This issue goes into production in the wake of the November 2020 election, and by the time it reaches readers, the Trump presidency will be a thing of the past, with two counts of impeachment. Yet the alarm bells of the nation’s democratic integrity and justice will surely continue to ring loudly for years and even decades, especially after the attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters and other right-wing extremists. Editing this journal and engaging the ambitious work of scholars tackling urgent political, intellectual, affective issues has provided me with the faith and hope I desperately needed as the rise of Trumpism has forced me to ponder the role that I as a scholar of American studies have to play in this society and the world.
The issue opens with Michelle May-Curry’s essay on the representations of Bill de Blasio’s mixed race family in his New York City mayoral campaign. May-Curry insightfully points out that while de Blasio’s emphasis on his family gave him access to “third-wave Black politics,” the presence of his wife, Chirlane McCray, as a Black queer mother and a founding member of the Combahee River Collective also challenged his ability to control his family’s image and weakened his 2020 presidential bid. The representations of Black subjects are interrogated from another angle in the next essay, by Shawn Michelle Smith, which analyzes Dawoud Bey’s Night Coming, Tenderly, Black (2017), a photograph series about the Underground Railroad, installed in 2019 at the Art Institute of Chicago. Smith reads Bey’s engagement with the mechanics and metaphors of light, darkness, and exposure of the photographic medium not only to consider how the fugitives negotiated their relationship to property and self but also to challenge the conditions through which Black subjects have come into photographic visibility.
In “Remaking the Renaissance Man,” John Schneider examines the “golden age” of the American university (1945–70) and the movement for general education that sought to educate the “whole man.” Through the work of Lionel Trilling and Ralph Ellison, Schneider demonstrates how the movement repurposed the “dissociation of sensibility” faced by literary figures toward the education of citizen-professionals and points to the relationship between the postwar research university, industrial capitalism, and American power. Next, Amanda Swain’s essay focuses on two other canonical figures, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Reading how Day and King drew from their personal experiences of Christian religious belief to reconceptualize political participation, Swain illustrates personalism’s radical political visions that mobilized [End Page v] sacrificial love, devotional practice, and spiritual community toward systemic change. Finally, Alicia Carroll’s “Twins Twisted into One” reinterprets Don Talayesva’s Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian (1942) through queer Indigenous feminist lens. Carroll convincingly reads Talayesva’s acts of indiscipline, or Indigenous people’s resistance to settler colonial disciplinary institutions and assimilation policies, as expressions of a sovereign erotic rooted in the Hopi body, land, and community.
The issue also features a forum convened by Jonna Eagle on the keyword authenticity. Even as the term circulates as a concept, an ideology, a problem, or an analytic in various areas of American studies, the explicit interrogation of its foundations, genealogies, functions, and uses has rarely been done. Here, the convener and scholars from diverse disciplinary, cultural, and personal backgrounds explore the practice and stakes of measurement and valuation, affirmation and exclusion involved in characterizing something as (in)authentic. As the introduction and the six essays powerfully demonstrate, the question is a deeply political and ethical as well as intellectual and social one.
A review by Jillian Hernandez discusses five works that deal with aesthetics in relation to racial being, subjection, and autonomy. Through books that illustrate the complex dynamics of power on the psyche and in the flesh and through works that examine the aesthetic lives of racialized gender, Hernandez shows the importance of displacing art history as the privileged site for knowledge about aesthetics and image as well as of thinking Blackness, Brownness, and Yellowness together. Vineeta Singh examines four recent texts in critical university studies that question our understanding of what, how, and why we study in the academy. By discussing the four works that trace how the common sense about the university has emerged and that also gesture to alternative formations of the academy, Singh presents important reflections on how scholars committed to decolonizing and abolitionist world-making might use these works during and after the pandemic. In a digital project review, Lindsay Garcia introduces us to Equality Archive, a digital encyclopedia of feminist knowledge that was built deploying feminist principles through the platform’s infrastructure, the collective arrangement of labor, the curation of topics, and the figuring of praxis as central to knowledge. [End Page vi]