In keeping with the “Raise UP” theme of University Press Week, we’re excited to spotlight the addition of liquid blackness: journal of aesthetics and black studies, an open-access journal, to our publishing program starting with its special issue “Liquidity” this spring. The journal seeks to carve out a place for aesthetic theory and the most radical agenda of Black studies to come together in productive ways. Founding editors Alessandra Raengo and Lauren McLeod Cramer recently discussed with us the creation of liquid blackness, the importance of the journal being open access, and the journal’s relationship with our current climate.
DUP: How did liquid blackness come to be?
The liquid blackness journal began informally; it emerged from the liquid blackness research group, which Alessandra began in Fall 2013 with the support and assistance of graduate students and alumni of the doctoral program in Moving Image Studies at Georgia State University. Without an institutional mandate, the group came together in response to a curatorial project we inherited: “The LA Rebellion: Creating a New Black American Cinema tour” curated from the UCLA Film and Television archive. In the summer 2013, Matthew Bernstein, chair of Film and Media Studies at Emory University, asked Alessandra if she would co-host the tour with him. The question immediately became: how does one create the right environment for this material? Beyond gathering an audience for these films, creating an “environment” meant organizing a community experience because this collection of films constitutes a type of radical cinema made with, and from, communities of color in Los Angeles. Along with free screenings and artist talks, we hosted a series of teach-ins and community conversations in historically significant sites of political gathering in Atlanta.
At the end of the tour, Alessandra asked the students involved in this project to write about it. That first journal issue is really an expression of our commitment to two archives. First, we were thinking about giving back and giving thanks to the UCLA archival project, from which we had just benefited, by accounting for our experience of watching these works that were previously very difficult to see. At the same time, that inaugural issue was a way to begin to reflect on, and therefore assemble, a record of our own collective processes and emerging praxis. The first editorial board—Lauren McLeod Cramer, Kristin Juarez, Michele Prettyman, and Cameron Kunzelman—formed around the production of this issue. And this has been the praxis since.
From this initial gesture of “giving back” to an existing archive of Black expressive culture, while reflecting on liquid blackness as a potential emerging archive, the journal became profoundly intertwined with the group’s activities: each research project would culminate in a public event featuring a practicing artist and a call for papers. For example, the research project on Larry Clark’s Passing Through inspired a journal issue on “The Arts and Politics of the Jazz Ensemble,” the research on Arthur Jafa’s Dreams are Colder than Death prompted an issue on “Black Ontology and the Love of Blackness,” and our approach to Kahlil Joseph’s aesthetics was channeled in an issue focused on “Holding Blackness: Aesthetics of Suspension.”
Over time and through this organic approach, the journal grew into a forum for the exploration of Blackness in contemporary visual and sonic arts and popular culture at the intersection between the politics and ethics of aesthetics. “Liquidity” thus designates, among other things, a commitment to generative entanglements and to follow processes of intellectual production that are inspired by the experimental style of the jazz ensemble, which is what Fred Moten and Stefano Harney identified as a productive model for their idea of “Black study.”
DUP: How does the journal fit into our current climate?
liquid blackness became a nonprofit in 2019, so over the last year we’ve had the opportunity to make explicit some of the core values that have inspired our praxis since the beginning. Our goal is to mentor the next generation of scholars of color and other scholars fully committed to the agenda of Black studies, while creating a vibrant, extended, and sustainable community. This journal is entirely committed to the aim and scope of Black studies: centering on Blackness—Black people and Black art—and critiquing Western civilization’s attachment to the project of whiteness. As we condemn the atmospheric reach of anti-Blackness, we also make the rejection of white supremacy and privilege the goal of our scholarly pursuits.
While we are devastated by this summer’s most blatant episodes of anti-Black violence, we understand these tragedies in the context of pervasive white supremacy. Further, we refrain from expressing shock as a way to dismiss the totality of anti-Blackness. Instead, we remain focused on interrogating the political stakes of representation, to think critically about the efficacy of public statements, performances of solidarity, and analytical language that rely on the tools of oppression.
Our unwavering solidarity with voices raised in protest in the US and all over the world is inextricable from our condemnation of other expressions of violence, including the political and social neglect that caused COVID-19’s devastating effects on communities of color and academia’s persistent disregard for the true needs of these same oppressed communities. We call out white supremacy as the most denied pandemic of the modern era and insist that the work of eradicating it cannot rely on the emotional labor of the communities it has already victimized. So, at the same time we recognize these violent continuities, the journal is committed to creating space for the expression of art and scholarship that is not exclusively tethered to, and indeed may de-link from, anti-Black terror. We envision it as a place that supports art and scholarship that makes pressing historical claims for justice, recognition, and rights into new, and newly expansive, futural registers.
November is here, and even though we may have the US election and the end of the semester on our minds, there are still new books to celebrate. Check out our November releases. They should all be out before the end of our 50% off sale on November 23, so be sure to check the website frequently. Use coupon code FALL2020 to save.
Animalia: An Anti-Imperial Bestiary for Our Times is a unique new collection edited by Antoinette Burton and Renisa Mawani. The contributors analyze twenty-six animals—domestic, feral, predatory, and mythical—whose relationship to imperial authorities and settler colonists reveals how the presumed racial supremacy of Europeans underwrote the history of Western imperialism.
In Liquor Store Theatre, artist and anthropologist Maya Stovall uses her Liquor Store Theatre conceptual art project—in which she danced near her Detroit neighborhood’s liquor stores as a way to start conversations with her neighbors—as a point of departure for understanding everyday life in Detroit and the possibilities for ethnographic research, art, and knowledge creation.
Mimi Sheller’s Island Futures: Caribbean Survival in the Anthropocene delves into the ecological crises and reconstruction challenges affecting the entire Caribbean region, showing how vulnerability to ecological collapse and the quest for a “just recovery” in the Caribbean emerge from specific transnational political, economic, and cultural dynamics.
Catherine Besteman offers a sweeping theorization of the ways in which countries from the global North are reproducing South Africa’s apartheid system on a worldwide scale to control the mobility and labor of people from the global South in her new book Militarized Global Apartheid.
For a Pragmatics of the Useless by Erin Manning draws on the radical black tradition, process philosophy, and Felix Guattari’s schizoanalysis to explore the links between neurotypicality, whiteness, and black life.
Our Fall Sale continues through November 23. Are you still thinking about what to buy? Executive Editor Courtney Berger shares her recomendations today.
As always, there’s a super-abundance of exciting new books to recommend; it’s always a struggle to pick just a few. But, here are some recent titles that I’m excited about.
You may already have José Esteban Muñoz’s The Sense of Brown in your shopping cart. (And, if you don’t, you probably should.) Along with it, grab a copy of Race and Performance After Repetition, which features performance studies scholarship inspired and influenced by Muñoz’s work. Volume editors Soyica Diggs Colbert, Douglas A. Jones, and Shane Vogel have brought together an impressive set of contributors to focus on the relationship between race and temporality in performance, pushing past the trope of “repetition” to consider pauses, rests, gaps, afterlives, and other forms of temporal interruption.
Another one of my top picks: Samantha Pinto’s Infamous Bodies: Early Black Women’s Celebrity and the Afterlives of Rights. Focusing on five iconic Black women from the 18th and 19th centuries–Phyllis Wheatley, Sally Hemings, Sarah Baartman, Mary Seacole, and Sarah Forbes Bonetta—Pinto shows how Black women’s public presence was key to the establishment of many of the tenets of Western liberalism (freedom, rights, consent, agency). Through her provocative and engaging reading of these women’s lives and continued legacies, Pinto also reveals how the forms of pleasure, risk, violence, desire, and ambition that these women experienced can offer powerful models of political embodiment and vulnerability that remain relevant today.
Perhaps you got sucked into Tiger King this spring? Then take a look at Rosemary-Claire Collard’s Animal Traffic: Lively Capital in the Global Exotic Pet Trade, which delves into the multi-billion dollar world of the exotic pet trade. Following the commodity chain from the capture of parrots in Central America to the sale of monkeys at auctions in Idaho and Alabama to attempts to rehabilitate and reintroduce animals to the wild, Collard turns the notion of the lively commodity on its head, showing us how animals come to seem as though they don’t have their own lives apart from their connection to human economic and social structures. A perfect book for undergraduate courses.
I can’t stop talking about Cait McKinney’s Information Activism: A Queer History of Lesbian Media Technologies. Focusing on the community-oriented information networks founded by lesbian feminists in the 1970s, McKinney digs into the unglamorous and behind-the-scenes labor that goes into political activism, from entering information into a database to keeping call logs at a lesbian hotline. McKinney tells the stories of these information activists, highlighting their resourcefulness and their willingness to learn and implement new media technologies in ways that comported with a feminist commitment to craft, collectively organized work, and expediency. McKinney also attends to the trans-exclusionary attitudes that informed many of these projects and the ongoing challenges of addressing histories exclusion. This is a book for queer activists, librarians, indexers, technology geeks, lovers of the card catalog, archivists, media studies scholars, and everyone in between. (You can also check out my interview with Cait here.)
If you’re looking for a beautifully written ethnography to teach in the spring (or just to inspire your own writing), you should get a copy of Saiba Varma’s The Occupied Clinic: Militarism and Care in Kashmir. Varma recounts the complexities of mental health and humanitarian care in Indian-occupied Kashmir, site of the longest running military conflict in the world. Through the stories of patients, clinicians, and NGO workers, Varma shows us the subtle, indirect, and unintentional ways that militarism and the logic of emergency suffuse clinical and humanitarian care practices, from the medical use of electroshock therapy to the use of clinics as sites of counterinsurgency interrogation. Varma’s writing is both gripping and poetic.
And, finally, for those of you who are interested in the relationship between radical politics and environmentalism, I recommend Thea Riofrancos’ Resource Radicals: From Petro-Nationalism to Post-Extractivism in Ecuador. Riofrancos traces the tensions and conflicts that have arisen within the left in Ecuador over resource extraction, and she brings to light the forms of social resistance that have arisen in the wake of widespread dispossession and capitalist expansion. Riofrancos’s book is the latest installment in the Radical Américas series.
Use coupon code FALL2020 to save 50% on all of these titles and any other in-stock book and journal issues. This afternoon we’ll share editor Elizabeth Ault’s recommendations.
The MacArthur Fellows program is intended to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations. Recipients receive a $625,000 stipend. Of Moten’s work, the MacArthur Foundation says, “In his theoretical and critical writing on visual culture, poetics, music, and performance, Moten seeks to move beyond normative categories of analysis, grounded in Western philosophical traditions, that do not account for the Black experience. He is developing a new mode of aesthetic inquiry wherein the conditions of being Black play a central role.”
Ken Wissoker, Senior Executive Editor says, “I’m so moved. Fred Moten is my idea of what a genius is. His capaciousness of thought, the generative spirit of engagement.” The staff of Duke University Press send Fred a huge congratulations for these well-deserved honors.
All of Fred Moten’s books are 50% off during our Fall Sale (through November 23, 2020) using coupon code FALL2020.
As the days cool and leaves turn so should your new book pages! This month our new book titles will go great with your favorite hot drink.
Examining black performance practices that critique Western humanism, R. A. Judy offers an extended meditation on questions of blackness, the human, epistemology, and the historical ways in which the black being is understood in Sentient Flesh.
In Sensory Experiments, Erica Fretwell examines how psychophysics—a nineteenth-century scientific movement originating in Germany dedicated to the empirical study of sensory experience—became central to the process of creating human difference along the lines of race, gender, and ability in nineteenth-century America.
Brigitte Fielder presents an alternative theory of how race is constructed in Relative Races with readings of nineteenth-century personal narratives, novels, plays, stories, poems, and images to illustrate how interracial kinship follows non-heteronormative, non-biological, and non-patrilineal models of inheritance in nineteenth-century literary culture.
The Sense of Brown, which he was completing at the time of his death, is José Esteban Muñoz’s treatise on brownness and being as well as his most direct address to queer Latinx studies. Joshua Chambers-Letson and Tavia Nyong′o have edited the book and written an introduction.
Lyle Fearnley situates the production of ecological facts about the likely epicenter of viral pandemics inside the shifting cultural landscapes of agrarian change and the geopolitics of global health in the timely new book Virulent Zones.
Amalia Leguizamón reveals how the Argentine state, agribusiness, and their allies in the media and sciences deploy narratives of economic redistribution, scientific expertise, and national identity as a way to gain the public’s consent to grow genetically modified soybeans despite the massive environmental and social costs inSeeds of Power.
Drawing on ethnographic research with policy makers, politicians, activists, scholars, and the public in Manchester, England, Hannah Knox in Thinking Like a Climate confronts the challenges climate change poses to knowledge production and modern politics.
In Wild Things Jack Halberstam offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which the wild—a space located beyond normative borders of sexuality—offers sources of opposition to knowing and being that transgress Euro-American notions of the modern subject.
Saiba Varma in The Occupied Clinic, explores spaces of military and humanitarian care in Indian-controlled Kashmir—the world’s most militarized place—to examine the psychic, ontological, and political entanglements between medicine and violence.
With Cowards Don′t Make History, Joanne Rappaport examines the work of a group of Colombian social scientists led by Orlando Fals Borda, who in the 1970s developed a model of “participatory action research” in which they embedded themselves into local communities to use their research in the service of social and political organizing.
Vanessa Freije explores the causes and consequences of political scandals in Mexico from the 1960s through the 1980s in Citizens of Scandal, showing how Mexico City reporters began to denounce government corruption during this period in ways that defined the Mexican public sphere in the late twentieth century .
In Building Socialism, Christina Schwenkel analyzes the collaboration between East German and Vietnamese architects and urban planners as they attempted to transform the bombed-out industrial city of Vinh into a model socialist city.
Political theorist and anticapitalist activist Sabu Kohso uses the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster to illuminate the relationship between nuclear power, capitalism, and the nation-state in Radiation and Revolution, showing how nuclear power has become the organizing principle of the global order.
In Black Diamond Queens Maureen Mahon documents the major contributions African American women vocalists such as Big Mama Thornton, Betty Davis, Tina Turner, and Merry Clayton have made to rock and roll throughout its history.
Ethiraj Gabriel Dattatreyan in The Globally Familiar examines how the young men of Delhi’s hip hop scene construct themselves on- and off-line and how digital platforms offer these young men the means to reimagine themselves and their city through hip hop.
In essays addressing topics ranging from cinema, feminism, and art to hip hop, urban slums, and digital technology, Sujatha Fernandes in The Cuban Hustle explores the multitudinous ways ordinary Cubans have sought to hustle, survive, and create expressive cultures in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse.
In Genetic Afterlives, Noah Tamarkin illustrates how Lemba people in South Africa give their own meanings to the results of DNA tests that substantiated their ancestral connections to Jews and employ them to manage competing claims of Jewish ethnic and religious identity, African indigeneity, and South African citizenship.
Shane Denson examines the ways in which computer-generated digital images displace and transform the traditional spatial and temporal relationships that viewers had with conventional analog forms of cinema in Discorrelated Images.
Media Primitivism by Delinda Collier finds alternative concepts of mediation in African art by closely engaging with electricity-based works since 1944.
Writing in Space, 1973-2019 gathers the writings of conceptual artist Lorraine O’Grady as edited by Aruna D’Souza, including artist statements, scripts, magazine articles, critical essays on art and culture, and interviews.
Acknowledging the difficulty for artists in the twenty-first century to effectively critique systems of power, in The Play in the System Anna Watkins Fisher theorizes parasitism—a form of resistance in which artists comply with dominant structures as a tool for practicing resistance from within.
Filled with advice from over fifty contributors, this completely revised and expanded edition of our popular book The Academic’s Handbook guides academics at every career stage, whether they are first entering the job market or negotiating post-tenure challenges of accepting leadership and administrative roles. The volume is edited by Lori A. Flores and Jocelyn H. Olcott.
We are excited to announce the launch of our next video in the In Conversation series, featuring editors and contributors to the new book Race and Performance after Repetition. Soyica Diggs Colbert, Douglas A. Jones, Jr., and Shane Vogel discuss the major themes of the collection with contributors Joshua Chambers-Letson, Tavia Nyong’o, and Elizabeth W. Son, exploring how theater and performance studies account for the complex relationship between race and time. Enjoy!
I spent last Thursday and Friday reading and processing the many stories shared on Twitter about Jessica A. Krug’s decades-long fraudulent and hurtful appropriation of a Black and Latinx identity. I have been sickened, angered, and saddened by the many years that she deployed gross racial stereotypes to build her fake identity, and the way that she coupled her lies with a self-righteous policing of racial politics within the Black and Latinx circles that she intruded upon.
My interactions with Krug, who authored a book with Duke University Press, were limited. The first time she lied to me was in an email exchange in 2017. I had asked her how to pronounce her name. She answered, “Thanks for asking about my last name. It’s actually ‘Cruz’ and is pronounced as such. Long story, and when we meet up in person, I’ll tell you.” As an acquisition editor, I often present information about our authors and our books to colleagues across our departments, and, as someone whose name is often mispronounced, I work hard to get names right. From that point forward, everyone across our Press dutifully pronounced her name as “Cruz.” When I met her in person for the first time the following year, shortly after her book was published, she told me the fictitious story of how her grandparents came to this country from the Caribbean and how immigration officials made a transcription mistake on their last name. She also repeated other details that I now know to be false about her identity and her past.
Those of us who are connected to Krug and her scholarship, and especially those of us who are people of color, are grappling with several layers of anger and hurt. There is the personal pain of having someone impersonate your own identity in the most racist way possible, through caricatures and stereotypes. There’s also the shameful sense that, as someone who labored to support her work as her acquisition editor, I helped publish the work of someone who, early in her career, took funding and other opportunities that were earmarked for non-white scholars.
Many of us who promoted her work in one way or another have also struggled in trying to consider the relationship between Krug’s scholarship and her wrongdoing. There are times when a scholar does harm that can be seen as unrelated to their scholarship. In this case, Krug leveraged her deception to enable and promote her work, in ways that are not quantifiable or always specific. As others have pointed out, Krug’s scholarship may not have ever existed without the funding that was inseparable from her two decades of lies.
What are we then to do with her scholarship, which, as it happens, has been widely praised and recognized as important? Many scholars and scholar-activists have continued to push for a focus not just on content of scholarship, but also on context, methods, ethics, and politics—often promoting decolonial approaches. These are the conversations and movements that can lead us forward. I hope that we can all muster the strength to lean into these conversations, even though they will challenge us all.
Almost everyone I’ve spoken to about Krug’s book has asked about profits from her book. The truth is that the book, like many monographic scholarly works, did not generate a profit—its expenses were more than its revenues. Despite that, Duke University Press is committed to moving all proceeds from the book to a fund that will support the work of Black and Latinx scholars. Our conversations and deliberations about other actions will continue.
In today’s guest post, Gayle Wald shares her appreciation for the TV show Soul! and the new movie Mr. Soul!, about its creator, Ellis Haizlip. Wald is Professor of American Studies at George Washington University and author of It′s Been Beautiful: Soul! and Black Power Television (2015).
In one of the last episodes of Soul!, Ellis Haizlip mused prophetically on the cancellation of the TV show he had been producing and hosting for five years. Emerging on New York public broadcasting in the aftermath of the long summer of 1968, Soul! had demonstrated the ability of a supposedly “cold” medium to translate the warmth of Black American collective at a revolutionary moment in U.S. history. Combining performance and talk, the show gave a platform to an astonishing number of Black political and artistic luminaries, from the women of Labelle to Earth, Wind and Fire to the gospel singer Marion Williams, and from Kathleen Cleaver to Harry Belafonte to Louis Farrakhan. By 1973, Soul was on the way out, another casualty of the nation’s counter-revolutionary turn away from the “arc of justice.”
“Sometimes it is necessary in the evolution of things to disappear,” Haizlip said in that February 1973 episode, his eyes trained on the camera so as to address viewers directly. “We will continue to communicate.”
Soul! did indeed disappear in a way, if by disappear we mean get written out of history. Before the publication of Devorah Heitner’s groundbreaking study Black Power TV (Duke 2013), it was infrequently referenced, and had even been omitted even from reference books. But what Haizlip often referred to as the program’s “vibrations” did endure, in the form of both living memory and collective consciousness. Soul! ended its on-air run when the Corporation of Public Broadcasting moved to fund more overtly “integrationist” representations, but the ideas, attitudes, and affects it sparked were not so easily extinguished.
In my 2015 book It’s Been Beautiful: Soul! and Black Power Television, I wrote about the affective, political, and aesthetic afterlives of Soul!, mindful of my own powerful attraction to the possibilities it projected through its bold and inclusive representation of “soul culture.” Soul!’s radicalism was manifested in its direct address to Black viewers, imagined as part of a “soul” collective. Yet even as an outsider to this collective, in watching it decades later I still felt the tug of its utopian imaginings.
Melissa Haizlip’s documentary Mr. Soul!, now airing on demand after making its rounds through festival circuits, where it was an audience favorite, arrives at a moment when we are once again, as in the summer of 1968, wondering whether calls for “law and order” will be allowed to drown out calls for justice and reparation. I had been in discussion with Haizlip, Ellis Haizlip’s niece, as an adviser and make a brief “expert” appearance in the film.
But it was not until I first experienced it, with a sold-out audience at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, that I felt the “vibrations” Haizlip had talked about. In the palpable pleasure of festival viewers of Mr. Soul! in being treated to memorable performances and discussions from Soul! archive, I saw the reactions of the show’s original, in-studio audience paralleled and augmented. It was as though, through the documentary, the two sets of audiences—one from the Black Power era and one from the era of #BlackLivesMatter, could see and feel each other.
Soul! is, in 2020, once again “right on time.” It is on time in terms of its material and representational commitments to Black queer people and Black women, and on time in terms of its celebration of a Black aesthetic amid turmoil and despair. As a teacher, I particularly look forward to one day using Mr. Soul! to bring hard-to-find Soul! footage to my students. I am sure, as Ellis Haizlip envisioned, it will continue to communicate.
It’s hard to believe that summer is coming to an end but there’s still time to purchase new books to complete your summer reading list. Check out these exciting new titles coming out hot off the press this August!
In Information Activism, Cait McKinney traces how lesbian feminist activists in the United States and Canada between the 1970s and the present developed communication networks, databases, and digital archives to use as a foundation for their feminist, antiracist, and trans-inclusive work.
Resource Radicals by Thea Riofrancos explores the politics of extraction, energy, and infrastructure in contemporary Ecuador in order to understand how resource dependency becomes a dilemma for leftist governments and movements alike.
In Japonisme and the Birth of Cinema, Daisuke Miyao reveals the undetected influence that Japanese art and aesthetics had on early cinema and the pioneering films of the Lumiére brothers.
Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, her experience reporting for People magazine, and dozens of interviews with photographers, journalists, publicists, magazine editors, and celebrities, in Manufacturing Celebrity Vanessa Díaz traces the complex power dynamics of the reporting and paparazzi work that fuel contemporary Hollywood and American celebrity culture.
In American Blockbuster, Charles R. Acland charts the origins, impact, and dynamics of the blockbuster, showing how it became a complex economic and cultural machine designed to advance popular support for technological advances.
Conceiving of sovereign space as volume rather than area, the contributors to Voluminous States, edited by Franck Billé, explore how such a conception reveals and underscores the three-dimensional nature of modern territorial governance.
In History 4° Celsius, Ian Baucom puts black studies into conversation with climate change, outlining how the ongoing concerns of critical race, diaspora, and postcolonial studies are crucial to understanding the Anthropocene and vice versa.
In Peripheral Nerve, the contributors to this volume reframe the history of the Cold War by focusing on how Latin America used the rivalry between superpowers to create alternative sociomedical pathways. The collection is edited by Anne-Emanuelle Birn and Raúl Necochea López.
In his posthumous book Sexual Hegemony, Christopher Chitty traces the 500 year history of capitalist sexual relations, showing how sexuality became a crucial dimension of the accumulation of capital and a technique of bourgeois rule. The book is edited by Max Fox and features an introduction by Christopher Nealon.
In Infamous Bodies, Samantha Pinto explores how histories of and the ongoing fame of Phillis Wheatley, Sally Hemings, Sarah Baartman, Mary Seacole, and Sarah Forbes Bonetta generate new ways of imagining black feminist futures.
Examining the work of Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Solange Knowles, Flying Lotus, and others, in The Meaning of Soul Emily J. Lordi proposes a new understanding of soul, showing how it came to signify a belief in black resilience enacted through musical practices.
In Afterlives of Affect, Matthew C. Watson considers the life and work of artist and Mayanist scholar Linda Schele (1942–1998) as an entry point to discuss the nature of cultural inquiry, decipherment in anthropology, and the social conditions of knowledge production.
In Enduring Cancer, Dwaipayan Banerjee explores the efforts of Delhi’s urban poor to create a livable life with cancer as they negotiate an over-extended health system unequipped to respond to the disease.
In Gestures of Concern, Chris Ingraham shows that gestures of concern, such as sharing or liking a post on social media, are central to establishing the necessary conditions for larger social or political change because they help to build the affective communities that orient us to one another with an imaginable future in mind.
The contributors to We Are Not Dreamers—who are themselves currently or formerly undocumented—call for the elimination of the Dreamer narrative, showing how it establishes high expectations for who deserves citizenship and marginalizes large numbers of undocumented youth. The collection is edited by Leisy J. Abrego and Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales.
The contributors to Gramsci in the World, edited by Roberto M. Dainotto and Fredric Jameson, examine the varying receptions and uses of Antonio Gramsci’s thought in diverse geographical, historical, and political contexts, highlighting its possibilities and limits for understanding and changing the social world.
As vast infrastructure projects transform the Mekong River, in Mekong DreamingAndrew Alan Johnson explores of how rapid environmental change affects how people live, believe, and dream.
Today’s guest post is curated by the editors of AIDS and the Distribution of Crises, Jih-Fei Cheng, Assistant Professor of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Scripps College, Alexandra Juhasz, Alexandra Juhasz is Distinguished Professor of Film at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Nishant Shahani Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the Department of English at Washington State University. The contributors to AIDS and the Distribution of Crises outline the myriad ways that the AIDS pandemic exists within a network of varied historical, overlapping, and ongoing crises borne of global capitalism and colonial, racialized, and gendered violence.This post is a part of a short series. The following posts will be shared to the blog once a week over the next two weeks.
The contributions below grew out of our investments in marking and launching the publication of AIDS and the Distribution of Crises in late April. More importantly, we wanted to continue conversations that we began in the book about HIV/AIDS in light of COVID-19. We wanted to continue the format of “dispatches” in our book that allowed for more scattered and informal meditations. After contacting all the contributors to the edited volume, we planned logistics around synchronous conversations and asynchronous writings. For both formats, we asked our contributors to respond to the following questions:
How can we think of AIDS and COVID-19 through logics that are both synchronous and asynchronous, temporally distinct yet overlapping, convergent and simultaneously divergent? How do we temporalize multiple durations of multiple crises, especially given that neither AIDS nor COVID-19 have singular histories or monolithic subjects?
Since we collectively theorized the distribution of crises in our book (what Emily Bass evocatively theorized as “scattering”), how might we attend to the scattered logics of pandemics in the context of COVID-19? How do modes of social distancing magnify our experiences of being scattered and how do we find each other in its midst? In what ways does the pandemic simultaneously warrant a “scattered” lens so that we can think of COIVD-19 not just in epidemiological terms, but one that attends to crises in housing, access to water, migration and movement across borders, incarceration, racialized and gendered structures of wage labor.
How might we hold accountable structural racism in the midst of pandemics? Plans for abating the COVID-19 pandemic have called for more data to demonstrate structural needs. This means increasing tracking systems and surveillance to illustrate the higher rates and incidences of infection, sickness, and death–particularly among Black, Native, Brown, and global south communities. Simultaneously, advocacy groups are collecting data on anti-Chinese/Asian discrimination and violence. How do we leverage data intersectionally to track and address structural vulnerability and systemic violence without resorting to carceral logics, such as policing and prisons?
We have been struck by the casual invocations of phrases such as “when this is over,” “I can’t wait for things to go back to normal,” and “we have the right to work.” How might the presumptions about the temporary conditions of crises train our attention on quick social, political, or economic fixes rather than structural changes? What is the role of biomedical solutions (i.e., drugs, vaccines, plasma with COVID-19 virus antibodies, etc.) in addressing pandemic crises? How can we learn from histories and ongoing realities of HIV/AIDS in attending to these questions?
Discussions on Temporality, AIDS, and COVID-19:
Moderated by Alexandra Juhasz
Respondent: Emily Bass, Bishnupriya Ghosh, Pato Hebert, Cait McKinney, Juana Mariá Rodriguez, Julia A. Jordan-Zachary
Introduced by Nishant Shahani:
If I’m getting my dates correct, Jih-Fei, Alex, and I started working on AIDS and the Distribution of Crisesin 2016. At this initial moment, the impetus behind the book was to offer a social and political barometer of the times and the current state of AIDS, both politically and academically. Part of our motivation was to attend to the distribution of HIV and AIDS at precisely the moment when it was increasingly being framed as over or as something that belonged to the past. In the book we call this retrospective framing “a national fiction of democracy, which served the tools of US empire and global capitalism.”
Fast forward to 2020 when our book comes out last month, right as COVID-19 escalates into its moments of crises. When sharing the book with friends and colleagues, I casually commented on the strangely coincidental timing of its release: who would have thought that a book about one pandemic would come out precisely during the midst of another one? But I now think this initial casual observation is actually a bit misplaced. If, as we argued in our book, that AIDS indexes multiple and ongoing crises, if we refuse idea of AIDS and pandemics in general as having singular points of origin and finite conclusions, then the overlap of AIDS and COVID can never be reduced to the temporality of coincidence. So in today’s conversation, we want to draw on this temporal critique of first occurance and triumphant biomedical end points to think about the ongoing nature of pandemics, especially in light of COVD 19. In their own way, each of our contributors in the book grapples with what AIDS looks like if we begin with contesting the supposition that AIDS began in the early 80s among a cluster of white gay men and ended when combination therapies hit markets in the mid 90s. Rather than constituting the concluding moment of the book, several of our essays begin with the axiom that crises are not simply epidemiological, but also socially and politically produced. We of course see this with COVID 19 and its scarcity models—of hospital beds, ventilators, and protective equipment. These forms of scarcity are not simply inevitable or axiomatic, but are consequences of austerity logics that are central to the project of neoliberalism, and which produce multiple crises in the plural. Rather than simply investing hope in medical cure, perhaps we can turn to investing in diagnosing a failing globalized system and move on from there to name strategies of collective survival.
If we can understand pandemics through the lens of enduring structures such as environmental racism, settler colonialism, incarceration, militarism, and gentrification, then rather than focusing on when they begin or when they will end, we can ask how pandemics scatter and proliferate. And then more importantly, we can ask how we will respond and act. I look forward to hearing our respondents’ thoughts on some of these questions.
Discussions on Solidarity: AIDS and COVID-19:
Respondents: Marlon B. Bailey, Andrew Jolivette, Theodore (Ted) Kerr
Moderated by Jih-Fei Cheng
Introduced by Nishant Shahani:
While today’s prompts are distinct in their approach to thinking about the relation between AIDS and COVID-19, they once again build on the discussion we began last week on the limits of theorizing AIDS through definitive periodizations. The idea of pandemics as crisis moments or singular turning points can be useful, but in some senses they also can be quite reductive. On the one hand, they foreground urgency and the necessity of solidarity and action; but they also frame these modes of urgency as states of exception rather than modes of slow death or crisis ordinariness, to use Lauren Berlant’s terms, that are diffused over long durations and distributed over different geographical and geopolitical contexts. We are interested in both what precedes putative first occurences of pandemics and also in what persists in their supposed aftermaths. So in the introduction to AIDS and the Distribution of Crises, we ask, and I think this in many ways is the guiding question of our book: “How is AIDS one or many of the outcomes and expressions of crises that are made ordinary and exceptional at the same time? And how are the durations and intensities of crises experienced in specific contexts?”
In thinking about the contexts of crises distribution, one of the goals of this book was to refuse making whiteness and the global north a default referential point for an understanding of AIDS. The goal was not simply to insert ignored groups into founding narratives without questioning the centrality of those narratives in the first place and interrogating how they came to be. So for example, in decentering the global north, we were not interested in simply theorizing the global south through what Bishnupriya Ghosh calls in her contribution in the book, a “cartographic projection.” The attention to difference without essentializing difference is particularly important as we extend our conversations about AIDS into thinking about COVID-19. For example, it is not enough to simply stop at foregrounding the disproportionate impact of COVID on black and brown people which tends to naturalize predisposing conditions to race rather than attending to the environmental or structural conditions of racism. It is worth recalling the work of scholars like Dorothy Roberts who have refused biological understandings of race that end up naturalizing socially made health disparities to logics of genetic difference. We thus have to be careful that our understanding of differential impact does not shift the conversation away from limited resources about access to healthcare to one of personal responsibility so that disproportionate impact can then be explained through individual failing rather than state neglect and state-sanctioned violence.
In relation to the two prompts that Jih-Fei began with, I’d like to leave us with a few quotes from our book that begin to grapple with these questions. In a roundtable on the globalization of AIDS in our book, Theodore (Ted) Kerr, one of our respondents today, asks: “I wonder what histories could be uncovered, what actions could be taken, and what discussions could be had if we took a longer approach to AIDS history.” And I’ve been thinking a lot about these words in light of the state-sanctioned police killings these last few weeks since a longer approach to AIDS history would also incorporate an understanding of white supremacy, and of the criminalization of black and brown bodies. In the same roundtable in our book and in a similar vein, Eric Stanley suggests that “the epidemiological foundations of what we have come to know as HIV/AIDS are the haunts of conquest and chattel slavery.” If we take longer approaches to past and futures of AIDS, how might we think of these hauntings as constitutive of our current crises in terms of housing, access to clean water, sick leave, and food security among various other issues?
In this light, the invocation for a moment when the pandemic is over undercuts the persistent nature of crises. It also obscures their multiple and intersecting iterations. Just as we understand pandemics as not exceptional but constitutive of capitalism, similarly, we cannot think about black and brown death as if it were simply a glitch in the system—it is, in fact, the system’s feature and intrinsic to US democracy –or US empire: these terms are and have always been fungible. But perhaps we can use this desire for a post-COVID world as an occasion to think about and enact abolitionist critiques since pandemics be can only ever be over if we imagine and fight for the abolition of prisons and white supremacist and settler logics of policing, containment, and incarceration. It was important to us to end our book with C Riley Snorton’s piece on crisis and abolition. So I want to end by reading just one important idea from Riley’s concluding essay as yet another prompt for this conversation today or for our thinking in general:
AIDS is not the only metaphor for premature death. So is the prison, or living under occupation, or in underdevelopment, or living while Black, while trans, while undocumented, while poor. Many folks living with AIDS are also living with a combination of the aforementioned conditions. But if one believes that AIDS, and its precipitating and attendant crises, are structural and ideological, then one must consider how those very spatiotemporal formulations also forge abolitionist strategies and imaginaries.