Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Cathy Gere

Cathy Gere is associate professor of history at the University of California, San Diego, and the author of Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism and the newly released Pain, Pleasure, and the Greater Good: From the Panopticon to the Skinner Box and Beyond.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Gere's reply:
I just finished Collecting the World by historian of science James Delbourgo, about Hans Sloane, the eighteenth-century physician whose vast assembly of botanical and cultural wonders from all over the globe was the seed from which the British Museum sprouted. My father was keeper of one of the departments of the British Museum, and I grew up in Hans Sloane’s old neighborhood in London, so for me the book holds a double personal significance. I found it a fantastic read, full of hilarious insights into how bizarre and quirky much of the Enlightenment drive towards universal knowledge turned out to be.

Perhaps most impressive is Delbourgo’s handling of the questions of slavery and empire, which are pivotal to the story. Sloane’s early career was as a doctor in colonial Jamaica, and the island was the fountainhead of his obsessions, the place that stirred his insatiable thirst for everything rich, strange and exotic. Delbourgo’s analysis of the Jamaican context is simply perfect: delicate, compassionate, and judicious, it will stand as an enduring commentary on the vexed relationship between natural science and brutal imperialism.

Currently I’m reading Dodie Bellamy’s 2015 collection of essays When the Sick Rule the World, which is a bracing combination of hilarious and terrifying.  Her obscene description of the ‘Whistle While You Work’ sequence of Disney’s Snow White had me laughing out loud. I’m reading it straight through, as part of an effort to get up to speed on the New Narrative movement of which she is a founding mother, but I would recommend taking it a bit more slowly – maybe one or two essays at a time, interspersed with other things – as the cumulative effect of all that intensity is a bit dizzying. I also recently got around to Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, another New Narrative masterpiece, which I read in one great draft, riveted by the way that it braids together shockingly frank autobiography and complex academic philosophy into one unputdownable text.
Learn more about Pain, Pleasure, and the Greater Good at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism.

--Marshal Zeringue