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1. Oral history and childhood memories

During my second semester at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I took an oral history seminar with Dr. Jacquelyn Dowd Hall. It was an eye-opening experience, not only because of what I learned, but how I learned. We had to conduct two interviews, and after spending nearly two months of class time discussing the historiography and methodology of oral history, I thought I was ready to go. My first interview was with civil rights activist Wyatt Tee Walker, and although he agreed to be interviewed, he was not feeling well and had difficulty speaking. Thrown off, my first few questions were poorly constructed, and I sped through his early life hoping he would have more to say about his activist history later in life. Listen as I struggle:

I lost an opportunity during that interview. I could have discovered more about Wyatt Tee Walker based on his early life, but I zoomed ahead. Now, every time I give a workshop on oral history, I hammer home the same message: start with their childhood. What surprises me are the responses from students, who often look incredulous when I tell them. They may think stories about growing up have nothing to do with their project at hand, and they don’t want to waste time talking about childhood memories. They want to cut to the chase and focus on big events later in life. But by leading off your oral history with several questions about what it was like growing up, you will build the foundation for a better interview.

Let’s say you’re interviewing someone for a larger project about an environmental history of Orange County, North Carolina. The long-time director of a local community organization has agreed to talk to you, and from your research, you know this person will have a lot to say about environmentalism in North Carolina over the past twenty years or so. You arrive to interview the person, you chat and get comfortable with one another, and you begin the interview. You may be tempted to launch right in: “Tell me about how you first came to work with ABC Environmental Group…” or “Tell me about how you first became interested in environmentalism.” Resist the temptation, and begin much, much earlier.

Start by asking your interviewee about their childhood. Introduce yourself, the interviewee, mention the date and any other relevant background information, and then ask your first question: “Tell me about your childhood.” Based on how they respond, they will give you the working materials to ask follow-up questions that will give the interview much more substance. Ask about where they grew up, their neighborhood, their family, their education, their religious background, and so on. Ask about individuals in their family: “Tell me about your father/mother/siblings/grandparents or anyone else influential as you were growing up.” (Hint: many people love talking about their grandparents if they knew them well.)

Hopefully by now you’ve forgotten how I opened my interview with Wyatt Tee Walker. Now, consider this example when I interviewed Evelyn Poole-Kober, a local Republican activist in Chapel Hill. How did that one, single question differ from the many incoherent questions I launched at Walker?

Here’s what happened next. Poole-Kober shared stories about her childhood and adolescence for about a third of the total interview, around 45 minutes. Should I consider these stories wasteful because they weren’t directly related to my project at hand? I don’t think so. She opened up, shared intimate details of her life, and led me through her early life to show where she ended up. These memories enhanced the total value of the interview, and they opened the door to more questions, more stories, and a richer interview about her whole life.

Concentrating on childhood questions also helps oral historians move toward curating oral histories rather than just collecting them. As Linda Shopes suggested in a previous blog post, quality and originality should be stressed over quantity when conducting an oral history project. By focusing the beginning of every interview on childhood, no matter the project, you will generate an unpredictable set of stories and information that researchers working on vastly different projects might one day find useful. Curated in a way that crosses projects, time periods, and disciplines, these stories enliven the field of oral history by rooting the past of each person in vivid ways.

Every oral history interview and project is different. You may not have the time, or you might be unable to dedicate an extended period of time to every person’s childhood and adolescence. But if you can, I suggest that you do. The rewards can be great.

Image Credit: “Childhood Pictures” by martinak15. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

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2. Mitochondria donation: an uncertain future?

Earlier this year, UK Parliament voted to change the law to support new and controversial in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) procedures known as ‘mitochondrial donation’. The result is that the UK is at the cutting-edge of mitochondrial science and the only country in the world to legalise germ-line technologies. The regulations came into force on 29th October this year, and clinics are now able to apply for a licence.

The post Mitochondria donation: an uncertain future? appeared first on OUPblog.

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3. What a load of BS: Q&A with Mark Peters

Terms for bullshit in the English language have grown so vast it has now become a lexicon itself. We talked to Mark Peters, author of Bullshit: A Lexicon, about where the next set of new terms will come from, why most of the words are farm related, and bullshit in politics.

The post What a load of BS: Q&A with Mark Peters appeared first on OUPblog.

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4. J.K. Rowling Featured in the Guardian Weekend Conversation Special

The Guardian announced today, through Twitter, that J.K. Rowling would be one of the many names taking part in their “Conversations Special” of their weekend edition. The tweet released a promotional picture featuring J.K. Rowling and Lauren Laverne.


The Weekend edition of the Guardian is out tomorrow!

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5. The life of culture

Does culture really have a life of its own? Are cultural trends, fashions, ideas, and norms like organisms, evolving and weaving our minds and bodies into an ecological web? You hear a pop song a few times and suddenly find yourself humming the tune. You unthinkingly adopt the vocabulary and turns of phrase of your circle of friends.

The post The life of culture appeared first on OUPblog.

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6. Life, Only Better review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Anna Gavalda's Life, Only Better, just out in English from Europa Editions.

       I'm always curious about bestselling fiction abroad, and Gavalda is one of the few really popular-in-France domestic authors that is also regularly translated (others like Guillaume Musso or Marc Levy have a much harder time getting translated). This is the fourth of her books under review at the complete review, and that isn't even all of them (I drew the line at Billie).
       I do grudgingly have to admit that she's onto something -- indeed, I think these would be good books to dissect in creative-writing classes. I just wish she'd be a bit more (or is it less ?) ambitious with her subject-matter. (It's also why that other very popular French author, Amélie Nothomb, is so much better: Nothomb's aim isn't first and foremost heartstrings-tugging and crowd-pleasing (as Gavalda's so obviously is); Gavalda is a manipulative writer, playing to the crowd, while Nothomb is largely (and wonderfully hopelessly) only caught up/entangled in herself.)

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7. HBO to Possibly take on “Comoran Strike” series in US

HBO has teamed up with BBC to bring the US adaptions of J.K. Rowling’s work before, with The Casual Vacancy mini series. The private cable network is once again looking at bringing a J.K. Rowling adaption to the United States: The Cormoran Strike Series . According to TV Wise, who received the story exclusively, HBO is looking to become co-producers of the series.

TV Wise posted the article on their Twitter feed:


The article reports:

The drama series, which is eyed for a 2016 premiere, is based on the first two Cormoran Strike novels, The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm. It was originally commissioned back in April 2014 and then Director of Television Danny Cohen was widely credited with securing the series for the BBC, even as major Hollywood Studios and rival UK broadcasters were chasing, thanks to his close relationship with Rowling and her long-time agent Neil Blair. A formal episode order has not yet been set, with the BBC stating that it would be finalised once the scripts are completed.

The Cormoran Strike Mysteries is described as being “steeped in the atmosphere of contemporary London” and follows war veteran turned private detective Cormoran Strike who investigates shocking crimes together with his female assistant Robin, whose forensic mind and fierce determination he cannot ignore. The murders take them from the hushed streets of Mayfair to the literary haunts of Fitzrovia, exposing the seedy reality lurking beneath seemingly innocent societies. With each crime, they discover a little more about each other and both learn that appearances can be deceptive.

Assuming the deal closes and HBO does in fact board as a co-producer (sources close to the project tell me that they will), this would mark the second such BBC drama from Rowling that the network has co-produced. Last year, just as pre-production was getting into full swing, HBO signed on to co-produce the three-part adaptation of Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. Representatives of HBO did not immediately respond to TVWise’s request for comment.


As Leaky reported previously, The Cormoran Strike series is shaping up to be very similar to The Casual Vacancy mini series adaptation. Working with BBC 1, J.K. Rowling will be the executive producer, Sarah Phelps (writer of The Casual Vacancy) will be writing the adaption of The Cuckoo’s Calling, and Ben Richards is set to adapt The Silkworm.


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8. The Fifth Dimension review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Martin Vopěnka's The Fifth Dimension, just out from intrepid Barbican Press.

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9. Social opulence: re-branding Labour

Corbynomics has yet to be unpacked. And when it is, there's danger it will be branded as a return to the bad old days of tax and spend, when the 1983 Labour manifesto was dismissed by pundits as the longest suicide note in history. To avoid this, what Labour needs are some big and positive ideas; ideas that that resonate with the public and which capture that popular mood of radicalism that has put Jeremy Corbyn where he is.

The post Social opulence: re-branding Labour appeared first on OUPblog.

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10. Women onstage and offstage in Elizabethan England

Though a Queen ruled England, gender equality certainly wasn't found in Elizabethan society. Everything from dress to employment followed strict gender roles, and yet there was a certain amount of room for play. There are several cases of (in)famous women who dressed as men and crossed the bounds of "acceptable behavior."

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11. La nave di Teseo

       The big news in Italian publishing this year has been the sale of RCS Libri to Mondadori (see, for ecample, the Mondadori press release), with venerable literary imprints including Bompiani and Rizzoli suddenly swallowed into a 'Mondazzoli' juggernaut (apparently controlling half of the local book market, and seventy percent of the paperback market) -- run by a Berlusconi, no less.
       It doesn't come as much of a surprise that many literary types are apparently jumping ship -- led by Bompiani editor in chief Elisabetta Sgarbi, who has now announced the founding of a new publishing house, to be called 'La nave di Teseo'; see, for example, the (Italian) report at Il libraio.
       I'm not so sure about that name -- suggested by no one less than Umberto Eco, who is fully on board with the new venture -- given that it's the (Rizzoli-published) Italian title of a ... J.J.Abrams book (see the publicity page)
       No real English-language coverage that I've seen so far, but there should be some shortly -- this is a big (and nicely messy) story.

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12. NY Times 100 Notable Books

       The New York Times has announced its 100 Notable Books of 2015
       After a mere three titles in translation in 2013 and eight last year they impressively managed to include what appears to be fourteen this time around.

       Last year I had reviewed five of the titles by the time the list was published, this year it's ... six:

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13. Apocalypse and The Hunger Games

The final installment of The Hunger Games films (Mockingjay: Part Two) is about to be released. Amidst the acres of coverage about Jennifer Lawrence, the on-screen violence (is it appropriate for twelve year-olds?) and an apparently patchy and unconvincing ending, it is worth pausing to consider the apocalyptic nature of the franchise.

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14. Prize: Finlandia Prize

       They've announced that Oneiron, by Laura Lindstedt, has won the Finlandia Prize, the biggest Finnish literary prize; see, for example, the Yle report, Author Lindstedt slams government after Finlandia win.
       The winning title sounds intriguing both in premise -- "Seven women, each from a different country and unfamiliar to one another, come together in a white, undefined space just seconds after their respective deaths" -- and execution; for more information on the author and the book see the Elina Ahlback Literary Agency information page, and the (Finnish) Teos publicity page.
       Definitely something for US/UK publishers to consider, from the sounds of it; apparently so far only Hungarian rights have been sold.

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15. The life and work of Émile Zola

To celebrate the new BBC Radio Four adaptation of the French writer Émile Zola's, 'Rougon-Macquart' cycle, we have looked at the extraordinary life and work of one of the great nineteenth century novelists.

The post The life and work of Émile Zola appeared first on OUPblog.

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16. Happy Birthday, Alfonso Cuarón!

Please join us in wishing Alfonso Cuarón, director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, a very Happy Birthday!

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17. Lire books of the year

       French magazine Lire annually selects a top book in twenty different categories -- with one crowned as overall "meilleur livre de l'année". They announced this year's list -- and 2084, by Boualem Sansal, is the not-so-surprising book of the year.
       Other category winners include a two-volume Virginie Despentes as French novel of the year, a Jón Kalman Stefánsson as best foreign fiction (beating out titles by Javier Cercas and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), and Ryan Gattis' All Involved as best roman noir.
       They also list the finalists in all the catgories, and among the oddities surfacing there: an Elmore Leonard-biography, apparently translated from (though apparently not yet published in) English, by Laurent Chalumeau -- see the Rivages publicity page -- the author of such works as Anne Frank 2, le retour !, and Fuck (see the Grasset publicity page). I wonder whether this will make it (back ?) into English.

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18. What I learned about al Qaeda from analyzing the Bin Laden tapes

In the months following the Taliban's evacuation of Kandahar, Afghanistan, in December 2001, cable news networks set up operations in the city in order to report on the war. In the dusty back rooms of a local recording studio, a CNN stringer came across an extraordinary archive: roughly 1,500 audiotapes taken from Osama bin Laden's residence, where he had lived from 1997-2001, during al Qaeda's most coherent organizational momentum.

The post What I learned about al Qaeda from analyzing the Bin Laden tapes appeared first on OUPblog.

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19. Analysing what Shakespeare has to say about gender

Humans are very good at reading from start to finish and collecting lots of information to understand the aggregated story a text tells, but they are very bad at keeping track of the details of language in use across many texts.

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20. Climate change and the Paris Conference: is the UNFCCC process flawed?

As representatives from 146 countries gather in Paris for the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference, we’ve turned to our Very Short Introduction series for insight into the process, politics and topics of discussion of the conference. Is the UNFCCC process flawed?

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21. Prize: DSC Prize shortlist

       They've announced the six-title strong shortlist for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature (in London, of course, because ...).
       It includes one novel in translation, K.R.Meera's Hangwoman, translated from the Malayalam by J.Devika; see the Penguin India publicity page.

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22. Place of the Year 2015 nominee spotlight: Greece

Earlier in the year, Greece faced some unsettling economic troubles. The country voted on a referendum that would decide whether they would pull their membership from the European Union (and thus, the union's currency and economic system). It's a wonder to think that this country, less than a decade ago, was among one of the richer nations.

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23. Thinking Back with Our Foremothers: For Jane Marcus

It is far too early to tear down the barricades. Dancing shoes will not do. We still need our heavy boots and mine detectors.
—Jane Marcus, "Storming the Toolshed"
1. Seeking Refuge in Feminist Revolutions in Modernism
Last week, I spent two days at the Modernist Studies Association conference in Boston. I hadn't really been sure that I was going to go. I hemmed and hawed. I'd missed the call for papers, so hadn't even had a chance to possibly get on a panel or into a seminar. Conferences bring out about 742 different social anxieties that make their home in my backbrain. I would only know one or maybe two people there. Should I really spend the money on conference fees for a conference I was highly ambivalent about? I hemmed. I hawed.

In the end, though, I went, mostly because my advisor would be part of a seminar session honoring the late Jane Marcus, who had been her advisor. (I think of Marcus now as my grandadvisor, for multiple reasons, as will become clear soon.) The session was titled "Thinking Back Through Our Mothers: Feminist Revolutions in Modernism", the title being an homage to Marcus's essay "Thinking Back Through Our Mothers" from the 1981 anthology New Feminist Essays on Virginia Woolf, itself an homage to the phrase in Woolf's A Room of One's Own. Various former students and colleagues of Marcus would circulate papers among themselves, then discuss them together at the seminar. Because of the mechanics of seminars, participants need to sign up fairly early, and I'd only registered for the conference itself a few days before it began, so there wasn't even any guarantee I'd been able to observe; outside participation is at the discretion of the seminar leader. Thankfully, the seminar leader allowed three of us to join as observers. (I'm trying not to use any names here, simply because of the nature of a seminar. I haven't asked anybody if I can talk about them, and seminars are not public, though the participants are listed in the conference program.)

Marcus was a socialist feminist who was very concerned with bringing people to the table, whether metaphorical or literal, and so of course nobody in the seminar would put up with the auditors being out on the margins, and they insisted that we sit at the table and introduce ourselves. Without knowing it, I sat next to a senior scholar in the field whose work has been central to my own. I'd never seen a picture of her, and to my eyes she looked young enough to be a grad student (the older I get, the younger everybody else gets!). When she introduced herself, I became little more than a fanboy for a moment, and it took all the self-control I could muster not to blurt out some ridiculousness like, "I just love you!" Thankfully, the seminar got started and then there was too much to think about for my inner fanboy to unleash himself. (I did tell her afterwards how useful her work had been to me, because that just seemed polite. Even senior scholars spent a lot of hours working in solitude and obscurity, wondering if their often esoteric efforts will ever be of any use to anybody. I wanted her to knows that hers had.) It soon became the single best event I've ever attended at an academic conference.

Jane Marcus

To explain why, and to get to the bigger questions I want to address here, I have to take a bit of a tangent to talk briefly about a couple of other events.

The day before the Marcus seminar, I'd attended a terrible panel. The papers that were about things I knew about seemed shallow to me, and the papers not about things I knew about seemed like pointless wankery. I seriously thought about just going home. "These are not my people," I thought. "I do not want to be in their academic world."

I also attended a "keynote roundtable" session where three scholars — Heather K. Love, Janet Lyon, and Tavia Nyong’o — discussed the theme of the conference: modernism and revolution. Sort of. It was an odd event, where Love and Nyong'o were in conversation with each other and Janet Lyon was a bit marginalized, simply because her concerns were somewhat different from Love and Nyong'o's and she hadn't been part of what is apparently a longstanding discussion between them. I mention this not as criticism, really, because though the side-lining of Lyon felt weird and sometimes awkward, the discussion was nonetheless interesting and vexing in a productive way. (I know Love and Nyong'o's work, and appreciate it a lot.) I especially appreciated their ideas about academia as, ideally, a refuge for some types of people who lack a space in other institutions and have been marginalized by ruling powers, even if there are no real solutions, given how deeply infused with ideas of finance and "usefulness" the contemporary university is, how exploitative are the practices of even small schools. (Nyong'o works at NYU, an institution that has become the mascot for neoliberalism. His recent blog essay "The Student Demand" is important reading, and was referenced a number of times during the roundtable.) As schools make more and more destructive decisions at the level of administration and without the faculty having much obvious ability to challenge them, the position of the tenure-tracked, salaried faculty member of conscience is difficult, for all sorts of reasons I won't go into here. As Nyong'o and Love pointed out, the moral position must often be that of a criminal in your own institution.

All of this was on my mind the next day as I listened to discussions of Jane Marcus. After the seminar, some of us went out to lunch together and the discussion continued. What I kept thinking about was the idea of refuge, and the way that certain traditions of teaching and writing have opened up spaces of refuge within spaces of hostility. Marcus stands as an exemplar here, both in her writing and her pedagogy. The question everyone kept coming back to was: How do we continue that work?

In her 1982 essay "Storming the Toolshed", Marcus reflected on the position of various feminist critics ("lupines" — she appropriated Quentin Bell's dismissive term for feminist Woolfians, reminding us that it is also a name for a flower):
Feminists often feel forced by economic realities to choose other methodologies and structures that will ensure sympathetic readings from university presses.We may be as middle class as Virginia Woolf, but few of us have the economic security her aunt Caroline Emelia Stephen's legacy gave her. The samizdat circulation among networks of feminist critics works only in a system where repression is equal. If all the members are unemployed or underemployed, unpublished or unrecognized, sisterhood flourishes, and sharing is a source of strength. When we all compete for one job or when one lupine grows bigger and bluer than her sisters with unnatural fertilizers from the establishment, the ranks thin out. Times are hard and getting harder.
Listening to her students and colleagues remember her, I was struck by how well Marcus had tended her own garden, how well she had tried to keep it from being fatally poisoned by the unnatural fertilizers of the institutions of which she was a part. She found opportunities for her students to research and publish in all sorts of places, she supported scholars she admired, and when she couldn't find opportunities for other people's work, she did was she could to create them. She was tenacious, dogged, sometimes even insufferable. This clearly did not always lead to the easiest of relationships, even with some of her best friends and favorite students. As with so many brilliant people, her virtues were intimately linked to her faults. Jane Marcus without her faults would not have been Jane Marcus. Faults and all ("I've never been so mad at somebody!"; "We didn't speak to each other for a year"), again and again people said: "Jane gave me my life."

There seemed to be a sense among the seminar participants that the sort of politically-committed, class-conscious feminism that Marcus so proudly stood for is on the wane in academia, and that while the field of modernist studies may be more open to marginalized writers than it was 30 or 40 years ago, the teaching of modernism in university classes remains very male, very Eliot-Pound-Joyce, with a bit of Woolf thrown in as appeasement to the hysterics. (I have no idea whether this is generally accurate, as I have not done any study of what's getting taught in classes that cover modernist stuffs, but it was the specific experience of a number of people at the conference.) Since the late '90s, there's been the historically-minded New Modernist Studies*, but the question keeps coming up: Does the New Modernist Studies do away with gender ... and if so, is the New Modernist Studies a throwback to the pre-feminist days? Anne Fernald looked at the state of things in the introduction to the 2013 issue of Modern Fiction Studies that she edited, an issue devoted to women writers:
The historical turn has revitalized modernist studies. Beginning in the late 1990s, its impact continues in new book series from Oxford and Columbia University Presses; in the Modernist Studies Association (MSA), whose annual conference has attracted hundreds of scholars; and in burgeoning digital archives such as the Modernist Journals Project. Nonetheless, one hallmark of the new modernist studies has been its lack of serious interest in women writers. Mfs has consistently published feminist work on and by women writers, including special issues on Spark, Bowen, Woolf, and Stein; still, this is the journal’s first issue on feminism as such in nineteen years. Modernism/modernity, the flagship journal of the new modernism and the MSA, has not, in nineteen years, devoted a special issue to a women writer or to feminist theory. Only eight essays in that journal have “feminist” or “feminism” as a key term, while an additional twenty-six have “women” as a key term. And, although The Oxford Handbook of Global Modernisms includes many women contributors, only one of the twenty-eight chapters mentions women in its title, and, of the six authors mentioned by name, only one—Jean Rhys—is a woman.
Similarly, Marcus's socialism and Marxism may not be especially welcome among the New Modernists, for as Max Brzezinski polemically suggests in "The New Modernist Studies: What's Left of Political Formalism?", the New in New Modernist Studies could easily slip into the neo in neo-liberal.

For scholars who have at least some sympathy with Marcus's political stance, there's a lot of deja vu, even weariness. How long, they wonder, must the same battles be fought?

For once, I'm not as pessimistic as other people. Routledge is launching a new journal of feminist modernism (with Anne Fernald as co-editor). Within the world of Virginia Woolf studies, much attention is being paid to Woolf's connections to anti-colonialism and to her ever-more-interesting writings in the last decade of her life. There is a strong transnational and postcolonial tendency among many scholars of modernism of exactly the sort that Marcus herself called for and exemplified, particularly in her later writings. Vigilance is necessary, but vigilance is always necessary. Networks of scholars and traditions of inquiry that Marcus participated in, contributed to, and in some cases founded remain strong.

As some of the people at the conference lamented the steps backward to regressive, patriarchal views, I thought of how lucky I've been in how I've learned to read and perceive this undefinable thing we call "modernism". The modernisms I perceive are ones where women are central. The Joyce-Pound-Eliot modernism is one I'm familiar with, but not one I think of first.

2. Foremothers

I discovered Woolf right around the time I discovered Joyce and Kafka. I was too young (12 or 13) to understand any of their work in any meaningful way, but something about them fascinated me. I flipped through their books, which I found at the local college library. I read Kafka's shortest stories. I memorized the first few lines of Finnegans Wake, though never managed to get more than a few pages into the book itself. I read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, enjoying the first chapter very much and not getting a lot from the later ones (I still don't, honestly. My tastes aren't Catholic enough). I skimmed the last section of Ulysses, looking to see how Joyce made Molly Bloom's stream of consciousness work. And then I read the first few pages of Mrs. Dalloway. That wasn't a library book, but a book I bought with my scant bits of allowance money, saved up for probably a month. It was a mass market paperback with a bright yellow cover. I read the first 50 or so pages of the book and found it enthralling and perplexing. It ended up being too much for me. But there was something there. The first paragraphs were among the most beautiful things I'd ever read.

Skip ahead five or six years and I'm a student at NYU, studying Dramatic Writing. A friend I respect exhorts me to take a course with Ilse Dusoir Lind, who has mostly retired but comes back now and then to teach a seminar, this term on Faulkner and Hemingway. She wrote some of the earliest critical articles on Faulkner and, she later tells me, helped found the Women's Studies program at NYU. My friend was right: her class is remarkable. I don't much like Hemingway except for some of his short stories, but she takes us through The Sun Also Rises, various stories, and The Garden of Eden with panache. (I particularly remember how ridiculous and yet captivating she thought The Garden of Eden was.) And then of course Faulkner, her great love. She taught us to read The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom!, for which I will always be grateful. Thus, my first experience of academic modernism was an experience of two of the most major of major modernist men seen through the eyes of a brilliant woman.

Skip ahead a year or so later and I've just finished my junior year of college. I've decided to transfer from NYU to UNH for various reasons. It's a tough summer for me, a summer of reckoning with myself and my world. I work at the Plymouth State College bookstore, a place I've worked on and off for a number of summers since middle school. That June, the College is hosting the International Virginia Woolf Society's annual conference, organized by a relatively new member of the PSC English Department, Jeanne Dubino. My colleagues at the bookstore are all working as volunteers at the conference. They introduce me to Jeanne and I join the ranks of the volunteers. The bookstore goes all-out with displays. We stock pretty much every book by and about Woolf in print in the US. I remember opening the boxes and helping to shelve the books. None of us were efficient at shelving because we couldn't stop looking at the books.

Hermione Lee's biography had just come out and we hung a giant poster of it up. I bought a copy (35% employee discount!) and began to devour it. One night, I was working the registration desk. Hermione Lee came in. She was giving the keynote address. She was late, having been delayed by weather or something. She was tired, but friendy. "Can I still get my registration materials?" she asked. "Certainly," I said. "And might I ask you to sign my book in return?" She laughed, said of course, and did so while I finished with her paperwork.

I found the conference enthralling. I never wanted to go home. (My parents had just divorced; being at the conference was much more fun than being at the house with my father.) The passion of the participants was contagious. Jeanne was astoundingly composed and friendly for someone in charge of a whole academic conference, and we continued to talk about Woolf now and then until she left Plymouth for other climes. I got to know Woolf because I got to know Jeanne.

Skip forward 6 months to the spring term of my senior year at UNH. By some bit of luck and magic, the English Department offered an upper-level seminar on Woolf this term and I was able to fit it into my schedule. I was the only male in the class, and relatively early on one of the other students said to me, in a tone of voice reserved for a rare and yet quite unappealing insect, "Why are you here?" (What did I reply? I don't remember. I probably said because I like Woolf. Or maybe: Why not?) The instructor was Jean Kennard. We read all of the novels except Night and Day, plus we read A Room of One's Own, Three Guineas, and numerous essays. It was one of the hardest courses I've ever taken, either undergrad or grad, and one of the best. It exhausted me to the bone, and yet I wouldn't have wanted it to do anything less. Few courses have ever stayed with me so well or let me draw on what I learned in them for so long. Prof. Kennard was exacting, interesting, and intimidatingly knowledgeable. I didn't dare read with anything less than close attention and care, even if that meant not sleeping much during the term, because I feared she would ask me a question in class and I would be unprepared and give a terrible answer, and there was no way I was going to allow myself to do that because I already identified as someone for whom Virginia Woolf's work was important. I figured either I'd do well in the class or I'd collapse and be put on medical leave. (I had other classes, of course, and I was acting in some plays, and there was a bit of work on the side to give me some income, so not many free hours for sleeping.)

In the days of the LitBlog Co-op in the early 2000s, I met Anne Fernald. I didn't know she was a Woolfian or involved in modernist studies; I knew her as a blogger. Eventually, we talked about Woolf. (When I moved to New Jersey in the summer of 2007, Anne gave me a tour of the area. I remember asking her how work on a critical edition of Mrs. Dalloway was coming, naively expecting that work must be almost done. We had to wait a few more years. It was worth the wait.)

I didn't really encounter modernism in a classroom again until recently, because it wasn't a part of my master's degree work, except peripherally in that to study Samuel Delany's influences, which I did for the master's thesis, meant to study a lot of modernism, though modernism through his eyes. But his eyes are those of a black, queer man influenced by many women and committed to feminism, so once again my view of modernism was not that of the patriarchal white order, even though plenty of white guys were important to it.

And then PhD classes and research, where once again women were central. (It was in one such class that I first read Jane Marcus's Hearts of Darkness: White Women Write Race.)

Thus, this quick overview of my own journey is a story of women and modernism. My own learning is very much the product of the sorts of efforts that Marcus and other feminist modernists made possible, the work they devoted their lives to. They are my foremothers, and the foremothers of so many other people as well. My experience may be unique in its weird bouncing across geographies and decades and media (I've never been very good at planning my life), but I hope it is not uncommon.

3. Reading Marcus

I've been reading lots of Jane Marcus for the last month or so. Previously, I'd only read Hearts of Darkness and a couple of the most famous earlier essays. Now, though, I've been combing through books and databases in search of her work. (At the MSA seminar, someone who had had to submit Marcus's CV for a grant application said it was 45 pages long. She published hundreds of essays and review-essays in addition to her books.)

I'm tempted to drop lots of quotes here — Marcus is eminently quotable. But perhaps a better use of this space would be to think about Marcus's own style of writing and thinking, the way she formed and organized her essays, which, much like Woolf's many essays, show a process of thought in development.

At the end of the first chapter of Hearts of Darkness, which collects some of her more recent work, Marcus writes:
The effort of these essays is toward an understanding of what marks the text in its context, to hear the humming noise whose rhythm alerts us to the time and place that produced it, as well as the edgy avant-garde tones of its projection into the modernist future. For modernism has had much more of a future than one could have imagined. In a new century the questions still before me concern the responsibility for writing those once vilified texts into classic status in a new social imaginary. If it was once the critic's role to argue the case for canonizing such works, perhaps it is now her role to question their status and explore their limits.
This statement concisely maps the direction of Marcus's thinking over the course of her career. Her efforts were first to recover texts that had fallen out of the sight of even the most serious of readers, then to advocate for those texts' merits, then to convince her students and colleagues to add those texts to curricula and, in many cases, to help bring them back into print. She argued, for instance, for a particular version of Virginia Woolf, one at odds with a common presentation of Woolf as fragile and apolitical and sensitive and tragic. Marcus was having none of that. Woolf was a remarkably strong woman, a nuanced political thinker whose ideas developed significantly over time and came to a kind of fruition in the 1930s, and a far more complex artist than she was said to be. Later, though, Marcus didn't need Woolf to be quite so much of a hero. She was still all the things she had been before, but she was also flawed, particularly when it came to race. The Woolf that Marcus looks at in "'A Very Fine Negress'" and "Britannia Rules The Waves" is in many ways an even more interesting Woolf than in Marcus's earlier writings, because she is still a Woolf of immense depth but also immense contradictions and blind spots and very human failures of perception and sympathy. Marcus's earlier Woolf is Wonder Woman (though one too often mistaken for a mousy, oversensitive, snobby, mentally ill Diana Prince), but her later Woolf is more like a brilliant, frustrating friend; someone striving to overcome all sorts of circumstances, someone capable of the most beautiful creations and insights, and yet also sometimes crushingly disappointing, sometimes even embarrassing. A human Woolf from whom we can learn so much about our own human failings. After all, if someone as remarkable as Woolf could be so flawed in some of her perceptions, what about us? In exploring the limits and questioning the status of the works we once needed to argue into the mainstream conversation, we also remind ourselves of our own limits, and perhaps we develop better tools with which to question our own status in whatever places, times, and circumstances we happen to inhabit.

This is not to say that Marcus's early work is irrelevant. Not at all. It is still quite thrilling to read, and rich with necessary insights. (If anything, it does make me sad that a number of her best, most cutting insights about academia and power relations remain fresh today. There's been progress, yes, but not nearly enough, and much that was bad in the past repeats and repeats into our future.) Here's an example, from a May 1987 review in the Women's Review of Books of E. Sylvia Pankhurst: Portrait of a Radical by Patricia Romero, a book Marcus thought misrepresented and misinterpreted its subject. Near the end, after detailing all the ways Romero fails Pankhurst, Marcus makes a sharp joke:
Sylvia Pankhurst has had her come-uppance so many times in this book that there's hardly anywhere for her to come down to. Romero says that she met her husband on the same day that she met Sylvia Pankhurst's statue in Ethiopia. One hopes that he fared better than Sylvia.
Ouch. But this joke serves as a conclusion to the litany of Romero's failures as Marcus saw them and turns then to a larger point:
Let it be clear that I am not calling for nurturant biographies of feminist heroines. I, too, as a student of suffrage, have several bones to pick with Sylvia Pankhurst. In writing The Suffragette Movement she not only distorted history to aggrandize the role of working-class suffragettes in winning the vote, but, more importantly, she wrote the script of the suffrage struggle as a family romance, a public Cinderella story with her mother and sister cast as the Wicked Stepmother and Stepsister. It was this script which provided George Dangerfield and almost every subsequent historian of suffrage with the materials for reading the movement as a comedy. Sylvia provided them with a false class analysis which persists. Patricia Romero now unwittingly wears the mantle woven by Sylvia Pankhurst as the historian so bent on the ruthless exposure of her subject that she gives the enemies of women another hysteric to batter — though the prim biographer would doubtless be horrified at the suggestion that the Sylvia Pankhurst whom she despises and exposes was engaged in a project similar to her own and is, in fact, her predecessor.
Such an amazingly rich paragraph! The review up to now has been Marcus showing the ways that she thinks Romero misrepresents Sylvia Pankhurst, and the effect is mostly to make us think Marcus venerates Pankhurst totally and is defending the honor of a hero against a detractor. But no. Her message is that feminist history deserves better: it deserves accuracy. Both Romero and Pankhurst failed this imperative by letting their ideologies and prejudices hide and mangle nuances. Both Romero and Pankhurst, wittingly or unwittingly, presented the deadly serious history of the suffrage movement as comedy. Both, wittingly or unwittingly, provided cover and even ammunition for misogynistic discourse. And that, ultimately, is the argument of Marcus's review. She sees her job as a reviewer not to be someone who gives thumbs up or thumbs down, but to be someone who can analyze what sort of conversation the book under review enters into and supports. The limitations she sees in the book are not just the limitations of one book, but limitations endemic to an entire way of presenting history.

She then brings the review back to Pankhurst and Romero's portrait of her, and now we as readers can appreciate a larger vantage to the evaluation, because we know it's not just about this book, but about historiography and feminism. Marcus mentions some other, better books (a hallmark of her reviews: she never leaves the reader wondering what else there is to read — in negative reviews such as this one, it's books that do a better job; in positive reviews, it's other books that contribute valuable knowledge to the conversation), then:
The problem with the historian's project of setting the record straight is that it flourishes best with a crooked record, the crookeder the better. Romero has found in Sylvia Pankhurst's life the perfect crooked record to suit her own iconoclastic urge.
We might think that Marcus here is holding herself apart from "the historian's project of setting the record straight", that she is setting herself up as somehow perfect in her own sensibilities. But in the next sentence she shows that is not the case:
Admitting one's own complicity as a feminist in all such iconoclastic activity, one is still disappointed in the results. I came to this book anticipating with a certain relish the pleasure of seeing Sylvia Pankhurst put in her place. But because the author writes with such contempt for her subject as well as for activism of all kinds, I came away with a deep respect for Sylvia Pankhurst and the work she did for social justice.
To be a feminist is to be iconoclastic. To be a feminist is to be faced with many crooked records. But this book can serve, Marcus seems to be saying, a warning of what can happen when the desire to be an iconoclast overcomes the desire to be accurate, and when one is tempted to add some crooks to the record before straightening it out. The danger is clearly implied: Beware that you do not depart too far from accuracy, lest you lead your reader to the opposite of the conclusions you want to impart.

Marcus would have been a wonderful blogger. Her writing style is discursive, filled with offhand references that would make for marvelous hyperlinks, and she doesn't waste a lot of time on transitions between ideas. At the MSA seminar, someone said that Marcus's process was to write lots of fragments and then edit them together when she needed a paper. Her writing is a kind of assemblage, both in the sense of Duchamp et al. and of Deleuze & Guattari.

(In the course where we read Hearts of Darkness, one of the other students pointed out that Marcus jumps all over the place and rarely seems to have a clear thesis — her ideas are accumulative, sometimes tangential, a series of insights working together toward an intellectual symphony. If we were to write like that, this student said, wouldn't we just get criticized for lack of focus, wouldn't our work be rejected by all the academic publishers we so desperately need to please if we are to have any hope of getting jobs or tenure? "She can write like that," our instructor said, "because she's Jane Marcus." Which in many ways is true. We read Jane Marcus to follow the lines of thought that Jane Marcus writes. It's hard to start out writing like that, but once you have a reputation, once your work is read because of your byline and not just because of your subject matter, you have more freedom of form. And yet I also think we should be working toward a world that allows and perhaps even encourages such writing, regardless of fame. Too many academic essays I read are distorted by the obsession with having a central claim; they sacrifice insight for repetitious metalanguage and constant drumbeating of The Major Point. It's no fun to read and it makes the writing feel like a tedious explication of the essay's own abstract. Marcus's writing has the verve, energy, and surprise of good essayistic writing. This was quite deliberate on her part — see her comments in "Still Practice, A/Wrested Alphabet: Toward a Feminist Aesthetic" on Woolf as an essayist versus so many contemporary theorists. I don't entirely agree with her argument, since I don't think "difficult" writing should only be the province of "creative writers" and not critics, but I'd also much prefer that writers who are not geniuses aspire to write more like Woolf in her essays than like Derrida. And the insistence that academic writers build Swamp Thing jargonmonsters to prove their bona fides is ridiculous.)

Her discursive, sometimes rambling style serves Marcus well because it allows her to connect ideas that might otherwise get left by the wayside. Marcus makes the essay form do what it is best at doing. Her 1997 essay "Working Lips, Breaking Hearts: Class Acts in American Feminism" masterfully demonstrates this. At its most basic level, the essay is a review (or, as Marcus says, "a reading") of Listening to Silences: New Essays in Feminist Criticism, which builds off of the work of Tillie Olsen, particularly her invaluable book Silences. But Marcus's essay is far more than just a look at this one anthology — it is also a tribute to Tillie Olsen, who herself influenced Marcus tremendously, a study of feminist-socialist theory and history, a manifesto about canons and canonicity, a personal memoir, and even, in one moving footnote, an obituary for Constance Coiner, a feminist scholar who died in the crash of TWA flight 800.

By writing about Olsen, a generation her elder, Marcus is able to take a long view of American feminism, its past and future. She's writing just as the feminists of the 1970s are becoming elders themselves and a new generation of feminists is moving the cause into new directions, often without sufficient attention to history. Discussing one of the essays in Listening to Silences, she writes:
More troublesome (or perhaps merely more difficult for me to see because of my own positionality) is Carla Kaplan's claim that my generation of American feminist critics used a reading model "based on identification of reader and heroine, and it tended to ignore class and race differences among women" (10). She assumes that the generation influenced by Olsen always produced such limited readings of exemplary texts — Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper", Susan Glaspell's "A Jury of Her Peers", and Isak Dinesen's "The Blank Page" — without acknowledging that there was a strong and vocal objection to reading these texts historically as merely embodying the interests of certain feminist critics themselves. I know I was not alone in choosing never to teach them. (I have often said that these texts were chosen because they reflected the experience of feminists in the academy.) In addition, it seems important to make clear that the differences among women made by race, class, and sexual orientation were marked by many critics at the time (always by Gayatri Spivak and Lillian Robinson, e.g., and often by other nonmainstream feminist critics). There is a real danger in essentializing the work of a whole generation of feminists.
What Marcus repeatedly did for the history of British modernism, especially in the 1930s, she here does for the history of the movement she herself was part of: She calls for us not to reduce the history to a single tendency, not to make the participants into clones and drones. She acknowledges that some feminists in the 1970s and 1980s read from a place of self-identification, oblivious to race and class, but exhorts us to remember that not everyone did, and that in fact there was discussion among feminists not only about race and class, but about how to read as a feminist. She doesn't want to see her own generation and movement reduced to stereotypes in the way the British writers of the 1930s especially were. Throughout Hearts of Darkness, she writes about Nancy Cunard, first to overcome the many slanders of Cunard over the decades, but also to offer a useful contrast with Woolf in terms of racial perceptions and desires. She wants attention to Claude McKay and Mulk Raj Anand because only reading white and mostly male writers distorts history, which distorts our perception of ourselves: "It is my opinion that the study of the period would be greatly enriched by wresting it from the hands of those who leave out the women and the people of color who were active in the struggle for social change in Britain. It is important for students to know that leftists in the thirties were not all leviathans on the questions of race, gender, and class. Not all their hearts were dark. ...the critics before us deliberately left us in the dark about the presence of black and South Asian intellectuals on the cultural scene" (181). (Peter Kalliney's recent Commonwealth of Letters does some of the work of tracing these networks, and Anna Snaith has done exemplary work in and around all of this.)

"Working Lips, Breaking Hearts" brings all of these interests together, and does so not only for British and U.S. writers and activists of the 1930s, but also for Marcus's own generation of feminists. This is our history, she seems to say, and we must take care of it, or else what was done to the people of the 1930s by historians and literary critics will be done to us.

In "Suptionpremises", a blistering 2002 review-essay about critics' interpretations of whites' uses of black culture in the 1920s and 1930s, Marcus wrote:
Why should cross-racial identification with the oppressed be perceived as evil? Certainly, while it was both romantic and revolutionary and very much of the period, such love for the Other is not in itself a social evil. The embrace of the Other and the Other’s values and the Other’s arts, language, and music, has often been progressive. Interracial sex and interracial politics were and are important to any radical cultural agenda. Cunard and [Carl] Van Vechten were not sleeping with the enemy. One might even say that the bed, the barricade, the studio, and the boîte, or Paris nightclub, were the sites where the barriers to progressive human behavior were broken down.

But the mistaking of those whites who loved blacks, however motivated by desire, politics, or by sheer pleasure at hearing the music and seeing the extraordinary art of another people, as merely a set of cultural thieves does not contribute to our understanding of the cultural forces at work here.
The cultural forces at work were ones Marcus begins to see as queer:
The fear that motivates [critics] North, Douglas, and Gubar is the taint of the sexually perverse. What is the fear that motivates Archer-Straw and Bernard? Is it fear of the damage done to the stability of the black family and the wholeness of black art by the attention of queer white men and white women who broke the sexual race barrier? If we try to look at this from outside the separatist anxieties that are awakened on both sides of the color line by these early personal and political crossings, the modernist figures represent a rare coming together of radical politics, African and African American art and culture, and white internationalist avant-garde and Surrealist intellectuals. These encounters deserve attention as a queer moment in cultural history and I think that is the only way to get beyond the impasse of discomfort about the modernist race pioneers in our current critical thinking. If it is because of a certain liberated queer sexuality that certain figures could cross the color line, could try to speak black slang, however silly it sounded, then sex will have to take its place as a major component in the translation of ideas.
As she so often did, Marcus pays attention here to what she thinks are the forces and desires that construct certain interpretations. "Why this?" she asks again and again, "and why now?" What sort of work do these kinds of interpretations do, whom do they help and whom do they hurt, what do they make visible and what do they leave invisible? What social or personal need do they seem to serve? And then the implied question: Whom do my own interpretations help or hurt? What do I make visible or invisible by offering such an interpretation?

One of Marcus's masterpieces was not a book she wrote herself, but an annotated edition of Woolf's Three Guineas that she edited for Harcourt, published in 2006. Three Guineas had not been served well by most critics and editors over the years, and Marcus's edition was the first American edition to include the photographs Woolf originally included, but which, for reasons no-one I know of has been able to figure out, were dropped from all printings of the book after Woolf's death. Marcus provided a 35-page introduction, excerpts from Woolf's scrapbooks, annotations that sometimes become mini-essays of their own, and an annotated bibliography. It's a model of a scholarly edition aimed at common readers (as opposed to a scholarly edition aimed at scholars, which is a different [and also necessary] beast, e.g. the Shakespeare Head editions and the Cambridge editions of Woolf). (She had already laid out her principles for such Woolf editions in a jaunty, often funny, utterly overstuffed, and quite generous review of [primarily] Oxford and Penguin editions in 1994, and it seems to me that we can feel her chomping at the bit to do one of her own.) Three Guineas is in many ways the key text for Marcus, a book overlooked and scorned, even hated, but which she finds immense meaning in. Her annotated edition allows her to show exactly what meanings within the text so deeply affected her. It's a great gift, this edition, because it not only gives us a very good edition of an important book, but it lets us read along with Jane Marcus.

It's unfortunate that Marcus never got to realize her dream of a complete and unbowdlerized edition of Cunard's Negro anthology. Copyright law probably makes re-issuing the book an impossible task for at least another generation, given how many writers and artists it includes, although perhaps a publisher in a country with less absurd copyright regulations than the US could do it. (Aside: This is yet another example of how long copyright extensions destroy cultural knowledge.) Even the highly edited version from 1970 is now out of print, though given how Marcus blamed that edition for many misinterpretations of Cunard and her work, I doubt she'd be mourning its loss. I wish somebody could create a digital edition, at least. Even an illegal digital edition. Indeed, that would perhaps be most in the spirit of the original text and of Marcus — somebody should get hold of a copy of the first edition, scan it, and upload it to Pirate Bay. We need to be criminals in our institutions, after all...

4. Refuge and the Criminal

Let us go then, you and I, back to where we began: refuge and revolutions.
"the numbers show that the teaching staff at America's universities are much whiter and much more male than the general population, with Hispanics and African Americans especially underrepresented. At some schools, like Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, and Princeton, there are more foreign teachers than Hispanic and black teachers combined. The Ivy League's gender stats are particularly damning; men make up 68 percent and 70 percent of the teaching staff at Harvard and Princeton, respectively." Mother Jones, 23 November 2015
(Somewhere, Jane Marcus says that we may have to work and live in institutions, but that doesn't mean we have to like them.)
"Experts think that the more than $1.3 trillion in outstanding education debt in the U.S. is more than that of the rest of the world combined." Bloomberg, 13 October 2015
My own assemblage here breaks down, because I have no conclusions, only impressions and questions.

Photo: Nabil K. Mark, AP

Right now we are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, a refugee crisis. In my own state of New Hampshire, the Democratic governor, Maggie Hassan, said there should be a halt to accepting all refugees from Syria. It is an ignorant and immoral statement. Maggie Hassan is a typical centrist Democrat, always rushing to put disempowered people in the middle of the road to get run over by the monster trucks of the ruling class.
"Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims: 48 have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim, including the recent mass killing in Charleston, S.C., compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists, according to a count by New America, a Washington research center." NYT, 24 June 2015
Yesterday (as I write this), a man walked into a Planned Parenthood clinic with a gun. He killed three people before police were able to take him into custody. It was an act of terrorism, but will seldom be labelled that. Maggie Hassan will not call for middle-aged white men with beards to be barred from entry.
"The Republicans also organized a gun-buyer’s club, meeting in a conference room during work hours to design custom-made, monogrammed, silver-plated 'Tiffany-style' Glock 9 mm semi-automatic pistols." Slate, 24 November 2015
As I write this, U.S. police officers have killed 1,033 people this year, including 204 unarmed people. The shooter at the Planned Parenthood clinic is very lucky to be alive. This proves it is actually possible for U.S. police not to kill people they intend to take into custody, even when they're armed. If the shooter had been a black man, though, I expect he would be dead right now.
"'We are locked and loaded,' he says, holding up a black 1911-style pistol. As he flashes the gun, he explains amid racial slurs that the men are headed to the Black Lives Matter protest outside Minneapolis’ Fourth Precinct police headquarters. Their mission, he says, is 'a little reverse cultural enriching.'" Minneapolis Star Tribune, 25 November 2015
Laquan McDonald had a small folding knife and was running away. 16 bullets took him down.

(Have you seen M.I.A.'s new video, "Borders"? You should.)

(What can we use, too, from Wendy Brown's recent discussion of rifts over gender and womanhood? What is getting lost, and what is newly seen?)
"The year-to-date temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.55°F (0.86°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest for January–October in the 1880–2015 record, surpassing the previous record set in 2014 by 0.22°F (0.12°C). Eight of the first ten months in 2015 have been record warm for their respective months." —National Centers for Environmental Information
(I could go on and on and on. I won't, for all our sakes.)

After listening to Heather Love and Tavia Nyong'o at MSA, I came back to the idea I've been tossing around, inspired by Steve Shaviro's great book No Speed Limit, of the value of aesthetics to at least stand outside neoliberalism. Love and Nyong'o seemed dismissive of aesthetics, and I wanted to mention Commonwealth of Letters to them, and propose that perhaps if an art-for-art's-sake aesthetic is not, obviously, an instigator of utopian revolution, it may be a refuge. Kalliney shows that such an attention to aesthetics was just that for some colonial subjects in the 1930s who came to London to be writers and intellectuals. I am wary of an anti-aesthetic politics, a politics that seeks revolution but not the good life, a politics that does the work of neoliberalism by insisting on usefulness.

The university certainly has been an imperfect refuge, often just the opposite of refuge. Aesthetic attention will not open up a panacea or a utopia, nor will the refuge it provides be significantly more just and effective than the refuge of academia. But it is not nothing, and it is not anti-political. I think Marcus's writings demonstrate that. She recuperates The Years and Three Guineas not only by arguing for their political power, but for their aesthetic achievements. They survive, and we who cherish them are able to cherish them, not only because of what they say, but how they say it. Form matters. Form is matter.

Which is not to say, of course, that we should descend into a shallow formalism any more than we should wrap ourselves in the righteousness of an easy economism. Remember history. Remember nuance. Remember not to distort realities for the sake of an easy point. Don't provide cover for the exploiters and oppressors.

5. Art and Anger

Photographs of suffragettes lying bloody, hair dishevelled, hats askew, roused public anger toward the women, not their assailants. They were unladylike; they provoked the authorities. Demonstrations by students and blacks arouse similar responses. Thejustice of a cause is enhanced by the nonviolence of its adherents. But the response of the powerful when pressed for action has been such that only anger and violence have won change in the law or government policy. Similar contradictions and a double standard have characterized attitudes toward anger itself. While for the people, anger has been denounced as one of the seven deadly sins, divines and churchmen have always defended it as a necessary attribute of the leader. "Anger is one of the sinews of the soul" wrote Thomas Fuller, "he that wants it hath a maimed mind." "Anger has its proper use" declared Cardinal Manning, "Anger is the executive power of justice." Anger signifies strength in the strong, weakness in the weak. An angry mother is out of control; an angry father is exercising his authority. Our culture's ambivalence about anger reflects its defense of the status quo; the terrible swift sword is for fathers and kings, not daughters and subjects. The story of Judith and the story of Antigone have not been part of the education of daughters, as both Elizabeth Robins and Virginia Woolf point out, unless men have revised and rewritten them. It is hardly possible to read the poetry of Sappho, they both assure us, separate from centuries of scholarly calumny.
—Jane Marcus, "Art and Anger"

Why not create a new form of society founded on poverty and equality? Why not bring together people of all ages and both sexes and all shades of fame and obscurity so that they can talk, without mounting platforms or reading papers or wearing expensive clothes or eating expensive food? Would not such a society be worth, even as a form of education, all the papers on art and literature that have ever been read since the world began? Why not abolish prigs and prophets? Why not invent human intercourse? Why not try?
—Virginia Woolf, "Why?"

*In "Planetarity: Musing Modernist Studies", Susan Stanford Friedman sums up some of the changes that made the New Modernist Studies seem new: "Modernism, for many, became a reflection of and engagement with a wide spectrum of historical changes, including intensified and alienating urbanization; the cataclysms of world war and technological progress run amok; the rise and fall of European empires; changing gender, class, and race relations; and technological inventions that radically changed the nature of everyday life, work, mobility, and communication. Once modernity became the defining cause of aesthetic engagements with it, the door opened to thinking about the specific conditions of modernity for different genders, races, sexualities, nations, and so forth. Modernity became modernities, a pluralization that spawned a plurality of modernisms and the circulations among them.

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24. Is neuroculture a new cultural revolution?

Are we at the birth of a new culture in the western world? Are we on the verge of a new way of thinking? Both humanistic and scientific thinkers suggest as much.

The post Is neuroculture a new cultural revolution? appeared first on OUPblog.

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25. The Great Snape Debate

Ever since J.K. Rowling became more active on Twitter than posting twice a year, it has become almost impossible to report her Twitter activity as news–she’s on so often it’s difficult to keep up. It has also become a commonality in our lives: we sit, settle down with a mug of steaming hot tea, coffee, or coco, and spend too much time scrolling through J.K. Rowling’s Twitter feed, being thoroughly entertained by lively discussions.

J.K. Rowling has also been known to release a lot of Harry Potter “extras”–little tidbits and details from her imagination–and answer many fans’ Harry Potter questions. This morning, the same thing happened, but things got a little more interesting.

As fans, we have engaged in The Great Snape Debate for years and years. Snape is as grey as grey can be when it comes to good vs. evil, white vs. black. It can’t be denied the Snape was a hero, but it also cannot be denied that Snape was a bully. Does he qualify as an anti-hero?

This morning, J.K. Rowling jumped in on the debate–on accident, by simply answering one fan’s question that many of us have asked before–and her time line exploded. It is time to bring it about again, The Great Snape Debate. Check out what happened, and feel free to add your feelings and opinions to the debate in the comments below.

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We didn’t start the fire, but we are sure going to fan the flames a little and add to the discussion. I happen to be a very loyal Hufflepuff with an “I Love Snape” bumper sticker on the back of my car. However, I know that many of my fellow Leaky staffers who feel very differently about the subject matter. What do you think?

UPDATE: She’s just come back to Twitter to add more to the on-going debate….

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Yes, let’s!

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