It’s been a turbulent past few months, with a tenure decision, a completed manuscript, and the beginning of a new two-year gig as Visiting Associate Professor of English at Princeton. So I’m haunting the old haunts, writing in the same corner of the Scribner Reading Room where I wrote large chunks of the original dissertation, and holding office hours again in the gray cinder block demesne of McCosh Hall (affectionately termed “the garden level”).
History repeats itself. I’m teaching early American literature again for the first time in five years, and the texts seem as vital now (at least to me) as they did when I read many of them in for the first time in Jay Fliegelman’s undergraduate course at Stanford, the one that made me want to become an English major in the first place. I’m in the last editing stages of my book—False Starts: The Rhetoric of Failure and the Making of American Modernism, forthcoming from Northwestern University Press—a long-gestating revision of my dissertation, where I argue that literary modernism, in part, is constituted by the repeated impossibility of authentic newness. (Side note: Michael North, who is indispensable for my argument, seems to be taking this transhistorical question on directly in his just-released Novelty: A History of the New, which I hope to review in College Literature.) And I’m once again in that exciting, vertiginous place of dreaming up a new book, this time on the intersections of comics and literary and artistic modernism. Things seem both to swell with possibility and threaten to drown you in the vastness of what you don’t know, a feeling that’s especially keen this time around as I find myself trying to teach myself to be an art historian. (A second side note: a piece I did for the Los Angeles Review of Books on cartoonist Ivan Brunetti was recently published, check it out before it is subsumed into the digital past, which is to say anything more than a week old.) I’m gathering books with abandon and looking for recommendations everywhere I can get them. Research for this next project began in earnest this week, and I’ll try to post exciting finds here on the blog, but blog neglect, alas, is another historical pattern I may be doomed to repeat.
Sadly, we’ve also lost another amazing woman in the Ball family, my grandmother Gene passed away earlier this month. It’s been an outsized couple of years of loss for the women in my family. They all will be missed.