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Prof. Patrick Redding

Assistant Professor (Fall 2010-present)

Patrick ReddingI am interested in the conceptual implications of literary form, and in the way that literature responds to philosophical problems, political movements, and historical circumstances. In particular, I am drawn to the study of American literature as it interacts with the theory and practice of liberal democracy. My work shows how democratic beliefs find expression in 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 so far suggests that the American devotion to equality often generates a certain degree of exaggeration and wishful thinking about the coherence and efficacy of democratic government. For this reason I remain just as attentive to the shortcomings and failures of democratic practice as to its moments of utopian promise. These interests allow me to travel across several academic fields--literary studies, intellectual history, social and political theory--so as to grasp American cultural problems and dilemmas in all their aesthetic richness and historical complexity.

My dissertation focused on democratic ideas and imaginings across a range of modern American poets. Over the past several years, I have been revising and expanding this research into a book-length study, Democracy Unbound: American Poetry and the Scope of Equality, 1850-1940. This project explores how ideas about social and political equality were developed and debated within cultural jurisdictions far removed from the hustle and bustle of electoral politics from 1850 to 1940. Each chapter links several American poets to a cultural debate animated by concerns about democracy: Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg on poetic form; Ezra Pound, Harriet Monroe, and Marianne Moore on aesthetic judgment; Whitman and William Carlos Williams on the dignity of bodily desires; Claude McKay and Langston Hughes on race and architectural space. The book tracks how intellectual arguments and social movements affected poetic practice in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. By crossing traditional boundaries of literary period and school (Gilded Age, Realist, Modernist) as well as historical era (Civil War, Reconstruction, Progressive, New Deal), I hope to cast a newly democratic light on the history of modernist art and culture and draw attention to the significance of poetry for understanding American intellectual and cultural history.

Several essays related to this project have been published in academic journals. A piece that appeared in New Literary History in 2010 surveys democratic ideologies of poetic form circa 1910-1931 Another article on the paradoxical status of heroism within democracies 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 book reviews on modern poetry and politics have appeared in journals such as College Literature, The Wallace Stevens Journal, and The Hedgehog Review. A piece that reflects on my experience as a teacher of modern poetry is currently under review at Modernism / Modernity.

While my research thus far has focused mostly on the genre of poetry, in the years ahead I plan to turn to the fraught relationship between the American novel and the emergence of the social sciences circa 1880-1960. As a theoretical prelude to this investigation, I have recently drafted an article on the ideal of explanation in literary histories that rely on quantitative methods.

My recent conference activity grows out of my ongoing interest 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 will be interviewing Amanda Anderson (Brown U.) and John McGowan (UNC-Chapel Hill) for a panel 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," "The Age of Realism," "American Modernism," "American Literature after 1945," "American Poetry," and "Fitzgerald and Hemingway." I have also offered classes on 20th century British literature. Recently, I debuted a new course entitled, "Text, Image, Screen, Web: Reading and Writing Literature in the Digital Age," which surveys a range of connected topics: printed books vs. e-readers, remixes and mash ups, irony and the internet, novels that incorporate email and texts, the growth of graphic novels, and the emerging field of the digital humanities.  I am developing a new course on the history of the novel, "The Forms of American Fiction."

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 that works of literature can generate enduring examples of existential identification (and disidentification), deliver distinct forms of verbal 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 (though one who acknowledges the slipperiness of terms like "American," "literature," and "culture"), I hope to contribute in some small way to a more thoughtful and articulate democratic citizenry.

Links to Selected Publications:

"Whitman Unbound: Democracy and Poetic Form, 1912-1931," New Literary History 41:3 (Summer 2010): 669-90.

"Everyday Nobility: Stevens and the Paradoxes of Democratic Heroism," The Wallace Stevens Journal 36:1 (Spring 2012): 23-46.

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.