Overview

My work focuses on British and transatlantic writing of the long eighteenth century, with additional interests in the broader writing, rhetoric, politics, and culture of the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment (1600-1800).  Most of my published scholarship is on novels as political instruments in the eighteenth century, though my most recent research analyzes fiction alongside science writing, with particular attention to the mutual contributions of these to epistemological questions of what we know and how we know it.  I have a guiding research interest in heuristics and heuristic problems, whether of literary criticism or epistemology.  Below I describe my book projects; I also include links to my published journal articles.     

 

The Politics of Quixotism (book)

Frontispiece, Thomas Shelton translation, The History of Don Quixote, Vol. I (1620)

Frontispiece, Thomas Shelton translation, The History of Don Quixote, Vol. I (1620)

My first book project, “The Politics of Quixotism,” exposes the logic behind the madness of quixotic figures, from Cervantes’ Don Quixote in 1605 to its British and American rewritings through 1815.  The literary phenomenon of quixotism was a way for authors to endow protagonists with an expectation of sovereignty above law and custom, what Carl Schmitt would later identify as a state of exception, the suspension of all legal restraint in the name of public good.  What we generally think of as quixotic madness is more precisely a set of deliberate and reasonable actions that arise from the quixote’s desire to right injustices that the law and civil society fail to suppress.  Quixotism, then, becomes the reasoning that supersedes legal reasoning.  Quixotes exercise this exceptionalist logic—considering themselves justified in operating outside the laws and customs governing everyone else—because they characteristically believe in transcendent or higher purposes.  Through an analysis of the illustrations, translators’ notes, and other material components of seventeenth and eighteenth-century English translations of Don Quixote, as well as readings of British and American texts from Gulliver’s Travels and The Female Quixote to Modern Chivalry and A History of New York, I turn the core assumption about Don Quixote and his literary progeny on its head: quixotism is not idle madness, but an important form of political reasoning—that is, of reasoning about the limits of the political.  This reasoning operates at the level of geopolitics (state exceptionalism), domestic politics (states of exception), and individual consciousness (the quixote complex).  I undertook archival research for the first part of the project as a Clark Fellow at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library at UCLA, and more recently as Mellon Foundation Fellow at the Huntington Library in Pasadena, CA. 

 

Science and Technology in British Literature, 1600-1800 (Bucknell UP)

Joseph Priestley, A New Chart of History (1769)

Joseph Priestley, A New Chart of History (1769)

In addition to "The Politics of Quixotism, I am editing a volume of essays for the Bucknell University Press Aperçus Series, provisionally titled "Science and Technology in British Literature, 1600-1800."  The aim of this volume is to provide updated and holistic coverage of how developments in experimental science, mathematics, engineering, and social science influenced and were influenced by British literature, 1600-1800.  While studies of the Royal Society and Enlightenment experimental science are abundant, this volume focuses on science, technology, and literature as a nexus of mutually defining elements that blur generic distinctions between science writing and prose fiction, natural philosophy and poetics.

  

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles in Print and Forthcoming