Front Table - 9/24/21

September 24th, 2021

On our Front Table this week, explore tales from the literary marketplace, from a famous author's career in publishing and its impact on both his writing and on global reading practices, to a history of battles against censorship and obscenity laws. Find the following titles and more at semcoop.com.

Borges and the Literary Marketplace: How Editorial Practices Shaped Cosmopolitan Reading (Yale University Press)
Nora C. Benedict

Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986) stands out as one of the most widely regarded and inventive authors in world literature. Yet the details of his employment history throughout the early part of the twentieth century, which foreground his efforts to develop a worldly reading public, have received scant critical attention. From librarian and cataloguer to editor and publisher, this writer emerges as entrenched in the physical minutiae and social implications of the international book world. Drawing on years of archival research coupled with bibliographical analysis, this book explains how Borges’s more general involvement in the publishing industry influenced not only his formation as a writer, but also global book markets and reading practices in world literature. In this way it tells the story of Borges’s profound efforts to revolutionize and revitalize literature in Latin America through his varying jobs in the publishing industry.


Dialogues (MIT Press)
Stanislaw Lem, tr. Peter Butko

In 1957, Stanisław Lem published Dialogues, a book “conceived under the spell of cybernetics,” as he wrote in the preface to the second edition. Mimicking the form of Berkeley's Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, Lem's original dialogue was an attempt to unravel the then-novel field of cybernetics. It was a testimony, Lem wrote later, to “the almost limitless cognitive optimism” he felt upon his discovery of cybernetics. This is the first English translation of Lem's Dialogues, including the text of the first edition and the later essays added to the second edition in 1971. For the second edition, Lem chose not to revise the original. Recognizing the naivete of his hopes for cybernetics, he constructed a supplement to the first dialogue, which consists of two critical essays, the first a summary of the evolution of cybernetics, the second a contribution to the cybernetic theory of the “sociopathology of governing,” amending the first edition's discussion of the pathology of social regulation; and two previously published articles on related topics. From the vantage point of 1971, Lem observes that original book, begun as a search for methods “that would increase our understanding of both the human and nonhuman worlds,” was in the end “an expression of the cognitive curiosity and anxiety of modern thought.”


Dirty Works: Obscenity on Trial in America's First Sexual Revolution 
(Stanford University Press)
Brett Gary

At the turn of the twentieth century, the United States was experiencing an awakening. Victorian-era morality was being challenged by the introduction of sexual modernism and women's rights into popular culture, the arts, and science. Set during this first sexual revolution, when civil libertarian-minded lawyers overthrew the yoke of obscenity laws, Dirty Works focuses on a series of significant courtroom cases that were all represented by the same lawyer: Morris L. Ernst. Ernst's clients included a who's who of European and American literati and sexual activists, among them Margaret Sanger, James Joyce, and Alfred Kinsey. They, along with a colorful cast of burlesque-theater owners and bookstore clerks, had run afoul of stiff obscenity laws, and became actors in Ernst's legal theater that ultimately forced the law to recognize people's right to freely consume media. In this book, Brett Gary recovers the critically neglected Ernst as the most important legal defender of literary expression and reproductive rights by the mid-twentieth century. Each chapter centers on one or more key trials from Ernst's remarkable career battling censorship and obscenity laws, using them to tell a broader story of cultural changes and conflicts around sex, morality, and free speech ideals.Dirty Works sets the stage, legally and culturally, for the sexual revolution of the 1960s and beyond. 


The Eternal Decline and Fall of Rome: The History of a Dangerous Idea 
(Oxford University Press)
Edward J. Watts

The Eternal Decline and Fall of Rome: The History of a Dangerous Idea traces the development and use of the rhetoric of Roman decline and renewal across 2200 years. Beginning in the Roman Republic at the turn of the second century BC and stretching to the uses of Roman decline in the present day, the book tells the stories of the people who built their political and literary careers around promises of Roman renewal as well as those of the victims they blamed for causing Rome's decline. Each chapter offers the historical context necessary to understand moments in which Romans, aspiring Romans, and non-Romans used ideas of Roman decline and restoration to seize power and remake the world around them. The story begins during the Roman Republic just after 200 BC. It proceeds through the empire of Augustus and his successors, traces the Roman loss of much of western Europe in the fifth century AD, and then follows Roman history as it runs through the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) until its fall in 1453. The final two chapters look at ideas of Roman decline and renewal from the fifteenth century until today. If Rome illustrates the profound danger of the rhetoric of decline, it also demonstrates the rehabilitative potential of a rhetoric that focuses on collaborative restoration, a lesson of great relevance to our world today.


A Lab of One's Own: One Woman's Personal Journey Through Sexism in Science
(Simon & Schuster)
Rita Colwell and Sharon Bertsch McGrayne

If you think sexism thrives only on Wall Street or Hollywood, you haven’t visited a lab, a science department, a research foundation, or a biotech firm.Rita Colwell is one of the top scientists in America: the groundbreaking microbiologist who discovered how cholera survives between epidemics and the former head of the National Science Foundation. But when she first applied for a graduate fellowship in bacteriology, she was told, “We don’t waste fellowships on women.” A lack of support from some male superiors would lead her to change her area of study six times before completing her PhD. A Lab of One’s Own is an “engaging” (Booklist) book that documents all Colwell has seen and heard over her six decades in science, from sexual harassment in the lab to obscure systems blocking women from leading professional organizations or publishing their work. Along the way, she encounters other women pushing back against the status quo, including a group at MIT who revolt when they discover their labs are a fraction of the size of their male colleagues. A Lab of One's Own is the science book for the #MeToo era, offering an astute diagnosis of how to fix the problem of sexism in science—and a celebration of women pushing back.


May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem (The University of North Carolina Press)
Imani Perry

The twin acts of singing and fighting for freedom have been inseparable in African American history. May We Forever Stand tells an essential part of that story. With lyrics penned by James Weldon Johnson and music composed by his brother Rosamond, "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was embraced almost immediately as an anthem that captured the story and the aspirations of black Americans. Since the song's creation, it has been adopted by the NAACP and performed by countless artists in times of both crisis and celebration, cementing its place in African American life up through the present day. In this rich, poignant, and readable work, Imani Perry tells the story of the Black National Anthem as it traveled from South to North, from civil rights to black power, and from countless family reunions to Carnegie Hall and the Oval Office. Drawing on a wide array of sources, Perry uses "Lift Every Voice and Sing" as a window on the powerful ways African Americans have used music and culture to organize, mourn, challenge, and celebrate for more than a century.


Poet Warrior  (W.W. Norton & Company)
Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo, the first Native American to serve as U.S. poet laureate, invites us to travel along the heartaches, losses, and humble realizations of her "poet-warrior" road. A musical, kaleidoscopic, and wise follow-up to Crazy BravePoet Warrior reveals how Harjo came to write poetry of compassion and healing, poetry with the power to unearth the truth and demand justice. Harjo listens to stories of ancestors and family, the poetry and music that she first encountered as a child, and the messengers of a changing earth—owls heralding grief, resilient desert plants, and a smooth green snake curled up in surprise. She celebrates the influences that shaped her poetry, among them Audre Lorde, N. Scott Momaday, Walt Whitman, Muscogee stomp dance call-and-response, Navajo horse songs, rain, and sunrise. In absorbing, incantatory prose, Harjo grieves at the loss of her mother, reckons with the theft of her ancestral homeland, and sheds light on the rituals that nourish her as an artist, mother, wife, and community member. Moving fluidly between prose, song, and poetry, Harjo recounts a luminous journey of becoming, a spiritual map that will help us all find home. Poet Warrior sings with the jazz, blues, tenderness, and bravery that we know as distinctly Joy Harjo.


Singing LIke Germans: Black Musicians in the Land of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms 
(Cornell University Press)
Kira Thurman

In Singing Like Germans, Kira Thurman tells the sweeping story of Black musicians in German-speaking Europe over more than a century. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, audiences assumed the categories of Blackness and Germanness were mutually exclusive. Yet on attending a performance of German music by a Black musician, many listeners were surprised to discover that German identity is not a biological marker but something that could be learned, performed, and mastered. While Germans and Austrians located their national identity in music, championing composers such as Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms as national heroes, the performance of their works by Black musicians complicated the public's understanding of who had the right to play them. Audiences wavered between seeing these musicians as the rightful heirs of Austro-German musical culture and dangerous outsiders to it. Thurman explores the tension between the supposedly transcendental powers of classical music and the global conversations that developed about who could perform it. An interdisciplinary and transatlantic history, Singing Like Germans suggests that listening to music is not a passive experience, but an active process where racial and gendered categories are constantly made and unmade.

 

(Verso)
Matthew Beaumont

There is no such thing as a false step. Every time we walk we are going somewhere. Especially if we are going nowhere. Moving around the modern city is not a way of getting from A to B, but of understanding who and where we are. In a series of riveting intellectual rambles, Matthew Beaumont retraces episodes in the history of the walker since the mid-nineteenth century. From Dickens’s insomniac night rambles to restless excursions through the faceless monuments of today’s neoliberal city, the act of walking is one of self-discovery and self-escape, of disappearances and secret subversions. Pacing stride for stride alongside literary amblers and thinkers such as Edgar Allan Poe, André Breton, H. G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys and Ray Bradbury, Beaumont explores the relationship between the metropolis and its pedestrian life. Through these writings, Beaumont asks: Can you get lost in a crowd? What are the consequences of using your smartphone in the street? What differentiates the nocturnal metropolis from the city of daylight? What connects walking, philosophy and the big toe? And can we save the city – or ourselves – by taking to the pavement?


Why Food Matters (Yale University Press)
Paul Freedman

Why does food matter? Historically, food has not always been considered a serious subject on par with, for instance, a performance art like opera or a humanities discipline like philosophy. Necessity, ubiquity, and repetition contribute to the apparent banality of food, but these attributes don’t capture food’s emotional and cultural range, from the quotidian to the exquisite. In this short, passionate book, Paul Freedman makes the case for food’s vital importance, stressing its crucial role in the evolution of human identity and human civilizations. Freedman presents a highly readable and illuminating account of food’s unique role in our lives, a way of expressing community and celebration, but also divisive with regard to race, cultural difference, gender, and geography. This wide-ranging book is a must-read for food lovers and all those interested in how cultures and identities are formed and maintained.

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