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An excerpt from the Introduction to The Gaia Hypothesis: Science on a Pagan Planet
To fill out the picture, the 1960s was the decade when this uneasy face-off between the established power of the older generation, backed by and enthusiastic about science and technology, and the rebellious doubt of the younger generation regarding the course of the nation and its authorities’ enthusiasms led more and more people to explore new ways of making sense of existence, new dimensions of thought and action. Matters are rarely as simple and straightforward as the surface suggests. Overnight, the advent of birth-control pills changed sexual attitudes and behaviors as women were suddenly freed form the fear of unwanted pregnancy. Yet obviously, in its way, “the pill” was a triumph of the very technology that was being berated. One work that became standard reading for every teenager, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (fifteen thousand copies were sold in the United States in 1960 and more than half a million in 1962) is deeply rooted in the venerable doctrine of original sin. There was continuity and there was change. We see this very clearly in questions to do with ultimate meaning and practice. In the West, America has always been distinctive in its deeply religious foundation and nature. But the tensions of the times, whether they were rooted in the Cold War between the United States and Russia or int he rejection of the status quo and the search for a new order of things, led to explorations, developments, and innovations in unanticipated directions. On the right, reflecting the move of many Americans (particularly in the South) from traditional political bases to those offering comfort and protection against radical social changes, there was the rise of so-called Young Earth Creationism, which argued for a literal interpretation of the Bible—six thousand years since the beginning of the universe, six literal days of creation, a universal deluge shortly thereafter. Published in 1961, Genesis Flood, by biblical scholar John C. Whitcomb and hydraulic engineer Henry M. Morris, was the defining text. Its dispensational framework screamed the tensions of the times. The Flood was the end of the first period of Earth history, and Armageddon (with its images of nuclear warfare) will be the last. Are you ready? The Lord will come like a “thief in the night.” Forget attempts to create paradise here on Earth and prepare for end times. On the left, also thinking in segments of time and history, many proclaimed our entry into the astrologically determined “Age of Aquarius.” There was the obsession with Eastern religions, perhaps best reflected in popular culture by the friendship of the Beatles with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, deviser of Transcendental Meditation. But just as some went geographically outward to find their new metaphysics, some went historically backward to find their new metaphysics. There was a fascination with ancient mysteries and movements, with more basic, more Earth-centered creeds, often (fitting in with the spirit of the times) less patriarchal and more female-sensitive and also less technological and more organic or ecologically friendly. Completing the circle, the bible of all on this side of things was Silent Spring, published in 1962 by the powerful science writer Rachel Carson. She showed how a frenzied reliance on technology and science had led to the destruction of the environment—that our home was tainted and spoiled, unfit for us and our children, and crying for healing, for new, warmer ways of thinking and acting.
The Gaia Hypothesis: Science on a Pagan Planet tells a story that comes out of the 1960s, a story that reflects all of the beliefs and enthusiasms and tensions of that decade. It is a story that carries the themes through to the present, showing how the various ideas developed, changed, and matured, and sometimes withered. There are different lines, but they are not isolated, because they twist back and forth and entwine in some ways before diverging again. It is a story primarily but not exclusively about America. Britain in particular has a major contribution to make. That is no surprise. For all of the jokes about two countries separated by a common language, there is much cultural overlap, and that was true back then. The British adored Kennedy and the group around him, who represented such a break from the staid 1950s—the old war hero Dwight Eisenhower in the United States and the equally old Harold Macmillan in the United Kingdom. Similar social changes were happening. The number of university places doubled, thanks to the founding of new institutions in places like Sussex and Warwick. The Beatles, of course, were British, and for all the old country is less intoxicated by religion than the new, some of the most influential movements had strong British links.
Although this is a story that comes out of the 1960s, it is not a story that began in the 1960s. Any evolutionist will tell you that the secret to the present is to be found in the past, and this holds as much in the realm of ideas as in the realm of organisms. In succeeding chapters, we dig back into the distant past. The exploration is fascinating in its own right, but always it is a story with an eye to future events and developments. The aim is not at all to show that we are wiser than those who went before, but to show that is only in the context that full understanding can emerge. The final chapters of analysis, when we return to the present era, will furnish the proof.
Read more about The Gaia Hypothesis here.
Mike Royko (right), in conversation with Studs Terkel
If you called Chicago home at some point during the second-half of the twentieth century, you probably don’t require an introduction to Mike Royko, or to the work he produced as a columnist for the Chicago Daily News, the Sun-Times, and the Tribune. If you digested these newspapers on a regular basis (you know, as people did before the “reality talkies”), you knew him as a Pulitzer Prize winner with working-class roots, sparse and specific with language, sparser still with pretension, hypocrisy, and corrupt politicking. Royko would have turned eighty-one today—we publish a solid sampling of his work including Early Royko: Up Against It in Chicago, For the Love of Mike: More of the Best of Mike Royko, Royko in Love: Mike’s Letters to Carol, and One More Time: The Best of Mike Royko, from which the excerpt below is drawn. “Ticket to the Good Life Punched with Pain” is later Royko—written just after Rodney King’s beating at the hands of the LAPD and six years before Royko’s premature death at age 64—but a classic example of the writer’s sense of justice and outrage, coupled with an everyday kind of diction that spared no humor or humility, even when framing the dark side of a radically changing America.
So, with a hat tip to Royko, the piece follows below:
March 19, 1991
Ticket to Good Life Punched with Pain
The police chief of Los Angeles is being widely condemned because of the now-famous videotaped flogging of a traffic offender.
But Chief Daryl Gates, while refusing to resign, suggests that the brutal beating might have been an uplifting act that could bring long-range positive results for the beating victim.
As the chief put it at a press conference Monday:
“We regret what took place. I hope he [Rodney King, the beating victim] gets his life straightened out. Perhaps this will be the vehicle to move him down the road to a good life instead of the life he’s been involved in for such a long time.”
I hadn’t thought of it that way, but there could be something in what Chief Gates says.
There’s no doubt that King, 25, hasn’t been an exemplary citizen, although he’s no John Dillinger. When the police stopped him for speeding, he was on parole for using a tire iron to threaten and rob a grocer.
But as Chief Gates said, the experience of being beaten, kicked, and shot with an electric stun gun might be what it takes to “move him down the road to a good life.”
Who knows, in a few years when all of this is forgotten, a reporter might drive out to a nice house in a California suburb and find a peaceful Rodney King pushing a mower across his lawn.
The reporter might ask: “Mr. King, what is it that moved you down the road to a good life?”
“That’s a good question,” Mr. King might reply, “and I’ll be glad to explain it to you. You’ll have to excuse me if I wobble and drool a bit; my face has nerve damage and my coordination hasn’t been the same since they damaged my brain.”
“But to get back to your question. I think it was after L.A.’s finest hit me about fifty or fifty-five times with their clubs. As you recall, some of the fillings flew out of my teeth and one of my eye sockets sort of exploded.”
“Must have been a tad uncomfortable.”
“Yes. And at that point, I’m pretty sure that those nine skull fractures and internal injuries had already occurred, my cheekbone was fractured, one of my legs was broken, and I had this burning sensation from being zapped with that electric stun gun. I was feeling kind of low.”
“That’s to be expected.”
“Right. But as I was lying there, and they were getting in a few final kicks, and then sort of hog-tying my hands to my legs and dragging me along the ground, I said to myself: ‘Why not try to look at the bright side?’”
“And did you?”
“Yes. I thought: ‘Well, one of my legs isn’t broken; one of my eye sockets isn’t fractured; one of my cheekbones isn’t broken. And although my skull is fractured, my head remains attached to my body; and while fillings have popped out of my teeth, I still have the teeth.’ And I said to myself: ‘Half a body is better than none.’”
“Thank you. And I had a chance to think about why the police were treating me that way. It was their way of telling me that speeding is an act of antisocial behavior and I had been very bad, bad, bad.”
“You have unusual insight.”
“I try. And I thought that if only I had led the life of a model citizen, this wouldn’t have happened to me. Let’s face it. The L.A. police never fracture the skull of the president of the chamber of commerce, the chief antler in the Loyal Order of Moose, or the head of the PTA. No, it was my past history of antisocial behavior that brought it on.”
“But they had no way of knowing you were on parole.”
“Yes, but I’m sure they could guess just by the look of me. Be honest, I don’t look at all like the head of the PTA, do I?”
“Then, later, when Police Chief Gates said that the beating, although regrettable, could be the vehicle that would get me on the road to the good life, everything became clear. I realized that the beating would turn my life around and be a one-way ticket to the good life.”
“The chief’s words inspired you?”
“Not exactly. To be honest Chief Gates’ words convinced me that he had to be as dumb an S.O.B. as ever opened his mouth at a press conference.”
“But you said he helped you to a good life.”
“That’s right, he did.”
“When I took his police department to court, that jury awarded me a couple of million in damages, and I’ve been leading the good life ever since.”
“I don’t think that’s what the chief had in mind.”
“I don’t think that chief had anything in mind.”
This is a mighty essay in a recent issue of the Guardian Review by the American novelist Jonathan Franzen. Heard of this guy? I’m not certain, exactly, what led me to the adjective, “mighty.” There is an obvious forcefulness to the writing, per Franzen’s style, and the essay itself, um, runs several pages (“girth,” “length”). Franzen’s polemical positioning of Karl Kraus is more than plausible; he’s certainly not the first to take on this cause—Kraus was both terse and dexterous with his prose and the economy of his aphoristic, contra capital rants largely directed at certain foibles of the bourgeois Viennese cultural community to which he claimed membership. Franzen even has a forthcoming book on Kraus; this is the sort of thing we’ve come to expect from a Marxian scholar of rhetoric or a comp lit professor feverishly working on the printed ephemera of modernist journalism, not the product of a literary novelist working on the next big thing. So, that’s great.
Weirdly, the essay itself works as a détournement of JonathanFranzenism—and the sometimes goading lack of self-awareness with which Franzen pens reflective pieces on late-capitalist American culture is about as anti-Kraus as it gets. An example: Franzen can devote whole paragraphs to the “insufferable smugness” of a dude in an Apple commercial while carrying on an extended metaphor about the tech industry’s co-opting of coolness in order to take us along begrudgingly into a narrative about the failures of his romantic coming-of-age. Someplace after Kraus’s Vienna became “in between place” like “Windows Vista” and before Franzen became an angry young man, Kraus the Great Hater was lost, cryogenized, and turned over in a makeshift grave made out of replica iPad parts.
In The Anti-Journalist: Karl Kraus and Jewish Self-Fashioning in Fin-de-Siècle Europe, Paul Reitter examines how Kraus’s own hostile critiques and satirical stylings were actually part of a much larger project of radical self-fashioning among fin-de-siècle German-Jewish intellectual society. It provides background for understanding the implication’s Franzen’s piece and positions Kraus as more than a curmudgeonly anti-technoconsumerist; here, his journalistic output is recontextualized by the milieu that fostered it. Kraus is still the Great Hater, but his would-be misanthropy is not only blisteringly self-aware, but a reaction to mainstream German-Jewish strategies for assimilation.
And, of course, there’s the work of Kraus himself: we publish Half-Truths and One-and-a-Half-Truths: Selected Aphorisms, which samples Kraus’s favored form of linguistic parlance. He’s snappy here, and Harry Zohn’s Introduction to the translation further situates his work in scope and purpose.
For more info on either, click here.
Chicago sportswriting is synonymous with, well, um, as far as I know: dude who had a peg leg; dude who has the same initials as that one guy in the Sega Genesis-era Moonwalker game circa 1990; dudes who did coordinated shuffling (including dude who appeared at Wrestlemania II and was the subject of the Fat Boys’ “Chillin’ with the Refrigerator”); that one team with the curse; that other team, which once featured Bobby Jenks, who looks like Bobby from King of the Hill; dudes with the sticks that make it impossible to get a beer at the Whirlaway Lounge, assorted evenings October through April; dudes whose team is named after an 1871 domestic disaster; and various other dudes, lady dudes, mimeograph machines, folded and unfolded periodicals, and residual jouissance. Bear down, Bull up or something. Confusing Harry Caray with Andy Rooney many times as a Midwestern pre-adolescent given free range with the remote control.
But seriously: you know who really knows Chicago sportswriting? Ron Rapoport, longtime sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and the Los Angeles Daily News and a sports commentator for National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition. Rapoport’s most recent edited anthology From Black Sox to Three-Peats: A Century of Chicago’s Best Sportswriting from the Tribune, Sun-Times, and Other Newspapers assembles one hundred of the best columns and articles from our local rags to tell the unforgettable, occasionally unaccountable, and incomparable history of Chicago sports. The Tribune recently praised the book as a “flip-page feast for sports fans,” and the personnel discussed needs no introduction: “What writers, what characters, what moments!”
Rapoport is coming to town for a whirlwind series of appearances, so stay tuned for spots on NBC Chicago’s Weekend Morning News, Rick Kogan’s radio show, WBEZ, WLS Radio with Richard Roeper, WGN, Sportstalk Live, Chicago Tonight, and ESPN Radio Chicago.
Want to catch the man in person? Stop by the Billy Goat Tavern (430 N. Michigan Avenue) at 5 PM on Thursday, September 19th, for a reading and signing.
In the meantime, read more about the book here.
By: Kristi McGuire,
Blog: The Chicago Blog
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Implicit in those lines is a view of poetry which I think is implicit in the few
poems I have written that give me any right to speak: poetry as divination, poetry
as revelation of the self to the self, as restoration of the culture to itself; poems as
elements of continuity, with the aura and authenticity of archaeological finds,
where the buried shard has an importance that is not diminished by the
importance of the buried city; poetry as a dig, a dig for finds that end up being
‘Digging,’ in fact, was the name of the first poem I wrote where I thought
my feelings had got into words, or to put it more accurately, where I thought my
feel had had got into words. Its rhythms and noises still please me, although there
are a couple of lines in it that have more of the theatricality of the gunslinger than
the self-absorption of the digger. I wrote it in the summer of 1964, almost two
years after I had begun to ‘dabble in verses.’ This was the first place where I felt I
had done more than make an arrangement of words: I felt that I had let down a
shaft into real life. The facts and surfaces of the thing were true, but more
important, the excitement that came from naming them gave me a kind of
insouciance and a kind of confidence. I didn’t care who thought what
about it: somehow, it had surprised me by coming out with a stance and an idea
that I would stand over:
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
From “Feeling into Words” in The Poet’s Work: 29 Poets on the Origins and Practice of Their Art (edited by Reginald Gibbons)
By: Kristi McGuire,
Blog: The Chicago Blog
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The days surrounding Labor Day weekend usher in the end of summer, and with it, for millions of families, the start of the school year (literally, millions of families: why does that sounds so banal? “millions of families”—probably because I’m a single thirty-two year-old woman on my third cup of coffee eating desiccated coconut flakes out of the bag and thinking of Carl Sagan). With that in mind, it’s not hard to imagine an increase in anxiety for parents and students alike, especially those on the cusp of pointed new territory: the start of college and the end of life-as-it-was-previously known. Jon B. Gould, longtime college professor and award-winning teacher, actually wrote the book about this sort of thing. This evening, he’ll be appearing on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight in support of How to Succeed in College (While Really Trying), which gives readers the lay of the land and demystifies the college experience, offering advice from an insider who has witnessed the transitions—in life and in learning—of innumerable newbie undergrads. But, real talk for a moment: who gets the lion’s share of that anxiety? My own mom wept on the driveway when I threw all my belongings into four garbage bags and drove down I-275 with a bookshelf rigged to the back of my pick-up truck, screeching Mazzy Star or Cat Stevens or something equal parts terrible and unforgettable. We expect Here Come the Co-Eds or Heaven’s Gate; we get a mix of Legally Blonde, The Sterile Cuckoo, and Higher Learning. Gould was kind enough to send along five tips for parents staring down the first-year college experience—like much of what is found in the book, they’re pragmatic and offer some simple, real world-based advice to settle the nerves. For more on that note, tune in tonight—tips follow below:
1. Give your children space. Let them adjust and ease into their new surroundings. Don’t come visit right away, and don’t be on the phone or text constantly.
2. Be supportive, but don’t try to solve their problems. When the tearful call inevitably comes, they really just want a sympathetic ear. You don’t need to fix the problem, and most of the time you couldn’t anyway.
3. A few “life lessons” never hurt anyone. If they blow off studying for an exam, they should get that C. If they’re smart, they’ll learn from the experience and not repeat it. One bad grade does not a semester ruin.
4. Don’t remodel their room—yet. First-year students still want the security of “home.” Try not to make major changes to their room—or the family—until they’ve successfully completed a semester.
5. Take a deep breath and take pride in getting your children this far. The vast majority of students will transition to college successfully. You played a big part in that. They’ll be okay. Really.
By: Kristi McGuire,
Blog: The Chicago Blog
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Congratulations are due to UCP author, novelist, public defender, and, um, really nice dude/polymath Sergio De la Pava, who just took home the Robert W. Bingham Prize (a PEN Literary Award) for A Naked Singularity, a debut work that demonstrates “distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise.” Along with the $25,000 kitty, De la Pava earns more than just renewed DIY bragging rights. From a write-up in the Wall Street Journal, which (for interested parties) engages with the book’s back story:
Mr. De La Pava, reached on his way to a speaking engagement at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in Scotland, said he intends to continue his legal case-load but was grateful to be recognized by an organization with a human-rights agenda. “What I do on a daily basis is very important to me,” he said. “[PEN] has a social-justice mission, so it’s even more meaningful.”
Recently, De la Pava took to the stage at MOMA/PS 1′s Expo 1 New York, where he delivered a two-part talk on the legacy of Philip K. Dick and the future of the criminal justice system, a piece of Venn Diagram portraiture surrounding some of the larger issues at stake in A Naked Singularity. Check out the footage below + stop here for info on De la Pava’s forthcoming follow-up Personae, out this October:
By: Kristi McGuire,
Blog: The Chicago Blog
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Last year, to mark what would have been Milton Friedman’s 100th birthday, we recapped tributes from the web. As a refresher, here’s Friedman at 100 again, +1:
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. His favorite example was the Food and Drug Administration, whose regulations routinely delay the introduction of lifesaving drugs. “When the FDA boasts a new drug will save 10,000 lives a year,” he would ask, “how many lives were lost because it didn’t let the drug on the market last year?”
He supported drug legalization (much to the dismay of supporters on the right) and was particularly proud to be an influential voice in ending the military draft in the 1970s. When his critics argued that he favored a military of mercenaries, he would retort: “If you insist on calling our volunteer soldiers ‘mercenaries,’ I will call those who you want drafted into service involuntarily ‘slaves.’”
By the way, he rarely got angry and even when he was intellectually slicing and dicing his sparring partners he almost always did it with a smile. It used to be said that over the decades at the University of Chicago and across the globe, the only one who ever defeated him in a debate was his beloved wife and co-author Rose Friedman.
From the internet meme “Milton Friedman quote or Toby Keith lyric?”:
1. Governments never learn, only people learn.
2. All the happiness in the world can’t buy you money.
3. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
4. The glass won’t ever be half empty in my optimistic mind.
5. Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned.
6. Inflation is taxation without legislation.
7. I won’t break my back for a million bucks I can’t take to my grave.
8. The power to do good is also the power to do harm.
9. One man’s opportunism is another man’s statesmanship.
10. I’ll have a hot tub full of hotties icin’ down a 24-pack.
For more Milton Friedman, including Capitalism and Freedom, see a selection of his writings here.
Looking east across the University of Chicago campus.
Ideas don’t exist in a vacuum, and neither does the University of Chicago Press. We share a corner of a immensely beautiful campus where Gothic structures mingle with modernist marvels, and a who’s who of architects give the Loop a run for its money (people aren’t quite lining up to stare down from the top of the Logan Center yet, but just give it time!). Even our heating and chiller plants are stunning, an especially lucky fact since the Press building overlooks the towering South Campus Chiller Plant with its engineering inner workings fully on display.
But while they make impressive photo ops and allow for games of spot-the-gargoyle, why the gothic buildings? Why did the forward-thinking university start with an architectural style that was centuries old? The answer lies in the beautifully illustrated new book Building Ideas: An Architectural Guide to the University of Chicago.
For the physical plan and architectural design, the founding trustees considered six local firms. Chicago’s architectural talent was adept at executing large projects, maintaining budgets, and creating designs that consistently impressed (albeit grudgingly) the critics from the East Coast. Chicago School architects designed for a demanding city: for developers who craved square footage, for building occupants who loved abundant natural light and fresh air, and for Chicagoans who aspired to distinctive and occasionally sublime architecture. The trustees appeared determined to create a campus as emblematic of the university mission as the downtown skyscrapers were of the city’s soaring economic ambitions.
The winning proposal was submitted by Henry Ives Cobb, whose portfolio in Chicago included tall office buildings along with well-appointed residences. Cobb’s was not the most beautifully rendered entry, but the relationship he had formed with Hutchinson and Ryerson—Hutchinson was a member of the Chicago Athletic Association, which Cobb had recently designed to significant praise— may have helped him secure the university commission.
Cobb’s original proposal for buildings in the Romanesque style was quickly revised to the Gothic, which lent the campus an air of distinction and erudition—this in a city that had often defended itself against an image as hog butcher. Not long after the first buildings went up, the magazine and arbiter Architectural Record endorsed the university’s campus in conception as well as execution. The Gothic style was “selected as far as possible to remind one of the old English Universities of Cambridge and Oxford; in fact to remove the mind of the student from the busy mercantile conditions of Chicago.”
The choice of Gothic offered other advantages as well. Among them was the timeless quality of the buildings, which “struck Gothic notes of permanence and immortality,” as Harper and his compatriots desired. The style harkened to medieval times, a period romanticized as the antithesis of industrialization, impersonalization, and the oppression of the working classes. That bygone age of chivalry, noted for artisanship and individuality, had inspired writers such as Walter Scott, John Ruskin, and William Morris to revive medieval customs, including architecture. On a practical level, Gothic’s asymmetrical massing enabled numerous building types—libraries, classrooms, and laboratories among them. The style’s endless variations of detail assured that the campus would remain unified even as it grew over time.
—from Building Ideas: An Architectural Guide to the University of Chicago by Jay Pridmore (2013)
To take an at-your-desk tour of the University of Chicago campus, visit http://on.fb.me/18xzkdH.
When it comes to American religious history, few books have caused as much debate as John Lardas Modern’s Secularism in Antebellum America. In the book, Modern uncovers surprising connections between secular ideology and the rise of new technologies that opened up new ways of being religious in the nineteenth century, and he challenges the strict separation between the religious and the secular that remains integral to the discussions of religion we engage in today. The Immanent Frame describes the debate thusly:
Modern’s understanding of secularism and his argument that mid-nineteenth century American religious movements are in some sense responsible for the secularizing ethos which the majority of them opposed. From Modern’s perspective secularization represents not the separation of the religious from the profane but the opportunity for religion to discover within the secular its true meaning.
Religion thus confronts modernity not by disappearing but inventing modern figures to adapt to the novelty of the technological age, and to redefine itself. Perhaps Modern’s most compelling example of these claims is mid-nineteenth century American evangelicalism—specifically its reliance on modern media and technologies.
At last fall’s American Academy of Religion conference, the book was the subject of a panel that saw each scholar responding to a specific chapter. These fascinating discussions have now been written up in a series of posts on the Religion and American History blog, addressing such subjects as Modern’s paradoxical notion of evangelical secularism and the relationship between American Catholicism and secularization, and concluding with Modern’s reply to his interlocutors.
Find more information on Secularism in Antebellum America here.
Guest blogger: Ryo Yamaguchi
It is hard to imagine the world—or ourselves for that matter —without DNA, but for most of our intellectual history we knew nothing about those slender molecules. The modern microscope was invented near the beginning of the seventeenth century, with Friedrich Miescher isolating DNA in the late nineteenth, and between those times theories regarding biological formation and reproduction were explored by Enlightenment thinkers and scientists such as John Locke, Anton van Leeuwenhoek, Carl Linnaeus, and Comte de Buffon. We overlook it now as common knowledge, but biological reproduction was something these people had to think through, to explain without DNA, and the debates between concepts such as God, mechanics, fermentation, homunculi—and how they could inform life’s larger lineages, of the differences between species, of a natural history as a whole—abounded.
Enter Immanuel Kant. Many of us do not think of Kant as a biologist, but he was deeply interested in natural history throughout his career, an interest that Jennifer Mensch takes up in Kant’s Organicism, published last month. Situating Kant among the above thinkers, she shows not only that Kant had theories of his own on the generation of life but that he applied these theories to another equally vexing project: the generation of knowledge. It’s easy enough to know that we have sensations—that we see, hear, smell, and feel the world—but how do we organize that raw cacophony into coherent and meaningful representations. What is that faculty and where did it come from? How do we take experience and with it, think? Mensch explains how Kant used organic models to explore this question:
Kant took the generation of representations to be something requiring a juggling of factors directly parallel to those in play when considering organic generation. There had to be something regular, like a set of rules, guaranteeing uniformity of production. There had to be material content, and there had to be some kind of force, something capable of putting the parts together according to the rules. Finally, there had to be something capable of maintaining the unity, if not the identity, of the whole—a simple enough set of requirements perhaps, but the work, as usual, lay in the details.
Starting from this shared set of simple requirements, she shows just how much organic concepts informed Kant’s theories of reason, landing on a term from embryological theory—“epigenesis”—as a guiding concept of biological formation that “opened up possibilities for thinking about reason as an organic system, as something that was self-developing and operating according to an organic logic.”
The result of Mensch’s exploration is a riveting reinterpretation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason as a truly interdisciplinary project, one that brought together some of the Enlightenment’s largest but seemingly most distant concerns in the pursuit of a “natural history of reason.” While many might not consider a book on Kant a great summer read, Mensch’s approachability entices us into a fascinating and highly graspable synthesis of history, philosophy, and science. And with summer’s proliferation of life on full view, it instills renewed appreciation—for both the proliferation itself and our ability to be in awe of it.
We are saddened to hear of the passing of award-winning historian Edmund S. Morgan (1916-2013) this week. Over his sixty-year career, Morgan authored many books on the history of colonial and Revolutionary America that became required reading for students of history. The University of Chicago Press has been proud to publish one of these, The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89, since 1956. Now in its fourth edition, The Birth of the Republic remains the classic account of the beginnings of American government. This edition features a foreword by Joseph J. Ellis, who lauded Morgan’s achievements in the book and in his impressive career:
Apart from its uplifting argument, part of the appeal of The Birth of the Republic is its prose style, which is blissfully bereft of academic jargon, sophisticated but simple in a way that scholarly specialists find impressive and ordinary readers find comprehensible. Morgan makes the story he is telling take precedence over the note cards he has assembled. He regards narrative as the highest form of analysis, and he has a natural gift for telling a story, silently digesting mountains of historical evidence to produce the distilled essence of the issue at stake. He is fond of saying that when you construct a building, you put up a scaffolding. But when the building is finished, you take the scaffolding down. He wears his learning lightly, in effect inviting us into a conversation about our origins as a people and a nation.
The Birth of the Republic appeared on the early side of Morgan’s long and prolific career, first at Brown, then for thirty-one years at Yale, from which he retired in 1986. Depending on how you count, he has authored or edited twenty-six books ranging across the landscape of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century America. These include several works on New England Puritanism; a seminal study of race and class in early Virginia; biographies of John Winthrop, Ezra Stiles, George Washington, Roger Williams, and Benjamin Franklin; and a panoramic look at the concept of popular sovereignty in Anglo-American political thought. His work has received virtually every award the profession can bestow, capped off by the National Humanities Medal in 2000 and a special Pulitzer Prize for his lifetime achievement as a scholar. A persuasive case can be made that Morgan is the most respected American historian of the last half century.
The pages that follow, then, represent an early expression of the interpretive flair and stylistic skill that were destined to make an indelible mark on our understanding of America’s origins. Here we can see him hitting his stride, revising the conventional wisdom of the causes and consequences of the American Revolution, synthesizing massive piles of scholarship succinctly, playfully tossing off a twinkling aside, making it all look so easy.
By: Kristi McGuire,
Blog: The Chicago Blog
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In a recent piece for the History News Network, scholar Carole Emberton (whose Beyond Redemption: Race, Violence, and the American South published this month) takes on the Paula Deen controversy, both prior to and in light of SCOTUS’s recent decision on the Voting Rights Act:
For the past few days, there has been much ado about Paula Deen’s use of a certain racial epithet. It’s not much ado about nothing, however, as many of her defenders would like to us believe. This incident, along with a seemingly unrelated case now before the Supreme Court, challenge our understandings of what history is and what it means for the nation’s political life.
Both Deen and her defenders plead her case by arguing that she is old and southern and therefore cannot help using such language. Her great-grandfather owned slaves. She grew up under Jim Crow. “She’s just from another time,” concluded one patron of her popular restaurant. Perhaps it is ironic that the patron was of the race that bears the stigma of the racial epithet that the chef admitted using. Perhaps not. For both Deen and her unlikely defender, the past is like a well-worn apron stained with remnants of old messes that she wears not because it is comfortable and useful but because the knot that holds it to her body cannot be undone.
And Emberton’s addendum following the SCOTUS decision:
I concluded my initial piece with the thought that maybe the Supreme Court might see the Paula Deen debacle as a reason to uphold the requirement that states with a history of voting discrimination receive “preclearance” from the Department of Justice before adopting any new legislation affecting elections laws, a provision of the Voting Rights Act. The “covered jurisdictions” include seven former Confederate states: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, as well as several counties in Florida and North Carolina. (Alaska and Arizona are also included). Unfortunately, this morning the court gutted that requirement in Shelby County v. Holder by ruling that Section 4a, which sets out the “coverage formula” that is used to determine which state and local governments must comply with Section 5’s preapproval requirement, is no longer constitutional. First passed in 1965 and extended several times over the past five decades, Sect. 5 has withstood numerous challenges in that time, but today’s decision, while leaving it nominally in tact, effectively strips the federal government of its power of enforcement in those areas with a history of using a variety of means to restrict voting among racial minorities. In 1965, these means included literacy tests and poll taxes, which in many areas limited poor white voters as much as they did black ones. Nevertheless, voting restrictions were a hallmark of Jim Crow.
But all that is history, says Chief Justice John Roberts.
Powerful stuff. To read Emberton’s take in its entirety, visit the History News Network site here. For more information about Beyond Redemption: Race, Violence, and the American South, which chronicles how the violence of a protracted civil war shaped the meaning of freedom and citizenship in the new South, especially in light of calls for redemption on the part of all kinds of Americans, go here.
By: Kristi McGuire,
Blog: The Chicago Blog
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“Still longer than a tweet and still shorter than A River Runs Through It—”
SUMMER CHICAGO SHORTS
Publication Date: June 18, 2013
The University of Chicago Press is pleased to announce the launch of our summer series of Chicago Shorts—distinguished selections, including never-before-published material, off-the-radar reads culled from the University of Chicago Press’s commanding archive, and the best of our newest books, all priced for impulse buying and presented exclusively in DRM-free e-book format.
Aimed at the general reader and running the gamut from the latest in contemporary scholarship to can’t-miss chapters from classic publications, Chicago Shorts continues to turn the page on the twenty-first-century reading experience.
With summer upon us, we’ve selected a group of shorts that offer all the pleasures you look for in that season: they’re light, funny, and engaging; they stoke our dreams of faraway places and outdoor adventures; and like summer itself—they leave you wanting more.
Among the Summer Shorts, you’ll find:
To celebrate summer e-reads, we’ll be offering So Lonesome: Hank Williams and the Creation of Country Music for $0.99. All other Shorts will be priced at $2.99 and available across all major e-book platforms, as well as from the University of Chicago Press website.
For additional information about individual Shorts, please visit our series website.
In the meantime, keep it classy and try not to sweat it. #SummerShorts
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
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.”
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.
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!
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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