Research

How I Research } { What I’m Working On } { What I’ve Published }

How I Research

My research, generally speaking, focuses on how we encounter screen-based media. I’m particularly interested in the cinema and video games, although I also speak and write about TV, YouTube, Grindr, and other contemporary media. Mostly, I consider these not at the level of content, but form: aesthetic and technical form.

Most of my work is “phenomenological” in a broad sense; some of it is phenomenological in a very narrow sense. Narrowly, this means close engagement with philosophers in the phenomenological tradition, including Maurice Merleau-Ponty (who’s my main squeeze), but also Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Emmanuel Levinas, Hans-Georg Gadamer—and more recent philosophers like Dan Zahavi and Renaud Barbaras, as well as film and media theorists like Vivian Sobchack and Mark Hansen.

In a broad sense, my work is “phenomenological” in that I take the shape and texture of an encounter as my primary object of interest and research. I start with encounters that are in some sense impasses for me: I don’t understand something about them in a way that sticks. I then try to find some terms that will give me a satisfying description of the phenomenon.

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What I’m Working On

Beyond what I’ve published below, I have a number of balls in the air:

My first book, Cinema’s Bodily Illusions: Flying, Floating, and Hallucinating, will be published in October 2016 by the University of Minnesota Press. It’s a study of direct perceptual illusion in the cinema, most centrally the feeling of flying through space, but also hallucinating and some other very weird feelings, too. (Before its encounter with the Press’s marketing department, this book used to be called Resonant Perception: Cinema, Phenomenology, Illusion. I think the new title is much better.)

My second book, for now entitled Identifications: On Encountering Others in Media, is a book about how we encounter others on screens: on film, on TV, on our laptops and iPhones. I have found myself trying to renovate the slightly musty concept of “cinematic identification” from 1970s film theory as a way to help us understand how our encounters with others are increasingly technologically mediated—with the rise of digital computing, always-on networks, and mobile devices. Below, the essays on vulgar boredom, Spider-Man, and Jackass are from this project, and I’m working on three additional chapters: about Grindr, first-person gaming, and the decidedly strange, quasi-experimental French coming out film, My Life on Ice.

I’m working on a couple of essays that push beyond these, in various stages of research and writing. I am working on a piece with James Hodge, entitled “What is an Encounter?” It’s a kind of program essay about the contemporary humanities and the waning of modernism. I am also resuscitating a bit of my dissertation that landed on the cutting room floor, setting French philosopher Gilbert Simondon alongside perceptual psychologist James J. Gibson, called “Proprioception, or Internal Resonance.”

I have a back-burner project that I am currently calling something like Stories from a Nuclear Family. My grandfather worked on the Manhattan Project as an instrumentation engineer, developing mass spectrometry and mass spectroscopy systems to determine how enriched the UF6 (uranium hexaflouride) was getting during the gaseous diffusion enrichment process. (This was one of several methods used in Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project, and was an important precursor to the centrifuge method that has caused so much recent geopolitical anxiety in countries whose name begins with I in thd Middle East.) This is a book about my grandfather, the Manhattan Project, Harold Edgerton’s high-speed photographs of above-ground nuclear tests, nuclear shadows, indexicality and historicity, my family legacy and my queer position in it, my mother and her sisters (who all had careers in science starting in the 60s and 70s), and how the hell you can write about all those things coherently.

Finally, I am working on what you might call a digital humanities practice. This was actually the impetus for this website. For the time being, much of this is pedagogical, and will go under the teaching section of the site, and the remainder is likely to get posted on the blog. I do mean this practice to be integrated across both teaching and research at some point, although I don’t yet know what this will mean. I’m hoping we can find out together.

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What I’ve Published

Links to my actually-published issues and essays and articles, out from behind paywalls, most recently published first. (My Academia.edu page has all of these, plus some lectures, conference presentations, and so on. You can also see my full CV if you’re really interested.)

The bleeding edge: forthcoming, in press, and so on. I have now only one piece that is forthcoming: “On Learning to Fly at the Movies: Avatar and How to Train Your Dragon” is an étude related to Resonant Perception, and will come out in summer 2016 in the Journal of Narrative Theory.

“Speculative Realism is Speculative Aesthetics.” With Rebekah Sheldon. This is a review essay of sorts, published in Configurations. Rebekah and I were the respondents for a book launch panel at SLSA in 2014 that Steve Shaviro put together.

“The Persistence of Formalism” is a little ditty that makes strange bedfellows of Bordwell & Thompson and Eugenie Brinkema, and will appear very soon indeed in Open-Set in a special issue entitled “The Persistence of Form,” edited by Kris Cohen and Christa Robbins, with contributors like Lauren Berlant, Daniel Morgan, and Anahid Nersessian.

Vulgar Boredom, or What Andy Warhol Can Teach Us About Candy Crush.” Published in the Journal of Visual Culture in April 2015. This essay is mostly about how we might conceptualize our bored relationships with media: what it means to be in a room with a movie, TV show, or video game that we aren’t that interested in. Which happens, you know, all the time. Also, I say some shady things about Christopher Nolan.

“New Approaches to Cinematic Identification,” a special issue of Film Criticism. With my dear friend and former colleague, Elizabeth Reich, I edited a special issue of the journal on cinematic identification, collecting a series of essays offering remarkable new takes on the topic. Our introduction does a reasonably good job of explaining why a musty concept from 1970s film theory is important to how we understand contemporary media.

The Desiring-Image: Gilles Deleuze and Contemporary Queer Cinema,” published in Cinema Journal. A review of Nick Davis’s excellent book, in which I wonder about the relationship between queer cinema and neoliberalism.

How to Look at Superheroes, or the Exorbitant Lightness of Bodies: Ilinx, Identification, and Spider-Man.” Published in Discourse in 2012. The essay uses a close analysis of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films to develop an account of “cinematic identification” that incorporates both Christian Metz’s psychoanalytical insights and Roger Caillois’s concept of ilinx as pleasurable vertigo.

‘Dude, that’s just wrong’: Mimesis, Identification, Jackass.” Published in World Picture in 2011. Despite the order of publication, this is in many ways the sequel to the Spider-Man essay. I talk about Johnny Knoxville’s paper cuts, and ask some questions about how it is we encounter bodies in pain on screens, and how Jackass gets us to laugh at them. Also engaged with the erstwhile patron saint of this website, Caillois.

Thought, Untethered.” Published in Postmodern Culture in 2011. A rather skeptical review essay of then-recent publishing in speculative realism. I remain skeptical.

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