Sunday, May 26, 2019

Chris S. Duvall's "The African Roots of Marijuana"

Chris S. Duvall is Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of New Mexico and author of Cannabis.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The African Roots of Marijuana, and reported the following:
Page 99 is part of a textbox about the cultural history of cannabis in Morocco. Page 99 specifically discusses a group of Islamic mystics (the Ḥeddawa) who smoked psychoactive cannabis (or kif) as part of their spiritual practices. From page 99:
The brethren smoked enormous amounts of kif and influenced people outside the order to try the drug. Consequently, they shaped Moroccan agriculture. Cannabis became an acceptable crop as Ḥeddi and other marabouts made it an acceptable drug. The Ḥeddawa preferred cannabis from Ketama, a small town in the Rif Mountains. ‘Our brothers in Ketama are intelligent people,’ they said. ‘They clear the forest to plant kif and tobacco for [us] devotees.’ As consumption increased nationwide over the 1800s—due mostly to secular use—the Ḥeddawa’s Rif homeland became the preeminent kif-farming area. In the late 1800s, Rifian towns supported the Ḥeddawa by donating several hundred kilograms of kif to the monastery annually, even though it sold for high prices in cities. The patron saint of kif growers, Sidi Moḥamed Jamhoun, is celebrated near Ketama.

Moroccan Muslims more commonly discouraged cannabis use or condemned it outright. Kif’s place in religious life was fraught: cannabis was sold in markets not with medicinal herbs or spices, but with the checkered substances brandy, wine, tobacco, coffee, tea, and sugar. Sultan Hassan I (r. 1873–94) was particularly concerned about kif, although his government profited from its monopoly control of the market. In 1888, he narrowed kif’s legality by allowing farming only in the Rif, which helped him build political support there. Subsequent elites accepted kif grudgingly, for convenience. In the 1920s, the French resident-general expanded the farming privilege only to prevent a religious order—the Ouazzanie brotherhood—from joining an anticolonial rebellion in the Rif. In the following decades, kif farmers continued to defend the crop as authorities tried to prohibit it, which finally happened in 1954. The conflict of opinions about kif pushed the Rif into Morocco’s political-economic periphery, a status expressed and accentuated by the postcolonial government’s violent repression of revolt there in 1958–59.
Would a browser get a good idea of the book from page 99? Partly no, partly yes.

No, because Morocco and Islam are peripheral topics. I take a continent-scale view of cannabis history, yet I look at North Africa really just to understand the broad context of events in Central Africa, where the people-plant relationship we call ‘marijuana’ originated. Since the literature on cannabis history is pretty bad—there are exceptions—I had to research many places that were peripheral to my focus on how the plant crossed Africa and the Atlantic. Islam has a very minor role. I mostly write about it to tear apart myths that hashish was somehow special to Muslims. There’s been a lot of bigoted nonsense written about people and cannabis.

Indeed, in this respect page 99 provides a good sample of the book’s content, which includes a lot of myth-busting. The body of nonsense I challenge centers on race, not religion. I wrote about the Ḥeddawa because they deeply shaped cannabis culture in Morocco. Yet cannabis histories make no mention of them. Ponder this: prior to my book, the Ḥeddawa had not been documented in English, either in historical sources or recent histories. I write about other similarly forgotten episodes. The general neglect of Africa in cannabis histories has enabled racist nonsense to persist about who uses cannabis, and why.
* * *
You have to be a stoner to read or write about cannabis, right?

I wrote the book for thoughtful people, whether or not they care about marijuana.

I wrote the book because I wanted to know why Africa is neglected in cannabis histories, and what consequences that omission has had. Most histories of cannabis have been written by people who wanted to advance a political agenda about cannabis in current societies. I want to build knowledge. Like it or not, cannabis is exiting prohibition. Better knowledge of its past is needed to manage it more fairly, safely, and effectively than under prohibition.
Learn more about The African Roots of Marijuana at the Duke University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 24, 2019

Candy Gunther Brown's "Debating Yoga and Mindfulness in Public Schools"

Candy Gunther Brown is Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University and author or editor of six books, including Testing Prayer: Science and Healing and The Healing Gods: Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Christian America.

Brown applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Debating Yoga and Mindfulness in Public Schools: Reforming Secular Education or Reestablishing Religion?, and reported the following:
Page 99 lands half-way into chapter five of fourteen, one-third of the way into the text’s 305 pages. It is a close reading of the May 2013 yoga curriculum from the Encinitas Union School District (EUSD).

I testified in a lawsuit against EUSD, Sedlock v. Baird, that its yoga program meets legal criteria of religion. Funded by $533,720 ($4 million over five years) from the Jois Foundation in 2012, EUSD taught Ashtanga yoga, developed by Indian Hindu Shri Krishna Pattabhi Jois (1915–2009) for the purpose of becoming “one with God.” Ashtanga always opens with Sūrya Namaskāra (Sun Salutations), a physical act of “prayer to the sun god.” According to Jois, “the postures of yoga have each a presiding deity, and there are 72,000 such deities in total. Before paying homage to the deities individually, a student of yoga must first begin with salutations to Surya who, according to belief, contains the rest of the pantheon.” Ashtanga always ends with Padmāsana (Lotus) and Savāsana (“taking rest” in Corpse) to facilitate “dhyana [meditation] ... puja [worship],” and “Samadhi, or enlightenment.” Teaching Ashtanga is “99 percent practice and 1 percent philosophy,” because “for anyone who practices yoga correctly, the love of God will develop ... whether they want it or not.”

EUSD piloted Ashtanga in 2011–12, published curriculum in November 2012, and produced revised curriculum on the eve of trial in May 2013. As parents complained that Ashtanga is religious, EUSD stripped religious language.

From page 99:
The May curriculum added secular-sounding language, without fully replacing the previous version’s allusions to Ashtanga. It references “Social and Emotional Learning Standards” and introduces “Character Connections” with famous quotations, for instance encouraging “perseverance” by citing Babe Ruth: “Every strike brings me closer to my next home run.” . . . Lessons still always open with Sun Salutations and close with Lotus and Rest. For example, Session 3, “Learning to Flow,” for grades 4–6 teaches “Opening Sequences A & B” and a “Closing Sequence” of “Sleeping Lotus,” “Sunbathing Lotus,” “Lotus,” “Floating Lotus,” and “Rest.” Photographs taken as late as 2015 capture posters of Sun Salutations and Lotus (fig. 5.2).

At trial, the District claimed that EUSD taught poses “without religious context.”115 This confuses religious context with religious terminology. In Ashtanga, religious context is provided by opening and closing with embodied prayers. At the time of trial, EUSD yoga still always opened and closed the same way as traditional Ashtanga yoga. To this structuring framework, teachers gleaned from other traditions poses deemed more developmentally appropriate for children. In Ashtanga, “one always begins practice with Surya Namaskar, concludes with Padmasana and rest, and the various asanas gradually fill the space between these two poles.” This structure describes “EUSD yoga” up through at least 2016.

EUSD supplemented its presentation of the May 2013 curriculum with videos of EUSD yoga filmed March 2013.... The videos open with a caption introducing spokesperson for EUSD yoga “Eddie Stern, Health and Wellness Project Manager—New York,” wearing a sweater and button-down shirt. Stern explains that “the position that we hold our body in affects our mind.” Speaking as someone intimately involved in developing EUSD yoga, Stern continues, “We have taken this idea and we have modeled our health and wellness program on this.” Stern appears in several other video segments, which provide no additional information about him. The videos do not inform the viewer that Stern was certified by Pattabhi Jois to teach Ashtanga...
Page 100 elaborates that Stern translated and published Jois’s books, directed Ashtanga Yoga New York and the Broome Street Ganesha Temple (inside his yoga shala), and was on Jois Foundation’s payroll as head of curriculum development. In October 2013, Stern appeared in a YouTube video dressed in Indian robes, performing a pūjā, saying he enjoys “worshipping Ganesh and all the gods.”

The judge concluded that “yoga is religious,” but permitted “EUSD yoga,” reasoning that EUSD subtracted enough religious language that children would not perceive yoga practices as promoting religion.

The book uses analysis of Sedlock and three other legal challenges in which I served as an expert to develop a theory of how religious practices can affect beliefs. I contend that public-school yoga and mindfulness may facilitate the reestablishment of religion in America. I advance legal and ethical arguments for transparency, voluntarism, respect for cultural and religious diversity, and an “opt-in” model of informed consent.
Learn more about Debating Yoga and Mindfulness at the University of North Carolina Press website. Follow Candy Gunther Brown on Facebook and Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: The Healing Gods.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Carolyn J. Dean's "The Moral Witness"

Carolyn J. Dean is Charles J. Stille Professor of History and French at Yale University. She is the author of several books, including The Fragility of Empathy after the Holocaust, Aversion and Erasure: The Fate of the Victim after the Holocaust, and The Frail Social Body: Pornography, Homosexuality, and Other Fantasies in Interwar France.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Moral Witness: Trials and Testimony after Genocide, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Moral Witness marks a central moment in the book’s narrative arc. The subtitle of a section that begins on that page, “Styles of Dying,” captures dramatically how Western perceptions of mass murders and their victims have changed over the course of the twentieth and twenty first centuries. “Styles of dying” refers to gas chambers, diseases, and senseless tortures that ended the lives of Jewish victims of Nazism. Because they could rarely fight back, victims’ deaths were sources of pity and even shame. The book asks how Western publics came to value the voices of anonymous victims of mass murder targeted for no reason other their race, religion, or ethnicity. It traces the symbol of the “moral witness” that emerged in court trials about the Armenian genocide in 1921, Jewish pogroms in 1927, the Soviet Gulag in 1951, the Holocaust of European Jewry in 1961, up to current discussions of the International Criminal Court in the Hague. It shows how the moral witness represented the meaning mass of murder and gave rise to new definitions of victimhood and survival. The legal definition of genocide, a word coined by the Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin in 1942, owes its moral and cultural power to the new role accorded to survivors of physical and psychological traumas. We now imagine those victims as a source of an inconceivable experience from whom we should learn. They speak as moral witnesses, even if some victims’ voices are valued more than others.

How did this “moral witness” emerge, and how did its image change over time? How do we imagine victims of genocide now? Why was the murder of European Jewry recognized as a genocide before the colonial crimes that we now call by that name, in Namibia and elsewhere? The Moral Witness asks these historical questions about how “the witness to genocide” and “bearing witness” became important cultural tropes.
Learn more about The Moral Witness at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Andrew Yeo's "Asia's Regional Architecture"

Andrew Yeo is Associate Professor of Politics at The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Asia's Regional Architecture: Alliances and Institutions in the Pacific Century, and reported the following:
From page 99:
When first articulated, officials assumed that the ASEAN Plus Three (APT) would naturally evolve into the East Asia Summit. The East Asia Summit would merely adopt the APT framework and subsume all its work programs…However, different opinions existed as to how the East Asia Summit would actually be realized. Thus at the time of its emergence in the mid-2000s, the East Asia Summit became ‘neither a substitute for the APT nor a distinctly separate mechanism in its own right.’
Very few regional organizations existed in Asia during the Cold War. There was no Asian version of NATO. Nor was there any process equivalent to the European integration experience. Fast forward to today, however, and Asia’s institutional landscape looks like an alphabet soup of institutions. A few examples include the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and the East Asia Summit (EAS).

My book, Asia’s Regional Architecture: Alliances and Institutions in the Pacific Century, examines how a region once sparse in institutions evolved to include dozens of overlapping bilateral, trilateral, mini-lateral, and multilateral institutions in the post-Cold War period. The book pays particular attention to the juxtaposition of U.S. bilateral alliances with multilateral institutions in Asia.

Page 99 of the book brings us to the thick of Asia’s transforming regional architecture in the early 2000s. The ASEAN Plus Three (APT) emerged in response to the Asian financial crisis in 1997-1998, and in reaction to the failure of the IMF (and the West), to adequately addressing the crisis. The APT’s creation helped spur a larger conversation about the development of an East Asian community. The East Asia Summit represented the institutional embodiment of this community. Or at least that was the early intent.

Unfortunately, Asian leaders themselves were conflicted in their vision for Asia’s future. Those wanting a more exclusive East Asian community (i.e. excluding Western nations such as Australia, New Zealand, or the United States) preferred the existing membership and structure of the APT. Other countries such as Japan were looking to use the East Asia Summit to develop a more inclusive understanding of East Asia which encompassed the greater Asia-Pacific region. The East Asia Summit ultimately represented the latter vision. It also signaled the contentious and somewhat haphazard process of institution-building in Asia. Rather than replace or enhance pre-existing institutions, Asian policymakers continued to layer new, mostly informal institutions on top of existing ones. Multiple iterations of this process since the end of the Cold War have resulted in today’s complex patchwork of Asian institutions.
Learn more about Asia's Regional Architecture at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 20, 2019

Bruce Beehler's "Natural Encounters"

Bruce Beehler is a research associate in the Division of Birds at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Natural Encounters: Biking, Hiking, and Birding Through the Seasons, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Encounters is, indeed, typical of the book, offering up a handsome text illustration of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker perched on a tree trunk as well as a short bit of text singing the praises of this unusual migratory woodpecker. A snippet of text from page 99 is indicative:
...the herky-jerky staccato drumming produced by the territorial male is both memorable and amusing—it sounds as if the bird is sending a signal in some kind of drunken Morse Code...
This in-the-field description captures the intent of the book, which is to take the reader on a twelve-month-long walk through the woods—down to the river, over the hill, and then back home, taking note of the seasonal ebb and flow of the lives of plants and animals from month to month. The narrative, in places, lets the creatures do the talking, and attempts to situate the reader in amongst it all—summer, fall, winter, spring, in all their natural glory.

Moreover, the narrative leads the reader not only to green spaces near the Nation’s Capital, but also takes the reader to special places up and down the East Coast where nature rules. The point of the discussion of nature near and far is that the smart nature lovers among us use nature as a guiding principle for their recreational movements, a weekend here, and summer jaunt of ten days there. Always to some place offering the best that nature has to offer. And that is the seasonal plan—to be there when the wild things are in full celebration. Be along the Potomac for the runs of shad and herring. Be on the sands of the Outer Banks for the passage of the Atlantic Gannets in their great numbers. Camp among the Balsam Firs and spruces in northern New England when the wood warblers are singing their hearts’ out. These are the things that make for a life well lived in the bosom of nature.
Visit Bruce Beehler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Richard M. Gamble's "A Fiery Gospel"

Richard M. Gamble is the Anna Margaret Ross Alexander Chair of History and Politics at Hillsdale College. He is author of In Search of the City on a Hill and The War for Righteousness.

Gamble applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Fiery Gospel: The Battle Hymn of the Republic and the Road to Righteous War, and reported the following:
Page 99 of A Fiery Gospel recounts the way Senator John M. Thurston used "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" on the Senate floor in March of 1898 to justify U.S. intervention in Cuba. The Nebraska Republican tied the impending war against Spain as the latest chapter in the centuries-long crusade for human emancipation from tyranny. Thurston connected the dots from the Magna Carta to the Declaration of Independence, from the French Revolution to the Emancipation Proclamation and to the major Union victories of the Civil War. Force had been justified at every step of this historical progress, he assured the Senate; and force was necessary in the next advance for liberty, this time against the decrepit , "medieval" Spanish Empire. As if by instinct, Thurston quoted the fifth stanza of Julia Ward Howe's celebrated "Battle Hymn"--"As He [Christ] died to make men holy, let us die to make men free." He was not the first or the last public figure to quote these lines for the sake of new crusades.

While this episode on the eve of the Spanish-American War does not reveal "the quality of the whole" of my book, it certainly does highlight one of my main arguments: Howe's "Battle Hymn" endured after 1865 as a way for Americans to justify every major war over the next 150 years and more broadly as a way for interventionists to give poetic expression to their nation's mission in history. Even other nations--especially England--got into the habit of extolling America's destiny with the words of Howe's poem. The title of the chapter from which this episode comes is "Righteous War and Holy Peace." That phrase was used by another poet in 1900 to encapsulate Howe's achievement as the "priestess" of this civil religion. Many Americans urged their fellow citizens to embrace Howe's Civil War anthem as an international battle hymn its truer and truer meaning in each war for human emancipation. Howe herself called on America to turn from securing mere liberty for itself to liberty for the world, from its "Old Testament" task of building a nation to its "New Testament" spreading the gospel of freedom.
Learn more about A Fiery Gospel at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 17, 2019

Andrew Franta's "Systems Failure"

Andrew Franta is an associate professor of English at the University of Utah. He is the author of Romanticism and the Rise of the Mass Public.

Franta applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Systems Failure: The Uses of Disorder in English Literature, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Systems Failure: The Uses of Disorder in English Literature tells a story about romance, enlightenment, and gothic possession. The chapter in which the page appears argues that, in his 1794 novel Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams, William Godwin makes a case against both sides of the English debate about the French Revolution. Through the story of a curious and intelligent servant unjustly accused and persecuted by his aristocratic employer, Godwin demonstrates the shortcomings of the conservative response to the Revolution and the radical defense. He does so, moreover, by depicting a series of failed handshakes—socially significant gestures that, in the story he tells, never bring about the agreements they are intended to effect. On page 99, I argue that the failed handshake between Caleb’s master, Falkland, and his antagonist, Tyrrel, sets the pattern for the novel and determines Caleb’s fate. Caleb is curious about the secrets that lie in his master’s past; he is determined to discover the truth, but the truth does not set him free. Instead, it binds him to Falkland and destroys them both.

I argue that the handshake is a powerful gesture for Godwin because it shows both how people are connected and how they are torn apart. Caleb and the others characters in the novel can’t live up to their promises, but, at the same time, they can’t avoid making them. In his 1793 political treatise Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Godwin maintained that “we ought to be able to do without one another”; Caleb Williams, by contrast, dramatizes “the ‘invincible attachment’ that inescapably and involuntarily binds one individual to another.” Godwin’s philosophical anarchism attempts to rationalize social relations by doing away with them; his novel makes it clear that this effort must fail. This failure links page 99 of Systems Failure to the book’s larger argument about how a range of prominent writers from Samuel Johnson and Laurence Sterne to Jane Austen and Thomas De Quincey take up civil and cultural institutions designed to rationalize society only to reveal the weaknesses that undermine their explanatory power. This obsession with the failure of systems is the source of some of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English literature’s most penetrating insights about the structure of social life.
Learn more about Systems Failure at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Walter R. Borneman's "Brothers Down"

Walter R. Borneman's works of nonfiction include MacArthur At War, The Admirals, Polk, and The French and Indian War. He holds both a master’s degree in history and a law degree.

Borneman applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Brothers Down: Pearl Harbor and the Fate of the Many Brothers Aboard the USS Arizona, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Kimmel claimed that the Japanese would not attack the United States in the Pacific and chance a two-front war with it and Russia. “The Japanese are too intelligent to run the risk of a two-front war unnecessarily,” Kimmel explained. “They will want to wait until they are sure that the Russians have been defeated.” The admiral’s public relations officer, Lieutenant Commander Waldo Drake, remembered the admiral’s conclusion a little more pointedly: “I don’t think they’d be such damned fools."

Seaman, Second Class, Oree Weller, just six months out of boot camp, applied a special dose of spit and polish to the navigator’s station on the Arizona’s bridge in anticipation of the captain’s scrutiny. Suddenly, Weller heard a racket overhead and looked up to see a drill bit boring through the ceiling. It was quickly withdrawn, but no sooner had it been than a steady drip, drip, drip of red-lead primer paint fell from the hole and splattered onto the navigator’s desk below.
Page 99 of Brothers Down offers a glimpse into its key theme—the stories of individual sailors, including thirty-eight sets of brothers, assigned to the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor—in the context of the secondary theme of America’s preparedness for World War II. Through the lives of these brothers, the book offers a snapshot of what life was like in the United States that December morning in 1941. While page 99 does not include any stories of these brothers, it does show that the book relies heavily on the experiences of the rank and file at Pearl Harbor.

Through the eyes of brothers serving together, Brothers Down casts the Pearl Harbor tragedy in very personal terms. I was surprised by how emotional their relatives still are—sometimes two and three generations removed—about their loss and their sacrifice for our country. These families shared letters, photographs, and personal reminiscences—many of which have never been published. The equally poignant part after the horrific loss of life was how these families learned of the death of loved ones—sometimes multiple deaths when two sons were lost—and how that loss affected them their entire lives. Surviving brothers in particular carried a tragic sense of survivor’s guilt to their graves. In one family, Francis and Norman Morse were the only children of Clara Morse, a widow. She wrote them regularly, including immediately on December 7 upon learning of the attack. Her letters from that day were returned three weeks later marked “unclaimed.” Both boys died. Clara joined the Red Cross as a volunteer and lived a lonely life by herself for another forty years.
Visit Walter R. Borneman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 13, 2019

Patrick Bergemann's "Judge Thy Neighbor"

Patrick Bergemann is an Assistant Professor of Organizations and Strategy at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Judge Thy Neighbor: Denunciations in the Spanish Inquisition, Romanov Russia, and Nazi Germany, and reported the following:
This book seeks to understand why individuals turn each other in to the authorities for wrongdoing. Such behavior goes by many different names—snitching, ratting, tattling, denouncing—but the practice is fundamentally the same. In this book, I look at three settings—Spain in the early years of the Spanish Inquisition, Russia at the beginning of the Romanov dynasty, and Nazi Germany—where such behavior was particularly prevalent. Across all three, I explore what led individuals to turn in their neighbors and whether or not there are general patterns of behavior that are consistent across settings.

Page 99 of the book includes a description of the second setting: Romanov Russia in the 1600s. At the top of the page is a histogram showing the years (ranging from 1605 to 1649) in which the 453 denunciations I analyze occurred. This figure is representative of my overall approach; in order to understand why people turned each other in, I need to get as close to the people involved as possible. By analyzing texts of the crimes as reported to the authorities, along with the ensuing investigations, I find that these denunciations were neither made in service of the state nor to protect the local community. Instead, they were most frequently reported for very personal reasons: either in an attempt to gain benefits from the authorities or to resolve private disputes.

Throughout the chapter, I include a variety of examples of the offenses for which people were denounced. One man allegedly declared, “You will find on me the same beard as on the Sovereign,” while another announced, “I sit in darkness and poverty now, but when I get out of jail I will be tsar over all you common men.” Perhaps the most colorful example comes from page 103:
Two Cossacks named Ivashko Vezema and Ortem Zharenyi had an argument…in August 1626. Vezema told Zharenyi that he was sick of Zharenyi’s boasting and had made reports about his behavior to the sovereign in the past. Zharenyi responded by saying, “I wipe myself with your reports.” For this Vezema denounced him, as the reports would have contained the sovereign’s name and wiping oneself with the tsar’s name could have been considered a punishable offense. An investigation ensued and Zharenyi was questioned. He explained that, although he had indeed made the statement, he was only referring to Vezema’s oral reports, which could not have properly contained the sovereign’s name. The authorities concluded that Vezema had misrepresented Zharenyi’s words and ordered Vezema beaten with cudgels.
Although the particulars of this example are unique, similar denunciations were prevalent across all the settings I examined. Individuals largely did not care about preventing crimes, but instead sought to co-opt the authorities for the resolution of personal conflicts.
Visit Patrick Bergemann's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Andrew Hui's "A Theory of the Aphorism"

Andrew Hui is associate professor of humanities at Yale-NUS College, Singapore. He is the author of The Poetics of Ruins in Renaissance Literature.

Hui applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Theory of the Aphorism: From Confucius to Twitter, and reported the following:
Page 99 of A Theory of the Aphorism from Confucius to Twitter is half-a-page of text and half-a-page image of the famous emblem of Aldus Manutius, a dolphin twisted around an anchor, with the words Festina lente, or make haste slowly. The famed Venetian printer was basically the mid-wife of Renaissance humanism, since he printed so many of the recovered texts of classical antiquity.

Does it pass Ford Madox Ford’s test that it is representative of my book? Maybe. When writing the book, I certainly followed the injunction of Festina Lente, since it was written in a blaze of white-heat—from my wife’s pregnancy of our daughter to Julia’s first birthday—which by academic book standards is pretty fast. In Singapore, we don’t have great glorious libraries with rare books and manuscripts, so I had to make do with what I had. It’s what the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss calls the bricolage method—being resourceful and improvisational with whatever is available. I would have still been buried under an avalanche of bibliography had this been researched in North America or Europe.

As it is, page 99 is just a summary of an entry from Erasmus’ Adages, a huge compendium of ancient sayings, followed by the humanist’s commentary. There’s nothing original here. I’m talking about the entry “Sileni Alcibiadis.” It is an image from Plato’s Symposium, when the young, strikingly handsome and charismatic Alcibiades drunkenly interrupts the elegant dinner party. He says Socrates is like Silenus figure, beautiful on the inside but ugly on the outside:
Look at him! Isn’t he just like a statue of Silenus? You know the kind of statue I mean; you’ll find them in any shop in town. It’s a Silenus sitting, his flute or his pipes in his hands, and it’s hollow. It’s split right down the middle, and inside it’s full of tiny statues of the gods. Now look at him again! Isn’t he also just like the satyr Marsyas? (215b1-4)
So perhaps page 99 is a Sileni figure for my own book?
Learn more about A Theory of the Aphorism at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue