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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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

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.

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

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.”

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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).

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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.”

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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.