Dennis Wilson Wise

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20th-Century American Literature

Within modern American literature, my research focuses most heavily on fantasy literature, historical fiction, and science fiction. My dissertation (in progress) looks at J.R.R. Tolkien, who, while British, has been equally if not more influential on the American literary scene. Entitled Between the Ancient and the Modern: The Role of Political Philosophy in the Modern Fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien, I argue that the study of fantasy literature—Tolkien especially—can be illuminated by looking at the classic opposition made by political philosopher Leo Strauss between the ancient and the modern, particularly through his employment of such concepts as the City (i.e., politeia, the “regime”), Greek thumos, and rhetoric. In particular, fantasy has the unique ability to present ways of thinking about political society that seem quite alien to post-Hobbes or post-Machiavelli political thought. A portion of my dissertation have already been published in the Journal of Tolkien Research.

My most recent work in American literature deals with two popular historical novelists, Gary Jennings and Daniel Peters. With both writing about the Aztecs at nearly the same time, I show how Peters’s New Left sympathies leads him into a number of paradoxes where he must ideologically defend an virulently anti-liberal, autocratic, but native, pre-Columbian culture against the imperialistic Spanish (who are proxies for American aggression in Vietnam). Jennings, a better selling but unabashedly less “literary” writer, is no more “accurate” in his representation of the Aztecs, but it is precisely his un-literary concerns that allow him to valorize a native pre-American culture without running into all the problems encountered by Daniel Peters.

My MA thesis focused on Stephen R. Donaldson, using cognitive narrative theory to show how Donaldson managed to achieve a “mimesis of interiority,” such as that achieved by the Modernist writers he studied, by externalizing the interior processes of the mind onto a secondary world with a questionable ontological status. My undergraduate thesis looked at Donaldson’s use of fantasy as a way to articulate his vision of an “existentialist prototype.” I have also published an article on Donaldson, which appears in New Boundaries in Political Science Fiction, edited by Clyde Wilcox and Donald M. Hassler. In that article, I argue that Donaldson’s use of genre (he wrote both science fiction and fantasy) actually affects influences his ability to depict an “autonomous” individuality — the genre of science fiction forces Donaldson to present a self that is more socially constructed.

I have also worked extensively with Critical Theory.


  • “Re-Writing Smith of Wootton Major: Identity, Temporality, and Faërie in Verlyn Flieger’s Fiction.” “A Wilderness of Dragons”: Essays in Honor of Verlyn Flieger. Ed. John D. Rateliff. Proposal accepted on August 28th, 2015. Article due March, 2016.
  • “Wallace Stevens and the Poetry of the Last Man.” SCMLA conference hosted in Nashville, 2015. Essay also a recipient of MTSU’s Wolfe Graduate Writing Award, 2014.
  • “The Campus Novel: Amanda Cross/Carolyn Heilbrun and Death in a Tenured Position.” Presentation to the EGSO reading group, 2015.
  • “Wallace Stevens and Robert Frost.” Wallace Stevens seminar: class presentation. 2014.
  • “Multiculturalism and Historical Fiction: The Re-Consecration of Tenochtitlan’s Great Pyramid.” EGSO Graduate Research Symposium hosted in Murfreesboro, 2013.
  • “Langston Hughes.” Seminar in American Literature, 1900-1950: class presentation, 2013.
  • “Postmodernism and SF’s Samuel R. Delany.” Seminar in Postmodernism: class presentation, 2013.
  • “Machiavelli, Immoralism, and the Late Epic Fantasy of Glen Cook.” MAPACA conference hosted in Pittsburgh, 2012.
  • “Ontological Bifurcation: Consciousness and Mind in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.” MA thesis. 2008.
  • “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Social Critique: Stephen R. Donaldson’s Gap Into Genre.” New Boundaries in Political Science Fiction. Ed. Donald M. Hassler and Clyde Wilcox. Columbia, SC: U of South Carolina P, 2008. 290-298. Print.
  • “Stephen R. Donaldson and his Apotheosis of the Existential Prototype.” Undergraduate Honors Thesis. 2006.
  • “Parataxis, Polyphony, and Poetics in The Sun Also Rises.” Dubois Critical Writing Award, Kent State University, 2006.




  • “Reading Hélène Cixous.” Seminar in Feminist Theory: class presentation, 2014.
  • “Franz Fanon and Violence.” Seminar in Postcolonial Literature and Theory: class presentation, 2013.
  • “Mikhail Bakhtin and the Marxist Treatment of the Folkloric.” Critical Theory Seminar: class presentation, 2014.
  • “Edmund Husserl, Phenomenology, and Cognitive Narrative Theory.” Seminar: Narrative Theory and Consciousness: class presentation, 2007.
  • “Tzvetan Todorov’s Structuralist Approach to the Fantastic.” Intro to Grad Study: class presentation, 2006.
  • “Parataxis, Polyphony, and Poetics in The Sun Also Rises.” Bakhtinian analysis of Hemingway’s novel, written for a seminar in semiotics, bestowed Kent State English Department’s top award for undergraduate writing in 2006.