Most broadly, my research focuses on French literature, theory, and culture from the long nineteenth century and contemporary critical theory, with particular interests in the environmental humanities, human geography, race and empire, gender and sexuality, and biopolitics. I work primarily on novels from the French Second Empire and early Third Republic (1852-1914), though I conceive of the long nineteenth century as a period that continues today. My work is united by an interest in the politics and aesthetics of realist and naturalist novels and an inquiry into how the novel form allows for the mapping and remapping of a rapidly changing world. As Jed Esty has observed, "realisms are neither replicative of the real, nor unexperimental, nor bound entirely to national borders, nor antimodernist. The most apparently mimetic modes of narration still register an artistic impulse to transform the world as well as to imitate it" ("Realism Wars," 339). In my recent work (primarily my work on Émile Zola), I join scholars like Susan Harrow and Fredric Jameson in calling into question the divisions that have long structured critical understandings of realism and naturalism, such as György Lukács's "narration" and "description," and that have led to a failure to recognize the modern(ist) aspects of these works. Beyond the politics and aesthetics of the novel form, I am also increasingly interested in the politics of reading, a mode of reflection largely inspired by the work of Jacques Rancière. While attending carefully to historical and literary context, my work explores the political implications of reading the books I study, both then and now.
Mapping Prostitution: Sex, Space, and the Novel in Nineteenth-Century Paris
Mapping Prostitution: Sex, Space, and the Novel in Nineteenth-Century Paris examines the place of prostitution in male-authored French realist and naturalist novels from the later 19th century. It makes two central claims: first, it argues that authors like Huysmans and Zola plot prostitution in order to make their name by making sense of their space and time. By accounting for the ways in which these novels strategically localize working-class prostitutes—in narrative, in Paris, and in spaces of practice ranging from the brothel to the boulevard—the book shows that prostitution provided the map for negotiating modernity in the French imaginary. Second, I contend that while these novels most often plot the prostitute in the service of mastery—much as she is mapped by municipal authorities in order to safeguard sexual and social order—they abrade their own disciplinary logic by making visible and accessible the “clandestine” prostitutes the reglementarist system was designed to obscure. Drawing upon the work of Jacques Rancière and Michel de Certeau, I show that these novel prostitutes persistently evade or resist the mapping that would contain them as territory by “writing” back—and that the democratizing effects of this literary countermapping potentially extend beyond the bounds of the book, as the novels circulate indiscriminately to readers. The conclusion explores the book’s implications with respect to France’s politics of inclusion and exclusion by bringing 19th-century prostitution into dialogue with two distinct contexts: the French colonial expansion during the early Third Republic, and current debates over the reprisal of tolerated prostitution in France. Both then and now, I show, the prostitute’s body has been endowed with the capacity for delineating community by making subjective and geopolitical space, and for negotiating France’s place in the world.
Weathering Modernity: The Novel Climates of Nineteenth-Century France
The first book-length study of 19th-century French literature from the perspective of the environmental humanities, Weathering Modernity proposes that reading 19th-century French novels trains us to interpret our changing climate and helps us imagine ways to weather it. It advocates for understanding realist and naturalist novels as climate fictions: narratives of distributed agency and world-making, of human and nonhuman ecologies, and of increasingly intertwined natural and social histories. The book attends carefully to historical context but adopts an adaptive mode of reading that recognizes that we are still in the “long 19th century,” joining close literary analysis of canonical and understudied works from the 1830s-1900s with insights from 19th-century thought (histories of meteorology and climatology, positivism, determinism, evolution, Fourierism, capitalism) and from contemporary theories of agency (Bennett, Latour, Haraway), world systems and ecologies (Serres, Moore, Morton, Glissant), and the politics of reading (Rancière, Menely and Taylor). The book’s ten chapters are organized into two strata. The first (and longest) revises French literary history by attending to novel weather and reading climate as a natural, social, and narrative system that calls human agency into question. The second concludes by exploring the project’s broader implications with respect to the place of national literary studies in the academy and in public life, identifying how reading across geopolitical, temporal, and linguistic borders might help us weather the climate we have made.