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December 13th, 2017

Wai Chee Dimock: Reading American literature outside the box

This week, our featured book is American Literature in the World: An Anthology from Anne Bradstreet to Octavia Butler, edited by Wai Chee Dimock, with Jordan Brower, Edgar Garcia, Kyle Hutzler, and Nicholas Rinehart. Today, we are happy to present a short excerpt from an interview that with the Library of America. You can read the interview in full at the Reader’s Almanac.

Remember to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

What exactly constitutes “American literature,” and what are its boundaries? Is it coterminous with the country known as the United States of America, either geographically or historically? And in an era increasingly marked by globalization, is it still productive to think of a national literature as defined by national borders?

For several years and several books, these and related questions have been a fruitful line of inquiry for Wai Chee Dimock, William Lampson Professor of English at Yale University. In a series of critical studies, Dimock recasts classic American writing as, in her words, a “commingling of near and far, with words and worlds continually in motion.” Her work traces lines of affinity forward and backwards in time, and relocates American writers both canonical (Emerson, Thoreau) and contemporary (Gary Snyder, Maxine Hong Kingston) in eye-opening global contexts.

Dimock’s most recent publication is American Literature in the World: An Anthology from Anne Bradstreet to Octavia Butler (Columbia University Press, 2017), which she and her co-editors offer as “not so much a brand-new canon of American literature as a different kind of field guide.” The collection foregoes conventional chronological or geographic arrangements in favor of grouping writers around several key themes like “War” and “Religion”—an approach that yields a number of stimulating juxtapositions and unforeseen counterpoints. A sequence in the “War” section puts excerpts from Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead and John Hersey’s Hiroshima into dialogue with very different perspectives on the Pacific conflict from Leslie Marmon Silko and Chang-Rae Lee. In “Religion,” Washington Irving’s engagement with the culture of Moorish Spain precedes autobiographical accounts by Paul Bowles and Malcolm X of their travels in Morocco and Saudi Arabia, respectively; the section concludes with the lyrics to the Grateful Dead’s “Blues for Allah.” (A playful erasure of distinctions between high and popular culture is also part of Dimock’s m.o.)

Wai Chee Dimock’s first book, Empire for Liberty: Melville and the Poetics of Individualism (Princeton University Press, 1991), was greeted by Library of America co-founder Richard Poirier as “one of the most important studies of Melville to appear in many years.” More recently Dimock has written movie reviews for the Los Angeles Review of Books and contributed essays and articles to the Chronicle of Higher Education, The New Yorker, and the New York Times.

Library of America: We’re curious to know how you arrived at this more globally-oriented approach to American literature, which now stretches across several books. Were you encouraged to pursue it, earlier in your career? Were you ever discouraged from pursuing it?

Wai Chee Dimock: My global orientation to American literature probably came more from my background than from the encouragement of friends and colleagues. Growing up in Hong Kong, reading Melville and Twain in the small, crowded, but serviceable public library, I had always thought of American literature as “transnational,” fed by cross-currents coming from afar and connected to the rest of the world. I haven’t been discouraged at any point from taking this approach.

Read the entire interview at theReader’s Almanac.

December 13th, 2017

A Twenty-First-Century-Platform

This week, our featured book is American Literature in the World An Anthology from Anne Bradstreet to Octavia Butler, edited by Wai Chee Dimock, with Jordan Brower, Edgar Garcia, Kyle Hutzler, and Nicholas Rinehart. Today we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s introduction.

Remember to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

December 12th, 2017

New Book Tuesday: Spirals, Story of the Earth in 25 Rock, Enchanted Clock, and More!

Our weekly listing of new books now available:

The Story of the Earth in 25 Rocks
Tales of Important Geological Puzzles
and the People Who Solved Them
Donald R. Prothero

A Time to Stir
Columbia ’68
Edited by Paul Cronin

The Enchanted Clock
A Novel
Julia Kristeva. Translated by Armine Kotin Mortimer

The Whirled Image in Twentieth-Century Literature and Art
Nico Israel

The Economics of Airlines
Volodymyr Bilotkach
(Agenda Publishing)

Reflections on the Future of the Left
Edited by David Coates
(Agenda Publishing)

December 11th, 2017

Announcing the Columbia University Press Spring 2018 Catalog

We are proud to announce our catalog of new books coming in Spring 2018! In her introductory letter, Press Director Jennifer Crewe lays out her hopes for the books in the catalog and lists a few highlights:

Dear Readers,

This coming year we are celebrating a special milestone:
Columbia University Press’s 125th anniversary. In June 1893,
Seth Low and Nicholas Murray Butler founded Columbia
University Press. And here we are, almost 125 years later, with
a remarkable record of publishing groundbreaking scholarship
and advancing understanding of our world.

This season’s catalogue features titles that demonstrate all of
the best qualities of the past 125 years and lead us forward
into the next. Columbia’s Jeffrey D. Sachs outlines a bold
program for A New Foreign Policy (p. 1). Richard Sylla and
David J. Cowen draw on Columbia’s collection of Alexander
Hamilton’s writings to show how he laid the groundwork for
the U.S. financial system
(p. 6). Working for Respect (p. 18), by
the Columbia sociologists Adam Reich and Peter Bearman,
uses fascinating research into Walmart’s workforce to debate
how we can make the economy work for everyone. Our
new Race, Inequality, and Health series is inaugurated with
Troublesome Science (p. 19), which powerfully illustrates the
misuse of biology to support biased racial distinctions. And
Columbia’s Souleymane Bachir Diagne’s Open to Reason (p.
30) is an insightful guide to the history of Muslim philosophy
and its ongoing relevance.

Our mission of disseminating knowledge through peer-reviewed,
carefully edited books is more critical than ever to
stimulate conversations and action around the world. The
books on display in this catalogue exist thanks to the efforts
of our readers, our partners, our donors, and the university.
Most of our books are specialized and cost more to publish
than their sales will support. That’s why philanthropic funds,
including gifts from individuals and foundations, are critically
needed to invest in our exceptional publications. Last fall we
launched the Publisher’s Circle, our leadership donor group,
and since have welcomed nearly fifty individuals—many of
them Columbia University Press authors—who have helped
us publish great books.

Columbia University Press authors are the best in their fields,
and their books are made possible thanks to the unique role
of the university press, the generosity of our donors, and the
support of our university colleagues. Thank you for being part
of our community.

Jennifer Crewe
Associate Provost and Director

December 11th, 2017

Book Giveaway! American Literature in the World: An Anthology from Anne Bradstreet to Octavia Butler

“This is a vital anthology, both in conception and execution. For students and faculty alike, it will create an unprecedented sense of the dynamic force fields of American literature. I’m especially impressed by the anthology’s fluid movement across media platforms and geographical divides.”
–Rob Nixon, Princeton University

This week, our featured book is American Literature in the World An Anthology from Anne Bradstreet to Octavia Butler , edited by Wai Chee Dimock, with Jordan Brower, Edgar Garcia, Kyle Hutzler, and Nicholas Rinehart. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

December 7th, 2017

Why I Work on Such a Frightening Topic

This week our featured book is Silencing the Bomb:
One Scientist’s Quest to Halt Nuclear Testing
by Lynn R. Sykes. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s final chapter, in which Sykes explains why he chooses to continue his work toward banning nuclear testing.

I am sometimes asked why I work on such a frightening and depressing topic. I explain to myself that this is the major issue of my lifetime. With my scientific knowledge, I hope to contribute in some small way to preventing the use of nuclear weapons. I regard this as my duty as an informed citizen, especially in a country that possesses vast numbers of nuclear weapons. I hope this book will convince others to learn more about these issues and to become more involved. I support the advice of Edmund Burke, the British-Irish orator, political theorist, and philosopher, who said, “Nobody made a greater mistake than the one who did nothing because they could only do a little.”

A major nuclear exchange would be a cataclysmic disaster with a level of destruction unprecedented in the entire history of our species. Some people have argued that because nuclear weapons have not been used since 1945, the probability of their use is very small. The world has been fortunate that nuclear weapons have not been used since then, but this could end at a moment’s notice. False alarms, accidents, and the near miss of the Cuban missile crisis are not very reassuring about nuclear weapons’ not being used in the future. The probability per year of a nuclear exchange may be low, but if it happens, the consequences will be catastrophic. Getting the public and governments to deal with rare but catastrophic events is difficult but very necessary.

The Trump administration has made threatening remarks about nuclear weapons. As of mid-2017 it is not clear if it might either use nuclear weapons against an advisory such as North Korea or resume nuclear testing. If it resumed testing, the yields of explosions likely would be large, abrogating several arms control agreements, and other countries almost certainly would resume testing.

Remember to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

December 6th, 2017

Ear to the Ground, Listening for Nuclear Blasts

This week, our featured book is Silencing the Bomb: One Scientist’s Quest to Halt Nuclear Testing, by Lynn R. Sykes. Today, we are happy to present a short excerpt from an interview that with Kevin Krajick at State of the Plane blog. You can read the interview in full at the Earth Institute website.

Remember to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

Seismologist Lynn Sykes has been working for more than 50 years to halt the testing of nuclear bombs. His work, along with others’, has demonstrated that clandestine tests can be detected and measured using seismic waves. Development of this technology led up to the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. Since then, testing has nearly stopped, though key nations including the United States have so far failed to ratify the agreement. In his forthcoming book, Silencing the Bomb: One Scientist’s Quest to Halt Nuclear Testing, Sykes provides an insider’s look at the issues. Below, he discusses the science, his experiences and the current outlook. Sykes is the Higgins professor emeritus at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Why this book now? Many people say climate change is our main threat. Has it become unfashionable to consider nuclear weapons?

Well, it’s exceedingly frightening, so I can understand why a lot of people don’t want to think about nuclear war. But more people could be killed with a large use of nuclear weapons, and those areas would be uninhabitable for a hundred years. I think climate change, sea level, are a big thing–right up there. But people have forgotten about nuclear war. It’s the topic that is the most important to our world. I’ve seen some horrendous things that some people have done with the test ban, and some very brave and forward things that others have done.

How did you get started with this?

My original work didn’t have anything to with nuclear testing; I was studying natural earthquakes. But the more I found out about it, I gradually got involved in research. Several of us made contributions to better monitoring of Russian explosions, and later, Chinese ones. I started writing papers, and they got picked up gradually in the 1980s, when the Democrats controlled the House and Senate. There were a lot of hearings. I participated in at least five.

You ran into a lot of resistance, saying that seismology couldn’t really pick up tests.

There was a large number of exceedingly conservative people, particularly in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and they attempted to bottle the subject up. When I became a member of the U.S. negotiating team for the Threshold Test Ban Treaty in 1974, virtually all the information on how do you convert seismic measurements into estimates of yield of Russian explosions was controlled by just two people. And they seemed quite determined that there not be a comprehensive test-ban treaty.

Read the entire interview at the State of the Planet Earth Institute blog.

December 5th, 2017

New Book Tuesday: Eating Ethically, Fracking Debate, Merchant’s Tale, and More!

Our weekly listing of new books now available:

Eating Ethically
Religion and Science for a Better Diet
Jonathan K. Crane

Food of Sinful Demons
Meat, Vegetarianism, and the Limits of Buddhism in Tibet
Geoffrey Barstow

Earth at Risk
Natural Capital and the Quest for Sustainability
Claude Henry and Laurence Tubiana

The Fracking Debate
The Risks, Benefits, and Uncertainties of the Shale Revolution
Daniel Raimi

The Merchant’s Tale
Yokohama and the Transformation of Japan
Simon Partner

Premodern Korean Literary Prose
An Anthology
Edited by Michael J. Pettid, Gregory N. Evon, and Chan Park

Critics, Coteries, and Pre-Raphaelite Celebrity
Wendy Graham

Now available in paperback:
We Are All Cannibals
And Other Essays
Claude Lévi-Strauss. Foreword by Maurice Olender and Jane Marie Todd

A Search for Belonging
The Mexican Cinema of Luis Buñuel
Marc Ripley
(Wallflower Press)

Between Prometheism and Realpolitik
Poland and Soviet Ukraine, 1921-1926
Jan Jacek Bruski
(Jagiellonian University Press)

A Disastrous Matter
The Polish Question in the Russian Political Thought and Discourse of the Great Reform Age, 1856-1866
Henryk Głębocki
(Jagiellonian University Press)

Justiniana Prima
An Underestimated Aspect of Justinian’s Church Policy
Stanisław Turlej
(Jagiellonian University Press)

Armenia Christiana
Armenian Religious Identity and the Churches of Constantinople and Rome (4th – 15th century)
Krzysztof Stopka
(Jagiellonian University Press)

December 4th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Silencing the Bomb One Scientist’s Quest to Halt Nuclear Testing

“When he signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996, President Bill Clinton called it ‘the longest-sought, hardest-fought prize in arms control history.’ Lynn R. Sykes was one of the leading scientists in that half-century-long battle. Although testing has stopped—except in North Korea—Republican opposition has blocked ratification of this treaty in the U.S. Senate. Sykes’ lucid inside accounts of the science underlying the detection of nuclear testing and the battles over the test ban’s verifiability are therefore not just of historical interest but also relevant to contemporary concerns.”
– Frank von Hippel, cofounder, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University

This week, our featured book is Silencing the Bomb One Scientist’s Quest to Halt Nuclear Testing, by Lynn R. Sykes. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

November 28th, 2017

New Book Tuesday: Confronting the Climate Challenge, Digital Banal, In Black and White, Cinema in the Digital Age

Our weekly listing of new books now available:

The Digital Banal
New Media and American Literature and Culture
Zara Dinnen

Confronting the Climate Challenge
U.S. Policy Options
Lawrence Goulder and Marc Hafstead

In Black and White
A Novel
Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. Translated by Phyllis I. Lyons

Cinema in the Digital Age
Nicholas Rombes
(Wallflower Press)

Now available in paperback:
Beyond the Secular West
Edited by Akeel Bilgrami

November 21st, 2017

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

Our weekly listing of new books now available:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sibling Action: The Genealogical Structure of Modernity
Stefani Engelstein

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

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

Traditional Chinese Medicine
Heritage and Adaptation

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

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

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

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

Don’t Look Now
Jessica Gildersleeve

November 14th, 2017

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

Our weekly listing of new books now available:

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

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

Garden Variety
The American Tomato from Corporate to Heirloom
John Hoenig

November 10th, 2017

University Press Roundup: #UPWeek 2017 Edition


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

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

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

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

Tuesday’s theme of “Selling the Facts” contained an array of perspectives from booksellers and bookstores selling in today’s political climate. Read the rest of this entry »

November 8th, 2017

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

A Dozen Lessons for Entrepreneurs

Our weekly listing of new books now available:

A Dozen Lessons for Entrepreneurs
Tren Griffin

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

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

Ethical Asset Valuation and the Good Society
Christian Gollier

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

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

November 7th, 2017

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


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

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

A Field Guide to Engaging with the World Through Bookstores

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

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

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

November 2nd, 2017

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

Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays

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

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

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

Communism is inevitable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 27th, 2017

Designed Leadership: Principle 2: Know Place and Experience and Principle 3: Value Diversity

Designed Leadership

“In the world of designed leadership, values are essential underpinnings for key principles and practices. What is the use of identifying values in an organization if you don’t use them on a daily basis for decision-making?” — Moura Quayle

The following is a guest post from Moura Quayle, author of Designed Leadership. Over the next several weeks, Quayle will take readers through all ten of her designed leadership principles in a series of posts.

Designed Leadership: Principle 1: Make Values Explicit
By Moura Quayle

This post is about the second and third principles of Designed Leadership. You can read a post on the first principle here.

This blog post is about the second principle of designed leadership, Know Place and Experience, and the third principle, Value Diversity.

I live by Paulo Coelho’s quote: “People never learn anything by being told, they have to find out for themselves.” Learning by doing, and by being connected deeply to place and experience, is important to designed leadership. Designed leadership is about taking advantage of the mind-set and the set of tools and techniques commonly used by designers and applying them to improving leadership.

When I began writing about this principle, I remembered my UC Berkeley experience in the learning environment created by Professor Claire Cooper Marcus in her course about social factors in design. Claire assigned us to write a several-part “environmental autobiography” on our childhood, adolescence and adult-hood. I don’t know that I had ever really thought deeply about the environment that had shaped me and continues to do so today. I grew up in a small town on the East Coast of Vancouver Island. My father was a marine biologist (oysters and clams were his specialty) and my mother was a public health nurse. Writing and drawing the childhood piece based on my reflections was a powerful reminder of how I think about space and place today. I was strongly influenced by walking the beaches with my father at low tide (generally very, very early in the morning) and being introduced repeatedly to the importance of public and population health and disease prevention by my mother. As I write in my book:

The primary goal of writing an environmental autobiography is to increase self-awareness. Through the process, one gains understanding, sensitivity, and respect for each unique environmental history. It is clearly useful for design students who need to be aware of their values and biases as they design spaces and places for others. I would argue that it is equally useful for our roles as leaders because it illuminates a personal awareness of the context in which leaders think through and eventually make decisions or decide on directions.

Read the rest of this entry »

October 24th, 2017

New Book Tuesday: The Sustainable City, the American Tomato, American Magazine Writing, and More!

The Sustainable City

Our weekly listing of new books now available:

The Sustainable City
Steven Cohen

Garden Variety: The American Tomato from Corporate to Heirloom
John Hoenig

The Best American Magazine Writing 2017
Edited by Sid Holt for the American Society of Magazine Editors

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

Philosophies of Happiness: A Comparative Introduction to the Flourishing Life
Diana Lobel

The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200–1336, expanded edition
Caroline Walker Bynum

Becoming the News: How Ordinary People Respond to the Media Spotlight
Ruth Palmer

Life and Money: The Genealogy of the Liberal Economy and the Displacement of Politics
Ute Tellmann

Thick and Dazzling Darkness: Religious Poetry in a Secular Age
Peter O’Leary

From Da Ponte to the Casa Italiana: A Brief History of Italian Studies at Columbia University
Barbara Faedda

Now available in paperback:
Wall Streeters: The Creators and Corruptors of American Finance
Edward Morris

Now available in paperback:
The End of Progress: Decolonizing the Normative Foundations of Critical Theory
Amy Allen

Trash Cinema: The Lure of the Low
Guy Barefoot
(Wallflower Press)

Security in the Anthropocene: Reflections on Safety and Care
Cameron Harrington and Clifford Shearing

American Missionaries in the Ottoman Empire: A Conceptual Metaphor Analysis of Missionary Narrative, 1820-1898
Hami Inan Gümüş

(Extra)Ordinary Presence: Social Configurations and Cultural Repertoires
Edited by Markus Gottwald, Kay Kirchmann, and Heike Paul

Prizing Debate: The Fourth Decade of the Booker Prize and the Contemporary Novel in the UK
Anna Auguscik

Discursive Intersexions: Daring Bodies between Myth, Medicine, and Memoir
Michaela Koch

Wires That Bind: Nation, Region, and Technology in the Southwestern United States, 1854-1920
Torsten Kathke

Writing Emotions: Theoretical Concepts and Selected Case Studies in Literature
Edited by Ingeborg Jandl, Susanne Knaller, Sabine Schönfellner, and Gudrun Tockner

Emotions, Remembering and Feeling Better: Dealing with the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in Canada
Anne-Marie Reynaud

How Genes Matter: Genetic Medicine as Subjectivisation Practices
Bernhard Wieser

Aging in Slavic Literatures: Essays in Literary Gerontology
Edited by Dagmar Gramshammer-Hohl

Senior Tourism: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Aging and Traveling
Edited by Simone Francescato, Roberta Maierhofer, and Valeria Minghetti

October 22nd, 2017

Safwan Masri on the success of Tunisian democracy after the Arab Spring

Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly

This week, our featured book is Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly, by Safwan M. Masri, with a foreword by Lisa Anderson. Today, we are happy to present three videos from Masri’s recent talk at George Washington University in which he introduces his book, discusses the four factors that have led to the unique success of Tunisia’s post-Arab Spring democracy, and delves into what makes Tunisia’s Ennahda Movement so special. Read the rest of this entry »

October 20th, 2017

Law and the Wealth of Nations

Law and the Wealth of Nations: Finance, Prosperity, and Democracy

Finance and its relation to production form only one aspect of the organization of the economy, an aspect that we commonly associate with dream-destroying constraint rather than, as we also can and should, with transformative opportunity. — Tamara Lothian

Today, we are happy to present the introduction from Law and the Wealth of Nations: Finance, Prosperity, and Democracy, by Tamara Lothian.