Current project: reading and writing As/if
My dissertation, Reading and Writing As/if: US Literary Criticism and Identity, examines literary criticism that acknowledges the inevitable roadblocks of reading and writing across difference, while still insisting on the generative potential of attempting it anyway. I call this as/if criticism, because it resides in the ambiguous space between writing “as” (a.k.a., reading and writing in accordance with the expectations attached to one’s race, sexuality, gender, etc.) and writing “as if” (a.k.a., reading and writing in ways that temporarily, experimentally suspend the rules of identity). My dissertation takes a close look at the work of literary critics who brilliantly mediate these two modes: Eve Sedgwick’s compendium of queer critical essays, Tendencies (1993); Deborah McDowell’s debut work of black feminist criticism, The Changing Same (1995); Barbara Johnson’s deconstructive take on race and gender, The Feminist Difference (1995); and Robert Reid-Pharr’s innovative critical essay collection, Black Gay Man (2001). In every chapter, I analyze how each author’s particular rhetorical choices contribute to his or her negotiation of identity. Ultimately, I show that these critical approaches may be better suited than such recent academic trends as surface reading, affect theory, or new materialism for describing the fraught social bonds, experimental allegiances, and unintuitive cross-identifications that occur between different subjects. As/if criticism harnesses rhetoric to highlight queer and feminist theory’s longstanding struggle to negotiate between two traditions: on the one hand, an investment in the epistemological and political force of categories of identity, and on the other, a robust critique of fixed notions of identity. In other words, as/if criticism effectively models how literary criticism can also perform, in its style, the substance of its argument.
future work: voice and identity
My next project, Hear Me Out, seeks out examples of speech and storytelling that use voice to interrupt the progress of narrative itself, while at the same time paradoxically driving it forward. Looking closely at phenomena such as vocal coaching for transgender youth, “gay voice” and sibilance, and racial passing in radio or other nonvisual media, my future research examines the relation that the spoken word has to identity formation, especially with regard to race and gender.
My objects in this project include podcasts (Sarah Jones, “Look Both Ways Before Crossing,” The Moth ), documentaries (Do I Sound Gay?, dir. David Thorpe ), science fiction films (Sorry to Bother You, dir. Boots Riley ), opinion pieces (Guy Branum, “My Gay Voice,” The New York Times ), and online live video streams (“Arab Andy Live,” youtube.com ). I will examine these using a wide range of analytics, building on work by linguist Penny Eckhert, cultural critic Rey Chow, queer studies scholars Wayne Kostenbaum and Andrew Brooks, and critical race scholars Nicole Brittingham Furlonge, Jennifer Lynn Stoever, and Fred Moten, among others. Addressing contemporary examples of cultural production, including NPR radio stories, Netflix documentaries, and online video shorts, this research moves beyond authorial “voice” as it is understood in literary parlance, to theorize the simultaneously disruptive and productive potential of literal speech.other published research: queer sociality, graphic fiction, etc
other published research: queer sociality, comics, etc.
Beyond the focus of my main research project, in other peer-reviewed publications, my interest in how the negative becomes (perhaps counterintuitively) a coalitional, driving, or generative force has led me towards a number of different cultural objects. In “‘That Infinite Sphere’: Paradox, Paralepsis, and Parody in Les guérillères” (Feminist Spaces, 2016), I contend that Monique Wittig’s lesbian science fiction novel Les guérilléres drives its plot ‘forward’ via omission rather than via supplied information. My essay “Critics on Critics: Queer Bonds” (GLQ December 2018), thinks anti-sociality alongside academic inquiry and collaboration. “In the Gutter: Comix Theory” (Comics Studies Journal, 2012) makes the case that comics’ formal mechanisms (in particular, the “gutter” between panels, and the “stutter” produced by two consecutive panel frames) provocatively correspond to death drive as it is elaborated within anti-social strains of queer theory. I remain interested in comics as a medium particularly ripe for queer theoretical analysis, especially when it comes to the anti-social, and currently have another article on comics under review. In this article, titled “Thwarting Repair: Gutter, Stutter, Are You My Mother?,” I revisit Alison Bechdel’s autobiographic comic Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama in order to contest previous feminist scholarship that focuses on her book’s therapeutic value. My focus on comic books or genre literature such as science fiction stems from my firm belief that popular culture is often the best and most interesting spot for theorizing the lacunae that structure and compel creative production; this belief informs not only my published work, but also my teaching and critical collaborations.