Saturday, January 30, 2016

New from Theory & Event: "The Polis Artist"

I'm very pleased to announce the publication of my article on Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis and the politics of literature in Theory & Event. Here is the abstract:

Recent work on literature and political theory has focused on reading literature as a reflection of the damaged conditions of contemporary political life. Examining Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis, this essay develops an alternative approach to the politics of literature that attends to the style and form of the novel. The form and style of Cosmopolis emphasize the novel’s own dissonance with the world it criticizes; they moreover suggest a politics of poetic world-making intent on eliciting collective agency over the commonness of language. As a “polis artist,” DeLillo does not determine a particular politics but shapes the conditions and spaces of political life with an eye toward alternative futures.

If you would like a PDF of the final version, send me an email.

While the Herodotus project has continued to percolate, I have given a good deal of energy to this project on political theory and literature. Building on my article “Socrates in a Different Key: James Baldwin as Black American Socrates,” I've been interested in contemporary American literature and its relationship to democracy. In three essays substantially revised and drafted since coming to Bryn Mawr, I've explored how literature not only figures democratic deficits of various kinds – legitimation crises, absences and silences in ethical life, pathologies inherent to the experience of freedom, and so forth – but also how literature responds to these deficits, how it intervenes in the very problems it diagnoses. On my reading, writers like DeLillo and Joan Didion not only share an epoch of recent history; they also share a reflexivity about the work of literature (and writing more generally) in this epoch. I see this commonality in their attention to form, compression, and the language codes and keywords of their times; these aspects of their writing suggest modes of political work entailed by their literary practice.

At this spring's meeting of the Western Political Science Association, I will present another essay in this series, examining the poetics of citizenship in contemporary American poetry.