Last semester, the Ball State English Department began a short series to celebrate and profile our newest faculty members. This week, the department continues the series of new faculty profiles by featuring Dr. Jason Gladstone. Continue reading below to see Dr. Gladstone’s interview conducted by English graduate student Craig Schmidt and don’t forget to see past profiles featuring Dr. Susanaa Benko, Dr. Miranda Nesler, Dr. Maria Windell, Prof. Liz Whiteacre, Prof. John King, and Dr. Andrea Wolfe.
Dr. Jason Gladstone is from Philadelphia, PA. He earned his BA in English from Williams College and earned his MA and PhD in English from The Johns Hopkins University. He specializes in American Literature, Culture, and Media—primarily in the post-1945 period.
Can you tell us anything about your forthcoming book, Lines in the Dirt: American Postmodernism and the Failure of Technology?
The book is primarily concerned with revising the now-standard account of the status of “technology” in post-1945 American literature and culture. Basically, most academic studies identify this period as “postmodern,” and one of the bases for this identification is the extent to which the period is characterized by technological culture’s eradication of nature. In Lines in the Dirt, I argue that the period is, in fact, characterized by a widespread effort to salvage technology from nature. The first part of the book focuses on a set of important works of literature, art, and critical theory produced between the years 1965 and 1975—the years in which postmodernism is generally understood to have emerged.
So, that part of the book consists of three chapters: one on the earthworks art of Michael Heizer and Robert Smithson, one on Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology, and one on Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Each of these chapters is organized around an analysis of a specific representation of the interaction of a manmade thing with its environment: a dirt line, a downed telephone line, a self-controlled rocket. And through the analysis of these representations of manmade things exposed to their environments—rather than, say, representations of human encounters with such things or environments—I make the argument that the set of works I am discussing do something that the now standard accounts of the postwar period don’t really register. Namely, I argue that these works break from the modernist problematic of “the machine” and reengage with the pre-modern problematic of “the artifact.” And that they do so precisely in order to mount a thoroughgoing critique of technology.
In the second part of the book, I then trace some of the post-1970s legacies of this postwar critique of technology. Mainly, I focus on some novels by North American authors such as Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler, Ben Marcus, and Karen Tei Yamashita. I also discuss some works of literary and cultural criticism, mostly works of “posthumanism” and “ecocriticism.” And I analyze some photographs, installations, and land projects by artists like Robert ParkeHarrison, Natalie Jeremijenko, and Julie Bargmann’s D.I.R.T. studio.
Is there any other research that you are currently working on (aside from your book project) or will be working on soon?
Well, there are a couple of things. I just finished an essay on nature, technology, and remediation in Henry David Thoreau’s late natural history manuscript, The Dispersion of Seeds. The essay is called “Low-Tech Thoreau,” and its forthcoming in the journal Criticism. Along with Daniel Worden of the University of New Mexico, I recently co-edited a special-issue of the journal Twentieth-Century Literature entitled “Postmodernism, Then.” The issue appeared in the fall, and it consisted of a set of scholarly essays that assessed the current state of the field of post-1945 literary studies. And now—along with Andrew Hoberek of the University Of Missouri—we are working on a related book-project called Postmodern/Postwar—And After.
Otherwise, I’ve been working on an essay-length project on informal populations and literary form. The first part of the essay is concerned with the emergence and consolidation of the now standard conception of the planet as network: the idea that the postwar globalization of economic and cultural relationships has resulted in a condition in which the fact of economic relation translates into a condition of interconnection and access. The second part of the essay then focuses on a set of contemporary novels that present a critique of this account of globalization. Basically, I look at novels such as Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange, Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, and Tom McCarthy’s Remainder, and analyze how they repurpose a set of “postmodernist” literary techniques in order to capture the ways in which the “outsides” of global systems of production and exchange consist of “populations” who cannot access the systems that intermittently incorporate them.
Is there any one topic of media that you specialize in or which particularly fascinates you?
My primary interest in media is its relation to literature. I’m interested in the way that literature interacts with other media. In other words, how non-literary, technological, media appear in works of literature: as plot devices, as formal features, as general logics, and so on. Basically, I like to track the different ways that literature reconfigures itself as a medium in order to compete with new media—from photography through contemporary digital media. So, in those regards, I’m particularly interested in the way that literature adapts aspects of different analog and digital media as it works out the particular competencies that define it as a medium at different historical junctures.
Aside from Post-1945 American Literature in general, is there a particular theme or author that pervades your work?
Well, I find myself focusing mostly on different conceptions of technology and nature, and then also on the conjunctions of literature, media, and environments. I’m also often thinking and writing about the different ways that action and perception gets conceived of and represented in works of literature—so, the different media of action or different distributions of perception. I’m interested in configurations of the relationship between human history and natural history, in how particular media or technologies appear when they are looked at from the perspective of the inorganic planet. In terms of specifically literary interests, I often end up focusing on the ways that certain nonhuman things get represented in works of literature—rocks, seeds, tools, animals, virtual environments, populations, that sort of thing.
Are there any course ideas that you have which you are waiting to get a chance to put into action?
I’d like to teach an environmental literature course in which students would actually get to interact with different types of environments (literary, built, natural, virtual) and maybe even be able to produce their own environments. It would be an immersive environmental course involving reading, viewing, travel, and interaction, and it would culminate with students getting to produce their own environmental projects.