Dissertation Completion Fellow, Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry, Emory University
Ph.D. in English, Emory University, Atlanta, GA (Expected 2018)
Graduate certificate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
B.A. in English and Creative Writing, Wellesley College (2008)
My research interests include poetry and poetics, British and American literature of the long twentieth century, and critical theory. I am especially interested in affect and emotion, ecology and posthumanism, and ethics and rhetoric.
Dissertation: “Signs of Feeling Everywhere: Lyric Poetics, Posthumanist Ecologies, and Ethics in the Anthropocene”
“Signs of Feeling Everywhere” argues that lyric poetry can help us imagine ecological ethics in the Anthropocene. To make this argument, I foster an unlikely, yet vital, conversation between lyric poetics and posthumanism. As a theoretical orientation that critiques the idea that humans are bounded and coherent subjects governed by cognition, posthumanism is not often seen as compatible with lyric poetry, which has traditionally been read as a mode that is largely invested in humans. Ethical theories from a posthumanist perspective take this discord further, positioning lyric poems as irredeemably entangled with unethical systems of thought, such as anthropocentrism. Ethical theories from a posthumanist perspective take this discord further, positioning lyric as irredeemably entangled with unethical systems of thought, such as anthropocentrism. Consider Karen Barad’s objection to the famous question asked in T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: “Do I dare / Disturb the universe?” Barad writes that it “is not a meaningful question, let alone a starting point for ethical considerations.”
But I claim that lyric’s unethical entanglements give us an opportunity to conceptualize ethical engagement with life from within the complicities that our position as human beings on Earth inevitably beget. As contemporary American poet Louise Glück writes, “human beings leave / signs of feeling / everywhere.” The Anthropocene challenges us to find a method for contending with such “signs of feeling”—even when those feelings are contradictory, harmful, or misguided. Lyric, I suggest, rises to that challenge. “Signs of Feeling Everywhere” explores how figures in lyric that have long been associated with hierarchical world views—the self, giants, the ocean, birds and bees, and the universe—produce lyric subjects that are open, dynamic, and interactive. In so doing, they dramatize a gamut of human emotions regarding the environment. Although those emotions are often contradictory, for lyric subjects, those contradictions do not foreclose ethics. Instead, they transform into a practice of forging relations with “others” beyond cruxes that might otherwise be seen as impasses. I thus contend that ecological ethics requires what lyric uniquely affords: a way for humans in modernity to reside within the classical ethical question, How is one to live?
The project's poets, grouped by chapter, include Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson; Alice Oswald; Wallace Stevens and Elizabeth Bishop; Gerard Manley Hopkins and Sylvia Plath; Robert Lowell and Derek Walcott; and T. S. Eliot and Lucille Clifton. Part I of the project is comprised of a preface and two chapters that outline the "discursive ethic" (a phrase borrowed from Michel Foucault) of lyric; Part II is comprised of three chapters that test how "discursive ethic" of lyric can render key terms in posthumanist ecological ethics more socio-politically and affectively capacious, including an "interspecies ethics of eros," "entanglement," and "intra-action."
Committee: Laura Otis (chair), Lynne Huffer, John Johnston, Walter Kalaidjian, and Katherine Hayles (external member, Duke University)
Academic Peer-Reviewed Articles
“Anthropocene Ethics and its Lapses: Lyric Eros and the Example of Sylvia Plath’s Bees.” Under review.
Much recent work in ecology studies draws upon the erotic as a fruitful way to rethink interspecies relations. As thinkers such as Cynthia Willett argue, eros invites us to decenter the human subject and to imagine differently the meetings between humans, nonhumans, and things that comprise our world. This theoretical discourse often fleetingly references poetry or “the poetic,” but interspecies erotic scenes in actual poems are rarely considered. To explore lyric eros, this essay takes as its primary case study Sylvia Plath’s sequence of bee poems in Ariel, which taps into the trope of bee-keeping that is as old as Virgil in lyric history. In this sequence, scenes of interspecies encounters are suffused with multidirectional and multi-agential yearning and desire. Yet, within these poems, that same eros is intertwined with a rhetoric of racial discrimination. To read Plath’s bee poems for an ethics of eros, therefore, is also to read their racism. This essay contends that Plath’s poems offer an opportunity to conceptualize an interspecies ethics insofar as they do not present an infallible, or even a good, model of relationality; rather, they unspool a discursive system that prompts readers to reside within the dangers that even ethics can yield, forcing us to confront our cruelties. Intervening in debates regarding the ethics of poetry and engaging the relationship between race and ecology, this essay argues that such a confrontation is particularly needed in the context of current discussions regarding the anthropocene, the most recent theorization of which links its origins to the genocides perpetrated by Western nations beginning in 1492.
“Of New Calligraphy: Seamus Heaney, Planetarity, and Lyric’s Uncanny Space-Walk.” Cultural Critique (forthcoming 2018).
In the middle of the twentieth century, the Western cultural imaginary transitioned between two formulations of the uncanny. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak describes this shift as one “from vagina to planet”: due to the newfound view of Earth from space in the late 1960s, Freud’s conceptualization of the body of the cisgender, childbearing woman as an uncanny figure shifts to a pervasive sense that the uncanny signifier par excellence is in fact the planet Earth itself. This essay interrogates this shift and finds its most fruitful revision takes place in poetics. First, it reads the cultural moment in which both uncannies have vibrant and interdependent lives in print and media culture. To explore the critical potential of their interdependence, this paper then turns to the work of Seamus Heaney and finds that his poetry engages both figurations from the beginning to the end of his career. In his bog poems in particular—composed during a time that dovetails with the uncannies’ cultural lives while also inflected with his interest in bogs as ecological phenomena—Heaney collapses the distance between the uncannies, enmeshing them to explore poetry’s potential for creating uncanny estrangement, as well as the consequences of such estrangement on ideas of kinship. In turn, in his post-midcentury work, Heaney transforms both Freud’s argument that the uncanny is an aesthetic concern and Spivak’s claim that it is a hermeneutic one into a suggestion that it is a chief concern of poetry. Noticing that in his later work, Heaney incorporates the apostrophic “O” into his sense of the uncanny, the author suggests that Heaney’s work positions lyric as the ultimate uncanny space. His work thus calls upon us to re-envision the nature of lyric engagement with materiality and embodiment.
The image behind the overlay: Non je ne regrette rien by Wangechi Mutu. See it in full, and full color, here.