Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Utopia of Yesterday— Today

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A “map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth ever glancing at” — Oscar Wilde

Thomas More is best known for his influential writing Utopia a novel that at the time dealt with the trouble’s of England and while these troubles, over 500 years past, are still asked about society by writers of the 21st Century.

The Utopian Vision consists of seven essays that denote the ideas of utopian thought, ranging from the concept of the “heavenly garden” to contemporary writing and analysis of utopian dystopian ideology. Each essay chronologically and identifiably makes a point for the reader to expound upon by his/her further thought or investigation. The Utopian Vision is a part of a series titled The Chautauqua Series which:

[I]ntends to provide the intelligent, educated layperson with stimulating reading on enduring aspects of thought and culture. The books in this series are not necessarily to break new ground in research or to provide complete summaries of issues but rather to stimulate further thought and investigation

An excerpt from each essay with commentary

1. Paradise and Golden Age: Ancient Origins of the Heavenly Utopia
    E.N. Genovese

“Beginning with this undocumented but not improbable event, I propose to trace a confluence of traditions of the first, eternal, and ultimate utopia— paradise” (10).

Genovese’s essay reads with ease, interest and explores the “old” idea of what utopia was. The reading is actually much more story like than an academic essay, cleverly weaving in quotes that make his case. We are given a “storyteller” as our narrative which is a touch that makes reading this essay enjoyable.   

2. Place in No Place: Examples of the Ordered Society in Literature
    E.D.S Sullivan

[W]hether humanism, neoclassicism, romanticism, or twentieth-century materialism— all the utopian examples of society’s aspirations for what could or should be are predicted on a concept of order which derives from function: the performance of certain work; the knowing and doing of one’s job (30).

Sullivan explores the similarities and differences throughout the utopian ideology. Its fundamentalism is called into check and Sullivan goes on to explore relations but let’s off enough for the reader to have their own thoughts. While this essay is informative it gives new ideas and exemplary texts for the reader to follow up on.

3. Illusions of Endless Affluence
    John J. Hardesty

“The utopia I would like to discuss is often referred to as the American Dream, but this American Dream of an anti-human, self-defeating, ecologically impossible utopia which is fast becoming a nightmare” (51).

Hardesty’s essay takes a drastic tone change and a harsher realistic approach. Examining the very confines of our “American Dreams” and while I will not give away how he achieves this in his persuasive essay I will say that this essay was rupturing when reading.

4. The Russian Utopia
    Frank M. Bartholomew

‘I believe in Russia. I believe in the Greek Orthodox Church. I-I believe in the body of Christ— I believe that the second coming will take place in Russia— I believe —‘ Shatov murmured in a frenzy.
            ‘But in God? In God?’
            ‘I-I shall believe in God.’
                                                                                         —F.M. Dostoevsky, The Devils

Bartholomew uses this epigraph in the opening of his essay it foreshadows well what is to be discussed in his essay, Christianity and as the titled suggests The Russian Utopia.


5. Auguste Comte and the Positivist Utopia
    Oscar R. Marti

“Comtian positivism is a conglomerate of philosophical views about ethics, religion and society united by a well defined vision of science and a faith in its power to change human affairs for the better” (93).

Marti divulges into the world of positivism where he discusses structure of society under its influence, their efforts to carry out and reasoning for some of its failures. This essay is weighted by philosophy, its abstract thinking gives the reader a chance to deeply think and analyze society as a whole in the view of positivism.

6. Women in Utopia
    Patricia Huckle

“The quest for utopia (and the difficulty in achieving it) has been as important for nineteenth and twentieth century feminists as it has been for other political and social critics and revolutionaries” (114).

Huckle looks deeply into the roots of feminism with her paper. Taking a close look at nineteenth century and twentieth century writings, feminist movements in literature such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Mary Grifftih and the utopia’s that are created. She looks at the evolution of a woman’s role within a commune, their ability to do equal work not based on gender. Just as More in his novel had women and men tending to fields we see a breakdown of gender where sex no longer has a defining place.

7. Kurt Vonnegut’s American Nightmares and Utopia
    Julio A Martinez

Before we look more closely at the opinions [Vonnegut] was now offering on the public occasions, and the two novels which have since issued from the presumably “new Vonnegut,” it will be useful to take a swift backward view onto the utopian themes already present in his first seven novels (139)

Martinez describes to us in a chronological fashion the writing and utopian themes described in Vonnegut’s writing. Slaughterhouse Five being of large focus in his essay Martinez does well to underline the utopian/dystopian dream and reality.


Each essay (based on lectures given at San Diego State University) completes the task that the compilation was set out to do, to create and invoke thought, to excite the reader to explore further into the realms of just what a utopia/dystopia society is, its rationality, its place and evolution in our society. Ranging from religion, philosophical, feminist, Marxist and fundamentalist perspectives it gives us as the reader a wide range of thought in very few pages.

If you’re of a curious mind and any of the quotes stimulated your mind to find out further follow this link to purchase. There can be no change without thought and this book begs for intellectual minds to ponder deeply upon.

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Talk About: Things We Do Not Talk About By: Daniel Olivas

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Cover artwork by: Perry Vasquez
     Be one of the first to devour this intriguing compilation of personal essays and interviews composed into the symphony that award-winning author, Daniel A. Olivas, refers to as the Things We Do Not Talk About (2014). Born in Los Angeles, CA Olivas has dedicated his life to seeking truth in books. He received his BA in English literature from Stanford University, and furthered the course of his education to earn a law degree from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). 

          Being a grandson to Mexican immigrants, much of Olivas' life was intertwined with the thread of Chicano/a culture. The eclectic writings Olivas has authored range anywhere from fiction, to poetry, novellas, short stories, you name it! In his most recent book, Olivas stands to serve as a contemporary representation of the voice that ties together the authors of Latino/a literature. He investigates decades of interviews, and attempts to decipher the many obstacles these authors came face-to-face with meanwhile writing. 
          Click here to purchase your very own paperback copy of the book today! 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Story of A Girl: Luster of Jade: Poetry, Painting And Music by: Catherine Yi-yu Cho Woo

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"Split pea soup
                       One small can
                                            My love shared with me
   
 So rapidly
               We drank
                             Smiling
                                       Holding hands
                                                             From a
                                                                       cracked
                                                                                  bowl
 Before it leaked away............."


         As Dr. Catherine Yi-yu Cho Woo shared this split pea soup with her lover, I would like to share some of her soul-searching works with you. Dr. Woo was born in Beijing, China to a family of scholars. For much of her youth she spent moving around China until her family finally settled in Hong Kong in 1949.
figure 1: Ch'i (Life Force)
          Dr. Woo later traveled abroad to America in order to obtain a degree in Architecture at the University of Illinois. After she met her husband, Peter Woo, at the University of Illinois they decided to move to San Diego, California (at the time, not knowing that this would be the beginning of a very spontaneous life-long journey). This is where she began studying art and literature at San Diego State University, and afterwards UCLA for her masters degree. Finally, she ended up at the University of San Francisco for her doctorate.
          After having received multiple teaching awards in the early 1990's, Dr. Woo's lecture, Luster of Jade: Poetry,Painting And Music, was published in 1992. Throughout this published lecture in book form, she is able to capture herself within the various artistic outlets presented in the composition.  In just 45 pages, Dr. Woo reaches out to various audiences ranging from scholarly to mainstream. She poises her works with a certain je ne sais quoi that leaves her audience in awe and wonder of what lies between the caves and crevices of Chinese art, poetry, and music.            

figure 2: "Tian Tian Tian Lan"
According to a reviewer, "to stand in front of Dr. Woo's work is to experience the stirrings of the heart, mind, and soul of nature, as if the paintings are alive.” This goes for not only her artwork, but her poetry, and musical compositions as well. Figure 2, on the left,  s musical collaboration between Professor Lin Yun, Professor Leo Chen, and Dr. Woo. This song became an instant hit in Taiwan and is featured (along with its translation) within the book as well. It serves as one of the many ways Dr. Woo is able to take our breath away! So what are you waiting for? Find yourself in the very contemporary works of Dr. Woo with just a click of a button!    

       

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Things We Do Not Talk About: Exploring Latino/a Literature through Essays and Interviews

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Daniel Olivas, a grandson to Mexican immigrants, grew up in Los Angeles. Eventually, he went on to receive a degree in English literature at Stanford University and later, a law degree from UCLA. Now, Daniel works as an attorney with the California Department of Justice in the Public Rights Division. He writes in his free time and, in fact, has published seven books and has contributed to many publications.  In his newest venture, Daniel has put together past interviews and personal essays that put forward questions about Chicano identity and explores a writer's writing process and its relationship with the writer's life. A supplement to Latino/a literature, Things We Do Not Talk About, sets out to continue this conversation with other readers and writers whose writing is as interconnected to their lives as Daniel's is. Things We Do Not Talk About will be available May 5th, 2014! The following is a short interview with Daniel Olivas:



Interviewer: Why did you decide to title the book, “Things We Do Not Talk About”? What are some of these things you felt needed to be talked about while going through academia?

Daniel Olivas: The original manuscript that I submitted to SDSU Press not only included essays and interviews but also several short stories including one with that title. Because I liked the title of that short story so much, I decided to make it the title of the book. When I met with Harry Polkinhorn and William Nericcio to discuss my project, they said they liked the manuscript but that the press did not publish fiction. So, I removed the short stories but kept the title because it spoke to an issue—in an ironic manner—that I see with the coverage of Latino/a literature: the mainstream press doesn’t give it enough even as academia has moved towards recognizing such literature in ways that I didn’t see back in college back in the late 1970s. Since several of the interviews have already been relied upon in academic circles (i.e., scholarly books on Latino/a literature, Ph.D. dissertations, etc.), I thought that bringing them together in one volume along with my essays might be useful.

I want to note that the stunning cover art is by Perry Vasquez, a San Diego artist and educator who was a classmate of mine at Stanford and who worked with me when I was the art director of the Chaparral, Stanford’s humor magazine. I think his art conveys the broad spectrum of topics covered by my essays and author interviews.



Interviewer How was the process in the making of this book different from previous books you’ve published? What sparked the idea of it?

Daniel Olivas: My previous six books were works of fiction so this was a departure for me—I never thought that I’d publish a non-fiction book. Yes, it’s true that I’ve been writing essays and interviewing authors for many years, but I never thought that I’d have so much material for a whole book. And when I learned that my coverage of Latino/a writers was being relied upon by professors and students alike, the idea for this project began to evolve.



Interviewer:   In the introduction, you mention a reoccurring question in the background of your essays: what does it mean to be a Chicano writer? Is this a question you continue to ask yourself?

Daniel Olivas: In a sense, yes. I am always delighted when Chicano and Chicana students attend my readings and then come up afterwards to discuss fiction. There is this beautiful connection based on some common cultural touchstones. And I am always thrilled when they say that they are inspired to become writers themselves. Yet, in the back of my mind as I’m having these interactions, I wonder if I have any responsibilities as a Chicano writer. In the end, I think that my primary responsibility is to be honest to my art and the representation of all people in my fiction, essays and poetry. I also have a responsibility to be a mentor to those who wish to express themselves through literature and to promote worthwhile books especially those written by Latino/a writers.



Interviewer:   Looking back through all the interviews you included in this book, what is a reoccurring message or experience that seems to connect all these writers that have been successful in publishing Latino/a literature? Is there anything in an interview that stands out the most and has helped your writing journey?

Daniel Olivas: None of the writers I interviewed ever gave up the dream of publishing even when faced with a society and publishing industry that is not always very understanding or hospitable to Latino/a literature. That kind of bravery is so incredibly inspiring to me. I would be hard pressed to choose one interview that stands out because, as readers of this book will learn, each of the 28 writers offers some kind of important insight on writing and culture. I think taken together, we can only be heartened by the eloquence and energy these writers.


For more information on the author, visit his website at: http://www.danielolivas.com/