My teaching and critical work are guided by an interest the fictional, medial, and material worlds of the late nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with a particular focus on the techniques medial objects use to observe their own operations. This interest in turn has directed my research to the study of media as they appear as processes and technologies in literary works – and how novels in particular describe themselves as media – as well as the formal strategies and architectures that make media visible. My present and future research is devoted to projects that have developed out of my concern for the role of form in articulating the dynamic relationship between media, literature, and modernity.
In my current book project, Corridor: Media Architectures in American Fiction (forthcoming University of Minnesota Press), I argue that the dominant topoi of modern American fiction, such as the infrastructure, transit networks, and corridors that organize domestic and institutional space, can be best understood as media, for it is in these figures that novels encode their own communicative processes. Novels that explicitly stage the coevolution of media technologies and the protocols of modernity, like John Dos Passos’s Manhattan Transfer, Richard Wright’s Native Son, or Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, often do so by way of an attention to physical transit mechanisms that also operate as communications systems: conduits or corridors for both bodies and information. I contend that these built structures are precisely where the constitutive dynamism of the modern media most clearly emerges. By portraying media not only as objects, but processes – as noisy, contagious, dialectical, and insistently self-reflexive – the novels I discuss foreground their formal character, or what I call their corridoricity. Thinking about novels in this way enables a simultaneous analysis of space, media, and narrative structure, and allows me to contribute to an emerging body of work in the field of media studies that expands the material history of the technical media to account for how things like spatial structures, technologies, and systems have the capacity to become media in a local historical constellation. It is in this capacity, too, that I think media studies provides a pertinent contribution to the culturally informed new formalisms that have been developing across a broad range of literary fields over the past decade.
What drives the arguments and agenda I have been pursuing is a conviction that the current stakes for literary study in the development of critical approaches to media and technology are high, and that institutional, critical, and pedagogical work in this area will play a major role in shaping the future of literary study in the interdisciplinary humanities. As a result, my graduate and undergraduate teaching is motivated by this institutional commitment to media theory, as well as to the development of critical pedagogies and practices that best emerge from investment and innovation in the study and use of media for research, collaboration, and teaching.