By Susan Carini 04G
For all who love books, they are our royalty: the members of the Emory faculty who write in ways that—as faculty author Joseph Crespino noted—advance scholarly arguments yet inspire the many “civilians” among us. In a panel held on February 4, 2013, hosted by the Academic Exchange and the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence in Emory’s Barnes and Noble bookstore, Crespino, Andra Gillespie, and Lawrence Jackson addressed the topic “Passion, Purpose, and the Page,” a meditation on creativity. Though each panelist was modest to a fault—with Jackson reminding the assembled that writing is 5 percent inspiration and 95 percent perspiration—their accomplishments are considerable, and they are joined by the 126 other Emory authors who published last year. Here is a taste of the rich fare:
Calling all nature detectives: Who better to lead such a group than Anthony Martin, professor of practice in the Department of Environmental Studies? His latest book, Life Traces of the Georgia Coast: Revealing the Unseen Lives of Plants and Animals, surely will smoke out the nature detectives among us. Martin’s discipline is ichnology (the branch of geology that deals with the traces that organisms leave behind, such as burrows and footprints). All of us have experienced stopping on a beach to ponder evidence of those who preceded us. Using a biologically rich region, the Georgia barrier islands, Martin provides an up-close look at how the “tracemakers” lived and interacted with their environments. And just to prove that ichnologists have a sense of humor, check out http://www.georgialifetraces.com/tag/ichnology/, where Martin playfully provides “ichnological evidence” to support the existence of his new book.
“Who do that voodoo that you do so well”: For those who thought that love was the province of poets or the bard, meet Larry Young and Brian R. Alexander. Young—the William P. Timmie Professor of Psychiatry and division chief of Behavioral Neuroscience and Psychiatric Disorders at Yerkes National Primate Research Center—is one of the world's leading experts in the field of social behavioral neuroscience, and Alexander is a leading journalist and author of America Unzipped: The Search for Sex and Satisfaction. In The Chemistry between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction, the authors ask, “How much control do we have over love?” The answer should provoke a rueful smile in us all: “Much less than we like to think.” Young and Alexander go on to say: “All that mystery, all that poetry, all those complex behaviors surrounding human bonding, leading to the most life-changing decisions we’ll ever make, are unconsciously driven by a few molecules in our brains.”
Small state, large legacy: The first state to ratify the US Constitution, Delaware also played a key role in desegregation. Brett Gadsden, associate professor of African American Studies, outlines the state’s key role in the three-decades-long struggle over segregated schooling in Between North and South: Delaware, Desegregation, and the Myth of American Sectionalism. The work of NAACP attorneys in the state, challenging educational inequities for African Americans, provided the evidentiary basis for the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Brown v. Board of Education. From its perch as a border state adjacent to the Mason-Dixon line, Delaware had an extraordinary blended identity; in Gadsden’s words, it “helped create, perpetuate, and contest ideas of southern exceptionalism and northern innocence.” Tomiko Brown-Nagin, author of the Bancroft Prize–winning Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement, declares Between North and South “a must-read for students of race, education, and the law."
“Mother, may I read this book?”: Elissa Marder is professor of French and comparative literature, and in The Mother in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Psychoanalysis, Photography, Deconstruction she explores her “longstanding fascination with the uncanny status of the mother in literature, philosophy, psychoanalysis, film, and photography.” Marder notes that “the mother haunts Freud’s writings on art and literature . . . and ultimately undermines his patriarchal accounts of the Oedipal complex as a foundation for human culture.” And it does not end there: Marder convincingly demonstrates how the “figure of the mother becomes associated with some of psychoanalysis’s most unruly and enigmatic concepts (the uncanny, anxiety, the primal scene, the crypt, and magical thinking).” The title of Marder’s work derives from her thesis that the maternal body often serves as an unacknowledged reference point for modern media technologies such as photography and the telephone, which attempt to mimic its reproductive properties. As Kelly Oliver, W. Alton Jones Chair of Philosophy at Vanderbilt, notes: "Marder’s writing is beautiful and compelling. She deftly moves between philosophy, literature, film, and popular culture to create novel interpretations of maternity, sex, and death."
And what a ride: Jonathan Goldberg’s Strangers on a Train: A Queer Film Classic is part of Arsenal Pulp Press’s series Queer Film Classics. Goldberg, who joined Emory in 2006 as Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor and is former director of the Studies in Sexualities program, writes about why the film’s gay subplot was removed from the film and considers the impact of Hitchcock’s homophobia. The film was based on the novel of the same name, yet the film and novel display sizable differences, some related to the Hollywood censors. Goldberg’s book builds on the question of the sexuality the film puts on view, not to ask whether either of the two main characters is gay so much as to explore the queer relations between sexuality and murder and the strong antisocial impulses that those relations represent. Ken Tasho of Edge pronounces: “If you’re a fan of Hitchcock’s classic film, this book is an intelligent must-have.”
“I bring you good tidings and great joy”: Brent Strawn’s new book, The Bible and the Pursuit of Happiness, is the first exploration of the Bible using positive psychology—the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. Strawn, associate professor of Old Testament, is the editor. The book poses a new and exciting question: what is happiness according to the Bible? The contributions explore representations of happiness throughout the Bible and demonstrate the ways in which they impinge upon both religious and secular understandings of happiness. In the view of Stephen C. Barton—author of Life Together: Family, Sexuality, and Community in the New Testament and Today—“ten world-class biblical scholars, together with a systematic theologian, a professor of preaching, and a psychologist, have produced a collection of wide-ranging, insightful essays. The effective outcome is a biblical theology of happiness. Not only that: it is a joy to read.”
Pressure’s on, Professor Abramowitz: In November 2012 Atlanta Magazine opined in a headline: “Alan Abramowitz Is the Oracle of Emory.” So what is our oracle saying now, after having successfully predicted Barack Obama’s reelection? Word from Abramowitz, Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science, actually comes in the form of a question. His latest book is titled: The Polarized Public? Why American Government Is So Dysfunctional. According to Thomas Byrne Edsall, a former Washington Post reporter now writing for Truthdig, the book is “data-rich and superbly researched . . . essential for those covering and those following the 2012 campaign.” The Polarized Public takes an in-depth look at the seemingly irreconcilable divide between Republicans and Democrats and argues that bipartisanship remains elusive, not because of politicians in the capitol, but because of the American public and their fixation on party membership and loyalty.
The face that launched a thousand fits: The cover of Bernini’s Beloved: A Portrait of Costanza Piccolomini puts us face to face with the subject of the book. For centuries Piccolomini was identified only as the artist Bernini’s mistress—a woman who later incited his rage by betraying him for his brother. Sarah McPhee, Winship Distinguished Research Professor, corrects and expands this story in her biography of the sculpture and its subject. Bernini's Beloved sets the bust and Piccolomini's own life—her childhood and noble name, her marriage, affair, fall from grace, and recovery—against the backdrop of Baroque Rome. Elizabeth S. Cohen of York University is just one of many readers offering the volume high praise when she says: “Bernini's Beloved offers a compelling, untold human story. It shows us the lively 17th-century Roman art world from a novel perspective, that of a woman. . . . It will be welcomed by anyone interested in art, artists, gender, and the social history of Rome during the flourishing of the Baroque.”
He shoulda quit his day job: Henry Darger (1892–1973) was a hospital janitor and an immensely productive artist and writer. In the first decades of adulthood, he wrote a 15,145-page fictional epic, In the Realms of the Unreal, and then spent much of the rest of his long life illustrating it in astonishing drawings and watercolors. In Darger’s unfolding saga, pastoral utopias are repeatedly savaged by extreme violence directed at children, particularly girls. Given Darger’s disturbing subject matter and the extreme solitude he maintained throughout his life, critics have characterized him as eccentric, deranged, and even dangerous. If anyone needed a champion, it is Darger, who has found one in Michael Moon—professor of American Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and director of the Studies in Sexualities program. Says B. L. Herman, writing in Choice, Moon “adds a recuperative and redemptive perspective to critical conversations swirling around Darger’s oeuvre and its reception.” In Darger’s Resources, Moon looks to the narratives and materials that inspired Darger, in the process finding an artist who reveled in the burgeoning popular culture of the early 20th century.
Casting a long shadow: Taking its provocative title from Danger Mouse’s pioneering mashup of Jay-Z’s The Black Album and the Beatles’ The White Album, Kevin Young’s The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness combines essay, cultural criticism, and lyrical choruses to illustrate the African American tradition of lying—storytelling, telling tales, fibbing, improvising, and “jazzing.” Young is the Atticus Haygood Professor of English and Creative Writing and the curator, Literary Collections and Danowski Poetry Library. The winner of the American Book Award in 2012 for Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels, Young won the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize for this, his first work of nonfiction. The book is “equal parts blues shout, church sermon, interpretive dance, TED talk, lit-crit manifesto, and mixtape . . . [and] an ambitious blast of fact and feeling, a nervy piece of performance art,” says Dwight Garner in the New York Times. The book argues for the many ways that African American culture is American culture, and for the centrality of art—and artfulness—to our daily life. Moving from gospel to soul, funk to freestyle, Young sifts through the shadows—in short, the grey areas of our history, literature, and music.