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Culture Talk

Professors Gonzalez and Ismail discuss their new books
December 10, 2015

Last Night the Bees Came

Professor Ray Gonzalez
Professor Ray Gonzalez

Professor Ray Gonzalez in October published his 15th collection of poetry, Beautiful Wall (BOA Editions). The book received positive previews from NBC News, Poets & Writers, and Library Journal and is now a finalist for the P.E.N. Southwest Book Award in Poetry, which will be announced in January. As Library Journal noted of the book: "Throughout, nature becomes a breathing presence ('This is not about miracles, but of the animal/ that leaves the water in its stillness'), and several poems pay tribute to the author's nephew, a veteran, whose PTSD contributed to his death: 'I can't get it/ out of my head—/ an Army helmet as/ a deep bowl of sorrow.' . . . [P]oems lush with empathy."

Last spring Gonzalez received his second lifetime achievement award, this time the Lifetime Achievement Award in Latino Literature from Con Tinta, a national organization of Latino writers. "Ray's generosity has helped hundreds of writers during his career as literature director, editor, and professor," said Con Tinta's Natalia Treviño in her introduction. "He has helped to hone thousands of Latino voices across the country." The first Lifetime Achievement Award came in 2002 from the Southwest Border Regional Library Association. For Gonzalez, the honors make him feel again the worth of solitary hours writing and editing: "You do have an audience, and it doesn't forget the decades of hard work." Read more.

Culture & Eurocentrism

Professor Qadri Ismail
Associate Professor Qadri Ismail

In his first book, Abiding by Sri Lanka (2005), Associate Professor Qadri Ismail found in literature a conceptual space that, unlike anthropology and history, generated helpful perspectives about continuing political conflicts in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. As part of his even more interdisciplinary new book, Culture and Eurocentricism (Rowman & Littlefield), he backtracks to interrogate the Eurocentric concept of literature—tracing when and where writing became a canon and a discipline. Ismail reveals how that 19th-century creation was/is intertwined with anthropology's invention of "culture" and cultures, as well as the philosophy and political science of Europe's colonial period. In the process he gives a thorough shaking to such dearly-held assumptions as the integrity of contemporary cultures and reading as moral improvement.  

Against a background of Hobbes and Locke, you show how both "English literature" and "culture" arose together within the colonial era to claim subjectivity and imagination for Europeans versus native populations. . . . How have the disciplines of English literature and anthropology moved on from those origins?

Both Anthropology and English are no longer colonialist in the more offensive ways of the 19th century. But it is true of cultural anthropology that it is the study of the other, of a subject producing a view of an object, right? And that structure has not changed. There are individual anthropologists who don't do that, but as a discipline, that has not changed. . . . Read more.