My research centers on contemporary literature, cultural and media studies, and the digital humanities. I am currently working on a book manuscript on national security and fiction as an epistemology. I am also working on a large-scale computational text analysis project engaged in collecting and analyzing public statements about the humanities.
Training for Catastrophe: National Security and the Fictions of the Future
Training for Catastrophe investigates the use of fiction as a mode of knowledge production within contemporary US national security discourse, arguing that this dependence on fiction – at once strange, remarkable, and unsettling – is a political tool for shaping how we imagine and respond to catastrophe today. The book focuses specifically on preparedness, a national security paradigm that moved to the center of US policy after September 11, 2001 and that simulates future catastrophic threats in order to plan for their emergence. I examine a rich archive of preparedness materials, including policy documents, workplace disaster training materials, emergency management textbooks, simulation exercises, political speeches, preparedness plans, and online games. I argue these materials use fictionality, or the concept of fiction, to train people to accept future catastrophe as part of everyday life and to expect its perpetual re-emergence.
At the core of this project is a desire to think through what fiction does and how it matters, especially in contexts outside of “the literary.” Previous studies of preparedness by scholars in political science, anthropology, and cultural history have focused on preparedness materials but tended to ignore their imaginative and aesthetic qualities, while studies of national security by literary scholars have examined works of fiction that contextualize or critique various aspects of preparedness. Training for Catastrophe combines these approaches by reading preparedness materials through the lens of literary studies: focusing, for example, on how these materials train their audiences to think about disaster according to certain genre conventions, on how they reconfigure traditional understandings of plausibility and the aesthetic of realism, or on how they figure disasters themselves as fictional characters. This methodology reveals surprising connections between national security, long-standing theoretical debates in literary studies, and contemporary US culture.
Preparedness may seem to center on possible future threats, but it is in fact relentlessly focused on the present. It tells us the future is already here, that it is catastrophic, and that we can do nothing to change it. An examination of preparedness that pays attention to its figurative qualities – one that takes the affects and effects of fiction seriously – reveals the fictions that sustain this contemporary imagination of disaster.
WhatEvery1Says is a large-scale computational text analysis project initiated by 4Humanities and including participants from the University of California, Santa Barbara, California State University, Northridge, and the University of Miami. We are collecting tens of thousands of online articles from newspapers, magazines, blogs, television, and radio to form a corpus of public discourse on the humanities. By analyzing the corpus using a variety of statistical methods, we aim to explore the shape of contemporary discourse on the value of the humanities, both to debunk myths about the “uselessness” of the humanities and to discover new ways to communicate their value.