[new book] Toward an Urban Cultural Studies: Henri Lefebvre and the Humanities [April 2015]

Fraser_Toward_9781137498557_EB_Cover.inddThe cover for Toward an Urban Cultural Studies: Henri Lefebvre and the Humanities, the first of many new books in Palgrave’s new HISPANIC URBAN STUDIES book series, edited by B. Fraser and S. Larson.

[click here to pre-order on Amazon]

Toward an Urban Cultural Studies is a call for a new interdisciplinary area of research and teaching. Blending Urban Studies and Cultural Studies, this book grounds readers in the extensive theory of the prolific French philosopher Henri Lefebvre. Appropriate for both beginners and specialists, the first half of this book builds from a general introduction to Lefebvre and his methodological contribution toward a focus on the concept of urban alienation and his underexplored theory of the work of art. The second half merges Lefebvrian urban thought with literary studies, film studies and popular music studies, successively, before turning to the videogame and the digital humanities.

Toward an Urban Cultural Studies [video posted online]

For anyone interested in watching it here is a link to the lecture–or rather to the exercise in organized rambling–I gave at the University of Kentucky, now on UK vimeo:

“Toward an Urban Cultural Studies: Henri Lefebvre, Space and the Culture(s) of Cities”

To watch video, click above or go here: http://vimeo.com/50215247

Thanks again to the Department of Hispanic Studies there. The prezi itself can be seen in the background on the screen, but as announced before can also be viewed here. See also this previous post for more general information about the talk.

Toward an Urban Cultural Studies [prezi]

I just returned from delivering an invited lecture at the University of Kentucky, which I titled:

Toward an Urban Cultural Studies: Henri Lefebvre, Space and the Culture(s) of Cities.

Clicking on the above link will take you to the prezi that accompanied the talk, which includes video and audio clips, although it leaves out the first 15-20 minute set-up which was devoted to the academic spat between C.P. Snow and F.R. Leavis in their 1959 and 1962 lectures (see an earlier post). The talk was a form of organized rambling at a general level about Lefebvre’s insights into cities, the timeliness of urban cultural studies, interdisciplinary issues in general, David Harvey, city rhythms, and so on, so a lot is left out of the prezi alone, but it may still be interesting to watch. Given that I was pitching the talk so broadly, I was thrilled that so many non-Hispanic Studies faculty/students were able to make it.

If you haven’t seen or used prezi before (higher functionality/privacy free for educators with an .edu email address) I can say that it may blow your mind as a presentation format (I was blown away when I first saw this used at a conference last year). After watching a prezi (many are ‘public’/freely available on the site to view) it becomes clear just how much power point presentations are linked to the cultural moment in which I grew up–which revolved around linear slideshows of non-digital photography (didn’t you hate it when that one slide got stuck in the projector?).

Special thanks to U Kentucky Professors Susan Larson and Aníbal Biglieri in particular, and also to many other faculty members from both the Department of Hispanic Studies there (and its fantastic graduate students) and beyond, for making it such a great experience!

2 Readings from 1983 (Eagleton / Williams)–‘hair-raisingly radical and rather absurd’

Revisiting development of and reflections upon cultural studies, I’ve turned most recently to  “Crisis in English Studies” (published in 1983’s Writing and Society by Raymond Williams; originally from a 1981 lecture) and chapter one of Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory titled “The Rise of English” (also from 1983). Clearly these notions of crisis articulated some thirty years ago are still appropriate ways of making sense of today’s literary and (inter)disciplinary landscape–so that we might talk in similar terms today of Crisis in Hispanic Studies, Crisis in French Studies and so on…

The major benefit of Eagleton’s chapter is–and the same can be said of Williams’s Marxism and Literature–is that is places the study of literature in a historical context, the development of literary study along with Romantic understandings of creative activity and as subject to alienations of leisure and culture which were themselves rooted in developments of industrial capitalism. In this context it is possible for Eagleton to state unequivocally that “Literature would rehearse the masses in the habits of pluralistic thought and feeling, persuading them to acknowledge that more than one viewpoint than theirs existed–namely, that of their masters. It would communicate to them the moral riches of bourgeois civilization, impress upon them a reverence for middle-class achievements, and, since reading is an essentially solitary, contemplative activity, curb in them any disruptive tendency to collective political action” (1983: 25). As have many others, Eagleton points to the limitations of Matthew Arnold’s legacy (from Culture and Anarchy 1869) and how it was modified (not enough?) by F.R. Leavis and I.A.Richards in Cambridge English: and Eagleton takes pains to paint a nuanced picture of this development and how it became the basis for the myopia of the American New Criticism (which carried the excesses of Cambridge English to their logical conclusion).

For this reader, however, the picture that emerges of Leavis is much more intriguing and dissonant than that of Richards or the New Criticism, which is to say that the tradition of close-reading he is synonymous with was not as closed of a practice in his eyes as it would later become in the hands of others, bent as he was as using literature as an opening onto the whole of society–this certainly meant something distinct to both Leavis and Eagleton, but is something which today’s literary specialists may still need to be reminded of if we consider the ongoing tensions surrounding cultural studies work and interdisciplinarity in general. Of Leavis’s Scrutiny (1932) project in particular, Eagleton writes: “The whole Scrutiny project was at once hair-raisingly radical and really rather absurd” (34). I wonder–accepting the plausible limitiations of Leavis’s project–whether there nonetheless remains a lesson to be learned therein…

Williams’s “Crisis in English Studies” pushes for a complex understanding of methodological issues that still seems important to emphasize today: “Within both Marxism and structuralism there are diverse tendencies, and there is further diversity in other tendencies in part influenced by them. This has to be emphasized not only to prevent reductive labelling but for a more positive reason, that some of these tendencies are compatible with the existing dominant paradigm of literary studies while others are incompatible and have for some years been challenging the dominant paradigm—and thus its profession” (192). But it also asks what is–in my view–an equally important question regarding the composition of departments: “can radically different work still be carried on under a single heading or department when there is not just diversity of approach but more serious and fundamental differences about the object of knowledge (despite overlapping of the actual material of study)?”

I’m sure that scholars who have seen the academic battles of the 70s and 80s first hand have much more to offer on the current state of things, but it seems to me that this question posed by Williams in 1983 in regard to English Studies is just as applicable to today’s Hispanic Studies, French Studies, German Studies, Asian Studies… how do we account for diversity of approach/disciplinary heterogeneity in a general sense let alone serious conflicts regarding the purpose of education or cultural criticism? There is still much work to be done.

Early Cultural Studies Texts Worth Reading [suggestions encouraged]

Deciding to return to earlier cultural studies texts, I’ve gotten through Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy: aspects of working-class life, with special references to publications and entertainments (1957) which I do recommend, surely a classic that stands the test of time.

[An aside: also of note for popular music fans is the reference to a book ‘Death-Cab for Cutie’ — seemingly a made-up name included amongst many others in Hoggart’s discussion of the ‘sex and violence’ genre of popular reads at the time that was chosen by B. Gibbard and his recent band — I heard the band but never knew the origin, of course the internet easily confirms the connection).

Also almost done with Raymond Williams’s Culture and Society (1780-1950) (1958) which can be rather dry in comparison to Hoggart’s work (above), but I’d say a stand out section is the one devoted to T. S. Eliot and his notion of ‘culture’ as a whole way of life, which clearly signals the later evolution of Williams’s thoughts on the subject, and suggests an appropriation and reformulation (differing considerably from the original, of course) of Eliot’s concept (itself digested from Boasian Anthropology) in the ‘structures of feeling’ Williams wrote about. Not done with that one yet, but already I feel I’m going to have to read Eliot’s slim book Notes Towards a Definition of Culture (from 1948) that Williams references there.

I do have to move on to consider Scrutiny (F.R. Leavis’s project from 1932 onward), which Williams points to as anticipating cultural studies as well.

Any other suggestions of earlier cultural studies texts worth reconsidering?

Worth a Read: F. R. Leavis (on C.P. Snow, technology and… Digital Humanities?)

I’m reading F. R. Leavis (of Scrutiny fame) at present–the book Nor Shall My Sword: Discourses on Pluralism, Compassion and Social Hope (1972, New York: Barnes & Noble[Harper & Row]) to be precise.

So many reasons you’d want read this. First: it includes the Richmond Lecture he delivered as a response to C.P. Snow’s 1959 Rede lecture that popularized the notion of ‘The Two Cultures’ and he LAMBASTES Snow, not without a certain dose of humor I would add; what Leavis considers to be Snow’s laughable career as a novelist, the fact that Snow could even think to talk about literature when he knows nothing about it, the first chapter alone had me in stitches–not that it’s written that way, but the criticisms are so direct and specific [perhaps personal] (and apt) that it is amusing to read.

But there are other reasons to read the book, which compiles several essays together and is not purely an attack on Snow. One of Snow’s statements (evidence for him of the split between two cultures) had been that Continue reading