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February 28, 2007

Pigs In Top Hats vs. Giant Workers With Small Heads

There is a four DVD set called Animated Soviet Propaganda now available.
soviet.jpg
It might be possible to come up with a title more likely to appeal to my interest than Animated Soviet Propaganda but that would really take some doing. This one goes to the head of the list, at least until somebody brings out Animated Maoist Propaganda.

According to a review:

Stretching from the early silent films of the '20s to a stop-motion short from 1984, the set vilifies capitalists (particularly Americans), touts Communist values, repeatedly re-lives the Bolshevik Revolution, and bemoans the fate of victimized workers in other countries. The four discs--"American Imperialists," "Fascist Barbarians," "Capitalist Sharks," and "Onward To The Shining Future: Communism"--break the contents down into categories, which makes for some redundancy, but allows comparisons of ideologies and images over time. Not that much changes; the animation matures greatly, but the visual shorthand stays much the same. Workers are strong-chinned, noble, and generic, capitalists are fat, piggish cigar-chompers, and foreigners are ugly caricatures similar to those seen in American World War II propaganda--even though several of these shorts specifically emphasize racial brotherhood, and condemn how America exploits, abuses, and segregates its African-American citizens.

Unfortunately the set is pretty expensive (one hundred bucks). But for now, it's possible to watch the documentary portion of the collection for free here:

Posted by smclemee at 1:41 PM | Comments (1)

Motivate This!

My new column takes off from the misguided decision of one university to fire up its faculty and staff with a motivational speaker. It may be that $20,000 for ten speeches was actually a pretty good deal, given the usual rates. But you know who would have been cheaper? Matt Foley, "living in a van down by the river."

Usually I think of Chris Farley as a strangely talentless perfomer, but this bit seemed rather inspired.

See also "Dysfunction Junction, What's Your Function?" (my column from a year ago about the field of Oprah Studies).

Posted by smclemee at 6:26 AM | Comments (3)

February 26, 2007

Linksforum

As of today, Political Theory Daily Review is sponsored by Bookforum magazine. For a while now, PTDR has provided the widest and deepest pool of links to late-breaking, scholarly, and/or esoteric articles available on the web.

What sponsorship means, first of all, is that there will finally be something keeping the site running apart from the constant labor of its creator, Alfredo Perez. When I interviewed him about 18 months ago, he was hoping it would eventually develop some kind of relationship with a magazine. Otherwise it sounded like a hobby that had turned into a demanding part-time job done pro bono. He had discussions with a couple of other places before working something out with Bookforum.

The other consequence is that PTDR's range of coverage, which has always been broader than its title might suggest, will now begin to include more literary and cultural news. I'm told by Eric Banks, the editor of Bookforum, that there will be other developments down the line -- maybe a redesign.

That Alfredo is able to continue to exercise his knack for finding interesting new articles (at what seems like ten thousand websites around the world) is a positive thing, all around. Especially for any blogs out there pinching links from him....

(crossposted to Crooked Timber)

Posted by smclemee at 7:26 AM | Comments (1)

February 25, 2007

The Hardboiled Poetry of the Very, Very Square

I've started watching Dragnet 1967 on DVD -- a show my wife dislikes on the grounds that it is terribly dated, which is, of course, exactly why I love it. Jack Webb was so square that he comes out the other side as the coolest hipster ever to appear on network TV.

A case in point is his monologue from the fourth episode. When a young rookie says that his fiance has dumped him because she doesn't want to be married to a cop, Webb cuts loose with the following:

This is all the more awesome after time spent reading my friend Rick Perlstein's book Nixonland. Coming to a bookstore near you sometime in Spring '08.

Posted by smclemee at 3:07 PM | Comments (2)

How True

Supercilious wordsmiths acquisitive of notoreity for capacious lexicons cogitate upon thesauri, deploying locutions whose signification is superannuated at best and preposterous at worst. An injudicious cupidity for exactitude recoils upon the oblivious dilettante, engendering nebulae of Latinate verbiage uncongenial to the conveyance of rumination. In such connections, a canny scribe should optate in favor of availing himself of colloquial Anglo-Saxon nomenclature.

-- Adam Kotsko

"My profiency with palaver is unparalleled. Scrutinize my incomparable prose if you don't accredit me!"

The ensuing evening his educator ensconces himself at his trestle to assess his august pupil's critique. After he appraises it he thrusts his extremities on his coutenance. He again cognizes that graduands should not be sanctioned to retain Roget's opus because proprietorship of aforementioned reprehensible receptacle of lexical surrogates elicits maximal keening from all preceptors.

"Why!" the mentor declaims at his articulatory apex. "Why must charges importune their prose with exorbitant diction?"

-- Scott Eric Kaufman

UPDATE

Here in the boudoir, the gourmand metamorphosizes into the voluptuary!

-- Homer Simpson

Posted by smclemee at 7:12 AM | Comments (3)

February 22, 2007

Legman and McLuhan With Zizek Along the Way

It feels like I started something with last week's reference to Gershon Legman. Comments from friends and readers imply as much, anyway, and I'll try to write more about him, and about Neurotica, as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, check out Jahsonic's engagement with Legman's Rationale of the Dirty Joke.

Incidentally, I read something online to the effect that Neurotica was a big influence on Marshall McLuhan. That is exactly backwards. McLuhan was a contributor, and if you read his writings from the late 1940s, it's obvious that he'd come up with his own take on "folklore of industrial man," to use the subtitle of his early book The Mechanical Bride (1951).

By coincidence, I see that Jonathan Goodwin has noticed an interesting parallel that certainly squares with my own impression:

Žižek reminds me much of McLuhan. Facts don't matter for either. In the space of a few pages, Zizek has claimed that Martin Luther King made a radical anti-capitalist turn in the last few weeks before his death and that the Japanese Army relied on a Zen mantra similar to "the sword that kills is the sword that saves" to justify their actions in Korea and Manchuria. These are not even the kinds of claims that can be checked. As with McLuhan, Žižek just wants to make as many connective gestures as possible. That's what make both, generally speaking, fun to read but dangerous to the untutored.

This is exactly right. McLuhan liked to refer to some of his writing as "probes" -- a very space race-era locution (let's not even get into the Legmanian implications) meaning, in effect, "I am totally making this up as I go along."

About a dozen years or so back, you heard a lot about a supposed McLuhan "revival" -- he had had been a genius and a prophet, some of his books were reissued, etc. I never believed in this revival for a minute. I had read an enormous amount of McLuhan as a teenager and knew just how much of his work is -- to use the technical, philosophical term -- bullshit.

Not all of it, by any means, but an awful lot of it; and as Goodwin implies, you really have to be judicious about using him to jump start your thinking. During the "revival," so called, there was very little sign that anybody was actually reading McLuhan, let alone thinking about him -- because otherwise there would have been frequent, loud expressions of disgust at the sheer quantity of junk. (By contrast, the fact that Žižek does have readers is evidenced by the fact that even dedicated Žižekians are put out by the logorrhea, tics, and cut-and-paste of some books.)

What happened, I suspect, is that people felt like there ought to be a McLuhan revival. That he ought to have been a deep and insightful thinker about media. And so he was, for about ten minutes each Thursday perhaps, which sure didn't mean he kept quiet the rest of the time.

Anyway, I mention all this because the thought of rereading him is on my agenda of late: His statement that the content of one medium is always an earlier medium, for example, comes to mind a lot, nowadays. The problem is that the wheat and the chaff are pretty much impossible to sift out, and both are mixed up with big chunks of substances even less appetizing.

Posted by smclemee at 8:38 AM | Comments (6)

February 21, 2007

Cosmopolitan Shout Out, No. 1

My friend and former editor Richard Byrne, who runs the Research section at the Chronicle of Higher Education, is heading off to Prague, where the one-act version of his play Burn Your Bookes is being performed in the Prague Post's English-language playwriting contest.

He'll also working on the other two acts. The very short version, per Rich: "Burn Your Bookes is set in Prague in the Renaissance court of Emperor Rudolph II. Two alchemical pretenders are under sentence of death by starvation. The English alchemist Edward Kelley happens to wander by their cages -- or is he there for a reason?"

I have books around here someplace with bits of Enochian, the angelic language that Kelley learned during his visions and transmitted to John Dee. He's one of those characters who seems like a brainchild of Umberto Eco.

Congratultions to Rich, who is flying off today, I think.

Posted by smclemee at 6:38 AM | Comments (1)

February 18, 2007

Under Heavy Manners

Of the various projects and ensembles that Robert Fripp has been involved with over the years, my favorite is his short-lived band The League of Gentlemen, which released just one album, back in 1981. Part of the soundtrack of my first year away from home. Only part of it is available on CD (along with tracks from other projects, including "Under Heavy Manners," one of the "Frippertronics" pieces). But Fripp released a sort of authorized bootleg live album from the League called Thrang Thrang Gozinbulx in the mid-1990s. It took me a while to track the latter down -- and not just because of the spelling -- but it was definitely worth the trouble.

The compositions were all instrumentals, with Fripp playing intricate, fractured, eloquent guitar lines over a really tight rhythm section that included Sara Lee, who later played bass for Gang of Four. Sort of a brainy dance band.

As it turns out, there is some footage of the League performing in 1980. And despite one visitor's protest when I put up a YouTube video earlier, I'm going to do so again now, because hell, it is my blog, after all:

Posted by smclemee at 3:51 PM | Comments (10)

February 16, 2007

And in a Few Short Years, I Will Be Emeritus

When the news came over the weekend that Jewcy, a website run by young Jewish writers, would be offering running commentary about Crooked Timber, where I blog, my initial response was great interest in seeing what would happen.

As friends know, I always wanted to be a young Jewish writer. That is not a joke. That it proved not to be possible has been one of life's great disappointments. All those readings of Norman Podhoretz's memoirs, and for what?

Well, the lingering sadness has been renewed, and compounded, by the actuality of the past few days of "Movable Snipe," the Jewcy feature in question. See my post expressing the disappointment, and putting it into context, here.

In response to my commentary, someone made me a professor and gave me tenure. I find that this happens from time to time.

As so often happens, I find that the definitive statement in this matter was made long ago by Woody Allen: "I should have finished my degree in black studies. By now I could be black."

Posted by smclemee at 12:04 PM

February 15, 2007

Is Anybody Out There Eagerly Waiting for Volume Two of "Sexual Personae"? No, I Didn't Think So....

Perhaps you had the same response I did to hearing that Camile Paglia is returning to Salon: "Oh, is Paglia still around?"

Evidently, yes.

Molly Ivins is not, unfortunately. But back when Paglia was a hot topic, Ivins took her on brilliantly, as Faux Real reminds us.

Her essay from Mother Jones in 1991 really nails it:

Never one to dodge a simple dichotomy when she can set one up, Ms. Paglia holds that the entire error of western civilization stems from denying that nature is a kind of nasty, funky, violent, wet dream, and that Judeo-Christianity has been one long effort to ignore this. She pegs poor old Rousseau, that fathead, as the initiator of the silly notion that nature is benign and glorious and that only civilization corrupts.

Right away, I got a problem. Happens I have spent a lot of my life in the wilderness, and also a lot of my life in bars. When I want sex and violence, I go to a Texas honky-tonk. When I want peace and quiet, I head for the woods. Just as a minor historical correction to Ms. Paglia, Rousseau did not invent the concept of benign Nature. Among the first writers to hold that nature was a more salubrious environment for man than the corruptions of civilization were the Roman Stoics -- rather a clear-eyed lot, I always thought.

Now why, you naturally ask, would anyone care about whether a reviewer has ever done any serious camping? Ah, but you do not yet know the Camille Paglia school of I-am-the-cosmos argument. Ms. Paglia believes that all her personal experiences are Seminal. Indeed, Definitive. She credits a large part of her supposed wisdom to having been born post-World War II and thus having been raised on television. Damn me, so was I.

In addition to the intrinsic cultural superiority Ms. Paglia attributes to herself from having grown up watching television ("It's Howdy-Doody Time'' obviously made us all smarter), she also considers her own taste in music to be of enormous significance.....

Paglia is a living reminder that the perfect fit between narcissistic personality disorder and mass media did not begin with cyberculture. The rest of Ivins's article is available here.

Posted by smclemee at 3:50 PM

February 14, 2007

With a Name Like Legman, His Destiny Seemed Clear

Gershon Legman and the now mostly forgotten journal Neurotica have long been interests of mine -- so it was probably a matter of time before they ended up, as they did today, in my column. Actually I hope to return to both subjects again in the future.

Thanks to the miracle of trackback, I see that Chad Orzel, at his blog Uncertain Principle, suggests the whole article was just a way of framing the following thought about Legman:

Any scholar publishing a book called Oragentialism: Oral Techniques in Genital Excitation may be said to have contributed something to the sum total of human happiness.

An understandable point, though not quite literally true. In fact that sentence did not cross my mind until the first draft was mostly written. But it did feel like it had a place in the essay. (It's nice when the back of the brain surprises you with a snappy remark like that.)

I recently found a copy of the title in question at the Strand in New York and added it to my slowly accruing Legman collection, along with small-press editions of Love and Death and of a volume reprinting the nine issues of Neurotica.

I'm still looking for a copy of John Clellon Holmes's essay collection Nothing More to Declare, which is where I first came across a reference to Legman and the journal.

It was Holmes, by the way, who first used the expression "Beat generation" in print, in an essay that ran in The New York Times a few years before Howl or On the Road appeared. In a memoir in Nothing More, he describes Legman's apartment in the late 1940s as being full of vintage works of erotic literature and filing cabinets full of notes. He got by on selling rare books, but had to eat things that the butcher normally sold to people for feeding their dogs.

There is no glamor to the life of an independent scholar if you aren't rich. Trust me on this.

Posted by smclemee at 10:39 AM | Comments (2)

Boldly Uphold the Revolutionary Use of Stilted Language from "Peking Review" Circa 1974!

It is February 14, and that can only mean one thing -- the arrival of this year's batch of Valentine's Day slogans from the Freedom Road Socialist Organization:

Proletarians And Oppressed Peoples,

1. Progressive And Revolutionary People Everywhere, Resolutely Uphold The Militant Bolshevik Spirit And Revolutionary Romanticism Embodied In Comrade Valentine!

2. Decisively Smash Retrograde And Joyless Ultra-Left Lines Which Disparage Proletarian Love And Desire!!

3. Warmly Celebrate The 20th Anniversary Of ACT-UP, A Militant Organization Which Attacked The Bourgeois State and Big Capital On Behalf Of LGBTQ People And All AIDS-Affected Oppressed Communities Worldwide In 1987 And Has Remained On The Offensive For Two Decades!!!

Just to be clear about it, there are now two groups calling themselves the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. The other, rather more stodgy one being known as "FRSO (Fight Back)" in honor of its parenthetically indicated newspaper. And no, I'm not playing some variation on that Monty Python bit about the enmity between the Judean People's Front and the People's Front of Judea. This is for real, if "real" is the word one wants.

The splinter of FRSO using the rising sun logo on its website has also made available an impressive family tree of the American Maoist movement.

It is large and yet not complete. It scares me that I notice the omissions.

(Crossposted from Crooked Timber)

Posted by smclemee at 9:59 AM | Comments (1)

February 12, 2007

Solidarity Forever

At Crooked Timber, I've put up a short postscript to last week's column about Iranian dissidents.

Posted by smclemee at 8:37 PM | Comments (2)

February 11, 2007

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Commenting on the dismaying experience of reading the official publications of the French Academy, Voltaire writes:

The cause why all these academical discourses have unhappily done so little honour to this body is evident enough. Vitium est temporis potiùs quam hominis (the fault is owing to the age rather than to particular persons). It grew up insensibly into a custom for every academician to repeat these eulogiums at his reception; it was laid down as a kind of law that the public should be indulged from time to time in the sullen satisfaction of yawning over these productions. If the reason should afterwards be sought, why the greatest geniuses who have been incorporated into that body have sometimes made the worst speeches, I answer, that it is wholly owing to a strong propension, the gentlemen in question had to shine, and to display a thread-bare, worn-out subject in a new and uncommon light. The necessity of saying something, the perplexity of having nothing to say, and a desire of being witty, are three circumstances which alone are capable of making even the greatest writer ridiculous. These gentlemen, not being able to strike out any new thoughts, hunted after a new play of words, and delivered themselves without thinking at all: in like manner as people who should seem to chew with great eagerness, and make as though they were eating, at the same time that they were just starved.

Sounds like some sessions at 21st century academic conferences -- or any of several university-press offerings on the shelf now, three feet away.... (Via Rough Theory)

Posted by smclemee at 7:04 AM | Comments (1)

February 8, 2007

The Other American Exceptionalism

So far, the interview with Danny Postel about his pamphlet Reading "Legitimation Theory" in Tehran in my column yesterday hasn't exactly set the Interweb on fire.

Maybe one of those "skyhook" blogs will pick it up and change all that. Or a Digg listing? If you can help, please consider this a pititful cry for same.

One response to the piece came from Richard Nash of Soft Skull Press, who put into words a thought that has crossed my mind far too many times:

I can't help but feel that the most valuable area in which progressives could practice self-criticism is in the arena of reflexive anti-Americanism. Progressives seem to practice a peculiar kind of American Exceptionalism wherein America is the exception to the rule that not everything a given country does is intrinsically awful. Or, alternatively, a sociological expression of that quasi-narcissistic psychological formation that D.W. Winnicott talked about where an infant fails to be able to distinguish between itself an the world and takes on a form of omnipotence that presumes that it is a hurting machine, that everything it does is wrong, a situation as likely to produce fucked-up behavior (on an individual or imperial level) as the omnipotence that thinks that everything it does is right.

Of course this is a terrible, for some people unbearable, thing to consider: If the United States is not the unique locus of either good or evil in the world, then you have to start, you know, thinking....And that's just going to be frustrating. All that gray. Who needs it?

See also my two columns from a while back about blogging in Iran, here and here.

Posted by smclemee at 10:32 AM | Comments (1)

February 7, 2007

The Secret Lives of Book Critics

Quiet despair? Giddy highs? Both actually.

Posted by smclemee at 11:29 AM

On the Bush Administration Considered as a State of Affect

At his blog, Joseph Duemer files the following comment under the headings "reading," "poetry," and "philosophy." But it also has political applications:

Sentimentality is the substitution of emotion for intelligence; sentimentality requires the reader to assent to heightened feelings not legitimated by the matter at hand; sentimentality seeks to manipulate the reader's emotional response by calls to conventional wisdom or attitudes; sentimentality seeks approval by reference to the vast warm blanket of majority opinion; sentimentality never, ever risks the disapproval of any member of its intended audience.

Posted by smclemee at 10:57 AM

Meet the Zizeks!

thezizeks.jpg

Via Antigram, which also includes a report of Zizek's fondness for video games. His favorite>

Stalin Subway, a Russian one: Moscow 1952, the player is a KGB investigator, called by Stalin Himself to unearth the plot to kill Stalin and other members of the Politburo. One can arrest and kill suspects at one's will. If one wins, one gets a medal from Stalin and Beria! What more can one expect in this miserable life?

But one of Antigram's readers makes clear that this might not be one to track down:

From the couple of levels you can download, I fear Zizek may be exaggerating the brilliance of Stalin Subway; it appears to be a fairly bland shoot-em-up type game, albeit with rather nice graphics of the Moscow State University.

Posted by smclemee at 8:42 AM | Comments (3)

February 6, 2007

The Expression "Photon-Stained Wretches" Doesn't Have Quite the Same Feel

The world's oldest newspaper, the Post-och Inrikes Tidningar of Sweden, has not only gone digital but also shut down what once would have been redundant to call its "print edition."

According to Editor & Publisher (via Tedra Osell):

The newspaper, founded in 1645 by Sweden's Queen Kristina, became a Web-only publication on Jan. 1....Queen Kristina used the publication to keep her subjects informed of the affairs of state, Holm said, and the first editions, which were more like pamphlets, were carried by courier and posted on note boards in cities and towns throughout the kingdom.

Today, Post-och Inrikes Tidningar, which means mail and domestic tidings, runs legal announcements by corporations, courts and certain government agencies -- about 1,500 a day according to Olov Vikstrom, the current editor.

The paper edition was certainly not some mass-market tabloid. It had a meagre circulation of only 1,000 or so, although the Web site is expected to attract more readers, Vikstrom said.

(more here, but not much)

Obviously this reinforces my sense of having somehow gotten slightly ahead of the curve. (I left Lingua Franca just a few months before it collapsed, then made the major switchover to writing online two years ago, before that started looking like a really good idea.) But it's also pretty sad, the marker of the end of more than the paper itself.

The figure referred to in the news article as "Queen Kristina" is, by the way, the one who froze Descartes to death.

Posted by smclemee at 2:00 PM | Comments (1)

Tuesday Hate

Over the past three years, I've become a habitué of The Weblog, a "virtual neighborhood" created by Adam Kotsko, a graduate student in theology, and de facto in continental philosophy, who lives in Chicago. A number of other people post there, pllus there is a lively, if sometimes oblique, comments section.

At first my hanging around was a largely matter of eavesdropping on the discussions about various thinkers -- some of them (Deleuze, Zizek) more or less familiar to me, others (Nancy,Badiou, various theologians) not so much. I hoped to pick up some insight into the latter by osmosis. That aspect of the site has lately migrated here, more or less. Conversation at The Weblog also led to the occasional musical tip, e.g. The Shins. And then there was the t-shirt. A long story, that one, and I don't even know all of it, probably.


Anyway, one of the routines or rituals of The Weblog is Tuesday Hatred. Adam has usually asked for volunteers to disburden themselves (likewise with the Friday Confessions). But in recent weeks, Claire M. (last name redacted per her request) has taken over as regular Tuesday Hater -- finding much to denounce in the world, or in her corner of it.

Here are some of her Greatest Hits, which I have selected without regard to nuances of context and arranged in no particular order:

I hate that the closest I can come to adopting a sea otter is a "symbolic donation" to a wildlife charity.

I hate that the best tasting beer has live yeast chunks in it.

I hate that the turkey loaf I made has the consistency and odor of Nine Lives cat food.

I hate that it is 10am and I have already polished off two slices of turkey loaf.

I hate that no one takes my PhD in Philosophy from an online university seriously.

I hate that narcissists, by their very nature, are unlikely to be able to tolerate therapy.

I hate that I have Justin Timberlake's "My Love" on repeat in my head.

I hate that in the Hippie's absence, Boring Married Guy served me my coffee.

I hate that I am sought after by alcoholic men of all stripes.

I hate that our newest employee is overly enthusiastic and has a pear-shaped head.

I hate that my coworker's response to any question is a blank look, a shrug and nervous
laughter.

I that I rationalize my reception job by telling myself that I am perfecting my velvet voice for radio.

There will be a link, here, to today's imprecation, fresh off the griddle, once it goes up....Here it is.

Posted by smclemee at 7:16 AM | Comments (4)

February 4, 2007

Searchin' for My Mainline

The one shot the Velvet Underground ever had at mainstream success was, of course, the memorable performance of "Sister Ray" on The Lawrence Welk Show in 1968:

Until seeing this video, I had no idea that a banjo was involved. (Not mentioned in this otherwise thorough Wikipedia entry, for example.) It's said that the engineer fled the studio while "Sister Ray" was being recorded. In his haste, he must have failed to mike all the instruments properly.

Posted by smclemee at 11:01 AM | Comments (4)

Not a Bedtime Story

Ed Petit on The Book of Lost Things

Posted by smclemee at 10:51 AM

February 2, 2007

A Good Face for Radio

Yesterday was a milestone of sorts for Intellectual Affairs, my column: the second anniversary of its debut. For the first ten months, I wrote it twice a week. Since then, it's run at the somewhat more leisurely pace of once a week.

So far, it comes to 132 columns. I'm making a selection of them now for a short book. But clearly the smart move would be to shift over to broadcasting....

I just got off the phone with the hosts of "Freestyle," a talk show on CBC Radio. It broadcasts across Canada each afternoon, and the first segment for today's show is based on my recent piece about clutter.

It was fun to do -- mostly a recap of points from the piece. As the segment ended, they referred to me as a "messy essayist." That has a nice ring to it even though the clutter my study is actually pretty under control, for the moment at least. The show is available in streaming audio and will be broadcast this afternoon starting at 2 pm EST.

One earlier piece -- my modest proposal that people who use cell phones in libraries be shot -- also made the jump from written word to podcast pontification. You can listen to the discussion here.

Posted by smclemee at 12:31 PM

Tube Feeding

Last year the Smithsonian and the cable network Showtime announced that they had entered a thirty year contract to create a new, on-demand digital TV enterprise, thereby creating some competition for The Hitler Channel.

Couch potatoes might rejoice, but historians are a little more dubious. As summed up in this morning's bulletin from the National Coalition for History:

Members of Congress and other stakeholders, including the National Coalition for History, raised issues concerning the contract's potential effects on public access to and use of the Smithsonian's collections, its confidential nature, and the process by which the Smithsonian negotiated the agreement. However, in December, the Government Accountability Office issued a report finding that the Smithsonian followed its internal contracting guidelines regarding competition, oversight, and conflicts of interest.

Since then, some developments:

David Royle, executive vice president for programming and production at Smithsonian Networks, was interviewed in the "Washington Post" and said that they were still in negotiations with satellite and cable television companies to make the channel available as an on-demand program. However, he stated that the Smithsonian and Showtime are considering transforming the venture into a traditional network channel such as the Discovery Networks or the National Geographic channel.

You can get an early look at what the Smithsonian Channel's schedule might look like here.

Should anybody want to follow up on my idea for a series called Oh, Those Trotskyists! (a half hour situation-comedy epic spanning sixty years in the life of a revolutionary groupuscule in the auto industry) please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Posted by smclemee at 9:41 AM | Comments (1)

February 1, 2007

Unsightliness and Insight

"Theory," if you take it back far enough, derives from a root referring to vision or eyesight. Maybe it's pushing it to say that there is, then, inevitably an aesthetics of theory. But there's definitely an aesthetic dimension to some of the paperback editions of serious books. In a piece for Lingua Franca almost a dozen years ago, I quoted a (then-)recent discussion of the commodity fetishism some of us went through during the 1980s as various theoretical works came out in nicely designed series:

The New Left Books of the mid to late 1970s, with their "covers with Robert Natkin paintings that looked like pastel burlap," were followed by the wave of volumes from Minnesota University Press and Routledge during the 1980s -- that "great era of . . . translations of every interesting or even uninteresting Continental theorist...."

Man, that really takes me back, albeit in a superduper reflexive way: Now I'm feeling nostalgia for my nostalgia....

Over at the academic group blog Long Sunday, there's a quick review of some recent developments in the field of nifty theoretical book packaging. Here are a few highlights (which I've enhanced with some links):

Lifetime achievement award for general excellence - Verso - pretty much all good here....

Most notable exception to said excellence: The fauxtidian radical thinkers series, I was really embarrassed when I saw this, luckily their selections have been solid, and the second round wisely went Futuristic - still hideous, but less offensive.

Most unforgivable effort: Being and Event - Continuum - just a massive disappointment - looks like an overwrought beach novel.

Best Use of Artificial Color: Zone Books

My favorite example of commentary in this genre is still Anthony Paul Smith's takedown -- almost two years ago -- of some of the new paperbacks from Continuum. Now, that press does some excellent work, no doubt about it, but their reissues of classic books are just ghastly. I actually avoid them as much as possible. We're talking physical revulsion.

"Instead of classy," as APS says, "they now look like skateboard graphics. While trying to hard to be bad may have been cool in the early 90's, it just looks horrible for an academic book." And he provides graphics to prove it. Some of the more recent covers are, if anything, worse.

Posted by smclemee at 1:39 PM | Comments (2)