Dog Days Classics: Tolkien and Martin in Love and War

tolkien and martin

By the time I gave up on finishing The Lord of the Rings, I like to think that I had outlasted a good portion of those who try. It was early on in The Return of the King, the third book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy series, when the cumulative weight of the sheer number of pages, the chapters full of elf poetry, and the walking—God, the endless walking—finally beat me down. My middle-school-aged brain, prompted by nothing in particular, told me that I was done. This was unexpected. I had cruised through The Hobbit, a compact fairy tale that was divided into neat little easily digestible episodes. It was fast-paced, exciting and, though ostensibly a children’s book, contained hints … [Read more...]

The Thing Called Information: Understanding Alienation in the Post-Industrial Economy

Knowledge workers?

“Here, and shockingly few other places in this country, men are paid to increase knowledge, to work toward no end but that.” “That’s very generous of General Forge and Foundry Company.” “Nothing generous about it. New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become." Had I been a Bokononist then, that statement would have made me howl. - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Cat’s Cradle, 1963[1] The late Kurt Vonnegut loved to skewer the irrationality of both science and religion in his novels. In the acclaimed Cat’s Cradle, he invented Bokononism—a faith that encouraged its adherents to believe in lies or, at least, “harmless … [Read more...]

Journalists vs. Academia: The Case of William Deresiewicz and Lawrence Buell’s The Dream of the Great American Novel

Great_Books

Everybody seems to have a problem with academics these days.  We've known for a long time that the American right hates us for our intellectual elitism and armchair radicalism, but now the mainstream left-leaning media has also acquired a taste for the game.  A number of recent articles and op-eds in newspapers and magazines like The New York Times, Slate, and The Atlantic have taken humanities professors to task for everything from their "tin-eared arrogance" (Ron Rosenbaum) to their "bat-shit analysis" (Rebecca Schuman), for being "too sociological" (editors of N+1) and for not paying enough attention to contemporary society (Nicholas Kristoff).  We are condemned for our tenured loafers … [Read more...]

Much Ado about Nothing: The Times’ Non-Story about Eduardo Galeano’s Non-Apology

Eduardo Galeano

Last Friday The New York Times published an article claiming that Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano now “disavows” his seminal work, Las venas abiertas de América Latina (Open Veins of Latin America). The book, originally published in 1971, “argued that the riches that first attracted European colonizers, like gold and sugar, gave rise to a system of exploitation that led inexorably to ‘the contemporary structure of plunder’ that he held responsible for Latin America’s chronic poverty and underdevelopment.” For generations of Latin American leftists and students of Latin America Las venas abiertas has been “the canonical anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist and anti-American text.” It has been … [Read more...]

4 Poems by Osip Mandelstam

osip-mandelstam

Over the next several weeks Rutgers's James McGavran will be joining us to share his translations of major Russian poets.  Today we begin our new poetry series with the work of Osip Mandelstam. Undoubtedly one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938) was born in Warsaw but grew up in St. Petersburg. Early in his career he was a founding member of the Acmeist school of poets that also included Anna Akhmatova and Nikolai Gumilyov; Mandelstam’s first collection of poems, Stone (1913), brought him instant recognition as one of the most talented writers of the younger generation. Further collections followed in the early 1920s, as Mandelstam’s style became more and … [Read more...]

Using Science Fiction to Teach History (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Distant Future)

CLOUD ATLAS

I have been reluctant to use fiction in my courses.  This is despite the fact that my own high school and college educations introduced me to most of the fiction I know; as a recalcitrant and noncommittal reader of non-nonfiction, I still find it difficult to get through even the best literary prose.  But the diminutive and terrifying Sharia Isenhour got me to read Crime and Punishment and Cry the Beloved Country in 10th grade—this was a woman who was utterly distinguished by a mien somewhere between drill sergeant and Communist re-educator. My college courses, at a public university not much different from the one where I currently teach, demanded an ambitious diet of literature; at UNCC, … [Read more...]

Apocalypse on the Lower East Side: Zone One Zombies

zombie nurse on parade

I am sick of zombies. Once upon a time, I had a Dawn of the Dead poster hanging on my apartment wall and would watch Shaun of the Dead a half-dozen times. Zombies had their own little corner in my pop-culture collective.  Not a big one, but enough real estate in my heart that if I stumbled upon a late night film featuring a shambling, half-rotted actor in search of “braaaainnns” and clunky social commentary, I might have settled in for the duration. It’s amazing how fast we can ruin these things for ourselves. This year’s zeitgeist has decided that zombies are the new thing for 2012, and they are everywhere.  In fact, it seems all the things I used to love are “cool” now; like an … [Read more...]

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