Twentieth-century literary studies in English, from a mile-high view, tends to polarize around early twentieth-century transatlantic modernism and late twentieth-century global anglophone or postcolonialism; my research bridges these geopolitical and literary-historical categories. Within the capacious frame of Global Modernism, I work at the intersections of modernist studies, postcolonial studies, and feminist aesthetics. In general, I pursue questions about how “difficult” texts—in form and content—facilitate recognition of readerly responsibility, which might engender recognition of other kinds of political and ethical responsibility as well.
My dissertation, Writing Against History: Feminist Baroque Narratives in Interwar Atlantic Modernism, proposes a neo-baroque paradigm, historically situated at the turn of the 20th century, to reconsider the aesthetic-political entanglements of modernism in general, and specifically the Anglophone modernist narratives by women during the interwar period. This period is marked by a confluence of cultural crises that find new modalities of not only aesthetic forms but also of production and circulation, which contemporary critics compared to the counter-reformation period of European spiritual and economic expansion in the so-called “early modern” period. Furthermore, this study isolates a feminist baroque capability in women’s narratives, which configures the conflicts of population, economic, and national border shifts during the interwar period as the gender and racial anxieties that coerce or hinder interpersonal relationships.
Focusing on four novels by women from English, Anglo-Irish, American-Expatriate, and British-Creole contexts, I define a feminist baroque aesthetic potential in modernist narratives that do not simply resist but renegotiate the limiting terms of white, middle-class womanhood forged by colonial-patriarchy. In the decades following the end of the Great War, paranoia and panic about survival and sovereign control were driven by unprecedented death tolls from war, disease, and economic disaster as well as by revolutionary agitation around the globe. This fear was channeled into policing gender, sexuality, and race; and the borders of white, middle-class womanhood were thus weaponized for social control in the Atlantic World imaginary.
In their open and ambiguous narrative forms, feminist baroque narratives point to an ongoing individual and collective responsibility to recognize the narrative and social forms that demand or force certain visions of a future contingent on sexual, racial, and economic exploitation.
The baroque forms discussed in this study serve as structural and thematic references, connecting the entanglements of aesthetic transformation during the modernist age with social context, including philosophical and political uncertainty, and gender and racial anxieties. Each chapter identifies a culturally relevant neobaroque form that modernist artists and theorists engaged with and traces the form’s implications for a novel’s themes and structure. Importantly, these forms do work for readers, configuring intimacies not only within the narratives but between the reader and the text. Like their early modern counterparts, baroque modernist forms convey an array of political and emotional meaning as well as aesthetic innovation; particular to the forms I describe here is a feminist capability, an intersectionally complex matrix of critique and investment in racialized and gendered experience of interwar life in the Atlantic world.
The baroque paradigm that I suggest as a historically accurate reconsideration of 20th century modernism corrects the over emphasis on the “make it new” ideology traditionally associated with literary modernism. In this recalibration, the more nuanced negotiations and re-negotiations with forms, local and global politics, and aesthetic investments in intimacies and affects can be traced.
This Google Ngram graphs the occurrence of the word “Baroque” in the digitized collection of Google Books in English between 1800 and 2000. We can see that usage increases after World War One and peaks before 1960.
I have presented papers on this dissertation project at several national and international conferences, including the Modernist Studies Association (2018), The Space Between Society (2017, 2018), the American Comparative Literature Association (2019), and the International Virginia Woolf Society (2019, 2021). I organized an interdisciplinary seminar at the 2019 ACLA conference on “Baroque Bodies,” which convened 8 panelists working in diverse genres and periods. The success of the seminar encouraged plans to produce an edited collection on Baroque Bodies as a paradigmatic framework for rethinking representations of subjectivity in modernity, connecting recent trends in queer theory, affect studies, and post humanist eco-studies to aesthetics.
An article derived from my dissertation’s third chapter has been accepted for publication in The Journal of Modern Literature: “Seeing History in the Baroque Ruins of Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September: An Indictment of Cosmopolitan Modernism.” This article argues that Anglo-Irish “hospitality” is coded into the narrative form as an aesthetic of failed intimacy, an aesthetic bound up with the colonial politics of Anglo-Irish history which, after the Treaty of 1921, can only be encountered as a ruin. I suggest that the failures of the Anglo-Irish colonial relationship persist in both the ruins that remain on the Irish landscape (a dilapidated mill and burned-out Big House) and in the cosmopolitan discourse and attitude of the narrative voice; in other words, Bowen’s text exposes the links between cosmopolitan modernism and Anglo-Irish hospitality rather than a break, a continuation of an uneven and inevitably inhospitable colonial form.
My article in the Spring 2018 issue of The Journal of Postcolonial Writing is an example of my approach to global modernism beyond British and Anglophone areas and comes from research outside of my dissertation project. There, I read the 1949 Spanish novel by Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier, The Kingdom of This World, not as an appropriation of the Haitian Revolution for aesthetic effect, as some have argued, but instead as a neobaroque practice of what Carpentier calls “marvelous realism,” which critiques anti-revolutionary discourses while also textually performing revolutionary aesthetics that can undermine colonial arrangement of time, authority, and perspective. My work on the revolutionary contexts of Carpetier’s novel — both the eighteenth century context of Haiti and the twentieth century one in Cuba — has inspired a new course on the relationship of historical revolutions to literary modernisms, especially in a global context.
My essay connecting current disciplinary debates about critical methodology to social media activism will appear in the collected volume of expanded papers from the International Virginia Woolf Society’s 2019 conference on social justice. This essay compares the aesthetic experiments of Woolf’s Between the Acts to arguments by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick about paranoid and reparative reading strategies. I juxtapose these arguments with an analysis of current public engagement via social media. These projects present my interest in connecting modernist aesthetics to ongoing cultural debates.
Finally, my essay positioning the Surplus and Trafficked women figures as significant interwar tropes in Atlantic Anglophone modernism has been accepted for publication in a forthcoming cluster on “whiteness” in Modernism/modernity Print Plus, edited by Sonita Sarker and Jennifer Nesbitt. Drawing on both my dissertation research and new research on Harlem Renaissance literature, African American and critical race studies, I historicize narrative investments in whiteness across various cultural contexts of the interwar period.
I have won essay prizes and research grants in recognition of the value my contributions offer to the field, including the Postcolonial Studies Association Graduate Essay Prize (2015). The judges of the PSA/JPW essay prize described my essay “as possibly the best entry they have ever received since the prize began, making a substantial contribution to the field.” I’ve also won the John Hicks Essay Prize (2015) and the LeeAnne Smith White Essay Prize (2015), as well as a Dissertation Completion Fellowship from my department (2018). I received a Dissertation Research Grant from the University of Massachusetts Graduate School to travel to London in March, 2018, to conduct archival research at the Tate Museum Archives and the Royal Academy of Art Archives. This last award recognizes the interdisciplinary merit of my methodology and research interests.