Friday, February 27, 2009

Difdafti in mid-late February

What caught my eye on the new book shelf from roughly February 10 to earlier this week:

John Haldon, ed. A Social History of Byzantium (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009). Hardly any mention of Jews except for a brief mention of 12th-century Jewish silk weavers in one essay.

I've been interested in Margaret Mead for a while since I learned she was friendly with the founders of the progressive private school I went to as a kid and that she designed my fifth-grade social science curriculum, "MACOS" i.e. "Man a Course of Study," but we were in fifth grade so of course we called it "Mucus." So it was interesting to page through Nancy Lutkehaus, Margaret Mead: The Making of an American Icon (Princeton UP, 2008) which is not a biography of Mead (there are plenty of those) but an exploration of the history of (biography of) Mead's public image. No mention of my fifth-grade social studies curriculum, however.

I've noticed a lot of books on J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter lately. The one on the new book shelf a couple of weeks ago was Dedria Bryfonski, ed. Political Issues in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Series (Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2009). Some of the essays criticize Rowling for portraying racism or classism which I find odd in that the authors seem to assume that representations of social inequality in literature represent an endorsement of such inequality. Perhaps one can make a case that we ought to avoid such representatons in children's literature, but I find the premise odd. Was Dickens in favor of "Dickensian" social conditions? In the case of the Harry Potter books, one of the most compelling aspects to my mind is the deftness with which Rowling portrays the magical world as very much like our own. The wizards and witches have to contend with bureaucracy, elitism, family squabbles, etc--just as we muggles do. One might say that the magical world seems behind our own in race relations (e.g. the treatment of the house elves; the notion of half-bloods) and social hierarchies--indeed much of the books' political atmosphere and major conflicts put me in mind of the politics of the 1930s and not the 1990s--but perhaps Rowling's implicit point is that the magicians are behind the muggles.... recall Mr. Weasly's fascination with muggle technology.

Leaving that aside (because I can't make a seamless transition), I also ran across:

Naftali Rothenberg, Wisdom of Love: Man, Woman, and God in Jewish Canonical Literature from the relatively new Academic Studies Press in Boston.

Nurit Stadler, Yeshiva Fundamentialism: Piety, Gender, and Resistance in the Ultra-Orthodox World (NYU Press, 2009) which my quick skim suggests is a remarkable ethnography. N.B. she means the "Ultra-Orthodox World" in Israel.

Jacob Neusner and Bruce Chilton, eds. The Golden Rule: The Ethics of Reciprocity in World Religion (Continuum, 2008). The collection of essays includes contributions on Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Greco-Roman religion, in addition to biblical Israel, rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.

Carla Mazzio's The Inarticulate Renaissance: Language Trouble in an Age of Eloquence (UPenn Press, 2009) goes on my pile for later reading, especially ch. 1 with its intriguing title "The Renaissance of Mumbling." N. B. Mazzio means "The Inarticulate [English] Renaissance."

Still in the LC "PR" range: Ruth Mack, Literary Historicity: Literature and Historical Experience in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Stanford, 2009) suggests a rethinking of the development of historical consciousness.

A quick look at Tracy Davis, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Performance Studies (Cambridge UP, 2008) to see if it would offer insight into the popularity of "performance" as a concept in the humanities right now. The introduction has some comment on this.

Dan Diner's Lost in the Sacred: Why The Muslim World Stood Still now translated to English and out from Princeton UP (2009) is likely to be controversial and is something that I will return to for a more thorough reading later. The chapter on "Text and Speech" deals with the important (to my mind) question of orality and textuality.

Finally, there seems to be a renaissance of interest in the intellectual world of Rosenzweig, Benjamin, Scholem between the world wars. In the space of two weeks, three books have appeared:

Benjamin Lazier's God Interrupted: Heresy and the European Imagination between the World Wars (Princeton UP, 2008).

A new English translation of Stephane Moses (I can't make the accents work in Blogspot), The Angel of History: Rosenzweig, Benjamin, Scholem (Stanford UP, 2009). This was originally published in French in 1992.

And Asher D. Biemann, Inventing New Beginnings: On the Idea of Renaissance in Modern Judaism

And very soon, I understand, we will have Mara Benjamin's new assessment of Rosenzweig's Bible: Reinventing Scripture for Jewish Modernity (Cambridge, 2009, forthcoming)

With the publication of David Myers' assessment of "historicism and its discontents in German-Jewish thought" a few years ago (Reisisting History, Princeton, 2003) and with the Rosenzweig and Benjamin-Scholem industries experiencing no slowdown in production, our understanding of the interesting intellectual reflections by European Jews in the 1920s and 1930s has been enriched quite a lot in the last decade. The question of why this period is so fascinating is also of interest, but I'll save that for another day. (I should point out that Myers and Biemann are also interested in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries. I think there is a good case to be made for considering this longer time span in order to really assess the impact of WW1.)

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