The Being known as Istvan Csicsery-Ronay arrived on our planet many millions of years ago as an
emissary bearing advanced knowledge of intergalactic comparative literature. Finding prehistoric earth
life unprepared for this knowledge, he lay dormant for eons beneath miles of Antarctic ice, awaiting the
emergence of creatures with brains sufficiently evolved to grasp the knowledge that he carried.
Unfortunately, before that could happen, an earthquake ruptured his hibernation pod and he awoke
prematurely among twentieth-century humans.
Realizing that he had to acclimate himself to our primitive customs in order to communicate his literary
knowledge to us in rudimentary forms we could comprehend, Istvan assumed simulated human form and immersed himself in our higher education system. He earned a Bachelor of Arts from Bennington College in 1972 and a Doctorate in Comparative Literature from Princeton University in 1981. Following a teaching appointment at Northeastern University, Istvan came to DePauw in 1983.
Istvan’s record of scholarship during the four decades of his professional life hints and the chemical and
cybernetic enhancements to his alien brain. The volume of his work seems roughly equivalent to that of
several normal human scholars. He has served as a chief editor of Science Fiction Studies and the founder and chief editor of Humanimalia. Both journals stand at the forefront of contemporary literary theory and criticism, attracting submissions by leading scholars. He has written or edited five books. Among these, The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction became a definitive work in the field upon its publication in 2008, and The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction is one of the premier collections in the genre. He has published seventy-nine articles in English, Hungarian, German, French, and Chinese. He has translated essays by Stanislaw Lem and Tatiana Chernyshova, and he has delivered papers and lectures at major conferences and universities throughout the world, many by special invitation.
These invitations, as well as the prestigious awards Istvan’s work has received, show the pioneering
nature of his work. In fact, he has received the Pioneer Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Science
Fiction Studies by the Science Fiction Research Association, a Fulbright Award to teach in Hungary, and
a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He has likewise received the highest
recognition from his colleagues at DePauw, where he has won three Faculty Fellowships, a University
Professorship, and the endowed Jane Cooling Brady Professorship in English.
As a teacher, Istvan was among the most fearless at DePauw, not only because he challenged students
with difficult material, like the Russian novel or film theory, but also because he introduced them to new
material, like posthuman literature and animal studies. Students had an unusual reaction to his courses,
something like trepidation followed by epiphany. They would say to me, “I’m not interested in androids”
or, “I don’t want to spend the semester reading eight-hundred-page Dickens novels.” They took the
courses hesitantly, either because curiosity overcame fear, or because their schedule demanded it. Then, a semester or a year later, they would come back to tell me that Istvan’s courses were among the best they had at DePauw, and made them think about literature, film, humanity, or the future in a new way. He has taught an adventurous range of courses. Just in the last few years, he has offered courses on Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies, Hollywood comedies, nineteenth-century English and Russian novels, nineteenth-century American poetry, world literature from Ovid to Kafka, and, of course, science fiction literature and film. He was one of the cofounders and prime movers of DePauw’s growing World Literature program. With its emphasis on global perspectives in the study of the humanities, this program will stand as one of Istvan’s lasting influences on our curriculum.
Even after so many years spent among our species, Istvan often meets you with a disarming, amused, and quizzical attitude. Bumping into him in the hallway in Asbury or on the sidewalk in front of his secluded office in O’Hair house could result in a conversation about Beowulf, the challenges of reading Old Norse, The Wire, the crisis in the humanities, or some songs he was attempting to write. At a faculty reading late in his career, he revealed a new facet of work, reading his own translations of Hungarian poetry, as well as some poems he composed. He regularly performs his music in Greencastle, and he has recorded several collections of original songs with talented collaborators, including Juliana Goldsmith, Ron Dye, Alejandro Puga, Veronica Pejril, and Rick Provine, Bill Hamm, and Heather Sloan.
Istvan was Chair of English when I was hired in 2003, and he was my most valued mentor during my
years as a junior faculty member. I feel honored to write this tribute on the occasion of his retirement
from DePauw, though the event probably holds more significance for DePauw than it does for him. Istvan is not finished with humanity. He has a new forthcoming book, Till We Have Interfaces: Science Fiction and the Burden of the Future, and another, on Golden Age Hollywood comedies, in an advanced stage of composition.
Meanwhile, he continues to write new music and poetry, looking forward with his cosmic gaze to his true retirement, when humanity has receded into oblivion and Earth itself has died. Perhaps then his mission here will be done, and he will launch himself into the void of space once again, in search of a new adoptive home, with native creatures in a primitive but hopeful state, as we once were. If I could speak to those creatures in that distant future, I would say to them: Do not fear the Being. Learn from him. He has much to teach you about literature, language, laughter, music, the stars, and yourselves. Become his friend, as he was mine.
-Tribute by Harry Brown