Monday, April 22, 2024

Regina Kunzel's "In the Shadow of Diagnosis"

Regina Kunzel, Larned Professor of History and Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, is an historian of the modern United States with interests in histories of gender and sexuality, queer history, the history of psychiatry, and the history of incarceration. She is the author of Criminal Intimacy: Prison and the Uneven History of Modern American Sexuality and Fallen Women, Problem Girls: Unmarried Mothers and the Professionalization of Social Work, 1890 to 1945.

Kunzel applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, In the Shadow of Diagnosis: Psychiatric Power and Queer Life, and reported the following:
Page 99 of In the Shadow of Diagnosis considers queer people’s resistance to psychiatric authority and treatment in the mid-20th-century U.S., and to psychiatrists’ insistence that homosexuality was a treatable mental illness in particular. It features evidence from the archival collection that inspired and enabled the book: a rich and remarkable set of previously unexamined case files from Saint Elizabeths Hospital, the federal hospital for the mentally ill in Washington, D.C., in which psychiatrist Benjamin Karpman asked his patients to write autobiographies, journals, responses to questionnaires, and reviews of psychiatric texts. Page 99 includes one of my favorite lines drawn from one of those files. Frustrated by a lesbian who expressed “her profound skepticism with respect to all psychoanalytic findings and her intense resistance to all forms of psychic therapy,” Karpman acknowledged that “actually she does not want therapy. What she wants is either a social revolution which will permit her neurosis to be accepted, or a secret means of securing sexual gratification.”

Page 99 highlights gratifying stories of queer resilience and resistance. But to focus on resistance alone would require that we read the historical record very selectively and ignore evidence of the deep effects of stigma on queer and gender-nonconforming people that I explore beyond this page. The history of the encounter of queer people with psychiatry offers up resistance, to be sure. But it should not surprise us that for many, psychiatric thinking and treatment instilled, compounded, and consolidated a sense of stigma and shame. Others engaged psychiatry in more ambivalent and complex ways. One of the book’s challenging claims is that while psychiatry’s capture of queerness was far from complete, it is impossible to conceive of modern queer life sealed off from the influence of psychiatric thinking or stripped entirely clean of its assumptions.

Page 99 doesn’t shed light on another big claim of the book: that psychiatrists’ claim to expertise over homosexuality and gender variance underwrote the expansion of their power and authority at mid-century, used to broker some of their most important and strategic collaborations with the state. And so a story often told within the confines of the history of medicine or the history of the oppression of gay men and lesbians is also a story about American state and carceral power. In this history, (putatively) therapeutic and carceral spaces, practices, and logics blend and blur.
Learn more about In the Shadow of Diagnosis at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Criminal Intimacy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Charles Trueheart's "Diplomats at War"

Charles Trueheart is a former foreign correspondent of the Washington Post, a former Associate Director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard, and a former Director of the American Library in Paris.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Diplomats at War: Friendship and Betrayal on the Brink of the Vietnam Conflict, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Diplomats at War: Friendship and Betrayal on the Brink of the Vietnam Conflict, a third of the way into the book, happens to introduce one of the themes of this history/memoir of Vietnam during the Kennedy administration: the outsized role of US news correspondents in shaping the gloomy narrative of an alliance that was not working.

The most famous of these correspondents was David Halberstam, whose book The Best and the Brightest, published nearly a dozen years later, charted the series of hubristic misjudgments that led the United States into a ten-year war. My page 99 introduces Homer Bigart, Halberstam’s predecessor as the New York Times correspondent in Saigon, and a model of the skeptical reporting that would undermine the optimistic progress reports the US government was producing for public consumption. Bigart famously coined a phrase describing the American reliance on the flawed governance of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem, pronounced Ziem: “Sink or swim with Ngo Dinh Diem.”

To quote a salient passage about the US reporters from page 99, “The presidents of the United States and South Vietnam, and their entourages, were being driven crazy by their reporting. They thought it was inaccurate. They thought it was tendentious. They thought it was simplistic. But at least some Americans knew it was accurate.”

Although the focus of Diplomats at War is on the ranking US Foreign Service officers in Saigon at the time – US ambassador Frederick Nolting and deputy chief of mission William Trueheart, my godfather and father, respectively – their stormy relationship to the press corps is an important element in the narrative, and not a bad glimpse of the forces shaping historic outcomes in Vietnam more than sixty years ago.
Visit Charles Trueheart's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Douglas Dowland's "We, Us, and Them"

Douglas Dowland is Associate Professor of English at Ohio Northern University and the author of Weak Nationalisms: Affect and Nonfiction in Postwar America.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, We, Us, and Them: Affect and American Nonfiction from Vietnam to Trump, and reported the following:
Much of my research focuses around synecdoche: the rhetorical tactic of substituting a part for a whole. This makes the Page 99 Test all the more fascinating to me, as it’s an exercise in synecdoche itself. Can page 99 give the reader an idea of a book overall? Can one page speak for an entire book?

For mine, the answer is, yes, I believe so! On page 99 of We, Us, and Them, you’ll find me winding down a chapter focused on the writer James Baldwin. What I’ve tried to do throughout the book is offer a counterintuitive narrative to our understanding of several American authors. Earlier in the book, I explored how John Steinbeck’s enthusiasm for the Vietnam War was derived mostly from his importing of the American story onto South Vietnam. I also explored how Hunter S. Thompson’s bilious reading of America was not so much driven by a countercultural impulse but more by good old-fashioned populism.

By page 99, I’ve finished perhaps my most counterintuitive move. For the previous twenty pages, I explore a book by James Baldwin that almost all critics have dismissed, The Evidence of Things Not Seen. My argument is that critics simply missed the point of the book – to them, Baldwin had written poorly and betrayed his legacy. But to me, Baldwin’s book is not a disaster but a conclusion: going farther, it is Baldwin’s stepping away from the premises of both his reputation and of his decades-long insistence that justice could be done, that African-Americans could be treated as equals in the United States. My thesis is that he realizes the futility of America as a nation and that his book is a practice in the art of futility. His giving up is thus exactly the point that critics miss, if only because it pulls from under their feet the idea of what I call “James Baldwin,” not so much the man, but the reputation white critics built for him.

Thus I write on page 99:
What if [Baldwin] is no longer interested in seeking to reason with white critics or white people, or whiteness altogether? What if he no longer cares if he has produced ample reasons that justify his anger to critics, or expended energy appealing to the decent and humane when those appeals go perpetually unenacted? What if he does not want to be together with us? And, ultimately, what if he no longer believes that white America, or America entirely, is worthy of his patience, his intellect, his identity, or his voice?
To me, Baldwin’s book is an “affective exit from America. It is a rejection of loyalty to the nation that does not nurture but only threatens him.”

All said, there is much that can be derived from page 99, and that itself says something about the power of synecdoche. In my book, it’s a page that gets to the point of the book entire – that how authors write about America reveal the strong affects at work in their depictions, we see the presumptions and frustrations that emerge when they employ three deceptively simple words: we, us, and them.
Learn more about We, Us, and Them at the University of Virginia Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 19, 2024

David Kinley's "The Liberty Paradox"

David Kinley is the inaugural Chair of Human Rights Law at the University of Sydney, a founding member of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, and an Expert Member of Doughty Street Chambers in London. He is the author of Necessary Evil: How to Fix Finance by Saving Human Rights and the coauthor of The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Kinley applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Liberty Paradox: Living with the Responsibilities of Freedom, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Liberty Paradox deals with happiness. What are our freedoms and responsibilities in its pursuit and how do we negotiate them individually and collectively?

Specifically, the page tells us that in handling “the slings and arrows of fortune, however outrageous,” our “capacity for adaptation” is critical to securing happiness. And adaptation, in turn, boils down to how well we manage expectations, not only in the banality of everyday existence but also when fate changes our circumstances extraordinarily. One might suppose, for example, that winning the lottery or suffering a paralyzing injury will inexorably, fundamentally, and lastingly change our levels of happiness. Yet that appears not to be the case in practice. Apparently, we all have what psychologists call a set point of happiness, “to which we nearly always return, regardless of what befalls us in the meantime.” As a result, counterintuitively, “the world is not short of wealthy whingers and paralyzed optimists.”

In terms of the book’s central argument – that liberty’s paradox lies in it necessarily comprising both freedom and responsibility – page 99 reflects one of the enduring conundrums of that relationship. Namely, that while our freedom to choose what makes us happy is always hemmed in by our commensurate responsibility to recognize and respect our neighbor’s freedom to do the same (and all that delicate equilibrium entails), each of us also possesses personal predilections for self-awareness, empathy, and law-abidingness that significantly influence how we process the relationship internally and how we express it publicly. In this respect, much the same can said of the other realms of human life covered in the book – health, wealth, work, security, voice, love, and death. Liberty while living in the company of others is a bargain into which all of us must enter for each of us to enjoy.
Learn more about The Liberty Paradox at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Thomas M. Larkin's "The China Firm"

Thomas M. Larkin is assistant professor of the history of the United States of America and the world at the University of Prince Edward Island.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his book, The China Firm: American Elites and the Making of British Colonial Society, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The China Firm begins halfway through a paragraph discussing the nostalgia Americans in nineteenth-century China felt during annual Fourth of July celebrations. The rest of the page describes how such celebrations were a source of friction between American inhabitants of Hong Kong and their British peers; it concludes by switching gears to introduce the expensive social rituals that the port’s American elite performed daily, beginning with an account of riding culture in the colony. The three paragraphs on this page take the reader through themes at the heart of the book: patriotism and nostalgia; Anglo-American tension and amity; class and social performance. To put it simply, the Page 99 Test works.

Expanded upon further throughout the rest of the chapter, the anecdotes on page 99 point to the balancing act that overshadowed American attempts to navigate British colonial and semi-colonial space along the China coast. American elites arriving in nineteenth-century China recognised the social, economic, and diplomatic value of becoming accepted amongst British society, but their efforts to do so were often inflected by their heightened sense of national identity, antecedent tensions between Britain and the United States playing out on a global scale, and their ability to perform the requisite markers of success. The Fourth of July was, for example, an important opportunity to express one’s national pride, but how the broader colonial community reacted was subject to wider circumstances. When things were swell between the American and British communities, the British joined in the revelry; when tensions flared, as they did during the American Civil War, acerbic British commenters in the port’s China Mail newspaper derided the day as an ‘inordinate national vanity.’ We see, then, on page 99, a brief instance reflecting the calibrated performance Americans sustained as they were ‘made’ in and helped ‘make’ British colonial society in China.
Learn more about The China Firm at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Hajar Yazdiha's "The Struggle for the People’s King"

Hajar Yazdiha is assistant professor of sociology and a faculty affiliate of the Equity Research Institute at the University of Southern California.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her first book, The Struggle for the People’s King: How Politics Transforms the Memory of the Civil Rights Movement, and reported the following:
Page 99 concludes a chapter on battles over civil rights memory between the progressive LGBTQ movement and the conservative family values movement. This page describes how each group had worked to claim the memory of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement to take the moral high ground in their political battles.

More importantly, this page describes the consequences of these strategies where conservative groups increasingly use Dr. King to frame themselves as the new oppressed minorities fighting for their rights. As I write on page 99,
As conservative groups attempted to both discredit progressive groups’ claims to civil rights memory and establish their own claims to memory, rainbow coalitions were forming to challenge the reactionary right-wing movements that were gaining popularity in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential campaign.
It's incredible how well the Page 99 Test works here! Though we’re only getting a snapshot from one of the cases in the book (other chapters take on different social movements), the takeaways about the co-optation of civil rights memory are a throughline. From page 99 we get a sense of how the book explores the political misuses of Dr. King and how they matter for contemporary politics.

One of the major takeaways of The Struggle for the People’s King is that the political misuses of Dr. King and civil rights memory are not just rhetorical. These are intentional political strategies and they have powerful effects. These misuses of memory don’t just change the way we collectively remember the racial past. They also shape the way we make sense of the present, tackle social problems together, and direct action toward the future. This is where the real danger of historical revisionism lies, in its capacity to evade social reality.

There is a popular way of understanding the divisive nature of American political culture as a matter of polarization. My book shows that it is not that we are polarized into different sides of the same coin. Through the politics of historical revisionism, we have diverged in our conceptions of social reality. We are living on different planes.

Despite this grim reality, at the core of The Struggle for the People’s King are these perennial questions about identity and belonging. What does it take to feel like we belong, to a community, to a nation, and to one another? How does our understanding of our place in society, our connection to its past, shape our imaginations of what type of society may be possible?

Dr. King said, “The difference between a dreamer and a visionary is that a dreamer has his eyes closed and a visionary has his eyes open.” My book is an invitation to readers to confront the past, present, and future with eyes wide open, to come together in community, to be visionaries.
Visit Hajar Yazdiha's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Matthew Holmes's "The Graft Hybrid"

Matthew Holmes is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Environmental History at the University of Stavanger, where he examines the modern history of the house sparrow (Passer domesticus) in urban spaces. His previous postdoc position at the University of Cambridge investigated science and agriculture in the British Empire. Holmes's new book, The Graft Hybrid: Challenging Twentieth-Century Genetics, explores the creation of chimeral plants and animals. He also publishes on the history of biotechnology, morphology, and natural history.

Holmes applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Graft Hybrid and reported the following:
Although page 99 of The Graft Hybrid does not engage with the book’s titular subject, it does provide an entry point to one of the greatest controversies in the history of biology: whether grafting different plants and animals together could produce new species. Page 99 introduces a botanical power couple, Mabel Rayner and William Neilson Jones, lecturers at Bedford College, London. In 1920 Rayner and Neilson Jones published a textbook that described the famous experiments of Gregor Mendel on pea plants. Mendelian genetics, they claimed, had great practical promise for breeding new plants and animals for agriculture. Grafting only received a brief mention.

Reading page 99 alone would give a one-sided view of The Graft Hybrid, and indeed, of the history of biology itself. Alternatives to Mendelian genetics as an agricultural tool persisted across the twentieth century. One of these alternatives was graft hybridization. Over the course of the twentieth century, biologists from around the world claimed to have been able to artificially create an extraordinary array of new species: from strangely colored chickens and salamanders to potato-tomato hybrids. If we read beyond page 99, we find that Neilson Jones also published an influential 1934 book titled Plant Chimaeras and Graft Hybrids. In it, he claimed that it was theoretically possible for the cells of grafted plants to fuse together to create new hybrid species.

The story of the graft hybrid has many twists and turns, which Neilson Jones experienced. While the first edition of his book on graft hybrids was widely praised, its second edition – released in 1969 – was harshly criticized. In the Soviet Union, genetics was under attack as a bourgeois science, with graft hybridization promoted in its stead. Neilson Jones’s fall from grace reflects the larger argument of my book, which demonstrates that belief in the existence of graft hybrids was scientifically respectable until the “Lysenko affair” in the Soviet Union divided biology along ideological lines.
Visit Matthew Holmes's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 15, 2024

Eileen M. Hunt's "The First Last Man"

Eileen M. Hunt is Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of Artificial Life After Frankenstein and Mary Shelley and the Rights of the Child: Political Philosophy in "Frankenstein."

Hunt applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The First Last Man: Mary Shelley and the Postapocalyptic Imagination, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The First Last Man: Mary Shelley and the Postapocalyptic Imagination is the center of the book. On this page you will find some of the core and controversial themes of my third book on Mary Shelley (and of Mary Shelley's own life!): incest, love triangles, and how they spread wider social conflicts including the metaphorical plague of war. In the following passage drawn from page 99, I describe how the teenage Mary Shelley became obsessed with the figure of Oedipus from the time she eloped with Percy Shelley in 1814, when she was just 16 and he was 21 and married to another woman. Sometime in the couple's first year together, Mary Shelley wrote down and modified a quote from the original ancient Greek from Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes in the endpapers of her first journal book, which she co-kept with Percy:
The original meaning of the journal’s Greek quote adapted from Aeschylus, however, might be inferred from its probable writing in Mary Shelley’s hand, and its placement at the very back of her first notebook, which ends in May 1815. Her copying and modification of this passage from Seven Against Thebes would suggest that she was a quick study. Perhaps it was Shelley’s guilt over disobeying her father Godwin during her elopement that inspired her preoccupation with the choral lament of the “heavy fate” of Oedipus. In 1834, Shelley disclosed in passing to the woman who nursed her, Maria Gisborne, that her stepmother Mary Jane Clairmont noticed “long before” she was fourteen that she had an “excessive & romantic attachment to my Father.” Mary Jane may have attempted to purge the family of a younger female rival for Godwin’s attention by helping to arrange for the adolescent’s departure in 1812 to live with the Baxter family in Scotland.

Akin to the exposure of the infant Oedipus by his parents, Shelley’s youthful exile would backfire upon her family. Upon her first return to London from Dundee, in November 1812, she met Percy at a dinner party at her father’s table. Upon her next return, in 1814, they fell in love, courted on her mother’s grave, and ran away to France with Mary Jane’s daughter Claire.

But Mary and Percy’s scandalous three-way elopement with her stepsister did more than anger their joint father-figure Godwin and his second wife. It infused an incestuous and conflictive dynamic in their romantic relationship from the very start. As she filled the final pages of her first journal book in the spring of 1815, Shelley’s cursive grew ever larger and more uncontrolled.
Page 99 of The First Last Man doesn't tell you the whole story of this study of how Mary Shelley's 1826 novel, The Last Man, helped to generate the modern genre of postapocalyptic pandemic literature, film, and television. But it does give you a lot of reasons to pick up the book and read it: to figure out why and how the deeper interpersonal conflicts of Mary Shelley's complex familial and romantic life—especially with Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, her father William Godwin, and her stepsister Claire Clairmont—led her to develop not just one, but two, of the major sources for contemporary political science fiction: Frankenstein and The Last Man!
Learn more about The First Last Man at the University of Pennsylvania Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Kashshaf Ghani's "Sufi Rituals and Practices"

Kashshaf Ghani is an Assistant Professor in the School of Historical Studies at Nalanda University, India. He specializes in pre-modern South Asia, covering the period 1000-1800, focusing on the history of Sufism, its practices, interactions, networks, and regional experiences. He is also interested in Indo-Persian histories, interreligious interactions, history and culture of the Persianate world, and Asian interconnections. Ghani studied History at Presidency College, Kolkata, and the University of Calcutta, where he completed his PhD. He has held teaching and research positions at Aliah University, Kolkata; University of Calcutta; The Asiatic Society, Kolkata; Universite Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris; Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin; and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies, Kolkata.

Ghani applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Sufi Rituals and Practices: Experiences from South Asia, 1200-1450, and reported the following:
Page 99 is part of a chapter that translates, for the first time, for English readers the 14th century treatise of Usul al-Sama by Maulana Fakhr al-Din Zarradi, who defended, through 10 principles, the Sufi practice of sama – listening to music and poetry for spiritual ecstasy.

Page 99 concludes the third principle which discusses the qualities of musical instruments – like duff, and the kind of emotions it creates in the heart of the listener. If duff is played while reciting good messages, then it is considered lawful. On the other hand if the playing of duff accompanies wine drinking, it will give rise to improper thoughts. Hence in such occasions musical instruments are forbidden. Rather than the sound of instruments, Sufi saints in sama are enraptured by poetry and verses, that are recited by the singer.

The fourth principle begins by elaborating on the quality of poetry and verse, the best of which constitute well-measured and rhythmical verses. The clarity in the latter is brought about by the reciter, who should be an individual of pure heart. It is by the blessing of the divine – considered the real creator of the poetry – that the heart of the listener is inclined in love and passion, towards God. Good voice is a blessing of God, in the sense that it leaves a beneficial impression on the heart of the listener. The grace of God descends on the listener when his mind and body is in harmony.

The page thus captures the end and beginning of two core issues that concern the practice of sama – the concluding points on the use of musical instruments like duff, and beginning the discussion on the recitation of poetry and verse. This page helps the reader connect to the main concerns of the book – historically situate the importance of Sufi rituals; the formalization of core Sufi rituals like sama and zikr; their role in the institutionalization of Sufi traditions in South Asia; along with the contribution of important Sufi masters, disciples and texts in consolidating the traditions of Sufi ritual like sama.
Visit Kashshaf Ghani's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Nathaniel Wiewora's "Sins of Christendom"

Nathaniel Wiewora is an associate professor of history at Harding University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Sins of Christendom: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Evangelicalism, and reported the following:
On page 99, I look at the ways antebellum evangelicals honed in on the physical depictions of Mormonism's golden plates as a way to express disapproval and doubt concerning Mormonism's origin story. They stated incredulity about the size, weight, and shape of the golden plates. Concluding that the plates would have weighed several hundred pounds, these evangelicals wondered how Joseph Smith would have ever been able to carry them. This disbelief over the material existence of the golden plates went along with evangelical doubt about the true authorship of Mormonism's founding writ. Antebellum evangelicals assumed the Book of Mormon had human origins, but they also thought it must have been the work of someone other than Joseph Smith.

The Page 99 Test gives an incomplete picture of the argument in Sins of Christendom. Page 99 occurs in the middle of a larger chapter, where evangelicals claimed the Book of Mormon was uncanonical. In addition to the physical characteristics of the Book of Mormon, evangelicals pointed out the ways, they believed, that Joseph Smith had copied the appearance and content of the Bible, as well as plagiarizing his revelation from preexisting sources. What page 99 does not reveal is how this detailed concern with the veracity of the Book of Mormon reveals much more than mere religious intolerance. The antebellum criticisms about the ways Mormonism used and abused scripture resonated within evangelicalism because they faced many of the same debates and dilemmas about the uses and abuses of their own sacred texts. Focused on proving that the Book of Mormon was not an ancient document, evangelicals at the same time grappled with a growing feeling that their own Bible was itself a product of history. The overlapping nature of these charges against Mormonism’s scriptural practices and internal tensions over how to read and understand the Bible allowed evangelicals concerned about how their coreligionists mishandled scripture to use Mormonism as a foil to mark out the boundaries of how one should correctly read and interpret the Bible.

Page 99 lays out the content of antebellum evangelical anti-Mormonism, but this book is really not about the criticisms themselves. My book examines how evangelicals used religious intolerance. Evangelicals responded to their initial contact with Mormonism with predictable religious animus, but anti-Mormonism had wide ranging consequences in antebellum America. Heresy hunting shaped evangelical beliefs and practices. In their earliest years of encounter, evangelicals developed a diverse and vibrant anti-Mormonism. Evangelicals simultaneously disagreed with their coreligionists over the same complaints they levelled against Mormonism. The sense that Mormonism was too similar to their own faith displayed and deepened divisions within the evangelical movement. They accused each other of being like the followers of Joseph Smith in order to define orthodox evangelical beliefs and practices.
Learn more about Sins of Christendom at the University of Illinois Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue