Interview with Lindsay Reckson, author of “Gesture”

Be sure to check out Lindsay Reckson’s keyword essay on “Gesture,” which just appeared on the Keywords for American Cultural Studies site. To accompany and frame the publication, we asked her a few questions.

Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler: What drew you to approach gesture as a keyword?

Lindsay Reckson: I’ve been fascinated by the way that gesture emerges as a critical object across fields we tend to think of as relatively distinct: developmental linguistics, sociology, phenomenology, and performance studies, to name just a few. So part of what inspired me to approach gesture as a keyword was the definitional challenge of pinning down a term that is necessarily itinerant; in this sense, gesture names movements that demand the interdisciplinary moves central to American studies and cultural studies. I’ve also been inspired by a whole host of scholars (Robin Bernstein, Daphne Brooks, Carrie Noland, Joseph Roach, Rebecca Schneider and others) who write about gesture in ways that help us better understand the relationship between performance, power, and cultural memory. And while I’ve been mostly thinking about how gestures live in particular archives (and are themselves a kind of corporeal archive), I also think we have much to learn in the present from the specific gestures of protest movements like Occupy and Black Lives Matter.

Burgett and Hendler: What did you learn as you wrote the essay?

Reckson: That gesture is having something of a critical moment! I’m especially thinking about how gesture figures in the rise of affect theory, the turn to surface reading, and (increasingly) political philosophy. In each of these critical formations, gestures are less semiotic than relational—they are about a particular orientation to the world as it plays out in movements that supplement, exceed, or estrange us from written or spoken language. This is part of what makes gesture central to the kind of ethical comportments that Lauren Berlant and Claudia Rankine, among others, have been articulating recently. If we think of gesture as a site for ethical inquiry, we can begin to understand “conditioning” as a double-edged process, one that indexes our bodily and experiential relationship to the world but also makes room for different ways of enduring and transforming it.

Burgett and Hendler: What one idea do you want to be sure that readers take away from the essay?

Reckson: When we say something is “gestural,” we’re often dismissing its impact. Yet as I try to suggest, gestures operate at the intersection of everyday or seemingly ephemeral movements and the broader cultural forces that shape them. In this way, gestures are central to how we inhabit, understand, make, and remake the world.

Burgett and Hendler: What other keywords in the volume do you see as most closely linked to this term? What not-yet-written keyword essay would you most like to read?

Reckson: In my essay, gesture is most closely linked to terms like Performance, Body, and Affect. But if we think about gesture as a kind of interface, there are also fascinating intersections with terms like Digital (which both demands and abstracts the physical gesture) and Technology. I’m increasingly interested in how minor, mundane, or technological gestures intersect with more spectacular forms of bodily resistance and resilience, such as those that we see all around us in certain forms of protest. So I’d love to see a keyword essay on “protest.”

From the Editors, New Essays

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