Friday, January 21, 2011

Whitney Strub

Whitney Strub is an assistant professor of history at Rutgers University, Newark. His writing has appeared in American Quarterly, Journal of the History of Sexuality, Journal of Social History, PopMatters, and Bad Subjects.

His new book is Perversion for Profit: The Politics of Pornography and the Rise of the New Right.

Recently, I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Life on the academic calendar, at least in my experience, means lots of reading but fairly little pleasure reading except during breaks and holidays. So I’m trying to make the most of this semester break with some things that’ll be tough to squeeze in once the grind resumes. Next up for me is Charles Willeford’s I Was Looking for a Street, a recently reissued autobiography from my nominee for America’s greatest-ever pulp novelist. I am a sucker for crime fiction in general, and few literary niches satisfy me more than the seedy, lurid 1950s hardboiled fiction that operated as both dimestore spectacle and unblinking critique of Ike’s America. Jim Thompson gets the most attention, but Willeford’s novels are even bleaker, taking perverse delight in exposing the much-vaunted “normalcy” of the decade as a fundamentally psychotic enterprise. His staggeringly grim—but hilarious—Pick Up might be my favorite novel of the decade, so I have high hopes for this memoir of growing up during the Depression—I’m sure it’ll be as brilliantly sardonic as everything else Willeford wrote.

Also on the fiction queue is Samuel Delany’s Phallos. Normally any novel whose back cover calls it “a Lacanian riddle to delight” would be immediately tossed into my maybe-if-I-live-forever-and-have-nothing-left-to-read pile, but Delany is perhaps the one exception to this rule. My admiration for this author knows no boundaries; as he evolved from young SF genre novelist in the early 1960s to memoirist of subterranean queer life in later decades, his work has been beautifully informed by critical theory and sharp analyses of race, sexuality, and gender—yet has remained compulsively readable across genres and styles, not an easy task. I regularly assign his anti-redevelopment polemic Times Square Red, Times Square Blue in my classes, because its fierce defense of stigmatized public-sex culture generates engaging classroom discussions of both heteronormativity and a homonormativity that would disavow porn-theater cruising. I’m not even sure exactly what Phallos is about beyond a grad student whose quest for an elusive porn novel leads into some sort of mediated exegesis of its ancient tale, but I’m looking forward to delving in. Hopefully without having to contend with Lacan; I’m on break, after all.

Of course, even on break I’m never free from the imperative of keeping abreast of current scholarship, and the recent academic book I’m most excited about is Marc Stein’s Sexual Injustice: Supreme Court Decisions from Griswold to Roe. Stein is an amazing historian, who wrote a community study of lesbian and gay Philadelphia (City of Sisterly and Brotherly Love) that ranks among the great works of LGBT history. His new book expands on an article he wrote a few years back on the ways the Court carefully patrolled the borders of sexual citizenship during the less-than-revolutionary so-called sexual revolution; that article very much informed my own work as a grad student, as I worked on the dissertation that became my book, so I can’t wait to see where Stein has taken his analysis in the new project.

Finally, a book that combines scholarly and personal interest for me is Lucas Hilderbrand’s Inherent Vice: Bootleg Histories of Videotape and Copyright. Hilderbrand takes a fascinating approach to VHS, combining an historical argument for its democratizing role in changing the ways people engage with media with a reading of the affective/nostalgic attachment to the format that persists among some despite its current obsolescence. I’m certainly hailed by this text; as someone who came of age scouring now-dead independent video stores for everything from Italian cannibal films in clamshell cases to forgotten Elliott Gould movies that have yet to appear on DVD, I find that Hilderbrand’s impassioned book resonates with me not just intellectually, but emotionally too—a rare feat for an academic monograph, and quite impressive.
Read more about Whitney Strub's Perversion for Profit at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue