Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Matthew Kraig Kelly's "The Crime of Nationalism"

Matthew Kraig Kelly is a historian of the modern Middle East. He has served as a visiting professor at Occidental College and the University of California, Los Angeles, and his work has been published in the Journal of Palestine Studies, Middle East Critique, and other academic journals.

Kelly applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Crime of Nationalism: Britain, Palestine, and Nation-Building on the Fringe of Empire, and reported the following:
"Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you."--the page 99 test, attributed to Ford Madox Ford

This is arguably accurate for my book. Page 99 of The Crime of Nationalism concerns Zionist and Palestinian anxieties in the run-up to the release of the 1937 Peel Report, which – unbeknownst to either group – would recommend the partitioning Palestine into two states: one Jewish and one Arab. Why did the British recommend this partition? Because they came to the determination that Arabs and Jews just couldn’t get along. Even with the utterly neutral, entirely objective, scrupulously fair British exerting every sinew to bring about a reconciliation between them.

This British self-image is, in a sense, what my book is all about. The British had a terrible habit in Palestine of overlooking the ways in which their own actions contributed to the political instability they were attempting to manage. If one metaphor captures this mentality, it is the stage. The British conceived of themselves – and particularly of their institutional presence in Palestine – as the stage upon which two actors, the Arab and Jewish communities, performed. On this understanding, the stage merely upheld the actors; it could not script their behavior. It was up to the Arabs and the Jews to put their intercommunal affairs in order. Their failure to do so only illustrated how obstinate and perhaps uncivilized they were. Yet, as my book demonstrates, the British state in Palestine was much more than a stage. To stay with the metaphor, it was a third actor, just as causally dynamic and consequential as Arab and Jewish institutions. Once we appreciate this fact, we can approach the historical materials relating to 1936-39 with the goal of deconstructing the British representation of the rebellion. By returning the British to their rightful place in the causal picture of the revolt, we gain a more complete understanding of this important episode in the history of interwar insurgencies.
Learn more about The Crime of Nationalism at the University of California Press website.

My Book, The Movie: The Crime of Nationalism.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 16, 2017

Abeer Y. Hoque's "Olive Witch"

Abeer Y. Hoque is a Nigerian born Bangladeshi American writer and photographer. She has published a book of travel photographs and poems called The Long Way Home, and a book of linked stories, photographs and poems called The Lovers and the Leavers. She is a Fulbright Scholar and has received several other fellowships and grants. Her writing and photography have been published in Guernica, Outlook Traveller, Wasafi ri, ZYZZYVA, India Today, and The Daily Star. She has degrees from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and an MFA in writing from the University of San Francisco.

Hoque applied the “Page 99 Test” to her book, Olive Witch: A Memoir, and reported the following:
From page 99:
…universities and jobs in Enugu, Ibadan, Jos, Benin, Kano, Zaria, and Lagos, or they will have gone abroad. In another couple of years, even those in Nsukka will have gone. It is a university town, its population bounded by those studying or teaching there.

‘You cannot accept this,’ Abbu says after reading the letter.

‘What do you mean?’ I ask, shocked.

‘It’s not for you. This scholarship is for black students.’

‘No, it’s for students who have ties to Africa,’ I protest.

‘They mean blacks. What if you went to their office? What would they think when they saw you? When it was clear that you weren’t black?’

I think about Kunta Kinte, his unthinkable trials repeated a million times over the centuries to where America is today. With less force in my voice, I say, ‘But we need the money.’

‘They need it more.’

In the break room at work, I read the scholarship offer one last time and then pitch it in the trash with the fast food wrappers and coke cans. I shut my book and take out Glenn’s latest letter.

My lovecrush is so overpowering that I don’t perceive the tension mounting in our house. So when my father asks why I must write Glenn so often, I’m not as careful as I usually am with my words.

‘I like writing to him,’ I say, capping and uncapping my inky blue pen as I look out the living room window. ‘Nothing seems real until I’ve told him.’

Outside, the summer heat shimmers on our black tar driveway. I notice the grass has to be cut. Maher is still too young to handle a bulky bladed machine on his own, so it falls to me and Simi to mow the lawn, and we hate it. We have a used lawnmower whose starter is so reluctant that it requires…
My book is split into three very different, chronological geographies of my life and identity: Nigeria (where I was born and lived til I was 13), the States (where my family moved and I’ve lived since high school), and Bangladesh (where my parents are originally from and where I lived as an adult for a few years). Interleaved with those sections are excerpts set in a psychiatric ward.

Page 99 falls in the American bit, just past high school into college, but it mentions my first hometown in the world, Nsukka, in southeastern Nigeria, and alludes to the nostalgia and grief of never really being able to go home after you’ve left. There’s a conflict between my father and me, telling because family dynamics and cross cultural and generational clashes are some of my memoir’s major themes. And the actual conflict is about how I identify myself, as African or otherwise. My first love makes an appearance, a relationship not approved of, par for the course for immigrant families. And there’s suburban America in the backdrop with its sprawling lawns and fast food chains and household chores – alien landscape slowly, resentfully becoming familiar ground.

As a writer, I’m also interested in language as much as story and place, and I think page 99 of Olive Witch gives the reader a thank you taste of much of what I hold dear: an attention to place via description and setting, themes of displacement and identity, and of course, love.
Learn more about the book and author at Abeer Y. Hoque's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A. James McAdams's "Vanguard of the Revolution"

A. James McAdams is the William M. Scholl Professor of International Affairs and director of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies at the University of Notre Dame. His many books include Judging the Past in Unified Germany and Germany Divided: From the Wall to Reunification.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Vanguard of the Revolution: The Global Idea of the Communist Party, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Vanguard of the Revolution, I outline the circumstances under which Lenin and other Bolshevik revolutionaries debated whether Russia should withdraw from participation in World War I.  Lenin was angry that his associates should dare to disagree with him at all, but he ultimately got his way.  He argued that they should act according the wishes of the party--i.e., his wishes--because their association was a "comradely family." A few months later, he also secured their agreement to rename their party the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks).  Of equal importance, Lenin also embraced the notion that the party needed to be more than a source of inspiration.  It also needed to be the source of clearer lines of commend in order to effect its wishes.

At this point in Vanguard of the Revolution, I am setting up two themes that run throughout the book.  The first is that on this occasion, and on many others, there persisted a culture of debate among the Bolsheviks that frustrated even the party's preeminent leader, Lenin. On these particular issues, he got his way.  But this was not always the case. Later, in the 1930s, Joseph Stalin waged war on this "comradely family" by ordering the execution of nearly all of the early Bolsheviks.  The second theme on this page is Lenin's endorsement of the principle that the party should not only be driven by a central idea; it should have the organizational means to put the idea into practice.  This point allows me to set up a juxtaposition that suffuses the book: the tension between the party as a motivating idea and the party as a practical organization.
Learn more about Vanguard of the Revolution at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Kieran Setiya's "Midlife: A Philosophical Guide"

Kieran Setiya teaches philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, working mainly in ethics, epistemology, and the philosophy of mind.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Midlife: A Philosophical Guide, and reported the following:
Page 99 finds me in the midst of retrospection, asking how it could make sense to affirm my actual life as a professor when I believe I should been a physician instead. Looking back at my foolish decision, am I condemned to wish for a second chance?

It is not just about me. There is a wider question here, about regret in the face of our mistakes and the misfortunes that befall us. Is there space between the things you should not have done, or should not have had to endure, and what you should want to change about your past?

Turns out there is. What matters is not the bare existence of what you did, or what has happened to you, as if its mere occurrence made it better, but immersion in the subsequent details of your life, the intricate fabric of moments, relationships, and activities that make it good, even though it is not the best. My relationship to life as a philosopher, in living it, is utterly different from my speculative relationship to an imagined life as a physician.
There is a difference between knowing that something is worthwhile and knowing what makes it so, between knowing the existence of reasons for desire and knowing what those reasons are. Just as it is rational to respond less strongly to the abstract knowledge that your life will have deficiencies than to learning which ones, so it is rational to respond more strongly to the definite ways in which a life is good than to the nebulous fact that another life is better.
Hence the advice with which the chapter ends: “Do not weigh alternatives theoretically, but zoom in: let the specifics count against the grand cartoon of lives unlived. In doing so, you may find that you cannot regret that you should have resisted at the time.”

This is from a chapter about dealing with the past. Other chapters confront the relentless grind of necessity, the distortions of nostalgia and the problem of missing out, mortality and fear of death, the tyranny of projects and the challenge of living in the present. A cerebral self-help book, Midlife uses philosophical arguments and ideas as cognitive therapy, speaking to the many midlife crises, and to anyone coping with the irreversibility of time.
Visit Kieran Setiya's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 13, 2017

David Biespiel's "The Education of a Young Poet"

David Biespiel was born in 1964 and grew up in Houston, Texas.  He is a poet, literary critic, columnist, and contributing writer at The Rumpus, American Poetry ReviewPolitico, New RepublicPartisan, Slate, Poetry, and The New York Times, among other publications.

He is the author of ten books, most recently The Education of a Young PoetA Long High Whistle, which received the 2016 Oregon Book Award for General Nonfiction, and The Book of Men and Women, which was chosen one of the Best Books of the Year by the Poetry Foundation and received the 2011 Oregon Book Award for Poetry.

Biespiel applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Education of a Young Poet and reported the following:
From page 99:
For a short time the summer before my senior year in college, I had nowhere to go but Houston. So I moved back in with my mother. The last place I wanted to be was in my old neighborhood of Meyerland, even for a few weeks. I had been living in Boston, and I was different now. To return home seemed like a defeat.

I had always seen Meyerland as an idyllic area of southwest Houston with its cozy, mid-century Tudor and colonial ranch houses. In August the wide roads and trim lawns had settled low against a tall sky. Now, after living in Boston, I couldn’t see it at all anymore. Driving down Chimney Rock Road with the bulbous trees heavy under the long, humid skies was like a familiar dream. I did it without looking, without interest. I could only remember my childhood there but could not see who I was even in so familiar a place.
I’m not sure this passes the Page 99 Test. Though, interestingly, it does pass the test for the book I’m currently writing.
Visit David Biespiel's website.

Writers Read: David Biespiel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 12, 2017

David Howard's "Chasing Phil"

David Howard's first book, Lost Rights: The Misadventures of a Stolen American Relic, chronicled the 138-year journey of an original, priceless rendition of the Bill of Rights that was pilfered during the Civil War.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Chasing Phil: The Adventures of Two Undercover Agents with the World's Most Charming Con Man, and reported the following:
As it happens, page 99 encapsulates the book nicely. Chasing Phil is a road-trip story, and the three main characters are trying to find their rhythms and routines together. Here, in March 1977, they’re visiting the Fontainebleau Hotel, a massive, ostentatious slab on Miami Beach where in better days Frank Sinatra played the La Ronde Room, entertaining visiting mafioso. The main character, Phil Kitzer, an ingenious, globetrotting high-finance con artist, favors these kinds of vast lodgings—places that are at once grand and anonymous.

The sagging Fontainebleau is now under assault from Kitzer’s swindler associates, who are using fraudulent bank securities to try to wring out the last drops of its lifeblood. The hotel, I write, is “flirting with bankruptcy and sending off the kind of distressed-animal sounds that attracted predators like Andy D’Amato.”

The page introduces one of my favorite scenes—a passage that unpacks some of Phil’s complexities. He sweeps into the gift shop, where he buys every teddy bear on the shelves, then loads them into the arms of his trainees—two young men who are actually undercover FBI agents. The agents are thinking, What is this?

Page 100 spoiler alert: Phil ushers them into the hotel’s Poodle Lounge, where he hands out the stuffed animals to women cradling happy-hour martinis and proceeds to take over the room. He’s hilarious and flirtatious and flamboyant, making sure everyone watches as he peels a couple of hundreds off a massive wad of cash to pay for rounds of drinks.

This scene helps set up readers to wrestle with a central dilemma: Do I root for or against this guy? All you know for sure, as of page 99, is that it’s fun to ride along.
Visit David Howard's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

John Marmysz's "Cinematic Nihilism"

John Marmysz holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from State University of New York at Buffalo. His primary research interests focus on the issue of nihilism and its cultural manifestations.

Marmysz is the author of The Nihilist’s Notebook, Laughing at Nothing: Humor as a Response to Nihilism, The Path of Philosophy: Truth, Wonder and DistressThe Nihilist: A Philosophical Novel, and Cinematic Nihilism: Encounters, Confrontations, Overcomings. He is coeditor (with Scott Lukas) of Fear, Cultural Anxiety and Transformation: Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Films Remade.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Cinematic Nihilism and reported the following:
Page 99 of Cinematic Nihilism is the first page of Chapter 5, “The Lure of the Mob: Cinematic Depictions of Skinhead Authenticity.” On this page appears a still from the 1998 film American History X. It is a picture of a skinhead (the actor Edward Norton) with a swastika tattooed on his chest. The image is followed by these introductory words:
Skinheads are generally viewed, in contemporary Western culture, as symbols of violence, white racism and bigotry. In fact, the term ‘skinhead’ is taken by most academics and mainstream media consumers virtually to be synonymous with the term ‘Nazi’, and it has become almost automatic to associate images of young, white males sporting shaven heads with viciousness and racial intolerance. The media commonly utilise and exploit this iconic image in everything from television programmes and commercials to magazine ads and movies, reinforcing and strengthening its evocative power.
The chapter goes on to examine a somewhat puzzling and controversial genre of film in which neo-Nazi skinheads are portrayed in an understanding light, as misguided yet intelligent and psychologically complicated individuals in search of personal autonomy and self-understanding. The concept of “authenticity,” as articulated by the philosopher Martin Heidegger, is marshaled in order to try and appreciate the reasons why these otherwise reprehensible characters appear so sympathetic to audiences. My argument is that this sympathy is the result of audience identification with the struggles of the film characters as they confront, and authentically come to terms with, their experience of nihilism.

This chapter closes the book’s second division, which is devoted to films that depict struggles to confront nihilism. The book’s first division is devoted to films depicting initial encounters with nihilism while the book’s third, and final, division focuses on films in which characters overcome nihilism. Among the films examined are many that have been condemned by critics and scholars as morally reprehensible: The Wicker Man, Under the Skin, The Human Centipede, Nymphomaniac, Videodrome, Night of the Living Dead, Fight Club, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters.

The argument I make over the course of analyzing these films is that, contrary to much critical opinion, cinematic nihilism is not essentially negative or destructive, but a potentially constructive phenomenon offering audiences the opportunity to wrestle with an issue of universal human concern: alienation from our highest ideals. This alienation is not an unambiguously bad thing, since in addition to anguish, it also potentially provokes ongoing interpretation, aspiration and ambition. The rush to overcome nihilism (in both film and real life) may in fact result in consequences worse that nihilism itself, such as abjection, fascism and death.  Thus, despite common wisdom, I conclude that the defeat of nihilism (cinematic or otherwise) is not unequivocally good. It may be beneficial to remain within its grips rather than overcoming it once and for all.
Learn more about Cinematic Nihilism at the Edinburgh University Press website and John Marmysz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Jason Fagone's "The Woman Who Smashed Codes"

Jason Fagone's books include Ingenious: A True Story of Invention, the X Prize, and the Race to Revive America and Horsemen of the Esophagus: Competitive Eating and the Big Fat American Dream.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies, and reported the following:
Opening the book to page 99, this paragraph jumps out at me:
A tiny slip of paper fluttered down to Elizebeth. She was outdoors at Riverbank with William and Mr. Powell, the gentle University of Chicago publicity agent, the three of them working in the grass, the fresh air. She picked up the paper and saw a line of cursive written in light pencil. It was from William. “My dearest, I sit here studying your features. You are perfectly beautiful!! B.B.” Billy Boy. She hid the note so Mr. Powell wouldn’t see it, later pressing it between two pages of her diary. “My heart sang,” she wrote there, “carolling bursts of ecstasy.”
Elizebeth is Elizebeth Smith, the heroine of the book, and William is William Friedman, her coworker at a strange and wondrous scientific laboratory outside of Chicago. At this point in the story, the autumn of 1916, they're only in their twenties, and they're just beginning to fall in love. She's a Quaker poetry scholar, he's a Jewish plant biologist. They're from completely different worlds. But they just click. They're young and they're bright and they're ambitious and they want to leave a mark on the world. And that's what happens next, in their lives and in the book. They teach themselves how to become codebreakers -- to solve secret messages without knowing the key. Over the next 30 years, they use their abilities to shape the American intelligence community and help win the world wars.

For me, this is one of the cool things about learning about American history through the eyes of Elizebeth and William. You realize that, beneath the familiar narratives of the world wars and the growth of American intelligence, there's also this love story.
Visit Jason Fagone's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 9, 2017

Michael A. Ross's "The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case"

Michael A. Ross is Professor of History at the University of Maryland. He is the author of the prize-winning Justice of Shattered Dreams: Samuel Freeman Miller and the Supreme Court during the Civil War Era and The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era.

Ross applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case and reported the following:
Page 99 does indeed reflect what readers can expect from The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case, a true story of a sensational trial in which the key participants were Afro-Creoles. Both the lead detective and the accused women in the famous Digby Kidnapping case were Afro-Creoles, members of an elite class of African Americans who had been free before the Civil War. It was 1870 in Louisiana, the height of Radical Reconstruction.  The state’s Republican governor had just integrated the New Orleans police force and issues of race and class had recently led to wild violence and riots. Startling crimes like the Digby kidnapping quickly became intertwined with the tumultuous politics of the time. And the fact that the accused women in the story came from a class many white people in New Orleans had once trusted created panic amongst those who feared the changes emancipation and Reconstruction had wrought. Page 99 helps explain why many members of Louisiana’s upper class found it so terrifying that they could no longer judge people based on their manners and style. It was one more sign that their world had been turned upside down.
Learn more about The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Cleo Hanaway-Oakley's "James Joyce and the Phenomenology of Film"

Cleo Hanaway-Oakley was awarded her doctorate from the University of Oxford in 2013 after having completed a BA in English and Philosophy and an MA in Twentieth-century Literature at the University of Leeds. Her work is concerned with the interrelations between literature, philosophy, film, culture, and science. She is Founder and Chair of Oxford Phenomenology Network, an international group of interdisciplinary scholars and practitioners interested in all aspects of phenomenological thought and practice. She currently works at the University of Oxford in the role of Knowledge Exchange Facilitator and as a tutor at various Oxford colleges.

Hanaway-Oakley applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, James Joyce and the Phenomenology of Film, and reported the following:
My book spans three disciplines: literature, philosophy, and film studies. Page 99 of my book focuses only on the latter two. In this sense, the page is not representative of the book as a whole. However, the page contains analyses which are central to my overall argument, to my contention that modern artists – be they writers or film-makers – were supremely interested in the world-as-it-is-lived, the world as it is directly experienced by an always already bodily-and-subjective consciousness.

Interestingly, page 99 of my book features a discussion which is particularly germane to the ‘page 99 test’. I talk about gestalt theory. Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka famously stated that ‘the whole is other than the sum of the parts’; by this, he meant that we do not merely perceive a set of elements added together – when we view an object or a scene we directly and immediately (without any intellectual effort or rationalizing) see it as a unified totality that makes sense to us. For example, when we look at a cube, we do not see a collection of 2-D squares – we see a 3-D cube. Similarly, when we read a book we are not experiencing 350,000 letters, 60,000 words, or 200 pages – we are experiencing a conceptual whole, whether that whole is a story or a thesis. If we were to duplicate the ideas presented on page 99 a further 199 times, we would not end up with the complete book – we would have something rather different.

Conspicuously absent from page 99 of my book is the writer James Joyce. Joyce was a contemporary of Ford Madox Ford, but I have no idea how he felt about Ford’s ‘page 99 test’. Let us give it a go with Joyce’s Ulysses (Gabler Edition). On page 99, we find what appear to be two newspaper articles, denoted by capitalised headlines. Are we to assume, from this, that Ulysses is just one long newspaper? In one sense, this is a fair summation – the book delivers news of various goings-on in and around Dublin on 16 June 1904. But, as my monograph demonstrates, these goings-on are not communicated via a single reporter; Joyce employs multiple perspectives and devices, all of the time conveying the experience of fully-embodied and enworlded conscious beings.
Visit Cleo Hanaway-Oakley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue