Last week, while I was having blood products transfused at the Royal Free Hospital, I received an email from the Leverhulme Trust stating that I had been awarded the 2019 Philip Leverhulme Trust Prize in Literary Studies.
The works that were submitted for close scrutiny for this were four of my books Close Reading with Computers, Literature Against Criticism, Open Access and the Humanities, and Pynchon and Philosophy. I am still somewhat stunned by this as I never really expected conventional funders to be interested in my literary research work (as opposed to my open-access work).
It has really made my year amid a, quite frankly, terrible set of health circumstances. Indeed, I sometimes feel a nagging sense of imposter syndrome that many of my colleagues outside of the world of contemporary fiction don’t really “get” my research. They see me as the person who gets big grants from strange foundations and does weird obsessive projects about messing up centuries of publishing tradition. A horrible model, I imagine they might even think, of the entrepreneurial academic.
Well, this one’s for my research! Doing literary and cultural research work is the thing that keeps me sane; it’s the first thing I do every day when I get up before usually retreating into eight-hours straight of administrative work on my practical projects. It is why I wanted to go into academia. (Contrary to what you might think, I did not go into academia because I thought it would be great to answer emails for 4+ hours per day.) It is still the thing I enjoy most. Reading, thinking, and writing.
I still need to work out the best way to use the prize fund to give me more time to do research work, but I have a number of research projects that I will bring to final fruition under the Prize:
- An edited book, forthcoming in an open-access form with The MIT Press, now titled: Reassembling Scholarly Communications: The Histories, Infrastructures, and Global Politics of Open Access, which is nearly complete/on the final push.
- A co-authored book: Reading Peer Review, due for delivery next March to Cambridge University Press, and also funded by the Mellon Foundation. This will be open access.
- An article on Jennifer Egan: ‘Textual Scholarship and Contemporary Literature: Jennifer Egan’s Editorial Processes and the Archival Edition of Emerald City’, forthcoming in LIT: Literature, Interpretation, Theory and which will be open access.
- A book with Oxford University Press: The Digital Humanities and Literary Studies, due for delivery by next September (working on OA).
I will also be spending some of it to ensure that my outputs are openly available for everyone to read.
In the longer term, I have a project in mind to investigate the NFO and DemoScene culture surrounding the mid-1990s high-end underground piracy scene. This would offer the first academic study of the gigabytes of digital material surfaced by “The Scene” in the form of ASCII .nfo files and DemoScene executables from the Defacto2 archive, charting the structure, organization, and history of the criminal underground networks that race to release material before their competitors with bleeding-edge technology and connections. Using a combination of traditional and digital reading methodologies, this book project would present both the historical structures but also aesthetic strictures – a kind of typographic concrete poetry – of the underground warez scene at the turn of the twenty-first century. This book would, then, also be one of the first studies to construct a distant-ethnography from a digital archive, reading from the digital-material traces the contexts and after-images of an otherwise inaccessible digital-cultural sphere.
I want, in particular, to thank Dr Isabel Davis, Professor Heike Bauer, and Professor Anthony Bale for their invaluable generosity in helping me with the application. Dr Joe Brooker and Professor Catherine Grant also offered kind feedback on the nomination.