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College of Arts and Letters | Michigan State University


Justus Nieland


Modernism | Film Studies


Ph.D., Indiana University, 2002

M.A., Indiana University, 1998 



A641 Wells Hall

Justus Nieland's primary research interests include modernism, film and media studies, and contemporary fiction. Additional interests include theories of the affects and emotions, film and media theory, film noir, avant-garde and experimental cinema, modern architecture and design, and transnational modernisms.

Professor Nieland's approach to the aesthetic and political cultures of modernism is international and interdisciplinary. His first book, Feeling Modern: The Eccentricities of Public Life (University of Illinois Press, 2008), offered a revisionist account of the public work of modernist affect, ranging widely across the fields of early twentieth-century literary history, film studies, and art history. Tracking modernism's ambitious designs on feelings as public products of early twentieth-century modernity, Feeling Modern argues that modernism's achievement lay in its artful refashioning of public experiences in which the feelings would live a mediated life, producing strange new varieties of intimacy, sympathy, and laughter. He is also the author of Film Noir: Hard-Boiled Modernity and the Cultures of Globalization, with Jennifer Fay (Routledge, 2010), a book that traces film noir’s emergent connection to European cinema, its movement within a cosmopolitan culture of literary and cinematic translation, and its postwar consolidation in the US, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. More recently, he has completed David Lynch (University of Illinois Press, 2012). His book casts this iconic filmmaker as an interior designer, a lyric archivist of affect, and an anthropologist of untimely organisms. Professor Nieland's study discusses the range of modern design idioms that inform Lynch’s famously cinematic interiors, his work’s acute attention to the shaping of affect in particular media environments, and its insistence on the strangeness of biology lived through media. He is co-editor of the Contemporary Film Directors series at the University of Illinois Press. 

Professor Nieland's scholarly work has also appeared in Modernism/ModernityNOVEL: A Forum on FictionModernist Cultures, the African American Review, and The Blackwell Companion to the Modern American Novel.

He is currently working on a book, titled Happiness by Design, about midcentury designers' interest in moving-image technologies and their role in remaking the modernist sensorium for Cold War modernity. 

Recent Publications


"Making happy, happy-making: The Eameses and Communication by Design," The Affects of Modernism, ed. Julie Taylor (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming 2015).

"Dirty Media: Tom McCarthy and the Afterlife of Modernism," Modern Fiction Studies 58:3 (Fall 2012), 569-599. 

Courses Taught


Cosmopolitan Modernism / Postmodernism 
Mysteries of the Organism: Modernism and the Meaning of Life
Theories of Modernity
Modernism's Visual Cultures

Undergraduate / Film:
Cinemas of Affect: Hitchcock, Bunuel, Lynch
Classical Film and Media Theory
French Cinema and the Long 1960s
An Erotics of Cinema: Surrealism and Film Theory
Making Cinema Modern

Undergraduate / Literature:
The Media Environments of Modern British Literature
Sentimentalism and its Discontents
The Anti-Social 
Noir Fiction
Modernism and the 1930s