Sunday, December 9, 2018

Suparna Roychoudhury's "Phantasmatic Shakespeare"

Suparna Roychoudhury is Associate Professor of English at Mount Holyoke College.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Phantasmatic Shakespeare: Imagination in the Age of Early Modern Science, and reported the following:
This page, like many others in the book, closely parses Shakespeare’s language, with a view to uncovering implicit connections with scientific knowledge. I unpack a speech by Romeo, who, confronted with the latest violent brawl between the two feuding families of Verona, feels there is something terribly wrong with the order of things:
Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.
Why, then, O brawling love, O loving hate,
O anything of nothing first created,
O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms,
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep that is not what it is—
This love feel I, that feel no love in this. (Romeo and Juliet, 1.1.170–77)
Carnage is a sign of “hate,” but hate can be the result of a too-strong “love” of something else. Nothing in creation, Romeo realizes, is what it seems. Everything carries its own opposite. Can we really tell lightness from heaviness, coldness from fire, “anything” from “nothing”? All the comparisons Romeo lists have to do with the elemental world; he is, in a way, pondering the nature of matter, like a cosmologist. Beyond the phenomena that present to our senses—coherent “well-seeming forms”—there may be an entirely different “misshapen chaos.”

This page comes from a chapter about matter theory—specifically, the Epicurean theory of atoms, revived with the rediscovery of Lucretius by Renaissance scholars. Atomism opened up a philosophical and theological can of worms, because it said that nothing can come from nothing—atoms can’t be created or destroyed, only rearranged—and therefore contradicted the metaphysics of Christian creation. Atomism also raises questions about cognition: if everything is made of matter, does that include our thoughts and dreams? What is the substance of an imagination, a mental phantasm? Romeo and Juliet points to the kinds of doubts that sixteenth-century thinkers were starting to have about the nature of the universe. Juliet and Romeo both seem strangely attuned to the material nether-reality, rushing eagerly to meet it, fantasizing of death and dissolution. The way that scientific notions disrupted conventional ideas about the mind thus deepens Shakespeare’s tragedy. What I do here with atomism I repeat with optics, zoology, anatomy, and other knowledge areas in the book’s other chapters.
Learn more about Phantasmatic Shakespeare at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 7, 2018

John Zubrzycki's "Empire of Enchantment"

John Zubrzycki is a Sydney-based author, journalist and researcher, specializing in South Asia, in particular India. He is the best-selling author of The Last Nizam: An Indian Prince in the Australian Outback (2006) and The Mysterious Mr Jacob: Diamond Merchant, Magician and Spy (2013). His new book is Empire of Enchantment: The Story of Indian Magic.

Zubrzycki applied the “Page 99 Test” to Empire of Enchantment and reported the following:
One of Harry Houdini's signature acts was being buried alive or being placed in an airtight casket that was submerged in a swimming pool. Such acts were all the rage in the 1920s and 30s and still find their way into the performances of magicians such as David Blaine. The origin of live burial can be traced back to the feats of yogis and 'fakirs' in India. Page 99 contains the final part of an account by the British resident in Ludhiana, Sir Claude Wade, who was present when a sadhu was revived after being buried alive for forty days. There are numerous descriptions of such practices in colonial records, often presented as proof of the deviousness of the 'native subjects' as in the case of a 'miracle monger' who pretended to be buried but in fact had access to a secret passage that allowed him to escape his entombment. My book tells the story of how Indian magic influenced not just the styles and performances of Western magicians but also popular culture. In his book Dracula, Bram Stoker compares the ability of the vampire to slip out of a locked tomb with the powers of India’s wonder-workers, who can be buried for months at a time and then "rise up and walk amongst them as before". This page is part of a chapter entitled "A Bed of Nails" which looks at how religious ascetics known for their austerities and sanctity, compete with the magicians whose powers are supposedly derived from the same sacred source. The overlap between magic that is both sacred and profane is a feature of India's magical traditions.
Visit John Zubrzycki's website.

Writers Read: John Zubrzycki.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Daniel T. Rodgers's "As a City on a Hill"

Daniel T. Rodgers is the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. His books include Age of Fracture, winner of the Bancroft Prize; Atlantic Crossings; Contested Truths; and The Work Ethic in Industrial America. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Rodgers applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, As a City on a Hill: The Story of America's Most Famous Lay Sermon, and reported the following:
As a City on a Hill: The Story of America’s Most Famous Lay Sermon is a story of the unexpected lives of the sermon that John Winthrop wrote out on the eve of the Puritan settlement of New England. Turn to page 99, and at first you seem far away from his famous phrase. You find yourself immersed a deeply contentious business meeting of the company that sponsored the Massachusetts project. The company was in debt. Some of its leading investors had already lost considerable sums of money; others were about to have the value of their shares radically reduced. Ministers were summoned to try to adjudicate the dispute; votes were retaken. A moral “labyrinth,” Winthrop wrote, “infolded” them all.

In fact, you are at a critical origin point of the “we shall be as a city on a hill” phrase that Winthrop was to write into his “Model of Christian Charity,” though centuries of rereading has scrubbed its anti-market sentiments from it. The ideas at its heart were injunctions to set aside love of self when the greater public good demanded it: pleas to transcend self-interest that Winthrop had first formulated at that heated business meeting. Anxiety that his fellow voyagers might not live up to these values saturated Winthrop’s “city on a hill” phrase: not predictions of a future nation’s greatness or illusion that their own modest and insular settlement would be a beacon to the world.

How that seventeenth-century document was lost, found, and radically remade between John Winthrop’s day and Ronald Reagan’s day and ours is the story of the book. Turn to p. 199 and Harvard’s leading historian is explaining why the New England Puritans were still deeply in disrepute in the 1930s. A half century later, however, they had become the nation’s “founders.” A once obscure and quickly forgotten sermon had been injected into the American past as if it had held, from the first, the nation’s deepest truth. As a City on a Hill is the story of how an invented history was fashioned and a phrase was appropriated for a Cold War and post-Cold War global order. It shows far and widely a Biblical phrase traveled from a dispute over market values to a speechwriters’ cliché. Along the way it tells a story of a radically shifting America as well.
Learn more about As a City on a Hill at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Age of Fracture.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 3, 2018

Lauren E. Oakes's "In Search of the Canary Tree"

Lauren E. Oakes is a conservation scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society and an adjunct professor in Earth System Science at Stanford University. She lives in Portola Valley, California and Bozeman, Montana.

Oakes applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, In Search of the Canary Tree: The Story of a Scientist, a Cypress, and a Changing World, and reported the following:
From page 99:
My little blue Subaru was there, dusty and covered in leaves, when I arrived, and it started slowly, still choking up months of a life laid fallow… The forests had demanded all my physical strength; now the data required mental stamina.
Page 99 marks my return to California after the first summer of making thousands of plant measurements in the remote forests on the outer coast of southeast Alaska. It’s the opening to a chapter called “Thrive,” the point in my years of research when I encounter a healthy yellow-cedar forest—still flourishing across generations despite the impacts of climate change elsewhere. I’ve been paddling between locations, hiking through thick brush and dense forest to study the dead and dying trees and their surrounding community members. By page 99, I’ve survived a season in the steady rain, heavy winds, and thick fog. It’s also the point when I realize that my question of what happens after the yellow-cedar trees die is not only a search for ecological resilience but one for human resilience as well.

“Long before humans really started messing with rates of change, Charles Darwin used the term ‘adaptation’ to describe how an organism evolves to become better suited to its habitat,” I later write. “But when it came to people adapting to climate change, I wasn’t thinking about adaptation as an evolutionary process over millennia anymore. I was wondering how people decide what we can do now, today, and tomorrow. What were the traits that could lead a person to thrive in a rapidly changing world?”

In my research, I formulated hypotheses and sought answers through systematic methods like my colleagues at Stanford were doing, but as a human being living in a world that faces all kinds of threats from climate change, I was also looking for a way out of my own sense of fear and helplessness. I didn’t talk much about that part—until I wrote this book. In Search of the Canary Tree uncovers my answers to the tough questions of “What can I do?” when it comes to climate change, and “How do you live with what you know?”
Visit Lauren E. Oakes's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Robin Wallace's "Hearing Beethoven"

Robin Wallace is professor of musicology at Baylor University. He is the author of Beethoven’s Critics and Take Note: An Introduction to Music through Active Listening.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hearing Beethoven: A Story of Musical Loss and Discovery Hearing Beethoven, and reported the following:
Oddly enough, page 99 contains the idea for the book in a nutshell. As I write about the adjustments that were made to my late wife Barbara’s cochlear implant to enable her to hear better, I explain that Beethoven made similar experiments with ear trumpets, using different ones in different environments.

Barbara became profoundly deaf in 2003, the result of radiation treatment 24 years earlier to treat a brain tumor. It was the greatest shock of either of our lives—greater by far than the cancer diagnosis had been for Barbara. She never believed she would die of cancer, but deafness was a fact, coarse and unavoidable. It was the kind of Very Bad Thing that our culture has trouble acknowledging. In Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved, Kate Bowler, a Duke University theologian who studies the American prosperity gospel, writes of the utter inability of the religion she both loves and hates to assimilate her own cancer diagnosis. I learned what she meant within weeks of the onset of Barbara’s deafness. “Maybe there’s a reason this happened,” somebody told me. “Maybe this will help you understand Beethoven better.”

I had been known as a Beethoven scholar since my first book, Beethoven’s Critics, was published in 1986. I didn’t want to be told that the catastrophe that had befallen my wife was God’s way of getting me to write another book. I found the idea offensive, as though a rosy panacea could simply cancel out the deafness, the cancer, and Barbara’s whole life. Her life and her suffering hadn’t happened in order to help me or anybody else understand Beethoven. But as Barbara began to use technology to recover as much hearing as possible, I saw surprising things take place in the wiring of her brain, and I began to suspect that Beethoven must have had similar experiences.

Barbara died in 2011. I grieved, deeply, and as part of the grieving I began to realize that I did indeed have a book to write. It couldn’t be rushed; it was fifteen years after the onset of Barbara’s deafness that Hearing Beethoven was published. In it, I speak of how Barbara and Beethoven both pursued a vocation, and both lived fuller and more challenging lives than they might have otherwise. It turns out that Beethoven taught me to love Barbara better. I can live with that.
Learn more about Hearing Beethoven at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Darius Ornston's "Good Governance Gone Bad"

Darius Ornston is Assistant Professor in the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, where he specializes in comparative political economy and innovation policy. He is the author of When Small States Make Big Leaps.

Ornston applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Good Governance Gone Bad: How Nordic Adaptability Leads to Excess, and reported the following:
By describing the startup scene in Finland, page 99 poses a puzzle: Why has Finland (and Sweden) emerged as a center for technology-based entrepreneurship, rivaling Silicon Valley in the (per capita adjusted) creation of billion dollar companies? In sharp contrast to Silicon Valley, postwar economic history was dominated by large, established companies. Even during the 1980s and 1990s, when Finland (and Sweden) pivoted from forestry and heavy industry to information technology, restructuring was driven by century-old conglomerates such as Nokia (and Ericsson) rather than new enterprises.

The startup boom not only illustrates the enduring ability of the Nordic countries to reinvent themselves, but it also speaks to the underlying mechanisms behind this dynamism. Like the main case studies, the rise of heavy industry in postwar Sweden, Finland’s movement into mobile communications, and the financialization of Iceland, restructuring was not imposed by the state, but rather reflected the rapid diffusion of new business models within tight-knit social circles. In Finland, motivated students, inspired by a handful of high-profile successes such as Rovio and Supercell, used bottom-up initiatives such as the Aalto Entrepreneurial Society and the Slush conference, to capture the imagination of policymakers and institutional investors and transform Finnish society.

Page 99 misleads in one sense, though. In highlighting the success of these young entrepreneurs and the dynamism of the Nordic region, it obscures how these dense networks get societies into trouble. For example, the Nordic startup scene is currently supported by low interest rates and abundant risk capital. While more sustainable than the short-lived dot com boom of the past, it is unclear how it would weather a shift in financial markets. This is a recurring theme in the region. As my book title suggests, adaptability is an asset, but the rapid mobilization of resources around new business models can also lead to policy overshooting, overinvestment, and deep economic crises. If this darker and more vulnerable side of the Nordic model interests you, I encourage you to read further.
Learn more about Good Governance Gone Bad at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Gary R. Bunt's "Hashtag Islam"

Gary R. Bunt is professor of Islamic studies at University of Wales, Trinity Saint David.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hashtag Islam: How Cyber-Islamic Environments Are Transforming Religious Authority, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Hashtag Islam is actually the first page of chapter 5, entitled "Smartphone Jihad". This introduces the section of the book about so-called electronic jihad (e-jihad), and discusses issues associated with concepts of jihad, and the way in which the term has been interpreted and misinterpreted over time. The chapter distinguishes between the militaristic ‘lesser jihad’, and contrasts this with the spiritual and religious striving associated with the ‘greater jihad’. The chapter goes on to discuss the ways in which e-jihad has been articulated by al-Qaeda within diverse contexts, utilising a variety of media forms. A subsequent chapter then looks at the way in which so-called 'Islamic State' drew on e-jihad principles as part of its strategy to mobilise, recruit, finance and attempt to justify its activities to diverse audiences in Muslim and other contexts. While the latter part of the book looks at jihad, this can be contrasted with the earlier section (and majority) of the book, which looks extensively at ideas of religious authority within diverse religious and cultural contexts, and the ways in which these have been expressed online through social media, apps, websites, magazines and other online frameworks.

Hashtag Islam is framed within what I define as 'cyber-Islamic environments', an umbrella term relating to diverse forms of Muslim online expression. Ideas of spirituality and religious identity have been articulated through a variety of digital channels, and have been incredibly influential in terms of shaping how Muslims relate to religious authorities and practices to fulfil spiritual, mystical and legalistic agendas. Muslims are increasingly turning to cyberspace for advice on a variety of important religious questions, and cyber-Islamic environments have challenged traditional modes of authority. This is led to the rise of digitally literate religious scholars and authorities whose influence and impact goes beyond traditional boundaries of imams, mullahs, and shaykhs. Page 99 of Hashtag Islam represents a central discussion on a significant theme associated with Islam and cyberspace, but it is not the dominant conversation for the majority of Muslims online, given the enormous amount of online material on other aspects of religious interpretation and identity.
Learn more about Hashtag Islam at the publishers website, Gary Bunt's Virtually Islamic research website and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Anne E. Parsons's "From Asylum to Prison"

Anne Parsons is an Assistant Professor and Director of Public History in the Department of History at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, From Asylum to Prison: Deinstitutionalization and the Rise of Mass Incarceration after 1945, and reported the following:
In 1976, Acel Moore and Wendell Rawls Jr., two Philadelphia Inquirer reporters, won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing the rampant corruption at the Farview State Hospital near Scranton, Pennsylvania. Page 99 of my book discusses how Moore and Rawls “reported that the institution covered up the violence [there] such as when the staff wrote off a murder as a heart attack.” To Moore, “the fact that the staff was predominantly white while so many people were black made the situation particularly dangerous.” Moore and Rawls’s series of articles led activists to call for the closure of Farview, which the state eventually did.

The campaign to shutter Farview occurred at the very moment that states around the country decreased the size of their mental hospitals, a process called deinstitutionalization. From Asylum to Prison focuses on Pennsylvania as its case study and traces how activism, changes in psychiatry, and new mental health laws coalesced to dramatically shrink mental hospitals in the United States. Not only was deinstitutionalization about mental health, however; it was also about “race, class, and caring about people whom society had discarded.”

From Asylum to Prison charts how at the very moment that mental hospitals like Farview came under fire, the rates of incarceration in the United States began to rise because of harsher sentencing laws, the criminalization of drugs, and the growth of community policing. The expanding criminal legal system absorbed many functions of the diminishing mental hospital system. In this context, Farview closed as a hospital and re-opened as a prison that served people with mental health conditions. Deinstitutionalization had not brought about the system of equitable care that activists and policymakers had envisioned. Instead, mental health became increasingly criminalized and states put their money into police and prisons rather than psychiatric care and social welfare.

Page 99 is particularly important in the book because it reminds us of the power of people to make change. Moore and Rawls pierced the veil of Farview in 1976 and brought to light the ways that institutions dehumanized and mistreated people. Today, as we face a crisis of mass imprisonment, they offer a model of how to shine a light on the ways that people with mental health conditions remain out of sight and out of mind. The book offers us this lesson and a number of others to help address mass incarceration today.
Learn more about From Asylum to Prison at The University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 23, 2018

Ted Powell's "King Edward VIII: An American Life"

Ted Powell spent the early part of his career as Fellow and Director of Studies in History at Downing College, Cambridge. Later he qualified as a solicitor, and spent many years as a partner of national law firm Mills & Reeve. He is now a full-time writer and lecturer, and lives in Cambridge.

Powell applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, King Edward VIII: An American Life, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford was not wrong. Page ninety-nine captures an important moment in Edward VIII’s American life. It finds him, as Prince of Wales, crossing the Atlantic aboard the Cunard liner SS Berengaria in the summer of 1924 for a vacation in the USA and Canada. Edward had already visited the USA twice before: once on an official trip in 1919 at the end of a tour of Canada, and again in 1920, when the battleship HMS Renown, taking the Prince to Australia, stopped off to refuel in the Panama Canal Zone, San Diego California and Hawaii. On a holiday trip it was inappropriate for the Prince to make use of a Royal Navy battleship, as he did on his official tours. Instead Edward and his entourage booked a scheduled passage. As soon as the Prince’s reservations were announced there was a frantic scramble for tickets on the same crossing. Cunard’s office in London was besieged by American tourists trying to secure tickets for the homeward trip aboard the Berengaria.

Here is a paragraph from page 99:
The Berengaria sailed on 23 August, “filled with women and marriageable daughters”, and with a sizeable contingent of American reporters. Cunard provided the Prince and his staff with a large suite of rooms, and it would have been easy for Edward to stay in seclusion for the whole of the six-day voyage to New York. But he was in holiday mood, and eager for diversion. He threw himself into life on board, taking walks on deck and appearing frequently in the public rooms. He took his meals in the first class dining room, and characteristically rejected the high table in favour of an inconspicuous side table. There were other friends on board, including Lord Louis Mountbatten and the politician Duff Cooper and his wife Lady Diana Cooper. They became his main companions on the voyage, walking, chatting, and listening to jazz records on his portable gramophone. Mountbatten organized a tug-o’-war team from amongst the Prince’s staff, but it was soundly beaten by a beefy squad of American college boys. Duff Cooper, who took part, recorded in his diary that the Americans pulled them over so easily that they thought the rope must have broken. Edward was no more successful in the individual sports, losing to another American in the pillow-fight and suffering disqualification in the potato race. His run of bad form continued when he was awarded the booby prize in the fancy dress contest for his Apache dancer costume.
The voyage on the Berengaria saw the Prince in a relaxed holiday mood. It was the prelude to a wildly enjoyable American vacation for Edward, during which his reputation as the party-loving playboy Prince was truly sealed. There was no shortage of entertainment – the elite of Long Island’s ‘Gold Coast’ fought for the honour of inviting him to their mansions. He regularly attended several parties in one night, prompting headlines in the US Press such as ‘Prince Gets In With The Milkman’. He even found time for a whirlwind holiday romance with a Hollywood star, the silent movie actress Pinna Nesbit Cruger.

The summer of 1924 was a crucial stage in the development of Edward’s deep cultural and personal affinity with all things American. In America he caught a tantalising taste of a life of freedom, opportunity and modernity which was denied to him by the accident of his birth. As he wrote in his memoirs, “America meant to me a country in which nothing is impossible”. By contrast, Britain was a place where many things were impossible for Edward VIII not least his wish to marry the woman he loved. His encounter with America was one of the formative experiences of his life, shaped his destiny and ultimately led to his Abdication.
Learn more about King Edward VIII at the Oxford University Press website and follow Ted Powell on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece's "The Optical Vacuum"

Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece is Assistant Professor of English and Film Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Optical Vacuum: Spectatorship and Modernized American Theater Architecture, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Optical Vacuum contains something uncharacteristic of my typical verbosity: besides three lines of text, a footnote, and a caption, over ¾ of the page is taken up by an illustration republished from the June 1952 issue of International Projectionist. The advertisement is for Ben Schlanger and William Hoffberg’s RCA Synchro-Screen, “the perfect stage setting for motion pictures,” which promised a softer projection image, enhanced beauty and realism, the illusion of a bigger picture, and the elimination of eye strain and fatigue. That’s a tall order for a piece of equipment – but those kinds of misplaced, even bizarre hopes were common in American film exhibition at midcentury. What they tell us expands past the boundaries of the screen into a story of how theatrical architecture, Hollywood and the industry, patterns of American transportation, and even the ways in which we understand citizenship bind together via one of our favorite pastimes: going to the movies.

While most of the Synchro-Screen’s professed appeals are fascinating avenues for considering changes in movie theater design, the spectrum of comfort and pain was an obsession for Schlanger and other industry professionals. The balance between the two – a spectator who is neither so uncomfortable that she blames the movies nor so at rest that she falls asleep – was a sweet spot for midcentury exhibitors, who sought to construct a perfect setting for a perfect stilled viewer. And it’s this combination of utopian thinking, hubris, and futility that I find so intriguing in twentieth-century movie theater designs.

Ben Schlanger, a New York-based architect, designer, and writer, worked on modernized movie theaters from the mid-1920s until his death in 1971. He was witness to and instigator of massive changes in the industry, from the ornamented movie palace to the streamlined “neutralized” theater, and urged a new relationship between spectator and screen that could be delivered by minimal and directional design. One of his (countless) fixations was seating and its relationship to viewing. For Schlanger, all spectators should have an unblocked image of the screen requiring minimal head movement, while chairs should maintain postural alignment and immobility. If a proper bodily balance could be struck, then viewers might achieve a great cinematic…. something.

We’ll never know what that something might be, of course, because Schlanger’s ideal spectator never really existed. Like many great modernists, Schlanger placed an impossible burden on technological design and discounted audiences’ heterogeneity. But his continual efforts to construct a transcendental subject via space and screen are a mesmerizing decades-long narrative of effort and failure that has silently shaped our contemporary relationship to film. Such a dream of relaxing the body to release the mind is, to me, an illustration of the historical limits of transcendence, and a story of the American romance with the movies that tells us about where we came from as well as who we are now.
Learn more about The Optical Vacuum at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 19, 2018

David Heidler & Jeanne Heidler's "The Rise of Andrew Jackson"

David S. Heidler is an author and retired professor. Jeanne T. Heidler is professor emerita of history at the United States Air Force Academy. They have collaborated on numerous books, including the critically acclaimed Henry Clay: The Essential American and the award-winning Washington’s Circle: The Creation of the President.

The Heidlers applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Rise of Andrew Jackson: Myth, Manipulation, and the Making of Modern Politics, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Rise of Andrew Jackson: Myth, Manipulation, and the Making of Modern Politics provides an overview of Jackson's 1818 invasion of Spanish Florida. While the event forms part of the background in the discussion of Jackson’s political viability, in a way, it defines an important facet of Jackson's quest for the presidency. A strange circumstance that recurs throughout the book is that of negatives — events that would have sunk any other candidate at any other time — becoming positives that burnish Jackson’s luster rather than tarnishing his reputation. His Florida foray was unconstitutional (he made war on a foreign power without congressional authorization) and could have been diplomatically disastrous, but the political establishment confronted in Jackson a man of enormous popularity and decided to let the matter pass. Meanwhile, those who did criticize Jackson came off as quibbling ankle biters and were a stark contrast in the public’s perception of Jackson as a man of action and an unabashed patriot. Widespread approval of Jackson’s invasion of Florida went far in convincing important political operatives that his national appeal was durable, and that realization urged on their redoubled and persistent efforts to put him in the White House, a goal finally achieved in 1828.
Learn more about the book and authors at David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Rise of Andrew Jackson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Zachary J. Lechner's "The South of the Mind"

Zachary J. Lechner is a historian of post-World War II southern and US history. He is an assistant professor of history at Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Virginia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The South of the Mind: American Imaginings of White Southernness, 1960-1980, and reported the following:
My book investigates Americans’ fantasies about the white South during a particularly tumultuous time in US history: the 1960s and the 1970s. Even during the civil rights era, as news media accounts and nonfiction travelogues like John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me and John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley pilloried white southerners as distinctively un-American due to their backwardness and racial bigotry, alternative visions of the white South proliferated in popular and political culture. Such views often presented the white South not as an albatross that the rest of the country must claw from its neck, but, rather, as the possessor of lost values that non-southerners desperately needed to embrace.

One of the most fascinating of these positive imaginings, which I dub the Masculine South, appeared in the presidential campaign rhetoric of George Wallace in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the motion picture Walking Tall (1973), and James Dickey’s novel Deliverance (1970) and its 1972 film adaptation. The Masculine South addressed palpable concerns about the state of American manhood in the late sixties and early seventies, as the counterculture, the New Left, and women’s liberationists undermined societal gender norms. The Masculine South, then, functioned as a backlash against these challenges, appealing instead to the ideal of manly exertion. The mantra of the Masculine South could have been “When in doubt, kick ass,” a line overheard by rock critic Lester Bangs in a Macon, Georgia, bar in 1974.

Page 99 of The South of the Mind begins by noting how a failed assassination attempt on George Wallace in 1972, one that left him paralyzed and wheelchair-bound, made his “go-to presentation of himself as a virile man, willing to use violence to rescue white society . . . no longer tenable.” But I also argue that Wallace’s message of redemptive violence—deployed, in part, as a way to shore up what he perceived as the nation’s flagging masculinity—seeped into the era’s pop culture, mostly notably, in Walking Tall. The production, made on the cheap, nevertheless thrilled audiences on the drive-in circuit and elsewhere, with its “based on a true story” rendering of the life of Buford T. Pusser, a sheriff in 1960s McNairy County, Tennessee. The movie glorifies the former wrestler as a vigilante with a badge, who “wields an oversized hickory stick that he uses to beat on bootleggers and other lowlifes.” The Pusser character is essentially Wallace’s dream of state-sponsored violence come to life, in the form of a hulking, bear of a southern white man. The lame cries of effete federal officials, who might prattle on about an offender’s civil rights or the social conditions that could have caused him to pursue a life of crime, were silenced by the sharp crack of Pusser’s mighty club. In short, Walking Tall’s “rendering of the politics of violence in the rural South and the coverage it received in the national press reinforced the popular tendency to identify the region as a uniquely antimodern space where the use of force against unruly elements fortified the vitality supposedly necessary to ensure social control” in a nation that seemed to be falling apart.
Learn more about The South of the Mind at the University of Georgia Press website.

Writers Read: Zachary J. Lechner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Timothy Beal's "The Book of Revelation"

Timothy Beal is the Florence Harkness Professor of Religion at Case Western Reserve University. His many books include The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book and Biblical Literacy: The Essential Bible Stories Everyone Needs to Know.

Beal applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Book of Revelation: A Biography, and reported the following:
Page 99 has me deep within the "forests of histories" envisioned by a medieval Italian monk known as Joachim of Fiore (c. 1135-1202). Much as Ford Madox Ford believed that the whole of a book is revealed in one of its pages, so Joachim believed that the whole of sacred history is revealed in one of the Bible's books, Revelation.

A saint to some and a heretic to others, Joachim was a "picture thinker" whose thick descriptions of his visions were often accompanied by lavish illustrations (see examples from his Book of Figures here).

For Joachim, history was not only linear, moving in one direction from beginning to end; it was also spatial, a landscape of interrelated patterns in which beginnings, middles, and ends interacted with and folded onto one another. Revelation, with its wild descriptions of angels, gods, and monsters was for him the interpretive key to understanding these interrelated forests of histories, a kaleidoscopic lens through which to see God's plan for creation. What Joachim believed he saw was that he was standing at the very edge of the world, moments before its ultimate consummation and rebirth. The end/beginning was near.

In my book I suggest that, for Joachim, Revelation was something like a medieval codec. The first modern-day codecs were hardware devices like CD recorders that encoded analog data into digital form for storage and decoded that data back into analog for users to access (the term itself is a portmanteau of the words “code” and “decode”). Later the term was adopted for computer programs like Quicktime and MPEG. In Joachim’s hands, Revelation works similarly, as a kind of machine for encoding and decoding information about the past, present, and future. Those with eyes to see could discover that information encoded and stored within it, and then watch as it decoded itself into the full meaning of the entirety of sacred history.

My book is about the many different lives of Revelation. Some are fascinating; others are incredibly disturbing. Joachim of Fiore gave Revelation a new lease on life, as the means to seeing and understanding, well, everything. His influence to this day on the visual culture of Revelation is undeniable (run an image search for "revelation" and "diagram" or "chart" for some examples). Yet none of Joachim's theological heirs live up to the stunningly rich intellectual and aesthetic elegance, symmetry, and complexity of his writings and illustrations.
Visit Timothy Beal's website.

Learn more about The Book of Revelation at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Gregg L. Frazer's "God Against the Revolution"

Gregg L. Frazer is professor of history and political studies and Dean of the School of Humanities at The Master’s University. He is the author of The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders: Reason, Revelation, and Revolution.

Frazer applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, God Against the Revolution: The Loyalist Clergy's Case against the American Revolution, and reported the following:
God Against the Revolution is a study of the arguments made by prominent clergymen who remained loyal to Great Britain during the American Revolution. Those arguments had a significant influence in some parts of America until the revolutionaries or “Patriots” mounted a very successful campaign to silence their opposition and suppress their message. Their case has largely been unknown since then because the victors write the history.

God Against the Revolution relies heavily on the actual words and phrasing of the pamphlets and sermons of the Loyalist ministers. Ideally, the reader can assume the role of a typical American in 1776-1783, set aside hindsight, and decide whether or not to support the American Revolution based on the evidence available at the time. The contest of ideas that was cut short by Patriot censorship resumes two hundred years later; and, as Mark Noll notes on the book jacket, the Loyalists receive “the hearing they were for the most part denied two centuries ago.”

There is a sense in which page 99 is noteworthy. One might wonder why this study centers on the work of clergymen. The five clergymen highlighted here are generally recognized as leading spokesmen for the Loyalist cause (along with a lawyer or two), but previous surveys have omitted the biblical arguments against revolution in general and this revolution in particular that many found compelling. Page 99 marks a sort of demarcation between the biblical and theoretical arguments of those ministers and their “facts on the ground” arguments. Specifically, page 99 is the first page of the chapter on legal arguments. From this point on, the emphasis is on British law, the relationship between the colonies and the mother country, the colonial charters, and the actions taken by the Patriots.

In eighteenth-century America, clergymen were leaders of their communities, well-educated and respected scholars, and public opinion pacesetters. They were equipped to address issues from a broad-ranging perspective and effective at doing so. Had they been allowed to compete in the battle of ideas, the American Revolution might well have failed to materialize.

The question for the reader is: do they persuade you?
Learn more about God Against the Revolution at the University Press of Kansas website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 12, 2018

Elliott J. Gorn's "Let the People See"

Elliott J. Gorn is Joseph A. Gagliano Chair in American Urban History at Loyola University Chicago. He is author of several books, including Dillinger's Wild Ride: The Year that Made America's Public Enemy Number One.

Gorn applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Let the People See: The Story of Emmett Till, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Let the People See: The Story of Emmett Till, defense attorney Sidney Carlton questions Moses Wright, trying to shake his testimony.

Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till came down to the Mississippi Delta from Chicago to spend time with his extended family in August, 1955. At a crossroads store in the town of Money, he whistled at the young woman behind the counter. A few days later, her husband and his brother—Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam—kidnapped Till, beat him until his skull cracked and his eye popped out of its socket, shot him in the head, weighted his body down, and threw it in the Tallahatchie River.

Less than a month later, to everyone’s surprise, including their own, the brothers were tried for murder. Called to the witness stand and asked to identify the men who forced their way into his home and kidnapped Emmett Till at gunpoint, Moses Wright, a sharecropper and preacher, respected throughout his community, rose, pointed to each of his nephew’s abductors, and said twice in a loud clear voice, “there he is.” The all white jury sat dead silent.

No one could remember when if ever in Mississippi, white men stood trial for murdering an African American. And certainly a black man rising from the witness stand and identifying white criminals was unheard of. Renowned New York City journalist Murray Kempton covered the Mississippi trial, and he concluded that Moses Wright, unbowed, had just endured, “the hardest half hour in the hardest life possible for a human being in these United States.”

Wright’s testimony did not matter. The all-white, all-male jury took an hour to find the brothers innocent (for a few thousand dollars, they confessed to Look magazine four months later). But news of the verdict spread, made headlines across America and around the world. The “Emmett Till generation” of black activists carried his memory into the coming Civil Rights struggles. And in our own day, the story of Emmett Till is better known than at any time since 1955, an exemplum of white supremacist brutality, of the failures of the criminal justice system, but also of the hope that racism is exposed, named, called-out and resisted.
Learn more about Let the People See at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Fernando Santos-Granero's "Slavery and Utopia"

Fernando Santos-Granero is a senior staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City, Panama, and a specialist on the Yanesha of Peruvian Amazonia. His books include Vital Enemies: Slavery, Predation, and the Amerindian Political Economy of Life.

Santos-Granero applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Slavery and Utopia: The Wars and Dreams of an Amazonian World Transformer, and reported the following:
I was not sure whether Ford Madox Ford’s Page 99 Test would apply to a scholarly historical work like Slavery & Utopia. But when, for fun’s sake, I tried it, I found that page 99 indeed contained what I consider the crux of the story of José Carlos Amaringo Chico, aka Tasorentsi, the indigenous shaman-chief, whose followers hailed as a divine messenger and world transformer after the collapse of the Amazonian rubber economy in the 1910s. In that page, I discuss one of the central elements of Tasorentsi’s first reported speech to his Ashaninka followers. The message was short and uncompromising: “expel white people from their properties, burn their bones, and seize their children as servants”. For years, throughout the rubber boom era, white and mestizo extractors had been capturing indigenous children and young women to raise as concubines and future “civilized” servants. Slavers violently extricated hundreds of children from their families every year and sent them far away to rubber camps and riverine towns to serve their new masters. This human traffic was conducted mostly by the wealthiest rubber extractors, but also by their local partners, indigenous warriors who raided their own people for their own benefit. It also involved river merchants, ship owners, and even corrupt local authorities. Constant slave raids were a permanent drain on indigenous populations, for raiders not only abducted women and children but also killed all adult men who opposed them. Armed with rifles against bows and arrows, slavers usually won. In page 99, I argue that this system subsisted through much of the rubber boom era because the loss of children and women was somewhat compensated by the wealth in industrial goods obtained by working for rubber extractors. When the rubber economy collapsed, in 1910, and rubber extractors could no longer pay their peons, the system was revealed in all its crudeness. Chief Tasorentsi’s call to seize the white people’s children as servants must be seen as an attempt to recover the vitality stolen by rubber extractors and slavers in previous years. This is Slavery and Utopia’s leitmotif, to wit, Tasorentsi’s permanent struggle through different means –warfare, shamanic rituals and Christian preaching– to redress the unbalanced flowed of vitality between white and native Amazonian people.
Learn more about Slavery and Utopia at the University of Texas Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Slavery and Utopia.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Michael Braddick's "The Common Freedom of the People"

Michael Braddick is Professor of History at the University of Sheffield, and has held academic positions and visiting Fellowships in the USA, France, and Germany. He has published widely on the social, political, and economic history of British and American society in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. His books include The Oxford Handbook of the English Revolution and God's Fury, England's Fire.

Braddick applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Common Freedom of the People: John Lilburne and the English Revolution, and reported the following:
“It was easy to believe this was scant reward for his sufferings”.

On page 99 we find Lilburne in prison in Newgate, while a London congregation prays for him, a petition is mobilised on his behalf on the streets and in the taverns, and fellow travellers write pamphlets in support of his cause. It is his fifth imprisonment of the year, all of them imposed for what he has published rather than anything he has actually done. It is the parliamentary regime which does this, although Lilburne is supposedly on their side in the civil war being fought against the King. In fact, until the previous year, he had been active in the parliamentary army, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He is released from Newgate in October, after three months, without any charge having been laid against him.

Five years earlier parliament had granted him compensation and reparations for his sufferings under Charles I—sufferings that epitomised the misgovernment that eventually led parliament to war against the King. Lilburne had gone to war without hesitation and fought bravely. Now though he finds he still has no reparations (and is in fact owed further arrears of pay and damages for his military service), and that the parliamentary regime is seemingly as ready to lock him up as Charles I had been. In fact, it uses some of the same legal officers to do it.

This is his Animal Farm moment—the realisation that the parliamentary pigs are just as capable of tyranny as the royalist humans had been. He now sees that the war is not really between King and Parliament, but between the people and tyranny. A radical new politics is about to be born, supported by citizen mobilisation in the churches, taverns, streets and presses of revolutionary London. Arguments will be made that resonate far beyond the politics of England in the 1640s.
Learn more about The Common Freedom of the People at the Oxford University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: The Common Freedom of the People.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Hannah Pollin-Galay's "Ecologies of Witnessing"

Hannah Pollin-Galay is senior lecturer in the Department of Literature at Tel Aviv University, where she teaches on Yiddish, oral narrative, and memory.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Ecologies of Witnessing: Language, Place, and Holocaust Testimony, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The witness goes on to tell that his grandfather, a representative of an even older generation, also supports his leap: “And my grandfather got involved and said that when I’m in Israel I should remember that [his] son is there, your uncle.” Next and last, Kalman’s father helps him execute the escape.
Then my father, quietly, in his calm manner, said, “Yes. Come, I’ll lift you up.” I tried to pack myself in like my cousin with my head first. This I remember very well. He said, “No, Kalmanke, not with your head, with your legs.” Today, I understand that…He lifted up my legs and at the moment I looked around. I wanted to get support. Nobody cried. A kiss or a hug or something? I don’t know what I was expecting.
Kalman’s father gives him the proper physical instructions that allow him to survive the jump, showing the kind of bodily aptitude so valued in the Zionist ethos. He gives Kalman permission to both literally and figuratively leave the family and move on. The family resists embracing Kalman at this moment, redefining filial love as calm, tactical support.

Kalman’s daring leap from the window closely fits one version of Zionist historical progress: a transfer of agency from older Eastern European Jewish society, which is sadly going to the extermination camp, to the young and the brave who are going to remake Jewish society in Eretz Yisrael. Most important to our discussion here is the manner in which Kalman uses family relations to dramatize the march of history and conversely, employs broader ideological frameworks to remember his intimate family. It is precisely the kind of parental love that Kalman receives that allows him to make his escape successful. Likewise, his family’s supportive behavior demonstrates the integrity in his survival and aliyah to Israel, proof that this shift, no matter how drastic, is nonetheless in confluence with the Jewish past.

This moment marks a clear transition in Kalman’s testimony. After this scene, he ceases to remember himself as a member of the previous polity, the “we” that includes the ghetto, the family, and his school friends, and begins to speak of an independent struggle for survival.
Page 99 of Ecologies of Witnessing presses on several tough questions: What is the connection between the experience of Holocaust victimhood and Zionism? What is the connection between politics and personal emotions?

Here, Israeli Hebrew-speaking Holocaust survivor Kalman Perk recollects the last moment he ever spent with his family. The Perks are in a cattle car, among the last Jews to be expelled from their beloved hometown of Kovna, Lithuania. Though they are unaware at the time, they are on their way to Dachau. Perk is the only one in the car who manages to jump out of a high, narrow window. As Perk recalls it, jumping out the window not only meant saying goodbye to his dearest ones, but starting Jewish history all over again.

Perk depicts his jump in way that is both monumental and intimate: The political and the familial are inseparable for him. As a last show of love, his family instructs him in the proper jumping technique and tells him whom to greet when he arrives in Palestine. Clearly, this story tightly correlates with a Zionist approach to history. But, this framework is completely spontaneous and necessary for Perk; He cannot remember without it.

Other parts of the book show how survivors from different places recall parallel moments of family separation with different lessons in mind. Yiddish speakers who stayed in Lithuania, for instance, speak more about maintaining a low profile in order to survive. Rather than narrating heroic leaps, solo journeys into the unknown, they focus on the distant relatives or neighbors who adopt them. Their stories are about reintegration, rather than reinvention.

We are accustomed to talking about memory “constructs,” as if they are purposeful distortions. This book does not. No witness is whitewashing or distorting her past; She is making honest use of the normative and conceptual resources in her ecology.

Interestingly, some lecture audiences have understood this passage about Kalman Perk to be a harsh critique of Zionist historical imagination, while others see it as a vindication of the same. Many audience members have trouble locating this page on their ideological spectrum. That is precisely the uncomfortable space that I want people to enter when they read this page, and when they read this book. The stories should pull readers so deeply into the logic of each ecology of memory, that they cannot help but suspend their typical modes of judgement.
Learn more about Ecologies of Witnessing at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Darryl Jones's "Sleeping with the Lights On"

Darryl Jones is Professor of English and Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Trinity College Dublin, where he teaches nineteenth-century literature and popular fiction. His books include Horror: A Thematic History in Fiction and Film, the Oxford World's Classics editions of M. R. James's Collected Ghost Stories, and Horror Stories: Classic Tales from Hoffmann to Hodgson.

Jones applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Sleeping with the Lights On: The Unsettling Story of Horror, and reported the following:
What’s happening on page 99? This page is towards the end of a chapter entitled ‘Horror and the Body’, and it’s part of a discussion of the very troubling post-millennial subgenre known as ‘torture porn’, exemplified by films such as Martyrs, The Human Centipede, Hostel, or Funny Games. Throughout the book, I’m concerned with defending horror against the generally ill-informed reactions of those who do not understand it, or who fear it, who think it is a dangerous genre because they believe that a tendency to watch violent acts leads inexorably to a tendency to commit violent acts. ‘The history of horror is also the history of outraged responses to horror’, I suggest. Torture porn, I think, comes closest to realizing the fears of censors and moral majoritarians that horror is simply empty sadism.

More specifically, page 99 begins by contextualizing torture porn within the post-9/11 ‘War on Terror’, in a post-millennial culture of the normalization of torture, taking in, for example, photographs of abused prisoners from Abu Ghraib, the continuing extrajudicial use of Guantanamo Bay, media discussions about the ethics and utility of waterboarding, and the popularity of counter-terrorist entertainment thrillers such as 24. I initially thought 24 was a superbly-made series, with a brilliant real-time conceit, and a revelatory central performance by Kiefer Sutherland. But at some point I just stopped watching, as Jack Bauer increasingly relied on torture as a first resort, to be used immediately on whoever got in his way, including members of his own family. This struck me as deranged.

The page closes with a meditation on pain and the human body. Studies by, for example, Bob Brecher or Shane O’Mara have demonstrated that arguments for torture are philosophically empty, and that torture has no efficacy as a means of information gathering. But that’s not the point. The point is to demonstrate that the torturer has no moral limits, and thus to spread fear. The page closes with these words, which sum things up for me:
Our pain is inexpressible. Having no straightforward linguistic object, it lies beyond the limits of language, articulable only through imprecise similes (it is like burning, it is like torture, it is like death, it is worse than death), or else non-verbally (we scream, we howl, we cry). In our pain, we are uniquely alone and vulnerable. To exploit this vulnerability, knowingly to inflict extreme pain on others, is to place oneself beyond the boundaries of humanity.
Learn more about Sleeping with the Lights On at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 2, 2018

Eiko Maruko Siniawer's "Waste: Consuming Postwar Japan"

Eiko Maruko Siniawer, Professor of History at Williams College, specializes in the history of modern Japan. Her first book (Ruffians, Yakuza, Nationalists) examines issues of political violence and democracy through a focus on violence specialists, or the professionally violent. The book explores the ways in which ruffianism became embedded and institutionalized in the practice of modern Japanese politics and argues that for much of Japan’s modern history, political violence was so systemic and enduring that Japan can be considered a violent democracy.

Her new book, Waste: Consuming Postwar Japan, is about conceptions of waste and wastefulness in Japan from the 1940s through the present. By considering shifts in what was considered to be waste and wasteful (be it resources, time, or material objects), her work explores people’s struggles to find value, meaning, and happiness in a post-industrialist, capitalist, consumerist, and affluent Japan.

Siniawer applied the “Page 99 Test” to Waste and reported the following:
On page 99 of Waste, we are thrust into the middle of a war. The combatants were the residents of two different wards in Tokyo that were at odds about who should be responsible for making garbage go away, for shouldering the burdens of waste disposal. At this point in the early 1970s, Kōtō ward decided that it no longer wanted to serve as the literal dumping ground for the rubbish produced by the more wealthy Suginami: “the confrontation between citizens of Kōtō and Suginami wards ... heightened the visibility of the garbage problem even as it was about who should be obliged to render garbage invisible. In late May 1973, when Kōtō again refused to accept garbage from a Suginami that had not yet agreed to house its own incinerator, people opened their newspapers and turned on their televisions to witness members of the Kōtō ward assembly in helmets, physically barring entrance to Landfill Number Fifteen. And for at least the few days when collection was suspended, denizens of Suginami ward encountered piles of garbage spreading across their sidewalks.” This conflict between Kōtō and Suginami wards was part of a larger Garbage War—a battle against “the sheer volume and unceasing accumulation of garbage” launched by Tokyo Governor Minobe Ryōkichi in 1971.

Captured on this page is a pivotal moment in the history of thinking about waste in postwar Japan. Through the Garbage War, rubbish came to be understood as a problem of postwar modernity, as a consequence not of civilizational inadequacy but of rapid economic growth and the recent achievement of relatively affluent, mass-consuming lifestyles. Sanitation experts began to view garbage as a product of civilizational excess and their industry as one of environmental protection. And for the residents of Tokyo, waste was rendered visible.

Yet there is much about the book that is not revealed by page 99. Waste is not centrally concerned with garbage so much as it is the idea of waste—about what was considered to be waste and to be wasteful in Japan from the mid-1940s to the present day. It considers waste in terms of stuff, money, possessions, resources, and time. Page 99 does hint at the ways in which ideas of waste shifted and how they were bound up with understandings of wealth, consumption, and environmentalism. But to read the book as a whole is to see more keenly the deep embeddedness of waste in the decisions, values, aspirations, and disappointments of everyday life in postwar Japan.
Learn more about Waste: Consuming Postwar Japan at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Christopher Herbert's "Gold Rush Manliness"

Christopher Herbert is associate professor of history at Columbia Basin College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Gold Rush Manliness: Race and Gender on the Pacific Slope, and reported the following:
Gold Rush Manliness is an examination of the creation of white manhood in two related gold rushes: California from 1848 to 1858 and British Columbia from 1858 to 1871. Page 99 falls near the start of the third chapter which deals with the development of the colonial state in British Columbia and how that process interacted with the redefinition of what it meant to be white and manly.

Specifically, page 99 falls in the middle of a discussion of a fascinating moment in British Columbia gold rush history when African American immigrants, fleeing the persecution of antebellum America, arrived in Victoria, the capital of the colony. They arrived at an opportune moment. Although the colony did not have a naturalization process, the colonial elite decide to grant African Americans the right to vote because, they claimed, the Dred Scott decision had stripped African Americans of their American citizenship. Not uncoincidentally, the newly-enfranchised black settlers cast their ballots in a solid block for the government, enabling the colony’s elites to hold on to power. This event set off a firestorm within the colony over the meaning of power and identity. Ultimately, the relative privileging of black immigrants over white Americans would prove to be short-lived as British perceptions regarding race and nationality evolved over the course of the rush.

In both California and British Columbia, the social and cultural disorder caused by the gold rushes encouraged gold rushers of all backgrounds to experiment with what it meant to be white and manly within the context of emerging systems of colonial domination and power. Gold Rush Manliness explores these themes through an examination of both locations, suggesting that events like the gold rushes need to be taken seriously as places where race and gender were made and remade in sometimes startling ways.
Learn more about Gold Rush Manliness at the University of Washington Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 29, 2018

Ellen Winner's "How Art Works: A Psychological Exploration"

Ellen Winner is Professor of Psychology at Boston College and Senior Research Associate at Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education. She directs the Arts and Mind Lab, which focuses on cognition in the arts in typical and gifted children as well as adults. She received the Rudolf Arnheim Award for Outstanding Research by a Senior Scholar in Psychology and the Arts from Division 10 in 2000.

Winner applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, How Art Works: A Psychological Exploration, and reported the following:
On page 99 of How Art Works: A Psychological Exploration, I pose a paradox. Why do we enjoy experiencing pain in art, but seek to avoid it at all costs in “real life.” Why are we drawn to paintings like Picasso’s Guernica, which depicts the horrors of war? Why do we read tragic novels and listen to sad music? And why do we go to movies that make us cry, or movies that shock and terrify us? Page 99 comes after I have explained the studies that psychologists have carried out to answer this question.

Here is part of page 99:
Key to why we seek negative emotions in art, yet avoid them in life, is that art provides a safe space to experience these emotions and to turn inward to savor them— safe because we know it is art, not reality. This knowledge allows us to observe the art and our negative reactions with a kind of disinterestedness, to use the words of Kant.

Art with negative content invites us to introspect about our negative emotions, and to imagine how these responses are shared by others responding to the same work of art. While it’s appropriate to focus on how moved and empathetic and horrified we feel looking at a tragedy on stage, responding this way when witnessing an actual tragedy would be inappropriate— indeed, narcissistic.

The explanation for our attraction to negative themes in art applies across art forms. Knowing that it’s art and not reality makes all the difference.
The evidence shows that when we enter a fictional, make-believe world about pain and suffering and tragedy (and so much art is about pain and suffering and tragedy), we experience both negative and positive emotions. Oddly, the more negative the content, the more it is that positive emotions are evoked in combination with the negative ones. And the positive emotions are due to the feeling of being moved -- and feeling moved is pleasurable. We feel moved by tragedy in art. We do not feel moved when tragedy strikes us personally, and hence we feel nothing positive. Psychologist Paul Rozin has referred to this effects as “benign masochism” in a safe context.

This is an example of one of the many puzzles about the arts that I discuss in the book. Most of the puzzles discussed are ones that philosophers have debated (and have reached no agreement): e.g., Does reading fiction make us more empathic once we close the covers of the book? What’s wrong with a perfect forgery? If I say that Agatha Christie is a greater writer than Shakespeare, could you prove me wrong? To answer these questions, I turn to the growing field of empirical aesthetics – a field in which psychologists are applying the tools of social science (observation and experimentation) to find out how ordinary people untrained in art respond to these age-old questions. And some of the answers about how art works on us may surprise you!
Learn more about How Art Works at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Peter Hart-Brinson's "The Gay Marriage Generation"

Peter Hart-Brinson is Associate Professor of Sociology and Communication/Journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Gay Marriage Generation: How the LGBTQ Movement Transformed American Culture, and reported the following:
I have to say, page 99 is far from my favorite page in the book, but it does get at the book’s essence. In The Gay Marriage Generation, I explain the historic and unprecedented rise of gay marriage in the United States. I show how young cohorts who reached adulthood after 1992 came of age imagining sexuality as an identity—who you are—rather than a behavior—what you do. And I provide historical, quantitative, and qualitative evidence to show how that generational change caused public support for gay marriage to increase so quickly.

Page 99 only alludes to that, via a discussion of the culture wars. Gay marriage was one of the two main battles in America’s culture wars of the 1990s and 2000s. And unlike abortion, in which the two sides are fairly entrenched and reproduce themselves over time, gay marriage ended in a decisive victory for the supporters. The reason is because of generational change: as older Americans who thought of homosexuality as a behavior died off, they were replaced in the population by younger Americans who imagined homosexuality as an identity.

It took two decades for this combination of births and deaths—what social scientists call cohort replacement—to produce majority support among the American electorate. But once it happened, gay marriage supporters began winning victory after victory. Thus, I wrote, “because cohort replacement is continually strengthening one side and weakening the other, we begin to see why the culture war—as loud and intractable as the fighting seems—ended so quietly and so suddenly.”

For a time in American politics, the culture wars seemed like they would never end. But there’s nothing inevitable about them. They arose under particular historical conditions; they were sustained by how the political and religious groups on each side argued against one another; and the actions of the LGBTQ movement that caused the gay marriage generation to emerge brought one front in the war to a close.

With the resolution of the gay marriage debate, the battleground has shifted slightly: to issues of transgender rights, among other things. But the political power of the religious orthodox in the U.S. has evaporated with the rise of Trump and his brand of xenophobic nationalism. It’s hard to fathom how the Religious Right’s claim to the moral high ground will survive the fact that they have turned a blind eye to President Trump’s moral failings—from putting babies in cages to extramarital affairs with porn stars. But it’s equally hard to fathom a more peaceful political future.
Learn more about The Gay Marriage Generation at the NYU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Holly Case's "The Age of Questions"

Holly Case is an associate professor of History at Brown University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Age of Questions: Or, A First Attempt at an Aggregate History of the Eastern, Social, Woman, American, Jewish, Polish, Bullion, Tuberculosis, and Many Other Questions over the Nineteenth Century, and Beyond, and reported the following:
The “Page 99 Test” apparently has some followers over at Lapham’s Quarterly, because an excerpt from my book published there includes page 99. The page lays out a paradox. In the words of Emil Hammacher, a young German philosopher writing in 1914, there are “questions and tasks whose solution is felt as a need and a necessity”; he listed the social, woman, and worker questions among them. “[N]ever before,” he continued, “have there been so many riddles storming the people as there are today.” But even as questions proliferated and seemed to demand immediate redress, there was a mounting loss of faith in the Lösung (solution). “[I]t’s not so much that now a question appears with unprecedented intensity,” Hammacher wrote, “but rather that absolutely all handed-down solutions of world- and life-problems have become doubtful.”

Loss of faith in solutions did not turn Hammacher into a pessimist, however. In place of the Lösung, he fantasized about Auflösung (dissolution, or giving over). “[T]he self-same conditions that pave the way to the end also lead to the highest maturation of mystical experience; it is in the state of Auflösung that individuals can achieve a higher perfection than ever.” Hammacher saw the potential for Auflösung in the Great War, in which he fought and died. “Is the war that [a state] fights for its own self-assertion or aggrandizement an amoral or at least fatuous residue of barbarism? […] Is eternal peace the highest ideal?” Hammacher echoed Germany’s emphatic “no” to both questions.

On page 99 we learn that it was not just Germans like Hammacher, but also many non-German Europeans had ceased believing in solutions to the questions of their time. The chapter explains how this general loss of faith in definitive solutions ended in the “Final Solution”—the Holocaust. Genocide, in other words, was the endgame of the “age of questions.”

So yes, page 99 does seem to capture the “quality of the whole.” But The Age of Questions is a wily book. Each chapter makes a different argument regarding the essence of the age, and each is also periodically engaged in an argument (dispute) with the others. The final chapter integrates all these arguments into a single, higher-order one. So the argument that appears on page 99 is a bit like Hammacher; destined to struggle and go under, but with an eye to achieving Auflösung—dissolution, or giving over to something higher—in the final chapter.
Learn more about The Age of Questions at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

George R. Mastroianni's "Of Mind and Murder"

George R. Mastroianni was trained as an experimental psychologist and conducted empirical research in a variety of areas related to human performance as an Army scientist. He taught a variety of subjects in psychology at the US Air Force Academy in twenty years of classroom teaching, and now teaches leadership in the Psychology of Leadership Program at Pennsylvania State University.

Mastroianni applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Of Mind and Murder: Toward a More Comprehensive Psychology of the Holocaust, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Of Mind and Murder occurs at the end of a chapter on the methods psychologists and others have employed in studying the Holocaust. The discussion on this page focuses on the difficulties that may be encountered when scholars in disciplines such as psychology and history cross disciplinary boundaries, as when psychologists take sides in historical disputes or historians favor particular psychological explanations for human behavior in their work over others. There often are subtleties and complexities within disciplinary discourse opaque to the “outsider” that, when brought to light, can enrich and balance discussions that take place at the boundaries or intersections of disciplines.

Surely someone has previously noted the conceptual relationship between the “Page 99 Test” and holography: if you cut a hologram into many pieces and choose one (say, the 99th ) the image reconstructed will be the same one seen had the hologram been left intact, albeit with less resolution and detail. Books are not holograms, though, and had we chosen pages 299 or 399, each of which contain only lists of references, the exercise would have been less informative. Of Mind and Murder discusses many specific topics that are not found on page 99: page 199, for example, addresses the roots of prejudice and racism in basic human cognitive adaptations, the ways we perceive and think about the world, that lead us to categorize and classify the objects and people we find in it.

But the “Page 99 Test” applied to this book does capture one vital and global characteristic of the work: Of Mind and Murder self-consciously attempts to be a psychological book that includes, respects, and sometimes confronts the perspectives of those in other disciplines, especially history, in understanding the Holocaust. Along the way, there is also a fair amount of confrontation with psychological perspectives, both old and new.
Learn more about Of Mind and Murder at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Michelle Pannor Silver's "Retirement and Its Discontents"

Michelle Pannor Silver is an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto in the Department of Sociology and the Interdisciplinary Centre for Health and Society.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Retirement and Its Discontents: Why We Won't Stop Working, Even if We Can, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Retirement and Its Discontents focuses on Allison, a retired Olympic gymnast, who describes how alone she felt in the wake of her athletic career. At 25 years old, she was recovering from an addiction to pain killers and trying to figure out how to find work that would help her make ends meet and fill some of the void created by no longer being able to perform at an elite level. Though Allison is quite distinct from the other people interviewed in the book, this page sets the stage for the thinking about the deeply challenges faced by accomplished retirees as it illustrates the importance of personal identity in forging sustainable social norms around retirement.

Retirement and Its Discontents is about how we confront the mismatch between idealized and actual retirement. Michelle Silver’s book follows doctors, CEOs, elite athletes, professors, and homemakers during their transition to retirement as they struggle to recalibrate their sense of purpose and self-worth. Drawing on in-depth interviews that capture a range of perceptions and common concerns about what it means to be retired, Silver emphasizes the significance of creating new retirement strategies that support social connectedness and personal fulfillment while countering ageist stereotypes about productivity and employment.
Visit Michelle Pannor Silver's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 19, 2018

Elizabeth Segal's "Social Empathy"

Elizabeth Segal is a professor in the School of Social Work at Arizona State University. She is the author of Social Welfare Policy and Social Programs: A Values Perspective, fourth edition (2016) and coauthor of Assessing Empathy (2017).

Segal applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Social Empathy: The Art of Understanding Others, and reported the following:
I opened Social Empathy to page 99 and reread the story about my first year as a college professor when I had a class that involved students going out into the community to learn about a social concern. The students were invited to pick their own topic. When they suggested that they wanted to study homelessness in the community, I was a bit snooty. I had just moved to this small college town from Chicago, and I was convinced that I knew real homelessness. What could these students find in a small college town that looked at all like homelessness? That was my hubris, my arrogance, I knew it all.

Luckily, my newness on the job infused a competing healthy dose of insecurity, and so I let the students go on and convince me that they had a solid topic. That was my humility, that just maybe I was wrong and they were right. The story on p. 99 tells the reader how wrong I was, and in that process of letting my humility overtake my hubris, I experienced empathy. I listened. I took their point of view. I walked in the shoes of my students. I still had a lot to learn about teaching. But infusing empathy into my teaching helped me to see that my students deserved to be treated with the same academic respect that I wanted. From that class I learned the connection between humility and empathy. What a gift my students gave me.

When we are so sure of ourselves that we disregard the opinion of others or the feelings of others, so full of hubris, we are not being empathetic. However, when we respect the experiences of others, no matter how different they are from us, we show humility, we show that we don’t know everything and that their opinions and feelings matter. And that shows empathy.
Learn more about Social Empathy at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue