Berkeley Book Chats

The Townsend Center presents a lunchtime series celebrating the intellectual and artistic endeavors of the UC Berkeley faculty. Each Berkeley Book Chat features a faculty member engaged in conversation about a recently completed publication, performance, or recording. The series highlights the extraordinary breadth and depth of Berkeley’s academic community.

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Approaching the seven-day week as an artificial construction of modern society, David Henkin explores its role as a dominant organizational principle that shapes our understanding and experience of time.

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Edward Tyerman explores the role of China in the 1920s as the key site for Soviet debates over how the political project of socialist internationalism should be expressed through literature, film, and theater.

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SanSan Kwan explores how dance — based in body-to-body interaction on the stage — serves as a revelatory site, and ultimately carries the potential to model everyday encounters across difference in the world.

Homer: The Very Idea

James Porter
Berkeley Book Chats
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The identity of Homer is shrouded in mystery, including doubts that he was an actual person. James Porter explores Homer’s mystique, approaching the poet not as a man, but as a cultural invention.

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What might behaviorism, that debunked school of psychology, tell us about literature? Joshua Gang argues for its enormous critical value for thinking about why language is so good at creating illusions of mental life.

Cheerfulness: A Literary and Cultural History

Timothy Hampton
Berkeley Book Chats
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| Online

Exploring cheerfulness as a theme and structuring element in the work of major artists, Timothy Hampton (Comparative Literature and French) casts new light on literary history, the intersections of culture and psychology, and the history of emotions.

Past Events

How to Be Free: An Ancient Guide to the Stoic Life

Translated and with an introduction by Anthony Long
Berkeley Book Chats
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| Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall

Born a slave, the ancient Roman Stoic philosopher Epictetus taught that mental freedom is supreme, since it can liberate one anywhere, even in a prison. Anthony Long presents a new edition of Epictetus’s famed handbook on Stoicism.

Hazards of Time Travel

Joyce Carol Oates
Berkeley Book Chats
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| Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall

Joyce Carol Oates’s latest novel is the dystopian story of a young woman living in a bleak future dictatorship, who is punished for her transgressions by being sent back in time.

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| Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall

Diego Pirillo offers a new history of early modern diplomacy, centered on Italian religious refugees who left Italy in order to forge ties with English and northern European Protestants in the hope of inspiring an Italian Reformation.

The Chinese Pleasure Book

Michael Nylan
Berkeley Book Chats
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| Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall

Michael Nylan explores the concept of “pleasure”—including both short-term delight and longer-term satisfaction—as understood by major thinkers of ancient China.

How Art Can Be Thought: A Handbook for Change

Allan deSouza
Berkeley Book Chats
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| Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall

What terms do we use to describe and evaluate art? How do we judge if art is good, and if it is for the social good? DeSouza investigates the terminology through which art is discussed, valued, and taught.

Judaism: The Genealogy of a Modern Notion

Daniel Boyarin
Berkeley Book Chats
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| Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall

Boyarin argues that the very concept of a religion of “Judaism” is an invention of the Christian church that was adopted by Jews only with the coming of modernity and the spread of Christian languages.

The Orphan Band of Springdale

Anne Nesbet
Berkeley Book Chats
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| Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall

Nesbet’s historical novel for younger readers takes place during World War II in Springdale, Maine. It tells the story of 11-year-old Gusta, who is sent to live in an orphanage run by her grandmother after her labor-organizer father is forced to flee the country.

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| Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall

Wong explores the intersection of writing and visual art in the autobiographical work of Art Spiegelman, Faith Ringgold, Leslie Marmon Silko, and other American writers-artists who experiment with hybrid forms of self-narration.

The Tar Baby: A Global History

Bryan Wagner
Berkeley Book Chats
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| Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall

Wagner offers a fresh analysis of this deceptively simple story of a fox, a rabbit, and a doll made of tar and turpentine, tracing its history and connections to slavery, colonialism, and global trade.