Seltzer, Mark 1951-
SELTZER, Mark 1951-
PERSONAL: Born 1951. Education: University of California—Berkeley, M.A., Ph.D.
CAREER: Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, former professor of English; Humbolt University, Berlin, German, chair of American Studies, until 2001; University of California—Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, Evan Frankel chair in English and American literature, 2001–. Has also taught at Stanford University and Free University of Berlin.
Henry James and the Art of Power (literary criticism), Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1984.
Bodies and Machines, Routledge (New York, NY), 1992.
SIDELIGHTS: English professor Mark Seltzer's field of interest has focused for almost a decade on the ways in which modern human beings relate to their creations and with one another. His book Bodies and Machines examines the literature of the beginning of the modern period—the late nineteenth century—to discover "the way in which human interaction was influenced by the advent of typewriters, lightbulbs and other developments from the second industrial revolution," explained Meg Sullivan in UCLA Today. More generally, Bodies and Machines looks at the ways modern cultural movements, such as increased urbanization, the evolution of modern industrial society, and the emergence of mass-consumerism, have affected the ways we see ourselves. The work, wrote Nina Baym in the Journal of English and Germanic Philology, "centers on the cultural discourses through which new and conflicted apprehensions of the relationship between the organic and the mechanical were formulated and expressed in this turbulent time."
For examples to illustrate these discourses, Seltzer draws on books that were written in the style of naturalism: he examines works by authors Frank Norris, Henry James, Stephen Crane, Jack London, and Rebecca Harding Davis that show how these writers change the way we look at the human body; and he explores modern ideas about the relationship between our bodies and technology, our bodies and our concept of personhood, the ways we categorize ourselves using statistical techniques, the relationship between male sexuality and mechanism, and the interactions between modern market culture and modern machine culture. The book, Baym concluded, "is about 'notions,' that is, ideas, because it believes that ideas have an effect on people's lives. And the ideas it is most interested in are those that affect people most immediately, most romantically—ideas of one's body."
Serial Killers: Death and Life in America's Wound Culture grew out of Seltzer's research for Bodies and Machines. The increased urbanization made possible (and necessary) by modern industrial society brought strangers into closer and closer proximity with one another. Seltzer suggests that this forced closeness has worn away the sense of community that dominated human interactions before the emergence of a heavily industrialized society. "He maintains," explained Sullivan, "that otherwise unremarkable men turned to committing serial murders as a twisted means of answering the question, 'Who am I?'"
Serial Killers not only looks at the emergence of serial murderers as a modern phenomenon, but also examines the fascination these diseased people have for mass audiences, the "public fascination," as Jim G. Burns described it in his Library Journal review, "with torn and opened bodies and psyches." According to Seltzer, said John Leonard in the Nation, it seems that our fascination with the abnormal obscenities of serial murder is itself a sign of the dislocation of modern society. We find it easiest to see our society from the outside, through the eyes of people totally alienated from it—and for those people, who have lost or rejected contact with the values of the larger community of humanity, fantasy becomes reality and reality becomes fantasy. "Seltzer's notion of 'the pathological public sphere,'" Leonard concluded, "is as vivid as it is instructive."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Literary History, winter, 2000, Joel Black, "Murder: The State of the Art," p. 780.
American Literature, March, 1993, Michael Wutz, review of Bodies and Machines, p. 158.
Choice, June, 1998, R.T. Sigler, review of Serial Killers: Death and Life in America's Wound Culture, p. 1793.
Danforth Review, fall, 1993, review of Bodies and Machines, p. 212.
Journal of American Culture, summer, 1999, Steffen Hantke, review of Serial Killers, p. 94.
Journal of American Studies, December, 1993, Brian Jarvis, review of Bodies and Machines, p. 445.
Journal of English and Germanic Philology, October, 1985, review of Henry James and the Art of Power, p. 580; October, 1993, Nina Baym, review of Bodies and Machines, p. 535.
Library Journal, February 15, 1998, Jim G. Burns, review of Serial Killers, p. 160.
Modern Fiction Studies, winter, 1994, Timothy Sweet, review of Bodies and Machines, p. 914.
Nation, June 15, 1998, John Leonard, review of Serial Killers, p. 23.
Novel, winter, 1989, Meili Steele, review of Henry James and the Art of Power, p. 237.
UCLA Today Online, http://www.today.ucla.edu/ (May 11, 2005), Meg Sullivan, "Researcher Explores Fascination with Crime: Studying America's 'Wound Culture.'"