Front Table - 1/14/2019

January 13th, 2019

On our Front Table this week, explore work at the margins, including art that is often not recognized as such by cultural institutions, a scientific quest for forms of matter deemed "impossible" by the physics community, and a history of the black working class from slavery through the decline of industrial capitalism. Find the following titles and more at semcoop.com


The Snows of Venice (Spector Books)
Ben Lerner and Alexander Kluge

Ben Lerner is an American poet and novelist. Alexander Kluge is the author and director of numerous award-winning novels and films. A line from Lerner's poem "The Sky Stops Painting and Turns to Criticism," which Kluge was struck by some years ago, became the starting point for their first joint book project. Kluge responded to this celestial critique with a story about the technically controlled power of a squadron of bombers in the skies over Aleppo, which Lerner answered with a sonnet. Step by step this dialogue gave rise to poems, stories and conversations in which the heavens reveal their bewitching and threatening qualities. A series of 21 photographs that Gerhard Richter took in Venice in the 1970s, as well as images by Rebecca H. Quaytman and Thomas Demand, augment the interplay of texts and the principle of interconnecting poetic horizons,.

Workers on Arrival: Black Labor in the Making of America
(University of California Press)
Joe William Trotter, Jr.

From the ongoing issues of poverty, health, housing and employment to the recent upsurge of lethal police-community relations, the black working class stands at the center of perceptions of social and racial conflict today. Journalists and public policy analysts often discuss the black poor as "consumers" rather than "producers," as "takers" rather than "givers," and as "liabilities" instead of "assets." In his engrossing new history, Joe William Trotter, Jr. refutes these perceptions by charting the black working class's vast contributions to the making of America. Trotter traces black workers' complicated 400-year journey from the transatlantic slave trade, through the American Century, to the demise of the industrial order in the 21st century. A dynamic and vital history of remarkable contributions despite repeated setbacks, Workers on Arrival expands our understanding of America's economic and industrial growth, its cities, ideas, and institutions, and the real challenges confronting black urban communities today.

The Second Kind of Impossible: The Extraordinary Quest for a New Form of Matter (Simon & Schuster)
Paul Steinhardt

When Princeton physicist Paul Steinhardt began working in the 1980s, scientists thought they knew all the conceivable forms of matter. The Second Kind of Impossible is the story of Steinhardt's thirty-five-year quest to challenge that conventional wisdom. It begins with a curious geometric pattern that inspires two theoretical physicists to propose a radically new type of matter - one that raises the possibility of new materials with never before seen properties, but that violates laws thought to be immutable. Steinhardt dubs this new form of matter "quasicrystal, " and he sets out first to prove viability, and then to pursue his wildest conjecture: that nature made quasicrystals long before humans discovered them. Along the way, his team encounters clandestine collectors, corrupt scientists, secret diaries, international smugglers, and KGB agents. The underlying science is important and clear, and Steinhardt's firsthand account is an engaging scientific thriller.

Aesthetics of the Margins / The Margins of Aesthetics: Wild Art Explained
(Penn State University Press)
David Carrier and Joachim Pissarro

"Wild Art" refers to work that exists outside the established, rarified world of art galleries and established cultural channels. It encompasses uncatalogued, uncommodified art not often recognized as such, from graffiti to performance, self-adornment, and beyond. Picking up from their breakthrough book on the subject, Wild Art, David Carrier and Joachim Pissarro here investigate the ideas driving these forms of art. They inquire into how it came to be marginalized, question the high-low binary, and advocate for a definition of "taste" in which each expression is acknowledged as being different while deserving equal merit. In making their case, they provide a history of the institutionalization of "taste" in Western thought, point to missed opportunities for its democratization in the past, and demonstrate how the recognition and acceptance of "wild art" in the present will radically transform our understanding of contemporary visual art in the future.

Hollywood's Eve: Eve Babitz and the Secret History of L.A.
(Scribner Book Company)
Lili Anolik

Los Angeles in the 1960s and 70s was the pop culture capital of the world - a movie factory, a music factory, a dream factory. Eve Babitz was the ultimate factory girl. At age twenty she posed nude playing chess with Marcel Duchamp, which made her an instant icon of art and sex. She spent the rest of the decade rocking and rolling on the Sunset Strip, honing her notoriety. Then, at nearly thirty, Babitz was discovered as a writer by Joan Didion. She would go on to produce seven books, usually billed as novels or short story collections, always autobiographies and confessionals. Under-known and under-read during her career, she's since experienced a breakthrough. Now in her mid-seventies, she's on the cusp of literary stardom and recognition as an essential LA writer. Anolik's elegant and provocative new book is equal parts biography and detective story. It is also on dangerously intimate terms with its subject: artist, writer, muse, and one-woman zeitgeist, Eve Babitz.

A Treatise on Dharma (Harvard University Press)
Yajnavalkya, ed. and trans. Patrick Olivelle

A Treatise on Dharma, written in the fourth or fifth century, is the finest example of the genre of dharmaśāstra - texts on religious, civil, and criminal law and the duties of rulers - that informed Indian life for a thousand years. It illuminates major cultural innovations, such as the prominence of documents in commercial and legal proceedings, the use of ordeals in resolving disputes, and the growing importance of yoga in spiritual practices. Composed by an anonymous author during the reign of the imperial Guptas, the Treatise is ascribed to the Upanishadic philosopher Yajnavalkya, whose instruction of a group of sages serves as the frame narrative for the work. It became the most influential legal text in medieval India, and a twelfth-century interpretation came to be considered "the law of the land" under British rule. This translation of A Treatise on Dharma, based on a new critical edition and presented alongside the Sanskrit original in the Devanagari script, opens the classical age of ancient Indian law to modern readers.

Armies of Sand: The Past, Present, and Future of Arab Military Effectiveness (Oxford University Press)
Kenneth M. Pollack

Since the Second World War, Arab armed forces have lost many wars that by all rights they should have won, and in their best performances only ever achieved quite modest accomplishments. Over time, soldiers, scholars, and military experts have offered various explanations for this pattern. Kenneth M. Pollack's history of Arab armies assesses these differing explanations and isolates the most important causes. He examines the combat performance of fifteen Arab military forces in virtually every Middle Eastern war since 1945. He ultimately concludes that reliance on Soviet doctrine was more a help than a hindrance, that politicization and underdevelopment were both important factors limiting Arab military effectiveness, and that patterns of behavior derived from the dominant Arab culture was the most important factor of all. Sweeping in its historical coverage and highly accessible, this will be the go-to reference for anyone interested in the history of warfare in the Middle East since 1945.

Posted in: