The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 22–JAN 23

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DEC 22–JAN 23 Issue
Editor's Message


Portrait of Lubbock Scapes Collective, pencil on paper by Phong H. Bui.
Portrait of Lubbock Scapes Collective, pencil on paper by Phong H. Bui.
The Lubbock Scapes Collective is an interdisciplinary group of university faculty from programs in cultural studies, media and communication, poetry and translation, linguistics, Spanish literature, landscape, art, and architecture. Its purpose is to break through the boundaries of “disciplines” by creating holistic projects that problematize questions of landscapes through scholarly collaborations that seek to understand, define, evaluate, and represent spaces people inhabit. They do so by using landscape as a structural model or framework to bring together diverse groups of disciplines firmly rooted in social space and the production of situated knowledge. The kaleidoscope of shifting spaces in which individuals and groups interact through face-to-face and mediated communication creates multiple horizons for creative reflection and engagement, reclaiming human experience in a world that has been depicted by objects perceived as knowledge outside human feelings. This historical framing of landscape is now obsolete, and the collective is searching for new dimensions of the term.
In the belief that socially engaged academics have the power to enact significant change, the Lubbock Scapes Collective is interested in theorizing how to root their research in the immediate and proximate in ways that activate, and respect local culture and traditions tied to the land. They work under the assumption that the concept of landscape emerges from reciprocal and historical relationships between the symbolic and the real and is constantly evolving and fluid. This group is united primarily by a profound dissatisfaction with their disciplinary alienation and with the theoretical status quo that does not take into account their position as academics and citizens of a particular place.1
Ashton Thornhill, <em>Abernathy Overpass</em>. Courtesy the artist.
Ashton Thornhill, Abernathy Overpass. Courtesy the artist.

The Lubbock Scapes Collective seeks inspiring coincidences and collisions of aesthetic and scholarly production. One of our interests is the construction of margins, how we work within them, how margins influence or might be perceived not to influence perceptions of space, language, society, culture, climate, experience of the natural world. Life is hard here in West Texas, which is a nowhere—or margin—that shares attributes of everywhere. For almost everyone, we simply want to talk to our neighbors; however, there is much that likes to hide under the guise of patriotism, extraction and being an aggressively “friendly place.” Talking to one’s neighbors has become more fraught with some prior rules of polite restraint having been pulled like a rotting tooth, the decay accelerated by the state’s own leadership. We have found camaraderie, joy and, occasionally, fruitful discomfort on the disciplinary margins where the collective has intentionally gathered.

We understand margins as a concept teeming with variations that challenge languages, literatures, physical and social spaces, geographies, ecologies, imaginations and imagery, modes of communication and work, all which prompt each to evolve in unpredictable ways. They redirect, reorient, and trigger continuous and dynamic shifts of center; that is, the standards, the prescriptive nature of languages, how we understand literatures, where people, animals, and plant clans live and how they communicate, survive, and grow. Linguistic margins encompass peoples’ expressions, values, identities, agency, society, and culture (to mention only a few), generating divergent perspectives in linguistic environments that are not as fixed as believed or desired by some. As Spanish speakers, of varying degrees and dialects, we encounter many bilinguals on the Llano Estacado who balance as if straddling a paddock fence: comfortable enough on the linguistic margin, but ready to jump down on either side at a moment’s notice. The marginal realms in literature, architecture, the arts, and media representation also include the silencing or flattening of nontraditional voices (most often those of racial, gender, and linguistic minorities) by the dominant tradition. The insights prompted by our curiosity with and relationship to margins are recognized and expanded in the work of contributors to this conversation.

The inclusion of Barry Lopez in this collection is a tribute to one of our honorary Scapes Collective members. His presence from thousands of miles away through his letters and phone calls or from the edge of our Lubbock tables triggered the sharing of knowledge, experiences, and practices. The retelling of his travels could fill us with laughter as in the case of being chased by a hippopotamus or with concern when talking about marginal people or ecosystems. He encouraged us as a collective to continue our interdisciplinary work to, in this way, understand in depth the world that surrounds us.

Priscilla Solis Ybarra’s book Writing the Goodlife: Mexican American Literature and the Environment speaks of contributions by peoples in the margins and the hope for more beneficial exhortations of community, non-possessiveness, and humility; thus, moving away from the environmentally damaging colonial values of individualism, dominance, and excessiveness. In this collection, Ybarra’s attention to linguistic nuances reminds us of the importance of the transmission of knowledge and understanding of cultures, and the interconnection between cultures, whether through an analysis of colonial settlement and its influence in the environment, or through the recognition of the peoples’ ignorance of the slow death of our planet and the less privileged people who inhabit it, or through the neglect of indigenous voices that could help us reclaim what once were communal and respectful approaches to living and caring for others. Her concerns, also shared by Lopez over the years, echo what the rest of the contributors bring to this multimodal collection.

Long before the Scapes Collective began to curate this repertoire of voices, we identified in María Sánchez’s memoir Land of Women, her attention to the identification, discussion, and praise of margins: “We live at the expense of our margins.” She later adds that she has “always thought that what is truly radical and innovative happens at our margins. In our rural areas. In our towns. New bonds, networks that are created, groundbreaking projects, wonderful ideas, associations, collectives…” In her essay in this collection Sánchez identifies multiple margins or divisions—gender, rural, and urban to name a few—and how those lead us to a dismissal valuation of place. She urges us to think about the place we inhabit or have inhabited, to go beneath the surface and imagine the substrate, or look beyond what we know, as a species and even as professionals. She, like so many others in this collection, outlines multiple margins in nature, but also draws out what they do and what they can teach us.

Since first starting to frame this collection, the Lubbock Scapes Collective envisioned incorporating images of the region’s stark beauty into various themes of our work. Ashton Thornhill’s photographs are a striking, vivid fit. They portray the expansive hardness of West Texas with tenderness, a juxtaposition that anchors vulnerable humanity within this vast land. His photographs provide a hard look, they look hard but with kindness. He reminds us to slow down, return, re-look, to consider more profoundly what’s here. This is akin to Ybarra’s slow-reading of Neruda, looking at both languages in the poem that are inverted in translation.

Danielle Demetria East’s steady voice evokes an unrelenting wind that carries candor rather than dust. A transplant to Lubbock from La Grange, Texas, she reminds us that marginality is omnipresent yet yields idiosyncratic impacts. Her first-person account of social marginality grounds a broader, recurring discourse of bias and repression to her specific experience growing up Black and female in Texas and her positionality as a teacher, artist, curator, and poet who creates on the Llano Estacado. Just as C.J. Alvarez looks hard at the intricacies along the vast border between north and south, so too does East offer us insight into the brutalities of social and racial margins and the potential for art and advocacy to resist.

Jo Harvey and Terry Allen carry and voice the generative complexities of Lubbock and have done so for more than sixty years. The tangled beauty and hard bark they bring to light reveals the opportunities of operating on such a wide horizon, with such expansive margins. And, for following the crisscross of roads connecting coastal and internal margins. Trajectories that “go north to get south.” Just as Thornhill’s photographs nudge us to look hard but with kindness, so do the Allens’ writing and music. Work that spans genre, production, performance, and presence often emerge from margins.

C.J. Alvarez, historian of relations between land and people calls for an “environmental remembering” that necessitates new methods of perception to connect wide swaths of human and more-than-human understanding through layered frames of deep time that draws margins with “humble lines.” Territories with interweaving exchange open long spans of awareness, asking for more intimate connections structuring our continued evolution. His book Border Land, Border Water encourages “an understanding of the history of construction on the border line [that] allows us to imagine counter representations of the border as a whole that do not cast it as either a wasteland or a pathological zone.” Just as Sánchez and Lopez enact deeper looking by being on the ground to learn through walking, Alvarez practices environmental remembering by looking, and then looking deeper.

Lucía Jalón Oyarzun sees margins as openings, as places for wonder and curiosity, as space for creativeness outside limits of formality. By revisiting Charles Darwin’s observations of the growth of plants, Jalón shows that Darwin and plants play with the margins, negotiating with boundaries and rules of the proximate environment while growing and succeeding as if the place of margins were precisely the potential of growth itself. As the reader places marks on the side of the page, as words flow from the reader to the writer, margins are mediums where “worlds world worlds” thrive, as feminist thinker and environmental studies scholar Donna Haraway invites us to reflect. In this sense, Jalón converges with C.J. Alvarez in understanding margins as regions where the formalized world, culture, or what is described as nature by Western knowledge fuzzes and weakens, in favor of new roots and new veins where new knowledge emerges. Perhaps it is also a place where we burn objects of knowledge as if they were a pile of stuff seeking purification. As in Allen’s Truckload of Art, derailing, crashing, and scattering contents, no longer as shiny as pictured in the “ART ARK,” where we can reset and restart. In a similar sense, Jalón introduces us to margins as space for action, “as the expression of the politics taking place in the negotiation of mutually exploring dispositions.” From her perspective, margins are a canvas where negotiation as “communication flow”—within environments, margins of pages, rules—rebalancing a message that reopens, seeking new answers.

The Lubbock Scapes Collective is motivated by margins as method and subject. Margins as modes of perception, that seek inclusion more than isolation. Margins within time that envelop interconnections. Activation of margin is a call to action, a call to create new possibilities. As Barry Lopez recognized there are “boats we forgot to build,” the Lubbock Scapes Collective seeks to provide a draft design along with the timber for construction yet to happen with this collection of voices.

  1. Curtis Bauer, Rafael Beneytez-Duran, Idoia Elola, Susan Larson, Chris Taylor, and Kenton Wilkinson. “Lubbock Scapes Collective Manifesto: situated knowledge in local matters and global conditions.” Crossings Between the Proximate and Remote. 2017 ACSA Fall Conference Proceedings. (Washington, D.C.: Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, 2018) pp. 44-54.


Lubbock Scapes Collective

Curtis Bauer is a poet, translator and professor of Creative Writing and Comparative Literature at Texas Tech University. Rafael Beneytez-Duran is principal of Z4A \ Z4Z4 architecture, educator, and director of Undergraduate Architecture Studies at the University of Houston. Idoia Elola is a professor of Spanish and Applied Linguistics at Texas Tech University and divides her time between Spain and Texas. Susan Larson is a Texas Tech University professor of Spanish and amateur geographer based in Lubbock, Texas. Chris Taylor is an architect, educator, and director of Land Arts of the American West at Texas Tech University. Kenton T. Wilkinson is director of the Thomas Jay Harris Institute for Hispanic and International Communication at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 22–JAN 23

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