December Events

December 3, 2013 at 12:05 pm Leave a comment

Michael Levine presents A Weak Messianic Power
A Weak Messianic Power: Figures of a Time to Come in Benjamin, Derrida, and Celan
Join us on December 3rd at 7pm for a discussion with Michael Levine, author of A Weak Messianic Power: Figures of a Time to Come in Benjamin, Derrida, and Celan. Anna Glazova and Richard Sieburth will act as discussants.

In his famous theses on the philosophy of history, Benjamin writes: “We have been endowed with a weak messianic power to which the past has a claim.” This claim addresses us not just from the past but from what will have belonged to it only as a missed possibility and unrealized potential. For Benajmin, as for Celan and Derrida, what has never been actualized remains with us, not as a lingering echo but as a secretly insistent appeal. Because such appeals do not pass through normal channels of communication, they require a special attunement, perhaps even a mode of unconscious receptivity. Levine examines the ways in which this attunement is cultivated in Benjamin’s philosophical, autobiographical, and photohistorical writings; Celan’s poetry and poetological addresses; and Derrida’s writings on Celan.

Michael G. Levine is Professor of German and Comparative Literature at Rutgers University. He is the author of Belated Witness: Literature, Testimony, and the Question of Holocaust Survival and Writing Through Repression: Literature, Censorship, Psychoanalysis. He will be joined by Anna Glazova, Craig-Kade Scholar in Residence at Rutgers University, and Richard Sieburth, Professor of French and Comparative Literature at New York University.


David Stark and Nancy Warner present This Place, These People

Join us on December 4th at 7pm for a discussion with David Stark and Nancy Warner, authors of This Place, These People: Life and Shadow on the Great Plains.

Nancy Warner’s photographs and David Stark’s interviews and reflections provide fresh perspective on the history and culture of a distinctly American phenomenon. Continuing in the tradition of Solomon D. Butcher, who photographed some of the first Midwestern settlers in the nineteenth century, and Wright Morris, who combined photographic and verbal accounts of farmers’ lives in the twentieth century, Stark and Warner explore a way of life that continues to adapt in the face of wrenching change.

This book pairs images of abandoned farm places with the plain-spoken recollections of the people who still live in nearby communities. In his afterword, Stark grounds the project in the relationship between people and their land; the cadences and tough-minded humor of everyday speech; the ongoing mechanization of farming; the lure of cities for the young; and genetic and chemical innovations for improving crop yields. The result is both art and document, evoking memories, emotions, and open-ended questions for anyone with rural American roots.

David Stark is the Arthur Lehman Professor of Sociology and International Affairs at Columbia University, where he directs the Center on Organizational Innovation. His most recent books is The Sense of Dissonance: Accounts of Worth in Economic Life. Nancy Warner is a fine-art and portrait photographer based in San Francisco. Many of the photographs in this books were first exhibited at the Great Plains Art Museum as Going Back: Midwestern Farm Places (2008)


Peter Gelfan presents Found Objects

Join us on December 5th at 7pm for a discussion with Peter Gelfan, author of the provocative novel Found Objects, which questions cultural and personal assumptions about the nature of relationships and families.

Aldo, a successful commercial photographer, lives in rural Vermont with his wife, Erica, their lover, Marie, and Marie’s two young children. This isn’t a man with two women, but a genuine family: each of the three adults loves the other two, and each is a real parent to the children, who seem to thrive with the love of three parents. Their domestic bliss is suddenly threatened when Jonah, Marie’s husband and the father of her children, shows up.

Jonah doesn’t declare his intentions—perhaps doesn’t even quite know them himself—and over the first few hours, then days, then weeks, the four adults lurch and scramble to hold on to what they want without alienating those they love. The kids can’t help but feel the tension, and their ties with their four parents start to shift and realign. It doesn’t help that the community is gossiping, the kids’ friends find grist for the teasing mill, and the school administration and the local social services begin to take notice. Something’s got to give.

Found Objects depicts a struggle between values and instincts, ideals and reality, whom we strive to become and whom we were born to be.

The floor will also be open for questions and discussion about the art and craft of writing and the changing face of book publishing.


On December 6th starting at 7pm Book Culture is hosting another Open Mic Night. Stop by early to sign to secure a spot reading. We request that everyone keep their pieces between 5-7 minutes. As always, we are excited to hear our friends and neighbors share their inspiring voices.


Charles K. Armstrong presents Tyranny of the Weak

Join us on December 9th at 7pm for a discussion with Charles Armstrong, author of Tyranny of the Weak: North Korea and the World, 1950-1992.

To much of the world, North Korea is an impenetrable mystery, its inner workings unknown and its actions toward the outside unpredictable and frequently provocative. Tyranny of the Weak reveals for the first time the motivations, processes, and effects of North Korea’s foreign relations during the Cold War era. Drawing on extensive research in the archives of North Korea’s present and former communist allies, including the Soviet Union, China, and East Germany, Charles K. Armstrong tells in vivid detail how North Korea managed its alliances with fellow communist states, maintained a precarious independence in the Sino-Soviet split, attempted to reach out to the capitalist West and present itself as a model for Third World development, and confronted and engaged with its archenemies, the United States and South Korea.

From the invasion that set off the Korean War in June 1950 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Tyranny of the Weak shows how—despite its objective weakness—North Korea has managed for much of its history to deal with the outside world to its maximum advantage. Insisting on a path of “self-reliance” since the 1950s, North Korea has continually resisted pressure to change from enemies and allies alike. A worldview formed in the crucible of the Korean War and Cold War still maintains a powerful hold on North Korea in the twenty-first century, and understanding those historical forces is as urgent today as it was sixty years ago.

Charles K. Armstrong is the Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies in the Social Sciences at Columbia University. His recent books include The Koreas (Routledge, 2007); Puk Choson Tansaeng, the Korean translation of The North Korean Revolution, 1945–1950 (Seoul: Booksea, 2006; originally Cornell University Press, 2003); Korea at the Center: Dynamics of Regionalism in Northeast Asia (M. E. Sharpe, 2006, coeditor); and Korean Society: Civil Society, Democracy, and the State (Routledge, 2002, editor; 2nd edition, 2006).


Rick Whitaker presents An Honest Ghost

Join us on December 10 at 7:30pm for a discussion with Rick Whitaker, author of An Honest Ghost. He will be introduced by Edmund White.

Rick Whitaker’s semi-autobiographical novel, An Honest Ghost, consists entirely of sentences appropriated from over 500 books. Whitaker limited himself to using 300 words per book (in accordance with Fair Use); never taking two sentences together; and never making any changes, even to punctuation. The experience of acknowledging each sentence as literary artifact, combined with the imagined accretion of books that built An Honest Ghost, deftly mirrors the burgeoning nostalgia in the narrator’s voice and, fittingly, in the careful reader’s heart.

Inspired by the task of unpacking his library, the narrator returns to writing an autobiographical novel about the sudden appearance his son, Joe, who at age nine shows up on the narrator’s doorstep for the first time. The narrator, unnerved by the prospect of sharing his life with his extremely precocious child, is nonetheless moved by Joe’s arrival. He has to change his own life by accepting the responsibility of fatherhood, a role he shares slightly with his young English boyfriend, David. Joe’s unpredictable mother, Eleanor Sullivan, seeks her own satisfactions. The domestic scene is affected when David introduces a new friend, Roy Hardeman, a strange gay cop who dies as mysteriously as he arrived. The heart of the novel is the ghostly, persistent, unreliable qualities of literary and personal memory, and the ways in which a narrative can hold onto, recapture, and transform memory.

Rick Whitaker is the author of Assuming the Position: A Memoir of Hustling and The First Time I Met Frank O’Hara: Reading Gay American Writers. He is Concerts and Theatre Manager of the Italian Academy at Columbia University. Edmund White is an American novelist whose novels include the trilogy A Boy’s Own Story, The Beautiful Room is Empty, and The Farewell Symphony. His most recent works of fiction are Chaos and Hotel de Dream. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, he teaches writing at Princeton and lives in New York City.


Michael Eskin presents The Wisdom of Parenthood

Join us on December 11th at 7pm for a discussion with Michael Eskin, author of The Wisdom of Parenthood: An Essay. This event is sponsored by Upper West Side Philosophers, Inc.

If parenthood were a function of biology, adoptive parents, for instance, ought not to be considered parents—which is absurd. Thus, it follows that biology cannot be an essential component of parenthood. Concomitantly, if parenthood were merely a function of law, all those who have parented children without being their legal parents would be stripped of their de facto parenthood … If, then, parenthood is neither a function of biology nor simply law—what is it? What does being a parent truly mean?

Rooted in the author’s own experience as a father of three, The Wisdom of Parenthood is an insightful, original, and provocative philosophical meditation on the meaning, experience, and practice of parenthood both as a universally human phenomenon across history and, more specifically, in the age of assisted reproduction, in vitro fertilization, gestational surrogacy, “third-party production,” international adoption, and the transformation of the very notion of the nuclear family with the rise of same-sex and LGBT parenting.

Michael Eskin was educated at Concordia College, the University of Munich and Rutgers University. A former fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, he has taught at the University of Cambridge and at Columbia University. He has given workshops, lectured and published widely on literary, philosophical, ethical and cultural subjects, including: Ethics and Dialogue in the Works of Levinas, Bakhtin, Mandel’shtam, and Celan; Poetic Affairs: Celan, Grunbein, Brodsky; 17 Prejudices That We Germans Hold Against America and Americans and That Can’t Quite Be True (published in German under the pseudonym ‘Misha Waiman’); Philosophical Fragments of a Contemporary Life (under the pseudonym ‘Julien David’); The DNA of PrejudiceOn the One and the Many (winner of the 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Award for Social Change); and Yoga for the Mind: A New Ethic for Thinking and Being & Meridians of Thought (with Kathrin Stengel). A frequent guest on radio programs, Michael Eskin is a member of the Academy of American Poets and the P.E.N. Center for German-Speaking Authors Abroad. He lives in New York City and is the cofounder of Upper West Side Philosophers, Inc.


Paul Grimstad presents Experience and Experimental Writing

Join us on December 12th at 7pm for a discussion with Paul Grimstad, author of Experience and Experimental Writing: Literary Pragmatism from Emerson to the Jameses. Branka Arsic and Ross Posnock will act as respondents.

American pragmatism is premised on the notion that to find out what something means, look to fruits rather than roots. But, as Paul Grimstad shows, the thought of the classical pragmatists is itself the fruit of earlier experiments in American literature.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and (contemporaneously with the flowering of pragmatism) Henry James, each in their different ways prefigure at the level of literary form what emerge as the guiding ideas of classical pragmatism. Specifically, this occurs in the way an experimental approach to composition informs the classical pragmatists’ central idea that experience is not a matter of correspondence but of an ongoing attunement to process. The link between experience and experiment is thus for Grimstad a way of gauging the deeper intellectual history by which literary experiments–Emerson’s Essays; Poe’s invention of the detective story in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue;” Melville’s Pierre; and Henry James’s late style–find their philosophical expression in classical pragmatism. Charles Peirce’s notion of the “abductive” inference; William James’s “radical empiricism;” and John Dewey’s naturalist account of experience inform the book’s readings.

Experience and Experimental Writing also frames its set of claims in relation to more contemporary debates within literary criticism and philosophy that have so far not been taken up in this context: putting Richard Poirier’s account of the relation of pragmatism to literature into dialogue with Stanley Cavell’s inheritance of Emerson as someone decidedly not a “pragmatist;” to differences between classical pragmatists like William James and John Dewey and more recent, post-linguistic turn thinkers like Richard Rorty and Robert Brandom.

Paul Grimstad is Assistant Professor of English at Yale University. He has published on literary pragmatism, the work of Emerson and Poe, and American literature. He will be joined by Branka Arsic, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, and Ross Posnock, Anna Garbedian Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University.


Book Culture’s Annual Winter Sale starts Friday, December 13th and will last through Sunday, December 15th. Come in and receive 20% off discountable items. On Saturday morning we will hold a Bagel Breakfast and a Tea Time Sunday afternoon in conjunction with our sale.


The Urban Range Poetry Night

Join us on December 16th at 7pm for a poetry night presented by The Urban Range poetry collective to celebrate the launch of Stephen Massimilla’s The Plague Doctor in His Hull-Shaped Hat, which was selected in the Stephen F. Austin University Press Prize Competition. Massimilla will be joined by David Groff, Suzanne Parker, Ruth Danon, Melissa Hotchkiss, and Hermine Meinhard. A discussion addressing the value of the expanse and multiplicity of poetry today will follow.

Stephen Massimilla will be joined by fellow members of The Urban Range poetry collective, who will also read from their recent work: David Groff reading from Clay, Suzanne Parker reading from Viral, Ruth Danon, author of Triangulation from a Known Point, Melissa Hotchkiss, author of Storm Damage, and Hermine Meinhard, author of Bright Turquoise Umbrella.

The event will feature a Q and A and discussion addressing the expanse and multiplicity of poetry today, followed by a reception with refreshments.

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