American Studies

New Books in October

Couplets_coverOur October releases are not to be missed!

Couplets: Travels in Speculative Pragmatism is a collection of twenty-four essential essays written by Brian Massumi over the past thirty years and is both a primer for those new to his work and a supplemental resource for those already engaged with his thought.

A new twentieth anniversary edition of Brian Massumi’s pioneering and highly influential Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation includes a significant new preface that situates the book in relation to developments since its first publication and outlines the evolution of its main concepts.

McHenry_coverIn To Make Negro Literature: Writing, Literary Practice, and African American Authorship Elizabeth McHenry locates a hidden chapter in the history of Black literature at the turn of the twentieth century, revising concepts of Black authorship and offering a fresh account of the development of “Negro literature” focused on the never published, the barely read, and the unconventional.

Celeste Day Moore’s Soundscapes of Liberation: African American Music in Postwar France turns to African American music and its popularization in post-war France, showing how various genres (from gospel and spirituals to blues and jazz) accrued new meanings and political power as it traveled globally.

In Moving Home: Gender, Place, and Travel Writing in the Early Black Atlantic, Sandra Gunning complicates understandings of the Black Atlantic through an exploration of 19th-century travel writing. Analyzing accounts from missionaries, abolitionists, entrepreneurs, and explorers, Gunning sheds light on African diasporic mobility even amidst the constraints of imperialism.

Saturation_cover

Saturation: An Elemental Politics, a collection edited by Melody Jue and Rafico Ruiz, brings a scientific concept to media studies, showing how elements in the natural world affect and are affected by human culture and politics.

In Atmospheres of Violence: Structuring Antagonism and the Trans/Queer Ungovernable, Eric A. Stanley casts doubt on liberal, State-driven bids for “inclusion” and “recognition” for LGBTQ folks, which, they argue, have done nothing to diminish violence against trans, queer and/or gender-nonconforming people of color. Stanley calls for abolitionist forms of organizing to achieve a better future.

Rana M. Jaleel’s The Work of Rape links international law’s redefinition of mass rape as a crime against humanity to the expansion of US imperialism and its effacement of racialized violence and dispossession.

In The Deconstruction of Sex, Irving Goh conducts a series of conversations with the late philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, in which they deconstruct sex in the age of #MeToo, searching for the “senses of sex” and advocating for a critical awareness of the role sex plays in our relationships with ourselves and others.

Introducing Black Outdoors, a New Series

In 2020 we launched Black Outdoors: Innovations in the Poetics of Study, a new series edited by Sarah Jane Cervenak and J. Kameron Carter. Now that nine books are available in the series and two are shortly forthcoming, we invite you to learn more about the series and perhaps submit your own project.

Black Outdoors is dedicated to the study of alternative ecologies and socialities beyond logics of property, sovereignty, and propertied self-possession. It points to forms of social life exceeding the racial, sexual, gendered, economic, and neurological protocols of self- and civic administration and of the normatively human. Indeed, Black Outdoors attends to figurations of the outdoors as “black,” where blackness exceeds regulation.

Senior Executive Editor Ken Wissoker says, “I love when a series reconfigures our landscape in a profound way, putting work in relation that might have previously seemed disparate. From the beginning Black Outdoors has been just that kind of series, offering a home that expands what kind of writing is possible, calling more of it into being. Jay and Sarah have a genius for identifying brilliant writers and theorists who may not have previously met but are producing the conversation we all need.”

The series editors are seeking new projects for the series. It envisions books that imagine form itself as an occasion of reimagining language and relation without the enclosures dividing people from each other and from the earth and the universe. Black Outdoors invites a range of approaches to blackness and out(doors)ness, to what black outdoors as potential and possibility could mean to imaginations of being and relationality.

Sarah Jane Cervenak is Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and of African American and African Diaspora Studies at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. J. Cameron Carter is Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University Bloomington. Potential authors can contact the series editors directly.

Cervenak says, “We’re so excited about how the series has reached people, how different thinkers have engaged Black Outdoors as a way to think about relationality, about symbolic and actual places, about unenclosed Black living. Every book is a beautiful offering and we’re thankful to be part of the conversations they engender together.”

The published books in the series are all 50% off during our Fall Sale. Pick them up using coupon FALL21 through October 15, 2021.

Beyond Man: Race, Coloniality, and Philosophy of Religion, edited by An Yountae and Eleanor Craig (2021)

How to Go Mad without Losing Your Mind: Madness and Black Radical Creativity, by La Marr Jurelle Bruce

Black Gathering: Art, Ecology, Ungiven Life, by Sarah Jane Cervenak

Maroon Choreography, by fahima ife

Sentient Flesh: Thinking in Disorder, Poiesis in Black, by R. A. Judy

Otherwise Worlds: Against Settler Colonialism and Anti-Blackness, edited by Tiffany Lethabo King, Jenell Navarro, Andrea Smith

Black Aliveness, or A Poetics of Being, by Kevin Quashie

Liquor Store Theatre, by Maya Stovall

No One′s Witness: A Monstrous Poetics, by Rachel Zolf

Forthcoming titles include Toward Camden by Mercy Romero (December 2021) and Black Trans Feminism by Marquis Bey (January 2022). 

A “Roadrunner” Playlist: Guest Post by Joshua Clover

RoadrunnerThis is a blog post to accompany a playlist to accompany a book, Roadrunner. The book is about the song “Roadrunner” but about never gets it right. I’ll try to say something more useful in a minute but before I forget, some notes on the playlist. There are in truth two. Faster Miles an Hour is the bare bones version featuring songs central to the book’s ideas. Faster and Then Some  includes all those songs and numerous others that come up over the course of the book, more or less in the order they appear, not every single title mentioned, but every song that gets a gloss, even if it is just a sentence. Well, almost every song. Some songs are missing from Spotify and some are misnamed. There is a track correctly labeled “Roadrunner (Twice)” but the track called “Roadrunner” should rightly be titled “Roadrunner (Once)”; this distinction is at the heart of Chapter 2. A live version released as a B side in 1977, discussed at the outset of Chapter 3, cannot be found on Spotify but here it is: “Roadrunner (Thrice).” That chapter concludes by revisiting “Johnny B. Goode” and mentions in passing the Sex Pistols cover, which as many will recall, they assay as part of a catastrophic two-song medley with the book’s title song: “Johnny B Goode/Road Runner.” Chapter 4, oriented by a Cornershop song secretly recasting “Roadrunner” from the Global South, culminates with discussion of an extended mix; the playlist has the radio edit, but not the miraculous “Brimful of Asha (Norman Cook Remix Extended Version).” Finally, the last chapter returns to the title song via a later Jonathan Richman track of profound sweetness, also absent: “Chewing Gum Wrapper.

modern loversThis book is not about any of these songs. And if it is about “Roadrunner” that is because “Roadrunner” is about much more than it lets on. It can’t help it, that is how songs work, drawing some portion of the everything into themselves whether they mean to or not. The book claims early on, “it is the greatest rock song of all time, or the greatest American rock song of all time, or the greatest American rock song of that era.” But it continues, “I offer those specifications not to diminish the claim but because ‘American’ and ‘rock’ matter to the song and to this book, and ‘that era’ matters.” If the book is about the song, this is because it is trying to understand what America is, and where it is going, and it approaches this by trying to think about the world that the song makes available, that thing of which it cannot help but be a trace — trying to think about the situation in the United States in and around 1972 when the song was recorded. Or some fraction of that situation. I am especially interested in that relatively recent phenomenon that has transformed the life of pretty much everyone on the planet: capitalism, a disaster that, across the globe and the centuries, took its most pure form with the industrial boom in the United States after World War II, during the exact years that would mark the rise & peak of rock & roll. These two things are, I think, inseparable, and that inseparability is the book’s topic, and how that allows for a revised history of the genre. Or maybe it is about the largely unremarked story that rock & roll can’t stop telling from the very start, what I call the ur-story, which contains a great paradox and yet is made of simple pieces that snap together into that astounding and finally awful thing called rock music, a story which will never be told more magically than in “Roadrunner.” Or maybe it is just about driving around.

But now I am at risk of summarizing a book that is already itself a summary, of explaining a book that is an effort at explanation, of revising a book that is already a revision. So I will turn away, which is ironic, since if you are driving along a ring road, as the song does and as the book does, the ring road outside the Boston metropolitan area, the ring road of global history, then you are always turning away, just as you are always turning toward. I will turn for a minute toward a personal story. This is the inaugural title in Singles, a series which I co-edit, each book about a single song. We made a few agreements when we were just starting out, my co-editor Emily J. Lordi and I. For example, we agreed that we would limit the number of classic rock titles in the series, though I was granted an exception as a founding editor. As a corollary we decided to avoid Bob Dylan books, not because there were no good ones left out there but because there were surely quite a few, and yet it was not clear that the world needed our help in churning them into the open air. We agreed to leave them in the ground. And we also agreed that the books should be very limited in their autobiographical scope. There can be little doubt that there is something deeply personal in how we come to love songs, but that is not the same as what is interesting about a song, what a song can know about the world, and that finally is where our commitments lie. So I have tried to leave almost all of that out, save the fact that I happened to be a kid in Boston during the period when the song was recorded and released and recorded and released and recorded and released — it kept happening, in very confusing ways — and that no doubt shapes my attachment.

But the personal story I want to sneak into this note happens in Berkeley in 1981. It goes like this. One afternoon I was walking across campus, something I did quite often as someone who was neither enrolled nor employed and was mostly on acid. It was a good walk and it stood between some friends on northside and the bookstores on southside. So I was walking across campus high on acid and looking for street performers to help kill some of the time I was trying so relentlessly to annihilate. I had a few regulars I visited with, if they were around: the extremely delightful “Hate Man,” an interesting poet known as the “Bubble Lady,” numerous religious ranters, a rather dull political comic named Stoney Burke. If things broke right it could take me a couple hours to make my way from north to south, a journey of some 800 yards. Even longer if someone tried to induct me into a cult. I never wanted it to end because I never wanted to arrive anywhere. But on this particular day I was perilously close to reaching the southern edge of campus, having already passed through Sather Gate into the holy land of Upper Sproul Plaza, when I saw a few people standing around in a circle, no more than ten, and I heard from within that small circle what might have been the sound of singing. It was hard to tell, as I was at a bit of a distance, there was no singer in sight, and I was pretty high.

As I approached over the course of what seemed like a very long and distended time, it must have been about 120 feet, the mystery abated only slightly. There was definitely singing — sweet, labored, cheerful — but still no singer. When I drew pretty near I saw that one person was holding an acoustic guitar but really just holding it, like hold this for me for a minute, his hand on the headstock, its end pin resting on the dirty ground. The singing seemed to be coming from the ground as well? And indeed this turned out to be the case. There was some guy, he looked to be a teenager or maybe 40ish, and within this small circle of onlookers he was crawling on the dirty plaza just a few feet and a few years from Mario Savio and that police car and he was giving it his all.

Berkeley in 1981 not yet having fallen to the Buddhist billionaires and still being stocked with zanies just then showing their age, this was certainly within the range of local customs. But still, this is one of the moments where you check in with yourself to see if you can figure out how high you are really, and I believe I mentioned I was pretty high but I was pretty sure that this was really happening, an incredibly happy busker was crawling around on all fours, frolicking really, periodically looking up and singing in a pretty adorable a cappella, “I’m a little dinosaur.” It’s a song about an entire category of animal and how they have to go away and the children are sad and plead for the dinosaur to return and it does. And that was the first time I saw Jonathan Richman live, more than a decade after he wrote the greatest American rock song of the era, nearly a decade after he recorded it, about the same amount of time after he very carefully, very thoughtfully, utterly implausibly threw it all away. This is a book most of all about why someone might do such a thing.

Joshua Clover is the author of Roadrunner, the first book in the new series Singles. He is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Davis. Read the introduction to Roadrunner for free and save 50% on the book with coupon code FALL21.

Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15- October 15 each year. We invite you to check out some of our recent books in Chicano/a and Latinx studies. You can save 50% on these titles through October 15 with coupon FALL21.

Focusing on artists and art collectives in Argentina, Mexico, and the United States, in Another Aesthetics is Possible Jennifer Ponce de León examines how experimental artistic practices in the visual, literary, and performing arts have been influenced by and articulated with leftist politics, popular uprisings, and social struggles that resist neoliberal capitalism.

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

Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández challenges the stereotypes of machismo with nuanced portraits of Mexican men and masculinities along and across the US-Mexico border in Archiving Mexican Masculinities in Diaspora.

Analyzing a range of Chicano/a and Native American novels, films, short stories and other cultural artifacts from the eighteenth century to the present, Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita examine literary representations of settler colonial land enclosure and dispossession in the US Southwest in Spatial and Discursive Violence in the US Southwest.

In Abstract Barrios Johana Londoño examines how the barrio has become a cultural force that has been manipulated in order to create Latinized urban landscapes that are palatable for white Americans who view concentrated areas of Latinx populations as a threat.

Analyzing the personal clothing, makeup, and hairstyles of working-class Black and Latina girls, in Aesthetics of Excess Jillian Hernandez examines how cultural discourses of aesthetic value racialize the bodies of women and girls of color.

In Latinx Art Arlene Dávila draws on numerous interviews with artists, dealers, and curators to explore how and why the contemporary international art market continues to overlook, devalue, and marginalize Latinx art and artists.

Margaret E. Dorsey and Miguel Díaz-Barriga argue in Fencing in Democracy that border wall construction along the U.S.–Mexico border manifests transformations in citizenship practices that are aimed not only at keeping migrants out but also enmeshing citizens into a wider politics of exclusion.

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, her experience reporting for People magazine, and dozens of interviews with photographers, journalists, publicists, magazine editors, and celebrities, Vanessa Díaz traces the complex power dynamics of the reporting and paparazzi work that fuel contemporary Hollywood and American celebrity culture in Manufacturing Celebrity.

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. Leisy J. Abrego and Genevieve Negrón-Gonzalez edited this collection.

Don’t forget, through October 15 you can save 50% on these great Latinx studies titles, and all our in-stock books and journal issues using coupon FALL21.

New Books in September

Start off the semester strong by perusing our new September releases!

Drawing on oral and written testimonies from academics and students who have made complaints about harassment, bullying, and unequal working conditions at universities, Sara Ahmed examines what we can learn about power from those who complain about abuses of power in Complaint! Angela Y. Davis says, “Complaint! is precisely the text we need at this moment as we seek to understand and transform the institutional structures promoting racism and heteropatriarchy.”

Mark Rifkin examines nineteenth-century Native writings by William Apess, Elias Boudinot, Sarah Winnemucca, and and Zitkala-Ša to rethink and reframe contemporary debates around recognition, refusal, and resurgence for Indigenous peoples in Speaking for the People: Native Writing and the Question of Political Form.

In The Nature of Space, pioneering Afro-Brazilian geographer Milton Santos attends to globalization writ large and how local and global orders intersect in the construction of space.

In Hawaiʻi is my Haven: Race and Indigeneity in the Black Pacific, Nitasha Tamar Sharma maps the context and contours of Black life in Hawaiʻi, showing how despite the presence of anti-Black racism, the state’s Black residents consider it to be their haven from racism.

The contributors to Assembly Codes: The Logistics of Media, edited by Matthew Hockenberry, Nicole Starosielski, and Susan Zieger, document how media and logistics—the techniques of organizing and coordinating the movement of materials, bodies, and information—are co-constitutive and key to the circulation of information and culture.

In Philosophy for Spiders: On the Low Theory of Kathy Acker, McKenzie Wark combines an autobiographical account of her relationship with Kathy Acker with her transgender reading of Acker’s writing to outline Acker’s philosophy of embodiment and its importance for theorizing the trans experience.

In A Mass Conspiracy to Feed People: Food Not Bombs and the World-Class Waste of Global Cities David Boarder Giles traces the work of Food Not Bombs—a global movement of grassroots soup kitchens that recover wasted grocery surpluses and redistribute them to those in need—to examine the relationship between waste and scarcity in global cities under late capitalism and the fight for food justice

Patricia Stuelke traces the hidden history of the reparative turn, showing how it emerged out of the failed struggle against US empire and neoliberal capitalism in the 1970s and 1980s and unintentionally supported new forms of neoliberal and imperial governance in The Ruse of Repair: US Neoliberal Empire and the Turn from Critique.

Michael K. Bourdaghs, in A Fictional Commons: Natsume Sōseki and the Properties of Modern Literature, presents a radical reframing of the works of Natsume Sōseki—widely considered to be Japan’s greatest modern novelist—as critical and creative responses to the emergence of new forms of property ownership in nineteenth-century Japan.

The contributors to Embodying Black Religions in Africa and Its Diasporas, edited by Yolanda Covington-Ward and Jeanette S. Jouili, investigate the complex intersections between the body, religious expression, and the construction and negotiation of social relationships and collective identities throughout the Black diaspora.

Sarah Jane Cervenak traces how Black artists and writers who create alternative spaces for Black people to gather free from those Enlightenment philosophies that presume Black people and land as given to enclosure and ownership in Black Gathering: Art, Ecology, Ungiven Life.

The exhibition catalog to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse, by curator Valerie Cassel Oliver, chronicles the pervasive visual and sonic parallels in the work of Black artists from the southern United States.

Andil Gosine revises understandings of queer desire in the Caribbean in Nature’s Wild, Love, Sex and the Law in the Caribbean, showing how the very concept of homosexuality in the Caribbean (and in the Americas more broadly) has been overdetermined by a colonially-influenced human/animal divide.

In Between Gaia and Ground: Four Axioms of Existence and the Ancestral Catastrophe of Late Liberalism, Elizabeth A. Povinelli theorizes how legacies of colonial violence and the ways dispossession and extraction that destroyed indigenous and colonized peoples’ lives now poses an existential threat to the West.

In Roadrunner, cultural theorist and poet Joshua Clover examines Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers’ 1972 song “Roadrunner,” charting its place in rock & roll history and American culture.

Drawing on close readings of 1960s American art, Jason A. Hoelscher offers an information theory of art and an aesthetic theory of information in which he shows how art operates as information wherein art’s meaning cannot be determined in Art as Information Ecology: Artworks, Artworlds, and Complex Systems Aesthetics.

Events in September

Several of our authors are giving talks online and even in person this month. Hope you can catch them! Please note the local time zone in each listing.

September 10, 1:00 pm EDT: Brown University Center for Middle East Studies sponsors a talk by Hagar Kotef, author of The Colonizing Self.

September 10, 3 pm EDT: Join the authors and editors of Meridians’ new issue, Transnational Feminist Approaches to Anti-Muslim Racism, for a conversation.

September 16, 6:30 pm EDT and September 17, 11 am EDT: The journal liquid blackness celebrates their first three issues with an online event, Atonal Symphonies: Conversations on Blackness and Liquidity at the Threshold of Thinking and Making.

September 20, 6:00 pm PDT: Joshua Clover, author of Roadrunner, will be in conversation with Justin Desmangles in an event sponsored by City Lights Bookstore.

September 23, 1:00 pm EDT: The CUNY Center for Place, Culture, and Politics sponsors a conversation between Kareem Rabie, author of Palestine Is Throwing a Party and the Whole World Is Invited and Mezna Qato and David Harvey. 

September 25, 2:45 pm EDT: Amitava Kumar appears in person at the Albany Book Festival, in conversation with Ayad Akhtar and Joe Donahue. Kumar is the author of several books, including A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb, and, most recently, Every Day I Write the Book.

September 28, 6:15 pm EDT:  The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University sponsors a talk by Kevin Fellezs, author of Listen But Don’t Ask Question

A Poetry Reading by fahima ife

We invite you to watch fahima ife reading from their new book Maroon Choreography. In these musical poems, ife offers an enthralling examination of black fugitivity, and troubles what we think we know of history. Maroon Choreography is available now for 30% with discount code E21IFE.

Q&A with Jennifer C. Nash

Nash

 

Jennifer C. Nash is Jean Fox O’Barr Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at Duke University. Her new book is Birthing Black Mothers, which examines how the figure of the “Black mother” has become a powerful political category. She has previously published two other books with Duke University Press, The Black Body in Ecstasy: Reading Race, Reading Pornography and Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality

 

In your acknowledgements, you write that Birthing Black Mothers was born alongside the birth of your own daughter. How does this personal, lived experience inform your work? 

Perhaps all scholarly projects are born of the intersections of the experiential and the intellectual, even as academic life hasn’t always made it possible to name these intersections. I’ve always been deeply interested in how scholarly interests shift, move, and change in response to the conditions of our lives. The questions that we pose are fundamentally altered by the fact that we are embodied beings, that we contend with the world and its complexities. 

In this project, I name the fact that the book was born with my daughter, or more specifically, born in the weeks before her birth, as I navigated life as a Black perinatal subject. I became very curious about the hospital, the birthing center, the obstetrician, the midwife, the doula, the prenatal check-up, and the lactation consultant. I wanted to understand how those spaces and actors operated, and how they constructed me as a Black woman patient (and how I represented myself as such) in a moment where those spaces were increasingly responsive to—or supposedly responsive to—the “crisis” in Black maternal health. I wanted to understand what it meant to birth in a moment when the very fact of my birthing (or soon-to-be birthing) body was saturated with a different kind of political meaning. Black perinatal bodies are newly imagined not as pathological but in need of education, information, support, and compassion. My project came to life as I experienced the compassionate—and, as I argue in my book, not unproblematic—maternal health institutions that imagined my body and my daughter’s body as distinctly in need of support. 

You speak to the cultural impact of the Black Lives Matter movement in your introduction and throughout your book. What is the relationship between Birthing Black Mothers and BLM?

978-1-4780-1442-3-1Even as BLM is often described—and, at times, criticized—for placing Black boys and Black men at the center of its conception of anti-Black violence, I make a different argument in Birthing Black Mothers. I contend that Black mothers have become a central icon of the movement for Black life. At times, Black mothers are described as representing anticipated loss, as preparing themselves (and their children) for anti-Black trauma that is to unfold in the future. Other times, Black mothers are culturally invoked to make visible the trauma of losing a child, and thus become synonymous with grief, trauma, and loss. 

With the new cultural visibility of longstanding Black maternal health disparities, birthing Black mothers and perinatal Black bodies are now imagined—in perhaps the most literal way—to be a vessel of Black life. Black mothers are thus figured as standing at the intersections of multiple forms of state violence: they are guardians of their children’s lives, and they also experience medical racism, obstetric violence, and birth injustice that makes Black life precarious from its earliest moments. In this moment, anti-Black death is understood to take the form only of the police officer’s fist, baton, or chokehold, and to take the form of the obstetrician, the hospital, or the unwanted C-section. Black wombs are thus imagined as ground zero of crisis, as spaces under siege that require care and protection to ensure the viability of Black life.

In your third chapter, you focus on three celebrities engaged in redefining what you term “Black maternal aesthetics.” What was your inspiration for centering this chapter on Serena Williams, Beyonce Knowles-Carter, and Michelle Obama? 

I was drawn to how this celebrity trio has rewritten scripts about Black motherhood, Black female friendship, and what Claudia Rankine calls “Black excellence.” My chapter is inspired by so many scholars who have written on Williams, Knowles-Carter, and Obama: like Rankine’s essay, or Brittney Cooper’s work on Michelle Obama. My own endeavor was to think about these three figures together, to consider their friendships, collaborations, and investments in championing each other. I particularly wanted to emphasize how the trio centers Black female friendship as a Black maternal ethic, as a distinct form of relationality that Black motherhood renders possible. This friendship has also been forged through their shared commitment to reshaping narratives about maternal affect, postpartum bodies, and the sheer demands of mothering. This kind of Black maternal friendship offers a very different public performance than another contemporary, hypervisible public performance of Black maternal relationality: the Mothers of the Movement. Described by Valerie Castile as the “fucked-up mothers club,” the group—including Sybrina Fulton, Lezley McSpadden, Lucy McBath, Gwen Carr, and Geneva Reed-Veal—is a political affiliation forged through shared trauma. Their shared losses might be understood as born both from the death—or murder—of a child, and from the state inaction that marked many of these cases, including non-indictments and not-guilty verdicts. Knowles-Carter, Obama, and Williams offer a markedly different performance of Black maternal friendship, one rooted not in shared loss but in Black maternal pleasure, glamour, and playfulness, even as the collective—particularly Knowles—often operates in solidarity with Mothers of the Movement.

Your second chapter is dedicated to exploring the effect of women of color doulas and other birth-workers, whose personal care, you argue, is a form of political work. You write that much of this doula work is currently funded by the state, though you remain less than optimistic about the state’s support of and investment in Black life. Can you shed light on this seeming paradox?

The book’s second chapter (which is actually the first one I wrote, and perhaps where my biggest political and intellectual attachments remain) tracks my critical ambivalence about the paraprofessional feminist birth economy, particularly the work of doulas. I study a moment when doulas—particularly women of color doulas—are hailed as precisely the innovation that will save Black mothers’ lives. And it is now—increasingly—the state that insists on the necessity of doulas, with some states even working to cover doulas through Medicaid, and to recruit and train doulas.

Doulas are, as I argue in this chapter, outliers in the feminist birth economy. Unlike midwives—the birth professionals they are most often associated with—doulas are unlicensed and unregulated, and their trainings vary tremendously, as does their sense of what kind of labor birth work is, and what is required to perform this labor. This variation is powerful, and as I write in the book, it allows doulas to subvert and interrupt the norms of institutionalized medicine in ways that challenge the stronghold of medical capitalism and its logics of birthing temporalities that all too often result in unwanted (or unneeded) C-sections and other forms of birth violence.  Yet it is a complicated moment when the state invests in paraprofessional birth work as the solution to Black maternal mortality, and when it insists that it is low-paid and heterogeneously trained birth workers (who, again, I emphasize are united by a deep ethical, political, and oftentimes spiritual commitment to the transformative qualities of birth) who are newly responsible for Black life.

You push back against the rhetoric of crisis which currently dominates discussion about Black mothers, converting them into “a political category synonymous with pain.” And in your conclusion, you encourage Black feminists to “freedom-dream.” What does this mean to you, exactly, and what alternative rhetorical frameworks do you envision?

My work has generally been interested in how Black women are rhetorically invoked to perform symbolic work for a host of actors. I have traced what Black women symbolize for academic feminism, for Black feminist theory, for the state, for hospitals, and for birth workers. In all of these cases, Black women become different kind of symbols: of pathology, trauma, grief, pain, and brokenness. I am also deeply interested in how Black mothers make themselves into symbols of certain sorts to become politically legible, to have their/our needs and demands heard and rendered legible. My call to “freedom-dream” is a plea for Black feminists to refuse to be seduced by the moment we are in, one where Black mothers are thought to simply need compassion. This moment feels appealing because Black mothers are not imagined as producing the fiscal and moral downfall of the state, but instead as requiring information, support, and education. But the moment is part of this much longer history of transforming Black mothers from complex people with heterogeneous demands and desires, into symbolic currency for a host of political movements which all too rarely hear or honor Black women’s needs. My call for freedom-dreaming is for Black feminist interventions that refuse the logics of the present, even as they can feel alluring.

Read the introduction to Birthing Black Mothers for free and save 30% on the paperback with coupon code E21NASH.

Q&A with Monica Huerta, author of Magical Habits

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

The format of Magical Habits is unique and is clearly born out of an unwillingness to reduce interlocking stories to a single, brittle narrative. How did these texts come together for you?

I mention in the acknowledgments that for a long time – for most of the time it was “coming together” – I didn’t know why or what I was writing. There’s portions of writing – single sentences, sometimes whole paragraphs – that I wrote my first year of college, and other small portions I wrote in the last pass through the manuscript during copy edits. That’s a span of two decades! I tried to mark the “compendium” quality of the book with a series of dates of when I first started some of the writing in each essay and of when I last substantively revised it at the end of each of the essays. My hope is that what’s not reduced, but rather, as you say, interlocking, gives a layered sense of the varying needs the writing was meeting—some personal, some critical, some theoretical, some formal.

The “coming together” happened when I realized that the disparate bits asked related questions about habits we cultivate, knowingly and otherwise – through reading, but also through ordinary forms of distraction and pleasure – in order to live with what are unbearable histories by any measure. But even as the writings now gathered speak to each other through these questions about habits, I also hope the book as a whole maintains a sense of having been worked on and worked through alongside the ordinary course of living that made the writing possible and thinkable.

A lot about Magical Habits is unconventional, but one of your most surprising moves is to incorporate prose from your senior thesis project. Does this book track your evolution as a scholar, or of an evolving discourse about what being Mexican means? Are these two one and the same? 

I’m hoping that the portions from my undergrad thesis add dimensionality to the idea that the questions we have can change over time. I’m not proposing my undergraduate work makes a scholarly contribution to current scholarship in a traditional way. Obviously, there’s been so much exciting work between when I was in college and now about restaurants and food as sites of critical inquiry. I’m proposing the thesis bits as “an intimate archive” that turns my first sustained attempt at scholarship inside out and so contextualizes that effort in the more personal stories from which its questions arose. In the essays, those episodes are also situated in relation to history, memory, language games, migrations, and the mutations of racial capitalism in the late-twentieth century.

I suppose there is a way to read the book as tracking the way my own questions changed over time. My graduate training was as a nineteenth-century Americanist and my first traditional scholarly monograph, The Unintended: Photography, Property & the Aesthetics of Racial Capitalism (forthcoming April 2022, NYU Press, America & the Long Nineteenth Century series) is about legal clashes over photography in the late-nineteenth century and a particular aesthetics of whiteness through which property relations are forged. It might not be immediately obvious, but The Unintended is a kind of answer to the questions about commodified ethnicities that my senior thesis was asking. The book is trying to show some of the specific mechanisms through which white supremacy works with capitalist regimes of private property.

At the same time, including the thesis bits is a pedagogical gesture. I thought it could be helpful in a classroom to use those portions to talk with students about how scholarship (which, in my mind, includes the ways we’re trained to produce it) bears a relation to our lives in direct and indirect ways. Of course, this also implies a collective work to build a culture of transparency with one another rather than embarrassment or denial. We choose our intellectual questions for intimate reasons, and “love” or “interest” are always far from the full story. Not every work or book needs to confess its reasons in that way, I don’t think. But it seems to me that engaging with one another through that kind of holistic investment in our questions can only make our work stronger; for one, it might shift our relations to one another and lend another kind of urgency to the kinds of work we can do together.

So I think I’m saying that I also wrote Magical Habits as a colleague: I wrote as a scholar and as a teacher, but also as someone who genuinely cares about the people who do the work we do, and in the interest of making more space for more people to engage multiply with the work of making knowledge that pushes beyond (and against) the way knowledge in the service of power has reproduced and legitimated unlivable worlds for most.

Magical Habits is part of the Writing Matters! series, which seeks to expand what constitutes critical writing. At the same time this book is a journey through your “family’s archives.” For instance, you recount anecdotes about your great grandfather you learned not from family tradition but from published histories written about him. This feels both unbearably personal, and unbearably impersonal. What was it like to excavate your family history this way?

There’s so many brilliant people writing in varied keys about the blur between the personal and critical right now! It’s a really exciting time to be thinking through our dreams for our institutions and knowledge-making together. It’s interesting that you use the word “unbearable.” I think the question of “what can be borne/born” from and of history is exactly the question that I’ve learned to ask from scholars like Saidiya Hartman, Christina Sharpe, Hortense Spillers, Imani Perry, Ashley Farmer, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Jessica Marie Johnson, Yomaira Figueroa, and so, so many others, but with Black feminists at – to use another Black feminist, Martha Jones’ term – the vanguard. The personal/impersonal process of excavating family history this way is, from what I’ve tried to learn from scholars and history, exactly what any family history excavation project would confront. Most recently, I think of Hazel Carby’s Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands and Elizabeth Povinelli’s new graphic novel The Inheritance. Our personal archives – photo albums, emails, clothing, songs, overheard conversations – can only leak into the structural, material conditions through which they were created, or which conditioned their reception and experience. Another way to say it is that, of course, the personal is never entirely free from the structural (and some of that structure is utterly material), and vice versa. I tried to write from having learned that from Black feminists, even as my own position with relations to structures and affects is also distinct from theirs because of my own subject position, but also because of the histories we engage and question. 

I also tried to write from a speculative place, imagining some “after” from the heartbreakand specifically-manifested suffering of the histories we live inside; both the unbearability and the material manifestations of history are just as much our ecosystem as our other harmed ecosystems. I did that not to disavow either present distress or the strenuousness of the work it will take to be in an “after” but rather to try to think beyond the property logics that can dominate the personal and that would make the interest what’s personal in the book, the fact that it was mine and not someone else’s. I tried to write toward some other than the “mine-ness” of the story as an invitation to reallocate the very grounds for allegiance from the one to the many precisely because these histories are – differentially, always – our shared ecosystem. If dismantling property is the most direct path towards eradicating white supremacy, then dissolving the property logics through which we’ve come to know ourselves as selves could bring that horizon closer. That’s part of the experiment I was writing through.

What do you hope a reader will come away with from Magical Habits

As part of the Writing Matters! series, I hope the book continues to open up more space for the various forms that intellectual work might take and make for ever more actual, material, and imaginative freedom.

My friend Carolyn Biltoft, a world historian and theorist (get her book, it’s incredible!), told me she thinks of Magical Habits as an invitation to divest, to disentangle, and to disintegrate. If there is a singular “doing” that the book hopes to provoke, it’s as simple and challenging as that. I hope readers feel invited and seriously consider how they can (continue to) divest from the ways that their lives are enmeshed in and benefit from power and white supremacy in particular – but also in all its forms. Also to say that as storytelling, the book importantly includes missteps I made. Magical Habits isn’t offering a template for the right habits, but it is suggesting a tenacity towards being willing to become dedicated to continual divestment, when another un-free layer makes itself known. 

Each person who has that desire – ever more freedom for ever more people – can only begin if they’re going to begin in a holistic way exactly where they are. That’s part of why I am so inspired by abolitionist scholars and thinkers. Those organizers and leaders who have been working to do exactly that kind of holistic work in concert with and as a crucial part of the work of carceral abolition, to name our most prominent example, have been thinking in modes of compounding, interlocking scales and repair for decades. I’m inspired by their work, their thought, and their praxis of bringing more capacious worlds, more livable worlds into being through and in every relation in order to continually become that other world now.

Read the introduction to Magical Habits for free and save 30% on the book using the coupon code E21HRTA. 

New Books in August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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