Hi, my name is Jason Shrontz, and I’m a 4th year PhD student in the English department. I completed my exams late in the Spring of 2014. My field is the contemporary novel with a focus on new media ecology. I’m interested in the rhetoric used to describe the historically precarious position of the novel within its media ecology: the novel is dead, the novel’s not dead, witness the death of the death of the novel! My dissertation investigates how novelists assert and scrutinize their print-based technology within this new media ecology. The first chapter turns to 9/11 novels such as Jess Walter’s The Zero and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It’s my argument that literary representations of the 9/11 attack have offered a place for novelists to discuss their craft within an increasingly connected and digitized world. The proliferation of media images juxtaposed by the consummation of paper in these novels provides a fertile metaphor for exploring the anxieties of a world void of print media. Another chapter investigates how the language we use to describe our social networks and media ecology—touch screens, staying connected, losing touch—mask an increasing absence of physical contact and interaction. New media hardware is increasingly moving away from physical interaction with our environment and data (think: touch screens, apple watch, google glasses, etc.). Looking at Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, a novel in which “the days of losing touch are almost gone,” this chapter focuses specifically on the relationship between figurative and literal understandings of touch. Other chapters, which I’m still developing, focus on the novel and remediation, as well as experimental print novels that integrate new media devices.
In addition to my scholarly pursuits, I’m also an ENG 999 mentor, a graduate liaison, and an associate editor for the Ocean State Review. I have an MFA from Northern Michigan University. Though I’m currently unable to write creatively as much as I want to, my position with the OSR affords me the chance to read and think about craft. I currently teach a class on the novel and new media at URI, and I’m hard at work twitter-stalking various authors to convince them to make a digital appearance in my class. While all this stuff keeps me busy, my absolute joy comes from my family: my wife Stacey, daughter Beatrice, and son Harper. Balancing family and scholarly time is always a challenge, but I don’t think I could realize the importance of maintaining this balance without my family and their support. It helps that I’m married to someone with unlimited patience and focus and a knack for making lists and schedules. Plus, at ages two and four, I’ve found that Harper and Bea have almost exactly the same interests that I do: books, things that beep when you push buttons, air-guitaring to rock’n’roll music, and running.
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 .
Hi, 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 CFPlist.com —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.