In this episode of High Theory, Matt Seybold tells us about Criticism, the glue that holds the bricks of culture together. Cultural critics are a necessary component of the intellectual ecosystem, who have the power to analyze both the material conditions and the myths that make up our world. 

Matt is the host of the American Vandal Podcast at the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College. In his recent podcast series, Criticism, LTD, Matt investigated the state of criticism in the academy and the public sphere. There is a nifty substack newsletter with the transcripts from Criticism, LTD, if you’re keen. Kim and Saronik were among the many podcasters, public intellectuals, and critics that Matt interviewed for the series, and we’re excited to have him back on High Theory to tell us about his investigations. 

In the episode he offers a recuperative reading of Mark Twain’s acerbic take on critics in his late notebooks: “The critic’s symbol should be the tumble-bug; he deposits his egg in somebody else’s dung, otherwise he could not hatch it.” (see p. 392 of this Harper & Brothers, 1935 edition of Twain’s Collected Works, on He references Jacques Derrida’s book, Limited Inc (Northwestern UP, 1988), which contains the *famous* essay “Signature, Event, Context” and a critical debate about Apartheid. And he also discusses Jed Esty’s Future of Decline: Anglo-American Culture at Its Limits (Stanford UP, 2022) and our episode with Jed on the Rhetoric of Decline. You can also take a listen back to Matt’s earlier episode with us on  Economics

Matt Seybold is Associate Professor of American Literature & Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, as well as Resident Scholar at the Center For Mark Twain Studies. He is the executive producer and host of the American Vandal Podcast, and founding editor of He is co-editor (with Michelle Chihara) of of the Routledge Companion to Literature & Economics (2018)and (with Gordon Hutner) a 2019 special issue of American Literary History on “Economics & Literary Studies in The New Gilded Age.” Recent articles can be found in the Mark Twain Annual, American Studies, Reception, and Los Angeles Review of Books. He tweets (or exes?) @MEASeybold

The image for this episode was made by Saronik Bosu in 2024.

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Queer Space

In this episode of High Theory, Jack Jen Gieseking tells us about queer space. Queer geographies matter alongside queer temporalities. And it turns out that lesbian life in the 1950s cannot be generalized from the specific history of Buffalo, New York. 

In the episode they reference a number of scholarly books including J. Jack Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (NYU Press, 2005); Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories (Duke UP, 2010); Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline D. Davis, Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community (Routledge, 1993); Mairead Sullivan, Lesbian Death: Desire and Danger between Feminist and Queer (Minnesota UP, 2022); Henri Lefebre, The Production of Space (La production de l’espace, Editions Anthropos, 1974, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith, Blackwell, 1919).  He also names a number of scholars, including the geographer Gill Valentine, the historian David Harvey, and cultural anthropologist Gayle Rubin, and the 1982 Barnard Conference on Sexuality

Jack Jen Gieseking is a Research Fellow at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center. Their book A Queer New York: Geographies of Lesbians, Dykes, and Queers was published by NYU Press in 2020, and has a companion website called An Everyday Queer New York. They are working on a new book called Dyke Bars*: Queer Spaces for the End Times that uses the trans asterisk to invite consideration of queer spaces not historically claimed as dyke bars.

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Squid Game

Kyung Hyun Kim talks about the Netflix series Squid Game, its economic and political contexts, and its cultural potential. He also talks about his new book, Hegemonic Mimicry, out from Duke University Press.

Prof. Kyung Hyun Kim is a creative writer, a scholar, and a film producer, who is currently a professor in the Department of East Asian Studies, UC Irvine.  He has worked with internationally renowned directors such as Hong Sang-soo, Lee Chang-dong and Marty Scorsese, and also with American film producers Jason Blum and Steven Schneider. Prof. Kim is author of Virtual Hallyu: Korean Cinema of the Global EraThe Remasculinization of Korean CinemaHegemonic Mimicry: Korean Popular Culture of 21st Century, all of them published by Duke University Press, and a Korean-language novel entitled In Search of Lost G (Ireo beorin G-reul chajaso, 2014) about a Korean mother combing through the US in search of her missing son during his junior year in a Massachusetts prep school.  He has coproduced and co-scripted two award-winning feature films Never Forever (2007, Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Main Competition) and The Housemaid (2010, Cannes Film Festival Main Competition). He has recently written The Mask Debatehis first theatre screenplay, which premiered in February 2021 through UCI’s Illuminations: Chancellor’s Initiative in Arts and Drama YouTube channel.

Image: © 2021 Saronik Bosu

Music used in promotional material: ‘Horizon Mine’ by krackatoa

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Cognitive Cultural Studies

Torsa Ghosal talks about Cognitive Cultural Studies, a field that entails methodologies that situate the human mind in historical and cultural contexts, sometimes working against models of the mind proceeding from the Cognitive Sciences. This includes inquiries into how narratives mediate knowledge about cognition, the subject of her new book Out of Mind: Mode, Mediation, and Cognition in Twenty-First Century Narrative, from The Ohio State University Press.

Torsa Ghosal is an assistant professor of English and creative writing at the California State University, Sacramento. Her experimental novella, Open Couplets, was published by Yoda Press, India. Her shorter works of fiction as well as essays on literature and culture appear in magazines like Literary Hub, Michigan Quarterly Review Online, Necessary Fiction, Catapult, and elsewhere. She co-hosts the Narrative for Social Justice podcast. You can find more details about her work at her website and follow her on Twitter @TorsaG.

Image: © 2021 Saronik Bosu

Music used in promotional material: ‘Waves’ by Michael Korbin

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Kim speaks with Amanda Caleb about Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopia.

Amanda says that the classic definition of “heterotopia” is found in Foucault’s article “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias” (Architecture /Mouvement/Continuité, October, 1984). She also mentions The Birth of the Clinic.

In comparison to Foucault’s heterotopia, we talk a bit about Mikhail Bakhtin’s concepts of the carnivalesque and the chronotope.

If you’re interested in reading more about heterotopias, check out Amanda’s article: “Contested Spaces: The Heterotopias of the Victorian Sickroom” in Humanities vol. 8 no. 2 (April 2019).

Amanda is a professor of English and Medical and Health Humanities at Misericordia University. She also runs a super cool podcast called the Health Humanist. She was kind enough to interview me about a crazy 1978 medical satire called House of God back in November 2020.

This week’s image is Gustave Caillebotte’s Les jardiners (1875). Below is a map of the “Gardens and Pleasure Grounds Baltimore Argyleshire” from The Art & Craft of Garden Making by Thomas Hayton Mawson (London : B.T. Batsford, 1900). We’re feeling gardens this week.

Music used in promotional material: ‘Floating Panther’ by Outrun

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