Matthew Boulette


Research Interests: 

18th-19th Century Transatlantic Literature


Currently my research is on morbid fascination – first, as it engenders (and disables) acts of aesthetic judgment, then as it inflects genres of sensation, and finally as it appears on/under racialized scenes of diagnosis. Materials for this project come, for the most part, from North America across several overlapping lengths of the nineteenth century.         

To dilate on the three senses above: I mean specifically those judgments that attach to objects seen as disfigured, or to objects that slip out of organic form but nonetheless attract interest (the disgusting, the grotesque, and the lurid are some examples). By genres of sensation, I mean to gesture, most centrally, to the sensation novel and its precursors / hosts – the Gothic novel’s hysterics, realism’s self-styled anesthesia, sentimentality’s latent patterns of vigilance, naturalism’s hoarding of details.  Yet, insofar as sensationalist plots suspend the body across a sequence of detections building up to the thrill of disclosure, they also solicit something like generic sensation. How do these novels bind interest into chronic forms of oversensitivity – or, more clinically, “hyperaesthesia” – that nonetheless fail to resolve into any diagnosis? Nearing the end of the nineteenth century, then, my research also inquires into scenes of diagnosis, particularly those found in the archives of experimental anatomy, medical jurisprudence, criminology, and crowd psychology.              

Reading also collects around: the lurid detail / mimesis in surplus – medical humanities and the history of physiology / electrotherapy / clinical perceptibility – historicisms and historiographies (New, comedic, anecdotal, near futural, cursed) – negative hallucination avant la lettre – sentimentality’s masochism toward objects of sympathy / charity / reform – amusements, especially Gothic ones – legislative acts, juridical procedures, and police apparatuses addressed to “vice” / “dissipation” / “degeneracy” (nearby: languidness, effeteness, exhaustion, temperance, etc.) – machine reading that’s not just about compiling trends within large archives, but also following textures through smaller ones (as small, even, as a single book) – ordinary language philosophy / speech act theory / theories of performativity / ANT.  


I began studying here after completing my BA in English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2013. My senior honors thesis was titled “‘Annihilating themselves before God’: Sinners in Print, Visible Conversion, and Evangelical Affect in the Great Awakening.” Now I live in Hyde Park with my two cats, Pyrrho and Fleck.