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Archive for April, 2014

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Why I Am Such a Good Christian, by Gil Anidjar


“[B]efore or aside from all that, there is the task of measuring or marking the boundaries and limits of Christianity. How far does Christianity go? How wide does it spread, and what depths does it reach? What divisions does it establish or undo, within and between?” – Gil Anidjar

This week our featured book is Blood: A Critique of Christianity, by Gil Anidjar. Today, we are pleased to present “Why I Am Such a Good Christian,” Anidjar’s preface to Blood.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Blood!

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Wendy Brown and Rainer Forst Debate Tolerance

The Power of Tolerance: A Debate was inspired by a conversation between Wendy Brown and Rainer Forst. In the the debate the two discussed different discourses of tolerance, their normative premises, limits, and political implications. The main focus was on social and political conflicts over the recognition of differences in civil societies, national politics, and transnational relations.

Here are some clips from the event with Brown and Forst:

Wendy Brown on the power of tolerance:

Rainer Forst discusses the dialectics of tolerance:

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Blood: A Critique of Christianity, by Gil Anidjar


This week our featured book is Blood: A Critique of Christianity, by Gil Anidjar. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Blood. 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 Friday, May 2nd at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

New Book Tuesday: Creating a Learning Society by Joseph Stiglitz and Bruce Greenwald and More New Titles!

New books now available:

Creating a Learning Society, Joseph StiglitzCreating a Learning Society: A New Approach to Growth, Development, and Social Progress
Joseph E. Stiglitz and Bruce C. Greenwald

Our Broad Present: Time and Contemporary Culture
Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht

The Inner Life of the Dying Person
Allan Kellehear

Hisaki Matsuuri

Aged Young Adults: Age Readings of Contemporary American Novels and Films
Anita Wohlmann

Beware of the Other Side(s): Multiple Personality Disorder and Dissociative Identity Disorder in American Fiction
Heike Schwarz

Rubble, Ruins, and Romanticism: Visual Style, Narration and Identity in German Post-War Cinema
Martina Moeller


Monday, April 28th, 2014

A Q&A with Matthew Akester, translator of Memories of Life in Lhasa Under Chinese Rule

Memories of Life in Lhasa Under Chinese Rule

“The main gift of Khetsun’s book, however, is its vivid depiction of the banal horrors; how prisoners were forced to denude the hills around Lhasa to provide their captors with firewood, or carry them piggy-back across icy rivers in winter, or how prisoners’ lives were casually wasted in work accidents, how political campaigns crushed resistance cells inside prisons during the 1962 war, and so on.” – Matthew Akester

Today, we have a Q&A with Matthew Akester, the translator of Memories of Life in Lhasa Under Chinese Rule, Tibetan Tubten Khétsun’s autobiographical account of his time spent in Tibet after the Tibetan people’s uprising of March 10, 1959. In his answers below, Akester describes his history with the project and explains exactly why Khetsun’s book is so important.

Why Khetsun’s book?

It is widely recognised that published accounts of Tibet’s history under Chinese Communist occupation tend to be skewed by the dominant narratives promoted by the CCP and Tibet’s government in exile, both of which are by nature polemical and inadequate. Chinese language accounts are constrained by the ideological rigidity and censorship that prevails within the PRC, while Tibetan language accounts, at least of the period 1958-79, are limited to the memoirs of survivors. Those that have appeared in English have typically been ghost written by sympathetic collaborators seeking to promote the Tibetan cause (with just a few exceptions). As someone who works on modern history primarily from Tibetan language sources, I have tried to review as much of the memoir literature as I can, and that is how I came upon Khetsun’s book. It was first published in the rather drab format used by the exile government press in Dharmshala (1998), under the title ‘A testament of suffering’, suggesting another iteration of the maudlin lament in which exiled survivors of Maoism often frame their stories. Soon after opening the cover, however, I was drawn into an exceptionally detailed and evocative memoir, refreshingly free of self-pity and black-and-white hyperbole. Most of the accounts published by Khetsun’s generation are actually prison memoirs, since that is where the majority of educated Tibetan men spent the years 1959-79, but he was released early and thus in a position to describe the condition of civil society in Lhasa in those years. His language is clear and sympathetic, a pleasure to translate.

How representative is his account?

Khetsun’s family belonged to the minor nobility, and he was groomed to serve the Lhasa government, so he was by Chinese Communist norms a prima facie ‘class enemy’ and prime target of the ‘class struggle’ through which they sought to transform Tibetan society. The quotidien persecution and oppression he describes, however, will be familiar to Tibetans from all social classes and regions who lived through the Maoist era. Khetsun’s anecdotal assertion that two thirds of all adult males were incarcerated during and after the suppression of the 1959 uprising awaits conclusive corroboration, but he also reminds us that Tibetan society was divided into nine social classes by the Communist bureaucracy, of which only the bottom two or three were considered reliable supporters of the Party. This can be readily corroborated, but it raises a question that virtually no Tibetan account of the period has confronted frankly: who were the Tibetan footsoldiers of the occupation, and what motivated them to inflict ‘class struggle’ on their countrymen with such apparent readiness? Khetsun does not confront the question head-on, but offers some fascinating psychological sketches of individuals with conflicted loyalties.

What does it tell us that we did not already know?

Even seasoned and specialist readers will collect new information here. The Hui agitation of 1961, the abandoned proposal to establish the TAR capital in the more temperate climate of Powo in the south-east, the 1968 Tsuklakhang massacre, the mass executions of 1969-70, and the political campaigns of 1973 and ’74 have not been written about before, at least from an eyewitness viewpoint. The main gift of Khetsun’s book, however, is its vivid depiction of the banal horrors; how prisoners were forced to denude the hills around Lhasa to provide their captors with firewood, or carry them piggy-back across icy rivers in winter, or how prisoners’ lives were casually wasted in work accidents, how political campaigns crushed resistance cells inside prisons during the 1962 war, and so on. His images of soldiers destroying harvested swamp grass or hounding invalids from their beds in the middle of the night are in their own way as poignant as the headline images of the Cultural Revolution already known to many readers. (more…)

Friday, April 25th, 2014

University Press Roundup

Welcome to our weekly roundup of the best articles 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.

This Tuesday, April 22, was Earth Day. At the Indiana University Press Blog, Wendy Read Wertz celebrates the occasion by telling the story of Lynton Keith Caldwell, Gaylord Nelson, the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, and the creation of Earth Day. Island Press Field Notes took the opportunity to look forward to future Earth Days: they asked a range of Island Press authors to identify specific progress on environmental issues that could be achieved in the next year. Another environmental holiday, Arbor Day, takes place on the final Friday of every April, and at the JHU Press blog, Angela Sorby has a guest post looking at the tree-related poetry of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

National Poetry Month is nearly over, but UP blogs are still putting out great poetry posts. At the University of Washington Press Blog, Heather Inwood has a fascinating post looking at the role of poetry in today’s rapidly evolving Chinese society, using a Chinese proverb, “when the state is unfortunate, poets are fortunate,” as a starting point. And Wake: Up to Poetry, the blog of Wake Forest University Press, continues to post an excellent selection of poems. Kerry Hardie’s “Ship of Death” is just the most recent example.

While a common view of Vladimir Putin in the West is that of a Machiavellian tyrant, Mark D. Steinberg, writing at the OUPblog, points out that “Putin often speaks quite openly of his motives and values—and opinion polls suggest he is strongly in sync with widespread popular sentiments.” In his post, Steinberg examines Putin’s language in public speeches and compares that language to Russian political action.

The South Street Seaport is a popular tourist destination, thanks to the South Street Seaport Museum preservationists, who have “assembled the nation’s largest museum fleet of historic ships.” At From the Square, the blog of NYU Press, James M. Lindgren tells the story of the preservation of “the city’s first world trade center,” and argues that “it’s a treasure we must protect.”

April is also Autism Awareness Month. At Beacon Broadside, Dr. Enrico Gnaulati speaks about the history of Autism Spectrum Disorder, particularly focusing on the explosion of autism diagnoses over the past twenty years. He points out that, given the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, autism diagnoses have risen by 30% in just the past two years. He argues that misdiagnoses are the cause of this statistical leap.

At the JHU Press Blog, Janine Barchas has a fascinating guest post about texts of Jane Austen novels that made it to the front lines of trenches in the First World War, and about the powerful Rudyard Kipling short story, “The Janeites,” that tells the story of those soldiers who read Austen in the war.

C. Reilly Snorton’s recent book on modern black male sexuality had a somewhat unlikely muse: two characters in R. Kelly’s multi-part hip hopera, “Trapped in the Closet.” At the University of Minnesota Press Blog, Snorton explains the genesis of his project, and describes aspects of black sexuality using the metaphor of a “glass closet.”

The struggle for control of Chattanooga, Tennessee in the Civil War is not as present in the public imagination as, say, the battle of Gettysburg, but, as Evan C. Jones explains at the LSU Press Blog, the loss of Chattanooga was such a drastic blow to the Confederacy that “one of the Confederate army’s high-ranking commanders, Major General Patrick Cleburne, actually implored his colleagues to pursue a program of incorporating slaves into the South’s military service.”

We’ll end this week’s roundup with a guest post at the University of Nebraska Press Blog by UNP Assistant Project Editor Kathryn Owens. Owens tells the story of her entry into academic publishing, emphasizing that, while she wasn’t a bookworm for most of her life, “[r]eading … has become my career and passion.”

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

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Thursday Fiction Corner: The Library of Korean Literature Series

Yi Kwang Su

We are proud to be distributing Dalkey Archive Press, one of the leading publishers of avant-garde fiction and literature in translation! Today’s Thursday Fiction Corner comes courtesy of Esther Kim, a publicity assistant at Columbia UP who works with many of the books on the Dalkey Archive list, including the books in Dalkey’s much-discussed new Library of Korean Literature series.

The Library of Korean Literature and Us
Esther Kim is a new publicity assistant at Columbia University Press. She is interested in fiction, Korea, clients, and presses.

In the fall of 2013, Dalkey Archive Press published its “Library of Korean Literature” series, an ambitious, unprecedented project designed to introduce Korean writing to English-language readers. The “Library of Korean Literature” was created in collaboration between Dalkey Archive Press and Seoul’s Literature Translation Institute of Korea, and the series totals twenty-five volumes that feature a range of Korean writers from the colonial 1930s to the present day. Like much of Dalkey’s fiction, the writing in the series demonstrates proclivities for the controversial and avant-garde.

While Japanese and Chinese writing of the twentieth and twenty-first century, such as the work of Nobel-prize winners Kenzaburō Ōe or Mo Yan, has garnered international praise and attention, Korean writing receives relatively little attention. A small nation surrounded by ‘giants’ on all sides—China, Russia, and Japan—the Koreas are easily overshadowed. Popular Western understanding of Korean culture is limited to journalistic horror stories, ‘Gangnam Style,’ and Kim Jong Un’s hairstyle. Dalkey Archive Press’s series “Library of Korean Literature” amends this oversight by bringing forth English-translations of literary works to a broader audience. As the first English-language series of major Korean stories, the Library of Korean Literature series provides a more nuanced, literary venue for understanding Korea. (more…)

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Camcorders, Democracy, Authenticity — from Video Revolutions

Michael Newman, Video Revolutions

In Video Revolutions: On the History of a Medium, Michael Z. Newman examines the ways in which video has been both valued and denigrated. While some associated it with the low standards of television and contributing to to the decline of the technical and artistic achievements of film, others prized it for its authenticity, its ability to capture the “real,” and its democratization of media:

In the following excerpt from the section “Camcorders, Democracy, and Authenticity,” Newman explains some of these aspects of video:

“The form of video associated with camcorders and citizen media produc­tion was closely tied to ideas about video’s capabilities to capture and document reality in ways that existing media systems had not accomplished.”—Michael Newman

One moment in which this association [with the real] was reasserted occurred on television in the fall of 1980. The FBI’s Abscam sting operation of the late 1970s and early 1980s had caught state and federal legislators accepting bribes from agents including one pretending to be a wealthy Middle Eastern immi­grant seeking asylum in the United States. Secretly videotaped surveillance footage of acts of political corruption in a hotel room, where elected officials met the agents, proved to be sensational and irrefutable evidence in court, leading toward convictions. Soon after the sting was first made public, these events were parodied in a Saturday Night Live sketch spoof­ing The Beverly Hillbillies, “The Bel-Airabs,” reinforcing the linkage between video recording and the real, and videotape’s familiarity as a medium of capturing and documenting actu­ality. After a well-publicized Supreme Court decision allow­ing it, the evidentiary videotape was broadcast on television evening news programs on October 14, 1980, an event marked in popular criticism as a historic occasion for both television and video. The Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales noted the “video vérité” look of the images, and essentially predicted what would later be called reality TV, as surveillance and other forms of taped footage were likely to find their way onto the airwaves in the near future as both news and entertainment. Shales imagined that this would “change the way we look at the tube—and the way it looks at us.” Video cameras had been available to consumers for more than a decade by the time of the Abscam case, but were not widely adopted in comparison to video recorders until the 1980s….

Camcorders also quickly became a way for amateur media products to find their way into professional broadcasts and cable news programs, much as Shales predicted. Some of this video was in the mode of home movies, but the availability of less expensive and easy-to-use new video gear expanded the practice of amateur media production of many varieties. Ama­teur videos were made more famous by the ABC network’s America’s Funniest Home Videos (AFHV), a long-running series based on user-submitted clips, which began as a 1989 special and continued to air more than two decades hence into the 2010s. AFHV and other audience-submission programs such as I Witness Video motivated and encouraged viewers to make and send in a certain kind of videotape, and in the later 1980s and 1990s, shooting camcorder footage was seen as a way for ordinary people to “get on TV” and participate in mass media discourse that had hitherto been closed off to them, claiming a place in the national media conversation…..


Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Images from the Video Revolution

In Video Revolutions: On the History of a Medium, Michael Z. Newman examines how video has been seen in both a utopian and a negative light in terms of its cultural impact.

Newman also includes a variety of images that detail how video was depicted in popular culture and advertising as something that would revolutionize the way we consumed culture. Below are some example and for more images, you can also visit the book’s Pinterest page:

Michael Z. Newman, Video Revolutions: On the History of a Medium
Sony’s campaign sold the Betamax video recorder as a device for time-shifting programs taped off the air. By placing the product boldly in the foreground with the TV set in the background, Sony emphasized video’s value as a technology improving on television.

Michael Z. Newman, Video Revolutions: On the History of a Medium
Illustration by Doris Ettlinger for the article, “For Many, TV Tape Means Watching More—and Loving It,” New York Times, August 27, 1977, using the most popular movie of the day to represent the appeals of home video.

Michael Z. Newman, Video Revolutions: On the History of a Medium
Newsweek‘s cover on August 6, 1984, announced The Video Revolution, picturing a VCR as a movie theater.


Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

RV-topia: Gatornationals at the Gainesville Raceway

James Twitchell, Winnebago Nation

The following post is by James Twitchell, author of Winnebago Nation: The RV in American Culture:

“The democracy of the RV parking lot may be the last of the much-eulogized American Exceptionalism.”—James Twitchell

Every March the small north Florida town where I live is overrun by swarms of drag-racers and their enthusiastic fans. On the Gainesville Raceway, a quarter-mile track a few miles out of town, everything on wheels that can have an engine attached is raced. You can watch rubber laid by motorcycles, old cars, new cars, a special category called “funny cars,” and, of course, the main attraction, the Brobdingnagian 8,000 horsepower top-fuel dragsters.

You don’t just watch these big rigs roar down the track, you feel them. They shake the spectator stands and scorch your eyes with a potent mix of burning tires, nitromethane, and exhaust. This particular event is called the Gatornationals and it’s a major stop along the National Hot Rod Association’s traveling circus.

Since the show lasts for three days, the parking lot is filled with another kind of machine—the recreational vehicle. During the day, many spectators, amped up by speed, fumes, beer, and no shade, get pooped. Hence many of them retire to the parking lot, get in the RV, rest up, and then return later. The races often run well into the night.

RVs are all over the place and of every conceivable kind: pick-up truck slide-in campers, van conversions, school-bus retrofit, and lots of what are called class A rigs in various conditions. Fans can park their RVs out in the woods, near the track, or rent a space in the parking lot.

The closer you camp to the hot asphalt, the more expensive it is. If you want to be at the finish line, the RV space will cost you $675 for the three days. But you can “camp” in the Motorhome Corral for $450. Or in the dirt parking lot with the, ugh, cars, for $75. What I find interesting is that various rigs from different economic strata park side-by-side in these lots as if Richie Rich and Hobo Hank are united by both this spectacle and love spending lots of time in what is essentially a motorized tent.

In Winnebago Nation I found the same mixing-up of social and economic status in the parking lots of football games, the NASCAR infield, the desert of Quartzsite, as well as on the Wal-Mart tarmac, or in the generic off-the-interstate campgrounds.

What we separate in our “sticks and bricks” communities, we dispense with when parking the RV. Occupy Wall Streeters take note: the democracy of the RV parking lot may be the last of the much-eulogized American Exceptionalism.

That said, there is the exception to this Exceptionalism. At Gatornationals there is a “gated community” where the royalty of Dragland assert their separation by erecting orange plastic fencing. This restricted parking lot is where the owners, drivers, and mechanics park their rigs. Like their racecars, these huge RVs are flashy and festooned with bling. These are the black-windowed monsters with the psychedelic paint jobs that you see whizzing past you on the interstate. Many of them are conversions of Prevost buses and can cost well over a million dollars. In the RV world, this is what the one-percenters look like.

James Twitchell, Winnebago Nation

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Live Video, Then and Now — Michael Z. Newman

Video Revolutions: On the History of a Medium, by Michael Z. Newman

The following post is by Michael Z. Newman, author of Video Revolutions: On the History of a Medium:

“The non-linearity of videotape, digital recording, and services like Netflix and its rivals also speak to a long-standing fantasy, of media that satisfy personal desires for unconstrained agency.”—Michael Newman

Today there are two contrary trends in media temporality, which are also two competing visions for the future of entertainment. On one hand is the persistence of broadcast television, the most popular and profitable electronic media format ever. Many people and corporations would love for this kind of TV to go on unchanged forever. On the other hand is what Netflix calls non-linear TV, which follows no schedule. Think thirteen House of Cards episodes dropping all at once. The techies who speak in phrases like “disruptive innovation” are betting their venture capital that non-linear is going to be a live TV killer.

Since I have no time machine, I shouldn’t say which future is around the corner. But having looked at the history leading up to this moment in Video Revolutions, I do have some thoughts on how the past might help us to make sense of the present, and to recognize that the temporalities of both options have historically been invested with cultural value. Since ideas about technology tend to be much slower to change than technologies themselves, it seems like a good bet that the value of mediated liveness will endure.

When television was new, it was often distinguished by its capability for live broadcasting gathering audiences together, despite their physical separation, in communal experiences of performances and events of historical import. TV was to transport you from your comfortable chair at home to the stage or the ballpark, from your town to midtown Manhattan. This capability for immediacy and simultaneity made TV into the object of fantasies of improved communication. It also distinguished television from the most dominant mass medium of the first half of the twentieth century: the movies.

Liveness was an advantage broadcasting boasted over filmed news and entertainment, an advantage the commercial American networks used in setting the terms of their control of the airwaves under the sanction of the state. This might seem hard to believe today, but in the 1940s and 50s, movies were often held to be contemptible mass media trash, while the new medium of television promised to rise above them by offering a distinguished alternative.

This idealization of television and its close identification with liveness changed as TV’s cultural status declined and cinema’s improved. In part this was a function of TV’s adoption of recorded rather than live formats, though live production has never gone away. It was also a function of many other developments, including television’s quiz show scandals and more generally its reputation for fraudulence, and its close association with feminized and lower class audiences. When television’s reputation was that of a “vast wasteland,” sometimes the liveness of its early years, now considered a “Golden Age,” offered a contrast to the more culturally degraded kinds of programming that dominated in the 1960s and after.

In the early days of TV, video was a synonym for television, but the introduction of videotape in the 1950s began to change that. When video became a name for new forms and technologies, including video art and videocassettes for consumers, it was typically understood as a way of improving on television and ameliorating the problems associated with it, such as negative social effects and wasted cultural opportunity. This was often presented to the public as a solution to the problem of television’s control by the commercial networks who program a broadcast schedule of shows appealing most broadly, to satisfy sponsors and avoid trouble with them or the federal regulator. Video recording for the home, for instance, was presented as the liberation of ordinary viewers from the hegemony of the network programmer. Advertisements encouraged TV viewers: “make your own schedule” and “watch whatever whenever.” These were slogans for Sony’s Betamax in the mid-1970s. This notorious commercial for TiVo, which CBS refused to air a generation later (in 2000), makes the exact same appeal. You throw the network programmer out of the window and take his place as the one in control of your own viewing.


Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

New Book Tuesday: The Power of Tolerance, The Cinema of Agnes Varda and More New Books!

The following books are now available:

The Power of ToleranceThe Power of Tolerance: A Debate
Wendy Brown and Rainer Forst

Globalectics: Theory and the Politics of Knowing (Now available in paper)
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

The Cinema of Agnès Varda: Resistance and Eclecticism
Delphine Benezet

Alternative Economies and Spaces: New Perspectives for a Sustainable Economy
Edited by Hans-Martin Zademach and Sebastian Hillebrand

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Book Giveaway! “Video Revoluations: On the History of a Medium” by Michael Z. Newman

Video Revolutions: On the History of a Medium, Michael Z. Newman

This week our featured book is Video Revolutions: On the History of a Medium, by Michael Z. Newman. In addition to features on our blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Video Revolutions to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, April 25 at 3:00 pm.

In Video Revolutions, Michael Z. Newman casts video as a medium of shifting value and legitimacy in relation to other media and technologies, particularly film and television. Video has been imagined as more or less authentic or artistic than movies or television, as more or less democratic and participatory, as more or less capable of capturing the real. Techno-utopian rhetoric has repeatedly represented video as a revolutionary medium, promising to solve the problems of the past and the present—often the very problems associated with television and the society shaped by it—and to deliver a better future.

For more on the book, read the book’s preface.

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Upcoming Umami Events

UmamiOver the next week, Ole Mouritsen will be appearing coast-to-coast to talk about his new book: Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste.

Below is a list of upcoming events for Umami, a book which Harold McGree calls “a wide-ranging and welcome progress report on our understanding of taste and deliciousness”. (Please note, the two events at the Los Angeles and New York Umami Burger include special menus):

Wednesday, April 23 at 7:00 PM
UCLA, Science & Food Series
Schoenberg Hall
UCLA Campus
Los Angeles, CA

Friday, April 25 at 3:00 PM
Umami Burger
1520 North Cahuenga Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90028

Sunday, April 27 at 5:00 PM
Food Book Fair
Wythe Hotel Screening Room
80 Wythe Ave at N 11th
Brooklyn, NY 11249

Monday, April 28 at 12:00 (noon)
Umami Burger
432 Sixth Avenue
New York, NY 10011

Friday, April 18th, 2014

University Press Roundup

Welcome to our weekly roundup of the best articles 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. (Unfortunate note: while we were researching and writing this post, Typepad blogs were not loading, so we weren’t able to include them in the roundup this week.)

April is National Poetry Month, and many university press blogs have been putting up poetry posts in honor of the occasion. This week, the JHU Press Blog posted Daniel Anderson’s “Easter Sundays,” along with a quick explanation of the poem written by Anderson. Wake: Up to Poetry, the blog of Wake Forest University Press, continued their Poem of the Day series, including “Hotel,” by Medbh McGuckian.

At fifteeneightyfour, the blog of Cambridge University Press, Shaun Lovejoy argues that new studies have shown that the IPCC report is right that it is “extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” Lovejoy rejects the idea that the warming climate is caused by natural temperature fluctuations, and explains the methods used in the new study.

The MIT Press Blog ran a fascinating interview with Fox Harrell this week in which Harrell discusses his use of the cognitive science term “phantasm” (“a combination of imagery (mental or sensory) and ideas”) and argues that the media can create and use cultural phantasms, phantasms based on a shared worldview, to both oppress and empower.

One of the most famous clashes between proponents of creationism and evolution was the 1925 Scopes trial, in which John Scopes, a teacher in Tennessee, was accused of having taught evolution in a state-funded school. At the UNC Press Blog, Angie Maxwell looks back at the trial and argues that many of the same battles that were fought in the Scopes trial are still being fought today. (more…)

Friday, April 18th, 2014

The Future of the RV — James Twitchell

Winnebago Nation

In “The Rise and Fall of the RV in America,” the concluding chapter to Winnebago Nation: The RV in American Culture, James Twitchell looks at the future of the RV, its need to change and its continuing promise to offer a new way of living:

“Our cars are smart, our clothing is smart, our food is smart, our temperature controls are smart, but our RVs are stupid.”—James Twitchell


The RV is also going to have to change its form. No more box. It needs a new outline. The gypsy wagon went from horse-drawn to engine-driven, then from looking like a parlor on wheels to looking like a ranch house on wheels. Let’s face it: Most RVs today look dreary, which may be why they get those flashy paint jobs. To get a better form, the RV needs a new consumer. The current consumers are too old and dull. Moving from empty nests, they want a mimic of what they are leaving behind (washer/dryer, ice maker, drop-down televisions, comfy chairs…). Sociologists call this “compensatory domesticity.”

And that may explain why the contemporary RV looks the way it does: It’s trying to get it both ways, home away from home. It’s simply too homey. That’s why the awning that can be extended to welcome neighbors, why the green indoor/outdoor carpeting often spread near the doorway, why the ersatz fireplaces, potted plants, massive couches, twinkle lights, and, most perplexingly, the huge television set that comes sliding out of the cargo bay so it can be watched from lawn chairs. What’s happening is that the old-time home has been dehydrated and then reconstituted so that it is essentially a split-level ranch house compressed and then expanded thanks to the slide-outs and yard art.

But as the demographics change, the mobile-nest prototype may change as well. The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) asserts that the fastest-growing group of RV owners is now made up of young families between eighteen and thirty-four years old. If the RV really is moving out of what’s called Phase 3 (retirement) consumers and into Phase 2 (active individuals), then the lines of thing itself should change. No longer will “getting away from it all” mean “taking it all with you.” Something else may happen, something more experimental. And the outlines for this change may well come from the places where RV life is just taking hold—Australia and China as well as the American Southwest.

There’s precedent for this flux. Architects have long dreamed of unbolting their buildings from the earth. In the early twentieth century, Le Corbusier and the Italian futurists went gaga over steam trains, ocean liners, biplanes, and anything that moved. Why should housing always be fastened to the ground? After all, humans for centuries have lived in yurts, hogans, teepees, pods, and desert tents. The French Utopie group experimented with pneumatic architecture that could be blown up and deflated. Archigram, in London, responded with the Walking City, which literally got up on its legs and wandered about. Both of these groups took movement as a necessary part of interesting housing.

Winnebago Nation

Now a new generation of designers is experimenting with varia­tions on the gypsy architecture. All kinds of unfolding mini-homes with fewer than 1,000 square feet are on the market. Nils Moormann’s Walden, Sustain Design’s Bunkie, and Tumbleweed’s Tiny Houses are all moveable compressions. You buy the kit and then assemble it, but then you’ll need a crane to move it about. Other innovations are parasitic dwellings, such as the Loftcube, which you assemble on a rooftop, stay in for a while, and then take apart (or hire a helicopter). And there’s a little aluminum-clad box called a Micro Compact Home, which opens up like Origami. To assemble, you plug it into an electrical outlet and up it goes. A selling point is that Micros fit together like Legos. You can attach ten of them and have a little apartment house like the famous Habitat of the 1967 World’s Fair.

But why do the wheels have to come off? Maybe it’s time that we pay more attention to one of the real visionaries in small-space architec­ture, Wally Byam, who back in the 1930s also realized the importance of wheels. The designer of the Airstream trailer, Byam was also a suc­cessful lawyer and publisher of do-it-yourself magazines. Ironically, because his reputation never transcended his signature product, he has never really been appreciated. His vision was for far more than the single sculpted trailer. He imagined putting these trailers together to make a self-contained habitat, a moveable city. He never got to that stage, but his idea of these things moving separately in a caravan by day and then hooking up at night was a step in the right direction. The Airstream trailer, like its cousin the RV, got stuck in the rut of the independent self-contained mimic of home. And that rut was not of Byam’s making; it is a function of who was buying them.


Friday, April 18th, 2014

Gabriel García Márquez as Journalist

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The recent passing of Gabriel García Márquez has brought praise from all over the world for his literary work. However, García Márquez was also well-known for his work as a journalist.

In his essay for Second Read: Writers Look Back at Classic Works of Reportage, Miles Corwin discusses Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s career of a journalist and how it shaped his later work as a novelist. Marquez’s journalistic work The Story of a Shipwrecked Soldier exposed the Colombian government’s role in covering up the circumstances behind the death of sailors aboard the ship the Velasco. Here are some excerpts from Corwin’s essay on Marquez as a journalist:

By the time the series ended, El Espectador’s circulation had almost doubled. The public always likes an exposé, but what made the stories so popular was not simply the explosive revelations of military incompetence. García Márquez had managed to transform Velasco’s account into a narrative so dramatic and compelling that readers lined up in front of the newspaper’s offices, waiting to buy copies.

After the series ran, the government denied that the destroyer had been loaded with contraband merchandise. García Márquez turned up the investigative heat: he tracked down crewmen who owned cameras and purchased their photographs from the voyage, in which the illicit cargo, with factory labels, could be easily seen.

The series marked a turning point in García Márquez’s life and writing career. The government was so incensed that the newspaper’s editors, who feared for the young reporter’s safety, sent him to Paris as its foreign correspondent. A few months later the government shut El Espectador down. The disappearance of his meal ticket forced García Márquez into the role of an itinerant journalist who sold freelance stories to pay the bills—and, crucially, continued to write fiction.

The relatively spare prose of the Velasco series bears little resemblance to the poetic, multilayered, sometimes hallucinatory language that would mark García Márquez’s maturity as a novelist. Still, the articles—which were published in book form as The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor in 1970, and translated into English sixteen years later—represent a milestone in his literary evolution. “This is where his gifted storytelling emerges,” says Raymond Williams, a professor of Latin American literature at the University of California, Riverside, who has written two books about the author. Prior to the series, he suggests, García Márquez had been writing somewhat amateurish short stories. Now, says Williams, he was rising to the challenge of constructing a lengthy narrative: “The ability he has to maintain a level of suspense throughout is something that later became a powerful element of his novels.”


Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Thursday Fiction Corner: A Conversation with Carlos Fuentes

Carlos Fuentes

“For me, life without literature is inconceivable. I think that Don Quixote in a physical sense never existed, but Don Quixote exists more than anybody who existed in 1605. Much more. There’s nobody who can compete with Don Quixote or with Hamlet. So in the end we have the reality of the book as the reality of the world and the reality of history.” – Carlos Fuentes

We are proud to be distributing Dalkey Archive Press, one of the leading publishers of avant-garde fiction and literature in translation! One of the most exciting aspects of working with Dalkey Archive is the opportunity to work with their rich backlist, which includes books by some of the most interesting writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Last week, we featured British author Nicholas Mosley; this week, we are excited to post a conversation between Debra A. Castillo and Mexican novelist and essayist Carlos Fuentes. Fuentes is a hugely influential author, one of the leading writers associated with the “Latin American Boom” and the winner of the 1987 Miguel de Cervantes Prize. In this interview, posted in full at the Dalkey Archive Press website, Fuentes discusses the political importance of literature to the world in general and to Latin America in particular.

A Conversation with Carlos Fuentes
By Debra A. Castillo
From The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1988, Vol. 8.2


DC: Do you feel that Latin America, having been relegated to the margins for so long, is now in some way converting itself into a central point of view from which to see other cultures?

CF: The discourse follows this way. When you exercise criticism, you create a culture. There is no modern culture that is acritical, and the criticism of culture in Latin America has permitted Latin Americans to see something very clearly, and it is that in spite of our recurrent political disasters, in spite of our profound political Balkanization and disunity and disgregations of times, we have an extraordinary continuity of culture. Cultural criticism reveals this: that in culture we have great strength, that in culture we have great, great continuity and this is an important thing to know, to understand. First, because when most of the socioeconomic models have just fallen flat on their faces and crumbled during the present crisis, what has remained on its own two feet is what we have created culturally: our poems, our novels, our music, our old traditions, our paintings, our films, our dances….This is what is there, the rest has become sort of a problem; you know, Corn Flakes with lots of milk in it. It isn’t real. What is real, what is standing is the culture.

This is very important because I think we’re headed towards a world in the twenty-first century which is no longer this anachronistic, bipolar world traded by the Yalta agreements with two great powers. It’ll be a world of multipolar, and therefore multicultural, reality. I don’t think you can have a multipolar world unless you have a multicultural world in which the participation of great constellations such as Latin America, Black Africa, the Moslem world, Europe, Japan, China, India will be based on the constellation of culture that they represent, the diversity of culture which represents the multiplicity of power at the same time. So for me, it’s a very, very important subject as we enter the twenty-first century with all the pluses, and now the minuses, that have become evident as this century ends. (more…)

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

The RV in Popular Culture: From Lucy to Walter White

In Winnebago Nation: The RV in American Culture, James Twitchell also explores the depiction of the RV in the movies. Up until the 1960s, Twitchell argues, the RV was “an object of much interest and even yearning”. However, as “the epynomic Winnebago started to be mass-produced, the allure of escape grew double-edged” and “by the 1970s the RV had become a metaphor of middle-class uncouthness and was well on its way to becoming a symbol of wastefulness.”

A movie reflecting the more hopeful side of the RV is The Long, Long Trailer (1953), starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. The trailer in the movie gleams and the film is “dedicated to a new phenomenon: the ability to move your house around the country whenever, wherever you want:

As attitudes toward the RV shift, a new kind of genre emerges, which features a middle-aged or older man “learning about things he may have missed earlier in life….The middle-aged American male is off on an adventure, to be sure, and he’s using this kind of transport because he’s a doofus.” Examples from this genre include About Schmidt (2002), in which Jack Nicholson plays “a sad sack, a gray man, and the RV is both a palliative and an escape.”

A more recent entry into the RV film is the aptly titled RV: The Movie (2006), starring Robin Williams. The movie according to Twitchell includes all the cliches of the contemporary RV film: “the picaro‘s frustration with his job, the long-suffering family, the problems with above-ground sewage, the deep allure of the gypsy life, the road hogging … and even a scene lifted from The Long, Long Trailer with the motorhome suspended on a precipice in the Rockies.”

The film that Twitchell cites as the most sophisticated of the RV genre is Lost in America (1985), starring Albert Brooks as a disgruntled adman, who “takes off to find himself in America….It’s Desi and Lucy all over again, with Mr. Brooks playing the Lucy part. This film abruptly ends in medias res because there is really no ending this kind of trip. It just goes on and on.”

Finally, while it is not quite in the same genre, Breaking Bad has featured perhaps the most notorious and famous Winnebago in recent years. Here is Bryan Cranston and, show creator, Vince Gilligan discussing the RV used to cook meth:

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Slab City

Winnebago Nation

“Slabs is Burning Man with a vulture overhead. It looked to me like the end of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.”—James Twitchell

As described in Winnebago Nation: The RV in American Culture, the camping site is an important part of the lure and the mythology of the RV lifestyle. In the chapter, “Park It,” Twitchell describes “Slab City,” located in California, and one of the more distinct RV Parks in the country. The following is an excerpt from the chapter:

The Slabs is the largest free camping site in the country. As a utopia of “do your own thing,” it is well worth a trip for those Panglossians who promulgate the faith in “least government is best government.” This place does not celebrate the more famous Burning Man joy in an untethered world; it lives it. Burning Man tries to find new order in the desert for a week or so; the Slabs tries to get away from order by going into the desert for an indefinite time. Burning Man is intensely self-conscious: How’m I doin’ takin’ my clothes off? It’s recreation. Slabs is more pragmatic: I’m naked; my clothes are worn out. It’s survival. Slabs is Burning Man with a vulture overhead. It looked to me like the end of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

I was repeatedly told that the Slabs has changed. In the early 1960s, this was a place where you could see the $300,000 rig parked in peaceful tranquility next to the dilapidated school bus. Here was boondocking in its idyllic form. Snowbirds could fire up their generators while Slabbers could harvest battery power from solar cells. Potable water was trucked in, and sewage was either dumped down the gopher holes or trucked out. The community was connected by CB radio, which broadcast a nightly program of local events, including dances, pot-luck dinners, book clubs, and board games. To the people who first observed this New Harmony and reported on it in the LA Times, New York Times, Harper’s, and Time magazine, the magic was palpable. In the wake of such good press, the Slabs also started appearing on the endless lists of cheap places to retire. It was part of what easterners call “Weird California,” by which they often meant Belmont and Fishtown side by side.

Winnebago Nation

After all, the Slabs was, in a sense, the apogee of American Roman­ticism, each person finding salvation on his own slab, hoeing his own bean row, as Thoreau supposed, and coming together only when it fitted individual needs, not group demands. What law there was was the law of unreflecting generosity. The limits of individual freedom were indeed the edges of one’s desire. Sure, the state was hovering over the slabs, but there was so much confusion as to who actually owned the land that no one knew who could legally kick the squatters out, or even force them to pay for their “externalities.” (There were a few kids going to school in Niland, there was a continual ambulance service to hospital, and there was the garbage problem.)

No wonder that in Sean Penn’s 2007 adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, a central scene takes place in the Slabs. Here we see Chris­topher McCandless meeting other RV vagabonds who will induct him into the fraternity of enlightened earth wanderers. The Slabs is por­trayed as utopian, an unfettered life in discarded school buses under the warming sun. At the Slabs, Christopher changes his name to Alexander Supertramp, and he is finally with his own people. But, alas, he must push on to his fate, which just happens to be a strange turn on his time at Slabs: He spends his final days holed up and freezing in a discarded school bus in Denali National Park.

Perhaps it was the attraction of the movie that caused a shift in clientele at the Slabs. For a while younger people came, stayed, and then moved on. Gray hair notwithstanding, there is a deep strain of adolescence in the RV life, as there is in American Transcendentalism. Experiments in American utopia from Brook Farm, Amana, Fruitlands, and the Shakers all bump up against the fact that finally someone has to take out the trash. The City on the Hill, or, in this case, the City in the Sand, slowly started to crack from underneath. Of course the Slabs was never self-consciously constituted as a commune of freedom-loving individuals. It had no manifesto other than, “If you don’t like it, move out.”