Music

New Books in April

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Curling up on the couch with a great book is an excellent way to practice social distancing this month. All these titles will deliver before our sale ends on May 1, so check our website regularly. You can save 50% on all in-stock titles with coupon SPRING50

Tyler Bickford traces the dramatic rise of the “tween” pop music industry in Tween Pop, showing how it marshaled childishness as a key element in legitimizing children’s participation in public culture.

The contributors to Playing for Keeps examine the ways in which musical improvisation can serve as a way to negotiate violence, trauma, systemic inequality, and the aftermaths of war and colonialism. This volume is edited by Daniel Fischlin and Eric Porter.

John F. Szwed’s Space is the Place is the definitive biography of Sun Ra—composer, keyboardist, bandleader, philosopher, entrepreneur, poet, self-proclaimed extraterrestrial from Saturn, and a founder of Afrofuturism. We are pleased to be bringing this classic back into print with a new preface.

In Vital Decomposition, Kristina M. Lyons presents an ethnography of human-soil relations in which she follows state soil scientists and peasant farmers in Colombia’s Putumayo region, showing how their relationship with soil is key to caring for the forest and growing non-illicit crops in the face of violence, militarism, and environmental destruction.

Micha Rahder explores how multiple ways of knowing the forest of Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve shape conservation practice, local livelihoods, and landscapes in An Ecology of Knowledges.

In Relations, Marilyn Strathern provides a critical account of anthropology’s key concept of relation and its usage and significance in the English-speaking world, showing how its evolving use over the last three centuries reflects changing thinking about knowledge-making and kin-making.

In Virtual Pedophilia, Gillian Harkins traces the genealogy of the transformation of cultural construction of the pedophile as a social outcast into the image of normative white masculinity from the 1980s to the present, showing how his “normalcy” makes him hard to identify and stop.

In A People’s History of Detroit, Mark Jay and Philip Conklin use a Marxist framework to tell a sweeping story of Detroit from 1913 to the present, outlining the complex socio-political dynamics underlying major events in Detroit’s past, from the rise of Fordism and the formation of labor unions to deindustrialization and the city’s recent bankruptcy.

In Revolution and Disenchantment, Fadi A. Bardawil explores the hopes for and disenchantments with Marxism-Leninism in the writings and actions of revolutionary intellectuals within the 1960s Arab New Left.

In Tehrangeles Dreaming, Farzaneh Hemmasi draws on ethnographic fieldwork in Los Angeles and musical and textual analysis to examine how the pop music, music videos, and television made by Iranian expatriates express modes of Iranianness not possible in Iran.

The Lonely Letters is an epistolary blackqueer critique of the normative world in which Ashon T. Crawley meditates on the interrelation of blackqueer life, sounds of the black church, theology, mysticism, and the potential for platonic and erotic connection in a world that conspires against blackqueer life.

Drawing on Whitman and Adorno, Morton Schoolman proposes aesthetic education through film as a way to redress the political violence inflicted on difference society constructs as its racialized, gendered, Semitic, and sexualized other in A Democratic Enlightenment.

In Kwaito Bodies, Xavier Livermon examines the cultural politics of the youthful black body in South Africa through the performance, representation, and consumption of Kwaito—a style of electronic dance music that emerged following the end of apartheid.

Reflecting on the experience, philosophy, and practice of Latin American indigenous and Afro-descendant activist-intellectuals who mobilize to defend their territories from large-scale extraction, Arturo Escobar shows in Pluriversal Politics how the key to addressing planetary crises is the creation of the pluriverse—a world of many epistemological and ontological worlds.

The contributors to AIDS and the Distribution of Crises outline the myriad ways that the AIDS pandemic exists within a network of varied historical, overlapping, and ongoing crises borne of global capitalism and colonial, racialized, and gendered violence. This collection is edited by Jih-Fei Cheng, Alexandra Juhasz, and Nishant Shahani. It is currently available to read free online as part of our Navigating the Threat of Pandemic syllabus.

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New Books in March

Spring is just around the corner—so it’s time to stock up on books for a whole new season of reading. Check out all of these titles arriving in March!

In I Never Left Home, poet and revolutionary Margaret Randall tells the moving, captivating, and astonishing story of her life, from her childhood in New York to joining the Sandanista movement in Nicaragua, from escaping political repression in Mexico to raising a family and teaching college.

Demanding Images is Karen Strassler’s ethnography of Indonesia’s post-authoritarian public sphere, exploring the role of public images as they gave visual form to the ideals, aspirations, and anxieties of democracy.

Focusing on a wide range of media technologies and practices in Beijing, Underglobalization by Joshua Neves examines the cultural politics of the “fake” and how frictions between legality and legitimacy propel dominant models of economic development and political life in contemporary China.

A writing manual as well as a manifesto, Every Day I Write the Book combines novelist and essayist Amitava Kumar’s practical writing advice with interviews with prominent writers, offering guidance and inspiration for academic writers at all levels.

In Negative Exposures, Margaret Hillenbrand explores how artistic appropriations of historical images effectively articulate the openly unsayable and counter the public secrecy that erases traumatic episodes from China’s past.

The contributors to Visualizing Fascism, edited by Julia Adeney Thomas and Geoff Eley, examine the imagery and visual rhetoric of interwar fascism in East Asia, southern Africa, and Europe to explore how fascism was visualized as a global and aesthetic phenomenon.

In his new book-length prose poem, The Voice in the Headphones, musician David Grubbs draws on decades of recording experience, taking readers into the recording studio to tell the story of an unnamed musician who struggles to complete a film soundtrack in a day-long marathon recording session.

Rahul Mukherjee explores how the media coverage of and debates about nuclear power plants and cellular phone antennas in India frames and sustains environmental activism in Radiant Infrastructures.

Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky theorizes the process genre—a filmic genre characterized by its representation of chronologically ordered steps in which some form of labor results in a finished product—in The Process Genre.

In The Queer Games Avant-Garde, Bonnie Ruberg presents twenty interviews with twenty-two queer video developers whose radical, experimental, vibrant, and deeply queer work is driving a momentous shift in the medium of video games.

Ana Y. Ramos-Zayas traces how parenting practices among urban elites in Brazil and Puerto Rico preserve and reproduce white privilege and economic inequality in Parenting Empires.

In Rock | Water | Life, Lesley Green examines the interwoven realities of inequality, racism, colonialism, and environmental destruction in South Africa, calling for environmental research and governance to transition to an ecopolitical approach that could address South Africa’s history of racial oppression and environmental exploitation.

Matt Brim shifts queer studies away from sites of elite education toward poor and working-class students and locations in Poor Queer Studies, showing how the field is driven by those flagship institutions that perpetuate class and race inequity in higher education.

In Paris in the Dark, Eric Smoodin takes readers on a journey through the streets, cinemas, and theaters of Paris to sketch a comprehensive picture of French film culture during the 1930s and 1940s.

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New Books in February

This month, we’re releasing an array of new reads in all of the subjects you love. Take a look at these new books coming this February!

The concluding volume in a poetic triptych, Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s Dub: Finding Ceremony takes inspiration from theorist Sylvia Wynter, dub poetry, and ocean life to offer a catalog of possible methods for remembering, healing, listening, and living otherwise.

In Wild Blue Media, Melody Jue destabilizes terrestrial-based media theory frameworks and reorients the perception of the world by considering the ocean itself as a media environment—a place where the weight and opacity of seawater transforms how information is created, stored, transmitted, and perceived.

In The Ocean in the School, Rick Bonus tells the stories of Pacific Islander students at the University of Washington as they and their allies struggled to transform a university they believed did not value their presence into a space based on meaningfulness, respect, and multiple notions of student success.

In Orozco’s American Epic, Mary K. Coffey examines José Clemente Orozco’s mural cycle Epic of American Civilization, which indicts history as complicit in colonial violence and questions the claims of Manifest Destiny in the United States and the Mexican desire to mend the wounds of conquest in pursuit of a postcolonial national project.

Nandita Sharma traces the development of the categories of migrants and natives from the nineteenth century to the present in Home Rule to theorize how the idea of people’s rights being tied to geographical notions of belonging came to be.

In Unfixed, Jennifer Bajorek traces the relationship between photography and decolonial politics in Francophone west Africa in the years immediately leading up to and following independence from French colonial rule in 1960, showing how photography both reflected and actively contributed to social and political change.

In Are You Entertained?, a collection of essays, interviews, visual art, and artist statements on topics ranging from music and dance to Black Twitter and the NBA’s dress code, the contributors consider what culture and Blackness mean in the twenty-first century’s digital consumer economy. This volume is edited by Simone C. Drake and Dwan K. Henderson.

In Musicophilia in Mumbai, Tejaswini Niranjana traces the place of Hindustani classical music in Mumbai throughout the long twentieth century, showing how the widespread love of music throughout the city created a culture of collective listening and social subjects who embodied new forms of modernity.

Focusing on the work of a Marxist anticolonial literary group active in India between the 1930s and 1950s, Neetu Khanna rethinks the project of decolonization in The Visceral Logics of Decolonization by showing how embodied and affective responses to colonial subjugation provide the catalyst for developing revolutionary consciousness.

Contributors to Queer Korea, edited by Todd A. Henry, offer interdisciplinary analyses of non-normative sexuality and gender nonconformity in Korea, extending individualized notions of queer neoliberalism beyond those set in Western queer theory.

Drawing on Marxist phenomenology, geography, and aesthetics and film from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan made between the 1990s and the present, Erin Y. Huang theorizes the economic, cultural, and political conditions of neoliberal postsocialist China in Urban Horror.

The contributors to Affective Trajectories examine the mutual and highly complex entwinements between religion and affect in urban Africa in the early twenty-first century, tracing the myriad ways religious ideas, practices, and materialities interact with affect to configure life in urban African spaces. This collection is edited by Hansjörg Dilger, Astrid Bochow, Marian Burchardt, and Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon.

In Naked Agency, Naminata Diabate explores how the deployment of defiant nakedness by mature women in Africa challenges longstanding assumptions about women’s political agency.

From The Guiding Light to Passions, Elana Levine traces the history of daytime television soap operas as an innovative and highly gendered mass cultural form in Her Stories.

In Seeing by Electricity, Doron Galili traces television’s early history, from the fantastical devices initially imagined fifty years before the first television prototypes to the emergence of broadcast television in the 1930s, showing how television was always discussed and treated in relation to cinema.

Jeremy Packer and Joshua Reeves provide a critical account of the history and future of automation in warfare in Killer Apps by highlighting the threats posed by the latest advances in media technology and artificial intelligence.

Originally published in German in 1978 and appearing here in English for the first time, the second volume of Peter Weiss’s three-volume novel The Aesthetics of Resistance depicts anti-fascist resistance, radical proletarian political movements, and the relationship between art and resistance from the late 1930s to World War II.

Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop by Sarah Eckhardt accompanies the exhibition of the photography of Virginia artist Louis Draper and other members of the Kamoinge Workshop that opens at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in February 2020. We are distributing it for the museum.

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New Books in January

If one of your resolutions for 2020 is to read more books, we’ve got you covered. Ring in the new year with these captivating new releases!

In Beneath the Surface, Lynn M. Thomas constructs a transnational history of skin lighteners in South Africa and beyond, theorizing skin and skin color as a site for antiracist struggle and lighteners as a technology of visibility that both challenges and entrenches racial and gender hierarchies.

Weaving U.S. history into the larger fabric of world history, the contributors to Crossing Empires de-exceptionalize the American empire, placing it in a global transimperial context as a way to grasp the power relations that shape imperial formations. This collection is edited by Kristin L. Hoganson and Jay Sexton.

Engaging contemporary photography by Sally Mann, Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems, and others, Shawn Michelle Smith traces how historical moments come to be known photographically and the ways in which the past continues to inhabit, punctuate, and transform the present through the photographic medium in Photographic Returns.

Spanning the centuries between pre-contact indigenous Haiti to the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, the selections in The Haiti Reader introduce readers to Haiti’s dynamic history and culture from the viewpoint of Haitians from all walks of life. This volume is edited by Laurent Dubois, Kaiama L. Glover, Nadève Ménard, Millery Polyné, and Chantalle F. Verna.

The contributors to Futureproof (edited by D. Asher Ghertner, Hudson McFann, and Daniel M. Goldstein) examine the affective and aesthetic dimensions of security infrastructures and technology with studies ranging from Jamaica and Jakarta to Colombia and the US-Mexico border.

Examining abjection in a range of visual and material culture, the contributors to Abjection Incorporated move beyond critiques of abjection as a punitive form of social death to theorizing how it has become a means to acquire political and cultural capital in the twenty-first century. This volume is edited by Maggie Hennefeld and Nicholas Sammond.

Margaret E. Dorsey and Miguel Díaz-Barriga argue that border wall construction along the U.S.–Mexico border manifests transformations in citizenship practices that are aimed not only at keeping migrants out but also enmeshing citizens into a wider politics of exclusion in Fencing in Democracy.

In Politics of Rightful Killing, Sima Shakhsari analyzes the growth of Weblogistan—the online and real-life transnational network of Iranian bloggers in the early 2000s—and the ways in which despite being an effective venue for Iranians to pursue their political agendas, it was the site for surveillance, cooptation, and self-governance.

In Invisibility by Design, Gabriella Lukács traces how young Japanese women’s unpaid labor as bloggers, net idols, “girly” photographers, online traders, and cell phone novelists was central to the development of Japan’s digital economy in the 1990s and 2000s.

Presented in the context of the nonprofit arts collective More Art’s fifteen-year history, and featuring first-person testimony, critical essays, and in-depth documentary materials, More Art in the Public Eye is an essential, experiential guide to the field of socially engaged public art and its increasing relevance. This volume is edited by Micaela Martegani, Jeff Kasper, and Emma Drew, and we are distributing it for More Art.

Shana L. Redmond traces Paul Robeson’s continuing cultural resonances in popular culture and politics in Everything Man, showing how he remains a vital force and presence for all those he inspired.

In The Complete Lives of Camp People, Rudolf Mrázek presents a sweeping study of the material and cultural lives of internees of two twentieth-century concentration camps and the multiple ways in which their experiences speak to and reveal the fundamental logics of modernity.

In Avian Reservoirs, Frédéric Keck traces how the anticipation of bird flu pandemics has changed relations between birds and humans in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan, showing that humans’ reliance on birds is key to mitigating future pandemics.

Collecting texts from all corners of the world that span antiquity to the present, The Ocean Reader (edited by Eric Paul Roorda) charts humans’ relationship to the ocean, treating it as a dynamic site of history, culture, and politics.

The contributors to Blue Legalities attend to the seas as a legally and politically conflicted space to analyze the conflicts that emerge where systems of governance interact with complex geophysical, ecological, economic, biological, and technological processes. This collection is edited by Irus Braverman and Elizabeth R. Johnson.

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New Books in December

‘Tis the season for brand new books! This month, we’re releasing a variety of compelling titles from a wide range of disciplines—art, history, music, theory and philosophy, cultural studies, and many more. Check out these great reads available in December.

Andrea Smith examines the racial reconciliation movement in Evangelical Christianity through a critical ethnic studies lens in Unreconciled, evaluating the varying degrees to which Evangelical communities that were founded on white supremacy have attempted to address racism and become more inclusive.

In Picasso’s Demoiselles, eminent art historian Suzanne Preston Blier uncovers a previously unknown history of the influences and creative process of Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, one of the twentieth century’s most important, celebrated, and studied paintings.

In The Sonic Episteme Robin James examines how twenty-first-century conceptions of sound as acoustic resonance shape notions of the social world, personhood, and materiality in ways that support white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

In Listen But Don’t Ask Question Kevin Fellezs traces the ways in which slack key guitar—a traditional Hawaiian musical style played on an acoustic steel-string guitar—is a site for the articulation of the complex histories, affiliations, and connotations of Hawaiian belonging.

Militarization: A Reader, edited by Roberto J. González, Hugh Gusterson, and Gustaaf Houtman, offers an anthropological perspective on militarization’s origin and sustained presence as a cultural process in its full social, economic, political, cultural, environmental, and symbolic contexts throughout the world.

Originally published in French in 1997 and appearing here in English for the first time, David Lapoujade’s William James: Empiricism and Pragmatism is both an accessible and rigorous introduction to and a pioneering rereading of James’s thought.

With topics that span the sixteenth century to the present in Latin America, the United States, Australia, the Middle East, and West Africa, the contributors to Ethnopornography show how ethnopornography—the eroticized observation of the Other for supposedly scientific or academic purposes—is fundamental to the creation of race, colonialism, and archival and ethnographic knowledge. This volume is edited by Pete Sigal, Zeb Tortorici, and Neil L. Whitehead.

In Otaku and the Struggle for Imagination in Japan Patrick Galbraith examines Japanese “otaku,” their relationships with fictional girl characters, the Japanese public’s interpretations of them as excessive and perverse, and the Japanese government’s attempts to co-opt them into depictions of “Cool Japan” to an international audience.

In Mafalda: A Social and Political History of Latin America’s Global Comic—first published in Argentina in 2014 and appearing here in English for the first time—Isabella Cosse examines the history, political commentary, and influence of the world-famous comic character Mafalda from her Argentine origins in 1964 to her global reach in the 1990s.

In The Licit Life of Capitalism Hannah Appel uses a case study of U.S. oil industry in Equatorial Guinea to illustrate how inequality makes markets, not just in West Africa but globally.

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Black Sacred Music Archive Now Available

We are excited to announce the digitization of Black Sacred Music: A Journal of Theomusicology, published semiannually from 1987 to 1995 and now available online for the first time.

Subscribe now for access, or ask your library to purchase the archive.

Black Sacred Music, under the editorship of Yahya Jontingaba (formerly known as Jon Michael Spencer), sought to establish theomusicology—a theologically informed musicology—as a distinct discipline, incorporating methods from anthropology, sociology, psychology, and philosophy to examine the full range of black sacred music. Topics included the theology of American pop, the early days of rap, the African church, spirituals, gospel music, civil rights songs, and much more.

The journal consisted of scholarly articles, essays, hymns and folk songs, sermons, historical reprints, and reviews of books, hymn books, and recordings. It also published volumes of archival writings by R. Nathaniel Dett, William Grant Still, and Willis Laurence James.

Notable contributors include Philip V. Bohlman, Michael Eric Dyson, Andrew Greeley, Mark Sumner Harvey, Willie James Jennings, D. Soyini Madison, Sonja Peterson-Lewis, Harold Dean Trulear, William C. Turner Jr., Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu, Cornel West, and Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

New Books in September

Summer’s almost over, which means it’s time to start to replenishing your reading list! Celebrate the start of a new academic year with us by checking out this diverse array of books arriving in September.

Acknowledging the impending worldwide catastrophe of rising seas in the twenty-first century, Orrin H. Pilkey and Keith C. Pilkey outline the impacts on the United States’ shoreline and argue that the only feasible response along much of the U.S. shoreline is an immediate and managed retreat in Sea Level Rise.

Brenda R. Weber’s Latter-day Screens examines the ways in which the mediation of Mormonism through film, TV, blogs, YouTube videos, and memoirs functions as a means through which to understand conversations surrounding gender, sexuality, spirituality, capitalism, justice, and individualism in the United States.

Self-Devouring Growth by Julie Livingston shows how the global pursuit of economic and resource-driven growth comes at the expense of catastrophic destruction, thereby upending popular notions that economic growth and development is necessary for improving a community’s wellbeing.

In Under Construction, Daniel Mains explores the intersection of infrastructural development and governance in contemporary Ethiopia by examining the conflicts surrounding the construction of specific infrastructural technologies and how that construction impacts the daily lives of Ethiopians.

Elizabeth Freeman’s Beside You in Time expands bipolitical and queer theory by outlining a temporal view of the long nineteenth century and showing how time became a social and sensory means by which people resisted disciplinary regimes and assembled into groups in ways that created new forms of sociality.

Terry Smith—who is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading historians and theorists of contemporary art—traces the emergence of contemporary art and further develops his concept of contemporaneity in Art to Come through analyses of topics ranging from Chinese and Australian Indigenous art to architecture.

Henry Cow by Benjamin Piekut tells the story of the English experimental rock band Henry Cow and how it linked its improvisational musical aesthetic with a collectivist, progressive politics.

Davina Cooper’s Feeling Like a State explores the unexpected contribution a legal drama of withdrawal—as exemplified by some conservative Christians who deny people inclusion, goods, and services to LGBTQ individuals—might make to conceptualizing a more socially just, participative state.

In Making The Black Jacobins, Rachel Douglas traces the genesis, transformation, and afterlives of the different versions of C. L. R. James’s landmark The Black Jacobins across the decades from the 1930s onwards, showing how James revised it in light of his evolving politics.

William E. Connolly links climate change, fascism, and the nature of truth to demonstrate the profound implications of the deep imbrication between planetary nonhuman processes and cultural developments in Climate Machines, Fascist Drives, and Truth.

Cara New Daggett’s The Birth of Energy traces the genealogy of the idea of energy from the Industrial Revolution to the present, showing how it has informed fossil fuel imperialism, the governance of work, and our relationship to the Earth.

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New Books in April

We’ve got great new reads in April in anthropology, religious studies, sociology, feminism and women’s studies, and much more.

978-1-4780-0390-8_prIn Deported Americans legal scholar and former public defender Beth C. Caldwell tells the story of dozens of immigrants who were deported from the United States—the only country they have ever known—to Mexico, tracking the harmful consequences of deportation for those on both sides of the border.

In Makers of Democracy A. Ricardo López-Pedreros traces the ways in which a thriving middle class was understood to be a foundational marker of democracy in Colombia in the second half of the twentieth century, showing democracy to be a historically unstable and contentious practice.

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Maura Finkelstein examines what it means for textile mill workers in Mumbai—who are assumed to not exist—to live during a period of deindustrialization, showing in The Archive of Loss how mills and workers’ bodies constitute an archive of Mumbai’s history that challenge common thinking about the city’s past, present, and future.

Hester Blum examines the rich, offbeat collection of printed ephemera created by nineteenth- and early twentieth-century polar explorers, showing in The News at the Ends of the Earth how ship newspapers and other writing shows how explores wrestled with questions of time, space, and community while providing them with habits to survive the extreme polar climate.

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In Autonomy Nicholas Brown theorizes the historical and theoretical conditions for the persistence of art’s autonomy from the realm of the commodity by showing how an artist’s commitment to form and by demanding interpretive attention elude the logic of capital.

In a revised and expanded edition of Medicine Stories, Aurora Levins Morales weaves together the insights and lessons learned over a lifetime of activism to offer a new theory of social justice, bringing clarity and hope to tangled, emotionally charged social issues in beautiful and accessible language.

Exploring a wide range of sonic practices, from birdsong in the Marshall Islands to Zulu ululation, the contributors to Remapping Sound Studies, edited by Gavin Steingo and Jim Sykes, reorient the field of sound studies toward the global South in order to rethink and decolonize modes of understanding and listening to sound.

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In Dance for Me When I Die—first published in Argentina in 2004 and appearing here in English for the first time—Cristian Alarcón tells the story and legacy of seventeen year old Víctor Manuel Vital, aka Frente, who was killed by police in the slums of Buenos Aires.

The contributors to Spirit on the Move, edited by Judith Casselberry and Elizabeth A. Pritchard, examine Pentecostalism’s appeal to black women worldwide and the ways it provides them with a source of community, access to power, and way to challenge social inequalities.

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Q&A with Mack Hagood, Author of Hush

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Mack Hagood is Robert H. and Nancy J. Blayney Assistant Professor of Comparative Media Studies at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. His work on digital media, sound technologies, and popular music can be found in such publications as American Quarterly and Cinema Journal, and he co-produces and hosts the podcast Phantom Power: Sounds about Sound. In his new book, Hush: Media and Sonic Self Control, Hagood explores what he calles “orphic media”: noise-cancelling headphones, tinnitus maskers, white noise machines, nature-sound mobile apps, and other forms of media that give users the ability to create sonic safe spaces for themselves, showing how the desire to block certain sounds are informed by ideologies of race, gender, and class.

Explain what you mean by “sonic self-control”? What kind of sound are you investigating?

I study activities as simple as using a white-noise machine to sleep better at night or using noise-canceling headphones to work or enjoy a movie on an airplane. I am interested in how we use personal media technologies to change sensory experience, thereby managing how we feel and controlling our connection to our surroundings and others. These acts of sonic self-control are among our most common everyday media practices—millions of apps that generate nature sounds have been downloaded, for example, and headphones are now a multi-billion-dollar industry. These technologies’ prevalence alone makes them worthy of research; yet aside from a body of cultural studies work on personal music technologies like the Walkman and the iPod, very little research has been done on them. The kind of practice I’m describing here can involve music, but it can also be completely non-musical. I’m really focusing less on media content and more on how we use our devices to remediate how—and how much—the world affects us. I call these devices “orphic media,” named after the mythical Orpheus, who counteracted the fatal song of the Sirens by playing a song of his own, fighting sound with sound to create a safe space.

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In the book, I’m bringing together a diverse array of technologies that are used for this kind of sonic self-control: white noise machines, LPs of natural sounds, mobile apps, noise-canceling headphones, wearable devices that suppress tinnitus, and the evolving category of in-ear wearable computer technology, or “hearables.” Most of these orphic technologies have been ignored by my academic field of media studies, so I’m providing a history and asking why these practices have evolved over the past sixty years. Why do they feel so necessary today? And what can we learn about sensory experience and our cultural moment from them? Is our new ability to (in the words of a Beats headphones slogan) “Hear What You Want,” providing us new levels of freedom or is it making us ever more sensitive to what we don’t want to hear? In this way, I’m using the material and physiological experience of sound as a different way to think through contemporary debates about media echo chambers, filter bubbles, safe spaces, fake news, “snowflakes,” and so on.

Why do you think media studies has overlooked these technologies?

I think there are certain habits and ideas around media that affect scholars and laypeople alike, making some kinds of media practices harder to identify and analyze. For one thing, we tend to think about media in terms of discrete genres and technologies. In the academic world, the attainment of disciplinary expertise demands that you drill down on a specific medium, so you become a film scholar or a radio scholar or a social media scholar, despite the fact that we all know that these different media are converging in our iPhones. I wanted to approach things from the opposite direction, saying, “Here’s something interesting I see people doing on one device—are they also doing similar things with other devices?” So, I’m trying to think across media rather than within these categories that ultimately derive from the industries we are supposed to analyze and critique. This approach has led me to study audio technologies that are marketed as “sensory therapy devices” at the Home and Housewares Show, or prescription devices at the American Academy of Audiology conference—not just the familiar devices you’d find at the consumer electronics tradeshow, CES. My line of inquiry pushed me into some strange and interesting spaces where media scholars don’t often venture.

Then there are two common-sense definitions of media that exclude the technologies I study: First, media are information-transmitting devices. Second, media are communication devices. These are both partial truths that obscure some of what we really use media for—and even though a number of great media theorists have challenged these notions from different angles, they continue to dominate. In my view, media studies, like American culture, lives under the thumb of cybernetics and information theory, which were developed over seventy years ago—now more than ever, in fact! In the book, I argue that the pressures of living in an “information economy” are some of the main reasons we hate and fear noise so much today. What I call “infocentrism” places impossible demands on our attention and makes orphic media feel like necessities. Trying to analyze this dynamic as a scholar while using an informatic notion of media would be like using the Invisible Hand to critique neoliberalism.

My alternative definition, which is inspired by the Spinozan lineage of affect theory, is that media are devices used to control how we affect and are affected by the world. Information technology can facilitate this process, but the embodied, material, and affective aspects of media use just can’t be reduced to immaterial patterns of information or the transmission of messages. Take, for example, a mobile app like White Noise. Say you work in an open-plan office and your co-worker’s sales calls are distracting you from writing a memo, so you use your smartphone to generate noise and block out their voice. Noise is literally the opposite of information, right? You’re using your phone not to communicate, but rather to render communication impossible. In practice, you have contradicted the notion that media are solely technologies for the transmission of information and the facilitation of communication. Sure, your phone is constructed on an information architecture, but we shouldn’t confuse the architecture with the nature of the human practice, which is to remediate the external environment and thereby reorganize our interior experience.

What sparked your interest in sonic self-control? How did your experiences with tinnitus influence this project?

I lived in Taiwan for several years and there I encountered these little boxes that looked like transistor radios and played audio loops of chanted Buddhist sutras. I was completely fascinated by these things and started collecting them. (Years later, a pair of musicians in China commissioned their own version of the device filled with ambient music loops and branded it as The Buddha Machine—it became something of an underground music hit.) My imagination was captivated by the idea that a sound machine could create a sacred space and I recalled how, as a child who had trouble sleeping, I used a radio to make my bedroom feel safer. Years later, in graduate school, I read the passage in A Thousand Plateaus where a frightened child in the dark sings a song to create what Deleuze and Guattari call a milieu, a temporarily pacified space—a little wall of sound to keep the monsters out. I immediately thought back to the sutra boxes and my childhood radio and that’s when I began to wonder if there were other media technologies that sonically pacified space in this way. And yes, it turns out there are a lot of them!

As for tinnitus, I have had it for as long as I can remember—perhaps resulting from a bout of scarlet fever I had as a child. Tinnitus became part of the project when I realized that people who suffered a lot from it were the most avid—and sometimes, desperate—users of orphic media. In fact, audiologists prescribe wearable sound-generators as part of tinnitus therapies. This is because tinnitus grows louder in quiet spaces. Just as the pupils dilate in low light, the auditory system “turns up the volume” in silence, revealing or exacerbating tinnitus. The chapter on tinnitus shows how high the stakes of orphic mediation can get. In my ethnographic research, I met people who couldn’t work and even attempted suicide. A combination of sound enrichment and counseling is the main tinnitus treatment today.

And in fact, the stakes became very high for me as well. By a strange twist of fate, a bike tire burst right next to my ear right before I started my fieldwork, creating tinnitus to a degree I’d never experienced before. So, I was struggling with my own fear and dismay about tinnitus as I was going to clinics and support groups to observe and do interviews. I could deeply empathize with tinnitus sufferers whose bosses or families thought they were flakes or neurotics or malingerers. The tinnitus research soon became the centerpiece of the project. It provided me with a neurophysiological model of how an affect of fear can attach to sound, reshaping sensory experience and social life. It also forced me to study humanistic theories of disability, something that really wasn’t on my radar before. In the end, disability theory helped me resolve my own fear and aversion to tinnitus, which actually may be the only “cure” at this point. I realized that my own ideology of ability—Tobin Siebers’ term for the belief that the body should be perfect—was fueling my flight-or-flight reaction to tinnitus, making it worse. This helped me turn a corner. In time, I came to embrace my tinnitus as a part of myself. In fact, I came to realize that every sound we hate or fear is really part of ourselves, because we are the ones who experiences it. No matter what noise we are fighting, literal or figurative, embracing our experience is the secret to transcending it. Ironically, a lot of human suffering comes from our self-defeating attempts at self-control.

You use the image of Orpheus fending off the sirens’ deadly song with his own as the basis for your concept of “orphic media.” Why Orpheus? How does this myth let you touch upon other themes in your book?

Orpheus fascinates me, especially the Orpheus of the epic poem Argonautica. Here we have an adventure with a boatload of burly heroes, but this sensitive poet-musician-priest guy is an essential member of the crew. This should be not only an inspiration to nerds everywhere, but also a reminder of the power of sound and music. Orpheus keeps the brutish Argonauts from fighting by playing his lyre and singing. He sets the rhythm for the rowers, allowing them to travel with speed. He performs important religious rituals. And, of course, he saves the Argonauts lives by musically fabricating a safe space in the Siren Strait. So, Orpheus allows me to talk about how sound can be instrumentalized as a powerful vibrational force. This is what we see today in all orphic media.

However, Orpheus also exhibits something we have somewhat lost our ear for today. His power comes from the fact that he is exquisitely sensitive to the sacred and unifying power of sound. He is the son of a Muse, and he can hear even the vibrations of spiders spinning their webs. His music can change the course of rivers and move the Earth because he understands that sound is a medium that interconnects us all. So, sound can be utilized to separate and defend, but it also reminds us that we can never truly be separate from one another. Musical rituals are spaces where people give up individuality to sing and move as one. This is the opposite of the instrumentalized and individualized use of music that is so common in the streaming era with its mood- and productivity-focused playlists. Or the utilitarian use of white noise as a protective wall of sound.

In your discussion of different kinds of orphic media, advertisements serve as important examples of how companies have defined sound in terms of race, class, gender, and disability. What are some of the most unexpected ways in which capitalism shapes sound and orphic media?

Well, my broad-stroke answer is that neoliberal capitalism functions sonically the same way it operates generally: structural problems are personalized and made the responsibility of the individual to solve, using products conveniently supplied by the market. Going back to the open office plan, it’s a highly cost-efficient architectural strategy that just happens to drive workers to distraction because of noise. But when a worker has spent a lifetime in spaces like these, they probably aren’t going to blame the economic and built structures of capitalism for their misery, right? They’re going to blame their neighbor with the “annoying voice” or “braying laugh” or whatever. And those personalized perceptions of noise are going to emerge within our culture’s familiar hierarchies of race, class, gender, and ability.

I learned of this dynamic by studying the advertising strategies of the companies that sell orphic media, as well as by reading reviews and news articles in the popular press. These products are marketed around certain identity types: we’ve seen attempts to domesticate and feminize white noise for use in the home through the use of images of sleeping women, while Bose noise-canceling headphones were first marketed to white, male business travelers, and Beats uses a younger, African American perspective to market its headphones. These products are very similar—or, in some cases, basically identical—yet the identities they are portrayed to protect from noise are very different. I mean, there’s often a No Exit, “Hell is other people” discourse at work in the promotion of these media practices. Hell is other people who are different from you. That’s something that surprised me and it predates the “filter bubbles” of the internet by many years.

Hush includes the histories of many sonic technologies, from Beats by Dre headphones to white noise machines. What was the most interesting piece of technology to research and write about?

It’s hard to choose but one stands out from the others because it presented orphic media’s potentials in a different way from all the others. A series of records called environments was quite popular in the 1970s and early 80s and its album sides were dedicated to sonic spaces such as the seashore or a meadow or a country stream. These records are not only beautifully recorded and produced, but their creator, Irv Teibel, also heard a potential in these sounds that Orpheus would recognize. He thought his records could bring people together to go on mental trips, enhance sex, and commune with nature. These are the same kinds of sounds that are marketed today in a very utilitarian and isolating way: you use these sounds to relax alone, fall asleep, or be more productive at work or in your studies. But Teibel heard them as a sonic force of countercultural communalism and resistance to the alienation of modern life. And people agreed with him: his sounds were played on independent radio stations, in “encounter groups” like est, and in the offices of psychotherapists. Sadly, this communitarian usage of orphic media fell away, and today the marketing revolves around an efficiency-enhancing sleep/work binary, as well as individual escape from an anxiety-causing world.

How do you see orphic media evolving in the present moment? What do you think are the implications for our lives in the future?

Through the miniaturization of computer technology, orphic media are becoming increasingly powerful and refined. Augmented reality had been assumed by many to be a visual phenomenon, as exemplified by Google Glass; but arguably more progress is being made in the sonic domain, as in-ear “hearables” allow one to access the internet via voice assistants and block out sound via noise-cancellation. The dream of many developers seems to be the complete customization of hearing, so that, for example, you can simply eliminate specific sounds that you hate while still hearing others. Perhaps in the future, no one will ever hear a crying baby on a plane again! We’ve also seen the weaponization of orphic media—specialized earplugs that offer soldiers a combination of enhanced hearing and protection from gunfire and explosions. I think the implications of these technologies is that they encourage those with enough wealth and power to treat the sonic world like a database of content to selectively access and manipulate. But the history of control also tells us that there can never be enough it, that the more we customize our world, the more sensitized and in need of control we become. And if we do manage to silence the world, we’ll be stuck listening to the noise of our own tinnitus. Noise never sleeps.

How do you hope Hush will change the way readers think about listening?

You know, John Cage used to say that when he heard a sound he didn’t like, he would listen to it more closely to find out why—and almost always, he would learn that there was no reason. Now, I’m not a complete social constructionist when it comes to noise. There are sounds that damage hearing and sounds that are bad for human health. However, a lot of the sounds we recoil from may deserve a second hearing. If we challenge the auditory defensive crouch we go into and challenge ourselves to breathe in the offending sound and really listen to it, we may find that a lot of our reaction is just a habitual reaction to difference. In fact, the sound might even be interesting and informative. I don’t begrudge anyone their noise-canceling headphones—and I myself use a white noise machine to sleep—but there’s value in noticing when and where and why we use these things—and in exploring what we habitually tune out. Who and what are we leaving unheard? Careful listening can reveal the societal at work in the personal, as well as tuning us into the music of life.

Read the introduction to Hush free online, and purchase the paperback for 30% off using coupon code E19HUSH.

Preview our Spring 2019 Catalog

S19-catalog-front-coverOur Spring 2019 catalog is here! Check out some highlights below and download the complete catalog for a more in-depth look. These titles will be published between January and June 2019.

The cover of the catalog is a photograph by Rotimi Fani-Kayode, the subject of the book Bloodflowers: Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Photography, and the 1980s (March) by W. Ian Bourland. Bloodflowers launches a new series, The Visual Arts of Africa and its Diasporas, edited by Kellie Jones and Steven Nelson. And it’s just one of many great new art titles in this catalog. You’ll also want to check out Suzanne Preston Blier’s Picasso’s Demoiselles (June), an examination of the previously unknown origins of a well-known painting. And in Surrealism at Play (February) Susan Laxton writes a new history of Surrealism in which she traces the centrality of play to the movement and its ongoing legacy. We’re especially excited about The Romare Bearden Reader (May) edited by Robert G. O’Meally. It brings together a collection of new essays and canonical writings by novelists, poets, historians, critics, and playwrights. The contributors include Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, August Wilson, Farah Jasmine Griffin, and Kobena Mercer. We’ve also got Rebecca Zorach’s Art for People’s Sake (March), which looks at the Black Arts Movement in Chicago; and Chicano and Chicana Art: A Critical Anthology  (February), which provides an overview of the history and theory of Chicano/a art from the 1960s to the present.

Deported AmericansTimely books on immigration will definitely add context to current debates. In Deported Americans (April), legal scholar and former public defender Beth C. Caldwell tells the story of dozens of immigrants who were deported from the United States—the only country they have ever known—to Mexico, tracking the harmful consequences of deportation for those on both sides of the border. And in The Fixer (June), Charles Piot follows a visa broker—known as a “fixer”—in the West African nation of Togo as he helps his clients apply for the U.S. Diversity Visa Lottery program. For a look at the immigrant experience through poetry, check out The Chasers (May), in which Renato Rosaldo shares his experiences and those of his group of twelve Mexican-American Tucson High School friends known as the Chasers as they grew up, graduated, and fell out of touch. Rosaldo’s poems present a chorus of distinct voices and perspectives that convey the realities of Chicano life on the borderlands from the 1950s to the present.

The Hundreds by Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart will delight fans of theory, ethnography, and experimental writing alike. The book, composed of pieces one hundred or multiples of one hundred words long—is their collaborative experimental writing project in which they strive toward sensing and capturing the resonances that operate at the ordinary level of everyday experience.

Activists will be excited to learn that we are bringing out a new, revised and expanded edition of Aurora Levins Morales’s Medicine Stories (April). She weaves together the insights and lessons learned over a lifetime of activism to offer a new theory of social justice, bringing clarity and hope to tangled, emotionally charged social issues in beautiful and accessible language.

Book ReportsIf you enjoy critic Robert Christgau’s writing on music (his collection Is It Still Good to Ya? came out this fall), you’ll definitely want to check out his book reviews, collected together in Book Reports (April). Christgau shows readers a different side to his esteemed career with reviews of books ranging from musical autobiographies, criticism, and histories to novels, literary memoirs, and cultural theory.

We’re also pleased to present new books from returning authors Jane Gallop, Elspeth Brown, Jennifer C. Nash, and Kandice Chuh, among others, as well as a new edition of The Cuba Reader, long a bestseller for courses and travelers.

These are just a few of the great titles coming out next spring. We have over seventy titles in cultural studies, art, sound studies, Latin American studies, history, Asian studies, African studies, religion, American studies, and more. You’ll want to read and download the whole thing to see all the great new books and journals. To be notified of new books in your chosen disciplines, sign up for our email alerts, too.