Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Alemán Delivers Burke Lecture in Taos

As the 2015 Jim and Linda Burke Visiting Scholar in Literature at the Doel Reed Center for the Arts in Taos, Dr. Jesse Alemán delivered a lecture on Southwestern horror in film at the Taos Art Museum and Fechin House. Read more about it below in Laura Bulkin's article from the Taos Tempo:

Taos lecture: 'From Atomic Ants to Texas Cannibals'

What do giant radioactive ants have in common with inbred feral cannibals? How has our post-atomic Southwestern culture shaped the horror movie genre? And is it really aliens taking away our cattle, or could there be more sinister economic agents at work?

These questions and more will be addressed in a lively presentation by University of New Mexico-Albuquerque professor Dr. Jesse Alemán on Sunday (May 31), 2 p.m. at the Taos Art Museum at Fechin House, 227 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.

The event is titled “From Atomic Ants to Texas Cannibals: The Social Significance of Southwestern Horror in Film,” and is being offered free of charge by Oklahoma State University’s Doel Reed Center for the Arts in Taos.

The Doel Reed Center came about through the generosity of late Taos icon Martha Reed, whose famed broomstick skirts have adorned fashionable dancers from Taos to the White House.

“Martha was an alumna of Oklahoma State, and her father Doel taught art there,” said center director Dr. Edward Walkiewicz. “When she passed in 2010, she left us her property, including her father’s old art studio, with the stipulation that it be used for arts and humanities.”

Alemán will discuss “the way specific events that take place in the Southwest show up in horror films — environmental and economic disasters generating forms of horror.” He gives the example of “Them,” a 1954 release considered one of the pioneers of the “nuclear monster” genre. “Them” is set in Alamagordo, New Mexico, site of the first atomic bomb test — an environmental nightmare that, in the film, spawns an army of giant mutant ants.

As well as atomic events, Alemán will cover the economic horror story of the demise of cattle culture. He posits a direct line of cinematic influence, from the 1963 cattle-industry drama “Hud,” to 1970s horror classics such as “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “The Hills Have Eyes,” where the cannibal antagonists have been left in social and economic isolation by the decline of the cattle economy.

This rich vein of material ties in with another field of expertise for Alemán: Chicano folklore, especially as it is translated into the medium of film. “We could look at low-brow horror movies as just campy or simplistic, but this genre of subaltern forms has a long history of articulating complex social messages.”

He gives the example of the many “chupacabra films” that have been made in Mexico and the U.S. over the years, and points to a metaphorical subtext of “blood-sucking labor practices and exploitation of workers” underlying the chupacabra’s vampirism.

La Llorona, “The Weeping Woman,” has also been a favorite horror-genre theme, with Mexican Llorona films dating back to the 1930s. Alemán spoke of the differences between the character of La Llorona as she has traditionally been passed down in stories from elders to children, and the way that the character has been portrayed cinematically.

“I love the fact that she’s in film and doesn’t have to be the same as she is in folklore. Many of the Mexican movies add the element of La Llorona possessing the body of someone, often a white woman. This never happens in the folklore stories, it was completely made up for cinema. With this added element of ‘possession,’ you wonder, what’s up with that, what does that mean? Who is possessing and owning whom, and why? There are profound metaphors here for the possession of land, the possession of culture and power and property.”

“There is also a tradition of zombies in horror films representing ‘racial others’ who will suck life from the dominant culture,” Alemán continued, citing the 1996 cult film “From Dusk Till Dawn.”

“That film captured those tensions in its very structure. It’s a Quentin Tarantino film until the Tarantino character dies, and then we get Robert Rodriguez’ perspective and it’s a different point of view on the genre. This was set in a trucker bar, and made at the very beginning of NAFTA. Who are the real vampires— the Mexicans in the film, or the corporate entities about to come swarming in?”

Alemán grew up in a small town in rural California, and says his upbringing there, in a region he describes as “98 percent raza,” helps him feel at home teaching in Albuquerque. “The work I’m doing now is a synthesis of all the cultural impressions I took in as a kid, filtered through rigorous academic mentoring and training in thinking analytically.”

While in Taos, Alemán will also be interacting with OSU professor Martin Wallen’s intensive two-week course on the subject of “The Nuclear Bomb and the Land of Enchantment.” Wallen says the class will be visiting Los Alamos, “along with the sites of peaceful artistic engagement, such as the Fechin House and the Greater World Earthships.”

“This is the third summer that we’re hosting a visiting scholar,” said Walkiewicz. “We do a nationwide search for the person with the best credentials who can also contribute to a class. Jesse Alemán already has a great body of work in Southwestern culture and contemporary film, and in how that ties in to social and economic issues.”

Later this year, the Center will be taking part in the Pressing Through Time exhibition. This celebration of printmaking in Taos will encompass 150 years of work, including that of Doel Reed himself. “We are always trying to participate in the artistic and intellectual life of the community, and to bring in more than we take out,” Walkiewicz said.

For Sunday’s event, Alemán assures attendees that they won’t be subjected to a typical dry lecture. He’ll be showing clips from the films as he speaks about them, and then will invite the audience to join in what he hopes will be a spirited discussion. “It’s about the power of folklore. Some may view it as mythology. For us, it is articulating how we live all the time.”

For more, call the museum at (575) 758-2690.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Tiffany Bourelle Named 2015-16 Teaching Fellow

The Center for Teaching Excellence selected Assistant Professor Tiffany Bourelle to be a 2015-16 Teaching Fellow.

Teaching Fellows will investigate carefully-defined teaching challenges by examining the latest research on teaching and learning in their disciplines, designing a teaching innovation, and by collecting and evaluating evidence of student learning in their own courses. At the end of the program, Fellows will present their results in a campus presentation and at national conferences in their disciplines.

Jonathan Davis-Secord Awarded Medieval Academy Book Subvention

Assistant Professor Davis-Secord's book, Joinings: Compound Words in Old English Literature, forthcoming from the University of Toronto Press, has been awarded the Medieval Academy Book Subvention, which provides support for the publication of first books at university and scholarly presses.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Julie Williams Receives Inaugural ALS-Arms Dissertation Research Assistantship

Julie Williams, PhD candidate in American Literary Studies, has garnered the inaugural ALS Elizabeth and George Arms Fund for American Literature Research Assistantship for Dissertation Completion to assist and facilitate the research and writing of her dissertation, “Embodying the West: A Literary and Cultural History of Environment, Body, and Belief.”

Focusing on embodiment in women’s writing in the American West from the 1880s to the present, the dissertation argues that texts, authors, and cultural events depicting bodies that do not fit into the narrative identity created by discourses about the West—bodies that are all “marked” through an alternative mode of gender construction, sexual desire, illness, disability, or race—reveal the limits and possibilities of the mythic West and the discourses of rejuvenation which have shaped it. Dr. Jesse Alemán chairs the dissertation.

The assistantship pays $16,500.00 from the Arms Endowment Fund over one academic year to support dissertation research, and UNM’s Graduate Studies provide dissertation hour tuition remission and heath care coverage for the recipient.

The Elizabeth and George Arms Fund for American Literature is an endowed graduate award fund with the UNM Foundation in recognition of research in American Literature within the College of Arts and Sciences Department of English.

Christine Beagle awarded A&S Dissertation/Thesis Completion Award for Summer 2015

Christine is a Rhetoric & Writing PhD candidate completing her dissertation, "The Chicana Speaks: Dolores Huerta and the Chicana as Rhetor".

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Filar Wins First ALS-Arms Outstanding Graduate Student Essay

Diana Filar’s essay, “Palms: Poetry, Little Magazines, and the ‘Making it New’ of Modernist American Literature,” has been selected by a committee of ALS faculty as the first ALS-Arms Outstanding Graduate Student Essay. The award is $500.00 from the Elizabeth and George Arms Endowment Fund in recognition of research in American Literature. Ms. Filar graduated with her MA in Literature in Spring 2015.

The selection committee agreed that the essay “is a cogent and thorough analysis of the little magazine published in Guadalajara, Mexico, that traces the history of the publication and the significance of its mission, visual art, and poetic selections in relation to modernist studies, the literature of the American West, and transnational networks of cultural exchange. The essay is detailed and precise in its focus with lucid writing and excellent supporting images. The project draws on the resources of the CSWR archives in creative and significant ways . . . that not only addresses the region, but also that is tied specifically to UNM and its resources.”

Ms. Filar will be presenting a version of her award-winning essay, which she penned in a course offered by Dr. Daniel Worden, at the upcoming Modernist Studies Association Conference, and now that she’s earned her MA at UNM, she is heading to the PhD program in English and American Literature at Brandies University on a graduate fellowship. Congratulations on all counts to Diana Filar.

Daoine Bachran and Natalie Kubasek Garner Mellon Dissertation Fellowships

Two ALS PhD candidates in English, Daoine Bachran and Natalie Kubasek, have both garnered UNM-Mellon Dissertation Fellowships to facilitate the completion of their dissertations. 

Daoine Bachran’s dissertation, “From Recovery to Discovery: Ethnic Science Fiction and (Re)Creating the Future,” argues that science fiction by Native, Chicana/o, and black artists re-imagines scientific paradigms for understanding history, the present, and future possibility. 

Natalie Kubasek’s dissertation, entitled “Chicana Feminist Acts: Revising the Script of Chicana/o Theater from the Early Twentieth Century to the Present” proves that since the 1930’s, Chicanas have staged feminist acts in theater that challenge patriarchal and nationalist ideas of gender and sexuality by imagining and performing multiple Chicana identities. 

Dr. Jesse Alemán chairs both award-winning dissertations.

Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the highly competitive and nationally recognized Mellon award provides dissertation fellowships in the humanistic social sciences across ten UNM departments to senior doctoral students working on studies relevant to Latino/a or Native American communities. The year-and-a-half award is meant to assist in the completion of the dissertation by providing a $25,000.00 stipend at the beginning of each semester for three semesters; tuition remission; health care coverage; and up to $1,500.00 for professional development or research support during the tenure of the award. The Mellon also awards the fellow’s dissertation chair a $3,000.00 stipend.