Cover story

by Michael Bérubé on March 22, 2007

Greetings, O Timberites! Welcome to “spring,” unless it’s now “autumn” for you. (I hate these fashionable nods to “global relativism,” but I’m informed that some CT readers and contributors are adherents of some kind of Southern Hemisphere Standpoint Epistemology.) I fear that my nasty reputation has preceded me to this prestigious blog, but just for those of you who might be wondering who I am and why I’m here, my name is Michael Bérubé. I teach literature and cultural studies at Penn State University, where I also co-direct (with my wife, Janet Lyon) Penn State’s Disability Studies Program. In future posts, I will be more than happy to remedy this blog’s inexplicable inattention to (a) disability studies and (b) professional hockey in North America, but first, I should probably mention by way of introduction that I published two books last fall, one of which features my ginormous looming ghostly head and the other of which has been widely lauded for its innovative jacket design:

chalk1

Hey, hold the phone!

This is the cover of my book, which was published about six months before that there book:

chalk21.jpg

I imagine that some of you may have seen a brief notice of this strange coincidence in the March 9 Chronicle of Higher Education (sub only), but still, I have to ask: just what kind of publicity stunt is the esteemed Mr. Horowitz trying to pull here?

Well, it’s always possible that he’s trying to piggyback off one of the most remarkable publishing success stories of the twenty-first century, hoping that the teeming hordes that have stormed the malls and box stores of the exurban American landscape in search of my book will pick up one of his ill-conceived and factually-challenged screeds by mistake. What’s Liberal? has, after all, been the beneficiary of an extravagant and delightful Valve book event and has even been made available in an innovative graphic novel format. (Hugo Chavez loved it!) Indeed, around the world, millions of readers have responded to the publication of What’s Liberal by saying, “eh? what’s that? come again?”—and dozens more have exclaimed, “Woo hoo! I loved the parts about David Horowitz! The rest of the book was kinda boring, though.”

Hmmm, so maybe he’s not trying to piggyback off my stunning success. Maybe he and his publisher, Encounter Books (“serious books for serious people,” reads their motto, “with only a few exceptions here and there, like our new book that calls evolution ‘one of the most overblown’ biological theories in history, but otherwise, really, serious books for serious people, especially serious people who are big fans of Thomas Sowell and Theodore Dalrymple and books titled Vile France: Fear, Duplicity, Cowardice and Cheese and Londonistan”), are subtly mocking my book’s subtle design. For while my chalkboard emphasizes the left, appropriately enough, Horowitz’s is decidedly tilted to the right; where mine includes a prominent pink piece of chalk, symbolizing my book’s democratic leftism and GLBT-friendliness, his suggests that the “red” element in higher education is always already under erasure. And lest you think I’m reading too much into an innocent, even nondescript photograph, I hasten to assure you that the people who designed my cover (and this one was, believe it or not, easily the best of the seven they offered me) did so in the belief that the photo suggests that my book takes an “up close” look at higher education. I betcha Encounter Books’ designers said precisely the same thing to publisher Roger Kimball.

All I know is that the esteemed Mr. Horowitz, and the very serious people at Encounter Books, have precipitated a crisis in a wholly new area of intellectual property law. This, dear friends and random readers, is the Biz Markie / Gilbert O’Sullivan, “My Sweet Lord/ He’s So Fine” controversy of our time. My team of attorneys has been alerted. Within a matter of months, if not weeks, the phrase “I’ll see your jacket design in court” will have entered the lexicon, and remember, you heard it here first.

But perhaps you don’t think this affects you. Maybe you don’t see the point of caring about whose book jacket rips off whose in the name of “academic freedom,” especially now that the foundations of the Bush Imperium have begun to tremble and quake, and even our pusillanimous Democrats have begun to inquire into this administration’s corruption of the nation’s judicial branch and its intelligence apparatus. You think there are More Important Things to Worry About. Fine. Just tell yourself this: first they came for the jacket design of What’s Liberal, and I did not speak up, because I was not the jacket design of What’s Liberal.

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{ 68 comments }

1

Fiorentina 03.22.07 at 1:25 pm

Evviva Michael! Great to see you are blogging again. Will you be here Thursdays only? I hope there isn’t a word limit for CT posts, because I missed your essays, especially those on Jamie. Ben tornato!

2

John Quiggin 03.22.07 at 1:37 pm

A typically patronising piece of Northo-centricism. Autumn began three weeks ago!

3

harry b 03.22.07 at 1:39 pm

Welcome aboard, Michael!

4

harry b 03.22.07 at 1:42 pm

Oh, and thanks for the Gilbert O Sullivan link. I do, of course, have all his records, but what a joy to hear him bleary-eyed in the morning.

5

magistra 03.22.07 at 1:47 pm

Clearly, left *and* right in the US are still stuck on a nineteenth-century view of the university. Why is the front cover of either book not a picture of a rather badly designed PowerPoint slide on Marxism or at least a blurred OHP image of Foucault?

UK books on universities, in contrast, would have an image of a picturesque Oxbridge college on the cover, thus dragging the liberal arts firmly back to where they belong, in the fourteenth century.

6

John Emerson 03.22.07 at 1:51 pm

I’d say the a href=”http://archives.cnn.com/2002/SHOWBIZ/Music/09/23/uk.silence/”>Mike Batt / John Cage Estate lawsuit is the intellectual property lawsuit of our time. Call me old fashioned, but I think that patenting silence is a real coup.

Not many people are aware that the now-dissipated fortune that Martin Peretz’s studliness got him was an intellectual-property fortune. His once-lovely wife, Anne Labouisse Farnsworth Peretz, is a descendant (via her mother, Elizabeth Scriven Clark) of Edward Clark, Isaac Merrit Singer’s patent lawyer, who was given a hefty share in the company for defending against a lawsuit from Elias Howe, who claimed to be the actual inventor of the sewing machine.

Walter Hunt, the real actual inventor of the sewing machine (who also invented the safety pin) didn’t even try to claim a share.

7

dsquared 03.22.07 at 1:52 pm

I agree that they look very similar indeed, but I do think it was a pretty strange decision of either set of publishers to think that a completely blank white cover with a tiny red cross in the top left corner would sell.

8

John Emerson 03.22.07 at 1:52 pm

9

Maria 03.22.07 at 1:53 pm

Welcome to CT, Michael. Great to have you on board.

10

Richard 03.22.07 at 2:12 pm

What about the number of pieces of chalk – mono- vs multivocality? The position of the duster; prone vs supine… there’s a whole symbolic language here.

Perhaps we have a new genre of art in the making.

a completely blank white cover with a tiny red cross in the top left corner
:) …this might actually have been better.

11

Luis Villa 03.22.07 at 2:39 pm

Pictures are all busted here.

12

Michael 03.22.07 at 2:41 pm

I do think it was a pretty strange decision of either set of publishers to think that a completely blank white cover with a tiny red cross in the top left corner would sell.

Very very funny, dsquared. You know, those pix worked just fine in preview. But I suppose that out of the crooked timber of WordPress, no straight img src was ever made.

13

Wax Banks 03.22.07 at 2:48 pm

Well that wasn’t so bad.

14

Bongob 03.22.07 at 2:51 pm

Splendid to have you blogging again, Mr. B, especially here, wot is to be the new Nexus of Dangeral Studies and all-being-Nuclear Fireballs Now, the place.

15

Michael 03.22.07 at 2:52 pm

Damn! Pix have disappeared again. Back to the engine room. . . .

16

Michael M. 03.22.07 at 2:58 pm

Some broken links and … I have no idea what you are talking about. Is this the beginning of an “in-crowd” trend for Crooked Timber? Is CT to become one of those gossip blogs where, if you can’t figure out all the allusions to various celebutantes spied making out in the men’s room of a trendy L.A. club you can’t get into anyway, it’s because you aren’t cool enough?

Yikes. An inauspicious beginning.

17

Bob 03.22.07 at 3:00 pm

Is he done yet?

18

Michael 03.22.07 at 3:00 pm

I’d just written “an inauspicious beginning” in comment 15, but deleted it in favor of “back to the engine room.”

19

Michael 03.22.07 at 3:20 pm

Mea culpa, everyone. I thought I could hotlink back to my old blogue for the images. Turns out that the old place didn’t recognize me in my new Crooked Timber outfit, and I had to utter some kind of secret password. Sorry about that! It won’t happen again, I promise.

20

LowLife 03.22.07 at 3:57 pm

Michael Berube? I once knew a Michael Berube. I think he was from France. Sir, if you have but half of the smarts, the wit, the Jamie stories of the MB that I knew then welcome aboard.

21

Daragh McDowell 03.22.07 at 3:58 pm

Good to finally have an Ice Hockey fan here at CT. Go Flames Go!

22

Brando 03.22.07 at 4:13 pm

Biz Markie, Horoschitz, and intellectual property law in your first post here? Now that is a debut!

In David’s defense, he knows his readers buy based on jacket art since they can’t actually read.

23

mds 03.22.07 at 4:23 pm

Is this the beginning of an “in-crowd” trend for Crooked Timber?

What do you mean, “beginning”?

Is he done yet?

Well, if he weren’t, you’d have a harder time posting a comment, wouldn’t you?

Fear, Duplicity, Cowardice, and Cheese? Sounds like cocktail hour at CPAC.

24

JR 03.22.07 at 4:29 pm

“an inauspicious beginning”? isn’t that Lemony Snicket? it’s only the first day and we’ve started with the allusions already?

25

BushYouth 03.22.07 at 4:58 pm

Its a chalk tray on the cover? I never could quite figure out what was on the cover of your book. It seemed obscene, whatever it was. Of course, that could just be me.

26

Kelly 03.22.07 at 5:15 pm

*amused*
This does not bode well for getting Things done.

27

Mary Rosh 03.22.07 at 5:45 pm

In David’s defense, he knows his readers buy based on jacket art since they can’t actually read.

Now wait just a minute there. I happen to know that a great and famous writer, John Lott, whom everyone loves dearly and has never been known to be wrong, reads David’s books.

28

Mary Rosh 03.22.07 at 5:46 pm

Welcome back, Michael, I have missed your ranting and raving. So good to see you out in public again.

29

Brando 03.22.07 at 5:52 pm

Mary, I would check your sources on that Lott assertion.

30

Jackmormon 03.22.07 at 6:05 pm

Ah! This is much funnier now that I can see the pictures.

31

Aaron Swartz 03.22.07 at 6:29 pm

like our new book that calls evolution ‘one of the most overblown’ biological theories in history

Now goodness knows I’m no fan of Roger Kimball, but I think this is a bit unfair, Michael. (Although, it does make for a great joke.) The book is hardly new (the author died in 1994), its attack is on Darwinism, not evolution, and it’s got a blurb from Martin Gardner, who isn’t exactly an anti-science nutcase.

32

Ushma and John 03.22.07 at 6:36 pm

Yaaay!!! You’re blogging again! We’re thrilled to bits!

33

George 03.22.07 at 6:43 pm

It’s hard to say which book is better as his chalk is longer but yours has more girth.

Isn’t that how these things get decided?

34

Shelby 03.22.07 at 6:49 pm

Unfortunately, as a matter of pure design, I actually prefer the “Indoctrination U.” cover. The use of a chalk-like font, the open space, etc. Though David’s name doesn’t stand out as clearly as Michael’s.

35

r@d@r 03.22.07 at 6:50 pm

the sincerely flattering, if imitative, cover demonstrates with volume and clarity that either horowitz, his publisher, or both are nothing more than rank ambulance chasers. i of course wish them only the best of luck in their endeavors.

their chalkboard is missing one crucial bit of verity: the orange dust that is the hallmark of the consumer of cheetos brand cheese puffs.

36

Monte Davis 03.22.07 at 7:06 pm

Well, I didn’t speak up because I disapprove of the commodity fetishization of jacket designs.

37

Michael 03.22.07 at 7:09 pm

The book is hardly new (the author died in 1994), its attack is on Darwinism, not evolution, and it’s got a blurb from Martin Gardner, who isn’t exactly an anti-science nutcase.

Strangely, Aaron, even though Stove died in 1994, the book is new. It was published last year, and the paperback is, according to Encounter’s spring 2007 catalog (“spring” in the “Northo-centric” view of the world), due out in April. I took the quote from the catalog copy, in which the grammatical antecedent of “overblown” is “the theory of natural selection.” And Martin Gardner or no Martin Gardner, this glowing review of the book should offer some idea of why Stove’s exemption of humans from evolutionary theory might be a bit odd in places.

I actually prefer the “Indoctrination U.” cover. The use of a chalk-like font, the open space, etc.

I think “etc.” must mean “the complete lack of large screaming all-caps italics.” Another design point against my version.

38

jacob 03.22.07 at 7:16 pm

I have to admit that I stand with Shelby (@34) on this: the chalk-like font on Horowitz’s book I think is superior to the typeface on your cover. That said, I think I would have designed Horowitz’s cover so that the title was actually written on the board (sloped a bit, all perspective-like). As it is, if I look at it for too long I get a little woozy.

39

Aaron Swartz 03.22.07 at 7:22 pm

So Stove’s argument is that evolution by natural selection is true, but that people have exaggerated its consequences, and that these exaggerations (which he calls Darwinism) are wrong. When the description is saying that evolution is “the most successful biological theory in history. But … also one of the most overblown”, it’s not saying that Stove thinks evolution is wildly false, it’s saying that he thinks many people have exaggerated its consequences. We can argue about whether or not that’s ture (personally, I found Stove’s book a delightful read, even if not all of his arguments hit their mark) but it’s clearly a claim that should be comfortable to those on the left — it’s not like Crooked Timber’s never taken aim at Marc Hauser or Steven Pinker in the past.

40

Aaron Swartz 03.22.07 at 7:24 pm

Stove’s exemption of humans from evolutionary theory

I didn’t catch this in my first read (and, unlike Michael, I can’t retroactively edit my comments), but I don’t recall Stove ever claiming humans were exempt from evolutionary theory (although one can see why Human Events might want to misrepresent him to say that). Stove’s argument is that Darwinist theories which say all evolved organisms try to selfishly reproduce themselves as much as possible are clearly false, because we’re evolved organisms and we don’t do that.

41

Michael 03.22.07 at 7:44 pm

unlike Michael, I can’t retroactively edit my comments

Well, Aaron, I edited 37 only to include a brief response to 34, which came in while I was writing 37. I thought it would be nicer than writing two consecutive comments, which just looks bad. I mean, really, really bad. Worse even than large screaming all-caps italics.

Just kiddin’. But sure, I take your point about what Stove is and isn’t claiming about natural selection. I still think Encounter is tossing a little red meat (so to speak!) to the folks at Human Events here. I also think they’re pitching a few books to serious people who just happen to have some, er, very strong feelings about Arabs. Oh yeah, and the French.

42

c 03.22.07 at 8:00 pm

DH’s eraser’s gone belly-up and the chalk, though longer, looks unused.

43

Ingrid Robeyns 03.22.07 at 8:55 pm

A late but warm welcome, Michael. I am glad we have you on board, and look forward reading your posts on disability studies (the hockey ones will be for some other readers, I fear). And I’m very curious which categories you’ll add to the left side bar…

44

Anderson 03.22.07 at 9:12 pm

So Stove just happens to think that natural selection doesn’t actually cause upwards of 90% of evolution? More like 9%?

That would be a little nutty, yes.

45

Ginger Yellow 03.22.07 at 9:35 pm

Just tell yourself this: first they came for the jacket design of What’s Liberal, and I did not speak up, because I was not the jacket design of What’s Liberal.

Then they came for the blurb on the back of Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini to Hillary Clinton, and I did not speak up, because I was not the blurb on the back of Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini to Hillary Clinton.

46

John Quiggin 03.22.07 at 10:05 pm

Stove has a long anti-science history (here’s his defence of Velikovsky, and has more lately served as the philosophical inspiration for Keith Windschuttle.

47

Backword Dave 03.22.07 at 10:38 pm

Jacob @ 38 “As it is, if I look at it [The Horowitz book cover] for too long I get a little woozy.” Perhaps, but why would you? Why would anyone? (Though having looked at it just now, I do see where you’re coming from.)

48

Robert 03.22.07 at 10:56 pm

I’m hoping Michael well blog on the last Harry Potter novel when it comes out. When is Michael going to produce a documentary to accompany his book, what with his massive funding he must be receiving? Apparently, he who must not be named has a documentary. (I learned about this here.)

49

Ken Houghton 03.22.07 at 11:47 pm

When are we getting to HOCKEY?? Have the Rangers been eliminated yet?

50

Michael 03.23.07 at 12:37 am

Apparently, he who must not be named has a documentary.

Actually, that’s a whole nother project, “Indoctrinate U.,” not to be confused with David Horowitz’s Indoctrination U. But I will not speak up, because I was not the director or producer of this “Indoctrinate U.” That would be Evan Coyne Maloney and Stuart Browning of On the Fence Films, not to be confused with the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s film production center, “Over the Fence Films.”*

*OK, I made up that last part. Besides, Browning’s heart isn’t really in this project anyway. What he really cares about is exposing the evil of universal health care.

51

The Constructivist 03.23.07 at 2:34 am

I think only intellectual property lawyers can compete with literary critics at parsing the ethics of influence. Clearly Berube has a hidden agenda to keep Edwards in the ’08 campaign. Just think of the frivolity The Right can inveigh against in this post alone. Because where there’s frivolity there’s dangerosity.

52

Daniel Stout 03.23.07 at 2:53 am

Not bad for a “ginormous looming ghostly head.” A bit of a shave might help, otherwise it appears to have “bestseller” written all over it.

53

ben alpers 03.23.07 at 3:06 am

I’m just impressed that Stove can write a book over a decade after he passed away. No wonder he doesn’t think natural selection is very significant!

54

Neil 03.23.07 at 4:00 am

Darwinian Fairytales was published in 1995. This is a reissue. It hasn’t improved with time. Stove was a strange, strange man.

55

the jacket design of What’s Liberal 03.23.07 at 4:07 am

I did not speak up, because I was not the jacket design of What’s Liberal.

Wake up and smell the karmic justice, M. Auteur. You think ginormous looming ghostly head was scary? Just wait and see what we have planned for The Left at War. I sense an unfortunate design accident in someone’s future. (hint: Think pruning saw.

56

The Constructivist 03.23.07 at 6:00 am

#52: Do not taunt Super Happy Fun Ball Floating Head Professor!

57

zebbidie 03.23.07 at 12:00 pm

Stove’s argument is that Darwinist theories which say all evolved organisms try to selfishly reproduce themselves as much as possible are clearly false, because we’re evolved organisms and we don’t do that. (#40)

What the heck does he call 6.5 billion people then? Chopped liver?

58

mds 03.23.07 at 12:59 pm

What the heck does he call 6.5 billion people then? Chopped liver?

Yes. It’s why he could never bear to eat braunschweiger.

Though I do admire a man who takes the bold anti-Darwinian stand that natural selection has less effect on a self-aware, tool-using species. Because those deranged Darwinists were repeatedly asserting that humans would evolve tentacles any day now.

Oh, and I am ashamed to admit that I too think Horowitz’s cover is better, except for how the chalk writing floats in space, like, uh, ginormous floating chalk writing.

A bit of a shave might help,

Apparently, Mr. Stout, you are unaware of the series “Bérubé, Ph.D.” wherein our guest host plays a brilliant-but-sarcastic unshaven professor of Dangeral Studies, who spends most of the episode ridiculing his conservative students, then suddenly in the last five minutes correctly identifies a speech act.

59

abb1 03.23.07 at 2:01 pm

What’s Liberal’s cover has better colors, but its title is too long. Should’ve been titled simply What’s Liberal?

60

Wild Pegasus 03.23.07 at 2:35 pm

Are we talking ice hockey in the sense of “What the hell happened to the Flyers?” or “Jacques LeFramboise has been tearing up the QMJHL. I suspect he’s the frontrunner for first pick in the 2010 draft.”?

– Josh

61

gonzone 03.23.07 at 5:04 pm

heir chalkboard is missing one crucial bit of verity: the orange dust that is the hallmark of the consumer of cheetos brand cheese puffs.

OK, that was funnier than the Mary Rosh/John Lott sock puppet post. But I thought only the pudenda got yellowed?

62

Michael 03.23.07 at 5:15 pm

A bit of a shave might help, otherwise it appears to have “bestseller” written all over it.

I thought so too, which is why I shaved the beard last December, long before such things became fashionable at CT. But, alas, no luck. So I’m now negotiating with UNC Press to plaster the front cover with the word “bestseller.” Thanks for the suggestion, Daniel!

who spends most of the episode ridiculing his conservative students, then suddenly in the last five minutes correctly identifies a speech act.

That’s not quite right, mds. The last five minutes of class consists of me promising to explain the difference between perlocutionary and illocutionary speech acts someday, and trying to persuade my students that I’m not just making this shit up.

Are we talking ice hockey in the sense of “What the hell happened to the Flyers?” or “Jacques LeFramboise has been tearing up the QMJHL. I suspect he’s the frontrunner for first pick in the 2010 draft.”?

This is a trick question, right? Because the answer to (a) is that we all slow down as we age, and some of us find ourselves incapable of playing at home, too; and (b) there is no Jacques LeFramboise. The kid who’s tearing up the QMJHL is Thomas Beauregard, with 71 goals (the next guy after him has 54).

63

mds 03.23.07 at 5:26 pm

That’s not quite right, mds.

Oh, well, it’s not like I’ve ever actually watched it. It’s too obvious a ripoff of “Doctor Who.”

Hm, revisiting this post yet again, it really does seem strange to encounter such a graphical version of “Neener, neener!” Yes, it’s Horowitz as usual, but it required collaboration by the publisher. I await their superficially similar counterpoints to other liberal texts, such as a photo of a seated, smirking Mr. Limbaugh on the cover of No Hope for You, You Audacious Negro!

64

Steve LaBonne 03.23.07 at 5:35 pm

Stove’s argument is that Darwinist theories which say all evolved organisms try to selfishly reproduce themselves as much as possible are clearly false, because we’re evolved organisms and we don’t do that.

And if you’d read some books about evolutionary biology by, you know, actual evolutionary biologists, you’d find out that Stove was just making shit up. I’ll even give you a free clue: Google “K selection”.

65

eudoxis 03.24.07 at 12:10 am

A delightful defense of natural selection in modern humans. Does it extend to brains, I wonder?

66

a cornellian 03.24.07 at 1:58 pm

@5 In my admittadly limited interactions with the liberal arts at Cornell none of them have made heavy use of power point. In physics/math (where i spend most of my time) chalk boards are still the gold standard

67

mijnheer 03.24.07 at 4:47 pm

Lucky devil! You write books, sing, and go out with Emily Blunt.
http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/columnists/story.html?id=4192f1cc-c226-4508-853b-7e3ed36d6f1b

68

Michael 03.24.07 at 5:48 pm

What can I say? Emily’s a really nice person.

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