I am interested in the political role of the literary imagination in helping to create new realities.
My first books, on Samuel Becket and Don DeLillo, developed a theory which sought to account for the political function of the literary imagination in the wake of modernism.
My subsequent books have widened the scope of this inquiry, to address the politics of literary fiction more broadly. Twenty-First-Century Fiction (2013) offered an early analysis of the formal features that were specific to the novel of the current century. The Value of the Novel (2015) reads the role of the novel in the production of modernity, from the eighteenth century to the present. The Prosthetic Imagination (2020) examines the relation between mimesis and prosthesis, as it unfolds in the novel form from Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) to the present.
My most recent book The Possibility of Literature (forthcoming 2024) is a constellatory theory of literary possibility, developed over essays I have written throughout my career, from 2002 to the present. It includes essays on ‘The idea of Beauty’, on ‘Imagining the Future’, and ‘On Rereading Proust’, and addresses writers from Melville and Dickinson to Woolf and Beckett to Zadie Smith and J. M. Coetzee.
I am currently working on two co-authored books, Our Naked Being: Beckett and Leopardi (with Peter Nicholls), and The Novel in Brief (with Nicholas Royle). At the same time I am part way through a long monograph, entitled Fictions of the West, which argues that recent years have seen a crisis in the operability of the fictions that have sustained the idea of the ‘west’ as a political entity. In the light of this crisis, the book argues, it is necessary to imagine new ways in which fictions might structure the realities that are emerging now, under contemporary geopolitical and ecological conditions.
I teach primarily in the modern and contemporary period. I have taught special author courses and a range of period courses, as well as courses on literary theory, on literature and artificiality, and on literature and film. I lecture on writers and topics from the nineteenth century to the present. I also teach across the wider historical range, on the longer history of the novel, and on the tradition of utopian imagining.
I have supervised more than thirty doctoral students, on topics ranging from science and the theatre to literature and encyclopaedism to literary economics to literature and artificial intelligence.
I came to Oxford from Sussex, where I taught from 1994 to 2023. I have also taught for NYU in London, and Gothenburg in Brighton. I have held visiting professorships at Lille University and at the Sorbonne.
Alongside my own writing, I also have a range of editorial roles. I have been the Editor in Chief of the UK journal ‘Textual Practice’ since 2009, and I am the editor of the CUP monograph series ‘Cambridge Studies in Twenty-First-Century Literature and Culture’.
I am in the process of setting up a Centre for the Study of Fiction, whose aim is to bring together colleagues from across disciplines to address the changing role and status of fiction in the contemporary moment.