I teach and write about the literary and intellectual history of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, often in connection with continental (especially French) cultural phenomena. My first book, Light without Heat: The Observational Mood from Bacon to Milton (Cornell University Press, forthcoming in 2018), offers a new account of the intimacy of literature and science in this period, exploring the shared interest of natural philosophers and poets in the epistemological and ethical consequences of carelessness and other forms of casual indifference. By describing experiences of minimal feeling that are neither repressive nor illusory, neither achievements of self-discipline nor self-serving fabrications, my protagonists disclose an unfamiliar conception of scientific dispassion. For Boyle, Marvell, Milton, and others, “nonchalance” intensifies receptivity and draws out the world’s hidden properties.
I am now writing a freestanding essay that draws out further implications of my work on indifference for the practice of literary criticism, especially insofar as the observational mood can be taken to reframe Roland Barthes's concerns in his lecture course on "the neutral."
I am also at work on a second book manuscript, tentatively titled The Laughter of Democritus, in which I seek to understand the proximity of horror and comedy in early modern culture. My interest is the literary history of unsympathetic and inappropriate laughter as it sheds light on theories of religious experience and secularization. I have developed some of these ideas in an essay published in Critical Inquiry on Schadenfreude and laughter in Montaigne and Laurent Joubert. I am completing a second essay on this topic, focusing on theatrical spectacle and the cruelty of pranks and practical jokes in Rabelais and Shakespeare.
Early modernity is the focus but not the horizon of my research, which takes up issues that connect (and divide) past and present: the history of science and technology; the history of the passions (including the history of sexuality); rhetoric, hermeneutics, and other strands of Renaissance “literary theory”; Reformation theology; Marxian historiography and social theory; and the history of piety. I understand both of my long-term research projects as together composing a sustained effort to re-describe values (objectivity, disenchantment) that eventually came to be understood as defining features of Enlightenment by returning to the scenes of their emergence in early modernity.
My ongoing teaching commitments are to Shakespeare, Milton, the literature of the seventeenth century, the history of philosophy, and the history and theory of sexuality.
This year, as curator of the fall quarter of the Gender and Sexuality Studies Workshop, I am organizing a series of presentations around the theme "Appetites and Aversions."
2017-18 courses: : Science and Fiction: From Milton to the Moon Landing; Advanced Theories of Gender and Sexuality
Other recently taught courses: Writing the Cosmos: Milton's Paradise Lost; Shakespeare 1: Histories and Comedies
- Light without Heat: The Observational Mood from Bacon to Milton (Cornell University Press in spring, 2018)
- "The Anatomy of Schadenfreude; or, Montaigne's Laughter," Critical Inquiry 43 (Winter, 2017)
- “Andrew Marvell and the Epistemology of Carelessness,” English Literary History 82.2 (August, 2015)
- Review: Raymond Waddington, "Looking into Providences: Designs and Trials in Paradise Lost," Modern Philology 112.1 (August, 2014)
PhD, University of California, Berkeley, 2012. Teaching at Chicago since 2012.