Books

New Cultural Studies by Gary Hall and Clare Birchall [Editors]

Mikita Brottman

As a discipline, it's a bit like a sandwich left out for an hour; you come back to it, and it's already stale.


New Cultural Studies: Adventures in Theory

Publisher: University of Georgie Press
ISBN: 0820329592
Author: Clare Birchall
Price: $59.95
Display Artist: Gary Hall and Clare Birchall [Editors]
Length: 336
Formats: Paperback
UK publication date: 2007-03
US publication date: 2007-03
Amazon

Just when even the stodgiest of academics was getting used to the idea of cultural studies as a traditional academic discipline, here comes a book to shake everything up again. Of course, part of the point of a field like cultural studies is that it constantly needs shaking up; its contemporary appeal relies on the energy of new discussions, new theories and new interpretations of emerging trends in popular culture. As a discipline, it's a bit like a sandwich left out for an hour; you come back to it, and it's already stale.

This, at least, is the impetus behind Hall and Birchall's edited collection, which presents a range of new theoretical ideas in cultural studies, some of which reinforce the work of previous generations, some of which call earlier work into question. The editors, both Senior Lecturers in Media and Cultural Studies at Middlesex University (UK), are certainly well qualified for their task. Hall is the author of Culture in Bits: The Monstrous Future of Theory (Continuum, 2002), founding co-editor of the e-journal Culture Machine and editor of the Culture Machine book series published by Berg. Birchall, too, has published widely on cultural theory and cultural studies; she's author of the book Knowledge Goes Pop: From Conspiracy Theory to Gossip (Berg, 2006). The British edition of New Cultural Studies was published last year, by Edinburgh University Press.

The book claims to be aimed at "students and researchers," but I imagine only the most serious of grad students would be brave enough to tackle the entire volume, though individual chapters may certainly prove useful in their own right. As a whole, the volume anticipates a future full of emerging possibilities in the cross-section of theory, politics and class. The theoretical issues considered are mostly strands emerging from continental philosophy, particularly as it applies to ethics, the body, war, new media, gender, the transnational and the posthuman. In short, this book provides an ambitious and wide-ranging attempt to limn the face of cultural studies in the 21st century.

The major difficulty of this task is in negotiating how the field relates to particular generations and locations. It seems to me that cultural studies has always had a rather awkward relationship with the academy (and academic theory) on the one hand, and commercial considerations on the other. Personally, I found the second section of the book, containing chapters assessing the work of Deleuze, Agamben, Badiou, and Žižek, to be particularly helpful in this regard. The chapter by Imre Szeman on Transnational trends in cultural studies is also very useful, as is Neil Badmington's chapter on the Transhuman.

This collection of authors represents a new generation of voices in cultural studies dedicated to articulating the theoretical issues to which they respond, to reposition theory as vital (whatever more influential critics like Terry Eagleton might be claiming), and to reaffirm its continuing intellectual and political relevance to both cultural studies and to society at large. By necessity, then, the writing in New Cultural Studies is erudite and engaged, and can be theoretically dense; many readers would probably appreciate more specific, real-world examples.

My one main caveat in recommending this volume is that, for a book so theoretically wide-ranging, the territory covered seems oddly provincial. Of the 15 contributors, nine are British, which tends to give the ground a particular slant. Most of the contributors assume as a matter of course that the field of cultural studies grew originally out of the Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University in the 1970s and 1980, and the work of Stuart Hall in particular. But as Imre Szeman points out in his chapter on the Transnational, there are many versions of cultural studies (and it's interesting that the 'Transnational' is considered as one of many issues to be considered within the field, along with new media, the 'Secret', the 'Extreme', anti-capitalism etc., which are all given equal weight).

In the British sense, of course, cultural studies is bound up inextricably with class and power, and those working in the field naturally locate all social practices as they relate to the dominant classes, the social and political context in which culture manifests itself, and so on. In the US, however, cultural studies is more fragmented, and in the 21st century has been widely absorbed by such competing territories as sociology, literary theory, cinema studies, cultural anthropology and continental philosophy. Scholars in these fields also have interesting ways of applying critical theory to popular culture, without considering their work connected in any way to politics or class, let alone Britain or Birmingham.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image