Thursday, 29 May 2008

News: Books and the Internet

There have been a number of recent stories about the developing relationship between books and the internet. Not much talk about the oft-touted death of the book here - more considerations about the way that new technologies are nuancing the way that we interact with them:
  • The New York Review of Books examines the role of "The Library in the New Age."
  • Salon asks: "Has the role of the professional critic become obsolete in an age of book clubs, celebrity endorsements and blogs?"
  • NPR's All Things Considered explores the way that "First-Time Novelists Make a Splash on the Web."
  • The Guardian profiles literary social networking and "The Rise of the Virtual Bookshelf."
  • Having stepped down as literary editor of the Observer, Robert McCrum outlines the way that the "world of books and writing has been turned inside out" in the last ten years.
  • And finally: the New Yorker has launched a new literary blog: The Book Bench.

Monday, 26 May 2008

News: Memorial Day

"Decoration Day", Harper's Weekly, June 2, 1883

It's Memorial Day in America, a day of remembrance for fallen soldiers that always has greater significance at a time of war. Memorial Day used to be known as Decoration Day, which had its roots in General John A. Logan's General Order 11, which must rank as one of the most unusual military documents ever released:
"The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land."
You can read the rest of the order here. Since that time, Memorial Day has changed a little in its meaning, and has become a time for family reunions and more general remembrance. Here's a media round-up:
  • And finally: Memorial Day has provoked a number of musical tributes over the years, including those from Charles Ives and James McMurtry. Here, however, are the Drive By Truckers doing Decoration Day:

Talking Point: 1968 Redux?

In the first of an occasional series of talking points, we ask: is it 1968 all over again?

Are we seeing the makings of a re-run of history in the US election, as the Democratic primaries spin out, seemingly endlessly, with Barack Obama getting close to the finish line but Hillary Clinton clinging on to the bitter end? The answer could depend on Hillary Clinton. If, as looks increasingly likely, Barack Obama is chosen as the Democratic Party's Presidential candidate, will Hillary Clinton accept or will she decide to carry on anyway and maybe even go it alone?

That would make it a three horse race, just like back in 1968. Then, Nixon was standing for the Republicans, Hubert Humphrey (Lyndon Johnson's Vice President, a liberal, and a strong advocate of civil rights) for the Democrats, and the leftfield (actually more like hard-rightfield) candidate George Wallace stood as an independent.

The election proved tight. Remember that Nixon had stood once before, and narrowly lost, back in 1960 when the Democrat John F. Kennedy became President. In 1968, the election was another tight race in terms of the popular vote with Nixon winning only 43% to Humphrey's 42% (although the electoral college vote was more decisive). The surprise quantity was George Wallace who netted 13% of the popular vote with his pro-segragation, anti-civil rights campaign.

The important thing was that Wallace took a whole heap of votes from Humphrey, and here's where we end up right back in 2008: the votes Wallace took were those of the blue collar Americans that Hillary went out campaigning for the support of in the past few primaries - conservative and, could we say, less than progressive when it comes to matters of racial equality.

A lesson of '68, then, was that blue-collar white voters who might otherwise go Democrat could be wooed away by a candidate who spoke to whites' fears about race. And there have been other occasions when this happened: these are the same folk who became so-called "Reagan Democrats" back in 1980, that time being gobbled up by the Republican Party (traditionally the party of business, not the working class).

So what if Hillary clings on and on? Will she quit the race even if Obama gets the Democratic Party nomination or will she make a run as an independent? And, if so, would she pursue the same course she's been on of late, and chase those "Reagan Democrats"? Is Hillary Clinton to become the new George Wallace, splitting the Democratic Party vote? We'll have to wait and see. Maybe in the end the two Democratic frontrunners will patch things up and cut a deal. Who knows, we might even be looking at a future President and VP combo - but on their form that would look to be a potentially stormy political relationship!

We're not the only ones looking backwards: Newsday and the New York Times are at it as well, since Hillary's recent comments about the assassination of Robert Kennedy have caused something of a stir.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Election News: The End of the Beginning?

Two more crucial primaries in Kentucky and Oregon mean that Obama could have a majority of pledged delegates by tomorrow morning. It might not officially mean an end to the race, but in practical terms it might be all over bar the shouting. The internet is, predictably, excited:
  • The New York Times presents an overview of potential outcomes here.
  • Of significant interest (given the medium you're currently reading) is Katharine Seelye's account of Hillary Clinton's last minute appeal to bloggers...
  • ...whilst the Boston Globe reports on Clinton's continuing support here.
  • On the other hand, U.S. News & World Report surveys the way that "Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain are acting as if it were over and actively targeting each other" here...
  • ...Salon wonders, "Why don't those hillbillies like Obama?" here...
  • ...and Slate ponders John McCain's potential problems with HDTV here.
  • And finally: this might soon be a little out of date, but Matt Taibbi examines the Democrat's "culture war" for Rolling Stone.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

News: Procrastination - List Madness

The always excellent American arts and current affairs online magazine, Slate, has a great special issue on procrastination that should appeal to anyone who just can't get down to revising the unrevisable or writing the Great American Novel. Jessica Winter asks whether Truman Capote and Ralph Ellison's writer's block wasn't just plain old not getting around to it and picks the best novels about wasting time; Daniel Gross advises us to invest in the Procrastinator's Portfolio (stocks and shares in Facebook, Starbucks, Ebay) and Heather Smith compares procrastination hours around the globe. Seth Stevenson's 'Letter to a Young Procrastinator: Some Last Minute Advice from a Veteran Slacker' has some words of wisdom for us all - especially when the sun is shining or there's an unfinished game of Solitaire waiting on your computer.

If you're still looking for more ways to distract yourself, then fear not. In the past few days, the internet has been dealing heavily in its stock in trade: the list. Alongside Winter's Procrastination Lit. list, you can wile away the idle minutes with these curiosities:
  • The Art of Manliness lists 100 book's which comprise its "essential man's library";
  • The New Yorker lists 100 essential Jazz Albums;
  • The LA Times lists the best books about Presidential campaigns;
  • Hypeful ranks the top 20 songs about superheroes;
  • And finally: Yuppie Punk features a collection of literary tattoos which are, almost universally, mind-boggling. Check out the William Faulkner one:

AMS on the Radio

An advert for the UEA featuring AMS graduate Amy Turner is currently running on Kiss 105-108FM. Listen to it here:

You can find out more about this promotional campaign here and here.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Student Opinions Wanted: Online Survey Now Available

As you may have heard, AMS have been awarded a teaching fellowship to perform important research on how the University as a whole might further assist students in the transition between college or sixth form and university. We would be extremely grateful if you could find 15 minutes to complete the on-line version of the survey here.

You do not need to be an AMS student to participate -- we are looking for responses from across the humanities. Your participation in this research will be highly valued.

This information is being used to:
  • write an in-depth and anonymised report on the way that university level teaching relates to the kinds of skills and study styles students bring with them from sixth forms and colleges.
  • further tailor the AMS study skills course to the needs of incoming students with the expectation that this course will work as a pilot for similar schemes across the university.
  • produce a version of the HUM study skills handbook specifically tailored to the needs and strengths of incoming students.
All answers will be treated as anonymous. Thank you for taking part.

Very best regards,
Sarah Garland (AMS)

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Research Seminars: MA Dissertation Roundtable

This year's series of Research Seminars comes to a close on Wednesday. Following the success of the last MA Dissertation Roundtable in October last year, we'll be repeating the occasion this week.

Wednesday 14th May 2008, A2.51, 4pm. All welcome.

Monday, 12 May 2008

News: The Game of Chess is Like a Swordfight...


In today's Guardian, Jonathan Leggett has profiled the ongoing relationship between chess and hip hop. In particular, he profiles the way in which these worlds have come together "in the battle against street crime." Of prime importance is the Hip Hop Chess Federation (or visit their blog). In the words of founders Adiso Banjaka and Leo "Blast" Libiran:
"We recognize that chess, martial arts and hip-hop unify people from multiple cultural, religious and social backgrounds. These black and white squares do not care what color you are or if you are rich or poor. The only thing they ask is that you come with your strategy, your patience and your skills."
Also highly significant are the activities of Wu Tang Clan mastermind RZA (pictured above). As well as supporting the activities of the HHCF, RZA is about to launch his own chess portal - Wu Chess. You can sign up for an invite now, though the site hasn't yet gone live. And this isn't just a Stateside phenomenon. Last week, RZA visited Liverpool to promote Wu Chess. Below, a promotional video:

Sunday, 11 May 2008

News: Revision Music

Students at the University of Wisconsin's Daily Cardinal have come up with a poll of what they consider to be the best "study break" music. Here's a selection:

  • “Battle Without Honour” by Tomoyasu Hotei

    Just imagine walking into your final exam, the main theme from “Kill Bill” blaring in your ears as you slice an entire stack of blue books to shreds with your samurai skills. If that doesn’t motivate you, I don’t know what will. —Kevin Slane

  • “Here’s Your Future” by The Thermals

    This song is valuable for its ability to summarize the Old and New Testaments in roughly two minutes. Couplets like “Fear me again and know I’m your Father / Remember that no one can breathe underwater” double as snappy punk rock and indispensable cliff notes for your next Biblical history final. —Matt Hunziker

  • “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper

    Be sure to save this gem for your last exam, as playing it at the beginning of finals week can merely result in depression and lethargy. —Kevin Slane

There are plenty of suggestions over at the Daily Cardinal. But more importantly, what are your suggestions?

Thursday, 8 May 2008

News: 100 Posts

To commemorate the fact that Containing Multitudes is 100 posts old, we're turning the spotlight on the recently released Time 100 2008 - a list of the year's most influential people. The results are typically surprising. The "winner"? Japanese video game designer and the power behind the Nintendo Wii, Shigeru Miyamoto. Second? Korean pop-star Rain (last year's winner, no less). Next up? Satirical comedian Stephen Colbert. The full list can be found here (though it still seems to be in a state of flux). Who would you put at the top of the list?

UPDATE: Colbert has been having fun with his defeat to Rain...

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Election News: Is The End in Sight?

After all the weeks of campaigning, it looks like things are finally reaching a conclusion in the Democratic race to the White House - almost without warning. Despite Barack Obama's apparent loss of momentum in the last few weeks, his victory in North Carolina and very narrow defeat in Indiana means that his lead is essentially insurmountable. For now, Hillary Clinton has pledged to carry on. But exactly how long that will last is very debatable. The writing is on the wall, and in the papers...
  • John Dickerson, writing for Slate, questions "Has Obama finally clinched it?", whilst Chadwick Matlin puts Clinton's campaign on "Deathwatch".
  • Walter Shapiro in Salon argues that Clinton is "closer to oblivion".
  • In the New York Times, Jim Rutenberg analyses the pundits' reaction to events and finds that they've called the race for Obama.
  • And Dana Millbank, in the Washington Post, thinks it's "All Over But The Shouting".

Monday, 5 May 2008

News: Happy Cinco de Mayo

George Bush hosting Cinco de Mayo celebrations at the White House, 2001

Cinco de Mayo - mean anything to you? Chances are it doesn't, since May 5th celebrations haven't really made much of an impact this side of the Atlantic. In America, however, Cinco de Mayo has become a significant occasion for the celebration of Hispanic culture. In its origins, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Battle of Puebla in 1862, a victory for the Mexican Army against occupying French forces. In its modern form, it has become a more general Latino celebration (commonly confused with Mexican Independence Day), marked with much greater vigour in America than in Mexico itself. In part, this is the result of good marketing. Beer and tequila companies have been keen to establish Cinco de Mayo as something akin to St. Patrick's Day. Yet marketing aside, it is apparent that Cinco de Mayo has become a notable date on the calendar, and not just for America's 45 million Hispanics. This year, George Bush, who has previously held Cinco de May events at the White House, released a statement to mark the day: "Today, we remember these heroic accomplishments and all those working to advance peace and liberty around the globe. This holiday is also an opportunity to recognize the strong ties of family, economy, and culture that bind the United States and Mexico."

Read a New York Times editorial on the day here, and an account of Cinco de Mayo in the city here, whilst food blog Serious Eats has a series of Cinco de Mayo recipes here. Anyone with plans for a Cinco de Mayo Bank Holiday?

Sunday, 4 May 2008

AMS: Now on Facebook

AMS is extending its presence on the internet again, this time with its own facebook page. There's a link in the sidebar on the right - or use the one here:

Please take a second to become a fan of the page to keep in touch with any events in the school and help promote AMS to the wider world. But don't worry: becoming a fan is not the same as becoming a friend, and we won't be able to view any of your personal pages.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

News: John Porcellino writes...

Following on from yesterday's look at three graphic adaptations of American literary classics, Containing Multitudes is very proud to present an exclusive account of the genesis of Thoreau at Walden by the book's creator, John Porcellino:

James Sturm of the Center for Cartoon Studies contacted me about doing a book on Thoreau for their series of American Biographies. As soon as he suggested it, I got very excited about the possibilities. Thoreau has been a major inspiration to me since my High School days, and to get the chance to immerse myself in his work and life, and then to try to bring that out in a way that would be accessible to contemporary readers was really a dream come true for me, pardon the cliché.

Thoreau at Walden isn't a straight biography, nor is it an adaptation of Walden. I think of it more as a kind of impression of his experience at the pond. The book is arranged, like Walden, into seasons, and covers "one year" of Thoreau's time there.

The way I put the book together was to read as much of his work as I could again, taking notes this time. I jotted down quotations and passages on index cards, and arranged them by theme: The Pond, Animals, Visitors, The Beanfield, Food etc. Then I set to work arranging the quotations into some kind of narrative stream. I used extracts from not only Walden itself, but also Thoreau's other writings. So one page might have a quote from Walden in the first panel, but a line from a later essay in the next. I tried to use only direct actual quotes from Thoreau's writing (I'd edit them a little, or adjust the punctuation if needed to maintain continuity between panels). In the end I only had to add a very few of my own words here and there, to keep things consistent. It was really important to me that the words be Thoreau's own.

Walden is such a dense, beautiful text, that almost every line in it could be fodder for pages of exploration. I tried to keep to the essence, and obviously there's a lot that that couldn't be included.

I looked at the book as a sort of collaboration, and I strove to do justice to Thoreau's work. It was a great honor to work on the book. Having spent much time in the woods and fields myself, throughout my life, I tried to bring my own experience into the book in certain ways, when it seemed appropriate. I know what it's like, for instance, to be out in the woods and get caught in the rain. I tried to imbue the story with those feelings and experiences, so that it would not only be about the words and ideas, but also the practical experience of being alive that led to those ideas.

Of course one can’t help but realize, in reading Thoreau nowadays, how vital and relevant his philosophy is to the contemporary world. I really wonder what he would have thought about the way things have gone. My hope with the book was to in some way bring this much-needed philosophy into a context that readers today would find accessible. And I hope that the book will inspire interested readers to explore Thoreau's writings further. He wasn't just about ideas, he put his ideas into practical action. We could use more people like Thoreau today!
John Porcellino

King-Cat Comics and Stories:
P.O. Box 18888 / Denver, CO / 80218 / U.S.A.

Friday, 2 May 2008

News: Graphic Adaptations of American Classics

They say that three's a trend, and if so, there's a discernible current trend for comic book adaptations of nineteenth century American literary classics. In recent months three very different canonical texts have been reworked into compelling reimaginings.

First up: Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Part of the new Marvel Illustrated line, this version of Melville's novel has been adapted by legendary comic writer Roy Thomas. This follows last year's adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans. You can read a Q&A with Thomas and others here.

Next: Thomas Gray's (and Nat Turner's) The Confessions of Nat Turner. More radical than Thomas' Moby Dick is Kyle Baker's powerful, revisionist adaptation of slave rebel Nat Turner's story. As well as telling Turner's story, Baker's version works as a larger exploration of American slavery, and begins with Turner's mother's experience of the middle passage.

And finally: Henry David Thoreau's Walden. Perhaps the most surprising adaptation is John Porcellino's Thoreau at Walden, published by the Center for Cartoon Studies. Though lacking the narrative drive of the other two texts, Porcellino's version of Walden may in fact best highlight the possibilities of reimagining a classic text in a new medium. Read the School Library Journal's review here.