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ASU presents fall 2020 Drescher Lecture featuring faculty research


Dr. Joseph O'Neill

Joseph O'Neill, Honors Faculty Fellow in Barrett, The Honors College at ASU.

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October 05, 2020

Barrett, The Honors College students and members of the public will have the opportunity to hear about the research being conducted by two members of Arizona State University's honors college faculty at the fall 2020 Drescher Lecture.

The lecture is set for 5 to 6 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 7, via Zoom. Get the Zoom link.

Honors Faculty Fellow Mathew Sandoval will speak about “Dia de los Muertos in Los Angeles."

Honors Faculty Fellow Joseph O’Neill’s talk is titled “If Only Grief Allowed: Virgil, National Trauma and the Failure of Art.”

Sandoval has been researching two large-scale public celebrations of Dia de los Muertos in Los Angeles, one that takes place at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery and another at Olvera Street, the cultural site of L.A.’s founding.

“As Dia de los Muertos has grown in popularity in the United States these two celebrations have also grown in size and scope, undergoing a series of transformations that expand the possibilities for what Day of the Dead can be and what it can mean to the communities that celebrate it. I think this topic is incredibly significant right now, because public celebrations of Day of the Dead are currently under threat of discontinuation, in light of the pandemic,” he said.

“When I began my research project I expected public celebrations of the holiday to continue expanding exponentially. I didn’t anticipate that they would disappear entirely, which is very likely what could happen with our new health and safety protocols. Lastly, my scholarship on Day of the Dead in the U.S. is the first dedicated analysis of the subject in more than a decade, during which time Dia de los Muertos has transformed from a cultural holiday to American pop culture,” Sandoval added.

O’Neill will focus on interpretations of Virgil's "The Aeneid," the Roman epic T. S. Eliot called "the classic of Europe," referring to the way in which European imperialists have selectively read it in order to celebrate and justify their imperial and nationalist projects.

“I take a look at two very different more-or-less contemporary (taking the long view) deployments of the 'Aeneid,'" said O'Neill. "The first is the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. The museum features a giant quote, in translation, from 'Aeneid' 9.447, which is meant to commemorate the nearly 3,000 victims of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, but in fact is a quote cursing the memory of two youths who were guilty of a savage war crime. I will talk about this misappropriated quote and how its disarticulation might lead to shifting meanings in context over time.”

O’Neill also will talk about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and offer a way of reading this modern and modernist memorial through "The Aeneid," “in order to show how the classics, rather than just gussying up or ennobling a modern monument can actually help contemporary society articulate its own often conflicting feeling and thoughts about its own pain and grief.”

The Drescher lecture series is made possible by an endowment established in 2000 by the Mulzet Family. The Sol and Esther Drescher Endowed Development Fund was established by Susan Drescher-Mulzet and Mark Mulzet to sponsor research grants for Barrett, The Honors College Faculty Fellows.

Dr. Mathew Sandoval

Mathew Sandoval, Honors Faculty Fellow in Barrett, The Honors College at ASU. Photo courtesy Barrett, The Honors College

“Honestly, I feel blessed to receive the Drescher funding. It’s allowed me to expand the scope of my research project and travel to new locations to examine diverse Day of the Dead celebrations,” Sandoval said.

“The grant helped me begin translating my scholarship into different mediums. With the support of Drescher funding I was able to partner with the L.A.-based film company Sabi to begin production on a documentary about Day of the Dead in the United States. This is a major step that I couldn’t have taken without the grant,” Sandoval added.

O’Neill said Drescher funds allowed him to travel to New York City to see "The Aeneid" quote in its context in the 9/11 Memorial Museum and to Washington, D.C., to visit and photograph the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and spend two days at the Library of Congress researching the controversy surrounding the construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Museum.

He also is currently working on an edited volume of essays with Honors Faculty Fellow Adam Rigoni on the contemporary deployments of "The Aeneid."

“The information I gathered on the Drescher-funded trip to New York will feature in the introduction to our volume, while the trip to D.C. provides the substance of a chapter I am contributing, 'Daedalus in D.C.: War, Trauma, and the Failure of Art in the Aeneid' where I explore themes in greater detail addressed in this talk,” O’Neill said.

He will teach a one-credit HON394 course in the spring semester about the appropriation of classics by white supremacists that will be informed by his Drescher-funded research. He hopes to teach a three-credit upper division course on the same topic in fall 2021.

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