Prof. Patrick Redding
I have been a member of the English Department since 2010.
I am interested in the conceptual and political implications of literary form, and in the way that literature responds to philosophical and historical contexts. In particular, I am drawn to the study of American literature as it interacts with the system and history of liberal democracy. My work shows how democracy gives rise to distinct technologies of literary representation, such as poetic free verse, vernacular song, realist fiction, muckraking journalism, documentary film, and modernist abstraction and collage. The research I've conducted suggests that the American devotion to democracy often generates a certain degree of exaggeration and wishful thinking, and so I remain just as attentive to fantasies about democracy--including its inevitable shortcomings and failures--as in its qualified successes. These concerns allow me to travel across several academic fields--literary studies, intellectual history, and political theory--in order to grasp American cultural problems and dilemmas in all their aesthetic richness and historical complexity.
My dissertation (Yale, 2010) focused on the imagination of democracy in the context of modern America poetry (Whitman, Crane, Moore, Stevens). For the past few years, I have been revising and expanding this research into a monograph, provisionally entitled Democracy Unbound: American Poetry and the Scope of Equality, 1850-1940. This project considers the way that American poets, intellectuals, and reformers imagined and implemented democracy as a way of life. Rather than view democracy as a formal mechanism for the popular distribution of state power, the figures of my study display an intense desire that equality take root in areas of human life not normally imagined in political terms. They did so in a wide range of discursive venues: from modernist "little magazines" to the front page of national newspapers, from public speeches by anarchists to op-eds by conservatives, from progressivist screeds on marriage to bohemian tracts on free love, from architectural plans for industrial-age schoolrooms, apartment houses, and urban parks. Democracy Unbound examines how ideas about social and political equality came to be promoted, applied, and sometimes rejected in cultural jurisdictions far removed from the hustle and bustle of electoral politics. Fittingly enough, this study moves beyond strict boundaries of literary period (Gilded Age, realist, modernist) and historical era (Civil War, Reconstruction, Progressive, New Deal) in order to show how a series of debates that began in the latter half of the 19th c. continued to inform poetic practice and intellectual production in the first half of the 20th c. By situating American poetry in this wider historical context, I hope to cast a newly democratic light on the history of modernism and to draw attention to the role played by American poetry in intellectual and cultural history. As I work towards completion of the manuscript, I will be drafting new chapters on the relation of race and space in Langston Hughes's poetry; and the politics of the senses in the work of W.C. Williams.
Several articles from this project have been published in academic journals. A piece that appeared in New Literary History surveys democratic ideologies of poetic form circa 1910-1931. Another article on the paradoxes of democratic heroism appeared in a special issue of The Wallace Stevens Journal on "Stevens and the Everyday" in Spring 2012. A study of Marianne Moore's idea of democratic taste appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of Twentieth-Century Literature. Several reviews touching on related subjects have appeared in journals such as College Literature and The Hedgehog Review.
While my research thus far has focused on the political implications of American poetry, in the years ahead I plan to turn my attention to the fraught relationship between the American novel and the social sciences circa 1880-1960, and to assess the uncertain status of secularism in African-American literature and culture.
My recent conference activity grows out of my interests in modernism and political theory. At the MLA in January 2013, I gave a paper entitled "American Poetry and the Cultural Politics of the Private Realm" for a special session on "Hannah Arendt and American Literature" that I co-organized with Matthew Stratton from UC-Davis. At MLA in 2014, I am organizing a panel, along with Amanda Anderson (Brown) and John McGowan (UNC), entitled "Bleak or Comic? A Conversation on the Ethos and Aesthetics of Liberalism."
At Manhattanville, I teach a range of courses on American literature, including "Introduction to American Literature," "American Modernism," "American Literature after 1945," "American Poetry," and "Fitzgerald and Hemingway." I also offer classes on 20th century British literature and reading literature in a digital age. In the Fall of 2011, I debuted a new course entitled, "Text, Image, Screen, Web: Reading and Writing Literature in the Digital Age," which focused on debates about printed books vs. e-readers, remix culture, irony and the internet, novels that incorporate marginal drawings and email, graphic novels, and the emerging field of the digital humanities.
In all of my classes, I try to impart the value of slow, scrupulous, sensitive reading and clear, logical, precise writing. My assignments are usually geared towards comparative analysis (between styles, historical periods, analytic terms, or media formats) with the aim of generating an awareness of fine-grained distinctions and persistent continuities over time and space. I approach teaching as a theatrical performance that can model habits of alertness, convey the joys of imaginative discovery, and embody the rewards of sustained reflection. The immediate goal is to speak eloquently and argue convincingly about writers with a genius for the English language; the broader aim is to better read ourselves and the world around us in the past, present, and future.
I believe literature can generate enduring examples of existential identification (and disidentification), deliver distinct forms of pleasure not found in other forms of media or technology, and stir us into a more pronounced historical self-consciousness. As a teacher of American literature and culture (who acknowledges the limits of categories such as "American," "literature," and "culture"), I hope to contribute in some small way to a better informed and more articulate democratic citizenry.
Links to Selected Publications:
Review of Milton A. Cohen, Beleaguered Poets and Leftist Critics: Stevens, Cummings, Frost, and Williams in the 1930s (Univ. of Alabama Press, 2010) in The Wallace Stevens Journal 34:2 (Fall 2010): 256-60.
Manhattanville College is located in Purchase, New York on a beautiful 100-acre suburban campus, 10 minutes from downtown White Plains and just 30 miles from New York City. It has an amazingly diverse mix of students from more than 30 states and 50 countries. The College has 1,700 undergraduates and 1,000 graduate students.
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