Kieran Smith

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Research title: The Composite World: The Short Story Composite in Contemporary American Literature

Research Summary

Since the ‘transnational turn’ of literary studies in the 1990s, contemporary fiction has been popularly interpreted as reflecting ‘global’ or ‘world’ politics. Some of these expansive efforts aim to define a new dominant aesthetic after postmodernism that bring together authors under new banners such as Peter Boxall’s ‘global literature,’ Rachel Adam’s ‘American literary globalism’ and Christian Moraru’s ‘Cosmodernism.’ In other studies of the post-9/11 novel the ‘global’ is invoked to redeem the ‘domesticity’ and overt ‘nationalism’ that dogs the 9/11 novel. Despite this wide-ranging emphasis on expanding of the political and cultural scope of post-millennial literature, there has not yet been a detailed analysis that traces the formal experiments that have coincided with this ideological transition. In Adams, Bruce Robbins, Peter Boxall, Pieter Vermeulen, Mitchum Huehls, and, most recently, Debjani Ganguly, the narrowly defined novel continues to dominate the study of contemporary literature despite the myopic political scope that many critics argue inheres in its conventional narrative structure.

Thus, I shall, for the first time, draw together both the political and formal changes in contemporary fiction by examining a literary form that has not been discussed in this critical framework: the short story composites of the twenty-first century. My project has three related goals, firstly, by comparing the theories of the ‘transnational’ and the short story composite, I shall demonstrate that a text’s structure plays a more pivotal role in contemporary fiction than previously recognised. Secondly, while my analytic focus on scholarly constructions of the transnational turn and the twenty-first century novel engages with widely studied issues, my focus on composites introduces critically neglected authors in the field of contemporary fiction. For example, authors that I shall focus upon, such as Helen Oyeyemi and Rana Dasgupta, have won and been nominated for major awards, but are largely omitted from critical accounts of recent fiction, and have never been analysed in relation to theories of the short story composite. Thirdly, this study has a strong interdisciplinary dimension in that it will identify and articulate the interplay between contemporary ‘transnational’ and ‘global’ politics, histories of Western globalisation and recent literary fiction in a global context.


  • Smith, Kieran. "An Ontological Turn." American Book Review, vol. 38 no. 2, 2017, pp. 11-11. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/abr.2017.0009
  • ROBERT SMITH, K. (2017). Pieter Vermeulen , Contemporary Literature and the End of the Novel: Creature, Affect, Form (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, £58.00/$95.00). Pp. x 182. isbn 978 1 1374 1452 6. Journal of American Studies, 51(2), E29. doi:10.1017/S0021875817000299



  • English Literature 2A: Writing and Ideology