Gender 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.

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 Heather Berg, editor of “Reading Sex Work”

Contributors to “Reading Sex Work,” a new issue of the South Atlantic Quarterly, theorize sexual labor as both work and a site of labor resistance and transformation. Rather than critiquing sex work itself, they highlight sex workers’ own production of knowledge for navigating racial capitalism, state violence, and economic precarity. In today’s Q&A, issue editor Heather Berg discusses what sets “Reading Sex Work” apart and highlights a few of its contributions. Check out the issue’s contents here, including an interview with femi babylon, which is free through the end of November.

What makes “Reading Sex Work” unique or essential? What does it do that no other collection has done before?

What I hoped to do with this issue was to turn a sex work lens outward rather than a civilian (non-sex worker) gaze in. There’s a lot of fatigue in sex worker communities with the academy’s fascination with sex workers’ stories. One of the things this issue is interested in is that proliferation of scholarly interest. The pieces focus less on learning new things about sex workers than they do sex workers’ confrontations with outsiders’ ideas about their work. That comes through most directly where the authors theorize from their own locations as sex workers. It also comes through in pieces where authors engage fieldwork or literature to think about the politics of knowledge production about sexual labor. What happens when the material realities of sex work run up against theoretical ideas conceived outside that context? How does a sex work lens shift how we read Marxist political economy on the wage, feminist theorizing on gendered performance, or queer of color theorizing on pleasure politics?

The issue is also turning away from making appeals for inclusion or trying to convince anti-sex worker readers to shift their perspective. As crucial as those strategies are, they can leave little room for the stickier questions I wanted to foreground in this issue. Svati Shah’s piece gets at this tension directly, asking sex work scholars to rethink our participation in “the debate.” This is in line with a broader turn in sex workers’ own political strategy, where volumes such as the recent We Too: Essays on Sex Work and Survival are more and more refusing to try to convince readers who aren’t coming in good faith anyway. The essays included in this issue take as a given that sex work is work (if also sometimes anti-work), and the issue’s address is to readers who are already ready to meet us on those terms. 

How do you imagine “Reading Sex Work” could be used in courses or as a basis for future scholarship?

I hope the issue is useful to sex work scholars, who will find fresh perspectives on big questions that are vexing the field. Vanessa Carlisle and femi babylon’s pieces, for example, engage in different ways with what we mean when we call sex work “work.” I think this marks an important departure from (again, really crucial) writing that fights so hard to show that sex work is just work that it can’t ask that question. Julian Glover and Jayne Swift’s pieces will offer new insights on the politics of pleasure, and disrupt the common idea that only workers who have all their material needs met care about it. This shifts, I think, how scholars and organizers might talk about pleasure and survival in what we call the “whorerarchy.”

“The essays included in this issue take as a given that sex work is work (if also sometimes anti-work), and the issue’s address is to readers who are already ready to meet us on those terms.”

I also hope that scholars who don’t write or teach about sex work will use the issue to think about what sex workers’ encounters with knowledge production might have to say about the questions that are most immediate for them. Those interested in platform economies will find new insight about workplace control and resistance in Kate Hardy and Camille Barbagallo’s essay, while those interested in informal labor will find in Svati Shah’s essay key interventions on how we should think about the state.

Scholars of service work will find in the two pieces from Annie McClanahan and Jon-David Settell and Gregory Mitchell and Thaddeus Blanchette new ways to think about what gets sold in service work and what that means for those who enter into the exchange. Crucially, both pieces remind that the exchange doesn’t mean the same thing for workers and consumers.

Finally, the issue is as much for sex worker readers (paywall withstanding) as it is for those curious to learn more. I hope sex working readers will find pieces that feel generative, even as those of us in the academy wrestle with questions of extraction that can’t be easily smoothed over.

Explore the contents of “Reading Sex Work” here, or pick up a copy.

New Books in August

Don’t miss all our exciting new releases in August!

In three long-form poems and a lyrical essay, fahima ife speculates in Maroon Choreography on the afterlives of Black fugitivity, unsettling the historic knowledge of it while moving inside the ongoing afterlives of those people who disappeared themselves into rural spaces beyond the reach of slavery.

Rachel Zolf activates the last three lines of a poem by Jewish Nazi Holocaust survivor Paul Celan—“No one / bears witness for the / witness”—to theorize the poetics and im/possibility of witnessing in No One’s Witness.

In Amkoullel, the Fula Boy, Malian writer Amadou Hampâté Bâ—one of the towering figures in the literature of twentieth-century Francophone Africa—tells in striking detail the story of his youth, which was set against inter-ethnic conflict and the arrival and installation of French colonialism.

In The Politics of Decolonial Investigation Walter D. Mignolo provides a sweeping examination of how colonialty has operated around the world in its myriad forms between the sixteenth and twenty-first centuries while calling for a decolonial politics that would delink from all forms of Western knowledge.

Laurence Coderre explores the material culture of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in Newborn Socialist Things to show how it paved the way for rampant commodification and consumption in contemporary China.

Carolyn Hardin offers a new way of understanding arbitrage—the trading practice that involves buying assets in one market at a cheap price and immediately selling them in another market for a profit—as a means of showing how its reliance upon taking on risk is fundamental to financial markets in Capturing Finance.

Monica Huerta draws on her experiences growing up in her family’s Mexican restaurants and her life as an academic in Magical Habits 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 contributors to Long Term, edited by Scott Herring and Lee Wallace, use the tension between the popular embrace and legalization of same-sex marriage and the queer critique of homonormativity as an opportunity to examine the myriad forms of queer commitments and their durational aspect.

In Domestic Contradictions Priya Kandaswamy brings together two crucial moments in welfare history—the advent of the Freedmen’s Bureau during Reconstruction and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996—to show how they each targeted Black women through negative stereotyping and normative assumptions about gender, race, and citizenship.

In Policing Protest Paul A. Passavant explores how the policing of protest in the United States has become increasingly hostile since the late 1990s, moving away from strategies that protect protestors toward militaristic practices designed to suppress legal protests.

In A Black Intellectual’s Odyssey Martin Kilson—the first tenured African American professor at Harvard—takes readers on a fascinating journey from his upbringing in a small Pennsylvania mill town to his experiences as an undergraduate to pursuing graduate study at Harvard before spending his entire career there as a faculty member.

In Whiteness Interrupted, Marcus Bell presents a revealing portrait of white teachers in majority Black schools to outline how white racial identity is constructed based on localized interactions and the ways whiteness takes a different form in predominantly Black spaces.

Jennifer C. Nash examines how the figure of the “Black mother” has become a powerful political category synonymous with crisis, showing how they are often rendered into one-dimensional symbols of tragic heroism and the ground zero of Black life in Birthing Black Mothers.

Transnational Feminist Itineraries, edited by Ashwini Tambe and Millie Thayer, demonstrates the key contributions of transnational feminist theory and practice to analyzing and contesting authoritarian nationalism and the extension of global corporate power.

In Reimagining Social Medicine from the South Abigail H. Neely explores social medicine’s possibilities and limitations at one of its most important origin sites: the Pholela Community Health Centre (PCHC) in South Africa.

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.

Q&A with GLQ editors C. Riley Snorton and Jennifer DeVere Brody

We’re more than pleased to welcome C. Riley Snorton, professor at the University of Chicago, as the newest coeditor of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. In today’s blog post, he and coeditor Jennifer DeVere Brody discuss their involvement with and vision for the journal. Learn more about GLQ or subscribe here.

What is your professional background, and how did you come to be involved with GLQ? What drew you to the journal?

CRS: I am a writer and professor with training in media and cultural studies and working broadly in the fields of Black studies, queer studies, and transgender studies. I am also involved in movements that work for the liberation of Black, queer and trans lives. I first encountered GLQ as an undergraduate women and gender studies major, and the journal has been a recurring touchpoint in my formal and political education. My first publication in GLQ underscores that point, as I was honored to write a short piece of reflection for the 25th anniversary of Cathy Cohen’s noted essay, “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” (GLQ, 1997). Cohen’s essay, to my mind, remains a key example of how queer studies has always had a deep relationship with queer activism.

There were many reasons I was drawn to the journal. It is an honor to serve the field in this capacity, and I feel fortunate to have served alongside Jennifer DeVere Brody and Marcia Ochoa. I greatly admired and am inspired by the editors and editorial team at GLQ and was eager to experience the sociality of queer scholarship through editorial and curatorial work. I also value the short form—the article—as a writing and thinking exercise.

JDB: The editorial team was eager to solidify intellectual connections between Black, queer, and trans studies and we looked to C. Riley Snorton’s scholarship as a model. His contribution for our 25th anniversary issue commented on the most cited essay by Cathy Cohen and we all knew him to be a superb collaborator. It is a joy to work with him and the editorial collective that now meets regularly on Zoom.

What is your vision for GLQ—how do you hope to shape the journal into the future?

CRS: I’ll start by expressing a shared sensibility among the members of the editorial team to highlight scholarship that extends beyond North American (settler colonial) understandings of sex and sexuality.

I have always thought that queer studies (and Black studies and trans studies, for that matter) can be useful for understanding any sort of phenomena, that is that it is a lens for thinking about power, geography, representation, race, feeling, gender, capital, etc., etc. I am also eager to explore the ways GLQ exists beyond print form, whether that’s by hosting incubators for early career scholars, contributing to or producing podcasts, or deepening our online presence.

JDB: Indeed, we hope to think more about other modes of scholarly engagement and incorporating even more visual, sonic, and interactive events.

What recent topics has the journal covered? Are there forthcoming topics or special issues you’re looking forward to?

CRS: I am proud that my time as coeditor coincides with the release of “Cuir/Queer Américas,” a multilingual conversation happening across multiple journals and multiple countries which represents a culmination of the vision of a collective of scholars (including former coeditor Marcia Ochoa) working on queerness and trans* among Latinx and in the Caribbean and across Latin America.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

CRS: It has been rewarding to work with every member of the editorial team—the State of the Field editors, Books-in-Brief editor, Moving Image, and the associate editors who all bring their vision and expertise to bear on the journal. I am also profoundly grateful to Liz Beasley, GLQ’s managing editor, who is key to keeping all systems running. I want to express respect for every previous editor at the journal and appreciation for the editorial board.

Pride Month Reads

June is Pride Month, and we’re proud to take this opportunity to revisit recent books and journal issues that center on queer studies, trans studies, and LGBTQ+ histories.

The contributors to “Left of Queer,” an issue of Social Text edited by David L. Eng and Jasbir K. Puar, offer a detailed examination of queerness and its nearly three-decade academic institutionalization, exploring how emergent debates in three key areas—debility, indigeneity, and trans—connect queer studies to a host of urgent sociopolitical issues. Taking a position that is politically left of the current academic and political mainstreaming of queerness, the essays in this issue examine what is left of queer—what remains outside of the political, economic, and cultural mandates of the state and the liberal individual as its prized subject.

In Wild Things Jack Halberstam offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which the wild—a space located beyond normative borders of sexuality—offers sources of opposition to knowing and being that transgress Euro-American notions of the modern subject.

The HIV/AIDS crisis is often imagined as over, yet it remains in ongoing relevance to trans life and trans death. Contributors to “Trans in a Time of HIV/AIDS,” an issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly edited by Eva Hayward and Che Gossett, examine the intersection of HIV/AIDS and trans studies, theory, and politics. Topics include differences between past and present conjuncture of trans and the virus; how HIV/AIDS matters for present-day trans studies scholarship, especially in our purportedly post-AIDS-crisis moment; and the relationship between the virus and “trans visibility.”

Queer Political Theologies,” an issue of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies edited by Ricky Varghese, David K. Seitz, and Fan Wu, brings together queer studies and political theology in order to explore the relationship between the self and politics, theism, and queerness. Going beyond previous work in queer political theology that has focused primarily on Christianity, contributors to this issue consider how queer sexualities appear in other theological contexts, including articles on astrological, Blackpentecostal, Thirunangai, hijra, and sarimbavy ways of life, recentering marginalized and underrepresented minorities, beliefs, and practices.

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

In “The AIDS Crisis Is Not Over,” a Radical History Review issue edited by Emily K. Hobson and Dan Royles, contributors trace histories from around the globe and examine how HIV/AIDS has been shaped by the political economies of neoliberalism and state violence. They expand understandings of the AIDS crisis to include issues of labor, housing, and carcerality and consider ways to teach the global history of AIDS and examine key questions in writing, preserving, and remembering histories of AIDS activism.

In Sexual Hegemony Christopher Chitty traces the 500 year history of capitalist sexual relations, showing how sexuality became a crucial dimension of the accumulation of capital and a technique of bourgeois rule. The book, published posthumously, is edited by Max Fox.

The Sense of Brown, which he was completing at the time of his death, is José Esteban Muñoz’s treatise on brownness and being as well as his most direct address to queer Latinx studies. The book is edited and introduced by Joshua Chambers-Letson and Tavia Nyong′o.

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

In Information Activism Cait McKinney traces how lesbian feminist activists in the United States and Canada between the 1970s and the present developed communication networks, databases, and digital archives to use as a foundation for their feminist, antiracist, and trans-inclusive work.

Ricardo Montez traces the drawn and painted line that was at the center of Keith Haring’s artistic practice, engaging with Haring’s messy relationships to race-making and racial imaginaries in Keith Haring’s Line.

And finally, congratulations to Ashon Crawley, whose book The Lonely Letters was awarded the Lambda Literary Award in Nonfiction earlier this week.

Honoring Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month, and March 8 is International Women’s Day! This month we are highlighting some recent titles that honor the central but too-often neglected roles women play across history and around the globe.

In Empire’s Mistress Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez follows the life of Filipina vaudeville and film actress Isabel Rosario Cooper, who was the mistress of General Douglas MacArthur, to explore the contours of empire as experienced on the scale of personal relationships.

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

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

Samantha Pinto’s Infamous Bodies explores how histories of and the ongoing fame of Phillis Wheatley, Sally Hemings, Sarah Baartman, Mary Seacole, and Sarah Forbes Bonetta generate new ways of imagining black feminist futures.

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

In Relative Races Brigitte Fielder presents an alternative theory of how race is constructed with readings of nineteenth-century personal narratives, novels, plays, stories, poems, and images to illustrate how interracial kinship follows non-heteronormative, non-biological, and non-patrilineal models of inheritance in nineteenth-century literary culture.


In Claiming Union Widowhood Brandi Clay Brimmer analyzes the US pension system from the perspective of poor black women in the period before, during, and after the Civil War outlines the struggles of mothers, wives, and widows of black Union soldiers to claim rights in the face of unjust legislation.

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

In The Wombs of Women Françoise Vergès examines the scandal of white doctors forcefully terminating the pregnancies of thousands of poor women of color on the French island of Réunion during the 1960s, showing how they resulted from the legacies of the racialized violence of slavery and colonialism.

Engaging with the work of Black musicians, writers, and women mystics, in Black Utopias Jayna Brown takes up the concept of utopia as an occasion to explore new states of being, doing, and imagining in Black culture.

In Information Activism Cait McKinney traces how lesbian feminist activists in the United States and Canada between the 1970s and the present developed communication networks, databases, and digital archives to use as a foundation for their feminist, antiracist, and trans-inclusive work.

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

The “20th Anniversary Reader” of Meridians, edited by Ginetta E. B. Candelario, features thirty of the journal’s most frequently cited, downloaded, and anthologized works since its first issue was published in fall 2000. The forty authors featured in the special supplement are a virtual who’s who of internationally renowned women-of-color scholar-activists (such as Sara Ahmed, Angela Davis, Sonia Alvarez, Paula Giddings, and Sunera Thobani) and award-winning poets (such as Nikky Finney, Laurie Ann Guerrero, and Suheir Hammad).

And check out our Feminist Politics and Women’s Rights Syllabus, one of several staff-curated syllabi focusing on today’s most critical issues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Guest Post: Max Fox Discusses His Experience Editing Christopher Chitty’s Work for Sexual Hegemony

Today’s post is by Sexual Hegemony: Statecraft, Sodomy, and Capital in the Rise of the World System editor, Max Fox. Fox is also an editor of Pinko magazine, a former editor of the New Inquiry, and translator of The Amphitheater of the Dead. In Sexual Hegemony, Christopher Chitty traces the 500 year history of capitalist sexual relations, showing how sexuality became a crucial dimension of the accumulation of capital and a technique of bourgeois rule. Christopher Chitty (1983–2015) was a PhD candidate in the History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

I met Christopher Chitty in 2009, in the context of a student movement against the university as presently constituted. We occupied buildings, issued communiqués and rallied support, statewide at first, then nationally and internationally. I had thought at the start we might not have had a resonant cause, but soon discovered that the financial crisis and ensuing recession ran directly through campuses everywhere. Though supposedly a machine for class stability if not mobility, the university instead was sequestering exotic social villains like credit default swaps and the end of economic growth in our tuition, stabilizing itself by immiserating us. In this, we discovered that the university was not apart from the world but showed us exactly how it worked. 

The university held itself up as a refuge from the market where thought could take place. But the movement against it was my most significant teacher, and Chris personified it for me. And his research into what was revolutionary about the sexual liberation movement addressed another question, one that I hadn’t been able to formulate to myself. I didn’t yet know how to square the obvious shortcomings of the NOH8 era of lobbying for gay rights with the equally plain danger presented by its enemies, but Chris braided the critique. I took our arguments about the bankruptcy of the university seriously, and when I left school and committed myself to building a publishing infrastructure that could support and circulate left thinking outside of an academy that seemed unsupportive at best, it was above all Chris and his work that I had in mind. 

So when he committed suicide, suddenly, in 2015, I almost collapsed. Grieving his death also meant grieving the political coherence that I felt his work had promised me. But it was not just my self concept at risk. His work concerned the meaning of the struggle in which hundreds of thousands had died, and its bearing on the future liberation and survival of everyone else. He had impressed upon me that the losses from the HIV/AIDS epidemic were not just private tragedies but formed a front in the wider war against the global liberation struggle of the 60s and 70s, and so represented a revolutionary legacy which we let fade at our own peril. With these as the stakes, I simply could not let his project end with him. 

So taking on the work felt like no decision at all, though I had never edited such a lengthy text nor did I really see the level of intellectual preparation it would require going in. I had to play a number of different roles — researcher, archivist, fact-checker, copy editor, agent, etc. I drew the line at ghostwriter. Freud mentions in “Mourning and Melancholia” that neurotic identification with the lost object is “the expression of there being something in common, which may signify love.” But however much I loved Chris and however much I wanted to continue living out the aspects we shared in common, this process was a long confrontation with how much he eluded me. 

Chris left numerous versions of the chapters he’d been working on. To adequately present his work I had to dig around in his digital files. I both craved and feared that I would uncover an intact manuscript that neatly presented a polished, compact system. But there were only drafts, notes, incomplete sketches of what even in its unfinished form struck me as monumental. I opened one google doc that promised a full chapter on the American century which stopped loading after the third page. I panicked, afraid that the file had been corrupted somehow, but scrolling to the bottom revealed that he simply hadn’t written any further. It felt like I had lost him all over again. I couldn’t work for the rest of the week. 

Given such a volatile process, it’s not a surprise that it took about five years to publish Sexual Hegemony, though I had had much more optimistic plans. At each step of the way there was a new delicate, unrushable negotiation with his family, the publisher, the collaborators, etc. I was lucky to be graced with a supportive social world. I had generous friends and comrades who offered to let me watch their pet or empty apartment when I had to find a place to focus, and forbearing boyfriends and roommates who put up with what must have been difficult moods for years at a time. I was able to finish it thanks to cheap rent and flexible copywriting gigs I took on to subsidize the work. And the willingness of relative strangers like Christopher Nealon and Courtney Berger to agree to collaborate on such a project with an untested steward like me was an act of faith I can only attribute to the unmistakable power of Chris’s work.

I am grateful for everything that allowed me to share it with readers from a platform that encourages that it will be read. And I am proud that I refused to let mere death prevent his insights from getting out. But how do I register the simultaneous tragedy it represents? I find it very hard not to see him as a casualty of the university which we struggled against together. The fact that I was able to arrange support for my efforts with his work posthumously isn’t a triumph, either, just a story of differently distributed costs. The oblivion still menacing attempts at thinking and writing seriously outside of the academy is a grave political risk as the university now enters an even deeper crisis than the one which brought Chris and I together in 2009. But the fear that gripped me when he died, that he might somehow take the memory of this movement with him, has thankfully abated. Maybe because now the crisis we fought is so endemic as to be unremarkable, our strenuously defended political orientation is more widespread. As I wrestled him these past five years to preserve his legacy in a book, I didn’t anticipate another metamorphosis that continues, though without him. Behind my back grew a movement ready to see itself in him, take his thought, and begin the work of tearing everything down. 

Read the introduction to Sexual Hegemony free online and save 30% on the paperback edition with the coupon code E20HGMNY.