All Tomorrow’s Parties

Peter Coviello’s new book, Tomorrow’s Parties, launches an innovative (and often
unexpected) exploration of nineteenth-century American sexuality through the lens of literature. Here, we talk with him about Joseph Smith, the Velvet Underground, and how he came about his cover image. 

NYU Press: Tell us a bit about your book.

Peter Coviello: Tomorrow’s Parties considers the strange forms pleasure, desire, and carnality could take in the writing of the American nineteenth century, just before these aspects of sex came to be reassembled under the sign of something called “sexuality.” It looks closely at imaginings of erotic life that can seem, to modern eyes, weird and unlikely, hard even to recognize as sex at all.

So I’m interested – when I’m reading Henry James or Harriet Jacobs or Joseph Smith – in
what a modern notion of sexuality might prevent us from seeing clearly, might mute or distort. In this way I think of the book as in dialogue not only with scholarship about sex in the American nineteenth century but with new queer work that worries over the adequacy of “sexuality” itself as a cherished bit of conceptual terminology. It’s my sense that a lot of us doing queer work today are wondering afresh at the misapprehending, sometimes colonizing tendencies of “sexuality” even in its queerest registers; so Tomorrow’s Parties tries to tell a story about how the emergence of that sexuality came to happen, and at what cost.

NYUP: Why the title, Tomorrow’s Parties? Are you a Velvet Underground

PC: I am. So there’s that. I also found a curious commonality across a lot
of the writers I was reading: a tendency to transform their own uneasiness with the
cramped, narrowing conceptual languages of erotic life that were available to them
into this ardent, yearning investment in futurity, and what might be possible there.
Again and again I encountered authors who, when gripped by one or another kind
of sensual intensity or bodily captivation, would begin dreaming of the future, of
some as yet unripened set of conditions under which those pleasures might find for
themselves a different kind of legibility, and perhaps even a way of living them out
in concert with a range of other people. The more I thought about that – and I do a
lot of my thinking surrounded by music – the more the phrase “tomorrow’s parties”
became inevitable.

NYUP: How did you find such a captivating image for the cover?

PC: This would’ve been in Brooklyn, I’m guessing, in the early 2000s. I was being led around a mazy gallery and feeling, I confess, a little out of my depth. Then I turned a corner and found myself abruptly transported.

Julie Heffernan’s paintings are strange without being surreal, classical but not imitative, painterly without being ironic. You look at them and feel unnerved, as though you’re seeing not a deft citation of classical style but that style as appraised
at a somehow estranging distance. There’s an eerie kind of rupture being staged in Self-Portrait in the Bedroom by the central figure – painted in outblown nonrealist extravagance – but of what? And by what? Of the antique Tintoretto-esque framing gestures by a present, or a future, that confounds it? Of an inherited order by all that fractures it: bodiliness, imagination, their pairing in sex?

Tomorrow’s Parties is about rupture: about all that might be lost – all the
extravagant ways of imagining the very parameters of sex – with the ascent of
modern languages of sexuality and sexual identity. So when my great editor Eric
Zinner asked about images for the cover, I didn’t hesitate: I could think of no image
that performed that interplay between capture and excess, legibility and erotic
obliquity, more beautifully than Heffernan’s. I’m delighted to have it for the book

Peter Coviello is Professor of English at Bowdoin College, where he specializes in nineteenth-century American literature and queer studies, and where he has served as Chair of the departments of English, Africana Studies, and Gay and Lesbian Studies. His book, Tomorrow’s Parties: Sex and the Untimely in Ninteenth-Century America is out now from NYU Press.

New Spreadable Media essays: Week 3

We’re at week three since launching the online component of Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture!

Here are this week’s round of web exclusive essays written by selected contributors who have shaped the argument put forth in Spreadable Media:

  • The Value of Retrogames“—Bob Rehak, a film and media studies professor at Swarthmore College, examines how grassroots interest in residual media and culture may coalesce online, sparking new kinds of cultural practices and production.
  • Clothing has passed between different kinds of exchanges for centuries, acquiring different meanings and values in the process—and, in “A Global History of Secondhand Clothing,” filmmaker and MIT media historian Hanna Rose Shell traces and examines those shifting sartorial roles.
  • In “Retrobrands and Retromarketing,” York University professor Robert V. Kozinets discusses the strategies through which companies engage in “retrobranding,” reviving or relaunching brands from the past in ways that capitalize on existing fandoms and provide launching points for the creation of new markets.

Check ‘em out, and stay tuned at—where each week leading up to the book’s publication (in January 2013!), a new batch of exclusive essays will be released.

(And hey! Feel free to debate/critique/trash each piece in the comments section. Expand the conversation, transform the ideas. That’s how spreadable media works.)

For Patriot Day, a round-up of 9/11 books

In honor of Patriot Day (September 11), we’ve compiled a list of some of the best books on 9/11 published by NYU Press. Share your favorite 9/11 book with us by leaving a comment!

New York Writes after September 11
Edited by Ulrich Baer
August 2004. $22.
“Short-short stories and poems by New York writers are the collection’s raison d’Etre, but personal testimony creeps in as well. The best entries approach the subject most obliquely or humorously—Jonathan Ames’s Nabokovian ‘Womb Shelter,’ David Hollander’s moving ‘The Price of Light and Air,’ Nathalie Handal’s lovely ‘The Lives of Rain,’ Lev Grossman’s hilarious ‘Pitching September 11,’ among many others…Overall, this collection proves the transformative power of art.”—Publishers Weekly



Media Coverage and the Making of 9/11
Brian A. Monahan
March 2010. $24.
The Shock of the News is a must-read for researchers engaged in media analyses or studying anything related to the September 11th terrorist attacks. It would be an excellent addition to undergraduate and graduate classes in media analyses or media and society.”
—Michelle D. Byng, Critical Sociology


Race and Representation after 9/11
Evelyn Alsultany
August 2012. $23.
“Drawing on a rich understanding of the representations of Arabs and Muslims in the last century, Alsultany helps us to understand what has changed, and what has not, in the last ten years.”—Melani McAlister, George Washington University



Community and Neighborhood Recovery at Ground Zero
Gregory Smithsimon
October 2011. $24.
“Scientifically exacting and warmly personal, Smithsimon elucidates the residents’ struggles from survival to recovery, the coalescence of community groups, and the debates over redevelopment and the Ground Zero memorial. A well-illustrated, critical, yet sympathetic study of privilege and catastrophe that ultimately celebrates the vitality and diversity of a great city.”—Booklist


Also of Interest:
Confronting America’s New Global Detention System
Jonathan Hafetz
August 2012. $24.

Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse
Edited by Marjorie Cohn
April 2012. $24.

See any we missed? Let us know in the comments section!

Notes from Betsy…on Single

Our rock-star publicist, Betsy Steve, lover of books and all things media, is here to share one of her favorites from this month. Get ready!

Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled by Michael Cobb has received quite a bit of media attention not just because of its beautiful cover (which, by the way, is Bernice Abbott’s Cocteau in Bed with Mask, Paris, 1927) or its quirky 5″x9″ trim size (think travel guide dimensions), but because it fits so perfectly with the recently reported changing dynamic of the United States’ population: More and more people are choosing singledom over coupledom.

In fact, in New York and Washington D.C. alone, one in two households are occupied by someone who is single. And, as Michael Cobb would argue in his book, there’s nothing wrong with that. For too long, the single person has been unjustifiably maligned and pitied by society. As Michael tells Maclean’s Brian Bethune in an interview, “I had a lot of frustration with why singles weren’t being represented. We were always pre- or post-coupled—widows or bachelors or divorcees, unfortunates of some kind. Just a really awful category.”

In Single, Michael takes readers through an eclectic set of literary, cultural, philosophical, psychoanalytical, and pop culture pieces that celebrate the uncoupled, providing a much-needed counter voice to the chorus of the coupled. Don’t miss interviews with Michael from Wisconsin Public Radio, the Toronto Star, the CBC,, as well as reviews from the Toronto Globe and Mail and featured excerpts on the Wall Street Journal’s “Speakeasy.”

Rocking Out to Single

—Jiayi Ying

My first day on the job at NYU Press, I had two emails waiting for me. One was to get my ID approved for building access, the second was an assignment to brainstorm and research creative ways to get the word out for an upcoming release called Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled. Getting right down to work, I thought—I liked it. After finally willing away my first day jitters, what really got me excited about the project was the fact that one, it dealt with—argued for, in fact—being single, and two, it promised to dissect Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” to make its case. (I don’t know about you but, aside from that Australian fly being named after her a couple of years ago, I hardly think of academic books and Beyoncé in the same train of thought.)

So to say I was excited is an understatement—I was really excited. And, after finally finishing the book, I found myself with a list of songs, TV shows, movies, and books that Michael Cobb had discussed in those 239 pages. Something needed to be done with them, so my lovely supervisor, Jodi, and I compiled a playlist of the songs. For good measure, we asked everyone around the office for their recommendations (because the best things in life are shared, you guys). The result is this mix below, courtesy of Single, and NYU Press’s marketing and sales departments. Enjoy!

[You can also listen here.]

Jiayi Ying is Online Marketing and Social Media Intern at NYU Press. Be sure to look out for her forthcoming profile in our Meet the Interns series on this blog.

Singles, rejoice!

From Liz Lemon to Melville’s Bartleby, the ones who prefer not two

by Michael Cobb, author of Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled (forthcoming this July)

I used to nurse my single self each Valentine’s Day by blasting Morrissey’s “Will Never Marry.” His voice is softly defiant: “I’m writing this to say / In a gentle way / Thank you, but no / I will live my life as I will undoubtedly die, alone.” How could I resist such self-indulgent melancholy? Morrissey is a fascinating single icon, refusing confirmations of his sexual identity, reveling in his secrecy about whom, if anyone, he has kissed.

This ritual of Morrissey devotion drove a friend crazy: How could I celebrate a life without marriage? How could I appreciate being single, which he, like so many coupled people, assumed is a terribly lonely thing to be? According to my friend, who was in a romantic relationship, I was too comfortable in my singleness.

To choose single life is to choose the scent of rotting vegetables and unused product portions drifting out of the fridge; the numerous wedding invitations with an “and guest” violently scrawled next to your name; the pathetic glances of people saddened that you have nothing of substance to report about a “love life”; and the perplexed utterances of wait staff asking, “Just you?” One might think being single is a condition that must be cured—and certainly not one to take lightly. (This is why Liz Lemon is such a refreshing antidote. In more than a few scenes of “30 Rock” we watch her, alone in her apartment, eat something, choke, and self-administer her own Heimlich maneuver to be saved from death, at least this time. Last season she recovered from a breakup by adopting a cat, which she petulantly names after one of the most famous American singles, Emily Dickinson.)

But I know that the moments I’ve felt the loneliest are when I’ve been in a relationship, wondering why there’s so much distance when there should only be closeness. The coupled are supposed to be the lucky ones, so why all this sadness? Is it possible that the coupled inoculate themselves against this haunting sense of disconnect by refusing it away, and pushing their confusion onto the single, insisting, again and again, that it’s the single who are lonely, not they?

With Emily Dickinson (Liz’s cat) in mind, it might not seem so unlikely that “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” Herman Melville’s 19th-century story of a stubborn, insubordinate law copyist and the lawyer who can’t seem to fire him, offers up a solution to the age-old conundrum of what to make of a “lonely,” single person on Valentine’s Day.

The barebones of the plot: A lawyer hires a scrivener to help with his paperwork. Bartleby is an excellent scrivener, but will only perform the very mechanical task he was originally asked to do: copy. He does not deviate from his job description (at least at first), and when asked to do more, or something else, he famously states, “I’d prefer not to.” Throughout the course of the story, the lawyer attempts to engage Bartleby in all sorts of office tasks, and most requests are met with Bartleby’s, “I’d prefer not to.”

Here is where things get interesting. Instead of dismissing him, the incredulous lawyer only becomes more curious: Who is this strange character? He puts it this way: “There was something about Bartleby that not only strangely disarmed me, but in a wonderful manner touched and disconcerted me.”

Let’s imagine that the touched and disconcerted feelings of Melville’s lawyer are of the romantic variety. After pages of nearly obsessive infatuation, the lawyer makes a bold move. “‘Bartleby,’ said I, in the kindest tone I could assume under such exciting circumstances, ‘will you go home with me now—not to my office, but my dwelling . . . ?” Bartleby rejects this offer, and the lawyer, as if heartbroken, flees the office, running up Wall Street (to Broadway no less).

Bartleby spends most of his time contentedly absorbed in his own whims and interests, his own “wall-like reveries.” And he has the power to do the unthinkable: Refuse to be coupled. In a way, he says to the lawyer, and perhaps the world, “I’d prefer not you, ” or maybe even, “I’d prefer not two.”

The lawyer describes Bartleby’s refusal to be involved in the world of others in pathetic terms, punctuating his sadness by exclaiming, “Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!” But this is his perspective, his bias. The mistake the lawyer makes is that he’s not inspired by Bartleby’s example. He assumes that single Bartleby is lonely and must be coupled off. He strives to make Bartleby his own; the scrivener is “a valuable acquisition.” The lawyer is more predatory than appreciative. And he doesn’t realize that he is the one who is most unsettled, most forlorn, in the story.

The key to understanding anything about single life in a world rabidly devoted to the supremacy of coupling off is to think of a single character who can strip away all the sad and pathetic descriptions that are placarded on singles by those who don’t feel singles could ever exist happily or grandly alone. Here’s a pantheon of some of my other favorite real-life Bartleby’s: Georgia O’Keefe, Agnes Martin, David Souter, Octavia Butler, Janet Reno, Proust, Baudelaire, and so on.

These people made the world a richer, if not larger place without the romantic support the coupled world deems so invaluable. Yet rather than view the singles in our midst as those who might also harbor such extraordinary powers, we view them with suspicion, as the ones who are supposed to be much lonelier than those who are coupled. Why not regard them with curiosity and even possibly affection and leave it at that? We can marvel at their self-possession. The single’s value, like anyone’s value (coupled or not), surely exceeds any one relationship in his or her story. And that story need not be any more or less tragic than anyone else’s.

Michael Cobb is Professor of English at the University of Toronto. He is the author of God Hates Fags: The Rhetorics of Religious Violence, also published by New York University Press.

A Valentine’s Day for the bookish!

In honor of Valentine’s Day, we’re skipping the chocolate hearts and giving you 20% off a few of our loveliest books. Check out the few featured below. Or, for a list of all the discounted titles, visit the sale page on our website! Sale ends on February 20th.

For the lonely hearts – Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled, by Michael Cobbs
$21.00 / now $16.80  ♥

“Using the rhythms of banter, suggestion, and devilish claims, Cobb pits the brio, the grandeur of singleness against the deadening form of the couple… as beautiful as it is brilliant.”–Kathryn Bond Stockton, author of The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century

For the non-traditionalists — Unhitched: Love, Marriage, and Family Values from West Hollywood to Western China, by Judith Stacey
$21.00 / now $16.80  ♥

“Clever and practical blend of research, history and anecdote.”–Kirkus Reviews

For the romantics Love Lyrics, by Ámaru and Bhartri·hari
$22.00 / now $17.60  ♥

“Anyone who loves the look and feel and heft of books will delight in these elegant little volumes.”–New Criterion


For the cynics – Modern Love: Romance, Intimacy, and the Marriage Crisisby David Shumway
$23.00 / now $18.40  ♥

“… illuminates the complexities of an important recent development in American marital ideals.”–Journal of American History


For the lit lovers – Lover, by Bertha Harris 
$23.00 / now $18.40  ♥

“[A] spellbinding, verbal sleight of hand as satisfying as it is serpentine.”–Washington Post Book World


Spring Staff Picks: Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled

Name and role at the Press: Margie Guerra, Assistant to the Director and Subsidiary Rights Administrator

Book selection, and why:  Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled

There are many reasons why I’m excited about Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled by Michael Cobb, but the main one has to do with Eleanor Rigby.  The Beatles don’t give us a whole lot of information about her in the song, just the vitals: Eleanor’s been known to (creepily) collect rice in churches where happy couples were just married.  When she died, nobody came to the funeral.  Oh, and she keeps her face “in a jar by the door.”  Is loneliness what drove Eleanor to be so odd?  How should I think about this strange lady? Why is Eleanor’s being alone both frightening and sad all at the same time?  (And will my face fall off if I’m single for too long?!)


In some ways, Michael Cobb’s Single is the antidote to those horrible feelings you get when listening to “Eleanor Rigby.”  In Single, Cobb aims to understand why singledom – that is, the state of being single – is perceived as a threat to the social fabric; why it’s thought of as a “problem” to be “solved” by entering into a couple.  (Anyone who has experienced the discomfort of being the “third wheel” has felt the ripple-effect of this sort of thinking.)  Cobb makes his case by deftly examining singleness in a wide range of literary, cultural, philosophical, andpsychoanalytical texts; he looks at work (textual and otherwise) by Plato, Freud, Ralph Ellison, Herman Melville, Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Morrissey, Georgia O’Keeffe, Hannah Arendt to the Bible, Sex and the CityBridget Jones’ Diary, Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It),” and HBO’s Big Love.  Cobb questions the “supremacy of the couple form,” and asks the reader to think about singles – in literature and in life, for Ms. Rigby and her real-life counterparts – as less menacing, less pathetic figures.

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

IF YOU have a favorite book from our spring catalog to add, then let us know by leaving a comment describing why it’s your pick. You could win a free copy of the book of your choice, and a feature on the blog!

Congratulations to Darieck Scott, winner of the ALAN BRAY MEMORIAL BOOK AWARD

We’d like to congratulate Darieck Scott, author of Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power, and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imaginationfor winning this year’s ALAN BRAY MEMORIAL BOOK AWARD! The award is given to the best book in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer studies in literature and cultural studies from the GL/Q Caucus of the Modern Language Association. 

The Awards Committee found Extravagant Abjection to be “an elegantly written and thoroughly researched study, which helps push queer studies in exciting and imperatively new directions.”

The award will be presented at the MLA Convention in Seattle at the GL/Q Cash Bar event on Saturday, January 7, 8:45-10:00 p.m., Metropolitan B, Sheraton. Hope to see you there!

Guantanamo: The Reevaluation Begins Again

With some rough indications that intelligence from Guantanamo and the associated network of extra-legal prisons contributed to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, our nation is once again faced with tough questions about how it wants to pursue its most dangerous enemies. This comes on the heels of a very different development last week, when a new cache of documents from the Wikileaks trove demonstrated just how irrelevant to the fight some of the Guantanamo prisoners are.

We want to direct you again to our book, The Guantanamo Lawyers, and the associated online database of papers belonging and relating to the lawyers who have defended the inmates pro-bono. Their voices reveal some of the most important primary source material in the debate.

The Long-Term Costs of Amy Chua’s Crazy Parenting Essay

The Huffington Post runs a piece by erin Khue Ninh, author of the forthcoming book “Ingratitude: The Debt-Bound Daughter in Asian American Literature”, who argues that immigrant parents will still be reading the inflammatory article, which chronicles the success of extreme parenting without discussing the dangers, after the furor has passed.

Despite the frenzy of responses both in and now outside the Asian American community, however, I’ve not seen anyone name my deepest dismay about this essay. And as the piece continues to circulate — through the delayed but ever-widening network of emails forwarded — that neglected point becomes only more salient: Long after we have tired (as we have already begun to tire) of Facebook-posting or retweeting rebuttals and responses to Chua’s piece, it will still be finding its way to Asian parents like my own.

In light of this, to the extent that the book and essay do not align, the essay is more reprehensible, not less.

Because you see, the WSJ essay will reach these immigrant parents without context. It will not be accompanied by the outpouring of blogs and comments, testifying that parenting methods like those the article champions have driven their writers (or siblings) to therapy (or suicide). Neither will it be accompanied by Yang’s article nor Chua’s book, in which latter the author says she has beat a partial retreat from these methods — finding their destructive costs too high.

Two Parties at MLA: For ALI and for a new short story collection

Join NYU Press for two parties (i.e. free food & booze) at the Modern Language Association‘s annual meeting in Los Angelese this week.

Friday, from 4-5pm, in the American Literatures Initiative booth (217A), come celebrate the most recent books the ALI has published, which you can find listed on the ALI’s website

Saturday, 9:30-10:30am. Come Celebrate the publication of Best of Times, Worst of Times: Contemporary American Short Stories from the New Gilded Age with the editors (Wendy Martin and Cecelia Tichi)! At the NYU Press Booth (214/216).

Follow the #mla2011 hashtag on twitter for the latest updates on the convention.