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We’ve long been set to publish the closest volume yet to a catalogue raisonné for the visionary artist Paul Laffoley (1940–2015) in Spring 2016, and thus, were all the more saddened to hear of Laff0ley’s death last week. If you’re unfamiliar, even the tone and pitch of his NY Times obituary should offer a lens into his work—it’s titled, “Paul Laffoley, Painter Inspired by Time Travel and Aliens, Dies at 80.”
Although working in what practically redefines the nature of “liminal space”—engaging in visual and textual inquiries positioned someplace between New Age theology, mathematical abstraction, mystical systems, and all senses of the term extraterrestrial (he claimed to have seen the film The Day the Earth Stood Still 873 times)—Laffoley’s work was also uncannily prescient, as you can note from the NYT obit below:
“It is kind of like taking money out of a bank machine, when you’re looking at a screen and you’re called upon to touch the screen,” he said of “Thanaton III,” a painting from 1989, in a 1999 interview shown on “Disinformation,” a television series on Channel 4 in Britain. “You know that you can’t go through the screen, but you do also know that there’s something behind the screen that’s organizing the experience that you have, only in this case the payoff is not money but a type of knowledge.”
The Essential Paul Laffoley contains almost 100 of his paintings, reproduced in full color, each accompanied by a “thought-form,” or text specific to their making, in addition to an introduction by editor and gallerist Douglas Walla, a biography by fellow artist Steven Moskowitz, and essays by scholars Linda Dalrymple Henderson and Arielle Saiber.
To read more about The Essential Paul Laffoley, click here.
Richard H. King’s Arendt and Americaconsiders a unique reception history—that of America on Hannah Arendt, and not the other way around. Situating Arendt within the context of US intellectual, political, and social history, King examines how time spent in her adopted homeland and the relationships she formed while living there allowed her the necessary time and space to develop some of her most compelling contributions to critical thought, including the idea of the modern republic as an alternative to totalitarian rule, and the concepts behind the “banality of evil.” Recently, Kind engaged in an hour-long interview with Lillian Calles Barger, for theNew Books in Intellectual History series.
From that interview’s header:
Her interests were neither social nor cultural, but the political sphere. In Cold War America, she became part of a moral center of the New York intellectuals and forged relationships with people such David Reisman, Dwight MacDonald, Irving Howe, and Mary McCarthy. Arendt expressed a continual concern with the nature of political action, the possibility of new beginnings and the idea of the “banality of evil,” introduced in the controversial 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem. Difficult to categorize ideologically, Arendt sought a “worldly” politic, rather than politics based in idealism or pragmatism. Her thought influenced post-war thinking on political participation, civil disobedience, race, the Holocaust and the meaning of republicanism and liberalism. King has given us a portrait of a complex, and often ironic, relationship of a seminal thinker with America as a place and a set of ideas and institutions.
To read more about Arendt and America, click here.
In Houston, We Have a Narrative, consummate storyteller—and Hollywood screenwriter and former scientist and communications expert—Randy Olson, conveys his no-nonsense, results-oriented approach to writing about science, the stuff of some of our greatest plots. On December 1, 2015, at 2PM, Olson will be leading an hour-long, online seminar for the AAAS (the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society). In addition to conveying the fascinating journey of how he left a tenured professorship in marine biology to write for the movies, Olson will let you know why—and, but, therefore—how.
From the AAAS’s description:
He had a single goal — the search for something that might improve the communication of science. He found it in a narrative template he crafted and labeled as “The ABT.” The ABT is adapted from the co-creators of the Emmy and Peabody award-winning animated series, South Park. In a 2011 documentary about the show, they talked about their “Rule of Replacing” which they use for editing scripts. Their rule involves replacing the word “and” with “but” or “therefore.” From this Olson devised his “And, But, Therefore” template (the ABT). This has become the central tool for his new book, “Houston, We Have A Narrative,” his work with individual scientists, and his Story Circles Narrative Training program he has been developing over the past year with NIH and USDA. In this webinar, co-sponsored by the Society for Conservation Biology and the American Geophysical Union/AGU’s Sharing Science program, he will present what he has termed “The ABT Framework” which refers to “the ABT way of thinking.”
You can sign up for the webinar (12/1 at 2PM, EST) here.
To read more about Houston, We Have a Narrative, click here.
One further thought on the unspeakable and unimaginable: as tropes, they are turns in the stream of discourse, swerves in the temporal unfolding of speech and spectacle. The unspeakable and unimaginable are, to put it bluntly, always temporary. Which means they exist in historical time as well as the discursive time of the unfolding utterance, or the temporality of personal experience. What was once unspeakable and unimaginable is always a matter of becoming, of a speech and an image to come—often rather quickly. If I tell you not to think of the face or name of your mother, you will not be able to prevent yourself from conjuring up her image and name. Declare that God is unrepresentable, and you also declare yourself a representative of the truth about him; you make a representation, an authoritative declaration, of his unrepresentability. Declare that something is invisible, accessible to visual imaging, and someone (usually an artist or scientist) will find a way to depict it. Prohibit something from being shown, hide it away from view, and its power as a concealed image outstrips anything it could have achieved by being shown. We should always say, then, this is unspeakable or unimaginable—up till now. The law against the representation of something in words or images must, in effect, always break itself, because it must name, describe, define—that is, represent—the very thing that it prohibits. That is why the law is so parsimonious and discreet in representing that which it prohibits from representation. Laws against pornography (unspeakable, unimaginable acts of lust, sadism, and animality) thus fall back on the “I know it when I see it” formula, to avoid specifying (and thus inspiring) the prohibited acts. Both the divine and the demonic, the ultimate good and the ultimate evil, inhabit the extreme zones of the human imagination of which we cannot or should not speak, and which we certainly should not depict in visual images.
I hope it is becoming clear what all this has to do with terror, which fuses the divine and the demonic in a single unspeakable and unimaginable compound. The terrorist is a holy warrior or a devil, depending upon your point of view, or your historical positioning (yesterday’s terrorist is today’s hero of the glorious revolution). Terror is also the deliberate combining of the semiotics and aesthetics of the unimaginable with those of the unspeakable. You can’t imagine anyone doing this, going this far? You think the unnamable horror, the indescribable, unspeakable act cannot be named, described, and reenacted? Terrorists speak the language of the unspeakable. They perform and state the unimaginable. Their acts as producers of words and images, symbolic forms of violence, are much more important than their acts of actual physical violence. Strategic forms of violence such as war or police action are not essential to their repertoire. The main weapon of terror is the violent spectacle, the image of destruction, or the destruction of an image, or both, as in the mightiest spectacle of them all, the destruction of the World Trade Center, in which the destruction of a globally recognizable icon was staged, quite deliberately, as an icon of its own right. The people consumed with the image are collateral damage, “enemies of God” who are of no interest. Or they are holy sacrifices, whose innocence is precisely the point. From the standpoint of the terrorist, their innocence makes them appropriate sacrificial victims. From the standpoint of counterterror, their innocence confirms the absolute, unspeakable evil and injustice of the terrorist cause. (There is, of course, the intermediate, compromise position common in state terrorism known as “collateral damage,” which expresses regret for the loss of innocent life, but claims nevertheless a statistical kind of justice in [often] unverifiable claims about the number of guilty terrorists killed; see the previous chapter on the very high percentage of innocent civilians killed by bombing and drones.) Either way, the point of terrorist violence is not the killing of the enemy as such, but the terrorizing of the enemy with a traumatizing spectacle. “Shock and awe” are the tactics that unite nonstate with state terrorism, and in both cases the traumatic spectacle can be rationalized as a humane act of restraint. Instead of killing large masses of people, it is sufficient to “sent them a message” by subjecting them to shocking displays of destruction.
As we near the end of the 2015 University Press Week blog tour, here’s a shorthand of what our fellow esteemed presses have in the works today under the umbrella, “Conversations with Authors,” in addition to all of the great posts other presses have contributed so far:
Marketing manager Marty Brown, of Oregon State University Press, talks with author Lawrence Landis about his writing process for A School for the People: A Photographic History of Oregon State University
A Q & A between Liverpool University Press’s editorial director and the editor of one of their forthcoming open access e-textbooks, Using Primary Sources is in the works for LUP
And finally, the University of Toronto Press sits down with one of their journal editors.
To read more about 2015 University Press Week—and see what you might have missed—click here.
An old University of Chicago Press printer’s block (date unknown), with the original 1891 logo. Photo by: Isa Leshko.
How did we get from here to there? How do we go from here to there? How was it that we went from here to there? Where are we going? How? These kinds of questions are excellent pontifications on/interrogations of the nature of time and space, those blaring abstractions, as we perform them through acts of mechanical reproduction and ongoing technological developments. Maybe a better question is, then, What carries us where? When the University of Chicago Press was founded in 1890, it wasn’t printing knowledge. It was a press in the literal sense of the term, a printer:
The University of Chicago Press was one of three original divisions of the University when it was founded in 1890. Although for a year or two it functioned only as a printer, in 1892 the Press began publishing scholarly books and journals, making it one of the oldest continuously operating university presses in the United States.
This isn’t a critical history of the University of Chicago Press, but one wonders about the relationships between scholarship, technology, and the academic institution that engendered that turn from printing materials to printing ideas.
Fast forward a century. In 1991, building off a wave of enthusiasm for the fax machine, John Warnock initiated the Camelot Project. It attempted the development of an Interchange PostScript, a new language of “operations and conventions” with regard to digital data. It wanted to live the dream (the 1991 dream):
Imagine if the IPS viewer is also equipped with text searching capabilities. In this case the user could find all documents that contain a certain word or phrase, and then view that word or phrase in context within the document. Entire libraries could be archived in electronic form, and since IPS files are self-contained, would be printable at any location.
animated GIF of Adobe Acrobat (TM) PDF download-in-progress, sourced via Google
The Camelot Project launched what turned into the PDF. This technology remained proprietary to Adobe until it was released as an open standard in 2008 (Fascinatingly enough, citing the article that footnotes this development requires use of the Internet Archive, a non-profit institution dedicated to “preserving the internet.”). Could we have anticipated how much that new programming language would change the way we store and retrieve information, and in turn, how we circulate scholarship online? Probably not. But the seed of the PDF was already there. It was present in the gesture that led the University of Chicago Press to publish its first scholarly work, Robert F. Harper’s Assyrian and Babylonian Letters Belonging to the Kouyunjik Collections of the British Museum in 1891. The contingency—or better, the interrelations between the production of new knowledge and the production of new technology—isn’t accidental. It’s how we get from here to there. That one sphere may occasionally take the lead and develop with greater speed isn’t the heart of the matter—it’s that they are co-evolutionary, and the getting from here to there is a movement. How we organize ourselves institutionally contributes to and affects how we change our perceptions, which in turn contributes to and affects how we mobilize technology. We might not have been dreaming of JSTOR when we invented the PDF, but JSTOR might have been dreaming of us.
Today, 24 years later, in 2015, our publicity director flew to Rome to accept an award on behalf of one of our authors. The prize? A 3D-printed trophy fashioned after a piece of sculpture. As described in the press release:
Italian sculptor and architect Davide Prete specializes in urban-scale works using stainless steel, forged steel, and small-scale sculptures combining traditional metalsmithing techniques and 3D printing and laser scanning.
In the smithy’s work, we have the theory of the laser printer. The stories it could tell.
The inaugural Bridge Award (Non-Fiction), a collaborative project between several non-profit institutions in the US and Italy, was awarded to Robert Pogue Harrison’s Juvenescence: A Cultural History of Our Age. The award itself is a 3D-printed sculpture.
Next up in the UP Week blog tour is the University of Manitoba Press Blog, with images of some of the books (and book launch photos!) they’ve published over the course of the past 48 years.
To read more about University Press Week, click here.
Lost German Zeppelin, slightly hovering above a field of French peasants, October 1917. Photo by: Albert Moreau. Credit: ECPAD/France/Albert Moreau.
The first Armistice Day, which celebrated the one-year anniversary of the end of hostilities on the Western Front, and ultimately, the conflict-based dissolvement of World War I, took place on November 11, 1919, and marked that moment a year earlier, the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. Fast forward nearly a century. Desensitized via the ubiquity of war photography and new forms of media circulation to the strangeness, the horrors, the portrayal of foreign terrain, and the shocks of bearing witness to conflict, we can point to any number of examples of now classic photojournalism that portray the terror of warfare in the twentieth and twenty-first century, including work by Robert Capa, Joe Rosenthal, Nick Ut, Gary Knight, Benjamin Lowy, and Ashley Gilbertson.
The First World War: Unseen Glass Plate Photographs of the Western Frontis different. Carl De Keyzer’s meticulous reconstruction of photographs—including many authentic color images, the result of early autochrome technology—makes available glimpses of the First World War, as never seen before. We’re accustomed to grainy, scratched, blurred images in monochrome of the devastation of trench warfare, but these images, taken by some of the war’s most gifted photographers producing glass plate images in lieu of film from crude cameras, offer more distinct moments: from Belgian soldiers in training to African colonial troops on the Western Front, from the everyday minutiae of civilians’ lives to women making 75mm shells on the assembly line in the factory in Saint-Chamond, all accompanied by an Introduction from Geoff Dyer and an essay by historian David Van Reybrouck.
My team and I searched all over Europe — all over the world, in fact. We discovered that original negatives are available for fewer than five percent of the existing images. Most were destroyed during or after the war; some were recuperated for the silver used in the old collodion process, and many were simply badly treated or lost.
We made a list of about fifty different museums and collections worldwide, which over the course of several years we visited or contacted. These included the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Hoover Institution, in the United States; the War Office/National Archives, in the United Kingdom; the Musée Albert-Kahn, in Paris; the Bundesarchiv, in Berlin; and many places in Belgium. I spent weeks hunting through wooden boxes with dust-covered glass plates and containers packed with old prints, and poring through old albums. Most museums have not even begun to archive and digitize these collections.
We posed two key questions to the archival institutions. Could we scan the originals? And then would they allow me to restore the originals according to my own professional standards and personal perspectives? Only a few museums responded affirmatively to both questions.
These images were taken between 1914 and 1921, in places of which we have likely never heard, by photographers – Tournassoud, Aubert, Moreau, Antony, Gimpel, Castelnau – whose names are unfamiliar. Here, male and female factory workers weld fins to mortar grenades, or stack thousands of mess tins. Red-trousered regiments bathe almost leisurely in a pond, in a scene that recalls the pastoral idylls of Giorgione or Manet; a bugle hangs on a nearby tree. Elsewhere, children look on as soldiers parade in country fields, or play at airmen and prisoners on the streets of Paris.
To read more about The First World War, click here.
From the headquarters of the American Association of University Presses (AAUP), here comes everyone’s favorite week in November, besides that one about colonialism—just kidding, this week is, of course, de facto, the pride of November because it celebrates the prescience, diversity, and commitment to knowledge exemplified by the university press in the twenty-first century. Here’s a fine sampling of the breadth and depth offered by these presses, presented as a series of infographics, which play with the collective numbers produced by member presses from 12 nations, 41 of the United States, and 7 Canadian provinces.
From Monday, November 9th, through Friday, November 13th, in particular, you’ll be able to virtually participate in a blog tour, featuring posts from over 40 AAUP member presses. We’re up on Thursday, but in the meantime, here’s what in the horizon for the next few days:
And, for general information about this week, here follows a synopsis from the AAUP website:
The AAUP community uses the #ReadUP hashtag to highlight on social media the best of what UPs are publishing all year long. It beautifully captures what we celebrate when celebrate University Press Week: the scholarship, writing, and deep knowledge that is shared with the world through our books and publications.
During UP Week, post a #UPshelfie (a photo of your university press and AAUP member books) to Twitter with the tags #UPshelfie and #ReadUP for a chance to win one of five Surprise! University Press Week book bags! We’ve collected an exciting, but mysterious, group of surprising books and items from our members to share with 5 lucky UP-readers. (Don’t forget both tags—that’s how we’ll know you want to be included in the drawing!)
Two online panels featured during University Press Week:
In a piece for FiveThirtyEight, “How Democrats Suppress the Vote,” Eitan Hersh connects the dots between low voter turnout, off-year elections, and the pursuit of (often municipal) policy goals. Arguing that off-cycle elections inherently yield a decreased number of voters disinterested in having to vote multiple times or engaging in local-level politics, Hersh turns to Sarah F. Anzia’s Timing and Turnout: How Off-Cycle Elections Favor Organized Groups to explain why:
Political scientist Sarah Anzia, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, gives a compelling explanation in an outstanding book published last year. The first point that Anzia makes is that the off-cycle election calendar is not a response to voter preferences; voters do not like taking multiple trips to the voting booth. Anzia asked a nationally representative sample of Americans if they prefer elections held at different times for different offices “because it allows voters to focus on a shorter list of candidates and issues during each election” or all at the same time “because combining the elections boosts voter turnout for local elections.” Voters of all political stripes prefer consolidated elections, and by wide margins. But that’s especially true for people who identify as Democrats, who prefer consolidated elections 73 percent to 27 percent.
Democrats, Hersh suggests, who have long championed full participation as central to the democratic process, are in fact enabling and endorsing these off-cycle elections because of what they are able to offer constituent groups mobilized around specific issues.
Hersh appropriates Anzia again on what’s at stake in utilizing that strategy:
Anzia shows that off-cycle elections lead to higher salaries and better health and retirement benefits for teachers and public employees. Anzia studies these effects in many different ways. The simplest way is by looking at eight states that allow local governments to set their own election dates. She compares school districts that hold school board elections on-cycle and off-cycle within the same state. Controlling for factors that might make districts different from one another — like their population size, income, racial composition, partisan leanings and how urban or rural they are — Anzia found that the maximum base teacher salary is over 4 percent higher in districts with off-cycle elections.
Despite these advantages, by resisting consolidated elections, which a vast majority of their constituents endorse, Democrats are de facto suppressing the vote and inadvertently contextualizing how off-cycle elections, like more traditional barriers to voting, are “imposing a cost on political participation.” This, in turn, is one Anzia’s core arguments: how mundane matters of scheduling are ultimately tactics that distribute political power.
To read more about Timing and Turnout, click here.
Along with video of Crispin’s conversation (not Dorothy Gale, 2:12; running away to Romania, 6:00; “Don’t Do It, Harper Lee,” 7:58), there’s an excerpt from the book on William James and Berlin, and some quotes from the interview, if digital players leave you cold.
You can read more about The Dead Ladies Project, here.
Few American artists in any medium have enjoyed the international and lasting cultural impact of Duke Ellington. From jazz standards such as “Mood Indigo” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” to his longer, more orchestral suites, to his leadership of the stellar big band he toured and performed with for decades after most big bands folded, Ellington represented a singular, pathbreaking force in music over the course of a half-century. At the same time, as one of the most prominent black public figures in history, Ellington demonstrated leadership on questions of civil rights, equality, and America’s role in the world.
With Duke Ellington’s America, Harvey G. Cohen paints a vivid picture of Ellington’s life and times, taking him from his youth in the black middle class enclave of Washington, D.C., to the heights of worldwide acclaim. Mining extensive archives, many never before available, plus new interviews with Ellington’s friends, family, band members, and business associates, Cohen illuminates his constantly evolving approach to composition, performance, and the music business—as well as issues of race, equality and religion. Ellington’s own voice, meanwhile, animates the book throughout, giving Duke Ellington’s America an intimacy and immediacy unmatched by any previous account.
By far the most thorough and nuanced portrait yet of this towering figure, Duke Ellington’s America highlights Ellington’s importance as a figure in American history as well as in American music.
To read more about Duke Ellington’s America, click here.
On Tuesday, November 10, 2015, at 9PM EDT, Debt of Honor, a new documentary by acclaimed filmmaker Ric Burns will air on WHYY-TV. The film “takes an unflinching look at the reality of warfare and disability,” and features footage and interviews with prominent disabled veterans, including Representative Tammy Duckworth and former Georgia Senator Max Cleland. In addition, Debt of Honor also relies on the scholarship of some of our leading figures in disability studies, and to this end, includes an interview with Beth Linker, associate professor in the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania and author of War’s Waste: Rehabilitation in World War I America.
Linker’s War’s Waste contextualizes decisions made by the US government before entering World War I to avoid paying pensions to injured soldiers, a fiscal burden it had endured since the Revolutionary War. Instead, the idea of “rehabilitation,” charged with the potential of recent developments in social welfare and medical science, which sought to “rebuild” disabled soldiers and return them to civilian life, was pushed forward. Though this culminated in the postwar establishment of the Veterans Administration, one of WWI’s most lasting legacies, the story of how and why we got there—from the professional development of orthopedic surgeons and other medical professionals to curative workshops, in which disabled soldiers learned how to repair automobiles as well as their own artificial limbs—remained buried in the background, until Linker’s intervention. As the Bulletin of the History of Medicine put it, “This book is not merely the latest contribution to the ever-growing body of scholarship on disabled soldiers and their rehabilitation. It is one of the most important and readable studies to appear in recent years. . . . War’s Waste plainly deserves to become core reading among scholars and to be read by a wider, nonacademic audience interested in learning about the social and cultural history of America during the Great War.”
Such anxieties are based on a fundamental misreading of the relationship between humans and machines. I have been researching technological change for 30 years, and one thing I’ve learned is that technology never simply speeds things up. Rather, every major technological innovation comes hand in hand with new activities and experiences, creating new ways of working and socializing. Indeed, often as not, its effects are counter-intuitive and contradictory, surprising even the designers. So the very same devices that can make us feel overworked and harried also enable us to work more efficiently and take more control of our time.
In other words, the notion that we are all cyber-serfs, technologically tethered workers, is far too one-dimensional. It attributes too much power and agency to technology itself. While it is true that we have all become “networked workers” equipped with computers, tablets, smartphones, and landlines, how we deploy these devices crucially depends on what kind of work we do, where, and with whom. While I was being driven to Edinburgh airport recently, the taxi driver proceeded to have an argument with his son on his hands-free phone. His occupation, unlike mine, involves a lot of waiting and I imagine that the quality and utility of that time has been much improved by mobile connectivity.
Pressed for Time furthers this exploration by accounting for technological change as a tool for navigating accompanying societal changes, rather than a prism through which our desire to move faster, quicker, and better is refracted. You can read more about the book here.
Ellen Berrey’s The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justiceproblematizes “diversity” for the twenty-first century, employing years of fieldwork, case studies, and historical research to document just how ubiquitous and weakened the term has become, courtesy of its championing by a plethora of causes, each to often symbolic and distinctly competitive ends.
In a recent op-ed for Salon, you can read a teaser for the arguments Berry further substantiates in her book, as she addresses the word’s specific usage by discomfited white people confronted by/with the topic of race:
Here’s what I’ve learned: diversity is how we talk about race when we can’t talk about race. It has become a stand-in when open discussion of race is too controversial or — let’s be frank — when white people find the topic of race uncomfortable. Diversity seems polite, positive, hopeful. Who is willing to say they don’t value diversity? One national survey found that more than 90 percent of respondents said they valued diversity in their communities and friendships.
The term diversity has become so watered down that it can be anything from code for black people to a profit imperative. Consider the cringe-worthy experience I had sitting in on a corporate diversity training, where initiates learned that diversity could mean our preferences for working at daytime or at night, or our favorite animal. As a Deloitte study showed, many Millennials take it to simply mean one’s unique culture and perspective. (Apparently they are listening to their diversity trainers).
However much it might feel good, though, diversity talk is not enough. At this paradoxical time, when we are at once commemorating fifty years of civil rights gains while questioning racism in policing and prisons, it allows us to sidestep persistent, alarming racial inequalities. Its appeal makes it downright pernicious. It lets white people off the hook from doing something about our own culpability in the problem — like our inclination to live near people like us (i.e. white) or to put in a good word with the boss about our friends (i.e. probably white).
To read more about The Enigma of Diversity, click here.
In their October 19, 2015 issue, the New Yorker published a piece by staff writer Kathryn Schulz on Henry David Thoreau’s legacy. “Who was this cold-eyed man who saw in loss of life only aesthetic gain, who identified not with the drowned or the bereaved but with the storm?,” one of its takeaway lines, evidences Schulz’s polemical intent: “Pond Scum,” as the piece is titled, resituates Thoreau as a narcissistic control freak churning out our earliest instances of “cabin porn” and doling out misanthropic moral judgments as if they were fodder for page-a-day self-help calendars. One point she does concede, though: Thoreau was “an excellent naturalist and an eloquent and prescient voice for the preservation of wild places.”
Richard B. Primack, author of Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes to Thoreau’s Woods, responded in an op-ed for the Boston Globe, “Sorry, New Yorker, Thoreau is more relevant than ever,” which addressed Thoreau’s contributions to our understanding of species extinctions, the value of education, the dangers of consumer culture, and even, climate change.
As Primack argues:
Everyone knows that Thoreau was an unusually perceptive observer of nature who wrote eloquently and passionately about the need to preserve wild spaces. He also kept a voluminous journal — 2 million words by the time he passed away. But few know about his detailed notes on the emergence of leaves and flowers on hundreds of plant species and the arrival of migratory birds and the departure of ice on Walden Pond. These notes were so overlooked that the editors who first published his journals cut them to save space; they were left as scraps on the editing room floor as it were.
Thoreau recognized their value. He pulled the observations from his journals and created neatly organized tables (well, sort of neat, except for his incredibly bad handwriting) listing the leaves, flowers, birds, and other natural events he saw on each day for eight years between 1851 and 1858. He was creating a nature calendar.
These tables have been invaluable tools for investigating the impact of climate change on New England’s flora and fauna. His observations have been the foundation for a line of work and insights that has involved numerous students and researchers from many universities and countries and is still growing and expanding today.
Kevin D. Haggerty and Aaron Doyle’s 57 Ways to Screw Up in Grad Schoolgenerated quite a buzz. The book, written by two former graduate directors, covers the rookie mistakes made by new graduate students and delivers a how-to guide that sets would-be PhDs on the right track and off the path to failure—which these days includes a only 50 percent completion rate. The authors’ have a bang-up website, the aptly named gradscrewups.com, and the book has recently been profiled by Inside Higher Ed, Science, and CBS News’s Money Watch. To whet your appetite, here’s an excerpt from a recent piece at the THE, after the jump.
Students eager to screw up should remember that their thesis is their defining personal and professional achievement. The thesis is everything. Therefore, it should contain everything. Approach your topic from every conceivable angle. Use a diverse set of methodologies. Explore the topic from every theoretical framework conceivable. Aim to produce an analysis that spans the full sweep of human history. This will ensure that in 30 years you will be asking whether you are eligible for pension benefits as a graduate student.
While working on my master’s degree, I bumped into one of my professors and summarized my thesis topic for him. I was doing research on the sex trade, so I detailed how I expected to conduct a feminist analysis of prostitution in Toronto. It would address economic issues and incorporate recent theoretical work on ethnicity and identity. My methodology involved an ambitious plan for a lengthy period of first-hand observation in the field, combined with dozens of interviews with female street prostitutes, police officers, politicians and local activists. When I stopped talking, he smiled wryly and said, “Well, you certainly have your work cut out for you.”
As we parted, I thought to myself: “He’s right. This is insane. I will never be able to do all of this.” The project was massive, unfocused, and had to be radically reduced in scope and ambition or I would never finish. I slept horribly that night, but my fear motivated me to transform my thesis into something more feasible. Master’s and PhD students tend to set overly ambitious parameters for their research, mistakenly thinking that their thesis has to be a monumental contribution to knowledge.
The jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie famously said that it took his whole life to learn what not to play. The same is true for designing and writing academic works. You need to identify what not to cover in your research, and you must remove tangents peripheral to your analysis or argument. You might have to cut major sections or even chapters. This will hurt. I cut many pages of material in the final stages of writing my master’s thesis, including a number of chunks that I loved but which did not quite fit with my final structure and arguments. A thesis, like any written work, is always stronger when you omit unnecessary sections. Simply place those parts in a separate file and work them up later for a submission to a journal.
To read more about 57 Ways to Screw Up in Grad School, click here.
Robert Pogue Harrison’s Juvenescence: A Cultural History of Our Age was recently announced as the inaugural winner of The Bridge Book Award for Non-Fiction, facilitated by the American Embassy in Rome, Casa delle Letterature of Rome, Nation-al Italian American Foundation (NIAF), American Initiative for Italian Culture (AIFIC), and Federazione Unitaria Italiana Scrittori (FUIS).
“The Bridge” is aimed to reinforce the mutual understanding between Italy and the USA by exposing the reading public to the best works of fiction and nonfiction recently released in the two countries. The Award is meant to be a “bridge” that connects two cultures.
On the heels of the win, University of Chicago Press promotions director Levi Stahl traveled to Rome to accept the prize on Harrison’s behalf; images from the ceremony follow after the jump.
Randy Olson was once a marine biologist, with one foot in academia, a screenwriting dream, and the uncanny ability to communicate complicated science via narratives that used the foundations of story to draw readers in and keep them engaged. Now one of our most revered interlocutors of how science is understood and appreciated, Olson recently published Houston, We Have a Narrative: Why Science Needs Story, which takes readers through his “And, But, Therefore” principle of writing. In addition to delivering a TED talk on the ABT method, Olson was recently the subject of a review/profile for the Union of Concerned Scientists, in a piece that details his book’s inspiration and operating themes.
Scientists who want to succeed with Olson’s methods will have to not only read and process what he has to say, but also commit to thinking about how to communicate their work more effectively over time. . . . This isn’t an add-on to doing good science, either, Olson argues. Scientists are born storytellers, trying to make sense of data. Olson writes that even the humble scientific abstract benefits from adhering to an ABT structure and he presents several convincing case studies to underscore this point.
He challenges readers to re-examine what a story really is in the context of science. For instance, he chronicles how Watson and Crick told a good story when they challenged the old model of what DNA looks like. He also tracks the history of IMRAD, the now-accepted standard for how one “tells a story” in the scientific literature: introduction, methods, results, and discussion. And he lays out how positive and negative results correlate to archetypal plot structures.
It’s heady stuff, for sure, but it’s also what scientists and science communicators need to hear: Effective communication and storytelling are not optional add-ons for research; they are inherent to the research process itself.
Video from Olson’s earlier appearance at TED:
To read more about Houston, We Have a Narrative, click here.
Joanna Kempner’s Not Tonight: Migraine and the Politics of Gender and Healthconfronts our tendency to dismiss the migraine as an ailment de la femme, subject to the gendered constraints surrounding how we talk about—as well as legislate and alleviate—pain. In the book, Kempner traces the symptoms of headache-like disorders, which often deliver no set of objective symptoms but instead a mix of visual and somatic sensitivities, to the nineteenth-century origins of the migraine, its reputation in the 1940s for soliciting the “migraine personality” (code for so-called uptight neurotic women), forward to present-day sufferers. A couple of weeks ago, following the death of neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks, Kempner published a piece at the Migraine blog on Sacks’s lesser-known first book: called Migraine, it drew upon Sacks’s experience working at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, the nation’s first headache clinic, and reflected on the neuropsychological effects of migraines.
From Kempner’s post:
The book itself was a tour de force. The backbone of the text is a thorough and eloquent overview of the various forms of migraine (as they were understood in 1970), peppered throughout with case studies from Sacks’ clinical practice. But what made Migraine different from other texts on the subject were Sacks’ unique observations about the disorder, within which he saw “an entire encyclopedia of neurology.” Foreshadowing his future interests in hallucinations and the nature of consciousness, Sacks devoted a large portion of the text to migraine auras, describing in detail both the variety of visual and sensory disturbances that may be experienced and the affective changes that can accompany aura: déjà vu, existential dread, anxiety, or delirium. That he illustrated these discussions with what might have been the first collection of “migraine art” made the book particularly unusual and innovative. Paintings drawn by people who had experienced migraine aura enabled Sacks to visually describe what aura felt like.
Migraine, however, is a book that ought to be read and understood as a product of its time. In 1970, when it was published, psychosomatic medicine ruled headache medicine. It was a time when some headache specialists thought it was perfectly acceptable to attribute migraine solely to rage or personality flaws of the patient. Sacks, importantly, took the position that migraine was always physiological in nature and he steadfastly rejected the “migraine personality”—an idea popular at the time that held that people with migraine were obsessive, Type-A characters. However, Sacks had not given up the psychological completely. He argued that migraine served important psychological functions, for example providing respite for patients. He also warned that, although the migraine personality may be myth, people with migraine had many other problematic personality types that had to be dealt with at the clinic. So, although Sacks was a progressive physician in many ways, reading Migraine now can sometimes be a jarring experience.
One thing is for sure. Sacks’ trademark empathy and compassion for patients shines throughout his work on migraine.
The Proust Questionnaire dates back to the parlor room fad of the “confession album,” popularized in late-nineteenth-century England, in which individuals, families, strangers, and the occasional ill-mannered first date answered a series of questions, which inevitably revealed a bevy of his/her/their aspirations, fantasies, and personal tastes. Earning its current moniker via the series of sophisticated (and yes, Proustian)responses provided by the author in two recorded versions (dated 1885/86 and 1890/91, respectively), the mental survey accrued further cultural currency when it was included as form of celebrity confessional in the back pages of the American magazine Vanity Fair. To celebrate the debut of her first book The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries, we asked writer and editor Jessa Crispin to let us crawl along with her to the recesses of her mind to give you a taste of what makes her tick and let you know why she’s one of the sharpest interlocutors of contemporary art and lit around today. Not playing favorites or anything, but you can read Proust’s and—for fun and karmic resolution—Norman Mailer’s responses via hyperlinks. Read Crispin’s in full below.
Your favorite virtue:
I have been using the Minchiate tarot for a while, and for a while almost every day I was drawing the virtue card “Faith” as my card for the day. And man, I hated her, with her dreamy, delusional, silly oh everything is sure to get better vibe. I don’t like to be challenged on my “everything is fucking terrible” point of view. But she’s growing on me.
Your favorite qualities in a man:
Your favorite qualities in a woman:
Your chief characteristic:
What you appreciate the most in your friends:
I’ve been crazy blessed with friends. Brilliant fuckers, all of them. I am constantly inspired by all of them, and most everything I write starts as a conversation with one of them. But beyond their brilliance, they are all compassionate, warm people, and I don’t know what I did to deserve so many of them and of such high quality.
Your main fault:
My appetites are enormous.
Your favorite occupation:
The love of my life, Honeybee, makes candy. (Whimsical candy! It is delicious and available online!) Her kitchen was four blocks from my apartment in Chicago, so she would bring over rejected candy. Nougat that was too soft, scraps from caramel, marshmallows that didn’t set properly. She thinks of ways to make people feel like kids again, basically. She has a good job.
Your idea of happiness:
Baby elephant gifs and the sounds that camels make.
A friend just texted me my answer, though: “opera tickets for tomorrow night in a foreign city.” And this is also true.
Your idea of misery:
An unmoving train or plane.
If not yourself, who would you be?
I am quite enjoying being myself. I don’t think I would trade it in. Unless I could be a baby elephant.
Where would you like to live?
Oh babe, if I had an answer to this question, it would be a very different life I’d be leading.
Your favorite color and flower:
I am growing a collection of poisonous plants in my garden right now, so let’s say Foxglove, Datura, and Belladonna. They are awfully pretty and they will definitely kill you.
I am an adult, though, and so I do not have a favorite color.
Your favorite bird (NB addition, c. 1891):
The one specific blackbird who lived in the birch tree outside my Berlin apartment.
He’s probably dead by now, though. I don’t know the lifespan of the average urban blackbird.
Your favorite prose authors:
Oh my jesus god. The thought of answering this question exhausts me, I have to go lie under the rug now. Okay, my report from under the rug: Henry James will always be my spinster king. My love for him will always be fiercer than for anyone else. But also, all the writers in my book, plus Helen Garner, Rebecca Brown, Kathryn Davis, James Baldwin, Shalom Auslander, Shirley Jackson, Elizabeth Bowen, JG Farrell, oh look I found a quarter under here.
Your favorite poets:
Lately I’ve been reading Rachel Wetzsteon a lot. Also recently discovered June Jordan, and wow. But also: Anne Carson, Hoa Nguyen, Alice Notley, Daphne Gottlieb. It would seem pretentious to say Ovid, but his exile poems are beautiful.
Your favorite heroes in fiction:
All the disappointments to their families, the guys who couldn’t get the girl, the men who couldn’t find their hero’s journey, the men who died of TB before really accomplishing anything.
Michael Servetus, Giordano Bruno, and all of the other heretics. Basically if the State ever set you on fire, I am on your side.
Your favorite heroines in real life:
The women who led the Ferguson protests and #blacklivesmatter. The women who were at the Stonewall riots. The lesbians who took care of the dying men during the AIDS crisis. The women I worked with at pro-choice organizations in Texas who worked hard to make sure women who wanted and needed an abortion had access. Basically every goddamn woman who just continues to do the work that needs to be done, even when they’re forgotten, spoken over, and written out of history.
What characters in history do you most dislike:
Most of the men, really.
Your heroines in world history:
Rosa Luxemburg, Joan of Arc, Louise Michel, Boudica, and all the other women who just got fed up and started setting shit on fire.
Your favorite food and drink:
Oysters and dry martinis.
Your favorite names:
I made up the name Jessa when I was 11 or 12, because I hated my birth name. But, you should know that the list of possible names that I gave full and serious consideration to were Jessa, Crystal, and Sierra. So.
What I hate the most:
My downstairs neighbors’ record collection.
World history characters I hate the most:
The imperial British.
The military event I admire the most:
The moment in the Romanian revolution where the army stopped shooting at protesters and started shooting at the government buildings.
The reform I admire the most:
Whatever reform it was that made crows capable of making and using tools.
The natural talent I’d like to be gifted with:
I wish I had been able to play an instrument, but I was terrible. My hands are like paws, absolutely no articulation or independence of movement. I was forced to try to play the clarinet, but I squawked and squeaked until they asked me to please stop. Plus, how would a person ever choose one instrument to learn and perfect? Out of all possible, how could you ever limit yourself to one? What if twenty years in you realize you chose wrong? Or maybe the instrument chooses you? I admire really good bassoon players, what must their world be like? I think Stravinsky must have, too, he always wrote good parts for bassoons.
How I wish to die:
Did you know that Isak Dinesen died because near the end of her life she refused to eat anything other than white grapes, oysters, and champagne? What a way to go.
What is your present state of mind:
For what fault have you most toleration?
Your favorite motto:
I always thought the idea of “live like each day is your last” is a stupid, selfish way to look at life. Same with, “Follow your bliss.” Your bliss is built on the oppression of others, 98% of the time. Maybe no mottoes. Maybe stop trying to simplify this terrible, amazing, idiotic, beautiful world we live in. Maybe accept the terror of not understanding, of not knowing. Maybe that’s a good place to work from.
(this is not an actual author photo of Jessa Crispin, but a woodcut of
Saint Christina the Astonishing)
To read more about The Dead Ladies Project, click here.
To visit the Bookslut and Spolia, click here and here, respectively.
Appropriated from the Spolia Mag Tumblr, here are some upcoming readings and release events surrounding Jessa Crispin’s The Dead Ladies Project. All are free and open to the public, except where indicated.
The Dead Ladies are going on tour!
September 29, New York
A conversation with Laura Kipnis at Melville House
46 John Street, Brooklyn
October 1, Chicago
Good old-fashioned house party (open to the public) 1926 W Erie
October 5, London
70 Cadogan Place, Knightsbridge
October 12, Paris
Reading, champagne, and launch party
at Berkeley Books
8 Rue Casimir Delavigne
October 15, Leipzig
Cabaret! With opera singer Jennifer Porto! Details T/K
(Image: Maud Gonne. Or me, in my traveling hat, I’m not sure.)
To read more about The Dead Ladies Project, click here.
Robert Pogue Harrison’s Juvenescence: A Cultural History of Our Ageexplores the history of culture, from antiquity to the present, in order to frame how neotony, the retention of juvenile characteristics through adulthood, has become central to our youth-obsessed, yet historically entrenched civilization. Mired in the past, and at the same time, forced to look forward, the way in which we frame life and death errs heavy on the side of protracting the cusp of adulthood. “While genius liberates the novelties of the future,” Harrison writes, “wisdom inherits the legacies of the past, renewing them in the process of handing them down.”
Robert Pogue Harrison, an intellectual steeped in the philosophical and literary traditions of the Western world, may be the single most significant writer in the humanities today. In three of his previous books—Forests: The Shadow of Civilization, The Dominion of the Dead, and Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition—he developed a particular style of writing that takes readers on a journey through time, tracing a particular concept or trope as it manifests itself in a wide array of literary and philosophical works. . . . In each of his books, Harrison demonstrates that responses to the most fundamental human questions often appear in the most unlikely places and that it takes a formidable intellect and an Auerbach-like memory to be able to discern a particular thread that runs through the tradition. To read Harrison, therefore, is to be reminded of texts that you may have read years ago, or the texts that you may be studying or even teaching at this time, only to discover that you have never carefully read them.
In Juvenescence, Harrison fashions himself as a type of philosophico-literary renouvelant, a young adherent to a long tradition, one who affirms his faith in the meaning-producing capacities of texts that are both all too familiar and long forgotten. In doing this, Harrison has written a book that enacts what it describes, one which boldly explores new ideas through revitalizing the past.
We commonly think of the American Revolution as simply the war for independence from British colonial rule. But, of course, that independence actually applied to only a portion of the American population—African Americans would still be bound in slavery for nearly another century. Alan Gilbert asks us to rethink what we know about the Revolutionary War, to realize that while white Americans were fighting for their freedom, many black Americans were joining the British imperial forces to gain theirs. Further, a movement led by sailors—both black and white—pushed strongly for emancipation on the American side. There were actually two wars being waged at once: a political revolution for independence from Britain and a social revolution for emancipation and equality.
Gilbert presents persuasive evidence that slavery could have been abolished during the Revolution itself if either side had fully pursued the military advantage of freeing slaves and pressing them into combat, and his extensive research also reveals that free blacks on both sides played a crucial and underappreciated role in the actual fighting. Black Patriots and Loyalists contends that the struggle for emancipation was not only basic to the Revolution itself, but was a rousing force that would inspire freedom movements like the abolition societies of the North and the black loyalist pilgrimages for freedom in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone.
Download your copy of Black Patriots and Loyalists, here.
John M. Hagedorn’s The In$ane Chicago Waymines the secret history of the attempt to form a Spanish Mafia by Chicago gangs in the 1990s—including why it failed—in order to examine and contextualize our current potential to intervene in and reduce gang-related violence. Hagedorn was recently interviewed by Milt Rosenberg (podcast in full here), and submitted his book to the scrutiny of the Page 99 Test, both of which you can access online, including an excerpt from Page 99 below. And, if you’re in Chicago, you can catch Hagedorn in person at the Great Cities Institute (412 S. Peoria, Suite 400) on Monday, October 19th, at 2:30PM.
The In$ane Chicago Way tells a heretofore unknown story of how Chicago Latino gangs tried to create a Spanish mafia and why they failed. In$ane explains how a coalition of Latino gangs, Spanish Growth & Development (SGD), was created by gang leaders to control violence, organize crime, and corrupt police. Law enforcement and even most gang members were not aware of the 10-year existence of SGD which ruled the streets from the Illinois prison system. SGD was not destroyed from outside by arrests but by an internecine war of the families, or rival groups of gangs. The book follows SGD from its origins to its bloody demise in an assassination of the steps of a peace conference.
Chicago’s mafia, the Outfit, was not an uninterested observer to these efforts. They worked backstage through their minor league team, the C-Note$, to influence SGD, particularly to control violence in order to safeguard profits. The book follows the exploits of the five principal C-Note leaders, who my Outfit informant called “Two Dagos, Two Spics, and a Hillbilly.” In order to infiltrate SGD, the Outfit had to overlook their Italian C-Note leaders and push forth a Puerto Rican, Mo Mo, as their de facto representative. Page 99 is a small glimpse into Mo Mo and why he became the Outfit’s choice as their covert liaison to SGD.
To read more about The In$sane Chicago Way, click here.
To read the Page 99 Test post in full, click here.
The 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair is, far and away, the world’s largest book fair. In fact, it’s the world’s largest _____ fair, period. Tallying in at just over “7,000 exhibitors from about 100 countries, more than 9,000 accredited journalists, and [including] 4,000 events, the 67th Frankfurt Book Fair is ‘the largest trading place for content worldwide.'”
With that scope in mind, here are a few candids snapped by the University of Chicago Press crew, distributed via social media, on the heels of today’s opening press conference:
To read more about the goings-on in Frankfurt, click here.