Front Table - 12/31/2018

December 30th, 2018


On our final Front Table of 2018, find new beginnings in postwar histories, including the emergence of electronic music from a devastated West Germany, the hunt for human nature in the capacity for violence, and the opening salvos in the fight for disability rights and accessible design. Browse the following titles and more at

The Coming of the American Behemoth: The Origins of Fascism in the United States, 1920 -1940 (Monthly Review Press)
Michael Joseph Roberto 

Most people in the United States recognize European fascist movements, where charismatic demagogues manipulate vengeful masses. According to Michael Joseph Roberto, the driving force of a specifically American form came not from reactionary movements below, but was rather linked to monopoly and finance capitalism, operating under the guise of American free enterprise and "real democracy." Roberto focuses on the role of the capital-labor relationship during the interwar period, when the United States became the epicenter of the world-capitalist system. He argues that this was a fertile time for the incubation of a protean, more salable form of tyranny - a fascist behemoth in the making, whose emergence has been ignored or dismissed by mainstream historians. The book is intended as a primer, to renew discussion on the nature of fascism, and it will be essential for anyone concerned with new forms emerging today.

The Barefoot Woman (Archipelago Books)
Scholastique Mukasonga, trans. Jordan Stump

The Barefoot Woman is Scholastique Mukasonga’s loving, funny, devastating tribute to her mother Stefania, a tireless protector of her children, a keeper of Rwandan tradition even in the cruelest and bleakest of exiles, a sage, a wit, and in the end a victim, like almost the entire family, of the Rwandan genocide. But it’s also a wry, sharp-eyed portrait of the world her mother lived in, from its humblest commonplaces (beer, sorghum, bread) to its deepest horrors (rape, murder, unimaginable loss). In a telling both affectionate and haunted, Mukasonga sinks her feet into this dense “land of stories.” Each step, each verse of her careful lament carries both the weight of her mourning and the fortitude of the myriad silenced voices she speaks for. Whether describing the dry, cracked layers of mud on her mother’s feet, or the stretch marks that line strong legs, Mukasonga follows the threaded rivulet of her mother’s pulsing memory.

Thick: And Other Essays (New Press)
Tressie McMillan Cottom

In these eight piercing explorations on beauty, media, money, and more, Tressie McMillan Cottom - acclaimed author of Lower Ed- dispenses wit, wisdom, and Black Twitter snark about all that is right and much that is wrong with this thing we call society.  Ideas, identity, and intersectionality fuse effortlessly in this vibrant collection that is just as much at home alongside Rebecca Solnit and bell hooks as it is beside Jeff Chang and Janet Mock. Thick speaks fearlessly to a range of topics, from Saturday Night Live, LinkedIn, and BBQ Becky to sexual violence, infant mortality, and Trump rallies.  An intrepid intellectual force hailed by the likes of Trevor Noah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Oprah, Tressie McMillan Cottom is "among America's most bracing thinkers on race, gender, and capitalism of our time" (Rebecca Traister). This stunning debut collection mines for meaning in places many of us miss, and reveals precisely how the political, the social, and the personal are almost always one and the same.

Electronic Inspirations: Technologies of the Cold War Musical Avant-garde
(Oxford University Press)
Jennifer Iverson

In the 1950s, a decimated post-war West Germany began to rebuild its cultural prestige via aesthetic and technical advances. Jennifer Iverson's Electronic Inspirations: Technologies of the Cold War Musical Avant-Garde traces the reclamation and repurposing of wartime machines, spaces, and discourses into the new sounds of the mid-century studio. The electronic music studio at the WDR radio in Cologne became a beacon of hope during this period. The studio's composers, collaborating with scientists and technicians, coaxed music from sine-tone oscillators, noise generators, band-pass filters, and magnetic tape. Together, they applied core tenets from information theory and phonetics, reclaiming military communication technologies as well as fascist propaganda broadcasting spaces. The studio's esoteric sounds transformed mid-century music and continue to reverberate today. As Iverson argues, electronic music - echoing both cultural anxiety and promise - is a quintessential Cold War innovation.

Impostors: Hoaxes and Cultural Authenticity
(University of Chicago Press)
Christopher L. Miller

Writing a new page in the surprisingly long history of literary deceit, Impostors examines a series of literary hoaxes.  It focuses on authors who posed as people they were not, in order to claim a different ethnic, class, or other identity. These writers were, in other words, literary usurpers and appropriators who trafficked in what Christopher L. Miller terms the "intercultural hoax."  While such hoaxes were familiar in the United States, Miller's contribution is to study hoaxes beyond our borders, employing a comparative framework and bringing French and African identity hoaxes into dialogue with some of their better-known American counterparts. As he argues, French universalist tendencies were limited, leaving open many forms of otherness to appropriate. Taking a novel approach to this understudied tradition, Impostors examines hoaxes in both countries, finding similar practices of deception and questions of harm.

Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design
(New York University Press)
Bess Williamson

Have you ever hit the big blue button to activate automatic doors? Have you ever used an ergonomic kitchen tool? If you have, then you've benefited from accessible design - design for people with physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities. Although many such designs are now ubiquitous, progress was neither straightforward nor easy. Political resistance to accommodating the needs of people with disabilities was strong, and advocates fought tirelessly to ensure that those needs became a standard part of public design thinking. Bess Williamson provides an extraordinary look at everyday design, marrying accessibility with aesthetics, to provide an insight into a world in which we are all active participants, but often passive onlookers. Richly detailed, with stories of politics and innovation, Accessible America reconstructs this important history, showing how American ideas of individualism and rights came to shape the material world, often with unexpected consequences.

Join us for a conversation with Bess Williamson on Accessible America Wed. 2/13 6pm at the Co-op. Find details and RSVP here.

Creatures of Cain: The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America 
(Princeton University Press)
Erika Lorraine Milam

After the Second World War, the question of how to define a universal human nature took on new urgency. Creatures of Cain charts the rise and precipitous fall in Cold War America of a theory that attributed man's evolutionary success to his unique capacity for murder.  Drawing on a wealth of archival materials and in-depth interviews, Erika Lorraine Milam reveals how the scientists who advanced this "killer ape" theory capitalized on an expanding postwar market in intellectual paperbacks and widespread faith in the power of science to solve humanity's problems, even to answer the most fundamental questions of human identity. Killer ape theory spread quickly from colloquial science publications to late-night television, classrooms, political debates, and Hollywood films. Then, in the 1970s, the theory began to unravel when primatologists discovered that chimpanzees also kill members of their own species. A wide-ranging account of a compelling episode in American science, Creatures of Cain argues that the legacy of the killer ape persists today in the conviction that science can resolve the essential dilemmas of human nature.

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