Monthly Archives: March 2009

Rehabilitating intellectualism

March 31, 2009
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Rehabilitating intellectualism

For the past eight years the term “intellectual” has been frequently interpreted by the media as a piece of anti-populist or elitist rhetoric. But in a recent article for the New Republic Ross Posnock notes that Obama’s presidency has rehabilitated the term as one of praise rather than opprobrium, and with it interest in the history of black intellectualism in America. Tapping into this renewed interest, Posnock cites Leonard Harris and Charles Molesworth’s new book, Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher for its revealing look at the life and thought of its highly influential, yet often neglected subject.

Inheriting the role of the leading spokesperson for black intellectualism from such figures as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Boise, the authors show how Alain L. Locke both continued their legacy of leadership but also vitally updated the role. Posnock writes: Harris and Molesworth’s book “brings alive distinctive fashioning of the role of black intellectual” demonstrating his unique ability to operate as “a race man,” but also as “an apolitical aesthete,” keeping “up the pressure on both roles, as his thought continually refined itself and deepened.” Thus, expanding the influence of black intellectuals in American culture Harris . . .

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Press Release: Campion, The Lions

March 31, 2009
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Press Release: Campion, The Lions

In his second collection of poems, Peter Campion writes about the struggle of making a life in America, about the urge “to carve a space” for love and family from out of the vast sweep of modern life. Coursing between the political and personal with astonishing ease, Campion writes at one moment of his disturbing connection to the public political structure, symbolized by Robert McNamara, then in the next, of a haunting reverie beneath a magnolia tree, representing his impulse to escape the culture altogether. He moves through various forms just as effortlessly, as confident in rhymed quatrains as in slender, tensed free verse. In The Lions, Campion achieves a fusion of narrative structure and lyric intensity that proves him to be one of the very best poets of his generation.

Read the press release.

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Seeing Obama everywhere? Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s not too far behind

March 31, 2009
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Seeing Obama everywhere? Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s not too far behind

In a story this weekend about Barack Obama’s ubiquity, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette asked Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s expert opinion about whether he’s overexposed in the media. She said no: Obama’s “target audience is that vast swath in the middle,” Jamison explained. “The audience that’s able to be persuaded is the ESPN audience, the Leno audience and the national audience that watches him in prime time.… If he’d had Internet and cable, Reagan would have done the rest of what Obama is doing.”

As we’ve noted, Jamieson—a coauthor of Presidents Creating the Presidency—is no stranger to broad exposure herself. On the heels of her expert election commentary on the NewsHour, among dozens of other outlets, she’s now turned to illuminating Obama’s presidency and the issues his administration faces. This weekend alone, her wisdom appeared not only in the Post-Gazette but also in the National Journal‘s assessment of Obama’s economic message and on “On the Media,” where she reflected on the “War on Terror.”

As the new president continues to use rhetoric to shape the presidency, Jamieson’s Presidents Creating the Presidency holds more timely insights about the continuing re-creation of the nation’s highest office.

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Press Release: Polito, Hollywood & God

March 31, 2009
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Press Release: Polito, Hollywood & God

Hollywood & God is a virtuosic performance, filled with crossings back and forth from cinematic chiaroscuro to a kind of unsettling desperation and disturbing—even lurid—hallucination. From the Baltimore Catechism to the great noir films of the last century, from Cotton Mather and a nineteenth-century minstrel boy to B-movie actress Barbara Payton, a female Elvis impersonator, and even Paris Hilton, Polito tracks the stars, rituals, snares, hijinks, and mysteries at the crossroads of American spiritual and media life across a diversity of styles, tones, and eras. Mixing lyric and essay, collage and narrative, memoir and invention, Hollywood & God is an audacious book, as contemporary as it is historical, as sly and witty as it is devastatingly serious.

Read the press release.

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Press Release: Rothfield, The Rape of Mesopotamia

March 31, 2009
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Press Release: Rothfield, The Rape of Mesopotamia

As President Obama begins the process of bringing America’s six-year occupation of Iraq to an end, it’s important that the public and the military alike learn from the mistakes that dogged the war from the start. Of all those errors, perhaps the most preventable—and irreparable—was the failure to protect Iraq’s unparalleled cultural heritage from the wholesale looting and destruction that followed the invasion and continues to this day.

With The Rape of Mesopotamia, Lawrence Rothfield offers a detailed, judicious account of the failures of planning, understanding, and initiative that led to the looting of the Iraq Museum and the incalculable loss to human culture that followed. Drawing on extensive interviews with soldiers, bureaucrats, war planners, archaeologists, and collectors, Rothfield reveals the breathtaking incompetence and inadequate planning—originating at the highest levels of the U.S. government—that left the troops on the ground unprepared for and unable to stop the looting they saw occurring all around them. At the same time, Rothfield shows, preservation advocates worldwide were insufficiently vocal about the risks the invasion posed to Iraq’s heritage, while the collectors who inhabit the shadowy worldwide market for illicit antiquities ensured the demand that the looters fulfilled.

Ultimately, Rothfield brings his story . . .

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Miguel Hernández: “One of the most open-hearted and heart-breaking Spanish-language poets”

March 30, 2009
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Miguel Hernández: “One of the most open-hearted and heart-breaking Spanish-language poets”

Saturday was the anniversary of the death, in jail, of Spanish poet Miguel Hernández (1910-1942). In the Spanish-speaking world, Miguel Hernández is regarded as one of the most important poets of the twentieth century, equal in distinction to Federico García Lorca, Pablo Neruda, and Octavio Paz. He has never received his just acclaim, however, in the English-speaking world, a victim of the artistic oppression exercised during the period of Francisco Franco’s totalitarian regime. Determined to silence the writer Neruda fondly referred to as his “wonderful boy,” Franco sentenced Hernández to death, citing as his crime only that he was “poet and soldier to the mother country.” Despite the fact that complete and accurate versions of his work were difficult to obtain even in Spanish for nearly fifty years, Hernández went on to achieve legendary status.

In 2001, the Press published The Selected Poems of Miguel Hernández, offering to English-speaking readers the poet’s extraordinary oeuvre in an authoritative bilingual edition. Featuring some of the most tender and vigorous poetry on war, death, and social injustice written in the past century, nearly half of the poems in this volume appear in English for the first time, making it the most comprehensive . . .

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We’re #2!

March 27, 2009
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We’re #2!

The Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year was announced today and the winner is…drum roll please…not Baboon Metaphysics. The title (no pun intended) went to The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-miligram Containers of Fromage Frais. But, good news, baboon loyalists: we’re #2! Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert M. Seyfarth’s book commanded 22% of the vote to earn the coveted position of runner-up. (The title comes from Darwin, who wrote in his diaries in 1838, “He who understands baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke.”)

Despite our also-ran status, the Press can claim this: ours is the oddest book title written by actual humans. You see, The 2009-2014 World Outlook was not authored by Philip M. Parker, as the byline on the cover suggests. Parker, as Noam Cohen wrote last year in the New York Times, “has developed computer algorithms that collect publicly available information on a subject — broad or obscure — and, aided by his 60 to 70 computers and six or seven programmers, he turns the results into books in a range of genres, many of them in the range of 150 pages and printed only when a customer buys one.” Which . . .

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The origins of Apocryphal Lorca

March 27, 2009
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The origins of Apocryphal Lorca

Next month, the Press will publish Apocryphal Lorca: Translation, Parody, Kitsch by Jonathan Mayhew. Exploring the afterlife of this legendary Spanish writer in the poetic culture of the United States, Mayhew examines how Lorca in English translation has become a specifically American poet, adapted to American cultural and ideological desiderata—one that bears little resemblance to the original corpus, or even to Lorca’s Spanish legacy. An assessment of Lorca’s considerable influence on the American literary scene of the latter half of the twentieth century, the book uncovers fundamental truths about contemporary poetry, the uses and abuses of translation, and Lorca himself.

Although Mayhew wrote the book in a single academic year, he says he’d been preparing to write it for most of his life. Here, he gives us insight into his process of conceiving, researching, and creating Apocryphal Lorca:

The beginnings of Apocryphal Lorca go back to my puzzlement over Kenneth Koch’s “Some South American Poets,” which I first read in the mid-1970s. Like many aspiring poets of my generation, I was beginning to read Lorca, Aleixandre, and Neruda in translation and to learn Spanish to read them in the original. Koch’s translations, however, were of imaginary poets—as I discovered . . .

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John Hope Franklin, 1915-2009

March 26, 2009
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John Hope Franklin, 1915-2009

Historian John Hope Franklin, professor emeritus at Duke University, passed away early Wednesday morning at the age of 94. He was professor in the department of history at the University of Chicago from 1964 to 1982, chair of the department from 1967 to 1970, and John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor from 1969 to 1982.

An outspoken champion of the Civil Rights movement, Franklin was involved in many of the pivotal issues regarding racial equality during the twentieth century, including, as NPR’s Debbie Elliott recently noted, “helping Thurgood Marshall and his team craft their landmark Brown v. Board of Education case against school segregation.” Professionally, he was regarded as a pioneering scholar in African American history and during his lifetime produced a host of definitive works on the subject. The Press is proud to have published Racial Equality in America (1976), George Washington Williams: A Biography (1985), as well as his Reconstruction after the Civil War, now in a third edition.

Among the many awards and honors he has received in recognition of his groundbreaking work, Franklin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995, and in 2006, the John W. Kluge Prize for lifetime achievement in the humanities. . . .

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The dragon still breathes fire

March 25, 2009
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The dragon still breathes fire

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the face-off pitting North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms against the National Endowment for the Arts and Robert Mapplethorpe, who also died twenty years ago this month. Deeming Mapplethorpe’s photography obscene and indecent and seeking to halt an exhibition of his work, Helms helped enact a law that prevented the NEA from using government funds “to promote, disseminate, or produce materials which in the judgment of may be considered obscene, including but not limited to, depictions of sadomasochism, homoeroticism, the sexual exploitation of children, or individuals engaged in sex acts and which, when taken as a whole, do not have serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

Largely in response to this controversy, Dave Hickey began thinking about beauty. Helms, for all his misguided grandstanding, was right—Mapplethorpe’s powerful, disruptive art was obscene, and the art world’s defense of Mapplethorpe obfuscated the role of beauty in the power of art. Far from defending Helms’s action, Hickey, a personal friend of and fan of Mapplethorpe’s, instead sought to refocus the conversation. The result, a little book of only 64 pages, published in 1993, was championed by artists for its forceful call for a . . .

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