Monday, October 31, 2022

Denise Gigante's "Book Madness"

Denise Gigante is the Sadie Dernham Patek Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University. She is the author of The Keats Brothers: The Life of John and George and Taste: A Literary History.

Gigante applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Book Madness: A Story of Book Collectors in America, and reported the following:
If you open to page 99 of Book Madness, you’ll see at the top of the page a beautiful softtone engraving of the Croton Fountain bubbling up in the center of what used to be City Hall Park across from the Astor Hotel in downtown Manhattan. The exuberance of the water is spectacular, rising up to five times the height of the few couples milling about it the American belated Regency clothing style of 1845. The fountain is no longer there, the hotel is no longer there, and the park is no longer what it was. It’s a snapshot of a moment in time when a certain group of people—protagonists and actors in this book—had great aspirations for amplifying the cultural grandeur of the new country on classical European standards.

The paragraph of page 99 begins, “Truth be told, Strong did not know the number of square feet of the home rising up behind him, but he was going for rhythm rather than accuracy, keeping Coleridge’s iambic dimeter (“So twice five miles”) with his “So x square feet.” It is an analysis of a poem on the previous page by George Templeton Strong, a well-known diarist and bibliomaniac who chronicled the life of the city in the 1840s and beyond. Strong was having a new house built on Greenwich Street, which he celebrates in a playful spoof of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan,” which describes a magical pleasure dome with caves of ice rising up before an inspired poet.

Money from John Jacob Astor, then the richest man in America who built the most spectacular hotel in the New World (behind the fountain), was used by another bibliomaniac in this story to build the Astor Library, the forerunner of the New York Public (formed through a merger of the Astor and Lenox Libraries in 1895). The wealthy bibliomaniac James Lenox was the top book collector in America. I would say that page 99 includes a number of interconnected threads, delivering a lot of American cultural history in the form of (on this page) a poetry analysis. I would say the Page 99 Test works, for the form of the book is what I am calling an associational literary history—an experiment in historical narrative and the story of American book love, passion, madness.
Learn more about Book Madness at the Yale University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: The Keats Brothers.

The Page 99 Test: The Keats Brothers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Abigail Perkiss's "Hurricane Sandy on New Jersey's Forgotten Shore"

Abigail Perkiss is an Associate Professor of History at Kean University in Union, NJ and co-editor of the Oral History Review. Her new book, Hurricane Sandy on New Jersey’s Forgotten Shore, draws on a collection of oral history interviews that she and her students collected between 2013 and 2016 to tell the story of Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath on New Jersey’s Bayshore. These interviews, individually and collectively, offer a portrait of a devastating storm, and of the network of relationships as victims, volunteers, and state and federal agencies came together to rebuild in its wake.

Perkiss applied the Page 99 Test to Hurricane Sandy on New Jersey’s Forgotten Shore and reported the following:
From page 99:
In many critical ways, this project was highly particularized; it was born out of a unique combination of circumstances, relationships, and personnel, and it was supported by a variety of institutions at every step of the development process. The early and continued commitment from [a variety of stakeholders] led to the creation of an important community oral history project and, no less significant, the development of a new and emerging group of oral and public historians, trained and practiced in oral history and digital humanities methods. This distinctive set of resources came together to create the possibility for meaningful oral history work where the whole was much greater than the sum of its individual parts.

At the same time, this project reveals the potential that arises when institutions come together to pool their financial, experiential, and temporal resources toward a collective end. Oral and public history work is built on collaboration, creativity, and adaptability in the face of limited time and personnel and increasingly diminishing financial support. Staring Out to Sea [the title of the oral history project] offers a model for the ways in which individual agencies and organizations can come together to support the development of new and innovative projects that serve the interests of both public historians and the communities with which they work. Taken to scale, this project offers the framework for ongoing, sustainability oral history work at all levels of the profession.
Hurricane Sandy on New Jersey’s Forgotten Shore is a slim volume; page 99 comes in the appendices – specifically, from an essay about the origins story of a longitudinal oral history project in which my students at Kean University and I conducted more than seventy interviews, documenting the uneven relief and recovery efforts after Hurricane Sandy collided with the New Jersey coastline in 2012.

On its face, page 99 is ancillary to the essence of Hurricane Sandy on New Jersey’s Forgotten Shore. The book chronicles the story of Sandy and its aftermath along the 115 miles of coastline, from Sandy Hook at the lip of the Atlantic Ocean to South Amboy at the mouth of the Raritan Bay: New Jersey’s Bayshore.

At the same, page 99 reveals the very foundation on which this book was built. The oral histories my students and I collected between 2013 and 2016 form the narrative backbone of Hurricane Sandy on New Jersey’s Forgotten Shore. These interviews reveal intimate window into the human impact of a devastating storm and the intended and unintended consequences of long-term policy decisions that created the conditions for such destruction.

The experience of Sandy for those who make their lives on the Bayshore offer insight into how we prepare for, survive, and respond to disaster. These experience at once lay bare the human toll of disaster and the human capacity for resilience. Collette Kennedy, who moved to Keyport just weeks before Sandy hit, was so looking forward to celebrating her first Halloween in her new home. Linda Gonzalez penned poems by candlelight as rain and wind beat down on her beloved Union Beach, knowing that those might be the last moments of relative calm that she would experience for months. James Butler erected a washed-up plastic Christmas tree at the corner of Jersey Avenue and Shore Road and became a national icon representing “Jersey Strong.” And Mary Jane and Roger Michalak, married forty-seven years, realized that they wouldn’t be able to raise themselves through a hole in their attic and instead sat down on their bed together, waiting for the water to wash over them. These voices, individually and collectively, offer a portrait of a devastating storm and of the network of relationships as suvivors, volunteers, and state and federal agencies came together afterward to rebuild.
Visit Abigail Perkiss's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 28, 2022

Shannon K. O'Neil's "The Globalization Myth"

Shannon K. O'Neil is the Vice President of Studies and Nelson and David Rockefeller senior fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. She is an expert on Latin America, global trade, U.S.-Mexico relations, corruption, democracy, and immigration.

O'Neil applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, The Globalization Myth: Why Regions Matter, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Globalization Myth: Why Regions Matter lays out how the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, deepened economic ties between the United States, Canada, and Mexico by promoting investment, leveling the legal playing field between domestic and international companies, and setting up new legal pathways to navigate commercial disputes. The page also details NAFTA’s limits, and how it failed to strip away regulations, rules, licenses, and other barriers that hold back North American regional supply chains.

This gets at the crux of the book’s argument, that while North America’s economies have integrated with each other during this latest round of globalization, they have not done so as deeply and significantly as Asia and Europe. This has given Asia- and Europe-based companies and nations an economic edge over the United States and North America.

So why do regional ties matter? Because regional supply chains both enable businesses to create high-quality and affordable products that can compete globally, and they are more likely to protect and create jobs at home.

By divvying up production across countries with different skill sets, wage rates, and access to money within North America, companies are better able to win customers at home and abroad. And when orders rise, so do jobs along the supply chain.

And while we call them global supply chains, manufacturing is far more likely to be done regionally. When factories open in China, Vietnam, Poland, or Romania, they turn to parts makers nearer by. U.S. suppliers don’t get any extra orders. When plants open in Mexico and Canada, they buy more inputs from the United States to feed into their assembly lines than from anywhere else in the world. Indeed, for every Mexican import to the United States, on average 40 percent of the value of that product was made in the U.S. For Canadian products, that number is 25 percent. For goods coming in from China, just 4 percent of the inputs are U.S.-made.

U.S.-based companies and their workers are facing a regionalized global marketplace where their competitors are taking advantage of the economies of scale, product specialization, and market access that regional manufacturing provides. To thrive, the United States needs to emulate this strategy and economically embrace its neighbors too.
Visit Shannon K. O'Neil's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Devoney Looser's "Sister Novelists"

Devoney Looser is Regents Professor of English at Arizona State University and the author or editor of nine books on literature by women, including The Making of Jane Austen. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Salon, The Washington Post, and Entertainment Weekly, and she’s had the pleasure of talking about Austen on CNN. Looser, who has played roller derby as Stone Cold Jane Austen, is a Guggenheim Fellow and a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with her husband and two sons.

She applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontës, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontës puts the reader in the middle of a chapter titled, “Gone Theatrical Mad: Maria’s Plays, Jane’s New Romance, and the Enchanting Kembles (1801).” It’s about Jane Porter (the older sister) and Anna Maria Porter (the younger, who went by Maria) coming of age as writers among dazzling London actors, including the famous Kemble family, especially youngest brother Charles, with whom Jane was about to fall in love. The Porter sisters were being pulled into the Kembles’ dizzying love triangles, along with their brother, the newly famous artist, Robert “Bob” Ker Porter. The figure who’s described at length here is Maria Theresa de Camp, a gorgeous actress in her mid-20s, known to the public as Miss De Camp.

Page 99:
Everyone knew the painful reasons why she [Miss De Camp] was thought worldly. It was the subject of salacious, open gossip. Part of her reputation, and part of the [Kemble] family’s objection to her as a wife for Charles [Kemble], must be laid at the feet of his brother, John Philip Kemble, who’d sexually assaulted Miss De Camp five years earlier, in 1795. She’d forcibly resisted him. There were witnesses. Some said Charles himself pulled his older brother off the actress. Others said it was Miss De Camp’s brother who did. The evidence of his crime must have been incontrovertible, because John Philip Kemble took the rare step of issuing a public apology, carried in the newspapers. Sadly, and predictably, the fashionable world found it a matter of comic mirth and moved on to the next scandal.

After the attack, Miss De Camp remained in the acting company, and Charles fell in love. But faced with the family’s objections to his marrying her, he couldn’t merely defy their wishes. There were promises made and perhaps threats. Anyone could see that if Charles went against his powerful elder siblings it would mean the end of his London theater career and Miss De Camp’s, too. The Kembles succeeded in pulling the couple apart. By the time the Porters were keeping company with Charles, there was no longer talk of him marrying Miss De Camp. The two actors still worked together, and although there was continued contact and tension, offstage they’d officially separated.

Miss De Camp’s response was to throw herself in the path of other men, including Robert Ker Porter. Maria wrote to Jane, in December 1800, “Bob sups with Miss de Camp on Sunday. I think she sets her cap at him. She wants to give C. K. a celebrated rival.” A desire to get closer to the newly famous and dashing Robert may be what led Miss De Camp to seek out Maria’s friendship, too. She’d written to Robert, hoping to solicit the honor of his sister’s acquaintance. After such a letter, Maria couldn’t refuse to meet her without making Miss De Camp her enemy. Yet the Porter family was concerned that this would prove yet another frowned-upon social connection for Maria among their morally upright friends, especially Mrs. Crespigny.

It was decided that Maria would accompany Robert to a party at the De Camp sisters’ home on Tottenham Court Road. There Maria found Miss De Camp to be an excellent, attentive host, both fascinating and good natured. She watched the actress flirt with her brother but was unable to tell whether she was... [99 to 100] really charmed with him or if she were a practiced coquette offstage, too.
I think the Page 99 Test works well! The page gives the reader a taste of the colorful social circle into which the Porter sisters were plunged as they came of age as published writers in their early 20s. This page telegraphs the social dangers and personal intrigues they’d face. The sisters were trying to maintain polite reputations as single women and public figures in a world that was very unforgiving about anything that smacked of female worldliness, including not only flirting and partying but acting and authorship. In subsequent pages, the charismatic Miss De Camp wraps Robert, Jane, and Maria around her little finger. That was also characteristic. They sisters were repeatedly manipulated by powerful people who took advantage of their naivete, loyalty, and generosity of spirit. They became global celebrities whose pioneering historical novels sold more than a million copies in the US alone before 1840, yet who never owned a home of their own. I hope readers will want to learn more about the Porter sisters’ fascinating, once-celebrated, and long-forgotten lives and careers, in this first biography devoted to them. Its material is drawn from thousands of their surviving, unpublished letters, which I’ve been working on for almost twenty years. I’m eager to share the Porters’ funny, heartbreaking, and moving stories about writing and striving in women’s lives.
Visit Devoney Looser's website and the Sister Novelists website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Phyllis Vine's "Fighting for Recovery"

After a successful twenty-year career teaching college-level history (University of Michigan, Union College, and Sarah Lawrence College) Phyllis Vine resigned her tenure at Sarah Lawrence College and undertook journalism training (at Columbia University's J School). Informed by a masters degree in Public Health (from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health), she became a full time writer and editor of a website hosting opinions and reader contributions about behavioral health, while aggregating news and information about mental illnesses. (now defunct) enabled some of the earliest conversations introducing recovery-oriented initiatives into the larger community. Partly due to her family's experience of mental illness in every generation, and partly because she taught the history of health care to graduate students studying health advocacy, writing about mental health is a natural byproduct of her life's journey.

In addition to three previous books, Vine's work has appeared in peer-reviewed journals as diverse as the History of Education Quarterly, American Journal of Orthpsychiatry, to chapters in specialized volumes such as Research in Community and Mental Health. Later, her investigative reporting appeared in City Limits, The Nation and Extra!

Vine applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Fighting for Recovery: An Activists' History of Mental Health Reform, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Fighting for Recovery drops the reader into First Lady Rosalynn Carter’s publicity campaign to make mental health reform a national priority. This is the fifth of the background chapters setting the stage for understanding the passions driving reform. Chapter Five, A First Lady’s Law, portrays Carter’s 1978 appearance on Good Morning America. It is timed to the release of a report from the President’s Commission on Mental Health which carries a consequential price-tag of $500 million. Page 99 explains footage recorded the day prior, when an ABC film crew tracked Carter’s visit to the Green Door. It was a community program for discharged patients “honing skills for independent living and employment.” Rosalynn Carter engages with former patients who are shopping at the local grocery, preparing a meal, and discussing difficulties finding jobs. This footage sets the scene for the interview (on the next page) where she reacts to an interviewer’s stigma about mental illness, and graciously puts him on a path to a better understanding about the needs of discharged patients who, she says, can live outside of a hospital with proper supports.

The Page 99 Test confirms what readers can expect. Throughout the book, activists challenge fictions and notable larger-than-life personalities command the moment; there are specific examples of former patients building a life in the community, and there is backlash. In the midst of all of this, long before the public comprehends illnesses which were fraught with misunderstanding and are largely feared, state hospitals were closing. Fighting for Recovery reveals how activists of all stripes – disability rights lawyers, former patients with lived experience, politicians, families, researchers – fought a war of medical and popular opinion to set a course for a recovery movement. Although the field was crowded, this narrative is inspired by the grassroots activists whose recovery from mental illness included creating networks for building programs with person-centered choice, autonomy, and self-help. Each chapter of Fighting for Recovery brackets something unique, such as a conflict, a situation, or an individual -- Rosalynn Carter is one of many – accruing results with initiatives pointing toward recovery. Today we recognize these in the advocacy training of peer services, or among non-medical first responders whose crisis intervention techniques include diversion from jail or hospital. Beginning with the mandate to close hospitals nearly 70 years ago, campaigns for recovery continue, and the final chapters of Fighting for Recovery reveal how the strategies and programs continue to warrant attention.
Visit Phyllis Vine's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Alexander J. Field's "The Economic Consequences of U.S. Mobilization for the Second World War"

Alexander J. Field is the Michel and Mary Orradre Professor of Economics at Santa Clara University. He is the author of A Great Leap Forward: 1930s Depression and U.S. Economic Growth and served as Executive Director of the Economic History Association from 2004 to 2012.

Field applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, The Economic Consequences of U.S. Mobilization for the Second World War, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book contains a statistical table which documents the respective performance of synthetic rubber plants producing butadiene from different feedstocks. Butadiene was needed along with styrene to produce synthetic rubber, a task forced upon the United States by the Japanese conquest of Singapore and the cutoff of 95 percent of U.S supplies of natural rubber. Suffice it to say that looking only at this page would give readers a very incomplete sense of what they can expect in the book. To be sure, some tables, but a great deal more, written, at least according to the blurbers, in a way that makes often technical material accessible to the general reader. The intent of the book is to overturn a view of the economic consequences of the war shared by economists, many historians, and the general public.

Aside from the claims that mobilization closed the negative output gap still prevailing in December 1941, and that the U.S. produced an enormous amount between 1941 and 1945 (both true), the conventional wisdom focuses heavily on learning by doing making military durables: Kaiser’s Liberty ships and Ford’s B-24 plant (Willow Run) often figure prominently in these narratives. Many argue that the learning resulted in big increases in industrial productivity across the war years with persisting benefits that helped lay the supply side foundation for the golden age of U.S. economic growth (1948-73).

These latter claims are, at best, misleading. They reflect the degree to which a celebratory imperative, along with wartime efforts at persuasion, have clouded our vision. We have lost sight of the chaos and waste involved in mobilization, the competitive expediting and endemic shortages and producer hoarding that contributed to production intermittency, idle capital, and priorities unemployment. All of this was aggravated by supply shocks visited on the country by the Japanese (see synthetic rubber) and the Germans, whose U-boats almost completely cut off tanker deliveries of petroleum and petroleum products to the Eastern seaboard.

The simple arithmetic is this: military (and total output) went up, but combined inputs went up more, which is to say productivity declined. The sudden, radical and ultimately temporary changes in the product fix caused both output and output per unit input (productivity) to plummet during transition periods as manufacturers shifted from making goods in which they were experienced to those in which they were not. Eventual gains from learning were a partial and temporary counterbalance; most of the goods were never made again after the war. The central empirical finding is that industrial productivity declined dramatically between 1941 and 1945, and grew anemically thereafter, compared to what had been true during the interwar period. Manufacturing productivity was lower in 1948 than it had been in 1941. The broader argument is that the supply side foundations, not just for production success during the war, but also for the golden age, were already largely in place by 1941, a thesis initially advanced in my 2011 book, A Great Leap Forward: 1930s Depression and U.S. Economic Growth.
Learn more about The Economic Consequences of U.S. Mobilization for the Second World War at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: A Great Leap Forward.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 24, 2022

Thomas Suddendorf, Jonathan Redshaw, & Adam Bulley's "The Invention of Tomorrow"

Thomas Suddendorf is a professor in the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland, Australia. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book The Gap: The Science Of What Separates Us From Other Animals. Suddendorf is an award-winning researcher who pioneered the study of “mental time travel.” His work has been featured in leading scientific journals including Science and Trends in Cognitive Sciences and in popular outlets including Scientific American and New Scientist.

Jonathan Redshaw is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Queensland. He has published extensively on the development and evolution of mental time travel, focusing on how children and animals think about uncertain future events. He was named a 2021 Rising Star by the Association for Psychological Science.

Adam Bulley is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Sydney and at Harvard University, where he researches the cognitive science of foresight and decision-making. He has won numerous honors and awards for his research and teaching.

Suddendorf applied the Page 99 Test to their new book, The Invention of Tomorrow: A Natural History of Foresight, and reported the following:
Page 99 is part of a chapter on the question of whether or not other animals are stuck in the present. It shows how many species do in fact form expectations, for instance, about what actions are likely to lead to what rewards. But it also points to limits: “although prediction and expectations are essential to associative learning, this does not necessarily entail that animals are aware of causal relationships. Nor does it imply that they ponder remote future events. A delay of only minutes typically makes the learning of associations between events impossible…”

This time the Page 99 Test fails. I do not think that reading this page is going to give readers a good idea about the rest of the book. While the question of what capacities humans and animals share was central to my previous book (The Gap – The Science of What Separates Us From Other Animals), it is only a small part of this new book.

In The Invention of Tomorrow—A Natural History of Foresight Jonathan Redshaw, Adam Bulley and I examine the human capacity to think about the future; where it comes from, how it works and how it makes us who we are. Our minds work like time machines, allowing us to re-experience past events and imagine potential futures. With such mental time travel, we can prepare for opportunities and threats well in advance, and can set out to shape the future to our own design.

But clearly we are not clairvoyants. Much of what comes to pass we do not anticipate, and much of what we anticipate does not come to pass. And even when we foresee what is coming, we often act imprudently. When waking up with a terrible hangover, have you ever sworn never to touch a drop again—only to find yourself beer in hand before long? Have you ever ordered a greasy hamburger or an extra-large sundae despite knowing you would regret it? And then duly regretted it?

The book shows how the emergence of foresight led to a radical transformation of our ancestors from unremarkable primates confined to the tropics of Africa to creatures that hold the destiny of an entire planet in their hands. But the book is not simply an ode to our successes of prediction (or a lament for our failures). While humans have a remarkable capacity to traverse the spans of ages in the mind’s eye, perhaps our greatest powers come from a humbler source. We understand we can’t know for sure what the future holds, and realize we’d better do something about it. Paradoxically, much of the power of foresight derives from our very awareness of its limits.

It's high time to find out more about these mental time machines of ours – we may need them more than ever to navigate through our current era and secure a better future.
Visit Thomas Suddendorf's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals by Thomas Suddendorf.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Jordan E. Taylor's "Misinformation Nation"

Jordan E. Taylor is an editor and historian of American media and politics.

He applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, Misinformation Nation: Foreign News and the Politics of Truth in Revolutionary America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Misinformation Nation: Foreign News and the Politics of Truth in Revolutionary America describes how a growing demand for news, created by the Age of Revolutions, fueled the global growth of the periodical press in North America in the late eighteenth century. The way that historians of the early United States often think about this story is that as American politics finally started to get interesting in the 1780s and 1790s, with the birth of a republican government, the number of newspapers in the country grew. But this page makes the point that if you look at the growth of newspapers in the U.S. alongside the growth of the press in Canada, the British empire, and the French empire, this expansion of the periodical press starts to look like more of a global phenomenon than a national one. The result was that American newspapers (which were better positioned to organize and interpret the tidal wave of detailed news produced by the Age of Revolutions) drew far more information from a globally expansive mix of sources than ever before.

Someone opening Misinformation Nation to page 99 would get a fair idea of what the book is about. The relationship between global revolutionary politics and newspapers, which this page focuses on, is certainly at the core of my study. Moreover, this page makes a point that’s crucial to my book’s subsequent chapters: while colonial British Americans mostly got their news from Britain before the American Revolution, after U.S. independence Americans gathered news from all over the world. However, this page doesn’t get at why this is important. As subsequent chapters show, the fact that Americans started gathering news from around the world meant that their experience of the world started to become more plural and fragmented. It became possible to gather news that suited and reinforced your existing political and ideological commitments, creating something like the information polarization of contemporary America.

Opening my book to page 99 for this test, I was slightly annoyed to realize that it was contained in chapter four. Don’t get me wrong: chapter four is important. The book wouldn’t make sense without chapter four, as it describes the impact of American independence on the flow of information into North America. But chapter four was the hardest to write in an interesting way, because it is so heavily focused on explaining how information flowed, rather than why that mattered. Page 99 and the pages surrounding it provide a pivot point in the book. This chapter wraps up the first half and provides essential context for what comes next, but it doesn’t focus on the historical claims that really excited me as I was writing. Writing this chapter felt like setting chess pieces up for an attack. But in a work of history that’s 224 pages long, some of those pages are necessary. Like the Age of Revolutions I was writing about on page 99, not every moment can be about the capture of the king.
Visit Jordan E. Taylor's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 21, 2022

Stuart Z. Charmé's "Authentically Jewish"

Stuart Zane Charmé is a professor of religion at Rutgers University–Camden in New Jersey. He is the author of two books on Sartrean existentialism, Meaning and Myth in the Study of Lives and Vulgarity and Authenticity: A Sartrean Approach, as well as numerous articles on questions of Jewish identity and authenticity.

Charmé applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, Authentically Jewish: Identity, Culture, and the Struggle for Recognition, and reported the following:
On page 99, I discuss the case of Shabbatai Zevi, a 17th century Jewish mystic who became widely accepted by Jews around the world as the Messiah. Shabbatai eventually appeared before the Ottoman Sultan and asked him to step down so that Shabbatai could begin his messianic rule. He was promptly arrested, jailed, and given a choice of either death or conversion to Islam. He chose to convert and thereby created the paradoxical situation of an alleged Jewish messiah who was now a Muslim. Most of his followers remained within Judaism and struggled to understand the meaning of Shabbatai’s messianic mission, though they were rejected and persecuted by rabbinic authorities, who saw Shabbatai as a false messiah.

I include the story of Shabbatai Zevi as a contrast to the case of the most famous false messiah in Jewish history—Jesus. In each case, and others that I discuss, there are questions about whether the followers of such figures can be considered authentically Jewish. In the contemporary world, “messianic Jews” claim to be Jewish in every respect, except that they also believe that Jesus is the messiah. Since it’s obvious that Jesus and his original followers were all Jews, present-day messianic Jews want to know why their claims of Jewish authenticity are rejected by almost all mainstream Jews. For mainstream Jews, it’s just as obvious that someone who believes that Jesus is the messiah cannot be a Jew, though Jews who practice Hindu yoga or Buddhist meditation are not such a big problem. Nor does anyone question the Jewish authenticity of the Hasidic Jews who believe that the Lubavitch rebbe was the messiah.

The example on page 99 of Shabbatai Zevi, who died over 500 years ago, is a bit of an outlier in my book, since the rest of the book is mostly concerned with controversies about who and what is authentically within contemporary Jewish life. This includes tensions between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews, Zionist and diaspora Jews, and questions about what to do with the thousands of people in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere who claim not only to be Jews but also to be direct descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Nonetheless, the example of Shabbatai includes seeds of other controversies about Jewish authenticity that will ripen in later centuries
Learn more about Authentically Jewish at the Rutgers University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Ron Eyerman's "The Making of White American Identity"

Ron Eyerman is Professor of Sociology at Yale University.

He applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, The Making of White American Identity, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Making of White American Identity is part of a chapter that concerns the role of groups and organizations in the representation and transmission of white identity and white supremacy from one generation to the next. Specifically, the page discusses the rise of neo-Nazism in the United States and how it evolved from a foreign-based pressure group representing German national interests in the American political system to a sub-cultural network connecting right-wing extremists across the country and around the world. This page indeed reflects one of the main themes of the book, namely, how white identity emerged and evolved historically in the United States from the colonial period to the present day. In addition to organizations and groups, like the KKK and the neo-Nazi subculture, white identification and white supremacy are represented and transmitted more subtly through popular culture, in mass media like film and music and in literature and art. The book contains chapters that illustrate this in much detail, especially in music, film and literature. The film “Birth of a Nation” and the film and novel “Gone with the Wind” are two prime examples, as is the country music genre. The point is to show that current manifestations of white ‘grievance’ do not emerge from nowhere, but are rooted in and mobilized through long-standing American traditions.
Learn more about The Making of White American Identity at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Maurice O. Wallace's "King's Vibrato"

Maurice O. Wallace is Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, author of Constructing the Black Masculine: Identity and Ideality in African American Men’s Literature and Culture, 1775–1995, and coeditor of Pictures of Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity.

He applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, King's Vibrato: Modernism, Blackness, and the Sonic Life of Martin Luther King Jr., and reported the following:
From page 99:
Long before King overcame the hegemony of vision underwriting print to recover “A Knock at Midnight” for sound, gospel had already settled the vexed relationship between inscription and envoicement. Thomas Dorsey provoked this very tension thirty-five years ahead of King, inaugurating a musical modernism in black sacred culture in 1931 at modern gospel’s beginning.

In 1931 three Chicago church musicians, Thomas A. Dorsey, Theodore R. Frye, and Roberta Martin, introduced a radically new musical aesthetic into African American religious experience. Against the prevailing tastes of black northerners for classical hymns and oratorios by Mendelssohn, Bach, Mozart, Rossini, and Handel—preferences indistinct from the musical repertories of white churches—they helped Chicago’s black Protestants shift away from their high-church devotions toward more dynamic expressions of faith and God-consciousness such as those brought north by black southerners to the Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, and Presbyterian establishment. The ecstatic displays and emotional freedoms that had been the exclusive purview of Holiness devotees and storefront Pentecostals were not long kept apart from the worship experiences of their mainline cousins owing significantly to Dorsey, Frye, and Martin, and the revolution in black sacred sound they inspired. The new music was blues-based, heavily syncopated, and, above all, expressive.
It seems page 99 of my academic study, King’s Vibrato: Modernism, Blackness, and the Sonic Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. is a very fine index of the general history and aesthetic influence of modern black gospel music on King’s preaching and speech-making sensibilities. This history of gospel is not only a history of a musical genre, it is the sound of the sacred in the secular and secular in sacred music practices that helps define modernism’s sound in twentieth century African American culture.

Modern gospel began in Chicago among African American migrants from the South who brought their religious sensibilities to the North where they met with a grittier urban experience. Gospel brought the divine into the material absurdities of everyday black life, making hope sustainable in the city. Gospel buoyed faith in the migrant’s belief concerning the city’s survivability. Gospel’s pathos, equal parts mourning (over the enduring proximateness of death to modern black life) and protest (against racial injustices as everyday as police violence and as systematic as inadequate access to health care), can be heard in the mood, tone, feeling and timbre of King’s preaching voice. His voice was influenced not only by the general brooding of black people about their American experience, but by the architectural acoustics of the buildings he preached (in Chicago and elsewhere), the sound of pipe organs (which was standard furniture in many aspirational black churches), new audio technologies (namely, microphones and loudspeakers) and, finally, a dialogic relationship to black audiences, the co-producers of his sermons and speeches. I identify the convergence of all of these factors in King’s career as “the Ebenezer sound” after the church of his youth where, under the ministerial leadership of his father and the musical leadership of his mother, these influences were first distilled for the shaping of King’s public voice and its incantatory tenor.
Learn more about King's Vibrato at the Duke University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Emily Joan Ward's "Royal Childhood and Child Kingship"

Emily Joan Ward is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh. She began her British Academy funded project on "Adolescence and Belonging in Medieval Europe, c.1000–c.1250" in her previous role at University College London.

Ward applied the Page 99 Test to Royal Childhood and Child Kingship: Boy Kings in England, Scotland, France and Germany, c. 1050–1262, her first book, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Royal Childhood and Child Kingship captures a moment part-way through Chapter 4, ‘Familial Education: Preparing Boys to be Kings’. The first half of the page is taken up with the closing paragraph of a section entitled ‘Celebrating Royal Children’. This summarises how royal infants were often incorporated within medieval documentary culture passively, in charter dating clauses or prayers for their spiritual and physical health. The paragraph argues that, although children were not dynamic actors on such occasions, their initial appearances in such documents are still significant ‘for understanding the web of interwoven obligations, influences and expectations around royal children, especially eldest sons’. Children’s passive appearances in charters also laid the groundwork for more active participation in rule later in childhood, which leads into the subsequent section of the chapter, ‘Children’s Participation in Royal Actions’. Following this heading, the bottom half of page 99 then considers how boys began to be brought into the transactional business of royal rule more actively from the age of five, ‘possibly when they were able to speak and provide verbal assent more articulately’. The page ends with an example from twelfth-century France, when Philip, the five-year-old son of Louis VII, provided his consent to his father’s foundation of the priory of Nemours.

The Page 99 Test is partially successful in this case. Page 99 highlights one of the crucial ideas I attempt to convey in Royal Childhood and Child Kingship: that children are important political actors and central to practices and systems of medieval rulership between the eleventh and twelfth centuries. However, relying on this page in isolation would give the reader only a partial insight into one aspect of the book’s argument. There is a lot that would be missed. Extrapolating from page 99 might also encouraged misguided conceptions, i.e., that the book exclusively focuses on concepts of agency (it does not) or that the analysis relies on documentary evidence alone (whereas the book in reality takes a much broader approach to source material).

Royal Childhood and Child Kingship is a comparative study of children’s centrality to royal rule across the central Middle Ages, and readers opening to page 99 are unlikely to appreciate the full geographical or chronological span of the work. At the heart of the study are six boys who became sole rulers of England, Scotland, France, or Germany while still under the age of fifteen. Placing these six children in comparison, supplemented by other examples where necessary, reveals important similarities in how young boys were prepared for rule and how they exercised political power and authority. The first part of the book, ‘Models and History’, challenges modern assumptions that kingship was equivalent to adult power by demonstrating the positive cultural and political connotations of a boy’s rule. The book’s second part, ‘Preparation for the Throne’, not only focuses on children’s incorporation within royal documents (as represented on page 99), but also considers children’s roles within oaths of fidelity, performances of homage, royal diplomacy, and coronation ceremonies. The third and final part, ‘Guardianship and Royal Rule’, presents an alternative picture of child rulership, one which stresses administrative innovation and political collaboration over and above the narrative of magnate violence which tends to dominate both contemporary chronicles and modern impressions. Uniting all these themes to focus on the figure of the royal child and boy king helps us move past a resolutely adult-focused impression of medieval rulership, showing children’s political significance in all its complexity.
Follow Emily Joan Ward on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 17, 2022

Bernadine Hernández's "Border Bodies"

Bernadine Marie Hernández is associate professor of English at the University of New Mexico.

She applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Border Bodies: Racialized Sexuality, Sexual Capital, and Violence in the Nineteenth-Century Borderlands, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the beginning of a summary. The summary is of an opera titled Chipita Rodríguez written by Lawrence Weiner. The summary begins to tell the reader how the opera describes Rodríguez, who is the focus of the chapter (Chapter 3) and argues that the opera only allows Rodríguez to be visible through death and violence. The page goes into a close reading of the first part of the opera and suggests that it is connected to the folktale La Llorona and further alienates Rodríguez from her earthly body because she becomes a martyr. The chapter reads:
A bilingual opera, the narrative does not focus on Rodriguez’s life before or during the trial and hanging, but instead focuses on her unverified granddaughter Rosita’s journey “to clear [Rodríguez’s] soul” through the patriarchal Catholic Church. (Weiner, Chipita Rodríguez, 8). When Rosita asks the Catholic priest, “Where are the records [that speak to my grandmother’s execution]?,” the father replies, “The few that are left are in the care of the county clerk.” (Weiner, Chipita Rodríguez, 7). Here again we witness the clear and present absence of Rodríguez. When Rosita goes to visit Father Murphy to see if he can do anything to acquit her grandmother, the play reads, “The old priest did not permit a Christian burial, and some say the ghost of Chipita still weeps as she walks the banks of the river.” (Weiner, Chipita Rodríguez, 4). This reference to La Llorona makes it clear that Rodríguez is being constructed through a Mexican maternal trope. La Llorona is a folktale that has many iterations. However, in the most common tale of La Llorona (who is mostly named María in legends), she marries a rich man, and he cheats on her constantly, so she drowns the two children that she has with him. She continues to roam the riverbanks where she drowns her own children and weeps until her death.
Page 99 does not give a good example of what the entire book is about, which is about sexual and gender violence on the border in the nineteenth-century and how that violence is interweaved with capitalism. This page is a close reading of the archives that I explore in the book, but this chapter is really a bridge between the discursive construct of racialized sexuality in the nineteenth-century borderlands and the material consequence of that discourse.

The purpose of this study is not to understand how poor Mexicanas in the borderlands are connected to capital but how they are connected through capital. By through capital, I argue that women’s bodies in the borderlands are lynchpins in the capitalist transformation of the West and Southwest. I argue that racialized sex, gender, and sexuality are very much tied to the ways capital is able to function through what I call sexual capital.
Follow Bernadine Hernández on Facebook and Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Monika Nalepa's "After Authoritarianism"

Monika Nalepa is Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. With a focus on post-communist Europe, her research interests include transitional justice, parties and legislatures, and game-theoretic approaches to comparative politics. Her first book, Skeletons in the Closet: Transitional Justice in Post-Communist Europe, received the Best Book award from the Comparative Democratization section of the APSA and the Leon Epstein Outstanding Book Award from the Political Organizations and Parties section of the APSA.

Nalepa applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, After Authoritarianism: Transitional Justice and Democratic Stability, and reported the following:
Page 99 summarizes the theoretical part of my book, which says that the transparency aspect of transitional justice—revealing the truth about secret collaboration with the authoritarian regime after it has fallen—is better for democratic stability than punishing former elites and perpetrators of human rights violation when the nature of their crimes is known. The reason is that in a world without lustration and truth commissions (the two transparency regimes I discuss in my book) unknown collaborators of the authoritarian regime and perpetrators who committed atrocities on its behalf in secret can be blackmailed. Persons with knowledge and evidence of what they did in the past can extract concessions, rents and other privileges in return for keeping their secrets hidden.

In contrast, purges—the vetting and removal of known collaborators—does not prevent such blackmail, because there are no secrets to reveal. Moreover, such purges can be detrimental to democratic stability if they remove agents of the state with necessary expertise in running such a state. When the new democratic state refuses to reappoint agents of the former authoritarian regime it effectively chooses to delegate running the state to knew and untrained employees (bureaucrats and agents of enforcement). Such employees may be loyal to the new democratic elites, but do they know how to run the state? Particularly thorough purges, which wholesale remove all employees of certain organizations are dangerous for democratic stability. The only exception to this are situations where the former authoritarian state was so poorly run that the loss in expertise from firing all agents of the ancien regime is minuscule.

I will have to use your suggestion and say "Uncannily, of the hundreds of pages in my book, page 99 is the very best single page to introduce a browser to what the book is about."
Visit Monika Nalepa's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 15, 2022

James R. Martel's "Anarchist Prophets"

James R. Martel is Professor of Political Science at San Francisco State University and the author of The Misinterpellated Subjectand Unburied Bodies: Subversive Corpses and the Authority of the Dead.

He applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, Anarchist Prophets: Disappointing Vision and the Power of Collective Sight, and reported the following:
Page 99 happens in the middle of a chapter on Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. My argument on that page is a summary of how Zarathustra is what I call an anarchist prophet, that is a prophet who has the trappings of an archist prophet (i.e. hierarchical, knowing something that no one else does, having access to transcendental truths) but uses that position to return vision and sight to the community that it is normally stolen from. [On a side note: the term archist may be unfamiliar but for me it is the opposite of anarchism. It is the hierarchal and violent form of politics that dominates the world to the point where it doesn’t even seem to have a name.] The page begins mid-stream in analyzing a scene in which Zarathustra encounters a group of disabled people on a bridge. They beg him to heal them and he refuses. More specifically, the page begins with a discussion of Zarathustra’s refusal to heal a blind man. It says that were he to do so, Zarathustra would be fulfilling the miraculous function of a prophet, thus affirming for this man, among all the others, that they really were detestable in their original form and needed to be cancelled and replaced by something better. By denying him sight, Zarathustra reinforces the possibility that the blind man will “see” with his own faculties (not literally sight in this case) rather than trusting the forms of sight that are granted to him by archist power. The page goes on to say that although Nietzsche is usually thought of as a radical individualist, in fact he has a collective and political project in mind (so that the blind man, when he starts to “see for himself” does so in conjunction with his larger community of fellow sufferers, rather than once again seeing what he is told to see). I mention at the very end that for Nietzsche each of us would devolve into internal fantasies if we didn’t have others for whom to bounce off ideas and actions.

Page 99 is actually quite good in giving a sense of the overall argument of the book although it probably needs a bit contextualizing to show how and why that is the case. The focus on the blind man helps to get at the central theme of the book which is that under conditions of archism our sight is usually organized for us by the state, the market and other archist institutions. The role of the anarchist prophet is to return a sense of collective sight to the communities that are determined by archist forms of vision. In many ways, Zarathustra is the clearest example that I have for an anarchist prophet (at least in a philosophical sense; later in the book I give real life examples from history). In the very way that Zarathustra can look so much like a standard archist prophet (for example, it appears that he does have the power to heal people of their ills even though he doesn’t choose to use that power) he is an ideal candidate to subvert archism by its very own mechanisms. Due to this disguise, Zarathustra flies under the radar but he uses his power to undo and undermine the normal functions of archist organization of vision. The focus on the blind man is also helpful because it suggests something important about the nature of sight as such. Sight can be considered to be the “master sense” under conditions of archism. It is privileged above other senses and is used as the basis to gaze upon the world and organize and rank it accordingly (earlier in the book I speak of the archeon, the site from which this sight emanates and which is itself exempt from the ranking of everything and everyone else). But in fact even sight is not really what we are dealing with. Archism actually overrides our collective sight with its own version of what we must see, how we must “read” the world around us. For this reason, by refusing to restore sight to a blind person, Zarathustra is offering that it is not sight per se that is at issue (the blind can be as subject to phantasms as the sighted). The man’s blindness offers a way to bypass the master sense and shows that collective vision is about shared experience and knowledge rather than a matter of simple empiricism.
Learn more about Anarchist Prophets at the Duke University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 14, 2022

Geneviève Zubrzycki's "Resurrecting the Jew"

Geneviève Zubrzycki is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia at the University of Michigan. She’s the author of the award-winning The Crosses of Auschwitz: Nationalism and Religion in Post-Communist Poland and Beheading the Saint: Nationalism, Religion and Secularism in Quebec.

Zubrzycki applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Resurrecting the Jew: Nationalism, Philosemitism, and Poland’s Jewish Revival, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The Paradox of Hospitality

The exhibition points to Polish hospitality from the start, as the story begins with the arrival of Jews and their settlement on Polish land. In postvisit interviews, visitors emphasized the Jewish legend surrounding the settlement of Jews in Poland—with God telling Jews traveling through dense forests that “here [they] will rest,” and King Kazimierz granting rights to Jews—as a key takeaway point. This may be because independent visitors tend to spend a disproportionate amount of time in the first two galleries of the exhibition (titled “First Encounters” and “Paradisus Iudaeorum”). Perhaps the beginnings capture their imagination because they know key characters of the story (e.g., King Kazimierz and his lover, the beautiful Esterka) but not the historical details and facts of the period. Perhaps they spend more time in those galleries simply because at the beginning of the exhibition they are more motivated to read everything and interact with every prop. Or perhaps they prefer to spend time steeped in images of the distant past than to view (or avert their eyes from) the violence of the recent Polish Jewish past. In any case, by the time visitors reach the Holocaust gallery, they have noticeably less energy. Those with small children often leave because of fatigue or because of the graphic nature of the exhibition. Thus the impression many visitors retain is of the mostly peaceful coexistence of Poles and Jews over centuries, and the vision that President Komorowski conjured in his speech of Poland as “a safe haven and a generally friendly place for Jews, ... a beautiful exception in Europe at that time.”
Page 99 of Resurrecting the Jew is part of a chapter that examines the Polish state’s discourse on Polish-Jewish relations and analyzes the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews’ permanent exhibition and its reception by visitors. It is based on ethnographic observations and interviews with visitors during 104 visits to the museum. The passage highlights how politicians and visitors fold the exhibition’s narrative into a romanticized vision of Polish-Jewish relations. In that sense, page 99 “passes the test,” as the book dives under the surface to uncover the different meanings Jewish history and culture have for non-Jewish Poles, and how they are used to represent and promote a vision of Poland as open, hospitable, and multicultural. But page 99 also “fails the test” because it does not capture the rich ethnographic portraits of non-Jewish Poles invested in the resurrection of Jewish culture, or of the Poles discovering and embracing their hidden Jewish roots and actively participating in the revival of Jewish communal life in Poland. It is also impossible for a single page to communicate the book’s bigger story: that of an ongoing Polish culture war about the nature of Polishness and its relationship to Catholicism. While one camp favors a traditional vision of Polish identity crystallized around Catholicism, conservative family values, and a national narrative emphasizing Polish martyrdom and heroism, the other questions that mythology, and promotes progressive values and secularism through the support of Jewish culture and Jewish communal life. Resurrecting the Jew shows why and how that progressive political project is articulated through a Jewish revival and philosemitic practices, and examines its challenges and limitations.
Learn more about Resurrecting the Jew at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Felicity Hill's "Excommunication in Thirteenth-Century England"

Felicity Hill is a lecturer in medieval history at the University of St Andrews. She was previously a research fellow at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and a Scouloudi fellow at the Institute of Historical Research. She holds degrees from the University of Manchester (BA), University College London (MA), and the University of East Anglia (PhD).

Hill applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Excommunication in Thirteenth-Century England: Communities, Politics, and Publicity, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test works reasonably well for my book. Page 99 starts a couple of sentences into the conclusion to my second chapter, so summarises the arguments of the previous forty pages. Many of the ideas discussed in the first 99 pages of the book are dealt with on the page, including how excommunication’s effects on the soul were presented to the wider population by churchmen, how people responded to the hellish implications of this ecclesiastical sanction, and why.
reactions varied from fearful to indifferent to defiant. The indifferent, who were too little disturbed by deprivation of the sacraments and church, judged that they would benefit from delaying absolution. Nothing indicates that there was any widespread scepticism about excommunication’s effects. … Nor did the defiant reject the power of excommunication in toto. Clergy were fallible, so some simply rejected the validity of their own individual sentences, questioning such sentences’ ability to imperil their salvation. They disregarded the church’s unequivocal teaching that scorning an unjust sentence rendered it a just one, but could still believe in the spiritual perils of valid excommunication. Even the pious might refuse, at least temporarily, to accept a sentence pronounced against them by someone they believed was acting unjustly.

The issue was not that the spiritual terrors inflicted by excommunication were too weak, but rather that they took effect too slowly. These effects provided an important part of the sanction’s potency. Yet it is clear that only in certain circumstances were they enough to impel a swift absolution. The afterlife was something to worry about later. Spiritual effects provided an incentive to reconcile with the church or to avoid excommunication in the first place, but alongside social and other worldly and immediate repercussions. … As a means of quickly driving sinners to make satisfaction, fear of hell alone was not enough. In the case of deathbed absolutions, which are unfortunately difficult to quantify, excommunication might have been very effective. For the healthy, however, loss of salvation was of less immediate concern than temporal repercussions.
Page 99 gives a good indication of the type of book this is – a social history that analyses responses to excommunication and the tensions between ecclesiastical authorities and the laity. On the other hand, it terms of content, it is less representative. Page 99 comes only one third into the book, forming the culmination of Part I. Though important topics such as automatic excommunications and the sanction’s medicinal purpose are mentioned (the latter in the sentence that carries over onto page 100), most of the ideas discussed in Parts II and III necessarily don’t appear here. The importance of communities’ responses to sentences and the public nature of excommunication are two of the book’s main arguments, neither of which is mentioned on this page. A browser opening the book at page 99 would probably get a good sense of whether they would like to read more, but they would need to do so in order to learn what several of my key arguments are. I looked to see whether skipping forward another hundred pages to 199 would be better. Probably not, because it’s mid-chapter, but it does give an indication of the later parts’ discussions: ‘For an excommunicate, [public] denunciation was often the most harmful aspect of a sentence, and could be deemed by both victims and communities to be unjust or excessive’.
Learn more about Excommunication in Thirteenth-Century England at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Steven Nadler's "The Portraitist"

Steven Nadler is Vilas Research Professor and William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy, and director of the George L. Mosse/Laurence A. Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His books include Spinoza: A Life, which won the 2000 Koret Jewish Book Award for biography, and Spinoza’s Heresy: Immortality and the Jewish Mind.

Nadler applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, The Portraitist: Frans Hals and His World, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The truce was a significant moment in Dutch history. The small Republic, really just a coalition of provinces united, if not entirely by religion, then by language and their distaste for the rule of Spanish monarchs, had mustered sufficiently impressive military prowess to fight a European superpower to a standstill. The Dutch, aided by mercenaries, showed themselves a force to be reckoned with. Just as important, the truce gave the Dutch economy some breathing room, not least by allowing Holland and other provinces to redirect resources from defense to commerce. The truce also marks, and essentially allowed for, the beginning of the intellectual and artistic flourishing that distinguishes this period of Dutch culture.

The armistice would last until 1621. Peace on the international front, though, may have allowed for the unleashing of trouble on the domestic scene. In the 1610s, a controversy raged within the Dutch Reformed Church, one that would quickly bleed into the political sphere and have a tremendous effect on practically all aspects of life in the Republic. The upshot was the first of the periodic political upheavals and reversals that occur in early modern Dutch history—the Dutch call them wetsverzettingen (loosely translated as “overturnings of law”)—and that bring a radical redistribution of power among the various political and religious camps. While the turmoil was disastrous for many people, and even deadly for some, it actually brought new opportunities for Hals and his art.

In January 1610, a group of forty-four ministers, all followers of Jacobus Arminius, a theology professor at the University of Leiden and a cleric in the Dutch Reformed Church, met in The Hague and issued a “remonstrance” or petition in which they set forth their unorthodox views on sensitive theological questions. These Arminians, or “Remonstrants,” rejected the strict Calvinist doctrines of grace and predestination. They believed that people had the capacity to contribute, through voluntary action, to their own salvation; and they denied that divine grace was irresistible, incapable of being refused or misused by an exercise of free will. Remonstrants also favored a separation between matters of faith and conscience and matters of civil government. They worried about the political ambitions of their more orthodox opponents in the Church, who sought control not only over the appointment of preachers in the pulpits and professors in the theology faculties but over the membership of city councils. Like many religious reformers, the Remonstrants saw their crusade in moral terms. In their eyes, the true spirit of the Reformation had been lost by the increasingly dogmatic, hierarchical, ambitious and intolerant leaders of the Reformed Church.
As you can see, Frans Hals himself does not appear on this page, which is part of a discussion of the historical and religious background, so it represents a bit of a digression from the main story, which is about Hals’ life and work — that is, his portraits and their sitter/patrons, but also his training, his difficult personality, his life-long financial woes, and his extended family and the troubles they experienced. But since the book is also about “his world,” this historical material is essential to putting Hals in the broader context of the Dutch Republic during its so-called “Golden Age.” It was a turbulent time in the Republic, as different factions within the Dutch Reformed Church clashed over theological and political matters; and this had great consequence for the nation’s economy, spiritual life and, as well, its artists. It was also a period of what seemed like non-stop wars — as Holland and the other provinces fought for independence from Spain, and engaged in several fights with England, France and others. And yet, despite it all, it remains one of the richest periods in history for the art of painting, and portraiture in particular.
Learn more about The Portraitist at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Best of All Possible Worlds.

The Page 99 Test: A Book Forged in Hell.

The Page 99 Test: The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Clayton Crockett's "Energy and Change"

Clayton Crockett is professor and director of religious studies at the University of Central Arkansas. He is the author of Radical Political Theology: Religion and Politics After Liberalism (2011) and Deleuze Beyond Badiou: Ontology, Multiplicity, and Event (2013) and coauthor of An Insurrectionist Manifesto: Four New Gospels for a Radical Politics (2016). He is also a coeditor of the series Insurrections: Critical Studies in Religion, Politics, and Culture.

Crockett applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, Energy and Change: A New Materialist Cosmotheology, and reported the following:
Page 99 of this book talks about the role of bacteria in biological evolution, and how that has been overlooked and under-appreciated. Specifically, bacteria reproduce asexually and practice horizontal gene transfer, which is different from sexual reproduction that passes down genes by means of natural selection. The evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould says that bacteria and another closely related kingdom, Archaea, have been, are, and likely will remain “the dominant creatures on earth by any standard evolutionary criterion of biochemical diversity.” This understanding works against the teleological narrative of evolution that assumes that large multicellular animals are the most complex and significant forms of life on earth.

In my evaluation, this test of page 99 does not give a very good sense of the book as a whole. It occurs within a chapter that focuses on bioenergetics and life, and considers how all living organisms function by means of energy transformation. Here I discuss bacteria and archaea, which are single-celled prokaryotes, but the overall point is to see how it is the almost inconceivable symbiotic union of these two life forms that produces the first eukaryote, or cell with a nucleus that can then assemble and link up with other cells to form multicellular organisms. The bacteria that is assimilated into an archaea eventually becomes the mitochondria, which produces energy by pushing a proton across a membrane to create the chemical ATP. This is how cells generate energy for all forms of complex life.

The book as a whole develops a comprehensive philosophy of energy, and looks at being as energy transformation across multiple thresholds, including thermodynamics, biology, economics, ecology, and religion. Page 99 is from Chapter 2, which concerns how energy flow through an organic system organizes and sustains a living system. Life is an entirely new form, but it does not manifest a totally different kind of energy. Energy is already self-organizing in thermodynamic forms that occur in open systems that do not operate at equilibrium.

We do not know what energy is; energy is how we measure change, and change is what is really real about our world, because it is constantly changing. In ecological terms, we are running out of useful forms of energy that are non-renewable in human time scales, which is a form of entropy. Entropy does not necessarily lead to disorder, but we need new ways of thinking about energy in terms of global capitalism and what is called the Anthropocene. Energy also gives us new ways to think about spirit, in ways that are not dualistically opposed to matter, in Amerindian, Vodou, and Chinese traditions. Finally, we can adopt the perspective of radical theology to think about God as the ultimate reality of Change, and then energy becomes an affirmation, a kind of love.
Learn more about Energy and Change at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 10, 2022

Kristin Demetrious's "Public Relations and Neoliberalism"

Kristin Demetrious is an Associate Professor of Communication at Deakin University in Victoria, Australia. Her research investigates power in public relations and its language practices through a number of social sites such as activism and gender using a socio-cultural lens to explore how it can create and control forms of identity and shape public debates that set policy directions.

Demetrious applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Public Relations and Neoliberalism: The Language Practices of Knowledge Formation, and reported the following:
The ninety-ninth page of Public Relations and Neoliberalism catapults the reader into the middle of an elaborate theoretical idea about how PR language practices work to impose a narrow and constricted ‘vision’ of neoliberal society – an argument that drives the logic of the book. And that’s a good thing. This page shows that one way that blank transactional meanings are insinuated into society is by privileging a utopian idea of ‘living in the moment’, so that no historical or relational counterpoint is on hand for people to compare within a broader context, and in doing so, suggests how this ‘spell’ might be broken. But to have a stronger sense of what this idea means and why it’s important, both for life now and in the future, the previous chapters are crucial. These paint a picture of how globally dominant public relations language practices have impoverished politics and public debate in ways that are systematic, deliberate and working to impede social change. This is because, increasingly, the way we speak, listen, and circulate meaning is dragging us into a limited set of ideas which promises an economically inflected idea of ‘freedom’. And this comes at a cost. We have less (real) imagination, and we have less (real) public opinion, because we are caught up in this cul-de-sac, this road to nowhere. The book is literally focussed on understanding this and finding a way through. Nonetheless this chapter is the crucible because it deals with concepts that might break the deadlock. It analyses the repertoire of language practices that have been harnessed by the neoliberal project and in doing so, provides a kernel of hope.

And with this a new object emerges: the neonarrative. I argue this ‘thing’ (the neonarrative) lives, working quietly in public debate in pernicious yet undescribed ways, hence it is simultaneously dangerous and benign, and at this point in human history, everywhere from activism to big business and government. The concept of neonarrative draws on the lucid ideas of Uwe Poerksen who identifies a privileged vocabulary of empty ‘plastic words’ like ‘communication’ and ‘development’ that insinuate neoliberal meaning into everyday discourse. Founded on my conception of ‘intrinsic and extrinsic public relations’, neonarratives are the vehicles through which plastic words are assembled and propelled in discourse to gain fidelity and influence. By now, readers would have picked up on my view that ideas like ‘spin’ are woefully inadequate. Not only do they fail to fully capture the dynamics of discourse but relying on terms like ‘spin’ to critique unethical public language practices invested with self-interest, serves to create some sense of personal control, as if everything can be explained and then neutralised by deploying this term. As if there is nothing more to say. This effect is deadening and neither works for or against a critical position. Think of it as a hall of mirrors. It keeps us staring at ourselves but not really seeing. As a result, we remain in a state of critical suspension all of which serves to allow these language practices to continue unhindered. Neoliberal language practices (or PR) exercise enormous control, but when it is analysed thus, it is easy to see how we pass quickly over this territory and how this in turn serves neoliberal purposes.

Up to this point in the book I’ve argued the combined forces of neoliberalism and public relations produce a closed discourse focussed on economy, competition, growth, and market-based notions of progress. I am particularly interested in the 1947 formation of the Mont Pèlerin Society (MPS) which sought to undo progressive political agendas like collectivism and rejuvenate the somewhat unpopular, and seemingly outdated ideas promoting business and growth. In this there is considerable focus on the Austrian economist and intellectual Friedrich August von Hayek - who was the driving force behind the society which would eventually become a powerful transnational neoliberal network. Neoliberal language practices are hiding in plain sight, and we must understand what is happening for our very survival. In exploring this, two further chapters are focussed on how this is working in two important debates of our time: climate change and in the movement of people in and between nation states, like refugees, stateless people and asylum seekers. The book makes the claim that public relations is more potent and powerful than currently understood both within, and outside the field. I hope at the end of the book, to open doors to new thinking in this area.
Learn more about Public Relations and Neoliberalism at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue