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April 13, 2012

Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America

By Christopher Bram

Twelve Publishers, 2012

In the immediate post-World War II era, a group of gay writers—notably, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, and Allen Ginsberg—established themselves as major cultural figures in America and set the stage for others, such as Edmund White, Armistead Maupin, and Tony Kushner.

Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America, by Christopher Bram, chronicles 50 years of cultural change through the lives and work of gay writers who shaped and wrote about it—showing how the story of these men is crucial to understanding the social and cultural history of the American 20th century.

“Before World War II, homosexuality was a dirty secret that was almost never written about and rarely discussed,” writes Bram, who teaches writing at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. “Suddenly, after the war, a handful of homosexual writers boldly used their personal experience in their work. They were surprisingly open at first, then grew more circumspect after being attacked by critics and journalists. But they were followed by other writers who built on what they had initiated. The world was changing and the new authors could be more open; their openness produced further change.”

Bram has authored Father of Frankenstein, the inspiration for the film Gods and Monsters, and eight other novels.

Elements Of College Teaching

By David K. Irving

Atwood Press, 2011

After many years in the classroom, and many years of mentoring other teachers, David Irving, associate professor in the Kanbar Institute of Film and Television at the Tisch School of the Arts, offers some practical advice in a book of techniques and strategies for beginning educators entitled Elements of College Teaching.

Drawing upon his own experience in film and the transition he made to the classroom, Irving highlights some techniques that serve both professions. He exhorts teachers to use movement, voice, and theatrical techniques to help with the transmission of knowledge in the classroom. Further, drawing upon his experiences as a department chair, Irving sees the important role that a chair has in fostering the growth of the new educators.

Irving is the winner of the Tisch School’s 2007 David Payne Carter Award for Teaching Excellence.  He is also the author of the award-winning textbook Producing and Directing the Short Film and Video and Fundamentals of Film Directing.

 

The Dissent Papers: The Voices of Diplomats in the Cold War and Beyond

By Hannah Gurman

Columbia University Press, 2012

American foreign policy during the post-WWII era has been marked by U.S. intervention around the globe. Presidents, regardless of political party or ideology, have consistently sought to bolster the country’s role overseas, stretching from Europe to Asia to South America.

But, despite the appearance of consensus across presidential administrations, U.S. policy was fiercely debated behind closed doors.

In The Dissent Papers, Hannah Gurman, a clinical assistant professor at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, explores the overlooked opposition of U.S. diplomats to American foreign policy in the latter half of the 20th century, beginning with the Cold War and concluding with the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

U.S. presidents and senior foreign policy officials largely ignored or rejected their diplomats’ reports, memos, and telegrams, especially when they challenged key policies relating to the Cold War, China, and the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. The Dissent Papers recovers these diplomats’ perspective.

Gurman showcases the work of diplomats whose opposition enjoyed some success. George Kennan, John Stewart Service, John Paton Davies, George Ball, and John Brady Kiesling all caught the attention of sitting presidents and policymakers, achieving temporary triumphs yet ultimately failing to change the status quo. Gurman follows the circulation of documents within the State Department, the National Security Council, the C.I.A., and the military, and she details the rationale behind “The Dissent Channel,” instituted by the State Department in the 1970s, to both encourage and contain dissent.

Gurman connects the erosion of the diplomatic establishment and the weakening of the diplomatic writing tradition to larger political and ideological trends while, at the same time, foreshadowing the resurgent significance of diplomatic writing in the age of Wikileaks.

 

Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone

By Eric Klinenberg

Penguin, 2012

In 1950, four million Americans lived alone. Today, more than 32 million do, accounting for 28 percent of American households. The rates of living alone are even higher in urban areas. More than 40 percent of all households consist of just one person in Atlanta, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, and Minneapolis. In Manhattan, the figure is nearly 50 percent.

Klinenberg, an NYU sociologist, examines the seismic impact of these changes in Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone.

While conventional wisdom says living by oneself leads to loneliness and isolation, Klinenberg reveals most solo dwellers are deeply engaged in social and civic life. Moreover, compared with their married counterparts, they are more likely to eat out and exercise, go to art and music classes, attend public events and lectures, and volunteer.

“An unprecedented number of people in our hyper-networked, ultra-active, 24/7 culture have discovered that, instead of leading to isolation, having a place of one’s own gives us time and space for a productive retreat,” Klinenberg concludes. “Solitude, once we learn how to use it, does more than restore our personal energy; it also sparks new ideas about how we might better live together.”

Pointing to Klinenberg’s “fascinating research,” Time magazine recently named this phenomenon No. 1 among the “10 Ideas That Are Changing Your Life.”

 

Depression: Integrating Science, Culture, and Humanities

By Bradley Lewis

Routledge, 2011

Depression is a condition that weighs heavily not only on the individuals who suffer from it, but also on their families. Yet there remains considerable confusion over how to understand this condition. Bradley Lewis, an associate professor of medical humanities and cultural studies at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, aims to raise our understanding of this affliction through his recently released Depression: Integrating Science, Culture, and Humanities.

The book examines the varied and multiple models through which depression is understood. Specifically, Lewis highlights how depression is increasingly seen through models of biomedicine—and through biomedical catch-alls such as “broken brains” and “chemical imbalances”—as well as how it is understood through a variety of other contemporary models. He also explores the different ways that depression has been categorized, described, and experienced across history and across cultures.

Lewis—an M.D. and Ph.D—also recently authored Narrative Psychiatry: How Stories Can Shape Clinical Practice, which explores the rise of narrative theory across the academy—in the humanities, social sciences, medicine, and psychotherapy—and brings this research to psychiatric practice, education, and research.

Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning

By Gary Marcus

Penguin, 2012

Just about every human being knows how to listen to music, but what does it take to make music? Is musicality something we are born with? Or a skill that anyone can develop at any time? Is skill learning best left to children or can anyone reinvent himself or herself at any time?

NYU psychology professor Gary Marcus addresses these and other questions in Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning. In the book, Marcus describes how he became his own guinea pig to examine how human beings become musical—and how anyone of any age can master something new. Guitar Zero traces his journey, what he learned, and how others can, too. The book provides a look at the origins and allure of music while offering an empowering tale of the mind’s plasticity.

In Guitar Zero, Marcus investigates the most effective ways to train your brain and body to learn to play an instrument. How can you make your practice more deliberate and effective? How can you find the best music teacher for you or your child? Does talent really exist? Or is hard work all you need? The book debunks the popular theory of an innate musical instinct and many other commonly held fallacies.

 

Loser Sons: Politics and Authority

By Avital Ronell

University of Illinois Press, 2012

Sons who feel like they have fallen short of their father’s expectations can be very dangerous, such as Osama bin Laden, or exceptionally creative, like Franz Kafka, NYU professor Avital Ronell posits in her new book, Loser Sons: Politics and Authority.

There are sons who grow up unhappily believing that no matter what they do, they cannot please their fathers. Often unable to shed their sense of lifelong failure, either they give up and suffer in a permanent sulk, or they try with all their might to prove they are worth something after all. To Ronell, these are the “loser sons,” a group of men who’ve played prominent roles in the course of world events.

In Loser Sons, Ronell draws on current philosophy, literary history, and political events to confront the grim fact that divested boys can become terrifying men and to show how ideologies of all sorts perpetuate the theme that while childhood represents innocence, adulthood entails responsible cruelty. She addresses the problems of authority, paternal fantasy, and childhood as they have been explored and, in some cases, exemplified by Franz Kafka, Goethe’s Faust, Benjamin Franklin, Jean-François Lyotard, Hannah Arendt, Alexandre Kojève, and Immanuel Kant.

Ronell is University Professor of the Humanities and a professor of German, English, and comparative literature at NYU, where she codirects the Trauma and Violence Transdisciplinary Studies program. She is also Jacques Derrida Professor of Media and Philosophy at the European Graduate School in Switzerland. Ronell’s previous works include: Dictations: On Haunted Writing; The Telephone Book; Crack Wars; Finitude’s Score; Stupidity; The Test Drive; and Fighting Theory.

 

Ornamentalism: The Art of Renaissance Accessories

Edited by Bella Mirabella

University of Michigan Press, 2011

The Renaissance is rightly viewed as a time of extraordinary scientific and artistic achievement and innovation. But often overlooked among the works of Michelangelo, Shakespeare, and da Vinci is how people were accessorizing. Bella Mirabella, an associate professor at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, brings this lesser-known aspect of the Renaissance to life with Ornamentalism: The Art of Renaissance Accessories, an edited volume that is the first to focus on the period’s accessories, their histories, and their meanings.

With essays such as “Embellishing Herself with a Cloth: The Contradictory Life of the Handkerchief,” “ ‘Grandissima Gratia’: The Power of Italian Renaissance Shoes as Intimate Wear,” and “Scented Buttons and Perfumed Gloves: Smelling Things in Renaissance Italy,” the work reveals the crucial role ornaments played in social, political, and cultural negotiations of power and identity in the early modern period.

Illustrated with 70 color plates, Ornamentalism engages with many current areas of study, including material culture and fashion, manners and morals, gender and sexuality, as well as theater and performance.

Mirabella specializes in Renaissance studies, with a focus on drama, theater, performance, and gender.

Learning with the Lights Off: Educational Film in the United States

Edited by Dan Streible, Devin Orgeron, and Marsha Orgeron

Oxford University Press, 2012

Nontheatrical films in general and educational films in particular represent an exciting new area of inquiry in media and cultural studies. Dan Streible, associate professor of cinema studies at the Tisch School of the Arts and associate director of the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program, along with co-editors Devin and Marsha Orgeron, both of North Carolina State University, have compiled and contributed to the most comprehensive collection of essays on educational films ever published in Learning with the Lights Off.

The essays, the first collection to address film’s educational uses in 20th-century America, illuminate the vastly influential power of cinema.

This book features the editors’ ambitious historical overview of educational film practices, providing readers with a sense of how important a role the genre played in the production of knowledge. Each essay examines some crucial aspect of educational film history, ranging from Streible’s case study of the NYU Educational Film Institute and Library (created in 1940), to analyses of genres (medicine, science, nature, art, race relations, et al.), to a guide to educational film collections in archives and libraries. With a companion website, readers can download and view nearly all of the movies discussed within the book’s pages. Streible is also director of NYU’s Orphan Film Symposium, a biennial international gathering of archivists, scholars, curators, and media artists dedicated to saving, screening, and studying neglected artifacts from the history of film and video. The 8th Orphan Film Symposium convenes at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image, April 11-14, 2012.

 

All We Have to Fear: Psychiatry’s Transformation of Natural Anxieties into Mental Disorders

By Jerome Wakefield and Allan Horwitz

Oxford University Press, 2012

Thirty years ago, it was estimated that less than five percent of the population had an anxiety disorder. Today, some estimates are over 50 percent.

In their new book All We Have to Fear, Jerome Wakefield, a professor at the Silver School of Social Work, and Allan Horwitz, a sociologist at Rutgers University, argue that psychiatry itself has largely generated this epidemic by inflating many natural fears into psychiatric disorders, leading to the over-diagnosis of anxiety disorders and the over-prescription of anxiety-reducing drugs.

American psychiatry currently identifies disordered anxiety as irrational anxiety disproportionate to a real threat. Horwitz and Wakefield argue, to the contrary, that it can be a perfectly normal part of our nature to fear things that are not at all dangerous—from heights to negative judgments by others to scenes that remind us of past threats (as in some forms of post-traumatic stress disorder).

Indeed, the book argues against the tendency to call any distressing condition a “mental disorder,” providing an innovative and nuanced way to distinguish between anxiety conditions that are psychiatric disorders and likely require medical treatment, and those that are not—the latter including anxieties that seem
irrational but are the natural products of evolution.

The authors show that many commonly diagnosed “irrational” fears—such as a fear of snakes, strangers, or social evaluation—have evolved over time in response to situations that posed serious risks to humans in the past, but are no longer dangerous today.

Historian Wolff Wins Austria’s Karl von Vogelsang Prize

The Austrian government has awarded the 2012 Karl von Vogelsang State Prize for History to NYU professor Larry Wolff for his book The Idea of Galicia: History and Fantasy in Habsburg Political Culture, which explores this Eastern European region that was part of the Habsburg Empire.

The prize will be formally awarded in Vienna on April 20 by Karlheinz Töchterle, Austria’s minister for science and research.

Galicia, now part of present-day Poland and Ukraine, was created at the first partition of Poland in 1772. It disappeared from the map in 1918 and was eventually annexed by Poland. Despite its relatively short life span, the idea of Galicia came to have meaning for both the peoples who lived there and the Habsburg government that ruled it. Today, its memory continues to fascinate those who live in its former territories and the descendants of those who emigrated out of Galicia.

The idea of Galicia was largely produced by the cultures of two cities, Ukraine’s Lviv and Poland’s Cracow. Making use of travelers’ accounts, newspaper reports, and literary works, Wolff engages such figures as Emperor Joseph II, Metternich, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Ivan Franko, Stanislaw Wyspianski, Tadeusz Zelenski, Isaac Babel, Martin Buber, and Bruno Schulz. He shows the significance of provincial space as a site for the evolution of cultural meanings and identities, and analyzes the province as the framework for non-national and multi-national understandings of empire in European history.

Wolff, director of NYU’s Center for European and Mediterranean Studies, has also authored: Venice and the Slavs: The Discovery of Dalmatia in the Age of Enlightenment; Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment; as well as the forthcoming Paolina’s Innocence: Child Abuse in Casanova’s Venice, among other works. In addition, he wrote the introduction to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, a Galician novella and the inspiration for the Broadway play of the same name.

 

 

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