Thursday, December 31, 2020

Paul Bowman's "The Invention of Martial Arts"

Paul Bowman is Professor of Cultural Studies at Cardiff University. He is the author of many works of film, media and cultural studies, on popular culture, postcolonialism, cultural theory, and martial arts. He is founder and director of the Martial Arts Studies Research Network.

Bowman applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Invention of Martial Arts: Popular Culture Between Asia and America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Invention of Martial Arts: Popular Culture Between Asia and America is the beginning of a new chapter – Chapter 5, ‘From Linear History to Discursive Constellation’. The page reads:
Any attempt to construct a linear history of martial arts in media and poular culture as it exploded after the 1970s cannot but fail. The sheer proliferation of martial arts images, themes, texts and practices precludes easy linear narrativization. Accordingly, this chapter argues for the need to move from thinking in terms of linear history to establishing the contours of a discursive constellation in our approach to martial arts in media and popular culture. This chapter seeks to establish the main discursive contours that appeared and developed through the 1980s—a decade in which ninjas and Shaolin monks explode onto the cultural landscape. This is followed by attention to the 1990s, in which three major events took place in the same year: the first Ultimate Fighting Competition (UFC), the Wu-Tang Clan’s release of their enormously popular album, ‘Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’, and the appearance on children’s television screens around the world of ‘The Power Rangers’—all of which took place in 1993. The chapter then attempts to track the major discursive tendencies and contours of martial arts aesthetics through the first decade of the 21st century, up to the mainstreaming of combat sports in recent years.

However, to be clear, the history of martial arts in media culture can only ever be partly written. This is because, from the staccato, sporadic and dispersed starting points that we have already encountered, so many strands dovetail and disperse, and sources multiply: the sheer proliferation of instances and examples of martial arts appearing in media texts of all kinds precludes the writing of a complete, or completely coherent, linear narrative. Nonetheless, this claim still remains to be shown. The proliferation of appearances (of bits and pieces) of martial arts images, imagery and narratives in popular cultural texts must still be sampled, even if opening up this particular can of worms only releases a cacophony. This chapter does this in order to illustrate the ways in which several faces of martial arts became commonplace and ubiquitous across media of all orders from the 1980s onwards. In scratching the surface of this, however, the explosion of texts and images that faces us serves to underpin the claim that establishing a linear narrative history of martial arts in…
I believe this gives readers a surprisingly good flavour of the book, as this chapter does summarise much of the content and argument of what has preceded and what will follow. From it, the reader can see that the book involves detailed discussion of many media texts – some fondly remembered, others all but forgotten – which constructed and traded in what we now know and love as the look and feel of ‘martial arts’. The book also undertakes a sustained theoretical reflection on the significance of these aesthetics. So, readers will encounter the kind of theoretical language suggested by page 99, as well as many rich descriptions and discussions of specific media texts. Text selected range from the early 1900s through to 2018, from Victorian Bartitsu to adverts for Hai Karate aftershave, from children’s cartoons to music videos and news stories, from disco hits to the UFC, from television adverts to the transmission of taijiquan and even the construction of lived identities. Topics covered include media history, cultural memory, orientalism, class, race, ethnicity and gender.

Overall, I think that the Page 99 Test works quite well for The Invention of Martial Arts, although, the chapter of which it is part is quite unique in the book, and written in a different tone of voice, in that it works as a summing up and taking stock. This is somewhat different from many of the other chapters, which take the form of setting out and assessing complex media histories, and so do not have the ‘overview’ feeling possessed by chapter 5 and page 99.
Learn more about The Invention of Martial Arts at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Patrick Jagoda's "Experimental Games"

Patrick Jagoda is Professor of English and Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Experimental Games: Critique, Play, and Design in the Age of Gamification (2020), Network Aesthetics (2016), and co-author with Michael Maizels of The Game Worlds of Jason Rohrer (2016).

Jagoda applied the “Page 99 Test” to Experimental Games and reported the following:
Page 99 falls in the middle of my analysis of the independent video game Braid (2008). On this page, I begin to show how this game uses the medium-specific properties of video games to experiment with nonconscious experiences of computational technologies. Braid happens to be “experimental” in the sense of being an avant-garde or art game: a category that really took off around 2007 and of which this game was a successful example. But Braid is also experimental in a more profound sense: the game shows that, in any video game, a player is both an active experimenter and someone who is experimented upon. To give the player some critical distance from this technological experiment, this game plays with the figures and tropes of the familiar Nintendo game Super Mario Bros. (1985). On this particular page, I begin to discuss the ways the subtle narrative and visual details of the game gesture toward a post-1945 scene of the nuclear arms race, the rise of computation, and the eventual emergence of video games themselves.

In many ways, page 99 is not especially representative of what came before this page in my Experimental Games book. The opening pages operate at a more macroscopic scale, introducing a framework for understanding the importance of games in our time via economic, political, and technological histories of game theory, behavioral economics, neoliberalism, and experimentation across disciplines. The opening pages offer a large context, whereas this page is one of the first in which I zoom into one specific video game.

At the same time, page 99 contributes to a key method of my book: close and sustained engagement with a video game. As the book unfolds, I delve into popular games such as Starcraft and Candy Crush, as well as independent games such as The Stanley Parable and Undertale. Too often, games do not receive the same care that critics extend to literary texts across a broad historical range from The Canterbury Tales to Moby Dick to Native Son. With the rise of cinema studies, that kind of attentiveness is also evident in close readings of classic cinema such as Citizen Kane, Casablanca or Seven Samurai, as well more recent films such as Moonlight, Get Out, or The Act of Killing. An assumption that remains common among people who do not avidly play or study games is that video games, in particular, are more akin to mere children’s toys or entertainment products. While that is arguably the case for some games, others reward the same depth of analysis as important cultural works from other media. Even in the field of game studies, particular games are sometimes discussed quickly or superficially en route to a broader point.

Beyond the core argument of my book, about games as a host for experimentation and a medium of “problem making” in our digital and networked age, I’m invested in taking video games seriously as occasions for philosophical, social, and political thought. To do that, it is important to interpret particular games according to the unique experiences of space, time, velocity, interactivity, participation, system perception, and networked sociality that they make available. Video games are not just entertainment or even vehicles for behavior modification, but can also be media that impact how we can think, act, and change the world.
Visit Patrick Jagoda's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Paul Christopher Johnson's "Automatic Religion"

Paul Christopher Johnson is Professor in the Department of History and Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, and in the Doctoral Program in Anthropology and History at the University of Michigan.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Automatic Religion: Nearhuman Agents of Brazil and France, and reported the following:
Page 99 zeroes in on the role of a particular photograph that was confiscated by the police in Rio de Janeiro, in 1871. It was collected during the investigation of an Afro-Brazilian possession priest named Juca Rosa, accused not only of practicing dangerous religion—fetishism (feitiçaria) was the word applied—but also of seducing white women among his devotees. The trial was the celebrity scandal of the decade. Page 99 points out how the photograph acted as a key shifter from an older mode of law based on the colonial Portuguese code, in which terms like “fetishism” still held standing, to the new, national legal code. The defense lawyers pointed out that “fetishism” did not any longer exist. According to the new legal code, Juca Rosa could not be convicted of fetishism; rather, he would have to be accused of fraud (estelionato), pretending to have special spirit powers in order to exert sexual and monetary control over his congregants. Though fraud is what he was ultimately convicted of, the photograph allowed the prosecution to smuggle in the outdated legal terms related to fetishism and dangerous religion. It depicted him barefoot in African-looking garb, with a follower kneeling before him. Using the photograph as visual evidence, the prosecution preyed on fears of dangerous African fetishism’s power to potentially take over the nation—just as Juca Rosa was occupied by his spirits, and women were possessed by him. Though the photograph indexed a shift from one legal code to another, then, it also allowed for spectral presences from the past to still act in the present on questions of race and the national body.

Reading page 99 reveals an intriguing microcosm of Automatic Religion as a whole. Juca Rosa found a way to transform his very marginal status into fame and fortune, as a priest receiving potent African spirits in his body. He applied this power to the lives of his mostly black, poverty-stricken female followers, not only through his actual presence during rituals, but also in the form of his photograph, which all of his followers owned. He became an object of exotic and erotic fascination to some among Rio’s upper class. The photograph acted as a proxy, a nearhuman Juca Rosa that pushed his presence into new spaces and audiences—including, unfortunately, the police and of the court.

Other chapters add further cases of nearhuman agents making lives of their own. One is the itinerary of an automaton named Ajeeb who gained fame in Brazil from 1896-97 as a chess-whiz “Turk,” but who also mystified and motivated his audience in nearly devotional ways. Another describes the career of a Brazilian monkey named Rosalie, who became the best friend and companion of the famed French neurologist, Jean-Martin Charcot. Even as the nearhuman Monkey Rosalie traveled to France, Charcot’s category of hysteria traveled to Brazil. While France “hysteria” was mostly applied to the confinement and classification of women, in Brazil it was mostly applied to Afro-Brazilians reporting visions of spirits. Still another chapter details how a drawing of a slave by a French traveler in Brazil came to life in the 1971 and became an immensely popular living saint, “Slave Anastácia.” All of these figures—the monkey, the patient, the automaton, the drawing of a slave, the photograph—were described as lacking the human qualities of will, freedom, and agency. Yet though they were all described as able to act only automatically, they attracted fascination and even, sometimes, fervor and piety. The new nearhumans set new religious ideas and practices into motion, even as they made it clear that humans were only precariously unique.

In the broadest sense, the central thesis is that the trans-Atlantic circulation of ideas, animals, persons and things generated new versions of the great anthropological division of humans and non-humans. In the industrial age, the new vision of the division pitted those seen to lack will and mobility against those named as genuine individuals, possessors of the free capacity to act on and in the world, wherever they might choose. In short: automatons versus agents. By understanding how that divide was made in the great anthropological machine, we can also learn to unmake it.
Learn more about Automatic Religion at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 28, 2020

Timon Screech's "The Shogun's Silver Telescope"

Timon Screech received a BA in Oriental Studies (Japanese) at Oxford University in 1985 and completed his PH.D in Art History at Harvard University in 1991. He has been at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, since graduation from Harvard. He has published widely on many aspects of Edo period art and culture, and has written several books in Japanese and English.

Screech applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Shogun's Silver Telescope: God, Art, and Money in the English Quest for Japan, 1600-1625, and reported the following:
About page 99: The English East India Company was founded in 1600 to trade in spices. Each voyage had its own investors, so was in competition with each other. Soon it became apparent that this was not a recipe for teamwork. In 1614, they created a Joint Stock, to spread cost and profit across voyages. First under the new system was commanded by Nicholas Downton. He took out £3000-worth of English woolen textiles, lead, mercury, tin, pewter and ivory, to a total of £15,000. This would never yield enough to buy all that was wanted in Asia, so he also took £20,000 in silver. Letters home from Asia warned that English voyages were being impeded by Iberians, and especially Jesuits. Downton therefore also took items to embarrass the missionaries.

This oddly sums up the crux of the book: The English wanted to obtain spices, but needed to pay for them with something. Their only bulk export item was woolen cloth, but that hardly sold in the tropics, where spices grew. They therefore also took silver. But once the war with Spain was over, they could no longer seize this at sea, so they had to buy it - which wrecked the economics. They therefore sought a cold, silver producing country. And there was one: Japan. The idea was to exchange woolens for Japanese silver, which they would in turn exchange for spice. In world-market terms, Japanese silver was cheap. However, Jesuit missionaries had been operating in Japan for decades, and they despised the English as 'Northern heretics', telling the Japanese they were all criminals and pirates. The English had to find a way around this, and impress on the Japanese what an advanced and dependable country they were.

The last point is: how did the English do this? They did it with two objects. Firstly they sent the shogun a beautiful silver telescope - the first one ever to leave Europe. It proved the truth of heliocentricity, which the Roman Catholic church could not accept. Secondly they sent a large number of erotically charged classical nude paintings - which the Japanese loved, but which horrified the church. Downton took them.
Learn more about The Shogun's Silver Telescope at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Christina Zwarg's "The Archive of Fear"

Christina Zwarg is a Professor of English at Haverford College where she won a Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching. After completing a Mellon Faculty Fellowship in the Humanities at Harvard University she published Feminist Conversations: Fuller, Emerson and the Play of Reading, which Choice named an Outstanding Academic Book and Cornell University Press nominated for the MLA First Book Award. Zwarg has published on 19th and 20th century authors and topics in American Literature, American Literary History, Novel, Studies in Romanticism, Poe Studies, and Cultural Critique and Social Text, and her work has been reprinted in Norton Critical Editions. She has also served as a member of the Division of Psychoanalytic Approaches to Literature on the Delegate Assembly of the MLA.

Zwarg applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Archive of Fear: White Crisis and Black Freedom in Douglass, Stowe, and Du Bois, and reported the following:
The section that we encounter on page 99 hints at the influence Frederick Douglass exerted over W.E.B. Du Bois as he was writing John Brown and his monumental study Black Reconstruction.

Douglass's influence proves central to The Archive of Fear, but this page only indirectly mentions the trauma theory before Freud also guiding my reading of his work, one involving the mesmeric "crisis" that became associated with abolition after the Haitian revolution. Throughout his life, Frederick Douglass cleverly deploys the link between mesmerism and slave revolt in his approach to the work of abolition. The Archive of Fear follows these associations across his long career and explores their uptake in the second abolitionist novel Dred by Harriet Beecher Stowe and in their later elaboration by W.E. B. Du Bois.

Douglass turns his attention to the perpetrators and enablers of slavery, noting how the dread of "black supremacy" nourished and sustained a quick resort to preemptive violence. To redirect the sense of crisis developing around the idea of abolition, Douglass rehearses its fantastic character, showing how a collision of future and past fears could falsely align the goals of abolition with race war. Stowe explores the same hallucinatory register when she turns her eponymous character--modeled on Nat Turner--into a medium for understanding white fragility. And Du Bois takes the psychic register of crisis to the next level when he interprets John Brown's famous raid on Harper's Ferry: like the general strike in Black Reconstruction, whose aim was the abolition of systemic racism, Brown's goal was the destruction of slavery's violence and not the commencement of a race war.

As we see on page 99, the hesitation Douglass expresses as he recalls his failure to join forces with Brown fascinates Du Bois, who finds in that ambivalence a powerful tool for rethinking the Black Reconstruction of Democracy. Following Douglass once more, Du Bois enlarges his Marxist reading of Black Reconstruction to consider the "psychological wage" of racism, including the unimagined futures that might have turned men like Andrew Johnson, whose fear of "race war" nourished white supremacy, into champions of abolition democracy.
Learn more about The Archive of Fear at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Aaron Tugendhaft's "The Idols of ISIS"

Aaron Tugendhaft teaches humanities at Bard College Berlin. He is the author of Baal and the Politics of Poetry and co-editor of Idol Anxiety.

Tugendhaft applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Idols of ISIS: From Assyria to the Internet, and reported the following:
The Idols of ISIS: From Assyria to the Internet is only 115 pages long (including acknowledgements, notes, and bibliography). Page 99 is the central page of the book's five-page coda, which makes it the antepenultimate page of the entire text. Though neither idols nor the Islamic State, Assyria nor the Internet, are mentioned there, I can think of no more crucial page in the entire book.

I learned the word "antepenultimate" when I studied Ancient Greek in college. (It comes in handy when determining a word's stress.) Though my book's focus is Mesopotamia, it is ancient Greece that appears explicitly on page 99. The page provides a brief discussion of a work by the contemporary German photographer Thomas Struth:
Pergamon Museum IV, Berlin [...] depicts small groups and loan museumgoers in a brightly lit room filled with fragments of ancient Greek sculpture. While the composition recalls the engraving in the Illustrated London News [of visitors to the British Museum's Nineveh Room in the 19th century] it doesn't advertise the importance of museumgoing so much as ask us to consider why we take museumgoing so seriously. Encountered on a museum wall, Struth's large print (which measures five by seven and a half feet) confronts us with an image of people doing what we ourselves are doing---but the activity appears strange. We see that there are museumgoers in the picture, but we're not quite sure why they are there.
More important than the ancient Greek sculptures that inhabit the photograph is the effect the photograph has on its viewers: it makes us wonder. As I remind readers on the very next page, Socrates once explained that philosophy begins in wonder. Whereas most of the book deals with what I call prophetic images (developing an insight by the medieval Baghdadi philosopher Abu Nasr al-Farabi), i.e., images that hold a political community together by providing them with shared purpose to care about their law, page 99, by contrast, introduces the possibility of Socratic images:
If all images are incomplete, not all are incomplete in the same way. Some, like the [Islamic State] Mosul Museum video [of antiquities destruction] and the Illustrated London News engraving, hide their incompleteness by presenting matters as settled. Other images are overtly incomplete and pose questions more than they provide answers.
This is the most important point in the book. It suggests that there may be an alternative to either simply submitting to the always imperfect political claims that images make on us or smashing them because they don't live up to the demands of truth and justice. Whether we think of Socrates as a gadfly or (following the recently published pseudo-Aristotelian treatise "On Trolling") as a troll who disrupts the self-assuredness of our online echo chambers, thinking remains an ever-present possibility. Borrowing an image from Nietzsche, who recommends tapping idols with a tuning fork rather than smashing them with a hammer, I suggest that we might live better with the imperfect but necessary images that surround us if we learn to think critically about them. "Tapping images can make us keener critics of ourselves as well as others" (I write at the very top of page 99). Is such thinking necessary to democratic life? How might it be obtainable? These are questions that I hope my book provokes readers to think about.
Learn more about The Idols of ISIS at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 24, 2020

David Herzberg's "White Market Drugs"

David Herzberg is associate professor of history at the University at Buffalo. He is the author of Happy Pills in America: From Miltown to Prozac.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, White Market Drugs: Big Pharma and the Hidden History of Addiction in America, and reported the following:
Page 99 tells the origin story of Pantopon, a would-be miracle opioid introduced in the U.S. by Roche Pharmaceuticals around 1910. Pantopon was supposed to be a sort of organic, all-natural opioid. Most opioids were either a single alkaloid extracted from opium (like morphine) or were produced by tinkering with one of those alkaloids (like heroin or diacetylmorphine). Pantopon was an injectable form of opium, containing all its alkaloids in their natural proportions and thus offering patients what advertisers called “the full therapeutic value of the mother drug, opium.” But like all other opioid wonder drugs before OxyContin, Pantopon was swatted down by federal regulators who insisted that even the “mother” opioid needed to be sold with great caution.

From page 99 browsers will get a great sense of one of the book’s main threads: the century long game of cat and mouse played between Big Pharma trying to make a killing from selling psychoactive (and addictive) drugs, and federal regulators trying to restrict all that potential profit and instead harness the market to medical purposes. This is a crucial story for anyone interested in drug policy, and readers of page 99 would get a good start on it.

What page 99 readers would miss, however, is the other half of this story, equally crucial for drug policy. A story not about supply-side restrictions, but about drug availability and access. For over a century we have been testing out various ways to sell potentially addictive drugs safely, at scale, to millions of Americans in medical “white markets.” We can apply the lessons learned from this historical laboratory to our other drug policy, punitive prohibition, which America has also tested, with radically worse results, for over a century.

Page 99 thus gives a glimpse at part—but only part—of a central argument in the book. Psychoactive drugs are highly desirable and highly dangerous. Access to them should be determined neither by profit (as would happen with libertarian legalization) or by social hierarchies of race, class, and gender (as happens with punitive prohibition). To protect the public health, we need to chart a path between prohibition and free markets. Remembering the forgotten history of pharmaceutical opioids before OxyContin gives us a chance to be guided by experience as we do so.
Visit David Herzberg's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Barry Allen's "Empiricisms"

Barry Allen studied philosophy at the University of Lethbridge and Princeton University, and is Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario. He has held visiting appointments at universities in Jerusalem, Shanghai, Istanbul, and Hong Kong, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Allen applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Empiricisms: Experience and Experiment from Antiquity to the Anthropocene, and reported the following:
Page 99 comes from near the end of the first chapter, which is entitled "Empiricisms of Antiquity," from the section subtitled "Empiricism in Islam." The setting is Baghdad, Damascus, and Cairo, ninth to twelfth centuries. The page discusses the value for the physician of personal experience and paying attention to it, even writing it down. All of the physicians quoted on this page trained and worked in hospitals that were close to how we suppose a hospital should be organized, unlike in Europe at the same time, where there were no hospitals until Islamic models were discovered and imitated.

Though these physicians encouraged observation they did not want to be called “empiricists.” Islamic physicians wanted to understand texts of ancient Greek medicine, and on page 99 they are discussing the famous text of Hippocrates that says, “Life is short, art [i.e., medical knowledge] long,” and which includes the admonition that “empiricism is treacherous.” What, they wonder, is “empiricism,” and why is it treacherous? They found their answer by associating “empiricism” with the attitude of experimenters who test hypotheses. This the physician must not do. Physician should know and do what is best for health. There is no place for experiments with patients.

Still on this page I suggest that these physicians make trouble for themselves by assuming that Hippocrates must be consistent with Aristotle even though he is not. They assumed that what Aristotle said about experience would explain what Hippocrates said about “empiricism,” but these ideas were not made for each other, and trying to put them together creates problems.
+  +  +

I love browsing in bookstores, especially used-book stores. I think Empiricisms is a good book for picking up from the shelf and browsing, though you’ll have to take more than one crack at it.

If you opened to page 99 you would I am afraid get a poor idea of the whole work. The book ranges widely in space and time, from ancient Greek medicine to the experiments of Galileo and Newton and the epistemology of Gassendi and Carnap. There is no hint of this greater context on page 99. Nor is there indication of the extensive discussion of the philosophy of the Radical Empiricists, my collective name for William James, Henri Bergson, and Gilles Deleuze. And page 99 would give a browser no idea of the book’s comparative analysis of European and Chinese empiricisms.

Yet page 99 is interesting on its own. It describes a discussion among medieval Islamic physicians of a text of ancient Greek medicine, which they are trying to understand through their peculiar philosophical perspective of Neo-Platonic Aristotelianism. The philosophers of Islam did not contribute much to the history of empirical philosophy despite the great achievements of Islamic science. Much of the philosophical interest I find in empiricism is as an alternative to the rationalism of Plato and Aristotle, but that was not something Islamic tradition was looking for, and empiricism held no interest for their philosophers.
Learn more about Empiricisms: Experience and Experiment from Antiquity to the Anthropocene at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Sara Rushing's "The Virtues of Vulnerability"

Sara Rushing is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Montana State University, Bozeman, and Co-President of the Association for Political Theory from 2020-2022.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Virtues of Vulnerability: Humility, Autonomy, and Citizen-Subjectivity, and reported the following:
From page 99:
While hospice, like homebirth, can be figured as a site of “systems-challenging praxis”—a space of resistance to the managerial hyper-interventionism of mainstream medicine, and the biopolitical imperative to maximize life at all costs—it is still not a domain of total choice and control. If within the mainstream medical approach to death and dying conversations about “the good death” are largely absent, within hospice they are thoroughly present and often carry a clear message about what a good death entails. These normative commitments include personal growth toward death, making peace with life and its end, resolving lingering familial tensions, and, importantly, allowing death to follow its own natural course. Overwhelmingly (since only about seventeen jurisdictions globally allow for PAD [physician assisted dying], including, in the United States, eight states and the District of Columbia), the timely death as conceptualized within the hospice framework is the one the body “chooses.” Talk of accelerated or assisted dying can be regarded as a sign of depression that must be treated in order for one to achieve a good death, not an expression of rational clarity or agency by the dying.
If someone picked up my book and randomly flipped to page 99, they would be thrust deep into a vocabulary I’d been building over the past 98 pages (the body; systems-challenging praxis; medical hyper-interventionism; choice and control…). They would encounter this vocabulary in the context of the second “bodily” site the book explores: death and dying, particularly as it shapes up within hospice care, versus in the ICU or other very medicalized hospital locales. The page also references the first site I explore: childbirth, particularly as it shapes up under midwifery care, versus in the labor and delivery department of a hospital, where 33% of women end up birthing surgically.

As a proxy for the book as a whole, this page does alright! What I think it does not capture – which a reader of the whole might be delighted by, or might feel was more than they bargained for based on page 99 – is the broader political theory framework that drives my overall analysis of these sites of bodily vulnerability. There are lots of books one might read on birth, death, and illness (the last of which, in my book, is explored in the context of veterans seeking treatment for combat-related PTSD within the Veterans Affairs Mental Health medical complex). But my distinct approach is to see these moments of contact with the medical-legal-policy-insurance nexus (i.e. “the clinic,” or what the sociologist Wendy Simonds has called “Hospital Land, USA”) as sites of political awakening where a new subjectivity may be formed, which I characterize specifically in terms of “citizenship.” By citizenship I do not mean legal status or voting, but rather a sense of oneself as desiring and deserving participatory inclusion (power, knowledge, voice, agency) in the decisions that affect one’s life. Big picture, I take our very human quest for autonomy seriously, but argue that it has to be paired with a certain kind of humility. I use these contexts of vulnerability in bodily encounters with medicine/medicalization to explore the limits of our self-determination as “Rational, Autonomous Individuals (a story that breaks down all the time in our lived experience), but also the way that autonomy can be cultivated in these contexts, when they are relational, supportive, and entail mutual humility between patient and doctor.
Learn more about The Virtues of Vulnerability at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 21, 2020

Jeff Horn's "The Making of a Terrorist"

Jeff Horn is Professor of History at Manhattan College. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including Economic Development in Early Modern France: The Privilege of Liberty, 1650-1820.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Making of a Terrorist: Alexandre Rousselin and the French Revolution, and reported the following:
Chapter 4: Rehabilitation: Political, Literary, and Social, 1795-1815 begins on page 99 with quotes including:
Are you a liar or have you been lied to? Are you the agent of faction that persecutes anyone who honorably leads an army? Or are you simply the dupe of some rogues? Lazare Hoche to Jean-Nicolas Dufresne-Saint-Léon, 13 August 1797

What then is, generally speaking, the truth of history? A fable agreed upon. Napoleon Bonaparte to the comte de Las Casas, 20 November 1816
The narrative opens by considering how Alexandre Rousselin, a dedicated Revolutionary activist and perpetrator of the Terror in two eastern French cities, escaped denunciation for being a “terrorist” and achieved a measure of political rehabilitation and literary success while building a family and becoming a noble.
At heart a patriot, Rousselin still intended a career in public service. But first he had to get out of jail and remake his reputation. With few exceptions, terrorists were no longer welcome in Revolutionary administration. Beginning soon after he returned from Troyes in early 1794, Rousselin spent much of the next two decades rehabilitating his reputation. His trajectory mirrored that of hundreds, if not thousands, of former missionaries of the republic who wanted a new start in French society.
Page 99 sets out many of the key themes of the second half of the book which trace the consequences of Rousselin’s Revolutionary activities and explore his attempts to either transcend or cover up his past. He successfully built a future that saw his children ensconced at the highest levels of French society thanks to his acquisition of a noble title and lucrative position as co-editor and publisher of Le Constitutionnel, the world’s best-selling newspaper for much of the 1820s.

These subjects are far less dramatic than the developments considered in the first three chapters. It is hard to compete with a chronicle of the extraordinary trajectory of a young Frenchman much influenced by the Enlightenment who became intimately engaged in the French Revolution for a succession of important Revolutionary figures including Camille Desmoulins and George-Jacques Danton. In the fall of 1793, he was sent by the Committee of Public Safety to bring Revolutionary fervor to Provins and Troyes to maintain public order and support the war effort. Only six months later, Rousselin was denounced by provincial notables who resisted the Terror and sent to face Revolutionary justice. Only a week after he escaped from the dreaded Revolutionary Tribunal with his head still firmly attached to his shoulders, Rousselin helped to build the coalition of different factions that staged the coup of 9-10 Thermidor.

Page 99 marks the transition from this phase of Rousselin’s life to explore his subsequent career as a public servant, literary endeavors including several noteworthy works of history, and intimate friendships with Madame de Staël, Benjamin Constant, Adolphe Thiers, and Paul Barras among a host of others. These activities have much to tell us about the period more generally but particularly about the process of rehabilitation across the Revolutionary era. Unlike so many who faced denunciation, Rousselin not only survived, but eventually thrived. His career providing insight into a large cohort that, much chastened, were forced to rethink their Revolutionary ideals from 1795 well into the nineteenth century. The second half of the book examines how and why a dedicated Revolutionary became a liberal.
Learn more about The Making of a Terrorist at the Oxford University Press.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Lori Allen's "A History of False Hope"

Lori Allen is Reader in Anthropology at SOAS University of London. She is the author of The Rise and Fall of Human Rights: Cynicism and Politics in Occupied Palestine (2013).

Allen applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, A History of False Hope: Investigative Commissions in Palestine, and reported the following:
This is a wonderful test for my book! This page concludes Chapter 2, which offers the reader a distinct telling of the Arab Revolt, a major uprising against the British and Zionists that lasted from 1936 to 1939. It describes a unique example in the story I tell about Palestinians’ engagement with investigative commissions and liberal internationalism, when Palestinians boycotted the British Royal Peel Commission (for a while) in 1936. The boycott of the Peel Commission was one of the few times in Palestinian political history that a collective rejection of the rules and assumptions of western investigators and their liberal demands shook (for a while) the confidence, the hubris, of their rulers— here it was the British who had been mismanaging Palestine for almost two decades.
Historians recognize the Peel Commission as one of the most significant for Palestine because it put partition formally on the table of political options, and because its report made public the British government’s recognition that the mandate’s contradictory promises were unworkable. What is more significant is the boycott of the commission. It shows that international law as arbitrated by commission, by the League of Nations, and by a version of liberalism defined by well-mannered gentlemen—those engaged in what they defined as rational discourse—no longer exhausted Palestinians’ tools and terms of nationalist claim making.

The Arab Revolt and Palestinians’ boycott of the Peel Commission were not a refusal of international law, not a rejection of liberalism, but an insistence on them.
Page 99 hints at one of the major innovations of this book, which is to explore investigative commissions and tell the story of international law from the perspective of Palestinians, based on how Palestinians from all walks of life have engaged with these systems and ideologies.

The boycott was an expression of Palestinians’ deep frustration with the train of investigations that had poked around Palestine but never resolved anything. This chapter argues that solidarity among Arabs with Palestinians and their struggle for independence was one thing that helped them just say no to yet another British commission. And it shows how Palestinians drew on liberal principles in doing so.

The boycott of the Peel Commission is an exception that helps illustrate the rule that A History of False Hope is explaining. What the rest of the book explores are all the other times that Palestinians did engage with investigative commissions. It explains why Palestinians have invested in international law as a system that might finally provide them justice, or at least support them in achieving their rights and independence—as yet to no avail. Human rights and humanitarian law are the core legal elements of the story, but this study focuses specifically on the social and political dynamics that have swirled in and around those legal systems. Far from being a self-evident good, I argue that this embroilment in human rights and humanitarian law— on the part of everyone from political representatives, technocrats, and lawyers to NGO activists, fishermen, and farmers—has narrowed political vision and action for Palestine.
Visit Lori Allen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Sebastian Schmidt's "Armed Guests"

Sebastian Schmidt is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Armed Guests: Territorial Sovereignty and Foreign Military Basing, and reported the following:
From page 99:
…preferred to discuss the issues of administration and aviation in the Pacific at large, the US government sought to move forward with joint use of only Canton and Enderbury islands and to work out broader issues at a later date. British policymakers felt that the United States was running roughshod over their legitimate interests, and some of the language of the discussions was fairly pointed and acerbic.

The fact that the difficult discussions regarding Canton and Enderbury islands were concerned with the governance of airfields suggests another way in which technological developments in aviation began to push the limits that military exclusivity placed on the disposition of military forces. The landing of military aircraft makes more direct demands on the use of territory than the port visits of naval vessels. While vessels remain in the harbor, the runways and hangars that planes utilize are integral parts the territory of the host and can cover a significant area. It is likely for this reason that the United States and Britain, while mutually benefiting from port access, were often at loggerheads in negotiations about landing rights in the Pacific before the development of sovereign basing and its decoupling of military presence and state authority. Tellingly, these negotiations included the refusal of the United States to grant Britain military or civilian landing rights in Hawaii.

Seen in this light, the decision to establish a condominium over Canton and Enderbury represents another solution to the problem of reconciling territorial authority and foreign military presence. It was a resolution, however difficult to achieve, that allowed action to proceed. A condominium is in fact quite a radical solution whose broader applicability is doubtful—especially in populated territories—given the complete reconfiguration of authority it would require.

In a nutshell, the precedent to which both the prime minister and the secretary of state for dominion affairs referred was not really applicable. Moreover, the Canton/Enderbury experience actually revealed how difficult negotiations over sovereignty were even when they concerned largely uninhabited atolls on the other side of the planet over which neither country had a history of governance. Despite the conceptual breakthrough made in the discussions leading up to the Caribbean basing agreement of 1939, the experience of the Canton/Enderbury island negotiations presaged potential difficulties in the working out of basing in practice. Traditional practices of sovereignty would be difficult to accommodate to the new ends of policy, even if, on the level of abstracted discussion, representatives of the United States and Britain had already agreed for the need for such a step. The implementation of rules is not direct and unambiguous, and agreement in the abstract, while important, says little about how rules, especially newly agreed ones, might work out in practice. Processes of deliberative innovation involve practical engagement within specific contexts of action, not merely discussion.
Reading page 99, the reader would gain some insight into the central issues addressed in the book. Several of the major concepts appear on this page, and the book is in fact principally concerned with “the problem of reconciling territorial authority and foreign military presence.” In that sense, the test works well. However, the references to concepts developed elsewhere in the work means that a reader would have difficulty understanding the meaning and significance of the discussion.

The context of the passage on page 99 is the effort by the British government to justify the 1940 Destroyers for Bases Agreement to members of Parliament by citing as precedent a condominium set up with the United States over the pacific atolls of Canton and Enderbury. In the Agreement, Britain granted the United states military bases in several British colonial holdings in the North Atlantic. As the leases would run for 99 years, this would be a long-term foreign military presence – a security arrangement that we are familiar with today but was completely novel at the time. I call this practice “sovereign basing,” a term which shows up on the page. Prior to the Second World War, state representatives could only comprehend a foreign military presence as either occupation or annexation, and foreign militaries were as a rule excluded from a state’s territory – an understanding I call “military exclusivity,” and which also appears on the page. The Destroyers for Bases Agreement, which concerned colonial territory rather than home territory, was a steppingstone to contemporary sovereign basing arrangements.

The book explains how the practice of territorial sovereignty changed through the emergence of sovereign basing, and the discussion of the importance of technology here (airfields v. ports) points to a key part of the argument. As the passage notes, reaching agreement on Canton and Enderbury was difficult and in any case not a good precedent for prospective bases on the densely populated colonies in the Atlantic. Aside from revealing policymakers’ attempt to frame radical steps as familiar to render them palatable, the page also shows how difficult it was to accommodate perceived encroachments on sovereignty.
Learn more about Armed Guests at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Jessica Pressman's "Bookishness"

Jessica Pressman is an Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University. She is the author of Digital Modernism: Making It New in New Media (2014), co-author, with Mark C. Marino and Jeremy Douglass, of Reading Project: A Collaborative Analysis of William Poundstone’s Project for Tachistocope {Bottomless Pit} (2015), and co-editor, with N. Katherine Hayles, of Comparative Textual Media: Transforming the Humanities in a Postprint Era (2013). She is a recipient of awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS).

Pressman applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Bookishness: Loving Books in a Digital Age, and reported the following:
Page 99 discusses bookish fakery; in particular, the wonderfully fun simulation of an old, well-worn book in the novel S. (2013) by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst (yes, that J.J. Abrams—the famous Hollywood director).

S. weaves—or, rather, spirals— a narrative around a fake book whose mysterious production history and enigmatic author compels two university students to go on a treasure hunt investigating its origins. Page 99 discusses the importance of the simulated handwriting in the novel’s margins, printed in color and in different styles to look real (and it does!). The handwriting is part of the narrative; it contains the stories of the characters’ investigations and also documents them falling in love during the process.

I actually think that this page gives a rather good sense of my book’s purpose and practice. The page delves deeply into exploring how contemporary bookbound novels use their formal aesthetics, page design, and

Page 99; click to enlarge

digital production technologies to create beautifully bookish literature that fetishizes the role of the book in a digital age.

Also of note is that page 99 contains a photograph of the book discussed, S. Bookishness is, in part, a curated collection of diverse objects that collectively represent the contemporary phenomenon I describe as “bookishness.” The images matter to my book because they show how bookishness is not just about words and stories but also about things and the thingly.

Finally, I want to say that I love this page 99 test. I love most quirky ways of interacting with books. The idea of this test suggests that books are objects to play with, not just read through. The great scholar of book history, Peter Stallybrass, reminds us that the book (the technology of the codex) was the first random access machine; unlike the scroll, the codex as inscription technology allows one to open it to any place and start reading. The page 99 test uses that innovation of the book medium and reminds us of one of the reasons that books will always matter.
Visit Jessica Pressman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

William Ian Miller's "Outrageous Fortune"

William Ian Miller is Thomas G. Long Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School. His books include The Anatomy of Disgust, which was named 1997 best book in anthropology/sociology by the Association of American Publishers.

Miller applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Outrageous Fortune: Gloomy Reflections on Luck and Life, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The inauthenticities of [such] movements dedicated to seeking authenticity generated new hypocrisies and phoniness that made the old hypocrisies of false piety look respectable. I must confess this: when it comes to pathetic pretentiousness, no Parisian avant-gardiste, no poète maudit could outdo me in June 1969 reading the Comte de Lautréamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror (1868), in French no less, while on a bus loaded with young boys/men heading down from Green Bay to the Milwaukee induction center for our draft physical as a preliminary to being shipped off to Vietnam. I had just graduated from college (the draft notice beat my diploma home by a week); the other eighty or so had mostly finished high school if that. The army discovered I had a slipped disc, two it turned out; thus, I avoided death in the jungle along with one overweight Oneida Indian, but how I managed to avoid being rightly murdered on that bus still mystifies me.
What luck, my page 99 is not bad; it is in a chapter in which I ridicule various forms of authenticity and the quest for it, so I am ridiculing the pretentiousness of various quests, Brook Farm, Blut und Boden, hippy communes, and the poètes maudits I blasted on page 98.
Learn more about Outrageous Fortune at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Losing It.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Ben Wright's "Bonds of Salvation"

Ben Wright is an assistant professor of historical studies at the University of Texas at Dallas who specializes in the history of race and religion. His research explores how people of faith understood and responded to social injustice, particularly around issues of race.

Wright applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Bonds of Salvation: How Christianity Inspired and Limited American Abolitionism, and reported the following:
The 99th page of Bonds of Salvation discusses how the federal government supported the American Colonization Society in their scheme of colonizing Black Americans in the colony that became Liberia. Formed in 1815, the American Colonization Society held together a fractious coalition of enslavers and antislavery activists by promising that by relocating Black Americans to West Africa, the United States could help expand Christianity on the continent that had been victimized by the transatlantic slave trade and by so doing redeem the sins of the nation incurred through its role in that traffic. Nearly all Americans, including the supposedly secular House of Representatives, lauded this mission.

My book explores how Christianity inspired and limited the fight against slavery in the United States, and the colonizationist movement is, in fact, a narrative hinge to that story. This page touches on several of the key themes of the book, including the relationship between ideas regarding religious conversion and debates about American slavery. However, focusing on only these trees would obscure the forest. Like most works of academic history, I am most explicit in laying out the argument, method, and narrative of the book in the introduction, and I’m inclined to think that the old-fashioned tactic of browsing an introduction remains the best way to quickly understand a book like mine.

Chronological sweep is really important to a work of history, and this page does not indicate that my book moves from the American Revolution to the Civil War. Moreover, the key analytical categories of my study—ideologies that I call conversionism and purificationism—are not explained or even entirely present on this page. While purificationists sought to make the world a better place by purging sin from their communities, conversionists believed that prioritizing the expansion of conversions would most assuredly eliminate the sins of the world. Page 99 drops you right into the middle of conversionist logic without explaining it or situating it in the wider ideological world of the era. My hope is that my book will offer readers an origin story for the fraught relationship between American Christianity and white supremacy. American Christianity aided in the process of entrenching racism in the nation and provided the most powerful discourse to root out that same racism. I’m sorry to say that if readers want to understand that story, they will have to read a bit more than this single page.
Visit Ben Wright's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 14, 2020

Ethan Porter's "The Consumer Citizen"

Ethan Porter is an assistant professor at George Washington University. He holds appointments in the School of Media and Public Affairs and the Political Science Department and is the Cluster Lead of the Misinformation/Disinformation Lab at GW's Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics. His research has appeared or is forthcoming in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Journal of Politics, British Journal of Political Science, Political Behavior, Political Communication and other journals. He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post and other popular publications, and has received grant support from the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council and the Omidyar Network. He received his PhD from the University of Chicago.

False Alarm: The Truth About Political Mistruths in the Trump Era, a book co-authored with Thomas J. Wood, was published in 2019.

Porter applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Consumer Citizen, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Consumer Citizen describes in detail the concept of “operational transparency.” As I write, scholars of consumer behavior have found that
...people are more likely to view a company favorably, and perhaps become even more likely to buy its products, if the company engages in operational transparency (e.g., Buell and Norton 2011). The premise of operational transparency is straightforward. To engage in it, all a company needs to do is illuminate the efforts that have gone into making a product. In other words, the company needs to visually shed light on its internal operations. Only when operations are made transparent can consumers appreciate the effort that goes into them—and by extension into the company’s products and services.
This test works reasonably well for The Consumer Citizen. While the book asks questions familiar to the political science literature, many of its answers come from research into consumer behavior. On page 99, I describe operational transparency, a concept mapped out by consumer behavior researchers. Later in the book, I show that a message which describes government in ways indebted to operational transparency can increase trust in government. However, because I don’t draw that connection out on page 99, the page in question only offers a snapshot of half the story: It details a concept important to consumer behavior, but does not explain how that concept can offer insight into trust in government. Nor does it hint at the broader connections between consumer and political behavior that motivate the entire book.

What, then, does operational transparency have to do with trust in government? As I explain in The Consumer Citizen, because many people are simply more familiar with consumer decisions than political ones, the habits and strategies they rely on as consumers come to shape their political behavior. One such habit is captured by operational transparency; as the evidence shows, consumers reward firms that display the effort they put into creating products.

In an experiment carried out with Professors Ryan Buell and Michael Norton--who published earlier canonical work on operational transparency--we investigated whether operational transparency could affect attitudes toward government. Prior work by Suzanne Mettler has made clear that people are largely unaware of many benefits that government provides (e.g., the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction). But as I show elsewhere in The Consumer Citizen, it’s not enough just to tell people about government benefits. Operational transparency suggests that, if you want knowledge of government benefits to change attitudes, you have to show them those benefits. With that in mind, our experiment randomly exposed some people to a 5-minute video, dubbed “Anytown,” that visualizes benefits that government provides. The Anytown video, in essence, applies the lessons of operational transparency in an attempt to make people more trusting of government.

It worked. The Anytown video had strong positive effects on multiple measures of trust in government. Participants who saw the video also came to have more positive views of government taxing and spending and were more likely to favor tax increases to support greater domestic spending. The naive expectation would be that just informing people about government benefits would increase trust in government. But that wouldn’t be right. Instead, it turns out that appealing to people in ways that echo their experiences as consumers--in this case, by meeting the standards of operational transparency--does the trick.

And that’s the broader lesson of The Consumer Citizen. Reaching out to citizens as consumer-citizens, in ways that acknowledge the supremacy of consumer decisions, can change a wide array of political outcomes, from trust in government to tax preferences, and even whether people sign up for the Affordable Care Act.
Visit Ethan Porter's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 13, 2020

John Gooch's "Mussolini's War"

John Gooch is one of the world's leading writers on Italy and the two world wars. His books include Mussolini and His Generals and The Italian Army and the First World War. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of Leeds. In 2010 the President of Italy appointed him Cavaliere dell'Ordine della Stella della Solidarieta' Italiana.

Gooch applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Mussolini's War: Fascist Italy from Triumph to Collapse: 1935-1943, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The French request for an armistice reached Berlin at 3 a.m. on 17 June [1940], and Pétain’s broadcast ‘il faut cesser le combat’ (‘the fighting must cease’) was heard in Italy at 1.30 that afternoon. Fascist Italy now had to take Fortune on the fly. Furious that France was asking for peace and faced with the possibility that any gains might suddenly be taken off the table, Mussolini was in a hurry to unleash the offensive along the western front. Badoglio’s warnings about the difficulties of the terrain and the state of Italian deployment were dismissed. The order was given to accelerate the deployment at the Colle della Maddalena and limit the attack to this direction alone.
The ‘page 99’ test has indeed found the heart of my story. In 1940 Mussolini was gambling, just as he did when he sent his armies first into Abyssinia and Spain, then into North Africa, the Balkans and finally Russia. Meantime, at sea his navy was trying unsuccessfully to hold on to the central Mediterranean to support the Axis armies fighting in Libya and Egypt. Starting with the hopelessly mismanaged four-day war with France, every one of those campaigns ended in defeat and failure. Mussolini played the central role in bringing that about. Narcissistic to a degree, the Duce prided himself on his intuition, listened to nobody, and relied on extemporisation. Each of his decisions had its own logic – like Hitler and Stalin, Mussolini was something more than simply a one-dimensional bloodthirsty dictator (in his case undoubtedly brutal and violent, but only a would-be autocrat). But as we follow him down his path towards disaster, and eavesdrop on his meetings with his generals and his ministers, we watch a self-willed politician of the piazza flounder in the face of a global conflict which neither he nor his country had the capacity to manage, fight and win.

Mussolini took Italy into war in 1940 with none of the industrial and economic resources she would need to stand up in the most capital intensive conflict the world had ever seen: no coal, no oil (though ironically she was sitting on massive reserves in Libya), no metals like zinc and manganese, only hydro-electric power. In August 1940, one of his generals likened the country to a bath with the plug pulled out and the taps turned off. Mussolini knew this. Sheaves of economic data crossed his desk, and he disregarded it. Will power would conquer all. Economic weakness partly explains the unpreparedness to which Badoglio, the uniformed head of the armed services, refers. So too does military mismanagement. Mussolini’s generals had promised him quick, fast-moving wars fought with lightly mechanised and motorised troops. In June 1940 the cracks in their design start to show. Thereafter they grow ever wider and deeper as Fascist Italy’s armed forces are out-gunned and overwhelmed by far more powerful opponents. Back in Rome, generals and admirals play out long-standing inter-service rivalries, with adverse consequences. On the front line, Italians armed with increasingly obsolescent weapons fight to the last for a criminal regime and a hollow dictator.
Learn more about Mussolini's War at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Vanessa Freije's "Citizens of Scandal"

Vanessa Freije is Assistant Professor in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Citizens of Scandal: Journalism, Secrecy, and the Politics of Reckoning in Mexico, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The day after Díaz Serrano’s press conference, mainstream reporters and opinion writers impugned the levity with which he spoke of the spill’s environmental and economic impact. The combative tone marked a shifting journalistic culture that demanded greater responsiveness from public officials. Reporters contrasted the government’s rhetoric of transparency against the reality of “the systematic misinformation and the minimization of problems.” An El Día headline announced, “They Are Hiding Information about the Spill’s Damage in Campeche.” Meanwhile, an opinion writer for El Universal noted that “after so much talk about the right to know, will we return to the old practice of leaving things without clarification, hoping [the people] will just forget with time?” The PCM pointed to the spill as evidence that the Mexican people deserved a greater say in the making of oil policy. After affirming its commitment to implementing the right-to-know law, the government was forced to account for why information was not forthcoming regarding the oil spill.

The spill had grave effects on the local economy of Campeche, where 80 percent of families lived off fishing… In the following issue of Proceso, Enrique Maza reported that in other oil-rich regions, like the state of Tabasco, Pemex had similarly colonized land and destroyed the lifeways of subsistence farmers. According to Maza, environmental destruction was not limited to occasional oil spills; Pemex flooded dams with chemical waste, contaminated and salinated potable water, destroyed agricultural fields, and burned contaminants that polluted the air.

The Ixtoc 1 spill also provided an opportunity for latent political grievances to be aired in the press. As criticism mounted regarding environmental destruction and Díaz Serrano’s conflicts of interest, disaffected cabinet members leaked documents that implicated Pemex in mismanagement or corruption.
Opening to page 99 of my book, readers are dropped into a political scandal that followed the 1979 oil spill in Mexico’s Bay of Campeche. The spill was an undeniable environmental disaster, but one that would not have necessarily gained political significance were it not preceded by two years of muckraking news coverage. This reportage, the subject of chapter 3, took aim at the state-owned and operated petroleum company (Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex) and its director, Jorge Díaz Serrano, during Mexico’s late-1970s oil boom.

Page 99 effectively introduces readers to many of my book’s key concerns. Through the exploration of political scandal, Citizens of Scandal examines the contested knowledge production around corruption, truth, and democracy in late-20th century Mexico. In so doing, the book reveals the contradictory and uneven process of democratization from the 1960s through the 1980s. Like many other cases in the book, the oil spill provided the opportunity to focus public attention around longstanding accusations of official corruption.

Muckraking coverage, with the aid of elite allies, eventually led to the Pemex director’s indictment and imprisonment. But the scandal also showed that many issues remained unresolved. While Díaz Serrano emerged as the primary scapegoat for oil corruption, a mysterious fire in the company’s archives cast a shadow over the unprecedented imprisonment of such a high-ranking official. Amid scandal, much more remained concealed than exposed. However, as my book shows, the collective reckoning with wrongdoing had arguably more enduring effects on political culture and citizen engagement than the performances of justice.
Learn more about Citizens of Scandal at the Duke University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 11, 2020

Rachel Hope Cleves's "Unspeakable"

A historian and professor at the University of Victoria, Rachel Hope Cleves is the author of three books, Unspeakable: A Life Beyond Sexual Morality (2020), Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America (2014), and The Reign of Terror in America: Visions of Violence from Anti-Jacobinism to Antislavery (2009). Her current project is titled “A Historian’s Guide to Food and Sex.”

Cleves applied the “Page 99 Test” to Unspeakable: A Life Beyond Sexual Morality and reported the following:
“Douglas often said that each of his books was inspired by falling in love.” What an appealing way to describe a personal history that most people would find repellent, which makes this sentence from the top of page 99 a perfect entry point into the ugly paradoxes at the center of Unspeakable: A Life Beyond Sexual Morality. The page continues by describing one of Douglas’s “love” affairs, with a young boy named Pasqualino Amitrano.

Almost entirely forgotten today, Norman Douglas was a beloved literary celebrity during the 1920s and 1930s. His 1917 novel South Wind, set in the sybaritic atmosphere of the cosmopolitan expatriate community of Capri, was a favorite of writers like E. M. Forster, Aldous Huxley, and Graham Greene, who said his generation was “brought up on South Wind.” The book carried the whiff of sexual scandal with its themes of bigamy, homosexuality, and nudism. The sexual disreputability of its author only added to the frisson of forbidden pleasure in reading the book.

In November 1916, Douglas had been arrested in London for making an “indecent assault” on a sixteen-year old boy. News of his arrest, and additional subsequent charges for purportedly assaulting two boys, ages ten and twelve, at the Natural History Museum earlier that summer, circulated in local and national papers. When Douglas was bailed out in early January he fled to the continent. This sexual scandal, however, didn’t end Douglas’s literary career, it made him a celebrity. During the 1920s and 1930s, Douglas became notorious for his unrepentant enthusiasm for pederasty, which he hinted at in his books and boasted about in person. His reputation as a diavolo incarnato enamored his fans.

Unlike biographies of artists like Tolstoy or Picasso, which dwell on how such unappealing men could create such appealing art, the central paradox of Unspeakable is how such an unappealing man could once have been so appealing. Some of Douglas’s works have held up better than others, but his sexual reputation has not held up at all. What was merely disreputable in the 1920s and 1930s has become monstrous today. During Douglas’s lifetime he could talk about his pederastic relationships with children as “love affairs” and many readers and friends took him at his word. Today we define any sexual encounters between adults and children as rapes or assaults, the very opposite of love. Unspeakable is about that gap in meaning between past and present. It uses the very well documented life of one man, Norman Douglas, to recreate the social history of sex between adults and children during the first half of the twentieth century. In so doing, it reveals a widely practiced sexual culture in our recent past that may shock readers.
Visit Rachel Hope Cleves's website.

--Marshal Zeirngue

Thursday, December 10, 2020

T. K. Wilson's "Killing Strangers"

Tim Wilson is an expert on the history of political violence and why it takes the forms that it does. He became interested in this field while running a youth club in North Belfast in the late 1990s. Since 2016 he has served as Director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV) at the University of St Andrews, the oldest research center of its kind in Europe.

Wilson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Killing Strangers: How Political Violence Became Modern, and reported the following:
From page 99:
A good example of bad organisation was the late 19th century archive of the Paris Prefecture of Police that held registers of all condemnations of criminals in the country. Reconstituted from scratch after its destruction by fire in the Paris Commune its utility remained highly ‘limited because it was difficult to use; it contained over 8 million records in the 1890s, without an effective document retrieval system’. An example of the files failing to keep pace with invaluable operational experience occurs in the memoirs of Bob Huntley, head of the Metropolitan Police’s bomb squad during the Provisional IRA’s ‘Battle of London’ in the early 1970s. From personal experience – he had been a young constable during the IRA’s bombing campaign of 1939 – Huntley decided to try to learn from the lessons of the past: ‘we searched for their records at the Yard and found, to our astonishment, that nothing had been written down. Everything those men had learned was lost. It was an appalling waste.’ Under such conditions, information and experience are simply squandered.
As a sample of the whole, this snapshot from page 99 might well prove a little misleading. The overall context is a discussion of the rise and rise in the coercive power of modern Western states since the late 18th century: and how this dominance by governments forced any oppositional violence into ‘niche’ or residual forms. Still, government bureaucracies are never all-powerful or all-efficient – and this passage explores some of the gaps that can emerge between them: the cracks in which violent eco-systems can develop.

This particular discussion comes shortly before the ‘tipping point’ (page 115) of the book where the polarity of the overall argument abruptly changes. The first half of the book discusses the dominance of governments over, and through, society: the second half, however, explores the emergence of new possibilities and opportunities for insurgent violence – particularly through the rise of new technologies of destruction (such as dynamite) and new communication possibilities to win mass audiences.

Killing Strangers is primarily concerned with explaining the deep roots of some of the contemporary horrors of terroristic violence that we see around us. Where do such tactics come from? How did we come to live in a world where such stunningly impersonal atrocities are to be expected? After all, it is impossible to travel by plane or on a metro system anywhere in the world and not be reminding repetitively and insistently by public safety announcements that total strangers might slaughter us at any time. Seen in a longer-term historical perspective, this is very strange. So this book asks a very simple question: How on earth did we get here?
Follow Tim Wilson on Twitter; learn more about Killing Strangers at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Noelle Molé Liston's "The Truth Society"

Noelle Molé Liston is a Senior Lecturer at New York University. She is the author of Labor Disorders in Neoliberal Italy.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Truth Society: Science, Disinformation and Politics in Berlusconi’s Italy, and reported the following:
Page 99 brings us right into an Italian legal trial in “The Trial against Disinformation.” Seven scientists were sued for manslaughter for the deaths of 31 individuals who had listened to their safety reassurances and stayed home when the devastating April 6th, 2009 earthquake struck. Global news media erroneously framed the case as suing because the scientists failed to predict the earthquake:
The most dominant narrative of ‘failed prediction’ relied on several cultural assumptions with deep histories within Italy: century-long ideas that position Italians as naïve and backwards, as overly Catholic, irrational and pagan. These essentialized versions of Italian culture made it plausible that Italians expected scientists to be prophets who could perfectly predict earthquakes, which grossly distorted the court case and the legacy of the trial (Ciccozzi 2016). To assume the trial was based on irrationality obscures that what was truly audacious and entirely rational was taking seriously the enchantments of the scientific, the tendency to view the ‘word of science’ as holy and sacred or as tantamount to a supernatural force. It would miss that predictions of 100 percent safety—the assurance that no earthquake would come—are indeed irrational and nonscientific claims. […]

Italy’s “trial against science” was controversial in how it criminalized scientific prediction, or, perhaps more accurately, scientists’ endangering citizens’ wellbeing and safety. What cultural beliefs about prediction, public safety, and scientific accuracy undergird this judicial process and conviction? Why did the trial emerge in Italy and not following natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina or Sandy? […] In order to understand why ‘false’ information was understood as deadly, this chapter aims to analyze how the initial event—the press conference and safety claims—and subsequent trial were informed by cultural perceptions and scientific understandings of disinformation, as well as earthquake prediction and risk assessment.”
The Page 99 test transports us to the stunning epicenter of the book’s core: how people understand and act on scientific information in culturally and historically specific ways, how political and legal infrastructure of country matters in terms of the ethics and accountability of science, and how the wider problem of disinformation undergirds citizens’ safety and wellbeing. As these paragraphs show, the chapter works against the grain of public views of the trial: 1) the trial was globally repudiated by scientists, and news media around the framed Italians as gullible believers; 2) there has been very little appreciation of the bold move of the Italian judiciary to hold scientists and public officials accountable for deadly disinformation. Consider why the United States has not held the American President accountable for his fatal lies about COVID-19.

However, the Page 99 algorithm might give readers the impression that the entire book is dedicated to this fascinating and complex trial, but this is not the case. Like fault lines that span thousands of miles beneath earthquakes, so, too The Truth Society moves across deep historical and cultural trajectories of what lies beneath the L’Aquila trial. Earlier chapters are dedicated to the masterminding of televised politics by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, an ethnographic analysis of Italy’s pro-science activists and their annual “Day Against Superstition” in 2011, and the rise of digital populism with Italy’s populist Five Star Movement. L’Aquila and the trial cannot make sense without first unearthing the rise of Italy’s mediatized political system and the stakes of disinformation. Even the pro-science demonstration, where activists invited local Italians to rethink their common superstitions about practices like breaking mirrors, is relevant. The very fact that Italians were seeking to persuade fellow Italians about the merits of scientific thought was what actually led me into the whole project: Why, I wondered, did science need safeguarding? The book refuses to position science as if it were a neutral body of knowledge. Rather, it aims to show that scientific knowledge is always shot through with culturally particular assumptions and beliefs.
Learn more about The Truth Society at the Cornell University Press website. Follow Noelle Molé Liston on Intagram.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Meredith F. Small's "Inventing the World"

Meredith F. Small is a professor of anthropology at Cornell University and the author of Our Babies, Ourselves; What's Love Got to Do with It?; and Female Choices. She writes frequently for Natural History Magazine, Discover, Scientific American, and is a commentator for National Public Radio's All Things Considered.

Small applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Inventing the World: Venice and the Transformation of Western Civilization, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Inventing the World; Venice and the Transformation of Western Culture is a great touchstone for the book because it presents several ideas that were invented in Venice that remain critical today. The very thesis of the book is that my list of over 200 Venetian discoveries (objects as well as ideas) have shaped the modern equivalent, so it’s not a surprise that page 99 sports one or two of those.

Looking at page 99 is also fun because it happens to land in the middle of the chapter “The Art of Medicine and the Idea of Public Health.” What could possibly be more relevant today than that? The page begins:
Although many believe that Louis Pasteur, and somewhat later Robert Koch, were the first to understand that small particles we now colloquially call “germs” were responsible for spreading many diseases, these men were certainly not the first to think about contagion. In 1362 Ibn al-Kathib, an Arab intellectual and physician, wrote about contagion after seeing what plague had done. He pinned it to goods and ships coming into foreign ports and commented on the fact that not everyone died, only some and that suggested the possibility of immunity. His thinking was heretical at that time, especially in Muslim culture. And long before Pasteur, Padua professor and anatomist Girolamo Fracastoro proposed in his book De Contagione et Contagiosis Morbis (1546) that disease as passed along by tiny particles. He called them fomites, a word that has been translated from the Latin as “spores” but actually means “tinder,” as in to make a fire, and that’s what Fracastoro meant—these fomites started the raging fire of infection. He also made the enlightening suggestions that these spores could move from person to person in bodily fluids, they could survive for a very long time, and while the spores themselves were not infected, they were the causal factor of an infection.
Fracastoro came to this conclusion after many years of studying syphilis, which was rampant in Europe at the time. He was also the first person to suggest mercury as a cure for syphilis; he ran various controlled studies using mercury to prove his point. Fracastoro was also the first person to describe typhus, a pandemic. Fracastoro was a professor at the University of Padua which was part of the Venetian Republic and considered the intellectual heart of Venice.

Two pages later in the chapter, I describe how Venetians invented quarantine in 1348, but on page 99, I make the point that the government was clearly attuned to the contagious nature of plague. Although they didn’t have evidence, they were able to figure it out because of the economic foundation of the city. By the 14th century, Venice was an established trading nation building its wealth as boats came and went into the Venetian lagoon. The city also attracted foreign traders who acted as middlemen for their countries. Venice was and still is a very cosmopolitan place attracting people and contagion from all over.

Venice also had the advantage of a government that was more egalitarian than others during that time although aristocrats eventually outweighed commoners in their power. But even so, the city was run by committees always worried about corruption, and policies were aimed at protecting the collective rather than self-interest. And so, they instituted a 40 day (quaranta in Italian and Veneziano, the language of Venice) isolation period against people and their goods to protect against an unseeable threat, just as we do today.
Visit Meredith F. Small's website.

--Marshal Zeringue