About

I am an Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in English at Idaho State University. My research and teaching focus on twentieth-century British literature and culture, with emphases in modernism, the history and theory of the novel, genre fiction, popular print culture, and comics studies. Generally, I am interested in the connections between experimental and popular literary forms, and in how authors combine the two to achieve particular effects.

My first book, Violent Minds: Modernism and the Criminal (Cambridge University Press, 2019), constructs a genealogy of criminality in modernist fiction from the late nineteenth century to the 1950s. Examining a range of modernist authors who explored new modes of psychological representation through the figure of the criminal, and who drew upon works of detective fiction in order to develop those representations, Violent Minds demonstrates how a fascination with criminality underlies the modernist engagements with subjectivity, genre fiction, and experimental narrative.

I’ve recently begun work on two new projects. The first, on modernism and the novel series, is tentatively titled Time and Again: Twentieth-Century British Fiction and the Form of the Series. This book aims to show how and why novel series have played an underappreciated yet pivotal role in shaping modernist aesthetics, and how experimentation with serial forms allowed authors to manipulate their readers’ experiences of narrative time, characterization, and plot. In this project, I make the case for the novel series, too often dismissed as a purely commercial endeavor, as a form uniquely suited to the experimental imperatives of modernism, while also explaining why some series demonstrate a powerful resistance to those imperatives.

My second book in progress is The Anachronistic Aesthetic: Contemporary Comics and the Look of the Past. In this project, I ask why contemporary cartoonists adopt the visual registers of the early twentieth century, producing work meant to appear much older than it actually is. This practice, which I term the “anachronistic aesthetic,” represents a significant form of experimentation in the comics medium by demonstrating the potential for critique inherent in the art object deliberately out of sync with its historical moment.

These and other projects speak to my interests in popular forms–especially crime fiction, comics, and periodicals–that explicitly or implicitly blur the lines between convention and experiment, and in how those works complicate our understanding of cultural capital, aesthetic value, and generic definition. Articles on the early history of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and the relationship between criminology and crime fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in edited collections, and I recently edited a special issue of the Journal of Modern Periodical Studies on “Seriality,” where I contributed an essay on Dick Tracy and the narrative temporality of daily newspaper comics.

I received my PhD in English at the University of Washington, and earned a BA in English at Vanderbilt University. Before coming to ISU, I taught for five years in the College Writing Program at Harvard University, and I still serve as a faculty member of the Harvard Summer School.

Contact: levamatt_at_isu_dot_edu