Prof. Dr. James Dorson
Dahlem International Network Junior Research Group “American Literature and Managerialism, 1875-1925”
Academic Education and Employment
October 2014 – present
Assistant Professor for North American Literature, John F. Kennedy Institute
2014 - 2018: Head of the Dahlem International Network Junior Research Group "Fictions of Management: American Naturalism and Managerial Culture, 1875-1925," funded by the German Research Foundation's Excellence Initiative
October 2013 – October 2014
Postdoctoral Researcher, John F. Kennedy Institute
Principal Investigator on the project "Aesthetics of Mastery: American Literary Naturalism and the Cultural Foundations of Bureaucracy"
August 2011 – June 2013
Postdoctoral Researcher, Freie Universität Berlin
2007 – 2011
PhD, Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin
Dissertation: “Counternarrative Possibilities: Virgin Land, Homeland, and Cormac McCarthy’s Negative Imagination.” (summa cum laude)
Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Ulla Haselstein, Prof. Dr. Winfried Fluck, and Prof. Dr. Heinz Ickstadt.
2004 – 2007
M.A. English, Copenhagen University
Thesis: “Between Immanence and Transcendence: Resistance and Belief in Don DeLillo’s Post-Cold War Fiction.”
Supervisor: Prof. Martyn Bone.
2000 – 2003
B.A. English, Copenhagen University.
October 2018 – March 2021
Research Fellowship, Feodor Lynen Research Fellowship for Experienced Researchers, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
Publication Grant, Ernst Reuter Society
Conference Funding, German Research Foundation
Publication Grant, Ernst Reuter Society
Conference Funding, Grant from the Center for International Cooperation, Freie Universität Berlin
October 2013 – October 2014
German Research Foundation Funding (DFG “eigene Stelle”) for the project “Aesthetics of Mastery: American Literary Naturalism and the Cultural Foundations of Bureaucracy”
January – June 2013
Research Committee Grant, Freie Universität Berlin
August – December 2012
Postdoctoral Fellowship of the Center for Area Studies, Freie Universität Berlin
August 2011 – July 2012
Dahlem Research School Honorary Fellowship, Freie Universität Berlin
October 2007 – July 2011
Doctoral Grant, Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin
Conferences and Workshops
“Perspectives on Economic Criticism.” Workshop, John-F.-Kennedy-Institut, FU Berlin, 22-23 August, 2019.
“Exemplary Singularity: Fault Lines of the Anecdotal” (with Florian Sedlmeier, MaryAnn Snyder Körber, and Birte Wege), John F. Kennedy Institute, FU Berlin, February 1-3, 2018
“The Ecstasy of Gold: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Money,” Lecture Series, (with Jonathan Fox), 10/2016-02/2017.
“Fictions of Management,” organized with my Research Group, “Fictions of Management: American Naturalism and Managerial Culture, 1875-1925” (co-organizers: Jasper Verlinden and Florian Gabriel), December 8-10, 2016.
“Crossroads and Transgressions: Cormac McCarthy Between Worlds,” (with Julius Greve (University of Cologne) and Markus Wierschem (University of Paderborn)), John F. Kennedy Institute, FU Berlin, July 7-9. 2016.
“Uncertainty/Risk/Management” (with Sebastian Jobs), John F. Kennedy Institute, FU Berlin, October 26, 2015.
“Data Fiction: Naturalism, Narrative, Numbers,” John F. Kennedy Institute, FU Berlin, January 30, 2015.
“Divided We Stand – United We Fall. Perspectives on Inclusion and Exclusion in America” (co-organized with the doctoral cohort of 2007, Graduate School of North American Studies), John F. Kennedy Institute, FU Berlin, June 28-29, 2008.
“The Other Half: Literatures of American Poverty.” Summer 2021. B.A. seminar.
“The Power of You? Self-Help Literature in America.” Summer 2021. M.A. seminar.
“MA Colloquium in Literature and Culture.” Summer 2021. M.A. seminar.
Theses under Supervision
Heinrich-David Baumgart, “Evolving Collectives: Group Agency and Notions of Temporality in Discourses of Evolution, 1880 – 1920” (second supervisor)
Fabius Mayland. “Rewriting the Past, Imagining the Future: Science Fiction as a Self-Writing Genre Community” (second supervisor)
Fabian Eggers. "Aesthetics of Intimacy in Contemporary American Literature" (first supervisor)
Rabeb Ben Hania. "From Postmodernist to Post-postmodernist Aesthetics in Contemporary Women Writings" (second supervisor)
Anke Sharma. "Out of Many, One? Community, Consciousness, and the 'We' Narrative Voice in Contemporary US Fiction" (second supervisor)
Florian Gabriel. "African American Literature as Counter-Naturalism" (first supervisor)
MA theses supervised on the following topics: postmodernism, new sincerity, science fiction, trauma theory, cognitive poetics, the short story cycle, Black masculinity, economic criticism, identity and belonging, climate fiction, Native American Literature.
“Network Narratives: The Poetics of Interconnectivity.” Summer 2019. M.A. seminar.
“Posthumanism and the Novel: Brute, Cyborg, Zombie, Superhero.” Summer 2019. B.A. seminar.
“MA Colloquium in Literature and Culture.” Summer 2019. M.A. seminar.
“Writing the Early Republic: Nation-Building, Print Culture, and the Novel,” Summer 2018. B.A. seminar.
“Evolution and Literature,” Summer 2018. M.A. seminar.
“MA Colloquium in Literature and Culture,” Summer 2018. M.A. seminar.
“Methods in Literary and Cultural Studies,” Winter 2017/18. Doctoral seminar.
“The Slave Narrative,” Winter 2017/18. B.A. seminar.
“Literary Theory,” Summer 2017. Doctoral seminar.
“Introduction to Literary Theory II,” Summer 2017. B.A. seminar.
“Native American Literature,” Wi/Se 2016/17. B.A. seminar.
“American Fictions of Management,” Wi/Se 2016/17. M.A. seminar.
“The Ecstasy of Gold: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Money,” Wi/Se 2016/17. Lecture Series. Co-organized with Prof. Dr. Jonathan Fox.
“Addicted to Plot: Genre Fiction After the Literary/Genre Divide,” So/Se 2016. M.A. seminar.
“Literature and Economics in the Two Gilded Ages,” So/Se 2015. Interdisciplinary M.A. seminar.
“New Sincerity: American Literature After Postmodernism?,” So/Se 2015. B.A. seminar.
“Data Fiction: Narrative and Numbers in American Literary Naturalism,” Wi/Se 2014/15. M.A. seminar.
“The Sentimental Novel,” Wi/Se 2014/15. B.A. seminar.
“The Tormented Soul: Conversion, Confession, and Self-Fashioning in Puritan New England,” So/Se 2014. B.A. seminar.
“Cormac McCarthy in Context,” So/Se 2013. M.A. seminar.
“Novel Feelings: Representing Emotion at the Turn of the Twentieth Century”, Wi/Se 2012/2013. M.A. seminar.
“Telling vs. Showing: Narrative Authority in American Fiction”, Wi/Se 2012/2013. M.A. seminar.
“American Myths and Literary Counternarratives”, Wi/Se 2009/2010. B.A. seminar.
19th-, 20th-, and 21st-Century US Literature, Critical Theory, Economic Literary Criticism, History of Science, Critical Data Studies.
Current member of the DFG Research Network "The Failure of Knowledge/The Knowledges of Failure" (2020-2023): https://knowledge-failure.org
Past member of the DFG Research Network “Narrative Liminality and/in the Formation of American Modernities” (2018-2020)
Current Research Project
Vital Arrangements: Fictions of Organization in American Literary Naturalism
My project examines the imagination in American literary naturalism of different forms of organization in response to the perceived disorganization of society at the turn of the twentieth century. When naturalism arrived in the U.S. in the 1890s, the unsettling effects of industrialization had produced a widespread sense of crisis. At the same time, intersections of evolutionary theory and political economy were used to legitimize older as well as new models of organization: from social Darwinism’s competitive markets to networks of exchange in proprietary capitalism to the hierarchical structure of the large-scale industrial corporation. Tensions between these forms of organization shaped the debate around the reorganization of society during the Progressive Era. As the first literary movement to consciously grapple with the formal and political significance of different organizational visions in the transition from a free market system to corporate capitalism, naturalism played a key role in shaping cultural perceptions of organization. Combining new formalism with economic criticism, the project investigates the relationship between hierarchal and network forms as they are negotiated in the formal organization of naturalist texts and in their trademark exploration of biological and economic themes. By showing how the tension between these two organizing principles shapes a distinctly American naturalist aesthetic, “Vital Arrangements” offers a new account of naturalist fiction that departs from prevailing monocausal explanations of naturalism as the reflection of one or another totalizing form of power. In light of the turn back to networks as the privileged form of socioeconomic organization since the crisis of Fordism in the 1970s, an examination of how naturalism responds to the promises and problems of corporate organization at its inception is meant to provide a timely insight into the cultural dynamics of organizational change.
Reviewed in The Cormac McCarthy Journal: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/690240
Reviewed in Studies of American Naturalism: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/668253
Reviewed in Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik: https://www.degruyter.com/view/journals/zaa/66/1/article-p121.xml
Ed. with MaryAnn Snyder Körber, Florian Sedlmeier, and Birte Wege. Anecdotal Modernity: The Making and Unmaking of History. De Gruyter, 2020. 306 pp.
Ed. with Jasper Verlinden. Fictions of Management: Efficiency and Control in American Literature and Culture. Heidelberg: Winter, 2019. 301 pp.
“Caveman, Genius, Artist, Entrepreneur: Success and Selfhood from Literary Naturalism to Self-Discovery Literature.” Submitted 10.07.2020 for a special issue of Subjectivity titled “Uplift & Self-Help: Mediating Subject Formations in Interwar Mass Cultures,” guest edited by Kristina Graaf and Martin Klepper.
“The Data of Life and the Life of Data: Epistemological and Aesthetic Liminality at the Fin-de-Siècle.” Submitted 18.03.2020 for the essay collection Narrative Liminality edited by Sebastian M. Herrmann, Katja Kanzler, and Stefan Schubert.
“Technovitalism and Work in the Posthuman Economy.” Submitted 06.11.2019 for the essay collection Posthuman Economies edited by Elisabeth Reichel.
“Cormac McCarthy and the Judeo-Christian Tradition.” In Cormac McCarthy in Context. Ed. Steven Frye. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020. 121-131.
“Unformed Forms: Genre Theory and the Trouble with Caroline Levine’s Forms.” In The Genres of Genre: Form, Formats, and Cultural Formations. SPELL: Swiss Papers in English Language and Literature 38. Eds. Cécile Heim, Boris Vejdovsky and Benjamin Pickford. Tübingen: Narr, 2019. 23-41.
“Introduction: Management, Culture, Society.” With Jasper Verlinden. In Fictions of Management: Efficiency and Control in American Literature and Culture. Eds. James Dorson and Jasper Verlinden. Heidelberg: Winter, 2019. 7-30.
“Flow Management: Jack London and Efficient Living in the Progressive Era.” In Fictions of Management: Efficiency and Control in American Literature and Culture. Eds. James Dorson and Jasper Verlinden. Heidelberg: Winter, 2019. 163-188.
“Industrial Transcendence: Jack London and the Spirits of Capitalism.” In Revisionist Approaches to American Realism and Naturalism. Eds. Jutta Ernst, Sabina Matter-Seibel, and Klaus H. Schmidt. Heidelberg: Winter, 2018. 73-96.
“Naturalism and the Aesthetics of Failure.” In The Failed Individual—Amid Exclusion, Resistance and the Pleasures of Non-Conformity. Eds. Regina Schober and Katharina Motyl. Frankfurt-on-Main: Campus Verlag, 2017. 287-303.
“Cormac McCarthy and the Genre Turn in Contemporary Literary Fiction.” In Cormac McCarthy Between Worlds. Eds. James Dorson, Julius Greve, and Markus Wierschem. Special Issue of European Journal of American Studies 12.3 (2017).
“Seeing Double: Reading Naturalism After the New Historicism.” In Projecting American Studies: Essays on Theory, Method, and Practice. Eds. Frank Kelleter and Alexander Starre. Heidelberg: Winter, 2018. 25-38.
“How (Not) to Be Liked: David Foster Wallace’s Anti-Popular Aesthetic.” In Unpopular Culture. Eds. Martin Lüthe and Sascha Pöhlmann. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2016: 61-80.
“Critical Posthumanism in the Posthuman Economy: The Case of ‘Mister Squishy.’” In America After Nature: Democracy, Culture, Environment. Eds. Catrin Gersdorf and Juliane Braun. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2016: 423-39.
“The Neoliberal Machine in the Bureaucratic Garden: Pastoral States of Mind in David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King.” In Rereading the Machine in the Garden: Nature and Technology in American Culture. Eds. Eric Erbacher, Nicole Maruo-Schröder, and Florian Sedlmeier. Frankfurt-on-Main: Campus Verlag, 2014: 211-30.
“The Aesthetics of Mastery: American Literary Naturalism and the Cultural Foundations of Bureaucracy”. CAS Studies Working Paper Series 1 (2013), Center for Area Studies, Freie Universität Berlin. 3-50.
“’9/11’ and the Rhetoric of Rupture”. REAL – Yearbook of Research in English and American Literature 27 (2011), eds. Winfried Fluck, Katharina Motyl, Donald E. Pease, and Christoph Raetzsch. 369-85.
“The Complexity Effect: Evolutionary Narrative, Naturalist Fiction, and the Data Sublime” (poster presentation). At the conference “Beyond Narrative: Literature, Culture, and the Borderlands of Narrativity,” Leipzig University, October 10-12, 2019.
“Posthuman Humanism? The Progressive Era, Humanistic Management, and the Rise of the Network Self” (keynote address). At the conference “Posthuman Economies: Literary and Cultural Imaginations of the Postindustrial Human,“ University of Basel, April 13-14, 2019.
“Form vs. Genre.” At the Swiss Association for North American Studies conference “The Genre of Genres,” University of Lausanne, November 1-3, 2018.
“Narrating Complex Causality.” At the meeting of the research network “Narrative Liminality and/in the Formation of American Modernities,” Leipzig University, October 25-27, 2018.
“’These bourgeois cities will kill you:’ Anti-Urbanism, Populism, and California Naturalism” (invited talk). In the lecture series “Capitalism and the City,” John F. Kennedy Institute,FU Berlin, February 7, 2018.
“Big Data/Big Fiction: Reading Frank Norris in the Petabyte Age” (invited talk), presented in the workshop “Digital Modernities: America and American Studies in an Algorithmic Age” at the DGfA conference in Hannover, June 8-10, 2017.
“The Triumph of Conservatism? On Machines, Property, and Bigness in Naturalism” (invited talk), presented at the conference “Cultures of American Conservatism,” Göttingen University, February 9-12, 2017.
“The Business of Life: Efficiency and Entrepreneurship in Jack London’s The Valley of the Moon,” presented at the conference “Fictions of Management,” John F. Kennedy Institute, December 8-10, 2016.
“Jack London in the Age of Measurement” (invited talk), presented at the symposium “Cultural Perspectives on Quantification,” Mannheim University, November 25, 2016.
“Beyond the Program: Cormac McCarthy and Genre Fiction,” presented at the International Symposium on Cormac McCarthy, John F. Kennedy Institute, July 7-9, 2016.
“Modernizing Intrusions: American Literary Naturalism and the Technology of Style,” presented as the International Conference on Narrative, Chicago, March 5-8, 2015.
“Neoliberalism and the Bureaucratic Pastoral in David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King,” presented as the conference “Neoliberalism and American Literature,” at the University College Dublin Clinton Institute, 20-21 February, 2015.
“The Art of Mastery (and Drift): American Literary Naturalism and Managerialism,” presented at the conference “Looking Forward, 2014: Current Projects in American Studies,” at the John F. Kennedy Institute, November 13-15, 2014.
“Critical Posthumanism in the Posthuman Economy: The Case of ‘Mister Squishy,’” presented in the workshop, “Nature, Technology, and the Body: Posthumanist Interfaces of the Networked Self” at the DGfA conference, “America After Nature: Democracy, Culture, Environment,” June 12-15, 2014.
“’Institutional stupidity in all its manifold forms and names’: (Un)popularity and (Im)personality in David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King”, presented at the conference “Unpopular Culture”, held at the Amerika Haus Munich, October 31 – November 3, 2013.
“Aesthetic Transmission: From Ernest Hemingway to Cormac McCarthy to David Foster Wallace”, presented at the American Literature Association Symposium, “Cormac McCarthy, Ernest Hemingway and Their Traditions”, held in New Orleans, LA, October 4-6, 2012.
“The American Romance as Tragedy in the Border Trilogy”, presented at the New England American Studies Association Conference, “American Mythologies: Creating, Re-creating, and Resisting National Narratives,” held in Plymouth, MA, November 4-5, 2011.
“’9/11’ and the Rhetoric of Rupture”, presented at the International Graduate Conference, “States of Emergency: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Dynamics of Crisis”, held at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, June 11-12, 2010.
“’The Key to Heaven’: Finding Solid Ground in Cormac McCarthy’s Westerns”, presented at a research seminar held by the English Department of Copenhagen University, November 27, 2009.
“Seeds of Nihilism: Negation, Affirmation, and the Possibility of Literary Counternarratives”, presented at the 24th Annual Conference of the International Society for the Study of Narrative hosted by the Department of American and Canadian Studies at the University of Birmingham, June 4-6, 2009.
“’Agony in the Garden’: American Studies and the Subversion of the Virgin Land Myth in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian”, presented at the Nordic Association of American Studies Conference, “Cosmopolitan America: The United States in Transition”, hosted by the English Department of Copenhagen University, May 28-30, 2009.
“’Some Apparition Out of the Vanished Past’: Counternostalgia in Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy”, presented the International Graduate Conference, “Divided We Stand – United We Fall. Perspectives on Inclusion and Exclusion in America”, held at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, June 28, 2008.