University Press Week: What’s #NextUP in publishing?

Happy University Press Week! Help us celebrate university presses November 14-18. Since 2012, members of the Association of University Presses have participated in an annual celebration of University Presses. Following the example of the first University Press week, proclaimed by US President Jimmy Carter in the summer of 1978, this event recognizes the impact that a global community of university presses has on every one of us.

This year’s theme for Up Week is “Next UP.” This is meant to highlight the dedicated work performed by those in the university press community to seek out, engage, advance, and promote the latest scholarship, ideas, best practices, and technology.

The #UPweek blog tour today features “What’s #NextUP in publishing?” Posts on today’s topic, showcasing what fellow University Press’ are looking forward to, come from Temple University Press, University Press of Kansas, University of Pittsburgh Press, Duke University Press, University of Minnesota Press, University of North Carolina Press, Leuven University Press, University Press of Kentucky, University of Notre Dame Press, Hopkins Press, University Press of Florida, University of Michigan Press, University Press of Mississippi, University of Alabama Press, Yale University Press, Texas A&M University Press, Penn State University Press, Purdue University Press, University of Washington Press, University of Toronto Press, and University of Illinois Press.

For our contribution, series editors Marco Abel and Roland Végsö will be discussing their Provocations series. By publishing short books from multiple disciplinary perspectives, “Provocations” hopes to serve as a forum for the kind of theoretical experimentation that we consider to be the very essence of thought.

To learn more about our Provocations series, check out the journal’s website or follow the series on Twitter!

On “Provocations”

The world provokes thought. Thinking is nothing but the human response to this provocation. Thus, the very nature of thought is to be the product of a provocation. In this spirit, the title of our book series, Provocations, does not simply designate the empty rhetorical gesture of causing trouble for trouble’s sake. A true act of provocation has nothing to do with the egotistical gesture of the contrarian who provokes merely to prove that they are the master of their own rhetoric. Instead, provocation is an experimental response to the historical necessity to act, to bring about change. Unlike the contrarian, we refuse to reduce provocation to a passive noun or a state of being. Rather, we believe that genuine moments of provocation are constituted by a series of actions that are best defined by verbs or even infinitives—verbs in a modality of potentiality, of the promise of action. To provoke is to intervene in the present by speaking truth to power and challenging authority; to invoke an as yet undecided future radically different from what is declared to be possible in the present; and in so doing to arouse the desire for bringing about change, indeed, to effect change. Provocations, then, seeks to create a forum for the kind of theoretical experimentation that we consider to be the very essence of cutting-edge work in the humanities. Rather than using as our model the classic academic monograph that contributes to human knowledge by addressing a specific technical problem within a restricted field, the books we seek to publish would be closer to the genres of the manifesto, the pamphlet, the intervention, or the polemical essay—books that take a very strong stand on a contemporary debate or issue within the humanities and propose a clearly formulated (even if controversial) intervention.

Since our first publication in 2016, Frank Ruda’s Abolishing Freedom: A Plea for a Contemporary Use of Fatalism (which has been translated into Turkish and Slovenian), Provocations has published seven short theoretical interventions into contemporary debates within the humanities and social science. Whereas Ruda pushes us to question traditional liberal valorizations of “freedom,” Scott Ferguson’s Declarations of Dependence: Money, Aesthetics, and the Politics of Care (2018) advocates for a vision of collective flourishing that can be brought about through re-imagining what money is through the lens of Modern Monetary Theory. Both theorists stand fundamental concepts on their respective heads: freedom is not a capacity; money is not scarce. In our third provocation, Jeffrey T. Nealon, in turn, invites readers of I’m Not Like Everybody Else: Biopolitics, Neoliberalism, and American Popular Music (2018) to reflect on how in the age of biopolitics popular music has assumed a key node in neoliberalism’s attention economy not because of what it means but because of how contemporary listeners relate to and do things with what they listen to. And just as Nealon targets the valorization of “authenticity” precisely because of how it feeds the engine of the contemporary regime of power, so Lawrence Venuti, in Contra Instrumentalism: A Translation Polemic (2019), targets the dominant mode of translation practice—what he calls “instrumentalism”—for its investment in representing an invariant source text (i.e., the authentic text) and provocatively argues that translation is necessarily an interpretative act defined by the translator’s actions more than the translated text’s “inherent” (allegedly invariant, authentic) meaning. These arguments have managed to ruffle some readers’ critical feathers, as is evident from a range of what we call “counter-provocations” that we publish on our web journal, www.provocationsbooks.com.

Speaking of ruffling feathers: In The People Are Missing: Minor Literature Today (2021), Gregg Lambert revisits Gilles Deleuze’s famous arguments relating to the revolutionary goals of “minor literature” and, along the way, offers a critique of how it has been taken up in several disciplines, including postcolonial studies, and issues a call to arms in form of the need to “kill all the critics” and “close all the creative writing factories”: a provocation par excellence! And our two latest publications, Julia Schleck’s Dirty Knowledge: Academic Freedom in the Age of Neoliberalism (2022) and Oliver Davis and Tim Dean’s co-authored Hatred of Sex (2022), both have issued critical salvos bound to provoke readers because of how they go against the grain of well-established (and cherished) common-sense notions: that academic freedom is an individual right akin to “freedom of speech” and that the hatred of sex defining contemporary queer theory and #MeToo feminism feeds the fundamentally anti-democratic disposition of neoliberalism rather than contesting it.

Looking ahead, we are thrilled to have three exciting projects contracted. Provocations #8, to be published fall 2023, is Claire Colebrook’s Who Would You Kill to Save the World?, which argues that our currently dominant forms of post-apocalyptic culture and our equally popular narratives of resilience both fail to respond in an adequate manner to the reality of extinction. Also in the pipeline are books by Naomi Waltham-Smith on Free Listening (anticipated publication in spring 2024), which argues that we need to invent new modes of listening since “free listening” is the precondition of “free speech”; and Taija McDougall on the psychopolitics of Black Insurrection, which aims to define the political implications of Afropessimism by closely attending to the revolutionary leap of faith that occurs when one is Held Here by Nothing (anticipated publication in fall 2024).

With our first ten provocations already lined up, we are eager to continue publishing books that respond in productive and inspiring ways to the contemporary challenges posed by the current state of our world.

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