Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Music from A Perfectly Good Guitar

The South by Southwest music conference and festival (SXSW, as it is now known) kicks off this week here in Austin, TX. The reach of SXSW has gone global and quite a bit corporate, which means well-established music acts like the Avett Brothers, Weezer, and the Wu-Tang Clan can steal thunder from the hundreds of relative unknowns who travel from all over the world to Austin hoping for exposure and whatever one calls a "record deal" these days. It's these hardworking musicians and local artists who prop up the massive event SXSW has become. They slug it out to make a name for themselves, hauling their equipment all over town to get as much stage time as possible. That's the game.
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From Willie Nelson to the bassist in a Sixth Street house band, most guitarists have strong feelings about their primary tool, and some are downright passionate about their axes. When photographer and writer Chuck Holley set out to document guitar players talking about their most prized instruments, he thought he was fairly well-versed in professional guitarists. The playlist he has put together for this blog is all about the lesser-known artists he discovered over the eight years he photographed guitarists with their favorite instruments and listened to their stories. A Perfectly Good Guitar is a beautifully illustrated book presenting these stories in revelatory photographs, featuring Rosanne Cash, Guy Clark, JD Souther, Jorma Kaukonen, Kelly Willis, and more.

Enjoy the selection on Spotify here.

Discovering Good Music

By Chuck Holley

In the Fall of 2007 I began a project interviewing and photographing guitarists. I asked each professional to single out one guitar in their arsenal and explain why it was important to them. The result of that eight-year effort is the book, A Perfectly Good Guitar.

I’m an unabashed music fan and, when I began this project, I considered myself well-versed about music from different genres. I knew about the good stuff—or at least I thought I did.

It didn’t take long to realize how many great working musicians are out there I didn’t know about. Reality set in; it became painfully obvious how much I had to learn. 

As the project picked up steam, artists who came to my attention fell into one of three categories: There were the seasoned professionals whose recordings I already owned. Players like Dave Alvin, Joanna Connor, Alejandro Escovedo and Bill Kirchen come to mind. Sure, I had a Blasters record with Alvin and his brother on it and I had one of his early solo albums. My collection of Joanna Connor music consisted of one early release on Blind Pig Records and I owned three or four Escovedo albums. In the case of Kirchen, I knew all about his days with Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. As for his solo work, I didn’t have a clue. In the ensuing years, my interests turned to other artists.

Sonny Landreth
Then there were the artists with whom I was familiar; I’d heard of them, but didn’t own any of their recordings. I knew the music of Sisters Morales but I didn’t own any solo recordings by Lisa Morales. The same was true of Bill Frisell. From reading album credits I knew at one time Sonny Landreth played in John Hiatt’s band, The Goners, but even though I’d heard of Sonny, I didn’t own any of his music.

Finally, there were the artists who were new to me. They weren’t new to the scene, but I wasn’t familiar with their work. Toronzo Cannon, Johnny Nicholas and Jamie Lin Wilson are three such artists.

I enjoy turning my friends on to good music. I’ve told them about some of the terrific musicians and songwriters I’ve discovered. They listen politely until their eyes glaze over. My friends are creatures of habit, but aren’t we all?

I subscribe to the Duke Ellington school of thought: “There are two kinds of music. Good music and the other kind.” If I like it, I’ll listen to music regardless of labels. At the same time, it’s difficult to write about this without resorting to categorization. The artists profiled in A Perfectly Good Guitar represent a variety of genres.

I’ve never understood the guy who claims to just like only country music or classical or jazz. In my opinion, that’s like saying you only like the color blue.

This blog features ten artists from A Perfectly Good Guitar. These ten artists represent personal discovery. Their genres don’t matter. They’re just labels, but do they mean anything?

“All By Myself” – Dave Alvin
Dave Alvin spent his youth sneaking into blues bars with his older brother, Phil, to see and learn from masters like Big Joe Turner, T-Bone Walker, and Lightning Hopkins. In 1979 he and Phil formed the seminal roots rock band, the Blasters. They released four influential albums before Dave left to join the band, X, and later embark on a solo career that produced several critically acclaimed albums, including the Grammy Award-winning Public Domain. He and Phil reunited in 2014 to record Common Ground, their tribute album to Big Bill Broonzy, and later a blues album, Lost Time.

Dave recalls how he purchased a 1934 National resonator guitar. He used that guitar on the Broonzy song “All By Myself,” the first track on Common Ground.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Interview with Stanley Corkin on The Wire

Stanley Corkin's new book is the first comprehensive, season-by-season analysis of the critically acclaimed HBO series The Wire. His book explicates the complex narrative arc of the entire series and its sweeping vision of institutional failure in the postindustrial United States. We're running an interview the University of Cincinnati conducted with Professor Corkin to celebrate the publication of Connecting The Wire: Race, Space, and Post-Industrial Baltimore.

Connecting The Wire Interview

By Jac Kern

Originally posted February 13, 2017 by University of Cincinnati for UC Magazine

The Wire aired on HBO from 2002-08, but still maintains a growing audience today. Photo/HBO

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As University of Cincinnati English and History professor Stanley Corkin enters his 30th year at UC, he adds a new book to his repertoire of works on mass culture (film, television and other popular media) and history.

In this latest release, Connecting The Wire: Race, Space, and Postindustrial Baltimore, Corkin offers a season-by-season analysis of HBO’s 2002-08 crime drama The Wire.

Following law enforcement in Baltimore, each season explored the police in relation to a different institutional entity: initially, the illegal drug trade, then unionized work on the Baltimore waterfront, city government, the public school system and finally in its last season, the news media.

The show was hailed by critics and adored by fans, but never brought in top ratings or managed to score an Emmy Award. Today, it is universally considered one of the best American television dramas and continues to gain a growing fan base following its run on TV through streaming services like HBO Go and Amazon Prime. Corkin’s book is the first comprehensive scholarly study of The Wire.

A key figure in the emerging film program in UC’s College of Arts and Sciences, Corkin’s books include Realism and the Birth of the Modern United States: Cinema, Literature, and Culture (1996), Cowboys as Cold Warriors: The Western and U.S. History (2004) and Starring New York: Filming the Grime and Glamour of the Long 1970s (2011).

Give us an overview of the book and why you wanted to write about The Wire.

I had always endlessly been interested in urban geography. As I was finishing my last book—I’m always trying to think of the next project—one of my kids had brought The Wire to my attention. I binge-watched it, and I loved it. I thought it was a great show—sociologically and historically interesting. I’ve written about race and urban life a lot over the course of my career so I thought this would be a natural next thing to do.

The showrunner, David Simon, tried initially to respond to genre expectations in the first season. It’s really within “noir-ish” crime drama caper stuff, but after that, in subsequent seasons, he gives you four different ways of looking at a given American city—in this case, Baltimore—within the context of a neoliberal cultural moment. I thought that was really powerful.

Author and UC professor Stanley Corkin. Photo/provided
The Wire is very specific to Baltimore, as opposed to other shows set in New York or Los Angeles or a fictional city. What is the significance of this setting?

Baltimore is below the level of the mega successful, international cities. So the fact that it’s not New York or Chicago or LA; nor is it even San Francisco, Boston, or Houston—makes it like many cities in a lot of ways. Baltimore is a perfect neoliberal specimen. It’s a city that didn’t quite boom when the economic system changed in the '90s. Cities that didn’t boom, like Cincinnati, kind of got left behind and they’re just picking up the residue of that restructuring of international economics. And just like Cincinnati now is relatively booming, so is Baltimore.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Entry Interview with the New Editors of Texas Studies in Literature and Language

The summer of 2016 saw Douglas Bruster and James Cox step in as the new editorial team of Texas Studies in Literature and Language. In the following interview, we speak with them about their scholarly backgrounds and the plans they have for TSLL, a journal of literary criticism published quarterly by the University of Texas Press. 

To learn about previous issues, submission guidelines, subscriptions, and other matters relating to TSLL, visit University of Texas Press online at utpress.utexas.edu/journals/texas-studies-in-literature-and-language.

James Cox

James, you have a strong research interest in contemporary Native America novels and ethnic American literature, and you co-edited Studies in American Indian Literatures for five years. Could you tell us a bit more about yourself and your academic background?

James: While my first book was on late-twentieth century novels by Native writers, my research covers Native American writing from 1920 to the present. Most recently, I’ve become interested in recovering Native writers from the middle decades of the twentieth century and thinking about the formal, critical, and political reasons that they remained overlooked or neglected despite, in some cases, having strong national or even international reputations during their lives. My second book, The Red Land to the South, followed some of these writers into Mexico, where they encountered indigenous groups that inspired them to think about how to help their home communities upon their return. The trans-indigenous critical approach of this second book influenced my work as co-editor, with my long-time friend Daniel Justice of the University of British Columbia, on The Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literature.

Douglas Bruster
Douglas, your expertise lies in Shakespeare. You have written and edited numerous books on his plays, and earned international attention for helping prove his contribution to another playwright’s work.

Douglas: I've been lucky enough to find work doing something I love, which is to read, study, and teach some of the best writing in our language. People sometimes have a hard time believing that there are still mysteries about Shakespeare and his works after all this time, but we really know very little about this great writer. Some of my current research involves dating his plays and poems, with an emphasis on determining the earliest part of the canon—what he wrote in the late 1580s and early 1590s. With desktop computing, we're able to perform increasingly sophisticated analyses of his words. In time, we're likely to gain a clearer picture of his working life than we have now.

Why were you drawn to take on the editorship of Texas Studies in Literature and Language?

James and Douglas: The journal is a very important piece of department and university history as well as one of the only non-specialist journals that publishes across historical eras, critical and theoretical divides, and national boundaries. We wanted to take up the challenge of editing such a journal.

What do you have in store for TSLL? How do you anticipate the journal changing?
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We’ve redesigned the journal’s exterior and interior to give it a new, fresh look. Readers will see this rather dramatic change upon first picking up—or clicking on—the journal.

We intend to publish a rich and diverse selection of articles across eras and fields, and we have recruited some new editorial board members—Alexander Dick, University of British Columbia; Devoney Looser, Arizona State; Rafael Pérez-Torres, University of California, Los Angeles; Randy Schiff, University at Buffalo; Bart van Es, Oxford—to join us, our editorial assistant (currently Megan Snell), and the board members who are continuing their service.

We have also initiated a publishing internship program for undergraduate English majors. The students in that position (Hannah Blaisdell and Emily Varnell this year) will help us develop a more robust social media presence.

Will the focus of TSLL shift to any previously unexplored areas of literature? 

Here two special issues bear mention. Our Modernism and Native America special issue will bring into the pages of the journal some new material, as will a special issue on filmmaker Wes Anderson.

In recent years, TSLL published special issues on Samuel Beckett (51:1), James Joyce's Ulysses (51:4), and the author J. M. Coetzee, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003 (58:4). A 100th anniversary volume (54:1–4) devoted issues to conference papers from the Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies, a posthumous work of ecocriticism by a colleague in the UT English department, and Turkish letters. Could you say more about your upcoming special issues?

We mentioned the special issue on Modernism and Native America forthcoming in 59.3. In addition to provocative essays from Eric Gary Anderson (George Mason), Kirby Brown (Oregon), Michael Tavel Clarke (Calgary), Charles Rzepka (Boston University), and Melanie Benson Taylor (Dartmouth), the issue will include an oft-cited but not closely read letter-cum-drama manifesto from Cherokee author Lynn Riggs to his friend, the Pulitzer Prize winning dramatist Paul Green. We’re excited and grateful to have received permission to publish it from both the Riggs and Green estates. In the next two volumes, we’ll have special issues on Wes Anderson and Victorian Environments, edited by our department’s Donna Kornhaber and Allen MacDuffie, respectively.

For the latest information on Texas Studies in Literature and Language, follow the journal on Facebook and University of Texas Press Journals on Facebook and Twitter.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Eleven Images from Picturing the Proletariat

In the wake of Mexico’s revolution, artists played a fundamental role in constructing a national identity centered on working people and were hailed for their contributions 
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to modern art. John Lear's new book, Picturing the Proletariat: Artists and Labor in Revolutionary Mexico, 1908–1940, examines three aspects of this artistic legacy: the parallel paths of organized labor and artists’ collectives, the relations among these groups and the state, and visual narratives of the worker. We asked Professor Lear to pick a handful of images studied in the book to represent the progression and politics of the Mexican proletariat.

Eleven Images from Picturing the Proletariat

By John Lear

The late John Berger proposed a fundamental “way of seeing” art. He wrote, “The question: what went into the making of this? supersedes the collector’s question of: what is this?” As a historian of Mexico’s working people, I began my research for Picturing the Proletariat with the related assumption that art both reflects and shapes the world in which it is produced. This would hardly be a surprise to the politically engaged, Communist-inspired artists who came of age during Mexico’s 1910 revolution, or to anyone who has seen the monumental, government-sponsored murals painted on public buildings in subsequent years by “los tres grandes” (Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros). At one level, my new book is about how post-revolutionary artists “discovered” the working people of Mexico after 1910, came to see and organize themselves as “intellectual workers,” and reached out to newly organized unions. On another level, my book is about the ways these artists “pictured” working people stylistically and discursively over three decades. I found hundreds of long-forgotten or largely ignored prints, photographs, and murals. Many were embedded in journals and street posters, or painted on union and market walls instead of government buildings; and many were by lesser-known artists with more intimate ties with working people.
I include here eleven of the 146 works of art in the book. The images mostly speak for themselves, but I offer some commentary on what went into the making of each piece. Together they suggest some of the ways artists and labor leaders represented working people in revolutionary Mexico.

1. The Pre-revolutionary “Worker-Citizen” 

Saturnino Herrán began Allegory of Construction/Allegory of Labor in 1910, before the revolution, as a commission for the government of dictator Porfirio Díaz. Immersed in the urban transformations of the capital and aware of recent landmark strikes at Rio Blanco and Cananea, he was one of the first fine arts painters to introduce the worker as a subject, using the visual strategies of symbolism and allegory. His strong, fair-skinned construction workers labor at essential tasks, building the monumental structures of Mexico City, while a wife feeds her resting husband and children on the margins of the worksite. They invoke the shared goals of the pre-revolutionary elite and mutualist workers’ associations, by which male workers were to reject recent labor conflicts yet assume their proper roles as “worker-citizens” who construct the nation.

2. The Pre-revolutionary “Worker-Victim”

By contrast, the artisan printmaker José Guadalupe Posada developed years earlier a primitive style of relief prints for the satirical penny press for workers that challenged elite notions of development and highlighted conflict between the working class and its exploiters. As this 1903 front page of La Guacamaya demonstrates, he distinguished between two subsets of the exploited working class: in the masthead, the virile and outraged artisan class (with whom he himself identified), and in the caricature below, the victimized worker-campesino, literally consumed by factories, his flesh converted to gold. But while Posada’s prints denounced abuses of this “worker-victim,” they never advocated strikes and suggest an ambivalence to the outbreak of the 1910 revolution. Herrán and Posada, who both died during the decade of revolutionary fighting, offered two distinct archetypes of the worker that would clash and mingle over the next thirty years.

3. The “Worker-Citizen-Consumer” of the 1920s

This is a typical cover of the post-revolutionary union periodical Revista CROM, published for around a decade starting in 1926. Artists organized and participated in the revolution’s first several years of mobilization3 and fighting, but only in the national reconstruction of the 1920s did their representations of the working class flourish, in the context of intense labor organization and cultural politics. The officialist CROM labor federation, closely allied with President Calles, published its own journal illustrated by commercial artists. Drawings blended the earlier style of Herrán with art deco and art nouveau styles and conveyed the reformist politics of the federation itself. Like this cover, illustrations depicted attractive, muscular, Europeanized and above all individual workers who, together with industrialists and government leaders, constructed the post-revolutionary nation with their tools and the national flag in hand. This worker was also bound to middle-class consumer aspirations featured in articles and advertisements aimed at their wives, a “worker–citizen–consumer” with an explicit and unprecedented political role and palpable aspirations of individual social mobility.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Notions of Genre Soundtrack Playlist

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Much of the writing in film studies published today can be understood as genre criticism, broadly speaking. And even before film studies emerged as an academic discipline in the 1970s, cultural observers within and beyond the academy were writing about genre films and making fascinating attempts to understand their conventions and how they speak to, for, and about the culture that produces them. While this early writing on genre film was often unsystematic, impressionistic, journalistic, and judgmental, it nonetheless produced insights that remain relevant and valuable today.

Barry Keith Grant's new edited volume with Malisa Kurtz, Notions of Genre: 
Writings on Popular Film Before Genre Theory, gathers the most important early writing on film genre and genre films published between 1945 and 1969. In the spirit of appreciating genre film, we asked Barry Keith Grant to curate a playlist of iconic music from genre cinema. Enjoy this fun whirl through movie history through its music.

“Back in the Saddle Again” – Gene Autry: As might be expected, a sense of nostalgia informs the discussions of the western in Notions of Genre. Autrey sings this song – his signature tune from 1939 – in the film of the same name, and it has everything going for it: cowpokes checking their saddles, the comic sidekick bumbling about, Hollywood cowgirls decorating the mise-en-scene, and a yodelling riff later used by Frank Zappa in “Montana.”  Gene never misses a beat broadcasting his show from his ranch, even as he deals with the nefarious owner of the local copper mine. 

“Beware The Blob” – The 5 Blobs: A novelty song inspired by the classic science fiction movie The Blob starring Steve McQueen as the brave teenager whose warnings initially go unheeded by the authorities. It’s silly little melody is a certified earwig, worming its way into the brain like the blob in the film oozes through the air vents in a movie theater. The tunewritten by none other than Hal David and Burt Bacharachis part of a proud tradition of novelty SF tunes that include such masterpieces as Sheb Wooley’s “Purple People Eater,” The Ran-Dells “Martian Hop,” and the Boss Tones’ “Moppity Mope.”

“The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde” – Georgie Fame: Bonnie and Clyde is one of the latest films discussed in Notions of Genre. Its impact was extraordinary, not just in cinema but influencing other areas of popular culture such as fashion and music. A number of recording artistseven mellow Mel Tormécapitalized on the film’s popularity by waxing tunes related to the infamous duo. But the best is Georgie Fame’s short pop hit. Fame, who has collaborated with Van Morrison on some of the latter’s projects, was a jazz musician disguised as a British Invasion pop singer. Listen to those lyrics just rhythmically role off the tongue, like Walt Whitman’s poetry.

“Moon River” – Jerry Butler: A standard composed by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, it won the Oscar for Best Original Song in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The song evokes Mercer’s childhood in the American South, the line about “My huckleberry friend” specifically evoking the 19th century world of Mark Twain on the Mississippi. There are innumerable versions of the song, but Jerry Butler’s version from 1961 was a top chart hit even before Mancini’s was released. Butler, the original lead singer of The Impressions, would seem miscast, but his soulful interpretation lends a black perspective to the song that is entirely different from Andy Williams’ iconic but vanilla treatment.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Enduring Appeal of Gang Suppression in El Salvador

In 1992, at the end of a twelve-year civil war, El Salvador was poised for a transition to democracy. Yet, after longstanding dominance by a small oligarchy that continually used violence to repress popular resistance, El Salvador’s democracy has proven to be a fragile one, as social ills (poverty chief among them) have given rise to neighborhoods where gang activity now thrives. Dr. Sonja Wolf's new book Mano Dura: The Politics of Gang Control in El Salvador examines the ways
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in which the ruling ARENA party used gang violence to solidify political power in the hands of the elite—culminating in draconian “iron fist” antigang policies that undermine human rights while ultimately doing little to address the roots of gang membership.

Dr. Sonja Wolf is a CONACYT research fellow with the Drug Policy Program at the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas. We asked her to comment on the 25th anniversary of the Chapultepec Peace Accords.

The Enduring Appeal of Gang Suppression in El Salvador
by Sonja Wolf

On January 16, 2017, El Salvador will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the peace settlement that ended the country’s twelve-year civil war. This conflict pitched the guerrilla forces of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) against the government army, propped up by billions of dollars in US military aid. While for the average citizen it is bound to be a day like any other, the administration of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén will mark the occasion with concerts and other festive events.

It has also announced, however, that it has asked the United Nations, mediator of the earlier peace negotiations, to help produce a new “National Accord”. This agreement is meant to unite all sectors of society, often at odds with each other, in order to tackle major challenges. The invitation comes at a critical time and, compared to the usual official rhetoric that the country is forging ahead, is a recognition that local actors have proved unable to create much-needed political consensus and public policies.

The somber climate stands in stark contrast to the optimism of the early nineties, when Salvadorans were hopeful that greater freedom and prosperity were laying ahead. The war, which had originated because peaceful social and political change was impossible, had left some 75,000 people dead and the economy shattered. The peace agreements mandated a series of constitutional, institutional, political, and socioeconomic reforms. While most transformations advanced only half-heartedly, the last of these never took off to begin with.

The FMLN and the ruling government of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), a conservative party that defended the interests and privileges of the economic elite, embraced fundamentally different views and expectations of their country. Whereas the left felt that a democracy had never existed in El Salvador, and the peace accords were a means to build it, the right considered that the guerrilla had attacked an actually existing democracy and the task ahead was to restore the status quo.

With a powerful part of the population committed to ending the war, but not to pursuing the vision enshrined in the treaty, the country’s future was always going to be uncertain. The peace accords remain a watershed for El Salvador, but their reluctant implementation lies at the root of the problems that have beset it since. To be sure, it was no small feat to terminate the political violence, incorporate the FMLN into the political system, hold democratic elections, and restructure the security sector. But state institutions and the rule of law remain weak, corruption flourishes, poverty and inequality persist, and criminal violence has surged. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Our Most-Read Blog Posts of 2016

Despite everything that happened in 2016, it was a great year for University of Texas Press authors on our blog. Here are the 10 most-read posts, spanning topics from Mexican cuisine to Moche power structures, from author-curated music playlists to fascinating conversations among scholars.

We look forward to another year of great reading in 2017!

Earlier this year, UT Press was excited to announce that musician, songwriter, and former Go-Go Kathy Valentine has signed an agreement to write her first book – a memoir. Read the post.

2016 was the year that scientists declared the dawn of a human-influenced age. One of our most popular author Q&A featured Nicholas Kawa talking about his new book Amazonia in the Anthropocene: People, Soils, Plants, Forests. We asked him about his work, what we can learn from contemporary rural Amazonians, and the complicated identity politics of indigenous rights. Read the post.

[ Film, Media and Popular Culture : Comics ]

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 history of censorship and marginalization endures in the minds of its present-day readers and, crucially, its authors. We asked him to talk about why he wrote the book in this passionate and funny Q&A. Read the post.

In this blog post, historian Charles Molesworth expands on his book The Capitalist and the Critic: J. P. Morgan, Roger Fry, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to reflect on issues that reverberate today: buying influence in a presidential race, breaking up too-powerful bank trusts, pushing Progressive Era initiatives to eliminate obscure and unfair trading practices, and the problem of "large sums of money resting in the hands of a few men." Read the post.

We couldn't resist excerpting Diana Kennedy's brilliant bêtes noires to celebrate her 93rd year and the new edition of her classic part memoir, part cookbook, Nothing Fancy: Recipes and Recollections of Soul-Satisfying Food. 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. Read the post.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Q&A with David William Foster on Latin American Graphic Narratives

Comic narrative traditions expand well beyond the multi-billion dollar Marvel and DC universes. Just as Christopher Pizzino has written about literary communities unfairly dismissing comics as juvenile in Arresting Development, Professor David William Foster
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has examined the role of provocative graphic narratives in Argentine and Brazilian cultures, where authors and artists are grappling with issues like modernity, globalization, and cross-cultural identity.
He illuminates the different social, political, and historical conditions from which these Latin American graphic narratives emerged in his new book El Eternauta, Daytripper, and Beyond: Graphic Narrative in Argentina and Brazil

Dr. Foster is Regents’ Professor of Spanish and Women and Gender Studies at Arizona State University, where he also leads the Brazilian Studies Program. He is author of numerous books, including Argentine, Mexican, and Guatemalan Photography: Feminist, Queer, and Post-Masculinist Perspectives, Queer Issues in Contemporary Latin American Cinema, Mexico City in Contemporary Mexican Cinema, and Gay and Lesbian Themes in Latin American Writing.

We asked longtime UT Press author Dr. Foster about his latest research and how it intersects with the extensive research he's done on Latin American cultural output over the course of his career.

El Eternauta’s author Héctor Germán Oesterheld was disappeared during the so-called Dirty War in Argentina. How did this and his text’s political undertones help to solidify graphic narrative prestige in Latin America?

Although the term “graphic novel” was not in use at the time—nor is it particularly common even today in Argentina—what we recognize as such, as a more sophisticated version of the venerable comic book, was already extensively published in Argentina. And such publications had already begun to include running series and book-length plot developments. Osterheld was at his prime when he was disappeared, and that fact enhanced his reputation within the artistic community and its various circle of followers. Moreover, the fact that the science-fiction plot of 
El Eternauta look eerily like a parable of the military dictatorship of the 1960s through the 1980s—that is, quite avant la letter—only served to solidify the fame has to the present day, some 70 years after it was first created. 

H. G. Oesterheld and F. Solano López, El Eternauta

What do you hope readers will come to appreciate about Latin American graphic narratives?

First of all, that this format existed in Argentina quite some decades before anything like it emerged in the United States and that it exemplifies the way in Buenos Aires reaffirms, over and over again, its role as the most innovative Latin American center of cultural production. While there is today a major Brazilian production that I represent in the book, it is much more recent, although it has its own dynamic creative parameters, because São Paulo, in the Portuguese language, vies for the attention Buenos Aires merits in Spanish. Nowhere else in Latin America is there anything of the creative qualities of the production of these two countries, although promising material is beginning to come out elsewhere. Interestingly, Mexico continues to host a large mass popular inventory of a more traditional comic book nature, without out yet having anything approaching the overall artistic/intellectual tenor of the Argentine and Brazilian material.

How has globalization informed Brazil’s graphic narrative output?

Brazil is the country in Latin American that has most vigorously embraced globalization. This is for many reasons, but a principal one is in order to promote its national interests beyond what it views as having as a national language one that is spoken in only one major country of the world, unlike Spanish, which can point to a dozen major societies that use it. Thus globalization for Brazil means, among other things, showcasing its ability to compete in a world language like English. Hence, one finds in Brazil a significant cultural production in or that references English, along with many pro-American sociocultural attitudes in Brazil.

F. Moon and G. Bá, Daytripper

You’ve done extensive research on Latin American visual arts—photography, popular comics, narrative and documentary filmmaking. How does this book intersect with the research you’ve done on these other visual mediums?

When I was a university student in the late 1950s and early 1960s (my PhD is from 1964), visual culture as not a part of so-called Spanish departments. So I concentrated on what was, which was literature. But while I still work extensively with literary texts, I began to discover that my real talent was with visual culture, that I had a “knack” of quickly grasping the visual. Moreover, it was not difficult to see the continuities between the literary and the visual, beginning with the way so many films are based on literary texts or how photographs or other art work may illustrate literary texts. If there is anything original about my career, it has been the ability to sense where the profession is going and thus to be able to pioneer new research areas. I have been a pioneer in these areas of visual arts, as I have been in Latin American Jewish studies and Latin American queer and gender studies. The good fortune to work with so much material has certainly enriched immeasurably my career.

The literary text in a graphic novel is often more spare than traditional prose. Is your interest in linguistics issues heightened by the economy of language typical of this literary medium?

I am always interested in—really, quite obsessed by—language issues. Like everyone in the “Spanish” profession, I started as a language teacher and still find time to include much commentary about language in my teaching and to focus on language matters in my writing. But I must confess I haven’t really given much thought to whether the so-called spare nature of prose in the graphic novel requires particular commentary. Certainly, the semiotic burden is born by the image: one can have a graphic novel with no language, but not a graphic novel with no images. Some graphic novels have fairly extensive prose texts—Fábio Moon’s and Gabriel Bá’s work for example—but the first thing that occurs to me is that the lives of common citizens that are often featured in the graphic novel simply means that “real everyday” people speak a sparer language than so-called exceptional people might in, say, a novel of psychological development. But undoubtedly, your question goads me to be more reflective about this matter, and I will include it in the course on Latin American graphic narrative that I will be teaching in Spring 2017.


Friday, December 16, 2016

Q&A on the oldest known "book" in North America

"If you look upriver as you cross the Pecos River bridge heading west toward the historic town of Langtry, Texas, you will see nestled high on the canyon wall a small, shallow cave. Near dusk on a winter’s day the sun fills this rockshelter with light, illuminating the images painted thousands of years ago in red, yellow, black, and white. Those of us who know the paintings are there wave a
greeting as we pass. Hundreds of thousands of people, however, cross the bridge and never know they are within a stone’s throw of perhaps the oldest known “book” in North America: the rock art mural in White Shaman Shelter." 
—From the Introduction to Carolyn Boyd's The White Shaman Mural.  
The prehistoric hunter-gatherers of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands of Texas and Coahuila, Mexico, created some of the most spectacularly complex, colorful, extensive, and enduring rock art of the ancient world. Perhaps the greatest of these masterpieces is the White Shaman mural, an intricate painting that spans some twenty-six feet in length and thirteen feet in height on the wall of a shallow cave overlooking the Pecos River.

In The White Shaman Mural, Carolyn E. Boyd takes us on a journey of discovery as she builds a convincing case that the mural tells a story of the birth of the sun and the beginning of time—making it possibly the oldest pictorial creation narrative in North America. We asked Carolyn Boyd about her fascinating work and how we can appreciate the White Shaman mural and the region's history.

View of the Pecos River and White Shaman Shelter from across the canyon. Photo by Rupestrian Cyberservices. Courtesy of Shumla Archaeological Research and Education Center.

What is the significance of the White Shaman mural?

The White Shaman mural is perhaps the oldest known “book” in North America. It is a visual narrative exquisitely detailing a very ancient and enduring story of creation – the story of how the sun was born and time began. The narrative was painted by nomadic foragers at least 2,000 years ago on the limestone wall within a small rockshelter overlooking the Pecos River. It documents a story that was passed down to later generations of Uto-Aztecan speaking people, such as the ancient Nahua (Aztec). It is a story still told today by other Uto-Aztecan speaking peoples, such as the Huichol of Mexico.

The mural works on multiple levels of interpretation. Not only does it communicate an ancient creation narrative, it also metaphorically represents the heavens as viewed by people living in the Lower Pecos during the Late Archaic. The imagery relates the sun’s daily cycle and the apparent path of the sun along the ecliptic throughout the year. It documents the changing seasons and the beginning and ending of ages. Beyond its portrayal of real-world cosmological events and cycles of nature, the mural also articulates the ongoing transformations of every person throughout the course of their lives.

The fourth Ancestor transforming into the Moon Goddess. Photo by Jean Clottes.
Courtesy of Shumla Archaeological Research and Education Center

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Call for Papers - The Velvet Light Trap Issue #81

The Velvet Light Trap Issue #81 – Power, Freedom, and Control in Gaming

Game studies is no longer an ‘emerging’ field and video games can no longer be considered a ‘new’ or niche medium. The commercial video game industry is now over 40 years old and games are an increasingly intrinsic part of the symbolic terrain of culture. The continued economic growth of the global video game industry is well documented and staggering, and this is reflected in the growing body of academic work that engages with the multifaceted ways that games are designed, created, received, and played. In recent years, scholars have productively moved away from the hotly contested theoretical divisions between ludology and narratology that defined early game studies. Yet, at the same time, games scholarship continues to privilege digital gaming, in the process often sidelining or excluding from academic discussions the vibrant range of game design paradigms and player practices in non-digital gaming, such as board games, card games, and role-playing games. This issue of The Velvet Light Trap considers the place of gaming within media studies and the potential value of utilizing a cultural studies framework for understanding issues of power, freedom, and control in game studies.

As the game industry has matured alongside information and communications technologies, methods of production and industry lore have become normalized as the scope and diversity of games being produced becomes ever more richly nuanced. Triple-A franchises, such as Grand Theft Auto, Fallout, and Madden NFL, are gaming blockbusters, with production teams of hundreds, production budgets of millions, and revenue in the billions. The success of the mainstream industry combined with digital distribution has also opened up niches for thriving independent and underground game scenes, where titles as varied as Undertale, Depression Quest, The Stanley Parable, and Papers, Please, have interrogated the act of play itself while expanding conceptions of what forms and functions games can take.

The increasing complexity of the globally networked gaming industry demands scholarly engagement from a variety of perspectives. The scholarly turn to games and gaming is producing a groundswell of work that parses the disparate yet often interrelated patterns of more micro-level historicity and phenomena, such as game aesthetics and narrative engagement; player identity and communities; emergent cultures and practices the circumscribed agency of designers; and issues of local production, histories, and archives. Scholarship on analog formats like role-playing games and board games have foregrounded the importance of looking beyond the digital, highlighting the economic and cultural contexts of a broader range of gaming and play practices.

This issue of The Velvet Light Trap seeks to build upon this body of research and further consider how games reproduce popular ideas about identity, including issues of gender, race, class, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, ability, etc., through characters, gaming worlds, play, design, and performance. Which voices, perspectives, and sensibilities are privileged in gaming culture, and how can the gaming industry become more inclusive and self-reflective about the practices it engages in and choices it makes? How are communities traditionally marginalized in the gaming economy asserting greater agency? How are issues of power, freedom, and play negotiated, challenged, or reinscribed in the various games and gaming practices marking today’s increasingly expansive media and cultural landscape?

Other possible areas of inquiry in digital and analog gaming include but are not limited to:

  • Theories of play
  • Gaming pedagogy
  • Archive/Collection
  • Game design (development & production); designer agency
  • Labor, locality, and the global commercial market
  • Global gaming (Non-U.S. products or cultures)
  • Marketing and distribution
  • Games as ancillary merchandise
  • Games as parts of transmedia franchises
  • Metagaming and paratextual engagement
  • Adaptation (game to film/TV; film/TV to game)
  • Gamer culture and identity 
  • Gender and #Gamergate
  • Celebrity
  • Digital access and class privilege
  • Ludic cartographies
  • Mobile apps
  • Virtual Reality
  • Mods & Freeware

Submission Guidelines

Submissions should be between 8,000 and 10,000 words, formatted in Chicago Style. Please submit an electronic copy of the paper, along with a separate one-page abstract, both saved as a Microsoft Word file. Remove any identifying information so that the submission is suitable for anonymous review. Quotations not in English should be accompanied by translations. Send electronic manuscripts and/or any questions to vltcfp@gmail.com by January 15th, 2017.

About the Journal

TVLT is a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal of film, television, and new media. The journal draws on a variety of theoretical and historiographic approaches from the humanities and social sciences and welcomes any effort that will help foster the ongoing processes of evaluation and negotiation in media history and criticism. While TVLT maintains its traditional commitment to the study of American film, it also expands its scope to television and other media, to adjacent institutions, and to other nations' media. The journal encourages both approaches and objects of study that have been neglected or excluded in past scholarship.

Graduate students at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the University of Texas at Austin coordinate issues in alternation, and each issue is devoted to a particular theme. VLT's Editorial Advisory Board includes such notable scholars as Charles Acland, Richard Allen, Ben Aslinger, Caetlin Benson-Allott, Mark Betz, Corey Creekmur, Michael Curtin, Kay Dickinson, Bambi Haggins, Scott Higgins, Mary Celeste Kearney, Jon Kraszewski, Lucas Hilderbrand Roberta Pearson, Nicholas Sammond, Jacob Smith, Jonathan Sterne, Cristina Venegas. VLT's graduate student editors are assisted by their local faculty advisors: Mary Beltrán, Ben Brewster, Jonathan Gray, Michele Hilmes, Lea Jacobs, Derek Johnson, Vance Kepley, Shanti Kumar, Charles Ramírez Berg, Thomas Schatz, and Janet Staiger.