Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bibliophile: The Wizard of Oz & Affirmative Action: Where are the Tin Woodswomen?

My feet were cold last night, so I didn't get any sleep.  Something  smoetinhg shmneoitg nonsequitor.

This is Bibliophile.

I've kind of lost track of which Canadian university libraries I have and haven't looked at this week. And compiling a full list seems like a So we'll try going through the entire list on Wikipedia, in order in which they appear.  Now, they're organized by province, which means we'll be looking at Alberta for a while now.  This week, for example, we're looking at the University of Alberta.  We've done U of A before, but we'll see what new things it can bring to the table now.

First, it seems as if the library has recently received access to a new government database, as the first thing I see is a long list of French titles for studies, with subjects ranging from child cancer rates to CN collision rates.  As an example, we have Concept d'opération en défense chimique biologique, radiologique et nucléaire [ressource électronique] by Chef du développement des Forces.  I hope our defense is more than "hope really, really hard it doesn't happen," but I wouldn't be surprised if it isn't.

Becomings : explorations in time, memory, and futures / edited by Elizabeth Grosz. 
There's a rather large list of philosophy-oriented books at U of A this week, and I was wondering how to narrow it down to a few choices.  Then a Grosz-edited book came up, and I had my answer.  Grosz is probably best known for her application of feminism and embodiment to Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis.  She has the ability to make rather obtuse theory appear remarkably clear.  I credit her book Jaques Lacan: A Feminist Introduction as the only reason I understand anything about Lacanian psychoanalysis at all--it certainly helped more than reading actual books by Lacan.  This anthology isn't a new work--it was originally published in 1999--but if Grosz is behind it, I'm fairly sure it'll be interesting, if nothing else.  The concept behind it is that it's looking at time in a postmodern fashion, as a dynamic force,in terms of things becoming and metamorphisizing.  The book has three sections: one that features concepts of time in general, one cultural practices that influence concepts of becoming, and one on "global futures."  Essays include De Landa on Deleuze and becomings in the first section, Dorothea Olkowski on desire and body-becomings in the second section, Gail Weiss on the duration of the Techno-Body in the final section.  It looks like a pretty heavy philosophical approach, but if you've got the basic concepts under your belt, it's probably a very good book.  H.

Archangels & archaeology : J.S.M. Ward's kingdom of the wise / Geoffrey Ginn.
From the main title, I was kind of hoping that this book would be an in-depth exploration of that Simpsons episode where Lisa finds an angel on an elementary school archeology dig.  But this actually almost as good.  J. S. M. Ward was a mystic and antiquarian operating largely in the first half of the twentieth century.  His specialties were Masonic symbols and spirit communications and other other-worldly doings.  He's sort of a mix between Indiana Jones and Tom Hanks from Da Vinci Code.  And c'mon, how cool is that?  Ginn details his life in terms of its own tragic arc and its place in larger themes of the period, including how intellectual, religious, and cultural issues were coming together and coming into conflict.  Going from the description, this belongs a little more properly in history rather than philosophy (although I suppose it fits in rather better if you think of it as religion rather than philosophy), but it still sounds very interesting.
 Lies we like to hear : Satan's everyday strategies / Mark R. Littleton.
Speaking of religion, we have this little fellow.  Sadly, I can't seem to dredge up much information about it online.  It's one of the problems of the digital age; you can get all the information you can handle on recently published books, and even some books that date back to the late 90s, like the Grosz one above, but a book lesser known like this one, dating from the late 80s has barely any information available.  (Though it's deservedly lesser known, based on the rather judgmental evangelical vibe I'm getting from it.) I can say, judging from his history, that Littleton has carved himself a nice little niche in pop evangelical type books, as he's still putting out titles like 101 Amazing Truths About Jesus You Probably Didn't Already Know (which is a weird set of qualifiers to put into a title) and Pairin' Up: The Ultimate Relationship and Dating Guide for Christian Teens.  Oddly, he also seems to have a line going with other pop series, including stories about heroic battle medics, sport stories, and a melodramatic YA series.  It looks like he's a big believer in not putting all your eggs in one basket, even a divine basket.

Sexual chaos : charting a course through turbulent times / Tim Stafford. 
I think long time Bibliophile-philes know that I've got a soft spot for sexy titles.  And I mean that literally: you put the word "sex" in the title, and you have my attention.  It's probably a moral failing.  A google search tells me that the book's title, as of its 1993 publication, was Sexual Chaos: Charting a Course Through Turbulent Christian times, which makes the catalog listing an interesting omission.  His publications seem to follow a similar line as Littleton's, with a variety of pop Christian style books, but also some fiction.  Where Littleon went into sports, Stafford has steered more towards American History, with a book that look on American  Reform movements (the book's description lumps reformations such as fighting hunger and ending racism with eliminating pornography and abortion, though it seems to be looking at religious-motivated reformation in general, without casting an explicitly moral judgment on those aims).  According to a review I found, the book believes that all those who give in to "sexual chaos" live bitter, unhappy lives, while true happiness lies in marriage, as it did "in the Garden of Eden."  The review concludes that Stafford's style leaves you instinctively mistrusting anything he says; that sounds about right.  H.

There are many, many more books in this general theme, but I think we get the idea.  Onto to history!

Space aliens took me to their planet : the most important revelation in the history of mankind : the book which tells the truth / Claude Vorilhon "Rad" ; edited by Fondation pour l'accueil des Elphim ; [translated by a group of raëlians]. 
...Or maybe we'll stay in religion a while longer.  In case you're not up on your Raëlian lore, the group believes that humanity has been visited by a series of aliens that have directed the course of history; these aliens include Jesus, Buddha, and other such figures who emphasize peace and acceptance over violence.  They're an odd group, to judge by their Wikipedia page.  (Always a reliable source for the lazy scholar.)  You may remember them from their push for women's topless rights, their claim to have cloned a human being through their Clonaid organization, and their desire to create an alien embassy or New Jerusalem, ideally in Jerusalem--an idea that's met with decidedly mixed sentiment in Israel, given the Raëlian insistence on their holy symbol being a swastika centered in the Star of David.  Yeah, that might cause some problems.  Anyway, this book is a copy of their founder Claude Vrilhon's main text.  It's an interesting mix of ideologies: there's the paranoic belief in alien conspiracies, coupled with a faith in science (the cloning), and liberal 60s era notions of sexuality.  (...It should probably be noted that my juxtaposition of this book following two books on Christian evangelical themes should not be taken as implicit judgments on either religions--though I think one might sound like its members have more fun on a Friday night.)

Chasing Aphrodite : the hunt for looted antiquities at the world's richest museum / Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino.
I thought I'd return to another of this week's emerging themes, antiques and museums, the lifeblood of our old friend J.S.M. Ward.  It's no secret that there was a time when European museums were built in large part from artifacts that were taken from their original colonized owners in less than legal ways.  But this book is looking more specifically at the more recent controversy of the Getty, a museum that recently had to return 40 some artifacts worth millions to the Italian government--with the added detail that the Italian government has promised to loan them artifacts of similar value in their place.  I find the power structure of such a situation to be absolutely fascinating.  On the one hand, we have this picture of museums as being for the public--their purpose is to house humanity's common history.  But at the same time, the exact catalog of a given museum represents the validity of its claim to being historical.  If the items themselves lack a certain cultural capital, then the museum is just a building holding random objects.  And in today's capitalist society, cultural capital usually means coinciding with pecuniary capital, so a given museum has to be very protective about its holdings.  At the same time, these same artifacts have a nationalist meaning--multiple nationalist meanings.  There's whatever the artifacts originally meant to the Italian people, but also what they mean because of the circumstances under which they went missing--I'm going to guess that a lot of these artifacts disappeared out of circulation following the aftermath of World War II.  So now even invoking them brings to mind Italian participation in the war.  And for whatever Italian government at hand is trying to procure them back, it becomes a symbolic power structure between them and the US.  And that's not even looking at the individual personalities and figures involved.  So yea, this could be some cool stuff.  H.

As a bit of a novelty, the Canadian history section has received 18 videos on fire prevention this week.  My favorite is probably Hoses and nozzles, Part 1.  Of course, if you watch that, you need to see Hoses and nozzles, Part 2, or you're only getting half the story.  

Tread lightly : form, footwear, and the quest for injury-free running / Peter Larson and Bill Katovsky. 
As a frequent jogger whose progress can be impeded for days and even weeks due to an untimely sprain or twisted ankle, I'm glad this book exists.  H.

Games, learning, and society : learning and meaning in the digital age / edited by Constance Steinkuehler,  Kurt Squire, Sasha Barab. 
Hey look, it's a book in my specialty area!  As the title suggests, it's an anthology concerning videogames and education.  Videogames and education is still one of the more popular topics in game studies.  On the one hand, I can see how it's relevant, given how so much a child's experience these days are types of learning not traditionally found in the classroom.  On the other hand, I sometimes think that the prominence of videogame and education in games studies holds back the field; in Wordplay, Christopher Paul argues that the general concept "Games are for kids" still drives popular discourse regarding for games, even though it's not true.  And it seems to me that "Games are for kids" drives a lot of the games and education talk too.  Can game studies move forward when that discourse is still holding us back?  That question aside, the anthology seems to be well-composed.  It's divided into three sections: Games as Designed Experienced, Games as Emergent Culture, and Games as 21st century curriculum.  Section 1, as an example, has a chapter on Uncharted 2 and heroism by Drew Davidson and Richard Lemarchand. Section 2 has a chapter by James Paul Gee and Elisabeth Hayes on Affinity Spaces, and another by Thomas M. Malaby on architecture and culture in Second Life.  And Bonnie Nardi, she of World of Warcraft ethnography and Trina Choontanom have an essay on education and theorycrafting.  It's nice to see familiar names such as Nardi and Malaby pop up, but I'm especially glad to see James Paul Gee on the list; while I haven't managed to read anything of his longer works, I know he's the big name in videogame and eduction studies.   I've obviously got some interest in videogames and pedagogy, since, at some point, I do plan on having a career based in part on teaching people about games, so I should give this a look.  Mental note to check up on this one.

The trouble with billionaires / Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks.  
This title sounds like the start of a bad comedy routine.  What's the trouble with billionaires?  Their idea of small change is a wad of unmarked $100 bills.  What's the trouble with billionaires?  They didn't get to be billionaires by leaving tips.  What's the trouble with billionaires?  They're high in fat, and get stuck in your teeth.  The actual topic is much more relevant, as the book uses billionaires as a starting point to consider what happened in our current culture, government, and economic system to allow individuals to have such access to power. Apparently, some of the metaphors are less than appropriate, which is unfortunate.  I realize the temptation to resort to sport metaphor--my first thoughts were to say the metaphors were "hit and miss"--but it's almost insulting to the audience to discuss corporate structure or economic framework in terms of a baseball team.  And yes, I acknowledge that I don't have a lot of credibility when it comes to criticizing others on taking too light an approach, when I started this paragraph with a series of bad jokes.  H.

Racing for innocence : whiteness, gender, and the backlash against affirmative action / Jennifer L. Pierce. 
Pierce's book uses a combination of ethnography, narrative analysis and fiction (does that mean she makes stuff up?) to interrogate the history of the backlash against affirmative action in the 80s and 90s.  The white males she investigates always claimed they were neither racist or sexist--and yet don't see any racism or sexism when they recount how they deliberately attempted, in one way or another, to subvert the affirmative action program.  And yes, her methods are an ethnographic field study regarding the firm where she worked, a quantitative-focused discourse analysis study of films involving affirmative action, and some short stories.  That last one is unusual for academic discourse, but I can see how it might have value.  As a white male about to enter a very competitive job market, my feelings towards affirmative action are complicated, at the moment.  So I will just say that it would be interesting to extend this discussion to more recent events of affirmative action, and examine what, if anything, it has left as a legacy.  H.

Okay, we've been at this one a while, so I'm going to skip to the Literature section.  If you are okay with this, give me absolutely no sign. ...Good.  I'll note first that the University of Alberta has received 6 seasons of NCIS, holdings that no responsible academic library would be without.  (And yeah, I know that a videogame scholar shouldn't throw stones, but they make such a pretty sound when they go through glass windows...)

Microworlds : writings on science fiction and fantasy by Stanislaw Lem, edited by Franz Rottensteiner.
  Lem, for those unfamiliar with the name, was a Polish sci-fi writer who had to live through Nazi occupation and Soviet annexation.  (As a sidenote, he deliberately flunked his certification to be a doctor, because he refused on moral grounds to serve as a war doctor, which was mandatory at the time.  The Soviet strictures held back his career somewhat; he's probably best known in pop culture at large for being the author of the original Solaris.  I have to confess that the only thing I've read from him is The Futurological Congress, which is a hilarious satire that begins with taking jabs at academic conferences and ends with the realization that the world can't possible exist.  I would be very interested--alas, due to my focus, personally interested, rather than scholarly interested--to read his thoughts on the value of science fiction and fantasy, which he covers in this book over the course of 10 essays. As a tangential note, reportedly the only American sci-fi writer Lem respected was Philip K. Dick, and he praises him in Microworlds.  Dick, for his part, was convinced Lem was actually a composite created by a Communist committee to sway public opinion, and wrote a letter to the FBI to that affect.  Oh, Philip K. Dick.H.

Batman and psychology : a dark and stormy knight / Travis Langley.
It's not a new joke, but it gets a chuckle out of me every time.  On the other hand, it's not exactly a new subject, either.    See: Superheroes on the Couch, Riddle Me This, Batman!, Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul.  That the book's description refers to Langley as a "superherologist" is not a good sign.  It's definitely a pop analysis type of book, and it has subsections on most of Batman's major villains.  Judging from the chapter titles, we have sections on the nature of crime, trauma and secret identities, insanity, kid sidekicks, and what it means to love a Catwoman.  

The Wizard of Oz as American myth : a critical study of six versions of the story, 1900-2007 / Alissa Burger.
I'm a sucker for the Wizard of Oz.  As a kid, I found and read all fourteen of the original L. Frank Baum. And I still think that the Nome King is one of the best supervillains ever written.  But at the same time, I never got around to seeing the classic film version until I was in my twenties.  I was... not impressed.  I am a fan of Oz-related things, and a fan of musicals, but the two together left me kind of cold.  It felt like an oversimplification of what I liked about Oz--not that the original was very complicated, but it still felt as if a little more was going on.  And I hated the idea that everyone she met corresponded to people Dorothy knew previously; it went too far in the "it's all a dream" direction.  Anyway, I think this subject has huge potential.  I've grown up with dozens of versions of the Wizard of Oz: the terrifying sequel film Land of Oz, the cartoon version that placed the Nome King front and center, a text-based game I played on an Apple II which may very well be the first videogame I played through to the end, the dystopian computer game version of Tad Williams' Otherland series... I even sat through the Muppet version where Gonzo plays a cybernetic Tin Woodsman.  And yes--at this point, its interpretations reflect new visions on what a fairyland means in context of modern America.  Burger`s focus is on six particular interpretations: the original, the movie, The Whiz, Gregory Maguire's Wicked, the Broadway version of Wicked, and the SyFy Channel miniseries Tin Man. I`ve only seen the original, the film, and Maguire`s version, but I approve the project full-heartedly.  Judging by the comments, it`s a very scholarly approach too.  I`d love to read this some day.

The Patchwork Girl by Larry Niven.
Let`s dip once more into the sci-fi bag.  The Patchwork Girl is a detective noir/sci-fi mash-up, starring a detective with a psychic arm that allows him to move things telekinetically. It belongs to Niven's "Known Space" series, which is a loose conglomerate/shared universe of Niven's that includes his Ringworld stuff.  As a detective story, it has a lot of the genre tropes: femme fatales, hardboiled detectives, the locked room mystery.  On the sci-fi side of things, the obvious connection is the aforementioned psychic arm, but there's also the political situation between earth-dwellers and lunar colonists, as the whole reason the detective--Gil Hamilton--is at the murder scene to begin with is that he is on the Moon as the UN delegate to attend a session on Lunar Law.  I do hope the phrase "Lunar Law" is repeated over and over again throughout the book.  It doesn't strike me as a particularly deep sci-fi novel, but it seems like an amusing way to spend a few hours, if that's your sort of thing.  H.

Normally, I'd segue from sci-fi to the science section, but frankly, I've had enough.  You have beaten me again, University of Calgary new books section.  In other words, I'm wrapping this up.  See y'all next week.

Later Days.


William Booke said...

"Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight" - BEST book I've read all year. Yes, it is something new. First book on the psychology of a specific superhero.
"Superman on the Couch" - A comic book writer contemplates comic book characters and how we relate to them. Great book, not about psychology.
"Riddle Me This, Batman!" - poorly edited, self-published piece of crap with assorted essays by people with varying degrees of ignorance.
"Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul" - good book. Philosophy is not psychology.

Person of Consequence said...

All right then--I stand corrected. The curse of these Bibliophile posts is that I rarely get the chance to look at everything in-depth, so I'm more than willing to defer to those in the know. Thanks for your post.