My research focuses on the philosophical work that literature can do. I tend to work on canonical modern writers and to recast traditional accounts of their poetics not just as experimentally literary, but philosophically experimental as well. For example, Emily Dickinson’s analogies are, in literary analysis, usually described as metaphors or similes; in philosophic discourse, analogies have the status of thought experiments. I show that the difficulty of some modern texts is due to the difficulty of the philosophy — the problem of induction, the problem of other minds — with which they wrestle.
Lyric Logic: American Modernism and the Problem of Induction
My first book project argues that modern American poetry transforms the epistemological problem of induction – the difficulty of predicting future experiences based on past ones – into an ambitious poetic strategy that challenges philosophy’s account of how best to make sense of the world. That is, the poems I discuss are not just thinking, they are reasoning, and reasoning with a method that is insolubly problematic, and finding that problem to be poetically generative as they experiment with the limits of sense-making.
I Am Another
I have begun my second book project, which also frames literary experimentation as philosophical, although reasoning here does not concern an unreasonable world but rather the other people in it. I show that Anglo-American modernism lies across a fault line in the history of philosophy: before the 1920s, feeling another person’s emotions was thought possible, but after the 1940s the privacy of other minds was widely accepted. The broad identification of modernism as alienated is, I show, ahistorical and elides the ways that modernist literature experiments with the uncertain powers of empathy.
- “Somewhere Beneath: Empathy and Other Minds in Ulysses,” James Joyce Quarterly (forthcoming)
- “Explanation in Composition: Gertrude Stein and the Contingency of Inductive Reasoning,” jml: Journal of Modern Literature 39.3 (2016): 95-113
- “Ezra Pound and the Value of Explanation,” Paideuma: Studies in British and American Modernism 42 (2015)
Book Reviews and Other Publications
- “Acknowledging Cavell,” ASAP/J, Stanley Cavell Memorial Cluster (July 26, 2018)
- “All Our Work Holds Good,” Slate (July 6, 2018), reprinted by Arts and Letters Daily (July 6, 2018)
- “Muriel Rukeyser’s Memory, or the Ends of Poetry,” Booktimist (February 7, 2018)
- “Review of Michael LeMahieu and Karen Zumhagen-Yekple, eds. Wittegenstein and Modernism,” Modernism/Modernity (forthcoming)
- “Review of Megan Quigley, Modernist Fiction and Vagueness,” Modernism/Modernity 23.2 (2016): 244
- “Choose Another Title” and “Don’t Get Stressed by Meter,” teaching exercises in The Pocket Instructor: Literature, ed. Diana Fuss and William Gleason (Princeton University Press, 2015)
- “Review of Edward T. Duffy, Secular Mysteries: Stanley Cavell and English Romanticism,” Studies in Romanticism 52.4 (2013): 625-628