Michael Aaron Mason, M.A.

“Down to the Wire”: Probing the Cybernetic Unconscious of American Neurofiction

© Michael Mason

My research interests lie primarily in the history of the psychological sciences, and my dissertation project is focused on the interaction between neuroscience and American literature at the end of the 20th century. My project considers neurofiction—an emergent sub-genre of literary work within the post-postmodern movement—as an important moment in the history of self-consciousness in fiction, where the self-referentiality of the text extends beyond ideas about language and narrative and incorporates scientific understandings of cognition. My analysis features readings of novels by Kathy Acker, Don DeLillo, Richard Powers, and David Foster Wallace, whose works interrogate the growing “medicalization” and “cerebrification” of American consciousness during the Decade of the Brain, the resultant changes in the status of the author and the possible roles for fiction in a neuroculture. Drawing upon theoretical works in cybernetics, poststructural theory, and archival texts in psychological research, my project attempts to understand how American neurofiction reads the human/automata distinction made by the cognitive sciences’ experimental and clinical practices. My project recasts the poststructural “death of the subject” in neuroscientific terms, suggesting that “brainhood”— the predominant ontological concept of “personhood” at the end of the millennium—is the effect of political, legal, and financial forces which frame the activities of the psychological sciences. These works of fiction highlight the need for a neuro-ethics of conscious attention to resist cultural and biological automatisms of everyday life. My project takes a brief look at the appearance of the brain throughout the American canon in order to understand the works written at the cusp of the millennium. The hidden ethical impetus of the sub-genre—to directly address the reader and encourage a break from self-reflexive cycles—amounts to a post-postmodern extension of Barthes’s and Lyotard’s convictions about the importance of the avant-garde, bringing them through the neuro-turn and into the twenty-first century.

  Contact

Johannisstraße 12-20, Room 325

Office hours: Thursdays 12:00-14:00 (or by appointment)

Phone: +49 151 5151 9250

  • Academic CV

    Education

    04/2019 - present PhD Candidate, Graduate School Practices of Literature, WWU Münster.
    08/2009 - 05/2012 Master of Arts, American Literature, Department of English, University of South Alabama.

    “The Grip of Systems”: Excrement, Waste, and the Re-fused Self in Post-postmodern Fiction. Master’s Thesis. Department of English, University of South Alabama. Faculty Adviser: Justin St. Clair, Ph.D.

    08/2004 - 05/2009 Bachelor of Arts (double major), Psychology (primary) and English (secondary), Department of Psychology, University of South Alabama.

    Employment

    10/2019 - present Lecturer, American Studies, English Department, WWU Münster.
    10/2016 - present Academic Writing Coordinator, Linden Global Learning & Support, GmbH, Berlin.
    08/2014 - 07/2016 Lecturer, English Department, Fuzhou University Zhicheng College.
    08/2012 - 06/ 2014 Intern Instructor, English Composition, Department of English, University of South Alabama.
    06/2012 - 07/2012 Adjunct Instructor, Department of English, University of South Alabama.
    08/2010 - 06/2012 Instructor & Teaching Assistant, Department of English, University of South Alabama.
    09/2009 - 07/2012 Writing Consultant & Graduate Assistant, Writing Center, Department of English, University of South Alabama.

    Awards and Scholar Ships

    Father James F. Forrill Endowed Scholarship. University of South Alabama. Spring 2012.
    For critical thesis: “‘The Grip of Systems’: Excrement, Waste, and the Re-fused Self in Post-postmodern Fiction.” Nominated by graduate faculty.
    English Department Endowed Scholarship. University of South Alabama. Spring 2011. For outstanding second-year graduate student. Nominated by graduate faculty
    Lloyd Dendinger Memorial Scholarship. University of South Alabama. Spring 2011.
    For graduate essay: “Absence and Honor: The Sound and the Fury and the Melancholy of Loss.”

  • Publications

    Critical
    • “The Diagnostic Construct: Autism and Cyberpunk in Kathy Acker’s Empire of the Senseless.” Controlling Bodies, Constructing Minds: (Post-)Feminist Identity Politics in the Biomedical Age. Johanna Heil and Anna Thiemann, editors. Forthcoming 2020.
    • “The Grip of Systems”: Excrement, Waste, and the Re-fused Self in Post-postmodern Fiction. Master’s Thesis, Available on ProQuest. March 2012.
    • “So This is What It’s Come to?” Composition Chronicle. Spring 2012. University of South Alabama. p. 3–4.

    Technical

    • “Don’t Write Me Off: Communicating with Enthusiasm in Creative and Academic Writing.” 25 June 2018. Available on Medium.com.

    Creative (*a complete list of creative publications is available upon request)

    • “Europop.” The Oracle: Fine Arts Review. Volume VIV. p. 89. Spring 2011.
    • “And My Name is Carnival.” The Oracle: Fine Arts Review. Volume VIII. p. 42-44. Spring 2010.
    • “Shâchath Outside the Door.” The Oracle: Fine Arts Review. Volume VIII. p. 15. Spring 2010.
    • “Over the Jovian Circuit.” The Oracle: Fine Arts Review. Volume VII. p. 118. Spring 2009.

  • Conference Papers

    • “Atypical Readers & Consenting Adults.” Symposium: Current Trajectories in Narrative Research. Bergische Universität Wuppertal. 27-28 September 2019.
    • “‘Specimines of Urban Spoor’: Systems Hierarchies and the Wasteful Self in Don DeLillo’s Underworld.” Waste: An Interdisciplinary Conference. The University at Albany English Graduate Student Organization. Albany, NY. 30–31 March 2012.
    • “‘Landfills and Schmeck’: The ‘Ordinary Thing’ in the Systems Novel.” English Graduate Forum. University of South Alabama Graduate School, Department of English. Mobile, AL, USA. 23 March 2012.