A cozy Midwestern town with touches of New England sailboats and lighthouse charm, the eight square miles of Dutch elms and sycamores are home to seventy-five thousand Evanstonians.
of the most accomplished citizens of Evanston was Charles Gates Dawes,
recipient of the 1925 Nobel Peace Prize and Vice President of the United States
under Calvin Coolidge from 1925–‘29. A banker, politician, and military general,
Dawes was something of a Progressive Era Renaissance man known for his mercurial
wit and for the salty language he used in Congressional hearings. He and his
family occupied a lake-facing home just south of the university. Built in the chateau
style—though in its rural form—the home was donated by Dawes to the university
with the understanding that it become the home of the Evanston History Center (EHC).
year, Northwestern University Press has enjoyed a growing partnership with the
Evanston Historical Society, centered around the publication of Charles Gates Dawes: A Life, the
definitive biography of America’s thirtieth vice president. Annette Dunlap, the
author of a biography of first lady Frances Folsom Cleveland, penned the book.
2016, the EHC has organized a series of events aimed to restore wider
recognition of Dawes’s contributions to the history of the city, nation, and
world. As part of this “Year of Dawes,” the EHC held a twilight gala titled Melody in August at the Dawes home where
North Shore history buffs feted the release of the book.
between EHC and the press that facilitated the creation of the book fostered multiple
new points of contact between the two organizations as well as fresh momentum
to find new ways to collaborate. In 2017, EHC is planning a series of events
titled “Meet the Press.” Bringing together the press, the EHC, and the public,
the events will create new opportunities for Evanston’s avid reading community
to engage with literature, reading, and ideas.
Head on over to Goodreads, the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations, and enter to win a copy of Paula Whyman’s debut short story collection that Publishers Weekly called “honest and sharply observed.”
In You May See A Stranger Miranda Weber hoards duct tape to ward off terrorists, stumbles into a drug run with a crackhead, and—frequently—endures the bad behavior of men. Miranda can be lascivious, sardonic, and maddeningly self-destructive, but, no matter what befalls her, she never loses her sharp wit or powers of observation, which illuminate both her own life and her strange, unsettling times.
Looking for a book to gift to mom on mother’s day? Here at Northwestern University Press we’ve got a number of titles that will make the perfect gift for the thinking woman in your life. Here’s a list of staff favorites and bestsellers that celebrate and explore the complexities of motherhood, parenting, and family.
The first psychosocial study of the female intelligentsia in Russia, Mothers and Daughters explains how and why women radicals of the nineteenth century diverged from their male counterparts, describes the forces that led women to rebel, and discusses their legacy to future generations. Throughout, Engel brings nineteenth-century women to life, humanizing history as she presents a case study of how the personal became political in a time and place different from our own.
Franny Starkey is a married mother of three that no longer turns heads the way she used to. Sayers creates an engaging novel that follows Franny’s path from her early, poverty-ridden days to her hedonistic college life to her longings for an artistic career while changing diapers in a Brooklyn apartment. The constant in her life is Steward Morehouse, a well-to-do nerd from Due East, South Carolina who loves Franny. When Stewart and Michael, Michael, her drug-dependent playwright husband, collaborate on a play, the lives of these three become more complicated than Franny could have imagined.
Watercolor Women / Opaque Men is a wild and raucous narrative of a single, working mother, the daughter of Chicano migrant workers, and her struggles for upward mobility. Watercolor Women / Opaque Men contains episodes that range from the Mexican Revolution to modern-day Chicago and reflects a deep pride in Chicano culture and the hardships immigrants had to endure. With a remarkable combination of tenderness, wicked humor, and biting satire, the main character, Ella-or “She”-moves toward establishing her sexual identity (she has affairs with both men and women) and finding her rightful place in the world while simultaneously raising her son to be independent and self-sufficient.
The poems in Hemisphere explore what it means to be a daughter and what it means to bear new life. Ellen Hagan investigates the world historical hemispheres of a family legacy from around the globe and moves down to the most intimate hemisphere of im¬pending motherhood. Her poems reclaim the female body from the violence, both literal and literary, done to it over the years.
In Women with a Thirst for Destruction Jenny Kaminer examines how the typically noble and self-sacrificing image of Russian motherhood is destabilized during periods of dramatic rupture in Russian society. Kaminer investigates the aftermath of three key moments in the country’s history: the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the fall of the Communist regime in 1991. She explores works both familiar and relatively unexamined: Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin’s The Golovlev Family, Fyodor Gladkov’s Cement, and Liudmila Petrushevskaia’s The Time: Night, as well as a late Soviet film (Vyacheslav Krishtofovich’s Adam’s Rib, 1990) and media coverage of the Chechen conflict. Kaminer’s book speaks broadly to the mutability of seemingly established cultural norms in the face of political and social upheaval.
In this novel, Florence Noiville draws the portrait of a grand and unforgettable lady, loving and unable to love at once. As the narrator heads home after a meeting regarding her inheritance her mother looms large in her psyche. Labeled “eccentric” or “Italian,” her mother in fact suffered from what was later found to be manic depression. Without understanding the disease, the family treated the unpredictable ups and downs of her condition as they struck. During periods of paralyzing depression she was hospitalized, and the family felt abandoned. During periods of manic productivity and overdrive, she was a dedicated pharmacist, an exemplary homemaker, and an unusually knowledgeable gardener.
In his forthcoming book Postsecular Benjamin, Brian Britt analyzes Benjamin’s engagements with religious traditions as resources for contemporary debates on secularism, conflict, and identity. Below is an excerpt from “Benjamin’s Displaced Jewish Tradition”that originally appeared as part of The Future of Benjamin, 7+2 Articles, edited by Nitzan Lebovic with Commentary by Howard Eiland and Michael Jennings.
Scholars who disagree sharply over the importance of Jewish tradition in Walter Benjamin’s work tend not to explore what Jewish tradition means for him. The publication of Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life presents an opportunity to revisit and reframe this question.1 One thing Jewish tradition could mean is observant Jewish practice, which even casual readers of Benjamin realize does not apply. Consider how the story of his abortive attempt to attend Rosh Hashanah services in Berlin Childhood Around 1900 reveals a “suspicion [Argwohn] of religious ceremonies” and also somehow contributes to his sexual awakening (SW 3:386). For Benjamin, Jewish tradition, and tradition in general, survives in modernity through what I describe as mechanisms of displacement, the numerous ways in which traditions change and survive, even in the face of modern denials of tradition.
Secularist scholars typically consider religion, even Judaism, as a belief or faith, meaning, I suppose, a doctrine or set of doctrines.2 As a scholar of religion, I have always found this idea confusing, because I do not know how to observe or understand religion as belief: it could mean a public statement of belief, like a creed, but is that by itself a meaningful indicator of a person’s identity? Or it could mean some kind of lasting mental state. But even there I get lost: how do you hold a belief about invisible, supernatural realities in your head for any length of time? It reminds me of a magician who says, “Think of a card.” I think of a card, I hold the idea, the image, and the name of that card in my consciousness. But then my mind wanders—I think of a joke, an old friend, or my next meal. Will my attention deficit spoil the trick, or my religious identity?
Jacob Taubes argues for the idea of religion as belief when he argues that when Benjamin said Messiah he meant Messiah: “[T]here is a Messiah. No shmontses like ‘the messianic,’ ‘the political,’ no neutralization, but the Messiah.”3 Of course, defining religion simply as faith misses the point of Judaism and other religions, even Christianity. If religion means anything at all, it has to involve belief and action. But even belief and action together do not encompass Jewish tradition for Benjamin, whose thinking on tradition includes the kinds of subtle, displaced phenomena included in the category of displacement. Tradition survives through displacement in spite of modern intentions, as Gershom Scholem’s well-known letter to Franz Rosenzweig on modern Hebrew shows.4
Far from passively inheriting Jewish tradition, Benjamin theorizes the inheritance of tradition. This inheritance can be framed in terms of displacement, the shifting and transformation of religious beliefs and practices he identifies in his early and late writings.5 Drawn from Freud and Benjamin, the idea of displacement means that traditions change rather than go away, but the inheritance of tradition does not conform to simple grand narratives of decline, progress, or eternal recurrence. Writing from his German Jewish vantage point, Benjamin consistently engaged the problem of tradition, pushing against these grand narratives and affirming tradition even as he immersed himself in modernist of art and culture. Benjamin’s studies of language, thought, and culture restlessly disclose modern displacements of tradition.
German Men and Women (Deutsche Menschen, 1936)
The case of German Men and Women poses a paradox: here is a collection of letters from the 18th and 19th centuries celebrating German writers and thinkers, all of them non-Jewish, but when he inscribed copies for his sister, Scholem, and Kracauer, Benjamin described the book as a Jewish ark written when the fascist flood began to rise. And he published the book under the pseudonym Detlef Holz to conceal his Jewish identity. I’ve explored this puzzle elsewhere6, but I would only say here that the case of Deutsche Menschen makes it very difficult to disentangle German from Jewish identity, something Paul Mendes-Flohr, Georg Mosse, and many others have shown; in fact, Benjamin’s book inscribes their combination, even in 1936, as a kind of quixotic hope. But this mixing of German and Jewish identity only continues the centuries-long entanglements of Judaism and Christianity theorized by Daniel Boyarin and others. This hybridity need not be schizophrenic or divided in any way; as Benjamin and the Berlin Jewish Museum show, this is a positive historical identity no more or less authentic or complete than any other. To quote a popular saying about cultural trends: “It’s a thing.”
The idea of displacement fits Benjamin’s orientation to tradition, which opposes the modern secularist narrative of progress, traditionalist visions of decline, as well as Nietzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence. For Benjamin as for more recent “postsecular” thinkers like Talal Asad,7 tradition never just goes away; even the most iconoclastic modernisms bear the afterlife and traces of the past. The inversions, paradoxes, and formal experiments of Benjamin’s thought identify the displacements of tradition in ways that open space for critical thought, and, I would argue, agency.8
Against the grand historical narratives of progress, decline, and eternal recurrence, the displacement of traditions preoccupies Benjamin from his early studies of literature to his late work on modern culture. If his work insists on critical awareness of the complexity, multiplicity, and contexts of cultural forms, it reflects the complexity of his life, which no biographical formula (tragedy, heroic tale, mourning play) or simplistic label (Marxist, aesthete, theologian, melancholic, Jew, German) can capture. It is ironic that scholarship on Benjamin so often resorts to such formulas and labels when he devoted a substantial part of his work to their critical examination. It takes a Critical Life like the biography of Eiland and Jennings, one that resists generalizations, embraces complexity, and reads the life with the work, to recognize more fully the significance of Benjamin’s thought.9
1 Walter Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014).
2 SeeBeatrice Hanssen, Critique of Violence: Between Poststructuralism and Critical Theory (New York: Routledge, 2000), 23.
3 Taubes, The Political Theology of Paul, trans. Dana Hollander (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), 70.
4 Scholem, “Thoughts About our Language (1926),” in On the Possibility of Jewish Mysticism in Our Time and Other Essays, ed. Avraham Shapira, trans. Jonathan Chipman (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1997), 27-29. Dipesh Chakrabarty makes a similar point in Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 115-137.
5 I derive the idea of tradition as displacement from Freud and Benjamin in Biblical Curses and the Displacement of Tradition (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2011), 191-212.
6 Britt, “Identity and Survival in Deutsche Menschen,” Benjamin-Studien 3 (2014): 83-104.
7 Talal Asad, Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003).
8 This is the argument of my forthcoming book, Postsecular Benjamin: Agency and Tradition (Northwestern University Press).
9 Eiland and Jennings lament how selective previous studies of Benjamin have been: “The result has all to often been a partial or, worse, mythologized and distorted portrait” (Eiland and Jennings, 7).
Postsecular Benjamin: Agency and Tradition is available for preorder here.
Ghostbusters fans have lit up social media with reactions to the new Ghostbusters movie. The film, which features an all-female lineup of phantom fighting comedians, opens this summer and the controversy over the cast’s gender has grown bigger than the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. According to Julie Koser’s new book Armed Ambiguity: Women Warriors in German Literature and Culture in the Age of Goethe a film featuring female ghost fighters opening during the most disruptive and divisive presidential campaigns in recent memory is more than a coincidence. Whether you love or hate the idea of female Ghostbusters, this isn’t the first time that depictions of female warriors have coincided with periods of political uncertainty. The destabilizing political environment produced by the French Revolution led to “reestablishment of clearly defined gender roles as a form of social control” in nineteenth-century Germany. In her new book, Julie Koser examines tropes of the woman warrior constructed by print culture and how women’s bodies became a semiotic battleground for competing social, cultural, and political agendas in one of the most critical periods of modern history.
In the wake of the French Revolution … depictions of women and violence embodied the climate of apprehension, uncertainty, and instability that held western Europe, and German-speaking territories in particular, captive at the beginning of the nineteenth century. A full contingent of women warriors of page and stage triggered persistent anxieties as well as powerful fantasies about women’s use of violence—and forms of “perceived” female transgression more generally that destabilized the status quo of entrenched structures of power. Evoking simultaneous feelings of aversion and attraction, women warriors, as the embodiment of female transgression writ large, appear at once as ghastly prospect and feminine ideal, deceitful criminal and valorous patriot, deviant villain and sacrificing heroine, bloodthirsty hyena and defender of the domestic good, paragon of love and repository of unregulated passions, aberration of nature and emancipatory fantasy.
So whether she is depicted as an Amazon queen wielding a sword or a funny lady with a proton pack the woman warrior has long been a harbinger of political anxieties. Though it does not outwardly carry any political message the new Ghostbusters movie reflects the unease of our time in the same way: by making women’s bodies the site of the struggle for power.
Armed Ambiguity: Women Warriors in German Literature and Culture in the Age of Goethe is available for preorder here.
Lovers of the written word are mourning the death of Italian writer Umberto Eco. Northwestern University Press was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to publish Eco’s This Is Not the End of the Book, A conversation between Eco and and Jean-Cladue Carriere that the Washington Post called “quick-paced and absorbing intellectual entertainment.”
Book lovers today might sometimes feel like they are watching the written word become lost to time. In This Is Not the End of the Book Eco and Carriere share a dazzling dialogue about memory and the pitfalls, blanks, omissions, and irredeemable losses of which it is made. Both men collect rare and precious books, and they joyously hold up books as hardy survivors, engaging in a critical, impassioned, and rollicking journey through book history, from papyrus scrolls to the e-book. Along the way, they touch upon science and subjectivity, dialectics and anecdotes, and they wear their immense learning lightly. You can read more about This Is Not the End of the Bookhere.
A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s–1980s focuses on Charlotte Moorman (1933–1991) a rule-bending artist, musician, and advocate for the experimental art of her time. We talk to Corinne Granof, curator of academic programs at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art and editor of A Feast of Astonishments as well as Laura Wertheim Joseph, Consulting Curatorial Associate, about the barrier-breaking musician and performance artist.
Charlotte Moorman was known for having “a proclivity for the feminine.” Her favorite holiday was Valentine’s Day, she loved donning the formal dress of classical performance, and she won the Little Rock Arkansas Miss City Beautiful pageant in 1952. However, she retained many characteristics of stereotypical femininity in her performance practices at a time when Second Wave feminism was on the rise, and artists like Judy Chicago were coalescing around the feminist art movement. How did her embrace of the feminine effect the perception of her work in the late 60s and 70s and long-term? Has “Third Wave” feminism triggered a further reevaluation of Moorman’s work?
LWJ: Self-described feminists of the 1960s and 70s held a wide range of attitudes about the value of conventionally feminine dress, behavior, and roles. Many felt that casting off attributes traditionally associated with femininity was necessary for the realization of gender equality. In embracing traditional signifiers of femininity, Charlotte Moorman was out-of-step with many of her feminist contemporaries. Her willingness to perform sexualized works, written by such composers as Nam June Paik, incited explicit criticism from second-wave feminist artists. Additionally, Moorman did not express outward interest in the feminist politics of her time or in aligning with the feminist movement. As the exhibition attests, Moorman eventually developed her own vocabulary to assert for the importance of her artistic contributions. But the fact that her work was largely criticized or ignored by her feminist contemporaries certainly played a role in Moorman’s subsequent underrepresentation within histories of the period. Third-wave feminism did advance ideas about the constructed-ness and performativity of gender that eventually made Moorman’s reevaluation possible, but it did not, at the time, trigger that reevaluation. Because the emergence of third-wave feminist thought coincided with a wider cultural backlash against feminism—inaugurated by the election of Ronald Reagan and his call for a “return to family values”— many third-wave feminist thinkers were suspicious of calls to celebrate traditional femininity.
In addition to performing, Moorman was also known for putting on art festivals in New York City. How did Moorman’s facilitation of these festivals make her a conduit for avant-garde art to a wider audience, and avant-garde artists to one another?
CG: Moorman’s festivals are one of her major contributions. The first three festivals were dedicated to avant-garde and experimental music. They took place at Judson Hall, a concert venue in midtown Manhattan, and ran over several evenings. With the fourth event in 1966, however, the festivals achieved a new level of visibility and influence and grew in proportion and ambition. Held in Central Park and taking place over eighteen hours, there was a profound new intersection between the public and the artists, musicians, and festival participants. By bringing the festival to a very public space, where a general audience encountered different kinds of art—installation, music, dance, poetry, film, performance—over the course of a day without purchasing a ticket or going to a designated performance space, Moorman created a platform for a public experience that dissolved boundaries between artists and audiences. Through the festivals, which grew to involve hundreds of artists, Moorman also formed a community. Many artists in “Charlotte’s web” participated in several festivals and would come back year after year. They anticipated the festivals and got to know one another by sharing spaces and seeing each other’s work. A common purpose of coming together for the annual events galvanized these artists, who shared many sensibilities and interests.
One Moorman performance can often involve multiple artists. In describing some of the performance pieces in A Feast of Astonishments how did you pin down ownership?
LWJ: Authorship was a concept that came under scrutiny during this time, initially via French poststructuralist thought advanced by literary theorists such as Roland Barthes. As a result, many of the artistic and performative practices of the era reflected ambivalence towards single authorship. Fluxus artists with whom Moorman collaborated, for example, wrote instructional works that allowed for anyone to be the executor of the artwork or that required audience participation to be realized. This is not to say, however, that an investment in single authorship ceased to exist. The fact that Moorman’s instrumental role in many of Nam June Paik’s works has been largely overlooked or trivialized in histories of the period is a testament to the persistent valorization of single authorship in art historical discourses. Virtually every postwar survey text that includes Paik’s work will only rarely mention or identify Moorman. Our goal in preparing the materials for this exhibition was to convey the collaborative nature of the artistic activities to which Moorman contributed, while still representing the history in a legible way. We made clear, for example, that Cut Piece was an instructional piece created by Yoko Ono, but we also accounted for the ways in which the instructions allowed for Moorman to adapt it to her own ends. More broadly, we tried to open up ways of thinking about artistic production to include activities like Moorman’s annual avant-garde festivals, which facilitated the artistic production of others.
How does this exhibit work toward changing the perception of Charlotte Moorman from participant and muse to artist and creator?
CG: Until the publication of [Joan Rothfuss’s] 2014 biography and the exhibition, Moorman had generally been considered someone who performed on Nam June Paik’s artworks, primarily the TV Cello and TV Bra. The book and exhibition put the focus on her work and explore how she and Paik were collaborators. The TV Cello, for example, is designed by Paik, but Moorman is the only person to have played it. It is identified as much with her as it was with him. She also was very much part of the design of the instrument, as noteted in the Charlotte Moorman Archive show. The exhibition gives a much fuller and richer picture of Moorman and her tremendous achievements. Two main sections of the exhibition explore the major facets of her work. One explores several pieces that were part of her repertoire, works she toured with and became known for performing. The other section focuses on the avant-garde festivals. The fifteen avant-garde festivals she organized between 1963 and 1980 contributed immensely to how performance art is seen today. Moorman also showcased both established and lesser-known artists and provided a democratic platform for their work to be seen. Many of the artists in her festivals, such as Bill Viola (who was a very young artist when he participated in the ninth festival in 1972), went on to became established and very well known. So, in addition to being an artist and creator, she was a curator.
What are some of the challenges of making a museum catalog, especially one about performance art?
CG: Both the exhibition and the catalog have extensive documentation of performance art. For the most part, the works of art themselves are time-based and ephemeral, so the project includes such documentation as photographs, film, relics (costumes, props, and signs), and ephemera (posters, brochures, correspondence, and programs). Where possible, we tried to borrow and include physical objects that were at the festivals. One highlight is a work by Fluxus artist Geoffrey Hendricks—a clothesline with a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, socks, and underwear, painted to look like a bright blue sky with clouds. This hung between two trees at the 1966 festival in Central Park. To represent the 11th festival at Shea Stadium, there is a large cross that is part of a piece by Yoko Ono titled 46 Reflections from Dawn to Knight. The crosses, which have round mirrors at the center, were set up in the bleachers at the stadium. Each time sunlight hit a mirror, the viewer was supposed to make a wish. There is also a lot of documentary film and video in the exhibition that helps to bring the performances to life and allows us to visualize how they looked and were experienced at the time.
“A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s–1980s” runs through July 17, 2016 at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art. You can purchase a copy of the exhibition catalog here.