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

Roy Harris / Pulitzer's Gold

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 Interviews' Category

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017

Safwan Masri on the success of Tunisian democracy after the Arab Spring

Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly

This week, our featured book is Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly, by Safwan M. Masri, with a foreword by Lisa Anderson. Today, we are happy to present three videos from Masri’s recent talk at George Washington University in which he introduces his book, discusses the four factors that have led to the unique success of Tunisia’s post-Arab Spring democracy, and delves into what makes Tunisia’s Ennahda Movement so special. (more…)

Friday, September 29th, 2017

Trickster Tales and “True Crime”: An Interview with Christopher Rea and Bruce Rusk, translators of The Book of Swindles

Book of Swindles
This week, we introduced The Book of Swindles, a chronicle of scams and deception from Ming China. These stories of fortunes made and lost, of cunning crooks and unsolved crimes make us ask: was swindling so widespread in 1600s China? What caused the profound social changes and moral anxiety at the time?

To learn more about the stories’ background, we talked to Christopher Rea and Bruce Rusk, professors at the University of British Columbia and translators of The Book of Swindles. They told us about rising consumer culture in the early modern period, parallels with American literature, and Zhang Yingyu’s “delight in criminal cleverness.”

Question: You write in the introduction to The Book of Swindles that Zhang Yingyu’s time, the early 1600s, was one of rapid social and economic change. Why was the Ming empire suddenly so commercialized and its roads and rivers busy with itinerant merchants? Many of Zhang’s stories are set in coastal provinces like Fujian. If we were to travel with him across late-Ming Fujian, what would we see that was new and different?

BR: First, we’d see a lot of merchants—and even more porters and boatmen—carrying goods over long distances, some for domestic markets and some coming from, or bound for, overseas. We’d encounter other travelers of many kinds, such as opera troupes, itinerant doctors, and even some we could classify as tourists, male and female, going to see famous sights, to perform pilgrimages to holy mountains, or to do a little of both. More than ever before, we’d pass through villages devoted to the production of a single commodity such as fruit or ceramics, whose producers would use the revenue to buy their staples, such as grain produced in other areas. And in the towns and villages we would see many signs of rising prosperity, people of middling status who owned works of art, books, and fancy clothes; some had hobbies such as goldfish-raising or bonsai. Many contemporary writers remarked on these changes, often seeing them as illustrating a decline from the ideal social order. To them, one of the ills of the age was a new fluidity of social status resulting not only from new wealth but also the increasing need to interact with strangers of uncertain background either in populous cities or “on the road,” in inns, taverns, and on boats. These anonymous and transitory spaces were perfect settings for the shape-shifting swindler.

Modern economic historians disagree about exactly what factors caused these broader economic developments. Some point to favorable climate trends. Others emphasize the role of huge amounts of silver—the main form of money in the period—coming in from new mines in Japan and the New World. Foreign traders used silver to purchase Chinese goods such as tea, silk, and porcelain and this trade increased the money supply in the late Ming economy. Internal factors include a long period of relative stability that allowed local, regional, and long-distance trade networks to develop, which fostered more efficient, specialized production in agriculture and industry. Swindlers and other criminals were all too ready to siphon off these new flows of goods and money.

Q: Zhang ends each tale with a moral lesson, yet the stories are clearly also meant to entertain. As you point out, a story like “A Eunuch Cooks Boys to Make a Tonic of Male Essence” is long on scandal and social criticism and short on helpful advice. Who was The Book of Swindles written for, and what would you say is its closest contemporary equivalent in terms of genre?

CR: Well, the “Male Essence” story does teach people with sons not to sell them to eunuchs—who in the late Ming numbered in the tens of thousands and who did purchase boy servants—but my hunch is that at-risk readers of that particular swindle were few. Zhang often panders to popular prejudices about eunuchs, monks, women, and government underlings. You could say his commentary is a mix of moral posturing and earnestness. Still, his stories do educate as they entertain. “Male Essence” is a good example: its sensationalism notwithstanding, it actually begins with a polemic about taxation.

As for audience, most of the stories involve merchants, and Zhang discusses their interests extensively, so it seems likely that they were his primary intended readership. He expresses sympathy with men who get lonely on the road, and notes that this makes them vulnerable to false friends. He gives detailed advice about the handling of silver. He suggests ways to vet potential business partners. But he also offers a much wider variety of scenarios of how people perpetrate and foil fraud at home, on the road, in the marketplace, in court and in courtship. As we mention in our introduction, one of the fun things about this book is that it can be read for fun and profit.

BR: One additional hint to the audience is the language of the stories: it’s simple, but it follows the syntax of Literary Chinese (aka Classical Chinese), not the more colloquial language of some novels and stories of the same period. But it is also short on the sort of allusions and historical references a more scholarly work would contain. So it was probably aimed at readers with the kind of literacy that many merchants at the time would have had, enough to write letters, keep accounts, draw up contracts, and make use of books for practical and religious purposes as well as for entertainment.

CR: As for genre, works like The Book of Swindles are easy to find in China nowadays. Some collections actually pair stories about contemporary scams with stories about historical swindles under titles like Panorama of Swindles Old and New, and even include story-end commentaries à la Zhang Yingyu. So, you can find pretty exact genre equivalents in the Chinese-language book market today. “True crime” stories would be an approximate genre category in English, and there are links to folklore such as trickster tales. You also have a similar impulse to compile stories of trickery in anthologies like Michael Farquhar’s A Treasury of Deception: Liars, Misleaders, Hoodwinkers, and the Extraordinary True Stories of History’s Greatest Hoaxes, Fakes, and Frauds (2005).

BR: Entertainment is definitely one of the “hooks” of the Book of Swindles, even when it purports to teach a moral lesson. This is true of much Chinese fiction of the period, however tenuous the link between story and moral might be. It’s also true of a lot of writing about swindles from around the world—for example, American novels like Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade, and of course much of Mark Twain. The Book of Swindles shares a delight in criminal cleverness with these works and with other Ming dynasty collections of stories about ingenious officials who catch often equally ingenious lawbreakers. Unlike that kind of “case fiction” (gong’an xiaoshuo), however, the Book of Swindles usually has the criminal outsmart the detective, or makes it a merchant or other unofficial party who gets to the bottom of the case. In this way it’s strikingly different from most of the fiction of its time.

Q: Several stories concern scams perpetrated by women. As you summarize in the introduction, “Women seduce merchants far from home, prostitute female relatives, frame innocent men, steal horses on the highway, and enter into sham marriages for purposes of murder and extortion.” How does Zhang portray gender? Does the book show any changes in, or anxieties about gender roles in Ming China?

CR: The Book of Swindles is about how to recognize tell-tale signs that you’re being had, so its main concern is with showing typical scenarios and behaviors. Characters do have names, but they tend appear less as individuals than as representatives of certain social types. Women, scholars, government clerks, brokers, Daoist priests—Zhang objectifies them all. He does make admiring comments about the brilliant schemes in the first two stories of the “Women” swindles section, especially in the excellent “Three Women Ride Off on Three Horses.” But then we have categorical statements like this one: Even the chastest of women, without exception, will be led into sin if she encounters and is enticed by a licentious woman.

Zhang’s representations of women, prejudicial though they are, don’t represent the main anxiety about changing social roles in his collection. Looming much larger, to me anyway, is his sense that merchants are being too cavalier in handling their money and in trusting people they encounter while traveling. While the courts sometimes do help a dupe obtain restitution, in most stories it’s clear that a man going out on business has to rely mostly on his wits—and the accumulated vicarious knowledge offered by The Book of Swindles—to keep him safe.

Q: Which is your favorite story in the book, and why?

CR: The two in the “Poetry” swindles section were a delight to translate; see especially the pleasure boat poem in “Chen Quan Scams His Way into the Arms of a Famous Courtesan.” Plus, I like the idea of poets as swindlers. I enjoy Zhang’s comment on the “painless scam” in “Forged Letters from the Education Intendant Report Auspicious Dreams,” which was based on a true story. And the four-in-one appearing under the title “A Geomancer Uses His Wife to Steal a Good Seed” made me rethink what it means to be the victim of a swindle.

BR: I am taken with the audacity of the monk in “A Buddhist Monk Identifies a Cow as His Mother,” in which the cleric uses simple, even childish, tricks to spin yarns about past lives and promises of a better rebirth.

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

Interview with Thomas J. Kitson, translator of Iliazd’s Rapture

Iliazd’s Rapture is the newest title in the Russian Library, a series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.

Thomas J. Kitson will be speaking about Rapture with Jennifer Wilson on Thursday, May 4th at 5:00 PM at NYU’s Jordan Center. More information here

Enter the Rapture Book Giveaway here

Rapture

Today Veniamin Gushchin, CC ’18, Russian Library Intern interviews Thomas J. Kitson about his translation of Rapture by Iliazd

What makes Rapture a classic of literary modernism, worthy of being read alongside the works of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and others? Why has it been ignored for so long?

I’ll take your second question first. Rapture got off to a bad start in the politically touchy and rapidly shifting Russian publishing milieu of the late 1920s, both in the Soviet Union and in the Emigration. But Iliazd took a stance that tended to undermine his own cause – and eventually, this became a fully conscious campaign to create art that would “vanish idly,” like the storied hidden treasures in the novel. When Iliazd began writing his novel in 1926, there was every indication Soviet publishers wanted to establish ties with left-leaning émigré writers. Iliazd sent the first chapters to his brother Kirill in the USSR, expecting it would appear alongside works by “fellow travelers” like Isaac Babel, Boris Pilnyak and other authors who had been moving more or less fluidly between Moscow, Berlin, and Paris. Kirill submitted the manuscript just when those publishing opportunities started disappearing. A new “proletarian” campaign in literature, not just against fellow travelers and their favored journal, Red Virgin Soil, but also against the avant-garde gathered around the journal LEF, including Vladimir Mayakovsky, coincided with Stalin’s consolidation of power within the Party. Iliazd’s manuscript was rejected on a combination of aesthetic and ideological grounds (reads like it’s been translated, “clumsy,” even “illiterate”; opens with a monk, displays “aesthetico-contemplative indifference to characters” and entertains a “mystical state of the spirit”). Iliazd wrote an exaggeratedly tendentious, almost mocking rejoinder to the Soviet editors emphasizing his “internationalism” and asserting that he’d been in the crowd that greeted Lenin at Finland Station in April 1917. But under conditions in the Soviet Union in 1928, his avant-garde pedigree and émigré status made him profoundly suspect. To my knowledge, his contacts in the USSR never made another attempt to publish the novel, although copies of it circulated among a small group of admirers in the 1930s. So for the vast majority of Russian readers, the novel never existed at all.

In Paris, Iliazd had taken a resolute stance against the anti-Soviet émigré arbiters of culture who controlled access to the Russian-language press, and there simply wasn’t a sufficiently large Russian-speaking audience independent of those organs. Iliazd’s associates, like the Dada writer and painter Sergei Charchoune and the younger poet Boris Poplavsky, had, one by one, “compromised” for the sake of being able to publish. Again, as far as I know, Iliazd never made any overture at all to the main Russian-language publishers, and even preferred unrealized schemes to translate the novel into French. He gave away a large number of the 750 copies he published at his own expense in 1930, and Russian bookstores refused to carry what was left on the pretext that it included several obscenities. Iliazd’s marketing strategy was openly challenging to potential buyers: “If you’re that inhibited, don’t read it!” So it disappeared there, too.
When Iliazd later gained a reputation in France as a printer and publisher of artists’ books, Rapture didn’t have the visual appeal to overcome its inaccessibility to non-Russian readers. It’s an indication of how thoroughly forgotten the novel was that it didn’t have champions to publish it during the Glasnost explosion. Luckily, there have been connoisseurs over the last thirty years, in and outside Russia, to keep pushing it forward in small editions. I find myself thinking that this is probably the most high-profile publication the novel has ever had, and that puts a lot of responsibility on me.

The novel’s modernism lies primarily in its post-Great War, post-Christian exploration of human desire for transcendence. Humans are thoroughly unnatural, time-bound, dying animals whose relentless artifice inevitably creates nostalgia for Nature, or the Infinite, or Unchanging Eternity, or Ideal Beauty, and efforts to “recover” these unattainable states exact a certain quantity of violence of one kind or another. Beneath his entertaining adventure story, Iliazd introduces Freudian drives, linguistic minimal phonetic pairs, Nietzschean jenseits, chivalric quests and fairy-tale tasks, mythologies of metamorphosis, including Christian Transfiguration and Resurrection, Romantic and Symbolist longing for the Eternal Feminine, and various strains of apocalypticism, among other features, to generate layers of meaning. Iliazd considered his novel above all a “commentary on… poetry as an always vain endeavor.” It is full of allusion, but also poetically structured (circularly, like many other modernist works) with rhyme, inversion, and recapitulation. And it wears all this remarkably lightly.

What new insights about the competing literary movements at the beginning of the twentieth century can be gained from Rapture?

Laurence, the protagonist, is said to be a portrait of Vladimir Mayakovsky, and the bare storyline grows out of a transparent pre-war polemic in which Zdanevich (not yet known as Iliazd) described a film scenario called “The Fallen Man,” a melodrama about a promising young revolutionary’s utter degradation and dishonorable death. While Iliazd could still be intransigent, I think what he saw during the war took away his unforgiving polemic edge, and Rapture is suffused with sympathy and self-deprecation – all poets are necessarily failures. We know that when Futurist and Acmeist poets rejected their Symbolist fathers, they retained, as with any Oedipal response, many of their fathers’ techniques and attitudes. The French scholar Régis Gayraud is absolutely right to see in Rapture “a return to a species of Symbolism bearing the experience of the avant-garde.” I suspect there may be a much harsher inscription of Nikolai Gumilev, the Acmeist leader executed by the Bolsheviks, lurking in the novel, but that’s something I haven’t dealt with.

I also hope, since Iliazd was close to Paul Eluard and frequently attended Surrealist meetings where Freud, Gothic novels, and German Romanticism were among the topics, someone will put this novel in conversation with the Surrealist prose emerging at the same time, like Louis Aragon’s Paris Peasant and André Breton’s Nadja.

In translating Rapture, how did you navigate the multiple layers of cultural distance between the English-language reader and the text: first Russian, then Georgian?

Oddly, I didn’t feel that I needed to mediate much here. There’s an ongoing debate about where the novel is set (Soviet editors, to start with, didn’t like its lack of specified time and place). I lean toward agreeing with Elizabeth Beaujour that it’s simply set among mountain peoples, and there’s no need to specify more than Iliazd does. Iliazd loved the village culture of Georgia (and of the Anatolian areas he explored during a wartime archaeological expedition), but he also loved the Pyranees, and Petr Kazarnovskii makes a case for linking Rapture to the Albanian mountain settings that inspired Zdanevich’s first play. There are features that suggest a setting in the Russian Empire, but, once again, I don’t feel compelled to set that down in stone, and, in fact, I think the novel gains, especially on the mythical and fairy-tale levels, by leaving the question open. I deliberately translate vodka as “brandy” just for that reason. There’s a lovely interplay between the openness of “Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away” and maddeningly detailed descriptions of seemingly fantastic ethnographic practices and beliefs that turn out to be lifted almost verbatim from Iliazd’s notes about specific villages he visited. I want English-language readers to be immersed in minute detail when Iliazd decides to give it without breaking the effect of fantasy – and the same holds for the urban settings with their commercial phantasmagoria and the Party’s revolutionary striving for “expedient coercion.”

Rapture is rich in literary and historical references, especially to the Russia literary scene at the turn of the century. For English-language readers with little to no knowledge of the Russian literary tradition, do you believe this text is truly accessible? To what extent?

I think the novel can be enjoyed without being able to catch all the allusions (I certainly haven’t). Many English-language readers are familiar with Dostoevsky and will certainly find that characters and situations from his major novels come to mind. Readers who know modern French poetry will find echoes of Baudelaire and Rimbaud (for instance, the monk Mocius sees a satyr gnawing a rifle barrel). I have incorporated some vocabulary and phrasing from the King James Version of the Bible, which I hope will sound in many English-language readers’ ears. Some allusions, like Laurence’s invocation of Boris Pasternak when he vows to wed the government’s soldiers to “our sister death,” are extremely fleeting, but will probably register with some readers. I think the book will reward any level of reading experience for curious, intelligent readers.

When I’m feeling very inadequate as a translator, I imagine Rapture could warrant something like Yale University Press’s simultaneous publication of two versions of Máirtín ´O Cadhain’s Cré na Cille (The Dirty Dust and Graveyard Clay), where the alternate version would focus sharply on another level of puns and allusions that results in an entirely different book.

Translators generally fall along a spectrum regarding how faithfully they believe a translation should adhere to a source text. Where do you fall on this spectrum of remaining to true to the text and making it accessible to the reader?

I don’t think of remaining true and making it accessible as mutually exclusive tasks. I think the text can have some odd features and still be accessible, especially because I imagine a reader with a generous tolerance for what’s unfamiliar. In part, remaining true to this text meant taking into account the specific kinds of incomprehension or bewilderment evident in the fragmentary accounts of the manuscript’s effect on its first readers. I was particularly drawn to the impression that the novel had been translated from another language into Russian. How should I handle that in my own, actual translation? I retained a few syntactic and punctuation features I thought might create just a slight edge of unease. They were flagged at the proofreading stage, so they were perceptible, but we agreed that they didn’t impede reading. But my sense of hitting the right balance depends on the text. If I were tackling Zdanevich’s beyonsense plays, I’d have a very different feeling for what I want readers to have access to.

What are your hopes for this publication? Do you have any particular expectations for its reception or impact both on academia and general readership?

As I mentioned above, I feel like this translation has the potential to introduce Rapture to readers on a scale it’s never achieved. Today, the sheer fact of making it available in English already provides a huge advantage. I fantasize that bilingual Russian speakers will encounter it and want to read Iliazd’s Russian.

At the same time, I hope Rapture finds a place for general readers alongside Dostoevsky and Bulgakov, but also alongside Woolf and Lawrence and Mann. And, in a sense, I hope readers will think of it not as a Russian novel, but as an important element in a much broader literary heritage.

Are you interested in translating any of Iliazd’s other novels or works?

I’m currently translating Iliazd’s Philosophia, set in 1921 among Russian refugees in Istanbul — a psychologically and referentially paranoid novel moving toward a terrorist plot to blow up Hagia Sophia. It feels very timely.

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

Writing “Social Work Science”

Social Work Science

The following post is an interview with Ian Shaw, author of Social Work Science:

Right through its history there have been those who believe social work will be all the better for being regarded as in some sense as a science. I guess you are adding to this debate?

Well, I feel uncomfortable with this way of seeing things. Is social work a science? I believe for various reasons that will surface through the book that this is an unhelpful question. No social work is free from science. The ambiguous implications of these words permeate all I have written. I am not offering incorrigible assertions. For example, I distinguish evidence, understanding and justice but I do not seek to separate them. I am engaged much in defining, distinguishing, and connecting. In so doing I do not aim for some lowest common denominator. This I find of little use. It would be a poor social work science that contented itself with distilling what all statements about it have in common. While it is of undoubted use to identify what social work science in its varied manifestations has in common, it is equally, maybe more important to identify and describe its particularities. Thus I doubt it is feasible to find in a single statement (or even two or three) some way of capturing the essential meaning of social work science.

So how have you tried to approach this?

I see the work of science as a form of social action marked by a complex interplay of choice, action, and constraint. In principle I am not opposed to the idea that science in its relation to social work may be expressed rationally and, I would possibly say, systematically. But this is not in any exhaustive sense the organizing purpose of how I see their relationship, which frequently is more occasional, historical, and contextual. Augustine spoke of the doctrine of the Trinity as a fence around a mystery – i.e. it tells us what it is not and not quite what it is. I might say likewise of this essay. I am trying at best to offer not an entire body but a skeleton without which the social work science body will be flabby and misshapen. But this is some way from saying that social work as such is a science. This book is called Social Work Science to capture the multifarious ways in which, for good or ill, social work is never free of science, and to bypass the miserable connectors, ‘and,’ ‘in,’ ‘of,’ and even ‘for,’ that seem to duck out of some of the important questions. (more…)

Friday, July 15th, 2016

Writing “States of Nature, Stages of Society”

States of Nature, Stages of Society

The following post is an interview with Frank Palmeri, author of State of Nature, Stages of Society: Enlightenment Conjectural History and Modern Social Discourse:

What did you find most interesting in the course of your research for State of Nature, Stages of Society? Did you find anything that surprised you in the documents and texts you consulted?

I was able to consult many fascinating texts in my research—including scores of articles from the earliest anthropology journals in the 1860s. But the documents I found most compelling were the notes Charles Darwin made when he was preparing his thoughts and materials for writing the Descent of Man, which was published in 1871. Darwin left all his papers to Cambridge University, and they are still kept in the library there, in the boxes in which they originally arrived. I needed to go through box numbers 81-83 for his notes and papers from 1868-69.

In the first place, Darwin’s writing is extremely difficult to read, so it took me a couple of weeks to learn how to make out what he was saying in these notes. I was trying to see if there was any record that he was thinking of the conjectural historians as he wrote his own history of the early transition of mankind from our ape-like ancestors to human beings. As soon as I began looking, I was actually surprised to find that he had indeed been thinking about the conjectural historical thinkers, some of whom he had read earlier in his education—for example, in his time at Cambridge. He referred many times to Bernard Mandeville, David Hume, and Adam Smith, as well as the eccentric Lord Monboddo, who believed that chimpanzees (he called them orangutans) were the same species as humans and were capable of speech. (more…)

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

Debunking the Myth That Lincoln Was Gay

Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln

“I’d been working on Lincoln since 1973. But he’s such a profound man with such a wonderful sense of humor, so appealing, so he draws you in. He’s such a brilliant writer. Every story about Lincoln, whether it’s in the oral history, whether it’s something he wrote, it’s always interesting. He’s just an appealing human being. I don’t think he was so modest. On the other hand, he wasn’t wildly grandiose. There’s a difference. He was aware of his own greatness.” — Charles Strozier

This week, our featured book is Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, by Charles B. Strozier. Today, for the final day of the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt of Strozier’s interview with Ronald K. Fried at The Daily Beast. Read the interview and accompanying article in full on The Daily Beast‘s website.

[Ronald K. Fried] spoke with Strozier at his Greenwich Village psychoanalytical office. The following is an edited version of [their] conversation.

RKF: How common was it for men to share the same bed during Lincoln’s time?

Charles Strozier: Very common. One guy has counted 14 people—men— Lincoln slept with before he slept with Speed. Inns at the time were really just homes where they finished the loft. They weren’t hotels like we have now. They were just hostels, where you have the men over here and the women over there. But individual biography is not always congruent with social custom. The fact that it was common for men to sleep together doesn’t mean that it was of no significance that Lincoln at this crucial moment in his life slept for nearly four years with his absolute best friend. The question is, what does it mean?

Friendship between men in Lincoln’s time was very different, right?

I think the historical context is really important to understand. Now where homosexuality is so much more accepted, legitimated, and even affirmed as it should be in gay marriage, we accept males loving one another and being sexual with one another. But in the 19th century, the taboo of homosexuality is absolutely rigid. Whitman was gay. He had to stay in the closet. Sodomy, buggery, was illegal and severely prescribed. But friendship, intimate, loving friendship like that between Lincoln and Speed, was not only accepted but encouraged as the long as the boundary against sexualization was rigidly and absolutely maintained.

But couldn’t you say that homosexuality was so severely punished that Lincoln—if he were gay—would have had to hide it?

Of course. It’s a perfect reasonable question, and that’s why I had to look at the evidence for whether or not it was legitimate. And, of course, it’s hard to answer a negative. First of all, Herndon [Lincoln’s eventual biographer], who lived in the same room for two years [with Lincoln and Speed], not only never mentioned it, he never had a clue. And no one would have been more interested in anything homosexual about Lincoln. Not a single person Herndon talked to mentioned it. (more…)

Friday, May 13th, 2016

Dharma and Drugs

Altered States

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. In the final post of the week’s feature, we are happy to share Douglas Osto’s conversation with Erik Davis on the Expanding Mind podcast as they talk perennialism, experiential narratives, the limits of reason, and Altered States.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Altered States!

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

A conversation with Norton Reamer and Jesse Downing, authors of “Investment: A History”

Investment: A History

“[T]he basic principles of investing are timeless, even as the economic and social stakes grow higher. The challenge will be to harness all that increasing sophistication to further push the democratization of investment, and in that regard we are optimists.” — Norton Reamer and Jesse Downing

This week, our featured book is Investment: A History, by Norton Reamer and Jesse Downing. In the first post of the week’s feature, we are happy to present an interview with Reamer and Downing in which they discuss their goals for the book, important changes in the history of investing, and what the future holds for investors.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Investment: A History! You can also learn more about the book and its authors on the Investment: A History webpage and Youtube channel!

What will readers find in Investment: A History?

The book explains key elements in the long history of investment. Each chapter includes important stories and lessons that are intended to illustrate crucial dimensions of the investment world, as they have developed over the centuries. Our goal is to increase understanding of the investment practices and opportunities of today by understanding the history of investing.

In broad scope, what are the most important findings in the book?

Most people will be surprised to find out how remarkably uncomplicated it is to be a sensible investor, and in that regard we identified four basic investing principles. First, look at every investment as “real.” That is, when you invest, you own the underlying asset—e.g., with stocks you are buying a piece of a corporation. Don’t be distracted by the paper form of the investment. Understand the basics of whatever entity you are buying.

Second, it’s all about fundamental value, where “value” is determined by the value today of future cash flows that the investment may produce over its lifetime. Third, intelligent use of financial leverage is a legitimate tool for investors; in fact, it has helped build most of the great fortunes of history. Of course, excessive leverage can be extremely dangerous because all leverage will multiply returns—either positively or negatively. Finally, the most basic management skill is resource allocation: i.e., the effective allocation of capital and human resources.

Investing did not always exist in its current form. What were the precursors to the current investment landscape?

With ancient and pre-modern investment, we emphasize three areas: the basic investment vehicles of early history; the extreme inequality in the distribution of investment opportunity and benefit; and the surprising sophistication of some early investment vehicles, strategies, and purposes.

We believe that, to grasp the reality and significance of investment as a fundamental human activity, it’s necessary to begin in ancient times and understand the roles of agricultural land, lending and trade in the ancient world. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that by today’s standards, it took an astonishing amount of wealth and power to even qualify to be an ‘investor.’ Finally, we felt it was essential to understand that in some respects—despite a lack of investment diversity and the absence of equality—investment even in those early days had features that were remarkably sophisticated and prescient. (more…)

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

Alexandra Lutnick on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: Beyond Victims and Villains

Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking

Read excerpts from a Twitter Chat interview with Alexandra Lutnick, author of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: Beyond Victims and Villains, hosted by @DontSellBodies.

Friday, January 8th, 2016

An Interview with Colin Dayan

With Dogs at the Edge of Life

“It’s the relation between humans and dogs that matters to me, and what that tells us over time about what we have become as a society.” — Colin Dayan

This week, our featured book is With Dogs at the Edge of Life, by Colin Dayan. In the first of two posts today, we are happy to present an interview with Colin Dayan recorded by Vanderbilt University, along with an excerpt from the article posted with the video.

Professor offers unsettling look at humanity with study of people and their dogs
By Ann Marie Deer Owens

A Vanderbilt University professor has researched true stories of people and their dogs—some tender and some disturbing—to make a compelling case for re-thinking our treatment of both of them.

Colin Dayan, the Robert Penn Warren Professor in the Humanities and professor of American studies in the College of Arts and Science, is the author of With Dogs at the Edge of Life (Columbia University Press, 2016).

Dayan, who is also a professor of law, emphasized that it’s the relationship between dogs and humans that is important to her research. The actions surrounding that relationship provide tremendous insight into what we have become as a society.

“The book is making a plea for us to think differently about our relationships because this is a time, as I see it, of extinctions,” Dayan said. “Certain groups of people and certain kinds of dogs are labeled and easily disposed of.”

(more…)

Friday, November 20th, 2015

An interview with Sonja Arntzen

The Sarashina Diary

“[T]he advent in recent decades of ‘blogging’ makes Heian diaries and particularly The Sarashina Diary easier to appreciate as private texts directed toward a public audience. In the three years that our Sarashina Diary manuscript was experimentally shared in successive courses at the University of British Columbia, students kept mentioning that it had the feel of a blog. Although the content was personal and seemingly spontaneous as to choice of material, one could sense the author shaping her story to reach out to unspecified others who might choose to ‘tune in’ to her private world.” — Sonja Arntzen

The following is an interview with Sonja Arntzen who cotranslated and cowrote the introduction to The Sarashina Diary: A Woman’s Life in Eleventh-Century Japan, by Sugawara no Takasue no Musume.

Q. The jacket covers of both your translation of The Sarashina Diary and the 1971 translation by Ivan Morris use the same panel, Azumaya 1, from the mid-12th-Century Tale of Genji Scroll. Why is that?

Sonja Arntzen: That particular section of the scroll gestures to key elements of The Sarashina Diary. First of all, the diary bears witness to the author Sugawara Takasue no Musume’s lifelong fascination with fiction, which was centered on the great Tale of Genji. As the opening of the diary proclaims, “however it was that I first became enthralled with them, once I knew that such things as tales existed in the world, all I could think of…was how much I wanted to read them.” She goes on to relate how the oral retellings of tales by her sister and step-mother introduced her to fiction.

The scene in the Azumaya panel shows how monogatari “tales” were shared in a social context by women in the Heian period. It illustrates an episode in which Naka no Kimi, wife of Genji’s grandson Prince Niou, is meeting her half-sister Ukifune for the first time. Ukifune, having been raised in the distant Eastern province of Hitachi, has just come back to the capital seeking to make contact with distant kin. Naka no Kimi did not receive Ukifune immediately on her arrival because it turned out to be an auspicious day for Naka no Kimi to have her hair washed, a task of considerable effort when one’s hair was the length of one’s own height, the typical fashion for aristocratic women of the period. Naka no Kimi is shown in the lower left corner of the panel with a servant combing out her wet hair. While Ukifune was waiting to meet her sister, Prince Niou had happened upon this new woman in his wife’s apartment and immediately attempted to seduce her. (Prince Niou’s impetuous and lustful nature propels important plot-lines in the latter chapters of the Tale of Genji.) Ukifune is mortified; Naka no Kimi knows from her servants what has occurred, all of which makes this an awkward social moment. To smooth things over, Naka no Kimi has one of her attendants read from the text of a tale (see the figure immediately to Naka no Kimi’s right holding a book) while Ukifune (figure at the top right) peruses the illustrations. It was the 11th century equivalent of turning on the TV to defuse embarrassment. In short, this panel gives remarkable insight into the consumption of tale literature as part of women’s social interaction in the period and therefore why Takasue no Musume would choose addiction to fiction as one theme for her life. (more…)

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

Ky Trang Ho talks to Tren Griffin about Charlie Munger

Charlie Munger

“There are many great investments that Munger has made, but arguably none was more important than the purchase of See’s Candies. It was the first investment made by Munger and Buffett for which they paid a purchase price reflecting a bargain based on qualitative factors.” — Tren Griffin

This week our featured book is Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor, by Tren Griffin. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from an interview with Tren Griffin, conducted by Ky Trang Ho and originally posted at Forbes. In the interview, Griffin and Ho discuss the inspiration behind the book, some of Charlie Munger’s greatest investment hits, Munger’s greatest investment failures, and much more!

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor!

Berkshire’s Charlie Munger: The Legendary Investor’s Strategy And Best ETF, Mutual Fund Picks
Ky Trang Ho and Tren Griffin

Ho: What inspired you to write a book about Charlie Munger?

Griffin: During the peak of the Internet bubble I began to search for an explanation of what was happening in the world since it made little sense to me at that time. Far too much paper wealth was being created far too quickly for what was happening during this bubble to be real. I had for many years been aware of the work and writing of Warren Buffett but decided at that time to re-read his work and think about it much more deeply.

I took off a full week from work to re-read everything he had ever written and think about it. As part of that process I was attracted more and more to the ideas and methods of Charlie Munger who was mentioned and talked about in this material written by and about Buffett. To understand Munger better I decided to compile his work from various sources into a private book written just for me. Writing about anything helps you understand the topic better. It forces you to think everything through from start to finish.

Warren Buffett has said that if you can’t write it down, you have not thought it through. As I compiled the material and wrote about Munger I began to understand his methods better and that they are applicable far beyond investing. (more…)

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

Watch Gabriel Weimann discuss “Terrorism in Cyberspace”

Terrorism in Cyberspace

This week our featured book is Terrorism in Cyberspace: The Next Generation, by Gabriel Weimann, with a foreword by Bruce Hoffman. Today, we are happy to present a video interview with Weimann from the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Wilson Center Now, in which Weimann discusses his new book, the current state of cyberterrorism, and what governments can do in response.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Terrorism in Cyberspace!

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…)

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

How Expectations and Uncertainty Affect the Economy — An Interview with Eric Barthalon

Uncertainty, Expectations, and Financial Instability

The following is an interview with Eric Barthalon, author of Uncertainty, Expectations, and Financial Instability: Reviving Allais’s Lost Theory of Psychological Time.

Question: What is your book about?

Eric Barthalon: Uncertainty, Expectations and Financial Instability is about what we call “expectations” and the pro-cyclical responses they trigger. I argue that, under uncertainty, we infer the future largely from our experience of the past, and I show how Allais’s lost theory of psychological time gives an operational and testable content to this intuition or hypothesis.

Q: What exactly do you mean by uncertainty?

EB: When we throw four dices repeatedly, we cannot tell the outcome of each throw, but experience as well as mathematics tell us very precisely what we should expect: there will not be many instances where the sum of the four dices is either 4 or 24; most of the throws will yield a result close to 14. This is a situation of “known unknowns” or risk, in which it would be insane to expect a throw to yield either a 2 or a 30, and—even if the first throws are not close to 14—it would be equally insane not to expect the average of the throws to converge toward 14. In such risky situations, our expectations should be identical to the model’s forecasts. This is the very definition of rational expectations. (more…)

Monday, December 15th, 2014

A Q&A with Janet Poole on Modernist Literature in Korea

When the Future Disappears

The following is an interview with Janet Poole, author of When the Future Disappears: The Modernist Imagination in Late Colonial Korea.

Q: Your book deals with an extraordinary group of writers working in Korea at the height of Japanese occupation during the Asia-Pacific War. How did you first become interested in their work?

JP: When I was first studying Korean and living in Seoul, there were these uncanny ways in which the colonial past seemed to exert an ongoing effect in the present. For instance, old people would come up to me in the street, when I was standing at a bus stop for example, and start talking to me in Japanese. Luckily I had learnt Japanese and could answer! But what really intrigued me was that they would not be surprised when I answered them in Japanese, but would just carry on having a regular conversation with me. This had never happened to me in Japan. I became interested in the history of colonialism and especially the ways in which it left traces in language and language use. Naturally—as a fiction lover—I started to read novels and short stories from that time. I had learnt that colonial occupation had been brutal and, most of all, that it had prevented Koreans writing in Korean, especially as the Asia-Pacific War intensified. But when I picked up books of canonical short stories—the best loved in the nation and the like—so many of them were written in the late 1930s. It seemed such a contradiction that the stories most heralded still today had been written when supposedly Koreans had the least possibilities for expression. That’s what got me interested. (more…)

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Francisco Varela and Waking, Dreaming, Being

Waking, Dreaming, Being

This week our featured book is Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy, by Evan Thompson, with a foreword by Stephen Batchelor. In today’s post on the final day of our feature, we are happy to post an excerpt from a fascinating interview of Thompson conducted by Joy Stocke at the Wild River Review. In the interview, Stocke and Thompson discuss the importance of his upbringing to his work, the influence of Francisco Varela, and the Dalai Lama, among many other topics, though we’ve chosen to focus on the discussion of Francisco Varela for this excerpt.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Waking, Dreaming, Being!

WRR: Your book, ultimately, is a meditation on consciousness. Is consciousness wholly dependent on the brain or does it transcend the brain

Thompson: That’s the fundamental question of the book. I felt compelled to write about it because it kept coming up for me in different ways, some of which were personal and some intellectual. On a personal level I thought about the question a lot when I was working intensely with my friend and mentor, Chilean neuroscientist, Francisco Varela, just before he died. He was terminally ill and we knew that at some point soon he was going to die.

I write about the last real conversation I had with him, how it centered on consciousness and the question of its transcendence. It was fall of 2000 and Cisco and I were in my dad’s apartment in New York on the Upper West Side, writing a scientific article about consciousness and the brain. We weren’t raising that question at all in the article but we were talking about it a lot when we weren’t working. Cisco was a Buddhist, and knew that he was going to die soon, so transcendence was something he was contemplating. From a Tibetan Buddhist perspective, consciousness is the most fundamental luminous nature of awareness, underlying more ordinary cognitive forms of the mind, and it’s not considered to be brain dependent. Cisco took this perspective very seriously, but he was a neuroscientist, so he was also skeptical and doubtful.

The experience of talking to Cisco about this and watching him die and feel the loss intensified the question for me. It was a question that I had always thought about, having studied Asian and Western philosophy, but also having grown up in the New Age and yoga world where it was just taken for granted that people had multiple lives and that consciousness carried on after physical death. (more…)

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

Evan Thompson talks to Tricycle Magazine

Waking, Dreaming, Being

This week our featured book is Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy, by Evan Thompson, with a foreword by Stephen Batchelor. Recently, Thompson spoke to Tricycle Magazine about his book, his view of the mind, and mindfulness as an object of scientific scrutiny. We’ve excerpted parts of this interview below.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Waking, Dreaming, Being!

Almost two and a half decades ago, in The Embodied Mind, you critiqued a notion of mind that was already prevalent then and that continues to frame much of the current neuroscience research on meditation. What is that view, and what is wrong with it?
We criticized the view that the mind is made up of representations inside the head. The cognitive science version says that the mind is a computer—the representations are the software, and the brain is the hardware. Although cognitive scientists today don’t think the brain works the way a digital computer does, many of them, especially if they’re neuroscientists, still think the mind is something in the head or the brain. And this idea shows up in the neuroscience of meditation. But this idea is confused. It’s like saying that flight is inside the wings of a bird. The mind is relational. It’s a way of being in relation to the world. You need a brain, just as the bird needs wings, but the mind exists at a different level—the level of embodied being in the world.

What’s your alternative view of the mind?
The alternative view we put forward is that cognition is a form of embodied action. “Embodied” means that the rest of the body, not just the brain, is crucial; “action” means that agency—the capacity to act in the world—is central. Cognition is an expression of our bodily agency. We inhabit a meaningful world because we bring forth or enact meaning. We called this view “enaction” or the “enactive approach.”

In the enactive approach, being human is a matter of inhabiting the human world of culture and shared bodily practices. Of course we need our brain to do this, but we also need that world to be in place in order for the human brain to develop properly. The brain is what philosophers call a necessary “enabling condition” for mind and meaning, while enculturation is a necessary enabling condition for the brain. What’s important is not just what is inside the brain but what the brain is inside of—the larger space of the body and culture. That is where we find mind and meaning. (more…)