Position title: UW System Fellow (2015-2016)
Contemporary Drift: Genre and the Forms of the Present
This project begins from a deceptively simple question: what does it mean to be contemporary? While the question sounds practically timeless, the contemporary is in fact a relatively recent invention. The word did not become a historical category or a disciplinary framework until the mid-twentieth century. Yet the contemporary is not like other historical periods—for the simple reason that, as something that is ongoing and open-ended, it is not yet historical. The increasing prevalence of this not-quite-historical category suggests a deeper uncertainty about what it means to think about the present—our own living history—today. How do we manage to make sense of our contemporary moment? And how are those efforts reflected in the critical concepts and cultural forms we consider contemporary? Taking up these questions, “Contemporary Drift” has two central aims. It elaborates the challenges the contemporary poses to standard modes of historical understanding. And it argues that those challenges shape both the political concerns and the aesthetic forms of the field we call contemporary literature. Ultimately, this book shows how the calamitous histories of our contemporary moment—from the rise of postindustrial capitalism to the crisis of a changing climate—are first inscribed in the forms that help us think about the concept of the contemporary itself.
Theodore Martin is Assistant Professor of English at the UW-Milwaukee. He specializes in post-1945 American and British fiction. His work has appeared in Modern Language Quarterly and Novel: A Forum on Fiction, and is forthcoming in the edited volume Postmodern/Postwar and After (University of Iowa Press). He is currently finishing a book titled “Contemporary Drift: Genre and the Forms of the Present.” He is also writing the entry on “Temporality” for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature.