You Should

You Should…watch Drive, dir. Nicolas Winding Refn (Stephen Dyson, Political Science)

In celebration of 20 years of UCHI and as part of our ongoing You Should… series, we’ve asked former fellows and other friends of the Institute to recommend something related to their work or process. Read them all here.

Drive (2011) movie posterDrive (2011) is a movie about boundaries and boundaries blurred—between day and night, between the criminal world and the world of bystanders, between moments of tenderness and—fair warning—moments of intense violence.

The protagonist is a Hollywood stuntman / criminal getaway specialist credited only as “Driver.” He speaks in short, staccato bursts. He communicates mostly to set limits to his interactions with others, such as the petty criminals to whom he disdainfully lends his expertise.

His obligations are fleeting—a five-minute window where “anything happens, and I’m yours.” A tick of the clock either side of those five minutes: “you’re on your own.” Each dictation of terms ends with a rhetorical “do you understand?” Driver doesn’t want an answer, the question is purely to reinforce the limits of his engagement with his environment.

And that environment—a neon-lit nighttime Los Angeles, beautifully framed by director Nicholas Winding Refn—is viewed from the margins by Driver. In the James Sallis novella that provides the source material, we are told that Driver “existed a step or two to one side of the common world, largely out of sight, a shadow, all but invisible.” He prizes anonymity, taking short-term leases on nondescript apartments, forming no ties, collecting no baggage, ready to leave on a moment’s notice.

But chance intervenes and soon Driver is no longer setting the terms of his engagement with the world.
Listen for the strange alchemy of the soundtrack. The anthem “A Real Hero” captures the soul of the story with its double-edged refrain “a real human being, and a real hero.” The track which plays over the opening credit, “Night Call,” sets the dark tone; the Chromatics’ “Tick of the Clock” accents the precision of Driver’s craft; the glorious torch-song “Oh My Love” is deeply moving in context.

Note too the way that heroic archetypes are skillfully deployed: The man with no name, the cowboy who rides into town to solve problems then rides off into the sunset, the road-warrior of the Mad Max series. But this is an anti-hero tale at its dark heart. Driver is a violent man and the world in which he operates is brutally Darwinian.

Drive then is a contemporary noir about a man who has carefully constructed a context in which he can function. The question is what happens when the boundaries he has drawn for himself are, suddenly, erased. Who, in the end, is Driver—a real hero, or a somewhat shabby and fallen human being?

– Stephen Dyson
Professor of Political Science
University of Connecticut

Photograph of Stephen Dyson, wearing a suit.Who is Stephen Dyson? Stephen Dyson is Professor of Political Science at the University of Connecticut. He received his Ph.D. from Washington State University in 2004. His scholarly work focuses on representations of politics and international relations in popular culture, particularly science fiction, and on elite decision making in foreign policy. He teaches classes on politics and popular culture, international relations, political leadership, and the history of nuclear weapons.

You Should… watch Sambhaji Bhagat (Manisha Desai, Sociology)

In celebration of 20 years of UCHI and as part of our ongoing You Should… series, we’ve asked former fellows and other friends of the Institute to recommend something related to their work or process. Read them all here.

You should watch Sambhaji Bhagat, a Dalit artist, activist who has revived and revolutionized Jalsa, a Marathi folk performance art to foster Dalit rights but also challenge other social inequalities, including gender and those resulting from neoliberal globalization. Traditionally, all the parts were performed by men. Sambhaji includes women in his Jalsas. In this clip he excoriates those who take the measure of a person in terms of their caste and identifies who these people are, some in Delhi (i.e., politicians) some in Mumbai (i.e., corporate and entertainment titans) and some right here in the audience. He addresses issues of Hindutva and neoliberal globalization among others.

There are few translations of his performance and along with colleagues in Mumbai, we’ve begun a project of translating his songs and poems in an anthology.

You can learn a little more about him in this article.

– Manisha Desai
Professor of Sociology and Asian and Asian American Studies
University of Connecticut

Headshot of Manisha DesaiWho is Manisha Desai? Manisha Desai is Professor of Sociology and Asian and Asian American Studies at the University of Connecticut. Committed to decolonizing knowledge and social justice, her research and teaching interests include Gender and Globalization, Transnational Feminisms and women’s movements, Human Rights movements, and Contemporary Indian Society. Currently, she’s working on a book manuscript on the Changing Contours of the Women’s Movement in India. Based on nine months of ethnographic research, funded by the American Institute of India Studies Senior Fellowship, she examines the new articulations of women’s activism with Dalit struggles, Anti-Communalism, and the rural and urban crises of neoliberal policies for the marginalized. Her forthcoming publication with Rianka Roy, Krantijyoti Gyanjyoti Savitribai: The Light of Revolution and Knowledge is the start of a new project on what she calls “the second decolonial moment,” in the Global North and South, to bring the work of 19th century Dalit theorist Savitribai Phule and her collaborators in the Satya Shodhak Samaj (the Society of Truth Seekers) to a larger audience.

You Should…read Néstor García Canclini, Art beyond Itself (Robin Greeley, Art and Art History)

In celebration of 20 years of UCHI and as part of our ongoing You Should… series, we’ve asked former fellows and other friends of the Institute to recommend something related to their work or process. Read them all here.

Book cover of Art Beyond ItselfTransgression has long been a watchword for avant-garde artistic practices. Since the days of Marcel Duchamp, artists have found a critical power in simultaneously claiming a hard-won autonomy and, paradoxically, striving to break down its self-imposed borders. But what happens when the meaning of boundaries changes? When the tactics of aesthetic disobedience used to escape the autonomous artwork’s hermetic self-referentiality increasingly produce only “second-rate transgressions that change nothing” (xvii)? When art becomes part of a planetary integration that is experienced asymmetrically and unequally?

Art beyond Itself: Anthropology for a Society Without a Story Line (Duke University Press, 2014), written by Néstor García Canclini, one of Latin America’s foremost intellectuals, probes art’s struggles to redefine itself in a globalized world where previously discrete categories of aesthetic and social experience are ever more blurred. Art, García Canclini asserts, has moved from transgressing the borders of its own autonomy to a “postautonomy” that defies our current analytical tools. Artistic practice, once object-based, is increasingly founded on contexts; artworks are being “inserted in the media, urban spaces, digital networks, and forms of social participation where aesthetic differences seem to dissolve” (xviii). This “de-defining” of art throws into question longstanding analytical concepts such as Bourdieu’s “art field” that still depend on some idea of national cultures and distinct spheres of aesthetic production, or (at the other end of the scale) postmodern nomadism with its false illusion of a world without borders.

Our trouble in providing a cogent story line for contemporary art, García Canclini insists, is of a piece with our vacillations about how to confront a post 9/11, post-2008 world where conventional categories no longer “explain” contemporary experience, where economics and politics have become “an unconvincing display,” and where coherent narratives founder on the “barely explicable ruins of what globalization has destroyed” (xii; xxii). Yet it is precisely in contemporary art’s ability to capture this state of incoherence that García Canclini situates its capacity to address our present condition.

What defines contemporary art’s persuasive power, argues García Canclini, is its “imminence”: its ability to “[insinuate] what cannot be said,” to “[say] things without pronouncing them fully,” maintaining them inventively unsettled (66; 26). Art’s imminence introduces between the artwork and the spectator the astonishment of the unanticipated. It is “the place where we catch sight of things that are just at the point of occurring”; it produces a “zone of uncertainty […] suited not so much for direct [political] action as for suggesting the power of what hangs in suspense” (xiii; 171). Art’s ability critically to embody that constitutive indeterminacy is what allows it to confront the bewildering splintering of modernity’s grand story into a multitude of competing or unconnected narratives.

– Robin Greeley
Associate Professor of Modern & Contemporary Latin American Art History
University of Connecticut

Headshot of Robin GreeleyWho is Robin Greeley? Robin Greeley is Associate Professor of Modern & Contemporary Latin American Art History at UConn. Dr. Greeley received her S.M.Arch.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1988), and her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley (1996). Dr. Greeley has authored, edited and co-edited a number of books, most recently, La Interculturalidad y sus imaginarios. Conversacionces con Néstor García Canclini (Gedisa, 2018). She is a founding member of the Symbolic Reparations Research Project.

You Should…Listen to Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar’s playlist for the exhibition Facing History: Social Commentary in Contemporary American Art (Amanda Douberley, Benton Museum)

In celebration of 20 years of UCHI and as part of our ongoing You Should… series, we’ve asked former fellows and other friends of the Institute to recommend something related to their work or process. Read them all here.

Four album covers arranged in a 2x2 square: Childish Gambino's This is America, War's Greatest Hits, Pete Rock and CL Smooth's Mecca and the Soul Brother, and Mos Def and Talib Kweli's Black Star.UConn Professor Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar’s playlist for the exhibition Facing History: Social Commentary in Contemporary American Art, on view at the William Benton Museum of Art through March 11, 2022. The show presents work by artists who confront the legacies of past injustices and underscore the enduring impacts of American history on contemporary society. The playlist pairs specific works of art in the exhibition with songs from the 1960s to the present. For example, Ogbar juxtaposes And One (2011) by artist Hank Willis Thomas—a jarring image where the culture of lynching and the commodification around professional sports collide—with Childish Gambino’s “This is America”—a track that provocatively interrogates race and violence in American culture. Or, he asks us to consider how jazz singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone’s “Four Women” informs our experience of A Means to An End… A Shadow Drama in Five Acts (1995) by visual artist Kara Walker, and vice-versa. Listen to the playlist on Spotify or in the exhibition at The Benton.

– Amanda Douberley
Assistant Curator/Academic Liaison
The William Benton Museum of Art

Headshot of Amanda Douberley, a white woman with short dark hair, standing in front of a bookshelf.Who is Amanda Douberley? Amanda Douberley is Assistant Curator/Academic Liaison at the William Benton Museum of Art, where she is responsible for connecting the Benton’s collections and exhibitions with teaching in departments across the university. She has curated numerous exhibitions at the museum, often in collaboration with faculty and other campus partners. Amanda holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin with a focus on 20th-century American sculpture and public art. Before coming to UConn in 2018, she taught in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

You Should . . . Read: Carol Adams and Virginia Messina’s Protest Kitchen (2018) (Drew Johnson, Philosophy, UConn)

Protest Kitchen book coverIn the midst of a global pandemic, with its attendant periods of isolation and restrictions on social gatherings, many have been spending more time in the kitchen than usual. In the midst of racially motivated violence, police brutality, and the push towards a public reckoning with America’s racist history, many have been seeking new and potentially transformative modes of political engagement. In the midst of an on-going climate crisis and the failure of governments to make the necessary choices to save the planet and fight environmental injustice, many of us may find it easy to feel disheartened and powerless.

A unique combination of cookbook and manifesto, Adams and Messina’s Protest Kitchen: Fight Injustice, Save the Planet, and Fuel Your Resistance One Meal at a Time (Conari Press, 2018) argues that “how you eat is a form of protest” (p. 5). Boiled down to its essentials, Adams and Messina’s main claim is that adopting a vegan diet can be a way to protest racism, patriarchy, climate change, food injustice, and to promote compassion and integrity. They make this argument by tracing the conceptual and historically rooted connections between the centrality of animal products in the “all-American diet,” on the one hand, and regressive politics, climate change, environmental racism, and misogyny, on the other. For instance, they argue that the very concept of animality, defined in contrast to and as inferior to that of humanity, provides tools for social oppression: “There has always been a human/animal binary to racist, misogynist, and ableist logic. In the political sphere, animality functions as a tool for democratic exclusion. Oppression elevates some humans as deserving equal protection and equal participation as citizens and lowers others, by making them “other” and suggesting they are more like animals” (p. 97). Adams and Messina’s provocative suggestion: challenge the underlying humanity/animality binary upon which such oppression is speciously “justified.” Thus, far from ignoring the human political and social crises of our time, as the “you-only-think-about-the-animals” vegan stereotype might suggest, Adams and Messina contend that animal oppression is essentially linked to human oppression. This is what I find most compelling about Protest Kitchen: that it provides a unifying analysis of the most pressing national and global issues of our time, through the lens of our (that is, us humans’) relations to the other animals.

Although the core ecofeminist argument in Protest Kitchen is not new (see, for example, Adams’ The Sexual Politics of Meat), the book is distinctive in the way it is interspersed with no-nonsense, practical tips for engaging in activism, a variety of simple recipes for reducing meat consumption, and a primer on plant-based nutrition. While the book takes on serious topics, it is garnished with a dash of playfulness that cuts through the heaviness; for instance, with the inclusion of recipes such as the “imPeach Crumble,” and the “‘Stop the Wall’ Taco Salad Bowl with Fire and Fury Salsa.” If nothing else, the book promises to be food for thought, while sparking some thought about food.

Drew Johnson
Ph.D. Candidate

Who is Drew Johnson? Drew Johnson is a Ph.D. student (ABD) in the philosophy department at the University of Connecticut. His research focuses on metaethics and epistemology. His dissertation proposes a theory of ethical thought and discourse that explains the distinctive action-guiding, affective, and expressive dimensions of ethical claims and judgments, while also recognizing the important semantic, logical, and epistemological continuities that exist between ethics and other factual domains. In epistemology, Drew’s research focuses on the rational standing of our most firmly held commitments, i.e., our “hinge” commitments upon which all rational evaluation turns.

You Should…Watch Shadi Abdel Salam’s The Night of Counting the Years (1969, Egypt) (Hind Ahmed Zaki, Political Science and Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, UConn)

Night of Counting the Years movie posterBased on the true story of an early discovery in the Valley of the Kings and Queens in Luxor, the burial site of successive ancient Egyptian Pharaohs, The Night of Counting the Years, is set in 1881. It chronicles the conflict that occurs when the head of a local tribe that steals ancient artifacts and sells them to smugglers on the black-market dies, and his two sons are being told the secret truth about what their father and uncles have been doing to feed the tribe. When the older son refuses to be part of the smuggling, he is killed by his own uncles and it is up to the younger son “Wanees” to decide whether he wants to break away with family traditions or face the consequences with his life. Through chronicling one night of Wanees’ inner struggle to do the right thing, questions of modernity versus tradition, what history is and what it means to modern Egyptians who are forging new modern identities in nineteenth-century Egypt are explored. The film is a cinematic work of genius that offers stunning cinematography, art direction, and an eerie almost dreamlike quality. Originally released in 1969, the film had been recently restored by the Martin Scorsese foundation retaining even more of its magic. The Night of Counting the Years is a hidden gem of cinematic beauty that grapples with issues of identity, integrity, national heritage, and the hefty weight of the past on the present.

Hind Ahmed Zaki
Assistant Professor
Political Science and Literatures, Cultures, and Languages

Hind Ahmed Zaki headshotWho is Hind Ahmed Zaki? Hind Ahmed Zaki is an Assistant Professor of Political Science, with a joint appointment in the department of Language, Culture, and Literature. She is specialist in comparative politics with a special emphasis in gender and politics and the Middle East and North Africa. Her research focuses on theories of state feminism, feminist movements, gender-based violence, and qualitative research methods. Her current book project focuses on the politics of women’s rights in Egypt and Tunisia in the period following the Arab spring.

You Should… Read: Servigne and Stevens’s How Everything Can Collapse (2015) (Daniel Pfeiffer, UConn English)

how everything can collapse book cover“Overindulging in this [message board] may be detrimental to your mental health. Anxiety and depression are common reactions when studying collapse,” warn the moderators of a Reddit message board bluntly titled “Collapse of Civilization.” Users of this board collect the news stories that the rest of us train ourselves to take in small doses: climate destruction and economic freefalls, food shortages and energy crises, and social breakdown and political corruption. The rare story about a stray comet headed toward Earth is about as hopeful as this community allows itself to be. There is no “rising to the occasion” or “hope for a sustainable future” for these users: only a thousand stories leading to the same damning conclusion of complete global collapse.

At first blush, the provocative, newly-translated book by French agronomist Pablo Servigne and eco-consultant Raphaël Stevens, How Everything Can Collapse: A Manual for Our Times (2020 [2015]), appears to share the same pessimism. Drawing on a wide swath of cross-disciplinary research, Servigne and Stevens map out their own case for civilizational collapse worldwide, centering primarily on interlocking ecological catastrophes, financial meltdowns, and energy shortages. By their reckoning, this collapse isn’t far off, and we don’t have enough time left to find a global off-ramp or enact incremental policy measures. The collapse is likely going to happen during our lifetimes. Oh, and it is unavoidable. “In fact, there are not even any ‘solutions’ to our predicament,” they write.

But what distinguishes Servigne and Stevens’s project from the doom spiral of online fatalism is how they conclude the previous sentence: there are no solutions, “just paths we can pursue to adapt to our new reality.” In short, while “collapse” may be inevitable, our reactions to it need not resemble a post-apocalyptic world of the Mad Max or Children of Men variety. Servigne and Stevens call for a sort of societal doomsday prepping, which would build and emphasize local resilience, community support networks, innovative art, and, above all, a climate of trust to rebuild a humane future from the wreckage of collapse.

Readers will likely bristle against the authors’ insistence that collapse is a foregone conclusion and may want to dismiss the book as no more than an exercise in morbid speculation or paranoid thinking. But the broader question that How Everything Can Collapse asks hits at the core of this year’s UConn Reads theme of “Environmental Justice and Human Rights.” How can we fortify our communities and repair our commitments to one another in order to imagine a just, humane future, even should the worst come to pass? For Servigne and Stevens, the end of civilization need not mean the end of humanity but might, instead, invite its renewal.

Daniel Pfeiffer
Ph.D. candidate

Daniel Pfeiffer headshotWho is Daniel Pfeiffer? Daniel Pfeiffer is a Ph.D. candidate in UConn’s English Department and a research assistant at the UConn Humanities Institute. He is writing his dissertation on the New York City art novel after the creative economic turn.

You Should…Listen to the Joni Mitchell Archives—Volume 1: The Early Years (1963–1967) (Peter Kaminsky, UConn Music)

Joni Mitchell Archives Volume 1 cover artPrior to her debut album release Song to a Seagull in March 1968, the Archives provides a fascinating chronicle of Joni Mitchell’s development as singer, guitarist, and above all, songwriter. Comprised of radio and television broadcasts, club dates, and home recordings on 5 CDs, we witness her transformation from folksinger of traditional and authored songs (“House of the Rising Sun,” Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee”) to becoming one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the 20th century. The collection includes early versions of iconic songs like “Urge for Going,” “Chelsea Morning, “Both Sides Now,” and “The Circle Game,” as well as over 25 previously unreleased original songs.

The UConn School of Fine Arts is hosting an online international Joni Mitchell conference on Friday April 9, 2021 featuring renowned scholars on her music and performances by students in the Department of Music. My co-researcher Megan Lyons and I will be presenting our research on the Archives at the morning session. Admission to the conference is free to the UConn Husky community. Information and registration is available on the conference website.

Peter Kaminsky
Professor of Music Theory
Music, University of Connecticut

Kaminsky HeadshotWho is Peter Kaminsky? Peter Kaminsky taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and at Louisiana State University before joining the University of Connecticut faculty in 1993. His research interests include the music of Ravel, text-music relationships, popular music, structural principles in cyclic works, and, recently, performance and analysis and its pedagogy. He has published articles and reviews in Music Theory Spectrum, Music Analysis, Theoria, College Music Symposium, Music Theory Online, Theory and Practice, The Cambridge Companion to Ravel, and the Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft für Musiktheorie. Kaminsky is editor and contributor to Unmasking Ravel: New Perspectives on the Music (forthcoming, University of Rochester Press).

You Should…Watch: The Half of It by Alice Wu (2020) (Na-Rae Kim, UConn Asian and Asian American Studies Institute)

Half of It movie posterIt is a Netflix release with an Asian/American cast that began around the time of the popular success of Crazy Rich Asians and K-dramas. In that sense, it is one of the latest forms of consuming racial minorities under liberal multiculturalism, marking the arrival of Asian Americans to the space of American evening leisure.

The premise itself is not the most novel—it is a modern retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac after all—but the film resounds with astute and witty observations. Ellie Chu, a bookish and friendless high school student in Squahamish Washington, agrees to write love letters in exchange for money for Paul Munsky, a popular and goodhearted but not super bright football player. But the problem is that the letters are for Aster Flores, a girl Ellie also loves. As the film progresses, we find Ellie, Paul, and Aster come to observe each other, and ultimately their deeply-hidden, vulnerable, inner selves. Ellie’s letters bring together most unlikely people and forge strange friendships, revealing the power of seeing and facing self, others, and the world around us.

We come to realize then that the film also invites us, the audience, to observe not only the characters but also ourselves. To be reminded what it is like to search, yearn, and love, and to apprehend American life. It is, after all, a quiet love letter to America—beckoning us to observe the banality and particularity of Asian American life even in a small American town, resounding with love for what America is and what it can be.

Na-Rae Kim
Assistant Professor in Residence and Interim Director
Asian and Asian American Studies Institute

Na-Rae Kim's headshotWho is Na-Rae Kim? Na-Rae Kim is an Assistant Professor in Residence and Associate Director at the Asian and Asian American Studies Institute, University of Connecticut. She specializes in transnational Korean literature, Asian American literature, history and theory of the novel, and Critical Asian studies. Her book project, Re-Turning Korea: Navigating Homelands in Korean American Literature, explores 21-Century Korean American literary imaginations of South and North Korea.

You Should…Pre-Election Edition. Part V

In advance of the upcoming election, we’ve asked members of the UCHI community to suggest a book, article, poem, painting, video, or piece of music that they think everyone should take a look at in this current moment.

Melanie Newport says you should read…

Dan Royles, To Make the Wounded Whole: The African American Struggle Against HIV / AIDS (UNC Press, 2020). This humane and timely book recounts how people fought against racism and for safety, healing, and political power during a global epidemic.

Book cover of Dan Royles' To Make the Wounded Whole

Shaine Scarminach says you should watch…

Peter Watkins’s film La Commune (2000), to see how ordinary people can seize the reins of history and build a better world.

Promotional image for the film La Commune. A woman, her back to the viewer, reads a broadside.
Promotional image from the film

Sarah Willen says you should consider journaling…

with the Pandemic Journaling Project. This combined journaling platform and research study, hosted right here at UConn, has become an online space for chronicling the turbulent world swirling around us—and for glimpsing others’ experiences of these wild times. In about 15 minutes a week, you can create your own downloadable journal in writing, audio, or images. To see public posts contributed by folx around the United States and the world (over 550 journalers in 24 countries so far), check out PJP’s Featured Entries page.

How will you tell your COVID-19 story to your children & grandchildren? The Pandemic Journaling Project.


Melanie Newport is assistant professor of history at the University of Connecticut and a 2020–21 UCHI Faculty Fellow. She is affiliated faculty in the American Studies, Race, Ethnicity, and Politics, and Urban and Community Studies programs. She teaches urban history and criminal justice history at UConn’s Hartford campus. She holds a BA from Pacific Lutheran University, an MA from the University of Utah, and PhD from Temple University. She is a contributor to Oral History, Community, and Work in the American West and a forthcoming volume, New Histories of Black Chicago. Newport’s work has been supported by the Center for the Humanities at Temple, the Black Metropolis Research Consortium, and the University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Chicago libraries.

Shaine Scarminach is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History and a 2020–21 UCHI Dissertation Research Scholar. He received a BA in history from the University of San Francisco and an MA in history from California State University, Los Angeles. He studies the history of the U.S. in the World, with an emphasis on the historical relationship between U.S. empire, world capitalism, and the global environment. His research has been supported by the Tinker Foundation, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, and the Rockefeller Archive Center.

Sarah S. Willen, PhD, MPH is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Connecticut and Director of the Research Program on Global Health and Human Rights at the university’s Human Rights Institute. A former NIMH Postdoctoral Fellow in Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, she holds a PhD in Anthropology and an MPH in Global Health, both from Emory University. She is one of the co-founders of the Pandemic Journaling Project.