Friday, December 15, 2000

Q&A Stephen Greenblatt: The Wicked Son

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review.
(Date Approximate)

Stephen Greenblatt is the best known exponent of the approach to literary studies that has been dubbed "new historicism." Author of "Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture," and "Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World," his most recent book, co-written with Catherine Gallagher, is "Practicing New Historicism."

New historicists linked anecdotes to the disruption of history as usual, not to its practice: the undisciplined anecdote appealed to those of us who wanted to interrupt the Big Stories. We sought the very thing that made anecdotes ciphers to many historians: a vehement and cryptic particularity that would make one pause or even stumble on the threshold of history.

Stephen Greenblatt and Catherine Gallagher, "Practicing New Historicism"

HB: When I try to define new historicism, I think of Elaine Scarry, the literary critic, studying the crash of TWA Flight 007, and coming up with a conclusion about the effects of electromagnetic interference that the FAA has taken seriously. Is that a fair way of describing new historicism?

Monday, December 4, 2000

David Gelernter: The Second Coming of What?


David Gelernter: The Second Coming of What?

By Harvey Blume
The American Prospect,
December 4, 2000

In June, 1993, the prominent Yale computer scientist David Gelernter opened a mail bomb sent by Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, who had singled Gelernter out as a leader of the technological revolution he despised. Badly hurt, Gelernter survived, and as a recent piece by him, "The Second Coming -- A Manifesto" ("") shows, his voice on matters of technology is as strong as ever. But during his long, painful convalescence, he began what amounts to a second career as right-wing political polemicist and culture critic. Picked for an unwanted celebrity by the Unabomber, he became something of a hero to conservatives -- an intellectual after their own hearts, an anti-intellectual sort of intellectual permanently at war with the liberal types conservatives see as dominating cultural discourse.

Gelernter's own contribution to conservative theory-building concerns a supposed transformation of the American establishment after World War II, culminating in what he calls "the coup of the intellectuals" during the War in Vietnam, which brought that war to a premature conclusion. Gelernter describes the takeover by intellectuals as a historic change in America's elite, full of consequences for how the country is governed. The old elite, in Gelernter's view, was in basic sympathy with the American masses; the new, intellectualized elite is hostile to them, as evidenced by its espousing the alien values of feminism and multiculturalism.

Wednesday, November 15, 2000

Q&A Studs Terkel: Listen

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review.
(Date Approximate)

A tape recorder, with microphone in hand, on the table or the arm of the chair or on the grass, can transform both the visitor and the host. On one occasion, using the play-back, my companion murmured in wonder; "I never realized I felt that way." And I was filled with wonder, too.

ST: I'm not gonna puff this cigar.

HB: Go ahead. I like secondary smoke.

ST: Nah, nah.

HB: I really don't mind.

ST: You sure? Because I shouldn't do it.

HB: Do it if you want to.

Monday, September 11, 2000

Gary Busch: The Other NYPD Murder

The American Prospect
Volume 11, Issue 20.
September 11, 2000.

The Other NYPD Murder
Harvey Blume

Two months after the fact, New York City Mayor Giuliani, purportedly mellowed by prostate cancer, issued an apology of sorts to the family of Patrick Dorismond, the unarmed Haitian-American man killed by New York police in March. The mayor did not apologize for the killing itself or for having personally unsealed Dorismond's juvenile police record the day after the event in a transparent attempt to defame Dorismond and justify the shooting, but he did say he regretted not having shown "compassion for ... a tragic situation." However meager this apology was, it is more than the mayor has ever extended toward the family of Gary Busch, the 31-year-old Hasidic man killed by police in Brooklyn just a year ago.

Gary Busch is the forgotten man on the roster of NYPD killings, a victim not only of 12 bullets fired by four policeman arrayed in a semi-circle around him, but of political and social circumstances that have conspired to make him invisible. Others who have suffered from NYPD overreaction or brutality--Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, and Patrick Dorismond, to name but the best-known--have enjoyed some measure of public vindication, if only posthumously, largely because the communities from which they come have demanded it. Busch's death, like Dorismond's, points to systemic problems within the NYPD and a mayor all too quick to cover them up, but Busch did not get the kind of support from New York City's Jewish community that Dorismond got from Haitian Americans. In the event, the Jewish establishment proved better at venting about the Holocaust, which takes no particular courage or insight 50 years after the fact, than at assessing and responding to injustice right before its eyes.

Friday, September 1, 2000

Q&A Robert Reich — The Future of Success: What A Deal

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review.
(Date approximate).

We are entering the Age of the Terrific Deal, where choices are almost limitless and it's easy to switch to something better. This is the first principle of the new economy. . . . This has long been the American way. It is now rapidly becoming the world way. America was founded by people who left places and abandoned old ways in search of a better deal. And if they didn't find it where they landed, they kept moving until they did.
     Robert Reich "The Future of Success"

Robert Reich was the Secretary of Labor during President Clinton's first term. Cofounder of the magazine, The American Prospect, his commentaries are often heard on National Public Radio. Reich's new book, "The Future of Success," a study of the new economy, starts with the story of his leaving the Clinton administration.

HB: If you had to explain what's new about the new economy while standing on one leg, what would you say?

Tuesday, August 8, 2000

Q&A Margot Livesey: Second Chances

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review
(2000: Date Approximate)

Margot Livesey grew up in Scotland and teaches in Boston. Her previous books are "Homework" (1990) and "Criminals" (1995), both novels, and "Learning By Heart" (1986), a collection of short stories. Hazel, the main character of her new novel, "The Missing World" (2000), has lost her memory after being hit by a car.

The truth was . . . he found the seizures more fascinating than distressing. After ten days at home Hazel was still having at least one, sometimes several, a day. A few were so minor as to be barely perceptible: she would put down her cup, blink, and continue with what she had been saying or doing. Others, like this afternoon's, were a force of nature. And it was during these, while she foamed and thrashed, that she made her odd pronouncements. Much of what she said was gibberish, but Jonathan sensed an ancient power seeking a conduit. He understood why, in other times and places, epileptics were regarded as prophets.
   "The Missing World"
HB: There's a lot of neurology in "The Missing World". There's the boy with Tourette's syndrome and there's Hazel with some brain damage.

ML: Part of the interest for me in this novel was researching various conditions and talking to people who suffered memory losses or seizures or other uncomfortable experiences.

Thursday, June 1, 2000

Q&A Malcolm Gladwell: : Astroturf

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review in 2000

Malcolm Gladwell is a staff writer for The New Yorker and author of "The Tipping Point." (2000)

These three characteristics -- one, contagiousness; two, the fact that little causes can have big effects; and three, that change happens not gradually but at one dramatic moment -- are the same three principles that define how measles moves through a grade-school classroom or the flu attacks every winter. Of the three, the third, epidemic, trait -- the idea that epidemics can rise or fall in one dramatic moment -- is the most important, because it is the principle that makes sense of the first two and that permits the greatest insight into why modern change happens the way it does. The name given to that one dramatic moment in an epidemic when everything can change all at once is the Tipping Point
   "The Tipping Point"

HB: What got you interested in the material that led to "The Tipping Point"?

MG: I covered the HIV epidemic for the Washington Post and got very interested in epidemiology. A lot what I learned about how epidemics work surprised me. Then, in 1996, I wrote "The Tipping Point" article for The New Yorker dealing with crime as an epidemic. That was inspired by the work of Jonathan Crane, who had written on the subject, and by George Kelling, who had put forward the broken windows idea. Once you have that paradigm, the fun thing to do is to see how many other places you can make it work.

Thursday, April 13, 2000

The Foreigner: Susan Sontag Interviewed

First appeared in Atlantic Unbound, 4/13/2000

Susan Sontag -- whose new novel, In America, has just been published -- doesn't feel at home in New York, or anywhere else. And that's the way she likes it

By the late seventies, books such as Against Interpretation (1966), Styles of Radical Will (1969), and On Photography (1977) had established Susan Sontag as an essayist whose concerns stretched from high culture to low before it was fashionable for writers to have this kind of range. Sontag wrote on subjects like film, photography, pornography, and camp with the same zeal she brought to the great European writers whom she helped introduce to American readers. The title essay of her collection Under the Sign of Saturn (1980) is about the German critic Walter Benjamin, and it is no wonder he had special meaning for her. In Benjamin's work many of the contrasting cultural and political concerns of his day -- any one of which would have sufficed for a lifetime's preoccupation by more narrowly focused thinkers -- flourished side by side. Similarly, in Sontag's essays there is an inclusiveness that may be the closest thing to intellectual unity we should hope for in our multi-dimensional culture. As Sontag says in the following interview, she does not like to exclude.

Tuesday, February 1, 2000

Q&A Sadie Plant: "Short-Cuts to Paradise"

First appeared in the Boston Book Review.
(Date approximate).
English writer Sadie Plant is author of "The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International in a Postmodern Age," and "Zeros + Ones: Digital Women + the New Technoculture." Her new book, "Writing on Drugs," focuses on the way drugs have been portrayed in western culture.

[Walter] Benjamin was one of several German intellectuals who experimented with mescaline, opium and hashish in the years between the wars, and his early participation in what became known as critical theory found him chasing a secular version of the intoxication of religious ecstasy, "a profane illumination," as he wrote in his essay on surrealism . . . Benjamin imagined revolution as a moment of shared intoxication, a modern expression of a wild and ancient energy, running through the proletariat.
   "Writing on Drugs"

Q&A Theodore Roszak: The Inner Elder

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review
(1999: Date Approximate)


Theodore Roszak is author of "The Making of the Counter-culture," a study of baby boomers in the sixties. His new book, "America the Wise: the Longevity Revolution and the True Wealth of Nations" (1998), discusses the implications, for themselves and for society as a whole, of the baby boom generation nearing old age.

   We are the first generation of the senior dominance. The beneficiaries of a revolution in life-extending medicine and public health, we enter the second half of our lives possessed of more political influence, greater wealth, and more vitality than any older generation before us. The values we choose to live by cannot help but be a commanding influence in shaping the century to come.
   Think of those years as a resource -- a cultural and spiritual resource reclaimed from death in the same way the Dutch reclaim fertile land from the waste of the sea.
   But how shall those years be spent?
   "America the Wise: the Longevity Revolution and the True Wealth of Nations", 1998

HB: How old are you?

TR: I'm 65.

Saturday, January 1, 2000

Q&A Kay Redfield Jamison: Suicide

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review. Date Approximate.

Kay Redfield Jamison, a Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical school, is known for her two studies of bipolar disorder, "An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness" (1995), and "Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament"(1993). Her new book, "Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide", is an examination of suicide among the young.

The science is of the first water; it is fast-paced, and it is laying down, pixel by pixel, gene by gene, the dendritic mosaic of the brain. Psychologists are deciphering the motivations for suicide and piecing together the final straws -- the circumstances of life -- that so dangerously ignite the brains vulnerabilities. And throughout the world, from Scandinavia to Australia, public health officials are mapping a strategy to cut the death rate of suicide. Still the, effort seems unhurried. Every seventeen minutes in America, someone commits suicide.
     "Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide"

HB: Is there more suicide among young people than in the past?