20th-Century and contemporary American literature, critical theory, digital humanities, material culture studies, urban studies, ethnic literature, critical race studies, 19th-Century American literature, popular culture, media theory, film.
My current book project, The Death of Things: Ephemera in America, is an interdisciplinary study that explores the stories of loss told by the vanishing objects in contemporary American literature and popular culture. From the paper-maché palaces of the Chicago Columbian Exposition to the abraded edges and smeared ink of missing persons fliers that covered Manhattan after 9/11; from the newspapers in Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie (1900) to the debris in Don DeLillo’s Underworld (1997), ephemeral objects demand a reckoning with loss that remains inimical to the American culture of production and consumption. My project unfolds as a series of case studies in which I examine pivotal episodes of 20th and 21st century American life through those episodes’ transient objects and the contemporary narratives that archive those objects. I demonstrate how attention to the ephemeral shatters the illusion of permanence, thereby exposing modes of longing such as utopianism, revisionism, and nostalgia as untenable and supplanting them with an orientation to the present. In uncovering the significance of these enigmatic objects, my work brings together literary analysis, psychoanalytic theory, and material culture studies.
My next book is tentatively titled Digital Romance: American Love Stories in the Age of the Internet. It charts the effects of digitality on ideas of love and how they are represented in contemporary American and Anglophone fiction. The very concepts of love and intimacy appear to be undergoing radical transformations due to the innovations of the digital age: instant and constant communication, matches made by dating site algorithms, social media that seem to simultaneously increase our sense of connectivity and of solitude. Recent narratives—novels by Jennifer Egan, Chang-Rae Lee, Gary Shteyngart, and Zadie Smith, as well as films such as Her and Ex-Machina –have begun to register these transformations and to ask if the nature of love indeed is changing in response to new technologies. By looking back to earlier texts that also address the imbrication of technology and love, I argue that despite the fast-paced transformations of technology, enduring, analog ideas of love persist in unlikely forms. Simulation becomes stimulation, for example, and fantasy and projection emerge as structures inherent to the love story, even when it transpires online. Digital Romance suggests that we can understand the current climate in which Internet practices seem to be reshaping love by turning to fiction that exposes the long-standing relation between forms of desire and forms of communication.