This is a serious challenge to Zionism, with much to recommend it as an intellectual resource for non-Zionist diasporic Judaism and Jewishness.
Judith Butler, Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism. Columbia UP, 2013
Having made her name in the early 90s with Gender Trouble, a densely-written look at the ways in which gender is culturally performed, the American cultural theorist Judith Butler has over the last decade turned her eye towards ethics and violence. 2004’s Precarious Life began her evolution with an in-depth meditation on the ethical resources of the Judaism in which she was raised, with her analysis of the Iraq war and the charge of anti-Semitism levelled at critics of the state of Israel.
Don’t Call Me Inspirational is a challenging and enlightening read.
With a humorous take on both the personal and cultural critique essay, writer and feminist disability activist Harilyn Rousso grabs readers’ attention starting with the wry title of her new book, talking back to the patronising and demeaning conversations that circulate about disability.
The Hunger Games’ real message might actually be more radical than it looks, despite its mainstream appeal, or perhaps even because of it: populism needs first of all to be popular.
Fans of Suzanne Collins’ dark teen trilogy as well as newcomers to the series should find the film of The Hunger Games satisfying. It’s a gripping story, well-told. Four weeks after its release, box office numbers testify to the movie’s power. It’s less clear how much of Games’ biting political message is getting digested, but its overwhelming popularity suggests that at the least, the tale is extraordinarily timely.
The thirst for trans memories seems unslakeable. Everett Maroon’s Bumbling Into Body Hair (Booktrope 2012) strikes a balance between humor and emotional intensity.
Everett Maroon, Bumbling Into Body Hair (Booktrope 2012)
Cis people have a seemingly endless fascination with transition, particularly the minutia and the deeply personal details. They want to know what it’s all like, whether someone has had the surgery, how you know you’re transsexual and/or transgender. The thirst for trans memories seems unslakeable, and many members of the trans community are willing to oblige, with books running the gamut from attempts at emotional tours de force to wry memoirs where everything is made into one giant joke.
Some members of the trans community seem equally fascinated by this recent explosion in literature, although not all of us will admit it. Inevitably, the authors of trans memoirs are viewed as spokespeople and representatives for the whole community, and their work is closely scrutinised. The assessments are often quite biting, as individual authors and memoirs are expected to carry so much weight, and inevitably there are parts of the community who feel left out.
Daringly, “Sex and Disability” heavily blurs lines when it comes to the personal and the political, presenting some essays that may be uncomfortable for readers unaccustomed to thinking about sexuality and disability.
Sex and Disability (ed. Robert McRuer and Anna Mollow), Duke University Press, 2012.
Sex and Disability is a fascinating collection of essays bringing together two taboo topics, discussed from a multitude of perspectives. As the editors point out in their introduction, sex and disability are ‘…two terms that are, if not antithetical in the popular imagination, then certainly incongruous.’ Integrating crip theory, queer studies, and related fields, the essays in the text explore a variety of subjects, from cultural attitudes about disabled sexuality to the need for intersectionality in historiography.
It makes no sense that this book should exist, thus suspended between comedy and melodrama, horror and domesticity and theological fiction. But it does, somehow, and it is utterly weird, and it is bewilderingly good.
Stella Gibbons is best known for 1932’s Cold Comfort Farm, a sublimely comic novel that satirised the grim, rural works of writers like Mary Webb and Sheila Kaye-Smith. Cold Comfort Farm is considered a classic, but its popularity has overshadowed Gibbons’ literary career. She went on to write close to thirty novels and until recently most of these were unavailable and out of print.
Over the last year, however, Vintage have begun to publish Gibbons’ missing back catalogue. Westwood, Starlight, and Conference at Cold Comfort Farm have all been reissued, and there is the promise of more work by Gibbons to come. Of the three books republished thus far, Starlight is the latest (it was published in 1967) and in some ways shows the greatest divergence from the author’s most famous work.
By creating an image of absolute Evil, numerous groups have been able to define themselves as only and ever Good – an idea has been used to justify great evil itself.
The Quest For the Historical Satan, Miguel A. De La Torre and Albert Hernandez, Fortress 2011.
It’s a familiar image to most people in (post) Christian societies – the red, pitchforked Satan. but how did we get such an image, and what does it mean for the way we perceive political and religious enemies? In their fascinating book The Quest for the Historical Satan, theologians Miguel De La Torre and Albert Hernandez trace the development of the idea of Satan and its many multifarious, nefarious uses.
How do we read, and write, in the wake of the author’s literal death?
Jane Gallop, The Deaths of the Author: Reading and Writing in Time, Duke UP, 2011.
“The death of the author” has long been a theme in literary theory. First posed by the French intellectual Roland Barthes in 1968, and then followed by another Parisian giant Michel Foucault the following year, the phrase became something of a rallying cry for Anglophonic literature critics intent on displacing the writer at the expense of the reader. The author is dead, long live the reader!
But as intellectual fashions come and go, the anti-humanism of these luminary writers and their legion followers has been itself displaced, itself subject to a kind of death. Barthes and Foucault are long dead (1980 and 1984), as are many others of the post-structuralist generation of 68 (Derrida in 2004, Baudrillard in 2007). In her wonderfully human take on the subject, Jane Gallop re-examines not only this well-worn critical topic, but the actual deaths of some of these critics. How do we read, and write, in the wake of the author’s literal death?
After a lucid introduction to those two groundbreaking papers, Gallop begins with a look at Barthes, noting that, having grandly declared the author dead in 1968, Barthes was already looking for its “friendly return” in 1973. Though the author (or rather capital A Author) as institution is still dead, Barthes has moved on to framing the author as desirable. Gallop argues that this surreptitiously revives the old theme of the author’s immortality – now the author achieves immortality by being able to touch bodies after death. This chapter works well, focusing on the erotics of Barthes’ work and showing how the author continues to exert a kind of a force on the reader.
If you’re a fan of lush world-building that promises a dazzling array of possibilities, terrific characters, and a whopping good time, you’ll probably like Ganymede.
Cherie Priest’s Ganymede (Tor, 2011), the latest entry in the Clockwork Century series, is a delicious cross-country steampunk adventure spanning from the bayous of Louisiana to an underground settlement in Seattle. Like other books in the series, it stands alone in a well constructed Civil War-era universe, grounded in what Priest refers to as ‘fun with Real History!’ While the events of Ganymede may not be true to history, the spirit of the book definitely is, and the mysterious craft at the centre of the book is based on a very real episode from Civil War history, the experimental submarine Hunley.
Ganymede opens with a scene in Josephine Early’s ‘boarding house’ for ladies of a certain reputation, as she struggles to find a pilot capable of bringing a somewhat unique craft out of occupied New Orleans and into the Gulf for a liaison with the Union. She resolves to contact an old flame to see if he’s up to the job and the book cuts to Seattle, where readers meet Andan Cly, who agrees to set off across the States on a shopping trip to pick up a few items for Seattle residents, with a side stop to take care of Early’s submerged problem. What happens next involves a delightful amount of explosions, colourful language, and the occasional zombie.
This sparkling fantasy has language that turns on a dime to pull readers in and keep them hooked; it’s hard to stop, once the plot gets rolling and you need to know what happens next. Despite the rapid pacing, there’s plenty of time for interesting side adventures and characters, including some real historical figures who flow well within the context of the story. Adding people from history can be dangerous in fiction, as it’s easy for those characters to stand out as stiff and unnatural, clearly shoehorned in for name recognition, but Priest manages it with grace; readers not familiar with the history of the region may not even notice, which is perhaps the best mark of success.
Jamrach’s Menagerie is set at what seems like one of the last moments when it is possible to discover dragons.
Jamrach’s Menagerie, by Carol Birch, Doubleday 2011.
Jaffy Brown has lived all of his short life among the streets and sewers of London. Everything changes one day when he encounters a tiger in the street. Ignorant of what the beast is and compelled to touch it (“Nothing in the world could have prevented me from lifting my hand and stroking the broad warm nap of his nose”) he finds himself picked up in its mouth and dragged away, before he is rescued, unharmed.
The tiger’s (very apologetic) owner is Charles Jamrach – and so far, this is a true story. Jamrach did own a menagerie in Victorian London; in 1857 one of his tigers did escape and carry off a young boy and the boy did live to tell the tale. A statue in Wapping commemorates the incident.
Jaffy goes to work with Jamrach where he discovers a talent for looking after animals. This brings him into an often-antagonistic friendship with a co-worker, Tim Linver. An incident early in the book, where Tim locks Jaffy inside Jamrach’s shop for the night, is the means of introducing Jaffy to Tim’s family – including a sister, Ishbel, with whom Jaffy immediately falls in love.
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