Thursday, May 27, 2010

Off to the races at BEA



I'm going to make this quick as I need to head to Day 2 of the BookExpo America trade show. Here's our booth with our very pretty and much-complimented posters (I actually met the very nice designer of The England's Dreaming Tapes cover for the first time yesterday).



We got some exposure in PW Daily's BEA handout. Our Fair or Not Fair? poll was mentioned, and here are the tallies so far:

Florida 2000 recount:
Not Fair, 87%
Fair, 13%

Minnesota 2008 recount:
Not Fair, 23%
Fair, 77%

Look for complete results at Publishers Weekly. Results will also be posted here on Friday.




Also: Just had to post this amazing photo taken at a party hosted by Bookforum last night. Its surprise guest was none other than Sean Lennon, who played a set nothing short of amazing. We love you, Bookforum!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Speak for yourself at BEA: Your vote counts!


Still reeling from the results of the 2000 Bush/Gore presidential election recount? How about the 2008 Franken/Coleman recount? Whether you couldn't be happier with how things turned out or your anger is at the point of still-simmering, we want to hear from you. It's your chance to sound off!

Voting takes place next week at BookExpo America in New York, at Booth #4153. We will be collecting ballots all day next Wednesday and Thursday (the 26th and 27th). Results will be tallied and posted next Friday at Publishers Weekly and on this blog.

Unable to attend BEA? Simply e-mail your FAIR/NOT FAIR vote to sattl014@umn.edu, subject: Vote 2010. Be sure to indicate your votes for each recount. Send your vote by midnight EST on Friday, May 28th, and we'll include your vote in the final results tally.

While you're waiting for results, check out This Is Not Florida, the fascinating behind-the-scenes account of the largest, longest, and most expensive recount in American history, available this October. We'll be handing out advance samples at BEA.


Also at BEA 2010, we'll be distributing bullhorns (so you can literally speak for yourself) along with advance samples of:

Stuart Biegel's The Right to Be Out: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in America's Public Schools, a thorough, timely, and relevant resource that recognizes the right of LGBT students and educators to be out at school.


Jon Savage's The England's Dreaming Tapes, which makes available for the first time the full, uncut, sensational story behind the cultural moment that was punk. Also the essential companion to the seminal history of punk, England's Dreaming.

Farmers markets, Food, Inc., and truths about the history of farming

Today's post is by Carrie A. Meyer, author of Days on the Family Farm: From the Golden Age through the Great Depression. The book chronicles the experiences of May and Elmo Davis, distant relatives of Meyer who kept a diary about the couple's everyday experiences on the farm. The book showcases the large-scale evolution of agriculture from horses to automobiles and tractors, a surprisingly vibrant family and community life, and the business of commercial farming. In this post, Meyer points out little-known aspects of farmers markets and farming history. Meyer, who grew up on a farm in Illinois, teaches economics at George Mason University.

One of the joys of writing Days on the Family Farm was the opportunity to see close-up, through the diaries and farm records of May Davis, how a real Midwestern farm family lived and ate during the golden age of agriculture (1901-1914). May and her husband, Elmo, butchered pigs on the farm in the wintertime, rendered the lard, salted the pork, and made sausage. They raised chickens, had their own eggs, and milked at least one cow. They put some 50 bushels of potatoes in the cellar to last through the winter and into the spring. They canned strawberries, cherries, raspberries, and blackberries; they made pickles and canned tomatoes and catsup. They made cider and put bushels of apples in the cellar for the winter. Elmo foraged for honey in the “bee tree” of a farmer friend and neighbors shared garden produce with each other.

But they also bought groceries regularly, even in the summer. Sugar, flour, and coffee were year-round staples; by 1908, so were crackers and breakfast cereals, including Grape-Nuts, Corn Flakes, and Ralston. Today’s locavores might be surprised to learn that in January and February of 1908, May and Elmo also bought oranges, bananas, celery, radishes, lettuce, pickles, bread, cakes, cheese, peanuts, ice cream, raisins, dates, and even oysters. (Oysters were popular in their Northern Illinois community, settled by New England Yankees.) In July and August of 1908, they bought lemons, muskmelons, bananas, onions, and meat regularly, including mutton, “frankfurts,” and smoked ham. A hundred years ago, even farmers ate many foods that were not produced locally.

Yet today, as the documentary Food, Inc. points out, Americans have become woefully disconnected with the sources of their food. Children are raised on soft drinks and junk food. Far too few children have planted a seed and watched it grow into an awesome zucchini or have watched a fluffy yellow ball turn into a chicken for the dinner table. Few carnivores like to be confronted with the reality of large confinement animal farming operations. Are they ethical? Does it make sense to raise farm animals (and produce manure!) so far from the crops? In May and Elmo’s day, the manure from the hogs and cattle would enrich the soil to grow the corn and other crops. Insects and plant pests were controlled by successive crop rotations. Different crops make different demands on the soil and make different contributions. Corn (which loves nitrogen) would follow clover (which fixes nitrogen in the soil). Then farmers would plant small grain, like barley or oats. The following year the volunteer grain would enrich a crop of hay. The pig pasture would also be rotated back into crops. Such rotations were surely better for the soil and more pleasant for the farm animals.

The work of Michael Pollan (whose book The Omnivore’s Dilemma was the basis for much of the movie Food, Inc.) has encouraged the growth of farmers markets, home gardens, and a healthy conversation about food and where it comes from. For this I am grateful. But his work also contains misconceptions about the history of farming.

Myth #1: Farmers were not too sophisticated back in the golden age of family farming. Early in his book Pollan notes parenthetically: “there were only 225 tractors in all of America in 1920” (Dilemma, p. 38). In fact there were 246,000 tractors in the United States in 1920, and 2.2 million automobiles on farms (U.S. Bureau of the Census, series K184 and K186). In Iowa, 73% of farms had one or more automobiles in 1920 (U.S. Bureau of the Census as recorded in Dept. of Commerce, Statistical Abstract of the United States 1925, Table 558, p. 602). Many people think farmers bought tractors before they bought automobiles, but that is not the case.

Myth #2: “Beginning in the 1970s Iowa farmers started alternating corn with soybeans”
(Dilemma, p. 40). Iowa farmers actually planted 1.2 million acres of soybeans in 1935 (The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service provides this information online; select “Crops and Plants”). They were already alternating corn with soybeans. (Elmo experimented with soybeans in the mid-1920s; so did Iowa farmers.) During World War II, farmers were encouraged to plant more soybeans, and Iowa farmers upped their soybean acreage to two million acres. Acreage devoted to soybeans grew steadily throughout the next several decades. In the 1970s, farmers in the United States grew enough soybeans to begin exporting them to other countries.

Myth #3: Cattle were not fed corn until the big western feedlots came onto the scene in the 1950s (Dilemma, pgs. 65-73). Cattle have been eating corn in America for more than 200 years. As the Corn Belt spread west to Iowa, farmers were already selecting cattle for their ability to convert corn to beef steak. In the early 1900s farmers began making silage, chopping green corn with the stalks and fermenting it to make it easier for cattle to digest. Farmers have long known that too much corn could be harmful to cattle, but evidence for the links Pollan claims -- between corn, cattle, and E. Coli outbreaks -- is weak. (For more information, see this video on Iowa Public Television.)

So, while I look forward to fresh greens and radishes from my favorite local farmer this season, I understand why many have found Pollan’s book and the movie Food, Inc. hard to swallow. I am troubled when the derisive label of “corporate farmer” is attached to farmers whose great-grandfathers were farmers, just because they grow corn and more of it than their ancestors did. To improve food policy, greater understanding between farmers and consumers will be required. Meeting at the farmers market is not a bad way to begin.

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-For more information on farmers' responses to Food, Inc., visit the American Agri-Women site and scroll to "A Response to Food, Inc."

-Find out more about Carrie A. Meyer.

-Learn more about Meyer's book Days on the Family Farm.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Still Notorious: The Nushawn Williams Case

Today's post is by Thomas Shevory, professor of politics at Ithaca College and current visiting professor of political science at the National University of Mongolia. Shevory is author of Notorious H.I.V.: The Media Spectacle of Nushawn Williams.

Six years ago, I published Notorious H.I.V. with University of Minnesota Press about the case of so-called “AIDS monster” Nushawn Williams. In the process of writing it, I interviewed Nushawn many times, and our relationship extended beyond simply that of researcher and subject. I have kept in touch with him over the years to the point of serving as best man at both of his weddings. (He is divorced from his first wife.)

This year, on sabbatical from Ithaca College, I had the opportunity to take a Fulbright Scholarship to teach in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Nushawn was, I think, unhappy about this, given that he was due to be released in April of this year. But he was now in a stable married relationship. It seemed to me that, once he was released and out of New York state and the media spotlight, he had a pretty good shot of making a new life for himself. I figured I'd get back in touch with him upon my return home.

I hadn't expected that New York state, specifically Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, would attempt to keep him beyond the limit of his full prison term. Nushawn was worried about it, and we discussed it before I left. But I mistakenly believed that he would not be covered under New York’s civil commitment rule. This, I thought, was limited to people that have a history of pedophilia or some specifically determined psychosexual disorder. And I didn’t put him in that category.

It’s true that Nushawn had had sex with many women in his teens, and while HIV positive. One girl was only thirteen years old. But, importantly, all of his relationships were consensual. He was involved with a crowd of troubled teens in Jamestown, New York, who were taking drugs and having sex. This is deplorable behavior, and, in his case, criminal behavior, but not necessarily the mark of sexual dysfunction.

Nushawn has served twelve years in prison. Now more than thirty years old, he has never expressed to me the slightest interest in anything other than moving in with his wife and her children and trying to live as normal a life as possible.

I should have realized that, given Nushawn's notoriety, he would not be treated as an ordinary criminal. For one thing, Attorney General Cuomo is about to run for governor and keeping Nushawn behind bars won't do him any harm in terms of garnering upstate votes. Other upstate politicians have jumped on the he’s-a-monster bandwagon, making wild statements that are often at best tenuously connected to the actual facts.

Civil commitment in New York, which amounts to an indefinite (read: life) sentence, requires a probable cause hearing, and then a civil trial. A recent hearing found probable cause to hold Nushawn, and a trial is now slated for October. The probable cause finding was largely based upon a psychiatric examination, which I have read.

As far as I can tell, prisoners have few legal rights in these examinations. No lawyer is present. There is no Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The prisoner is told that if he does not want to answer a question, he must give a reason for not doing so. The report itself is a mix of statements from the prisoner, psychological tests, snippets from past psychological evaluations, quotations from television interviews, statements from other prisoners, work history, history of drug use, past arrests, the psychologist’s judgments, and so forth. It’s like the kitchen sink.

Moreover, rather than a dispassionate scientific analysis, the report reads like a prosecutorial brief, which, I guess, it is in some sense intended to be. Much of the material is speculative, and more than a little is hearsay, and a great deal of it would not be allowed into a criminal trial. But since the prisoner is deemed a patient and not a criminal defendant for its purposes, everything is presumably relevant. Evidentiary boundaries, due process, and minimal standards of defendants' rights are apparently not relevant.

When reading the report, I wondered how many, if any, convicted felons in New York State would be able to survive such scrutiny. In the past, you didn’t have to prove your character or worthiness to be released from prison after serving your sentence. You left with a few dollars, and you were on your own. If you committed another crime, you went back in, no doubt for a justifiably longer prison term, perhaps for a much longer one.

That’s been the social contract of criminal conviction. It has been such since the development of penal institutions in the 19th century. That contract is now being eroded by a process that medicalizes an ever-widening sphere of what was once deemed criminal activity. It’s a dangerous trend, not just for Nushawn Williams, but for the American legal system as a whole.

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Nushawn Williams has been ordered to remain in custody until a trial tentatively set for October. His lawyer has filed a motion to dismiss the confinement case. That will be argued on June 22.

> More about Notorious H.I.V.
> Read an excerpt from the chapter "Moral Panic and Media Politics."

Monday, May 17, 2010

Documentary to feature Sigurd F. Olson's life and ability to impart the peace, awe, and importance of wilderness.

Today we feature a Q&A with Peter Olsen, a filmmaker who is producing a film about award-winning conservation activist and best-selling author Sigurd F. Olson. Olsen is inviting the public to a benefit this Saturday to help fund production of the film.



U of M Press: You write on your blog that Sigurd Olson is "a man few have heard of." What should people know about Sigurd?

Peter Olsen: He struggled for much of his life to find his voice and it caused him and his family a great deal of strife. He doubted himself constantly but never gave up, and it wasn’t until in his mid-fifties that he finally came into his own and The Singing Wilderness was published. Everything changed after that. At forty-eight, I find that very encouraging. But because the writing he is known for is so filled with calm and beauty and wisdom, many of his readers don’t realize that there was turmoil in his life.

Because of his own tenacity and eventual success, he was incredibly encouraging to anyone who sought him out. Everyone who has made comments on my blog has a story about how an encounter, either with him personally or with his writing, has changed the course of their life. His biographer David Backes has his own such story.

He was a charismatic and extremely appealing man. His son Robert described him this way when I interviewed him: “The thing I remember so vividly is that he was a strong, manly man. He smelled good.… There were a lot of women who sort of took on the wilderness ethos out of sheer attraction to him… But he, in a way when he was in his 30s he was Clark Gable-esque, if that conveys the image.”


UMP: What makes Sigurd such an influential figure?

PO:
There are two different answers to that question. For those who read his books, his writing was a kind of touchstone for things they felt but didn’t know how to express. For people who met him or heard him speak, I think it was also his charisma, his sincere warmth, his generosity, and encouragement. His door was literally always open, coffee and cookies waiting. Strangers would make pilgrimages and just show up on his doorstep, and they were never turned away. He promptly returned every letter ever sent to him by fans and followers and seekers.

UMP: Why a documentary?

PO: Sigurd’s defining belief was that wilderness is vital to our spiritual health and happiness, which arose from the idea that we have a biological, evolutionary connection with nature. This was all well before e-mail, iPods, and cell phones. I think that we need to take a new look at his ideas in this age in which every advance in technology further divides us from our natural origins.

This will not be a straight up biography, but more of an interpretation of his life and his work. I will use his life story as the back bone of the film but jump off to explore ideas suggested by his experiences. I want to go out into the wilderness with urban dwellers, for example, who have never left the city. As a guide (Sigurd) did this all the time. Is there a way to live in cities that acknowledges and respects our connection with wilderness?

I also have personal, maybe even selfish, reasons for making this film. I really feel like this, more than any other film I’ve done, is the film I was sort of meant to make. I am extremely inspired by (Sigurd's) life. He lived his life out of doors; I live in New York City. He knew the land and the plants and animals and weather cycles – he knew the wilderness intimately, he knew how to survive and thrive in it.

Finally, I fell in love with my fiancĂ©e on my first trip in the Boundary Waters. We had just met and she asked me to go with her and another couple for a week-long excursion. It was a little scary going off into the wilderness with this beautiful stranger, but it turned out to sort of seal the deal for us. I brought an anthology of Sigurd’s works and read passages from it as we sat around the campfire at night. Ultimately, I think I am making this film, or at least, set out to make this film, because of that first trip. It changed my life – and so, in that way, did Sigurd.

UMP: What is your favorite Sigurd Olson passage?

PO: "Silence" from The Singing Wilderness (see excerpt below). I plan to open the film with that. And that book is a great place to start for anyone who wants an introduction to his writing; that or Listening Point. I also really love The Lonely Land, a book he wrote about a 500-mile canoe trip he and a group of friends took in the '50s in a remote region up in Saskatchewan to retrace the journey of early voyaguers. I think it would actually make a great feature film.


An excerpt from the chapter "Silence" in Sigurd Olson's The Singing Wilderness:

It was before dawn, that period of hush before the birds had begun to sing. The lake was breathing softly as in sleep; rising and falling, it seemed to me to absorb like a great sponge all the sounds of the earth. It was a time of quiet—no wind rustling the leaves, no lapping of the water, no calling of animals or birds. But I listened just the same, straining with all my faculties toward something—I knew not what—trying to catch the meanings that were there in that moment before the lifting of the dark.

Standing there alone, I felt alive, more aware and receptive than ever before. A shout or a movement would have destroyed the spell. This was a time for silence, for being in pace with ancient rhythms and timelessness, the breathing of the lake, the slow growth of living things. Here the cosmos could be felt and the true meaning of attunement.


> Learn more about Peter Olsen's documentary.
> Find more books by Sigurd F. Olson.

When design lost its innocence: Greg Castillo on the Kitchen Debate



The Chronicle profiles Greg Castillo's Cold War on the Home Front: The Soft Power of Midcentury Design, which reveals the tactics used by the American government to seduce citizens of the Soviet bloc with state-of-the-art consumer goods and appliances.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Baseball. Beer. MN history. Folklore. Our spring book sale has something for everyone


From Rod Carew's memoir Carew to the 25th anniversary edition of Bill Holm's The Music of Failure, our Spring Regional book sale truly has something for everyone. UMP is offering 30% off of 20 new titles with regional appeal -- order soon to ensure yours will arrive in time for Father's Day!

Also included in the sale is Doug Hoverson's Land of Amber Waters, and we'd like to take the opportunity to point you to Hoverson's Let's Grab a Beer! flowchart, now appearing on The Heavy Table. No matter what your imbibing mood, there's sure to be a local brew out there for you.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mary Wingerd to read from 'North Country' on MN's Statehood Day


On May 11th, 1858, Minnesota became the 32nd state admitted to the Union. Now, more than 150 years later, UMP is releasing a book by historian Mary Lethert Wingerd about the lesser-known details of Minnesota's origins. North Country: The Making of Minnesota, a fully illustrated volume that was commissioned by the University of Minnesota, unlocks the deeply tragic, violent and complex origins of the state that have often been buried in favor of legend and a more benign image of immigration, settlement, and cultural exchange.

Wingerd recently told the Pioneer Press:
The biggest myth is that Indians in Minnesota country were hostile to whites. In fact, there were almost no incidents of Indian attacks on white people, Europeans or Americans. When rare cases did occur, it was always an individual spat and not an organized attack. The Dakota and Ojibwe went to great lengths not to drive traders away. The Dakota were frustrated with trying to get traders to establish a stable source because they needed guns. All the tribes to the East had been supplied with firearms in the early 1600s by the Dutch and English, and it didn't matter how terrific the Dakota were as warriors. Without guns, they were at a huge disadvantage in intertribal disputes.

Wingerd will read from North Country and present a slideshow of some of the book's telling images at 7 tonight at the Minnesota History Center.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The character of Nushawn Williams

Nushawn Williams is an HIV-positive sex offender who has admitted to having unprotected sex with as many as 300 young women and girls, and who has infected at least 13 of them. In 1997, under a granted exception to the state of New York's HIV confidentiality law, public authorities released his name and picture to the media, deeming him a "public health threat" and the source of a "near epidemic" of HIV transmission. In 1998, he pleaded guilty to charges of statutory rape and reckless endangerment, and has been in jail ever since.

On April 13th, 2010, Williams' criminal sentence ended. Authorities successfully moved to keep Williams in jail under a 3-year-old civil law that allows extended confinement when one is deemed likely to offend again. Williams, whose family had been awaiting his release, remains in custody. His trial is tentatively set for October, though his lawyer will argue the extended confinement motion in late June.

In 2004, University of Minnesota Press published Notorious HIV: The Media Spectacle of Nushawn Williams, by Thomas Shevory. Through media reports, legal documents, and interviews, Shevory (who is also from Williams' hometown of Jamestown, NY) exposes the significant exaggerations, misunderstandings, and distortions that riddled this case from the start. Within the book, he shows how media coverage robs individuals like Williams of their humanity, creating a pervasive atmosphere of threat that warps the integrity and fairness of the criminal justice and penal system.

Read an excerpt from the book's first chapter, Moral Panic and Media Politics, here. You can also find out more about the book here.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

NAISA and SB1070

You've probably heard about Arizona's much-criticized new immigration law, but have you heard what Indigenous scholars are doing about it?

Natasha Varner speaks out on the First Peoples blog about unsuccessful efforts to cancel the soon-upcoming Native American and Indigenous Studies Association meeting set to take place in two weeks in Tucson, AZ, and how scholars including NAISA president and UMP author Dr. Robert Warrior plan to use the meeting as "a platform for collective action."

Read the piece -- and leave a comment -- here.

In response to SB1070, the Florida Atlantic University Libraries' blog has posted a list of recommended titles on immigration reform and racial profiling. Among these is Robin Dale Jacobson's The New Nativism: Proposition 187 and the Debate over Immigration, which examines California's controversial ballot initiative that sought to deny social services to undocumented immigrants. We recommend this book, and we definitely recommend that you check out the list.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

George Kouvaros: On The Misfits and seeking a sense of home

George Kouvaros, author of Famous Faces Yet Not Themselves: The Misfits and Icons of Postwar America, is associate professor of film in the School of English, Media, and Performing Arts at the University of New South Wales. A short while ago, I (Maggie Sattler, direct marketing coordinator at the Press) asked him to write for this blog about his own first experience and initial impressions watching the film The Misfits, a film that brought together onscreen Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe in what would be their final roles, and a film that also illuminated larger changes in Hollywood acting during the postwar period. Here is George's response.

Dear Maggie,

You asked if I could write about my initial impressions of The Misfits, and when and where I first saw the film. Believe it or not, this has been surprisingly difficult. I think this is because The Misfits was, for many years, a film that I carried around in my head. When I started writing Famous Faces Yet Not Themselves, I wanted to write about the Magnum images taken on the set of the film, their history and relationship to other images of actors. But I also wanted to write about how such images trigger an experience of cinema that operates in advance of our actual viewing of a film. Now that the book is finished, I have become more and more interested in understanding the relationships and contexts that are opened up when we focus not on this or that film, but on the interaction between cinema and everyday life. Famous Faces Yet Not Themselves explores these contexts and relationships from the perspective of the stars involved in the production of the film. As a roundabout way of answering your question, Maggie, I want to say a little about how my own history connects with this expanded notion of cinematic experience.

I grew up as a first generation Greek-Australian in a working class city on the eastern seaboard of Australia. Nearly all of my classmates were the children of migrants who came from different parts of Europe to work in the city’s steelworks and related industries. My own family’s situation typified a path followed by numerous other Greek families: my father used the wages he earned from working multiple low-paid jobs to purchase a small fast-food business. Over the years, he successfully established and sold a number of these businesses. But while I was growing up, the shop he held for the longest time was located on the esplanade of the city’s main beach. On weekends and throughout the school holidays, my sisters and I were required to work in the shop serving customers, many of which we knew or recognized from school (above are pictures of me in the shop). It was only during the winter months, when business slowed down considerably, that we were able to escape the tedium of working alongside our parents. For my father, there was no escape. In order to compensate for the winter slowdown, he combined work in the shop during the day with a job cleaning trains at night, catching a few hours sleep in the changeover between the two. Permanently sleep-deprived and on-edge, he would be glimpsed, late in the evenings, getting ready to start the night shift that merged with a day spent serving customers at the shop.

With all my father’s energies and attention consumed by the demands of two full-time jobs, the task of parenting was left entirely to my mother (pictured below with my sister, right, and myself). She was the one who set the limits on our behavior and did her best to ensure that nothing we did reflected negatively on the family. She did this at the same time as she worked alongside my father in the shop. Apart from the occasional wedding or Greek community function, my parents never went out or had what, nowadays, we call a social life. Their lives were totally consumed by the tasks of working and bringing up children. If this put a strain on their marriage, it did not manifest itself publicly or lead to complaints about their life in Australia. Given the lack of other work options, there was simply no point. The pressure that affected my parent’s marriage came from something else that emerged as a consequence of their migration, something that affected my mother rather than my father. For nearly all of her adult life, my mother has experienced an abiding sense of what we might call homesickness. My uneasiness in using this term stems from the way my mother’s pragmatic approach rules out displays of self-pity or wallowing in regret. Yet, at the same time, she has never wavered from the sense that her home is elsewhere. She lives her life grounded in the day-to-day realities of the world in which she moves, yet also maintains an unbreakable connection to a world from which she is physically absent. Watching my mother reading the tightly composed blue aerogramme letters that arrived every fortnight from my grandmother was one of a number of reminders that, even though this is where she lived, home, for her, was somewhere else.

So how does all this connect with my experience of cinema? I was four years old when my family arrived in Australia. All through my childhood and adolescence, my recollections of the people and places that she spoke about were tenuous: the exterior of a house with large green double-doors, a field with small trees, a shiny concrete floor laced with a myriad of fine cracks. Even with the assistance of the photo albums that my mother brought with her to Australia, these impressions were not enough to bridge the growing divide between my mother’s attachments and my own experiences. The cinema allowed me to draw closer—not to the actual world that my mother left behind in Cyprus but rather to the homesickness generated as a result of her departure. Primed by my mother’s example, the movies helped me to understand what it meant to belong to a world whose fundamental condition was my own absence.

For me, the natural home for this feeling has always been the American cinema. The differences between the worlds represented in these films and my own domestic world offered just the right mixture of familiarity and difference necessary to plot the type of disorientation that I needed to make sense of my mother’s homesickness. The other reason why I was so drawn to American cinema concerns the way it seemed to be populated with people and characters from somewhere else, people on the move, or newly settled. I’m thinking, of course, of The Misfits and its collection of displaced characters: Gay (played by Clark Gable), Roslyn (Marilyn Monroe), Perce (Montgomery Clift) and the hapless Guido (Eli Wallach), the character most clearly connected with the immigrant experience and the one that, at the end of the film, has the least to show for his troubles. The dramatic settings of The Misfits are a million miles from the suburban neighborhoods in which I grew up, but something about the restlessness of the characters in this film connects with the circumstances of people whose experience of home is inescapably ambivalent.

Famous Faces Yet Not Themselves traces how this ambivalence connects with changes in theories of acting, twentieth-century photography and postwar cinema. The photographs that structure the book’s argument are points where these changes leave their mark on the expressions of the actors. But I also use the photographs as a way to spotlight cinema’s capacity to project our attention elsewhere, to enable us to inhabit different worlds. No matter how many times I go back to these images, no matter how much the activity of analysis requires that I place a check on my own investments, they remain a way of conversing with a cinema that I carry round in my head.

I must apologize for wandering so far off-topic. I hope, however, that these reflections provide some sense of my attachment to The Misfits as well as the pathways opened by the images from this remarkable film.

With best wishes,
George

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Find more information about Famous Faces Yet Not Themselves here.