Happy ‘pub’ days: Free, Hawkes, Nygaard
Three Department of English faculty announce recent and imminently forthcoming works of literary and cultural criticism. These new volumes explore colonial literature, postmodern philosophy and ethics, and contemporary media consumption.
Beyond Gold and Diamonds: Genre, the Authorial Informant, and the British South African Novel (SUNY Press, 2021)
The first book to examine and establish characteristics of the British South African novel.
Beyond Gold and Diamonds demonstrates the importance of southern Africa to British literature from the 1880s to the 1920s, from the rise of the systematic exploitation of the region’s mineral wealth to the aftermath of World War I. It focuses on fiction by the colonial-born Olive Schreiner, southern Africa’s first literary celebrity, as well as by H. Rider Haggard, Gertrude Page, and John Buchan, its most influential authorial informants, British authors who spent significant time in the region and wrote about it as insiders. Tracing the ways in which generic innovation enabled these writers to negotiate cultural and political concerns through a uniquely British South African lens, Melissa Free argues that British South African literature constitutes a distinct field, one that overlaps with but also exists apart from both a national South African literary tradition and a tradition of South African literature in English. The various genres that British South African novelists introduced—the New Woman novel, the female colonial romance, the Rhodesian settler romance, and the modern spy thriller—anticipated metropolitan literary developments while consolidating Britain’s sense of its own dominion in a time of increasing opposition.
Free is an assistant professor in the Department of English’s literature program.
The Reign of Anti-logos: Performance in Postmodernity (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020)
The concept of “performativity” has risen to prominence throughout the humanities. The rise of financial derivatives reflects the power of the performative sign in the economic sphere. As recent debates about gender identity show, the concept of performativity is also profoundly influential on people’s personal lives. Although the autonomous power of representation has been studied in disciplines ranging from economics to poetics, however, it has not yet been evaluated in ethical terms. This book supplies that deficiency, providing an ethical critique of performative representation as it is manifested in semiotics, linguistics, philosophy, poetics, theology and economics. It constructs a moral criticism of the performative sign in two ways: first, by identifying its rise to power as a single phenomenon manifested in various different areas; and second, by locating efficacious representation in its historical context, thus connecting it to idolatry, magic, usury and similar performative signs. The book concludes by suggesting that earlier ethical critiques of efficacious representation might be revived in our own postmodern era.
Hawkes is a professor in the Department of English’s literature program.
Horrible White People: Gender, Genre, and Television's Precarious Whiteness (NYU Press, 2020)
In November, Taylor Nygaard and Jorie Lagerwey released their book examining “the bleak television comedies that illustrate the obsession of the white left with its own anxiety and suffering.” From the publisher:
At the same time that right-wing political figures like Donald Trump were elected and reactionary socio-economic policies like Brexit were voted into law, representations of bleakly comic white fragility spread across television screens. American and British programming that featured the abjection of young, middle-class, liberal white people—such as Broad City, Casual, You’re the Worst, Catastrophe, Fleabag, and Transparent—proliferated to wide popular acclaim in the 2010s. Taylor Nygaard and Jorie Lagerwey track how these shows of the white left, obsessed with its own anxiety and suffering, are complicit in the rise and maintenance of the far right—particularly in the mobilization, representation, and sustenance of structural white supremacy on television.
Nygaard and Lagerwey examine a cycle of dark television comedies, the focus of which are “horrible white people,” by putting them in conversation with similar upmarket comedies from creators and casts of color like Insecure, Atlanta, Dear White People, and Master of None. Through their analysis, they demonstrate the ways these non-white-centric shows negotiate prestige TV’s dominant aesthetics of whiteness and push back against the centering of white suffering in a time of cultural crisis.
Through the lens of media analysis and feminist cultural studies, Nygaard and Lagerwey’s book opens up new ways of looking at contemporary television consumption—and the political, cultural, and social repercussions of these “horrible white people” shows, both on- and off-screen.
Nygaard is a faculty associate in the Department of English’s film and media studies program.