“On the Spot” backs members of Culture on the Edge into a corner to talk about their backgrounds, their ongoing work, and what might be gained by an alternative understanding of how identity works.
1. When people ask what you study, what do you tell them?
Well, if they’re asking what I study, they’re probably academics. Because how it typically goes is:
“What do you do?”
“I teach at the University of Alabama.”
“What do you teach?”
If the question doesn’t emphasize what most folx see as the more immediate/visible work of the profession, it’s usually coming from someone inside that same profession. Teaching and research are interconnected, of course (or should be, anyway), but “study” is kinda insider-speak… ain’t it the way? So among my community of insiders, I tell them I study and write about authenticity rhetoric — specifically how/why it appears in theories of gender and race. Even more specifically, my work tends to have a geospatial focus on the Caribbean and the American South as circum-Atlantic regions.
My Ph.D. is in English, so I bring a literary theory background to religious studies and try to put some proverbial money where my interdisciplinary mouth is. What does that mean in practical terms? Well, I write and teach about a lot of different things, but they tend to involve my interest in when and why ideas about authenticity or realness seem to appeal and have traction and when they don’t. Along the way, I apply identity theory outside the field to my own academic study of religion. Continue reading “On the Spot with Merinda Simmons”
A book that the members of Culture on the Edge
recently read and discussed.
Learn more about Habeas Viscus.
(See more by the artist)
“New Books on the Edge” is an ongoing blog series, which engages forthcoming manuscripts by Edge collective members.
Changing the Subject: Writing Women Across the African Diaspora
From diaspora to class, gender, subjectivity, migration, labor and much more – take us behind the scenes of Changing the Subject — how it came to be, what sorts of questions are raised in this project, and what data is being engaged?
My disciplinary training is in literary theory, and I have long been puzzled by a tendencyI see working in that domain of scholarship. Namely, while so much of the field has been influenced by what many—myself included—see as important poststructuralist intellectual moves, I nonetheless keep coming across analyses by prominent scholars that focus on “authenticity” in one manner or other. This seems an especially noticeable phenomenon within scholarship on texts deemed marginalized—and, as my data set when I began the work that would ultimately become this book was comprised of narratives by women of various African diasporas, I decided to delve into how and why the emphasis on something called authenticity appears in the criticism surrounding these texts. Continue reading ““New Books on the Edge” with K. Merinda Simmons”
One can measure very neatly the white American’s distance from his conscience—from himself—by observing the distance between White America and Black America. One has only to ask oneself who established this distance, who is this distance designed to protect, and from what is this distance designed to offer protection?
-James Baldwin, 19655
I’m shocked, too.
I’m supposed to be locked up, too.
You escape what I’ve escaped…
You’d be in Paris getting f***ed up, too.
-Jay Z, 20116
Monica Miller has recently been award a Lehigh University Faculty Research Grant (Research and Graduate Studies) to conduct fieldwork on the topic of “K(no)w Where to Go: Diasporic Transatlantic Commuters and Escaping the Permanence of “American” Racism” which explores the social, cultural, economic and geographic options of African American expatriates living in Europe – a part of a larger book project she’s working on entitled, New Black Godz: Distinct Bodies, Religions of Distinction. Continue reading ““K(no)w Where to Go””
A while back a couple Edge posts appeared on the topic of “code switching” (Merinda’s post is here and Monica’s is here). Listening to NPR this morning I heard a story on the NSA’s use of codewords for its various clandestine projects — how it follows longstanding conventions in writing them as one word and in all caps, like SHARKFINN, KEYSTONE, or DISHFIRE — and that made me think again on the topic of code switching. Continue reading ““They’ve Given You a Number and Taken Away Your Name””
WWBAS?: What would Benedict Anderson say…?
In a recent New York Times interview, author Jhumpa Lahiri expressed a certain frustration with the ways people sometimes classify literature.
I don’t know what to make of the term “immigrant fiction.” Writers have always tended to write about the worlds they come from. Continue reading “Constructing Worlds”
Merinda Simmons‘s first monograph, Changing the Subject: Writing Women across the African Diaspora, has just been contracted by Ohio State University Press. A critique of the scholarly emphasis on authenticity in literary and postcolonial theory, it offers a counterpoint with readings of several African diasporic texts that demonstrate the contingent and contextual frameworks within which categories like “identity” and “voice” are thought to emerge, demonstrating that, instead of being stable, subjects and subjectivities change as they move from place to place.
One of the premises of Culture on the Edge is that an implicit, untheorized norm is still presupposed, and its legitimacy is thereby reproduced rather than being historicized, despite many scholars’ recent efforts to develop what they see to be more nuanced, historically sensitive, and situationally specific approaches to identity studies. For it is not uncommon to find seemingly anti-essentialist scholars now studying various identities in terms of their hybridity, seeing them as creoles, studying how diaspora movements have traveled and changed, and documenting the complexity of syncretism–developments understood as important improvements on what are now seen to be previous generations’ far too simplistic studies of social life. After all, as important a an early sociologist as Emile Durkheim seems merely to have understood “society” to be a homogenous, undifferentiated unit. Continue reading “That Ain’t The Queen’s English”