Nicholas Mathew on Messiaen’s Des Canyons aux Etoiles

Dept-Photo-150x226Nicholas Mathew, Associate Professor of Music at UC Berkeley, will discuss Olivier Messiaen’s Des canyons aux etoiles (1974) with Shannon Jackson, Cyrus and Michelle Hadidi Chair in the Humanities at UC Berkeley. The event, part of the Big Ideas series featured at the newly re-opened BAMPFA, will take place at noon on February 3.

 

Mathew is the author, with Representations co-chair Mary Ann Smart, of “Elephants in the Room: The Future of Quirk Historicism,” an introduction to the recent Representations forum on Quirk Historicism (132).

 

Books of 2015: Editorial Board Round-Up

David Bates, ed. (with Nima Bassiri), Plasticity and Pathology: On the Formation of the Neural Subject, Fordham University Press and the Townsend Center for the Humanities

9780823266135_23This collection of essays brings together a diverse range of scholars to investigate how the “neural subject” of the twenty-first century came to be. Taking approaches both historical and theoretical, they probe the possibilities and limits of neuroscientific understandings of human experience. Topics include landmark studies in the history of neuroscience, the relationship between neural and technological “pathologies,” and analyses of contemporary concepts of plasticity and pathology in cognitive neuroscience. Central to the volume is a critical examination of the relationship between pathology and plasticity. Because pathology is often the occasion for neural reorganization and adaptation, it exists not in opposition to the brain’s “normal” operation but instead as something intimately connected to our ways of being and understanding.

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Dan Blanton, Epic Negation: The Dialectical Poetics of Late Modernism, Oxford University Press

Jahan Ramazani (University of Virginia): “Intricately studying allusion and intergeneric relations in late modernism, C. D. Blanton’s capacious and deeply thoughtful Epic Negation traces how extrinsic voices, historical forces, and forms snake their way into even seemingly closed poems. With its fusion of sinuous close readings and lively theoretical analysis, Blanton’s book makes a serious contribution to twentieth-century poetry studies.”

 

41rpXeBKT0L._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_Beate Fricke (English trans. of 2007 book), Fallen Idols, Risen Saints: Sainte Foy of Conques and the Revival of Monumental Sculpture in Medieval Art, Brepols Publishers

This book investigates the origins and transformations of medieval image culture and its reflections in theology, hagiography, historiography and art. It deals with a remarkable phenomenon: the fact that, after a period of 500 years of absence, the tenth century sees a revival of monumental sculpture in the Latin West. . . . Drawing on the historical investigation of specific objects and texts between the ninth and the eleventh century, the book outlines an occidental history of image culture, visuality and fiction, claiming that only images possess modes of visualizing what in the discourse of medieval theology can never be addressed and revealed.
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Beate Fricke, ed. (with  Urte Krass), The Public in the Picture: Involving the Beholder in Antique, Islamic, Byzantine, Western Medieval and Renaissance Art, University of Chicago Press

The act of including bystanders within the scene of an artwork has marked an important shift in the ways artists addressed the beholder, as well as a significant transformation of the relationship between images and their viewership. In such works, the “public” in the picture could be seen as a mediating between different times, people, and contents.

 

Steve Justice, Adam Usk’s Secret, University of Pennsylvania Press

Andrew Galloway (Cornell University): “In prose that is 15368extraordinarily alive both to its subject and to its own suspenseful disclosures, Steven Justice teaches us to read a Latin chronicle as a piece of written craft, and few have sustained that attention this far or this finely. More importantly, Justice assesses and advances major principles of narrative interpretation, concerning how narratives relate to contexts, how rhetorical traditions foster or undermine particular visions of history, and how the discipline of literary analysis maintains a delicate balance between rigorous adherence to its established tenets and wider connections to other questions and explanations—matters that must surely energize discussion among humanities scholars of all periods.”

 

Tom Laqueur, The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains, Princeton University Press

k10535The Greek philosopher Diogenes said that when he died his body should be tossed over the city walls for beasts to scavenge. Why should he or anyone else care what became of his corpse? In The Work of the Dead, acclaimed cultural historian Thomas Laqueur examines why humanity has universally rejected Diogenes’s argument. No culture has been indifferent to mortal remains. Even in our supposedly disenchanted scientific age, the dead body still matters—for individuals, communities, and nations. A remarkably ambitious history, The Work of the Dead offers a compelling and richly detailed account of how and why the living have cared for the dead, from antiquity to the twentieth century.

 

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Saba Mahmood, Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report, Princeton University Press

The plight of religious minorities in the Middle East is often attributed to the failure of secularism to take root in the region. Religious Difference in a Secular Age challenges this assessment by examining four cornerstones of secularism—political and civil equality, minority rights, religious freedom, and the legal separation of private and public domains.

 

 

9780226248509Saba Mahmood, ed. (with Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, and Peter G. Danchin), Politics of Religious Freedom, U of Chicago Press

Talal Asad (CUNY Graduate Center): “The principle of religious freedom, central to the liberal politics of the modern world, is increasingly becoming an object of critical reflection. This collection, edited by four distinguished scholars, is a welcome contribution to this important topic. I have learnt something from each of these thoughtful essays. Everyone interested in recent debates on secularism will benefit from reading them.”

David Kurnick presents “The Erotics of Large Numbers: Realism’s Demographic Passions”

williams-and-kurnickDavid Kurnick, Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University, will present a talk at UC Berkeley entitled “The Erotics of Large Numbers: Realism’s Demographic Passions.“ The event will take place on Friday, January 22nd at 3:00pm in 300 Wheeler Hall.

 

Kurnick is the author of “Numberiness,” a short essay responding to Eric Bulson’s article “Ulysses by Numbers” (Representations 127 [Summer 2014]), published on the Representations blog last year.

Representations at MLA

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The 2016 Modern Language Association convention will take place on January 7-10, in Austin, Texas. Presentations by Representations editorial board members include Michael Lucey on “Proust and Linguistic Fieldwork” and Niklaus Largier on “Auerbach’s Understanding of the Reader and the Literary Public.”

 

Lucey’s panel, “Literary Criticism Meets Linguistic Anthropology: Social Indexicality, Entextualization, Language in Use,” takes place from 8:30-9:45am on Saturday, January 9 in Room 406 of the JW Marriott Hotel. Largier will present as part of a panel on “Auerbach and His Publics,” which will take place from noon to 1:15pm that afternoon in Room 303 of the hotel.

 

In addition, the MLA is convening a panel discussion of New World Encounters, the celebrated 1993 collection of Representations essays edited by Stephen Greenblatt,a founder and frequent contributor to the journal. The panel, entitled “Reexamining New World Encounters: Where Do We Go from Here?,” will take place on Saturday, January 9, from 3:30–4:45 p.m. in Room 18A of the Austin Convention Center.

Visionary Dylan

Absolutely Modern: Dylan, Rimbaud, and Visionary Song

by Timothy Hampton

The essay begins:

In December of 1965, Bob Dylan gave a news conference in San Francisco. Following his rise to fame in the early 1960s as a writer of politically themed “folk” songs, Dylan had caused a stir several months earlier at the Newport Folk Festival by appearing on stage in a black leather jacket, accompanied by an electric blues band. Now he was beginning an extensive tour to play a new kind of music—music that he described in his press conference as neither folk, nor rock, nor folk-rock, but something called “vision music.” In this essay I want to consider what that phrase might mean.

images-2In what follows I will argue that Dylan’s famous turn to “electric music” is part of a larger stylistic shift in his approach to writing and performing—a shift that unfolds across the middle years of the 1960s. Imagery, lyric form, musical structure, and even the dynamics of performance are recalibrated through new strategies that emerge to replace the earlier interest in topical songs. This is what I will call a “visionary poetics.” It places Dylan in a tradition of visionary poetry reaching back as far as Dante. However, as I will show, Dylan’s development during this period takes shape through his dialogue with literary modernism. For mid-1960s Dylan, the visionary is the modern. My focus will be, principally, on the trio of great “electric” albums produced in the mid-’60s: Bringing It All Back Home (1964), Highway 61 Revisited (1965), and Blonde on Blonde (1966). What interests me is less the notion of “poetic inspiration” (often assumed to be part of some generational Zeitgeist) than the development of the specific literary techniques and musical innovations through which Dylan expands his songwriting range. I will trace the ways in which the expansion of his songwriting palette during this period generates a set of aesthetic and ethical problems that place pressure on the forms of popular song.

Certainly, Dylan’s expansion of his lyric range owes something to the work of the Beat Generation and, in particular, to Allen Ginsberg, who was seated prominently at the San Francisco news conference. It was no accident that the San Francisco visit included a pilgrimage to the beatnik mecca of City Lights Books, where Dylan was photographed in the alley behind the store with Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Michael McClure. This was the already aging royalty of the Beats, who had, in their own time, rejected the collective activism of the Old Left to pursue individual beatitude or “beatness.” Dylan was bringing Greenwich Village intellectualism to the epicenter of the emerging sensory-based West Coast counterculture, casting himself as the heir to an earlier visionary generation. Yet Ginsberg had been working in a visionary mode from his very first published poems. Dylan now had to make himself into a visionary; he had to develop a new poetic vocabulary and link it to the limited formal capacities of the popular song.

arthur_rimbaud_gThe touchstone for any study of visionary self-creation is neither Ginsberg, nor Ginsberg’s idol William Blake, but Arthur Rimbaud. It was Rimbaud who had given first voice to the brand of visionary modernism that Dylan would embrace. It was Rimbaud who had announced that the poet “makes himself into a visionary” (Illuminations, xxx). And it was Rimbaud who had codified, in his letters about poetry, the procedures and limitations of the visionary mode. My discussion here will set Dylan and Rimbaud in dialogue, less as a study of influence—though influence is part of the story—than one of affinity, using Rimbaud’s canonical accounts of visionary poetry as a template for tracing Dylan’s development. Continue reading …

Bob Dylan’s turn from “folk music” to “electric music” in the 1960s involves the development of a new visionary poetics. Through a consideration of his affinity with the French Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud, this essay traces Dylan’s recasting of himself as a visionary and studies the pressures placed by this process on lyric form, on poetic diction, and on the representation of the self in popular music.

TIMOTHY HAMPTON is Professor of Comparative Literature and Chair of French at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent book is Fictions of Embassy: Literature and Diplomacy in Early Modern Europe (Cornell University Press, 2009). He is currently working on a study of the history of cheerfulness.

Tom Laqueur interviewed on Fresh Air

j10535If you missed it today, you can still listen to Terry Gross’s interview of Tom Laqueur at Fresh Air at NPR.org. Gross talks with Laqueur, a member of Representations‘ editorial board since the journal’s founding in 1983, about his new book The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains (Princeton, 2015).

Thomas Laqueur is a professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley. His other books include Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud and Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation.

 

Children’s Opera as Political Education

Brecht for Children: Shaping the Ideal GDR Citizen Through Opera Education

by Anicia Timberlake

The essay begins:

In the spring of 1969, students from the fifth through seventh grades at the Käthe Kollwitz Secondary School of Greifswald took the stage to perform the new children’s opera The Nightingale, an adaptation of the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. The performance was well received: reviewer Gudrun Hillemann praised the music’s “simple melodic and memorable rhythmic Gestalt” and concluded that, overall, “theatrical performance with music is excellently suited for aesthetic education and for supporting the artistic [musisch] climate at a school.” Although the piece was not new to local music circles, Manfred Vetter, a professor at the Institute for Music Education in Greifswald, raised a stink a few days after the secondary-school performance. How was it possible that the librettist Hella Brock, a progressive socialist, a member of the Socialist Unity Party, and Vetter’s own colleague at the institute, had chosen a fairy tale in which an emperor, the head of a feudal society, was moved—and redeemed—by music? The opera portrayed the emperor far too sympathetically and conveyed the wrong idea about the progress of history. When other faculty members endorsed Vetter’s opinion, further performances of the opera were canceled. Several months later, after the summer vacation, the secretary of the local party organization announced that the decision had been revoked, and the opera could be performed again. But it was too late: the children were half a year older, their voices had begun to change, and they had already put the disappointment of the canceled performance behind them. Brock suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of the incident and in 1972 left Greifswald to become a professor at the Karl Marx University, Leipzig.

kurt-schwaen-the-horatians-and-the-curiatiansOn one level, this was simply an example in miniature of the kind of late-stage attack common in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), as well as in the Soviet Union. Performances often made it through planning and rehearsals only to be savaged after the premiere. The classic Soviet example is Dmitry Shostakovich’s immensely successful opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, which premiered in January 1934 and was denounced by Stalin two years later. Similarly, Bertolt Brecht and Paul Dessau’s opera The Trial of Lucullus was suppressed on ideological grounds in the GDR in 1951 due to accusations of musical “formalism.” Where these famous cases demonstrate the arbitrary cruelty of official censorship, the silencing of The Nightingale shows how an individual, supposedly acting in the interests of the state, could transmute personal convictions about ideology and representation into official dictates on cultural policy. But even more, Vetter’s attack against a children’s opera—surely the most harmless and charming of performances—reveals the unsteady foundations of GDR citizen formation through music education. If we look a little more closely at the educational theories and practices that underpinned this incident, the idea of a coherent or unified GDR cultural and educational policy begins to unravel in disorienting and fascinating ways. In this article, I focus on children’s operas as a site of political education. The surviving documentation around the operas for children created and performed between 1950 and 1979, and policies and debates on children’s music education more generally, reveal considerable confusion about how best to mobilize German cultural heritage for a socialist purpose. These sources show educators drawing from diverse prewar pedagogical traditions to develop techniques they employed in addition to those that state policy had mandated for use in schools. As we shall see in the article’s final sections, Brechtian dramatic theory was an important element of these performances, and the study of the rehearsal process for a Brecht Lehrstück with which this article concludes shows how the theory of estrangement sometimes proved irreconcilable with older convictions about how children felt, moved, and behaved. What is more, the vicissitudes of pedagogy and rehearsal in the staging of Brecht’s The Horatians and the Curiatians make a revealing case study of what East German musicians, educators, and performers thought Brecht’s (vexed concept of) gestus actually was, and how it might function through music. Continue reading …

East German music educators developed new children’s operas on the model of Brechtian Lehrstücke to teach critical, “dialectical” thinking, a skill they considered essential for young socialists. This essay examines how the operas offered an alternative political education to the GDR’s official program of state-loyal patriotism and explores the conflicts that arose when Brecht’s theories of gestus and estrangement came into contact with the fairy tale tradition long thought to be the center of German children’s culture.

ANICIA TIMBERLAKE works on the politics of children’s music education in the German Democratic Republic. She is a C3: Creating Connections Consortium Postdoctoral Fellow at Williams College.

Representations’ Saba Mahmood on the Paris attacks

Saba Mahmood, Professor of Anthropology and member of the Representations Editorial Board, will participate in a panel on the attacks that occurred in Paris on November 13. The event, part of the “Expert Lectures” series sponsored by the Institute for International Studies, will take place on Wednesday, December 2 from 5-7 p.m. in the Booth Auditorium at the UC Berkeley School of Law.

The panel, moderated by Tyler Stovall (Distinguished Professor of History and Dean of Humanities at UC Santa Cruz), will also include Hatem Bazian (Ethnic Studies, UC Berkeley), Judith Butler (Comparative Literature, UC Berkeley), Bartolomeo Conti (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales), Jean-Pierre Filiu (Sciences Po, Paris), Christopher Kutz (UC Berkeley School of Law), and Soraya Tlatli (French Department, UC Berkeley).

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Breaking News! Yurchak Wins Russia’s Prosvetitel Prize

Congratulations to Representations editorial board member Alexei Yurchak, whose Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation («Это было навсегда, пока не кончилось») has been awarded Russia’s prestigious 2015 Prosvetitel Prize. The English version of the book was published in 2006 and shortly thereafter won the Wayne Vucinic Book Award for best book of the year from the American Society for Eastern European, Eurasian, and Slavic Studies. The expanded version, rewritten by Yurchak in Russian and published last year, was one of four books nominated for the Prosvetitel Prize in the humanities.

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Yurchak accepts the Prosvetitel Prize in Moscow.

Yurchak’s much talked about “Bodies of Lenin: The Hidden Science of Communist Sovereignty” appeared earlier this year in Representations 129.

Alexei Yurchak’s “Everything Was Forever …” Nominated for Russia’s Prosvetitel Prize

Jurchak_coverCongratulations to Representations editorial board member Alexei Yurchak, whose Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation («Это было навсегда, пока не кончилось») has been short-listed for Russia’s prestigious 2015 Prosvetitel Prize. Published in Russian last year, the book was first published in English in 2006, and shortly thereafter won the Wayne Vucinic Book Award for best book of the year from the American Society for Eastern European, Eurasian, and Slavic Studies.

Yurchak’s much talked about “Bodies of Lenin: The Hidden Science of Communist Sovereignty” appeared earlier this year in Representations 129.