New Books: Self-Expression in the workplace, Africa, and the Weimar Republic

Identity Economics: How Our Identities Shape Our Work, Wages, and Well-Being by George A. Akerlof and Rachel E. Kranton (2010).

Identity Economics suggests that people’s identity--who they choose to be and who they’re perceived to be--is the most important factor affecting their economic lives. This book is co-authored by George A. Akerlof, economics professor at Berkeley and 2001 Nobel Laureate in Economics, and Rachel E. Kranton, economics professor at Duke.

Choice review:

The evolution of economics as a science has taken many paths. The more traditional approach is to assume that when individual optimizing behavior is incompatible with the common good, it is because the assumptions of the perfectly competitive model are violated. Imperfect information, uncertainty, externalities, and collusion lead to market failure. Much less attention has been given to how social factors (the common good) motivate individual economic behavior. Akerlof (Univ. of California, Berkeley; Nobel laureate, economics) and Kranton (Duke Univ.) are eminently qualified to take this approach, given their many scholarly publications. They present this material in a very readable and entertaining way. Their findings are that economic behavior is governed by one's social category, by the norms of that social assignment, and by how one views one's identity in that social context. What might appear as irrational may be quite reasonable, given one's perception of where one is in a group. The authors are not advocating that the traditional economic approach be jettisoned but rather expanded to allow for self-identity. The fruitfulness of this is seen in real-world examples in organizational behavior, educational attainment, gender and work, discrimination, and poverty. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers, upper-division and graduate students, researchers, professionals. -- J. F. O'Connell, emeritus, College of Holy Cross

Ousmane Sembène: The Making of a Militant Artist by Samba Gadjigo (2010).

This book looks closely at the life, personality, and beliefs of Africa’s controversial “father of cinema” in the context of colonial and post-colonial African culture. The author is a french professor at Mount Holyoke College who specializes in French-speaking Africa and African cinema.

Choice review:

This is the first biography of one of the most important African writers and filmmakers, a man who remains, as Gadjigo (Mount Holyoke College) puts it, "an unknown celebrity." The author intends to rectify this situation by retracing Sembène's trajectory from 1923 to 1956, the formative years in which Sembène (1923-2007) became a militant artist. By Gadjigo's own account, this is a careful "reconstruction" of the artist's life: because of the scarcity of written information about Sembène, the author has relied on first-hand oral testimonies. He provides numerous insights into Sembène's personal development by recalling little-known episodes of his life--episodes that reveal Sembene's major concerns as he expressed them in his work. In placing Sembène's experiences in their larger context, Gadjigo also re-creates a time period: for example, the reader gets a glimpse of what life was like for African dockworkers in post-WW II Marseille. This book is lively and the many quotes and personal testimonies make for an enjoyable read. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. -- S. Vanbaelen, Butler University

Women in Weimar Fashion: Discourses and Displays in German Culture, 1918-1933 by Mila Ganeva (2008).

Ganeva looks at how shifting fashion trends during the Weimar Republic allowed women to transform from objects of the male gaze to agents of self-expression. Ganeva is a German professor at Miami University, Oxford.

Choice review:

Informed by current research (in primary and secondary literature in numerous disciplines) and theoretical models, this study adds nuance to current understanding of German modernity. Arguing that fashion was an important area for women's self-expression in Weimar Germany, Ganeva (Miami Univ., Ohio) explores writings of female fashion journalists; a forgotten subgenre of Weimar film, the fashion farce (Konfektionskomödie); and the portrayal of the world of fashion in fiction. She shows that journalists combined the external attributes of the dandy with the critical eye of the flaneur to establish a unique voice of agency within German modernity. Aware that the autonomy established in the sphere of fashion in this period was a highly circumscribed one fraught with ambivalence, Ganeva also reveals the divergence between the generally glamorous representations and the lived reality by reconstructing the lives of models in Berlin. She concludes with an analysis of Irmgard Keun's novel Gilgi (Berlin: 1931), in which the protagonist turns to fashion as a sphere for creative independence. Ganeva's achievement lies in showing that these modern women saw themselves as active agents creating their own identify rather than as women subscribing to an objectifying male gaze. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. -- R. Bledsoe, Augusta State University

--Hannah Jarrett '12


Lafayette + Huger = 19th Century BFFs

Lafayette letter to Francis Huger  [recto]



Raleigh March 2d 1825

My Dear Huger

We are so far progressed on our way to you when amidst the kindness which it is our Happy for to enjoy, we anticipate a consolation to our late sorrows by mingling them with these in which we have more deeply participated. Mrs Hayne Hamilton and [?] Have [?] me to inform you of our line of route. Pulled as I have been between the anniversary of Washington’s birth day and that of Bunker Hill, which I am the more bound to attend as the compliment paid to me is in my person confered [sic] upon the Revolutionary army, I Had no other way to visit the southern and western states, but to make it a very rapid tour. Contingencies may be anticipated, and actual calculations show that unless I gain a few days it will become impossible to comply with the initiative of the assembly and executive of the state of New York to when along the Canal to albany [sic] and through Vermont to Boston , a part of country. Which the obligation to embark for France somewhat sooner than we had intended would otherwise render it very difficult to visit. Under these circumstances I write to the intendant [sic] of Camden that we expect to be there on the 9h instead of the 8h and will be ready to attend [?] arrangement on the 8’ observing However that if they had been fixed for the 9th so as to make the alternative inconvenient to the citizens of Camden or the persons who are to be present, I shall conform to his wishes. The same observations I will make to you, my dear friend; it has been calculated we should be at Charleston the 13’ and Savannah the 18h. But if by a better calculations of the route, or acceleration of the mark you may forward as so as to make it possible to take our tour from pitsburg [sic] to albany [sic], it will enable me to perform a very pleasant and almost indispensable piece of duty which, if remaining

Lafayette letter to Francis Huger  [verso]


to be done would leave me with a remorse or greatly retard our reunion with the two united family which the loss of dear Mde de Tracy more justly desolated. Remember me to my old friends Pinckneys if you are with them. Most affectionately

your friend Lafayette

My companions beg to be remembered to you.

Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette was born on September 6, 1757 in Chavaniac, France to an extremely wealthy family. He was a general in the American Revolution by age 19 and went on to be a leader of the National Guard during the French Revolution.

Lafayette’s parents and close relatives all died by the time he was 12 years old, leaving him with a large estate and inheritance. He married Adrienne in 1774, as his parents had arranged.1 Lafayette left to fight in the American Revolution on April 20, 1777. He departed from Spain disguised as a courier because the British ambassador wouldn’t allow him to join the Americans.2 Lafayette arrived in Georgetown, South Carolina on July 13, 1777. He met and stayed with the Benjamin Huger family for two weeks before travelling to Philadelphia to join the Continental Army. He was placed under the command of General George Washington, with whom he developed a close relationship throughout the war.3 After leading a successful retreat at the Battle of Brandywine despite being shot in the leg, Lafayette was promoted to General.4 Lafayette went on to defeat the British commander General Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781.

After the Revolutionary war in America, Lafayette went back to France and helped spark the French Revolution. On June 27, 1789, Lafayette joined the National Assembly, and, on July 11, he presented the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.”5 He was elected vice-president of the Assembly and later declared the commander-in-chief of the French National Guard. Lafayette fell out of favor in 1792 when the Assembly, which was made up of radical Jacobins, declared him a traitor because he supported constitutional monarchy.6 He fled France, intending to retire in America, but he never made it. He was captured by the Austrians and Prussians who were trying to end the revolution in France.

Lafayette was imprisoned from 1792 to 1797 for his involvement in the French Revolution. He spent time in the Prussian prison Silesia and the Austrian prison Olmutz. At this point, the Huger family played a crucial role once again. Benjamin Huger’s son, Francis, became involved in a scheme to break Lafayette out of prison. Huger and his partner Justus Erich Bollman would have succeeded if not for some miscommunication. All three were captured and returned to prison. Despite the failed attempt, Lafayette never forgot the loyalty and courage Huger displayed. Though Lafayette thought he would never see America again, he often thought of America while in Olmutz and was happy that America, at least, was successful in its quest for liberty.7

Then, in 1824, Lafayette was invited to visit America again. President James Monroe personally sent him an invitation on February 7, 1824. He wrote, “...as soon as possible, I may give the orders for a vessel of the State to pick you up at the port which you indicate and bring you to this adopted country of your youth, which has always retained the memory of your important services.”8 Lafayette’s main purpose with the “Farewell Tour” was to revive the Liberals’ political prospects in France by publicizing the lessons that America had learned about republicanism. Lafayette wished to show Europeans how a successful republic operated. Auguste Levasseur, Lafayette’s private secretary during the time of his tour in America, was in charge of sending dispatches to liberal writers in France who published the writings in newspapers and journals.9

Baltimore - Mount Vernon: Lafayette  Monument

The “Farewell Tour” lasted fourteen months, in which time Lafayette visited all twenty-four states. He left for America on July 12, 1824 on an American merchant ship called The Cadmus. He arrived in New York on August 16. In each town/city he visited, a crowd of people waited to greet him. There was a lot of pomp and circumstance upon his arrival: festivities, banquets, banners, etc. Lafayette would give a speech and visit old friends in each place before moving to the next. Among the many cities Lafayette visited, in his above letter he specifically mentions Albany, Boston, Pittsburgh, Charleston, Savannah, and Camden.

In Charleston, South Carolina, Lafayette met up with his old and dear friend Colonel Francis Huger as he promised in his letter. Levasseur writes about welcome that both Huger and Lafayette received:

But of all these demonstrations of popular affection, what moved the General most was the touching and generous idea of the citizens of Charleston to have him share the honors of his triumph with his brave and excellent friend, Colonel Huger....When we entered Charleston, his fellow-citizens insisted that Huger take his place beside the Nation’s Guest in his triumphal carriage, where he shared with him the public’s felicitations and approbation. At the banquet, at the theatre, at the ball, everywhere in fact, Huger’s name was inscribed beside the name of Lafayette, to whom the inhabitants of Charleston did not believe they could express their gratitude better than by demonstrating equally deep gratitude to the one who had not been afraid to risk his life to set him free in the past.10

Upon his departure, Charleston’s city fathers gave Lafayette a gold-framed miniature of Huger. The miniature found a permanent home in La Grange, where it served as a constant reminder to Lafayette of his dear friend from South Carolina who risked his freedom trying to rescue him.11

*The Littlejohn Collection at Wofford College is home to three more letters written by the Marquis de Lafayette. The letters were written in 1801 and 1830.

- Hannah Jarrett ‘12 and Becky Heiser ‘11

1 Clary, David A., Adopted Son: Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship that Saved the Revolution (New York: Bantam Books, 2007), p. 7-20.
2 Buckman, Peter, Lafayette (London: Paddington Press, 1977), p. 40.
3 Clary, p. 85-117
4 Clary, p. 115-117
5 Buckman, p. 143-144.
6 Spalding, Paul S., Lafayette: Prisoner of State (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2010), p. 5-6.
7 Spalding, ch. 4-6.
8 Levasseur, Auguste, Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825, Journal of a Voyage to the United States, trans. Alan R. Hoffman ( Manchester: Lafayette Press Inc., 2006) p. 2.
9 Levasseur, xxiv.
10 Levasseur, 315-316.
11 Spalding, 234-235.


New Books: Comic Old Men, Rome, and the "Memory Boom"

Old Age, Masculinity, and Early Modern Drama: Comic Elders on the Italian and Shakespearean Stage by Anthony Ellis. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2009.

Ellis is an English professor at Western Michigan University, where he teaches Shakespeare and other Renaissance literature. He also serves as the associate editor of the journal Comparative Drama.

The book jacket reads:

This first book-length study to trace the evolution of the comic old man in Italian and English Renaissance comedy shows how English dramatists adopted and reimagined an Italian model to reflect native concerns about and attitudes toward growing old.

Anthony Ellis provides an in-depth study of the comic old man in the erudite comedy of sixteenth-century Florence; the character's parallel development in early modern Venice, including the commedia dell'arte; and, along with a consideration of Anglo-Italian intertextuality, the character's subsequent flourishing on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage. In outlining the character's development, Ellis identifies and describes the physical and behavioral characteristics of the comic old man and situates these traits within early modern society by considering prevailing medical theories, sexual myths, and intergenerational conflict over political and economic circumstances. The plays examined include Italian dramas by Bernardo Dovizi da Bibbiena, Niccolò Machiavelli, Donato Giannotti, Lorenzino de' Medici, Andrea Calmo, and Flaminio Scala, and English works by William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Thomas Dekker, along with Middleton, Rowley, and Heywood's The Old Law. Besides providing insight into stage representations of aging, this book illuminates how early modern people conceived of and responded to the experience of growing old and its social, economic, and physical challenges.

The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000 by Chris Wickham. London: Penguin Group, 2009.

Chris Wickham is a professor of Medieval history at Oxford University. He is the author and translator of several books on Medieval Europe.

Christopher Kelly’s review in The Literary Review:

[Wickham’s] central tactic is to decouple the Middle Ages from both the Roman Empire and early modern Europe. It is to be treated as a period in its own right: not as a long and tedious intermission stretching between the high summer of the classical world and its supposed rediscovery in the Renaissance. Wickham's aim is to write a history that is neither overshadowed by the break-up of the Roman Empire, nor driven by a concern to find the origins of European liberalism, democracy or the nation state.

[...] The Inheritance of Rome begins in the West with the establishment of new, post-Roman states in France, Spain, Italy, Britain and Ireland. It then turns eastwards. Here the surviving half of the Roman Empire, with its capital at Byzantium, continued to defend its hold on the eastern Mediterranean, with less success from the eighth century when it faced an aggressive and dynamic Arab state. The history of the 'Abbasid Caliphate is hardly ever included in conventional histories of Europe. It is one of the most rewarding pay-offs of this comparative project that Wickham places cultural and political developments in the Islamic world from AD 750 against the better known histories of Charlemagne in Francia (768-814) and Alfred the Great in England (871-899).

[...] The Inheritance of Rome is made up of a series of beautifully drawn miniatures presented without jaunty modern parallels and without the currently fashionable self-indulgence of trying to imagine 'what it was like to be there'. Rather, it is the differences from our own experiences that animate much of Wickham's understanding of the medieval Christian and Islamic worlds: these are sophisticated societies without liberalism, secularism or toleration, and which regarded social hierarchy, servility to superiors and the inferiority of women as normal and morally defensible.

[...] The test of the historian is to capture the foreignness of the past without resorting to ridicule, disapproval or dislike. The challenge is to engage the interest of the reader without compromising the disorienting sense of the strangely unfamiliar. This is the outstanding achievement of The Inheritance of Rome. In a supremely humane and intelligent book Chris Wickham has presented medieval Europe in all its vivid richness and variety - without for a moment ever wanting to be there.”

Remembering War: The Great War between History and Memory in the 20th Century Jay Winter. New Haven: Yale UP, 2006.

Jay Winter is a history professor at Yale University. He is a World War I specialist, who is particularly interested in how the war impacted the 20th century.

Daniel Todman’s review in Biography:

“[...] [The book] focuses on the 'memory boom'—the recent exponential growth in interest in memory within and without the academy, which Winter argues is predicated on the need to remember war and its victims. The subtitle has a threefold meaning. The ‘Great War’ is the First World War, from which many trends in ‘modern memory’ emerged; the struggle between the need to remember and the historical inevitability of forgetting; and the battle between the way the past is interpreted by historians and by those who claim possession of it through personal experience or familial connection.

The first [section of the book] discusses the creation of a persistent theme in twentieth century culture. The First World War encouraged a fusion between war and memory: it was the decisive event that turned war into ‘everybody's business.’ Yet the breadth of traumatic experience also challenged assumptions about memory and identity: hence the popularity of ‘shell-shock’ as an interpretative metaphor. The second section focuses on how memory and remembrance worked at the level of individuals and communities and across nations. Winter examines specific examples of photographs, published letters, reportage and memoir, and war memorials themselves.

[...] The third section of the book examines the representation of war and history—on film, on the television screen, and in museums. It concludes by emphasizing the way in which ‘witnessing’ has become crucial not just to how individuals remember and societies construct remembrance, but to the creation of historical authority.”

-Hannah Jarrett '12


To Infinity and Beyond: The Men Behind the Moon Landing

On this date (July 20) in 1969 Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. Their accomplishment was enormous, but it came after decades of research, experiments, failures, and hopes. The first moon landing never would have succeeded without the work of many individuals including Robert H. Goddard, Charles A. Lindbergh, Harry Guggenheim, and others. We chose to emphasize the work of these men out of all those involved in the advancement of space exploration because we have some of their letters and autographs in the Littlejohn Collection at Wofford College.

Robert Hutchings Goddard (1882-1945) was one of the fathers of the science of astronautics and a pioneer in rocketry. He obtained a degree in physics at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute and received his PhD at Clark University in 1911. By 1913, his research in rocketry was underway, and he began receiving patents in 1914. Goddard believed, even this early, that it would be possible to land a person on the moon, an opinion he stated publicly in 1915. Funding for his research came from a number of sources, including the Smithsonian Institute and Clark University; however, in the 1920s and 1930s, funding was unpredictable, limiting his research. He received public notice in 1920 due to his statements claiming that his rocket technology would help rockets reach the “upper air regions” and one day even reach the moon.1 Unlike his German counterparts Hermann Oberth and Wernher von Braun, who were doing similar research in rocketry, Goddard deliberately designed his experiments to lay the groundworkspecifically for sending rockets to the moon.2

In the 1954 letter to Goddard’s wife Esther, Charles Lindbergh references Goddard’s July 17, 1929 test, which eventually brought Lindbergh, Guggenheim, and Goddard together. [Image of item removed for copyright reasons. The item may be viewed in person at the Wofford College Library. -Ed./Archivist]

After an unsuccessful test launch of his 11-foot, 35-pound rocket on May 17, 1929, Goddard tweaked his design and was ready for another test launch on July 17. The crew stood behind a wooden shelter, and Goddard pulled the cord to launch the rocket. Goddard did not hear the noise from the motor change, and, thinking that something was jammed, he was distracted and did not see the rocket launch. Luckily, Esther was recording the event with a Kodak camera. With a loud roar (that led one woman two miles away to believe there had been a plane crash) the rocket emitted a 20-foot exhaust flame. The rocket rose 80 feet in 19 seconds before returning to earth. The rocket suffered some damage due to the crash (the parachutes malfunctioned), but overall it was a successful launch. The noise attracted residents, two ambulances, and the media from miles away. In the following days, Goddard was in the headlines of local Worcester newspapers.3 Though he had the reputation of secretive “lonewolf,” he issued the following statement to the New York Times on July 18, 1929:

“The test this afternoon was one of a long series of experiments with rockets using entirely new propellants. There was no attempt to reach the moon, or anything of such a spectacular nature. The rocket is normally noisy, possibly enough to attract considerable attention. The test was thoroughly satisfactory; nothing exploded in the air, and there was no damage except incident to landing.”4

Watch video footage of Goddard’s experiments:

The publicity that resulted from the July 17 launch won Goddard many supporters, including Harry Guggenheim (1890-1971) and Charles A. Lindbergh (1902-1974). Goddard came to their attention whenCarol Guggenheim, Harry’s wife, gave Lindbergh a newspaper article about Goddard and his experiments. Actually, Goddard had applied for a Guggenheim Fund grant before, but was rejected as a rocketry “nut.” Lindbergh visited Goddard in November 1929. Lindbergh became interested in rocketry earlier that year and adamantly promoted a research program in rocketry. Like Goddard, Lindbergh dreamed of sending a rocket to the moon. He presented his ideas about rocketry to the DuPont corporation, suggesting that they attach a rocket to a plane to give it more take-off power. DuPont rejected his ideas, saying his dreams were impossible.5

Lindbergh did not give up on rocketry, though. When he visited Goddard on his Massachusetts farm, they discussed the possibility of reaching the moon. Lindbergh arranged for Goddard to meet with DuPont, but the company remained unimpressed. Instead, Goddard got a $5,000 grant from the Carnegie Institution, and in 1930 he received a four-year grant from Guggenheim for $25,000/year. Lindbergh continued to lobby on Goddard’s behalf until as late as 1939, working to gain the support of National Geographic and the U.S. Navy.6

Although Goddard did not live to see the 1969 moon landing, Lindbergh and Guggenheim remained interested in the project, as seen in their correspondence with Mrs. Goddard. Their dreams began to be realized in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy announced to the U.S. Congress that the United States of America would be the first nation to land a man on the moon. He set a deadline for the end of the decade and encouraged all Americans to support the effort. The president recognized the work of Goddard in his speech by stating that the technology would require alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, which was Goddard’s greatest contribution to the science of rocketry. With this speech, the space race had begun.

[Image of item depicting Buzz Aldrin in space suit removed for copyright reasons. The item may be viewed in person at the Wofford College Library. -Ed./Archivist]

On July 20, 1969, 500 million people watched on television as Neil Armstrong (1930- ) and Buzz Aldrin (1930- ) became the first humans to step on the surface of the moon. Armstrong and Aldrin, and their co-astronaut Michael Collins (1930- ), represented the best of NASA’s astronauts. Both Armstrong and Aldrin had previous experience in the military and as pilots. They were disciplined and devoted to the mission of Apollo 11. When Armstrong stepped out of the lunar module, his pride in America’s accomplishment was clear in his famous words, “That’s one small step for man … one giant leap for mankind.” Aldrin followed shortly after and the two men spent two and a half hours exploring the surface of the moon, collecting samples of the dirt and rocks, and planting an American flag with a plaque that read, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. We came in peace for all mankind.”7

In this message broadcast from space, Armstrong referenced the importance of the work and dedication of Goddard and other pioneers of rocketry, as well as the support of the American people:

The responsibility for this flight lies first with history and with the giants of science who have preceded this effort. Next, with the American people, who have, through their will, indicated their desire. Next, to four administrations and their Congresses for implementing that will; and then to the agency and industry teams that built our spacecraft....To those people, tonight, we give a special thank you, and to all the other people that are listening and watching tonight, God bless you. Good night from Apollo 11.

[Image of item removed for copyright reasons. The item may be viewed in person at the Wofford College Library. -Ed./Archivist.]

When the Apollo 11 crew returned to Earth, they were given a hero’s welcome with parades, awards, and TV and radio appearances. Even today children recognize the importance of space travel, as a favorite movie character,
Buzz Lightyear, honors the name Buzz Aldrin. On a more serious note, the samples Aldrin and Armstrong collected were essential to the current scientific understanding of the moon. “The landing remains a symbol of American greatness, and images of it remain fixtures of numerous historical retrospectives. NASA, for all its accomplishments, is still best remembered as the agency that put a man on the Moon.”8

Watch NASA footage from the Apollo 11 Mission to the Moon:

On July 8, 2011, NASA launched its last shuttle into space. The shuttle, Atlantis, carried a crew of four on a 12-day mission to resupply the space station. Atlantis marks the end of the program that Goddard dreamed of and worked toward for so many years.

Watch footage of the final Atlantis launch:

- Becky Heiser ‘11 and Hannah Jarrett ‘12

1 New York Times, “Believes Rocket Can Reach the Moon: Smithsonian Institute Tells of Prof. Goddard’s Invention to Explore Upper Air. Multiple-Charge System Instruments Could Go Up 200 Miles, and Bigger Rocket Might Land on Satelite,” January 12, 1920.

2 McDougall, Walter A. ...The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age. New York: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, 1985, p. 77.

3 Clary, David A. Rocket Man: Robert H. Goddard and the Birth of the Space Age. New York: Hyperion, 2003, p. 133-135.

4 New York Times, “Meteor-Like Rocket Startles Worcester; Clark Professor’s Test of New Propellant to Explore Air Strata Brings Police to Scene,” July 18, 1929.

5 Milton, Joyce. Loss of Eden: A Biography of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993, p. 184-185.

6 Ibid.

7 "The 1969 Moon Landing: First Humans to Walk on Another World." Science and Its Times. Ed. Neil Schlager and Josh Lauer. Vol. 7. Detroit: Gale, 2009. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 29 June 2011.

8 Ibid.


New Books: Controversy in Poetry, Football, and a Historical City

Planisphere- New Poems by John Ashbery. (New York, 2009)

Ashbery is known as one of America’s leading post-modern poets. He has published over two dozen volumes of poetry and won nearly every major literary award. Simultaneously dense and funny.

The New York Times book review:

John Ashbery’s new collection, dedicated to his partner, David Kermani, draws its exotic title — “Planisphere” — from Andrew Marvell’s poem “The Definition of Love,” [...] Ashbery also juggles the infinite possibilities of genre, his mind running through many exhausted topics at once, trying for one that still has life in it[....] Some of the games “prove out” exhilaratingly for the reader, some are perhaps too private, some too abstruse, some too silly (there are a couple of Steinish collages that don’t earn their keep, one of them made from the titles of movies). But when the Ashberian associative complex works (as in the cases cited above) the mind is delighted by its unexpectedness. Conversation is nearly always the pretext, as in the poet’s shorthand summary of life in old age: “This is how my days, / my nights are spent, in a crowded vacuum / overlooking last year’s sinkhole.” Ashbery, the master of sinuous syntax (see his “Three Poems” or “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”) has performed surgery on his poems here, often bringing them into the wry epigrammatic domain of Dickinson[....] But several poems, notably ­“Planisphere” and “Pernilla,” belong to Ashbery’s ambitious longer lyric mode. I quote, for readers longing for the lyric Ashbery, the conclusion of the love poem “Alcove,” which opens this volume with a wondering joy at the return of spring and ends with a vista of love, despite its inevitable separateness, surviving the worst days of old age:

We indeed

looked out for others as though they mattered, and they,
catching the spirit, came home with us, spent the night
in an alcove from which their breathing could be heard clearly.
But it’s not over yet. Terrible incidents happen
daily. That’s how we get around obstacles.

In his rendering of American speech, slang, cliché, Ashbery has surpassed most of his contemporaries. His “small museum / of tints” has provided ambiguous prophecies, curdled recollections, menacing prospects, emergencies, landscapes and puzzles; it has no less provided memories of youth, intimacies of love, the comedy of the ephemeral, the ­transhistorical speech of painting, and the ­literary in its quoted quintessence. The poet’s last look here is a “glimpse of / the books in the carrel, sweet in their stamped bindings”; one of these days, the carrel will hold his “Collected Poems.”

Bowled Over: Big-Time College Football from the Sixties to the BCS Era by Michael Oriard. (Chapel Hill, 2009)

Why does a college football coach make more money than a college president? Bowled Over attempts to answer this question and others like it by explaining the development of university football programs and the conflicts surrounding their growth into powerhouses that dominate academics.

The Oxford Journals book review:

I begin this review by misquoting Otto von Bismarck, “College football is like sausages; it is better not to see them being made.” The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) football (and basketball) is a mass of contradiction and hypocrisy. Only the most naïve would believe otherwise.

Author Michael Oriard offers a unique perspective on big-time college football: He played football for Notre Dame University and for the Kansas City Chiefs in the National Football League in the late sixties and early seventies before becoming a professor of English at Oregon State University.

He opens his book by recognizing college football's potentially contradictory pulls of marketing and educating, a contradiction recognized by observers almost at the inception of the college game. College presidents and coaches debated whether it was better for alumni to support individual athletes or for universities to provide scholarships.

While he does not state this quite as baldly, collegiate football, similar to the professional brand, depends upon older men (and, in a few cases, women) exploiting younger men. While collegiate football players pass through the system within four or five years, the older men—coaches, athletics directors, and college presidents—remain to dictate the rules.
[...] Oriard believes that such outrageous behavior as sporting sideburns (no one, apparently, was suspended for wearing bellbottom pants) led coaches to seek greater control over their players. He believes that the one-year scholarship rule passed in 1973, whereby scholarships were renewed at coaches’ discretion, was at least partly a response to the players’ rebellion. Indeed, his thesis is found on page 5: “that this mostly forgotten reinvention of the athletic scholarship marks a crucial turning point for big-time college football. … The one-year scholarship, backed by the mindset that it represents, exposed so-called student-athletes to the mounting pressures of an increasingly commercialized sports while denying them a share in its new bounty [of television money].”
[...] Oriard's discussion of the events that occurred during his playing career is another strength of his book. Indeed, had he focused even more on autobiographical detail and explored in greater detail the milieu in which he played rather than dwell on a lengthy discussion of reform, the book would have been shorter but more powerful.

[...] Many of the readers of this review are academics, whose schools are facing severe budget cutbacks. For academics working for schools in the Bowl Championship Series (the infamous BCS), the specter of ever-growing expenditures on football programs may well remind them of Groucho Marx's prescient comment in the movieHorsefeathers. When Groucho is told that Huxley has a college and a football team, he quips, “Well we can't afford both. Tomorrow we start tearing down the college.” [...] Oriard, too, is bemused by the “arms race” in building ridiculously lavish facilities for football teams.

[...] Oriard's book should appeal to the general reader. Those researchers who have already investigated the seamy world of collegiate athletics may not find much new information in this well-written book.

Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams by Charles King. (New York, 2011)

Odessa offers the compelling and fascinating history of a key Ukrainian city in such a way that it is appealing to any reader. King focuses on the controversies sparked in the city due to violent anti-Semitism and the radical movements that grew out of the city’s population of artists, authors, great thinkers.

The New Republic book review:

[...] Charles King has written a crisp, reliable account of the town culled from a wide range of sources, most impressively from archival material on Odessa’s wartime experiences under the Romanians. It is a history clearly intended for the general reader, but the book tells a complex story. King appreciates the poignancy of an urban tale of a visually attractive melting pot that was, and not infrequently, the site of fierce inter-ethnic brutality. More Jews were slaughtered in the Odessa pogrom of 1905 than were killed anywhere else in Russia at the time. And although Odessa’s most beloved post-war celebrities—the film star Mark Bernes, and Russia’s Sinatra, Leonid Utesov—were both Jews, its municipal authorities were known in the 1950s and ’60s as among the most overtly anti-Semitic in Russia.

[...] King tracks Odessa’s history with the use of biographical snippets and quick forays into the rich body of imaginative literature. The book is something of a blend between a general history and a guided tour with often quite splendid descriptions. Here King recreates the smells, the feel of the mid-nineteenth-century city, as many hundreds of wagons filled with wheat and pulled by animals bound for Odessa’s slaughterhouses packed the streets—the streets, constructed of highly porous limestone, that filled the lungs of Odessa’s populace especially on windy days.

[...] The story ends, as King tells it, not in Odessa itself but in Brighton Beach. (Packed already in the 1970s with Odessa Jews, some estimate that three-quarters of Brighton Beach's population come from Odessa and from Black Sea towns nearby.) King acknowledges that Odessa, still beautiful (if faded) in its center, has by now lost much of what it was that made it a source of nostalgia, of tender longing for quite nearly as long as it has existed. Still, its imprint remains palpable.

-Becky Heiser '11