Research

Click the links for some of the articles I've published (in most cases you'll need to have an institutional affiliation to see them).

My most recent publication is a thought-piece on Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes, it examines the references in these novels to Roger Casement and Edmund Dene Morel, leaders in the campaign against human-rights abuses in the Congo Free State. It appears in Fueling Culture (Fordham UP, 2017), edited by Imre Szeman, Jennifer Wenzel, and Patricia Yaeger. A chapter on urban gothic appeared recently in Joel Faflak and Jason Haslam's American Gothic Culture: An Edinburgh Companion (Edinburgh, 2016). It catalogues some of the codes of urban gothic and surveys its history in American literary culture. 

In 2012, I brought the second volume of At the Edge online. This journal was founded by my colleague Jennifer Lokash, and focuses on the literatures of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. We devoted our second volume, City Types, to the literature of the 19th-century American city. City Types includes articles on Charles Brockden Brown's Arthur Mervyn, Hawthorne's "My Kinsman, Major Molineux," George Matsell's lexicon of "criminal" dialect, Outcault's Yellow Kid strips, and especially George Thompson's sensation novel City Crimes. It's a privilege to have brought these dynamic articles to press.

"'More than a Parchment Three-Pence': Crises of Value in Hawthorne's "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" appeared in the March, 2011 issue of PMLA. As in my article on "The Prophetic Pictures," I focus here on the 18th-century contexts of the story's setting. In this instance, I am particularly interested in the history of provincial monetary disputes, which, as I discovered in the course of researching the article, is peculiarly relevant to the story. The three-penny paper note that Robin Molineux receives as he enters Boston refers to a specific emission of small denomination paper money issued by the Massachusetts General Court in 1722 to thwart the copper coinage scheme of William Wood. I argue that "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" is an ambivalent meditation not only on the American Revolution (as critics as early as Queenie Leavis have argued) but also on the emergent credit economy of the early eighteenth century. "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" should thus be read alongside texts like Swift's The Drapier's Letters and in relation to events like the South Sea Bubble.

"Cosmopolitan Detachment in Hawthorne's 'The Prophetic Pictures'" is an article that I wrote after first encountering Michael Colacurcio's brilliant study of Hawthorne's short fiction, The Province of Piety. When I began reading Hawthorne's fiction I was insensitive to the specificity and subtlety of its allusions to Massachusetts's colonial past, so Colacurcio's study was a revelation; it's still on my short list of works that have influenced me most profoundly (it helps that Colacurcio is not just a brilliant critic but a wonderful writer). Hawthorne's "The Prophetic Pictures" is a minor work, and has escaped the attention of most Hawthorne critics; reading it immediately after Province of Piety, however, I realized that it is full of the kind of specific allusions that Colacurcio delights in unpacking, and I set out to write an article very much in Colacurcio's spirit. The story concerns a painter visiting Boston from Europe in the late 1720s; I argue that his cosmopolitanism (which Hawthorne emphasizes in the opening sentences) prevents him from seeing New Englandly, meaning that he is oblivious to the political causes of the tensions he witnesses in his subjects.

I wrote "Well Intended Liberal Slop" after coming across an interview in which Art Spiegelman described the genesis of the cat-and-mouse allegory that animates his astonishing Holocaust narrative Maus. Spiegelman reported that his initial inspiration for Maus was not the anti-Semitic caricature circulated by Nazis like Julius Streicher, but rather early American cartoons: he asserted that the beast allegories common in those cartoons had disturbing affinities with the representational strategies of minstrel shows. Spiegelman translated this American metaphor to Nazi Europe in part because he felt he lacked the expertise to speak in convincing ways about American racial politics. My article interrogates whether Spiegelman's erasure of the American roots of his allegory is complete, focusing especially on the several pages in Maus II where Vladek, Art, and Francoise encounter an African-American hitchhiker.

I started to think about the article that would eventually become "The Sea Cook's Wife" when I was teaching children's literature at Queen's University's Bader International Study Centre at Herstmonceux Castle. When Queen's invited me to teach a course there on children's literature, I accepted in part because I had just read - and loved - Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. At first I was interested in monetary symbolization in the novel, and briefly considered writing on that topic only to discover that Naomi Wood had written insightfully about it already. I then became interested in what I perceived to be several veiled allusions to Britain's participation in the transatlantic slave trade. It's not a context to which one would intuitively appeal as a means of understanding Treasure Island, but in the course of my research I decided that slavery is not only germane but crucial to the novel as a means of complicating its moral foundations. The article is deeply influenced by Toni Morrison's Playing in the Dark and its detection of an "Africanist presence" in the classic works of American literature (a presence that critics have detected in English literature, too); it also owes a major debt to Eric Sundquist's elegant reading of Herman Melville's Benito Cereno.

After publishing "Well Intended Liberal Slop" I received an invitation from Paul Williams and James Lyons to contribute to a volume on the rise of the American comics artist. My chapter, "'That Mouse's Shadow': The Canonization of Spiegelman's Maus," notes the remarkable critical success of Maus, and explore some of the consequences of that success. I focus my attention on the three Norton anthologies that have included excerpts from Maus, and especially on the ways they frame Spiegelman and his work. Each anthology differs in its approach; each makes assertions about Maus or about comics that I call into question. My analysis of them leads me to fear that the canonization of Maus comes at the cost of distorting the field of comics - its achievements; its history - as a whole.

I am hard at work on Cod Tongue: A Romance, a novel based in part on my father's experiences as a child in late-colonial and wartime Indonesia. A second major project focuses on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen, arguably the most influential comic of the past thirty-five years. Because Moore and Gibbons’ novel so insists on its structural innovations and experiments, this project is founded in careful formal analysis, attending to elements like the chiastic structure, the emblem panels, and the grid. On this formalist foundation, I develop readings on, for instance, the novel and the city, the novel and its debts to Romanticism, the novel and its theory of symbol. The superhero, that American vernacular type, is necessarily a central figure in the study. I argue that Watchmen has a keen eye for the superhero’s entanglement in American political, economic, and cultural discourses, and thus in dissecting this type, born in the gutter literature of New York, the novel dissects twentieth-century American culture more broadly. 

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