My dissertation, Middlemen: Making Literature in the Age of Multimedia Conglomerates, studies the major shifts in the field of literary production in the wake of the mergers and acquisitions that roiled the publishing industry in the 1980s and 1990s—a process that resulted in the formation of what we now call The Big Five. Each chapter examines one influential figure in the publishing industry: the agent, the acquisitions editor, the publicist, and the social media manager. Too often dismissed as “middlemen” or mere bureaucratic functionaries, such professionals are powerful nodes between the artist and the corporation, mediating between the domain of aesthetic or literary value and the managerial imperatives of huge media firms. As such, these overlooked figures are not just powerful gatekeepers, but administrators of literary prestige, value, and “corporate taste” in the contemporary, shaping the form and content of contemporary fiction while providing access to mainstream publication, and cultural consecration. To demonstrate how these changes in the field shape literary form, I weave together ethnography and text mining with close readings of fictional work by Tom McCarthy, Ben Lerner, and Emily St. John Mandel. Placing these close readings in dialogue with distant approaches to the field at scale, I show how contemporary fiction replicates corporate taste as a result of creative collaboration with publishing’s middlemen, even while critiquing the industry’s increased commercialization and capitulation to neoliberal managerial practices.
My dissertation defense is scheduled for April 13, 2018 (2-4 pm).