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Archive for September, 2013

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Nessa Carey Explains Epigenetics with Marshmallows and Gum Drops

Genetics and epigenetics are admittedly not the easiest concepts to grasp. However, in this video, Nessa Carey, author of The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology Is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease, and Inheritance (now available in paperback) helps out with a description of of how genes are controlled by epigenetic modifications. She demonstrates these concepts using strawberry laces, marshmallows and gum drops.

Monday, September 30th, 2013

University Press Roundup

Welcome to our weekly roundup of the best posts from the blogs of academic publishers! These are just a few of our favorite posts from last week, since we didn’t have a chance to fill you in on Friday (sorry if you missed us!). As always, if you particularly enjoy something or think that we missed an important post, please let us know in the comments.

Since we’ve seen the conclusion of Banned Books Week, we look first to Beacon Broadside, where they’ve surveyed and interviewed members of their staff to compile a brief list of recommendations for those who’ve got a taste for historically subversive or disruptive texts.

University of Texas Press keeps the dialogue of banned books alive with a roundup of their own, cataloging 11 links to informational blogs, sites, videos, and social media elements aimed at generating awareness of the ongoing issue of banned books.

But of course, it’s not only the banning of books that hinders public learning and academic pursuit. Wilfrid Laurier University Press discusses the implications surrounding a recent “breaking point reached after years of funding cuts” to scientific research facilities in Canada. After protests on Parliament Hill and a New York Times op-ed on the growing difficulties in Canada for “publicly financed scientists to communicate with the public and with other scientists,” WLU weighs in on the problem and remarks, “There’s more than one way to burn a book, after all.”

On an unrelated note, we couldn’t help but include Princeton University Press’s Raptor Round-Up, in which they provide a rundown of their titles specializing in migrant raptors. From identification guides to full-color photographic books, PUP boasts a backlist replete with raptors. “[T]he sight of a raptor in the sky is an impressive image.” We couldn’t agree more.

After the recent–and needless–controversy regarding race in selecting a Miss America of Indian descent, NYU Press author Megan Seely questions the notion that crowning a Miss America is beneficial for woman in the first place. Examining the perhaps tacit requirements for success in the pageant–among them being thinness, tallness, heteronormativity, and, historically, whiteness–Seely argues that despite the good such pageants engender, they also do harm in alienating those individuals whose “races, ethnicities, cultural identities, body sizes, genders, sexualities, ages and abilities” are consistently not represented in what is a culturally accepted assertion of what it means to be an American woman.

And lastly, now that we’ve reached the denouement of Walter White’s transformation into sinister drug kingpin, the University of Minnesota Press features a rigorous blog post by author Curtis Marez on the role and treatment of Latinos on the hit television series Breaking Bad, both within the fictional narrative and the development of the show itself. Marez argues that the show demonstrates well “racial capitalism,” a theory positing that the fabrication of racial inferiority was “integral to the historical development of capitalism.” The discussion begins with the perceived symbolism of protagonist Walter White’s initial decision to shave his head. Be sure to read the original post here.

Thanks again for reading this week’s roundup! Have a great weekend, and leave any thoughts in the comments!

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Book Giveaway: Solving Problems with Design Thinking


This week our featured book is Solving Problems with Design Thinking: Ten Stories of What Works, by Jeanne Liedtka, Andrew King, and Kevin Bennett. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author here on our blog as well as on Twitter feed and Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Solving Problems with Design Thinking. To enter our Book Giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on October 4th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, September 27th, 2013

Laura Frost on David Foster Wallace and Modernism’s Afterlife in the Age of Prosthetic Pleasure

The following is an excerpt from “Modernism’s Afterlife in the Age of Prosthetic Pleasure,” the final chapter in Laura Frost’s The Problem with Pleasure: Modernism and Its Discontents. In the chapter Laura Frost looks at “David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest, as it demonstrates how, despite postmodernism’s divergence from many of modernism’s premises, the conception of pleasure as a problem remains strong into our century.” For more on the book, you can also read an interview with Laura Frost

“For Wallace, as for many modernists, the difference between serious and commercial art turned on the distinction between an experience that is learned and earned, and a kind of ‘fun’ that comes all too easily.”—Laura Frost

Laura Frost, The Problem with PleasureOne of the major themes of Infinite Jest is addiction and pleasure disorders. A prominent narrative strand that cuts across the novel’s many plots, and whose importance is indicated by its titular role, is a mysterious film by one James Orin Incandeza, Jr. called Infinite Jest. Known as “the Entertainment” or “the samizdat,” the film is “a recorded pleasure so entertaining and diverting it is lethal” (321). Once people start viewing it, it is so mesmerizing that they obsessively watch until they die. A group of radical Quebeçois separatists want to use Infinite Jest as a terrorist weapon against Americans, who, one character remarks, “would die for this chance to be fed this death of pleasure with spoons, in their warm homes, alone, unmoving” (318).

What makes “the lethal cartridge” so compelling? The brief and possibly fallacious descriptions of the film—for no one who sees it is supposed to survive that viewing—sketch a scenario in which an extraordinarily beautiful woman appears as “some kind of maternal instantiation of the archetypal figure of Death, sitting naked, cor­poreally gorgeous, ravishing, hugely pregnant . . . explaining in very simple childlike language to whomever the film’s camera represents that Death is always female, and that the female is always maternal” (788). Shot from the perspective of a child in a crib, the film shows the woman bending over the infant and uttering apologies: “I’m so sorry. I’m so very sorry. I am so, so sorry” (939). The “ultimate pleasure” here is intimately connected to the maternal body and to infantile regres­sion, drawing not only from psychoanalytic discourse but also from the centuries-old association of the female body with pleasurable pas­sivity and also anxiety. The samizdat calls to mind T. S. Eliot’s asser­tion that mass culture appeals to a “desire to return to the womb.”8

Infinite Jest alludes to other pleasure technologies, such as Reich’s orgone accumulator, the Excessive Machine in Roger Vad­im’s Barbarella (1968), and David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983). Wallace explicitly connects the Entertainment to the historical dis­course and science of pleasure. At one point, some of the characters in Infinite Jest discuss the discovery in the 1970s, by a neuroscientist named Olders, that “firing certain electrodes in certain parts of the lobes gave the brain intense feelings of pleasure” (470). These areas are called “p-terminals” (pleasure-terminals). Building on the data, Canadian scientists implanted electrodes in a rat’s brain and “found that if they rigged an auto-stimulation lever, the rat would press the lever to stimulate his p-terminal over and over, thousands of times an hour, over and over, ignoring food and female rats in heat, com­pletely fixated on the lever’s stimulation, day and night, stopping only when the rat finally died of dehydration or simple fatigue” (471). The artificial stimulation of the p-terminal overrides opportunities for real carnal pleasure (“food and female rats in heat”). Wallace adds a twist to this fictionalized version of James Olds and Peter Milner’s famous rat experiments in the 1950s: when word gets out about the studies, people start lining up to volunteer for pleasure implants. “We would choose dying for this, the total pleasure of a passive goat” (474).

Wallace’s depiction of a society of individuals drowning in but not enjoying pleasure offers a culmination to Rhys’s Sasha and other early twentieth-century pleasure seekers. Rhys, Huxley, Eliot, Lawrence, and other authors merely imagine cinema audiences rendered passive and narcotized. Wallace goes further in creating a vehicle of enter­tainment that literally kills its viewers with pleasure as they neglect everything else and give themselves over to hedonism. The modernist metaphors of intoxication and hypnosis are now a deadly addiction. This is a Freudian version of Plato’s oyster, “merely a body endowed with life,” without the exercise of reason or intellect, and a pure recep­tor of pleasure. It is also the ultimate regressive fantasy, akin to the sort Huxley found so revolting in Al Jolson’s “Mammy” song, and an abandonment of the intellect….


Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Interview with Laura Frost, author of The Problem with Pleasure

“It’s a rare work of academic literary criticism that finds a general audience. There is still a kind of snobbery—not unlike the modernists’, actually—that if it’s not ponderous, contorted, and insular, then it’s not serious. God forbid that scholarly work should be fun, stylish, and have a distinctive voice.”—Laura Frost

Laura Frost, The Problem with PleasureThe following is an interview with Laura Frost, author of The Problem with Pleasure: Modernism and Its Discontents. For more from Frost, you can also read her post “Of Muscle Cars and Modernism,” (part 1, part 2). We are also offering a FREE copy of the book!

Question: Why focus on pleasure in modernism? What exactly was the problem that modernists’ had with pleasure?

Laura Frost: If you read a lot of modern literature, you appreciate “the fascination of what’s difficult.” It’s tough going: it involves a lot of deciphering, decoding, and interpretation. This is something all scholars in the field acknowledge, but it tends to get lost or naturalized as modernist techniques become familiar to us. When you teach modern lit to undergraduates, for example, it reminds you of how challenging it is. While the students are asking, “Why is this author making things so hard for me?” you are trying to convince them that it’s interesting, consequential, and, well, fantastic. Modern critics and writers constantly invoked the concept of pleasure and difficulty to distinguish their project from other forms of culture.

Q: How would they define or defend difficulty as a pathway to pleasure?

LF: The critic Q. D. Leavis, for example, described popular fiction, cinema, dancing, newspapers, and radio as producing “cheap and easy pleasure,” while she argued that modernist fiction gives rise to pleasure that has to be struggled for and earned: pleasure that almost doesn’t even correspond with conventional definitions of pleasure. Remember, this is the period of Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle, which explores the attractions of contorted, painful, and seemingly unpleasurable pleasure. That’s a great description of modernist readerly pleasure. The usual ways of thinking about modernism, such as the high/low or elite/popular culture divide are actually based on these distinctions about different qualities of pleasure. However, even as modernists set up these distinctions and valorize hard cognitive labor, they clearly recognized the attractions of the culture (popular novels, cinema, and so on) they put down, and they are constantly sneaking in similar techniques. So if you consider modern literature through the lens of pleasure, you get a new reading of old paradigms, a new understanding of interwar culture, and a new understanding of what it means to read and enjoy modernism.

Q: The role of technology plays an important role in your book. How did new technologies and the explosion of popular mass media shape modernists’ views of pleasure?

LF: Mechanized, automatic pleasure is something many modernists criticized as inauthentic and meaningless: “fake pleasure.” Emergent technology was thought to facilitate this effortlessness, in which machines do not so much alienate (like, say, the mechanisms in Chaplin’s Modern Times) as they make simple, somatic pleasure all too accessible.

Cinema was a key example of this ambivalence about technology and pleasure. Authors describe cinema spectatorship as intoxicating, distracting, regressive, hypnotic, and escapist, but also as disorienting, alienating, addictive, boring, or even nauseating. The circumstances of cinema going—sitting passively in the dark and watching–were thought to produce a distinctive mental and physical reaction in the viewer. The addition of sound added a new dimension: many critics of early talkies felt that there was something overwhelming about all this stimulation. The momentous transition from cinematic silence to sound in the interwar period is a recurring reference point for the authors I examine: for example, it underpins the pornographic “feelies” in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World; My book weaves films such as D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance, The Jazz Singer, the blockbuster Rudolph Valentino film The Sheik, British nature documentaries (The Secrets of Nature), Douglas Fairbanks comedies, and Felix the Cat cartoons throughout the story of modern literature as authors set up cinematic pleasure as a foil for the more deliberate, cognitive pleasures of reading.

Q: Your book ends with a discussion of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Does the modernists’ ambivalent, difficult relationship with pleasure have anything to say about our contemporary era that at times seems awash in entertainment and pleasure?

There’s a scene in the film Before Midnight (2013) where a group of characters sits around a dinner table and the talk turns to pleasure. The Julie Delpy character, Celine, brings up a classic scientific experiment about pleasure, where James Olds and Peter Milner embedded electrodes in the brains of rats, allowing them to stimulate the pleasure-centers of their brains. The rats neglected food, water, and their young in order to keep feeling good. (David Foster Wallace also writes about this experiment in Infinite Jest.) Celine’s husband, Jess (Ethan Hawke), speculates that we have become like the rats, that “we’re pleasure-obsessed, porn-addled materialists, ceding our humanity to technology at the same moment that computers are becoming sentient.” The modernist nightmare of amusement on demand has been realized, at least for those who can afford it. Leaving aside the computers and the electrodes, the discussion about virtual pleasure is not that different from the early twentieth century debates about culture. There was a widespread sense that technologies of mass culture were corrosive because they made simple, base pleasure too accessible, and that people were mindlessly consuming them.


Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Of Modernism and Muscle Cars, Part 2 — Laura Frost

James Joyce

This is second part of Laura Frost’s essay “Of Modernism and Muscle Cars” (you can read part 1 here). Laura Frost is the author of The Problem with Pleasure: Modernism and Its Discontents

“Modern literature should be commemorated in all its difficulty and beauty, with all the features that make it a formidable and demanding pleasure.”—Laura Frost

We left off with the USPS “Modern Art in America” Forever™ stamp series. The experimental techniques we see in those images– abstraction, multiple perspectives, and surreal juxtapositions–have equivalents in modern literature’s fragmented language, multiple points of view, obscure allusions, and ambiguity. Both modern literature and art make enormous demands on their audiences, challenging them to embrace difficulty as a cardinal virtue and even a pleasure.

However, while visual art lends itself to mass reproduction like the images on the USPS stamps, it’s difficult to fit, say, the “Time Passes” section from Woolf’s To the Lighthouse onto a stamp. When authors are commemorated, it’s their faces, not their works, that represent them. In 2012, the USPS issued a Twentieth-Century Poets series that did just that; Woolf, Hemingway, Stein, and Joyce all graced the cover of Time while they were alive. But the portrait approach is wrong: modern writers were preoccupied with depth, interiority, and, above all, textuality: the play words on the page. A composed snapshot—say, of Virginia Woolf in a ruffled blouse–just doesn’t begin to capture the quality of her work.

It’s tough to excerpt modern literature for user-friendly purposes. Take, for example, Marks & Spencer’s “Celebrate the Best of British” merchandise this past summer. It included Union Jack-festooned plates and picnic blankets, tins of shortbread trumpeting “good wishes to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the Birth of Their Beautiful Baby,” and a shopping tote emblazoned with a quote from A Room of One’s Own: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” And shopped well? Sure, it’s cute (believe me, I wanted one), but the actual context of the quote is hardly a cheery promotion of picnics: it’s a discussion of the deprivations of women’s education. Really, a more representative quote for Woolf would be, “Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer”: put that on a coffee mug, M&S!

More egregiously, last April, the Bank of Ireland issued a new ten euro coin showing James Joyce’s face on one side and, on the reverse, an excerpt from the “Proteus” episode in Ulysses, when Stephen Dedalus walks on the beach and ruminates on Aristotle, the German theologian Jakob Boehme, and perception: “Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read.” It was a great quotation to choose—obscure, perplexing–except the Bank got the quote wrong and inserted an extra “that.” Great hilarity ensued (“A Blooming Mistake,” “James Joyce Coin-troversy,” etc.).

Why can’t modern literature be presented as effectively as the USPS “Modern Art” series–or even its “Muscle Cars” series? Surely The Waste Land is as compelling as Joseph Stella’s Brooklyn Bridge or the 1970 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda? But let’s not soft-pedal it. Modern literature should be commemorated in all its difficulty and beauty, with all the features that make it a formidable and demanding pleasure.

So why not a series of stamps featuring emblematic phrases from modern literature? Wouldn’t it be nice to pay your next big Visa bill with a stamp proclaiming “The horror! The horror!”? Or to send your next love letter with a sexy line from Tender Buttons, “A cool red rose and a pink cut pink, a collapse and a sold hole, a little less hot” (or the more obvious, “A rose is a rose is a rose”)? True, many great modernist phrases probably wouldn’t fly with the USPS (“Once a bitch always a bitch, what I say” comes to mind). But seriously, each of these fragments would ideally provoke the reader to seek out the original source: a first step toward the active pleasures of modern literature. Wouldn’t you think twice if you received a letter with one of these phrases?

“Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically.”


“like a ripple on an unfathomable enigma”


“I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

“in the middle of my party, here’s death, she thought.”

And of course, the crowd-pleasing “and yes I said yes I will Yes.” But please, USPS, get the punctuation right.

Forever™ modernism!

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

Of Modernism and Muscle Cars, Part 1 — A Post by Laura Frost

Laura Frost is the author of The Problem with Pleasure: Modernism and Its Discontents, our featured book of the week:

“Modernism constantly puts up … resistance and, even more audaciously, it asks its viewers to value, savor, and learn to love that process of interpretive struggle.”—Laura Frost

For the dwindling demographic that still buys stamps in this age of electronic communication, the U.S. Post Office issued two notable series of Forever™ stamps this past spring: Muscle Cars and Modern Art in America (1913-1931). The first shows souped-up hot rods speeding along (“Freedom, Adventure, and Burning Rubber,” painted by Tom Fritz), and the second commemorates the centennial of the Armory Show in New York City, which introduced artists such as Brancusi, Léger, Picasso, and Braque to American audiences. One has to admire the eclecticism: muscle cars and modern art, the Dodge Charger Daytona and Duchamp.

The modern art stamps are kinetic, exuberant, and playful. Each image is a riot of colliding lines and mysterious forms. Even reproduced in miniature, they are by no means “decorative” or straightforward: rather, they present us with a host of questions. What exactly are we looking at? Why did the artist present it this way? And what are we supposed to get out of it?

Mardsen HartleyFor example, one stamp in the series, Marsden Hartley’s Painting, Number 5 (1914-1915), is a colorful conglomeration of crosses, checkerboard forms, circles and lines. Is there a subject encrypted in there? The USPS notes helpfully tell us that this is “a composite portrait” of a German soldier, but it’s presented like a collage or “puzzle pieces.” And indeed, that is exactly how modernism typically presents itself: as a puzzle to be solved by the viewer.

Duchamp, USPSOne of the most important principles of modernism is that it makes you, the viewer, work. Its abstraction, fragmentation, multiple perspectives, and surreal juxtapositions make you constantly aware of form—of how the artist renders the subject—often even more than the subject itself. Sure, Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912) purportedly depicts a naked body, but the treatment is the real interest, as a robot-like figure is shown moving across the canvas, as if by time-lapse photography with every frame displayed simultaneously. The traditional laws of time, space, and perspective are suspended.

And what is going on in Charles Demuth’s painting of a massive golden number five enclosing two smaller fives over a red geometric mass and a plane of grayscale rays, with the word “BILL” drifting off the upper left part of the frame? The title, I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold (1928), is not helpful unless we get the reference to a poem by modernist poet William Carlos Williams, “The Great Figure,” an ode to a speeding fire engine. This is typical: modernism expects you to sleuth out its references, jokes, symbols, and meaning.


Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

New Book Tuesday: Are the Lips a Grave?, Radical Cosmopolitics, and More New Titles

Lynne Huffer, Are the Lips a Grave?: A Queer Feminist on the Ethics of SexAre the Lips a Grave?: A Queer Feminist on the Ethics of Sex
Lynne Huffer

Radical Cosmopolitics: The Ethics and Politics of Democratic Universalism
James D. Ingram

The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology Is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease, and Inheritance (Now available in paper)
Nessa Carey

Reds at the Blackboard: Communism, Civil Rights, and the New York City Teachers Union (Now available in paper)
Clarence Taylor

Wang Renmei: The Wildcat of Shanghai
Richard J. Meyer

Scholastic Sanskrit: A Manual for Students
Gary A. Tubb and Emery R. Boose

Enchanted by Lohans: Osvald Sirén’s Journey into Chinese Art
Minna Törmä

The Virgin Mary and Catholic Identities in Chinese History
Jeremy Clarke

Robert Morrison and the Protestant Plan for China
Christopher A. Daily

Introduction to the Hong Kong Basic Law
Danny Gittings

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Book Giveaway! The Problem with Pleasure by Laura Frost

The Problem with Pleasure: Modernism and Its Discontents

“Fresh, invigorating, witty and profound, her book impresses on every page…. This is criticism at its very best,” so writes Gary Day in his review of The Problem with Pleasure: Modernism and Its Discontents,

Throughout the week, we will be featuring The Problem with Pleasure: Modernism and Its Discontents by Laura Frost. For more on the book, you can also read an excerpt from the chapter The Repudiation of Pleasure.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Problem with Pleasure to a lucky winner.

To enter our Book Giveaway, simply e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on September 27 at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Rossano: Fear of Death, Joy of Life and the Origins of God

Mortal Rituals

This week our featured book is Mortal Rituals: What the Story of the Andes Survivors Tells Us About Human Evolution, by Matt J. Rossano. (And don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of the book!)

In a November 2010 Huffington Post blog, Rossano writes on the interesting themes of death, life and God with the ideas of fear and happiness intersecting into those themes.

He begins by describing two images. “Two juxtaposed images of religion: A priest in ancient Egypt moaning out an elaborately ritualized incantation over the mummified body of a dead pharaoh, and Tevye and his friends from Fiddler on the Roof drunkenly dancing and shouting l’chaim(“to life”).” Rossano states that these images demonstrate that human mortality and the fear of death serve as sound origins for religious figures and holy texts to appease our expectation of life after death.

Rossano then proceeds to discuss the paradox that while religion may appease the fear of death, it also heightens it. “For example, Ah Puch, the Mayan god of the dead, was a gruesome character whose putrid, decomposing, skeletal form offered little in the way consolation to new arrivals. The ancient Greeks had a similarly disheartening view of the afterlife. In book XI of The Odyssey, the dead Achilles laments to Odysseus: Say not a word in death’s favor; I would rather be a paid servant in a poor man’s house … than king of kings among the dead.”


Friday, September 20th, 2013

University Press Roundup

Welcome to our weekly roundup of the best posts from the blogs of academic publishers! As always, if you particularly enjoy something or think that we missed an important post, please let us know in the comments.

How can a university press remain relevant in the rapidly changing world of publishing? An Akronism, the blog of the University of Akron Press, looks at the recent grant given to the University of North Carolina Press by the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust and offers five ways that the University of Akron Press can continue to thrive.

How quickly is the “‘takeover,’ if you will, of text-messaging and similar technology” changing scholarly communication? At the AMACOM Books Blog, Associate Editor Michael Sivilli talks about the role of new words in the creation of the new AMA Dictionary of Business and Management.

At Beacon Broadside, guest blogger David Chura asks “the question that daily confronts every teacher who works with hard to reach students…. ‘How do I do this?’” Chura’s recipe for longevity in teaching is simple: “Don’t take it personally.”

Ronald Reagan first became a national political figure in 1964, while campaigning for Barry Goldwater. However, Goldwater’s candidacy for the presidency met with serious opposition in Reagan’s home state of California. At fifteeneightyfour, the blog of Cambridge University Press, Donald T. Critchlow tells the story of the division between moderate and hard-right Republicans in California that provided the launching pad for Reagan’s political career. (And for those who prefer Ernest Hemingway and food to politics, fifteeneightyfour also has a post of recipes mentioned in Hemingway’s letters from Paris in the 1920s.)

September 19th would have been the 81st birthday of Mike Royko, a familiar columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner in the Chicago news scene. In honor of the occasion, The Chicago Blog has an excerpt from one of Royko’s articles, “written just after Rodney King’s beating at the hands of the LAPD.”

Do bullying laws work? At Voices in Education, the blog of Harvard Education Publishing, Elizabeth Kandel Englander looks at the debate over the many new state laws concerning bullying. As she puts it, “if bullying isn’t typically a crime, does it hurt or help to enact laws designed to reduce it?”

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Cake and Immigration: A Recap of the Launch for Nancy Foner’s “One Out of Three”

Nancy Foner Cake

The above cake was part of last night’s celebration at the Tenement Museum for the launch of One Out of Three: Immigrant New York in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Nancy Foner. In addition to the delicious cake which featured the book’s wonderful cover, the event also included talks by some of the contributors to the book about immigrant life in twenty-first century New York City.

The evening however, began with a talk by Sukethu Mehta, himself an immigrant from India, who talked about his own experiences growing up in Jackson Heights, Queens, as well as the successes of immigrants and the challenges confronting them in the future. He pointed to the incredible mixture of immigrants in the city, often bringing together groups, such as Indians and Pakistanis, who might not like each other back home or even behind closed doors but find a way to work and live with each other in their daily lives in New York City. However, Mehta also expressed concern about New York City’s ability to continue to support a healthy immigrant community as the city becomes more expensive and stratified.

Nancy Foner, the book’s editor, considered the emergence of new groups from West Africa and Bangladesh, who are changing the composition of New York City’s immigrant population. In addition, traditional immigrant groups are now establishing communities in different parts in the city: Dominicans settling in the Bronx, Chinese in Brooklyn and Queens, and Russians in Queens. As new immigrants continue to play a large role in city life as small business owners, they are likely to expand their influence as they become more involved in city politics.


Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Matt J. Rossano: The Ritual Species

Mortal Rituals

This week our featured book is Mortal Rituals: What the Story of the Andes Survivors Tells Us About Human Evolution, by Matt J. Rossano. (And don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of the book!)

In an August article in Psychology Today, Matt J. Rossano wrote about how rituals enhance the bond between participants of a community.

In the article, Rossano highlights that “archaeologists have recently found evidence that Neanderthals may have taught Homo sapiens some complex tool-making skills (Soressi, et al. 2013). What appears to make Homo sapiens unique is our ability to construct complex, well-coordinated, and highly cooperative social groups.” This difference, he states, allowed Homo sapiens to effectively competitively evolve vis-à-vis the Neanderthals during the Ice-Age.

He also mentions a variety of studies on rituals to supplement his article. The first study discussed the links between ritual intensity and commitment to a particular community: “This has long been an assumption of many groups such as fraternities and the military where hazing or stressful initiations were (and maybe still are) common. Additionally, painful and traumatic rites of passage have long histories in many traditional societies.” Rossano suggests that successfully experiencing such traumatic rituals serve as an important indicator to determine whether the individual will remain committed to a group and greater the intensity of the rituals, better the chances of ascertaining bonding to the community. To exemplify his point, he states that “researchers studied the Hindu festival of Thaipusam on the small Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius (Xygalatas et al, 2013). The festival involves both low intensity ritual activity, such as praying and dancing, and high intensity ritual activity such as body piercing with needles, hooks, and skewers. Both high and low ritual intensity participants were allowed to make charitable donations to a public fund and they were queried about the strength of their emotional connection to their social groups. High intensity ritual participants made significantly greater charitable donations and identified more strongly with their Mauritanian nationality.”


Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Excerpt: Matt J. Rossano’s Preface and Introduction to Mortal Rituals

Mortal Rituals

This week our featured book is Mortal Rituals: What the Story of the Andes Survivors Tells Us About Human Evolution, by Matt J. Rossano. In the Preface to Mortal Rituals, Rossano explains the general premise of his work on the Andes Survivors, and in the Introduction, he begins by telling the story of the plane crash that marooned the passengers of Flight UAF 571 high in the Andes Mountains. Read both the Preface and Introduction below!

And don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of the book!

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

New Book Tuesday: The Afrasian Imagination and an Award-Winner Now in Paper

Commerce with the Universe: Africa, India, and the Afrasian Imagination, by Gaurav DesaiOur weekly listing of new titles now available:

Commerce with the Universe: Africa, India, and the Afrasian Imagination
Gaurav Desai

The Garden and the Fire: Heaven and Hell in Islamic Culture (Now available in paper)
Nerina Rustomji

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Book Giveaway! Mortal Rituals: What the Story of the Andes Survivors Tells Us About Human Evolution, by Matt J. Rossano

Mortal Rituals

This week our featured book is Mortal Rituals: What the Story of the Andes Survivors Tells Us About Human Evolution, by Matt J. Rossano. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author here on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Mortal Rituals. To enter our Book Giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on September 20th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, September 13th, 2013

University Press Roundup

Welcome to our weekly roundup of the best posts from the blogs of academic publishers! As always, if you particularly enjoy something or think that we missed an important post, please let us know in the comments.

Do words matter? And if so, how do they shape our world? In this Cambridge University Press post titled Language of Contention, Sidney Tarrow discovers that “new words for contention diffuse across social and territorial boundaries, they affect how people behave as well as how they describe what they do. Take the recent evolution of the term ‘occupy’: it not only described what a group of protesters did near Wall Street in 2011; it also inspired people around the United States and abroad to imitate what they had done, to innovate new forms of occupation, and to force the concept of ‘the 99 percent’ onto the political agenda.”

Enjoy watching Sherlock Holmes and his unique detective skills? Oxford University Press published a post by James O’s Brien, author of The Scientific Sherlock Holmes. Brien writes an interesting take on the methods of detection used in Sherlock Holmes, ranging from fingerprint evidence to handwriting to footprints and even dogs.

Remember the Chilean Coup of 1973? Duke University Press published a post to mark the 40th anniversary the coup that took place on Sept 11th, 1973. “Before 9/11 (2001), September 11 was remembered most often as the day of the Chilean coup of 1973. Today marks the fortieth anniversary of that day. On September 11, 1973, Chile’s three armies launched an attack on the government of President Salvador Allende, the first democratically-elected socialist president of Chile.”

MIT Press talks about a new age of protest in two rising economies, namely Brazil and Turkey, in their post titled Turkey and Brazil: A New Age of Protest?. What do protests in both countries have in common. New age communication. “An ocean apart, what did the protests in Brazil have in common with the outcry in Turkey? Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, and other online platforms, which enable speedy communication at very low costs, potential allies were reached and mobilized quickly.”


Friday, September 13th, 2013

Julia Lovell on Zhu Wen

The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan: More Stories of China, by Zhu Wen

We conclude our week-long feature on The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan: More Stories of China,with an excerpt from Julia Lovell’s Translator’s Preface to Zhu Wen’s earlier collection of short stories, I Love Dollars.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan! Today is the final day of the giveaway!

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Interview with Writer and Filmmaker Zhu Wen

The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan: More Stories of China, by Zhu Wen

In keeping with our featured book this week, Zhu Wen’s The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan, we cover today a 2011 interview of Zhu Wen, conducted by the Wang Ge of Timeout Beijing.

In the interview, Wang discusses the multitude of Wen’s creative personas, namely as a novelist, engineer, philosopher and film-maker and he interviews Zhu about his upcoming movie release, Thomas Mao.

Wang first heard of Zhu Wen in 2002 when the bad-boy writer-film director was a guest on a radio talk show where the interviewees had been asked to bring along a book, a film and an album to represent themselves. According to him, Zhu was automatically painted as some kind of anarchist:

Ge: In 2002, he [Zhu] was still better known as a novelist, having quit his factory job in 1994 to become a writer. He didn’t join the directorial ranks until 2001, with cultish debut Seafood. The film chronicles the story of a Beijing prostitute who travels to Beidaihe to kill herself, and it flew under the radars of most film lovers. It wasn’t until his second feature, South of the Clouds (2003), the tale of a doleful-eyed retiree’s journey of self-discovery to Yunnan, that Zhu announced himself to the world. Then he disappeared. Many thought the director had quit filmmaking for good, but now he’s back with Thomas Mao – and it’s every bit the head trip you’d expect.

The film [Thomas Mao] is divided into two parts. The first half shows the cultural clashes between an Inner Mongolian yurt owner (played by artist Mao Yan) and a foreign artist (played by Thomas Rohldewald), who shares his tent for a night. The twist comes in the second half, where fiction transforms into ‘documentary’, and Zhu turns his camera on the real-life Mao Yan and his working relationship with Rohldewald, a long-time artistic collaborator.

Zhu: Both of them are good friends of mine, but it all came together when I finally figured out how the two artists are connected in their own separate realities. There was this ancient Chinese philosopher called Zhuangzi, and he dreamt of becoming a butterfly. Then he woke up and was confused as to whether he had dreamt he was a butterfly, or if he was a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. The boundaries between reality and dreams can blur together so easily that I can only explain them through their different incarnations.

The plant I worked in was built to produce machine parts, but then the Soviet Union was gone, production was stranded. So I spent my days and nights gathering my colleagues together to play poker. The factory authorities found out about this and threatened to fire me for gambling, which is illegal. Then, all of a sudden, the plant recovered, production began and skilled engineers were needed. So they called me back when I’d already packed my bags. But one day, when I finished work for the day, I looked at all these assembly lines and thought: What am I doing here?


Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Hollywood and Hitler Reviewed in The New Yorker

Thomas Doherty, Hollywood and HitlerThe debate continues. Writing for The New Yorker, David Denby weighs in on the competing interpretations of Hollywood’s complicity with Nazism advanced in two new books: Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939, by Thomas Doherty and The Collaboration Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler, by Ben Urwand.

As Denby writes, both books argue that Hollywood studios were hesitant to produce films that criticized, either explicitly or implicitly, Nazism for fear of losing the German market. However, the studios were also restricted in what kinds of movies they could make by the Hays Production Code, which at that time was led by “censor-in-chief,” Joseph Breen. Breen, who is also the subject of Thomas Doherty’s book Hollywood’s Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration pressured the studios not to mention Nazism and follow the Code’s ambiguous guidelines to treat other countries fairly. Denby writes, “The pattern was clear: no matter how vicious Nazi conduct was, any representation of it could be deemed a violation of the code’s demand that foreign countries be treated ‘fairly.’”

Given the pressures from Breen as well as the studio heads’ desire to appear as American as possible, Louis B. Mayer, Warner Brothers and others were extremely wary of producing films that called attention to issues relating to Nazism, Judaism, or anti-Semitism. As Denby explains:

By acting as they did, the studio bosses fell into the trap that they had allowed men like … Breen to set for them. Because they were Jews, they believed, they couldn’t make anti-Nazi movies or movies about Jews, for this would be seen as special pleading or warmongering. Breen tormented them with the spectre of what anti-Semites might do as a way of stifling their response to what anti-Semitism was already doing—and would do, in Europe, with annihilating violence. It’s as if the Hollywood Jews had become responsible for anti-Semitism. Of all the filmmakers in the world, they became the last who could criticize the Nazis. Their situation was both tragic and absurd.

Doherty and Urwand’s differing interpretations center around the extent to which studio heads ignored, abided, or collaborated with Nazis. As the title of his book suggests, Urwand views the studio heads as collaborating with and supporting some of the aims of the Nazis. Doherty argues, and Denby seems to agree, that “the studios didn’t advance Nazism; they failed to oppose it.”