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Archive for March, 2011

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Wang Anyi Named a Man Booker Finalist

Yesterday, Wang Anyi, author of The Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A Novel of Shanghai, was named a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize. From the Man Booker website:

Wang Anyi is among the most widely read and anthologized authors of the post-Mao era, a breaker of taboos and a speaker for China’s younger generation. Among Wang’s acclaimed Shanghai novels is the nostalgic Changhen Ge (The Song of Everlasting Sorrow)(1996). Voted the most influential work of the 1990s in China, it won the fifth Mao Dun Literature Award in 2000, one China’s most prestigious literary prizes.

For more on The Song of Everlasting Sorrow: Read Chapter 1 (pdf) | Browse the book via Google Preview | Read a review from the New York Times | Read an article about the book from The China Beat

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Money never sleeps… — A Post by Grzegorz Kolodko

KolodkoThe following is a guest post by Grzegorz W. Kolodko, author of Truth, Errors, and Lies: Politics and Economics in a Volatile World. He blogs at www.volatileworld.net You can also read a recent interview with Kolodko in the Warsaw Business Journal.

During my recent cross-country lecture tour in the USA, I heard opinions that the themes of the films Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, directed by Oliver Stone and Inside Job perfectly coincided with Truth, Errors, and Lies: Politics and Economics in a Volatile World. Several people said the films are a quasi-postscript to the book, in particular my comments on the cynical stage of contemporary laissez faire economic policy. I have also been told that some people—everyone knows who—are afraid of the book and the films. Well, nothing hurts like truth and it is not always enough to present the truth in an academic, theoretical way. Artistic fiction has value too and fighting for the truth is never too much.


Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Carolyn Williams on Gilbert & Sullivan

Gilbert & SullivanThe following is an interview with Carolyn Williams, author of Gilbert and Sullivan: Gender, Genre, Parody. You can also listen to an interview with Williams on WHYY Radio.

Question: What’s new in your book about Gilbert and Sullivan?

Carolyn Williams: This is the first book that makes a sustained argument about how and why gender matters in the Savoy operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. Too often, Gilbert is blamed for employing stereotypes—when that is the whole point. Only by making the received views, the stereotypes, and the cultural absurdities of the Victorian period show up in high relief could he launch a critique. Gender roles, relations, norms, assumptions, and patterns of socialization—all are subject to this critique.

The surprising thing is: seen through this lens, the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan turn out to be not at all as conservative as many people have thought.

Another thing that’s new is my discussion of parody. In the first place, I treat parody as a matter of temporality. A parody sets up an implicit distinction between now and then, favoring the present moment of the parody and casting the object of the parody back into the past, as a thing old-fashioned and outworn. Inherent in parody is the force of this historical distinction.

In the second place, I emphasize genre parody. True, the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan are often based on the parody of a single work; for example, The Sorcerer (1877) is founded on a parody of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore (1832). But the generalized parody—of the traditional convention of the magic potion—is even more important.

So, in the third place, genre parody allows for a differentiated audience. Some audience members will “get” the specific reference, while others will enjoy the opera just as much by focusing on the general allusion. This differentiated audience becomes important especially when the objects of parody are oriented around class, gender, and cultural politics.


Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Donald Keene on Books to Help You Understand Japan

Donald KeeneDonald Keene, most recently the author of So Lovely a Country Will Never Perish: Wartime Diaries of Japanese Writers, was recently on NPR’s Talk of the Nation to discuss Japanese books that reveals insights into the nation’s people and character.

Keene also discusses how Shinto and Buddhist beliefs inform Japanese attitudes and responses to past catastrophes and the more recent devastating earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear threat:

As for the Japanese and their courage, I think courage is something that comes to the Japanese very easily. It is the basic element in their—in a child’s education. And it’s not a foolhardy courage – or shouldn’t be a foolhardy courage, but it is an expression of sincerity, which is among the most important of the Japanese desiderata, to be someone—to be truly truthful, sincere. This is what Japanese—perhaps under the influence of Shinto—religion, thought of as most important virtue.

Here is Keene’s suggested reading list:

* Man’yoshu, the oldest existing anthology of Japanese poetry, collected some time after A.D. 759.

* The Tale of Genji, the 11th century Japanese classic written by noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu

* The Narrow Roads to Oku, haiku by Matsuo Basho

* Chushingura, originally a puppet play by Takeda Izumo, Miyoshi Shoraku and Namiki Senryu

* The Makioka Sisters, a modern Japanese novel written by Junichiro Tanizaki

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

New Book Tuesday: The Quest for the Cure

The Quest for the CureThe The following books are now available:

The Quest for the Cure: The Science and Stories Behind the Next Generation of Medicines
Brent Stockwell

Classical Indian Philosophy: A Reader
Deepak Sarma

Reds at the Blackboard: Communism, Civil Rights, and the New York City Teachers Union
Clarence Taylor

German Colonialism: Race, the Holocaust, and Postwar Germany
Edited by Volker Langbehn and Mohammad Salama

Sakuntala: Texts, Readings, Histories
Romila Thapar

CBS’s Don Hollenbeck: An Honest Reporter in the Age of McCarthyism (Now available in paper)
Loren Ghiglione

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Indie: An American Culture — Michael Z. Newman

Michael Z. NewmanOn his blog Zigzigger, Michael Newman author of Indie: An American Film Culture , offers a “behind the scenes” look at the book.

In the post Newman explains how parenting helped with his productivity, the genesis behind the title and cover for the book, and his introduction to independent cinema in the late 80s and early 90s. Of course, the post also describes some elements of the book’s content, including his interest in both the narrative or aesthetic elements of independent film and its social functions. Newman writes:

One thing I’m especially pleased with is how Indie balances two senses of culture: as works to be analyzed, and as social ways of knowing and experiencing. A film culture functions in both of these senses, and I try to combine an analysis of indie’s value as a cultural category, and its coherence as a body of films calling on a coherent set of expectations about form and meaning. When I say film culture, I always mean both of these things.

He also talks about the use of a still from Juno for the cover. The film has a contested status among the indie community:

Juno is an example of a movie that some members of the indie community sought to de-authenticate, to remove from consideration as indie because of its heavy marketing by Fox Searchlight, its mainstream appeal, its lack of indie bona fides. One of my central claims about indie cinema is that it’s a slippery, contested category, and that it can only be understood as it is used within indie film culture. I would not exclude it because it is so widely thought to belong, but the efforts of some critics and bloggers to distance themselves from Juno (and of many people I have talked to personally) reveals much about the values sustaining independent cinema.

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Interview with Sheldon Krimsky and Tania Simoncelli, coauthors of Genetic Justice

Genetic JusticeThe following is an interview with Sheldon Krimsky and Tania Simoncelli, coauthors of Genetic Justice: DNA Data Banks, Criminal Investigations, and Civil Liberties:

Question: How are people’s privacy rights being compromised by expanding DNA databases for innocent arrestees?

Sheldon Krimsky: Once a person’s DNA is in the national DNA database, that individual is faced with the following risks: a) he or she might be improperly implicated as a suspect if his/her DNA is left at a place that turns out to be a crime scene—i.e., by dropping a used cup; b) the family members of that person might unknowingly be implicated as suspects in the event that a “familial search” against the database results in a partial match with that individual’s DNA profile; and c) that innocent person might be stigmatized if police know that their DNA is on the national database—even if he/she was never convicted of a crime.

Tania Simoncelli: Many arrestees—who are innocent in the eyes of the law—are never charged, let alone convicted, of a crime. The courts have consistently found that the collection and testing of DNA by law enforcement is a “search,” thereby requiring a warrant supported by probable cause. To allow routine, forcible collection of DNA from arrestees—without a warrant or individualized suspicion—undermines the long-standing principle that those arrested are presumed innocent. To date, three of the four courts that have considered this issue have struck down arrestee data banking as unconstitutional.

Q: Tell us more about the “familial” DNA searches.

SK: When police cannot get an exact match between crime scene DNA and a person on the national database, they lower the stringency of the search to “near matches.” Once they get a “near match” they then pursue the family members of all those who met the “near match” criterion. That is called a “familial search.”

TS: Practiced routinely, familial searching effectively expands a so-called criminal database to include all close blood relatives of the individuals in that database. If this were to occur on a national scale, millions of innocent people would be placed under lifelong genetic surveillance, not because of anything they did, but simply because they happen to have a relative who committed a crime. The effects would disproportionately impact minority communities, further exacerbating existing racial disparities in our criminal justice system.

Q: What are the racial implications of obtaining DNA from arrestees and uploading the profiles on national databanks?

SK: People of color are stopped, searched, and arrested at a greater frequency than white people. If arrestee DNA profiles are summarily uploaded on the national DNA database, people of color will be disproportionately represented and more frequently objects of genetic surveillance.


Friday, March 25th, 2011

Cornel West on Prophetic Religion and the Future of Capitalist Civilization

Cornel West

Now, with the age of Obama, the question becomes: Can prophetic religion, in all of its various forms, mobilize people, generate levels of righteous indignation against injustice—not raw rage at persons, not ad hominem attacks—can we put pressure on President Obama?”—Cornel West

Cornel West’s essay, “Prophetic Religion and the Future of Capitalist Civilization,” published in The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, offers a defense of civil disobedience and emancipatory theology. West also calls for both secularists and believers to understand and listen to each other with greater care. In the conclusion of his piece, West examines the limits and possibilities of prophetic religion to challenge the status quo (To read excerpts from essays by the other contributors to The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere: Jurgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, Judith Butler and Craig Calhoun.)

The dominant forms of religions are well-adjusted to greed and fear and bigotry. Hence well-adjusted to the indifference of the status quo toward poor and working people. Prophetic religion is an individual and collective performative praxis of maladjustment to greed, fear, and bigotry. For prophetic religion the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak. Yet it is always tied to some failure—always. There are moments, like the 1960s in capitalist civilization or the 1980s in communist civilization that prophetic awaking takes place. It doesn’t last too long, because the powers-that-be are not just mighty, but they’re very clever and they dilute and incorporate in very seductive ways—or sometimes they just kill you!

In this age of Obama many of us broke our necks to bring the age of Reagan and the era of conservatism to a close. Now, with the age of Obama, the question becomes: Can prophetic religion, in all of its various forms, mobilize people, generate levels of righteous indignation against injustice—not raw rage at persons, not ad hominem attacks—can we put pressure on President Obama? He’s listening to technocratic elites in his economic team who have never had any serious concern with poor people and working people. He’s mesmerized by their braininess and seduced by their establishment status and Wall Street connections. The same is true with his neoimperial team in foreign policy. President Obama’s charismatic version of American exceptionalism promotes Keynesian neoliberalism at home and liberal neoconservatism abroad. This is confusing to some, but clear to prophetic religious and secular folk who love poor and working people.

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Columbia University Press Joins the JSTOR Book Initiative

We are very excited to have joined the Books at JSTOR initiative which will help to make university press books more accessible online. Here is the press release describing Books at JSTOR and the involvement of other university presses:

Books at JSTOR Grows, Adding Prominent Academic Publishers Harvard, Columbia, Cornell, and California University Presses To Make Scholarly Books Available on JSTOR

Four prominent academic publishers in the United States announced plans today to bring their scholarly books online at JSTOR, one of the most well-known and widely used scholarly research sites. This is the second wave of presses to join the Books at JSTOR initiative. The initial group included Chicago, Minnesota, North Carolina, Princeton, and Yale University Presses.

“The digital landscape is taking shape for academic books, and we are thrilled to be partnering with a set of publishers that share our commitment to disseminating superior scholarship and an organization that has a great track record of meeting the needs of libraries and researchers,” said Alison Mudditt, Director of University of California Press.

JSTOR was founded in 1995 and began archiving and bringing online the back issues of leading journals in economics and history, including The American Economic Review, Econometrica, The American Historical Review, and The William and Mary Quarterly, among others. The focus is similar with books. Publishers are being invited to join the initiative based on the relevance of their titles to the content on JSTOR and importance of their publications to scholars now and in the future – an approach many librarians have come to rely on from JSTOR.


Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Judith Butler: Is Judaism Zionism?

In her essay from The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, Judith Butler examines the situation in Israel and Palestine and how religion is both the source and possible solution to the problems there. (To read an excerpt from essays by Jurgen Habermas, Charles Taylor and Craig Calhoun.)

I want to enter this fray with another problem, namely, the tension that emerges between religion and public life when public criticism of Israeli state violence is taken to be anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish….

My aim is not to repeat the claim that Jews differ among themselves on the value of Zionism, on the injustice of the occupation, or on the military destructiveness of the Israeli state. These are complex matters, and there are vast disagreements on all of them. And my point is not to say simply that Jews are obligated to criticize Israel, although in fact I think they are—we are—given that Israel acts in the name of the Jewish people, casts itself as the legitimate representative of the Jewish people, there is a question as to what is done in the name of the Jewish people and so all the more reason to reclaim that tradition and ethics in favor of another politics. The effort to establish the presence of progressive Jews runs the risk of remaining within certain identitarian presumptions; one opposes any and all expressions of anti-Jewish anti-Semitism and one reclaims Jewishness for a project that seeks to dismantle Israeli state violence. (more…)

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Richard Kahlenberg on Education Reform

Richard Kahlenberg“How did the budget crisis — brought on by a recession caused by Wall Street — end up in the laps of America’s schoolteachers? How did teachers, most of whom work very hard every day to educate schoolchildren, become the scapegoats in education reforms circles?”—Richard Kahlenberg

One of the most interesting and thoughtful commentators on education issues is Richard Kahlenberg, author of Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race, and Democracy. With recent attacks against teachers and discussions surrounding education “reform,” his correctives regarding unions and school performance are increasingly important.

He was recently a participant in a New York Times Room for Debate discussion which asked the question Why Blame Teachers? (see quote above.) Kahlenberg writes about how the development of the teacher’s union has unfairly led to the demonization of teachers:

As teacher power grew, unions sometimes overreached, by protecting incompetent members and fighting efforts to pay excellent teachers more. The American Federation of Teachers, led by Shanker, and today by Randi Weingarten, responded by supporting innovative ways of weeding out bad teachers, through peer review, and fair methods of rewarding excellent ones.

Nevertheless, a new brand of self-styled education reformers, many of them Democrats, has vilified teachers and their unions, suggesting that they only care about themselves, not the students they teach every day. Even President Obama favored the firing of every single unionized teacher in Rhode Island’s Central Falls High School. Union officials say they feel like Obama’s Sister Souljah.


Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

New Book Tuesday: Indie!

Indie, by Michael NewmanThe following books are now available:

Indie: An American Film Culture
Michael Z. Newman

Creaturely Poetics: Animality and Vulnerability in Literature and Film
Anat Pick

Radical Democracy and Political Theology
Jeffrey W. Robbins

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Charles Taylor: Why We Need a Radical Redefinition of Secularism

Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor’s essay in The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, “Why We Need a Radical Redefinition of Secularism,” argues that democratic societies must allow for respect of various beliefs. However, too much emphasis is placed on religion as being a problem. Like Habermas he sees excluding religion from the public sphere as undermining the solidarity and creativity they seek for the public sphere. (To read an excerpt from essays by Jurgen Habermas and Craig Calhoun.)

We have seen how this strongly motivated move to fetishize our historical arrangements can prevent our seeing our secular regime in a more fruitful light, which foregrounds the basic goals we are seeking and allows us to recognize and reason about the dilemmas which we face. But this connects to the other main cause of confusion I have already cited, our fixation on religion as the problem. In fact, we have moved in many Western countries from an original phase, in which secularism was a hard-won achievement warding off some form of religious domination, to a phase of such widespread diversity of basic beliefs, religious and areligious, that only clear focus on the need to balance freedom of conscience and equality of respect can allow us to take the measure of the situation. Otherwise we risk needlessly limiting the religious freedom of immigrant minorities, on the strength of our historic institutional arrangements, while sending a message to these same minorities that they by no means enjoy equal status with the long-established mainstream.

Think of the argument of the German Laender that forbade the headscarf for teachers. These are authority figures, surely; but is our idea that only unmarked people can be authority figures? That those whose religious practices make them stand out in this context don’t belong in positions of authority in this society? This is maybe the wrong message to inculcate in children in a rapidly diversifying society.

But the fixation on religion as the problem is not just a historical relic. Much of our thought, and some of our major thinkers, remain stuck in the old rut. They want to make a special thing of religion, but not always for very flattering reasons.

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Jurgen Habermas on “The Political”

Jurgen Habermas

In The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, Judith Butler, Jurgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West examine what role does—or should—religion play in our public lives? (Craig Calhoun provided the afterword to the volume.) This week we will excerpt from the contributors’ essays in the volume.

In his essay, “The Political,” Habermas argues that including religious citizens both as a matter of fairness and as a matter of urgent practicality. Religiously informed actors, including Christian fundamentalists in America and Islamists in Europe, matter so much in contemporary political life that we endanger the future of the democratic polity if we cannot integrate them into the workings of the public sphere.

Habermas writes:

Admittedly, everything feared by Carl Schmitt in fact happened: the sovereign power of the king has been dissolved, disembodied, and dispersed in the communication flows of civil society, and it has at the same time assumed the shape of procedures, be it for general elections or the numerous deliberations and decisions of various political bodies. Claude Lefort is right in maintaining that sovereignty left behind an “empty place.” But in the course of its democratic transformation, “the political” has not completely lost its association with religion.

In democratic discourse secular and religious citizens stand in a complementary relation. Both are involved in an interaction that is constitutive for a democratic process springing from the soil of civil society and developing through the informal communication networks of the public sphere. As long as religious communities remain a vital force in civil society, their contribution to the legitimation process reflects an at least indirect reference to religion, which the political retains even within a secular state. Although religion can neither be reduced to morality nor be assimilated to ethical value orientations, it nevertheless keeps alive an awareness of both elements. The public use of reason by religious and nonreligious citizens alike may well spur deliberative politics in a pluralist civil society and lead to the recovery of semantic potentials from religious traditions for the wider political culture.

Friday, March 18th, 2011

William Duggan on a Marshall Plan for the Middle East

Earlier this month, William Duggan co-author with R. Glenn Hubbard of The Aid Trap: Hard Truths About Ending Poverty, appeared on Bloomberg News to talk about alternatives to existing financial aid models for Middle East countries:

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Craig Calhoun on Religion’s Many Powers

The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere“To say that religion has power in the public sphere is not to say that it can be easily absorbed or that it should be. It is a basis for radical challenges and radical questions; it brings enthusiasm, passion, indignation, outrage, and love.”—Craig Calhoun

The Immanent Frame recently excerpted Craig Calhoun’s essay, “Religion’s Many Powers,” from the new book The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere. In the excerpt, Calhoun describes the positions taken by the book’s authors Judith Butler, Jurgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West.

While all of the contributors see a role for religion in the public sphere they also all express concerns about its role. Calhoun writes:

To say that religion has power in the public sphere is not to say that it can be easily absorbed or that it should be. It is a basis for radical challenges and radical questions; it brings enthusiasm, passion, indignation, outrage, and love. If enthusiasm is sometimes harnessed to unreflective conviction, passion is also vital to critical engagement with existing institutions and dangerous trends. The public sphere and the practice of public reason have power too. And they not only take from religion but also offer it opportunities to advance by reflection and critical argument.

The public sphere is a realm of rational-critical debate in which matters of the public good are considered. It is also a realm of cultural formation in which argument is not the only important practice and creativity and ritual, celebration and recognition are all important. It includes the articulation between deep sensibilities and explicit understandings and it includes the effort—aided sometimes by prophetic calls to attention—to make the way we think and act correspond to our deepest values or moral commitments.

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Correction to Inside Al Qaeda, by Rohan Gunaratna

In 2002, Columbia University Press, under license from C. Hurst & Co. (Publishers) Ltd. published a book entitled Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror by Rohan Gunaratna in which a businessman named Sheikh Muhammad Hussein al-Almadi was identified as managing funds for Al Qaeda. Based on additional research, Rohan Gunaratna has determined that this was an incorrect statement. In addition, Mr. Gunaratna would like to clarify that this incorrect statement was not meant to refer in any way to Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Al Almoudi. Rohan Gunaratna, C. Hurst & Co. (Publishers) Ltd. and Columbia University Press regret this unintentional error and will delete this incorrect reference from all future editions of Inside Al Qaeda.

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Film Titles on Sale!

Film Studies Titles on Sale

We are offering 30% off orders on dozens of titles in Film and Media Studies.

Film Theory & History
U.S., Canadian, and Latin American Film
British, European, and Oceanic Film
Asian and African Film
Genre Films and Genre Studies
Film Production
Digital Cinema, Television, and Other Media

Sale ends on March 31st.

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Guobin Yang: China’s Gradual Revolution

Guobin YangWill China follow in the footsteps of the Arab world and witness an outbreak of protests? In a New York Times op-ed China’s Gradual Revolution, Guobin Yang, author of The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online, argues that it is unlikely.

China’s government, unlike those of Egypt or Tunisia, is very savvy about how to handle online protests, restricting Internet access when it senses momentum growing among protest groups. However, the Chinese government is careful not to cut off access completely, knowing that it could backfire on them and hurt the economy.

Despite the Chinese government’s careful watch of the Internet, there are many online protest movements in China but these movements tend to be reformist rather than revolutionary. Their focus tends to be local, centering on corrupt government officials and specific injustices against Chinese citizens. Activists have come to understand the limits of what and how they can protest and in many cases their more concrete, albeit more modest, goals have been met.

Yang shows that these local efforts make a larger movement more difficult, something that plays into the hands of the Chinese government. Likewise even when the Chinese government addresses the concerns of protest movements, many of the larger underlying issues are ignored. Yang writes:

Yet rather than resolving the underlying sources of instability, the government all too often offers short-term, superficial solutions, which are more likely to sweep the problems under the carpet or dam them up. The introduction of the food safety law, for example, has so far failed to solve the country’s serious food safety problems.

What’s more, the energy and resources Beijing puts into maintaining control — its 2011 budget commits more money to internal security than to the military — means that little effort is being devoted to real reform.

There is always the possibility that, if these trends continue, the gaps between reality and people’s expectations will boil over into more aggressive, organized activism. But given the complex dynamic between the Chinese state and public activists, it’s unlikely to happen any time soon.

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

New Book Tuesday: Religion and International Theory

Religion and International TheoryJust one new book this week:

Religion and International Relations Theory
Edited by Jack Snyder

Includes contributions by Jack Snyder, Timothy Samuel Shah, Daniel Philpott, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, Michael Barnett, Monica Duffy Toft, Daniel H. Nexon, Il Hyun Cho, J. Katzenstein, and Emily Cochran Bech