Student Spotlight: Mike Becker

Today, we’re introducing a new segment on the URI English blog entitled “Student Spotlights”. These spotlights highlight the exciting and important things our graduate students are doing on and off the campus. The first spotlight is focused on PhD candidate Mike Becker, who is slated to graduate this May. We asked Mike to give us a little background about his scholarly interests and activities, as well as a sneak peek at his fascinating dissertation project involving “tastes” within British Modernism .

mikeHi, I’m Mike Becker and I’m currently completing my  final year as Ph.D. candidate at the University of Rhode Island in the English Department. My primary field is British Modernism and my dissertation project explores both literal (gustatory) and figurative (social and aesthetic) tastes in British Modernist novels. In my first chapter I focus on the character Leonard Bast, a hungry modern autodidact attempting to balance comestible and cultural consumption, in E. M. Forster’s Howards End (1910), arguing that Bast engages in a type of snobbery through his judgments in taste and his efforts to gain cultural capital. In my second chapter on Not So Quiet… (1930), written by Evadne Price (under the pseudonym Helen Zenna Smith), I explore the importance of location in literary depictions of WWI food consumption, analyzing characters that rely on supplemental food products sent to the front trenches in care packages and, later, return to dine in the grand hotel restaurants in London as WWI continues to rage. Focusing primarily on the famous Boeuf en Daube scene of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (1927) and drawing upon both culinary science and the kinetic molecular theory of matter, my third chapter identifies and highlights Woolf’s “liquid aesthetic” as a central concern in the novel, an aesthetic experiment that allows Woolf to draw disparate individualized characters into community without collapsing their separate identities. My final chapter on Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight (1939) explores the three parallel figures of the passport, the international exhibition, and the interwar Parisian restaurant to explore how Rhys’s novel theorizes national identity in a complex, interwar, cosmopolitan context.

While conducting my research on British Modernism and issues of taste, I am teaching with the Department of English — ENG 201 (Principles of Literary Study) this Spring 2015 semester. I am also co-chair, along with Miryam Yusufov (Ph.D. candidate at URI in Clinical Psychology), of the 2015 URI Graduate Student Conference. In addition to my research, teaching, and service at URI, I work on multiple other projects. Together with my fellow English Ph.D. candidate Derick Ariyam, I am a co-founder of the website —launched in 2011 — which organizes academic calls for papers from around the globe by geography as well as topic and date. In the fall of 2014, Derick and I launched a small business that provides software solutions to large regional humanities conferences, streamlining their membership databases and conference planning.

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