I am a cultural critic and scholar whose research interests include African American Studies, American Studies, 19th and 20th century American cultural studies; Performance Studies, Queer Studies, cinema, popular music, visual art and critical theory.
Here is a link to my CV and bio; you can read my recent scholarly publications here. Here is a sample of the courses I teach.
Besides this site, you can find my writing at Bully Bloggers, Salon, Social Text, The New Inquiry, n+1, and The Feminist Wire.
Drawing by Sam Icklow.
I was both aggravated and relieved upon walking into the “marathon reading” of Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents (Das Unbehagen in der Kultur, published 1930) this afternoon at the Judson Church. Where I expected a single podium and speaker, I instead found a cacophony of voices, in both English and German, sometimes reading different sections simultaneously. While this dramatization interrupted the linear flow of the essay, and hence made it impossible to become immersed in its unfolding, it made the whole event much quicker. In fact, there was time to read the entire text twice through and still be out in time for dinner. How civilized!
Although not considered Freud’s best text, this work made an indelible impact on me when I first encountered it at age 18. Together with Joel Kovel’s psychohistory of white racism (which I read in graduate school), it consolidated in me a pessimism of the intellect that has proved difficult to fully dislodge. Hearing it read aloud by so many psychoanalysts, who gave to their enunciation of the text (one even interrupted reading for a brief impromptu commentary) a sense of systematic logic, was memorable. Having never myself put the necessary time into Freud’s system to make it work for me, I had read the text more less as cultural criticism. It’s uneveness lends itself to such a reading, as Freud admits at one point, worrying that he has said nothing in the book except the painfully obvious. But I’m glad I got the “results” of Freud’s cultural diagnosis first, before being presented with his method. And this was confirmed by my ultimate appreciation for hearing the text read in snatches, in German in one ear and English another, as a polyphonic sound installation rather than an orderly argument. This made Freud’s text into a conversation, and if such a maneuver might miss the point of a more rigorously structured text, it was well suited to this one.
Spent the last days of 2014 reading Fredric Jameson’s The Hegel Variations, his brief, lucid commentary on The Phenomenology of Spirit. I confess I picked up the book as an example of theoretical style. A writing boot camp I am hoping to take soon asks writers to select their readings for form as much as content, and when I began to do so, I realized that almost all the theorists I admire wrote in languages other than English. I even suspect that what sounds like theory to my ear might be nothing other than the sound of translation into English from German, French, Italian, etc. Hence my idea that I should begin with writers in the theoretical tradition who compose in English.
The most noticeable aspect of the Hegel variations is Jameson’s use of musical analogy to defend a non-systematic, non-teleological reading of Hegel. The idea that Hegel isn’t so much unfolding a system of history as developing variations on a theme. I thought a lot about John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things, and then listened to the album again in light of this idea that a writer or musician can take a familiar, even overly familiar tune, and then expand and experiment upon it repeatedly until the relationship between the performance and it’s theme is strictly undecidable.
Of course stating something is different from demonstrating it. I don’t know I would go so far as to say that Jameson performs a set of variations on Hegel in his reading. Or that The Hegel Variations is itself musical or jazz-like in form. Fortunately, Jameson makes no effort to mimic Hegel’s prose, although he does provide enough block quotes from it to confirm its reputation for impenetrability. He both whets my interest for tackling the Phenomenology someday and supplies a masterful enough overview of its concepts (except the “beautiful soul” which I am very curious about) to do in the meantime.