Monthly Archives: March 2011

In Search of Goodness

March 31, 2011
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In Search of Goodness

“Be good and you will be lonesome.”—Mark Twain

What constitutes goodness? For Twain, there’s humor in how we uphold the idea of the “good” alongside an exalted code of social behavior. Follow it too righteously and you might miss out on the fun, something quite literally suggested by Katharine Hepburn in an often-quoted line: “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” But is goodness really about the nature of our actions? What does a good life look like? How does one become good? And how is a good life involved with the lives of others?

In Search of Goodness, a new collection edited by Ruth W. Grant, grapples with just these questions. Contributors explore the concept of the good from diverse angles and multiple approaches, from film and literature to cognitive psychology and moral philosophy, all while enlisting a cast of characters that includes Billy Budd, Shel Silverstein, Iris Murdoch, Achilles, and Oskar Schindler, among others. In Search of Goodness problematizes the dichotomies that have long governed our discussions of the good while at the same time offering an array of insights which help us to understand this complex ideal.

Grant, a professor of political . . .

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Mourning Elizabeth Taylor

March 28, 2011
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Mourning Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor was the twentieth century’s White Diamond—in an age that saw the decline of the Hollywood icon, her violet-eyed takes on high society Angela Vickers, hard-drinking Martha, and unhinged Maggie the Cat channeled pure lady power. It’s not surprising that so many felt touched both publicly and privately by the the much-married screen siren, humanitarian, perfume impresario, and perpetual tabloid cover model. Perhaps one of the more interesting elements to explore in the wake of Taylor’s death is the outpouring of public grief, from shrines set up at iconic gay bars to violet-hued flowers left on the actress’s Hollywood star. We asked Notre Dame professor of American studies Erika Doss, author of Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America to share her thoughts on what might be behind contemporary culture’s memorial obsessions:

Elizabeth Taylor died this past Wednesday (March 23rd), and within hours the public grief industry kicked into full production. Fans gathered around her star on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame, leaving bouquets of flowers dyed to match her violet-colored eyes. Reporters mobbed them with questions about what Taylor “meant” to them; responses ranged from her “eternal movie star beauty” to her “multiple marriages” (eight in total, twice . . .

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David Antin: This Year’s Model

March 24, 2011
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David Antin: This Year’s Model

Artist, critic, poet, performer . . . model? While David Antin’s iconic image has adorned the covers of many of his most famous publications—from the stark black and white photograph of the author in a safari jacket on talking at the boundaries (New Directions, 1976) to the Colonel Kurtz-on-the-roof shot of Antin accompanied by an assistant in stonewashed denim jacket on A Conversation with David Antin (Granary Books, 2002) —few might realize the careful consideration behind this striking framing (though Caroline Bergvall has a great piece at Jacket on A Conversation that leads with an exploration of the cover image). Many of these images were shot by the American photographer and longtime Antin collaborator Phel Steinmetz and Antin’s most recent collection Radical Coherency: Selected Essays on Art and Literature, 1966 to 2005, proves no exception—in fact, the decision to run a black and white cover was even an homage to the use of Steinmetz’s earlier images on Antin’s previous volumes.

We asked Antin to share his thoughts on the discussion that went on behind the scenes before he decided on the image that now graces the cover of Radical Coherency. Antin responded in his characteristic conversationalist tone, imbuing his . . .

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Richard McKeon: Twentieth-Century Man

March 22, 2011
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Richard McKeon: Twentieth-Century Man

By all accounts, philosopher Richard McKeon (1900-85) was a legend in the classroom. The list of students for whom McKeon shepherded an academic pursuit or two reads like a roster of the twentieth-century’s most noted cultural figures: Robert Coover, Paul Goodman, Susan Sontag, Richard Rorty, Paul Rabinow, and Wayne Booth, among them. But McKeon never quite knocked out the one bankable work that makes an intellectual’s name. Instead, his contributions—to everything from human rights, medieval philosophy, and the history of science to dialectics, literary criticism, and rhetoric—remain as diverse as the pluralist approach he helped espouse.

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Our own executive editor Doug Mitchell shares the following thoughts about McKeon’s contributions to twentieth-century thought:

The University of Chicago Press has been home to many publications by and about Richard McKeon, going back to editions of Cicero and Aristotle and up to an ongoing series of Selected Papers in three volumes, of which two are already published, with a third due in 2013. McKeon’s range as a philosopher was enormous (from metaphysics and philosophy of science to ethics and international politics to aesthetics, education, and the philosophic arts, with special emphasis on the arts of logic and rhetoric). His participation in . . .

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The Cougar which isn’t a Mellencamp

March 21, 2011
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The Cougar which isn’t a Mellencamp

The eastern mountain lion—called occasionally cougar, catamount, panther, painter, puma, or mountain screamer—was once one of the most widely distributed terrestrial mammals in the Western Hemisphere. But times have turned for these secretive and crepuscular big cats (the cougar is the largest of the small cats, actually, although it characteristically resembles those from the larger Pantherinae subfamily). In the twentieth century, following two centuries of European colonization, the mountain lion population on the Eastern seaboard was declared all but extinct. Dwellers in this coastal region questioned the existence of this majestic subspecies, giving rise to all sorts of legends—all of this despite the fact that it had been officially listed on the United States Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species list since 1973.

On March 2, 2011, the USFWS finally declared the eastern mountain lion (Felis concolor couguar) officially extinct.

“We recognize that many people have seen cougars in the wild within the historical range of the eastern cougar,” said the Service’s Northeast Region Chief of Endangered Species Martin Miller. “However, we believe those cougars are not the eastern cougar subspecies. We found no information to support the continued existence of the eastern cougar.”

The Service’s decision to formalize . . .

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TRAFFIC: Japan in Peril, Part II

March 18, 2011
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TRAFFIC: Japan in Peril, Part II

Welcome back to TRAFFIC: Japan in Peril, an exchange of thoughts on the nation’s future in light of the recent Pacific coast earthquake and the subsequent tsunami. This afternoon, we asked John Whittier Treat, professor of East Asian languages and literature at Yale University and acclaimed scholar of Japanese studies, and Margaret Morganroth Gullette, noted cultural critic, age activist, and award-winning journalist, to comment on Japan’s current crisis and its links to the nation’s past atomic experiences—and the uncertain future of its aging population.

TRAFFIC taps the expertise of leading figures from across the disciplines—whose prescient views on current events help to shape the way we interpret the world around us—on themes of contemporary global interest.

From John Whittier Treat, author of Writing Ground Zero: Japanese Literature and the Atomic Bomb:

On Fukushima and Japanese Rearmament

Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, with six reactors one of the largest in the world, is also one of the oldest. The Tokyo Electric Power Company began the process of building this plant in 1960, bringing it on line ten years later despite citizen concerns over placing reactors in known earthquake-prone zones (it is timely to note that our own Diablo Canyon nuclear . . .

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TRAFFIC: Japan in Peril

March 17, 2011
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TRAFFIC: Japan in Peril

Welcome to TRAFFIC, an exchange of thoughts between leading figures from across the humanities, social science, and natural sciences, whose prescient views on current events help to shape the way we interpret the world around us.

Join us for the two-day exchange TRAFFIC: Japan in Peril on the future of that nation and the larger global consequences, in light of the recent tsunami and earthquake that devastated the Tōhoku region on the Pacific coast, leaving left thousands dead, tens of thousands more imperiled, and a series of nuclear reactors on the brink of partial meltdown. Today, we asked sociologist Lee Clarke, a specialist in technological and organizational failures, with expertise in community response to disaster, and Ronald T. Merrill, a geophysicist and paleomagnetic pioneer, to share their thoughts with us on how they see Japan’s future unfolding:

From Ronald T. Merrill, author of Our Magnetic Earth: The Science of Geomagnetism:

My wife and I lived in Japan most of 1965 while I was studying geophysics. During that time we made many friends, which have subsequently increased in number. We wish them all the best during this tragic time.

Although somewhat painful, earth scientists can use this tragedy as an . . .

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Remembering Leo Steinberg (1920-2011)

March 15, 2011
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Remembering Leo Steinberg (1920-2011)

Sad news from New York about the passing of Leo Steinberg, one of the twentieth century’s most acclaimed art historians, whose critical insights, eloquent writings, and articulate ideas about art from Renaissance to modern, sharpened the minds of several generations of scholars, critics, and artists.

Born in Moscow, educated in Berlin and London, Steinberg earned his doctorate from New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts in 1960. Steinberg later taught at the City University of New York, Hunter College, and Harvard University, and was the Benjamin Franklin Professor of the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania, a position he held for sixteen years (1975-91).

Steinberg pioneered a now much more common approach to art and letters: as his own body of work moved from criticism into art history, he continued to write articles for the most influential journals and magazines of his day, from Partisan Review and Harper’s to ArtNews and Art, many of which are collected in Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth-Century Art.

A maverick scholar of Rauschenberg (Encounters with Rauschenberg: A Lavishly Illustrated Lecture) and the Renaissance noted for his thoughtful integration of works, both internally and externally, Steinberg formed an infamously imagined triad . . .

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An apocalyptic ge(ne)ology: The Earth on Show

March 11, 2011
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An apocalyptic ge(ne)ology: The Earth on Show

John Martin (1789-1854), English Romantic painter, was born the same week that the Bastille was stormed—an event whose sturm und drang might be said to eerily echo the grandiose theatrical visions of Martin’s work in oils. Martin’s large-scale paintings bore the influence of contemporary diorama culture—indeed, Martin even claimed that D. W. Griffith was aware of his work and many see his panoramic, imaginative works as precursors to epic cinema. During the last four years of his life, in particular, Martin furthered his scenes of apocalyptic destruction and disaster by engaging with a triptych of biblical subjects: The Great Day of His Wrath, The Last Judgment, and The Plains of Heaven.

This week, the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle opened a major new exhibition of Martin’s work, which will run through the end of April before traveling to the Tate Museum later this year. This is the largest public exhibition of Martin’s work since his death and the first exhibition devoted to the painter in more than thirty years, and it will include both previously unseen and newly restored paintings. Paying particular attention to how Martin’s populism fits within the larger narrative of British art, the exhibition also connects . . .

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Unions, the public sector, and the struggle for collective bargaining in Wisconsin

March 10, 2011
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Unions, the public sector, and the struggle for collective bargaining in Wisconsin

“Our democracy is out of control in Wisconsin,” Mr. Barca said. “And you all know it—you can feel it.”

A quote from this morning’s New York Times, by State Representative and Wisconsin Democrat Peter Barca reveals the escalation of already tense emotions in Madison as the State Assembly prepares to vote on a bill curtailing bargaining rights for many government workers.* Wisconsin has been a site for national and international coverage in past weeks, as tens of thousands of protesters have take to the Wisconsin State Capitol in demonstrations against Republican Scott Walker’s proposed legislation—which would weaken collective bargaining for state employees, requiring those employees to contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries to cover pension costs, and 12.6 percent towards health care premiums.

Recent studies, including one published by the Wall Street Journal, emphasize that growth in state and local government jobs nearly doubles the rate of population growth, and public unions depend on tax revenues to generate pay and benefits. For Wisconsin, a state whose 2003 and 2011 tax cuts may help to generate up to an 800 million dollar reduction in tax revenues by 2013, the situation is dire; this, coupled with Governor Walker’s legislation, which is . . .

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