Skip to Content

Department of English Language and Literature


Greg Forter

Title: Professor and Associate Chair
Department: English Language and Literature
College of Arts and Sciences
Phone: 803-576-5895
Office: HUO, Room 414
Resources: English Language and Literature


Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 1998


Postcolonial literature and theory
Twentieth-Century US literature
Historical fiction
Gender studies and feminist theory
Critical race theory


Global Contemporary Literature
Literary Hauntings: Ghosts, Specters, and Other Undead
Global Capitalism and Literary Form
The American Novel Since 1914
History and Utopia: Global Historical and Speculative/Science Fictions
Postcolonial Historical Fiction
Modern American Literature
Modernist Masculinities

Research Projects 

My current project, “World Enough, and Time: Capitalism, Temporality, and Speculative Realist Fiction,” gathers and explores a constellation of texts that can help us imagine a postcapitalist future. The project takes as its starting point four postulates:

(1) Capitalism works and can only work by submitting human beings to the rigors of time-discipline, which means subordinating them to mechanisms of labor quantification that tie the wage to abstract, measurable time. This time-discipline determines “free time” as the mere antithesis of labor time and leads to a generalized form of domination that Moishe Postone calls “the domination of people by time” (“Rethinking Marx’s Critical Theory,” 49).

(2) Our era of decreased wage labor (the decline of full-time jobs; the rise of flexible labor practices; the gig economy; etc.) signals less the opening up of authentically free time than the ever-increasing penetration and colonization of disposable time by the logic of capital: we are now compelled to be always “on,” always plugged in, always creatively maximizing our potential, always measuring, comparing, commodifying, and marketing ourselves, even and especially in the time that appears free.

(3) This temporal regime is underpinned by a relentless naturalization of the current order that makes any other way of organizing time all-but unimaginable. The manner in which time is distributed and counted presents itself as pregiven and incontestable (immune to doubt) in something like the sense conveyed by the claim that “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” Hence:

(4) A central task for the Left today is to reclaim and reinvigorate our atrophied organs of the imagination. We shall have to make a new time-consciousness central to our vernacular understanding of what capital is and does to us. And we will want to give imaginary substance to the other ways of inhabiting time that Jenny Odell refers to in describing doubt in the current order as “the emergency exit” that might lead us elsewhere. The “expansion upon doubt” that Odell recommends initiates, I argue, a rupture in the real through which alone something new might enter (Saving Time, xxvii). It invites us to locate cracks in the current order and inhabit them. It asks us to work those cracks, to deepen them, to uncover shards of what could be but is not in what is, and so to retrieve from the petrified present traces of history’s unacknowledged turbulences—occluded hopes and unredeemed sufferings that can be mobilized for a transfigured future.

A reanimation of the political imagination begins by grasping these other times that lurk in the purported closures of our present. It holds open gaps or hollows in the real that trouble the present’s tyrannical claim to permanence and self-identity. For capital today relies, as I’ve said, not just on the ever-expanding colonization of free time but on the “ongoing conversion” of historical time into “a constant present” (Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination, 300). It seeks to metabolize and so to eliminate the “countertemporalities” that Massimiliano Tomba has shown belong to those whose resistance to capital disrupts its internal, homogeneous unfolding. (Marx’s Temporalities, 3, 6-7, 18). In the slightly different lexicon of Jonathan Crary, contemporary capital aspires to a world that has been cleansed of “shadows and obscurities” and “alternate temporalities,” “a world identical to itself . . . and thus in principle without specters” (24/7, 19). To expand upon doubt is, in this light, to reclaim the temporal otherness that capital claims to eradicate in its self-presentation as eternal, self-identical, natural, and incontestable. Doubt is one word for the imaginative act of resisting “the final capitalist mirage of post-history, of an exorcism of the otherness that is the motor of historical change” (Crary, 24/7, 9).

My book contributes to this general project by analyzing a group of contemporary fictions that I name “speculative realism.” This term denotes, in my usage, a type of novel in which attention to the historically actual is hybridized with speculative techniques drawn from the “low” genres of fantasy, science fiction, and speculative fiction. The hybridization of these forms is what makes the genre both “speculative” and “realist.” A central effect of that hybridization is that a fictive world which appears to be our own is ruptured by the incursion of events that are strictly speaking impossible in our world: events that partake of the supernatural, the fantastical, and/or the marvelous. I view such incursions as a way of registering the temporal alterities that capital seeks (but fails) to absorb or eradicate. The novels provide us with prefigurations of these inassimilable, apparently foreclosed modes of time, and of other worlds that are immanent within yet irreducible to our own. Sometimes the “content” of such worlds is contained in the trace of defeated racial aspirations that haunt our purportedly “post-racial” era (see my discussions of Zoë Wicomb’s David’s Story in chapter 1 and Eugene Lim’s Dear Cyborgs in chapter 4). At other times, it concerns one or more of the following: the residues of women’s subterranean solidarities in a world that now boasts of being “postfeminist” (Helen Phillips’s The Need in chapter 2); the uncanny eruptions of natural history in the post-natural, post-historical, and climate-ravaged present (Matt Bell’s Appleseed and Amitav Ghosh’s Gun Island in chapter 3); the temporal logic of indebtedness that haunts the autonomy of contemporary artworks (Dear Cyborgs, again, in chapter 4); the glimmerings of utopian promise in global capital’s annihilation of space through time (Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West in chapter 5); or the prophetic, post-secular outlines of an empirically unknowable and plenitudinous future, in which time has become for the first time really and actually free (Karen Thompson Walker’s The Dreamers in chapter 6).

My project is at its basic level devoted to the conceptualization and analysis of these issues and these works. At another, slightly more abstract level, I explore the forms of speculative realism in order to conjure the temporal otherness whose retrieval is the condition for building a properly postcapitalist world.


   “Artistic Autonomy and the Bonds of Debt: Literature Since the Crisis in Capitalism,” ANGELAKI: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities (accepted, revised, and slated for publication in vol. 30 no. 6)
   • “Time After (Postfeminist) Time: Gender, Capital, and Helen Phillips’s The Need,Diacritics 51.1 (2023): 8-29
   Towards the Cli-Fi Historical Novel; or, Climate Futures Past in Recent Fiction,” American Literary History 35.4 (Winter 2023): 1665-1687
   Capitalism, Temporality, Precarity: Utopian Form and Its Discontents in Contemporary Literature and Theory,” Cultural Critique 117 (Fall 2022): 54-87
   Nature, Capitalism, and the Temporalities of Sleep: On Karen Thompson Walker’s The Dreamers,” Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature and the Arts 63.4: 409-34
   World Enough, and Time: Zoë Wicomb’s David’s Story with Marcuse, Benjamin, and Chakrabarty,” Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry 8.1 (2021): 60-79

   Critique and Utopia in Postcolonial Historical Fiction: Atlantic and Other Worlds (Oxford UP, 2019)
   • Gender, Race, and Mourning in American Modernism (Cambridge UP, 2011)
   • Murdering Masculinities: Fantasies of Gender and Violence in the American Crime Novel (New York UP, 2000)

   “James Baldwin’s Joy: Finitude, Carnality, Queer Community,” New Perspectives on Community and the Modernist Subject: Finite, Singular, Exposed, eds. Maria L. López, et. al. (London & New York: Routledge, 2017), 213-30
   • Atlantic and Other Worlds: Critique and Utopia in Postcolonial Historical Fiction,” PMLA 131.5 (October 2016): 1328-43
   • “‘A Good Head and a Better Whip’: Ireland, Enlightenment, and the Body of Slavery in Marlon James’s The Book of Night Women,” Slavery and Abolition 37.3 (2016): 521-40 (special issue on Ireland and Atlantic World Slavery, eds. Fionnghuala Sweeney, Fionnuala Dillane, Maria Stewart)
   “Faulkner and Trauma: On Sanctuary’s Originality,” Cambridge Companion to William Faulkner (Cambridge UP, 2015), 92-106
   • “Colonial Trauma, Utopian Carnality, Modernist Form: Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and Toni Morrison’s Beloved,” Contemporary Approaches in Literary Trauma Theory (Palgrave, 2014)
   • “Barry Unsworth and the Arts of Power: Historical Memory, Utopian Fictions,” Contemporary Literature 51.4 (2011): 777-809
   • “Freud, Faulkner, Caruth: Trauma and the Politics of Literary Form,” Narrative 15.3 (2007)
   • “Against Melancholia: Contemporary Mourning Theory, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and the Politics of Unfinished Grief,” differences 14.2 (2003): 134-70

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.