New and noteworthy – 24 March 2016

Xenophobia new and old, questionable inflections, Paris' jazz diasporas and life on the skin of the Earth: must-read scholarly titles

March 24, 2016
Glass globe lying on forest floor

A World to Live In: An Ecologist’s Vision for a Plundered Planet
George M. Woodwell
MIT Press

In a succinct book whose tone is at once meditative and determined, the founder of Woods Hole Research Center considers “life on the skin of the Earth” in the Anthropocene, and the prospect that we will yet turn away from our environmental “moment of inattention”. Drawing in Darwin and Lincoln, DDT and Haiti, Rachel Carson and Kazakhstan, Fukushima and dairy farms near his own New England hayfield, Woodwell asks bluntly how the corporate world “managed to be taken seriously in its argument before government and the public that it had the right to poison the world”. His closing words – “Sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas” – are ones to google, for those with small Latin, and reflect on, for us all.

Sexual Exploitation of Teenagers: Adolescent Development, Discrimination & Consent Law
Jennifer Ann Drobac
University of Chicago Press

Drawing on US case law both recent and historic, a legal scholar considers “the very common problem of the sexual harassment and exploitation of maturing teenagers by adults”: ostensibly “consenting” young people who “navigate the world without sufficient protection” through minefields of manipulation and coercion. The accounts outlined here – young people groomed, disbelieved and blamed – are as painfully familiar as today’s news headlines. Drobac’s conclusion is plain: “As a few adults initiate, perpetuate, and fail to cure the sexual abuse of teenagers, all adults must accept that, currently, only adults have the power to change laws and create rights.”

Jazz Diasporas: Race, Music and Migration in Post-World War II Paris
Rashida K. Braggs
University of California Press

Jazz is both black and white, both American and global, argues Africana studies scholar Braggs. In a fine, detailed study, she writes with verve and joy – as well as the requisite theoretical engagement and nods to the literature – about Sidney Bechet, journalist and vocalist Inez Cavanaugh (“her voice haunted me”), drummer Kenny Clarke, and the “rage-filled blues” of black writer James Baldwin and white French blues artist Boris Vian, in a time and place where black American musicians were admired and exoticised even as colonial conflicts escalated.

Uptalk: The Phenomenon of Rising Intonation
Paul Warren
Cambridge University Press

Aaargh, those young people with their appalling speech patterns – or, to put it as a linguist author must, “the use of rising intonation in contexts where questions would not usually be expected”. Warren unpicks the spread and variants of talking? like this? unnecessarily?, from Australia, New Zealand and California to Bristol, Northern Ireland and francophone Canada via The Office’s David Brent, silly girls and Monica Lewinsky, and puce-faced newspaper columnists. Will uptalk endure? A study of a mid-thirties cohort found it “remains relatively fixed into adulthood”, but Warren cheerily adds that “more evidence is needed before we can be confident that uptalk is here to stay”.

The New Xenophobia
Tabish Khair
Oxford University Press

The Holocaust. Sinhalese-Tamil conflict. Murderous skinheads. Shia-Sunni bloodshed. Ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. The Utøya massacre. Anti-Muslim propaganda in Switzerland. Will preaching love, respect and multiculturalism sort it all out? In this eloquent, often searchingly personal study, Khair, an Indian-born, Denmark-based novelist and academic, considers “new” and “old” xenophobia, via Giddens, Dawkins, Marx, Count Dracula and UFOs, and argues that hatred of the other “is essentially the index of an ongoing power struggle, enabled by the nature of capital, which is why its subjects change, but xenophobia, like the proverbial river, ‘seems to go on forever’”. Highly timely and highly commended.

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