My research centers on contemporary literature, media studies, and the digital humanities. I investigate the political, aesthetic, and affective dimensions of the relationship between print and digital media, focusing on what might be called a media theory of literature. I am also interested in how digital technologies and methods are changing scholarly practice in literary studies.
I am currently working on a book manuscript on the media of the national security state. 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: Preparedness Media, Speculative Fiction, and the Management of the Future
My current book project explores US imperialism and national security through what I call preparedness media. Preparedness, which moved to the center of US national security policy after September 11, 2001, simulates future catastrophic threats to plan for their eventual emergence. I examine a wide range of preparedness media – including novels as well as governmental documents, training exercises, databases, and surveillance networks – as speculative fiction. I consider speculative fiction not as a specific genre but rather as a form that travels across fictional and nonfictional print and digital media, showing how preparedness media produce catastrophic futures in order to manage political imagination in the present. By focusing on the formal strategies and nonconscious effects of these media, I argue they train their audiences to accept catastrophe as part of everyday life and to expect its perpetual re-emergence.
I am concerned in this project not necessarily with what preparedness media are, but rather with what they do, with how they instruct their audiences in accepting catastrophe as normal. By examining the many different yet overlapping forms preparedness takes, Training for Catastrophe contributes to recent work in literary studies on the materiality and form of textual media, and to recent work in media studies that accounts for how things like digital technologies and systems become media. Moreover, in its emphasis on how speculative fiction works as affect management, the project provides a new perspective on the role of fiction in contemporary American culture. While many scholars have emphasized science and speculative fiction’s revolutionary potential to imagine alternative futures, Training for Catastrophe suggests this same capacity is utilized by the US national security state as a form of knowledge production and control.
Finally, Training for Catastrophe also seeks to deform the logic of preparedness these media enact. Preparedness tells us the future is already here, that it is catastrophic, and that we can do nothing to change it. A media studies of preparedness seeks to make change possible by resuscitating the futures preparedness media produce, allowing us to reimagine the different forms preparedness might take.
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, and blogs 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.