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Benjamin Kirbach

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Research Interests

20th/21st-century fiction, film, media studies, phenomenology, postmodernism, new materialism

I’m a doctoral candidate in English (ABD). Informed by the (neo)pragmatist view that literature “is” whatever an interpretive community says it is, my methodology locates texts and their medial configurations as hybrid entities always at the crosscurrents of authors and audiences. Compelled more broadly by phenomenology and the structuring of sense perception, I focus on technology’s deep imbrication with our ability to navigate the world of things. I am drawn most often to texts that work to disrupt perceptual paradigms through techniques like defamiliarization, détournement, culture-jamming, “weird” and sf worldbuilding. These themes also inform my teaching, where I invite my students to develop an ethics of philosophical skepticism as they read and think critically about the world.

My dissertation tracks the transformations of postmodernism in the digital era. “Transformations” is key—beyond a study like Alan Kirby’s Digimodernism (2009), which argues that postmodernism has been replaced by a new cultural dominant, I argue that postmodernism has rather been reconfigured, or indeed remediated, by digital technologies. Grounded in media theory and object-orientated ontology, my central concern becomes the pervasive material networks sunk beneath the threshold of perceptual awareness, an implosion of technics producing new and unseen sites of commoditization, surveillance, and post-hegemonic power. I trace this lineage through the critical categories of “surface” and “symptom,” arguing that contemporary texts like The Matrix or the past decade’s infatuation with zombie narratives both engage with, and are themselves products of, the subsumption of the machine into interface—the apparatus under erasure.

At The University of Iowa, I have taught Foundations of the English Major, Rhetoric, and General Education Literature. I have served as an undergraduate academic advisor and have chaired the Association of Graduate Students in English. I am currently an Associate Editor of the Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies. My work has appeared in the Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies and in After the Program Era: The Past, Present, and Future of Creative Writing in the University (Ed. Loren Glass, University of Iowa Press, 2016).