I was awarded the Malcolm Bradbury prize in 2016 and thanks to the generous grant provided by BAAS, I spent November 2016 carrying out invaluable research in New York.
My project is a cross-border study of Canadian and U.S. writing that identifies linguistic and formal innovation as the primary site of contestation of the emergence of neoliberal discourses. Through my close-reading methodology, I analyse the use of polysemy and narrative fragmentation in contemporary North American writing and argue that these techniques shift the creation of meaning, and the structuring of narratives, to the reader in order to deconstruct the language, logic, and spatiality of neoliberalism. I argue that neoliberal ideology naturalises the imagined seamless space of the globalised world which is
pivotal to veiling the uneven development that undermines the entire neoliberal narrative. My thesis therefore focuses on the way literature—as a nexus of social, political, cultural and economic contexts—responds to this metanarrative. My thesis focuses on the parallels between socially contextual meaning-making and the production of space under contemporary capitalism, with theoretical underpinnings rooted in the work of Henri Lefebvre and elaborated on by Neil Smith and David Harvey.
During my trip to New York I had access to the Center for Place, Culture and Politics at City University New York where Neil Smith, David Harvey and Jeff Derksen—all three cornerstones of my thesis—worked together in the early 2000s. I was also able to make use of the extensive chapbook and journal collections at Poets House, as well as study spaces and collections at the New York Public Library.
The Center for Place, Culture and Politics at City University New York Graduate Center has a lively schedule of events that pertain to my research interests around theorising neoliberalism. Not only did attending these events get me thinking about the subject in new and cross-disciplinary ways, but they gave me the opportunity to meet and converse with a diverse range of individuals inside and outside of the academy. The conversations I had during my time in New York broadened the theoretical underpinnings of my thesis. They also, perhaps most valuably, helped me to work through issues I was contemplating around praxis, which made me more confident in, and passionate about, my thesis. While this latter subject is not strictly research, I believe these kinds of confidence-building moments and interactions are vital to a PhD process which can too often quietly instil self-doubt and alienation.
During my time in New York I spent a great deal of time at Poets House—a fantastic poetry library and study space. I had originally planned to visit Poets House only a few times, but it quickly became the mainstay of my research trip. Their vast collection of poetry, journals and chapbooks allowed me to trace the evolution of Language Poetry. Access to small press publications and rare chapbooks provided me with a detailed insight into the development of the theories and practices of these poets that, in turn, influence the two poets at the heart of my thesis (Jeff Derksen and Juliana Spahr). This critical context now forms the opening of my thesis’ first chapter.
Poets House ended up giving me an unexpectedly stimulating study space—I was quite literally immersed in poetry! The focus of this research trip was to hone my theoretical framework for analysing a poetics of combined and uneven development in post-1990 novels and poetry, and this framework had grown out of a love for poetry. To be surrounded by all the contemporary poetic material I could ask for facilitated not only the fine-tuning of theory, but also a very productive writing regime which culminated in a completed chapter and an article now ready for submission.
Thanks to proximity, I was able to take a weekend trip across the border to Windsor, Ontario to visit two professors that had taught me in my 2008 year abroad and sowed the seeds for my eventual pursuit of doctoral study. Though partly an indulgent catch-up, my visit to Dr Louis Cabri and Dr Nicole Markotic ended up doubling my reading list. Their combined expertise in contemporary poetry is tough to match, and I had plenty of useful conversations about the direction of my thesis and future career. I also came away from this visit with a limited issue chapbook by Robert Kroetsch that worked perfectly alongside Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon in my PhD’s second chapter.
I was greatly supported by the staff at Poets House, as well as heartened and encouraged by all of my interactions with fellow scholars at City University New York and the University of Windsor, Ontario. I completed all of the research objectives I had set myself, but I could not have anticipated how much this trip would reignite my passion for my thesis. I cannot stress how important this was for me, and I would like to thank BAAS for this opportunity—without their assistance it would not have been at all possible.
Samuel J Cooper is a PhD student at the University of Nottingham.