Tuesday, July 29, 2014

In With the New: Coarseness, Swerves, and Photographers

This is the beginning of a new series of posts highlighting the fascinating recent acquisitions to our collection.  We hope you'll want to check them out!

One of the world's most celebrated scholars, Stephen Greenblatt has crafted both an innovative work of history and a thrilling story of discovery, in which one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it.

Nearly six hundred years ago, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties took a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. That book was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic, On the Nature of Things, by Lucretius—a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functioned without the aid of gods, that religious fear was damaging to human life, and that matter was made up of very small particles in eternal motion, colliding and swerving in new directions.

The copying and translation of this ancient book-the greatest discovery of the greatest book-hunter of his age-fueled the Renaissance, inspiring artists such as Botticelli and thinkers such as Giordano Bruno; shaped the thought of Galileo and Freud, Darwin and Einstein; and had a revolutionary influence on writers such as Montaigne and Shakespeare and even Thomas Jefferson.

Public expression in the United States has become increasingly coarse. Whether it’s stupid, rude, base,

or anti-intellectual talk, it surrounds us. Popular television, film, music, art, and even some elements of religion have become as coarse, we argue, as our often-disparaged political dialogue. This book’s contention is that the U.S. semantic environment is governed by tactics, not tact. We craft messages that work—that perform their desired function. We are instrumental, strategic communicators. As such, entertainment and journalism that draw an audience, for instance, are “good.” This follows the logic that the marketplace, an aggregate of hedonically motivated individuals, decides what’s good. Market logic, when unencumbered by what some characterize as quaint human sentimentalities, liberates us to cynically communicate whatever and however we want. Whatever improves ratings, web traffic, ticket sales, concession sales, repeat purchases, and earnings is good. Embracing this communicative paradigm more fully necessitates the culture’s abandonment of collective notions of both taste and veracity, thus weakening the forces that keep individual desires in check. Our present communication environment is one that invites the hypertrophic expression of the ego, enabling elites to erode public communication standards and repeal laws and regulations resulting in immeasurable individual fortunes. Meanwhile, perpetual plutocratic rule is made even more certain by the cacophonous public noise the rest of us are busy making, leaving us incapable, disinterested, and unwilling to listen to one another.

This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement is a paradigm-shifting publication that presents the Civil Rights Movement through the work of nine activist photographers-men and women who chose to document the national struggle against segregation and other forms of race-based disenfranchisement from within the movement. Unlike images produced by photojournalists, who covered breaking news events, these photographers lived within the movement-primarily within the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) framework-and documented its activities by focusing on the student activists and local people who together made it happen.

The core of the book is a selection of 150 black-and-white photographs, representing the work of photographers Bob Adelman, George Ballis, Bob Fitch, Bob Fletcher, Matt Herron, David Prince, Herbert Randall, Maria Varela, and Tamio Wakayama. Images are grouped around four movement themes and convey SNCC's organizing strategies, resolve in the face of violence, impact on local and national politics, and influence on the nation's consciousness. The photographs and texts of This Light of Ours remind us that the movement was a battleground, that the battle was successfully fought by thousands of "ordinary" Americans among whom were the nation's courageous youth, and that the movement's moral vision and impact continue to shape our lives.

Book descriptions retrieved from Amazon.com

No comments: