Tuesday, March 30, 2010

One day left to vote for Sue Leaf!

As we've previously noted on this blog, TwinCities.com is taking your votes for the 2010 Minnesota Book Awards Readers' Choice Award. Sue Leaf's nature memoir The Bullhead Queen is among 32 finalists for this special prize.

Votes are being tallied up through March 31st -- which means you've got one day left to vote! (Technically, one-and-a-half.)

"Like the late Paul Gruchow's Journal of a Prairie Year, Sue Leaf's The Bullhead Queen records a sensitive observer’s impressions of local animals, plants, and a partly developed lake across Minnesota’s seasons. This is a gentle, plainspoken book that finds its truths in what is most local and personal—a breviary for humble, semiwild/semideveloped places." —Jan Zita Grover

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Quadrant Program: Supporting the sustainability of scholarly communication

Today's post is by Anne Carter, Quadrant Coordinator at University of Minnesota Press. She introduces the Quadrant program, a collaborative and innovative effort that has recently been developed between the University of Minnesota and the University of Minnesota Press. See below to listen to a panel that outlines Quadrant's early lessons, benefits and future goals.

With topics ranging from the politics of oil to the global market for body parts, scholars involved in the Quadrant program have been coming to the Twin Cities to work on and discuss their book projects. Quadrant is a joint initiative of the University of Minnesota Press and the Institute for Advanced Study that provides support for interdisciplinary scholarship.

Four interdisciplinary research and publication groups provide the intellectual foundation of Quadrant: Design, Architecture, and Culture; Environment, Culture, and Sustainability; Global Cultures; and Health and Society. The groups are made up of faculty from across the University as well as scholars from around the world invited to participate in this initiative. Quadrant provides the administrative and financial support for these groups to hold workshops and public presentations. In addition, the University of Minnesota Press provides editorial support to scholars whose book projects may be considered for the Quadrant book imprint.

This year, Quadrant has hosted lectures by Matt Huber, whose project is on the cultural politics of oil; Lisa Uddin, who is writing on race and mid-twentieth century American zoos; Laura Ogden, who has a forthcoming book on the Florida Everglades; Klaus Hoeyer, whose project focuses on the exchange of body parts; and Kelly Quinn, who is completing a biography of an African American architect. More is to come as Quadrant fulfills its mission of bringing scholars in the humanities and social sciences into dialog with those in the sciences and professional schools, and of repositioning university presses to become more actively involved in the intellectual life, research priorities, and academic ambitions of their parent institutions.

Look for the first books in the Quadrant imprint to be published in fall 2010. Quadrant is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

UMP director Douglas Armato spoke at a panel about the Quadrant program and its early lessons and impact at ITHAKA's Sustainable Scholarship conference in September 2009. He was joined by Bruce Braun, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, University of Minnesota, and Katherine Solomonson, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, College of Design. Find the video here or listen to the complete audio of this 46-minute panel here:

Friday, March 26, 2010

Deleuze's A Thousand Plateaus a top-five pick

Human rights lawyer Chibli Mallat (best known for legal actions on behalf of the victims of Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein) has chosen one of our dearest and all-time most popular books as one of the top five books in "maverick political thought": A Thousand Plateaus, by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. (Er, Mille Plateaux, as he prefers.)

Mallat briefly discusses this book's brilliance and how it relates to Mallat's research on Islamic law. Read what he has to say and join in the conversation at FiveBooks.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cary Wolfe: What Is Posthumanism?

Cary Wolfe is Bruce and Elizabeth Dunlevie Professor of English at Rice University. He is author of What Is Posthumanism? (2009), the 8th installment in UMP's Posthumanities Series. His previous books include Critical Environments: Postmodern Theory and the Pragmatics of the “Outside” and Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory, and editor of Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal. Here is an excerpt of an essay Cary Wolfe wrote for this blog to introduce his posthumanist (as opposed to posthuman) theory. You can read the full text here.


One of the main points I stress in my new book is that posthumanism as I understand it is not posthuman but rather posthumanist. Of course, “humanism” is a term that covers so much ground, comprises so many different thinkers, movements, and values, that any deployment of the term is bound to be a little reductive. I begin the book with this more or less representative definition that pops up in a Google search:

Humanism is a broad category of ethical philosophies that affirm the dignity and worth of all people, based on the ability to determine right and wrong by appeal to universal human qualities—particularly rationality. It is a component of a variety of more specific philosophical systems and is incorporated into several religious schools of thought. Humanism entails a commitment to the search for truth and morality through human means in support of human interests. In focusing on the capacity for self-determination, humanism rejects the validity of transcendental justifications, such as a dependence on belief without reason, the supernatural, or texts of allegedly divine origin. Humanists endorse universal morality based on the commonality of the human condition, suggesting that solutions to human social and cultural problems cannot be parochial.

It will probably come as no surprise that I share many of the values and aspirations announced in such a definition. In fact, I go out of my way to insist that posthumanism as I use the term isn’t about a wholesale rejection or surpassing of humanism and its values. Rather, my point is that humanism’s often admirable aspirations are undercut by the conceptual and philosophical tools it uses to conceptualize them. For example, most of us would probably agree that people with disabilities should be treated with respect and equality, or that non-human animals should be protected from cruelty and abuse. But the problem, as I show in this book, is that the humanism of certain strains of disability studies or of animal rights philosophy, in their attempts to make good on these aspirations, reinscribes a very familiar form of liberal humanist subjectivity whose normative force was taken to be the problem in the first place. Shouldn’t we instead endeavor for a mode of thought that values the heterogeneity of ways of being in the world for their difference, their uniqueness, their non-generic nature, rather than their ability to reproduce or approximate, however imperfectly, a normative picture of “us”?

To put this another way, I agree with humanism that “transcendental justifications” must be rejected and that solutions can’t be “parochial” (commitments of humanism that would seem all the more relevant in the current geopolitical moment, after all), but the problem is that humanism does not adequately apply this principle to itself.  It ends up indulging its own dogmas, its own “parochial” solutions. Chief among these, I argue, is the dogma that insists on an ontological difference—and the ethical consequences that follow from that difference—between homo sapiens and every other life form on the planet. This flies in the face of current scientific knowledge about non-human life, and it flies in the face of what should be humanism’s commitment to a conceptual frame that is more nuanced and responsible than the ham-fisted (pun intended) distinction between “the human” and “the animal.” So as Foucault once famously put it, in this sense, one might well argue that Enlightenment and Humanism are not two sides of the same coin, but are in tension with each other.

Part of the unfortunate fallout of the conceptual apparatus of humanism is that it gives us an overly simple picture—a fantasy, really—of what the human is. Consider, for example, the rise of what is often called “transhumanism,” often taken to be a defining discourse of posthumanism (as in Ray Kurzweil’s work on “the singularity”—the historical moment at which engineering developments such as nanotechnology enable us to transcend our physical and biological limitations as embodied beings, ushering in a new phase of evolution). As many of its proponents freely admit, the philosophical ideals of transhumanism are quite identifiably humanist—not only in their dream of transcending the life of the body and our “animal” origins but also in their investment in the ideals of human perfectibility, rationality, autonomy, and agency. In contrast to this dream of transcendence and perfectibility, posthumanism in my sense points toward the necessity of moving beyond the philosophical simplifications of humanism (many of them self-flattering, of course!) to arrive at a much thicker, more complex and layered description of this thing we call “human” and how it is bound up with all sorts of forces and factors that aren’t “human” at all (our “animal” biological inheritance and how it shapes our emotions, our behavior, our needs and wants; our ecological embeddedness as creatures of evolution in a web of life not of our making; the ahuman exteriority and technicity of the archives and prostheses of memory and culture, and so on).

Posthumanism in this sense thus forces us to attend to the paradox that we can “become who we are” only by virtue of being constituted by something—actually, many “somethings”—that we are not. Chief among these, perhaps, is language. You can think of language as humanism does—as something that institutes not just a phenomenological difference but an ontological difference between “normal” human beings and the rest of the universe (a view that draws into its wake a vast collection of very different thinkers from Heidegger to Daniel Dennett); or you can think of language as I do (following a similarly diverse genealogy that includes Gregory Bateson, Humberto Maturana, Francisco Varela, and Jacques Derrida): as an essentially ahuman prosthesis, a technique and a machine that itself is a subset and second-order phenomenon of a larger domain of meaning that includes all sorts of non-linguistic forms of communication not limited to the human domain alone. This gives you a much more robust and nuanced picture of how language is (and is not) constitutive of human behavior; it allows you to describe how meaning gets made in recursive exchanges across previously discreet ontological domains (say, between humans and animals); and it also enables you to understand how human communication is a multi-dimensional and often asynchronous process that continues to be inhabited by the evolutionary and biological background out of which “linguistic domains” (to use Maturana and Varela’s phrase) emerged. Or as Gregory Bateson once put it (humorously and perceptively), “If you say to a girl, 'I love you,' she is likely to pay more attention to the accompanying kinesics and paralinguistics than to the words themselves” (Steps to an Ecology of Mind 86). (This is one of the reasons, incidentally, that e-mail is such a brittle and incendiary form of communication; there is no such dampening mechanism, and it is difficult to make up for the loss of tone of voice, body posture, eye contact, and so on in such a thin and impoverished medium--hence the invention of that paltry substitute called the emoticon.)

What all of this suggests is that “our” thoughts, “our” concepts, are in an important sense not “ours” at all, but rather they derive from our constitution by something radically not us. And this in turn points to a second dimension of the argument of What Is Posthumanism?: that it is not enough to think of it simply as a kind of content, as merely a thematics of the historical moment in which the human becomes decentered by and disseminated in technological, informational, pharmacological, and communicational apparatuses that render it no longer “master in its own house” (as Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche long ago realized in their different, albeit problematic, ways). After all, as I have already suggested with the examples of transhumanism and animal rights philosophy, it is perfectly possible to “do” posthumanism in a thoroughly humanist way. The question of “posthumanism,” then, obtains not just on one level but on two—not just what posthumanism thinks about but also, and more importantly, how it thinks about it.


Cary Wolfe is Bruce and Elizabeth Dunlevie Professor of English at Rice University. He is author of What Is Posthumanism?, the 8th installment in the University of Minnesota Press's Posthumanities Series. His previous books include Critical Environments: Postmodern Theory and the Pragmatics of the “Outside” (Minnesota, 1998) and Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory, and he is editor of Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal (Minnesota, 2003).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Peter Paik: Is mass violence justified if it brings about a better world?

Peter Y. Paik, author of From Utopia to Apocalypse: Science Fiction and the Politics of Catastrophe, has an interview in this week's ROROTOKO about science fiction (and speculative narratives) that portray political upheaval and revolutionary change. His book covers works across the board that include the graphic novel Watchmen; popular films such as the Matrix trilogy and V for Vendetta; the science fiction cinema of Jang Joon-Hwan; and the manga of Hayao Miyazaki.

Paik writes about what led him to write this book:
I had not undertaken any scholarly studies of science fiction or popular culture prior to writing this book—my graduate work had focused on the aesthetics of literary modernism. But the attacks of September 11 led me to embark on a project that would enable me to reflect on the uses and consequences of violence in political life. Although my book is not a study of how the terrorist attacks have influenced the production of certain films or the writing of certain literary texts, nevertheless, at its heart, this book is an examination of the relentless compulsions that underlie such fateful and destructive endeavors as imperial expansion, the control of access to scarce resources, and the anxious defense of an unsustainable status quo.

Read the entire ROROTOKO interview here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Interview: Sharon Irish on Suzanne Lacy (includes footage from The Crystal Quilt, Minneapolis, 1987)

Author Sharon Irish has filmed a wonderful book video that documents her initial interest in artist and political justice activist Suzanne Lacy. She briefly discusses how hers is a book about relationships, and narrates archival footage of Lacy's The Crystal Quilt, which was performed by hundreds of women at the IDS Tower in downtown Minneapolis in 1987.

Irish is the author of Suzanne Lacy: Spaces Between (February 2010). Read a recent Q&A she did with University of Minnesota Press here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Hurt Locker: Abstraction and Embodiment in the War Film

Robert Burgoyne is professor and chair of film studies at the University of St. Andrews. He is author of Film Nation: Hollywood Looks at U.S. History, which was released in a revised edition in February 2010. He has been kind enough to allow the University of Minnesota Press to publish a portion of his paper Abstraction and Embodiment in the War Film on this blog.

In the entirety of his academic paper, Robert Burgoyne compares two films, each of which depict a different experience of war: Paradise Now (2005) and The Hurt Locker (2008). He argues the following:

Suicide as a weapon or tactic of war has become the emblematic and most terrifying weapon of contemporary geopolitical conflict, confirming the horrifying potency of the body in the theater of combat. ... Suicide as a weapon, however, has largely been ignored in contemporary war films, which are increasingly centered on technology and the abstraction of the media interface.

Posted below is a portion of this paper that focuses on a powerful scene from The Hurt Locker. Warning: Spoilers ahead.


The Hurt Locker: Abstraction and Embodiment in the War Film

I would like to offer a reading of the potential of the body in the war film to express something like the collective trauma of war. The film's climactic scenes revolve around two grisly sequences involving a "body bomb." In the first, the body of the teenage Iraqi whom James (Staff Sergeant William James, played by Jeremy Renner) has befriended, who called himself Beckham (played by Christopher Sayegh), is discovered by the EOD team, laid out on a table, covered in blood, his abdomen sliced open and a bomb planted inside. "Ever seen a body bomb before?" Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) asks Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), the youngest and most skittish member of the team. Here, the destructiveness of war is condensed into a figure of atrocity with a difference: the victim is now also a weapon; the victim of terror has become the medium of terror, the body turned into a bomb. The body as a weapon here reaches a heightened quality of visceral intensity, as James decides to dismantle the bomb inside Beckham's body -- an act that puts into a single frame the imagery of bomb defusing, with its wires, leads, and secret triggers, and the imagery of surgery, the manipulation of organs, vessels, and flesh. James' delicate and intricate work, his skill with his hands, takes on a new meaning. The almost tender act of working on Beckham's body recodes earlier bomb scenes as a form of triage, recasting James not as the adrenaline fueled warrior of popular account but as a figure who, as Walter Benjamin writes about the surgeon, "diminishes the distance between himself and the patient by penetrating into the patient's body." Here, I suggest that the body can be understood in broad metaphoric terms as the social space, the theater of combat (in Fredric Jameson's formulation, the "scene").

The camera, Benjamin writes, is like the surgeon: it penetrates into the heart of things. In the climactic sequence of the film, James confronts a suicide bomber, and here the two films I discuss in this essay seem to come face to face with each other. Dressed in a dark suit like the suicide bomber in Paradise Now, the Iraqi man pleads to have the vest removed. "He is a family man, he is a good man," the Iraqi interpreter keeps repeating. James decides to defuse the vest, to confront the human bomb. As Sanborn says to James, "This is suicide, man." James replies, "That's why they call it a suicide bomb, right?"

James is unable to release the vest or defuse the bomb, and for a brief moment the two characters embrace each other, holding each others' arms. Knowing he is about to die, the man begins praying, hands behind his head, on his knees, as James retreats. Here the figure of the human bomb brings the dialectic of the body in The Hurt Locker into striking visibility: self and other, the terrorist and the victim of terror, the solitary figure and its connection to a wider social world. In foregrounding the body at risk, The Hurt Locker embeds us in the sense data of war, in sensory proximity to the events themselves, a first step in bringing war back into the zone of collective perception.


Robert Burgoyne can be reached at Robert.Burgoyne0@gmail.com.

Find out more about Film Nation: Hollywood looks at U.S. History here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Metropolitan Lovers: Lambda Literary Award finalist

Julie Abraham's Metropolitan Lovers: The Homosexuality of Cities has been announced as a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in LGBT Studies.

Not only has this been a record year for nominations for these awards (the quantity of titles nominated and publishers entered are each up 10%), it's also the first year the Bisexual category has evolved into two distinct categories: Bisexual Fiction and Bisexual Nonfiction. Says Lambda Foundation Board President Katherine V. Forrest:

“In a year of challenge and change for writers and publishers – and for the Foundation – the hundreds of books submitted for nomination illustrate the continuing dynamism of our literature. This year’s Lambda Literary Award Finalists and the quality of their work speak eloquently to the richness and range of our literature.”

Read the entire article here.

Congrats, Julie!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Claiming the “F” Word: Native Women, Feminisms, and Visions of Sovereignty

Jennifer Nez Denetdale, co-editor of the Fall 2009 edition of Wicazo Sa Review, has published a portion of her paper on critical Indigenous feminism, Claiming the 'F' Word: Native Women, Feminisms, and Visions of Sovereignty, on the First Peoples blog:

At a time when tribal nations are critical of women’s leadership, when they are passing bans on same-sex marriages, when we refuse to acknowledge or prefer to forget our exchanges with those from “races” other than white, when we are aligning ourselves with American interests in the Middle East, Native feminists find it important to interrogate the processes by which tribal nations and their citizens have adopted social, economic and political structures that re-inscribe colonial relationships of hierarchy and patriarchy. ...

As feminist scholars have noted, women and gender are integral to the project of nation building, for women reproduce nations -— biologically, culturally, and symbolically. Including an analysis of gender is crucial to transforming contemporary Native governments because women are primary actors in the configurations of nation.

Read the post in its entirety here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Local author Sue Leaf up for Minnesota Book Award -- your vote counts!

The Press is happy to announce that Minnesota author Sue Leaf's memoir The Bullhead Queen: A Year on Pioneer Lake has been nominated for a Minnesota Book Award.

That's not all -- from now until March 31st, you can log your vote for The Bullhead Queen for Readers' Choice Award. The winner will be announced Saturday, April 17th, at the Minnesota Book Awards gala in St. Paul. For more information, and to see all 32 finalists, click here.

May the voting begin!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Thursday at Magers & Quinn: Discuss the future of the Twin Cities—neighborhoods, job growth—with local community leaders

This Thursday, Minneapolis bookseller Magers & Quinn will be hosting an open forum led by author and community leader Myron Orfield. Orfield will be joined by Meg Tuthill, the new council member for Ward 10; Dave VanHattum of the nonprofit organization Transit for Livable Communities; and Jesse Mortenson of the nonprofit MetroIBA, which supports independent businesses in the Twin Cities. Panelists will discuss how we can create thriving neighborhoods and promote job growth in the Twin Cities region.

This event begins at 7:30 p.m. this Thursday and is free and open to the public. Find more information here.

Orfield is the author of Region: Planning the Future of the Twin Cities, which discusses the Twin Cities' potential to become a model to other regions around the U.S. for responsible urban and suburban planning.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Our Oscars segment on WCCO + a look behind the Hollywood scenes

Some say the battle for Best Actor was a neck-and-neck race between Colin Firth and Jeff Bridges. No matter how close the call, the Academy ultimately chose Bridges' Crazy Heart performance over Firth's in A Single Man. While happy for Mr. Bridges, we respectfully feel Mr. Firth's performance didn't get the acclaim it deserved, and will find solace in reading stuff by people who agree with us.

For those who missed sales coordinator Erik Anderson's appearance on WCCO TV's News Sunday, you can catch it here.

What did you think about Colin Firth's portrayal of George Falconer? Or about the film vs. book in general? Leave your comments on our readers' forum.

A Single Man aside, the University of Minnesota Press has seen a few other interesting Oscars-related shout-outs in the news:

-The Center for American Progress has an article about the often-overlooked laborers behind the scenes in Hollywood (not to mention an interactive timeline on the history of labor organizing in Hollywood). The article references Danae Clark's Negotiating Hollywood: The Cultural Politics of Actors' Labor (1995).

-The Globe and Mail has a piece on red-carpet ribbons and the evolution of ribbon-wearing from radical statement to generic trend. It quotes Samantha King, author of Pink Ribbons, Inc., about how such displays of compassion often go farther to benefit the ribbon wearer than the cause itself.

What do you think about the best-actor race? Or laborers in Hollywood? Or cause ribbons? Please leave your comments below.

Friday, March 5, 2010

And the Oscar for Best Actor goes to ...

We are rooting relentlessly for Colin Firth to be awarded an Oscar this Sunday for Best Actor for his beautiful, breathtaking, "career-defining" (according to Oprah) performance in A Single Man.

We understand Mr. Firth is up against tough competition. But our determination and our confidence know no limits. To make our case, we've rounded up many parties who wholeheartedly agree with us.

-BBC News Magazine says the Best Actor winner is most likely to be of above-average height and have dark brown hair and brown eyes. If this does not describe Mr. Firth (who is 6' 2"), I do not know what else does. George Clooney is of similar height, but his hair color will be his detriment -- silver foxes have only claimed 11% of Best Actor Oscars. Another favorite in the category is Jeff Bridges, but by definition of this article, both he and Morgan Freeman have, unfortunately, passed their Oscars prime; the average age of a winner in this category is 44. (Mr. Firth is 48.)
We did take note that 71% of winners in this category have been American (Firth is British). We choose to ignore it.

-British actor Jason Isaacs is rooting for Firth. This might not be completely surprising, as Firth was an overwhelming favorite this year at the BAFTAs. While we have no idea how often Isaacs' predictions turn out to be true, he has been ranked among Hollywood's Top 10 most evil actors. This means everyone (are you listening, Academy?) should be afraid to disagree with him.

-Firth is the sole second favorite for the Oscar among the British gambling population, according to the Daily Mail. A spokesman mentions that Firth has been the best-backed actor this week, which only further convinces us of his late pre-Oscars/post-BAFTAs surge in popularity.

-In an ideal world, Oscars are awarded according to performance, not career. A MOVE columnist points out that if Bridges (who is apparently a favorite) wins, it will be on account of his career and not necessarily this particular role. There is a tendency to overestimate the Academy's inclination to vote based on this type of sentiment; if it were not the case, wouldn't Mickey Rourke have won the Oscar last year?

Feel free to leave your comments here. And please do tune in to WCCO TV's "News Sunday" this weekend, where sales coordinator Erik Anderson will debut a fresh haircut and talk Oscars business with Esme Murphy on the second half of the show, which airs from 10 - 11 a.m. CST this Sunday. Go Erik!

Love the A Single Man film? Check out the novel by Christopher Isherwood.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Jay Weiner: On working for NBC at the Vancouver Winter Olympics (and an encounter with Stephen Colbert's moose)

Jay Weiner is a former Star Tribune reporter who writes about politics and sports business issues for MinnPost and other local and national publications. His book This Is Not Florida: How Al Franken Won the Minnesota Senate Recount is forthcoming this fall from University of Minnesota Press. He has covered every Winter Olympics since the 1984 games in Sarajevo, and is among the most veteran Olympic journalists in the U.S.

With the closing of the Vancouver Winter Olympics on Sunday night, I have now covered eight consecutive Winter Games and seven Summer Olympics. This was my first time with NBC, the first time I saw the Olympics from “the inside,” (previous years were spent working for the Star Tribune, MinnPost and Sports Business Journal) and the first time I didn’t wander at all. For all other Olympics I covered, moving constantly was one of my trademarks. Some days, I took in three or four events. Fact is, in Vancouver I didn’t see a single event in person, but just about every event live as I watched the TV feed from every venue every day at any hour. I had a better sense of the totality of the Games and the unity of the event this year. I didn’t have as good of a feel for the on-the-ground spirit and dynamics of the Games.

I was a supervisor in the fabled NBC Research Room, a place where many NBC executives launched their careers as young, fact-checking go-getters. (Among those were current Olympics president Dick Ebersol and NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker.) Four of us oversaw the work of about 15 sport-specific researchers, who became experts on – to be facetious - the left-handed curler from Norway whose uncle was once the prime minister and whose mother, battling cancer, climbed Mount Everest. Those are the kinds of unusual facts NBC loves to use.

One thing to know: NBC is committed to getting things right. Of all the things I learned during the past month (that’s how long I was on the ground in Vancouver), one stood out: in as quick a time as live TV offers, NBC tries its best to be accurate all of the time. Frankly, it was a dogged standard that surprised me.

Aside from confirming facts, attending news conferences, performing some minor reporting duties and relating specifically to the Vancouver organizing committee, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee, my main task was keeper of the NBC medals chart. It’s a bit more complicated than it sounds. As the 17 days wear on, hundreds of athletes win medals from dozens of countries, and NBC tracks them all for instant facts on the air. Out of that came a major task: identifying and cataloging multiple medalists. There were more than 60 of them, with most winners of two medals. It was a head-spinning chore, and again, accuracy was key.

As for encounters with “the talent,” there were few. The Research Room is tucked away down the hallway from the studio. The Today Show was shot at a different site, as was the Nightly News. I chatted once with Tom Brokaw about a mutual friend we have. I talked a bit with Jimmy Roberts, the NBC “essayist” on air. I saw Bob Costas a few times, and Brian Williams. I did pass Stephen Colbert in the hallway and touched his moose — a real thrill.

My shifts were long. I barely saw the sun, and not only because I went in early in the mornings and left the International Broadcast Center at night. But it rained a lot in Vancouver. We never saw snow in the city. I did see a blizzard of red and white, however, every night as I walked back to my hotel. Canada was intensely patriotic and competitive around these Games. Canada’s success on the field buoyed the population and filled the streets of Vancouver with noisy partying into the night, often right outside my window. Some nights, I felt like singing, “Oy Canada,” rather than “O Canada,” as I tried to grab my (hoped-for) six hours of shuteye amid the revelry.

Still, the Vancouver Games were a healthy break from the past year. Since November 2008, and right up to the start of the Winter Olympics, I covered the Senate recount, and then wrote my forthcoming book, This Is Not Florida. The recount, too, was a marathon of sorts, but not like the compact, happening-every-minute Winter Olympics. That recount lasted 35 weeks. The Winter Olympics only last 17 days, which, all things considered, was a five-ringed piece of cake.


See also: Top 12 list of Olympic memories from Jay Weiner.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Q&A: Kate Mondloch on the use of screens (as in the computer screen you're looking at right now)

Kate Mondloch is assistant professor of contemporary art and theory at the University of Oregon. She also serves on the executive committee of the university’s new Cinema Studies program and is a member of the Digital Scholars initiative. She is author of the recently published Screens: Viewing Installation Art, and is currently working on a new book about museum-based media art and feminist theory from 1970 to the present.

(see photo credit below)

Q: Given the book’s title, it seems safe to say that this book is concerned with screens. What kind of screens, and what do they have to do with installation art?

The book focuses on the experience of viewing gallery-based artworks made with film, video, and computer screens, but I encourage readers to think much more broadly. Screen-mediated viewing existed well before the invention of still or moving photographic media. Artistic screens have had an implied “depth” or virtual component to them ever since the Renaissance, for example, and camera obscura images, shadow shows, magic lantern projections, panoramas, dioramas, and a variety of peep-show based attractions also positioned their observers in front of “screens” of various kinds. However, as I argue in the book, an important shift occurs in art spectatorship when everyday cinematic and electronic screens are incorporated into installation artworks in the mid-1960s. This is transitional because how we see and interact with media technologies in everyday life outside of the art gallery impacts how we engage with such devices within the institutional context of the visual arts. In other words, one can’t assess these art works outside of their relationship to the larger media culture. A lot of people have commented on the book’s great cover design and I think that Günther Selichar’s photographs of various unidentified and “turned off” media screens are a big part of its success. His work is compelling for getting us to notice neglected details about media interfaces that define so much of our daily lives. It also asks us to bridge our experience of commercial media technologies and works of art—much like the media installations I examine in the book, they suggest that these two seemingly distinct experiences are in fact deeply entwined.

Q: Screens is situated at the intersection of several fields—art, new media, and film, to name a few. What is the biggest challenge in writing a book like this?

It’s true, interdisciplinarity is always challenging—it can be a struggle to find the right voice to reach diverse audiences without sacrificing disciplinary specificity. But this is also what makes field-bending research so exciting. In fact, there are lots of historians and critics working to bring art history and film and media studies into closer conversation in recent years (and only a smaller part of this effort would be considered so-called “screen studies”). But the biggest challenge by far in writing about contemporary technologies, whether in relationship to art or anything else, is that they change constantly. One of the biggest shifts since I completed the manuscript has been the increasing ubiquity of touch screen interfaces, from iPhones to in-flight entertainment systems. Although this technology hasn’t yet become widespread in screen-based art, it represents a really provocative transition in terms of our everyday relationships to screens as objects and one that shifts how we think about embodiment. As a reviewer said, Screens could theoretically be a continuous project, one that could be updated continually as artists engage new screen-based technologies.

Q: If you could choose one take-away point for readers, what would it be?

My hope is that the book will encourage readers to think more deeply about the ways we interact with media screens, both in our everyday lives and in certain forms of contemporary art. How many screens are surrounding you right now? I’m typing this on my laptop, which is hooked up to an external monitor, and I’m armed with my cell phone and iPod within arm’s reach. Blog readers will undoubtedly find this interview through yet a similar series of screen-based interfaces. When we go to contemporary art museums we find ourselves surrounded by even more screens. I’m fascinated about the implications of this—how do we begin to make sense of the world in what one might call our “society of the screen”? For me, screen-based installation artworks offer a fascinating perspective on this issue.

Q: Where can we see the artworks discussed in your book?

(see photo credit below)

Most contemporary museums showcase media installation artworks on a regular basis; as for the book's specific case studies, it can be difficult to observe them first hand (in fact, this is something I talk about in the book itself). A fantastic show of Dan Graham’s work recently ended at the Walker Art Center—Dan Graham: Beyond. The exhibition was organized by MOCA, Los Angeles, and traveled to the Whitney Museum in New York prior to coming to Minneapolis. I really can’t praise it enough. Graham is one of those artists whose oeuvre has been remarkably consistent and yet radically experimental at the same time. One could argue that he has been interrogating “screen” interfaces for much of his career—from film installations such as Body Press (1970-72), to the two-way mirrored glass architecture in Cinema (1981), to his more recent public art projects and pavilions. One of the principle case studies in my book, Graham’s Two Consciousness Projection(s), is in the show; it was such a treat to see people interacting with the work and to consider how these engagements may have changed since it was first shown in 1972. For those who didn't get to the exhibition, the catalog is a really fantastic resource.

Other exhibits currently in progress:
-Bruce Nauman's "Mapping the Studio I (Fat Chance John Cage)" (2001) is on permanent view at DIA: Beacon, NY.
-electric earth by Doug Aitken (1999) is at the Cincinnati Art Museum through April 4th, 2010.
-Parasol Unit (London) has a show of Eija-Liisa Ahtila's work right now.


Screens: Viewing Media Installation Art is available from University of Minnesota Press.

Photo credits: (Top) Günther Selichar. Screen, cold # 8, 1997/2003. Ilfochrome/Alucobond, 125 x 167 cm, Collection Maison Européene de la Photographie, Paris, (VBK, Vienna), http://selichar.net
© 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VBK, Vienna.
(Second) Dan Graham, Present Continuous Past(s), 1974. Mirrored wall, video camera, and monitor with time delay. This installation view shows a spectator observing a time-delayed image of herself on the monitor adjacent to the mirrored walls. Reproduced from Video-Architecture-Television: Writings on Video and Video Works, 1970-1978/Dan Graham, edited by Benjamin H. D. Buchloh (Halifax: Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1979.) Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Doug Hoverson: The long history of beermaking in Minnesota

In celebration of the August Schell Brewing company's 150th anniversary, MPR yesterday interviewed Ted Marti, CEO of the company, and UMP author Doug Hoverson (Land of Amber Waters) to offer context on the historic significance of beer and breweries, which were often family enterprises, in Minnesota.

Check out the entire interview here. (And catch a tip on when Schell's banana bread-flavored beer will be heading your way!)