Front Table - 5/6/2019

May 5th, 2019

On our Front Table this week, explore the intersections of class, race, and gender domination, and the role of the imagination in fighting them: from an argument that reimagined socialisms of the 21st century offer means to combat racism and sexism, to an exploration of the ways that women in punk interrogated money and identity, to Orwellian dialectics of utopia and dystopia, and a critique of the ways that young adult speculative fiction has addressed issues of race and diversity. Find the following titles and more at semcoop.com.


Neighborhood (Oxford University Press)
Emily Talen

On last week's Front Table, we highlighted a number of books concerned with the making and meaning of place. Emily Talen's Neighborhood addresses similar themes. In its original meaning, the term "neighborhood" referred to a spatial unit that people relate to. According to Talen, more recent usage reduces it to a convenient geographical locator. She synthesizes a complex historical record and multidisciplinary literature to produce a comprehensive view of what neighborhoods signify, how they're idealized and measured, and how they have developed historically. As she then argues, if neighborhoods are going to play a role in the future of the city, we need to know more about what and where they are. We further need to understand them as more than labels, social segregators, or shaded areas on a map. Balancing perspectives from sociology, urban history, urban planning, and sustainability among others, Talen explores efforts to make neighborhoods more compatible with 21st century ideals.

Revenge of the She-Punks: A Feminist Music History from Poly Styrene to Pussy Riot (University of Texas Press)
Vivien Goldman

As an industry insider, pioneering post-punk musician, and one of Britain's first female music writers,  Vivien Goldman's perspective on music journalism is unusually well-rounded. In Revenge of the She-Punks, she explores the features that make punk a liberating art form for women, and she probes four themes in particular: identity, money, love, and protest. Goldman blends interviews, history, and her personal experience in a book that reads like a vivid documentary of a genre defined by dismantling boundaries. A discussion of the Patti Smith song "Free Money," for example, opens with Goldman on a shopping spree with Smith. Tamar-Kali describes the influence of her Gullah ancestors on her music, while the late Poly Styrene's daughter reflects on why her Somali-Scots-Irish mother wrote the 1978 punk anthem "Identity." And the book attends not only to punk's Euro origins, but also to its international reach in countries like Colombia and Indonesia. It is an exhilarating world tour of genre-busting revolutionaries.

The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games (New York University Press)
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

The Dark Fantastic is an engaging and provocative exploration of race in popular youth and young adult speculative fiction. According to Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, there is a diversity crisis in these media that derives not only from a lack of representation, but also a lack of imagination. When characters of color do appear, they are often marginalized or subjected to violence, reinforcing for audiences that not all lives matter. Thomas considers four black girl protagonists from some of the most popular stories of the early 21st century: Bonnie Bennett from The Vampire Diaries, Rue from Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games, Gwen from the BBC's Merlin, and Angelina Johnson from the Harry Potter series. For Thomas, analyzing their narratives and audience reactions to them reveals how these characters mirror the violence against black and brown people in our own world. In response, she uncovers and builds upon a tradition of fantasy and radical imagination in Black feminism and Afrofuturism to reveal new possibilities.

The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell, Vol. 2: My Country Right or Left, 1940-1943 (Nonpareil Books)
George Orwell, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus

It is something of a miracle that George Orwell managed to publish ten books and two collections of essays in his forty-six years, especially insofar as he spent so many of those years in poverty and ill health. This is the second of four volumes constituting the best collection of his non-fiction. It is a trove of letters, essays, reviews, and journalism. His letters to such luminaries as Julian Symons, Anthony Powell, Arthur Koestler, and Cyril Connolly are poignant and personal. His essays, covering everything from “English Cooking” to “Literature and Totalitarianism,” are memorable, and his book reviews (from Mein Kampf to The Vicar of Wakefield) are lucid and penetrating. From 1943 to 1945, he wrote a regular column for the Tribune, a left wing weekly, entitled “As I Please.” His observations about life in Britain during the war ranged from from anti-American sentiment to the history of domestic appliances. Orwell had something to say about just about everyone and everything, and the collection is remarkable in its scope and eclectic passions.

The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality (Basic Books)
Bhaskar Sunkara

With the stunning popularity of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Americans are embracing the class politics of socialism. But what, exactly, is socialism? And what would a socialist system in America look like? In his book, Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of Jacobin magazine, explores socialism's history since the mid-1800s and presents a realistic vision for its future. Sunkara shows that socialism, though often seen primarily as an economic system, in fact offers the means to fight all forms of oppression, including racism and sexism. The ultimate goal is not Soviet-style planning, but to win rights to healthcare, education, and housing, and to create new democratic institutions in workplaces and communities. A primer on socialism for the 21st century, The Socialist Manifesto is for anyone seeking an end to the vast inequities of our age.

The Scientific Attitude: Defending Science from Denial, Fraud, and Pseudoscience (MIT Press)
Lee McIntyre

Attacks on science have become commonplace. Claims that climate change isn't settled science, that evolution is "only a theory," and that scientists are conspiring hide the truth about vaccines have become staples of some politicians' rhetorical repertoire. Defenders of science often point to its discoveries (penicillin! relativity!) without explaining exactly why scientific claims are superior. In this book, Lee McIntyre argues that what distinguishes science from its rivals is what he calls "the scientific attitude" - caring about evidence and being willing to change theories on the basis of new evidence. He illustrates with a number of fascinating examples from the history of science and medicine. He further considers scientific fraud; the positions of ideology-driven denialists, pseudoscientists, and "skeptics" who reject scientific findings; and arguments that social science, no less than natural science, should embrace the scientific attitude.

Frege: A Philosophical Biography (Cambridge University Press)
Dale Jacquette

Gottlob Frege (1848–1925) is one of the founding figures of analytic philosophy. His contributions to logic, philosophical semantics, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mathematics set the agenda for future generations. Dale Jacquette's lively and incisive biography charts Frege's life from its beginnings in small-town north Germany, through his student days in Jena, to his development as an enduringly influential thinker. Along the way Jacquette considers Frege's ground-breaking Begriffschrift (1879), in which he formulated his 'ideal logical language', his magisterial Grundgesetze der Arithmetik (1893 and 1903), and his complex relation to thinkers including Husserl and especially Russell, whose Paradox had such drastic implications for Frege's logicism. Jacquette concludes with a thoughtful assessment of Frege's legacy. His rich and informative biography will appeal to all who are interested in Frege's philosophy.

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