Kate Marshall, Thomas J. and Robert T. Rolfs Assistant Professor of English, has won the 2014 Dorothy Lee Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Culture for her book Corridor: Media Architectures in American Fiction (University of Minnesota Press, 2013). The award is given by the Media Ecology Association at their annual summer meeting.
Below, Dr. Marshall tells us a bit about her work and the award:
Congratulations on your award! Can you tell us a bit about Corridor?
Corridor shows how the invisible domestic and institutional architectures that organize modern life have a fascinating history organizing the structure of modern persons. It argues that a range of novels fitting uncomfortably in the study of American modernism (by Dreiser, Wright, Cather, and Roth, for example) refer to their own status as media in this space. These novels demonstrate a heightened amount of anxiety about the epistemological status of the corridor in the early decades of the twentieth century that had significant consequences for the figuration of modern persons and their interiors. Corridor works with systems theory and German media studies (two approaches often unfamiliar in the American academy) to develop a new idiom for literary criticism.
Your award is for outstanding scholarship in the "ecology of culture." What, exactly, does "ecology of culture" mean?
The Dorothy Lee Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Culture is awarded to works that "focus on the ethnographic or intercultural analysis of communication, perception, cognition, consciousness, media, technology; material culture, and/or the natural environment." The Media Ecology Association, which sponsors the award, is devoted to scholarship in media studies in the wake of the work of Marshall McLuhan and the Toronto School of Media Theory. According to Neil Postman, "Media ecology looks into the matter of how media of communication affect human perception, understanding, feeling, and value; and how our interaction with media facilitates or impedes our chances of survival.” To speak of an “ecology of culture” is to understand culture as a media environment, a message system, and a network of communications that structure our world and selves.
So, what's your next project?
Corridor examined forms of mediation in the modern American novel, and offered a challenge to traditional modernist accounts of narrative personhood. My new work takes up some of the narrative premises with which I was working in that project and extends them into a much larger range of literary history. I’m studying a figure and conceptual apparatus that has been animating humanist scholarship in the twenty-first century: the nonhuman. I begin with an interest in why a number of writers attached to the long tradition of the realist novel yet fitting uneasily into some of its more stridently defended parameters have been experimenting with narrators who are close to, but not quite the humans of realist fiction. "Novels by Aliens," the book I am currently writing, takes up these strange narrators and asks what they reveal about the questions motivating “the nonhuman turn” in the humanities. In it, I argue that the resistance to anthropocentrism that animates contemporary critical debates surrounding the nonhuman – including speculative realism, object-oriented ontology, animal studies, and the new materialisms – has an important and overlooked expression in the history of the novel.
Kate Marshall studies 20th and 21st century American literature, media & technology, and critical theory. In addition to her appointments in the Department of English and the History and Philosophy of Science Program, she is also a concurrent faculty member in the American Studies department. You can also check out her work at Post45, "a collective of scholars working on American literature and culture since 1945," where she is a contributor.