Spencer Jackson

Dr Spencer Jackson is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Meanings Program of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, working with Chief Investigator Professor Peter Holbrook at The University of Queensland. Spencer received his PhD in Comparative Literature from UCLA in 2012. He specialises in long eighteenth-century Anglophone literature as well as critical theory. His dissertation and now book project, God Made the Novel, is an argument for reading the novel and the individual it helped to create in a newly theological light. Moving from the poetry of John Dryden and Alexander Pope to the novels of Samuel Richardson and Maria Edgeworth, Spencer’s project recasts the novelistic individual that is said to be one of the great secular innovations of eighteenth-century British literature as a fundamentally theological entity modelled across genres after the medieval figure of the divine king. While theorists of ‘political theology’, such as Giorgio Agamben and Gil Anidjar, have exposed Western secularism as Christianity in new form, Spencer’s project takes the conversation a step further by asking what the re-mystification of modern life makes possible. His answer is that the internalised divinity at the heart of the modern self endows subjects from the eighteenth century to the present with an absolute right to self-governance.  

Spencer was an Ahmanson-Getty Postdoctoral Fellow at the UCLA Clark Library in 2012–2013, where he worked with an interdisciplinary group of scholars on the rhetoric of moral reform in seventeenth-century broader Eurasia. He has published articles on topics such as Kantian cosmopolitanism and Maria Edgeworth, liberation theology and Samuel Richardson, and the politics of nostalgia in Foucault’s The History of Sexuality. His first book, God Made the Novel, is currently under consideration for publication, and he is now working on a new book project, which will be an ambitious reinterpretation of the political philosophy driving abolitionist literature in long eighteenth-century Britain, America and the Caribbean. In academic circles, it is still taken as a given that the abolitionist movement ended slavery in order to usher in a new more modern economy. By valorising free labour, abolitionists innovated a key tenet of free-market capitalism – or so the story goes. This new project will explore the counter possibility that abolitionism neither helped to create nor to reform capitalist modernity, but in fact was opposed to it. From Alexander Pope and Phyllis Wheatley to Olaudah Equiano and Hannah More, eighteenth-century authors rejected slavery in the name of a political philosophy that was both neo-classical and anti-modern. In the first chapter of this project, Spencer focuses on the relationship of Wheatley and Pope, and shows how Wheatley’s early American verse illuminates the abolitionist and indeed surprisingly socialistic politics of Pope’s Tory Augustan universe. Spencer will be submitting this essay for publication as an article later this year.

 

Contact

spencerjackson@uq.edu.au

Research

God Made the Novel: Political Theology in Eighteenth-Century Britain

Publications

Refereed Articles

'Hershinow Clarissa’s Political Theology and the Alternative Modernity of God, Death, and Writing'. The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 56.3 (2015).

'Never Getting Home: The Unfulfilled Promise of Maria Edgeworth’s Irish Tales'. Studies in Romanticism 50.3 (2011): 505–29.

'The Subject of Time in Foucault’s Tale of Jouy'. SubStance: A Review of Theory and Literary Criticism 39.2 (2010).

Other Articles

Review of 'Richardson’s Clarissa and the Problem of Heaven', E. Derek Taylor. The Scriblerian and the Kit-Cats. Forthcoming.

'Alexander Pope’s Political Theology and the Making of a National Subject'. Clark Library Newsletter 58 (Fall 2013): 4–5.

'Gaga is a Narcissistic Masochist and You Should Be One Too'. Gaga Stigmata: Critical Writings and Art About Lady Gaga, 25 August 2011.

Selected Presentations

‘Austen in the Age of Trump’, University of Queensland Art Museum, 27 July 2017. Invited public lecture.

‘Phyllis Wheatley and the Politics of Cultural Capital’, East-Central/ American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Annual Meeting, Howard University, Washington DC, 2–4 November 2017.

‘Tory Abolitionists in Early America: Phyllis Wheatley’s Republican Political Poetics’, ‘Art and Affect’ collaboratory, The University of Queensland, 12–14 July 2017.