Favorite Poem: Michael Bérubé

Byzantium
by W. B. Yeats

The unpurged images of day recede;
The Emperor’s drunken soldiery are abed;
Night resonance recedes, night-walkers’ song
After great cathedral gong;
A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
All that man is,
All mere complexities,
The fury and the mire of human veins.

Before me floats an image, man or shade,
Shade more than man, more image than a shade;
For Hades’ bobbin bound in mummy-cloth
May unwind the winding path;
A mouth that has no moisture and no breath
Breathless mouths may summon;
I hail the superhuman;
I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.

Miracle, bird or golden handiwork,
More miracle than bird or handiwork,
Planted on the starlit golden bough,
Can like the cocks of Hades crow,
Or, by the moon embittered, scorn aloud
In glory of changeless metal
Common bird or petal
And all complexities of mire or blood.

At midnight on the Emperor’s pavement flit
Flames that no faggot feeds, nor steel has lit,
Nor storm disturbs, flames begotten of flame,
Where blood-begotten spirits come
And all complexities of fury leave,
Dying into a dance,
An agony of trance,
An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.

Astraddle on the dolphin’s mire and blood,
Spirit after spirit! The smithies break the flood,
The golden smithies of the Emperor!
Marbles of the dancing floor
Break bitter furies of complexity,
Those images that yet
Fresh images beget,
That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.

[Selected by Michael Bérubé, author of The Left at War. Read his thoughts on the poem on his blog, American Airspace.]

Another FDL Book Salon: Michael Bérubé

Check out the lively discussion of the left’s influence on war, resistance, history, politics, art, media and everything else. He really gets into it with the commenters! Excerpt from the introduction below.

The Left at War argues that all of this is badly, horribly wrong, and needs to be rethought. First – the book holds out the hope that sometimes wars of intervention can make things better. If (in contrast to the Iraq war), interventions are in accordance with international law, and are aimed at supporting human rights, they can perhaps do more good than harm. Second – it argues that the Manichean left is much too pessimistic about the possibility of real opposition emerging. Chomsky and others predicted that the Internet was going to be just another corporate playground. They had no way of anticipating the emergence of the anti-war blogosphere as a significant force in debates over US foreign policy and the war in Iraq. Bérubé does concede that Chomsky et al. got it right in their description of the mainstream media’s slavering over the war, with embedded reporters, retired generals punditizing their tinny hearts out on CNN and the rest of the grisly business.

What would make things better? Here, Bérubé argues that a better understanding of culture – one which doesn’t equate the American people with the American sheeple – would help lefties avoid some of the critical errors that the Manichean left made. He draws in particular on cultural studies theorist Stuart Hall, who analyzed the beginnings of Thatcherism in the United Kingdom, and who argued that it reflected real cultural phenomena, rather than just a form of ideological hoodwinking.

The Left at War Gets it Right

Two new reviews of The Left at War by Michael Berube are now available:

The American Prospect
“Bérubé links progressives’ inability to control the conversation on national security during the Bush administration to cultural studies’ failure to deliver on its promise of a vibrant New Left. And in the process, he also tries to imagine a newer and better one — a left that both knows what is worth fighting for and how to fight for it.”

Bookforum
“You’ll rejoice that there’s such an intelligent and even-minded critic of the left who takes his principles seriously enough to challenge those who threaten to destroy them from within.”

PW: Cruising with the Left to a War in Utopia

Reviews of two of our biggest fall titles are in the latest Publishers Weekly.

The Left at War by Michael Bérubé.

Fresh off the 2008 election and anticipating an ascendancy of leftist thought and political success, Bérubé (Rhetorical Occasions), cultural studies and literature professor at Pennsylvania State University, provides robust intellectual arguments for how to reshape leftist thought into a powerful, constructive and measurably successful political philosophy—and how to mitigate the damage caused by the “Manichean” left: notably Chomsky and other members of the hard left whom he disparagingly describes as ready to sympathize with “any ‘anti-imperialist’ who comes along to challenge the Western powers, from Milosevic to Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.” He provides an assessment of Chomsky’s appeal and a balanced critique of Chomsky’s failings, juxtaposing him with Stuart Hall, who brings what Bérubé believes is the necessary nuance to leftist thinking. Bérubé forthrightly identifies himself as a social democratic leftist, and his effort not only identifies left-wing excesses and elevates its more viable and strategically sound currents, but puts critical thinking back into vogue on both sides of the political spectrum. (Nov.)

Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity by José Esteban Muñoz.

Gay liberation’s activist past and pragmatic present are merely prologue to a queer cultural future, Muñoz (Disidentifications) suggests in this critical condemnation of the political status quo. Casting his vision of a radical gay aesthetic through the prisms of literature, photography and performance, the author dismisses commonplace concerns like same-sex marriage as desires for “mere inclusion” in a “corrupt” mainstream. More defiantly, he exalts the persistence of commercial sex spaces in the face of “antisex and homphobic policings,” and celebrates the overlay of punk and queer in performance spaces. Muñoz draws on a dynamic roster of seminal artists to illustrate his vision of a utopian queer future, from the well-known (LeRoi Jones, James Schuyler and John Giorno) to edgy artists, including homo-core punk queen Vaginal Davis, club photographer Kevin McCarty and drag chanteuse Kiki (Justin Bond). Queer theorists will find the book’s provocative thesis stimulating; lay readers unfamiliar with Ernst Bloch and the Frankfurt School of philosophy on which the author builds his argument may find it a slog. (Nov.)

Unicorns, Economics, and Tiger Woods: It’s a Cultural Studies Free-For-All!

In November, we have the privilege of publishing Michael Berube’s next great work of cultural studies, The Left at War. However, Michael couldn’t help himself from getting in the ring early; his essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “What’s the Matter with Cultural Studies?“, has caused quite a stir amongst the bloggers of the world.

We’ve got:

What’s the Matter with Michael, a sassy response by Ira Livingston, Chair of Humanities and Media Studies, Pratt Institute; you can read Michael’s response to him in the comments section.

We also have Michael’s own blog, where he responds to a critique of his essay by the students of the UC Davis Cultural Studies Department.

And in case that’s not enough, Michael discusses the feminist angles in his book on the blog Frameshift.

Phew! A cultural studies debate, it seems, is not merely academic.