Cultural Studies

New Books in October

Couplets_coverOur October releases are not to be missed!

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

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

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

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

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

Saturation_cover

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

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

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

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

Introducing Black Outdoors, a New Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maroon Choreography, by fahima ife

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

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

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

Liquor Store Theatre, by Maya Stovall

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

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

A “Roadrunner” Playlist: Guest Post by Joshua Clover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Books in September

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A with Monica Huerta, author of Magical Habits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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).

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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?

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