Graduate School of North American Studies (GSNAS)
Ben Robbins, born in Sheffield, United Kingdom in 1984, completed his BA in English Literature at Durham University in 2005 and his Master of Studies in English Literature: 1900–present day at Oxford University in 2006. His research focus for his Master’s was on Anglophone modernism and studies of gender and sexuality.
In May 2014 Robbins concluded his doctoral studies in American literature and culture at the Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). His thesis was titled “Gender, Film, and Culture in the Novels and Screenwriting of William Faulkner.”
Robbins has worked as a lecturer in American literature at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin. In 2012 he was a Lillian Gary Taylor Visiting Fellow in American Literature at the University of Virginia. He has presented at international conferences in Europe, North America, and Australia.
He was awarded an Honors Fellowship in autumn 2014 to further his postdoctoral project on “Queer Expatriate Literature from the Late Nineteenth Century to Stonewall.”
“Queer Transnational Literature: The Case of Christopher Isherwood.” Master’s seminar. John F. Kennedy Institute, Freie Universität Berlin. Summer Semester 2015.
“Queer Expatriate Literature of the 20th Century.” Undergraduate seminar. John F. Kennedy Institute, Freie Universität Berlin. Summer Semester 2014.
“Women in American Modernist Fiction.” Undergraduate seminar. John F. Kennedy Institute, Freie Universität Berlin. Winter Semester 2012-2013.
Postdoctoral Research Project
“Queer Expatriate Literature from the Late Nineteenth Century to Stonewall”
This research project will explore queer identity from a transnational perspective by studying the Anglophone literature that arose from a range of global centers of queer activity and creativity from the late 19th century to the 1960s. I intend primarily to consider the work of American and British writers who lived and produced work outside their native countries in the cities of Paris, Berlin, and Tangier. Within each of these cities, queer expatriate literary networks emerged, focused around central figures such as Gertrude Stein in Paris of the early 20th century, Christopher Isherwood in Weimar Berlin, and Paul Bowles in mid-20th century Tangier. Not only were these authors themselves queer expatriates, but they produced narratives of queer expatriation in literary works such as Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin (1939), and Bowles’ Let it Come Down (1952).
One of the central aims of the project is to demonstrate that these narratives should not be viewed in isolation but rather collectively as part of a discrete literary tradition in Anglo-American letters dating back to the works of Henry James, that tradition being the “queer expatriate novel.” I also wish to argue that each of these metropolitan queer literary networks should be viewed in dynamic relation to one another, rather than as wholly independent. Finally, I will consider how theoretical descriptions of the inherent mobility of queer identity might be considered alongside the transnational mobility of these queer creative communities.
(outline by Dr. Benjamin Robbins)
Dissertation abstract: “Gender, Film, and Culture in the Novels and Screenwriting of William Faulkner”
My doctoral project systematically historicized four modernist novels written by William Faulkner during the two decades when he was also working intermittently for major Hollywood movie studios: Sanctuary (1931); Pylon (1935); If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem (1939) and Requiem for a Nun (1951). Placing the novels in the context of Hollywood production, I explored the echoes between these works of fiction and the author’s screenplays. By doing so, I demonstrated that the relationship between these two bodies of work, and by extension modernism and popular culture, was dialogic and mutually productive. This is a form of creative exchange not permitted through the traditional division of “high” and “low” culture in modernist discourse. This research involved the study of a wide range of unpublished archival materials and was supported by a Visiting Fellowship at the University of Virginia as well as research stays at the University of Mississippi and Southeast Missouri State University.
I was particularly interested in the evolving presentation of gender in Faulkner’s literary and filmic writing. Over time, Faulkner’s portrayal of women in his experimental novels was increasingly inflected and mediated by the images, techniques, genres, uses of language, and working practices of commercial film that he encountered in Hollywood. This development reflects, in part, Faulkner’s encounters with female agents in the studio system who shaped, influenced, and transformed his work. More widely, Faulkner’s novelistic presentation of cross-gender creative communities as alternately vexed and productive can be read as a commentary on the intense cultural conflict and innovative collaboration that typify Hollywood production.
(outline by Dr. Benjamin Robbins)
“The Queer Pleasure of Narratorial Reticence in Robert McAlmon’s Distinguished Air (Grim Fairy Tales) and Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin” (in preparation).
“Inscrutable Images: Faulkner, Wartime Noir, and the Compson Appendix” (in preparation).
“William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun and Cold War Hollywood Melodrama” (under review).
“The Pragmatic Modernist: William Faulkner’s Craft and Hollywood’s Networks of Production.” Journal of Screenwriting 5:2 (February 2014): 239-57.
“Dangerous Quests: Transgressive Sexualities in William Faulkner’s “The Wild Palms” and James Baldwin’s Another Country.” Faulkner and the Black Literatures of the Americas: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha 2013. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi (forthcoming, accepted for publication 2013).
Collaborative Editor, with Robert Coleman. Adaptation of William Faulkner’s “The Old People” for The Digital Yoknapatawpha Project, a born-digital critical database, network visualization, interactive map, and timeline. University of Virginia’s Digital Media Centre. Stephen Railton, General Editor. Project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (November 2014–present).
Collaborative Editor, with Stephen Railton and Theresa Towner. Adaptation of William Faulkner’s Sanctuary for The Digital Yoknapatawpha Project (March–June 2014).
Collaborative Editor, with Theresa Towner. Adaptation of William Faulkner’s “Death Drag” for The Digital Yoknapatawpha Project (August 2013–February 2014).
“Sara Spungeon, ed. Cormac McCarthy: All The Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men, The Road.” European Journal of American Studies. [Online.] Reviews 2013-1, document 6. Online since 17 April 2013.
“Michael K. Glenday, F.Scott Fitzgerald.” European Journal of American Studies. [Online.] Reviews 2012-2, document 6. Online since 14 November 2012.
“Lisa K. Perdigao, From Modernist Entombment to Postmodernist Exhumation: Dead Bodies in Twentieth-Century American Fiction.” European Journal of American Studies. [Online.] Reviews 2012-1, document 12. Online since 26 April 2012.
“The Sexual Motivation of Flight: Transgressive Eroticism in Faulkner’s If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem and James Baldwin’s Another Country.” Faulkner and the Black Literatures of the Americas: Faulkner & Yoknapatawpha Conference. The University of Mississippi, Oxford, USA. July 2013.
“Revisualizing Filmic Womanhood in Faulkner's Warner Brothers Screenplays, the Compson Appendix, and Requiem for a Nun.” Invited lecture. Reframing and Performing Faulkner Symposium. Centre for Transnational American Studies, University of Copenhagen. April 2013.
“Toward a Camp Appreciation of Faulkner’s Sanctuary.” Fifty Years After Faulkner: Faulkner and Yoknapatawhpa Conference. The University of Mississippi, Oxford, USA. July 2012.
“‘A man can think better on salary’: the Commodification of the Human in the Hollywood Short Stories of Faulkner and Fitzgerald.” American Literature Association conference. San Francisco. May 2012.
“The Feminine Mediation of Faulkner’s Modernism by the Sexualities of Film.” Faulkner in the Media Ecology Conference. Centre for Modernism Studies in Australia, University of New South Wales, Sydney. November 2011.