New Books in August

Don’t miss all our exciting new releases in August!

In three long-form poems and a lyrical essay, fahima ife speculates in Maroon Choreography on the afterlives of Black fugitivity, unsettling the historic knowledge of it while moving inside the ongoing afterlives of those people who disappeared themselves into rural spaces beyond the reach of slavery.

Rachel Zolf activates the last three lines of a poem by Jewish Nazi Holocaust survivor Paul Celan—“No one / bears witness for the / witness”—to theorize the poetics and im/possibility of witnessing in No One’s Witness.

In Amkoullel, the Fula Boy, Malian writer Amadou Hampâté Bâ—one of the towering figures in the literature of twentieth-century Francophone Africa—tells in striking detail the story of his youth, which was set against inter-ethnic conflict and the arrival and installation of French colonialism.

In The Politics of Decolonial Investigation Walter D. Mignolo provides a sweeping examination of how colonialty has operated around the world in its myriad forms between the sixteenth and twenty-first centuries while calling for a decolonial politics that would delink from all forms of Western knowledge.

Laurence Coderre explores the material culture of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in Newborn Socialist Things to show how it paved the way for rampant commodification and consumption in contemporary China.

Carolyn Hardin offers a new way of understanding arbitrage—the trading practice that involves buying assets in one market at a cheap price and immediately selling them in another market for a profit—as a means of showing how its reliance upon taking on risk is fundamental to financial markets in Capturing Finance.

Monica Huerta draws on her experiences growing up in her family’s Mexican restaurants and her life as an academic in Magical Habits to sketch out habits of living that allow us to consider what it means to live with history as we are caught up in it and how those histories bear on our capacities to make sense of our lives.

The contributors to Long Term, edited by Scott Herring and Lee Wallace, use the tension between the popular embrace and legalization of same-sex marriage and the queer critique of homonormativity as an opportunity to examine the myriad forms of queer commitments and their durational aspect.

In Domestic Contradictions Priya Kandaswamy brings together two crucial moments in welfare history—the advent of the Freedmen’s Bureau during Reconstruction and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996—to show how they each targeted Black women through negative stereotyping and normative assumptions about gender, race, and citizenship.

In Policing Protest Paul A. Passavant explores how the policing of protest in the United States has become increasingly hostile since the late 1990s, moving away from strategies that protect protestors toward militaristic practices designed to suppress legal protests.

In A Black Intellectual’s Odyssey Martin Kilson—the first tenured African American professor at Harvard—takes readers on a fascinating journey from his upbringing in a small Pennsylvania mill town to his experiences as an undergraduate to pursuing graduate study at Harvard before spending his entire career there as a faculty member.

In Whiteness Interrupted, Marcus Bell presents a revealing portrait of white teachers in majority Black schools to outline how white racial identity is constructed based on localized interactions and the ways whiteness takes a different form in predominantly Black spaces.

Jennifer C. Nash examines how the figure of the “Black mother” has become a powerful political category synonymous with crisis, showing how they are often rendered into one-dimensional symbols of tragic heroism and the ground zero of Black life in Birthing Black Mothers.

Transnational Feminist Itineraries, edited by Ashwini Tambe and Millie Thayer, demonstrates the key contributions of transnational feminist theory and practice to analyzing and contesting authoritarian nationalism and the extension of global corporate power.

In Reimagining Social Medicine from the South Abigail H. Neely explores social medicine’s possibilities and limitations at one of its most important origin sites: the Pholela Community Health Centre (PCHC) in South Africa.

Disability Pride Month Resources

In July we honor Disability Pride Month to commemorate the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. Read on to learn more about our recent titles that explore the state of contemporary disability studies.

In Exile and Pride genderqueer activist/writer Eli Clare weaves together memoir, history, and political thinking to explore meanings and experiences of home, all the while providing an intersectional framework for understanding how we actually experience the daily hydraulics of oppression, power, and resistance over the course of several personal essays, .

Drawing on the radical black tradition, process philosophy, and Felix Guattari’s schizoanalysis, Erin Manning explores the links between neurotypicality, whiteness, and black life in For a Pragmatics of the Useless.

The contributors to Long Term, edited by Scott Herring and Lee Wallace, use the tension between the popular embrace and legalization of same-sex marriage and the queer critique of homonormativity as an opportunity to examine the myriad forms of queer commitments and their durational aspect.

Crip Temporalities,” a special issue of the South Atlantic Quarterly edited by Ellen Samuels and Elizabeth Freeman, brings together explorations of crip temporality: the ways in which bodily and mental disabilities shape the experience of time. More than just a space of loss and frustration, crip time also offers liberatory potential: the contributors imagine how justice, connection, and pleasure might emerge from temporalities that center compassion rather than productivity.

In Black Madness :: Mad Blackness Therí Alyce Pickens examines the speculative and science fiction of Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, and Tananarive Due to rethink the relationship between race and disability, thereby unsettling the common theorization that they are mutually constitutive.

In this revised and expanded edition of Medicine Stories, Aurora Levins Morales weaves together the insights and lessons learned over a lifetime of activism to offer a new theory of social justice, bringing clarity and hope to tangled, emotionally charged social issues in beautiful and accessible language.

In Sexuality, Disability, and Aging, Jane Gallop explores how disability and aging are commonly understood to undermine one’s sense of self and challenges narratives that register the decline of bodily potential and ability as nothing but an experience of loss.

Q&A with Shaoling Ma, author of The Stone and the Wireless

Shaoling Ma is Assistant Professor of Humanities at Yale-NUS College, Singapore. In The Stone and the Wireless, she examines late Qing China’s political upheavals and modernizing energies through the problem of the dynamics between new media technologies such as the telegraph the discursive representations of them.

Is The Stone and the Wireless a history of the late Qing period, a work of media theory, or a media history? How are the concepts of media and history interrelated here?

It is all three, though interestingly, The Stone and the Wireless started out as none of them. The first version of the book, which was my Ph.D. dissertation, actually focused on utopia. I began with some seminal texts of early Chinese science fiction, and realized only quite late in my research process that what communicated the fantasies of national and individual rejuvenation in these writings were fantasies of communication themselves. So, then, communicative technologies came into the picture, but only by moving beyond fiction and finding a similar trajectory in the political and social histories of the period—that is, after diving into late Qing history proper—was I convinced that the interrelation between media, history, and theory is so integral to necessitate a thorough investigation.  

The history of media, perhaps even more so than other histories, directly concern who reported what, when, and through which specific medium. Scholars like Lisa Gitelman, Thomas Mullaney, and Andrew Jones, to name just a few, have admirably wrested global media history from the dominant perspective of inventors and established users. In learning from their work, I also became convinced that a retelling of media history is the incipient theorizing of what media do. The last piece of the puzzle came when I realized that precisely because the late Qing men and women were “recording,” “transmitting,” and attempting their versions of “connectivity” – to use the three key terms that structure my book—without a clear conception of what media are, they were media theorists before their time. 

Is translation a literal process or a metaphor in this book?

I see linguistic and cultural translations as one kind of mediation, which if used too generally to refer to the negotiation of differently opposing categories of thought, does risk becoming a metaphor. Of course there is nothing wrong with metaphors, unless we forget that concrete, historical processes also undergird the very distinction between the literal and the figurative. Keeping an eye on technological media serves as a way to remind someone like myself trained in comparative literary studies on this important distinction, which is really another way of saying that subtle difference between literal and metaphorical translations depends on the priority that an analysis gives to including actual communicative processes. 

In your conclusion you point to a dystopian turn in contemporary Chinese science-fiction, in contrast to the utopian period you describe in the late Qing Dynasty. Has the role of media changed alongside the tone of more contemporary Chinese fiction?

One period’s utopia easily becomes another century’s dystopia, but even within a single utopian work, the perfection of an all-powerful nation-state, for instance, can spell the end of a utopia for free, individual inquiry. Hence in Wu Jianren’s recognizably utopian New Story of the Stone (1905), which I discuss in Chapter 2, Jia Baoyu realizes there is nothing left for him to discover, let alone accomplish, in the perfected, Confucian technocracy, and departs. This gives the novel a slight, nuanced dystopian edge. The contemporary Chinese science-fiction writers who lambast social-economic inequality and disastrous environmental consequences of China’s post-socialist reforms can be seen as rejecting the utopia of national wealth and power bequeathed by their late Qing predecessors. But it may well be around the question of media where the contemporary dystopian turn converges with the earlier historical utopianism. By this, I mean that there is a risk when the dream of perfect communicability—as variously embraced by followers of design-thinking, innovation, disruption, and entrepreneurship—and its promise to do away with mediation altogether, become the substitute for collective action and the actual redress of injustice. This is my point in the conclusion: once the heroine of The Waste Tide, is construed as the disembodied, virtual consciousness—the literal, perfect medium—between the downtrodden e-waste workers and the privileged classes, the novel also reaches a too-easy resolution of the conflict that it otherwise carefully depicts. The tricky balance, as I see it, is always between the means-and-end relation. Can we have a satisfyingly dystopian critique without risking an utopian instrumentalizing, which in the case of The Waste Tide and its continuation of the turn-of-the-twentieth-century scientific and cultural imagination, manifest in the form of the female medium, who gets killed off in the end?   

There are many figures in this book. Why are the stone and the wireless the ones that made it into your title?

The stone refers to the mythological surface bearing the inscribed records of history, but also the lithographic process; the wireless figures in the late Qing period’s obsessions with interconnectivity through electricity and neuroanatomy. The stone and the wireless, more so than the other figures in the book, most vividly contest the supposed teleology of technological progress, and other related conceptual oppositions between the primitive and the modern, the visible and the invisible, and materiality and immateriality. The challenge of keeping all these terms in dynamic tension arose when I had to choose an image for my book cover: one finds plenty of appropriate stone figures, but the same can’t be said for the more abstract figure of the wireless. In the end, Wang Sishun’s “Apocalypse, 2015-19” came closest to capturing the abstractions of the concrete and the materiality of the abstract, which the book seeks to embody. I owe much to the artist and Duke’s art department for this, of course!

What can “Western” media theory learn from the Chinese media history you outline here?

I am glad that the question, too, puts “Western” in quotes without jettisoning the term altogether. We have tried to exorcise the “West” versus the “Rest” for so long, but the catch-all term remains useful when the historical materials one examines rely on them. A central argument of my book is that late Qing thinkers also attempted to negotiate the distinctions between China and the “West” through unhinging the same troubling associations these terms have with history and theory, respectively. And what effected such an unhinging but the communicative devices and processes of the time? To return to my answer for the first question above, I don’t believe it is possible to do a rigorous job of non-“Western” media history without also retheorizing media: this is both the challenge and bonus of working with cultural difference and within the still codified “area” studies. So, the first thing that “Western” media theory can learn from Chinese media history is that the active mediations of national, cultural, and epistemic distinctions, far from being some unintended consequences, are part and parcel of what media do. In other words, the history of early Chinese communicative processes consolidated the late Qing’s views of the “West,” as well as its theory of media. 

I am constantly aware that “China” and “Chinese” are equally problematic terms. It falls beyond the scope of my study to contribute to the rich field of scholarship that examines the complexities of ethnicity, race, and language policies of the period. I try to allude to some of these issues when I can, and I hope to do them better justice in my new project on contemporary China.

Read the introduction to The Stone and the Wireless and save 30% on the paperback edition using the code E21MASLG.

Religion in the Making of South Sudan by Christopher Tounsel

Christopher Tounsel is Catherine Shultz Rein Early Career Professor in the College of the Liberal Arts and Assistant Professor of History and African Studies at Pennsylvania State University. In his new book book Chosen Peoples: Christianity and Political Imagination in South Sudan he investigates the centrality of Christian worldviews to the ideological construction of South Sudan from the early twentieth century to the present.

On July 9th, the East African nation of South Sudan will celebrate its tenth anniversary of independence. One may expect that customary nationalist symbols will be on full display in the capital city of Juba and throughout the country. The red, green and black-striped national flag adorned with its shining yellow star will wave; public officials will make commemorative speeches; and the following lyrics from the national anthem will fill the air:

“Oh God

We praise and glorify You

For Your grace on South Sudan,

Land of great abundance

Uphold us united in peace and harmony…

Oh God, bless South Sudan!”

The first stanza of ‘South Sudan Oyee’ is indicative of another foundational element of South Sudanese nationalism: Christian theology. This became apparent to me when I was in the capital city of Juba in July 2012, when raucous festivities marked the first anniversary of independence. In a speech made in the shadows of the city’s All Saints’ Cathedral, one speaker shared that after liberation hero John Garang’s death ‘God in his mercy [gave] us a Joshua with unique talent and wisdom who took us through the days of difficulty’. Joshua, in this paradigm, was President Salva Kiir. Another speaker alluded to the Hebrew captivity in Egypt by thanking God for giving them independence, leading His children across the river, and ending their slavery. In these ways and more, it was evident that independence was more than a political occasion; it was a religious moment as well.

In Chosen Peoples: Christianity and Political Imagination in South Sudan, I explore how Southern Sudanese intellectuals used Judeo-Christian Scriptures to frame their struggle for political self-determination. Included in the “Religious Cultures of African and African Diaspora Peoples” series, the book examines how clerics, soldiers, refugees and others laid the ideological foundations of the South Sudanese nation-state. During Sudan’s lengthy postcolonial civil wars, Southern Sudanese envisioned themselves as a “chosen people” destined for liberation while Arabs and Muslims were likened to oppressors in the Biblical tradition of Babylon, Egypt, and the Philistines. South Sudan presents a unique case in African Christianity whereby ideologues aimed liberatory, nationalist Christian thought against non-white and non-Christian co-citizens.

Even after the country crossed the proverbial Jordan to entered the Promised Land of nationhood, various clerics, politicians and bloggers continued to employ Biblical framings to issues of social and political concern. These individuals, ranging from recently-deceased Archbishop Paulino Loro to President Kiir himself, articulated political theology despite the absence of Northern Sudanese Arab Muslim ‘oppressors.’ Such discursive behavior showed that South Sudanese religious nationalism is—and never was—based exclusively in anti-Islamization.

Independence, however, has been far from ‘milk and honey.’ The national anthem’s plea for God to uphold the nation in harmonious peace struck with particular irony when the young nation became embroiled in an ethnically divisive civil war in December 2013. Tens of thousands lost their lives, and hundreds of thousands were forced from their homes. What became of the liberation theology that was supposed to reach its poetic conclusion with political sovereignty? While the conflict debunked any notion that Southerners felt a sense of pan-Christian solidarity strong enough to subsume ethnicity or prevent ethnic tension, it also produced a dynamic crucible of religious thought. Religious thought still functioned as a political technology despite the changed scope of who and what constituted us and them, good and evil, heroes and villains. Despite the trials that have characterized freedom’s first decade, South Sudanese have not forsaken the idea that the spiritual is intimately connected with the material, or that Scripture is a useful political resource with a pertinent word for every situation. 

As South Sudan prepares for its decennial next month, the prospects for the country’s second decade are filled with uncertainties. Though the civil war is officially over, will relations between the Dinka and the Nuer—the two primary ethnic groups engaged in the conflict—improve or decline? How long will it take for the country to healthily emerge from the COVID-19 crisis? How will South Sudan relate to its former enemy Sudan now that its longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir is no longer in power? Though the answers to these questions remain to be seen, history suggests this South Sudanese will continue to inject theology into public, political discourse. While the United States has displayed how destructive and divisive Christian nationalism can be, South Sudan may offer a more constructive interplay of religion, state, faith and politics.

Read the introduction to Chosen Peoples free online and save 30% on the paperback edition with the coupon code E21TNSL.

“The Eye of Fire” in the Gulf of Mexico: Yet Another Warning from the Ocean | A Guest Post by Eric Paul Roorda

What’s more impressive than a long, elaborate fireworks show? 

The OCEAN ON FIRE!

When that happens, it looks like the cauldron of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Mount Doom.

An unprecedented phenomenon that was quickly dubbed “The Eye of Fire” formed in the Gulf of Mexico over the Fourth of July weekend, when a gas line ruptured and managed to catch fire underwater

How does that happen?!

Watching the video of raging flames spouting from the Ocean was like staring down a Satan/Cyclops.

The undersea gas line, stemming from a nearby drilling rig, operated by the national Mexican petroleum monopoly Pemex, burned for five hours. That is much, much longer than any fireworks spectacle, but not nearly as loud. 

Not loud in a literal sense, that is. It probably hissed like a gas grill heating up for an Independence Day cookout. But in a figurative sense, it was a deafening warning shot from the future of the Ocean.

“The Eye of Fire” is further proof, if such were needed, that the Gulf of Mexico is a mess. And by extension, so is the Ocean.

The Gulf of Mexico is where the first “Dead Zone” formed, a vast area so anaerobic that organisms other than algae cannot survive there. Annual inundations of fertilizer runoff from the sprawling Mississippi River watershed created the original Dead Zone. It has grown steadily, as years of farming and lawn care keep flushing petroleum-based nitrogen products from the brown water of the rivers into the blue water of the sea. 

Now, Dead Zones are forming, or very likely will form soon, in all similar embayments around the world: The Persian Gulf, The Bay of Bengal, The Mediterranean, Black, and Yellow Seas… Also, big estuaries, where freshwater meets salt, are actively deteriorating as marine environments: The Chesapeake, San Francisco Bay, the Guayaquil River in Ecuador, the Pearl River in China…

But the “Eye of Fire” phenomenon is more closely related to a different debacle in the increasingly dystopian Gulf of Mexico: the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. The benthic zone in the region around that catastrophe continues to suffer its consequences—weird mutations and population reduction among our crustacean friends, for instance. The same is true of the littoral region, where beach-walkers must beware oil blobs in the sand.

As the nation’s terrestrial infrastructure erodes and collapses (most recently, condos in Miami; not long ago, an Interstate bridge in Minneapolis), the disintegration of the subaqueous bones of the energy economy do the same.

The cause of the “Eye of Fire” is unknown at this moment, but it is likely to follow the pattern of the myopic over-reach of the Deepwater Horizon operation, drilled at a depth too far. Pipelines everywhere face the same prospect of failure. A freshwater example is the decrepit and accident-prone Line 5 through the Straits of Mackinac, which is facing long-overdue scrutiny and causing U.S.-Canada tensions that are ongoing at this very moment.

The fiery eye in the Ocean over the weekend sends the same message as the other disasters that preceded it, and which will follow: We H. sapiens must stop relying on chemical fertilizers and quit burning fossils, or the planet will not be able to sustain our species much longer.

Don’t take it from me; let the Ocean tell you!

Eric Paul Roorda is editor of The Ocean Reader: History, Culture, Politics and Professor of History at Bellarmine University. A recent review in World History Connected called The Ocean Reader “a wonderful supplement for a global or maritime history course or an interdisciplinary course that explores the Ocean on its own terms.” Save 30% on the book with coupon E20RORDA.

“It’s Safer on this Ship”: A Guest Post by Eric Paul Roorda

The start of COVID-time shuttered stores and stilled factories in untold, unprecedented numbers. Most of them have limped back to activity in the last few months or weeks.

But one industry has been shut down completely for the duration of the pandemic: the $90 billion cruise ship industry.

Until now.

The Celebrity Edge left Fort Lauderdale last Saturday to become the first cruise ship to depart a U.S. port in fifteen months.

MSNBC sent veteran reporter Kerry Sanders along for the week-long, roundtrip voyage to Mexico and Nassau. It is kind of a test drive, something like the “shake-down” that a freshly launched vessel takes before its official “maiden voyage,” to work out the kinks before Show Time.

With the ship at just 40% capacity, Mr. Sanders and his shipmates have plenty of room to roam around the decks and dining rooms. The vessel is skirting the coast of Cuba as I write, en route from Yucatán to the Bahamas.

The crew must be all nerves—the Big Boss is aboard!

Richard Fain is the CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises International, known as RCL, which operates three different cruise lines: the core brand of Royal Caribbean International, with ships named Something of the Seas; SilverSea, the high-dollar, low-capacity, all-inclusive fleet of miniature cruise ships; and Celebrity, which predates them all.

Celebrity originated as Chandris, one of the storied Greek shipping lines of the post-WWII period, a boom that Aristotle Onassis booted to life. The only vestige of Celebrity’s Greek heritage is its logo, an X, the Greek letter “Chandris,” which fraternity and sorority alums will recognize as “CHI.”

All told, Mr. Fain is the Boss of 62 ships’ crews.

Mr. Sanders interviewed Mr. Fain poolside, where an attentive crew member was serving champagne to guests in the water.

The most attention-getting sentence the CEO said was, “We are safer on this ship than in your home community.” With a vaccination rate of 99% among the ship’s company, Mr. Fain was doubtlessly correct.

Especially because, as he spoke, the novel Delta Variant of the Novel Coronavirus that arose in 2019, is establishing a beachhead among H. sapiens. More specifically, unvaccinated humans are incubating a COVID-19 mutation that threatens to be more than a match for the trio of vaccines that are available, which have proven to be miraculously effective.

The COVIDiot-American Community is standing in the way of communal immunity, exposing the whole population to the deadly Delta variant. In recent weeks, 99.1% of deaths from the COVID strains we have are among the clueless, vaxless 30+% of the population.

With Delta in mind, Mr. Fain’s words—”We are safer on this ship…”—evoked a dystopian future. A future like the one in Wall-E, the movie, where the plot vehicle is the Axiom, a cruise spaceship, perpetually orbiting an Earth over-run by pollution.

Substitute “pandemic” for “pollution” in that scenario… Is that the course we are charting?

Eric Paul Roorda is editor of The Ocean Reader: History, Culture, Politics and Professor of History at Bellarmine University. A recent review in World History Connected called The Ocean Reader “a wonderful supplement for a global or maritime history course or an interdisciplinary course that explores the Ocean on its own terms.” Save 30% on the book with coupon E20RORDA.

SPRING AWARDS

We’d like to celebrate our many authors who have earned various awards and honors for their books since January 2021. Congratulations to all of them.

Ashon T. Crawley’s book The Lonely Letters has won the Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ nonfiction and a Believer Magazine Book Award.

David L. Eng and Shinhee Han’s book Racial Melancholia, Racial Dissociation has won the Boyer Prize for Contributions to Psychoanalytic Anthropology from the Society for Psychological Anthropology SPA (AAA section).

Cait McKinney’s book Information Activism has won the Gertrude J. Robinson Book Prize from the Canadian Communication Association.

Deborah A. Thomas’s book Political Life in the Wake of the Plantation has won the Gordon K. and Sybil Lewis Book Prize from the Caribbean Studies Association.

Matt Brim’s book Poor Queer Studies has won the Jake Ryan and Charles Sackrey Award from the Working Class Studies Association.

At the Limits of the Cure by Bharat Jayram Venkat won the Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences from the American Institute of Indian Studies.

Johana Londoño’s book Abstract Barrios has won the LASA Latina/o Studies Section Book Award from the Latin American Studies Association, Latino/a Studies Section.

Lamonte Aidoo’s book Slavery Unseen has won the Nicolás Guillén Outstanding Book Award from the Caribbean Philosophical Association.

Shawn Michelle Smith’s book Photographic Returns has won the Ray and Pat Brown Award for Best Single Work by One or More Authors in Popular American Culture from the Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association.

Cara New Daggett’s book The Birth of Energy has won the Yale H. Ferguson Award from the International Studies Association.

Kamari Maxine Clarke’s book Affective Justice has won the Amaury Talbot Prize for African Anthropology from the Royal Anthropological Institute.

Bonnie Ruberg’s The Queer Games Avant-Garde has won a Stonewall Book Award/Israel Fishman Non-Fiction Award from the Social Responsibility Roundtable of the American Literary Association.

Where Histories Reside, by Priya Jaikumar, has won the Monograph Award from the British Association of Film, Television, and Screen Studies.

Thea Riofrancos’s book Resource Radicals has won the Charles Taylor Book Award from the Interpretive Methodologies and Methods Conference Group of the American Political Science Association. Theft is Property! by Robert Nichols received Honorable Mention for the same award.

Michael J. Shapiro’s book Punctuations has won the Pamela Grande Jensen Award from the Politics, Literature, and Film Section of the American Political Science Association.

Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky’s book The Process Genre has won the Best First Book Award from the Society for Cinema & Media Studies.

Melody Jue’s book Wild Blue Media has won the Speculative Fictions and Cultures of Science Book Award from the Science Fiction Research Association.

Kandice Chuh’s book The Difference Aesthetics Makes has won the History Book Award from the Association for Asian American Studies.

Jian Neo Chen’s book Trans Exploits has won the Social Sciences Book Award from the Association for Asian American Studies.

Aesthetics of Excess by Jillian Hernandez received Honorable Mention from the Popular Culture Association for the Emily Toth Award for Best Single Work in Women’s Studies.

You can purchase any of the above award-winning titles at a 30% discount on our website using coupon SAVE30. Congratulations again to our authors!

Farewell to Lauren Berlant

berlant1We are deeply sorry to learn of the death of theorist Lauren Berlant following a long illness. Berlant was the author or editor of six books with us. They were also a founding editor of the series Writing Matters! and Theory Q and a contributor to many edited collections and journal issues. 

Berlant was George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago, where they taught since 1984. Their first title with us was The Queen of American Goes to Washington City (1997), which Judith Butler called “a keen and disarming book.” They followed it up with The Female Complaint (2008) and then with Cruel Optimism (2011), which became their most popular book, reaching outside the academy and inspiring art and even a punk song. Writing in The Progressive, queer humorist Kate Clinton said, “If you are looking for some new language to use to describe the current crisis of hope, read Cruel Optimism. . . . It is a wild, deeply witty examination of our attachments to food, love, politics, family, and pop culture.” Berlant’s most recent book was Reading Sedgwick (2019), an edited collection on the work of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.

978-0-8223-5111-5_prCruel Optimism was the winner of the American Comparative Literature Association 2012 Rene Wellek Award. In 2019, Berlant received the  Hubbell Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the American Literature Section of Modern Language Association. They were also a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Berlant contributed to a number of our journals, including Social Text, SAQ, the minnesota review, and Public Culture. We have made their 2012 interview in Qui Parle freely available until September 2021.

Berlant especially liked working collaboratively and published two co-written books with us, Sex, or the Unbearable (2013), with Lee Edelman, and The Hundreds (2019), with Kathleen Stewart. In an interview with UChicago News, Berlant said, “Other people’s minds are amazing. Collaboration is like a super-intensified version of teaching, where you and somebody else are working something out, and you’re building on each other—but you’re also just missing each other. There’s the complete joy of the ‘not me.’ Seeing somebody else at work, seeing somebody else’s generativity and seeing how, together, you can compose things that neither of you could have done by yourself.” Stewart says of Berlant, “Lauren held a door in the world open for so many of us. Now we shoulder on, in gratitude. The outpouring of love from everywhere is the biggest testimony to Lauren’s beauty and impact.”

The HundredsNot long after the publication of The Hundreds, Berlant was profiled by Hua Hsu in The New Yorker, an unusual honor for an academic, and a testament to the huge reach of Berlant’s work. Writing about The Hundreds, Hsu says, “In Berlant and Stewart’s hands, affect theory provides a way of understanding the sensations and resignations of the present, the normalized exhaustion that comes with life in the new economy. It is a way of framing uniquely modern questions.” 

Around the Press, those who worked with Berlant are deeply mourning the loss. Senior Executive Editor Ken Wissoker said, “I’ve known Lauren since shortly after they arrived at the University of Chicago in the mid-1980s. Lauren had a singularly brilliant mind, questioning their own thoughts mid-sentence in pursuit of a better account.  In book after book Lauren advanced a fully connected project, one with deep political commitments, but one that could never be fully known in advance. One of the greatest theorists of their generation— someone always generously reaching out to smart younger scholars—it was the greatest privilege to be their publisher and friend.”

Design Manager Amy Ruth Buchanan designed many of Berlant’s books, including the now iconic cover for Cruel Optimism. She says, “Lauren Berlant was one of the kindest, smartest, and most appreciative and generous authors a publisher could hope to work with. I am so sad to learn of their passing.”

Executive Editor Courtney Berger says, “Lauren was a fierce intellectual who relentlessly challenged our assumptions about gender, sex, nation, and feeling. Lauren was also an incredibly generous collaborator who sought out opportunities to think alongside and in conversation with others. Even as they dwelled on the structural violence and difficulties of thriving in a world dominated by capitalism, racism, and sexism, Lauren saw the potential for us to radically transform our relationship to the world and to ourselves. Lauren was a wit, who liked to share and hear new jokes. They loved cats, silly cat photos, and elaborate cat furniture. And they could always direct you to the best vegan food in town. Above all, Lauren was a friend and a comrade, and I will miss them terribly.”

Berger has been working with Berlant on their final book, On the Inconvenience of Other People. Berlant turned the manuscript in just a few weeks before their death and we expect to publish it in Fall 2022. In the new book Berlant considers how we might “loosen” our relations to the objects and situations that we are unhappily attached to in a way that might transform our political conditions and create new life worlds.

For three decades, we have been honored to publish the groundbreaking work of Lauren Berlant. We will miss them as a scholar, a collaborator, and a friend. Our condolences go out to all of Lauren’s friends, family, and colleagues, and especially to their partner Ian Horswill.

Q&A with Liz P. Y. Chee, author of Mao’s Bestiary

In Liz P. Y. Chee is Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute and Lecturer at Tembusu College, both at the National University of Singapore. In her new book, Mao’s Bestiary: Medicinal Animals and Modern China, she complicates understandings of Chinese medicine as timeless and unchanging by historicizing the expansion of animal-based medicines in the social and political environment of early Communist China. Chee is Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute and Lecturer at Tembusu College, both at the National University of Singapore.

In Mao’s Bestiary, your focus is on the production rather than the consumption of animal-based drugs. As a reader, it’s hard not to wonder about the efficacy of some of the therapies you describe. From the consumer’s perspective, do you have a sense as to why faunal medicalization remains popular?

I agree it’s hard to understand why demand continues in the present day despite the lack of science-based proofs of efficacy, and given the awareness that so many animal species are facing extinction, but let me provide two reasons. One is prestige. In China and elsewhere in Asia, rare animal parts and tissues have been highly valued within a gifting economy. I first became aware of this on a trip to Boten City, Laos in December 2009, where in the lobby of my hotel, which faced the entrance to a casino, venders were selling boxes of bear bile wrapped in neat red packaging. Jill Robinson, founder of Animals Asia Foundation, has discussed how such high-end animal medicinals are often never consumed, but permanently displayed as trophy objects. Others have written of how the gift of an expensive animal-based medicine to a sick relative is taken as a sign of caring, regardless of whether it is used.

A more general reason is the belief, deliberately cultivated during the period I write about, of the greater potency of animal tissue in preventing or curing diseases as compared to herbs. The Chinese medical belief of “like-cures-like” has always contributed to the use of animals parts as cures, though my book documents many cases of animals being given new medical powers in the modern period that have little or no sanction in classical texts. Contributing to the decimation of the rhino population, for example, has been a surge in Vietnamese demand for rhino horn, based on its claimed efficacy in curing cancer, or just hangovers. And in post-war Singapore, the horns of Saiga antelope were made into a cooling drink. I remember drinking this as a child and believing in its cooling effects. That Saiga horn is still openly sold here probably relates to this earlier marketing, which like all marketing need not be backed by scientific proofs. When such parts and tissues are officially banned, their trade goes underground, or operates through the internet. Only educating consumers has a chance of ending it.

Instead of using Eastern and Western medicine as analytic categories, you compare Chinese medicine with biomedicine. What do you think Western historians of science and medicine, or, perhaps, historians of Western science and medicine, can take away from this reframing of geography and tradition?

“Eastern” and “Western” are artefacts from the colonial period, so didn’t work for me in telling this story. Even “Chinese medicine” and “biomedicine”, the two broad-brush descriptors I settled on, needed to constantly be given more nuance in the text. It’s well-accepted now that “Chinese medicine” is a modernizing and heterogeneous set of practices and materials, hence full of innovation, and I’ve further documented that. But another reason the directional categories didn’t work in my manuscript is because Soviet or socialist medicine had a large influence in China from the 1950s, and its openness to herb-based and animal-based therapies—which were out of favour in “The West”—acted as a bridge to traditional Chinese drug culture. Russia is also in Asia, so its floral and faunal materia medica overlapped with that of China, as did its medicinal farming of deer. Other scholars have already documented the way that Japanese research influenced the whole range of medicines in China, including traditional pharmaceutics, and we can add North Korea in the case of bear bile farming. As a Singaporean, I was also very aware of the north-south axis; how what happens to the north of us effects the Southeast Asian rain forest where we live, and which has traditionally supplied so many animals for Chinese medicinal markets.

In your own life, you have been both a consumer of Chinese medicine and an activist for wildlife and biodiversity. How do these two things sit in tension for your generation? How do you imagine this tension might shape conversations about Chinese medicine moving forward?

I’m currently in my early 40s, and it’s not easy to generalize about my generation of Chinese-Singaporeans. While we’re more educated than our parents, we’re still quite immersed in inherited ways of thinking. My family origins are in Southern China, where animals were never treated humanely or with a view toward conservation. I was brought up eating shark fin soup and consuming Chinese medicine made with dried lizards, in addition to the antelope-horn drink I mentioned. I only became sensitized to ethical issues around animals in my late teens, but even then felt powerless to change anything. One turning point came when I saw (in the early 2000s) a BBC documentary on bear farming, and then witnessed it first-hand in Laos. While I think I’m still more the exception than the norm among my generation, an active minority of us have contributed to a strong and increasingly effective movement for the ethical treatment of animals here, as I mention in my book. We are ahead of China in that regard, though attitudes there are changing as well.

I’m more hopeful about the younger generations of Singaporeans and Chinese, who have been more outspoken in voicing their distaste for exploiting endangered species. The Guizhentang controversy of 2012, which I describe in my book, and which saw young mainland Chinese demonstrating against bear bile farming in front of the company’s outlets, was early evidence of a more dynamic and ethically-focused generation evolving. Celebrities like basketballer Yao Ming have also spoken up in challenge to conservative voices in the Chinese medical community. As an academic, my job is to contextualize and explain why and how animals came to be medicalized on such a scale. And my book rejects the claim that an unbroken Chinese tradition is the reason for the current industrial-scale exploitation, thereby skipping over the influence of nation-building in Mao’s China. But even without this historical evidence, I believe the younger generation prefers a Chinese medicine which does not endanger biodiversity, threaten the survival of species, harm individual animals, or harm us through the spread of zoonoses. They realize that continuing to medicalize animals is not essential to the survival of this healing tradition. It may rather threaten it.

You reference the COVID-19 pandemic several times in your introduction, and again in your conclusion. What impact, if any, do you think COVID-19 will have on future uses of medicinal animals? Do you think your book would have looked different if you had started it, and not finished it, in the middle of a pandemic?

As mentioned, one origin of this book was the trip I made to a bear bile farm in Boten City, Laos, a story I tell in the introduction. My team and I were there because the bears were diseased and dying, and I was struck that liquid extracted from sick bears was being sold locally as “medicine.” So zoonotic disease was a specter hovering about my project from the beginning. But I was more interested at that moment in the ethical question of how Chinese farmers could engage in such a cruel practice, and the historical question of where medicinal animal farming originated, and why. Going into the archives to understand faunal medicalization as an historical process, zoonoses faded from view because they were outside the consciousness of my actors and informants. Now of course they are front and center. But in some sense I’m glad I finished the book just before the pandemic, so as not to see the history of medicalizing animals solely through that contemporary lens. I’m hopeful, however, that the pre-history provided by the book will be useful to those working today to limit zoonotic disease by ending the global wildlife trade, so much of which is linked to medicalization. “Tradition” has always been a black box (or perhaps wall) limiting what people felt they could do to institute change. Understanding it as a process of constant re-invention and choice, and in this instance one that has become detrimental to both human and animal health, is an important step.

Read the introduction to Mao’s Bestiary and save 30% on the paperback edition using the code E21CHEMB

Amy Ruth Buchanan Named Director of Editing, Design and Production

Amy Ruth Buchanan has been named Duke University Press’s new Director of Editing, Design, and Production (EDP) after a national search.

Amy has positioned DUP as an industry leader in design and production for several decades. Under her leadership, the design team won an unprecedented thirteen Association of University Presses Book, Jacket, and Journal Show awards this past year.

Amy began her career at Duke University Press as a production assistant in 1995, and held several positions after that, from graphic designer to senior book designer, and, in 2016, Book Design Manager. Since 2018 she has served as Design Manager for Books and Journals. Her book designs have been honored by the Association of University Presses’ Book, Jacket and Journal Show many times and she has been an active participant in the AUPresses community, serving as a committee chair, workshop presenter, and annual meeting panelist.

During her tenure at the Press, Amy has played an instrumental role in developing an integrated and dynamic EDP environment. She has grown and adapted as workflows expanded, as requirements evolved, as lists grew, and as personnel changed. She understands the interconnectedness of design with editorial work—and how production and printing impact the online presentation of book and journal content. 

Director of Duke University Press Dean Smith says, “Amy leads with compassion and strives for excellence. She centers her leadership style on empathy, creativity, and flexibility. She is committed to the core values of equity and inclusion and to making things better—for people in EDP, her colleagues at the press, and for outside editors and authors. I look forward to witnessing the many great things that Amy will do for EDP and for the Press in this new role.”

Amy Ruth Buchanan will begin her new role as EDP Director on September 1, 2021.