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Archive for the 'Book of the Week' Category

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Eric Kandel on Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko

In the following excerpt from his new book Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures, Eric Kandel examines the power of Rothko’s painting and his transformation from a figurative to an abstract painter. In describing Rothko’s abstract paintings for the Rothko Chapel, Kandel writes:

The sensation is both ambiguous and remarkable, and it affords us an opportunity to create new meaning. Moreover, the harmony among the beautifully displayed paintings in the chapel—a harmony that characterizes Rothko’s late work—is striking. None of Rothko’s figurative paintings are remotely capable of evoking as emotionally rich and varied, as spiritual, a response as these reductionist dark canvases.

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

This is Your Brain on Jackson Pollock — Eric Kandel on Art

“We understand how visual information is processed and things like this. And we understand where pleasure centers are, and how they interact with that. We know where memory centers are. But the details of perception of art, we’re just beginning to explore.”—Eric Kandel

Earlier this month, Eric Kandel, appeared on Science Friday to talk about his new book, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures. In the interview, Kandel describes what we can learn about the brain by looking at the work of Abstract Expressionists. These twentieth-century painters boiled visual art down to a few fundamental components—line, color, form, light, and texture. Our neural circuitry is hardwired to prefer images we can identify, which makes abstract forms more difficult to process. At the same time, abstract forms leave the door open to interpretation, stimulating the higher-level areas of the brain responsible for creativity and imagination.

Here is a short excerpt from the interview in which Kandel describes some of the pleasures of viewing the work of J. M. W. Turner. You can listen to the entire interview below:

IRA FLATOW: And it seems like in your book, you point to how the artists themselves evolved from one form of art to the other.

ERIC KANDEL: Amazing.

IRA FLATOW: Give me your favorite example.

ERIC KANDEL: Take Turner. I show two wonderful images of Turner. Now, this we’re talking about the 1800s, early painting around 1815, 1820. He shows one of his most favorite themes, a ship fighting the force of nature at sea. It’s rocking and rolling–

IRA FLATOW: It’s a real ship. It looks like a ship, a classic ship.

ERIC KANDEL: And you see the elements. You see the rain coming down. You see the moon. You see absolutely everything. He comes back to the same theme 50 years later. And it’s very abstract. You don’t see the details very clearly at all, but the effect on me is even stronger.

IRA FLATOW: Because you’re filling in those spots with your life experience.

ERIC KANDEL: And that’s so satisfying. Getting your own mind involved is a very satisfying activity. The more you become engrossed in something, the more you can use your own thought processes. For most people, the more enjoyable it becomes.

IRA FLATOW: Can you, as a scientist, see the mind doing that, understand how it fills in, brings life experiences?

ERIC KANDEL: Not really. Our understanding of brain science has progressed tremendously in the last 100 years. Even in my academic lifetime, 50, 60 years. But we’re at the beginning of understanding this enormously complicated problem. We understand how visual information is processed and things like this. And we understand where pleasure centers are, and how they interact with that. We know where memory centers are. But the details of perception of art, we’re just beginning to explore.

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

Eric Kandel on “What Is Art For?”

In the following talk, “What Is Art For,” Eric Kandel discusses some of the ideas central to his new book, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures

Monday, September 26th, 2016

Book Giveaway! “Reductionism in Art and Brain Science,” by Eric Kandel

This week our featured book is Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures, by Eric R. Kandel.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Reductionism in Art and Brain Science to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, September 30th at 1:00 pm.

Joseph LeDoux, author of Anxious: Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety, writes, “Eric R. Kandel seamlessly moves between the intricacies of science and art, weaving their histories into a common narrative that illuminates both fields and shows they have more in common than is often assumed. It is a fun and informative read that anyone with a curious mind can enjoy and learn from.”

For more on the book, you can read the book’s introduction:

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

A Look Inside a “Conversational Firm”

The Conversational Firm

“Most interesting to me was the fact that this company, which was so vocal about rejecting conventional bureaucracy, ended up adopting some bureaucratic practices over time—but this happened precisely because employees used their voices to speak up and say when certain conventional practices that had been rejected would not be useful. It struck me that a whole new model was emerging, one in which cross-hierarchical conversation was a central mechanism for confronting business challenges.” – Catherine Turco

This week, our featured book is The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media, by Catherine J. Turco. Today, for the final post of the week, we are happy to provide a short excerpt from an interview with Turco conducted by Kara Baskin for MIT Sloan School’s Newsroom. You can read the interview in its entirety here.

What new approach to communication did you find inside TechCo?

What most excited me was the realization that there is a new organizational model that companies can shoot for today. I believe this model has become possible—and perhaps even necessary—on account of the communication technologies now available and the habits and expectations that today’s employees bring into the workplace. I call the model the “conversational firm,” and it’s the idea that organizations can have far more open dialogue across the corporate hierarchy than we ever before thought possible. (more…)

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

Employees Speaking Up: The TechCo Wiki

The Conversational Firm

“Perhaps most interesting, the employees’ upward communication on the wiki was so startlingly open at times that I found myself wondering if this might be a setting in which employees had finally transcended all the theorized barriers to ‘speaking up’ to hierarchy…. Such public voice and dialogue simply have no precedent in past accounts of corporate life.” — Catherine J. Turco

This week, our featured book is The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media, by Catherine J. Turco. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from Turco’s account of the TechCo internal wiki.

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

A Conversational Firm for a Conversational Age

The Conversational Firm

“[The Conversational Firm] will demonstrate that even if we retain certain elements of conventional Weberian bureaucracy (including a hierarchical decision-making structure), it is now quite possible to build firms in which the opinions of employees are heard, firms very much engaged in public discussion of their techniques. In this conversational age, with our new tools and platforms for voice, it is possible to build more conversational firms.” — Catherine J. Turco

This week, our featured book is The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media, by Catherine J. Turco. Today, we have an excerpt from The Conversational Firm, in which Turco explains her concept of the “conversational firm,” and tells how TechCo is a perfect vehicle for her to use in exploring what a “conversational firm” can be.

A Conversational Firm for a Conversational Age
By Catherine Turco

Despite bureaucracy’s apparent indestructibility, The Conversational Firm offers hope that it is possible to pry open the iron cage if we approach things from a new angle. By following what works and what does not work about TechCo’s various attempts to transcend bureaucracy with openness—and by examining when and how conventional bureaucracy slips back in along the way—the book provides insight into the opportunities and challenges of shooting for openness as well as the nature and durability of bureaucracy. Ultimately I argue that TechCo has found its way to something quite new and different from the iron cage—a new organizational form I call the “conversational firm.”

Such an organization does not do away with all the vestiges of conventional bureaucracy. In particular, it does not become an open, democratic decision-making environment. However, it does maintain a radically more open communication environment than we have ever seen before, and this fosters a more engaged workforce and a more adaptive organization. Using multiple communication channels to promote and sustain an ongoing dialogue with its employees, the firm is able to confront the tradeoffs of openness and bureaucracy directly and to leverage the collective wisdom of its workforce to navigate them. Through its ongoing conversations, the organization finds a way to challenge the market’s—and even its own— conventional wisdom, continually iterating and improving upon both the open and bureaucratic practices it adopts as it goes. (more…)

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

Introducing “The Conversational Firm”

The Conversational Firm

“‘The old ways of doing things don’t work anymore,’ TechCo’s CEO told me the first time we met. The ‘old ways’ he was referring to were most everything we think of when we think of a conventional bureaucratic firm: vertical hierarchy, centralized decision making, formal rules and guidelines to control employee behavior, corporate communication that follows the rigid lines of the firm’s organizational chart, and a staid culture that stifles individual expression.” — Catherine J. Turco

This week, our featured book is The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media, by Catherine J. Turco. To get the week’s feature started, we have excerpted Turco’s Preface to The Conversational Firm, in which she takes us a TechCo “Hack Night” and explains how TechCo is trying to get rid of what the company sees as outdated organizational structures and theories.

Monday, September 19th, 2016

Book Giveaway! The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media

The Conversational Firm

“Will twenty-first-century social media technologies finally liberate organizations from stifling bureaucratic hierarchies? After spending ten months closely observing a software firm, Catherine J. Turco, one of sociology’s brightest young stars, surprises with fascinating and nuanced answers. Brimming with vivid examples, The Conversational Firm will not only shape scholarly debate but also engage general readers interested in corporate life.” — Viviana A. Zelizer, author of Economic Lives

This week, our featured book is The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media, by Catherine J. Turco. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Conversational Firm. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, September 23 at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, September 16th, 2016

Resistance Against Criminal Identities

Exiled in America

“Because many residents at the motel did not distinguish between types of sex offenders, a sex-offense conviction was automatically equated with victimization of a child…. Therefore parolees and those with sexual offense histories took different steps to resist the stigma of their offenses and create boundaries between themselves and the pedophile label.” — Christopher Dum

This week, our featured book is Exiled in America: Life on the Margins in a Residential Motel, by Christopher P. Dum. Today, for the final post of the week’s feature, we have excerpted “Resistance Against Criminal Identities,” part of the book’s third chapter, in which Dum explains the stigmas (or, sometimes, the surprising lack thereof) associated with the criminal records of inhabitants of the Boardwalk Motel.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Exiled in America.

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

People on Food Stamps Aren’t Feasting on Filet Mignon

Exiled in America

“To be sure, there are individuals who may not use their resources wisely. But that is true across the socioeconomic spectrum. We should not waste our creative energy on coming up with new restrictions that dictate how the poor should behave. Instead, we should do just the opposite and direct our efforts toward policies that help people out of poverty.” — Christopher Dum

This week, our featured book is Exiled in America: Life on the Margins in a Residential Motel, by Christopher P. Dum. Today, we are happy to present an article originally published on The Conversation, in which Dum argues that regulations dictating how the poor can spend government aid are unnecessary and counterproductive. Read the original article.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Exiled in America.

People on Food Stamps Aren’t Feasting on Filet Mignon
By Christopher Dum, Kent State University

There is a popular myth that welfare recipients are using food stamps to purchase luxurious food items such as filet mignon and lobster.

Commonly referred to as food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is designed to provide low-income individuals and families with nutritious meals. And it is a popular target for political attack. In 2014 Congress passed legislation that cut US$8.7 billion from the food stamp program. That’s a lot of money, but less than the previously proposed cuts $20.5 billion and $39 billion.

At the state level, a recent bill introduced by Republican Missouri State Representative Rick Brattin sought to prohibit SNAP recipients from using their benefits to purchase items such as seafood and steak, as well as cookies, chips, energy drinks and soft drinks.

The problem with this sort of legislation, and the thinking that goes with it, is that it ignores the harsh reality of extreme poverty. For many individuals receiving SNAP benefits, purchasing expensive raw seafood or steak is illogical, because they are so poor that they lack the means to prepare them. This sort of behavior also quickly drains SNAP funds that residents need to stretch out over an entire month.

How do I know this? From June 2012 to June 2013, I rented a room at a “welfare” motel in upstate New York. As a sociologist, I wanted to explore how residents of that motel actually lived.

While not all motel residents received SNAP benefits, all of them were by definition homeless, and all of them had to eat. As I grew to know dozens of them, they allowed me to observe their daily lives and in doing so, allowed me to observe how and what they ate. And trust me – it’s not steak and lobster.

(more…)

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

Photos of Life in the Broadway Motel

Exiled in America

This week, our featured book is Exiled in America: Life on the Margins in a Residential Motel, by Christopher P. Dum. During the course of Dum’s research in the Broadway Motel, he took a number of photographs, which we have collected here along with Dum’s brief descriptions of the shots in order to give readers a sense of life in the Broadway.

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

Introducing “Exiled in America”

Exiled in America

“These revelations about the Boardwalk made it clear to me that the motel was not just a home for sex offenders. Rather, it housed a variety of marginalized populations (such as people who were mentally ill, disabled, struggling addicts, or working poor) who lived hidden from the public eye, in squalid conditions that many of us would consider unfit for habitation. I had found not only an interesting group of potential reporters but a unique location where they were socially embedded.” — Christopher Dum

This week, our featured book is Exiled in America: Life on the Margins in a Residential Motel, by Christopher P. Dum. Today, we are happy to present Dum’s preface, in which he describes how his unique study came about, and what he hopes to reveal with his ethnographic account of the Boardwalk Motel.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Exiled in America.

Monday, September 12th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Exiled in America: Life on the Margins in a Residential Motel

Exiled in America

“It is not often, after forty years in the field, that I actually get excited by a new scholar’s tone—that I find it so fascinating, so rich, so theoretically and analytically thick, that I go agog over it. Such is the case with Dum’s work.” — Peter Adler, University of Denver

This week, our featured book is Exiled in America: Life on the Margins in a Residential Motel, by Christopher P. Dum. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Exiled in America. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, September 16th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

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

(more…)

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

With and After Orientalism — Carrie Preston

Carrie Preston, Learning to Kneel

“After almost forty years of important and illuminating discussions of orientalism and ironic responses to the scourge of empire, I think a new space is opening for global or transnational scholarship and intercultural art. Participants in this space are not naïve about the continuing ramifications of empire … [b]ut they also want to move beyond irony and make room for pleasure, inspiration, even enchantment in the fraught encounters between cultures.”—Carrie Preston, author of Learning to Kneel

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

A century ago, W. B. Yeats’s first noh-inspired play for dancers, At the Hawk’s Well, was performed in Lady Emerald Cunard’s London drawing room with an invited audience that included Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot—one time we know for certain that these three great modernist poets were all together in the same room.

Also in the room was Ito Michio, the Japanese-born performer who choreographed and danced the role of the Guardian of the Well and went on to have an important career in American modern dance.

Ito Michio
(Ito Michio as the Guardian of the Well in At the Hawk’s Well (1916))

The French artist Edmund Dulac designed full wooden masks, made costumes, and composed and performed the music.

Edmund Dulac
(Edmund Dulac with other musician and the cloth to be folded and unfolded at the beginning and end of each play for dancers.)

It was a fascinating collaboration and avant-garde modernist performance experiment. Eliot, also a great critic, claimed that Hawk’s Well made him think differently of Yeats, “… rather as a more eminent contemporary than as an elder from whom one could learn.” For him, Yeats soared into the new modernist generation with Hawk’s Well. Plenty of critical ink has been spent on Yeats in the past century, but this play has tended to be something of an exception and embarrassment, largely because it’s a pretty good example of orientalism, exoticism, and cultural appropriation.

There were many warnings against writing a book focused on Hawk’s Well and modernist noh, certainly against moving to Japan to take lessons in noh performance technique. I was literally becoming an orientalist, part of that academic tradition Edward Said famously defined in 1978 as being based on essential distinctions between the so-called “Orient” and “Occident.” The “Orient” (primarily the Middle East for Said) is imagined to be spiritual, passive, effeminate, exotic, traditional, and inscrutable, while “the Occident’” is rational, aggressive, masculine, central, modern, and knowable. Said argued that scholarly and aesthetic accounts of “the Orient” justified empire, even when, as with Yeats and noh, the artists were celebrating nonwestern achievements to counter white European cultural stagnation. In later works, Said clarified that he viewed modernism as an “ironic” rather than “oppositional” response to empire. And in the decades that followed, critics have recognized that cultural exchange is inevitable in modernity and can’t simply be deplored, but few models of transmission emerged that did not emphasize irony, mimicry, or appropriation. Warnings from Said and other postcolonial theorists have contributed to my feeling that I should have been more ironic, certainly less enthralled, as I took noh lessons and researched modernist noh.

Yet, studying and participating in collaborative intercultural exchange, however fraught and full of mistakes, tended to encourage my optimism rather than irony. Accusations of orientalism and appropriation begin from a desire for cultural sensitivity, but they can unintentionally reinforce the notion of an unbridgeable divide between east and west. Certainly we can identify plenty of orientalist assumptions in Yeats, Pound, Dulac, and their collaborators, including Ito, one of the most successful performers to build a career out of orientalist performance.

But, after almost forty years of important and illuminating discussions of orientalism and ironic responses to the scourge of empire, I think a new space is opening for global or transnational scholarship and intercultural art. Participants in this space are not naïve about the continuing ramifications of empire, the offense of cultural appropriations that look more like theft, and the ways that outdated polarities like east and west still encroach upon our thought. But they also want to move beyond irony and make room for pleasure, inspiration, even enchantment in the fraught encounters between cultures.

(more…)

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

An Interview with Carrie Preston, author of “Learning to Kneel”

Learning to Kneel, Carrie Preston

“My noh training in Tokyo with a master actor changed everything about Learning to Kneel.”—Carrie Preston

The following is an interview with Carrie Preston, author of Learning to Kneel: Noh, Modernism, and Journeys in Teaching

Q: Learning to Kneel examines the Western interest in the Japanese noh theater from many different perspectives, historical and scholarly, as well as via your own experiences as a teacher, student, and performer. How did these different vantage points shape your approach to the book?

Carrie J. Preston: I began thinking about this book as a fairly typical scholarly study of the noh theater’s influence on modernism. As I read previous scholarship on the topic, I kept encountering a disclaimer that went something like this: I tried to watch a noh play but understood next to nothing; that’s ok, there is no need for a deep knowledge of noh because W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, Bertolt Brecht, Benjamin Britten, and other Westerners knew nothing about noh. Aside from the homonym fun (nobody knows noh), this was a troubling and decidedly un-scholarly disclaimer. I set out to learn deeply about noh, and I soon realized that experts locate the essence of noh in training, always in private lessons where the student mimics the teacher’s chant and dance so as to memorize the noh repertory. I clearly needed to take lessons, and my experience as a performer helped me undertake this rather daunting enterprise. My noh training in Tokyo with a master actor changed everything about Learning to Kneel.

I decided that the story of my experience taking lessons in noh performance technique needed to be central to the book. I tried to interweave that personal story with the accounts of how the various artists I was discussing learned about noh. I treated us all as noh students who bring personal desires and goals to our studies that impact how we understand and use noh. This approach allowed me to face the disclaimer that none of us know anything about noh by acknowledging that there are always limits to a student’s knowledge. But students also develop unique and interesting strategies for learning. By focusing on the techniques for learning and teaching noh, I hoped to open up the rather esoteric topic of noh theater’s influence on modernism so that the book will be of interest to many students and teachers of cultures—and we are all students and teachers of cultures on some level.

Q: Yeats, Pound, Brecht, and Britten’s approach to noh is often viewed as an example of cultural appropriation. In what ways does your book alter this perception?

CJP: I don’t disagree that these figures were engaged in cultural appropriation and orientalism, but in some ways, that’s the least interesting thing to say about them. It’s easy to accuse them of cultural insensitivity and prove their guilt. At the same time, we often celebrate multiculturalism and diversity, believing that study abroad will produce cultural sensitivity in our students. I find the binary of good multiculturalism and bad appropriation to be particularly unhelpful. Who owns a culture? Who should be allowed to study and perform the theater of a particular culture? What is the difference between being inspired by noh and appropriating noh? If the answer is that only those born into a culture can study, use, or be inspired by it, what does that mean for study abroad, diversity requirements, and global studies?

These are difficult questions, and international/transnational teaching and learning is messy work. In Learning to Kneel, I embrace that mess and get down on my knees in the dirt, so to speak. And that taught me that all cross-cultural or global learning involves a degree of appropriation, whether we’re studying noh or opera. But, of course we don’t put those two lyric musical theaters in the same category because of unequal power relations between the so-called “east,” where noh originated, and “west,” the birthplace of opera. Was Ito Michio appropriating opera when he moved to Germany to become an opera singer? I recognize that power disparities are absolutely crucial to understanding cultural exchange and that some appropriation is regrettably malicious, but I also hope to recognize and question the habits of mind that make us treat noh so differently from opera.

Q: Ito Michio is one of the more fascinating figures in your book. How does his life affect the way we think about cross-cultural exchanges?

CJP: Ito’s life is the perfect example of the messiness of cultural exchange. He traveled to Europe as a young man hoping to become an opera singer and then a western dancer and slough off his stultifying Japaneseness. Upon reaching London, Ito was valued most as an “oriental” artist” by Pound and Yeats, who wanted him to help them translate noh plays and work on modernist noh adaptations. He claimed that they taught him to value his own culture, but they also taught him how valuable the popular fascination with Japan could be for his career as a performer. He began to advertise himself as an “oriental dancer” and exoticize his modern dance practice. When he arrived in New York during World War I, Ito began staging Pound’s translations of noh plays, even though he had no training in noh. And in spite of the fact that he was adapting Pound’s already adapted versions of noh texts, Ito advertised them as absolutely authentic. His tendency to stretch the truth and invent a powerful position for himself in Japan raised the suspicions of the CIA, and he was arrested shortly after the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor as an enemy alien. He was eventually repatriated to Japan, where he staged spectacular revues for the U.S. occupying forces and introduced American modern dance and beauty pageants (for better and worse).

(more…)

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

Book Giveaway! “Learning to Kneel,” by Carrie Preston

This week our featured book is Learning to Kneel: Noh, Modernism, and Journeys in Teaching, by Carrie J. Preston.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Learning to Kneel to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, September 9th at 1:00 pm.

Martin Puchner writes, “What drew Western writers to an arcane, highly stylized form of Japanese court theater? As a scholar, Carrie J. Preston answers this question by way of the archive, unearthing a global network of dancers and writers. But she also pursues this question as a student, subjecting herself to the rigors of noh training. The result is an unusual blend of both approaches, a magisterial study in cultural history that is also a compelling story of teaching and learning.

For more on the book, you can read the book’s opening chapter “Introduction to Noh Lessons”:

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

Alan Schroeder on How Twitter is Changing Presidential Debates

Presidential Debates, Alan Schroeder

“The explosive growth of Twitter brought not just a dramatic increase in the number of users in 2012 but also a radical shift in the way presidential debates are viewed, critiqued, won, and spun. By exponentially broad­ening the conversation, Twitter, along with other social media, forced campaigns and the press to reconfigure their approach to debates.”—Alan Schroeder, Presidential Debates

In the following excerpt from Presidential Debates: Risky Business on the Campaign Trail, Alan Schroeder considers the impact that Twitter had on the 2012 presidential debates and the way campaigns use social media.

2012: THE YEAR OF TWITTER

The general election debates in 2008—three between Obama and McCain, one between Biden and Palin—generated a combined total of around half a million debate-related tweets. Four years later, the firrst Obama–Romney debate alone inspired 10.3 million tweets, making it the most tweeted-about event in American political history up to that point, and the fourth most tweeted-about telecast of any kind. By the time the series ended in 2012, some 27.5 million debate-related tweets had been sent—fifty-.ve times as many as in the previous presi­dential race.

Impressive as these statistics are, they tell only part of the story. The explosive growth of Twitter brought not just a dramatic increase in the number of users in 2012 but also a radical shift in the way presidential debates are viewed, critiqued, won, and spun. By exponentially broad­ening the conversation, Twitter, along with other social media, forced campaigns and the press to reconfigure their approach to debates.

A key effect of Twitter was to transplant the locus of debate reaction from after to during the event, with live responses delivering an ongo­ing nationwide verdict. According to Democratic debate adviser Ron Klain, “It definitely moves the power over how this event is interpreted from a postdebate spin game to an in-the-debate Twitter game.” What was once a closed loop—journalists covering the debate, campaigns seeking to influence that coverage—is now open to the public at large. And the public has eagerly jumped on board.

“Twitter has become the natural companion to the televised experi­ence,” according to Adam Sharp, head of government and elections for Twitter in Washington, D.C. “It has taken us back to the idea of every­body gathering together on the couch to share the experience of watch­ing this pivotal event in history—but now, that couch is big enough to .t the whole country.”

Shortly after the first Obama–Romney debate, Dashiell Bennett of the Atlantic summed up the shift in an online post entitled “Twitter Won the Presidential Debate.” “The idea of watching such a key national event without the instant reactions of your fellow tweeters has become almost unthinkable,” Bennett said. “If you’re just watching on TV and not tak­ing part in (or at least following) the simultaneous online conversation, then you might as well not even be paying attention at all.”

Debate reaction on Twitter and other social media took some unfore­seen turns. Bluefin Labs, a social analytics company in Cambridge, Mas­sachusetts, conducted a study of social media conversations as part of its Crowdwire initiative, which focused on the presidential election of 2012. According to Crowdwire, more women than men commented about the first debate by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent. “It pulled in a lot of women who don’t typically talk about political shows,” Crowd-wire concluded; “younger women in particular.” Over the course of the remaining debates, women continued to outnumber men as social media commenters.

Researchers found that nearly one in ten of those who wrote on so­cial media about the opening Obama–Romney debate were tweeting or posting about a televised event for the first time. “The Super Bowl and several entertainment-awards shows have drawn responses from large numbers of newbies,” according to Crowdwire. “But this is the first time a political event has sparked such a large in. ux.” To a great extent, debate reaction on Twitter centered upon specific phrases and moments. Mitt Romney’s reference to Big Bird inspired more than 250,000 tweets. President Obama’s “horses and bayonets” line sparked more than 105,000, and Joe Biden’s use of the word malarkey produced 30,000. Romney’s oddly constructed phrase “binders full of women,” intended to accentuate his commitment to gender diversity, rose to number one on Twitter’s trending topics. Each of these examples became amplified both during and after the debates in parody accounts, Facebook groups, web searches, and visual spoofs.

(more…)

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

Alan Schroeder on the Debating Styles of Kennedy and Nixon

“Kennedy ran for president not just as a politician, but as a leading man. In the debates as in the overall campaign, this positioning paid off. Presumed stardom led to genuine stardom.”—Alan Schroeder

The first televised presidential debate took place, of course, in 1960 pitting John F. Kennedy against Richard Nixon. Their first debate has become historic if not almost mythological in its importance and its legacy for the modern presidential campaign. In his introduction to Presidential Debates: Risky Business on the Campaign Trail, Alan Schroeder takes us behind the scenes of that now-legendary debate.

Below, we’ve also included an excerpt from later in the book in which Schroeder analyzes the performances of Kennedy and Nixon. In assessing the performance of JFK, Schroeder writes, “Kennedy ran for president not just as a politician, but as a leading man. In the debates as in the overall campaign, this positioning paid off. Presumed stardom led to genuine stardom.”

Nixon had actually very skillfully used television to his advantage while vice-president. His famous “Checkers” speech and the “kitchen debate” with Khrushchev showed his ability to to command the media spotlight. While fatigue and illness certainly played a part in Nixon’s weak performance, it can also be attributed to his lack of understanding about the nature of the debate. Schroeder explains, “Nixon had fundamentally misconceived the event, viewing it as a rhetorical exercise, while Kennedy approached it as a television show.”

In addition to the excerpt below, we also offer a clip from that first debate: