Front Table - 4/29/2019

April 28th, 2019

On our Front Table this week, explore the making and the meanings of place. Start by rethinking the transformations of cartography as a form of knowledge. Then consider a case for the continuing vitality of landscape painting (including cartographic abstraction); a multigenerational story addressing race and family in Hattiesburg, Missisippi; and a demythologization of the American "heartland." Find the following titles and more at

Pola Oloixarac, trans. Roy Kesey

Pola Oloixarac's visionary new novel races from the world of 19th-century science to an ultra-surveilled near future, exploring humanity's quest for knowledge and control, and leaping forward to the next steps in human evolution. Canary Islands, 1882: Explorer and plant biologist Niklas Bruun researches Crissia pallida, a species alleged to have hallucinogenic properties that eliminate the psychic limits between two human minds. Buenos Aires, 1983: Cassio comes of age with the Internet and becomes a prominent hacker, riding the wave of distributed networks, mass surveillance, and new flows of globalized capital. The southern Argentinian techno-hub of Bariloche, 2024: A research group works on a project that will allow the Ministry of Genetics to track every movement of the country's citizens using sensors that identify DNA, but the new technology also contains the seeds of a far more radical transformation. In a novel of towering ambition, Oloixarac's complexly intertwining stories reveal the power that resides in the world's most deeply shadowed spaces.

The Heartland: An American History  (Penguin)
Kristin L. Hoganson

When Kristin L. Hoganson arrived in Champaign, Illinois, she expected to find her new home to be isolated, even provincial. After all, she had landed in the American "heartland," a place where the nation's identity exists in its pristine form. Instead she was struck by the gap between reputation and reality. Rather than isolation, she found a global story - an unheralded crossroads of people, commerce, and ideas. And as she further explored that relation of history and myth, she found that even as the region's connections with the rest of the planet became increasingly dense and intricate, the idea of the rural Midwest as a steadfast heartland became a stronger and more stubbornly immovable myth. In enshrining a symbolic heart, the American people have repressed the kinds of stories that Hoganson tells, of sweeping breadth and depth and soul. A provocative and highly original work of historical scholarship, The Heartland speaks volumes about contemporary political issues, including identity and community, immigration and trade, and security and global power.

Cartography: The Ideal and Its History (University of Chicago)
Matthew H. Edney

Over the past four decades, the volumes published in the landmark History of Cartography series have both chronicled and encouraged scholarship about maps and mapping practices across time and space. As the current director of the project that has produced these volumes, Matthew H. Edney has a unique vantage point for understanding what "cartography" has come to mean and include. In this book Edney disavows the term cartography, rejecting the notion that maps represent an undifferentiated category of objects for study. Instead, he argues, scholars need to take a processual approach that examines specific types of maps - sea charts versus thematic maps, for example - in the context of the unique circumstances of their production, circulation, and consumption. Edney further chronicles precisely how the ideal of cartography that has developed in the West since 1800 has gone astray. He thereby challenges everyone who studies maps and mapping practices to reexamine their approach to the topic.

Emancipation After Hegel: Achieving a Contradictory Revolution
(Columbia University Press)
Todd McGowan

What does Hegel, a notoriously difficult nineteenth-century German philosopher, have to offer the present? In this book, Todd McGowan presents a Hegel for the twenty-first century. Simultaneously an introduction to Hegel and a fundamental reimagining of his project, Emancipation After Hegel presents a radical Hegel who speaks to a world overwhelmed by right-wing populism, authoritarianism, neoliberalism, and economic inequalities. McGowan argues that the revolutionary core of Hegel's thought is contradiction. He reveals that contradiction is inexorable and that we must attempt to sustain it rather than overcoming it or dismissing it as a logical failure. For McGowan, this challenges any assertion of unitary identity, as every identity is in tension with itself and dependent on others. In this manner, the book shows us a way forward to a new politics of emancipation as we reconcile ourselves to the inevitability of contradiction and find solidarity in not belonging.

Hattiesburg: An American City in Black and White (Belknap)
William Sturkey

This is a rich, multigenerational saga of race and family in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, that tells the story of how Jim Crow was built, how it changed, and how the most powerful social movement in American history came together to tear it down. William Sturkey reveals the stories behind those who struggled to uphold their southern "way of life" and those who fought to tear it down - from William Faulkner's great-grandfather, a Confederate veteran who was the inspiration for the enigmatic character John Sartoris, to black leader Vernon Dahmer, whose killers were the first white men ever convicted of murdering a civil rights activist in Mississippi. Through it all, Hattiesburgtraces the story of the Smith family across multiple generations, from Turner and Mamie Smith, who fled a life of sharecropping to find opportunity in town, to Hammond and Charles Smith, in whose family pharmacy Medgar Evers and his colleagues planned their strategy to give blacks the vote.

Landscape Painting Now: From Pop Abstraction to New Romanticism
Edited by Todd Bradway, text by Barry Schwabsky, with contributions by Susan A. Van Scoy, Robert R. Shane, Louise Sørensen.

Although it may be surprising, landscape painting is positively thriving in the 21st century - indeed, the genre has arguably never felt as vital as it does today. Landscape Painting Now is the first book to take a global view of this subject, featuring more than eighty outstanding contemporary artists from twenty-five different countries: from Cecily Brown’s sensual, fleshy landscapes to Peter Doig’s magic realist renderings of Trinidad, Maureen Gallace’s serene views of beach cottages and the foaming ocean, David Hockney’s radiant capturings of seasonal change in the English countryside, Julie Mehretu’s dynamically cartographic abstractions, Alexis Rockman’s mural-sized, postapocalyptic dioramas, and far beyond. Landscape Painting Now also features an extensive essay by Barry Schwabsky that weaves throughout the book, as well as shorter texts by art historians that introduce each artist. This ambitious survey makes a compelling case for the continued relevance of landscape painting in our time.

A Frank O'Hara Notebook (No Place Press)
Bill Berkson, edited by Jordan Kantor

Poet and art critic Bill Berkson had planned for many years to write a study on his friend and mentor Frank O'Hara in the prime of his creative life in New York.  He died with the project still incomplete. This volume reproduces the sketchbook in which Berkson gathered notes, images, and poems about O'Hara, focusing on his memories of their collaborations in 1960s New York. It offers a fascinating first-person account of the heyday of O'Hara's creative life, and sketches the heady social milieu of the New York poetry and art worlds. In addition to an exact-scale photographic reproduction of Berkson's handwritten notebook, it includes a typesetting of Berkson's notes and two texts on O'Hara derived from these notes and published under Berkson's direction. The book thus shows the evolution of Berkson's ideas from notes to fragmentary phrases and sentences into finished pieces of writing, revealing as much about his writing practice as it does about his famous subject and friend.



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