About

Twitter

Facebook

CUP Web site

RSS Feed

New Books

Author Interviews

Author Events

Keep track of new CUP book releases:
e-newsletters

For media inquiries, please contact our
publicity department

CUP Authors Blogs and Sites

American Society of Magazine Editors

Natalie Berkowitz / Winealicious

Leonard Cassuto

Mike Chasar / Poetry and Popular Culture

Erica Chenoweth / "Rational Insurgent"

Juan Cole

Jenny Davidson / "Light Reading"

Faisal Devji

William Duggan

James Fleming / Atmosphere: Air, Weather, and Climate History Blog

David Harvey

Paul Harvey / "Religion in American History"

Bruce Hoffman

Alexander Huang

David K. Hurst / The New Ecology of Leadership

Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh

Geoffrey Kabat / "Hyping Health Risks"

Grzegorz W. Kolodko / "Truth, Errors, and Lies"

Jerelle Kraus

Julia Kristeva

Michael LaSala / Gay and Lesbian Well-Being (Psychology Today)

David Leibow / The College Shrink

Marc Lynch / "Abu Aardvark"

S. J. Marshall

Michael Mauboussin

Noelle McAfee

The Measure of America

Philip Napoli / Audience Evolution

Paul Offit

Frederick Douglass Opie / Food as a Lens

Jeffrey Perry

Mari Ruti / The Juicy Bits

Marian Ronan

Michael Sledge

Jacqueline Stevens / States without Nations

Ted Striphas / The Late Age of Print

Charles Strozier / 9/11 after Ten Years

Hervé This

Alan Wallace

James Igoe Walsh / Back Channels

Xiaoming Wang

Santiago Zabala

Press Blogs

AAUP

University of Akron

University of Alberta

American Management Association

Baylor University

Beacon Broadside

University of California

Cambridge University Press

University of Chicago

Cork University

Duke University

University of Florida

Fordham University Press

Georgetown University

University of Georgia

Harvard University

Harvard Educational Publishing Group

University of Hawaii

Hyperbole Books

University of Illinois

Island Press

Indiana University

Johns Hopkins University

University of Kentucky

Louisiana State University

McGill-Queens University Press

Mercer University

University of Michigan

University of Minnesota

Minnesota Historical Society

University of Mississippi

University of Missouri

MIT

University of Nebraska

University Press of New England

University of North Carolina

University Press of North Georgia

NYU / From the Square

University of Oklahoma

Oregon State University

University of Ottawa

Oxford University

Penn State University

University of Pennsylvania

Princeton University

Stanford University

University of Sydney

University of Syracuse

Temple University

University of Texas

Texas A&M University

University of Toronto

University of Virginia

Wilfrid Laurier University

Yale University

Archive for the 'Author Interview' Category

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Kimerer LaMothe on Why We Dance

Why We Dance

The following is an interview with Kimerer LaMothe, author of Why We Dance: A Philosophy of Bodily Becoming:

Why did you write this book?

Kimerer LaMothe: I love to dance, every day. It is vital for my wellbeing. And when I scan the landscape of human life, I see dance everywhere—in the earliest human art, the oldest forms of culture, and in every culture around the world into the present. Yet in the maps of and for human life that comprise the philosophy, theology, and religious studies of the modern west, dance occupies a surprisingly small space. Rarely do authors consider dancing as vital to human life, especially to a human’s religious life. I wanted to change that.

How did you decide to approach this problem?

KLL: Before beginning this book, I spent years delving into written works of the western canon, trying to identify the intellectual moves that make it nearly impossible for a given philosopher or theologian to affirm dance as a medium of religious experience and expression. I looked for exceptions. I looked for thinkers who were willing to consider dance as more than just a metaphor, or more than just a crude alternative to the “finer” arts or “higher,” more cerebral forms of religion.

The problem went deeper than I thought. The bias against dance in the western tradition is not simply evidence of a mind/body problem, a fear of sexuality, or a patriarchal devaluing of the feminine per se. Rather, the challenge for dance is rooted in the fact that that the tradition’s dominant structures and patterns of thinking express and reinforce the lived experience of people who have spent years training themselves to read and write. Much of western thought is an apology for the life of a book-bound mind.

While this trajectory of cultural development has enabled tremendous advances in numerous realms, it is less helpful when it comes to making sense of why humans always have and continue to dance.

In order to show how dance is vital to our humanity, I realized that I would have to retell the story of what it means to be a human being from the lived experience of dancing. I would have to tell a story in which bodily movement appears as the source and telos of human life.

Fortunately, across disciplines, researchers and scientists are discovering what many dancers have known and practiced for years: that bodily movement is essential to the biological, emotional, spiritual, and ecological development of human persons. Thus, when I set out to write this book, I had a lot of material on which to draw in making my case.

(more…)

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

Sandra Fahy on North Korea and the Impact of Famine

Sandra Fahy, Marching Through Suffering

“This fact, that they use humor and wordplay, directly challenges the notion that [North Koreans] are all brainwashed victims.”—Sandra Fahy

Earlier this Fall, North Korea News interviewed Sandra Fahy about her book Marching Through Suffering: Loss and Survival in North Korea, which we just published. It’s a fascinating interview in which Fahy describes some of the challenges of studying North Korea, particularly given her background in anthropology. Obviously not able to talk to people living in North Korea, Fahy spoke with recent defectors to learn about how North Koreans make sense of their world.

Fahy points out that the famine in North Korea has not produced the kind of social upheaval some policymakers thought might happen. She argues that famine rarely does cause these kinds of monumental change, however, she was surprised by the lack of anger on the part of North Koreans:

When I was conducting the research I was surprised by something: I had expected North Koreans would have been angry, annoyed, judging of the state for failing to provide food for them (as it promised to do).

They were angry after the fact, in South Korea and China, but when I asked them to recollect their lives in North Korea they did not have anger toward the state then. They did not see the triage of resources toward the military, toward the capital, as unfair. Rather “that’s just the way it was”—this kind of banal rationalization that was unusual to me.

I believe my most important findings are these: first of all, we should not presume that those who defect are always and necessarily the worst off. Many still hold the memory of Kim Il Sung highly, while demonizing Kim Jong Il.

(more…)

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

Interview with Michael Glover Smith, Co-Author of “Flickering Empire (Part 2)

Flickering Empire, Michael Glover Smith and Adam Selzer

The following is the second part of our interview with Michael Glover Smith, co-author of Flickering Empire: How Chicago Invented the U.S. Film Industry. (You can read part 1 here.)

Question: Oscar Micheaux also was part of Chicago’s film history. In what ways was Chicago important for the development of African-American or “race” movies?

Michael Glover Smith: A lot of the early films dealing with race offer “comical” racial stereotypes that are offensive. Even the first Essanay film, An Awful Skate, features a white actor in blackface makeup. William Foster, an enterprising African-American theater manager, founded the first black-owned film production company in 1910. Foster has been quoted as saying, “Nothing has been done so much to awaken race consciousness of the colored man in the nation as the motion picture. It has made him hungry to see himself.” In addition to the earliest shorts by the Foster Photoplay Company, Chicago was home to many other early “race films,” including Peter P. Jones’s The Slacker in 1917 and Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates in 1919. The latter, which we discuss at length in our book’s post-script, is the earliest surviving feature film directed by an African American. It’s not only a great film, it’s a rare and invaluable document of black American culture from that era.

Q: As you mention in the book, Chicago played a role in the censorship of films. What was the legacy of Major M.L.C. Funkhouser in determining what Americans saw at the movies?

MGS: Learning about the role of Chicago’s censorship board in doing research for the book was really eye-opening. The local censorship board, under the auspices of Funkhouser, was actually stricter than the national censorship board. There are a lot of fascinating and funny stories about the board and so that ended up becoming an entire chapter in our book. Funkhouser was reactionary in harshly censoring sex, violence and political content deemed inflammatory but he was also a politically corrupt hypocrite who would throw parties and screen the naughty bits that he had ordered cut from the films. He also allowed the Chicago Tribune to print descriptions of scenes that had been censored, which resulted in him getting favorable publicity from that particular paper. He was quite a character.

Q: So, what happened? What explains the decline of the Chicago film industry?

MGS: There were a complex combination of factors that resulted in the decline of Chicago’s film empire. But, basically, it can be reduced to: 1) the two major Chicago studios were part of the Motion Picture Patents Corporation (or MPPC), a trust that Edison had established in an attempt to monopolize the industry; this trust was sued and forced to disband by the U.S. Justice Department in 1913, 2) most of the independent (i.e., non-MPPC) filmmakers had fled to southern California in order to make movies as far away from Edison and his patent-enforcing “Goon Squad” as possible and 3) the weather and geography of southern California were ultimately deemed more conducive to year-round shooting than Chicago.

(more…)

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

Interview with Michael Smith, co-author of “Flickering Empire”

Interview with Michael Smith, co-author of

“A lot of innovations came out of Chicago. There were a lot of ‘famous firsts’ for the American film industry and for movies as an art form—including the first pseudo-documentaries, the first two-reeler, the first slapstick comedy to feature a ‘pie-in-the-face-gag….’”—Michael Glover Smith

The following is part 1 of our interview with Michael Glover Smith, co-author of Flickering Empire: How Chicago Invented the U.S. Film Industry:

Question: Why does Chicago get left out of the history of early cinema in America?

Michael Glover Smith: The story of American film production begins in New York and New Jersey (where Thomas Edison was headquartered) in the late 19th century. Hollywood didn’t really become the nation’s film-producing capital until about 1915. All official histories are somewhat reductive and I think it’s been convenient for scholars and historians to just skip over the story of Chicago’s contributions to film history, which mainly occurred in in the late 1900s and early 1910s. Even though the contributions of Chicago filmmakers were enormous by any objective standard, it was a fairly narrow window of time when the film industry in Chicago was at its peak and, also, the vast majority of Chicago-made films of that era no longer exist. They’ve been destroyed or lost and it’s never been fashionable to write about films that people can’t see.

Q: How does Chicago’s role in the development change the way we think about the history of movies in America?

MGS: I think a lot of innovations came out of Chicago. There were a lot of “famous firsts” for the American film industry and for movies as an art form—including the first pseudo-documentaries, the first two-reeler, the first slapstick comedy to feature a “pie-in-the-face-gag,” the first films made by African-American directors, etc. We give a rundown in the introduction to the book. It’s entirely possible that movies as we now know them would look very different if not for the contributions of studios like Essanay and Selig-Polyscope and also the independent filmmakers (especially the aforementioned black directors).

Q: What was the role of the 1893 Columbia Exhibit in popularizing film in Chicago and the rest of the country?

MGS: The World’s Fair of 1893 had an enormous influence on the developing film industry. There were several important prototypical movie-exhibition devices that premiered there—including Eadweard Muybridge’s Zoopraxiscope and Otto Anschutz’s Tachyscope. A lot of the early Chicago filmmakers went to the Fair and were inspired to start making films based on what they saw.

(more…)

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

Interview with James Davis, author of “Eric Walrond,” Part 2

James Davis, Eric Walrond

The following is the second half of our article with James Davis, author of Eric Walrond: A Life in the Harlem Renaissance and the Transatlantic Caribbean. You can read part 1 here.

Question: One of the more fascinating aspects of your biography are your descriptions of Walrond’s youth in Panama during the building of the canal. How did this episode shape Walrond and how does the Panama of this period fit in with the larger story of the Transatlantic Caribbean in the first half of the twentieth-century?

James Davis: Walrond described himself as “spiritually a native of Panama,” despite having spent his childhood in Guyana and Barbados. Panama during the construction of the Canal (1904-1914) was at once a new frontier for a United States eager to consolidate power in the hemisphere and an extraordinarily diverse contact zone in which laborers and their families from the entire Caribbean region converged. Panama attracted people from other parts of the world, to be sure, but economic precariousness in the Caribbean led to emigration in large numbers.

The U.S. occupation imported to the Canal Zone a Jim Crow form of racial segregation, which introduced an acute form of race consciousness many West Indians had not felt previously, despite living in European colonies with perceptible hierarchies of color. Walrond was among those for whom life in Panama compelled a new self-understanding as a West Indian (rather than, more parochially, a Barbadian, Jamaican, Trinidadian, etc.) and as a Negro. Recall that outside of the United States, the most successful branches of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association emerged in Panama, where the imprint of white command was stark, and in neighboring Costa Rica, where the United Fruit Corporation, a North American concern, effectively ran things. Despite segregation in the Canal Zone, however, Walrond was inspired by Panama’s tremendous ethnic diversity; it provoked the cultural tensions, collaborations, and hybridity that always intrigued him.

Q: Jumping ahead to later in Walrond’s life, is it fair to characterize his time in England as a letdown from the promise he showed as a writer during his time in Harlem?

JD: I struggled with this exact question while writing the biography. The record is clearly stacked against Walrond’s later career; he published much less after leaving the U.S. and didn’t publish another book, despite having composed several. It’s also hard to tell the story of someone who committed himself to a mental hospital for five years late in life as anything other than a tragedy. So from a certain empirical standpoint there’s no question that Walrond’s post-Harlem career was a letdown; he felt it acutely himself.

Nevertheless, the one-hit wonder label that affixed itself to Walrond distorts the real story. Very little of Walrond’s post-Harlem writing was available to readers until recently, with Louis Parascandola’s two collections, so any assessment of promise fulfilled or unfulfilled must attend to this work. Examining it closely, placing it in context, one realizes some things that complicate the idea that his career simply declined. First, although Tropic Death contains much of Walrond’s best fiction, some of the stories he wrote in England equal or surpass its quality, and some of his non-fiction prose in England definitely rivals his work for Negro World, Opportunity, and the mainstream publications for which he wrote in the mid-1920s. It just crackles with anti-colonial militancy and acerbic wit.

Second, we should recognize that while writing by non-white Americans was published in book form with increasing frequency after World War I, it would not be until the 1950s that writing by non-white Britons – or by colonial subjects in England – appeared in book form with any regularity. Exceptions occurred but they were few and far between. The real cultural action in black letters in England was in periodicals, and here Walrond was, if not prolific, then quite present. So I don’t dispute the idea that Walrond disappointed expectations, nor do I explain away his shortcomings, but I definitely revisit the criteria by which we judge matters of success and failure and offer a sustained analysis of what his later work represents when considered on its own terms.

(more…)

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

An Interview with James Davis, Author of “Eric Walrond”

James Davis, author of Eric Walrond

The following is part 1 of our interview with James Davis, author of Eric Walrond: A Life in the Harlem Renaissance and the Transatlantic Caribbean

Question: As you describe in your book, Walrond was very much at the center of the Harlem Renaissance at the time but history has largely forgotten him at least until recently. What explains his disappearance?

James Davis: Walrond’s departure from the United States partly explains his disappearance. After 1929, he lived the rest of his life in France and England, and he did not make a great effort to maintain ties with the Harlem community. Several people who sought to contact him had trouble locating him, so there is a sense in which Walrond was responsible for his own obscurity.

He was also estranged from his family, so no one was taking care that papers and manuscripts were preserved. But there are other important factors. Remember, many writers we think of as prominent New Negroes were actually “rediscovered” after protracted neglect. The poet Countée Cullen was for much of the twentieth century not well known or admired, the novelist Nella Larsen sank into obscurity, the work of Claude McKay and Jean Toomer was neglected, as were the careers of several black women poets, and perhaps most famously, the extraordinary talent of Zora Neale Hurston was only recuperated through the efforts of Alice Walker and others. It was only a matter of time before someone reassessed Walrond’s career and writing, and in fact, that process really began in the 1980’s with Robert Bone, a scholar of African American literature. His efforts to collect Walrond’s essays, articles, and stories and to reconstruct his career led in turn to Louis Parascandola’s publication of two anthologies of Walrond’s writings.

Q: Likewise, why do you think there’s been a resurgence of interest evident not only by your book but by the recent reissue of Tropic Death?

JD: I think two overlapping developments contributed to the resurgence of interest. One is the so-called transnational turn in American studies, an effort to revise the way we talk about literary and cultural history by situating the U.S. in the context of the plural Americas. The effect of this shift has been pronounced with respect to accounts of the Harlem Renaissance, which by now everyone knows was never strictly a New York phenomenon anyway. U.S. scholars have written brilliantly in recent years on the Caribbean dimensions of the Harlem Renaissance, including Michelle Ann Stephens, Brent Edwards, Winston James, and Lara Putnam. As well, Caribbean literary studies has enjoyed a kind of renaissance of its own, not only in the U.S. but also and especially in the U.K. and the Caribbean itself. Because Walrond’s best-known work, Tropic Death, is set entirely in the Caribbean, where he was born and raised, an argument can be made for his place in the region’s rich literary history.

Q: How does Walrond’s life and writing change the way we think about the history and character of the Harlem Renaissance?

JD: Some of our conventional wisdom about the Harlem Renaissance is reinforced by Walrond’s life and writing, including the emphasis placed on racial pride and expressions of militancy and the faith in the arts as a vehicle for social change. But Walrond also challenges some received ideas about the era. His work reminds us, first of all, that nearly one-fourth of the population of black New York in the 1920s was foreign-born. This is a striking fact, since we tend to think of the Harlem Renaissance involving African American migration from the rural South to pursue economic opportunities up North, bringing their cultural practices to new urban contexts and transforming the race in the process.

Accurate as far as it goes, this is nevertheless an incomplete account of the people and forces that created black Harlem and shaped the “New Negro” movement. Even W.E.B. Du Bois, among the most astute chroniclers of black history, suppressed the Caribbean dimensions of the movement, not because he despised the foreign-born (in fact, he praised what he saw as the thrift and industry of West Indians), but because the political commitments of certain Caribbean newcomers were antithetical to the vision of race progress he formulated with the NAACP. These included Marcus Garvey, most famously, but also lesser-known Caribbean immigrants such as Hubert Harrison, W.A. Domingo, and Cyril Briggs, whose radical activism and writing departed from the ideals that Du Bois and others advocated. Both migrants and immigrants alike contributed to the “New Negro” movement, Walrond’s career reminds us, sometimes struggling over its principles and direction, but also yielding an extraordinary diversity of voices and political perspectives, some of which has been lost in the “domestication” of Harlem Renaissance history.

(more…)

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

The Nation Interviews Jeffrey Sachs

Jeffrey Sachs, The Age of Sustainable Development

“I believe that a large majority of Americans know the score right now…. They know that we should move to renewables, but the Koch brothers have more power than all of them in the way that money moves our political system right now.”—Jeffrey Sachs

Below are excerpts from a recent interview with Jeffrey Sachs published in The Nation. In the interview, Sachs discusses many of the issues from his new book The Age of Sustainable Development, including the technical and and political challenges that must be addressed to ensure the success of capping carbon emissions and paving the way for sustainable development. He also focuses on the importance of the forthcoming summit in Paris of world leaders to negotiate a binding agreement to reduce global carbon emissions.

On the importance of China and the United States working together:

“It’s a real watershed in that the two big emitting countries said we’re going to sign an agreement next year in Paris. That’s very important. The substance of it is mixed. China, for example, said it will peak by 2030. It didn’t say peak at what level, and 2030 is, after all, sixteen years from now. That offer can and should be improved considerably. The US said that it will reduce emissions by around a quarter by 2025, also not a breakthrough. And the administration said that’s what can be done using EPA regulations, rather than trying to get something through this obstructionist Senate.

So is this sufficient? No. Is it an opening gambit? I hope so. If it’s the final story before Paris, it’s not good enough. But I don’t think it will be the final story.”

On the challenges for poorer, developing countries to be green:

“Poor countries need the incremental help to develop in a clean, green and resilient way. Those who can and should pay—because they’re so rich or because they’re emitting a lot of pollutants— should put up some of the resources that are absolutely vital for poor countries. Poor countries need to be able to manage both the ongoing changes of climate and to enable the mobilization of large-scale renewable energy. Climate finance, and the broader issue of development finance, is going to be on the table in Addis Ababa in July, and there are no shared concepts yet on this. It’s one of the most difficult and still unformed parts of the whole agenda.”

On the role of oil companies:

“I think at the end of the day, the world is going to want to save itself. And this kind of traditional behavior, which after all has been the way the oil industry has worked for the hundred forty years or so of the sector, has to change. And it will change, but how fast? Tobacco use is coming down, but so gradually that there’s huge loss of life and suffering that continues decades after the dangers were discovered. With fossil fuels, it is so slow it’s threatening the planet in fundamental ways, and the whole point is we’ve got to dramatically speed up.”

(more…)

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Internet Literature in China — An Interview with Michel Hockx

Michel Hockx, Internet Literature in China

The following is an interview with Michel Hockx, author of Internet Literature in China. You can follow Michael Hockx on Twitter at @mhockx

Question: What in particular struck your interest in Chinese Internet literature that prompted you to begin researching for a book?

Michael Hockx: I was struck by the fact that there was a nationwide debate among scholars and critics in China in the year 2000 about the merits and demerits of Internet literature. The phenomenon was taken extremely seriously. Around the same time I also noticed that collections of online work were starting to come out in print. They often ended up in separate sections of bookstores marked “Internet literature.” I realized this was a new type of literature in the making and I got curious.

Q: You mention the “Great Firewall” and the misconceptions western countries have of Internet censorship in China. To what extent are Internet behaviors in China similar to, let’s say in the US? Are they as different, in terms of freedom, as Americans like to believe?

M: They are similar in the sense that the vast majority of Chinese people also use the Internet for entertainment, social media, and shopping. Most people are rarely confronted with censorship since they simply have no interest in using the Internet for politically sensitive purposes. What they do notice and what does annoy them is that the “Great Firewall” sometimes prevents them from accessing certain foreign sites, especially Facebook and Youtube. In the course of my research I once came across an official Chinese statistic showing that Youtube was in the Top 30 of most frequently visited sites in China—even though it is blocked! Lots of people go around the Firewall in order to access it.

(more…)

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

Thursday Fiction Corner: Interview with Ishmael Reed

In conjunction with Black History Month, this Thursday’s Fiction Corner features an interview of author and activist Ishmael Reed from the Dalkey “Review of Contemporary Fiction” archives. Reed is not one to mince words. The homepage of his website features blurbs from three different writers, James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Sam Tanenhaus, all praising him as, “Great,” “Great,” and “Great.”

Reed has published dozens of books, including the novels Juice!, The Free-Lance Pallbearers, The Terrible Threes, The Terrible Twos, Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down, The Last Days of Louisiana Red, and Reckless Eyeballing. He also wrote plays collected in Ishmael Reed: The Plays. See the available books here.

In this interview, Professor Reginald Martin speaks with Ishmael Reed, who excoriates a kind of “Eastern, Manhattan” intellectualism. In addition to his vociferous critique of the academic establishment, responsible, he argues, for the construction of “the black aesthetic,” their conversation veers into topics such as jazz, voodoo, and black feminism. Reed has faced backlash for his views. In a more recent interview with the Paris Review, Reed stated: “When Tupac mentioned me in a song, it compensated for all of the hostile responses to my nonfiction and fiction.” The song is ‘Still I Rise’.

The following interview was conducted July 1-7, 1983, in Emeryville, California, a suburb of Oakland and San Francisco.

REGINALD MARTIN: Camus wrote in “Neither Victims nor Executioners” that the only really committed artist is he who, without refusing to take part in the combat, at least refuses to join the regular armies and remains a freelance. In many respects, I see you that way, but many of your critics, Houston Baker, Jr., and Addison Gayle, Jr., for example, seem to throw out any possibility that issues they support may also be issues that you equally support.
ISHMAEL REED: I saw Houston Baker, Jr., recently in Los Angeles. I don’t bear any ill feelings toward him. In fact, he was very cordial toward me. I feel that the piece published in “Black American Literature Forum” that was edited by Joel Weixlmann was irresponsible, and my point is that they would never attack white writers the way they do black writers in that magazine, and I still maintain that. All these scurrilous charges that Baraka made against black writers—and I’ve discussed this with Baraka—those charges were outrageous—he called them traitors, capitulationists. (more…)

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

Interview with Thomas Doherty, author of Hollywood and Hitler

Thomas Doherty, Hollywood and Hitler

“Up until 1938-1939, there were really no anti-Nazi films from the major Hollywood studios….For most of the 1930s, the major studios were missing in action.”—Thomas Doherty

The following interview with Thomas Doherty, author of Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939, which is now available in paperback:

Question: Hollywood celebrities today are associated with a variety of different social and political causes. How was the situation different then and how did it curtail film stars’ anti-Nazi activism?

Thomas Doherty: In the 1930s, motion picture stars were typically very timorous about expressing their political opinions in public, especially if the sentiments were in any way controversial or left of mainstream opinion. Why alienate a potential customer at the ticket window? For their part, the studio heads considered the stars their own personal property, not unlike the costumes and props in the studio warehouses. They didn’t want anything to deplete the value of their investments. At first, only the most stalwart and secure actors and actresses defied convention and broke ranks.

Q: What effect if any did their activism have on shaping American attitudes towards Hitler?

TD: It’s hard to say, but the anti-Nazi activism of popular stars like James Cagney, Melvyn Douglas, John Garfield, Bette Davis, and Joan Crawford not only brought publicity to the cause but served to normalize the sentiments. The mere fact that movie stars—who more typically sold their faces for commercial endorsements—were now speaking out against Nazism, for free, made at least some people think about the reasons for the transition.

(more…)

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

An Interview with Doug Rossinow, author of The Reagan Era

The Reagan Era, Doug Rossinow

“We still live in the world Reagan and Reaganites made.”—Doug Rossinow

The following is an interview with Doug Rossinow, author of The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s.

Question: Were the 1980s really “the Reagan era”? Is it possible to exaggerate the significance of one individual leader?

Doug Rossinow: The only other leaders in twentieth-century America who compare to Reagan, in terms of being personally identified with the eras when they served as president, are Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, and maybe Teddy Roosevelt. I’d say that Reagan is more closely tied to our memories of the 1980s than Dwight Eisenhower is to those of the 1950s—and rightly so. Reagan is most like FDR: he helped shape as well as propel a political agenda and social vision that defined an era. Reagan really led a kind of movement, Reaganism, which captured the spirit of the age as well as a policy agenda.

Q: What were the characteristics or spirit of Reaganism?

DR: The key to that spirit—and to the agenda—was to elevate the status of wealth in America, and in policy terms to let the wealthy keep more of their money. A new celebration of wealth, and of capitalism, was pervasive in America during the 1980s—and, with a few hiccups along the way, it continued through the 1990s, really up until the Great Recession. Reaganism was a revitalized, energized conservative force in a very broad sense. There were Reaganite preachers and lawyers and even union leaders, not just senators and congressmen. Of course Reagan had a foreign policy agenda too. But since that agenda was driven by a newly aggressive anticommunist stance, the moral basis for Reaganism in domestic and international contexts was the same: upholding freedom, which Reaganites defined fundamentally in terms of the capacity to earn and keep wealth. In some ways we still live in the world Reagan and Reaganites made.

Q: Some people say that Reagan would have trouble getting nominated for president by today’s Republican Party, that he would seem moderate for today’s GOP, for example on an issue like immigration. Is this true? Has the Republican Party moved to the right of where Reagan was in the 1980s?

DR: Specifically on the issue of immigration, yes, Reagan’s policies would be out of step today in the Republican Party. He signed a 1986 bill that created an “amnesty” for about two million undocumented immigrants—he and others actually called it “amnesty,” which they could never do today. Reagan had a lot of sympathy with immigrants, perhaps tending to view them as people who believed in the bootstrap promise of American life in a way that many native-born Americans no longer did. He also was very libertarian at his core, and might have preferred, in a perfect world, to see open borders. So differences over immigration policy can be as much a question of which kind of conservative you are as of how conservative you are.

But more broadly, I’m not sure it’s true, in any meaningful sense, that Reagan and his GOP were more moderate than those of today. There were a larger number of moderate Republicans in Congress then, but their influence in their party was questionable. Most of them enthusiastically supported Reagan as their nominee in 1980, and when Reagan became president, the moderates went along with the essential items in his conservative agenda. The conservative agenda of today—or of George W. Bush in the 2000s—is only possible because of the conservative victories of Reaganism in the 1980s. I also think Reagan was a sufficiently skilled politician, with a keen enough sense of his own party, that if he were around today he would know how to pitch himself to Republican voters and activists.

(more…)

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

The Other Blacklist — An Interview with Mary Helen Washington

Mary Helen Washington, The Other Blacklist

“I’m trying to restore that tradition of mid-century black left radical resistance, so that we don’t remember the 1950s only as the era of ‘integration’ but as the era of black civil rights radicalism. I’m restoring the other blacklist, the black blacklist.”—Mary Helen Washington

As part of our series of posts for Black History Month, we’re re-posting our interview with Mary Helen Washington, author of The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s:

Question: Why did you choose to focus on the 1950s?

Mary Helen Washington: I came of age in the early 1950s in Catholic schools in Cleveland, Ohio, fed on a steady diet of anticommunism at school, and, at home, a steady diet of integration, but both of those prescribed lessons—anticommunism and integration—separated me from the story of radical civil rights activity. While the black left of the 1950s was protesting discrimination on every front, from residential segregation to unions and factories, we black kids were being taught that integration meant blacks becoming acceptable to the white mainstream. When the left-leaning National Negro Labor Congress (NNLC) came to Cleveland for their 1952 conference, they staged a protest downtown against the airlines for refusing to hire blacks. Since stories like these were blacklisted by the anticommunists as well as the integrationists, black kids grew up in the 1950s with no access to a critical discourse on race. Radicals used terms like white supremacy and racial justice, not integration, while black kids were learning that we should dress, act, and speak a certain way as a marker of acceptability, radicals were defining integration as claiming the rights of citizenship—as you can see from the NNLC poster featuring the Statue of Liberty as a black woman.

Q: Why did you call the book The Other Blacklist?

MHW: Most of what we know about the McCarthy era focuses on the white left. Communism is seen as a white left radicalism, though black civil rights activists were deeply involved in radical movements in the 1940s and 1950s. People who were investigated by J. Edgar Hoover for being communists were routinely asked if they were involved interracially because civil rights activity was considered radical. This is a very powerful and commendable radicalism that black people don’t get credit for. They weren’t the Hollywood Ten, but they were the New York/Chicago 100. There’s a fine documentary on screenwriter and novelist Dalton Trumbo and his admirable resistance to HUAC, but there’s no documentary on black radicals like Alice Childress, Lloyd Brown, Julian Mayfield, Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett or Lorraine Hansberry [some of the figures in my book], who also paid a price for their radicalism. I’m trying to restore that tradition of mid-century black left radical resistance, so that we don’t remember the 1950s only as the era of “integration” but as the era of black civil rights radicalism. I’m restoring the other blacklist, the black blacklist.

Q: You have a chapter called “Spycraft and the Black Literary Left.” Can you talk about the connection between government agencies, politics, and art?

MHW: Keep in mind that the Left and the Communist Party supported black artists when no one in white mainstream culture (with the exception of J. Edgar Hoover) showed any interest in black culture. They came to the defense of black culture because they saw art as a means to effect social and political change. One critic Willliam Maxwell says that Hoover should be considered an important historian of black culture because he always took black literary production seriously. The FBI files are thus a mixed blessing—a gold mine for biographical material because the FBI kept close track of the activities of radicals, and also a record of governmental abuse of artists and intellectuals. There’s a current play on Broadway about the life of Lyndon Johnson called All the Way that shows how relevant these issues still are. The character playing J. Edgar Hoover asks LBJ to justify his relationship with Martin Luther King because, Hoover claims, King is being advised by communists. The government, particularly in the age of McCarthy and Hoover, created the tradition of demonizing the Left that is still with us and that has resulted in the dismissal of an entire generation of black intellectuals and artists.

Q: Why is radicalism of the 1950s still relevant?

MHW: We’re grappling with the same issues today but without that radical perspective. I’m thinking about Rachel Jeantel in the Trayvon Martin case and all the discussion that was generated about Jeantel’s appearance and speech—the way she looked rather than the case itself. Another example is Paul Ryan saying “inner city” people live in a culture that doesn’t value work or doesn’t have a work ethic. And here we see how “inner city” becomes a code for “black.” The jurors from the Jordan Davis case in Florida, one white and one black, said that the Davis case, in which a black man was shot and killed because a white man thought his black music was too loud, was not about race. This kind of political illiteracy shows how and why we need what I call a critical racial discourse. As Boston Governor Deval Patrick said—“words matter.” Even more than words, the radical left—and, yes, I include communists– gave us examples of a powerful resistance. The Rosa Ingram case and the Trenton Six—which were also about racial violence inflicted on blacks– were fought in the courts, in the streets, and in African American artistic production. When Rosa Ingram was sentenced to death along with her two sons for killing a man she claimed had violently assaulted her, the left and civil rights groups organized the protests that eventually freed them, and, as part of that protest, artist Charles White made the Ingram case the subject of his 1949 drawing.

(more…)

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

Interview with James Powell, author of “Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences”

Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences

The following is an interview with James Powell, author of Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences: From Heresy to Truth

Question: Your 2011 book, The Inquisition of Climate Change, discusses climate deniers and the attempt to debunk the theory of climate change. In what ways did this previous work inspire you to write Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences and what were you looking to further expose in the science community?

James Powell: My interest grew gradually, beginning with my book called Grand Canyon: Solving Earth’s Greatest Puzzle. That got me interested in the Colorado River and that in turn got me wondering what the effect of global warming would be on the future flow of the river. That in turn led to Dead Pool, where I showed that the Colorado could not possibly keep up with demand in the face of rising population and also declining supply due to global warming. That made me realize that no one (at that time) had written about the denial movement, so I decided to tackle that topic it The Inquisition of Climate Science. As I said in the preface to Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences: From Heresy to Truth, I knew that scientists had at first been wrong about the age of the earth, continental drift, and meteorite impact and that led to the book in which I explore how scientists can be wrong but don’t stay wrong

Q: Your book focuses on the great discoveries of the twentieth century. Why that century and not earlier ones? Was it difficult to decide which scientists and projects to focus on?

JP: Not really difficult, because my background as a geologist had made me aware that geologists had been wrong about the age of the earth, continental drift, and meteorite impact. The reason for focusing on this century was because it was in the 1960s that each of these theories were confirmed.

Q: You consider the Space Race when discussing the discovery of meteorite impacts on the surface of the Moon. To what extent, if at all, do you believe political pressure is necessary for scientific discovery?

JP: Absolutely critical if you include research and exploration for military purposes. The scientific revolutions over continental drift, meteorite impact, and global warming would have been much delayed had it not been for the advances during WWII.

Q: Was there anything that surprised you while researching for this book?

JP: I was surprised at how thoroughly climate scientists had rejected anthropogenic global warming between 1901 and say the early 1960s. Nearly universally.

Q: You write in the preface of Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences that you were inspired to explore the ways in which science has, in fact, been wrong after arguing with a friend about global warming. How powerful do you think the effect of
misinformation is in regards to scientific progression, especially in today’s contemporary digital society?

JP: It’s huge. There is no scientific case whatsoever against anthropogenic global warming, yet roughly half the public and a majority of Republican politicians think it is wrong. To find one peer-reviewed paper that says anthropogenic global warming is wrong you have to read something like 5,000 papers!

Q: How might looking at evolutions of scientific theory to scientific discovery shed light on disputed science today?

JP: It makes you realize that when scientists have been collectively wrong, it has been because there was very little unequivocal evidence and they preferred to stick to the older theories that they had always worked under. But once the evidence gets strong enough, they had to change their minds. The evidence for anthropogenic global warming is mountain high and there is none against it

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

Interview with Houston Baker and K. Merinda Simmons, editors of The Trouble with Post-Blackness

The Trouble with Post-Blackness

“To declare oneself “post-black” is essentially to demand of a radiant tradition that it stops talking, archiving, and producing knowledge and specific forms of art, sport, and knowledge spanning millennia.”—Houston Baker and K. Merinda Simmons

Throughout this week, we’ll be featuring books relating to Black History Month. In the following post, we interview Houston Baker and K. Merinda Simmons, the co-editors of The Trouble with Post-Blackness:

Question: Your book was prepared around the time of the Trayvon Martin shooting and it serves as a point of discourse several times throughout. Do you feel that the discussion would have been radically changed had it been prepared after the Michael Brown and Eric Garner murders?

Houston Baker and K. Merinda Simmons: I am not certain the temper of the brilliant essays and reflections collected in the book would have been radically changed. The galvanizing effects of the murder of Trayvon Martin were enough in themselves to set off a cacophony of anger and events not seen in United States and global activism for an extended stretch of time. It was as though the murder of Trayvon Martin was a horrific wake up call from the ambient, narcissistic sleep of “Post-Blackness” and excessive celebrations of the second Obama presidential election. If a trajectory of disillusionment with the euphoria of Barack Obama’s double presidency is drawn, surely its major break was the murder of Trayvon Martin. Every person’s death diminishes us all. This we know. The addition of recent murders of so many other African American men, women, and children in the United States—especially from within sanctioned institutional and authoritative structures such as the police—goes beyond diminishment to devastation. Post-Blackness’s self-regarding call to seize a putative American Dream “beyond blackness” seems delusional of course in light of the brutal deaths of so many.

Q: What do you believe the election of Obama means within the context of Black history? To what extent should we categorize it as a progressive milestone, versus a symbolic achievement during a lack of significant developments in the Black experience? For instance, how do we reconcile the post-election celebrations centered on racial progress, in light of recent events in which the notion of post-blackness seems to be suffering?

HB and KMS: This is a complex question because it articulates and juxtaposes a number of shorthand terms such as “progressive milestone” and “symbolic achievement.” Milestones are always only what we make of them in symbolic systems such as “Black history” and “development” discourse. The elections of Barack Obama to the United States presidency are permanent markers of a shifted American context of presidential politics. Obama’s successful bids for the presidency were full of centrist (as opposed to “progressive”), vague, and almost speechlessly exorbitant financing. “Blackness”—in the existential sense coded in a tradition of creative resistance, militant refusal of subjugation, and studied attention to black impoverishment—had nothing to do with the presidential victories of Barack Obama. However, in this long line of coded black resistance against insuperable odds, even a day off or a small lottery win from a vending machine in a supermarket can seem like miraculous good fortune. And if it has never happened before in one’s known history it seems like the Fourth of July! There were volumes of black critique, reservation, and resistance to even the notion that Barack Obama represented a “new black messiah” come to redeem the United States and rid it of racism and black despair. But such counter-celebratory critique was ineffective at producing in-depth perspectives on Obama the candidate or the resonant inefficacy for the black majority of his run up to the election.

(more…)

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

An Interview with Minae Mizumura, author of “The Fall of Language in the Age of English”

Minae Mizumura

The following is an interview with Minae Mizumura, the author of The Fall of Language in the Age of English  

Question: It is ironic that your book on preserving languages from the tidal wave of English has now been translated into English. Can you speak about the relationship between you, Mari Yoshihara, and Juliet Winters Carpenter, the translators of the book?

Minae Mizumura: Mari Yoshihara has long been an enthusiastic fan of my novels, especially of my second, autobiographical novel that traces my growing up in the United States. She has a similar background. As soon as The Fall of Language was published, she contacted me from Hawaii, where she teaches, and offered to translate it herself. I was initially taken aback; as you point out, it seemed rather perverse that a book warning about the dominance of English should be translated into English. It took me some time to realize that what she proposed underscores the whole point of the book: in our age, ideas can spread only when translated into English. After Mari finished her translation, I worked on the manuscript to make it accessible to a wider readership. I then asked Juliet Winters Carpenter to go over it and also to let me work with her at the final stage. I knew she would say yes. Julie translated my third novel, called A True Novel, and despite being one of the most highly regarded translators in the field, she had no objection to working with me closely in Kyoto where she teaches. Very flexible and open-minded. The English version of this book owes itself to two generous souls.

Q: How did you react to the controversial reviews when your book was first released in Japan?

MM: Very much bewildered, though I never actually saw those reviews. So I said nothing publicly. Like many writers, I avoid reading what people say about my books on the Internet and ask others to filter information for me. It seems that this was a particularly wise decision when this book came out. Japan lags behind in putting together quality online book reviews. As is often the case, the online controversies took place mostly among people who hadn’t read the book. The firestorm got out of control. Rumor has it that a famous blogger, the one who unwittingly initiated the controversy by declaring that my book was a “must read for all Japanese,” got so fed up that he no longer blogs or tweets. He apologized to me for having incited such vociferous reactions but was relieved to learn that I had only a vague idea of what was being said.

(more…)

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Interview with Frederick Douglass Opie, author of “Upsetting the Apple Cart”

Upsetting the Apple Cart, Frederick Douglass Opie

Upsetting the Apple Cart reveals how when the NYPD talks about the death of Eric Garner, they view it as an incident or a moment; Black and Brown folks who support the Black Lives Matter movement talk about it as history.”—Frederick Douglass Opie

The following is an interview with Frederick Douglass Opie, author of Upsetting the Apple Cart: Black-Latino Coalitions in New York City from Protest to Public Office

Question: How did you get interested in the project?

Frederick Douglass Opie: While working on my first book Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America, I came across a set of Works Progress Administration records in the New York City Municipal Archives that described blacks and Latinos in Harlem in the 1930s eating in the same restaurants, frequenting the same nightclubs and theaters, and intermarrying. This was during the summer of 2005, and I was struck by these descriptions given the degree of separation I observed between contemporary blacks and Latinos (Ecuadorians, Dominicans, and some Puerto Ricans and Cubans) in Westchester County, just north of New York City, where I was living at the time. The contrast inspired me to explore the dynamics of African American-Latino coalitions.

Q: What are some of the distinct moments recounted in Upsetting the Apple Cart?

FDO: It tells the story about the first time that Malcolm X, at the height of his popularity in 1962, supported a labor union and the first time as Elijah Muhammad’s principal spokesman for the Nation of Islam that he joined a multiethnic coalition. The book traces the history of when large numbers of Dominicans who migrated to New York began to turn their attention away from the Dominican Republic becoming political mobilized behind African American candidate David Dinkins in 1989. It’s seasoned with recipes because throughout this history people used food to help activists do the necessary work at strategy meetings and protests to advance a cause.

Q: What role did unions play in forging alliance between Blacks and Latinos?

FDO: Labor unions helped Blacks and Latinos develop strong bonds as workers who shared a common political goal, employer, or class status. For example, Black and Latino members of Local DC 37 mobilized against President Ronald Reagan’s plan to cut spending to programs for the urban poor in order to increase spending on weapons systems and military interventions abroad. DC 37 supported the electoral campaigns of Mario Cuomo and others whose platforms addressed Reagan cuts. In addition, DC 37 participated in protest including acts of civil disobedience in their objection to the Reagan administration’s tacit support for the apartheid regime in South Africa and explicit support for authoritarian dictatorships in Central America. For many young workers this served as their foray into public protesting.

(more…)

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

An Interview with Anthony Slide, editor of “It’s the Pictures That Got Small”

The following is an interview with Anthony Slide, the editor of “It’s the Pictures That Got Small”: Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood’s Golden Age. (You can save 30% on “It’s the Pictures That Got Small” by using the coupon code SLIITS when you order from our site.)

“The two were as different as it is possible to be. Brackett was older and wiser. Wilder was young and brash. Wilder was a liberal. Brackett was a conservative—a staunch Republican—American and Episcopalian. Wilder was European and Jewish. And yet they complemented each other so well.” —Anthony Slide

Question: Who Was Charles Brackett?

Anthony Slide: Charles Brackett’s background is both patrician and literary. He came from a wealthy New England family, and in the 1920s he wrote short stories for the Saturday Evening Post, served as drama critic for The New Yorker, and was a member of the Algonquin Round Table. In 1932, Charley (as I like to call him after working with him posthumously on his diaries for so many years) came to Hollywood, and at Paramount he had a lengthy relationship, as co-writer and producer, with legendary writer-director Billy Wilder.

Q: Why are his diaries important?

AS: Charley’s diaries, as currently published, cover the years 1932-1949. (There are additional diaries for the period 1950-1962, when he was working at 20th Century-Fox, and I hope one day that they also will be published.) The diaries are unique in film history in that they are the only daily record from the period not only of the social life of a major Hollywood figure, but also the daily working of a major Hollywood studio, Paramount. I like to say that just as Samuel Pepys recorded life in seventeenth-century London, so does Charles Brackett record life in twentieth-century Hollywood.

Q: How did you find the diaries?

AS: In 2007, Jim Moore, who is Brackett’s grandson, donated the diaries, along with many of his grandfather’s papers, to the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Fortuitously, Jim had heard of my reputation in the field and approached me, initially to place a financial value on the collection. I didn’t have time back then to read all the diaries, but even so it was obvious to me, just from a sampling, that they had tremendous historical importance, and that they deserved to be read by a much wider audience than the few scholars and students who might come across them at the Academy.

Luckily, Jim was more than happy to agree to my editing the diaries, and my only regret is that it has taken an incredible eight years to complete the editing process, find a suitable publisher, and get the finished product into the bookstores. I might add that when I first started, I was scrupulously annotating almost every name and subject, but then I realized that my annotations reduced the amount of space available for Charley’s actual diary entries. I decided, perhaps with a certain amount of regret, that it was better to cut back on the annotations—after all, surely any reader of a book such as this does not need to be told who is Claudette Colbert or Gary Cooper?

(more…)

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

An interview with Daniel Yacavone, author of “Film Worlds”

Film Worlds

The following is an interview with Daniel Yacavone, author of Film Worlds: A Philosophical Aesthetics of Cinema:

Q: How would you situate Film Worlds within film theory and the expanding field of film and philosophy?

A: Over the past few decades there has been a notable turn towards philosophy in disciplinary film studies. One example is the influence of Gilles Deleuze’s writings on cinema (indebted to Henri Bergson and C.S. Peirce), which film theorists have found productive to engage with; another is the widespread interest in phenomenology – particularly Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s version of it – in relation to perceptual, affective, and ‘embodied’ aspects of films and film viewing. More or less simultaneously, within Anglophone academic philosophy there has been a renewed interest in how some films dramatize philosophical issues and problems, in the question of whether cinema can serve as a medium for philosophical thought and argument, and the relation between films and their experience and issues in the philosophy of perception, cognition, and emotion (as overlapping with cognitive film theory).

In relation to all of the above it is important to distinguish between philosophy in film and the philosophy of film. My interests have been mainly in the latter, and it is here that the long and fascinating tradition of aesthetics and the philosophy of art can be fruitfully brought to bear on certain topics in modern and contemporary film theory. Curiously, in the midst of the aforementioned philosophical turn in film theory and the growing ‘film-philosophy’ movement this is a tradition that many theorists and philosophers alike have tended to bypass, even when discussing cinematic representation, expression, authorship, and other issues that it may illuminate (there are of course notable exceptions). In its exploration of the world-like nature of films and their experience, Film Worlds attempts to show the continued relevance of insights drawn from general aesthetics and the philosophy of art to cinema and to contemporary film theory and the philosophy of film. (more…)

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

Two interviews with Daniel Cloud on “The Domestication of Language”

The Domestication of Language

This week our featured book is The Domestication of Language: Cultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal, by Daniel Cloud. Throughout the week, we will be posting content from and about the book and it’s author. Today, we are happy to present two podcast interviews with Daniel Cloud, one from the New Books In network and one from the Smart People Podcast.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for The Domestication of Language!

First, Cloud spoke with the New Books in Big Ideas podcast about the puzzles raised by looking at prehistoric linguistics through an evolutionary eye, in particular: “why is human language and culture so astoundingly complex?” (more…)

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

Humans Aren’t Influenced by Culture–We Create It

The Domestication of Language

This week our featured book is The Domestication of Language: Cultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal, by Daniel Cloud. Throughout the week, we will be posting content from and about the book and it’s author. Today, we have excerpted parts of “Humans Aren’t Influenced by Culture–We Create It,” an interview with Daniel Cloud that appeared in Quartz. You can read the interview in its entirety here.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for The Domestication of Language!

Quartz: The first chapter of your book discusses the origin of words. If we were to ask the average person, “Where do words come from?” what do you think would be the most common answer?

Daniel Cloud: They’ll think about it carefully for a minute or two and they’ll report out some version of behaviorism. They’ll say, “Well, there must have been two monkeys sitting around, one of the monkeys made a noise every time it did some action, other monkeys came to associate that noise with the action, and then we went on from there.” I think that’s the cultural myth about this. That’s the image of the origin of language that’s been dominant since the Greeks.

Quartz: So according to this idea, the development of language is completely out of our control.

Cloud: Well, that’s one thing that’s wrong with it. It’s not faithful to psychological reality or everyday life. I guess I would call it science fiction. It’s a theory about some events that happened in the distant past, which nobody ever observed, but that seem plausible. Things like that are inevitably just some old bit of philosophy that somebody dredged up. (more…)