Literary Criticism & Theory

Science and Literature in North and South Korea

coverimageThe most recent issue of the Journal of Korean Studies, “Science and Literature in North and South Korea,” edited by Christopher P. Hanscom and Dafna Zur, is now available.

This issue offers a groundbreaking framework for approaching the multilayered relations between literature and science both in Korea and in other sites in the modern world. Paying particular attention to the ways in which literature and science share a linguistic medium, the nine articles that comprise this special issue show how literature and science interconnect as modes of understanding and perceiving the world. This issue is a must-read not only for specialists in modern Korean literature but also for scholars of modern Korea working across all disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.

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

The Novel and Neoliberalism

coverimageThe most recent issue of Novel, “The Novel and Neoliberalism,” edited by John Marx and Nancy Armstrong, is now available.

How has the form of the novel responded to the conditions now grouped under the term “neoliberalism”? These conditions have generated an explosion of narrative forms that make the past two decades one of the two or three most significant periods in the history of the novel. The contributors to this issue ask whether these formal innovations can be understood as an unprecedented break from the past or the latest chapter in a process that has been playing out over the past three centuries. In response to this question, they use a range of contemporary novels to consider whether conditions of multinational capitalism limit the novel’s ability to imagine a future beyond the limits of that world. Do novels that reject the option of an alternative world nevertheless reimagine the limits of multinational capitalism as the precondition for such a future? With these concerns in mind, contributors demonstrate how major contemporary novelists challenge national traditions of the novel both in the Anglophone West and across the Global South. This collective inquiry begins with a new essay by and interview with British novelist Tom McCarthy.

Browse the table-of-contents and read the introduction to the issue, made freely available.

Chinese Encounters with Western Theories

coverimageThe most recent issue of Modern Language Quarterly, “Chinese Encounters with Western Theories,” edited by Wang Ning and Marshall Brown, is now available.

Like so much in today’s China, literary theorists have met Western work with a mix of importation, imitation, adaptation, and confrontation. Autonomy and engagement are both esteemed, but not easily reconciled. Both historical and polemical, “Chinese  Encounters with Western Theories” offers both close-up and broad-spectrum accounts from three of China’s leading academics together with authoritative Western critiques and a sovereign overview by a scholar based in both countries. The result is a vivid snapshot of cross-currents and competing ideologies.

Read the introduction, made freely available.

New in August

The summer is almost over, but August brings lots of great books to read while you prepare for the new semester. Check out what’s coming this month!

978-1-4780-0004-4.jpgNow available for the first time in nearly forty years, James Baldwin’s only children’s book Little Man, Little Man follows the day to day life of the four year old protagonist TJ and his friends in their 1970s Harlem neighborhood as they encounter the social realities of being black in America. Highly praised in Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal, this exciting new edition is a must-buy for Baldwin fans.

In Decolonizing Extinction Juno Salazar Parreñas traces the ways in which colonialism and decolonization shape relations between humans and nonhumans at a Malaysian orangutan rehabilitation center, contending that considering rehabilitation from an orangutan perspective will shift conservation biology from ultimately violent investments in population growth and toward a feminist sense of welfare.978-1-4780-0015-0

Boaventura de Sousa Santos’s The End of the Cognitive Empire further develops his concept of the “epistemologies of the South,” in which he outlines a theoretical, methodological, and pedagogical framework for challenging the dominance of Eurocentric thought while showing how an embrace of the forms of knowledge of marginalized groups can lead to global justice.

Attending to the everyday lives of infrastructure across four continents, the contributors to The Promise of Infrastructure, edited by Nikhil Anand and Akhil Gupta, demonstrate how infrastructure such as roads, power lines, and water pipes offer a productive site for generating new ways to theorize time, politics, and promise.

978-1-4780-0006-8In The Blue Clerk award-winning poet Dionne Brand explores memory, language, culture, and the nature of writing through a series of haunting prose poems that contain dialogues between the figure of the poet and the Blue Clerk, who is tasked with managing the poet’s discarded attempts at writing.

Radhika Mongia’s Indian Migration and Empire outlines the colonial genealogy of the modern nation-state by tracing how the British Empire monopolized control over migration, showing how between its abolition of slavery in 1834 and World War One, the regulation of Indians moving throughout the Commonwealth linked migration with nationality and state sovereignty.

In Experimental Practice Dimitris Papadopoulos explores the potential for building new forms of political and social movements through the reconfiguration of the material conditions of existence.

Melissa Hackman’s Desire Work traces the experiences of Pentecostal “ex-gay” men in Cape Town, South Africa, as they attempted to cure their homosexuality, forge a heterosexual masculinity, and enter into heterosexual marriage through various forms emotional, bodily, and religious work.

In Double Negative Racquel J. Gates examines the potential of so-called negative representations of African Americans in film and TV, from Coming to America to Basketball Wives and Empire, showing how such representations can strategically pose questions about blackness, black culture, and American society in ways that more respectable ones cannot.

978-1-4780-0025-9.jpgIn her impassioned, analytical, playful, and irreverent book Laughing at the Devil, theologian Amy Laura Hall takes up Julian of Norwich’s call to laugh at the Devil as a means to transform a setting of dread and fear into the means to create hope, solidarity, and resistance.

The contributors to Ethnographies of U.S. Empire, edited by Carole McGranahan and John Collins, examine how people live in and with empire, presenting ethnographic scholarship from across U.S. imperial formations, from the Mohawk Nation, Korea, and the Philippines to Guantánamo and the hills of New Jersey.

In Across Oceans of Law Renisa Mawani charts the story of the Komagata Maru—a steamship that left Hong Kong for Vancouver in 1914 carrying 376 Punjabi immigrants who were denied entry into Canada—to illustrate imperialism’s racial, legal, spatial, and temporal dynamics and how oceans operate as sites of jurisdictional and colonial contest.

Micol Seigel’s Violence Work redefines policing as “violence work,” showing how it is shaped by its role of channeling state violence and how its status as a civilian institution obscures its ties to militarization.

The contributors to Constructing the Pluriverse, a volume edited by Bernd Reiter, explore how non-Western, pluriversal approaches to core questions in the social sciences and humanities can help to dramatically rethink the relationship between knowledge and power.

978-1-4780-0024-2.jpgStraight A’s features personal narratives of Asian American undergraduate students at Harvard University in which they reflect on their shared experiences with discrimination, stereotypes, immigrant communities, their relationship to their Asian heritage, and the difficulties that come with being expected to reach high levels of achievement. This timely new book edited by Christine Yano and Neal Adolph Akatsuka will help inform current debates about Asian American students in elite educational institutions.

In Migrants and City-Making Ayşe Çağlar and Nina Glick Schiller trace the lived experiences of migrants in three cities struggling to regain their former standing, showing how they live and work in their new cities in ways that require them to negotiate the unequal networks of power that connect their lives to regional, national, and global institutions.

In 1968 Mexico Susana Draper puts the events and aftermath of 1968 Mexico into a global picture and counters the dominant cultural narratives of 1968 by giving voice to the Mexican Marxist philosophers, political prisoners, and women who participated in the movement and inspired alternative forms of political participation.

Art and Theory of Post-1989 Central and Eastern Europe, the latest volume of MoMA’s Primary Documents edited by Ana Janevski, Roxana Marcoci, and Ksenia Nouril, reflects on the effects that communism’s disintegration across Central and Eastern Europe—including the Soviet Union’s fifteen republics—had on the art practices, criticism, and cultural production of the following decades.

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

Queers Read This! LGBTQ Literature Now

The most recent special issue of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, “Queers Read This! LGBTQ Literature Now,” edited by Ramzi Fawaz and Shanté Paradigm Smalls, is now available.

m_ddglq_24_2-3_coverThis issue asks how LGBTQ literary production has evolved in response to the dramatic transformations in queer life that have taken place since the early 1990s. Taking inspiration from “QUEERS READ THIS!”—a leaflet distributed at the 1990 New York Pride March by activist group Queer Nation—the contributors to this issue theorize what such an impassioned command would look like today: in light of our current social and political realities, what should queers read now and how are they reading and writing texts? The contributors offer innovative and timely approaches to the place, function, and political possibilities of LGBTQ literature in the wake of AIDS, gay marriage, the rise of institutional queer theory, the ascendancy of transgender rights, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the 2016 election. The authors reconsider camp aesthetics in the Trump era, uncover long-ignored histories of lesbian literary labor, reconceptualize contemporary black queer literary responses to institutional violence and racism, and query the methods by which we might forge a queer-of-color literary canon. This issue frames LGBTQ literature as not only a growing list of texts but also a vast range of reading attitudes, affects, contexts, and archives that support queer ways of life.

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

“Queer about Comics”: A Selected Reading List

Today we’re featuring a selected reading list on the intersection of queer studies and comics studies compiled by Ramzi Fawaz, co-editor (with Darieck Scott) of “Queer about Comics,” a special issue of American Literature (volume 90, issue 2), now available.

ddaml_90_2_coverQueer about Comics” explores the intersection of queer theory and comics studies. The contributors provide new theories of how comics represent and reconceptualize queer sexuality, desire, intimacy, and eroticism, while also investigating how the comic strip, as a hand-drawn form, queers literary production and demands innovative methods of analysis from the fields of literary, visual, and cultural studies.

Contributors examine the relationships among reader, creator, and community across a range of comics production, including mainstream superhero comics, independent LGBTQ comics, and avant-garde and experimental feminist narratives. They also address queer forms of identification elicited by the classic X-Men character Rogue, the lesbian grassroots publishing networks that helped shape Alison Bechdel’s oeuvre, and the production of black queer fantasy in the Black Panther comic book series, among other topics.

To learn more about the issue, browse the table-of-contents and read the introduction, made freely available.

Additionally, these three articles have been made freely available for a short time, until December 15, 2018:


“Queer about Comics”: A Selected Reading List

Comics and Graphic Narratives

Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele. Queer: A Graphic History. London: Icon Books, 2016.

Alison Bechdel. The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2008.

Alison Bechdel. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. New York: Mariner Book, 2007.

Jennifer Camper, ed. Juicy Mother Volume 1: Celebration. New York: Soft Skull Press, 2005.

Jennifer Camper. Rude Girls and Dangerous Women. New York: Laugh Line Press, 1994.

Charles Zan Christensen, ed. Anything That Loves: Comics beyond “Gay” and “Straight”. Seattle: Northwest Press, 2013.

Jaime Cortez. Sexile: A Graphic Novel Biography of Adela Vazquez. New York: Institute for Gay Men’s Health, 2004.

Howard Crus. Stuck Rubber Baby. New York: DC Comics, 2000.

Blue Delliquanti. Oh Human Star. Vol. 1. Self-published, 2017.

Diane Dimassa. The Complete Hothead Paisan: Homocidal Lesbian Terrorist. San Francisco: Cleis Press, 1999.

Dylan Edwards. Transposes. Seattle: Northwest Press, 2012.

Edie Fake. Gaylord Phoenix. Los Angeles: Secret Acres, 2010.

Gay Comix (September 1980–July 1988). Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink Press.

Kieron Gillon (writer) and Jamie McKelvie (artist). Young Avengers Omnibus. New York: Marvel, 2014.

Sina Grace (writer) and Alessandro Vitti (artist). Iceman Volume 1: Thawing Out and Iceman Volume 2: Absolute Zero. New York: Marvel Comics, 2018.

Justin Hall, ed. No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2013.

Nagata Kabi. My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness. Los Angeles: Seven Seas, 2017.

Robert Kirby. Curbside Boys: The New York Years. New York: Cleis Press, 2002.

Ed Luce. Wuvable Oaf. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2015.

Jon Macy. Teleny and Camille. Seattle: Northwest Press, 2010.

Cristy C. Roads. Spit and Passion. New York: Feminist Press at CUNY, 2012.

Tommy Roddy, Carl Hippensteel, et al. Pride High. Seattle: Northwest Press, 2017.

Ariel Schrag, Potential: The High School Comic Chronicles of Ariel Schrag. New York: Touchstone, 2008.

A. K. Summers. Pregnant Butch: Nine Long Months Spent in Drag. New York: Soft Skull Press, 2014.

Gengoroh Tagame. My Brother’s Husband. Vol. 1. Translated by Anne Ishii. New York: Pantheon, 2017.

Shimura Takako. Wandering Son: Book 1. Translated by Matt Thorn. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2011.

Mariko Tamaki (writer) and Jillian Tamaki (artist). Skim. San Diego: Groundwork Books, 2010.

Tom of Finland. Tom of Finland: The Complete Kake Comics. Cologne, Germany: Taschen, 2014.

David Wojnarowicz (writer), James Romberger (artist), and Marguerite Van Cook (artist). Seven Miles a Second. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2013.

Scholarship

Michelle Ann Abate, Karly Marie Grice, and Christine N. Stamper, eds. “Lesbians and Comics” (special issue). Journal of Lesbian Studies 22.4 (2018).

Noah Berlatsky. Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peters Comics, 1941–1948. New York: Rutgers University Press, 2015.

Hillary Chute. “Why Queer?” in Why Comics? From Underground to Everywhere. New York: Harper, 2017.

Brian Cremins. “Bodies, Transfigurations, and Bloodlust in Edie Fake’s Graphic Novel Gaylord Phoenix.” Journal of Medical Humanities, 34.2 (June 2013).

Ramzi Fawaz. The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics. New York: New York University Press, 2016.

Ramzi Fawaz. “Stripped to the Bone: Sequencing Queerness in the Comic Strip Work of Joe Brainard and David Wojnarowicz.” ASAP/Journal 2.2 (May 2017).

Margaret Galvan. “Making Space: Jennifer Camper, LGBTQ Anthologies, and Queer Comics Communities.” Journal of Lesbian Studies 22.4 (2017).

Andréa Gilroy. “The Epistemology of the Phone Booth: The Superheroic Identity and Queer Theory in Batwoman: Elegy.” ImageTexT 8.1 (2015).

Gayatri Gopinath. “Chitra Ganesh’s Queer Re-Visions.” GLQ 15.3 (2009).

Justin Hall. “Erotic Comics.” In The Routledge Companion to Comics, ed. Frank Bramlett, Roy T. Cook, and Aaron Meskin. New York: Routledge, 2016.

Michael Harrison. “The Queer Spaces and Fluid Bodies of Nazario’s Anarcoma.” Postmodern Culture 19.3 (2009).

Yetta Howard. “Politically Incorrect, Visually Incorrect: Bitchy Butch’s Unapologetic Discrepancies in Lesbian Identity and Comic Art.” Journal of Popular Culture 45.1 (February 2012).

Ashley Manchester. “Teaching Critical Looking: Pedagogical Approaches to Using Comics as Queer Theory.” SANE journal: Sequential Art Narrative in Education 2.2 (2017).

Michael Moon. Darger’s Resources. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012.

Paul Petrovic. “Queer Resistance, Gender Performance, and ‘Coming Out’ of the Panel Borders in Greg Rucka and J. H. Williams III’s Batwoman: Elegy.” Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics 2.1 (2011).

Jonathan Risner. “‘Authentic’ Latino/as and Queer Characters in Mainstream and Alternative Comics.” In Multicultural Comics: From Zap to Blue Beetle, edited by Frederick Luis Aldama. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010.

Darieck Scott. “Big Black Beauty: Drawing and Naming the Black Male Figure in Superhero and Gay Porn Comics.” In Porn Archives, edited by Tim Dean, Steven Ruszczycky, and David Squires. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.

Darieck Scott and Ramzi Fawaz, eds. “Queer about Comics” (special issue). American Literature 90.2 (June 2018).

Sina Shamsavari. “Gay Ghetto Comics and the Alternative Gay Comics of Robert Kirby.” Queer Studies in Media and Popular Culture 2.1 (March 2017).

Patrick Walter. “A Post-Colony in Pieces: Black Faces, White Masks, and Queer Potentials in Unknown Solider.” In The Blacker the Ink: Constructions of Black Identity in Comics and Sequential Art, edited by Frances Gateward and John Jennings. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2015.

Andrea Wood. ‘“Straight’ Women, Queer Texts: Boy-Love Manga and the Rise of a Global Counterpublic.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 34.1/2 (Spring–Summer 2006).

Now Available: First Issue of English Language Notes Published by Duke University Press

ELN_561-cov_early_for-JmktWe are pleased to announce that the first issue of English Language Notes published by Duke University Press, volume 56, issue 1, “Critical and Comparative Mysticisms,” is now available.

A respected forum of criticism and scholarship in literary and cultural studies since 1962, English Language Notes (ELN) is dedicated to pushing the boundaries of scholarship in literature and related fields in new directions. Broadening its reach geographically and transhistorically, ELN opens new lines of inquiry and widens emerging fields. Each ELN issue advances topics of current scholarly concern, providing theoretical speculation as well as ptractical interdisciplinary recalibrations. Offering semiannual, topically themed issues, ELN also includes “Of Note,” an ongoing section featuring related topics, review essays or roundtables of cutting-edge scholarship, and emergent concerns. ELN is a wide-ranging journal that combines theoretical rigor with innovative interdisciplinary collaboration.

“Critical and Comparative Mysticisms” contains essays on mysticisms through a critical lens. This rarely, if ever, articulated vision of mysticisms juxtaposes them with other disciplinary and epistemological avenues of critical thought, such as historical, political, and literary studies. Mystical traditions, which often lie at the margins of institutionalized religions, tend to break down the boundaries that develop within religious contexts over time and offer syncretic alternatives to them. Mysticisms also offer alternative versions of knowledge seeking, being, and experience that contribute to a distinct and compelling branch of contemporary critical theory, intervening in current ideologically loaded discourses of religion and drawing on the vast archive of mystical thought, writing, and art from around the world in all periods. This special issue also contains a roundtable section with brief interventions concerning various angles of mysticism.

Read the introduction, made freely available, and browse the table of contents.

Q&A with Magdalena J. Zaborowska, Author of Me and My House

Zabrowska2Magdalena J. Zaborowska is Professor of Afroamerican and American Studies and the John Rich Faculty Fellow at the Institute for the Humanities at the University of Michigan, and the author and coeditor of several books, including James Baldwin’s Turkish Decade: Erotics of Exile, also published by Duke University Press, and How We Found America: Reading Gender through East European Immigrant Narratives.
Her latest book, Me and My House: James Baldwin’s Last Decade in France, uses James Baldwin’s house in the south of France as a lens through which to reconstruct his biography and to explore the politics and poetics of blackness, queerness, and domesticity in his complex and underappreciated later works.

What initially drew you to James Baldwin’s house in the South of France? What was it like the first time you visited?

Me and My HouseI first visited that house, known locally as “Chez Baldwin,” in the Provençal village of St. Paul-de-Vence in June 2000. I was fascinated with the writer’s international peregrinations and admired his cosmopolitan, decades-ahead-of-our-time approach to how one’s composite self, inflected by race, gender, sexuality, and class, was key to understanding one’s national identity within and without one’s home country. I also wanted to get a sense of the domestic environment in which he wrote his later works, and where he thrived as a black queer American artist, who was reviled both by US black nationalists and white liberals at the time.

Like most readers, I had first read the best known early Baldwiniana of 1953-63, Go Tell It on the Mountain, Notes of a Native Son, Giovanni’s Room, Another Country, and The Fire Next Time. The works written at Chez Baldwin, during 1971-87, were another matter. They revealed an author transformed, testing new ideas and approaches to identity, trying his hand at new forms. I wanted to look for material and tangible reasons for that transformation. I was teaching in Denmark until 2000, and thanks to Aarhus University’s support made my trip to Provençe, where I first encountered Baldwin’s most enduring home. Another draw was my interest in the interpenetration of literary and literal social spaces, or how material environments become metaphoric representations by means of evocative language and imagery on the pages of books. Perhaps, because I was an immigrant, I was curious as well about how the writer lived his life in French and in such a remote location, especially given his earlier fondness for metropolitan locations like Istanbul, New York, London or Paris. In the early 1970’s, when Baldwin moved there, St. Paul-de-Vence was a sleepy, slow-paced Provençal village, rather than the densely commercialized tourist destination it is today.

My first visit to the house and surrounding gardens in June of 2000 was a revelation on several levels. First, because of how unlike the place that Baldwin had come from it was, and second, because it made him into a homeowner and someone who lived, so to speak, on and off the land. Third, as he explains it in the little-known Architectural Digest piece on his house published just a few months before his death in 1987, as he grew older and frailer, he loved the light, peace, and quiet that filled the old structure. He had first rented rooms, and then bought, piece by piece as money from his books came in, the property from an eccentric old lady. In his last interview, literally on his deathbed, he explains that the place had led him to discover and embrace a rather mythic “peasant” mindset that he traced back to his parents, who migrated to New York from Maryland and Louisiana. He loved the ancient olive, orange, and almond trees, and enjoyed flowers and herbs that enveloped the house in a lush embrace. He was beloved by the town, and wished to be buried there after his death, which we know did not happen. The more I looked, the more I found and realized, too, that Chez Baldwin had to be a character of sorts in the book along with the writer.

OK - 4/28/17

The patio in front of Baldwin’s study, with his writing/reading table. Photo by Magdalena J. Zaborowska, 2000.

How did seeing the space where Baldwin lived and worked change your own perceptions of him and how did it inspire your research?

At first, I was overawed at being inside the parts of the house that were not rented out at the time (the most important space, Baldwin’s study and quarters downstairs, and in the back, were off limits, alas). Imagine, sitting on the living room couch where Baldwin once sat, or at the so-called Welcome Table in the gardens, while wearing one of his straw hats (which actually did happen, courtesy of Jill Hutchinson, who took care of the house and invited me in to see it). When I went through the interiors, I was shocked that no one wanted to salvage the material riches it still contained—books, journals, furniture, and artwork—that witnessed Baldwin’s daily life, and must have provided inspiration and tactile framework for his daily labor of writing. It struck me, too, that Baldwin must have had lots of work-related clutter, like so many of us, that he liked mantelpiece decorations arranged in symbolic manners, that he was playful; I was told of his favorite records and pillows; I looked through the possessions he left behind.

The house helped me appreciate how his acts of dwelling were inextricably intertwined with acts of literary creativity, how the rooms and gardens provided a stage on which he placed his characters (The Welcome Table) or how architectural elements of the interior and its decor appeared on the pages of his novels (Just Above My Head), not to mention his local friends’ influence on all of his works that he would read to and discuss with them regularly. The house embodied and exuded but also enabled and nurtured his fascinating, complex personality. The late Baldwin insisted on his uniqueness precisely because his blackness and queerness, his effeminate, “sissy” mannerisms made him an outcast in his home country and elsewhere. That house was a domestic and authorial haven where he could be fully himself.

I was also astonished while at Chez Baldwin that there were no sites in the United States where I could glimpse his domestic legacy; that school kids could not access the private life of one of the greatest twentieth-century American writers. On the other hand, that fact was not at all surprising, for until recently, the matter of African diasporic artistic legacies has not been preserved, cherished, and memorialized. Quite the opposite, material remnants of black lives have been systematically erased, demolished, and ignored.

My immigrant origins and early work on immigrant women writers provided another inspiration. Years before I arrived in St.Paul-de-Vence, I had visited Maria Kuncewiczowa’s house, known as “Kuncewiczowka,” in the town of Kazimierz on the Vistula in Poland. In fact, I ended up spending a night there, and while on subsequent visits noticed how fast it was becoming a cultural epicenter for the region, drawing authors, visual artists, and actors. That nothing similar was happening with Baldwin’s legacy either in France or in the United States was painful to behold. That early experience, my first visit to Chez Baldwin in 2000, and then a conference in Istanbul a year later, led me to Baldwin’s story in Turkey. From there, where I first glimpsed the tremendous vitality of transient domestic spaces to Baldwin’s artistic vision, no matter how remote from his birthplace of Harlem, it only made sense to return to St. Paul-de-Vence and pick up where I had started something that made sense only a decade later.

OK - 4/28/17

The welcome table and books in Baldwin’s “last room,” an upstairs living room that was transformed into his bedroom during the final few months of his life. Photo by Magdalena J. Zaborowska, 2000.

Baldwin’s works from this period (1971-1987) are underappreciated, both by readers and scholars, compared to his earlier works. Why do you think this is? What can readers and scholars learn about Baldwin from his later works?

These works are bold and complex, and much ahead of their time, as their largely superficial and negative reviews, or homophobic responses to them by the likes of Eldridge Cleaver in Soul on Ice (1968), demonstrate all too clearly. No Name in the Street (1972), If Beale Street Could Talk (1974), The Devil Finds Work (1976), Just Above My Head (1979), The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985), and the unpublished play The Welcome Table (1987) ushered in a new Baldwin, more complex and mature as an author, one who became disillusioned growing older as a black queer American, who had no choice but to live abroad to get his work done and to feel safe. The latter issue is often overlooked, especially by those who think it somehow uncool that, in his later life, the activist Baldwin, who came from dire poverty in Harlem, was a bourgie owner of a fancy property in France, where he entertained lavishly, and kept lovers and an entourage of hangers-on. This attitude may have something to do with the kind of politics of respectability on both sides of the proverbial US color line then. Along with the stifling, binary, hetero-patriarchal, misogynist, mainstream social norms that often masqueraded as patriotism, nationalism, or ethnocentrism, that attitude made him an outcast and rendered him, in a sense, homeless in the US. And Baldwin, of course, being who he was, wrote vehemently against all these oppressive politics in his later works.

I think that today we should be happy for his rags-to-riches story, and celebrate the fact that he had found a haven where he was cherished and nurtured and was able to write some of his most interesting works. As many of his letters to friends and family evidence, he was acutely aware that his portrayal of queer and interracial love and sex in Another Country and Just Above My Head not only angered but also threatened both black nationalists, who despised his sexuality and integrationist views, and the so-called white liberals, who objected to his candor concerning their complicity in national race relations and what they perceived as his “black anger.” These later works are daring both in terms of content and narrative structure, characterization, and imagery. They reveal a writer who wants to grow and experiment, and who is not afraid to test new waters. Baldwin considered his last novel his best, for example. I agree, for the more one reads Just Above My Head, the more its formal and thematic radicalism becomes clear and compelling (move over postmodernism…). Another matter is that reading late Baldwin requires work and intellectual willingness to be challenged, if not changed. You cannot encapsulate any of his ideas in 140 characters; you have to fight for who you can become thanks to his literary witnessing. That’s what great literature has always done, and that’s why we find his writings so relevant to our racially and politically troubled moment today.

You suggest that because of his gender and sexuality, not many scholars have written about the role of domesticity in Baldwin’s writing. How does a familiarity with Baldwin’s house in France help us understand more about the domestic themes (?) in his later works?

Queer domestic life, not to mention doubly-marginalized black queer or queer of color home-making, has been a taboo in US culture. As Baldwin writes in many of his essays, there are racial and sexual secrets and myths undergirding American cultural and social history that sharply cut across racial and class lines. He shows us how the official, traditional representations of how black and white Americans have envisaged domesticity since the mid-twentieth century have been superficial, small-minded, and provincial at best. Crafted to uphold the myth of the ideal national house, they may let us, for example, learn about Alice B. Toklas and Gertude Stein. But since these eccentric women lived as lesbians in Paris and not in Pittsburgh, we are supposed to chalk their lives up to having been inflected, if not tainted, by foreign, indeed, perverse “European” freakishness. Such expulsions of gender and sexual identity beyond the borders of the national house in the portrayals of cultural icons like Baldwin strip them of their complexity and adulterate their art. For example, even in the recently popular Raul Peck’s art film, “I Am Not Your Negro,” we encounter the so-called “Baldwin brand,” or the desexualized race man, rather than the intersectionality-promoting radical, who exploded binaries of identity, and by 1985-87 advocated for domesticating androgyny and black queer sex both in his works and on the pages of Playboy magazine. To those who would not accept him even today, and there are many, the radical better remain hidden at Chez Baldwin.

James Baldwin’s house in France was recently destroyed to make room for luxury condos. What do you think has been lost with that destruction?

The demolition of Chez Baldwin demonstrates yet again the power of capital over human need. The brutal erasure of that house strives to make our collective desire to connect with each other by means of affect and by preserving material places and remnants of lives that matter to us, that we love and want to keep tangible, insignificant. (Think of Rosa Parks’s house in Detroit, which was recently slated for demolition, and was saved only by having been moved to Berlin, where it now thrives as a popular museum.) It also means that there will be no brick-and-mortar museum for this writer, for there are no comparable sites in the US; the demolition makes France look bad, too, given that Baldwin was a recipient of its highest distinction, the Legion of Honor. Baldwin’s wish for his house was that it become a retreat for writers; there were plans and parties, and money, ready to implement his vision. That this did not happen demonstrates astonishing lack of imagination, as well as the sad reality of unequal valuation of legacies that still propels racialized politics of archiving, preservation, and memorialization. Among over seventy writers’ houses open to the public in the US today, there are only two devoted to African Americans. For all the sweat and blood its gestation and birth have taken, I am thrilled that some of Baldwin’s domesticity survives on the pages of my book.

What will happen to Baldwin’s “material archive”—all his belongings from the now-destroyed house? What can we learn from his day-to-day possessions? Is there a particular object that is most special to you?

Thanks to the aforementioned late David Baldwin’s partner, Jill Hutchinson, to whom he entrusted the care of the house he had inherited from James in 1987, most of the contents have been rescued from ending up in the trash when the property was lost. My own painstaking efforts to preserve the Chez Baldwin archive in digital form since 2000 have also opened a way for it to be considered for acquisition by a notable US institution. (I am unable to disclose the details at the moment.) I am returning to St. Paul-de-Vence next July to document a few more artifacts that were given by Baldwin to members of the Roux family; I am also in contact with a new entity there, Les Amis de la Maison-Baldwin, who has been fundraising to host exhibits and maintain a cultural center devoted to the writer.

My favorite artifact is the welcome table from Baldwin’s last room that Hutchinson has preserved at her own house, its surface imprinted with rings left by drinking glasses, scratches, and indentations marking various moments in Baldwin’s life that we will never know. Positively obsessed with making the only material remnants of Baldwin’s domesticity available to a wider audience, I am currently working on a companion project to Me and My House. It will yield a digital exhibit that will serve as a virtual writer’s house-museum for Baldwin in the absence of a brick-and-mortar one. I envisage it as open-access and showcasing the house and its grounds, as much as its contents. Down the road, it will be accompanied by an e-book and include other archival materials that I have amassed over the years; I am looking forward to involving graduate and undergraduate students and enlisting the wisdom of my University of Michigan colleagues in this project. I am currently mired in writing grant proposals and securing funding for it and for my upcoming research trip to Chez Baldwin. Grateful for being cheered on in these efforts by the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, and by my units at the University of Michigan, Institute for the Humanities, and the Departments of Afroamerican and African Studies and American Culture, I am also looking forward to writing more on Baldwin and collaborating again, I hope, with the marvelous folks at Duke University Press, who have helped me bring Me and My House into the worl

Head to our website where you can read the introduction to Me and My House for free. You can order Me and My House from your favorite local or online bookstore (print and e-editions available) or save 30% when you order directly from Duke University Press. Use coupon code E18ZABOR at checkout to save.

New Books in April

 April brings a fresh crop of great new books. Check out what we’re releasing this month.

978-0-8223-7153-3.jpg

In Biblical Porn Jessica Johnson draws on a decade of fieldwork at Pastor Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church in Seattle to show how congregants became entangled in a process of religious conviction through which they embodied Driscoll’s teaching on gender and sexuality in ways that supported the church’s growth.

In Abject Performances Leticia Alvarado explores how Latino artists and cultural producers have developed and deployed an irreverent aesthetics of abjection to resist assimilation and disrupt respectability politics.

Matthew Vitz’s A City on a Lake outlines the environmental history and politics of Mexico City as it transformed its original forested, water-rich environment into a smog-infested megacity, showing how the scientific and political disputes over water policy, housing, forestry, and sanitary engineering led to the city’s unequal urbanization and environmental decline.

In Domesticating Democracy Susan Helen Ellison offers an ethnography of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) organizations in El Alto, Bolivia, showing that by helping residents cope with their interpersonal disputes and economic troubles how they change the ways Bolivians interact with the state and global capitalism, making them into self-reliant citizens.

978-0-8223-7081-9.jpgKatherine Verdery’s My Life as a Spy analyzes the 2,781 page surveillance file the Romanian secret police compiled on her during her research trips to Transylvania in the 1970s and 1980s. Reading it led her to question her identity and also revealed how deeply the secret police was embedded in everyday life.

 In Edges of Exposure, following Senegalese toxicologists as they struggle to keep equipment, labs, and projects operating, Noémi Tousignant explores the impact of insufficient investments in scientific capacity in postcolonial Africa.

 

Examining human rights discourse from the French Revolution to the present, in Human Rights and the Care of the Self Alexandre Lefebvre turns common assumptions about human rights—that its main purpose is to enable, protect, and care for those in need—on their heads, showing how the value of human rights lies in its support of ethical self-care.

Gay PrioriLibby Adler’s Gay Priori offers a comprehensive critique of the mainstream LGBT legal agenda in the United States, showing how LGBT equal rights discourse drives legal advocates toward a narrow array of reform objectives that do little to help the lives of the most marginalized members of the LGBT community.

In From the Tricontinental to the Global South Anne Garland Mahler traces the history and intellectual legacy of the understudied global justice movement called the Tricontinental and calls for a revival of the Tricontinental’s politics as a means to strengthen racial justice and anti-neoliberal struggles in the twenty-first-century.

Aimee Bahng’s Migrant Futures traces the cultural production of futurity by juxtaposing the practices of speculative finance against those of speculative fiction, showing how speculative novels, films, and narratives create alternative futures that envision the potential for new political economies, social structures, and subjectivities that exceed the framework of capitalism.

A Primer for Teaching Environmental History, by Emily Wakild and Michelle K. Berry, is a guide for college and high school teachers who are teaching environmental history for the first time, for experienced teachers who want to reinvigorate their courses, for those who are training future teachers to prepare their own syllabi, and for teachers who want to incorporate environmental history into their world history courses. The book is part of a new series, Design Principles for Teaching History.

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

Reimagining Ourselves: Race, Gender, and Disability in Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time

Sami Final-9Today’s guest post is by Sami Schalk, author of the new book Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction.

It is a good time to be a black nerd—a blerd, if you will. The past few years have seen increased appearances of not only black characters, but entire black speculative worlds, worlds where we are not merely sidekicks, but heroes and heroines. From Netflix’s Luke Cage and Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning Get Out to Ryan Coogler’s record-shattering hit film Black Panther and Ava Duvernay’s just-released A Wrinkle in Time, we are in an incredible moment for black speculative film, television, and literature. I use “speculative” here, like I do in my new book, Bodyminds Reimagined, as an umbrella term for non-realist representations, including science fiction, fantasy, horror, and magical realism. For a long time, African American literature and film were heavily burdened by the need and desire for positive, realist representations of black people to combat a legacy of influential racist stereotypes. As I discuss in the introduction to Bodyminds Reimagined, available for free here, positive, authentic representations for black and other oppressed groups are often assumed to only occur through realism, like life-writing and historical dramas, but increasingly more writers and filmmakers are experimenting with how speculative fiction and film can also provide empowering representations of marginalized people.

978-0-8223-7088-8Black Panther represents an alternate version of our world in which the people of Wakanda, a secret African nation that went into hiding to protect its supply of vibranium from the colonizing world, have developed their own advanced technology and culture. In this cinematic universe, based on the comic book series of the same title, the Wakandan king, T’Challa, serves as the Black Panther, protector of Wakanda, and is given extraordinary physical abilities through a mystical heart-shaped herb. Throughout the film, T’Challa relies on his genius younger sister Shuri, princess of Wakanda, who develops and improves vibranium technology, and an army of strong black women, the Dora Milaje, who are led by General Okoye. In this speculative world, black people are leaders and inventors as well as farmers, warriors, and spies. Black Panther reimagines the meaning of blackness and womanhood as well as the roles and expectations for black men and women. Importantly, the film provides this reimagining in conjunction with political messages about the history of colonization while also remaining firmly in the superhero genre—full of dramatic fights and chase scenes required of any superhero movie. While black, disabled, and feminist authors of speculative fiction, like Octavia E. Butler, Samuel Delany, Nalo Hopkinson, and Nnedi Okorafor have been creating politicized non-realist texts which center marginalized characters for years, Hollywood is now beginning to catch up, learning to combine diversity and politics with superheroes, science fiction, and other non-realist genres.

The move to reimagine race and gender identity through speculative fiction and film continues in the new film A Wrinkle in Time, originally a 1962 award-winning speculative fiction novel by Madeleine L’Engle. The book was initially rejected dozens of times, due in part, the author speculated, to its divergence from genre norms at the time, such as featuring a female protagonist. In its current adaptation, A Wrinkle in Time casts a black girl in the lead role of Meg Murray and other characters are also played by women of color. In the film, Meg, along with her friend and younger brother, bend time to travel the universe in order to find and rescue Meg’s scientist father who has been missing for four years. While not as explicitly political at Black Panther and created for a younger audience, A Wrinkle in Time nonetheless reimagines race and gender norms by creating a smart black girl character who must learn to love herself as she is, using her knowledge of physics and love for her family to become a hero.

What is missing from the race and gender diversity of these recent black speculative worlds, however, is disability. In Black Panther, while we see some bodily and age diversity among the tribal leaders, we do not see disabled characters except for the villain Ulysses Klaue who has a prosthetic hand—a representation that aligns with the trope of disability as a symbol or cause of evil. In A Wrinkle in Time, although there are messages about self-love (especially for black people, women and girls) embedded throughout, from Meg’s self-consciousness about her naturally curly hair to Oprah Winfrey’s character Mrs. Which rhetorically asking “Is there such thing as the wrong size?”, disability makes no appearance in the film. Further, in Black Panther CIA operative Everett Ross is shot in the spine but is completely healed by Wakandan technology. This choice suggests that disability has been eliminated in Wakanda. In Chapter 3 of Bodyminds Reimagined, I discuss the role of disability and technology in representations of the future, particularly in Octavia E. Butler’s Parable series. There I explain that western visions of the future are typically disability-free futures, like that suggested in Black Panther. Despite the fact that advances in human technology are often used for violence and war (especially against people of color) and despite the fact that technology increasingly allows people to live with more severe and varied disabilities than in the past, we continue to hold onto the ideal of a technologically-created able-bodied, able-minded future in which disabled people cease to exist. The belief in and hope for such a future or fantasy world is based on ableist notions that disabled lives are inherently worse than non-disabled lives and that disabled people do not contribute to the world in important ways.

The lack of positive disability representation (that is, disabled characters who aren’t villains, especially ones played by actually disabled actors) in the increasingly diverse world of speculative film demonstrates that there is still more work to be done. In Bodyminds Reimagined, I analyze how black women writers reimagine the possibilities and limits of bodyminds by creating complex, interesting, and powerful representations of disabled characters. With the release and success of films like Get Out, Black Panther, and A Wrinkle in Time, it seems that speculative film is beginning to catch up the speculative fiction in terms of race and gender, but not as much in terms of disability. By highlighting the role of disability alongside race and gender in black women’s speculative fiction, I hope that Bodyminds Reimagined contributes to this powerful moment in black speculative representations so that perhaps in the Black Panther sequel and other future films, we might see the kind of engagement with and embrace of disability identity that we have begun to see around blackness and womanhood as well.

Pick up Sami Schalk’s Bodyminds Reimagined for 30% off using coupon code E18BODYM at dukeupress.edu.