Future research

Seer Bonnet by Angela Ellsworth (c. 2008)

Seer Bonnet by Angela Ellsworth (c. 2008), composed of over 20,000 steel corsage pins

I am at work on a new monograph on mental health and modern literature. This project argues that psychological diagnosis drives literary and scientific innovation in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century US. I demonstrate how deploying and resisting evolving classifications of mental life shapes modernist experimentation and spurs biomedical and social scientific development. These underappreciated cultural dialogues generate authoritative models of cognitive and corporeal health determined by race and gender. I take up four such medicalized types and establish how these pathologized figures embody anxieties about social change, particularly related to race, gender, and sexuality. Reading canonical and understudied novels alongside transatlantic medical discourse, and synthesizing computational methods with traditional archival practices, this project rethinks the cultural politics at work in biological schemas of wellness and disorder, while also highlighting the stumbling blocks of interpretive practices shared by the sciences and the arts.

The first article from this study, published in Arizona Quarterly, focuses on a condition that appeared in 1910: initially a psychotic symptom of schizophrenia, “ambivalence” soon became a mainstream neurosis associated with young women and homosexuals. Yet by the late 1920s, ambivalence also described an aesthetic value associated with masculine intelligence. I analyze the gendered contradictions of this psychosocial history in Edith Wharton’s Twilight Sleep (1927) and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is The Night (1934).

Recently out in Modernism/modernity is my reading of race and addiction in Harlem Renaissance-era literature and science, with a focus on Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929) and early genetic theory. Another occasional piece, on the prehistory of the contemporary quantified self movement, appeared in Modernism/modernity’s online feature In These Times. Also for Modernism/modernity, and with Heather A. Love, I am currently co-editing a related Print+ essay cluster on “Modernism & Diagnosis.”

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