In the short chapters that make up this brief book, Gumbrecht ranges from the materiality of language to the "focused intensity" of playing and watching sports, from globalization to the "infinite availability" associated with the ubiquity of communication devices. But he keeps returning to a few central ideas: the varying attempts to assert (bodily, spatial) presence in a world saturated with disembodied electronic communication; the shift from historicist time to an era when the past is never over and the future offers no progress or escape, leaving us in a "broad present" of simultaneity; the question whether these shifts have brought us to a time of stagnation, when innovation in thought and culture has mostly ground to a halt and left us commenting on the classics or curating the artifacts of the past. Despite this seemingly rather pessimistic analysis, Gumbrecht holds out hope -- in a "will-to-presence" beyond "the intellectual pseudo-obligation of permanent criticism."
Alice Goffman, a white professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, lived for more than four years in a lower-income, predominantly African-American neighborhood in Philadelphia. (The specific neighborhood, as well as the inhabitants with whom she interacted, are disguised with pseudonyms.) What started as a tutoring job turned into a multi-year (and multi-institution) research project, as the author explored the lives of several men whose daily existence is oriented around meeting parole requirements, fleeing bench and body warrants, and generally avoiding the police -- unless it was in their interest to be arrested, as was the case when things in the neighborhood got too "hot" and prison was preferable to injury or death. In several clearly written chapters, Goffman catalogs the many ways in which the growth of prisons has affected not simply those who find themselves on the wrong side of the law, but also their loved ones, some of whom try to protect them while others, for varying reasons, betray them. The effects of Goffman's research on her own life are presented in what is probably one of the more absorbing methodological notes that have been written.
This collection of short (mostly two-page) essays highlights thirty-one buildings or other complexes that were constructed in Nashville between 1930 and 1980. (A couple of exceptions are West End United Methodist Church and Scarritt College, both of which began their lives in the late 1920s.) The articles, many written by architects, describe the circumstances that lead to the new building, notable features of the construction, and sometimes even cost of materials. The Divinity and Law Schools (designed by the same firm) and Sarratt Center represent Vanderbilt. As Nashville undergoes a construction boom, the fact that some of the buildings in this book no longer exist is a poignant reminder that time's ravages are sometimes the result of human choices.
Before becoming the fourth chancellor of Vanderbilt University, Harvie Branscomb was, among other things, the director of libraries at Duke University, and it was there that he wrote this volume on college libraries. The thesis of the book -- that "the primary task of the college library is to provide certain facilities for and to aid in carrying out the instructional program of the faculty" -- was a response to conditions that obtained in college libraries of the time, where the growing size of collections was frequently more important than how those collections were to be used. While some of the concerns that lead Branscomb to this thesis, and some of the supporting materials in the book, are less significant now -- particularly the domination of closed stacks, which kept most college students from direct contact with many of the books in the library -- others remain or have cycled back into prominence. Among them are courses that do not require use of items beyond what the faculty puts on the syllabus; librarians separated, by their own choice or not, from what goes on in the classroom; and students not encouraged to explore widely in their subjects or to take part in "self-education by means of books." The solutions that Branscomb proposes vary in their continuing applicability; but what is remarkable -- and perhaps a little sad -- is the persistence of some of the same barriers to library use that existed, and were so eloquently recognized to exist, almost seventy-five years ago.
Call Number: Central Library PL855 .I566 J6713 2012
Natsuo Kirino, who is perhaps best known in the U.S. for her mystery novel Out, retells the Japanese myth of Izanami and Izanaki, goddess and god of conjugal love. This story of death, betrayal, and revenge is echoed, though not precisely, in the life of Namima, the young woman who narrates much of the novel and who serves the goddess in the realm of the dead after her own early demise. Namima's opportunity to return to the world of the living and explore the mystery of her death does not necessarily give her relief, but it does bring her some understanding of Izanami's rage. How the reader, who becomes aware of the mounting regrets of Izanaki, Izanami's former husband, is to understand the persistence of that rage may depend on how much that reader's life echoes (though, of course, not precisely) Izanami's own.
This anthology gathers English translations of Korean proletarian literature, mostly from the period of Japanese occupation. Stories range from defiant to defeated, satirical to sad. While the Japanese come in for much criticism, so do the Chinese -- particularly in Manchuria, where many Koreans moved before and during the colonial period. Some Koreans, as well, don't come off very well, and not simply those who collaborated. The political situation, ever present in the background, exacerbates already difficult human relations, particularly for women. The authors of these stories, if they lived long enough, ended up in the North or the South. The country's political division kept proletarian texts from being published in the South until 1988. The division continues, but we can now read these stories that come from a unified, yet still troubled, country.
Call Number: Central Library PR9379.9 .A35 N6 1988
Talking is central to many of Aidoo's stories: conversations, discussions, arguments, sometimes rapid-fire, sometimes digressive, between a servant and the man he sees as his master, between sisters, among relatives and friends, between the narrator and readers. Many of the stories start in medias res, and the talk in them seems to pick up where it last left off, in a place before the tale's beginning. We see people dealing with daily life in Ghana, an existence that involves the death of children, the break-up of families, rural and urban divide, and questions of how to deal with the legacies of colonialism and the liberties and corruptions of the post-colonial. "What does 'Independence' mean?" asks one character. It depends on whom you talk to.
The last year of the First World War coincided with the beginnings of another cause of worldwide devastation: the Spanish influenza (which, despite its name, likely emerged in Kansas rather than the Continent). In this brief book, Susan Kingsley Kent selects from a wide range of primary source materials, including nurses's accounts of sick patients; medical suggestions on treating the flu (thought to be caused by a bacillus; it wasn't until 1933 that the role of viruses as influenza's causative agents was discovered); newspaper articles chronicling the spread of the disease; editorials blaming colonial government mismanagement for that spread; and so on. Kent's introduction, along with the documents for which it provides a context, consider the role of the flu both in shortening the war and in heightening anti-colonial passions, passions which would lead to a reconfiguration of the world decades after the war's relatively immediate reconfiguration of Europe.
John Stilgoe wants you to go outside, but he prefers that you read his book first. This is good advice, for on almost every page, Outside Lies Magic dispenses surprising observations about the natural and the built environments and their interactions -- observations which can inform what readers notice in their surroundings and inspire them to bring the same inquisitive imagination to their own interactions with those surroundings. Stilgoe, a professor of the history of landscape development at Harvard, brings his curiosity to the electric lines that festoon city streets, the mailboxes at the end of suburban driveways, the strip malls along state highways (but not interstates), among other objects of the built world. "This is a straightforward guidebook to exploring," he says early on, but it is also a meditation on change and loss, and on the fascinations of the ordinary landscape as appreciated by unscripted, unprogrammed wandering.
Tudi, the Chinese Earth God, is venerated in small shrines located mostly in older areas of Hong Kong, as documented in this recent collection of photographs by Michael Wolf, who has also taken pictures of corner houses in Hong Kong and, slightly further afield, faces in the Tokyo subway. These Earth God shrines, which range from elaborate to minimalist and can be found under mailboxes, next to mops and buckets, and in front of rusting pipes, occupy a vanishing space in the urban landscape. Interviews with worshipers at the end of the book provide a narrative context for the photographs; and while belief in Tudi's efficacy may vary, everyone seems to agree that, with regard to worshiping the Earth God, "Of course it's better to do it."
The soul is somewhat out of fashion, particularly from the point of view of neuroscience, but Goodman and Caramenico work to rectify that perception in this new book. In a series of chapters that focus on perception, consciousness, memory, agency, and creativity, the authors trace the treatment of each of these concepts from the writings of ancient philosophers and poets to the results of modern brain science, arguing that the drive to reduce everything to its smallest constituents leaves unexplained the mechanism by which those constituents work together to accomplish purposeful action. That "mechanism" is the soul. But when Goodman and Caramenico use that word, they don't intend you to think of immortality or even (necessarily) God. This soul is closer to a "self," and while God shows up in the afterword to the book, the authors want to "start from what we know." The contents of this book suggest that that should keep us busy for a while.
Call Number: Central Library PL872.5 .A3 Y6513 2010
Kiwako Nonomiya, convinced by her married lover to abort their child and then made aware of the birth of his own daughter, steals into her lover's apartment and leaves with the baby girl, whom she christens Kaoru. So begins Kiwako's first-person narrative of fugitive life, which takes this new family from Tokyo, across Japan, and to an island in the Inland Sea. And that's only the first part of the book: in the second part Kaoru, now a twenty year old, faces some of the same choices as her "adopted" mother, even as she must contend with her birth parents and with a past she would rather ignore. Kakuta, also known for Woman on the Other Shore, shows us the ways girls and women in modern Japan survive male deceit and indifference and find friendship with other girls and women -- if they're lucky.
Tokuda Shusei's novel depicts a world in movement: Oshima, the main character, shuttles between her natural and her foster parents while unmarried, and during her marriages and the transitions between she moves houses and businesses in Tokyo, stays with her brother in the mountains, and visits Nagoya on an aborted trip to Shanghai. The phonographs and advertising towers that punctuate the narrative remind the reader of the luxuries of modernity, while the constant struggle to survive in the marketplace highlight its costs. Illness -- physical, sexual, psychological -- pervades the story, but it is Oshima's constant striving to succeed -- in her tailoring business and in her romantic endeavors -- which stays with us throughout the novel, even to its rather abrupt ending.
At the time of this book's publication in 1918, shell shock was a relatively new phenomenon. (Smith and Pear somewhat reluctantly use "shell-shock" rather than "War-Strain," which they prefer.) Though the authors stress continuity between the symptoms of soldiers and civilians -- "Every [symptom of shell shock] was known beforehand in civil life" -- the vast number of war victims and the degree of their suffering suggest a significant discontinuity. But the newness of this malady also presents an opportunity: after briefly describing the symptoms and progress of the disease and proposing treatment options, some of which contradict approaches current at the time, the authors discuss the reforming uses to which shell shock can be put. Two of these include establishing a larger role for psychology in medical theory and practice, and persuading the British mental health establishment to adopt salutary practices from other countries, including their soon-to-be-erstwhile enemies, the Germans. But as they end the book with another attempt at shaming, the difficulty of what they're proposing is emphasized yet again. Quoting a document that lays out their own concerns, they note that the document dates from 1849. This is another kind of continuity: the continuity of stasis.
The Cairo Geniza, a large collection of documents from a storehouse in Egypt, has provided scholars with a remarkable source with which to imagine and reconstruct the medieval Islamic world. Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman takes another look at those documents, particularly at the legal materials, rather than the letters on which scholars have typically focused. Reminding readers that most of the items in the Geniza were written by Jews and say quite a lot about Judaism at this time, he contends that the distinctive relationships described in those documents "[reveal] a highly acculturated Jewish community that defined itself through confrontation with, rather than acceptance of, Islamic business practices." But Ackerman-Lieberman does not want to abandon the Geniza as a source for Islamic practices; therefore, he posits a "specular-relational model," by which he hopes to find similarities between various groups in the medieval Islamic world while retaining the distinctiveness of each of the groups.
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