Date: Friday 24th of May 2019
Time: Noon - 2pm
Place: Campus Neues Palais, House 09. Room 2.04
Some years ago, Franco Moretti posited theoretical intervention as the principal aim of the digital humanities. Moretti’s example has been echoed by calls to design “digital tools and applications that emerge from the concerns of cultural theory,” as Tara McPherson has written. Contrary to its reputation, then, the digital humanities (DH) may be seen as a site of theoretical knowledge production. At the same time, DH allows us to reimagine cultural theory by opening it to the intervention of empirical evidence. This paper engages with questions of temporality by looking at the settings of 250 graphic novels, memoirs, and other non-fiction collected in the first digital corpus of English-speaking graphic narrative. Inspired by related research on the contemporary novel by James English and Andrew Piper, we divided our corpus into three temporal settings—past, present, and future. These categories were defined, respectively, as more than 20 years prior to publication date, within 20 years of publication, and subsequent to publication, with partial scores given to titles that spanned more than one setting. The results challenge overarching conceptions of contemporary culture that diagnose an inability to imagine the past, a dissolution of temporal categories, or an imprisonment in an all-consuming present moment. Rather, the study shows a recent increase in graphic narratives that are set in the past, specifically in the most prestigious examples of graphic narrative: prize-winning titles and graphic non-fiction. This development may be attributed to a form of cultural nostalgia, as Fredric Jameson famously argued. In contrast, this paper will reflect on how evidence-driven research may lead to different forms of theoretical practice: a renewal of literary sociology and a more complex conception of humanistic objects of knowledge.
Alexander Dunst holds a PhD in Critical Theory from the University of Nottingham and is Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of Paderborn, where he directs the early-career research group “Hybrid Narrativity”. His research and teaching focus on cultural history, the digital humanities, and contemporary visual narrative. He is the author of Madness in Cold War America (Routledge, 2016) and co-editor of, most recently, Empirical Comics Research (Routledge, 2018) and a special issue of Amerikastudien titled Digital Scholarship in American Studies. He is currently writing a book on The Rise of the Graphic Novel: Contemporary Comics and the Evolution of Cultural Value.