Gay and Lesbian Studies

Q&A with Lynn Comella, author of Vibrator Nation

lynn_comella_by_krystal_ramirez_smallLynn Comella is Associate Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. An award-winning researcher, she has written extensively about sexuality and culture for numerous academic publications and popular media outlets. She is coeditor of the comprehensive New Views on Pornography: Sexuality, Politics, and the Law, and a frequent media contributor. In Vibrator Nation: How Feminist Sex-Toy Stores Changed the Business of Pleasure—the first book to tell the story of feminist sex-toy stores and the women who pioneered them—she takes a deep dive into the making of the consumer market for sex toys, tracing its emergence from the early 1970s to today. Drawing on more than eighty in-depth interviews with retailers and industry insiders, including a stint working as a vibrator clerk, she brings readers onto the sex-shop floor and into the world of sex-positive capitalism and cultural production. Lynn Comella is on a national tour this fall and winter; check back here next week for a full tour schedule.

art1Why did you decide to research feminist sex-toy businesses and how did you conduct your research?

I’ve long been interested in the politics of sexual representation, from the feminist sex wars of the 1980s to debates over school-based sex education. When I started this project, which began as a seminar paper in graduate school, I was really interested in the various ways in which female sexuality assumed a public presence as opposed to being relegated to the privacy of the home. As luck would have it, a feminist sex-toy shop, Intimacies, had just opened in the college town where I lived. I decided to make the store the focus of a small pilot study in an effort to better understand what made this female-friendly vibrator business different from more conventional adult stores ostensibly geared toward men. I quickly realized that Intimacies was part of a larger network of women-run, educationally oriented vibrator shops located in cities across the country that had all adopted a similar way of selling sex toys and talking about sex. I wanted to know more about what united these businesses together and how they attempted to practice feminist politics through the marketplace. What were the sexual vernaculars, retail strategies, philosophies, challenges and paradoxes that had shaped these businesses?

Researching the history of feminist sex-toy stores sent me down a rabbit hole. It took years and multiple methods of data collection—ethnographic fieldwork, in-depth interviews, and archival research—to weave together the various historical threads that shaped these businesses and the larger women’s market for sex toys and pornography. Writing the book I wanted to write, one that took a deep dive into the making of a market, required a kind of methodological promiscuity: I worked as a vibrator clerk at Babeland in New York City where I sold my fair share of sex toys, answered customer questions, and crossed my fingers that my cash register balanced at the end of the night. I interviewed more than eighty feminist retailers, employees, and industry insiders. I toured dildo manufacturing companies and lube factories, and attended more than a dozen adult industry trade shows where I sat in on business seminars that discussed marketing sex toys to women, retail-based sex education, and the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon. I poured through dusty boxes filled with corporate documents, internal memos, customer letters, advertisements, news clippings, and more, and amassed a research archive teeming with sex-toy ephemera (which I’m having a lot of fun sharing on the vibrator_nation Instagram account).

What was it like for women to purchase sex toys before the mid-1970s? What were feminist entrepreneurs trying to change?

There weren’t a lot of opportunities for the average woman to comfortably buy vibrators in the early 1970s. Conventional adult stores weren’t designed with female shoppers in mind; reputable mail-order businesses that sold so-called marital aids were few and far between; and women walking into a department store—or any store, really—to buy a vibrating massager risked encountering a male clerk who might say, “Boy, you must really need it bad, sweetie pie.” What made the situation all the more frustrating for many women was that they were being told by feminist sex educators and therapists that they should masturbate and take control of their orgasms. Vibrators were being framed as tools of liberation, but getting one wasn’t easy. Early feminist retailers, such as Dell Williams, who founded Eve’s Garden in 1974, and Joani Blank who opened Good Vibrations several years later, stepped into this breach. They turned the traditional model of an adult store, with its “seamy” aura and X-rated style, on its head in an effort to appeal to female shoppers. What made these early feminist vibrator businesses so revolutionary, and what set them apart from their more conventional counterparts geared toward men, wasn’t just their focus on women, but their entire way of doing business. They led with sex education not titillation, and worked to advance a social mission that included putting a vibrator on the bedside table of every woman, everywhere, because they believed that access to accurate sexual information and quality products had the potential to make everyone’s lives better.

In the book you describe a “sex-positive diaspora” of feminist retailers. What do you mean by that?

One of the things that I found so interesting during the early stages of my research was the degree to which feminist business owners tipped their hats to Good Vibrations. Many of them credited the company’s founder, Joani Blank, a sex therapist with a master’s degree in public health, with helping them start their businesses. Blank had a very non-competitive approach to running a company and strongly believed that the more businesses that were doing what Good Vibrations was doing—selling vibrators and talking openly about sex—the better. Blank freely shared information and vendor lists with aspiring entrepreneurs, and in the early 1990s she started a short-lived internship program to train people how to run a business like Good Vibrations. The first, and only, two people to complete the internship program were Claire Cavanah, who along with Rachel Venning would go on to found Babeland in 1993, and Kim Airs who started Grand Opening in Boston that same year. Blank’s communitarian, non-competitive ethos created a ripple effect and by the early 1990s, Good Vibrations’ DNA had begun to spread to cities across the country. In time, people who worked at Babeland and Grand Opening branched out and started their own feminist vibrator shops and Good Vibrations’ sex-positive mission continued to replicate. I wanted a phrase that captured this movement and dispersal, and the description “sex-positive diaspora” seemed to do that.

What role have lesbians and queer-identified retailers and people of color played in the history of feminist sex-toy business?

Lesbians and queer-identified retailers, along with queer and transgender employees, have played a major role in shaping the history of feminist sex-toy businesses. They opened stores, worked on the sales floor, started sex-toy manufacturing companies, wrote “how to” guides, and made pornography. In these different ways they’ve been important nodes of transmission and sources of queer sexual knowledge, including for straight people. In fact, I’d argue that the history of feminist sex-toy stores is also, and very much so, a story about queer entrepreneurship and cultural production. For many of the businesses that I write about in Vibrator Nation, their identities as queer and trans-inclusive companies are as important, if not more so, than their feminist identities. And yet, it’s also the case that these businesses have historically been very white. If you look at photos of Good Vibrations staff from the 1980s, for example, everyone is white and female. So it’s perhaps not surprising that some customers got the impression that Good Vibrations was a white women’s store—even as the company worked hard to change that perception and diversity its staff. This was certainly how Oakland-based retailer Nenna Joiner, the founder of Feelmore, experienced Good Vibrations when she first discovered the company in the late 1990s. Although she loved what the store offered, she didn’t see any images that represented her. She realized there was a need in the African American community for more diverse sexual images and resources, and decided to start a business that could deliver what she felt was missing from other women-run sex-toy stores.

How have feminist sex toy stores remained true to their mission while also turning a profit?

The ongoing tension between profitability and social change is a thread that runs throughout Vibrator Nation. Many of the retailers I write about started their businesses because they saw their stores as a feminist way to empower women (and eventually everyone). They led with a mission of social change rather than capitalist aspirations. Good Vibrations’ Joani Blank once told me that profits were secondary to everything that was important to her about running a successful business. And if you read the mission statements of many of the businesses that followed in Good Vibrations’ footsteps, they’re all about promoting sex education and personal transformation and creating a more passionate world. There’s almost no mention of making money. As one of my interviewees pointed out, if you don’t put profitability in your mission statement, it’s easy to forget about it. In some cases, it took a severe financial crisis for retailers to realize they needed to cultivate new forms of business expertise and foster attitudes in which money was seen as friend instead of foe, something that not only greased the wheels of social change but kept those wheels spinning.

How did feminists end up changing the adult industry?

Perhaps the most dramatic shift over the past forty years is the acknowledgment on the part of mainstream adult retailers, manufacturers, and porn producers that the sex industry is no longer a world of men. In a post Sex and the City and Fifty Shades of Grey era, this statement might seem glaringly obvious, but it wasn’t that long ago that women found themselves marginalized in an industry largely dominated by men and steeped in sexism. I heard stories during my research of female product buyers with budgets of upwards of $3,000,000 annually who couldn’t get the time of day at adult novelty trade shows. Men would look right past them. And that was in the early 2000s. Feminists played an absolutely central role in creating a market that is now widely regarded as one of the hottest growth segments of the adult industry. Today, women are trusted authorities who routinely hold the microphone in seminar rooms filled with wholesalers, distributors, retailers, and content producers eager to mine their expertise. There have been other important changes, too, most notably in regard to sex-toy manufacturing and marketing. By the early 1990s women were placing new demands on the adult novelty sector. Good Vibrations began offering warranties and started sending defective merchandise back to manufacturers, letting them know they weren’t going to settle for cheaply made products that conked out after one use. Manufacturers started making products that looked prettier, had better motors, and used non-toxic and body safe materials. Sex-toy packaging with images of sultry porn starlets has been replaced with softer, more colorful, and sanitized imagery. Messages about sexual health and education, rather than titillation, are regularly used as marketing platforms. Art school grads and mechanical engineers are bringing elements of sleek design and quality manufacturing to an industry that used to revolve around the idea of planned obsolescence where nothing was made to last. It’s a far cry from what the adult industry looked like in the early 1970s when Dell Williams and Joani Blank took a bold leap of faith and started their small, women-friendly vibrator businesses.

What are some of the challenges of doing scholarly work on the sex industry?

What it means to do scholarly work on the sex industry has changed quite a bit over the past 15 years. When I was completing my Ph.D. in the early 2000s, academic research on the adult industry was hardly typical and it wasn’t unusual for someone to raise an eyebrow when I told them that I was researching feminist sex-toy stores. They were intrigued but often skeptical about the scholarly merits of such research. Although academic research on the adult industry is still not the norm, there’s a growing, international network of sexuality scholars—historians, sociologists, media studies practitioners, and others—who study pornography and other facets of the adult entertainment industry in an effort to better understand this extremely profitable yet under-examined segment of popular culture. This scholarship is increasingly finding institutional support not only in the form of tenure-track academic appointments, but in academic journals and professional organizations, too. Additionally, more and more academic presses are realizing that there’s a market for well-researched books about pornography and the sex industry, and are building their lists according. As for the nitty-gritty of researching the sex industry, it’s really no different than studying any other cultural phenomenon: you approach it ethically, rigorously, and systematically. The less we exoticize sexuality research, and the more we treat it with the seriousness that we might approach other scholarly topics, the better this research will be.

You can order Vibrator Nation from your favorite local or online bookstore (print and e-editions available) or order directly from Duke University Press. Use coupon code E17COMEL to save 30%.

 

Read to Respond: Queer Studies

R2R final logoOur “Read to Respond” series addresses the current climate of misinformation by highlighting articles and books that encourage thoughtful, educated debate on today’s most pressing issues. This post focuses on queer studies in celebration of Pride Month and yesterday’s Equality March for Unity & Pride. Read, reflect, and share these resources in and out of the classroom to keep these important conversations going.

Queer Studies

These articles are freely available until December 15, 2017. Follow along with the series over the next several months and share your thoughts with #ReadtoRespond.

Read to Respond: Trans Rights

R2R final logoOur “Read to Respond” series addresses the current climate of misinformation by highlighting articles and books that encourage thoughtful, educated debate on today’s most pressing issues. This post focuses on trans rights in light of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, a day dedicated to drawing the attention of policymakers, opinion leaders, social movements, the public, and the media to the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTQIA+ people internationally. Read, reflect, and share these resources in and out of the classroom to keep these important conversations going.

Trans Rights

These articles are freely available until December 15, 2017. Follow along with the series over the next several months and share your thoughts with #ReadtoRespond.

Celebrating International Women’s Day

InternationalWomensDay-portraitToday is International Women’s Day (IWD), a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Since the early 1900s, this day has been a powerful platform that unifies tenacity and drives action for gender parity globally. IWD organizers are calling on supporters to help forge a better-working and more gender-inclusive world. In honor of this year’s International Women’s Day, we are pleased to share these recent books and journals from Duke University Press that support this year’s IWD theme: #BeBoldForChange.

Trans/Feminisms
a special issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly

tsq_new_prThis special double issue of TSQ goes beyond the simplistic dichotomy between an exclusionary transphobic feminism and an inclusive trans-affirming feminism. Exploring the ways in which trans issues are addressed within feminist and women’s organizations and social movements around the world, contributors ask how trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary issues are related to feminist movements today, what kind of work is currently undertaken in the name of trans/feminism, what new paradigms and visions are emerging, and what questions still need to be taken up. Central to this special issue is the recognition that trans/feminist politics cannot restrict itself to the domain of gender alone.

This issue features numerous shorter works that represent the diversity of trans/feminist practices and problematics and, in addition to original research articles, includes theory, reports, manifestos, opinion pieces, reviews, and creative/artistic productions, as well as republished key documents of trans/feminist history and international scholarship.

Living a Feminist Life

978-0-8223-6319-4In Living a Feminist Life Sara Ahmed shows how feminist theory is generated from everyday life and the ordinary experiences of being a feminist at home and at work. Building on legacies of feminist of color scholarship in particular, Ahmed offers a poetic and personal meditation on how feminists become estranged from worlds they critique—often by naming and calling attention to problems—and how feminists learn about worlds from their efforts to transform them. Ahmed also provides her most sustained commentary on the figure of the feminist killjoy introduced in her earlier work while showing how feminists create inventive solutions—such as forming support systems—to survive the shattering experiences of facing the walls of racism and sexism. The killjoy survival kit and killjoy manifesto, with which the book concludes, supply practical tools for how to live a feminist life, thereby strengthening the ties between the inventive creation of feminist theory and living a life that sustains it.

1970s Feminisms
a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly

ddsaq_114_4For more than a decade, feminist historians and historiographers have engaged in challenging the “third wave” portrait of 1970s feminism as essentialist, white, middle-class, uninterested in racism, and theoretically naive. This task has involved setting the record straight about women’s liberation by interrogating how that image took hold in the public imagination and among academic feminists. This issue invites feminist theorists to return to women’s liberation—to the texts, genres, and cultural productions to which the movement gave rise—for a more nuanced look at its conceptual and political consequences. The essays in this issue explore such topics as the ambivalent legacies of women’s liberation; the production of feminist subjectivity in mass culture and abortion documentaries; the political effects of archiving Chicana feminism; and conceptual and generic innovations in the work of Gayle Rubin, Christine Delphy, and Shulamith Firestone.

The Revolution Has Come: Black Power, Gender, and the Black Panther Party in Oakland

978-0-8223-6286-9In The Revolution Has Come Robyn C. Spencer traces the Black Panther Party’s organizational evolution in Oakland, California, where hundreds of young people came to political awareness and journeyed to adulthood as members. Challenging the belief that the Panthers were a projection of the leadership, Spencer draws on interviews with rank-and-file members, FBI files, and archival materials to examine the impact the organization’s internal politics and COINTELPRO’s political repression had on its evolution and dissolution. She shows how the Panthers’ members interpreted, implemented, and influenced party ideology and programs; initiated dialogues about gender politics; highlighted ambiguities in the Panthers’ armed stance; and criticized organizational priorities. Spencer also centers gender politics and the experiences of women and their contributions to the Panthers and the Black Power movement as a whole. Providing a panoramic view of the party’s organization over its sixteen-year history, The Revolution Has Come shows how the Black Panthers embodied Black Power through the party’s international activism, interracial alliances, commitment to address state violence, and desire to foster self-determination in Oakland’s black communities.

Reconsidering Gender, Violence, and the State
a special issue of Radical History Review

ddrhr_126In bringing together a geographically and temporally broad range of interdisciplinary historical scholarship, this issue of Radical History Review offers an expansive examination of gender, violence, and the state. Through analyses of New York penitentiaries, anarchists in early twentieth-century Japan, and militarism in the 1990s, contributors reconsider how historical conceptions of masculinity and femininity inform the persistence of and punishments for gendered violence. The contributors to a section on violence and activism challenge the efficacy of state solutions to gendered violence in a contemporary US context, highlighting alternatives posited by radical feminist and queer activists. In five case studies drawn from South Africa, India, Ireland, East Asia, and Nigeria, contributors analyze the archive’s role in shaping current attitudes toward gender, violence, and the state, as well as its lasting imprint on future quests for restitution or reconciliation. This issue also features a visual essay on the “false positives” killings in Colombia and an exploration of Zanale Muholi’s postapartheid activist photography.

Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology

978-0-8223-6295-1The editors and contributors to Color of Violence ask: What would it take to end violence against women of color? Presenting the fierce and vital writing of INCITE!’s organizers, lawyers, scholars, poets, and policy makers, Color of Violence radically repositions the antiviolence movement by putting women of color at its center. The contributors shift the focus from domestic violence and sexual assault and map innovative strategies of movement building and resistance used by women of color around the world. The volume’s thirty pieces—which include poems, short essays, position papers, letters, and personal reflections—cover violence against women of color in its myriad forms, manifestations, and settings, while identifying the links between gender, militarism, reproductive and economic violence, prisons and policing, colonialism, and war. At a time of heightened state surveillance and repression of people of color, Color of Violence is an essential intervention.

World Policy Interrupted
a special issue of World Policy Journal

wpj33_4_23_frontcover_fppThis issue is penned entirely by female foreign policy experts and journalists and “imagines a world where we wouldn’t need to interpret to be heard at the table. In reconstructing a media landscape where the majority of foreign policy experts quoted, bylined, and miked are not men, we quickly gain deeper insight into a complex world, one historically narrated by only one segment of society,” co-editors Elmira Bayrasli and Lauren Bohn write. Bayrasli and Bohn lead Foreign Policy Interrupted, a program that mentors, develops, and amplifies the voices of women in the international policy field. Foreign Policy Interrupted combats the industry’s gender disparity through a visibility platform and a cohesive fellowship program, including media training and meaningful mentoring at partnering media institutions. The program helps women break both internal and external barriers.

Stay up to date on women’s studies scholarship with these journals on gender studies, feminist theory, queer theory, and gay and lesbian studies:

Camera Obscura
differences
GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies
Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies

 

2017 Modern Language Association Highlights and Wrap-Up

We had a great time selling books and journals, meeting authors, and congratulating award-winners at the 2017 annual meeting of the Modern Language Association (MLA) in Philadelphia last week. Thank you to all who stopped by our exhibit booth to browse and buy. In case you couldn’t attend, here are some conference highlights!

The convention kicked off with the Council of Editors of Learned Journals (CELJ) awards on Thursday. Congratulations again to David Scott, editor of Small Axe, for his 2016 Distinguished Editor Award! Read more about David Scott, the award, and Small Axe here.

nadiaellis

Nadia Ellis, author of Territories of the Soul: Queered Belonging in the Black Diaspora

Several Duke authors were also honored with awards this year. Nadia Ellis won the William Sanders Scarborough Prize Honorable Mention for her book, Territories of the Soul: Queered Belonging in the Black Diaspora.

From the GL/Q Caucus of the MLA, Petrus Liu won the Alan Bray Memorial Book Prize Honorable Mention for his book, Queer Marxism in Two Chinas.

Jose David Saldivar, co-editor of Junot Diaz and the Decolonial Imagination and author of Trans-Americanity, was awarded the American Literature Society’s Hubbell Medal for Lifetime Achievement in American Literary Studies.

Jasbir K. Puar, author of the Social Text #124 article “Bodies with New Organs: Becoming Trans, Becoming Disabled,” won the GL/Q Caucus’s Crompton-Noll Prize for Best LGBTQ Studies Article. Read the article, made freely available.

A Friday reception celebrated the minnesota review and Mediations.0106171938a

We were also happy to see some of our authors and journal editors stop by our booth. Here are a few photos:

Couldn’t make it to the convention? Are there still books you want to buy but couldn’t fit in your suitcase? Don’t worry—you can still stock up on books and journals at dukeupress.edu using our conference discount. Just use coupon code MLA17 at checkout through the end of February!

New Books In November

Our Fall season continues to bring in a bounty of smart, interesting, vital books.  Check out these new titles dropping in November:

978-0-8223-6286-9In the year of the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther founding, Robyn C. Spencer gives us The Revolution Has Come. In these pages Spencer traces the Black Panther Party’s organizational evolution in Oakland, California, examining how its internal politics along with external forces such as COINTELPRO shaped the Party’s efforts at fostering self-determination in Oakland’s black communities.

Now Peru is Mine is the account of the life of Manuel Llamojha Mitma, one of Peru’s most creative and inspiring indigenous political activists. His compelling life story covers nearly eight decades, providing a window into many key developments in Peru’s tumultuous twentieth-century history and political mobilization in Cold War Latin America.

978-0-8223-6235-7In Eating the Ocean, Elspeth Probyn moves away from a simplified food politics that is largely land-based and looks at food politics from an ocean-centric perspective by tracing the global movement of several marine species to explore the complex and entangled relationship between humans and fish.

Olufemi Vaughan, in Religion and the Making of Nigeria, examines how Christian, Muslim, and indigenous religious structures along with the legacies of British colonial rule have provided the essential social and ideological frameworks for the construction of contemporary Nigeria.

978-0-8223-6261-6Queer Cinema in the World offers a new theory of queer world cinema. Karl Schoonover and Rosalind Galt explore how queer cinema intersects with shifting ideals of global politics and cinema aesthetics to demonstrate its potential to disturb dominant modes of world-making and to forge spaces of queer belonging.

In the vein of hemispheric American studies, the contributors to New Countries examine how eight newly independent nations in the Western Hemisphere between 1750 and 1870 played fundamental roles in the global transformation from commercial to industrial capitalism.

We Dream Together is a thorough social and political history in which Anne Eller breaks with dominant narratives of the history of the Dominican Republic and its relationship with Haiti by tracing the complicated history of its independence between 1822 and 1865, thus showing how the Dominican Republic’s political roots are deeply entwined with Haiti’s.

978-0-8223-6244-9In Thinking Literature Across ContinentsRanjan Ghosh and J. Hillis Miller—two thinkers from different continents, cultures, training, and critical perspectives—debate and reflect upon what literature is, can be, and do in variety of contexts ranging from Victorian literature and Chinese literary criticism to Sanskrit Poetics and Continental philosophy.

Want to make sure you don’t miss a new book? Sign up for Subject Matters, our  e-mail newsletter.

The Politics of the Public Toilet

ddsaq_115_4The most recent issue of SAQ: South Atlantic Quarterly features “The Politics of the Public Toilet,” an Against the Day section edited by Kathi Weeks. “From the history of racial segregation in the United States and the ongoing sex segregation of toilets to the desperate dearth of facilities around the world, the provision and governance of the toilet is a politically charged phenomenon,” Weeks contends in the introduction to the section.

Contributors address topics such as bathroom access and social hierarchy, the decreased number of public toilets and privacy comfort in Britain for queer interactions, access to effective and adequate toilets in developing cities, the fear of public toilets and “others” as germ-ridden, dirty, and dangerous, and reframing the assumed necessity for sex-segrated public toilets, which includes a design proposal for a single-unit gender-neutral bathroom by architect Joel Sanders and trans* scholar Susan Stryker.

“The public toilet has been the scene of exclusions, but it is also becoming the site of new possibilities for political theory and practice,” Weeks argues.

The essays featured in “The Politics of the Public Toilet” will be freely available for the next six months.

Against the Day is a thematic section composed of short essays that engage topics of contemporary political importance. The title, “Against the Day,” is meant to highlight both the modes of activism and the specific occasion that the essays address.

The Child Now

ddglq_22_4Futurity, innocence, and childish subversion—as concepts, as frameworks—have yet to catch up to where the child has moved in the present century. In “The Child Now,” a special issue of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, edited by Julian Gill-Peterson, Rebekah Sheldon, and Kathryn Bond Stockton, contributors explore topics that are both vital and challenging for current queer studies.

Offering three new, rich formulations calibrated for thinking the child in this century, “The Queer Child Now and its Paradoxical Global Effects” by Kathryn Bond Stockton includes a reflection on how the terrain of the queer child has dramatically changed since the publication of her foundational book, The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century, in 2009. “Same-Sex Marriage Litigation and Children’s Right to Be Queer” by Clifford Rosky combines queer theory and legal frameworks to bring much-needed context and critical questions to recent landmark legal decisions on same-sex marriage in the United States.

Other topics in this issue include child revolutionaries’ actions in Egypt and the colonial afterlife of the boarding school for indigenous children. Following the twists and turns of children now, contributors confront how race, gender, and sexuality are made to live and grow in children’s bodies.

Read the introduction to the issue, made freely available.

Upcoming Events: Tim Lawrence

In his new book  Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983, Tim Lawrence examines the city’s party, dance, music, and art culture between 1980 and 1983, tracing the rise, apex, and fall of this inventive, vibrant, and tumultuous scene. Lawrence has a number of launch events in New York and London including readings, a symposium on the book and even some dance parties. We hope you can make it to one of them.

Party and Book Signing
25 September, 5:00 to midnight
Lucky Cloud Sound System Loft Party
Rose Lipman Building, de Beauvoir Road, London N1

Presentation, Discussion, Screening and DJing
Join Tim Lawrence in a conversation with Greg Wilson, a screening of Downtown 81, and DJing by Guillaume Chottin and Simon Halpin.
30 September
Hosted by Pages of Hackney at The Institute of Light
376 Helmsley Pl, London E8 3SB

Reading, Exhibition and Book Signing
Exhibition curated by Conor Donlon and Tim Lawrence.
1 October
Donlon Books
75 Broadway Market
London, E8 4PH

Discussion
October 4, 1:00pm
Yale University
Interdisciplinary Performance Studies Working Group
220 York Street, Room 201
New Haven, CT

Lecture
NYC Party Culture 1980-83: Conjuncture, Queers, Women
October 4, 5:00pm
Yale University
Loria 351
New Haven, CT

Lecture and Q&A
October 6, 4:30pm
Cornell University
Music Department, Lincoln Hall, Room 124
Ithaca, NY 14850

Lecture, Discussion and Book Signing
Lawrence will lecture on and discuss his book with Tavia Nyong’o.
October 7, 6:30 pm
The CUNY Graduate Center
365 5th Ave, NY 10016

Symposium Keynote: Tim Lawrence
October 8, 10:00am
Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at NYU
Performance Studies Studio
721 Broadway, 6th Floor, Rm. 612
Readings: Patti Astor and Tim Lawrence
Contributors: Leonard Abrams (East Village Eye), Emily Armstrong (video filmmaker), Patti Astor (downtown actor, Fun Gallery, Wild Style), Jeffrey Deitch (curator), Johnny Dynell (Mudd Club, Pyramid, Danceteria, Area), Kit Fitzgerald (video filmmaker), Jim Fouratt (Hurrah, Danceteria), Bernard Gendron (author), Steven Harvey (New York Rocker), Michael Holman (Negril, breaking impresario), Pat Ivers (video filmmaker), Danny Krivit (Roxy), Sal Principato (Liquid Liquid), John Robie (musician, producer), Chi Chi Valenti (Mudd Club, Danceteria), Sharon White (the Saint), Michael Zilkha (ZE Records)

Book Photo Show and Reception
Bobby Grossman (with Richard Boch), Allan Tannenbaum, Harvey Wang, Ande Whyland (with Dany Johnson) present photographs with commentary
October 8, 6:30pm
Howl Gallery
6 E 1st St, New York, NY 10003

Loft Party with Book Signing
October 9
The Loft

 718 Sessions Party with Book Signing
October 9
718 Sessions
http://dannykrivit.net/news

Conversation and Book Signing
Tim Lawrence in conversation with Ivan Baker (Mudd Club, Pyramid), Justin Strauss (Mudd Club, the Ritz), and Will Socolov (Sleeping Bag)
October 11
Rough Trade
64 N. 9TH St.
New York, NY

Screening, Panel Discussion and Book Signing
Dany Johnson DJing, screening of Downtown 81, panel discussion led by Tim Lawrence featuring Patti Astor, Johnny Dynell, Michael Holman and Ann Magnuson.
October 13, 6:30pm
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Film Plus, 425 seat Titus 1 Theater
11 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019

Conversation, DJ Set and Book Signing
Tim Lawrence conversation with Ivan Baker (Mudd Club, Pyramid) and Justin Strauss (Mudd Club, the Ritz); DJing set by Ivan Baker and Justin Strauss
October 15, 4:00pm
Super Elevation Records
100 White St., New York, NY

Party and Book Signing
Better Days party at Analog, Bruce Forest DJ set.
October 15
Analog BKNY
177 Second Ave.
Brooklyn NY 11215

Discussion and Reading
Tim Lawrence in discussion with Steven Harvey.
October 16, 3:00pm
Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects/SHFAP
Exhibition, Paradise: Underground Culture in NYC 1978-83
208 Forsyth St, New York, NY 10002 

Lecture
October 17, 4:00pm
Columbia University
Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality
754 Schermerhorn Ext, New York, NY 10027

Talk, Reading and Book Signing
26 October
Phonica Records
51 Poland St, London W1F 7LZ

Listening Session, Talk and Book Signing
Tim Lawrence presents Dinosaur L 24-24 Music.
6 November
Classic Album Sundays

Discussion and Book Signing
Tim Lawrence in conversation with Greg Wilson.
26 November, 6:00pm
Walthamstow Rock n Roll Book Club
Waterstones in Walthamstow
Unit 30-31 Selbourne Walk Shopping Centre
Walthamstow, London, E17 7JR

After Party
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On Second Book-Writing

 

 

Today we are happy to present a guest blog post from Duke University Press author Nick Salvato, who is Associate Professor and Chair of Performing and Media Arts at Cornell University, and the author of Uncloseting Drama: American Modernism and Queer Performance, and our recent book Obstruction. Here, Salvato discusses the privileges and un-obstruction of second book-writing.

obstructionLast year, colleagues at Williams College, participating in a reading group on affect theory, invited me to share material from my then-forthcoming book Obstruction, which has since been published by Duke University Press. As expected, we discussed affect, its relationship to sensation and intellection, and the role of each of these key terms in my book project. What I did not expect, but was grateful to have an opportunity to consider with smart fellow travelers in the humanities, was how to respond to an invitation posed by one of the reading group’s organizing members, who said pointedly, “We need to talk about the fact that this is a second book—and that it couldn’t be a first book.”

Let me zoom out from that splendid provocation and offer a context in which to situate it. Obstruction is not only a specimen of scholarly writing but also a book about scholarly writing. It takes up the experiential stuff of everyday academic life that we suppose to be bad for projects like book-writing—embarrassment, laziness, slowness, cynicism, digressiveness—and turns each of these phenomena on its ear in order to disclose its unexpected, paradoxical value. Neither naively embracing the productivity demanded of professors in the corporatized, neoliberal university nor proposing an abandonment or supersession of work, Obstruction walks a fine line by asking its readers to acknowledge negative or impedimental conditions precisely as impediments, yet at the same time to generate out of them some things of promise or hope: whether as small as a sentence or a close reading of a cinematic scene or as large as an argument about contemporaneity and global capitalism.

So why couldn’t Obstruction have been a first book? A number of speculations were tested in the conversation at Williams. A scholar has to have traction in the profession, which the first book helps signally to provide, in order to write a meta-professional book in whose legitimacy anyone will invest. Authors of first books are not as likely to be encouraged by editors and peer reviewers to tackle big questions of potentially general interest (what exactly is embarrassment? why might cynicism not only be toxic? how could it be that a lot of hand-wringing over the ostensible speed and distraction associated with contemporary media is misplaced?). And readers may question the chops of a young scholar who tackles a very varied archive, as I do in Obstruction when I survey popular music, experimental theatre, independent film, cable television, and journalistic blogging; the first book is expected to establish one’s narrower bona fides as, say, a theatre historian or a media theorist—certainly not as both, at once.

In other words, it is an extraordinary privilege to expect to be taken seriously in writing reflexively about writing, in supposing that the reach of one’s work may surpass disciplinary specialization, in aiming to demonstrate that one can rigorously interpret many different kinds of objects—let alone to do all three under one cover. But there is a further matter of what we could variously call authorial persona, voice, or style that I would be remiss not to address as well in trying to understand the second bookishness of Obstruction. Trusting the basic stability and credibility of my voice (it took in part having written the first book to enjoy such confidence), I wanted to see what would happen if I stretched it in various ways: risking more confessional asides, more sly humor, denser clauses, stranger lexicons. And, it will at this point be little surprise, the best models I identified for such writerly experimentation came in many instances from the second books of some of my favorite scholars: Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet, Lauren Berlant’s The Queen of America Goes to Washington City, Ann Cvetkovich’s An Archive of Feelings, to name a few. A certain boldness and eccentricity, which is also to say a certain difficulty, is a luxury to which second book writers may find that they will have greater access, permission, or indulgence.

But does it have to be thus? Why do various forms of professional gate-keeping and policing, including but by no means beginning or ending with self-policing, make some scholarly moves ones that I mark here as forms of privilege or luxury? In chewing on that question, I have been thinking a lot about a passage from Sedgwick’s 1993 essay, “Queer and Now,” which I quote in one of Obstruction’s longer, more discursive footnotes but which ought to be shared more emphatically, hence its reinvocation here: “It is not a simple fact…for the facilities of creativity and thought to represent rare or exorbitant privilege. Their economy should not and need not be one of scarcity.” I could not agree more with Sedgwick’s still-timely assertion and the alternative intellectual economy, one opposed to scarcity, toward which she gestures obliquely. How to make such an alternative economy obtain is a question for which Sedgwick did not, in “Queer and Now,” have a direct answer. And I am not sure that I feel any closer to one in turn.

Or at least not to a systematic one. I can inhabit, and imagine many others inhabiting, and imagine advocating that many others should inhabit, a consistent position of critical generosity and indeed expansiveness when advising junior colleagues how to think about what forms and terms are possible for their work—and especially when evaluating that work. But that position, however consistently adopted, feels nonetheless too nonce and incremental to me. A more radical, wholesale reorientation of our scholarly expectations and norms, pushing our more vulnerable writers past the current can’ts and shouldn’ts, is a goal for whose realization I am impatient. I don’t want to wait for the authority conferred on the third book, or on any individually written book at all, to help make more wholly un-obstructed who ventures to write beyond the rules.

You can order Obstruction from your favorite local or online bookstore (print and e-editions available) or order directly from Duke University Press. Use coupon code E16NSALV  to save 30%.