Scarry argues that our responses to beauty are perceptual events of profound significance for the individual and for society. Presenting us with a rare and exceptional opportunity to witness fairness, beauty assists us in our attention to justice. The beautiful object renders fairness, an abstract concept, concrete by making it directly available to our sensory perceptions. With its direct appeal to the senses, beauty stops us, transfixes us, fills us with a "surfeit of aliveness." In so doing, it takes the individual away from the center of his or her self-preoccupation and thus prompts a distribution of attention outward toward others and, ultimately, she contends, toward ethical fairness.
Scarry, author of the landmark The Body in Pain and one of our bravest and most creative thinkers, offers us here philosophical critique written with clarity and conviction as well as a passionate plea that we change the way we think about beauty.
We often attribute to our imaginative life powers that go beyond ordinary perception or sensation. In Dreaming by the Book, the noted scholar Elaine Scarry explores the apparently miraculous but in fact understandable processes by which poets and writers confer those powers on us: how they teach us the work of imaginative creation.
Writers from Homer to Heaney, Scarry argues, instruct us in the art of mental composition even as their poems progress: just as painters understand paint, composers musical sounds, and sculptors stone or metal, verbal artists understand and deploy the only material in which their creations will get made - the backlit tissue of the human imagination. In her brilliant synthesis of cognitive psychology, literary criticism, and philosophy, she explores the five principal formal practices by which writers bring things to life for their readers; she calls them radiant ignition, rarity, dyadic addition and subtraction, stretching, and floral supposition. The transforming power of these mental practices can be seen in their appearance in great literature, of course, but also in applying them to - and watching how they revise - our own daydreams.
Dreaming by the Book is not only an utterly original work of literary analysis but a sequence of on-the-spot mental experiments.
Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon each contemplated using nuclear weapons—Eisenhower twice, Kennedy three times, Johnson once, Nixon four times. Whether later presidents, from Ford to Obama, considered using them we will learn only once their national security papers are released.
In this incisive, masterfully argued new book, award-winning social theorist Elaine Scarry demonstrates that the power of one leader to obliterate millions of people with a nuclear weapon—a possibility that remains very real even in the wake of the Cold War—deeply violates our constitutional rights, undermines the social contract, and is fundamentally at odds with the deliberative principles of democracy.
According to the Constitution, the decision to go to war requires rigorous testing by both Congress and the citizenry; when a leader can single-handedly decide to deploy a nuclear weapon, we live in a state of “thermonuclear monarchy,” not democracy.
The danger of nuclear weapons comes from potential accidents or acquisition by terrorists, hackers, or rogue countries. But the gravest danger comes from the mistaken idea that there exists some case compatible with legitimate governance. There can be no such case. Thermonuclear Monarchy shows the deformation of governance that occurs when a country gains nuclear weapons.
In bold and lucid prose, Thermonuclear Monarchy identifies the tools that will enable us to eliminate nuclear weapons and bring the decision for war back into the hands of Congress and the people. Only by doing so can we secure the safety of home populations, foreign populations, and the earth itself.
This book is a passionate call for citizen action to uphold the rule of law when government does not. Arguing that post-9/11 legislation and foreign policy severed the executive branch from the will of the people, Elaine Scarry in Rule of Law, Misrule of Men offers a fierce defense of the people's role as guarantor of our democracy. She begins with the groundswell of local resistance to the 2001 Patriot Act, when hundreds of towns, cities, and counties passed resolutions refusing compliance with the information-gathering the act demanded, showing that citizens can take action against laws that undermine the rights of citizens and noncitizens alike.
Scarry, once described in the New York Times Sunday Magazine as “known for her unflinching investigations of war, torture, and pain,” then turns to the conduct of the Iraqi occupation, arguing that the Bush administration led the country onto treacherous moral terrain, violating the Geneva Conventions and the armed forces' own most fundamental standards. She warns of the damage done to democracy when military personnel must choose between their own codes of warfare and the illegal orders of their civilian superiors. If our military leaders uphold the rule of law when civilian leaders do not, might we come to prefer them? Finally, reviewing what we know now about the Bush administration's crimes, Scarry insists that prosecution—whether local, national, or international—is essential to restoring the rule of law, and she shows how a brave town in Vermont has taken up the challenge.
Throughout the book, Scarry finds hope in moments where citizens withheld their consent to grievous crimes, finding creative ways to stand by their patriotism.
SHAKESPEARE’S SONNETS ARE indisputably the most enigmatic and enduring love poems written in English. They also may be the most often argued-over sequence of love poems in any language. But what is it that continues to elude us? While it is in part the spellbinding incantations, the hide-and-seek of sound and meaning, it is also the mystery of the noble youth to whom Shakespeare makes a promise—the promise that the youth will survive in the breath and speech and minds of all those who read these sonnets. “How can such promises be fulfilled if no name is actually given?” Elaine Scarry asks.
This book is the answer. Naming Thy Name lays bare William Shakespeare’s devotion to a beloved whom he not only names but names repeatedly in the microtexture of the sonnets, in their architecture, and in their deep fabric, immortalizing a love affair. By naming his name, Scarry enables us to hear clearly, for the very first time, a lover’s call and the beloved’s response. Here, over the course of many poems, are two poets in conversation, in love, speaking and listening, writing and writing back.
In a true work of alchemy, Scarry, one of America’s most innovative and passionate thinkers, brilliantly synthesizes textual analysis, literary criticism, and historiography in pursuit of the haunting call and recall of Shakespeare’s verse and that of his (now at last named) beloved friend.