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Excerpt: From the Score to the Stage

December 6, 2013
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Excerpt: From the Score to the Stage

An excerpt via From the Score to the Stage: An Illustrated History of Continental Opera Production and Staging by Evan Baker Composers frequently involved themselves in the frenetic activities at the theater leading up to the first performances of their new operas, constantly fine-tuning the score and the libretto during the rehearsals. As happens in today’s productions, composers in the eighteenth century would modify the music to accommodate a singer’s strength and weaknesses. These changes often affected the staging and the production itself. The circumstances surrounding Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s preparations for the premiere of his newly commissioned Idomeneo, re di Creta (Idomeneus, King of Crete) at the Munich Residenztheater in January 1781 were no exception. The last months of 1780 found the composer in Munich completing his work. Thanks to the extant correspondence between Mozart and his father, Leopold, we are able to read about three of the many problems he encountered: the lack of stage presence on the part of several singers despite their musical talents; the questionable theatrical and dramatic effectiveness of Idomeneo’s first entrance; and difficulties with the final scene, Neptune’s proclamation and judgment of Idomeneo. The letters are extraordinary for their glimpse into both the creative . . .

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The Vinyl Prayers Project

November 21, 2013
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The Vinyl Prayers Project

John Lardas Modern (I almost typed “Vardas”—let’s call it an accidental homage to Agnès Varda, who is someone I think about when I think about those weird spaces at the edge of realism, when you fall into pure perspective and some sort of spiritual fizzing or its harsher alternative; anyhow, she was one of five people present at Jim Morrison’s burial, so I am filing my moment of misprision as subliminally relevant) has a really interesting website. In addition to penning Secularism in Antebellum America and serving as an editor-at-large for the Immanent Frame, Modern is a curator and vinyl collector. Interested, interesting. His Vinyl Prayers Project, “a virtual mix-tape of vinyl prayer,” allows him to (and for the most part—seamlessly) blend those identities into the persona of a monkishly meditative steward of tracks repressed and unhinged from pop culture that hover in the realm of what he defines as prayer, or, “a weapon, a request to heal the body or boost the brain, an epistemic cry, a meditation, a mediation, a quip, a plea, a means of passive resistance, a wonderful gift from God.” Like for all collectors and most seekers, there is a strange borderland to cross between obsession and devotion, and this is likely the archive you’d desire to listen to again and . . .

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Bernard E. Harcourt, from Occupy Wall Street

November 20, 2013
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Bernard E. Harcourt, from Occupy Wall Street

Compelled by the title of Bernard E. Harcourt’s upcoming talk (tomorrow) at Yale University— “So Michel Foucault and Gary Becker Walk into a Bar. . . .  A Lecture and Conversation with Bernard Harcourt on Punishment, Sexual Capital, and Neoliberalism”—we remembered a passage of his from Occupy: Three Inquiries In Disobedience. “We the People”: Myth and Democratic Challenge Judith Butler said, at Occupy Wall Street, “We’re standing here together making democracy, enacting the phrase ‘We the people!'” A bold statement—indeed, a real reappropriation that raises deep questions about this collective myth. In an odd way, it almost feels as if the Occupy movement had it harder than other contemporary resistance movements—dare I say, harder than even the Arab Spring revolutions. To be sure, the resisters in the Arab world faced (and may still face today) brutal authoritarian regimes. They risked, and in many cases lost, their lives. Their unmatched courage has been an inspiration around the world. On that count, they have stared down a far more violent and oppressive adversary than anyone else. But they had one. They had an identifiable adversary—oppressive and authoritarian regimes—that they could target and topple. They had and have a concrete goal, grievances, an objective, . . .

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Andrew Piper on the new world of electronic reading

November 5, 2013
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Andrew Piper on the new world of electronic reading

In 2012, Andrew Piper published Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times, which expanded upon his established interest in textual circulation, embodiment, and identity (see Dreaming in Books: The Making of the Bibliographic Imagination in the Romantic Age) under the pressures of the digital. Since then, in a year that has evidenced the e-book’s continuing encroachment into the literary market share (from 20 percent in 2012 to early estimates of 30 percent in 2013), Piper has upped the stakes of his argument: we have already gone electronic, and it’s only because of our own constraints that we still make e-books look and act like printed books. If we know that “literature is data,” how can we poise ourselves to take much greater advantage of that knowledge amid semi-seismic technological shifts? In a recent essay for World Literature Today, Piper considered the case for computational reading: a way of translating literary texts into quantifiable units—rather than simply mirroring them as the printed book’s shadow self—that can be used for purposes such as determining the authorial identity of Elizabethan authors or sussing out whether late-career works by Agatha Christie reveal symptoms comparable to those found in Alzheimer’s patients. Piper, whose own recent . . .

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Huey Copeland’s Bound to Appear

October 31, 2013
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Huey Copeland’s Bound to Appear

Partial excerpt: “Introduction: The Blackness of Things,”  from Bound to Appear: Art, Slavery, and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America by Huey Copeland *** In Bound to Appear, I explore the significance of transatlantic slavery within critical aesthetic practice at the close of the twentieth century, when, for the first time in history, an appreciable number of artists of non-European ancestry figured prominently in the mainstream United States art world. What emerges from this study is a detailed picture of a how a generation of African American practitioners in the late 1980s and early ’90s negotiated both racialized discourses and art-historical antecedents in framing their work, recasting the appearance of blackness, and making common cause with marked subjects the world over. While few scholars have tried their hands at charting this terrain, the aesthetic and political contradictions that black artists and their audiences confronted did not go unnoticed at the time; indeed, they were heralded and discussed at length in the pages of Time magazine: So often, the news from black America seems to be all bad: crime, broken families, failing schools, abject hopelessness. Yet amid the bleak circumstances that envelop so much of the African-American community, a singularly . . .

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Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures

October 14, 2013
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Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures

Congrats due to author Claudia L. Johnson, whose Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures garnered the Christian Gauss Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Johnson, the Murray Professor of English Literature at Princeton University, a specialist in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century literature, with a particular emphasis on the novel, is also the author of Jane Austen: Women, Politics, and the Novel and Equivocal Beings: Politics, Gender, and Sentimentality in the 1790s—Wollstonecraft, Radcliffe, Burney, Austen, both of which we were fortunate enough to publish. Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures A quick description from the citation: The Christian Gauss Award is offered for books in the field of literary scholarship or criticism. The prize was established in 1950 to honor the late Christian Gauss, the distinguished Princeton University scholar, teacher and dean who also served as President of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Other previous award winners have included books written by eminent authors such as Harold Bloom, Christopher Benfey, and Marjorie Garber. Johnson’s book considers the transformation of Jane Austen, sort of well-heeled nineteenth-century author of six novels, into “Jane Austen,” the figure whose silhouette adorns greeting cards sent by your grandmother, who introduced most of the American public to Colin Firth . . .

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Terrence Malick on Margaret Doody

October 8, 2013
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Terrence Malick on Margaret Doody

A piece on Terrence Malick’s latest film To the Wonder appeared shortly after its release this April at New York Magazine‘s online site Vulture. Nothing about the title of the piece need grab you at first engagement—though “Radiant Zigzag Becoming: How Terrence Malick and His Team Constructed To the Wonder” is elegiac and ponderous and a bit of a mouthful, not unlike the reputation of Malick’s oeuvre. What ends up fascinating in this article—besides lines we like such as, “the film has struck some as a particularly Malick-y Terrence Malick film”—is the breakdown of that radiant zigzag becoming, which the writer traces to a scholarly introduction penned for an edition of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded, a tawdry Stockholm Syndrome-done-good epistolary novel that shocked and awed its eighteenth-century readers. The Intro was written by our own Margaret A. Doody, the John and Barbara Glynn Family Professor of Literature at Notre Dame and a specialist in Restoration and eighteenth-century British literature. The relevant connection to Doody’s work? One odd but telling reference point Malick gave his editors was Margaret A. Doody’s introduction to the Penguin Books edition of Samuel Richardson’s revolutionary 1740 novel Pamela. In the intro, Doody discusses the . . .

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The Idea of Nature, the Nature of Ideas

July 17, 2013
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The Idea of Nature, the Nature of Ideas

Guest blogger: Ryo Yamaguchi It is hard to imagine the world—or ourselves for that matter —without DNA, but for most of our intellectual history we knew nothing about those slender molecules. The modern microscope was invented near the beginning of the seventeenth century, with Friedrich Miescher isolating DNA in the late nineteenth, and between those times theories regarding biological formation and reproduction were explored by Enlightenment thinkers and scientists such as John Locke, Anton van Leeuwenhoek, Carl Linnaeus, and Comte de Buffon. We overlook it now as common knowledge, but biological reproduction was something these people had to think through, to explain without DNA, and the debates between concepts such as God, mechanics, fermentation, homunculi—and how they could inform life’s larger lineages, of the differences between species, of a natural history as a whole—abounded. Enter Immanuel Kant. Many of us do not think of Kant as a biologist, but he was deeply interested in natural history throughout his career, an interest that Jennifer Mensch takes up in Kant’s Organicism, published last month. Situating Kant among the above thinkers, she shows not only that Kant had theories of his own on the generation of life but that he applied these theories . . .

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“Playing Watten” by Thomas Bernhard

May 21, 2013
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“Playing Watten” by Thomas Bernhard

Oh, Thomas Bernhard! Bringing the thunder, bringing the classism—an excerpt from “Playing Watten” (translated by Kenneth J. Northcott), from Three Novellas: We often maintain, to ourselves above all, and in so doing justify ourselves to ourselves, that we know something through and through, that we have completed something, only so as not to have to bother ourselves with this thing (this person), because we are afraid that we shall be embarrassed by this preoccupation and that this preoccupation will make us totally unreliable with regard to ourselves, dear sir, because we fear the nuisance, something that we have to regard as fatal, caused by occupying ourselves with this matter (this person!), because we despise ourselves. Nothing is indubitable, dear sir. Were I to go and play watten again, I say to the truck driver, the whole thing would be nothing but an elementary disorder and nothing but sorrow, which is basically nothing but wretchedness, which is more or less nothing but madness. We are at the peak of concentration when we are playing. Playing watten. In the theater, dear sir, even the impossible is entertainment, and even the monstrous, as the improbable, is an object of study, everything in the . . .

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How Animals Grieve (for Howard Stern)

May 3, 2013
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How Animals Grieve (for Howard Stern)

Barbara J. King is having quite a week—at least in terms of traversing brave new (pop-cultural) frontiers for the scholarly pursuits of animal intelligence and emotion. First came an excerpt from King’s latest book How Animals Grieve in a recent edition of the New York Post—noteworthy enough; so noteworthy, in fact, that it led to a mention of the book and King’s work on an episode of Howard Stern’s syndicated SIRIUS radio show (Stern, who along with his wife, is an animal rights advocate, experienced the traumatic loss of his English bulldog Bianca just a year ago; he even gave the book a plug via his Twitter feed). As if all this weren’t enough to render a tear in academic publishing’s space-time continuum, King herself made an appearance on Stern’s show, evidencing some of the ideas surrounding animal mourning that her book draws upon. In How Animals Grieve, King considers a recent shift in anthropological attention to our companion species, which recognizes our long-chided tendency to anthropomorphize animal emotions might instead hold grains of truth. She tells of elephants surrounding their matriarch as she weakens and dies, and, in the following days, attending to her corpse as if holding a vigil. . . .

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