The book’s private journey through many hands and homes

The best part of buying a used book is the history that comes with it. Tucked in the pages, one finds photographs and letters used as bookmarks; on the inside cover and in the margins, long inscriptions to, from, about. It’s true the printed text pulls us into the life of the author, but it’s these little discoveries that pull us into the life of the book. Suddenly, the physical paper in our hands is given its own life. We are not its first owners, and as all things come and go, we know we will not be its last. Our shelf is merely one stop on its private journey through many hands and homes.

Charles Bukowski Post Office Marginalia Emily C Frederick

The inscription and obituary of Emily C. Frederick

As someone who’s owned plenty of used books, I’ve come across all kinds of interesting examples of marginalia. For example, a few months ago I purchased from the Book House in Dinkytown a copy of Bukowski’s Post Office (1971). In it was inscribed “WET KISSES,” signed “Emily.” Right above it on faded yellow paper dated May 10, 1983, was her obituary. What I held in my hands was more than a book: at one time, it was a shrine. Continue reading

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References to Aldous Huxley in U.S. Court Opinions

Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley

In June 2016, I attended the annual conference of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature (SSML). There I read my fiction and presented on “The Space and Place of Western Minnesota Writers.” Since I had just been accepted into law school, throughout the conference I kept drifting to the question of how I could combine my passion for literature with my interest in law. (Though, of course, as every good lawyer knows, good legal writing is also good creative writing). Then an idea came to me: I could study judicial references to dystopian literature.

Brave New World book cover

Brave New World (1932)

Someday I’ll expand this to include George Orwell and 1984, but as a test-run, I decided to focus on Aldous Huxley, the English author of Brave New World (1932; “BNW”) and The Doors of Perception (1954). Given BNW’s dystopian bioethics, I assumed it would be leveraged as a rhetorical device—the specter against which parties framed discussions of modern medicine, drugs, and government control. So, using Lexis-Nexis, I ran a keyword search for “Aldous Huxley” and found 45 opinions. (The keyword “George Orwell” returns 210). Twenty-nine of these were from federal courts, with the rest coming from the states. I then coded the keyword-reference per its context—i.e. whether the opinion analogized with BNW, referenced book bans, quoted Huxley personally, or referenced Huxley in some “other” context. This last catch-all included references that were not in any way unique or meaningful (e.g. a reference to Timothy Leary’s friendship with Huxley or a court’s takedown of a brief appealing more to literary than legal theory).[1] Continue reading

“And marked his grave with nameless stones”: William Cullen Bryant’s “The Murdered Traveller”

William Cullen Bryant

William Cullen Bryant

While waiting in a Baltimore hotel lobby, I thumbed through one of its meant-to-be-seen-and-not-read bookshelves. There among old, leather-bound editions of Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Roosevelt’s Naval War of 1812, I found the collected works of William Cullen Bryant. A romantic, Bryant is known primarily for his poetic naturalism (see, e.g., “Thanatopsis“) but he was also a prodigious translator, deciding at the age of 77 to translate Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. But as this was my first introduction to the poet, I knew none of this. Skimming the volume, I was not very impressed, but then I came across a poem that I stopped to read three times in a row. Its title: “The Murdered Traveller” (copied below).

First published in January 1825 in the United States Literary Gazette (Boston), “The Murdered Traveller” tells of a skeleton discovered in the woods. Emotionless, its discoverers mark the grave with stones and continue on with their own travels, a scene then juxtaposed with the dead’s homeland. As nature reclaimed the body, back home “long they looked, and feared, and wept, / . . . And dreamed, and started as they slept,/ For joy that he was come.” It closes, “Long, long they looked — but never spied/ His welcome step again,/ Nor knew the fearful death he died/ Far down the narrow glen.”

This poem struck me because it reminded me of a story we hear too often: of missing men, women, and children whose families never lose hope that one day their loved one will return. Of course there is the famous case of Jacob Wetterling, but I also thought of when the IMGUR online community came together to identify the 15-year-old cold case of “The Grateful Doe” (a truly amazing story worth reading about). In the appendix, Bryant recounts his own inspiration for the poem: Continue reading

“The Greatest Cartoon the World War Produces is a Photo!”

I’ve posted before about the Great War, including the anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and a sampling of political cartoons from the war’s first year. Recently, while searching the newspaper archives for (and failing to find) a certain Russian-Anarchist-themed comic strip, I discovered the following photograph. Titled WAR, it depicts a Belgian woman—grief-stricken, the features of her face lost in dark shadows. Continue reading

Reflection on the “2017 DFL Minneapolis Mayoral Candidate Forum” at the University of Minnesota Law School

On March 30, 2017, I had the great honor and fortune of moderating one of the few 2017 DFL Minneapolis mayoral candidate forums. When my fellow Law Democrats gave me this responsibility, I took it very seriously. Because this was my first time moderating a political forum, I spent weeks revising my opening remarks, researching the candidates, and thinking about how to distinguish our forum from what I derisively call “soft ball.” If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it right, and I’m going to make it count.

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Two translations of Danish writer Ernesto Dalgas

I’ve blogged before about the writing advice Robert Bly once gave me, and since then, I’ve translated pieces by Norwegian poet Julius B. Baumann (1869-1923; here) and Danish writer Ernesto Dalgas (1871-1899). Like Baumann, even though Dalgas is well-recognized in the canon of his country’s literature, none of his work exists in English. So, this is my attempt to fix that. (Let me know what you think!)

Both of these first appeared on my Instagram page, where I tend to accompany writing with my own drawings/illustrations. The story “Milkwort” is from Chronicles and Fairytales (1896), and the “Life and Death” excerpt is from Poems and Drama (1904).

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The Legal Implications of Detecting Alzheimer’s Disease Earlier

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The American Medical Association Journal of Ethics

In addition to my work as an historian, I am also a JD/MA Bioethics candidate at the University of Minnesota Law School. Ever since I first read David Eagleman’s book Incognito (2011), I’ve been enamored with the field of “neurolaw,” i.e. the intersection of law and neuroscience. I’ve been lucky to pursue this interest professionally, setting out on a path that’s taken me to Eagleman’s Center for Science & Law, the magazine Voices in Bioethics, and more recently the Shen Neurolaw Lab here at the University.

Though I’ve only been with the lab since May, things have been moving along quickly. There’s more coming down the pipeline, but I’m pleased to say that last month the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics published a co-authored essay in its “Ethics in Neuropsychology” issue. Our paper is titled “The Legal Implications of Detecting Alzheimer’s Disease Earlier” and as its lead author, I’m especially proud of it for two reasons. First, it’s been an honor to work alongside Professor Francis X. Shen, undoubtedly one of the top neurolaw scholars in the field today. The guy’s brilliant. Second, it gave the lab an opportunity to develop some “first thoughts” on a topic that will, within the next decade, move the hand of the legal system. After all, as doctors get better at detecting the physiological indicators of Alzheimer’s disease long before there are behavioral changes, how should law and medicine respond?

Here’s the abstract:

Early detection of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) raises a number of challenging legal questions. In this essay, we explore some of those questions, such as: Is a neurological indicator of increased risk for AD a legally relevant brain state before there are any outward behavioral manifestations? How should courts address evidentiary challenges to the admissibility of AD-related neuroimaging? How should the government regulate the marketing of neuroimaging diagnostic tools? How should insurance coverage for the use of these new tools be optimized? We suggest that many voices and multidisciplinary perspectives are needed to answer these questions and ensure that legal responses are swift, efficient, and equitable.

You can read the full article on my Academia.edu page here.


Citation: Joshua Preston, Jaleh McTeigue, Caitlin Opperman, Jordan Dean Scott Krieg,Mikaela Brandt-Fontaine, Alina Yasis, and Francis X. Shen, The Legal Implications of Detecting Alzheimer’s Disease Earlier, 18 AMA Journal of Ethics 12 (2016): 1207-1217.