Banned Books Week

September 25 marked the start of the annual Banned Books Week, an event sponsored by the American Library Association and a host of others to celebrate our national right to freedom of speech. It seeks to bring awareness to issues of censorship, intellectual freedom, and access of information. Each year, groups across the country attempt to create controversy by banning books–mostly books meant for children and young adults– because they feel the books are inappropriate or set a bad example. The reasoning is varied and often illogical, but leads to a dangerous assault on our rights as American citizens to choose what we want to read, say, and believe.

Thanks to the effort of librarians, students, teachers, and other reading activists, many of today’s attempts to ban books are largely unsuccessful. However, bringing awareness to these issues is essential, as it inspires us to remember how fortunate we are to have intellectual freedom and responsibility.

Fordham is highlighting several titles on their list which coincide with the mission of Banned Books Week to promote literacy and freedom of speech.

Around the Book: Systems and Literacy is scholar Henry Sussman’s examination of the current state of the printed book. He defends its relevance and importance of books even in the shifting world of Twitter, eReaders, and audiobooks. Sussman delves into history, citing Kafka, Derrida, Blanchot, and others as evidence of the book’s vitality. According to Sussman, the book is still very much the cultural medium–the only obstacle hindering its progress is the blockade to readers’ full expression of literary freedom.(Forthcoming in November 2010).

The Dark Side of Literacy: Literature and Learning Not to Read seeks to dispel the dangerous political association with reading and experience. Rather than promulgate this relationship, Benjamin Bennett refutes it, saying that our literary classics were written with the aim to dispel this notion of “reading” and “the reader.” It’s a radical reassessment of reading and literacy.

The Author-Cat: Clemens’s Life in Fiction takes a look at Mark Twain’s life through his fiction. Author Forrest Robinson insists that though Twain left behind a hefty autobiography, it’s the details he provided in his fiction that tell the real story of his life. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn remains a controversial book to this day, remaining on frequently challenged and banned books lists.

Go pick up a challenged book and celebrate your right to read it!

September 25 marked the start of the annual Banned Books Week, an event sponsored by the American Library Association and a host of others to celebrate our national right to freedom of speech. It seeks to bring awareness to issues … Full Story

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Mellon Foundation Funded Initiatives

Today, Cornell University welcomes FUP Editorial Director, Helen Tartar, to talk about two Mellon Foundation funded initiatives—The Modern Language Initiative (MLI) and The American Literatures Initiative (ALI).

Here is a preview of her presentation:

It’s possible to be short and sweet in saying what the Modern Language Initiative (MLI) and the American Literatures Initiative (ALI) are about: They are about providing subsidy and publicity for first books in what the Mellon Foundation euphemistically calls “underserved” areas of scholarship.
I’ll spend maybe twenty minutes here at the outset saying what the initiatives are, then segue into some related questions concerning humanities publishing today. I hope we’ll spend most of our time together in questions and discussion of what you might want to know about publishing, or what you might be thinking about publishing and the study of languages and literatures today.

Both these Mellon initiatives are the result of a call from the Mellon Foundation for proposals to support publication in under-served fields. The Mellon required that the proposals be collaborative—they had to come from a group of presses rather than from one press alone—and the Mellon, as I have said, has limited the money provided to the publication of first books. The MLI and the ALI are only two of the initiatives that have been funded. There are also initiatives in South Asian studies, Slavic studies, ethnomusicology, and early American history, though this is not an exhaustive list.

One of the most distinctive things about this program is its request for collaboration. The initial letter of invitation expressed the hope that collaboration might enable presses to pool resources and therefore make them permanently able to afford books they are now avoiding on the excuse that, given the decline in library sales, the books don’t sell well enough. This hope may be based on a mistaken analogy—in one of the write-ups about the financial system after the financial crash of a couple of years ago, I read that banks had similarly been collaborating to bail each other out. But banks deal in that famously universal equivalent, money, whereas university presses are nonprofit organizations that pool a variety of sets of expertise needed in the making of books–from judging submissions to copyediting, design, and the various tasks of marketing—which are possessed by specific individuals and are not convertible into one another. Also, presses already exist on a spectrum from what is absolutely discrete to each press to what many presses share in common.

Topping the pole of what is discrete to each press is the editorial process, which still, at least at the smaller houses, is an ongoing individual relation between author and acquiring editor. Actually, one could start the pole of discreteness further back, in the very writing of a book, an individual author facing an inscriptive technology, nowadays usually a computer. While it’s possible to co-author a book in the humanities, the various attempts to introduce into the humanities collaborative work like that in the sciences have not been, so far as I know, a notable success. And the ones I know of are aimed at producing computer websites and the ilk rather than books. An author has to face what is sometimes a lonely task of writing; an editor has to face what is sometimes an exhausting process of sorting through and answering the deluge of unsolicited submissions that come in each year, and what is often the exhilarating process of seeking for talent, of meeting and wooing authors. The editor’s task is to create the press’s “profile”—what it delivers to the university less in terms of profit than in terms of prestige.

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Today, Cornell University welcomes FUP Editorial Director, Helen Tartar, to talk about two Mellon Foundation funded initiatives—The Modern Language Initiative (MLI) and The American Literatures Initiative (ALI). Here is a preview of her presentation: It’s possible to be short and … Full Story

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Reflecting on 9/11

“I became interested in the way our culture felt the desperate need to represent 9/11 but also to ward off representations of 9/11. . . . From the beginning, you find strictures against photographing the site, but you will also find a vast number of photographs, even photographs of people taking photographs.”—Mark Redfield

This past Saturday marked the ninth anniversary of 9/11. The terrorist attacks that day, did symbolic as well as literal damage. A trace of this cultural shock echoes in the American idiom “9/11”: a bare name-date conveying both a trauma (the unspeakable happened then) and a claim on our knowledge. In the first of the two interlinked essays making up The Rhetoric of Terror, Marc Redfield proposes the notion of “virtual trauma” to describe the cultural wound that this name-date both deflects and relays. Virtual trauma describes the shock of an event at once terribly real and utterly mediated. In consequence, a tormented self-reflexivity has tended to characterize representations of 9/11 in texts, discussions, and films, such as World Trade Center and United 93.

To read more about Marc Redfield and his thoughts on 9/11, visit Today at Brown.

“I became interested in the way our culture felt the desperate need to represent 9/11 but also to ward off representations of 9/11. . . . From the beginning, you find strictures against photographing the site, but you will also … Full Story

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The Last Professors

 

 Frank Donoghue, author of Fordham’s The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities , has an article in the September 5, 2010 issue of The Chronicle Review called “Can the Humanities Survive the 21st Century?”  The answer may surprise you.

In his provocative book, Donoghue argues that the rise of the corporate university culture is leading to the demise of the tenured university professor. In this article, he elaborates his argument against for-profit schools and corporate sponsorships, stating that it is their rise that is also contributing to the alarming decline of the study of the humanities in higher education. It is not the university’s decline he argues here, saying, “In fact, the humanities and the university are not the same. Since the 1970s, all disciplines in the humanities have suffered from budgetary shortfalls and the absence of a job market.”

With drastic changes in curriculum fueled by the introduction of academic majors and electives, students are choosing not to study humanities. College is becoming more and more compulsory, but also more expensive, leading to a surge in community colleges and profession-oriented for-profit schools.

The problem is not just at for-profit schools, however–large state universities no longer get much funding from the state, so they are forced to turn to corporations for funding, while most private schools are reliant on donations from wealthy alumni (who typically don’t fund humanities). Says Donoghue, “Corporations don’t earmark donations for the humanities because our research culture is both self-contained and absurd.”

So what will  happen to the humanities as we know them today? Donoghue concludes, “The humanities will have a home somewhere in 2110, but it won’t be in universities. We need at least to entertain the possibility that the humanities don’t need academic institutions to survive, but actually do quite well on their own.”

What do you think? Are the humanities in danger of disappearing from higher education altogether? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

 

   Frank Donoghue, author of Fordham’s The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities , has an article in the September 5, 2010 issue of The Chronicle Review called “Can the Humanities Survive the 21st Century?”  The … Full Story

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2010 PEN USA Literary Award Winner

Multiversal by Amy Catanzano has been awarded the 2010 PEN USA Literary Award in Poetry. Established in 1982, the annual awards program is a unique, regional competition that recognizes literary excellence in ten categories: fiction, creative nonfiction, research nonfiction, poetry, children’s literature, translation, journalism, drama, teleplay, and screenplay. Past award winners include Barbara Kingsolver, Maxine Hong Kingston, T.C. Boyle and Paul Thomas Anderson.

“Amy Catanzano offers us a poetic vision of multiple orders and multiple forms, of a fluid time set loose from linearity and an open space that is motile and multidimensional.”—Michael Palmer, from the Foreword

For more information, visit PEN Center USA.

Multiversal by Amy Catanzano has been awarded the 2010 PEN USA Literary Award in Poetry. Established in 1982, the annual awards program is a unique, regional competition that recognizes literary excellence in ten categories: fiction, creative nonfiction, research nonfiction, poetry, … Full Story

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