book complaints

The first page turning

Even before the book “Complaint!” starts with the so-called half-title, the first page preceding the title page, it is preceded by 4 pages entitled “Praise for Sara Ahmed”. These are words of praise from colleagues or reviewing media (such as Library Journal or Los Angeles Review of Books) for six of Ahmed’s earlier publications, for “What’s The Use. On the Uses of Use” (2019), “Living a Feminist Life” (2017), “Willful Subjects” (2014), “On Being Included. Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life” (2012), “The Promises of Happiness” (2010) and “Queer Phenomenology. Orientations, Objects, Others” (2006), published by Duke University Press.

Sara Ahmed is a prolific freelance researcher and writer who explores how power operates in language, families, everyday life, institutions and cultures, assigning/performing gender identities and steering them into traditional hetero-patriarchal trajectories, how power is abused, but also how abuses of power can be identified and existing hierarchies and inequalities dismantled, what forms of resistance exist and what it “costs” to speak out and behave in a resistant way. In her now eleven books, she uses the tools of intersectional feminist cultural analysis to make visible institutional structures and effects of heteronormativity, racialisation, colonial power, and heteropatriarchal gender assignment. Her book publications, like her blog posts on, stand amidst the investigations and methodologies of affect theories, cultural studies, critical race studies, queer theory and feminist theories. Ahmed is interested in how governments function and how they can be challenged and changed to alternative futures. By reflecting on bullying, harassment, emotional abuse, violence, assault, or rape in domestic and academic settings, she examines the tangled and intertwined processes, most of which are difficult to penetrate and dissect, that intersect amidst (also institutionalised) sexism, racism and colonial violence.

But @publisher Duke, to start a publication with 4 pages of praise and then get to the title page with the author’s name and the title of the publication is a publishing decision that is difficult to comprehend. Advertising should (perhaps) be placed where potential readers can be addressed or reading decisions can be influenced: on the back cover, on the publisher’s website, in flyers, in social media. This is where praise can (perhaps) attract attention and make an impact. On the other hand, promoting a book within the reading section and even before the book begins is incomprehensible to me. The inside section of a book is reserved for the author and her text. I would be curious to see how Ahmed herself would deconstruct these 4 pages and put them into a mechanism of action of institutional operations of power, knowledge and truth. But now I am looking forward to reading …

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