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"Mister, most stories about people are sad. The ones about animals sometimes turn out all right, but not them about people," muses a character in master storyteller Paul Ruffin's yarn of obsession and quest "In Search of the Tightrope Walker." Raging against this fated sadness—and often against a deadening and inescapable status quo—the characters in Ruffin's newest collection, Jesus in the Mist, populate an imaginative vision of the hardscrabble Deep South where history, culture, and expectations are set firmly against them. Like Flannery O'Connor before him, Ruffin views the South as dark with humor and rife with violence. He writes of places and times where religion, race, class, sex, abuse, poverty, mythology, and morbidity coalesce to expose humanity at its basest and its most redeeming. Peppered with the vivid dialogue, colorful descriptions, and idiosyncratic comedy that define Ruffin's work, this volume is divided into two sections: the first group of stories addresses complexities of relationships between men and women, and the second recounts episodes of initiation in which characters grapple with divided loyalties. Collectively these stories paint a panoramic view of Southern culture as dynamic characters take a stab at their destinies—and sometimes at each other. Whether they are facing the visage of Christ in a motel bathroom mirror, blasting a murder of crows with military-grade artillery, outrunning a mythical beast through moonlit woods, or taking an armed stance against integration at a gas station water fountain, many of Ruffin's characters are zealots on the edge of reason. Here confidence men, thugs, and rednecks push their agendas on unsuspecting audiences. But there are those as well who search for a lost childhood love, exorcise a sexual predator from the home, return to a discarded life, and spare a man's life when no one would be the wiser. These individuals long for restoration, redemption, and righteousness. Both populations come together in Ruffin's South, where madness and faith hold equal sway and no amount of sadness can keep yearned-for possibilities from still being perceived as attainable.
A Social and Architectural History
Jewish Sanctuary in the Atlantic World is a blend of cultural and architectural history that examines Jewish heritage as it expanded among the continents and islands linked by the Atlantic Ocean between the mid fifteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Barry L. Stiefel achieves a powerful synthesis of material culture research and traditional historical research in his examination of the early modern Jewish diaspora in the New World. Through this illustrated work, Stiefel examines forty-six synagogues built in Europe, South America, the Caribbean Islands, colonial and antebellum North America, and Gibraltar to discover what liturgies, construction methods, and architectural styles were transported from the Old World to the New World. Some are famous—Touro in Newport, Rhode Island; Bevis Marks in London; and Mikve Israel in Curaçao—while others had short-lived congregations whose buildings were lost. The two great traditions of Judaism—Sephardic and Ashkenazic—found homes in the Atlantic World. Examining buildings and congregations that survive, Stiefel offers valuable insights on their connections and commonalities. If both the congregations and buildings are gone, the author re-creates them by using modern heritage preservation tools that have enriched our understanding of the past, tools from such diverse sources as architectural studies, archaeology, computer modeling and rendering, and geographic information systems—all of which, when combined, can bring an even richer understanding of the past than incomplete, uncertain traditional historical resources. Buildings figure as key indicators in Stiefel’s analysis of Jewish life and social experience, but the author’s immersion in the faith and practice of Judaism invigorates every aspect of his work.
Few if any writers in the English language have been cited, praised, chided, or marveled at more routinely than Joseph Conrad for the perplexing evasiveness, contradictoriness, and indeterminacy of their fiction. William Freedman argues that the explanations typically offered for these identifying characteristics of much of Conrad’s work are inadequate if not mistaken. Freedman’s claim is that the illusiveness of a coherent interpretation of Conrad’s novels and shorter fictions is owed not primarily to the inherent slipperiness or inadequacy of language or the consequence of a willful self-deconstruction. Nor is it a product of the writer's philosophical nihilism or a realized aesthetic of suggestive vagueness. Rather, Freedman argues that the perplexing elusiveness of Conrad’s fiction is the consequence of a pervasive ambivalence toward threatening knowledge, a protective reluctance and recoil that are not only inscribed in Conrad’s tales and novels, but repeatedly declared, defended, and explained in his letters and essays. Conrad’s narrators and protagonists often set out on an apparent quest for hidden knowledge or are drawn into one. But repelled or intimidated by the looming consequences of their own curiosity and fervor, they protectively obscure what they have barely glimpsed or else retreat to an armory of practiced distractions. The result is a confusingly choreographed dance of approach and withdrawal, fascination and revulsion, revelation and concealment. The riddling contradictions of these fictions are thus in large measure the result of this ambivalence, their evasiveness the mark of intimidation's triumph over fascination. The idea of dangerous and forbidden knowledge is at least as old as Genesis, and Freedman provides a background for Conrad’s recoil from full exposure in the rich admonitory history of such knowledge in theology, myth, philosophy, and literature. He traces Conrad's impassioned, at times pleading case for protective avoidance in the writer's letters, essays and prefaces, and elucidates its enactment and its connection to Conrad's signature evasiveness in a number of short stories and novels, with special attention to The Secret Agent, Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, Under Western Eyes and The Rescue.
Keep and Give Away was selected by Terrance Hayes as the inaugural winner of the South Carolina Poetry Book Prize sponsored by the South Carolina Poetry Initiative. In her first full-length collection, Susan Meyers guides us through her examination of life's ordinary moments and the seemingly ordinary images that abide in them to reveal the extraordinary. From minutia to marriage, crumbs to crows, nothing is too commonplace to escape her attention as she traverses terrains of childhood, loss, relationships, and death. Mostly lyrical and often elegiac, the poems of Keep and Give Away move along the rifts between the past and present, the lived and desired. The dominant emotions of the verses are deepened by observations rooted in our natural world, where birds are "yeses quickening the air" and the sky can "lap you up, and up." In the book's final section, marriage poems turn to fishing and gardening for their truths, contemplations that recognize the realities of a world governed by luck, imperfection, contraries, and—most of all—love.
Islamic Learning and Sufi Practice in the Life of Sayyid Jalal al-din Bukhari Makhdum-I Jahaniyan
In Knowledge before Action, Amina M. Steinfels examines medieval Sufism and its place in Islamic society by telling the story of the life and career of Sayyid Jalal al-din Bukhari, a revered figure in Pakistan. Considered one of the most important Sufi masters of South Asia, Sayyid Jalal al-din Bukhari, more popularly referred to as Makhdum-i Jahaniyan, is known for combining spirituality and scholarship in a formative period for Sufism. Steinfels assembles the details of Bukhari's life from records of his teachings, dynastic chronicles, and correspondence to discover how he achieved his status and laid the groundwork for a devotional cult that has lasted seven centuries. Steinfels also examines Bukhari's theories of the relationship between scholar and mystic. Bukhari's teachings provide windows into the underlying concerns and themes of medieval Sufism. Knowledge before Action describes Bukhari's training as a scholar and a Sufi, his exercise of religious authority over his disciples, and his theories of the relationships between saint and shaykh. Knowledge before Action discusses ritual and contemplative practices, the economic bases of Sufi institutions, and the interconnectedness between Sufi masters, the 'ulama, and the political authorities by telling the story of Bukhari.
Kurt Vonnegut's death in 2007 marked the passing of a major force in American life and letters. Jerome Klinkowitz, one of the earliest and most prolific authorities on Vonnegut, examines the long dialogue between the author and American culture—a conversation that produced fourteen novels and hundreds of short stories and essays. Kurt Vonnegut's America integrates discussion of the fiction, essays, and lectures with personal exchanges and biographical sketches to map the complex symbiotic relationship between Vonnegut's work and the cultural context from which it emerged—and which it in turn helped shape. Following an introduction characterizing Vonnegut as Klinkowitz came to know him over the course of their friendship, this study charts the impact of Vonnegut on American society and of that society on Vonnegut for more than a half-century to illustrate how each informed the other. Among his artistic peers, Vonnegut was uniquely gifted at anticipating and articulating the changing course of American culture. Kurt Vonnegut's America shows us that Vonnegut achieved greatness by passing his own test—opening the eyes of his audience to help them better understand their roles and possibilities in the common culture they both shared and crafted.
Excursions into the Shenandoah Valley
In Learning the Valley, award-winning nature writer John Leland guides readers through the natural and human history of the Shenandoah Valley in twenty-five short essays on topics ranging from poison ivy and maple syrup to Stonewall Jackson and spelunking. Undergirding this dynamic narrative of place and time is a tale of selfdiscovery and relationship building as Leland's excursions into the valley lead him to a new awareness of himself and strengthen his bond with his young son, Edward. Spanning some two hundred miles through the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains in western Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley is the prehistoric home of mastodons and giants sloths, the site of a storied Civil War campaign, and now a popular destination for outdoor adventures to be had beneath the oaks, chestnuts, hickories, maples, and centuries-old cedars. Leland offers informed perspectives on the valley's rich heritage, drawing from geology, biology, paleontology, climatology, and military and social history to present a compelling appreciation for the region's importance from prehistory to the present and to map the impact of humanity and nature on one another within this landscape. Leland's essays are grounded in recognizable landmarks including House Mountain, Massanutten Mountain, Maury River, Whistle Creek, Harpers Ferry, and Student Rock. Whether he is chronicling the European origins of the valley's so-called American boxwoods, commenting on the nineteenth-century fascination with sassafras, or recalling his son's first reactions to the Natural Bridge of Virginia and its ncompassing tourist developments, Leland uses keen insights, adroit research, and thoughtful literary and historical allusions to bring the "Big Valley" vibrantly to life. An amiable and accomplished tour guide, Leland readily shares all he has learned in his years among the woods, waters, and wildlife of the Shenandoah. But the heart of his narrative transcends the valley and invites readers to find their own sites of adventure and reflection, to revisit the wonders and mysteries to be found in their own backyards as a chance to, in the words of Henry David Thoreau, "live like a traveler at home."
Bloomsbury, Modernism, and China
Lily Briscoe's Chinese Eyes traces the romance of Julian Bell, nephew of Virginia Woolf, and Ling Shuhua, a writer and painter Bell met while teaching at Wuhan University in China in 1935. Relying on a wide selection of previously unpublished writings, Patricia Laurence places Ling, often referred to as the Chinese Katherine Mansfield, squarely in the Bloomsbury constellation. In doing so, she counters East-West polarities and suggests forms of understanding to inaugurate a new kind of cultural criticism and literary description. Laurence expands her examination of Bell and Ling's relationship into a study of parallel literary communities—Bloomsbury in England and the Crescent Moon group in China. Underscoring their reciprocal influences in the early part of the twentieth century, Laurence presents conversations among well-known British and Chinese writers, artists, and historians, including Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, G. L. Dickinson, Xu Zhimo, E. M. Forster, and Xiao Qian. In addition, Laurence's study includes rarely seen photographs of Julian Bell, Ling, and their associates as well as a reproduction of Ling's scroll commemorating moments in the exchange between Bloomsbury and the Crescent Moon group. While many critics agree that modernism is a movement that crosses national boundaries, literary studies rarely reflect such a view. In this volume Laurence links unpublished letters and documents, cultural artifacts, art, literature, and people in ways that provide illumination from a comparative cultural and aesthetic perspective. In so doing she addresses the geographical and critical imbalances—and thus the architecture of modernist, postcolonial, Bloomsbury, and Asian studies—by placing China in an aesthetic matrix of a developing international modernism.
Speech and the Coming of Wisdom in Ancient Greece
In Listening to the Logos, Christopher Lyle Johnstone provides an unprecedented comprehensive account of the relationship between speech and wisdom across almost four centuries of evolving ancient Greek thought and teachings—from the mythopoetic tradition of Homer and Hesiod to Aristotle's treatises. Johnstone grounds his study in the cultural, conceptual, and linguistic milieu of archaic and classical Greece, which nurtured new ways of thinking about and investigating the world. He focuses on accounts of logos and wisdom in the surviving writings and teachings of Homer and Hesiod, the Presocratics, the Sophists and Socrates, Isocrates and Plato, and Aristotle. Specifically Johnstone highlights the importance of language arts in both speculative inquiry and practical judgment, a nexus that presages connections between philosophy and rhetoric that persist still. His study investigates concepts and concerns key to the speaker's art from the outset: wisdom, truth, knowledge, belief, prudence, justice, and reason. From these investigations certain points of coherence emerge about the nature of wisdom—that wisdom includes knowledge of eternal principles, both divine and natural; that it embraces practical, moral knowledge; that it centers on apprehending and applying a cosmic principle of proportion and balance; that it allows its possessor to forecast the future; and that the oral use of language figures centrally in obtaining and practicing it. Johnstone's interdisciplinary account ably demonstrates that in the ancient world it was both the content and form of speech that most directly inspired, awakened, and deepened the insights comprehended under the notion of wisdom.
Spartanburg, South Carolina, during the Confederacy
Most of what we know about how the Civil War affected life in the Confederacy is related to cities, troop movements, battles, and prominent political, economic, or military leaders. Far less is known about the people who lived in small Southern towns remote from marching armies or battles. Philip N. Racine explores life in one such place—Spartanburg, South Carolina—in an effort to reshape the contours of that great conflict. By 1864 life in most of the Confederacy, but especially in rural towns, was characterized by scarcity, high prices, uncertainty, fear, and bad-tempered neighbors. Shortages of food were common. People lived with constant anxiety that a soldiering father or son would be killed or wounded. Taxes were high, inflation was rampant, good news was scarce and seemed to always be followed by bad. The slave population was growing restive as their masters’ bad news was their good news. Army deserters were threatening lawlessness; accusations and vindictiveness colored the atmosphere and added to the anxiety, fear, and feeling of helplessness. Often people blamed their troubles on the Confederate government in faraway Richmond, Virginia. Racine provides insight into these events through personal stories: the plight of a slave; the struggles of a war widow managing her husband’s farm, ten slaves, and seven children; and the trauma of a lowcountry refugee’s having to forfeit a wealthy, aristocratic way of life and being thrust into relative poverty and an alien social world. All were part of the complexity of wartime Spartanburg District.