Sunday, July 7, 2013

Bibliophilia: Gothic Animals at University of King's College

 “There are two motives for reading a book; one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.”
― Bertrand Russell

The University of Waterloo seems to have retreated back into hiatus, so the Canadian Grand Tour continues, with the University of King's College in Halifax. The library is part of a group of Nova Scotia libraries, but as far as I can tell, that collection is distinct from Acadia's, Cape Breton's, and Dalhousie's, so I guess we haven't looked at it before. There's no new books page, so I'll limit the location to King's College, set it to books published in 2013, and see what comes up, after the break. As always, a bold H indicates that the book is in the UW holdings.

The search pulls up 186 records, which I appreciate. It's a respectable length, without being an overwhelming one. I couldn't figure out how to access the sorting options, so these are organized by what looks like the alphabetical order of the author's last name.

The highest poverty : monastic rules and form-of-life / Giorgio Agamben
I've discussed Agamben on this site before; a few times, in fact, and he's been in the Friday Quotations rotation a few times as well. I find him great as a philosopher who's working entirely in the Continental style of philosophy, but still remains generally comprehensible. This book is about the Western monastic tradition, as a form that mixes the way of life with rules, or the Rule, as Agamben puts it. In particular, he's arguing that the novelty of monasticism isn't in the confusion between life and norm, but in the discovery of a new "dimension," in which life is affirmed and the claim of poverty challenges the law in ways that matter for our everyday life. I'm not entirely sure what that means, to be honest, but I think it'd be interesting to find out. The book is exceptionally well-priced at $16.16 for the hardcover (on and clocks in at 184 pages. It's part of Meridian's Crossing Aesthetics series. H.

Animalia Americana: animal representations and biopolitical subjectivity / Collen Glenney Boggs. Jan 2013.

A lot of UKC new books could be classified as animal studies; the ones I'm highlighting can be seen as representative of a larger trend. Bogg's take on the subject is to look at how the early liberal American subject was formed through animal representation. She's going through the work of Fredrick Douglass, Edgar Allan Poe, and Emily Dickinson, in terms of how their writings and others regulate the subject in terms of biopolitics, politics that extend to life. There's a renegotiation of who is considered human and who is considered animals, turning animals as the exceptional and exemplary in the biopolitical state. It sounds like an interesting subject. I'm not really qualified to judge, to be honest, not because I'm not familiar with animal studies. I've read a bit of Cary Wolfe, some Jussi Parrika, and some Agamben--there he is again--so I'm  not totally unfamiliar with the fledgling discipline. But my American literature knowledge is so undeveloped I wouldn't presume to comment on whether this is a good approach or not. From Amazon again (let's assume that's where I get pricing, unless I say otherwise), the prices are $80.55, $26.55, and $15.15, for hardcover, paperback, and kindle, respectively. That's rather pricey for a hardcover, but the paperback and Kindle prices are more reasonable, or at least typical. The book is 312 pages.  H.

LoveKnowledge: the life of philosophy from Socrates to Derrida / Roy Brand. Dec 2012.
One of the reviews begins with the statement that the author "steps away from the technicalities that populate the history of philosophy as an academic discipline, just as he shows himself a truly sanguine observer who stays above the fray of the different and divergent currents and debates of our days." That's a very rhetorically positive way of saying we're in pop philosophy territory, I think. Though of course, there's nothing wrong with writing for a larger audience. Brand is arguing for an almost universal philosophical tradition, whereby thinkers from, as the title states, Socrates to Derrida shared a common method in viewing philosophy not as a detached, intellectual discipline, but as a worldly art. That's also a reasonably clever justification and motivation for writing at a general audience level on the subject--in fact, you could argue that if Brand had been speaking in full academic prose, then he'd be doing a disservice to his topic. More specifically, Brand argues that there's a tradition of tension between love and knowledge in Western philosophy, and he seeks to explicate how knowledge and love can come together to inform our lives and communities. It sounds like it would be a good book for someone who's looking for a general introduction to Western philosophy, as well as someone who has a stake in this particular approach.  It's also got a nice price tag: $22.19 for the hardcover, $9.50 for the Kindle.  160 pages, and published by Columbia UP.H.

Inferno: A Novel / Dan Brown
 This book is a philosophical treatise on---no, it's not. It's Dan Brown, doing his thing: religious conspiracy theory mingled with the thriller. But this time, there's a mix of literature as well, as Robert Langdon, proving once again that professors of symbology can be as cool as archaeologists, delves into the literary work of Dante's Inferno. Judging from the Q&A that follows, Brown argues that the significance of the Divine Comedy is that it's a cultural touchstone that has inspired thousands throughout history, but today is only known in vague outline. He doesn't quite go so far as claim that there's a cultural tie between his own writing and Dante's, but I could see that argument. Putting aside the issue of quality, both writers are essentially mythologizing religion for a wider audience. Nelson's book, Gothicka, in fact, has a section on Brown's writing, as a sort of secularization of religion, and while the Inferno is by no means a secularization, it does illustrate a need to translate the Church into something else. I can't say that I've ever found Brown's writing personally compelling, but I respect what his books try to do, and what cultural zeitgeists they tap into.

Newton and the origin of civilization / Jed Z. Buchwald and Mordechai Feingold. Oct 2012.
 I'll admit, I went it this one with a bit of skepticism, because the implied claim that Newton's work was somehow responsible for civilization starting up seems a bit off. Sidenote: that is a pretty awesome pair of names those authors are sporting. But, as a *proper* Newton scholar should know, a reference to him and civilization is most likely referring to his 1728 posthumous publication, Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended, which proposed a timeline for ancient Western civilizations that was much more compacted than those previously supposed. This book considers how a mathematician and engineer by trade came to use his methodology to enter a very different area of scholarship. It's a book that reconciles "Isaac Newton the rational scientist with Newton the natural philosopher, theologian, and chronologist of ancient history." One of the common complaints regarding comic book superheroes is that the scientists seem to be able to do every discipline. Beast is a geneticist and he can build a cyborg; Tony Stark is good at medicine and battle suits; Hank Pym can build psychotic robots and particles that shrink people to microscopic size. And those complainers have a point. That's not how science works anymore. Everything is specialized. But I think that these comics are tapping into an older sense of science, the Renaissance Man model that comes out in this interpretation of Newton. The book is $44.45 hardcover, and $28.04 Kindle; that's an average hardcover price, and fairly bad Kindle price. Published by Princeton UP. H.

Signature Derrida / Jacques Derrida. April 2013.
Derrida is one of the most prolific theorists and philosophers of the twentieth century. So prolific, in fact, that we are still apparently getting new works from him in the 21st century, despite him being dead since 2004. Joking aside, this is a collection of essays he wrote for Critical Inquiry, a University of Chicago academic journal relating to critical analysis of literary arts. The essays range from 1980 to 2002, which is admittedly a good portion of his body of work. The editor, Jay Williams, claims that this selection encompasses three periods of Derrida's work: a beginning revolutionary stage; a middle stage that's somewhat defensive and autobiographical; and a later period, when he wrote on animals and religion and his public persona was an intellectual was in full swing. I do like the idea of focusing on how a theorist, especially one as significant and prolific as Derrida, changes over time.But I'm not sure just reading his longer works in chronological order might not accomplish the same task more efficiently.  It's $15.12 for the Kindle version, $76.49 for the hardcover, and $19.08 for the paperback. In all, the book is 416 pages, published by U of Chicago P, as part of their Critical Inquiry series.

Gender and genre in sports documentaries: critical essays / Edited by Zachary Ingle and David M. Sutera. Dec 2012.
It's honestly fairly rare for a sports movie to capture my attention, let alone a sports documentary. But this is one of those occasions where I appreciate that the author is bringing a critical eye to the subject enough that I can set aside my personal prejudices. There's eleven chapters, divided into three sections. Section 1 is Aesthetic Approaches, with essays on truth and image in sport documentaries; The Wrestling Road Diaries and Bourgeois meets Popular; Muderball and hypercapitalism and the ethics of narrative forms in life writing; history and performance in Spike's Sports Docs; Senna and stylistic and technological developments in documentaries. Section 2 is gender and sexuality, with masculinity in Wrestling with Shadows and Beyond the Mat; masculinity and, uh, truth and image in sports documentaries (again?); and GLBTQ sport documentaries. The final section is on sports on the margins: social media and battle gaming (are they talking e-sports? tabletop games?); Muderball and hegemony; and Wrestling with Shadows and Kayfabe. I can't say I've heard of any of these documentaries except Murderball, and I'm kind of disappointed there's not an essay directly on Roller Derby. Still, and again, I appreciate the book existing at all. It's $39.80 for the Kindle version and $55.37 for the Hardcover.   The book is 204 pages, and published by Scarecrow Press.
The Gothic Screen: Space, Sculpture, and Community in the Cathedrals of France and Germany, ca 1200-1400 / Jacqueline E. Jung. Dec 2012.
I've been thinking a lot about the Gothic lately. It's definitely become a catch-all term for a rather vast and sometimes disparate range of aesthetics. This, obviously, is a very specific version of Gothic, discussing architecture in religious buildings in a small region in a particular period. Jung's argument centers around the choir screen, the partition between nave and sanctuary. Wikipedia tells me it's the part between the chancel and nave, which is less helpful than it seems to think. Okay, further research says that it divides the space around the altar and the area containing the pews. As such, Jung argues, these screens weren't barricades separating the masses from religion, but an area that offered a place to display iconic sculptures and a stage for performance. As a person with a Protestant upbringing whose church seating was one level above the sort you find at a school play, I might say that they were barricades AND transformative things, but that's more than a little uncharitable on my part. At any rate, it's a worthwhile premise for a book, I think, especially one that's willing to have a lot of illustrations. It's $62. 46 for the Kindle edition(!), and $89.10 for the Hardcover. The book is 298 pages, and published by Cambridge UP. It received the 2012 Samuel and Ronnie Heyman Prize for Outstanding Scholarly Publication at Yale, which sounds like pretty high praise. H.

That's the "main list" for this week; what follows is four books that got glossed over in previous weeks. Assume they're from University of Waterloo unless I say otherwise.
  From June 2nd: 
 Frodo franchise : the Lord of the rings and modern Hollywood / Kristin Thompson.   Berkeley : University of California Press, c2007.
I know some of my colleagues are in a Lord of the Rings centered class this term, and I thought this book might be of interest to them. Looking at the description, it may be a little too pop-centric for their purposes. In order to measure the film series' effects on Hollywood at large, Thompson interviewed seventy-six people to examine how the scripting and design of the films expanded to incorporate it, the videogames, and the DVDs, and the effect that production had on its producing companies, New Zealand, indie films, and New Zealand. The introduction covers the history of the books, as well as the movement of Hollywood toward franchises, and future chapters suggest that they'll address the fim, the franchise, expanding the franchise, and the lasting power of the show, in roughly that order. It seems like a good book if you're interested in Hollywood industry in general, and LotR in particular, in a casual sort of way.  The hardcover is $35. 96 and the paper back is $22.69. The book is 424 pages, and published by U of California P.

Bad books : Rétif de la Bretonne, sexuality, and pornography / Amy S. Wyngaard.   Newark : University of Delaware Press ; Lanham, Md. : Rowman & Littlefield, c2013.
I knew a professor who once had a graduate seminar on bad books--literary-speaking bad, that is. He got a lot of unsolicited suggestions on what to include in the course, but few actual attendees. Wyngaard's focus is different, obviously. She's arguing that the 18th century French author Nicolas-Edme Retif de la Bretonne's writings were essential for the development of modern concepts of pornography and sexuality. He coined the term "fetish," for example. A lot of the details of his writing have been glossed over or distorted, and this book is in part about how literary history takes form. Retif's fetishisms for feet and shoes has apparently been appropriated by the sexologists (which is a thing, I guess?) and his theories of eugenics and reproduction appear in his utopian science fiction (I should see if he's turned up on the radar of the utopian specialists I know). It sounds like an interesting focus on someone who's been a bit excluded in the modern canon. It's 171 pages, $53.91 pages in hardcover and $51.67 in Kindle. Personally, I'd splurge on the extra $2.23 and get the hardcover. Published by U of Delaware P.

From June 23rd.
Television and the earth: not a love story / Jennifer Ellen Good. July 2013.
Good argues that a fundamental reason we've been so apathetic in the face of environmental deterioration is the narrative shown on television. In particular, it's the way the television has done more than any other medium to promote a culture of materialism.  There aren't a lot of other details for the book. I'm not sure if television can be blamed more than other medium forms--it followed what radio had already started, and as TV fades a bit in relevancy, other media forms seem eager to pick up the slack. On the other hand, the dominant mass media form can probably shoulder a lot of the blame for dominant ideologies in a culture at large. The paper back is $14.16. It's 176 pages, published by Fernwood.

Girls and their comics : finding a female voice in comic book narrative / Jacqueline Danziger-Russell. Nov 2012.
Danziger-Russell claims that, despite the way some genres of comics cater to adolescent male fantasy (including, ahem, the kind I often read), the form has a unique place in the representation of female characters. She goes over how girls' comics relate to a female perspective, and how comics function as a marginal space for the voices of girls. It also has a chapter on manga, and interviews with librarians, comic creators, and girls who read comics and manga. The book covers a large number of topics in five chapters, as that description suggests: there's chapters on the history of comics and women, comics as a representative form; the power of visual narrative; the appeal of manga (including shojo manga), and girl's comics today.  It seems like a good mix between scholarly and popular concerns. And it mentions Deutsch's Hereville, Ted Naifeh's Courtney Crumrin, and Castelluci and Rugg's The Plain Janes on the first page, which is a big point in its favor. $35.95 for the Kindle, or $54. 44 for the hardcover version. Published by Scarecrow Press (them again?), and running 256 pages. 

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