Tel: (514) 848-2424 ext. 8929
Room: LB 683.4
I am completing a book entitled Fitful Character about the sensibility of literary characters whose improvised actions and impulsive spirit prove difficult to assimilate to prevailing ideas of virtue. The intention is to quarrel with the seemingly unshakeable idea in our culture that moral integrity requires consistency. The project is chiefly concerned with the development of early modernism, and specifically, with the works of Henry James, Gertrude Stein, and T. S. Eliot—writers who overturn a number of ethical and psychological presuppositions that govern realist modes of characterization in the nineteenth century. I emphasize the central part played by the vitalist psychologies of Henri Bergson and William James in modernists’ efforts to reimagine character.
I received my B.A. (cum laude with honors) from Yale University in 1997, and my Ph.D. in 2005 from University of California, Berkeley. I was hired into Concordia’s English department in 2005, but deferred my appointment to spend a year at Cornell University as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow.
My current research is supported by an SSHRC-funded project entitled “Affirming Impulse: The Ethics of Improvisation in Modernist Writing.” This program of research examines why an important line of modernists insisted on the empowering forces of impulsive life. The specified pattern, I argue, shows a shared desire on the part of modernists to dramatize unexpected acts social adaptation and ethical self-extension, while disrupting the pattern of repetition that purports to structure character.
I have two articles forthcoming, one in Modern Philology called “Henry James’s Suspended Situations,” which argues that James replaces older notions of a stable personality with a fluid, relational model of selfhood. James, I suggest, defines characters by the succeeding social environments with which they are obligated to interact rather than by core intentions or desires that emerge from out of a disguised interior source. The other article, “Gertrude Stein’s Lively Habits,” which will be published in a special issue on Darwin in Twentieth-Century Literature, shows how habits in Stein’s early writing paradoxically lead to psychological change. I look at the appeal that Darwin’s “life” models had for the writer, and give a theoretical account of habit by engaging influential vitalist discourses in the period. I have recently completed a review of Justus Nieland’s Feeling Modern, as well as an extended encyclopedia entry on Stein for The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century American Fiction, forthcoming from Wiley-Blackwell. Other published articles include: “Affecting Time: T. S. Eliot’s ‘Burnt Norton’,” and “Jackson Pollock’s Address to the Nonhuman,” which engages Nietzsche as well as contemporary aesthetic theorists in order to set down new figures of relevance for Pollock and for abstract art in general.
I am currently at work on a piece examining several recent novels (by Colm Toibin, Alan Hollinghurst, and David Lodge) that either fictionalize the life of Henry James, or depict characters obsessed with him. I use these literary examples to reflect on the Jamesian legacy for contemporary fiction, as well as aspects of the “master’s” approach to character which have been disregarded or forgotten (for reasons that I suggest are symptomatic).