Author: Jessica Covil-Manset

Books Marketing Graduate Student Intern, PhD Candidate in English at Duke. Poet!

University Press Week: What’s #NextUp in Publishing?

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Continuing our celebration of University Press Week 2022, we’re happy to share what’s #NextUp in publishing! We’ll turn it over to Charles Brower, Senior Project Editor of Journals here at Duke University Press.

Since 2020, the books and journals project editors of Duke University Press’s Editing, Design, and Production (EDP) department have sponsored a mentorship program for BIPOC students and recent graduates who are interested in pursuing a career in scholarly publishing. Our goal has been to provide a solid grounding in editing and editorial project management particularly, and more generally to try to offer a solution to that perpetual dilemma faced by so many—especially those from underrepresented groups—who aspire to enter the profession but have no publishing experience. In addition to the practical experience they get as student interns working for our editorial group, our mentees participate in in-depth discussions of copyediting, house style, workflows, interacting with authors, and many other topics that fall under the broad umbrella of editorial and scholarly publishing professional skills. By the end of their participation in the program, mentees are conversant, if not yet fluent, in the Chicago Manual of Style and have a specific, detailed sense of the work we do. 

The program had a relatively modest beginning: our mentee would meet with me and a colleague from the books side of our editorial group in a weekly or biweekly Zoom meeting, as the mentee’s work and/or school schedule allowed. In a sense, the Great Cloistering brought on by the pandemic had a silver lining with respect to these sessions, since we were able to meet the mentees wherever they happened to be working or studying. The colleague I partnered with for the first two years has left the press, but two other colleagues have stepped up to participate this year. And our ambitions for the new year are to involve even more colleagues from around the press to introduce our mentees to many other scholarly publishing roles and professional opportunities. 

It’s our hope, of course, that we have a lasting, positive effect on the nascent careers of these young people, even if they decide to enter another profession. Without exception, the participants in the program have been engaged, enthusiastic, and idealistic, and if they do become colleagues in scholarly publishing, they’ll be boons to the profession. And while our mission always is to support and inspire our mentees, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that I too have gotten a great deal out of participating in the program, whether through revisiting the habits and ethos that define how I edit or through interacting with and being inspired by a talented young person. I encourage anyone in the scholarly community reading this to look for opportunities to mentor, whether through similar programs at your institution or by reaching out to a junior colleague. The potential benefits for them, you, and the profession generally can’t be overstated. 

-Charles Brower 

Please continue on the blog tour by visiting the other university presses participating today. Head over to Temple University Press to read about their new Transformations book series, then check out the University Press of Kansas‘s feature on their new Lyda Conley Series on Trailblazing Indigenous Futures. The University of Pittsburg Press shares an interview with their new Acquisitions Editor Will Hammell about starting new areas of acquisition, and the University of Nebraska Press features a blog post about their Provocations series. The University of Minnesota Press details new developments in the Manifold digital publishing platform, the University of North Carolina Press unveils their new Black Women’s History series, and Leuven University Press spotlights the book Black Matrilineage, Photography, and Representation. The University Press of Kentucky gives an overview of the Appalachian Futures series with Editor Abby Freeland, the University of Notre Dame Press posts the results of their first-ever Publishing Boot Camp, and the Hopkins Press Internship Program enters is second year. The University of Florida Press offers a video with editors of their new series Caribbean Crossroads series, and the University of Michigan Press features an interview with Acquisitions Editor Ellen Bauerle about a newly emerging Greek/Modern Intersections series. Read about another internship program at the University of Alabama Press, and learn about the Texas A&M University Press‘s TV show on PBS. Penn State University Press shares a post from Acquisitions Editor Archna Patel about developments in their Africana studies list, and Purdue University Press Director Justin Race outlines their new Navigating Careers in Higher Education series as well as their new website. The University of Washington Press runs a Q&A with editors of the new series, Abolition: Emancipation from the Carceral, and the University of Toronto Press features a post by one of their editors about a new series. Finally, the University of Illinois Press highlights exciting changes to their Disability Histories series. 

University Press Week: Who’s #NextUp at DUP?

UPW2022-logo-webIt’s University Press Week! This year, the Association of University Presses (AUPresses) has chosen the theme “Next UP” to highlight the dedicated work performed by those in the university press community to seek out, engage, advance, and promote the latest scholarship, ideas, best practices, and technology. Read more about University Press Week and check out the Next UP gallery and reading list featuring publications published by our peer presses.

Today, we’re responding to the prompt, “Who’s #NextUp at your press?” to spotlight an early-career staff member on the rise. Continue reading for an insightful Q&A with Assistant Editor Ryan Kendall!

headshot picWhat got you interested in academic publishing?

It was maybe inevitable that I ended up in the publishing world. I’ve always loved reading and writing. I’ve built homes in books since I learned how to read, and I’ve learned to think through writing. I have delighted in the ecstatic fullness that language can offer, and I have been devastated by its resistance to be full again. It is a love story, after all.

I came to academic publishing because, after completing a Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies PhD in 2020, I was not done thinking. I am not done thinking. Academic publishing is compelling to me because the books we publish want to challenge what and how we think. Academic publishing is a space where ideas, methods, and practices are given so much care. It’s also a space (though certainly not the only or primary space) where more livable worlds are envisioned. To be in a position to support and guide these processes is incredible.

More exactly, what brought me to academic publishing is love. I have a deep love and respect for the writing process and for what writing can do. For me, an opportunity to share in that process is a life-giving one. Academic publishing lives within the expansiveness of what it means to write, and that is so exciting to me. Each book is teeming with the echoes of formative conversations between authors, scholars, editors, reviewers, and a whole host of individuals. In each book, there is a world, and with each book, another world is becoming.

It’s too simple to say that what brought me to Duke University Press is their incredible history of consistently publishing stellar books. Of course, that wasn’t not why. But it was more personal than that. I can locate the exact moment when I knew I wanted to build a publishing career at DUP. It was 2019, and I was attending the Duke Feminist Theory Workshop as a graduate student. There, the late Laurent Berlant announced their Writing Matters! series at Duke University Press. My heart swelled. I felt giddy. I knew where I needed to be—where writing mattered.

How would you describe your career trajectory so far? How was the transition from your PhD program to your work at the press?

I would describe my career trajectory so far as challenging and a little dizzying but mostly exciting and promising. I joined DUP just ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I had to learn the ropes as they were moving. The absence of in-person talks and conferences made networking especially challenging, so I’ve had to be creative. Despite these difficulties, I feel as though I am in a really promising and supportive place to establish my publishing career.

The transition from a PhD program to a publishing career is a unique one. Graduate programs are geared toward preparing you for tenure-track professorships, though I do think we are now seeing more and more discussions within graduate programs about alternative academic jobs. In the move to publishing, you’re shifting from budding scholar to budding editor. Your relationship to the work changes. I recall, in my first week, my supervisor asked me what I thought about an author’s work on affect theory. I answered with something along the lines of: “I think their work is really productive, but I question the ways in which affect here inadvertently becomes a way of sanitizing sexuality.” He stared at me blankly. I came to realize later that the disconnect happening in this moment was a result of me trying to answer his question as a graduate student, not a potential editor. My relationship to the work now is less about my own personal investments (though I am absolutely personally invested) and more about its quality, scope, intervention, significance, reach, and marketing potential (I know, marketing potential, gross, but it’s a real concern in publishing). It’s a shift that takes some learning and unlearning. Of course, this is not to say that my graduate training has not been useful here. I have drawn, again and again, on my graduate experience in this job.

What advice would you give to those wanting to move into this field?

My advice is to start seeking out experiences that translate within the world of publishing. If you’re a graduate student, you might assist a professor who is preparing an article or book manuscript for production. Formatting manuscripts, obtaining permissions for text reprints or images, and assembling art programs are all part of publishing. Are there any journals housed at your institution? Do any of your professors serve as editors for journals? Do they need an editorial assistant? I worked as an editorial assistant for the James Baldwin Review for a couple of years prior to graduation, and though I was coming to publishing with a PhD in a relevant field, my editorial experience is what helped set me apart. If your institution has a press, they likely have part-time positions for students. Some presses have paid internships as well. You also might be surprised by what sorts of job skills can help you advance in publishing. Having some experience with administrative work is a great thing. Publishing is a lot of that too.

My other piece of advice is to do your research. What books are you most excited about, and who is publishing them? What does peer review look like there? How many books do they typically publish a year? Are there any talks on publishing you can attend? So many talks have virtual options now, so they’re becoming more and more accessible. Some have been recorded and are available on YouTube. The Association of University Presses also has a wealth of resources online about publishing, though I believe it is behind a paywall. Also, reach out to editors! Start a conversation. If you’re interested in a job, make it known. There is little to be lost and much to be gained by letting presses know that you’re interested in their work.

action shotYou are currently an Assistant Editor who acquires books in feminist philosophy. What do you look for in a project? What gets you really excited about a book?

What I look for in a project is a refusal to take its own terms and the terms of our contemporary moment for granted. I’m most excited about books that are theoretically and politically engaged and are committed to thinking with race, gender, sexuality, class, and (dis)ability. Truly, I am interested in books that challenge modes of thinking, feeling, and living in our contemporary moment (while still being historically-minded).

Feminist philosophy is near and dear to my heart. For me, feminist philosophy means attending to the philosophical exigencies of gender and sexuality. It also means attending to the gendered and sexed exigencies of philosophy (*gasp* a chiasmus!). What is most compelling to me about feminist philosophy is the way it calls on feminism’s historical investments in antifoundationalisma refusal to let the dust settle on essentialisms and metaphysical truths. What I’m looking for in a project, then, is one that deeply interrogates its own assumptions and needs—what it needs from gender, from feminism, from philosophy. Feminist philosophy is, for me, as much a project of critique as it is of philosophical exploration.

What are some hopes that you have for Duke University Press moving forward?

I am hopeful that Duke University Press will continue to strengthen its reputation of theoretical rigor and political edge, and I am also hopeful that DUP will continue to close the gap between the politics of the work it publishes and the politics of its workplace. It is not a secret that scholarly publishing generally struggles to be a hospitable and supportive place for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Several of my colleagues have done incredible work to identify and remedy this problem—namely Alejandra Mejía, Jocelyn Dawson, and our Editorial Director Gisela Fosado, all of whom have leading roles in creating the Toolkits for Equity Project with the Coalition for Diversity & Inclusion in Scholarly Communications. This project is an invaluable resource for the scholarly publishing community, and it has a wealth of free materials for download. Anyone interested in scholarly publishing should take advantage of this resource.

Going forward, I hope to see more structured mentor/mentee opportunities within and beyond DUP, so that young professionals, especially BIPOC young professionals, have built-in support and guidance as they carve out their own publishing identities and futures. From what I have seen, scholarly publishing tends toward a competitive culture of ‘every person for themselves.’ So long as this is the case, few will thrive, and those few are likely to be buoyed by social and racial privileges.

***

Check back here tomorrow and Thursday for more great blog posts, and don’t forget to share your love for university presses online with the hashtag #NextUp.

Please continue on the blog tour by visiting the other university presses participating today. At MIT Press, several MITP acquisitions editors share what is #NextUP on their lists. Hopkins Press spotlights a new staff member and University of Georgia Press offers mini profiles of several of their newer employees (or employees in new positions). Head to University Press of Colorado for an interview with editors Allegra Martschenko and Robert Ramaswamy, and then over to University of Notre Dame Press for an interview with their 5+1 Postdoctoral Fellow. Princeton University Press offers an interview with their Publishing Fellows in Content Marketing and Editorial; this Publishing Fellowship aims to address a lack of diverse representation across the publishing industry by offering unique mentorship opportunities. Penn State University Press introduces some of their early-career employees in acquisitions, marketing, and production, and University of Toronto Press shares a first-hand account of being at UTP for over a year and the journey of getting into publishing. Check out an interview with Press Assistant Shalini Nanayakkara about her first year at University of British Columbia Press and then read a feature with Vanessa Parnell-Burton, the University of West Indies Press Accounts Payable Officer, about joining the UP publishing world. Purdue University Press shares a Q&A with their Acquisitions Assistant and SUNY Press  shares a Q&A with two of their early-career employees. Finally, check out a spotlight of new innovations coming to University of Michigan Press.

Q&A with Jessica Barnes (+ Teaching Guide!)

JessicaBarnesPhotoJessica Barnes is Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and the School of Earth, Ocean, and Environment at the University of South Carolina. She is author of Cultivating the Nile: The Everyday Politics of Water in Egypt, also published by Duke University Press, and coeditor of Climate Cultures: Anthropological Perspectives on Climate Change. Her new book, Staple Security: Bread and Wheat in Egypt, explores the central role that bread and wheat play in Egyptian daily life as well as the anxieties surrounding the possibility that the nation could run out these staples.

You recently put together a Teaching Guide that pairs with Staple Security. What prompted you to put this supplement together, and what do you hope students and teachers take away from it?

Staple Security is a text that would work well in undergraduate and graduate classrooms. I worked hard to write in a way that is clear, engaging, and jargon-free, and the result is a book that I think will be widely accessible. The subject matter is also topical and speaks to issues of broad interest – the foods that anchor our daily lives and their links with questions of security at both household and national scales. Inspired by the wonderful teaching guide written by Susan Bibler Coutin for her book Exiled Home (Duke, 2016), I wrote the supplement to offer instructors ideas of ways in which they might integrate the book, or parts of the book, in their classes. It was also an opportunity to share some of the resources that I have developed over the past five years teaching a class on Global Food Politics, such as my bread-tasting activity and a comparative discussion of accessing subsidized bread in Cairo and SNAP benefits in New York City. I hope that students and teachers will find questions and resources in the guide that will enrich their engagement with the text, spark new lines of thought, and help them see the connections between this material, current affairs, and their own lives.

How would you describe your own pedagogical approach? What’s most important to you as an educator?

To me, teaching isn’t so much about providing students with information so that they can answer questions as about training them in what questions to ask. One of my favorite pedagogical techniques is to show students a photograph, newspaper article, advertisement, or video clip, and ask them to reflect on the story the source is trying to tell and the message it seeks to convey. Just as significantly, we talk about what the source leaves out of the frame and the points it seeks to obscure. What’s most important to me as an educator is that students come away from my classes with an enhanced ability to analyze and consider multiple perspectives. Students sometimes comment on my evaluations that my classes have taught them to think in a new way. Those are the comments that make my heart sing.

978-1-4780-1852-0_prAs you explain in a recent op-ed for The Conversation, the war in Ukraine has threatened wheat supply, thus contributing to—one might say—a staple insecurity in Egypt. What might readers gain from your book’s attention to “staple security,” even (or especially) in the face of precarity?

My book’s attention to what I call staple security will prompt readers to reflect on the things that make them feel anxious or fearful, as well as those things that make them feel comfortable and safe, both as individuals in their homes and as citizens of a state. The fact that many Egyptians worry about their nation running out of wheat—as brought home by the war in Ukraine—might come as a surprise to many readers, for whom this likely doesn’t register as a concern. But it might resonate with how they think about other things, like reliance on foreign oil. The book will also help readers think about the ongoing efforts to address precarity, some explicitly framed in terms of security and others not, as individuals, households, and nations strive for stability and comfort. In the book I apply this frame to think about staple foods, but as I argue in the conclusion, staple security could also be used to think about other key needs, like water and energy.

As an aside, readers might be struck by the near absence of the word “insecurity” in my book. I choose not to write in terms of security and insecurity because I find it creates a false duality: a sense that an individual, household, or nation is secure if it has reliable, affordable access to sufficient, safe food; otherwise, it is insecure. If security is seen more as a practice than an achieved status, insecurity can’t be parceled off as a distinct form of experience. For it is the sense of threat that is produced by conditions of insecurity that shapes the practice of security.

Readers have praised the sensory details included in your writing about bread. Would you consider this an essential feature of Staple Security? How does it contribute to the book?

In writing the book, it was important to me to try to bring readers into the times and spaces in which Egyptians are handling and eating bread, whether at the bakery, by the oven, on the street, or in their homes. I wanted to give readers a sense of what it is like to eat this food on a daily basis and why the presence and taste of those loaves matters so much when they are a core component of every breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Sensory engagements with bread—the feel of loaves that are still hot, for example, or the taste of bread that is baked within the home—are a central part of the book. They speak to some of the key daily practices around bread—like heating loaves of frozen bread or airing loaves of warm bread before packing them in a plastic bag—which we don’t typically think of as practices of security, but which I argue are just as fundamental to securing the consistent supply of a tasty staple. They also underscore what is at stake: the quality and experience of everyday life, embedded in those moments of sitting down to eat a meal with a bread that is soft and flavorful.

Something fun to end on: are you a bread eater yourself? What’s your favorite bread-based meal?

Yes, bread is definitely my staple!

My favorite bread-based meal would have to be a Middle Eastern meze—a selection of small dishes—served with pita bread. This kind of meal isn’t so commonly eaten in Egypt, where I conducted the fieldwork for this book, but I fell in love with it during my first visit to Jordan in 1999 and subsequent time spent living and working in Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. To me, a spread of salads and dips like moutabal (made from smoked eggplant) and hummus, eaten with bread, is a perfect meal. I’d be equally as happy, though, eating fresh bread with just some labne (strained yogurt cheese) and a few olives.

Read the introduction to Staple Security for free and save 30% on the paperback with coupon E22STAPL.

Q&A with Donovan O. Schaefer

Donovan Schafer 5a (1)Donovan O. Schaefer is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Religious Affects: Animality, Evolution, and Power, also published by Duke University Press, and The Evolution of Affect Theory: The Humanities, the Sciences, and the Study of Power. Schaefer’s new book is Wild Experiment: Feeling Science and Secularism after Darwin. Examining the reception of evolutionary biology, the 1925 Scopes Trial, and the New Atheist movement of the 2000s, Schaefer theorizes the relationship between thinking and feeling by challenging the conventional wisdom that they are separate.

How does Wild Experiment, which is your second book, build on or diverge from your earlier book Religious Affects?

After writing Religious Affects, I had a lot of people tell me they were convinced by its core argument—that affect theory is an excellent lens for studying the relationship between religion and power. But it also ended up reaffirming a binary that I found troubling: the notion that religion is uniquely driven by affect, the emotional counterpart to secular rationality.

That’s not what I meant to put forward at all. I think affect theory offers what Lauren Berlant calls a “sensualized epistemology,” a way of defining the relationship between thinking and feeling, rather than just building out the study of feeling as a domain radically separate from thinking. So Wild Experiment goes much further than Religious Affects in setting out to show how what we think of as purely cognitive processes—including reason, science, and secular rationality—are determined by affect.

That said, a big part of what the book is up to is making the case that seeing thinking and feeling as connected doesn’t mean that we can’t learn, reflect, and build our understanding of the world around us. Knowledge-making is a process that’s shot through with affects, but as I argue in the Introduction, that’s both why it works when it works and why it gets pulled off course.

978-1-4780-1825-4_prIn your Introduction, and then throughout your book, you are interested in “the emotions that move thought” and “the way thinking feels” (3). Can you say a bit about how your book breaks down the thinking/feeling binary?

The thinking/feeling binary is what I think of as an “ambient” paradigm. It’s not necessarily something that scholars—or anyone else—says or writes down. They don’t have to. It saturates so much of our thinking that it’s everywhere, from academic monographs to social media feeds to chatting at the bar. Even some thinkers who push back on the priority of cognition will tend to reiterate the binary, reaffirming the value of the affective by assigning it priority over cognition. This is a syntax that informs a lot of affect theory, especially versions of affect theory that are most closely associated with the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze.

That doesn’t at all mean the binary is accepted across the board. The first half of the book is an extended survey of thinkers and literatures that push back on the binary from different directions. Some of that comes from within the Western philosophical tradition, but I’m especially interested in other strands of affect theory (especially as informed by queer of color theory), postcolonial critiques of secularism, science and technology studies, the post-critical turn in literary theory, and academic psychology. My hope is that putting all these conversations side by side builds a conceptual critical mass that will help destabilize the thinking/feeling binary.

In addition to being an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, you are also Core Faculty in the Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. To what extent does this book contribute to or borrow from gender/feminist studies?

I realized after I had finished the book that it had actually started in a seminar I took in grad school on feminist epistemologies with Linda Martín Alcoff. That seminar highlighted the limitations of classical epistemologies that focus exclusively on the intellectual dimension of thought. Feminist epistemologists have been interested in how to connect thinking to embodiment for decades. And feminist epistemology, as I read it, is also centrally concerned with the question of how a belief comes to seem like an expression of impartial reason. Feminists wanted an explanation for why skewed knowledges were so effective at defending themselves with appeals to “reason.” What they found is that the composition of any given political rationality is always configured by a distinct set of historical coordinates. Every reason has a genealogy. Some feminists went further, showing that these genealogies were embodied and affective.

I also draw heavily on the longstanding interest among queer and trans theorists in desire, pleasure, and feeling. The version of affect theory I’m most interested in is a direct outgrowth of these central concerns of queer critique. One of the arguments I make in Chapter 2 is that Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Vol. I, one of the foundational texts in queer theory, has actually been read through a prism that blocks some of its most compelling insights. Foucault spends a huge amount of time in that book elaborating what he calls “power-knowledge-pleasure.” That conceptual structure is foundational to the arguments he makes about science, politics, and sexuality. But it gets surprisingly little attention in the secondary literature, especially when Foucault is read outside of queer theory. One of my aims is to develop the conceptual link between science and feeling that has been of vital importance to queer science studies.

One of the book’s major concerns is race, and you engage with a range of figures coming from Black studies and queer of color theory to develop that analysis. What is “racialized reason”?

I’m interested in the question of how something comes to seem “reasonable” to some people in their time and place, and how oppressive regimes of knowledge are able to fortify themselves by appealing to “rationality.” Why does a racist society end up producing, validating, and recirculating racist science, for instance? I don’t think it’s adequate to say that racists create a well-packaged lie that none of them actually believe and put it into circulation to preserve existing hierarchies. I think racist ideas are genuinely believed by racists, even when they verge into absurdity. What I argue, building on queer of color theorists interested in affect, is that it’s because “reason” is not just the neutral analysis of ideas and information. It’s configured by a set of affective parameters that dictate what feels true. Racist structures of feeling configure “rationality” itself, setting the table for racist ideas to feel true.

This is where the constant Trumpist refrain of “fuck your feelings” comes from. White supremacists are able to present themselves as above the fray of “emotions” because what they call “rationality” has been fashioned within a white supremacist society. Their version of “reason” makes racist ideas feel true. Everyone who disagrees with them is dismissed as “emotional.” Sara Ahmed calls this whiteness as an orientation that is in frictionless alignment with the “white world.” The big lie underwriting all this, of course, is that what they call “rationality” has itself been configured by white supremacist structures of feeling. “Reason” has become racialized through its contamination by racist affects. So what they’re really saying is “fuck your feelings—but protect my feelings at all costs.”

Sharon Patricia Holland’s concept of racism’s “erotic life” has been a huge influence on me, too. Her work opened up for me a way of thinking about racism as something that doesn’t have to be associated with a set of functional or economic priorities. Part of what makes racism as intractable as it is—and why it’s so easy for neo-fascist movements to mobilize racism—is the pleasure dimension of racism that doesn’t necessarily reduce to a calculation of costs and benefits for racists. Constantly framing racism as an economic strategy awards way too much political intelligence to racists. Coming from another direction, Sylvia Wynter and Denise Ferreira da Silva’s challenge to a particular Euro-modern definition of “Man” as that which is autonomous and unaffected is crucial for this project.

You talk about the prevalence of misinformation, and how people are compelled not by what is “true,” necessarily, but what “feels true” given what they have already come to know/believe. How might this insight inform the way that people engage with each other across gaps in understanding and differences of thought or values?

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that there’s a global crisis of communication happening right now. One of the dimensions of that crisis, as I see it, is that we still tend to assume that good information always floats to the top, that there’s an inevitable algorithm by which “truth will out.” What I propose, instead, is that we need to see the landscape of information as defined by feeling. That doesn’t mean we’re lost at sea. The work of better understanding ourselves and the world around us is an emotional process—and it succeeds because it’s guided by feeling, what Audre Lorde calls “consciousness of living as a situation to be experienced and interacted with.” But we also need to recognize that sometimes beliefs are fastened in place because they feel good, regardless of whether they’re true. Conspiracy theory, I suggest in the book, is a perfect example of this. It’s a sprawling set of interconnected beliefs that are embraced—passionately—because they’re the most exciting possible interpretation of a situation. Conspiracy theories flourish in the social media age because they’re pitch-perfect clickbait. They explain the world in ways that are profoundly misleading—but feel good. They’re seductive ideas that people quite literally “want to believe.”

On the other hand, I think we also too often tend to assume that people are either “rational”—if they’re following what we consider the right ideas or evidence—or “irrational”—if they refuse. I don’t think that framing of the problem leads anywhere. The liberal fantasy of a rational public sphere—in which people are always and everywhere persuaded by better arguments, more evidence, more facts—is a myth; but it’s also a mistake to think that someone who isn’t persuaded by new information is fundamentally immune to facts. Both of those framings are ways of mapping persuasion according to the thinking/feeling binary. Being more thoughtful about persuasion means recognizing that persuasion is always about reshaping what feels true for someone. Understanding how that affective landscape is shaped by factors that are extrinsic to the content of what you’re saying to someone is crucial. But it’s also important to recognize that facts themselves are powerful tools of persuasion, especially when we consider how facts feel to people in different contexts and positions.

What do you hope that readers take away from Wild Experiment, if you had to sum it up in a tweet?

The thinking/feeling binary is a construct; it’s a construct with a history, but one that has been extraordinarily successful at presenting itself as a natural division. There’s no thinking that we do that isn’t affectively defined. We always feel our way along. And to understand the relationship of knowledge and power, we have to make feeling central to our analysis. As Lorde writes, “The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am. The Black mother within each of us — the poet — whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom.”

Read the introduction to Wild Experiment for free and save 30% on the paperback with coupon E22SCHFR.

Q&A with Jean-Thomas Tremblay

Tremblay_headshot_2022_1Jean-Thomas Tremblay is Assistant Professor of Environmental Humanities in the Department of Humanities at York University and coeditor of Avant-Gardes in Crisis: Art and Politics in the Long 1970s. Their new book Breathing Aesthetics examines the prominence of breathing in responses to contemporary crises within literature, film, and performance cultures, showing how breathing has emerged as a medium through which biopolitical and necropolitical forces are increasingly exercised and experienced.

For those unfamiliar with theory and philosophy around air and breathing, how might you explain this body of work and your book’s addition to it?

Breathing and air have long been objects of philosophical and scientific interest. Respiratory and aerial philosophers—from the Stoics to Gaston Bachelard, to Luce Irigaray—have tended to describe a life force, the movement of which enables us to understand something of the interaction between the self and the not-self. One turns to breath, or more accurately returns to breath, because it carries the promise of restoring a balance one might have lost; we hear echoes of this reasoning in New Age’s appropriation of pranayama practices.

Scholars such as Elizabeth Povinelli, Tobias Menely, Lenart Škof, and Petri Berndtson have, before me, mapped the trajectories of philosophical engagements with breathing and air. One way to grasp these trajectories is that they record the gradual particularization and deidealization of the respiratory and the aerial: breathing can no longer stand in for universal experience, and air no longer registers as (strictly) a source of vitality or purity. That breathing and air call attention to themselves when a glitch appears in the ongoing exchange between individuals and milieus is as much a mundane observation as a historical and geographical statement.

This insight is most forcefully conveyed by minoritarian traditions, including a prominent Black intellectual genealogy linking Frantz Fanon to contemporary theorists like Ashon Crawley and Christina Sharpe. This genealogy thinks Black life from the uneven distribution of breathable air and the various systems, such as policing and segregation, that perpetuate anti-Black asphyxiation. Fanon’s ideas have gained tragic pertinence in the wake of the police murders of Eric Garner, Elijah McClain, George Floyd, and others, as “I can’t breathe” has become an omnipresent protest chant.

Breathing Aesthetics builds on the premise that breathing names the enmeshment of vitality and morbidity. I track the emergence, in the past five or six decades, of distinct “respiratory subjectivities” and “respiratory politics,” which is to say, models of the individual and the collective that derive from breathing a vernacular for expressing the contradictions of contemporary life. It is almost intuitive, in the era of COVID-19, to declare breathing a site of political antagonisms—much more intuitive, in fact, than it was when I began working on this project, almost a decade ago. I hope that readers will find in the book tools for decrypting a present moment when breathing constitutes a hyper-saturated signifier.


978-1-4780-1886-5_prHow does Breathing Aesthetics interact with or draw upon art and literature? What types of art and literature is it most interested in?

The book collects case studies from literary, screen, performance, visual, and media cultures. One thing I found especially interesting when I started researching breathing in earnest is that scholars of poetry, fiction, film, theater, and video game all claim that theirs is the respiratory medium par excellence. Those who endorse Charles Olson’s “projectivism” claim that poetry enjoys a privileged intimacy with respiration, for breath converts the energy animating the poet into the poem’s rhythm. For Davina Quinlivan, it is the cinema that enjoys such a privileged intimacy; breathing’s mimetic or contagious attribute makes it an important circuit for the transmission of affect between on- and off-screen subjects. I don’t believe that one art form or artistic medium is any more or less respiratory than others. I’m too promiscuous a reader and spectator to sustain an attention to a single one, anyway. What I do believe is that the pairing of “breathing” and “aesthetics” yields different effects across media. The aesthetics of respiration therefore calls for a medium-specific analysis and a comparative disposition.

Take the works by Dodie Bellamy, CAConrad, and Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose that I gather under the umbrella of “broadly experimental and broadly queer life writing.” In one chapter, I examine the notation of breathing for therapeutic purposes in these figures’ blends, with varying dosages, of memoir, poetry, and performance. That the notations are therapeutic doesn’t mean that they save the notators. The psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, my favorite humorist, writes in a recent book that “people aren’t cured, they just lose interest in their symptoms.” This is true of the figures I discuss, for whom notations afford, at most, a palliative: the relief of minimal psychic coherence in crisis situations. For example, journals that repetitively record the symptomatology of cystic fibrosis instill in Bob Flanagan a boredom that leads nowhere but “holds the mood.” Because breathing’s vitality can never be detached entirely from its morbidity, the “payoff” of aestheticizing respiration remains provisional and contingent.

You have said in conversation that this book owes a great deal to the field of environmental humanities and appeals to those researchers. How so?

Yes, the book is invested in the project of the environmental humanities. I participate in the field’s critique of the pastoral—specifically, in this case, the pastoral discourses wherein breathing fulfills the role of the “natural beyond” by guaranteeing an infinitely replenishable, and infinitely replenishing, reserve of vitality. One chapter zooms in on the experimental films of Ana Mendieta and Amy Greenfield. Their corpuses have often been dismissed as pastoral for sanctioning a naïve vision of natural plenitude and surrendering to an essentialism that equates women with nature. Granted, pastoral iconography shows up everywhere in Mendieta’s and Greenfield’s works: natural wonders and great expanses aren’t in short supply. Yet there is nothing revitalizing about the experience of watching their films. The experience is rather unsettling. These are, after all, artists who have many times depicted or evoked sexual violence. This discomfort is worth dwelling on and thinking with. By activating uneasy breathing as a mode of spectatorship in the same class as seeing and listening, Mendieta and Greenfield propose a “postpastoral” anti-pedagogy. Spectators unlearn the historical processes through which a colonial and imperial ideology like the pastoral comes into social coherence.

The vast environmental humanities scholarship, by Lawrence Buell and others, on the legacies of Rachel Carson represents one, but not the only, anti-pastoral tradition informing my thinking. I’m also indebted to scholars of environmental inequalities, or the reproduction of racial and class disparities by environmental means, such as proximity to toxic hazards and health care inaccessibility. Dorceta E. Taylor, Hsuan L. Hsu, and Lindsey Dillon and Julie Sze, to name a few, frequently appear in the section of Breathing Aesthetics devoted to respiratory politics, where I operate on the basis that we are all breathers, but none of the same kind.

Breathing Aesthetics also launches a critique of certain habits within the environmental humanities. I plan to expand on this critique in a future project on “environmental inaction” that seeks to rid ecocriticism of its incipient liberalism. Environmental humanists generally want their objects to be “good” and do “good”—to galvanize readers and spectators into political action, regardless of the objects’ affective content. I don’t think we should overestimate the ability of readers and spectators exposed to the inextricability of vitality and morbidity relayed by the aesthetics of breathing to step out into the world and transform it through sheer force of will. It would require a leap of faith to believe that all reactions to this aesthetics—from exhaustion to disorientation, to panic, to titillation—fulfill a civic purpose. I follow Alexis Shotwell’s and Nicole Seymour’s critiques of the environmental humanities’ purism and puritanism in refusing the narrow range of emotions and actions to which the field typically grants validity. To figure out what the aesthetics of breathing does, we must leave behind our rigid expectations as to what environmental art ought to do.

Doing so radically expands the archive of the environmental humanities to include works that are not so obviously didactic. For instance, it baffles me that Renee Gladman’s novels, to which I devote a chapter, are routinely ignored by environmental humanists in favor of more sensationalist examples of speculative fiction. Novels by Gladman that are set in the smog-filled city-state of Ravicka might not accommodate a pedagogy of coming into environmental “awareness” or “consciousness,” but they allegorize the emergence of coalitional politics in environments where toxicity mediates our encounters. This, to me, is immensely valuable.

While drawing from theory, what are some of the “real-world” implications of Breathing Aesthetics?

I hope the book relays my conviction that the world of theory is the real world. Our daily existence is organized by abstractions disguised as something else. My colleague David Cecchetto describes this problem as “one of the great inversions of our time[,] that between abstraction and reality,” in his recent book, Listening in the Afterlife of Data: “This inversion is evidenced by the fact that somehow one daily encounters folks who think that business-related disciplines like marketing are part of a real world that theoretically informed arts and humanities disciplines are not; we’re in a cultural moment when claiming something like having a ‘passion for real estate’ sounds coherent.”

The pressure to disavow theory isn’t only external to the humanities. Consider the subfield of “empirical ecocriticism,” which claims itself capable of measuring the actual impact of, say, climate fiction. There’s something cynical, amid austerity, in abiding by “data-driven” paradigms and exiling the majority of ecocritics from the category of empiricism, such that they are caught between renouncing their theoretical proclivities or sustaining a pursuit deemed frivolous. More to the point, what empirical ecocriticism really sells is abstraction, all the way down. It collects data (one abstraction) on a reader or spectator figured as rational and reasonable (another abstraction), one who, once exposed to climate crisis-related content, adopts liberal or conservative attitudes (yet another abstraction) and behaviors considered sound in a democratic society (one more, still)… You get the point.

Even in the corners of the humanities that don’t traffic in data, it is customary to curtail theoretical ambitions by asking, for instance, “But what about The Body?” Annabel L. Kim offers a brilliant account of the gesture in the introduction to Unbecoming Language, a book that played a key role in the genesis of Breathing Aesthetics. References to The Body, as a shorthand for the lower-case-r real, presume, as Kim notes, something that everyone knows and to which everyone has access. The Body may be an abstraction for unmediated, non-abstractable experiences, but it is an abstraction nonetheless.

I’m weary of the idea that breathing somehow concretizes queer or environmental theory because so many promises to bypass abstraction—whether through the cold hard facts of data or through The Body as locus of the sensuous and the erotic—end up turning the volume up on abstraction. So, I don’t think we need to come up with excuses for theory. It’s not a vacation from reality, a flight of fancy, or a luxury. Theory, as I try to wield it in Breathing Aesthetics, is an encounter with the world with significant implications in terms of what and how we feel, think, are.

Read the introduction to Breathing Aesthetics for free and save 30% on the paperback with coupon E22TRMBL.

Summer Reading Recommendations from our Staff

Summer is for popsicles and water slides—and BOOKS! Light-hearted or serious, long or short, brand-new or decades old. Check out our staff members’ recommendations for summer reading!

Cover of Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzu. The dominant background color is green, with blue streaks in the top left and bottom right corners, and yellow and orange dots all around the border. There is an orange-gold outline of a bird in the center.

First up is Journals Marketing Manager Jocelyn Dawson. The book she’s enjoyed the most in 2022 so far has been Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo—not a typical beach read but a good, absorbing novel. It’s the story of Anna, a middle-aged London woman who discovers that the father she has never met was once president of a West African nation. More than anything, Jocelyn loved this book for the mood/atmosphere that hangs over the whole book, totally immersing you as Anna journeys to meet her father. 

Cover of The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan. The cover has a red, left-side border with a floral pattern. To the right is a picture of a lake surrounded by trees and mountains in the background, and a picture of a young Chinese woman superimposed onto this background.

Though arguably a bit heavy for poolside reading, Publicity Assistant Jessica Covil-Manset enjoyed reading Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter. Other fans of Tan’s will find much about this novel familiar: the split narrative, the excavation of mother-daughter relationships, and the interweaving of collective/national histories with intergenerational familial tales. And with the heaviest elements of this novel—death, ghosts, curses—come poignant reflections on what it means to remember, to lose memories, and to revise or reframe one’s understanding of the past. It’s gorgeous!

Cover of The Secret Skin by Wendy N. Wagner. Forming a border around the cover is a trellis with bight red roses. A woman is walking, her back to the camera, toward a large house in the background. It looks to be dusk, and trees cast shadows across her path.

Perhaps more in-line with summer, Exhibits Manager Jes Malitoris just recently finished the novella The Secret Skin by Wendy N. Wagner, a breezy, sapphic haunted house story by the sea. Strong Shirley Jackson vibes, with a little bit of body horror and a little girl secondary character that Jes would love to read an entire series about.

Cover of The Changeling by Joy Williams, 40th Anniversary Edition. Against a black background are two main figures: a wolf at the top, looking down; and a deer at the bottom, looking up at the wolf's tail. Between them are tall flowers.

Acquisitions Editor Elizabeth Ault recently discovered Joy Williams’s febrile 1978 classic The Changeling in its 2018 Tin House reissue. While Elizabeth can’t precisely say that she “enjoyed” it, she can recommend it as a sort of dizzy replication of what trying to act normal while wading through 95 degree + 95 percent humidity air in a Durham summer sometimes feels like, with occasional flashes of precise humor and observation that she can never quite muster in the heat.

Cover of The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka. The cover is taking up completely by an aerial shot of a swimming pool and shows four swimmers training.

Meanwhile, Books Marketing Manager Laura Sell recommends The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka. The first section is written in the style of a Greek chorus, echoing the voices of a group of people who all swim at the same community pool, which has developed an unsettling crack in the bottom. The next sections trace the life of one of those swimmers, Alice, and her daughter. Alice suffers from dementia, and one section is written in the second person, detailing the many indignities Alice will face when she enters memory care. The writing in The Swimmers is haunting and unique, and the book is a moving portrait of family, aging, and death. 

Cover of Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, The Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm, by Dan Charnes (whose name does not appear on the cover). The book's subtitle wraps around all four borders of the cover, with the the main title in large, capitalized letters at the top and bottom of the cover. In the center is a blue grid with yellow dots outlining the face of a man wearing a hat.

Turning up the tunes, Copywriter Chris Robinson recommends Dilla Time, the first biography of the legendary hip hop producer and rapper J Dilla. Dan Charnas not only tells the story of Dilla’s life and his approach to music, he shows how and why his music was so transformational and discusses the complicated legacy Dilla left after his death in 2006.

Cover of LOTE by Shola Von Reinhold. Cover is pearlescent with the title text in large blue letters around a teardrop shaped ornament with a peacock inside it. Text below the image reads “Ingenious; irresistible; a dazzling first novel.”--Naomi Booth, author of Sealed and The Lost Art of Sinking

You call it cheating, we call it truth: Sales Manager Michael McCullough offers up LOTE, one of our very own books—because he loved it so much, because author Shola von Reinhold is a dazzling new talent, and because he had a blast reading it. He confirms that LOTE is hilariously funny, but that it is also deeply insightful about race, gender, class, and art. This book is going to appeal to people who love high society English romps, people who care about Black writers and trans writers, people who like novels about the art world, and people who need a little glamor in these challenging times.

A Seat at the Table: Race and Top Chef, a Guest Post by Anita Mannur

The reality cooking show Top Chef finished its nineteenth season on June 2. Anita Mannur, author of Intimate Eating, is an avid viewer of the show and offers this guest post. Mannur is Associate Professor of English at Miami University, author of Culinary Fictions: Food in South Asian Diasporic Culture, and coeditor of Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader

Top Chef 15

Late last week, I tuned in to watch the season finale of Top Chef with a little more than the usual nervousness I often feel when watching the finale. I have watched all 19 seasons of Top Chef since it began airing in 2006 and have even taken in some of the spin-offs such as Top Chef Masters, Top Chef: Just Desserts and even Top Chef Family Style. I enjoy watching Top Chef because, even though contestants of color get eliminated more often than not, it seems to be the one cooking show that is interested in showcasing food, and not some gimmick around food that would act like seeing people run around a grocery store to collect items is even vaguely interesting. Top Chef showcases innovative and interesting cuisine, often at the hands of talented chefs across the country. The fact that the show is hosted by an Indian American, Padma Lakshmi—who has become a fierce advocate for marginalized peoples and important social issues—makes it even more meaningful. But my love-hate relationship with the show boils down to one simple fact: I find it incredibly frustrating to root for the contestants of color only to see them sent home much earlier than they should be. It is not that the people who win the contest are not talented; rather it is simply a case of wishing that there were more opportunities for chefs of color, and particularly women of color, to thrive in an industry that is dominated by cishet white male chefs. Whenever a person of color wins the season, I am relieved. When one roots for the person of color on reality TV, one is all too familiar with the feeling that they will not win the big prize. So, when they do win, it feels more like a relief than anything else.

This season I was especially excited because there seemed to be a record number of people of color on the show. About two-thirds of the season’s contestants were people of color. Week after week, I watched in surprise to see many of them remain on the show until, by some miracle, there were six remaining contestants—all of whom were people of color.  With apologies to Lauren Berlant, every time I watch Top Chef (or for that matter, any reality TV show), I often feel like I am engaging in a form of cruel optimism. Despite knowing better, I always hope against hope that the people of color will not be eliminated. And yet each week, my optimism fades as I see my favorites get eliminated. While it is certainly the case that there have been several people of color who have won Top Chef (and among them several Asian Americans), rarely do Black or Latinx women ever win. Though some may go on to have success in the culinary field, few—if any—get to hear the words, “you are top chef.” To date, no Black or Latinx women have won the title of Top Chef. And frankly, given the ways that Black and Latinx women have shaped America’s culinary history, that is outrageous.

Top Six

So, it was with considerable surprise and growing interest that I watched Season 19 unfold until, finally, there were six contestants left and every single one of them was a person of color. This moment felt unprecedented. At that point it seemed that it was inevitable that a person of color was going to win Top Chef—the finale would include three chefs of color. I was elated. And then I was reminded of the Top Chef spin-off, Last Chance Kitchen, a 10- to 15-minute show that airs on Bravo.com after the conclusion of each episode. As its title suggests, it is the last chance for eliminated chefs. Each week an eliminated chef competes against a previously eliminated chef. If they survive, they compete against the next eliminated contestant until finally a winner of Last Chance Kitchen is crowned and re-enters the main competition. I began watching LCK, and that old familiar feeling came back as I watched the contestants of color, one after another, lose their second chance until finally a winner was declared. Sarah Welch, a quirky white woman who had been eliminated early in the contest, re-entered Top Chef. While interesting in spirit, the whole premise of LCK seems to be that it offers a second chance to a deserving person. But in a moment when this country offers few second chances to people of color, and when different kinds of subjectivities are under erasure, it felt egregious to see that the concept of “deserving” is rooted in a narrative of talent. The dishes are purportedly tasted blindly, suggesting that a kind of equity is at play. And yet I cannot help but think that this utilizes the same logic as color blindness. What would it look like, in a country that is most certainly not color blind, to be more intentional about accessing a narrative of equity that extends to racial inclusion in determining who deserves a second chance? What if the idea of the “second chance” was not rooted in an apolitical and decontextualized narrative about who usually ascends to positions of power, but in one that would think about the political and affective resonance of having three incredibly deserving chefs of color make it to the end? Why, in the end, is it so unimaginable to have a major cooking competition decide that all its finalists will be people of color?

Top Chef

When Welch returned to the contest, there were five people of color: three African Americans (Ashleigh Shanti, Nick Wallace and Damarr Brown), one Latina (Evelyn Garcia) and one Asian Australian (Buddha Lo).  This was unprecedented. In its 16-year history, there had never been this many African Americans left in the contest at this late stage.  But then the old patterns reemerged, and one by one, each black chef was eliminated, and it became apparent that the finale would include a Latina woman, an Asian Australian man, and a white woman. Though I personally liked Welch and her quirky humor (and her deep commitment to showcasing different kinds of miso), I was a little disappointed. And to be honest, the finale was beautiful. All three contestants clearly respected one another and were rooting for one another in ways that felt more reminiscent of The Great British Bake Off than say, The Amazing Race. There is a real and palpable comradery among the contestants, and it was apparent that Garcia, Lo and Welch were invested in each other’s success. The expressions of intimacy and care felt genuine and were a welcome change from the backstabbing and snark that one often comes to expect in US-based reality shows and in several of the early seasons of Top Chef.

However, in the last few weeks of the season, I went from feeling excited about the prospects of a finale including only chefs of color to feeling deflated that it was all for naught and that Top Chef was once again merely pandering and would eliminate the remaining contestants of color for spurious reasons. At the end of each season, viewers are often told that the smallest details can send a person home. For chefs of color, that often takes the form of being sent home for not being “true to their origins or heritage,” a standard that is rarely applied to white chefs who are often praised for having knowledge of diverse cuisines.

In the end, the right person (I think) won. Buddha Lo’s food was inventive, took stock of his racial and ethnic heritage and was beautifully plated. But I was also disappointed not to see Garcia win—not just because she is Latina but because she was an exceptional chef in every way. But of course, only one person can win, even if the runners up do not have to hear the odious phrase, “please pack your knives and go.”

To the show’s credit, they made remarkable strides in showcasing so many talented chefs of color. And my guess is that, despite not winning, many of them will go on to have amazing careers.  But it remained disappointing to see that it took 19 seasons for the producers of the show to keep six people of color in the running, only to then get rid of them one by one, all the while conveying to the audience that a deserving white person needed to be at the final judging panel. Groundbreaking as it was to have this many contestants of color in one season, it was disappointing that it didn’t go further. To have the show come so close to doing something truly transformative, only to thwart expectations and desires at the last minute, was disappointing.

While I will not stop watching Top Chef anytime soon, it also does not escape my attention that we may not see a season like this again.  At the end of the day, it is not too much to ask to see more chefs of color standing in front of the judge’s table as a small, but important, gesture that would remind us that whiteness does not always have to be at the table.

Mannur coverTo read more from Anita Mannur, buy Intimate Eating from our site and save 30% with coupon code E22MANNR.

Pride Month Reads

Happy Pride Month! We’re proud to share some of our recent titles that focus on queer studies, trans studies, and LGBTQ+ histories.

978-1-4780-1808-7_prIn Gay Liberation after May ’68, first published in France in 1974 and appearing here in English for the first time, Guy Hocquenghem details the rise of the militant gay liberation movement and argues that revolutionary movements must be rethought through ideas of desire and sexuality. The book is translated by Scott Branson and includes an introduction by Gilles Deleuze.

Queer Fire: Liberation and Abolition, a special issue of GLQ edited by Jesse A. Goldberg and Marquis Bey, considers prison abolition as a project of queer liberation and queer liberation as an abolitionist project. Pushing beyond observations that prisons disproportionately harm queer people, the contributors demonstrate that gender itself is a carceral system and demand that gender and sexuality, too, be subject to abolition.

978-1-4780-1781-3_prIn Black Trans Feminism, Marquis Bey offers a meditation on blackness and gender nonnormativity in ways that recalibrate traditional understandings of each, conceiving of black trans feminism as a politics grounded in fugitivity and the subversion of power.

Shola von Reinhold’s lush queer novel LOTE won several prizes in the UK and is finally available to U.S. readers. Novelist Torrey Peters calls it “a totally fresh, funny, urgent iteration.” The perfect summer read!

In There’s a Disco Ball Between Us, Jafari S. Allen offers a sweeping and lively ethnographic and intellectual history of Black queer politics, culture, and history in the 1980s as they emerged out of radical Black lesbian activism and writing.

978-1-4780-1783-7_prMarlon B. Ross explores the figure of the sissy as central to how Americans have imagined, articulated, and negotiated black masculinity from the 1880s to the present in Sissy Insurgencies.

In Atmospheres of Violence, Eric A. Stanley examines the forms of violence levied against trans/queer and gender nonconforming people in the United States and shows how, despite the advances in LGBTQ rights in the recent past, forms of anti-trans/queer violence is central to liberal democracy and state power.

Lindsey B. Green-Simms examines films produced by and about queer Africans in the first two decades of the twenty-first century in Queer African Cinemas, showing how these films record the fear, anxiety, and vulnerability many queer Africans experience while at the same time imagining new hopes and possibilities.

rhr_142_prIn Visual Archives of Sex — a special issue of Radical History Review edited by Heike Bauer, Melina Pappademos, Katie Sutton, and Jennifer Tucker — contributors study the visual histories of sex by examining symbols, images, film, and other visual forms ranging from medieval religious icons to twenty-first-century selfies. They argue that engaging BIPOC, antiracist, queer, and feminist perspectives of the past is vital to understanding the complex historical relationships between sex and visual culture.

Nicole Erin Morse examines how trans women feminine artists use selfies and self-representational art to explore how selfies produce politically meaningful encounters between creators and viewers in ways that envision trans feminist futures in Selfie Aesthetics.

Artist and theorist micha cárdenas considers contemporary digital media, artwork, and poetry in order to articulate trans of color strategies of safety and survival in Poetic Operations.

tsq_9_1_prThe t4t Issue is a special issue of Transgender Studies Quarterly edited by Cameron Awkward-Rich and Hil Malatino. Originating in Craigslist personals to indicate a trans person seeking another trans person, the term “t4t” has come to describe not only circuits of desire and attraction but also practices of trans solidarity and mutual aid. Contributors to this issue investigate the multiple meanings associated with t4t, considering both its potential and its shortcomings.

In The Lives of Jessie Sampter, Sarah Imhoff tells the story of the queer, disabled, Zionist writer Jessie Sampter (1883–1938), whose body and life did not match typical Zionist ideals and serves as an example of the complex relationships between the body, queerness, disability, religion, and nationalism.

Samer_coverIn Lesbian Potentiality and Feminist Media in the 1970s, Rox Samer explores how 1970s feminists took up the figure of the lesbian in broad attempts to reimagine gender and sexuality by studying feminist film, video, and science fiction literature.

Queer Companions by Omar Kasmani theorizes the construction of queer social relations at Pakistan’s most important Sufi site by examining the affective and intimate relationship between the site’s pilgrims and its patron saint.

Q&A with the Authors of “The Impasse of the Latin American Left”

Impasse authorsFranck Gaudichaud is Professor of History and Latin American Studies at Universite Toulouse-Jean Jaurès.

Massimo Modonesi is Professor of Sociology at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Jeffery R. Webber is Associate Professor of Politics at York University.

Gaudichaud, Modonesi, and Webber are the authors of The Impasse of the Latin American Left, a new book that explores the Latin American Pink Tide as a political, economic, and cultural phenomenon, showing how it failed to transform the underlying class structures of their societies or challenge the imperial strategies of the United States and China.

Throughout the book, you explain that recent political shifts in Latin American countries indicate an “end of the cycle” for progressivism in the region. Do you see historical developments as occurring in cycles? What kinds of lessons can be learned from previous cycles?

Gaudichaud coverThe notion of cycles is more of a metaphor, equivalent to that of a wave. It is borrowed from biology and economics. In the field of the study of political processes, it does not refer to circularity, but to phenomena that experience ups and downs, expansions and contractions. In this sense, it is a notion that allows visualizing a historical process, in the absence of another more effective one. Latin American progressivism experienced a cycle of ascent-descent of approximately 15 years, depending on the case. Leaders, parties, and governments emerged, expanded, consolidated, and eventually entered into crisis. Their crisis occurred hand in hand with a rightward shift in the political scene that contributed, together with the contradictions accumulated within progressivism itself, to close a stage in recent Latin American history.

This shift to the right was not consolidated, however, due to the inability of the right to formulate a hegemonic project that would give it legitimacy and durability. As a result, the door was opened, in recent years, to a partial return of Latin American progressivism, in part from the same forces that led the earlier cycle (think of the return of the Movement toward Socialism to office in Bolivia, or the return of a variety of Kirchnerist-Peronism to office in Argentina, or the likely return of Lula in Brazil in the October elections this year). Elsewhere, Latin American progressivism has formed governments in countries that were largely outside of the earlier cycle (Gabriel Boric in Chile, Pedro Castillo in Peru, and Xiomara Castro in Honduras, all of whom will likely be joined by Gustavo Petro in Colombia in elections later this month).

But this return of earlier progressive governments and the rise of new ones are occurring in a different and less favorable political and economic context, and progressivism has assumed more moderate, less ambitious forms. Historical cycles do not merely repeat themselves. Marx claimed, half seriously and half in jest, that they appear first as tragedy and then as farce. We know that the progressive cycle had some tragic traits, insofar as it wasted the momentum of the popular movements. Let us hope that the constitutive processes of the current cycle are not a farce. In any case, a significant determination of the correlation of class forces in Latin American societies occurs outside electoral conquests and use of government agencies and state institutions, through processes of consciousness-raising, mobilization, and organization of the subaltern classes that pass through but also escape the institutional dynamics of progressivism.

You write that, in the early- and mid-2000s, left-progressive movements rose to power on a wave of popular support. Given that popular support, what accounts for the inability of the Latin American left to fully transform domestic and international economic order?

In the book we outline a series of objective, structural impediments to domestic and international transformation that the Latin American left faced in the early decades of the twenty-first century. These should not be understood as static and insurmountable obstacles to transformation, but dynamic and contradictory constraints, the transcendence of which would have required revolutionary ruptures in social, political, and economic relations, and which could never have been overcome overnight.

Among the many dynamic barriers of this kind, we discuss the inherited productive structures of primary-export commodity economies in many Latin American countries, rooted in over a century of their subordinate incorporation into the world capitalist system. Relatedly, the ongoing uneven development of capitalism and inter-imperialist rivalry (today, most importantly, between the United States and China) has created a world system of states based on hierarchy and exploitation, in which imperialist powers use whatever resources available to them to reproduce their domination of the system and thus the ongoing subordination of weaker states, including Latin American countries seeking more autonomy and a modicum of self-determination.

Uneven capitalist development and associated nationalist competition internal to Latin America, furthermore, was another important reason behind the strict limits encountered by the various region-wide initiatives for change, such as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA).  More proximately, the Latin American left in the early twenty-first century operated within a novel class structure in all countries, one that had been transformed by decades of neoliberal economic restructuring. Peasant dispossession and proletarianization, widescale rural-to-urban migration, the decline of formal, unionized urban employment, and the florescence of atomized informal economies were some of the dominant trends. This new class terrain made it difficult to organize and sustain radical left politics and presented a challenge for left social movements and political party formations alike. Nonetheless, through invention and experimentation, with tactics and strategies adapted to the new era, popular class recomposition proved quite successful on the social movement front in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Alongside the dynamic structural elements, the book also explains subjective, political factors that weakened the possibilities of Latin American progressivism achieving further reaching social and political transformation. By the late 1990s, the political left in Latin America had suffered through generations of fierce repression that disarticulated its formal political organizations through brute repression. Recall the bureaucratic authoritarian regimes of the Southern Cone during the 1970s and 1980s, or the counterinsurgencies of Central America in the same period, both of which were necessary military precursors to the technocratic roll out of neoliberal economic programs. Ideologically, the idea of socialism had been widely discredited by the early 1990s through its association with the authoritarianism of the Soviet Union, and with the crumbling of the latter, the “end of history” had been confidently pronounced by liberals around the world.  The Latin American left therefore had to rebuild new projects of transformation out of the rubble of the past, using bold and militant experimentation to eventually find a way to recompose itself on the unsteady ground of the early twenty-first century.

Despite these structural obstacles and enduring legacies of past political defeats, a social, extra-parliamentary left, constituted by increasingly militant social movements, emerged, grew, and consolidated over the course of the 1990s and early 2000s, disrupting the smooth political reproduction of neoliberal regimes. This growing social power of the left was eventually translated, albeit in distorted form, into the rise of an institutional, electoral left, with the formation of a whole series of centre-left and left governments in the mid-to-late 2000s.

That the rise of new left governments coincided with an international commodity boom, driven by rapid industrialization in China, was a gift and a curse at the same time. On the one hand, it stoked dynamic capitalist growth which enabled states to skim rent from the extractive sectors and achieve significant temporary improvements in terms of poverty and income inequality, as well as in health and education coverage for the popular classes in a number of cases. On the other hand, the easy rents from the extractive sectors also allowed the new progressive governments to avoid, for a period at least, a sharper confrontation with domestic and international capital, even while improving the living standards of their popular bases. This was the material basis for passive revolution, we argue, so long as the commodity boom endured.

The Latin American progressive governments of the first decade of the twenty-first century were agents of passive revolution, in the Gramscian sense. That is, they governed processes that combined a certain combination of transformation and conservation carried out from the state so as to pre-empt the escalation of class struggle. Patterns of capitalist accumulation were altered at the margins through socioeconomic reform that benefitted the subaltern classes, but these reforms were carried out from above in a manner designed to demobilize, control, and pacify the popular classes through their subordinate incorporation. The basic underlying productive and property systems and associated class structures of society were largely unaltered by progressive rule. When the commodity boom ended, the easy rents lubricating these passive revolutions dried up, class antagonisms reemerged more sharply, and progressive governments were unable to secure ongoing support from their popular social bases while they also lost the confidence of capital; thus a window was opened up for right-wing restoration, however unstable that restoration has ultimately been.

Of course, this general synthesis necessarily obscures many of the specificities of different cases that we examine in closer historical detail in the book. The processes of pacification and control from above, for example, need to be differentiated so that the distinctions between, say, the social-liberalism of lulismo in Brazil and the more advanced moments of social struggle in Bolivia under Evo Morales or Venezuela under Hugo Chávez can be made clear, just as the chasm separating social democratic governance under the Broad Front in Uruguay and the nepotistic authoritarianism of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua can be properly understood. In this sense, theoretical generalizations and propositions are made in the book, but not at the expense of attentiveness to the important differences separating each case under the broad label of “progressivism,” each with their unique social actors, political parties, levels of control from above and participation from below, and particular socio-historical traditions of class struggle.

The progressive movements have recently been overtaken by a variety of right-wing actors, who operate without a “coherent project of political rule and vision of economic development” (6). Do you think the rise of the right in Latin America will lead to a return to a capitalist-neoliberal order or something else?

In many senses, there was never a full break with neoliberalism even during the hegemonic phase of Latin American progressivism. The right that has returned to office in recent years in many countries consists of a spectrum ranging from the technocratic neoliberalism of a relatively orthodox variety (think of Mauricio Macri’s administration in Argentina from 2015-2019) to more explicitly authoritarian, far-right populism (think of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, or the second-place finisher José Antonio Kast in Chile). Both the technocrats and the far-right populists represent different flavours of neoliberal rule.

However, while neoliberal policies were sometimes able to produce periods of modest capitalist expansion in parts of Latin America in the 1990s, today the region is mired in a social and economic crisis to which the neoliberal project cannot provide a solution, even on its own perverse terms. While the new right governments, therefore, are intent on reproducing neoliberalism, their attempts to do so will be structurally impeded by recessionary trends in the global economy and defensive resistance from popular movements.

The present interregnum is characterized by an impasse with no secure hegemonies, whether left or right, and all of Gramsci’s morbid symptoms are robustly on display. The electoral left continues its adaptation to the center, so that even when it wins, it tends to lose. For its part, the center-right is increasingly eclipsed by far-right formations, new and old. The most promising explosive moments suggestive of the possibilities for a more radical left have taken the form of wide-scale rebellions, such as those in Chile, Ecuador, and Colombia in late 2019. Each of these instances, though, were defensive in character, and ultimately ran up against their own limits of political articulation. The absence of lasting popular organizational forms emerging out of their milieus is one indication of this fact.

Outside these important before-and-after moments of mass upheaval, uneven transnational expressions of ecological movements and popular feminisms have proved to be the most sustained and transversal expressions of extra-parliamentary class struggle in the region. In their overlapping yet distinct ways they implicitly bend in an anti-capitalist direction; the totalizing logic of the issues animating their resistance demands that they, on occasion at least, condense the problems they face into a sharp singularity: capitalism or life. That this is the real choice faced in Latin America today, as in the rest of the world, has only become more apparent in light of the pandemic.

Populism is mentioned throughout your discussion of Latin American politics. To what extent are the political developments discussed in the book the result of popular movements and/or influenced by foreign actors? How difficult is it to disentangle the various influences on the politics of the region?

The notion of populism has a properly Latin American history. It is not an imported political form in the region. Latin American populism is historically progressive, nationalist, statist, integrationist and class-conciliatory, unlike the right-wing populism that sprouted strongly in Europe and the US in recent decades. This ideological distance of the phenomena does not allow for any generalization or theorization that assimilates the separate trends, beyond the fact that they share certain discursive and gesticulatory resources and the search for the support of the popular sectors, especially the unorganized popular sectors.

We must also distinguish the totally endogenous cases of progressive governments which most closely fit the classically “populist” profile, such as that of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia, from Kirchnerist Peronism in Argentina, Lulismo in Brazil, Pepe Mujica in Uruguay, and now Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico, where relatively typical politicians transformed themselves into charismatic and paternalistic presidents once in office, deploying the entire repertoire of classical populism.

At the same time, there may be not so much direct influence but a certain emulation in the cases of an emerging “populist” right-wing in Latin America. They saw a particular political opportunity with the rise of Trump. Surely there is something of that in the emergence and trajectory of Bolsonaro who, although his impact can easily be exaggerated. The Bolsonaro effect seems to have been replicated to a certain extent in the appearance of characters such as Kast in Chile and Javier Milei in Argentina. It remains to be seen to what extent these reactionary, neoliberal, authoritarian and culturally regressive populisms will be able to install a populist form of doing politics that is antithetical to the more traditional, more progressive, plebeian and multi-class version, which continues to show strength in the region.

You write a post-conclusion about the disproportionate effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Latin America. How do you see the pandemic, and the recovery from it, affecting political developments in the region in the future?

By now it’s well known that over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic Latin America has, by many metrics, suffered more than any region in the world, with extremely high rates of contagion and mortality. Less well remembered, perhaps, is that the pandemic arrived in the midst of an economic crisis that was already full-blown. According to data from the United Nations Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), for example, between 2014 and 2019 the sub-region of South America experienced its lowest five-year growth rate ever registered, with an average of only 0.3 percent GDP growth, and negative GDP per capita.

The pandemic dramatically worsened an already dire scenario, such that 2020 saw the worst ever regional contraction of GDP across Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole. In this context, poverty, inequality, and food insecurity soared to new heights. Existing axes of inequality were exacerbated, with more and more of the population’s access to basic services, health, education, and housing foreclosed. In 2020, 52 million additional people fell into poverty, according to Oxfam, while the richest Latin Americans added $48.2 billion to their pockets. Capital will always try, and will sometimes succeed, at profiting from disaster.

The limited but real social gains of the first Pink Tide era, in the context of a commodities boom, had already been in steady reverse since 2014, but the pandemic has simply annihilated any remnants. The scale of social regression in the region has been phenomenal. World trade fell by 17 percent between January and May 2020, and Latin America was the developing region most affected by this contraction, with a decline of 26.1 percent in exports and 27.4 percent in imports. Aggregate regional GDP in Latin America and the Caribbean declined by 7.5 percent in 2020. According to the International Labour Organization, there were roughly 25 million net employment losses in the region that year, with approximately 82 percent of these translating into permanent exits from the labour force – that is, 82 percent of people who lost their jobs in 2020 have been unable to find any new employment. Again, recall that these trends are in addition to those of regional decline since 2014.

The closure or bankruptcy of millions of small and medium sized firms meant that the counter-cyclical absorptive capacity of the informal economy to soak up some of the surplus labour pushed out of the formal economy in previous capitalist crises was diminished, at least for the first year of the pandemic. Women, youth, lower-qualified, and migrant workers suffered most severely under these conditions.

With a relative recovery of commodity prices mid-way through the year, the opening-up of economies after pandemic closures, and expansionary fiscal measures by most governments in the region, Latin America and the Caribbean experienced GDP growth of 6.0 percent in 2021.

But employment growth continued to lag, and the job growth that did occur was largely isolated to the informal sector. In many Latin American countries, over 70 percent of net job creation since 2020 has been in the informal sector. Even with this relative informal growth in jobs, at the close of 2021, both formal and informal employment levels were persistently lower than pre-pandemic years in most countries of the region. The unemployment rate remained elevated at 10.0 percent in 2021, and even optimistic projections suggest that the unemployment rate will continue above pre-pandemic levels at least through 2023.

World market conditions are likely to be considerably worse in 2022 for Latin American economic prospects than in 2021, although just how much worse is unclear, and only getting murkier. The IMF growth forecast for the world economy at the outset of 2022 was only 4.9 percent, down from 5.8 percent in 2021. This was before the system-shaking events toward the end of February, when Russia launched its imperialist invasion of Ukraine, considerably heightening extant inter-imperial rivalries in the world system – anchored as they are by the primary rivalry between the United States and China. Innumerable new complexities and uncertainties have been added to an already-unstable world market. Accelerating military spending and sky-high food and energy prices may be just the beginning.

Read the introduction to The Impasse of the Latin American Left for free and save 50% on the paperback with coupon code SPRING22, now through May 27.

Poem of the Week

DG by John Foster 2021 1It’s the last week of April—time for our final “Poem of the Week” for 2022! Read below for an excerpt from Good night the pleasure was ours by David Grubbs. In this book, Grubbs melts down and recasts three decades of playing music on tour, capturing the daily life of touring as a world unto itself. Be sure to check out this and other in-stock poetry titles, which are all 50% off through May 26 with coupon code SPRING22.

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The child persists in speaking a language the adults don’t understand.

The adults persist in responding in a language the child rejects as gib-

berish. What this unaccompanied kid is doing at sound check is on her

dad, who’s out scaring

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up catering. It dawns on the child that the musicians don’t communicate

using words, the three of them flummoxed by the most basic questions.

They don’t laugh at jokes, they laugh between jokes, they fake-laugh at

nothing and nowhere. She starts again and delivers it differently, cas-

cading impatient tones accelerating toward birdsong, still to no effect

other than the blankly expectant faces of adults. All of this flickers hi-

larious and exasperating to the child—she’s not giving up—and jibes

with her experience of the steady influx of mute visitors carting musical

instruments, clinging to, futzing with, sheltering behind.

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The daily flow of ridiculous strangers.

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coverDavid Grubbs is Professor of Music at Brooklyn College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York. As a musician, Grubbs has released fourteen solo albums and appeared on more than two hundred commercially released recordings.