I currently have a number of scholarly projects up in the air.
I'm revising and preparing to shop my first book with academic publishers. The proposed full title of the book is "Unsettling Nature: Ecological Realism, the Uncanny, and the Twentieth-Century Novel.”
The Liquidated Subject
The tentative full title of this second book project is "Novel Economies: Capitalism and the Rise of the Liquidated Subject." This project traces the entwined histories of the novel and capitalism, which together have given rise to what I call the “liquidated subject.” I develop this concept from Marx’s Träger, an evacuated figure that becomes the mere bearer of a guise (Charaktermask) within the masquerade of capitalist reproduction. By reducing individual to formal roles structured by their relations to the means of production, capitalism doesn’t simply flatten the human subject; it liquidates subjectivity as part of its ideology of accumulation. Novel Economies develops theoretical and literary genealogies of the liquidated subject from the eighteenth-century birth of Homo oeconomicus to the posthuman present.
This is the most experimental intellectual exploration that I've ever worked on. As I envision it, this project will unfold over the course of two distinct but interrelated essays, though it may also morph into a short book. My current thinking strikes me as being tenuous, abstract, and relentlessly weird, so we'll see how it all comes out.
How to Read a Novel after the End of the World
The point of departure for this essay is the twofold observation that (a) there are more world-ending narratives in the Western popular imaginary than ever before, and (b) there is more fervent obsession with world-building (through fantasy novels, video games, TV series, etc.) than ever before. I see these opposing obsessions — the end of the world, the creation of new worlds — as the result of a deep cultural neurosis that recognizes, even as it represses, the fact that there is no such thing as the world. (This is a point I elaborated on at length in my 2016 essay "Regionalizing the Planet.") This has important implications for ecological thinking. For if there is no such thing as the world, or even the planet, then all entities on this ball we call Earth would best be served by the recognition of a bubbling multiplicity of partial worlds. As Timothy Morton claims in Humankind, "World is cheap enough for everything [i.e., not just humans] to have it. In this reality, there is not (full) world or no world at all; there is a range of overlapping worlds" (92). As a literary scholar, I want to know what all of this means for the practice of reading — especially since many in the so-called environmental humanities believe (hope?) that reading can help boost awareness of a range of ecological issues, from the wide-ranging effects of global warming to the politics of multispecies intersectionality. And yet, novels — the dominant literary form in the contemporary world-literary market — pose a deep problem to such a project. Novels, we often like to say, are remarkable for the ways in which they create worlds. But what kinds of worlds do novels create? And what kinds of intellectual high-wire stunts do we readers perform in a (largely unconscious) attempt to make those worlds seem total, full, real? If there is no such thing as the world, then how, if we are serious about rethinking ecological reality, do we read a novel after the end of the world?
Literature and the Void
I'm still in preliminary research mode for the second part of this project. The basic questions I want to ask are as follows: What is the "nothing" from which the "something" of literature emerges? Where do literary worlds "come from"? And where do they "go" when they are not inhabited by readers? Though admittedly abstract right now, these questions attempt to get at the notion of Imagination — not in the way Shelley formulates it, but understood as a kind of creative "aether" of possibility that I consider analogically similar to the quantum ground-state. I refer to this aether of possibility as the Void, and I want to know what relationship literature has to it. Poetry makes its relation to the Void metaphysically apparent on the page. The white "background" radiation forever threatens to swallow up the fragile verses, whose reluctant presence makes them that much more potent. But what about the novel? If the worlds created in novels are in fact perforated as I suggest in part one of this project, then to what extent can we detect the radiation of the Void seeping through the holes that puncture the worlds of novels? And furthermore, why is it important for us to seek out the radiation of the Void? My hunch is that reckoning with the fragility of the world in novels may help us reckon with the fragility of our own world, the "real" world, and of ourselves. This is not about "learning to die," as one scholar has recently put it. Rather, the practice of reading literature for its relationship with the Void is about recognizing that death is tightly woven into the very fabric of life. What Timothy Morton calls "the symbiotic real" — or what Eduardo Kohn calls "emergent reals" — acknowledges the ceaseless unfolding of overlapping, perforated worlds . . . worlds that evaporate just as easily as they come into being, quite like virtual particles in the quantum void.
Mau Mau's Insurgent Landscapes
This final in-progress work is an essay. The argument I'm developing here is as follows: rather than insisting on the universality of scientific discourse, ecocriticism must attend to the competing social and historical imaginaries that come to bear on contested terrains. This project engages closely with both African and European writing about the Mau Mau Rebellion and its aftermath, examining how colonial violence and anti-colonial resistance actively transforms the social, political, and imaginative manifestations of place. From the forced relocation schemes enacted by the British colonial government to the guerrilla war waged by Kenyan forest fighters in the Aberdare hills, "Insurgent Landscapes" investigates how literary texts across a diverse range of genres and languages reimagine urban and rural spaces in the service of ideological and ecological transformation.