Like most writers, I often find writing hard work—sometimes exceed-
ingly hard and even painful work—but writing these next few pages was
pure pleasure. The wisdom, examples, aid, support, and friendship of the
people acknowledged here kept me going through nearly a decade. They
are responsible for this book coming into being and deserve great credit
for its insights. I’ll gladly take credit for the flaws, since I know learning
of them and correcting them will require continued contact with most
of those named below.
This book originated as my doctoral dissertation at the University of
Chicago. Though he died before I could begin work on the project,
Gerald Mast inspired it with his teaching and writing. I hope he would
accept it as an elaboration of his own work, and I hope those who knew
and treasured Gerald will accept my work as a memorial to him.
Miriam Hansen, who directed the dissertation, Lauren Berlant, and
W. J. T. Mitchell, who were its readers, were unstinting in their support
and incisive in their comments and criticisms—a valuable combination.
They talked me through many of ‘‘my’’ ideas and then read my drafts
and commented again, further improving those ideas, now even less ex-
clusively mine than they were to begin with.
At the College of William and Mary, my colleagues in American
Studies, English, Film Studies, and Literary and Cultural Studies ener-
getically and kindly extended the work of my teachers, and this book is
much better for all they have taught me. For their general support, thanks
to my chairs over the years, David Aday, Bob Gross, Terry Meyers, Ann
Reed, and Alan Wallach; to Joanne Braxton, Jean Brown, Lisa Grimes
(and the staff of the Roy R. Charles Center), Colleen Kennedy, Rich
Lowry, Brad Weiss, and Kim Wheatley; and to the many students who
have challenged my ideas and shared their own. Chandos Michael Brown
graciously made the illustrations possible. For persistently inquiring after
my progress, even when it must have been uncomfortable to do so,
thanks to Chris MacGowan and Katherine Preston. Chris Bongie (now,
alas, of Queen’s University, Ontario), too, was a persistent inquirer, but
he was also, at a crucial moment, a superb, quick, and voluntary critic
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