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Maxime McKenna

Headshot McKenna 2022

PhD Candidate

Address
Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin

Education

  • 2021– | Doctoral Candidate, Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

  • 2015 | Master of Arts, English Language and Literature, The University of Chicago, USA

  • 2010 | Bachelor of Arts, English, The University of Pennsylvania, USA

Professional Experience

  • 2022 | Co-organizer, International Graduate Workshop, American Grids: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Housing Energy and Infrastructure, Freie Universität Berlin, 17 June 2022.

  • 2014 | Co-organizer, Concussions, Commotions, and Other Aesthetic Disorders, The University of Chicago, November 2014.

Cultures of Infrastructure in the Era of the Interstate Highway, 1956-92 (dissertation project)

Dissertation in Culture

Mentoring team:
First supervisor: Prof. Frank Kelleter
Second supervisor: Dr. Myka Tucker-Abramson
Third supervisor: Prof. Dr. Martin Lüthe

This research project asks how the space of the road changes in the American cultural imaginary in the era of the American Interstate Highway System, the largest infrastructure project in U.S. history. Assembling a methodology from spatial and network theory, ecocritique, and the burgeoning field of infrastructuralism, this dissertation tracks the emergence of what I call a superhighway subjectivity in an archive of cultural objects that includes postmodern fiction, architectural manifestos, neo-noir cinema, and propaganda produced by state agencies like the Federal Highway Administration. Each of my primary case studies—Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), Joan Didion’s Play It as It Lays (1970), and the Hollywood blockbuster Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)—grapples with the novelty of a continent-spanning superhighway network and performs crucial if underappreciated theoretical work alongside the engineering, bureaucratic, and political actors involved in its planning and construction (a final case study, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, imagines what might become of such a network after the collapse of the U.S. state). This cross-genre archive sheds light on a wide-ranging conversation that has gone under-explored in both Post45 studies and thinking around infrastructure systems and the Anthropocene, a conversation on the cultural function of a Cold War–state infrastructure that helped assure automobility’s dominance over all other mobility systems. In reconstructing this discourse on the interstate, I argue for an infrastructural account of historic shifts that have been variously called postmodern, late capitalist, and neoliberal, as well as for an overhaul in critical methodology on the space of the road and the role of mobility in American culture.

With this dissertation, I set out to produce a rich, descriptive account of the cultural operations of the American superhighway system, its interstate. This account contributes to two ongoing critical discourses. First, in the realm of what’s been called Post45 studies, it brings awareness to a massive government project of social engineering that has gone under-studied even amidst a critical flourishing of interest in postwar institutions, technological developments, and reconfigurations of space. Second, it offers up an aesthetic and experiential analysis of one specific, state-designed infrastructure to an infrastructural conversation whose range of objects is vast and whose methodologies are in need of honing. Furthermore, by arguing for the construction of the interstate as an epoch of American culture, this project urges on a reconsideration of periodizing categories in postwar American studies. The cultural archive that I assemble spans the years 1956 to 1992. Straddling the New Deal Order and the Neoliberal Order, it offers insights into the way the New Deal, especially Eisenhower Republicans’ version of it, paved the way quite literally for the rise of neoliberalism, whose refining of the power of the state is often enabled and occasionally constrained by the infrastructure of the Cold War. Finally, my project works toward a methodology that is invested in charting presences rather than hunting for lacunae and thus participates in the continuing self-reflexive critical moment.

Academic Publications

  • 2022 | “The Freeway Fix: Infrastructure, Affect, and the Politics and Aesthetics of Distance in Joan Didion’s Play It as It Lays.” AmLit – American Literatures 2.1 (2022)

  • 2014 | “Nothing Too Private: The Letters of T.S. Eliot Volume 3: 1926-27.” The Journal of Modern Literature 37.4 (Summer 2014): 182-185.

  • 2012 | “In the Wake of Fair Use: Incest, Citation, and the Legal Legacy of Finnegans Wake.” The Journal of Modern Literature 35.4 (Summer 2012): 56-72.

Conference Papers

  • 2022 | “The Case of Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Intellectual Property, Neoliberalism, and Conspiracies of Infrastructure,” conference paper presented at the International PhD Seminar, Roosevelt Institute for American Studies (Middelburg, NL), May 2022.

  • 2015 |  “Zigzagging in the Motor Age: Automobility and Errant Mobility in The Crying of Lot 49,” conference paper presented at Converging Narratives: The Personal Meets the National, University of Illinois at Chicago (Chicago, IL, USA), April 2015.

  • 2011 |  “Authorities and Authors of Redevelopment: The Language of Black Displacement in Philadelphia,” conference paper presented at Intertextuality, University of North Carolina – Wilmington (Wilmington, NC, USA), April 2011.  

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
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