As the weather cools and the holiday season approaches, treat yourself to one of our great new December titles!
In On Paradox, Elizabeth S. Anker contends that the faith in the logic of paradox has been the watermark of left intellectualism since the second half of the twentieth century, showing how paradox generates the very exclusions it critiques and undercuts theory’s commitment to social justice.
Piro Rexhepi explores the overlapping postsocialist and postcolonial border regimes in the Balkans that are designed to protect whiteness and exclude Muslim, Roma, and migrant communities in White Enclosures.
The contributors to Turning Archival, edited by Daniel Marshall and Zeb Tortorici, trace the rise of “the archive” as an object of historical desire and study within queer studies and examine how it fosters historical imagination and knowledge.
In Feltness, Stephanie Springgay considers socially engaged art as a practice of research-creation that germinates a radical pedagogy she calls feltness—a set of intimate practices of creating art based on touch, affect, relationality, love, and responsibility.
Ain’t But a Few of Us, edited by Willard Jenkins, presents over two dozen candid dialogues with Black jazz critics and journalists who discuss the barriers to access for Black jazz critics and how they contend with the world of jazz writing dominated by white men.
In Poverty and Wealth in East Africa, Rhiannon Stephens offers a conceptual history of how people living in eastern Uganda have sustained and changed their ways of thinking about wealth and poverty over the past two thousand years.
Examining a wide range of photography from across the global South, the contributors to Cold War Camera, edited by Thy Phu, Erina Duganne, and Andrea Noble, explore the visual mediation of the Cold War, illuminating how photography shaped how it was prosecuted and experienced.
Through close readings of slave narratives, scrapbooks, travel illustration, documentary film and photography, as well as collage, craft, and sculpture, Jasmine Nichole Cobb explores Black hair as a visual material through which to reimagine the sensual experience of Blackness in New Growth.
The contributors to New World Orderings, edited by Lisa Rofel and Carlos Rojas, demonstrate that China’s twenty-first-century rise occurs not only through economics and state politics, but equally through its relationships and interactions with the Global South.
Focusing on his personal day to day experiences of the “shelter-in-place” period during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, Alberto Moreiras offers a meditation on intellectual life and the nature of thought under the suspension of time and conditions of isolation in Uncanny Rest.
In Ruderal City, Bettina Stoetzer traces the more-than-human relationships between people, plants, and animals in contemporary Berlin, showing how Berlin’s “urban nature” becomes a key site in which notions of citizenship and belonging as well as racialized, gendered, and classed inequalities become apparent.
Veit Erlmann examines the role of copyright law in post-apartheid South Africa and its impact on the South African music industry in Lion’s Share, showing how copyright is inextricably entwined with race, popular music, postcolonial governance, indigenous rights, and the struggle to create a more equitable society.
Rumya Sree Putcha uses the figure of the Indian classical dancer to explore the complex dynamics of contemporary transnational Indian womanhood in The Dancer′s Voice.
In Feminism in Coalition Liza Taylor examines how U.S. women of color feminists’ coalitional collective politics of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s is an indispensable resource to contemporary political theory, feminist studies, and intersectional social justice activism.
Hiʻilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani Hobart charts the social history of ice in Hawaiʻi in Cooling the Tropics, showing how ice and refrigeration underpinned settler colonial ideas about race, environment, and the senses.
The contributors to Siting Postcoloniality, edited by Pheng Cheah and Caroline S. Hau, reevaluate the notion of the postcolonial by focusing on the Sino-sphere—the region of East and Southeast Asia that has been significantly shaped by relations with China throughout history.
Rupal Oza follows the social life of rape in rural northwest India to reveal how rape is a language through which issues ranging from caste to justice to land are contested in Semiotics of Rape.
Marcus Boon is Professor of English at York University, author of In Praise of Copying and The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs, and coauthor of Nothing: Three Inquiries in Buddhism. His new book The Politics of Vibration: Music as a Cosmopolitical Practice explores music as a material practice of vibration in which different historical and geographical scenes, negotiating the political limits of the worlds they inhabit, attempt to creat a vibrational space of individual and collective transformation.
The Politics of Vibration sets out new ways of thinking about what music is. It proposes that music should be thought of as the generation of particular types of vibrational space. The book focuses on the work of three musicians who produce such vibrational spaces—they might seem to belong to very different worlds: Hindustani raga singer Pandit Pran Nath, Swedish drone composer and mathematician Catherine Christer Hennix, and Houston based hip hop originator of the chopped and screwed sound, DJ Screw. What these musicians have in common is an interest in slowing music—and therefore time—down. When you slow music and time down, you start to become aware of space, vibrational space. You also start to exit the dominant time regime—which is where, perhaps surprisingly, the politics of vibration comes in. Following Isabelle Stengers I use the word “cosmopolitics” to describe the kinds of political disputes that ensue concerning the ontology of music. And following my mentor, Catherine Christer Hennix, I consider what kinds of music, sound and vibration are permissible in a society? In other words, what music is allowed to be.
If you are exposed to the richness of vibrational space via music, your sense of ontology changes—vibrational space gathers scenes, musical scenes around it, the way a flower gathers bees in the summertime. These scenes can tell us something about how to live, how we might live, according to what is most valuable, what transforms us. That’s the wager of my book. I’m not sure to capture all of that in a video clip, but it’s all there in probably my favorite film about music, Mani Kaul’s 1983 Dhrupad, an experimental documentary about the Indian Dhrupad masters, the Dagar Brothers:
Composing a playlist for my book is a challenging thing to do because the vibrational spaces in which music’s power unfolds cannot be reduced to recordings or YouTube clips (although those things may play a role!). Nonetheless, recordings can point us in important directions — and as with DJ Screw or the Jamaican dancehall scene that Julian Henriques explored in wonderful detail in his book Sonic Bodies—powerful vibrational spaces can be created around recordings. This is captured wonderfully in John Akomfrah’s 1986 documentary Handsworth Songs about the Black community in Handsworth, UK, for example in this clip of the mighty Jah Shaka sound system:
I didn’t set out to write a book about slow music, but Pandit Pran Nath, Catherine Christer Hennix and DJ Screw all make music that is slow: Pran Nath’s focus on the alaap section of the raga, Hennix’s drones and Screw’s chopped and screwed mixtapes are all concerned with slowing time down and what happens when you do this, something psychotropic, something in which a new kind of space—vibrational space—opens up to perception. That space is not there only for slow music—but slowing things down can help us attune ourselves to its existence.
In terms of a slowed down sound, it’s worth listening to Pandit Pran Nath’s teacher/guru, master of the Kirana gharana, Abdul Wahid Khan. Waheed Khan was a reclusive man and not many recordings by him exist. One of the recordings he made for All India Radio is here:
Singer Salamat Ali Khan said of him that “he would begin to improvise in Lahore, and you could travel to Delhi and back, and he would still be improvising.” According to master sarod-player Ali Akbar Khan, when most singers went to the radio station, they would sing their ragas and go home. Abdul Wahid Khan would continue for another 20 hours or so. Once, a disciple asked Abdul Wahid Khan why he only sang two ragas, Todi, a morning raga, and Darbari, an evening raga. Abdul Wahid Khan responded that he would have dropped the latter, if the morning would last forever.
You can hear Wahid Khan’s style if you listen to maybe his most famous student Hirabai Barodekar — and you can hear it when you listen to Pandit Pran Nath — for example his remarkable version of Raga Malkauns, as recorded by minimalist OG La Monte Young in 1976 in New York:
Note the rich and dense sound of the tamburas—recorded in such a way that minimalism and rock are somehow there even as the recording stays true to tradition. For Pandit Pran Nath music’s core was a matter of practice, of taking care of the voice and of attunement to the raga’s unfolding in the contingency and necessity of the moment. Probably the best way to start understanding Pran Nath’s approach to music is via William Farley’s beautiful short 1986 documentary InBetween the Notes: A Portrait of Pandit Pran Nath, with its scenes of Pran Nath practicing in various places outdoors.
Swedish composer and mathematician Catherine Christer Hennix, whose work is discussed in chapter 2 of the book, was instructed by Pran Nath to continue her research into the mathematical and other possibilities of vibrational space, as her musical contribution. Her most famous recording, The Electric Harpsichord, made in 1976 at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm during her ten day festival of sounds, is apparently built around the scale for Raga Multani—but it exists in a very different sound world to traditional Indian music:
In my years of conversations with Hennix, I gradually came to understand an entirely new kind of philosophy of music that she was setting out—and I try to track that in my book in both the chapter on her sound works, and the chapter entitled “Music and the Continuum.” I can’t really unpack it all here, but fundamental to the book is the idea of target states, something that Hennix discusses: music can aspire to states of elevation, spiritual transformation that are both individual and collective. While many musicians and listeners might agree with that, Hennix has pursued the question of whether there are particular kinds of logic, practice or musical procedure that can generate these states – in fact that for her is a meaningful definition of composition, a “Deontic Miracle” to use the name of one of her bands from the 1970s … “deontic” … a set of logical rules governing an ethics of permission and/or prohibition … “miracle” … something that happens despite its impossibility … “deontic miracle” … a set of logical rules that generate a miracle. You can hear this at work in this 2014 live recording of Hennix’s Chora(s)san Time-Court Mirage performing Blues Alif LamMim—but you have to listen through and allow the sound to open up and engage you:
While Hennix insists that it is only perhaps a very limited number of musics that actually pursue these ideas with complete rigor—my own feeling is that all music worth the name pursues this kind of “deontic miracle” to varying degrees. It doesn’t necessarily require knowledge of advanced mathematics—it requires the ability to improvise a sonic or vibrational pattern out of the social, political and environmental possibilities of the moment in such a way that it moves people. The idea that there are mathematical aspects to such improvisation is an intriguing one—and in the chapter “Music and the Continuum” I pursue the idea by comparing Hennix’s ideas with those of Guerino Mazzola, whose epic book The Topos of Music presents an expansive and nuanced take on music and mathematics—and through thinking about Julian Henriques aforementioned work in Sonic Bodies, in which he explores the various vibrational bandwidths involved in a successful Jamaican sound system session. From this I develop the mathematical/philosophical idea of a topos as a model for vibrational space—a space in which transformations can happen. I look at different musics, from Philip Corner’s metallophone experiments, to waterfalls, Keiji Haino’s sound experiments, Sri Karunamayee’s impossible singing scales, to raga folk guitarist Peter Walker’s recent performances and the Toronto based Prince cover band Snow in April.
I love this footage of Walker from 2009—a music that is all improvisational nuance and a beautiful example of what Mazzola means when he talks about music as involving a gestural topos, the music not just the notes, but the gestures which are the necessary condition of the sounds that emerge. Indeed: emerges, in the sense that Walker himself looks surprised and delighted when certainly note sequences occur, and sometimes looks towards the audience to see if they heard it too. For listening is gestural too.
Juxtaposing Houston based DJ Screw with Pandit Pran Nath and Catherine Christer Hennix might seem like a strange thing to do. Honestly, these were the sounds that I found myself listening to again and again over the last decade—and it is only when I started to write about Screw that I started to feel the connections and commonalities in terms of a slowed down sound, a radical experiment with time and vibration, and a very underappreciated one, thus also one with its own politics. Screw was a hip hop DJ, and used the variable speed controller on his turntables and cassette recorder to slow the music he played down. Screw created vibrational spaces … they appear like a miracle when he slows things down — listen for example to the stunning mix he made of Erykah Badu’s “Otherside of the Game:”
It might seem like for Screw, whose almost entire oeuvre consists of a series of 300 plus mixtapes, music was “nothing but the recordings,” yet the gatherings of MCs nightly in the “wood room” of his house in south side Houston in the 1990s also generated a powerful vibrational space that was then transmitted to the massed car stereos of Texas, slowing down time under the most hostile and racialized conditions. In terms of long form slowed music, Screw’s most famous track the 37 minute collective freestyle often just known as “June 27th” on the mixtape Screw made for Demo Sherman on his birthday in 1996 has a powerful sense of social space as vibrational space:
These are all tracks about time, about time that gets suspended, stretched, or compressed, as Fred Moten says in his essay “Black Topological Existence,” into a “topological existence” based on “a mechanics of distress”. That’s particularly the case with Screw’s version of UGK’s “One Day”—especially the 14 minute version to be found on Chapter 70, Endonesia, with its reciting of many friends and family deceased, doing time or elsewhere.
Those who want to know more should read Lance Scott Walker’s excellent new biography of Screw, or his oral history of Houston hip hop, Houston Rap Tapes.
There’s maybe no easy exit to space the way the white avant gardes tried to imagine it. But that then is the politics of vibration as someone like Sun Ra meant when he said “space is the place”. In fact, I don’t think there’s an easy exit to space for anyone — powerful though variable chains, mental and otherwise, block this for all of us today, and thus we have music in the reified and packaged state that we mostly experience it as. But music can be and often is a project for undoing this, and that is what the musicians in my book do. In my book, I conclude with some lessons learnt by talking with and listening to Canadian indigenous hiphop crew until recently named A Tribe Called Red, now known as The Halluci Nation. Listen to their synthesis of electronics, sound system culture and traditional indigenous pow wow music, as on “Electric Pow Wow Drum” with its Cree war cry and pow wow rhythms from their first record:
Bear Witness, a member of the crew, reminds us that music sound and vibration emerge from the land, from our own living heartbeats no matter how this is obscured in settler colonial cultures. That is what we mean by cosmopolitics and music as a cosmopolitical practice. We all come to music from different positionalities, and in a sense all human societies improvise the object/event called music out of the environment’s possibilities. This is true of traditional musics—but it is also prospectively true, in the sense that new arrangements, new articulations can and will happen, and our work (and joy) is to amplify and deepen the possibility of those new sounds and the forms of life that gather around them.
Donovan O. Schaefer is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Religious Affects: Animality, Evolution, and Power, also published by Duke University Press, and The Evolution of Affect Theory: The Humanities, the Sciences, and the Study of Power. Schaefer’s new book is Wild Experiment: Feeling Science and Secularism after Darwin. Examining the reception of evolutionary biology, the 1925 Scopes Trial, and the New Atheist movement of the 2000s, Schaefer theorizes the relationship between thinking and feeling by challenging the conventional wisdom that they are separate.
How does Wild Experiment, which is your second book, build on or diverge from your earlier book Religious Affects?
After writing Religious Affects, I had a lot of people tell me they were convinced by its core argument—that affect theory is an excellent lens for studying the relationship between religion and power. But it also ended up reaffirming a binary that I found troubling: the notion that religion is uniquely driven by affect, the emotional counterpart to secular rationality.
That’s not what I meant to put forward at all. I think affect theory offers what Lauren Berlant calls a “sensualized epistemology,” a way of defining the relationship between thinking and feeling, rather than just building out the study of feeling as a domain radically separate from thinking. So Wild Experiment goes much further than Religious Affects in setting out to show how what we think of as purely cognitive processes—including reason, science, and secular rationality—are determined by affect.
That said, a big part of what the book is up to is making the case that seeing thinking and feeling as connected doesn’t mean that we can’t learn, reflect, and build our understanding of the world around us. Knowledge-making is a process that’s shot through with affects, but as I argue in the Introduction, that’s both why it works when it works and why it gets pulled off course.
In your Introduction, and then throughout your book, you are interested in “the emotions that move thought” and “the way thinking feels” (3). Can you say a bit about how your book breaks down the thinking/feeling binary?
The thinking/feeling binary is what I think of as an “ambient” paradigm. It’s not necessarily something that scholars—or anyone else—says or writes down. They don’t have to. It saturates so much of our thinking that it’s everywhere, from academic monographs to social media feeds to chatting at the bar. Even some thinkers who push back on the priority of cognition will tend to reiterate the binary, reaffirming the value of the affective by assigning it priority over cognition. This is a syntax that informs a lot of affect theory, especially versions of affect theory that are most closely associated with the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze.
That doesn’t at all mean the binary is accepted across the board. The first half of the book is an extended survey of thinkers and literatures that push back on the binary from different directions. Some of that comes from within the Western philosophical tradition, but I’m especially interested in other strands of affect theory (especially as informed by queer of color theory), postcolonial critiques of secularism, science and technology studies, the post-critical turn in literary theory, and academic psychology. My hope is that putting all these conversations side by side builds a conceptual critical mass that will help destabilize the thinking/feeling binary.
In addition to being an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, you are also Core Faculty in the Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. To what extent does this book contribute to or borrow from gender/feminist studies?
I realized after I had finished the book that it had actually started in a seminar I took in grad school on feminist epistemologies with Linda Martín Alcoff. That seminar highlighted the limitations of classical epistemologies that focus exclusively on the intellectual dimension of thought. Feminist epistemologists have been interested in how to connect thinking to embodiment for decades. And feminist epistemology, as I read it, is also centrally concerned with the question of how a belief comes to seem like an expression of impartial reason. Feminists wanted an explanation for why skewed knowledges were so effective at defending themselves with appeals to “reason.” What they found is that the composition of any given political rationality is always configured by a distinct set of historical coordinates. Every reason has a genealogy. Some feminists went further, showing that these genealogies were embodied and affective.
I also draw heavily on the longstanding interest among queer and trans theorists in desire, pleasure, and feeling. The version of affect theory I’m most interested in is a direct outgrowth of these central concerns of queer critique. One of the arguments I make in Chapter 2 is that Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Vol. I, one of the foundational texts in queer theory, has actually been read through a prism that blocks some of its most compelling insights. Foucault spends a huge amount of time in that book elaborating what he calls “power-knowledge-pleasure.” That conceptual structure is foundational to the arguments he makes about science, politics, and sexuality. But it gets surprisingly little attention in the secondary literature, especially when Foucault is read outside of queer theory. One of my aims is to develop the conceptual link between science and feeling that has been of vital importance to queer science studies.
One of the book’s major concerns is race, and you engage with a range of figures coming from Black studies and queer of color theory to develop that analysis. What is “racialized reason”?
I’m interested in the question of how something comes to seem “reasonable” to some people in their time and place, and how oppressive regimes of knowledge are able to fortify themselves by appealing to “rationality.” Why does a racist society end up producing, validating, and recirculating racist science, for instance? I don’t think it’s adequate to say that racists create a well-packaged lie that none of them actually believe and put it into circulation to preserve existing hierarchies. I think racist ideas are genuinely believed by racists, even when they verge into absurdity. What I argue, building on queer of color theorists interested in affect, is that it’s because “reason” is not just the neutral analysis of ideas and information. It’s configured by a set of affective parameters that dictate what feels true. Racist structures of feeling configure “rationality” itself, setting the table for racist ideas to feel true.
This is where the constant Trumpist refrain of “fuck your feelings” comes from. White supremacists are able to present themselves as above the fray of “emotions” because what they call “rationality” has been fashioned within a white supremacist society. Their version of “reason” makes racist ideas feel true. Everyone who disagrees with them is dismissed as “emotional.” Sara Ahmed calls this whiteness as an orientation that is in frictionless alignment with the “white world.” The big lie underwriting all this, of course, is that what they call “rationality” has itself been configured by white supremacist structures of feeling. “Reason” has become racialized through its contamination by racist affects. So what they’re really saying is “fuck your feelings—but protect my feelings at all costs.”
Sharon Patricia Holland’s concept of racism’s “erotic life” has been a huge influence on me, too. Her work opened up for me a way of thinking about racism as something that doesn’t have to be associated with a set of functional or economic priorities. Part of what makes racism as intractable as it is—and why it’s so easy for neo-fascist movements to mobilize racism—is the pleasure dimension of racism that doesn’t necessarily reduce to a calculation of costs and benefits for racists. Constantly framing racism as an economic strategy awards way too much political intelligence to racists. Coming from another direction, Sylvia Wynter and Denise Ferreira da Silva’s challenge to a particular Euro-modern definition of “Man” as that which is autonomous and unaffected is crucial for this project.
You talk about the prevalence of misinformation, and how people are compelled not by what is “true,” necessarily, but what “feels true” given what they have already come to know/believe. How might this insight inform the way that people engage with each other across gaps in understanding and differences of thought or values?
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that there’s a global crisis of communication happening right now. One of the dimensions of that crisis, as I see it, is that we still tend to assume that good information always floats to the top, that there’s an inevitable algorithm by which “truth will out.” What I propose, instead, is that we need to see the landscape of information as defined by feeling. That doesn’t mean we’re lost at sea. The work of better understanding ourselves and the world around us is an emotional process—and it succeeds because it’s guided by feeling, what Audre Lorde calls “consciousness of living as a situation to be experienced and interacted with.” But we also need to recognize that sometimes beliefs are fastened in place because they feel good, regardless of whether they’re true. Conspiracy theory, I suggest in the book, is a perfect example of this. It’s a sprawling set of interconnected beliefs that are embraced—passionately—because they’re the most exciting possible interpretation of a situation. Conspiracy theories flourish in the social media age because they’re pitch-perfect clickbait. They explain the world in ways that are profoundly misleading—but feel good. They’re seductive ideas that people quite literally “want to believe.”
On the other hand, I think we also too often tend to assume that people are either “rational”—if they’re following what we consider the right ideas or evidence—or “irrational”—if they refuse. I don’t think that framing of the problem leads anywhere. The liberal fantasy of a rational public sphere—in which people are always and everywhere persuaded by better arguments, more evidence, more facts—is a myth; but it’s also a mistake to think that someone who isn’t persuaded by new information is fundamentally immune to facts. Both of those framings are ways of mapping persuasion according to the thinking/feeling binary. Being more thoughtful about persuasion means recognizing that persuasion is always about reshaping what feels true for someone. Understanding how that affective landscape is shaped by factors that are extrinsic to the content of what you’re saying to someone is crucial. But it’s also important to recognize that facts themselves are powerful tools of persuasion, especially when we consider how facts feel to people in different contexts and positions.
What do you hope that readers take away from Wild Experiment, if you had to sum it up in a tweet?
The thinking/feeling binary is a construct; it’s a construct with a history, but one that has been extraordinarily successful at presenting itself as a natural division. There’s no thinking that we do that isn’t affectively defined. We always feel our way along. And to understand the relationship of knowledge and power, we have to make feeling central to our analysis. As Lorde writes, “The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am. The Black mother within each of us — the poet — whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom.”
Read the introduction to Wild Experiment for free and save 30% on the paperback with coupon E22SCHFR.
Following Lauren Berlant’s death last summer, Erica Rand agreed to shepherd Berlant’s new book On the Inconvenience of Other People to publication. In today’s guest post Rand describes that experience and introduces the book.
Today Lauren Berlant’s book On The Inconvenience of Other People is out. It appears in the series Writing Matters!, founded in 2019 by Lauren, Saidiya Hartman, Katie Stewart, and me. I’m writing to tell you a bit about the book. Not what it’s about: I invite you to encounter the book for yourself, in your own way and time. Instead, I want to share with you some things I did and learned as I helped move Inconvenience from the completed manuscript—which Lauren submitted, soon before they passed, in June 2021—to the book in print. I took on this project both as a Writing Matters! co-editor and as a close friend, two interdependent roles I mark through the use of “Lauren” and the pronouns “they/them.” Neither corresponds to one of those roles, or to a personal vs. professional relationship; I mean to sidestep the narrative that presents Lauren’s pronouns as an index of intimacy.
As I indicate in Inconvenience’s “Note to the Reader,” I did the tasks ordinarily performed by a book’s author during the production phase. I reviewed the copyedited manuscript, responding to suggested changes and corrections, and checked the page proofs. I wrote material for the marketing department to work with—much helped by abstracts that Lauren had submitted—and interacted with people at or outside the press as they needed or wanted me and as I needed or wanted them.
My description of the process might be dispassionate, but my experience of it was anything but. Sometimes it was heart-swelling and heart-breaking at once, especially when I encountered lines I could conjure Lauren saying aloud. Like this comment on the common or commons: “The concept is so overloaded you might think that it’s empty, but you’d be wrong.” I could hear a pause after the comma, slightly longer than what a comma versus a period would suggest, then a slight shift. The second part might sound a bit quip-like, maybe with a slightly deepened or higher voice at the end, then a deliberate two-syllable laugh sound, a visible twinkle, a smile with closed lips.
Then there was the anxiety of copyedits, which I had foolishly expected to be easier to handle than copyedits on my own work. Ordinarily, I respond to copyedits with a mix of deep, articulated gratitude and would-be savvy, treating my responses to proposed changes as components of an invented bargaining relationship. I imagine, for example, that maybe I can keep my beloved “and/or” if I give up some parentheses I liked, or that if I give up “and/or” without a fuss, maybe my desire/desperation to change “butch-femme” back to “butch/femme” will not read as dubious attachment to a slash mark. I have no evidence that anyone evaluating my responses ever thought they were in any such relationship with me, although my perception is hardly unique. When I used the term “invented” in sharing my progress on this blog post with my writing accountability group, everyone protested: No, no, that’s really how it happens! You give some, you get some, especially if you are polite. Say please and thank you. You don’t want to seem like—or be!—that writer who rejects every suggestion.
With Inconvenience, I planned to proceed differently. I certainly wouldn’t bargain away anything I thought Lauren wanted, and I knew that no editor involved wanted me to. We had a mutual, explicit goal: to produce the book that Lauren wanted, lightly edited so as to be as close as possible to the manuscript they submitted. I anticipated that I would primarily be approving obvious changes—deleting an extra space between “of” and “the,” following Duke style about using “19th” or “nineteenth,” fixing a few unintended ambiguities, relocating a stray comma.
I was wrong. Even seemingly small decisions were often far from smooth sailing. For example, the Duke style guide rejects amidst for amid. Me, too. I find amidst needlessly elongated, like cohabitate, and weirdly archaic or up-classing, although I know it’s become more widespread than back when it began mysteriously to appear in my students’ papers, where I thought it represented an attempt to signal academic seriousness or, more interesting, a migrated convention from some time-traveling pop culture I kept trying to ferret out. Lauren’s manuscript, to my surprise, had amidst several times. I had to decide whether their usage was significant or fine to change. Since I couldn’t distinguish amidst’s contexts from the more frequent uses of amid. I went with the latter.
And what ambiguities were, indeed, unintended? The copyeditor flagged “Paul leans on the old mattress on the wall” in Last Tango in Paris. The mattress, not Paul, was touching the wall, correct? If so, how about “propped against the wall,” more clear in referent? Sure, why not? Lauren was setting the stage. What about “this clash between wanting to be disturbed in sex and yet simpler in pleasure”? Could I clarify that? I thought I could, but every tweak I tried involved a lot of words and seemed like a gloss—too much of my interpretation.
Plus, I always kept in mind a conversation between me and Lauren early in 2021 after I read the almost penultimate draft of Inconvenience. I asked if they might spell out what they mean by writing through a series of “assays” and “in a parenthetical voice,” two key experimental aspects of the book. OK, they said, and/but: “Here’s the difference between your writing and mine. When you anticipate the reader stumbling over something, you try to smooth it out. I don’t.”
I rarely needed that reminder to check myself. It functioned usually as an affectionate “that’s Lauren” when I came across a paragraph-length sentence that in a draft of mine might have turned into seven. The comment nagged at me most for small decisions, such as one involving this sentence:
Think of the clumsy physicality sex induces, in the body, the voice, and the face; the confusions and resignations of knowledge even in a scene of delight; the small and large breakdowns of concentration and confidence all throughout any episode, and the work of quieting that down so things can proceed.
The copy editor wanted to change “quieting that down” to “quieting those down.” Hmm. Did Lauren want to designate that the breakdowns added up to one big breakdown-to-be-quieted? In that case, keep that. Did they mean to convey quieting all of that down or want readers to decide what to agglomerate? Then this or those could work. Maybe they had barely thought about it. I finally decided “those” could accommodate “that” and left the correction. Even in anti-bargainer mode, I didn’t want to reject every suggestion. I didn’t think Lauren would want to be that writer either. I did, however, restore a comma after “induces.” Lauren sometimes used commas for rhythm, pause, or speed-up. I tried to listen for those.
I used that last example partly to entice you. Once you’ve read that gorgeous, super-smart characterization of sex, can you really bear to miss anything else? The pleasures of the text are many. So, too, were the pleasures of the process, including the chance to notice habits that I would not have recognized apart from this triangulated relationship with copyediting. For example, Lauren started many sentences “There is” or “There are,” establishing the very existence of something as part of writing about it. They also used terms, such as suicidiation, that are still heading toward Merriam-Webster, and various departures from standard usage: terms or metaphors, including Teflon, portmanteau, and laser, in ways that seemed, only at first, a bit to the side of working; a few words re-tensed or combined to function more usefully, such as beyonding or democracy-under-capitalism. None of that, maybe, is a big deal. But discerning habits as I went along felt like an unanticipated gift of new intimacies unfolding between us. Once I discerned habits I usually worked to uphold them. One exception concerns meticulous guidance in the copyediting away from subtly ableist language. I thought that Lauren would have welcomed, for example, being nudged toward alternatives to “see” as a way to convey recognize, understand, or notice. I now scrutinize my own writing accordingly, too.
That guidance is one of countless labors of editing, design, consultation, and love that went into the production of Inconvenience. Thank you Susan Albury, Andrea Klinger, Aimee Harrison, Scott Smiley, Laurie Shannon, Katie Stewart, and Courtney Berger.
As for the book itself, while I told you that I wouldn’t describe what it’s about, I leave you with Lauren’s summary at the end of the preface. I know it will grab you:
Looking at sex, democracy, and the desire for life in a better world than the one that exists, the entire book tries narrating from the granular ordinary ways to lose, unlearn, and loosen the objects and structures that otherwise seem intractable. How not to reproduce the embedded violence of the unequal ordinary? People say, “You got this!” “We can do this!” But it’s more like, “Once you let in the deaths, all that follows is life.” A thing to be used.
No matter where or how you choose to escape the summer heat, we have you covered. Check out the great new titles coming out this July.
For those looking to learn more about international relations and globalization, Neferti X. M. Tadiar’s Remaindered Life offers readers a new vocabulary and framework for examining the relationship between global capitalism and permanent imperial war.
Drawing on ethnographic research in postconflict Peru and Colombia, Kimberly Theidon examines the lives of children born of wartime rape and impact of violence on human and more-than-human lives, bodies, and ecologies in Legacies of War.
Students of the World by Pedro Monaville follows the inspiring footsteps of a generation of Congolese student activists whose work became central to national politics and broader decolonization movements following Congo’s independence.
Felicity Amaya Schaeffer paints a story of resistance in Unsettled Borders by tracing Native people’s efforts to continue ancestral practices in the face of ecological and social violence at the militarized US-Mexico border.
If you are interested in reading about the relationship between nature and human society, Making Peace with Nature by Eleana J. Kim reveals the inseparable link between biodiversity, scientific practices and geopolitical, capitalist, and ecological dynamics found in South Korea’s Demilitarized Zone.
In the Skin of the City by António Tomás weaves sociology, urban studies, anthropology, and African studies to illustrate the transformation of Luanda’s capital Angola through continual redefinition and negotiation of its physical and social boundaries.
History lovers may like Penny M. Von Eschen’s Paradoxes of Nostalgia, which examines the cold war’s lingering shadows and how nostalgia for stability fuels US-led militarism and the rise of international xenophobia, right wing nationalism, and authoritarianism.
As high school and college history teachers begin to plan for the next school year, A Primer for Teaching Digital History by Jennifer Guiliano offers a practical guide for teachers new to digital history, while providing experienced instructors with the tools to reinvigorate their pedagogy.
Our Spring Sale is rapidly coming to a close. You only have three days to save 50% on in-stock books and journal issues. If you’re still not sure what to purchase, here are Senior Executive Editor Ken Wissoker’s suggestions.
I don’t need to tell most DUP readers that this moment requires transformative thinking. The pandemic and the racist agenda of the last US administration are not over in the least. Rarely a day goes by where rights and conditions central to our well-being are not under attack. Thank you, SCOTUS. What can we as thinkers, readers, and publishers do to make a difference? I would start my sale recommendations there. I’m thinking about books that will help all of us get through: Sara Ahmed’s Complaint!, Max Liboiron’s Pollution Is Colonialism, Katherine McKittrick’s Dear Science and Other Stories. Tools for thinking differently.
My own thinking has been transformed this spring by Jennifer L. Morgan’s Reckoning with Slavery, which centers Black women in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, giving them agency, not merely footnoted presence. Morgan points a way for historians to restore the power and feelings of those who were of no account in the archives, while putting the numeracy of the slave trade at the core of capitalism.
Morgan’s friend and colleague Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu has shown exactly how this can be done, similarly working between disciplines and archives, but across the Pacific rather than the Atlantic. Her book Experiments in Skin won the publishing equivalent of March Madness this year, the Prose awards from the Association of American Publishers. They choose 106 finalists in categories from Mathematics to Philosophy; then 39 category winners, 4 area winners for humanities, social sciences, bio sciences, and physical sciences—and one overall winner, Thuy’s incredible book, which combines a history of imperialism and chemical warfare with that of dermatology and concepts of beauty showing how they all come together in present-day Vietnam.
In this vein, one book I can’t recommend enough is Mercy Romero’s Toward Camden, a memoir and a way of understanding raced geography at once, where the two are inseparable, and written with intense beauty and insight.
I could easily come up with another list this long (where is Beth Povinelli’s new book or Joshua Clover’s Roadrunner??) so get over to the website and look around yourself. Just do it quickly!
Use coupon SPRING22 to save on all these titles and more. If you’re located outside North and South America, we suggest you order from our partner Combined Academic Publishers using the same coupon. You’ll get faster and cheaper shipping. See the fine print here.
Our Spring Sale continues for two more weeks. If you’re looking for suggestions for what to buy, check out Editorial Director Gisela Fosado’s recommendations. Use coupon SPRING22 to save 50% on these and all in-stock titles.
With the Latin American Studies Association conference wrapped up last weekend, I thought I’d recommend a dozen of our most important brand new books (published within the past 6 months) in Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx studies.
Troillot Remixed: The Michel-Rolph Trouillot Reader edited by Yarimar Bonilla, Greg Beckett, Mayanthi L. Fernando. “By the sheer force of his example, he invited us to recognize not only the irreducible complexity of the Caribbean as a horizon of inquiry but also the intellectual duty to take up the challenge of reinventing the categories through which we apprehend and engage this complexity. Trouillot Remixed offers us a thematically distilled selection of his work that will provoke us to appreciate his contribution in fresh and unexpected ways.” — David Scott, Columbia University
Planetary Longings by Mary Louise Pratt “These brilliant essays bring cultural theory to life. Mary Louise Pratt thinks across the Americas, drawing us into a repertoire that every American should grasp. To decolonize the postcolonial legacy, she shows us how to think generously and rigorously as well as politically.” — Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, coeditor of Feral Atlas: The More-Than-Human Anthropocene
The Florida Room by Alexandra T. Vazquez “Alexandra T. Vazquez’s bold, brilliant, and refreshingly unconventional meditatin on sonic placemaking in Florida is fearless and groundbreaking. Compressing the deep, wide, and volatile politics and poetics of the global South into a focused exploration of the “Sunshine State,” The Florida Room reminds readers of what daring, innovative, and challenging theory looks and sounds like. This luminous book opens up our notions of what counts as theory as well as who gets identified as theorists.” — Daphne A. Brooks, author of Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound
Loss and Wonder at the World’s End by Laura A. Ogden “In its freshness of vision, its first-person mode of presentation, its openheartedness, and its scattering of materials in delicate montages, Loss and Wonder at the World’s End is such fun to read. Laura A. Ogden’s persistent view of history throughout the text as multivalent, dense, and mysterious is wonderful.” — Michael T. Taussig, author of Mastery of Non-mastery in the Age of Meltdown
Stories That Make History: Mexico through Elena Poniatowska’s Crónicas by Lynn Stephen “The fortuitous pairing of perhaps Mexico’s most beloved, enduring, and influential writer with one of its most prolific and accomplished international scholars of social and cultural movements gives rise to an extraordinary collaboration. This engrossing volume will be required reading for anyone seriously interested in Mexican journalism and literature, history and history-making, and the formation of social memory.” — Gilbert M. Joseph, coeditor of The Mexico Reader: History, Culture, Politics
Unintended Lessons of Revolution by Tanalís Padilla “This book transcends the constricted scope of a narrow institutional study to throw new light on a series of larger questions concerning Mexico’s legacy of revolution, its failed rural policies, and the explosion of unrest among rural teachers and activists. It is a pleasure to read.” — Brooke Larson, author of Trials of Nation Making: Liberalism, Race, and Ethnicity in the Andes, 1810–1910
The Nature of Space by Milton Santos, translated by Brenda Baletti “Milton Santos was one of the most important Black thinkers in the Americas writing in the last four decades, one of the most important Brazilian intellectuals of all time, and one of the most cited and noteworthy geographers in Latin America. This extremely important translation subverts our tendencies to ignore scholarship being produced in the global South and marks a key step in decolonizing thought in US academe.” — Keisha-Khan Y. Perry, author of Black Women against the Land Grab: The Fight for Racial Justice in Brazil
Cocaine: From Coca Fields to the Streets, edited by Enrique Desmond Arias and Thomas Grisaffi “Through its attention to both the transnational cocaine commodity chain and the locally specific moral economies that have developed along it, Cocaine presents an innovative and urgent perspective. This highly original and engaging volume makes significant contributions to studies of crime, governance, economics, and Latin American studies.” — Rivke Jaffe, author of Concrete Jungles: Urban Pollution and the Politics of Difference in the Caribbean
We’re always pleased to see our books land on various best of the year lists. Check out some of the great titles that were featured in 2021’s lists.
Pitchfork named Joshua Clover’s Roadrunner to their Best Music Books of 2021 list, calling it “as ecstatic as the music it celebrates.”
On the International Center of Photography blog, Vince Aletti included A Time of Youth by William Gedney in his list of the top ten photobooks of the year, writing that Gedney’s “queer eye never misses the shaggy-haired beauties and the tender, erotic undercurrent here is Gedney’s signature.”
Smithsonian Magazine asked contributors to name their best books of 2021 and Joshua Bell, curator of globalization recommended Max Liboiron’s Pollution Is Colonialism, calling it “a beautifully written text that is both a handbook on method and a call to rethink how we live our lives on occupied land.”
Entropy put Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s Dub: Finding Ceremony on its list of 2020 and 2021’s best poetry books. And Hans Ulrich Obrist, artistic director of the Serpentine Galleries, told The Art Newspaper that her trilogy, including Spill, M Archive, and Dub, was his best read of the year. He said, “This trilogy, as well as Gumbs’s most recent work, Undrowned, offers fascinating insights into new forms of togetherness—among ourselves and our environment.”
On the Verso books blog, Mark Neocleous selected Christopher Chitty’s Sexual Hegemony as his best book of the year, saying it was “a nuanced rethinking of Foucault’s relation to Marx and Marxism.”
Writing in The Millions about the best books she read this year, Arianna Rebolini said Magical Habits by Monica Huerta was “much-needed reminder that there are countless ways to tell a story, and that a book can be whatever you want it to be.”
If you haven’t already, we hope you will seek out some of these highly recommended books!
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.
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: 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.
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.
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.