Ian Davis


Ian joined the department in 2013. His teaching and writing is about US literature and cultures from the 19th to the 21st centuries; transnational modernisms; race, gender, sexuality, and capital; queer theory and literature; affect studies; mass incarceration; and educational practices and institutions.

His dissertation, The Breakup Novel, argues it’s no accident that early 20th-century Euro-American fiction is rife with breakups: the breakup is central to modernist experiments in narrative form and social analysis. Breakup novels––concerned with how to interpret the souring of an intimacy, its strange accrual of bad habits and ugly feelings––explore knotty conundrums of subjectivity, memory, social ethics, and emotionality. Modernist writers used these conundrums to complicate the marriage plot teleologies of 19th-century fiction, and to undercut the triumphalist promises of social progress attending “civilized” modernity. Three chapters analyze the way a particular affect circulates in a novel about Americans breaking up in Paris: sociability in Henry James’s The Ambassadors (1903); anxiety in Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood (1936); and contempt in James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room (1956). Each affect forms a structure of interpretation which shapes each novel’s social relations and narrative style, and each chapter interrogates the ways these expatriate writers used the breakup’s relational failures to ask larger questions about the roles racial, gendered, sexual, and national cultures play in the production of harmful, unsustainable intimacies.

Ian’s been teaching composition and literary critical courses with the Prison Teaching Initiative since 2014. He’s precepted for Princeton classes on things like reading fiction; gender and sexuality studies; US American cinema; and children’s literature. He spent the 2016-17 academic year as a University Administrative Fellow, serving as PTI’s Humanities Personnel Coordinator; and he was PTI’s Graduate Tutoring Coordinator for the 2018-19 academic year; and he is a 2019-2020 PTI Bain-Swiggett fellow. He is also a senior researcher for the digital humanities Shakespeare and Company Project and has co-directed the 20th-Century Colloquium.