I study twentieth-century culture–particularly modernism and its post-1945 legacy–through the dual lenses of the visual and written arts. I’m particularly interested in the deep interrelations and developments across these fields. My publications and teaching have considered poets such as Gertrude Stein and Charles Olson, novelists such as Wyndham Lewis and William Gaddis, artists such as Juan Gris and Marcel Duchamp, and filmmakers such as Atom Egoyan and Ang Lee.
Shortlisted for the Modernist Studies Association Book Prize, my first book, Modernism’s Other Work: The Art Object’s Political Life (New York: Oxford UP, 2012) challenges deeply held critical beliefs about the meaning—in particular the political meaning—of modernism’s commitment to the work of art as an object detached from the world. I argue that modernism’s core aesthetic problem—the artwork’s status as an object, and a subject’s relation to it—poses fundamental questions of agency, freedom, and politics. These political questions have always been modernism’s alternative work, even when, indeed, especially when, writers boldly assert the art object’s immunity from the world. Poets with positions as different as Stein’s suffragism, Williams’s social credit theory, Olson’s New Deal liberalism, and Amiri Baraka’s Black Nationalism all believe that their views on the artwork’s ontology connects to their politics—a connection they articulate in terms of breath, air, and readers’ bodies. Click here for a recent review in Radical Philosophy.
My new project, “Against Corporate Humanism–The Modernist Critique of Corporate Mind,” brings the legal history of financial institutions into discussion with literary and cultural scholarship to examine a century-long set of questions about how collective entities relate to individuals. The project combines literary interpretations of major modernist novels—by Henry James, Willa Cather, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Baldwin—with close textual analysis of legal theory and case law. Marshaling these different types of cultural responses to corporate forms, “Against Corporate Humanism” argues that modernism’s intense focus on individuality enabled early twentieth-century writers to explore the impact of corporations on evolving notions of personhood, just as lawyers and judges were doing in briefs and opinions. Illuminating American legal history and its intersection with American literature, the project provides jurists and citizens with stronger philosophical and textual support to reexamine the status and rights of corporations.
My work has been supported by fellowships from the ACLS, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, among others.