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The O'Shea Report: December 2001

At every monthly faculty meeting during the school year, Dean of Faculty Donal O'Shea presents brief overviews of recent publications and other achievements by the Mount Holyoke faculty. Here are excerpts from his report for December 2001.

Open Class, a CD directed and produced by Charles Flachs, associate professor of dance, has just appeared. It consists of music for the intermediate and advanced ballet lesson. Susanne Anderson is the pianist. It was recorded in Pratt Hall and is quite lovely. Incidentally, Charles and associate professor of dance Rose Flachs are founding members of the Council of Organized Researchers and Pedagogical Studies (CORPS) de Ballet International, Inc., an organization devoted to the development of ballet in higher education.

The Disappearing Island by English professor Corinne Demas has been selected as a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award. This is the first time that these awards have been offered (by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, which is affiliated with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress); they go to authors who live in Massachusetts or who write a book about a subject in Massachusetts.

Seurat: Drawings and Paintings, a collection of writings by Robert Herbert, professor emeritus of humanities, has been published by Yale University Press. In his review of Herbert's book in the New York Review of Books (Oct. 4, 2001), John Russell writes, "Almost anyone who thinks about, let alone writes about, the drawings and paintings of Seurat, is subject from time to time to a hallucination. Somewhere in the next room---or so it seems---there can be heard the tap, tap, tap of Robert L. Herbert getting down to bedrock about Seurat…."

Earlier this year, I promised a fuller account of Ecrits sous le voile; romancieres Algeriennes francophones, ecriture et identite (Writing under the Veil: Women Algerian Francophone Novelists, Their Writing and Identity) by Laurence Huughe, visiting assistant professor of French. Huughe studies the works of a number of Mahgrebi novelists: Assia Djebar, Leila Sebbar, Nina Bouraoui, whom I never read before, but who seem wonderful. Reading the chapter on Leila Sebbar suggests lots of parallels between the issues of eroticism, gaze, orientalism, and the dominant culture in Leila Sebbar's Sherazade trilogy and the last chapter ("The Forbidden City") of associate professor of art Tony Lee's book Picturing Chinatown. Huughe is interested in the interplay, sometimes unconscious, between gaze and veil, being seen and seeing, in the works of the novelists she studies. What she is writing about is especially timely today---the interaction between a Muslim society and a dominant Christian one.

The Flight of the Romanovs: A Family Saga by John Perry and Constantine Pleshakov, visiting assistant professor of Russian and Eurasian studies, was named an alternate selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club.

Sandy Postel, visiting senior lecturer in environmental studies, has a piece in the September-October issue of Foreign Policy entitled "Dehydrating Conflict," about water and security issues. Another of her articles,"Troubled Waters," was selected for inclusion in the 2001 edition of Best American Science and Nature Writing (Houghton-Mifflin, 2001), which has just come out.

Classical Social Theory, by Kenneth Tucker, associate professor of sociology, has just appeared with Blackwell Publishers. Tucker begins with a description of the world in which the classical sociological theorists worked: the long nineteenth century (1789-1917), with attention not only to industrialization and urbanization, but also to colonization, gender, science, identity, and the like. He then summarizes and sympathetically assesses the work of the big three: Marx, Weber, and Durkheim and argues that the classical canon must also take account of the work of Freud, Simmel, Mead, DuBois, and Gilman, using modern examples (the fascination with the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, the demonstrations against the WTO) to illustrate what the big three cannot explain. Tucker argues one must assess this more broadly understood canon within the context in which it was developed and contends that the best theory in this canon illuminates the context in a new way and points to themes that transcend context. It's a lovely argument. Moreover, if you have ever been brutalized by sociological prose, this book is for you. It reads as if it were meant to be understood.

"Women in Troubadour Song: Of the Comtessa and the Vilana" (on the Comtessa de Dia and Marcabru) in Women & Music 1998 by Margaret Switten, Class of 1926 Professor of Medieval and Eighteenth-Century French Language and Literature, and Fredric Cheyette, a professor of history at Amherst, has been selected as the October article of the month for the medieval Feminist Index site. The article examines two famous Occitan songs, "A chantar m'er," by the Comtessa de Dia (fl. late 12th century), and "L'autrier jost'una sebissa," by Marcabru (fl. 1127-1150) with a view to addressing the question of what "feminine" voices we hear when we listen to a trobairitz song, or a song by a male troubadour with a prominent female speaker. Recent criticism has tended to limit women's activity, arguing that troubadour song belongs to a society where women are subordinate and without any political role of their own. The article shows why this historical assumption is false and, by analyzing the songs in the light of historical evidence, reintegrates them into a social setting where the language of power relations and the language of love are fused into a discourse used on equal footing by both women and men. This grants to women their own voices and allows them to make music. Check out the listing at

Mimi Hellman, visiting assistant professor in the art department, received an NEH Fellowship for her proposal The Hôtel de Soubise: Art and Ambition in Eighteenth-Century France. Her proposal starts by recounting a visit (in 1741) by King Louis XV's Swedish ambassador to the princess and prince de Rohan at the de Rohan's residence the Hôtel de Soubise in the Marais in Paris. The prince received the ambassador in his bedchamber and the two started to talk. The princess was in the adjoining bath chamber and called out to the ambassador, summoning him to the door. Before the princess's maid closed the door, the ambassador was transfixed by a glimpse of a body so lovely that it "could have purified the water, for never have I seen anything more limpid." The hostess and visitor continued to chat through the door for a half an hour. The ambassador reported with pride on this incident in a letter to his wife. Hellman writes that this whole episode "begs numerous questions about the confluence of spatial and visual experience, social codes and aristocratic self-presentation." She hypothesizes that this is one incident that illustrates the way in which the Rohan-Soubise family used the hotel to social climb: to attain a rare, highly privileged form of noble status known as prince étranger (nobles who used to rule something) -- subjects and dynasties understood to have a capacity for independent rulership. She proposes a highly interdisciplinary approach to establish this.

I received a copy of a Farsi language journal Negah (which means "perspective") that has a Farsi translation of an article by professor of economics Fred Moseley ("The Rate of Profit and Economic Stagnation in the United States Economy"). About all that I can make out is the bibliography, two photos, and the graph of the rate of profit on the first page. This brings to eight the number of languages into which Moseley's work has been translated. (Including English, his work has also appeared in Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Swedish, and Greek). I'm not sure if this is a record for most languages in which one's work appears. (Other contenders would be Mary Kay Campbell, Class of 1929 Virginia Apgar Professor of Chemistry, and Indira Peterson, professor of Asian studies).

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