Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sabine Frühstück's "Playing War"

Sabine Frühstück is Professor of Modern Japanese Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her publications include Colonizing Sex: Sexology and Social Control in Modern Japan and Uneasy Warriors: Gender, Memory, and Popular Culture in the Japanese Army.

Frühstück applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Playing War: Children and the Paradoxes of Modern Militarism in Japan, and reported the following:
Page 99 describes why contemporary Japanese critics hardly participate in the debate about militaristic and other violent video games and their impact on children’s cognition and behavior. Very briefly: it’s about the extremely low violent crime rate in Japan and about the low profile of its military forces. In the book at large, I interrogate how essentialist notions of childhood and militarism in Japan and, to some degree beyond, have been productively intertwined, how assumptions about childhood and war have converged, and how children and childhood have worked as symbolic constructions and powerful rhetorical tools—particularly in the decades between the nation- and empire-building efforts of the late nineteenth century and the uneven manifestations of globalization at the beginning of the twenty-first. The modern figure of the child has emerged from a set of contradictory assumptions about children: that children are innately attracted to war, and that they are exceptionally vulnerable to its violence. This concept of childhood has thus served as a trope of both innocence and immaturity and wildness and uncontrollability. Within this fused view, children have been variably thought of as being simultaneously in need of rescue, protection, guidance, control, and suppression. At one time, children’s bodies were close to the ground, playfully pursuing territorial advances, almost physically one with the soil. They were envisioned as ever-ready soldiers, constantly signaling that war is natural, inherently human, and indefinitely inevitable. At another time, children were seen as all innocence and as equipped with a pronounced moral authority that relies on that very innocence. As carriers of human emotions, children appeared as proof of the authenticity and naturalness of these emotions—and, finally, epitomized by their very (demographically speaking) disappearance, they functioned as signifier and representation of national decline. The book covers the time between Japan’s first modern wars of the late nineteenth century to our current moment. More than 40 images are incorporated in the analysis.
Learn more about Playing War at the University of California Press.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Rick Wartzman's "The End of Loyalty"

Rick Wartzman is director of the KH Moon Center for a Functioning Society at the Drucker Institute, a part of Claremont Graduate University. He is the author of four books, including his latest, The End of Loyalty: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to The End of Loyalty and reported the following:
Page 99 of The End of Loyalty picks up the narrative as two titans of American business history—Lem Boulware, the savvy labor relations chief at General Electric, and Jim Carey, the president of the International Union of Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers—are squaring off in the early 1950s. Boulware was a master of circumventing the union, making the case to GE’s workers that they were being treated fairly and that being part of the IUE was a waste. “It must now be obvious to our employees,” the company asserted, “that membership in a union will not get them anything they would not be able to get without a union.”

But Carey wasn’t about to roll over:
As a ten-year-old boy, he liked to brag, he had led his Philadelphia schoolmates in a classroom strike against excessive homework. Carey was a bantam, small in physical stature but profane and truculent, once telling a company negotiator in the middle of contract talks: “I’ll break every bone in your body. Damn it, I’ll come over there and bust you right in the mouth.” One union man remembered that they had to change the ashtrays in the bargaining room to aluminum because Carey would smash the glass ones.
This to-and-fro underscores the importance that unions like the IUE had in the forging of the social contract between employer and employee in America —job security, good pay, excellent health coverage, and a pension you could count on. By extension, it also helps to explain why all of those things have eroded so badly, now that less than 7% of private-sector workers in this country belong to a union (down from more than 30% in the 1950s).

To be sure, The End of Loyalty is not focused on labor-management relations. Its lens is much bigger than that—and, as a social history as much as a business book, it looks at a wide array of forces that have caused the weakening of the nation’s middle class. Among them: globalization and heightened competition from low-wage countries; the introduction of labor-saving technology; a newfound willingness to lay off enormous numbers of people even when there’s no crisis at hand; the outsourcing of all manner of work; the decline of manufacturing and the rise of third-rate service jobs. Fueling all of these forces, meanwhile, is corporate America’s obsession with “maximizing shareholder value,” which has explicitly elevated the wants of investors over the needs of employees.

Still, Page 99 is a great reminder of this essential fact: Because of their ability to act collectively, workers across the economy were once able to counterbalance the inherent strength of corporate America. This translated into higher wages, better benefits, and improved working conditions not only for those who carried a union card but for millions more blue-collar workers whose employers followed the patterns set by organized labor. Benefit packages for millions of nonunion white-collar workers were also based on what unfolded at the bargaining table.

In short, the nation never would have had so many good jobs without unions.
Learn more about The End of Loyalty at the Hachette Book Group website.

The Page 99 Test: Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 17, 2017

Alan E. Bernstein's "Hell and Its Rivals"

Alan E. Bernstein is Emeritus Professor of Medieval History at the University of Arizona. He is the author of The Formation of Hell: Death and Retribution in the Ancient and Early Christian Worlds.

Bernstein applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hell and Its Rivals: Death and Retribution among Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Early Middle Ages, and reported the following:
Hell and Its Rivals studies the history of belief in hell during the amazingly creative centuries that saw the patristic period in Christianity, the composition of the Talmud in rabbinic Judaism, and the formation of the Qur’an in Islam. All three religions threatened the worst sinners and non-believers with eternal punishment. Still today, many take hell on faith but, as a historian, I go farther and ask what realities in society inspired and maintained the idea. Page 99 opens a chapter that explains how slavery played that role. Slavery subjected its victims to chains, darkness, confinement, branding, dismemberment, and the unending descent of slave status from mother to children. The endless liability of slaves to torture gave hell a fatal plausibility. Many parables therefore used the relationship between slaves and masters to illustrate the system of rewards and punishments in this world and the next. “Things are images through which we consider the nature of their causes” said one leading theorist of the age. All three religions employed this hierarchy of symbols to communicate afterlife realities.

Beyond this common system of signification, the three religions met and similarly resisted the alternatives that became hell’s rivals: relief, end, and escape. One possibility was that the damned could enjoy relief in hell on religious holidays. Another posited an end to hell because its divinely administered discipline would effectively cleanse sinners of fault and thus end liability to punishment. The third proposed that the very pious could intercede for their kin or their friends and pray them out of torment. All three religions met the challenges posed by these rival notions on similar terms to defend eternal, unchangeable punishment. In subsequent centuries, each damned the others in the everlasting hell they defined and defended together!
Learn about Hell and Its Rivals at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 15, 2017

William Lafi Youmans's "An Unlikely Audience"

William Lafi Youmans is an Assistant Professor at George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs. Broadly interested in questions of transnationalism, power and communication, his primary research interests include global news, technology, law and politics. His other areas of research interest include international broadcasting, Middle East politics, and Arab-American studies.

Youmans applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, An Unlikely Audience: Al Jazeera's Struggle in America, and reported the following:
My book is about Al Jazeera’s decade-long ambition to build an American audience. An Unlikely Audience: Al Jazeera’s Struggle in America tells the story of this largely failed effort.

It should have appeared improbable from the start. Could Al Jazeera really reverse the long history of unidirectional news and information flow from the United States to the Arab world? From the cultural politics of US-Arab relations to the barriers of entry in the crowded American TV news market, the Qatar-based network faced tremendous obstacles.

Still, it established three different US-facing news outlets: Al Jazeera English, Al Jazeera America and AJ+. The first, an international channel, floundered as cable companies refused it carriage. It withdrew from the US. Then, the America-only channel closed after only a few short years and exorbitant expenditures. Only with its final offshoot, the digital news pioneer AJ+, has the network found success attracting an American audience.

By page 99, the book was several pages into an analysis of one key event that encapsulated the network’s renewed visibility during the Arab spring, which many lauded as “Al Jazeera’s moment.”

In mid-May, 2011, Al Jazeera held a forum in Washington, DC to celebrate its newfound popularity and promote it further. On the first night of the event, senior politicians Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and Senator John McCain spoke. They lauded Al Jazeera English’s reporting from the sites of protest that captivated the world. Such accolades were a far cry from the vilification the network experienced during the Bush administration.

Page 99 introduces prominent Al Jazeera figures at the forum who personified the problems and prospects of the channel’s desire to be widely seen in the United States. Their biographies help tell the story of Al Jazeera in America.
Visit William Youmans's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Maurice Roche's "Mega-Events and Social Change"

Maurice Roche is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Sheffield.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Mega-Events and Social Change: Spectacle, legacy and public culture, and reported the following:
Western-originated mega-events like Olympic Games and World Expos are being increasingly affected and challenged by new vectors of global social change in the 21stC. Mega-Events and Social Change aims to illustrate and sociologically analyse three of these dynamics. These are the media shift from mass press and television to the internet; the onset of global ecological crises and ‘green’ policy responses particularly in cities; and the geo-political shift involved in the rise of China and other non-Western world regions. The book is structured into three parts which address each of these social changes and their implications for mega-events in order.

Page 99 is part of the first discussion concerned with the rise of the internet and the challenges this has created for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as a leading mega-event organizer. These particularly include the rise of internet ‘piracy’, or the infringement of copyright involved in unauthorised copying or streaming of live event television. At this point the book explores the IOC’s development of various ‘hard’ (legally punitive) and ‘soft’ (informative) ways of controlling the piracy problem from the 2008 Beijing Olympics onwards.
A few days after the impressive and much-watched Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Olympics an internet site (TorrentFreak) which monitors and comments on legal and non-legal online video-streaming reported that ‘even though it was free to watch on TV all around the world ......over a million people have already downloaded the opening ceremony via BitTorrent’ (TF 2008a). The IOC seems to have registered this report and responded to it.
The IOC’s response was to try to make an example of a notorious Swedish internet company using BitTorrent, namely The Pirate Bay, which played a leading role in infringing its Beijing Games television copyright. It requested assistance from the Swedish government in blocking the company’s operation. Later the government had the co-founders of the company fined and eventually jailed. Since the Beijing Games although the IOC’s media policy has continued this ’hard’ approach it has also developed a ‘softer’ approach aimed at young people, ‘digital natives’. This has involved live video-streaming of the London 2012 Games on the IOC’s YouTube channel, and the creation of a permanent online Olympic television channel.

These developments illustrate the book’s general argument that mega-event organizers now need to continuously adapt and evolve their events and event-contexts if they are to manage the new problems which contemporary social changes throw at them. However these adaptations, even if temporarily successful, by no means guarantee the long-term survival of the mega-event genres with which we are all familiar.
Learn more about Mega-Events and Social Change at the Manchester University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Erica Wagner's "Chief Engineer"

Erica Wagner is the author of Gravity: Stories; Ariel's Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the Story of Birthday Letters; and Seizure: A Novel. Pas de Deux/A Concert of Stories, co-written with storyteller Abbi Patrix and musician and composer Linda Edsjö, tours around the world. Twice a judge of the Man Booker Prize, she was literary editor of The Times (London) for seventeen years, and she is now a contributing writer for New Statesman and consulting literary editor for Harper's Bazaar, as well as writing for many publications in Britain and the United States.

Wagner applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Chief Engineer: Washington Roebling, The Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge, and reported the following:
When Washington Roebling undertook the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge following his father's death in 1869, he was beginning a task which would test him severely; the job would take 14 years and would break his health, though never his spirit. But Washington already knew what it was to be tested. He had joined the Union Army in 1861 as a private; when he left the army in early 1865, he had risen through the ranks to colonel, and would be known as Col. Roebling for the rest of his long life. Three quarters of a million Americans died in that terrible war, and Washington took part in a great many of its most deadly battles. Page 99 of Chief Engineer finds him at the most deadly of them all, the Battle of Antietam, in September, 1862. When it was over, nearly 6,000 men lay dead, another 17,000 wounded.

Washington fought near the Dunker church which still stands on that Maryland field: a plain, whitewashed structure built by a pacifist German sect who believed in full-immersion baptism. Washington's vivid recollections bring the dreadful scenes vividly to the reader's mind; and bluntly dispel any notion of war's romance. “The appearance of the battlefield was horrible," he wrote. "The hot… sun changed a corpse into a swollen mass of putridity in a few hours — too rotten to be moved. Long trenches were dug, wide and deep, into which bodies, thousands of them, were tumbled pell mell, carried on fence rails or yanked with ropes, unknown, unnamed, unrecognised. This is the kind of glory most people get who go to war."

Certainly Washington's years in the Union Army were a critical part of his life: not least because, a couple of years later, he would meet his remarkable wife thanks to his service: Emily Warren was the daughter of his commanding officer in 1864, General G. K. Warren. So page 99 is not unrepresentative of a very important period in Washington's -- and the nation's -- life.

But there's another reason that page 99 stands out for me. For on it is mentioned a map which Washington made of the battlefield, just a day after the fighting ended. He drew it on a sheet of yellow paper which measures twenty by twenty-five inches; on the map each detail of the battlefield is carefully delineated: Washington was a master draughtsman, and this drawing is an extraordinary example of his skill. On the right of the map is marked the ford by which Major General "Fighting Joe" Hooker's men crossed Antietam creek, and the line of his advance round to the right, over the top of the map. In the middle, just south of a little cornfield, is marked in Washington’s tiny writing "place where Hooker was shot in the foot". The map has the purity of an abstraction, for all its precision: yet Washington would have drawn it when those bodies he described so dreadfully — and which can be seen in Alexander Gardner’s famous photographs of the battlefield — would still have been lying where they fell.

The map itself is in the archive of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and was recently and painstakingly restored. It isn't reproduced in Chief Engineer, because it would have been impossible to do it justice; but holding it in my hands was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my research for this book.
Visit Erica Wagner's website.

Writers Read: Erica Wagner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 10, 2017

Dale Hudson's "Vampires, Race, and Transnational Hollywoods"

Dale Hudson is an associate professor in the Film and New Media Program at New York University Abu Dhabi and a digital curator for the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival.

He applied “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Vampires, Race, and Transnational Hollywoods, and reported the following:
From page 98:
The setting of these Vampire-Westerns in the Southwest demonstrates that the Hollywood Gothic was somewhat always about representing the contemporary United States. On Hollywood’s back-lots and sound stages, so-called exotic locations like China, Arabia, and Transylvania, alongside mythical heritage locations, like England, reveal their actual shooting location in southern California through inconsistent accents and costumes. With stars, personas also make reality difficult to differentiate completely from illusion. Lugosi’s performance of Count Dracula somewhat overlapped with his performance of “himself” as a political exile. In an interview at the height of his fame, he identifies as a “Hungarian by birth” and “an American now.” Few contested his patriotism despite his accent. Vampire hunters may have murdered the accented Count Dracula, but accents faded, particularly among its vampire-cowboys. The deathly departure of Mexican-born Drake renders him as a frontier fighter, a self-sacrificing figure of nation building. If “the saga of European immigration has long been held up as proof of the openness of American society, the benign and absorptive powers of American capitalism, and the robust health of American democracy” (Jacobson 1998: 12), classical Hollywood vampire films offer revisionist and alternative histories, albeit in supernatural terms, to acknowledge the nation’s transnational coordinates. Classical Hollywood vampire films address controversial questions. They serve as one means by which fantasies and anxieties about immigration were evoked on screen without representing them directly during moments of radical social transformation and redefinition of legal categories.
Page 99 contains only a few endnotes, so I’m cheating by looking at page 98, which provides a good sense of the reading strategy for Hollywood films that the book proposes. I try to understand how audiences, both at the time of the film’s original release and today, negotiate contradictions between images of “America” in vampire films and their own experiences of the United States.

Earlier in the chapter, I consider how Hollywood makes Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania appear strange by littering it with animals indigenous to southern California, such as armadillos and opossums. For me, the choice is less interesting as a marker of low-budget production than how it makes the story not only one about vampires, but also about immigrant experiences. The costumes and sets for Transylvania are actually similar to ones used in films, produced by private companies and public institutions, to recruit and assimilate European immigrants. The figure of the vampire also draws upon representations of Latin Lovers in Hollywood miscegenation melodramas. The films are about indirect representation.

What the page does not include is the book’s analysis of the political economies of film, television, and digital media, which I argue frame possible readings. The book disrupts the notion that Hollywood is unequivocally American any more than the U.S. history is unequivocally national. I look at various mechanisms by which Hollywood intervened in media production in Europe following the second World War, off-shored production to the Philippines in the 1970s and later to Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, México, South Africa, and elsewhere.

I selected the figure of the vampire due to its historical mutations and migrations, which I thought were an appropriate for thinking about Hollywood, which has mutated and migrated so much that it seems more accurate to refer to it in the plural as Hollywoods. I was also intrigued by the number of philosophers who turned to supernatural figures to conceptualize citizenship and nationality. I wondered whether vampire media might convey such ideas to wider audiences than books on political philosophy — or even journalism on immigrant rights, racial justice, nonhuman animal rights, environmental justice, and related issues.
Learn more about Vampires, Race, and Transnational Hollywoods at the Edinburgh University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones's "We Know All About You"

A native of Harlech, Wales, Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones studied at the Universities of Michigan and Harvard, where he was active in the 1960s free speech movement. Founder and current president of the Scottish Association for the Study of America, he writes and lectures widely on US social and intelligence history. His book The American Left: Its Impact on Politics and Society since 1900 (Edinburgh and Oxford University Presses) won the Neustadt prize for the best UK book on American politics published in 2013.

Jeffreys-Jones applied “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, We Know All About You: The Story of Surveillance in Britain and America, and reported the following:
Telling the story of surveillance in the USA and UK, We Know All About You has chapters on McCarthyism as it affected each country. Page 99 falls into the chapter on American McCarthyism, and contains the observation that although the 1947 National Security Act prohibited the CIA from operating at home, in practice that exclusion “would never be absolute”.

In subsequent references to the CIA, the book shows how Americans were especially sensitive to surveillance that affected them in their own country. They tolerated CIA actions abroad, such as assassination, the overthrow of democratically elected governments, and drone attacks that contravened the laws of target nations. But domestic infractions, such as the agency’s program of spying on anti-Vietnam War protestors, caused uproar and major political upheaval. In more recent times, suggestions that the NSA has been placing American citizens under mass surveillance have caused similar turmoil.

Whistleblower Edward Snowden recognized Americans’ sensitivity to domestic issues, and the chapter on him argues that in order to maximize his impact he tried to focus on the spying-at-home activities of the NSA. In practice, a relative shortage of evidence made him fall back on the NSA’s foreign intelligence activities, a circumstance that dented his reputation.

Page 99 also frames the sentence, “Private employers and agencies had for decades compiled blacklists and now [in America’s McCarthy years] had official encouragement”. This refers to the book’s major theme, that modern surveillance is as much a private as a state phenomenon. Because of our pro-private, anti-statist bias, we tend to overlook this. Private surveillance can be benign, for example in the case of credit assessments without which business could not operate. But it can also underpin practices such as blacklisting and, through data fusion, it facilitates mind control in the interest of commercial gain – your loyalty card may be exchanging data with your smart phone, and watching you.
Discover more about We Know All About You at the Oxford University Press website.

Learn about Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones's top ten classic spy novels.

The Page 99 Test: In Spies We Trust.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 6, 2017

David Benatar's "The Human Predicament"

David Benatar is Professor of Philosophy at University of Cape Town, South Africa. He is the author of Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence (2006) and Debating Procreation: Is it Wrong to Reproduce? (2015).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Human Predicament: A Candid Guide to Life's Biggest Questions, and reported the following:
If you turn to page 99 of The Human Predicament, you’ll find yourself in the midst of a discussion of death, one crucial component of the human predicament. Will the quality of the whole book thereby be revealed to you? Others must offer their judgement, but I see no difference in quality between that page and the others.

In other ways, page 99 is not representative of the book as a whole. A Reader’s Guide immediately after the preface offers guidance on which parts of the book may be skipped by those readers less interested in some of the book’s more technical arguments. Page 99 is within one skippable part (in which I respond to the Epicurean argument that death is not bad for the person who dies).

In The Human Predicament I present a candid view of the human condition and offer substantially, although not exclusively, pessimistic answers to life’s big questions: There is no ultimate purpose to human life, even though we can and do create more limited forms of meaning. The quality of even the best lives is not good. Death, however, is not a costless solution. It can bring relief from suffering, but does so at the cost of annihilation. Moreover, it typically exacerbates rather than ameliorates the problem of life’s meaning. The option of immortality, if that were possible, would solve some of our problems, but would exacerbate others. For reasons arising from these reflections, suicide may be reasonable – the least bad option – only when one is or will soon be in extremis.

This grim picture makes for a work of unpopular philosophy. However, there is no reason to assume that the truth must be pleasant. In the concluding chapter, I discuss how we should respond to our predicament. Perpetual moroseness is not required and thus it should come as no surprise that the book also includes some humour.
Learn more about The Human Predicament at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Edward Dolnick's "The Seeds of Life"

Edward Dolnick is the former chief science writer for The Boston Globe and is the author of, among others, The Rush and The Clockwork Universe.

Dolnick applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Seeds of Life: From Aristotle to da Vinci, from Sharks' Teeth to Frogs' Pants, the Long and Strange Quest to Discover Where Babies Come From, and reported the following:
The Seeds of Life is a book that seeks to answer a simple question – how could it be that, until astonishingly recent times, no one knew where babies come from? The solution to the mystery did not come until 1875. Until then, ordinary people didn’t know, and neither did the scientists who helped shape the modern world. Leonardo da Vinci didn’t know, Galileo didn’t know, Isaac Newton didn’t know.

They knew, that is, that men and women have sex and as a result, sometimes, babies, but they did not know how those babies are created. They did not know that women produce eggs, and when they finally discovered sperm cells, they did not know that those wriggly tadpoles had anything to do with babies and pregnancy. (The leading theory was that they were parasites, perhaps related to the newly discovered mini-creatures that swam in drops of pond water. This was Newton’s view.)

Page 99 isn’t typical of the book, because the tone is a bit more earnest. For me, the great appeal of the subject is the spectacle of some of the greatest thinkers who ever lived knocking their heads against a riddle that a ten-year-old today knows all about. But they truly were great minds, so part of the fascination is learning what led them astray.

Much of the book deals with the scientific and intellectual blinders of the titans who created the scientific revolution. One key problem was religious faith. Virtually all these thinkers were devout, and they believed with all their heart that God was not merely the Creator but the only Creator. How could it be, then, that ordinary men and women, huffing and puffing in the dark, could create new life?

Page 99 explores blinders of a different sort. In these early days, virtually all scientists were males. Not everyone went as far as Aristotle, who described females as “mutilated males.” Still, almost all of them took for granted that women were inferior to men, physically, mentally, and morally. This was not a good starting point.
Typically, in the early modern age, women were condemned for their lustful, fickle natures. Men were supposedly higher-minded. Certainly, this was the view of Robert Boyle, one of the founders of the Royal Society and the most important English scientist in the generation before Isaac Newton. Celibate through his long life, Boyle feared the wanton, scheming ways of women, all of them temptresses like Eve. ‘I am confident that thousands would be whores could they but be so without being thought so.’ Men’s highest calling was to study God’s works, but women would lure the weak and unwary from that sacred mission. Who would gaze through a microscope, Boyle asked, when he might be staring down a lady’s cleavage?
Learn more about the book and author at Edward Dolnick's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Forger's Spell.

The Page 99 Test: The Clockwork Universe.

The Page 99 Test: The Rush.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Robin Wagner-Pacifici's "What is an Event?"

Robin Wagner-Pacifici is the University in Exile Professor of Sociology at the New School for Social Research. She is the author of a number of books, most recently What is an Event? (University of Chicago Press, 2017) and The Art of Surrender: Decomposing Sovereignty at Conflict’s End.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to What is an Event? and reported the following:
Page 99 of What is an Event? appears in the chapter titled, "Resonating Forms." It's a chapter mid-way through the book's tracking of the ways that historic events erupt out of the background of our everyday lives and then take shape as people and institutions try to direct their flow. But the book also argues that events are restless and resist attempts to control and direct them - that's what makes them so eventful. Page 99 presents an analysis of one moment in the form-taking of the French Revolution, the moment when the official painter of the Revolution, Jacques Louis David, painted the Oath of the Horatii (1784). It's a painting of a group of Roman brothers from 669 BCE swearing an oath to fight another group of brothers, the Curiatii from Alba - all in a kind of proxy battle for a dispute between their two cities. The brothers' father draws them together for the oath while their mother and sisters sit mournfully on the painting's margins.

The painting is interesting for the book because it captures a number of important themes - the threshold moments when events take flight and take shape, the "subsidiary" family dramas that complicate the march of history (one of the sisters of the Horatii brothers is betrothed to one of the Curiatii brothers), the way that events must have witnesses confirming (or denying) their meanings and powers, and the ways that symbols and representations (like history paintings) bring events to life in various registers:
David's painting is situated on the cusp of an event in two ways - there is the scene in the painting that anticipates, makes possible, and points in the direction of the brothers' battle to come, and there is the external scene in which the painting participates, the context of contemporary France: the financial, military, and legitimation struggles of the monarchy and the developing conflict over civic rights, privileges, war making, state finances, and sovereignty. Oath of the Horatii thus acts as both participant in and witness to these parallel emergent events.
The painting thus emerges as an opportunity for the French people of the Eighteenth Century to think about their own revolutionary acts through the model of the filial loyalties and violent civic encounters of ancient Rome. Page 99 ends with a reflection on the counterpoint of the weeping and woeful women who, because of their marital connections, are unenthusiastic witnesses and suggest that some events might be reconsidered and placed on pause.

I am struck reading page 99 of What is an Event? to recall that page 99 of my previous book, The Art of Surrender: Decomposing Sovereignty at Conflict's End (University of Chicago Press, 2005), also involved an analysis of a painting. As a sociologist interested in threshold moments I analyze narratives, conversations, official documents and also - apparently more and more predominant in my work - visual images. While there are several historic events dealt with in my new book (the Paris Commune, the French Revolution, 9/11), it is clear that my way to understand them is more and more attuned to the way they come to life in our collective visual imaginations.
Learn more about What Is an Event? at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Art of Surrender.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Mitchell Stephens's "The Voice of America"

Mitchell Stephens is a long-time professor of Journalism at New York University and the author of A History of News, a New York Times “notable book of the year.” Stephens also has written several other books on journalism and media, including Beyond News: The Future of Journalism and the rise of the image the fall of the word. He also published Imagine There’s No Heaven: How Atheism Helped Create the Modern World.

Stephens applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Voice of America: Lowell Thomas and the Invention of 20th-Century Journalism, and reported the following:
To sample the quality of a book, Ford Madox Ford has suggested, we turn to page 99. Well that page is dominated in my new biography of the journalist and adventurer Lowell Thomas by none other than T. E. Lawrence.

No surprise, that. “Lawrence of Arabia,” sometimes atop a camel, clip clops across dozens of the book’s pages. And I’m confident that he is encamped on page 99 of plenty of other books, too. Lawrence himself has been the subject of dozens of biographies.

Lowell Thomas has now become the subject of a total of one biography. Yet it is safe to say that there would be no legend of “Lawrence of Arabia” – no film, few biographies – if it were not for Thomas. Indeed page 99 of my book more or less says that:
Thomas, then only 26, was the only journalist to visit Lawrence in Arabia. Thomas’ multi-media lecture on Lawrence, which played before huge audiences in London then around the world, is what bestowed upon Lawrence his outsized fame. Then Thomas published the first of the books on Lawrence – another grand success for its author and another bath in the limelight for its subject.
T. E. Lawrence was conflicted, troubled, brilliant. His Boswell, Lowell Thomas, was also very clever but otherwise Lawrence’s opposite. Their relationship, consequently, was complex, difficult, fascinating. The full force of Thomas’s remarkable talent as a journalist and storyteller was first unleashed upon Lawrence. And the subject of that reporting, who very strongly did and did not want the attention, both exploited and despised the resultant notoriety.

But Lowell Thomas had a surfeit of additional claims to fame – unrecognized on page 99.

He was, to begin with, one of the great travelers of his time – a time when large parts of the world were still inhospitable to travelers. Thomas penetrated not only Arabia but Alaska, the Yukon, Afghanistan, New Guinea, Antarctica and – by mule caravan in 1949, right before the Chinese Communist invasion – Tibet.

And Lowell Thomas told the news – through his radio newscasts and his newsreels – to as large a percentage of the American people as anyone ever has. Thomas fathered broadcast journalism. Indeed, the style Thomas helped introduce – authoritative, nonpartisan – became what we call today “traditional journalism.”

T. E. Lawrence had a short, difficult life. Lowell Thomas had a long, expansive, significant life. This storyteller’s story was great fun to recount – in 284 pages.
Visit Mitchell Stephens's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Voice of America.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Gregg A. Brazinsky's "Winning the Third World"

Gregg A. Brazinsky is Associate Professor of History and International Affairs at The George Washington University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Winning the Third World: Sino-American Rivalry during the Cold War, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Winning the Third World prominently features a photo of Premier Zhou Enlai addressing the Bandung Conference in April 1955. Assembling delegations from twenty-nine Afro-Asian countries, Bandung represented a historic moment of unity for the disparate voices that proliferated in the Global South during the era of decolonization. For the People’s Republic of China (PRC), this conference represented a critical opportunity to fight the diplomatic isolation that the United States sought to impose on it and enlarge its range of contacts with other Afro-Asian nations.

In the photo, Zhou faces the room with a determined and confident look. The urbane and charismatic statesman was the ideal person to represent Beijing on the international stage. Poised and unflappable, he projected a moderate image of “New China” even at times when economic and political turmoil was sweeping the country. The premier had already gained the admiration of other world leaders through his measured and skillful performance at the Geneva Conference a year earlier. There he had played a critical role in brokering a compromise between France and the Viet Minh over the future of Viet Nam. At Bandung, Zhou strove to persuade the rest of the Afro-Asian world that China was trustworthy and committed to peaceful coexistence with its neighbors.

The photo quite literally shows Zhou Enlai in the spotlight, an apt symbol for what the PRC was trying to accomplish more broadly in its foreign relations at the time. The central argument of the book is that what China really wanted to gain through its activism in Afro-Asian countries was status. During the 1950s it used conferences such as Geneva and Bandung to raise its international profile and pave the way for normal relations with newly independent countries. I argue in the book that, for a time, China was highly successful with this strategy despite America’s constant efforts to undermine it. Eventually, however, Beijing would undermine its own policies through clashing with India over Tibet and pressuring neutral countries to side with it in the Sino-Soviet split.

Page 99 is ultimately a reminder that contemporary Chinese efforts to gain influence in Asia and Africa through initiatives such as One Belt One Road date back further than the corporate media recognizes. We need to look at the Cold War to understand world politics today.
Learn more about Winning the Third World at The University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue