Front Table - 5/13/2019

May 12th, 2019

On our Front Table this week, explore institutions of art and culture with a minimalist who subverted assumptions about the economic value of artistic commodities, a novella that questions the psychic effects of stardom on its author, a history of reading that addresses the contingency of its modes and conditions, and new reflections on the relation of creativity and freedom to maternal symbolic orders. Find the following titles and more at

Star (New Directions)
Yukio Mishima, trans. Sam Bett

All eyes are on Rikio. And he likes it, mostly. His fans cheer, screaming and yelling to attract his attention. They would kill for a moment alone with him. Finally the director sets up the shot, the camera begins to roll, someone yells “action.” Rikio, for a moment, transforms into another being, a hardened young yakuza, but as soon as the shot is finished, he slumps back into his own anxieties and obsessions. Being a star, constantly performing, being watched and scrutinized as if under a microscope, is often a drag. But so is life. Written shortly after Yukio Mishima himself had acted in the film Afraid to Die, this novella is a rich and unflinching psychological portrait of a celebrity coming apart at the seams. With exquisite, vivid prose, Star poses the question: is there any escape from how we are seen by others?

A History of Reading (Reaktion Books)
Steven Roger Fischer

In this fascinating book, Steven Roger Fischer narrates a sweeping history of reading. He begins with ancient modes of reading necessitated by divergent writing systems and scripts. He addresses the innovative re-inventions of reading that emerged in Europe and the Middle East during the middle ages, whereupon printing transformed society’s entire attitude to reading. Fischer then charts the explosion of the book trade in this era, alongside the emergence of broadsheets, newspapers and public readings. He discusses the increasing dedication to public literacy manifest in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century educational reforms, and such topics as the appearance of free libraries, gender differences in reading matter, public advertising and the ‘forbidden’ lists of Church and State. Finally, he assesses the future, in which it is likely that read communication will soon exceed oral communication, and projects radical new definitions of what reading could be.

The Cosmic Mystery Tour: A High-Speed Journey Through Space & Time
(Oxford University Press)
Nicholas Mee

The Cosmic Mystery Tour takes us on a lightning tour of the mysteries of the universe, enlivened by the colorful characters who created modern science. It explores many topics of recent general interest in physics and astronomy, including the discovery of gravitational waves; the quest for the origin of dark matter; questions concerning extraterrestrial life; and the study of the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. The first part of the book addresses physics and the search for the laws that govern the universe. The second part concerns of the history and geography of the cosmos, highlighting phenomena like red giants, white dwarfs, neutron stars and the ultimate cosmic mysteries - black holes. The last part considers the possibility that life might exist elsewhere in the universe, and explores the cosmos from the outer fringes of science fiction to the ongoing search for alien civilizations.

From the Archives of Peter Merlin, Aviation Archaeologist
(Primary Information)
Trevor Paglen

From the Archives of Peter Merlin, Aviation Archaeologist is an artist book featuring new photographs and text Trevor Paglen. It focuses on the archive of Peter Merlin - a historian, technical writer, former NASA archivist, and leading expert on classified aircraft. Merlin has amassed a vast collection of flight wreckage, dossiers, and memorabilia - objects that are sometimes the only remnants of covert government operations. His collection is primarily focused on military bases like Area 51 and the Edwards Air Force Base, as well as the surrounding crash sites of experimental government aircraft. Paglen has selected fifty-nine objects from Merlin’s collection that range from the sinister to the humorous, though their actual meaning may never be fully explained to the public. His stark photographs of them build on his long-standing interest in the culture of secrecy, experimental geography, and military symbology, while also providing a fragmentary peek into elusive military missions from the atomic age to today's drone wreckage.

The Symbolic Order of the Mother (SUNY Press)
Luisa Muraro, trans. Francesca Novello

In The Symbolic Order of the Mother, Luisa Muraro identifies the bond between mother and child as ontologically fundamental to the development of culture and politics, and therefore as key to achieving truly emancipatory political change. Both corporeal development and language acquisition, which are the sources of all thinking, begin in this relationship. However, Western civilization has been defined by men, and Muraro recalls the admiration and envy she felt for the great philosophers as she strove to become one herself. This conflict between philosophy and culture on the one hand and the relationship with the mother on the other constitutes the root of patriarchy’s symbolic disorder, which blocks women’s (and men’s) access to genuine freedom. Muraro appeals to the feminist practice of gratitude to the mother and the recognition of her authority as a model of unconditional nurture and support that must be restored. This, she argues, is the symbolic order of the mother that must overcome the disorder of patriarchy.

A Women’s History of the Christian Church: Two Thousand Years of Female Leadership (University of Toronto Press)
Elizabeth Gillan Muir

In this book Elizabeth Gillan Muir examines the various positions women have filled in the Christian church and uncovers the rich and often tumultuous relationship between women and Christianity. She traces two thousand years of female leadership, influence, and participation, from the earliest female apostle, and the little known stories of the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene, to the enlightened duties espoused by the nun, the abbess, and the anchorite. Offering broad coverage of both the Catholic and Protestant traditions and extending geographically well beyond North America, A Women’s History of the Christian Church presents a chronological account of how women developed new sects and new churches, such as the Quakers and Christian Science. The book includes a timeline of women in Christian history, over 25 black-and-white illustrations, a glossary, and a list of primary and secondary sources to complement the content in each chapter.

Sol LeWitt: A Life of Ideas (Wesleyan University Press)
Lary Bloom

This absorbing book contributes a wealth of new information to our understanding of Sol LeWitt, an influential twentieth-century artist who upended traditional practices for making and selling art. A key figure in minimalism and conceptualism, he proclaimed that the work of the mind is much more important than that of the hand. For site-specific works like wall drawings, he created the basic plan and then hired young artists to install the pieces. Though typically enormous and intricate, the physical works thus held no value; the worth was in the pieces of paper that certified and described them. LeWitt championed and financially supported colleagues, including women artists brushed aside by the bullies of a male-dominated profession. Yet the man himself has remained an enigma, as he refused to participate in the culture of celebrity. Lary Bloom's book draws on LeWitt's letters, papers, and personal recollections, as well as over one hundred original interviews with his friends and colleagues. It links the extraordinary arc of LeWitt's life to his iconic work.

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