I have a second project at the research phase on the cultural residues of biodiversity loss and species extinction. I've been exploring these interests along a number of paths: teaching an undergraduate course at the University of Virginia on extinction in art and literature from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, as well as an archival project on the cultural records of extinction in the university's Special Collections library. The first phase of the project culminated in a public exhibition, "Extinction in the Archive" (2019-2020). This project was profiled in the Editor's Column, "Refusing Extinction" by Wai Chee Dimock (Harvard University) in PMLA 136.3 (May 2021).
These have helped lay the groundwork for my second project, bringing together materials of extinction with novelistic expressions of the material world. If the period from the late nineteenth century to the present is the age of humanmade extinction, it is also the period of the novel’s rise as the dominant literary genre of modernity. If we were to view the literary production of this period through the lens of extinction, what would we see? The novel and species extinction take place on different scales. The novel usually takes the everyday, the intimate particularities, the on-the-ground view of life as its purview; it is always working with the immediately experienced, variously expressed. Extinction, even if it is happening at an accelerated rate, usually takes place beyond the scale of individual human experience; it defies the viewpoint of the everyday even as we realize that it permeates the very fabric of the world. My project finds the cultural records of behaviors contributing to biodiversity loss in the material worlds of novels to bring together scales of extinction and experiences of the 'everyday', producing a radically altered view of the novel’s historical possibility.