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Maxime McKenna

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Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin


  • 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

Conference Papers

  • “From Superhighway to Hyperreality: The Infrastructure of Astral America.” 11th World Congress of the International American Studies Association; University of Silesia; Katowice, Poland. September 2023.
  • “Conspiracies of Infrastructure: Locating the Darkness in Technicolor Noir.” PopMeC Association for US Popular Culture Studies Virtual Conference. September 2023.
  • “The Oil Embargo, Fifty Years On: Fueling the (Long) Crisis of American Automobility.” 16th International Graduate Conference; JFK Institute; Freie Universität Berlin; Berlin, DE. June 2023.
  • “Interstate Postmodernism: Superhighway Subjects in The Crying of Lot 49.” British Association of American Studies Annual Conference; Keele University; Keele, UK. April 2023.
  • “Interstates: Superhighways, California Noir, & the Neoliberal Order, 1956–92.” HCA Spring Academy; Heidelberg Center for American Studies; Heidelberg, DE. March 2023.
  • “Neo-Noir’s Strange Loops: Infrastructure and the (Filmic) Past.” Eco-Temporalities & Geo-Politics; Universität zu Köln; Cologne, DE. October 2022.
  • “The Case of Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Intellectual Property, Neoliberalism, and Conspiracies of Infrastructure.” International PhD Seminar; Roosevelt Institute for American Studies; Middelburg, NL. May 2022.
  • “Zigzagging in the Motor Age: Automobility and Errant Mobility in The Crying of Lot 49.” Converging Narratives: The Personal Meets the National; University of Illinois at Chicago; Chicago, USA. April 2015.
  • “Authorities and Authors of Redevelopment: The Language of Black Displacement in Philadelphia.” Intertextuality; University of North Carolina – Wilmington; Wilmington, USA. April 2011.

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.

Interstates: California Noir and the Infrastructure of Neoliberalism, 1956–92 (Dissertationsprojekt)

Dissertation in der Abt. Kultur

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

On the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac’s classic road novel, On the Road, scholar and critic Louis Menand wrote in The New Yorker, “The interstates changed the phenomenology of driving.” This dissertation project unpacks Menand’s claim by rephrasing it as a question within American cultural studies: what is the cultural imaginary of the Interstate Highway System, the largest public infrastructure project in U.S. history? Moreover, how does this imaginary differ from other cultural imaginaries surrounding automobiles and the American road more generally?

In pursuing these questions, Interstates: California Noir and the Infrastructure of Neoliberalism, 1956–92 develops a critical historical framework with which to analyze moments in culture and media of the second half of the twentieth century that aestheticize the unique space of the automobile superhighway. In particular, this infrastructural methodology tracks manifestations of an interstate imaginary across a popular cultural archive that includes literary texts, Hollywood movies, architectural manifestos, and official pamphlets and films produced to boost support for the interstate project. Alongside built infrastructure itself, this wide-ranging discourse forms part of an apparatus of automobility that has helped naturalize the distinct subject position that superhighway infrastructure affords.

Interstates aims to recover the historically novel experience of space and mobility that the interstate inaugurated, and it turns to the transmedial generic tradition of California noir for evidence of how this experience has been aestheticized and transmitted in popular culture. Interstates builds on scholarly accounts of the road’s cultural significance with a specifically historical, infrastructural analysis of four central case studies: Thomas Pynchon’s postmodern novella, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966); Joan Didion’s breakout novel Play It as It Lays (1970); the Hollywood blockbuster Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988); and the Black sci-fi classic Parable of the Sower (1993), by Octavia Butler. These four case studies form the core of the project’s four analytical chapters, each of which addresses a different time period within the years during which the interstate was officially under construction, 1956–1992. The chapters are further themed around a different feature of superhighway design: systems, cloverleaf interchanges, ramps, and signs, respectively. Interstates argues that it is the California-native, transmedial genre of noir, rather than the well-studied tradition of road novels and films, that reflects and responds to infrastructural changes in automobility inaugurated by the interstate.

This dissertation aims to extend scholarship on post-1945 American culture and critical studies of infrastructure, as well as on the popular genre of noir. Furthermore, with its noirish cultural history of the interstate, Interstates hopes to contribute to recent scholarship in American studies that mobilizes the topic of infrastructure to interrogate the overlap between the neoliberal state and environmental degradation. Lastly, Interstates argues for the construction of the interstate as an epoch of American culture that speaks to a transitional—or inter—state between distinct regimes in capitalist production and American state power.

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.

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft