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Archive for April, 2011

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Mobilizing the Community for Better Health: Columbia University and Northern Manhattan

Mobilizing the Community for Better healthA recent article in The Record recounts how community groups led by Columbia University’s College of Dental Medicine, Alianza Dominicana, Inc. and Harlem Hospital Center helped 30,000 residents of Washington Heights, Inwood and Harlem get health insurance, immunized 8,000 children, trained 1,500 health workers and raised the area’s vaccination rate from 63 percent to 97 percent.

The story of this collaboration, both its successes and failures, is recounted in Mobilizing the Community for Better Health: What the Rest of America Can Learn from Northern Manhattan, which is edited by Allan Formicola and Lourdes Hernandez-Cordero. The book discusses how the health partnerships grappled with the high rates of asthma, drug use, teen pregnancy, and violence in Washington Heights and Harlem.

Despite some continuing tensions, the program has improved relationships between Columbia and its surrounding neighborhoods. From The Record:

When Formicola began community work as a dean at Columbia, the University’s ties to the surrounding neighborhoods were rocky. Columbia’s relationship with the community “has since come a long, long way,” Formicola said. “I’m a big believer in building solid community relations for universities. That’s what universities should be doing. We should be taking on some of these real and practical problems that people suffer with.”

Formicola’s hope is that more academic medical centers in the United States consider this community-based approach. “We would certainly make a big dent into the health problems we have in the United States,” he said.

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam on The Metahistory of the Clash of Civilizations

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, author of The Metahistory of the Clash of Civilizations: Us and Them Beyond Orientalism recently gave a fascinating interview about his book at e-IR as well as offering commentary about the situation in Bahrain for CNN.

In his interview, Adib-Moghaddam explores why the idea of a clash idea is such a part of today’s political culture and the ways in which it negates dialogue and engagement. The “clash regime” is not only a convenient tactic for politicians or limited to those on the fringe but has won wide acceptance in the West and championed by the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Martin Amis. As he explains, Adib-Moghaddam is also interested in tracking the history of the clash idea or how the “them” was constructed in the West. He charts this development beginning with the wars between Greece and Persia following it through colonialism and up to the present “war on terror.”

Despite the persistence of the us vs. them mentality, Adib-Moghaddam holds out the possibility of an alternative:

In the case of the United States, the recent wars that the country waged always also had a civilizational component; the Vietcong, the Iraqi army, the Taliban were/are presented as barbarians who have to be subdued by force. It is no coincidence that the target of imperial wars is always evil, that the ‘other’ is dehumanized. A civilizational discourse incubates an insidious form of hegemonic superiority, most of the time with racist undertones. Soldiers have to be persuaded into pulling the trigger, they have to have a great deal of animosity if not hatred of the other side. What makes matters worse, at least from an ontological perspective, is that the mainstream theories of international relations, (neo)realism at the helm of them, rationalize war as a normality of international life. There is no respite, kill or be killed, perennial anarchy; that is thought to be the inevitable and ahistorical essence of the international system. We can’t get away from conflict, or so we are told. The last chapter of the book attempts to add to the counter-cases to such pessimism. It refutes the logic of war and the calls for homogeneity, authenticity, undisturbed identity underlying the clash regime. To that end, I experiment with those fields of human endeavor – poetry and music, for instance – where dissonance does not beget conflict, where difference is mitigated, where the poetry of Omar Khayyam can be interpreted as a critical theory of the subject. So while it is necessary and prudent to acknowledge analytically that there continues to be a cultural system, a clash regime that negates dialogue and engagement, it is equally true to acknowledge that there have existed movements towards a counter-regime.


Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Tulasi Srinivas on the Death of Shri Sathya Sai Baba

Over the weekend more than 2 million followers mourned the recent death of Guru Shri Sathya Sai Baba, one of the leading religious figures in India. The Takeaway interviewed Tulasi Srinivas, author of Winged Faith: Rethinking Globalization and Religious Pluralism through the Sathya Sai Movement about Sai Baba’s message and legacy.

As Srinivas points out, Sai Baba brought elements of Islam and Hinduism into his philosophy and was a figure in Indian life for more than 70 years whose message of universal love won him followers in India and throughout the world. Sai Baba also helped to mobilize his followers to charitable acts and help the less fortunate. His followers believe he will be reincarnated and will live beyond his death.

Listen to the interview:

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

New Book Tuesday: Nomadic Subjects Revised and The Death of Philosophy

The following books are now available: Nomadic Subjects

Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory, Revised Edition
Rosi Braidotti

The Death of Philosophy: Reference and Self-reference in Contemporary Thought
Isabelle Thomas-Fogiel

(Now available in paper)
Mencius; Translated by Irene Bloom, Edited and with an Introduction by Philip J. Ivanhoe

Monday, April 25th, 2011

The Legacy of Jacques Derrida — Peggy Kamuf’s “To Follow”

“If Derrida’s legacy is to survive into the future, you’ve got to read this book”—Elissa Marder, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

Peggy Kamuf

Peggy Kamuf has been one of the leading translators and readers of Jacques Derrida in English. Her most recent work, To Follow: The Wake of Jacques Derrida was recently reviewed in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, who called it an “illuminating and moving book.”

The book is comprised of essays about Derrida centering around a key work from his work in order to focus on the critical and political interventions called forth in his thought. The review praises Kamuf for her attention to the subtleties of Derrida’s thought, his relationship with “philosophy,” and his legacy.

In conclusion, the reviewer, Elissa Marder, writes:

Who can tell what the legacy of Jacques Derrida will have been? This question, posed from the vantage point of an unknowable and unforeseeable future is, of course, impossible to answer here and now. But Kamuf’s elegant and lucid book takes us a long way toward beginning to think about how to read that legacy from now on. At several punctual moments in To Follow, Kamuf recalls her own first encounter with Derrida-as-text through the books that were first given to her by others when she was a student, accompanied by the imperative phrase, “you’ve got to read this.” Through her own exemplary readings of Derrida’s texts, Kamuf shows why this writing matters so much, why reading Derrida is necessary, why, in other words “il faut le faire.” If Derrida’s legacy is to survive into the future, you’ve got to read this book.

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

The Most Important Thing — A Good Money Move

Howard MarksIn their annual list of new ideas about how to make the most of your money, the editors from Money Magazine suggested reading The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor, by Howard Marks.

Money writes,

Warren Buffett blurbed it — saying “This is a rarity, a useful book” — and as usual, he’s right. In “The Most Important Thing,” veteran value-investing manager Howard Marks draws on pithy memos he wrote to clients over the years to dispense insightful advice on everything from risk taking to the role of luck.

For more on the book, you can browse the book or read the chapter, The Most Important Thing Is … Understanding Marketing Efficiency and Its Limitations (pdf).

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Hillary Chute and Lynda Barry

Hilary Chute

Thanks to Lynda Barry for holding up Hillary Chute’s book, Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics. The photo was taken shortly before Hillary Chute moderated a conversation on comics with Barry and Alison Bechdel at a recent event at Wellesley College.

For those who did not make the talk, you can read Hillary Chute’s 2008 interview with Lynda Barry from The Believer.

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Modern Chinese Drama

Modern Chinese DramaPRI’s The World recently reviewed The Columbia Anthology of Modern Drama, edited by Xiaomei Chen. The review praises the book, writing “the anthology’s excellent selection, colloquial and stage-friendly translations, and illuminating introduction undoubtedly make the volume the authoritative choice in teaching and reading modern Chinese drama for the foreseeable future.”

The review quotes Chen’s criteria for the selection which extends from the Republican period to the post-Mao era:

My strategy was to situate this anthology first in the context of modern Chinese literary and cultural history under local and global circumstances, and second is the context of comparative drama and theater. Third, I bore in mind various formalist traditions of both East and West across time so that Chinese theater could be introduced more substantially to readers of world drama and theater in terms of dramaturgy.


Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Mark Goble’s Beautiful Circuits

“Modernism as we knew it is not going to return. But the digital technologies that are the future also look a lot like history.”—Mark Goble

The Townsend Humanities Lab recently featured Beautiful Circuits: Modernism and the Mediated Life, by Mark Goble.

The article considers how Goble’s book presents a new view of American modernism by focusing on the crucial role that new technologies like the telephone, telegraph, phonograph, and cinema had on such writers as Henry James, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ralph Ellison. These new technologies, Goble argues, created fantasies of connection that remain with us in our present-day digital culture. Goble writes, “Modernism as we knew it is not going to return. But the digital technologies that are the future also look a lot like history.”

In addition to the article, Goble also recommends nine titles that shaped his thinking while working on Beautiful Circuits. The varied list includes works by Alan Liu, John Durham Peters, Hugh Kenner, Leo Marx, William Gibson, Stanley Cavell, Marshall McLuhan, Friedrich Kittler, and Henry James. In describing the relevance of James’s works The Turn of the Screw and In the Cage, Goble writes:

These were both among the first works James completed after he began writing by dictating to a ‘typewriter,’ or secretary—a small but crucial experience of a new technology that marked a new phase in his long career. ‘The Turn of the Screw’ has long been famous, but takes on new meanings when read alongside ‘In the Cage,’ which describes the vicarious pleasures that a London telegrapher takes in the communications of her wealthy clientele.

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

New Book Tuesday: Anatheism

AnatheismThe following books are now available:

Anatheism: Returning to God After God (Now available in paper)
Richard Kearney

A History of Pain: Trauma in Modern Chinese Literature and Film (Now available in paper)
Michael Berry

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Interview with Sera Young on “Good Food”

Recently Sera Young was on KCRW’s Good Food to discuss her new book Craving Earth: Understanding Pica—the Urge to Eat Clay, Starch, Ice, and Chalk. In the interview she discusses among other the definition of pica (eating non-food items), the preponderance of pica cravings among women, its existence in the United States, and the different types of earth that people desire.

She also discusses the main reasons why people eat pica, including hunger, nutrition, and medicinal reasons. She also discusses the fanaticism that has evolved around a certain type of ice.

After the interview, the show’s host tasted clay samples from Tanzania, Haiti and the U.S. sent by Sera Young. Here’s the video:

Monday, April 18th, 2011

New York Times and Times Literary Supplement on David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace

Yesterday’s front page of the New York Times Book Review included a review of his final novel The Pale King and his legendary undergraduate thesis now published as Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will.

The Times Literary Supplement also recently reviewed both books and praised Fate, Time, and Language as including “immaculate apparatus and introductory essays.” The review also pointed to the value of Wallace’s work as a philosopher:

Wallace was a formidable philosophy student, as well as an impressive junior tennis player and linguistics enthusiast; he wavered between philosophy and creative writing, to the extent that his supervisor Jay Garfield comments “I thought of David as a very talented young philosopher with a writing hobby, and did not realize that he was instead one of the most talented fiction writers of his generation who had a philosophy hobby.”

Just as his father had done, Wallace won the Gail Kennedy Memorial Prize in Philosophy at Amherst for his thesis, a refutation of Richard Taylor’s provocative essay “Fatalism” (1962). Fate, Time, and Language prints Taylor’s essay, various contemporary responses and Wallace’s essay; it also includes Garfield’s memoir of teaching Wallace, and useful introductions of the issues to orient the non-philosopher. The opening essay, “A Head That Throbbed Heartlike”, by James Ryerson, an editor at the New York Times Magazine, is an excellent summary of Wallace’s thought and writing which shows how his philosophical interests were not purely cerebral, but arose from, and fed into, his emotional and ethical concerns.

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Christopher Davidson on Political Repression in the United Arab Emirates

Christopher Davidson

In the current issue of Foreign Policy, Christopher Davidson, author of Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success: The Vulnerability of Success and Abu Dhabi: Oil and Beyond, discusses the increasingly repressive tactics in the United Arab Emirates.

In the face of increasing calls for political reform and events of the Arab Spring, the rulers of the UAE have imprisoned activists and increased censorship. Davidson looks at current conditions which is characterized not only by political repression but growing unemployment and an increasing disparity between rich and poor. In assessing the future of the UAE Davidson writes:

Overall, the UAE regime seems to be following Saudi Arabia’s direction on the Arab Spring. No protests or dissent of any kind will be tolerated, even if that means political prisoners have to be taken and the country’s international reputation damaged in the process. The arrests have broken several clauses in the UAE’s Constitution, notably Article 26, and have served to warn the entire national population that nobody is above reproach. The move is ill calculated and dangerous, and smacks of poor leadership, as any remaining space for communication and honest dialogue between the ruling elite and the population has now been closed off. As such, the UAE’s future political stability is now a little less certain than it was a week ago.

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

David Foster Wallace on Free Will

David Foster Wallace “Had [David Foster] Wallace stuck with philosophy, and had he lived, he would have been a major figure in our field.”

In his review of David Foster Wallace’s Fate Time and Language: An Essay in Free Will in the Notre Dame Philosophical Review, Daniel Speak admits to an initial skepticism about the book. He was suspicious that the publication of Wallace’s undergraduate thesis might have been an opportunistic effort in the wake of his death. Instead, Speak found that “Fate, Time, and Language contains a great deal of first-rate philosophy throughout, and not least in Wallace’s extraordinarily professional and ambitious essay.”

The review lauds Wallace’s efforts to grapple with Richard Taylor’s famous views on fatalism. It also praises the accompanying essays in the book which look both at the philosophical contexts that shaped Wallace’s essay as well as the relationship between Wallace as writer and philosopher. Speak writes, “The addition of Wallace’s essay, together with the various bits of reflection on his life as a student and writer, make it both intellectually rich and psychologically illuminating.”

The essay concludes with Speak’s reflection on the possible similarities between David Foster Wallace and Hal Incandenza, a character in Infinite Jest.

Having read Infinite Jest alongside the collection under review here, I cannot ignore the parallels between Hal Incandenza (the novel’s intellectually precocious teen-aged central character) and the collegiate David Foster Wallace — who feverishly wrote his thesis in the Amherst philosophy department during his senior year while also penning a complete novel for a second thesis in the English department. In a gesture we are now in position to appreciate, Wallace has Hal Incandenza submit an essay for his college applications entitled “Montague Grammar and the Semantics of Physical Modality”. Perhaps more tellingly, we find Incandenza late in the novel, trying to come to terms with his own almost involuntary intellectual precision, noticing that “The dedication and sustained energy that go into true perspicacity and expertise were exhausting even to think about.” Whatever this kind of dedication and sustained energy ultimately exacted from Wallace himself, reading his careful and fulsome response to Taylor’s fatalism argument reveals that it did contribute to his being an enormously promising philosopher. I find it hard to disagree with Garfield in his conclusion that had Wallace stuck with philosophy, and had he lived, he would have been a major figure in our field. There is also no denying the strange excitement of looking in on the development of a young and uniquely powerful intellect. Those who have read John Rawls’ undergraduate thesis will, I think, have a similar experience in reading Wallace’s.

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Interview with Deepak Sarma, author of Classical Indian Philosophy

Classical Indian PhilosophyThe following is an interview with Deepak Sarma, author of Classical Indian Philosophy: A Reader.

Question: What was the inspiration behind this book?

Deepak Sarma: I’ve taught classes in Indian philosophy since 1998 and I was not happy with the introductory sections and some of the readings found in the discipline’s standard tome, namely Radhakrishnan and Moore’s Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy. So I began supplementing the text with relevant introductory materials that I wrote and with selections from primary sources that were more provocative, or simply better and more easily read translations. The process has been inseparable from my teaching goals: to provide clear and concise texts that facilitate entry into the Indian philosophical world and that challenge readers to consider the validity and defensibility of their own philosophical presuppositions. Eventually I was creating course packets that, for all intents and purposes, supplanted Sourcebook. Envisioning the course packets as a book that others could use was the next and obvious step.


Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Guobin Yang on Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei

Guobin Yang, author of The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online, was part of a discussion on the New York Times website about the recent imprisonment of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (his sculpture is pictured above).

In his piece, “Moving Past Manifestos,” Guobin Yang discusses the ways in which Ai Weiwei represents a new type of public intellectual. Whereas before 1989, intellectuals “viewed themselves as the moral authority charged with the mission of educating the people and saving the nation,” their style is now mocking and irreverent. Thus, while no longer idealistic, artists and intellectuals like Ai Weiwei “are more likely to take on political roles as part of their personal style and expression.”

Guobin Yang concludes by arguing that the new type of intellectuals have “abandoned the high-flown modes of protest typical of the 20th century. These new political styles indicate both the diminishing role of traditional academic intellectuals and the changing styles of activism in the age of global media.”

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

The Coen Brothers as Indie Auteurs

In his chapter “Pastiche as Play,” Michael Z. Newman, author of Indie: An American Film Culture focuses on the Coen brothers and how their work represents a certain strain of indie filmmaking. In particular, their use of pastiche, drawing on other genres, and playfulness have not only come to define their own work but also cement an indie audience. Here is an excerpt from the chapter and above is a clip from Blood Simple, a movie which self-consciously draws upon earlier noir films. (For Newman’s discussion of Lost in Translation)

Making a game of genre and influences, playing with the audience’s expectations about form and meaning, are central appeals of Blood Simple, and in their various ways of all of the Coens’ films since. This point matches formal play with another key element of indie culture’s viewing strategies: authorship as means of focusing textual meanings across many films that constitute an oeuvre. As a culture more focused on “personal” filmmaking than Hollywood and always seeking aesthetic distinction in relation to it, indie cinema relies considerably on auteur readings and on the categorization of films by artist, often parallel with or even ahead of genre or star. Indie filmmakers, more than many Hollywood counterparts, are expected to maintain a vision that is prioritized ahead of commercial considerations, and to cultivate a personal style across a body of work which helps to distinguish itself against mainstream film culture. Their emergence in the 1980s, part of an original wave of indies in the Sundance-Miramax era, established them as influential models, and while their auteur identity by the late 2000s might seem less central to indie culture than other directors, their historical role bespeaks their centrality to conceptions of indie culture. The Coens are offered here not only as paradigmatic pasticheurs, but also as exemplars of auteurist practice in indie cinema. The central thematic of their auteur identities, I argue, is playfulness. For instance, Jonathan Romney, writing about The Big Lebowski in Sight and Sound, described the Coen brothers as “the most purely ludic of contemporary American filmmakers.”


Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

New Book Tuesday: A Convergence of Civilizations

A Convergence of CivilizationsThe following books are now available:

A Convergence of Civilizations: The Transformation of Muslim Societies Around the World
Youssef Courbage and Emmanuel Todd

Fitzgerald and Hemingway: Works and Days (Now available in paper)
Scott Donaldson

States Without Nations: Citizenship for Mortals (Now available in paper)
Jacqueline Stevens

The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam (Now available in paper)
Jonathan Riley-Smith

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Michael Z. Newman on Lost in Translation

In Indie: An American Film Culture, Michael Newman examines why certain films exhibit the qualities and aesthetics of independent film. In his discussion of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, Newman argues shows how the film moves away from more conventional “good storytelling” to focus on the “more slack, day-by-day existence that can seem more typical of real world experience.”

After describing the famous and famously ambiguous final scene in the film, Newman describes how Coppola depicts the characters and their relationship. He also describes the meaning behind Bob’s [Bill Murray's character] karaoke performance (see above)

Unlike more romantic films such as Before Sunrise (1994), another meandering, episodic character-focused narrative, Lost in Translation does not make a parting of lovers the least bit tragic, and the mood of the ending of Lost in Translation is hardly even marked by pathos. Rather, one feels the satisfaction of seeing characters recognize a common bond. The ending is hopeful but not triumphant, and although the characters must part despite their love, they do so without overwhelming sorrow. The ending mixes complicated, conflicted feelings about friendship, love, and human connection. It is not so outlandishly ambiguous or open-ended like more radically challenging art films; rather, it is negotiated in its stance toward the characters. Perhaps they cannot be together, but that’s life sometimes, and it’s good that they had the time together that they enjoyed.


Friday, April 8th, 2011

Richard Kahlenberg on Cathie Black

Cathie Black

“The qualities needed to run the New York City public school system — not only a knowledge of education, but also some understanding of the circumstances of regular New York City students and their families — are not easily learned in the penthouse suite.”—Richard Kahlenberg on the resignation New York City school chancellor Cathie Black

Richard Kahlenberg author of Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race, and Democracy, has been participating in an ongoing debate on the New York Times site on education. Not surprisingly today’s subject was the resignation of school chancellor Cathie Black after a controversial three-month tenure.

In his post Putting a Theory to Rest, Kahlenberg argues that Black’s resignation should force us to reconsider a in education reform that experts from the private sector should be called in to fix up the “mess” of public education. Black, who had no experience in education spent much of her time being prepped on the issues rather which “prevented her from effectively leading the nation’s largest school district.”

Ultimately, as Kahlenberg writes:

“[Black's] tenure also exposed the shortcomings of the cult of the private sector. Behind Ms. Black’s appointment seemed to lie the assumption that surely, if someone had succeeded in the rough and tumble of the private market, doing well in the softer, less-well compensated public sector would, by comparison, be a piece of cake. Hedge fund managers, who have played a dominant role in pushing market-oriented school reforms, like nonunionized charter schools, have had their comeuppance as improving achievement has proven far more difficult than they anticipated. And yet the worship of the market is so complete that even a Democratic president’s signature initiative relies on a competitive Race to the Top. In fact, the qualities needed to run the New York City public school system — not only a knowledge of education, but also some understanding of the circumstances of regular New York City students and their families — are not easily learned in the penthouse suite.”