Dr Hunter Dukes



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I became a Junior Research Fellow at Peterhouse after finishing my PhD at Cambridge. Sometime before that, I completed an MPhil in Criticism & Culture at King's College, Cambridge and a BA in English at Pomona College. I supervise widely on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including: Practical Criticism (part I & II), English Literature 1870 - Present (I.7b), Modernism & the Short Story (II.11), Contemporary Writing (II.12), and History and Theory of Literary Criticism (II.16). 

Roles and committees

Secretary of the Combination Room

Research interests

My research broadly considers ideas about literary influence and the novel, the relationship between metaphors and objects, and the shifting borderlines between humans and the nonhuman world in modern and contemporary literature and culture. 

I have written and lectured on: Samuel Beckett, J.M. Coetzee, Don DeLillo, T.S. Eliot, Seamus Heaney, Siri Hustvedt, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Zadie Smith, Virginia Woolf, and Yevgeny Zamyatin. Aside from my book projects, I have published research on metaphors of sacrifice in Cold War cinema, literary nightingales, the connections between molecular biology and philosophy in the 1960s and 1970s, and the impact of railway signage on the novel.

My first book, Signature, is under contract with Bloomsbury's Object Lessons series. Why do we sign our names to indicate consent and authority? How do autographs add monetary value to objects, raising the price of sports paraphernalia and first-edition books? A signature often requires a witness — as if the scrawl itself is not enough. What kinds of beliefs and fantasies justify our signing practices? Where do they come from? And how have they influenced digital culture, metaphors of animal communication, and discussions of biological and climatological “signatures”? Signature addresses these questions and more as it roams from early Paleolithic cave paintings to bear prints, from first-person reflections on Romantic graffiti to legal histories of authorization and forgery. Vital to this project is the idea that signatures bridge taxonomic divides between humans, animals, and the inorganic. When animal marking and geological processes of “overprinting” are examined next to human autographs, signature becomes a shared form of expression.

The book will be anchored by two travelogues, which record my search for enduring signatures — William Wordsworth’s Rock of Names in the Lake District and the ancient Chauvet handprints in southern France. Between these experimental chapters, there will be less-personal examinations of signet rings and heraldry, the Victorian preoccupation with autographs, the discovery of forensics, and geological inscription. By looking closely at signature, we learn about the nature of signs, but also about the fundamental, interspecies desire to leave a mark upon the world.

I am also currently revising my PhD thesis into a monograph, titled The Autographic Imagination: Signature and Literature after James JoyceMy project examines a twentieth-century lineage of writers and poets concerned with signatory inscription. By this, I mean the writing, tracing, branding, embossing, tattooing, or engraving of the name of a person or place onto various kinds of surfaces, as well as other forms of marking that approximate autography. My contention is that James Joyce’s novels demonstrate an explicit, underexplored concern with signature and the different imaginary investments (erotic, legal, preservative) that accompany its presence in the world. In Joyce’s wake, Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney, Don DeLillo, and Zadie Smith all produce texts that both engage with Joyce’s novels and think carefully about the potential of the signature as a material object.

A third book project —  Spheres of InfluenceVessels, ContainmentGlobalisation — examines how metaphors of containment and actual containers shaped twentieth-century literature and culture. I am particularly interested in the way various kinds of containers from the history of science, medicine, art, and law are mobilized as metaphors of the body. Conversely, I trace how abstract containers touch down upon the world through literature, film, and visual art. While there has been research on the imaginative possibilities of boxes in early modern literature, we are lacking an account of post-1900 containers, or, how political, psychoanalytic, and scientific notions of containment influenced the period’s cultural output. This project grows out of three journal articles, unrelated to my dissertation, that I published during my PhD. These articles roughly correspond to three draft sections (on modernism, the body, and technological containers, Cold War media and containment, and the afterlife of the ‘noosphere’ in twentieth-century philosophy and environmental thought).


Journal Articles

'Jug Songs: Acoustic Enclosure from Ovid to Eliot', Comparative Literature, forthcoming.

'Tirades of Abuse: Marryat's Jacob Faithful and Joyce's "Counterparts"', Notes and Queries, September 2018.

'Heaney, Joyce: Namings and Nation', Essays in Criticism 68.2 (April 2018), 234-258.

'Toponyms, Transportation, and the Etymological Imagination', Modernism/modernity Print+ 3.1 (March 2018).

'Beckett's Vessels and the Animation of Containers', Journal of Modern Literature, 40.4, 75-89.

'Ulysses and the Signature of Things', Humanities (special issue on Joyce, Animals, and the Nonhuman), 6.3, article 52.

'Samuel Beckett and the Fantasy of Lithic Preservation', Irish Studies Review (British Association for Irish Studies Essay Prize), 25.1, 24-41.

'Assembling the Mechanosphere: Monod, Althusser, Deleuze and Guattari', Deleuze Studies, 10.4, 514-530.

'The Binding of Abraham: Inverting the Akedah in Fail-Safe and WarGames', Journal of Religion & Film, 19.1, article 37.

Essays and Reviews

'Vagabond Humanism', Times Literary Supplement, October 2018.

'The Eyes of Statues', The Brooklyn Rail, September 2017.

'The Way Things Go', Critical Quarterly, 57.3.

'In an Empire of the Dead', The Los Angeles Review of Books, July 2015.