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Lott, Eric 1959-

Lott, Eric 1959-


Born May 20, 1959, in Oxnard, CA; son of Richard L. (an attorney) and Judith K. (an administrator) Lott; married Susan D. Fraiman (a professor), August 20, 1988; children: Cory Fraiman-Lott. Education: University of Missouri, B.A., 1981; Columbia University, M.A., 1984, Ph.D., 1991. Politics: "Anarcho-syndicalism."


Home—Charlottesville, VA. Office—Department of English, University of Virginia, Box 400121, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4121.


Manhattan Community College, New York, NY, instructor, 1983-87; Columbia University, New York, NY, instructor, 1985-86; University of Virginia, Charlottesville, instructor, 1988-89, assistant professor, beginning 1990, associate professor, 1996-2000, professor of English, 2000—.


President's Fellow, Columbia University, 1984, 1985; Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies fellowship, 1989-90; Bancroft Dissertation Prize, Columbia University, 1991; Constance Rourke Prize for best American Quarterly article, American Studies Association, 1992; Modern Language Association prize for best first book, and Avery O. Craven Award for best book on the period of the Civil War and Reconstruction, Organization of American Historians, both 1994, both for Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class; National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, 1996; Princeton University Council for the Humanities fellowship, 2001.


Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1993.

The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual; or, How the Left Became the Center, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to books, including The Cambridge Handbook of American Literature, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1986; Cultures of United States Imperialism, edited by Amy Kaplan and Donald Pease, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1993; Rethinking Class: Literary Studies and Social Formations, edited By Wai Chee Dimock and Michael T. Gilmore, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1994; Jazz among the Discourses, edited by Krin Gabbard, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1995; The Cambridge Companion to Mark Twain, edited by Forrest Robinson, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1995; Race and the Subject of Masculinities, edited by Harry Stecopoulos and Michael Uebel, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1996; Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1996; and Oxford Companion to African-American Literature, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1996. Contributor to periodicals, including Transition, Social Text, Callaloo, Clio, Representations, American Quarterly, Journal of American History, Nation, New York Newsday, Village Voice, New Literary History, Minnesota Review, Gadfly Online, and In These Times.


Eric Lott's award-winning 1993 study, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, examines the history of this type of American theater. "Blackface minstrelsy," explained Margo Jefferson in a New York Times review, "was an American descendant of commedia dell'arte and an American cousin of English music hall," and was also a distant ancestor of vaudeville and rock and roll. It was, Jefferson continued, "a crucial source for, and form of, popular culture. It was big business. It was a riot of ethnic and regional styles. And it was a psychic map that traced and exposed its fans' curiosity about the boundaries between races, classes and sexes."

Blackface minstrels were usually white men who blackened their faces and drew their routines from what they presumed were characteristically black gestures, dialects, music, and dances. "What is rock 'n' roll if not white men trying on the accents of ‘blackness?,’" wrote Alice Echols in the Village Voice. The appearance of the minstrel shows, according to Lott, was a sign of the racial tensions that existed in the American North prior to the Civil War. He argues that the shows helped white laborers who felt threatened by immigrant labor and the financial crises of the time feel superior to black laborers. As recently as 1993, actors Ted Danson and Whoopi Goldberg appeared in blackface at a celebrity roast at the Friars Club in New York, causing much public controversy. "Lott's commitment to connecting the cultural to the political, and to exploring rather than castigating the ‘structure of feeling’ behind blackface," Echols concluded in the Village Voice, "make Love and Theft a model for how to study popular culture."

While Love and Theft was widely praised, Lott's The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual; or, How the Left Became the Center was widely excoriated by critics. In this work, the English professor author attacks those he considers sell-out liberals who he feels have abandoned their principles and shifted their politics too far toward the center. Mostly criticizing such liberal thinkers as Paul Berman, Michael Lind, and Todd Gitlin, "Lott believes that a cadre of liberal intellectuals have betrayed the radical and egalitarian hopes that once made the left the left, a beacon of hope for the dispossessed," according to contributor Stephen Metcalf on the Slate Web site. A big problem with the book, according to critics, is that Lott indulges more in ranting than in critical thinking, and reviewers felt the author makes no coherent arguments for his case, nor does he offer explanations of alternatives to the current climate of liberal discourse. Nation writer Russell Jacoby, for example, stated: "He claims the high political ground, but he cannot formulate a single coherent sentence about politics as seen from there. He tosses off phrases about ‘intersectionality’ and ‘the praxis potential of antinormativity,’ but politics hardly enters this political book."

Jacoby added: "Lott serves trays of holier-than-thou academic leftism with extra helpings of causes and clotted language." Likewise, a Kirkus Reviews critic asserted that Lott "seems incapable of crafting a clear, declarative sentence." Observing that Lott aims to "shock liberal readers out of their complacency," Thomas J. Baldino wrote in Library Journal that "[u]nfortunately, his intensity and bitter wit can obscure his argument."

Some critics pointed out that Lott does touch on a central argument, stressing the importance of activism by minority and sexual-orientation groups, though he "improbably offers labor unions as the agent of social change," according to Brian Doherty in a Reason review. "Lott shies from articulating his ultimate goal except in the vaguest way," continued Doherty; "he just says he's for radical egalitarianism and radical democracy. He certainly won't articulate how we're to get there." Metcalf admitted that "Lott's book is strictly correct in its temperature-taking…. But Lott is hopelessly clumsy in delivering his diagnosis." The critic concluded: "Whatever the demerits of Todd Gitlin, Paul Berman, and Michael Lind, each writes with clarity and fluency, and to take them down, one ought to at least aspire to match their game. This Lott does not do. His tone is neither scholarly, nor sufficiently deft and engaging for the general reader."



Chronicle of Higher Education, May 5, 2006, Todd Gitlin, "The Self-inflicted Wounds of the Academic Left," review of The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual; or, How the Left Became the Center, p. B6.

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2006, review of The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual, p. 172.

Library Journal, May 1, 2006, Thomas J. Baldino, "Across the Great Divide II: Whither American Politics?," review of The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual, p. 104.

Nation, April 10, 2006, Russell Jacoby, "Brother from another Planet," review of The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual.

New York Times, October 27, 1993, Margo Jefferson, review of Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, p. C18.

Publishers Weekly, February 20, 2006, review of The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual, p. 148.

Reason, August 1, 2006, Brian Doherty, "The Vitiated Center," review of The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual, p. 65.

Village Voice, February 15, 1994, Alice Echols, review of Love and Theft, pp. 91-92.

ONLINE, (April 18, 2006), Stephen Metcalf, "The Dilettante," review of The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual.

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