Gender Studies

New Books in January

New year, new books! Check out the great new titles we have coming out in January:

Cover of Wake Up, This is Joburg. The entire cover is a photograph of a Black woman on a street. She stands next to a red traffic light and behind her are a skyscraper and other people. The title is in bright yellow on top of the photo and in the upper left corner is the text Photographs by Mark Lewis, Words by Tanya Zack.

In Wake Up, This Is Joburg, writer Tanya Zack and photographer Mark Lewis offer a stunning portrait of Johannesburg and personal stories of its residents, showing how its urban transformation occurs not in a series of dramatic, widescale changes but in the everyday lives, actions, and dreams of individuals.

Chérie N. Rivers shows how colonial systems of normalized violence condition the way we see and, through collaboration with contemporary Congolese artists, imagines ways we might learn to see differently in To Be Nsala’s Daughter.

In Code, Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan traces the shared intellectual and political history of computer scientists, cyberneticists, anthropologists, linguists, and theorists across the humanities as they developed a communication and computational-based theory that grasped culture and society in terms of codes.

Cover of Bad Education: Why Queer Theory Teaches Us Nothing by Lee Edelman. Cover is bright yellow with lettering in red and black and features an image of a marionette in black professor's garb, holding a pointer.

Lee Edelman offers a sweeping theorization of queerness as one of the many names for the void around and against which the social order takes shape in Bad Education.

Jennifer Lynn Kelly explores the significance of contemporary solidarity tourism in Palestine/Israel in Invited to Witness, showing how such tourism functions both as political strategy and emergent industry.

In River Life and the Upspring of Nature, Naveeda Khan examines the relationship between nature and culture through the study of the everyday existence of chauras, the people who live on the chars (sandbars) within the Jamuna River in Bangladesh.

Drawing on fieldwork in a Chinese toxicology lab that studies the influence of toxins on male reproductive and developmental health, Janelle Lamoreaux investigates how epigenetic research conceptualizes and configures environments in Infertile Environments.

Cover of On Learning to Heal or, What Medicine Doesn't Know by Ed Cohen. The cover is a mint rectangle with a white border. The title is in brown in the center with the word Heal in read. The subtitle lies below and a horizontal line separates the subtitle from the author's name (in captial brown text). At the bottom-center of the page, lies a red snake around a pole.

In On Learning to Heal, Ed Cohen draws on his experience living with Crohn’s disease—a chronic, incurable condition that nearly killed him—to explore how modern Western medicine’s turn from an “art of healing” toward a “science of medicine” impacts all whose lives are touched by illness.

Joseph C. Russo takes readers into the everyday lives of the rural residents of southeast Texas in Hard Luck and Heavy Rain, showing how their hard-luck stories render the region a mythopoetic landscape that epitomizes the impasse of American late capitalism.

Josen Masangkay Diaz interrogates the distinct forms of Filipino American subjectivity that materialized from the relationship between the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship and Cold War US anticommunism in Postcolonial Configurations.

In The Spectacular Generic, Cori Hayden explores how consumer access to generic drugs has transformed public health care and the politics of pharmaceuticals in the global South.

Cover of The Specter of Materialism: Queer Theory and Marxism in the Age of the Beijing Consensus by Petrus Liu. Cover is of an abstract creature sitting with its legs folded under it, its left hand raised with a trail of items falling from its wrist. The creature is a collage resembling magazine cutouts. Its head is oddly shaped with large eyes and lips, and a large detached hand adorned with rings rests atop it.

Petrus Liu challenges key premises of classic queer theory and Marxism in The Specter of Materialism, turning to an analysis of the Beijing Consensus—global capitalism’s latest mutation—to develop a new theory of the political economy of sexuality.

In Uncomfortable Television, Hunter Hargraves examines how postmillennial television made its audiences find pleasure through discomfort, showing that televisual unease trains audiences to survive under late capitalism, which demands that individuals accept a certain amount of discomfort, dread, and irritation into their everyday lives.

Lara Langer Cohen excavates the long history of the underground in nineteenth-century US literature in Going Underground, showing how these formations of the underground can inspire new forms of political resistance.

Cover of Vanishing Sands: Losing Beaches to Mining by Orrin H. Pilkey, Norma J. Longo, William J. Neal, Nelson G. Rangel-Buitrago, Keith C. Pilkey, and Hannah L. Hayes. Cover is a photograph of a mining site from an aerial view featuring haul trucks, gray sand dunes, and a turquoise pond.

Travelling from Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean to South America and the eastern United States, the authors of Vanishing Sands, Orrin H. Pilkey, Norma J. Longo, William J. Neal, Nelson G. Rangel-Buitrago, Keith C. Pilkey, and Hannah L. Hayes, track the devastating environmental, social, and economic impact of legal and illegal sand mining over the past twenty years.

Vincanne Adams takes the complex chemical glyphosate—the active ingredient in Roundup and a pervasive agricultural herbicide—to explore the formation of contested knowledge in Glyphosate and the Swirl.

Never miss a new book! Sign up for our e-mail newsletters, and get notifications of new titles in your preferred disciplines as well as discounts and other news.

New Books in December

As the weather cools and the holiday season approaches, treat yourself to one of our great new December titles!

Cover of On Paradox: The Claims of Theory by Elizabeth S. Anker. Cover features the title in large all-caps blue font against a plain white background.

In On Paradox, Elizabeth S. Anker contends that the faith in the logic of paradox has been the watermark of left intellectualism since the second half of the twentieth century, showing how paradox generates the very exclusions it critiques and undercuts theory’s commitment to social justice.

Piro Rexhepi explores the overlapping postsocialist and postcolonial border regimes in the Balkans that are designed to protect whiteness and exclude Muslim, Roma, and migrant communities in White Enclosures.

The contributors to Turning Archival, edited by Daniel Marshall and Zeb Tortorici, trace the rise of “the archive” as an object of historical desire and study within queer studies and examine how it fosters historical imagination and knowledge.

In Feltness, Stephanie Springgay considers socially engaged art as a practice of research-creation that germinates a radical pedagogy she calls feltness—a set of intimate practices of creating art based on touch, affect, relationality, love, and responsibility.

Cover of Ain't But a Few of Us: Black Music Writiers Tell Their Stories by Willard Jenkins. Cover features pink spotted border on left with purple background to the right. Various sized rectangles across the center feature pictures of hands, somone writing, and instruments. Orange subtitle is bottom-right of images, white title is above, and word US in captial pink. Author's name is below-right images in yellow.

Ain’t But a Few of Us, edited by Willard Jenkins, presents over two dozen candid dialogues with Black jazz critics and journalists who discuss the barriers to access for Black jazz critics and how they contend with the world of jazz writing dominated by white men.

In Poverty and Wealth in East Africa, Rhiannon Stephens offers a conceptual history of how people living in eastern Uganda have sustained and changed their ways of thinking about wealth and poverty over the past two thousand years.

Examining a wide range of photography from across the global South, the contributors to Cold War Camera, edited by Thy Phu, Erina Duganne, and Andrea Noble, explore the visual mediation of the Cold War, illuminating how photography shaped how it was prosecuted and experienced.

In Memory Construction and the Politics of Time in Neoliberal South Korea, Namhee Lee explores how social memory and neoliberal governance in post-1987 South Korea have disavowed the revolutionary politics of the past.

Cover of New Growth: The Art and Texture of Black Hair by Jasmine Nichole Cobb. Cover is red with black and white lettering and features a historical picture of a Black woman in a low-cut dress in the middle. Where her hair would be is a collection of black brush strokes so that she looks like she is wearing a large wig or hat. Underneath her image, upside down, text reads "the strange sit-in that changed a city."

Through close readings of slave narratives, scrapbooks, travel illustration, documentary film and photography, as well as collage, craft, and sculpture, Jasmine Nichole Cobb explores Black hair as a visual material through which to reimagine the sensual experience of Blackness in New Growth.

The contributors to New World Orderings, edited by Lisa Rofel and Carlos Rojas, demonstrate that China’s twenty-first-century rise occurs not only through economics and state politics, but equally through its relationships and interactions with the Global South.

Focusing on his personal day to day experiences of the “shelter-in-place” period during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, Alberto Moreiras offers a meditation on intellectual life and the nature of thought under the suspension of time and conditions of isolation in Uncanny Rest.

Cover of Ruderal City: Ecologies of Migration, Race, and Urban Nature in Berlin by Bettina Stoetzer. Cover is a photograph focused on a small patch of a yellow flower bush. In the background past the bush is an out of focus bridge with a yellow train on it. The sky is blue.

In Ruderal City, Bettina Stoetzer traces the more-than-human relationships between people, plants, and animals in contemporary Berlin, showing how Berlin’s “urban nature” becomes a key site in which notions of citizenship and belonging as well as racialized, gendered, and classed inequalities become apparent.

Veit Erlmann examines the role of copyright law in post-apartheid South Africa and its impact on the South African music industry in Lion’s Share, showing how copyright is inextricably entwined with race, popular music, postcolonial governance, indigenous rights, and the struggle to create a more equitable society.

Rumya Sree Putcha uses the figure of the Indian classical dancer to explore the complex dynamics of contemporary transnational Indian womanhood in The Dancer′s Voice.

In Feminism in Coalition Liza Taylor examines how U.S. women of color feminists’ coalitional collective politics of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s is an indispensable resource to contemporary political theory, feminist studies, and intersectional social justice activism.

Cover of Cooling the Tropics: Ice, Indigeneity, and Hawaiian Refreshment by Hi'ilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani Hobart. White title centered and transparent with "the" centered left and transparent white subtitle to the right. Background features a blue tinged picture of girl eating ice cream in front of light blue, purple, pink, and orange/yellow blended background. Author name in all caps in blue along bottom.

Hiʻilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani Hobart charts the social history of ice in Hawaiʻi in Cooling the Tropics, showing how ice and refrigeration underpinned settler colonial ideas about race, environment, and the senses.

The contributors to Siting Postcoloniality, edited by Pheng Cheah and Caroline S. Hau, reevaluate the notion of the postcolonial by focusing on the Sino-sphere—the region of East and Southeast Asia that has been significantly shaped by relations with China throughout history.

Rupal Oza follows the social life of rape in rural northwest India to reveal how rape is a language through which issues ranging from caste to justice to land are contested in Semiotics of Rape.

Never miss a new book! Sign up for our e-mail newsletters, and get notifications of new titles in your preferred disciplines as well as discounts and other news.

Gift Books On Sale

Our Cyber Monday sale continues today and tomorrow. Are you looking for some books that would make great gifts? Here are some suggestions. Use coupon CYBER22 to save 50% on these and all in-stock and pre-order titles.

Looking for gifts for sports fans? We have two new books about basketball. Capturing the magnificence and mastery of today’s most accomplished NBA players while paying homage to the devotion of the countless congregants in the global church of pickup basketball, in Lost in the Game Thomas Beller charts the game’s inexorable gravitational hold on those who love it. And in Big Game, Small World, Alexander Wolff travels the globe in search of what basketball can tell us about the world, and what the world can tell us about the game.

How about a memoir? Give your gay uncle Memories of a Gay Catholic Boyhood by John D’Emilio, in which the historian takes readers from his working-class Bronx neighborhood and Columbia University to New York’s hidden gay male subculture and the political and social upheavals of the late 1960s. Perhaps you also have a tía or two; they might enjoy Magical Habits by Monica Huerta, in which she draws on her experiences growing up in her family’s Mexican restaurants and her life as an academic to sketch out habits of living that allow us to consider what it means to live with history as we are caught up in it and how those histories bear on our capacities to make sense of our lives. Have a friend who is a graphic novel fan? Give them The Inheritance, a graphic memoir by theorist and filmmaker Elizabeth A. Povinelli, which explores the events, traumas, and powers that divide and define our individual and collective pasts and futures. Another recent memoir is Atlantis, an Autoanthropology, a literary memoir and autoethnography by poet Nathaniel Tarn which captures this multiplicity and reaches for the uncertainties of a life lived in a dizzying array of times, cultures, and environments. 

For poetry fans, we have many excellent gift ideas. Nomenclature collects eight volumes of Dionne Brand’s poetry published between 1983 and 2010, as well as a new long poem, the titular Nomenclature for the time being. In or, on being the other woman, Simone White considers the dynamics of contemporary black feminist life through a book-length poem. When the Smoke Cleared contains poetry written by incarcerated poets in Attica Prison and journal entries and poetry by Celes Tisdale, who led poetry workshops following the uprising there in 1971. In Maroon Choreography fahima ife speculates on the long (im)material, ecological, and aesthetic afterlives of black fugitivity. In three long-form poems and a lyrical essay, they examine black fugitivity as an ongoing phenomenon we know little about beyond what history tells us. And in Good night the pleasure was ours musician and poet David Grubbs melts down and recasts three decades of playing music on tour into a book-length poem, bringing to a close the trilogy that includes Now that the audience is assembled and The Voice in the Headphones. Get the whole set!

Got a musician or music fan in your life? Here are some recent gift-worthy music titles. Jazz fans will enjoy Ain’t But a Few of Us, a collection of essays by and interviews with Black Jazz writers, edited by Willard Jenkins. Or give Cisco Bradley’s Universal Tonality, a highly-praised biography of jazz bassist William Parker. Perhaps their taste runs to New Wave music instead? Check out No Machos or Pop Stars by Gavin Butt, which tells the fascinating story of the post-punk scene in Leeds, and A Kiss across the Ocean by Richard T. Rodríguez, which  examines the relationship between British post-punk musicians and their Latinx audiences in the United States since the 1980s. Rap and hip hop fans will appreciate Breaks in the Air, in which John Klaess tells the story of rap’s emergence on New York City’s airwaves by examining how artists and broadcasters adapted hip hop’s performance culture to radio.

For the activists in your life, we suggest Black Disability Politics by Sami Schalk, which demonstrates that the work of Black disability politics not only exists but is essential to the future of Black liberation movements. And for those interested in advocating for veterans, we suggest Our Veterans by Suzanne Gordon, Steve Early, and Jasper Craven,

And finally, since we’re Duke University Press, after all, we bet you have some theory fans on your gift list. Make sure they have a copy of Lauren Berlant’s On the Inconvenience of Other People, which Judith Butler calls “magisterial” and “brilliant.”

Books ordered this week will arrive in time for Hanukkah and Christmas if shipped to a US address. We cannot guarantee holiday arrival for international shipments. See all the fine print here. Pre-order titles will not arrive in time for the holidays.

We’re pleased that our distributors Combined Academic Publishers and University of Toronto Press are also participating in the sale. Customers outside North and South America should order from CAP using the same CYBER22 coupon code for faster and cheaper shipping. Customers in Canada should head to the UTP site where the prices will reflect the 50% discount, no coupon needed.

Shop now because the sale ends tomorrow, November 30, at 11:59 pm Eastern time.

A Teachable Book: Integrating Climate Change and the New Polar Aesthetics into your Syllabus

In this guest post, Lisa E. Bloom shares a teaching guide for her new book Climate Change and the New Polar Aesthetics. We hope you’ll consider adding it to your 2023 syllabus!

Climate Change and the New Polar Aesthetics: Artists Reimagine the Arctic and Antarctic is a teachable book, clear enough for undergraduates and challenging enough to use with graduate students. The book engages feminist, Black, Indigenous, and non-Western perspectives to address the exigencies of the experience of the Anthropocene and its attendant ecosystem failures brought on by the burning of oil, gas, and coal that has led to polar ice and glacial melt, rising sea levels, deadly floods, fires, and climate-led migrations. The book addresses the way contemporary artists, activists, and filmmakers are devising a new polar aesthetics that challenges the dominant narrative of mainstream media, which equates climate change with apocalyptic spectacles of melting ice and desperate polar bears, and green capitalism with masculinist imagery of sublime wilderness and imperial heroics.

In what follows I present many different threads that you can use to connect the book to an already existing syllabi in a diverse range of courses. For those who have already taught my earlier books or articles but especially Gender on Ice: American Ideologies of Polar Expeditions (1993), you might also be interested in teaching this one as some of the artists were influenced by my earlier writings.

For feminist art history, visual culture or design classes, teachers might be interested in teaching Chapters 1 and 2. Though at first glance climate art and film on the polar region and the Circumpolar North might seem gender and race neutral, the feminist intersectional analysis of representation of the Arctic and Antarctic in these chapters suggests that this welcome reemergence of interest in polar narratives and art often comes wrapped in a colonial nostalgia for white male heroism.  Chapter 1 on Antarctica focuses on four contemporary women artists — Anne Noble, Judit Hersko, Connie Samaras, and Joyce Campbell — whose work collectively creates a specifically feminist critical aesthetics that counters such an approach, since their art  addresses the historic exclusion of women altogether from the continent until the 1960s and 1970s and the way the visual tropes of Antarctica as the last great wilderness on earth contribute to maintaining the perception that Antarctica is still an all-male continent or a living memorial to this earlier moment when only men could populate the continent.

Chapter 2 might also be of interest since it  complicates official polar exploration art by creating plausible, yet fictional, accounts based on the historical record to address the climate crisis. Isaac Julien’s reformulation of the African American polar explorer Matthew Henson (1866 – 1955) not only makes Henson’s accomplishments part of northern polar exploration but creates a new fictional persona for him that challenges mainstream homophobic narratives of imperial heroics. Swedish artist Katja Aglert, in her conceptual project Winter Event — Antifreeze, uses a variety of media and aesthetic techniques to unsettle colonialist and nationalist masculinist history as the major mode of engagement in the Arctic till this day.

In Chapter 3 there is work on the new polar aesthetics that addresses questions of memory and what it means to make art and film about a warming Arctic without sentimentalizing or spectacularizing Indigenous suffering. Film and media studies scholars might be interested in my discussion of three innovative short films on the Arctic that call forth new representations of the climate crisis that focus on a world beset by uncertainty. An online documentary by Zacharias Kunuk and Ian Munro, titled Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change (2010), takes the perspective of an Igloolik community highly affected by climate change. It puts front and center communities from Canada’s Circumpolar North, who craft a decolonial method of knowledge production through filmmaking.

Chapters 4 and 5, cowritten with Elena Glasberg, suggests that the category of art continues to change as artists create new aesthetic arrangements of visibility capable of comprehending the material and representational aspects of climate breakdown (Roni Horn, Amy Balkin, Lillian Ball, Andrea Bowers and Annie Pootoogook). Artists and art historians might be interested in teaching these chapters as artists discussed in this section focus on some of these new aesthetic practices and the way they sensitize us to the unfolding process of climate breakdown. They also might be adopted in more general classes that include the iconic photography of Yosemite by Ansel Adams and Carleton Watkins and coverage of the pieces of land art or environmental art from the 1960s or 1970s. Teachers could juxtapose these earlier works with those emerging from Indigenous, feminist and non-western contexts in the Circumpolar North (Subhankar Banerjee, Andrea Bowers, Amy Balkin, amongst others) to consider a wider range of new directions in art, photography, and conceptual art that engages landscape, environment and ecology. Such approaches contest older romantic views of pristine nature in the Arctic that continues to be used to justify Indigenous absence rather than presence.

Again scholars of visual culture, film and media studies might be interested in Chapter 6  that focuses on innovative new-media films that take into account increased development by the oil industry, local knowledge, and the resilience of Indigenous communities. Combining strategies from documentary and speculative fiction genres, while incorporating scientific fact, these films demonstrate the challenges of representing the built-in invisibilities of climate change as well as the corporate obfuscations of the damage caused by extractivism. The chapter discusses experimental projects by the Swiss video artist Ursula Biemann and the Canadian filmmaker Brenda Longfellow to bring awareness to what is not otherwise fully visible by creating new forms of perception and representational framings that capture the intricacies of visibility.

Chapter 7 focuses on more collaborative and participatory forms of art and film  to move students past the psychic numbing of being overwhelmed by climate change while demonstrating their own political agency as central to imagining and constructing a better world. Activist artists such as Liberate Tate, the British Platform collective, Not an Alternative, and the Yes Men express a desire for change within the museum system of sponsorship, governance, and finance. Their work aims at holding Western art, natural history, and science museums to account for their complicity through the solicitation and acceptance of corporate sponsorship, in enabling climate change and perpetuating the colonial narratives that underlie it.

The later chapters might be taught in a wider range of courses since they show how historically under-represented groups are also pioneering new forms of environmental justice work in their resistance, and this, too, applies to Arctic Inuit women activists discussed in this book, such as Sheila Watt-Cloutier who movingly demanded “the right to be cold.” Watt-Cloutier has been instrumental in shaping an environmental justice campaign and has been widely recognized for suggesting that climate change is a matter of both Indigenous and multispecies survival (chapters 6, 7 and epilogue). For her “if we don’t have our environment, we cannot survive. “ Artists, writers, activists, and filmmakers in Climate Change and the New Polar Aesthetics share her vision in creating an alternative voice for the future, one opposed to the seemingly inevitable colonial imaginary for which the environment is a means that supports the ends of unregulated capitalism and hyperextractivism.

Lisa E. Bloom is Scholar-in-Residence at the Beatrice Bain Research Group in the Department of Gender and Women’s studies, University of California, Berkeley, and author of Gender On Ice: American Ideologies of Polar Expeditions. We invite you to request an exam copy on our website, and your students can save 30% on Climate Change and the New Polar Aesthetics with coupon E22BLOOM.

New Books in October

Fall is in full swing, so curl up with a hot drink, a cozy sweater, and a new book! Check out our October releases.

Memories of a Gay Catholic Boyhood is John D’Emilio’s coming-of-age story in which he takes readers from his working-class Bronx neighborhood and Columbia University to New York’s hidden gay male subculture and the political and social upheavals of the late 1960s. You can catch John D’Emilio discussing his book at the Calandra Italian American Institute in New York City later this month.

Exploring her attraction to tininess and the stories of those who share it, Barbara Browning offers a series of charming short essays that plumb what it means to ponder the minuscule in The Miniaturists.

Cover of No Machos or Pop Stars: When the Leeds Art Experiment Went Punk by Gavin Butt. Cover features a group of young people dressed up for a punk showing laughing together.

Gavin Butt tells the story of the post-punk scene in the northern English city of Leeds in No Machos or Pop Stars, showing how bands ranging from Gang of Four, Soft Cell, and Delta 5 to Mekons, Scritti Politti, and Fad Gadget drew on their university art school education to push the boundaries of pop music. Butt will launch his book at an exciting event in Leeds this month, featuring performances by Scritti Politti and The Mekons77.

In Fragments of Truth, Naomi Angel analyzes the visual culture of reconciliation and memory in relation to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that Canada established in 2008 to review the history of the Indian Residential School system, a brutal colonial project that killed and injured many Indigenous children.

Drawing on the archives of the Black Panther Party and the National Black Women’s Health Project, Sami Schalk explores how issues of disability have been and continue to be central to Black activism from the 1970s to the present in Black Disability Politics. Schalk launches her book at an event at the Ford Foundation in New York City on October 26.

In Changing the Subject, Srila Roy traces the impact of neoliberalism on gender and sexuality rights movements in the Global South through queer and feminist activism in India. Roy is speaking about her book at The New School and Columbia University later this month.

Filipe Maia offers a theological reflection on hope and the future in the context of financialized capitalism in Trading Futures, arguing that the Christian vocabulary of hope can provide the means to build a future beyond the strictures of capitalism.

Cover of The Promise of Multispecies Justice by Sophie Chao, Karin Bolender, and Eben Kirksey. Cover is green with black and white pictures of a plant between wire. Title sits top left in bold white with a light blue line underlinging it. Authors' names sit bottom right in white without bold.

Coming from the worlds of cultural anthropology, geography, philosophy, science fiction, poetry, and fine art, editors Sophie Chao, Karin Bolender, and Eben Kirksey and the contributors to this volume of The Promise of Multispecies Justice consider the possibility for multispecies justice and speculate on the forms it would take. The authors have developed a multimedia website where you can learn more about this collection.

In Health in Ruins, César Ernesto Abadía-Barrero assesses neoliberalism’s devastating effects on a public hospital in Colombia and how health care workers resisted defunding.

Jovan Scott Lewis retells the history and afterlife of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre and its century-long legacy of dispossession in Violent Utopia, placing it in a larger historical and social context of widespread anti-Black racism and segregation in Tulsa and beyond.

In a new revised and expanded twentieth anniversary edition of his classic book Big Game, Small World, sportswriter Alexander Wolff travels the globe in search of what basketball can tell us about the world, and what the world can tell us about the game.

AnaLouise Keating provides a comprehensive investigation of the foundational theories, methods, and philosophies of Gloria E. Anzaldúa in The Anzaldúan Theory Handbook.

Nomenclature collects eight volumes of Dionne Brand’s poetry published between 1983 and 2010, as well as a new long poem, the titular Nomenclature for the time being.

In Obeah, Orisa, and Religious Identity in Trinidad, Volume I, Obeah, Tracey E. Hucks traces the history of the repression of Obeah practitioners in colonial Trinidad.

And in Obeah, Orisa, and Religious Identity in Trinidad, Volume II, Orisa, Dianne M. Stewart analyzes the sacred poetics, religious imagination, and African heritage of Yoruba-Orisa devotees in Trinidad from the mid-nineteenth century to the present.

Never miss a new book! Sign up for our e-mail newsletters, and get notifications of new titles in your preferred disciplines as well as discounts and other news.

Q&A with Jean-Thomas Tremblay

Tremblay_headshot_2022_1Jean-Thomas Tremblay is Assistant Professor of Environmental Humanities in the Department of Humanities at York University and coeditor of Avant-Gardes in Crisis: Art and Politics in the Long 1970s. Their new book Breathing Aesthetics examines the prominence of breathing in responses to contemporary crises within literature, film, and performance cultures, showing how breathing has emerged as a medium through which biopolitical and necropolitical forces are increasingly exercised and experienced.

For those unfamiliar with theory and philosophy around air and breathing, how might you explain this body of work and your book’s addition to it?

Breathing and air have long been objects of philosophical and scientific interest. Respiratory and aerial philosophers—from the Stoics to Gaston Bachelard, to Luce Irigaray—have tended to describe a life force, the movement of which enables us to understand something of the interaction between the self and the not-self. One turns to breath, or more accurately returns to breath, because it carries the promise of restoring a balance one might have lost; we hear echoes of this reasoning in New Age’s appropriation of pranayama practices.

Scholars such as Elizabeth Povinelli, Tobias Menely, Lenart Škof, and Petri Berndtson have, before me, mapped the trajectories of philosophical engagements with breathing and air. One way to grasp these trajectories is that they record the gradual particularization and deidealization of the respiratory and the aerial: breathing can no longer stand in for universal experience, and air no longer registers as (strictly) a source of vitality or purity. That breathing and air call attention to themselves when a glitch appears in the ongoing exchange between individuals and milieus is as much a mundane observation as a historical and geographical statement.

This insight is most forcefully conveyed by minoritarian traditions, including a prominent Black intellectual genealogy linking Frantz Fanon to contemporary theorists like Ashon Crawley and Christina Sharpe. This genealogy thinks Black life from the uneven distribution of breathable air and the various systems, such as policing and segregation, that perpetuate anti-Black asphyxiation. Fanon’s ideas have gained tragic pertinence in the wake of the police murders of Eric Garner, Elijah McClain, George Floyd, and others, as “I can’t breathe” has become an omnipresent protest chant.

Breathing Aesthetics builds on the premise that breathing names the enmeshment of vitality and morbidity. I track the emergence, in the past five or six decades, of distinct “respiratory subjectivities” and “respiratory politics,” which is to say, models of the individual and the collective that derive from breathing a vernacular for expressing the contradictions of contemporary life. It is almost intuitive, in the era of COVID-19, to declare breathing a site of political antagonisms—much more intuitive, in fact, than it was when I began working on this project, almost a decade ago. I hope that readers will find in the book tools for decrypting a present moment when breathing constitutes a hyper-saturated signifier.


978-1-4780-1886-5_prHow does Breathing Aesthetics interact with or draw upon art and literature? What types of art and literature is it most interested in?

The book collects case studies from literary, screen, performance, visual, and media cultures. One thing I found especially interesting when I started researching breathing in earnest is that scholars of poetry, fiction, film, theater, and video game all claim that theirs is the respiratory medium par excellence. Those who endorse Charles Olson’s “projectivism” claim that poetry enjoys a privileged intimacy with respiration, for breath converts the energy animating the poet into the poem’s rhythm. For Davina Quinlivan, it is the cinema that enjoys such a privileged intimacy; breathing’s mimetic or contagious attribute makes it an important circuit for the transmission of affect between on- and off-screen subjects. I don’t believe that one art form or artistic medium is any more or less respiratory than others. I’m too promiscuous a reader and spectator to sustain an attention to a single one, anyway. What I do believe is that the pairing of “breathing” and “aesthetics” yields different effects across media. The aesthetics of respiration therefore calls for a medium-specific analysis and a comparative disposition.

Take the works by Dodie Bellamy, CAConrad, and Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose that I gather under the umbrella of “broadly experimental and broadly queer life writing.” In one chapter, I examine the notation of breathing for therapeutic purposes in these figures’ blends, with varying dosages, of memoir, poetry, and performance. That the notations are therapeutic doesn’t mean that they save the notators. The psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, my favorite humorist, writes in a recent book that “people aren’t cured, they just lose interest in their symptoms.” This is true of the figures I discuss, for whom notations afford, at most, a palliative: the relief of minimal psychic coherence in crisis situations. For example, journals that repetitively record the symptomatology of cystic fibrosis instill in Bob Flanagan a boredom that leads nowhere but “holds the mood.” Because breathing’s vitality can never be detached entirely from its morbidity, the “payoff” of aestheticizing respiration remains provisional and contingent.

You have said in conversation that this book owes a great deal to the field of environmental humanities and appeals to those researchers. How so?

Yes, the book is invested in the project of the environmental humanities. I participate in the field’s critique of the pastoral—specifically, in this case, the pastoral discourses wherein breathing fulfills the role of the “natural beyond” by guaranteeing an infinitely replenishable, and infinitely replenishing, reserve of vitality. One chapter zooms in on the experimental films of Ana Mendieta and Amy Greenfield. Their corpuses have often been dismissed as pastoral for sanctioning a naïve vision of natural plenitude and surrendering to an essentialism that equates women with nature. Granted, pastoral iconography shows up everywhere in Mendieta’s and Greenfield’s works: natural wonders and great expanses aren’t in short supply. Yet there is nothing revitalizing about the experience of watching their films. The experience is rather unsettling. These are, after all, artists who have many times depicted or evoked sexual violence. This discomfort is worth dwelling on and thinking with. By activating uneasy breathing as a mode of spectatorship in the same class as seeing and listening, Mendieta and Greenfield propose a “postpastoral” anti-pedagogy. Spectators unlearn the historical processes through which a colonial and imperial ideology like the pastoral comes into social coherence.

The vast environmental humanities scholarship, by Lawrence Buell and others, on the legacies of Rachel Carson represents one, but not the only, anti-pastoral tradition informing my thinking. I’m also indebted to scholars of environmental inequalities, or the reproduction of racial and class disparities by environmental means, such as proximity to toxic hazards and health care inaccessibility. Dorceta E. Taylor, Hsuan L. Hsu, and Lindsey Dillon and Julie Sze, to name a few, frequently appear in the section of Breathing Aesthetics devoted to respiratory politics, where I operate on the basis that we are all breathers, but none of the same kind.

Breathing Aesthetics also launches a critique of certain habits within the environmental humanities. I plan to expand on this critique in a future project on “environmental inaction” that seeks to rid ecocriticism of its incipient liberalism. Environmental humanists generally want their objects to be “good” and do “good”—to galvanize readers and spectators into political action, regardless of the objects’ affective content. I don’t think we should overestimate the ability of readers and spectators exposed to the inextricability of vitality and morbidity relayed by the aesthetics of breathing to step out into the world and transform it through sheer force of will. It would require a leap of faith to believe that all reactions to this aesthetics—from exhaustion to disorientation, to panic, to titillation—fulfill a civic purpose. I follow Alexis Shotwell’s and Nicole Seymour’s critiques of the environmental humanities’ purism and puritanism in refusing the narrow range of emotions and actions to which the field typically grants validity. To figure out what the aesthetics of breathing does, we must leave behind our rigid expectations as to what environmental art ought to do.

Doing so radically expands the archive of the environmental humanities to include works that are not so obviously didactic. For instance, it baffles me that Renee Gladman’s novels, to which I devote a chapter, are routinely ignored by environmental humanists in favor of more sensationalist examples of speculative fiction. Novels by Gladman that are set in the smog-filled city-state of Ravicka might not accommodate a pedagogy of coming into environmental “awareness” or “consciousness,” but they allegorize the emergence of coalitional politics in environments where toxicity mediates our encounters. This, to me, is immensely valuable.

While drawing from theory, what are some of the “real-world” implications of Breathing Aesthetics?

I hope the book relays my conviction that the world of theory is the real world. Our daily existence is organized by abstractions disguised as something else. My colleague David Cecchetto describes this problem as “one of the great inversions of our time[,] that between abstraction and reality,” in his recent book, Listening in the Afterlife of Data: “This inversion is evidenced by the fact that somehow one daily encounters folks who think that business-related disciplines like marketing are part of a real world that theoretically informed arts and humanities disciplines are not; we’re in a cultural moment when claiming something like having a ‘passion for real estate’ sounds coherent.”

The pressure to disavow theory isn’t only external to the humanities. Consider the subfield of “empirical ecocriticism,” which claims itself capable of measuring the actual impact of, say, climate fiction. There’s something cynical, amid austerity, in abiding by “data-driven” paradigms and exiling the majority of ecocritics from the category of empiricism, such that they are caught between renouncing their theoretical proclivities or sustaining a pursuit deemed frivolous. More to the point, what empirical ecocriticism really sells is abstraction, all the way down. It collects data (one abstraction) on a reader or spectator figured as rational and reasonable (another abstraction), one who, once exposed to climate crisis-related content, adopts liberal or conservative attitudes (yet another abstraction) and behaviors considered sound in a democratic society (one more, still)… You get the point.

Even in the corners of the humanities that don’t traffic in data, it is customary to curtail theoretical ambitions by asking, for instance, “But what about The Body?” Annabel L. Kim offers a brilliant account of the gesture in the introduction to Unbecoming Language, a book that played a key role in the genesis of Breathing Aesthetics. References to The Body, as a shorthand for the lower-case-r real, presume, as Kim notes, something that everyone knows and to which everyone has access. The Body may be an abstraction for unmediated, non-abstractable experiences, but it is an abstraction nonetheless.

I’m weary of the idea that breathing somehow concretizes queer or environmental theory because so many promises to bypass abstraction—whether through the cold hard facts of data or through The Body as locus of the sensuous and the erotic—end up turning the volume up on abstraction. So, I don’t think we need to come up with excuses for theory. It’s not a vacation from reality, a flight of fancy, or a luxury. Theory, as I try to wield it in Breathing Aesthetics, is an encounter with the world with significant implications in terms of what and how we feel, think, are.

Read the introduction to Breathing Aesthetics for free and save 30% on the paperback with coupon E22TRMBL.

Q&A with Kimberly Theidon

Kimberly Theidon is Henry J. Leir Professor of International Humanitarian Studies at Tufts University and author of Intimate Enemies: Violence and Reconciliation in Peru. In her new book, Legacies of War, Theidon draws on ethnographic research in Peru and Columbia to examine the lives of children born of wartime rape and the impact of violence on human and more-than-human lives, bodies, and ecologies.

You begin your book with a mention that you started writing it during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. This spring, the United States and Europe have been preoccupied with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while military conflicts around the world, like Yemen and Afghanistan continue. How did you find yourself relating to events like these while writing your book? Has that changed now that the book has been published?

Legacies of War is ethnographically grounded in Colombia and Peru. Having a deep sense of local histories and struggles—as well as the practices of care and hope that animate individual and collective life—is a cornerstone of anthropology, but place-based knowledge is not place-bound. Ethnography informs theory and analysis, which in turns allows me to speak to issues that resonate in other regions. You ask about Ukraine: this morning I opened the New York Times to a story on war, famine, and the purposeful destruction of crops. Starving people out, disrupting their economic livelihoods—the paramilitaries used similar strategies in Urabá, Colombia. Starving and displacing people is not an unforeseen consequence of war: it is a deliberate strategy used time and again. I argue for “connecting the dots” in my book to reveal techniques of violence that are repeatedly deployed yet are made to appear random and far removed from one another. The underlying and shared logics matter.

Cover for Legacies of War: A typography based cover. A red background with semi transparent repetitions of the main text, which is left centered. In white serif lettering, the title, "Legacies of War," sits atop a transparent line that directs to the author's name, "Kimberly Theidon." Below, in orange, is the subtitle, "Violence, Ecologies, and Kin."

You discuss how ambiguous and over-determined the English phrase “children born of war” is. How difficult is it to study and address this issue when the words being used—especially by prominent policy-makers, media members, and scholars—are so effective at concealing the harsh reality faced by children born of wartime sexual assault?

“Children born of war” —or CBOW in policy documents—obscures specificity. CBOW lacks an agent or a perpetrator, and war itself does not impregnate anyone. The language of policy documents may not be the language that allows us to think clearly in our research. Research categories demand greater precision. An anthropologist wants details about age, gender, race, religion, nationality, culture; in short, a researcher needs to incorporate intersectionality into her questions, her categories, and her analysis. The failure to incorporate other identity markers evokes “the danger of a single story.” As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie eloquently argues, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” In this book, I share numerous stories, some of rejection and pain, others of love and care.

As for “concealing the harsh reality of children born of wartime sexual assault”? There is more at stake in concealment and silences. I suspect that one reason children born of wartime rape were and have, to some extent, remained invisible on the international agenda is because there is no reasonable way to discuss this issue from a “survivor centered” perspective without addressing women’s right to abortion—a woman’s right to refuse to lend her body to nine months of reproductive labor. The UN’s Women Peace and Security Agenda, for all of its good intentions and accomplishments, is a framework that placates those for whom a more feminist agenda would be unpalatable. “Mainstreaming gender” can be a double-entendre, as the feminist critique of policy is mainstreamed into an agenda that does not threaten the status quo of powerful countries or interest groups—a move that may obscure the fact that women and their children (especially their fetuses) may be located within competing rights regimes. One cannot finesse away these competing rights. This calls for an explicitly feminist peace-building and post conflict reconstruction agenda, understood to include a full range of sexual and reproductive rights, including access to safe and affordable abortions.

How did you incorporate ideas from the environmental humanities such as theories of entanglement in your work, and why?

I was troubled by the tendency to place the heavy lifting of reproductive labor on the shoulders of women, which leads to reproductive governance more readily than reproductive justice. Uterine myopia is a problem, which is why I focus on the multiple environments in which conception, pregnancy and childbirth unfold—environments that may lie far beyond the control of any one woman, of any one person. From toxic chemicals to land mines, from rivers tinged with blood to angry mountains, the goal was to capture the multiple environments and actors that play a role in “distributed reproduction”— environments and actors that may in turn suffer various forms of reproductive violence. An open-ness to the world and its capacity to “get under our skin” allowed me to draw connections between indigenous epistemologies, situated biologies, and the burgeoning field of epigenetics. I questioned what is involved in “discovering” that our bodies bear life’s signature upon them—or “discovering” that we share this world with more-than-human kin. The trope of discovery follows a particular history of modernity, settler colonialism and capitalism: it is erected on the erasure of indigenous and Native American peoples, their ways of life and their theories about the world and the place of human beings in it. If there is to be a way forward on this planet, it will require moving beyond human exceptionalism and its devastating consequences.

You write about how heavily this research and these stories of trauma and survival have weighed on you. Yet, you also mention that you “found solace” while writing the book (vii). How did you navigate the emotional challenges of writing about children born from sexual assault?

In my research, I have explored what people say they suffer from and how they attempt to set things right. This has required me to hold present both suffering and resilience, and to help my readers imagine what it is that permits people to get up in the morning and believe—despite all evidence to the contrary—that there might be a better day ahead of them and a future for their children. This still remains the most enduring memory of my fieldwork. When I close my eyes, I recall moments doubled over laughing, dancing until we could no longer stand up, children running into my room and piling on my bed, singing until the candles burned down and there were only stars streaming through the cracks in my corrugated aluminum roof. I remember more than endurance. There were also moments of joy that stretched into hours that in turn became days. Even in the midst of violence, life is not only tragic.

I have come to think of writing as a pharmakon, as both poison and remedy. Writing plunges many of us back into the field, yet also offers us a way out, and a way to fulfill the enormous responsibility we feel to the questions we have posed and to the people with whom we have worked. Many of us were sent home with the exhortation to “tell people out there what you’ve seen so they will do something about it.” 1 Writing is one way we honor that charge. It is one way we amplify voices demanding justice.

Finally, I have loved my research, and certainly loved writing this book. I hope readers can feel that we amplify voices demanding justice.

Read the introduction to Legacies of War for free on our website and save 30% on the paperback with coupon E22THDON.

1 The charge to carry a message to some imagined “international community” — imagined as moral, caring and disposed to action if only provided with the necessary knowledge — can be a painful fiction. For example, see Purity and Exile: Violence, Memory, and National Cosmology among Hutu Refugees in Tanzania, Liisa Malkki, University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Ken Wissoker’s Sale Recommendations

Image reads: use code SPRING22, Spring Sale, 50% off all in-stock books and journal issues through May 27
A white man with short, graying dark hair, wearing rectangular glasses, a black and white collared print shirt, and a black jacket.
white

Our Spring Sale is rapidly coming to a close. You only have three days to save 50% on in-stock books and journal issues. If you’re still not sure what to purchase, here are Senior Executive Editor Ken Wissoker’s suggestions.

I don’t need to tell most DUP readers that this moment requires transformative thinking. The pandemic and the racist agenda of the last US administration are not over in the least. Rarely a day goes by where rights and conditions central to our well-being are not under attack. Thank you, SCOTUS. What can we as thinkers, readers, and publishers do to make a difference? I would start my sale recommendations there. I’m thinking about books that will help all of us get through: Sara Ahmed’s Complaint!, Max Liboiron’s Pollution Is Colonialism, Katherine McKittrick’s Dear Science and Other Stories. Tools for thinking differently.

My own thinking has been transformed this spring by Jennifer L. Morgan’s Reckoning with Slavery, which centers Black women in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, giving them agency, not merely footnoted presence. Morgan points a way for historians to restore the power and feelings of those who were of no account in the archives, while putting the numeracy of the slave trade at the core of capitalism.
 
Morgan’s friend and colleague Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu has shown exactly how this can be done, similarly working between disciplines and archives, but across the Pacific rather than the Atlantic. Her book Experiments in Skin won the publishing equivalent of March Madness this year, the Prose awards from the Association of American Publishers. They choose 106 finalists in categories from Mathematics to Philosophy; then 39 category winners, 4 area winners for humanities, social sciences, bio sciences, and physical sciences—and one overall winner, Thuy’s incredible book, which combines a history of imperialism and chemical warfare with that of dermatology and concepts of beauty showing how they all come together in present-day Vietnam.

Cover of Planetary Longings by Mary Louise Pratt. Cover features a brown landscape with a muddy orange river running through it.

Mary Louise Pratt is one of the theorists who made the intellectual and political work of the last decades possible. Her long-awaited Planetary Longings is just out, as is Jonathan Sterne’s Diminished Faculties: A Political Phenomenology of Impairment, a brilliant and personally driven account of impairment. 
 
The presence and care of a writer’s personal voice feels especially necessary at this moment, given the wearing politics of our time. Rather than being separate from scholarship and theorizing, the voice is central part to it. We see that in Jafari S. Allen’s gorgeous There’s a Discoball Between Us—his account of Black gay male life from the 80s and after and what it owes to Black feminism—and in Kevin Quashie’s similarly inspiring Black Aliveness, or a Poetics of Being. You hear it in La Marr Jurelle Bruce’s stunning How to Go Mad Without Losing Your Mind and in McKenzie Wark’s pathbreaking Philosophy for Spiders.
 
In this vein, one book I can’t recommend enough is Mercy Romero’s Toward Camden, a memoir and a way of understanding raced geography at once, where the two are inseparable, and written with intense beauty and insight.

Finally, in other political registers, I would strongly recommend Tania Murray Li and Pujo Semedi’s Plantation Life: Corporate Occupation in Indonesia’s Oil Palm Zone, an analysis of emergent forms of capitalism based on the massive expansion of plantations in the present. You should also check out Vicente Rafael book on Duterte, The Sovereign Trickster; Jodi Kim’s long-awaited and incisive Settler Garrison; and Leslie Bow’s superb Racist Love: Asian Abstraction and the Pleasure of Fantasy.
 
I could easily come up with another list this long (where is Beth Povinelli’s new book or Joshua Clover’s Roadrunner??) so get over to the website and look around yourself. Just do it quickly!

Use coupon SPRING22 to save on all these titles and more. If you’re located outside North and South America, we suggest you order from our partner Combined Academic Publishers using the same coupon. You’ll get faster and cheaper shipping. See the fine print here.

Courtney Berger’s Sale Recommendations

Image reads: use code SPRING22, Spring Sale, 50% off all in-stock books and journal issues through May 27

You have one week left to save 50% on in-stock books and journal issues during our Spring Sale. If you’re still wondering what to buy, check out Executive Editor Courtney Berger’s suggestions.

A white woman with short grey and white hair wearing glasses. She is wearing a white top and a necklace.

This is always a tough assignment: can you recommend some books for the spring sale? All the books, I want to say. But, evidently that doesn’t make for a compelling blog post, and I’m told that I must select just a few. So, here are my picks. (But, secretly, I am whispering, All the books.)

Cover of Passionate Work: Endurance after the Good Life by Renyi Hong. Cover is a painting of a man in a white suit working on a laptop, sitting atop the shoulder of a giant robot. This robot looks like a man in a black suit, a phone attached to his ear. The robot is breaking, with smoke coming out and paint peeling off, revealing orange metal underneath.

Hot off the presses: Renyi Hong’s Passionate Work: Endurance After the Good Life. If you’ve ever balked at the advice to “follow your passion” or “do what you love and the money will follow,” this is the book for you. Hong considers how the idealization of work as a passionate endeavor that sustains people emotionally and spiritually papers over the conditions of labor in late capitalism, which are dominated by precarity, unemployment, repetitive labor, and isolation. He shows us how passion has become an affective structure that shapes our relationship to work and produces the fantasy of a resilient subject capable of enduring disappointment and increasingly disadvantageous working conditions. Hong asks us to question our compulsory attachment to labor and, instead, to consider forms of social and emotional attachments that might better sustain our lives.

Cover of Suspicion: Vaccines, Hesitancy, and the Affective Politics of Protection in Barbados by Nicole Charles. Cover features a 2015 art piece called Waterlogged, by Bajan artist Simone Asia. The piece features a person's face with flora around it in a variety of colors.

Another new book that hits on squarely on pandemic politics: Nicole Charles’s Suspicion: Vaccines, Hesitancy, and the Affective Politics of Protection in Barbados. Charles examines resistance to government-led efforts in Barbados to vaccinate girls against HPV. Framing this resistance not as “vaccine hesitancy” but instead as a form of legitimate suspicion, Charles shows how colonial and postcolonial histories of racial violence, capitalism, and biopolitical surveillance aimed at regulating and controlling Black people have shaped Afro-Barbadians’ relationship to the state and to medical intervention. The book undoes conventional narratives of vaccine hesitancy and scientific certainty in order to open up space for addressing the inequalities that shape health care and community care.

Cover of Hawai′i Is My Haven: Race and Indigeneity in the Black Pacific by Nitasha Tamar Sharma. Features a photograph of singer Kamakakēhau by Kenna Reed. Photo is of a bearded Black man in a large pink shaggy collar with pink flowers around him.

You might pick up Nitasha Sharma’s Hawai’i Is My Haven: Race and Indigeneity in the Black Pacific because of the stunning cover, but you’ll stay for Sharma’s compelling analysis of Black life on the islands. Despite the prevalence of anti-Black racism in Hawai’i, many Black people regard Hawai’i as a sanctuary. Sharma considers why and shows how Blackness in Hawai’i troubles US-centric understandings of race, ethnicity, and indigeneity. Through extensive interviews with Black residents—including transplants, those born in Hawai’i, and many who identify as dual-minority multiracial–Sharma attends to Black residents’ complex experiences of invisibility, non-belonging, and liberation, as well as the opportunities for alliance between anti-racist activism and Native Hawaiian movements focused on decolonization.

Calling all foodies and lovers of The Great British Bake Off: Anita Mannur’s Intimate Eating: Racialized Spaces and Radical Futures dwells on culinary practices, texts, and spaces that resist heteropatriarchal norms of the family, the couple, and the nation. Mannur shows us how racialized and marginalized groups use food to confront and disrupt racism and xenophobia and to create alternate, often queer forms of sociality and kinship.

Our lists in environmental humanities and environmental media continue to grow. Here are a few new titles to look out for:

Nicole Starosielski’s Media Hot and Cold asks us to reckon with the politics of temperature. Thermal technologies—from air conditioning to infrared cameras—serve as both modes of communication and subjugation, and Starosielski’s book points to the urgent need to address the political, economic, and ecological ramifications of “thermopower” and climate control. In Climatic Media: Transpacific Experiments in Atmospheric Control Yuriko Furuhata highlights the intertwined development of climate engineering, networked computing, and urban design in the transpacific relationship between the US and Japan during the Cold War. Min Hyoung Song’s Climate Lyricism turns to literature as a site for confronting climate change. In the lyrical voice (the “I” who addresses “you”), Song finds a tool that can help us to develop a practice of sustained attention to climate change even as we want to look away. And, lastly, in Dockside Reading: Hydrocolonialism and the Custom House Isabel Hofmeyr brings us to an unlikely site for thinking about the environment and literature–the colonial customs house. It was here that books were sorted, categorized, and regulated by customs agents, and where the handling of books reflected the operations of empire both at the water’s edge and well beyond the port.

Use coupon SPRING22 to save on all these titles and more. If you’re located outside North and South America, we suggest you order from our partner Combined Academic Publishers using the same coupon. You’ll get faster and cheaper shipping. See the fine print here.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat Interviews Vicente L. Rafael

On May 9, the Philippines will elect a new President. For those interested in autocracy, it is a dramatic situation. The current illiberal president, Rodrigo Duterte, is not standing for re-election, but his daughter, Sara Duterte, is on the ticket with Bongbong Marcos, the son of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Once a country has an experience with strongman rule, the leader can haunt a nation for decades.

To better understand Duterte—a violent man who engaged in extrajudicial killings—and the stakes of this election, I talked with Vicente L. Rafael, who is Professor of History and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the author, most recently, of The Sovereign Trickster: Death and Laughter in the Age of Duterte (2022), and Motherless Tongues: The Insurgency of Language Amid Wars of Translation (2016). Our conversation took place on March 5, 2022, and has been edited for clarity and flow.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat (RBG): Why do people support these violent fraudsters? In your book you talk about how the culture of fear that Duterte disseminated was actually part of his charm. Many don’t understand why these extreme figures have such devoted followings.

Vicente Rafael (VR): In the case of the Philippines, there’s a long tradition of authoritarian leaders. And people tend to think that strong male leaders are the best way to deal with the uncertainties of life. Someone like Duterte who comes in and promises to not just solve the crime problem, but basically wipe out criminals, drug dealers and drug users, can be popular.  

Although of course this violence doesn’t solve the problem, but it creates a sense of false security. People feel, well, someone’s in charge, so I don’t have to worry. It’s very common to hear people say, oh, my neighborhood is really safer these days. And when you ask them, what do you think about all these people who got killed? I mean, many of them are your neighbors. And they would say, well, they were warned. They didn’t want to stop dealing or using, so they got what they deserved.

RBG: This is one way that autocrats are different than democratic leaders. Duterte came on my radar when he started talking, as a candidate, about the violence that he would perpetrate if he won the election. And in the US we had Trump warning as a candidate that he could shoot someone and not lose any followers.

VR: Duterte’s political style was really developed and honed while he was Mayor of Davao. He used threats, he hired thugs, like former rebels, and turned his police force into vigilantes. He himself liked to play vigilante. He would get on his motorcycle or borrow a taxi cab and roam around at night. As he said, he was looking for trouble he could fix.

So there was this sense that he was a hands-on mayor who didn’t hesitate to do what was needed without having to go through the bureaucracy or the judicial system. And that was the basis of his popularity. People were afraid, but also impressed that he actually went and did these things. When he became president, he basically nationalized these local practices.

Cover of Sovereign Trickster: Death and Laughter in the Age of Duterte. Cover features a photograph of an alleged drug dealer—and Duterte supporter—arrested after a buy-bust operation in a slum area in Manila on September 28, 2017. The photo is a close-up of the person's handcuffed hands, one of which bears a Duterte writstband.

RBG: Your book discusses Duterte’s brand of machismo. I’m happy to see that because I feel that we don’t take masculinity seriously enough as a tool of authoritarian rule. You capture the complex masculinity of Duterte, and his blend of fragility and brutality.

VR: Duterte talks unabashedly about sexuality, he makes these obscene vulgar jokes about rape, about women. But when you look more closely at his use of misogyny and machismo, you see they are part of complex storytelling devices. He’s a great storyteller, his way of using the vernacular is really quite amazing. It’s one of the ways he connects to people.  

As an example, he might say, oh, gee, they raped the women. And it was so beautiful and I should have been first. I was the mayor. And instead I was sort of left out of the whole thing. People crack up because it’s really about how his authority was obviated. And they can even sympathize with him.

RBG: It’s beyond awful, but it’s effective in terms of him building community and legitimating misogyny and sexual assault.

VR: Another example is a story he used to tell on the campaign trail about being sexually abused by an American Jesuit while he was going to confession. I think he connects with people who might have experienced the same thing. And yet he relates this painful trauma in a humorous fashion, saying, well, I still came out on top. I was abused, but I survived to tell this story.

Duterte also expresses vulnerability when he talks about dying, about how fragile his body is. So he says, I’m going to kill all of you. But he also says, I’m probably going to die tomorrow.

RBG: This sounds nihilistic. Many strongmen have a nihilistic streak.

VR: Yes, there’s a really close relationship between authoritarianism and nihilism. It’s this idea that well, I don’t mind risking the lives of my soldiers and my citizens, because we’re all going to die anyway. Someone’s going to assassinate me sooner or later. Someone’s going to launch a coup against me sooner later. So I’m just going to go all in now.

RBG: That’s great context for Duterte stepping aside from the presidency. How does someone like that fade into the sunset?

VR: Well, physically he’s very tired. I think that’s part of the reason he wants to step down and retire. Yet he’s got this legacy. His mode of governing and the practices he engaged in will continue. His daughter Sara will be there (even though they don’t get along), and if Marcos junior becomes president, he will be surrounded by a lot of Duterte allies and cronies.

Duterte’s also empowered the police to an enormous degree. It’s really the police that run the show. In the Philippines, unlike in the United States, police are nationalized. So it’s really the office of the president that controls the appointment of the chief of police and so forth.

In addition, in the Philippines Congress designates intelligence funds, a massive amount of money, and no one knows what it’s used for, it’s never accounted for. So the economic power, the political power, and of course the military power of the police will continue.

RBG: Isn’t there also some nostalgia for the Marcos era?

VR: Yes, and it comes out of a decade of propaganda, a lot of it on YouTube, about how wonderful martial law was, and how the son will continue what the father did—the attraction of continuity. People who support Duterte will support Marcos Jr. because Sara’s there. In fact, Marcos Jr. himself doesn’t have much of a platform. He always says I’m going to unify the country. Whatever that means.

RBG: Ah, the strongman slogan for one hundred years, still going strong!

Ruth Ben-Ghiat is Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University and author of Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present (W.W. Norton & Company). This interview is republished with permission from her Substack newsletter Lucid. Vicente Rafael’s books are available for 50% off with coupon SPRING22 through May 27.