Jessica Hurley

Jessica Hurley
Collegiate Assistant Professor, Humanities Core: Reading Cultures Co-Chair, Society of Fellows
  • Department of English
  • The College
Gates-Blake 304
hurleyj@uchicago.edu

Jessica Hurley works on twentieth and twenty-first century American and Anglophone literatures with a particular focus on how narrative forms organize our literary, social, and environmental worlds. She is currently at work on two linked book projects that explore the relationship between literature and the nuclear-military-industrial complex.

Her first book, Infrastructures of Apocalypse: American Literature and the Nuclear Complex, argues that existing accounts of the nuclear as a sublime paradox or a future threat occlude its very tangible violence in the present, as budgets, laws, environments, and other quotidian infrastructures are formed and deformed by the state’s commitment to nuclear technology. Arguing that the uneven distribution of mundane nuclear violence requires a “nuclear criticism from below” that foregrounds the experiences and responses of those most vulnerable to it, the project analyses authors who have written against the infrastructural violence of the nuclear complex, from James Baldwin’s critique of the racialized urban spaces of civil defense in Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone (1968) to Leslie Marmon Silko’s analysis of nuclear waste as a colonial weapon in Almanac of the Dead (1991). Through an interdisciplinary methodology that combines literary studies with environmental studies, science and technology studies, and critical theories of race, ethnicity, indigeneity, and sexuality, “Infrastructures of Apocalypse shows how apocalyptic narrative forms are used to both enforce and resist the destructive infrastructures of the nuclear age as they play out unevenly across axes of race, sexuality, and indigeneity.

Her second book, Nuclear Decolonizations, expands her research to the global scale. While existing scholarship describes nuclear globalization as a completed and successful project, perfectly reproducing American nuclear practices and spaces across the globe, “Nuclear Decolonizations” takes a comparative approach to show how the American nuclear complex has been differently received, appropriated, and contested in different locations. The project reveals a wide variety of local responses to nuclearization, from the postcolonial nuclear nationalism of India and Pakistan to the twinned denuclearization/decolonization movements of the Pacific, the Caribbean, and Native North America. At the same time, it shows how Anglophone writers have used literature to imagine modes of sovereign relation to the nuclear beyond that of the nation state, empowering communities from the kinship group to the transnational network to claim agency over nuclear things. In so doing, “Nuclear Decolonizations” challenges the idea that the nuclear is a sublime, abstract force that can only be reckoned with by states, proposing instead a vision of contingent and politically volatile nuclear infrastructures that can be confronted and resisted.

Jessica’s work has appeared in ASAP/Journal, American Literature, Extrapolation, Frame, The Faulkner Journal, and the edited collection The Silence of Fallout: Nuclear Criticism in a Post-Cold War World. Her 2017 article “Impossible Futures: Fictions of Risk in the Longue Durée" was awarded an honorable mention for the 1921 Prize in American Literature, for the best article in any field of American literature. In 2018 she co-edited Apocalypse, a special issue of ASAP/Journal focusing on the power of apocalyptic forms to shape contemporary experience. Her research and teaching interests include twentieth and twenty-first century American, Anglophone, and postcolonial literature, literature and the environment, science and literature, gender and sexuality studies, African American literature and critical race/ethnic studies, Indigenous literature and decolonization studies, Asian American literature and transpacific studies, film studies, sci-fi and speculative fiction, and the history and theory of narrative and the novel. She also pursues pedagogical research, and is currently working on a research project in the field of Inclusive Pedagogy, “Universal Access in the Humanities Core,” funded by the Chicago Center for Teaching.