Thursday, March 2, 2017

Eva Cherniavsky's "Neocitizenship"

Eva Cherniavsky is the Andrew R. Hilen Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Washington. She is the author of Incorporations, Race, Nation and the Body Politics of Capital (2006) and That Pale Mother Rising: Sentimental Discourses and the Imitation of Motherhood in 19th-C. America (1995).

Cherniavsky applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Neocitizenship: Political Culture after Democracy, and reported the following:
As it happens, page 99 of Neocitizenship is part of a long, close- reading of a novel, Paul Beatty’s brilliant satire, The White Boy Shuffle. So it does not particularly lend itself to being cited out of context. The book as a whole is concerned with what I term the divorce of capitalism from democracy. Modern democratic governments have always represented the interest of proprietors, to be sure. But historically, the state’s dedication to private property lives in tension with the structures of representative democracy and the requirement to serve, or at least to appear to serve, a general, public interest. Central to what we term “neoliberalism” is the retreat of the state from any obligation to represent a people, and I am interested in what happens to the idea and the practice of citizenship when the institutions of popular sovereignty are hollowed out and dismantled. In chapter three, I read Beatty’s novel as a meditation on, if not precisely an answer to this question. His African American protagonists have given up on the demand for recognition and redress by the neoliberal state; as the narrator points out, he has no expectation that a polity which has yet to respect black lives will ever do so. The novel considers what alternative forms of political agency can be imagined in this context: in particular, what forms of action and of community become possible when the aim is no longer to demonstrate one’s qualifications for inclusion, but to survive and to organize in the face of a punitive surveillance state and the unchecked reign of markets. Interestingly, in the novel, the narrator’s ascendance as a new kind of political figure is subtly linked with his receptive (hetero)sexuality, hence the discussion, on page 99, of the relation between sexual and political orientations.
Learn more about Neocitizenship at the NYU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue