New Books in Literary Studies
Summary: Discussions with Literary Scholars about their New Books
Stephen DysonView on AmazonStephen Dyson is the author of Otherworldly Politics: The International Relations of Star Trek, Game of Thrones, and Battlestar Galactica (Johns Hopkins University Press 2015). Dyson is associate professor of political science at the University of Connecticut. Is Tyrian Lannister a realist or a liberal? What would Mr. Spock have to say about rational choice theory? And what did Stanley Kubrick read to create Dr. Strangelove? Dyson takes on these important questions with an enjoyable exploration for how the classic theories of International Relations have been played on our television and movie screens.
Jodi Eichler-LevineView on AmazonIn Suffer the Little Children: Uses of the Past in Jewish and African American Children's Literature (New York University Press, 2013), Jodi Eichler-Levine, associate professor of Religion Studies and Berman Professor of Jewish Civilization at Lehigh University, analyses a theme in American religious history–suffering–through the lens of Jewish and African American children's literature. In her analysis of works by authors such as Maurice Sendak, Julius Lester, Jane Yolen, Sydney Taylor, and Virginia Hamilton, Eichler-Levine deftly examines the ways in which historical narratives of suffering are used by religious communities to claim their status as citizens.
Nanxiu QianView on AmazonNanxiu Qian, professor at Rice University, discusses her new book Politics, Poetics, and Gender in Late Qing China: Xue Shaohui and the Era of Reform (Stanford University Press, 2015). Qian argues that the role women played in the late Qing reform movements has heretofore been overlooked by historiography. Leading reformer Xue Shaohui was a critical poet, prose writer, educator, translator, and journalist. Xue married the literary traditions and scientific and technological advances of China and of the West. Her culturalist vision of women also married the writing-women tradition with her forward beliefs in gender equality. No subservient wife, Xue Shaohui played a central role in the reform networks of women and men and in the vibrant culture of debate that planted the seeds for women's education and women's visible role in public life in China.
Ranen Omer-ShermanView on AmazonIn Imagining the Kibbutz: Visions of Utopia in Literature and Film (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015), Ranen Omer-Sherman, a professor at the University of Louisville, looks at literary and cinematic representations of the kibbutz, what he calls the world's most successfully sustained communal enterprise. Complementing historical works on the kibbutz, Omer-Sherman explores how the kibbutz is depicted in novels, short fiction, memoirs, and films by both kibbutz "insiders" and "outsiders" to reveal an underlying Israeli tension between the individual and the collective.
Leah GarrettView on AmazonIn her new book Young Lions: How Jewish Authors Reinvented the American War Novel (Northwestern University Press, 2015), Leah Garrett, the Loti Smorgon (Professor of Contemporary Jewish Life and Culture at Monash University in Australia) takes the reader through best-selling novels of World War II. These novels became source material for American's popular perceptions of that war and a mirror on American society back home. Garrett tells the back story of how each novel was written, how much they reveal of their famous authors' war experiences and how they reflect the politics of each authors perspective on America. Many of the great American war novels published during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s were written by Jewish authors. Listen to Garrett's explanation to understand why that was the case. You don't need to have read Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny, Leon Uris's Battle Cry or Joseph Heller's Catch 22 to enjoy this book. Garrett walks you through what you need to know to enjoy the findings she's unearthed in her research. Reaching across disciplines, Garrett's book about American war novels casts light on American culture at home.
Kimberly FainView on AmazonColson Whitehead's fiction has drawn varied criticism. On the one hand, there's the scholarship of the African diaspora, a tradition that takes the long view of Whitehead–extrapolating him from their existing canon (of Du Bois, Hurston, Ellison, etc.); on the other hand, there's the conversation on Whitehead's work that's happening more in the literary main stream. On Kimberly Fain's view, the last word is somewhere in between, and in her Colson Whitehead: The Postracial Voice of Contemporary Literature (Rowman and Littlefield, 2015), she considers a more integral fiction: one both a product of a long history and of an intermediating pop culture. The big task of Colson Whitehead is to position the fictionist as a "postracial" figure–a figure who represents a changing attitude on the concept and reality of race. What would it mean to live a really, truly colorblind America? You can see inklings in Whitehead, especially in his latter work. And while it is clear from Whitehead's own (critical) writing that postracialism is–to us, now–still an ideal, it's in the same writing where race begins to matter not less, but perhaps just in a different way. That race might begin to signify culture, community, a legacy in art–and something less sociopolitical or less economic.
John Durham PetersView on Amazon[Cross-posted from the NBN Seminar] John Durham Peters' wonderful new book is a brilliant and beautifully-written consideration of natural environments as subjects for media studies. Accessible and informative for a broad readership. The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media (University of Chicago Press, 2015) is structured as a series of meditations on and explorations of water, fire, air, earth, and ether media. After a chapter that sets out some of the foundational ideas shaping the book and charts an intellectual landscape for rethinking media, each of the following chapters offers a carefully curated series of studies of particulars – dolphin jaws, candles, towers, watches, clouds, feet, bells, weathermen, Google, and more – as a means of examining the significance of infrastructure, forgetting, technicity, and other modes of understanding media. Peters asks us to come with a fresh perspective to notions that we otherwise take for granted, and the result is a thoughtful and inspiring account that brings together media studies, theology, philosophy, and the natural sciences in thoroughly compelling ways. Among other things, the book is a call for a "greener media studies" that "appreciates our long natural history of shaping and being shaped by our habitats as a process of mediation." What if, Peters asks, we took nature instead of the mind as the "epitome of meaning"? What are the stakes of doing so? The result is among the most exciting and enjoyable books that I've read in some time.
Megan MarshallView on AmazonMegan Marshall is the Charles Wesley Emerson College Professor in writing, literature and publishing. Her book Margaret Fuller: A New American Life (Mariner Books, 2013) won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in biography. Marshall has written a beautiful and detailed portrait of the nineteenth-century political thinker, women's rights advocate, and writer Margaret Fuller. Fuller's childhood begins in Cambridgeport, MA where under the tutelage of her demanding father, Timothy Fuller, she was immersed in the classics excelling in language, literature, and philosophy. Her prospects limited by her gender, considered plain and often lonely, Fuller went on to build an intellectual life and relationships with the leading transcendentalists. Her New England circles included the most prominent thinkers of her day, the Channings, the Peabody sisters, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Horace Greeley, and Nathaniel Hawthrone. Frequently earning a living as a teacher, she went on to write and edit the transcendentalist journal The Dial and began a series of lectures and discussion for women known as "conversations." The erudite and intellectually confident Fuller struggled with creating and living out a new feminine ideal that included the life of the mind, intimate cross-gender friendships, and mutuality, which she attempted to work out in her relationships with Emerson, James Clarke and others. After her tragic death at sea in 1850, she is best remembered for her book Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845), at the time considered controversial and bold, explored the assumed nature of men and women and their relationship and proposed a new model for egalitarian marriages of mutuality and respect. Marshall has given us a compassionate biography of a remarkable woman who was born ahead of her time and inspired generations of feminists.
Tom SperlingerView on AmazonTom Sperlinger, Reader in English Literature and Community Engagement at the University of Bristol, joins New Books in Education to discuss Romeo and Juliet in Palestine: Teaching Under Occupation (Zero Books, 2015). The book is an account of Tom's time teaching English literature at Al-Quds University, located in the Occupied West Bank. Because of their unique environment and perspective, the students in his class had interpretations of Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, and other seminal English literature works that struck a chord with the author. Through his book, he provides a glimpse into the everyday aspects of a place that is not often discussed in terms of higher education. You can find the author on Twitter at @TomSperlinger. For questions or comments on the podcast, you can also find the host at @PoliticsAndEd.
View on AmazonAs demographic trends continue to mark the so-called "Latinization" of the U.S., pundits across various media outlets struggle to understand the economic, cultural, and political implications of this reality. In popular discourse, Latinoas/os are often referred to as a monolithic group in terms of cultural practices, voting patterns, and consumer preferences. Of course, Latinas/os are one of the most diverse ethnic groups in the U.S., comprising more than 14 nationalities (including indigenous groups) with variances in language, cultural practices, and political attitudes that mirror their geographic distribution. In Thirteen Ways of Looking At Latino Art (Duke University Press, 2014) the accomplished essayist and cultural commentator Ilan Stavans enters into conversation with the distinguished philosopher Jorge J.E. Gracia around 13 pieces of Latina/o art in order to excavate the underpinnings of Latina/o identity and culture. Each work of art provides the impetus for lively exchanges between Stavans and Gracia over the purpose and politics of historical representation, artistic expression, ethno-racial identification, ethics, and religion. Written in an engaging dialogic form, the reader is permitted to listen in as Stavans and Gracia reflect (and at time disagree) over the meanings and significance of each art piece to the broader Latina/o experience.
Eugene ThackerView on AmazonEugene Thacker's wonderful Horror of Philosophy series includes three books – In the Dust of this Planet (Zero Books, 2011), Starry Speculative Corpse (Zero Books, 2015), and Tentacles Longer than Night (Zero Books, 2015) – that collectively explore the relationship between philosophy (especially as it overlaps with demonology, occultism, and mysticism) and horror (especially of the supernatural sort). Each book takes on a particular problematic using a particular form from the history of philosophy, from the quaestio, lectio, and disputatio of medieval scholarship, to shorter aphoristic prose, to productive "mis-readings" of works of horror as philosophical texts and vice versa. Taken together, the books thoughtfully model the possibilities born of a comparative scholarly approach that creates conversations among works that might not ordinarily be juxtaposed in the same work: like Nishitani, Kant, Yohji Yamamoto, and Fludd; or Argento, Dante, and Lautréamont. Though they explore topics like darkness, pessimism, vampiric cephalopods, and "black tentacular voids," these books vibrate with life and offer consistent and shining inspiration for the careful reader. Anyone interested in philosophy, theology, modern literature and cinema, literatures on life and death, the history of horror…or really, anyone at all who appreciates thoughtful writing in any form should grab them – grab all of them! – and sit somewhere comfy, and prepare to read, reflect, and enjoy. For Thacker's brand-new book Cosmic Pessimism (published by Univocal with a super-groovy black-on-black cover) go here. Thacker is co-teaching a course with Simon Critchley on "Mysticism" at the New School for Social Research this fall 2015. You can check out the description here.
Leonard CassutoView on AmazonThe discontented graduate student is something of a cultural fixture in the U.S. Indeed theirs is a sorry lot. They work very hard, earn very little, and have very poor prospects. Nearly all of them want to become professors, but most of them won't. Indeed a disturbingly large minority of them won't even finish their degrees. It's little wonder graduate students are, as a group, somewhat depressed. In his thought-provoking book The Graduate School Mess: What Caused It and How We Can Fix It (Harvard University Press, 2015), Leonard Cassuto tries to figure out why graduate education in the U.S. is in such a sad state. More importantly, he offers a host of fascinating proposals to "fix" American graduate schools. Listen in.
Anna M. ShieldsView on AmazonAnna M. Shields has written a marvelous book on friendship, literature, and history in medieval China. One Who Knows Me: Friendship and Literary Culture in Mid-Tang China (Harvard University Press, 2015) is the first book-length study of friendship in the Chinese tradition. Focusing on the period from the 790s through the 820s, it asks how writing on friendship both reflected & shaped broader transformations in mid-Tang literary culture, and it weaves together historical and literary analyses in offering its answers. Shields begins by laying a foundation for understanding how the changing social & political conditions of the late eighth & early ninth centuries encouraged friendship practices among elite men and the representations of those practices in texts. The chapters that follow are roughly organized according to the life-course of Tang literati, from early writing for patrons and exams to funerary writing that marked the death of friends. It's an exceptionally accomplished study that weaves together compelling argumentation and moving translations from primary source material, and it deserves a wide readership. For more of Anna's work, check out her academia.edu site: http://princeton.academia.edu/AnnaShields
View on AmazonPoetry is far more than crafting verse. Poetry is a way of thought and a way of being. It seeps into every aspect of a poet's life only to reveal that it is the life that seeped into poetry. In a series of letters penned to "Continuum," Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie offers hard won wisdom and a glimpse at an ideal. She takes "Continuum" and the reader through her journey of discovery and coming into being as an artist. "Dear Continuum" is about access; access to mentorship, access to reading lists, access to doubt, and discovery. There was a tangible need within the community for a book like this. It was quite literally asked for, and Tallie answered that call. I would like to think that we poets are the "Continuum," or that it exists on a different plane of being, one that can be tapped into, just as we do with poetry. The states of birth, coming to being, death and rebirth are as infinite as art–are part of the continuum. In the poet's own words: "When life threatens to shatter you and rip your illusions to shreds, write. When you are distracted by romance, write. When you are consumed by heartache, write. When you are rejoicing, grieving, questioning, certain, write. Life itself will give you a chance to feel everything. I've never set a fire to feel the flames singe me. I already know the flames will come. So will water."
Mrinalini ChakravortyView on AmazonIn Stereotype: South Asia in the Global Literary Imaginary (Columbia University Press, 2014) is a masterful account of the importance of the stereotype in English language South Asian literature. Mrinalini Chakravorty explores such tropes as the crowd in Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children; slums in Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger; and death in Michael Ondaatje's book Anil's Ghost, amongst others. The focus on the stereotype's enticing explanatory power casts fresh light on some of the most important contemporary works of South Asian literature and the book is a pleasurable yet challenging read.