Grad Research: MA student Ashlyn Davis’ work featured on LightBox blog

We are thrilled to draw your attention to Time magazine’s LightBox blog, which recently featured MA student Ashlyn Davis’ collaborative artist book project, Islands of the Blest, which brings together historic photographs of the American west that Davis and photographer Bryan Schutmaat sourced from the online archives of the Library of Congress and the United States Geological Survey.

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The following is a description of the book from the publisher’s website:

These photographs depict various places in the American West, and were taken over a one hundred-year period, from the 1870s through the 1970s. The photographers represented range from the completely unknown to some of America’s most distinguished practitioners of the medium. All of the images were sourced from digital public archives.

Announcement: ‘LaToya Ruby Frazier: Riveted’ exhibition reception tomorrow!

We are pleased to announce that the second exhibition associated with LaToya Ruby Frazier: Riveted has officially opened at the John L. Warfield Center ISESE Gallery in JES A230. The gallery will be open to the public from 12 – 5, Wednesday – Saturday, through May 9, 2015. This exhibition features video and photographic work previously unseen at UT that emphasizes the intimate stakes of Frazier’s political and artistic practice.

This exhibition was organized by INGZ Collective, a curatorial collective that includes our very own American Studies PhD student Natalie Zelt. Join Natalie and the rest of the INGZ Collective for a curators talk and exhibition reception tomorrow, Tuesday February 24, from 4 – 6pm in JES A230. And mark your calendars for LaToya Ruby Frazier’s upcoming residency at the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies, which will include an artist talk and exhibition reception on April 22.

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Announcement: The winter edition of The End of Austin is here!

The End of Austin is back in action with its Winter 2015 edition, which features articles, photographs, and video on chicken shit bingo, the light rail, Plaza Saltillo, and lots of other Austin-y things. In case you haven’t heard, The End of Austin is an award-winning digital humanities project based in the Department of American Studies at UT that explores urban identity in Austin. This edition features an article on the Colorado River and water in Austin by UT AMS alumnus Andrew Busch and an article by PhD candidate Brendan Gaughen on Dazed and Confused.

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Check it all out here!

Faculty Research: Dr. Janet Davis and “In the Company of Cats and Dogs”

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The Department of American Studies is deeply concerned with public scholarship and finding innovative ways to reach out to the greater community around us. In that vein, we’re happy to report that Dr. Janet Davis has consulted on a brand new exhibition at the the Blanton Art Museum entitled “In the Company of Cats and Dogs.” The exhibition features works of art featuring – surprise – cats and dogs, including works by Pablo Picasso as well as some video clips of cats. Like Nora the Piano Cat. Seriously. No word yet on whether Keyboard Cat is also featured, but we can hope…

In addition to providing her own expertise on animals and humanities, Janet also incorporated the exhibit into her Plan II Signature Course: students in her class wrote papers on specific works, which the curators then used to generate some of the labels in the gallery. Truly a wonderful and fruitful bridge between the classroom and the community.

More details on the exhibition can be found here, and we highly recommend you check it out this summer!

Undergrad Research: “Exhibiting Austin” Presentations This Tuesday

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The amazing undergraduate research just keeps coming! Earlier this week we featured a project by Dr. Steve Hoelscher’s Intro to American Studies class, Postcards from Texas, a photo blog that considers the themes of the American Dream and mobility. Today we would like to invite you to attend a series of presentations by students in Dr. Cary Cordova’s “Exhibiting Austin” class that ruminate on Austin’s diverse history. The presentations will take place at the Austin History Center photo gallery (810 Guadalupe St.) on Tuesday, May 13, from 3:00 – 5:00pm.

Here is a description of the project from Dr. Cordova:

Students have spent the semester studying not just the history of Austin, but the collections of the Austin History Center.  Studying our local archive has inspired diverse and unique research projects: students have gathered oral histories, composed photo essays, generated economic studies, composed resource guides, and launched fundraiser projects.  Their research topics vary widely, but feature examinations in education, the arts, activism, food, transportation, and human trafficking, and include meaningful contributions to Mexican American history, Asian American history, Native American history, Czech history, and LGBTQ history.

Please join us to celebrate the hard work of these students and to share in their excavations of Austin histories.

Announcement: Interview with Timothy Donnelly, Reading on April 25

The Department of American Studies, in collaboration with the Department of English and the Michener Center for Writers, will host “The Art of Constraint and the Poetics of Surveillance,” an interdisciplinary conversation about the interaction between literature and the contemporary police state, on Friday, April 25 at 6 PM in the AVAYA Auditorium (POB 2.302). As part of this event, we are incredibly excited to feature award-winning poet Timothy Donnelly, author of The Cloud Corporation (2010), who will be reading new work.  Last week, we had the chance to speak to Donnelly about his work, his teaching, and the role and responsibility of literature in the post-9/11 world.

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Your book The Cloud Corporation borrows language from the Patriot Act and the 9/11 Commission Report.  How did this idea come to you?

Thanks for asking! There are a few poems in The Cloud Corporation that were constructed exclusively from language taken from sources such as those you mention. To write the first of the poems this way, “The Last Dream of Light Released from Seaports,” was proposed to me by my friend the poet Geoffrey G. O’Brien. He suggested I should let 19 pages of the Patriot Act provide me with my vocabulary, since it had in mind to take things away from me, partly. The first page would supply the words I had to choose from in the making of a poem’s first tercet, the second page would give me the words I had to choose from for the second, and so on. Also, once per line I was allowed a word from a second source text, and I had to use the same second source throughout the poem. I chose Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” I liked the idea of doing a mash-up of language from a document designed to compromise civil liberties with that of a big fat freedom anthem—plus, I love the song and listened to it over and over while writing the poem, which took several long days to write. That was way back in 2004.

Then I wrote “Dream of a Poetry of Defense,” which used language from Shelley’s “Defense of Poetry” and the 9/11 Commission Report, in 2005. In this one I reversed my allegiances—it was the prime text, the Shelley, I sympathized with, while the second source text I held in suspicion. First and foremost these poems are formal experiments, attempts to see what can be done with a limited and unlikely lexicon. But they can also be approached as attempts to reclaim the language of power and domination and convert it into a language of freedom and play. They are both at once, I suppose. But I wouldn’t want to overemphasize the political import of all this industry, although I can’t pretend not to have chosen my source texts for their political character, for their rhetorical designs—I just don’t like the idea of making inflated claims for my poetry. And the truth is, I think some purer-minded readers might even consider them misguided and irresponsible, too mongrel and ambiguous, messed-up in their message delivery system. A few people have cited one of them, “The Dream of Arabian Hillbillies,” which uses language from Osama bin Laden’s fatwa against the United States and Israel and from the theme song to The Beverly Hillbillies, as the book’s most tacky moment. And I’m okay with that. I want my work to have all the messiness of life, wrestled into art. I don’t want my poems to be platforms for performing the awesome rightness of my political sensitivity. I don’t like piety in any of its forms.

 

Do you see your work as engaging politically with—for lack of a better term—the post-9/11 world? How so?

Ah. Well, I feel like it would be self-aggrandizing and even a little untrue to say yes, so I’ll say…sort of. I feel insincere confusing my work with full-blown, position-taking political engagement, which is of course something I endorse per se and undertake in my fashion. But that’s not what I do in my poetry. What I do is more concerned with the psychological or, say, the personal experience of political and social realities, the sorrows, the guilts and grotesqueries of our culture. Like emanations of what it feels like to be alive now. A now that, yes, after 9/11, has seemed different from what it was before. Not only because of the shifts in consciousness in the aftermath of the attacks but also because war, economic collapse, environmental crisis, etc., had or have become more pressing realities than they appeared to be before.

But again, I think of the poems as dealing with these realities not directly but as they impinge upon an individual consciousness—but maybe you wouldn’t exclude that from what you mean by “political engagement.” It is a way, I guess, of implying a value. For example, if I refer to capitalism as “the circuitry that suffers me to crave // what I know I’ll never need, or what I need but have / in abundance already,” perhaps that’s critique enough to say that the poem is political. But if I suggest I used to think about falling in front of a train so my family could live off the insurance money because I just wasn’t earning enough of it the traditional way to keep us afloat—is that political? I’m not so sure. By “political” I assume we mean, to quote the OED, “involved, employed, or interested in politics; that takes a side, promotes, or follows a particular party line in political debate.” I don’t think I’m doing that, or maybe everyone is, to some degree? Oh, I think underneath it all there might be something I’m trying to get to, or at, that I haven’t quite formulated.

Let me try to put it this way. At its root, my impulse to write is more or less physical, a drive to create and give shape and organization to material. That material “happens to be,” for lack of a better verb, language, but it might have been something else. I love to cook and often feel that cooking is, for me, another manifestation of the same impulse. There’s also evidence that I might have been a carpenter in another life. But it’s language that’s the medium I work in. And that medium is, as we know, double-natured—physical, or a thing per se, but also significatory. To fully realize the medium, to use it to its fullest, you can’t leave the signification half out of it. Nonsemantic word paintings might catch one’s eye, but in the end, they would be of limited interest. Not that anything is of unlimited interest. Except, of course, the sea. But I know that my impulse is that of a builder first and foremost, and then that of an expresser.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t care about “content.” Because the content of my poems is taken from, or chosen by, my brain, so I feel pretty close to it. It’s just that my impulse to make it into a poem isn’t political. It’s physical, mechanical. Like a bird that makes another nest, just for the sake of it. If it makes it out of shredded tax forms, is that political? Is this making any sense? Like others, I make my poems out of words. The words are like the clay. The clay is quickened into bricks by thought, memory, imagination, feeling—the work of my brain, which sometimes has to do with politics or things of a political character. Which is probably always informed by political realities, and probably reality itself is political. But the poem is the ziggurat I am given to build.

But all that said, the truth is, the most moving responses to the book, to me, have come from people, including those who tell me they don’t ordinarily read poetry, who say it has helped them to articulate how they have been feeling, that it has made them feel accompanied and spoken for. This has been very gratifying. And also a little surprising. Because I would never have dared let myself hope for that. But I also remember that, when The Cloud Corporation came out, there was a review in a Harvard undergraduate literary review that faulted the book for not offering solutions to the problems it confronted. I suppose it’s my sense that if my poems were products of political engagement in the truest sense, then they would have done that. But I really don’t think poetry or any art has to do that. Then again, I’m not a Harvard undergraduate in 2010. Certainly I think it’s enough to have articulated the confusion, even the futility—to give form to how it feels, how it felt, what it was like, to be a human through the times. But in the end the comment that has meant most to me came from my father, who said after reading my poem “Globus Hystericus” in The Paris Review, “I don’t know what it means, but reading it felt like listening to classical music.”

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5 Questions with Dr. Cary Cordova

Dr. Cary Cordova, with a painting by Carlos Loarca

Painting by Carlos Loarca

We return today to one of our favorite blog series: 5 questions with members of the American Studies core and affiliate faculties. Below, we feature a conversation with Dr. Cary Cordova, assistant professor of American Studies and graduate of our program (Ph.D. 2005).

What has been your favorite project to work on and why?

I would turn to the projects that have helped me work with people, the projects in which I am engaging with others, whether it is students or other colleagues or professionals out in the world; these projects have probably netted me the most personal satisfaction. Specifically, i am drawn to doing oral history. When I initially approached oral history, I viewed it as a way to source information, as a way to get data that otherwise wasn’t available. But then in doing interviews, I learned a lot more about myself and about other people, and oral history became a significant amplification of my education, it became a way of expanding my universe well beyond the world that I thought I was in. For instance, one of the artists I interviewed passed away, and I went to his funeral, and it was striking to see the numbers of people that were there. And I did not expect this, but his family had decided to play the interview that I had recorded with him there at the funeral for everyone to hear, and it was so moving and so powerful to suddenly have everyone in that room listening to an interview that had just been me and him, and it helped me see the ways in which the work I was doing had a greater relevance than just me and him sitting in that room.

How do you see your work fitting in with broader conversations in academia and contemporary society?

Academically, it’s pretty easy to see where I have come to be, because it has been pretty consistent. I have always been trying to negotiate this world between American Studies and Latino Studies, and I came to graduate school specifically to study Latina literature. I didn’t end up focusing on Latina literature, but disciplinarily that has been a continuous framework. Then through graduate school and a lot of other things I came to realize I was doing a lot with Art History and with Urban Studies, but those are just the disciplines, and per my previous answer, my academic engagement has always been tied to thinking about others and thinking about my community and thinking about people that make the world matter to me.

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