105 Johnson Chapel
PO Box: AC# 2234
Christopher A. Grobe
Assistant Professor of English
Departmental affiliation: EnglishAmherst College
Ph.D. (2011), M.Phil./M.A. (2009), Yale University, English Department
B.A. (2005), Yale University, English & Theatre Studies Departments
I specialize in the twentieth-century entanglement of literature, performance and media, and I teach across the long history of drama. I came to literary studies from a career in the theater, and this background explains my interests as a thinker and a teacher. In traditional theater, the actor’s task is to inhabit that no-man’s-land between the printed text of the play and the proliferating possibilities of its performance. My years spent in this no-man’s-land convinced me that whenever we deal with texts, we must pay attention to the performances they prompt or presume. Is that book you’re holding meant to be read silently or aloud, in private or in public, alone or together? Is it meant to be read at all? We instinctively consider such questions when reading plays, but what of novels, poems, or essays? We must ask not only what they offer us as readers, but also what they demand of us.
My current book project, Performing Confession: From Robert Lowell to Reality TV, explores a particular body of texts (recent American confessional narrative) in light of the performances that have been crucial in shaping and disseminating them. Under this rubric of “confessional performance,” I gather the public readings of confessional poets, the consciousness-raising monologues of early feminist performance artists, the self-revelation of theatrical monologuists, and even the “confession booth” speeches that pervade reality television. Autobiography, I argue, has become not only “performative” (as scholars of life-writing are eager to claim) but something literally to be performed.
My next book project, Refined Mechanicals: The Modern Actor and Other Technologies, will constitute a performance-minded intervention in media archaeology and media history, which have tended to focus either on the materiality of technologies themselves or on the immaterial discourses around them in literature and other writing. Theater, I argue, is an untapped trove of embodied knowledge about new technologies and their integration into our art, into our lives, and into our understanding of the world. I will consider how new technologies (telegraphy, telephony, phonography, etc.) were first incorporated into plays, film, and other modes of performance, focusing especially on the ways actors interacted with these technologies. I am particularly interested in how modern styles of acting, dramaturgy, and stagecraft were shaped by this increasingly sophisticated use of non-human scene partners. Telegraphy taught actors (and even the theater) what it meant to be "live." Telephones taught writers and performers how to evoke the unseen depths of realist character. Etc.
- “Every Nerve Keyed Up: 'Telegraph Plays' and Networked Performance, 1850-1900," Theater (forthcoming Spring 2016)
- “The Breath of the Poem: Confessional Print/Performance Circa 1959." PMLA 127.2 (March 2012): 215-230. (Link)
- “Love and Loneliness: Secular Morality in the Plays of Conor McPherson.” Princeton University Library Chronicle 68.1-2 (2006): 684-704.
- (excerpted in the Norton anthology of Modern and Contemporary Irish Drama, 563-568)
- "From the Podium to the Second Row: The Vanishing Feel of an Anne Sexton Reading" in This Business of Words: Reassessing Anne Sexton, University Press of Florida (forthcoming 2016).
- "The Anne Sexton Reading Poems" in This Business of Words: Reassessing Anne Sexton, University Press of Florida (forthcoming 2016).
- A collection of poems sent to Sexton by her fans about the experience of attending her poetry readings.
Reviews & Other Short Essays
- Review of Bodies on the Line: Performance and the Sixties Poetry Reading by Raphael Allison, New England Quarterly (forthcoming September 2015)
- "Hollywood Calling: Luise Rainer, Sally Hawkins, and the First Law of Telephone Scenes," Los Angeles Review of Books. Online. (Link)
- "Lending An Ear," Public Books. Online. (Link)
- "Memoir 2.0; or, Confession Gone Wild," Public Books. Online. (Link)
- Review of American Poetry in Performance: From Walt Whitman to Hip Hop. Modern Drama 55.4 (Winter 2012): 579-81. (Link)
- "Refined Mechanicals; Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Share the Stage: New Scholarship on Theater and Media." Theater 42.2 (May 2012): 139-146. (Link)
- “Canonical Improvisations: The Case of Them.” Theater 41.2 (2011): 5-7. (Link)
- “Twice Real: Marina Abramović and the Performance Archive.” Theater 41.1 (2011): 104-113. (Link)
- The New Haven Independent (head theater critic, 2007-2008)
- The Village Voice (contributing theater critic, 2008-2010)