The full TLS review of Noam Elcott’s Artificial Darkness: An Obscure History of Modern Art and Media follows below—for those behind the Times (or a paywall)—after the jump. *** In the Festival Theatre in Bayreuth, built in 1876 for Richard Wagner to stage his music dramas, darkness was carefully manufactured and controlled. In earlier theatres, the audience was as much a spectacle as the play, and lighting was balanced so that you could see the dignitaries in attendance as clearly as the performers. But Wagner, with his windowless cathedral, intended the audience to disappear entirely so that spectators would project all their attention to the stage. The orchestra was hidden behind a hood in a pit, referred to as the “mystical abyss,” which created a clear division between a blacked-out reality and the ideal world of the artwork. For Noam M. Elcott, in his compelling study of early cinema and avant-garde performance, it was a new mode of seeing to which all the deliberate darknesses of our contemporary cinemas is indebted. Elcott was a student of Jonathan Crary, the author of the seminal Techniques of the Observer (1990), a book that examined how—for René Descartes and John Locke in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—the camera . . .
Aimee Levitt reviewed Jason’s Orne new ethnography Boystown: Sex and Community in Chicago for the Chicago Reader; an excerpt follows below. *** We should be past the need for “gayborhoods,” as Amin Ghaziani argued in his influential 2014 book There Goes the Gayborhood. Don’t areas like Boystown, fun as they are, only remind us of the bad old days? Nope, they’re still necessary, sociologist Jason Orne argues in his new book, also called Boystown, and for one very important reason: sex. What distinguishes Boystown from Wrigleyville or Logan Square or any other gentrifying neighborhood with good nightlife is its sense of what Orne calls “sexy community,” defined as “a network of people, bound together through sexual intimacy.” He believes that open sexuality should be embraced and encouraged: straight people should be adopting queer habits, not the other way around. “By shedding its queer elements,” he writes, “Boystown trades sexuality for normalcy. It trades queer sexual connection for legal equality.” In other words, it would be a damned shame if the men of Boystown stopped hooking up on the dance floor or disappearing into certain basements for sex. And it’s hard to do those things when you’re surrounded by gawking tourists and straight women . . .
Josh Olson’s new 10-part podcast Bronzeville, which stars Laurence Fishburne, Larenz Tate, and Tika Sumpter, chronicles the lives of players in the illegal lottery that swept the African American community in the 1940s before the game was taken over by the mob. If that’s not enticing enough, here’s a list of some recommended background reading on the city, then and now; how it become one of America’s most iconic black neighborhoods; and why its redevelopment—in which the middle class benefits as lower-income residents are pushed out—continues to matter, now more than ever. *** Derek S. Hyra’s The New Urban Renewal: The Economic Transformation of Harlem and Bronzeville explores the shared metamorphosis of these formerly notorious urban ghettos into two of our most iconic black communities, as the pressure of late-capitalist gentrification and a complicated web of factors—local, national, and global—shaped their remarkable revitalization. St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton’s Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City, based on research conducted by Works Progress Administration field workers, is a sweeping historical and sociological account of the people of Chicago’s South Side from the 1840s through the 1930s, as path-breaking today as it was when it was first published in 1945. Diane Grams’s Producing Local . . .
In a recent double review for the New Scientist, “Green thinking in the era of Trump,” Fred Pearce took on two of our recent books in environmental studies—Eric T. Freyfogle’s A Good that Transcends: How US Culture Undermines Environmental Reform and Nathan F. Sayre’s The Politics of Scale: A History of Rangeland Science. Read clips from Pearce’s commentary on each, after the jump. *** “What’s going on? In his book A Good That Transcends, lawyer Eric Freyfogle doesn’t mention Trump. But he is clear that what lies behind long-standing and growing ‘popular resistance’ to green thinking is a devotion to the primacy of the individual and private property at the expense of any ideas that require collective endeavor, such as environmental management of the great spaces and wildernesses where bison once roamed. . . . If not controlled by strong environmental law, private property destroys natural assets by converting them into cash. Look at how fences and ploughs have wrecked the ecosystems of the US Midwest. Privatization didn’t prevent the dust bowl of the 1930s. Even access to rainfall—a quintessentially collective asset—is handed out as a private right that goes with land. Result: California is parched as farmers defend to the death their legal . . .
Check out an excerpt from a recent review of Julia Fischer’s Monkeytalk: Inside the Worlds and Minds of Primates, at Science News, after the jump. *** “Fischer catapulted into a career chasing down monkeys in 1993. While still in college, she monitored captive Barbary macaques. That led to fieldwork among wild macaques in Morocco. In macaque communities, females hold central roles because young males move to other groups to mate. Members of closely related, cooperative female clans gain an edge in competing for status with male newcomers. Still, adult males typically outrank females. Fischer describes how the monkeys strategically alternate between attacking and forging alliances. After forging her own key scientific alliances, Fischer moved on to study baboons in Africa, where she entered the bureaucratic jungle. Obtaining papers for a car in Senegal, for instance, took Fischer several days. She first had to shop for a snazzy outfit to impress male paper-pushers, she says. Fischer and her local guide then shuttled from one government official to another until a well-timed phone call from a local police chief to a key bureaucrat finally produced the forms. Monkeys get the job done using their own brand of intelligence, Fischer writes. Macaques and baboons navigate their home . . .
American Scientist explores several centuries-worth of zoology on paper at the British Library in a review + “digital menagerie” from The Paper Zoo, an excerpt from which follows below. *** Historian Charlotte Sleigh’s book The Paper Zoo, which taps into the British Museum’s rich collection to explore and contextualize five centuries of zoological illustration (our sampler), leads one to conclude that the refrain’s origin can be traced back to 1659. Johann Amos Comenius’s elementary reader Orbis sensualium pictus (“The Visible World in Pictures”), Sleigh explains, “is commonly regarded as the first picture book for children.” By combining didactic text with illustrations Comenius had, with the stroke of a printing press, invented multimedia instruction. His petite depictions of animals, each appearing alongside a letter of the alphabet meant to represent the sound the animal makes, are clear and endearing without being especially cute. It’s easy to see how they would capture a child’s interest and, as Sleigh observes, ease memorization: Presenting the image of an animal next to a letter whose sound replicates the creature’s hooting, braying, growling, or hissing was an instructional breakthrough. In addition to their utility in the classroom, Sleigh notes, zoological illustrations helped far-flung naturalists keep up with discoveries made in . . .
From a review of Simon Goldhill’s A Very Queer Family Indeed: Sex, Religion, and the Bensons in Victorian Britain at the Atlantic: Even by the formidable standards of eminent Victorian families, the Bensons were an intimidating lot. Edward Benson, the family’s patriarch, had vaulted up the clerical hierarchy, awing superiors with his ferocious work habits and cowing subordinates with his reforming zeal. Queen Victoria appointed him the archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Anglican Church, in 1883. Edward’s wife, Minnie, was to all appearances a perfect match. Tender where he was severe, she was a warmhearted hostess renowned for her conversation. Most important, she was Edward’s equal in religious devotion. As a friend daringly pronounced, Minnie was “as good as God and as clever as the Devil.” All five of Edward and Minnie Benson’s adult offspring distinguished themselves in public life. Arthur Benson served as the master of Magdalene College at Cambridge University, wrote the lyrics to Edward Elgar’s hymn “Land of Hope and Glory,” and was entrusted with the delicate task of co-editing Queen Victoria’s letters for publication. His brother Fred was a best-selling writer, well known today for the series of satirical Lucia novels (televised for the second . . .