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On the Road To Collapse: the Road Novel and the Sub/Urban Sensorias of Empire (Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Research Fellowship)



Myka Tucker-Abramson's research aims to theorise the constitutive relationship between post-war American and the wholesale respatialization carried out under the aegis of urban renewal, suburbanisation, and later deindustrialisation/hinterlandization. Her first book, Novel Shocks: Urban Renewal and the Cultural Origins of Neoliberalism (Fordham University Press 2018), began this process by re-grounding the formal innovations of the high modernist 1950s novel in the new Cold War, urban sensorias.

Myka Tucker-Abramson's second project, On the Road to Collapse expands this project geographically and temporally through a materialist theory of the “road novel.” Most accounts of the road novel describe the genre within its very mythos: as reflecting the experience of driving or essential American characteristics. Tucker-Abramson challenges these accounts, by reading the road novel as a fraught cultural field that sutured together earlier visions of Manifest Destiny and dominant Popular Front cultural forms to an emergent oil-driven modernity, propelling an expanding US empire. Like her first book, On The Road to Collapse starts in the 1950s. It tracks the transformation of automobile narratives from the diffuse, experimental, and internationalist genres associated with hobo narratives, naturalist migration novels, and expressionist accounts of automotive urbanism into this new, recognisable genre, emblematised by Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, and William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. Tucker-Abramson argues that the road novel became a particularly powerful, and eventually global genre because of its unique ability to project the seductive phantasmagorias of a new, US backed urban modernity that could bring together working-class rebellious subjectivities with those of privatised, entrepreneurial Cold War subject.

On the Road to Collapse asks how and why this new genre re-emerged and was refigured at key moments when the political and infrastructural regimes of the 1950s entered into crisis: particularly the so-called oil shock of the 1970s and the 2008 financial meltdown? Thus the book examines how and why novelists as different as Samuel Delany, Rudy Wurlitzer, Joan Didion, Octavia Butler, Erika Lopez, Chris Kraus, Jesmyn Ward, Cormac McCarthy, Valeria Luiselli, Gina Apostol and Alia Trabucco Zerán have turned to the road novel to unearth the geographies and histories of American Empire, and asks what is required or if it’s even possible to imagine a road novel against Empire?