Cultural Studies

Best Books of 2021

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.” 

The New York Times’s Holland Cotter put the Virginia Museum of Fine Art’s The Dirty South on his list of the best art exhibitions of the year, and the catalog, which we distribute, on his list of the best art books of the year. He says, “The book vividly illustrates and deepens the show’s powerful argument.” Cotter also named Lorraine O’Grady’s Brooklyn Museum retrospective, Both/And as one of the year’s best exhibitions, and said her 2020 book Writing in Space, 1973-2019 was “a vital supplement to the show.” You can catch The Dirty South at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston through February 6 and Both/And at Greensboro’s Weatherspoon Art Museum from January 4-April 30, 2022.

Writing in Bookforum’s Best Books of 2021 feature, Elias Rodriques said The Long Emancipation by Rinaldo Walcott “gave [him] new tools to think with in Black studies.”

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.”

Christianity Today selected Chosen Peoples by Christopher Tounsel as a finalist for its best History and Biography book of the year.

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!

The Most Read Articles of 2021

As 2021 comes to a close, we’re reflecting on the most read articles across all our journals. Check out the top 10 articles that made the list, all freely available until the end of January.

Instafame: Luxury Selfies in the Attention Economy” by Alice E. Marwick
Public Culture no. 75

Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin” by Donna Haraway
Environmental Humanities volume 6, issue 1

Solidarity Not Charity: Mutual Aid for Mobilization and Survival” by Dean Spade
Social Text no. 142

Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959)” by Shamus Khan
Public Culture no. 91

Necropolitics” by Achille Mbembe
Public Culture volume 15, issue 1

Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (1983)” by Manu Goswami
Public Culture no. 91

Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” by Cathy J. Cohen
GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies volume 3, issue 4

All Power to All People?: Black LGBTTI2QQ Activism, Remembrance, and Archiving in Toronto” by Syrus Marcus Ware
TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly volume 4, issue 2

Radical Care: Survival Strategies for Uncertain Times” by Hi‘ilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani Hobart and Tamara Kneese
Social Text no. 142

Young Adults’ Migration to Cities in Sweden: Do Siblings Pave the Way?” by Clara H. Mulder, Emma Lundholm, and Gunnar Malmberg
Demography volume 57, issue 6

New Books in December

The year’s wrapping up: grab our last books of 2021! 

Trouillot RemixedTrouillot Remixed gathers work from Haitian anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot, including his most famous, lesser known, and hard to find writings. Together, they demonstrate Trouillot’s enduring importance to Caribbean studies, anthropology, history, postcolonial studies, and politically engaged scholarship more broadly. The volume is edited by Yarimar Bonilla, Greg Beckett, and Mayanthi L. Fernando.

In Multisituated, Kaushik Sunder Rajan proposes a reconceptualization of ethnography as a multisituated practice that speaks to the myriad communities of accountability and the demands of doing and teaching anthropology in the twenty-first century.

In Plantation Life, Tania Murray Li and Pujo Semedi examine the structure and governance of contemporary palm oil plantations in Indonesia, showing how massive forms of capitalist production and control over the palm oil industry replicate colonial-style relations that undermine citizenship.

 

Media Hot and ColdIn Media Hot and Cold, Nicole Starosielski examines the cultural dimensions of temperature and the history of thermal media such as thermostats and infrared cameras to theorize the ways heat and cold can be used as a means of communication, subjugation, and control.

In African Ecomedia, Cajetan Iheka examines the ecological footprint of media in Africa alongside the representation of environmental issues in visual culture; in doing so, he shows how African visual media such as film, photography, and sculpture deliver a unique perspective on the socio-ecological costs of media production.

In On Living with Television, Amy Holdsworth recounts her life with television to trace how the medium shapes everyday activities, our relationships with others, and our sense of time.

Toward Camden

 

In Toward Camden, Mercy Romero writes a complex and vibrant story about the largely African American and Puerto Rican Cramer Hill neighborhood in New Jersey where she grew up.

In Becoming Palestine, Gil Z. Hochberg examines how contemporary Palestinian artists, filmmakers, dancers, and activists use the archive in order to radically imagine Palestine’s future.

Never miss a new book! Sign up for our e-mail newsletters, and get notifications of new titles in your preferred disciplines as well as discounts and other news.

 

New Books in November

Fall in love with our new November releases!

978-1-4780-1492-8In Multisituated, Kaushik Sunder Rajan proposes a reconceptualization of ethnography as a multisituated practice that speaks to the myriad communities of accountability and the demands of doing and teaching anthropology in the twenty-first century.

In See How We Roll, Melinda Hinkson follows the experiences of Nungarrayi, a Warlpiri woman from the central Australian desert, as she struggles to establish a new life for herself in the city of Adelaide.

Tani Barlow’s In the Event of Women outlines the stakes of what she calls “the event of women” in China—the discovery of the truth that women are the reproductive equivalent of men. This book reconsiders Alain Badiou’s concept of the event; particularly the question of whose political moment marks newly discovered truths.

Venkat_pbk_and_litho_covers.inddIn At the Limits of Cure, Bharat Jayram Venkat draws on historical and ethnographic research on tuberculosis in India, exploring what it means to be cured and what it means for a cure to be partial, temporary, or selectively effective.

The contributors to Cocaine, edited by Enrique Desmond Arias and Thomas Grisaffi, analyze the contemporary production, transit, and consumption of cocaine throughout Latin America and the illicit economy’s entanglement with local communities.

In Disaffected, Xine Yao explores the racial and sexual politics of unfeeling—affects such as coldness, insensitivity and sexual frigidity that are not recognized as feeling—as a means of survival and refusal for people of color and queer people in nineteenth-century America.

In Stories That Make History, Lynn Stephen examines the writing of Elena Poniatowska, showing how it shaped Mexican political discourse and provides a unique way of understanding contemporary Mexican history, politics, and culture.

In The Lettered Barriada, Jorell A. Meléndez-Badillo tells the story of how a cluster of self-educated workers burst into Puerto Rico’s world of letters in the aftermath of the 1898 US occupation, showing how they produced, negotiated, and deployed powerful discourses that eventually shaped Puerto Rico’s national mythology.

978-1-4780-1471-3Edited by Charlotte Brunsdon, Writings on Media collects Stuart Hall’s most important work on the media, reaffirming reaffirms his stature as an innovative media theorist while demonstrating the continuing relevance of his methods of analysis.

The contributors to Anthropology, Film Industries, Modularity, edited by Ramyar D. Rossoukh and Steven C. Caton, take an anthropological and comparative approach to capturing the diversity and growth of global film industries, bringing into relief common film production practices as well as the local contingencies and deeper cultural realities at work in every film industry.

In Hegemonic Mimicry, Kyung Hyun Kim considers the recent global success of Korean popular culture—the Korean wave of pop music, cinema, and television also known as hallyu—from a transnational and transcultural perspective.
 
Matthew H. Brown’s Indirect Subjects explores the connections between Nigeria’s booming film industry, state television, and colonial legacies that together involve spectators in global capitalism while denying them its privileges.
 
 
978-1-4780-1456-0
In Loss and Wonder at the World’s End, Laura A. Ogden considers a wide range of people, animal, and objects together as a way to catalog the ways environmental change and colonial history are entangled in the Fuegian Archipelago of southernmost Chile and Argentina.
 
The contributors to Decay, edited by Ghassan Hage, attend to the processes and experiences of symbolic and material forms of decay in a variety of sociopolitical contexts across the globe.
 
In Radiation Sounds, Jessica A. Schwartz examines the seventy-five years of Marshallese music developed in response to the United States’ nuclear weapons testing on their homeland, showing how Marshallese singing practices make heard the harmful effects of US nuclear violence.
 
Drawing on literature along with the visual and performing arts, Anthony B. Pinn’s Interplay of Things theorizes religion as a technology for interrogating human experiences understanding the ways in which things are always involved in processes of exchange and interplay.
 

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.

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.

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. 

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

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

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

Until now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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