Essays and Conversations in Poetics and Anthropology

Nathaniel Tarn
Stanford University Press

This book has two main subjects which are interwoven: (1) the attitudes of selected poets (Neruda, Rilke, Breton, Celan, Artaud, Huidobro, Leiris, Paz, etc.) to the "primitive" and the "archaic," looked at from an anthropologist's viewpoint; (2) a model of the processes whereby poetry is produced and received built on Tarn's being in the very rare situation of having full careers as both poet and anthropologist. The book includes detailed biographical information about how Tarn went from being a French to an English to an American poet. It also reveals the effect of a double career and of these moves on a unique body of poetry and theoretical work. An extremely substantial interview, serving also as an introduction to, and discussion of, the essays, demonstrates that there is nothing like this work in our literature.


The Postal Age
The Emergence of Modern Communications in Nineteenth-Century America

David M. Henkin
The University of Chicago Press
$ 20

Many of us may not realize that what we now call snail mail was once just as revolutionary as e-mail and text messages are today. As David M. Henkin argues in The Postal Age, a burgeoning postal network initiated major cultural shifts during the nineteenth century, laying the foundation for the interconnectedness that now defines our ever-evolving world of telecommunications.
This fascinating history traces these shifts from their beginnings in the mid-1800s, when cheaper postage, mass literacy, and migration combined to make the long established postal service a more integral and viable part of everyday life. Drawing on original correspondence and public discussions from the period, Henkin tells the story of how Americans adjusted to a new world of long-distance correspondence, crowded post offices, junk mail, valentines, and dead letters. Throughout, The Postal Age paints a vibrant picture of a society where possibilities proliferated for personal and impersonal communications.


The Modern Art of Dying
A History of Euthanasia in the United States

Shai J. Lavi
Princeton University Press
$ 22.95

How we die reveals much about how we live. In this provocative book, Shai Lavi traces the history of euthanasia in the United States to show how changing attitudes toward death reflect new and troubling ways of experiencing pain, hope, and freedom.
Lavi begins with the historical meaning of euthanasia as signifying "an easeful death." Over time, he shows, the term came to mean a death blessed by the grace of God, and later, medical hastening of death. Lavi illustrates these changes with compelling accounts of changes at the deathbed. He takes us from early nineteenth-century deathbeds governed by religion through the medicalization of death and up to the legalization of physician-assisted suicide.
Unlike previous books, which have focused on law and technique as explanations for the rise of euthanasia, this book asks why law and technique have come to play such a central role in the way we die. What is at stake in the modern way of dying is not human progress, Lavi argues, but rather a fundamental change in the way we experience life in the face of death. In attempting to gain control over death.


And the Myth of Universal Knowledge



Jean Noel Jeanneney
The University of Chicago Press
$ 11

Jean-Noel Jeanneney, former president of France's Bibliotheque Nationale, here takes aim at what he sees as the most troubling aspect of Google's Library Project: its potential to misrepresent—and even damage—the world's cultural heritage. In this impassioned work, Jeanneney argues that Google's unsystematic digitization of books from a few partner libraries and its reliance on works written mostly in English constitute acts of selection that can only extend the dominance of American culture abroad.
Jeanneney argues that the short-term thinking characterized by Google's digital repository must be countered by long-term planning on the part of cultural and governmental institutions worldwide—a serious effort to create a truly comprehensive library, one based on the politics of inclusion and multiculturalism.

  What is Sport?

Roland Barthes
Translated by Richard Howard
Yale University Press
$ 15

"No work by Roland Barthes should remain inaccessible to American readers. This short text is especially appealing for what it tells us about Barthes's idea of the role of sports in the life of man (clearly woman has no place here), and for its connection to the rest of Barthes's work, in particular his Mythologies." ALYSON WATERS, Yale University
"Full of paradoxes, surprising rapprochements, and the melancholy wisdom of which Barthes was always a master."
PETER STARR, University of Southern California