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Archive for the 'Author Postings' Category

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

Netflix on the Croisette — Jonathan Buchsbaum

Exception Taken

The following post is by Jonathan Buchsbaum, author of Exception Taken: How France Has Defied Hollywood’s New World Order:

What to make of the recent flap over Netflix at the Cannes Film Festival? Is this the French being the French or does it point to something larger about their desire to protect creative filmmaking in an age of streaming and binge-watching?

According to French rules, any film released in a theater must wait a specified period of time before subsequent screening in a different format. The French call this the “chronology of media.” While the US press misunderstood the recent controversy regarding the showing of two Netflix movies at Cannes—Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories—the French coverage, which is more familiar with the background, considered the rationale behind the rule, even if it risks becoming anachronistic in a rapidly changing industry.

In France, the powerful theater owners’ organization objected to the recent decision of Cannes to accept Netflix-produced films that would not open in theaters at all. According to the French rules, if the films opened in theaters, they would have to wait three years before streaming online by subscription, and Netflix refused to accept that condition. (Amazon, not a subscription service, can stream after four months.) Caught in some crossfire, the festival, after weeks of negotiations, decided to give Netflix a pass this year and require a theatrical opening next year for all films in competition.

While the French deserve some criticism in this latest film tiff, a little history may remove the appearance of rigidity or irrationality in the French rules. When television first entered peoples’ homes in the US after WWII, the film industry viewed television as a threat. Who would go to movie theaters when they could watch films in their living rooms? Consequently the Hollywood majors refused to allow their films to be shown on television at all until RKO broke ranks in 1955. Twenty years later, video tape was seen as a similar challenge, and two Hollywood studios took Sony to court (and lost in the Supreme Court) to prevent the distribution of films on video tape.

In both cases, those fears proved unfounded as the total revenue surged, even if the theatrical shares of the pie shrunk. Moreover, somewhat paradoxically, the number of theater screens actually doubled in the US between 1980 and 2000, from 18,000 to 37,000 (with 39,000 last year).

Nobody really knows how important theatrical release is today. It may still return a declining share of total film revenue, but as the traditional first window of theatrical release still gets reviewed in the press, it may be more important in generating subsequent revenues for DVD, television, Amazon, Netflix, new streaming services.


Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

The Traveler’s Guide to Space

The Traveler's Guide to Space

“Once you get through the initial adjustment period, the fun begins, but with the caveat that just not everything you enjoy on Earth will be fun out there and things that you wouldn’t think if doing here, such as talking to someone who is upside down in front of you, or eating food that is floating, rather than on a plate, will be interesting experiences.” — Neil Comins

This week, our featured book is The Traveler’s Guide to Space: For One-Way Settlers and Round-Trip Tourists, by Neil F. Comins. Today, we are happy to present a guest post by Comins introducing some of the ideas in his book.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Traveler’s Guide to Space!

The Traveler’s Guide to Space
By Neil F. Comins

The era of civilian and commercial space travel has arrived, with paying tourists visiting the International Space Station and private companies developing rockets and other hardware to be used in space. Building on the knowledge about living in space gained over the past 65 years, countries and companies are making real plans to visit and perhaps colonize our Moon, as well as visiting other bodies in space, such as nearby asteroids and passing comets.

As exciting and romantic as such adventures are, none of them are as simple, straight-forward, or accessible as, for example, journeys to countries half way around the world. The latter trips basically require: arranging accommodations and activities; booking flights; getting a passport and visa (if necessary); getting any necessary inoculations and a supply of the medicines you need, along with medical insurance if necessary; letting your credit card company know you are making the trip, and, packing. Each of these things can be accomplished in a matter of minutes to hours, with the whole process taking perhaps a week, and much less time for the seasoned traveler. Preparing for a trip into space, whether just a quick ride above the boundary that defines space and back, a trip into orbit, one in which you leave Earth’s thrall, will require months, or even years of preparation, depending on the voyage. Astronauts preparing to go to the International Space Station today train for more than two years.

Virtually every aspect of life changes when you go into space. Adjusting to living out there, whether for a few days or a lifetime, is uncomfortable as your body gets acclimated to the lack of gravity, called microgravity. Besides the space sickness and physical changes in your body that microgravity causes, you will find that eating, another one of the pleasures on Earth, is a notably different experience in space, too. Food tastes much blander out there and so food that is crafted to be consumed in space is often accompanied by stronger spices than you would consider using on Earth.

Once you get through the initial adjustment period, the fun begins, but with the caveat that just not everything you enjoy on Earth will be fun out there and things that you wouldn’t think if doing here, such as talking to someone who is upside down in front of you, or eating food that is floating, rather than on a plate, will be interesting experiences. If you ever dreamed of flying like superwoman or superman, you will have the opportunity to do that in space, or at least to float weightlessly from one side of a room to another. You will also be able to heft and even throw people who, on Earth, would weigh much more than you do.

Next time you have sex, I invite you to think about the role gravity plays in your interactions with your companion. Microgravity changes many aspects of sexual relations, so substitute technology will have to be developed in order for you to be able to do it, much less enjoy it, up there.

Obviously, space journeys to different destinations will take different lengths of time and each will present you with different experiences and opportunities at your goal. Space travel will require, among other things, significant training on getting along with people from different cultures, countries, races, religions, and philosophies. You will also have to learn to make good use of your time on extended journeys, to prevent boredom, which can actually become dangerous.

Because every world that will be available to visit this century is different in size, composition, shape, and surface features, what you can see and do will depend intimately on your destination. Without a doubt, the most exotic, glamorous, and diverse world that may be on that list is Mars. However, the challenges involved in providing a viable habitat there, as well as reliable landers and, for those making round trip journeys, vehicles to return to orbit are substantial.

In The Traveler’s Guide to Space: For Round-Trip Tourists and One-Way Settlers, I explore all these aspects of space travel in the near future and much more. I also discuss activities and experiences available on different worlds in our astronomical neighborhood. The book is written both for people interested in going into space and anyone else who would like to see the big picture of space travel.

Monday, April 10th, 2017

Passover Wines

Passover Wines

The following is a guest post from Natalie Berkowitz, author of The Winemaker’s Hand: Conversations on Talent, Technique, and Terroir:

Passover Wines
By Natalie Berkowitz

The psalmist who stated “Wine maketh glad the heart of man” spoke of the enduring tradition of wine as man’s companion. Highly anticipated holidays herald the cycle of seasons, make ordinary days special and slow down the swift passage of time. Passover presages Spring’s rejuvenation and recalls the Jewish Exodus from Egypt millennia ago. Jews, both orthodox and less traditional, gather family and friends around a seder table laden with food and wine. At Passover, when four cups of wine are poured as libations during the reading of the Seder service, it becomes a question of which wines add a sense of joyfulness to the occasion. This holiday season, welcome guests with a cornucopia of reasonably priced choices from great wine-producing regions, made with exacting rabbinic supervision, some mevushal, and others not. The choices are almost mind-boggling, and promise a sense of adventure that marries well with the complicated and delicious celebratory meal. Contrary to common misconception that a special blessing certifies wine as kosher, its production must follow strict dietary regulations of Kashruth. These regulations permit non-Jews to harvest grapes, but designated rabbis must carefully supervise vineyard management and vinification, from grape crush through fermentation until the bottles are sealed.

For centuries, wine was boiled to ensure its purity, inadvertently destroying many vaunted qualities. Most kosher wines are qualify for accommodating with Kashruth laws, using the modern technique of flash pasteurization developed at U. C. Davis, America’s notable enology school about twenty years ago. Today, kosher wines are heated at a temperature of 160 to 195 degrees for a few seconds, a major step that maintains their flavors and integrity. The extra step, called Mevushal, satisfies the needs of the Ultra-Orthodox and permits wine served in restaurants to be poured by other than observant Jews. The holiday celebrating the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt has even more stringent requirements for wine and food in order to be Kosher for Passover. (more…)

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

Exciting Times in Brain Science

Genes, Brains, and Human Potential

“Far from confirming what was expected, the research results, in fact, are suggesting something else: no less than a fundamental re-appraisal of many of our basic concepts. They indicate that expectations – the models framing research – have been more based on ideological assumptions that objective science. This is what happens when social experiences, such as class-structure or conventional gender roles, come to shape the concepts upon which scientific research is based – and which scientific research is then expected to reinforce.” — Ken Richardson

This week, our featured book is Genes, Brains, and Human Potential: The Science and Ideology of Intelligence, by Ken Richardson. Today, we are happy to present an article by Richardson on why the mountains of new data about particulars of brain activities have failed to construct a coherent model of overall function – what the brain is really for.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Genes, Brains, and Human Potential!

Exciting Times in Brain Science
By Ken Richardson

“These are exciting times in…” That’s a well-worn cliché, of course. But in two fields of science, at least, it’s not so trite. Advances in genetics over the last twenty years or so have been remarkable. Now DNA can be sequenced, and genes, even their molecular components – and who has them, or not – can be identified.

So the scene has been set for discovering genetic associations with complex diseases, or even individual differences in potential for traits like intelligence or education. And maybe that information can be used for selecting individuals for careers or as a basis for precision treatments in schools or families. In streams of exhortations, educators everywhere are now being told to think “genetically”.

Likewise with the brain: we’re enjoying a period of terrific breakthroughs, teeming with details about structure and function. New methods, particularly in “brain imaging”, have even produced speculation that the true nature of intelligence itself – and, again, who has it, or who does not – can be worked out “in the brain”. So teachers and educators are also being encouraged to be “brain scientists”.

But vaulting claims and promissory notes are one thing, reality another. High hopes about pinpointing genes are turning to disappointments. For well-defined medical conditions even weak genetic correlations have been difficult to establish. The difficulties are hugely magnified for traits like intelligence, for which there is not even agreed definition (quite apart from falling into the trap of automatically treating correlations as causes). (more…)

Saturday, March 25th, 2017

A Winemaker’s Skill Leads To Great Wine

The Winemaker's Hand

Natalie Berkowitz, author of The Winemaker’s Hand: Conversations on Talent, Technique, and Terroir, explains how the flavor of wine is dictated by soil and terroir, but also by the skill of the winemaker:

What makes the difference between ordinary or poor wine, sometimes called plonk, and truly great wines with complex characteristics? The current explanation dictates terroir is determined by terroir, those elements nature provides, such as soil, the amount of sun, rain, wind, and the influence of nearby rivers or oceans. The magic that comes to grapes starts when the vines derive various flavors from a soil’s characteristics. It seems counter-intuitive, but a great wine’s concentrated flavors are the consequence of grapes grown in mineral-rich soils that are often volcanic or strewn with pebbles and rocks, forcing the vine’s roots to dig deeper to find water extracting flavors from a soil’s various strata. In contrast, deep, loamy, soils produce grapes without character and flavor since the roots stay closer to the surface, reducing the opportunity to extract complex characteristics. Winemakers at large- scale wineries are less fussy about soils since they prefer optimum quantity over optimum quality while vintners with a goal of complex wines choose soils that give their vines a head-start. (more…)

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

The History of Chinese Food in the United States

Chow Chop Suey

“Wasn’t this sudden culinary coinage simply a travesty of honest Cantonese cuisine? Well, perhaps ‘travesty,’ but not ‘simply.’ The whole story is not at all simple. We would be wrongheaded to forget that chop suey and kindred inventions like American-style chow mein or foo young took on – and possess to this day — a vigorous life of their own in American culture. For more than a century they have given millions of white (and black) diners a pleasure not to be discredited by cavils about authenticity. By my lights, they represent a permanent enrichment of the American table, first accomplished by a community under siege.” — Anne Mendelson

This week, our featured book is Chow Chop Suey: Food and the Chinese American Journey, by Anne Mendelson. Today, we are pleased to present an article on the intertwined history of Chinese immigrants and Chinese food in the United States.

The History of Chinese Food in the United States
By Anne Mendelson

“Go back to China!” a white woman screamed at New York Times deputy Metro editor Michael Luo during the homestretch of the 2016 presidential election. The taunt is vicious even now. But at one time in this country it often presaged not hateful stares but either deportation proceedings or homicidal violence.

Chinese entering California in the 1850s with hopes of gold or at least jobs soon found demagogues accusing them of malignantly undermining honest white workingmen’s wages. One result was a series of federal laws allowing Chinese manual laborers to be deported, after a year’s hard labor, unless they could produce official certificates of residency. Another was an eruption of arson and lynchings during the 1870s and ‘80s, frequently sanctioned by local authorities.

Cantonese-born fugitives from murderous xenophobia in the Far West not only founded the Chinatowns of the Midwest and the Eastern seaboard, but managed to invent an unexpected culinary novelty that white people called by the garbled name “chop suey.” For all its ignominious modern reputation, chop suey represented a pioneering gambit in American racial politics. It turned to surprising account a hated minority’s reputation as fine cooks.

One of the few things agreed on by both hostile and friendly Westerners was that, as an English newspaper correspondent stationed in China declared in 1857, “Every Chinaman has a natural aptitude for cookery.” A phenomenal talent for cooking to please white employers had earned Chinese men a niche as household servants even in Sinophobic California. Meanwhile, they cooked for themselves with great skill whenever possible, drawing on a supply network of ingredients imported from Hong Kong to San Francisco and later New York.

Refugees from lynch mobs began settling in New York’s old Five Points district at around 1870 and promptly founded restaurants serving Cantonese cuisine, widely regarded as China’s finest. Some white New Yorkers were intrigued enough to become regular chopstick-wielders at these eateries by the late 1880s.

Within a decade, the Chinese struck gold by carefully reading the dominant race’s preferences. They improvised an ingenious marriage between Cantonese-style stir-fried dishes and some striking effects inspired by their prior experience in cooking for white people. The winning formulas depended on plenty of sugar in glossy, starch-thickened sauces liberally laced with soy sauce and browning agents. The idea was to imitate roux-bound gravy from a Western-style roast while introducing supposedly “Oriental” touches.

White patrons joyously devoured the new dishes under such names as “chicken chop suey,” “beef chop suey,” or “shrimp chop suey.” These jumbled labels reflect linguistic cross-purposes. The Chinese characters for the same items indicate “chao [stir-fried] chicken,” “chao beef,” and so forth. But the English term “stir-fry” did not yet exist. The technique was unintelligible to people who had never seen the workings of a Chinese kitchen. Encountering the romanization “chow chop suey” (“chao mixed bits”) for a dish of stir-fried innards and offal, somebody cluelessly latched onto the last two words and ended up baptizing America’s first nationwide ethnic-crossover food craze.

With unerring instinct, Chinese restaurant cooks had fashioned a cuisine that appeared exotic and adventurous to the target audience while staying safely within a middlebrow white American frame of culinary-cultural reference. The combination of very rapidly prepared food – stir-frying is the ideal short-order cooking method – with atmospheric décor featuring Chinese lanterns or dragon motifs was an instant draw.

“Chop suey” caught on from coast to coast with a speed made possible by the new miracle of wire services distributing syndicated copy from big-city newspapers to the boondocks. By 1910 it was well on its way to being the stock-in-trade of Chinese restaurants in every metropolis, small city, and large town throughout the contiguous United States.

Wasn’t this sudden culinary coinage simply a travesty of honest Cantonese cuisine? Well, perhaps “travesty,” but not “simply.” The whole story is not at all simple. We would be wrongheaded to forget that chop suey and kindred inventions like American-style chow mein or foo young took on – and possess to this day — a vigorous life of their own in American culture. For more than a century they have given millions of white (and black) diners a pleasure not to be discredited by cavils about authenticity. By my lights, they represent a permanent enrichment of the American table, first accomplished by a community under siege.

At the height of “Go back to China!” rabble-rousing cloaked in the mantle of patriotic support for jobless native-born workers, an undaunted segment of the despised Chinese community in America responded by reaching across racial divides through the medium of food. The chop suey-style cuisine that it created may be more resoundingly American than Delmonico’s, the Golden Arches, or Trump Grill.

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Art in an Age of Narrowcasting — Erika Balsom

After Uniqueness, Erika Balsom

“Digital dissemination is often described in terms of freedom and ecstatic mobility. And yet it is absolutely imperative to recall that new forms of circulation have been matched by new forms of control.”—Erika Balsom

The following is a post by Erika Balsom, author of After Uniqueness: A History of Film and Video Art in Circulation:

December 19, 2016 marked the inaugural broadcast of Keimena, a weekly program of artists’ film and video on Greek public television station ERT2. Curated by Hila Peleg and Vassily Bourikas as part of the forthcoming Documenta 14, Keimena will air Mondays at midnight until September 18, 2017. Why broadcast artists’ film and video on television as part of a major international art exhibition? A look at Keimena reveals that the project engages both with the shifting distribution ecologies of contemporary moving-image art and with the specific context of Greek public television in a time and place of austerity measures.

This summer, Documenta 14 will take place not only in its usual home of Kassel, Germany, but also in Athens, where the exhibition will renew the social mandate that undergirded its founding in 1955. In Greece, Documenta’s task will be less to engage with the aftershocks of a traumatic past, as it was in postwar Kassel, than it will be to confront the ongoing contradictions and crises of a neoliberal present.

Keimena explores the notion of broadcasting as a public good and the possibilities of disseminating moving-image artworks beyond the contexts of the cinema and gallery. What unites the selection of works is an engagement with political actuality, often in a loosely documentary idiom. In the relationship between Keimena’s form and content, then, is an implicit assertion that the moving image, tied as it is to mass circulation, has a special purchase on questions of collectivity, public experience, and popular struggle.

Keimena follows in the tradition of earlier initiatives for showing artists’ film and video on television, such as The Eleventh Hour (1982–88) and Midnight Underground (1993, 1997), series shown on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom in similarly late-night time slots. Though the home is often deemed a less-than-ideal venue for cinematic spectatorship, these initiatives embrace television due to its capacity for widespread dissemination, bringing difficult-to-see works to potentially vast, diverse, and geographically dispersed audiences. Moreover, they attempt to marry this unprecedented access to enhanced possibilities of accessibility by including introductions that contextualize and enrich the viewing experience. Keimena’s broadcasts feature brief introductions by commissioned writers, texts that the curators claim “are as much as integral part of the programming effort as the films themselves.”

It might seem strange to turn to television as a means of mass dissemination in the age of the internet. Haven’t we moved from an age of broadcasting to an age of narrowcasting? In the case of Keimena, however, the recent problems of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) endow the project with a specific urgency. In June 2013, the ERT’s three channels were abruptly taken off-air, putting some 2500 employees out of work and filling Greek televisions with a black screen. The government cited financial problems, calling the ERT a “haven of waste.” The closure of Greece’s national public broadcaster led to widespread protests; eventually the ERT reopened in June 2015 with the support of Alexis Tsipras’s anti-austerity Syriza party, which had formed a new government in January of that year. In collaborating with the ERT, Keimena foregrounds the role and fate of non-commercial institutions at a time when public support for the arts seems everywhere in jeopardy.


Wednesday, March 1st, 2017


Left-Wing Melancholia

This post is part of an ongoing series in which Columbia University Press authors look at the implications of the result of the 2016 presidential election. Today, Enzo Traverso, author of Left-Wing Melancholia: Marxism, History, and Memory, argues that labelling Donald Trump a fascist is unhelpful, as “interpreting him through old categories [cannot] help us to understand the novelty he embodies”:

By Enzo Traverso

Is Donald Trump a fascist? Answering this question, frequently put in both Europe and the US, means speculating about what fascism would look like in the twenty-first century. Historical comparisons allow us to sketch analogies rather than homologies, and Trump is as far from classical fascism as Occupy Wall Street, los Indignados, and La nuit debout are from twentieth-century communism. This is a historical analogy, not a genealogy.

A few months ago, Robert O. Paxton, one of the most important historians of European fascism, ironically (and pertinently) affirmed that Trump probably never read any single book on Mussolini or Hitler. In other words, speaking of Trump’s fascism is not a matter of establishing a historical continuity. He does not come from this political tradition and this distinguishes him from most European far-right movements that come from this matrix, sometimes proudly claiming it—mostly in Central Europe—and sometimes trying to achieve respectability rejecting or distancing it, like the Front National of Marine Le Pen in France.

During his electoral campaign, Trump revealed many fascist traits: a charismatic conception of politics, authoritarianism, hatred for pluralism, nationalism, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, and a populist style that considers citizens only as a crowd to mesmerize and mislead. His campaign reproduced some features of fascist anti-Semitism, which defined a mythical, ethnically homogeneous national community by opposing it to its enemies: for the Nazis this was the Jews, but Trump enlarged the spectrum, including Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, and non-White immigrants. In Trump’s rhetoric, the “Establishment” reproduced the old anti-Semitic cliché of a virtuous community rooted in land and tradition opposed to the anonymous, corrupted, intellectual, and cosmopolitan metropolis. (more…)

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

Spectacles Vehement and Untutored and Rude: Reading David Foster Wallace in the Age of Trump

David Foster Wallace's Balancing Books, Jeffrey Severs

“Wallace is chief among the contemporary U.S. writers who deserve careful re-reading in the age of Trump.”—Jeffrey Severs

The following post is by Jeffrey Severs, author of David Foster Wallace’s Balancing Books: Fictions of Value:

On the night of November 8, 2016, walking home from a sorrowful bar, I tried easing the pain by pausing to post on Facebook: “Dawn of a new age of grim apocalyptic satire? Searching for a bright side.” Soon a British friend and fellow scholar of contemporary fiction offered “Trump means fart in the UK—does this help?” Then another scholar-friend said he was reminded of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and Johnny Gentle, a cheesy, idiot lounge-singer-turned-politician, “the first U.S. President ever to swing his microphone around by the cord during his Inauguration speech.” I’d also been thinking of Gentle’s precedent. This germaphobe’s major geopolitical achievement is to turn much of New England and Quebec into a waste dump, disastrously imposing his irreality and obsessive-compulsive habits on North American policy.

Wallace’s novel of grim apocalyptic satire, published in 1996, is set during Subsidized Time, when numbered years have been replaced by corporate sponsorships, but careful reading reveals the setting is the 2010s. So here we were, more or less on schedule, an entertainment- and consumption-addicted society, more swayed by image than substance in all things and now climbing into the (tiny) hands of a boorish, hateful star of reality TV (a genre Wallace also analyzed brilliantly—see his late story “The Suffering Channel”).

Wallace is chief among the contemporary U.S. writers who deserve careful re-reading in the age of Trump. Re-reading Wallace should be followed by Pynchon, Morrison, DeLillo, Wideman, Coover, Mailer, Vollmann—we have a lot to learn about American fascism from our novelists. Wallace set his unfinished novel The Pale King (2011) in the 1980s but still captured forty years of past and future Republican presidencies with lines about electing “a symbolic Rebel against his own power . . . We’ll have a tyranny of conformist nonconformity presided over by a symbolic outsider whose very election depends on our deep conviction that his persona is utter bullshit.” The Pale King uses the hatred of taxes to explain how Americans view civic duty in childish terms, like adolescent rebels against parental authority who are still happy to use Daddy’s credit card. The future leader that IRS workers conjure in The Pale King will “do what corporate pioneers have discovered works better” than outright lying to the populace: “He’ll adopt the persona and rhetoric that let the people lie to themselves.” Nation of self-deceiving kids, meet your man-child narcissist-in-chief.

Wallace, who grew up in Illinois and taught there for many years, understood the perennial appeal of conservatism to middle America. Indeed, as D.T. Max’s 2012 biography revealed, Wallace himself, a late convert to the left, voted for Ronald Reagan (Gentle’s model, with a dash of Bill Clinton playing the sax on late-night TV thrown in) and for proto-Trump Ross Perot. In his essays about Illinois, John McCain, and right-wing radio, Wallace took seriously and saw the depths of what coastal elites have been scrambling to parse since November: how the white, rural, working-class folks of various fly-over zones think about their country, how their cynicism about government can be ruthlessly exploited with the techniques of the entertainment-industrial complex. Wallace can’t help us much with the jingoism, racism, and xenophobia that led to Trump’s win, but he did give us visceral evidence that, as one of his essays quoted from de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, “spectacles vehement and untutored and rude,” aiming “to stir the passions more than to gratify the taste,” continue to be the American way.


Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Trump’s Strange Loves

Reconstructing Strangelove

This post is part of an ongoing series in which Columbia University Press authors look at the implications of the result of the 2016 presidential election. In this post, Mick Broderick, author of Reconstructing Strangelove: Inside Stanley Kubrick’s “Nightmare Comedy”, discusses how Dr. Strangelove is and has been used in US politics:

Trump’s Strange Loves
By Mick Broderick

There has been much consternation recently concerning President Trump’s access to the American nuclear arsenal, the missile control codes (carried in the briefcase-sized “football”) and his personal authorization card (the “biscuit”). As newly anointed Commander-in-Chief, Donald Trump now wields near-apocalyptic power, literally at his fingertips. Throughout his appointed four-year term he can at any time – to invoke Robert Oppenheimer and the Bhagavad Gita – “become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Only a few minutes from committing to such action nearly a thousand nuclear weapons stationed on high alert could be unleashed and no one is legally empowered to stop him.

In reality, this is business as usual; same as it ever was. Trump’s supreme authority is constitutionally entrenched, with the continuity of executive power stemming back decades. What has changed, however, is the new President’s predilection for impulsively tweeting on foreign policy matters, amongst other things, into the wee hours. Now in office Trump continues to fire-off intemperate remarks at his whim and those missives are instantly accessible across the globe. When Ronald Reagan quipped before a radio broadcast during a microphone test in 1984 that he had just “signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever … we begin bombing in 5 minutes”, it was quite sometime before the audio was leaked to the public. Imagine the effect of a tweet from President Trump along similar lines, without the (comic) inflection of the spoken word or the corresponding audible guffaws from nearby presidential staff. Although largely symbolic given the Republican control of the Executive and both Congressional houses, moves are now underway by Democrats to curb any Presidential nuclear first strike order, by mandating that Congress must first declare war. Earlier, Trump had ranted at the Republican Congressional leadership to “Go nuclear!” against his Democrat rivals. (more…)

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Conserving the Environment is Crucial but Simple

Endangered Economies

“External costs pose the biggest threat to the environment by preventing nature and the economy from working together. External costs occur when a third party must pick up the tab for the negative consequences of a transaction. A transaction that occurs every day is a good example: let’s say I buy gasoline, burn it in my car, and harm people who inhale the exhaust fumes or whose climate is altered by greenhouse gases generated. The people who are injured did not purchase and burn the gas—I did. Yet I do not pay for the harm done.” — Geoffrey Heal

This week, our featured book is Endangered Economies: How the Neglect of Nature Threatens Our Prosperity, by Geoffrey Heal. Today, we are happy to present a guest post from Heal, in which he argues that environmental conservation is crucial to our prosperity, and indeed to the future of our civilization, and is easier than most people think. He also provides four relatively simple reforms that will transform how our economies interact with the environment and make a pristine environment compatible with growth and prosperity.

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

Conserving the Environment is Crucial but Simple
By Geoffrey Heal

Our dependence on nature runs deep. There is no denying that a pristine environment improves our health, lengthens our lives and makes us more productive. Yet in our lifetimes, catastrophic environmental change will occur because of four basic, correctable errors in the design of our economic systems. We can fix the most egregious flaws in the system to correct our neglect of nature and allow the economy and the environment to coexist and nurture one other.

External costs pose the biggest threat to the environment by preventing nature and the economy from working together. External costs occur when a third party must pick up the tab for the negative consequences of a transaction. A transaction that occurs every day is a good example: let’s say I buy gasoline, burn it in my car, and harm people who inhale the exhaust fumes or whose climate is altered by greenhouse gases generated. The people who are injured did not purchase and burn the gas—I did. Yet I do not pay for the harm done. There are many ways of solving problems like this – problems that involve a social cost. We can levy a charge to reflect the costs to third parties, we can give damaged parties the right to sue, we can regulate activities that affect third parties, and more. What we can’t afford is to continue to ignore this harmful error in our economic policies. (more…)

Friday, January 6th, 2017

The Disaster of Half-Education

Death and Mastery

“[W]hen I help formulate the institutional statement that condemns x, or sign a petition to defend y, or go to a rally with a clever sign for z, what am I doing? Perhaps, in all or some of these activities, I am displaying agency – I, as an independent decision-maker, am doing something. But perhaps I am also mobilizing my half-education toward the maintenance of incomprehension and false projection.” — Benjamin Fong

This post is part of an ongoing series in which Columbia University Press authors look at the implications of the result of the 2016 presidential election. In this post, Benjamin Y. Fong, author of Death and Mastery: Psychoanalytic Drive Theory and the Subject of Late Capitalism, looks at the tendencies of Horkheimer and Adorno’s “new anthropological type” and sees causes for concern in the wake of the 2016 election:

The Disaster of Half-Education
By Benjamin Y. Fong

My first book, Death and Mastery: Psychoanalytic Drive Theory and the Subject of Late Capitalism, was published by Columbia University Press on election day 2016. It is above all an attempt to use psychoanalytic theory, like the original members of the Frankfurt School, to make sense of the tendencies of what Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno called “the new anthropological type.” At times, they described this new kind of capitalist subject as an actual psychological type very reminiscent of the Left’s stereotyped Trump supporter: this type rigidly adheres to conventional values; bears a submissive, uncritical attitude toward idealized moral authorities of the ingroup; has a tendency to be on the lookout for, and to condemn, reject, and punish people who violate conventional values; is opposed to the tender-minded; has a disposition to believe that wild and dangerous things go on in the world; etc. (See Peter E. Gordon, “The Authoritarian Personality Revisited: Reading Adorno in the Age of Trump”). It’s all quite spooky.

At other times, however, the new anthropological type was for them less an actual type of person and more an emergent set of tendencies in thinking brought on by the birth of what they called “the culture industry.” Loosely defined, the culture industry refers to the forms of media (film, television, radio) invented and propagated in the first part of the twentieth century. Many commentators on the work of the Frankfurt School believe that their views of the culture industry are dated, trapped in the Fordist-Keynesian era of mass production and consumption, but I have a difficult time understanding this line of thought. That we watch Emma Stone instead of Greta Garbo, that our kids know the new Disney characters instead of the old ones, that we’re all constantly looking at screens instead of reserving a few hours after work for them – none of this adds up to any qualitative break. No doubt the invention of the internet and the forms of social media that go along with it demand an updating of the culture industry thesis, but it’s hard to see how they don’t reinforce the ability of mass media institutions to categorize and cater to commodity consumers. (more…)

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

What the Election of President Trump May Mean for Mental Health Policy

Losing Tim

This is part of an ongoing series of posts in which Columbia University Press authors look at the implications of the result of the 2016 presidential election. In this post, Paul Gionfriddo, author of Losing Tim: How Our Health and Education Systems Failed My Son with Schizophrenia, discusses how mental health policy will be affected by a Trump presidency:

What the Election of President Trump May Mean for Mental Health Policy
By Paul Gionfriddo

The election of Donald Trump as President will influence mental health services in America. We just don’t know how.

We have generated significant positive momentum for mental health system reform during the past two years. The federal government has begun to lay a new foundation for a modern, community-based system of mental health services.

This has been no small feat. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings, federal policymakers initially could come to no consensus about how they should respond. Some argued for more deep-end services for individuals who were a danger to themselves or others. Others wanted stricter gun control laws to keep weapons out of the hands of most people with serious mental health conditions.

The earliest ideas did not consider the bigger picture – that mental illnesses are most frequently diseases of childhood, and seldom manifest in violent or dangerous acts.

Losing Tim helped change those perceptions. Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA), the leading House proponent of mental health reform legislation, cited the narrative as one of the reasons he changed his approach in the legislation he authored. And Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) tweeted that his companion Senate proposal was “for the countless people like Tim” who, he argued, deserve a mental health system that works.

My own organization, Mental Health America, made prevention, early intervention, integrated services, and recovery the pillars of our work. We argued that by applying a “danger to self or others” standard as a trigger to treatment for mental illnesses, we made them the only chronic diseases that we wait until Stage 4 to treat – and then often inappropriately through incarceration.

We argued that we needed to act sooner to help children and young adults, and developed a multi-faceted educational campaign promoting early identification and intervention built around the hashtag “B4Stage4.”

The established mental health advocacy community organized itself around a common set of the principles we shared and around the more comprehensive legislative proposals that evolved. The House and Senate bills gained bipartisan traction and momentum. As election day came, we were poised to celebrate the Lame Duck session passage of the most significant federal mental health legislation since President Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Centers Act back in 1963, and to build on this in 2017.

Now there is a sense of uncertainty about what will come next.

I do not believe that there will be a seismic shift in the mental health policy landscape in the coming years that will undermine the progress we have made.

For one thing, the President-elect experienced the death of his older brother Freddy at the age of 43 from a substance use disorder, and knows first-hand the toll behavioral illnesses take on families. For another, Vice President-elect Mike Pence worked to improve mental health services in his state during his time as Governor of Indiana.

Also, the newly elected Congress looks very much like the Congress that came before it, with many strong proponents of mental health reform remaining in positions of leadership and influence. Finally, the advocacy community was prepared to continue to work together no matter what the election outcome.

Still, there are many issues that surfaced during the campaign that may have a profound effect on people with mental illnesses.

One is the move to amend the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

ACA made mental health benefits “essential health benefits” that had to be covered by all insurers. It also enabled the expansion of Medicaid to support single adults with chronic diseases, including mental illnesses. In requiring insurers to offer coverage despite pre-existing conditions, it also made sure that when children with serious mental illnesses became adults, they did not become uninsured.

President-elect Trump has said that he favors retention of the pre-existing condition provision. But if the essential health benefits are changed or insurers can pay out less for those with pre-existing conditions, it could take the teeth out of that commitment.

President-elect Trump also proposed block-granting Medicaid. This would not be hard, because the federal Medicaid program is already fifty different state Medicaid programs operated under a common set of federal rules. If the payments were bundled and some of those rules were left in place, that could be a good thing.

States might use the flexibility they are granted to innovate to cover housing, employment supports, and peer support services that people with mental illnesses need.

However, if dollars are reduced when they are blocked together – as happened in the 1980s and led in part to the inadequate state systems of care that persist today – then people will get less access to services and supports, not more.

President-elect Trump has also said that he will be “tough on crime.” People in jail and prison are significantly more likely to have mental health and substance use disorders than people who are not incarcerated. If being tough on crime means putting more people with mental illnesses into the criminal justice system, then that would just accelerate the revolving door of hospitalization, frequent incarceration, and chronic homelessness that characterizes our system today.

Meanwhile, several more states also legalized marijuana for either medical or recreational use. Marijuana has often been called a gateway drug. For many people with serious mental illnesses, it is a gateway to jail.

As state policies become friendlier to people who self-medicate, they could mitigate tougher federal sanctions.

This is why we must be vigilant. It will take some time for everything to sort itself out.

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

The Future of the Affordable Care Act

Health Care as a Right of Citizenship

“I also do not believe that in historical terms the ACA will be seen as anything more than a politically pragmatic and necessary step toward the evolution of a social right to health care for all Americans.” — Gunnar Almgren

This is the first of a series of posts in which Columbia University Press authors look at the implications of the result of the 2016 presidential election. In this post, Gunnar Almgren, author of Health Care as a Right of Citizenship: The Continuing Evolution of Reform, looks at the future of the Affordable Care Act, perhaps better known as ObamaCare, under a Trump presidency:

The Future of the Affordable Care Act
By Gunnar Almgren

President-Elect Donald Trump described the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as a “total disaster,” yet many analysts would argue the opposite. In terms of its central aim of dramatically reducing the number of Americans without health insurance, the ACA has been a resounding policy success, and even surpassed the projections of the Congressional Budget Office (Congressional Budget Office, Insurance Coverage Provisions of the Affordable Care Act, April 2014, www.cbo.gov/publication/45231).

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in absence of the ACA, the numbers of Americans without health insurance coverage would have risen by 2015 to 54 million, or nearly two times the number of uninsured we actually have today. Further, the CBO now predicts that the ACA’s net costs to the federal government over the next decade will be $104 billion less than originally projected.

Nonetheless, it remains clear that with the election of Trump, and GOP majority support in both houses of Congress the ACA, in name if not in its most fundamental provisions, is in deep jeopardy. With this in mind, let’s consider the ACA in historical terms and then also in terms of the political economy of health care.

From the historical perspective, there are two plausible narratives that might emerge. The first narrative will define the ACA as a poorly conceived and ultimately failed expansion of the welfare state, akin to mainstream history’s appraisal of the Lyndon Johnson administration’s Great Society and War on Poverty social experiments of the 1960s. The second narrative, and in my opinion the more likely one, is that the ACA’s historical significance will not lie in its largely successful expansion of health care entitlements and insurance subsidies to millions of Americans, but rather in its affirmation by act of Congress of the idea that comprehensive health care must be available to all as a social right of citizenship. While previous acts of Congress sought to incrementally expand public and private health care insurance to the aged, poor, and the disabled, the ACA is unique in its embracement of universal health insurance coverage to all citizens as an explicit policy aim.

Although the conservative Congresses that followed the 2010 passage of the ACA have since endeavored to repeal it (and the hard right results of the 2016 elections might seem to guarantee such a repeal) what matters is that the mainstream American public now views access to affordable health care as crucial function of just and effective governance, and any proposed alternative to the ACA must be reconciled with that expectation. However the ACA might be redefined, repackaged , or even diminished–neither the key health care industry stakeholders (in particular the pharmaceutical , health insurance and hospital industries) nor the American public will tolerate a return to the 2009 pre-ACA regime of a failing employment-based insurance system, 49.6 million uninsured Americans, and an epidemic of safety-net hospital closures. Political rhetoric is one thing; economic and political reality is another.

While there are several reasons to predict the ACA’s survival, the penultimate reason in my view is the absence of a coherent conservative alternative that will not propel the nation toward the next catastrophic health insurance coverage crisis – a crisis that could result in truly radical health care reform that is an anathema to conservatism, namely universal social insurance for health care. It is this thought that keeps health insurance industry executives and investors awake at night. It should also be noted that under the ACA, the private health insurance industry on the whole has thrived –as happens when private industry markets are expanded by public fund subsidies.

In sum, I don’t share the view that the political resurgence of the GOP is synonymous with the demise of the ACA’s core provisions. Within two days of his election, Trump was already walking back from his campaign promise to repeal the ACA and now speaks in qualified and modest language about preserving such core provisions as retaining expanded insurance coverage to young adults and eliminating pre-existing condition protections.

I also do not believe that in historical terms the ACA will be seen as anything more than a politically pragmatic and necessary step toward the evolution of a social right to health care for all Americans. In the end, the basic policy strategy and structure of that ACA are substantially inadequate to such a task, both because of its inability to achieve universal health insurance coverage and because its substantive health- care provisions fall short of the equity and equality of opportunity requisites of political democracy. Such a platform can only built upon both social insurance for comprehensive health care and the resurgence of a national agenda to meaningfully reduce child poverty. These are the commitments that make a nation great.

Friday, November 11th, 2016

Introducing “The Antiegalitarian Mutation”

The Antiegalitarian Mutation

“Can democracy fail to resist the increase in inequality and poverty without becoming distorted? And for how long will democracy be able to withstand the pressure of all the political movements that call for the exclusion, rather than the inclusion, of entire segments of the world population without transmuting into something other than itself? And finally, why is it in the name of pre-political entities, such as ethnicity, the ancestral bond with a territory, or blind allegiance to a specific interpretation of a sacred text, that exclusion is desired?” — Nadia Urbinati

This week, our featured book is The Antiegalitarian Mutation: The Failure of Institutional Politics in Liberal Democracies, by Nadia Urbinati and Arturo Zampaglione, translated by Martin Thom. Today, we are happy to present a short essay introducing Urbinati’s project.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Antiegalitarian Mutation!

Over a span of a hundred years, two vastly different U.S. presidents chose Osawatomie, a small settlement located at the confluence of two rivers in southern Kansas, as an emblem of their country’s bond of solidarity. In Osawatomie, whose name is a compound of two Native American tribes, the Osage and the Pottawatomie, both presidents spoke of the common good as a higher value than the preferences of the isolated individual. In a speech that is often quoted as an example of presidential eloquence, on August 31, 1910, Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican president, for the first time explicitly warned the United States against its libertarian temptations: only a strong government, he argued, would be able to regulate the economy and guarantee social justice. It was again in Osawatomie that, on December 6, 2011, Barack Obama, a Democratic president, voiced his most passionate denunciation of rising economic inequality. “This is the defining issue of our time,” Obama thundered, to rapturous applause. “This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class.” (more…)

Friday, September 9th, 2016

Carrie Preston On Being a Scholar-Teacher-Student

Carrie Preston, Learning to Kneel

“To write this book, I had to become a beginner rather than an expert.”—Carrie Preston

The following is a post by Carrie Preston, author of Learning to Kneel: Noh, Modernism, and Journeys in Teaching:

To write this book, I had to become a beginner rather than an expert. I had to study an entirely new language (Japanese) and performance form (noh theater). The experience of becoming a student again—and often a poor student at that—taught me a good deal about being a scholar-teacher.

The ideal of the scholar-teacher emphasizes that research inspires great performances in the classroom. I remain committed to that ideal, but writing Learning to Kneel made me realize the need to develop strategies for making my research more accessible to my students. The book includes stories of my research process, various attempts to teach my scholarship, and also what my scholarship has taught me about teaching.

I originally intended to write a book called Noh Modernism (pun very much intended) about the ancient Japanese noh theater’s influence on early twentieth-century European and American drama, dance, poetry, and film. I decided to take lessons in noh performance technique because I was dissatisfied with previous scholarly accounts that suggested because W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, Bertolt Brecht, and other “westerners” were more interested in their peculiar ideas of noh than the reality of the theater, actual research into noh performance technique is unnecessary. The artists certainly mystified noh, but scholars were advancing that mystification of a “foreign” art form by refusing to do the work it takes to learn about noh. I realized that deep research on noh requires taking lessons in the form, so I applied for a grant from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science that allowed me to become a visiting researcher at Hosei University in Tokyo. My hosts there helped me find a professional actor and master teacher who would take me on as a student.

In preparation for my time in Tokyo, I began taking Japanese language classes with undergraduates at Boston University. I found myself hiding in the back row, hoping that my professor would not ask me to come to the board to draw kanji characters. If my Japanese classes reminded me that learning something new can be scary, my noh lessons in Japan completely changed the way I thought about scholarship and teaching. Before each lesson, I had to fall to my knees before my teacher, or sensei.

Carrie Preston, Learning to Kneel

As I bowed, I spoke the formulaic phrase, “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu,” which might be translated as “Thank you for your help and guidance now and in the future,” or, as a fellow noh student suggested, “Please be kind to me during this lesson.” I received instruction while kneeling in seiza, a position with buns on heels that I found incredibly painful after a few minutes but was supposed to maintain for a half hour while I practiced chanting.

Carrie Preston, Learning to Kneel


Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

The Man in the Middle

Projecting Race

“Sponsored cinema – produced by governmental agencies, NGOs, and industry groups – is otherwise framed as the disposable other of film studies, lacking the aura of more conventional and artistically rendered films. And yet such works, thanks to their immediacy and ephemeral nature, help us recuperate lost or repressed historical experiences and thwart ingrained narratives about the uniqueness of present day dilemmas.” — Stephen Charbonneau

The following is a guest post from Stephen Charbonneau, author of Projecting Race: Postwar America, Civil Rights, and Documentary Film:

The Man in the Middle
By Stephen Charbonneau

Stan Hamilton (left) in The Man in the Middle (d. George Stoney, 1966)

It’s an unexpected moment in a police training film from the sixties. The film image features an African American youth organizer named Stan Hamilton from South Jamaica, Queens pleading with school officials to treat young people with respect, to “listen to them…and let them tell you…what may be the underlying causes” for the social unrest in their community. Additional footage unfolds featuring Hamilton with the 103rd Precinct’s Youth Outreach and Community Officer, James Wren, as the film’s narrator urgently calls for collaboration between police and “street level leaders.”

The scene comes from The Man in the Middle (1966), one of a handful of training films produced by George Stoney for various police departments in the sixties. While most police training films function as mere inscriptions of proper police behavior, Stoney’s film embraces contemporary documentary techniques to pressure the police audience for this film to see local activists as collaborators rather than adversaries. In the film South Jamaica is positioned as a community that reflects a national crisis. By 1966, American cities are torn asunder by entrenched inequalities around race and class. Many communities of color were bereft of redress as the realities of structural racism continued to hold strong even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This historical background fuels the film’s urgency to imagine a new paradigm of community policing, one that is collaborative and sees young African Americans as partners in resolving conflict.

The cinematography of the film is energetically spontaneous and improvisational, catching interactions as they occur. This approach compels the film to specify the historical actors documented: who they are, where they work, and the specific circumstances at hand. But it also – at times – modulates the representation of reality by moving it away from the ideal and towards the ambiguity of the real. Stoney’s film – particularly once it focuses on the 103rd Precinct – allows key moments of observation and participation to silence the narrator. Perhaps the most important scene in the film features Hamilton’s direct address to the camera. Seated in his office, surrounded by several young African Americans, Hamilton compels the film’s audience to see Jamaica through their eyes. As he speaks, he directs our attention to a series of photographs published in Life magazine.

Now when you speak of a police department here in Jamaica, you must look at it as young folks would…For example, here you have scenes in a magazine and just about every daily paper of police attitude and action done unto black folk throughout or somewhere in the United States. Now we’re not going to identify where in the United States, why in the United States, because this is no different – you understand? – to the viewer who sees this in South Jamaica. He isn’t going to worry whether it’s in Selma, Alabama or wherever. All he sees is [pointing at photos of riot police] there is a policeman, there is a dog, and there is abuse.

“There is a policeman, there is a dog, and there is abuse.” From The Man in the Middle

Hamilton’s use of the photograph compels the audience to see a reality they might not otherwise see, through the eyes of a young African American in South Jamaica. If showing us the photograph weren’t enough in and of itself, Hamilton specifically guides our look by pointing (‘there is a policeman, there is a dog, and there is abuse’). In doing so, the national scale of police violence and its inescapable racial inflections is both acknowledged and implicated at the local level of South Jamaica. For minority youth in Queens the events of Bloody Sunday in Selma are not bound by a particular geography. Rather, the ‘actions and attitudes’ exhibited by police in Selma traverse the country and constitute a national problem that links South Jamaica to other American cities. Lastly, the photographic spread draws our attention to mediation and the stakes of recording history as it happens. The imagery here retain their authenticity and document a crisis in process, one unfolding and overtaking the country at the moment of filming.

Nontheatrical films from the past – training films, community development films, educational films – have traditionally been overlooked (or mocked) for their presumed lack of artistry and utilitarian streak. Feature length documentaries and narrative films are the forms that are typically positioned as discrete works that endure. Sponsored cinema – produced by governmental agencies, NGOs, and industry groups – is otherwise framed as the disposable other of film studies, lacking the aura of more conventional and artistically rendered films. And yet such works, thanks to their immediacy and ephemeral nature, help us recuperate lost or repressed historical experiences and thwart ingrained narratives about the uniqueness of present day dilemmas.

The immediate visual evidence that has accompanied police abuse in recent years is echoed by an array of archival materials, like The Man in the Middle, that record and speak to a broader history of police misconduct towards persons of color. The experience of past police abuse in South Jamaica and the struggles highlighted in Stoney’s film were brought to the fore more recently in the mainstream media. A year and a half ago Eric L. Adams – Brooklyn Borough President and former police captain – authored a powerful op-ed for the New York Times, entitled “We Must Stop Police Abuse of Black Men” (12/4/14). While the piece closes with practical recommendations for curbing acts of police brutality towards African Americans, the opening is an unforgettable confessional about what it felt like to endure physical violence at the hands of police in South Jamaica, Queens as a fifteen-year-old: “I can recall it as if it were yesterday: looking into the toilet and seeing blood instead of urine. That was the aftermath of my first police encounter.” Adams was later determined to “make change from the inside by joining the police department,” although he encountered numerous cultural and institutional obstacles throughout his career. This testimony from the past echoes Hamilton’s pleas and contextualizes more recent acts of police abuse and violence as hallmarks of a long legacy of police abuse and distrust in communities of color.

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals

Not So Different

“Once you strip away the cultural and psychological aspects of our emotions and behaviors and examine them through the cold hard lens of Darwinian fitness, you see that our “advanced cognitive powers” are really a smoke screen clouding very simple behavioral programs that we share with our fellow primates.” — Nathan H. Lents.

This week, our featured book is Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals, by Nathan H. Lents. Today, we are happy to present the books introduction, in which Lents lays out his project and explains what he hopes to achieve.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Not So Different!

Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals
By Nathan H. Lents

Both the title and the cover photo of this book are something of a head fake. You’re probably thinking that the book is all about animal behavior. But it’s not, except that it is. Let me explain.

The questions that drove me to write this book are: Why do we humans act the way that we act? Why do we build the societies the way that we do? Are we evolved to behave this way? (more…)

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

Conjectural Thinking in Oncology and the Classics

States of Nature, Stages of Society

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

Conjectural Thinking in Oncology and the Classics
By Frank Palmeri

Conjectural history, beginning in the second half of the eighteenth century, sought to provide plausible accounts of periods for which no documentary or material evidence existed; it primarily depicted the earliest stages of society and the succession of those stages. Such speculative thinking enabled reconstructions of what might have happened in times about which no certainty was possible. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, conjectural history provided a model for the early development of the social sciences, especially anthropology, sociology, and political economy.

Today, conjectural thinking is experiencing a resurgence in fields as diverse as oncology and the classics. It is proving more productive than the positivist and scientistic notion that either we have certainty through knowledge of facts, or we know nothing of the matter in question. The alternative is not belief, but speculation, conjecture, trial-and error.

For example, in a recent piece, Siddhartha Mukherjee discusses a movement in the treatment of cancer in the last decade that is turning away from the standard protocols of chemotherapy developed in the late sixties and seventies. These forms of treatment attacked each kind of cancer, depending on where it was first located, with a certain mixture of toxic, indiscriminately cell-killing drugs. Although most cancer patients are still treated that way, oncologists now realize that every cancer is characterized by distinctive marks, by an individual combination of gene mutations. They are increasingly seeing a need to find more discerning medicines, molecules that can attack the cancer and cut off its growth by various pathways. (more…)

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

When the Empire Struck Back

Nation at Play

“Mid way through the discussion, the moderator asked how many in the audience had heard about the historic victory in 1911 of an Indian team over a British regimental team in the final of what was then India’s premier soccer tournament, the IFA Shield. To my surprise only a few hands went up.”—Ronojoy Sen

The following is a post by Ronojoy Sen, author of Nation at Play: A History of Sport in India:

When the Empire Struck Back
By Ronojoy Sen

It was a crisp winter afternoon and the setting was Asia’s, if not the world’s, largest literary festival. I was one of the speakers for the panel titled, India at Play, at the 2016 edition of Jaipur Literary Festival. The panel’s title was borrowed from my new book, Nation at Play: A History of Sport in India. My co-panelists included two former captains of the Indian soccer and cricket teams. Not surprisingly, it was standing room only at the open-air venue where the event was being held. Mid way through the discussion, the moderator asked how many in the audience had heard about the historic victory in 1911 of an Indian team over a British regimental team in the final of what was then India’s premier soccer tournament, the IFA Shield. To my surprise only a few hands went up.

The 1911 event is one event that I highlight in my book. The two teams that battled it out in the final were Calcutta’s Mohun Bagan and the East Yorkshire Regiment. Under the stewardship of Sailen Bose and the captain, Shibdas Bhaduri, a remarkable student of the game, Mohun Bagan formed a team that could challenge the best of the British teams in India. Curiously, the team played precisely eleven players in the IFA Shield; that is, it had no bench strength in case of injuries. This was a real gamble, since ten players of the Mohun Bagan XI played barefoot, with, oddly enough, the only non-Hindu in the team, left back Rev. Sudhir Chatterjee, wearing boots. It is tempting to link Chatterjee’s religion and his boots, but it was more likely that he picked up the habit when studying abroad. Besides, if popular accounts are to be believed, every effort was made to deter the Bagan players, working in British-run organizations, from training for their team. (more…)