In the past, my research has focused on popular literary genres (e.g. science fiction, the Western), on recreational forms (baseball, kung fu), and on the ways that mass-cultural phenomena (from roller coasters to Kodak cameras) impress themselves on the literary imagination. Rather than assuming that historical contexts explain a particular literary text, I assume that literature provides access to an otherwise irrecuperable history. In other words, I believe that the act of literary analysis (including formal analysis) can become an historiographical operation all its own.
More recently, I have worked at the intersection of literary, visual, and material cultures, with an emphasis on whatI call "object relations in an expanded field." I ask how inanimate objects enable human subjects (individually and collectively) to form and transform themselves—and indeed how objects and subjects transform one another. In a short piece called "Thing Theory," I began to point out how things and thingness might become new objects of critical analysis. InOther Things—focusing such analysis through ‘The Matter of Modernism,’ ‘Unhuman History,’ and ‘Kitsch Kulchur’—I engage a very wide range of work: Bergson, Bachelard, Arendt, Latour; Homer, Virginia Woolf, Philip K. Dick, Shawn Wong; Man Ray, Spike Lee, Dan Flavin, Brian Jungen. Dislodging the object-thing distinction from fundamental ontology (Heidegger) and from psychoanalysis (Lacan), I use it as a toolfor apprehending the unanticipated force of an object, however banal that object may be. This is a new materialism within which the thingness of an object cannot be abstracted from the fields of culture and history. Currently I’m at work on a project called “Re-Assemblage,” which asks how assemblage practices (across the literary, visual, and plastic arts) might contribute to assemblage theory in the social sciences.
- Other Things (Chicago, 2015).
- A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature (Chicago, 2003).
- Things, a special issue of Critical Inquiry (Fall 2001, book version 2004).
- Reading the West: An Anthology of Dime Novels (Bedford Books, 1997).
- The Material Unconscious: American Amusement, Stephen Crane, and the Economies of Play (Harvard, 1996).
- “Re-Assemblage (Theory, Practice, Mode),” Critical Inquiry (2020).
- “Fiber Optics,” Grey Room (2019), with Brandon Truett, Jacob Harris, Zoe Hughes, et al.
- “Siting re-assemblage: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park,” Journal of Landscape Architecture (2018), with Ted Brown.
- “Encountering Design,” Encountering Things: Design and Theories of Things (2017).
- “The Obsolescence of the Human,” Cultures of Obsolescence (2015).
- “Object Cultures and Another Thing,” The Art of American Still Life: Audubon to Warhol (2015).
Sample of Courses Taught:
Graduate: Assemblage; Thing Theory; Late James; Urban Fiction and American Space, 1880-1910; Modernity and the Sense of Things; Romantic Fetishism; Kitsch, Camp, and the Politics of Culture.
Undergraduate: Studio R-A (A Theory/History –Design/Build Studio); BLAST: Avant-Garde London, 1912-1920; American Modern, 1910-1930; The American 1890s; Whitman; Henry James; Philip K. Dick.