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Archive for May, 2008

Friday, May 30th, 2008

Books, Videos, and Wii: CUP in LA and a Report from our BEA Correspondent

Book Expo America


Like much of the publishing world, Columbia University Press is in Los Angeles for the annual Book Expo America (BEA). At the expo, we’ll be promoting some of our forthcoming Fall titles (stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks for what’s in store at the Press) and reminding people of some of our Spring 2008 that have recently become available.

The festivities began last night when Wang Anyi’s Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A Novel of Shanghai was feted at the party for Reading the World. Here’s a report on BEA and the party from CUP’s director of publicity, Meredith Howard:

Your fearless correspondent writes today from Los Angeles, the site of this year’s Book Expo America. Once a year the entire book industry, publishers, booksellers, librarians, authors, and vendors convene to discuss all things bookish.

It’s not all business of course. BEA is famous in the industry for its numerous parties, receptions and launches to celebrate new products. Last night, on the eve of the BEA, I attended the party to celebrate the fourth annual Reading the World Initiative. Sixteen publishers had books chosen as part of this years Reading the World, and Columbia’s own Song of Everlasting Sorrow is part of the Initiative this year.

I hoofed it over to the beautiful Red Cat Theater in downtown Los Angeles to join the celebration in progress. Right after I walked through the door I ran into Chad Post, the founder of three percent, the resource for international literature at the University of Rochester and one of the main organizers of Reading the World. Chad and I talked for a bit then I snagged one of the free tote bags given away by Bookforum, a sponsor of the party and checked out the selection of all the books chosen for inclusion in Reading the World that attendees could take home for free. Impressed by the selection, I had a hard time deciding between a new translation of Don Quixote or a hot young Israeli writer. Ultimately, proud parent I am I took a picture of Columbia’s own selection, Song of Everlasting Sorrow in its glory on the table, ate some cheese and crackers, and decided that with three more days of the Book Expo still to go, I should pace my acquisitions of new books so my suitcase going home doesn’t weigh a ton. Check in with me on Monday and see how well I’m sticking to that resolution….


Fully embracing the fact that the conference is in Los Angeles, our booth will be “premiering,” three new videos featuring our authors. Don’t despair if you can’t make it out to Los Angeles: watch the videos on youtube: We have videos for Paul Offit’s Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure, James E. McWilliams’s American Pests: The Losing War on Insects from Colonial Times to DDT, and Siddharth Kara’s Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery.

Paul Offit, Austim's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure James McWilliams, American Pests Siddharth Kara, Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery


And for those convention-goers who have dreamed of being a guitar hero or perhaps for those who have not quite “grown up,” we have Wii set up at our booth. Now you might wonder, what has Wii got to do with a university press title? Well, as Gary Cross argues in his forthcoming Men to Boys: The Making of Modern Immaturity, men in their 20s and 30s are increasingly putting off the conventional markers of male maturity (career, marriage, children) and extending their adolescence and adolescent pursuits, which include video games.

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Last Days of the White Sale.

Columbia University Press White Sale

Please forgive our last-minute shilling, but there’s still time to take advantage of great savings during Columbia University Press’s White Sale, which ends this weekend.

Save up to 80% on hundreds of titles in all subjects.

*Please note all sales during the White Sale are final.

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

Donald Keene: Review in Bookforum and Meeting Greta Garbo!

Donald Keene, Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of JapanWe were doubly fortunate yesterday to both receive our new issue of the always excellent Bookforum, which is again chock-full of interesting articles and reviews and is fully accessible online, and to find Roland Kelts’s glowing review of Donald Keene’s new work, Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan.

Here’s an excerpt from the review:

The book’s … episodic feel, combined with Akira Yamaguchi’s detailed color illustrations, lends the memoir a picaresque quality. We follow Keene’s rise to prominence as a translator and scholar in both Japan and America and experience his increasingly intimate access to eccentric literati. His failed attempts to persuade the Nobel Committee in Sweden to award his friend Mishima the Nobel Prize are both comical and heartbreaking. Keene flies frenetically between Europe, America, and Japan, only to eventually witness the winner, Kawabata, stop writing, and the passed-over Mishima commit suicide.

Owing to a flight delay during one such travel jag, Keene arrives in New York a day too late to have a final conversation with his dying mother, who has lost the capacity to communicate by the time he reaches her bedside. Her death shakes him, and his mixture of grief and guilt is palpably rendered. He recovers through the support of his friends in Japan, which he now calls “the center of my world,” a country he departs sadly with each passing year, wondering whether he will ever be able to return. The pathos at the heart of Keene’s lovely and gracious memoir, and perhaps of his extraordinary life, emanates from this very human limitation: We cannot live in and love two worlds at once.

Greta Garbo meets Donald Keene And Greta Garbo? Well, in addition to meeting and becoming friends with some of the great postwar Japanese writers, Donald Keene also had the chance to meet Greta Garbo (thanks to Garboforever.com):

The most memorable celebrity I met was undoubtedly Greta Garbo. She was a close friend of Jane Gunther, the wife of the famous journalist John Gunther….

Garbo had been in retirement for many years, but she was still remembered as the greatest of the film actresses. One day I had a telephone call from Jane asking if I would take Garbo to the theatre. Of course I eagerly accepted. The play was “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

Before the play Garbo hardly spoke and during the intermission she covered her face with the program. We left just before the play ended to avoid being noticed. After emerging from the theatre, we waited briefly for a taxi. The drivers of passing cars halted their vehicles for a better look at the famous face.

I saw Garbo once again, at Jane’s house. Another guest was R. K. Narayan, the great Indian writer. Garbo sat at the end of a sofa not saying anything. Looking at her I could not help but be aware that she was no longer beautiful. I remember particularly that her lipstick was smeared. (Jane told me that Garbo could not bear looking at her face in the mirror.)

But when Narayan began to speak of his conversations with his late wife in the world of the dead, Garbo’s interest was awakened, and for a while we saw again the face that had captivated the world.

For more on Donald Keene.

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

Principles Do Pay; Wanted: A Thomas Aquinas of the business world

Geoffrey Heal, When Principles Pay: Corporate Social Responsibility and the Bottom LineThis post is by Devin Stewart and was originally posted on Fairer Globalization, a blog devoted to reflections on articles and events related to the Carnegie Council’s online magazine Policyinnovations.org.

Companies can’t succeed in a society that fails.

That expression nicely captured the message at Geoffrey Heal’s talk at the Carnegie Council’s Global Policy Innovations program on his new book When Principles Pay: Corporate Social Responsibility and the Bottom Line. Heal, a professor at Columbia Business School, credits the phrase to a friend of his.

Does it really pay to be ethical? Do principles pay, as the book’s title suggests? Not only does Heal touch on CSR’s manifestations from Adam Smith to Starbucks in an elegant sweep, he makes an argument that principles do pay, pointing to philosophical, empirical, and anecdotal evidence.

In the book, Heal sets the philosophical stage. Adam Smith, he reminds us, argued in 1776 that if everyone acts in his or her own interest, society would benefit—the concept known as the invisible hand. From Heal’s book:

He was arguing against do-gooders and in favor of self-interested behavior, at first sight a strange position for a moral philosopher. What was counterintuitive is the claim that self-interested behavior by each individual in society is good for society as a whole—‘By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of society.’

The invisible hand has two problems, however. One was less relevant in Smith’s day. That is the issue of external costs. Private costs are those paid by the person carrying out an action. In the case of driving a car, those would be the cost of gas and insurance, notes Heal. Meanwhile, the external costs are those that everyone pays, in pollution, climate change, and congestion, for one person using a car. The same applies to the operation of a company. Some costs are borne by the company while others are borne by society.

The second is fairness. Fairness may sound removed from modern economics. But Heal reminds us that it is not. Just as some measures in the name of efficiency could be inhumane, Heal points out that insider trading and favoritism are not condoned in the ethics of our modern capitalism, whether we think about it that way or not. Similarly, as Heal put it yesterday, is it fair to pay someone a dollar a day even if that is the market clearing wage?

Since the birth of the corporation, these organizations have somewhat lost their way. We might need a Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, or Nagarjuna of the business world to come around and remind us that corporations should be run for the good of society—the second part of Smith’s invisible hand formulation: …promotes that (interest) of society. Shouldn’t we recall that promoting society’s interest was the original goal of corporations?


Friday, May 23rd, 2008

Memorial Day Post: An Interview with Michael Sledge, author of Soldier Dead

Michael Sledge, author of Soldier Dead: How We Recover, Identify, Bury, and Honor Our Military Fallen

This weekend we celebrate Memorial Day, the annual holiday to remember United States soldiers who have died in combat. In his book, Soldier Dead: How We Recover, Identify, Bury, and Honor Our Military Fallen, Michael Sledge explores what happens to members of the United States Armed Forces after they die. The popular image of a soldier removing the dog tags of his fallen comrade and vowing revenge before carrying the body back to safety couldn’t be further from the truth. In this book find out why recovering the remains of service people matters, how bodies are recovered, identified (remember those dog tags?), returned to families, buried, and remembered.

Below is an interview with Michael Sledge:

Q. How did you manage to write Soldier Dead without it becoming overly grim or morbid?

Michael Sledge: At one point someone did say to me that the book was “relentlessly morbid.” However, the reader will learn in the first few paragraphs that Soldier Dead is anything but grim and morbid. In fact, it is extremely heartening. It is about the courage and duty shown by a little known and seldom officially rewarded group of men and women.

Q. Do you think that people, in general, really need or want to know what happens when members of the U.S. military die, or that families need or want to know all the details of how the remains of their loved ones were handled?

Michael Sledge: Absolutely. The public has long since evolved from a passive role to a position of being very informed and involved. The attitude of Americans toward the government’s handling of war dead and missing began to change during the Korean War, when thousands of soldiers were missing. This change toward acquiring knowledge and becoming actively involved accelerated during the Vietnam War to the point where the U.S. government became motivated to revisit the subject of those missing and presumed killed from both the Korean War and World War II.

Q: It is difficult to imagine that the government has misled or would deliberately mislead bereaved families or cover up mistakes that occur with the handling of U.S. war dead. Has this happened? And, if so, why?

Michael Sledge: Since people are in control of the process of handling the dead, this handling is subject to the same range of quality, care, and concern as medical care, or any other field dealing with an extremely sensitive issue. Let me say first that I believe, on an overall basis, that the duty, care, and concern exhibited by those in charge of the dead have been remarkable. And their commitment is even more remarkable given the seriousness of the matter and the difficulty in trying to satisfy family members who have received, as one widow said, “The worst news of my life.”

It would be unwise not to recognize that there have been and are problems. Specifically, during the Gulf War, an Air Force gunship, the Spirit ’03, was shot down at the beginning of the conflict. In this case, the family feels that military authorities gave them incomplete, misleading, and inaccurate information concerning the downing of the plane. Not only were personal effects mishandled, authorities were not forthcoming about the mishandling and were insensitive to the issue. There were instances of extreme insensitivity regarding the postdeath transition period for the widows. A good example of this is that the Officers’ Club statements were changed to read “Widow X”—as though the grieving wives needed any reminder of their new status. And, finally, the actual handling of remains is subject to considerable debate, speculation, and even suspicion, with there being the possibility that a secret Special Operations mission was conducted that not only destroyed sensitive equipment but also further insulted the physical remains of the crew.

A recent example of how bad information can be disseminated, knowingly in my opinion and to cover up a mistake, is the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. Tillman was killed by friendly fire, but the Army covered up important details of his death.

A disturbing trend that is arising is the increasing use of Special Operations Forces. It is difficult to obtain information on these operations. While it is important to employ tactics and methods that are at least militarily successful, I feel that doing so will more easily enable the hiding of information. This was certainly the case in Vietnam until the official veil of secrecy was lifted.


Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Wellek Library Lectures

Elizabeth Grosz, Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the EarthEven as academics and scholars start to get ready for their summer break, there is still much anticipation and excitement about the Wellek Library Lectures series, which is going on this week. Held annually since 1981 at the Critical Theory Institute at the University of Califronia, Irvine, the series brings an internationally distinguished critical theorist to deliver a series of three lectures in which he or she develops his or her critical position and relates it to the contemporary theoretical scene.

This year’s presenter is Joan W. Scott whose lectures will focus on politics and academic freedom. The titles of her lectures are “The Theory of Academic Freedom,” “Academic Responsibility,” and “The Attack on Academic Freedom.”

Columbia University Press has been the proud publisher of the Wellek Library Lectures series. Elizabeth Grosz’s 2007 series of lectures, Chaos Territory and Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth is now available. Grosz argues that art—especially architecture, music, and painting—is born from the disruptive forces of sexual selection. She approaches art as a form of erotic expression connecting sensory richness with primal desire and, in doing so, finds that the meaning of art comes from the intensities and sensations it inspires, not just its intention and aesthetic.

In her lecture “Sensation. The Earth, A People, Art,” Grosz writes:

Art is of the animal. It comes, not from reason, recognition, intelligence, not from a uniquely human sensibility, or from any of man’s higher accomplishments, but from something excessive, unpredictable, lowly. What is most artistic in us is that which is the most bestial…. Art is … that energy or force, that puts life at risk for the sake of intensification—for the sake of sensation itself—not simply for pleasure or for sexuality, as psychoanalysis suggests—but for what can be magnified, for what is more, through which creation, risk, innovation are undertaken for their own sake, for how and what they may intensify

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez and his role in the Administration of Torture

Administration of Torture, Jameel Jaffer and Amrit SinghIn his review of Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez’s new book Wiser in Battle: A Soldier’s Story, Scott McLemee of Bloomberg.com notes that the former head of coalition forces in Iraq offers a similar message found in other books about how things went wrong in Iraq: “Don’t blame me.”

McLemee also points to the fact that while Sanchez tries to explain or explain away his role in creating the policy regarding the Army’s policy toward detainees, he omits the inclusion of the actual documents that point to his involvement.

As McLemee writes, these documents can be found in Administration of Torture: A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond edited by Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh.

In their introduction Jaffer and Singh describe what could be found in Sanchez’s directives from the Fall of 2003. You can also read the original memo from Sanchez (pdf):

Of the twenty-nine methods authorized by Sanchez’s directive, some were similar to those listed in the Field Manual—these included “pride and ego down,” and “fear up harsh—but the directive also authorized the use of twelve methods beyond those endorsed by the field manual. For example it authorized interrogators to isolate prisoners for extended periods, to subject them to “stress positions and extreme temperatures, and to deprive them of sleep. It also authorized interrogators to “exploit [] Arab fear of dogs and to deceive prisoners into believing that they were being interrogated by foreign intelligence services.

For more on Administration of Torture you can also listen to a podcast interview with Jaffer and Singh or read Scott McLemee’s interview in Insidehighered with Jameel Jaffer.

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Award News: Rebecca Walkowitz for Cosmopolitan Style

Rebecca Walkowitz, Cosmopolitan Style: Modernism Beyond the NationWe here at the Press continue to be committed to publishing exciting new monographs and first books by up-and-coming scholars, so it always good when of those works and their authors get their due. At the recent International Conference on Narrative held in Austin Texas, Rebecca Walkowitz’s Cosmopolitan Style: Modernism Beyond the Nation received an honorable mention for the George and Barbara Perkins Prize awarded for the best book published on narrative.

Here’s an excerpt from the citation:

The work of Cosmopolitan Style is to show how the salient features of modernist literary narrative—paratactic syntax, recursive plotting, collage, wandering consciousness, and portmanteau language—usher in new patterns of description and recognition that powerfully challenge the social and political status quo—even as these same narrative elements invite a turning away from politics altogether….

With the intensity of its theoretical engagement on the one hand and the sensitivity of its close readings on the other, Walkowitz’s Cosmopolitan Style accomplishes its own tour de force of scholarly style, modulating effortlessly from high concept to textual nuance, from sophisticated debates about the meaning of the literary to a detailed account of how the literary is performed in modernist and post-modernist novels. Congratulations to Rebecca Walkowtiz for this truly impressive first monograph.

More on Rebecca Walkowitz and Cosmopolitan Style: read an interview with Walkowitz | Read the Introduction (pdf) | Visit Walkowitz’s faculty page

Monday, May 19th, 2008

The Nakba: An Interview with Lila Abu-Lughod

Der Spiegel recently interviewed Lila Abu-Lughod, coeditor of Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory about the 60th anniversary of the the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in 1948.

Here is an excerpt from the interview:

Lila Abu-Lughod: Only my father was Palestinian, but for both my parents the political injustice of the situation was clear. Every child of a Palestinian refugee feels the burden of the events of 1948, not just through what a parent or grandparent might tell her or through sensing their hollow feeling of exile, but because the results are with us today in the continuing violence. Those who live in the US are faced daily with a kind of symbolic violence — misconceptions and untruths conveyed by the media about Israel. I don’t see the anniversary as a time of mourning but as an occasion for trying to get the world to listen to what really happened and to think about how this should shape our vision of a solution.

Friday, May 16th, 2008

An Interview with Houston Baker in Diverse Magazine

Houston Baker, Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals Have Abandoned the Ideals of the Civil Right MovementInterest in Houston Baker’s Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals Have Abandoned the Ideals of the Civil Rights Movement continues as evidenced by the interview he gave to Diverse: Issues in Higher Education. You can hear or read the interview.

In the interview, Houston Baker talks about his decision to write Betrayal, the difference between Black neoconservatives and black centrists, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a “race man. He also cites scholars such as Manning Marable, Angela Davis, Lani Guinier, and Adolph Reed as scholars whose work remains accountable to the needs of the black community.

Much has been made of the book’s critiques of Henry Louis Gates, Cornel West, and Michael Eric Dyson. In this excerpt, Baker clarifies his concern with their work:

The centrists, to my mind, are the people—and I have given some notion of that in what I said earlier—are brilliant, brilliant intellectuals. I mean, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., for example, has written unarguably the best book on literary and cultural matters in Afro-America in the last 30 years or so. Cornel West is an incredible philosopher. And pragmatism is something that he has unutterably altered by his work. (Georgetown University’s) Michael Eric Dyson is an incredibly brilliant and learned man.

The reason I talk about those individuals, such as those three—Gates, West and Dyson—as centrists is because they have given up their best critical labors, which would lead to the production of a book. And a book, I define as a production that has accountability; that has an abundance of evidence; that has a scholarly dedication to bringing forth the truth and to changing a discipline in ways that will bring a new understanding of African-American life and culture.

When I look at books from Professor West like Race Matters, I don’t find those criteria satisfied. When I look at a book like The Future of the Race by Professors Gates and West, I don’t find those criteria satisfied. And when I look at Michael Eric Dyson’s work Between God and Gangsta Rap or Come Hell of High Water or I May Not Get There With You (it’s evident that) he’s a prolific writer, but these books are more anecdotal thought pieces. They often have a provocative cast to them as when he suggests we might look at (Dr. Martin Luther) King’s lapses of ethics or morality and on the basis of those lapses equate with those gangsta rappers in the United States of America—which produced from one of my graduate students the exclamation ‘does any group in the world judge its leaders, or choose them, by their worst tendencies?’

So I think the work is sensationalistic in some instances; in other instances, they are too simplistic. And they seem designed to say to a particular audience—in the case of Michael Eric Dyson, I think it’s a middle-class Black audience—you can read me and you can see that this is pretending to be a critique of gangsta rap and Dr. King, but it’s really kind of a moralizing almost sermonic, anecdotal pamphlet. The same is, I think, in some measure true of Cornel West’s Race Matters.

So, the centrists are people who say, ‘I’m going to speak honestly, fully and scholastically to the best of my ability to you about race in ways that will be productive for race relations, and perhaps to the Black majority.’ And then what they often give is, in some instances, stand-up comedy.

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

The Importance of Ernst Tugendhat: An Interview with Santiago Zabala

Ernst TugendhatErnst Tugendhat, has become in the words of Richard Rorty, a philosopher, who “built bridges between continents and between centuries.” Admirers of Tugendhat, Rorty among them, point to his ability to move beyond the continental/analytic divide that has characterized and at times hindered contemporary philosophical discourse.

Ernst Tugendhat’s life—he was one of Heidegger’s last students—and the importance of his philosophy is the subject of Santiago Zabala’s new work The Hermeneutic Nature of Analytic Philosophy: A Study of Ernst Tugendhat, which includes a foreword by Gianni Vattimo.
We recently interviewed Santiago Zabala about the book and Tugendhat’s influence on contemporary philosophy (see excerpt below). For more on Tugendhat you can also read an interview from signandsight.com and Tugendhat’s article Whom to Thank?

From the interview with Santiago Zabala:

Question: Why is a study on Tugendhat necessary today, and what does his work add to contemporary philosophical discussions? What is unique in his work that bridges continental and analytic philosophy?

Santiago Zabala: A study on Tugendhat is necessary not only because there is no other but most of all because it demonstrates that the analytical/continental division does not condition philosophy anymore. If Tugendhat has been ignored until now it is because this division was strong enough to hide those philosophers that were able to fuse together the linguistic turn and the end of metaphysics. Today we have philosophers such as H. Putnam, R. B. Pippin, C. G. Prado, Robert Brandom, Barry Allen, and Samuel C. Wheeler III who overcame this division by talking with both sides. This, in a way, is what both Rorty and Tugendhat started more than twenty years ago. Two things distinguish Tugendhat: first, his ability to show how Heidegger’s ontological questions can find a response in formal semantics and, second, the fundamental hermeneutic nature of analytic philosophy.

(read the entire interview)

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

The North Korean Food Crisis – Again

Marcus Noland, Famine in North Korea

In a recent event at the Peterson Institute for International Economics , Marcus Noland, co-author of Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid, and Reform, spoke about the dire prospects of a food crisis in the reclusive North Korean state. Both audio and videocasts of Noland’s speech along with remarks from three North Korean refugees and a panel discussion are available at the Peterson Web site.

Want to find out more? Read the news release on worsening conditions in North Korea, an interview with the authors of Famine in North Korea, read a review of the book in the Financial Times.

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

Translating Sorrow: An Interview with Michael Berry

Michael Berry, translator of The Song of Everlasting Sorrow by Wang AnyiWe know it must seem like we’re posting a lot about The Song of Everlasting Sorrow but we’re not the only ones excited about the book: Francine Prose praised the book in the New York Times Book Review and PRI’s The World just posted an interview with Michael Berry, the novel’s translator.

You can read the entire interview and below is an excerpt:

The World: For Western readers unfamiliar with Wang Anyi discuss her place in modern Chinese fiction.

Michael Berry: Wang Anyi is generally regarded as the best living female writer in China and, in the eyes of many critics, the best contemporary writer in China. She has been honored with every major literary award in her homeland, including the prestigious Mao Dun Prize.

At the same time, she is not the kind of writer embraced by the academy but shunned by the market. Quite the contrary, her fiction has been popular among several generations of readers, from the late seventies to the present. Over the years, her works have been widely adapted for stage, television, and film and she has continually stylistically reinvented herself, from “scar literature” to tales of sexual liberation and from avant-garde experiments to postmodern portraits of contemporary Shanghai.

The World: The Song of Everlasting Sorrow is considered a classic in contemporary Chinese fiction, which is as good a reason as any to have it translated into English. But why publish it now? Does the novel tell us anything we need to know about China today?

Berry: Song is a wonderful entry point into the world of contemporary Chinese literature, but it does much more than simply tell the reader things they “need to know about China.” I think the book tells us things we need to know about the human condition, about relationships, desire, our dreams vs. the everyday, and the weight of time and history on the individual. The novel may be set in China, but this is truly one of the masterpieces of world literature (at least the original is, I can’t speak for the translation!) and really speaks to much larger themes.

Monday, May 12th, 2008

Cynthia Ozick on Lionel Trilling

Lionel Trilling, The Journey AbandonedThe New Republic has posted an article by Cynthia Ozick on Lionel Trilling on its Web site. In the piece, Ozick explores the impact of Trilling as a critic, his reception as a novelist, and the first-time publication of The Journey Abandoned: The Unfinished Novel.

Over the past few years there has been a resurgence of interest in Trilling. New York Review Books reissued his only published novel The Middle of the Journey and critics and scholars are once again turning back to his critical works. In assessing his prominence and achievement as a critic, Ozick writes, “No present-day magazine writer or blogger or reviewer or critic can aspire to what Trilling as essayist encompassed: his aim was nothing less than to define, and refine, civilization. He meant not only to comment or discriminate or analyze or judge, but to ‘stand for something.’”

Trilling’s status as a critic did not guarantee him success as a novelist. After the publication of his first novel The Middle Journey (1947), Trilling embarked on a second novel only to give up on it. However, while conducting in the archives at Columbia University, Geraldine Murphy discovered a portion of a second novel, now published as the The Journey Abandoned. Ozick writes, “[The Journey Abandoned], was left unfinished — cast out midway, after twenty-four chapters and 150 pages. News of it erupted like a secret exploding; yet all along it was hiding in plaine in Columbia’s Trilling archive…. Columbia University Press has now brought it out … with a valuable introduction by Geraldine Murphy, the scholar who uncovered it, and who serves as its impeccable editor.”


Friday, May 9th, 2008

Keith Woods on How the Media Has Covered Race in the Presidential Campaign

Keith Woods, The Authentic Voice: The Best Reporting on Race and EthnicityEarlier this week, Keith Woods, coauthor of The Authentic Voice: The Best Reporting on Race and Ethnicity, appeared on the Newshour to discuss how the media has covered and talked about the issue of race in this year’s presidential race.

Woods appeared with Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and Gerald Seib, executive Washington editor of the Wall Street Journal. All three criticized the media’s penchant for focusing on controversy rather than context and for simplifying racial issues and categories to the detriment of sustaining a fruitful discussion of race.

Here is an excerpt from Keith Woods:

And I think when you look at the — such phrases as “soccer mom,” “NASCAR dad,” so many of the euphemisms that we have produced, to talk about people by race or class, we’re still hiding behind something other than what we’re actually saying.

And, journalistically, I think our responsibility is not to reflect the society on those things, but to reflect the values of journalism, which suggests precision over euphemism, for example, and accuracy vs. obfuscation.

And I think we have been guilty more of imprecision and obfuscation than we have of accuracy on this front. When you look at the conversation around those euphemisms, one of the consequences is that we have reduced people, in many ways, to those categories, and allowed the public, essentially, to draw what I would imagine will always be a race-based conclusion about the group we’re talking about.

So, when we talk about the white working-class voter who does not vote for Barack Obama, guess what conclusion the other folks in this country are going to make about those voters? Now, we’re going to conclude that they are bigots. If — when we talk about black voters without distinguishing between one and the other, then we have a bunch of sheep running behind the black candidate because they’re black, and they’re not thinking, and they have no sophistication whatsoever.

That’s what the media allows. In fact, that’s what it abets when it talks about that race — race that way. And the fact of the matter is that we, as a country, talk about it that way, too. Journalism has to be better.

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

The Sixtieth Anniversary of the Nakba: A Posting by Ahmad H. Sa’di and Lila Abu-Lughod

Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory, Ahmad Sa'di and Lila Abu Lughod

Ahmad H. Sa’di and Lila Abu-Lughod are the editors of Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory.

Across the world, people are marking the sixtieth anniversary of the Palestinian’s “nakba” (catastrophe). The Palestine/ Israel conflict has occupied center stage in international affairs at least since the Balfour Declaration in 1917. Its macabre manifestations confront us on TV screens and newspapers’ pages daily. The efforts invested to solve it peacefully have so far failed. And despite apparently huge diplomatic efforts (genuine, self-serving, or cynical) doomed approaches continue, paradoxically, to prevail. These approaches most commonly—and with various degrees of sophistication—construct a political landscape that is dominated by elites who are described as either for or against peace. Leaders are classified in loaded and dichotomous terms: as moderate or radical; westernized or traditional; secular or fundamentalist. Very little, if anything at all, is said about those who construct these categories and their interests in doing so, let alone their role in perpetuating the conflict. Nothing is said about the morality of those who categorize. Most importantly, very little is said about ordinary Palestinians who have continued to endure the consequences of the catastrophe for more than six decades.

In contrast Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory suggests that a durable peace between Israelis and Palestinians must begin by tackling the moral foundation of the conflict. In 1948 the vast majority of the indigenous population, the more than 750,000 Arab Palestinians who resided on 77.8% of the land of their country—which later became Israel—were expelled. The will of the international community to allow their return, expressed in the UN resolution 194, has been ignored.

Nakba does not aim to recount the historical events that led to this calamity. There is no need. The gap between the contending Israeli and Palestinian historical narratives has significantly narrowed since the declassification of Israeli documents relating to the wartime events of 1948. It is now beyond doubt that Zionist leaders were from the start obsessed with the “transfer” of the Palestinians and that the Palestinian refugees lost their patrimony because they were forced out. Moreover, it is now common knowledge among specialists and scholars that many of the acts of expulsion were carried out under official orders and that such acts continued for more than eleven years after Israel’s independence. Those expelled included Palestinians who had become citizens of the State and carried Israeli identity cards.


Thursday, May 8th, 2008

Herve This’s 10 Elements of Basic Kitchen Knowledge

Herve This, Kitchen Mysteries

In a recent interview in the Toronto Globe and Mail, Herve This discusses such matters as the difference between molecular gastronomy and molecular cooking, the relative importance of having the right equipment in your kitchen, and some of the scientific principles of making stock. He also lists his 10 basic elements of kitchen knowledge:

1. Salt dissolves in water.

2. Salt does not dissolve in oil.

3. Oil does not dissolve in water.

4. Water boils at 100 C (212 F).

5. Generally foods contain mostly water (or another fluid).

6. Foods without water or fluid are tough.

7. Some proteins (in eggs, meat, fish) coagulate.

8. Collagen dissolves in water at temperatures higher than 55 C (131 F).

9. Dishes are dispersed systems (combinations of gas, liquid or solid ingredients transformed by cooking).

10. Some chemical processes – such as the Maillard Reaction (browning or caramelizing) – generate new flavors.

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

Infinity Through Language:A Conversation With Ch’oe Yun

Ch'oe Yun, There a Petal Silently Falls The text of this interview with Ch’oe Yun ran in Korean Culture. Many thanks to Korean Culture for their permission to use the text here.

Ch’oe Yun is the author of There a Petal Silently Falls: Three Stories. She will be speaking at the Korea Society with translators Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton on Friday May 9 at 6:30

Korean Culture: Some writers, like O Chong-hui and Ch’oe In-ho, begin writing early in life; others, like Pak Wan-so, begin relatively late. When did you begin thinking about creative writing?

Ch’oe: I began rather early myself. The first work I published, back in middle school, was supposed to be a short story. From then on I’ve written continually in just about every genre. I started out with critical essays and after putting in some more time studying literature and literary theory I felt quite comfortable settling on fiction.

Korean Culture: How do you see yourself as a writer? Do you have a message? Are you an ideological writer? An art-for-art’s-sake writer? An experimental writer? All of these?

Ch’oe: I guess critics like to make these distinctions, but it seems to me the true nature of creative writing is to be found outside such classification. To be sure, I have all of those tendencies you mention. A variety of them exist in all writers. If we really want to depict the infinite scope of reality, then we need to mobilize all of those tendencies. It’s precisely that infinity, shown to us by people and reality, that makes us write. The simplest fact that defines a writer as a writer is the expression of this infinity solely through language.

As far as a message is concerned, no work lacks one, no matter how neutral that work is. On the other hand, I am in no way an ideological writer. No matter how lofty-sounding a political ideology, I can’t help viewing it with suspicion. I can go along with the idea that ideologies are used to defend certain ways of life, but for me only the literary realm is broad enough to include all ideology.

At the same time, I’m one of those who believes, with Bakhtin, that even silence is a form of conversation, and so I could never be an art-for-art’s-sake writer.

The important thing for me is to depict reality through the most appropriate language and form. And because reality is always changing, it’s only natural that each of my works should be different in language and form. When I have a world-view I wish to present, my first task is to flesh it out in language and structure rather than in a message. And so when I hear occasionally that my works are experimental, my reaction is that there’s some misunderstanding. One needs a unique language and form to depict a changing world, and in this sense a work’s world-view creates its own form. I prefer to describe this process not as an experiment but as the pursuit of a different factuality. If you’re going to change the world, how are you going to do it through conventional methods and language?


Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

A Possible Peace between Israel and Palestine: A Posting from Menachem Klein

Menachem Klein, A Possible Peace: An Insider's Account of the Geneva InitiativeMenachem Klein is a senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, and was a team member of the Geneva Initiative negotiations of 2003. He has advised both the Israeli government and the Israeli delegation for peace talks with the PLO (2000), and was a fellow at Oxford University and a visiting professor at MIT. Klein is most recently the author of A Possible Peace between Israel and Palestine: An Insider’s Account of the Geneva Initiative.

Is there an alternative to the daily bloodshed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority? Is this conflict unsolvable? The answer to the first question is yes, while to the second one it is no.

My book—A Possible Peace between Israel and Palestine—shows what a final peace treaty can look like. The Geneva Initiative which the book describes and analyzes is a model developed by former Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, army generals, and politicians. They brought their previous experience as peace makers to the Geneva Initiative, which contains detailed provisions resolving all outstanding issues between Israel and the Palestinian people, including drawing a border between Israel and Palestine, dividing Jerusalem, and determining the status of the Palestinian refugees.

The Geneva Initiative provides a comprehensive alternative to the current escalating conflict. President Bush’s road map has not succeeded in gaining momentum because it does not lead in any clear direction. It has been primarily a guide for interim arrangements, and for containment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a framework that has been extremely foggy with regard to a final agreement and the end of the conflict. The Geneva Initiative stands out as an alternative to the poverty of current policy. The key question is whether the Israeli and American governments will have sufficient energy and political courage to change direction. Another open question is whether the two sides can renew negotiations given their current lack of faith in each other. Attempts to achieve a partial final status agreement, in keeping with the Road Map, have failed. Once again, the Geneva Initiative is relevant as a model for a final Israeli-Palestinian agreement, and as a possible basis for renewal of negotiations.

I had the privilege to be part of the negotiating team a fact which is reflected in the book’s subtitle: An Insiders’ Account of the Geneva Initiative. My academic studies of Israeli-Palestinian relations and the history, society and politics of each of them, as well as my experience as an advisor to the Israeli peace negotiating team, provided me both an insider’s perspective and an impartial analysis of the diplomatic efforts behind the Geneva compromise. Although the Geneva Initiative was not endorsed by the governments of either side, it became a fundamental frame of reference for solving the Middle East conflict alongside UN Security Council resolutions and President Clinton’s parameters. My aim in writing the book was to bring the reader into the discussion room and behind closed doors. Consequently, the reader can imagine what future Israeli–Palestinian peace talks will look like, how they will manage tough debates, and how they can find a compromise.

Monday, May 5th, 2008

Music, Madness, and the Unworking of Language by John T. Hamilton event at Book Culture

In Music, Madness, and the Unworking of Language John Hamilton investigates the way literary, philosophical, and psychological treatments of music and madness challenge the limits of representation and create a crisis of language. Hamilton traces the linkage of music and madness that courses through the work of Herder, Hegel, Wackenroder, Kleist, and E. T. A. Hoffmann. John T. Hamilton is professor of comparative literature and Germanic languages and literature at New York University.

Join John Hamilton as he discussed Music, Madness, and the Unworking of Language tonight at 7pm at Book Culture in New York City. He will be joined by Professor Avital Ronell also of NYU.