Research

Current Projects
I am presently engaged in writing a book, "Frontier/Grotesque in the Novels of William Faulkner." This work examines William Faulkner's novels as history, myth, and rhetorical transactions. My thesis, briefly, is that the process through which colonizing cultures turn the space outside their culture's control (wilderness) into space inside their culture's control (settlement) is a function of rhetoric--an act of translation--and the rhetorical mode that accomplishes this translation is the grotesque. In his historical fictions Absalom, Absalom!, The Hamlet, and Go Down, Moses, Faulkner uses the grotesque to express his sense of the South as space unsettled by a grotesque juxtaposition of cultural myths: the regional mythology of the plantation and the national mythology of the frontier. In these novels Faulkner depicts young men of his own generation trying to come to terms with a morally untenable legacy of imperial and colonialist ideology. This manuscript is under contract with Routledge.

I am developing a new but related project on "Faulkner's Proper Frontier," using the term "proper" to mean the opposite of "grotesque." One of my dissertation readers was Joe Urgo, who has long championed Faulkner's later novels. It bothered Joe that I was treating The Hamlet but not the two later Snopes novels, The Town and The Mansion. At the time of my defense, I had no explanation for the omission except a vague sense that they didn't fit. Now that I have revised the dissertation, and I better understand exactly what I mean by "frontier/grotesque," I can state definitively that those novels do not fit. In this new work I'll explain why, pursuing a New Historicist argument about how Faulkner's abandonment of grotesque rhetoric coincides with his emergence as a representative American writer on an international stage in the 1950s. In the later Snopes novels, in The Reivers, and in the story collection Big Woods, Faulkner uses material closely related to, or drawn directly from, the historical fiction of the frontier/grotesque period, but he has abandoned the grotesque as a rhetorical strategy in favor of a markedly contained, controlled, disciplined, and proper style. The ethical struggle between regional and national mythology largely disappears from this later fiction, leaving very modest, traditional, even nostalgic contributions to the national myth of frontier.

Another new project explores the figure of the self-made man in relation to the American Dream. I'm less interested in the traditional mythology of this subject and more interested in a counter-myth, one that shows the difficulty or even impossibility of self-making in American systems of gender, family, and economics. I'll be examining patriarchy's influence on family structures and relationships, work/career opportunities, and personal freedom in Absalom, Absalom!, The Godfather, and the HBO drama Big Love, focusing specifically on Thomas Sutpen, Michael Corleone, and Bill Henrickson as men who attempt to distance themselves from their fathers and their family businesses, only to find that ambition and ongoing ties to family and culture draw them, perhaps inexorably, back in the direction of the roles and identities.

Published Research

As a graduate student, I published several articles related to my dissertation.  The first began as a presentation at the University of Mississippi's Faulkner & Yoknapatawpha Conference and was later published as a chapter in the volume Faulkner in Cultural Context.  It foreshadowed the dissertation that was to come by examining Faulkner's use of the grotesque in the rhetoric of The Hamlet.  Another related project was a chapter in Teaching Faulkner that offers insights into teaching Faulkner's story "The Bear" as an artifact of frontier mythology.

I also collaborated with my friend Joy Harris Philpott on an essay that combined her interest in body imagery and Indian captivity narratives and mine in frontier myth to examine the use of captivity imagery in Leslie Marmon Silko's novel Ceremony.  The essay was published in a special issue of the journal Paradoxa.


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