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The Far North of Experience by Rebecca Solnit

In books, environment, literature, nature, writers on August 19, 2014 at 03:14

From: The Far North of Experience: In Praise of Darkness (and Light) by Rebecca Solnit, TomDispatch, http://www.tomdispatch.com

The far north is an unearthly earth, where much of what those of us in temperate zones were told is universal is not true. Everyone walks on water, which is a solid. In winter, you can build palaces out of it, or houses out of snow. Ice is blue. Snow insulates. Water crystallizes into floating mountains that destroy whatever collides with them. Many other things turn hard as rock in the cold. Nothing decays, and so time stops for the dead, if not the living. Cold is stability and warmth can be treacherous.

Their opposite is the equator, where every day and every night of the year is exactly twelve hours long. The further north or south you go, the longer summer days and winter nights get. In Iceland, each day of spring was several minutes longer than the one before, so that in May the days went from nearly 17 to 20 hours long, and by June there is no true darkness, no night. The sun dipped low around midnight or after and there were spectacular sunsets that melted into sunrises, because the sun never went entirely away.

The sensuality of night had never been so clear to me, darkness descending like velvet to wrap around you and enclose you in its black cocoon, to take you to your other self and others. In darkness dreams awaken and dreamers merge, which might be how passion becomes love and how making love begets progeny of all natures and forms. Merging is dangerous, at least to the boundaries and definition of the self. Darkness is generative, and generation, biological and artistic both, requires this amorous engagement with the unknown, this entry into the realm where you do not quite know what you are doing and what will happen next.

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Reposted with permission from: TomDispatch

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Scandinavian Style by Sophie Pinkham

In art, books, culture, economics, literature, politics, review, writers on January 20, 2014 at 17:33

From: Scandinavian Style by Sophie Pinkham, N + 1 Magazine, http://nplusonemag.com

Karl Ove Knausgaard’s 3,500-page, six-volume magnum opus, My Struggle, is made from the material of the author’s daily life. The book has been described as an autobiographical novel, sometimes with “novel” in scare quotes, to indicate its excessive truthfulness. Like the author, the narrator is called Karl Ove Knausgaard, and, like the author, he is a Norwegian writer who lives in Stockholm with his second wife, the poet Linda Bostrom. As Knausgaard has explained in many interviews, his intention in writing My Struggle was to be absolutely honest, no matter how much shame this might cause. Many of his relatives have been furious, and some have cut off all contact with him. His wife relapsed into manic depression after she read the first manuscript. Knausgaard’s decision to tell the whole painful, humiliating truth has been the subject of heated debate in Norway, where My Struggle has sold about one copy for every ten residents. (To date, only the first two volumes have been released in English; the third will appear next summer.)

For American readers, Knausgaard’s writing is striking in its freedom from telling details, well-wrought similes, conspicuous fine-tuning. His sentences don’t look like they’ve been reworked for months, and they haven’t: he wrote My Struggle fast, with minimal revision. He uses well-worn phrases that we tend to identify as clichés, and that elicit, in many readers, a desire to whip out the red pencil. In an otherwise positive review of My Struggle in the New Yorker, James Wood criticized the uneven quality of the prose and the use of clichés. But these are essential parts of the method. Knausgaard rejects chiseled sentences in favor of a cumulative effect, and the flatness, the openness, the sprawl provide the space necessary for his discursive treatment of everyday life, allowing the reader to exist inside the narrator’s mind, to see as he sees.

We never see Knausgaard engaging in any kind of income-generating activity, apart from writing novels and producing the occasional reader’s report for a publishing house. He doesn’t teach creative writing classes, or literature classes. He never talks to an agent, though he occasionally does interviews or goes to writers’ conferences. He doesn’t write book reviews for magazines or newspapers. He is not enrolled in a PhD program or a funded MFA program—welfare for American intellectuals. His wife, Linda, is a poet who never seems to engage in any income-generating activity at all. And yet they have an apartment in the center of Stockholm, and Knausgaard has an office—a room of his own. The Knausgaards are always eating crab and salmon, drinking good wine and cognac. They vacation in Spain, and never seem to worry about the financial welfare of their aging parents. Most shocking of all, they have an extravagant number of children—three—in the course of just four years. They never wonder who’ll pay for their children to go to college, probably because in Sweden and Norway, university is free. When Linda gives birth, Knausgaard ponders the existential aspects of this process, rather than worrying about the hospital bill. In Stockholm, as in New York, life is full of banality; but it’s a different banality, without credit card debt or massive student loans.

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Reposted with permission from: N + 1 Magazine

The Past is What Matters by Edan Lepucki

In books, literature, review, society, writers on October 13, 2013 at 18:37

From: The Past is What Matters: On Margaret Atwood’s Vision of the Future by Edan Lepucki, The Millions, http://www.themillions.com

I still recall the day I started The Handmaid’s Tale. It swept me away even as I underlined sentence after sentence, convinced that the narrator’s musings on language and storytelling would be discussed later in class. ”My self is a thing I must now compose as one composes a speech,” Offred narrates early on. “What I must present is a made thing, not something born.” I haven’t since found another book that captures as well as Atwood’s does the power of language and storytelling, how our identities are made and unmade by narrative.

That first time, I read for hours: on my narrow bed, and then on the floor, in the middle of my dorm room. Later that same evening, or maybe the next, I read some of the book aloud to my roommate, who kept falling asleep as I did so. Every few minutes, she’d wake up and describe to me her dreamscape, altered by Atwood’s descriptions. ”Keep going,” she’d say and close her eyes again.

(Years later, I would dream that I was Offred, trapped on a large cruise ship, trying to escape some unseen threat. The memory of those dark, wood-paneled hallways, and my robe and wimple, still gives me the chills.)

I’ve since returned to The Handmaid’s Tale three more times, and on each read, it astonishes me. I love the novel’s insistence on back story, on Offred’s need to conjure a time when she still had her old identity, her “shining name,” when she and her best friend Moira were allowed to go to college, and smoke cigarettes, and make tasteless jokes (“It sounds like a dessert. Date rapé“). The novel imagines America as a totalitarian Christian state that has stripped the rights of women, and although it does so vividly and powerfully, the dystopian premise is never central to my reading experience. I always fixate instead on Offred’s language play, and on the way she comprehends herself — and her female body — in this new world. Stories pass the time, yes, but they’re also a lifeline to the past, and they allow Offred to function in this terrible new world: ”One detaches oneself,” she narrates, “one describes.”

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: The Millions website

Archive Fever by Lorena Allam

In audio, Australia & Oceania, books, history, humanities, information, interview, research, theory on September 24, 2013 at 00:29

From: Archive Fever by Lorena Allam, Hindsight, ABC Radio National, http://www.abc.net.au

Australia is leading the world in a new approach to archives. It is challenging traditional archivists to embrace a more multilateral approach, one which suggests many versions of the past. But what does this mean archives are about become? Do they describe our past or our future? If we are to believe in Archive Fever then we might find our archives produce our history as much as they record it.

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Archive Fever is the title of a book by Jacques Derrida that has caused much debate around the world. Years later archivists and researchers are still disseminating its meaning. It came at a time when archives were just beginning to face the challenge of the digital age and so were ripe for an new definition. This new definition is still being debated, but so far it looks like it will involve archivists being more open about their practises, and institutions being more open about the gaps in their collections.

Modern archival theory and practise is based on organisational and government records. So the rules for archiving personal papers, oral histories, pictures, ephemera etc, are all adaptations from this dominant model. This is one reason why there are gaps. The histories of minority groups, indigenous communities, women, children and even sports stars, are all underrepresented in our national collections. These are big gaps, but there are also small gaps for instance when a correspondence suddenly breaks into a phone call. Even today archives are essentially about paper, and if the correspondents speak to each other then, the chances are, there’ll be a gap in the record, and a gap in our knowing, and a gap in the conclusions we draw from that knowing.

Reposted with permission from: ABC Radio National

My Little Library in Anatolia by Kaya Genc

In books, Europe, literature, war on July 12, 2013 at 19:01

From: My Little Library in Anatolia by Kaya Genc, The Millions, http://www.themillions.com

In 2009, when I was a graduate student in Istanbul, I worked full-time in a newspaper, editing the paper’s books supplement. I was a busy man with lots of editorial assignments on my plate. I had little time to concentrate on my doctoral dissertation — a study of Hegel’s influence on late-Victorian authors. Instead of writing in academic Hegelese, I spent my days behind my office desk where I commissioned, edited, fact-checked, and proofread. A week after my 28th birthday in March, while hard at work on the first draft of a book review, I received a call from the university’s student affairs department. The voice on the other end of the line said there had been a “strange problem” with my academic credits some months ago. The mistake had led to the termination of my enrollment: from this moment onwards I would be subject to the draft.

Come April 10, I had cleared my desk at the office and arrived at an Anatolian city where my six-month-long national service in a gendarme squadron officially began. I was immediately nicknamed “journo” by the commanders. After the initial month of training came to an end my fellow gendarmes were assigned to various positions related to their education. I, the academic-cum-journalist, meanwhile, was given the most intellectual post the commanders could think of.

“I have just made you the squadron’s librarian,” said our lieutenant, a muscular man whose every word was law and from whose super cool sunshades I could see the reflection of my face.

“Here are the keys to the library. Take them! From now on it will be under your responsibility. Clean the place every day! Don’t give books to everyone! Give them only to soldiers you trust! Now get lost!”

I did get lost. And when I hid myself in that room, which was hardly bigger than 100 square feet, I found myself surrounded by a series of dusty books. Although the books were old and deep in hibernation, the people who came to read them were very much alive. So in my small library in a distant Anatolian town I learned an awful lot about what young Turkish men enjoyed reading under the gun. I watched them as they read for relief. I watched them as they read for pleasure. I watched them as they read for keeping sane.

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Reposted with permission from: The Millions

Loving Leonard Cohen by Judyta Frodyma

In books, music, poetry on July 7, 2013 at 18:00

From: Loving Leonard Cohen by Judyta Frodyma, The Oxonian Review, http://www.oxonianreview.org

Even at the start of his career, writes Sylvie Simmons in her new biography, “Leonard had never really toured but he knew he did not like touring”. For a man on and off the road since the sixties, this is an unexpected characteristic. He had a problem with stage fright, but “mostly he was afraid for his songs. They had come to him in private, from somewhere pure and honest, and he had worked long and hard to make them sincere representations of the moment. He wanted to protect them, not parade and pimp them to paying strangers in an artificial intimacy.” Later in the biography, Simmons returns to his complicated relationship with touring, which he viewed “at best as a necessary evil, foisted upon him by his record contract […] his insecurities as a singer and a musician made his fear of failure more acute.”

And indeed, the ‘Leonard’ that Simmons depicts is supportive but also humble, self-deprecating, extraordinarily generous with his time and money and, unsurprisingly, mysteriously seductive. Yet the work is not shrouded in a veil of mystery, nor judgement for that matter. From his bohemian, non-committal sex-life to details of his finances and the complexity of his relationship with G-d (as he reverently writes in ‘Poems of Longing’) and himself, we feel we are being presented with an accurate and honest portrait of Leonard as he is. And like the countless men and women in his life, we find ourselves ready to fall at his feet. Simmons does leave some things to the reader’s speculation and certain things are mentioned in passing, but there is never a sense of distance from her subject.

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Reposted with permission from: The Oxonian Review

Ferryman by Daniel Bosch

In books, classics, poetry, writers on May 19, 2013 at 18:32

From: Ferryman by Daniel Bosch, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com

When his second book of poems, Strangers, came out in 1983, after a 23-year silence, and David Ferry stood on the shore of its accomplishment, the doyen of Akkadian studies at Harvard, Bill Moran, gave him an assignment: translate the epic of Gilgamesh. When the hero of the poem, a stranger, approaches Urshànabi, the ferryman without whose guidance he could never cross the waters of death, Gilgamesh must retell the ferryman the story of the grief that is written on his face and body. The story serves to establish the hero’s identity, and his need, but it is also necessary because the retelling of stories is one of the things an epic must do — one of the things a hero does.

So it came to be that David Ferry, who cannot read cuneiform, an English professor and a stranger in the land of Ancient Near East Studies, gave a voice, his voice, to the ferryman Urshànabi. Bill Moran and David Ferry became ever-faster friends as Ferry worked on his assignment. Like Urshànabi, whose fate it was to move back and forth across a body of water, and who became, at a crucial moment, Gilgamesh’s life-coach, Moran helped his stranger-friend to reach Utnapishtim, from whom he might seek the secret of immortality and balm for grief. And like heroic Gilgamesh, Ferry succeeded, coming across with a beautiful rendering of the Akkadian epic, one strong enough to establish his claim to the name of translator, bearer of works across waters, bearer of works across time.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

Philosophometry by Justin E. H. Smith

In books, information, philosophy, research, theory on May 11, 2013 at 19:06

From: Philosophometry by Justin E. H. Smith, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com

I may have mentioned already that I am in the beginning stages of a massively ambitious, multi-year project: I have been asked to write a very long, but not nearly long enough, book called A Global History of Philosophy, to 1750. The manuscript is due in 2017.

In the era of Wikipedia (and we will be much deeper into that era by 2017) we seriously need to rethink the purpose of presenting facts to readers at all. How can I write a book that relates the global history of philosophy, and at the same time provides readers something that online, collaborative information sources cannot? Again, one option is to offer the sort of idiosyncratic interpretation that one is allowed to have as the author of a book, rather than of an encyclopedia entry, but as I’ve already said, the Russellian danger there is one that I also wish to avoid. One possible way I’ve been considering to navigate a path that steers clear of both Russell and Wikipedia is what I’ve started thinking of as ‘philosophometry’ (check Google; you heard it here first!), but which might also perhaps be called ‘quantitative metaphilosophy’.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

Video: The Last Bookshop

In books, culture, Europe, society, video on April 27, 2013 at 20:07

Video: The Last Bookshop, https://thelastbookshop.wordpress.com/

joe-halls-bookshop

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The Last Bookshop imagines a future where physical books have died out. One day, a small boy’s holographic entertainment fails, so he heads out to explore the streets of abandoned shops outside. Down a forgotten alley he discovers the last ever bookshop. And inside, an ancient shopkeeper has been waiting over 25 years for a customer…
Produced by The Bakery in the South-East of England, filming took place in 2011, with post-production completed in 2012. The music was composed by Owen Hewson and performed by Arlet. Veteran actor Alfred Hoffman stars alongside youthful co-star Joe Holgate. It is written by Richard Dadd, who also co-directs alongside Dan Fryer.
We love bookshops. But we saw that many are going through tough times. We wanted to contribute to the cultural debate with our own celebration in support of these glorious independents and their shelves of treasures. So with the help of some remarkable independent bookshops, and a lot of talented friends, we have been able to make our idea for The Last Bookshop into a reality. We hope you enjoy this film and share it with your friends…

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Adventure on the Vertical by Mark Dorrian

In books, film, North America, photography, theory, visual arts on April 24, 2013 at 07:39

From: Adventure on the Vertical by Mark Dorrian, Cabinet, http://cabinetmagazine.org

Introducing W. Watson-Baker’s 1935 book, World Beneath the Microscope, the English artist and critic William Gaunt wrote:

We are no longer so excited as formerly by the account of trips on the surface … The mind is stretched, uncomfortably sometimes, but with a new fascination, to speed and profundity, to the thought of worlds that lie a million light-years away from us, to the worlds that recede in evolutionary time beneath the lens, to the thought even that they merge or that by some extraordinary trick of relativity the smaller may contain the large. There is an affinity between the telescope and the microscope, between the discovery of stellar space and the discovery of the atom.

The film Powers of Ten was first made as a trial version in 1968, and then remade and released in 1977 in the familiar form that has been so widely disseminated in both film and printed formats. Produced by the Eames Office, the Los Angeles-based firm founded by the husband-and-wife design team, the 1977 version was one of the couple’s final films. In the postwar era of US corporate expansion and ascendancy, the Eameses established relationships with some of the key companies of the time. … While work for corporate clients destined for the international exhibitions of the Cold War period was inevitably situated in an arena of national representation and geopolitical contest, the Eameses were at the same time receiving major commissions explicitly driven by such imperatives. Most notable of these was the film installation Glimpses of the USA, produced the year after the Brussels exposition for the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow, coordinated by the United States Information Agency (USIA).

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet

Featured: Poetry of Wanda John-Kehewin

In books, Featured, literature, North America, poetry, writers on April 2, 2013 at 20:41

Cree poet Wanda John-Kehewin studied criminology, sociology, Aboriginal studies, and creative writing while attending the Writer’s Studio writing program at Simon Fraser University. She uses writing as a therapeutic medium through which to understand and to respond to the near decimation of First Nations culture, language, and tradition. She has been published in Quills, Canadian Poetry Magazine, the Aboriginal Writers Collective West Coast anthology Salish Seas, and the Writer’s Studio emerge anthology. She has shared her writing on Vancouver Co-op Radio, performed at numerous readings throughout the Lower Mainland, and read for the Writers Union of Canada. Her first book of poetry “In the Dog House” was recently published by http://talonbooks.com

Featured: One Thousand Cranes by Wanda John-Kehewin

Someone set sail one thousand cranes last night in the spirit world of amethyst dreams. Someone wished the sun to kiss your cheeks and opalescent moon beams to paint light in the darkness so you never lose your way.

Someone dreamt of a painted sea turtle, last night who knew one thousand secrets who was the keeper of the door way to the spirit world that sits on the oceans edges-he said.

Someone wished for you last night an orchard of cherry blossoms dancing gracefully in the wind reminding you to be gentle and kind to yourself and never forget to dance in the wind as cherry blossoms soar in warm winds, dance with them just be and remember me- they said.

Someone dreamt of you in the spirit world last night in a valley of fuchsia baby azaleas and a white camellia in your hair reminding you to patiently wait for the sea turtles secrets at the edge of the ocean.

Someone wished for you last night one thousand cranes to guide you to them in the twilight and astral of your sleep- They say when sorrow is too great they do not want to come too soon for you may never want to leave the dream world- And so they wait at the edge of your dreams with love resonating, encompassing you, for love has no timeline and reaches beyond the edges of the human sorrow.

Someone whispered to you last night, you will dream of them on a white Manchurian crane when you are ready to let their essence into the light and finally smile when you think of them; place blue bells in the lightest room to remind you of how grateful they were to know you and love you. Place lavender under your pillow for tender dreams where loved ones meet And we will fold one thousand cranes in a field of flowering sweet pea flowers and budding zinnia and we will let soar one thousand cranes over a thousand dreams above our temporary goodbye and we will have wished someone else peace, love, strength, light in the darkness- And one thousand cranes…

Reposted with permission from: Wanda John-Kehewin

Rediscovering Gandhi by Tridip Suhrud

In Asia, books, history, poetry, politics, religion, research, theory, writers on March 16, 2013 at 15:54

From: Rediscovering Gandhi: New insights from recent books on Gandhi by Tridip Suhrud, The Caravan, http://www.caravanmagazine.in

IN CONVERSATIONS, social theorist Ashis Nandy fondly recalls an exchange between philosopher Ramachandra Gandhi and poet Umashankar Joshi. The philosopher argued that MK Gandhi was inconceivable without his spiritual strivings, while the poet—and one suspects Ashis Nandy too—insisted that Gandhi’s significance lay in his willingness to engage and transform the “slum of politics”.

This divide between the religious, spiritual Gandhi and the political one or, more aptly, the divide between Gandhi the ashramite and Gandhi the satyagrahi has come to shape not only our academic engagement with the life and thought of Gandhi, but also our memory of the man whom we revere, revile or remain indifferent to. The dichotomy is a superficial one. Gandhi saw himself as a satyagrahi and an ashramite. His politics was imbued with spiritual strivings and his relationship with religion was a deeply political one.

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Reposted with permission from: The Caravan

The Art of Swimming by BibliOdyssey

In books, history, society, sport, visual arts on March 16, 2013 at 15:34

From: The Art of Swimming by BibliOdyssey, http://bibliodyssey.blogspot.ca

Of the manner of entring into the water

Wherein naked early modernists get wet in the name of science!

“While one reflects on those many and frequent Accidents, which thro’ want of Swimming daily happen amongst us: Every one is ready to complain of the unhappiness of Man in that respect, in comparison of other Animals, to whom Nature has indulg’d that faculty, which he ought to enjoy in a more excellent degree, since it is so necessary to his Preservation.

This Art, which may be numbered among the Mechanick ones, since it is performed by Motion, and the Agitation of the Hands and Feet, has been hitherto exercised rather by a rude Imitation, than the Observation of any Rules or Precepts, by reason no on has taken the pains to reduce it to any; although it has always sufficiently deserved it, by the great advantages it brings to those who possess it, and in general to all Civil Societies, the consideration whereof ought to have made Men study to render it more easy to be learned, and more familiar to all men, since they may have so great occasion for it. [..]

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Reposted with permission from: BibliOdyssey

Books of Ice: Sculptures by Basia Irland

In art, books, ecology, nature, video, visual arts on March 12, 2013 at 15:32

From: Books of Ice: Sculptures by Basia Irland & Text by Kathleen Dean Moore, Orion Magazine, http://www.orionmagazine.org

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Balls of ice sowed seeds of life on Earth. That’s what comets are, just clumps of ice holding interstellar rocks and dust. But in that dust are amino acids and nucleotides that build living things. Many scientists think that this might be one way life began on Earth, 4 billion years ago, when the spinning arms of the galaxy cast comets over the planet, comets and comets and comets, protolife smacking onto the broken lava plains, until basins gathered the meltwater into oceans, and the oceans nurtured onrushing life.

Ice sows ice, too. The first grains gleamed in white sunshine, throwing back the sun’s heat and cooling their own small shadows. More ice formed in the cool places, and the shine of it cooled a larger shadow, until the reflectivity of the growing ice sheets cooled the whole planet, finally draped in dazzling layers of ice. Now the glaciers that remain in mountain valleys give life to rivers—the Ganges, the Fraser, the Colorado—as meltwater slides down blue rills and finally cuts a channel through gravel and till.

Reposted with permission from: Orion Magazine

The Progressive Puritan by Siobhan Phillips

In books, history, North America, poetry, writers on February 17, 2013 at 21:35

From: The Progressive Puritan: Revisiting the Poems of Marianne Moore by Siobhan Phillips, Boston Review, http://www.bostonreview.net

Marianne Moore is always hiding in plain sight. She is the paradoxical radical, either distracting the reader from her traditionalism with avant-garde trappings or concealing rebellion in prim camouflage. She picketed for women’s rights and voted for Herbert Hoover. She distrusted the “obscenities” in William Carlos Williams and encouraged the “ability” in Allen Ginsberg. She breathed horror of “a sodomite” to one lesbian friend and signed letters to another “your affectionate albino-dactyl.” Those three-corned hats and men’s polo shirts: do they reflect an old-fashioned aversion to frippery or an innovative preference for androgyny? And her resolute urban celibacy (she lived in an apartment with her mother): a species of piety or a refusal of stereotypes? Moore’s mix of puritan and progressive seems quintessentially American—alert to the virtues of brown bread and the glories of Brancusi’s sculpture, to Pilgrim’s Progress as well as Ezra Pound. Likewise her get-to-the-point distrust of dreaming: “No wonder we hate poetry,” she writes in “Armor’s Undermining Modesty,” and “stars and harps and the new moon.” When Moore ends that poem on an “imperishable wish,” she means something as solid as the “hard yron” of another of her titles. Moore was indirectly forthright, demure and definitive at once.

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Reposted with permission from: The Boston Review

Featured Essay: Rooted in Poetry by Thomas Orszag-Land

In Book Reviews, books, Europe, Featured, history, literature, poetry, writers on January 12, 2013 at 22:22

I have a special post for you today. Thomas Orszag-Land is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent writing from London and his native Budapest. His reviews and polemics have been published by the London Magazine and The Times Literary Supplement, and his poetry by Ambit and BBC World Service.

Enjoy the essay and feel free to comment.

HG

Featured Essay: Rooted in Poetry – Kops Returns to Russia to Assassinate the Tsar by Thomas Orszag-Land

In 1881, the St. Petersburg cell of the notorious anarchist organization Narodnaya Volya (The People’s Will) assassinates the tyrannical anti-Semite Tsar Alexander II of All Russia, the flames of murderous pogroms sweep through the abused Pale of Settlements and a Jewish boy from Muswell Hill in 21st century London is rescued by the banned Yiddish Jericho Players company of Latvia… What?

Bernard Kops, the doyen of European poetry, has issued a great new Holocaust novel steeped in rhythms and rhyme. It tells a fantastic and entirely believable tale with warmth, humour, empathy and depth reminiscent of the Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem. Its text pulsates like some pieces from the immortal pen of the Jewish-Soviet master Isaac Babel. But Kops gives us more even than his towering antecedents because he is also, quintessentially, a poet.

His story is about the present. Its characters are those among us whose forebears struggled through the great European migrations since the expulsion of Jews from Spain at the dawn modern European literature as well as the giants whose explosive imaginations came to formulate the self-image of much of the world in our own time.

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Dr. Cornel West, Philosopher of the Blues by Jeff Sharlet

In books, culture, ethnicity, government, history, North America, philosophy, politics, religion on January 5, 2013 at 05:24

From: The Supreme Love and Revolutionary Funk of Dr. Cornel West, Philosopher of the Blues by Jeff Sharlet, Killing the Buddha, http://killingthebuddha.com

West has been called “perhaps the preeminent black intellectual of our generation” by Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates Jr., himself a candidate for that mantle. It might be more accurate to say that West is the preeminent intellectual of our generation, no qualifiers. No other scholar is as widely read, no other philosopher courted by presidential candidates, no other Ivy League professor referenced not just by other academics but by popular filmmakers (The Matrix trilogy, in which West played a bit role, was inspired in part by his work) and musicians (West has collaborated with Prince, Talib Kweli, and jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard, among others).

West came to his sense of self by way of a peculiarly American convergence of influences. His is not an “only in America” story but an “especially in America” one, part Emersonian self-reliance, part Motown funk. He’s an intellectual mutt in the best sense, a “freestyle, California spirit,” as he puts it, “rooted in gutbucket blues and jazz dispositions.” Even his trademark black suit is layered with influences—beneath jazz and the blues, there’s 19th century Russian literature. “It’s in emulation of Masha,” he says, one of the heroines of his favorite play, Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, a drama of provincial manners set amidst the Russian gentry. West identifies with the lonely woman at the heart of the story. “She’s wearing black, says she’s in mourning.” Her father has just died, she’s trapped in a pointless marriage with a boring man. “But it’s even deeper than that. How do you make deep disappointment a constant companion and still persevere? There is this sense with Masha, when you see her in that black dress, of having a sad soul with a sweet disposition.”

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Reposted with permission from: Killing the Buddha

Ancient religious texts among the 25,000 new images online

In archaeology, art, books, history, information science, religion, research on January 3, 2013 at 16:25

From: Ancient religious texts among the 25,000 new images online, Past Horizons Archaeology, http://www.pasthorizonspr.com

Launched in December 2011,  the Cambridge Digital Library has already attracted tens of millions of hits on its website. Among the 25,000 new images being made freely available are a 2,000-year old copy of  The Ten Commandments on the famous Nash Papyrus and also one of the most remarkable ancient copies of the New Testament; the Codex Bezae.

While the latest release focuses on faith traditions – including important texts from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism – many of the manuscripts being made available are also of great political, cultural and historical importance.

One, the tenth-century Book of Deer, is widely believed to be the oldest surviving document from Scotland, and it contains the earliest known examples of written Gaelic.

A thirteenth-century Life of Edward the Confessor provides an account of the early English saint and king, produced by a later king for political purposes, and boasts masterpieces of English illumination, including a very graphic portrayal of the Battle of Hastings.

The extensive Cairo Genizah collections, which are being gradually released through the digital library, provide fascinating glimpses into the everyday life of a Jewish community in Egypt over a period of a thousand years. Based at the crossroads of trade and intellectual exchange, the archive of this community represents one of the most important sources for understanding the wider medieval world.

The Library is also beginning to release digital versions of its Islamic and Sanskrit collections, which include both secular and religious texts. The Islamic manuscripts collection includes some of the earliest surviving Qur’ans, while the Library’s Sanskrit manuscripts cover all the major religious traditions of South Asia and include some of the oldest known manuscripts of key religious texts.

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Reposted with permission from: Past Horizons

Zen and the Art of Poetry: An Interview with Jane Hirshfield by Ilya Kaminsky and Katherine Towler

In art, books, Europe, interview, literature, North America, poetry, religion, theory, writers on January 1, 2013 at 19:48

From: Zen and the Art of Poetry: An Interview with Jane Hirshfield by Ilya Kaminsky and Katherine Towler, AGNI online, http://www.bu.edu/agni/index.html

IK and KT: Were you a Buddhist first and then a poet, or a poet first and then a Buddhist?

JH: If I think about this, the question begins to feel constrictive. At any moment is a person “this” or “that?” To label oneself is to close off the possibilities of being. But in the sense you are asking, the ordinary, narrative sense, poetry came first. I began to write poems as soon as I learned to write. After my first book came out, when I was 29, my mother pulled out of a bottom dresser drawer a big piece of paper I was given, probably around second grade, on which was written: “I want to be a writer when I grow up.” I have no idea where that came from. But writing was the way for me to craft a self I could unfold on my own, in private, and to find a life that was mine, one that didn’t belong to others.

Still, the two paths have intertwined for me from the beginning—the first book of poetry I bought, from a stationary store on East 20th Street, was a one dollar Peter Pauper Press book of Japanese haiku. I was maybe eight years old. I don’t know what drew me so strongly to those poems or what I could have seen in them at that age, but I recognized something that I absolutely knew I had to have in my life. The path has also been circular. Poetry brought me to Zen, and Zen returned me to poetry. In 1985, I took on the co-translation that became The Ink Dark Moon, a collection of poems by the two great women poets of classical-era Japan, whose work I had first read in a handful of English translations when I was 17. Their poetry, steeped in both eros and Buddhist views, was part of what turned me toward Zen as well as part of what shaped my sense of poems—how they move, what work they do. I had no idea then that I would work further on these women’s poems; if anything I thought that a path not taken. I did know that I wanted the book to exist, and I waited 15 years for someone else to translate it, before suddenly finding the chance to do it myself after all. So you see, each mode—poetry, Zen—has always returned me to the other. Thus far, they have been the left foot and the right foot of my life. It may, I suppose, look exotic. But from the inside, this life has felt like the most ordinary course possible, one choice simply following another.

IK and KT: In your essay, “The Question of Originality,” you write: “Originality requires the aptitude for exile.” Can you talk about any experiences of exile you may have had, and how they may have fed your work?

JH: I think the sense of exile I have always felt led me to practice Zen. I should add that Zen is what was congenial to me, but I certainly don’t believe there’s only one correct spiritual path—there are as many spiritual paths as there are people, and probably sparrows and frogs and pebbles as well. Still, for me, the not uncommon sense of being exiled from presence in the world brought me to both Zen and poetry. Perhaps urban, contemporary life is already an exile of a kind, perhaps it was more familial, perhaps it was spiritual. There is a Taoist poet in Women in Praise of the Sacred, Yu Xuanji, who said at the end of one poem, “Everywhere the wind carries me is home.” That was not something I felt as a child.

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Reposted with permission from: AGNI

Anaïs Nin on Why Understanding the Individual is the Key to Understanding Mass Movements by Maria Popova

In books, humanities, psychology, society, sociology on January 1, 2013 at 19:09

From: Anaïs Nin on Why Understanding the Individual is the Key to Understanding Mass Movements by Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, http://www.brainpickings.org

There is an opacity in individual relationships, and an insistence that the writer make the relation of the particular to the whole which makes for a kind of farsightedness. I believe in just the opposite. Every individual is representative of the whole, a symptom, and should be intimately understood, and this would give a far greater understanding of mass movements and sociology.

Also, this indifference to the individual, total lack of interest in intimate knowledge of the isolated, unique human being, atrophies human reactions and humanism. Too much social consciousness and not a bit of insight into human beings.

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Reposted with permission from: Brain Pickings

The Dark and Starry Eyes of Ray Bradbury by Lauren Weiner

In art, books, literature, writers on December 16, 2012 at 17:25

From: The Dark and Starry Eyes of Ray Bradbury by Lauren Weiner, The New Atlansis, http://www.thenewatlantis.com

The youthful experiences that made Bradbury into a writer preoccupied him throughout his life. Bradbury’s much-beloved novel Dandelion Wine is a thinly veiled fictionalization of many of his sweeter reminiscences — but even these could take an odd turn. “I loved to watch my grandmother eviscerate the turkey,” he once said, a memory that sums up his most characteristic literary trait: taking homey Americana and bending it in a violent or grotesque direction. His most seminal stories wrung terror out of common occurrences, such as going into a ravine that ran through the residential section of his native Waukegan, Illinois at nighttime. In the story “The Night,” an eight-year-old boy — the author’s alter-ego — simply scares himself. There is no ghost or criminal lurking, only the panic that wells up in all of us when we get lost in a dark, damp place and know we are alone in the universe, in the “vast swelling loneliness,” feeling the presence of “an ogre called Death.”

Bradbury spent his childhood goosing his imagination with the outlandish. Whenever mundane Waukegan was visited by the strange or the offbeat, young Ray was on hand. The vaudevillian magician Harry Blackstone came through the industrial port on Lake Michigan’s shore in the late 1920s. Seeing Blackstone’s show over and over again marked Bradbury deeply, as did going to carnivals and circuses, and watching Hollywood’s earliest horror offerings like Dracula and The Phantom of the Opera. He read heavily in Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, Edgar Allan Poe, H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, L. Frank Baum, and Edgar Rice Burroughs; the latter’s inspirational and romantic children’s adventure tales earned him Bradbury’s hyperbolic designation as “probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world.”

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Reposted with permission from: The New Atlantis

Sloterdijk’s Moment by David Beer

In books, civilisation, culture, media, philosophy, science, technology, theory, writers on December 16, 2012 at 16:44

From: Sloterdijk’s Moment by David Beer, berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com

Bubbles: Spheres I
by Peter Sloterdijk, translated by Wieland Hoban,
Semiotext(e), Los Angeles, 663 pp.

This weighty text is the first part of what is seen as Sloterdijk’s defining and most important intellectual contribution. In this particular text the focus is upon small-scale microsphereology. Volumes two and three build upon this foundational text through a focus upon the macrospherology of globes and the plural spherology of foam (see Couture, 2009). The book itself highlights a genuine openness, resourcefulness and creativity in Sloterdijk’s thinking. He pulls together wide-ranging points of reference in his writing, many of which are unexpected and revealing. His use of art in particular opens up a visual imagination that sits alongside a set of knowing encounters with a number of important philosophical figures. Soterdijk carves a way through the tangential possibilities of bubbles by drawing upon this type of intellectual eclecticism. Actually this is something of an understatement, this book runs-riot as it lurches across the major issues of our time. These issues include globalisation on a small scale, the understanding of the divergence of nature into culture, how history shapes the now, how the individual becomes isolated into social connections, and so on. There is a rhythm at work here, with long takes interspersed with short cuts. There are slowly argued explorations of all-sorts of references juxtaposed with sudden, and sometimes disoientating, blasts of philosophical proclamation.

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Reposted with permission from: berfrois

In Between Insomnia and Scandinavia by Carson Ellis

In art, books, Europe, history, interview, literature, North America, space, visual arts on December 12, 2012 at 19:07

From: In Between Insomnia and Scandinavia by Carson Ellis, The Morning News, http://www.themorningnews.org

fate-1TMN: For the Wildwood art, did you do any actual location scouting, despite the locations not being real? Assuming the Impassable Wilderness isn’t real? And if it is, should we be concerned for our children?

Carson Ellis:

The Impassible Wilderness is actually based on a very real place: Forest Park, a 5,000-acre woodland in the west hills of Portland. Colin [Meloy, her husband and author of the Wildwood books] and I knew we wanted to set the books there before we knew what they would be about. Before there were characters or a plot, we traced the boundaries of Forest Park onto a big piece of paper and made a map that we populated with real and imagined places and then revised and revised as the story took shape. (It’s now the map on the books’ endpapers.)

We live next to the park, which is just a big forest crisscrossed with 80 miles of trails, and Colin outlined a lot of the books while were walking in it. So yes, the Impassable Wilderness is real and really teeming with coyotes, though they aren’t the Napoleonic uniform-wearing, saber-wielding kind. Just the housecat-devouring kind. So you should be concerned for your cats. Some of the locations within it are real too: Pittock Mansion, for example, the seat of government in the books, is an actual, old historic mansion in the southern part of the park.

 

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Reposted with permission from: The Morning News

Democracy – Édgar Morales interviews Martha Nussbaum

In art, books, culture, economics, history, human rights, humanities, interview, philosophy, politics, social sciences on December 12, 2012 at 18:56

From: Democracy: A Noble But Sluggish Horse We Need the Sting of Critical Reasoning… Édgar Morales interviews Martha Nussbaum, Literal Magazine, http://www.literalmagazine.com

Édgar Morales: Some of the topics you take on in your recent book, Not For Profit, were also addressed a decade ago at Cultivating Humanity. What has changed since then concerning your views on liberal education?

Martha Nussbaum: My views about the relationship between liberal education and democracy have not changed at all. I still believe that a healthy democracy needs an education that focuses on (1) Socratic self-examination and critical thinking; (2) the capacity to think as a citizen of the whole world, not just some local region or group, in a way informed by adequate historical, economic, and religious knowledge; and (3) trained imaginative capacities, so that people can put themselves in the position of others whose ways of life are very different from their own. Four things are new about the current book. First, it focuses on primary and secondary education, as well as university education. Second, it focuses on the arts as well as the humanities. Third, it is international, taking its detailed case studies from India and the U.S., but alluding more briefly to problems faced by other nations. Fourth, it is written in response to a different problem. Cultivating Humanity was an attempt to answer conservative American critics of new “multicultural” approaches in education; the opponents agreed wholeheartedly with me that the humanities were central; they disagreed only about how they should be taught. The new book is addressed to opponents who would rather bypass the humanities entirely, in favor of profit-making skills.

EM: At the beginning of your book, you state that “We are in the midst of a crisis of massive proportions and grave global significance”, a silent crisis, deeper than the international economic crisis. Why talking about a crisis? What were the first symptoms?

MN: I didn’t say it was deeper than the international economic crisis. I said that the economic crisis was recognized as a crisis, and this one has not been so recognized. The crisis is the drastic decline in support for the humanities, the arts, and even the social sciences as ingredients in both school and university education. The symptoms of this decline are subtle here in the U. S., where we still have an entrenched system of liberal education in top universities, supported by a longstanding tradition of private philanthropy, that sends signals to schools; however, even here the state universities, in particular, are cutting in subjects that appear not to contribute directly to the state’s economic growth. In most other nations of the world, liberal education was never favored at the university level, so it is even easier to cut departments and programs that are not perceived to be economically productive, and correspondingly easy for schools to focus on marketable skills.

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Reposted with permission from: Literal Magazine

Cormac McCarthy’s Paradox of Choice by Scott Esposito

In aesthetics, books, literature, North America, philosophy, society, writers on December 8, 2012 at 21:50

From: Cormac McCarthy’s Paradox of Choice: One Writer, Ten Novels, and a Career-Long Obsession by Scott Esposito, The Quarterly Conversation, http://quarterlyconversation.com

McCarthy has given new shades to the English language, and that should be enough. Were he a painter or a composer, or perhaps even a poet, it probably would be, but Cormac McCarthy is a fiction writer, and fiction is generally construed to carry burdens above and beyond anything so frivolous as mere style. Stories must mean something. They must appear to argue for or against moral systems—or at least interrogate them. They must be a little less inconstant than dreams.

It is strange to charge McCarthy with not caring about anything more than surfaces, as his single most famous public utterance indicates otherwise. This is the author who declared “I don’t understand [Proust and Henry James]. To me, that’s not literature” because real literature “deals with issues of life and death.”

Here McCarthy reveals his great interest in the choices his characters make. True, he may not realize that, to Proust and James, Swann’s choice to court Odette or Isabel Archer’s choice to marry Osmond are issues just as “life and death” as any murder or tryst found in McCarthy, but the quote still flatly contradicts the claim that McCarthy is a pure formalist. And does McCarthy’s work itself back up his claim? Yes. In fact, in each of his ten novels McCarthy has showed an obsession with the rare, crucial moments when people make the decisions that will define their lives forever.

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Reposted with permission from: The Quarterly Conversation

Brilliantly Bad Books by David Bentley Hart

In art, books, literature, uncategorized, writers on November 23, 2012 at 22:57

From: Brilliantly Bad Books. The Back Page. by David Bentley Hart, First Things, http://www.firstthings.com/

Best to begin in medias res, says Horace, so let me start with two exemplary excerpts from the works of the inimitable Irish writer Amanda McKittrick Ros (1860–1939). The first opens the fourth chapter of her debut novel of 1897, Irene Iddesleigh:

When on the eve of glory, whilst brooding over the prospects of a bright and happy future, whilst meditating upon the risky right of justice, there we remain, wanderers on the cloudy surface of mental woe, disappointment and danger, inhabitants of the grim sphere of anticipated imagery, partakers of the poisonous dregs of concocted injustice. Yet such is life.

There has never been another literary figure remotely comparable to “the divine Amanda” (whose real name was Anna Margaret Ross, née McKittrick). She was, many discriminating readers believe, at once the single most atrocious writer who ever lived and also one of the most mesmerizingly delightful. She was supremely talentless—she was wholly incapable of producing a single intelligent or well-formed sentence—and yet her incompetence was so sui generis that it constituted a kind of genius.

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Reposted with permission from: First Things

Are You Smarter Than a Freshman? by Harvey C. Mansfield

In books, government, law, philosophy, political science, politics on November 17, 2012 at 18:22

From: Are You Smarter Than a Freshman? What political philosophy has to say about elections. by Harvey C. Mansfield, Defining Ideas, http://www.hoover.org/publications/defining-ideas/

Aristotle’s Politics calls into question the assumption that elections are democratic. Democracy stands for living as you please, he says, which means as you choose. But choosing means taking better over worse, or a respectable life over doing menial tasks, the noble over the necessary. In choosing to have an election—the word for choice also means “election”—you give your support to someone or a party you admire or at any rate think better of. What is this preference but the choice of an aristocracy, literally, the rule of the best, or of the best in this situation?

Machiavelli believes that human beings are divided into the few who want to rule and the many who do not care to rule themselves but do not want to be ruled by others either. Then those who want to rule must conceal their rule from the many they rule if they wish to succeed. How can they do this? Machiavelli went about conceiving a “new mode of ruling,” a hidden government that puts the people “under a dominion they do not see.” Government is hidden when it appears not to be imposed on you from above but when it comes from you, when it is self-imposed.

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Reposted with permission from: Defining Ideas

The End, The End, The End by Chad Harbach

In books, ecology, economics, literature, nature, North America, writers on November 3, 2012 at 20:56

From: The End, The End, The End: Why bother dreaming up a devastated world when you live in one? Chad Harbach, n +1 Magazine, http://nplusonemag.com

It remains the method of most sci-fi novels to imagine a kind of heightened present, combining and extrapolating extant technologies (an MP3 player … in your brain!) to demonstrate their psychological and political effects. The post-catastrophe novel does the opposite; it takes away the MP3 player, and almost everything else. It liberates the violent potential of technology (and its enemy, nature) to create an altered world whose chief characteristic is a bewildering lack of technology. This in turn means a severely winnowed human population, and plenty of hardship and casual brutality. This future doesn’t intensify the present moment, it contradicts it: What would happen if we didn’t live in an overpopulated, technology-saturated world in which travel by foot is considered eccentric, tacos cost forty-nine cents, and the prerogative to commit violence—despite an amazing profusion of handheld weaponry—lies entirely with the state?

We didn’t always live in this kind of world. Or rather, we always did, but not long ago even Americans and Western Europeans didn’t. They lived in the 19th century, before the full flowering of the petroleum age; they belong to history. So too, increasingly, do the residents of the 20th century, with their reliance on cheap oil and predictable climate patterns. The century just ended was full of anxiety and terror, but it was also a pampered time. Even while tens of millions were murdered by oil-driven technologies like incendiary bombs and gas chambers, other oil-dependent technologies like tractors, penicillin, and nitrogen fertilizers enabled the population to quadruple in a few generations, and produced unprecedented comfort and ease for unprecedentedly large numbers of people. Now we’ve burned half the available oil, or close to it, and burning it (along with so much coal) has altered the earth’s equilibrium. Our future, like our past, may be virtually free of oil, and global culture, and many of the social safeguards we enjoy. Thus the novel of future catastrophe threatens to become a version of the historical novel.

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Reposted with permission from: n + 1 Magazine

Sex and Censorship During the Occupation of Japan by Mark McLelland

In Asia, books, culture, gender, history, North America, politics, sexuality, sociology, war on November 3, 2012 at 20:44

From: Sex and Censorship During the Occupation of Japan by Mark McLelland, Japan Focus, http://www.japanfocus.org

Historian of sexuality Shimokawa Kōshi has described the first three years of the Occupation, from 1945 to 1948, as a time of “sexual anarchy,” 1 and it is true that many accounts describe the early postwar years as a period of “sexual liberation.” Igarashi Yoshikuni, in particular, has stressed the very visceral sense of release that many Japanese people experienced at the war’s end.2 As we saw in the previous chapter, the militarist authorities had established pervasive surveillance and censorship mechanisms that seriously constrained the expression of sexuality by men and particularly by women. Prostitution was tightly controlled and limited to specific licensed areas, unmarried male and female couples had almost no opportunity to mingle socially, and sexual expression in the press was stymied by the threat of prosecution by the “thought police.” All these restrictions were removed within the first few months of the Occupation.

However, anarchy is probably not quite the right term since it suggests a complete freedom from formal control. But, as we will see, sexuality continued to be highly regulated and supervised, albeit in different ways and with different goals in mind. The Japanese authorities fully expected that the incoming Americans would behave in the same rapacious manner as had their own forces when they advanced across China and were determined to put in place measures to protect the purity of Japanese women. The US administration, on the other hand, rather than viewing their troops as sexual predators, tended to see these young men as “clean, innocent and vulnerable” and in danger of “having their morals corrupted and their health destroyed” by “shameless Japanese women.”3 The policies that the Allies enacted were intended to protect their own troops’ physical wellbeing, with scant regard paid to their effects on Japanese women and society.

Both authorities, Japanese and Occupier, were overwhelmingly concerned to regulate “fraternization” between local women and foreign troops, and many academic studies have examined in detail the lengths to which both sides went to monitor and restrict potential inter-racial sexual contacts.4 However, far less attention has been paid to the effects that the collapse of the military regime and the arrival of the American forces had upon Japanese male and female interaction and the representation of sexual discourse in the Japanese media. This chapter outlines some of the major policy decisions taken by the Occupation administration, particularly regarding the regulation of obscenity in the press that helped shape local Japanese sexual cultures during the Occupation period.

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Reposted with permission from: Japan Focus

Great Leap Backward by Steve Tsang

In Asia, books, government, history, politics on October 31, 2012 at 18:44

From: Great Leap Backward by Steve Tsang, Literary Review, http://www.literaryreview.co.uk

The author saw his father starved to death but believed the official version of history and even joined the Party. He only found out the reality three decades later as he started his research for this book. As a senior Xinhua journalist he had privileged access to provincial archives. He cross-checked his findings against survivors’ stories to devastating effect, as he tells how at least 36 million Chinese citizens were persecuted or starved to death as the famine was sustained for over three years.

Yang’s research confirms that the official account, which blames Mother Nature and the Soviet Union, is make-believe. No unusual natural disaster or abnormal weather conditions occurred that could have caused the famine. He also proves that the withdrawal of Soviet aid during the period could not have had anything more than the most tangential impact on the food supply in China.

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Reposted with permission from: Literary Review

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