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Archive for November, 2017

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

New Book Tuesday: Sisters of the Cross, Conquering Lyme Disease, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and More!

Our weekly listing of new books now available:

Sisters of the Cross
Alexei Remizov. Translated by Roger Keys and Brian Murphy

The Art of Sanctions: A View from the Field
Richard Nephew

Conquering Lyme Disease: Science Bridges the Great Divide
Brian A. Fallon, MD, and Jennifer Sotsky, MD

Now available in paperback:
Emperor Wu Zhao and Her Pantheon of Devis, Divinities, and Dynastic Mothers
N. Harry Rothschild

Now available in paperback:
Karl Polanyi:A Life on the Left
Gareth Dale

Now available in paperback:
Love Letters from Golok: A Tantric Couple in Modern Tibet
Holly Gayley

Now available in paperback:
Pope Francis Among the Wolves: The Inside Story of a Revolution
Marco Politi. Translated by William McCuaig

Now available in paperback:
Schools for Conflict or for Peace in Afghanistan
Dana Burde

Sibling Action: The Genealogical Structure of Modernity
Stefani Engelstein

Silencing the Bomb: One Scientist’s Quest to Halt Nuclear Testing
Lynn R. Sykes

Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto
Bryan W. Van Norden. Foreword by Jay L. Garfield

Traditional Chinese Medicine
Heritage and Adaptation

British Diplomacy and the Concept of the Eastern Pact (1933–1935): Analyses, Projects, Activities
Dariusz Jeziorny
(ibidem Press)

Samuel Beckett and Contemporary Art
Edited by Robert Reginio, David Houston Jones, and Katherine Weiss
(ibidem Press)

A Theatre of Affect: The Corporeal Turn in Samuel Beckett’s Drama
Charlotta P. Einarsson
(ibidem Press)

Under Swiss Protection: Jewish Eyewitness Accounts from Wartime Budapest
Edited by Agnes Hirschi and Charlotte Schallié. Foreword by Timothy Snyder
(ibidem Press)

Don’t Look Now
Jessica Gildersleeve
(Auteur)

Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

New Book Tuesday: Preventive Engagement, Chinese Script, Garden Variety



Our weekly listing of new books now available:

Preventive Engagement
How America Can Avoid War, Stay Strong, and Keep the Peace
Paul B. Stares

Chinese Script: History, Characters, Calligraphy
Thomas O. Höllmann. Translated by Maximiliane Donicht

Garden Variety
The American Tomato from Corporate to Heirloom
John Hoenig

Friday, November 10th, 2017

University Press Roundup: #UPWeek 2017 Edition

#UPWeek

It’s University Press Week 2017! In celebration of this year’s excellent UP Week Blog Tour, we are happy to present a special University Press Week UP Roundup. Be sure to read our contribution to the week on making sales calls during the election season of 2016, and, from a previous year’s UP Week, take a look back at our University Press Roundup Manifesto to see why we do our Roundup posts every Friday.

On the topic on how university presses are making a difference in today’s landscape, Wilfrid Laurier University Press’s blog featured a thought-provoking blog post from Indigenous scholar and fiction writer Daniel Heath Justice on the importance of Indigenous literature and scholarship.

The University of Toronto Press’s blog contained several engaging posts, the first titled “The Power of History to Galvanize and Energize,” which discussed the importance of making scholarship accessible to students and how it can influence and ultimately create better citizens.

George Mason University Press emphasized the critical role of university presses in the search for the elusive truth. Through a discussion of Playfair: The True Story of the British Secret Agent Who Changed How We See the World, readers learn how the author uncovers the true story of Playfair’s involvement in the first covert operation in history to collapse a nation’s economy.

Tuesday’s theme of “Selling the Facts” contained an array of perspectives from booksellers and bookstores selling in today’s political climate. (more…)

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

New Book Wednesday: A Dozen Lessons for Entrepreneurs, New Entries in the Russian Library, and More!

A Dozen Lessons for Entrepreneurs

Our weekly listing of new books now available:

A Dozen Lessons for Entrepreneurs
Tren Griffin

Found Life: Poems, Stories, Comics, a Play, and an Interview
Linor Goralik. Edited by Ainsley Morse, Maria Vassileva, and Maya Vinokour.
(Russian Library)

Writings from the Golden Age of Russian Poetry
Konstantin Batyushkov. Presented and translated by Peter France.
(Russian Library)

Ethical Asset Valuation and the Good Society
Christian Gollier

Modern Humans: Their African Origin and Global Dispersal
John F. Hoffecker

Sovereign Wealth Funds in Resource Economies: Institutional and Fiscal Foundations
Khalid Alsweilem and Malan Rietveld

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

A Field Guide to Engaging with the World Through Bookstores: A #UPWeek 2017 Blog Tour Post

#UPWeek

It’s the second day of University Press Week 2017, and, even though we here at Columbia University Press have the day off for Election Day, we’re excited to be participating in the annual #UPWeek blog tour! Today’s theme is “Selling the Facts,” an opportunity for booksellers and sales representatives to talk about selling books as a form of activism. We are fortunate to have a great post from the Northeast Sales Representative for the Columbia UP Sales Consortium, Conor Broughan, on his experiences making sales calls during the election season of 2016 and what they taught him about the role of University Press books in the world. #ReadUP!

Make sure you check out the blogs of other presses posting on “Selling the Facts” today: the University of Minnesota Press, the University of Texas Press, the University of Hawai’i Press, JHU Press, Duke University Press, the University Press of Kentucky, and the University of Toronto Press!

A Field Guide to Engaging with the World Through Bookstores

By Conor Broughan, Northeast Sales Representative for the Columbia University Press Sales Consortium

Two years ago, when I interviewed for the sales rep position at the Columbia University Press Sales Consortium, my boss explained the general outline of how a sales rep operates. The first half of the conversation concerned the face-to-face meetings with buyers at independent bookstores in the territory, selling the seasonal catalogues for our fourteen presses twice a year. He explained Edelweiss and the growing importance of online catalogues and how reps spend a good portion of their home-office time preparing for each season by creating detailed online markups for buyers. I couldn’t help but ask my future boss, “So if the online catalogues are so useful and necessary now, what’s the point of a sales rep? Why chew massive holes into the budget with travel expenses when an online catalogue says it all with the click of a button?”

Self-sabotaging as it sounds, the question was and still is a good one. Everything happens online these days, so why bother traveling across the country to see anyone face to face? There was a short delay on the other end. Where to begin to explaining how important it is to sit down with a real-life human being and have a conversation? A conversation about forthcoming books or books from past seasons that have over- or underperformed; a conversation about where to shelve a book, how best to display it, and how to handsell it; a conversation about the bookstore and how it’s doing and about bookstores in general; and, inevitably, a conversation about politics: how the politics of a particular book will work in a particular store or, more often, a venting of how we’ll get through another day as rational people in this new irrational version of America. My boss, though, had a much shorter answer. Traveling to a store to see a buyer, he said, is our chance to make real contact with the booksellers. It’s an opportunity to stay engaged. (more…)

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

Thursday Fiction Corner: Propaganda, the Absurd, and the Truth of Stalinist USSR in Andrei Platonov’s Plays

Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays

Welcome to Thursday Fiction Corner! This week Ani Kodzhabasheva, a PhD Candidate in Art History at Columbia University, considers Andrei Platonov’s portrayal of the USSR in relation to her experiences growing up in the former Eastern Bloc.

In post-Communist Bulgaria, where I grew up, I often encountered traces of the fallen regime’s language: houses marked “Exemplary Home” with a special blue plaque; stacks of old newspapers reporting that agricultural brigades had overfulfilled their quotas; an inscription on a Soviet Army monument claiming that our republic needs friendship with the USSR just as every living being needs air and sunlight.

The most ridiculous slogans, once posted on factory walls, are now circulated in blog posts:

Communism is inevitable.

Every jar of compote: a fist in the face of imperialism!

Or this literary gem: Public Bath Workers’ Brigade “N. V. Gogol”

And so on. I still can’t help but laugh out loud. It is cheap entertainment, and a bit of therapeutic release from the generational trauma.

Humor creates distance from that which we dread. I laugh at the slogans, and part of me cringes in horror: someone, a reasoning human being, wrote this. People had to believe it, or live their lives as if they did.

I have avoided thinking too much about the experience of having your language corrupted by state ideology – that is, until I read some of Andrei Platonov’s plays. A witness to the famines and Stalinist purges of the early 1930s, Platonov writes about his reality with an honesty that strikes a blow. He uses his characters’ muddled language in order to tell the truth.

Platonov not only pokes fun at state-mandated praise and hyperbole, but also shows the effects that this discourse has on people who are facing unspeakable tragedy. In Fourteen Little Red Huts, workers on a struggling collective farm are trying to live their lives according to socialist principles and to preserve their humanity – even as official directives, combined with despair, lead them to doubt and denounce each other.

The play’s tone easily flips from rambunctious humor to the absurd, and to raw expressions of vulnerability and pain. The workers ponder the meaninglessness of their struggle, and yet are overcome with a tragic need for faith and hope. A character calls himself a “class enemy,” only to profess allegiance to the revolution the very next minute, stating that “Each day of our labor lays the foundation for centuries to come – and on our kolkhoz revolution rests the fate of a hundred millennia.” At the sight of a distant airplane, someone exclaims: “It’s technology, my whole heart thunders! I feel like shouting, ‘Forward!’” This cry, completely at odds with the starving workers’ situation, reduces official reports of progress to bitter mockery. The farmers continue on with their labor in the face of futility, and their incongruous speech explains their predicament. “The wind rocks me as if I were empty. I want to believe in God!” someone says, quietly.

What Platonov does with language surely places him among the best writers of the twentieth century, as Joseph Brodsky has said. His plays at times resemble the absurdist antics of his contemporaries, the Dadaists, but Platonov’s breathtaking mastery of language is never indulged for its own sake. His goal is not to deconstruct all hope for beauty or meaning; it is to dissect reality and to show what propaganda, combined with state violence, does to human beings. The emotional power of Platonov’s writing cuts deep. Yet, improbably, his sense of humor makes it ring even more true. Don’t we sometimes laugh at ourselves in our moments of deepest confusion and loss?

Platonov is outrageously funny, especially when he lambastes his colleagues, the Soviet writers parroting official directives: “I am the prosaic Russian writer Pyotr Polikarpovich Latrinov. I presume that you know my books: Poor Tree, A Year of Profit, A Most Specific Figure, Eternally Soviet,” one of them introduces himself. At times, the tormented kolkhoz workers’ speech sounds just like the ridiculous slogans from my youth: “You know where we put people who’re insignificant? Here we have only the polysignificant!” But elsewhere, the pervasiveness of state ideology can make it hard to tell absurdity from tragedy. When a character says “There is a psy… psyche, stuck in my throat,” I don’t know whether to laugh, or cry out at his crippling pain.

Amid the feverish daze of the workers, swaying between elation and despair, a deeper existential angst comes through. One worker who lost her child says, “I’ve fulfilled my quota, but I haven’t had time to overfulfill it. My hands ache from grief, I can’t even weep anymore, I can only stare like a dead fish.” Bos, a European academic visiting the kolkhoz to study the concrete workings of socialism, states his impressions of the overall situation: “The wind appears to sorrow, and infinity is full of space, like a stupid hole, and the sea gets agitated too and weeps against the shore of the earth. As if all this were truly serious, pitiful, and splendid! But it’s only raging piffle!” The beauty of Platonov’s writing, so exquisitely rendered in English in this translation, can make you feel like the collective pain of the twentieth century’s tragic history is gripping you by the throat.

The majority of Platonov’s writings were not published during his lifetime, and his plays were not necessarily intended to be performed. Even his poetic stage directions – “A gray, boring dawn” – seem intended for readers rather than actors. Yet the power of Platonov’s words may be experienced most directly in the theater. Those of us in New York currently have the opportunity to see a rare staging of Fourteen Little Red Huts, performed by the Medicine Show Theatre Ensemble through November 18. Several shows will include post-performance conversations with experts from the fields of Russian studies and literature. Tickets are available here.
***

Before I leave you pondering the dangers of propaganda, let me share my favorite slogan from socialist Bulgaria, which allegedly hung on the wall of a poultry farm:

Each egg – a bomb, and each hen – a flying fortress against the aggressors!

In the spirit of that age, let me summarize my views on Andrei Platonov thusly:

Every Platonov reader – a nail in the coffin of the polarizing fake propaganda!

You can read an excerpt from the book Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays here.