Amber Musser, author of Sensual Excess answers our questions:
Describe your book:
Sensual Excess: Queer Femininity and Brown Jouissance is both an exploration of the different ways that racialization has constricted cultural perspectives on the sexuality of people of color and it works to imagine new possibilities for sensuality by drawing on art work produced by people (predominately women) of color. The book weaves together theories of sexuality with the politics of the aesthetics in order to make an argument about racialization and possibility. In some ways it is an experimental book because it is making theory from art objects and trying to remake our concept of sexuality.
Why did you decide to publish it with a university press?
I had published my previous book, Sensational Flesh: Race, Power, and Masochism (NYU Press, 2014) with a university press and I felt like this book was a continuation of where the previous book left off. I also was happy with where the previous book had ended up circulating and, as such, it made the most sense to continue with a university press.
Do you enjoy the writing process?
I do enjoy the writing process. It gives me permission to create my own world and to really think about the power of imagination and what would be necessary in order to make something new happen. Since I’m especially interested in embodiment, I also enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to write about sensations, how things feel, and how these sensations carry different forms of knowledge.
What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given to you?
Not to take things too seriously. I like to think about writing as experimental and personal, which makes me feel as though there aren’t wrong ways to do it. Of course, I still believe in scholarly rigor and presenting evidence for arguments, but I feel less bound by what other people think because really a book is always kind of miraculous and marvelous and I want it to feel that way instead of difficult and tedious.
What piece of advice might you give to young academics looking to follow in your footsteps? Who inspires you?
I would tell young academics to follow their passion. If you believe in a project enough, you will find a way to make doors open and a way to express your passion. Obviously, this is a very challenging time for academics since there are fewer jobs and freedom of speech is being curtailed at various places, so there is understandably a great deal of anxiety. I try to remember that there are always other options for getting messages out there and to remember that one’s worth is not determined by one’s career status. There are many routes to passion and employment. There are many academics working now who I find very inspirational— largely because they have so obviously moved toward new forms for expressing their ideas and in that way are enlarging what we consider to be theory, which is exciting. In relation to the work that I do, I find the work of Christina Sharpe and Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley very inspiring. Both of them have more conventional scholarly first books and very poetic yet theoretically important second books. They are also working to push thinking about race and diaspora in really important ways.
Well, I envision this as part of a trilogy, so I’m working on other ways to think about flesh and the types of encounters between people. For me, this falls under the category of noise, so I’m beginning to think through that.
Amber Jamilla Musser is Associate Professor of American Studies at George Washington University and the author of Sensual Excess (2018) and Sensational Flesh (2014), both published by New York University Press.