LITERARY STUDIES: THE FLESHY POLITICS OF LIFE, LAND, AND LITERATURE
EDITED BY HOLLY GENOVESE
Though at first glance these texts seem to have little in common–not geography, subject matter, or even theoretical framing–they each share an emphasis on the conditions, space, and material structures that allowed for the creation of literature and art. In At Penpoint, Monica Popescu does not so much analyze African literature of the Cold War but instead the ways this literature was used politically and spatially. The US and Soviet Union used control of scholarly and literary presses as a covert mechanism for warfare. Similarly, in Behold the Land, James Smethurst does not analyze the literature, art, or theater that he focuses on but instead argues that the infrastructure used to develop a Southern Black Arts Movement was developed by the tradition of Old Left organizing and the Popular Front throughout the South. Smethhurst does not only spatially situate the Black Arts Movement in the South but reorients the political ideology of the Black Arts movement there. In the Lost Books of Jane Austin, it is not the content of the text that Barchas focuses on, but the materiality of books created at low cost for working-class people. Where did copies of these books end up, and why? Questions of class and space are central to her exploration of Jane Austen’s work. Books, visual art, theater, and other forms such as materiality, organizational structure, and politicized objects are central to these works.
In Spatial and Discursive Violence in the US Southwest, Sánchez and Pita analyze Native American and Chicanx literature as a form of alternative history for those violently dispossessed by colonialism. The traditional history of the Southwest erases and disengages these populations, and by using literature rather than academic history texts, Sánchez and Pita attempt to offer histories from the perspective of Native American Chicanx people from the US Southwest. What’s more, they put these texts, and their differing analysis of land, enclosure, and colonialism, in conversation–a conversation avoided and refused by colonial histories. Finally, in Black Aliveness, or A Poetics of Being, Kevin Quashie asks us to read Black poetry, and other black texts, looking for joy. Daisy Guzman writes that “Reading, as we see in the articulation of Quashie’s poetry selection, is a method and a form of active care work.” Quashie, as well as Guzman, are concerned with the texts themselves but also with the ways in which people are reading them: what effective modes are useful and common? How does Black joy fit in fields so often attuned to Afro-Pessimism?
These texts are all asking questions about how and why we read, who has access to books, and what historical and cultural forces created the infrastructure for art, literature, and music. From using Native American and Chicanx literature to understand history to analyzing the dissemination of Jane Austen’s body of work to low-income people, the focus of these texts is never solely on literary analysis but the work of literature in the world, in space, and in creating lives for people writing and writing them.