Democratic Anarchy: Aesthetics and Political Resistance in U.S. Literature (Fordham University Press, July 2024)

At its core, Democratic Anarchy grapples with an uncomfortable truth inimical to democracy: both aesthetics and politics depend on inclusion and exclusion. To some extent this is obvious. Novels, poems, and political communities require form to organize and regulate their various parts, and any form implies selection. But “Democratic Anarchy” asks, how can “the people” be represented in a way that acknowledges what remains unrepresentable? What would it mean to face up to the constitutive exclusions that haunt U.S. democracy? In “Democratic Anarchy,” I read works of 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century American literature and art, especially those by women, people of color, and immigrants, alongside political rhetoric and legal documents to consider the longue durée of democracy in the U.S. These engagements reveal the synecdochic logic of democracy, where a part of the population is elevated to the exceptional status of “whole” in the service of formal representation. This movement of formalization denies the very exclusion on which that whole is based. The authors I study develop rhetorical strategies—including figural interruptions, excess, and disorder—to resist this double gesture of exclusion and false inclusion. Working at the intersection of Lacanian psychoanalysis, radical democratic theory, and American literary studies, I theorize American democracy’s “death drive.” This drive figures a “democratic anarchy” that insists on the radical equality betrayed by the police-like arrangements of formal, synecdochic democracy and disrupts the logic of exclusion and hierarchy organizing the police order: what ought not appear suddenly does so to antagonize the very rules governing appearing. I thus offer a new account of literature’s political force, locating it not in reassuring visions of egalitarian democracy but in operations that resist forms of hierarchical regulation.


Peer-Reviewed Articles:

Tautological Revisions: Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys and the Construction of Black Life,” SPELL: Swiss Papers in English Language and Literature 42 (2023): 83-101.

Melville’s Obsessional Form: Disjunction and Refusal in ‘Benito Cereno,’” European Journal of American Studies 18.3 (7 Sept. 2023).

“Horrible Beauty: Robin Coste Lewis’s Black Aesthetic Practice,” Postmodern Culture 32.2 (Jan. 2022):

“Democratic Aesthetics: Scenes of Political Violence and Anxiety in Nari Ward and Ocean Vuong,” American Literature 93.4 (Dec. 2021): 685-712.

“Resistance and Revolution: Fanon, Himes, and ‘a literature of combat,’” African American Review 54.3 (Fall 2021): 199-217.

“Anarchival Dislocations: Modes of Reading (in) Black Studies,” Diacritics: A Review of Contemporary Criticism 48.1 (2020): 4-28.

“Plasticity at the Violet Hour: Tiresias, The Waste Land, and Poetic Form,” JML: Journal of Modern Literature 41.3 (Spring 2018): 166-182.

Available as a « featured essay » here.

Book Chapters:

“Wayward Possibilities: Errant Black Women and the Intimacies of Freedom,” invited chapter, Post-Politics and the Aesthetic Imagination (in process)

Other Publications:

« Seductions of Metaphor: On Ocean Vuong’s Time Is a Mother, » Southern Humanities Review (28 July 2023).

The Triple Antagonist of the Police, Policing, and Policy,” CounterPunch (31 July 2020).

Disordering Modernism: On T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land,” A Closer Look at JML 41.3, Indiana University Press Blog (August 2018).


(with Nell Wasserstrom and Carolyn Shread) Jacques Rancière, Y a-t-il un art communiste? (unpublished in French), Une conference de Jacques Rancière, Grand Palais, Exposition: Rouge: Art et utopie au pays des Soviets, Paris, FR, 10 April 2019 (English: “Does Communist Art Exist?” Critical Inquiry 48.3 [Spring 2022]: 459-474).

Book Reviews:

Review of Sergio Benvenuto’s Conversations with Lacan: Seven Lectures for Understanding LacanAmerican Imago, 77.4 (Winter 2020): 772-785.

Review of Audrey Wasser’s The Work of Difference: Modernism, Romanticism, and the Production of Literary FormSubStance: A Review of Theory and Literary Criticism, 48.1 (2019): 113-117.

“The Power of the People,” Review of Scott Henkel’s Direct Democracy: Collective Power, the Swarm, and the Literatures of the Americassx salon: a small axe literary platform 29 (October 2018).

Review of Philip Lorenz’s Tears of Sovereignty: Perspectives of Power in Renaissance DramaMLN (Modern Language Notes) 129.5 (December 2014): 1238-1240.

“Musical Literature: Bridging the Gap between High and Low Art,” Review of T. Austin Graham’s The Great American Songbooks: Musical Texts, Modernism, & the Value of Popular CultureTwentieth-Century Literature 59.3 (Fall 2013): 504-512.