Monday, November 19, 2012

Travis Foster

I write and teach about American literature up to roughly 1900. My current work focuses on how popular literary conventions influence social life. I’m particularly interested in those moments when widespread aesthetic forms challenge normative modes of social, familial, and national belonging. Hence the project I’m completing, Democratic Affections: Literary Convention and the Politics of Friendship in Civil War America, identifies a body of widely circulating yet critically neglected texts that depart from dominant postbellum historiography by fermenting dissent and division rather than national reunion and racialized fraternity. Because the project’s archive—campus novels, regionalist sketches, gospel sermons, and over one-hundred Civil War elegies—resists dominant close reading methods, I’m also interested in critical practices more attentive to the conventional, including distant reading, uncritical reading, genre criticism, and performance studies.

My next project—tentatively titled The Queer Lives of Plants: Sex, Botany, Literature—takes up another popular (and popularizing) nineteenth-century discourse, botany. In my research so far, I’m finding that writers from Erasmus Darwin to Henry David Thoreau to H.D. used botany for two overlapping purposes: first, to represent gendered and sexual deviance among humans and, second, to construe ecology as a set of affectively rich exchanges between humans and other carbon-based life. My overarching aim here will be to trace a 150-year genealogy of queer ecological thought that de-naturalizes “nature” and conceptualizes intimacy beyond the interpersonal to what we might broadly call the inter-material.



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