Cultural Studies

New Books in October

It’s official—fall has arrived! With the start of this new season, we’re releasing dynamic new reads in art and visual culture, anthropology, feminist studies, cultural studies, sociology, and more. Check out all of these exciting books available in October.

Continuing the work she began in The Promise of Happiness and Willful Subjects by taking up a single word and following its historical, intellectual, and political significance, Sara Ahmed explores how use operates as an organizing concept, technology of control, and tool for diversity work in What’s the Use?

In Where Histories Reside Priya Jaikumar examines seven decades of films shot on location in India to show how attending to filmed space reveals alternative timelines and histories of cinema as well as the myriad ways cinema constructs India as a place.

Eva Haifa Giraud contends in What Comes after Entanglement? that recent theory that foregrounds the ways that human existence is entangled with other nonhuman life and the natural world often undermine successful action and calls for new modes of activist organizing and theoretical critique.

The contributors to Reading Sedgwick (edited by Lauren Berlant) reflect on the long and influential career of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, whose pioneering work in queer theory has transformed understandings of affect, intimacy, politics, and identity.

Conceptualizing anthropology as a mode of practical and transformative inquiry in A Possible Anthropology, Anand Pandian stages an ethnographic encounter with the field in an effort to grasp its impact on the world and its potential for addressing and offering solutions to the profound crises of the present.

In Symbolic Violence Michael Burawoy brings Pierre Bourdieu into an extended debate with Marxism by outlining the parallels and divergences between Bourdieu’s thought and preeminent Marxist theorists including Gramsci, Fanon, Beauvoir, and Freire.

Achille Mbembe theorizes the genealogy of the contemporary world—one plagued by inequality, militarization, enmity, and a resurgence of racist, fascist, and nationalist forces—and calls for a radical revision of humanism a the means to create a more just society in Necropolitics.

In Fidel between the Lines Laura-Zoë Humphreys tracks late-socialist Cuba’s changing dynamics of social criticism and censorship through Cuban cinema and its cultural politics.

In A Fragile Inheritance, Saloni Mathur investigates the work of two seminal figures from the global South: the New Delhi-based critic and curator Geeta Kapur and contemporary multimedia artist Vivan Sundaram, illuminating  how their political and aesthetic commitments intersect and foreground uncertainty, difficulty, conflict, and contradiction.  

Ronak K. Kapadia examines multimedia visual art by artists from societies besieged by the US war on terror in Insurgent Aesthetics, showing how their art offers queer feminist critiques of US global warfare that forge new aesthetic and social alliances with which to sustain critical opposition to the global war machine.

In Eros Ideologies Laura E. Pérez analyzes Latina art to explore a new notion of decolonial thought and love based on the integration of body, mind, and spirit that offers a means to creating a more democratic and just present and future.

Edited by Frances Richard, I Stand in My Place with My Own Day Here features essays by more than fifty renowned international writers considering thirteen monumental works of art commissioned by The New School between 1930 and the present. We are distributing this beautiful art book for The New School.

Between Form and Content is a catalog that accompanied the first exhibition to focus on Jacob Lawrence’s experience at Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1946, where his interaction with Josef Albers had a lasting impact on his future career. We are distributing this catalog for Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center.

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New Books in September

Summer’s almost over, which means it’s time to start to replenishing your reading list! Celebrate the start of a new academic year with us by checking out this diverse array of books arriving in September.

Acknowledging the impending worldwide catastrophe of rising seas in the twenty-first century, Orrin H. Pilkey and Keith C. Pilkey outline the impacts on the United States’ shoreline and argue that the only feasible response along much of the U.S. shoreline is an immediate and managed retreat in Sea Level Rise.

Brenda R. Weber’s Latter-day Screens examines the ways in which the mediation of Mormonism through film, TV, blogs, YouTube videos, and memoirs functions as a means through which to understand conversations surrounding gender, sexuality, spirituality, capitalism, justice, and individualism in the United States.

Self-Devouring Growth by Julie Livingston shows how the global pursuit of economic and resource-driven growth comes at the expense of catastrophic destruction, thereby upending popular notions that economic growth and development is necessary for improving a community’s wellbeing.

In Under Construction, Daniel Mains explores the intersection of infrastructural development and governance in contemporary Ethiopia by examining the conflicts surrounding the construction of specific infrastructural technologies and how that construction impacts the daily lives of Ethiopians.

Elizabeth Freeman’s Beside You in Time expands bipolitical and queer theory by outlining a temporal view of the long nineteenth century and showing how time became a social and sensory means by which people resisted disciplinary regimes and assembled into groups in ways that created new forms of sociality.

Terry Smith—who is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading historians and theorists of contemporary art—traces the emergence of contemporary art and further develops his concept of contemporaneity in Art to Come through analyses of topics ranging from Chinese and Australian Indigenous art to architecture.

Henry Cow by Benjamin Piekut tells the story of the English experimental rock band Henry Cow and how it linked its improvisational musical aesthetic with a collectivist, progressive politics.

Davina Cooper’s Feeling Like a State explores the unexpected contribution a legal drama of withdrawal—as exemplified by some conservative Christians who deny people inclusion, goods, and services to LGBTQ individuals—might make to conceptualizing a more socially just, participative state.

In Making The Black Jacobins, Rachel Douglas traces the genesis, transformation, and afterlives of the different versions of C. L. R. James’s landmark The Black Jacobins across the decades from the 1930s onwards, showing how James revised it in light of his evolving politics.

William E. Connolly links climate change, fascism, and the nature of truth to demonstrate the profound implications of the deep imbrication between planetary nonhuman processes and cultural developments in Climate Machines, Fascist Drives, and Truth.

Cara New Daggett’s The Birth of Energy traces the genealogy of the idea of energy from the Industrial Revolution to the present, showing how it has informed fossil fuel imperialism, the governance of work, and our relationship to the Earth.

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Critique and Cosmos: After Masao Miyoshi

Contributors to the newest issue of boundary 2: an international journal of literature and culture explore the works of Masao Miyoshi, who introduced the concept of “aftering” — the act of prolonging and transforming impacts across cultural, political, and disciplinary borders.

Critique and Cosmos: After Masao Miyoshi,” edited by Rob Wilson and Paul A. Bové, is a reflection of Miyoshi’s concept and a tribute to the scholar himself, as illustrated in Harry Harootunian’s essay “As We Saw Him: Masao Miyoshi and the Vocation of Critical Struggle,” available free for three months.

The remaining essays offer fresh takes on several of his critical visions, including a humility of our knowledge system and the quest to exceed it, relearning the sense of the world in which we live, the practice of “anti-photography,” and the need for humanistic disciplines to address the global commons created by runaway consumption and environmental deterioration.

Browse the table of contents and read the introduction, freely available.

New Books in August

Our Fall 2019 season is off to a phenomenal start with a diverse range of titles in Theory and Philosophy, African American Studies, Native and Indigenous Studies, and more. Take a look at all of these great new books coming in August!

Intersectionality as Critical Social Theory by Patricia Hill Collins

Intersectionality as Critical Social Theory by Patricia Hill Collins offers a set of analytical tools for those wishing to develop intersectionality’s capability to theorize social inequality in ways that would facilitate social change.

In Animate Literacies, Nathan Snaza proposes a new theory of literature and literacy in which he outlines how literacy operates at the interface of humans, nonhuman animals, and objects and has been used as a means to define the human in ways that marginalize others.

Fictions of Land and Flesh by Mark Rifkin

Mark Rifkin’s Fictions of Land and Flesh turns to black and indigenous speculative fiction to show how it offers a site to better understand black and indigenous political movements’ differing orientations in ways that can foster forms of mutual engagement and cooperation without subsuming them into a single political framework in the name of solidarity.

In The Black Shoals Tiffany Lethabo King uses the shoal—an offshore geologic formation that is neither land nor sea—as metaphor, mode of critique, and methodology to theorize the encounter between Black studies and Native studies and its potential to create new epistemologies, forms of practice, and lines of critical inquiry.

Savage Ecology by Jairus Victor Grove

Jairus Victor Grove’s Savage Ecology offers an ecological theorization of geopolitics in which he contends that contemporary global crises are better understood when considered within the larger history of geopolitical practice, showing how political violence is the principal force behind climate change, mass extinction, slavery, genocide, extractive capitalism, and other catastrophes. Watch the trailer for the book here.

In How to Make Art at the End of the World Natalie Loveless examines the institutionalization of artistic research-creation—a scholarly activity that considers art practices as research methods in their own right—and its significance to North American higher education.

Wages Against Artwork Leigh Claire La Berge’s Wages Against Artwork shows how socially engaged art responds to and critiques what she calls decommodified labor—the slow diminishment of wages alongside an increase of demands of work—as a way to work toward social justice and economic equality.

In Sounds of Vacation, edited by Jocelyne Guilbault and Timothy Rommen, the contributors examine the commodification of music and sound at popular vacation destinations throughout the Caribbean in order to tease out the relationships between political economy, hospitality, and the legacies of slavery and colonialism. 

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“Emotion and Visuality in Chinese Literature and Culture”

“Emotion or qing 情 has been identified at the core of Chinese thinking about literature, such that ‘lyrical tradition’ becomes an encompassing concept for many to distinguish Chinese literary tradition from its Western counterpart,” write the editors of the newest Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture issue in their introduction, freely available

“Emotion and Visuality in Chinese Literature and Culture” explores topics such as the presence of emotion in medieval Chinese burials; image-text relationships of gendered emotions, such as is depicted in the “hundred beauties” (baimei 百美) genre of the late Ming and Qing dynasties; and the affective experience of Chinese culture, as evidenced in the works of Chinese artists Chen Hongshou, Qiu Canzhi, and Yuan Kewen.

Browse the table of contents, read the introduction, and sign up for email alerts to not miss an issue.

New Books in June

Looking for some compelling reads this summer? Check out these new titles coming out in June!

Presenting ethnographic case studies from across the globe, the contributors to Anthropos and the Material, edited by Penny Harvey, Christian Krohn-Hansen and Knut G. Nustad, question and complicate long-held understandings of the divide between humans and things by examining encounters between the human and the nonhuman in numerous social, cultural, technological, and geographical contexts.

In Anti-Japan Leo T. S. Ching traces the complex dynamics that shape persisting negative attitudes toward Japan throughout East Asia, showing how anti-Japanism stems from the failed efforts at decolonization and reconciliation, the U.S. military presence, and shifting geopolitical and economic conditions in the region.

The contributors to Captivating Technology, edited by Ruha Benjamin, examine how carceral technologies such as electronic ankle monitors and predictive-policing algorithms are being deployed to classify and coerce specific populations and whether these innovations can be appropriated and reimagined for more liberatory ends.

Focusing on Costa Rica and Brazil, Andrea Ballestero’s A Future History of Water examines the legal, political, economic, and bureaucratic history of water in the context of the efforts to classify it as a human right, showing how seemingly small scale devices such as formulas and lists play large role in determining water’s status.

In Making the World Global, Isaac A. Komola examines how the relationships between universities, the American state, philanthropic organizations, and international financial institutions inform the academic understanding of the world as global in ways that frame higher education as a commodity, private good, and source of human capital.

Therí Alyce Pickens examines the speculative and science fiction of Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, and Tananarive Due in Black Madness :: Mad Blackness to rethink the relationship between race and disability, thereby unsettling the common theorization that they are mutually constitutive.

In Entre Nous, Grant Farred examines the careers of international soccer stars Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, along with his own experience playing for an amateur township team in apartheid South Africa, to theorize the relationship between sports and the intertwined experiences of relation, separation, and belonging.

In The Fixer, Charles Piot follows Kodjo Nicolas Batema, a visa broker in the West African nation of Togo as he helps his clients apply for the U.S. Diversity Visa Lottery program. The lively stories shed light on current immigration debates.

In The African Roots of Marijuana, an authoritative history of cannabis in Africa, Chris S. Duvall challenges what readers thought they knew about cannabis by correcting widespread myths, outlining its relationship to slavery and colonialism, and highlighting Africa’s centrality to knowledge about and the consumption of one of the world’s most ubiquitous plants.

In Experiments with Empire, Justin Izzo examines how twentieth-century writers, artists, and anthropologists from France, West Africa, and the Caribbean experimented with ethnography and fiction in order to explore new ways of making sense of the complicated legacy of imperialism and to imagine new democratic futures.

Elizabeth M. DeLoughrey traces how indigenous and postcolonial peoples in the Caribbean and Pacific Islands grapple with the enormity of colonialism and anthropogenic climate change through art, poetry, and literature by using allegorical narratives in Allegories of the Anthropocene.

The Romare Bearden Reader, edited by Robert G. O’Meally, brings together a collection of newly written essays and canonical writings by novelists, poets, historians, critics, and playwrights, as well as Bearden’s most important writing, making it an indispensable volume on one of the giants of twentieth-century American art.

Terry Adkins: Infinity is Less Than One, which we are distributing for ICA Miami, accompanies the first institutional posthumous exhibition of the sculptural work of Terry Adkins (1953–2014), one of the great conceptual artists of the twenty-first century renowned for his pioneering work across numerous mediums. The catalogue is edited by Gean Moreno and Alex Gartenfeld.

The contributors to Racism Postrace, edited by Roopali Mukherjee, Sarah Banet-Weiser, and Herman Gray, theorize and examine the persistent concept of post-race in examples ranging from Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” to public policy debates, showing how proclamations of a post-racial society can normalize modes of racism and obscure structural antiblackness.

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Interrogating “Diversity”

pcl_31_2_coverThe newest issue of Public Culture, “Interrogating ‘Diversity,’” edited by Damani J. Partridge and Matthew Chin, is available now.

Since the 1970s, the global practice of diversity has sparked a number of inclusion initiatives, such as affirmative action in universities, implemented to redress historical inequality. Contributors to this special issue argue that, in recent years, these initiatives have shifted away from their original intent toward a concept of “diversity” in which inclusion systematically denies access to minoritized populations.

“At elite institutions and in high-paying jobs in various global contexts, diversity has come to mean a sprinkling of color or the contingent presence of the ‘disadvantaged’ in otherwise majoritarian ‘White’ or upper-class/high-caste institutions,” write the editors in their introduction.

“Our call to interrogate diversity has also led us to collectively think beyond, outside, and in spite of diversity,” the editors continue. “It is not that we are against inclusion, but we cannot justify forms of inclusion that necessarily (even systematically) limit access. This includes forms that do very little to create possibilities for those who have systematically faced barriers that deny entrance. Interrogating diversity cannot mean sustaining existing institutions as we already know them. This process must be engaged in an activist, collective, and participatory project of social transformation.”

Read the introduction, freely available, or browse the table of contents.

New Books in May

Jump-start your summer reading with one of our new titles this May!

In Coral Empire Ann Elias traces the history of two explorers whose photographs and films of tropical reefs in the 1920s cast corals and the sea as an unexplored territory to be exploited in ways that tied the tropics and reefs to colonialism, racism, and the human domination of nature.

The contributors to Remaking New Orleans, edited by Thomas Jessen Adams and Matt Sakakeeny, challenge the uncritical acceptance of New Orleans-as-exceptional narratives, showing how they flatten the diversity, experience, and culture of the city’s residents and obscure other possible understandings.

The ChasersRenato Rosaldo’s new prose poetry collection, The Chasers, shares his experiences and those of his group of twelve Mexican-American Tucson High School friends known as the Chasers as they grew up, graduated, and fell out of touch, conveying the realities of Chicano life on the borderlands from the 1950s to the present.

In Queering Black Atlantic Religions Roberto Strongman examines three Afro-diasporic religions—Hatian Vodou, Cuban Lucumí/Santería, and Brazilian Candomblé—to demonstrate how the commingling of humans and the divine during trance possession produce subjectivities whose genders are unconstrained by biological sex.

Written in 1937, published in Spanish in 1973, and appearing here in English for the first time, Freddy Prestol Castillo’s novel You Can Cross the Massacre on Foot is one of the few accounts of the 1937 massacre of tens of thousands of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic.

Book Reports

In Book Reports, a generous collection of book reviews and literary essays, rock critic Robert Christgau shows readers a different side to his esteemed career with reviews of books ranging from musical autobiographies, criticism, and histories to novels, literary memoirs, and cultural theory.

The contributors to From Russia with Code, edited by Mario Biagioli and Vincent Antonin Lépinay, examine Russian computer scientists, programmers, and hackers in and outside of Russia within the context of new international labor markets and the economic, technological, and political changes in post-Soviet Russia.

In Camp TV Quinlan Miller reframes American television history by tracing a camp aesthetic and the common appearance of trans queer gender characters in both iconic and lesser known sitcoms throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

The coauthors of Decolonizing Ethnography integrate ethnography with activist work in a New Jersey center for undocumented workers, showing how anthropology can function as a vehicle for activism and as a tool for marginalized people to theorize their own experiences.

In Work! Elspeth H. Brown traces modeling’s history from the advent of photographic modeling in the early twentieth century to the rise of the supermodel in the 1980s, showing how it is both the quintessential occupation of a modern consumer economy and a practice that has been shaped by queer sensibilities.

In Figures of Time Toni Pape examines contemporary television that often presents a conflict-laden conclusion first before relaying the events that led up to that inevitable ending, showing how this narrative structure attunes audiences to the fear-based political doctrine of preemption—a logic that justifies preemptive action to nullify a perceived future threat.

In Anti-Japan Leo T. S. Ching traces the complex dynamics that shape persisting negative attitudes toward Japan throughout East Asia, showing how anti-Japanism stems from the failed efforts at decolonization and reconciliation, the U.S. military presence, and shifting geopolitical and economic conditions in the region.

The Cuba Reader

Tracking Cuban history from 1492 to the present, this revised and expanded second edition of The Cuba Reader presents myriad perspectives on Cuba’s history, culture, and politics, including a new section that explores the changes and continuities in Cuba since Fidel Castro stepped down from power in 2006.

The Fernando Coronil Reader, a posthumously published collection of anthropologist Fernando Coronil’s most important work, highlights his deep concern with the global South, Latin American state formation, theories of nature, empire and postcolonialism, and anthrohistory as an intellectual and ethical approach.

The extensively updated and revised third edition of the bestselling Social Medicine Reader (Volume I and Volume II) provides a survey of the challenging issues facing today’s health care providers, patients, and caregivers with writings by scholars in medicine, the social sciences, and the humanities. It will be a great addition to courses in public health, medicine, nursing, and more.

Catherine Waldby traces how the history of the valuing of human oocytes—the reproductive cells specific to women—intersects with the biological and social life of women in her new book The Oocyte Economy.

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New Books in April

We’ve got great new reads in April in anthropology, religious studies, sociology, feminism and women’s studies, and much more.

978-1-4780-0390-8_prIn Deported Americans legal scholar and former public defender Beth C. Caldwell tells the story of dozens of immigrants who were deported from the United States—the only country they have ever known—to Mexico, tracking the harmful consequences of deportation for those on both sides of the border.

In Makers of Democracy A. Ricardo López-Pedreros traces the ways in which a thriving middle class was understood to be a foundational marker of democracy in Colombia in the second half of the twentieth century, showing democracy to be a historically unstable and contentious practice.

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Maura Finkelstein examines what it means for textile mill workers in Mumbai—who are assumed to not exist—to live during a period of deindustrialization, showing in The Archive of Loss how mills and workers’ bodies constitute an archive of Mumbai’s history that challenge common thinking about the city’s past, present, and future.

Hester Blum examines the rich, offbeat collection of printed ephemera created by nineteenth- and early twentieth-century polar explorers, showing in The News at the Ends of the Earth how ship newspapers and other writing shows how explores wrestled with questions of time, space, and community while providing them with habits to survive the extreme polar climate.

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In Autonomy Nicholas Brown theorizes the historical and theoretical conditions for the persistence of art’s autonomy from the realm of the commodity by showing how an artist’s commitment to form and by demanding interpretive attention elude the logic of capital.

In a revised and expanded edition of Medicine Stories, Aurora Levins Morales weaves together the insights and lessons learned over a lifetime of activism to offer a new theory of social justice, bringing clarity and hope to tangled, emotionally charged social issues in beautiful and accessible language.

Exploring a wide range of sonic practices, from birdsong in the Marshall Islands to Zulu ululation, the contributors to Remapping Sound Studies, edited by Gavin Steingo and Jim Sykes, reorient the field of sound studies toward the global South in order to rethink and decolonize modes of understanding and listening to sound.

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In Dance for Me When I Die—first published in Argentina in 2004 and appearing here in English for the first time—Cristian Alarcón tells the story and legacy of seventeen year old Víctor Manuel Vital, aka Frente, who was killed by police in the slums of Buenos Aires.

The contributors to Spirit on the Move, edited by Judith Casselberry and Elizabeth A. Pritchard, examine Pentecostalism’s appeal to black women worldwide and the ways it provides them with a source of community, access to power, and way to challenge social inequalities.

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Q&A with Mack Hagood, Author of Hush

hagood, mack author photo

Mack Hagood is Robert H. and Nancy J. Blayney Assistant Professor of Comparative Media Studies at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. His work on digital media, sound technologies, and popular music can be found in such publications as American Quarterly and Cinema Journal, and he co-produces and hosts the podcast Phantom Power: Sounds about Sound. In his new book, Hush: Media and Sonic Self Control, Hagood explores what he calles “orphic media”: noise-cancelling headphones, tinnitus maskers, white noise machines, nature-sound mobile apps, and other forms of media that give users the ability to create sonic safe spaces for themselves, showing how the desire to block certain sounds are informed by ideologies of race, gender, and class.

Explain what you mean by “sonic self-control”? What kind of sound are you investigating?

I study activities as simple as using a white-noise machine to sleep better at night or using noise-canceling headphones to work or enjoy a movie on an airplane. I am interested in how we use personal media technologies to change sensory experience, thereby managing how we feel and controlling our connection to our surroundings and others. These acts of sonic self-control are among our most common everyday media practices—millions of apps that generate nature sounds have been downloaded, for example, and headphones are now a multi-billion-dollar industry. These technologies’ prevalence alone makes them worthy of research; yet aside from a body of cultural studies work on personal music technologies like the Walkman and the iPod, very little research has been done on them. The kind of practice I’m describing here can involve music, but it can also be completely non-musical. I’m really focusing less on media content and more on how we use our devices to remediate how—and how much—the world affects us. I call these devices “orphic media,” named after the mythical Orpheus, who counteracted the fatal song of the Sirens by playing a song of his own, fighting sound with sound to create a safe space.

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In the book, I’m bringing together a diverse array of technologies that are used for this kind of sonic self-control: white noise machines, LPs of natural sounds, mobile apps, noise-canceling headphones, wearable devices that suppress tinnitus, and the evolving category of in-ear wearable computer technology, or “hearables.” Most of these orphic technologies have been ignored by my academic field of media studies, so I’m providing a history and asking why these practices have evolved over the past sixty years. Why do they feel so necessary today? And what can we learn about sensory experience and our cultural moment from them? Is our new ability to (in the words of a Beats headphones slogan) “Hear What You Want,” providing us new levels of freedom or is it making us ever more sensitive to what we don’t want to hear? In this way, I’m using the material and physiological experience of sound as a different way to think through contemporary debates about media echo chambers, filter bubbles, safe spaces, fake news, “snowflakes,” and so on.

Why do you think media studies has overlooked these technologies?

I think there are certain habits and ideas around media that affect scholars and laypeople alike, making some kinds of media practices harder to identify and analyze. For one thing, we tend to think about media in terms of discrete genres and technologies. In the academic world, the attainment of disciplinary expertise demands that you drill down on a specific medium, so you become a film scholar or a radio scholar or a social media scholar, despite the fact that we all know that these different media are converging in our iPhones. I wanted to approach things from the opposite direction, saying, “Here’s something interesting I see people doing on one device—are they also doing similar things with other devices?” So, I’m trying to think across media rather than within these categories that ultimately derive from the industries we are supposed to analyze and critique. This approach has led me to study audio technologies that are marketed as “sensory therapy devices” at the Home and Housewares Show, or prescription devices at the American Academy of Audiology conference—not just the familiar devices you’d find at the consumer electronics tradeshow, CES. My line of inquiry pushed me into some strange and interesting spaces where media scholars don’t often venture.

Then there are two common-sense definitions of media that exclude the technologies I study: First, media are information-transmitting devices. Second, media are communication devices. These are both partial truths that obscure some of what we really use media for—and even though a number of great media theorists have challenged these notions from different angles, they continue to dominate. In my view, media studies, like American culture, lives under the thumb of cybernetics and information theory, which were developed over seventy years ago—now more than ever, in fact! In the book, I argue that the pressures of living in an “information economy” are some of the main reasons we hate and fear noise so much today. What I call “infocentrism” places impossible demands on our attention and makes orphic media feel like necessities. Trying to analyze this dynamic as a scholar while using an informatic notion of media would be like using the Invisible Hand to critique neoliberalism.

My alternative definition, which is inspired by the Spinozan lineage of affect theory, is that media are devices used to control how we affect and are affected by the world. Information technology can facilitate this process, but the embodied, material, and affective aspects of media use just can’t be reduced to immaterial patterns of information or the transmission of messages. Take, for example, a mobile app like White Noise. Say you work in an open-plan office and your co-worker’s sales calls are distracting you from writing a memo, so you use your smartphone to generate noise and block out their voice. Noise is literally the opposite of information, right? You’re using your phone not to communicate, but rather to render communication impossible. In practice, you have contradicted the notion that media are solely technologies for the transmission of information and the facilitation of communication. Sure, your phone is constructed on an information architecture, but we shouldn’t confuse the architecture with the nature of the human practice, which is to remediate the external environment and thereby reorganize our interior experience.

What sparked your interest in sonic self-control? How did your experiences with tinnitus influence this project?

I lived in Taiwan for several years and there I encountered these little boxes that looked like transistor radios and played audio loops of chanted Buddhist sutras. I was completely fascinated by these things and started collecting them. (Years later, a pair of musicians in China commissioned their own version of the device filled with ambient music loops and branded it as The Buddha Machine—it became something of an underground music hit.) My imagination was captivated by the idea that a sound machine could create a sacred space and I recalled how, as a child who had trouble sleeping, I used a radio to make my bedroom feel safer. Years later, in graduate school, I read the passage in A Thousand Plateaus where a frightened child in the dark sings a song to create what Deleuze and Guattari call a milieu, a temporarily pacified space—a little wall of sound to keep the monsters out. I immediately thought back to the sutra boxes and my childhood radio and that’s when I began to wonder if there were other media technologies that sonically pacified space in this way. And yes, it turns out there are a lot of them!

As for tinnitus, I have had it for as long as I can remember—perhaps resulting from a bout of scarlet fever I had as a child. Tinnitus became part of the project when I realized that people who suffered a lot from it were the most avid—and sometimes, desperate—users of orphic media. In fact, audiologists prescribe wearable sound-generators as part of tinnitus therapies. This is because tinnitus grows louder in quiet spaces. Just as the pupils dilate in low light, the auditory system “turns up the volume” in silence, revealing or exacerbating tinnitus. The chapter on tinnitus shows how high the stakes of orphic mediation can get. In my ethnographic research, I met people who couldn’t work and even attempted suicide. A combination of sound enrichment and counseling is the main tinnitus treatment today.

And in fact, the stakes became very high for me as well. By a strange twist of fate, a bike tire burst right next to my ear right before I started my fieldwork, creating tinnitus to a degree I’d never experienced before. So, I was struggling with my own fear and dismay about tinnitus as I was going to clinics and support groups to observe and do interviews. I could deeply empathize with tinnitus sufferers whose bosses or families thought they were flakes or neurotics or malingerers. The tinnitus research soon became the centerpiece of the project. It provided me with a neurophysiological model of how an affect of fear can attach to sound, reshaping sensory experience and social life. It also forced me to study humanistic theories of disability, something that really wasn’t on my radar before. In the end, disability theory helped me resolve my own fear and aversion to tinnitus, which actually may be the only “cure” at this point. I realized that my own ideology of ability—Tobin Siebers’ term for the belief that the body should be perfect—was fueling my flight-or-flight reaction to tinnitus, making it worse. This helped me turn a corner. In time, I came to embrace my tinnitus as a part of myself. In fact, I came to realize that every sound we hate or fear is really part of ourselves, because we are the ones who experiences it. No matter what noise we are fighting, literal or figurative, embracing our experience is the secret to transcending it. Ironically, a lot of human suffering comes from our self-defeating attempts at self-control.

You use the image of Orpheus fending off the sirens’ deadly song with his own as the basis for your concept of “orphic media.” Why Orpheus? How does this myth let you touch upon other themes in your book?

Orpheus fascinates me, especially the Orpheus of the epic poem Argonautica. Here we have an adventure with a boatload of burly heroes, but this sensitive poet-musician-priest guy is an essential member of the crew. This should be not only an inspiration to nerds everywhere, but also a reminder of the power of sound and music. Orpheus keeps the brutish Argonauts from fighting by playing his lyre and singing. He sets the rhythm for the rowers, allowing them to travel with speed. He performs important religious rituals. And, of course, he saves the Argonauts lives by musically fabricating a safe space in the Siren Strait. So, Orpheus allows me to talk about how sound can be instrumentalized as a powerful vibrational force. This is what we see today in all orphic media.

However, Orpheus also exhibits something we have somewhat lost our ear for today. His power comes from the fact that he is exquisitely sensitive to the sacred and unifying power of sound. He is the son of a Muse, and he can hear even the vibrations of spiders spinning their webs. His music can change the course of rivers and move the Earth because he understands that sound is a medium that interconnects us all. So, sound can be utilized to separate and defend, but it also reminds us that we can never truly be separate from one another. Musical rituals are spaces where people give up individuality to sing and move as one. This is the opposite of the instrumentalized and individualized use of music that is so common in the streaming era with its mood- and productivity-focused playlists. Or the utilitarian use of white noise as a protective wall of sound.

In your discussion of different kinds of orphic media, advertisements serve as important examples of how companies have defined sound in terms of race, class, gender, and disability. What are some of the most unexpected ways in which capitalism shapes sound and orphic media?

Well, my broad-stroke answer is that neoliberal capitalism functions sonically the same way it operates generally: structural problems are personalized and made the responsibility of the individual to solve, using products conveniently supplied by the market. Going back to the open office plan, it’s a highly cost-efficient architectural strategy that just happens to drive workers to distraction because of noise. But when a worker has spent a lifetime in spaces like these, they probably aren’t going to blame the economic and built structures of capitalism for their misery, right? They’re going to blame their neighbor with the “annoying voice” or “braying laugh” or whatever. And those personalized perceptions of noise are going to emerge within our culture’s familiar hierarchies of race, class, gender, and ability.

I learned of this dynamic by studying the advertising strategies of the companies that sell orphic media, as well as by reading reviews and news articles in the popular press. These products are marketed around certain identity types: we’ve seen attempts to domesticate and feminize white noise for use in the home through the use of images of sleeping women, while Bose noise-canceling headphones were first marketed to white, male business travelers, and Beats uses a younger, African American perspective to market its headphones. These products are very similar—or, in some cases, basically identical—yet the identities they are portrayed to protect from noise are very different. I mean, there’s often a No Exit, “Hell is other people” discourse at work in the promotion of these media practices. Hell is other people who are different from you. That’s something that surprised me and it predates the “filter bubbles” of the internet by many years.

Hush includes the histories of many sonic technologies, from Beats by Dre headphones to white noise machines. What was the most interesting piece of technology to research and write about?

It’s hard to choose but one stands out from the others because it presented orphic media’s potentials in a different way from all the others. A series of records called environments was quite popular in the 1970s and early 80s and its album sides were dedicated to sonic spaces such as the seashore or a meadow or a country stream. These records are not only beautifully recorded and produced, but their creator, Irv Teibel, also heard a potential in these sounds that Orpheus would recognize. He thought his records could bring people together to go on mental trips, enhance sex, and commune with nature. These are the same kinds of sounds that are marketed today in a very utilitarian and isolating way: you use these sounds to relax alone, fall asleep, or be more productive at work or in your studies. But Teibel heard them as a sonic force of countercultural communalism and resistance to the alienation of modern life. And people agreed with him: his sounds were played on independent radio stations, in “encounter groups” like est, and in the offices of psychotherapists. Sadly, this communitarian usage of orphic media fell away, and today the marketing revolves around an efficiency-enhancing sleep/work binary, as well as individual escape from an anxiety-causing world.

How do you see orphic media evolving in the present moment? What do you think are the implications for our lives in the future?

Through the miniaturization of computer technology, orphic media are becoming increasingly powerful and refined. Augmented reality had been assumed by many to be a visual phenomenon, as exemplified by Google Glass; but arguably more progress is being made in the sonic domain, as in-ear “hearables” allow one to access the internet via voice assistants and block out sound via noise-cancellation. The dream of many developers seems to be the complete customization of hearing, so that, for example, you can simply eliminate specific sounds that you hate while still hearing others. Perhaps in the future, no one will ever hear a crying baby on a plane again! We’ve also seen the weaponization of orphic media—specialized earplugs that offer soldiers a combination of enhanced hearing and protection from gunfire and explosions. I think the implications of these technologies is that they encourage those with enough wealth and power to treat the sonic world like a database of content to selectively access and manipulate. But the history of control also tells us that there can never be enough it, that the more we customize our world, the more sensitized and in need of control we become. And if we do manage to silence the world, we’ll be stuck listening to the noise of our own tinnitus. Noise never sleeps.

How do you hope Hush will change the way readers think about listening?

You know, John Cage used to say that when he heard a sound he didn’t like, he would listen to it more closely to find out why—and almost always, he would learn that there was no reason. Now, I’m not a complete social constructionist when it comes to noise. There are sounds that damage hearing and sounds that are bad for human health. However, a lot of the sounds we recoil from may deserve a second hearing. If we challenge the auditory defensive crouch we go into and challenge ourselves to breathe in the offending sound and really listen to it, we may find that a lot of our reaction is just a habitual reaction to difference. In fact, the sound might even be interesting and informative. I don’t begrudge anyone their noise-canceling headphones—and I myself use a white noise machine to sleep—but there’s value in noticing when and where and why we use these things—and in exploring what we habitually tune out. Who and what are we leaving unheard? Careful listening can reveal the societal at work in the personal, as well as tuning us into the music of life.

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