Polity

With the possible exception of Jean Baudrillard or Anthony Giddens, it is difficult to think of a contemporary sociologist who has rivalled the international intellectual standing, as well as global fame, of the late Zygmunt Bauman. In his subtle, worldly intelligence, his interdisciplinary engagement, and his poetic cast of mind, Bauman stands out as one of the most influential social thinkers of our time. A distinguished heir to the tradition of radical Marxist criticism, his writings tracked the political contradictions, cultural pressures, and emotional torments of modernity with a uniquely agile understanding. With his scathing critical pen and brilliant socio logical investigations, Bauman unearthed major institutional transformations in capitalism, culture, and communication in a language that disdained all academic boundaries, crossing effortlessly from Marx to mobile phones, from Gramsci to globalisation, and from postmodernism to the privatisation of prisons.

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Borrowing a term coined by the late Jewish Nobel Laureate and vegetarian Isaac Bashevis Singer, Charles Patterson (in)famously likened humanity’s treatment of animals to an ‘eternal Treblinka’. In his 2001 book of the same name, Patterson set the mass murder of Europe’s Jews and industrialised animal slaughter side by side, drawing a line between the production methods of Chicago’s early twentieth-century slaughterhouses, the assembly-line technology pioneered by Henry Ford – an avowed anti-Semite and Hitler supporter – and the death camps of Nazi Germany. Another Jewish writer, the German philosopher Theodor Adorno, is said to have observed that ‘Auschwitz begins whenever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals’.

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Today’s transgender community is woefully ignorant of its past, beholden to ‘historical amnesia’ and the ‘erasure of much trans history’ – or so Barry Reay would have us believe. Reay, a prolific historian of sexuality at the University of Auckland, begins his new history, Trans America, by decrying the supposed trans failure to look to the past, before setting about the task of correcting, as he puts it, ‘the significant structural and conceptual weaknesses in trans history’.

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Cinema by Alain Badiou, translated by Susan Spitzer

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December 2013–January 2014, no. 357

In recent years, the work of French philosopher Alain Badiou has been discussed with increasing regularity as part of an academic dialogue between cinema studies and philosophy that is often called ‘film-philosophy’. His various writings on cinema were for a long time scattered among many different sources, the majority untranslated. With its original 2010 French version and now this English translation, Cinema has finally changed all that. Containing thirty-one different pieces, all but five appearing in English for the first time, this important book offers a unique contemporary philosopher’s rich, varied, yet always coherent and evolving response to cinema spanning seven decades.

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Since well before the global financial crash of 2008, there has been pessimism about the future of the book in an age of new paradigms: electronic transmission and gadgetry, all thus far untested, in a screen culture age. This uncertainty still hovers, like a pungent doom-cloud, despite the furious conversion of new and backlist files into multiple formats in publishing houses everywhere in readiness for the e-revolution. This is expensive and time-consuming work, done in good faith as an investment for the future. One by-product has been a chilling realisation that file archiving is poorly managed by many houses and that finding print-ready files of backlist books to convert to e-format isn’t as easy as was anticipated.

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Echo Chamber by Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella & Why Democracies Need an Unlovable Press by Michael Schudson

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February 2009, no. 308

One of the first books I read about news and politics was a lively British volume edited by Richard Boston, called The Press We Deserve (1970). In it, he quoted a recent speech by the Duke of Edinburgh reciting all the standard clichés about the role a free press played in sustaining democracy. On the contrary, Boston argued, a newspaper such as the News of the World is about as helpful to democracy as an outbreak of typhoid. It may, he said, be the price of democracy, but that was a rather different proposition.

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Those of us who walk across bridges in support of reconciliation, and sign Sorry Day books, do so because we feel an obligation to recognise and apologise for the destructive legacy of past practices. Sometimes we can speak directly to those people who were taken away; often we are addressing their descendants. As the prime minister continues to point out, many of us are apologising for something for which we are not individually responsible. So what is the source of this sense of obligation, and how can saying sorry make a difference?

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