Authors and literary institutions are not often prominent objects of study in Cultural Studies—but they definitely could be and, as our very own Professor Denise Albanese shows, perhaps they still offer resources for understanding the current conjuncture. Dr. Albanese notes that while the rejection of a hierarchical dichotomy between so-called high and low culture was a founding gesture of the field of Cultural Studies, this “should not be the final word” on the nature of that relationship. Nor should the important work of Marxist critics of literature, such as Fredric Jameson and Raymond Williams, eclipse analyses positioned outside textual engagement and relating literature as a social formation and a form of labor to the political economy of neoliberalism. We recently sat down with Dr. Albanese to discuss her current research, which she sees as “an effort not to allow literature to fall out of the debate over cultural value.”
Her latest project, tentatively titled Feeling Shakespeare: Media, Political Economy, Affect, describes her current monograph as an extension of a previously published book chapter on affective responses to Shakespeare, in which she started from the premise that, increasingly, questions of value are market questions rather than aesthetic ones. This position has consequences for how we might reconsider the aesthetic, particularly in light of affect studies, which has often seemed confused about and even reluctant to acknowledge that feelings may have political consequences.
In her MS in progress, she is turning her attention to re-mediations, or mediated versions of Shakespeare, in order to trace the role of affect. Among her concerns are what she sees as an academic silence on historical embarrassments such as blackface in Laurence Olivier’s Othello. “That avoidance tells me an awful lot,” Dr. Albanese said of the matter, “about the need to keep Shakespeare in some sense innocent of certain kinds of criticism.” At the heart of this work is a simple question: “What if we don’t try to rescue Shakespeare” by closing our eyes to “obsolete,” offensive, or banal media representations and, instead, by also recognizing the possibility of a general fatigue generated by constant re-mediations of his works, emphasize what is historically particular and revelatory in both those mediations and the fatigue generated by them? Ultimately, Dr. Albanese’s work seeks to recognize Shakespeare and his work as inevitably imbricated in the contemporary market of cultural commodities, a recognition that has consequences for how we “feel” about any given instance of that work.
Looking ahead, Dr. Albanese also briefly spoke about her next research project, which focuses on the Santa Fe Institute, a research institution that emerged out of the Manhattan Project, and how algorithmic programming and mathematical modeling repositions the role of biopolitics in relation to market mechanisms. While the work is still in very speculative stages, Dr. Albanese is interested in questions of managing populations and what the Santa Fe Institute’s idea of complex systems analysis can tell us about how markets now consider people.
March 10, 2023