Chris Gortmaker

C Gortmaker
Cohort Year: 2018
Research Interests: Modernism, Marxism, genre criticism, history of aesthetics, African-American literature, Hegel studies, literary impressionism, concrete art and poetry.


My dissertation, “The Bookends of Modernism: Genre Fiction, Graphic Poetics, and the Market,” explores how a modernist principle of aesthetic autonomy emerges in antagonism to fin-de-siècle processes of marketization and persists today within cultural forms subsumed by the market. Through analyses of book-bound artworks at the historical bookends of modernism’s canonical periodization, the project argues for a more integrative and inclusive concept of aesthetic autonomy as the organizing principle of literary modernism. By demonstrating this principle’s structuring presence within forms like popular genre fiction, Afro-diasporic writing, political performance art, graphic design, and contemporary sequel novels, I show how cultural problems and projects often deemed antithetical to autonomous art can actually be intrinsic to it. Modernist art’s assertion of aesthetic autonomy thus comes into focus not as a dissimulation of social reality or merely a matter of elite taste, but rather as a diversely inhabited and historically adaptable mode of making sensuously intelligible truth claims about history, sociality, and perception under capitalism.