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With Reading the Obscene, Jordan Carroll reveals new insights about the editors who fought the most famous anti-censorship battles of the twentieth century. While many critics have interpreted obscenity as a form of populist protest, Reading the Obscene shows that the editors who worked to dismantle censorship often catered to elite audiences composed primarily of white men in the professional-managerial class. As Carroll argues, transgressive editors, such as H. L. Mencken at the Smart Set and the American Mercury, William Gaines and Al Feldstein at EC Comics, Hugh Hefner at Playboy, Lawrence Ferlinghetti at City Lights Books, and Barney Rosset at Grove Press, taught their readers to approach even the most scandalizing texts with the same cold calculation and professional reserve they employed in their occupations. Along the way, these editors kicked off a middle-class sexual revolution in which white-collar professionals imagined they could control sexuality through management science. Obscenity is often presented as self-shattering and subversive, but with this provocative work Carroll calls into question some of the most sensational claims about obscenity, suggesting that when transgression becomes a sign of class distinction, we must abandon the idea that obscenity always overturns hierarchies and disrupts social order. Winner of the 2022 MLA Prize for Independent Scholars, sponsored by the Modern Language Association
In this expansive and provocative new work, Michael Dango theorizes how aesthetic style manages crisis—and why taking crisis seriously means taking aesthetics seriously. Detoxing, filtering, bingeing, and ghosting: these are four actions that have come to define how people deal with the stress of living in a world that seems in permanent crisis. As Dango argues, they can also be used to describe contemporary art and literature. Employing what he calls "promiscuous archives," Dango traverses media and re-shuffles literary and art historical genealogies to make his case. The book discusses social media filters alongside the minimalism of Donald Judd and La Monte Young and the television shows The West Wing and True Detective. It reflects on the modernist cuisine of Ferran Adrià and the fashion design of Issey Miyake. And, it dissects writing by Barbara Browning, William S. Burroughs, Raymond Carver, Mark Danielewski, Jennifer Egan, Tao Lin, David Mitchell, Joyce Carol Oates, Mary Robison, and Zadie Smith. Unpacking how the styles of these works detox, filter, binge, or ghost their worlds, Crisis Style is at once a taxonomy of contemporary cultural production and a theorization of action in a world always in need of repair. Ultimately, Dango presents a compelling argument for why we need aesthetic theory to understand what we're doing in our world today.
Anyone who has ever experienced a sporting event in a large stadium knows the energy that emanates from stands full of fans cheering on their teams. Although "the masses" have long held a thoroughly bad reputation in politics and culture, literary critic and avid sports fan Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht finds powerful, as yet unexplored reasons to sing the praises of crowds. Drawing on his experiences as a spectator in the stadiums of South America, Germany, and the US, Gumbrecht presents the stadium as "a ritual of intensity," thereby offering a different lens through which we might capture and even appreciate the dynamic of the masses. In presenting this alternate view, Gumbrecht enters into conversation with thinkers who were more critical of the potential of the masses, such as Gustave Le Bon, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, José Ortega y Gasset, Elias Canetti, Siegfried Kracauer, T. W. Adorno, or Max Horkheimer. A preface explores college crowds as a uniquely specific phenomenon of American culture. Pairing philosophical rigor with the enthusiasm of a true fan, Gumbrecht writes from the inside and suggests that being part of a crowd opens us up to an experience beyond ourselves.
The past is what happened. History is what we remember and write about that past, the narratives we craft to make sense out of our memories and their sources. But what does it mean to look at the past and to remember that "nothing happened"? Why might we feel as if "nothing is the way it was"? This book transforms these utterly ordinary observations and redefines "Nothing" as something we have known and can remember. "Nothing" has been a catch-all term for everything that is supposedly uninteresting or is just not there. It will take some—possibly considerable—mental adjustment before we can see Nothing as Susan A. Crane does here, with a capital "n." But Nothing has actually been happening all along. As Crane shows in her witty and provocative discussion, Nothing is nothing less than fascinating. When Nothing has changed but we think that it should have, we might call that injustice; when Nothing has happened over a long, slow period of time, we might call that boring. Justice and boredom have histories. So too does being relieved or disappointed when Nothing happens—for instance, when a forecasted end of the world does not occur, and millennial movements have to regroup. By paying attention to how we understand Nothing to be happening in the present, what it means to "know Nothing" or to "do Nothing," we can begin to ask how those experiences will be remembered. Susan A. Crane moves effortlessly between different modes of seeing Nothing, drawing on visual analysis and cultural studies to suggest a new way of thinking about history. By remembering how Nothing happened, or how Nothing is the way it was, or how Nothing has changed, we can recover histories that were there all along.
The postwar US political imagination coalesced around a quintessential midcentury American trope: happiness. In Incremental Realism, Mary Esteve offers a bold, revisionist literary and cultural history of efforts undertaken by literary realists, public intellectuals, and policy activists to advance the value of public institutions and the claims of socioeconomic justice. Esteve specifically focuses on era-defining authors of realist fiction, including Philip Roth, Gwendolyn Brooks, Patricia Highsmith, Paula Fox, Peter Taylor, and Mary McCarthy, who mobilized the trope of happiness to reinforce the crucial value of public institutions, such as the public library, and the importance of pursuing socioeconomic justice, as envisioned by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and welfare-state liberals. In addition to embracing specific symbols of happiness, these writers also developed narrative modes—what Esteve calls "incremental realism"—that made justifiable the claims of disadvantaged Americans on the nation-state and promoted a small-canvas aesthetics of moderation. With this powerful demonstration of the way postwar literary fiction linked the era's familiar trope of happiness to political arguments about socioeconomic fairness and individual flourishing, Esteve enlarges our sense of the postwar liberal imagination and its attentiveness to better, possible worlds.
For a generation of contemporary Anglo-American novelists, the question "Why write?" has been answered with a renewed will to believe in the ethical value of literature. Dissatisfied with postmodernist parody and pastiche, a broad array of novelist-critics—including J.M. Coetzee, Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith, Gish Jen, Ian McEwan, and Jonathan Franzen—champion the novel as the literary genre most qualified to illuminate individual ethical action and decision-making within complex and diverse social worlds. Key to this contemporary vision of the novel's ethical power is the task of knowing and being responsible to people different from oneself, and so thoroughly have contemporary novelists devoted themselves to the ethics of otherness, that this ethics frequently sets the terms for plot, characterization, and theme. In The Novel and the New Ethics, literary critic Dorothy J. Hale investigates how the contemporary emphasis on literature's social relevance sparks a new ethical description of the novel's social value that is in fact rooted in the modernist notion of narrative form. This "new" ethics of the contemporary moment has its origin in the "new" idea of novelistic form that Henry James inaugurated and which was consolidated through the modernist narrative experiments and was developed over the course of the twentieth century. In Hale's reading, the art of the novel becomes defined with increasing explicitness as an aesthetics of alterity made visible as a formalist ethics. In fact, it is this commitment to otherness as a narrative act which has conferred on the genre an artistic intensity and richness that extends to the novel's every word.
Poetry has long dominated the cultural landscape of modern Iraq, simultaneously representing the literary pinnacle of high culture and giving voice to the popular discourses of mass culture. As the favored genre of culture expression for religious clerics, nationalist politicians, leftist dissidents, and avant-garde intellectuals, poetry critically shaped the social, political, and cultural debates that consumed the Iraqi public sphere in the twentieth century. The popularity of poetry in modern Iraq, however, made it a dangerous practice that carried serious political consequences and grave risks to dissident poets. The Dangers of Poetry is the first book to narrate the social history of poetry in the modern Middle East. Moving beyond the analysis of poems as literary and intellectual texts, Kevin M. Jones shows how poems functioned as social acts that critically shaped the cultural politics of revolutionary Iraq. He narrates the history of three generations of Iraqi poets who navigated the fraught relationship between culture and politics in pursuit of their own ambitions and agendas. Through this historical analysis of thousands of poems published in newspapers, recited in popular demonstrations, and disseminated in secret whispers, this book reveals the overlooked contribution of these poets to the spirit of rebellion in modern Iraq.
As the twentieth century roared on, transformative technologies—from trains, trams, and automobiles to radios and loudspeakers—fundamentally changed the sounds of the Egyptian streets. The cacophony of everyday life grew louder, and the Egyptian press featured editorials calling for the regulation of not only mechanized and amplified sounds, but also the voices of street vendors, the music of wedding processions, and even the traditional funerary wails. Ziad Fahmy offers the first historical examination of the changing soundscapes of urban Egypt, highlighting the mundane sounds of street life, while "listening" to the voices of ordinary people as they struggle with state authorities for ownership of the streets. Interweaving infrastructural, cultural, and social history, Fahmy analyzes the sounds of modernity, using sounded sources as an analytical tool for examining the past. Street Sounds also reveals a political dimension of noise by demonstrating how the growing middle classes used sound to distinguish themselves from the Egyptian masses. This book contextualizes sound, layering historical analysis with a sensory dimension, bringing us closer to the Egyptian streets as lived and embodied by everyday people.
A Violent Peace offers a radical account of the United States' transformation into a total-war state. As the Cold War turned hot in the Pacific, antifascist critique disclosed a continuity between U.S. police actions in Asia and a rising police state at home. Writers including James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, and W.E.B. Du Bois discerned in domestic strategies to quell racial protests the same counterintelligence logic structuring America's devastating wars in Asia. Examining U.S. militarism's centrality to the Cold War cultural imagination, Christine Hong assembles a transpacific archive—placing war writings, visual renderings of the American concentration camp, Japanese accounts of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, black radical human rights petitions, Korean War–era G.I. photographs, Filipino novels on guerrilla resistance, and Marshallese critiques of U.S. human radiation experiments alongside government documents. By making visible the way the U.S. war machine waged informal wars abroad and at home, this archive reveals how the so-called Pax Americana laid the grounds for solidarity—imagining collective futures beyond the stranglehold of U.S. militarism.
Crossing distinct literatures, histories, and politics, Giving Form to an Asian and Latinx America reveals the intertwined story of contemporary Asian Americans and Latinxs through a shared literary aesthetic. Their transfictional literature creates expansive imagined worlds in which distinct stories coexist, offering artistic shape to their linked political and economic struggles. Long Le-Khac explores the work of writers such as Sandra Cisneros, Karen Tei Yamashita, Junot Díaz, and Aimee Phan. He shows how their fictions capture the uneven economic opportunities of the post–civil rights era, the Cold War as it exploded across Asia and Latin America, and the Asian and Latin American labor flows powering global capitalism today. Read together, Asian American and Latinx literatures convey astonishing diversity and untapped possibilities for coalition within the United States' fastest-growing immigrant and minority communities; to understand the changing shape of these communities we must see how they have formed in relation to each other. As the U.S. population approaches a minority-majority threshold, we urgently need methods that can look across the divisions and unequal positions of the racial system. Giving Form to an Asian and Latinx America leads the way with a vision for the future built on panethnic and cross-racial solidarity.
Thinking is much broader than what our science-obsessed, utilitarian culture often takes it to be. More than mere problem solving or the methodical comprehension of our personal and natural circumstances, thinking may take the form of a poem, a painting, a sculpture, a museum exhibition, or a documentary film. Exploring a variety of works by contemporary artists and writers who exemplify poetic thinking, this book draws our attention to one of the crucial affordances of this form of creative human insight and wisdom: its capacity to help protect and cultivate human freedom. All the contemporary works of art and literature that Poetic Thinking Today examines touch on our recent experiences with tyranny in culture and politics. They express the uninhibited thoughts and ideas of their creators even as they foster poetic thinking in us. In an era characterized by the global reemergence of authoritarian tendencies, Amir Eshel writes with the future of the humanities in mind. He urges the acknowledgment and cultivation of poetic thinking as a crucial component of our intellectual pursuits in general and of our educational systems more specifically.
In December of 1997, the International Monetary Fund announced the largest bailout package in its history, aimed at stabilizing the South Korean economy in response to a credit and currency crisis of the same year. Vicious Circuits examines what it terms "Korea's IMF Cinema," the decade of cinema following that crisis, in order to think through the transformations of global political economy at the end of the American century. It argues that one of the most dominant traits of the cinema that emerged after the worst economic crisis in the history of South Korea was its preoccupation with economic phenomena. As the quintessentially corporate art form—made as much in the boardroom as in the studio—film in this context became an ideal site for thinking through the global political economy in the transitional moment of American decline and Chinese ascension. With an explicit focus of state economic policy, IMF cinema did not just depict the economy; it also was this economy's material embodiment. That is, it both represented economic developments and was itself an important sector in which the same pressures and changes affecting the economy at large were at work. Joseph Jonghyun Jeon's window on Korea provides a peripheral but crucial perspective on the operations of late US hegemony and the contradictions that ultimately corrode it.
A literary history of the Great Acceleration, Remainders examines an archive of postwar American poetry that reflects on new dimensions of ecological crisis. These poems portray various forms of remainders—from obsolescent goods and waste products to atmospheric pollution and melting glaciers—that convey the ecological consequences of global economic development. While North American ecocriticism has tended to focus on narrative forms in its investigations of environmental consciousness and ethics, Margaret Ronda highlights the ways that poetry explores other dimensions of ecological relationships. The poems she considers engage in more ambivalent ways with the problem of human agency and the limits of individual perception, and they are attuned to the melancholic and damaging aspects of environmental existence in a time of generalized crisis. Her method, which emphasizes the material histories and uneven effects of capitalist development, models a unique critical approach to understanding the causes and conditions of ongoing biospheric catastrophe.
A novel account of the relationship between postindustrial capitalism and postmodern culture, this book looks at American poetry and art of the last fifty years in light of the massive changes in people's working lives. Over the last few decades, we have seen the shift from an economy based on the production of goods to one based on the provision of services, the entry of large numbers of women into the workforce, and the emergence of new digital technologies that have transformed the way people work. The Work of Art in the Age of Deindustrialization argues that art and literature not only reflected the transformation of the workplace but anticipated and may have contributed to it as well, providing some of the terms through which resistance to labor was expressed. As firms continue to tout creativity and to reorganize in response to this resistance, they increasingly rely on models of labor that derive from values and ideas found in the experimental poetry and conceptual art of decades past.