How the Arts Think the Political

Book Pages: 224 Illustrations: 32 illustrations, incl. 3 in color Published: November 2019

Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Film, Politics > Political Theory

In Punctuations Michael J. Shapiro examines how punctuation—conceived not as a series of marks but as a metaphor for the ways in which artists engage with intelligibility—opens pathways for thinking through the possibilities for oppositional politics. Drawing on Theodor Adorno, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and Roland Barthes, Shapiro demonstrates how punctuation's capacity to create unexpected rhythmic pacing makes it an ideal tool for writers, musicians, filmmakers, and artists to challenge structures of power. In works ranging from film scores and jazz compositions to literature, architecture, and photography, Shapiro shows how the use of punctuation reveals the contestability of dominant narratives in ways that prompt readers, viewers, and listeners to reflect on their acceptance of those narratives. Such uses of punctuation, he theorizes, offer models for disrupting structures of authority, thereby fostering the creation of alternative communities of sense from which to base political mobilization.


“We tend to think of punctuation—if we think of it at all—as an invisible tool of grammar and writing, a silent orderer with no content or meaning of its own. In Punctuations, Michael Shapiro radically upends that way of thinking. In an exquisitely nuanced and thoughtful reading, Shapiro shows how punctuation—broadly conceived—gives us over to another politics, one that is marked by unresolvedness and contingency rather than determination and order. In this book, voids, interruptions, and other mechanisms of intratextual resistance demand and receive our full attention with critical implications not only for the habits of reading but of how we live in and occupy the world around us.” — James R. Martel, author of The Misinterpellated Subject

Punctuations offers a distinctly new critical intervention by fleshing out the political and methodological significance of punctuation. Drawing on a broad range of influences from critical theory, the arts, and literature, Michael J. Shapiro gives the reader myriad alternative ways to develop new angles of vision, all of which ultimately ask how we might develop better forms of resistance to the present. I wouldn't have expected anything less from Shapiro, who continues to surprise and push forward the limits others place around the meaning of critical scholarship.” — Brad Evans, coauthor of Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle

"Shapiro threads the needle effectively between different texts, different genres, different scholars' voices, and his own past readings to show us how 'alternative, nondogmatic communities of sense' are created through re-punctuations." — Katherine Goktepe, Perspectives on Politics


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Michael J. Shapiro is Professor of Political Science at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa and the author of numerous books, most recently, The Political Sublime, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction. Deferrals, Punctuations, Media Textualities  1
1. How "Popular" Music Thinks the  Political  27
2. Urban Punctuations: Symphonic and Dialectic  55
3. Architectural Punctuations: The Politics of "Event Spaces"  84
4. Image Punctuations: From the Photographic to the Cinematic  115
5. Holocaust Punctuations: Handke, Kertész, and Sebald  148
Notes  175
Index  209
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Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0656-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0588-9