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More people watched his nationally syndicated television show between 1953 and 1955 than followed I Love Lucy. Decades after his death, the attendance records he set at Madison Square Garden, the Hollywood Bowl, and Radio City Music Hall still stand. Arguably the most popular entertainer of the twentieth century (check out the applause greeting his appearance on a 1984 episode of the David Letterman Show in the video clip below; also, “What do you do when you get Crisco on those rings?”), this very public figure nonetheless kept more than a few secrets. Darden Asbury Pyron leads us through the life of America’s foremost showman with his fresh, provocative, and definitive portrait of Liberace, an American boy.
Liberace’s career follows the trajectory of the classic American dream. Born in the Midwest to Polish-Italian immigrant parents, he was a child prodigy who, by the age of twenty, had performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Abandoning the concert stage for the lucrative and glittery world of nightclubs, celebrities, and television, Liberace became America’s most popular entertainer. While wildly successful and good-natured outwardly, Liberace, Pyron reveals, was a complicated man whose political, social, and religious conservativism existed side-by-side with a lifetime of secretive homosexuality. Even so, his swishy persona belied an inner life of ferocious aggression and ambition. Pyron relates this private man to his public persona and places this remarkable life in the rapidly changing cultural landscape of twentieth-century America.
Pyron presents Liberace’s life as a metaphor, for both good and ill, of American culture, with its shopping malls and insatiable hunger for celebrity. In this fascinating biography, Pyron complicates and celebrates our image of the man for whom the streets were paved with gold lamé.
Download your free e-book here.
Who is Burt Hooton? Your guess is as good as mine, or more likely, it’s better than mine. My answer is he’s no Mickey Lolich, but that’s because I grew up in Detroit—though, as Susan Sontag would say, Under the Sign of Jack Morris. But back to your guess—if you’re schooled in Cubs lore, come to the Wrigley Centennial Trivia Showdown on Wednesday, May 28th, at the Harold Washington Library, in celebration of the year that brought you the births of Sun Ra, Julio Cortázar, and a certain stadium. Your hosts are Stuart Shea, doyen of Cubs history, and the Chicago Tribune’s Rick Kogan, and you can win t-shirts, plates, commemorative posters, and gift certificates to Birrieria Zaragoza, Clark Street Sports, Girl and the Goat, The People’s Garment Company, & Tales, Taverns, and Towns.
From the Chicago Reader:
Stuart Shea, author of Wrigley Field: The Long Life and Contentious Times of the Friendly Confines, and the Tribune‘s Rick Kogan host the Wrigley Centennial Trivia Showdown. Test your knowledge of the legendary ballpark alongside other Cubs enthusiasts and maybe win a Wrigley Field prize pack, or bragging rights that might earn you a free drink or two around Clark and Addison.
From the press release:
First inning: easy to medium multiple-choice trivia
The three contestants with the most correct answers will move on to the second inning.
Second inning: medium to hard multiple-choice trivia
The two contestants with the most correct answers will move on to the third inning.
Third inning: photo trivia
The contestant with the most correct answers is the champion!
You can RSVP online. Also, there is a dog park in Chicago named Wiggly Field.
Books, baseball, trivia, bragging rights. That’s a good mix for a weeknight. See you there!
May 22, 2014, is Sun Ra’s centennial—the day the otherworldly, interstellar traveler, cosmic philosopher, and avant-jazz musician would have turned 100 if he weren’t returned to his “Angel Race” (“I am not of this Earth.”) on the planet Saturn when he died in 1993. Sun Ra, along with his Arkestra, was a pioneering voice in afrofuturism, a fan of the improvised manifesto in music and verse, and a prolific (and versatile—his compositions mastered, then undermined, then regenerated almost every form of that very American medium: jazz) artist and performer. We are *lucky* enough to publish (or distribute) four books that touch on his contributions to twentieth-century culture, including three edited by Sun Ra curator-archivists John Corbett, Anthony Elms, and Terri Kapsalis, The Wisdom of Sun Ra: Sun Ra’s Polemical Broadsheets and Streetcorner Leaflets; Traveling the Spaceways: Sun Ra, the Astro Black, and Other Solar Myths; and Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn, and Chicago’s Afro-Futurist Underground, 1954–1968. And in addition, fellow experimental jazz legend George Lewis’s award-winning A Power Stronger than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music captures much of the legacy of Ra’s Chicago years on the AACM, a key period (1945 to 1961) in his evolution, when his sound changed from big-band jazz to the “cosmically oriented” sounds for which he would gain acclaim, notoriety, and influence on new communities of improvisers. This video clip showcases an interview with Ra from that time, when the Arkestra was on an international tour and shortly after Ra’s tenure in Egypt—it does a fine job of capturing some of the magic—the drive to iconoclastic innovation and new kinds of communicative and transcendental experiences—evident in Ra’s astounding body of work. Godspeed.
Today, we’re pleased to run the final installment of a conversation between Barbara J. King and Jessica Pierce, two of our most established experts on animal-human behavior. You can read Part I and Part II of their dialogue, on questions about animal confinement, evolution, and appropriate companionship, here and here. Below, they take on a particularly ethical dilemma: in light of evolution and morality, what should we and our animal companions eat for dinner?
PIERCE: Now, two questions for you:
1. Should we also “honor the evolutionary path” of humans, when it comes to food? And what exactly would this mean? Perhaps I am hypocritical: I honor the “natural” diet of my cat, but I don’t buy into arguments that there is some “natural” way of eating for humankind (and I am particularly skeptical of arguments that meat-eating is “natural” and therefore justified).
2. Which animals can we eat without too heavy a moral cost? Are there some?
KING: My cats are relieved that their species now joins dogs on the conditionally acceptable list! Seriously though, thanks for a good back-and-forth on that issue. As to your evolutionary question, I think there’s a distinction—a difference that makes a difference, if you will—between cats’ and humans’ evolutionary trajectories when it comes to food. As far as I know, cats have always been carnivores, and that won’t be changing anytime soon. The evolutionary trajectory of humans is more complicated. For one thing, we’re omnivores. This means that the contribution of meat to the diet of contemporary populations varies greatly and indeed the same was true for ancestral populations in prehistory. As a species, there’s no question that meat-eating played a role in our evolution, yet at the same time, we are flexible and facultative when it comes to what we eat, and we can stay healthy on many different kinds of diets. There isn’t, then, a single right or natural way to eat—which, when I’ve written in my blogging for NPR, outrages the more fierce advocates of the Paleo diet!
Even more important, to my mind, is the fact that our evolution is not only about our teeth and our guts, but also about our cognition, our emotional connection to other life around us, and our sense of ethics. Unlike cats, we can think critically, as you do all the time, Jessica, about our responsibility towards other creatures. Global inequities and global hunger mean that of course millions of people eat meat because other animals are a key protein source for them. For anyone across the world fortunate enough to have economic choices in the matter, “honoring our evolutionary path” could well, in my view, embrace vegetarianism or veganism.
I’m just now grabbing serious hold of the question of what animals we can eat without too heavy a moral cost? The way I’m approaching my next book is not to provide an across-the-board answer to that, because I’m uninterested in proscribing what people should or shouldn’t eat—that’s not my approach at all. At the moment, I’m myself a pescatarian, and I’m grappling with what that means and whether I want to continue to eat fish and if so, which fish. Instead I’m interested in writing, in what I hope are fresh ways about animals lots of people do eat—ranging from octopus to chickensand even to insects. I’ve become keenly intrigued by entomophagy, even experimenting just a bit with insect-eating, in order to think about what it may mean into the future for issues of global hunger and animal welfare.
In a way, we’re back where we started. It’s clear to me that you feel, too, a constant engagement in your own life with the issues you write about, yes?
PIERCE: Yes, and I suppose that I why I both love and sometimes hate my chosen career: the constant sense of engagement. Why I love it is obvious—it makes life, and work, a seamless web, and it keeps life interesting. Still, it feels as if I can never escape the moral questions, and can never reach a point of complete comfort with some of the most important choices I make from day to day: sharing my life with non-human animals and deciding what to eat.
To read more about the work of King and Pierce, click here and here.
We’re back with Part II of a conversation between anthropologist Barbara J. King and bioethicist Jessica Pierce on the lives of animals—and how our relationships with them correspond with certain philosophical and ethical ideals. King’s current project extends a nuanced look at the ethical questions raised by eating (or not eating) animals; its working title is Animals We Eat. Pierce, too, has a book in the works: Run, Spot, Run, a scientifically and philosophically grounded exploration of the ethics of pet ownership that seriously questions whether we are good for our pets. Here, their dialogue draws on the confines of animal ownership—and the implications of our own food ethics on the choices we make for our pets. You can read yesterday’s post here; be sure to join us tomorrow for the conversation’s final installment.
PIERCE: So let me ask you about cats, since it sounds like you share your life with several feline companions. I think cats pose an interesting and challenging case. Although I have cats in the “maybe” category, I don’t feel confident that this is the right place for them. It’s possible that they belong on the “yes” list.
One of the big issues, for me, is the inside-outside dilemma. I have a cat (Thor) who is an inside cat. The reasons I keep him inside seem pretty convincing: 1) Thor probably wouldn’t live very long if he roamed free. I live on a hillside populated by coyotes, eagles, foxes, and mountain lions. Thor has already been hunted by an eagle and a fox–both on the same day!–during one of his rare escapes. 2) Thor would undoubtedly hunt the birds and small critters that also live on the hillside, and I hate to depopulate the wild. BUT, I can’t get over the feeling that Thor is being held captive against his will, like a slave. He yearns for the wild. All day, every day he sits by the glass doors to the back and watches. He darts out whenever he can. As a compromise, I give Thor supervised outside time, where I basically follow him around like a helicopter mom, until I get tired of dodging cactus. But these little ten-minute excursions just seem to whet his appetite. Thor has a pretty happy life, I think, but it seems to be that he’s a happy slave. I would say that nearly every day, I think about just opening the door and saying to Thor “Go and have fun and take your chances. Hopefully I’ll see you tonight for dinner.”
What are your own thoughts on the ethics of cats as pets?
And, to bring things around to the topic of your own next book, what should we be feeding our dogs and cats? I’ve chosen veganism, for my own “food ethic,” but I don’t feel right about making Thor or my two dogs, Maya and Bella, vegan. Nevertheless, I cringe every time I go into the store to buy meat for the pets. How do you think about this question?
KING: Well, “which animals can we confine without too heavy a moral cost” is an extremely important question, and I’m so glad you are taking this on. In a way, it’s a parallel to the question I’m asking in my own new writing, which could be phrased as “which animals can we eat without too heavy a moral cost.” But right now, sure, let’s talk about cats! At the moment we live with five rescued cats in our house (they are entirely kept indoors), and we care also for eleven former feral cats that we rescued from a threatening situation (by humans), who live in a spacious pen in our yard, and two semi-feral cats who come and go in our yard. All of these eighteen, of course, we paid to have spayed or neutered. Other than that commonality, it’s a vast range: even after years of gentle care, we can’t quite a few of the formerly feral cats at all—they are still too wary. So is that pet-keeping or animal rescue? The two overlap, but not completely, I think.
But, yes, we grapple with ethical questions. We do feed all our cats meat, and for me this is honoring a particularly evolutionary path: cats are carnivores. Since we don’t buy or eat meat for ourselves, it’s not our favorite thing to be bringing into the house, but I see this as just one of those fallouts from a cross-species friendship. Having said that, I do find it very difficult when one of the yard cats hunts, captures, and kills a bird. I’m all the time being told that feral-cat rescue work is morally unacceptable because these cats take a great toll on birds and other wildlife. It’s not an easy situation, because I care about all animals. But I can’t see that cats’ hunting behaviors should doom them to inhumane treatment or even death anymore than coyotes’ hunting our cats (which in Virginia they most certainly do) should condemn the coyotes to that fate. And our own species’ negative impacts on bird and other wildlife populations is immense; we would do well to work on those aspects. For me, another key, as I’ve indicated, is spay-neuter, to work seriously to reduce cat populations.
I see that some of this is a bit muddled: I’m tacking between inside-the-house pets, and out-of-the-house rescued cats. For me the bottom line is that all our cats seem, insofar as we can assess this with any degree of accuracy, content. Our indoor cats don’t visibly yearn to be outside. Among the five of them, they have well-defined favorite napping places, routines, cat play partners, cat allies and sometimes cat enemies, with a fairly complex social system going to occupy their minds. All eighteen—indoor, pen, and yard—are dear to us, dear personalities, but I want to say very much that we aim to enhance their lives as much as we know they enhance ours. At this point, Jessica, let me throw it back to you. What do you think? Do cats still make it to the “conditionally acceptable” list, and if not, what do we do with the millions of pet cats?
PIERCE: I like your idea of “honoring the evolutionary path” of cats, by feeding them meat. And I use a similar logic with Thor: as I understand it, cats need animal protein to be optimally healthy, and it seems unfair to deprive them of this. But every time I feed Thor (and my dogs—they get meat, too), I feel sorry for the suffering of the animal that has become their dinner.
And yes, cats are on my “conditionally acceptable” list. I think there are lots of different contexts in which cats can and do co-exist with humans—as pampered indoor cats, as barn cats, and as feral colonies. Cats can probably thrive in all of these environments. Cats and humans can certainly form mutual attachments and can bond very deeply. I also think that veterinarians, behaviorists, and cat owners are paying a lot more attention to making sure that cats have stimulating and enriching experiences and aren’t suffering from boredom. The fact that millions of unwanted cats languish in shelters is simply awful, and with certain moral trepidation I endorse active spay/neuter campaigns. I agree with you that the impact of feral cat colonies on birds and small mammals is a drop in the bucket compared to our own human impacts (cars certainly kill more birds and small critters than cats), and it seems unfair to blame the cats for doing what comes naturally.
Join us tomorrow for the final installment—
And, in the meantime, read more about the work of King and Pierce, click here and here.
To those interested in the ethical and philosophical issues surrounding our attachment to—and fascination with—our companion species, Barbara J. King and Jessica Pierce need no introduction. From her initial anthropological observations of wild monkeys in Kenya and the plight of captive apes to her pathbreaking work on animal emotion and cognition, King has become one of our most trusted commentators on the lives of animals (Just this week, the research that informed her most recent book How Animals Grieve was cited by television’s Cesar Millan, better known as “the Dog Whisperer.”). Pierce, author of The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives and coauthor (with Marc Bekoff) of Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, has spent the past two decades writing at the intersection of bioethics and human-animal interaction, defining the field of environmental bioethics along the way. Both writers are at work on new books (more on that tomorrow), so naturally, we thought to put them in conversation about the issues and personal stakes surrounding the work they do—the resulting dialogue is both touching and elucidating, and we’ll be running it on the blog for the rest of this week: stay tuned.
UCP: Barbara, while your next book is about eating (and/or not eating) animals, Jessica’s questions the very premise of pet ownership, asking whether we really are good for our pets. Both books should generate some controversy, in part because both seem likely to hit people powerfully in parts of their lives where emotion tends to trump rationality. I’m curious about whether Jessica’s previous book, The Last Walk, had that effect on you, as a pet owner (and animal rescuer)—does the scientist fight with the individual pet lover in a situation where the fate of your pet may be at stake?
KING: These days, there’s really no conflict between my science-y self and my animal-lover self. I’ve always felt a deep interest in, and emotional connection to, animals as individuals who express distinctive personalities as they go about their everyday lives. And happily, the study of animal behavior nowadays embraces this approach. I don’t mean that we scientists now project human emotions uncritically onto animals, but rather, we realize we aren’t the only emotional beings in the equation: we are feeling, thinking creatures observing and trying to tune into the behavior of other feeling, thinking creatures, ranging in my case from the wild baboons I studied in Kenya to the domestic or feral cats I now rescue, live with, and, when the time comes at the very end of life, help to die a good death.
And it was precisely in this framework that Jessica’s The Last Walk grabbed me and moved me so much. Jessica’s choice to place at the center of the book’s narrative her aging dog, Ody, and her emotions about Ody’s impending death and her desire to ensure it be a good death,was, for me, perfect, and complemented by hugely helpful material from science and medicine about how we may best approach our pets’ last years. The result in the book was a tangle of emotion and reason that mirrors what we feel in real life for our pets: not a tangle as in a fight, or a confusion, but a tangle as in a connected web that emerges naturally and with beautiful honesty.
Jessica, I’m intrigued by your book-in-progress. In recent years, I’ve been keenly participating in efforts to really see and stop what we do to wild animals like elephants and dolphins when we keep them captive, using them (in zoos and marine theme parks for example) for our own entertainment. But our pets are domesticated animals, not wild ones—or should be, as wild animals don’t make good pets. I don’t think them of them being “held captive” for selfish reasons. How are you, though, thinking about this issue?
PIERCE: I feel like I’ve undergone several (many!) shifts in perspective as I’ve researched the book on pet-keeping, partly depending on whether I’m working on a section about the beauty of the human-animal bond or a section about the widespread abuse pet animals. When I started thinking about this book (originally entitled Confessions of a Reformed Pet Addict), I had an inkling that pet keeping had some dark sides and I wasn’t entirely comfortable with it—despite being an active consumer of pets as my daughter was growing up. (I subscribed to the “children learn important things from animals” school of thought.) I would say that overall, the more I’ve read and thought about it, the more uncomfortable I’ve become and I’ve largely concluded that the whole pet-keeping enterprise is a very, very bad deal for the animals, despite how pleasing we humans might find it.
Usually the question “which animals make the best pets?” means something like this: Which animal will entertain me (or my child) the best? Which animal will be inexpensive and easy to care for? Which animal is least likely to bite my child’s finger off? I am asking the same question, from a different point of view. Which kinds of animals can be held captive by humans without causing undue physical harm or emotional suffering? Which animals can we confine without too heavy a moral cost?
One thing is clear to me—and you’ve already suggested it in your first email: Some animals make more appropriate companions than others, and wild animals in particular do not make good pets. Also on my list of “not so good pets” are birds and reptiles, and on the “morally problematic but perhaps acceptable” list are small rodents like rats and hamsters, rabbits, fish, and cats. Dogs are the only animal on my “conditionally acceptable” list.
Join us tomorrow for more of this conversation—
And, in the meantime, read more about the work of King and Pierce, click here and here.
Gary Becker, 2011
Gary S. Becker (1930–2014), a Nobel Prize–winning economist and longtime professor at the University of Chicago, who in later years became a noted columnist and blogger, died this past Saturday, May 3, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, following a long illness.
Born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, Becker earned in MA (1953) and PhD (1955) from the University of Chicago, where he studied with the economist Milton Friedman, and began teaching as an assistant professor in 1954, leaving Chicago in 1957 for Columbia University, where he conducted research at the National Bureau for Economic Research, and returning to Chicago in 1970, where he would spend the rest of his career.
Becker, who held a joint appointment as University Professor in the the Departments of Economics and Sociology, remained active well into his eighties, where his acute stance on the role of human capital in labor economics, free-market orientation, and commentator on the economic dimensions of social phenomena helped earn his reputation as “an original, prolific, and sometimes provocative” scholar.
As a columnist for Business Week from 1985 to 2004, Becker “was forced to learn how to write about economic and social issues without using technical jargon, and in about 800 words per column,” a manner of thrift and accessibility he would later bring to the Becker-Posner Blog, an online point-counterpoint tête-à-tête with Judge Richard A. Posner that welcomed new generations of readers, as the authors touched on broad-reaching issues of economic position and policy, including the Cuban embargo, the decriminalization of marijuana, and affirmative action.
In 1992, Becker won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences “for having extended the domain of microeconomic analysis to a wide range of human behavior and interaction, including non-market behavior.” In 2007, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This same year, he was among the founding Board of Editors for the Journal of Human Capital.
In 2011, the University of Chicago recognized his contributions by naming the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics in honor of Becker and his mentor.
Among his publications, Becker authored The Economic Approach to Human Behavior, The Economics of Discrimination, Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis with Special Reference to Education; coauthored (with Richard A. Posner) Uncommon Sense: Economic Insights, from Marriage to Terrorism; and contributed to Milton Friedman on Economics: Selected Papers, all of which are published by the University of Chicago Press.
Drawn from the many remembrances of Becker appearing on the web this week:
From the Wall Street Journal:
Modern economics too often seems to devolve into statistics and mathematical formulas, which is only one of the reasons the world will miss Gary Becker, who died on Saturday at age 83. The Nobel laureate always put the study of humanity first and foremost, applying the principles of his discipline to human capital and how it can best be utilized for the common good.
From the New York Times:
President George W. Bush bestowed the Medal of Freedom on Professor Becker at the White House in 2007, saying, “Professor Becker has shown that economic principles do not just exist in theory.”
In applying his work to public policy, the president added, Professor Becker had become “one of the most influential economists of the past hundred years.”
From the Chicago Tribune:
“He just pushed economics in so many different directions,” said [Kevin] Murphy, who collaborated with Mr. Becker in research on human capital, education, addiction and the economics of the family. “He believed that economics was helpful to understanding and improving people’s lives and that’s how he did his research and that’s how he taught.”
Murphy said Mr. Becker rarely ever talked about anything besides economics and his family.
“His commitment to his family and his commitment to economics were the two biggest things in his life and he liked it that way,” Murphy said. “He really loved economics and he loved the University of Chicago and he loved even more the combination of those two things.”
To visit Becker’s University of Chicago Press author’s page, click here.
To read the University of Chicago’s official memorial, click here.
Each year, the University of Chicago Press awards the Gordon J. Laing Prize, “to the faculty author, editor, or translator of a book published in the previous three years that has brought great distinction to the Press.”
This year, we were delighted to honor Alison Winter’s Memory: Fragments of a Modern History with the 2014 Laing Prize. From the official commendation:
“Tracing the cultural and scientific history of our understanding of memory, Winter introduces readers to innovative scientists and sensationalistic seekers. She draws on evidence ranging from scientific papers to diaries to movies in order to explore the way that new understandings from the laboratory have seeped out into psychiatrists’ offices, courtrooms and the culture at large. Along the way, she investigates the sensational battles over the validity of repressed memories and shows us how changes in technology—such as the emergence of recording devices and computers—have again and again altered the way we conceptualize and even try to study, the ways we remember.”
Winter, in turn, was kind enough to let us publish her remarks from the Laing Prize reception earlier this month; read them in full after the jump below.
From left: Alison Winter, associate professor of history; Garrett P. Kiely, director of the University of Chicago Press; and University President Robert J. Zimmer celebrate the University of Chicago Press awarding Winter the Gordon J. Laing Prize for 2014.
Photo by: Robert Kozloff. Courtesy of: UChicagoNews.
Thank you. First of all, I want to say that it matters enormously that this decision was made by my peers. I have won a few prizes for previous work, but this is the one that means the most.
I want to thank my editor at the University of Chicago Press, Christie Henry, and also to remember the person who introduce me to the Press, the wonderful editor of my first book, Susan Abrams, who sadly is no longer with us. This award gives me a great opportunity to underscore just how engaged the Press is with the university, and with the intellectual life of the university. I was involved in a conference on the history of science two weeks ago, and several editors from the Press not only came to the conference but asked questions. People attending the conference from other universities, all with their own presses, remarked on how unusual and impressive that level of engagement and attention was.
The rest of what I’d like to say on this occasion is about the University of Chicago itself:
I came to the University of Chicago with this book project in the works. I had some notes, but nothing actually written. I had a topic, but I also had enormous deficits of expertise. My background was in Victorian history of science, while the material that would eventually become Memory was of a different period, a different country, and, to understand, required expertise in numerous areas about which I knew essentially nothing.
But the University of Chicago is the perfect place to be if that’s your problem. It is the ideal place in which to act according to what my husband, Adrian Johns, calls the “principle of hot pursuit”—the term comes, of course, from police chases that cross state lines, but what he means is a license for academics to stray into other disciplinary turf in pursuit of a hot topic. That was where I found myself: pursuing many fascinating topics that pulled, me, in hot pursuit, over various disciplinary lines.
Finding myself for the first time in a large history department, I knew I could draw on the advice of my Americanist colleagues like Jim Sparrow, Kathy Conzen, and Jane Dailey. But I also found it amazingly easy to connect with faculty in farther-flung fields, in a way that would have been much more difficult at some other institutions. When I began to encounter a lot of legal cases in my research, I found my way to Geoffrey Stone, and then to Emily Buss, who gave me a lot of guidance over the next several years. I got extensive advice from several colleagues in psychology, including Howard Nussbaum, Amanda Woodward, and Susan Goldin-Meadow, while Dan Margoliash helped me with many questions relating to the neurosciences. And when I wanted to figure out how to explore the history of moving images and recording devices as a central part of my project, James Chandler, and, especially, Tom Gunning, helped me in ways that changed the way I thought not only about the history of cinema and media, but about the history of technology, and the history of the human sciences.
That intellectual assistance is indicative of the kind of multidisciplinary engagement and collegiality I found at Chicago, a type of engagement that is fundamental to the way this university works. It thrives partly because the culture of the institution is in a general sense intellectually welcoming–or at least, I found it to be. But there is also a structural reason: the committees, centers and workshops that thrive in the interstices of departments intensify cross-disciplinary connections, in a way that I think is incredibly healthy intellectually. It certainly has been for me. I don’t think I could have written Memory without it.
I’d like to close by expressing an appreciation of one of those committees in particular: the Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, with which I have been affiliated since I came here. As I looked over the list of Laing Prizes that have been awarded in recent years, I was struck by the fact that three out of the last four have gone to CHSS faculty. CHSS is perhaps the smallest graduate program in the university, but one of the things I love about it is that it embodies one of the biggest distinctions between Chicago and some other universities, namely, this commitment to meaningful engagement among faculty from many different fields. I feel very grateful and lucky to be here.
To read more about Memory, click here.
Christopher A. Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski’s The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools takes on a daunting task: disputing the assertion that markets can solve our social problems, as evidenced by performances of private, voucher-based, and charter schools.
Since the first charter school was established in Minnesota, in 1992, and in the wake of No Child Left Behind, the fact of public agencies endowing private and semi-private educational institutions has remained controversial, as funding for capital improvements in our public schools (especially those in inner cities) continues to drop.
The case made by the Lubienskis is simple: drawing on two recent, large-scale, and nationally representative databases, they show that any benefit seen in private school performance now is more than explained by demographics. Private schools perform better because their students come from backgrounds of privilege, and are able to access support at many levels unfathomable for their public school counterparts. Despite this, as the Lubienskis demonstrate, gains in student achievement at public schools are at least as great and often greater than those at private ones.
In response to a recent piece published by Education Next, Chris Lubienski defended the arguments made in the book, and we excerpt a portion of his response, directed at claims of bias with regard to achievement tests and datasets, below:
The main shortcoming of Wolf and the bloggers’ efforts to refute our findings is that, for evidence, they simply point to evaluations of voucher programs, usually ones that they have conducted. As we have noted before, even if we accept the validity of their studies, these evaluations of local voucher programs simply do not address the issue at hand — the larger question of achievement in different types of schools. They are purporting to measure the impact of vouchers in what are actually small, non-representative samples of public and private schools. We are drawing from large, nationally representative datasets. Their studies are actually program evaluations in local contexts, and do not address the larger question of the relative effectiveness of U.S. public and private schools, despite what they claim. Wolf studies the effects of vouchers on students who are attempting to leave a specific public school for a private school that appears more desirable on some measure, whether it be peer demographics, instructional quality, or the use of uniforms. One cannot generalize to all public and private schools from such studies. Thus, it is simply silly to claim — as does a blog post from the libertarian Cato Institute — that “private schools beat public schools” based on those studies, especially when they provide absolutely no evidence that this is generally true. . . .
Where Wolf really misses the mark is in his concern that we use “tests that align more closely with public school than with private school curricula.” This claim almost comes across as a suggestion of some kind of conspiracy on our part to use only measures that arrive at a particular finding. Yet these NAEP and ECLS-K tests have been used by Wolf
and his colleagues
with no such prior complaint. Indeed, these are federal datasets whose construction and administration is overseen by bi-partisan panels of experts, including professionals in testing and assessment, curriculum and learning, US Governors, state superintendents, teachers, businesspeople, and parents, as well as representation from the private school sector
. One school choice advocate (at that time) called NAEP the “gold standard
” because “the federal program tries to align its performance standards with international education standards.” These tests are constructed by experts to measure the most important content for students in today’s world, not to align with curriculum in one type of school or another.
Nevertheless, Wolf’s criticism that public schools are doing a better job in the areas measured by these tests misses the fact that this is not a weakness of our study but instead one of our major findings: that private schools are less willing to adopt current curricular standards and more likely to employ unqualified teachers who use dated instructional practices. And, as the data show, students in private schools are more likely to sit in rows, do worksheets, and see math as memorization. These factors point to the dangers of deregulation and autonomy that people like Wolf champion. As we discuss in the book, this reflects the fact that public schools have more often embraced reform models based on professional understandings of how children most effectively learn mathematics rather than the market models in many private schools that endorse many parents’ preferences for back-to-basics, and outdated methods of teaching mathematics. Wolf’s criticism is akin to saying that scores are not a good measure of football teams because, now that the sport has evolved away from the traditional 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust-based ground game, teams that have a good passing game score more often.
To read Lubienski’s response in full, click here.
To read more about The Public School Advantage, click here.
The Oldest Living Things in the World was a labor of love for artist and photographer Rachel Sussman—the project, to document and photograph continuously living organisms 2,000 years old and older, has been around in one form or another since 2004. The result is a stunning collection of images that function as much more than eye candy in the realm of flora and fauna—Sussman’s work quietly, and with unimpeachable integrity, makes a case for the living history of our planet: where we’ve come since year zero, what we stand to lose in the future if we don’t change our ways, and why we should commit to a more intuitive relationship with the natural world.
Above you can view a trailer for the book, which hints at the spectacular flora with which Sussman comes into contact: an 80,000-year-old colony of aspen in Utah and a 43,600-year-old self-propagating shrub in Tasmania, among them. Sussman continues to make a name for herself as part of a new wave of interdisciplinary artist-researchers, and was recently named a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow, as well as an inaugural Art + Technology Lab awardee from LACMA.
To explore a bit of the meaning behind the images in the book, here’s a brief clip from the Foreword, by science writer Carl Zimmer:
The durable mystery of longevity makes the species in this book all the more precious, and all the more worthy of being preserved. Looking at an organism that has endured for thousands of years is an awesome experience, because it makes us feel like mere gastrotrichs. But it is an even more awesome experience to recognize the bond we share to a 13,000-year-old Palmer’s oak tree, and to wonder how we evolved such different times on this Earth.
To read more about The Oldest Living Things in the World, click here.
To see sample images from the book, click here.
To visit the book’s website, click here.
The Daily Beast recently dredged the archive of zeitgeist-engaged writings as a feature for its recurring column “The Stacks.” What they turned up was novelist Pete Dexter’s wickedly astute profile of Norman Maclean—his first publication for a national magazine when it ran in the June 1981 issue of Esquire—and a piece of writing that is equal parts discomfiting and elegiac, not unlike the work of one Norman Maclean.*
*Caveat: I realize it is part of my job to endorse Norman Maclean, but this is wholly sincere. Maclean’s fascination with toughness was couched under two veils of redemption: his prose is pained in its evocation of loss and its struggle to both narrate and literate the tragic confines of human behavior; and what comes through a work such as Young Men and Fire (which is a World Book Night selection this April 23rd), is the bored patience and cautiously learned excavation of a natural teacher, of someone who cares to rescind the relationship between art and life, and then recast it in a more vigilant if forgiving light. That book is spectacular.
Anyhow, Dexter’s profile is weird and narratively disjointed—it reads like a Barry Hannah short story without the lustful reproach and booze, which I think Maclean would probably appreciate. It’s not a coincidence that Dexter went on to renown as a fiction writer. It’s very much worth reading.
Elsewhere, we recently saw a testament to Maclean’s stature as a teacher: Justice John Paul Stevens did a Q & A with the New York Times and proclaimed Maclean—once a professor who taught a course in poetry at the University of Chicago, in a town he would love all his life—”the teacher to whom [he] is the most indebted.”
To read more about the work of Norman Maclean, click here.
Last week, we were humbled to learn that we received the inaugural International Academic and Professional Publisher Award from the London Book Fair, among a ridiculously esteemed group of nominees across multiple categories. The award, part of a new industry-wide pool of honors, furthers the LBF’s mission to “celebrate the role of the book and the written word at the heart of creative content across all formats.”
More from the press release:
These unique new awards, celebrating achievement across the entire business of publishing, will provide a truly global industry vision. They represent the UK’s recognition of international publishing industry excellence, and take place within the calendar’s most important global publishing event.
LBF and The Publishers Association have selected an group of UK judges, working at the heart of each category, whose international or discipline-specific expertise qualifies them to judge their peers’ work.
For a full list of winners, visit Publishing Perspectives, who mention in their write-up of the awards ceremony:
The global book industry saw the birth of something new on Tuesday night, something that will surely grow to become a fixture on the international publishing calendar, something that seemed so right one wondered why it had never existed before.
Again, we’re humbled and honored—congrats to the other winners and all the nominees (excitedly: a truly global list).
Where the North Sea Touches Alabama is a strange book—I’ve been describing it to strangers (note the relationship between adjective and noun) as an ethnography of mourning, but really it’s a peculiar hybrid of sociological exegesis, lyric essay, and phantasmagorical travelogue. I believe author Allen C. Shelton might consider it a novel, just as Walter Benjamin certainly must have plucked a term from the atmosphere to describe the Arcades Project as he carried its pages in a suitcase like fake currency.
The book considers the tragic life and death of the artist Patrik Keim, a friend of the author’s, and a theoretical muse or Betelgeuse ostensibly traveling between this world and another. That’s the stuff of Western philosophy in the wake of Hegel, or a battered Platonic ideal we repeat to ourselves—the absolute idealism that marks being as an all-inclusive whole: not subject without object, and vice-versa. Shelton takes on this canon—Marx, Foucault, Weber, and especially, Benjamin—and arrives at someplace not entirely recognizable. Maybe that’s because the rest of the landscape he renders—via an epistolary immersion in northeastern Alabama—is so unavoidably specific. Anyhow: not to give too much away. The above trailer should be enough to get you started—like the book, it’s a well-made and unconventional narrative.
And to conclude, from an equally strange—lyrical, inculcating even—review of the book by Daryl White from Paste magazine:
My inner Walter Mitty belongs to a small collective of social science writers.
We call ourselves the Professors Higgin. We commiserate, critique and urge each other to confess our literary sins, our endless little murders of the English tongue. We comprise a teacher, a pragmatist, a printmaker, a contrarian, a recovering atheist, an agnostic, a believer with no object of belief, a jaded millenarian, a Luddite, a backsliding Marxist and, depending on academic circumstances, either an anthropologist or a sociologist—an erstwhile Whitman’s Sampler.
We help each other, endlessly contradict, chide, commiserate and condemn colleagues’ writing. We laugh at our phobias, strain for 12-step clarity and all too rarely acknowledge the debt we owe our students. With ease, we blame them for our petty insanities, resent their ability to absorb our time and in the end know our better selves in their reflections.
We read Where the North Sea Touches Alabama in sustained awe. Inspired. Heartened. Daunted.
To read more about Where the North Sea Touches Alabama, click here.
Congratulations to the 2014 class of Guggenheim Fellows, announced this week by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. The Guggenheim, a “mid-career award” (PS: Clare Vaye Watkins, knocking it out of the park for the younger generation), which honors scholars, scientists, poets, artists, and writers, extends its fellowships to assist with research and artistic creation. As we’ve noted in the past, the fellowship possesses some tortured origins—(John) Simon Guggenheim, who served as president of the American Smelting and Refining Company and Republican senator from Colorado, seeded the award (1925) following the death of this son John (1922) from mastoiditis (Guggenheim’s second son George later committed suicide, and more infamously his older brother Benjamin went down with the Titanic).
We’re delighted to see included among the “professionals who have demonstrated exceptional ability by publishing a significant body of work in the fields of natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, and the creative arts,” a roster of fellowship winners affiliated with the University of Chicago Press:
Susan Bee, Fine Arts; contributor of cover images to With Strings: Poems, My Way: Speeches and Poems, Girly Man, and Recalculating, all by Charles Bernstein
Susan Bernofsky, Translation; contributor to The Sound of Poetry/The Poetry of Sound (ed. Marjorie Perloff and Craig Dworkin)
Deborah R. Coen, History of Science, Technology, and Economics; author of The Earthquake Observers: Disaster Science from Lisbon to Richter and Vienna in the Age of Uncertainty: Science, Liberalism, and Private Life
Andrew Cole, Medieval and Renaissance Literature; author of The Birth of Theory
Donald Crafton, Film, Video, and Radio Studies; author of Before Mickey: The Animated Film, 1898–1928
Latoya Ruby Frazier, Photography; contributor to The Way of the Shovel: On the Archaeological Imaginary in Art
Joseph P. Gone, Psychology; advisory board member for The Child: An Encyclopedic Companion
Yunte Huang, General Nonfiction; contributor to The Sound of Poetry/The Poetry of Sound (ed. Marjorie Perloff and Craig Dworkin)
Sarah Kay, Medieval and Renaissance Literature, author of Animal Skins and Human Selves in Medieval Latin and French Bestiaries (forthcoming)
Carla Mazzio, English Literature; editorial board member, Renaissance Drama and author of The Trouble with Numbers: The Drama of Mathematics in the Age of Shakespeare (forthcoming)
Ange Mlinko, Poetry; contributor to The Open Door: One Hundred Poems, One Hundred Years of Poetry Magazine
Monika Piazzesi, Economics; editorial board member, Journal of Political Economy
Rayna Rapp, Anthropology and Cultural Studies; contributor to Connected: Engagements with Media (ed. George E. Marcus)
Victoria Redel, Fiction; author of Swoon (Phoenix Poets)
Haun Saussy, East Asian Studies; editorial board member, Modern Philology
Susan Sidlauskas, Fine Arts Research; editorial board member, Signs
Rachel Sussman, Photography; author of The Oldest Living Things in the World
Emily Talen, Architecture, Planning, and Design; author of Neighborhood: The Measure and Meaning of an Urban Ideal (forthcoming)
Marjorie Welish, Poetry; contributor to The Studio Reader: On the Space of Artists
Congratulations, again, to the new cohort of Fellows!
Hillary L. Chute spent a significant portion of the past decade studying, hanging out with, and interviewing many of the artists whose iconic images have helped define contemporary graphic arts. In Outside the Box: Interviews with Contemporary Cartoonists, Chute collects these interviews in book form for the first time, delivering in-depth discussions with twelve of the most prominent and accomplished artists and writers in comics today, and revealing a creative community that is richly interconnected yet fiercely independent. The interviewees include Lynda Barry and Alison Bechdel, Charles Burns and Joe Sacco, and even a never-before published conversation between Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware.
In addition to unparalleled access into the cartooning world, Outside the Box also puts narrative power into the hands of this cast of masters—without whom our eyes (and ears) would not take in such gripping stories.
For Chicagoans, Chute will talk about the book and her experiences as documentarian and scholar of the cartooning community at two upcoming events:
A discussion at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore, 5751 S. Woodlawn, Thursday, April 10th, 6 PM
A talk and signing at Quimby’s, 1854 W. North Ave., Saturday, April 19th, 7 PM
To read more about Outside the Box, click here.
Just in time for garden prep, our free e-book for April is Jonathan Silvertown’s An Orchard Invisible: A Natural History of Seeds.
“I have great faith in a seed,” Thoreau wrote. “Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”
The story of seeds, in a nutshell, is a tale of evolution. From the tiny sesame that we sprinkle on our bagels to the forty-five-pound double coconut borne by the coco de mer tree, seeds are a perpetual reminder of the complexity and diversity of life on earth. With An Orchard Invisible, Jonathan Silvertown presents the oft-ignored seed with the natural history it deserves, one nearly as varied and surprising as the earth’s flora itself.
Beginning with the evolution of the first seed plant from fernlike ancestors more than 360 million years ago, Silvertown carries his tale through epochs and around the globe. In a clear and engaging style, he delves into the science of seeds: How and why do some lie dormant for years on end? How did seeds evolve? The wide variety of uses that humans have developed for seeds of all sorts also receives a fascinating look, studded with examples, including foods, oils, perfumes, and pharmaceuticals. An able guide with an eye for the unusual, Silvertown is happy to take readers on unexpected—but always interesting—tangents, from Lyme disease to human color vision to the Salem witch trials. But he never lets us forget that the driving force behind the story of seeds—its theme, even—is evolution, with its irrepressible habit of stumbling upon new solutions to the challenges of life.
To download your copy, click here.
For more about our free e-book of the month program, click here.
The detection of a slight swirling by scientists at the South Pole using the BICEP2 telescope makes a case for the existence of gravitational waves—and that, in turn, would point to the cosmic inflation of the Universe, support the theory of the Big Bang, and confirm another facet of Albert Einstein’s theory of gravity and general relativity. Though these observations are not yet confirmed, scholar and expert Harry Collins, author of Gravity’s Ghost and Big Dog: Scientific Discovery and Social Analysis in the Twenty-First Century, was kind enough to elaborate on the process, as well as what the experimental results might mean—and what then is at stake for different scientific communities. You can read his post after the jump.
Gravitational waves and discoveries at the South Pole
On March 17, 2014, there was a huge fuss about the discovery of primordial gravitational waves that could tell us something about the Big Bang’s first tiny fraction of a second. Since I have spent most of my academic life studying the sociology of the—so far fruitless—direct search for gravitational waves, I received a lot of emails asking me about whether this was the real thing at last. I had to answer “no.” Let me take this opportunity to explain.
There’s not much sociology here: only an attempt to explain the science that provides the context for my professional studies. I have to point out that I do not represent the gravitational wave detection community, among whom there are many different opinions, including some revealing much more enthusiasm for and engagement with these findings than are expressed here.
The biggest and best-known direct detection devices are two interferometers, each with two four-kilometer arms at right angles. They are located in Washington and Louisiana, and together comprise the American “Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory,” or “LIGO.” The 3-kilometer Italian-French device (“Virgo”), the 600-meter German-British device (“GEO”), and a few others in construction also exist, scattered around the world. Gravitational waves are often described as ripples in space time; they are incredibly weak. If LIGO finally “sees” a wave, its effect will be to change the relative length of its two arms. The change in length of a four-kilometer arm will be equivalent to the rise in the water level of one-square-mile Cardiff Bay caused by adding 1/100,000th of a drop. It is a hard science!
Since gravitational waves are so weak, their expected sources are huge events in the heavens, such as the explosion or collision of stars, or anything else that shifts stellar amounts of mass around in an asymmetrical way. The direct search community is split into four groups. The “burst group” looks for ill-defined packets of energy, such as might be emitted by a supernova or maybe an earthquake on a neutron star; the “inspiral group” looks for the well-defined waveforms emitted by binary-star systems at the very end of their life when they ‘inspiral’ together and coalesce; the “continuous wave group” looks for well-defined long-duration waves emitted by asymmetric pulsars or the like (these waves are specially weak but their effect can be integrated over years); the “stochastic group” looks for random waves coming, from among other places, the Big Bang—this is the gravitational equivalent of the cosmic microwave background. So far, there has been no confirmed detection of any kind, but assuming no one has made a terrible error, there are reasons to hope that with a more sensitive generation of detectors coming on air, binary-star inspirals might begin to be detected a few years from now.
Matters get complicated because there are other ways to detect gravitational waves. Waves can be detected because of their influence on matter, such as the way they change the length of the interferometers’ arms. This is referred to as “direct” detection even though those changes have to be measured by electromagnetic means. But gravitational waves also affect the matter of stars. They have already been detected in this way by Hulse and Taylor—winners of the 1993 Nobel Prize in physics—who observed for a decade the slow decay of a widely separated binary system’s orbit, and showed it was consistent with the energy emitted by gravitational waves. Given that this observation concerns changes in the separation of lumps of matter (stars) detected by electromagnetic means, it could be argued that this detection is no more indirect than the potential detections that will be made by the interferometers. Maybe that’s a bit too philosophically cute, but maybe not; it can depend on whether you own a telescope or an interferometer (and that’s sociology). What is certain is that when (if) LIGO and the international network of interferometers start observing, they will be looking in different wavebands than did Hulse and Taylor, and they will be able to see many more of many different kinds of phenomena. The observation of a binary inspiral, or a supernova, or a neutron starquake will take seconds or less, not decades, and there should be many per year once full sensitivity is reached. The true justification for the interferometers is then gravitational astronomy—including our first look into the heart of colliding black holes—with the direct discovery of gravitational waves exciting but not so surprising as it once would have been.
Now, if it is confirmed, BICEP has observed gravitational waves in another indirect way. The group has inferred their existence from the polarization patterns of electromagnetic waves (the microwave background). Once more there is scope for arguing that this too is no more indirect than the interferometric detections that may one day be made by the stochastic group; for some, what one calls “direct” and “indirect” seems like a matter of taste. What also seems likely is that the interferometers may one day be able to see primordial gravitational waves at different frequencies and with different kinds of resolution from those seen by BICEP—in other words, a combination of both techniques seems likely to give the best information about the first moments of the universe.
The direct detection community is excited by the BICEP result, because apart from its cosmological importance, it shows that the phenomena that they are looking for are there to be found one day. In the same way, they were pleased by the Hulse-Taylor observation, given that at one time there was doubt whether gravitational waves could be detected even in principle. Speaking now purely as my unprofessional self—a citizen with a schoolboy interest in science, but one who is perhaps biased by lengthy contact with these groups—I think building mind bogglingly fine gossamer webs that can capture exquisitely ephemeral waves is more exciting than inferring their existence from the movement of stars or from patterns in the much stronger electromagnetic spectrum. This is because it leads to more than new understanding: it demonstrates unprecedented control over nature and a heroic extension of our means to uncover its secrets.
Harry Collins is the Distinguished Research Professor of Sociology and director of the Centre for the Study of Knowledge, Expertise, and Science at Cardiff University, and a fellow of the British Academy. He is the author of numerous books, including Gravity’s Ghost and Big Dog: Scientific Discovery and Social Analysis in the Twenty-First Century, Gravity’s Ghost: Scientific Discovery in the Twenty-First Century, and Gravity’s Shadow: The Search for Gravitational Waves.
Ted Cohen, legendary professor at the University of Chicago and scholar of aesthetic philosophy, whose expertise included, “jokes, baseball, television, photography, painting and sculpture, as well as the philosophy of language and formal logic,” passed away last Friday at age 74.
From the University of Chicago News:
While some philosophers aim to construct large-scale theories, others “look with a very fine, acute eye at specific phenomena and work from the example outwards, beginning with the ordinary and exposing the extraordinary within it,” said Cohen’s longtime friend and colleague Josef Stern. “Ted was that kind of philosopher.”
Many students remembered him as an expert in his field and an excellent professor, always welcoming others’ insight and connecting his rambling anecdotes back to the text. The “classic image” of him smoking outside of Harper Memorial Library wearing a red beret will also be a part of that memory, said fourth-year Julie Huh. “His presence exuded such nonchalance, and he always took his time with his cigarette outside Harper.”
We remember Ted Cohen as the author of Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters (1999) and contributor to The Great Latke–Hamentash Debate (2005), the latter of which chronicles the event held each November at the University of Chicago, moderated by Cohen and marked by his droll wit.
Chicagoland, a non-scripted documentary series produced by Robert Redford for CNN, premieres tonight. The show, touted as “Where policy meets real people’s lives,” ostensibly focuses its eight parts on the plight of a “heartland” city “generating change and innovation in social policy, education, and public safety.” Rick Kogan, writing for the Chicago Tribune, pins down the first episode’s emerging storylines—violence and public schools—as not necessarily un-akin to the offerings of scripted urban dramas like The Wire (the Trib will be live-blogging this evening’s premiere). Whether and what the show delivers remains to be seen, but Kogan’s review hints at a beautifully shot advertisement for a rebranded CNN and a program which, for better or worse, could define the city for years to come. Tune in for a cameo by UCP author Neil Steinberg, whose You Were Never in Chicago similarly captures our city in the raw through a series of essays that chronicle Steinberg’s own fixations and proclivities.
You can read more about You Were Never in Chicago here.
This photograph of a 9,550-year-old Swedish spruce tree is one of several images shot by photographer Rachel Sussman, featured in a slideshow at Time magazine. The photos are drawn from Sussman’s latest project, The Oldest Living Things in the World, which chronicles the decade Sussman spent traveling the globe, taking stunning photographs of continuously living organisms that are 2,000 years old and older.
From the Time piece:
There’s a sense of wonder imbued in these photographs of organisms that seem to be a physical record of time, but there’s also a call to action. Many of these subjects of Sussman’s portraits are under threat from habitat loss or climate change or simple human idiocy. (Sussman has written movingly about the loss of the 3,500-year-old Senator tree in Orlando, destroyed in a fire that was almost certainly set on purpose.) “The oldest living things in the world are a record and celebration of our past, a call to action in the present and a barometer of the future,” Sussman has said—and the images that follow prove her out.
Read more about The Oldest Living Things in the World here.
Every other year, shortly before the Ides of March and just as precarious an omen, cometh the Whitney Biennial. This year’s model splits the show more or less into three floors, each curated by a different individual, and each thus aligned with a particular sensibility, hierarchy, and vision. Reviews started trickling in after the media preview, among them kudos for Floor 4, helmed by Michelle Grabner, coeditor of The Studio Reader and professor of painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Hyperallergic notes the floor as “the most tightly curated and coherent of the three,” and includes a photo essay sampling the work; critic Jerry Saltz, in an otherwise lukewarm review of the show, acknowledges Grabner’s curation as “includ[ing] the show’s visual and material high point: a central gallery crammed with colorful painting, sculpture, and handmade objects as well as ceramics and textiles.”
In an interview with Artspace, Grabner comments on her familiarity with the milieu she documents in The Studio Reader and how it informed her selections for the Biennial:
I am exceedingly comfortable in studios and among the materials of art and art-making. So needless to say, I felt confident visiting artists in their studios and sure-footed during the installing and juxtaposition of artworks in the galleries. I was least comfortable when the process of curating was merely the developing of quantifiable information.
The Whitney Biennial runs through May 25, 2014.
Read more about The Studio Reader here.
Over at the Los Angeles Review of Books, Jan Mieszkowski reviews The Death Penalty: Volume I, the latest collection of Jacques Derrida’s seminars to appear in print. Drawn from the first half of a two-year seminar he gave from 1999 to 2001, the book postulates the American position on capital punishment as complicit with a logic in which a sovereign state has the right to take a life. In this takeaway from his review, Mieszkowski positions Derrida within today’s academy:
Derrida’s prominence in North American universities has waned, at least superficially, in the decade since his death. A new group of European philosophers has supplanted him as the must-reads of the moment, including Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière, and the Slavoj Žižek. In the intellectual circles in which Of Grammatology and Specters of Marx were once standard fare, the works of Gilles Deleuze or Giorgio Agamben are now more likely to enjoy pride of place. Perhaps most striking for those who remember a time when Derrida’s oeuvre was viewed as a fount of productive positions on virtually every philosophical topic, there is an increasing tendency to refer to his “one or two” major ideas, as if his thought were distinguished not by its range but by its lack thereof. Of course, fashions in academic citation practices may be poor measures of Derrida’s abiding influence, which makes itself felt in numerous contexts in which he is never mentioned by name, not least because so many of his strategies and positions are now widely taken for granted.
Taking off from this, it’s worth pointing the reader toward Arne De Boever’s interview with the translator and coeditor of Derrida’s seminars in English, Peggy Kamuf, which accompanies the review:
One other thing that struck me reading this course — and you’ve gestured to it already in several of your answers—is how US-focused it is. Derrida was of course teaching the course in both France and the US. But there’s more to it than that: he repeatedly states in the lectures that his topic, the death penalty, is particularly pertinent to the US and its demographic. Reading the course I wonder if we still think of Derrida too much as a “French” philosopher—he’s almost just as much an “American” philosopher, wouldn’t you say? Focusing on issues that are central to contemporary American life? “America” is certainly a recurring theme in his work.
Yes, it is, but nowhere perhaps as insistently as in The Death Penalty, for reasons that are obvious. As for Derrida being an American or “American” philosopher, I would say no. Which doesn’t mean he is therefore a French or a “French” philosopher. (Although his passport would have said otherwise.) True, he wrote in the language called French, but he also wrote in or with an idiom that would have been his own, all the while treating and translating texts from both other languages (German, Greek, Latin, or English) and other idioms. Insofar as philosophy passes itself down in writing, it has to contend with the problem of couching the universal in a particular language/idiom. The solution cannot be a set of philosophical nationalisms, “American” and “French” or even analytic and continental. On the contrary, philosophy has to suppose the possibility of translation. Either that or, as Hegel tried to show, all philosophers would have to learn to speak German. But is translation indeed possible? Derrida more than once has defined “deconstruction” as “plus d’une langue,” a phrase that English has to translate twice in order to capture the sense of “more than one language” but also “no more of just one language.” You could say that deconstruction is philosophy in the wake of the commandment at Babel to translate what is impossible to translate.
To read more about The Death Penalty: Volume I, click here.
Left: National Gallery of Art curator James Meyer with art historian Huey Copeland at a party for the University of Chicago Press. Right: Art historians Richard Meyer and Andrew Uroskie at a party for the University of Chicago Press.
Recently at Artforum, Chicago-based critic Jason Foumberg assessed the state of the art (world)—at least the academic art world, as manifested in the most recent annual meeting of the College Art Association. Pivoting on the panel discussion “Identity Politics: Then and Now,” Foumberg noted:
CAA accommodates an extraordinarily diverse offering of topics, from medieval to new media art, but everyone agrees on one thing: We must learn from the past. The recent past of identity politics provided a brilliant example, with Gregg Bordowitz at the helm of the evolving revolution. “Stop trying to be radical. Stop privileging ‘radicality’ as a term. The radicals do it out of necessity. What is your necessity?” Bordowitz rhetorically asked the audience.
A surprise addition to the account was the inclusion of several snapshots from UCP’s wine reception (see above), catching authors Huey Copeland and Andrew Uroskie in the act of non-radically taking a breather from the din of all that ruckus, celebrating their respective publications Bound to Appear: Art, Slavery, and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America and Between the Black Box and the White Cube: Expanded Cinema and Postwar Art.
For her column at Bookslut, Jenny McPhee considers the fantasy of the “intellectual and sensual super-sophistiquée” in twentieth-century Paris—and reviews the ever-expanding body of literature dedicated to pursuit of this theme. Among it? Alice Kaplan’s Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis, which focuses on each woman’s time abroad, articulating the influence French culture exerted on their then-burgeoning womanhood and identities (among others) as writer, editor, activist, debutante, and icon.
McPhee notes in particular of Davis a thread that the three women hold in common—how their time in Paris left indelible marks on their self-perception:
Davis spent her junior year in Paris, the only black student of forty-six in the Hamilton program. Very familiar with the work of Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Proust, Camus, and Sartre, she was one of six students advanced enough for an intensive course in contemporary literature at the Sorbonne. While she was in France, four Birmingham girls—friends and neighbors of Davis’s—died when a bomb exploded in a Baptist Church, and Kennedy was assassinated.
In 1965, after graduating from Brandeis, she studied in Frankfurt with the social critic and philosopher Theodor Adorno, then worked on her PhD with the political theorist Herbert Marcuse at University of California, San Diego. Much of her reading during the years she was developing her own radical political philosophy was in French: Jean-Paul Sartre on colonialism and post-colonialism, Pierre Vidal-Naquet and Henri Alleg on torture, Henri Lefebvre and Louis Althusser on Marxist theory, and Daniel Guérin on anarchism.
Later, when Davis was imprisoned for her alleged role in a California courtroom shooting, four hundred French intellectuals, including Daniel Guérin, Jacques Derrida, Marguerite Duras, Julia Kristeva, and Roland Barthes, signed a letter demanding her release. Alain Robbe-Grillet, Michel Foucault, Louis Aragon, and Pablo Picasso wrote another letter of protest to Governor Ronald Reagan. In 1971, sixty thousand people marched in Paris for her liberation. Angela Davis’s story, writes Kaplan, itself became mythic.
To read more about Dreaming in French, click here.
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Welcome to the boundless third dimension: university presses—figuratively speaking—in space!
From the website:
“University Presses in Space” showcases a special sampling of the many works that university presses have published about space and space exploration. These books have all the hallmarks of university press publishing—groundbreaking content, editorial excellence, high production values, and striking design. The titles included here were selected by each Press as their strongest works across a variety of space-related topics, from the selling of the Apollo lunar program to the history of the Shuttle program to the future of manned space exploration and many subjects in between.
As part of the “University Presses in Space” program, we were geeked to select Time Travel and Warp Drives: A Scientific Guide to Shortcuts through Space and Time by Allen Everett and Thomas Roman, which takes readers on a clear, concise tour of our current understanding of the nature of time and space—and whether or not we might be able to bend them to our will. Using no math beyond high school algebra, the authors lay out an approachable explanation of Einstein’s special relativity, then move through the fundamental differences between traveling forward and backward in time and the surprising theoretical connection between going back in time and traveling faster than the speed of light.
Even better? The book lent itself to twelve video demonstrations of concepts like nontransversable wormholes and, ahem, the cylindrical universe.
To read more about “University Presses in Space,” visit the website here.
For more on Time Travel and Warp Drives, click here.