Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Carolyn Bronstein and Whitney Strub's "Porno Chic and the Sex Wars"

Whitney Strub, an associate professor in the history department at Rutgers University-Newark, co-directs the Queer Newark Oral History Project.

Strub applied the Page 99 test to the new collection Porno Chic and the Sex Wars: American Sexual Representation in the 1970s, which he co-edited with Carolyn Bronstein, and reported the following:
Porno Chic and the Sex Wars expands our historical memory of sexual expression in the 1970s beyond the familiar canon of Deep Throat, Hustler, and Boys in the Sand. The essays examine everything from the magazines Female Impersonator News and Viva (Bob Guccione’s ill-fated “Penthouse for women”), to the films of gay icon Peter Berlin and a hardcore adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The collected essays argue that pornography resided at the heart of mainstream American culture, playing a central role in the decade’s social debates over gender and sexuality.

Page 99 perfectly exemplifies what Carolyn and I were trying to do in this book. First, it comes from an essay by a scholar we both admire tremendously, Jennifer C. Nash, whose first book, The Black Body in Ecstasy: Reading Race, Reading Pornography, is a brilliant reinterpretation of racialized erotics in porn; indeed, part of the appeal of editing a book like this is the opportunity to reach out to people you’ve read and respected, and we were thrilled to amass something of an academic dream team here. Further, we wanted to expand the frameworks through which we think about porn historically, and Nash does that really effectively in her piece, “Desiring Desiree.” In it, she examines Desiree West, the first black female porn star, and asks both what she meant to her fans, and also what her work meant to her; one important contribution Nash makes is tracking West down and talking with her. You’d think that would be an obvious method, but it’s surprisingly absent from scholarly work on pornography (though look to The Rialto Report for phenomenal oral histories with industry participants from this era), which makes West’s voice all the more important.

So, what does Nash learn? Well, for one thing, the way historians think about porn films as discrete units doesn’t correspond to West’s own memory; for her, many of these films were one day’s labor, done forty years ago. She remembers people, but not necessarily titles.

Nash’s work pushes against flat interpretations that would subsume all sexualized representation of black women under a reductive lens of racist degradation (though as a feminist scholar, she is always attuned to both sexism and racism—both of which can operative in a text without wholly determining its meaning). On Page 99, she makes an interesting point about the interracial friendships between black and white women in heterosexual hardcore films of the 1970s, as antecedents to such macho interracial buddy action films as 48 Hrs. or Rush Hour. West’s scenes with white women often sever their camaraderie from the “insistence on interracial friendship predicated on shared phallic power” of the action movies. Yet, as she shows using an example from an untitled scene in the DVD collection Double D Soul Sister, subversion isn’t equal to liberation: while a sexual dalliance with a white man found floating naked in a pool brings together black and white bodies, generally these scenes offer possibilities for black erotic subjectivity even as their primary function is to “enable and facilitate white women’s sexual pleasure.”

It’s this kind of nuanced analysis, which is neither broadly “antiporn” nor blithely uncritical of the racial and gender hierarchies always at play in cultural representation, that we hope marks Porno Chic and the Sex Wars.
Visit Whit Strub’s blog, and read more about Porno Chic and the Sex Wars at the University of Massachusetts Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 16, 2017

Kimberley Reynolds's "Left Out"

Kimberley Reynolds is Professor of Children’s Literature at Newcastle University and a historian of children’s books. She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her 2016 book Left Out: The Forgotten Tradition of Radical Publishing for Children in Britain 1910-1949, and reported the following:
Left Out begins the work of correcting the established histories of publishing for children in the first half of the twentieth century. The consensus has for long been that this was a fallow time of cheaply produced annuals and bumper books, but Left Out points to both the many fine writers and illustrators who were producing classic works, and, more central to the study, the vigorous group of people creating or importing politically and aesthetically radical books for young people. Page 99 looks at perhaps the best-known of the imported works; the fantastically inventive picturebooks that were imported from the Soviet Union. It traces how books created by Soviet writers were brought to the UK and permanently affected British children’s publishing. Page 99 considers the case of Noel Carrington (brother of the artist, Dora Carrington), who in 1943, while Director of the publishing firm Transatlantic Arts, published some of the picturebooks created by Samuil Marshak and Vladimir Lebedev for Soviet children. Shortly after doing so Carrington began to work with Allen Lane, and launched the influential series of Puffin Picture Books. The series clearly owes much to the Soviet children’s books.

One of Left Out’s key concerns is with how British interest in what was happening in Soviet Russia carried over into radical publishing for children. Page 99 encapsulates this concern by discussing the work of Samuil Marshak. It explains that,
His interest in children’s literature began during a visit to a British progressive school in 1913 when he was a student in London; by 1920 he and some colleagues had established the first fine arts complex for Soviet children including a library, a theatre, and some studios….
One of Marshak’s and Lebedev’s picturebooks published by Noel Carrington (and retranslated and published by Tate publishing in 2013) is The Ice-Cream Man. Page 99 explains that the story contains obvious traces of its Soviet origins, but also works as a fairy tale in the tradition of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes.
The Ice-Cream Man tells what happens to an ostentatiously dressed and over-fed business man who stuffs himself on ice cream. Watched by a group of children who have each eaten only one ice cream, he gulps down all the wares of one seller after another. As each one runs out of ice cream he runs to tell his friends about the insatiable customer and soon the ice cream sellers’ chant has changed from ‘Lovely ices! Lowest prices! To ‘Lovely ices! Highest prices!’ His inability to be satisfied is his undoing; the businessman is gradually transformed into a snowman whose frozen hands can no longer hold his ‘well-lined morocco pocket-book’ (n.p.). It falls to the ground, signalling a change in his audience. Uninterested in his money, they are delighted by his frozen state which makes it possible to play with snow in the summer. Clearly it is possible to read this as a critique of capitalism and an attack specifically on businessmen who make excessive profits…. However, Lebedev’s bold, geometric images help make this a cautionary tale about the price of greed of any kind.
Learn more about Left Out at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Ayelet Waldman's "A Really Good Day"

Ayelet Waldman is the author of A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life, the novels Love and Treasure, Red Hook Road, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, and Daughter's Keeper, as well as of the essay collection Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace and the Mommy-Track Mystery series.

Waldman applied the “Page 99 Test” to A Really Good Day and reported the following:
I was doubtful when I tried Ford Madox Ford’s Page 99 Test on A Really Good Day. The book is a hybrid—part journal, part history, part memoir. Each of the thirty chapters covers a day in a month-long experiment microdosing with LSD as a treatment for depression, and each is different. On some days I write about my family history of mental illness, on others I write about the history of drug prohibition. Some days are descriptions of family crises, others are funny screeds. How could any one page adequately exemplify this varied whole? And yet, as is invariably the case when I flip to page 99 of a book, there it was. A near perfect synecdoche.

Page 99 of A Really Good Day is part of a larger chapter dispelling myths about drugs. When I began this experiment, though I’d worked in drug policy reform and taught a seminar on the legal and social implications of the war on drugs at UC Berkeley’s law school, I believed, like so many, that drugs like methamphetamine, which I discuss on page 99, were uniquely deadly. I was stunned to discover that methamphetamine is virtually identical to Adderall, a drug prescribed to one of my own children to treat his ADHD.

I see A Really Good Day as part of a larger conversation about mental illness and its effect on marriage and family, and about the medications we use to treat mental illness, both legally and illegally.
Learn more about the author and her work at Ayelet Waldman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Love and Treasure.

The Page 69 Test: Love and Other Impossible Pursuits.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Brad Ricca's "Mrs. Sherlock Holmes"

Brad Ricca is the author of Mrs. Sherlock Holmes and Super Boys, winner of the Ohioana Book Award for Nonfiction and the Cleveland Arts Prize for Literature.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Mrs. Sherlock Holmes and reported the following:
“The girl died in the hospital. It had all been too much for her. As her father wept over her, she looked like an angel lit by white light.”

Just a note: this line is not a spoiler for the book, or to the central mystery of it, but it is definitely indicative of the whole. The line is actually a description of a 1913 Lois Weber film called Traffic in Souls that was about the so-called ‘white slavery epidemic’ whereby young women were kidnapped or coerced into lives of prostitution. The movie was scandalous, but also immensely popular, playing in an unprecedented twenty theaters at once in New York City alone.

From my perspective, the quote proves the Test true because though the scene is incredibly sad and emotional, it is also fictional and melodramatic. This is one of the very central questions I hope the book sparks in people. Missing girls are unfortunately a real phenomenon – but what role does the media continue to play in our encountering of the problem? Is this sort of storytelling sexist, obnoxious, or simply untrue? At the same time, the emotions evoked by the film are absolutely real (people wept in the theater), so is a fictional scene like this one actually helping to inspire change in a way? These are questions that I hope people think about.
Visit Brad Ricca's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Kevin Dann's "Expect Great Things"

Historian, naturalist, and troubadour, Kevin Dann is the author of ten books, including Bright Colors Falsely Seen: Synaesthesia and the Search for Transcendental Knowledge; Across the Great Border Fault: The Naturalist Myth in America; and Lewis Creek Lost and Found. He has taught at Rutgers University, University of Vermont, and the State University of New York. In the spring of 2009, he walked from Montreal to Manhattan to commemorate the 400th anniversaries of Hudson’s and Champlain’s voyages, and, having crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, decided to stay there.

Dann applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Expect Great Things: The Life and Search of Henry David Thoreau, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Expect Great Things opens: “Thoreau’s move to Walden Pond on the eve of his twenty-eighth birthday would be a destiny event that would ripple through the rest of his life, and down through Time into the hearts of Americans and people from all over the planet.” That statement comes in the context of my attempt to look at Thoreau’s life through the lens of 7-year rhythms – a rhythm that was just then being recognized and intensively studied by natural scientists.

Thoreau’s life was “all about rhythm.” He both practiced a yoga of rhythm in his daily extended walks and meditations, and studied the variegated rhythms of the plants and animals of Concord. He was a pioneer – and peerless – phenologist. (Phenology is the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life) If the 19th century was the century of mastering history, in the sense of the rapid refinement of the natural historical sciences from paleontology to evolutionary biology, it demanded a correlate grasp of the “beats” of Time. Thoreau’s life embodies the birth of a new awareness and appreciation of rhythmicity in both Nature and human nature.
Visit Kevin Dann's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Cassandra Falke's "The Phenomenology of Love and Reading"

Cassandra Falke is Professor of English Literature and Culture at the University of Tromsø, Norway. Her books include Literature by the Working Class: English Autobiography, 1820-1848 (2013) and, as editor, Intersections in Christianity and Critical Theory (2010). She has also published articles about English Romanticism, literary theory, and liberal arts education.

Falke applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, The Phenomenology of Love and Reading, and reported the following:
From Page 99:
Describing the adonné, the receiver of gifts that we all are, Thomas Carlson writes:
If everything is given and the given is without limit or reserve, every moment gives something utterly new—unforeseen and unforeseeable—and thus always still to be seen, and the obligation of the adonné in every moment is to decide, without ground, to receive and to see what gives itself by responding to it and so making it phenomenal.
According to this formulation, our greatest responsibility is to pay attention. The phenomenological reduction places this responsibility upon us because it is only through our attention that events (including events of reading) can be phenomenalized. The erotic reduction enforces the responsibility to pay attention even further. It is through the attentions of others that we are formed in love, so conversely it is through attending to another person in love that we help him or her come forth as a person.

The attention that the lover gives another person is not the attention that she gives an object because her beloved is not phenomenologically separable from her.
Page 99 of The Phenomenology of Love and Reading begins a chapter on attention – the self-forgetting attention we employ in an act of pursuit and the alert attention to detail called forth by stillness. Both of these forms of attention, elaborated by Heidegger and Husserl respectively, are evoked by reading and by love. The book as a whole takes seriously a proposition put forth by contemporary phenomenologist Jean-Luc Marion that he calls “the erotic reduction.” According to Marion, we are all lovers even more fundamentally than we are thinkers or even independent beings. Love includes romance, but also the unique love we have for each friend, each child, each parent, each unknown but briefly beloved face of a person we help or wholeheartedly admire. If Marion is right, I ask, then what does that imply for readers of literature? Can reading literature be an act that contributes to our becoming through love, and if so, how? The chapter on attention is part of my answer to that question. Because reading literature demands strong, self-forgetting attention, it changes the kind of attention that we then give to other people and to all the unforeseeable gifts Carlson mentions. Reading literature strengthens us in several of love´s habits, and the habit of attention is one of these.

The book is a sincere attempt to think about why reading literature matters, and page 99 manifests the earnestness of the book as a whole. Being earnest in public is always a risk, but the book had to be written that way. Otherwise it would not enact the openness to being changed that a commitment to love demands we cultivate. Works of literature, like other people, can shock and change us or they can work on us through a slow unfolding, but only if we are open to becoming what the voice of the other evokes in us. As the last sentence quoted above suggests, the attention we pay during an act of reading is not the same as the attention we pay to another embodied person because the love we are already in makes us responsible for other people in a way that we are never responsible or other things or events. Nevertheless, the ability of a work of literature to expand us in ways we cannot foresee or control makes it valuable to us as lovers. It is a gift we should welcome.
Read an excerpt from The Phenomenology of Love and Reading, and learn more about the book at the Bloomsbury website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 6, 2017

Andrew Stuhl's "Unfreezing the Arctic"

Andrew Stuhl is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Humanities at Bucknell University. He teaches environmental history, history of ecology, environmental humanities, and Arctic studies.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Unfreezing the Arctic: Science, Colonialism, and the Transformation of Inuit Lands, and reported the following:
Flipping to page 99 of my book, I find myself in the middle of an exploration of permafrost, a term coined by engineers and geologists in the 1940s to describe the phenomena they found under the surface of the tundra in Arctic locations: that is, ground that appeared to be frozen for most of the year. After World War II, the US Navy established the United States' first laboratory in the Arctic in Alaska, where the principal object of study was permafrost; Canada followed suit with a similar research center in the 1950s. In my research, I analyze these scientific developments in light of the political and economic context surrounding it, following the simple, but penetrating question "Why did scientists and governments suddenly become so interested in Arctic subsurface environments in the mid 1900s?" I write, "Through [research on soil moisture] permafrost scientists could help better locate power plants, barracks, hangars, and even hospitals..."

It may seem outlandish from today's perspective, but such sentiments galvanized circles of bureaucrats, oil company executives, and scientists in the 1940s and 1950s in both the US and Canada. The dream was to use new information on the subsurface environment to figure out how to build this infrastructure, take advantage of rich hydrocarbon resources, and finally settle the last frontier. Or perhaps this does not seem so outlandish, given that current discourses around the Arctic in North America have many of these same elements regarding politics, economic exploitation, research, and environmental conditions. Indeed, the main thrust of my project in the book is to forge connections between past and present and ask readers to ponder more carefully the many layers of the Arctic, as it undergoes rapid social and environmental change today.
Visit Andrew Stuhl's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Eglė Rindzevičiūtė's "The Power of Systems"

Eglė Rindzevičiūtė is a Lecturer in Sociology at Kingston University London, UK. She is a Visiting Research Fellow at the School of Public Administration, Gothenburg University, Sweden, author of Constructing Soviet Cultural Policy: Cybernetics and Governance in Lithuania after World War II (2008) and co-editor of The Struggle for the Long Term in Transnational Science and Politics: Forging the Future (2015).

Rindzeviciute applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Power of Systems: How Policy Sciences Opened Up the Cold War World, and reported the following:
In The Power of Systems, I introduce readers to one of the best-kept secrets of the Cold War: the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis, an international think tank established by the U.S. and Soviet governments to advance scientific collaboration. From 1972 until the late 1980s IIASA in Austria was one of the very few permanent platforms where policy scientists from both sides of the Cold War divide could work together to articulate and solve world problems. This think tank was a rare zone of freedom, communication, and negotiation, where leading Soviet scientists could try out their innovative ideas, benefit from access to Western literature, and develop social networks, thus paving the way for some of the key science and policy breakthroughs of the twentieth century.

From page 99:
Yet informality does not automatically result from merely disregarding formal rules or bureaucratic regulations. Informality is always a context- bound condition that revolves around an organization’s specific rules and draws on the organization’s knowledge. This became evident in the mediation of the differences between Eastern and Western organizational cultures: a particular version of informality had to be developed that would enable IIASA to serve as a bridge between East and West. Whereas Raiffa’s in-depth knowledge of social relations and individual cultural habits was instrumental in bringing top US scholars to IIASA, neither he nor anyone else at that time had any detailed knowledge, or even intuition, about many of incoming Soviet scholars. Could an internal mechanism of evaluation be enforced to sort out productive scientists from less productive ones? This was not considered to be a solution. Retrospectively, Raiffa explained his staffing strategy, saying that the formal evaluation of scholarly output was irrelevant, because scholars were primarily self- motivated and competing against other scholars:
There is little to gain and a lot, possibly, to lose in morale if we attempt to control the output of our scientists. Our most effective means of controlling the quantity, quality and suitability of our output is to select wisely the people who are supposed to produce this output.
But was not this approach severely limited, given that the control over the inflow of Soviet scientists was so limited? Whereas Western scholars could be approached individually, contacts with Soviet scholars were funneled through the GKNT and the Academy of Sciences. All official invitations to Soviet scientists had to trickle down through the complex bureaucratic system, a slow and painstaking process during which the lists of invitees were modified to accommodate competing interests within the Soviet research institutes and the GKNT.
Page 99 contains actually quite an important part of my argument on the role of informality in building diplomatic and scientific bridges between East and West during the Cold War.
Visit Eglė Rindzevičiūtė's website, and learn more about The Power of Systems at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

"23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long-Term Solitary Confinement"

Keramet Reiter, an assistant professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society and at the School of Law at the University of California, Irvine, has been an associate at Human Rights Watch and testified about the impacts of solitary confinement before state and federal legislators. She lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Reiter applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, 23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long-Term Solitary Confinement, and reported the following:
I put off writing about page 99 of 23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long-Term Solitary Confinement out of fear that what would actually appear on that page would be hard to explain out of context (or worse yet, contain a glaring typo that I would catch for the first time with fresh eyes). Instead, I opened to page 99 and found one of my favorite quotes from my research into the history and uses of long-term solitary confinement in the United States.

A central narrative thread of 23/7 is the power prison administrators have had and continue to have over every aspect of incarceration in the United States: what prisons look like, where prisoners spend their time while incarcerated, and especially who goes to isolation and for how long. Page 99 has the quote, drawn from dozens of interviews I conducted formally and informally, which best sums up this argument.

In an effort to understand who had made prison building decisions in California in the 1980s, when the state built one of the first modern supermax prisons, with 1,056 beds designed for indefinite solitary confinement, I interviewed prison officials who had worked on prison design, construction, and operational policy in those years. One of the people I interviewed was Craig Brown, who had been the head of the California prison system in the 1980s. When I asked him what role the legislature played in prison building decisions in the state in the 1980s, he said, as I quote on page 99: “You’re not going to find much in the record. It was all negotiated [off the record], and we [corrections] pretty much had our way with the legislature.”

Indeed, the only legislative mention I ever found of California’s supermax prison, later named Pelican Bay State Prison, was a transcript of a conference committee meeting in which legislators joked about whether the new prison being built in Del Norte County (on California’s northernmost border with Oregon, on the coastline) should be named Dungeness Dungeon or Slammer by the Sea. While legislature argued over what to call it, prison officials, supported by Craig Brown’s behind-closed-doors legislative negotiations, designed one of the most secure, and most expensive, prison facilities ever built in the United States.

Prisoners at Pelican Bay would spend 23 or more hours of every day, 7 days a week, in windowless cells barely the size of wheelchair accessible bathroom stalls. Prison officials decided which prisoners got sent there and for how long. Over the last three decades, hundreds of prisoners have been sent to Pelican Bay because prison officials labeled them (or “validated” them in prison policy language) as gang members: based on their tattoos, what they were reading, or who they were hanging out with on prison yards. More than five hundred of these prisoners spent at least ten years in total solitary confinement at Pelican Bay – never seeing the moon, feeling grass under their feet, or shaking a loved one’s hand.

23/7 is the story of how and why prison officials built Pelican Bay, and what prisoners have experienced behind its solid, poured concrete walls, over the last twenty-eight years.
Visit Keramet Reiter's website, and learn more about 23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long-Term Solitary Confinement at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 2, 2017

David Lightner’s “Winnie Lightner: Tomboy of the Talkies”

David Lightner is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Alberta. He became interested in Winnie Lightner because of their shared surname but is not related to her.

Lightner applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Winnie Lightner: Tomboy of the Talkies, and reported the following:
Winnie Lightner was the first great female comedian of the talking pictures. Renowned for her ability to belt out raunchy songs and for her gleeful mockery of conventional morality and gender roles, she rose to stardom in vaudeville and on Broadway and then joined the exodus to Hollywood.

Page 99 of my book is the opening page of a chapter titled “Movies That Talk and Sing,” which describes Winnie’s earliest appearances on film. In a ten-minute short subject, she sang of a sailor exhausted by accommodating women (“I’m only a gob. They need a sultan here on the job”), of a couple enjoying marital bliss (“We don’t go to the moving pictures for our thrills. Our love scenes would make the pictures look like stills”), and of training an underage boy to become a perfect partner (“Now twelve is pretty young they say, but when they’re older than that they’re too blasé”). Consequently, she became the first person in motion-picture history to be censored for spoken words as opposed to visual images.

Subsequent chapters tell how Winnie went on to star in seven Warner Bros. features. In the best of them, her domination of men made her the comic epitome of what we nowadays call a feminist. Nobody called her that at the time, however; they called her a tomboy instead. When the Great Depression caused audiences to sour on feminism, Warner Bros. tried to craft a new image for Winnie by assigning her roles in which she was submissive to a male partner. Because the new image did not go over at the box office, Winnie’s stardom came to an end. In four final films, she played secondary roles as the loudmouthed roommate of Loretta Young, Joan Crawford, or Mona Barrie. She then retired and spent the second half of her life in obscurity.

Page 99 is the best place to begin learning about Winnie’s movies, but I hope readers will be interested also in her personal life and early career. The first chapter, for example, describes here rough-and-tumble childhood in Manhattan, including the time she sneaked into an empty vaudeville theater and pretended to perform on the stage, until a janitor caught her and smacked her with a mop.
Learn more about Winnie Lightner: Tomboy of the Talkies at the University Press of Mississippi website.

--Marshal Zeringue