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Video: English professor Kate Marshall on the 'poetics of the outside' in contemporary novels

Author: Todd Boruff

 

“To see the world from a perspective that's oriented towards other kinds of systems, other kinds of entities, even something that's not necessarily sentient or organic, might change the way that you learn how to act in that world.” 

— Kate Marshall

Kate Marshall is associate professor of English at the University of Notre Dame. Her research interests include media theory, narrative, and the philosophy of science. More information can be found at her faculty page.


Video Transcript

I spend a lot of time working on problems in contemporary fiction and how they relate not only to the long history of the novel and other forms of literary representation but also the way that they relate to other ways of thinking in the contemporary world.

In the current book that I'm writing, I am starting to describe what I've been thinking of as a kind of "poetics of the outside." In a lot of contemporary novels you have these narrators who are starting to experiment with trying to get outside of their own human consciousness, are sometimes frustrated in that desire, or you have novels that are then having a kind of sentience that seeps out into other other parts of the narrative.

So in Cormac McCarthy, sometimes the point-of-view kind of resides in the landscape, but in writers like Marilyn Robinson, you have narrators who are first-person narrators, meaning that we understand the world from their point of view, but they try to get outside of themselves. There's a long history in the novel of trying to work through these questions that I traced back to a lot of what's called the "weird" in the early th century and even a little bit before that in American naturalism.

To see the world from a perspective that's oriented towards other kinds of systems, other kinds of entities, even something that's not necessarily sentient or organic, might change the way that you learn how to act in that world, and so to focus on the creation of new literary forms as well as the long history of their development is something that is absolutely crucial to being able to make sense of who we are and what we're doing today.

Notre Dame has been a wonderful place for me to teach and ask a lot of these questions partly because of the excitement and interest of the students, who are avid readers, who are amazing interlocutors for thinking about what contemporary literature and what contemporary art are, but also for the real dazzling range of work that's represented by our faculty. It's also been really important for me to work with the faculty of the History and Philosophy of Science, which is slightly outside of my main focus of research and training, but has absolutely enriched the way that I've been able to ask certain questions and has certainly formed a major part of the work that I'm doing on my current book.