Michael Jonik teaches American literature and contemporary critical theory at the University of Sussex, and was previously a postdoctoral fellow at the Cornell University Society for the Humanities. He has won research grants from the Spanish government, the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the Leverhulme Trust. He is founding member of The British Association of Nineteenth-Century Americanists (BrANCA), and Reviews and Special Issues editor for the journal Textual Practice. He recently published Herman Melville and the Politics of the Inhuman (Cambridge University Press, 2018), and he writes on pre-1900 American literature, continental philosophy, and the history of science.
Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American literature and philosophy; contemporary French and German philosophy and critical theory; political philosophy; the history of science; the transatlantic enlightenment; the history of the novel; theories of mind, consciousness and perception; materiality and form; risk and probability
Anarchists, Scientists, Lovers, and Con-Men: Risk and the Nineteenth-Century Novel
My project will examine the emergence of systemic risk in the nineteenth-century American, British, and European novel. More specifically, through a comparative study of selected nineteenth-century texts, I will investigate how the “practice” of the novel unfolded in relation to changes in popular, philosophical and scientific perceptions of risk. The novel registers shifting political, affective, and scientific valuations of chance, accident, hazard or fortune at the level of risk’s molar and micro-social manifestations. I will argue that the novel can make legible risk’s “relational ontology”: both in terms of human collectivities and of forms of association that often include nonhuman actants. I will trace how writers such as Mary Shelley, Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Henry James, Tarde, or Conrad represent risk not only in terms of human anticipations of, or responses to, ecological or social crises, but also in terms of a complex and interrelated set of human and inhuman agencies, networks, and non-linear causalities. The multiple, indeterminate imperatives of virulence, climate, revolution, desire, material flows and physical forces shape the plots of these novels, and expose their human subjects to a radical vulnerability and interdependence in ways that problematize anthropocentric notions of individual agency.