Reviews of Peer-Reviewed Journals in the Humanities and Social Sciences

We give you the scuttlebutt on academic journals—aiding you in selecting the right journal for publication—in reviews that are sometimes snarky, sometimes lengthy, always helpful. Written by Princeton University graduate students and Wendy Laura Belcher.

boundary 2: an international journal of literature and culture

Ironically, this journal dedicated to analyzing “the tyrannies of thought” doesn’t accept unsolicited submissions. So, for those who know the editorial board and have something to say about modernity and its competing definitions, variations, and ramifications.


Boundary 2 is a pretty diverse journal. Its concerns are mainly political, it seems, and its approaches are both theoretical and specific. One of the major concerns for the journal is the definition of modernity as well as its extensiveness, especially within the political context of the nation state. Often when a specific issue is addressed, the author still introduces or elaborates something theoretical. For example, David Kurnick’s recent article, “Comparison, Allegory, and the Address of ‘Global’ Realism (The Part About Bolaño)” (42.2). The journal is published three times a year, with Spring, Summer, and Fall issues.

In some issues (such as the most recent, May 2015 1), some of the articles seem to be book reviews that engage the book very thoroughly by testing or using its claims in another context, rather than only placing the book within its critical context and discussing the veracity or power of its claims. There aren’t too many book reviews, overall, but there is a section entitled “Books Received” in most issues, which seems to indicate that book reviews could be welcome. Some the sections of the journal, which change in each issue, are: Essays (which is pretty self-explanatory), Interviews (somewhat rare as a section; that said, some of the essays are interviews with specific authors, Jonathan Franzen, for example), Intervention (38.2, as well as a few other issues), and Dossier (40.2; 39.2 – Orientalism and the Invention of World Literatures; 36.2 – American Novel Dossier).

There are a good number of special issues, spanning from regions or zones (“Second-Hand Europe,” Tunisia, China) to people (Nelson Mandela, William V. Spanos) to historical moments (The Sixties, American Poetry after 1975), to concerns or questions of distinctly academic significance (“The Future(s) of Criticism,” “Possibilities for Comparative Studies,” The “Postsecular,” “On the Philological Imagination”). One of the intriguing special issues, whose titles I skimmed through very quickly, was American Poetry after 1975 (Fall 2009, 36.3). It includes poets as poets as well as poets as critics. The contributions are many and rather short.

There are, intriguingly, a number of articles on Turkey as a particular space and place, which places it alongside the U.S., China, Tunisia, Russia, and Egypt (as far as I remember) as nations named specifically (rather than Europe, East Asia, Africa, Latin America, or the Caribbean).

One article I was interested in was John A. McClure’s “Do They Believe in Magic? Politics and Postmodern Literature” (Summer 2009, 36.2), which is a response to an article by Sean McCann and Michael Szalay (“Do You Believe in Magic? Literary Thinking After the New Left.”) McCann and Szalay respond in the same issue of boundary 2: “‘Eerie Serentiy’: A Response to John McClure” (Summer 2009, 36.2). McClure’s article is a rethinking of the “magical turn” in postmodern American literature, McCann and Szalay’s original article as too programmatic and generalizing in its assessment of literature as a turn away from progressive, movement-based politics. McClure’s argument is quite clear: “I would argue that the turn away from certain enlightenment assumptions and toward certain religiously inflected perspectives and practices in these works is shaped by broadly progressive commitments and is consistent with the progressive project” (129). For McClure, the novelists that are described as too utopian in their anarchist and libertarian sympathies (specifically Pynchon, DeLillo, Ondaatje, and Morrison) are instead “dedicated to giving a plausible account of the turn, under pressure, of apolitical subjects into what may become progressive modes of thought and practice” (131). McCann and Szalay respond, arguing that McClure mischaracterizes their initial claims and the implications of these claims.

Another article I read with interest was Jonathan Arac’s “Imperial Eclecticism in Moby-Dick and Invisible Man: Literature in a Postcolonial Empire” (Fall 2010, 37.3). Arac takes up Edward Said’s call to (re)turn to what might be called sensitive and contextual philology, or perhaps classical heremeneutics or exegesis when reading texts. Arac says, “I try to characterize the great value of Herman Melville’s and Ralph Ellison’s work without hyperboles of either outrage or defensiveness. Critics should not construct for our subjects a historically impossible purity” (152). Arac takes up two “great American novels” in order to suss out their importance as great literary works that emerge from the context of American Empire. Arac in particular notes how the narrative voices in each novel “seek constantly to generate change” (157). In this article, we’re introduced to a new descriptive term for alternative (that is, oppositional) literary practices emerging from within empire: “imperial eclecticism,” which describes an attunement to change, difference, and, often, resistance.

Susan Buck-Morss’ “Democracy: An Unfinished Project” unfolds as a prescriptive and descriptive whirlwind of forceful argument and keen observation, which I feel is typical of this scholar. She begins the article very directly: “My first hypothesis is a counterintuitive claim. Globalization is a transformation of time, not space” (71).  She goes on to expose the culturally narrow view of progress (and the bemoaning of modernity’s failure) as a Euro- and Western-centric ideal that ignores alternative modes and locations of development: “Habermas was speaking of and for Europe, and yet his very conception of the modern project implied the universality of his philosophical claims” (73). She argues, using Enrique Dussel and citing Ahment Davutoğlu, “that if modernity as a project was finished, it needed the non-West in order to be fulfilled” (74).

Jeanette McVicker’s article, “In the Neighborhood of Zero: Ontology and Pedagogy,” appears in the Spring 2015 special issue dedicated to William V. Spanos (one of the founders of boundary 2). She describes the classroom as “the space where all of William Spanos’s work intersects,” further arguing, “By offering his … students the opportunity to engage in a contestatory dialogic encounter where something is at stake for them and for him, Spanos practices a pedagogy geared toward the activation and renewal of critical consciousness through an ethical practice of care” (4). She links Spanos’s pedagogy to “‘the neighborhood of zero.’ It is a zone marked not simply by political victimhood buy by a refusal or absence of consent, above all; this zone thus becomes a space of ontological resistance, an expression of human being and potential community” (7).

The final essay I read was Etienne Balibar’s “Civic Universalism and Its Internal Exclusions: The Issue of Anthropological Difference” (Spring 2012, 39.1), which was a lecture transcribed and adapted into an article for the journal. Balibar teases out the relationship between the individual and the universal in the idea of citizenship; their relationship entails the development of a subject into an individual who is shaped by socialization and community-building (207, 208). Balibar warns, however, that subjectivation, which is the development of the citizen, “keeps involving subjection, albeit in new forms and spaces” (208). This occurs because “such a contradiction is not to be considered only as a gap between the ideal and the real, but as arising from the universal itself, or affecting its concept from the inside, because old and new forms of discrimination and oppression have to be not only reiterated or preserved but reformulated” (208). The implication of these hierarchies of judgment is that “the only consistent way to deny citizenship to individuals in a regime of civic-bourgeois universality [presumably due to a resistance to or rejection of subjection, whether to the nation state or to putatively universal ideals] is to deny them full humanness full membership in the human species” (209).

by Francisco Robles

Word count: unsure

Articles per year: ~16

Cite Style:  unsure  

Disciplines: English and American Literature, Comparative Literature, Philosophy


For detailed information about individuals’ experiences with submitting articles to boundary 2, including heavy critique of its closed submission policy, see the excellent Humanities Journal Wiki

Arac, Jonathan. “Imperial Eclecticism in Moby-Dick and Invisible Man: Literature in a Postcolonial Empire.” boundary 2 37.3 (Fall 2010): 151-165.

Balibar, Etienne. “Civic Universalism and Its Internal Exclusions: The Issue of Anthropological Difference.” boundary 2 39.1 (Spring 2012): 207-229.

McCann, Sean and Michael Szalay. “‘Eerie Serenity’: A Response to John McClure.” boundary 2 36.2 (Summer 2009): 145-153.

McClure, John. “Do They Believe in Magic? Politics and Postmodern Literature.” boundary 2  36.2  (Summer 2009): 125-143.

McVicker, Jeanette. “In the Neighborhood of Zero: Ontology and Pedagogy.” boundary 2 42.1 (Spring  2015): 3-17.

Famous Articles (WLB):

1039 M Heidegger, M Grene The age of the world view 1976
960 CT Mohanty Under Western eyes: Feminist scholarship and colonial discourses 1984
358 M Hardt Affective labor 1999
348 L Berlant, E Freeman Queer nationality 1992
178 R Chow Introduction: On Chineseness as a theoretical problem 1998
171 WV Spanos The detective and the boundary: Some notes on the postmodern literary imagination 1972
131 HJ Spillers  All the Things You Could be by Now, If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother: Psychoanalysis and Race 1996
129 A Negri, M Hardt Value and affect 1999
101 GC Spivak Responsibility 1994
17 J Beverley Rethinking the armed struggle in Latin America 2009
12 N Power, A Toscano The philosophy of restoration: Alain Badiou and the Enemies of May 2009
10 S Guyer Rwanda’s bones 2009
16 L De La Durantaye Homo profanus: Giorgio Agamben’s profane philosophy 2008
60 SJ Lauro, K Embry A zombie manifesto: the nonhuman condition in the era of advanced capitalism 2008
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About Wendy Belcher

Associate Professor, Princeton University, Department of Comparative Literature and the Center for African American Studies. Author of Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success. Instructor of Deep Reading Journals as Publishing Praxis.


This entry was posted on June 14, 2015 in Cultural Studies Journals, Humanities Journals, Literary Theory Journals.