Cultural Studies

“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.

Farewell to Lauren Berlant

berlant1We are deeply sorry to learn of the death of theorist Lauren Berlant following a long illness. Berlant was the author or editor of six books with us. They were also a founding editor of the series Writing Matters! and Theory Q and a contributor to many edited collections and journal issues. 

Berlant was George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago, where they taught since 1984. Their first title with us was The Queen of American Goes to Washington City (1997), which Judith Butler called “a keen and disarming book.” They followed it up with The Female Complaint (2008) and then with Cruel Optimism (2011), which became their most popular book, reaching outside the academy and inspiring art and even a punk song. Writing in The Progressive, queer humorist Kate Clinton said, “If you are looking for some new language to use to describe the current crisis of hope, read Cruel Optimism. . . . It is a wild, deeply witty examination of our attachments to food, love, politics, family, and pop culture.” Berlant’s most recent book was Reading Sedgwick (2019), an edited collection on the work of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.

978-0-8223-5111-5_prCruel Optimism was the winner of the American Comparative Literature Association 2012 Rene Wellek Award. In 2019, Berlant received the  Hubbell Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the American Literature Section of Modern Language Association. They were also a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Berlant contributed to a number of our journals, including Social Text, SAQ, the minnesota review, and Public Culture. We have made their 2012 interview in Qui Parle freely available until September 2021.

Berlant especially liked working collaboratively and published two co-written books with us, Sex, or the Unbearable (2013), with Lee Edelman, and The Hundreds (2019), with Kathleen Stewart. In an interview with UChicago News, Berlant said, “Other people’s minds are amazing. Collaboration is like a super-intensified version of teaching, where you and somebody else are working something out, and you’re building on each other—but you’re also just missing each other. There’s the complete joy of the ‘not me.’ Seeing somebody else at work, seeing somebody else’s generativity and seeing how, together, you can compose things that neither of you could have done by yourself.” Stewart says of Berlant, “Lauren held a door in the world open for so many of us. Now we shoulder on, in gratitude. The outpouring of love from everywhere is the biggest testimony to Lauren’s beauty and impact.”

The HundredsNot long after the publication of The Hundreds, Berlant was profiled by Hua Hsu in The New Yorker, an unusual honor for an academic, and a testament to the huge reach of Berlant’s work. Writing about The Hundreds, Hsu says, “In Berlant and Stewart’s hands, affect theory provides a way of understanding the sensations and resignations of the present, the normalized exhaustion that comes with life in the new economy. It is a way of framing uniquely modern questions.” 

Around the Press, those who worked with Berlant are deeply mourning the loss. Senior Executive Editor Ken Wissoker said, “I’ve known Lauren since shortly after they arrived at the University of Chicago in the mid-1980s. Lauren had a singularly brilliant mind, questioning their own thoughts mid-sentence in pursuit of a better account.  In book after book Lauren advanced a fully connected project, one with deep political commitments, but one that could never be fully known in advance. One of the greatest theorists of their generation— someone always generously reaching out to smart younger scholars—it was the greatest privilege to be their publisher and friend.”

Design Manager Amy Ruth Buchanan designed many of Berlant’s books, including the now iconic cover for Cruel Optimism. She says, “Lauren Berlant was one of the kindest, smartest, and most appreciative and generous authors a publisher could hope to work with. I am so sad to learn of their passing.”

Executive Editor Courtney Berger says, “Lauren was a fierce intellectual who relentlessly challenged our assumptions about gender, sex, nation, and feeling. Lauren was also an incredibly generous collaborator who sought out opportunities to think alongside and in conversation with others. Even as they dwelled on the structural violence and difficulties of thriving in a world dominated by capitalism, racism, and sexism, Lauren saw the potential for us to radically transform our relationship to the world and to ourselves. Lauren was a wit, who liked to share and hear new jokes. They loved cats, silly cat photos, and elaborate cat furniture. And they could always direct you to the best vegan food in town. Above all, Lauren was a friend and a comrade, and I will miss them terribly.”

Berger has been working with Berlant on their final book, On the Inconvenience of Other People. Berlant turned the manuscript in just a few weeks before their death and we expect to publish it in Fall 2022. In the new book Berlant considers how we might “loosen” our relations to the objects and situations that we are unhappily attached to in a way that might transform our political conditions and create new life worlds.

For three decades, we have been honored to publish the groundbreaking work of Lauren Berlant. We will miss them as a scholar, a collaborator, and a friend. Our condolences go out to all of Lauren’s friends, family, and colleagues, and especially to their partner Ian Horswill.

New Books in June

Looking for some summer reading? Check out the great new titles we have coming out in June!

Jennifer L. Morgan draws on the lived experiences of enslaved African women in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries in Reckoning with Slavery to reveal the contours of early modern notions of trade, race, and commodification in the Black Atlantic.

In Decolonizing Memory, Jill Jarvis examines the crucial role that writers and artists have played in cultivating historical memory and nurturing political resistance in Algeria, showing how literature offers the unique ability to reckon with colonial violence and to render the experiences of those marginalized by the state.

The contributors to Beyond Man, edited by An Yountae and Eleanor Craig, reckon with the colonial and racial implications of the philosophy of religion’s history by staging a conversation between it and Black, Indigenous, and decolonial studies.

In Around the Day in Eighty Worlds, Martin Savransky draws on the pragmatic pluralism of William James and the ontological turn in anthropology to propose a “pluralistic realism”—an understanding of ontology in which at any given time the world is both one and many, ongoing and unfinished.

In How to Go Mad Without Losing Your Mind, La Marr Jurelle Bruce ponders the presence of “madness” in black literature, music, and performance since the early twentieth century, showing how artist ranging from Kendrick Lamar and Lauryn Hill to Nina Simone and Dave Chappelle activate madness as content, form, aesthetic, strategy, philosophy, and energy in an enduring black radical tradition.

Việt Lê examines contemporary art in Cambodia and Việt Nam in Return Engagements to trace the entwinement of militarization, trauma, diaspora, and modernity in Southeast Asian art.

In Images of Beirut, Hatim El-Hibri explores how the creation and circulation of images has shaped the urban spaces and cultural imaginaries of Beirut, showing how images can be used to consolidate or destabilize regimes of power.

Editors Diana Paton and Matthew J. Smith combine more than one hundred classic and lesser-known texts in The Jamaica Reader to present a panoramic history of the country—from its pre-contact Indigenous origins to the present—and provide an unparalleled look at Jamaica’s history, culture, and politics.

In Colonial Debts, Rocío Zambrana uses the current political-economic moment in Puerto Rico to outline how debt functions as both an apparatus that strengthens neoliberalism and the island’s colonial relation to the United States.

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

The contributors to Words and Worlds, edited by Veena Das and Didier Fassin, examine the state of politics and the political imaginary within contemporary societies by taking up the everyday words such as democracy, revolution, and populism that we use to understand the political present.

A concise, easy-to-understand reference book, the revised and updated second edition of the bestselling All about Your Eyes tells you what you need to know to care for your eyes, various eye diseases and treatments, and what to expect from your eye doctor. The editors, Sharon Fekrat, Tanya S. Glaser, and Henry L. Feng are all physicians at the world-renown Duke Eye Center.

In an indispensable guide for all ethnographers, the editors of Experimenting with Ethnography, Andrea Ballestero and Brit Ross Winthereik, collect twenty-one essays that offer concrete suggestions for thinking about and doing ethnographic research and writing.

The contributors to Sound Alignments, edited by Michael K. Bourdaghs, Paola Iovene, and Kaley Mason, explore the myriad forms of popular music in Asia during the Cold War, showing how it took on new meanings and significance as it traveled across the region and forged and challenged alliances, revolutions, and countercultures.

Shaoling Ma examines late Qing China’s political upheavals and modernizing energies through the problem of the dynamics between new media technologies such as the telegraph the discursive representations of them in The Stone and the Wireless.

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.

Welcoming liquid blackness to Duke University Press

We are excited to announce that “liquidity,” the first issue of the open-access journal liquid blackness: journal of aesthetics and black studies published by Duke University Press, is now available. Start reading “liquidity” here.

In this inaugural Duke University Press issue—the first of three on the journal’s foundational concepts of “liquidity,” “blackness,” and “aesthetics”—leading voices in Black studies and beyond reflect on the conceptual and practical possibilities and shortcomings of Black liquidity. Conceived as a musical ensemble and framed by a lyrical history of the liquid blackness research group’s method, practice, and praxis, the issue gathers the work of theorists and practitioners spanning different modes of intellectual inquiry and champions experimentalism as a theoretical and artistic practice. In doing so, the issue unflinchingly addresses the entanglement between race, capital, and the constitution of the modern subject as well as the jurisgenerativity of liquid aesthetic practices and their unruly archives—all within the context of what Toni Morrison described as the liquidity of the Black arts.

liquid blackness, edited by Alessandra Raengo and Lauren McLeod Cramer, seeks to carve out a place for aesthetic theory and the most radical agenda of Black studies to come together in productive ways, with the goal of attending to the aesthetic work of Blackness and the political work of form. In this way, the journal develops innovative approaches to address points of convergence between the exigencies of Black life and the many slippery ways in which Blackness is encountered in contemporary sonic and visual culture. The journal showcases a variety of scholarly modes, including audio-visual work and experimental and traditional essays. It aims to explore who can do theory (scholars, artists, activists, individuals, and ensembles), how theory can be done (in image, writing, archiving, curating, social activism), and what a Black aesthetic object is (“high”/“low” art, sound and image, practice and praxis).

Sign up to receive email alerts when a new issue of liquid blackness is published.

Exploring “Viral Culture”

Today’s guest post is authored by Mark Featherstone and John Armitage, editors of the new Cultural Politics issue “Viral Culture.” Learn more about “Viral Culture” or purchase the issue here.

In this blog post we want to explain the originality and relevance of the idea of ‘viral culture’, which we explore in the special issue of Cultural Politics devoted to the idea. However, before we talk about originality, it is important to note that it is possible to find precursors to what we are calling ‘viral culture’ in the work of a number of writers who understood what was happening with processes of globalisation and informationalisation from the 1960s onwards. It is important to acknowledge their influence upon our theory of ‘viral culture’ because in a sense what we have done is picked up the debates they started and explored them in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In looking for these influences we might track back as far as the 1960s and think about Jacques Derrida’s early work. In his early works, such as Of Grammatology, Derrida was interested in the informationalisation of biology through the discovery of DNA and communication processes filtered through computers that translated meaningful language into mathematical symbols. In his view this transformed everything, what he spoke about in terms of ‘the living’, into a kind of text that was endlessly on the move and fundamentally unfinished and unfinishable. In much the same way that one never finishes writing, Derrida saw that reproduction is endless and really represents the transmission or communication of DNA code to a new generation through sexual contact. This final point about sexual contact and the combination of DNA in the formation of a new person or animal was very important for Derrida because it represented communication and the emergence of new life, new meaning, and new possibilities. As the new is born, so the old must die out. This is why in his later works he writes about auto-immunity, which really means maintaining openness to the other through opposition to processes immunity that seek to shut down communication.

Now, of course, the problem we are facing today in the world of Covid-19 is that auto-immunity has become a serious problem. We need immunity and cannot afford the immune system to attack itself or become confused, which is precisely what happens in the case of the ‘cytokline storm’ that seems to be a major cause of death in cases of Covid-19. In straightforward terms what this means is that a lack of immunity and an excess of openness to otherness has now become a serious threat. The virus itself is clear evidence of this problem. Unlike complex organisms that reproduce through sexual contact, the virus simply replicates, and in this respect represents the strange form of life Freud wrote about in his famous essay Beyond the Pleasure Principle, which was coincidentally written in the teeth of the Spanish flu epidemic that killed his daughter Sophie one hundred years ago in 1920. While complex organisms, humans and animals, live, reproduce, and die, the virus represents endless life that simply repeats itself and therefore never dies. It does not need otherness. Having said that, the catch is that the virus needs a host to replicate, which is precisely why we need immunity to save ourselves from infection.

If this concern for immunity is what is missing from Derrida’s work, precisely because he is always looking to defend the principle of difference and communication, another French writer Jean Baudrillard clearly understood the problem of virulence in his book, The Transparency of Evil, translated into English in 1993. For Baudrillard, the Derridean universe of difference and communication, a universe of intertextuality, is a universe of virulence and contagion. In other words, Baudrillard saw that we cannot live in a world of globalised communication and information exchange without tipping over into excess and the production of what he calls evil and we might talk about in terms of diseases such as Covid-19 that represent the dark side of what happens when processes of globalisation enter a kind of terminal phase. What we mean by this idea of ‘a terminal phase’ is that everything that once represented communication and freedom, such as long-distance travel and meeting people from distant places, now threatens our very existence and causes us to look for ways to immunise ourselves from the outside. We know all about the forms this tendency to immunisation takes today—vaccine nationalism, the closure of borders, endless testing, masks, and interminable lockdowns—and we can learn more about the long-range impacts of this shift to suspicion of the other when we read Michel Foucault’s works, such as Madness and Civilization, which contains a discussion of ‘the great confinement’ and the emergence of disciplinary attitudes towards difference.

This is the tradition of thought that our concept of ‘viral culture’ draws upon in the context of the current global pandemic. ‘Viral culture’ represents the situation we find ourselves in somewhere between Derrida’s concern to recognise difference and accept the other and Baudrillard’s understanding of virulence and the emergence of a globalisation of evil symptoms that infect every aspect of life, which is precisely what we seek to address in our collection.

While the biological impact of the pandemic is clear because we are all susceptible to disease, Covid-19 has also transformed the political sphere that is now caught between a defence of liberal values and harsh authoritarian measures designed to protect us from the other. The same problem impacts economy and economics. The choice is between liberalisation and a model of state centralisation that now looks increasingly realistic. Similarly, the social world is torn between sociability and a need to maintain distance and sever the connection between self and other with the result that many fall into loneliness and suffer related mental health issues. Finally, the cultural sphere, the place where meaning itself is negotiated, is, we think, the privileged space where these decisions are thought through, worked out, and negotiated. Now we must recognise that every one of these decisions is political, and it is a mistake, as Bernard-Henri Levy notes, to simply let techno-science tell us that they are only about biological health, because we cannot remain immune, immunised, from the other for ever more. This is why this issue of Cultural Politics is not simply about Covid-19 in a narrow sense, but rather ‘viral culture’ and the range of problems that living under Covid has forced us to have to confront. In this respect the originality of our collection resides in the way we explore the cultural politics, and the politics of meaning, around the Covid pandemic from a range of perspectives making use of a wide variety of disciplinary perspectives. What, then, is the wider relevance of the concept of ‘viral culture’ for understanding the contemporary moment?

(more…)

New Books in April

Check out the great new titles we have coming out in April!

Right Here Right NowIn Right Here, Right Now, Lynden Harris collects the powerful first-person stories of dozens of men who are living on death row in the United States, offering a glimpse into the lives of some of the most marginalized people in America. Watch the trailer.

Rafico Ruiz uses the Grenfell Mission in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, to theorize how settler colonialism establishes itself through the building, maintenance, and mediation of site-specific infrastructure in Slow Disturbance.

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

Hentyle Yapp analyzes contemporary Chinese art as it circulates on the global art market to outline the limitations of the predominant narratives that currently frame understandings of non-Western art in Minor China. Join an online book launch for Minor China on April 15.

We are excited to be bringing out two new volumes in the Stuart Hall: Selected Writings series. Selected Writings on Marxism, edited by Gregor McLennan, collects Stuart Hall’s key writings on Marxism surveys the formative questions central to his interpretations of and investments in Marxist theory and practice.

Race and DifferenceAnd in Selected Writings on Race and Difference, Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Paul Gilroy gather more than twenty essays by Stuart Hall that highlight his extensive and groundbreaking engagement with race, representation, identity, difference, and diaspora.

The contributors to Religion, Secularism, and Political Belonging, edited by Leerom Medovoi and Elizabeth Bentley, examine how the new political worlds that are emerging—from Trump’s America to the post-Arab-Spring Middle East—intersect with locally specific articulations of religion and secularism.

Todne Thomas explores the internal dynamics of community life among black evangelicals and the ways they create spiritual relationships through the practice of Kincraft—the construction of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, partners in prayer, and spiritual mothers, fathers, and children.

Edited and translated by Ilinca Iurascu, Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, and Michael Wutz, Operation Valhalla collects eighteen texts by German media theorist Friedrich Kittler on the close connections between war and media technology.

Eating in TheoryAnnmarie Mol reassess notions of human being and becoming by thinking through the activity of eating, showing how eating is a lively practice bound up with our identities, actions, politics, and senses of belonging in the world in Eating in Theory.

Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu examines the legacies of the Vietnam War on contemporary ideas about race and beauty, in Experiments in Skin, showing how US wartime efforts to alleviate the environmental and chemical risks to soldiers’ skin has impacted how contemporary Vietnamese women use pharmaceutical cosmetics to repair the damage from the war’s lingering toxicity.

The Long EmancipationRinaldo Walcott posits that Black people globally live in the time of emancipation and that emancipation is definitely not freedom in The Long Emancipation, showing that wherever Black people have been emancipated from slavery and colonization, a potential freedom became thwarted.

Drawing on Black feminism, Afro-pessimism, and critical race theory, the contributors to Antiblackness, Moon-Kie Jung and João H. Costa-Vargas,trace the forms of antiblackness across time and space, showing how the dehumanization of Black people has been foundational to the establishment of modernity.

Thomas Aiello traces the complicated and fascinating life of pioneering journalist, television host, bestselling author, and important yet overlooked civil rights figure in The Life and Times of Louis Lomax. Lomax became one of the most influential voices of the civil rights movement despite his past as an ex-con, serial liar, and publicity-seeking provocateur.

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.

Tyler Denmead, Author of The Creative Underclass, Announces Online Tour

795842BA-02E5-4E99-8F7B-2779D8EB5ECETyler Denmead is author of The Creative Underclass: Youth, Race, and the Gentrifying City (2019). He teaches in the Faculty of Education and Queens’ College at the University of Cambridge. As the pandemic cut short his planned travel to discuss the book with audiences in both the UK and US, Denmead is now planning an online tour. Below he discusses how the book came to be and announces the tour dates.

The Creative Underclass is not the book I planned to write when I returned to New Urban Arts in 2012 as an educational ethnographer. It had been 5 years since I left the studio in Providence, Rhode Island as its founding director. I wanted to return to the studio, however, because I was still puzzled by the studio’s pedagogic conditions, or “the magic” as so many youth participants and artists put it. It was still unclear to me what this magic was, why this magic mattered, or how this magic might be useful to community arts programs elsewhere.

Creative Underclass_withborderThe Center for Public Humanities at Brown University provided me the opportunity to return to New Urban Arts as a post-doctoral fellow to study this magic. Rather than raising money and facilitating committee meetings, I had the the privilege of hanging out with teenagers and the artists that supported them. I could participate in their collective artmaking and the studio’s vibrant social life. I could talk to them about why their artmaking mattered to them and how they interpreted the studio’s pedagogic conditions.

Several unexpected events happened that prevented me from writing that familiar book. First, in my ethnographic encounters, I confronted a double bind reported by some former youth participants. Some noted the transformational power of New Urban Arts in their own lives, while also expressing their concern that the studio functioned as a gentrifying force in their neighborhood. This insight forced me to consider what role educational institutions (and therefore my educational leadership) play in white gentrification.

As I turned my attention to this analysis, anti-gentrification protests erupted across the United States as a prominent feature of Black Lives Matter protests. These protests targeted the threats that whiteness pose to Black life through policing, mass incarceration, neighborhood displacement, and state-led urban renewal projects.

With these protests, as well as constructive criticism of readers and friends, I started to write a reflexive book that begins from my position as the urban problem. I thus situated the magic of New Urban Arts in relation to racializing discourses that positioned me as a good white creative and youth of color as urban problems in need of transformation through creativity. I formulated the concept of the creative underclass to not only illuminate this problematic discourse and its role in mobilising white gentrification, but also how young people contested it through their creative disobedience, through the magic of New Urban Arts.

The concept of the creative underclass is clearly in conversation with Richard Florida’s creative class. Florida’s influential ideas were discussed and critiqued exhaustively in and beyond the academy in the 1990s and 2000s. Not surprisingly, the perspectives, experiences, and practices of young people of color were largely absent from those debates. Since then, attention on this topic have ebbed. After the 2007 financial crisis and Ferguson, vague commitments to creativity as a panacea for social and economic problems can no longer succeed like it used to in mobilizing a political bloc with diverging ideological interests.

Nonetheless, the troubling nexus of urban property development, arts and culture, and educational institutions was not new in the 1990s and it continues today. In the United States, this nexus is central to the expansive and possessive logics of whiteness itself. I hope The Creative Underclass accounts for the creative and critical practices of young people at New Urban Arts in ways that make us better equipped to engage directly with, and potentially transform, ongoing racial and economic injustices in the city.

Read the introduction to The Creative Underclass and save 30% on the paperback with coupon E19DENMD. Denmead has launched a virtual book tour beginning in March 2021, presenting ethnographic snapshots from The Creative Underclass in public lectures and student seminars. If you are interested in hosting a private class talk or public lecture, please contact the author at td287@cam.ac.uk.

Upcoming public events:

24 March 2021, 5pm EDT
Hosted by the Centre for Study of Learning and Performance at Concordia University
Register in advance: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-creative-underclass-youth-race-and-the-gentrifying-city-tickets-145093591839 

25th March 2021, 12:30 pm GMT
Hosted by the Critical Childhood Studies Research Group at University College London
Register in advance for this talk: https://ucl.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJYlcOCsqDkrEtxjyOwn3Tlyd_qzHW1SVsRg

16 April 2021, 11 am EDT
Hosted by the Barnett Symposium Virtual Speaker Series at the Department of Arts Education, Administration, and Policy at Ohio State University
See www.tylerdenmead.org for registration details.

April 21, 2021 12:30 pm EDT
Hosted by Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia
Register in advance for this talk: https://art.uga.edu/events/tyler-denmead-book-talk-creative-underclass-youth-race-and-gentrifying-city

Q&A with Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez, author of Empire’s Mistress, Starring Isabel Rosario Cooper

Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez is Professor of American Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, author of Securing Paradise: Tourism and Militarism in Hawai‘i and the Philippines, and coeditor of Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawai‘i. Her latest book is Empire’s Mistress, Starring Isabel Rosario Cooper, which follows the life of Filipina vaudeville and film actress Isabel Rosario Cooper, who was the mistress of General Douglas MacArthur, to explore the contours of empire as experienced on the scale of personal relationships.

If most people know anything about Isabel Rosario Cooper, it’s that she was General Douglas MacArthur’s mistress. In footnotes to most histories, she is portrayed as a tragic figure, “a beautiful woman who died of heartbreak.” What made you want to tell her story more fully?

This kind of feminine figuration has always served as camouflage for complexity, a shorthand that feeds into and is fed by a colonial fantasy of brown women longing for white men, as well as narrative desire for familiar tropes. This version of Isabel Cooper’s story is not in the footnotes: it is front and center because it’s the comfortable and typical characterization of “women like her.” When I started to dig into the footnotes of MacArthur biographies, I discovered a kind of recursive pattern that boiled down to a reliance on repeated citations of sources that had somehow become authoritative evidence for her story. What became clear was that these sources that were more hearsay or even outright inaccurate had circulated enough times that they had hardened into truth—in particular the version that revolved around the General as her object of yearning and heartbreak had become the standard. The work of postcolonial feminist scholars has taught us that of course there’s something more operating beneath the flattened image of dead, beautiful, heartbroken women, something more than “MacArthur’s mistress.” The short interludes that bothered to portray Isabel Cooper in MacArthur biographies and their suspect footnotes that were cited as evidence didn’t match up to this work.

Empire's MistressThere’s also a way in which stories like hers are dismissed as unworthy in the sense that her biggest known “accomplishment” is sleeping with MacArthur—often read as betrayal at worst, or venal at most—another way to marginalize women’s stories. At the same time, I did not want to dismiss her sexual agency, because to some degree, that was crucial to the kind of power and identity she wielded. From the great work that has been done on the early colonial period in the Philippines, particularly on the “woman question,” we know that the lives of Filipinas were complex, cosmopolitan, and often grappled with the contradictions engendered by the shifts in colonial society. I wanted to tell her story more fully because it deserved to be told with the same kind of effort in terms of research and writing as stories of men like MacArthur, and I felt that it would be a good vehicle to also interweave a parallel account about archives and genres, and the ways in which both open and up and foreclose how we learn to narrate ourselves.

You choose not to structure your book chronologically like a traditional biography. Instead you begin with her relationship with MacArthur and then jump around in time. You also feature documents, pictures and imagined letters and conversations in between your chapters. Why did you choose this structure? How does it help tell Cooper’s story more fully?

It took me a while to figure out how to tell her story. I knew I needed to include elements of biography—because so little of her life is actually known, and the broader historical context of her story is unfamiliar to most readers—so some part of this had to be fleshed out. But I also knew that I didn’t want to present an account that was somehow whole or authoritative or forthright, like an exhumation or an explanation, because I didn’t want to repeat the pattern of how she has been narrated in such an overdetermined way. I did begin with a chronological draft, but this structure felt like it didn’t make room for the ways in which patterns repeated themselves in her life, or how a particular part of her story (the MacArthur interlude) pre-empts others. It felt inert—and so I began with her death, because so much of what is written about her pivots on the suicide of this beautiful woman, and the half-truths or outright lies that adhered to it. I also foregrounded her time with MacArthur in the narrative, a bit perversely, because I wanted to arrest the desire to center MacArthur and frame him as the “reveal” of the story later on in the book. I felt like that the strange enticement of that infamous scandal was not something I wanted the reader to be invested in. The few years of her life during which she associated with MacArthur has come to define her and how she’s narrated: it’s the hook that draws most people to her story, but I didn’t want it operate as the climax of the narrative. It is certainly not the main driving force of her life, even as it is often characterized this way. I try to make the case that this moment is more an effect, rather than a cause.

The overall structure of the book also pulls from the protracted, piecemeal, and interrupted process of my research into her life, and from the sometimes-unexpected and last-minute way that new sources would shift a whole arc I had neatly mapped out. The sparseness and inaccuracy of the existing writing and archival materials on Isabel Cooper resists that neat and orderly biographical narrative: there are so many moments that are lost to history because of lack of documentation, and in her case, contradiction, inconsistency, absence, or outright error in whatever records can be pieced together. So that’s another story in itself: the colonial archive’s promises and secrets. I was struck by how so much of the narrative about her is fictional (in the sense of repeated inaccuracies), and as I dug deeper, how much of this fiction she also perpetrated. It gave me permission to speculate about moments that might not have documentation, or to invent, as she did, stories about herself.

Cooper goes by many different names in her life, from Dimples as a child performer, to Chabing Cooper, Elizabeth Cooper, and Belle Cooper, to a married name of Isabel Kennamer. Why does Cooper constantly rename herself and shift her identity?

To me, this was a strategy that was tied to moments in her life where she was reinventing herself, or starting over. She was someone who had, at a very young age, entered the world of the stage and screen, so taking on roles was a habit she never dropped. It was something she also learned from her mother, to some extent. But she also had really distinct periods in her life: she crossed the Pacific several times, experienced very diverse living conditions, married twice, had affairs, and made big choices about her career. I think renaming herself gave her some modicum of control over conditions that were far beyond her power to manage, and later on, allowed for her to have a clean slate when so much of her past tended to creep up on her unexpectedly due the lingering effects of US imperialism. As a researcher, this made tracking her occasionally tricky: it felt sometimes that these past decisions on her part were also about refusing an easy narration on mine. It forced me to pause and think about what went into her decisions to go by a particular name at different points in her life.

You say that “sex, and lots of it, defined the colonial encounter.” How does focusing on intimate relationships like that of Cooper and MacArthur change the way we view colonial history?

I owe so much of this work to postcolonial feminists who understand the intimate as a site of colonial power, and to work by Philippine Studies and Filipinx diaspora studies scholars in particular who have explored how sex and sexuality operated in the US-Philippine colonial world. My ability to tell Isabel Cooper’s story is built on that foundational research, and my claim is not new. What I try to shed a bit of light on is how the contradictions of American claims to benevolence and discourses of superiority break down when you look at how empire played out through relationships between people. So many of the colonial encounters turned on sex—the archives are filled with both overt confessions, allusions, or outright mentions of sexually transmitted diseases or decisions about the management of sex work. It’s dirty reading at times. I was interested in the messiness of transactions that revolved around sex or were defined through sexual exchange, as well as how the racial carnal desires at the heart of empire shaped relations well after the actual arrangement or encounter occurred. Who had the upper hand in these kinds of arrangements or coercions was not always clear, and that made for a fascinating dynamic to explore. Isabel Cooper operated within this colonial milieu and the ways she understood, navigated, and leveraged it gives us a sense of the push and pull, and the possibilities and limits of human agency and creativity at a more intimate scale of empire.

What can we learn about Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s from Cooper’s story? How does centering the experiences of non-white actors change the way we think about this era and its films?

I don’t know that we learn much more than we already know about how the Hollywood gambit was a story about deep disappointment for non-white actors in the 1940s and 1950s. For all the Anna May Wongs and Philip Ahns who carved out some kind of a career against and alongside the deep racism and sexism that defined Hollywood culture, there were hundreds of aspirants like Isabel Cooper whose willing and strategic self-exoticizations fell far short of any kind of living. It is probably safer to say that Cooper supplemented her income with her film acting roles but supported herself mainly from nightclub work. The casual mention of casting couch culture, or the matter-of-fact ways she tried to position herself for “Oriental” roles or parts for which she could make a racial stretch was evident in the letters that she wrote during that time, as well as in the industry literature itself. In some ways, her experience was more the rule, rather than the exception that gets written about.

How have artists and people of Filipino descent remembered and reimagined Isabel Rosario Cooper? What does her legacy mean to people today?

For most Filipinos, Isabel Cooper first registers as MacArthur’s mistress, with all the titillation and scandal that entails. This is why interest around her endures. In so many ways, this bit of her story feeds into the melodramatic habits that characterizes some of Hollywood/Manila cinema of her time, as well the theater of everyday politics in the Filipino diaspora. She is also known to some extent as a performer on stage and screen. Filipino cinema is just a bit over a century old, so there has been renewed interest in its pioneers—and as a crossover vaudeville star who made a big early impression in the first “modern” Filipino silent films, Isabel Cooper (she went by Elizabeth Cooper in film) is noteworthy.

Over the course of my research and writing, I also encountered visual artists (one of whom I write about), and writers (both fiction and non-fiction) who grapple with the kinds of narratives that adhere to Isabel Cooper. I think she continues to attract this kind of interest because when you dig deep enough, there’s a lot more to her story beyond the superficiality of MacArthur’s mistress that is typically the first draw. I look to these interpretations as retellings that reveal the inadequacy of the “mistress” framework. My purpose in the book is not to supplant or supersede any of these creative encounters with her, but rather to shake up the assumptions that produce a particular narrative account that is a habit of imperial culture, and one that clearly is not enough to contain her.

Read the introduction to Empire’s Mistress, Starring Isabel Rosario Cooper and save 30% on the paperback with coupon E21GNZLZ.

 

New Books in February

Winter is a great time to curl up with a good book. In February we have notable titles in media studies, critical race studies, and more!

Universal Tonality Jazz critic and historian Cisco Bradley tells the story of the life and music of bassist and composer William Parker in Universal Tonality, which documents fifty years of the monumental figure’s life in free jazz. Be sure to join us for a live online event featuring Bradley, Parker, Anthony Reed, and Senior Executive Editor Ken Wissoker on February 19.

Drawing on interviews with industry workers from MTV programs such as The Real World and Teen Mom, Amanda Ann Klein in Millennials Killed the Video Star examines the historical, cultural, and industrial factors leading to MTV’s shift away from music videos to reality programming in the early 2000s and 2010s.

Lauren Steimer’s Experts in Action examines how Hong Kong-influenced action movie aesthetics and stunt techniques have been taken up, imitated, and reinvented in other locations and production contexts around the globe.

Marina Peterson traces entanglements of environmental noise, atmosphere, sense, and matter that cohere in and through encounters with airport noise at Los Angeles International Airport since the 1960s, in Atmospheric Noise, showing how noise is central to how we know, feel, and think atmospherically.

Point of ReckoningTheodore D. Segal’s Point of Reckoning narrates the fraught and contested fight for racial justice at Duke University—which accepted its first black undergraduates in 1963—to tell both a local and national story about the challenges that historically white colleges and universities throughout the country continue to face. Catch Segal at two online events this month: on February 10, sponsored by the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies, and on February 24, sponsored by the Duke Alumni Association.

Kevin Quashie in Black Aliveness, or a Poetics of Being analyzes texts by of Lucille Clifton, June Jordan, Toni Morrison, Evie Shockley, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others to argue for a black aliveness that is disarticulated from antiblackness and which provides the basis for the imagination and creation of a black world.

Throughout The Powers of Dignity Nick Bromell examines how Frederick Douglass forged a distinctively black political philosophy out of his experiences as an enslaved and later nominally free man in ways that challenge Anglo-Continental traditions of political thought.

Black UtopiasEngaging with the work of Black musicians, writers, and women mystics, Jayna Brown’s Black Utopias takes up the concept of utopia as an occasion to explore new states of being, doing, and imagining in Black culture. You can catch Brown’s first online event this Thursday, February 4.

Samantha A. Noël investigates how Black Caribbean and American artists of the early twentieth century responded to and challenged colonial and other hegemonic regimes through tropicalist representation in Tropical Aesthetics of Black Modernism.

Candace Fujikane draws upon Hawaiian legends about the land and water and their impact upon Native Hawai‘ian struggles in Mapping Abundance for a Planetary Future to argue that Native economies of abundance provide a foundation for collective work against climate change.

A time of YouthA Time of Youth brings together 89 of the more than 2000 photographs William Gedney took in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood between October, 1966 and January, 1967, documenting the restless and intertwined lives of the disenchanted youth who flocked to what became the epicenter of 1960s counterculture.

In Coed Revolution Chelsea Szendi Schieder examines the campus-based New Left in Japan by exploring the significance of women’s participation in the protest movements of the 1960s.

Ma Vang examines the experiences of Hmong refugees who migrated to the United States following the secret war in Laos (1961–1975) to theorize “History on the Run” as a framework for understanding refugee histories, in particular those of the Hmong.

Empire's MistressVernadette Vicuña Gonzalez follows the life of Filipina vaudeville and film actress Isabel Rosario Cooper to explore the contours of empire as experienced on the scale of personal relationships in Empire’s Mistress, Starring Isabel Rosario Cooper, taking us much deeper into her life story than merely her role as the mistress of General Douglas MacArthur.

Jonathan Beller traces the history of the commodification of information and the financialization of everyday life in The World Computer, showing how contemporary capitalism is based in algorithms and the quantification of value that intensify social inequality.

In The Charismatic Gymnasium, Maria José A. de Abreu examines the conservative Charismatic Catholic movement in contemporary urban Brazil to rethink the relationship between theology, the body, and neoliberal governance, showing how it works to produce subjects who are complicit with Brazilian neoliberalism.

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 January

If you made a New Year’s resolution to read more, this month we have some great new books to help achieve your goals. Happy New Year!

The future of FalloutJoseph Masco examines the psychosocial, material, and affective consequences of the advent of nuclear weapons, the Cold War security state, climate change on contemporary US democratic practices and public imaginaries in The Future of Fallout, and Other Episodes in Radioactive World-Making.

Andrew Bickford analyzes the US military’s attempts to design performance enhancement technologies and create pharmacological “supersoldiers” capable of becoming ever more lethal while withstanding various forms of extreme trauma in Chemical Heroes.

Drawing on ethnographic research in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, Christopher Harker in Spacing Debt examines how Israel’s use of debt to keep Palestinians economically unstable is a form of slow colonial violence embedded into the everyday lives of citizens.

Whites are the Enemies of Heaven With The Whites are the Enemies of Heaven, Mark W. Driscoll examines Western imperialism in East Asia throughout the nineteenth century and the devastating effects of what he calls climate caucasianism—the West’s racialized pursuit of capital at the expense of people of color, women, and the environment.

In Dear Science and Other Stories Katherine McKittrick presents a creative and rigorous study of black and anticolonial methodologies, exploring how narratives of imprecision and relationality interrupt knowledge systems that seek to observe, index, know, and discipline blackness.

Christopher Freeburg’s Counterlife challenges the imperative to study black social life and slavery and its aftereffects through the lenses of freedom, agency, and domination and instead examines how enslaved Africans created meaning through spirituality, thought, and artistic creativity separate and alongside concerns about freedom.

emancipations daughtersRiché Richardson in Emancipation’s Daughters examines how five iconic black women—Mary McLeod Bethune, Rosa Parks, Condoleezza Rice, Michelle Obama, and Beyoncé—defy racial stereotypes and construct new national narratives of black womanhood in the United States.

Lingzhen Wang examines the work of Chinese women filmmakers of the Mao and post-Mao eras in Revisiting Women’s Cinema to theorize socialist and postsocialist feminism, mainstream culture, and women’s cinema in modern China.

Kaiama L. Glover examines Francophone and Anglophone Caribbean literature whose female protagonists enact practices of freedom that privilege the self, challenge the prioritization of the community over the individual, and refuse masculinist discourses of postcolonial nation building in A Regarded Self.

The Small Book of Hip ChecksErica Rand uses multiple meanings of hip check—an athlete using their hip to throw an opponent off balance and the inspection of racialized gender—to consider the workings of queer gender, race, and writing in the The Small Book of Hip Checks.

Drawing from ethnographic work with queer activist groups in contemporary Turkey, Evren Savcı’s Queer in Translation explores how Western LGBT politics are translated and reworked there in ways that generate new spaces for resistance and solidarity.

Anthony Reed takes the recorded collaborations between African American poets and musicians such as Amiri Baraka, Jayne Cortez, Cecil Taylor, and Charles Mingus to trace the overlaps between experimental music and poetry and the ways in which intellectuals, poets, and musicians define black sound as a radical aesthetic practice in Soundworks.

The Bruce B. Lawrence Reader assembles over two dozen selections of writing by leading scholar of Islam Bruce B. Lawrence which range from analyses of premodern and modern Islamic discourses, practices, and institutions to methodological and theoretical reflections on the study of religion.

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.