Program

Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships , ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships

Project

Down in the Dirt: Undoing Transcendentalism

Project

PhD, English, University of California, Irvine

Department

John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Postdoctoral Fellow

Down in the Dirt: Undoing Transcendentalism

Early practitioners of American Studies championed formally innovative writing that featured narratives of human opposition to the environment. This project, by contrast, delineates an alternative canon of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American texts that, in their characterization of human interactions with the nonhuman world, challenge the notion of a clear, stable boundary between the self and the environment. These texts resist liberal enlightenment theories of the rational, autonomous subject by representing human subjectivity as unstable, elusive, and subject to external influences. In so doing they suggest that the seemingly sovereign liberal enlightenment subject depends on an exploitation and repression of aspects of the self that in turn authorize the exploitation and repression of other humans and of the nonhuman world. The porous subjectivities theorized by these texts can help reframe humans’ relationship with the ecosystem as well as understandings of the American literary tradition of writing about nature.

PhD, English, University of California, Irvine

"Natural Reading: Race, Place and Literary Practice from Thoreau to Ransom"

My research examines racialized notions of nature and naturalness in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American literature and literary criticism. Drawing on recent work in ecocriticism, critical race studies, and the history of reading, I argue that American Transcendentalists developed a practice of reading nature modeled on what they understood to be the linguistic practices of indigenous Americans, encompassed in Thoreau’s phrase “the eloquent savage.” Early twentieth-century American writers then repurposed the idea of a language emanating spontaneously from the environment to help establish the foundations of modern literary criticism. By tracing how they did so, I show that the discipline they founded was one rooted in racial exclusion. Starting in the antebellum era, traversing the rise of literary studies in the early twentieth century, and concluding in the 1930s with the consolidation of the modern university, my project historicizes the uses of nature and the natural in both American literature and the disciplinary formation of literary studies. My project argues that the conflation of nature and race assumed by antebellum writers served the New Agrarians as the basis of a literary canon whose quality emerged from its writers’ close and racially privileged relationship to nature. In this way, my project illuminates previously hidden aspects of the discourses that helped forge the discipline of literary studies. By arguing for the centrality of naturalized race and racialized nature to the literary history of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, my project suggests for American Studies and the Environmental Humanities the importance of attending not only to the ideas about nature transmitted by American literature, but the conditions under which naturalized and implicitly racialized notions of the literary emerged in the first place.