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One of the reasons that the master heister Parker is still with us fifty years after pulling his first job is that he’s very good at keeping quiet. He knows better than to plan a job in the town where he’s going to pull it, and he certainly doesn’t encourage advance attention.
That’s too bad, because the job he’s pulling this weekend is getting a lot of publicity. Tomorrow night sees the premiere of Parker, a new movie starring Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez—the first adaptation to actually use Parker’s name—and that’s brought a spate of attention to Parker in all his incarnations.
In the Village Voice, Nick Pinkerton runs through the long (and, let’s be honest, checkered) history of adaptations of Parker. Statham’s English accent is a first for Parker, but Pinkerton points out that the movies have always found him mutable:
[H]e has been black—Jim Brown, too gentle in 1968′s wasted opportunity The Split [based on The Seventh]—and (sort of) a 25-year-old Danish girl. Made in U.S.A. (1966), with a trench-coated Anna Karina in the lead, is ostensibly based on Stark’s The Jugger, though it’s really but one element in Jean-Luc Godard’s mulligan stew of American pulp references.
Donald Westlake loved pointing out the variety of the movie Parkers. He liked to joke,
A friend of mine said, “So far, Parker’s been played by a white guy, a black guy and a woman. I think the character lacks definition.”
You can find that line, along with insight from some of Westlake’s fans and peers (including Elmore Leonard and Otto Penzler) in an article from the Los Angeles Times from 2009, just after Westlake’s death, that looked at the difficulties filmmakers have faced bringing his books to the screen.
This time around, things seem more promising—if for no other reason than that the director himself is the one acknowledging Westlake’s importance and writing about the challenges of adapting Parker. Last week’s Los Angeles Times featured a piece by Taylor Hackford that nodded to the film’s forebears and wrestled with the question of “why should audiences want to spend time with this sociopath?”—as well as the tough job of finding an actor who can embody Parker’s quiet, capable menace.
Parker’s ferocious work ethic has infected us here at Chicago, too, and this week we’re proud to debut a new site for Parker fans, in honor of the fiftieth anniversary and the film. We’ve totted up the take (in dollars and blood) from each book, assembled a list of Parker’s Rules to Heist By, and, biggest and best of all, built a sortable character guide that covers every single one of the 498 people to cross Parker’s path in the twenty-four novels. Who lives? Who dies? Who gets away with the swag? We’ve got it all for you at www.parkerseries.com.
The Internet loves lists, so we’ll close with one that seems like it might be of a bit more practical value than Parker’s maxims. After all, while we’re not all heisters, we might all be targets. So herewith, our advice to you on how not to get robbed by Parker:
1 Get a custom burglar alarm. Oh, Parker and his guys will get through it regardless, but a custom one rather than an off-the-shelf number will be the difference between them getting in like, say, a hot knife through butter and a knife through cheese. Semi-soft cheese.
2 Make sure your staff is happy. Disgruntled employees complain to their girlfriends and boyfriends, talk to strangers, and even sell their inside knowledge to heisters. You keep your people satisfied, you keep Parker away.
3 Don’t run your business as a front for the Outfit. If you do, Parker will likely stay away—until, that is, he has a beef with the Outfit. And you really don’t want to be the middleman there.
4 Don’t have anything he wants. We recommend possessing only books. He’s not much of a reader, that Parker.
5 Finally, and most important: don’t try to cheat him out of his share. Just don’t. Look up regret in the dictionary and you’ll find a stipple portrait of Parker, silently staring you down.
By: Kristi McGuire,
Blog: The Chicago Blog
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Larry F. Norman and Frédérique Aït-Touati (photograph by Alan Thomas)
Following the rush of scholarly meetings and conferences in the wake of the new year, belated congratulations are due to UCP authors Larry F. Norman and Frédérique Aït-Touati, for garnering the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prizes in French and Francophone studies and comparative literary studies (respectively), from the Modern Language Association. The Scaglione Prize is “awarded annually for an outstanding scholarly work in its field—a literary or linguistic study, a critical edition of an important work, or a critical biography—written by a member of the association.”
Norman, professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures and in the Humanities Division at the University of Chicago, was commended for The Shock of the Ancient: Literature and History in Early Modern France, cited by the prize committee as follows:
A deep interest in the view one culture holds of another animates The Shock of the Ancient: Literature and History in Early Modern France; Larry F. Norman lucidly examines the divide posited in seventeenth-century France between antiquity and modernity. The writers and thinkers who espoused connection to ancient culture were, paradoxically, those who divested themselves of unquestioned adherence to textual tradition; they argued not for the unassailable authority of the past, but rather for the enduring power of the literary. Their hearts and minds were moved across the ages; their tastes supposed tolerance for the foreign and the capacity to imagine and engage with the unfamiliar. Probing early modern reactions to the classical age, Norman’s compelling analysis highlights the value of art in bridging distance in human consciousness in any era.
Norman is the author of The Public Mirror: Molière and the Social Commerce of Depiction, also published by the University of Chicago Press, and editor of The Theatrical Baroque, distributed by UCP for the Smart Museum of Art.
Aït-Touati, teaching fellow in French at St. John’s College at the University of Oxford and associate professor at Sciences Po Paris, earned the prize for Fictions of the Cosmos: Science and Literature in the Seventeenth Century (translated by Susan Emanuel), along with the following citation:
Frédérique Aït-Touati’s Fictions of the Cosmos: Science and Literature in the
Seventeenth Century is a brilliant retelling of the history of fiction. Exploring
how the concept developed in concert and in tension with the cosmological
visions of such figures as Johannes Kepler, Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle,
Robert Hooke, and Christian Huygens, Aït-Touati shows us scientific literature in
constant negotiation with the possible and the probable, with imaginaries true and
false. She leads us to a novel and a poetics of fiction whose attitudes toward
accessibility, readability, and reality owe a great deal to fiction’s intense
seventeenth-century engagement with optical epistemologies. Fictions of the
Cosmos pairs careful, structural, and creative close readings with a real eye for
the spectacular and speculative connection and unfolds in lovely, crisp sentences,
making it a pleasure to read for its scholarly advances and its style.
Well-deserved congratulations to both authors for their wins!
“The art of losing isn’t hard to master,” wrote Elizabeth Bishop. But that doesn’t preclude a wistful desire that we could somehow, quantum-style, both let people go and keep them where they’ve so long seemed to belong. (“Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future”?)
That was our thought, shared, we suspect, by countless fans of poetry, when we heard that Christian Wiman would be leaving his post as editor of Poetry magazine at the end of June. He’ll be joining the faculty of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music and Yale Divinity School, which seems like a good home for a writer who, as the copy describing his forthcoming book, My Bright Abyss: Meditations of a Modern Believer, puts it, “has had two constants in his life, two things that have defined him and given him solace in his times of need: faith and verse.”
Wiman will leave behind a magazine that he and coeditor Don Share have shepherded to unprecedented prominence and success. Under their stewardship, Poetry tripled its circulation and won two national magazine awards, the first in its history.
And then there was the centennial–which is where Chicago comes in. We are proud to have been able to partner with Poetry, Share, and Wiman to publish The Open Door: 100 Poems, 100 Years of “Poetry” Magazine, a centennial anthology that simultaneously honored the past and pointed to the future. “Surely the history of American poetry is in this elegant, commanding volume,” wrote the Washington Independent Review of Books, while the Weekly Standard praised it for offering “an insightful read of poetry’s barometric pressure over the last century,” and reminding readers “what a large role a small beginning (such as a little magazine) can play in a culture in which poetry may ‘make nothing happen’ but it makes sense.”
How, then, does one bid farewell to a poet? (It’s the lyric version of “What do you get for the person who has everything?”) Donne’s “Valediction Forbidding Mourning” is far too dark and dour for someone who’s merely changing jobs rather than crossing the bar; Herrick’s “Farewell to Sack” (“That which subverts whole nature, grief and care, / Vexation of the mind, and damn’d despair.”), though it comes to mind any time there’s a goodbye, is wholly inappropriate. There’s always Shakespeare, of course, but as with Austen or Nabokov, quoting the Bard carries risk: what’s quoted in seriousness, sincerity, and clarity so often was written with irony and ambiguity.
So we turn to Marianne Moore, queen of deceptive simplicity, and the close of a letter she wrote to Elizabeth Bishop on September 8, 1935, telling Bishop “what it is perfectly unnecessary to tell you–that we shall miss you.” And from there to Wiman’s own words–it never hurts to quote a person to himself, unless he’s a politician–from the introduction to The Open Door:
“What do you do?” asks the man on the airplane, and for a moment every American poet pauses as one, feeling that face-off between spiritual integrity and social insecurity. And that’s sort of what we feel too, Don and I, after being buried under a hundred years of poems. Humility, first: to think of all the lives behind this work, and the element of chance that has made us, for a moment, the judges of it. And pride: to be a part of it, to have our own lives so richly entangled.
Best wishes, Chris. May Poetry be so fortunate in its stewards in the coming hundred years.
By: Kristi McGuire,
Blog: The Chicago Blog
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In wrapping of the year’s best-of-2012 lists, we couldn’t help but single out the University of Chicago Press titles that made the cut as reads worth remembering. With that in mind, here’s a list of our books that earned praise as cream of the crop here and abroad, from scholarly journals, literary blogs, metropolitan newspapers, and the like. If you’re looking, might we (and others) recommend—
A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava
A World in One Cubic Foot: Portraits of Biodiversity by David Liittschwager
Alive in the Writing: Crafting Ethnography in the Company of Chekhov by Kirin Narayan
And Bid Him Sing: A Biography of Countée Cullen by Charles Molesworth
The Art of Medicine: 2,000 Years of Images and Imagination by Julie Anderson, Emm Barnes, and Emma Shackleton
Bewilderment by David Ferry
Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times by Andrew Piper
Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure by Arthur Conan Doyle
Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis
The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives by Jessica Pierce
Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth-Century Art by Leo Steinberg
- announced as a book of the year by the Art Newspaper (originally published in 2007: TIME WARP)
The Romantic Machine: Utopian Science and Technology after Napoleon by John Tresch
The Sounding of the Whale: Science and Cetaceans in the Twentieth Century by D. Graham Burnett
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: Fiftieth Anniversary Edition by Thomas S. Kuhn
- made Nature magazine’s Top Twelve of 2012 list
The Timeline of Presidential Elections: How Campaigns Do (And Do Not) Matter by Robert S. Erikson and Christopher Wlezian
Vegetables: A Biography by Evelyne Bloch-Dano
included as one of the best books of 2012 by Audubon magazine
You’ll Know When You Get There: Herbie Hancock and the Mwandishi Band by Bob Gluck
More staff selections for your holiday favor—today we asked Carol Kasper, marketing director extraordinaire, and Jeff Waxman, promotions manager/literary gadabout, to chime in about what moved them most this past year. Their picks for the Best Read of 2012 follow below:
Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937–1948 by Madeleine Albright
When I became an adolescent, I learned that our family boogeyman was (rather remarkably to me at the time) the interwar British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. All my grandparents had immigrated to the United States from Austria-Hungary at the very beginning of the twentieth century, and they nurtured their ties to “the Old Country” even after the Slovak and Ruthenian regions of that empire became the nation of Czechoslovakia. When Britain signed the Munich Agreement in 1938 and gave Hitler the Czech area known as the Sudetenland, Chamberlain infamously implied that stopping another war with Germany was worth the price of those Slavs in “a far away country” populated by “people of whom we know nothing.”
In Prague Winter, Madeleine Albright does a brilliant job of explaining the ethnic complexities in central and eastern Europe that made the area vulnerable to Hitler’s manipulations, the complicity of major European nations that voted to appease a dictator and sacrifice others in the name of their own security, and the horrific aftermath of their actions for the people of Czechoslovakia. Albright remains a masterful diplomat and her explanations of what was at stake politically and diplomatically are fascinating, although, in the end, perhaps the greater value of her book is the human and moral tale she tells. Born in Czechoslovakia, Albright’s father was a Czech diplomat and a major part of Prague Winter is her effort to tell his and her own family’s story. To protect themselves from the Nazis, Albright’s father had them all convert to Catholicism and buried their Jewish heritage, a heritage that Albright only discovered well into her maturity. As we know, things did not go well for Czechoslovakia for a long time. After the war Stalin’s troops marched in and kept the country under totalitarian rule for four decades. But that has changed, one hopes, for the better.
The reason I liked this book so much is Albright’s spirit—her refusal to be stymied by the overwhelming complexity of the global challenges we face, to be stymied by the force of evil, or to be stymied by the frailties and inadequacies of our human nature. Near the end of Prague Winter she notes that “the goal we seek, and the good we hope for, comes not as some final reward but as the hidden companion to our quest.” Powerful words, Madame Secretary. —Carol Kasper
Folly: The Consequences of Indiscretion by Hans Rickheit
Contrary to a popular saying, I’ve often felt that a thousand well-chosen words are and should be preferable to a picture. But not today. Today I am proposing to the reading public that they close their thick books and put aside their glossy magazines and instead read some really dirty cartoons.
When I look at Hans Rickheit—at a picture of him, not a thousand words of him—I see nothing particularly unnerving. He’s just another white guy with glasses. An intelligent gaze, a kind face made a bit larger by his balding head, but also made a bit smaller by his beard. He wouldn’t look out of place at either a comic-con or a Cubs game, in a dive bar or at a renaissance fair. Ah, the treachery of images!
In truth, somewhere beneath this unassuming exterior, dwelling someplace beneath his t-shirt and on the other side of some undoubtedly pale flesh, there’s something filthy and gangrenous and throbbing about this human being. Somewhere behind his sweet demeanor, there lurks a thing so festering and foul that I cannot tear my mind’s eye away. I speak, of course, of Hans Rickheit’s heart.
This collection of Rickheit’s graphic stories is so depraved as to make the reader question ever putting pen to paper again—except in praise of Hans Rickheit. On these pages, the cartoonist serves a potent cocktail of perversity that’s equal parts H. R. Giger, Georges Bataille, and Lewis Carroll. Through Rickheit’s looking-glass, twin nymphets in scanty negligees trespass on the home of a fish-faced gentleman, plundering his bizarre treasures, but accepting from him an obscene lollypop; Here, a (teddy) bear- faced man cautiously pursues music through hellish landscapes like those abandoned by a careless Escher; And then there’s Jeffrey, a demented and flatulent dwarf who wears only a clown hat and welding goggles, who possesses a cannon-like pistol that he fires indiscriminately from his balcony into an enthusiastic and adoring crowd. Do narratives like these bear recommendation? Are they not the pornographic etchings of a possibly dangerous lunatic? Should I be ashamed of my enjoyment? My answer to all of these is an emphatic yes.
But I’m not ashamed and I do recommend them. Whimsical, organic, and at times strangely gentle, Rickheit’s clever little brood occupies a world full of hairy tentacles, dripping bodily fluids, and monstrous sexuality, but it is also a clever and curious place full of pleasure and amazement. Many, many good things bear the caveat “not for everybody” and it’s true that a reasonable and well-adjusted person might suspect that some tastes just aren’t worth cultivating. But if you adore the insane and delight in the transgressive, this particular hairy tentacle might tickle you too. —Jeff Waxman
To catch the wave of year-end lists and Best of the Best citations, we thought to extend our reach beyond the books we publish here at the Press, and ask some of our scholarly tastemakers the works they’d endorse as most praiseworthy in 2012. Not every pick is new and you’ll see some selections here that may not flit across the landscape of other favorites lists—but we’ll be posting the books that made our radar blink all week long, with salutations to the authors, ideas, and publishers (large and small) that keep us coming back for more.
Today, we’re off and running with picks from Carol Fisher Saller, our assistant managing editor of manuscript editing at the Press, author of The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (Or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself), and editor of The Chicago Manual of Style Online’s Q & A + Rodney Powell, our assistant editor acquiring in film and cinema studies and all-around movie guru:
What the Zhang Boys Know, by Clifford Garstang (Press 53, 2012), is a tender look at the residents of the Nanking Mansions condos in the unevenly gentrifying Chinatown of Washington, DC. The boys are the small children of a recent widower, Zhang Feng-qi, and what they don’t know is equally to the point, as the novel’s interwoven short stories take us behind the condo doors of Feng-qi, a gay couple and their little dogs, a sculptor, a desperate and penniless young woman, and others, both to see what the other residents can’t and to view developments through yet another individual’s eyes. Garstang’s forte is the short story—most of these first appeared in literary journals—and this is his second novel in stories. His first, In an Uncharted Country (Press 53, 2009), is every bit as affecting. —Carol Fisher Saller
I like to circle around subjects over an extended period of time, so it’s not surprising that my favorite book of 2012, Kazan on Directing, was first published in 2009 (the centenary of Kazan’s birth). It includes excerpts from his notebooks, personal journals, and correspondence, as well as other texts, both published and unpublished—a fascinating combination of detailed comments about individual projects and general ruminations about the art of directing for both stage and screen. Go to the chapter on Death of a Salesman (Kazan’s favorite among all the plays he directed) and be engrossed by his analysis of that great work, taken from a notebook entry and script notes. Then go on to a letter he wrote to the four principal actors several months into the run after he attended a performance and found them coasting. I think you’ll be hooked, and ready to investigate the fascinating relationship with Tennessee Williams on four plays and two films—and I haven’t even mentioned the memorable collaborations with Marlon Brando from A Streetcar Named Desire to On the Waterfront. Elia Kazan, whatever his failings, was a major American artist, and Kazan on Directing helps us understand why that is so. —Rodney Powell
Cheers to holiday reading—stay tuned for more!
The devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States, the Caribbean, and Eastern Canada continues to exceed early damage estimates, with almost 66 billion dollars in losses currently anticipated for the US alone, and a death toll of 253 afflicting seven nations. In his recent book The Human Shore: Seacoasts in History, John R. Gillis articulates—and even anticipates—how our relationship to the sea has begun to take on new and potentially catastrophic dimensions. Accounting for more than 100,000 years of seaside civilization, Gillis argues that in spite of mass movement to the coasts in the last half-century, we have forgotten how to live with our oceans. Applying this knowledge to our tenuous responses to this most recent disaster, Gillis explains how a shift in education, awareness, and planning might yet allow us to learn the lessons necessary for sustainable coinhabitance with the seas. You can read more of his thoughts on what we can do below.
“History Has Lessons for Post-Sandy America” by John R. Gillis
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Americans are finally beginning to ask themselves whether or not it might be advisable to build up to the edge of the sea. It is dawning on us that we are dealing with a human-made rather than natural disaster. The surge of populations to the sea has been accelerating in recent decades and losses have begun to mount astronomically as expensive properties, encouraged by federally-subsidized insurance, crowd the seashore. On American coasts, a culture of coping—the product of thousands of years of human habitation, on shores that began in prehistoric Africa and ultimately circled the globe—is rapidly vanishing.
Our ancestors knew not just how to live on the sea, but with it. They came there to enjoy the most productive environment the world could offer: in terms of what the land could provide, as well as the even-richer marine biota located just offshore. First as hunters and gatherers, and later assisted by sail and ultimately steam, coastal societies generated social and economic resources greater than their inland neighbors. In the early modern period, it was by means of seaborne empires that Europe extended its world dominance. The United States was born coastal, discovered and settled by sea. In 1837, Alexis de Tocqueville predicted for the young republic a glorious maritime future. The opening up of the North American continent ultimately turned this country inward, but it has always been multishored, facing out toward the Atlantic, Pacific, and the Gulf.
America’s native people had been farmer-fishers. The Europeans who followed them were similar in their orientation to both land and sea. These settlers, like the hunter-gatherers they replaced, were highly mobile, moving alongshore in search of their livelihood. They built dwellings of light, transportable materials and when they settled permanently, they confined themselves well back from the sea, often facing away from what they knew to be its ever-present dangers. These people were not risk-averse, but they were well-informed and cautious about the ways of the sea. Their beaches were strewn with wrecks, as testimony to the uncontrolled power of the oceans to take, as well as give, life. They did not ask to be rescued but instead coped as communities.
In the late twentieth century, older coastal inhabitants have been largely displaced by interior populations who have come to shore to recreate rather than earn their livings. These new residents have confined the fishers to a few small ports, taking over the beaches between, and clearing away even the memories of working life, not to mention the life-and-death struggles that once played out on the seas. Today, the beach is supposed to be the place where we get away from the world—and even the thought of its troubles. Fishing villages have now been turned into some of the world’s highest-priced real estate, forcing fishers and clammers to live elsewhere, as they commute to the few working waterfronts that still exist. In most places, these have been replaced by what John Cheever called a “second shore,” ports of “antique shops, restaurants, and tea shops.”
Gone are not only the old coastal peoples but their well-developed cultures of risk and coping. Risk has been displaced to the national treasury; coping is left to governments at the state and federal levels. This new coastal generation no longer knows how to live lightly on the shores or how to construct portable buildings that can be removed from the path of danger. Earlier generations knew the sea to be an ever-present risk, but did not treat it as an enemy from which there can be no retreat. Americans now fly flags in the face of hurricanes and resist the pulling back of lighthouses threatened by beach erosion as a betrayal of national sovereignty.
The first response of politicians to Sandy—to restore and rebuild in place—was not at all promising, but there is still time for wiser counsel. Already there have been calls for risk to be gradually shifted from the government to property owners. Instead of quick fixes like manufacturing bigger sea walls and expensive storm barriers, we can wait for nature to do its part by rebuilding barrier islands and wetlands. But we also need to do our part by educating the public on the history and culture of risk and coping. We can do the first by taking financial responsibility for our own mistakes. The second can be accomplished by sensible coastal planning and new building codes that are informed by the history of local resilience, which has much offer if we are only willing to consult its long record.
John R. Gillis is the author of The Human Shore: Seacoasts in History; Islands of the Mind; A World of Their Own Making: Myth, Ritual, and the Quest for Family Values; and Commemorations. A professor of history emeritus at Rutgers University, he now divides his time between two coasts: Northern California and Maine.
From the New York Times Book Review:
A riddle: What does Captain Ahab have in common with Sherlock Holmes?
Answer: Both characters were created by writers who sailed on whaling vessels, who knew firsthand the heft of a harpoon, the bite of raging gales and the blisters raised by oars.
. . .
A second riddle: What does Dangerous Work have in common with Moby-Dick?
A few of a hundred possible answers: Both books disguise great depth beneath the cloak of an adventure story. Both offer accounts of what was once a major industry, comparable in relative terms to today’s oil industry. Both should be read from cover to cover, shared with friends and revisited in front of a warm fire. And both, for different reasons, are books to treasure, the kind that kindle and rekindle a love of words and a feeling of irredeemable debt to the men behind them.
Read more from Bill Streever’s review here.
By: Kristi McGuire,
Blog: The Chicago Blog
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Where did you go to, when you went away?
It is as if you step by step were going
Someplace elsewhere into some other range
Of speaking, that I had no gift for speaking,
Knowing nothing of the language of that place
To which you went with naked foot at night
Into the wilderness there elsewhere in the bed,
Elsewhere somewhere in the house beyond my seeking.
I have been so dislanguaged by what happened
I cannot speak the words that somewhere you
Maybe were speaking to others where you went.
Maybe they talk together where they are,
Restlessly wandering, along the shore,
Waiting for a way to cross the river.
—”That Now are Wild and Do Not Remember,” from Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations
In 1983, the Phoenix Poets series published its inaugural volume—Strangers: A Book of Poems, by longtime Wellesley College professor David Ferry. Strangers was Ferry’s second book of his own poems; his first published work was a study on Wordsworth (The Limits of Mortality, 1959), soon followed by his debut collectionOn the Way to the Island (1960). What had Ferry been doing the past two decades? And what sort of risk might be associated with launching a series on a follow-up collection brewing for more than 20 years?
These questions fade. Ferry taught at Wellesley for thirty-seven years, before retiring as the Sophie Chantal Hart Professor Emeritus of English; he has since been elected a fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Academy of American Poets. He has gone on to garner the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry from the Library of Congress, the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award, the Teasdale Prize for Poetry, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, the Ingram Merrill Award, the William Arrowsmith Translation Prize from AGNI magazine, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.
Last night, Ferry’s world came full circle, when his Phoenix Poets collection Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations won the National Book Award.
Perhaps its worth pointing out, though widely known, that Ferry is also one of our most acclaimed translators of classical languages. Among his translations, many of which are interspersed in his poetry collections, are Gilgamesh, the Odes and Epistles of Horace, and the Eclogues and Georgics of Virgil; he is currently at work on translation of the Aeneid.
There is much to say about Ferry’s body of work—it is sparse and eloquent, yet expansively self-aware; it is charged with a kind of cause and effect that somehow always engages the present, even when that present willfully elides with nostalgia or prognostication; it is sometimes cranky with its own attachments and observations, but never cantankerous; and it’s almost always involved in that acute practice of translation, whether from language to language or gesture to word.
In the midst of the AAUP’s inaugural University Press Week, we couldn’t be more pleased for Ferry—and proud of how the work done by university presses continues to matter.
By: Kristi McGuire,
Blog: The Chicago Blog
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Why do university presses matter? That’s what’s at stake for AAUP’s University Press Week, a celebration of the Association of American University Presses’ 75 years of commitment to promoting the work and interests of nonprofit scholarly publishers. At some point, the answer to that question was more or less obvious; in 1937, when the AAUP was founded, it’s mission was inferred from a decade’s worth of cooperative activities—a joint catalog, shared direct mailing lists, cooperative ads, and an educational directory. Since then, scholarly publishing has become tantamount to the production of knowledge it chooses to disseminate—it’s diverse in its platforms; complex in its shepherding and inclusion of disciplines; rich in its roster of scholars, critics, editors, and translators; and acute in its responses to the shifting parameters of technology, the auspices of funding, and the risk of institutionalization. No static thing, this.
We asked editor, writer, and literary critic Scott Esposito, whose online journal the Quarterly Conversation bears significant responsibility for the discovery of Sergio De La Pava’s self-published debut novel A Naked Singularity (republished by the University of Chicago Press in 2012), to help us fly our flag. Over conversation at a dim, happy-hour bar in San Francisco’s financial district, we asked Esposito: if given the choice, is there a particular work we’ve published that you feel has contributed to your own engagement with criticism? Esposito’s answer was swift and definitive. When you read his riff on Wayne C. Booth’s Modernist Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent below, you’ll be illuminated as to how this “philosophy of good reasons,” first published in October 1974, continues to assert the formidable and irreplaceably eloquent role Booth held as both a literary critic and scholar of rhetoric in the twentieth century. It suffices to say that he wrote some of the most influential criticism of our times, and we couldn’t think of a better reason for why university presses matter than their continued commitment to foster thinkers like Booth and to take pride in watching their ideas blossom for another generation.
I find it impossible to read Wayne C. Booth and not come away illuminated. Though he’s generally classified as a literary critic, Booth was really much more than that. He was an amazingly well-read, dedicated thinker who showed how questions about literature were really questions about human perception and the philosophies with which we approach life.
As a writer, Booth was never showy, and his style is anything but ostentatious. One imagines that, instead of trying to produce catchy one-liners, he strove most of all for clarity in his writing, trusting in the depth of his thoughts and originality of his arguments to provide that added zing that so many lesser thinkers attempt to contrive through cloying prose and overzealous forms. Reading Booth, one feels in the presence of a mind whose remarkable honesty and humility is rewarded with great rigor—just try and read him and not feel that your own reading has been dwarfed by his. (As an added treat, many of Booth’s footnotes feel more like miniature essays than extended parentheticals. They are paragons of the form.)
Booth turned his mind to some of the biggest questions in literature—how it works, whether or not it is moral, why irony had gained such ascendance over it by the middle of the twentieth century—and I feel that he made lasting contributions. Reading his books as much as fifty years later, they still feel relevant, their thought capable of shaking you out of complacency. Though it is not uncommon to find critics who can give erudite, nuanced readings of texts, it is almost impossible to find critics who can credibly do what Booth did, again and again: take literature and make it feel essential to life’s big questions.
For a while now, I have felt that Booth’s Modernist Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent (one thing Booth lacked was a gift for titles) was extraordinarily ahead of its time. Booth published it in 1974, just as it seemed US politics and society were reaching a nadir of cynicism and irony, and the book is an all-out assault on the doctrine of doubt, which he associated with the teachings of modernism that he argued were predominant in Western society. In the book Booth himself admits to having once been in thrall to doubt (his conversion toward, and then away from, Bertrand Russell is documented here), and his explanation of why he changed his mind forms the cornerstone of an edifice of belief. Though history proved that Western culture could fall to far greater depths of cynicism and irony than was possible even in 1974, I would argue that the turn toward belief that Booth hoped for in this book is now underway. His reasons for believing, as well as his advocacy of the American pragmatist philosophers’ thoughts on those matters, are now hugely relevant.
Of course, as a student of Kafka, Beckett, Mann, Bernhard, and so many others, I understand the allure of doubt and, indeed, its relevance to a world still very much built on individualism, spiritual uncertainty, and political misdirection. Yet Booth’s book is one of a few key reads that have oriented my mind toward belief and, I think, shown me ways to take the next step beyond what Booth called the “modernist dogmas.”
Wayne Booth should most definitely continue to be read. To be blunt, his thoughts are simply indispensable to any serious student of literature. And anyone who is curious about the world and seeks to live an examined life will find his thoughts almost equally necessary.
Scott Esposito is the editor of the Quarterly Conversation, a web journal of literary reviews and essays, and the coauthor (with Lauren Elkin) of The End of Oulipo?, available from Zero Books in January 2013.
Up next? Jason Weidemann, senior acquisitions editor in sociology and media studies at the University of Minnesota Press, on a recent trip to Cape Town—and the implications for scholarly publishing. For additional information about #UPWeek and to see the full schedule for its associated blog tour, click here.
By: Kristi McGuire,
Blog: The Chicago Blog
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#UPWeek continues—Why do university presses matter? How do they conceive themselves and their role in publishing’s none-too-subtly shifting domain?
MIT Press editorial director Gita Manaktala discusses adapting to changes in scholarship and knowledge production—and how collaboration and timeliness remain key.
At the University of California Press blog, library relations manager Rachel Lee emphasizes the importance of university press publishing to research libraries, as they confront industry-wide shifts, as well as the changing role of the humanities as a key discipline.
University of Hawai’i Press editorial board member Barbara Watson Andaya takes on the importance of specialist knowledge in our increasingly fragmented yet globalized world.
R. Bruce Elder blogs for Wilfrid Laurier Press on “the state of humanity in a society dominated by technology, unearthing the heart of academic publishing and its impact on an ever-conforming world.”
And finally: three University Press of Florida interns (Claire Eder, Samantha Pryor, and Alia Almeida) write about how their time at the Press shaped—and challenged—their direction.
One of the ways in which scholarly publishing continues to matter is in offering a home to interdisciplinary forms of knowledge production and the array of voices, styles, and practices they weave together. A recent example is Alma Gottlieb and Philip Graham’s Braided Worlds, which combines an anthropological ethnography of the Beng people from Côte d’Ivoire (the subject of their first collaboration Parallel Worlds) with a narrative that is part memoir, part literary journalism, and always breathlessly engaged with the process of discovery. Braiding their own stories with those of the villagers, Gottlieb and Graham take on humanity’s inextricable links: as in the excerpt below (first excerpted by McSweeney’s), which recounts the ceremony through which Graham’s father is accepted into the Beng afterlife. You can read more about Braided Worlds here.
Darkness had long fallen when Amenan’s older brother Baa arrived in the courtyard, guitar at his side and accompanied by a group of friends, to sing some of his songs in honor of my father’s death.
Neighbors strolled in slowly, followed by villagers from compounds farther away, far more than I’d expected. When an old person dies, Beng funerals celebrate a long life lived, and my father’s 75 years seemed to qualify him. So the crowd had come out of respect, but I guessed that people were also drawn by the promise of Baa’s performance. I had recently asked Amenan why the usual village evening dances hadn’t been performed since we’d arrived in the village. “We dance when we’re happy,” she’d said, adding, “these days no one is happy”—words that revealed yet another cost of the country’s continuing economic troubles. Well, I thought now, at least my father’s funeral would offer the village some temporary pleasure—Baa’s jaunty music was popular, and not all the songs tonight would be sad.
As the crowd grew, Amenan and her daughters brought out extra wooden stools, chairs, and straw mats from the compound’s various buildings. Then she left for a few minutes and returned, carrying a liter of the heady homemade brew called kutuku that she must have bought from a neighbor, to pass around among her guests—another good reason for a large turnout. Yacouba entered the compound, and I rose to greet him, so grateful he’d biked all the way from Kosangbé for this ceremony, grateful for the support of his embrace as he said with real feeling the Beng phrase of condolence, “A kunglia.” I nodded to André when he arrived—thankfully, he had forgiven my rudeness from that first evening of our return to the village.
Kokora Kouassi sat on a stool facing the guests, a gourd holding water in one hand, a shot glass holding kutuku in the other. Amenan turned to us and said, “Aba is about to pray and invoke the spirits.”
His head bent to the earth, Kouassi began to speak:
Dear Grandfather Denju, spirit of our ancestors,
Here is water for you,
Take it and drink
Kouassi paused, then tipped first the gourd, then the shot glass, dripping water and the clear alcohol onto the earth.
Father of Kouadio, you who are dead,
Here is water for you,
Take it and drink
Again, Kouassi made his offerings, then set the gourd and glass on the ground before continuing.
Father of Kouadio, your son is among us
To share with us your funeral rites
He doesn’t forget you,
He will never forget you
Rest calmly, the earth
Will be soft for you
Give good fortune to your son,
His wife and child
The nearly full moon glowed softly, casting night shadows over our growing circle. Tall and lanky, Baa stepped forward with a calm demeanor I admired because it was the opposite of my usual noisy internal traffic. Baa strummed his guitar, his friends clanged iron bells quietly, rhythmically, and as music filled the cool night air, I huddled with the comfort of my wife and young son in the middle of the compound and listened to the lilt of the songs. Baa sang too quickly for me to make out individual words, but Amenan, sitting beside us, whispered quick translations.
Our only father, he’s gone, he’s died,
He has been snatched from our hands,
Look: my only father, who fed me, is dead,
Snatched from my hands
I stirred uncomfortably in my chair at these words. If only the grief they embodied could be so simple. My father had worked hard all his life, each day framed by a grueling commute to and from New York City. As a child, I don’t think I’d ever appreciated the sacrifices he made to offer his family a middle-class life. Yet once home, he began drinking before dinner and by nine o’clock he could barely recognize anyone in his family. Perhaps that had been his intention. My parents’ marriage had long ago become a misery, punctuated by my mother’s frightening bouts of rage. When I grew older she turned that anger on me, and the habit of my father’s long-suffering ways made it impossible for him to step in. Was my leaving for Africa this summer my way of paying my father back for his inability to defend me? I squirmed in shame.
Baa sang again, a humorous song about a young woman who argued with everyone. Glad the evening had finally begun to offer lighter moments, I continued to nurse my glass of kutuku. Then Amenan began murmuring the lyrics to another song:
As long as you’re not dead yet,
Problems will always follow you.
Problems will always follow us in this world,
Even if you have money,
As long as you’re not dead yet,
Problems will always follow you
In this world of people
The time had come for me to give a speech, and I stood, cleared my throat with a cough, and in halting French said that my father had worked hard all his life, loved his family, and knew of many of the villagers there tonight from the letters I had written to him from Bengland, and that he would be happy that they had come tonight to the ceremony. As Amenan translated, I felt more and more the fraud for pretending all had been well between my father and me, and I couldn’t have felt more relief when Baa and his friends started another song.
Before I’d left for Africa this summer my father had complained about a sentence in Parallel Worlds that mentioned “my unhappily married parents.” Though now I wished I had apologized for causing him pain, at the time I’d said, “But it’s true, so why be so upset?”
“Because now everyone will know,” he replied simply, disappointment palpable in his voice. My father had struggled with the necessity of my writing the truth as I saw it, especially when the emotional details of my short stories cut a little too close to home. Tonight I felt his reply the way a Beng person might hear a parent’s curse, as the sort of words that might make someone go mad.
Across from me in Amenan’s compound Yacouba nodded his head to the music, and I remembered that of course the Beng mask their own dramas through ritual. Yacouba’s father had died since our last visit to Bengland. I could only imagine my friend’s conflicted feelings during what must have been an animist religious funeral, since Yacouba had converted to Islam as a way to reject his father, whose drunken wanderings through the village had shamed him.
Nathaniel had collapsed into sleep on the mat beside us, and he looked so peaceful, eyes shut, mouth half-open. I wondered if we should wake him so he could take in this latest phase of an African funeral for his grandfather. No, there would be more ritual moments in the days to follow, let him get his rest now, since he’d spend tomorrow playing hard with his friends under a harsh summer’s sun. Baa continued his singing, Amenan continued translating his verses about backbiting friends, a wife’s erratic behavior, but I no longer followed closely, lost in words of accusation, apology, even of comfort, that I’d never again be able to say to my father.
Kokora Kouassi had arrived early in our compound to make a pronouncement, and he sat across from us, his nearly blind eyes staring into the distance, the morning air chilly from last night’s rain.
“Welcome, Aba,” we greeted him.
Speaking through Amenan, Kouassi began, “Kouadio, I had a dream last night.” I nodded. “Your father appeared to me. From wurugbé.”
From wurugbé, the Beng afterlife. I didn’t know how to respond. It never occurred to me that my father, after his Beng funeral, would become a member of the culture’s afterlife. In wurugbé the dead are also supposed to understand every language, and I could only shake my head at the idea of my father now speaking Beng easily, considering my years of struggle to learn it.
Noting my silence, Kouassi added, “In the dream, he and your son met.”
“Ehhh?” I said, slipping into the Beng style of encouraging a speaker to continue, wondering what he would say about Nathanial who, considered by the Beng as the reincarnation of a revered ancestor, was now known as “Grandfather Denju.”
Kouassi then recited what Amenan said was a Beng proverb, before translating: “You need two hands working together to wash the back.”
I glanced at Alma, but the slight frown across her otherwise amazed face—and what did my face look like?—told me she didn’t have a clue either. She returned to scribbling furiously away in her notebook while I waited, guessing that what followed would clear up the mystery.
“In my dream,” Kouassi continued, “your son told his grandfather that he had come to visit us with his mother and father, and that he had been named for N’zri Denju.” Kouassi paused, stared in my direction. “Your father agrees that this new name for your son is all right.”
The original Denju then appeared in the dream as well. Kouassi said, “Your father and Denju are both proud of your son.”
I shared that pride, though it left me a bit dizzy: my father and Nathaniel and I were now united within the nurturing dreams of my old friend Kokora Kouassi. As I listened, I felt multiplied into mourning son, doting father, and respectful “grandson” all at once. But Kouassi wasn’t finished.
“Kouadio, in my dream your father asked for a favor. He’s new at death. He misses human food. He’d like you to leave an offering outside your doorstep tonight. He just wants a taste, to remember.”
I assured Kouassi that I would do this, though I wasn’t certain what to offer. I said, “Aba, my father doesn’t know Beng food, it’s different from what he ate in America.”
He smiled. “He’ll like it,” adding that the original N’zri Denju, apparently, would be joining my father for this snack. Kouassi suggested that we collect four empty cans of tomato paste, fill two with palm wine and the other two with bits of cooked yam. This was just the sort of meal, unfortunately, my father would have enjoyed when alive, his diet always low on vegetables and high on starches and alcohol. It might very well have contributed to his cancer. Yet what harm could it do him now?
“When you wake in the morning,” Kouassi cautioned, “don’t be disappointed if the food is still there. Remember, your father is an ancestor now. He can’t really eat. But he can take in the food’s essence. That will be enough.”
I thanked Kouassi with a rush of affection for his message. I’d known this gentle man for nearly fifteen years and only now realized the depth of his friendship. Kouassi wanted to bring my father to me, a mourning son far from home and family, and this desire had given him his dream. What I didn’t say was that Kouassi’s words didn’t ring true. My father had barely noticed my son, hadn’t even called for days after the birth of his first grandchild.
I listened to Nathaniel’s whistle on the other side of Amenan’s compound—he and his friends were back to building a little house made from discarded mud bricks. How quickly he’d entered into the life of the village. Knowing that the Beng believe the dead exist invisibly among the living, I found it comforting to think of my father’s spirit hovering in our compound, finally able to appreciate Nathaniel. Leaning into the fiction of it all, I could believe my father was finally able to openly express affection, from the emotional safety of the afterlife.
Kouassi stood to leave, then stopped and, resting on his cane, concluded with, “_Wurugbé_ is for white and black people—in wurugbé, people are the same. They all live together.”
By: Kristi McGuire,
Blog: The Chicago Blog
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And Bid Him Sing: A Biography of Countée Cullen by Charles Molesworth considers the extensive body of work and unpublished correspondence, as well as the life of Harlem’s legendary poet-citizen. Cullen’s volume Color (1925) was a watershed moment for the Harlem Renaissance; his translation of Euripides’ Medea was the first by an African American of a Greek tragedy; and his tumultuous existence, which included distant ties with his mother, a short-lived marriage to the daughter of W. E. B. Du Bois, and an untimely death at the age of forty-two, shadowed his role as one of the chief voices of his generation.
A complicated life often demands more than simple illustration. This is evident in Molesworth’s biography, but also in the unattributed cover image gracing the book. The sketch of Cullen, credited to the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian, is by German–American artist and designer Winold Reiss (1884–1953), who painted over 250 images of Native Americans (most notably the Blackfeet), traveled to Mexico to portray Aztec revolutionaries, and contributed dozens of portraits of Harlem Renaissance figures during the first-half of the twentieth century, when racial prejudice and tensions undermined much of American culture. His interior designs ranged from cafes at the Hotel St. Moritz to murals commissioned by the Cincinnati Airport, and his illustrations graced the covers of mainstream magazine’s like Scribner’s.
More on Reiss’s role in the Harlem Renaissance comes from an introduction by Jeffrey C. Stewart, Reiss scholar and author of o Color America: Portraits by Winold Reiss (Smithsonian Institution, 1989), and Winold Reiss: An Illustrated Checklist of His Portraits (Smithsonian Institution, 1990):
In 1921 he visited his native Germany on the only trip he made back to Europe. Here he drew many portraits of German and Swedish folk types and colorful characters. After his return to New York City in 1922, he was chosen by the editor of the social welfare journal Survey Graphic to portray the major figures of the Harlem Renaissance for a special issue entitled Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro [March 1, 1925]. Dr. Alain Locke, Howard University philosophy professor and literary critic, was so impressed with Reiss’s portraits that he chose him to illustrate The New Negro: An Interpretation , the most important anthology of the Harlem Renaissance. In 1926, Survey Graphic asked Reiss to illustrate a special Pacific issue with portraits of Asian Americans.
As Reiss wrote in the September 1950 issue of The Native Voice, “To understand life, we cannot have prejudice.” Many of Reiss’s most iconic images stem from his work for Locke’s The New Negro, including his portrait of Locke himself (below). Perhaps more fascinating, though, is the role played by this German immigrant artist in helping to visualize race at a moment when one of America’s most important black arts movements gave us the permission to truly see ourselves as a nation, which could, as Cullen wrote with anger and earnestness, “make a poet black, and bid him sing!”
It’s a #UPWeek blog tour this week, part of the ruckus for AAUP’s University Press Week—celebrating 75 years strong since the founding of the Association of American University Presses. We’ll be joining 25 other UPs in highlighting the workings of the university press blogosphere. Five of our sisters-in-arms were featured today, and here’s a wrap-up of what they had to say about why university presses matter:
At the Harvard University Press blog, Anthony Grafton, past president of the American Historical Association and longtime HUP-author, recalls how university press books introduced him to a world of discovery and argument as a young man—and continue to influence him still.
(One of our favorites) Author Jack Halberstam takes on the theme of the university press at the Duke UP blog, emphasizing their role in disseminating both radical and slow knowledge during a time when literacy is on the line.
At Stanford University Press, Steve Levingston, nonfiction editor at the Washington Post Book World, looks at some recent university of press hits from the Political Bookworm blog.
Claire Bond Potter, author of the Tenured Radical blog, considers how and why university presses are sustainable presses for the University of Georgia Press blog.
And finally, Ned Stuckey-French and Bruce Miller offer a bit of a manifesto on why we need university presses—the University of Missouri Press knows this better than anyone lately, and the authors’ collaborative take on their blog isn’t to be missed.
For a full schedule of this week’s blog tour, click here.
By: Kristi McGuire,
Blog: The Chicago Blog
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On Election Day, it’s never a bad idea to revisit the larger consequences and historical stakes behind our democratic sweepstakes. Jane Addams (1860–1935)—sociologist, author, philosopher, suffragette, Nobel Peace Prize–winner, and founder of Hull House—felt frustration during the Progressive Era, in part because of the conditions affecting the working class, women, and children, but also because of the moral failings of industrial capitalism, which she attributed less to the system and more to the foibles of individual capitalists. She strove to view the labor movement not as a one-armed political struggle, but as a lens through which we might attempt to unify our sympathies for the suffering of others. In this excerpt from Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy, Louise W. Knight explores how Addams’s experience with the Pullman Strike in 1894 led her to question—and later, so eloquently articulate—the dangers of moral absolutism to democratic citizenship.
Jane Addams’s contribution to Maps was her essay “The Settlement as a Factor in the Labor Movement.” Her intention was to give a history of Hull House’s relations with unions as a sort of case study and to examine why and how settlements should be engaged with the labor movement. The piece is straightforward in tone, nuanced, not polemical. In it she settles fully into the even-handed interpretive role she had first attempted in her speech on domestic servants eighteen months earlier.
But the essay also burns with the painful knowledge she gained from the Pullman Strike. She wrestles with the tension between the labor movement’s loyalty to its class interests and her own vision of a classless, universalized, democratic society. And she probes the philosophical question she and [John] Dewey had been debating: Are (class) antagonisms inevitable? Are antagonisms useful? The resulting essay was the most in-depth exploration of the subject of class that Addams would ever write. She was trying to find her way back from the edge of the cliff—class warfare—to which the Pullman Strike had brought her and the nation.
On the question of what the strike accomplished, her thoughts had shifted somewhat. Although she had told Dewey that antagonism was always useless, she argues in “The Settlement as a Factor” that strikes, which were certainly were a form of antagonism, can be useful and necessary. Strikes are often “the only method of arresting attention to [the workers’] demands”; they also offer the permanent benefits of strengthening of the ties of “brotherhood” among the strikers and producing (at least when successful) a more “democratic” relation between workers and their employer. Perhaps Dewey had been more persuasive than he realized.
She still felt, however, that personal emotion was the main cause of antagonisms, including strikes. She admits that labor has a responsibility to fight for the interests of the working people (that is, more leisure and wealth) but only because achieving them would help the workingman feel less unjustly treated. She charges labor with storing up of “grudges” against “capitalists” and calls this “selfish.” She ignores the question of whether low wages and long hours are fair. Social justice is not a touchstone for her arguments in this essay.
Instead, Addams stresses the ideal she had emphasized since coming to Chicago: that of a society united by its sense of common humanity. She writes prophetically of “the larger solidarity which includes labor and capital” and that is based on a “notion of universal kinship” and “the common good.” One might read into her argument the conclusion of social justice, yet the principle remains uninvoked. Instead, Addams stays focused on feelings. She is calling for sympathy for others’ suffering, not for a change in workers’ physical condition.
Addams disapproves of capitalism but not because of its effects on the workers. The moral failings of the individual capitalist trouble her. She slips in a rather radical quotation by an unnamed writer: “The crucial question of the time is, ‘In what attitude stand ye toward the present industrial system? Are you content that greed . . . shall rule your business life, while in your family and social life you live so differently? Shall Christianity have no play in trade?’” In one place, although only one place, she takes workers’ perspective and refers to capitalists as “the power-holding classes.” (Here at last was a glancing nod toward power.) The closest she comes to making a social justice argument is in a sentence whose Marxist flavor, like the previous phrase, suggests Florence Kelley’s influence, yet it, too, retains Addams’s characteristic emphasis on feelings. She hopes there will come a time “when no factory child in Chicago can be overworked and underpaid without a protest from all good citizens, capitalist and proletarian.” While Debs had wanted to arouse middle-class sympathies as a ways to improve the working conditions of the Pullman laborers, Addams wanted the labor movement to cause society to be more unified in its sympathies. Their means and ends were reversed.
Addams found the idea that labor’s organizing efforts could benefit society compelling. “If we can accept” that possibility, she adds, then the labor movement is “an ethical movement.” The claim was a startling one for her to make. It seems the strike had shown her at least one moral dimension to the workers’ struggle. The negative had become the potentially positive. Instead of seeing labor’s union organizing as a symptom of society’s moral decay, as she once had and many other middle-class people still did, she was considering the hypothesis that labor organizing was a sign of society’s moral redemption.
The Pullman Strike also cracked her moral absolutism. In “The Settlement as a Factor” she argues for the first time that no person or group can be absolutely right or absolutely wrong. “Life teaches us,” she writes, that there is “nothing more inevitable than that right and wrong are most confusingly mixed; that the blackest wrong [can be] within our own motives.” When we triumph, she adds, we bear “the weight of self-righteousness.” In other words, no one—not unions and working-class people, not businesses and middle-class people, not settlement workers and other middle-class reformers—could claim to hold or ever could hold the highest moral ground. The absolute right did not exist.
For Addams, rejecting moral absolutism was a revolutionary act. She had long believed that a single true, moral way existed and that a person, in theory, could find it. This conviction was her paternal inheritance (one recalls her father’s Christian perfectionism) and her social-cultural inheritance. Moral absolutism was the rock on which her confident Anglo-American culture was grounded. (It is also the belief that most sets the nineteenth century in the West apart from the twenty-first century.) Now she was abandoning that belief. In the territory of her mind, tectonic plates were shifting and a new land mass of moral complexity was arising.
In the fall of 1894, as she was writing “The Settlement as a Factor,” this new perspective became her favorite theme. In October she warned the residents of another newly opened settlement, Chicago Commons, “not to be alarmed,” one resident recalled, “if we found our ethical standards broadening as we became better acquainted with the real facts of the lives of our neighbors.” That same month, speaking to supporters of the University of Chicago Settlement, she hinted again at the dangers of moral absolutism. Do not, she said, seek “to do good.” Instead, simply try to understand life. And when a group of young men from the neighborhood told her they proposed to travel to New York City that fall to help end political corruption and spoke disdainfully of those who were corrupt, she admonished them against believing that they were purer than others and asked them if they knew what harm they did in assuming that they were right and others were wrong.
What had she seen during the Pullman Strike that led to this new awareness? She had seen the destructive force of George Pullman’s moral self-righteousness. It seemed to her that his lack of self-doubt, that is, his unwillingness to negotiate, had produced a national tragedy; his behavior and its consequences had revealed the evil inherent in moral absolutism. In Twenty Years she writes of how, in the midst of the strike’s worst days, as she sat by her dying sister’s bedside, she was thinking about “that touch of self-righteousness which makes the spirit of forgiveness well-nigh impossible.”
She grounded her rejection of absolute truth in her experience. “Life teaches us,” she wrote. This was as revolutionary for her as the decision itself. In “Subjective Necessity” she had embraced experience as a positive teacher in a practical way. Here she was allowing experience to shape her ethics. The further implication was that ethics might evolve, but the point is not argued in “The Settlement as a Factor.” Still, in her eyes ideas no longer had the authority to establish truth that they once had. Her pragmatism was strengthening, but it had not yet blossomed into a full-fledged theory of truth.
The Pullman Strike taught her in a compelling way that moral absolutism was dangerous, but she had been troubled by its dangers before. She had made her own mistakes and, apparently, a whole train of them related to self-righteousness. The details have gone unrecorded, but they made her ready to understand, and not afterwards forget, something James O. Huntington, the Episcopal priest who had shared the podium with her at the Plymouth conference, had said in a speech at Hull House the year before the strike. “I once heard Father Huntington say,” she wrote in 1901, that it is “the essence of immorality to make an exception of one’s self.” She elaborated. “[T]o consider one’s self as . . . unlike the rank and file is to walk straight into the pit of self-righteousness.” As Addams interpreted Huntington, he meant there was no moral justification for believing in one’s superiority, not even a belief that one was right and the others wrong.
A deeply held, central moral belief is like a tent pole: it influences the shape of the entire tent that is a person’s thought. A new central belief is like a taller or shorter tent pole; it requires the tent to take a new shape. The tent stakes must be moved. Jane Addams had decided there was no such thing as something or someone that was purely right or purely wrong, but the rest of her thought had yet to be adjusted. Among other things, she still believed that a person of high culture was superior to those who lacked it; that is, she still believed that cultural accomplishment could justify self-righteousness.
Some hints of this can be found in the adjectives Addams attaches to democracy in “The Settlement as a Factor.” After proposing that the workers might lead the ethical movement of democracy, she anticipates the fear her readers might feel at this idea. “We must learn to trust our democracy,” she writes, “giant-like and threatening as it may appear in its uncouth strength and untried applications.” Addams was edging toward trusting that working-class people, people without the cultural training in “the best,” could set their own course. Such trust, should she embrace it, would require her to go beyond her old ideas—her enthusiasm for egalitarian social etiquette, for the principle of cooperation, and for the ideal of a unified humanity. Not feeling such trust yet, she was unable to give working people’s power a ringing endorsement. The essay is therefore full of warnings about the negative aspects of the labor movement.
These radical claims—that the labor movement was or could become ethical, that the movement was engaged in a struggle that advanced society morally, that capitalists were greedy and ethically compromised, and that there was no absolute right or wrong—opened up a number of complicated issues. Addams decided she needed to write a separate essay—would it be a speech?—to make these points more fully and to make them explicitly, as honesty compelled her to do, about the Pullman strike. Sometime in 1894, she began to write it. A page from the first draft, dated that year, survives with the title “A Modern Tragedy.” In its first paragraph she writes that, because we think of ourselves as modern, “it is hard to remember that the same old human passions persist” and can often lead to “tragedy.” She invited her readers to view “one of these great tragedies” from “the historic perspective,” to seek an “attitude of mental detachment” and “stand aside from our personal prejudices.” Still grieving over what had happened, Addams was hoping that the wisdom of culture, of the humanities, of Greek and Shakespearean tragedy could give her the comfort of emotional distance. But she had pulled too far back. The opening was so blandly vague and philosophical that no one could tell what the essay was about. She set the piece aside.
You can read more from Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy here.
By: Kristi McGuire,
Blog: The Chicago Blog
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Carlo Rotella grew up on Chicago’s South Side. His native-son meets hometown-boy-makes-good panache is evident in the essays he writes, several of which are gathered in his recent collection Playing in Time: Essays, Profiles, and Other True Stories. At times lyrical, engaged with its subjects as a take-home assignment on interpersonal craft, and always formidably on-point in the swings it takes at our inimitably fallible humanity, Rotella’s writing is immediately recognizable, as branded to the writer as to the cities, personages, complaints, and edification he elucidates. Who else would mix fencing clubs with the middle-aged white baby boomer homes of the blues, cigar-smoking CEOs of Focus Features with child-rearing crime writers, Homer with Muhammad Ali? Even his accompanying playlist for the internet blog Largehearted Boy is charged with the same frisson: you can take the boy out of the city, but you can’t take the William DeVaughn out of the boy. His prose is “crisp,” as the outlets say, and the connections he makes jostle and reify our own naked encounters with the world. We’re lucky enough to run one of the essays published in the book—a riff on boxing, the Iliad, the comp-lit trafficking of a tagline, and Mr. Muhammad Ali—below. Here’s hoping you enjoy it as much as we do.
“The Greatest” by Carlo Rotella
Recently (as these things are measured), and after almost three milelnnia of not imitating Muhammad Ali, a Greek boxer named Epeus started saying, “I am the greatest.”
Epeus is a character in Homer’s Iliad; he makes a brief appearance toward the poem’s end, in book 23, during the funeral games for Patroclus. His moment at center stage begins when the bereaved Achilles proposes a boxing match, offering a prize mule to the winner and a two-handed cup to the loser. Epeus stands up to lay his hand on the mule, telling the assembled host that somebody else will have to settle for the cup. He freely admits he’s not much of a soldier, but he claims to be the best boxer around, predicts extravagant suffering for his opponent—”I’ll open his face and crack his ribs,” in one translation—and suggests that the opponent’s seconds stay close by to carry out the loser.
“Huge but compact, clever with his fists,” Epeus so effectively radiates competence that the rest of the Greek army, including many of the Iliad‘s most illustrious god-descended heroes, stand around scuffling in the dirt in discouraged silence until a minor hero named Euryalos takes them off the hook by accepting the challenge. Naive, dumb, or brave, Euryalos gamely mixes it up with Epeus, who knocks his block off. Although the various translations disagree about the exact nature of the knockout punch—some call it an uppercut and others a hook, while most are content to say in less precise language that Epeus smote the hell out of him—they all agree that Epeus sees an opening in the other man’s guard and ends the fight in a hurry. In my favorite rendering, Euryalos goes down “the way a leaping fish / falls backward in the offshore sea when north wind / ruffles it down a beach littered with seawrack: / black waves hide him.” It is the Iliad, after all, so he can’t just fall over.
In two recent translations of the Iliad—Martin Hammond’s excellent prose version of 1987 and Robert Fagles’s celebrated “modern English Homer” version of 1990—Epeus in his prefight boast says, “I am the greatest.” Neither translator has him add “of all time,” as Ali usually did, but “I am the greatest” has since the 1960s been one of Ali’s trademarked bits of the English language. (Another is that catamaran of a simile, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” which Homer would have appreciated.) Because Ali repeated his poetic formulas with such Homeric regularity, anyone who has heard Ali say “I am the greatest” often enough—and there was a time when most of the English-speaking world fell into that category—will hear his mildly hysterical but still Kentucky-soft voice coming from the mouth of Epeus.
It may be startling to notice that Homer has been made to execute a flawless Ali Shuffle in the mist of his own poetic footwork, but bear in mind that the original footwork resembles Ali’s in the first place. Fagles described it as an “ideal coincidence of popular usage and Homer’s language.” He told me, “I wouldn’t have done it if I had to drag the phrase in by the hind legs, but ‘I am the greatest’ comes so close to the Greek.” The effect, he concluded, was only to add resonance and depth to the original.
“I am the greatest” does not turn up in translations of the Iliad done prior to the rise of Ali in the 1960s. In George Chapman’s seventeenth-century translation, Epeus delivers a lilting “at cuffes I bost me best.” Alexander Pope’s eighteenth-century version has Epeus saying, “th’ undoubted victor I.” In William Cullen Bryant’s American Iliad of the nineteenth century, Epeus is matter-of-fact: “In combat with the cestus . . . I claim to be the best man here.” Robert Fitzgerald’s often colloquial translation of 1974, done well into the age of Ali, does not use the phrase either—his folksy Epeus weights in iwth “I’m best, I don’t mind saying”—so we must conclude that Ali’s effect on Homer has been uneven at best.
It is an uneven effect but a measurable one, so that we are obliged to ask what it might mean that Epeus—a character in a book—has fallen under Ali’s influence in recent years. When we call the Iliad a classic, we mean, among other things, that it is a living literature constantly given new resonances by the succession of historical moments in which it is read. It makes sense that Ali, who rose to worldwide prominence as television sports and news came into their own, has inflected our retelling of Homer’s boxing match. And the next line of Epeus’s speech—”I am the greatest . . . So what if I’m not a world-class man of war?”—now raises echoes of Ali’s famous refusal to be drafted during the Vietnam War.
An expert punch, like a well-turned phrase, can take on a life of its own. Ali has given us plenty of both: punches like the near-invisible “anchor punch” that ended the second Liston fight so abruptly, or the series of punches that started Foreman on his long trip to the canvas in Kinshasa, his armor clashing around him; phrases like “I am the greatest,” “Float like a butterfly . . . ,” and “I got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.” They come down the years to us and with us, kept fresh in popular memory, on videotape, in common speech and the talk of aficionados, and, strangely enough, in book 23 of the Iliad. The punches and phrases will outlive their author; they already have outlived his youth and vigor. As Muhammad Ali’s mouth and hands, once so insistently eloquent, slow down and eventually fall silent in the public forum, we are left to conjure with his handiwork and his words. They, and therefore Ali himself, enjoy the second life in popular memory that the Greek heroes held so dear.
Native Chicagoans, please consider joining Carlo Rotella at two upcoming events this weekend—
At the Rainbo Club in the Ukrainian Village, Carlo will read from his new book and entertain with a playlist of his nostalgic native son-favorites from 1970s Southside anthems to the Polkaholics:
Saturday, November 3rd
Rainbo Club / 1150 North Damen Avenue
And, hear more about the resonance between the Iliad and Muhammad Ali when Rotella speaks on boxing at the Chicago Humanities Festival:
Sunday, November 4th
Harold Washington Library Center (Cindy Pritzker Auditorium)
400 South State Street
By: Kristi McGuire,
Blog: The Chicago Blog
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We’re genuinely delighted to announce the release of our University of Chicago Spanish-English Dictionary App, extending the benefits of the University of Chicago Spanish-English Dictionary, Sixth Edition (updated with six thousand new words and meanings selected for their frequency of use, rising popularity, and situational necessity) into the digital realm. We invite you to view the app’s video trailer and visit our satellite site, updated with the latest information about the app, the UCS-ED, and a limited-time offer to purchase the book at a 20 percent discount.
The University of Chicago Spanish-English Dictionary App for iPhone and iPod touch is now available for purchase in the iTunes App store.
For more than sixty years, The University of Chicago Spanish–English Dictionary has set the standard for concise bilingual dictionaries. Now thoroughly revised to reflect the most current vocabulary and usage in both languages, this dictionary enables users to find the precise equivalents of the words and phrases they seek on the go, or on their reference shelf.
The Spanish–English Dictionary app is a precise and practical bilingual application for iPhone® and iPod touch® based on the sixth edition of The University of Chicago Spanish–English Dictionary. Browse or search the full contents to display all instances of a term for fuller understanding of how it is used in both languages. Build your vocabulary by creating Word Lists and testing yourself on terms you need to master with flash cards and multiple choice quizzes. Whether you are preparing for next week’s class or upcoming international travel, this app is the essential on-the-go reference.
And—for fun—some rejected promotional outtakes/app-naming follies:
the University of Chicago Re-Amped Vulgar Latinate Palatalization Meme Generator and Rococo Cat Collection
the University of Chicago Verb-Framed Voiceless Stopper, i.e. Fosse
the University of Chicago vast phonetic inventory of the Andalusian primary-sourced term for “bobby pin,” mitigated by the subversion of gender and the signifying economy
Capitalismo y libertad
By: Kristi McGuire,
Blog: The Chicago Blog
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This election day, voters in Massachusetts will face the option of following the examples of Washington and Oregon, in choosing to legalize physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill (in Massachusetts, this option is currently banned by common law, rather than outright prohibition). Here, Margaret Morganroth Gullette, resident scholar at Brandeis University’s Women’s Studies Research Center and author of Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America (along with Aged by Culture) weighs in on the Act Relative to Death with Dignity, placing its concerns in a broader context of conversation surrounding American ageism and government rhetoric.
“Why I am, after all, voting for Massachusetts’s Act Relative to Death with Dignity”
Massachusetts’s voters will decide on physician-assisted dying in November, yeah or nay. Positions are hardening, but there are more balanced views yet to be heard, on cultural contexts which may affect everyone who hopes to grow old in America.
Choice is the major argument in favor, as was the case in Oregon and Washington, which passed bills similar to our “Act Relative to Death with Dignity.” Those in favor say that giving the dying more choice in how and when they die relieves deep apprehension and provides some measure of control and comfort. “Autonomy” is now widely understood as a synonym for freedom. People who think they can do it themselves without medical assistance should think again: nobody wants to bungle the endgame. Those with only six months to live, who are capable of making decisions–the intended beneficiaries of the Massachusetts Act–deserve the option of getting the drug dose right.
But even those who believe firmly in choice have a significant worry. Many gerontologists and advocates for the disabled fear that given the increasingly virulent spread of ageism and ableism, the Act will put coercive pressure on people to refuse treatment that might prolong their lives, and to go quietly and cheaply so as not to be “a burden.”
This worry responds to real facts. In the past few months, three major mainstream American publications have had articles about dying that should alarm people of any age thinking ahead to whether they might be considered burdens by their adult children or by society.
The Atlantic Monthly permitted Sandra Tsing Loh to tell, at length, “Why caring for my aging father has me wishing he would die.” She invaded his privacy to reveal his weaknesses.
Joe Klein, in a Time cover article, “How to Die,” seems to begrudge his mother a heart operation at the age of eighty that cost $100,000, even though she lived over a decade longer. He signed a DNR (“do not resuscitate”) order for his father even though Klein admitted that his father “probably would want to be resuscitated” (italics in original). Felicia Nimue Ackerman, a philosopher at Brown, comments in the Providence Journal, “This admission is disquieting to people who believe that medical treatment should accord with a patient’s own values rather than those of his children or his doctors.”
Many sick people, older and younger, rely on the good will of their adult children—as well as their doctors and possibly their nursing-care administrators and aides—to help them with decision-making. I, for one, would find my dying embittered if I thought that saving money for Medicare, rather than my own good, would be a factor in anyone’s advice about my dying. Over a third of the 596 Oregon patients feared becoming a burden on family, friends, or caregivers.
David Leonhardt, writing “Old vs. Young” in the New York Times, hints that saving money on end-of-life care would be fair. Using the much-discredited “canes vs. kids” argument, he states that “Medicare, in addition to being the largest source of the country’s projected budget deficits, is a transfer program from young to old.” He forgets that it is a program that the young will count on when they become old—unless people like him turn it into an inadequate voucher scheme. He naively believes that the $100,000 operation that might give me a decade of life, if not spent on me, would go to Pell grants—rather than toward, say, another killer drone.
Before the debate becomes excessively heated, reading the Act itself is useful. The Act steers clear of many potential abuses, but it has three problem areas.
Especially given enmity toward parents now publishable in the mainstream, Section 3, which states who may witness the request for assistance, should say that neither of the witnesses can be relatives, potential heirs, or persons connected to a health-care facility where the qualified patient is receiving care. (Facilities have a stake in keeping the patient a paying customer). If impartial witnesses are needed, as with notarized documents, another patient or even a person off the street could be invited in.
There is accumulating evidence that women, people of color,and poorer people do not get what they want at the end of life. Over 80 percent of the Oregonians who have chosen suicide had cancer. Over 14 years, only 600 applied, and the age range was 25 to 96. 98 percent were white. 52 percent were men. This data suggests, though it cannot prove, that women, the old, people of color, and the depressed, would not be at greater risk should the law pass. Section 2 (2) should therefore read: “A person does not qualify under this chapter solely because of age and disability, or economic circumstances, or race or gender.”
Section 4 (1a) raises a related issue for the Act: denial of the option because of “cognitive impairment.” Many people, even with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, remain rational and volitional for a long time, even years. (Some write books about their experiences.) Yet in the Age of Alzheimer’s, AD is likely to become diagnosed earlier and earlier.
Medical doctors, even geriatricians, are better trained to recognize cognitive failures than to notice the many powers that remain. Many fail to treat depression, which can be caused by diagnoses of cognitive impairment. “Mild cognitive impairment” is likely to be termed a “mental illness” in the next Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Given our terror of forgetfulness, people will be “diagnosed” (often incorrectly) younger and younger. Might a doctor, or even two doctors, deem a terminal patient not “capable” simply because of such a diagnosis?
There is no way of remedying the Act itself to prevent such problems, because larger social changes are required. Longer term, old age in the Age of Longevity requires long-term care insurance, which has been cut from Obamacare. Dying as-well-as-possible involves training doctors far better in end-of-life care and anti-ageism. In present-day America, with deficit fears and smaller-government rhetoric rampant in discussions of Medicare, all of us need to recognize how the ageist language of “burden” affects public conversations, and thus intimate decisions, about the end of life.
I was one of the undecided all summer. But I have changed my mind. My father died of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, at the young age of 69, with my mother and me at his side. He was paralyzed for an entire month beforehand, unable to talk or swallow on his own. But even before that, he had no option to end his life at a moment and in a way of his choosing. Given the terrible unknowns of the end of life, we need this new choice. I am voting for the Act.
By: Kristi McGuire,
Blog: The Chicago Blog
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On October 14, Jennifer Howard wrote a post for the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s College, Reinvented blog briefly outlining how short-form ebooks might change the face of serious scholarship. “Ditch the Monograph” considered how the short form might free up scholars to use forms better suited to the needs of their projects—evincing the monograph as the go-to vessel for knowledge production, tenure, and cultural dissemination. Howard mentioned the rise of the digital short—embraced by Princeton UP, among others, as a means of parceling backlist content into digestible highlights and by Stanford UP as a series of original e-books—as a possible inroads to demonstrate that short-form scholarship might be taken more seriously by the academy, ultimately arguing that though “disciplinary gatekeepers” might hold the key, it’s publishers and authors who should be leading the charge to the door.
Howard’s piece whipped through the publishing zeitgeist the same week that saw her Chronicle Hot Type article on digital art publishing, focused on Yale UP’s recent efforts with e-monographs. While the current struggle seems to center on finding viable electronic models that can negotiate highly illustrated topics—with red flags thrown up around issues of image rights clearance, digital technology, and the cost of image reproduction—the article’s stance, like Howard’s blog, was optimistic in tone. Chicago’s executive editor for the art, architecture, and ancient studies, Susan Bielstein, chimed in:
Three years go, she said, the Chicago press estimated it would sell 35 to 50 copies of an electronic [art] book. “Now we’re looking at closer to 110,” she said. “Even though the specific numbers are modest, the rates of change are explosive.”
This kind of prognosticating about publishing at a moment of technological change, though certainly nothing new, also generates its fair share of polemics. In the air last week? Colin Robinson’s (publisher of New York-indie OR Books) reformative romp in the Guardian, “10 ways to save the publishing industry,” which offered a reader friendly treatise focused on globally enabled, locally engaged, realtime publishing that acknowledged the complexity of publishing choices, while pursuing the benefits of a slow publishing model in digitally saturated times: hand-selling, good design, and curated content.
Scholar Andrew Piper (his own most recent monograph Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times, just out this month, addresses many of the themes surrounding the resiliency of the printed book) wrote a post on his Book Was There blog in response to Howard, arguing why the aim of going “short and electronic” is not the answer. Piper deconstructs the short v. long binary, addressing the arbitrariness of contesting one form above another in a pluralistic publishing culture. He hones in the problem facing the short itself—at 35,000 words, it’s really a medium-length form of scholarship, the sort of thing that bodes well for article-entrenched scientific culture, but something that might not float in the humanities or social sciences, where complex reiterations of histories, argumentative lineages, and and exploratory details require time and space to literally lay down the grounds for academic claims. Piper doesn’t see the short-form ebook as a solution to print’s lethargy, but perhaps his most salient point has to do with an idea borrowed from one of those page-laden monographs: publishing’s imperative reliance on transforming human into social capital. Peer-review and production take time, sure, as Piper points out, and “there’s a window that can’t be surpassed.”
I’ve read and digested all of these pieces. My views in no way account for the views of the University of Chicago Press, but in order to save myself from live-blogging Linda Ronstadt’s shifting fashion preferences in the YouTube archive, I’ll append them here. Surveying all of this, I go back to Colin Robinson’s point about the reader—which Piper takes up in acknowledging the many, not “sole,” forms of scholarship. Walter Benjamin ghosts all of this, and so too do those publishers who could acknowledge that the present is historically situated and that it already foreshadows a future (technological, mechanical) not-quite-here that might be addressed, forestalled, or advanced by timely intervention. Why are we still chasing the aura? How can we not still chase the aura? Why is the aura a sad opera sold-out in digital real-time?
I think about Virginia Woolf hand-setting the type for The Waste Land in 1923, in Hogarth’s edition of 450 that responded to the speedier demands of dissemination at the heels of magazine publishing, acknowledging and resisting the power of commercial printing and its technologies. I think about the chapbooks of Lower Eastside poetry put out by presses like “C” and Angel Hair in the late 1960s, in response to what they advocated as the importance of communities, audience, and work produced at the margins of the mainstream, despite the saturation of new forms of media. I collect Melville House’s Art of the Novella and New Directions’ Pearls series, but I just as avidly read digital-only forums like Rhizome, dis, and Triple Canopy as loci for my generation’s serious media scholarship.
Was there ever a moment when publishing wasn’t always already (yep, that monograph) plural? And, necessarily so, the span, limitations, and horizons of its readers’ attention and interests? Despairing of the printed book, despairing of ebook, despairing of the short, despairing of late capitalism, technology, the Internet, the coming or not-coming shift in how we tenure our scholars and educators isn’t a medium itself. If Marshall McLuhan could dictate the electric light as a kind of pure information, then all of this is a kind of cultural filtration made possible the book. The book already contains the e-book; the e-book already contains the short; the short already contains the demand for new forms that respond to a seismic shift in our sensibilities. We’re holding up mirrors and trying to see ourselves tidily fit, fully subsumed producers and consumers, enraptured and embedded in our forms of scholarship.
The problem? We contain multitudes, yo.
The dissemination of a war against terror has depended on a locution full of historical and contemporary ironies, for terror began its lexical life as the policy of the state, and wars are traditionally waged by states, so the war against terror can be (and has been) deciphered as the war of the state against itself. But international events are not the only sources of interruption of or distraction from the working out of memorial vocabularies for the dead of 9/11. There is also the ongoing negotiation between commerce and commemoration at the WTC site, a process that pits the declared obligations of memory and due respect against those of a future civic life, both economic and cultural. It is easy to cast the moguls of Manhattan as insensitive and materialistic, but the memorial process has also been aggressively suborned by the politicians, whose avowed respect for the dead is not beyond suspicions of present and future self-interest. Debates about the use of the site have not been unmarked by the assumption that the dead should bury the dead and thus by an embarrassingly hasty inclination to get on with life. Many residents have made it clear that they do not wish to live in a national memorial emptied of retail, full of tourists by day and deserted by night. On the other side, melancholic extremes can also be identified among some of the survivor families and other involved groups who want the site to remain always a shrine to the departed.
. . . .
The event we call 9/11 has a past that we can rediscover, a present that we must monitor, and a future we can project. Many of us who were addressing even the most circumscribed of publics—our students or fellow academics—felt the urge, in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, to make a statement, to testify, to register a response, to initiate some sort of commemoration. Many of those responses to the form of grief, sorrow, shock, and above all, self-recrimination at the appearance of carrying on as before. The rhetoric veered wildly between sympathy and self-importance—as if it were a moral duty that each of us should speak—but what was notable was the need to register awareness of some sort. Many people all across America, not only those who knew one of the dead or knew someone who knew someone, reported feelings of acute personal anxiety and radical insecurity, but there was never a point at which this response could be analyzed as prior to or outside of its mediation by television and by political manipulation. With the passage of time it may come to appear that 9/11 did not blow away our past in an eruption of the unimaginable but that it refigured that past into patterns open to being made into new and often dangerous forms of sense.
—from 9/11: The Culture of Commemoration by David Simpson (2006)
By: Kristi McGuire,
Blog: The Chicago Blog
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Traditionally, Bastille Day celebrates in perpetua an inaugural anniversary (1790′s Fête de la Fédération), itself commemorating an infamous fortress-prison’s storming (July 14, 1789) that tipped-off the eighteenth century’s uprising among uprisings. Vive la démocratie!
How does one celebrate Bastille Day? Once, when very young and in Battery Park, by listening to Stereolab play a set after Yoko Ono. Now, many years later and much more curmudgeon-like, with Defargian undertones acknowledged (“. . . opportunity had developed her into a tigress. She was absolutely without pity. If she had ever had the virtue in her, it had quite gone out of her.”), I’m not so sure. Hopefully this Saturday past found you tipping a glass of Burgundy to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, or at least re-reading Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade—if not, thankfully, we have Julia V. Douthwaite to school us, quiz-bowl style, on what we were missing out on.
In The Frankenstein of 1790 and Other Lost Chapters from Revolutionary France, Douthwaite posits the French Revolution as a key moment in the history of printed matter, a period that—fueled by the passions of political change and its accompanying fervor for new forms, new ideas, and most importantly, new stories—ushered in the publication of more than 1200 novels, including those by Mary Shelley, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Honoré de Balzac, Charles Dickens, Gustave Flaubert, and L. Frank Baum. This builds off of Douthwaite’s earlier work as a scholar of the “wild children” of the eighteenth-century, in the moments prior to the Revolution, when utopian politics, dystopian fictions, and the changing boundaries of nature and science met with the desire to “perfect” mankind—to disastrous results. Douthwaite chronicles all of this in The Wild Girl, Natural Man, and the Monster: Dangerous Experiments in the Age of Enlightenment.
Who better, then, to serve as our quiz-master about the legacy of the French Revolution and why there’s more to those fireworks on the Champs-Élysées than meets the eye? NB: it’s a tough one, so don’t get your (sans-)culottes in a bunch if at first you don’t succeed. Answers—and a bit of historical rationale—follow, after the multiple choice.
May the petty criminals be pardoned, as you run naked through the streets!
Julia v. Douthwaite’s Bastille Day Quiz (in which Madame Defarge would refuse to style her name as “Madame De Farge,” lucrative t-shirt branding opportunities aside)
“Put another way, tradition and community are not mere inheritances passively received form the past and certainly not merely fetters on human freedom. Tradition, to early nineteenth-century workers, included both their craft skills and the rights they claimed for this “human capital” against the incursions of inhuman capital. Tradition is in part the process by which successful claims to rights are reproduced in each generation. Some of these rights may be encoded in formal law; all are underpinned by transmissions of culture and understanding. Not only does the reproduction of tradition require action (and therefore always involves the production of new culture at the same time). It may also require struggle, when the claims posed within tradition—to justice, for example, or fairness or food when hungry—are attacked by other ideas—say of efficiency or one-sided revisions of property rights. Likewise, community is both an achievement and a capacity. It constitutes a field of action within which people can pursue the objects of their lives. It may be more or less egalitarian but usually empowers some more than others. It constrains more than enables. But is also incorporates investments made—sometimes over generations—in building it. It is not only a ground for individual and family projects but also the basis for much collective action. And communities were basic to the struggles of nineteenth-century workers against the incursions of capitalism, perhaps more basic than class, though the two are not contradictory.”
—Craig Calhoun, The Roots of Radicalism: Tradition, the Public Sphere, and Early Nineteenth-Century Social Movements
Robbins Barstow was a pioneering maker of home movies—Disneyland Dream (1956), which you see above, is one of literally hundreds of films he completed from 1929 (when he first received a camera) until his death in 2010, many of which star his immediate family. Disneyland Dream was named to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2008, with the following citation:
The Barstow family films a memorable home movie of their trip to Disneyland. Robbins and Meg Barstow, along with their children Mary, David and Daniel were among 25 families who won a free trip to the newly opened Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., as part of a “Scotch Brand Cellophane Tape” contest sponsored by 3M. Through vivid color and droll narration (“The landscape was very different from back home in Connecticut”), we see a fantastic historical snapshot of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Catalina Island, Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios and Disneyland in mid-1956. Home movies have assumed a rapidly increasing importance in American cultural studies as they provide a priceless and authentic record of time and place.
I watched the 35-minute film (which features a cameo by a very young Steve Martin at the 20:20 mark, wearing a top hat and hawking guidebooks) for the first time yesterday and was struck by its seeming perversion of techniques later perfected by the experimental video artists of the 1970s—or highbrow art in general, in this most quotidian form of hamming-it-up for the camera. Part of that is probably triggered by the instant nostalgia now, more or less obviously, shopped around by our contemporary culture—indeed, there’s a lot to say about Barstow’s 16mm-amateur outtakes that lines up with issues of public vs. private intimacy, the ubiquity of the non-place (Marc Augé’s ever determinate/indeterminate anthropological positioning), and the secular pilgrimage. But there are also moments in the film that directly echo the verité techniques of filmmakers like Shirley Clarke
From the Chicago Tribune:
On the 100th anniversary of his birth Tuesday, one may wonder what the Nobel laureate would say about the more controversial policies now unfolding across America. What would Friedman have thought about the recent advances in school choice, an idea he developed in 1955? How would he react to the government’s decision to tax Americans who do not purchase health insurance? Would Friedman take a position regarding the financial impact of soaring public union pensions on state economies? As an expert on monetary policy, certainly Friedman would have an opinion regarding the federal government’s bailout of the financial industry and its impact on our personal freedom.
I think the most important measure of a thinker’s influence are his once-controversial ideas that are now considered so obvious that no one seriously disputes them. I’ve recently been reading a collection of Friedman’s Newsweek columns from the late 1960s and early 1970s, a time when he was at the peak of his fame and influence. Among the proposals he wrote about most frequently were: severing the link to gold and letting the dollar float, fighting inflation by reducing the growth of the money supply, ending the draft, abolishing wage and price controls, and cutting taxes.
Friedman had a two-part counterattack. Part one was to argue—fairly persuasively—that monetary policy rather than fiscal policy was the key to recovery from the Great Depression.
Part two has a more complicated legacy. The straightforward reading of Friedman’s point about monetary policy and the Depression is that, yes, a propserous market economy does require active public sector management of the demand side of the economy. But Friedman wanted it to be read a different way, as an example of the damage done by the government doing bad things. These characterizations are basically equivalent, but Friedman’s way better suited his ideological proclivities regarding income redistribution. But faced with a new depression, Friedman’s way of putting this has created two problems. One is that on the right a lot of folks view calls for central banks to adopt appropriate monetary policy as just another form of government activism. Meanwhile on the left thanks to co-branding between a monetary focused view of macroeconomic policy and Friedman’s views on other matters, many view it as a kind of sellout to argue that business cycle problems can be cured with monetary policy.
From the Wall Street Journal:
He loved turning the intellectual tables on liberals by making the case that regulation often does more harm than good. H
Sometimes, especially during the month of August, I become a passive psychic channel for the erudition of others. The rest of the country heat-implodes; media denizens go on vacation; I begin and abort blog entries wherein I replace the names of the late medieval nuns from Craig Monson’s Divas in the Convent with characters from the 1980′s sitcom Murphy Brown. In the meantime, certain anonymous (not really: Hi, Ben!) Press purveyors of flash fiction rise to the challenge posed more than two years ago by certain other anonymous literary types (I C U JEFF WAXMAN): who can write the best bookstore heist story starring Parker, antihero extraordinaire, in less than 350 words? At the time, the winner took home a collection of 12 Parker novels penned by Richard Stark, all of which had recently been reprinted by the University of Chicago Press. Because of my failure to assemble an animated GIF of Donald Westlake, our new champion Ben Balskus, will win a prize no less credible—the below image of the U.S. paperback first edition of Richard Stark’s The Seventh, whereon cover model Parker eerily resembles Gerard Depardieu. Congrats, Ben! Can’t wait to read your next piece on Green Card!
For Ben’s excellent take on all things criminal-biblio, see his short “BOOKSTORM” below. For more information on Richard Stark’s Parker novels, visit their University of Chicago Press homepage here.
By Ben Balskus
Parker busted the glass in the door with his left elbow, then reached inside and let himself in. The store was quiet; no alarm, just as he’d expected. Bookstores didn’t need alarms. There was no money in books. Grofield was always telling him that. Of course it hadn’t stopped him from using his take from the Reno heist to open an independent press and publish poetry.
This job had been a piece of cake. They’d gotten the money and were turning onto Stony Island when a black SUV smashed into the driver’s side door. Kessler and Peterson, both out on impact. Parker had seen the car out of the corner of his eye and braced himself, but somehow in the crash he’d lost his gun. It was sloppy, the way it all went down. He was getting old.
It was Waxman, had to be. He’d come up with the plan, and was the only one of them who lived in town. But had he planned the double-cross himself? Parker didn’t think so. Waxman was easy-going, the kind of guy who carries a tab in every bar in the neighborhood. He must’ve owed money to the wrong kind of people, and they’d leaned on him hard.
But Parker pushed all that to the back of his mind. He was in a bookstore, with no gun, a money-sack with fifty grand, and two Outfit boys hard on his heels.
He dropped the money next to the register and began to stalk the aisles like a panther. The Great Gatsby? Paperback, too thin. A River Runs Through It? Too sentimental. He paused by the kiddie display and picked up a hardcover edition of Harry and the Half-Blood Prince. It had the right weight, and sharp corners, but he put it back down. He couldn’t crack a man’s skull with a children’s book.
He found it in Reference. Clothbound, gold headbands, the Magnum of books. Perfect heft, and the glossy jacket wouldn’t hold prints.
Muddy Waters and his wife Geneva in Chicago, 1951. Image copyright and courtesy of: Art Shay.
Thanks to Paul Berlanga of the Steven Daiter Gallery.
From our editorial director Alan Thomas:
The 100th birthday of the great bluesman Muddy Waters arrives next April, but a recent encounter with an extraordinary (and previously unpublished) photograph of Waters prompts us to start the celebration early. It was made in Chicago in 1951 by photographer Art Shay, who himself celebrated a birthday this past spring—his 90th. Shay is a favorite of ours; his prodigious body of work includes the most memorable images we have of Nelson Algren’s Chicago. He shared his recollections of this photograph for us:
“The editor of the New Yorker ended his review of the new Keith Richards book Life with a plangent line from Richards asserting he could never be as good as Muddy Waters or as black. I met the generally acknowledged Father of Rock and his wife Geneva in 1951. Time magazine had sent me to the south side club in which he was performing. I arrived early as usual and there he was, strumming his guitar and cuddling his woman in the hallway. Slivers of dying winter light came down across the pair from some blessed window giving me barely enough natural light. He strummed a greeting using my name letter by letter. Billy Corgan noticed the first print of Muddy in the trunk of my car and bought it to hang in his studio next to vintage prints of some other music giants like the Beatles, Billie Holliday, and Ella Fitzgerald.”
For more on Muddy Waters, check out our books on issues surrounding blues culture, including:
I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy by Bob Riesman
Urban Blues by Charles Keil
Blue Chicago: The Search for Authenticity in Urban Blues Clubs by David Grazian
Seems like Murder Here: Southern Violence and the Blues Tradition by Adam Gussow
A Power Stronger than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music by George Lewis
Early September ushers in Labor Day, and with it, the unofficial end of summer. For Alice Kaplan, the John M. Musser Professor of French at Yale University, the summer may have appeared especially brusque, arriving on the heels of her recently published literary-cultural memoir Dreaming in French. The book, an animate portrayal of three iconoclastic American women—Angela Davis, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, and Susan Sontag—during their ubiquitous junior-years abroad, explores the lures that the City of Light would cast on them in their formative years and beyond, from themes of seduction and escape to rising political consciousness and the struggle for selfhood.
Kaplan spent a portion of July blogging her experiences in Algeria for the Best American Poetry blog, considering literary and political culture in light of the French colonial experience, and evaluating the changes facing the nation 50 years after it fully declared its independence from France:
People like to say there was no Arab spring in Algiers because everyone was still traumatized by the violence in the 1990s. On the other hand, the “Place des martyrs”—the big gathering place at the base of the Casbah—is completely blocked off for public works (metro etc). And during the events in Tunisia, there were so many police in Algiers that the city, long known as “Alger la blanche,” white Algiers, became “Alger la bleue”—blue Algiers. Also, out of the blue, the university professors got a 200 percent raise in salary last year. Making their salaries comparable with their Tunisian and Moroccan counterparts. How to measure the chilling effect of the death of a gentle activist in Oran?
Before embarking on her travels, Kaplan sat down with novelist Arthur Phillips (The Tragedy of Arthur, 2011) to discuss Dreaming in French from another vantage: the lingering experience of expatriate identity, and how it continued to shape the lives of Davis, Bouvier Kennedy, and Sontag, long after they returned to American shores. Kaplan and Phillips elevate their tête-à-tête to a #longreads-style literary conversation, informed by both of their recent works, and filled with insight into how traveling to places foreign to our sense of self helps us to become something other than what we were before:
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Walk into a low-income, minority school today, and you are likely to see halls plastered with the same optimistic slogans that have come to serve as fixtures in most American public schools. Walk into a classroom, however, and you are likely to see two unique realities that undermine those clichés: students mechanically preparing for standardized tests and teachers “teaching” from mandated instructional packages, otherwise known as scripted curricula. Written by private corporations that also serve as powerful lobbyists for school reform policy, these “teacher-proof” plans prescribe not just the content of a given lesson but every sentence that teachers will read off to their students in the course of a class. Accounts of teachers’ work with these curricula run from the ridiculous (the scripts allotting no time for teachers to repeat themselves) to the perverse (the common technique of call-and-response drills, a system of militaristic hand signals that accompanies one such program). In the words of Robert Slavin, creator of the Success for All Foundation, a supplier of premade curricula, scripted lessons promise not to “leave very much to chance” and instead offer a “relentless” approach to ensure productive activities “down to the level of minute-by-minute in the classroom.” The prevalent use of scripted curricula in many urban districts nationwide suggests that because poor children come to school less prepared than middle-class children, they must sacrifice discovery and innovation for efficiency, regimentation, and routine. For teachers, districts’ adoption of such curricula has produced unique professional and ethical challenges. Teaching from scripted lessons is like working in an “intellectual straightjacket,” explained one teacher. “I know that teaching Success for All is a charade,” confessed another, but “if I don’t do it I won’t be permitted to teach these children.” In a situation in which the educators who teach the most disadvantaged children possess the least opportunity to design creative and intellectually rewarding classrooms, students’ and teachers’ rights alike have been sacrificed.
Today, teachers in the precarious position of needing to win back the professional “right” to control their work more than ever before. How did they arrive in this position? Eighty years ago, in the midst of the Great Depression, the concept of teachers’ rights reflected academic freedom issues and bread-and-butter concerns, particularly salary, tenure, and promotion. That concept grew more complex as midcentury teacher unionists linked professional rights campaigns to new sets of issues, including job assignments, the right to discipline students as they saw fit, and the right to teach without parental interference. Inextricable from larger conversations about racial discrimination and civil rights, these later understandings of teachers’ rights linked students’ welfare and teachers’ interests in broad yet often incompatible ways. Parents, education activists, and community organizations became the targets of these campaigns as much as education administrators, leaving unionized teachers an isolated if nevertheless sizeable interest group. Today, we have entered a new era in a story of teachers’ rights. For many educators, current mandates that require them to focus on test preparation and use prepackaged curricula ensure that their students receive a second-class education and leave teachers as the disseminators of it. In addition to the negative impact this system has had on students, then, are the complex questions it poses to the profession: Does designing one’s own curriculum or determining the course content in one’s classroom constitute a professional right? Are teachers’ rights violated when they are mandated to treat students in ways they find unethical? What is the role of teacher unions in improving teacher quality? And to what degree toes it make sense to frame professional decisions and performance in terms of a discourse of rights?
. . . .
The Teachers Union recognized these institutional shortcomings as well, although it projected more faith in individual teachers to overcome them. Teacher Unionists committed themselves to protesting widespread forms of economic discrimination, and they believed that teachers could make a significant difference in the quality of children’s lives until society changed. Their ability to ally themselves with the oppressed communities they served offers an important example of how liberal whites and blacks worked collaboratively to reform schools. One of the most affecting themes in minority parents’ accounts of their work with the Teachers Union was the way in which Unionist teachers taught them “what can happen when teachers voice their protests, when they don’t just stay for two terms.” To many black parents, teacher accountability and teacher quality were inextricable from working conditions that promoted professional commitment, including teachers’ freedom to comment and dissent.
These two models of teacher unionism are all the more important to revisit now in a political and educational climate that appears to hold little faith either in schools as public institutions or in the individuals who teach in them. One of the lesser recognized effects of this lack of faith is the way in which it has curtailed teachers’ ability to dissent from practices and philosophies they find unproductive, unethical, and unprofessional. Former Minnesota Federation of Teachers president Louise Sundin has compellingly explained how the No Child Left Behind Act has set teacher unions back. “We spent 20 years trying to professionalize teachers,” she has argued, “and now we’re getting thrown back into the industrial model, because it’s top down, it’s organized around hierarchy, and it’s line supervisor oriented. You do the curriculum this way because that’s the way we’ve decided it’s going to be better.”
—an excerpt from Jonna Perrillo’s Uncivil Rights: Teachers, Unions, and Race in the Battle for School Equity (2012)
Chicago Teachers Union President Jacqueline Vaughn addresses striking teachers and unionized educational workers at a Chicago housing project, during the CTU’s 19-day strike in 1987.