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Jessica Beckman specializes in English literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with a particular focus on literary form and material texts. She teaches courses on literary history, early modern drama and poetry including Spenser and Milton, the nature of literary character, and the history of the book from William Shakespeare to Gertrude Stein. Her current book project, entitled The Kinetic Text, studies how spatial, recursive, and discontinuous reading can be harnessed to produce poetic effects. She holds a PhD in English Literature from Stanford University, an MA in English from Georgetown University, and a BA in English and Art History from The George Washington University. Her scholarship has appeared in Spenser Studies and Exemplaria, and her research has been supported by fellowships from the Huntington Library and the Stanford Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA), among other institutions. Before joining the faculty at Dartmouth, she taught at Smith College, where she was honored for her work with students by the Office of Equity and Inclusion, and at Stanford University, where she received the School of Humanities and Sciences’ Centennial Teaching Award.
The Kinetic Text: A Poetics of Movement in the Age of Print
This book studies how literature produces poetic effects by inviting reading that is discontinuous, recursive, spatial, and tactile. Arguing against the postmodern assumption that verbal interruptions and typographic play are signs of metafiction, this book observes that subtle and abrupt changes in reading have long represented unwritten ideas. In doing so, it foregrounds a body of work in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in which experimental literary forms and unstandardized printing create kinetic metaphors, in which meaning is manifest through the starts and stops, recursions and rotations, of the material text. By introducing a critical language that works across literary formalism and textual materialism, The Kinetic Text redraws the boundaries of early modern genre and offers novel readings of works by Spenser, Lyly, Shakespeare and others.
Unstable Character in the English Renaissance
This second project examines the physicality of literary character before the rise of narrative realism. How, it asks, do poets and dramatists theorize bodies that are made out of words? How are such bodies assembled and transformed? Unlike character criticism that focuses on neoclassicism, probability, or psychological consistency, this project investigates how early modern writers use literalized metaphors and transformed bodies to explore fiction as a kind of material existence.