Literary Studies and Anti-Blackness

I am working on my first book, Understanding Criticism: Race, Literature and the Academy, that situates the critical practice of black writers in the mid-twentieth century in relationship to developments in literary studies within the academy. In addition to providing a new account of the institutionalization of literary studies, my book traces the way black writers formulate concepts of periodization, institutional practice, and criticism in forms alternative to the traditional essay or monograph. Indeed, I argue that it is through the practice of these forms — a poetic tête-à-tête between Melvin B. Tolson and Allen Tate, Langston Hughes’s closed-door testimonio before the McCarthy Commission, and the communist school — that new conceptual apparatuses for the study of literature are theorized. This framework also opens up readings of often ignored mid-century literary works by black writers, including John O. Killens’ Youngblood and Anne Petry’s The Narrows. I see this book contributing to the new disciplinary history of literary studies, in addition to inquiries into the black radical tradition, as well as the emerging global and literary history of black engagement with the left.

Part of my work on Melvin B. Tolson and Allen Tate will be published in a future volume of Criticism. Also I have explored my concerns with extant forms of disciplinary history in an essay for Public Books, which was translated into Italian, and I have presented this work at the Meeting of the Modern Language Association, the Modernist Studies Association conference, and, this October, at the History of Humanities V in Baltimore.

Digital Humanities

I have an ongoing interest in how the Digital Humanities has been defined in relationship to the history of literary studies. In particular, I have concerns about whether many methods and practices that are seen as digital are really new at all. Further, DH’s appeal to novelty only affirms its ties to other privatizing measures within the contemporary university. DH as a category may actually provide a more effective way towards surfacing the long history of literary study’s entanglement with developments in capitalism.

This perspective has framed some writing I’ve done on digital pedagogy. I’ve also outlined these theses on Twitter and in an essay in Blind Field.

I’m working on an article that looks at the history of diagrams in literary studies as a way to consider digital methods as part of the history of the discipline, while not fetishizing their novelty. I’ve presented a part of this work at MLA.

Movement, Scale, and Temporality

I have an ongoing interest in how writers figure movement, scale, and temporality in relationship to contemporaneous political and aesthetic developments. I have published an article on Herman Melville and his “navigational aesthetic” and have presented on Beasts of the Southern Wild and Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones with these interests in mind.

The Off-Campus Academic Novel

My next book project considers what happens when scholarly paradigms morph from epistemologies into ways of life. It examines novels by Paul Beatty, John Edgar Wideman, Percival Everett, Toni Morrison, and Tom McCarthy that portray the development of the entanglement of knowledge, racial capitalism, and biopolitical governance.