Commentary

RIP Tzvetan Todorov (1939–2017)

February 9, 2017
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RIP Tzvetan Todorov (1939–2017)

Tzvetan Todorov (1939–2017)—literary theorist, intellectual historian, and philosopher—died earlier this week; in particularly uncanny circumstances, our free e-book of the month happens to be his The Fear of Barbarians. Rather than link to an obit, we’re going to reblog a conversation between Todorov and media scholar WJT Mitchell—who had never met in person or previously exchanged correspondence—that unfolded over three days on our blog, back in December 2010, on the heels of the then-recent publications of Barbarians and Mitchell’s Cloning Terror. Little more than six years ago, and the topics they discuss—the politics of occupation, the war on terror, the then-emergent Wikileaks, Goya, the US State Department’s penchant for torture, Guantanamo, cloning—feel both like prescient observations from a time now past, and nearly enraging in their unfortunate contemporaneity. Below, you’ll find links to Parts II and III. Download your free copy of The Fear of Barbarians here. ** We’re kicking things off with a series of letters between Tzvetan Todorov, author of The Fear of Barbarians: Beyond the Clash of Civilizations and W. J. T. Mitchell, author of Cloning Terror: The War of Images, 9/11 to the Present on the visual imagery of the war on terror, our current global political climate, and the role of . . .

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Alice Kaplan on the origins of “Meursault”

February 8, 2017
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Alice Kaplan on the origins of “Meursault”

Meursault, the protagonist (or anti-hero) of Albert Camus’s The Stranger, is one of literature’s all-time classic characters—a French-Algerian, emotionally detached drifter who murders an Arab in a griefless rage. Below, Alice Kaplan, author of the National Book Critics Circle-nominated Looking for The Stranger: Albert Camus and the Life of a Literary Classic, writes at Wonders and Marvels on the origins of the character’s name, and her theory as to why Camus picked the epithet he did. *** For any French reader, that name can only signify the delicious and expensive white Burgundy wine. I was really shocked when I looked at the only surviving manuscript of The Stranger and discovered that Camus writes his character’s name without a “u” throughout. Where did that “u” come from? Some Camus experts claim he thought of the name change at a dinner party where he was served an especially good bottle of the Burgundy wine. Then there’s the story of the contest. Every November, a literary prize of 3,000 bottles of Meursault wine was awarded to a book celebrating the glory of the land. An ad for the prize appeared in the French press in November, 1941, as Camus was putting finishing touches on his novel. Although Meursault isn’t a very funny . . .

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Molly Haskell: From Reverence to Rape

October 27, 2016
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Molly Haskell: From Reverence to Rape

In a piece for TCM’s blog Movie Morlocks, critic Susan Doll posted a tribute to the new edition of Molly Haskell’s classic feminist takedown of the female cinematic imaginary, From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women at the Movies (3rd edition; with a new foreword by Manohla Dargis), complete with outstanding captions, such as, ON ROSALIND RUSSELL: “NOT A FAVORITE WITH MEN.” Here’s a choice excerpt, which gives you a taste of Haskell’s contribution to writing film, a mix of ferociously idiosyncratic critical insight and bona fide enthusiasm that ran across taste, time, and genre: TCM viewers who are enjoying “Trailblazing Women” should check out the new, third edition of From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies by film historian Molly Haskell. Haskell, who sometimes cohosts on TCM, covers the silent era to the late 20th century, the same time frame as “Trailblazing Women.” While there is some overlap between the series and the book, Haskell’s focus is on the image of women in the movies, the stars who embodied these images, and the relationship of these images to women in society. Long ago, when I was in film school, I was introduced to feminist film theory, particularly the work . . .

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RIP Mary D. Sheriff (1950–2016)

October 25, 2016
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RIP Mary D. Sheriff (1950–2016)

Mary D. Sheriff, internationally celebrated art historian and educator, died on October 19, 2016, at the age of 66. From Susan Bielstein, executive editor at the University of Chicago Press: We’re sad to report that our beloved author Mary Sheriff died on October 19, 2016, after a short, intense fight with pancreatic cancer. Sheriff was the W.R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Art History in the Art Department of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. A leader in the study of eighteenth-century art, she published three books with the Press: Fragonard: Art and Eroticism (1990), The Exceptional Woman: Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and the Cultural Politics of Art (1996), and Moved by Love: Inspired Artists and Deviant Women in Eighteenth-Century France (2004). We expect to publish her new book, Enchanted Islands: Picturing the Allure of Conquest in Eighteenth-Century France, and will announce a publication date in due course. From Sheriff’s partner, Keith Luria: specialized in eighteenth-century French art and transformed the field by re-evaluating rococo painting, introducing feminist perspectives, and examining European art in a global context. She published widely on artists such as Fragonard and Vigée-Lebrun, as well as on questions of art and gender. She taught at the . . .

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RIP Jacob Neusner (1932–2016)

October 24, 2016
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RIP Jacob Neusner (1932–2016)

Jacob Neusner (1932-2016), one of the world’s premier scholars of Jewish rabbinical texts, died earlier this month, on October 8, 2016. Neusner was the author or editor of more than 900 books for students, scholars, and general readers in Judaism, comparative religion, and the history and analysis of rabbinic texts, including the landmark, 35-volume The Talmud of the Land of Israel, published by the University of Chicago Press. Among those institutions he taught at during his distinguished academic career were Dartmouth College, Brown University, the University of South Florida, and Bard College. Below follow some remembrances of Nesuner’s life and works. From Aaron Hughes for the American Academy of Religion: Jacob Neusner was born to Samuel and Lee Neusner on July 12, 1932, in West Hartford, Connecticut. His father owned the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, a Jewish weekly that continues to serve the Connecticut region and western Massachusetts. The young Neusner received his first typewriter at age twelve and, by his junior year in high school, could do all the jobs associated with a newspaper. From a young age he could write both quickly and to make deadlines. Neusner grew up attending public school as opposed to Jewish day school, and his values . . .

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October 4: Happy World Animal Day!

October 4, 2016
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October 4: Happy World Animal Day!

In honor of World Animal Day and to raise awareness of its significance, University of Chicago Press author Marc Bekoff dedicated his recurring Huffington Post column to the event, which originated in 1925 (and whose fascinating history you can read here). The purpose of World Animal Day? From the mission statement: Raise the status of animals in order to improve welfare standards around the globe. Building the celebration of World Animal Day unites the animal welfare movement, mobilising it into a global force to make the world a better place for all animals.  It’s celebrated in different ways in every country, irrespective of nationality, religion, faith or political ideology.  Through increased awareness and education we can create a world where animals are always recognised as sentient beings and full regard is always paid to their welfare. Bekoff’s post considers the ongoing relevance of a day devoted to invoking awareness around animal needs and welfare, including the hyperlink-filled excerpt below, which connects to just a few of the concerns worth our attention, chief among them the continued role we play in animal abuse, and what we can do about it: There’s no shortage of examples in which billions of nonhuman animals (animals) are abused by humans . . .

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Michael Tesler: #11 on the 2016 Politico 50

September 16, 2016
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Michael Tesler: #11 on the 2016 Politico 50

It’s our second congrats this week to a University of Chicago Press author for making the Politico 50, a “guide to the thinkers, doers and visionaries transforming American politics in 2016.” This time it’s Michael Tesler, author of Post-Racial or Most-Racial?: Race and Politics in the Obama Era, at #11, for his contribution to our understanding of “how white racism has long shaped American politics.” As Politico writes: There may be no single symbol of black progress more powerful than an African-American in the White House, and Tesler, author of this year’s Post-Racial or Most-Racial?: Race and Politics in the Obama Era, argues that Barack Obama’s 2008 election triggered a new racialized backlash. Tesler draws a distinction between “racial conservatives,” who are more likely to agree with stereotypes like the notion that black people are poorer than white people because of lack of effort, and “racial liberals.” Racial conservatism, Tesler’s work shows, has become a stronger predictor for identifying as Republican, and it spiked with Obama’s election. Over the past year, a steady stream of studies, polls and analyses—including Tesler’s own findings—appear to bear out that theory and show how it’s shaping the 2016 campaign; they chart a correlation between racial resentment and . . .

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Yves Bonnefoy (1923–2016): A Tribute from His Translators

September 9, 2016
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Yves Bonnefoy (1923–2016): A Tribute from His Translators

  The French poet and critic Yves Bonnefoy, who died on July 1, 2016, was unusually well served by his translators, who shepherded many of his books into publication in English. Thanks to their devotion and talent, readers in the English-speaking world can appreciate why Bonnefoy was, as the New York Times described him, “France’s pre-eminent poet of the postwar era.” The two most prolific publishers of Bonnefoy’s work in English have been Seagull Books and the University of Chicago Press. Seagull’s Naveen Kishore and Chicago’s Alan Thomas invited Bonnefoy’s translators to recall their collaborations with the poet. ***  Richard Pevear I first met Yves Bonnefoy at a lunch organized by Jonathan Galassi, who was then an editor at Random House and the poetry editor of The Paris Review. Galway Kinnell, translator of Bonnefoy’s first book of poems, Du mouvement et de l’immobilité de Douve, joined us. He and Galassi had formed a project for translating the four books of poems Bonnefoy had published up to then . The first two were to be published by Ohio University . . .

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Sara Goldrick-Rab: What Colleges Can Do Right Now

September 8, 2016
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Sara Goldrick-Rab: What Colleges Can Do Right Now

Sara Goldrick-Rab’s Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream publishes this month and it isn’t hyperbole to claim it will soon become the definitive text on how higher education has let students down, as the cost of college continues to soar, while combinations of federal, state, institutional, and private aid fail to give students the resources they need to pay for it. In a recent piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Goldrick-Rab bluntly outlined five things she and her team of researchers learned (see below) in tracking 3,000 federal Pell Grant recipients enrolled in Wisconsin public universities through their college journeys. Hint: as Goldrick-Rab teases in the intro, the kids are most definitely not alright. You can read her piece in full here. *** Here are five things we learned: 1. The way the federal government measures students’ financial need is misleading and even flat-out wrong. It overstates a family’s ability to pay for college by ignoring debt and the hardships that go with it, and grossly understates the actual costs of attending college. 2. Although colleges often expect families to financially support their children while they attend college, the reverse is happening — low-income children are . . .

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Sara Goldrick-Rab and the United States of Debt

July 20, 2016
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Sara Goldrick-Rab and the United States of Debt

Sara Goldrick-Rab’s game-changing book Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream publishes this September. To understand part of the urgency behind its central claim—that college is far too costly, and the confusing mix of federal, state, institutional, and private financial aid leaves countless students without the resources they need to pay for it—tune in to the most recent United States of Debt podcast from the folks at Slate. Tackling the student loan crisis, Slate asks: “Just how many of us are really burdened by the cost of pursuing a higher education, and is there a way out? Are student loans more common now, and why? Why are student loans such a mess in the United States, compared to other countries? And what do for-profit schools have to do with all of this?” Listen in for more about Goldrick-Rab and the stakes of living with suffocating student debt—and what we might do about it. To read more about Paying the Price, click here. . . .

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