Friday, October 21, 2011

Fall 2011 Booknotes

Al Weiwei’s Blog: Writings, Interviews, and Digital Rants, 2006-2009 (MIT, 2011). “Blogging produces reality rather than simply representing it. Ai Weiwei is among our very best guides to this new terrain: one of the greatest living international artists and a fighter for more freedom. Ai Weiwei’s daily blog entries, gathered here, will make the reader see the world in a different and startlingly original light.” —Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Serpentine Gallery, London

Bookwork: Medium to Object to Concept Art, by Garrett Stewart (University of Chicago Press, 2011). “Bookwork takes our passion for books to its logical extreme - by studying artists who employ found or simulated books as a sculptural medium and investigating the conceptual labor behind this proliferating international art practice. Garrett Stewart looks at hundreds of book-like objects, alone or as part of gallery installations, in this original account of works that force attention upon a book's material identity and cultural resonance. Less an inquiry into the artist's book than an exploration of the book's contemporary objecthood, Stewart's stimulating blend of visual theory and bibliophilia traces the lineage of these aggressive artifacts from the 1919 Unhappy Readymade of Marcel Duchamp down to the current crisis of paper-based media in the digital era. Ranging from appropriated to fabricated book forms, from hacksawed discards to the giant lead folios of Anselm Kiefer, the unreadable books illustrated and discussed in Bookwork offer timely lessons in the history of reading, writing, and art making.” –Publisher’s description

Communicating and Organizing in Context, by Beth Bonniwell Haslett (Routledge, 2011). Integrates Giddens’ structuration theory with Goffman’s interaction order and develops a new theoretical base—the theory of structurational interaction—for the analysis of communicating and organizing. Both theorists emphasize tacit knowledge, social routines, context, social practices, materiality, frames, agency, and view communication as constitutive of social life and of organizing. Thus their integration in structurational interaction provides a coherent, communication-centric approach to analyzing communicating, organizing and their interrelationships.” –Publisher’s description

Dangerous Curves: Action Heroines, Gender, Fetishism, and Popular Culture, by Jeffrey A. Brown (University of Press of Mississippi, 2011). Explores how action figures are depicted in movies, comic books, television, video games, and literature.

Digital Jesus: The Making of a New Christian Fundamentalist Community on the Internet, by Robert Glenn Howard (New York University, 2011) “One of the best current scholarly contributions to be found on the complex, creative, inventive, evocative world of Internet religion. Howard offers new and exciting insights on the power of non-institutional Christian Fundamentalism.…Mandatory reading for any scholar working to understand contemporary vernacular religion, as well as the ever-changing culture of religious communication. It is equally compelling for general readers trying to perceive the direction of Christianity in post–9/11 America.”—Leonard Primiano, Cabrini College

Front Page Economics, by Gerald D. Suttles (University of Chicago, 2011). “News stories are called ‘stories’ for a reason: they have plots and characters, scenes and metaphors—just like works of fiction… a splendid evocation of the stories that journalists have told during economic crises. In a painstaking comparative analysis of economic news in the crashes of 1929 and 1987, Suttles reveals how popular economic storytelling was transformed in twentieth-century America.”—David Paul Nord, Indiana University

Hedda Hopper's Hollywood: Celebrity Gossip and American Conservatism (New York University, 2011) “A major contribution to our understanding the political importance of gossip. During the 20th century, few gossip columnists had more influence in shaping the ways in which millions of Americans thought about film and politics than this sharp-tongued conservative loyalist. Jennifer Frost reveals the role Hopper played in furthering the power of the Hollywood Right and undercutting that of the emerging Hollywood Left. She offers us an important glimpse into the the power of gossip to influence popular thinking about race, class, gender, and politics in America.” --Steven J. Ross, author of Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics

Helvetica and the New York Subway System, by Paul Shaw (MIT, 2010). There is a common belief, reinforced by Gary Hustwit's documentary film Helvetica, that Helvetica is the signage typeface of the New York City subway system. But it is not true - or rather, it is only somewhat true. Helvetica is the official typeface of the MTA today, but it was not the typeface specified by Unimark International when they created the signage system at the end of the 1960s. Why was Helvetica not chosen originally? what was chosen in its place? why is Helvetica now used? when did the changeover occur? Paul Shaw answers these questions and then goes beyond them to look at how the subway's signage system has evolved over the past forty years. The resulting story is more than a tale of a typeface. It is a look at the forces that have molded a signage system.” –Publisher’sdescription

The Hollywood Sign: Fantasy and Reality of an American Icon, by Leo Braudy (Yale, 2011). Bruady “uses the sign's history to offer an intriguing look at the rise of the movie business from its earliest, silent days through the development of the studio system that helped define modern Hollywood. Mixing social history, urban studies, literature, and film, along with forays into such topics as the lure of Hollywood for utopian communities and the development of domestic architecture in Los Angeles, The Hollywood Sign is a fascinating account of how a temporary structure has become a permanent icon of American culture.” Publisher’s description

How to Do Things with Videogames, by Ian Bogost (University of Minnesota Press, 2011). "Gamers often beg for a critic with the persuasive power and range of a Lester Bangs or a Pauline Kael. With this book, Ian Bogost demonstrates his capacity to take up their mantle and explain to a larger public why games matter in modern culture. The book’s goals are simple, straight forward, and utterly, desperately needed. How to Do Things with Videogames may do for games what Understanding Comics did for comics—at once consolidate existing theoretical gains while also expanding dramatically the range of people who felt able to meaningfully engage in those discussions." —Henry Jenkins, University of Southern California

Idolized: Music, Media and Identity in American Idol, by Katherine Meizel (Indiana, 2011). “Through interviews with audience members and participants, and careful analyses of television broadcasts, commercial recordings, and print and online media, Meizel demonstrates that commercial music and the music industry are not simply forces to be criticized or resisted, but critical sites for redefining American culture.” --Publisher’s description

Imprisoned in a Luminous Glare: Photography and the African American Freedom Struggle by Leigh Raiford (University of North Carolina Press, 2011). Analyzes the uses of photography in the anti-lynching, civil-rights, and black-power movements.

The Internet of Elsewhere: The Emergent Effects of a Wired World, by Cyrus Farivar (Rutgers, 2011). “Through the lens of culture, [this book] looks at the role of the Internet as a catalyst in transforming communications, politics, and economics. Cyrus Farivar explores the Internet's history and effects in four distinct and, to some, surprising societies--Iran, Estonia, South Korea, and Senegal. He profiles Web pioneers in these countries and, at the same time, surveys the environments in which they each work. ‘After all,’ contends Farivar, ‘despite California's great success in creating the Internet and spawning companies like Apple and Google, in some areas the United States is still years behind other nations.’ Surprised? You won't be for long as Farivar proves there are reasons that: Skype was invented in Estonia--the same country that developed a digital ID system and e-voting; Iran was the first country in the world to arrest a blogger, in 2003; South Korea is the most wired country on the planet, with faster and less expensive broadband than anywhere in the United States; Senegal may be one of sub-Saharan Africa's best chances for greater Internet access. .” –Publisher’s description

Monsters of the Gevaudan: The Making of a Beast, by Jay M. Smith (Harvard, 2011) “Aberrations--the collective kind composed of panic and delusions--cannot simply happen in a causeless void, but as happenings they are a challenge to historians. Jay M. Smith has taken up the challenge in a book about the beast of the Gévaudan, a wolf-like monster that haunted imaginations everywhere in Europe and spread apocalyptic fear throughout the population of the Gévaudan, a remote, mountainous region in southern France in 1764 and 1765...Smith demonstrates that the noblemen and educated clerics of the region outdid the peasants in their fanciful accounts of the killings. Crudely illustrated broadsheets featuring horrific scenes of the monster mauling helpless maids hardly serve as evidence of a culture peculiar to the common people. They circulated among all social classes...What to make of it all--a passing episode or a revealing segment of sociocultural history? Jay Smith makes a convincing case for the latter. By carefully examining every aspect of the events, he demonstrates how disparate elements came together to create a spectacular case of collective false consciousness. The beast, he shows, was something people were drawn to think about, and the trains of thought led through a rich and varied mental landscape. In the end, the crucial factor may have been the media--word of mouth at first, then letters, newspaper articles, and a flood of engravings and broadsheets...” --Robert Darnton (New York Review of Books )

Moscow Prime Time: How the Soviet Union Built the Media Empire That Lost the Cultural Cold War, by Kristin Roth-Ey (Cornell, 2011). “A smart, ambitious, original, and engagingly written contribution to our understanding of late socialism in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The reader learns about changes and continuities between Stalinism and post-Stalinism, stodgy bureaucratic responses to technological change, Soviet mass culture, and the increasing privatization of previously public and collective forms of Soviet life. This is a 3-D history of Soviet media, with attention to the political, cultural, and social factors at play in the development and expansion of film, radio, and television.” --Anne E. Gorsuch, University of British Columbia

Murder, the Media, and the Politics of Public Feelings: Remembering Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr., by Jennifer Petersen (University of Illinois, 2011). Role of the media in shaping the collective emotional response toward two famous crimes taking into account the role of affect in the political and legal public sphere.

Muslims and New Media in West Africa: Pathways to God, by Dorothea E. Schulz (University of Illinois, 2011). How new media have helped to create religious communities that are far more publicly engaged than they were in the past.

No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy, by Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites (University of Chicago Press, 2011). “This authoritative, thought-provoking book analyzes the genesis and reception of key American images from Dorothea Lange's 'Migrant Mother' to pictures of the Challenger disaster and 9/11. Drawing extensively on the recent scholarly literature, it demonstrates the pivotal position of the still photograph in modern visual culture. It will be essential reading for students of 20th-century photojournalism, propaganda and mass media. Highly recommended.”—Robin Lenman, general editor, The Oxford Companion to the Photograph

Places of the Imagination: Media, Tourism, Culture, by Stijn Reijnders (Ashgate, 2011). “I had no idea the media (fictional literature, television, film) inspired so much tourism; now I have been introduced to some wonderful illustrations. Informed by a strong theoretical framework, employing the concept of lieux d”imagination, Reijnders nevertheless recognizes the physical reality of places.” –Karen O”Reilly, Loughborough, UK

The Secret War between Downloading and Uploading: Tales of the Computer as Culture Machine, by Peter Lunenfeld (MIT, 2011). “'Cultural diabetes,' 'plutopian meliorism,' and 'Teflon objects' are only a few of the extraordinarily vivid concepts Peter Lunenfeld points out in this journey of the key cultural and technological events—from the atomic bomb to the ubiquity of Google—that have landed us in our brave new networked, searchable, and data-filled world.” —Judith Donath, Faculty Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University

Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of alternative media in America, by John McMillian (Oxford, 2011). "Well-informed recollection of the rebellious young journalists whose voices and views breached the high walls of Mainstream Media long before the current Internet-savvy generation rushed in to finish off to what remains of Conventional-Wisdom-based reporting." --Richard Parker, Harvard University

The Star as Icon: Celebrity in the Age of Mass Consumption, by Daniel Herwitz (Columbia University Press, 2011). "Can be compared with Stanley Cavell's Pursuits of Happiness, but is more contemporary and less optimistic. The book studies significant movies (Rear Window, The Philadelphia Story), is culturally literate, and is very good on the idea of aura and popular culture as it has evolved since Walter Benjamin. Required reading for any course in film studies." --Arthur Danto, Columbia University

Surveillance or Security? The Risks Posed by New Wiretapping Technologies, by Susan Landau (MIT, 2011). “The ability of a citizen to securely communicate with her peers lies at the heart of the rule of law. Landau demonstrates the necessity of protecting that right amidst the technological changes that can greatly alter the balance of power between citizens and governments.” —Jonathan Zittrain, Professor of Law and Professor of Computer Science, Harvard University

Techno Politics in Presidential Campaigning: New Voices, New Technologies, and New Voters edited by John Allen Hendricks and Lynda Lee Kaid (Routledge, 2011). Writings on the use of Twitter, FaceBook, texting, and other new media in the 2008 campaigns.

Town and Communication, Volume One: Communication in Towns, edited by Neven Budak, Finn-Einar Eliassen, and Katalin Szende, (University of Akron Press, 2011). Topics include “Lines of Communication in Medieval Dublin,” “Places of Power: The Spreading of Official Information and the Social Uses of Space in Fifteenth-Century Paris,” ”Ferry Services and Social Life in Early Modern Norwegian Towns,” “Harbor, Rail and Telegraph: The Post Office and Communication in Nineteenth-Century Dublin,” “The Tramway and the Urban Development of Zagreb in the Period of Modernization,” and “Migrant Development of Communication Space in Sydney."

The Tribal Imagination: Civilization and the Savage Mind, by Robin Fox (Harvard, 2011).”A landmark in evolutionary social science, an original contribution to literary history and analysis.” --Roger Sandall, writer, author of The Culture Cult

We Must Not Be Afraid to Be Free: Stories of Free Expression in America, by Ronald K. L. Collins and Sam Chaltain (Oxford University, 2011). “A well written and loving tribute to our First Amendment tradition and to the people who have given it life. The book is packed with original history and a deep understanding of the tensions internal to our commitments to freedom of speech. It is a major contribution to the First Amendment literature."--Steven H. Shiffrin, Charles Frank Reavis, Sr., Professor of Law, Cornell University

Why Stories Matter: The Political Grammar of Feminist Theory, by Clare Hemmings (Duke University Press). Analyzes Signs, Feminist Review, and other texts in a study of the stories of progress, loss, and return feminists tell about the past four decades of feminist theory.

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