Monthly Archives: October 2008

The Economist on Obsession

October 31, 2008
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The Economist on Obsession

In a review titled “The double face of single-mindedness” The Economist yesterday reviewed Obsession: A History by Lennard J. Davis. In our own age, notes the review,

obsession is both a common mental illness and a cultural ideal. The two are connected, thinks Mr. Davis: twin results of a single process, and perhaps the inevitable consequence of modernity. In just a few decades “obsessive-compulsive disorder’ has gone from extremely rare—affecting one person in 2,000 according to a 1973 estimate—to extremely common, affecting two or three people in 100.

Obsessiveness as an ideal has been with us for several centuries at least. The reviewer takes note of Davis’ chapter on “graphomania—the madness of incessant writing.” Nineteenth-century novelists like Balzac and Zola devoted themselves to “the continuous, cumulative production of words.” In the words of the reviewer: “These writers knew they were sacrificing their lives to obsession, but they accepted the price and others lionized them for it.”

A bit like some bloggers we know.

Read an interview with Davis or listen to a podcast episode.

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Press Release: Maclean, The Norman Maclean Reader

October 31, 2008
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Press Release: Maclean, The Norman Maclean Reader

With a single slim volume, published when he was in his seventies, Norman Maclean secured his place in American literary history. More than thirty years have passed since the publication of A River Runs through It and Other Stories, and the book is still passed from reader to reader, handed down from parents to children like an heirloom. Maclean’s second book, Young Men and Fire, struck a similar chord with its account of doomed young firefighters—but it was published posthumously, and his many fans have long wished for an addition to his oeuvre.

The Norman Maclean Reader answers that wish, offering longtime fans new insight into his life and career. The highlight of the volume is Maclean’s unfinished history of General Custer from the 1950s. Though he was never able to shape these never-before-published chapters on the Son of the Morning Star into a complete book, to read them now is revelatory—we see Maclean discovering and refining the techniques of personal and historical writing that would serve him so well decades later. Along with excerpts from his classic works, the book also offers Maclean’s witty personal essays; a fascinating selection of letters discussing history, biography, and the craft of writing; . . .

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Time catches up with Ebert and Scorsese

October 30, 2008
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Time catches up with Ebert and Scorsese

S. James Snyder has a review in Time of Roger Ebert’s new book, Scorsese by Ebert—a collection of the esteemed critic’s writing on every feature film in Scorsese’s oeuvre, accompanied by his new reconsiderations of the director’s work, plus interviews and Scorsese’s own insights on his films.

In his review, Snyder gives the book a thumbs-up, highlighting some of the more passionate of Ebert’s critiques, and remarking on the critic’s profound ability to identify with Scorsese’s work. Snyder writes:

In his foreword, Scorsese acknowledges that Ebert closely shares his love of film, his religious roots, and his moralistic worldview. Ebert picks up on that theme in his introduction: “We were born five months apart in 1942 … We were children of working-class parents … We attended Roman Catholic schools … We memorized the Latin of the Mass … We went to the movies all the time.…” Long before they ever met each other, these two were kindred spirits. Scorsese’s films spoke with a tone that Ebert had never heard before, and Ebert was Scorsese’s champion well before the director became a household name. As the two have grown old and famous together, this back-and-forth has become a compelling—perhaps even defining—dialogue . . .

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Illegally yours

October 30, 2008
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Illegally yours

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Scary stories to tell in the dark

October 29, 2008
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Scary stories to tell in the dark

Halloween is just around the corner, so after you put the finishing touches on your ghoulish Sarah Palin costume, cozy up with some of these spooky tales of demons, devils, and magic.

Walter Stephens, Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief

On September 20, 1587, Walpurga Hausmännin of Dillingen in southern Germany was burned at the stake as a witch. Although she had confessed to committing a long list of maleficia (deeds of harmful magic), including killing forty—one infants and two mothers in labor, her evil career allegedly began with just one heinous act—sex with a demon. Fornication with demons was a major theme of her trial record, which detailed an almost continuous orgy of sexual excess with her diabolical paramour Federlin “in many divers places . . . even in the street by night.”

Alain Boureau, Satan the Heretic: The Birth of Demonology in the Medieval West

Boureau trains his skeptical eye on the birth of demonology and the sudden belief in the power of demons who inhabited Satan’s Court, setting out to understand not why people believed in demons, but why theologians—especially Pope John XXII—became so interested in the subject. Depicting this new demonology, Satan the . . .

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The unintended consequences of free-market fundamentalism

October 29, 2008
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The unintended consequences of free-market fundamentalism

So if President George W. Bush is such a proponent of laissez-faire policy why is government now effectively the owner of some of the nation’s largest financial institutions? And what explains his decision to replace the “invisible hand” with the quite visible one of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson? In their new book, The Private Abuse of the Public Interest: Market Myths and Policy Muddles (authored in advance of the nation’s current economic crisis), Lawrence D. Brown and Lawrence R. Jacobs tackle such questions with the prescient argument that conservative efforts to limit government interference with financial markets will often have the ironic effect of expanding government’s reach. In an article for today’s Inside Higher Ed Scott McLemee explains:

Pro-market rhetoric never reduces the appetite for pork. “The growth of government is not mainly the work of profligate ‘tax and spend’ Democrats,” the authors point out. “Solidly among the spenders and promoters of government activism were the antistatists who controlled Washington in the early twenty-first century and, indeed, dominated policy debates and held the levers of power in Congress and the White House for three decades.”

The issue here is not philosophical inconsistency. The problem, as Brown and Jacobs understand . . .

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A lost magazine from an elegant era

October 28, 2008
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A lost magazine from an elegant era

In the early part of the twentieth century H. G. Wells pronounced the city of Chicago “a great industrial desolation” and a “nineteenth century nightmare.” Often noted by outsiders only for its slums, squalor, and stockyards, during the twenties and thirties Chicago fought hard to transform its image into one of a sophisticated urban center, struggling for cultural superiority with it’s arch rival to the east, and the burgeoning megalopolis in the west. One of the city’s weapons in this struggle was a new publication which, in its own words, claimed to represent “a cultural, civilized, and vibrant” city “which needs make no obeisance to Park Avenue, Mayfair, or the Champs Elysees.” Urbane in aspiration and first published just sixteen months after the 1925 appearance of the New Yorker, the Chicagoan sought passionately to redeem the Windy City’s unhappy reputation by demonstrating the presence of style and sophistication in the Midwest. Nevertheless, for all it’s elegance and flair the magazine had a life span of less than a decade, forgotten as the boom years of the Jazz age lapsed into the Great Depression.

Now, as Julia Keller notes in a recent review for the Chicago Tribune, “thanks to the archival . . .

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Derrida lives on

October 27, 2008
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Derrida lives on

This month marks four years since the death of a philospher who then-French president Jacques Chirac remembered as “one of the major figures in the intellectual life of our time.” Jacques Derrida died in Paris on October 8, 2004, but his legacy lives on in many fields of the humanities, as well as many volumes of books published by the University of Chicago Press. The most recent is the newly-published Islam and the West: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida by Mustapha Chérif.

In the spring of 2003, Derrida sat down for a public debate in Paris with Algerian intellectual Chérif. The eminent philosopher arrived at the event directly from the hospital where he had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the illness that would take his life just over a year later. That he still participated in the exchange testifies to the magnitude of the subject at hand: the increasingly distressed relationship between Islam and the West, and the questions of freedom, justice, and democracy that surround it.

For more on Derrida, check out Chicago’s extensive list of his publications and our website memorial in honor of the great philosopher.

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Gina Ulysse on the exceptionalism of Michelle Obama

October 27, 2008
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Gina Ulysse on the exceptionalism of Michelle Obama

In her most recent book, Downtown Ladies: Informal Commercial Importers, a Haitian Anthropologist and Self-Making in Jamaica, anthropologist Gina A. Ulysse explores how a group of entrepreneurial women in the Caribbean have managed to struggle against traditional class, color, and gender codes to carve out a niche for themselves as international traders, importing and exporting goods from the Jamaican port of Kingston. But in her recent article for the Hartford Courant, Ulysse demonstrates that one, of course, needn’t to look so far abroad to witness how black women in the modern world are negotiating their way beyond entrenched stereotypes and social expectations to rise to position and power. Ulysse writes:

Recently, interviewer Larry King tried his best to get a rise out of Michelle Obama. Her responses remained cool, collected and focused. She defied the angry black woman stereotype. She was forthright, intelligent, impeccably stylish and obviously happy. With these characteristics, Michelle creates discomfort in many because she raises fundamental questions about society’s fixation with categories and how we understand our place within the pecking order of things.…

A versatile black female navigating different social landscapes, Michelle keeps shattering the racial component in the glass ceiling. To get where . . .

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Press Release: Howard, Concentration Camps on the Home Front

October 27, 2008
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Press Release: Howard, Concentration Camps on the Home Front

Two of the ten camps that the U.S. government established to incarcerate over 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II weren’t out West; they were deep in the Jim Crow South. This sudden arrival of strangers who belonged on neither side of the color line has long been a lost chapter in the history of the war—until now.

Enter Concentration Camps on the Home Front, an incendiary, stirring depiction of life in the camps and its aftermath. John Howard breaks new ground with the first book to tell the story of the Southern camps; the first to reveal government efforts to convert inmates to Christianity; the first to explore prisoners’ acts of resistance and defiance; and the first to expose the calculated dispersal of the prisoners after the war, a move which aimed to prevent the creation of ethnic enclaves in both Northern cities and the Southern countryside.

Howard’s eye-opening account of one of modern American history’s most shameful episodes resonates with current debates over the government’s right to imprison without trial, racial profiling, and a host of other contemporary issues. But this disturbing story makes its greatest impact by bringing to light the widespread and irreversible damage the . . .

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