My research engages theoretical problems in marxism, psychoanalysis, and structuralism through formalist readings of the novel and cinema. For essays and links, please see CV. I am the author of three books:
The Order of Forms: Realism, Formalism, and Social Space (University of Chicago Press, 2019) offers a new theory and practice of political literary reading at a moment when the political horizons of the humanities are vigorously contested. I name that reading method “political formalism” and develop it along two axes: reading aesthetic forms with foremost attention to the integrity of their composition and their revelation of their own madeness, and in turn reading the forms that organize political experience (collectivity, institution, the city, law, the state, sovereignty) as mere forms, integrally composed but open to reform, indispensable for existence but undetermined in advance. Taking up literary realism, the mode that has perennially centered debates about aesthetics and politics, I read novels by Dickens, Bronte, Hardy, and Carroll, and accounts of realism from Henry James to Fredric Jameson, to propose an experimental formalist theory of literary realism as the projection of possible social space, the modeling of political forms. I articulate this concept of “model” by focusing on realism’s surprising engagement with mathematics, specifically the formalist revolution in mathematics (non-Euclidean geometry, symbolic logic, set theory), which radicalizes theories of space and practices of the signifier. Mathematical formalism, aesthetic formalism, and political formalism each provide a way of valuing forms – the mathematical formula, the work of art, collective sociability – as essential but also ungroundable and reformable. Sharply contrasting the robust formalist faculties in the nineteenth century with the anarcho-vitalist hegemony in contemporary theory, which devalues forms as oppressive constraints and prizes formlessness, the book mobilizes the past to intervene in the present.
table of contents
The Order of Forms: Mathematic, Aesthetic, and Political Formalism
The Realist Blueprint: For a Formalist Theory of Realism
The Set Theory of Wuthering Heights: Realism and the Infinities of Social Space
The Limits of Bleak House
Symbolic Logic on the Social Plane of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Obscure Forms: the Social Geometry of Jude the Obscure
States of Psychoanalysis: Formalization and the Space of the Political
Marxist Film Theory and Fight Club (Winter 2019 in the Bloomsbury Film Theory in Practice series) marries an overview of marxist film theory with a marxist reading of David Fincher’s film Fight Club. The series includes volumes on psychoanalysis, queer theory, post-colonialism, and realism by authors such as Joan Copjec, Todd McGowan, and Slavoj Zizek.
Realizing Capital: Financial and Psychic Economies in Victorian Form (Fordham University Press, 2014), explores the Victorian novel’s preoccupation with the coincidence between the process of financialization – the transition to an economy in which speculation supercedes industrial production and consumption of goods – and the emergence of one of the key metaphors of modernity, the trope of “psychic economy,” which posits a unity between the economy and psychological subjectivity. In order to chart the conceptual transaction that I argue explains this coincidence, I draw on Victorian non-fiction prose from financial journalism to political economy and the nascent discipline of psychology, analyzing a shift from preoccupation with the artifice and ungroundedness of finance (a pre-occupation evidenced in the wide-spread notion of “fictitious capital”) to a preoccupation with describing the psyche as an economy, and indeed embracing psychology as the ultimate ground of economic relations. In short, I argue that “psychic economy” emerged as the new real estate of the disconcertingly unmoored financial universe. I juxtapose close readings of these discourses as they perform this shift with close readings of major Victorian novels by Dickens, Eliot, and Trollope that critically disclose that shift. The book concludes with a consideration of psychic economy through the looking glass, as imagined in Marx and Freud, and with a brief meditation on the psychologizing rhetoric around the financial crisis of 2008.