerp, Netherlands in 1983.

A member of Phi Beta Kappa, Block was a two-time winner of Fullbright scholarships — in 1956 from the University of Cologne, Germany and in 1968 from the University of Paris.

“He was a walking library,” said Marilyn Gaddis Rose, distinguished service professor of comparative literature. “Last time I taught James Joyce, he came to the class as a visitor and my students were enthralled by his encyclopedic command of the literature. He was, of course, polylingual and incredibly wide ranging.He had a Renaissance command of scholarship. He not only knew the names of people and their works, but explored and appraised them.”

Haskell led several professional associations, including the International Comparative Literature Association, serving as president from 1974-1977. He served on the selection committee for the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1977.

Block wrote and edited many publications including Naturalistic Triptych: The Fictive and the Real in Zola, Mann, and Dreiser in 1970 and Mallarmé and the Symbolist Drama, Vol. 14 in 1977. Following his retirement, he remained a prolific scholar and co-edited Anglistische Literaturstudien in 1999.

“Haskell was one of the major figures in developing modern comparative literature, especially in this country but also in Europe,” said Fred Garber, Bartle professor of comparative literature. “Because of his genial personality and linguistic capacities, he was able to bring together people from different languages and cultures. He was a very close friend of many people, very sociable and well liked.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08