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Indiana University Bloomington

Jonathan Elmer

Jonathan Elmer


Director, College Arts and Humanities Institute

Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 1990

My research attempts to demonstrate that literature is good to think with, that the figurative imagination provides uniquely supple and condensed treatments of a host of historical, psychological, political, and conceptual problems. I am an antebellum Americanist by training—my first book was on Edgar Allan Poe and mass culture in America —but my research and teaching increasingly consider colonial and early national eras, and writers of the anglophone Atlantic world from Aphra Behn to Thomas Jefferson to Herman Melville. Some of this research animates On Lingering and Being Last: Fictions of Race and Sovereignty in the New World (Fordham 2008). I am currently working on a project exploring the nature of play as a social, aesthetic, and interpretive phenomenon.

My writing and teaching are informed by a variety of theoretical approaches (deconstruction, psychoanalysis, systems theory, phenomenology, new historicism, science studies) and I regularly teach theory, philosophy, and criticism at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. I have published essays on trauma theory, systems theory, contemporary film, race, and the concept of the archive, and I have taught graduate seminars in topics ranging from "Race and Sovereignty" to "Melville and Criticism" to "Lacan." My undergraduate teaching ranges from early American literature, nineteenth-century American literature, to special topics courses on "The 1930’s" and "Black Humor in 20th-Century American Literature." I have directed or served on dissertations with topics such as "Law and Native American Autobiography," "The Phenomenology of Possession in Antebellum American Literature," "Naturalism and Schizoanalysis," "Naturalism, Modernism, and Urban Narrative," "Modernism and Waste," and "Film Theory and Affect."

Postmodern Jazz Quartet

I am involved in various interdisciplinary groups: the American Studies Program, the Americanist Research Colloquium, the Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies, and the Center for Theoretical Studies in the Humanities.

I also play the trombone, and have performed in France, South Africa, and Bloomington, Indiana, and have had the good luck at one time or another to share a stage with Benny Carter, Darius Brubeck, Bang on a Can All-Stars, and Dizzy Gillespie. I currently play with the Postmodern Jazz Quartet, Jason Fickel, Blue Sky Back, and other local artists, all of which explains the picture to the right.

Recent Courses

L751: Race and Sovereignty in the Anglophone Atlantic, 1650-1850.
L680: Romantic Atlantics (with Mary Favret)
L653: 19thC American Literature
L651: Early American Writing
L371: Critical Practices
L354: The 1930's
L351: American Literature 1800-1865
L350: Early American Literature and Culture
E303: Literatures in English, 1800-1900 (with Andrew Miller)
L141: "Play!"

Selected Publications (click images for more information)

On Lingering And Being LastOn Lingering And Being Last: Race And Sovereignty In The New World (Fordham University Press, 2008)

Reading At The Social Limit: Reading At The Social Limit: Affect, Mass Culture, & Edgar Allan Poe (Stanford University Press, 1995)

Here is a link to a hard-to-find essay on Poe I wrote after completing Reading At The Social Limit, titled “The Jingle Man.”

Two essays that extend lines of thought from the book are "Torture and Hyperbole” (Law, Culture, and the Humanities 3, 2007) and “Babo’s Razor” (differences 19.2, Summer 2008).