Steven Swarbrick talks about poetic engagement with nature in the work of early modern poets Edmund Spenser, Walter Ralegh, Andrew Marvell, and John Milton. Here language is influenced not by the manifest and the conscious, but the unconscious or void, as understood in Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. This work is the basis for his hope for a reorganization of thought in contemporary ecocriticism around a politics of degrowth instead of additive policies that serve to greenwash capitalist economies.
Steven Swarbrick is an assistant professor of English at Baruch College, City University of New York. His research interests include early modern literature, contemporary continental philosophy, psychoanalysis, the environmental humanities, and sexuality and film studies. He is the author of The Environmental Unconscious: Ecological Poetics from Spenser to Milton (University of Minnesota Press, 2023) and co-author, with Jean-Thomas Tremblay, of Negative Life: The Cinema of Extinction (Northwestern University Press, under contract). He is currently working on two books: Unknowing Sex: Shakespeare against the Historicists and Destituent Ecology: Libidinal Politics for the Environmental Left.
Image: © 2023 Saronik Bosu
In this episode of High Theory, Jed Esty talks about the Rhetoric of Decline. Declinism names the contradictory political narrative that America will always be the greatest country in the world, yet is in constant danger of losing its place in the global pecking order. Studying this rhetorical log-jam reveals its prominence on both the left and the right, and its toxic effects on our national discourse. But comparing the end of America’s empire to Britain’s imperial decline in the twentieth century can help us muddle out of this mess.
The basis of our conversation is Jed’s recent book The Future of Decline: Anglo-American Culture at Its Limits (Stanford UP, 2022). It’s a cool short book with an x-ray spaceman on the cover. You should read it, even if this isn’t usually your cup of tea.
Jed Esty is the Vartan Gregorian Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches and writes about Anglophone literature after 1850, with special interests in modernism, critical theory, history and theory of the novel, colonial and postcolonial studies, the Victorian novel, and post-45 U.S. culture. He is the author of Unseasonable Youth: Modernism, Colonialism, and the Fiction of Development (Oxford 2012) and A Shrinking Island: Modernism and National Culture in England (Princeton 2004).
This week’s image was made by Saronik Bosu in June of 2023.
Warning: this episode of High Theory is very silly.
In our new summer series of “Sillies,” Saronik and Kim ask each other how simple things will achieve the grandiose task of saving the world. In this episode, Saronik asks Kim how jeans will save the world. Yes, we mean denim, not genes.
Some reading that might help assuage the silliness, and support our absurd arguments is listed below:
In this episode we used sound effects from freesound.org. To make the episode we downloaded sounds created by the following users: MATRIXX, aj_heels, deleted_user_5959249, LittleRobotSoundFactory, TarynMichelle101, Yellowbear, voxlab, NikiPlaymostories, TasmanianPower, trader_one, milkywaysurroundsme, josefpres, BugInTheSYS, paulnorthyorks. Click the link to hear the sound.
This episode’s silly image was created by Saronik Bosu.
Sheila Liming talks about the party, social gatherings that occasion joy and dread and various emotions in between. The party is both a pause and an acceleration in the life-work continuum, it can deaden political motivation and engender fresh politics. We discuss the horrible parties in The Office and the wonderful parties in Small Axe, among other things.
Sheila Liming is Associate Professor at Champlain College in Burlington, VT, where she teaches classes in American literature, writing, and media. She is the author, most recently, of Hanging Out: The Radical Power of Killing Time (Melville House, 2023), and also of the books Office (Bloomsbury, 2020) and What a Library Means to a Woman (Minnesota UP, 2020). Her writing has appeared in publications like the The New York Review of Books, The Atlantic, Lapham’s Quarterly, LitHub, The Globe and Mail, and The Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere.
Image: © 2023 Saronik Bosu
Cheryl Narumi Naruse talks about the transformation of Singapore over the past decades into a site of postcolonial promise, with economic prosperity and cultural soft power. She discusses a range of texts ranging from official state documents to the immensely popular book and movie adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians, which bear witness to and contribute to this change.
Cheryl Narumi Naruse is Assistant Professor of English and the Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Professor of the Humanities at Tulane University. Her research and teaching interests include contemporary Anglophone literatures and cultures (particularly those from Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands), diasporic Asian and Asian American literature, postcolonial theory, cultures of capitalism, and genre studies. Her first book, Becoming Global Asia: Contemporary Genres of Postcolonial Capitalism in Singapore is forthcoming from University of California Press in 2023. She is also working on a second monograph which explores the illegibility of Singapore/Malaysia—as the comparatively “cold” Southeast nations in the context of the Vietnam War—in Asian American and postcolonial studies.
Image: © 2023 Saronik Bosu
In this episode of High Theory, Eli Cook tells us about choice architecture. The term was invented by behavioral economists in 2008 who proposed it as a soft-power model of “libertarian paternalism” to influence consumer choice. Eli traces their concept through a twentieth-century history of structured choices, from personality tests and the five-star rating to the swipes and likes of platform capitalism. He shifts our attention from the rhetoric of consumer choice as freedom to the power of “choice architects” who determine the options for us.
Eli takes the term “choice architecture” from Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Yale UP, 2008). He mentions the industrial psychologist Walter Dill Scott and the inventors of behavioral economics, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. Amusingly, there is a New Yorker article about Tversky and Kahneman written by Thaler and Sunstein, called “The Two Friends Who Changed How We Think About How We Think.” (New Yorker 7 Dec 2016). In the full version of our conversation, Eli referenced the work of Sophia Rosenfeld on the longue durée history of choice.
Eli Cook is a historian of American capitalism. He works as a Senior Lecturer in History and as head of the American Studies Program at the University of Haifa in Israel. His first book The Pricing of Progress: Economic Indicators and the Capitalization of American Life was published by Harvard University Press in 2017. Last year, he was a fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center where he worked on his new book about choice architecture.
Image: © 2023 Saronik Bosu
Sritama Chatterjee talks about a model of literary criticism that she developed in the process of writing her new essay on shipbreaking in Bangladesh. It is a form of materialist understanding for texts, places, and geographies together, taking into account particular signifiers of a place and looking at correspondent literary responses.
Sritama is a literary and cultural theorist of the Indian Ocean World, in the Literature program at the Dietrich School of Arts and sciences, University of Pittsburgh. Her dissertation project titled, “Ordinary Environments and Aesthetics in Contemporary Indian Ocean Archipelagic Writing” has been awarded an Andrew Mellon Pre-Doctoral Fellowship from her graduate school for outstanding research and scholarly excellence. Her work on the Indian Ocean archipelagos also takes the shape of a collaborative public-facing, community project Delta Lives, which platforms communities in Sundarbans telling their stories. As part of her commitment to rethinking environmental humanities pedagogy, she has edited a cluster on “Water Pedagogies: From the Academy and Beyond” published by NICHE Canada which brings together a set of eleven articles from scholars and activists reflecting on water pedagogy.
Image: © 2022 Saronik Bosu
Anna Kornbluh talks about presentism, the anachronistic historical practice of studying the past with contemporary frames of understanding. While some orthodoxies might consider it to be tantamount to historical heresy, presentism can be a powerful tool in building histories of anti-establishment struggles, such as women’s and workers’ rights movements. The conversation also focuses on the work of the V21 Collective, a research collective that Anna organizes, which applies presentist methods to Victorianist scholarship.
Anna Kornbluh is Professor of English and Director of Graduate Studies at University of Illinois, Chicago. Her research and teaching focus on the novel, film, and critical theory, especially marxism, psychoanalysis, structuralism, and formalism. She is the author of The Order of Forms: Realism, Formalism, and Social Space (University of Chicago 2019), Marxist Film Theory and Fight Club (Bloomsbury “Film Theory in Practice” series, 2019), and Realizing Capital: Financial and Psychic Economies in Victorian Form (Fordham UP 2014). Her current research concerns impersonality, objectivity, mediation, and abstraction as residual faculties of the literary in privatized urgent times. She is the founding facilitator of two scholarly cooperatives: V21 Collective and InterCcECT.
Image: © 2022 Saronik Bosu
Music used in promotional material: ‘Past has not Passed’ by James Blackshaw
Erin L. Thompson talks about monuments, and their role in American public life. Public art intervenes in directly in politics, shaping social behavior in the present. Monuments, in her account, are a bid for immortality that says “this is how things are” but often means “this is how things should be.”
In the episode she talks about The Houston Museum of African American Culture. They are engaged in a super exciting project reinterpreting the cultural memory of the US Civil War, as the first Black cultural institution that has re-housed a Confederate monument.
If you’re keen on the history and politics of monuments, check out her brand new book: Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of America’s Public Monuments. It’s coming out from Norton this Tuesday (Feb 8)! You learn more about the book, and her upcoming talks on her website: artcrimeprof.com
Erin L. Thompson is an associate professor of Art Crime at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York. Her first book Possession (Yale UP, 2016) studied the history of theft at the heart of private art collections from the Ancient World to the present.
Image: Statue of a man on a horse, part of the the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial at the US Capital, described in this article from the Architect of the Capital, US government website.
Music used in promotional material: ‘Morrisson’s jig – Leslie’s march’ by Aislinn
Amy Gaeta uses the relationship between humans and technology, non-military use of drones being a prime example, to rethink concepts of passivity and how it can bring about change. She makes an intervention in science and technology studies from her position in feminist and disability studies, drawing from diverse theoretical sources like the work of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Saidiya Hartman, Alexander Weheliye, and Mark Fisher.
Amy Gaeta is not utopian; she is a student of understanding how we survive a world that is killing us on a dying planet, a feminist disability activist and scholar, poet, punk, and PhD candidate in the English Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her academic work specializes in the psychological aspects of human-technology relations under the surveillance state. In poetry, she explores mental illness, desire, and the impossibility of being human.
Image: “‘Little Planet’ style edit of a 180-degree panorama of my daughter’s little league game this summer” by Tim Bish.
Music used in promotional material: ‘Unsunny Sundays’ by Chris Herb.