RevAmStudies in March!

Greetings, all!

We write with news of upcoming RevAmStudies events, and to say thanks once again to Bruce Burgett, Glenn Hendler, and Nayan Shah, who individually and collectively made February a month of great conversations, generosity and graciousness.

Our first event in March is one in which we are happy to have a supporting role (as a co-sponsor), along with the Barnard Center for Research on Women — a panel discussion titled “The Multiple Futures of Gender and Sexuality Studies (the Sequel),” which is being organized by NYU’s Center for Gender & Sexuality — and will be held on Wednesday, 7 MARCH, 6p at 20 Cooper Square (please see for details).  The panelists include Lisa Duggan, Ann Pellegrini, Sarita See, Alexandra Vazquez, and Kandice Chuh (weird to refer in the third person, but there you go).

Our next events all fall on the same date!  So, save THURSDAY, 22 MARCH, as a RevAmStudies All Day date!

We are delighted that from 11-12:30 in 8201.01 (the president’s conference room at the Graduate Center), Professor Eric Lott (University of Virginia) will be joining the seminar.  The readings for that session will shortly be available through the Center for the Humanities website, or you can just email us for them, or find them through your favorite electronic means.  They are:

“Back Door Man: Howlin’ Wolf and the Sound of Jim Crow.”  _American Quarterly_ 63.3 (2011): 697-710, and “_National Treasure_, Global Value, and American Literary Studies.”  _American Literary History_ 20.1-2 (2008): 108-23.  Also recommended is “The Wages of Liberalism: An Interview with Eric Lott.”  _minnesota review_ 63-64 (2005): 179-93.

At 2pm on the same day, in the same space (8201.01), Professor Lott will be offering a public lecture titled “Slavery and Capital,” described as follows:

“Professor Lott will investigate the vexed relationship between capitalism and a slave economy in Marx’s text as a way of thinking about state formation and political-economic revolution in the mid-nineteenth-century United States. Although is well known that Marx followed the progress of the American Civil War very closely and wrote about it in his dispatches for Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, too few have recognized how, at several key points, Marx calls on analogies with American slavery to depict the situation of the waged worker and the working day.”

Please see here — — for a more complete bio, and join us in welcoming him to RevAmStudies!

THEN, at 6:30p, we are happily again in a supporting role, this time as co-sponsors of a public lecture by Professor Chandan Reddy (University of Washington), who will be discussing his really quite brilliant recently published book, _Freedom with Violence: Race, Sexuality, and the US State_ (Duke UP, 2011).  We’ll forward the particulars (time, place, title, etc.) as soon as we have them in hand.  Please see for a bio of Professor Reddy.

Looking very much forward to seeing many of you at any and all of these events!  As always, please don’t hesitate to holler with queries or whatnot. 

Best wishes for a great March!

Kandice & Duncan

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Nayan Shah at the GC!

Dear Everyone:

Our next RevAmStudies event — a seminar featuring Professor Nayan Shah — will focus on his new book, Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality, and the Law in the North American West (UC Press).  A brief bio is below.  Please drop either of us a note if you’d like the readings for this seminar.  We’ll meet on Friday, 24 February, from 12:30-2 in 8201.01 as usual.  Looking forward to seeing you there!

Kandice & Duncan

The author of Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown (UC Press 2001), Professor Shah’s research and teaching investigates the paradoxes of democracy and inequality in the 19th and 20th century United States and Canada.  He approaches the history of western North America in the 19th and 20th centuries as a place where ethnic, national, gender and sexual identities, communities and practices are forged and recreated through the forces of capitalist political economy, competing state formations and the cultural and social transformations of migration. He explores the waves of Asian migrations along the Pacific Coast of North America and the U.S.-Mexican border region.

His books and articles examine the contests over state power and citizenship in public health, law, and social welfare from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century in the United States and Canada. His works focuses on the dynamics of racialization and the perpetuation and reproduction of inequity in the distribution of resources, wealth, entitlements and state protection. His research has contributed new methods and interpretations of how racialization is constituted and perpetuated in political, cultural and state arenas by divergent conceptualizations of gender  sexuality and domesticity, which have justified the disparate allocation of resources and protections.

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spring 2012 preliminary schedule (updates to follow!)

We were privileged to have Roderick Ferguson, Leti Volpp, Priscilla Wald, Anne McClintock, and Jodi Melamed with us in fall 2011. Our great good fortune continues with a fabulous slate for spring 2012 — hope you’ll be able to join us!

Friday, 10 February
Seminar, 12:30-2p, Room 8201.01, with visitors Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler:
This session will focus on the forms of pedagogy and collaborative digital writing and composition enabled and fostered by the Keywords Collaboratory, the wiki-based space that was developed after the publication of the first edition of Keywords for American Cultural Studies and is being redesigned in conjunction with the production of a print-digital second edition. What are the pedagogical stakes in asking students—graduate and undergraduate—to think through keywords? What assumptions about writing, thinking, and reading are upended by asking these same students to compose keyword projects in a collaborative online environment? What skills and capacities can collaborative forms of composition cultivate?

Public Lecture, 4p, Room 4406 (co-sponsored with the PhD Program in English and the American Studies Certificate Program), by Bruce Burgett and Glenn Glenn Hendler

Title: What Do Keywords Do?
Drawing on their experience editing Keywords for American Cultural Studies (NYU Press 2007), Burgett and Hendler will discuss what makes keyword projects different from other forms of academic presentation and other means of approaching questions of interdisciplinary field formation. In contrast to encyclopedias and reference works, Keywords aims not to codify the state of scholarship in discrete fields called American studies and cultural studies, but to catalyze interdisciplinary conversations across those fields and others. In both print and digital formats, keyword projects encourage authors and users to think critical and creatively about the genealogies and futurologies of terms and concepts.

Friday, 24 February
Seminar, 12:30-2p, Room 8201.01, with visitor Nayan Shah, readings TBA.


Wednesday, 7 March
Panel Discussion, 6pm, The Futures of Gender and Sexuality Studies, co-sponsoring NYU Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality event, with Lisa Duggan, Ann Pellegrini, Alexandra Vazquez, Sarita See, and Kandice Chuh, location TBA.


Thursday, 22 March

Seminar, Time and Place TBA, with visitor Eric Lott.

Pubblic Lecture, Time and Place TBA, by Eric Lott (co-sponsored with the American Studies Certificate Program)

Title: Slavery and Capital
It is well known that Marx followed the progress of the American Civil War very closely and wrote about it in his dispatches for Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune. The war and Marx’s dispatches, too few have recognized, not only coincide with but also enter into the composition of Capital, Vol. 1 (1867). At several key points Marx calls on analogies with American slavery to depict the situation of the waged worker and the working day. I will investigate the vexed relationship between capitalism and a slave economy in Marx’s text as a way of thinking about state formation and political-economic revolution in the mid-nineteenth-century United States.

Also on Thursday, 22 March
Public Event, co-sponsored with POLICED, a seminar series of the Center for the Humanities, featuring Chandan Reddy, 6p, location and details TBA.

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Congrats to MATT GOLD…

…who has been so vital to our efforts in pulling together the RevAmStudies initiative…on the forthcoming DEBATES IN THE DIGITAL HUMANITIES!

Debates in the Digital Humanities brings together leading figures in the field to explore its theories, methods, and practices and to clarify its multiple possibilities and tensions. Together, the essays—which will be published later as an ongoing, open-access website—suggest that the digital humanities is uniquely positioned to contribute to the revival of the humanities and academic life.

Is there such a thing as ‘digital’ humanities? From statistical crunches of texts to new forms of online collaboration and peer review, it’s clear something is happening. This book is an excellent primer on the arguments over just how much is changing—and how much more ought to—in the way scholars study the humanities.

Clive Thompson, columnist for Wired and contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine

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Jodi Melamed, 2 December 2011!

Dear Everyone:

On Friday, 2 December, we will discuss chapters from Professor Jodi Melamed’s forthcoming book, REPRESENT AND DESTROY: RATIONALIZING VIOLENCE IN THE NEW RACIAL CAPITALISM (from 12:30-2, in 8201) in the Graduate Center.  Professor Melamed has generously provided us with pdfs of uncorrected page proofs for the purposes of our seminar — please see the Center for Humanities site for a copy of the readings, or email either of us.  At the seminar, and at the public lecture at 4pm that afternoon, a limited number of copies of her book will be available to attendees — we have the privilege of seeing the book first!

In light of current events — and we do mean *current* — the kinds of issues Professor Melamed takes up in her work takes on highlighted urgency.  Her public talk, Ghosting Human Capital: Neoracial Logics in Neoliberal Times, will take place at 4 in 4406 in the Graduate Center, and is cosponsored by the PhD Program in English and the American Studies Certificate Program.  The description of it is as follows:  “Between the old and the new racial capitalism, the era of white supremacy and that of a formally antiracist liberal modernity, the trick of racialization has remained the same: racial procedures constitute human value and valuelessness differentially in accord with reigning geopolitics and economic orders. These procedures do this even as they appear “merely” to sort human beings into rationally inevitable categories of difference.  Jodi Melamed (English and Africana Studies, Marquette University) will examine the post-World War II history of dominant antiracisms as generative forces for global capitalist development, focusing especially on our neoliberal era, whose hallmark is an aggressive recursivity between procedures of race and hyper-speculative capitalism, which speedily and flexibly fixes extreme differentials of value to forms of humanity in any given instance.”

We look forward to seeing many of you for these events.

Looking head, our final session of the semester, 9 December, will be a space dedicated to thinking through such matters as the relationship of (police) power and the university; historicizing contemporary events; and what it means to be a scholar-teacher in this context.  This, we’re imagining as an open forum, without prior reading, as an occasion for anyone who might want to talk about these kinds of issues to be able to do so.  In some respects, it returns us to pick up the ideas that inaugurated the RevAmStudies initiative last spring, organized around Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s Golden Gulag.  We’ll meet in our usual space — 8201.01 — at our usual time — 12:30-2.

As always, looking forward to being in conversation with you all, and best wishes to you as the holiday season gets under way.

Kandice & Duncan

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Anne McClintock rescheduled for Friday, 18 November!

Dear All: In solidarity with the student strikes planned for Thursday, 17 November, Professor Anne McClintock’s lecture has been rescheduled to NOON on Friday, 18 November in Room 6496 — please help spread the word, and hope to see you Friday! Paranoid Empire: Perpetual War and the Twilight of US Power

Friday, November 18, 12pm, Room 6496

Professor Anne McClintock will be exploring what kind of overt U.S. empire emerged in the aftermath of 9/11, engaging notions such as paranoia and perpetual war, torture and the crisis of violence and the visible, imperial déjà vu and the empire of drones in the twilight of U.S. imperial power. McClintock will be exploring the concept of imperial deja vu through the unquiet dead of Hiroshima as the first “ground zero,” and the ubiquitous invocation of “Indian Country” in the “War on Terror.”

co-sponsored by the President’s Office, the American Studies Certificate Program
FREE and open to the public. All events take place at The Graduate Center, CUNY, 365 Fifth Ave btwn 34th & 35th. The building and the venues are fully accessible. For more information please visit or call 212.817.2005 or e-mail

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Notes on Priscilla Wald’s “Blood and Stories”

[This was written as an introduction to Revolutionizing American Studies’ Priscialla Wald seminar. For the seminar, participants arrived having read her essay “Blood and Stories: How Genomics is Rewriting Race, Medicine, and Human History.]

It is my honor and pleasure to introduce Professor Wald to this seminar. I’d like to thank Duncan and Kandice for the opportunity to make these brief remarks, and also thank President Kelly for giving myself and so many here the chance to hear Professor Wald’s provocative tone-setting presidential address at the ASA conference two weeks ago. In that speech Professor Wald addressed many of the themes she raises in the article we read for this seminar, including the relationship between biopiracy, racism, and narrative, through a reading of Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It appears we are at a moment ripe for re-opening inquiries into the intersections between social, cultural, and scientific categorizations of human bodies, and what kinds of labor bodies can do. It should suffice to say that future scholarship will develop these themes because of the leading example of Professor Wald’s courageous, thoughtful, and piercing insights.

From her most recent scholarship to her previous texts, such as Constituting Americans: Cultural Anxiety and Narrative Form and Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and The Outbreak Narrative, Professor Wald has produced work that acts as a progressive model of American Studies. In Constituting Americans, Professor Wald examines the ways literary authors from Fredrick Douglass to Gertrude Stein contributed to the production of American identity, and did so in the context of evolving cultural and legal debates about citizenship, personhood, immigration, and national identity. In Contagious, Professor Wald gives us a cultural history of “contagion” as a concept, and parsed the way that anxious Americans imagined and circulated narratives of contamination and outbreak, whether that outbreak was microbial, viral, or even moral. In a move that gets us another step closer to our discussion today, Contagious also examines the ways that journalists, scientists, and literary authors tell stories about outbreaks – and in a larger sense, about America itself. In a society drenched in the proliferation of digital communication and surrounded by ever-louder discourses of public health, genetic innovation, and fears of global viral transmission, Professor Wald has constantly reminded us that we articulate these anxious concerns through narrative mediums that work on us in different ways. She reminds us that we foreground the ways that seemingly new anxieties about mutations, discoveries, and identity cannot be separated from the entangled political history of American bodies.

The essay we read together, “Blood and Stories: How Genomics is Rewriting Race, Medicine, and Human History” asks us to understand anew the aforementioned intersections between race, science, and narrative.  Her essay begins with Howard University’s decision to collect the DNA of African-Americans in 2003 for a genomic databank. They were motivated to ensure that black populations had access to the most up to date health care and biotechnology, but critics pointed uncomfortably to some  haunted historical and ethical issues: in Professor Wald’s articulation of this position, would racial classification of DNA risk “reanimating an inaccurate understanding of the biological basis for difference?” The tension in this question points to a divide between disciplinary models of understanding just what race is, how different disciplines imagine certain bodies, and how this imagination of bodies returns to us conversations about social justice.

As we consider this debate for ourselves, we should remember some of the tools that Professor Wald has given us. With Stuart Hall’s notion of articulation in mind, she is quick to remind us that we can discover racism not in the genomes but in the information produced by scientists about those genomes through conventions of representation. The rehearsal and distribution of these conventions through media become stories, and these stories become technologies that articulate ways of seeing and believing. Later, Wald notes the way that disagreements in the scientific literature about race and ethnicity highlight the ways that social and cultural inquiry are not valued equally in a hierarchy of knowledge. Moreover, science generally and genomic science in particular does not have a consistent articulation about what race is and where it comes from. It in part depends on what instruments and measurements are used to make it “visible” – with an implication being whether or not those instruments and measurements are in fact in part producing what they expect to find.  Perhaps we should also consider here how this might be a variation of Foucault’s repressive hypothesis.

(1) I was fascinated and properly disturbed to read about Professor Wald’s critique of the PBS program The Journey of Man, and how it acclaimed DNA as a ‘true’ narrative character. Professor Wald’s critique raises the specific issue of “unacknowledged power” and how scientists can biologize outcomes that could be changed if they started from different positions. This appears again with the program’s use of the word “globalization” as a force of nature while certain populations go “extinct.” I wonder how we could use that same idea to speak to our own work and previous discussions in this seminar, but also how we could use it to frame current budget debates here in New York. (Furthermore, it appears that Professor Wald’s critique of The Journey of Man could be leveled against Jared Diamond’s entire body of work.)

(2) On that note, Professor Wald’s work also turns us to the different cultural and political values that shape how stories are told about bodies, and what people can be actors in what scientific narratives about the stories of human identity. I’m thinking here of the organization of the Indigenous People’s Council on Biocolonialism, and how we might begin to think through the conflicts over the different ways of thinking about the self, about the body, and about how the interiors of bodies become property.

3. We could also think about what narratives scientists use to justify programs like genomic databanks. In what seems quite relevant to Professor Wald’s previous books, it often seems science programs justify their narratives through stories meant to induce anxiety and shock: it’s about making black bodies healthy, we have to move quickly because populations are disappearing. It’s an urgency produced to further along that “unacknowledged power,” and never forces that power to stand still, or stop.

4. Finally, what would it look like to extend post-humanist conversations about biopiracy and the biopolitical management of populations to include non-human populations? It seems to me that the same issues of corporate investment and unacknowledged power extend to non-human bodies all the time – I’m thinking here of the industrial food system’s genetic manipulation of bovine, swine, and chicken genes, not to mention all the patented seeds (like soybeans) that Monsanto has invented and successfully placed into the food supply (without labeling). I think this matters, too, from a traditional humanist perspective, when we remember that labor in the industrial food system is overwhelming done by vulnerable immigrants and people of color. What could taking up this discussion about bioethics and biopolitics do for American studies? Could this be an entry point whereby we could expand the subjects at the center of our discussions, and reflect in new ways on the politics of how animal bodies labor in the absolute worst conditions of capitalist space?


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CUNY@ASA: Practicing Critical Generosity

As a graduate student contemplating a future career in the academia, I have often found myself wondering about what constitutes the academic community that we imagine.  Not surprisingly then perhaps, I often find a special form of academic pleasure at participating in conferences, experiencing how gatherings of scholar provide the most visceral forms of apprehending the type of scholarly community that cluster around certain disciplinary fields.  At ASA, I witnessed practices of critical generosity shared by a group of scholars.  Through conversations in various formats, scholars were earnestly concerned about productively engaging questions of interdisciplinarity in the hopes of an American Studies geared toward the continual project of social justice.  Even at points of disagreement, scholars genuinely and politely debated about how changes could be made in disciplinary and institutional practices.  This community of American Studies scholars practiced a continual self-reflexivity and impulse toward cross-intellectual engagements, guarding against the production of violent knowledge forms that foreclose other epistemological possibilities.  I witnessed a community of scholars productively and sincerely engaged with questions toward disciplinarity and institutionality through exploring methodologies offered by science, the transnational, and the affective.

Accustomed to reading texts in which scholars seem intent on winning a competitive rivalry, I sincerely appreciate the atmosphere of the ASA as one keen on critical generosity and an engaged rethinking of disciplinary practices.  One of the most fascinating dynamics I witnessed occurred in the panel entitled “Early American Methodologies,” organized by fellow CUNY colleague Sari Altschuler and featuring our very own Duncan Faherty.  The discussion that ensued during the Q&A session exemplified a form of critical generosity and productiveness that I did not quite expect.  Taking on Duncan’s challenge to think about the “critical interregnum,” two decades of novels that are often neglected within Early Americanist discourses, passionate colleagues contemplated some of the forces shaping this silence.  One member of the audience asked whether such a phenomenon occurs not necessarily because of scholarly attachment but rather institutional necessity.  The papers opened up a very nuanced and insightful discussion about the parameters of Early America as an important time period of study.

Furthermore, as someone becomingly increasingly interested in questions of disability studies, I found Sari’s intervention especially moving.  Her exploration of disability in Early America not only beckons us to consider the historical genealogy of disability, but also emphasizes the need for a greater engagement with disability theories to interrogate the ableist assumptions embedded within American cultural and political development.  Particularly, Sari points to the centrality of orality and the problem that disability enabled, exposing the very artifice of American sociality and citizenry through the oral.  In future American Studies meetings, I hope that a greater of scholars will take up the call put forth by Sari and other scholars in disability studies to examine the ableist narratives that underwrite American history, culture, politics, and knowledge production.

Scholars demonstrated that academia is not dictated by a stone-faced seriousness.  Karen Tongson’s talk in “Affective Histories” spoke to the affective attachments and pleasures within our academic practices.  Speaking of fidelity as the formal ethics of disciplinarity, she animates questions of propriety that still loom over scholarship that puts pressure on the parameters of one’s field and dares to forge intimacies with the methods and objects of other methodologies.  And yet, this type of “infidelity” of interdisciplinarity speaks of a desire for something else.  The affective pleasures of this disciplinary infidelity that Karen Tongson performed excite me.  Taking these risky maneuvers invite us to allow questions to guide our research into as yet unimagined, queer openings.

As such, even institutionality itself might not be set in stone.  “Institutionalizing Gender: Movements in Feminism” provocatively engaged with questions that have preoccupied some of our seminar discussions, particularly those surrounding Roderick Ferguson’s scholarship.  Robyn Wiegman aimed to reframe discussions around the institution, however, encouraging us to instead think about the possibilities within institutionality.  She asked: can we give agency to absorption, as not “complicity” but a politics of negotiation?  How may community formation be an institutional building project?  On the practice of examining institutionality, Wiegman asks what does it mean to examine institutional history if the archive is exclusively a textual history?  Moreover, in response to a paper researching the state funding toward satellite campuses throughout the globe, Wiegman asks us to resist easy readings of imperialism by considering how the local spaces assert agency to thwart desires by the U.S. state department to directly guarantee its goals in these global spaces.

Almost two weeks have past and I still find it difficult to exactly articulate the impact that the ASA conference made on me.  I came to the ASA annual meeting not quite knowing what to expect and was both surprised and inspired to witness the forms of support, generosity, and genuine intellectual curiosity among the various scholars.  Increasingly incorporated into the institutional and administrative demands by academia—teaching, grading, coursework—I found myself turning to stone.  The conference, however, rekindled my passion for research and my motivation for continuing in this path.  It encouraged me to believe that some of the more romanticized hopes that I had of academia are actually in existence and practice.

I am inclined to think of the wonderful experience at the conference as a point of departure, an invitation to imagine what else is possible.  On the final day of the conference, having departed from Baltimore, I accompanied my dear friend to his lab at the National Institute of Health where he conducts basic science research in epigenetics.  Usually, the name of scholars who resonate with each of us is quite foreign and unfamiliar to the other.  A few months ago, I had forwarded him an article by Priscilla Wald.  Passionate in his conviction that cross-talk among fields of basic science, epidemiology, and public health is possible, he was fascinated by her scholarship across the science/humanities divide.  Still deep in the midst of a powerful experience, I was tripping over words as I unsuccessfully tried to convey to him the graceful power of Priscilla Wald’s presidential address.  Affectionately calling her “Priscilla,” he asked me about specifics, curious about the ways in which cells, a most basic object of study in the laboratory, came to open a discussion on stories, the role of the humanities, and the critical work of American studies.  He asked me if I wanted to see the infamous and immortal cells of interest.  I examined the intricate structure of HeLa cells through the circular vision, at once magnified and circumscribed by the lens of a microscope.  I was never quite able to imagine the possibilities of reaching across the science/humanities divide; now, I am excited to be part of a larger research community actively pursuing the possibilities for what has yet to be imagined.  This is only the beginning.

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CUNY@ASA: Reflections on the 2011 ASA Conference

Two weeks ago I attended the American Studies Association (ASA) conference for the first time. It was also the first conference I attended where I did not have to present a paper. As a second-year student in the English PhD program who is still struggling through her coursework and first year of teaching, this was, needless to say, an incredible experience. Free from the pressures of having to prepare and give a presentation, I was able to take in the vibrant atmosphere and energy of the ASA conference and select the panels I wanted to visit with liberty. I had the opportunity to listen and participate in conversations about “Affective Histories, Critical Transformations,” “Queer Transnational Intimacies and Imaginaries,” “New Media and the Transformation of the Social,” among many others. However, the discussions that continue to resonate with me (and this is definitely spoken with a bit of bias) arose out of CUNY organized panels.

The Early American Matters Caucus on “Early American Methodologies,” organized by Sari Altschuler and Kandice Chuh’s panel on “What Constitutes ‘The Political’?” have sparked ongoing debates among close friends and colleagues, while also compelling me to reflect critically on my own research, illuminating new avenues for thought and exploration. For me, what these two incredibly diverse panels share in common is a dynamism, a desire to challenge conventional paradigms by pushing us to consider alternative frameworks for critical engagement, whether this takes the form of imagining new methodologies for Early American Studies or a re-conception of the “Political” itself.

Although my own research runs far afield from Early American interests, I was nevertheless captivated by what the panel had to offer. In particular, the intersections between Cristobal Silva’s paper on “Epidemiology and Early American Studies” and Altschuler’s own work on “Disability and Early America,” relying on “disease” and the study of diseased and disabled bodies as alternative methodologies for understanding the complex dynamics of the early national period were fascinating. They conveyed the tenuousness of bodies in global circuits, providing surprising insights and analyses that allowed me to perceive important linkages between the conditions of Early America and the contemporary context of globalization that I study. Their presentations have encouraged me to return with new vigor to a previous project that explores how burgeoning discourses on toxicity and the actual circulation of toxins in the global economy produce bodily vulnerabilities that nevertheless have the potential to generate different forms of relationalities across national and state boundaries. Altschuler’s assertion that the disabled body can be perceived as a “universality” that challenges every person’s status as “able-bodied,” even in the banal sense of “aging,” has definitely offered a different and unique perspective to my own work.

The other inspiring voice on this panel came from the Graduate Center’s own Duncan Faherty whose presentation on “Ugly Feelings: Affect, Canonicity, and American Literature 1800-1820” figured as a provocative call to consider neglected texts in Early American Studies, which experts in the field talk about, but never actually teach. The works that fall within what Faherty dubs the “inter-regnum” or “ugly” period in American literature are stories I have been fortunate enough to read in his classes both at Queens College and the GC, and I can vouch for the refreshing perspectives they offer on an era that is often identified in relation to a limited number of canonical texts. Faherty’s presentation, out of all those on the panel, probably provoked the most interesting debates during the Q&A session, which only attests to the force of his argument concerning the necessity of addressing the “ugly feelings” or discomfiting affects that often circulate around issues of canonicity, methodology and disciplinarity. For me, his presentation was particularly powerful, not only in terms of the content, but also in regards to the affect it stimulated, which created a public space for conversation about those issues we as scholars have most difficulty confronting alone. This is something I aspire to do in my future work, embodied in my own perverse desire to address radically negative issues, including betrayal, apocalypse and even questions of disciplinary death.

The panel “What Constitutes the ‘Political’?” moderated by Siobhan Somerville, with presentations from Samantha Pinto, Karen Shimakawa and Chuh herself, while vastly different from the Early American Matters Caucus, nevertheless achieved similar ends in creating a lively public forum for discussing politics within the immediate context of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) Movement. Each presenter’s brief comments enabled the session to function as more of a conversation space than a traditional panel that was truly a pleasure to participate in. Some of the questions that were raised during that session continue to inform the way I read and register news about OWS. For instance, one of the most interesting debates we had concerned what happens when we de-center New York and Wall Street from the Occupy movement. Considering the unique positionality of the ASA conference in Baltimore and thinking about various manifestations of Occupy across the nation forced me to recognize the different iterations of the movement in a way that I would have been unable to in New York. This debate spurred further talk about what it would mean to go even further and contextualize Occupy Wall Street in relation to broader genealogies concerning the history of strikes and even the movement’s place in a globalized context. What genealogies should we claim and how would such genealogies alter our perception of the movement as a whole?

But what echoes most vividly in my mind is Chuh’s assertion that there is a feeling of the possibility “newness” that attaches to Occupy Wall Street in a truly compelling and fascinating way, which we do not yet have a language to describe. Perhaps this elusiveness is the source of the movement’s power and, consequently, a sense of potentiality is what we must continue to perpetuate. This comment has most directly pushed me to continue my current investigations into the possibility of imagining an alternative temporality for politics that refuses the constant deferral associated with futurity. Instead, I wonder if we can imagine not “space,” but “time” itself as operating in alterity. Furthermore, how might we reorient ourselves to recognize this alterity and does Occupy Wall Street offer us some answers to these difficult questions?

As a result, ASA has definitely given me a lot to think about and hopefully this post will continue to spark new conversations and debates. Attending the conference has been an invaluable experience, both intellectual and professional. In fact, establishing new ties with other students and faculty at ASA has already spurred new hopes and thoughts about putting together a panel for next year. Moving forward, I guess I have to think seriously about the kinds of contributions I can make to this vibrant academic community.

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CUNY@ASA: Imagining Class, Occupying CUNY

ASA from one perspective: Occupy Wall Street. Last Friday Jesse Schwartz and I attended the Imagining Class panel at ASA, organized by Joseph Entin and Kathy Newman. Andrew Ross, Tera W. Hunter, Shalini Shankar, and Judith Smith were also there. It was a packed room. I counted roughly 40 people seated and probably 15 along the back wall. Felt lucky to find a seat.

Although no one probably predicted it when the panel came together, the theme of the panel was OWS and all its nationwide franchises. Andrew Ross got a lively discussion going in his opening remarks. He spoke to the populist slogans of the OWS’s 99% rhetoric. It reminded him of William Jennings Bryant six weeks before the 1896 election. He chided a Yale crowd during a speech that 99% of them were sons of the idle rich. The Yale guys then chanted back, “we are the 99%!” Funny: history’s ironies. People laugh. Then Roosevelt and Wilson co-opted the energy of the populist movement and Bryans’ candidacy. By the 1930s there’s no straight class language – instead it’s the language of the common man. The class rhetoric of the 1930s was classless. True? In this weeks New York Magazine Frank Rich wrote an article “The Class War Has Begun,” there’s a line that says, “we abhor ideology.” Oof. Then there’s a debate between Eliot Spitzer and OWS protester Manissa Maharawal. At one point Spitzer says, fix the system, yes, but then, “I’m a capitalist. Capitalism creates wealth.” To which Marx says

I digress. So the OWS movement is unemployed middle-class folks, including youth and students, and the municipal unions, Ross says. Where are the farmers? Where are the producers? (Same conference, was it this panel(?), I also heard: the people of color council is actually quite largely represented down at the park.) Let’s imagine who else could come to the strong urban base of those with “maximum flex time.” People laugh here just like at the Yale chant story. But seriously, let’s add the parents of the student debtors, the central labor councils, let’s talk potential general strike. Let’s get the broadest coalition possible with empty populist rhetoric, but not “vacuous” rhetoric. Let’s pull the university apparatus in —

I want to stay on this theme, though a lot gets said at this panel. When Cathy Newman talks, she talks about organizing adjunct labor with Joseph Entin. For his part, Joseph talks about the images of people ashamed by their debts, hiding behind those papers that cover their face (the ones that got appropriated by the 53% meme, which we later found out was half-fake?). We need to think through that shame of hiding, the shame of debt: it’s structural unemployment, structural austerity, so why the shame? The main class relation we need to understand now is the credit-debtor relation. The economic is a form of structural violence. Joseph says we’ve heard people argue against class essentialism, instead its a bundle of scripts, it’s a process. We know class is deeply racialized. So: let’s rethink how class has bodily resonances.

The audience asks many questions, but the subject of debt returns quickly. David Graeber’s recent book Debt: The First 5000 Years gets mentioned. Judith Smith reacts: debt is becoming reframed. Student debt is critical to understanding capitalism now. It changes the relation of democracy to education. Let’s think about refusing or publicizing debt; why is debt so private and hidden – back to shame. Let’s consider the public narrative of debt. It’s not a popular subject among immigrants trying to project success. Ross relates an idea about neoliberal profit-making from education; education is a terrific investment for capital pools. It’s the cost of entry for becoming middle-class. Federally guaranteed debt for home ownership and mortgage tax deductions have specifically worked to help the white working-class become middle-class – until recently. This is what’s kept the white middle-class aloft the past generation. Joseph says: student debt makes for indentured servants.

There’s a lot that got said about OWS after this. Some really interesting comments from the audience about where OWS came from. Many OWS organizers and franchise organizers were radicalized in the social justice movement prior to and just after 9-11. Same people. For others it was grad student organizing around adjunct labor, especially at Yale. We need to remember, really, the eclipse of radical anti-capitalism after 9-11, when the Battle for Seattle was still fresh. Also: the occupation of the California universities (only last year, wow). The slogans from the U-CA occupations are the same as the OWS slogans. Also: the prison abolition movement. Someone raises a comment from Occupy Tucson: recall, too, the fight over ethnic studies and women’s reproductive rights. These are all feeding into OWS.

Joseph begins a point I’ll end on (anyone want my other notes?): remember the faculty at Yale breaking the strikes? Faculty aren’t inherently radical. What about CUNY, though? A neoliberal regime is in charge. Ross replies: it’s only a matter of time before the OWS folks migrate indoors to the universities. And the faculty whose salaries are paid with student debt are living fairly precarious lives themselves. Will they break the coming strikes in the same way? The administrators have lots of power over university space. When the camps form, how are they going to break them up? Will the faculty be there with the students? Somewhere in here Joseph says: what would it look like to Occupy the university?

As I post this, I see a couple threads on my Twitter feed: Occupy CUNY and General Strike, November 2. And I post this dreaming of Occupy LaGuardia Community College, camping out in front of the library — in front of the English department. It’s snowing outside. Where are those invitations again?

#cuny #ows

[This is the first of three blog posts about ASA.]

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