"Beyond the Binary offers a coherently presented collection of uniformly strong essays that speak to what is perhaps the most widely discussed, contested and conflicted topic in the study of US culture. It joins the growing body of work that seeks to move beyond identity politics and racial essentialism to formulate racial identity as a more complex series of social, cultural and political gestures." -Priscilla Wald, author of Constituting Americans: Cultural Anxiety and Narrative Form and Constituting Americans
Cultural studies have reached a theoretical impasse. As scholars continue to topple the previously entrenched concept of Eurocentrism, this field has fragmented into works covering many separate cultural enclaves. In the first wave of this "post-Eurocentric" scholarship, a binary model ensued, using the designations of "Self" and "Other:" i.e., black/white, gay/straight. This model, however, also has found disfavor. As a result, recent scholarship has focused on a single group studied in isolation.
What is needed is a new critical phase of reconstruction that will bring discussion of these disparate cultural enclaves back into a more organized, critical sphere. Researchers must have the necessary conceptual tools so they can study the ways in which cultures overlap, intersect, or else violently conflict with one another.
Beyond the Binary: Reconstructing Cultural Identity in a Multicultural Context addresses this theoretical impasse by proposing new critical models that fully engage the dilemmas posed by multiculturalism. Rather than becoming entangled in the polarizing rhetoric of the culture wars, these essays are firmly grounded in the lived perplexities of specific historical moments. One piece, for example, considers the cultural identity of "freaks" exhibited in P. T. Barnum's circus, the contested place of hemophiliacs within Queer Nation, and "white" working-class musicians who proudly proclaim themselves to be "black lesbians."
Beyond the Binary is meant to be read in its entirety as a many-voiced narrative dedicated to bringing the divisions within cultural studies back into contact with one another. By doing so, Powell ushers in a new era of multicultural analysis that recognizes the historical existence of racism, yet also acknowledges the dynamic fluidity of cultural identity.
"Professor Davidson---an accomplished literary critic---offers a focused and balanced analysis of poetry, film, and the arts honed with his excellent knowledge of the latest advances in disability studies. He is brilliant at reading texts in a sophisticated and aesthetically pleasurable way, making Concerto for the Left Hand one of the smartest books to date in disability studies."
---Lennard Davis, University of Illinois, Chicago
"Moving elegantly among social theorists and cultural texts, Davidson exemplifies and propels an ethical-aesthetic model for criticism. Davidson asks continuously and with a committed intensity 'where a disability ends and the social order begins' . . . this book brings the study of poetry and poetics into the twenty-first century."
---Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Temple University
Concerto for the Left Hand is at the cutting edge of the expanding field of disability studies, offering a wide range of essays that investigate the impact of disability across various art forms---including literature, performance, photography, and film. Rather than simply focusing on the ways in which disabled persons are portrayed, Michael Davidson explores how the experience of disability shapes the work of artists and why disability serves as a vital lens through which to interpret modern culture. Covering an eclectic range of topics---from the phantom missing limb in film noir to the poetry of American Sign Language---this collection delivers a unique and engaging assessment of the interplay between disability and aesthetics.
Written in a fluid, accessible style, Concerto for the Left Hand will appeal to both specialists and general audiences. With its interdisciplinary approach, this book should appeal not only to scholars of disability studies but to all those working in minority art, deaf studies, visual culture, and modernism.
Michael Davidson is Professor of American Literature at the University of California, San Diego. His other books include Guys Like Us: Citing Masculinity in Cold War Poetics and Ghostlier Demarcations: Modern Poetry and the Material World.
Guys Like Us considers how writers of the 1950s and '60s struggled to craft literature that countered the politics of consensus and anticommunist hysteria in America, and how notions of masculinity figured in their effort. Michael Davidson examines a wide range of postwar literature, from the fiction of Jack Kerouac to the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, Frank O'Hara, Elizabeth Bishop, and Sylvia Plath. He also explores the connection between masculinity and sexuality in films such as Chinatown and The Lady from Shanghai, as well as television shows, plays, and magazines from the period. What results is a virtuoso work that looks at American poetic and artistic innovation through the revealing lenses of gender and history.