A shadowy double to urban development, the “transient” has long been a contradictory figure in imaginations of America, whether in Emerson’s idealized “being-in-transience,” the romantic freedoms of the “hobohemian,” or the criminalized “stranger.” In his dissertation “Public Enemies,” Christopher Patrick Miller (English) seeks to understand two related questions regarding the popular and intellectual fascination in America with transient culture and its antagonistic relationship to existing concepts of democracy. The first question asks why transience has been a persistent formal and figurative condition for American poetry from Whitman’s “vagabond” to counter-publics imagined by “New American” postwar poets. Next Miller asks how poetic representations of radically unstable persons influenced concepts of liberal personhood, public discourse, and national belonging central to ideas of democratic responsibility. To answer these questions, Miller reframes modernist and postmodern lyric poetry as both critical of, and complicit in, the ongoing project of defining who counts as a member of a democratic whole.
The recipient of the Professor Norman Jacobson Memorial Teaching Award, Christopher Patrick Miller has been named the 2016-17 Jacobson Fellow.