National Ghosts and Global Literature

By Fiona Lee

Vilashini Cooppan. Worlds Within: National Narratives and Global Connections in Postcolonial Writing. Stanford University Press, 2009. 322 pp.

“National literature is now a rather unmeaning term; the epoch of world literature is at hand, and everyone must strive to hasten its approach,” wrote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1827, thus coining a term that has gained renewed currency in literary studies today (qtd in Damrosch 1).
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Can Melancholia Speak? On Maps for the Modern Subject

By Ricky Varghese

Jonathan Flatley. Affective Mapping: Melancholia and the Politics of Modernism. Harvard University Press, 2008. 272 pp.

How might we articulate a potential relationship between political subjectivity and aesthetic practice? In his compelling and incisive study, Affective Mapping: Melancholia and the Politics of Modernism, Jonathan Flatley sets out to describe precisely that tenuous and delicate interaction between politics and aesthetics, and between subjectivity and praxis.
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The Object in Question

By Johanna Skibsrud

Michael Fried. Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before. Yale University Press, 2008. 410 pp.

Michael Fried’s Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before begins with an epigraph: “Each answer remains in force as an answer only as long as it is rooted in questioning” (1).  Fried’s latest book, published in 2008, is deeply rooted in such questioning, and no one opening the book for the first time should expect any easy or direct answers.  Instead, Fried offers an unabashed return to the ground of the questioning upon which his (self-proclaimed) “infamous” 1967 essay, “Art and Objecthood” (Why Photography 2), was based; a return, that is, to the enduring lure, and force, of the question of the nature of art—and why it matters at all.
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America’s Primitive Turn: Capital and the “War on Terror” in Post-9/11 America

By Jaafar Aksikas

Paul Smith. Primitive America: The Ideology of Capitalist Democracy. University of Minnesota Press, 2007. 176 pp.

The field of contemporary cultural studies, especially with its importation into the American academy, often assumes a scepticism toward the uses of Marxist political economy and of Marxist approaches to culture, including more robust, non-reductive Marxist approaches and models, where cultural phenomena and cultural forms are understood within the context of their social totality—economic, political, and cultural.  Paul Smith is one of the very few cultural studies scholars writing today who does not share this scepticism in the least and the result, in the case of his latest book Primitive America, is a provocative, original, and unorthodox critique of contemporary American capital and culture.
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Popular Culture in the Classroom

By Christine Bold

Susie O’Brien and Imre Szeman.  Popular Culture: A User’s Guide.  2nd Edition.  Thomson Nelson, 2009.  398 pp.

Use this book! The second edition of Susie O'Brien and Imre Szeman's Popular Culture: A User's Guide traverses a vast range of popular culture—its slippery definitions, its history as a field of study, the stakes in its production and consumption, its relevance to the construction of the body, community, space, globalization—with specificity, nuance and lucidity.
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Queering the Problem

By Terry Goldie

Jasbir K. Puar. Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Duke University Press, 2007. 368 pp.

The intention of this book is obvious and quite simple. Terrorist Assemblages confronts the American tendency post-9/11 to see terrorists under every bed and often in every bed. Jasbir Puar attacks the racist underpinnings of counter-terrorism, the heteronormativity of American “ethnic” groups who try to assert that they are not terrorists, and the homonormativity of gay and lesbian groups who try to assert that they are just as proudly American as anyone else who hates terrorists.
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Resistance in the Affirmative

By Dana C. Mount

David Jefferess. Postcolonial Resistance: Culture, Liberation, and Transformation. University of Toronto Press, 2008. 224 pp.

In his first book, Postcolonial Resistance: Culture, Liberation, and Transformation, David Jefferess surveys the meaning of resistance in postcolonialism and attempts to develop a working definition of the term which, while still narrow enough to be effective, can lend itself broadly against interlocking systems of oppression.
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The Language of the Back

By Liam Mitchell

David Wills. Dorsality: Thinking Back through Technology and Politics. University of Minnesota Press, 2008. 280 pp.

In Dorsality, David Wills offers a linguistic reading of the technological, a technological reading of the linguistic, and a re-conception of the human on the basis of this relationship. Because Wills is a translator and former friend of Jacques Derrida, the appearance of deconstructive influences in the book's methodology is unsurprising.
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Identifying Universal Particularities

By David Lawrimore

John Michael. Identity and the Failure of America: From Thomas Jefferson to the War on Terror. University of Minnesota Press, 2008. 320 pp.

At its heart, John Michael’s Identity and the Failure of America: From Thomas Jefferson to the War on Terror is about the conflict between a national identity that promises justice to all and the various identities that have experienced America’s failure to make good on that promise.
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How to Save the World: A Politics of the People

By Mathias Nilges

Enrique Dussel. Twenty Theses on Politics. Duke University Press, 2008. 184 pp.

At the center of Enrique Dussel’s Twenty Theses on Politics stand a series of basic yet monumental questions. What is power? What is politics? Can power be held? Can it be taken?
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Urban Revolution and the ‘Chinese Century’

By Leslie Sklair

Thomas Campanella. The Concrete Dragon: China’s Urban Revolution and What it Means for the World. Princeton Architectural Press, 2008.

Xiangming Chen. Shanghai Rising: State Power and Local Transformations in a Global Megacity. University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

Since the 1980s, China has built more skyscrapers; more office buildings; more shopping malls and hotels; more housing estates and gated communities; more highways, bridges, subways, and tunnels; more public parks, playgrounds, squares, and plazas; more golf courses and resorts and theme parks than any other nation on earth—indeed, than probably all other nations combined (Campanella 14). 

These words, from the Introduction of Thomas Campanella’s brilliant book, decisively set the scene for what can truly be described as the world-historical phenomenon of how the Chinese authorities working closely with local and transnational entrepreneurs of various types have stormed into the twenty-first century.
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A Long Chinese Century?

By Peter Hitchcock

Giovanni Arrighi. Adam Smith in Beijing: Lineages of the Twenty-First Century. Verso, 2007. 420 pp.

This is a brave and provocative book by a writer who gave us some of the most brilliant critiques of geopolitics and geoeconomics of recent years. Arrighi described his projects as comparative historical-sociology which in terms of the works themselves is another way of thinking the world system as such (in contradistinction to the methodologies and conclusions of Wallerstein and Brenner).
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From Virtuality to Actuality: The Power, Wealth and Ambivalence of Video Games

By Lisa Dusenberry

Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter. Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games. University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter’s Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games deftly merges a critique of Empire and its practices with the social and historical context of video games and the gaming industry.
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Atoning, Reconciling, and Forgiving: Interdisciplinary Investigations of Justice

By Jill Scott

Linda Radzik. Making Amends: Atonement in Morality, Law, and Politics. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Joanna R. Quinn. Reconciliation(s): Transitional Justice in Postconflict Societies. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009.

Julie McGonegal. Imagining Justice: The Politics of Postcolonial Forgiveness and Reconciliation. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009.

The three books under review in this essay are united by their concern for justice and reconciliation in the aftermath of conflict and wrongdoing, but each addresses these questions with a unique disciplinary lens.
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Democracy, Limited

By Randall K. Cohn

John Keane. The Life and Death of Democracy. Norton, 2009.

In John Keane’s introduction to his sweeping new survey history, The Life and Death of Democracy, he lays out a promising—and ambitious—task for the project. “With an even hand,” he writes, “and one eye constantly on the past, the book tries to expose the worrying lack of clarity about what democracy means today” (xxxiii).
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Late Postmodernism

By Daniel Worden

Phillip E. Wegner. Life Between Two Deaths, 1989-2001: U.S. Culture in the Long Nineties. Duke University Press, 2009.

The “two deaths” in the title of Phillip E. Wegner’s new book are the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. During the gap between these two events, Wegner finds a cluster of cultural possibilities, a flourishing of “what we might call a ‘late’ postmodernism that only emerges in the 1990s” (5).
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“Intellectual Craftwork”: Reading Barbara Godard

By Erin Wunker

Barbara Godard. Canadian Literature at the Crossroads of Language and Culture. Ed. Smaro Kamboureli. NeWest Press, 2008.

I met Barbara Godard once. She was the plenary speaker at the McGill English Graduate Students’ Conference when I was in the first year of my Master’s. I remember being awed first by the vertigo-inducing complexity of her plenary paper, and then, later, when I was able to talk with her at the evening reception.
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Smart Homes and Shrunken Visions

By Will Straw

Davin Heckman. A Small World: Smart Houses and the Dream of the Perfect Day. Duke University Press, 2008.

More than anything else, Davin Heckman’s A Small World: Smart Houses and the Dream of the Perfect Day is about the slow disappearance of utopian scenarios concerning everyday life from American culture.
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