Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Behind Rocky Schenck's Recurring Dreams

Don’t know who Rocky Schenck is? You should. The film director William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist) collects Rocky's work and wrote the introduction to his new collection of fine art photography, The Recurring Dream. Rocky not only makes hauntingly beautiful hand-tinted photographs, he also makes films, music videos, and has worked with Adele, Francis Bean Cobain, Robert Plant, Ray Bradbury, Ellen DeGeneres, Willie Nelson, B.B. King, T-Bone Burnett, Nicole Kidman, Stevie Nicks, Patti
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Dionne Warwick, and John Prine. He says that many of these luminaries come across his work, feel an emotional connection to him, and reach out to collaborate.

Rocky Schenck has lived and worked in Hollywood since he left the University of North Texas years ago, but his childhood in Texas and his family's artistic heritage informs his work. The author John Berendt (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story) describes Schenck’s photographs as stills “taken from a movie that exists not on film but rather in one’s memory, with all the fuzziness typical of remembered impressions.” Schenck has talked to many media outlets about how he approaches his art and how he reflects on his ties to Texas. We've compiled some of the most interesting insights into his life and process to celebrate the publication of The Recurring Dream.

Don't miss Rocky Schenck's book signing and artist reception at The Wittliff Collections in San Marcos on Sunday, October 2nd. More information here. He'll also have an exhibition opening at the Fahey Klein Gallery in Los Angeles on Thursday, October 20th.

On growing up in Texas and his family's artistic heritage:

"I grew up rather isolated on a ranch outside of Dripping Springs, Texas, where I spent much of my childhood painting landscapes and watching old films on TV before and after school. I became obsessed. I decided I wanted to be a filmmaker, and I started writing, directing, and photographing little movies. My Dad bought me a twin lens Yashica stills camera, and I learned photography while shooting stills on the sets of my little epics.

My early films and photographs were all in black and white as I attempted to duplicate the look of the vintage films I saw on TV. I never had formal training as a photographer or a filmmaker. I also loved to draw when I was a child, so my parents enrolled me in an oil painting class. My ancestors were classically trained artists who moved from Europe to Texas in the 1850's, and I was a big admirer of their work. I suppose I wanted to learn how to paint in the rather romantic style of their paintings. I started selling my little landscapes around age thirteen.

— From a piece in KYKYLYKY; interview by Jan Walaker

Inside the Artist's Studio

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Reading Comics Like a Grownup

The graphic novel is commonly thought to have matured from pulp infancy to literary adulthood. However, comic writers remain burdened by the stigma of literary illegitimacy. In his new book Arresting Development: Comics at the Boundaries of Literature, Christopher Pizzino questions this idea that comics have "grown up" in the literary community's perception, arguing that the medium’s 
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history of censorship and marginalization endures in the minds of its present-day readers and, crucially, its authors. 

Christopher Pizzino is an assistant professor of contemporary US literature at the University of Georgia. We asked him to reflect on why he wrote his book.

Reading Comics Like a Grownup

By Christopher Pizzino

Some years ago, I had the interesting experience of seeing my name on a list entitled “One Hundred Arguments Against Tenure,” featured on an academic watchdog site. The reason for my inclusion on the list: I study and teach comics. The website didn’t mention which comics I studied, or the way I taught them. Apparently, teaching or studying any comics, for any reason, was out of bounds.

I wasn’t surprised or anxious to learn that someone was arguing for my intellectual worthlessness on that basis. The idea that comics don’t merit academic study is scarcely new. But over time, such experiences have made me ever more curious. Exactly how—and why—do some people continue to believe that taking comics seriously is absurd (and for the academic, something that ought to get one fired)?

The how is sometimes easy to see, and the more I’ve paid attention to it, the more stories I have to tell. A student in one of my American literature courses once stopped by my office to submit an essay. As she turned to leave, she paused in the doorway, glanced back with a strange look on her face, and blurted, “Is that a comic book?” I was, in fact, reading a volume of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s science fiction series Y: The Last Man. Flipping through its pages and quickly handing it back as if it might somehow be contaminated, the student gave me the distinct impression that she had no faith in my ability to grade her essay on Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses.

This was before I became known for teaching courses on comics in my department. Many college students absorb some cultural prejudices from their parents and teachers; they assume that comics reading is something only kids do, and that to be a grownup student of literature is to leave the funnies behind. Thus, some students initially had difficulty understanding that the same professor who taught Cervantes, Austen, Woolf and Achebe in History and Theory of the Novel might, in other courses, assign books with pictures as well as words. That notion has had some time to sink in. Nowadays, for every student who seems to believe that the phrase “comics studies” is a contradiction in terms, several others are eager to study the medium, and to find out what words and pictures can do in the hands of great creators with important things to say and show.

This leads us to part of the why: often there is simply a lack of opportunity to find out that comics are not, in fact, the enemy of culture. Few adults in the US read comics—even fewer than the number who read books at all—and there aren’t many ways they can influence larger public perception of what it means for a grownup to read a comic book. This helps to explain why most adults who do read comics have stories like mine, tales of a moment when someone—a friend, teacher, fellow student, or stranger on the street—would let them know that studying comics, or just reading them in public, can be like having the word ILLITERATE tattooed on one’s forehead.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Two Scholars on Israel’s Discernible Shift toward Religiousity

Israeli society is becoming increasingly religious. When the state of Israel was formed, its nascent structure tried to limit Jewish religiosity as part of its effort to forge a new secular Jewish nation. Although the arrival of religious discourse in Israeli politics has long been noticed, its cultural development has rarely been addressed. Yaron Peleg's new book Directed by God: Jewishness in Contemporary Israeli Film and Television explores how the country’s popular media, principally film and television, reflect this transformation. In doing so, it examines the changing nature of Zionism and the place of Judaism within it.

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We asked author Yaron Peleg to discuss the religious undercurrents in today's Israeli media with fellow scholar Eran Kaplan. Peleg is the Kennedy-Leigh Lecturer in modern Hebrew studies at the University of Cambridge, where he teaches modern Hebrew literature and Israeli culture. He is the author of Israeli Culture between the Two Intifadas: A Brief Romance and coeditor of Israeli Cinema: Identities in MotionEran Kaplan is the Rhoda and Richard Goldman Chair in Israel Studies at San Francisco State University. He is the author of The Jewish Radical Right: Revisionist Zionism and its Ideological Legacy, The Origins Of Israel: A Documentary History with Derek Penslar (both published by the University of Wisconsin Press), and Beyond Post Zionism from SUNY University Press.

In this discussion, these scholars tie Israel's shift to religiosity to a global pendulum shift away from separating religion and institutions of power and how popular entertainment and mainstream media both reflects and feeds these cultural shifts.

Eran Kaplan: Earlier this month, Israel’s Channel 2—the country’s most watched channel and newscast—featured a link to a video on its news home page of one of its most popular hosts, Sivan Rahav-Me’ir, giving a Torah lesson on the reasons why Jerusalem was destroyed nearly two millennia ago. Does this signify to you the type of social and cultural developments that you have identified in your new book?

Yaron Peleg: You are asking an interesting question, because while the personal story of journalist Sivan Rahav-Meir is not unusual—she grew up in a secular home and became religious later on in life, as an adult—the fact that she was given a mainstream national platform for "preaching" is very unusual. What we have here, I think, is an example of an increasing blurring of boundaries in Israel between the personal—religious belief—and the public—national TV. Sivan Rahav-Meir is not only a popular journalist but also a popular religious public figure. Until now, however, she separated these worlds, conducting her journalistic work while also being active in her religious community. Her Torah lesson on a popular TV channel, which has never before scheduled a religious show, is significantly different. Her televised lesson has no news value nor was she invited as a guest to speak about herself. In many ways it can be labeled "televangelism", which even in the U.S., where the genre was invented, is broadcast on dedicated television channels.

EK: Where else in Israeli culture do you see this blurring of the line between the public and private sphere?

YP: I would say that this blurring occurs most alarmingly in the military, the IDF. There is currently a culture war between the higher echelons of the IDF, who were educated during a time when the political influence of the national religious was less prominent in Israel, and the lower ranks, many of whom hail from the national religious sector in Israel. These lower ranks, especially the elite fighting units, were once populated by Labor-identified or more left oriented Israelis. These lowers ranks are where most of the higher command of the Israeli army is groomed, and eventually they will rise through the ranks to become the army's generals. When this happens, in a decade or so, the character of the Israeli army will likely change to reflect that. We saw this already in the last operation in Gaza in 2014, which was defined in religious terms by some commanders and soldiers who took part in it. A lot of media attention focused on this phenomenon during the 2014 operation.

Education is another area where this blurring occurs, especially under the influence of religious parties, which control the Ministry of Education and introduce various initiatives and textbooks that promote so-called Jewish values. I say “so-called” because many of the values that are promoted as “Jewish” in Israel today are separationist and jingoistic and seem increasingly beholden to the ancient Israelite aggression as recorded in the Hebrew Bible rather than to the more compromising Judaism of the rabbis. It is not difficult to imagine the long-term effects of these phenomena on Israeli society, whose children will be first drilled in schools and then in the army along more tribal sensibilities rather than more universal ones.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Announcing New Lateral Exchanges Series

Lateral Exchanges: Architecture, Urban Development, and Transnational Practices

Edited by Felipe Correa and Bruno Carvalho

Lateral Exchanges is a new series devoted to architecture and urbanism in the context of international development and globalization. Publishing research on historical and contemporary issues in design and the built environment, unrestricted by geographic focus, the series will cover several interrelated fields, including architecture, cultural studies, environmental humanities, history, landscape architecture, media and visual studies, urban planning, and urban studies.

Above all, the series will address three related questions. First, what role do architects and architecture play in historical and international development? Second, why and how have architectural and urban-planning models circulated, as concepts or realized constructions, across continents, marketplaces, and languages? Third, how have these fields’ concepts and techniques instigated cultural and intellectual exchanges beyond disciplinary boundaries and particular locales, and how should we historicize and theorize these exchanges, particularly in the context of persistent global asymmetries?

In these and other ways, Lateral Exchanges will examine the rich intellectual, social, and technical contributions that architects and architecture have made to an increasingly globalized world.

For additional information please contact series editors Bruno Carvalho ( and Felipe Correa ( or UT Press editor-in-chief Robert Devens (

Also of interest:
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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Diana Kennedy's 19 Culinary Pet Peeves

Diana Kennedy doesn't suffer fools. As the world’s preeminent authority on authentic Mexican cooking and one of its best-known food writers, she is renowned for her uncompromising insistence on using the correct local ingredients and preparation  techniques. No shortcuts! She has taught generations of cooks how to prepare traditional dishes from the villages of Mexico and, in doing so, has helped preserve the country’s diverse and rich foodways. But she has also proudly stoked a reputation for no-nonsense straight talk. Unafraid to voice her opinions (thank goodness), Diana Kennedy has outlined her many culinary pet peeves—her bêtes noiresin her new book, now back in print after many years, Nothing Fancy: Recipes and Recollections of Soul-Satisfying Food , New Edition.
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Beyond her bêtes noires, Nothing Fancy is the portal into Diana Kennedy's life at home. The recipes in the book are her personal favorites, from comfort foods to show-stoppers for important guests. Kennedy draws from her childhood in England and her life in Mexico, as well as peppering in a few international dishes from her travels.

We've excerpted Diana's brilliant bêtes noires below. In addition to chapters about her life and recipes for her favorite foods, she also covers her culinary addictions and the equipment she simply cannot do without. Enjoy Diana's unfiltered opinions on the proper way to enjoy and promote sustainable food. Nothing Fancy: Recipes and Recollections of Soul-Satisfying Food , New Edition is out now.

My Bêtes Noires

By Diana Kennedy

Now that I’ve been tagged as the “scourge of gastronomy,” I feel all but obligated to scourge away at some of the things that drive me mad in the food world—some of them just annoying and others that are essential to expose as the enemies of flavor.

Kosher salt

I know, I know, this is the beloved salt of virtually all American chefs, and it seems to be the default choice in cookbooks and food magazines. I find the flavor pedestrian, and ever since it failed me in a corned tongue recipe, it’s been banned from my kitchen in favor of sea salt, the salt of the ancients. For years and years, I seemed to be the only cook in America who wasn’t on board with kosher, but then I learned that the late Marcella Hazan also loathed it, thought it added only sourness to food, and believed it basically ruined anything it touched. She used only sea salt. The various and little-known Mexican regional sea salts are the ones I use for everything. If you’re not used to using sea salt, it tastes saltier, so you can almost always halve the amount of salt in the recipe—but taste afterward to be sure it’s right.

Of course I was delighted to find my prejudice against kosher salt endorsed by Mark Bitterman in his authoritative book Salted (Ten Speed Press, 2010). To quote Mark: “Kosher salt is a processed food, with all mineral and moisture qualities intrinsic to real salt stripped away, and with a crystal structure fabricated by automated processes. The flavor is antiseptic, like the bright fluorescence of a laboratory on a spaceship drifting aimlessly away from earth.” And this: “When we cook with kosher salt we sanctify the artificial, we embrace emptiness . . .” Bitterman lists kosher salt as first under Industrial Salts, with a taste of “metal; hot extract of bleach-white paper towel; aerosol fumes” and “best with: marsupial roadkill” (p. 185).

And speaking of salt, for some reason the latest generation of bakers seems to have forgotten, or never learned, that you must always include a little salt anytime you’re baking with flour to bring out the maximum flavor of the wheat. I’ve had way too many tarts and pizza crusts that taste flat because the baker skipped the salt. Speak up!


Oh please, don’t invite me! That salty sameness throughout is SO boring. Surely it was meant only to preserve meats or fish in a hot climate.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) versus cassia (Cinnamomum cassia)

I am amazed at the inability of chefs to recognize the difference between true Ceylon (Sri Lanka) cinnamon (canela in Spanish) and cassia, the much cheaper pretender that is not only confused with the real thing but often labeled AS the real thing in the market, even gourmet markets. I can walk through a kitchen door and tell immediately if a baker is using cassia or cinnamon; the difference is that dramatic.

Cassia is used in South Indian dishes, and it’s much darker in color, with a harder bark. Sometimes called false cinnamon, it’s usually harvested in China or Vietnam. True cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka in quills, layers of bark, with a much lighter color and a more complex, haunting fragrance. It’s best to grind your own cinnamon, as with most spices, and to acquire it from a reliable source, such as, who stock two grades of true cinnamon. Once you have that flavor in your repertoire, cassia simply won’t do.

Canola oil

Aside from the purported health benefits of the canola—of course, there is no such seed; it’s just an invented name for highly processed rapeseed— I dislike both the heaviness of the oil and its flavor. Banned from Quinta Diana.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Queer Brown Voices for Pride Month

During the opening reception for the Association of American University Presses's 2016 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, Executive Director Peter Berkery delivered some remarks on the tragic shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. After reading an excerpt from a collection of poems by Reinaldo Arenas published by the University of Florida Press, Peter said these words:
University presses play an essential role in the care and feeding of civil society by cultivating and publishing books like this one, works that engage unflinchingly with serious issues like the hateful and persistent persecution of gay and transgender people and the epidemic of gun violence in the United States.
Recognizing the overwhelming impotence of moments of silence, the last few awful days have led many of us to ask ourselves “What can I do to fight the ignorance, the hatred, the violence?”
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Most of the victims of the Orlando massacre were Latina/o. Statistically, LGBT people of color are more likely to be targets of violence than whites. Histories of LGBT activism often reduce the role that Latinas/os played, resulting in misinformation, or they ignore their work entirely, erasing them from history.

Queer Brown Voices is the first book published to counter this trend, documenting the efforts of some of these LGBT Latina/o activists. Comprising essays and oral history interviews that present the experiences of fourteen activists across the United States and in Puerto Rico, the book offers a new perspective on the history of LGBT mobilization and activism. The activists discuss subjects that shed light not only on the organizations they helped to create and operate, but also on their broad-ranging experiences of being racialized and discriminated against, fighting for access to health care during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and struggling for awareness.

We are excerpting a portion of Salvador Vidal-Ortiz's introduction here. Vidal-Ortiz is an associate professor of sociology at American University, where he also teaches in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program.

Brown Writing Queer: A Composite of Latina/o LGBT Activism

By Salvador Vidal-Ortiz

One Of Many Beginnings And Many Voices

A pink map of the Americas upside down—that was the first visible sign for me that a Latina/o LGBT/queer presence in the United States was strengthening. The year was 1993, and many of us attended the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. That map was a T-shirt from the Latino Caucus of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). In 1993 as we arrived in Washington, D.C., for a third national march, there was already a strong Latina/o queer presence throughout the United States, represented by organizations such as the D.C. Metropolitan Area Coalition of Latino Lesbians and Gays in Washington, D.C.; Ellas en Acción, Asociación Gay Unida Impactando Latinos/Latinas A Superarse, and Proyecto Contra SIDA Por Vida in San Francisco; Las Buenas Amigas (itself derived from Salsa Soul Sisters, a women of color group) in New York, as well as other groups being formalized there, like Latino Gay Men of New York and Latinas and Latinos de Ambiente New York; and the Austin Latina/o Lesbian and Gay Organization, Gay and Lesbian Coalition de Dallas, and the Gay Chicano Caucus (eventually becoming Gay and Lesbian Hispanics Unidos of Houston) in Texas. Other organizations existed in Puerto Rico, groups such as Colectivo de Concientización Gay (later Colectivo de Lesbianas Feministas), Coalición Orgullo Arcoiris, and Coalición Puertorriqueña de Lesbianas y Homosexuales. By 1993 the first nationwide organization, the National Latino/a Lesbian and Gay Organization (LLEGÓ), founded in 1988, had begun to offer services, in large part due to health funding provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A large presence of Brown queers who had been visible since the 1970s in their own cities, regions, and states were now, between the second and third “gay and lesbian” marches, becoming more established and visible at the national level. Brown was being written into queer in a slow but steady manner. Yet both Brown and queer still functioned as shameless markers that signaled outsiderness to heteronormativity and whiteness, as I will discuss later on.

As a member of ACT UP Puerto Rico, I was also at the march to address issues of access to treatment for those infected with HIV and, equally important for me and my fellow ACT UP members, to address HIV-related discrimination and to advocate for more prevention and education funds. Walking on the National Mall, where the AIDS Memorial Quilt was displayed, we could see the countless names—and recognize friends and lovers and family members—of those lost to AIDS because of homophobia, inadequate treatment, and ignorance. While queer Latinas/os, as a movement, weren’t in decline, we were nevertheless affected by HIV/AIDS—and little to nothing was being done then. Just as Brown was becoming visible and organized, the impact of AIDS in our lives was both prompting the establishment of organizations and movements while also taking many of our Latina/o brothers and sisters from us.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Stephanie Sauer on Evoking the Royal Chicano Air Force

How do you write a history of a group that has been written out of history? Employing a creative mix of real and fictive events, objects, and people that subverts assumptions about the archiving and display of historical artifacts, Stephanie Sauer's innovative new book The Accidental Archives of the Royal Chicano Air Force both documents and evokes an arts collective that played a significant role in the Chicano movement.

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The RCAF started as the elusive Rebel Chicano Art Front that, through an understandable mix-up with the Royal Canadian Air Force, became the Royal Chicano Air Force, a group renowned for its fleet of adobe airplanes, its ongoing subversive performance stance, and its key role as poster makers for the United Farm Workers Union during the height of the Chicano civil rights movement. Reimagining herself as a fictional archaeologist named 'La Stef', Stephanie Sauer documents the plight of the RCAF, suspending historical realities and leaping through epochs and between conversations with various historical figures, both dead and alive, to offer readers an intimate experience of RCAF history.

A cofounding editor of A Bolha Editora, a bookshop and publisher in Rio de Janeiro, and executive editor of Copilot Press, Stephanie Sauer is an interdisciplinary text-based artist and visiting lecturer at the San Francisco Art Institute. We talked to her about her approach to this project and how institutions should embed experiential learning, i.e.: "embodied knowledge," into pedagogical approaches.

What informed your approach to how you presented this archive, which is described in the introduction as your “deeply personal, biased, and shared witnessing”? 

Before I conceived of what is now The Accidental Archives, I spent a year writing what I had been expected to write. That is, I wrote a history of the Royal Chicano Air Force as I encountered it in the 21st Century. It was a story one would expect to read. It was a story I had read many times before. I was in Chicago then, a microcosm of a United States obsessed with its divisions, and found myself answering to the expectations of readers who wanted me to translate Chicanismo for them, to act as a type of mediator whose task it was to create a didactic, easily digestible history. This way of writing bored me, and I found it deeply problematic. I saw myself as facilitator to a kind of colonial fantasy that pitted me as an objective, rational (read: white, anthropological) narrator of an RCAF documentary. I didn’t want to perpetuate such ideas of otherness, so I threw out that entire manuscript and started fresh from three scraps, the very first notes I’d written.

Inaugural Flight of LaRuca 2012. With permission of use of Los Files © Juanishi V. Orosco.
Courtesy of Juanishi V. Orosco.
What Dr. Diaz noted in her introduction as “deeply personal, biased, and shared witnessing” is, for me, the richest way to present any history. Rooted in feminist practices of testimonio, embodied knowledge, “disruptive excess,” and collective witnessing, I found it vital to foreground the multiplicity of voices and their contradictions, the tactile ephemera, and the biases. Otherwise, when one tries to smooth over these elements in favor of a clean, linear narrative, the tremendous violence of silencing distorts the humanity of those making history. It is this type of silencing that alienates us from our own power to impart change. I wanted to offer an alternative. I wanted to upend the so-called logic of traditional, Western, male-centered historiography and imagine what a new kind of archive might include. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Steve Bourget on Sacrifice, Violence, and Ideology Among the Moche

In a special precinct dedicated to ritual sacrifice at Huaca de la Luna on the north coast of Peru, about seventy-five men were killed and dismembered, their remains and body parts then carefully rearranged and left on the ground with numerous offerings. The discovery of 
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this large sacrificial site—one of the most important sites of this type in the Americas—raises fundamental questions. Why was human sacrifice so central to Moche ideology and religion? And why is sacrifice so intimately related to the notions of warfare and capture?

Steve Bourget is a world authority on the Moche and author of Sex, Death, and Sacrifice in Moche Religion and Visual Culture and coeditor of The Art and Archaeology of the Moche: An Ancient Andean Society of the Peruvian North Coast. He is currently a research associate in the Department of Anthropology at the Université de Montréal. We asked him some questions about his latest book, Sacrifice, Violence, and Ideology Among the Moche: The Rise of Social Complexity in Ancient Peru. His study uncovers some fascinating relationships, like how El Niño conditions influenced broader aspects of Moche religion and cosmology, how a concomitant relationship emerges between the practice of human sacrifice and the rise of social complexity across New World societies, and how uniting iconography with archaeology helps scholars deepen our understanding of the Moche people and their power structures.

Why was human sacrifice so central to Moche ideology and religion?

The practice of human sacrifice in any ancient society is a complex matter. Each situation must be approached with caution and understood within its own cultural context. In the Moche case, the archaeology and its visual culture have shown that this ritual practice was closely related to their power structure. In death, high-ranking individuals are regularly buried with retainers who appear to have been sacrificed, and in life, sophisticated sacrificial rituals were apparently carried out to celebrate the link between these individuals with the divine domain.

Remains of a pair of victims, precisely laid in opposite directions on the ground of the sacrificial site
Ritual violence and sacrifice clearly index the power of the ruler and separate its status from that of the Moche population in general. The most complex rituals depicted in the iconography, the remains of which have sometimes been detected in the archaeological record, often culminate with human sacrifice and the exchange of the blood of the victims between high-status individuals. In these contexts, the rulers possess, like divine beings, the power over life and death. The presence of the same individuals instigating the cycle of ritual violence in the scenes of ritual warfare leading to capture and, eventually, human sacrifice indicates that they oversee all the aspects of the ritual process. They are both the instigators of this violence and the recipients of the benefits of sacrifice.

Therefore, the use of ritual violence and human sacrifice is structurally associated with the development of Moche power and the nature of rulership. In addition to creating a fundamental difference between the rulers and the rest of the society, human sacrifice reinforces the sacred dimension of these individuals and that of their lineages.

Explain how the ritual ecology of El Niño conditions influenced broader aspects of Moche religion and cosmology.

Firstly, the term "ritual ecology" refers to the use of the natural environment in its broadest sense to anchor and validate ideological precepts and religious beliefs disseminated by Moche elite. Therefore, the animal species and the environmental conditions selected by the Moche systematically contributed to highlighting and reinforcing certain ideological aspects. El Niño conditions were embedded in this overall scheme to create a symbolic system of everything that was both ritually and ideologically significant for the exercise of power. By using such an elaborate metaphorical system centered around the impact of El Niño events in the north coast region, their objective was to provide a rationale for the exercise of power and rulership. During the humid conditions brought by El Niño, the land is drastically transformed, the desertic landscape is transformed, countless animal species thrive and multiply, both on the land, in the air and in the waters, and the limitless power of the gods become apparent in the physical world. Harnessing the power of this climatic event to serve their ideological needs has to be recognized as one of the most brilliant ideas ever devised by an Early State society.

Monday, May 30, 2016

'Heaven, Hell, and Everything in Between' Q&A with Ananda Cohen Suarez

Examining the vivid, often apocalyptic church murals of Peru from the early colonial period through the nineteenth century, the new book Heaven, Hell, and Everything in Between: Murals of the Colonial Andes explores the sociopolitical situation represented by the artists who generated these murals for rural parishes. Arguing that the murals were embedded in
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complex networks of trade, commerce, and the exchange of ideas between the Andes and Europe, Ananda Cohen Suarez also considers the ways in which artists and viewers worked through difficult questions of envisioning sacredness.

Ananda Cohen Suarez is an assistant professor of history of art at Cornell University. She is editor and principal author of Pintura colonial cusqueña: el esplendor del arte en los Andes. She has also published articles in the journals Colonial Latin American Review, Americas, and Allpanchis. We talk to Professor Suarez about her work, her intentions, the preconquest and postconquest visual world in Latin America, and the challenges she faced in documenting, photographing, and writing about mural painting. 

In the region you cover in your book, what are the differences between rural art production and how religious art changed in urban centers?

I have found that by the seventeenth century, we begin to see a shift in artistic production between the city of Cuzco and its rural environs. The churches and convents in the urban center tend to feature larger-than-life canvas paintings, elaborate gilded retablos, and an array of aesthetic embellishments that endow these religious spaces with a sense of grandeur and architectural complexity. Rural parishes located in Cuzco’s southern provinces are usually much smaller with humbler interiors, especially the farther you travel from the city. You see a sparser prevalence of gold and silver, given their high cost. The artworks contained within these churches are often produced by so-called “second rate” artists whose prices would have been more affordable for the priests, donors, and confraternities that commissioned their works. However, their visual impact is no less stunning. It is in these spaces that you find the exuberant murals featured in this book.

Interior view of the Church of Rondocan, Acomayo Province, with murals dating to the late 17th or 18th century. Note the combination of trompe l’oeil framed paintings, depictions of angelic musicians, and textile murals lining the choir and nave. Photo by Raúl Montero Quispe.
Mural painting remained a prevalent art form in the rural Andes well into the nineteenth century. Even today, you can find political slogans and imagery painted along the exteriors of residences and stores throughout the Andean countryside. Murals were expected to do much of the “heavy lifting” for church decoration, imitating retablos, picture frames, textiles, and an array of other expensive materials through the medium of tempera on adobe walls. These murals began to develop their own aesthetic language by the eighteenth century, and in fact, we can trace uncanny similarities across far-flung mural programs by this period, demonstrating the cohesiveness of rural artistic networks across the southern Andes.

Monday, May 23, 2016

'Amazonia in the Anthropocene' Q&A with Nicholas Kawa

Our latest author Q&A features Nicholas Kawa talking about his new book Amazonia in the Anthropocene: People, Soils, Plants, Forests. Professor Kawa researches biodiversity management and agricultural sustainability in the Amazon region at the Ohio State UniversityThis timely study explores how pre-Columbian Amerindians and contemporary rural Amazonians have shaped their environment and how that environment sometimes resists human manipulation and control. With implications for the human role in global environmental
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Amazonia in the Anthropocene engages the concept of the Anthropocene by tackling its problems and paradoxes from the vantage point of the world’s largest tropical rainforest. We asked him about his work, what we can learn from contemporary rural Amazonians, and the complicated identity politics of indigenous rights.

This week in New York City, Latin Americanists from all over the world will gather to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA). We'll be there to salute LASA for 50 years of fostering intellectual discussion, research, and teaching on Latin America, the Caribbean, and its people throughout the Americas. We invite attendees to stop by our booth at the 2016 annual meeting for our newest titles, to pick up a subject catalog, and for an exclusive LASA offer.

Explain the concept of the Anthropocene and how your work wrestles with defining this “new” geological epoch.

Anthropocene is rooted in the idea that human activity on the planet has been so impactful and pervasive that we have ushered in a new epoch in geological time. Paul Crutzen, the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist, is recognized for popularizing the term in 2000. However, in the past five years or so, it has really gained traction. It is not just being adopted by natural and physical scientists but also social scientists and scholars in the humanities. This is what I really appreciate about the concept of the Anthropocene: it’s encouraging truly interdisciplinary and even transdisciplinary dialogue. As a consequence, it has also generated considerable debate and controversy. One of the current debates centers on the origins of the Anthropocene. When did it begin? Crutzen and a few of his colleagues have traced it back to European industrialization while other scholars have suggested that it began with the development of agriculture. Still others have promoted later origin points including World War II and the radiological signatures left by the atom bomb. Most recently, a team of geologists has claimed that industrial plastics will stratigraphically define this new epoch. Regardless of when the Anthropocene began (which is a debate that will likely carry on), most scholars link it to the rise of modern industrialization and global capitalism.

In this book, I look at the Anthropocene from the vantage point of the rural Brazilian Amazon. In doing so, I highlight some of the problems with its current conceptualization. One problem I point out is its subtle Eurocentrism. In tracing the origins of the Anthropocene to industrial Europe, it is overlooked that people across the world have been implicated in and directly linked to the broader processes driving the Anthropocene. I show, for example, that many of rural Amazonia’s contemporary inhabitants are descendants of migrants who moved to the region to tap natural rubber, which fueled the burgeoning tire and automobile industries in North America and Europe. Another problem I highlight is the anthropocentrism embedded within the concept of the Anthropocene. While it’s suggested that humans are coming to dominate the planet, every day we get news about how various forces and life-forms that make up our environment are constantly pushing back against us: hurricanes, tsunamis, the Zika virus, flesh-eating microbes, and CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere. The Anthropocene should remind us that while our technologies have expanded our ability to impact the planet, a much broader array of life-forms and forces is constantly thwarting our attempts to wrest control of the world around us.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Barbara Mundy wins the 2016 LASA Colonial Book Prize

Barbara Mundy’s The Death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, the Life of Mexico City has been awarded the 2016 Latin American Studies Association (LASA) Colonial Book Prize! Read what the prize committee has to say about Professor Mundy's work below.

The University of Texas Press salutes the Latin American Studies Association for 50 years of fostering intellectual discussion, research, and teaching on Latin America, the Caribbean, and its people throughout the Americas.

We invite attendees to stop by our booth at the 2016 annual meeting for our newest titles, to pick up a subject catalog, and for an exclusive LASA offer. Stay tuned to this blog for author guest posts, including Nicholas Kawa on his new book Amazonia in the Anthropocene: People, Soils, Plants, Forests.

LASA Colonial Book Prize Announcement

The winner of this year's prize from the LASA Colonial Section awarded to the best book in
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Colonial Studies is:

Barbara Mundy, 
The Death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, the Life of Mexico City. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015.

Mundy has written a gorgeously illustrated book drawing on her training as an art historian, referencing as well architectural and urban history, and pre-Hispanic and colonial Spanish American history and narrative. Using the city as an organizing metaphor, she ‘reads’ a range of texts including maps, sculpture, architecture, indigenous language manuscripts, Spanish language chronicles and sermons…and even contemporary Mexico City subway maps.

Eschewing rupture (such as pre/post periodizations) for continuities, Mundy links pre-Hispanic Tenochtitlan and colonial Mexico City in compelling and nuanced ways. Her deft employment of theory (DeCerteau and Lefebvre, primarily) informs but never overwhelms her reading as she roots Mexica elite and commoner, preConquest and colonial agency in the performances of the city over time. Through her analysis, Mundy makes sculpture, imagery, and architecture move to dynamically represent the transformations of the city, marking the Mexica but also recalling the radical changes that have occurred. The committee found her central argument that indigenous peoples played a key role in shaping the post-conquest city in ways that scholars have overlooked to be quite persuasive.

Mundy's discussion of environmental issues (water), translation and nomenclature, and migration history will make her book significant for those outside the field of colonial studies. Common threads with her earlier work are the close attention to place-names as signifiers of rich cultural and historical meaning, recognition of collaborations between indigenous and European actors, and the wonderfully close readings of glyphs and maps, but this book represents a huge new project that draws on but in no way repeats that previous work.

By inviting her reader to "swim" through space, representation, and events, Mundy convinces us of the presence of an indigenous city into the colonial period and beyond through the intersections of water, markets, and indigenous leadership.

The Committee:

Chair, Mónica Díaz, Dept. of Hispanic Studies and History, University of Kentucky
Rachel O’Toole, Dept. of History, University of California, Irvine
Karen Stolley, Dept. of Spanish and Portuguese, Emory University

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Media Studies Scholars on Cycles, Sequels, Spin-offs, Remakes, and Reboots

Did we as a culture ask for Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising? Is Hollywood's alleged addiction to remakes, reboots, sequels, and other 'multiplicities' anything new? We asked three media studies scholars to debate the concept of originality in entertainment, what it means for the media to disparage perceived repetition, and how audiences interacting with an entire product like Star Wars: The Force Awakens—from pre-production to marketing—
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impacts how we read cultural output.

Participating in this discussion are Amanda Ann Klein, an associate professor of film studies at East Carolina University and co-editor of the new volume Cycles, Sequels, Spin-offs, Remakes, and Reboots: Multiplicities in Film and Television and American Film Cycles: Reframing Genres, Screening Social Problems, and Defining Subcultures; Jonathan Gray, a professor of media and cultural studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts among other titles; and Will Brooker, the first British editor of Cinema Journal and Professor of Film and Cultural Studies at Kingston University. Brooker has spent the last year living as David Bowie for the forthcoming book Forever Stardust.

You can find Amanda Ann Klein on Twitter @AmandaAnnKlein, Will Brooker @willbrooker, and Jonathan Gray @jonathanagray. Read Jonathan Gray's wonderful media and culture blog Antenna here.

Scholars in Conversation

Amanda Ann Klein: The release of The Force Awakens back in December got many moviegoers, fans, and anti-fans alike disparaging the film because it is a primary example of a “multiplicity” (a category which includes adaptations, sequels, remakes, imitations, trilogies, reboots, series, spin-offs, and cycles). Why is it that people are so critical of texts which appear to replicate other texts? Why are we so devoted to the idea of “originality”?

Will Brooker: Are we, though? People went to see the recent RoboCop, Total Recall, and Point Break—all remakes of movies that to me, seem almost part of the recent past. People optioned, produced, starred in, and distributed those movies. It’s true that they weren’t especially critically successful, but if we as a culture were so devoted to the idea of originality, they wouldn’t exist. If we were so hung up on originality, Fantastic Four wouldn’t have been remade last year, The Amazing Spider-Man wouldn’t have rebooted that character so quickly after the previous Spider-Man series, and we wouldn’t be seeing a new Batman in theaters this spring. We wouldn’t be seeing a new Bourne movie advertised now. We wouldn’t, surely, have seen Mad Max: Fury Road, and we wouldn’t have seen it critically acclaimed, because it’s essentially an unoriginal idea, an addition to a franchise, arguably a soft reboot of some form. We wouldn’t have a Marvel Cinematic Universe that generates so many different movies under the same umbrella, and on one level is just made up of endless sequels to the first Iron Man. And if these remarks seem to refer only to one (broad) genre—action/SF/superhero—look how many literary adaptations and movie remakes of TV shows have been released over the past five years.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Black Women, Music, and Community

Danny Alexander is a white man who has written a book about a black female artist: Real Love, No Drama: The Music of Mary J. Blige. Mary J. Blige grew up in Yonkers, New York, and Danny Alexander grew up in small town Oklahoma. Their backgrounds and life experiences couldn't be more different, but Blige's music has a way of connecting people. As America continues to wrestle with racial difference, Danny Alexander's new book is a testament to the hope that deeply personal and politically conscious music—like that of Mary J. Blige and many others—can bring about a more "woke" world. We asked Danny to write about what brought him to this project.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Real Love, No Drama by Danny Alexander

Real Love, No Drama

by Danny Alexander

Giveaway ends June 30, 2016.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
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Why I Wrote a Book on The Queen of Hip Hop Soul
By Danny Alexander

My hometown library was built and long curated by a somewhat famous librarian named Ruth Brown, who just happens to share her name with the R&B artist who famously built Atlantic Records. In 1950, Bartlesville, Oklahoma’s Ruth Brown was fired for her civil rights activities, principally her work integrating the library around the children’s story hour. She was a member of the Congress for Racial Equality and was labeled a communist. Bette Davis played a fictionalized version of her in the 1956 movie Storm Center, yet she remains known mainly in civil rights circles (the Cold War environment I lived in as a child meant I didn’t even learn Brown’s story until years after I moved away). Since my own writing career has been focused on freedom of expression and a belief in trying to cross social boundaries that, in general, remain intact sixty-six years later, I was proud to have my first book signing across from her portrait in her former library. I was also happy to think she might have approved of the scene before her.