In the Fall

Scott McLemee explores the connections between various books forthcoming from scholarly presses.

May 4, 2018

While updating my running list of the books forthcoming from scholarly presses, I often notice connections among them. Often a theme or trend seems obvious -- the numerous recent volumes pondering Trump, for example -- though on occasion the pattern may exist only in the eye of the beholder, like the face of Elvis in a breakfast taco.

Here are a few clusters of titles scheduled for the next publishing season, with descriptions quoted from the presses’ catalogs and websites. Bon appétit.

The 50th anniversary of the worldwide social, political and cultural upheaval of 1968 naturally yields its share of recollections and appraisals. Among other things, it was a period of immense creativity in film. Christina Gerhardt and Sara Saljoughi, the editors of 1968 and Global Cinema (Wayne State University Press, October), acknowledge the pantheon of European and American directors but stress that “the influence of cinemas of the so-called Global South is pivotal for the era’s cinema as well.”

Also widening the angle of vision to take in more than the familiar Western image of the period’s conflict is The Japanese ’68: Theory, Politics, Aesthetics (Verso, September), a collection of documents and analyses edited by Gavin Walker. The Prague Spring and its crushing by Soviet tanks are among the best-remembered developments of 1968 -- certainly overshadowing the protests that spring in Poland and the repression that followed. The authorities halted publication of Zygmunt Bauman’s book Sketches in the Theory of Culture (Polity, September) and presumably sent it down the memory hole by the time Bauman himself was driven out of the country not long afterward. An uncorrected set of proofs for the book was discovered only recently, making possible its publication half a century after it was ready.

With Sketches being at least the third new volume of Bauman’s work to appear since his death last year, the sociologist remains as prolific posthumously as he was while alive.

Second-wave feminism did not start in 1968, but it picked up a great deal of speed and energy that year. Lisa Greenwald’s Daughters of 1968: Redefining French Feminism and the Women’s Liberation Movement (University of Nebraska Press, January) emphasizes two tendencies that emerged in France as the movement took shape there: one became individualist and intensely activist, the other particularist and less activist, distancing itself from contemporary feminism, leading to debates and battles “between women and organizations on the streets and in the courts.”

Debates and battles of a decidedly different variety exploded when second-wave feminism reached Indiana, Erin M. Kempker recounts in Big Sister: Feminism, Conservatism, and Conspiracy in the Heartland (University of Illinois Press, October). It met with conspiracy theories about subversion, collectivism and one-world government. Feminists “compromised by trimming radicals from their ranks,” for whatever good that did them. Anxiety tends not to accept compromise.

As if to embody the sum of all Midwestern fears, we have The Xenofeminist Manifesto: A Politics for Alienation (Verso, September). Authorship is attributed to Laboria Cuboniks, a collective “spread across five countries and three continents” seeking “to dismantle gender, destroy ‘the family,’ and do away with nature as a guarantor for inegalitarian political positions.”

A very ’68 agenda, on the whole. By contrast, Dianna E. Anderson’s Problematic: How Toxic Callout Culture Is Destroying Feminism (Nebraska, September) seems closer in spirit to the sort of chastened liberalism of subsequent decades, embarrassed by the excesses of its youth and willing to settle for considerably less than utopia. “Too often feminist criticism has come to mean seeing only the bad elements of women-centric pop culture and never the good,” the argument goes. Against an “insistence on feminist ideological purity,” Problematic endorses “new, more nuanced forms of feminist thought for today’s culture.” Forget Valerie Solanas! Rally to the leadership of Lena Dunham!

Finally, there’s Donna Zuckerberg’s Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age (Harvard University Press, October), which “dives deep into the virtual communities of the far right, where men lament their loss of power and privilege, and strategize about how to reclaim them.” Ordinarily I might take a pass on another chance to go on such a ride along; the stench stays with you for a long time. But Zuckerberg follows what sounds like an interesting course by focusing on how the classics of Greek and Roman antiquity are being enlisted in the cause:

She finds, mixed in with weightlifting tips and misogynistic vitriol, the words of the Stoics deployed to support an ideal vision of masculine life. On other sites, pickup artists quote Ovid’s Ars Amatoria to justify ignoring women’s boundaries. By appropriating the Classics, these men lend a veneer of intellectual authority and ancient wisdom to their project of patriarchal white supremacy.

Zuckerberg is a classicist with a Ph.D. from Princeton and is the founder and editor of Eidolon, an online classics magazine. (Also, because you are probably wondering: yes, Mark’s sister.) She maintains that “some of the most controversial and consequential debates about the legacy of the ancients are raging not in universities but online.” It’s an interesting premise, and I look forward to reading the book.


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