Monday, November 19, 2012

Heather Hicks

I teach and do research in the areas of post-1945 fiction, postmodern theory, feminist fiction and theory, science fiction, and contemporary film. My book, The Culture of Soft Work: Labor, Gender, and Race in Postmodern American Narrative, explores a range of texts, from comic strips, management textbooks, Broadway musicals, and Hollywood films, to postmodern fiction by Kurt Vonnegut, Joanna Russ, Marge Piercy, and others, in order to map the cultural responses to the emergence of what I call “soft work”—labor practices driven by a set of post-World War Two management techniques, including human relations, self-actualization, and corporate culture, which conceived of workers primarily as emotional beings.

I’m currently working on a project that explores recent apocalyptic fiction written by major literary figures, including Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy, Jeanette Winterson, David Mitchell, Colson Whitehead and others. On the broadest, formal level, I’m interested in what happens when the novel, the quintessential literary expression of modernity, mingles with the much older apocalyptic tradition, which, since the Enlightenment, has become the story of the fall of modernity. In the context of work written in the last decade or so, these issues are further complicated by the rejuvenation of a perceived civilizational conflict between the forces of modernity and anti-modernity effected by the events of September 11th, 2001. Other questions I’m currently mulling over in relation to this project have to do with the vexed status of historicism in this body of recent fiction, which seems deeply invested in more cyclical and mythic modes of temporality; the significance of the sublime as a category in these narratives’ visions of cataclysm; the popularity of apocalyptic narratives among young adult readers; and what all of this might or might not have to do with a number of other social, economic, and historical paradigms, including globalization, neoliberalism, and the end of the cold war.

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