Office: 1247 HW
I received my Ph.D. from Cornell University in 2008, specializing in Restoration and Eighteenth-Century English literature. My research interests encompass sentimentalism, transatlantic slavery, colonialism, and postcolonial literatures. My essays on eighteenth-century British literature have appeared in various venues, including Eighteenth-Century Studies, The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, and ELH. My book, Spectacular Suffering: Witnessing Slavery in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic (forthcoming from University of Virginia Press in 2015), attempts to map the precise conditions under which slave distress emerged as a topic of emotional concern and political intervention. Rather than viewing sentimentalism as a literary-historical category internal to British history, the book approaches sympathy as a mode of historical epistemology, a form of counter-knowledge that emerged in response to profound socio-economic transformations set in motion by Atlantic modernity. It undertakes this redefinition of sentimental sympathy in the interests of theorizing embodied slave agency. As the book argues, in articulating their own experiences of loss, the subjection of their bodies to the regimes of the market and rigors of plantation discipline, the ostensible objects of sentimental compassion—African slaves—also seized on the discursive resources of melancholic sentiment.
My work on embodied subjectivity in the context of Atlantic slavery has led to another project, tentatively titled Indignity: Rights and Reparation. A conference paper presented at ASECS on “Clarissa’s Body, Richardson’s Story” marked the beginnings of my attempt to trace (especially in light of Lynn Hunt’s Inventing Human Rights) the contribution of Richardson’s magnum opus, in particular, and first-person narratives, more broadly, to the evolving discourses of bodily autonomy and subjective right. To develop this interest, I recently taught a Masters class titled “Literature and Rights, from the Eighteenth Century to the Present,” which focused on two distinctive literary forms—the rape narrative and the slave narrative—that document two paradigmatic instances of bodily injury: rape and enslavement. It is in the wake of bodily harm or corporeal indignity (suffered by victims of torture, rape, and enslavement) that the subject of rights as a potential maker of claims comes into being. The politically and ethically appropriate point of departure for a discussion of rights, I argue, is not the possessive—“I have a right”—but the dispossessive: “I am wronged.”
Spectacular Suffering: Witnessing Slavery in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic (forthcoming from University of Virginia Press in 2015)
“‘A Fixed Melancholy’: Migration, Memory, and the Middle Passage.” Special issue on “The Dispossessed Eighteenth Century,” eds. Chi-ming Yang and Jordana Rosenberg, The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation. 55, no. 2-3 (2014): 235-253.
Indignity: Rights and Reparation