It’s been a minute.
I’ve published loads of writing since I last posted. Most of this writing is available for free online, or can be found on my Academia.edu account. If you want a copy, don’t hesitate to email me.
Last year, I had a short story called “The Girl Who Almost Became a Zombie” included in an online anthology of science fiction published by the XPRIZE foundation. The premise of the anthology is that a plane flying from Tokyo to San Francisco goes through a time distortion sending it twenty years into the future. Our job was to imagine what that future might look like. We were asked to imagine positive or optimistic near futures, a task I find a little difficult. For some reason, I was inspired by this awesome whiteboard of awful jokes (put together by the writers on Workaholics) to imagine a future in which we all become mindless meme-spouting robots.
Another short story, “Burned-Over Territory,” was published as part of the Future Tense Fiction series at Slate, with a thoughtful response essay by Sebastian Johnson. I originally wrote a version of the story for the Into the Black short story contest, which asked for science fiction imagining futures in which some version of a Universal Basic Income was enacted. The story I ended up writing was not in any straightforward way “in favor” of UBI, and might be read as highly critical of the whole notion. A few radical revisions later, I was fortunate to be able to place the story with Future Tense.
Public Writing and Reviews
Over the last two years, I’ve been working more on fiction and academic writing, so my public writing has slowed, but I’m still putting out occasional pieces.
Early in 2017, I had a review of George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo published in Public Books. “The Yurt of Fiction” explores Saunders’s portrait of Lincoln, and argues that the novel confronts—perhaps unwillingly—the limits of an empathy-based model of liberal politics.
I also wrote a book review of Helen DeWitt’s new short story collection Some Trick for Public Books. Titled “Helen DeWitt, Hand to Mouth,” the review is framed around the only slightly disingenuous question of whether or not Helen DeWitt is a “genius,” and the stakes of asking that question about her in the first place. Whether or not she’s a genius, the story collection is awesome. You should read it.
Against my better judgment, I decided to offer an opinion on the shit storm around the Avital Ronell-Nimrod Reitman scandal. My editorial, “Avital Ronell and the End of the Academic Star,” was published at the Chronicle of Higher Education, and it argues that the scandal is symptomatic of the end of the academic star system (at least as it established itself in the 1970s). It goes without saying I don’t offer enough evidence to back up my claim, but I’m still convinced academic stardom doesn’t mean much if you can’t assure your graduate students they’ll get a job.
I wrote a review of David Alworth’s Site Reading for the ALH Online Review (Series XIV). Overall, I liked the book, but also felt it ought to be read against its own stated intentions of offering a Latour-inspired model of reading postwar literature. What’s best about Alworth’s book is what he most hopes to escape: his historicism. His New Materialist claims about the agency of objects, meanwhile, I found unpersuasive.
I have a review of three books in American Literature. The books are American Pulp, Illegal Literature, and The Aesthetics of Middlebrow Fiction. They’re quite different from each other, but I argue that each tries to reimagine the modernism/mass culture relationship for an era that has lost faith in postmodernism. Some version of this argument will find its way into The Cartoon Art.
I do (ha ha) occasionally publish academic writing, too.
An essay called “Four Faces of Postirony” came out in the anthology Metamodernism: History, Affect, and Depth After Postmodernism (edited by Robin van den Akker, Alison Gibbons, and Timotheus Vermeulen). The essay is a postscript to Cool Characters: Irony and American Fiction, offering a different approach to question of how contemporary artists have sought to move beyond postmodernism. I offer a typology of four kinds of postirony: motivated postmodernism, credulous metafiction, the postironic Bildungsroman, and relational art. I wrote the first draft of this in 2011. I can never quite get over how slow academic publishing can sometimes be.
A related piece, called “Neorealist Fiction,” came out in the collection, American Literature in Transition, 2000-2010, edited by Rachel Greenwald Smith. This essay thinks about the status of realism in the twenty-first century. I argue that there are two big strands of “neorealism” after postmodernism, one which thinks of realism as a genre and the other which thinks of it as an epistemic project. The first, “storytelling neorealism,” I associate with Jonathan Franzen. The second, “affective neorealism,” I associate with Sheila Heti (and autofiction more generally).
In a special issue of American Book Review, edited by Matt Mullins, I have a short position paper on postcritique and Colson Whitehead. It’s called “Critique has its Uses,” and claims Colson Whitehead’s early fiction was in sympathy with the project of postcritique, but that his more recent fiction, especially The Underground Railroad, has sought to move beyond the limitations of postcritique as a theoretical and aesthetic project. Implicit in what I write is the notion that creative writers are vastly outpacing critics in exploring what it means to leave postmodernism behind. (I make a similar point in a previous piece in LARB).
In July, I delivered a talk in honor of my undergraduate advisor Daniel Schwarz at Cornell, who’s been teaching there for fifty years. The event was lovely, and the talk I delivered was in part drawn from my ongoing project on comics and the graphic novel. It’s called “Modernist Funnies, or, Comics in the Age of Mass High Culture,” and you can view it below.
My essay, “Wallace’s ‘Bad’ Influence,” was published in The Cambridge Companion to David Foster Wallace (edited by Ralph Clare). The essay is a review of the different ways writers and artists have responded to David Foster Wallace’s polarizing legacy. After offering a survey of different approaches, I try to deflate the whole debate, asking instead what it might mean to take Wallace seriously as an exceptional artist but also not to fall into the traps he lays for us in his fiction and essays.
Finally, I have an essay in the massive Cambridge History of Science Fiction that Gerry Canavan and Eric Carl Link edited. The essay is called “Better Living Through Chemistry: Science Fiction and Consumerism in the Early Cold War,” and it’s a survey of anti-consumerist science fiction during the early cold war, ranging from The Space Merchants to The Jetsons. I discuss the relationship between anti-consumerist science fiction and the Keynesian struggle to manage aggregate demand. This one was a lot of fun to write, and—along with my review of Site Reading—left me wanting to write a book on the art and literature of High Keynesianism. Someday.