Visiting Assistant Professor in English Language & Literature
Contact & Office Hours
Seelye Hall 416
Ph.D., Stanford University
M.A., Georgetown University
B.A., The George Washington University
Jessica Beckman received her doctorate in English literature from Stanford University. She also holds her master’s degree in English from Georgetown University and her bachelor’s degree in English and Art History from The George Washington University. At Smith, she teaches literary history, early modern drama and poetry, including Milton, and the history of the book from William Shakespeare to Gertrude Stein.
She is currently completing a manuscript titled “The Kinetic Text: A Poetics of Movement in the Age of Print,” which studies how literature produces poetic effects by inviting reading that is discontinuous, recursive, spatial and tactile. Arguing against the postmodern assumption that verbal interruptions and typographic play are signs of metafiction, this book observes that subtle and abrupt changes in reading have long represented unwritten ideas. It foregrounds a body of work in the 16th and 17th centuries in which experimental literary forms and unstandardized printing create kinetic metaphors, so that meaning is manifest through the starts and stops, recursions and rotations, of the material text. By introducing a critical language that works across literary formalism and textual materialism, “The Kinetic Text” redraws the boundaries of early modern genre and offers novel readings of works by Spenser, Lyly, Shakespeare, Marlowe and others.
Her next book, tentatively titled “Unstable Character in the English Renaissance,” examines the physicality of literary character before the rise of narrative realism. How, it asks, do poets and dramatists theorize bodies that are made out of words? How are such bodies assembled and transformed? Unlike character criticism that focuses on neoclassicism, probability, or psychological consistency, this project investigates how early modern writers use literalized metaphors and transformed bodies to explore fiction as a kind of material existence.
Beckman has held a number of grants and fellowships related to her research, including a W.M. Keck Foundation Fellowship from the Huntington Library and a Text Technologies Fellowship from the Stanford Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA). Her essays have appeared in Spenser Studies and Exemplaria. Before joining the faculty at Smith, she held the first competitive postdoctoral fellowship in the Stanford University English Department, where she also received the School of Humanities and Sciences’ Centennial Teaching Award.