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Four Department of English faculty are celebrating the recent and forthcoming releases of their newest books.
Rodeo Good Stuff
I’m following a truck with a gun rack
and the bumper sticker reads, Take the migrant
out of immigrant, and I think
I’m an immigrant. I think
of the time José forgot Shangxin’s name
and called him foreigner,
and I said, I’m a foreigner
then laughed on the inside, but José
laughed out loud bahaha
because he thought
I was in on his joke. Once,
a young woman on a bus
shot up the aisle
to get a better look at my face
before asking, What ethnicity are you?
But before I told her, I said
on the inside, I’m American.
I run red lights, tail old ladies,
honk at texters while texting.
I have four American flags on the roof of my car.
How many do you have?
In Human Interest, Valerie Bandura hurls us through a landscape of birds falling from the sky, game shows and Kardashians. She shows us “a parched landscape / of strip malls, asphalt, and extended cab pickups / with wrap around decals.” Here is a place where “Nobody’s crazy. / And everyone is.” With a searing eye toward contemporary culture, Finn gives us a glimpse of America at its strangest. This is a wild and harrowing book for a wild and harrowing time.
Born in the former Soviet Union, Bandura (Finn) is an Instructor of English at ASU. Her first book, Freak Show, was a 2014 Patterson Poetry Prize Finalist. Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, The Gettysburg Review, ZYZZYVA, Alaska Quarterly Review, Crazyhorse, Mid-Atlantic Review, Third Coast, Prairie Schooner, River Styx, Beloit Poetry Review, Best New Poets, and many others. She was the recipient of fellowships and scholarships from the Vermont Studio Center and Bread Load Writer’s Conference.
In Beasts of Burden, Ron Broglio examines how lives—human and animal—were counted in rural England and Scotland during the Romantic period. During this time, Britain experienced unprecedented data collection from censuses, ordinance surveys, and measurements of resources, all used to quantify the life and productivity of the nation. It was the dawn of biopolitics—the age in which biological life and its abilities became regulated by the state. Borne primarily by workers and livestock, nowhere was this regulation felt more powerfully than in the fields, commons, and enclosures. Using literature, art, and cultural texts of the period, Broglio explores the apparatus of biopolitics during the age of Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus. He looks at how data collection turned everyday life into citizenship and nationalism and how labor class poets and artists recorded and resisted the burden of this new biopolitical life. The author reveals how the frictions of material life work over and against designs by the state to form a unified biopolitical Britain. At its most radical, this book changes what constitutes the central concerns of the Romantic period and which texts are valuable for understanding the formation of a nation, its agriculture, and its rural landscapes.
Broglio is Associate Professor of English and Senior Scholar in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University. He is the author of Surface Encounters: Thinking with Animals and Art and Technologies of the Picturesque: British Art, Poetry, and Instruments, 1750–1830.
We depend on—we believe in—algorithms to help us get a ride, choose which book to buy, execute a mathematical proof. It’s as if we think of code as a magic spell, an incantation to reveal what we need to know and even what we want. Humans have always believed that certain invocations—the marriage vow, the shaman’s curse—do not merely describe the world but make it. Computation casts a cultural shadow that is shaped by this long tradition of magical thinking. In this book, Ed Finn considers how the algorithm—in practical terms, “a method for solving a problem”—has its roots not only in mathematical logic but also in cybernetics, philosophy, and magical thinking.
Finn argues that the algorithm deploys concepts from the idealized space of computation in a messy reality, with unpredictable and sometimes fascinating results. Drawing on sources that range from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash to Diderot’s Encyclopédie, from Adam Smith to the Star Trek computer, Finn explores the gap between theoretical ideas and pragmatic instructions. He examines the development of intelligent assistants like Siri, the rise of algorithmic aesthetics at Netflix, Ian Bogost’s satiric Facebook game Cow Clicker, and the revolutionary economics of Bitcoin. He describes Google’s goal of anticipating our questions, Uber’s cartoon maps and black box accounting, and what Facebook tells us about programmable value, among other things.
If we want to understand the gap between abstraction and messy reality, Finn argues, we need to build a model of “algorithmic reading” and scholarship that attends to process, spearheading a new experimental humanities.
Finn is Founding Director of the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University, where he is also Assistant Professor with a joint appointment in the School of Arts, Media, and Engineering and the Department of English.
In June the Labyrinth is a book-length serial poem that is part pilgrimage, part elegy, in which the main character, Elle, embarks on a quest of sorts, investigating not only the "labyrinth" as myth and symbol, but the "labyrinth of the broken heart."
The book’s central trope is the figure of the labyrinth, which predates Christianity but also, strikingly, survived Christianity to be incorporated as a symbol of life into some of the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe. Hogue began visiting one of those cathedrals, Chartres, the summer her mother would die. She visited one afternoon when the great labyrinth of Chartres was uncovered and found herself walking it, after which she (lapsed Lutheran, failed Buddhist) lit a candle to the Black Madonna. The character of the dying woman at the heart of Labyrinth, Elle, is thus rooted in Hogue's personal experience of loss, but as the losses multiplied over years, Elle became a composite resembling no one person but only herself. The series plays a good deal with shifting pronouns, but largely, the "I" locates this work, as it must be, in the personal lyric of love and loss.
The book as a whole travels a trans-historical and trans-geographical terrain, on a quest of sorts, investigating not only the "labyrinth" as myth and symbol, but something akin to the "labyrinth of the broken heart." Surprisingly, the narrator discovers that at the heart of Elle's individual story is the earnest female pilgrim's journey, full of disappointment but also hard-won wisdom and courage, although the poems do not put it this way so directly. Rather, they distill, fracture, recompose, tell partially - literally in parts but also in loving detail - the story of a life.
Hogue, Professor and Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at ASU, has published thirteen books, including eight collections of poetry, most recently Revenance, listed as one of the 2014 “Standout” books by the Academy of American Poets. With Sylvain Gallais, Hogue co-translated Fortino Sámano (The overflowing of the poem), from the French of poet Virginie Lalucq and philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy (Omnidawn 2012), which won the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets in 2013.