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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. Read the rest of this entry »

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

FUTURE FORM: NO MORE BUS BOXINESS

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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:

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.”

Read the rest of this entry »

April 15th, 2014

The RV Through History — Images from Winnebago Nation



The following are images that illuminate the evolution of the RV from the “Gypsy Van” at the beginning of the twentieth century to the iconic Winnebago. The images, of course, come from this week’s featured book Winnebago Nation: The RV in American Culture by James Twitchell:

Winnebago Nation
Superior Truck, aka “Gypsy Van,” owned by Conklins of Huntington, NY 1915 (Huntington Historical Society).

Winnebago Nation
Zaglemeyer Kampkar, 1921 (Al Hesselbart collection at the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum).

Winnebago Nation
Covered wagon trailer, 1930s (RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum).

Winnebago Nation

Winnebago Nation
Frank/Dodge motorhome before (late 1950s) and after (1963) application of the French curve (Al Hesselbart collection at the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum and Dodge ad).

Read the rest of this entry »

April 15th, 2014

New Book Tuesday: Imaginal Politics, Klump, and More New Titles



The following books are now available:

Imaginal PoliticsImaginal Politics: Images Beyond Imagination and the Imaginary
Chiara Bottici

A Man: Klaus Klump
Gonçalo M. Tavares

East Sails West: The Voyage of the Keying, 1846–1855
Stephen Davies

Escape from Hong Kong: Admiral Chan Chak’s Christmas Day Dash, 1941
Tim Luard

Reforming Law Reform: Perspectives from Hong Kong and Beyond
Edited by Michael Tilbury, Simon N. M. Young, and Ludwig Ng

Doublespeak: The Rhetoric of the Far Right Since 1945
Edited by Matthew Feldman and Paul Jackson

The Treblinka Death Camp: History, Biographies, Remembrance
Chris Webb and Michal Chocholatý

The Moscow Bombings of September 1999, Second Edition: Examinations of Russian Terrorist Attacks at the Onset of Vladimir Putin’s Rule
John B. Dunlop

April 14th, 2014

Book Giveaway: Winnebago Nation: The RV in American Culture, by James Twitchell



Winnebago Nation: The RV in American Culture, James Twitchell

This week we will be featuring Winnebago Nation: The RV in American Culture, by James Twitchell on our blog, twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Winnebago Nation to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and indicate your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, April 18 at 3:00 pm.

In Winnebago Nation, James B. Twitchell takes a light-hearted look at the culture and industry behind the yearning to spend the night in one’s car. For the young the roadtrip is a coming-of-age ceremony; for those later in life it is the realization of a lifelong desire to be spontaneous, nomadic, and free. Informed by his own experiences on the road, Twitchell recounts the RV’s origins and evolution over the twentieth century; its rise, fall, and rebirth as a cultural icon; its growing mechanical complexity as it evolved from an estate wagon to a converted bus to a mobile home; and its role in bolstering and challenging conceptions of American identity.

For more on the book, read the book’s first chapter, Thoreau at 29¢ $4.00 a Gallon,” .

April 10th, 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.

April is National Poetry Month, and a number of university press blogs have been putting up excellent poetry-themed posts in honor of the occasion. Wake Forest University Press has been taking advantage of their wonderful backlist of Irish poetry to post a poem a day throughout the month of April at their blog, Wake: Up to Poetry, including “Be Someone,” by Rita Ann Higgins. At Beacon Broadside, you can watch a video of Mary Oliver reading her poem “Night and the River.” The UPNEblog introduces the Sestina Arena, as Tom Haushalter challenges Adam L. Dressler to a sestina writing contest (providing some good information on what a sestina is and how you can write one along the way). And, if you are interested in reading about poetry as well as reading it, Andrew Epstein has a fascinating article at the OUPblog on one of Roberto Bolaño’s major influences: the New York School of poetry.

After nearly eight years spent pursuing individual projects, Big Boi and Andre 3000 are reuniting as Outkast at this year’s Coachella festival. From Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, their 1994 debut, until the duo’s hiatus following their film/soundtrack Idlewild in 2006, Outkast helped to redefine the sound of hip-hop and helped to bring rap music from the South into the mainstream music industry. At the UNC Press Blog, Zandria F. Robinson discusses Outkast’s colorful history and explains why Big Boi and Andre’s rise into national prominence was such a big deal in the late 1990s. Go on and marinate on that for a minute. Read the rest of this entry »

April 10th, 2014

Excerpt from The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s by Mary Helen Washington



The following is an excerpt from the introduction to The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s, by Mary Helen Washington.

In this excerpt Washington discusses the important, but often overlooked, role of the Communist Party and the radical left in both supporting Black writers and artists as well as shaping the themes and aesthetics of their work:

April 10th, 2014

Thursday Fiction Corner: A Conversation with Nicholas Mosley



Nicholas Mosely

“[O]n the whole, now, I feel very much a loner. There are the few who have something of the same style, and there are the few who have something of the same feeling about life which they want to express; but I don’t know of anyone who’s so involved with connecting the one thing with the other.” – Nicholas Mosley

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. One of the most notable of these writers is Nicholas Mosley, author of (among many other works) Hopeful Monsters, Efforts at Truth: An Autobiography, and Metamorphosis, which will be available in September. In today’s Fiction Corner, we are happy to present an excerpt from a conversation between Mosley and Dalkey Archive Press founder John O’Brien which first appeared in the Summer 1982 issue of The Review of Contemporary Fiction. You can find the conversation in full on the Dalkey Archive website.

A Conversation with Nicholas Mosley
By John O’Brien
From The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1982, Vol. 2.2

This interview was conducted by mail over a two-year period during 1977 and 1978.

[...]

JOB: I think that you will agree that the concern, both thematic and technical, at the center of your work is that of “opposites.” Do you become conscious of such a concern “after” you have written? That is, I am assuming something here about the creative process: you do not begin with “ideas.” At what point do you discover that this is what you are working with?

NM: Opposites. Impossibilities. I think that this is answered in my long digression for your third question. At some stage in my life I got this obsession with “impossibilities,” not in the first place as an idea but as an experience: love as both creative and destructive: peace being what people said they wanted, but being boring: happiness being what one aimed at, but which could not be held. And together with this, what seemed to be the fact that literature (“good” literature) could only easily deal with life being to do with “failure”—not with life as a successfully going concern. And this being not because writers are perverse, but because there is something deep here in the nature of language. And language of course is representative of something about the way in which “consciousness” or the powers of description of consciousness work. So the effort of imaginative writing becomes that of trying to “say the unsayable.” What else are we trying to do? And what better?

JOB: I have been trying, without much success, to “place” you in a tradition with other moderns. A few names come to mind—Ford (“The Good Soldier”), Flaubert (“Bouvard”), Joyce, O’Brien, Firbank, Henry Green, John Hawkes, Jean Rhys. This may be a question about influences; or, it may be asking you to identify writers with whom you feel in company. I am stuck by the fact that the writers you have mentioned in your letters do not seem similar to you—Fowles, Salinger, and Patrick White.

NM: When I was young William Faulkner was my great love, not just because of the density of style, but because he seemed to be dealing with the question not of “what will happen next” but “what is happening now.” The first Faulkner novel I read was “The Sound and the Fury,” which I got hold of when we liberated a POW camp in Italy in 1944 and I liberated the Red Cross Library. I was about twenty. I had never heard of Faulkner and the book was a knock-out; I’d never heard of anyone writing like this. Not only the style, but the way in which you don’t exactly know what on earth has happened or is happening till about page two hundred—then it all becomes apparent in a blinding flash. The whole book. This seemed to be not only intensely exciting (the wondering for two-hundred pages was exciting) but to be exactly like life. What in god’s name, after all, was I doing aged twenty in Italy in a war? After that I got hold of everything I could of Faulkner’s. On my early romantic/tragic level, I thought the perfect novel was “The Wild Palms.”

My other two loves which came slightly later were Proust and Henry James: Proust because of his specific idea about life being “impossible” except in terms of art and memory; Henry James because although in a way he is dealing with “what will happen next,” his constant subtleties of shifting of his, and his protagonists’, and his readers’ moral attitudes, make it into a question of “what is happening now”—I’m thinking of “The Awkward Age” or “What Masie Knew” or the end of “Wings of the Dove.” All these writers fed, and nurtured, my underlying passion; but I suppose were probably damaging to my style. I was haunted by Faulkner probably till “Meeting Place.”

Read the rest of this entry »

April 10th, 2014

Video: Interview with Michael Yogg, author of Passion for Reality: The Extraordinary Life of the Investing Pioneer Paul Cabot



The following is an interview with Michael Yogg author of Passion for Reality: The Extraordinary Life of the Investing Pioneer Paul Cabot.

The interview is with Glyn Holton, who writes the following:

Today, I interview Michael Yogg, author of the new book Passion for Reality. Its about Paul Cabot, a pioneer of the mutual fund industry. In 1920s Boston, Cabot cofounded State Street Investment Corporation, one of the first open-ended mutual funds. He shepherded the fund through frenzied markets, the crash of 1929 and into the Great Depression. As Washington turned to investigating and then regulating the fledgling mutual fund industry, Cabot played a central role. The book does more than tell Cabot’s story. It gives us a front-row seat on the emergence of this important industry.

April 9th, 2014

Video: Mary Helen Washington on African American and the Communist Party



In the following video, Mary Helen Washington, author of The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s, explains how her Catholic upbringing in the 1950s led to an interest in the relationship between African Americans and the Communist Party. She describes how Communist newspaper in the United States became one of the few venues to provide serious discussions and coverage of African American literature during the 1950s. She also talks about her desire to see the work of radical African American artists and writers from this period become part of the canon:

Mary Helen Washington Video from UMD College of Arts & Humanities on Vimeo.

April 9th, 2014

The EU: A Dictatorship of Freedoms (Part 2) — Albena Azmonova



Albena Azmanova

The following is part two of a post by Albena Azmanova, author of The Scandal of Reason: A Critical Theory of Political Judgment. You can read the first half of the post here.

“The grievances against austerity that are now being expressed in street protests and in voting booths are the grievances of distressed consumers; not of citizens demanding structural changes to the political economy of democratic capitalism.”—Albena Azmanova

THE STATE: MORE POWERFUL, LESS RESPONSIBLE, INVARIABLY LEGITIMATE

Albena AzmanovaHow has the coup d’économie managed to transform Europe into a Dictatorship of the Four Economic Freedoms? Above all, by altering the role of political authority in Europe. Public authority (at all levels of governance) has undertaken ever more policy action to intensify wealth-production, but less and less action to manage the social costs of growth-generating public policy. This is particularly evident with regard to social policy in the European Union.

EU integration has reduced the policy-making powers of member-states in welfare provision, while EU institutions, over the past decade, have increasingly started to taken action in this field. This shifting balance between member-states and the EU in itself is not alarming; it is not even interesting. The important question is not where policy-making authority is allocated, but what type of social policy ensues from the re-allocation of responsibility between states and EU’s central policy-making bodies. In this regard, three elements are noteworthy.

First: in the course of shifting responsibility from state to EU level, there is less and less public authority in charge of welfare provision. This is the case because the retrenchment of the state is not matched by an equal increase of policy action at EU level. In other words, what the states are losing in terms of capacity to secure social rights is not matched by an equal increase in the responsibility of the EU to safeguard these rights.

Second: since the adoption of the Single European Act, economic integration within the EU has been invariably interpreted in the terms of free-market capitalism (while in principle open markets are not synonymous with free markets).

This has resulted in a radically liberal form of welfare provision: one marked by subordination of social policy to free-market policy priorities, a race to the bottom in social protection.

Overall the range and nature of the responsibility of public authority has changed, which has affected the style of governance. At both state and EU level, public authority is undertaking ever more action to enhance market efficiency (for the sake of global competitiveness), with dramatic increase in social risk, but this same public authority has ceased to assume responsibility for the generated risk. Rather than a retrenchment of the state, we have the new phenomenon of increase in the power of governing bodies (and their capacity to inflict social harm), while their responsibility for the social consequences of policy action decreases. This discrepancy between power and responsibility is damaging for societies, as the exercise of power becomes ever more autocratic, even if all rituals of democratic politics are meticulously performed.

Arguably, the discrepancy between power and responsibility should be eroding the authority of states, as Richard Sennett has argued. This, in turn, could be expected to trigger a legitimation crisis of the system, and massive revolts. Yet, no such crisis has so far ensued, apart from the wave of largely peaceful popular protests in the course of 2011-2012 whose main theme is resistance to the politics of austerity, rather than change of the political economy of Europe away from neoliberal capitalism.

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April 8th, 2014

Interview with Mary Helen Washington, author of The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s



Mary Helen Washington, The Other Blacklist

“I’m trying to restore that tradition of mid-century black left radical resistance, so that we don’t remember the 1950s only as the era of ‘integration’ but as the era of black civil rights radicalism. I’m restoring the other blacklist, the black blacklist.”—Mary Helen Washington

The following is an interview with Mary Helen Washington, author of The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s:

Question: Why did you choose to focus on the 1950s?

Mary Helen Washington: I came of age in the early 1950s in Catholic schools in Cleveland, Ohio, fed on a steady diet of anticommunism at school, and, at home, a steady diet of integration, but both of those prescribed lessons—anticommunism and integration—separated me from the story of radical civil rights activity. While the black left of the 1950s was protesting discrimination on every front, from residential segregation to unions and factories, we black kids were being taught that integration meant blacks becoming acceptable to the white mainstream. When the left-leaning National Negro Labor Congress (NNLC) came to Cleveland for their 1952 conference, they staged a protest downtown against the airlines for refusing to hire blacks. Since stories like these were blacklisted by the anticommunists as well as the integrationists, black kids grew up in the 1950s with no access to a critical discourse on race. Radicals used terms like white supremacy and racial justice, not integration, while black kids were learning that we should dress, act, and speak a certain way as a marker of acceptability, radicals were defining integration as claiming the rights of citizenship—as you can see from the NNLC poster featuring the Statue of Liberty as a black woman.

Q: Why did you call the book The Other Blacklist?

MHW: Most of what we know about the McCarthy era focuses on the white left. Communism is seen as a white left radicalism, though black civil rights activists were deeply involved in radical movements in the 1940s and 1950s. People who were investigated by J. Edgar Hoover for being communists were routinely asked if they were involved interracially because civil rights activity was considered radical. This is a very powerful and commendable radicalism that black people don’t get credit for. They weren’t the Hollywood Ten, but they were the New York/Chicago 100. There’s a fine documentary on screenwriter and novelist Dalton Trumbo and his admirable resistance to HUAC, but there’s no documentary on black radicals like Alice Childress, Lloyd Brown, Julian Mayfield, Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett or Lorraine Hansberry [some of the figures in my book], who also paid a price for their radicalism. I’m trying to restore that tradition of mid-century black left radical resistance, so that we don’t remember the 1950s only as the era of “integration” but as the era of black civil rights radicalism. I’m restoring the other blacklist, the black blacklist.

Q: You have a chapter called “Spycraft and the Black Literary Left.” Can you talk about the connection between government agencies, politics, and art?

MHW: Keep in mind that the Left and the Communist Party supported black artists when no one in white mainstream culture (with the exception of J. Edgar Hoover) showed any interest in black culture. They came to the defense of black culture because they saw art as a means to effect social and political change. One critic Willliam Maxwell says that Hoover should be considered an important historian of black culture becaue he always took black literary production seriously. The FBI files are thus a mixed blessing—a gold mine for biographical material because the FBI kept close track of the activities of radicals, and also a record of governmental abuse of artists and intellectuals. There’s a current play on Broadway about the life of Lyndon Johnson called All the Way that shows how relevant these issues still are. The character playing J. Edgar Hoover asks LBJ to justify his relationship with Martin Luther King because, Hoover claims, King is being advised by communists. The government, particularly in the age of McCarthy and Hoover, created the tradition of demonizing the Left that is still with us and that has resulted in the dismissal of an entire generation of black intellectuals and artists.

Q: Why is radicalism of the 1950s still relevant?

MHW: We’re grappling with the same issues today but without that radical perspective. I’m thinking about Rachel Jeantel in the Trayvon Martin case and all the discussion that was generated about Jeantel’s appearance and speech—the way she looked rather than the case itself. Another example is Paul Ryan saying “inner city” people live in a culture that doesn’t value work or doesn’t have a work ethic. And here we see how “inner city” becomes a code for “black.” The jurors from the Jordan Davis case in Florida, one white and one black, said that the Davis case, in which a black man was shot and killed because a white man thought his black music was too loud, was not about race. This kind of political illiteracy shows how and why we need what I call a critical racial discourse. As Boston Governor Deval Patrick said—“words matter.” Even more than words, the radical left—and, yes, I include communists– gave us examples of a powerful resistance. The Rosa Ingram case and the Trenton Six—which were also about racial violence inflicted on blacks– were fought in the courts, in the streets, and in African American artistic production. When Rosa Ingram was sentenced to death along with her two sons for killing a man she claimed had violently assaulted her, the left and civil rights groups organized the protests that eventually freed them, and, as part of that protest, artist Charles White made the Ingram case the subject of his 1949 drawing.

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April 8th, 2014

The EU: A Dictatorship of Freedoms (Part 1) — Albena Azmonova



Albena Azmanova

The following is part one of a post by Albena Azmanova, author of The Scandal of Reason: A Critical Theory of Political Judgment. We will post part two tomorrow. Azmanova will be speaking at The New School tonight at 6 pm.

“This almighty raison d’économie leaves no options: it is policymaking without politics, without ideological choices, it allows no alternatives”—Albena Azmanova

Albena AzmonovaJudging by this poster advertising the play “Europe Today,” something is amiss in Europe.

The European Union’s fate has been, of late, rather more bewailed and bemoaned, than celebrated. The most ominous pronouncement of Europe’s sorry fate have centered on the rise of technocratic rule riding high on the will of markets in what Margaret Thatcher called the TINA logic (borrowing from Herbert Spenser)—There Is No Alternative. The emergency appointments by EU authorities of two heads of European governments (Lucas Papandreou in Greece and Mario Monti in Italy) in November 2011, and tasking the newly appointed leaders to enforce (rather than negotiate) policies of austerity in their countries, does add fresh credence to the idea.

We seem to thus have lost our basic right to politics—that is, to the reasoned contest among alternative ideas about the shape of our present and the contours of our future, sacrificing it at the altar of the hegemonic common-sense of free markets aided by bureaucracies, while altogether preserving the democratic institutional order.

THE MISSING CRISIS OF CAPITALISM AND THE “NEW DEAL”

What is the evidence that something is amiss in the nature of European politics? The broadly proclaimed, yet missing, crisis of capitalism can serve as an empirical entry point into a diagnosis of Europe’s current malaise. In the midst of the recent global financial meltdown, we have heard much emphatic talk about the crisis of capitalism. However, what narratives about this crisis tell us is no more than that the financialization of the economy has created a crisis for capitalism—some difficulties in the creation of profit (such as deficient credit) which have been by now been overcome. Moreover, these difficulties, and the social misery they have inflicted, have not triggered a crisis of the system’s legitimacy. “We are not against the system but the system is against us,”, announced a slogan of the indignados—the peaceful demonstrators that who occupied public spaces across Spain in the early summer of 2011. Yet this cry of protest is ambiguous—it is more an appeal to tame the system, make it more inclusive, rather than to subvert or overthrow it.

Like the protests of the Spanish indignados, the citizens’ outrage in Greece against the conditions that the EU and the IMF imposed for the financial bailout of the government, the Occupy Wall Street movements, and the looting that ravaged English cities – all in the summer and autumn of 2011 – have signaled a growing popular discontent with the outcomes of the socio-political system – mainly with the dramatically uneven allocation of wealth and increasing social exclusion. However, while these movements express, in their distinct ways, public frustration with the socio-economic system of neoliberal capitalism, they rarely put into question its validity or evoke an alternative. These calls are at their best appeals for ‘fixing’ the system and making it more inclusive, and, at their worst, – exasperated cries of frustration and fear. If democratic elections are any indicator of prevailing preferences, the most recent round of national elections in Europe have confirmed that capitalism has considerable popular support. In the midst of the rampant economic crisis, the vote in Europe has gone to the right;, support to left parties has been at a historic low, while support to xenophobic populism is rising.

Most importantly, what is absent is a broad societal, cross-ideological coalition of forces mobilizing to protect society from the market, similar to the counter-movement against free markets that Carl Polanyi, in his The Great Transformation, observed to be taking shape in the early twentieth century. At the time, a consensus between the left and the right emerged on the need to constrain markets, a consensus which propelled the post-war welfare states. Instead, we now have governments, irrespectively of their ideological allegiance, running to the rescue of financial capital and big business, and implementing austerity programs to reassure capital markets, while society bears this with relative equanimity, despite the increasing price it is paying in terms of cuts to social insurance, to basic services for the most disadvantaged, general impoverishment and growing precarity. Social frustration is, instead, directed mainly into xenophobia. How can this be explained?

While we have been busy debating the crisis of capitalism, capitalist democracy (as a system of social relations and political rules) has metamorphosed itself into a new form, which the most recent economic meltdown consolidated, but did not cause. This new form is marked by a “new deal”—a new social contract (or legitimacy relationship) between public authority and citizens, which enables a particular style of rule, which I will attempt now to elucidate. Before I proceed, let me clarify the concept of a legitimacy relationship between public authority and citizens, which will be a focal point in the subsequent analysis of Europe’s political health.

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April 8th, 2014

New Book Tuesday: Badiou on Lacan, History, Mad Moms, and More!



The following books are now available:

Jacques Lacan, Past and Present: A Dialogue, Alain Badiou, Elisabeth RoudinescoJacques Lacan, Past and Present: A Dialogue
Alain Badiou and Élisabeth Roudinesco

History and Popular Memory: The Power of Story in Moments of Crisis
Paul A. Cohen

Moved by the Past: Discontinuity and Historical Mutation
Eelco Runia

Mad Mothers, Bad Mothers, and What a “Good” Mother Would Do: The Ethics of Ambivalence
Sarah LaChance Adams

Religion and Ecology: Developing a Planetary Ethic
Whitney A. Bauman

Handbook of Social Work Practice with Vulnerable and Resilient Populations, 3rd Edition
Edited by Alex Gitterman

Troubled Apologies Among Japan, Korea, and the United States (Now available in paper)
Alexis Dudden

Literature and Film in Cold War South Korea: Freedom’s Frontier (Now available in paper)
Theodore Hughes

The Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kingship and Sainthood in Islam (Now available in paper)
A. Azfar Moin

Brains, Buddhas, and Believing: The Problem of Intentionality in Classical Buddhist and Cognitive-Scientific Philosophy of Mind (Now available in paper)
Dan Arnold

International Politics and Film: Space, Vision, Power
Sean Carter and Klaus Dodds

April 7th, 2014

Book Giveaway! The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s, by Mary Helen Washington



The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s, Mary Helen Washington

This week we will be featuring The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s, by Mary Helen Washington on our blog, twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Other Blacklist to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and indicate your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, April 11 at 3:00 pm.

In The Other Blacklist, Mary Helen Washington recovers the vital role of 1950s leftist politics in the works and lives of modern African American writers and artists. While most histories of McCarthyism focus on the devastation of the blacklist and the intersection of leftist politics and American culture, few include the activities of radical writers and artists from the Black Popular Front. Washington’s work incorporates these black intellectuals back into our understanding of mid-twentieth-century African American literature and art and expands our understanding of the creative ferment energizing all of America during this period.

For more on the book, read an excerpt from the introduction.

April 7th, 2014

Fashioning Appetite — Joanne Finkelstein



The following post by Joanne Finkelstein, author of Fashioning Appetite: Restaurants and the Making of Modern Identity, was first published on The I.B. Tauris Blog:

Fashioning Appetitle, Joanne FinkelsteinEvaluating one another’s taste is an ordinary aspect of everyday social life. We look for signs of taste in high fashion goods and social habits. This encourages us to speak to one another through material objects, and even though the definition of taste is constantly shifting, we use it to display who are think we are.

“A person of taste is someone who looks at a sausage and thinks of Picasso” (Dwight MacDonald 1944: 22). This pithy definition of taste was an ironic comment on the newly affluent post-war classes who were struggling with emerging art movements in painting, cinema and literature. The concern with fashionable styles of living was capturing the hearts and minds of the aspirational classes. Mid-twentieth century was an era of tightening conformity and judging people by their lifestyle habits was becoming the prevailing order. Russell Lynes (1949) famously defined taste along three dimensions—highbrow, lowbrow and middlebrow. He employed the antique notions of human physiognomy made popular by Johann Caspar Lavater in the eighteenth century to describe these positions. For Lavater, facial features revealed human qualities; low ears suggested criminality, thick lips were a sign of dissipation and a high forehead indicated intelligence and social superiority. Lynes adapted the metaphor to describe types of taste. Highbrow taste was expressed through well-fashioned appetites.

There was a deep irony in this: after exterminating millions across Europe on the basis of race and ethnicity, the new social order was describing taste and social value using eugenic concepts. This time around, however, the revolution was bloodless. Taste as a measure of human worth was not a killing offense but it was a cause of status panic across the newly affluent classes. According to C.W.Mills (1951) these groups were caught in a constant re-positioning of themselves within an ever-shifting mobile hierarchy defined by fashions, fads and foibles. In the post war era, social ranking was not only based on material possessions such as cars, furniture, art and household goods but also on signs of cultural capital produced by travel, leisure and luxury, and whether indeed individuals could see the influence of Pablo Picasso in the prosaic sausage.

Taste has been a contested idea since the seventeenth century yet it has endured into the present as a means of categorizing people and their habits (Bourdieu 1984: 2). How we handle objects and instruments such as cups and saucers, knives and forks, the habits and styles we develop for eating, drinking, standing and moving, have imposed a mannered overlay on the body and, to those watching our deftness with such objects, this is read as indicative of personal attributes. We see instances of mastery, or lack of them, in displays of individual competency and discernment. The raised pinkie finger holding the teacup and the unclipped vent on the new Burberry raincoat both signal the parvenu.

Taste brings attention to different types of desire. Pursuing an experience for its own sake because it is pleasing or reassuring or elevating, and pursuing a desire in order to gratify it and make it disappear, are two different impulses. The former involves detachment, of being able to recognize value in an idea without it having an immediate application, thus we enjoy art for its own sake; the latter is a more active process, a type of hunger, in which the desirable experience needs to be devoured and captured in order to nullify its insistence. Food, for example, can be both; it can be valued for its aesthetic qualities as well as being good to taste, a life-sustaining fuel. It has appeal as the subject for still life painting, as in the masterpieces of Carravaggio and Luis Meléndez, and it can be treated as a convenience as with the early modern chophouse and now with the food court in the local shopping mall.

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