About

I recieved my PhD in American Studies from Harvard University last spring.  I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts and serve as a residential tutor in Lowell House.  Currently I am working as a freelance editor as I navigate the academic job market.

I am trained mainly in American Literature and American Art History, but I like to call myself a chronocritic, because my dissertation has pushed me into something of an obsession with the nature of time.  This has compelled me to branch out widely into posthumanism, Anthropocene studies, environmentalism, extinction, and ecocriticism broadly.  My personal interest in time derives from my own sense of mortality, or the very real but not yet cataloged temporal mental illness known as FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).  I await the DSM-VI categorization for this illness.  For me, Time Studies is simultaneously a passion, an academic pursuit, and a therapeutic pastime.  I believe that what individuals assume as their operating temporal metaphor fundamentally shapes their world view, how they treat people around them, how they treat the world around them, in a word, their ethics, and that these metaphors are often overlooked and underexamined.

My dissertation research proposes a new category of monumentality, the “future monument.” Unlike most monuments, which ask us to remember the past, future monuments are built explicitly to manifest an imagination of the future. I focus on three different monuments spanning the twentieth century, specifically the 1939 World’s Fair, the NASA Voyager Golden Record, and the 10,000 Year Clock of the Long Now Foundation. These temporally strange monuments offer perspective on changing American cultural values and anxieties across the century, as well as both eco- and chronocritical analysis. They show how imagined futures, even if never realized, still pressure the present. Through this research, I hope to help shape the larger emerging field of time studies and show the many ways that assumptions and metaphors of time tremendously impact how people treat each other and the world around them. In the words of Arthur C. Clarke:

“The future isn’t what it used to be.”

 

Other Projects in Progress:
The Extinctuary – A Hub of All Things Extinction.
Time Giant – The Center for Chronocriticism.
Venice Vidi Vici – I spent four summers teaching in Venice.  This website is something of a travel guide.
Lowell House Tutor I am a residential tutor, bell ringer, and mentor at large to some 400 undergrads.  I also run the house social media.
Grad School Vocab
 – A Dictionary of Academese I’ve collected while in graduate school.
The Encantadas – My online annotated edition of Herman Melville’s novella.

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Horizons Portrait.jpgPhoto by Stu Rosner

3 replies »

  1. A great book about time is Circles and Lines by John Demos. It is about the shift from cyclical to linear time. Demos shows how the older sense of time persisted into early American culture. The fall into historical time transformed society.

    Nostalgia is also an interesting topic. It originated as a label for a disease in the late 18th century. It seems closely related to what Julian Jaynes wrote about with the loss of divine voices and the profound longing it created.

    It would also involve such things as Eric Hobsbawms’ invented tradtions. Corey Robin and Mark Lilla see nostalgia as central to the reactionary mind. Maybe all of Jaynesan consciousness tends toward the reactionary.

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2019/08/19/the-disease-of-nostalgia/
    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2019/01/26/reactionary-mind-is-not-normal/

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    • Thanks! I have indeed read Demos, and I worked with Svetlana Boym before she passed. I wrote quite a wild paper for her on F Scott Fitzgerald in Queens–ended up becoming a chapter of my dissertation. Thank you again for your thoughts and posts!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Over my years of reading, I’ve noticed how the theme of nostalgia, similar to anxiety (e.g., Cartesian anxiety), unites so many disparate intellectual projects.

        Nostalgia appears to be key not only to the modern mind but to the new form of mind that first appeared in the Axial Age or shortly before that in the aftermath of the Bronze Age collapse. Individual consciousness ever since has been highly anxious with a profound sense of something having been lost in the past.

        The comforting certainty of cyclical and mythical time has decreased further over the centuries and millennia. We are now at an extreme point in this progression or decline. Nostalgia helped fuel fascism earlier last century, is forcing authoritarianism back into popularity, and is becoming more intense than ever before.

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