Alumna Chronicles Her South-of-the-Border Identity Quest

Travel writer Stephanie Elizondo Griest (B.A. Post-Soviet Studies/Journalism, ’97) journeys deep into Mexico as she traces her bicultural roots in “Mexican Enough: My Life Between the Borderlands” (Simon & Schuster, 2008).

She opens the memoir by describing an epiphany spurred by an encounter with a group of border crossers sprinting across Interstate 10 in the middle of a scorching desert. “As I look off into the desert hills from which they descended, a surprising thought flashes through my mind: I want to go to Mexico,” she writes.

Prompted by the experience, Griest decided to pull up stakes and move south of the border to fully immerse herself in her mother’s native country. Plagued by conflicted feelings about her mixed identity, the self-proclaimed “bad Mexican” set out on a quest to finally learn to speak Spanish and explore her ancestral roots.

Griest chronicles her pilgrimage from the border town of Nuevo Laredo to the highlands of Chiapas, detailing her myriad misadventures along the way. In the midst of the nation’s burgeoning social revolution, she rallies with rebels in Oaxaca, investigates the murder of a gay political activist and interviews family members of undocumented migrant workers.

From living in a house of gay roommates to attending a luchalibre (wrestling) match to dancing to hip-swiveling music in Mexico City’s thriving Zona Rosa district, she uses her journalist’s eye for detail to describe many bizarre, outrageous and touching experiences on her journey to self discovery.

Griest is the award-winning author of “Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing and Havana” and “100 Places Every Woman Should Go.” Listen to her read a few chapters from “Mexican Enough” on MySpace, or meet her in person at one of her spring tour dates.

New Book Highlights Work of Photographer Fritz Henle

In Search of Beauty, book coverUT Press and the Harry Ransom Center have jointly published the catalog “Fritz Henle: In Search of Beauty,” a retrospective exhibition of the life and career of the noted 20-century photographer.

The edited book includes commentary by Ransom Center Senior Research Curator of Photography Roy Flukinger, who also curated the current exhibition of Henle’s work.

A contributor to such magazines as LIFE and Harper’s Bazaar, Henle had a distinctive style that was characterized by a unique combination of the realistic and the romantic. The catalog reproduces 127 of Henle’s black-and-white and color photographs, and covers the entire range of Henle’s work, including significant items from the photographer’s archive and family.

The exhibition, on display at the Ransom Center through Aug. 2, features more than 100 photographs, including images of 1930s New York, Mexico, and Paris; nudes; and portraits of famous personalities.

View a slideshow of images featured in the exhibition, or view a video preview online.

Irish Studies Reading List

Are you one of more than 35 million Americans who can claim Irish ancestry? If so, two recent books about Ireland’s robust literary tradition might catch your eye. Both books are by alumni of the university’s Department of English.

Texas Ex Karen Steele (Ph.D. English, ’96) is the author of “Women, Press and Politics During the Irish Revival” (Syracuse University Press, 2007), a study of female voices who helped launch the 1916 Easter Rising, which ultimately led to Ireland’s independence from Great Britain. Steele is now an associate professor of English and director of the Women’s Studies Program at Texas Christian University.

Ellen Crowell (Ph.D. English, ’04) is the author of “The Dandy in Irish and American Southern Fiction” (Edinburgh University Press, 2007), an interdisciplinary study of two literary traditions that have remarkable similarities. Crowell is now an assistant professor of English at Saint Louis University.

Elizabeth Butler Cullingford, chair of the English department and a scholar of Irish literature, directed both Steele and Crowell during their doctoral studies at the university.

For further reading from the field of Irish studies, check out Cullingford’s books which include “Ireland’s Others: Gender and Ethnicity in Irish Literature and Popular Culture,” “Gender and History in Yeats’s Love Poetry” and “Yeats, Ireland and Fascism.”

Review: “Diplomats in Blue” by William Braisted

What does a navy do when it is not at war? From 1922 to 1933, the U.S. Navy kept the peace in the volatile western Pacific.

In “Diplomats in Blue: U.S. Naval Officers in China, 1922-1933” (University Press of Florida, 2009), Professor Emeritus of History William R. Braisted depicts a bygone world in which admirals played almost as important a role as ambassadors in representing American interests abroad.

During peace-time, high-ranking naval officers worked first to protect American citizens and American business interests. And several of them labored, sometimes in conflict with State Department officials, to foster a stronger, more unified China that might be a better ally of the United States.

Historian William R. Braisted

Historian William R. Braisted

Braisted will turn 91 in March. He previously published two well-received accounts of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific covering the years 1897 to 1922. In “Diplomats in Blue” Braisted diverges from these books in that he was actually present for parts of the story. As he relates in a sprightly preface, the navy was a family affair back then.

Like many navy wives, Braisted’s mother followed her husband’s ship—to the Philippines, then to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Chefoo, China—with four to six-year-old Braisted in tow. Ten years later, when the family returned to China and spent two years in Shanghai, Braisted attended the Shanghai American School and confirmed his fascination with all things Chinese. He would later introduce the study of Chinese and Japanese history into the UT curriculum.

“Diplomats in Blue” will prove useful to students of U.S. diplomacy and naval history, but also to those interested in the development of modern China. The book is well illustrated with clear and well-placed photographs and excellent maps, and Braisted has a straightforward and engaging narrative style that doesn’t diminish a wealth of detail and attention to nuance.

Reviewed by Marian J. Barber, doctoral candidate in the Department of History at The University of Texas at Austin.

A Philosopher’s Treatise on Love

“My thesis is, in a nutshell, that love is in fact even more profound and basic to our being than most of our talk about it would suggest,” writes the late philosopher Robert Solomon in the preface to “About Love: Reinventing Romance For Our Times” (1988, 1994, 2006).

Solomon, the former Quincy Lee Centennial Professor of Business and Philosophy and a distinguished teaching professor, passed away in 2007 at the age of 64. But his ideas about life, love, relationships and sex, live on in his books.

“About Love” covers a comprehensive array of questions about the nature of love, including the idealization of love, the joys of sex, love at first sight, the meaning of fidelity and how to make love last.

According to Solomon, love remains such a mystery in part because those who have tried to explain love over the centuries have either sung its praises or reduced it from a grand emotion to a domestic science. He calls these theorists the “foggers” and the “facilitators,” and both have contributed to misunderstandings about love, according to the scholar.

“The Foggers tell us how wonderful love is but they don’t tell us what it is,” Solomon writes. “They often tell us how rare true love is, but they rarely tell us the truth about love—that love is in fact quite ordinary, less than cosmic, not the answer to all of life’s problems and sometimes calmitous.”

On the other hand, the facilitators have oversimplified the nature of love, Solomon argues.

“The Faciliators, by contrast, have turned love into a set of skills—negotiating, expressing your feelings…sharing the housework…” Solomon writes. “While the Foggers make love more mysterious, the Facilitators make thinking about love facile.”

The philosopher provides an antidote to both of these schools of thought in “About Love” by asking the age-old question “What is love?” and offering an answer that goes beyond mere physical attraction or everyday commodity.

Solomon favors a theory of love that dates back to Plato, which imagines love as a union of two souls. How do you define love?

A Philosopher's Treatise on Love

“My thesis is, in a nutshell, that love is in fact even more profound and basic to our being than most of our talk about it would suggest,” writes the late philosopher Robert Solomon in the preface to “About Love: Reinventing Romance For Our Times” (1988, 1994, 2006).

Solomon, the former Quincy Lee Centennial Professor of Business and Philosophy and a distinguished teaching professor, passed away in 2007 at the age of 64. But his ideas about life, love, relationships and sex, live on in his books.

“About Love” covers a comprehensive array of questions about the nature of love, including the idealization of love, the joys of sex, love at first sight, the meaning of fidelity and how to make love last.

According to Solomon, love remains such a mystery in part because those who have tried to explain love over the centuries have either sung its praises or reduced it from a grand emotion to a domestic science. He calls these theorists the “foggers” and the “facilitators,” and both have contributed to misunderstandings about love, according to the scholar.

“The Foggers tell us how wonderful love is but they don’t tell us what it is,” Solomon writes. “They often tell us how rare true love is, but they rarely tell us the truth about love—that love is in fact quite ordinary, less than cosmic, not the answer to all of life’s problems and sometimes calmitous.”

On the other hand, the facilitators have oversimplified the nature of love, Solomon argues.

“The Faciliators, by contrast, have turned love into a set of skills—negotiating, expressing your feelings…sharing the housework…” Solomon writes. “While the Foggers make love more mysterious, the Facilitators make thinking about love facile.”

The philosopher provides an antidote to both of these schools of thought in “About Love” by asking the age-old question “What is love?” and offering an answer that goes beyond mere physical attraction or everyday commodity.

Solomon favors a theory of love that dates back to Plato, which imagines love as a union of two souls. How do you define love?

Literary Marriages from Hell

“Why does some of the best poetry emerge from the charred ruins of a tortured relationship?” asks Betsy Berry, lecturer in the Department of English.

That’s the question students tackle in her popular course, “Literary Marriages from Hell,” which examines the lives of doomed literary couples and the masterpieces of literature they produced.

Students read books such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender is the Night,” which immortalized his relationship with his wife Zelda (who suffered from schizophrenia), and analyze poems such as “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath, which portrayed her troubled relationships with both her father and British poet laureate Ted Hughes.

“Plath and Hughes are the students’ perennial favorite couple to study,” Berry says. “The volume of work that sprang from their union is simply amazing.”

Along with engaging in textual criticism, the class screens films such as “Sylvia,” the 2003 biopic of Plath’s life starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig.

“In studying the relationships that informed the authors’ creativity, students gain a deeper reading of some of the great literature of the 20th century,” Berry says. “However, it’s important to note the works stand on their own, regardless of the context of their creation.”

Ready to dive into some messy relationships, but great literature? Check out the required reading list from the course syllabus:

• “The Waste Land and Other Poems” by T.S. Eliot;
• “Tender is the Night” by F. Scott Fitzgerald;
• “Birthday Letters” by Ted Hughes;
• “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath;
• “Ariel” by Sylvia Plath.

An earlier version of this story first appeared in the Winter 2008-09 issue of Life & Letters, the College of Liberal Arts alumni magazine.

Pornography: A Mirror of American Culture?

While statistics vary, watchdog organizations estimate the pornography industry generates between $10 and $15 billion a year in the United States. By comparison, the Hollywood box office generates about $10 billion a year.

For several years, Associate Professor of Journalism Robert Jensen researched the pornography industry by interviewing producers, analyzing the films they make, following the trade press and speaking with pornography consumers via formal and informal interviews. The result is “Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity” (South End Press, 2007).

In an interview with ShelfLife, Jensen discusses why the pornography industry presents a disturbing mirror of American culture, and answers crucial questions about gender, race and economics.

Q: What motivated you, a journalism professor, to write “Getting Off”?

A: My initial work on the subject 20 years ago was sparked by my interest in law and freedom of speech, but I quickly realized that pornography was a place to ask crucial questions about gender and race, about economics and culture. In the past four decades, changes in the law, technology and social norms have produced a pornography-saturated culture for which there is no historical precedent.

Q: What does pornography reveal about American culture?
A: The popularity of pornography is a reminder that, for all the progress of contemporary social movements, we still live in a world structured by patriarchy, white supremacy and a corporate capitalism that is predatory by nature. Pornography is consistently cruel and degrading to women, overtly racist and fueled by the ideology that money matters more than people.

Q: Parts of your book are quite graphic. How did you cope with immersing yourself in such a difficult subject?
A: The short answer: Not very well. It is extremely difficult and draining work, which is why I conducted analyses of films no more than once every three or four years. When watching as consumers, men focus on the sexual pleasure. When watching as a researcher, one sees clearly the cruelty and degradation, and after a while it gets overwhelming psychologically. I coped with those feelings by talking with friends and political allies in the movement who also have had to deal with that, as have researchers and activists who have confronted other issues that illustrate the human capacity to dehumanize others. But there is something particularly difficult, I think, about seeing inhumanity turned into sexual pleasure.

Q: You’ve called yourself a feminist; how did you become a feminist?
A: By reading feminist writers and getting to know feminist activists, I came to realize that feminism is not a threat to men but a gift to us. Feminism is a way of understanding how hierarchy works, which gives men a coherent way to struggle to be more fully human in a male-supremacist system that provides us with unearned privilege. Working in movements for justice for women has given me a way to combat the dominant culture’s toxic conception of masculinity, which is not only dangerous to women but also unfulfilling for most men.

Q: Do you think pornography is the most pressing issue facing feminism?

A: I don’t think there is any single issue that is most pressing. In the contemporary world we face multiple crises on all fronts—economic and ecological, political and social. We are an empire in decline and a culture in collapse. The most pressing issue for feminism, and all other social movements, is to recognize that and start to plan for the dramatic, and no doubt painful, changes ahead in the coming decades.

Q: How would you respond to a woman who says she feels empowered by her work in the porn or sex industry?
A: I don’t tell women how to think or what to do, but it’s clear that talk of empowerment in any realm has to first ask, “What kind of power?” Can working in the sexual-exploitation industries of pornography, stripping and prostitution offer real power to women—the kind of power that will help create a more just and sustainable world? We all live within systems that are structured on a domination/subordination dynamic. We try to cope the best we can with these hierarchies. There’s no one answer to the question of how best to do that, but we have to at least be honest about the nature of the systems.

Q: How has writing this book informed your opinion on the state of masculinity?
A: In the dominant culture, masculinity is marked by control, conquest and domination. I used to think we needed to find a more humane concept of masculinity, but after this research I’ve concluded that we need to eliminate the idea altogether. By that, I mean we need to reject the belief that, beyond basic biological differences, there are clear sex-specific traits in regard to our intellectual, psychological or moral development. The basic physical differences between female and male humans may well give rise to some other inherent differences between men and women, but in obsessing over those differences we usually miss the ways in which we are similar. I don’t want to reform masculinity but rather abolish it. Instead of searching for masculine and feminine norms, I think we should focus on human norms.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
A: Paradoxical as it may seem, I want people to face the depth of the inhumanity of this culture and, at the same time, renew their commitment to political activism and struggle. Pornography is a reflection of the culture, and we can learn from it. What we learn is not pretty but is necessary to confront. From there, we can imagine the kind of radical political activity that is necessary and start to rebuild movements of all kinds—around issues of gender and racial justice, economic and international cooperation, and ecological sustainability.

Jensen teaches courses in media law, ethics and politics. His research draws upon a variety of critical approaches to media and power. His other books include “The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege,” “Citizens of Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity” and “Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream.”

The Dark Side of Love

Each year, Valentine’s Day offers the opportunity for couples to celebrate their love with lush red roses, candlelit dinners and heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolate confections.

However, the commercialized celebration of romantic love doesn’t often acknowledge the darker side of many relationships, which may include obsession, jealousy and even murder.

In his recent research, David Buss, UT professor of psychology and leading researcher in the field of evolutionary psychology, delves into the underbelly of romantic relationships to shed light on the psychology of love, desire, passion and sex.

Keep reading to learn more about his three recent books: “The Murderer Next Door,” “The Evolution of Desire” and “The Dangerous Passion.”

Sleeping with the Enemy
Based on the largest homicidal fantasy study ever conducted, Buss explains why we are all wired to kill, and what might push us over the edge in “The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind is Designed to Kill” (Penguin, 2005). Using evolutionary psychology, he explains how the human mind developed adaptations to kill throughout human evolution, when murder was a necessity in the brutal game of reproductive competition.

Investigating the motives and circumstances of homicides—from demented serial killers to the seemingly harmless next-door neighbor—Buss conducts a detailed study of more than 400,000 FBI files, in which 13,670 of those cases involved a man killing his wife. Taking readers on a journey into the mind of a killer with harrowing stories of homicide cases and quotes from survey participants about the murders they fantasized about committing, he explains when they are most at risk for being murdered, or becoming the murderer.

Unearthing the Roots of Desire
Can women and men just be friends? What do women really want? Are men more promiscuous than women? In “The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating” (Basic Books, 2003), Buss offers evolutionary explanations to some of the most baffling questions about sexual desire and attachment.

Based on a global survey of 10,047 respondents in 37 cultures, he revealed that much of our romantic behavior is hard-wired from our evolutionary origins. Drawing from the study, he explains why men prefer attractive, faithful young women, and women gravitate toward men with money, social status and power. With a focus on gender differences in sexual agendas, Buss reveals how mating strategies have remained the same since the dawn of time.

Jealousy on Mars and Venus
Refuting the belief that jealousy is a sign of insecurity, Buss reveals that men and women are genetically designed for the green-eyed monster in “The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy is as Necessary as Love and Sex” (Free Press, 2000). Drawing from experiments, surveys and interviews conducted in 37 countries on six continents, as well as insights from scientific discoveries, he explains how jealousy was adapted through human evolutions as an early detection system for reproductive threats.

Delving deep into the evolutionary past of the human species, Buss reveals how jealousy can not only destroy a relationship, but strengthen the bond as well. Taking readers on a journey through various cultures, from prehistoric times to present day, he also shows how women may elicit jealousy to increase their partner’s commitment and test the strength of a relationship.

Is Narcissism Destroying Your Marriage?

In Greek mythology, Narcissus’ obsession with his reflection in a pool of water ultimately led to his death. For thousands of years, the cautionary tale has served as rich fodder for artists and philosophers, and even became the basis for Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of narcissism.

UT alumna Lisa Leit (Ph.D. Human Ecology, ‘08) further explores the psychological concept in “Conversational Narcissism in Marriage “ (VDM Verlag, 2008), which examines how narcissistic attention-seeking behavior in communication affects marital stability.

Central features of narcissism include a need for admiration and a lack of empathy, which may have damaging consequences for a relationship. Drawing upon social exchange theory, Leit and co-authors Deborah Jacobvitz and Nancy Hazen-Swann, found that conversational narcissism chararacterizes 78 percent of marriages and may ultimately lead to divorce.

Leit is a staff member of the Department of Rhetoric & Writing where she serves as a program coordinator for the Undergraduate Writing Center. She also has a private practice as a mediator, specializing in family dispute resolution. Learn more about her work at www.drlisaleit.com.

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Stay tuned for a series of ShelfLife posts about love, relationships and sex coming up this this week. We’ll write about Psychology Professor David Buss’ “Dangerous Passion,” Journalism Professor Robert Jensen’s thoughts on pornography, Betsy Berry’s popular English course “Literary Marriages from Hell” and philosopher Robert Solomon’s reinvention of romance.