5/13 Front Table Newsletter

May 13th, 2024

 On This Week's Front Table, recount the inspirational history and the quintessential pioneers of the animal rights movement, explore the history of self experimentation with various drugs and what it reveals about Western history, culture, and science, engage with a comprehensive history of one of the most important composers of the twentieth century, and read about the period of Black writing during the early Cold War, dubbed "The Blue Period." Find these titles and more at semcoop.com

Our Kindred Creatures : How Americans Came to Feel the Way They Do About Animals
Bill Wasik, Monica Murphy

Before the Civil War, animals' suffering had rarely been discussed; horses pulling carriages and carts were routinely beaten in public view, and dogs were pitted against each other for entertainment and gambling. But in 1866, a group of activists began a dramatic campaign to change the nation's laws and norms, and by the century's end, most Americans had adopted a very different way of thinking and feeling about the animals in their midst. In Our Kindred Creatures, Bill Wasik offers a fascinating history of this crusade and the battles it sparked in American life. On the side of reform were such leaders as George Angell, the inspirational head of Massachusetts's animal-welfare society and the American publisher of the novel Black Beauty; Henry Bergh, founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and many others. In recounting this remarkable period of moral transition--which, by the turn of the twentieth century, would give birth to the attitudes we hold toward animals today--Wasik and Murphy challenge us to consider the obligations we still have to all our kindred creatures.

Psychonauts : Drugs and the Making of the Modern Mind
(Yale University Press)
Mike Jay

Until the twentieth century, scientists investigating the effects of drugs on the mind did so by experimenting on themselves. Vivid descriptions of drug experiences sparked insights across the mind sciences, pharmacology, medicine, and philosophy. Accounts in journals and literary fiction inspired a fascinated public to make their own experiments--in scientific demonstrations, on exotic travels, at literary salons, and in occult rituals. But after 1900 drugs were increasingly viewed as a social problem, and the long tradition of self-experimentation began to disappear. From Sigmund Freud's experiments with cocaine to William James's epiphany on nitrous oxide, Mike Jay brilliantly recovers a lost intellectual tradition of drug-taking that fed the birth of psychology, the discovery of the unconscious, and the emergence of modernism. Today, as we embrace novel cognitive enhancers and psychedelics, the experiments of the original psychonauts reveal the deep influence of mind-altering drugs on Western science, philosophy, and culture.

The Blue Period : Black Writing in the Early Cold War
(University of Chicago Press)
Jesse McCarthy

In the years after World War II, to be a black writer was to face a stark predicament. On the one hand was the Soviet Union, espousing revolutionary communism that promised egalitarianism while being hostile to conceptions of personal freedom. On the other hand was the United States, a country steeped in racial prejudice and the policies of Jim Crow. Black writers of this time were equally alienated from the left and the right, Jesse McCarthy argues, and they channeled that alienation into remarkable experiments in literary form. Embracing racial affect and interiority, they forged an aesthetic resistance premised on fierce dissent from both US racial liberalism and Soviet communism. From the end of World War II to the rise of the Black Power movement in the 1960s, authors such as Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Paule Marshall defined a distinctive moment in American literary culture that McCarthy terms the Blue Period. In McCarthy's hands, this notion of the Blue Period provides a fresh critical framework that challenges long-held disciplinary and archival assumptions. Black writers in the early Cold War went underground, McCarthy argues, not to depoliticize or liberalize their work, but to make it more radical--keeping alive affective commitments for a future time.

Short War
(A Strange Object)
Lily Meyer

When sixteen-year-old Gabriel Lazris, an American in Santiago, Chile, meets Caro Ravest, something clicks. Caro, who is Chilean, is charming, curious, and deeply herself. Gabriel dreams of their future together. But everybody's saying there's going to be a coup--and no one says it louder than Gabriel's dad, a Nixon-loving newspaper editor who Gabriel suspects is working with the C.I.A. Gabriel's father is adamant that the moment political unrest erupts, their family is going home. To Gabriel, though, Chile is home. Decades later, Gabriel's American-raised adult daughter Nina heads to Buenos Aires in a last-ditch effort to save her dissertation. Quickly, though, she gets sidetracked: first by a sexy professor, then by a controversial book called Guerra Eterna. A document of war and an underground classic, Guerra Eterna transforms Nina's sense of her family and identity, pushing her to confront the moral weight of being an American citizen in a hemisphere long dominated by U.S. power. But not until Short War's coda do we get true insight into the divergent fortunes of Gabriel Lazris and Caro Ravest. Shaped by the geopolitical forces that brought far-right dictators like Pinochet to power, their fates reverberate through generations, evoking thorny questions about power, privilege, and how to live with the guilt of the past.

A Light in the Darkness : The Music and Life of Joaquín Rodrigo
(W.W. Norton)
Javier Suárez-Pajares

Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999) is best known as the composer of one of the most popular works of music in the twentieth century--the Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra. A Light in the Darkness takes us through Rodrigo's childhood in Valencia, the onset of blindness at the age of three, and the beginnings of his musical education. He achieved some early success in Spain as a composer before moving to Paris in 1927 to advance his studies, following in the footsteps of other eminent Spanish composers like Isaac Albéniz, Joaquín Turina, and Manuel de Falla. There he enrolled in courses with composer Paul Dukas, met the woman who would become his wife, and earned the respect and friendship of Falla, who became his champion. Rodrigo's life and career spanned a period of great tumult in Spain, and he had to navigate strong, shifting political and cultural currents--before, during, and after Franco. An authoritative life of one of the twentieth century's great musical geniuses, A Light in the Darkness becomes a stunning tale of how art gets made under even the most challenging circumstances.

(Seagull Books)
Samira Negrouche, trans. Nancy Naomi Carlson

In these otherworldly poetry sequences, Samira Negrouche reminds us that "all life is movement," where "time passes through me / beings pass through me / they are me / I am them." The "I" is representative of one voice, three voices, all voices, all rooted in movement as their bodies brush past one another, brush against thresholds of time and space. Everything is in flux--including the dream-like landscapes at the borders of borders--as the poet seeks to recover parts of self and memory, on both a personal and universal level. In these poems, history-laden locales such as Algiers, Timbuktu, N'Djamena, Cotonou, Zanzibar, Cape Town, and Gorée are evoked. Even the language, expertly and sensitively translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson, refuses to be pinned down, as it loops back on itself. At times contradictory, at times fractured in meaning, syntax, and diction, the playful language is riddled with "restless" verbs. In the end, the "I" takes on prophetic overtones, instilling hope for the future.

See Loss See Also Love : A Novel
Yukiko Tominaga

Shortly after her husband Levi's untimely death, Kyoko decides to raise their young son, Alex, in San Francisco, rather than return to Japan. Her nosy yet loving Jewish mother-in-law, Bubbe, encourages her to find new love and abandon frugality but her own mother wants Kyoko to celebrate her now husbandless life. Four sections of vignettes reflect Kyoko's fluctuating emotional states--sometimes ugly, other times funny, but always uniquely hers. While freshly mourning Levi, Kyoko and Alex confront another death--that of Alex's pet betta fish. Kyoko and Bubbe take a road trip to a psychic and discover that Kyoko carries bad karma. On visits back to Japan, Kyoko and her mother clash over how best to connect Alex with his Japanese heritage, and as Alex enters his teenage years and brings his first girlfriend home, Kyoko lets her imagination run wild as she worries about teen pregnancy. In this openhearted and surprising novel about the choices and relationships that sustain us, there are times where Kyoko is lonely but never alone and others in which she is alone but never lonely. Through these moments, she learns how much more there is to herself in the wake of total and unexpected upheaval. See: Loss. See Also: Love. is a testament to how grief isn't a linear process but is a spiraling awareness of the vast range of human emotion we experience every day.