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Theory Out Of Bounds

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Arrow Of Chaos

Romanticism and Postmodernity

Ira Livingston

Arrow of Chaos navigates through postmodern coordinates such as chaos theory and fractals as well as literary and cultural theory, mapping the ongoing mutations of Romanticism in postmodern culture and the inklings of the postmodern already at work in Romanticism. The result is a “chaology of knowledge,” a study of the logic of chaos.

Ira Livingston’s reading of Romantic and postmodern texts-from poetic, political and scientific works to films and dreams-reveal surprising code shiftings within and among them. The resilience of Romanticism, Livingston argues, lies not in enforcing a single “master narrative” but in orchestrating these fluxes.

Using theory and critical readings alongside a series of illustrative vignettes, Livingston portrays cultural history as a dynamic entity conserved by the continually renewed demands of order and disorder. By modeling ways to think through chaos and through the mutual deformations of Romanticism and postmodernity, Arrow of Chaos contributes to alternative alignments of knowledge across time and technique.

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Bad Aboriginal Art

Tradition, Media, and Technological Horizons

Eric Michaels

Bad Aboriginal Art is the extraordinary account of Eric Michaels’ period of residence and work with the Warlpiri Aborigines of western Central Australia, where he studied the impact of television on remote Aboriginal communities.

Sharp, exact, and unrelentingly honest, Michaels records with an extraordinary combination of distance and immersion the intervention of technology into a remote Aboriginal community and that community’s forays into the technology of broadcasting.  Michaels’s analyses in Bad Aboriginal Art will disrupt and redirect current debates surrounding the theory and practice of anthropology, ethnography, film and video making, communications policy, and media studies - no less than his work has already disrupted and redirected the cultural technologies of both the Warlpiri and Australian technocrats.

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Cinematic Body

Steven Shaviro

In The Cinematic Body, Steven Shaviro proposes a radical new approach to film viewing.  Moving between Jerry Lewis and Andy Warhol, between Fassbinder’s gay sex icons and George Romero’s flesh-eating zombies, The Cinematic Body cuts across disciplinary boundaries and seeks to engage new currents in critical thought.

Shaviro radically critiques the Lacanian model currently popular in film theory and film studies, arguing against that model’s obsessive emphasis on the phallus, castration anxiety, sadistic master, ideology, and the structure of the signifier.  In this groundbreaking volume, Shaviro effectively communicates a sense of the inescapable ambivalence and intensities of contemporary culture, ultimately affirming a thoroughly postmodern sensibility.

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Cinematic Identity

Anatomy of a Problem Film

Cindy Patton

Though largely forgotten today, the 1949 film Pinky had a significant impact on the world of cinema. Directed by Elia Kazan, the film was a box office success despite dealing with the era’s most taboo subjects—miscegenation and racial passing—and garnered an Academy Award nomination for its African American star, Ethel Waters. It was also historically important: when a Texas movie theater owner showing the film was arrested for violating local censorship laws, his case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled the censorship ordinance unconstitutional.


In Cinematic Identity, Cindy Patton takes Pinky as a starting point to meditate on the critical reception of this and other “problem films” of the period and to explore the larger issues they raise about race, gender, and sexuality. It was films like Pinky, Patton contends, that helped lay the groundwork for a shift in popular understanding of social identity that was essential to white America’s ability to accept the legitimacy of the civil rights movement.


The production of these films, beginning with 1949’s Gentleman’s Agreement, coincided with the arrival of the Method school of acting in Hollywood, which demanded that performers inhabit their characters’ lives. Patton historicizes these twin developments, demonstrating how they paralleled, reflected, and helped popularize the emerging concept of the liberal citizen in postwar America, and in doing so illustrates how the reception of projected identities offer new perspectives on contemporary identity politics, from feminism to the gay rights movement.


Cindy Patton holds the Canadian Research Chair in Community Culture and Health at Simon Fraser University, where she is professor of women’s studies and sociology. Her books include Inventing AIDS, Fatal Advice: How Safe-Sex Education Went Wrong, and Globalizing AIDS (Minnesota, 2002).

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Critical Environments

Postmodern Theory and the Pragmatics of the “Outside”

Cary Wolfe

Taking up the problem that has stalled contemporary theory—its treatment of the object of knowledge, the “outside,” as nothing but what a particular discourse makes of it—this book suggests a solution: a reinvigorated, posthumanist form of pragmatism.

Author Cary Wolfe investigates three of the most significant strains of postmodern theory (pragmatism, systems theory, and poststructuralism) and shows how each confronts the specter of an “outside” not wholly constituted by discourses, language games, and interpretive communities. He then assesses these confrontations in light of an essentially pragmatic view of theory, one that constantly asks what practical and material difference it makes, and to whom, how these issues are negotiated. Wolfe concludes by comparing the pragmatist view of the relation of theory to politics with important work in contemporary post-Marxism. In arguing for a pragmatist orientation for postmodern theory, Wolfe deploys continental critical theory to avoid the nativism and “American exceptionalism” that has traditionally accompanied pragmatist philosophy.

Unique in its collation of major theorists rarely considered together, Critical Environments incorporates detailed discussions of the work of Richard Rorty, Walter Benn Michaels, Stanley Cavell, Humberto Maturana, Francisco Varela, Niklas Luhmann, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Fredric Jameson, and others, and ranges across fields from feminist philosophy of science to the theory of ideology. Wolfe draws on recent work in systems theory to articulate a properly postmodern pragmatism. In doing so, he offers American readers a detailed introduction to systems theory, which he situates and critiques in the broader context of philosophical pragmatism, the theory of democratic social antagonism, and materialist theories of ideology, knowledge, and power. An answer to the widespread charge of relativism leveled against postmodern theory, his work will enhance and inspire new kinds of critical thought.

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Globalizing Aids

Cindy Patton

As AIDS began to appear around the "global village" in the early 1980s, the closeness brought by new technologies no longer promised wondrous cultural exchange; instead it made possible the transmission of a frightening new kind of disease. International scientific institutions and news organizations quickly constructed a "place" for AIDS in the global imaginary: from the heart of Africa and gay bathhouses in San Francisco to the back streets of Southeast Asia and poverty-stricken neighborhoods in the United States. Such simplistic accounts helped recycle racist ideas about Africans and Asians, intensified homophobic visions of irresponsible gay sexuality, and ignored the scientific and human reality of local experiences of the epidemic. In Globalizing AIDS, pioneering cultural critic Cindy Patton looks at the complex interaction between modern science, media coverage, and local activism during the first decade of the epidemic. Patton's critique of both the production of scientific credibility and the implementation of public health policy at the local level offers a bold reevaluation of how we think about AIDS and an innovative approach to the reality of the disease.

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Constituent Power And The Modern State

Antonio Negri

At a time when political paradigms are collapsing, and the death of Marxism and the Left is proclaimed, Insurgencies offers an intellectually invigorating and historically wide-ranging appraisal of the real legacy and promise of revolutionary thought and practice. At the center of this book is the conflict between “constituent power,” the democratic force of revolutionary innovation, and “constituted power,” the fixed power of formal constitutions and central authority. This conflict, Antonio Negri argues, defines the drama of modern rebellions, from Machiavelli’s Florence and Harrington’s England to the American, French, and Russian revolutions. Insurgencies leads to a new notion of how power and action must be understood if we are to achieve a radically democratic future.

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Labor Of Dionysus

A Critique of the State-Form

Michael Hardt

“Labor is the living, form-giving fire,” Marx wrote. “It is the transitoriness of things, their temporality, as their transformation by living time.” How is it, then, that labor, with all its life-affirming potential, has become the means of capitalist discipline, exploitation, and domination in modern society? The authors expose and pursue this paradox through a systematic analysis of the role of labor in the processes of capitalist production and in the establishment of capitalist legal and social institutions. Critiquing liberal and socialist notions of labor and institutional reform from a radical democratic perspective, Hardt and Negri challenge the state-form itself. In the twentieth century, labor has become central to the material and formal constitution of the State, as a complex nexus of value and right. And yet, in living labor and social cooperation, which cut across the divisions of workdays and wage relations, the authors identify a total critique of capitalist practice as well, presenting not only the negation of the present social order but also the affirmation of an alternative system of value, norms, and desires. The forms in which this potential is expressed, from the social movements of the 1960s to those of the 1990s, are the “prerequisites of communism” already existing in contemporary society.

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Means Without End

Notes on Politics

Giorgio Agamben

An essential reevaluation of the proper role of politics in contemporary life. In this critical rethinking of the categories of politics within a new sociopolitical and historical context, the distinguished political philosopher Giorgio Agamben builds on his previous work to address the status and nature of politics itself. Bringing politics face-to-face with its own failures of consciousness and consequence, Agamben frames his analysis in terms of clear contemporary relevance. He proposes, in his characteristically allusive and intriguing way, a politics of gesture—a politics of means without end.Among the topics Agamben takes up are the "properly" political paradigms of experience, as well as those generally not viewed as political. He begins by elaborating work on biopower begun by Foucault, returning the natural life of humans to the center of the polis and considering it as the very basis for politics. He then considers subjects such as the state of exception (the temporary suspension of the juridical order); the concentration camp (a zone of indifference between public and private and, at the same time, the secret matrix of the political space in which we live); the refugee, who, breaking the bond between the human and the citizen, moves from marginal status to the center of the crisis of the modern nation-state; and the sphere of pure means or gestures (those gestures that, remaining nothing more than means, liberate themselves from any relation to ends) as the proper sphere of politics. Attentive to the urgent demands of the political moment, as well as to the bankruptcy of political discourse, Agamben’s work brings politics back to life, and life back to politics.Giorgio Agamben teaches philosophy at the Collège International de Philosophie in Paris and at the University of Macerata in Italy. He is the author of Language and Death (1991), Stanzas (1992), and The Coming Community (1993), all published by the University of Minnesota Press.

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Thinking, Culture, Speed

William E. Connolly

Why would a political theorist venture into the nexus between neuroscience and film? According to William Connolly—whose new book is itself an eloquent answer—the combination exposes the ubiquitous role that technique plays in thinking, ethics, and politics. By taking up recent research in neuroscience to explore the way brain activity is influenced by cultural conditions and stimuli such as film technique, Connolly is able to fashion a new perspective on our attempts to negotiate-and thrive-within a deeply pluralized society whose culture and economy continue to quicken. In Neuropolitics Connolly draws upon recent brain/body research to explore the creative potential of thinking, the layered character of culture, the cultivation of ethical sensibilities, and the critical role of technique in all three. He then shows how a series of films-including Vertigo, Five Easy Pieces, and Citizen Kane-enhances our appreciation of technique and contests the linear image of time now prevalent in cultural theory. Connolly deftly brings these themes together to support an ethos of deep pluralism within the democratic state and a politics of citizen activism across states. His book is an original and rigorous study that attends to the creative possibilities of thinking in identity, culture, and ethics.

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