Last week, I noted that Wahneema Lubiano had published virtually nothing since arriving as a tenured professor at Duke more than a decade ago.
Her latest "publication"--a 3-page interview in an obscure journal called e3w--isn't available in any scholarly databases to my knowledge, isn't available at the Columbia, NYU, or CUNY libraries, and has a website that was last updated in 2007. But below is a taste of what the Group of 88 leader has published.
These excerpts come from an essay Lubiano prepared around 15 years ago, ruminating on the topic of political correctness. To reiterate a theme often raised in the blog, this sort of "scholarship" is exactly what many humanities and some social science departments--and not just at Duke-- look for when hiring new professors and tenuring those on staff. The excerpts also provide a glimpse at the kind of teaching that occurs in Prof. Lubiano's classroom:
. . . Perhaps, however, some of us could do something else as part of a multifaceted project of left theorizing and strategizing around aesthetics and reconstructing political common sense.
Why is popular culture so vexed for much of the Left? Could we begin to answer the questions of this symposium by acknowledging that we (as intellectuals, cultural workers, and activists) have something to learn from taking seriously the enemy of our enemy: namely, the Right's fear and loathing of popular culture-including the desire that resides therein?
Certain elements of the Left have been so distrustful of desire that they are often disempowered from even considering desire as a ground on which to do politics. Can popular culture be politically correct? Correct for whom? Under what circumstances? To what end? Are we referring to "politically correct" as a finished process? Are we trying to account for politics (in or from popular culture) from the point of view of the producer(s)? The consumer(s)? By virtue of popular culture's politics' effects on larger discourses?
. . . At the same time, perhaps we could consider why it is that popular culture is one of the easiest objects of political critique given the pervasiveness of racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism throughout our social formation.
. . . Popular culture is important because it is at least a potential threat to the manageability that a corporate capitalist culture desires; it falls outside of "orderly" categorizing-it refuses to behave appropriately. Of course, transgression does not guarantee-in and of itself-an oppositional narrative to the status quo of global capitalism; but it doesn't necessarily militate against forming opposition either. Further, while reams of paper and trillions of words of left criticism and analyses of capitalism's production and management of popular culture have made it clear that there are no mass distributed forms of culture that are shaped outside of corporate management and influence, it is precisely because we know those things that we can take up the task of learning something else: what might being cognizant of pleasure in the consumption of, and participation in, popular culture teach us about politics?
. . . As Cora Kaplan tells us, we haven't progressed much beyond the late eighteenth century's inability to generate a "positive account of fantasy for women, the lower classes, or colonial people.” [emphasis added]
. . . To make a stab at beginning the work of answering-in however small a part-some of the questions I've raised, I've been talking with my students about some instances of popular culture productions in order to try to account for what politics might be available in those places, for whom, and under what circumstances such things might fit into some kind of politics. We looked recently at two-"frivolous" (as far as my students were concerned)-examples: one a song (popular about two years ago) and the other an ad for a recent Hollywood movie-examples that my politically engaged feminist and/or vaguely left students thought were either sexist and heterosexist, or culturally "inauthentic" (the latter charge being an accusation of "sin" against identity politics, which they saw as the last bulwark against racial cultural imperialism).
The song was Soul II Soul's "Back to Life," a song subjected to extensive criticism by students who disliked what they saw as the dilution of funk and house music with "inappropriate" use of strings . . . some students explained that "inappropriateness" as the "bombastic" or "pompous" use of strings for music that might otherwise have a claim to being "harder,"4 to being more "authentic." I asked them whether they thought that the use of violins in this cut meant that the song was pop that hungered after musical respectability? Was it simply a question of the arranger or composer's ignorance about the "appropriate" use of strings, or desire for the increased popularity of (and profits to be generated from) a possibly "softer" sound? Or could it be a self-conscious de-elevation of "classical" (or "high culture") musical instruments?
. . . The appropriation of European instruments and musical forms "means" something within the discourse of black music's relation to European or Euro-American music, but how do we tease out the political implications of that meaning? We can begin by reminding ourselves that historically the black liberatory project has explained cultural production as counterhegemonic resistance.
. . . The second example we considered in class was an ad for the movie The Bodyguard, starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. The ad shows Houston somewhat scantily clad in a leather-trimmed outfit and thigh-high black leather boots; Costner is carrying her and her face is buried in his neck. Black and white women students in my class who saw that ad generally responded with condemnation of its inscription of a heterosexist fantasy of dependent female romance.
. . . For some of my black women students, this ad had the effect of seeing "Swan Lake" integrated even while another student's impulse was to question whether or not black people want to see everything (including "trash") integrated.
. . . One of my students, an "out" black lesbian from Guyana and the one who said, "he [Costner/hero/generic white male person] ought to carry us," talked about her own consumption of interracial, heterosexual mythologizing. "Besides," she said (having read something of mine about two salient public narratives about black women), "at least here's one of us being something other than a welfare queen or Anita Hill. Plus, you see those boots of hers? Maybe she's a top." [emphasis in original]
. . . Can disrespect for authority engendered by popular culture be turned to more "directly" political ends? In other words, how do we learn from, and continue to engage ourselves in, the channeling of some kind of desire into political agency?
To quote from a recent essay by Gary Kamiya (who is basically sympathetic to the Group's pedagogical approach), "The rise of advocacy scholarship was understandable and has generated much legitimate research and worthy polemics. But it also opened the door to hacks and ideologues. Ethnic studies and gender studies departments are always in danger of falling into breast-beating advocacy and identity-group solidarity. It is the responsibility of universities to make sure they don't."