Front Table - 2/4/2019

February 3rd, 2019

On our Front Table this week, uncover the histories of struggle that constitute the present: waging peace and redefining the role of the state in postwar Chicago; fusing past and present in Japan's encounter with capitalist modernity; parsing historical and emergent forms of misogyny; forging a distinctive Iranian political order through revolution and international conflict; and reconstituting Native American identity through the struggles for its very existence. Find the following titles and more at

Agnomia (Dalkey Archive Press)
Robert Gal

In this miniature masterpiece, Róbert Gál - whom Joshua Cohen has called "a phenomenon" - conducts a noble experiment in uncategorizable prose. One long, unbroken paragraph, blending memoir, fiction, and philosophy, Agnomiatakes the reader on a transcontinental journey from Lower Manhattan to the Little Quarter of Prague, but most of all it takes the reader on a tour of the writer's mind. Meditations on tautology, sexuality, and art culminate in an attentive evocation of a concert given by the composer and saxophonist John Zorn. For readers of Thomas Bernhard, Georges Bataille, and E. M. Cioran, Agnomia is a book to relish.

Misogyny: The New Activism (Oxford University Press)
Gail Ukockis

New aspects of the misogyny that impacts girls and women worldwide continue to emerge every day. However, recent movements (e.g., #MeToo, Time's Up, the Women's March) indicate a strong hunger for a meaningful resource for thoughtful activists. Impassioned but practical, this book discusses the social contexts of misogyny, such as toxic masculinity and rape culture. It traces the history of misogyny and considers its meaning today, parsing what is new and what is old. The author also proposes strategies for effective feminist action. Written for advocates of gender equality who are already aware of misogyny, the book includes Action Steps as tools for activism on both the individual and political levels. Misogyny is a timely text that offers concrete guidance as we strive for the egalitarian society that, despite all setbacks, we are capable of achieving.

Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely (Other Press)
Andrew S. Curran

Denis Diderot is often associated with the decades-long battle to bring the world's first comprehensive Encyclopédie into existence. But his most daring writing took place in the shadows. Thrown into prison for his atheism in 1749, Diderot decided to reserve his best books for posterity. In the astonishing cache of unpublished writings left behind after his death, Diderot challenged virtually all of his century's accepted truths, from the sanctity of monarchy, to the racial justification of the slave trade, to the norms of human sexuality. In this thematically organized biography, Andrew S. Curran vividly describes Diderot's tormented relationship with Rousseau, his curious correspondence with Voltaire, his passionate affairs, and his often iconoclastic stands on art, theater, morality, politics, and religion. But what this book brings out most brilliantly is how the writer's personal turmoil was an essential part of his genius and his ability to flout taboos, dogma, and convention.

Uneven Moments: Reflections on Japan's Modern History 
(Columbia University Press)
Harry Harootunian

Few scholars have done more than Harry Harootunian to shape the study of modern Japan. Uneven Momentspresents a selection of his essays on Japan's intellectual and cultural history that span the many phases of his distinguished career and point to new directions for Japanese studies. The collection begins with reflections on area studies as an academic field. It then covers key topics in modern Japanese history, focusing in particular on Japan's fateful encounter with capitalist modernity, the implications of uneven development, and the combinations of older practices with new demands that characterized the twentieth century.  Harootunian further examines Japanese political identity, its forms of reckoning with the past, and new political possibilities, all while reflecting on Marxism and critical theory. Uneven Momentspresents Harootunian's intellectual trajectory and in so doing offers a unique assessment of Japanese history.

Save the date and join us for a conversation with Harry Harootunian on Uneven Moments Fri. 4/19 6pm at the Coop. Find details and RSVP here.

Postwar: Waging Peace in Chicago (University of Pennsylvania Press)
Laura McEnaney

When World War II ended, building a postwar society became the new American national project, and every interest group involved in the war effort held different visions. In her fine-grained social history of postwar Chicago, Laura McEnaney explores exactly what peace meant to a broad swath of civilians, including apartment dwellers, single women and housewives, newly freed Japanese American internees, African American migrants, and returning veterans. She locates a working-class war liberalism: a conviction that the wartime state had taken things from people, and that the postwar era was about reclaiming those things with the state's help. At the same time, she examines the ways that people perceived and experienced government in their lives, and she shows that the state was not clearly delineated for Chicago's working-class residents. This meant that their requests for help constituted early dialogues about the role of the state during peacetime. Postwarthus examines peace as its own complex historical process, with human struggles and policy dilemmas that would shape later decades as fatefully as had the war.

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present
(Riverhead Books)
David Treuer

The received idea of Native American history has been that it essentially ended with the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. Growing up Ojibwe on a reservation in Minnesota, training as an anthropologist, and researching Native life past and present for his nonfiction and novels, David Treuer has uncovered a different narrative - a history of unprecedented resourcefulness and reinvention, not despite but because of intense struggles to preserve their language, their traditions, their families, and their very existence. Melding history with reportage and memoir, Treuer traces the tribes' distinctive cultures from first contact, and he explores how the depredations of each era spawned new modes of survival. The devastating seizures of land, for example, gave rise to increasingly sophisticated legal and political maneuvering that put the lie to the myth that Indians don't know or care about property. And the forced assimilation of their children at government-run boarding schools incubated a unifying Native identity. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee is the essential, intimate story of a resilient people in a transformative era.

Iran Rising: The Survival and Future of the Islamic Republic (Princeton University Press)
Amin Saikal

When Iranians overthrew their monarchy in favor of an Islamic regime, many observers predicted that revolutionary turmoil would paralyze the country for decades to come. Yet forty years after the 1978-79 revolution, Iran has emerged as a critical player in the Middle East and the wider world. In Iran Rising, renowned Iran specialist Amin Saikal explores the regime's agility as it navigated a complex relationship with Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion, survived the Gulf wars, and handled fallout from the Iraqi and Syrian crises. Such success, he maintains, stems from a distinctive political order, comprising both a supreme Islamic leader and an elected president and national assembly, which can fuse religious and nationalist assertiveness with pragmatic policy actions at home and abroad. But Iran's accomplishments have cost its people, who are desperately pressuring the ruling clerics for economic and social reforms. Iran Rising offers essential reading for understanding a country that, more than ever, is a force to watch.

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