A colorful and captivating visual exploration of book design, with never-before-seen sketches, mock-ups, and case studies of recent and best-selling novels, plus insider interviews with novelists and publishing executives that bring to light the inspiration, methods, and creative genius behind the book covers that grace our shelves.
A study of the relationship between fiction and visual art in the context of twenty-first century media and culture. Novelists include Zadie Smith, Tom McCarthy, Ben Lerner, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, and Don DeLillo––and important precursors such as Henry James, Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin, and W. G. Sebald. Engagements with the visual arts include photography, site-specificity, conceptual art, and performance.
Site Reading offers a new method of literary and cultural interpretation and a new theory of narrative setting by examining five sites (supermarkets, dumps, roads, ruins, and asylums) that have been crucial to American literature and visual art since the mid-twentieth century. Against the traditional understanding of setting as a static background for narrative action and character development, this book argues that sites figure in novels as social agents. Engaging a wide range of social and cultural theorists, especially Bruno Latour and Erving Goffman, Site Reading examines how the literary figuration of real, material environments reorients our sense of social relations.
Each chapter identifies a particular site as a point of contact for writers and artists—the supermarket for Don DeLillo and Andy Warhol; the dump for William Burroughs and Mierle Laderman Ukeles; the road for Jack Kerouac, Joan Didion, and John Chamberlain; the ruin for Thomas Pynchon and Robert Smithson; and the asylum for Ralph Ellison, Gordon Parks, and Jeff Wall—and shows how this site mediates complex interactions among humans and nonhumans. The result is an interdisciplinary study of American culture that brings together literature, visual art, and social theory to develop a new sociology of literature that emphasizes the sociology in literature.
Alworth, David J. Forthcoming. “Social Space and the Novel.” The Oxford History of the Novel in English: American Fiction Since 1940. Vol. 8. Oxford University Press. Abstract
An essay on social space and the novel that focuses on American fiction since 1940. This essay is paired with an "exemplum" on the method of "site reading."
Alworth, David J. Forthcoming. “Latour & Literature.” Theory Matters: The Place of Theory in Literary and Cultural Studies. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Abstract
In this essay, I track the relation between Latour and literature, especially as it ramifies in his recent work, and offer three ways of conceptualizing it in the context of current debates about methodology within the discipline of literary studies. Then, I demonstrate how another thinker, the sociologist Erving Goffman, can be understood as an important precursor to Latour. Finally, by tracing the parallels between these two thinkers, I argue for a new interpretive method—a ‘sociology of literature’ that would seek to apprehend the sociology in literature—and I briefly exemplify a version of this method through a reading of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, his 2006 postapocalyptic novel. My ultimate aim is not to show that either Latour’s ANT or Goffman’s dramaturgical sociology offers the hermeneutic key to a given literary text, but to suggest that these two thinkers provide compelling provocations to the discipline of literary studies at present, during a moment when critics are exploring basic questions of how, why, and even whether to read.
This essay argues for a new understanding of the relationship between imaginative literature and sociology by examining sociologist Erving Goffman's engagement with Herman Melville. First, it provides an account of Goffman's project, suggesting that he was remarkably attentive to the force of nonhuman entities (e.g. material things, built structures) within the "interaction order," the zone of face-to-face exchange between individuals. Goffman's attention to the nonhuman, I argue, aligns him with Bruno Latour and other sociologists associated with Actor-Network-Theory, and it helps to account for his interest in Melville. I contend that he viewed Melville as a quasi-sociologist, a keen analyst of social interaction, whose fiction is especially attuned to the role of the nonhuman. I play out this understanding of Melville by analyzing several key works (i.e. White-Jacket, Moby-Dick, "I and My Chimney," Mardi, and Typee), and I conclude by suggesting that a new sociology of literature might understand authors like Melville less as objects of analysis than as allies in the endeavor to apprehend social experience.
Examining Pynchon's strange and fascinating treatment of Malta as a ruin, this article argues that the novelist was pursuing a certain paradox, representation without resemblance, that animated site-specific art in the 1960s and 70s, the work of Robert Smithson in particular. Tracking the links between Pynchon and Smithson, it then goes on to elaborate a method of literary analysis that it calls "site reading."
This article suggests that an unlikely site, the contemporary supermarket, is central to the sociological theory of Bruno Latour. It then examines the role of the supermarket in literary and visual art, arguing that the work of Don DeLillo and Andy Warhol, among others, simultaneously clarifies and complicates Latour's main claims about actors and agency in the social world.