Monthly Archives: May 2008

Audio: Gabriela Mistral’s mad poems

May 13, 2008
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Audio: Gabriela Mistral’s mad poems

Gabriela Mistral was the first Latin American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1945. Madwomen: The “Locas mujeres” Poems of Gabriela Mistral is the first appearance in English of all twenty-six poems of the “Locas mujeres” series, including those left unpublished at her death. Randall Couch edited and translated Madwomen and he recently gave a reading of seven poems from the book (together with a reading of the Spanish texts) at the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania. The complete one-hour reading can be downloaded from the Writers House site. . . .

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“Sporting news, theater gossip, humor, and not a little pornography”

May 12, 2008
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“Sporting news, theater gossip, humor, and not a little pornography”

Hugely popular in nineteenth century New York, “flash” papers—weeklies like the Flash and the Whip—capitalized on lurid tales of New York City’s extensive sexual underworld. But, due in part to the evolution of obscenity laws and libel, their success was short lived and the papers themselves fell into obscurity. Now, as Chronicle of Higher Education reviewer Kacie Glenn notes, the authors of The Flash Press: Sporting Male Weeklies in 1840s New York have produced a comprehensive historical document of both the tumultuous history of the papers, and the culture that consumed them. Glenn writes: The Flash Press: Sporting Male Weeklies in 1840s New York, written in association with the antiquarian society by Patricia Cline Cohen, a professor of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara; Timothy J. Gilfoyle, a professor of history at Loyola University Chicago; and Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, a professor of American studies and history at Smith College, has two parts: a critical analysis of the papers’ role in society and a collection of excerpts. The average flash-press reader was both a man about town and a respectable citizen, and the authors aim to decode the texts in light of those conflicting identities. “Ambiguity and deceit” . . .

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The vast wasteland of 1961

May 9, 2008
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The vast wasteland of 1961

On May 9, 1961 Newton N. Minow addressed the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington, DC. President John F. Kennedy had recently appointed Minow to the chair of the Federal Communications Commission. To the assembled executives of broadcast television he said: I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland. You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials—many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it. You can read the text and listen to the audio . . .

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Friday remainders

May 9, 2008
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Friday remainders

First off, warmest congratulations to Philip Gossett, whose lovely book Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera was recently awarded the press’s Laing Prize. Gossett’s book is a fascinating account of how opera comes to the stage, filled with his personal experiences and suffused with his towering and tonic passion for music. In awarding the prize University President Robert Zimmer called Gossett’s book “a vivid example of the difference that humanities scholarship can make to the arts with which it is allied.” See more about the prize on the U of C News Office website. To find out more about the book read this excerpt. If you’re in the New York area tonight you have the chance to catch some of the original pioneers of avant-garde jazz at the Community Church of New York, 40 East 35th Street. The show doubles as a book release party for author, professor, and trombonist George E. Lewis’s A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music—the definitive history of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Navigate to the New York Times jazz listings for more details about the show. To learn more about the book read this excerpt, or see . . .

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The self-concept of Richard Rorty

May 8, 2008
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The self-concept of Richard Rorty

Scott McLemee interviewed Neil Gross yesterday for his “Intellectual Affairs” column at Inside Higher Ed. Gross is the author of Richard Rorty: The Making of an American Philosopher and he discusses his new book as a work in the sociology of ideas, not just biography and intellectual history. What’s the cash value of doing that? Gross explains: My goal in this book was not simply to write a biography of Rorty, but also to make a theoretical contribution to the sociology of ideas. Surprising as it might sound to some, the leading figures in this area today—to my mind Pierre Bourdieu and Randall Collins—have tended to depict intellectuals as strategic actors who develop their ideas and make career plans and choices with an eye toward accumulating intellectual status and prestige. That kind of depiction naturally raises the ire of those who see intellectual pursuits as more lofty endeavors…. I argue that intellectuals do in fact behave strategically much of the time, but that another important factor influencing their lines of activity is the specific “intellectual self-concept” to which they come to cleave. By this I mean the highly specific narratives of intellectual selfhood that knowledge producers may carry around with . . .

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An innovative blend of storytelling and scholarship

May 7, 2008
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An innovative blend of storytelling and scholarship

In a recent review posted to the Bookslut website, Barbara J. King praises anthropologist Richard Price’s most recent book Travels with Tooy: History, Memory, and the African American Imagination for its unique ethnographic account of the author’s encounter with the enigmatic subject of Tooy—a priest, philosopher, and healer living in a shantytown on the outskirts of Cayenne, French Guiana. Commending the book for drawing not only on Price’s ethnographic and archival research, but also on Tooy’s teachings, songs, and stories, King writes: The book glows with knowledge, Tooy’s as much as Rich’s, as Rich is the first to say; he writes of Tooy with love, as a friend, but also with respect, calling him “a fellow intellectual.…” The complexity of Rich’s analysis sits side by side with the complexity of Tooy’s time-and-space travel. As I close the book (and begin to listen to Tooy’s voice at Rich’s website ), I know that I grasp only a small fraction of what Tooy knows. It’s a good feeling, in a peculiar way; after all, that’s what inhabiting an unfamiliar reality will do for a person—teach her what she doesn’t know, and how to learn something more. Read the article at Bookslut. Also . . .

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Has a Svengali mesmerized the Pentagon?

May 6, 2008
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Has a Svengali mesmerized the Pentagon?

The war in Iraq is more than five years old and even though the end is not in sight, the lessons of the war are already being debated within the military. National Public Radio has a story this morning about the sharpening disagreement in the US Army over how great a role counterinsurgency tactics should play. The story is prompted by an internal Pentagon report that suggests the Army is excessively focused on counterinsurgency training and neglecting conventional force capabilities such as field artillery. The report asserts that 90 percent of artillery units are “unqualified to fire artillery accurately.” We have of course paid a great deal of attention in this space to the rise of counterinsurgency doctrine within the military, since our publication in book form of the Counterinsurgency Field Manual. Not only is it interesting to see some Army strategists question whether the pendulum has swung too far in the COIN direction, but some of the commentary would seem to implicate our own role in bringing the COIN manual to a wider audience. NPR reporter Guy Raz quotes a recent lecture by Gian Gentile, chairman of the history department at West Point: Gentile, who served two tours in . . .

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Uses and abuses of iconic images

May 5, 2008
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Uses and abuses of iconic images

In the current edition of the American Interest, reviewer James Rosen delivers a positive assessment of Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites’ recent book, No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy. Praising the book for its thorough treatment of nine case studies involving some of the most influential images of the twentieth century, Rosen writes: is a penetrating and provocative analysis of the way certain popular photographs, whether produced by professionals or amateurs, acquire the power to change public policy and with it the course of history.… The author’s analytical achievement is enabled by an extraordinary feat of research and reporting. They have unearthed hidden facts, from both the backstory and the aftermath, surrounding each of their nine chosen photographs.… almost as compelling… are the stories of their subsequent appropriation. No Caption Needed details the uses and abuses of these nine iconic photographs by propagandists and peddlers of all kinds, with results that prove alternately haunting, playful, predictable, mercenary, dishonest and sometimes just plain twisted.… Pick up a copy of the American Interest to read the rest of the review. Also see the authors’ No Caption Needed blog and read an excerpt from . . .

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Press Release: Niebuhr, The Irony of American History

May 5, 2008
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Press Release: Niebuhr, The Irony of American History

Each of the major candidates vying to be the next President of the United States—Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain—has cited Reinhold Niebuhr’s political philosophies as among their most profound influences. Written during the cold war era when America came of age as a world power, The Irony of American History is now back in print and more relevant than ever. Niebuhr’s masterpiece on the incongruity between personal ideals and political reality is both an indictment of American moral complacency and a warning against the arrogance of virtue. Impassioned, eloquent, and deeply perceptive, Niebuhr’s wisdom will cause readers across the political spectrum to rethink their assumptions about right and wrong, war and peace. Read the press release. . . .

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Press Release: Wikan, In Honor of Fadime

May 5, 2008
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Press Release: Wikan, In Honor of Fadime

According to Human Rights Watch, honor killings are acts of murder committed by men against female family members who are believed to have brought shame upon their family. A woman can be targeted as such for refusing to enter an arranged marriage, for being the victim of a sexual assault, for seeking a divorce—even from an abusive husband—or for even allegedly committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that dishonors her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life. And that’s tragically far too often the case. The United Nations estimates that at least 5,000 women each year fall victim to honor killings. In this unflinching exploration, Unni Wikan places this heinous phenomenon beneath the lens of one case study, the notorious murder of Fadime Sahindal. For choosing a lover outside of her Kurdish community, Fadime was brutally shot and killed by her father at point blank range in front of her mother and younger sister. Wikan uses this murder and the sensational trial that followed to upset our pat assumptions about honor killings and to bring the factors that inspire them into clearer focus. Here Wikan argues that these killings are . . .

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