Humanitas: A ‘sonic’ workout, a campus phenom, and ‘rediscovering’ America
In the latest edition of Humanitas, a column focused on the arts and humanities at Yale, a book that centers Native Americans in the country’s history earns national acclaim; a boundary-smashing artist brings a “sensory circuit workout” to campus; a Yale historian reflects on why his 1988 book about the rise and fall of global powers became one of the decade’s most influential books; and a Yale Ph.D. student (who also happens to be a bestselling novelist) earns a spot on a list of society’s future leaders.
For more, visit an archive of all arts and humanities coverage at Yale News.
‘Rediscovery of America’ a National Book Award finalist
The exclusion of Indigenous peoples from American historical analysis has “a long tradition,” says Yale historian Ned Blackhawk. In his latest book, “The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History,” Blackhawk aimed to correct that absence, exploring the centrality of Native Americans in the country’s political and cultural history.
The book, which was published by Yale University Press, was recently named a finalist for the National Book Award in the nonfiction category.
Building on decades of new scholarship in Native American and Indigenous studies, “The Rediscovery of America” has continued the work of creating “a different view of the past, a reorientation of U.S. history,” Blackhawk, the Howard R. Lamar Professor of History and American studies in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone Indians in Nevada, writes in the book’s introduction.
In announcing the finalists for the 2023 National Book Awards, the National Book Foundation noted: “Historian Ned Blackhawk recontextualizes five centuries of U.S., Native, and non-native histories to argue that in the face of extreme violence, land dispossession, and catastrophic epidemics, Indigenous peoples played, and continue to play, an essential role in the development of American democracy.”
“I’m extremely delighted and humbled by this unexpected recognition,” Blackhawk said. “I’m glad to see the book reaching outside the academia, particularly to younger readers.”
The winners of the 2023 National Book Awards will be announced during a ceremony in New York City on Nov. 15.
An ‘underworld of sound’ comes to Yale
Ash Fure, a “sonic” artist who blends installation with performance, will bring what she describes as “an underworld of sound” to the Yale campus next week.
In five separate performances (Oct. 21-28), Fure will perform her new venture, “ANIMAL: A Listening Gym,” which merges sound art installation with live musical performance, at the Yale Schwarzman Center (YSC).
Combining sculpture, art, and sound, the project “brings sound to a dimension that reshapes our surroundings and has people exercising their ears and minds,” said Jennifer Harrison Newman, YSC’s associate artistic director. Guests will be invited to “work out” in a specially designed listening gym, immerse themselves in the music, or both, as Fure performs live on a custom gym rig.
“The project features full-body sonic machines that function like a sensory circuit workout,” Fure said. “You press, you lift, you lean, you lie, you exercise your animal capacity to sense.”
Fure, an associate professor of music at Dartmouth, was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2016, has won two Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Awards, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Rachel Fine, executive director of the Yale Schwarzman Center, described Fure’s project as a “a pioneering installation by an astonishing artist and educator known for breaking musical boundaries and blurring the lines among aural, visual, and physical art disciplines.”
The installation/performance was commissioned by the Schwarzman Center and curated by YSC artist-in-residence Bryce Dessner.
While registration has reached full capacity for the live performances (individuals can register for a waiting list), members of the community are invited to attend a “gym mode” version of the project during the installation’s week-long run. View the full schedule. (Registration is not required for the “gym mode” events.)
View a listing of other boundary crossing artists coming to the Schwarzman Center during its fall/winter season.
Beloved novelist (and Yale student) makes Time’s ‘Next’ list
Rebecca Kuang, a Ph.D. candidate in Yale’s Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, was recently named one of Time Magazine’s “TIME100 Next,” a list that recognizes rising leaders across a host of professions.
Kuang, 27, a critically acclaimed novelist known more familiarly as R.F. Kuang, is most recently the bestselling author of “Yellowface” (William Morrow, May 2023), about a white female writer who passes herself off as the author of her more-successful Asian-American friend’s manuscript after she suddenly dies. The novel is the focus of her Time listing, under the “Phenoms” category, which was written by the actress Constance Wu.
“It was thrilling to me to have an Asian American writer write something that is so prescient and engaged with issues such as cultural appropriation, anti-wokeness, cancel culture, and the internet mob, questioning authority and gatekeeping,” Wu wrote.
Kuang’s acclaim for “Yellowface” comes about a year after her speculative fiction novel “Babel: or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution,” topped the New York Times’ bestseller list. Her popular trilogy of fantasy novels, “The Poppy War,” was optioned for adaptation for television.
Kuang said she found out she made the “TIME100 Next” list while in Taipei over the summer, and immediately went out to celebrate over soup dumplings. “It’s an incredible honor,” she said, “especially as the list includes creatives like [actress] Stephanie Hsu and [director and playwright] Celine Song, whose work I admire very much.”
‘The Rise and Fall of Great Powers’ at 35
Historian Paul Kennedy had only been at Yale for five years when, in 1988, he published his influential book “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.” In it, he offered a sweeping overview of the political and economic factors that precipitated the declines of the world’s great powers during the previous 500 years, famously arguing that great states, as they grow more powerful, tend to overextend themselves by spending more and more of their resources on military activities.
In the late 1980s, this idea struck a nerve. As the Reagan administration during the decade ramped up U.S. defense spending to keep Soviet power in check, and with the Japanese economy the envy of the world, the notion of America’s eventual decline was a popular topic. “The Rise and Fall,” Christopher Hitchens wrote at the time, could be seen “spilling out of briefcases” across Washington, D.C., and the book topped bestseller lists for weeks, eventually selling an estimated 2 million copies.
To mark the 35th anniversary of the book, Kennedy, the J. Richardson Dilworth Professor of History in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Jackson School of Global Affairs, recently revisited “The Rise and Fall” in a piece for The New Statesman. In the article, Kennedy ponders the factors behind the book’s extraordinary success, how the “wheel of fortune” soon turned for some global powers of that period (including the Soviet Union and Japan), and why key elements of the book’s argument remain incontrovertible.
He also contemplates how shifts in the current world order may play out in the coming decades. Kennedy, who is also founding director of International Security Studies at Yale, writes that with the European Union and Japan in “states of genteel retirement,” the “big three” of America, China, and India showing “a preference for stability” — and Russia falling behind newer Asian economies — “a dramatic transformation in the order appears unlikely.” But, he notes, history has shown that societies often can’t tell when “a new age” is approaching.
“As I put it in ‘Rise and Fall’: ‘Those who assume that mankind would not be so foolish as to become involved in another ruinously expensive great-power war perhaps need reminding that that belief was also widely held for much of the 19th century,’” Kennedy writes. “And it would also be a folly to claim to know where the next big change is going to take place, and what the first harbinger of a future hegemonic war could be. But it will arrive.”
New voices in cinema
The Film and Media Studies Program this semester introduced a “New Voices in Cinema” series, which is showcasing emerging filmmakers who are making unusual, genre-bending films.
“Many of these filmmakers take on the big issues of our time — the changing environment, capitalism and the legacy of Marxism, racism, sexism, migration — in stylistically unorthodox ways,” said Fatima Naqvi, the Elias W. Leavenworth Professor of German and Film and Media Studies in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the department chair.
“The hope is that, via collaborations with other departments and programs at Yale, we can expose students to alternative ways of grappling with and thinking about these topics by way of the moving image.”
The series began Sept. 27 with a screening of “Bloodsuckers: A Marxist Vampire Comedy” (2021), followed by a Q&A with the German-French director Julian Radlmaier. Next up, on Oct. 25, is Austrian documentary director Hubert Sauper and his films “Epicentro” (2020) and “Darwin’s Nightmare” (2004), the latter of which was nominated for an Academy Award.
A second series, “Cinécritures — Women in Film,” will bring women working in film to Yale. It begins Nov. 9 with the Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat, who will present the film “Land of Dreams” (2021), along with her co-director Shoja Azari.
“Only recently have women made true inroads in the film world,” Naqvi said, “and this series seeks to spotlight their achievements.”
A life spent uncovering ‘the glorious secrets’ of early music
Yale faculty harpsichordist and organist Arthur Haas, an internationally renowned teacher and performer of Baroque and contemporary music, recently received Early Music America’s 2023 lifetime achievement award.
Since earning the top prize at the 1975 Paris International Harpsichord Competition, Haas has performed at major French early music festivals and appeared as a soloist across Europe and the United States. He is currently a member of the Aulos Ensemble, Empire Viols, and Aula Harmoniæ.
He has been a member of the Yale School of Music faculty since 2012.
“Since my earliest days… I have sought to uncover the glorious secrets of early music and combine that with my own 20th- and 21st-century sensibilities,” Haas said after winning the award. “I’ve done this in my own playing, and have always tried to impart these ideals to my students.”
An eye-catching bookshelf at HQ
The Whitney Humanities Center is highlighting faculty’s prolific scholarship in the humanities with a new and dynamic digital “bookshelf.” Located in the front entrance of the Humanities Quadrangle, the bookshelf is a large monitor showing a colorful, rotating display of recently published or forthcoming books by Yale faculty and authors from the Yale University Press.
Rather than simply display books on a physical shelf, the Whitney staff wanted to take a more eye-catching approach, said Megan O’Donnell, associate communications officer. “A physical bookshelf containing actual books would, at a glance, show a collection of book spines,” she said. “A book spine doesn’t tell the whole story. The slides we’ve designed feature book covers, which tell a different story — one that can captivate passersby.”
The current rotation features the covers of 54 books representing 24 departments and programs. That lineup will continue to expand, as Whitney recently put out a formal call to faculty for submissions. The monitor “affords a limitless rotation of slides, allowing us to celebrate an abundance of new books in the humanities,” O’Donnell said.
Faculty members who wish to see their book displayed should email the Whitney Humanities Center with the subject line: Humanities Faculty Bookshelf 2023.
More arts and humanities:
Lector of Cherokee is Yale’s first faculty member in an Indigenous language
In residential colleges, preserving a tradition Gutenberg would recognize
Teasing apart the meaning of Shakespeare’s First Folio
At the Beinecke: Pondering the power of art in protest
Center for Language Study program helps Ukrainian refugees adapt to new lives
Exploring Yale’s role in the time-bending nature of modern architecture