Author: Ariel Patrick

Q&A With Eric Zolov

Zolov photo

Eric Zolov is Professor of History at Stony Brook University. He is coeditor of Fragments of a Golden Age: The Politics of Culture in Mexico since 1940, also published by Duke University Press, and author of Refried Elvis: The Rise of Mexican Counterculture. In his newest book, The Last Good Neighbor, Zolov presents a revisionist account of Mexican domestic politics and international relations during the long 1960s, tracing how Mexico emerged from the shadow of FDR’s Good Neighbor policy to become a geopolitical player in its own right during the Cold War.

You mention that The Last Good Neighbor marked a “new direction” in your scholarship. What about this project inspired you to shift your research focus?

I have always gravitated towards the 1960s and early 1970s in my research interests, dating back to college. I’ve also always been very interested in international relations (IR). In fact, before entering the PhD program at Chicago I was in a joint MA program for Latin American Studies/IR, and initially considered entering the Foreign Service. Yet my first monograph, Refried Elvis, while deeply transnational, largely failed to engage at the level of geopolitics.  When I first began research on what eventually evolved into The Last Good Neighbor, way back in 2001, I became very intrigued with trying to understand the dynamic between local and international forces at the level of diplomatic history. I had spent a summer conducting research at the National Archives in Maryland, pouring through State Department and other such documents, and then nearly a year in Mexico, where they had just opened up the materials of the internal security agencies (DFS, DGIPS). At the time, I was still focused mostly on the dynamic between Mexico and the United States, since the U.S. seemed to be the most obvious external actor. But the historiography was shifting as was my own thinking, and I needed a way to make clearer sense of references I was finding in the primary sources, to terms such as “neutralism,” on the one hand, and to foreign policymaking by López Mateos, on the other. It became clear to me that I needed to expand my conceptual framework beyond the US-Mexican relationship, to place that central axis within a wider global understanding. I then got a grant to visit the U.K. archives in Kew Gardens and gained an invaluable perspective into British and European interpretations. The project by that point had become heavily influenced by Cold War diplomatic history, which both brought me back to my earlier interest in IR, but also drew me toward a new field of scholarship that was trying to connect culture and geopolitics, the Global Sixties.

Your research diverges from what you refer to as “a singular focus on repression” in Mexican domestic politics to one that considers the aspirations of Mexican leadership. Why does this singularly-focused scholarship need to be challenged?

It’s not so much that it needs to be challenged as balanced. If you look at the vast majority of the literature on Mexico for this period, the focus is mostly on highlighting the repressive apparatus of the state and internal security forces. This is important work, to be sure, but we now know quite well what the state was capable of and how a strategy of repression was central to retaining control by the ruling PRI. Left out of this picture, however, are the aspirational aspects of the Mexican state, both domestically (in terms of cultural production, for instance) and internationally. When other authors write about Mexico’s progressive international stances, for instance, toward Cuba or Echeverría’s “Third Worldism,” it’s generally explained away in terms of a strategy to coopt domestic opposition. What I try to show in The Last Good Neighbor is that Mexican leadership—with the notable exception of Díaz Ordaz, as I explain in the book—genuinely sought to take advantage of a fluid geopolitical environment in an effort to reshape international politics and, especially, to influence the debate over what form a new political economy of trade and development should take. Those very important aspects of the narrative—global aspects, to be sure—have been overshadowed by the focus on state violence and impunity at the domestic level. I don’t ignore the question of repression, but at the same time I try to redirect our attention to other parts of the narrative. I also spend considerable time, for instance, focusing on the implosion of the Mexican left and the ways in which internal factionalism was linked to ideological splits globally, between the positions of an “Old” versus “New” left, on one hand, and competing currents within the New Left itself, on the other.

Considering the role of aspiration is a decidedly qualitative approach in international relations. You mention the lack of personal writings during López Mateo’s presidency. What challenges did you face in the research process and what approaches did you take to overcome them?

The U.S. and British diplomatic sources raise all sorts of concerns about Mexican intentions during this period, for instance, regarding López Mateos’ goals in visiting Eastern Europe or Asia. They also provide great insights into the motives of foreign leaders who courted Mexico, such as French President Charles De Gaulle or Yugoslavia’s leader, Josip Broz Tito. So, one way I was able to access the question of aspiration was to integrate the rich narratives and detailed analysis provided by these external sources with the equally rich, though often more piecemeal, documents acquired from the Mexican Foreign Ministry. Yet I also needed to incorporate a strategy of discourse analysis, for instance by analyzing photographs, posters, and cartoons.  Ultimately, my methodology combines an eclectic integration of diverse approaches and a wide spectrum of sources.  Ultimately, the documents never jumped out to say, “This is our plan,” but the aggregate of evidence allows me to establish a credible interpretation, that of an aspirational foreign policy which coincided with—and sought to harness, in my argument—shared aspirations among left-wing social forces for a rejuvenated internationalism.

Combating a historical narrative that downplays Mexico’s international expansion during the 1960s, you describe the country’s acquisition of new diplomatic and trade partners a “global pivot.” How does this framework challenge perceptions of Mexican political culture?

A common trope, propagated at the time and picked up by most historians, is that by the late 1950s the Mexican revolution had “died.” This image was reinforced by the repression of the railway workers’ movement in early 1959, the assassination of Rubén Jaramillo in 1962, and, of course, the massacre of students in 1968, alongside a litany of examples of political monopolization by the ruling party. Yet undo focus on these episodes has detracted us from recognizing the broader, progressive foreign policy aspirations under López Mateos. This was a moment of tremendous geopolitical fluidity, with the birth not only of new nations in Africa and Asia but of new proposals for global collaboration, namely in the Non-Aligned Movement and the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). López Mateos, I show, actively sought to take advantage of that fluidity not only to affect a global pivot away from dependence on the United States, but to shape the terms of those emergent global proposals. A key paradox, I argue, was that Mexico’s strategic relationship with the United States deepened at the same time that the relationship became a springboard for enhancing Mexican prestige abroad. The attempt to diversify Mexico’s diplomatic, economic, and cultural relations was put aside by President Díaz Ordaz, for a variety of reasons, but continued in fervor under President Luis Echeverría in the 1970s. The fact that this pivot failed is testament to the dilemma of Mexico’s geographic marriage to the United States. But we risk reproducing a limited history of Mexico for this period if we dismiss or overlook the significance of that attempt.  It’s not only that the attempt itself matters. We need to recognize how foreign policy aspirations—by the government but also for various social actors—became a transcendent factor across the body politic. By doing so we are led to an important reexamination of Mexican political culture for this period, to really think through how and why the domestic is imbricated by the foreign.

How does your work contribute to the evolution of historical scholarship?

Scholars of Mexico and historians of Latin America in general have tended to examine national histories in isolation from international relations. There are of course some notable earlier exceptions, such as Friedrich Katz’s masterful The Secret War in Mexico (1984), and the groundbreaking collection edited by Gilbert Joseph, In From the Cold (2007). More recent scholarship, notably by Tanya Harmer, has opened up new avenues of investigation and presented new frameworks of analysis for us to consider. This is especially true for the burgeoning field of the Global Sixties, which takes as a given that political, social, and cultural forces at the national level are deeply embedded within transnational networks. The monumental collection edited by Chen Jian, et. al., Routledge Handbook of the Global Sixties (2018) is pathbreaking in that regard. My contribution, hopefully, will be to encourage Latin Americanists to recognize the imperative of linking national narratives to a larger global framework. One of the central facets of my book, for instance, follows the diverging trajectories around the proposal of a “New Left”: how that idea briefly cohered and subsequently fragmented within the Mexican context. There are many points of entry into this era, as the collaborators of a new edited volume, Latin America and the Global Cold War (2020), demonstrate. The Last Good Neighbor, however, is the first full-length monograph to examine a particular national context from this global perspective in great depth.

What do you hope readers will take away from The Last Good Neighbor?

I hope the book shakes up readers’ presumptions about Mexico in the 1960s. For a long time, 1968 has exerted a powerful historiographic pull on scholarship. We need to transcend that influence, as the editors of the important recent book, México Beyond 1968 (2018) argue. The Last Good Neighbor mostly skips over the 1968 student movement, not because of its lack of importance but because it has sucked so much oxygen out of the room. I want readers to see what happens when we approach Mexico in the 1960s from an entirely different angle, one that links domestic political culture to global ideological influences, and simultaneously examines the country’s relationship with the United States from the perspective of agency rather than subordination. Ultimately, The Last Good Neighbor is an effort to integrate these different levels of analysis into a coherent argument, one that I hope readers will see as thought provoking.

Read the introduction and save 50% on The Last Good Neighbor and all other in-stock Duke University Press titles with coupon SPRING50 during our sale.

New Titles in Native and Indigenous Studies

We regret that in the ongoing efforts to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, we will be unable to meet with you during the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association conference, which has been cancelled. 

We know that many of you look forward to stocking up on new books at special discounts at our conferences, so we are pleased to extend a 50% discount on all in-stock books and journal issues through May 25. Use coupon code SPRING50 to save 50% when ordering online. Journal subscriptions and society memberships don’t qualify for the 50% discount.

Check out some of the great titles we would have featured in our booth at the NAISA conference.

The Black Shoals

In The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies, Tiffany Lethabo King uses the shoal—an offshore geologic formation that is neither land nor sea—as metaphor, mode of critique, and methodology to theorize the encounter between Black studies and Native studies and its potential to create new epistemologies, forms of practice, and lines of critical inquiry.

Brenna Bhandar examines how the emergence of modern property law contributed to the formation of racial subjects in settler colonies in Colonial Lives of Property: Law, Land, and Racial Regimes of Ownership, showing how the colonial appropriation of indigenous lands depends upon ideologies of European racial superiority as well as legal narratives that equated civilized life with English concepts of property.

Robert Nichols reconstructs the concept of dispossession as a means of explaining how shifting configurations of law, property, race, and rights have functioned as modes of governance, both historically and in the present in Theft is Property!: Dispossession and Critical Theory.

Sacred Men

In Sacred Men: Law, Torture, and Retribution in Guam, Keith L. Camacho examines the U.S. Navy’s war crimes tribunal in Guam between 1944 and 1949 which tried members of Guam’s indigenous Chamorro community and Japanese nationals and its role in shaping contemporary domestic and international laws regarding combatants, jurisdiction, and property.

Kevin Fellezs traces the ways in which slack key guitar—a traditional Hawaiian musical style played on an acoustic steel-string guitar—is a site for the articulation of the complex histories, affiliations, and connotations of Hawaiian belonging in Listen but Don’t Ask Question: Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar across the TransPacific.

In a brilliant reinvention of the travel guide, Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawai’i, artists, activists, and scholars redirect readers from the fantasy of Hawai‘i as a tropical paradise and tourist destination toward a multilayered and holistic engagement with Hawai‘i’s culture, complex history, and the effects of colonialism.

Fictions of Land and Flesh

Maile Arvin analyzes the history of racialization of Polynesians within the context of settler colonialism across Polynesia, especially in Hawai‘i, arguing that a logic of possession through whiteness animates European and Hawaiian settler colonialism in Possessing Polynesians: The Science of Settler Colonial Whiteness in Hawai’i and Oceania.

In Fictions of Land and Flesh: Blackness, Indigeneity, Speculation, Mark Rifkin turns to black and indigenous speculative fiction to show how it offers a site to better understand black and indigenous political movements’ differing orientations in ways that can foster forms of mutual engagement and cooperation without subsuming them into a single political framework in the name of solidarity.

If you were hoping to connect with one of our editors about your book project at NAISA, please reach out to them by email. See our editors’ specialties and contact information here and our submissions guidelines here. We are now accepting submissions online!

Our journal issues in indigenous studies are also included in our 50%-off sale.

saq_119_2_coverGetting Back the Land: Anticolonial and Indigenous Strategies of Reclamation,” new from the South Atlantic Quarterly, offers diagnosis, critique, and radical visions for the future from some of the leading thinkers and experts on the tactics of the settler capitalist state and on the exercises of indigenous jurisdiction that counter them.

Contributors to “Mesoamerican Experiences of Illness and Healing,” an issue of Ethnohistory, address how Mesoamericans experienced bodily health in the wake of the sixteenth-century encounter with Europeans, which resulted in a tremendous loss of life and significantly impacted indigenous communities’ health and healing strategies.

Coming soon, “Indigenous Narratives of Territory and Creation: Hemispheric Perspectives,” an issue of English Language Notes, explores narratives of territory and origin that provide a foundation for the practice of symbolic reclamation of land. And our journal Hispanic American Historical Review, the preeminent journal in Latin American history, regularly publishes articles in indigenous studies.

Once again, we’re sorry to miss you in person but hope the 50% discount will make it possible for you to pick up some new books and journal issues. Use coupon SPRING50 at checkout and see the fine print on the sale here.

Pandemic Time: A Guest Post by Harris Solomon

Harris Solomon is Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Global Health at Duke University and is the author of Metabolic Living.

What forms of time does an epidemic entail? Amidst the many check-ins with friends and colleagues, one said to me: “The temporality of all of this…it’s just confusing.”

Confusing, indeed. There is the rabid metabolism of news cycles that seems enviable compared to the life of lockdown puttering on shelf-stability. Those news cycles embed their own distinct temporalities.

First, it was ventilators, rendered in triage time (Need them now!) Now, writing this in mid-April, both the news and daily conversation seem fixated on opening time (Back to work! Can’t tell you when, but it’s happening!). Immediacy and anticipation ensnare.

Part of my mind is anchored with healthcare workers, patients, and their families, who are living out this tension between the now and the not-yet.

Another part of my mind has turned to the following books, on and off the shelf, in trying to question pandemic time.

How to Have Theory in an Epidemic: Cultural Chronicles of AIDS:
Treichler’s pivotal text about HIV was published just before I began public health school, and was a constant companion throughout. I think back to my epidemiology and demography homework assignments; the problem sets filled with survival equations where shifting one variable meant more time to live for a given population. Treichler foregrounds politics and activism in the problems of thinking survivable life.

Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction:
How will normative claims on bodies and relations appear in speculative fictional accounts of the Covid-19 pandemic? While it may seem that apocalyptic tales of science fiction have been made real, a closer look also reveals that in these fictions, bodies are called upon in different ways to inhabit pandemic time. Schalk’s text offers us a place to assess how the violent inequalities of the present might make their way into haunting tales of the future.

Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith: New Orleans After Katrina:
What will the subcontracting of Covid-19 testing and contact tracing bring? Who can afford to thrive in the time after formal and informal economies cannot keep afloat? With economies decimated and federal aid sputtering, what seems to be economic withering might be the very thing that feeds the expansion of corporate profit, as Adams explains in the case of Hurricane Katrina.

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Domesticating Organ Transplant: Familial Sacrifice and National Aspiration in Mexico:
While Covid-19 has been largely thought of as a problem of an individual, infected person, it is a deeply domestic matter. As people experience the temporality of infection alone in hospitals because family members cannot get close (sometimes unto death), the home and the hospital are in fraught relation. Crowley-Matoka’s book offers insights into how people live out the tragic intimacies of bioethics in real-time.

Curative Violence: Rehabilitating Disability, Gender, and Sexuality in Modern Korea:
What will the time of cure entail for Covid-19, given that no medicine can achieve it at present? Amidst the promissory tangles of drugs and vaccines, whose lives will merit curative intervention? Working from the context of disability in Korea, Kim’s text offers a historical case to reckon the ways that cures can be as violent as they are therapeutic.

Tell Me Why My Children Died: Rabies, Indigenous Knowledge, and Communicative Justice:
Pandemic time is a time of mixed messages, as politicians and health officials clash with local leaders on when the worst is over, or yet to come. But what sort of message can be conveyed to those whose family members are dying or who are already lost? Briggs and Mantini-Briggs develop a lucid critique of the politics of health communication, and point us to ways that mourning the past and epidemic expertise in the present connect in powerful and often surprising ways.

Bioinsecurities: Disease Interventions, Empire, and the Government of Species:
It began with animals, we are told. But the human-animal intimacies that may have been one of the pandemic’s conditions of possibility are not the only intimacies at stake. Ahuja’s book foregrounds the violent intimacies of imperial intervention that are at the heart of contemporary biosecurity, and how individual immunity is deeply interwoven into the places and times of the public health/empire relationship.

AIDS and the Distribution of Crises:
There are critical differences, yet several resonances between Covid-19 and HIV nonetheless are striking: compromised bodies, risk populations, and viral loads, to name a few. Both share the consensus of crisis. But what effects might viral crisis have for politics and sociality? Cheng, Shuhasz, and Shahani’s edited volume brings multiple different voices to query, as they put it, the outcomes of crises “that are made ordinary and exceptional at the same time.”

Harris Solomon’s Metabolic Living and all other in-stock Duke University Press titles are currently available for 50% off with coupon SPRING50 during our sale.

Poem of the Week

Welcome back to our weekly poetry feature. For our final April posting, please enjoy the poem “Lost in the Hospital” from What the Body Told  (1996) by physician Rafael Campo. Much of Campo’s early poetry was in response to the AIDS epidemic and readers may find resonance during today’s COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s not that I don’t like the hospital.
Those small bouquets of flowers, pert and brave.
The smell of antiseptic cleaners.
The ill, so wistful in their rooms, so true.
My friend, the one who’s dying, took me out
To where the patients go to smoke, IV’s
And oxygen tanks attached to them–
A tiny patio for skeletons. We shared
A cigarette, which was delicious but
Too brief. I held his hand; it felt
Like someone’s keys. How beautiful it was,
The sunlight pointing down at us, as if
We were important, full of life, unbound.
I wandered for a moment where his ribs
Had made a space for me, and there, beside
The thundering waterfall of his heart,
I rubbed my eyes and thought, “I’m lost.”

Rafael Campo is Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and author of several books, including Comfort Measures Only, Alternative MedicineThe Enemy, and Landscape with Human Figure, all also published by Duke University Press. Campo’s most recent poem, “The Doctor’s Song,” featured in Harvard Magazine, attempts to make sense of the COVID-19 pandemic from the physician’s perspective. His books (and all in-stock titles) are currently available for 50% off with coupon SPRING50 during our sale.

Earth Day Reads

Happy Earth Day! We are featuring some of our recent and forthcoming books and journals in Environmental Studies to celebrate and demonstrate our support for environmental protection.

Kristina M. Lyons presents Vital Decomposition, an ethnography of human-soil relations in which she follows state soil scientists and peasant farmers in Colombia’s Putumayo region, showing how their relationship with soil is key to caring for the forest and growing non-illicit crops in the face of violence, militarism, and environmental destruction.

In her book An Ecology of Knowledges, Micha Rahder explores how multiple ways of knowing the forest of Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve shape conservation practice, local livelihoods, and landscapes.

Before the FloodIn Before the Flood, Jacob Blanc examines the creation of the Itaipu Dam—the largest producer of hydroelectric power in the world—on the Brazil–Paraguay border during the 1970s and 1980s to explore the long-standing conflicts around land, rights, indigeneity, and identity in rural Brazil.

Rahul Mukherjee explores how the media coverage of and debates about nuclear power plants and cellular phone antennas in India frames and sustains environmental activism in Radiant Infrastructures.

Presenting ethnographic case studies from across the globe, the contributors to Anthropos and the Material question and complicate long-held understandings of the divide between humans and things by examining encounters between the human and the nonhuman in numerous social, cultural, technological, and geographical contexts.

howeboyertogetherIn their duograph, Ecologics and Energopolitics, Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer trace the complex relationships between humans, nonhuman beings and objects, and geophysical forces that shaped the Mareña Renovables project in Oaxaca, Mexico, which had it been completed, would have been Latin America’s largest wind power installation.

Kregg Hetherington and contributors chart the shifting conceptions of environment, infrastructure, and both human and nonhuman life in the face of widespread uncertainty about the planet’s future in Infrastructure, Environment, and Life in the Anthropocene. Hetherington’s forthcoming book, Government of Beans, will be available in May.

Acknowledging the impending worldwide catastrophe of rising seas in the twenty-first century, Orrin H. Pilkey and Keith C. Pilkey outline the impacts on the United States’ shoreline and argue that the only feasible response along much of the U.S. shoreline is an immediate and managed retreat in Sea Level Rise.

Environmental Humanities journal cover

Environmental Humanities, edited by Dolly Jørgensen and Franklin Ginn, is a peer-reviewed, international, open-access journal that draws humanities disciplines into conversation with each other, and with the natural and social sciences, around significant environmental issues. The most recent issue explores topics that include encounters between animals and technology at Frankfurt airport, the concept of “flow” in our era of liquid modernity, how botanically dominated spaces operates in city spaces, and silt as not just a cipher for geological processes but a physical encounter with them.

Save 50% on Duke Press titles using the code SAVE50,  free shipping is available on orders of $100 or more though May 1.

Q&A With Margaret Randall

Margaret Randall is a poet, essayist, oral historian, translator, memoirist, and photographer who has published over 150 books of poetry and prose. In her newest book, I Never Left Home, she details the extraordinary stories from her life, recounting moments ranging from her time living among New York’s abstract expressionists in the mid-1950s as a young woman to working in the Nicaraguan Ministry of Culture to instill revolutionary values in the media during the Sandinista movement.

 

You explain in Chapter 1 that you started this project by writing about your time in New York in the late 1950s and subsequently moved forward and backwards in time throughout your writing process. How was the experience of placing these chapters in chronological order for the book? Did conceiving of your memories in this linear fashion bring you to any new insights about your life?

I guess I should say that I have always believed more in non-linear than in linear time. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t begin this memoir by writing about my earliest years but rather about my years in New York City, an experience I had never written about before. When it came time to organize the book I did go with a chronological timeline, though, maybe because I thought it would allow readers to follow my life and times as they have unfolded. This also seemed like a good choice because earlier experiences inevitably influenced later ones, and I wanted my readers to understand that.

A number of big geographic and cultural moves punctuate your life—first as a child to New Mexico, and later as an adult to Spain, New York, Mexico, Cuba, and Nicaragua, and then back to New Mexico. Throughout these moves, you navigated many “insider/outsider moments” —moments in which you felt at home, and those in which you grappled with your racial identity, class status, and foreignness. What have you learned about the importance of embracing one’s position as an outsider? What kinds of connections break down this distinction and allow one to feel at home?

Embracing one’s experience as an outsider is necessary. One always wants to belong; it is part of the human condition. But if one chooses to live in places foreign to one’s culture or in ways that are foreign to one’s class, racial or gender identities, one’s “otherness” is right out there for all to see. There is no denying or getting around it. So, I think we learn to make peace with that and live the experience as it is. As a young US American in Latin America, living and working and raising my children in countries frequently attacked or exploited by the United States, it was inevitable that I should carry a sense of guilt. Inevitable but not healthy. I had to learn to struggle with that and not allow it to overpower or destroy me. I believe one can straddle this outsider condition best by living as much as possible as the people where you are living. In Mexico this meant learning about dozens of indigenous cultures, appreciating native art and music, participating in national fiestas. In Cuba it meant refusing the foreigner’s ration book and living as much as possible like a Cuban. In Nicaragua it meant participating in national defense as the Contra war heated up. Despite such efforts, though, if one is from somewhere else one is an outsider. So then it becomes important to figure out how to make one’s condition transparent and use it to benefit others.

You mention that, while living in Seville, you “immediately agreed” to assist smuggling contraceptives from Morocco to Spain, as would be your response to other future invitations to risk. At what other moments in your life do you recall agreeing to risk? How necessary is risk in one’s pursuit of justice? 

I have taken risks as long as I can remember. Smuggling contraceptives into Spain in the 1950s was just one example. In Mexico I assisted revolutionary organizations and took part in the 1968 Mexican Student Movement. In Cuba I insisted on asking difficult questions of a revolution not accustomed to being questioned by outsiders. And when I returned to the United States and was ordered deported because of opinions expressed in some of my books, I didn’t leave but decided to fight for my right to stay. All these moments, and others, involved risk. I can’t really explain why it has been so natural for me to take risks. Perhaps it is written into a person’s DNA. Perhaps I was simply following the example of mentors who were, themselves, notable risk-takers.

While publishing the bilingual journal El Corno with Sergio Mondragón during the 1960s, you recall believing that “poetry could change the world.” How did you conceive of the relationship between artistic expression and revolution then? What connection do you see between them today, both in the US and abroad? 

I have always believed that poetry is a necessary ingredient to living fully. Revolution, or working for justice, is really about living fully. We can only live fully if we struggle for equality and fairness in all areas. Art is the highest manifestation of living to the fullest, engaging all the senses, experiencing the heights and depths of the human experience. When I was younger and claimed that poetry could change the world, I think I meant that more explicitly than when I say the same thing today. Today I understand this more complexly. Poetry—and artistic expression generally—allows us to exercise our imaginations, think outside the box, believe in the “impossible”. It is in this sense that I believe it can change the world.

It was not until your return to the US that you were able to reflect on your sexual identity and come out as a lesbian to yourself and others. What was it about returning “home” that allowed for this personal exploration? 

I think what kept me from understanding my sexual identity while I was living in Latin America, especially when I was in Cuba and Nicaragua, was that I was involved in situations of social change that required full focus on the collective. It would have been healthier if we had found ways to attend to our personal issues as well, but we didn’t know how. That was one of the problems with the movements with which I was involved. We rarely prioritized our own needs. The collective was what was important. So, when I came back to the US, I was immersed in the women’s movement. It was the 1980s, and women were addressing issues of personal identity, domestic violence, recovery, and so forth. Arriving in the midst of this community of women, many of whom were lesbians, somehow allowed me to begin to question my own sexual identity. It was in this context, as well, that I remembered the incest of which I had been a victim as a very young child. I do believe that social change movements must find ways to combine the personal with the public, develop ways to struggle that take into account people’s individual differences and needs.

You describe your witnessing of the Cuban and Sandinista Revolutions as a “privilege,” as you experienced times in which quests for justice, passion, and creativity seemed to be bursting at the seams of daily life. What do you hope younger generations looking for revolutionary change might learn from these memories and experiences?

I do believe that I was privileged to have lived in the places where I lived and at the times when I lived in them. And that sense of privilege, in my mind, implies the willingness to share those experiences. Every generation is faced with new situations that demand new strategies and tactics. But we can learn a lot from our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, their struggles and solutions. Just as I believe that I can learn a lot from those who are coming up now. In terms of my memoir, I guess I just hope that it is a good read, a story or series of stories that express one woman’s journey through the second part of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century.

Watch Margaret discuss her book and read a passage:

You can catch Margaret at a virtual reading sponsored by Collected Works Bookstore on April 30 at 6:00pm MDT. Read the introduction to I Never Left Home free online. Save 50% off all in-stock titles, including Randall’s other books, Che on My Mind, Haydée Santamaría, Cuban Revolutionary, and Exporting Revolution with coupon SPRING50 until May 1, 2020.

Poem of the Week

978-1-4780-0645-9April is National Poetry Month, so we are offering a poem each Tuesday for the next four weeks. Today’s poem is from the recent book Dub: Finding Ceremony by Alexis Pauline Gumbs. The final volume of a poetic trilogy, Dub explores the potential for the poetic and narrative to expose and challenge the dominant modes of being human, reminding us that it is possible to make ourselves and our planet anew.

 

another set of instructions

we are asking you to trust your hands. put them on your heart. trust
your heart. hear what we are saying. trust what you hear. we are
asking you to build a circle. always a circle. not almost a circle. face
each other. we are asking you to trust the faces. face the truth. it’s
round. we are asking you to make a sound. make the sound you need
by breathing. make the sound that calls us in. we are asking you. not
telling you. listen. we will not yell. well. not yet.

if you can use both hands, use both hands. knowing is not given; it
is made. you can make it out of cornmeal or flour, preferably. out
of dirt or fertilizer if you have to. let your fingers shape it until they
remember the making of the world. then step on it. and see how eas-
ily it flattens, how gracefully it changes its shape in the presence of
pressure. and remember that there are billions of feet. there is always
pressure.

let the muscles in your hands grow more swift more sure from re-
making it every day. a curved place to live on indented by teeth,
crumbled by dryness. moisten it with what you have. spit and tears.
smooth it out with what you have. repetition and patience. soon you
will not have to look at what you are doing. you will feel every im-
perfection. you will accept some of them. you will even love some
difficult edges. you can watch the river go by. you can look at the TV
while you do it. maybe even have a conversation (though it will im-
pact the consistency of your shape). but if you can. use both hands.

take your hand off your forehead and remember you can already fil-
ter sunlight. take consistent deep breaths and surrender for you are
moon. let the rage held in any of the muscles in your shoulders, re-
lease. give love room.

drink enough water to remember how long water’s been waiting. eat
enough plants to remember what water can do. let the fear in your
hands go back where it came from. clean the room.

call the people you’ve been thinking about calling. do the things your
pummeling heart says do. let the lessons forming lesions be less real
to you than children. make room.

ultimately your children will forget. the names, the places, even the
tastes, the flavors, the smells, the feeling of being there. the lightness
or thickness of air is changing. ultimately they will too. their skin,
their way of moving, their ways of knowing of feeding of mourning,
rejoicing. their ways of growing might look like nothing to you.

ultimately your children will remember. the sounds, the setting, the
faces, even the waste, the saving grace, the hells, the peeling of breath
from air. the rightness or wrongness, the glare is wide ranging. ul-
timately they will do. their kin, their ways of smoothing, their ways
of sowing, of feeling, of morning choices. their ways of glowing you
might recognize.

dig down star until you find the water. mine the water. mind the
water. mine. the water waiting in you. dig down dream until you
find the river. find the salted brackish liver, find the giver, find the
gifts. find the guilt. find the rifts. running rivulets, the spit. the snot,
the not willing to get. don’t forget. dig down star, until you find the
ocean. mind the notion that it’s calm. find the potion, find the balm.
my star dig down until tears come up. don’t get stuck inside your
charm. these are my arms, your shaking lungs. this is the way. these
broken rungs. stretch out your bones, starfish. become.


Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a poet, independent scholar, and activist. She is also the author of Spill and M Archive, both also published by Duke University Press. Her books (and all in-stock titles) are currently available for 50% off with coupon SPRING50 during our sale. Check back next Tuesday for a poem by David Grubbs.

Cabin Fever: Trapped Onboard the Last Ships at Sea: A Guest Post by Eric Paul Roorda

Near the end of his own stormy passage through life, Mark Twain began an untitled story that he never finished. Its setting was an endless voyage on a sea teeming with terrors, such as the “spider-squid,” which surfaced to snatch the captain’s little boy from the deck of the ship. As it turns out, the vessel is microscopic, plowing through an ocean-like drop of liquid on a slide, under a microscope. The sea monsters that menace it are such miniscule horrors as bacteria and viruses.

Today, a version of that nightmare has come to life onboard ships—containerships, oil tankers, cruise ships—among crew members and passengers alike, who find themselves virtually imprisoned.

Merchant ships continue to circulate around the globe, maintaining the tenuous international supply lines. From one port of call to another, cranes unload thousands of truck-sized boxes full of products from containerships, and pumps fill-up and empty-out tankers, but the mariners working on those ships are not permitted to disembark. The March 26 New York Times cited a single example: an oil tanker manned by eight sailors, plying from China to Singapore to Sri Lanka, due to go on to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with each destination having in common a prohibition against anyone coming ashore.

That means that workers on merchant ships, even those who have fulfilled their contractual terms of labor, are forced to continue doing their duty indefinitely. An estimated 150,000 individuals, mainly from the Philippines, China, India, Indonesia, Ukraine and Russia, find themselves in a nether-region of un-free employment. They have no options other than to toil on, seven days a week, for monthly pay ranging from $400 to $1,000 for ordinary seamen. Officers make more, up to $10,000 per month, but they have the same chance of going home as the greenest oil wiper: zero.

How long can that last? The situation resembles the customary abuse of maritime labor that prevailed in the 19th century, which the Supreme Court approved in its 1897 ruling in Robertson v. Baldwin, known as the Arago decision, after the name of a ship from which four sailors deserted due to brutal treatment. In that case, the justices found that the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States, did not apply to mariners! This form of legalized exploitation of workers endured until the Merchant Marine Act of 1915, which afforded American sailors some basic protections. But many countries have never promulgated such a measure, leaving their seagoing citizens prey to conditions of pseudo-slavery, in particular in the outlaw world of commercial fishing in international waters.

Now, the international community is collectively shrugging and acquiescing to this backward leap in workers’ rights. Global demand for the goods the ships deliver outweighs the world’s regard for the people who deliver them.

Cruise ships have had to return to port and stay put, but there are stragglers still out there. One of them has become a disaster zone—Holland America Line’s Zaandam. The ship inexplicably left for a cruise from Argentina to Chile on March 7, more than a month after Princess Line’s Diamond Princess imported COVID-19 to Yokohama, Japan, and at the same time the Grand Princess was bobbing about fifty miles off the Golden Gate, trying to deal with an outbreak of the disease. The Zaandam left Buenos Aires just the day before the State Department’s tardy warning against such herding onto artificial islands (which cruise ships are). It got as far as the Strait of Magellan, where those among the 1,243 guests who were ambulatory went ashore to see the faded grandeur of Punta Arenas, while most of the 586 crew members cleaned their rooms, prepared their food, and maintained the manifold operations of the ship. That was their last port of call. That was March 14. The cruise was supposed to end on March 21.

Since then, Zaandam has made its way up the west coast of South America, from one potential refuge to another, denied entry to all of them, while the deadly novel coronavirus has spread throughout the ship, without discrimination, from roomy penthouses to kennel-like crew quarters. Zaandam reached the Panama Canal with four corpses in a walk-in refrigerator. Another 138 people had reported feeling sick—53 paying “guests” and 85 employees. Two of them had tested positive for the coronavirus in the brief interim since test kits arrived on the ship.

After an initial delay, Zaandam gained permission to transit the isthmian passage, but now has been denied entry into any port in Florida.

Holland America Line is a cruise industry cliché—it caters to the most elderly segment of the market. It is the Geriatric American Line. Anyone a few years short of qualifying for Medicare will feel like a young whipper-snapper on a HAL cruise.

HAL’s Zaandam is a huge ark of wealthy, vulnerable elderly, and relatively penniless, vulnerable servants.

Micky Arison is the Chairman of Carnival Corporation, which his father founded and ran for decades, before expatriating himself, along with his vast, virtually untaxed wealth. Carnival includes a dozen brands, including Princess and HAL.

Micky Arison failed to bring his fleets to port before the inevitable nightmare scenario came to pass—that COVID-19 would hijack a cruise ship like a legion of invisible pirates. While that was happening, Arison offered the idled vessels of Carnival Corp. to the federal government, for use as hospitals—charging a rental fee to cover costs. The president has praised Arison’s proposal as a patriotic, selfless gesture.

In truth, the audacity of Arison’s gambit to salvage revenue at this moment of crisis defies description, if not divine judgment.

In the meantime, Holland America Line’s Zaandam has reached Miami, with nine people onboard having tested positive for COVID, and another 200 showing symptoms, and those four corpses still onboard, maybe in the freezer by now. The Carnival Corp. COO has called Florida its “port of last resort.” At this writing, Governor Ron DeSantis is denying Zaandam’s bid to find shelter in this viral storm. In the interim, the chorus of coughing along its narrow corridors grows louder, coming from behind more and more closed doors, with every passing hour…

Eric Paul Roorda is the editor of The Ocean Reader: History, Culture, Politics. He is a Professor of History at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, where he specializes in the diplomatic and naval history of  the Caribbean Sea. During the summer, he directs the Munson Institute graduate program in Maritime Studies at Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut. He regularly lectures on cruises on the Regent Seven Seas Voyager. He is the author of The Dictator Next Door and co-editor of The Dominican Republic Reader, both also published by Duke University Press.

 Read the introduction to The Ocean Reader free online and save 50% on all in-stock titles during our special sale using the coupon code SPRING50.

The Plague, A Guest Post by Amy Laura Hall

Image result for amy laura hall

Amy Laura Hall is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at Duke University Divinity School. She is the author of Laughing at the Devil: Seeing the World with Julian of Norwich.

I am writing from Texas. It is Lent, and I am surrounded by Christmas decorations that need to be sorted. My mom, the amazing Carol Hall, teacher of generations of West Texas teens, had her heart cut open and her brain rudely interrupted as the great plague of 2020 began. She suffered a heart-attack and stroke the last week of January.

My dad, the amazing Reverend Robert Hall, has been married to my mom for more decades than I’ve been alive. I do not understand them. Their love confuses me. They have developed a means of communicating that I imagine as a geriatric version of the cant that twins are rumored to have. I’ve been intruding on them regularly since the crisis. Today, I just wanted to go to the grocery store.

Cedar Park, Texas was a small town a half hour from Austin. Now it is Nordstrom Rack, Hobby Lobby, local barbecue, old-timers remembering before Lakeline Mall, and multi-generational families speaking another language. We all exist outside AUSTIN, TEXAS, travel destination of the stars. South by Southwest, now an international phenomenon, was cancelled this year, due to the plague of 2020, and people who were already working three jobs for a living are driving through Cedar Park trying to figure out how to make ends meet. And everyone is converging on their H.E.B.

If you are reading this from North Carolina, H.E.B. is the Piggly Wiggly of Texas. People are loyal to their local H.E.B., and, even if there are other spots to shop, I swear that Cedar Park people are going there for a sense of normalcy. Maybe that is projection. I have shopped there almost daily every visit. Back in North Carolina, I carry H.E.B. reusable shopping bags from each season as if they were Prada.

My mother’s car has a radio function that allows me to shift from the 1940s to the 1980s. I’ve been doing the Charleston to the Hustle between stop lights. Two refrains have stuck in my head. “The things we do for love.” And “Freak Out!”

Laughing at the Devil

I have rarely walked in the rain or the snow, but “the things we do for love” makes for good prayer. When dealing with depends and diapers and tampons and anything else that is “down there,” including all the dog poop I pick up when I am home with mutts, I sing, to myself, “The things we do for love . . .” Here in Cedar Park, this week, looking at all the people standing in line around the corner at the H.E.B., because the store management is doing their best, I thought, yes. The things we do for love.

Yesterday, facing the line around the corner, I gave up and went to buy barbecue at a place that shares the parking lot and has the name Moe. (I am afraid I will get the name wrong, but I recommend everything they serve.) I promised my dad I would not come within 4 feet of anyone. A man about my dad’s age saw me trying gently to avoid him and said “Don’t worry! I don’t have it!” No worries! I am also trying not to scare anyone by my mere presence! Then, over the radio, “Freak Out!”

The barbecue spot is small, and less than a dozen people were there. But we decided, awkwardly – from old Cedar Park and tattooed new Cedar Park, and with at least a few couples venturing to the Hill Country – that “Freak Out” could be a theme song for the great plague of 2020. At least a few of us danced. Mr. Moe, who I have never caught off-guard, cracked a smile.

Here is what I know for sure. It is Lent. I am trying to remember how to eat, not to fast. The birds in Cedar Park are singing their hearts out. The plague of 2020 reminds me that we matter, each of us. Every sparrow. Every mockingbird. Every grackle. Everyone. Each one of us matters. Call me what you will. I am clear that God’s omniamity (yes, I coined that word) does not fit within a primary or an election year or a nation. And . . . and, Julian of Norwich saw all of this. She was a visionary during what is indisputably known as the Great Plague. She lived through proclamations of God’s wrath. She saw people declared as mere peasants rise up together bravely. They were mowed down like mice. I have not forgotten. I will continue to see.

Save 50% on Amy Laura Hall’s Laughing at the Devil: Seeing the World with Julian of Norwich and all in-stock titles during our special sale using the coupon code SPRING50.

Duke University Press Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

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In order to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Duke University has restricted travel and suggested that most staff work from home for the next few weeks. Although the Press remains open for business at this writing, all of our spring travel to conferences has been canceled. 

Conferences where we will no longer have a physical presence

We have not yet made any decisions about several other conferences taking place in May and June. We will update our conference page as we do.

Online sale in lieu of conference booths: 50% off

We know that many people really look forward to picking up new books at discounted prices at these conferences. In light of that, we are pleased to offer 50% off all in-stock books and journal issues plus free domestic U.S. shipping on orders over $100. Note that while journal subscriptions and society memberships are not eligible for the 50% discount, they do count toward the $100 minimum, so go ahead and renew now. See our sale FAQ here. This special sale will run through May 1, 2020.

We’ll be posting special posts here on the blog about each of the above missed conferences. Please check back to see featured titles, links to online content from our authors, and recommendations from our editors.

Library support

Visit our COVID-19 response webpage to learn how we are supporting libraries during this time. As courses transition to online, we can provide 90 days of complimentary electronic access to course materials—contact orders@dukeupress.edu.