You Should

You Should…Read: Micrographia Illustrata

George Adams, Micrographia Illustrata, 4th ed. (London, 1771), retrieved from babel.hathitrust.org

Visual technologies have conditioned us to dramatic alterations of size and scale, but in the eighteenth century, they still retained a considerable shock factor. Microscopy, for instance, was likened to a type of travel, a way to enter a previously unknown “Magazine of Wonders.” The London instrument-maker George Adams endeavored to popularize it among non-specialists and, not incidentally, improve his sales through the many editions of his Micrographia Illustrata. He assured his readers that everything they took for granted—blight on rose leaves, mold on bread—would transform into something new and entirely unanticipated when magnified. “The whole Earth is full of Life,” he wrote, “and then if we call in the Assistance of Art, what a new Scene of Wonder opens to our View? What an infinite Variety of living creatures present themselves to our Sight?” Even more exciting was the practice of solar microscopy, in which the magnified view was projected on a wall, giving observers the sense of entering into the object itself. In his book, Adams describes the act of magnification as an early form of virtual reality that allowed viewers to set off into new and bewildering landscapes. And, of course, he provided a catalogue of instruments and prices at the end of the volume, just in case anyone was interested.

-Elizabeth Athens 
Assistant Professor
Department of Art and Art History
University of Connecticut

You Should…Play: Depression Quest

"YOU SHOULD…PLAY:

Depression Quest
By Zoe Quinn 2013

…Or maybe you shouldn’t, if you’re someone who should heed the gamesite’s trigger warning. Or maybe you should talk to someone at the Suicide Prevention Lifeline Chat link provided on the game’s “about” page. But if you’ve ever wondered about depression—what it is, what it’s like, whether you are yourself depressed—or if you’ve ever wished someone in your life would “just get over it,” then Depression Quest is an informative starting place.

Depression Quest is an interactive (non)fiction online game, available at its award-winning gamesite at http://www.depressionquest.com/ and on Steam, where it gets terrible, angry reviews for not conforming to traditional shoot-em-up gaming formats and objectives. Instead, Depression Quest is a literate, interactive narrative of the daily struggle of a young adult living with depression, including how depression impacts choices made around work and social interactions, Poignantly, the “choices” available to players include a “normal” or non-depression option for responding or interacting that is crossed out: Indeed, such responses and thought-processes are not available to those suffering from depression.

Although minimalist in its use of images and audio, Depression Quest nonetheless subtly signals “levels” of depression based on the options chosen, including lessening color concentration and scratchier sound to suggest the loss of the intensity of and pleasure in living that lead too many to contemplate ending their lives.

Quinn was threatened and doxxed as one of the primary targets of “GamerGate,” an online harassment campaign against several women involved in the gaming industry. GamerGate continues as part of a culture war against diversification in gaming form and content, and sadly reflects a general cultural ignorance and embarrassment surrounding mental illness that we all should be engaged in combating—and not just when a straight, white male celebrity ends his life."

- Kelly Dennis
Associate Professor of Art History
Department of Art + Art History

You Should…Read: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, A Life

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, A Life by Jane Sherron De Hart book image

"You should Read: RUTH BADER GINSBURG, A LIFE, by Jane Sherron De Hart

An engrossing biography released by Knopf in fall 2018 by a feminist historian about a mother, lawyer, and future judge who did not start out as a feminist.

Who would have predicted that Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would become a popular culture icon and have thousands of youthful followers at the start of the twenty-first century?  Now is the time to show off your Ginsburg know-how by reading this new and luminous biography, years in the making, by master prose stylist and University of California, Santa Barbara, historian Jane De Hart.  The book is based in part on many interviews De Hart conducted with the justice, her family members, and associates.  All stages in RBG’s life through 2017 are contextualized through the author’s expertise on modern political history, law, and social movements.  To whet your appetite, here are some of my favorite chapters (and chapter titles): Celia’s Daughter, Leaning the Law on Male Turf, The Making of a Feminist Advocate, Setting up Shop and Strategy, An Unexpected Cliff-Hanger, “I Cannot Agree,” Race Matters, and (the final chapter in the book) An Election and a Presidency Like No Other."

-Cornelia Dayton
Professor of History
University of Connecticut

You Should…Listen: “Your Art Sucks” Podcast

Your Art Sucks podcast logo

"You should be listening to the podcast “Your Art Sucks”: http://yourartsuckspodcast.com/

The podcast is meant to encourage artists to just keep creating art for the love of art; each episode delves deep into a topic, challenge or roadblock that artists of all types (visual, performance and written) encounter with concrete examples of an artist that failed and one that triumphed. I listen to this podcast, not as an artist, but as a museum registrar and curator who strives to understand the process behind creation.

My absolute favorite episode is the first one exploring self-criticism as a healthy, necessary tool in not just the artist’s, but everyone’s life. Encouragement that all should take the middle path as self-doubt can cripple you if you succumb to it, but also can also create empty pointless art if you are too full of confidence.  Jackson Pollock is juxtaposed with Connecticut’s own Sol LeWitt (of which two of his works on are currently on display in the Benton).  LeWitt wrote the impassioned letter to his friend and fellow artist, Eva Hesse, that serves as a manifesto for rising above the self-criticism to just do.

Excerpt Letter from Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse (April 14, 1965)

… Learn to say “Fuck You” to the world once in a while. You have every right to. Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder, wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rambling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding, grinding, grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just DO…"

-Rachel Zilinski
Registrar and Assistant Curator
William Benton Museum of Art
University of Connecticut

You Should…Read: The Sand Queen

Sand Queen A Novel by Helen Benedict book image

“Ok readers: the "bad" and the truly bad humanities. The queen of "bad" is Lady Gaga The Brilliant. Am already standing in line for tickets to A Star is Born coming out in October. Am already planning to see it numerous times. If "bad" is good, she's one of the best --the Super Bowl of 2017 proved that. Just try to deny her.

The truly bad? War. Wanna go there? Read a slew of novels and memoirs out these days or zero in on the best one in the bunch. Helen Benedict's The Sand Queen is a multivoiced novel of the early American war in Iraq. In one corner is a young American army woman, Kate, continuously tormented by her male comrades-in-arms as they guard an infamous prison camp (Bucca, it actually existed) and continuously tormented as well by the "enemy" male prisoners she oversees. In another corner is an Iraqi woman near Kate's age, Naema, whose male relatives get brutally seized by American troops, leaving the family to stand at the prison camp gates with others to plead for news of all the innocent mistreated male family members held there. Be prepared: there is no redemption in this novel for either character or for the reader, no nicey-nice friendship between Kate and Naema that soothes the pain on both sides. No. it's war, baby. Wanna go now?

See Gaga after reading Queen and imagine the anger she would unleash at those gates."

Christine Sylvester,
Professor of Political Science

You Should…Read: Free Culture

Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig book image

"According to the U.S. Constitution, the purpose of the copyright law is “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” To achieve this purpose, the Constitution balances two forces against one another. On one side, it harnesses the profit motive, giving creators an “exclusive Right” to sell or license “their respective Writings and Discoveries.” On the other side, it secures this right for “a limited term” so that others might build upon and reinterpret those writings and discoveries.

Over the last century, this balance has gotten out of whack in favor of longer and longer copyright terms and stricter and stricter enforcement of intellectual property rights. In Free Culture: how big media uses technology and the law to lock down culture and control creativity, legal scholar Lawrence Lessig details the history of this unbalancing and shows how the emergence of Internet culture exacerbates it. Lessig argues that the ease with which we can share and remix digital content demands a new balance, one with stronger protections for the public domain. Lessig reminds us that protecting copyright holders and their profits is not the purpose of copyright law, but merely a means of fostering creativity in the body politic. To understand the ways our digital culture changes our thinking about copyright, you should read Free Culture."

-Tom Scheinfeldt
Associate Professor,
Digital, Media & Design Department
Director of Greenhouse Studios

You Should… Read: Aftermath

Susan Brison’s Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of the Self (Princeton University Press, 2002)

You really should read Susan Brison’s Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of the Self (Princeton University Press, 2002). In this era of random terrorist violence, in the age of #MeToo and those who systematically doubt reports of rape, Brison’s insightful analysis of the process of rebuilding a life after cataclysmic violence is more timely than ever. The book combines first person narrative with careful consideration of survivor testimonies, and weaves these together with philosophical and psychological theories about the nature of the self and the effects of trauma. It is a rich and powerful book. The issues are fraught but the writing is not– it is lucid, engaging, and powerful.

(This book is also available through JStor)

-Lynne Tirrell
Associate Professor of Philosophy
UCHI Fellow in Residence 2018-2019
Department of Philosophy

You Should…Read: Heavy: An American Memoir

"You should. . . read Kiese Laymon’s Heavy: An American Memoir (Scribner, 2018)

There are so many reasons you should read Kiese Laymon’s intensely personal story, but let’s start with this: writing so alive it jumps off the page and double-dares you to stay up all night with it.  You should take that dare, but you should also take it seriously.  Addressed to his brilliant, complicated, professor mother, Laymon’s memoir recalls in vivid, often excruciating detail his own experience occupying a large black body in Mississippi—the more to abuse, terrorize, demonize, and shame. The path to adulthood, for Laymon, thus becomes a literal exercise in learning to disappear: as he continues his education in Ohio and Indiana, and goes on to become a professor himself in upstate New York, he starves and runs himself to exhaustion in an effort to become unassailable. We can guess before we know that it’s a futile endeavor because we see the evidence strewn everywhere: the tear gas canisters lobbed over the border at people seeking asylum provide merely the latest proof that ours is a nation still soaking in a hate-fueled white supremacy that just can’t break its habit of inflicting harm upon brown, black, AND LGBTQ bodies.  But Laymon’s book offers far more than further evidence of the racism and violence that makes his story a peculiarly American tale. This courageous book is steeped in a politics of love that will help readers develop just the sort of “radical moral imagination” Laymon’s own mother fostered in him and which we will all need if we are to learn how to “talk, listen, organize, imagine, strategize, and fight fight fight” with and for vulnerable children everywhere."

- Kathy Knapp
Associate Professor
Department of English
University of Connecticut

You Should…Watch: Now Those Days Are Gone

Now Those Days Are Gone Duke Riley 2017 Seashell Mosaic on wood

"This beautifully detailed work of art measures three and half feet tall and fourteen feet long, using thousands of shells to depict the USS Kansas. The Kansas was a Connecticut-Class Battleship built in New Jersey and launched in 1905 to become a part of the, so called, Great White Fleet. This fleet, order by President Theodore Roosevelt, consisted of several other battleships that circumnavigated the globe making various military and diplomatic stops to display U.S. naval power in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War. This victory lap around the world sought to celebrate White American racial superiority as the fleet made stops in the recently occupied Caribbean and Pacific Island colonies. The delicate seashell construction contrasts vividly with the brutally destructive power of the battleship with canons, guns, and torpedoes. The warm colored shells in the sky suggest a maritime sunset with radial embellishments in the upper corners. The radiating rays seem to indicate a ubiquitous presence invoking the circumnavigation of the Great White Fleet. Riley’s use of the artwork’s title, now those days are gone, within the piece draw greater attention to multiple inflections of the phrase and it’s relationship to the U.S. imperial power. On the one hand, the phrase invokes a nostalgia for nationalist imperialism, yet the tender construction of the piece reverses this meaning to show it’s fragile nature. The nostalgic interpretation also points to a contemporary decline of U.S. global power and the dangers of reasserting such a position now. Alternatively, the title might indicate that such small battleships, as the Kansas, were immediately eclipsed by the larger, faster, and more deadly Dreadnaught class of battleships. In this interpretation, the days of small battleships are gone, ironically reflected in the tender material of the seashells replaced by behemoth war machines growing ever larger. In the multiple meanings which this artwork puts in play, it also signals a possible future without battleships. One without the racial ideologies and imperial economies which fuel seaborne violence."

- Jason Oliver Chang
Associate Professor of History and Asian American Studies
Director, Asian and Asian American Studies Institute
University of Connecticut

You Should…Read: If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk film image

"You should read James Baldwin's 1974 novel If Beale Street Could Talk and view Barry Jenkins's 2018 film adaptation of Baldwin's novel.

A deeply affecting love story, Baldwin's novel centers on a young couple, Tish and Fonny. When the novel opens, Fonny is in jail accused of a crime he did not commit and Tish reveals she is pregnant. The romance is infused with an all-too-timely critique of systematic racism in the American criminal justice system. As he often did, Baldwin broke conventions and sparked controversy with this novel, choosing to tell the story from the perspective of its young black female protagonist. Poet and activist June Jordan wrote a scathing review of Baldwin's appropriation of the young black female voice.  A daring, complex, and thought-provoking work of sustaining black love, If Beale Street Could Talk demonstrates Baldwin's continued relevance in these times.

Director Barry Jenkins has now adapted Baldwin's novel to the screen, following up his Academy Award-winning Moonlight (recently recommended here by my colleague Professor Melina Pappademos).  You should read the book and watch the film, because although the film is largely faithful to the book, even a filmmaker as skilled as Jenkins leaves a lot on the page.  Those who view the film only will miss some of the work's thematic power (as well as a major element of the story's finale).

You'll also be voting with your entertainment dollars for more such adaptions of Baldwin's work and the work of other African American writers.  We've recently seen a flurry of successful film adaptations of African American literature: the adaption of August Wilson's Fences starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, Steve McQueen's adaptation of Solomon Northup's Twelve Years a Slave, and last year's The Hate U Give based on the Young Adult novel by Angie Carter, just to name a few.   The success of Beale Street -- Regina King has already won a Golden Globe for her performance as Sharon Rivers -- and Raoul Peck's Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro may promise more cinematic representations of Baldwin's work.  And I could easily list several dozen other works in the African American literary canon that would make excellent and timely material for feature-length film treatment.

There are other movies that will get much more attention, but you should see If Beale Street Could Talk.  It's a superhero movie."

- Shawn Salvant
Associate Professor of English and Africana Studies
University of Connecticut