My latest research has been concerned with how the affective dynamics of fiction and life-writing illuminate the social and ethical possibilities of narrative form. The book arising from this, Discrepant Solace: Contemporary Writing and the Work of Consolation (forthcoming with Oxford University Press), draws together the poetics of emotion and the politics of style to examine a somewhat neglected and often-disparaged constellation of affects. When we think about what consolation means for literary experience we often do so via the rewards of reading: vicariously entering fictional realms of distress from which we’re relieved in reality to be spared; finding respite in imagined lives thanks to the compelling distractions their depiction may afford. Writers from recent decades, I argue, tell a different story about solace, an affective phenomenon that can appear both desirable and duplicitous. By engaging with figures as diverse as Julian Barnes, Joan Didion, Sonali Deraniyagala, David Grossman, Kazuo Ishiguro, Doris Lessing, Helen Macdonald, Cormac McCarthy, Marilynne Robinson, Denise Riley, W. G. Sebald, and Colm Tóibín, among others, I set out to show how style both registers and reflects on its own ability to compensate plot yet without pretending to remedy the very crises or damage it evokes. Throughout the book I suggest that contemporary literature’s most animating consolations derive from unlikely idioms and genres, as narratives driven by the pathos of bereavement, deprivation, and personal or environmental catastrophe also produce their own dynamic if seemingly discrepant modes of mitigation and redress – proving how agilely fiction and memoir today both intensify and scrutinize form’s propensity to be an antagonist of loss.
For some years now, my activities in scholarly editing as well as my own criticism have moved comparatively across modernist studies and world Anglophone literature, generating opportunities for these fields to have useful conversations with each other. A product of such conversations, Modernist Futures (Cambridge University Press, 2012) charted the reanimation of modernist aesthetics in contemporary American, British, and world Anglophone fiction. In this book I argue that we can discern the political consequences of such reactivations without diluting the historical specificity of modernism’s global movements and moments. To realize this hypothesis, I mobilize critical vocabularies that not only do justice to the formal particularity of writers such as J. M. Coetzee, Ian McEwan, Toni Morrison, and Michael Ondaatje, but also recognize how they build into their work a contemplation of the very condition and mission of literary innovation as such. Modernist Futures highlights the implications of pursuing comparative approaches to modernism’s critical presence in contemporary writing, arguing that we can pay closer attention to aspects of technique without detracting from fiction’s social engagements. The book thus invites us to rethink the assumptions behind the way we both conceptualize and historicize those modernist impulses that contemporary novelists alternately adopt, refuse, and reform – methodological questions about the very periodization of modernism which I subsequently addressed in an essay co-written with Urmila Seshagiri for PMLA on ‘Metamodernism’ (January 2014).
I continue to write on the cultural and historical multiplicity of postmodernism, and on alternative critical models for reading the contemporary. Key examples of my work in this area have appeared in volumes such as The Cambridge Companion to Transnational American Literature, ed. Yogita Goyal (Cambridge University Press, 2017), Postmodern/Postwar–and After: Rethinking American Literature, ed. Jason Gladstone, Andrew Hoberek, and Daniel Worden (University of Iowa Press, 2016). The Cambridge History of the English Short Story, ed. Dominic Head (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), The Contemporaneity of Modernism, ed. Michael D’Arcy and Mathias Nilges (New York: Routledge, 2015), and Time: A Vocabulary of the Present, ed. Amy J. Elias and Joel Burges (New York: New York University Press, 2016).
Collaborative projects in twentieth- and twenty-first-century literature have resulted in a number of edited volumes. Produced concurrently with Modernist Futures, my collection The Legacies of Modernism (Cambridge University Press, 2012) brought together an international cast of scholars working on British, American, and postcolonial literature to historicize the response of postwar writers to modernism’s stylistic, ideological, and intellectual possibilities and continuities. Other editorial ventures have included two journal special issues: the first, with Andrzej Gasiorek, for Contemporary Literature (53.4) on ‘Fiction since 2000: Post-Millennial Commitments’ (2012); and the second, with Nathan Waddell, for Modernist Cultures (8.1) on ‘Musicality and Modernist Form’ (2013).
My most recent work as an editor includes The Cambridge Companion to British Fiction since 1945 (Cambridge University Press, 2015), which will hopefully remain a genuinely useful resource for students and teachers alike, and the scholarly collection Modernism and Close Reading (Oxford University Press, 2018). This new book builds on my longstanding interests in the critical genealogies and theoretical transformations of reading. It hosts a group of world-renowned critics to examine the institutional histories and disciplinary futures of close reading at a time when modernist studies is expanding in unprecedented methodological directions.