It’s not always easy living up to one’s ideals, either personally or as a nation. Americans like to think of the United States as a welcoming place where everyone has equal chance. But historical baggage and anxious times can make such generosity difficult.Behind the America’s mythic open door, newcomers often find that civic belonging comes with strings attached––riddled with conditions, limitations, and in some instances, punitive rites of passage. And for those already here, new rationales emerge to challenge civic belonging on the basis of belief, behavior, or heritage. This book uses the term “elsewhere” in describing conditions that exile so many citizens to “some other place” through prejudice, competition, or discordant belief. Even as “diversity” has become the official norm in American society, the country continues to fragment along new lines that pit citizens against their government, each other, and even themselves. Yet in another way, “elsewhere” evokes an undefined “not yet” ripe with potential. In the face of daunting challenges, elsewhere can point to optimism, hope, and common purpose.
Elsewhere in America uses the concept of “belonging” to frame a uniquely multidisciplinary exploration of division and marginalization in the U.S.––in a study encompassing material conditions, discursive contexts, and affective states. Through 12 detailed chapters, Elsewhere in America applies critical theory in the humanities and social sciences in examining recurring crises of social inclusion in the U.S. After two centuries of struggle and incremental “progress” in securing human dignity, today the U.S. finds itself riven apart by new conflicts over reproductive rights, immigration, health care, religious extremism, sexual orientation, mental illness, and fears of terrorists. Why are U.S. ideals of civility and unity so easily hijacked and confused? Is there a way of explaining this recurring tendency of Americans to turn against each other? Elsewhere in America engages these questions in charting the ever-changing faces of difference (manifest in contested landscapes of sex and race to such areas as disability and mental health), their spectral and intersectional character (as seen in the new discourses on performativity, normativity, and queer theory), and the grounds on which categories are manifest in ideation and movement politics (seen in theories of metapolitics, cosmopolitanism, dismodernism).
Many of us think about a better world. But opinions may vary over how to get there, and especially about what “there” we want. The imagination and realization of worlds has become a driving force in “real” and ”virtual” environments, with both negative and positive consequences. Worlding: Identity, Media, and Imagination in a Digital Age explores the many realms of experience we inhabit as we move back-and-forth between reality and representation in our daily lives. But in doing so, Worlding concentrates on ways of improving our common existence. As discussed throughout this book, “worlding” can be selfless or selfish. It can reinforce what exists or point to something else. But it can never be neutral. Throughout this book, “worlding” will be examined as a word, an argument, and a possibility.
Worlding is a word. You won’t find the term worlding in any dictionary, even though the term has been in use for nearly a century. Martin Heidegger popularized the neologism in his 1927 Being and Time to mean “being-in-the-world.”The idea was to use a verb signifying something ongoing and generative, which could not be reduced to either a philosophical state or a scientific materiality. Since then worlding has appeared dozens of times in philosophy, politics, cultural studies, and technology studies. The word has been appropriated, contested, but never quite pinned down––and so retains a remarkable flexibility. In “Ways of Worlding,” P.J. Rusnak catalogues many of the ways worlding has been treated in different disciplines and for varying purposes. Noting the term’s Heideggerian ontology, Rusnak cites worlding in discussions of colonialism and imperialism, secularism and faith, patriarchy and heteronormality, utopian and dystopian futurism, aesthetics and artistic expression, online networking and virtual community building, ecology and sustainability, proprioception and kinesthesia, pedagogy and situated learning. Linguists have taught us that terms like “worlding” work less as fixed essences than as mediators of differences among the utterances and concepts around them. But this undetermined character hardly makes “worlding” innocent, deriving as it does from a noun referencing concepts of origins, boundaries, ethnicities, governance, and even consciousness itself. It is to this broad vision of worlding that this book dedicates itself.
The End of Reading: From Gutenberg to Grand Theft Auto is titled provocatively to address current debates about American education, intelligence, and the rise of popular culture. By focusing on “reading” the book addresses the crisis in public literacy, but chooses not to blame the familiar scapegoats of non-English-speaking immigrants and popular culture. Instead, The End of Reading argues that in a democratic, multicultural, and technologically-sophisticated society, we need to embrace multiple definitions of what it means to be a literate person. These new definitions of literacy require a more intensely interdisciplinary approach to “reading” the world, which recognize differences in the origins, forms, contexts, and cognitive processes of expression and reception. Getting at these definitions requires us to look beyond established paradigms of “media literacy” and “cultural studies”––though these remain crucial––and examine the sources of language, the field of perception, and the history of visual expression. Put another way, this mean looking past fields of education and media studies to also consider recent scholarship in anthropology, art history, linguistics, and psychology, among other areas.
The End of Reading: From Gutenberg to Grand Theft Auto also seeks to expand discussions of literacy itself by situating its discussions in broader terms of language and vision. The End of Reading explores the historical origins of language as well as ways that people develop language abilities in childhood. The book similarly looks at humanity’s earliest non-linguistic picture and art-making inclinations and traces their parallel development with speaking and writing. In tracing these trajectories to the present day, the book doesn’t propose the “end of reading” so much as it advocates a more inclusive and stridently interdisciplinary view of literacy as we know it. In doing so, the book offers a diverse approach to literacy compatible with evolving discourses in technology, multiculturalism, gender and disability studies. In personal terms, The End of Reading is informed by the struggles with reading of my nine-year old child. I continue to wonder how kids are going to do in a world that requires reading while increasingly making it seem irrelevant. Each chapter begins with an anecdote about early reading difficulties.
Worries about a “divided” America are no secret. In the wake of several evenly divided election campaigns and polls showing vast public disagreement on vital social issues, fears are arising that the once “united” states are being riven apart by conflicting views on issues like gay marriage, immigration, and the war in Iraq. As a recent report from the Pew Center for the People and the Press put it, “The red states get redder and the blue states get bluer, and the political map of the United States takes on the coloration of the Civil War.”A lengthy debate on the subject has been taking place in American society for much of the past two decades, touched off by a handful of books published in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The most influential of these were Alan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students, and E.D Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know in 1987. Both books argued that America had been weakened by a declining cultural values, specifically by the abandonment by schools of the great books and traditions of Western Thought.
These debates were summarized in James Jefferson Hunter’s 1991 book Culture Wars. Hunter’s book, whose title gave the conflicts a name, asserted that a new and expansive discontent had taken over the country. “The contemporary culture war is not just an expression of different ‘opinions’ or ‘attitudes’ on this or that issue, like abortion,” Hunter wrote. “The culture war emerges over fundamentally different conceptions of moral authority, over different ideas and beliefs about truth, the good, obligation to one another, the nature of community, and so on.” Several years later, Hunter warned the controversies might even trigger violent conflict. With the dawn of the 2000s the culture wars moved from the margins of academic discourse to the center of mainstream debate and concern. Search the term “culture war” at the Harvard University library and you’ll come up with 1308 entries. The Library of Congress posts over 10,000 books with titles like Culture Wars, Culture War? Beyond the Culture Wars, Is There a Culture War?, Culture Warrior, etc.
A Culture Divided explores both the symptoms and causes of these contemporary divides in the United States, illustrating how differences of perspective and opinion have persisted throughout the nation’s history––from the earliest days of the revolution to the most recent events in international diplomacy. A Culture Divided takes the somewhat contradictory position that the divided character of the American nation is both a curse and a blessing, giving rise to some of the nation’s most vexing social and political problems, but at the same time imbuing the United States with a freshness and vitality that have kept its values relevant––or at least potentially so.
EVERYDAY CULTURE draws its inspiration from a particular historical moment. In 1968 the meanings and potentials of ordinary life received attention in cultural and political circles throughout the western world as never before. Radios were playing “Everyday People,” a song by the rock/funk band Sly and the Family Stone. Released in the months following the infamous Tet Offensive in Vietnam and the assassination of Martin Luther King, “Everyday People” captured the spirit of US culture as a plea for peace and equality. Remembered for it’s chorus, “I am everyday people,” the song resonates in a celebration of diversity, as lead singer Sly Stone Stewart proclaims “We are the same whatever we do” with the refrain, “We’ve got to live together.” “Everyday People” holds the distinction as the first hit song in the U.S. by a multi-racial performing group.
As “Everyday People” was moving to the number one spot on the U.S. pop chart, a more material manifestation of the everyday was taking hold in Europe. In May 1968 a general strike erupted in France within universities and high schools in a series of uprisings protesting poor wages and governmental wrongdoing. From riots outside the Sorbonne in Paris, the strike quickly was joined by workers, minorities, the French Communist party, and members of Situationist Internationale. Within a week France was crippled by a work stoppage of 10-million people––roughly two thirds of the nation’s labor force––making it the largest strike in recorded history.
Informed in part by these historical legacies, Everyday Culture is about the confluence of cultural and material possibility––the bringing together of thought and action in daily life. The book argues that an informed and invigorated citizenry can help reverse patterns of dehumanization and social control. The impetus for Everyday Culture can be described in the observation by Raymond Williams that “culture is ordinary,” and that the fabric of meanings that inform and organize everyday life often go undervalued and unexamined. Everyday Culture shares with thinkers like Williams the conviction that it is precisely the ordinariness of culture that makes it extraordinarily important. The ubiquity of everyday culture means that it affects all aspects of contemporary economic, social and political life. Seen his light, Everyday Culture is about a hope for a better future.