I primarily teach courses in contemporary American literature and popular culture, exploring the ways that authors, filmmakers, and other artists have explored and critiqued the conditions of contemporary life through their creative work. My courses are centered around vigorous class discussion and frequent short written responses, culminating in a final research project on a subject of each student’s choosing. I find that this approach to learning encourages my students to seek interdisciplinary connections between the subjects of my courses and their own work in other classes and majors, fostering their development as independent thinkers and scholars. I have always been struck by Kenneth Burke’s characterization of academic discourse in “The Philosophy of Literary Form” as a discussion at a party to which we arrive late and from which we must also depart early. I feel the most important work we can do as educators in the humanities is to position our students to enter such conversations across the academy and across society at large: to provide students with access to what has already been said, to help them express themselves knowledgeably with eloquence and poise, and to instill within them the confidence that what they have to say genuinely matters.
My research and publication has primarily focused on one of the most culturally important and globally influential genres of the postwar United States: science fiction. In my work I seek to establish science fiction as a cornerstone for literary study and critical theory, as well as speak to larger questions about the role of the imagination in political and cultural life. My study of science fiction reveals a paradigm that fundamentally structures the way we think about the world; where once the hegemonic language of the future was religious eschatology, I believe it is now predominantly the speculations of science fiction that frame our collective imagination of our possible futures. In our moment, it is science fiction that attempts to articulate the sorts of massive social changes that are imminent, or already happening, and begins to imagine what life on a transformed globe might be like for those who will come to live on it.
I am currently revising my manuscript Theories of Everything: Science Fiction, Totality, and Empire in the Twentieth Century for publication as my first book. Theories of Everything focuses on the role of science fiction as an archive of twentieth-century culture, investigating how modernity and postmodernity have produced particular fantasies of the future as well as what happens when these fantasies face contestation. In particular I explore the way authors have turned to the thought experiments of science fiction as a means of imaginatively testing modern capitalism’s legitimacy, longevity, and limitations.
I have recently published two articles on race, violence, and utopia in zombie narrative in Extrapolation and Science Fiction Film and Television, as well as an article on the apocalyptic imaginary in Margaret Atwood’s environmental disaster novel Oryx and Crake. I am the co-editor of special issues of American Literature and Polygraph on “speculative fiction” and “ecology and ideology,” respectively, and am currently editing a critical anthology titled Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction with Kim Stanley Robinson for Wesleyan University Press.
Intro to American Lit 2
Thematic Title: Thrill and Dread in the Amer Century