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Adam Morris on Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience

January 31, 2014
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Adam Morris on Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience

From Adam Morris’s review “Disobedience & Miseducation: Occupy and the Academy,” at the Los Angeles Review of Books: The unwritten premise of the three essays in Occupy is that we live in the anteroom of an authoritarian police state. Or that perhaps, in a Borgesian twist, we have been living in one for some time already. Just as allegations of a “Jewish menace” abetted the power grabs of the Nazis, the “terrorists” and now “anarchists” of the 21st century provide an alibi for the US security-industrial complex to retrench in practices that, while subtler than 20th-century totalitarianisms, are even more effectively internalized and agreed upon by the dominated domestic population. The public’s laconic initial reaction to the revelations of Edward Snowden offers proof that most Americans, like Winston at the end of Orwell’s 1984, have come to accept the state’s scare-fueled propaganda and gradual elimination of civil rights in exchange for a false sense of “security.” They already love Big Brother. Daring to oppose police repression and buck this public inertia, the defiantly energetic spirit of dissent that characterized OWS is therefore political disobedience of the most necessary and noble kind. This exuberance is the subject of Taussig’s poetic essay “I’m So Angry I Made a . . .

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Stanley Cavell on Wittgenstein as a cultural critic

January 30, 2014
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Stanley Cavell on Wittgenstein as a cultural critic

From “The Investigations as a Depiction of Our Times,” in Stanley Cavell’s This New Yet Unapproachable America: Lectures after Emerson after Wittgenstein Let us see whether we can now sketch what I called a perspective from which the writer of the Investigations is a philosopher—even a critic—of culture. I start here form a variation on a question Professor von Wright poses in his paper “Wittgenstein in Relation to His Times” (in Wittgenstein and His Times, edited by B. McGuinness). Von Wright asks whether “Wittgenstein’s attitude to his times,” while naturally essential to understanding Wittgenstein’s intellectual personality, is also essential in understanding Wittgenstein’s philosophy. Von Wright describes the attitude in question, for good reason, as Spenglerian, and he sees the link between the attitude and the conceptual development of the philosophy in “Wittgenstein’s peculiar view of the nature of philosophy.” Because of the interlocking language and ways of life, a disorder in the former reflects disorder in the latter. If philosophical problems are symptomatic of language producing malignant outgrowths which obscure our thinking, then there must be a cancer in the Lebenweise, in the way of life itself. Given my sense of two directions in the idea of a form of life, von Wright’s appeal here to “a cancer . . .

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Paddy Woodworth on ecological restoration

January 29, 2014
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Paddy Woodworth on ecological restoration

Our Once and Future Planet delivers an account of one of the most impressive areas of current environmental experimentation and innovation: ecological restoration. Veteran investigative reporter Paddy Woodworth spent years traveling the globe and talking with people—scientists, politicians, and ordinary citizens—who work on the front lines of the battle against environmental degradation, and the book positions the restoration of our ecosystems as vital—and often successful—leverage. A recent review of the book in the Irish Examiner highlighted the implications of this restoration, from the vantage of long-term, if uncertain, commitment: Here, as elsewhere, the fight to preserve refugia and take a long term view of restoration is well justified, but seldom a priority for a society and their political leaders guided by short term considerations. Species restoration, especially of ‘cuddly’ animals or ‘trophy’ birds of prey, tugs at the heartstrings and can gain public support and finance. But habitat restoration is a much more difficult task to finance from the public purse. Woodworth’s experience confirms the complexity of the latter and reveals just how much of a knowledge gap exists for effective restoration. Ecological succession is a dynamic process, constantly being pushed by environmental changes to what sometimes seems, end points, illustrating . . .

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Introducing Winter 2014 Chicago Shorts

January 7, 2014
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Introducing Winter 2014 Chicago Shorts

  “Still longer than a tweet and still shorter than A River Runs Through It—” WINTER 2014 CHICAGO SHORTS The University of Chicago Press is pleased to announce the launch of our latest series of Chicago Shorts—distinguished selections, including never-before-published material, off-the-radar reads culled from the University of Chicago Press’s commanding archive, and the best of our newest books, all priced for impulse buying and presented exclusively in DRM-free e-book format. Aimed at the general reader and running the gamut from the latest in contemporary scholarship to can’t-miss chapters from classic publications, Chicago Shorts continues to turn the page on the twenty-first-century reading experience. This group of Winter 2014 Shorts are perfect readings to stow away with for an hour or two in the sludge of the season: they cover a range of topics, from the sentience of animals and advice from behavioral economics to the rhetoric of pregnancy; they deliver unforgettable characters like a Confucian magistrate who doubles as a detective and “Blue Babe,” a wooly bison; and to suit this time of year—they deliver some new knowledge to keep you warm. Among the Winter Shorts, you’ll find: Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom: A Brief Introduction by Bruce Caldwell . . .

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Strange Bedfellows: Pope Francis and Leo Steinberg

December 27, 2013
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Strange Bedfellows: Pope Francis and Leo Steinberg

Leo Steinberg (1920–2011) was an art historian whose focus extended from the Renaissance to the modern, and who left a critical legacy on several generations of scholars, critics, and artists. One of his classic works. The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, addressed the as-yet-unsuspected eroticism of the iconographies devoted to Christ and Mary, which generated much controversy throughout Steinberg’s career. In a recent piece for the New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog, Lee Siegel uses Steinberg’s writing as a lens for understanding the correlation between Pope Francis’s embrace of gay Catholics and his devotion to the poor and afflicted. Here, Siegel notes a central tenet of Steinberg’s book, specifically that, “as a result of the rise of the Franciscan order, around 1260, an emphasis on Christ’s nakedness, and, thus, on his humanity, joined compassion to an acceptance of the role of sexuality in human life.” Siegel points out that a Renaissance-era credo of the Franciscan order, from which Pope Francis takes his name, was nudus nudum Christum sequi (“follow naked the naked Christ”). He goes on to account for how Steinberg’s art historical thesis implies a theological premise imperative to positions taken by the current Pope on . . .

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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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