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Archive for June, 2010

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Stephen Cohen on the Russian Spy Scandal

Stephen CohenIn an interview with CBS News, Stephen Cohen, most recently the author of Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War, questions the timing of the arrests in the Russian spy scandal.

More precisely, Cohen, who is a former White House advisor, suggests that the arrest might have been a backhanded political move to embarrass Obama in light of his high-profile meeting with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev. The move might have also been used to upset Obama’s attempts to “reset” the U.S.-Russian relations. In the interview Cohen suggests, “If this was done by someone to undermine Obama’s reset policy toward the Russians it reminds us how strong the opposition is.” Moreover, Cohen wonders what, if any, advanced knowledge Obama had of the arrests.

Cohen argues that the “heavy hand of the historical legacy of the Cold War lives on,” and that in both the United States and Russia a degree of mistrust exists between the two nations. As to the degree to which these accused spies represented a real danger, Cohen says, “These people were up to something, or some of them were, but it seems pretty innocuous. There are no charges of espionage.”

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

James Rodger Fleming on Fixing the Sky

James Rodger FlemingIn today’s New York Times, Cornelia Dean has a round-up of books on “geoengineering,” an idea gaining traction in the scientific community. With the effects of global warming becoming more pronounced each day, scientists argue that geonengineering (the application of engineering techniques to alter the planet) should be tested before it is too late.

Despite its echoes of science fiction, the attempt to control weather or the climate is hardly new. The Times article focuses on James Rodger Fleming’s forthcoming book Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control, which recounts the often colorful history of weather modification and geoengineering. Fleming argues that while proposals for affecting the climate seem edgy and exciting, they often test the limits of scientific possibility and overlook the political, ethical, and social consequences of climate management.

In the article Dean writes:

For Dr. Fleming, whose book is a scholarly look at the history of weather modification and similar efforts, geoengineering proposals are “untested, untestable and dangerous beyond belief.” He fits them neatly into what he calls “a long tradition of imaginative and speculative literature involving the ‘control’ of nature.” But, as he notes, the ideas have drawn favor especially among conservatives and libertarians who look for technological rather than regulatory solutions for climate change.

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Siddharth Kara’s “Sex Trafficking” now available in paperback

Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, by Siddharth Kara is now available in paperback. The book has been one of our most critically acclaimed and bestselling titles over the last couple of years. More important, the book and Kara’s application of economics to understand the persistent growth of sex trafficking throughout the world has furthered our understanding of the problem and the challenges in eradicating it.

In the preface, Kara describes the harsh economic realities of sex trafficking:

Approximately 1.2 million … [sex] slaves are young women and children, who were deceived, abducted, seduced, or sold by families to be prostituted across the globe. These sex slaves are forced to service hundreds, often thousands of men before they are discarded, forming the backbone of one of the most profitable illicit enterprises in the world. Drug trafficking generates greater dollar revenues, but trafficked women are far more profitable: Unlike a drug, a human female does not have to be grown, cultivated, distilled, or packaged. Unlike a drug, a human female can be used by the customer again and again.

Here’s a video in which Kara describes the book and analyzes the issue of sex trafficking:

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Kings of War

Kings of War

Every so often we like to feature blogs by Columbia University Press authors. Today we shine a spotlight on Kings of War whose contributors include three Columbia/Hurst authors: Robert Dover, co-editor of Spinning Intelligence: Why Intelligence Needs the Media, Why the Media Needs Intelligence; Patrick Porter, author of Military Orientalism:Eastern War Through Western Eyes; and John Mackinlay, author of The Insurgent Archipelago.

These authors and are all members of the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. As you might have surmised the focus of the blog is on strategy, the military, war, and security. Recent posts have discussed the controversy surrounding and resignation of Stanley McChrystal, Wikileaks, the attack on the Gaza flotilla, and changes in the academic discipline of International Relations.

Here is a description of Kings of War from the site, detailing the scope of the blog:

Kings of War is about strategy, widely defined.

We assign each of our posts to one (or more) of seven “columns” – the tabs at the top of the page. Alanbrooke is about British national security and defense. Clausewitz deals with strategic theory. Galula explores counterinsurgency. Grant, like the U.S. general and president, is concerned with American grand strategy. Mao covers insurgency and terrorism. Thucydides is history. Turing, as in Alan Turing, reviews cyberwar and the virtual dimension of conflict.

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Kenneth Posner — How Retail Investors Can Win in a Pond of Black Swans

Kenneth Posner, Stalking the Black SwanSo popular was Kenneth Posner’s interview with The Wall Street Cheat Street that they asked him back again.

In the interview Kenneth Posner, author of Stalking the Black Swan: Research and Decision Making in a World of Extreme Volatility discusses:

* The top 3 ways retail investors can deal with black swans;
* A prospective black swan Posner is monitoring now; and,
* What we need to see in financial reform to avoid more black swans.

In addition to their review The Wall Street Cheat Sheet also asked Posner to list six ways to avoid black swans:

1. Cut government debt, a potential cause of extreme outcomes. Politicians should focus on this rather than blaming markets, which reflect volatility but do not cause it.

2. Place Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac (NYSE: FRE), and the Federal Home Loan Banks into run-off and reduce US government liabilities by some $7 trillion.

3. Build “shock absorbers” into the system like mandatory “contingent capital” for systemically important financial firms, rather than proscribing activities for banks and hedge funds.

4. Impose shorter term limits on the Federal Reserve Chairman’s service because too much trust in the persona can contribute to excessive volatility (the “Greenspan put”).

5. Improve corporate governance to mitigate the problem of ”cognitive dissonance,” when successful executives dismiss new data that contradicts deeply held-beliefs, evidenced by Goldman Sachs’ (NYSE: GS) missteps in reacting to the SEC lawsuit and managing the firm’s political vulnerability.

6. Return to fundamental research, a practice that executives, risk managers, and individual investors should follow to better understand the macro and micro causative factors likely to affect a company’s performance.

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Joseph Kip Kosek Wins Best First Book in the History of Religion for Acts of Conscience

Kip Kosek, Acts of ConscienceWe are pleased to announce that the American Academy of Religion named Joseph Kip Kosek’s Acts of Conscience: Christian Nonviolence and Modern American Democracy was named the Best First Book in the History of Religions prize.

For more on the book you can watch a video of Kosek discussing the book at the Library of Congress, a review from Religion in American History, read Kip Kosek’s post on the CUP blog The Power of Nonviolence, or read the book’s introduction.

Here is an excerpt from the book on Richard Gregg, an important figure in the history of the non-violent movement in the United States:

Everyone admires nonviolence when it remains safely in the past, but it looks a little too exotic, too effete, and perhaps even too religious to be much help in our present moment. Does nonviolence really have anything to offer amid the violent crises exploding around the world today? Seventy-five years ago, an American pacifist named Richard Gregg confronted an essentially similar question. His 1934 book The Power of Non-Violence was the first substantial attempt by an American to imagine nonviolence as a formidable strategy in the modern world, not simply as a virtuous allegiance to high-minded ideals. Many years after its initial publication, Martin Luther King, Jr. read The Power of Non-Violence and brought its central ideas into the nascent civil rights movement. King frequently cited the book as one of his most important intellectual influences, alongside the writings of Mohandas Gandhi and Henry David Thoreau. Gregg forced King, as he forces us, to realize that nonviolence is not merely admirable or historically interesting, but fundamentally necessary.

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Jun Morikawa — Whaling in Japan

Jun Morikawa, Whaling in JapanThis week in a conference in Morocco nations will consider whether to sanction commercial whale hunts for the first time in twenty-five years. According to an AP report, this would provide a compromise to fix a fractured regulatory system in which a handful of whaling nations currently operate under a complex set of exemptions.

Japan of course is the nation most vehement in its objections to ending whale hunting. The Japanese government often cites whaling’s importance to regional fishing communities and to national culinary traditions. The AP quotes Jun Morikawa, author of Whaling in Japan: Power, Politics, and Diplomacy, “many within Japan feel making any concessions on whaling is giving in to foreign pressure.”

Jun Morikawa, a professor at Rakuno Gakuen University in Sapporo, is one of few Japanese to have openly challenged the belief that whale consumption is an important part of the country’s cultural heritage. Not surprisingly, he has recently been interviewed for several articles examining the controversy about whaling. In The Faster Times, Morikawa contends that despite what the Japanese government suggests, “Japanese consumers generally don’t like whale. They don’t buy it. And they don’t eat it.”

In The Global Post, Morikawa argues that the whaling industry and bureaucrats have worked together to protect and promote whaling in Japan:

Japan’s whaling policy is determined, executed and assessed by a small governing elite. The whaling industry is not financially viable. Its job is to spread pro-whaling propaganda and manipulate public opinion so that people think that eating whale meat is part of our national culture.

To read portions of Whaling in Japan: Power, Politics, and Diplomacy.

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Laura Katz Olson — Can the Expansion of Medicaid Coverage Fulfill the Promise of Health Care Reform?

Laura Katz Olson, The Politics of MedicaidOne of the key components in the recent health care reform bill was the extension of medicaid to cover low-income individuals. But is this the best way to provide health care? This is the question Laura Katz Olson, author of The Politics of Medicaid, examines in a recent op-ed she wrote for Doctor Pundit.

Olson is skeptical given that the states’ control of medicaid has historically led to an “inequitable, haphazard distribution of health care.” She suggests that “building on Medicaid—adding roughly 16 million low-income people to its rolls—will only intensify current problems and inequities. Newly insured people will still face the same second-class medical care, access impediments, and other wide-ranging failings of the current Medicaid program.”

Olson concludes by pointing out some of the other issues that will continue to negatively affect health care despite the reform bill just passed:

Just as problematic, in order to enact health care reform, President Obama and congressional leaders had to placate key provider groups, making deals with them that precluded any genuine cost controls. Thus, insurance premiums will continue to rise, drug companies will charge their usual exorbitant fees and other suppliers of services will cash in, rendering overall costs far greater than projected. We may get far greater health insurance coverage, a laudable achievement, but will we be getting our money’s worth?

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Sam Girgus — Conversations with scholars of American popular culture

Sam GirgusAmericana: The Journal of American Popular Culture 1900 to Present recently interview Sam Girgus, author of Levinas and the Cinema of Redemption: Time, Ethics, and the Feminine, in their series of conversations with scholars of American popular culture.

As you might surmise from his most recent title, Girgus has strayed a bit from being a strictly American studies scholar. In the interview he charts his intellectual development from American Studies to English to Film studies. Along the way, Girgus examined the genius of Woody Allen and the films from the “Hollywood Renaissance,” including those by Kazan, Hawks, Ford, and others.

Girgus also talks about his new book Levinas and the Cinema of Redemption and the ways in which it actually brought him back to American Studies:

I became obsessed with the importance of Levinas’s ethical philosophy of placing a priority on the face of the other as opposed to the existential self. It was an extreme reversal for me of customary ways of thinking about individualism, personal identity, and freedom that also made sense as an irreducible source of ethics based on inter-subjective relations. It made me realize that in a way the book and idea are an extension or counterpart to Hollywood Renaissance by identifying the source of ethics not just in culture and society but in alterity and the relationship to the other. Levinas says in Totality and Infinity, “Everyone will readily agree that it is of the highest importance to know whether we are not duped by morality.” That seemed to me to be a key question for Capra and Ford and other directors. Moreover, the key concepts for Levinas of time and the feminine as inexorably connected to ethical relationships and subjectivity also seemed to have a strong potential for providing an interesting way to study film.

So Levinas in a way brings me back to American Studies. Interestingly, I see some similarity between Levinas’s idea of the mission of Israel, meaning the idea or ideal of the messianic Israel as the heavenly city incarnate, and my sense of America’s place and role in the world. Obviously, such notions are anathema to some today and have become the object of ridicule and condemnation to such critics.

Now writing about Levinas and ethics as informing American transcendence and the cinema of redemption suggests to me a foundation of ethics and responsibility for both the American Renaissance and the Hollywood Renaissance. Reading Levinas put Matthiessen’s American Renaissance and the Hollywood Renaissance in new contexts for me with historic foundations that integrate ethics and transcendence.

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Vicken Cheterian on the crisis in Kyrgyzstan

“For if Kyrgyzstan fails as a state, and inter-ethnic violence … is not contained, the resulting security vacuum in Kyrgyzstan could threaten the fragile stability of central Asia as a whole.” — Vicken Cheterian, Open Democracy

In an essay entitled Kyrgyzstan failing, an arc in crisis published in Open Democracy, Vicken Cheterian, author of War and Peace in the Caucasus: Russia’s Troubled Frontier, provides an excellent primer for understanding recent events in Kyrgyzstan and pinpointing what is at stake for the country and the region.

Cheterian explains how the recent overthrow of Krygyzstan’s president coupled with inter-ethnic violence has thrown the country into chaos. The implications of a failed Kyrgyz state are potentially quite dire. Cheterian writes,

He goes on to argue that ethnic tensions could spread to engulf more areas in Central Asia and affect the politics and security of nations such as Uzbekistan. The other potential fallout could be a rise in jihadism. Cheterian writes:

The second factor is a revival of jihadism. In the late 1990s, Islamist guerrillas used the mountainous region of southern Kyrgyzstan, especially the province of Batken, as a safe haven from which to initiate attacks deep inside Uzbekistan. The spread of Taliban activity in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the increasing reliance of Nato forces on supply-lines passing through central Asia (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan) make it possible that the region might become a new space for confrontation. The prospect here is that the evident inability of the Kyrgyz state to control its own territory, at a time the Taliban is reviving, could reawaken dormant Islamist militants in the Ferghana valley, the divided heart of central Asia.

The stakes in Kyrgyzstan are thus very high, for the country and the region alike.

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Interview with Keri Walsh and Sylvia Whitman

Letters of Sylvia BeachContinuing with the Bloomsday theme, here is a conversation/interview that was first published on the excellent site Maitresse between Keri Walsh, editor of The Letters of Sylvia Beach, Sylvia Whitman, the present-day owner of the legendary Parisian bookstore Shakespeare & Company, and Lauren Elkin, the editor of Maitresse. They began their conversation talking about the “Lost Generation.”

Sylvia Whitman: People come here to Paris with their dreams and aspirations, ready to be inspired. That in itself makes for a very interesting atmosphere, because people are just coming at your with their projections and their ideas, and that obviously can also include disappointment, or cliché, or whatever, but I love it, I think it’s quite magical. 
And also– as with every cliché, there’s a reason behind it. There’s such an amazing, rich, literary history here, there’s just no doubt about it. 

Keri Walsh: Paris lives up to that. 

Lauren Elkin: But if there are all these people projecting their literary dreams onto Paris and everything, you’re sort of the screen– not that you’re a blank screen or anything, but you didn’t choose this heritage. The fact that we’re sitting here having this conversation is because your father projected this history onto you when he named you after Sylvia Beach. That’s got to put you in an odd position. 

SW: Actually, when I first came back in 2003, my dad wrote this piece, which is very nicely written and everything, but the headline was “Sylvia Beach is back in Paris.” And he handed it out to people in the shop when I was there. And I was mortified by this. So embarrassed. And he didn’t see anything wrong with it, he thought it was really funny, and he said, “well I named you after her, of course, this is just my way of celebrating you coming back and wanting to work in the bookshop.” So it meant something really different to him from what it meant to me. But I was mortified. I kept trying to get them back from customers who were walking off with them, saying “No! I’m not Sylvia Beach!” 

LE, to SW: You have a theatrical background, though; do you ever feel you have to draw on it to get into the role of doyenne of Shakespeare and Company? 

SW: Well– when you’re in bookselling, so often you’re able to hide behind a book, it’s not really you in the limelight. But there are a few moments when I’ve felt that way. Like when I had to introduce Paul Auster in front of 700 people, that was a really nerve-wracking experience, I had to draw on all my training.


Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Keri Walsh — Bloomsday in Paris


The following post is by Keri Walsh, editor of The Letters of Sylvia Beach:

“What do you do?” Joyce inquired. I told him about Shakespeare and Company. The name, and mine too, seemed to amuse him, and a charming smile came to his lips. (From Shakespeare & Company, by Sylvia Beach)

James Joyce and Sylvia Beach both liked to play with words. The name of her Paris bookstore, like T.S. Eliot’s “Shakespeherian Rag,” threw together the erudite and the everyday, bringing the bard down an affectionate peg or two (“my associate, Bill Shakespeare,” she calls him in one of her letters). Another of her coinages was “Bloomsday,” the spritely phrase she invented to commemorate June 16, 1904. It was the date on which James Joyce first stepped out with Nora Barnacle, and also, of course, the date on which Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus stepped out in the pages of Ulysses (1922).

Joyce’s Irish epic, published just in time for his fortieth birthday, had Parisian roots as well as Dublin ones. “After years of wandering,” Beach told the Radiophonique Institut in 1927, Joyce “had come to France to finish his book, ULYSSES.” Paris was the spiritual home of the Irish artist in exile. Oscar Wilde, who died here in 1900, had established the standard. And Joyce, though not so direct a victim of the English courts, was a victim of English censorship, and sometimes he liked to adopt the Wildean pose. “‘Melancholy Jesus,’ Adrienne and I used to call him,” says Beach, and on his first visit to Shakespeare and Company, “he inspected my two photographs of Oscar Wilde.” In Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus declares that Wildean paradox could no longer sustain Irish art, but the image of the suffering Wilde held its fascination for Joyce.


Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Keri Walsh on James Joyce and Sylvia Beach

James Joyce and Sylvia Beach

We continue our focus on Bloomsday with Keri Walsh’s recent and fascinating interview on Writers & Company. In the interview Walsh, the editor of The Letters of Sylvia Beach, discusses Syliva Beach and her remarkable relationship with James Joyce. Beach was of course the first publisher of Ulysses and coined the term “Bloomsday.”


Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Ken Posner: What will be the next black swan?

Yesterday, Ken Posner, author of Stalking the Black Swan: Research and Decision Making in a World of Extreme Volatility, was a featured guest on CNBC to discuss his book and how the government, financial institutions, and investors can best prepare themselves for the next “black swan.”

Posner expressed some skepticism about the proposed financial reform bill, worrying that it might lead to micromanaging. Instead, what is needed, are financial reformers and regulators with the power to act decisively and quickly when an unpredictable event or “black swan” occurs. He also warned against the rising level of debt, which is a source of volatility. Other suggestions Posner made included the creation of more rating agencies to break up the monopoly of information held by Moody’s and S & P.

Here is a clip of Posner’s appearance:

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Brush up on James Joyce with Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe reads James Joyce

With Bloomsday, just a couple of days away, there’s not much time to brush up on your Joyce. However, a good place to start is James Joyce: A Critical Guide, by Lee Spinks, whose cover includes this image of Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses.

Spinks offers a comprehensive account of Joyce’s work and provides a detailed textual analysis of each of his major works. Spinks discusses the biographical, historical, political, and social contexts that inform Joyce’s writing and multiple strands of criticism that have been proposed over the last eighty years. The book’s combination of close reading and critical breadth makes it an ideal companion for the range of Joyce readers.

Throughout the week, we’ll feature Joyce- and Bloomsday-related material, much of which comes from the recently published The Letters of Sylvia Beach. In her letters, Beach, who was the first publisher of Joyce, recounts some of the trials and tribulations of bringing Ulysses to print.

Friday, June 11th, 2010

John V. Lindsay and television

In addition to America’s Mayor: John V. Lindsay and the Reinvention of New York, a museum exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, there have also been a series of symposiums exploring the Lindsay’s mayoralty and its impact on New York City.

Given Lindsay’s expert and novel use of television to promote his own image and that of the city, it is not surprising that the most recent event, held at the Paley Center for Media, focused on Lindsay and the media. The panelists included Jeff Greenfield, Senior Political Correspondent, CBS News; Robert Shrum, Senior Fellow, NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and former speechwriter for Lindsay; Ronnie Eldridge, Host, Eldridge & Co. on CUNY-TV and Lindsay’s Special Assistant during his second term; Earl Caldwell, Professor, Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications.

Here is a portion of their discussion, in which the participants discuss, among other issues, Lindsay’s use of the media to keep the calm in New York City after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.:

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Claudio Ivan Remeseira on the immigration debate and Walt Whitman

Clauido Ivan Remeseira“The immigration debate has become the moral equivalent of the fugitive slave law debates of ante-bellum America.”—Claudio Ivan Remeseira

In a recent post for The Huffington Post Claudio Ivan Remeseira, editor of Hispanic New York: A Sourcebook , looks back to Walt Whitman suggesting that what he had to “to say about the question of Hispanic immigration into an ‘Anglo’ nation is well worth listening to once again.”

As Remeseira argues that while the plight of immigrants is not equivalent to the evils of slavery, “the lack of a comprehensive reform that resolves the legal status of about 12 million people underscores a humanitarian crisis of vast political, economic, and moral proportions.” The passing of the controversial law in Arizona—a law most Americans supported—reveals the existence of both misconceptions and prejudices against Latinos in the United States.

While there are those who fear Latinos are changing the character of the United States, Walt Whitman celebrated “the composite American identity of the future.” Whitman went on to suggest that the “Spanish character” would be an important addition to the mix of ethno-nationalisms that would generate a new national identity.

Remeseira concludes:

The future we now face is quite different from the future faced by Whitman and his contemporaries. Yet Whitman’s vision of the American future is more relevant today than it was in 1883. It certainly provides a more accurate portrayal of the United States of Barack Obama than of that of Chester Arthur. Whitman’s definition of national identity as a “compost” of different “stocks” echoes Cuban patriot and writer José Martí’s notion of mestizaje (ethnic blending) and constitutes, along with it, a paradigm within which to rethink national identity and an antidote to the racism and bigotry that characterize the current immigration debate.

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Lisa Keller: Time in a bottle and the newest addition to Trafalgar Square

Lisa Keller, Triumph of OrderIn her book Triumph of Order: Democracy and Public Space in New York and London, Lisa Keller examines among other issues the critical development of sanctioned free speech, controlled public assembly, and new urban regulations in London and New York. Here are her reflections on the newest addition to one of London’s most prominent and historic public spaces: Trafalgar Square.

There was hardly a gasp from the small crowd on May 24 when they unveiled the latest work of art on the fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square. There should have been, though, for several reasons. The work was a miniature version of Lord Nelson’s ship, The Victory, which won the famous 1805 battle for which the square was named. The Battle of Trafalgar is widely celebrated as one of Britain’s greatest naval victories, certainly the most important of the Napoleonic Wars. This little wonder (1:30 scale) sits in a glass bottle (the packaging said made in Italy). It is the first work of art in the square by a black British artist, Yinka Shonibare, MBE. And it is the first work of art specifically referencing the square’s history.


Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Geoffrey Kabat on Hyping Health Risks in Brazil

Geoffrey KabatColumbia University Press titles are read and translated throughout the world. The following post is from Geoffrey Kabat, who describes the reception of his book in Brazil:

About five months ago a large Brazilian publishing house put out a Portuguese translation of my book Hyping Health Risks: Environmental Hazards in Daily Life and the Science of Epidemiology (Riscos ambientais à saúde: mitos e verdades, Rio de Janeiro: Guanabara-Koogan, 2010). Soon afterward I heard from a professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro inviting me to visit Brazil for ten days at the expense of the publisher to publicize the book.

Together with my host, Professor Renato Veras, I crisscrossed the country from south to north and from east to west, with talks and book-signing events hosted by four very special institutions with somewhat different audiences. In Porto Alegre in the state of Rio Grande do Sul in the far south, I spoke at the Escola Superiora da Magistratura to judges and lawyers, including, I was told, five justices of the supreme court of the state of Rio Grande do Sul. In São Paulo, the venue was an organization devoted to health promotion among the elderly called AGE PLUS. In Rio I spoke at a foundation called Casa do Saber, which hosts lectures, movies, and other cultural programs. Finally, in Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonas, the Academy of Medicine of Amazonas State hosted my talk, which was introduced by the president of the academy, Dr. Claudio Chaves.

Each of the talks was followed by lively questions and discussion. Questions ranged from how public discourse about climate change is distorted to how one can counter the inflating of health risks, to what allows lung cancer to develop in people who never smoked, to the pervasive influence of the pharmaceutical industry in shaping messages about health.


Monday, June 7th, 2010

Arthur Danto on sitting with Marina Abramovic

Arthur Danto

Arthur Danto, author of The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art, Narration and Knowledge, Unnatural Wonders: Essays from the Gap Between Art and Life and many other titles, recently wrote a piece for The Stone, the New York Times new philosophy blog, about his experience participating in the recently closed Marina Abramovic exhibition. The exhibit featured the performance artist seated in a chair on the floor of an atrium in the museum across from an empty chair, in which anyone can sit for any length of time. It was a performance that, in the words of Danto, “captured the imagination of everyone interested in contemporary art.”

Here is an excerpt from Danto’s description of his experience:

Since I now use a wheelchair to get around, someone wheeled me opposite Marina and the chair was removed. My session as part of the work had begun.

Marina looked beautiful in an intense red garment whose hem formed a circle on the floor, and her black hair was braided to one side. I was unclear as to what I was to do in the charmed space across from her other than to maintain a silence. She is in fact a wonderful talker, full of wit and a kind of Balkan humor. But this performance is very much a dialogue de sourds — a dialog of the deaf. Communication is on another plane. I ventured to signal “hi” with a wave, which aroused in Marina a weak smile.

At this point, something striking took place. Marina leaned her head back at a slight angle, and to one side. She fixed her eyes on me without — so it seemed — any longer seeing me. It was as if she had entered another state. I was outside her gaze. Her face took on the translucence of fine porcelain. She was luminous without being incandescent. She had gone into what she had often spoken of as a “performance mode.” For me at least, it was a shamanic trance — her ability to enter such a state is one of her gifts as a performer. It is what enables her to go through the physical ordeals of some of her famous performances. I felt indeed as if this was the essence of performance in her case, often with the added element of physical danger.