Front Table - 1/21/2019

January 20th, 2019

On our Front Table this week, explore the interrelation of power and knowledge with an inquiry into the birth of modern belief, a history of the links between image and empire, a narrative-in-verse on the incarceration of African American women, and an argument that our forms of knowing about oceans have been bound up with our detrimental impacts on them.

Picturing India: People, Places, and the World of the East India Company
(University of Washington Press)
John McAleer

The British engagement with India was intensely visual. Images of the subcontinent, produced by artists and travelers in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century heyday of the East India Company, reflect the increasingly important role played by the Company in Indian life. They also mirror significant shifts in British policy and attitudes toward India. Yet few historians have considered the visual sources that survive and what they tell us about the link between images and empire, pictures and power. This book draws on the unrivalled riches of the British Library - both visual and textual - to tell that history. It weaves together the story of individual images, their creators, and the people and events they depict. In doing so, it presents a detailed picture of the Company and its complex relationship with India, its people and cultures.

Political Anthropology (Northwestern University Press)
Helmuth Plessner, trans. Nils F. Schott

In Political Anthropology (originally published in 1931 as Macht und menschliche Natur), Helmuth Plessner considers whether politics - conceived as the struggle for power between groups, nations, and states - belongs to the essence of the human. Building on ideas from his Levels of the Organic and the Human (1928), Plessner proposes a genealogy of political life and outlines an anthropological foundation of the political. In critical dialogue with thinkers such as Carl Schmitt, Eric Voegelin, and Martin Heidegger, he argues that the political relationships cultures entertain with one other, their struggle for acknowledgement and assertion, are expressions of certain possibilities of the openness and unfathomability of the human. This is the first English translation, and it is accompanied by an introduction and an epilogue that situate Plessner's thinking both within the context of Weimar political and social thought and within current debates.

The Shahnameh: The Persian Epic as World Literature
(Columbia University Press)
Hamid Dabashi

The Shahnameh is an epic poem recounting the foundation of Iran across mythical, heroic, and historical ages. Composed by Abu al-Qasem Ferdowsi over a thirty-year period and completed in the year 1010, the epic has entertained generations of readers and profoundly shaped Persian culture, society, and politics. In this book, Hamid Dabashi brings the Shahnameh to renewed global attention, encapsulating a lifetime of learning and teaching the Persian epic for a new generation of readers. Dabashi traces the epic's history, authorship, poetic significance, complicated legacy of political uses and abuses, and enduring significance in colonial and postcolonial contexts. In addition to explaining and celebrating what makes the Shahnameh such a distinctive literary work, he also considers the poem in the context of other epics, such as the Aeneid and the Odyssey, and engages with critical debates about the concept of "world literature."

Vast Expanses: A History of the Oceans (Reaktion Books)
Helen Rozwadowski

Vast Expanses is a cultural, environmental and geopolitical history that examines the relationship between humans and oceans, reaching back across geological and evolutionary time and exploring different cultures around the globe. Helen Rozwadowski argues that knowledge about the ocean has played a central role in defining our relationship with it. Such knowledge has helped people exploit marine resources, control ocean space, extend imperial or national power, and attempt to refashion the sea into a more tractable arena for human activity. It also has animated and strengthened connections between people and their seas. According to Rozwadowski, by addressing questions of how, by whom and why knowledge of the ocean was created and used in the past, we can forge a healthier relationship with the sea for the future.

The Birth of Modern Belief: Faith and Judgment from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment
(Princeton University Press)
Ethan H. Shagan

This book traces the history of belief in the Christian West from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, revealing how a distinctively modern category of "belief" came into being. According to Shagan, the Reformation called into question not only the content of specific beliefs, but also the status of religious knowledge itself. Warring churches each claimed belief as their exclusive possession, insisting that their rivals were unbelievers. Yet Shagan also challenges the common notion that modern belief was a gift of the Reformation. He argues that it was as much a reaction against Luther and Calvin as it was against the Council of Trent. He further describes how dissidents on both sides came to regard religious belief as something that needed to be justified by individual judgment, evidence, and argument. The Birth of Modern Belief demonstrates how belief came to occupy such an ambivalent place in the modern world.

A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing: The Incarceration of African American Women from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland (Bloomsbury)
DaMaris B. Hill

For black American women, the experience of being bound has taken many forms: from the bondage of slavery to the Reconstruction-era criminalization of women; from the brutal constraints of Jim Crow to our own era's prison industrial complex. DaMaris Hill's searing and powerful narrative-in-verse bears witness to American women of color burdened by incarceration. From Harriet Tubman to Assata Shakur, Ida B. Wells to Sandra Bland and Black Lives Matter, black women freedom fighters have braved violence, scorn, despair, and isolation. Hill honors their experiences with at times harrowing, at times hopeful responses to her heroes. Her passionate odes to Zora Neale Hurston, Lucille Clifton, Fannie Lou Hamer, Grace Jones, Eartha Kitt, and others also celebrate the modern-day inheritors of their load and light, binding history, author, and reader in an essential legacy of struggle. Illustrated with black-and-white photographs throughout.

How the Shopping Cart Explains Global Consumerism
(University of California Press)
Andrew Warnes

Picture a familiar scene: long lines of shoppers waiting to check out at the grocery store, carts filled to the brim with the week's food. While many might wonder what is in each cart, Andrew Warnes implores us to consider the symbolism of the cart itself. In his inventive new book, Warnes examines how the everyday shopping cart is connected to a complex web of food production and consumption that has spread from the United States throughout the world. Today, shopping carts represent choice and autonomy for consumers, a recognizable American way of life that has become a global phenomenon. This succinct and and accessible book provides an excellent overview of consumerism and the globalization of American culture.

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