Catherine Liu, Guanlin Zeng (Tommy), Quifeng Zeng (Andy), Xinjin Zeng (Tina), Allen Yao, Jesse Yao & Nathan Yao A book about raising confident children from a mother of 3 boys. Illustrated by students of Hongyun Art School in Cupertino, CA
Victor Hugo, Catherine Liu & Elizabeth McCracken The story and characters in Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame have resonated with succeeding generations since its publication in 1831. It has tempted filmmakers, and most recently animators, who have exploited its dramatic content to good effect but have inevitably lost some of the grays that make the original text so compelling. From Victor Hugo's flamboyant imagination came Quasimodo, the grotesque bell ringer; La Esmeralda, the sensuous gypsy dancer; and the haunted archdeacon Claude Frollo. Hugo set his epic tale in the Paris of 1482 under Louis XI and meticulously re-created the day-to-day life of its highest and lowest inhabitants. Written at a time of perennial political upheaval in France, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is the product of an emerging democratic sensibility and prefigures the teeming masterpiece Les Misérables, which Hugo would write thirty years later. He made the cathedral the centerpiece of the novel and called it Notre-Dame de Paris. (It received its popular English title at the time of its second translation in 1833.) Hugo wrote that his inspiration came from a carving of the word "fatality" in Greek that he had found in the cathedral. The inscription had been eradicated by the time the book was published, and Hugo feared that Notre-Dame's Gothic splendor might soon be lost to the contemporary fad for tearing down old buildings. Notre-Dame has survived as one of the great monuments of Paris, and Hugo's novel is a fitting celebration of it, a popular classic that is proving to be just as enduring.
The Modern Library has played a significant role in American cultural life for the better part of a century. The series was founded in 1917 by the publishers Boni and Liveright and eight years later acquired by Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer. It provided the foun-dation for their next publishing venture, Random House. The Modern Library has been a staple of the American book trade, providing readers with affordable hard-bound editions of important works of liter-ature and thought. For the Modern Library's seventy-fifth anniversary, Random House redesigned the series, restoring as its emblem the running torchbearer created by Lucian Bernhard in 1925 and refurbishing jackets, bindings, and type, as well as inau-gurating a new program of selecting titles. The Modern Library continues to provide the world's best books, at the best prices.
Jacket paintings: (front) detail from Notre Dame by Paul Lecomte, courtesy of David David Gallery/SuperStock; (spine) Victor Hugo, 1833, by Louis Boulanger of Giraudon/Art Resource, N.Y.
Catherine Liu A trenchant critique of failure and opportunism across the political spectrum, American Idyll argues that social mobility, once a revered hallmark of American society, has ebbed, as higher education has become a mechanistic process for efficient sorting that has more to do with class formation than anything else. Academic freedom and aesthetic education are reserved for high-scoring, privileged students and vocational education is the only option for economically marginal ones.
Throughout most of American history, antielitist sentiment was reserved for attacks against an entrenched aristocracy or rapacious plutocracy, but it has now become a revolt against meritocracy itself, directed against what insurgents see as a ruling class of credentialed elites with degrees from exclusive academic institutions. Catherine Liu reveals that, within the academy and stemming from the relatively new discipline of cultural studies, animosity against expertise has animated much of the Left’s cultural criticism.
By unpacking the disciplinary formation and academic ambitions of American cultural studies, Liu uncovers the genealogy of the current antielitism, placing the populism that dominates headlines within a broad historical context. In the process, she emphasizes the relevance of the historical origins of populist revolt against finance capital and its political influence. American Idyll reveals the unlikely alliance between American pragmatism and proponents of the Frankfurt School and argues for the importance of broad frames of historical thinking in encouraging robust academic debate within democratic institutions. In a bold thought experiment that revives and defends Richard Hofstadter’s theories of anti-intellectualism in American life, Liu asks, What if cultural populism had been the consensus politics of the past three decades?
American Idyll shows that recent antielitism does nothing to redress the source of its discontent—namely, growing economic inequality and diminishing social mobility. Instead, pseudopopulist rage, in conservative and countercultural forms alike, has been transformed into resentment, content merely to take down allegedly elitist cultural forms without questioning the real political and economic consolidation of powers that has taken place in America during the past thirty years.