Dr Ben Nichols

Postdoctoral Fellow
Ben Nichols

Jan 2016 - Aug 2016

Home institution

King’s College London


Before taking up a Postdoctoral Fellowship at IASH, I completed an AHRC-funded PhD on modern literature and queer theory at King’s College London and also taught in the English Department at KCL. My thesis explored and interrogated the aversion to forms of sameness in contemporary queer and critical theory via readings of queer literary figures including Henry James, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Radclyffe Hall and John Rechy, amongst others. I’m currently beginning a new long-term project that addresses the ideas of standardization, measurement and management in relation to the literary culture of the early twentieth century. At IASH, I’m working on a shorter project concerned with the apparent aesthetic failures of modern and contemporary LGBT literature. I’m interested in thinking about the ways in which what are often imagined as forms of aesthetic failure might be related in interesting and important ways to the conditions of minoritized cultural production.


Quality Control: Everyday Aesthetic Judgment and Postwar LGBT Literature

This project explores post-war LGBT literature and the politics of its popular reception. The aim of the project is to capture the prevalence of common and everyday forms of aesthetic judgment in LGBT cultures, but perhaps more importantly to transform readers’ understandings of apparently bad literary qualities by highlighting their social significance or value. There are a number of strands. The first offers a theoretical justification for the boredom often experienced in relation to the stock plots of the “coming-out” story–I argue that it may be necessary to tediously and repeatedly go over the same positions from within a minoritized culture that has few secure institutions for its dissemination and development. The second provides a history of the role of LGBT literary anthologies in constructing seemingly aesthetically unsophisticated, but nonetheless publicly visible “middlebrow” readerships. The third uses the work of Ali Smith to explore claims that increasing legal equality renders emphatic LGBT focus irrelevant. This strand explores what else self-consciously LGBT work is for apart from explicit political intervention: for example, enjoyment and community. The final strand reconsiders the value of the large numbers that have been seen to define both aesthetic failures and oppressive majorities. Ranging over diverse material–including mass market pulp fiction, literary fiction concerned with large numbers of sexual partners, and the records of early LGBT rights groups–I argue that large quantities are not just vectors of pernicious convention, but also mitigate the effects of isolation and marginalization.


Peer-reviewed Journal Articles 

“Reductive: John Rechy, Queer Theory, and the Idea of Limitation” GLQ (39pp in ms; forthcoming, 2016) [Duke UP]

“Queer Footing: Pedestrian Politics and the Problem of Queer Difference in The Princess CasamassimaHenry James Review 34.1 (2013): 98-111 [Johns Hopkins UP]