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Archive for December, 2008

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Literary Studies Titles on Sale

Marily Monroe reads Joyce
Not happy with your the gifts you received over the holidays? Well, treat yourself to literary titles from Columbia University Press and Edinburgh University Press!

Save 20% on dozens of titles in a variety of subjects including:

* Literary Theory
* U.S. Literature
* Asian, African, & Arabic Literature
* British & European Literature
* Poetry & Drama
* Film & Cultural Studies
* Scottish Literature
* Language and Linguistics.

Sale lasts until February 1. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Jenny Davidson — YA Author, Blogger, and Scholar

Jenny Davidson, BreedingWe’ll have more in the coming month about Jenny Davidson’s just-published Breeding: A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century. The book offers a fascinating portrait of eighteenth-century debates concerning nature vs. nurture debate and how this Enlightenment concern has shaped contemporary ideas about the human perfectibility.

In addition to her scholarly work, Davidson is also an acclaimed novelist and the The Explosionist is like few other recent YA titles. The Explosionist is the story of a 15-year-old girl growing up in an alternate version of 1930s Edinburgh, one where the legacy of Napoleon’s victory a century earlier at Waterloo is a standoff between a totalitarian Federation of European States and a group of independent northern countries called the New Hanseatic League.

For more on the book you can visit The Explosionist blog or listen to a fascinating interview with Davidson on the always interesting and entertaining Bat Segundo Show.

Here are just a few of the subjects Davidson discusses on the show: sociological interest in dynamics of schools and boarding houses, Scottish dialect, peculiarities of diction, willful delving into uncomfortable territory, standing by sentences, emotional ethical questions about truthfulness, relationship between style and ethics, when writing is “too showy”, Thomas Paine, self-pity as antithesis to good writing, blindness to self-justifying elements of prose, Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels, Ernest Hemingway’s style, David Foster Wallace, David Copperfield, and the purity of the unwritten sentence.

Finally, don’t miss out on Davidson’s own blog Light Reading.

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Hamas in Politics, by Jeroen Gunning

Jeroen Gunning’s Hamas in Politics: Democracy, Religion, Violence provides a much-needed analysis of Hamas and its political ideology based on the author’s extensive fieldwork in the Gaza Strip. Drawing on interviews with Hamas leaders, Gunning presents a portrait that challenges the reductionist view of the group as merely a terrorist movement. Gunning writes:

Hamas’ ideology is neither inherently anti-democratic, nor anti-modern nor wholly anti-Western. It is critical of Western foreign policy in the Middle East. It is equally critical of secular democracy and its associated practices, and of secular rationality. Nevertheless, Hamas draws heavily on Western democratic notions such as the popular will, the social contract and inalienable human rights…. Authority is derived from having a popular mandate—not piety, religious knowledge or divine appointment. An Islamic state can only come about if willed by the people. Law, even Islamic law, can only be legislated by an elected legislature—not by unelected scholars—and revolves around a rational interpretation of both public interest and revelation.

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

Two Perspectives on the Terrorist Attacks in Mumbai — Ami Pedazhur and Bruce Hoffman

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Ami Pedazhur, author of the forthcoming The Israeli Secret Services and the Struggle Against Terrorism, compared the recent attack in Mumbai to the one during 1972 Munich Olympics. In both cases, the terrorists sought to maximize the attention of viewers around the world. However, as Pedazhur writes:

The terrorists in Mumbai were even more successful [than the terrorists in Munich], in that they created a drama that lasted much longer. They did so by aiming at high-profile targets like the hotels that are hubs for Western tourists and businessmen. They knew that viewers around the world would be glued for days to the constant stream of images on their TV and computer screens.

Pedazhur also argues that criticism of Indian intelligence has been too harsh. The chaos the terrorists created and their willingness to die rather than negotiate would have challenged even the most well-trained security forces.

You can read the entire article here.

And for another perspective, you can watch Bruce Hoffman’s recent talk at Georgetown University. In the talk, Hoffman, author of Inside Terrorism says the attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai were designed to undermine confidence and disrupt daily life, not just to take lives. Which, he says, is another reason hotels are becoming “favorite targets” for terrorists.

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

Quick Links — Jonathan Riley-Smith, Don Hollenbeck, and Bad Taste

Here are some links to recent online reviews and articles:

* Melissa Snell’s about.com review of The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam, by Jonathan Riley-Smith

* Loren Ghiglione discusses his new biography, CBS’s Don Hollenbeck: An Honest Reporter in the Age of McCarthyism in an article for the History News Network.

* BeyondHollywood.com weighs in on the newest from the Cultographies series: Bad Taste, by Jim Barratt.

And how could we resist? Here is the trailer from Peter Jackson’s (yes, that Peter Jackson) Bad Taste:

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

How to Win Islam Over — A New York Times Op-ed from Olivier Roy

“This idea of trying to reconcile Islam and the West is well intentioned, of course. But the premise is wrong.”—Olivier Roy and Justin Vaisse, New York Times

In yesterday’s New York Times, Olivier Roy and Justin Vaisse challenged the rhetoric and philosophy behind Obama’s efforts to improve relations with the Muslim world.

Olivier Roy, the author of Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah, The Politics of Chaos in the Middle East and other works, and Vaisse argue that by trying to “reconcile” Islam and the West, Obama is reinforcing notions of a “clash of civilizations.” The authors write, “Those who want to promote dialogue and peace between ‘civilizations’ or ‘cultures’ concede at least one crucial point to those who, like Osama bin Laden, promote a clash of civilizations: that separate civilizations do exist. They seek to reverse the polarity, replacing hostility with sympathy, but they are still following Osama bin Laden’s narrative.”

Roy and Vaisse argue that Obama also runs the risk of promoting the idea of a monolithic Muslim world, whose leaders can be easily convened as a way of improving relations with the Islamic world. Instead, Obama needs to become a “post-civilizational” president.

You can read the entire op-ed here and also watch a video of Olivier Roy from earlier this year discussing Islamic movements, the rise of fundamentalism, the failure of political Islam, and relations between the West and the Islamic world.

Friday, December 19th, 2008

A Discussion of Killing Civilians on “Making Sense of Darfur”

Killing CiviliansRecently there has been a very lively discussion at the Social Science Research Council’s blog Making Sense of Darfur about Hugo Slim’s Killing Civilians: Method, Madness, Morality. The discussion is ongoing but there have already been postings from the blog’s editor Alex de Waal and others.

In his post, de Waal writes: “[Killing Civilians] raises a series of profound questions about how and why civilians are killed in war—and how and why the are not killed or protected.” he goes on to write, “What Slim succeeds in doing is not only cataloging these horrors, but also providing a schema for beginning to typologize and understand. That’s a hugely useful task.”

Other posts in the discussion about Killing Civilians include: Addressing the Devastation, by Sarah Holewinski and The Entire Range of Misery of Civilians Caught Up in War, by Les Roberts.

Roberts concludes his post by writing:

The closing chapter of Killing Civilians is an articulate call to undertake a series of complex social transformations to become a species that acknowledges the complexity of understanding who is a legitimate target in times of conflict while simultaneously embracing the civilian ethic. What he has proposed is hard work. We in the humanitarian community need to do more. Those who execute war need to do more. Throughout the war in Iraq, dehumanizing and insensitive language about civilians has been printed in the West on a regular basis with no protest from the readers. For example, on September 5, 2003, papers across the US, for example, the Houston Chronicle ran an article that interviewed as US soldier about the previous day. It said, “We had a great day,” said Schrumpf. “We killed a lot of people. We dropped a few civilians but what do you do?” Hugo Slim is right, we all need to do more.

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Gayatri Spivak, Talal Asad & Other Prominent Scholars on the Obama Election

Soon after the presidential election, four of the interviewees from The Present as History: Critical Perspectives on Global Power were on a panel with the book’s author, Nermeen Shaikh to discuss the book and to consider the historical and future implications of Obama’s election. The panelists were Gayatri Spivak, Partha Chatterjee, Talal Asad, and Sanjay Reddy.

The event provided a fascinating opportunity to hear how four scholars, all of whom have been critical of the United States, viewed the possible meanings of the Obama election. Given that Obama’s victory is still so recent, the panelists were admittedly still struggling to come to terms with Obama’s election and what historical precedents, if any, could provide guidance. They suggested that finding a language to describe its meanings is not readily available.

There was also a sense of caution running through much of the discussion. While acknowledging the obvious excitement about Obama’s election and recognizing the fact that, in the words of Partha Chatterjee, a “dark era has passed,” the panelists were skeptical about the extent to which real change might result. There still exists, the panelists suggested, real entrenched economic and military interests that make real change very difficult. Nor is it entirely clear the extent to which Obama is actually committed to providing real structural change.

Here is a video of the entire event and we have also provided clips for some of the individual speakers (Please note: the embedded videos are not showing up on all browsers. We have provided links to the videos.) :

As mentioned above Partha Chatterjee expressed concern that too much hope is being invested in Obama and that these hopes are still ill-defined. He likened the reaction to Obama’s election to the end of the emergency in India in 1977. Noting that the sense of hope that greeted that event was quickly dashed, he expressed concern that perhaps we expect too much from an Obama administration. Chatterjee also suggested that while the current financial crisis might offer an opportunity to redefine global structures of power, real constraints on change still exist that will offer difficult obstacles to overcome.

Talal Asad voiced an uneasiness about the proliferation of American flags at the Obama victory rally, finding that the symbolism of the event and the rapturous expressions of the participants were reminiscent of Nazi rallies of the 1930s. Asad, however, sees Obama has the potential to be a Mandela-like figure in bringing people together but worried that the exuberance in the wake of the Obama victory is allowing us to forget the crimes of Bush, Cheney, Rove, and others.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak noted that America’s election of an African American man represents more than anything that the United States has become “reasonable” about the question of race. She cited Toni Morrison’s appearance on Good Morning America and the novelist’s warning that the election of Obama was very much about him and not necessarily about a real change in race relations. She also expressed skepticism about the degree to which, we can expect real change in U.S. foreign policy. It is necessary, she explained to not only concern ourselves with empire but also to focus on empowering the disenfranchised throughout the world.

Sanjay Reddy, an economist and the lone member from the social sciences on the panel, argued that Obama’s economic team will probably not offer any real significant changes in economic policy. He posited that the era of U.S. international economic dominance has probably come to an end. However, while the United States has used the International Monetary Fund to maintain an unofficial global empire, now faced with the possibility of not being able to wield power in the same, the United States, Reddy explains, is unwilling to let other countries control international aid, even when it is not able to do so by itself.

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Listening to Yaddo

As praise for Micki McGee’s Yaddo: Making America Culture continues to pour in, we thought it might also be worthwhile to point out other venues where you can appreciate the history of this influential artists’ colony.

In an earlier post, we posted some images from the book but you can also see more images from the book and learn more about Yaddo at their Web site www.yaddo.org.

One of the more fascinating features of the site is Yaddocast, which includes twenty episodes exploring the history, culture, and artistic achievements of Yaddo and its guest residents, from Yaddo’s founding to today. Each episode is an eight to fifteen minute examination of the life and work of one Yaddo founder or artist. Writers and artists featured include Saul Bellow, Flannery O’Connor, Aaron Copland, Philip Guston, Eudora Welty, Patricia Highsmith, Mario Puzo and others.

But don’t take our word for it, Yaddocast was also noted in the Live Your Best Section of the January 2009 issue of O Magazine.

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

New Titles from Wallflower Press

Columbia University Press is the proud U.S. distributor of Wallflower Press, one of the best publishers in film and film studies. Here are some recent arrivals from Wallflower that highlight the diverse and always-compelling nature of their list.

Is there more to recent, Blair-era cinema than Billy Elliot and Hugh Grant? In in Contemporary British Cinema, James Leggot presents a wide-ranging discussion that highlights the variety of recent British film, which includes Hugh and Billy but also much, much more. In a world saturated with entertainment “news,” Widescreen: Watching. Real. People. Elsewhere., by Mark Cousins offers a refreshingly incisive look at contemporary cinema. Known for his work in Prospect, award-winning journalist and critic Mark Cousins presents a skeptical, passionate, eyewitness account of film today, argued originally and written with panache.

The intersection of film and philosophy is increasingly on the minds of both filmmakers and film scholars. In the aptly titled Film and Philosophy: Taking Movies Seriously, Daniel Shaw considers the ideas of philosophers such as Stanley Cavell and the ways in which both classic and recent films have grappled with philosophical issues.

Finally, for those who are interested in documentary film, there is the excellent Documentary Display: Re-Viewing Nonfiction Film and Video by Keith Beattie. The cover from the book includes an image from a film by the great Jean Painlevé, whose hypnotic nature documentaries are not to be missed. Here’s a clip from one of his films, Le Vampire:

Monday, December 15th, 2008

Editors of the Measure of America Speak at the Carnegie Council

The Measure of AmericaThe Carnegie Council has a very interesting post on their blog Fairer Globalization about Sarah Burd-Sharps and Kristen Lewis’s recent talk on The Measure of America: American Human Development Report, 2008-2009.

You can watch a video of their talk here.

During the talk, Burd-Sharps and Lewis discussed how the human development in measured and highlighted the need for greater availability and standardization of human development data on industrialized nations. In assessing human development in the United States measure, “Fairer Globalization’” highlights some of the reports findings:

Across gender lines, females recorded similar scores to males, but achieved these through better education and health scores as opposed to income. Across ethnic groups, Asian males were found to enjoy a level of human development almost 50 years ahead of African American males. Moreover, the average life expectancy for African Americans today is shorter than it was for average Americans in the late 1970s. According to the data, African American males today can expect to live up to 20 years less than Asian females.

Internationally, the United States compares poorly with other OECD countries across health, education and income data. While per capita healthcare spending is three times that of Japan, the Japanese continue to outlive Americans by an average of four years. Similarly, upper secondary graduation rates in the United States are also comparatively low, and the United States registered some of the highest infant mortality and child poverty rates of any of its OECD peers. On top of this, the United States remains one of only four countries across the globe with no federally mandated paid maternity leave system in place.

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Paul Offit and Amanda Peet Discuss Vaccines and Autism on NPR

On yesterday’s Morning Edition, film actress Amanda Peet, and Dr. Paul Offit, author of Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure, discussed the importance of vaccinating children to protect them from measles and other diseases.

Some parents fear that vaccination might cause autism, but as Paul Offit argues this notion has been disproved by credible science. Offit also contends that by not vaccinating children, preventable diseases have had a resurgence in the United States and moreover the focus on vaccination has impeded further research into understanding autism.

Offit hopes that Amanda Peet’s celebrity will help get out the word about the importance of vaccination. In recent years, celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy have led an assault on vaccines which has concerned mothers like Amanda Peet. However, Peet’s sister, who is a doctor, put her in touch with Paul Offit, who convinced her of the safety and importance of vaccination. Ultimately, Peet pleads with parents not to listen to celebrities like herself but to scientists and doctors, who overwhelmingly stress the safety and necessity of vaccinating your child.

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Best American Magazine Writing 2008 on the Leonard Lopate Show

Leonard Lopate sat down with Jeanne Marie Laskas and Vanessa Grigoriadis, two of the contributors to the Best American Magazine Writing 2008 to talk about the best-selling collection and the state of the magazine industry in the age of blogs, Web sites, and a worsening economy.

To listen to the show:

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Mutts Like Us . . . A Post by Frances Bartkowski

This still young century—maybe only now just beginning—calls us all into relations of obligation and care. This is our object lesson, among others, whether to follow our curiosity and desire—to kiss, or to be led by our lesser selves toward animosity, what we sometimes like to cordon off as animality. Only by letting our human-animal borders become more porous can we let the future materialize out of our mixed pasts.

The following post is by Frances Bartkowski, author of Kissing Cousins: A New Kinship Bestiary:

Kissing CousinsThe surprises just keep on coming. There in the question and answer part of president-elect Barack Obama’s first press conference, all somber, sober news and ideas about how to deal with an economic meltdown the likes of which haven’t been seen in decades, came a question from one of the reporters. In an attempt at shifting the subject, posing a few quick questions about how the soon-to-be first family would be occupying the White House, a reporter asked whether they had yet decided on what sort of puppy the two daughters would be getting. Retaining his sober demeanor, Obama responded by citing two criteria: Malia is allergic, so the dog would need to be hypoallergenic, yet they would prefer a shelter dog, but, as he then pointed out, “shelter dogs tend to be mutts like me.”

How will this remark translate as the world continues to watch closely his first moves? So much has been said and written about the uniquely American phenomenon that was the candidacy and what will soon be the presidency of Barack Obama. Calling forth his mixed race identity in this way, making a link between humans and the animals who are our closest companions ought to go a long way toward keeping the conversation lively.


Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

“The Most Exciting and Eagerly Awaited Title from a Scholarly Press.” — Scott McLemee on Hubert Harrison, by Jeffrey Perry

Hubert HarrisonScott McLemee qualifies this remark somewhat in his Inside Higher Ed article on Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918, admitting that he has been eagerly awaiting this title and he explains why in the article and the accompanying podcast. (However, judging by the reception the book has already received, McLemee is not alone in his enthusiasm for Hubert Harrison.)

Perry’s biography, McLemee suggests, not only reclaims the importance of Hubert Harrison but also provides a new perspective on twentieth-century African American thought:

A familiar account of African-American culture during the first two decades of the 20th century frames it as a conflict between Booker T. Washington (champion of patient economic self-improvement within the existing framework of a racist society) and W.E.B. Du Bois (strategist of an active struggle for civil rights under the leadership of the black community’s “talented tenth”). The life and work of Hubert Harrison does not just complicate this picture; he breaks right through its frame.

The article also describes Jeffrey Perry’s unique journey from Princeton to becoming a postal worker and an active leader of the postal workers’ union to a Ph.D. at Columbia University and his pathbreaking research on Hubert Harrison.

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

What To Give Obama and His Team for the Holidays? The Measure of America

What to get for the Secretary of Labor, Education, Health, Housing or Transportation? In a post for the Huffington Post, Derek Shearer, who worked in the Clinton administration, suggests some possible gift ideas for Obama and his soon-to-be presidential staff. For books, Shearer suggests The Measure of America: The American Development Report 2008-2009.

Shearer writes:

For the Secretaries of Labor, Education, Health, Housing, Transportation, and White House staffers on domestic policy, a highly useful gift would be: The Measure of America: The American Development Report 2008-2009, by Sarah Burd-Sharps, Kristen Lewis and Eduardo Borgers-Martins. This study applies the statistical and analytical methods of the UN Development Reports to the United States. It contains a host of data on economic, social, political and environmental issues while highlighting comparative rankings in three core areas of human welfare: living a long and healthy life, having access to knowledge, and enjoying a decent standard of living. The US, sad to say, is not number one in most categories. The report also discusses government policies that can improve the American quality of life. It should sit on the desk of all domestic officials and serve as both a benchmark and a roadmap for progressive reforms in the Obama administration.

Monday, December 8th, 2008

Holiday Sale at Columbia University Press!

Holiday Sale

Books make great gifts. Please visit our HOLIDAY SALE and save 30% on books that are sure to please everyone on your list.

We are also offering special discounts on books in Philosophy, Religion, Middle East Studies, Neuroscience, Evolution and Paleontology, and Social Work.

Monday, December 8th, 2008

The Los Angeles Times Names Hard-Boiled Sentimentality as a 2008 Crime Fiction Favorite

In her Los Angeles Times round-up of the best of 2008, Sarah Weinman makes a special mention of Leonard Cassuto’s Hard-Boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Stories. Weinman writes:

“Pick up Leonard Cassuto’s “Hard-Boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Fiction”, a work of criticism that traces the lineage of hard-boiled writing back to Victorian-era sentimental novels— finding common ground between tough men who are lambs underneath and cozy women with knitting-needle nerves of steel.”

Friday, December 5th, 2008

Judging Books by Their Covers — The New York Book Show Awards

Several Columbia University Press titles won awards in the New York Book Show. The awards are sponsored by the Bookbinders’ Guild of New York and recognize excellence in book production and design. The winners for book design were Four Jews on Parnassus — A Conversation: Benjamin, Adorno, Schonberg, by Carl Djerassi and The Hudson: America’s River, by Frances Dunwell.

The winners for book covers were: Kissing Cousins: A New Kinship Bestiary, by Frances Bartkowski, Shivers Down Your Spine: Cinema, Museums, and the Immersive View, by Alison Griffiths, and Philosophy in Turbulent Times: Canguilhem, Sartre, Foucault, Althusser, Deleuze, Derrida by Elisabeth Roudinesco.

Here are the winning covers:

Kissing Cousins

Shivers Down Your Spine

Philosophy in Turbulent Times

Friday, December 5th, 2008

The Song of Everlasting Sorrow in the Quarterly Conversation

Song of Everlasting Sorrow, Wang AnyiIt would not be a stretch to say that The Quarterly Conversation has come to be one of the better places —online or in print— to turn to for literary and cultural criticism. Issue 14 was recently published and is filled with great stuff, including a podcast interview with Aleksandar Hemon and articles about the relationship between work and writing in the works of William Gaddis, Charles Bukowksi, and others.

There are also several excellent reviews including one of Roberto Bolano’s much discussed 2666 and Wang Anyi’s The Song of Everlasting Sorrow. Gregory McCormick opens the review writing, “The translation into English of Wang Anyi’s 1996 novel, The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, marks an important development in the way most literary Westerners, particularly Americans, view China.” McCormick argues that while Western attention is often focused on writers who have been banned in China, there are superb novelists such as Wang whose work, which has not been banned, have been somewhat ignored in the West.

This is not to suggest that Wang’s work toes the party line. As McCormick argues, Wang Anyi’s novel offers subtle but nonetheless stinging critiques of Chinese society and the Communist Party. McCormick writes:

[Wang's] criticisms are subtle, but they are even-handed, and this allows Wang’s competing visions of a spoiled if hopeful future and a nostalgic if troubled past to gain power and currency: there are tens of millions of readers of her novels (Sorrow in particular). Cultivating a readership remains the most effective way to criticize and challenge the system.