Book Review: Phantoms of a Beleaguered Republic: The Deep State and the Unitary Executive by Stephen Skowronek, John A. Dearborn, and Desmond King

The Trump presidency was a period of unrelenting drama. Trump was often joined at centre stage by members of his own administration, cast as his adversaries. He described these previously anonymous bureaucrats as members of a hidden ‘Deep State’ within the government scheming to undermine his control over the executive branch.[1] Trump viewed the Article II vesting clause, which states that ‘[t]he executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States’ as having lodged all executive power in the presidency and, under that unitary executive theory, considered any resistance to his will to be a constitutional offence. He moved to stamp out all opposition within the government; frequently, as if to confirm Trump’s allegations of a rogue bureaucracy, the bureaucracy fought back. Continue reading

Book Review: American Democratic Socialism: History, Politics, Religion, and Theory by Gary Dorrien

Over recent years, American democratic socialism has experienced a remarkable revival. This includes Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s electoral success, but also the transformation of institutions like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) from a 6,000-member organisation with an average age of 68 in the mid-2010s to a 94,915-strong group with an average age of 33 by 2021. But as Gary Dorrien uncovers in American Democratic Socialism: History, Politics, Religion and Theory, this politics has a history that stretches back long before today.   Continue reading

Book Review: Philosophy for Spiders: On the Low Theory of Kathy Acker by McKenzie Wark

McKenzie Wark’s work over the last decade and a half has delved into a remarkably vast array of themes and problems, running the gamut from the politics of forms of communication, to the relevance of early Soviet thought in the Anthropocene, via a series of books on the Situationist International. If there has been a common thread to these studies, it may be Wark’s account of low theory—a compellingly protean articulation of the possibilities for theoretical production from below, beyond the canonisation of High Theory. Continue reading

Book Review: Doris Derby: A Civil Rights Journey by Doris Derby

Sharecroppers labouring in Mississippi fields. African American women organising cooperatives to support their communities. Members of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The Free Southern Theatre, and the potential for theatre to be a catalyst for change. The centrality of Farish Street to Black life in Jackson, Mississippi. Medical clinics. Schools. Liberty House cooperative. Woodstock. Churches. Houses. Murals. Shootings. Funerals. Speeches. Families. Continue reading

Review: ‘Visibility/Invisibility: Representation and Community Formation in American Studies’, British Association of American Studies Postgraduate Symposium, Online, 4 December 2021.

One distinct advantage of the breadth of a field like American Studies is that the same prompt may be honestly engaged by a host of scholars without fear of repetition, only resonance. The unifying theme of the 2021 BAAS postgraduate symposium was ‘Visibility/Invisibility: Representation and Community Formation in American Studies’.… Continue reading

Book Review: The Republican Party and the War on Poverty: 1964-1981 by Mark McLay

In The Republican Party and the War on Poverty, Mark McLay analyses how the Grand Old Party (GOP) responded to Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, and the issue of poverty more broadly, between 1964 and 1981. He considers what Republican opposition to anti-poverty measures reveals about the GOP and wider US politics during this period. In chronological chapters, McLay examines continuity and change in Republican approaches to poverty. He shows persuasively how Republican reactions to the War on Poverty shaped the GOP’s enduring conservative, anti-statist, and racialised responses to poverty, alongside how anti-poverty measures were understood by the wider public, for years and decades to come. Continue reading

Book Review: Fictive Fathers in the Contemporary American Novel by Debra Shostak

‘Why is it’, Debra Shostak asks at the beginning of Fictive Fathers in the Contemporary American Novel, ‘that so many works of fiction of the last fifty years, especially those centring on relation within middle-class white families, are haunted by the figure of a father who […] fails his family or vanishes in actuality? […] What are the nature and sources of the originary image of paternal security and authority that cause disappointment, disruption, or trauma when an individual father falls short?’ (2). Powered by these questions, Fictive Fathers is centrally concerned with exploring the relationship that fathers have with fictionality. It explores the ‘double meaning embedded in the titular “fictive fathers”’: in one sense about the representation of fathers in recent fictional texts, but also how these texts narrate the ‘fathers for (and by) whom the pervasive construction of traditional white fatherhood in the United States is laid bare as illusory’. For Shostak, ‘this “fictive” fatherhood constitutes a myth, on the social plane, and a fantasy, on the personal plane’ (3). Continue reading

Review: ANZASA 2021 (Online)

As the Australia and New Zealand American Studies Association met for its biannual conference on November 24-25th, the conference’s key themes of ‘American Crisis’ and ‘American Renewal’ were kept in an incredibly fine balance. Hosted by the Macquarie School of Social Sciences, ANZASA 2021 was the Association’s first pandemic-era conference… Continue reading

Book Review: Revolutionaries for the Right: Anticommunist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare by Kyle Burke

By its very nature, the American New Right was destined to have an ambiguous relationship with the state. A movement fusing Cold War hawks, social conservatives, and economic libertarians, it on the one hand called for handing over considerable amounts of money and authority to the state for ‘national security’ while on the other demanding that same state be severely restricted in its control over any aspect of national life deemed ‘the economy.’ Kyle Burke’s fascinating and illuminating book, Revolutionaries for the Right, proves that this ambiguity went deeper than the mere results of coalition politics – and, in doing so, provides a window onto the origins of the political forces that have increasingly displaced the New Right following the 2016 US presidential election. Continue reading

Book Review: Black Paper: Writing in a Dark Time by Teju Cole

The breadth of Teju Cole’s oeuvre – novelist, essayist, photography critic, and photographer – has led many to describe him as a public intellectual. It’s a label Cole has expressed his discomfort with[1], in spite of his knack for presenting innovative work through social media, amongst them his Twitter short story Hafiz, and his consistently oblique photographs that knowingly jar with the dominant aesthetic on Instagram. The publication in 2010 of his second novel, Open City, saw him heralded as a major new writer, despite his novel being subtle, ambiguous and, on the surface, largely plotless. He followed Open City with the wider publication of his debut novel, Every Day is For the Thief, previously only published in Nigeria. He has since gone on to publish a collection of essays, Known and Strange Things, and three photobooks: Blind Spot, Fernweh and Golden Apple of the Sun. Black Paper is his second collection of essays. Continue reading