Professor of English
Ph.D., Brown University
B.A., Trinity College
On the verge of another sabbatical for the spring of 2017. This will continue and, I hope, conclude my current research. I’m looking into common aspects of all narratives, particularly fiction, in relation to cultural and social issues as well as how both fiction and poetry construct moments of the sublime, whether ecstasy, terror, or some other kind of epiphany or revelation. This project may link such writers as Wordsworth, Faulkner, DeLillo, Pynchon, Proust, and Morrison. It will involve the web and our fascination with it: systems as the contemporary sublime? It’s still in that messy, floundering, reading-a-lot stage, better remembered if outlived.
Hawthorne continues to haunt me, despite my recent forays into postmodern fiction and quantum theory. On May 20, 2016, I gave a paper at the ALA Convention in San Francisco, “Hawthorne (De)Constructed: Morbid Hermit, Elegant Genius, Sexual Transgressor” and then hurried to the Hawthorne Conference at the Stoweflake Inn in Stowe, VT, to present a paper on June 2, “Hawthorne’s Isolation: Curse, Creed or Catastrophe?” Both are a continuation of The Entanglements of Nathaniel Hawthorne, published in 2011. It covers the critical and biographical responses and approaches to the author and his works from the 1840s to contemporary times—and took forever. It has led to a fourth Hawthorne book for me, a collection of essays, Teaching Hawthorne in the College Classroom with Christopher Diller to be published in 2017.
Hawthorne persists. I’ve been asked to give a paper on my life with/and Hawthorne at the ALA in May, 2017, and am in the process of helping to organize and select papers for the big Hawthorne Conference in Japan in 2018. That should be fun, since I’ll be returning to Japan for the first time since December, 2008, when I went on a three-week lecture tour--to universities and other watering holes in Tokyo, Hiroshima, Kyoto and Narra--speaking on Hawthorne, DeLillo, American culture, Obama's necessary triumph, literary trends, and other stuff. Temples and shrines stunned and delighted, and the bath in the hot sulfur springs atop a snowy mountain was to die for.
Quirks of the Quantum: Postmodernism and Contemporary American Fiction, which arose out of a course I began to teach in 2007 on quantum theory’s influences and effects upon contemporary American Fiction, was published in 2012. The book is partly based on the notes, notebooks, and manuscripts of Don DeLillo at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas in Austin where I went with the support of a Mellon Grant. I bought a great T-shirt there: “KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD.” The new course, English 346--originally titled “Sex, Lies, and Quantum Theory” to attract students and then admitting that the lie was that there was no sex in the course--is part of Wheaton’s Connections curriculum, connecting with Astronomy 130 and Physics 225. “Quantum Flux and Narrative Flow: Don DeLillo’s Entanglements with Quantum Theory” was published in Papers on Language and Literature in August, 2011, and was more or less an extension of “Psychic Visions and Quantum Physics: Oates’ Big Bang and The Limits of Language,” which came out in a special issue on Joyce Carol Oates in Studies in the Novel in 2006. I was stunned when Oates e-mailed me: “What a brilliant fascinating essay you have written . . . I’ve read it with much admiration and not a little illumination. I have been interested in the themes you elucidate . . .” I’m still thinking of having T-shirts made.
The article, “Conspiracy and Paranoia in Contemporary American Politics and Fiction: The Mouse and the Snake, “ was commissioned by and published in the leading journal Dialogi in Slovenia in 2012. My Slovenian sucks, but I hear the translator is really good.
Recent articles/chapters in books include “Interview with Walter Mosley” in Conversations with Walter Mosley, edited by Owen E. Brady, “Bridges of Entanglement and Bewilderment: John Cheever Through the Lens of Language” in Critical Insights: John Cheever, edited by Robert Morace, and “The Entangled Web of James Lee Burke: Heaven’s Prisoners in Manichean Prisons” in A Violent Conscience: Essays on the Fiction of James Lee Burke, edited by Leonard Engel. Entanglement is a quantum concept, which suggests that everything is entangled with everything else in the sub-atomic realm, and nothing exists separately in its own right.
Recent papers read include “A Space for Sex: ‘Brokeback Mountain’ After ‘Taking Woodstock,’” in the Film and Literature section of the American Literature Association’s Convention in Boston in May, 2013, “Hawthorne’s Concord: Staging Places” at the Hawthorne Conference in Concord in June, 2010, and “Hawthorne’s Creative Nonfiction: The World, the Way, and the Wonder” at the MLA Convention in Philadelphia in December, 2009.
“Fragments of Transformation: The Tourist, The Romancer, and Hawthorne’s Vision” was presented at the “Conversazioni in Italia: Emerson, Hawthorne, and Poe” Conference in Florence, Italy, in June, 2012. I also helped to organize it.
This fall semester I taught an English 101 course on conspiracy theory, English 346 on quantum theory, and a Senior Honors Seminar on William Faulkner, one of my first great loves that sent me to Mississippi when writing my dissertation at Brown. In 101 we read such writers as Joan Didion, Tim O’Brien, Paul Auster, Denis Johnson, and Don DeLillo. DeLillo, Auster, Didion, and Thomas Pynchon played major roles in 346.
I enjoy teaching first-year courses on mysteries, gothic fiction, postmodern fiction--once on the films of Elizabeth Taylor--upper-level courses on all periods of American literature, and the English Romantic poets, courses in fiction, single-author senior seminars on Toni Morrison, Emily Dickinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Don DeLillo, and independent studies and theses on fiction, graphic novels, music blogs, and single authors. I served as Department Chair for one year, 2009-2010, while the real chair vanished on a much-needed sabbatical. I hoped to double faculty salaries, add a wet bar to the faculty dining room, and write a comic opera featuring willing members of the department. I failed in all respects but kept the machinery well oiled and running.
I continue to review c. 25 books a year for the Providence Journal. I went to Jordan and Lebanon from December 1-12, 2005, to give a series of talks on American ideas of conspiracy, speaking about the Puritan vision of viewing the world in terms of God vs. Satan, the American traditions of evangelical and fundamentalist religion, and George W. Bush's role in all of this. It was an astonishing experience that took me to eight universities and study centers, talking with students, faculty, journalists, media folk, Embassy personnel and others. The most exciting part (not really) was riding in a silver, bullet-proofed SUV with two bodyguards in the front seat. This was the American idea of a low profile on the main highway the length of the Mediterranean up the coast from Beirut to Tripoli: we gleamed in raw sunlight like the perfect target! I was also able to visit much of the Bekka Valley, Baalbek, and Tyre, as well as Amman and other cities beyond them. I would go back in a flash.
Paradigms Of Paranoia: Conspiracy In Contemporary American Culture And Fiction was published in 2005. It explores the work of such writers as Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Joan Didion, Robert Stone, Tim O'Brien, Paul Auster, Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, and others. As the A. Howard Meneely Professor (1998-2000), I had released time from courses to read and write. Do contemporary writers contribute to or criticize conspiracy theories? What effect do these conspiracies have on American religion, politics and fiction? Is this a new form of American Gothic fiction? And how much of it has permeated our contemporary culture?
Other books include:
The Mystery of Mysteries: Cultural Differences and Designs (2000); hardback and paperback; Mesmerism and Hawthorne: Mediums of American Romance (1998); paperback in 2000. William Styron Revisited (1991); Paul Theroux (1987); In Hawthorne's Shadow: American Romance from Melville to Mailer (1985), published in paperback as En La Sombra de Hawthorne: El romanticismo americano desde Melville hasta Maiuler (Mexico City, 1988); Anthony Burgess (1981); John Cheever (1977), published in paperback (1984). Some keynote addresses and/or lectures at conferences abroad include "Prelude to Conspiracy: Romanticism and Paranoia" at the Universities of Cordoba and Granada in Spain, November 10 and 12, 2004, "Sacred Origins and/as Endless Texts: The Mystery of the Matrix," Ovidius University, Constanta, Romania, Sept. 19, 2003, and "From 'The Awakening' to Titanic: American Culture in the 20th Century" at the 10th International Conference of American Studies in Minsk, Belarus, May, 2000. I also ran two workshop-discussions of Khaled Husseini's The Kite Runner in January, 2005, with Husseini in residence. He told me he found the discussion " surreal."
Resident Director for 28 Wheaton students abroad in the United Kingdom and Ireland at the Universities of Sussex and Edinburgh, Oxford, the London School of Economics, the University College of Cork, and the BU Internship Program in London: August - December, 2004. A terrific time, living on "The Street" in "Kingston Near Lewes" near the University of Sussex in East Sussex, about twenty minutes north of Brighton. This is part of Wheaton's rapidly expanding Global Education program.
Recent projects have included independent studies and Senior Honors Theses on American poets, short stories, Faulkner, American and Japanese postmodern novels, Heavy Metal interpretations of American Literature, original fiction, quantum theory and Pynchon and Auster, working with two students on writing this last spring, and others. It’s a good deal for both student and teacher, and this kind of independent study thrives at Wheaton.